Blessings and curses, and the dead are raised….

30 03 2011

DAY EIGHTY-SEVEN : Numbers 23 v. 27 – 26 v. 11; Luke 7 v. 11 – 35; Psalm 38 v. 1 – 12;

Third Oracle – Balak is still unhappy with Balaam’s oracles, so he takes him to another place, to try again to place a curse on the Israelites. Seven altars, seven bulls, seven rams. Balaam has been persuaded that the Lord has blessed Israel (he stops practicing sorcery at this point), he turns towards the desert and ‘the Spirit of God came upon him’ and he spoke the third oracle:
“My eye now sees clearly, my ear hears the Word of God,
I fall facedown, my eyes are opened.
Israel’s tents, neatly laid out in order, are beautiful to behold.
Their king will be greater than all kings;
Their kingdom will grow and grow.
They have ox-like strength; they have lion-like power.
Those who curse them will find themselves cursed.
Those who bless them will find themselves blessed!”

Balak is so angry now and commands Balaam to leave – without reward – for he has failed three times to curse the Israelites. But he does not leave without his fourth devastating oracle :

Fourth Oracle – ‘a rising star from Jacob, a powerful sceptre from Israel, will crush Moab, conquer Edom, grow from strength to strength’.

Final Oracles – and as he is leaving, Balaam says that Amalek will fall to ruin, the Kenites will be destroyed, Asshur and Eber will be conquered too. Balaam and Balak go their separate ways.
Moab seduces Israel – Israel misbehaves – its men take Moabite women and sleep with them, seduced into the worship of other gods (Baal). God is angry and tells Moses to take out and kill the leaders of these people. The judges are alerted. A plague hits Israel and 24,000 people die. One Israelite, Zimri (a Simeonite) brought a Midianite women, Cozbi (daughter of a Midianite leader) into the camp, and was seen by the priests (who were weeping at the Tent of Meeting, for the plight of their own people). Eleazor’s son, Phinehas, took a spear and killed both Zimri and Cozbi. God saw his zeal for holiness, and ended the plague. Atonement had been made for the sin Israel had been committing. God makes a covenant that Phinehas’ family will forever be priests.

The Second Census – there are fewer Israelites by now (plagues etc., have vastly reduced their numbers). The Lord commands Moses to conduct a second census, on the plains of Moab, alongside the Jordan, opposite Jericho.
43,730 men (20 and over) from the Reuben clan (Dathan and Abiram, who rebelled against God, were from this clan).
Though the rebellious Korah was swallowed up by the earth, his line did not die out.

Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son – entering a town called Nain, Jesus and a large crowd see the dead body of a widow’s only son being carried out. The widow also has a large crowd with her (what do two large crowds make ?). Jesus felt deep compassion for the widow (‘his heart went out to her’ – He knows how poor and vulnerable she will be without her only son), and he says ‘Don’t cry’.
Jesus touches the coffin and speaks to the young man. ‘Get up’. He does and ‘Jesus gave him back to his mother’.
Jesus is honoured as a great prophet, and God is praised.
The news spreads.

Tissot’s ‘Raising of the Widow’s Son’.

Jesus and John the Baptist – John wants to know how it’s all going, and so sends two of his own disciples to Jesus. Their question is whether or not Jesus is truly the ‘one’, or is there one to come after Him.

Did John not know ? Was he uncertain ? He’d been there at the baptism, and surely must know.
Maybe he was still waiting for the ‘judgement of God’ he had been expecting to be heralded by the arrival of the Messiah.
Maybe he simply wanted assurances, a chance to hear how it was going.
Maybe he wanted his own disciples to experience Jesus first hand.

Jesus passes the report back that signals He is the ‘one’ : ‘the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.

Jesus tells His own disciples and followers how significant John is in all this – John is more than a prophet, he is the one prophesied about, the ‘messenger to prepare the way’.
All the sinners (‘even the tax collectors’) who had been baptized by John, turned to God, followed God’s way, whilst the Pharisees were rejecting what was before them.
Jesus bemoans the generation who rejected John (calling him demon-possessed) and Himself (calling Him a glutton and drunkard).

“The music we played for you was great to dance to – but you wouldn’t dance!
The song we sang tugged on the heartstrings – but you were unmoved!”

However, “Wisdom is proved right by all her children” – the truth will be seen, the fruit will be evident!

The heartfelt cry of someone overwhelmed with guilt and pain….a song of real suffering:

“Sin and guilt overwhelm me – I feel the heat of Your anger, Lord.
My body experiences excruciating pain.
There are many who avoid me, keep me at arms length, seek to trap me.
All my hopes, desires and longings are exposed to You, Lord…….”


Talking donkeys….whatever next?

29 03 2011

DAY EIGHTY-SIX : Numbers 22 v. 21 – 23 v. 26; Luke 6 v. 37 – 7 v. 10; Psalm 37 v. 32 – 40

Balaam’s Donkey – So Balaam sets off with the princes of Moab, on his donkey! God is angry but is going to use this episode to speak to and through Balaam….He sends ‘the angel of the Lord’ to block the path the donkey is travelling. Poor donkey – she sees the angel brandishing a sword, and turns away from the path Balaam wishes to travel, and gets beaten by Balaam (who cannot see the angel at this stage) three times ! It’s sort of comical, but the best is yet to come…
After the third beating, ‘the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me?”‘
Like a scene out of Shrek, we’ve got a talking donkey.
For me, what should happen, is that Balaam should fall off the donkey and run into the wilderness never to be seen again, convinced he’s finally gone mad. However, Balaam simply talks back to the donkey as if nothing particularly unusual has happened.
During the conversation, the Lord opens Balaam’s eyes (spiritually) and he is able to see the angel.
Balaam bows low and falls face down – the right OT response to experiencing the presence of God / God’s messenger.
When Balaam repents of his wickedness towards the donkey, and offers to go back, the angel encourages him to learn the lesson, and, as he continues on to meet Balak, to speak only what God / God’s messenger gives him to say.
Balaam is given an enthusiastic welcome by Balak (once he’s expressed a little kingly grumpiness that he hadn’t come sooner, first time of asking).

Balaam’s First Oracle – the next morning, from a high vantage point over the area (Bamoth Baal), Balaam has seven altars built, and seven bulls and seven rams are sacrificed. Balaam goes off to a ‘barren height’ to hear from the Lord. Balaam returns with his first oracle, having met with God, and addresses Balak and the Moabite princes.
“How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?”
Balaam has been shown that the Israelites are ‘set apart’, a righteous people, and concludes his oracle with a desire to be like them as his life comes towards its end.
Balak is annoyed – why has he brought Balaam all that way, to curse the Israelites, just to be told he can’t.
Balaam knows he can only speak what the Lord gives him to say.

Balaam’s Second Oracle – Balak gives Balaam a second chance, moving to a different vantage point, and telling him to curse the Israelites. Again, seven altars, and seven bulls and seven rams are sacrificed. Balaam goes a little distance away to meet with the Lord, and returns with a second oracle.
“God is not a man, that He should lie…
No misfortune is seen in Jacob…the Lord their God is with them…
There is no sorcery against Jacob, no divination against Israel.”
Balaam has been shown that Israel is God’s chosen people, like a lioness hungry to devour what lies before her.
Balak changes tack, asking Balaam neither to curse nor to bless this people. Once again, Balaam repeats he must speak what the Lord gives him to say (and do what the Lord, not Balak, wants him to do).

Judging – the hallmarks of a close walk, a deep discipleship, include not being judgmental and condemning of others (one finger pointed at others leaves three pointing back at self, and all that!), but of forgiveness (never an easy thing…only made easier, and possible, when we grasp the depth of forgiveness offered to us through Christ), and generous giving
“For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Look at sorting out the plank in your own eye, before you try to pick a speck out of another’s eye.

Fruitfulness – ‘each tree is recognised by its fruit’ (good fruit or bad fruit); store up ‘good things’ in your heart, and you will produce good fruit; store up evil in your heart, and you will produce evil / bad fruit. Plain and simple.

Wisdom and Foolishness – just as Balaam was a learning a lesson in listening to God and doing / saying what God gave him to do / say, so it’s wisdom indeed to hear Jesus’ words and put them into action, be obedient to His will – like ‘digging deep’ to build the sure foundations of our lives on solid rock, so that flood, storm and wind will not destroy the life built on Jesus, our Rock.
Therefore, it’s foolishness indeed to hear Jesus’ words and ignore them, like building without sure foundations and no depth, vulnerable to all the elements, and easily destroyed by the torrent…

Jesus sums up his teaching with this parable – ‘you’ve heard the teaching, now you choose….dig deeper in your life, and build on the solid rock, or carry on building without attending to the foundations….a matter of survival or destruction, life or death.’

Centurion Faith – here’s a man, maybe, to some, an unlikely God-seeker at that, perhaps, who is ready to choose to ‘dig deeper’, out of sheer desperation. He’s clearly a very caring centurion – valuing his servant highly, loving the nation and building the synagogue in Capernaum.
The centurion shows great faith, by urging Jesus to heal his servant from a distance, without needing to come any nearer to the house.
“Say the word, and my servant will be healed”, he recognises Jesus’ authority, and the centurion understands something about ‘chains of command’.
Jesus commends and honour the centurion for his faith, unrivalled in all Israel.
The centurion’s servant is healed.

“Wait for the Lord and keep His way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land….”
the wicked may seem to flourish, but they will pass away
the blameless, upright people are the ones with a real future
“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in time of trouble.”

Again, a choice, a decision – life or death, salvation or destruction – you choose !
The wise choice is to wait on the Lord, and to keep His ways!

Snake-bites and perfect love…..

28 03 2011

DAY EIGHTY-FIVE : Numbers 21 v. 4 – 22. v. 20; Luke 6 v. 12 – 36; Psalm 37 v. 21 – 31


The Bronze Snake – En route, the Israelites grow impatient, and speak against God and Moses. “No bread! No water! Detestable food”. God sends poisonous snakes, and many die of snake bites. The people repent and ask Moses to pray for God to take the snakes away. Moses prays. God tells Moses to make a bronze snake which will prevent the bitten Israelites from dying :
“When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus Christ is the one who was lifted up for our sin, just as Moses lifted the bronze snake in the desert (John 3 v. 14)

Moab – more stops at Oboth, Iye Abarim, Zered, Arnon (border of Moab), Beer (sounds like a good place, that!), Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth and to Moab.

Interested to find out a little more about the “Book of the Wars of the Lord”…..this is the only reference to ‘it’ in scripture – suggests an ancient text, recording Israel’s military exploits, as produced by most empires…

There’s a well in Beer (a Beer well?), where God’s people made up a song as they drank
“Well, well, well –
You spring up and we’ll sing out
Princes dug you, nobles sank you
Royalty prepared you with their sceptres and staffs
Well, well, well”

Sihon and Og – Israel requested safe passage through Sihon, but this was not granted; rather Sihon sent their army out and there was a battle at Jahaz. The Israelites ‘won’ and too over the land from Arnon to Jabbok. Israel captured the Amorite cities (Heshbon etc – great song quoted regarding Heshbon’s capture from Moab to Sihon).
Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. They captured Jazer (after a spying trip).
Then there’s King Og of Bashan (what a great name!!) – he brings his army out to meet the Israelites at Edrei. The Lord gives Israel the promise of victory and the whole army of Bashan is defeated and destroyed.

Balak Summons Balaam –
The Israelites press on towards Moab, camping along the Jordan opposite Jericho. All Moab is terrified of the reports they’ve heard about the Israelites conquering the Amorites. King Balak sent for Balaam, son of Beor, who was down by the river, at Pethor, that Balaam would put a curse on Israel so that they would be easily defeated (“Those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.”)
Balaam is clearly some form of sorcerer/diviner (the elders of Moab and Midian take a divination fee with them).
Overnight, God visits Balaam and asks him who the men visitors are. Why is that question significant ?
God gives a clear instruction that the Israelites are blessed and Balaam is not to put a curse on them.
The visitors return with the message that the Lord prevented Balaam from going with them. So, Balak sends some other princes with a different message – ‘don’t let anything prevent you from coming – I will reward you richly and do what you say. Come and curse these people.’
This time, overnight, God visits Balaam and says it’s okay for him to go with them, but only to do what God says…..

Balaam is fascinating character – a diviner for the pagans who is visited by God, and becomes (even temporarily, for this time) obedient to God, and a vessel for bringing God’s message to the pagan nations….

The Twelve – when Jesus has a very important decision to make, he goes up the mountainside to pray – all night ! When He appears in the morning, He is ready to appoint twelve from the greater number of disciples, who He also then calls ‘apostles’ (those ‘sent on mission’).
I always think it’s a shame for Judas that he is introduced to us from the beginning as the one ‘who became a traitor’.
The list of names underlines that fact that God chooses ordinary people – a real mixed bag.
I’m also hit with the realisation that the ‘twelve’ initiate the new chosen people / nation God is creating (cp twelve tribes of Israel).

Blessings and Woes – there’s a large crowd of disciples (funny how we often think of merely twelve disciples – here, the picture is of many disciples, but twelve disciple-apostles), and many, many people suffering illnesses who come for healing (simply to touch Jesus for power to come from Him).
You are blessed if
~ you are poor : God’s kingdom is available to you
~ you are hungry now : God will fill you completely
~ you are weeping now : God will bring laughter to you
~ you are hated, excluded, insulted and rejected : God will reward you greatly in heaven (and God’s prophets have always suffered such treatment)

You are unblessed (not quite ‘cursed’, I guess. Woed?) if
~ you are rich : God says you’ve had your good time, your comfort, don’t expect more
~ you are stuffed with food now : God says you will experience intense hunger
~ you are laughing now : God says you will know mourning and weeping
~ you are spoken well of, flattered, honoured : God simply hints it’s not the end of the story – history has shown that

i.e. don’t look for flattery, praise, honour….you can tell you are doing the prophetic good thing if you are encountering opposition, hatred, insults….eeek!!

Loving Enemies – really tough teaching, beginning with ‘are you really listening?’ (there are levels of listening, aren’t there).
‘Love enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you’ (a good mantra for each day, to go deeper in our discipleship).
Turn the other cheek (real insult to be slapped in the face); hold loose to possessions – if someone takes what’s yours, don’t demand it back; give to everyone who asks; the golden rule:
‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (a good catch-all guide to how we learn to treat others)

Don’t just love those who love you (no credit/reward there); don’t just do good to those who are good to you; don’t just lend to those who will definitely give back;  Jesus restates : ‘Love enemies, do good to them, and lend without expecting back’.
There will be a great reward for living this way – ‘you will be sons of the Most High’.
In summary, ‘show mercy to all, because your Father God has shown such mercy to you.’

This really tough teaching reminds me that Christian discipleship is a never-ending deepening spirituality, challenging us more and more each day, towards a Christian perfection (perfect love – for God and for others) which is only possible as our walk with Him, dependence upon Him increases.

“The righteous give generously…
If the Lord delights in a man’s way, He makes His steps firm;
Though he stumble, he will not fall…
The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it for ever…
The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.
The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.”

Cleansing, refreshing water….and new wine

26 03 2011

DAY EIGHTY-FOUR : Numbers 19 v. 1 – 21 v. 3; Luke 5 v. 33 – 6 v. 11 ; Proverbs 8 v. 1 – 11

Water of Cleansing – a rather bizarre ritual of slaughtering a red heifer outside the camp, sprinkling some of the blood at the Tent of Meeting, and then burning it, along with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool. Then the priest must be cleansed. The one who gathers the ashes and puts them outside the camp, must also be cleansed. The ashes are to be kept for use in the water of cleansing – ‘it is for purification from sin.’
Those who are unclean for seven days from having touched a dead body must use the water of cleansing on the third and seventh day. Failure to do this will lead to being cut off from the community.
If someone dies in a tent, anyone who enters that tent is unclean for seven days.
If someone touches a dead body (killed or naturally deceased) or even a grave,  they will be unclean for seven days.
To become clean again – sprinkle some of the aforementioned ashes in a jar and pour fresh water over them – then this water of cleansing is to be used, along with hyssop, to sprinkle to tent, furnishings and people who are unclean.
Even the clean person who cleanses the unclean person with the water of cleansing becomes unclean till evening!!!

The mention of hyssop in this ritual cleansing reminded me of the presence of hyssop when Jesus is on the cross of crucifixion, symbolising the purification and cleansing made possible through His blood on the cross.

Water from the Rock – Miriam dies and is buried at Kadesh, one month from them setting out from Sinai. The people grumble about the lack of water. They lay into Moses and Aaron yet again. ‘It was better where we came from – why did you bring us out here to die?’
Moses and Aaron……fell face down (again), and God’s glory surrounded them.
With staff in hand, Moses is to gather the people, and speak to the rock in front of them, and water will flow from the rock. When Moses strikes the rock twice (NOT what God told him to do), and water gushed out.
God is not happy with Moses and Aaron.
‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.’

Harsh ? But, God is determined to build a nation which will be obedient to His Word, doing things His way, not theirs. Moses’ sin was not only in striking the rock, but in not ‘honouring God’ in the miracle – it risked leaving the people worshiping and honouring Moses, himself. As leaders, Moses and Aaron should have known better, and followed God’s instructions to the letter. Easy to feel a bit sorry for Moses at this point, though. He’s had a lot on his plate!

Edom in the Way – so, the Israelites are obstructed. Moses requests safe passage through Edom, offering to pay for any water they drink, but seeking only to pass through. The king of Edom refuses, and sends the army out to force Israel to turn away.

Aaron Dies – the Israelites journey to Mount Hor, where Aaron dies. The phrase, “Aaron will be gathered to his people”, is the Hebraic way of saying ‘Aaron will pass away / snuff it’. Maybe it signifies some belief in an after-life. Aaron’s robes are passed to Eleazor, his son, and Aaron dies on top of the mountain. All Israel mourns Aaron’s death for thirty days.

Arad Destroyed –
a clash with the King of Arad and his army in Canaan. He captures some of the Israelites, but when Israel pleads with the Lord and makes a vow, God hands Arad to the Israelites, with whole towns wiped out.

Jesus questioned about Fasting – Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees and law-teachers, that His disciples eat and drink when others’ disciples fast and pray. Jesus suggests that it is the season of feasting, as if He were the bridegroom at a wedding feast. There will be a time of fasting to come.
The parable of the new wineskins for new wine has always spoken to me of the new life Jesus brings. It tastes better than the old life. It needs to be held in new wineskins. A new patch of cloth cannot be successfully sewn into an old, torn garment. It’s time for the new, and the old just wont be able to receive it.

Lord of the Sabbath – some time later, the Pharisees challenge Jesus on their picking of corn to eat on the Sabbath. Jesus uses the OT example of David endorsing the taking of consecrated bread to feed his hungry companions. ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’. Ooh, I bet that annoyed them!
On another occasion, Jesus heals on the Sabbath (in these verses Jesus deliberately makes this healing visible to confront the thoughts and attitudes of the hardline Pharisees), and the Pharisees and law-teachers are furious. Jesus’ question is clever and catches them in their own trap. ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath : to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’
The angry Pharisees begin to plot ‘what they might do to Jesus’. That’s not taken long has it !!

Wisdom is calling out – she is there, high up, along the path, at the gates in and out of the city.
‘Come, all humanity; simple souls – gain wisdom; fools – receive understanding.
Listen to me – I speak truth.
My words are just and right.
Choose me, over silver and gold.’
Wisdom is more precious than rubies – nothing compares to her.

Can’t get the staff these days…..

25 03 2011

DAY EIGHTY-THREE : Numbers 16 v. 36 – 18 v. 32; Luke 5 v. 17 – 32; Psalm 37 v. 10 – 20

Carrying on from yesterday, when the rebels were swallowed up, Aaron’s son, Eleazor, clears up the mess. The censers are cleaned out and hammered into sheets to overlay the altar. A permanent warning sign to obey God’s commands.
The Israelites grumble that was Moses and Aaron who killed the rebels. Again, really they are grumbling about God’s actions.
God’s glory appears at the Tent, and His anger towards the Israelites is burning. It appears God is ready to finish them all off, once and for all (‘I will put an end to them at once’).
Moses and Aaron fall face down.
Aaron makes atonement for the whole community. ‘He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped’.
Nevertheless, 14,700 died of the plague.

Aaron’s Blooming Staff – each of the clan leaders brings a staff (twelve in all) to the Tent of Meeting, as God instructs. Each staff has the name of its clan leader on it. God announces that He will choose one staff, representing the man He chooses, to sprout, and that this will put and end to the constant grumblings….mmm, let’s see.
The following day, Aaron’s staff (representing the Levites), had sprouted, budded, blossomed and produced almonds (all in one night).
Aaron’s staff remained in the Tent as a sign to the rebellious people.
This seems to be a dramatic sign for the Israelites, as they cry out in fear of their own death.

Priestly Duties – again, God explains how He has chosen the Levites to care for the tabernacle, but only Aaron and sons have the responsibility for ‘offences against the sanctuary and against the priesthood’; only Aaron and sons care for the sanctuary and the altar. ‘I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift.’

After the rebellion and complaining in previous chapters, God has to remind the people that the Levites are His chosen people, but also, that the high priestly family (Aaron and sons) could not be displaced.

Priestly Offeringsagain, God explains how He has chosen Aaron and sons to be responsible for the offerings, taking a priestly share of what is presented. ‘Eat it as something holy’.
Also, the set-aside portion of the wave offerings is for the priests’ families.
Also, the firstfruit olive oil, wine and grain offerings are for the priests’ families.
Also, every offspring dedicated to the Lord is for the priest (who will ‘redeem’ all the sons and firstborn males of unclean animals).
Also, the meat from the firstborn males of clean animals is for the priest’s families.

‘It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring’.
(I have a note that the ‘covenant of salt’ may have been a special pledge between two parties involving the exchange of salt, which was a very precious commodity – here, likened to the divine provision for the Levites in return for their devotion and service in the Tent).

Aaron and sons won’t inherit in the promised land, because God Himself is their inheritance and share.
Also, all the tithes are given to the priests in return for the work they do.
Only the Levites are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting, and they will receive the tithes as their inheritance from the Lord.
The Levites, themselves, are to present a tithe from all they receive through their work – the best first tenth.
‘You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.”
This will be equivalent to the tithe offered by those who work in the fields or in the vineyards.
The giving of a tithe prevents all manner of guilt and defilement, keeps us on the path of holiness, integrity, purity, at least in regard to what we receive materially, economically.

Jesus Heals the Paralysed Man – one of my favourite gospel stories : the determination of the four friends to bring their paralysed pal to Jesus, breaking through the roof and lowering him down before Jesus, to the consternation of the ‘holy huddle’ crowded below. It has always been a prompt for me to pray, pray, pray for those God lays on our hearts, urgently and with determination to ‘bring them to Jesus’, to lay them at His feet.
For Jesus responds first to the friends, ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”. It is a response to the faith of the determined friends. God sees the heart behind our praying, interceding.
The Pharisees and law-teachers are shocked that Jesus would proclaim forgiveness for sin over this man. For them, this is blasphemy, and here in ch.5 we see the first formal opposition to Jesus’ teaching and ministry.

Is that why Jesus chose to speak ‘forgiveness’ rather than ‘healing’ at this point – to stir them up? – or maybe, Jesus knew that the paralysed man needed to hear a word of forgiveness much more deeply than a word of healing. In the end, Jesus offers the man both – forgiveness and healing – double whammy!

The man goes home, with his bed-mat, praising God. Everyone is filled with awe and amazement. Some, undoubtedly, were staggered at Jesus’ claim, ‘that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….
(‘Son of Man’ is Jesus’ preferred name for Himself, picking up the prophecy in Daniel (7 v. 13, 14), and maybe revealing his identification with all humanity, the ‘second Adam’, his pre-existence. This ‘Son of Man’ can forgive sins and heal).

Jesus Calls Levi (aka Matthew) – now Jesus targets a tax-collector (whatever next) – despised and hated by the Jews, seen as traitors, doing the dirty work of the occupying Roman force. With two simple words, “Follow me”, Jesus has tapped into Levi’s need for acceptance, a new start, meaning and purpose in his life. Levi leaves everything and follows Jesus.
Levi’s response is to throw a great party, and invite lots of ‘undesirables’ – his circle of influence.
The grumbling posse of ‘holier that thou’s gather and question Jesus on His choice of dinner companions.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….I have come to call sinners to repentance.”
Jesus’ mission is becoming clearer – to the needy, the lost, the broken, the poor (just as He preached in His first sermon in His home town) – and the religious elite feel excluded and threatened.

“The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace….
The swords (of the wicked) will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.
The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure for ever.”

Tassels and fishing nets….

24 03 2011

DAY EIGHTY-TWO : Number 15 v. 1 – 16 v. 35; Luke 4 v. 38 – 5 v. 16; Psalm 37 v. 1 – 9

Tassels – to remind God’s people of God’s commands

The next few chapters concentrate on laws for God’s people once they are in the promised land, and the failures of the leaders, which prevent them, also, from venturing into the promised land themselves.
Offerings – there’s a grain offering and a drink offering to be added when a burnt offering, sacrifice or fellowship offering is brought; the ‘rules’ will apply to native-born Israelites, and to ‘aliens / strangers’
“You and the stranger (alien) shall be the same before the Lord.”
Also, when they reached the promised land, they were expected to offer a thanksgiving grain offering (a cake from the first of your ground meal), before eating.

If, inadvertently, anyone fails to keep a commandment, there is a route to atonement with the whole community offering a burnt offering, with its accompanying grain and drink offering, and a sin offering. The whole community is implicated for not warning, or not observing the sin unwittingly committed.
If it’s only the individual who has sinned unintentionally, then they alone offer the sin offering.
Intentional sin has serious consequences, including being cut off from the community, and no atonement, no way back is presented or offered here.

Sabbath-breaker – Mmm, a man caught gathering wood on the Sabbath. God’s verdict : stone him to death. Harsh! Can only think that  this would stand as an example of intentional sin and that the community needed to know how absolutely important it was to keep a Sabbath day.
Enforced day of rest and family worship. Harsh, though, and glad we live in the New Covenant.
Tassels – an example of the Israelites ‘looking different’ from their new neighbours in the promised land. Tassels will be worn on the corner of garments as a reminder of the commands they are held to.

Korah, Dathan and Abiram – Korah (a Levite) and Dathan and Abiram (Reubenites) rise up against Moses, and gather a group to confront Moses and Aaron, telling them to stop pushing so hard for holiness – the people are holy enough…(really ?).
Moses fell face down – he seems to like doing that in a crisis! He tells them that God will decide who is ‘holy’, and that it’s the Levites who have gone too far!
The real issue, Moses reveals to Korah, is a jealousy that Aaron and sons are the only ones to fill the role of priest / high priest, even though the Levites have been given an elevated position themselves.
Moses reminds them that, as ever, “It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.” Their real complaint is not against Moses and Aaron, but against God.
When Dathan and Abiram refuse to go to Moses, on his summons, they reveal their bitter condemnation of Moses, for lording it over them, and not bringing them into the promised land (they even describe their bitter slavery in Egypt as the ‘land flowing with milk and honey’….honestly!).
Moses is angry and insists God does not accept any of their sacrifices.
God sets out His plan to reveal to the community the consequences of this act of jealous rebellion. Still Aaron and Moses plead for God not to punish the whole assembly, but only the one who sinned. However, it is not one, nor three, but the whole assembly (250 of them) who have the rebellious spirit within them.
The families of Korah, Dathan and Abiram are swallowed up by the earth as it opens up beneath them, and closes over them, whilst the whole assembly of 250 who had been drawn into this rebellion were consumed by the fire of God’s presence.

God deals harshly in these chapters with those who wilfully rebel and sin against Him, or against the community. Harsh steps to holiness. Ruthlessly eliminating sin.
Lord, let me not be complacent – root out rebellion against You and all wilful and unwitting sin from my life. 

Jesus Heals Many – still in Capernaum, Jesus goes on to heal Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus speaks to the fever and it left her (just like Jesus speaking to the wind and waves to calm the storm). I feel the prompting to speak directly in prayer to the root of the problem.
It’s getting late, but the crowds are gathering, bringing all sorts of sickness and disease to Jesus. Jesus heals by the laying on of hands (oh, the importance of healing ‘touch’). Jesus seeks to silence the demons who want to promote His Messiah-ship – Jesus wants a handle on how news of Him spreads.
It reads like there’s not much (if any) time for sleep before daybreak, when Jesus steals Himself away for some peace and quiet, and a time of intimacy with Father God.
The people who find Him want Him to stay in that town, but Jesus is ready to move on – the good news is for other towns too!
He goes to many synagogues in the region to teach and preach.

Calling the Disciples – at this point, Jesus has many followers, but He draws out, and handpicks His permanent band of disciples. (Lake Gennesaret is another name for Galilee). Jesus teaches the crowd from within Simon’s boat. After speaking, He takes Simon out into deeper waters in the boat. When He suggests trying to haul a catch, Simon must have wondered at the stupidity of trying to catch fish in the heat of the day, after a whole night of catching nothing. Yet, ‘because You say so, I will let down the nets’ (Simon has only just finished washing them from the fruitless night before).
Of course, the catch is so big, that the other boat is called for, and Simon realises he is in the company of no mere man. He feels his own sinfulness before the Holy One. Jesus knows He is able to disciple Simon, and use his skills in catching fish, transforming him into a fisher-of-men.
They (Simon, James and John) ‘left everything and followed him’. Wow!

Lord, help me to be obedient to Your word, Your promptings, no matter how silly or strange they sound – ‘because You say so, I will….”
Lord, transform my skills and abilities, that I may be ever more fruitful and useful to You, in building Your kingdom on earth.

The Man with Leprosy – again, I am hit with the power of the healing ‘touch’ in this story. I am reminded that to touch a leper was to make oneself unclean, whereas in the New Covenant, the Holy One touches the leper and transfers His holiness, His healing, His cleansing to the leper. Role reversal.
Some would only see that Jesus was making Himself unclean. Others would see that, in doing this, Jesus was healing / cleaning the leper.
At one and the same time, Jesus wants news of this to be kept to a minimum, and craves the times of quietness, solitude and prayer, to sustain His ministry, His close walk with the Father.

Lord, how will You use us, today, to ‘touch’ broken, unclean lives, and to bring hope, healing and release?
I am reminded of the prayer of St. Francis – that we might be channels, vessels of God’s peace, bringing hope, joy, peace, light, life, love. At the start of this day, Lord, fill me, that I may have only good to give in every situation today.

Evil will wither….eventually.
“Trust in the Lord and do good….
delight Yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Commit your ways to the Lord…
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…..
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath…it leads only to evil.
Oh, words of such wisdom, for our quiet, intimate moments with God………


Rejecting God…the fountain of life

23 03 2011

DAY EIGHTY-ONE : Numbers 13 v. 26 – 14 v. 45; Luke 4 v. 14 – 37; Psalm 36 v. 1 – 12

Reporting Back – the spies report back and bring the ‘fruit of the land’. “It does flow with milk and honey”; they bring a message about powerful people and fortified cities, giant-sized people (descendants of Anak); Caleb is the only one to speak confidently about going in and taking possession of the land. The others spread fear among the Israelites, through their own twisted anxiety, ‘we’re like tiny grasshoppers compared to those powerful giants’.

‘The ten spies saw only the magnitude of the task before them. These people lost the battle before it was waged. To halt through fear when God’s direction is clear is nothing less than to rebel against Him.’

More Rebellion – there’s a weeping and a wailing in camp! The grumbling increases in volume! Why couldn’t they go back to Egypt? Shouldn’t they just choose another leader?
Moses and Aaron fall facedown in front of the people, Joshua and Caleb tear their clothes and tell the people not to rebel, to trust God and not be afraid.
“If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land….”
Oops, everyone wants to stone them, there and then.

God’s anger is felt by Moses, when He says He will wipe them out with a plague but still make a great and strong nation through Moses.
Moses pleads for God’s forgiveness for his people – for the sake of God’s renown in places like Egypt (‘what would it say about You, God, if You wiped them out before fulfilling Your promise to bring them into the land?’); appealing to God’s great love (‘You are slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion’).
God’s reply is that none of that rebellious generation will get to inherit the promised land – only Caleb, who ‘has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly’ and his descendants will inherit the land. So, God sets the wandering Israelites off on a longer route.
“How long will this wicked community grumble against me?… Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home…except Joshua and Caleb.”
The children of the current generation of Israelites will grow up as shepherds in desert land for forty years ‘suffering for your unfaithfulness’. The spies who had stirred up this rebellion were struck down with a plague, and only Joshua and Caleb survived.

The Israelites mourn bitterly when Moses tells them what God’s decided. More weeping and wailing!

They decide, despite going against the will of God, and without the ark of the covenant (God’s presence) to press on towards the promised land. They are roundly defeated and pushed back by the Amalekites and Canaanites.  

Jesus Rejected – after His battle with Satan in the wilderness, Jesus goes back to Galilee, and as He teaches in the synagogues, He gains a following and ‘everyone praised Him.‘ Things begin well.
In His home town, where He grew up – Nazareth – He reads to the people the words of Isaiah (61 v 1,2)
“God’s Spirit is on me – I am anointed by Him
to preach good news for poor people, speak freedom for captives,
breathe light and life into blind eyes, break the chains of oppression,
to let the world know that God loves to do good, to bless, and that this is the Year of God’s favour”

(like the Year of Jubilee in the Israelite calendar, yet a ‘greater liberation – a time of reconciliation with God and freedom from the results of human sin’)

Jesus suggests that these words are literally coming true, in Him, before their eyes.
There was a moment of ‘wow’, and all are amazed at His words, struggling to believe that this is the same son-of-the-carpenter who grew up amongst them.
However, Jesus tells them that His familiarity amongst them will work against them, and they will see Him doing greater things in towns and cities outside of Nazareth (‘no prophet is accepted in his home town’), citing the examples of Elijah and Elisha, who did some of their greatest miracles outside of Israel – the beginning of Jesus’s ‘gospel for all’, not just the ‘chosen ones of Israel’. (As Israel had rejected the prophets, like Elijah and Elisha, so Nazareth is about to reject Jesus – in rejecting God’s messengers, the people reject God).
Mmm – they don’t like the sound of that, and violently chase Jesus out of town, threatening to throw Him off down the cliff edge, down the hill.
“Jesus walked right through the crowd and went on His way”

Undoubtedly difficult for Jesus (and any of His family present) to experience such hostility from those amongst whom He had grown up. 

Driving out Evil – so, Jesus moves on from Nazareth to Capernaum, on the shore of Galilee, teaching in the synagogue there. Here, His teaching is received ‘with authority’.
An evil spirit has hold of a man in the synagogue, and cries out, “Jesus of Nazareth…I know who You are – the Holy One of God.”
Jesus tells the spirit to shut up and commands it to leave the man. The man falls to the ground, and the spirit is gone.
The people are gobsmacked, awestruck!
The news begins to spread further – ‘this guy, Jesus, possesses power and authority….you should go and see Him.’

There still is nothing better, in spreading the ‘gospel, good news’, than personal testimony, eyewitness accounts, of how God’s power, authority, gentleness and grace has touched lives….

In this song of David, the wicked are marked out as those who don’t fear God, who big themselves up, who speak deceitful words, who cease to act wisely, to do good, but who plot evil and plan a sinful path.

In contrast, God Himself, is full of love and faithfulness (stretching out, along the expanse of the skies).
God’s righteousness stands like a mighty mountain.
God’s justice is as deep as the deepest ocean.
God’s love is priceless, preserving ‘man and beast’.
God’s protection is like a refuge in the shadow of His wings.
God’s feast is abundant.
God’s drink cabinet is like a fast flowing river of delights.
“For with You is the fountain of life – in Your light we see light.”