Day 62: Joshua 1-4; Crossing the Jordan

I can’t believe that it’s already been two months since we began this journey!  We’ve made it through the first 5 books of the Bible, commonly known as the “Torah” or the “Pentateuch.”  These books are classified as the books of the Law.  We are passing now into the realm of the books of history, from Joshua through Ester.  You will probably note fairly quickly that these books are marked by a rather different writing structure: Narrative… mostly.  A rather large portion of the coming books are the retelling of Israel’s history from the time after Moses through to times of the Exile.  They are not all in Chronological order, and later when we get into the prophets, we’ll jump around as far as the timeline is concerned.  We’ll do our best to make sense of all that while also allowing the Scripture to work on us and speak to us through the Holy Spirit.  Every one of these narratives is not simply a story, but tells us about God, as He is the main character in the Bible.  Be sure to pay attention to how God acts, even if it is not expressly stated.  As you read narrative, look for God… continually ask yourself, “where is God in this reading?”  The picture below is Christoph Unterberger’s depiction of the Crossing of the Jordan.  I found it on The State hermitage Museum website.  Notice where God is in this painting.  I think it is a powerful image of the power of God at work in this story.

Notice where God is in this painting.

Notice where God is in this painting.

So now we have entered into the book of Joshua.  Moses has just died and the there’s a new sheriff in town.  God waists no time in telling Joshua what to do next.  Once again He promises to be with Joshua and the people of Israel, to go before them and deliver the land and the people of Canaan into their hands.  This is quite evident in how God immediately provides for the people of Israel in two very specific ways.

First, the ordeal with the two spies and Rahab.  This is likely a familiar story to most people, especially if you ever heard the story of the Battle of Jericho before.  Yet I think that there are a few lesser known parts of this story that perhaps need to be brought to light.  Do you find it interesting that the only action taken by the spies that is recorded for us is that they go right to the house of a prostitute?  Men from the people of God, the holy ones set apart to be a “kingdom of priests” go right to a prostitute.  Well, giving them the benefit of the doubt, in many pagan cultures of that time, these prostitutes worked as a sort of ‘welcoming party’ to visitors.  They also often ran ‘inns,’ or more appropriately, had places for travelers to sleep.  It is very interesting to me though to look at how God chose to use this prostitute, working through her to protect the spies.  I doubt that anyone from Israel would be overly thrilled to enter into the promised land if their two spies were killed right off the bat.  God uses this woman, and later on, because of her obedience to Him, incorporates her into the people of God and, get this… into the lineage of King David and thus Jesus Christ as well!  What a wonder that God would use such a lowly, sinful person we might say… but then again God always upholds the least, last, and lost in the world.  So, for anyone who is keeping track, the lineage of David, and Jesus now includes Tamar, the tricky daughter-in-law of Judah turned prostitute of Genesis 38, and now Rahab the Prostitute as well.  God clearly can use anyone which shows us that we shouldn’t be looking down on anyone for any reason.  For more information on this, you can see Matthew 1 for Jesus’ genealogy.

The other thing about this particular reading that might seem vaguely familiar is the narrative of Israel crossing into the land of Canaan.  Like their escape from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, God once again has stopped up the waters of a route that couldn’t be crossed so that His people can cross on dry ground.  If you remember reading the crossing of the Red Sea post, the crossing of a body of water is very symbolic and carries a great deal of meaning and foreshadowing in it.  We liken this event to Baptism, the going down into the water and rising up as a new individual, washed of the old self and rejuvenated, with a new identity.  From Slaves to Free, from Wanderers to a Nation.  And this time they do something a bit different.  Remember that, when Israel passed through the Red Sea, they were told to remember this event and they were reminded of it time and again in the last 40 years.  Here they set up 12 standing stones, a memorial reminder for all who see it.  As chapter 4 says,

“When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.”

Do you remember your Baptism?  If you were baptized as an infant it is likely that you don’t.  But I’d be willing to bet that you’ve seen others baptized since then.  At Overisel, we practice infant baptism.  It is a sign and seal of the covenant relationship between God and His people.  It is a sign that we are included into this covenant through no merit of our own, even before we know anything about it.  People say that it is a shame that we don’t remember our own Baptism.  While I would agree that it would be nice to remember the event of my baptism, I also would say that we have the opportunity to remember our own baptism every time we worship.  We keep the Baptismal font in a visible place every Sunday to remind us of our Baptism.  We publicly Baptize new babies and new believers, not just because its a nice ceremony, but so that we can remember our own Baptism.  These are our standing stones, our physical way of remembering that we have gone through the waters and are included in the Covenant, made new in Jesus Christ.  And it is to this that we can attest when our children ask ‘what does baptism mean?’

For more on the meaning of Baptism and the RCA’s stance on this sacrament, please visit the RCA webpage: what is baptism?  I’d love to interact around this topic too if anyone has any questions!



Day 61: Deuteronomy 32-34; It is No Empty Word for You…

When we read the song of Chapter 32, we are tempted to think of all the things that we know about Israel, all the things that they will do and all the disobedience that is to come in their story.  Upon their hearing this though, none of that (except for the wilderness happenings) would have taken place yet.  They didn’t know how bad they were going to be, but God was giving them this song to remember as a way so saying “I know you have sinned, I know you have done evil, but I am faithful and will forgive if you will turn from your wickedness and love me once again.”  Like much of the music that we sing in worship today, this song gains meaning based on the amount of sin they had committed.  Some days I can sing songs like “Amazing Grace” and have little reaction to it… but there are others, when I know I have had a bad week that I cannot help be stand in awe at God’s marvelous grace.  I imagine many in Israel would have had a similar reaction in hearing this song.

Some of my favorite words in the entirety of the Old Testament appear at the end of the book of Deuteronomy.  As we talked about yesterday, it is abundantly clear that these words are inextricably linked to the reading of the Law, and specifically the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.  The end of Deuteronomy makes so little sense without the beginning.  Moses is, in his final words to Israel, impressing on them how important these words are.  They are not just empty, they are the very lifeblood of the Children of God.  These are the words that find fulfillment in this command:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Neither are these words empty for us.  The word of God is our very life, that which roots us to God and teaches us how to love Him.  The people of Israel couldn’t take these words lightly, neither can we take these words lightly.  They are the lifeblood of our faith:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Finally, we see again an example of the significance of blessings.  Moses has called Joshua forward and laid his hands on him.  Moses gave Joshua a blessing and we read at the end of Deuteronomy that Joshua is filled with “the spirit of wisdom” and also has the ability to lead the people.  This is, in essence, what it meant to receive a blessing to the Hebrew people; power transferred from one to another.  I wonder what it would be like if we began to bless one another, or viewed the final blessing of a worship service in this manner?  I wonder what would happen if we truly believed that we were being sent out in the power of God given to us in the Holy Spirit to live and to love as God has called us to?  Would we be changed?  I hope so!

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.  Amen!



Day 60: Deuteronomy 30-31; A Matter of Life and Death

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”

There is so much that is said in these last 5 chapters of Deuteronomy.  This really is Moses farewell address; his last effort to impress upon the people of Israel the importance of the Law and of following God.  Reading this, it doesn’t take long to realize either that this section of Scripture, Deuteronomy 30-34, is inextricably linked to the reading of the Law, and specifically the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.  It is about loving the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength!  God is impressing upon the people what will happen to them if they don’t, but also reassuring them that when they return to Him, His blessing will again be with them.

Again, the distinction is made between the life that comes from following the Lord and the death that comes from not.  These words, spoken some 3000 years ago have held their meaning throughout the ages.  I think of my own life, when I am following God, loving Him as best I can, and trying to stay in tune with Him in my life, I see myself being happier, joyful, and prospering (not necessarily in a monetary sense but within my soul).  When I become disconnected from God, life seems empty and messed up.  Other things try to fill the void that is left to no avail.

God also impresses one more thing on to this command, the point that these things are not too lofty or difficult to do.  He points out that they are not difficult to understand, with some hidden knowledge that people might not be able to comprehend.  It is made clear too that the things being asked of them are not too difficult that some might be unable to accomplish them.  The life that God calls us to live is made abundantly available to us in a manner that is easy and understandable, attainable for all people.  And yet, even this is not enough to get us to God or to get us in right standing with God.  The physical actions must be accompanied by inward transformation (circumcision of the heart).

These people have just come from the wilderness, a place that is often barren and desolate.  The wilderness is a powerful image in Hebrew Scripture.  “Wilderness signals the reversal of creation, a land that moves from the centered, ordered, predictable, secure places of home and city to the de-centered, chaotic, unpredictable, fragile, and sometimes hostile regions beyond the borders of cities and outside the purview of home.  Wilderness features a transition from that which is familiar to that which is unfamiliar, from safety to fragility, from known to unknown, from structured to unstructured, from close cloistered spaces to wide open spaces. The wilderness strips you of everything superfluous and reduces you to that which is most essential, most necessary, most vital for life. In this way the wilderness plays an indispensable role in shaping and forming identity.”  -Travis West

God intentionally led the people of Israel into the wilderness and kept them there for a time, intentionally stripping them of their identity of being slaves to Egypt.  In that time they were re-identified as the people of God, given new purpose through the Laws set down for them.  It is only after this process is “complete” that they were allowed to enter into the promise land… allowed to become what they were intended to be.

In many ways we too face the wilderness in our lives.  In the year of this writing, we are currently in the time of Lent.  This is a time in which we are invited to enter into the wilderness of life, as Israel and Jesus did, to be stripped bare of all those things we don’t need.  We are to be un-identified with all the things that we would use to find our identity in, and then re-identified and re-centered on Christ.  In a way, we choose to be “dis-membered” so that as we approach the time of Easter and remember the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, we can come and be “re-membered” in Christ as we remember Christ’s death.  And even in this time we hear the words of God through Moses echo in our ears, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”

May it be that we choose Life!



Day 59: Deuteronomy 28-29; Covenant Renewal

The first thing that we come upon today is a section of blessings and curses for following and ignoring the law respectively.  Deuteronomy 28 is very similar to the Leviticus 26, we we talked about roughly 3 weeks ago.

Chapter 29 of Deuteronomy begins the final section of the book, or ends the middle section, depending on how you look at it I suppose.  In any case, it is an occasion when the people of Israel got together and renewed the covenant.  This happens many times in the Bible, either after some big event, or in a time when it hasn’t been done in a while and the people have fallen away.  Here, as they prepare to enter into the promised land to take it over, they are coming out of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  For them it is a time to come together and say, “we’re in!”  and proclaim together that they will follow the Lord’s commands.  They’ve heard the stipulations and the rewards/punishment for their subsequent attempt to follow the covenant, they know what they are getting themselves into… all there is to do is to say YES!!

A favorite author of mine once said that “all Christian worship is an occasion for covenant renewal.”  It is a time when we can come together and hear God’s word for us; a time when we can collectively say once again, “We’re in!”  The Israelites would have had a sign to signify their obedience.  Usually this would have been a sacrifice, or sometimes a ceremonial meal… we have this too in the Lord’s supper.  It is a sign and a seal of the New Covenant in Jesus blood, and we take it into ourselves and it becomes a part of us.  As St. Augustine said, “be what you see, receive what you are.”

When we gather to worship, do we often think in this manner?  Do we come expecting that God will speak to us?  Do we hear and respond “everything the Lord has said, we will do”?  Or is worship simply a task to be accomplished, a thing to do because we’ve always done it?

The next time you enter into worship, remember that we are renewing once again our covenant relationship with the Lord, sealed in our baptism and confirmed time and again at the Table of Our Lord.



Day 58: Deuteronomy 24-27; Keep the Whole Commandment! "Amen!"

Again we encounter a great deal of “miscellaneous laws” that deal with holy living for Israel.  However, these are followed by a very important section of the reading of these laws as they draw to a close.  Moses says to the people from Mount Ebal, “Keep the whole commandment I am giving you today.”  The Hebrew word present here represents the deepest meaning of totality.  Moses is impressing on the people of Israel the necessity of the whole commandment being kept.  He isn’t saying that they can pick and choose, or accept what they like and reject what doesn’t suit them.  I think this is a very important point that is sometimes lost on us as Christians in America, the “western church.”  We tend to avoid a lot of the Scripture that we don’t necessarily like.  These last 2 or 3 books of the Bible is an example of that.  We set them aside, struggle through them, and even sometimes deny their validity all together because we don’t want to read them, or don’t like to hear them.  Yet they are there for a reason, and as the Word of God, they are alive and active in our hearts through the revelation and work of the Holy Spirit.  I hope that you have found these books a little more palatable this time around.  Honestly, as we come to the end of Deuteronomy, I can say that this is one of two times I have honestly read the whole of these books.  I have been struck very deeply by the incredible depth and breadth of information and meaning that are contained here, and how these things really set the stage for the rest of God’s story.

The other interesting thing that I found in this passage was the continual repetition of the word “Amen.”  This word comes from the Hebrew word “אָמֵֽן” which is literally pronounced “amen.”  The meaning is deep and the impact of the word is equally as deep.  When we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer, sermon, or reading of the Word of God, we aren’t simply sticking a Christian word there as a way of some sort of Christian punctuation, we are echoing the words of the Hebrew people saying “we believe it!” or “we believe it will take place.”  It also means: verily, truly, so be it.  It is a testament, a confession that we are not simply just saying these things, but that they matter and we know that God will act.  At the end of our worship services, Pastor Scott gives a benediction or blessing.  Usually he says, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you… Amen.”  Traditionally, the congregation would either say “amen” with him, or respond by saying “amen.”  It is a way for us to say, “Yes!  We truly believe that the grace of Jesus Christ is with us!”    The same goes for us ending a prayer with the word “amen.”  Conversely, as the people are saying the word “amen” here in this passage, they are acknowledging that if they do the things that they are told not to do, the curse of God will be on them.  For them, they are saying “truly God will make this happen.” A startling acknowledgement?  Perhaps for us.  But from a people so shaped by the presence of God in their everyday life, it seems to be the only logical response.

The next time you say “amen,” keep in mind the confession you are making by using this abundantly common Christian word.

May the Word of God dwell in you richly, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the fellowship and power of the Holy Spirit be with you, now and always.  Amen!  Amen!



Day 57: Deuteronomy 20-23; Warfare, and "Miscellaneous" Laws

I don’t seem to remember the rules of engagement being quite like this… but there is a purpose for them.  God knows that His people are subject to the swaying of those around them.  Like the incident with the Golden Calf in Exodus that happened in isolation from other nations, it wouldn’t take long for the people of Israel to turn from God while living in amongst people that worship other gods.  Not only is the worship of idols abominable to God, but He want to protect His chosen people from the sin He knows they will commit should they not fully remove the nations of Canaan.  One thing I did notice here is the initial offer of peace to a city prior to its attack.  While I don’t know if one would rather choose forced servitude over annihilation, I do think that it shows the compassion of God.  Why?  Because, if you have read some of the laws concerning the slaves that Hebrews own, it points very clearly to good treatment and even alludes to their inclusion in the covenant relationship with God.  All males slaves were to be circumcised, which was a sign of the covenant, and they were to be set free at certain times and festivals.

The rest of today’s reading was, again, review of what has already been said.  Remember, Deuteronomy is considered to be a summary book of the Law given by Moses as a sort of “final address” to the people of Israel that He had been leading for over forty years.  Much of what is said here today has been written in what I called the “Holiness Codes” of Leviticus or Exodus, but again points to how God’s people are to be set apart, different from the nations around them.  It is likely that many other nations would have shown such mercy in war, or treated an un-liked wife with any sort of respect.  It is also likely that many of the practices of the nations around them were unclean and sinful in the eyes of the Lord.  God wants His people to be a shining example of what it means to be God’s people.  Again, we use the term “Kingdom of Priests” and “A Holy Nation.”  Interestingly, if we were to go back throughout the whole of the Old Testament that we have read so far and reviewed all of the laws therein, we would find that indeed there is a specific way of living that is commanded by God.  However, that wouldn’t stand up to a hill of beans if there wasn’t some sort of inward transformation that was taking place as well.  Again, we return to the words of the Shema and that of Leviticus 19, on which all the law stands.  It isn’t about upholding the rules and saying that others can’t be like them, its about cultivating a community of grace in which the Love of God is shown in their living and thus extends from each person to the others.

Too often, in the Church, we have kept outsiders out of our walls and communities because they don’t live up to our morals or the codes by which we have defined Christianity…  I wonder though, if that doesn’t make us a little bit more like the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus time (the ones that He criticized) and less like the community of grace that God has called us to be.  I wonder if, in our quest to uphold a moral way of living we may have forgotten the true reason for living that way… to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND to love your neighbor as yourself.



Day 56: Deuteronomy 16-19; Feasts, Kings, and the Future…

There are some interesting parts of our reading today.  We start off with some more information about the feasts that are to be remembered and the rules that go along with them.  I’m sure a lot of this was familiar, at least on some level, as we have read it in the past couple weeks in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.  God continues to impress upon His people the importance of living in right relationship with Him and keeping all of the commandments that He has established.  Each of these feasts is designed to direct the attention of the people of Israel toward God.  The Passover reminds them of God’s power, strength, and faithfulness in bringing the people out of Egypt.  The Feast of Weeks reminds them of God’s providence, sustaining work, and faithfulness in the harvest.  The Feast of Booths also reminds them of God’s providence and faithfulness, but also reminds them of how God guided them in the wilderness and kept them even in their disobedience.  This, again, is all about worship and about loving the Lord with your whole self.  Each of these events are major life events in the cycle of the year.  God has set up these times so that the people of Israel may remember always God’s faithfulness towards them.  It is, then, appropriate that this chapter ends by again impressing on the people that they not worship other Gods, ever.

The second thing I noticed in today’s reading was the part about the king.  As you may have noticed, Israel doesn’t have a king currently, and won’t for some time.  In fact, when the people of Israel finally decide that they want a king, there is considerable resistance from Samuel who points to God as their king.  It is important to remember this section, the laws that are for the kings; things like “he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses” and “he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” will become important later… especially with King Solomon.

Finally, and once again I suppose, there is considerable talk here about the future of Israel.  From kings to future cities, it is important to note that here and now the Lord is telling them all the things that they need to do to obey Him in this new promised land.  In some ways, it was probably easier to follow the Lord when He was right in front of them all the time, leading the way and dwelling in the Tabernacle for all to see.  However, that won’t necessarily be the case once they settle across the vastness of Canaan.  So here and now the Lord is “pre-planning” this out for them, even going so far as to tell them what can and will happen if they don’t follow all these things that He says.  Again, this is a good thing to remember… because they don’t…  However, God is and always will be faithful to His word!



Day 55: Deuteronomy 12-15; Concerning worship…

Well… I’ve never seen an Asherim pole, nor have I seen a high place like is being described today.  Nor has anyone ever claimed to be a prophet to me and told me about something amazing and then tried to get me to follow other gods.  Again, I wonder how relevant to us Scripture like this is.  We’ve talked at great lengths about the Holiness of God and how His people were to be set apart and be a kingdom of priests.  These things are quite important as they continue to set the stage for the rest of Scripture.  Many of these themes are echoed throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

We’ve also talked about the Sabbath regulations and the need to set aside time for the Lord.  There are many parts of the Law that have to do with setting aside something for the Lord.  Why do we do this?  I think that part of it has to do with the understanding that all things belong to God.  The Lord has given us all of the many blessings that we have, and asks us to be in right mind about them and to trust that the Lord will continue to provide for us.  I think it is also a part of living out the Shema that we talked about on Friday.  Jesus says that all of the laws and prophets hang on this command to Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and strength.  As we discussed, the strength portion of that statement has to do with wealth as well.

But perhaps there is more to this section than just review.  There is a great deal of talk about worship here, especially not worshiping other gods.  Again, I don’t think that we are necessarily tearing down Asherim poles in our spare time, but there are things in our lives that do detract us from God, right?  Maybe it isn’t a profit that tells us some miraculous thing that happen but a news man that tells us of something some celebrity or political person does.  Would a story like that consume our minds… and possibly draw us into gossip about it?  Perhaps we are being warned here to stay away from such trivialities… Or maybe we have gotten really good at carving out time for that special TV show, book, exercise activity, or maybe video games, yet we aren’t so good at carving out time for God… I wonder if our idols are not made of wood and stone anymore, but of processors, screens, “reality” shows, and/or made up dramas that capture our attention and our hijack hearts…



Day 54: Deuteronomy 8-11; Not Because of Righteousness…

Sometimes I read things in the Bible and laugh… the way things are said, the way that God explains something… just seems a bit funny.  I try to imagine myself being one of the original hearers of that message and what I would think.  Deuteronomy 8 starts with this:

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’  Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.”

As I was reading it, I laughed.  Its like telling someone, “you’re going to do this job.  There is no pay and you have to deal with everyone’s complaints and its going to be awful… oh yeah, and God will be with you.”  I was thinking… maybe you could lead with that first part next time… it might make me a bit more willing to hear it!  Haha!

Yet, even in this apparent humor, there is something very important here, which really becomes the basis for the doctrine of salvation by grace (sola gratia) and the doctrine of election.  God says, “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness.”  One of the sins that Israel falls into later is living in the idea that the covenant is all about them because of who they are, but God is clearly saying here that it doesn’t have anything to do with them. God chose them, not the other way around.  God chooses us… not the other way around.  It doesn’t have anything to do with how good we are, were, or will be.  We are offered the gift of grace, to be united with Christ through His blood because of God’s great love for us!  Because He chose us.

Later in this reading we see something else that is abundantly important.  God tells the people of Israel to “circumcise your hearts.”  The sign of circumcision is something that God commanded the people to do as a sign of their participation in the covenant.  Like our infant baptism, this happens to babies without their say or any action from them… again, the idea of our inclusion not because of our own righteousness.  However, it isn’t the circumcision of the flesh that is important… it is the “circumcision of the heart” that means something.  As part of the covenant, the people are called to “be holy as God is holy.”  They are called to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind.  They are called to keep these things on their hearts, and to make them a part of our everyday lives.  It isn’t about the physical act, its about the spiritual transformation that takes place.

Finally, another rather important thing that comes up here.  As you were reading Deuteronomy 11 you probably noticed the repetition some things that you read from yesterday in Deuteronomy 6.  Repetition in the Bible always indicates something that is very important.  I talk about this in another blog post on my personal blog, Worship Discussions.  This section of Deuteronomy is spoken with the bookends of the words of the Shema, which we talked about yesterday.  These words are very important.  God is impressing upon the people of Israel the importance of placing His Words on their hearts; that these Words need to go with them and be with them, at the center of every aspect of their life.  It is repeated time and again at the beginnings of each paragraph:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always…”

“You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today…”

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul…”

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes…”

And finally to end the chapter and this section of Deuteronomy:

“you shall be careful to do all the statutes and the rules that I am setting before you today.”



Day 53: Deuteronomy 5-7; Shema

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets (lenses) between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

One of the things that is being impressed upon us, yesterday, today, and throughout the book of Deuteronomy, is the importance of remembering the work of God in our lives.  Yesterday we talked about being careful that we don’t forget.  Today we hear the 10 commandments reiterated to us once again.  These are followed very closely by the words of the Hebrew “Shema.”  This is considered, by Hebrews from then through today, to be one of, if not the most important passage in the Hebrew Texts.  For them it was, as it is for us, one of the greatest statements of faith and of living the way God calls us to live, and of the importance that these things should have in our lives.  We don’t just arbitrarily read the Bible… we invest time into it… we immerse ourselves in it.  In many ways, we read the Word and let it read us as we open our hearts and our minds to the things that God is revealing to us about Himself and consequently about ourselves as well.

I could go on and on about this passage!  It is so great!  However, being that we have limited time and space here, I think that there are four words that maybe need defining a little bit in order to make this reading a bit more… meaning-full.  Words from Hebrew do not often translate in a one-to-one ratio.  There are nuanced meanings in English words and Hebrew words that may get lost in translation.  We have to understand that our own words are also packed with meaning that we give them… thus we shall look today at some of the original meanings with their nuances in order to help us better understand what God is calling us to today.

HEAR – שְׁמַ֖ע – “shema” – hear, listen, obey, heed, understand, try, examine – This word carries the meaning of not simply hearing something, but listening to it in a way that it affects you and has an effect on you.  If you think about hearing in today’s terms, our lives are clouded with a vast amount of noise pollution.  We often have music, TV, radio, and a myriad of other things on in the background because of our dislike of silence.  We hear those things, but its just noise.  Here God is saying “LISTEN” to my words, understand and obey them, do not simply let them passively wash over you.

HEART – לְבָבְךָ֥ – “levav” – inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding – Our understanding of the heart as the seat of the emotions and the mind as the logical center is something that is so ingrained in us that we don’t necessarily understand how to live in any other way.  We are often told that we shouldn’t let our emotions get in the way of our thoughts, or that we should just ‘go with our hear.’  In this case, the Hebrew people would have heart the word “levav” and understood it to mean what we know as both the mind and the heart.  In other words, all your ways of knowing the world.  You shall love the Lord your God with all of your thinking and feeling abilities… all of your ways of interacting (on a non-physical level) with the world.  All of your logic, all of emotions, and all of the ways that you process inwardly are to be used for loving God.

SOUL – נַפְשְׁךָ֖ – “nephesh” – soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion – The word “nephesh” as a Hebrew word really has no good translation.  We have transferred its meaning into the word ‘soul’ which is partially appropriate, but also misses a great deal of the nuance of the word.  Nephesh would really be all of the ways of interacting with the world that would have been left out with “levav.”  Your “nephesh” is who you are, what makes you… you.  Your personality, your hobbies, your desires, your work… your whole self.  Emotions and passions tend to be included in this as well because of how we think of those things in relationship to that which we do in our lives.  Simply put… we are to love the Lord our God with our WHOLE SELF!  Even, apparently, our appetites.

MIGHT – מְאֹדֶֽךָ – “Me’od” – power, strength, very, greatly, sore, exceeding, great, exceedingly, much, exceeding , exceedingly, diligently, good, might, mightily – Roughly translated… “me’od” means ‘muchness.’  If you have some sort of a spell checker, you will see that ‘muchness’ isn’t actually a word.  If we look at what we are loving God with so far, it encompasses all of our inward and outward being.  This word indicates then, all of the things that make up our lives.  For Hebrew people, one’s strength and power was related to his (and I say his because it was a patriarchal society) family, his wealth (money, flocks, herds, servants, etc), his house, his land, defenses, etc.  All of these things were to be used to love God completely and bring glory to Him.  While loving God with your exceedingly large biceps is a nice thing, this really means a bit more than that.

There is so much more to this verse… parts that I hope we can come back to as we continue to read.  In the mean time, remember that loving God with our everything is important… however, as we read on, it is also abundantly important to keep the Word of God close to your heart and ever present in your lives.  Teach these words diligently to your children and impress it upon them!  I leave you with a song today, may it remain in your heart and mind as you think on these things today!



Day 52: Deuteronomy 3-4; Take care, lest you forget these things…

So continues the memory of the journeys of Israel through the wilderness to the present time, that being the end of the book of Numbers at which Israel has now occupied all the land east of the Jordan River that they will inherit.  Here we see too a small blurb of Moses pleading with God to forgive him and allow him to go into the land.  After over forty years of leading Israel and talking “face to face” with God, He says, “O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?  Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.”  40 years and God has only just begun to show Moses His greatness… what a statement!  Moses has lived what, for most of us would be a majority of our lives, and he feels he has barely scratched the surface of God’s magnificence.  How amazing and how true!!

As he continues in his address to the people of Israel, Moses echoes this statement, reminding the people of the greatness of God.  He says, “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”  He also reminds them, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children”  This we will expand on tomorrow when we read Deuteronomy 6, but here his point is well taken.  The people of Israel have seen marvels and wonders that an overwhelming majority of people that live on this earth will never see.  Moses says REMEMBER THESE THINGS!!!  And then he reminds them again, “take care, lest you forget these things!”  Again, the continuation of this passage and its importance will become apparent tomorrow, and throughout the whole of the reading of Deuteronomy.

After all this, Moses draw to a conclusion what could be considered the “preamble” to the recitation of the Law.  He has reminded the people of the greatness of God and of His faithfulness to the people.  He has talked about the power and might of God as He has been with them throughout these past 40 or so years.  He concludes with a statement that, I think, impresses upon them and us the foundation for all things: “know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

It is with this in the forefront of our minds that we move forward in remembering the Law…



Day 51: Deuteronomy 1-2; Remembering the Journey

The book of Deuteronomy is largely considered to be a recount of the Journey that Israel took in the wilderness mixed with a rehashing of the law that culminates in Moses’ farewell address to the people of Israel before he dies.  As you were reading this, things may have sounded a bit familiar.  It should be!  These two chapters basically summarized most all of the happenings in the book of Numbers… just without all the laws and stuff.  Moses is taking time to recount the journey that they took.  Why?  I suppose there could be many reasons, but taking a bit of a closer look at these two chapters, I think the old adage “those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it” would apply here.

Let’s look for a moment at the things that Moses emphasizes as he is talking.  There are really two main points I think he is trying to make here: the consequences (good or bad) for Israel’s obedience (or lack thereof) and God’s continuing faithfulness through the whole ordeal.  Moses recounts the situation with the spies that we read about in Numbers 13 and the opposition that the people of Israel had toward going into the land at that time.  He points out that because of this, and then to following disobedience of trying to take the land after God told them no, that an entire generation died, whether by the sword or during the wilderness wanderings.  40 more years passed before the people could enter the land.  Yet even during this time of punishment, or perhaps exile (even though you cannot legitimately be exiled from a land you never had in the first place), God still took care of then and provided for them.  Dispite Israel’s best efforts to make God upset, He is still a faithful and loving God who keeps His word and sustains His people.

Moses then juxtaposes this story with the story of the taking of the land of Moab and the defeat of King Sihon, which we read about in Numbers 21.  In this story everything goes right because the people of Israel do what the Lord tells them.  They trust in God and follow His orders and they utterly vanquish Sihon and take possession of all the land of Moab.  Even here, God is providing for and sustaining the people of Israel while working, in ways that seem a bit more obvious, to fulfill a major part of the covenant He made with Abraham so many years ago.

This story, like that of the entire Bible, is not about the people of Israel, its about God.  God has been faithful and true to the people, unwavering in His steadfast commitment to them.  Despite all of the disobedience, grumbling, general discontent, and ungratefulness, God is still their God.  He has not abandoned them in the wilderness to their golden calf worship or to the plague that killed so many.  God has walked with them and guided them, teaching them to obey and live according to His command.

And now they stand, poised to take the land of Canaan after forty years of wandering…  It is fitting to remember how we got here, and who it is that brought us to this place.  Perhaps this is something we need to practice in our own lives as well?  In all times and in all places, yes, but especially before the big life changes… take a moment to pause and remember the journey and especially the Faithful One, God Almighty, who has walked with you every step of the way.



Day 50: Numbers 34-36; Plans for the Land!

Well, we made it!  For all intents and purposes, the 40 year journey of Israel in the wilderness has come to the end.  The final preparations are being made for the entrance into the land of Canaan so that the people of Israel can take possession of what God has given to them.  Yes, we do have another book to go before we get to the exploits of Joshua and the conquest Canaan, but really the book of Deuteronomy is considered to be a summary of the past 40 years mixed in with Moses’ farewell address before he dies.  More on this tomorrow.

In the mean time, God is communicating to Moses what the “inheritance” of the 12 tribes is going to be.  Almost like making a plan for an outing with the kids, if you know what you’re doing going into it, there won’t be any arguing when you get there… ideally.  I’ve noticed that it never seems to work as well as hope it will.

Here too, God is setting up for His people a judicial system that helps to protect the innocent.  He commands Moses to set up “cities of refuge” which are places which people can flee to for refuge if some accident happens.  Hebrew law was as such that if you killed someone, you yourself would be killed… unless you didn’t intend to kill a person and some sort of unintended tragedy happens.  Let say you were chopping some wood and the head of the ax came loose and flew at a person and killed him.  Well, by Hebrew law, that person’s life could be avenged through the killing of the perpetrator (in this case, you).  However, because it was an accident, you could flee to the city of refuge where the “avenger of blood” cannot kill you until you have been judged “before the congregation,” Israel’s version of a jury of your peers.

Once again, this is God working to set up a people that are set apart.  Pagan cultures did not often respect a person’s right to due process of law… or the idea of innocent until proven guilty.  In this way, like all the others, God wants His people to be set apart, respecting the innocent rather than killing at will.  Remember, the people of Israel are meant to be a Holy people and a nation of Priests.  I think this is a beautiful image of how they can be mediators, showing the world that there is another way besides revenge.  What is very interesting about this is that these cities were open to “the stranger and for the sojourner among them” as well.  Even the people of the nations of the world could flee to these cities and find refuge.  What awesome grace and mercy!

Below you can see a map of how the nation of Israel was to be divided up from a website called Visual Unit.  This website is a phenomenal resource for Old Testament information!

Plan for the Promised Land



Day 49: Numbers 31-33; The Beginning of the End…

While exact locations of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness are unknown, scholars have, with their scholarly minds, come up with some good assumptions and guesses as to the path Israel took in its 40+ years in the wilderness.  It may have looked a bit like the route on this map I found on La Vista Church of Christ‘s .website.

Israel's Wilderness Wanderings

 

However… I’m sure for the people of Israel, it probably felt a bit more like this (Credit to Principles of Life Ministries website):

Israel's Wilderness Wanderings Humor

 

In much the same way that the hearing of a genealogy would have connected the Hebrew hearer to that time, so too would the recount of the wanderings of Israel connect them to that story.  It is the connection that is important, as we talked about a couple weeks ago.  The people at all times desired connection to the center, connection to the Divine.  Remember that, in this connection, the Hebrew person find him or herself participating in the Story of God and His actions for Israel, but also connected with the blessings that come along with this story.

As we talked about on February 15, this story once again, primarily tells us something about God.  Remember with me, back to the time of Abraham, when God first promises the land of Canaan to Israel.  Remember that God says in Genesis 15 that the people would leave the land of Canaan, which God had promised them, but would come back after four generation because the sins of the Amorites was not complete.  This is a seemingly cryptic statement back then, but we see the beginning of its fulfillment here in Numbers 31 & 32.  Here begins the end of Israel’s wandering journey.  Here begins the end of the sin of the land of Canaan.  God punishes Midian by wiping them out, wholly and completely… or so it seems.   They do crop back up again later in the Bible.

It is interesting to read these passages in the Bible.  Tales of war, of genocide commanded by God are things that don’t often make sense to us.  The God we worship is a loving God, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love as the Bible attests to.  Yet here, it seems, even God’s patience and forgiveness meets an end.  To be clear though, these were specific times and specific stories, ones that we find ourselves far removed from.  There have been people throughout the ages that have sighted these stories as the grounds for waging war on other countries, other people groups… even for racial and social prejudices leading to violence.  I can assure you, that is not the purpose of these stories.

We do serve and worship and God that is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  We also serve and worship a God that is Holy, righteous, and just.  In this story we see Israel being used as the tool of God’s righteous judgment, the outpouring of His wrath against sin.  While this may seem gruesome, it does show us how wholly opposed to sin God is.  It is not, however, an valid excuse for anything from the crusades to the Holocaust to any “holy war”, God’s Word never supports the slaughter of millions of people.  And, if you think that it isn’t fair that God is judging a people that didn’t know His laws, keep reading!  Later God uses other nations, sinful pagan nations that are appointed by God to exercise the same judgment on Israel who did know God’s laws and chose not to obey them.

But even there forgiveness is found… and the people return… which brings us to our story as well.  We all deserve the righteous judgment of God for our sins, yet once again we can read out of this the awesome grace of God in the sending of His Son that we would not bear this punishment, but are atoned for, redeemed, and can live now as a people free from sin and reconciled to God through Jesus to whom we have union by the work and power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen and Amen!



Day 48: Numbers 27-30; Succession, Offerings, and Vows

Today’s reading takes us out of the stories and narratives, and back into the laws that God gave to Israel.  While it seemed like these were all taken care of, Israel has been out and about for a while and perhaps missed a few things.  This isn’t to say that God forgot something, but more likely that the people didn’t know what to do.  Sometimes its easier to simply have everything laid out for you, even though something from Leviticus like “Love your neighbor as yourself” would seem to apply here in how we care for those left behind after the death of a Father.

This first law… what I would consider in the contemporary setting as “the Downton Abbey clause,” sets out the rules for succession of inheritance within a family.  Its a shame (or a blessing perhaps) that PBS didn’t know this rule from Numbers, lest the whole of the Downton Abbey show be lost to Old Testament Law.  The tradition of the land, and really of most cultures until the past 100 years, was that only the male population could… well, really do anything.  Women didn’t have money and traditionally couldn’t inherit anything from a deceased father.  In other cultures, this meant that if there was no male heir, the money would be passed off to some other male relative and the women of that family would either be cared for by the relative (if they had nice in-laws) or be forced to sell themselves as slaves or prostitute themselves or some other less desirable form of livelihood.  God’s people were to be set apart, and therefore God would not stand for His people to be selling themselves or selling each other.  Therefore, the law was decreed that the money would go to the daughters, or female relatives, or closest next of kin.  This does seem like a common sense rule doesn’t it?  I mean, its like making decisions for other people we think, “what should we do?  We cannot go against tradition.”  But when it happens to us we think “this stupid tradition doesn’t work for us.”  Any way you cut it, I think this is simply a practical living out of the law “love your neighbor (or family) as yourself.”

We see in this section too the anointing of Joshua to be the next leader of the people of Israel.  As God told Moses, he would not be entering the promised land due to his disobedience in striking the rock rather than speaking to it.  Yet God again is faithful in providing the people with a leader.  He does not leave them, as Moses said, like sheep without a shepherd.  This is, to my knowledge, the first time a shepherd metaphor shows up in the Bible.  It appears later again in many places, most notably being Psalm 23, and then later as Jesus picks up this metaphor again stating that He is the good shepherd.  Really, Moses is a foreshadowing of the type of Messianic figure to come, a savior for a nation in bondage.  Yet even he is imperfect, and eventually faces human mortality.  However, when the people of Israel think about how God is going to fulfill His promise to save Israel, Leaders like Moses and many to come are types of the coming Messiah, foreshadowing of the coming King whom we know as Jesus our Lord.