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Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Judges 17:1-13; Psalm 106:1-18; Acts 7:44-8:1a; John 5:19-29

As we take up these final chapters of Judges, the pattern changes. No longer do we hear the formula that the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and the Lord handed them over to an enemy. Rather, now the focus is on the dissolution of the nation as tribe rises up against tribe, and ultimately, civil war breaks out between them--they have become their own enemies! Today we hear about that transitional time, before the temple in Jerusalem, when the Levites became the resident priestly class, and when, lacking a Levite in one's midst, priestly duties could be carried out by any Israelite male. The story begins in the northern hill county occupied by the tribe of Ephraim: a man named Micah, which means, “One who is like the Lord,” who tells his mother that the eleven hundred pieces of silver that were taken from her, and about which she uttered a curse in his own hearing, is in his possession; he took them, but is now returning them to her. At that, the mother reverses her curse and turns it into a blessing and consecrates the silver to the Lord, so that her son can make an idol of it. Though all idols were forbidden by the law, it is instructive to see how easily that law was disregarded and how prevalent idols were in the Israelite cultures of this time, considered a “necessary evil,” to facilitate their worship. Of the eleven hundred pieces returned, the mother takes two hundred to a silversmith who makes it into an idol that is then set up in Micah’s house. Micah then builds a shire for the idol, including fashioning an ephod and teraphim (human figurines used in divination and other magic, to secure the prosperity of the household—remember the ones Rebecca took with her, and sat on as she, Jacob and Leah fled her father’s household?). Micah then installs one of his sons as priest. The chronicler then makes the editorial comment that, because there was no king in the land, people did what they thought was right in their own eyes. It is the editor preparing the way for the need and establishment of the monarchy in Israel. The story now shifts to a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, who is a Levite, who leaves there and moves to the north in search of priestly work and a new home, and ends up residing with Micah, who employs him to be his religious “father” and priest. The Levite agrees and becomes like a son to Micah. Now that Micah has someone from the priestly tribe as his own priest, he is certain that the Lord will bless him.

Psalm 106 begins with the familiar refrain, “Hallelujah [“Praise the Lord”]! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” However, rather than a psalm of praise, it is a corporate confession of sin, remembering the numerous ways the people have remained faithless in the face of God’s steadfast love and care. “We and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.” The recital of sins begins in Egypt, where they ignored God’s wonderful works. Liberated from Egypt, they rebelled against God at the Red Sea, not trusting God to deliver them from the Egyptians. When God did save them from their foe they rejoiced and sang God’s praise, but then quickly forgot God’s works and counsel. Their cravings for food and water, their murmurings and various rebellions in the wilderness are recounted, as well as their jealousies of Moses and Aaron, and God’s judgments on them. Today the psalm ends at verse 18, with the judgment against Dathan and Abiram and their families for challenging the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16).

Stephen continues to stand before the Council on trial, as he chronicles the works of God among the Israelites, today remembering the tabernacle given them in the wilderness that was brought into the land with Joshua, as God drove out the nations before them until the time of David. Though David wanted to build a house for the Lord, that was not his to do, but that task fell to his son Solomon. And now Stephen cuts the history short and turns to his point: God does not dwell in buildings made of hands, and then quotes the prophet Isaiah as God asks, “What kind of house will you build for me…? Did not my hand make all these things?” And from there, Stephen levels his judgment against the Council: they are stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and ear, forever opposing the Holy Spirit just as their ancestors did. Which of the prophets did their ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, but now, they have actually become the Righteous One’s betrayers and murderers. Though they received the law ordained by angels, they have refused to keep it. Such criticism and denouncement, no matter how true, cannot go unchallenged and, so, the Council members are even more enraged. Stephen, rather than defend himself, is now further filled by the Holy Spirit and announces that he can see into heaven and is looking at God’s glory (presence), and he sees, standing next to God, at God’s right hand, Jesus, the Son of Man. Willing to listen no more, the Council members rush Stephen, drag him out of their chambers to the edge of the city and begin to stone him. Standing by as witness is a young Pharisee named Saul, at whose feet they lay their cloaks, as they continue to hurl their stones. Stephen receives the hail of rocks in prayer, asking Jesus to receive his spirit, and then kneels over to turn his back to their blows while crying out in a voice loud enough for them to all hear, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” With that, he dies, while Saul stands by approving of what is being done. Thus, Stephen becomes the first martyr for Jesus. Commentators note how Luke has told this story in a way that reveals Stephen as a reflection of Jesus and his own behavior before his captors and executioners. The persecution of the church has begun, and with it, the fruit that such persecution always brings—renewed faithfulness and growth.

The Jewish leaders are shocked and angered by Jesus’ claim of relationship with God and consider it blasphemy, a sin punishable by death. Jesus, for his part, simply elaborates on what he means by having just said, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” He can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; what the Father does, he does. The Father, for his part, loves the Son and therefore shows him all that he is doing. Greater works than these will he do and will they see, to the point of their astonishment. Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father, rather than act as judge, has given that authority to the Son, so that the Son may be honored. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father. Their judgment against the judge is, in fact, judgment against themselves. But all who hear Jesus’ words and believe him who sent him have eternal life and do not come under judgment, for in believing, they have passed from death to life. And now, Jesus turns to even more astonishing claims: the dead hear his voice and, as they do, they live. The Father, who has such power, has granted it to the Son, along with the power to judge, because he is also the Son of Man. The two things understood to be only within God’s power—exercising judgment and giving life—the Father has given to the Son. More astonishing still, the hour is coming when those in the grave will hear the Son’s voice and they will come out of their graves, those who have done good, to resurrection and life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation. They think him blaspheming—dishonoring God—when in fact, he is revealing to them who he is, bringing God’s presence directly into their lives.

Posted August 18, 2014
Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Judges 16:15-31; Psalm 118; 2 Corinthians 13:1-11; Mark 5:25-34

We reach the conclusion of the Samson saga, as Delilah pleads, pesters and begs Samson to stop lying to her and tell the truth about the source of his strength. Finally, Samson relents and confesses that he is a nazirite, that no razor has ever touched his head and that his strength resides in his hair. If it is cut, he will be as any other man. Delilah tells the lords of the Philistines and then makes a plan for Samson’s capture. She lulls him to sleep on her knee and then calls a man to shave Samson’s head as he sleeps. As the seven locks fall away so does Samson’s strength. When she discovers that his strength really is gone, once again she announces, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you.” Samson rises expecting to be victorious once again, but without his hair he is overwhelmed and captured. The Philistines, rejoicing in finally capturing their enemy, gouge out his eyes, then take him to Gaza and put him to the grain wheel. Time passes. During one of their religious festivals to their god Dragon, they gather in Dragon’s temple and decide to make sport of Samson by bringing him in for their amusement. The room is filled with lords, priests and women all mocking Samson. But what they have forgotten is that while at the grain wheel, his hair has grown back. Asking the slave boy who leads him into the room to direct him to the central pillars upon which the building rests, the boy does. Then Samson offers a prayer asking God to remember him and grant him his former strength. God does, and Samson pulls the house down upon himself, killing himself and all the Philistines therein. We are told that in that event, Samson killed more Philistines than all of those he formerly slaughtered. The story ends repeating what has earlier been said: Samson ruled as a judge in Israel twenty years. The cycle of stories has clearly been shaped for telling and teaching—especially to children—and contains lots of exaggerations as to numbers, to glorify Samson, and makes the point that a life or portion of it dedicated to God as a nazirite gives one great strength, which comes from the Lord. There are other nazirites in the Bible: Samuel and John the Baptist the most notable among them, but Samson remains the most romantic of them all, though anything but upstanding, and perhaps the most memorable of the judges in this book.

Psalm 118 opens with the familiar words: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” With these, the psalmist—possibly the king—calls the people to a hymn of praise that remembers the ways God has blessed and intervened on his behalf. The Lord has responded in the psalmist’s distress, and so he confesses, “The Lord is with me, I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Consequently, he can look at his enemies with satisfaction; the Lord is among those who support him. Therefore, it is better to take refuge in the Lord than in men, in the Lord than in princes. The king now reflects that, though the nations surrounded him to destroy him, in the name of the Lord he cut them off. He was pushed violently to the point of falling, but the Lord intervened. At this we have a psalm within a psalm—the king’s own words of praise directed to the Lord. “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become the source of my salvation. There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous.” In victorious joy he continues, “I shall not die, but I shall live to tell of the works of the Lord. He punished me severely, but did not give me over to death.” Herein, the early church heard the words of Christ speaking to them in and through the psalm, which is why it is appointed both for Palm Sunday and Easter Day liturgies. Finally, the psalmist prepares to go to the temple to pay his vows: “Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and pay my vow. This is the gate of the Lord, only the righteous shall enter through it. The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is marvelous in our eyes.” Again, phrase after phrase of this psalm has worked itself into the treasury of the Gospels and Christian prayer. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The people shout, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord (Hosanna!)” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” All of this is the language of the worshipper in the temple, confessing loyalty and trust in God: “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God and I will extol you.” The prayer concludes as it began: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Paul closes this second letter to the Corinthians reminding them that his forthcoming visit will be the third time he has come to them. And so he tries to make preparation for that visit so that it may not be as painful as the last, but one that builds them up in the faith. There have been disagreements, allegations and questions about his credentials as an apostle, and even the gospel he preaches. He warns that this time he will not be lenient with them, quoting the law which requires two witnesses to substantiate any allegation. The so called “super apostles” that have been resident in Corinth since his initial visit, and who seem to have been behind the accusations and upheaval, have ridiculed Paul for his weaknesses. Paul, for his part, has chosen to embrace those weaknesses as sources of strength through Christ in him, knowing that when he is thus weak, then he is truly strong in Christ, for though Christ was crucified in weakness, he was raised in power, but more—Christ now lives within them! When he is “in Christ” he is strong. After his warning, Paul charges them to examine and test themselves—do they not know that Christ dwells in them as well?—unless, of course, they have failed the test. And now Paul prays that they may know Christ’s strength and abstain from evil, not so that he may be approved, but so that they may do what is right, even though, to them, Paul has failed to meet the same test. But then, after a word of warning about the standards and authority he bears from Christ for the building up of the church, Paul turns to a final section of exhortations: rejoice, be complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with them.

A woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years, who has spent all that she has on physicians and suffered much at their hands without any cure, decides that she has nothing more to lose and she risks going into a crowd in order to try to get near enough to Jesus to touch the hem of his robe. She has heard about him and believes that if only she can do that, she will be healed. (A brief word about what her condition has done to her, not simply physically, but emotionally. Because of the constant flow of menstrual blood, this woman has been “unclean” for twelve years. That means that she could not have contact with others without rendering them unclean as well. She could not move within her family, she could not have contact with people in her community. Beyond what touch she might have experienced at the hands of doctors, there were no other forms of physical contact in her life. She was isolated and dying as much emotionally as physically. The judgment that would fall on her for rendering others unclean was significant. Yet, she risks it.) As Jesus accompanies Jarius, the ruler of the local synagogue, to his home to heal his dying daughter, the woman pushes into the crowd and, as Jesus passes by, she reaches out and touches his garment. Immediately, two things happen: first, she feels the power of God surge into her body and instantly, the flow of blood stops within her; she has been healed; second, and equally as instantly, Jesus also feels that same power move through and out of him and stops in his tracks and demands to know who touched him. Is he angry; what is his motivation in asking the question? The disciples, for their part are flabbergasted that he is even asking. Doesn’t he realize the crowd that he has drawn and how everyone is jostling and jockeying to get near him? How can he ask, “Who touched my robe?” But the woman hears his question and knows precisely what he means. Cowering in fear and trembling she falls at his feet and confesses what she has done and what has happened to her. Jesus looks at her and simply says, “Woman, your faith has healed you—made you whole.” Thereupon, he turns and continues to go with Jarius on to his house. In your mind’s eye, what do you see the woman doing next? She is not only healed of her infirmity, she has been made whole: she can return to her family and to her community and to a life she has not known for twelve years. One other thing: it was not her faith that healed her, regardless of what Jesus said. It was the power of God moving through Jesus into her life that healed her. Faith, for her, was simply acting on what she believed. Faith is not thinking this or that about Jesus or God. Faith is acting in a particular way because of what we think and believe. As James said in his epistle, “Faith without action is dead.”

Posted August 17, 2014
Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Judges 16:1-14; Psalms 107:33-43; Acts 7:30-43; John 5:1-18

The chronicle of Samson’s escapades among the enemy Philistines continues, this time with what results from his weakness for women, first with a prostitute from Gaza. When the men of Gaza realize he is with her, they gather at the closed city gates, prepared to block his way and capture him. At midnight Samson arises and, upon recognizing the city gates locked against him, simply pulls the doors and doorposts off the wall, puts them on his shoulders and carries them to the top of an adjoining mountain. Now, we turn to his adventures with the woman from the valley of Sorek—Delilah—with whom Samson falls in love. When the lords of the Philistines discover this, they come to Delilah offering a huge sum of money if she will entice Samson to tell her the secret of his great strength, in order that they may finally overcome and be rid of him. She agrees, and thus begins three incidents in which she tries to discover his secret (which, of course is no secret to any child in Israel listening to these heroic episodes—he is a nazirite, and dedicated to God, his source of strength). And so, she manipulates Samson’s affections for the information. But notice that Samson is not the fool they think him to be. Three times he gives her false information: bind him with seven fresh bow-strings not yet dried; bind him with new ropes never before used; weave his hair into a web and tie it up and pin him to a loom. Each time she tries to thus bind him and then announces that the Philistines are upon him, the lie reveals itself and Samson prevails. But Sampson is smitten, and continues to play her game, soon to his detriment.

Psalm 107 opens the fifth book of the Psalter with, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.” Verse after verse examines the way God’s steadfast love has been expressed and experienced in Israel’s life and salvation history. Today we are at the conclusion of the psalm. Verses 33 through 43 focus upon God’s providence and sovereignty over creation. God changes rivers and springs into waterless wasteland and rich fields into barren land because of the wickedness of its people. Conversely, God turns wastelands into rich inhabitable places so that the hungry might dwell there. They build cities, sow fields, plant vineyards, and God blesses them with fruitful harvests. The Lord brings down princes who abuse their power and lifts up the needy. The righteous see it and are glad while the unrighteous look on with shut mouths. If you are wise, give heed to these things and consider the loving kindness of the Lord.

Stephen continues to review salvation history, picking up the story with Moses in the Sinai wilderness, where, after forty years, the Angel of the Lord appears to him to send him back to Egypt to be the one through whom God liberated his people. In rich narrative, Stephen tells the story of Moses and God at the burning bush. In doing so, he adds a spin: God chose Moses, who the people rejected, to be their liberator. He will build on this theme. Moses leads the people forth from Egypt, through the Red Sea and to Mt. Sinai, where he converses with God and receives the oracles passed on from God through him to the people. Moses promised that God would raise up among them yet another prophet like him, (Stephen is setting the groundwork for introducing Jesus as the culmination of God’s plan for the people’s liberation). Yet the people rebelled, repudiated Moses’ work and leadership, asked to return to Egypt, and turned to Aaron who made for them a calf of gold. Stephen also reminds them of other incidents of idolatry and apostasy, bringing along with them the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rephan, as well as their idols to which they offered sacrifices while in the wilderness wandering. For this, God would remove them to Babylon.

Jesus leaves Galilee for Jerusalem, in order to observe the Passover feast, and enters into the city by the sheep gate next to which was a pool named Bethesda; it had five porticos. The space was filled with invalids of many kinds, the lame, the blind, the sick, the withered, all waiting for the stirring of the waters. For when that happened, it was believed to be the work of an angel, so that whoever got into the waters first was healed. Jesus encounters a man who has been ill for 38 years and asks him if he wants to be well. The man replies, “Of course; but how, I have no one to put me into the water when it is stirred? Someone always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus responds, “Arise, take up you pallet and walk,” and immediately the man is healed, takes up his pallet and walks. It happens on the sabbath. When the Jewish leaders see the man walking and carrying his pallet, they rebuke him and remind him that it is not lawful to do so on the sabbath. Are they blind to what has happened to the man, or simply so preoccupied with keeping the law that they have forgotten its greater purpose? The man’s response is a classic of obedience: “The one who healed me told me to do so, and I did.” Their response is equally classic but in its obtuseness: “Who told you to take up your pallet?” They seem oblivious to the fact that the man has been healed and are only concerned with the sabbath violation. Either way, the healed man does not know who Jesus is, as after the healing Jesus slipped away into the crowd. Later, Jesus finds the healed man in the temple—the first time the man has been permitted there in 38 years—and Jesus tells him to be sure he sins no more so that no further afflictions befall him. In that exchange, the man recognizes Jesus as the one who has healed him, and goes away from the temple telling everyone who will listen that it is Jesus who has healed him. We are told that it was because Jesus was healing on the sabbath that the Jewish leaders began to persecute him but, when confronted for it, Jesus would respond, “My Father is still working, as I myself am working.” And so the persecution takes on new dimensions: now they look for ways to kill him because of his blasphemy: he is not only breaking the sabbath laws, but calling God his Father and making himself equal with God.

Posted August 16, 2014
Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Judges 14:20-15:20; Psalm 102; Acts 7:17-29; John 4:43-54

When Samson left his Philistine wife behind after their wedding in Timnah, her father assumed that he had divorced her and gave her to one of Samson’s companions. Not knowing this, at the time of the wheat harvest, Samson decided to return to his wife. When he got to Timnah and tried to enter her room, her father would not allow him in and explained what he had done with her and why. In a rage, Samson went out and captured 300 foxes, tied them tail to tail, and placed lighted torches between them releasing them into the Philistine wheat fields that were in the midst of harvest. The result was that not only their entire crop was destroyed, but their vineyards as well. When the Philistines asked why he had done so and learned that Samson’s father-in-law had given Samson’s wife to another, the Philistine men went and burned both the father and his daughter alive (remember, this is not Delilah, but simply Sampson’s first love--an un-named Philistine woman). When Samson learned of it, he rose up against the men and inflicted a great slaughter among them and then fled to Etam to live in the cleft of the rock there. The Philistine men then went up to Judah and camped in Lehi. When asked why there were there, the Philistines said they had come to bind Samson and do to him as he had done to them. Under servitude to the Philistines, 3,000 men from Judah went down to Etam to bind Samson and bring him back to the Philistines. Samson bargains with them: if they promise not to kill him, but deliver him alive, he will let them bind him. And so they do, wrapping him in two new ropes and bringing him back to the Philistines. When they arrive with him at the Philistine camp in Lehi, the Philistines erupt in shouting. As they do, the spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson, who bursts the new ropes as if they were flax being consumed by fire. Grasping a new jawbone of a donkey lying nearby, he waded into the Philistines, slaying a thousand of them. After casting the bone aside, he named the place Ramath-Lehi—“high place of the jawbone.” Now, overcome with thirst from his exertion, Sampson calls upon God to give him drink and God splits a “hollow place” in Lehi to give him water in abundance. His thirst satisfied and his strength revived, he names the place En-Hakkore—“spring of the one who called,” which the chronicler reminds the reader is in Lehi “to this day.” This episode concludes by noting that Samson judged in Israel twenty years during the days of the Philistines.

Psalm 102 is entitled “A prayer of the afflicted when faint and pouring out his soul to the Lord,” which is precisely what this psalm is about. Pleading for the Lord’s saving and reviving presence, the psalmist laments that God has hidden his face from the supplicant’s distress. He compares himself to a pelican in the wilderness or a lone owl in a waste place, like a single bird perched on a rooftop. He is so bereft and overcome that he has forgotten to eat. His flesh hangs on his bones. His enemies taunt him endlessly. His days pass away like smoke. His heart is withered like grass. Too stricken to even eat, his only food has been the ashes of penance and tears so abundant that they have diluted his wine. All of this is because, in God’s wrath, he has been singled out and cast away. Though his days are but a lengthened shadow, the Lord’s days are forever. And now, the psalm turns the corner from lament to a psalm of trust and intercession. The Lord, who lives forever, will arise and have compassion on Zion and on the Lord’s servants there who hold its stones dear. Perhaps he hopes to be included among those on whom God has compassion. God is called on to act so that nations and generations yet unborn will praise his name. God will regard the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. From here, the psalm takes another turn, this time to praise, declaring for generations to come that God did look down from his high place. God heard the groans of the prisoners and set free those doomed to die, so that the Lord’s name could continue to be declared in Zion when people gather there to worship him. And now the psalm returns to lament: though God has broken the psalmist’s own strength midcourse, he pleads that God not end his life at its mid-point. Long ago God established the foundations of the earth and made the heavens. Though they will perish, God will endure. They will all wear out like a garment. God changes them like clothing yet remains the Lord forever. The psalm ends on a final note of affirmation and hope: the children of the Lord’s servants shall live secure, with their children established in God’s presence.

Stephen continues his recital of holy history, chronicling the time between Joseph’s reign and the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph’s name. This latter Pharaoh dealt with the Israelites harshly and craftily, forcing them to abandon their newborn children to death. It was at this time that Moses was born. Stephen then paints a lovely story of Moses, from his birth to abandonment, to adoption as Pharaoh’s grandson, who was reared and instructed in Egyptian wisdom, making him powerful in word and deed. At forty years of age, Moses visited his people, found an Israelite being oppressed and abused by and Egyptian, intervened and killed the Egyptian, expecting his people to understand that he was God’s servant on their behalf. But, they did not understand. The following day he came upon two of his own people quarreling and tried to reconcile them, asking why they were wronging one another. The man wronging his neighbor challenged Moses, asking the ironic question, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” Hearing this, Moses knows that his killing the Egyptian is now public knowledge and he must flee. He does so, to the land of Midian (Sinai), where he becomes a resident alien, and the father of two sons. Stephen’s recital of holy history will continue tomorrow.

After two days in Samaria, Jesus continues his journey to Galilee, though he well understands that prophets are not honored in their own land. When he gets to Galilee, he encounters people there who had been in Jerusalem at the feast and knew of the things he had done there. Moving on to Cana, where he had earlier turned the water into wine, we hear of a royal official from Capernaum, whose son is dying. Learning that Jesus has come up from Judea and is in Cana, he makes the journey to come to Jesus and beg him to come to Capernaum to heal his son. Jesus expresses his frustration with what it takes for people to recognize truth and light, less with the official than with all of them standing by—the “you” here is plural—saying that unless they see signs and wonders, they will not believe. The man pleads again, and Jesus tells him to go home, his son will live. Believing Jesus, the man leaves—an interesting act of faith—and begins his journey home. On his way he is met by a servant who has come to tell him his son has recovered. When the man asks at what time the boy began to be better, the servant identifies the very hour at which Jesus had told the man his son would live. The man recognizes it, and we are told that “he believed and his whole household.” This then is the second sign Jesus performed in Galilee.

Posted August 15, 2014
Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Judges 14:1-19; Psalm 105:1-22; Acts 6:15-7:16; John 4:27-42

Samson is now a man and is smitten with his first love. Unfortunately, she is a Philistine; outside the covenant community. Though his parents beg him to reconsider, he will not be dissuaded. This is his first love, and his parents finally give into him (neither the first nor the last time—little wonder Samson has so little character!). He takes the woman from Timnah for his wife. The editorial writer inserts a comment to justify this from a Judge—it was from the Lord who caused Samson to seek this as a pretext for what the Lord was planning to do among the Philistines. As Samson and his parents travel down to Timnah to negotiate the marriage, they are attacked by a lion. The spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson and he tears the lion to pieces. Later, as he returns for the wedding, he passes the carcass of the lion and finds a swarm of bees within it and their residue honey. Scooping the honey out of the carcass he violates his nazirite vow of no contact with death. The story moves on. When they gather for the wedding feast, Samson enters into a contest with the Philistine men of Timnah and poses his riddle as a means of gaining a wedding price for the bride. No one can come up with the right answer, so on the fourth day of the seven-day wedding feast, the townsmen come to Samson’s new wife and tell her to entice Samson to tell her the answer to the riddle and then tell them, otherwise they will burn down her father’s house as well as her own. After all, they were invited to a wedding feast, and now, it appears, that it will leave them in poverty. For the next three days she presses Samson for the answer, weeping and claiming that he does not love her. Finally, on the seventh day, she presses him so hard that he tells her the answer, which she quickly conveys to the men in her town. Notice that her primary loyalty is to her people and not to her husband, a theme that will continue to play itself out in the Samson narrative. The townsmen arrive before sundown to give Samson the answer to his riddle. Enraged he says “if you had not plowed with my heifer,”—ever after a phrase denoting everything from underhanded play to sexual misconduct with one’s spouse—they would not have been able to solve the riddle. They have won; he owes them 30 linen wraps and suits of clothing. We are told that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily” and he went down to Askelon and killed thirty of the men of Askelon, took their spoils and gave them to the townsmen of Timnah who had outwitted him. Having paid his debt, and angry at his wife’s betrayal, he leaves her behind and returns to his parent’s home.

Psalm 105 is a psalm of praise that calls everyone to make known God’s deeds among the people. The reading is divided with the first portion of these first twenty-two verses dominated by the language of praise—“Give thanks,” “call,” “sing,” “glory” and “rejoice.” Sing praise to him and speak of all of his wonders. Seek the Lord and his strength continually. It then recounts the reasons for this praise: God’s faithfulness to Israel. The psalm begins citing God’s initial covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and the children of Israel—a covenant made forever—making them God’s “chosen ones” with the promise of the Land of Canaan as their inheritance. It then remembers their past: few in number and of little account and nomads in the land, often oppressed by the kings of other nations, and how God reproved their kings for his people’s sake. They are, after all, the Lord’s anointed ones—prophets who speak for the Lord. The famine that ultimately sent the children of Israel to Egypt is recalled. But for now, the focus is upon Joseph being sold into slavery, then imprisoned until the time that the Lord’s word was to come to pass. (As the author of Hebrews reminds us, it can be a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Lord, as Joseph well learned! [Hebrews 10:31]. How much have we attempted to domesticate the Lord?) But the Lord was faithful and the Pharaoh set Joseph free and made him lord of Pharaoh’s house and ruler over all of his possessions, giving Joseph power to “imprison [Pharaoh’s] princes at will in order to teach the Egyptian elders wisdom.” We stop today at verse 22, prior to the rest of the children of Israel coming to Egypt.

Stephen stands before the council, as all in the room look at him awaiting answer to the High Priest’s question: are these allegations true? Stephen uses the question as an opportunity to demonstrate his orthodoxy—remember, he is a Greek proselyte—and he begins an impressive recital of Israel’s salvation history beginning with God’s call of Abraham. The lesson continues with Stephen telling of God’s covenant with Abraham and promise of descendants, the birth of Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons, Joseph’s adventures and triumphs in Egypt during the famine, and the people’s sojourn in Egypt through the death of Jacob. Today’s lesson concludes with the burial of Jacob in the tomb Abraham purchased from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

The disciples return to Jacob’s well from their search for food and are startled to find Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, but none of them dare ask him why. In the interruption the woman takes the opportunity to depart, leaving her water jar behind. Is it simply an oversight or something she did in haste? Hardly, no woman would leave her water jar behind unless she no longer felt a need for it. The author wants us to know that she has drunk from a different well and her thirst has been satisfied. She returns to her town and tells all who will listen that she has met a man that has told her everything she has ever done; can he be the Christ? And so, those she talks to leave the city and, with her, return to the well. Meanwhile, the disciples try to get Jesus to eat something, which gives him a context in which to talk about the work he has been sent to do as “food,” and the fact that they, too, are being incorporated into that work. Another has sowed; now it is time for them to reap. The harvest is rich and ready. In the midst of this conversation, the woman returns with the people from the city, some of whom already believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony—speaking of rich harvest beyond expectation—and they ask Jesus and his companions to stay with them (the cultural and religious barriers are coming down), and they do, for two days. Consequently, many more Samaritans believe in Jesus “because of his word.” The story ends with the people confessing that their belief is no longer based upon what the woman said, but rather by what they have seen and heard. Now they know that he is not simply “the Christ,” but “the Savior of the World.” Yet another title has entered the lexicon that seeks to define Jesus.

Posted August 14, 2014
The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson

Author: The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.

© 2014