Psalm 70; Numbers 18:25-19:22; Mark 14:66-72

I am writing today out of a post-kidney stone treatment hydrocodone haze, so fair warning: my musings may be more incoherent than usual…

Psalm 70:  This short psalm is pretty much a précis of the much longer one that precedes it.  David opens with an urgent plea for rescue: “God, to save me, LORD, to my help, hasten!”  He then wishes the very worst possible fate for his enemies, which is not death, but that “those who seek my life be shamed and reviled. May they fall back and be disgraced.” (2)  With a special imprecation for those who have mocked him in public, “Let them turn back on the heels of their shame,  who say “Hurrah, hurrah!”(3)

Having dispensed with his prayer request, David moves, as he always does, to worship: “Let all who seek You  exult and rejoice, and may they always say “God is great!” (4), concluding his prayer by repeating its urgency not once, but twice: “God, O hasten to me! My help, the one who frees me You are. LORD, do not delay.” (6)

Two thoughts: First, David completely understand that vengeance is God’s exclusive realm.  Even though he prays for the worst possible outcome for his enemies, he always leaves the action itself up to God.  He never tells God what he, David, will do to his enemies. Above all, David never threatens God with deadlines, a la, “OK, God, if you don;t act on this, I will.”  Think how different history would have been if other leaders had shown David’s restraint in carrying out their own vengeance.

Second, David prays with urgency.  He is not afraid to ask God to hurry things up, even though he well knows that God will do things in God’s own time.  So, it’s certainly OK to ask God to hurry up, but in doing so, we ourselves must wait patiently, and again, not take things into our own hands.

Numbers 18:25-19:22  So the Levites, who receive a tithe form the other tribes are themselves to tithe: “a tithe of a tithe.”  Which is certainly clear instructions to pastors and church leaders that they too are obligated to give back to God.  And in the case of Levites, their tithe must consist of “from all the richest of it, the consecrated part of it.”  In short, they are to lead by example, lest the other tribes grumble that they gave, so why not the priests.

While I am fond of saying, “there is no free lunch,” here for the Levites there is: “And you shall eat it in every place, you and your households.”  But as God points out, “for it is wages for you in exchange for your work in the Tent of Meeting.”  Which is reminder to us that we are not to be stingy to the pastors and priests who lead us.  Which I’m afraid churches tend to be famous for doing.

Chapter 19 makes it clear that cleansing and purification are not the same thing.  The unblemished red (an association with the color of blood?) heifer is sacrificed outside the camp and then every part of it is burned to ashes, which are mixed with water and become what Alter translates a “riddance water,” used as purification.  Symbolically, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to view the water used for cleaning as representing baptism, while the red heifer’s ashes represent the purification that was brought to us through the shedding of Jesus’ blood.  We are baptized into the community of saints, but it is only through jesus Christ that our sins are truly forgiven.

The final portion of this chapter deals with rules around handling dead bodies and consequent uncleanness, followed by the complex rites of washing and purification.  Yes, these rules certainly represent good hygiene, but I think there larger purpose is to ensure that unlike the Egyptians, the dead do not become cultic objects of worship.  Israel’s God is a God of the living, not the dead.

 Mark 14:66-72  Peter’s denial must surely have been the greatest tragedy in his life up to that point, and for me anyway, the hinge point in Peter’s ministry to the world.  Up to that cold morning in the courtyard, Peter had his own clear ideas about who Jesus was and what Jesus was going to do.  With Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, his world was shattered.  What he had so confidently said to Jesus about the Messiah was now just a bitter memory. His personal safety was what mattered now, hence the increasing anxiety expressed as anger under each of his subsequent denials. He is in the most psychologically and spiritually vulnerable point in his life.

It is the two cock crows that turn his life around.  For in Peter’s weeping was the realization that he was not who he thought he was.  As Oswald Chambers is fond of pointing out, it is not until we abandon ourselves and our own ideas of how God should work that Jesus is really ready to work through us.  In Peter’s tears lay that final abandonment of ego.

Up to now, I haven’t really appreciated the importance of Jesus’ prophecy that the the cock crowing twice rather than just once.  The first cock crow probably registered subconsciously on Peter, but he was too busy trying to get the servant girl to shut up to pay much attention.  But then the cock crows a second time and the full weight of what Jesus says comes crashing down around his head.

Same for us, I think.  We may hear the still small voice of God a first time, but brush it off as a random thought.  But then the same voice comes a second or a third time–and that makes it difficult to ignore.  The true import of what the voice is saying finally penetrates our brain–and then our heart.  And our world, too, may just come crashing in around us.

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