Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 25, 2018

Psalm 132:1-18 Commentary

Digging into the Text:

Psalm 132 is the longest of the Psalms of Ascent, and bears little resemblance the the themes and forms of the other Psalms in this collection.  Many scholars think the Psalms of Ascent were used by Israel especially for the pilgrimage feasts (Passover and Pentecost) for which large numbers of pilgrims would make their way “up” to Jerusalem for the celebrations.

How does this Psalm fit into the pilgrimage milieu?  It may have been used as a kind of liturgical reenactment in Israel while still under a monarchy.  It first celebrated David’s capture of Jerusalem and then the carrying of the Ark into the city (II Samuel 5-7), followed by the remembrance of God’s promise that one of David’s sons would sit on his throne forever (II Samuel 7.

The Psalm is divided into two sections:

Verses 1-10 are a prayer for the Lord to remember David and his desire to build a dwelling place for the Lord.

Verses 11-18 offer a poetic rendition of the promise or oath that the Lord swore to David (II Samuel 7) that one of his sons would occupy his throne forevermore.

After 587 BCE and the exile, Israel had no king and came under the rule of foreign empires. The Psalm then expresses Israel’s abiding hope and prayer for the restoration of the throne of David in Jerusalem. The plaintive cry of verse 8-10 picks up that theme of desperate hope:

Rise up, O Lord, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your faithful shout for joy.

 For your servant David’s sake
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

Since this is Christ the King Sunday, all the readings have something to do with the reign of Christ inaugurated in his death, resurrection, and ascension to God’s right hand.  As Christians, we also read Psalm 132 from this perspective.  In Christ, God’s promises to David has been fulfilled.  He is the new temple, the dwelling place of God with his people. He is the anointed king who will sit on the throne forever.

The more we dig into the relationship between David and Jesus Christ, the more theologically and spiritually rewarding it becomes.  There is no question that David occupies a prominent place in the Old Testament.  The story of David is the longest single narrative in the whole Bible.  It stretches all the way from I Samuel 16 when he is anointed by Samuel through I Kings 2, where he hands the kingdom over to his son Solomon.  Forty-two long chapters.  We know more about David than about almost any other single person in the whole Bible.

He is the man “after God’s own heart.” (I Samuel 13:14)  His life is characterized by daring exploits worthy of any movie thriller, remarkable leadership, and shrewd statesmanship.  As king, he takes Israel from loosely organized group of tribes to highly organized monarchy.  He was also a deeply spiritual man who loved the Lord and worshipped him with Psalms and exuberant song and dance.

David was what in Yiddish they call a mensch.  It’s one of those untranslatable words, which is why people use it.  A mensch is an authentic, likeable, down-to-earth human being.  Someone you can’t help but admire.

Think of it this way: David is the most complete, full-blooded, God-intoxicated human being we have in the Bible.  Here is a portrait of a real human being who operated as a king in the real world of Iron-age Palestine.  But he is also deeply enmeshed in an authentic, no-holds-barred, life and death, relationship with God.

David is the best we human beings can do.  He’s one of the most fully alive human beings that ever lived, a man after God’s own heart.  Israel wanted a King, and in David they got a real king, a successful king, a king they could all love.

But his life falls apart, spiritually, physically, and emotionally, just like ours.  His family tears itself apart.  He almost loses his kingdom to a rebellious son, Absalom.  And within a few generations, David’s great kingdom begins to crumble.  Beginning with this raging river of a man, David’s dynasty slows and meanders until it’s a stinking swamp of human ineptitude and sin.  The best of us, like David, cannot build a Kingdom that will last.

After the demise of the Israel’s line of Davidic kings after the exile, Israel began to associate the the Davidic covenant with the coming Messiah.  And that is where the story and David and the story of Jesus coalesce.

We see it already in Luke’s story of the annunciation.  The angel Gabriel says to Mary about her promised son,  “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  This marks the fulfillment of God’s promise to David in II Samuel 7.  Later the angels tell the shepherds, to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2: 11)

At Bethlehem, God takes the raw material David’s brilliant and flawed humanity, our humanity, and fuses it in Mary’s womb with his own divine Son to create a new humanity.  As John writes near the end of Revelation: Christ is the “root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.”  In Christ, the Holy Spirit is remaking us into a shining new humanity: righteous and robust, pure and passionate, kingly and kind, just and gentle.

During Jesus ministry he is often called upon by people seeing help of healing as “Son of David.”  (Matt. 9:27, 12:23 etc.)  This was another way of acknowledging their belief that Jesus was the Messiah.  It is particularly striking, in view of Psalm 132 as one of the pilgrimage Psalms, that when Jesus enters Jerusalem with the pilgrims for the Passover in that climactic final week, the pilgrims break into a song of praise.  “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

So, in Christ, God’s promise to David, that a son would sit on his throne forever, is finally fulfilled.  In the gospel lesson for today, Jesus stands before Pilate who asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Jesus coyly responds, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”  When he is finally crucified, Pilate places a placard on the cross, “King of the Jews.”  The irony of that movement from the crowds celebrating Jesus as the Son of David to that sign over his bruised and battered body on the cross is stunning.

The two halves of Psalm 132 are joined together and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  He is the house, the temple David wanted to build as a dwelling place for the Lord in Zion.  But he is also the son of David, the eternal king who God promised will rule his people with love and justice forever.

As God’s pilgrim people, marching to Zion, we sing this Psalm with even greater gusto.  The true king, the Son of David has come and will come again, and he will reign forever and ever.

For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
“This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.

Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.”

CEP Director Scott Hoezee has been on sabbatical this Fall 2018. He will return to his work and his regular writing of these commentaries next week (Advent 1C). We would like to thank Len Vander Zee for stepping in these past 3 months.

Please Note: Year B Advent and Christmas Resources are available on the CEP website.

Preaching the Text:

Christ the King Sunday (or as it is sometimes called, Reign of Christ) always seems somewhat anachronistic.  After all, we do not live in a monarchy, and those monarchies that remain, the monarch’s power is severely limited.  The other kind of monarchical (literally one person rule) is a dictatorship, but somehow that word seems a lot darker and more threatening.

One of the biblical aspects of Christ’s rule we need to recall is that his is really not a one-person rule.  The promise of scripture is that we will reign with him.  The goal of our salvation is our glorification with and in Christ.  Jesus said, “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30).  Paul writes that “When Christ your life is manifested, you also will be manifested with him in glory.” (Col. 3: 4).

As Ephesians says, we were raised with him and seated with him in heavenly places, in a position of rule and authority (Eph. 2:6).  So setting our mind on things above, where Christ is reigning, involves our practicing that rule in the world now, but in a way of hope, knowing that our true life is hidden with Christ and will be manifested with Him—in glory.

The idea here is that as human beings, created in the image of God we were crowned with the glory and honor (Psalm 8) and are meant to rule upon the earth.  It’s a rule that is cares for the creatures of the world even as it brings out the earth’s potential.  King Jesus, the true human, restores us all to our God-given royal dignity. We not only submit to his reign, we reign with him.


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