Archives for October 2018

Psalm 119:121–128; 2 Samuel 22:1–25; John 11:1–16

Originally published 10/31/2016. Revised and updated 10/31/2018.

Psalm 119:121–128: Our psalmist prays to God for the infamous quid pro quo:
I have done justice and righteousness;
do not yield me to my oppressors.
Vouch Your servant for good.
Let not the arrogant oppress me.” (121-122)

These verses describe  our natural human tendency in our relationship with God: “I’ve been good, so I therefore deserve God’s protection.” This quid pro quo is at certainly superior to the more common theme of God as Santa Claus that we encounter in those who believe the heresy of the prosperity gospel: “I’ve been good, so shower me with blessings.”

Now having gone on for 120 verses, I have to accept the sincerity of our psalmist. Nevertheless, IMHO, he’s beginning to be just a bit too overwrought:
My eyes pined for Your rescue
and for Your righteous utterance.

Once again, our psalmist reminds God of the quid pro quo, hoping to partake of God’s inherent generosity:
Do for Your servant as befits Your kindness
and teach me Your statutes.

And just to make sure God gets his point, he repeats himself:
Your servant I am, grant me Your insight,
that I may know Your precepts.

However, I really should not be too hard on him. He is not asking for wealth or power; he is asking God for insight and ultimately, wisdom. I suppose that is the more noble supplication.

This wisdom seems to instill the psalmist with nascent courage. Rather than mere contemplation, it appears he is actually prepared to act on God’s behalf against the people he’s identified as God’s enemies:
It is time to act for the Lord—
they have violated Your teaching.

Nevertheless, what intrigues me here is the very didactic framework of the psalmist’s intended action: people are evil not because they have done bad things, but that they have “violated [God’s] teaching. Yes, in the abstract violation of God’s law what sin is all about, but let’s call wrongdoing for what it is, rather than effectively whitewashing it as straying from God’s teaching.

2 Samuel 22:1–25: One of the really cool things about our authors is how they concatenate poetry and history. They remind us that there were human beings like David who were in close relationship with God, and that history is not just about intrigue, battles, and conspiracies. Here, we encounter this beautiful psalm as a bookend to David’s career—a psalm the authors attribute to David as emblematic of his unshakable relationship with God.

In lines that are reminiscent of the 23rd Psalm and for me, more poignant and powerful than even that psalm, David opens his prayer with a description of the solidity of his relationship with God:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
   my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
    my stronghold and my refuge,
    my savior; you save me from violence.” (2,3)

David’s prayer of gratitude is the essence worship itself:
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
 and I am saved from my enemies. (4)

Notice how much more powerful these words are than the scholastic entreaties of the Psalm 119 writer. While I have never been confronted by armies of enemies, I can say these lines with the same gratitude as God has been at my side, rescuing me from disease.

David’s supplication is equally powerful:
The cords of Sheol entangled me,
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry came to his ears. (6,7)

This poem includes a wonderful description of God as the God of creation. He is not some kindly bearded old uncle.  God’s apocalyptic power is on full display:
Out of the brightness before him
    coals of fire flamed forth.
The Lord thundered from heaven;

    the Most High uttered his voice.” (13)

It is verses like these that describe God’s ineffable power that keep me from casually referring to God as ‘daddy.’ Yes, he is that, but I think far too many Christians would rather ignore the thundering power of the God who created all things; the God who speaks through the forces of nature, and who created us. Reflect on these words:
…at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of the breath of his nostrils” (16)

We realize in these words that God cannot be placed into a safe little box of our own making.

David recapitulates what God has done for him in direct, powerful language, fully aware that he could not have defeated his enemies on his own:
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me;
    for they were too mighty for me. (18)

Before Jesus, there is also the inevitable acknowledgement that as our psalmist keeps asserting, there is a quid pro quo—even for David:
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God. (21, 22)

In fact the poem ends on this note that David, having been righteous, has been redeemed by God:
Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
according to my cleanness in his sight. (25)

As always, I am grateful that the terms of the New Covenant have brought me salvation through Jesus Christ rather than through my own failing efforts at strict obedience.

John 11:1–16: We come to the story of the famous resuscitation of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus— a story found only here because our gospel writer not only wants to give the most dramatic example of Jesus’ salvific power, but where I think our author wants to puts neoplatonism on full display.

We all know the straightforward theological implications of the Lazarus story: Lazarus is ill; Jesus declines to go heal him for two days. Hs friend dies and is buried. Jesus has a specific plan and asserts that “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (4)

Yet another socratic dialog occurs, once again around the theme of sight and blindness, light and darkness. Noting that it’s far easier to see where we’re going during daylight hours, Jesus observes, “Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” (9, 10) This statement of course operates not only at the physical level, but at the spiritual/philosophical level as well.

So when Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him” (11) our gospel writer is making it clear that Jesus is not only talking about a healing, but also that the risen Lazarus will be fully awake and fully sighted through the salvific power of the risen Christ: “Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.” (13) For me, this is very similar to Plato’s concept that we humans are stumbling around in a cave where the darkness prevents us from fully comprehending actual truth. For John the gospel writer, Jesus is the light that illuminates both reality and truth. And as Jesus will observe in the Upper Room Discourse, he is the sole source of truth (John 14:6). 

Jesus now turns to head back to Judea and ultimately, to Jerusalem. This is a strategically dangerous move as Thomas, who so far has not spoken in this gospel, observes to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (16) As usual, this line operates at both the physical level—after all, the authorities want to stone Jesus and presumably his disciples—but also at the spiritual level: That for all who follow Jesus, our old “Adam” dies through baptism so that we become new creatures in Christ.

Psalm 119:113–120; 2 Samuel 21; John 10:34–42

Originally published 10/29/2016. Revised and updated 10/30/2018.

Psalm 119:113–120: By this point in this psalm there is little new left to say—either for the psalmist or for me.

Once again, our psalmist sees himself beset on all sides and implores,
Turn away from me, evildoers,
that I may keep the commands of my God.” (115)

Quite frankly, I believe we can keep God’s commands even as evil surrounds us.

I’m suspicious of the psalmists’ motivations here. Is he really asking to be rescued just so he can keep God’s commands? I sense a certain intellectualism here, especially when we compare these verses to the desperate and to me, far more authentic supplications we encounter elsewhere in the Psalms, as e.g. Psalm 22. One suspects that hanging on the cross, Jesus would not have uttered,
Uphold me that I may be rescued
to regard Your statutes at all times.

Moreover, the psalmist pretends to have deep insight into God’s motivation and action in the lives of others, especially those whom the psalmist regards as wrongdoers:
You spurned all who stray from Your statutes,
for their deception is but a lie
. (118)

Really? How do you know what God has done to others? [Not to mention the annoying tautology, “their deception is but a lie.”]

But we have to admit that he’s still an optimist:
Like dross You destroy all the earth’s wicked;
therefore I love Your precepts.

Last time I looked, and as many other psalms observe, it’s the wicked who always seem to be prospering. But we cannot argue with the last line of the stanza where the psalmist recalls that God is God:
My flesh shudders from the fear of You,
and of Your laws I am in awe.

WHich is certainly a pretty good operational definition of what it means to “fear the Lord.” God certainly deserves far greater fear and reverence than we are wont to show in our modern worship where God comes off too often as an avuncular old man rather than Lord of the universe.

2 Samuel 21: In the midst of a famine David inquires of God about its cause. God replies, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (1) Our authors note that the Gibeonites, while not of Israel or Judah were under Israel’s protection—a pact Saul broke in “his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.” (2)

David asks the Gibeonites what they desire as recompense. Their answer is stark: they wish to impale the sons of Saul. David complies, although he understandably spares lame Mephibosheth. This incident is a reminder of the blood vengeance that characterized ancient civilization. Of course we cannot be smug about our “superior morals” as we watch the destruction of Aleppo by Russia and Syria and the manifest cruelty on display elsewhere in the Mideast. Or the shooting of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The veneer of modern civilization is awfully thin.

Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, are given a proper burial and “After that, God heeded supplications for the land.” (14) Which doesn’t sound all that different from the kinds of propitiation of the small-g gods that surrounding tribes engaged in.

The Philistines again “went to war again with Israel.” (15) Aging David “grew weary” in battle. A descendant of Goliath and a giant himself swears vengeance on David, but “Abishai son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and attacked the Philistine and killed him.” (17a) It’s clear that David’s days as active warrior are at an end and “David’s men swore to him, “You shall not go out with us to battle any longer, so that you do not quench the lamp of Israel.” (17b) So, David retires from the battlefield.

The battles with the Philistines continue who produce more giants “descended from the giants in Gath” (22) , including one with 12 fingers and 12 toes(!). They taunt Israel but all are killed by Israel’s soldiers.

Our takeaway from this chapter is one of unrelenting battles as Israel, under David’s leadership both on and off the battlefield, consolidates its territory and its power. And God continues to be actively involved as David never fails to go to God before he acts.

John 10:34–42: Our gospel writer cannot resist having Jesus explain his actions using scripture. Here, Jesus refutes the assertion that he is a blasphemer by pointing out that the leaders cannot recognize “one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (36).

Once again,  the choice for all who hear (or read about) Jesus is binary: “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.”  (37) Or, “if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (38) Unsurprisingly, this assertion of God being within Jesus only enrages the leaders further and they try to arrest Jesus, “but he escaped from their hands.” (39)

Jesus flees to the Jordan and (surprise, surprise), “many believed in him there.” (42) As always, it’s all about belief. However, this belief of the hoi polloi seems  rooted more in Jesus’ miracles than in his words that he is God’s son: “Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” (41)

In his effort to create a lengthy socratic dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders, our gospel writer has created an image of a very didactic Jesus—not unlike the psalmist above. But for me, while this theological side of Jesus is certainly true, this is not the compelling and charismatic Jesus whom we encounter in the synoptics.


Psalm 119:105–112; 2 Samuel 19:31–20:26; John 10:22–33

Originally published 10/28/2016. Revised and updated 10/29/2018.

Psalm 119:105–112: This stanza includes the most well known metaphor in this psalm—and one I memorized in 5th grade Sunday School:
A lamp to my feet is Your word
and a light to my path. 

Understanding that scripture is a guide to live by is crucial not only to the Jewish life, as was our psalmist’s intent here, but to the Christian life as well. Too often, the temptation is to make the bible the end of the Christian life rather than the means. For Christians, Jesus is the end, not the bible. Many well-meaning evangelicals would rather stay inside the safe boundaries of their church studying the bible rather than getting out into the world and living as Jesus would have us live; caring for the widows and bringing justice to the poor.

This metaphor presumes we are walking a winding narrow, often rocky, path through life. More than ever, we need a light to see through the fog and darkness of the culture we live in. Scripture is our guide through life.

The psalmist goes on to observe that life is risky—:something too many people would rather ignore:
My life is at risk at all times,
yet Your teaching I do not forget
. (109)

Our psalmist is not living in cloistered safety, but as we have learned again and again in this lengthy psalm, he is out in the world living among his enemies:
The wicked set a trap for me,
Yet from Your decrees I did not stray. (110a)

And perhaps just as important is that this discipline need not be onerous. Rather, it is a source of well-being:
I inherit Your precepts forever,
for they are my heart’s joy. (111)

Like the psalmist, we can turn to Scripture and review how Jesus is our ever trustworthy Rock—even as the world around us seems to be imploding.

2 Samuel 19:31–20:26: Before David leaves the trans-Jordan to return to Jerusalem, he wishes to have Barzillai the Gileadite,return to Jerusalem with him. This is the man who, “had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man” (19:32)

But Barzilla declines the offer. He is 80 years old and speaks profound words for what it is like to grow old: “Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?” (35) As I approach my 72nd birthday, these words have great resonance for me.

Barzilla’s only request is  to “let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.” (37) David agrees.

We see hints of the enormous national split to come in the future in the confrontation between the people of Israel and those of Judah. Israel is upset that Judah has “stolen away, and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him.” (41) The people of Judah respond that “the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter?” (42) Israel counters that “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us?” (43) This is the same tension between Israel and Judah that eventually splits the nation into two kingdoms. The tension has been present from the beginning. The nation will become increasingly polarized, just as America has become polarized. Will we meet the same fate?

King David is plagued by dissention in the ranks. Having not learned their lesson in the Absalom affair, “the people of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba son of Bichri, but the people of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.” (20:2) Of course we need to remember that it is the priests and scribes of Judah who are writing this history, so verses such as these ar not unexpected.

Back in Jerusalem, David metes out punishment to the “ten concubines whom he had left to look after the house” (20:3),. He provides for them but locks them away “until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.” (20:3) presumably because having laid with Absalom they are now spoiled goods. One wonders if the concubines could have resisted Absalom, so to our modern sensibilities this seems to be an unfair punishment.

More intrigue follows. David gives orders to capture and kill Sheba. David’s general Amasa apparently abandons David by failing to return after three days with the army. Joab comes across Amasa in the field and believing him to be a traitor, embraces Amasa, seemingly to kiss him in greeting but instead stabs him in the gut.

Joab’s army approaches the town where Sheba is hiding. A woman, realizing that Joab’s army will destroy the city in the battle to capture Sheba: “I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel; you seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel; why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?” (20:19)

She tells Joab that she will hand over the head of Sheba in order to avoid the destruction of the city, which she does, thereby saving her city. As the authors point out, she is a wise woman. But also as usual, the authors do not name her. What’s fascinating here is that it is a woman who brings peace through shrewd negotiation. Once again, a woman is a more effective peacemaker than the hot-headed men who surround her.

John 10:22–33: Far more than in the synoptic gospels, John describes the deep tensions that Jesus has created in Jerusalem because of his ambiguous assertions that he is the Messiah that has come directly from God. The “Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (24) But as usual, Jesus does not come right out and assert his messiahship as I’m sure many others had before him. Instead, he tells the Jews, “I have told you, and you do not believe.” (25a) Jesus asserts that the miracles he’s worked should serve as sufficient proof: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (25b) Once again, the overarching theme is that belief is essential. Jesus knows that even if he told them outright they would still doubt. But Jesus does not make this belief come easily.

Knowing that what he’s about to say will anger them further, Jesus tells them “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (26) Here is John’s binary world at its starkest. You’re either inside the sheepfold because you believe in Jesus or you’re not because you don’t believe: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (27)

Jesus again emphasizes his relationship with God the Father: “The Father and I are one.” (30) This angers the crowd even further and they pick up stones to kill Jesus. He calmly replies, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” (32) Someone in the crowd just as calmly replies, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” (33)

So there it is: Jesus is unacceptable to conventional religion. His claims are just too outrageous. Again and again, John is reminding us that we cannot remain on the fence. Either one believes in Jesus or one does not. We pick up the stones or we do not. We cannot rationalize our way out of that decision. Either go through the gate of Jesus into the sheepfold or remain outside. Those who say Jesus is simply a “good teacher” but reject his assertions of messiahship clearly remain outside the fold.


Psalm 119:97–104; 2 Samuel 18:31–19:30; John 10:11–21

Originally published 10/27/2016. Revised and updated 10/27/2018.

Psalm 119: 97-104: Our psalmist continues his love poem that is more about loving God’s law than it is about loving God:
How I loved Your teaching,
All day long it was my theme
. (97)

But there’s more than mere infatuation here as he acknowledges the real benefits of following God’s laws:
Your command makes me wiser than my enemies
for it is mine forever.” (98b)

No other person can take God’s gift away from him.

God’s laws also provide deeper insight than any human wisdom:
I have understood more than all my teachers
for Your precepts became my theme. (99)

In other words, it is his singular focus on God’s law whereby
I gained insight more than the elders
for Your decrees I kept.

Obviously, the implication here is that his teachers and elders have not been as focused in keeping God’s law as he has. Once again, we see the roots of Pharisaism when our poet begins seeing himself as being superior to others—even those who are ostensibly his betters.

Our psalmist’s religious self-righteousness again peeks out from behind the curtain when he claims a level of moral purity and exclusivity with God not achieved by others:
From Your laws I did not swerve,
for You Yourself instructed me.

For me, he becomes downright unctuous as  he declares,
How sweet to my palate Your utterance,
more than honey to my mouth.

Happily, we see a more honest version of the poet in the last verse of this stanza:
From Your decrees I gained insight,
therefore I hated all paths of lies.
” (104)

Notice that he hates all ‘paths of lies,” which is the habit of falsity, not merely the lies themselves—a trait rather common in politicians. In fact, for me, that is the chief takeaway of this stanza: when we follow God we are less likely to follow the ‘paths of lies,’

2 Samuel 18:31–19:30: The Cushite arrives at David’s camp. David asks in desperation,“Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (18:32a) The messenger answers with superb diplomacy, complimenting Absalom but simultaneously making it clear that he is dead: “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.” (32b) David famously mourns, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33)

David’s mourning dampens the morale of the victorious troops. Joab challenges the king’s public display of emotion, telling David that “You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.” (19:6) Joab goes on to make his point that “if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.” (7) In short, David’s public mourning has put his very bona fides as king at risk.  Joab knows a thing or two about leadership and his words are a striking reminder that leaders must continue to lead despite their personal emotions—even the death of a son.

Meanwhile, the Israelites who had backed Absalom are now without a king. David sends a message to Zadok and his son that the elders of Judah should not hesitate to call him back to the throne. David returns to Jerusalem as king. Servants such as Shimei, who had sided with Absalom, realize they are doomed if David returns.

A certain Abishai asks,“Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” (21) Shemei admits his sin and begs David for mercy, which he grants.

Saul’s grandson (and Jonathan’s son), lame Mephibosheth, whom David has granted a place in the palace, comes to greet David in a disheveled state. David asks, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” (25). M replies that he was deceived by his servant and because of his handicap could not follow David. M throws himself on the mercy of David, who responds generously, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” (29) M declines the offer, saying, “Let [Ziba] take it all, since my lord the king has arrived home safely.” (30)

The common theme through this passage of David receiving the news about Absalom, his mourning, the resumption of his role as king, and his generous acts of mercy all show David as the exemplar of kingly leadership. But we should not forget Joab’s sound advice to David either. The lessons here are completely applicable to any person today in a leadership role—especially in the church. If we were to use the lessons of both Joab and David against politicians today it seems that true leadership no longer exists. Rather, our current situation is more like Israel and Judah under the corrupt kings that followed David and Solomon.

John 10:11–21: One thing we can say about our gospel writer: he never leaves us hanging on Jesus’ often ambiguous statements. Unlike the synoptic writers, John makes every effort to ensure we fully understand Jesus’ metaphors and parables. He certainly does so here. There is no confusion as Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (11)

Religious authorities are mere hired hands, who are not loyal to the people they are supposed to lead: “The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” (13) Again, John gives us a strong hint of Jesus’ fate when Jesus repeats, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” (15)

Clearly, up to this point, the sheep represent the Jews to whom Jesus is preaching. But then Jesus speaks of non-Jewish sheep: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” (16a) These ‘other sheep’ are Gentiles and Jesus has come equally for them. Regardless of race or background, all humanity can come to Jesus and “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (16b). Paul (who is actually writing earlier than the gospel writer) of course amplifies this when he says there is no distinction among those to whom Jesus has come: neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free man.

Jesus then provides a strong hint of his impending death and resurrection: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” (17) Perhaps even more startling, he asserts that he is in complete control of this event: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (18a) Our gospel writer is telling us in no uncertain terms that Jesus’ death was not based neither on circumstance nor on human intervention. Jesus’ death and resurrection has been preordained by God himself: “I have received this command from my Father.” (18b)

No wonder many in the crowd though he was a crazy man. But others sensed that because Jesus healed the blind man—up to this point Jesus’ most astounding miracle—that something far greater than a demon-possessed rabbi was at work here. Of course since we know the outcome of the story, we know which side was right.

Psalm 119:89–96; 2 Samuel 18:1–30; John 10:1–10

Originally published 10/26/2016. Revised and updated 10/26/2018.

Psalm 119:89–96: One of the threads running through this lengthy psalm is God as creator. Our psalmist views God’s word as one of the key elements of creation and eternally intertwined in physical nature:
Forever, O Lord,
Your word stands high in the heavens.
For all generations Your faithfulness.
You made the earth firm and it stood.” (89, 90)

God’s laws came into being at the moment of creation and are inextinguishable:
By Your laws they stand this day,
for all are Your servants. (91)

For our psalmist, it is understanding and abiding in God’s law that is an integral part of creation—and which affords rescue:
Had not Your teaching been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction. (92)

Once again, there is supplication. The poet believes he deserves God’s rescue because he has been faithful to God’s law:
I am Yours, O rescue me,
for Your decrees I have sought. (94)

God’s law is not just a part of creation, it transcends it:
For each finite thing I saw an end—
but Your command is exceedingly broad. (96)

God’s laws are intrinsic to creation and expressed in the wonders of particle physics and genetic biology. The more science seeks to understand creation, the more mysteriously wonderful it becomes. Our psalmist is exactly right. Were it not for God’s law expressed through the laws of nature creation could not exist. We are not here by coincidence.

2 Samuel 18:1–30: As Hushai had previously pointed out to Absalom, David is a savvy warrior. He divides his army into thirds and announces he will go into battle with his men. His generals object, stating that David is “worth ten thousand of us.” (3). They ask him to remain at the city, which he agrees to do as “the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands.” (4) However, David instructs his general to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (5) Our authors note that “all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.” (5)

Unsurprisingly, David’s army is victorious and “the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.” (7) As for Absalom, he is riding a donkey which passes under a too-low tree. His neck is caught in the branches as the donkey rides on. The man who saw this informs Joab, who is angry the soldier did not finish off Absalom right there and then. The soldier responds that he had heard David’s command to go gently on his son. Joab will have none of this mercy stuff and tells the man, “I will not waste time like this with you.” (14) as he thrusts three spears into Absalom’s heart.

The battle is over and the troops bury Absalom under “a very great heap of stones.” (17) Zadok’s son Ahimaaz asks Joab if he can deliver the news of Absalom’s death to David. Joab does not allow this and sends a resident alien instead. However, Ahimaaz persists in his desire to bring the news to David and proceeds to run behind the appointed messenger.

David sees Ahimaaz approach and believes that since “He is a good man, and comes with good tidings.” (27) Ahimaaz shouts, “All is well,” and when David asks about Absalom, Ahimaaz replies only that “I saw a great tumult, but I do not know what it was.” (29) Since messengers carrying bad news often met a grim end Ahimaaz is understandably afraid to tell David the truth.

Our authors have expressed an enormous range of human emotion in this brilliantly written story, which is why I believe this is authentic history, albeit written by the victors. We see David’s love for his son even though he has usurped the throne, as well as his optimism when Ahimaaz approaches. We understand Joab’s anger when he kills Absalom for what he believes is unforgivable treason. We witness Ahimaaz’s enthusiasm to bring the news and then his hesitation as he is unable to bring the bad news to David. Human passion and behavior have remained unchanged over the three millennia since these events took place.

John 10:1–10: Our gospel writer moves from the metaphor of the blind and sight to the metaphor of those under the protection of Jesus as our good shepherd. In yet another echo of the underlying binary theme of this gospel—one believes or doesn’t believe—Jesus points out that there is one and only one way to the protection of the sheepfold: through the gate. And “the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (2)

Jesus goes on to describe how the sheep follow the shepherd “because they know his voice.” (4) Moreover, the sheep run from a stranger  “because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (5) Needless to say, this extended metaphor is fairly opaque and his listeners (presumably his disciples) “did not understand what he was saying to them.” (6) [Nor would we at this point.]

So Jesus patiently explains the metaphor: “I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.” (7, 8) This is a shocking statement because John’s Jesus is effectively saying that all of Jewish law and tradition, not to mention the religious leaders are “thieves and bandits.” This assertion certainly seems to fly in the face of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)

As usual, this polarizing statement supports of John’s overarching theme: One believes in Jesus and who he says he is or one does not. Jesus’ next sentence makes this dichotomy abundantly clear: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (9) But all others who purport to speak for God are relegated to the category of usurpers: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  (10a) This was certainly a shot across the bow of the competitors preaching a different gospel in the author’s own community.

If we ever needed a clear statement of the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation, we find it here in this brief but luminous statement: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10b) Would that we could strip away all our theological baggage and simply bask in the reality of this transcendent promise.


Psalm 119:81–88; 2 Samuel 17; John 9:35–41

Originally published 10/25/2016. Revised and updated 10/25/2018.

Psalm 119:81–88: We arrive at the halfway point of this seemingly endless psalm… The psalmist opens this stanza of supplication with a slightly romantic flavor as he describes his desire for a relationship with God’s word (apparently rather than God himself):
My being longs for Your rescue,
for Your word I hope.
My eyes pine for Your utterance
. (81, 82a).

As we already know, he has endured some kind of trial, whose details he hasn’t revealed. Here, our poet uses a rather arresting simile to describe his ability to follow God’s laws even under the most trying circumstances:
Though I was like a skin-flask in smoke,
Your statutes I did not forget
.” (83)

With this justification of faithfulness, he turns to supplication, wondering when God will give him justice he feels his rectitude has earned: When will You exact justice from my pursuers? (84b)

After all, he argues, unlike him, the evildoers do not follow God’s laws:
The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me,
which are not according to Your teaching.

We finally get a glimpse of the psalmist’s heart as he abandons his rational arguments and simply cries out in his pain while he once again states his unwavering faithfulness to God’s word:
For no reason they pursued me—help me!
They nearly put an end to me on earth,
yet I forsook not Your decrees. (86b, 87)

This stanza concludes with a final appeal that God should rescue  him so that he can live in order to continue to obey:
As befits Your kindness give me life,
that I may observe Your mouth’s precept.

I think I know what’s bothering me about this psalm. The psalmist seems to desire a relationship with God’s word/ law/ precepts rather than a relationship with God himself. As I’ve observed many times already, the intense focus on word and law rather than on God’s qualities was certainly a foundational document for the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

2 Samuel 17: The traitorous adviser, Ahithophel, has more nastiness toward David up his sleeve as he suggests that Absalom appoint 12,000 men to pursue David and his people. His plan would be to assassinate David only, throwing his followers into panic. He promises, “I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband.” (3) Absalom and “the elders of Israel” are pleased with this suggestion.

Unaware that Hushai is David’s spy, Absalom asks the retainer whether or not Ahithophel’s plan is wise. Hushai replies, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” (8) pointing out that A’s plan is flawed because “your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the troops” (8) Hushai offers an alternative plan: “my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beer-sheba, like the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person.” (11) Absalom prefers this advice and prepares for battle.

Meanwhile, Hushai goes to the priests Zadok and Abiathar and tells them to send two servants to warn David. Unfortunately, the messengers are betrayed to Absalom and forced to hide in a well. Nevertheless, they elude capture and get the word to David, telling him to take his army and cross over the Jordan.

His advice ignored, Ahithophel goes home and hangs himself. Absalom takes his army, crosses the Jordan, and camps in Gilead. Our authors name the people who brings supplies to David’s army as they hide out in the wilderness. The preparations for the battle about to come appear to be complete.

Is there a theological lesson here? Not really. Rather, this story shines a light on negative and positive human qualities. Mendacity and treachery are hardly new to our age. But neither are courage and kindness.

John 9:35–41: John moves to the conclusion of the most symbolically and theologically fraught miracle in all the gospels. Jesus heard that the Pharisees had driven the healed man out of the temple and seeks him out. This is a great reminder that it is Jesus who seeks us out in order to have an relationship with us.

Jesus asks the direct question that is at the foundation of this gospel: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The formerly blind man answers for all of us, for this is the essence of the evangelicum—the Good News: “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” (36)

At this point, John the gospel writer is no longer being symbolic or theologically sophisticated: Jesus’ answer is perfectly direct: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” (37) And John is telling us that the man’s reply must be our reply: “Lord, I believe.” (38). There it is. Three words, and once these words are uttered by the man, he worships Jesus. WHich must be exactly our response 2000 years later.

John draws his theological argument to a close by stating Jesus’ raison d’etre—why he came to earth in the first place: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”(39) Here, blindness and seeing are strictly spiritual. Those who are formerly spiritually blind believe and thereby see Jesus and his salvific power. Those, who like the Pharisees, think they have gained spiritual insight through their own efforts and study (I’m thinking of you, 119 psalmist…) remain blind to the glorious reality of Jesus himself.

The Pharisees who come to Jesus and assert, “We see,” have not found salvation through the “seeing” of theological understanding. Thus, as Jesus informs them, they remain in sin rather than believing in him. It’s so simple that it’s obscure to those who erect elaborate theological scaffolding to discover the way to God. Belief centers on one thing only: That Jesus is who he says he is. And as usual, it’s strictly a binary choice.


Psalm 119:73–80; 2 Samuel 15:30–16:23; John 9:13–34

Originally published 10/24/2017. Revised and updated 10/24/2018.

Psalm 119:73–80: One of the remarkable aspects of this overlong psalm is how skilled its author is at recapitulating the same themes again and again and yet, there’s usually something new to be discovered in each stanza. Here, there is the connection between God as creator and how he instills our moral awareness: “Your hands made me and set me firm.” (73a)

Moreover, the psalmist’s piety is not only visible to God, but is an object of praise by other pious folks:
Those who fear You see me and rejoice,
for I hope for Your word
. (74)

Our psalmist has but one overriding purpose in life to connect with God through his word:
May Your mercies befall me, that I may live,
for Your teaching is my delight.

As always, the psalmist can barely conceal his desire for God to curse those who have slandered him, while by contrast, he will attend to his sacred duties regardless of what others may say:
May the arrogant be shamed, for with lies they distorted my name.
As for me, I shall dwell on Your decrees. (78)

But there is more than simple self-righteousness going on here. The psalmist writes as someone in power. Perhaps he is a priest who has been abandoned by his followers because of false charges brought against him by his enemies:
May those who fear You turn back to me,
and those who fear You turn back to me.

Finally, he prays for personal piety:
May my heart be blameless in Your statutes,
so that I be not shamed.

The question for me is, would I be able to ignore public shaming and turn back to God? Or, rather than merely writing about it in a psalm, would I lash out at my enemies? Clearly, it would be far better to resist that temptation and leave it up to God to shame them.

2 Samuel 15:30–16:23: A weeping David is on the run after his son, Absalom, has usurped the throne. Even his most trusted advisor, Ahithophel, has conspired against him. However, as a faithful man of God, David has not lost hope. He enlists his faithful servant, Hushai the Archite, to return to Jerusalem as his spy. David instructs Hushai to report what he hears at Absalom’s court to Zadok the priest and his son, who are also David’s ally.

Nevertheless, David still has plenty of enemies. Shimel, from Saul’s house is happy to see David brought low. He curses and throws rocks at David and his companions as they pass by, shouting that David has finally received his comeuppance: “See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood.” (16:8) Abishai, who is with David, asks permission to kill this miscreant. But as always, David leaves vengeance up to God, pointing out, “My own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse.” (16:11)

Meanwhile, back at Jerusalem, the spy, Hushai, shows up and appears to give obeisance to the usurper king. Absalom is suspicious, wondering why David’s friend would throw his lot over to Absalom: “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” (16:17) Hushai replies that “the one whom the Lord and this people and all the Israelites have chosen [i.e., Absalom], his I will be.” (18) And promises to serve Absalom. David now has ears inside Absalom’s court.

Now that he is on the throne, Absalom asks his counselor, Ahithophel, what he should  do to consolidate his power. the counselor replies that he should have sex with all of David’s concubines. Moreover, he should do so in public by pitching a tent on the palace roof.

Can Absalom’s morality sink any lower? Can anything get worse for David?

John 9:13–34: Jesus’ healing of the blind man has caused an enormous stir among the Pharisees, who continue to investigate how the man had been healed. There is dissention within the group. Some assert that Jesus has worked on the sabbath, “But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” (16) Still others doubt the man was ever blind at all.

On this latter doubt, the Pharisees send for the man’s parents. However, the parents are smart enough not to walk into the trap. They tell them to ask their son directly, “He is of age; ask him.” (23) So, they drag the poor man back in front of them a second time and again ask for the details of the healing. Understandably miffed, the healed man replies, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” (27a) But then is an act of unintentional irony, he adds, “Do you also want to become his disciples?” (27b).

This response elicits more anger as the Pharisees assert, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” (29) John uses the healed man’s reply to drive home the overriding theme of this healing: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” (30) The blind man continues with startling theological insight, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (33) Enraged, the pharisees curse him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” (34)

Our gospel writer is making sure that his community (and we) understand that Jesus is much greater than Moses and that this incident is physical proof of what he has asserted in the opening lines of his gospel: Jesus is the Word, who unlike Moses, has come directly from God. Moreover, we may have been born in sins, but when we believe in Jesus, we are indeed given much more than physical sight; like the blind man, we are given spiritual insight. But also, like the Pharisees, we are cynical and far prefer to remain trapped in our own preconceptions—unwilling to accept the new reality that Jesus has brought to earth.


Psalm 119:65–72; 2 Samuel 15:1–29; John 9:1–12

Psalm reflection originally published 10/24/2017. OT & NT reflections published 10/22/2016. Revised and updated 10/23/2018.

Psalm 119:65–72: The psalmist continues to affirm how God’s good teaching put his life on the straight and narrow path:
Good You have done for Your servant,
O Lord, as befits Your word.

His trust now resides in only one place:
Good insight and knowledge teach me,
for in Your commands I trust.

How much better it is for us, under the terms of the New Covenant, to be able to place our trust not only in God’s commands, but in Jesus Christ as well.

It’s clear that our psalmist has endured some sort of severe illness which has caused him to reflect on his life and the direction he was going. Before his illness he was definitely headed down the wrong path and doubtless consorting with the ne’er-do-wells he now calls arrogant. Now that he has experienced what was probably a near-death experience he has turned back to following God’s law:
Before I was afflicted, I went astray,
but now Your utterance I observe.” (67)

I well know whereof the psalmist speaks. There was nothing like hearing the words, “You have a nasty cancer, Craig” to suddenly stop drifting through life, acknowledge my mortality, and begin serious reflection on the direction my life and my relationships—especially my relationship with God—were taking.

Our psalmist realizes that God is the source of all that is good:
You are good and do good.” (68a)

He abandons his erstwhile friends when he realizes they are up to no good as he compares their falsehoods with God’s eternal truths. As always, he lets us know that he has chosen the righteous path:
The arrogant plaster me with lies—
I with whole heart keep Your decrees.
Their heart grows dull like fat—
as for me, in Your teaching I delight.” (69, 70)

Those who do not follow God’s teachings become indolent: “Their heart grows dull like fat—

Looking back, he realizes that the reflection and then the repentance that arose from his sickness was a beneficial because it turned him back to God:
It was good for me that I was afflicted,
so that I might learn Your statutes.” (71)

I have to agree. The reality of illness forced me to think about more serious matters—matters of life and death. Unlike the psalmist though, I was not surrounded by people spewing lies. Rather, it was the love of God expressed through the deeds and words of those around me that helped me realize that God was very near.

2 Samuel 15:1–29: History is littered with examples of the children of great men being scoundrels.Absalom is no exception. Now that he has been forgiven by his father, he sees the way clear to seize power and become a tyrant. Turning those who came to Jerusalem to bring their business to King David are turned away, as Absalom announces “there is no one deputed by the king to hear you.” (3) Instead, behaves as if he is the arbiter and usurps David’s role as judge and king. “Then all who had a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give them justice.” (4) Thus, “Absalom stole the hearts of the people of Israel.” (6)

After doing this for four years, he tells his father he is going to Hebron to offer sacrifices, when in reality he is planning a coup d’etat, sending messengers throughout Israel to announce Absalom is king when the people hear the trumpet: “The conspiracy grew in strength, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.” (12)

David realizes that Absalom is now far more popular than he, and the king flees Jerusalem. While the Israelites may have forsaken David, the resident aliens in Israel have not.  Ittai the Gittite, promises undying loyalty to David, but David advises Ittai and his retinue to leave him.

In the meantime, Zadok and the Levites, “carrying the ark of the covenant of God” appear. David instructs Zadok to carry the ark back to Jerusalem, and seek what God has to say about David remaining king, stating that “if I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and the place where it stays.” (25) But if David is no longer right before God, then “let him do to me what seems good to him.” (26) Zadok complies and we await the outcome.

The point of this story is that currying favor among the people and building a personality cult is not the same as being a man of God. [And we’ve seen plenty of examples in the church, e.g., many televangelists.] As always, David consults God before taking action or in this case, seeking with all his heart whether or not he should remain king. When we examine our current celebrity-obsessed culture, we see little Absaloms all around us, including those in political office. The lesson here is crystalline: popularity and being in fashion lead many astray but they are ultimately foundations built on sand.

John 9:1–12: The story of the blind man given sight by Jesus operates on several levels. There is the incident itself: a man born blind is given sight by Jesus. What’s most intriguing at this level is that Jesus did not just heal him instantly as he could have. Rather by placing saliva-based mud on the man’s eyes and asking the man to wash at the pool of Siloam, the man participated in his own healing. He had to take action himself in order to be healed.

At the sociological level, those around Jesus ask if the man is blind from birth because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. This is a perfectly natural question in a culture that believed physical disability was the direct result of sin. Jesus is not trapped into answering this two-alternative forced choice question, but offers the third unexpected answer: neither. Rather than expounding on this, Jesus changes the subject, pointing out that “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (3) In short, it seems the man was born blind just so Jesus could demonstrate his power to heal.

As usual with John, there is the overlay of urgency. Jesus will be here only a short time before the end of history: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” (4). Clearly, John is telling his community that time is short and they need to get on with working to advance the Kingdom of God.

The third level of this story is of course theological: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (5) And just as Jesus has given the blind man sight, it is light that will give all believers sight—and insight. All of us are blind to God’s reality and benevolence until we are healed, given sight, by Jesus.

The fourth level is that Jesus tends to sow confusion wherever he goes—one of the symptoms of blindness. The man’s acquaintances are confused: “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” (9) Even though the formerly blind man tells them, “I am the man” (10) they remain skeptical. They ask incredulously how he was given sight and he replies by simply describing what happened. But even then they don’t believe him. (Here’s John’s overarching theme of belief once again) and they try to find Jesus. But Jesus has left the building. Unless we believe we will remain confused by Jesus’ claims, as well as the claims of the people who have experienced Jesus’ healing powers.



Psalm 119:57–64; 2 Samuel 13:34–14:33; John 8:42–59

Psalm 119:57-64: Although the theme of this long psalm is about learning and then adhering to God’s law, there are occasional glimpses of topics that speak more to the heart than to the mind. One of those instances is here at verse 58:
I entreated You with a whole heart,
grant me grace as befits Your utterance.

The psalmist asks for grace, raising the question that of grace is “unmerited favor” should we ask for it? The answer clearly is ‘yes,” because when we come to God with our entire being, God, whose language is grace, replies. And I think the meaning here is more about asking for God’s forgiveness.

Our psalmist has recognized the error of his ways and realizing that, he turns back to God and asks for grace “with a whole heart.” We talk a lot about “heart” and even “our whole heart.” But do we reflect on its true meaning? A “whole heart” implies the totality of one’s being. There are no small, unlit corners of ourselves that we have hidden and reserved for our own purposes. As Oswald Chambers always has it, we must abandon ourselves, our ego, and our desire for control in order to embrace Jesus fully.

We must remember that even with our whole heart turned toward God, we do not merit grace on our own. We cannot claim grace; it comes only in response. But I think it’s important to remember that as the psalmist reminds us here; grace comes from conversation–prayer–with God. We entreat; He replies.

We also see that it is not just about learning God’s law and God’s way, but as the psalmist notes, it is putting these precepts into practice in our relationships:
A friend I am to all who fear You,
and to those who observe your decrees. (63)

I am not particularly happy with how our psalmist has circumscribed his favor only to those who are like him and follow God’s laws. But there you have it..

2 Samuel 13:34–14:33: Realizing the enormity of his crime of murdering Ammon, Absalom fled and spends three years in exile. Nevertheless, “the heart of  the king [David] went out, yearning for Absalom; for he was now consoled over the death of Amnon. (13:39)e

In order to avoid internecine bloodshed, Joab concocts a plan to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem.  He sends for a “wise woman” from Tekoa and tells her, “Pretend to be a mourner; put on mourning garments, do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead.” (14:2) Equipped with Joab’s story, the woman goes to the king and begs David not to allow vengeance to be taken out on “the servant” (Absalom) for murdering Ammon. David agrees, replying, “As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.” (14:10)

The woman cannot complete the ruse and speaks the truth to David, pointing out that “For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again.” (14:13) David  figures out the plot, asking, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” (14:19) The woman replies that is indeed the case, “it was he who put all these words into the mouth of your servant. In order to change the course of affairs your servant Joab did this.” (14:20)

Doubtless somewhat miffed by the subtrefuge, David tells Joab that he can bring Absalom back to Jerusalem but “he is not to come into my presence.” (14:24)

Absalom spends two years in Jerusalem, siring three sons and a daughter. Somewhat frustrated, he asks for Joab to come to him, but Joab ignores him twice. Absalom finally gets Joab’s attention by setting one of his fields on fire. Joab agrees to ask David if Absalom can come into the presence of his father seeking forgiveness. David agrees, “So [Absalom] came to the king and prostrated himself with his face to the ground before the king; and the king kissed Absalom.” (14:33)

This story has a happy ending because David found it possible to forgive his son. The lesson of forgiveness is here for all of us.

John 8:42–59: The war of words between the Pharisees and Jesus is getting intense. Jesus tells them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.” (42) Jesus goes on to accuse them of coming from the devil for the very logical reason that “Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.” (47)

Deeply insulted, the Jews respond tit for tat, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (48) Jesus throws gasoline on the rhetorical fire by telling them, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” (51) In turn, the pharisees accuse him, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” (53) To which Jesus responds that Abraham would be happy to learn that the messiah had finally come. Then comes one of Jesus’ most remarkable and to the Jews heretical statements, “Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” (58) Jesus barely escapes being stoned by hiding and escaping form the temple.

What can we make of this passage? My own sense is that Jesus wanted to make sure that the Jewish leaders would seek to kill him. Of course, this being the gospel of John there is also deep theology here since it is the most detailed explanation in the Gospels of the deep relationship between Jesus and God, whom Jesus always calls “Father.” This dialog underpins much of the theology of the Trinity.

Psalm 119:49-57; 2 Samuel 13:1-33; John 8:31-41

Originally published 10/21/2014. Revise and updated 10/20/2018

Psalm 119:49-57: In this section our psalmist describes the pain of faithfulness in the face of severe opposition as he prays:
Recall the word to Your servant
for which You made me hope.
This is my consolation in my affliction,
that Your utterance gave me life. (49, 50)

He clearly has faced opposition from others who doubtless perceived his loyalty to God as hypocrisy:
The arrogant mocked me terribly—
from Your teaching I did not turn. (52)

But he makes usre that God (and we) know that he has remained steadfast in his dedication to God’s law:
I recalled Your laws forever,
O Lord and I was consoled. (52)

This sort of dedication makes his enemies—those who have abandoned God— even angrier:
Rage from the wicked seized me,
from those who forsake Your teaching. (53)

The contrast between the rage of his enemies and his inner peace is striking and one has the feeling his relationship with God and the Law is all that he has left:
Songs were Your statutes to me,
in the house of my sojourning.
I recalled in the night Your name, O Lord,
and I observed Your teaching.
This did I possess,
for Your decrees I kept. (54-56)

Ho grateful  am that I live under the terms of the New Covenant and God’s grace through Jesus.

2 Samuel 13:1-33: The author of this book makes sure we understand the implications of Nathan’s prediction after David took Bathsheba from Uriah: “I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house” (12:11) by following immediately with the disturbing story of Ammon’s rape of his half-sister, Tamar.

Ammon becomes obsessed with Tamar, and his desire to have sex with her is enabled by his devious friend, Jonadab. A ruse that Ammon is ill brings his sister Tamar to him. He invites her to feed him and despite Tamar’s protests that “such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile!” (13:12) he rapes her and she flees in shame, her life ruined.

Ammon’s reaction to the incestuous rape is proof that human nature has not changed one whit in the thousands of years that have passed. Having raped her, he now detests Tamar, the living symbol of his evil act, and banishes her. Tamar’s brother Absalom hides Tamar, now “a desolate woman” in his house. David hears of the rape, but refuses to punish Ammon “because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.” (13:21)

Absalom waits two years and finally has his revenge on Ammon by having him killed. Tragedy has surely visited David and his family. The consequences of David’s inaction in punishing Ammon are not only ruined lives of his children, but losing the son he loves most.

Did God carry out this punishment? No. David’s punishment arises strictly from consequences of evil acts and failure to act on those evil acts at the earliest possible moment. Ignoring evil and just hoping it will somehow “go away” is a fool’s errand. And David has been enormously foolish here. Yet, variations of this tragic story echo down through the centuries.

John 8:31-41: This section includes a phrase famously taken out of context: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (32). As usual, the disciples do not exactly grasp what Jesus is saying, and as good Jews, the proclaim, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” (33),  Jesus goes on to say much more than “the truth will make you free” (as the motto of many universities would have it.)

There are three conditions that precede Jesus’ assertion about truth and freedom.

One: We are to continue in “my word,” i.e., believe what Jesus is telling us; a tall order indeed. And “continue” is important here. Belief is not just a one-time event, but a lifelong process.

Two: if we believe, then we are Jesus’ disciples, an obligation to follow Jesus, which is a challenging task indeed.

Three: we will then know God’s truth, the Truth that is Jesus Christ. And it is that singular truth—not some abstract “truthiness”—that sets us free from the consequences of our sinful nature.

Jesus goes on to elaborate on how he is at the center of this intimate relationship of truth and freedom in his disquisition on slavery and freedom. There is only one way to freedom through truth and that is via Jesus, the Son of God the Father: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (36) This is certainly a very different Truth than the “truth” that the world believes—or at least says— it is seeking.