A Meditation on Psalm 123

Kevin J Youngblood
 
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.
(Psalm 123:1-2)
 

The emphasis on the psalmists’ eyes looking to YHWH in Psalm 123 is striking. I am reminded of the way each of my children have learned to look at me in such a way that just makes my heart melt. Any parent will immediately know what I am talking about. Whether this is an inborn or acquired skill, our children somehow always know how to look at us in such a way as to nearly always get what they want. I don’t mean to belittle as this some manipulative ploy. Far from it! I think this ability speaks to a profound connection. That pleading, helpless look that our children acquire when they really need or want something is, in reality, an appeal to the best aspects of our humanity – evidence of their confidence in our abiding love and empathy for them.

I thought of this as I read these words from Psalm 123 this morning. Read more…



A Meditation on Judges 15: 16-20

Kevin J Youngblood
 
When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men. 16 And Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
have I struck down a thousand men.”

17 As soon as he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone out of his hand. And that place was called Ramath-lehi. 18 And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the Lord and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore; it is at Lehi to this day. 20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years. (Judges 15:14-20)

I could not help but be amused this morning as I read this episode from Samson’s life. In particular, I chuckled at his petulant and pushy insistence that YHWH slake his thirst after his remarkable performance in battle against the Philistines. Samson is a classic example of a type-cast character. He is a brutish caricature of masculinity found frequently in world literature alternately extoled for heroism and vilified for insensitive impetuousness (e.g. Gilgamesh, Gaston). These days, of course, Samson and his ilk are public enemy number one – the source of all that is wrong with the world which makes this episode and the Samson story in general all the more critical and urgent for our time.

The Samson cycle in the book of Judges is a reminder of the remarkable variety of types of characters with whom YHWH partners to advance his holy purposes. Read more…



A Meditation on John 4: 1-2

Kevin J Youngblood
 

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. (John 4:1-2)

I have never really paid much attention to the first two verses of John 4. Like most avid readers of John’s gospel I always just sped right past them to get to the engrossing story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. This morning, however, these verses stopped me in my tracks. Question after question tumbled in my mind as I tried to make sense of this odd segue into this significant story.

The first question that occurred to me was why Jesus even cared that the Pharisees had heard that his ministry was eclipsing John’s. Since when has Jesus ever shied away from conflict from this self-appointed “God-squad” much less let them determine his agenda? Read more…



A Meditation on John 3: 25-30

Kevin J Youngblood
 

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:25-30)

Why must everything be a competition? It must be human nature, or at least fallen human nature, to view life always as a zero-sum game, a win-lose proposition. I feel the impulse within myself to promote my brand, to insist on the superiority of my denomination, to seek the growth of my congregation even at the expense of the growth of the kingdom. Ultimately, it all boils down to my desire for recognition. I want so badly to achieve personal greatness that my ambition threatens to eclipse my calling to live to God’s glory alone. Read more…



A Meditation on Psalm 99: 8

Kevin J Youngblood
 

O Lord our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them,

but an avenger of their wrongdoings. (Psalm 99:8 ESV)
 

O YHWH, our god, you personally answered them. You were a forgiving God to them,

and one who exempted them from punishment. (Psalm 99:8 My translation)

I stumbled upon, or perhaps I should say I stumbled OVER, Psalm 99:8 in my devotional reading this morning. In context, the verse is referring to the intimate relationship that Moses, Aaron, and Samuel all enjoyed as YHWH’s priests. I was deeply bothered however by the psalmist’s twin assertions that YHWH was a forgiving God to them but also an avenger of their wrongdoings. I could not for the life of me understand how YHWH could both forgive and avenge the same person for the same sins. Afterall, biblical forgiveness precludes revenge, even for God. If God avenges our wrongdoing, then there is nothing to forgive. He has imposed the penalty due to our sin, and exacted from us payment in full for the debt. Nothing is forgiven.

These were my thoughts upon reading the English translation, in this case, the ESV. This inner conflict made me suspicious and so I looked up Psalm 99:8 in my Hebrew Bible and translated the verse for myself. That is when I discovered a fascinating and extremely significant ambiguity in the text. Read more…



A meditation on Psalm 89: 9

Kevin J Youngblood
 
O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you? 
9 You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. (Psalm 89:8-10)

 

YHWH’s unique ability to calm the raging sea is a recurring motif in the psalms (Pss. 65:7; 89:9; 93:4; 107:23-29). Often it is associated with the mythic theme of the primordial battle with chaos characteristic of numerous ancient Near Eastern creation stories as it is in Psalm 89:8-10. In most contexts in the Psalter, the raging sea is a metaphor for overwhelming trouble and/or sorrows – the countless enemies who relentlessly pursue or the mounting and growing anxious thoughts that refuse to be silenced and constantly rob us of peace (e.g. Ps. 65:7 where the stilling of the sea is parallel to the quieting of the nations’ tumult).

The psalmists find it immensely comforting that YHWH engages and mitigates what no one else can – the chaos of life. Read more…



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