The Bible Challenge 2015 – Day 103

I Samuel 19-21, Psalm 86, John 21
The bonds of friendship

I Samuel 19-21
Psalm 86
John 21
Key Verses

I Samuel 19 – 21

Chapter 19 develops one of the most significant friendships in the Bible, where Saul’s son Jonathan and David bonded like brothers. Saul was deeply threatened by David’s presence and sought to kill him. Jonathan, however, delighted in David and warned him of his father’s plan to kill him. Likewise, Saul’s daughter, Michal, protected her husband, David, and deceived her father’s messengers who sought to arrest and kill her husband.

David and Jonathan’s friendship was founded on a sacred covenant. This was done by cutting animals in half, walking through the path between the animal parts and swearing, “May this happen to me if I do not uphold the covenant that I have cut with God and you.”

Jonathan asked David, “May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father. If I am still alive, show me the faithful love of the Lord; but if I die, never cut off your faithful love from my house, even if the Lord were to cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” (1 Sam. 20:13b-14) We are told that, “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.” (1 Sam. 20:17) The bond of this friendship was matched only by that of the stories of Ruth and Naomi and Jesus and the beloved disciple and perhaps a few similar bonds in the Bible.

David later honored the covenant that he cut with Jonathan by refusing to exterminate all of Saul’s descendants and sparing Mephibosheth’s life. (2 Samuel 9) After ascertaining that Saul was planning to kill him, David fled to Nob to the priest of Ahimelech and demanded five loaves of bread. Unfortunately, the only bread that was available was the “bread of the Presence.” Famished after his flight from Saul, David accepted the holy bread.

Traditionally, 12 loaves of freshly-baked bread were placed on the table of the Presence to symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel. (see Ex. 25:23-30) These were replaced by fresh loaves every Sabbath. The old loaves were consumed by the priests. (see Lev. 24:5-9) Because David assured Ahimelech that his men were ritually clean, Ahimelech permitted them to eat the bread of the Presence. Some of the ways in which men became unclean were through sexual intercourse, contact with menstruating women or by touching a corpse. (Lev. 15:32-33)

A thousand years later, Jesus recalled this episode in order to defend the actions of his disciples against the Pharisees. One day when Jesus was going through the cornfields on the Sabbath, his disciples were hungry and plucked some ears of corn and ate them. The Pharisees who witnessed this were indignant, “Look, your disciples are doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath,” they said. Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God and ate the sacred bread, though neither he nor his men had a right to eat it, but only the priests.” (Matt. 12:2-4) He added, “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt. 12:8) Clearly, David had set a precedent.

Before David leaves, he is equipped with the sword of Goliath whom he slew. “There is none like it; give it to me,” says David.

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Psalm 86

Psalm 86 is a prayer of David and a supplication against his enemies. It perfectly dovetails with chapter 21 of 1 Samuel. David writes, “O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.” (Ps. 86:14)

The psalm, however, is positive and applicable to our lives today. While many of the psalms portray a score-settling God, who appears eager to punish any enemies and any who breaks his divine laws, the Psalmist is aware of God’s graciousness. He writes,

Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. (Ps. 86:4-5)

The Psalmist then asks for something that we are all wise to seek. He writes,

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Ps. 86:11)

Indeed, it is when our heart is undivided that we are most content. Joy comes when our will and God’s will are united. We are never more faithful, never more ourselves and never more useful as instruments in God’s hand than when our will and God’s will are one.

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John 21

There is debate about whether or not John 21 was added later to the Fourth Gospel. John 20:30-31 note, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” This appears like a clear ending.

John 21 adds other stories not found in any other gospel and then ends with a similar concluding statement, “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) Many scholars believe that this is a second ending added at a later time.

Sandwiched in between these two endings are two important stories. In the first story, the disciples have been fishing all night, but unsuccessfully. It is intriguing that after all that has occurred, Simon Peter says to his fellow disciples, “I am going fishing.” (John 21:3) The disciples quickly agree to join him. It is helpful for grieving people to return to the normal tasks that they are most accustomed to while mourning the loss of a loved one. One of the hardest ways to mourn a loss is to have no obligations and nothing to occupying ourselves with but to let our mind become overwhelmed by its loss and replay conversations and events of the past over and over again.

So, the disciples returned to life as usual. Despite, being experienced fisherman, they had no luck after working all night. The traditional way that Jews fished on the Sea of Galilee was to point their boats towards the headwaters where the River Jordan flowed into the sea. They cast their nets to the left side of the boat, which was the side of the lake where the Jews inhabited. Having followed tradition all evening and having caught nothing, Jesus instructed the disciples to toss their nets to the right side of the boat, the side facing where the Gentiles lived. Lo and behold their nets were full of fish and nearly broke. They caught 153 fish. It was a sign of the miraculous growth of the Church would come when the disciples turned their efforts toward evangelizing among the Gentiles as opposed to the Jews. There are various debates about what the number 153 signifies.

Jesus called them to shore, where he had breakfast waiting for them over a charcoal fire. (John 21:9) This scene immediately recalls John 18 where “the slaves and the priests had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. “ (John 18:18) Around that fire, Peter denied Jesus three times.

Now, gathered by a similar charcoal fire, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” By the third time, Peter was aware that there was a connection between Jesus’ three-fold questioning and his three-fold denial of Jesus before his crucifixion. We read, “Peter felt hurt because [Jesus] said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’” (John 21:17) We see yet again a pattern that transpires throughout the entire Bible but especially in Genesis chapters 2-12 and 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2. Here we find the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood and the Tower of Babel as well as the stories of David and Bathsheba, Amnon and Absalom, Absalom and David and Solomon and David.

In each of these stories as in the story of Jesus forgiving Peter, we see a pattern of sin, confession, judgment and graciousness. In each occasion there is a surprising turn in the story and the graciousness of God is offered. Punishment is either by-passed or mitigated by an unexpected grace such as special blessing such as the birth of Solomon to Bathsheba and David after their first son died. (2 Samuel 12:24)

Jesus instructed Peter, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18) This was to foretell by what means Peter was to die.

Peter and Paul were imprisoned together in Rome and on the same day taken from their prison cell in the center of Rome and executed at opposite ends of the city. Paul was beheaded, and Peter was crucified upside down. Jesus’ final words in John’s Gospel are, “Follow me.” (John 21:19) They mirror Jesus’ invitation in John 1:39, where Jesus invites two disciples to “Come and see.” Much has transpired in three years that separate these two invitations. The disciples now know that following Jesus will be a costly endeavor, an endeavor which will cost most of their lives, but they are prepared to follow him.

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Key Verses

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Ps. 86:11)

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? (John 21:15)

Feed my lambs. (John 21:15)

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With who have you made a profound bond of friendship? Do you have a friend or several friends whom you consider friends for life, who have become like family to you? What maintains these bonds of friendship for you? Have you ever prayed for a mind that was not divided? Do you feel as those your mind is often divided among separate desires that compete against each other? What sacrifices are you making to follow Jesus? If you draw a blank or are making few, it would be wise to contemplating what sacrifices you might make to deepen your discipleship with Christ.

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Gracious God, you offered us everything in sending Jesus to come among us, live with us and die for us. Help us now to make significant sacrifices in our own lives and with our time, our gifts and talents and our treasure that we might share the love which you have made known to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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© The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania