Psalm 74:10–17; Numbers 28:1–29:6; Luke 1:46–56

Originally published 6/10/2016. Revised and updated 6/11/2018.

Psalm 74:10–17: In his frustration that God has seemed to ignore the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, our poet asks rhetorically, perhaps even with a bit of sarcasm,
Until when, O God, will the foe insult,
the enemy revile Your name forever?

He goes on in seeming puzzlement as to why God has not already acted against the destroyers,
Why do You draw back Your hand,
and You right hand hold in Your bosom?
” (11)

Yet, his faith in God remains strong as he recollects and catalogs God’s great rescuing acts of old:
Yet God is my king of old,
worker of rescues of the earth.

He remembers that it was God who conquered the powerful mythical creatures of Canaanite legend:
You shattered the sea-God with Your strength,
You smashed the monsters’ heads on the waters.

In fact, God defeated these creatures so thoroughly, that he was able to carve them up and give them as (metaphorical?) food to people living far from the sea:
You crushed the Leviathan’s heads,
You gave him as food to the desert-folk.

[Notice that ‘heads’ is plural. Apparently the Leviathan had many heads.]

Not only did God conquer the creatures in the great battle for control over the sea, the water theme continues as our psalmist observes that God also can do whatever he likes in natural creation:
You split open a channel for spring and brook,
You dried up the surging torrents,

This last line sounds like a reference to flash flooding in the desert.

Our poet is working backwards through the creation story, trying to remind God of all the great creative acts he once performed, including circadian reality and the seasons of the year:
Your is the day, also Yours the night.
It was You who founded the light and the sun.
It was You Who laid down the boundaries of earth,
summer and winter, You fashioned them.
 (16, 17)

The question hangs in the air. Having reminded God of his powerful acts in the past, will this appeal result in a change of circumstance for the now destroyed Jerusalem? Will God act? Certainly a question heavy on our minds in today’s world, as well.

Numbers 28:1–29:6:  The overall strategy of the authors of this book seems to be to interlace narrative with rules concerning worship. This reading focuses on the details of the various classes of offering at the tabernacle.

General offerings: one lamb in the morning; one at night plus “an ephah of choice flour for a grain offering, mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil” (28: 5) Plus a drink offering.

Sabbath offerings: basically a doubling of the general offering.

Monthly offerings: “At the beginnings of your months you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish;” (11)plus a specific recipe for a grain offering.

Passover offerings: Celebrated once a year, it requires a substantial investment since it’s ordained to occur each day for seven days: “two young bulls, one ram, and seven male lambs a year old; see that they are without blemish.” (19) plus a variety of grain offerings. The main injunction here is that unleavened bread is eaten and there is no work for seven days.

Festival of weeks offering: This is the first fruits offering, involving (no surprise) sacrificial animals and more grain. This is a one-day holiday where “you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations.” (26)

Festival of trumpets offering: This occurs annually on the first day of the seventh month, and not surprisingly, “It is a day for you to blow the trumpets,” (29:1) in addition to the required animal and grain sacrifices

I come away here is yet another reminder that there is nothing random or arbitrary about God. Since these rules have been written as being directly communicated by God, there is no allowance for deviation. God demands obedience to the norms, yet they are also days of freedom from work and times for festivals and I assume, general partying. As in many places in the bible, we see that freedom and ordinances are beautifully intertwined. Unfortunately our own society seems far more intent on individual freedoms than on following the rules that are societal glue. Individualism, “do what you feel like,” seems to carry the day more and more.

Luke 1:46–56: What more can be said about the most beautiful song in the NT? I confess that it requires a substantial willingness to suspend my disbelief that a teen-aged girl spontaneously composed this magnificent poem with its unforgettable opening verse and I am more inclined to give Like, inspired by the Holy Spirit, authorial credit:
      “My soul magnifies the Lord,
       and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
       for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (47, 48)

Luke has Mary sing a lyrical version of one of the crucial themes he will be communicating in this gospel. A central theme is that this is the God who is above all concerned with the widows and orphans, the poor and the prisoners. The wicked haughty will meet their deserved end because God has finally answered the psalmist’s plea.
   “He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
      He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
     he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.” (51-53)

Reading this poem today, it strikes me that this is Luke’s expression of what the Kingdom of God will be like. The world will be turned upside down as the rich and powerful are conquered and the order of the world is replaced by the Kingdom of God where the poor will prosper, the orphans will find comfort, the sick will healed, and the prisoners will be freed. These are the people upon whom God’s mercy will be showered.

Tradition holds that Luke was a doctor and that the side of Jesus we will see in this gospel is how Jesus heals the broken in spirit and body. Unlike Matthew, Luke doesn’t need to list the Beatitudes as concepts. Instead, they will be illustrated in Jesus’ acts.

Finally, Mary’s Magnificat is also a reminder that God is behind everything that is about to occur in this story. This is Luke’s gorgeous statement that God has indeed remembered Israel, and will bring a Messiah “according to the promise he made to our ancestors,/ to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (55) The question of course is will Israel accept its messiah? Will we?

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