Psalm 102:1–11; Judges 3; Luke 18:31–43

Originally published 8/19/2016. revised and updated 8/20/2018.

Psalm 102:1–11: Unlike many other psalms of supplication, the opening verse states the exact purpose of the psalm while also scanning as beautiful poetry:
A prayer for the lowly when he grows faint
and pours out his plea before the Lord
. (1)

Even in the words asking God to hear his prayer we feel the psalmist’s despair:
Lord, O hear my prayer,
and let my outcry come before You
. (2)

Like all who suffer, he begs God to reveal himself and answer not just in the good times, but even more urgently when we are in our darkest hours:
Hide not Your face from me
on the day when I am in straits.
” (3a)

Then, in one of the most dramatic verses in Psalms, the poet beautifully describes life’s ephemerality in parallel with intense physical suffering in two memorable similes:
For my days are consumed in smoke,
and my bones are scorched like a hearth.
My heart is stricken and withers like grass,
so I forget to eat my bread.
 (5).

As a result, his disease has emaciated him:
From my loud sighing,
my bones cleave to my flesh
.” (6)

To further heighten the sense of his being close to death, he compares himself to two birds:
I resemble the wilderness jackdaw,
I become like the owl of the ruins.
 (7)

Our poet extends the bird metaphor to describe his insomnia:
I lie awake and become
like a lonely bird on a roof.
 (8)

As if his physical weakness is not enough, he is confronted by wicked enemies eager to see him die:
All day long my enemies revile me,
my taunters invoke me in curse
.” (9)

In perhaps the greatest metaphor of depression created by chronic disease I have ever encountered, our poet beautifully evokes the sense of having become a dry husk of a man near the bitter end of his life:
For ashes I have eaten as bread,
and my drink I have mingled with tears—
 (10)

The suffering of Job comes to mind at this point as well as the suffering of so many through history into the present day.

I have been fortunate that in my own journey with cancer I have not endured suffering such as that described here, but I know those who have. And given this state, it is little wonder that our poet lashes out at God and blames him for these woes:
..because of Your wrath and fury,
for You raised me up and flung me down.
 (11)

Which I think is exactly what I would do as well. To have God bring one to life by God (“raised me up“) and then to waste away with disease (“flung me down“) seems a capricious and even cruel act by God. One can see the origin of the despairing phrase, ‘I wish I had never been born.’

Judges 3: Inasmuch as our authors are writing history, they ascribe Israel’s failure to completely rid Canaan of all the tribes already occupying the land as “the nations that the Lord left to test all those in Israel who had no experience of any war in Canaan,” (1) which I take to be subsequent generations living alongside Canaanites long after Joshua’s death. The authors catalog the tribes that are left dwelling alongside Israel: “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” (5) Unfortunately, the presence of these tribes has had a malign influence on Israel, which “took their daughters as wives for themselves, and their own daughters they gave to their sons; and they worshiped their gods.” (6)

Depressingly, “the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, forgetting the Lord their God, and worshiping the Baals and the Asherahs.” (7). One wonders: why was it that Israel followed these other small-g gods when they could have undertaken efforts to bring God to these other tribes? All through history to the present day it seems that it is always the small-g gods that are more attractive than God. Certainly their physicality as idols created a sense of a god “being present,” as over against Israel’s monotheistic but almost always invisible God, who too often seems silent and absent.

The authors go on to describe the consequences of Israel abandoning God. But as always, “when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the Israelites, who delivered them, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.” (11) Othniel serves as judge and “the land had rest forty years.” (11) But then he dies and once again in neverending rhythm, “the Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (12) The king of Moab, “in alliance with the Ammonites and the Amalekites, he went and defeated Israel.” (13) which becomes a vassal state for 18 years.

Israel finally comes to its senses and cries out to God and “the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man.” (15) I love the left-hand detail since left-handedness was seen as a significant physical defect in those cultures. As always, God uses the people you’d least expect. Ehud arranges to bring a tribute and a personal weapon, a sword, to King Eglon of Moab, who “was a very fat man.”  (17) (Love these physical descriptions!). Ehud uses a ruse to get Eglon alone and assassinates him with the hidden sword, presumably using his left hand. Our authors seem to relish every gruesome detail: “the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out.” (22) Ehud locks the door to the chamber and escapes.

The king’s servants, thinking he’s taking too long “relieving himself,” break open the door and find their dead king. Without its leader, Moab falls to Israel in a great battle where “they killed about ten thousand of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; no one escaped.” (29) Roles are reversed and Moab is now vassal to Israel. Eighty years of peace ensue. But we can certainly see why Moabites and Israel hated each other even many years later when Ruth came along.

Compared to the detail about Ehud, our authors give short shrift to “Shamgar son of Anath, who killed six hundred of the Philistines with an oxgoad,” saying only that “He too delivered Israel.” (31) Why no backstory about him?

Luke 18:31–43: Jesus and the 12 disciples are now heading to Jerusalem for the final act. Jesus predicts what is going to happen there with specific precision. “For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” (32, 33)

I have to suspect that Luke, writing long after the crucifixion, has placed these words in Jesus’ mouth. Which doesn’t bother me because I think his real point here is to emphasize once again the complete unexpectedness, the utter improbability of what is about to happen. Luke’s focus is on the disciples, who like us, “understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (34) Even 2000 years later, long after these historical events,  we have trouble grasping what Jesus really meant here.

As they pass through Jericho, a blind man asks what the hubbub is about. He is told that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (37) He begins shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (39) and is brought to Jesus, who asks “What do you want me to do for you?” (41) The man replies, “Lord, let me see again.” (41b). Jesus heals him, saying, “your faith has saved you.” (42)

For Luke, this event is operating at two levels. First is the incident itself. A blind man has faith that he can be healed and he is. But the more significant level Luke is saying that we are all spiritually blind and crying out, if not aloud, then on the inside. The blind man has superior spiritual vision into who Jesus really is than the disciples—and by implication, all of us. As Luther found out after years of trying, if we have faith in Jesus we will see everything much more clearly. Above all, if we have honest faith, we will see Jesus for who he really is.

 

 

Psalm 101; Judges 1:17–2:23; Luke 18:18–30

Originally published 8/18/2016. revised and updated 8/18/2018.

Psalm 101: While the previous psalm (100) celebrates God’s righteousness and faithfulness, this psalm turns inward as the psalmist contemplates his own behavior and attitude before God as it opens with song about a man who would emulate God’s qualities:
Kindness and justice I would sing.
To You O Lord, I would hymn
. (1)

To be kind and just requires observing others who follow God. Nor will he consort with the wicked, but rather focus on his own behavior:
I would study the way of the blameless:
when will it come to me?

I shall go about in my heart’s innocence
within my house
. (2)

Our poet notes that avoiding temptation and evil people is a key requirement to becoming kind and just:
I shall not set before my eyes
any base thing.
” (3a).

This discipline certainly is applicable in these days when one can find anything, particularly pornography, on the Internet. This internal discipline leads to a firm resolution to avoid (as the Catholics put it) “occasions of sin:”
I hate committing transgressions.
It will not cling to me.
 (3b)

Rather, he must work consciously to stay out of harm’s way:
May a twisted heart turn far from me.
May I not know evil.
 (4)

These verses point out the psychological fact that if we consciously discipline ourselves to avoid sinful people and situations, it becomes easier to avoid succumbing  to temptation.

We suddenly get the sense that in this “David psalm,’ it is the king himself who is speaking. His state of semi-perfection [self-righteousness?] will motivate him to chastise others. In fact, he will go beyond chastisement against the wicked who speak ill of his friends:
Who defames in secret his fellow,
him shall I destroy.
The haughty of eyes and proud of heart,
him shall I not suffer
. (5)

That the king is speaking becomes more obvious in the next verse:
My eyes are on the land’s faithful,
that they dwell with me.
 (6a)

In fact he will surround himself only with retainers who also follow God and practice justice and kindness:
Who walks in the way of the blameless,
it is he who will serve me
.
Within my house there shall not dwell
one who practices deceit.
A speaker of lies shall not stand firm before my eyes.
 (6b, 7)

This righteousness at the center motivates the king to take action against evil throughout his kingdom:
Each morning I shall destroy
all the wicked of the land,
to cut off from the town of the Lord
[Jerusalem]
all the wrongdoers. (8)

Obviously there is some hyperbole here since destroying all the wicked is an impossible task. But speaking as king, this psalm would have served clear notice defining exactly what kind of people qualified to serve him. But as we see at the highest levels of government today, this requires a leader committed to the way of justice and righteousness. Alas, that quality does not seem to be present.

For us personally, of course, it’s a reminder that if we claim to be Jesus followers we must be pure of heart and work consciously to avoid situations where we are tempted to sin.

Judges 1:17–2:23: The task of conquering the Canaanites was not completed by Joshua and his army. As our authors make clear here, there was much left to be accomplished. They catalog the efforts of virtually every tribe. Judah is successful but “the Benjaminites did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived in Jerusalem among the Benjaminites to this day.” (1:21) The house of Joseph uses spies to successfully capture Bethel, but “Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages.” (27)  Nor did Ephraim “drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer.” (29) Zebulon, Asher, Napthali were equally unsuccessful—and so it went.

God is not exactly pleased at these half-measures and sends an angel to speak on his behalf. The angel chastises them and predicts a fairly grim future for Israel because of their failure to only partially execute God’s clear command (an outcome the authors surely knew as the wrote many years later): “you have not obeyed my command. See what you have done! So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” (2:3)

Alas, “the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals.” (2:11) Worse, “they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods.” (12)

As today’s psalmist observes, bad things tend to happen when people are surrounded by evil. Israel “did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them.” (2:17)

Israel’s judges were the only societal glue holding the nation together because “the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge.”  (2:18) But when the judge died, Israel was quick to revert to its pagan ways. The authors conclude that this state of affairs remained in place “In order to test Israel, whether or not they would take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their ancestors did.” (2:22). Unsurprisingly, Israel generally failed the test. As, I suspect, given the woeful state of the culture we live in, so have we.

Luke 18:18–30: Perhaps Jesus most famous theological encounter was not with the assorted Pharisees and lawyers, but with the rich young ruler. The young man is an exemplar when it comes to following the Law and now asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18). Jesus rather testily rebukes the man for calling Jesus “good,” asserting that “No one is good but God alone,” (19) which I take to be Luke’s message to his community that even those who have obeyed every law cannot begin to claim to be “good” absent Jesus’ saving grace.

Jesus goes on to tell him that following all the rules is insufficient and  famously says, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (22) Interestingly, when he hears this statement, the young man is neither angry nor annoyed; he is sad. Jesus is requiring him to abandon everything in order to be a Jesus follower. This is the same kind of total abandonment that Oswald Chambers keeps talking about.

We tend to consign this saying of Jesus to the “hard sayings” category and/or come up with interesting rationalizations as to why we don’t need to take Jesus’ advice even though we are also rich. That said, I think the heart of the issue here is attitude. Jesus was testing the man’s priorities and when he talks about camels and needles he is saying that if our wealth is a priority over Jesus, we cannot enter the Kingdom. If wealth ensures after we have the right priority, than I suppose it’s OK. But in the end Luke’s Jesus is concerned about the poor widows and the orphans—the societal last who shall be first in the Kingdom. If we cannot set the same priority but would rather tend to our stock portfolios first then we are exactly like the rich man. And if we’re paying attention to what Jesus said, our response will be just as sad as the young man’s.

 

Psalm 100; Joshua 24:14–Judges 1:16; Luke 18:1–17

Originally published 8/17/2016. revised and updated 8/17/2018.

Psalm 100: There’s no ambiguity about the theme of this psalm as our poet announces  this is “a thanksgiving psalm” in the first line. He invites all of humankind and nature to join in worship:
Shout out to the Lord all the earth,
worship the Lord in rejoicing,
come before Him in glad song.
 (1b, 2)

Worship at the temple in Jerusalem must have been a noisy affair since the psalmist invites everyone not just to sing, but to shout as well, reminding curmudgeons like me who prefer solemnity that exuberance is an essential quality of worship.

Our poet moves on quickly to remind us why we’re thankful:
Know that the Lord is God.
He has made us, and we are His,
His people and the flock He tends
. (3)

Besides acknowledging that God has created us, we need to remember that our relationship with God is well defined. The hierarchy is clear: He is our Creator; we are his creatures. As his created ones, we are his complete possession, signified here metaphorically as being his flock. Yet how many times do I prefer to behave as I’m the one in charge rather than God?

With God’s created order in mind, there is order to worship as well. Once again we are reminded that worshipping God is our highest human calling:
Come into His gates with thanksgiving,
His courts in praise.
Acclaim Him,
Bless His name.
 (4)

And again, our poet tells us why we are engaged in joyful worship in one of the great verses in Psalms:
For the Lord is Good,
forever His kindness,
and for all generations His faithfulness. (5)

The question is, do I live my life in the reality of God’s kindness and faithfulness? Or do I revert to my inborn cynical self? When joy seems far away this psalm reminds us that joy is close if we but pause, acknowledge God’s love and enter into his gates with praise and thanksgiving.

Joshua 24:14–Judges 1:16: Joshua comes to the heart of his speech at Shechem as he asks the Israelites gathered before him, “if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” (15a). In one of the most famous and effective lines in any speech ever delivered in the Bible, Joshua asserts, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (15b). The people respond enthusiastically, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.” (16)

We can sense Joshua’s doubt as he goes on to make it clear that the god we choose is a binary choice. If the people choose to follow a small-g god then,“You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God.” (19) The people respond, almost shouting,“No, we will serve the Lord!” (21). But Joshua calls their bluff, telling them, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” (22) demanding that they “put away foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (23) The people again respond that “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” (24) This scene demonstrates how easy it is to shout out our loyalty in an enthusiastic crowd. But our words are not our actions.

This speech is just as relevant today as it was some three millennia ago. We must choose between the small-g gods in our life or God himself. Jesus recapitulates Joshua when he tells the people at the Sermon on the mount that they cannot choose two masters, or as the King James Bible famously puts it, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6:24) This is the choice that each of us must make. But I think we are too like Israel: Sincere in intention but weak in practice.

Like Moses before him, Joshua gives this last speech and then, “Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred ten years old.” (29) So, too, “Eleazar son of Aaron died.” (33) The last connection between Israel and the men who set out from Egypt so many years ago is almost severed. Only Caleb remains alive.

The book of Judges opens where the book of Joshua ended. Where Moses and Joshua were the direct channels to God, now it is unidentified Israelites who inquire of God asking,“Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” (Judges 1:1). Our authors, who I believe were from Judah, deliver a clear answer written as the voice of God that “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.” (2) The tribe of Judah asks the tribe of Simeon to assist and “the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they defeated ten thousand of them at Bezek.” (4)

The Canaanite king, Adoni-bezek meets a grisly end, first having his thumbs and big toes cut off(!) and then brought as prisoner to newly-conquered Jerusalem, where he dies. More Israelite victories ensue as the continue to conquer the land that becomes Judah.

We then see a rerun of the incident describe in Deuteronomy bewteen Caleb and his daughter, who asks for—and receives— land.

But there’s a dark undercurrent here amidst all the triumphs. Despite these victories, Israel does not fully accomplish its God-given task. Not every Canaanite has been wiped out. Some Israelites “went and settled with the Amalekites.” (16) thus beginning the many centuries of trouble.

Luke 18:1–17: Jesus tells a parable of a persistent widow who comes to a corrupt judge again and again, asking, “‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’” (3). Her persistence pays off and the judge eventually acts, “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” (5). This parable indicates that we can still obtain justice in a corrupt world by persistence and prayer. The further interpretation is that it is God acts and brings justice even through corrupt people (politicians), “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” (7)

He then tells the more famous parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. The Pharisee prays in public, announcing all his good deed and denigrating those he sees as beneath him: “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (11) The tax collector, standing far off begs, “‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (13) Jesus makes his point without ambiguity: “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other.” (14a) Prayer is a private affair, not an opportunity for self-aggrandizement—although I have certainly heard public prayers not unlike the Pharisee’s. In this political season we can take comfort in Jesus’ famous aphorism, “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”(14). Although at present I cannot name a humble politician…

Jesus then does something that is sweet and that I suspect was unprecedented in his culture: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (16). Unfortunately, many churches today see children as an impediment to “serious worship,” preferring it to be strictly an adult event by not only eliminating a children’s sermon, but sending the children in the congregation away to Sunday School rather than having them join in worship. Jesus is telling us that absent the example of little children we tend to fool ourselves into thinking we’re full-fledged members of the Kingdom.

Psalm 99; Joshua 23:1–24:13; Luke 17:26–37

Originally published 8/16/2016. revised and updated 8/16/2018.

Psalm 99: Our psalmist opens with an awesome display of God’s mighty power over all the earth—both nature and nations:
The Lord reigns—peoples tremble,
enthroned upon cherubim—the earth shakes.
 (1)

Unsurprisingly, it is Israel where God’s power is centered:
The Lord is great in Zion
and exalted over all the peoples. (2)

Therefore, Israel for certain and perhaps everyone on earth are to worship:
They acclaim Your name:
Great and fearful,
He is holy.
” (3)   [The meaning of ‘holy’ here is ‘set apart.’]

Unlike the small-g gods, God does not exercise his dominion as cruel power. Instead, “with a king’s strength He loves justice.” (4a) In fact, God is the creative source of all that is good, including judgement and justice, again centered in Israel:
You firmly founded righteousness,
judgement and justice in Jacob You made.
” (4b)

As the God of all that is righteous and just, he deserves to be the focus of kingly worship, not just for Israel, but everyone on earth:
Exalt the Lord our God
and bow down to His footstool.
He is holy.
 (5)

This is a reverence we would do well to remember when we start thinking of God as our loving “Daddy.” Yes he is certainly that, but we dare not approach God casually. He is the awesome king of all creation (including us) and certainly worthy of our fear in both senses of that word.

At verse 6, the psalmist shifts his focus from the world stage more directly to Israel as he recalls the great personalities from its storied past:
Moses and Aaron among His priests
and Samuel among those who call on His name
called to the Lord and He answered them
. (6)

The clear implication here is that if they called upon God, then so should Israel and so should we.

In fact, God communicated with every Israelite who was part of the Exodus:
In a pillar of cloud did He speak to them. (7a)

As long as the people kept their side of God’s covenant with them, God was there with them:
They kept His precepts and the statute He gave them. (7b). There’s some whitewashed history here since the wandering Israelites were “a stiff-necked people” and repeatedly rebelled against their leadership and God himself. Nevertheless, when they failed, God was—and is—a God of patience. However, the consequences of sin must be borne:
Lord our God, it was You Who answered them,
a forbearing God You were to them,
yet an avenger of their misdeeds
. (8)

Once again, the implication is that as God was patience with the first Israelites, so too he will be patient with the present generation.

The conclusion to this psalm of reverent praise is yet another reminder that we are his created beings with a solemn duty to worship the God of  great and unfathomable holiness:
Exalt the Lord our God
and bow to His holy mountain,
for the Lord our God is holy.
 (9)

Joshua 23:1–24:13: Years pass and Joshua is now an old man. In the same way that Moses gave his valedictory address at the conclusion of Deuteronomy, Joshua also addresses Israel near the end of his life. He first reminds them that what has been accomplished is not of Israel’s own doing, “for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.” (23:3). He goes on to remind them that the task of taking Canaan is not yet quite complete, but for those nations that remain, “God will push them back before you, and drive them out of your sight; and you shall possess their land, as the Lord your God promised you.” (5)

However, this can only occur if the people keep their side of the Covenant, especially the rules about idol worship: “You may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them.” (7) Rather, “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” (11). The idea of “being careful” in our love for God resonates here. Our love and worship is neither a random nor casual event. Our love for God must be consciously deliberate.

A further warning about avoiding intermarriage follows: “[If you] intermarry with them, so that you marry their women and they yours, know assuredly that the Lord your God will not continue to drive out these nations before you.” (13) Inasmuch as the authors of this book are writing at a much later date when they have observed the unhappy consequences of Israel’s marital intermingling, they must have written this passage with almost despairing irony.

A second speech opens chapter 24. Here, Joshua reviews the history of Israel, speaking in God’s voice, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.” (24:2) Joshua reviews Israel’s history even more deeply, going back further in time than Moses did, starting with Abraham’s father, “Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.” (24:12) He traces Israel’s lineage through Isaac, Jacob and into Egypt. Joshua recounts Moses and Aaron, the plagues, and the crossing of the Red Sea [which is named specifically here].

Being a military man, Joshua recounts the various battles fought before arriving at Canaan, including the story of Balaam. Intriguingly, he tells the people that God “sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites.” (24:12) Is this a metaphor whose meaning has been lost? Or were there actual hornets that invaded ahead of Israel and weakened the enemy, making Israel’s conquest all the more certain?

Following the rule, “tell them what you’re going to tell them; then tell them; and then tell them again what you just told them,” Joshua again reminds the people, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” (24:14)

But as we know all too well, even then, Joshua’s message was ultimately lost on some number of the Israelites. Just as God’s message is lost on too many today.

Luke 17:26–37: Jesus continues his disquisition on the Kingdom of God and the coming of the Son of Man. His core message is that the coming will be unannounced and will surprise everyone as they are “eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage.” (27) What happened to Noah and to Lot, who was also “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,” (28) will happen on “the day that the Son of Man is revealed.” (30). In short, quotidian life on earth will end unexpectedly and dramatically.

Jesus tells the disciples to “remember Lot’s wife,” whose sin was to look back at her former life. We come into the Kingdom and “must not turn back.” (31) Our human efforts to create security for ourselves are ultimately futile, as Jesus reminds us in the famous verse: “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (34) This is the point of following Jesus and the point Oswald Chambers keeps coming back to: Only when we are willing to abandon our ego and our ultimately futile efforts to control our destiny and instead turn our lives over to Jesus will we find real security.

The verses that follow are frequently used as proof texts for the Parousia, Jesus’ second coming, aka the “Rapture.” That “on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left” (34) and “There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.” (35) certainly suggests the nature  of a secret rapture popularized in Evangelical churches. However, I believe Jesus is emphasizing his point about unexpectedness and surprise and that when it comes to the theology of the Rapture, Jesus’ word pictures here have been over-interpreted.

 

Psalm 98; Joshua 22; Luke 17:20–25

Originally published 8/15/2016. revised and updated 8/15/2018.

Psalm 98: Our psalmist is effusive in his praise to God (while also taking credit for having composed a new hymn):
Sing to the Lord a new song,
For wonders He has done.
His right hand gave Him victory,
and His holy arm
. (1)

The military undertone of the first verse carries into the second verse as our poet makes it clear that Israel’s God is also the God of all creation and the God of all other nations:
The Lord made known His victory,
before the nations’ eyes He revealed His bounty.
 (2)

And just what is revealed by God? The psalmist is quick to answer, and it is not about his power or might:
He recalled His kindness and His faithfulness
to the house of Israel
. (3)

This is where God is so radically different than the small-g gods that surrounded Israel (and surround us): a victory speech that describes God’s kindness and faithfulness. Would that the nations of our present world celebrated kindness and faithfulness rather that military strength or financial power.

Our psalmist picks up the theme that all the earth is witness to God’s acts on behalf of Israel:
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God
. (4)

Israel—and we—respond in kind the best way that we can by worshipping God:
Shout out to the Lord, all the earth.
Burst forth in glad song and hymn. 
(4)

Our poet then dives down a level of abstraction to describe exactly how this glad song and hymn is to be sung and played:
Hymn to the Lord on the lyre,
on the lyre with the sound of hymning.
With trumpets and the sound of ram’s horn,
sound loud before the king, the Lord.
 (5,6)

What’s key for us here is that worship is a joyous and yes, a rather loud affair.  It is far from the reverent solemnity that we so often think of, but more of a noisy party. Something for me to remember when I start grumping about praise choruses…

God’s victory is so great that all the natural world and all other nations join in:
Let the sea and its fulness thunder,
the world and those dwelling in it.
 (7)

This extent and quality of worship is evoked in the wonderful metaphor:
Let the rivers clap hands,
let the mountains together sing gladly
before the Lord.
 (8, 9a)

This wonderful expression of worshipful joy occurs because God is coming to earth. But he is coming for a solemn purpose: “for He comes to judge the earth.” (9) At first, the idea judgement may seem to contradict the joy of the psalm, but God’s judgement is what the world needs more than anything else. God is coming to “judge the world in justice/ and peoples righteously.” (10) One cannot imagine a better world than one where all has been put to rights and righteousness reigns. That would be pure joy indeed.

Joshua 22: The great wrap up of Israel’s victory over Canaan continues. The land has been allocated and now it is time for the the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return to Gilead on the east side of the Jordan. They have kept their promise to fight for Israel in Canaan and Joshua commends them, “you have not forsaken your kindred these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God.” (3) Of course Josuha cannot let them go without a final word of advice: “Take good care to observe the commandment and instruction that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to keep his commandments, and to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (5) Which of course applies to all Israel—and to us even today.

The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (RGM) respond by building an altar “of great size” in Canaan. When the other 9 1/2 tribes hear of this, the believe the RGM tribes have committed treachery and “the whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh, to make war against them” (12) because they believe the RGM have turned away from God to worship something or someone else. The Canaan side of Israel believes that God will punish them all for setting up a second altar beside the one at the Tabernacle.

The RGM reply that their intentions were pure and the altar is a celebratory act and tell the others that if “it was in rebellion or in breach of faith toward the Lord, do not spare us today.” (22) They point out that it is a memorial so that future generations will remember what their ancestors did for them, and assert, “Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice.” (29) This satisfies the others and Phineas, the high priest, states “Today we know that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord; now you have saved the Israelites from the hand of the Lord.” (31) Everyone then goes happily on their way.

This chapter  clearly reveals the side of human nature that always assumes the worst in others. Rather than giving the RGM the benefit of the doubt, they jump to the grimmest possible conclusion. How many wars have been started; how many relationships have been broken because we act before understanding? Especially in the church around theological issues that end up splitting the church?  This ability to assume the worst intentions of others seems to be an intrinsic part of human nature and its deleterious effects remain rampant today.

Luke 17:20–25: Try as he might, Jesus has ongoing trouble explaining to others what the Kingdom of God is—a difficulty that persists to this day.

A Pharisee asks Jesus, “when the kingdom of God is coming?” (20). Jesus answers with the least possible ambiguity: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed.” (20b) He goes on, “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (21)

Luke’s Jesus clarifies even further in conversation with his disciples—as well as Luke’s community and us—“The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” (22) He warns them and us not to be fooled by signs and wonders: “Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.” (23) Before the end of history occurs, the Son of Man, which is a clear reference to himself, “must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.” (25) Which of course is exactly what happens.

For me, this passage describes the kingdom as something stealthy and “among us.” Of course, we’d much prefer drama and end times—and many Christians focus on that to the exclusion of the suffering and injustice going on right around them. The kingdom of God is focused the acts of justice and righteousness that today’s psalmist describes. Some deride this as the “social gospel,” but with Jesus we must recognize that rejection is part of the job of being a Jesus-follower. Our mission is not so much to “save others,” but to minister to the needs of others. It is this one-on-one ministry of kindness and of society seeking God’s justice, not individual perceptions of justice that brings the Kingdom among us.

Psalm 97:7–12; Joshua 21:9–45; Luke 17:11–19

Originally published 8/13/2016. revised and updated 8/14/2018

Psalm 97:7–12: Our psalmist reminds us that the majesty of the one and true God so outshines and outranks the deities of other religions:
All idol-worshippers are shamed,
who boast of the ungods
. (7a)

I really like the idea of “ungods.” It connotes the exact opposite of everything that God is. If God is the God of justice, the ungod is the god of wickedness—and so on. In addition to the idolatrous ungods, our psalmist seems to acknowledge the existence of another class of small-g gods, who must at at least be alive (or exist in some other dimension?) in some fashion:
All gods bow down to Him. (7b)

In any event, Israel is truly overjoyed that God is their God and that he has acted righteously in their midst:
Zion heard and rejoiced
and Judea’s villages exulted,
because of Your judgements, Lord.
 (8)

This verse is a challenge to us when we feel God has judged us. Our response is not to be anger but rejoicing because in that judgement God has set us on a righteous path.

Moreover, it is God’s righteousness and judgement that is reflected in us. We are to follow and to adopt the same stance as God himself because he is our protector:
You who love the Lord, hate evil!
He guards the lives of His faithful.
From the hand of the wicked He saves them
. (10)

The psalmist names those who follow God as “the just.” These are the people who God protects:
Light is sown for the just,
and for the upright of heart there is joy.
 (11)

This agricultural image of light being sowed like seed is a metaphor for the lives we God-followers must lead. God’s light—for me, that’s the Holy Spirit—results in an “upright heart.” This tender image conclusion certainly stands in stark contrast with the opening verses of this psalm where “Fire goes before Him/ and all round burns His foes.” (3)

The eternal question hangs in the air: Are we upright of heart? Do we submit to God’s righteousness or do we prefer to retain total control over our thoughts and actions? If it is the former, then with the psalmist, we “Rejoice, O you just, in the Lord,/ and acclaim His holy name.” (12)

Joshua 21:9–45: The authors go into extreme detail as the describe the towns and surrounding pasture lands that are allocated to the various sub-tribes of the Levites:

  • the direct descendants of Aaron; (9-19)
  • the rest of the Kohathites belonging to the Kohathite families of the Levites; (20-26)
  • the Gershonites, one of the families of the Levites (27-33)

Land appears to have been given over to the levitical families on a proportionate basis from all the other tribes, all adding up to “the towns of the Levites within the holdings of the Israelites were in all forty-eight towns with their pasture lands.” (41) This level of detail leaves little question that our authors were priests, all descendants of these levitical families. Understandably, they focus on their own history in greater detail than the allocations to the other tribes. It’s one of those details that reveals the humanity behind the Bible.

The key verses here are the last three of the chapter. God has come through on every one of his promises: “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them; and having taken possession of it, they settled there.” (43) Moreover, just as God had promised, Israel has conquered all and “not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.” (44)

This is the moment of God’s accomplishment. God has been at Israel’s side since the day they left Egypt. The Exodus is complete at last.

The final verse of this chapter is one we can hold on to as tightly as Israel did: “Not one of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (45) Would that we kept our promises to God as faithfully as God does for Israel—and for us. As we will see, keeping Israel’s side of the great Covenant is not all that easy. Alas, the same goes for us.

Luke 17:11–19: Earlier in the chapter, Jesus’ disciples have asked their leader to “increase our faith.” (5) Jesus gives them clear instruction on how to do this via the parable of the slaves eating supper after their master has dined. Luke now provides a dramatic human illustration of what Jesus was talking about.

As they headed toward Jerusalem, “going through the region between Samaria and Galilee, [they] entered a village, ten lepers approached him.” (11, 12) The lepers beg, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (13). Jesus says nothing but simply gives the instruction to “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” (14a).

This healing occurs because the ten lepers obeyed Jesus and “as they went, they were made clean.” (14b) Luke’s point is that the lepers had to have faith in Jesus to start out on their journey. Only by their obedience did healing occur. Which was exactly Jesus’ point earlier in his discussion of the increasing faith and the parable of the slaves. And is exactly Luke’s point to his readers—and to us.

Of the ten who Jesus healed, only “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” (15, 16a) It is in the next line that Luke makes his point even more trenchantly. Not only did a mere 10% of the persons who were healed healed thank Jesus, moreover, “he was a Samaritan.” (16b) Despised by the Jews as being pagan and irreligious, it was the Samaritan who recognized—and thanked—Jesus.

Luke’s point to his community is obvious: it is the Gentiles who see Jesus for who he really is, while the other nine, presumably Jews, blithely go on their way. Do we thank Jesus for all he has done for us or do we simply head down the road of life without gratitude, or even acknowledgement?

 

Psalm 97:1–6; Joshua 19:40–21:8; Luke 17:1–10

Originally published 8/12/2016. revised and updated 8/13/2018.

Psalm 97:1–6: That God is king over all creation and that this is an occasion of supreme joy is made clear from the opening verse of this psalm of worship:
The Lord reigns —let earth exult,
let the many islands rejoice
. (1)

The sense that God is above us, hidden from direct view and only partly visible to us is reinforced with the image of “Cloud and dense fog around Him.” (2a) But as always, it is God’s character that is the most important focus of our worship: “justice and judgement the base of His throne.” (2b)

Our psalmist makes it clear that God is nothing like the popular image of a bearded old gentleman snoozing on his throne. He is active and yes, inspires fear in both senses of the word, as he wipes out those who would oppose him:
Fire goes before Him
and all round burns his foes.
 (3)

As well, God remains active in his natural creation. Quite contrary to our modern perspective that wonders why God would allow natural disasters such as fires and earthquakes to occur, our psalmist makes it clear that God is the powerful agency actually causing this awesome events. God is not some avuncular old man; he is lord of all creation:
His lightnings lit up the world;
the earth saw and quaked.
Mountains melted like wax before the Lord.

Master of all the earth. (4, 5)

God’s incomprehensible power and above all his uncompromising justice is the reason why we worship him:
The heavens told His justice,
and all peoples saw His glory.
 (6)

This psalm is a reminder of the futility of our attempts to put God in a box of our own design, and to attempt to understand God. God cannot be understood. We can only stand in awe and worship.  With the psalmist, I believe that every worship service should at some point acknowledge God’s unfathomable majesty.

Joshua 19:40–21:8: The allocation of land for each tribe by lottery continues as we read that initially, the territory given to Dan “was lost to them.” (47a) Undeterred, “the Danites went up and fought against Leshem, and after capturing it and putting it to the sword, they took possession of it and settled in it.” (47b) This concludes the allocation of land on the west side of the Jordan.

Joshua and his heirs are themselves to be rewarded with an exclusive inheritance: “By command of the Lord they gave him the town that he asked for, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim; he rebuilt the town, and settled in it.” (19:50)

However, the job of allocation is not complete. God again speaks to Joshua, reminding him that he must  “Say to the Israelites, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses.” (20:2) The are the cities to which those who inadvertently kill another person are to flee.

Our ever-helpful authors recapitulate the rules of sanctuary: First, sanctuary is not automatic. The fleeing person is instructed to “stand at the entrance of the gate of the city, and explain the case to the elders of that city; then the fugitive shall be taken into the city, and given a place, and shall remain with them.” (20:4) A public trial (which I presume to be a confession of the facts) follows and sanctuary is allowed until “the death of the one who is high priest at the time: then the slayer may return home, to the town in which the deed was done.’” (20:6) This odd aspect of length of time that sanctuary is valid, i.e., until the death of the high priest, is probably a way of explaining that significant time is required until avenging tempers cool.

Six cities are appointed as cities of refuge: Kadesh, Shechem, Hebron, Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan.

Ah, yes, and let’s not forget the Levites. While the tribe of priests do not receive land for the obvious reason that they are too busy with priestly duties and cannot farm, they become the urban tribe and receive cities, where I presume they are the appointed leaders. The direct descendants of Aaron received 13 cities; the Kohathites received 10; the Gershonites received 13; and the Merarites received 12. Which looks like 48 cities in all. If I’m not mistaken, these ‘cities’ are small villages where there is a small number of permanent structures and perhaps some simple fortification.

Luke 17:1–10: At this point, Luke reviews some of what I assume to be Jesus’ sermon notes and seminars with his disciples. First, temptations to sin will come our way: “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come.” (1) But in a clear message to the eventual leaders of his church, Jesus is clear that they must never be the agents of temptation of those whom they lead: “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (2).

In short, while Jesus holds all his followers to a high standard, the standards to which leaders are to be held is even higher. Unfortunately, that has not always the case in the church. The priest scandal of the Catholic church certainly comes to mind, but there are sufficient local examples of adulterous pastors as well.

Then Jesus turns to the difficult issue of forgiveness: “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.” (3) However, it’s crucial to note that the first act our responsibility as the offendee to confront the offender. If there is repentance, then forgiveness is not an option; it is a requirement. While Jesus does not say so overtly, I dont think it’s unreasonable to assume the converse is also true: where there is no repentance on the part of the offender we are not obligated to forgive.

This idea of repetitive forgiveness is difficult for us, but Jesus makes it awfully clear: “if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” (4). I presume however that this is a sincere repentance. This concept must have been even more difficult in that culture where eye-for-eye-tooth-for-tooth vengeance rather than forgiveness was the order of the day.

In the section where the disciples ask Jesus to “Increase our faith!” (5), Luke (I think for the first time) calls Jesus ‘Lord:’ “The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (5) I’m not sure if this is an intentional title shift on Luke’s part or not. In any event, the appellation makes it clear that these commands are indeed God’s intent and that we have no option other than to follow them.

Finally, Jesus makes the distinction between leader and those who are led very clear. We who are part of Jesus’ church are definitely the led, no more intrinsically worthy than slaves. We do our jobs, but that does not confer the right to act as the master: “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” (10) In the Kingdom there is only one leader. That is Jesus, who is our Lord. This is what Oswald Chambers keeps getting at when he tells us that to follow Jesus we must abandon our own ego and intentions in favor of the Lord’s.

Psalm 97:7-12; Joshua 19:10-39; Luke 16:16-31

Originally published 8/15/2014. revised and updated 8/11/2018.

Joshua 19:10-39: The territories of Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali are laid out in detail. What’s interesting here in this otherwise fairly dull passage is that the territories of these last six tribes have been assigned by lot. This is God’s fairness at work: that he does not hold certain tribes or families above others.

I think this section speaks to nation-states today. Different ethnicities ended up in different parts of the world. We could say that God assigned our territories by lot. But in our pride we were not satisfied and took to war and conquering other nations with the victorious nation setting itself up as superior to other nations. Of course we need to remember that this assignment of territories to Israel was on a conquered, already-occupied land. I’m still not sure what to make of the whole idea of a Promised Land created by war and pillage as being ordained by God and it’s various areas distributed by lot. Something just does not ring true about God being all about justice and righteousness.

Perhaps the message here is more personal. We are all equal before God.  A message that Jesus preached again and again, but that those who saw themselves as being above others could not stand and conspired to kill this rabble-rouser who was only following what God had already laid out. How quickly we forget the fairness of God as our self-centered pride replaces the simple simple fact that we are each created equal at the moment of our birth.  And death.

Luke 16:16-31: At first, Jesus’ comment that people try to enter the Kingdom “by force” is puzzling. But then we see the context of his statement, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.” (17) I think Jesus is saying that entering the Kingdom is actually more difficult than obeying every “jot and tittle” of the Law. There is only One Way to enter the Kingdom, and while that may transcend the Law, it does not abrogate it.  (As I recall, this is a topic that Paul delves into in detail in Romans.)

As an example of this greater difficulty, he lays out the terms of divorce, which are far stricter than those laid out in Moses’ law where divorce was more easily obtained.“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (18) This remains a difficult passage.

Since Jesus is speaking to scribes and Pharisees it’s not unreasonable to assume that many of them had divorced their previous wives and married anew. Here, I think, Jesus is stating God’s law in the clearest possible terms to those who claimed they followed every aspect of the Law. It’s interesting to note that Jesus does not elaborate or explain further. He seems to be saying, ‘It’s a law, guys. Deal with it. If you weren’t so hypocritical, you’d realize you’ve broken the Law in important ways.’

Unfortunately, I think Jesus’ example has been over-interpreted to the extent of punishing people who divorce for very good reason. Yes, it may be adultery, but as Jesus points out again and again, each of us breaks the Law even when we think we are being ‘good,’

The famous parable of the rich man and Lazarus tells us that in the end the those who claim to be better and above others, i.e., the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ audience, do not in fact really follow the law. It is Lazarus, who makes no pretensions to superiority who is favored by God.

Those who live as if they are superior to others are not following the Law at all.  Once again, Jesus predicts his rejection by the very people most committed to the Law. “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (31) Which is not only an indictment of human pride; it is of course a prophecy of exactly what happened. Right up to today.

 

 

Joshua 18:1-19:9; Luke 16:1-15

Originally published 8/14/2014. Revised and updated 8/10/2018.

Psalm 96: Published in the previous reflection also published today.

Joshua 18:1-19:9: Seven tribes have not yet had their territories apportioned. We would think that upon finally arriving at the Promised Land that everyone would be eager to claim their portion of the land, settle down and begin life anew.  Yet, there seems that having arrived, the people are just “hanging out.” We hear frustration in Joshua’s voice when he asks, How long will you be slack about going in and taking possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you?” (18:3) So Joshua takes matters into his own hands, assigns three men from each tribe to lay out the remaining portions of land, which they do.

So, why were they being slack about taking possession of the land? There could be many reasons, but one of them, I think, was that as far as they were concerned they’d reached the Promised Land and that in itself was sufficient. Just as we come into the Kingdom when we’re baptized but then just “hang out,” expecting others to to the hard work. We choose churches based on how much we like the quality of their preaching and music. We “church shop” for the programs that suit us, behaving exactly as the consumers of other products. But then, like the Israelites, we we refuse to actually work and contribute to the building of the Kingdom. Joshua’s words about “how long we will be slack” is not a historical artifact; they are completely appropriate for us today.

Luke 16:1-15: This is one of those parables that upon first reading make me go “Huh?!?” Is Jesus really endorsing dishonesty? Jesus says the lesson of the parable is, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” (9) He goes on to say, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” (10) Now, this sounds more like the Jesus we know (or think we know).

On closer examination, Jesus is endorsing stewardship and faithfulness. We are all dishonest managers and we have been given wealth that in the end and despite what we think is assuredly not our own; it is God’s. How we use that wealth is the point here. Do we use it as a means to invite others into the Kingdom just as the manager used his master’s wealth to ensure he would be welcome into other’s homes after he lost his job?

Wealth is a means, not an end. We can have wealth, but if we focus on it, thinking it’s our own then it becomes our master. But if we use it as a means to build the Kingdom, then we are serving God, not the other master.

Psalm 96; Joshua 16,17; Luke 15:11-32

Originally published 8/12/2014. Revised and updated 8/10/2018

Psalm 96: The first verses of this psalm—”Sing to the Lord a new song!/ Sing to the Lord, all the earth!—and its theme of coming to God is reverent worship have inspired lots of praise songs, but there are two themes in this psalm that I’ve not heard in any song.

The first is:
“For all gods of the peoples are ungods, 
but the LORD has made the heavens. (5)

We and the small-g gods we have created are, in Alters’ marvelous phrase, “ungods.” God alone is Creator. These ungods are not the little statues sitting on the mantle, but the serious ungods in our lives: money, power, fame, wealth, control over others.  The rising rate of suicide in America is ample proof that the ungods in our lives are powerless to deliver the true meaning of life or to reveal why we are really here, which as the psalmist tells us, is to sing a new song to our Creator. Yes, we can argue all we want that depression that leads to suicide is strictly an issue of brain chemistry, but I think this most selfish of acts—to destroy the unique self that God has created—is a cri de couer of realization that we are far, far more than the sum of our brain chemistry, and that our ungods have betrayed us.

The second theme is God’s justice:
Yes, the world stands firm, will not shake.
He metes out justice to peoples righteously. (10)

By concatenating justice with creation, the psalmist forces us to confront the reality that any injustice we commit is a sin against God’s created order. God’s justice is not an occasion of foreboding and terror for those who trust in God, but a time to sing with the joy the new song. As the psalmist puts it so beautifully, Creation itself sings in joy:
Let the field be glad and all that is in it,
then shall all the trees of the forest joyfully sing… (12).

Why does Creation sing? Not because it’s a nice day, but because creation knows its Creator, who is the source of all justice in creation:
He comes to judge the earth.
He judges the world in justice 
and peoples in His faithfulness. (14)

Joshua 16,17: Joshua allocates territory to the half-tribes of Ephraim and Menasseh. Both the Ephraimites and Manassites, however, “did not, however, drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer: so the Canaanites have lived within Ephraim to this day…” (16:10). And, “the Manassites could not take possession of those towns; but the Canaanites continued to live in that land.” (17:12). Both tribes put the Canaanites to forced labor, but by virtue of not driving them out will eventually lead to intermarriage and the eventual destruction of Israel as it turns away from God.

Moreover, in the grand tradition of the wilderness years, the Manassites complain to Joshua that their allocation is unfair, invoking that ever-popular justification that ‘Hey, we are specially blessed by God, so we deserve God’s continued favor’ as the moan, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, since we are a numerous people, whom all along the Lord has blessed?” (17:14). Joshua turns their complaint back on them, “If you are a numerous people, go up to the forest, and clear ground there for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim…” (17:15).

The lesson is clear: we do not just sit around and wait for the Lord to bless us because it is somehow our “right” to be blessed. As Jesus makes clear again and again, blessing arises from diligent work n the Kingdom. The question for me, is am I willing to do the hard work of clearing the forest?

Luke 15:11-32: It is not possible to read and reflect on this most famous of the Luke parables and not come away new riches. In today’s reading it strikes me that the Parable of the Prodigal Son is not so much about the prodigal or even about the brother, it is about the father. Who of course is clearly God, our Father.  In another one of those “Moravian coincidences,” today’s psalm tells us how it is impossible not to sing and worship God our creator. And here we have the father celebrating his son’s return with a party.

The father does not throw a party because it seemed like the right thing to do. The final verse in the story gives the whole thing away, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (32) The father says we had to celebrate and rejoice. There was no option here. God celebrates when the lost have been found not because He’s just being nice, but to use Brendan Manning’s felicitous phrase (thank you, Jerry Hanson!) it is because of God’s furious longing for us. When God finds us, a party is mandatory!