Archives for July 2018

Psalm 90; Joshua 8:1–29; Luke 12:35–48

Originally published 7/30/2016. Revised and updated 7/31/2018

Psalm 90: This is the only psalm attributed as a “prayer of Moses, man of God.” Perhaps inspired by the fact that even though Moses is Israel’s greatest prophet, he was also a mortal being.  The psalm is a reflection on the eternity of God as over against the brief lifespan of we humans:
For a thousand years in Your eyes
are like yesterday gone,
like a watch in the night.
You engulf them with sleep.
In the morn they are like grass that passes,
by evening it withers and dies
.” (4-6)

As far as our poet is concerned, our relationship with God is rather fraught:
For we are consumed in Your wrath,
and in Your fury we are dismayed
. (7)

We can hide nothing about ourselves, neither our thoughts nor our actions, from God, who exposes everything about us to the light:
You have set our transgressions before You,
our hidden faults in the light of Your face.

For me, the centerpiece of the psalm is its most famous lines: “The days of our years are but seventy years,
and if in great strength, eighty years.

As I live now in my eighth decade here on earth, this line has special resonance, just as it did for my friend, Verl, who made it to 81 years. I will never again read these lines without thinking of him.

As anyone who has reached this age knows, we cannot but agree with the poet’s almost existential observation about the years of our life:
their pride is trouble and grief,
for swiftly cut down, we fly off.
” (10b)

But are all our years really nothing more than “trouble and grief?” For the poet they have been because he has been out of relationship with an angry God:
Who can know the strength of your wrath?
As the fear of You is Your anger
. (11)

For him, God is not only angry but absent:
Come back, O Lord! How long?
— and have pity on Your servants.
” (13)

The poem concludes with supplication, asking God to return and to “Sate us in the morn with Your kindness,/ let us sing and rejoice all our days.” (14)  But overshadowing all is the poet’s desperate wish is for God’s anger to subside:
And may the sweetness of the Master our God be upon
and the work of our hands firmly found for us.

How grateful I am to know that through Jesus Christ we are firmly in God’s love. Our years may be long and our sufferings many, but unlike the psalmist we do not have to plead to an angry God to remember us—evanescent humans that we are. We will never be forgotten.

Joshua 8:1–29: Having learned its collective lesson about the consequences wrought upon an entire nation by the disobedient actions of a single man, Joshua and his army return to Ai. God is playing the role of general as he pronounces the precise strategy Joshua is to use: “Set an ambush against the city, behind it.” (2) Joshua expands on this by the ruse of having the people who are with him march toward Ai and then, “When they come out against us, as before, we shall flee from them.” (6) As far as the men of Ai are concerned, this is simply another Israelite annoyance that, as before, will be easily defeated. However, when all the warriors are out of the city, “you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city; for the Lord your God will give it into your hand.” (7)

The ruse works perfectly: “When the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the inhabitants of the city, hurried out early in the morning to the meeting place facing the Arabah to meet Israel in battle; but he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city.” (14)

As far as our authors are concerned, God is fully engaged in this battle and is giving rather detailed orders to Joshua: “the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand.”” (18) Joshua does so and Ai is invaded and set afire. The men of Ai look back and realize they “had no power to flee this way or that,” (20) Joshua continues to hold his sword aloft until “he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.” (26) Only the king remains alive and is brought to Joshua and promptly hanged. Ai and its 12,000 inhabitants are utterly destroyed and is reduced to “a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.” (29)

So, what do we make of this militaristic God who commands the death of thousands besides squirm uncomfortably? My own take on these battles is that they are doubtless based on some historical oral tradition, but that writing hundreds of years later, the authors have firmly inserted God into the story to become part of the national myth that God was on Israel’s side—as long as it obeyed him. Which seems to be the overarching theme of this book.

Luke 12:35–48: Jesus tells the rather puzzling parable of the faithful slaves, noting, “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes.” (37) He then states that “if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.” (39) This is obviously self-referential as he concludes, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (40) In short, Israel’s messiah will come from a completely unexpected direction and as events will demonstrate, the nation is completely unprepared for the manner in which the messiah—the Son of Man—arrives and his nature as suffering servant rather than triumphant king.

Peter understandably asks if this parable is meant for Jesus’ inner circle or for public consumption. As usual, Jesus’ answer is ambiguous as he asks, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves?” To me, he seems to be referring to the church—or at least communities of the faithful, such as the one Luke is writing to—after Jesus has gone from them. As always, it’s about working in the Kingdom, “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” (43) Which I will take here as the implied command for all of us who claim to be in the church. We are not just hangers-on; we are to be workers advancing the kingdom..

Jesus seems to anticipate that some of the “slaves” will take advantage of the master’s absence: “if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk,…[the master] will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.” (46) I wonder if this (to me , anyway) rather superfluous addition is an explicit warning to someone in Luke’s community that is creating dissension? I’m pretty sure we don;t want to folow this example as a means of church discipline!

Nevertheless, there’s no question that intentionality and responsibility play a role here. If a slave has been misled inadvertently by his leaders, his punishment will be light. But the “slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.” (47) This seems to be a clear indication that those in leadership positions within the Kingdom—the church—bear a greater responsibility that the hoi polloi. As Jesus famously puts it, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (48)

So, when someone takes on a leadership the in the church such as pastor, he or she bears a greater responsibility to work in the kingdom and to treat those who are led fairly and responsibly.

Psalm 89:39–46; Joshua 5,6; Luke 12:13–21

Originally published 7/28/2016. Revised and updated 7/28/2018.

Psalm 89:39–46: Once again, our poet changes directions, returns to writing in his own voice as he hurls imprecations to this same God, who depsite his promise to maintain the Davidic dynasty, appears to have betrayed his everlasting covenant:
And You [i.e. God], abandoned and spurned,
You were furious with Your anointed.
You canceled the pact of Your servant,
You profaned his crown on the ground.
” (39, 40)

The reason for this anger appears to be that the nation of Israel has been defeated in battle and thus has become a laughingstock to its neighbors (‘face’ being all important in the hierarchy of nations then, as it is today):
You [God] turned his [Israel’s] forts into rubble.
All passers-by plundered him,
he became a disgrace to his neighbors.
” (41, 42)

There has also been cowardice on the part of Israel’s army, for which the psalmist also blames God:
You also turned back his sword’s flint
and did not make him stand up in the battle. (44)

David’s throne, i.e, his dynastic successors, has therefore been ended for all time:
You put an end to his [Israel’s] splendor,
and his throne You hurled to the ground.
You cut short the days of his prime.

you enveloped him with shame. (45)

This passage exposes the psalmist’s deep bitterness at God’s apparent betrayal of an eternal contract with Israel through David. But so far he is only bemoaning God’s seeming abandonment as he shakes his poetic fist at a God. The trajectory of this psalm beautifully encapsulates the sense of betrayal that we all feel when it seems God, who has promised to always be with us, has somehow turned the tables and abandoned us—or worse. But like the psalmist here, we do not explore the root causes for that seeming abandonment. We only shake our fist in anger and frustration.

Joshua 5,6: Having crossed over the Jordan, word has spread to the inhabitants of Canaan that Israel comes with a special power and they “heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them.”  (5:1) It would appear that many surrendered to Israel without a battle. Suddenly, God interrupts the action, demanding that every male in Israel be circumcised because the generation born on the road in the wilderness had not been circumcised. Joshua and we presume, the Levites carry out this activity, rendering the entire army of Israel inactive as “they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.” (5:8) Ouch.  They then celebrate Passover in Canaan and “The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.” (5:12)

The mass circumcision and the Passover in Canaan is the clear bookend marking the end of the journey out of  Egypt. Israel is now a nation and no longer a wandering people.

In an eerie replay of Moses’ burning bush experience, Joshua “looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand.” (13) Joshua asks if he’s friend or foe, but the person announces himself as “as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” At which point “Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, “What do you command your servant, my lord?” (5:14). Once again sandals are removed because Joshua is standing on holy ground. The authors of the book of Joshua are reminding us here that Joshua has been fully commissioned as Israel’s leader by God himself and that his subsequent actions are authoritative and indeed those willed by God.

The first action is the unique “battle of Jericho,” of Sunday School fame as the army of Israel marches around the city walls. For the first six days it’s just one circumnavigation with just trumpets. As for the inhabitants of Jericho, I’m guessing there was probably first puzzlement then derision as they laughed at this apparently pointless activity. Lulled into ignoring what was happening outside their walls, they were surely surprised on the seventh day when Israel marches around seven times and then all hell breaks loose as all Israel shouts and the walls collapse.

Only Rahab and her family are rescued as every inhabitant and animal is put to the sword.

So, is the battle of Jericho history or myth or both? That there was a battle is doubtless historical. That it happened exactly this way is more problematic. But regardless, the psychological impact on all Canaan was profound: “So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was in all the land.” (6:27) The stage has been fully set for the subjugation of Canaan by Israel.

Luke 12:13–21: Someone asks Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (13) Jesus refuses the request but takes the opportunity to speak to the issue of greed and wealth. Jesus words had resonance in his day—and even greater resonance now: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (15)

While many of Jesus’ parables are symbolic and puzzling, there’s not much ambiguity surrounding this story of the wealthy man.  His crops produce so abundantly that he decides to “pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” (18) But it is not his wealth that leads to the man’s downfall. It is prideful hubris: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” (19) we see the same kinds of activity on exact display today as wealthy people buy houses, tear them down, and build a larger, more ostentatious mansion in its place. [Also goes for corporations: now that Apple has completed its extravagant new corporate headquarters, I predict it will be only a matter of time before its inevitable decline begins.]

God has other plans in mind for the wealthy farmer, and Jesus makes the point of the story: “‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (20)  Jesus’ moral is straightforward: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (21)

We are exactly the same as this man. We store up earthly wealth with the plan of retiring to a comfortable life, thinking wealth puts us fully in control our destiny. But when we think we’ve done it all on our own and just as we pridefully review our brilliant investment strategies, life intervenes. Perhaps it’s an illness or some other unforeseen circumstance that puts paid to our brilliance. We ignore our spiritual investments at our own peril.

Psalm 89:30–37; Joshua 3,4; Luke 12:1-12

Originally posted 7/27/2014. Revised and updated 7/27/ 2018

Psalm 89:30–37: One suspects this psalm was written long after the reign of King David as our poet recalls God’s promise to David:
And I shall make his seed for all time
and his throne as the days of heavens.

While he is writing prospectively, as if David had not yet ascended to the throne, we get the sense that the psalmist has already witnessed the corruption of the subsequent kings of the Davidic dynasty. He reminds himself of the terms of God’s Covenant with David, again written as if God were speaking:
If his sons forsake my teaching
and do not go in My  law,
if they profane My statutes
and do not keep My commands,” (31, 32)

The consequences of failing to keep those commands are severe indeed:
I will requite their crime with the rod,
and with plagues, their wrongdoing.

But even then, the psalmist writes, God remains loyal to David
Yet My steadfast kindness I will not revoke for him,
and I will not betray My faithfulness.
I will not profane My pact…
One thing I have sworn by my holiness—
that David I will not deceive.
His seed shall be forever…”

In other words, David’s name will not be sullied in God’s eyes and the Davidic dynasty will continue on earth even though his descendants become corrupt and evil.  That is how faithful to God David has been_and will ever be The psalmist continues to write in God’s voice, reassuring us of his faithfulness to David because David—despite his manifest sins—remained faithful to God. In fact his faithfulness trumped the evil of his descendants even to the point that the Davidic dynasty remained despite its corruption. God would not go back on his soecific promise to David.

Joshua 3,4:  There is remarkable symmetry in Israel’s departure from Egypt and its entrance into Canaan. Just as they crossed water to escape the pursuing Egyptians, now they cross water as a conquering army. Both times they must do so in haste. No time can be wasted. Only in this crossing the Ark—i.e., God— precedes the people and Joshua reminds the people of God’s promise: “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites.” (3:10)

God holds back the water so that they cross over on dry ground. Besides the practicalities of hundreds of thousands of people not slogging through water, (and now an army of thousands doing the same), what is the significance of the water being “cut off?” Certainly it’s a demonstration that God has power over nature—and this is a precursor of Jesus stilling the waters of Galilee.  I think it also demonstrates how God removes barriers when we follow Him willingly—and when we understand and follow His instructions.

The twelve stones in the Jordan play a major role in this crossing-over story. Joshua places them in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day” (4:9). A clear symbol to me, anyway, that Israel’s duty was to follow in God’s footsteps—just as it is our duty is to follow Him.

The phrase, “they [the stones] are there to this day” is a reminder that God intervenes in real space and real time, and is a God of linear history. Joshua tells the Israelites, Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’  (4:20-22) 

We have been given the gift of memory; we are to use it. We are to remember ourselves and we have a duty to pass this memory along to our progeny.  But as we know from Israel’s own history, they forgot where the Ark had crossed over.  And our own history is littered with the relics and events of the ongoing tragedy of forgetting history and forgetting God–and having to learn the hard lesson all over again. Exactly as our society is managing to do once again.

Luke 12:1-12: Would that those who conspire and think they can get away with it had listened more closely to Jesus’ observation that truth will always be exposed: “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” (2) Every conspiracy eventually sees the light of day, as those who have followed the trajectory of American politics for the past 40 years know all too well: from Watergate to Edward Snowden: “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”

Here, I think Jesus is warning the Pharisees and other authorities that their conspiracy that results in his death and resurrection him will eventually “be proclaimed from the housetops.” (3) Which is is exactly what happened and is still being proclaimed some 2000 years later.

Jesus then goes on to remind us what is so evident in the OT: God is in the details and concerns Himself with every detail of His creation, especially we humans: “But even the hairs of your head are all counted.” (7a) These words, coming immediately after Jesus’ warning that conspiracies will always be found out, remind us that our our attempts to hide evil will always be exposed because God knows what’s going on. 

But if we follow God, then the fact that God knows every aspect of our lives will bring great peace: “Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (7b) 

As for the “unforgivable sin,” when Jesus says, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (10b) I think he is simply saying that as long as we keep rejecting the presence of God in our own lives then we are neither seeking, nor will we receive, forgiveness. But when we acknowledge and then accept that God, via the Holy Spirit, is the one who leadsus , we will come to the sudden realization that we need forgiveness—and we will indeed be forgiven.





Psalm 89:20–29; Joshua 1,2; Luke 11:37–54

Originally posted 7/26/2016. Revised and updated 7/26/2018

Psalm 89:20–29: Turning to full encomium mode, our psalmist gives God all the credit in causing Israel to choose David as Israel’s king, now writing in God’s voice:
Then did You speak in a vision
to Your faithful and did say:
‘I set a crown upon the warrior,

I raised up one chosen from the people
I found David my servant,
with My holy oil anointed him. (20, 21)

There’s no question in the psalmist’s mind that David had been chosen by God, as God now announces how he will protect David from all comers—not just protection, but military victory as well:
No enemy shall cause him grief
and no vile person afflict him.

I will grind down his foes before him
and defeat those who hate him.
” (23, 24)

Our psalmist, doubtless writing retrospectively, describes the intimacy of God’s relationship with David, effectively bestowing God-like qualities on his chosen king:
My faithfulness and my kindness are with him,
and in My name his horn will be lifted.

David’s kingdom will be extensive (again the poet writes with hindsight):
And I shall put his hand to the sea
and his right hand to the rivers.

Perhaps most importantly, David reciprocates God’s faithfulness to him:
He will call me: ‘My father You are,
my God and the rock of my rescue.’ 

It is this faithfulness lies at the root of David becoming Israel’s greatest king, and in fact, the greatest king on the earth:
I, too, shall make him My firstborn,
most high among kings of the earth.

It almost seems that the Covenant between God and Israel has been transmogrified into a personal covenant between God and David:
Forever I shall keep my kindness for him
and my pact will be faithful to him.

This verse creates the clear sense that it is the righteousness and faithfulness of Israel’s king that will in large part determine how faithful God will be to Israel. And as we know from Israel’s history, it is unrighteous kings that hastened Israel’s demise.

Joshua 1,2: Upon the death of Moses, God commissions Joshua as undisputed leader of Israel, promising, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” (1:5b) and tells Joshua (three times): “Be strong and courageous” (1:6, 7, 9) but always with the caveat: “being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.” (1:7) As long as Joshua is “strong and courageous” and obeys the law, “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:9)

Preparations for battle commence, beginning with the reminder that the tribes that remained on the east side of the Jordan that “all the warriors among you shall cross over armed before your kindred and shall help them.” (1:14) The Reubenites and others tell Joshua they will be faithful and in a promise that resonates down through the ages, they respond, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” (1:16). This is also our command. The question is are we as faithful as these warriors?

Josuha shows great strategic wisdom, requiring intelligence before planning and commencing battle. He sends two spies to reconnoiter the land, “especially Jericho.” They enter Jericho on the pretense of seeking sexual satisfaction, and “entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab” (2:1). Somehow the king of Jericho finds out they’re there and demands that Rahab turn them over. Rahab has hidden them and concocts a story that they have already departed.

Rahab tells the men that fear has overcome Jericho since the fierce reputation of the Israelites has preceded them. She tells them that since “I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal kindly with my family.” (2:12) The spies agree, telling her that if she stays quiet, “then we will deal kindly and faithfully with you when the Lord gives us the land.” (2:14). The spies tell her that she must hang a red cord out her window when they invade as a signal to spare her and her family or the deal is off.

Rahab lets the spies out by a back window and they escape Jericho. After hiding from the pursuers for 3 days, they return to Joshua bringing the good news that “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before us.” (2:24)

What’s fascinating about this classic story is that God uses not only a female, but a prostitute as the means of both providing information as well as escape. The lesson for us is of course that God does not work only through the mighty, but the very least of people. Which of course was exactly Jesus’ method as well, especially as we reflect on the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Luke 11:37–54: Itinerant that he was, Jesus was always willing to dine with anyone who invited him, and in this case, he sups with a Pharisee and his lawyer friends. Things start out badly as Jesus neglects to wash his hands. When this is called to his attention, he lectures them on their hypocrisy,  “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” (39). Things go downhill from there and a lawyer responds, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.” (45)

Far from being sympathetic or apologizing, Jesus accuses them of blatant hypocrisy and worse, of oppressing the people—which they should know that showing justice and mercy to the poor and widows is a key command of the Jewish scriptures: “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.” (46) He excoriates them further: “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation.” (51)

Not surprisingly, following this rather disastrous dinner, “the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him…lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.” (53)

We can only conclude that Jesus intentionally created this hostile atmosphere, knowing where it would eventually lead. Obviously, everything he said about these folks was true, and he did nothing to sugar-coat it. The lesson here for us is that while the yoke may be easy, Jesus’ message is hard.

People aren’t going to like hearing their faults quite as explicitly as Jesus put it to these guys. Like them, we will respond defensively just as the lawyer did. We do a disservice to the church when we fail to speak about our intrinsic sinfulness (or perform the rite of confession at worship), creating the impression that Jesus is sort of this nice guy but kind of wimpy (which is what I hear in much praise music).

Psalm 89:10–19; Deuteronomy 33:18–34:12; Luke 11:29–36

Psalm 89:10–19: As he continues to praise God’s dominance over all the small-g gods—”A God held in awe by the council of he holy” (8a)—our psalmist shifts his focus to God’s power over creation, first over the oceans:
You rule over the tide of the sea.
When its waves lift up, it is You who subdue them.
It is You Who crushed Rahab like a corpse—
with the arm of Your might You scattered Your enemies. (10, 11)

[Alter informs us that ‘Rahab’ is one of the names for the primordial sea god of the Canaanites.]

Our poet expands the scope of God’s dominion to all of earthy creation—because it is God who is Creator:
Yours are the heavens, Yours, too, the earth.
The world and its fullness, You founded them.
The north and the south, You created them.
Tabor and Hermon sing glad song in Your name. (12, 13)

His focus shifts to God as ruler of his creation and the beneficent qualities of his rule:
Yours is the arm with the might.
Your hand is strong, Your right hand raised.
Justice and law are the base of Your throne.
Steadfast kindness and truth go before Your presence. (14, 15)

Here at the juxtaposition of justice and law against kindness and truth I think we have one of the more effective descriptions of God’s relationship with his creatures, i.e., humans, us. We read of the angry God who lashes out against injustice and the gentle, loving God who wants only to embrace us. These are not  contradictions or even inconsistencies in God’s character: these are the jeweled facets of who God is—and who he wants us to imitate. Of course Jesus Christ is God’s human incarnation of these qualities—and therefore the more tangible example that we are to imitate.

The psalmist brings us back to earth by describing God’s followers and the blessings they enjoy:
“Happy the people who know the horn’s blast.
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your presence.
In Your name they exult all day long,
and through Your bounty they loom high.
For You are their strength’s grandeur,
and through Your pleasure our horn is lifted. (16-18)

Notice how the psalmist is subtly shifting to a description of the qualities of leadership: they are happy; they worship; they “loom high” over others; and they are strong— the very best exemplars of God’s power over creation.

The focus shifts to one man, one protector:
For the Lord’s is our shield,
and to Israel’s Holy One, our king. (19)

Who this is will come as no surprise in the verses that follow…

Deuteronomy 33:18–34:12: See yesterday’s reflections.

Luke 11:29–36: As Jesus’ popularity grows and the crowds clamor for more miracles his speeches turn darker. Like John the Baptist before him he doesn’t hesitate to excoriate the crowd and the culture in general: “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.” (29, 30) Obviously, no one understood what Jesus meant by the “sign of Jonah,” but for us we know: as Jonah was swallowed by the fish, spent three days in darkness and then was spit out, so Jesus is referring to his own death, burial, and resurrection.

The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because … something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!” (31, 32)

Jesus clearly states that his generation will reject him and be judged harshly for it. Unlike the Queen of Sheba who came from the south to bask in Solomon’s wisdom, the crowds will reject Jesus’ far greater wisdom. And unlike the people of Nineveh, who repented upon hearing Jonah’s message, this generation will reject the man who is greater than Jonah. What Jesus says about his generation is certainly still true of the present generation as we move into a post-Christian world. Our own generation rejects wisdom greater than Solomon’s and it rejects Jesus’ saving grace.

Jesus then gets personal, and states a medical truism: “Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness.” (34) Jesus is giving us a binary choice. First, we should “consider whether the light in you is not darkness.” (35) Are we full of false light, which I take to be self-centered pride or perhaps the ersatz enlightenment of gnosticism, or in our case, reliance on our own “wisdom” or technology?  Or are we full of the true light that Jesus brings to us? True light, which to me stands for the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, means we live a true life, a life that shines forth in the darkness of the world that surrounds us. What a wonderful promise: that we will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.” (36)



Psalm 89:1-8; Deuteronomy 33:18-34:12; Luke 11:29-36

Originally published 7/25/2014. Revised and updated 7/24/2018

Psalm 89:1-9: This psalm acclaims God’s faithfulness—repeated 8 times in the psalm— to His people over and over. Alter informs us that that this is a royal psalm, describing the covenant between King David and God:
‘I [God] have sealed a pact with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant.’ (4)

But it becomes clear that it was composed at a time when David’s fortunes had taken a turn for the worse in the face of his enemies. Nevertheless, the psalmist is relentlessly upbeat in the first verses about God’s immutable faithfulness. Our psalmist is attempting to reassure his listeners and perhaps  himself. In modern parlance, he’s basically saying, “Hang in there. God is faithful and will help us through this dark time.” He wants to make sure we get the point by coming back to God’s faithfulness repeatedly:

For all generations I shall make known with my mouth Your faithfulness.” (2)
You set Your faithfulness firm.” (3)
the heavens will acclaim…Your faithfulness, too,” (6)
“...who is like You, …with Your faithfulness round You?” (9)

I tend to talk about my faithfulness (or lack thereof), but not about God’s relentless faithfulness to me, regardless of how well I return that trust. Here in the psalm, God is faithful specifically to King David but it is through the sacrificial love Jesus Christ, I know that God will be faithful and never abandon me.

We talk about how God loves us. But it is His faithfulness that takes love out of the realm of the abstract and makes it real on a daily basis. That no matter how I screw up, I will be forgiven because God is faithful to me. And with the psalmist my response can only be worship in gratitude and along with “the heavens [I] will acclaim Your wonder, O LORD.” (6)

Deuteronomy 33:18-34:12: At the very end of Moses’ long poem/song following a specific blessing for each of the tribes of Israel, we find the striking verse, “Happy are you, Israel. Who is like you? A people delivered by the LORD, Your shield of help and the sword of your triumph. Your enemies cower before you and you on their backs will tread.” (33:29)

In light of current events, I think we must acknowledge that this verse is not just poetic hyperbole, but a prophecy that seems relevant even today. To be sure, modern Israel is a long way culturally and spiritually from the ancient Israel. But I think we would be too hasty in dismissing the idea that there is still at least a remnant of the original covenantal relationship between God and Israel.

As the psalmist notes above, God is faithful, and specifically faithful to the house of David.  Who are we to dismiss the idea that there is not something greater going on here than an unending battle between Israel and its neighbors?

Deuteronomy concludes with the narrative of Moses’ death and burial, and Israel’s mourning. (Or “keening” as Alter has it.)

Chapter 34 opens with Moses’ ascent up to the mountain top.”And Moses went up from the steppes of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which faces Jericho. And the LORD let him see all the land, (34:1,2). I take this as a deliberate echo on the part of our authors of Moses’ ascent on Sinai where he first encountered the burning bush and then again when God delivered the Decalogue (twice). On this mountaintop Moses looks at the land God has promised to the “stiff-necked” people that he has led all these years.

I have always thought of Moses’ inability to enter the Promised Land as a form of punishment by God. Perhaps it is, but I think it’s also a message that leaders can accomplish great things, but there is a limit to which they can go, and then the reins must be handed over. Too many leaders throughout history have accomplished great things but then became failures by virtue of holding too firmly to their position.  This view of the Promised Land is Moses’ reward. But I have to think Moses was relieved that he could finally rest.

Moses has ascended to the position of the greatest of Israel’s prophets, and his ascent to the mountaintop attests to this.  And as our writer acknowledges, “But no prophet again arose in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,” (34:10)

Luke 11:29-36: Jesus remarks that the people “seek a sign” that their Messiah has indeed returned. But as usual, he turns the situation upside down and tells them that they are looking for the wrong thing. Jonah went to the gentiles of Ninevah; so too, Jesus has come to accomplish something much greater than being just a Jewish messiah. He has come for all of the Ninevahs of the world. I think that is what he means when he says, “something greater than Jonah is here!” (32)

Jesus makes the rather mysterious remark, “Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness.” (35) What sort of light is in fact darkness? Is it the light of our self-taught wisdom? Jesus is warning us—especially theologians (!)—not to get too carried away with relying on our own internal wisdom. I think that’s what Paul is getting at, I think, in the first chapter of I Corinthians about our wisdom vs. God’s wisdom that appears to be foolishness to “wise men.” Given that the gospel of Luke was written toward the end of the first century I don’t think it’s a stretch to speculate that these words are also Luke’s warning to the nascent cults of gnosticism that dematerialized Jesus into pure “light.”

In the modern context, light that is actually darkness would seem to be spiritual quests of “self-discovery”—that the light (or enlightenment) is already within ourselves and all we have to do is reflect and meditate enough in order to”discover it.” Jesus is saying rather clearly though, that is a dead end and not really light at all.

But if we use our figurative and literal eyes to see that the Light comes from beyond ourselves, not from within ourselves, then we become healthy. And we know that the Light comes only via Jesus. This is the light—himself—that he is talking about at the end of this reading: “If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be as full of light as when a lamp gives you light with its rays.” (36)

Psalm 88:14–19; Deuteronomy 32:10–43; Luke 11:1–13

Psalm 88:14–19: Our psalmist continues in deep despair. Even though he has been faithful to God, the favor has not been returned. God seems to be nowhere present as he asks the eternal question:
As for me—to You, Lord, I shouted,
and in the morn my prayer would greet You.
Why, Lord, do You abandon my life,
do You hide Your face from me? (14, 15)

Our poet has been humble and apparently has experienced a significant trauma in his youth that he feels is attributable to God’s anger. In short, he has suffered on God’s behalf:
Lowly am I and near death from my youth
I have borne Your terrors, I am fearful.
Over me Your rage has passed,
your horrors destroy me. (16, 17)

These horrors continue to haunt him. I would take them to be some kind of psychological illness—paranoia perhaps. In any event he has lost his friends and relationships due to whatever he blames God for having done:
They surround me like water all day long,
they encircle me completely.
You distanced lover and neighbor form me.
My friends—utter darkness. (18, 19)

Of all the psalms of supplication we have thus far encountered; of all the cries to a seemingly absent God, this cry is the darkest, the least hopeful. Unlike other psalms of supplication there is no concluding statement about God’s greatness or mercy. There is only the hopeless void of complete abandonment by humans—and by God himself. There is only utter darkness.

If ever we needed a description of what the depths of depression must be like it is right here. And it reminds us that the psalms are not all encomiums to God’s goodness and mercy. That is why for me this is the most emotionally honest book in the Bible.

Deuteronomy 32:10–43: In their effort to make Moses the author of this book (and the entire Pentateuch) the editors have positioned the Song of Moses as prospective—as prophecy. Yet, as we read it there’s little question (to me, anyway) that the poem is retrospective—a lamentation of Israel’s abandonment of God in favor of small-g gods and God’s vengeance upon them:
[Israel] abandoned God who made him,
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They made him jealous with strange gods,
    with abhorrent things they provoked him.
They sacrificed to demons, not God,
    to deities they had never known,
to new ones recently arrived,
    whom your ancestors had not feared. (15b-17)

They have committed the greatest sin of all:
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you;
    you forgot the God who gave you birth. (18)

Which is exactly what our own culture has made great progress doing. Thise who forget God will pay the price:
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
because the day of their calamity is at hand,
    their doom comes swiftly. (35)

But God will grant mercy when the people return to God. But this will only happen after the trappings of power are gone; after humankind has seen that their pride in their own accomplishment has brought about their downfall—and they see that the small-g gods they created are indeed powerless:
Indeed the Lord will vindicate his people,
    have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone,
    neither bond nor free remaining.
Then he will say: Where are their gods,
    the rock in which they took refuge,
who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
    and drank the wine of their libations?
Let them rise up and help you,
    let them be your protection! (36-38)

For there is only one God who rules over all creation:
See now that I, even I, am he;
    there is no god besides me.
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and no one can deliver from my hand. (39)

As the history of Israel illustrates—and this poem reminds us—we know—as these authors knew—that abandoning God leads to dire consequences. All empires fall—many from inward corruption and those in power believing that they control the destiny of the nation.

Luke 11:1–13: The disciples request Jesus to teach them a prayer. Of course it’s the Lord’s Prayer, but only the first part, (which I think is where the Catholocs end it):
Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (2-4)

While we intone this prayer every week in worship, we would do well to recall the context here. Jesus goes on to remind his listeners that persistence is a big part of prayer. He uses the example of the man waking up his friend in the middle of the night and asking for three loaves of bread. At first the man refuses and although Luke doesn’t tell us explicitly, he gives in and gives his friend the bread.  Jesus point: so, too, with prayer.

For me there’s the clear implication that prayer is not about finding a parking place or some other trivial desire. God is certainly not a vending machine of favors. Rather, it is persistent prayer that results in God’s answer, which Jesus tells us in his famous promise: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (9,10)

Moreover, God will answer with what is best for us. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in his rhetorical questions, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” (11,12) We can expect only the best for us form God—and the best for us may not always be what we desire.

The promise of answered holds because answered prayer comes from God: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (13) Notice what God’s gift is here: it is not some action or some object. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who will come to us when we ask; when we search; when we knock.

Psalm 88:7–12; Deuteronomy 31:9–32:9; Luke 10:25–42

Psalm 88:7–12: Our psalmist starkly describes the ultimate darkness—death—and basically blames God’s anger for bringing him to the edge:
You put me in the nethermost Pit,
in darkness, in the depths.
Your wrath lay hard upon me,
and all Your breakers You inflicted. (7,8)

[By “breakers,” I believe he’s describing drowning in a rough sea.] Our poet does not hold back in blaming God for his woes of broken relationships and physical trauma even though he has cried out to God in agony:
You distanced my friends from me,
you made me disgusting to them;
imprisoned, I cannot get out.
My eyes ache from affliction.
I called on You, Lord, every day.
I stretched out to You my palms. (9,10)

Down through the centuries humankind has prayed desperately only to hear nothing in response. These verses are a stark reminder of the depth of agony we can feel when we are terrible straits and it seems that God is not listening to us.  Our psalmist takes up an argument that we’ve seen before in the Psalms: God, who loves creation and above all, humankind, loses the relationship with ones he loves if they are dead, who cannot by definition worship him:
Will You do wonders for the dead?
will the shades arise and acclaim You?
Will Your kindness be told in the grave,
Your faithfulness in perdition?
Will Your wonder be known in the darkness,
Your bounty in the land of oblivion? (11-13)

This is certainly a “go to” psalm in those times when it seems all hope is lost and we cannot find the words of agony and frustration. This psalmist has expressed that emptiness eloquently.

Deuteronomy 31:9–32:9: Moses gives the command that all Israel needs to have his lengthy sermon read at the festival of booths every seventh year. There’s a very practical reason beyond simply refreshing people’s memories: “so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.” (31:13)

God commands Moses and Joshua to appear before him in the tabernacle. Not content with the repeated commands to worship only God that have consumed much of this book, our authors now have God himself predict that the people will indeed stray from the terms of the Covenant: “Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign gods in their midst, the gods of the land into which they are going; they will forsake me, breaking my covenant that I have made with them.” (31:16)

We have a sense that God’s predictive speech is retrospective and is based on experience as our authors describe how Israel fell away from the Covenant and the terrible consequences that arose: “they will become easy prey, and many terrible troubles will come upon them. In that day they will say, ‘Have not these troubles come upon us because our God is not in our midst?’ ” (31:17)

God commissions Joshua as Israel’s new leader with a solemn promise:“the Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.” (31:23)

At this point our authors assert that Moses has written the Pentateuch: “When Moses had finished writing down in a book the words of this law to the very end,  Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, “Take this book of the law and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God; let it remain there as a witness against you.” (31: 24-26)

And as one final reminder, God commands Moses to write a song to be taught to the Israelites that pretty much summarizes Israel’s national history and the terms of the Covenant.

For me, this song is a reminder of the perils of forgetting history and ignoring its lessons—which certainly seems to be the case today:
Remember the days of old,
    consider the years long past;
ask your father, and he will inform you;
    your elders, and they will tell you. (32:7)

Luke 10:25–42: In this important reading, we hear Jesus answer the lawyer’s question, “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (25) Jesus, being Jesus, responds with the question, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” (26) The lawyer who answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (27). Jesus responds, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (28)

But the lawyer, being a lawyer, asks the next and perhaps the most important question of all, “And who is my neighbor?”  (29) Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with a parable. Perhaps after the parable of the prodigal son, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ best known parable—even to the extent that it is well known outside the church.

As is the case of many parables, there’s an unexpected twist. The neighbor is the person that is the object of Jewish hatred: the Samaritan. Jesus includes the detail of the priests and Levites ignoring the injured man in their self-righteousness, doubtless believing they deserved his fate. It is the hated Samaritan who shows mercy.

This is one of those places where we are reminded that human nature has not changed one whit in the last two millennia. We are still cruel in our self-righteousness. The scenes at our southern border are a stark reminder that we are mostly priests and Levites, much happier to pass by scenes of suffering than to stop and administer aid.  And now we have government entities doing the ignoring for us, insulating us from the awful reality of human suffering. What possible goal does ripping children from their parents accomplish? The issue here is not about legality; it is about morality.

Today’s reading concludes with the famous scene of Martha being annoyed at her sister Mary for abandoning household chores to sit at Jesus’ feet. Rather than asking Mary herself, Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to get to work. In Jesus’ famous reply—“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things” (41)— we see ourselves distracted by endless to-do lists as we rush to the next task, becoming spiritually impoverished.

Today, we live in a society obsessed with getting things done and ignoring opportunities where we can stop and just listen. I know I am guilty myself. I think Jesus is not telling us that we should just go to church and hear about him, but that we should take time to refresh ourselves spiritually, whether it be in nature, or just sitting in silence. As the old cliche goes, a man on his deathbed does not wish he spent more time at the office.


Psalm 88:1–6; Deuteronomy 29:22–31:8; Luke 10:17–24

Psalm 88:1–6: This is one of those psalms dedicated to a specific group and person about whom we know nothing, although he may have been a famous personage around the temple, perhaps a choir leader or a poet:
A song, a psalm for the Korahites, for the lead player, on the mahalath, to sing out, a maskil for Heyman the Ezrahite. (1)

In any event, it’s a psalm of supplication. Although our psalmist does not feel God has abandoned him, he nonetheless wants God to hear him as he beseeches God both day and night—which is how I often feel:
Lord, God of my rescue,
by day I cried out,
by night, In Your presence.
May my prayer come before You.
Incline Your ear to my song. (2, 3)

This last line—incline Your ear to my song—suggests that we can pray by singing, which for this musical psalmist was probably the way he felt assured that God would indeed hear him.

Regardless of whether or not he’s praying by singing, there’s little question he is feeling oppressed by life—almost to the point of death:
For I am sated with evils
and my life reached the brink of Sheol. (4)

In fact, in the next two verses he seems almost obsessed by death as he uses virtually every synonym for dying—and that his death is inevitable in the near term:
I was counted among those who go down to the Pit.
I became like a man without strength,
among the dead cast away,
like the slain, those who lie in the grave,
whom You no more recall,
and they are cut off by Your hand. (5, 6)

The most horrible fate he can imagine is to be permanently separated from God, which to observant Jews is what the “Pit” and “Sheol” were all about. The issue is not that he is dead, but that he will never be close to God again.

Deuteronomy 29:22–31:8: The shame brought on by disobedience to God is a major theme of this Moses speech. Imagine, he is telling them, what the effect of their downfall will be on other nations who ask, they and indeed all the nations will wonder, “Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused this great display of anger?” (29:24) Even those nations that do not follow God will logically deduce the reason for Israel’s destruction: “They will conclude, “It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (29:25) Moreover, even those nations will understand the nature of Israel’s sin: “They turned and served other gods, worshiping them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them.” (29:26) The sin of apostasy deeply angers God, thus, “The Lord uprooted them from their land in anger, fury, and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as is now the case.” (29:28)

But our authors, masters of psychology that they were, conclude Moses’s seemingly endless disquisition on a positive note—reminding them once again of God’s tremendous promise if they but obey and “return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you.” (30:2) Moreover, God will “again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (30:9, 10) 

Moses reminds them that obeying God is not some far off abstraction, but in the here and now—in our hearts: “this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, …Neither is it beyond the sea, … No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” (30:11-14)

For me, that is the key message of Moses’ interminable sermon: God is close to us and following him is not about going to heaven or becoming a missionary overseas. It is all about our quotidian lives: how we follow Jesus on a daily basis. Moses says it well. We have a stark choice in how we live. And Jesus, I think echoing Moses here asks us to “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.” (30:19b, 20)

And on that note, “Moses had finished speaking all(!) these words to all Israel.” (31:1) and he appoints Joshua as his successor: “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (31:7,8) Could there be any better, more encouraging words than these at the commissioning of Israel’s next great leader? Or any better words for us?  

Luke 10:17–24: The seventy followers that Jesus sent out to towns and villages return  enthusiastically, telling him, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (17) Jesus is understandably happy at their success, reminding them that this was not done under their own power, but his: “I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.” (19) This verse has led some fundamentalists to over-interpret Jesus’ words too literally and believe they can handle poisonous snakes as a form of worship—too often to their great detriment. Unfortunately these folks seem to have ignored Jesus’ statement in the next verse that being able to work miracles is not the point; rather, it is to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (20)

The success of the seventy has brought great joy to Jesus, and we encounter one of those Trinitarian moments where Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father are juxtaposed: “Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” (21) Luke is also reminding us that the power of Jesus is not to be confused with earthly power. Just as Paul points out in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Christianity is incomprehensible to the “wise and intelligent”—and that reality is certainly on full display in our own time and culture!

Instead, the power of God and the power of Jesus are revealed to those whom society discounts and ignores: “For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (24) And down through history, every time Christianity has been conflated with the “wise and intelligent” and those in power, its effectiveness has stifled. I think this is why even today Christianity flourishes among the poor and downtrodden and the oppressed while it is discounted by the intelligentsia who think they are the ones with deeper insights into social reality—just as we are seeing today in too many mainline denominations who wish to conform to the mores of the predominant culture.

Psalm 87; Deuteronomy 28:58–29:21; Luke 10:1–16

Originally published 7/19/2016. Revised and updated 7/19/2018

Today is Susan’s and my 49th wedding anniversary.

Psalm 87: This psalm celebrates the permanence of the temple at Jerusalem compared to all God’s temporary dwellings that have preceded it:
His foundation on the holy mountains—
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
 (1b, 2)

One begins to suspect this psalm was written by a poet employed by the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce:
Splendid things are spoken of you,
O town of God.

He reenforces his personal pride of being a native-born Jerusalemite by listing the other nations who do not have Jerusalem in their midst:
Look, Philistia and Tyre together with Cush,
—this one was born there.

We’ll take “this one” as self-referential as he goes on to make his point about the overall superiority of Jerusalem (called Zion in the psalm) by suggesting that every person in Israel has Jerusalem in his blood:
And of Zion it shall be said:
every man is born in it,
and He, the most High makes it firm-founded.
” (5)

The intent of this verse carries over today at Jewish sedars where the the toast is always,  “Next year in Jerusalem!”

In the next verse, the poet positions God as supreme record keeper, making it clear again that it is better to have been born in Jerusalem than anywhere else:
The Lord inscribes in the record of peoples:
this one was born there.

Finally, of Jerusalem, “singers and dancers alike:/ [will say] ‘All my wellsprings are in you.‘” (7) Here, “you” is not God, but Jerusalem itself. I’m sure this celebratory psalm is read enthusiastically today by any Jew who visits Jerusalem—and Christians, too.

Deuteronomy 28:58–29:21: Moses’ warnings of the consequences of disobedience by Israel continue apace. And those consequences are dire: “Although once you were as numerous as the stars in heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God.” (28:62) The consequences will not only be decline, but dissolution of the nation itself: “The Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other;” (28:64).

Things will be equally ominous at an individual level, “Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance of your life.” (66) And then the final humiliation: the degraded Israelites will attempt to return to slavery but because they have become worthless human beings,”you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” (28:68)

The precision of these imprecations once again strongly suggests to me that this book was written centuries afterwards at a time when Israel had indeed been diminished and scattered by Assyria in the north and later by Babylon in the south.

Apparently there is a brief respite from the curses of the previous chapter as Moses once again, “Summoned all Israel.” (29:1) Once again he reviews all that Israel has experienced over the past 40 years, asking the people to consider how close God has been and how God has protected and sustained them: “The clothes on your back have not worn out, and the sandals on your feet have not worn out; you have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink—so that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” (29:6,7)

Now, following all this, the time has come for Israel to take a formal oath of obedience “to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, sworn by an oath, which the Lord your God is making with you today.” (29:12)

But the oath must be sincere and from the heart; otherwise it is worthless. And woe betide “All who hear the words of this oath and bless themselves, thinking in their hearts, “We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways.” (29:19) Insincerity inevitably results in disaster: “All the curses written in this book will descend on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven.” (20)

This of course is a good reminder that grace was not part of the Old Covenant and how grateful I am to be under the terms of New Covenant through Jesus Christ. However, it is also a reminder that we must turn over our entire heart to him. Like ancient Israel we cannot think that Jesus’ grace is some sort of holy insurance policy. We cannot think pridefully, “We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways.”

Luke 10:1–16: Here we learn that in addition to the “inner circle” of 12 disciples, Jesus has plenty of other dedicated followers. He commissions seventy of them to go out in pairs and do the prep work needed before Jesus arrives at a new town. But it’s an inherently dangerous task since as we learned in yesterday’s reading they will not necessarily be well received: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” (3)

Interestingly, the emissaries are to go only to one house in the village and announce themselves by saying “‘Peace to this house!’” And if the homeowner responds in kind, that’s where they are to remain. If they are welcomed, “eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (8, 9)

The other key part of the mission is not to waste time in places where the message is rejected. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that these places where the Kingdom of God is rejected “it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town” (12) when the day of judgement arrives.

The Jewish towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida have apparently already rejected Jesus’ message, as he points out that had he taken his message successfully to the Gentile towns of Tyre and Sidon. Had Jesus’ message been accepted in the Jewish towns, “they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” (13) Perhaps most startlingly of all, even Capernaum, Jesus’ headquarters, is also cursed: “will you be exalted to heaven?/ No, you will be brought down to Hades.” (15)

The reason for the curse—apparently a long tradition, tracing its way back to Moses in Deuteronomy(!)—is simple as Jesus lays it out in a clear logic chain: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (16) Rejecting the word of Jesus’ missionaries is the same as rejecting Jesus and therefore rejecting God himself.

Luke’s intent here, I think, is to demonstrate how those in his community who want to the news about the Kingdom are to be properly commissioned, and then providing precise instructions on how to carry out their missionary activities. Good order is essential in carrying out the  Great Commission. There is nothing random about bringing the Good News to the world. I think we can argue that Paul and his associates (Silas, Barnabas, etc.) executed these instructions fairly well. Unfortunately, missionaries down through history have not always complied with Jesus’ instructions all that well.