When the Israelites come to the promised land there is to be a year of tithe.
The harvest after 3 years is the first fruits, 10% is to be collected before anything else and given to God, recognising that the land, their freedom, came from him.
Then Moses reminds the people to follow all the rules with all their heart and soul to be blessed in high honour by God.
The have been so many rules over the last 10 or so chapters, some are more beautiful than we can manage today, in terms of the way they would demolish the effects of inequality in society. Others seem completly crazy today.
But this message: acknowledge God as the source of all we have, love him and receive his love. This lives.
It feels like the moment for an amen.
Obedience. Moses recounts the drama of the fire and darkness out of which God spoke and gave the ten commandments, which he quotes in full.
I was struck by the universal, profound nature of them. Not killing, stealing, taking your neighbours property. I mean the are very very ancient rules, we haven’t progressed beyond acknowledging them as true, and regularly breaking them, in 1000s of years. They are still an accurate mirror of our ideals and weakness.
He recounts how right the reaction of the people was. They were overwhelmed at hearing God’s voice, they were afraid to see him. They backed off and let Moses complete the interaction.
He calls them to have this respect again, to the law, to the words of God. He’s reminding them that the law came from the living God who is awesome and that is why it should be obeyed.
Finally a somewhat more sunny chapter, even if it is still all just legislation, rules rules rules. These are the ones about times. It sets up the sabbath, day of rest, and festivals.
Interestingly some of these are called rules forever… an acknowledgment that many of the specific levitical rules will pass away over time. I was reminded of this hearing Ivanka Trump’s praise of her adopted practise of sabbath. These are some of the rules that have stayed.
I miss not working on sundays, I must say. It was a thing when I was young, but then theology came through that the day of rest was like heaven or something, not literal. But I used to like the special day idea. I did get nervous and legalistic about it a bit though, I recall as a child worrying about the limits of what I should do.
I wrote a song about colour, about God making the colours and us losing them. The creation of special moments in our existence is a very spiritual thing, a very human thing, to be cherished. I think the buzz wordy mindfulness movement is a yearning for this spirituality.
Harvest is a time to remember gods goodness. They are reminded to offer the first to god, and leave some in the field for poor and immigrants.
Festival of reconciliation, sounds like the scapegoat day. Fasting and prayer and a communal meal.
Festival of booths. Seems to be an end of harvest one week holiday. The booths are little huts they make and stay in for the duration, to remember the time in the wilderness and delivery from egypt.
Gotta love festivals. I was in a cathedral choir when I was young and we always sang this jolly anthem for harvest… still comes to mind. You visit the earth and bless it, you crown the year with goodness. Simple moment of gratitude from created to creator.
Most of the remaining chapters of exodus detail the building of the tabernacle. God designed it in detail on the mountain for Moses’ ears, and even choose his supervising craftsmen. Now everyone who remains after the traumatic golden calf affair gets to start again working together on the tent where God will meet with them. It’s like taking Moses’ personal faith and extending it to the whole nation, since he already meets with God in a tent.
There’s an obvious excitement and joy in doing fine work for the lord. Giving and making.
My church is very good in this, a doing church.
The search is on for a beautiful young virgin for the king of Persia. Scene moves to Mordecai’s house, and his notably beautiful cousin Esther. They are both displaced Jews.
Esther is taken into the King’s harem. Turns out she is really good at what you need to learn… She takes the eunuch’s advice as to what to say and how to behave. After a year of beauty school, she is the King’s chosen.
I find this a wonderfully mind blowing story about serving your purpose on earth by doing what you do do well. Esther is a born beauty queen.
Meanwhile Mordecai is all ears, obviously concerned about Esther he becomes a palace obsessive, hanging round and hearing what he can. In addition to scraps of info about Esther, he uncovers a plot to kill the king, which Esther brings to the King. The plot is foiled and Esther’s stakes go sky high.
There is still a sense of “where is god going with this?” It’s in the Bible so you bring to it the expectation that it must be about him. So god is at work in the petty and relatively unholy daily activities of those who never give him a second thought? I love it. Like the old hymn says, god is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.
Joy and weeping mingled
The religious ceremonies recommence, after a 7 month settling in period. They are wary of what surrounding people will think, but are compelled to carry on anyway. The use an altar similar to the one Moses had.
The foundations of the new temple are laid, with the cry that God is good and his love endures forever, amid joy and weeping. The weeping is from those who remember the old temple. They are mourning what happened, letting God down and bring exiled, or sad because the new one will not be as grand. In the distance the sounds are not distinguishable.
Nothing more to be said about the poignancy of that. God is good, his love does endure, and life, even within his plan for it, is sometimes sucky.
Reeling as we are at the moment with revelations about the betrayal of children by religious leaders, and the ascendency of a brutish egomaniac like Donald Trump, it’s easy to forget what truly inspiring leadership looks like. Unless you read Nehemiah 5. He sets the example. When he eventually made governor, he shares the perks of office liberally with the poor. He shames the business operators who are trying to profit from their community in a way that weakens it. They have nothing to say, they fall into line. And it is all inspired by his personal love of God. Looking at cultivating a sense of mission in life, this is most inspiring.
With God on our side vs. being on God’s side
God’s goodness is like a rock to David. It is the most concrete thing in his life, despite constant and very tangible threats all around.
Uber confident start. The lord is:
- light (bringing clarity, direction, guidance)
- salvation (bringing deliverance from enemies and fear as well as forgiveness) and
- stronghold of life … source, protector of the soul’s existence
So he has nothing to fear and repeats that three times, which makes you think those he was addressing had plenty to fear. Enemies will fail, stay confident, he says. It is a psalm of confidence. Its like the St Crispians Day speech in Henry V.. a stirring rally by a leader, except the call is to rely on God’s strength not their own.
Til now it has seemed like a military psalm, but the next section seems to broaden it out because he talks about being in the tent, the tabernacle, in the presence of God and being kept safe there and being raised up above his enemies. He will be exalted above them by sacrificing to God and singing about him. No doubt singing this very Psalm.
As a literal military strategy, hiding in a tent and singing is unlikely to work. He’s pushing this way past a “god is on our side” prayer before a battle in war… locking in God’s support to a human endeavour. When he speaks of the one thing he wants god to give him: time gazing upon God’s beauty and seeking him, it is more like a love affair with God. He doesn’t want God to lend support to his fight, he wants God’s will to supplant the fight.
He is following his heart, seeking God above all others, he asks God not to forsake him, confident that even his mum and dad would do that before God did. The foes are identified as more than military… they are spreaders of malice and false witness.
Strong end focusses in on the theme succinctly: he is confident of the triumph of God’s goodness, so he will wait for him. How many bad decisions do we make because of impatience with God?