I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you." (Psalm 16:1-2)
Jacob has returned home, is living where his father lived. In one way, he's living as his father lived: He has a favorite son. Isaac's favorite stayed home; the other son, Jacob, went into exile for decades.
The story changes as it repeats. In this generation, the father's favorite goes into exile.
Although Jacob is certainly aware of the consequences of intra-family jealousy, he seems to encourage it. After he has received a bad report about the brothers from Joseph, Jacob sends him out to see how they're doing and to report back to him. Joseph has a dream of being lord over his brothers. Not only does he dream it, he tells his brothers and father about it. His brothers hate him for his presumption; his father is not pleased, either. Yet, knowing what Joseph is thinking and saying, Jacob sends him to report on those brothers.
Knowing what Joseph is thinking and saying, the brothers decide to get rid of him. The first-born, Reuben, and the fourth-born, Judah, step in to stop the murder. Instead, they sell Joseph as a slave to some traveling Ishmaelites (hear the echo of the rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael?).
Judah left his brothers. He married a Canaanite woman who bore three sons. When the first son died, Judah told the second son that he had to marry his brother's widow. When this son died, Judah told his daughter-in-law Tamar to stay a widow. She tricked Judah into impregnating her. When her twins were born, the first one put out a hand but the other one came out first.
So, in another generation, we have tricks and twins.
When Jesus cast out a demon from a man who was blind and mute, the man was able to see and speak. Although the crowds were pleased, the religious insiders definitely were not. They questioned the source of his authority. He told them to judge him by his results.
Jesus then has a teaching about unclean spirits. When they leave a person, they look for a new place to live. They may go back to the original place and bring along some other evil spirits with them. That's what is happening now. Thomas Long applies this teaching to every generation:
The Christian life is not merely the absence of bad things; it is the presence of good things. The life of faith is not a vacant lot where sin used to be; it is an active neighborhood where justice, mercy, and peace live together (Matthew).
The Wesley Study Bible describes Psalm 16 as a refugee's song. And certainly the Scriptures contain many stories of refugees--some voluntary but most involuntary. Think about what would be important to you if you lost your home or even your nation, if you had to leave behind so much of what had been familiar, what had seemed to be necessary. Then imagine praying this psalm.
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.I've lost what I was used to, what I thought I had to have, but I still have what is really important.
I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you." (1-2)
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;I can still rely on God for guidance.
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. (7-8)
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;I can give up reliance on the familiar or the false. I can rejoice that I can rely on the Lord.
my body also rests secure. (9)
You show me the path of life.Commentators suggest several settings for this psalm as well as nomads like Abraham and Moses or fugitives like Jacob or exiles like those transported by the Assyrians or Babylonians, or the to-be-King David after one of his escapes. For example, the psalm could express the relief of someone surviving a near-death experience.
In your presence there is fulness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (11)
Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website Timeless Psalms.