Psalm 84:9–13; Deuteronomy 23:1–24:13; Luke 9:1–11

Psalm 84:9–13: This psalm gives us  real feel for the pilgrimage journey as the poet anticipates his eventual arrival at the temple in Jerusalem. He prays for God’s protection as he journeys: “Lord, God of armies, hear my prayer./ Hearken, O God of Jacob. selah” (9) He also asks God to see how eager he is to worship at the temple: “Our shield, O God, see, /and regard Your anointed one’s face.” (10)

His enthusiasm and sheer joy overflow as he arrives at the temple entrance, singing, “For better one day in Your courts/ than a thousand I have chosen,/ standing on the threshold in the house of my God,/ than living in the tents of wickedness.” (11) This comparison is a dramatic assertion that true worship trumps everything else in life. The question becomes of course, would I prefer one day in worship to all the other distractions (“tents of wickedness”) that the world has to offer?

The remainder of this psalm is pure worship as our pilgrim is overcome with joy at being able to express pure worship of a generous God who especially loves righteousness:
For a sun and shield is the Lord,
    God is grace and glory.
    The Lord grants, He does not withhold
    bounty to those who go blameless. (12)

The last line says it all about our relationship with God: “happy the man who trusts in You.” (13) God is indeed the ultimate source of joy and like the pilgrim here, worship is our automatic response.

Deuteronomy 23:1–24:13: This endless lists of rules and proscriptions provides a fascinating picture of the practices and mores of Israel, as they had evolved to the time that Deuteronomy was actually written by the priests. We can also appreciate how the absence of these other rules in other societies made for chaotic and ultimately short-lived kingdoms.

Some of these laws are exceedingly uncomfortable, even cruel to our modern ears, especially the permanent enmity against Israel’s traditional enemies: “No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation.” (23:3) The authors provide two reasons for this exclusion: “they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.” (4) This curse of course amplifies the irony of Ruth, the Moabite woman became the ancestor of David and the Davidic dynasty.

On the other hand, “ You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin.” (23:7) since they are the descendants of Esau. And perhaps most ironically of all, “You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land.” (23:7)

Mostly, though, this passage deals with sexual and hygienic matters, some of them squirmingly uncomfortable.

  • No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” (23:1)
  • Nocturnal emissions result in becoming unclean. (23:10)
  • Who knew that latrines were in the Bible? (23:12)
  • Guard against an outbreak of a leprous skin disease by being very careful.” (24:8)

In other prohibitions, we can see how Israel separated itself from the perverted practices of other nations: “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute.” (17) And Israel itself was a sanctuary for runaway slaves from other lands.

One Israelite could not charge another interest on loans of any kind, but “On loans to a foreigner you may charge interest,” (20) which of course is what Jews became infamous for down through the centuries right to the 20th century. Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venus provides us the most dramatic portrait of this.

On the other hand, someone could feel free to eat his neighbor’s grapes, as long as he did not put them in a container. The practical point being, sampling is not the same as theft.

Men are prevented from changing their minds in marriage. (24:1-4) If he divorces the first wife to marry the second and then divorces her, he cannot go back to the first wife. This certainly prevented men from sampling the sexual wares to find out who they liked best.

In short, these rules and laws were essential to the functioning of a coherent, God-fearing society. And many of them, such as the prohibition against kidnapping (24:7) and basic hygiene form the basis of our own society.

Luke 9:1–11: In the first missionary event in the Bible, Jesus “called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (1,2) He commands that they are to take no possessions with them on the journey and to move on quickly if their ministry is rejected.

There are crucial lessons here for missionary activities, whose unfortunate corruption we have witnessed down through the ages. One is the failure to move on with alacrity if not welcomed. One of the great tragedies is that missionaries would come into native lands and planted themselves, imposing religiosity and effectively erasing the culture that was already there. The Spanish conquest of Central and South America comes quickly to mind. As does Manifest Destiny in 19th century America. Christianity has too often been used as a cover for conquest.

Luke tells us that Jesus’ fame has spread to Herod himself “and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead.” (7) The prevailing theories was that John had been raised from the dead, or more likely, that Elijah or other ancient prophets had returned. [Elijah was always the first theory because he was taken into heaven without dying and therefore could logically return from heaven.]

Luke leaves us with the tantalizing phrase, “And he [Herod] tried to see him [Jesus].” (9) We assume the meeting never happened since that encounter at this point would probably have changed history. And not for the better.

Luke doesn’t tell us how long the disciples were gone on their mission, but it may just have been a week or two. They have returned and  Jesus “took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida.” (10) That retreat probably lasted no more than a day or two, as the crowds quickly locate them. But as always, Jesus “welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.” (11) Even when he was tired Jesus never failed to be welcoming, to communicate the good news, and to minister to the people’s needs. A good lesson for all of us who claim to be the church.


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