Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Matthew 23-25

In chapter twenty-three, Jesus continues to speak to the crowds in the temple courts. He condemns "the teachers of the law and the Pharisees" as "blind guides" and "hypocrites." He condemns their demonstrative shows of holiness ("they make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.") Seven times, he begins a statement with "Woe to you!"

Matthew twenty-four is apocalyptic in nature, as the disciples ask Jesus, "what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" He warns that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains." He tells them that "false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect." Despite that, he says that "no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father," and that they must be faithful and keep watch. And when the time comes, "at the coming of the Son of Man, two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left."

In chapter twenty-five, he illustrates for them the importance of keeping watch and being faithful stewards with the parables of the ten virgins and the talents. And he talks about the people being separated "as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." The righteous will have eternal life, the cursed will not. And he tells them that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me...whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Matthew 23 is an extended passage that clearly places Jesus in the Jewish prophetic tradition. It sounds as if it could have come from Isaiah or Jeremiah.
  • Much of chapter 24 reads as if it could have come from Revelation.

Psalms 56

Psalm 56 is another with a tune specified.

Some of these I'll need to re-read after I've gone through 1 & 2 Samuel again. I don't remember the Philistines seizing David in Gath, so I'm not certain of the context of this psalm.

Psalm 56
For the director of music. To the tune of "A Dove on Distant Oaks." Of David. A miktam . When the Philistines had seized him in Gath.
1 Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me;
all day long they press their attack.

2 My slanderers pursue me all day long;
many are attacking me in their pride.

3 When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.

4 In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?

5 All day long they twist my words;
they are always plotting to harm me.

6 They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
eager to take my life.

7 On no account let them escape;
in your anger, O God, bring down the nations.

8 Record my lament;
list my tears on your scroll —
are they not in your record?

9 Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.

10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise-

11 in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

12 I am under vows to you, O God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.

13 For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Matthew 20-22

Chapter twenty opens with the parable of the workers in the vineyard, with Jesus telling his disciples that, when it came to the kingdom of heaven, "the last will be first, and the first will be last." Then, as they started to go up to Jerusalem, he again told his disciples that he would be betrayed and condemned to death, flogged and crucified, and that "on the third day he will be raised to life." When the mother of James and John asked that they be allowed to sit at his right and left hands in the kingdom of heaven, he told them that "you don't know what you are asking" and that "to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." He then healed two blind men.

In chapter twenty-one, they approached Jerusalem, and he sent them to get a colt and a donkey, for him to ride into the city on, so that they prophecy of Zechariah would be fulfilled. Crowds lined the way, shouting "Hosanna!" Jesus entered the temple area and "drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves," before going back to spend the night in Bethany. The next morning, he cursed a fig tree that had no figs, and it withered immediately. While he was teaching in the temple courts, the elders and priests asked by whose authority he was teaching and healing, and he responded by asking them where John's baptism came from, heaven or earth. Not wanting to anger the crowds, they declined to respond, and he told them that he wouldn't tell them where his authority came from, either. He taught the parable of the two sons, and the parable of the tenants, and "when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them."

Chapter twenty-two starts with the parable of the wedding banquet, followed by the discussion of taxes. When the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, he pointed out Caesar's image on the coin and told them that they should "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." In response to a discussion about marriage and multiple marriage, he taught them that "at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." And he taught them that the greatest commandment was to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and the second was to "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I wrote about this in my commentary on Mark, I think, and may have mentioned it in Leviticus as well, but the story of the money changers and "those selling doves" has to have more to it. The law requires those who live far away to convert their offerings to silver, come to the temple and then buy doves to sacrifice. Those people are part of the Levitical system. We read that and we're "shocked - shocked! - to find that there are money-changers in the temple." But they're necessary for those who live far from the temple to be able to fulfill their sacrificial duties.

Psalms 50

This interesting in the way that the voice changes. At the beginning, the psalmist is praying directly to God - "Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea." But later, the voice changes, as he speaks not to God, but to another man, a friend - "it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God..."

Psalm 55
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.
1 Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;

2 hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught

3 at the voice of the enemy,
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
and revile me in their anger.

4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.

5 Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.

6 I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest-

7 I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;

8 I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm."

9 Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech,
for I see violence and strife in the city.

10 Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.

11 Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.

12 If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from him.

13 But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,

14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the grave,
for evil finds lodging among them.

16 But I call to God,
and the LORD saves me.

17 Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.

18 He ransoms me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.

19 God, who is enthroned forever,
will hear them and afflict them—
men who never change their ways
and have no fear of God.

20 My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.

21 His speech is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

22 Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.

23 But you, O God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of corruption;
bloodthirsty and deceitful men
will not live out half their days.
But as for me, I trust in you.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Matthew 17-19

Chapter seventeen opens with Jesus, Peter, James and John on a high mountain, where he was "transfigured before them," and they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus and heard "a voice from the cloud" say "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" As they later walked down, Jesus told them that they mustn't tell anyone what they had seen "until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead," and indicated that John the Baptist had been the second coming of Elijah. When they were back in the crowd, he drove a demon out of a boy and told the disciples that they had failed to do it because "you have so little faith." He also told them that he would be betrayed and killed, and raised "to life" "on the third day." In Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to them for the tax, and Jesus told Peter to go throw his line into the lake, and to open the mouth of the first fish that he caught "and you will find a four drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

In chapter eighteen, Jesus tells the disciples that "whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" and that "if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell." He uses the parable of the lost sheep to describe God's unwillingness that "any of these little ones should be lost." He tells them how to deal with a brother who "sins against you," giving him chances to repent and that "if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector," and then shares the parable of the unmerciful servant to show how God will treat those who are not forgiving.

In chapter nineteen, the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, and told them that "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard," and that "anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." Again, he told his disciples that "the kingdom of heaven belongs to" little children. A rich young man asked Jesus what he had to do to get eternal life, and, after confirming that he kept the commandments, Jesus told him to "sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me," which saddened him, and he went away. Jesus told his disciples that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," and they asked "who then can be saved?" Jesus told them, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I confess that the story of Jesus' transfiguration, complete with the presence of Moses and Elijah, reads more like pure theology than history. But all three of the synoptics have it, so it's clear that the apostles believed it.
  • I suspect that most of us, in chapter nineteen, read about the "rich young man" and focus on the word "rich." What strikes me today is the exchange where Jesus tells him, essentially, to follow the commandments and the law, and he replies that he has done so all of his life. So rather than think of him as "rich," I think we need to think of him as "pious." This is an observer of the law, a pious Jew, who has done everything that God commanded. Jesus tells him, in effect, "that's not good enough." This certainly isn't the first time - think back to the Sermon on the Mount, which consists, in several places, of "you have been told...but I tell you..." Jesus has been clear in all of his teaching that just following the law isn't enough. But here, there's an actual face put to it, an individual who has followed the commandments, and Jesus tells him specifically that it's not good enough.
  • Which of us cannot sympathize with the "rich young man?" Which of us would in fact be willing to give up everything? It's just as hard for us whether we're "rich" in our society or "poor." We all have worldly possessions to which we become attached, that we would never give up without great inducement. Indeed, if we were honest, we'd thank God daily that Jesus isn't here to demand it of us in person, because it's a lot easier to pretend that it doesn't apply to us when it's directed to a specific someone else.
  • I have heard/read many possible explanations for Jesus' comments about a camel passing through the eye of the needle. Among the plausible sounding:
    • The "camel" is a large rope made of camel hair. Impossible to pass through the eye of a needle.
    • The "eye of the needle" is a small city gate big enough for a man, through which it might be possible, though very difficult, to squeeze a camel.
    • Literal camel, literal eye of needle. Clearly impossible.
    While there may or may not be cultural or linguistic reasons to accept any of those hypotheses, I've seen nothing that makes me think it really requires that kind of analysis. It is clear, from the disciples' reaction ("who then can be saved?"), that what Jesus said, whatever the specific meanings of the object and the opening, was an impossible task. We cannot "earn" our way into heaven. It is only through the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that we can make our way into the presence.

Psalms 54

This is a prayer of David, a psalm of praise and supplication. He pleads for help - "Save me, O God...Hear my prayer, O God..." - and praises the Lord at the same time - "the Lord is the one who sustains your faithfulness destroy them...I will praise your name, O LORD, for it is good..."

Psalm 54
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, "Is not David hiding among us?"
1 Save me, O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might.

2 Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.

3 Strangers are attacking me;
ruthless men seek my life—
men without regard for God.

4 Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

5 Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in your faithfulness destroy them.

6 I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;
I will praise your name, O LORD,
for it is good.

7 For he has delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Matthew 14-16

Chapter fourteen starts with the story of Herod beheading John the Baptist at the behest of his brother Philip's wife Herodias' daughter. Jesus, upon hearing the news, "withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place" but crowds followed him on foot. "He had compassion on them and healed their sick." As night came, the disciples urged him to send the crowd away to find something to eat, but Jesus told the disciples to feed them. When they told him that they only had five loaves of bread and two fish, he prayed and broke them, and fed five thousand with twelve basketfuls left over. He then sent the disciples to the other side in the boat, and prayed by himself on the mountainside, then followed them by walking across the water. When they saw him they feared, but he told them not to be afraid, and Peter walked out on the water with him until he began to sink and cried for help. Jesus rebuked him for his doubt. When he climbed into the boat, the wind died down and "those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'"

In chapter fifteen, the Pharisees criticized the disciples for not ritually washing their hands before they ate, but Jesus called them hypocrites, and told them all that "what goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" Later, he explained to the disciples that what goes in passes through, but what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. In the region of Tyre and Sidon, he resisted the plea of a Canaanite woman to heal her daughter, saying that "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel," but her faith convinced him to grant her request. After another session of teaching and preaching on a mountainside by the sea of Galilee, he fed four thousand with seven loaved "and a few small fish."

In chapter sixteen, the "Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven," and again he told them that "none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." He told his disciples to beware the "yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." They thought that it was because they had no bread, but he rebuked them for their lack of understanding, and then they saw that he was referring to the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. At Caesarea Philippi, he asked them who he was, and after being told that "some say," he asked what they thought. Peter said, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God," And Jesus blessed him, called him Peter, and told them that "on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Then he began to explain to them that "he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." When Peter protested, Jesus rebuked him for temptation, and told all of them that "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" and "whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Everyone knows how hard it is to proof-read your own material. After you've written it and read it a couple of times, you cease to see what's actually on the page, and just see what you believe is on the page. In the same way, I've found it interestingly difficult to actually focus on three chapters of this gospel during a reading. As I've said, there is an awful lot of the bible which, though I've read, I don't know. But a) I've read the gospels several times and b) there is so much similarity between the synoptic gospels that reading them each twice is like reading one of them six times. Consequently, I frequently read a header, or the start of a sentence, and find myself sort of pretending to read the words but not really focusing on them.
  • I don't understand why he was resistant to helping the Canaanite woman. The notion that he came to earth "only to the lost sheep of Israel" conflicts with, well, pretty much everything else in the Gospels.
  • I commented, frequently, about the emphasis on the "lips" and the "tongue" in the book of Proverbs. It's exactly what Jesus tells his disciples and the Pharisees - it's what comes out, that which comes from the heart, that defiles a man.
  • When Peter tells him that he won't be put to death, Jesus responds exactly the same way he responded to the temptation in the desert - "get thee behind me, Satan." Peter is offering a temptation, a deceit that the easy path is possible, and Jesus knows that this is not true.

Psalms 53

I do not quite know what to do with this one. It reads as if it is trying to convey thoughts or ideas that aren't translating well. The start is fairly straightforward, but we immediately go from "the fool" to "they are corrupt and their ways are vile." Is "they" the plural of fool? Is it all men? The next verse does indeed refer to "the sons of men," but is that the same they as the first verse?

In some ways, it reads as a lament, as "everyone has turned away...become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one."

Psalm 53
For the director of music. According to mahalath. A maskil of David.
1 The fool says in his heart,
"There is no God."
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
there is no one who does good.

2 God looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.

3 Everyone has turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

4 Will the evildoers never learn—
those who devour my people as men eat bread
and who do not call on God?

5 There they were, overwhelmed with dread,
where there was nothing to dread.
God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
you put them to shame, for God despised them.

6 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When God restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Matthew 5-7

In chapter eleven, "after Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples," he went to preach and teach in the towns of Galilee and John sent his disciples to ask whether he was "the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" He told them to report to John what they "hear and see: he blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." Later, he "began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent," telling that that "it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." And he told all that "are weary and burdened" to come to him and "find rest for your souls."

In chapter twelve, when they saw him and his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees challenged them with violating the law. Jesus compared it to what David had done "when he and his companions were hungry" and told them that "the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" and continued to confound them by healing a man with a shriveled hand. He drove a demon out of a man, and when people said that he drove out demons through the power of the devil, he proclaimed that "every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined...If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself." And he told them that good fruit came from good trees and bad fruit from bad trees. When asked for a miraculous sign by some of the teachers of the law and Pharisees, he told them that "none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." And he told his followers that "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

Chapter thirteen begins with the parable of the sower, after which the disciples asked him why he spoke in parables. He quoted Isaiah, telling them that "this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them." He then explained the parable of the sower, then told them another parable, the parable of the weeds, then the parables of the mustard seed and of the yeast. He came to his hometown and taught in the synagogue and "they were amazed," asking, "isn't this the carpenter's son?" But he did not do many miracles there "because of their lack of faith."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • As many times as I've read this, I don't remember as many healings as I notice this time. I don't know whether they've all kind of "run together" in the past or what.
  • One of the very explicit acknowledgements in the Gospels of Jesus' true identity and mission is here in this passage, when he talks about the "sign of the prophet Jonah - the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
  • One of the intellectually dishonest aspects of the Jesus Seminar people, and any of the "quests for the historical Jesus" is when they throw out statements like this as late additions. They do so on the grounds that it was added by believers to strengthen the case, but once they throw it out, they use it's absence to argue that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God. That is, they don't believe that Jesus was the Son of God, they claim that every statement he made which makes the claim is spurious, and then they turn around and use the "fact" that the statements are spurious to argue for their original position.

Psalms 50

I've read this before, but didn't remember it. I don't remember any of the psalms being like this, which is essentially a curse, a condemnation - "Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth." The note says "for the director of music," but it would seem to me that that has to mean something other than the obvious. I can believe this aimed at Saul or David, but it seems a lot of vitriol to be aimed at a (presumably essentially powerless) functionary. The target is called "you mighty man" and is said to "boast of evil...boast all day long." No, that's got to be David or Saul.

Psalm 52
For the director of music. A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: "David has gone to the house of Ahimelech."
1 Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man?
Why do you boast all day long,
you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

2 Your tongue plots destruction;
it is like a sharpened razor,
you who practice deceit.

3 You love evil rather than good,
falsehood rather than speaking the truth.

4 You love every harmful word,
O you deceitful tongue!

5 Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:
He will snatch you up and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.

6 The righteous will see and fear;
they will laugh at him, saying,

7 "Here now is the man
who did not make God his stronghold
but trusted in his great wealth
and grew strong by destroying others!"

8 But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God's unfailing love
for ever and ever.

9 I will praise you forever for what you have done;
in your name I will hope, for your name is good.
I will praise you in the presence of your saints.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Matthew 8-10

In chapter eight, Jesus came down from the mountainside with large crowds around him. He healed a man with leprosy, and the servant of a Centurion in Capernaum, without even entering the house, because the Centurion had "such great faith." In Peter's house, he healed Peter's mother-in-law of a fever, and then they brought him many who were demon-possessed and "he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick." Crossing the sea in a storm, he awoke and calmed the storm, while rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith, and then, "in the region of the Gadarenes," he drove demons out of two men and into a herd of pigs, which rushed down into the lack and died. "Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region."

In chapter nine, Jesus crossed the sea again "to his own town" and told a paralytic that his sins were forgiven. This enraged the "teachers of the law" who said that he was blaspheming, but Jesus rebuked them and told the man to "get up, take your mat and go home," which he did. Later, he called Matthew from the tax collector's booth, and he followed him. When people complained, that night, that he was eating with sinners, he said that he had "not come to call the righteous, but sinners." He compared his disciples to "guests of the bridegroom" when asked why they didn't fast, and later healed a sick woman and raised a dead girl, before healing two blind men and a mute. He "went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness" and told his disciples that "the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."

In chapter ten, therefore, he called his twelve disciples, giving them "authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness," and sent them out to "the lost sheep of Israel" to preach that "the kingdom of heaven is near." If any town or home into which they went was to prove undeserving, they were to "shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town" and it would "be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town." He told them that "the Spirit of your Father" would speak through them if they were brought before "governors or kings." He tells them that there will be conflicts, and that "all men will hate you because of me" because he "did not come to bring peace, but a sword." ""He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • In chapter eight, Jesus drove the demons out of two possessed men, and the result was that the townspeople "pleaded with him to leave their region." But why? Do they not realize what he did? Is the pressure of being in his presence too much for them to bear? Do they fear that his presence creates a "war zone?" I don't know. I think it likely that they were more frightened by a man that could drive out spirits, cause the pigs to stampede into the lake, than they were grateful to have their neighbors cleansed.
  • That ("they pleaded with him to leave") is the kind of detail that reeks of historicity. There's no obvious reason for someone to invent and insert it later.
  • By the way, who are the "Gadarenes?" They can't be Israelites, or they wouldn't have a herd of pigs, right? Is there a Jew/Gentile issue here?
  • Is this Matthew the author/compiler of the Gospel? Tradition has associated this book with that disciple, though we can't know for sure.

Psalms 51

This is one of the few psalms which we can tie to a specific event. Specifically, this represents David's repentance, upon being challenged by the prophey Nathan, of his sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed. It is a cry of remorse and repentance, acknowledging the depth of his depravity and unworthiness of God's mercy. For those of us who have trouble with the description of David as "a man after God's own heart" in light of this story, this psalm represents the longing of a penitent spirit.

This is a psalm which I pray regularly, as our monthly communion at Park Street is preceded by a recitation.

Psalm 51
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Matthew 5-7

In chapters five through seven, Matthew records Jesus teachings to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount. He starts with the beatitudes, compares Christians to salt and light, and tells them that he has come to fulfill the law, not abolish it. He tells them that the law forbids murder and adultery and divorce, but that it needs to actually go further than the acts to the feelings and motivations. He tells them to love their enemies and return good for evil. Chapter six starts with comments about prayer and fasting, a form to follow (The Lord's Prayer), and the proper attitude to take. They should, he tells them, be "stor[ing] up for yourselves treasures in heaven" and not fretting about the day to day needs of life, for "your heavenly Father knows that you need not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." In chapter seven he tells them that they will be judged in the same way they judge others, not focus on others' faults but their own, and to be certain to ask for what they need, for "your Father in heaven [will] give good gifts to those who ask him!" He warns them about false prophets, tells them that not everyone who claims him as Lord will enter the kingdom, and finishes with the parable of the builders who built houses on stone and sand. And "the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • This is the longest extended passage of Jesus teaching in the bible. If you've got a "red-letter" version, virtually this who section is red, between an opening phrase at the beginning of chapter five and a closing phrase at the end of chapter seven.
  • It is also the extended passage with which I have the greatest familiarity. Obviously, this is Jesus' teaching, and if the Son of God came to redeeem us, well, we're pretty well obliged to listen to what he has to say to us while he's here. I've read this more than any other section (other than the 23rd Psalm or an occasional verse here and there) of scripture.
  • I've also got very little to say about this, simply because there is so much to say. I cannot give you, as I've tried to do, my "layman's first impression" kind of reaction to it, because I can't find that anymore. I know this too well, and I've seen and heard and read too many analyses of it. I've listened, many times, to an eight-sermon series that David Fisher gave on the Beatitudes, and a six-series sermon he gave on being salt and light. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones' Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, which I've read, consists of 60 sermons, addressing every section of this teaching. My positions and opinions on this section, such as they are, have been deeply influenced in ways that are not true of my positions and opinions on other sections.
  • How many sermons have been given, for example, on Matthew 5:3 - "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"? Many, and that's just the first beatitude.
  • Dr. Lloyd-Jones position on the beatitudes influenced Dr. Fisher's. They both look at those descriptions and say, "the is Jesus describing his followers. These are the characteristics that mark a true Christian." But what does it mean to be "poor in spirit?" How does one "hunger and thirst after righteousness?" I know what the word "meek" means, but what does it mean in this context? There have been untold countless hours spent on these questions over the past 2,000 years, and there's no reason to suppose that there won't be far more spent on them in the future.

Psalms 50

In this psalm, the psalmist speaks mostly in the voice of God. Like the prophets, he conveys a message from the Lord. There's a brief introductory statement of praise, and then "our God comes and will not be silent." The psalmist then has God telling the people of Israel that they should "sacrifice thank offerings" but also that he has "no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens." In the last few verses, he speaks directly to "the wicked," condemning their sin and telling them that "you hate my instruction and cast my words behind you."

Psalm 50
A psalm of Asaph.
1 The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.

2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

3 Our God comes and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.

4 He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:

5 "Gather to me my consecrated ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice."

6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.

7 "Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, and I will testify against you:
I am God, your God.

8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices
or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,

10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.

11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine.

12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?

14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,

15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me."

16 But to the wicked, God says:
"What right have you to recite my laws
or take my covenant on your lips?

17 You hate my instruction
and cast my words behind you.

18 When you see a thief, you join with him;
you throw in your lot with adulterers.

19 You use your mouth for evil
and harness your tongue to deceit.

20 You speak continually against your brother
and slander your own mother's son.

21 These things you have done and I kept silent;
you thought I was altogether like you.
But I will rebuke you
and accuse you to your face.

22 "Consider this, you who forget God,
or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:

23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,
and he prepares the way
so that I may show him the salvation of God."