Psalm 78:9-16; Numbers 35:31-Deuteronomy 1:18; Luke 4:1-13

Psalm 78:1-16: This lengthy psalm recounts the history of Israel–a kind of national poem.  The first verse–“Hearken, my people, to my teaching. Lend your ear to the sayings of my mouth.”–evokes the oral tradition, an image of people gathered in remembrance.

This recitation of history dates at least back to Jacob: “He charged to our fathers to make them known to their sons, / so that the last generation might know,  / sons yet to be born / might arise and recount to their sons,” (6)  It is by passing the story down through the generations that creates essential continuity and national identity.  Some 3,000 years later, the Jews continue to demonstrate this identity.

Planted amidst the narrative are warnings to the listeners.  previous generations have sinned and not followed God.  This generation is instructed, “That they be not like their fathers, / a wayward, rebellious generation, / a generation that was not firm of heart,” (8)

God is at the center of the story as the miraculous escape from Egypt and the wanderings in the wilderness are recalled, “He split open the sea and let them pass through, / He made water stand up like a heap. / And He led them with the cloud by day and all night long with the light of fire.” (13,14)

The questions for us at this point in the psalm: Are we listening to God, recalling who we are as God’s people.  Or will we forget like Israel did?  Do we remember what God through Jesus Christ has done for us?  or will we forget that too?

 Numbers 35 -Deuteronomy 1:18:  As befits its mix of  lists and inventories, its statutes and land surveys scattered among the narrative events of Israel wandering through the wilderness and finally arriving at the Jordan, Numbers concludes with important legal issues that will apply to a settled Israel.

Now there are going to be towns and pastures and farms.  God knows that people will continue to bad things, and Moses sets out towns of asylum.  Then the rules applying to various forms of murder are laid out.  Our legal definition of various degrees of manslaughter and murder trace directly back to this chapter.  We even see the beginnings of a jury system: “the community shall judge between him who struck and the blood avenger on these matters of judgment.” (35:24)

Chapter 36 deals with the all-important issues of property, estates, and inheritance, once again centered around the daughters of Zelophehad. The question is, if the daughters of Zelophehad marry into other tribes, who gets the inherited property?  If property shifts among the tribes, the fairness of the system of allocation is corrupted.  A reasonable question and dilemma indeed.  Moses rather cleverly solves the problem by telling the daughters that they must marry within their own tribe, which they do.

The final verse of Numbers weaves regulations and historical narrative together by its precise description of Moses’ location: “These are the commands and the regulations that the LORD charged the Israelites by the hand of Moses in the steppes of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho.” (36:13)

Alter informs us that the book of Deuteronomy is “the most sustained deployment of rhetoric in the Bible.”  It is Moses’ valedictory address to the people of Israel. Whether Moses ever stood and addressed Israel with the “second law,” may be debatable, but the book opens with a precise description of where [“Moses spoke to all the Israelites across the 1 Jordan in the wilderness in the Arabah opposite Suph between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Di-Zahab,” (1:1)] and when [the fortieth year in the eleventh month on the first of the month” (1:2)].

Once again, we encounter the precision that plants Moses’ words in real space and real time.  These are not just sayings wafting somewhere in the misty celestial heavens, but words meant to be embraced by real people facing real challenges in real life.  So, too, for us. What God says are not just happy thoughts or something vaguely “spiritual.”  God is the God of Creation.  He gives us instruction in how to live our quotidian lives.  God is in everything we do and say. We do well to remember that reality every morning.

Luke 4:1-13: Luke’s account of Jesus’ wilderness temptation recounts the three temptations Each temptation applies as a lesson for our own lives; they are not just for Jesus alone.

“The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”” (3).  Bread represents our livelihoods and possessions.  They are insufficient for our lives.  As many men on their deathbed discover too late, having all the goods in the world do not bring immortality; they do not build relationships–either with other humans or with Jesus.

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.” (5). This is power.  We need only look at a certain city between Maryland and Virginia to observe the corrupting influence of power on those who seek it and attempt to wield it.  Power does not create relationships.  In fact, its self-centered nature always corrupts rather than builds.

“Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,”” (9). The Temple location makes Luke’s point: He was asking Jesus to set himself literally and figuratively above God, represented by the Temple.  This is our ego: we see ourselves as the center of the universe, setting ourselves above God because we do not see the need for God in our lives.  We think God is superfluous, unnecessary.

This is the sin of pride, and the examples of the sad outcome of pride abound through the Old Testament–and they abound through history.  When I set myself above God, I am testing God, and as Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

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