Saturday

09 July 2016

"And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly ... and I will give you rest from all your enemies." (v.10)

Psalm: Psalm 121


Background

This story of the prophet Nathan instructing King David to build a 'house' or temple for God has been understood by many scholars as a piece of retrospective propaganda on behalf of the later King Solomon (see verses 12-16, which predict the reign of Solomon). In fact it is not David but eventually Solomon who constructs the Temple.

Just as the creation of the monarchy was a significant shift in Israelite history, so the plan to construct a temple for God's dwelling was a radical change in the self-understanding of the tribes. "I have been moving about in a tent" with you, says God. The god of Moses was an itinerant god who accompanied the people in their wanderings - the god who will dwell in a temple is a new concept of God for a settled people. (Note that when John's Gospel is trying to explain the incarnation, John says that the Word became flesh "and lived [pitched his tent] among us" - John 1:14.)

The longings of a group of tribes to become properly settled in one place and defended from enemies is understandable. But the interpretation of this passage over the years reached a time of particular poignancy in the 20th century after the terrible persecution of the Jews under Hitler, when more than 6 million died in the concentration camps. 

When the truth of the death camps emerged the longing of the Jewish people to have their own place and to be no more afflicted by violence received greater international support, and this helped to establish the modern state of Israel.

What is heartbreaking is that this place has been established and maintained through the dispossession of another people, the Palestinians, and has never in fact enjoyed that longed for freedom from violence.
 

To Ponder

  • God's promise here to preserve God's own people from violence has seldom come true, and in some periods of history the violence has been unimaginable. What do you want to say to God about this?
  • Do you think of God as being especially present in sacred places, or being with you 'on the move'? Why?


Bible notes author: Janet Morley

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