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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Of Judges and Secret Kings

Not every popular song is about you or me.

For every My Funny Valentine, in which almost every listener pictures someone who makes me “smile with my heart”, instantly identifying with the songwriter in his slightly maudlin rhapsodizing, there’s a “Galileo Figaro magnifico!”

Say what? What does that even mean? But Bohemian Rhapsody was hugely popular and remains a rock classic, though nobody who’s ever heard it has the slightest idea what it’s about.

More Than Words

For every My Way that applies universally (we’ve all got a little “I will ascend” in us, sadly), there’s some blathering dirge about a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold. Even as a teen, I couldn’t spare five minutes to puzzle that one out.

But there is more to a song than its words, so once in a while we find ourselves feeling an affinity for something that has no relation whatsoever to our own current experience.

Psalm 101 is a bit like one of those more unrelatable songs in the sense that on its surface it appears to be about the tough job of being king: making decisions that affect people’s lives and administering justice, sometimes rather severely.

Destroy all the Wicked

Think about it. At least a few of the Israelites who were first given David’s words to learn and sing (most probably the younger, inexperienced ones) surely thought something along these lines: “I can’t relate to this! What on earth does this stuff have to do with my life? If I start destroying my secretly-slandering neighbors, I’ll end up in jail. And who has the authority to cut off all evildoers from Jerusalem? Not me. That’s not my job. I can’t even imagine wielding that kind of power.”

Good point. There’s not much in David’s regal musings for average Joseph to feel connected to … on the surface. But then most psalms are multi-layered, as you have probably noticed. We’ll get to that.

Judgment is not an easy thing to administer, but David was determined to do it right. It sounds as if many mornings of the great king’s reign began with the sight of a line of Israelites looking for justice, eager for him to mediate their disputes.

Morning by Morning

Now, whether that was the best strategy is open to debate. In his treachery, David’s son Absalom found a way to appeal to a sense of felt need among the people for a more efficient mediation system. “There is no man designated by the king to hear you,” he would point out. And apparently there wasn’t.

But whether or not there were imperfections in David’s process, his knowledge of God and his innate sense of right and wrong probably made him a pretty good judge, assuming you could get in to see him. He was committed to rooting out wickedness among the people, cutting off the evildoers and walking with integrity. “Morning by morning”, this was David’s life and commitment.

Is that your life? Probably not literally. It sure isn’t mine. But that’s okay. Psalms are multi-layered.

A Millennial King

On a second level, David the prophet is probably writing about an experience he hasn’t had at all. Is the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ in view here in some way? I think it must be, however distantly.

Never in the history of mankind will justice be more perfectly executed than when the glorified Christ is enthroned in the city where he was once crucified. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet,” Paul tells us. There will be no exceptions. Or as David’s son Solomon put it in another very millennial psalm, “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!”

If there is wickedness in the land, you can bet the coming King will deal with it, and expeditiously. There will be no suffering widows and orphans when he comes to reign, and no evildoers in the city of the Lord.

Do we detect here the aspiration of a limited, human king to omniscience, the better to do his job? I think we do. Only the All-Knowing can get to the bottom of a haughty look and an arrogant heart, detect secret slander or put the finger unerringly on those who practice deceit.

David couldn’t. He missed those qualities in his own son. This psalm could never be fully and completely realized in David’s kingdom.

Well Now, What About Us?

So … is there anything left on these bones for you and me? Of course. There are always a few crumbs from the table for those who come hungrily to the word of God, even if what we’re reading has no direct bearing on our lives.

You and I have our own little dominions, don’t we, just as David did. Within our domains, we rule. Fathers and mothers have obligations too, to administer justice and ferret out iniquity wherever it may be found. Our children deserve that degree of attention from us. To do otherwise is to incur the judgment of Eli: “His sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” Eli’s house was to be judged forever because of the iniquity that he knew was running wild in his home.

Much better to “walk with integrity within my house”, no?

The Secret King

“But I don’t have children,” you say. Fair enough. You still rule a kingdom. Every man and woman is a secret king or queen within their own heart. Moreover, every Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, naturally produces the fruit of self-control. We have effective dominion over ourselves, should we choose to exercise it. It is up to you and me to reign over our own needs and desires in a way that is commendable before God.

But that’s a choice, and a daily one. Can we say with David, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless”? I hope so. How about, “A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil”? Not always, I’m sure.

But it is this very personal exercise of self-scrutiny and dealing firmly with our earthly inclinations that informs and enables “justice in the land”.

Even if that land extends no further than our living room.

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