Deuteronomy 24

I can’t say Moses or whoever edited him has a strong sense of organisation. This is such a mixed bag of rules:

– not remarrying a spouse you have divorced

– absenting newly married couples from military service for a year, a mercy for the wife particularly.

– ban against taking someone’s livelihood as security on a debt

– ban on enslaving fellow countrymen

– obedience to the levites instructions for skin diseases

– kindness in enforcement of debts to the poor.

– bring a considerate employer, not exploiting those desperate to work

– not holding a whole family guilty for the crime of one

– kind treatment of the weak and vulnerable, remembering you were all slaves

– deliberately leaving some of the harvest for the fatherless, widows and foreigners.

Looking at it summarised, there is such a strong theme of Social justice, of caring for the weak. 

And these rules were indeed followed by righteous people we will meet as the Bible proceeds. It’s love, God’s love, in action for real. I have more opportunities to do this than I take up. 

I need to recognise how important this is.

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Deuteronomy 12

This is a new section. The “lessons from the wilderness” reached a climax in the last two chapters. We had the reveal of the command to love God with all your heart, and a massive answer to the question “why”: because of his goodness in saving them from Egypt.

Now we start a section that looks forward more exclusively at how they will love God.  This chapter is about the places, the temple, where they must go to offer sacrifices. Also the rules about meat, not eating the blood of the animals out of respect for their God given life. 

I like how is a very practical approach to the command to love God. Canaan is literally full of other Gods. Loving God remains a series of moment to moment choices.

Deuteronomy 6

Moses gives and elaborates on the commandment that Jesus would say is the greatest and contains all the law, love the lord your God with all your heart. 

He elaborates on it in a way that does not read like a sermon, but rather a heartfelt plea. His fear is the same as previous chapters, that they will forget because they will be so prosperous and comfortable. 

The irony that God’s grace and provision will be the cause of them forgetting is not lost on him, as they occupy large flourishing cities they did not build.

He pleads with them to remember the slavery that God rescued them from, and going forward to only love that God. 

Picking though all the rules, some of which are ridiculously culturally specific, this one has a giant arrow pointing to a huge red flag as a keeper.

Daily, please father let my heart overflow with love for you, remember your goodness, from every cup of coffee to every sunset and keep you as the only lord of my life.

Leviticus 19

Many of these rules are beautiful.

We’ve got equality, fairness, compassion, social welfare, kindness to the disabled, anti-discrimination rules, generally against hate and superstition.

This was radical. We were reminded in the last chapter of the deity Moloch for whom children were apparently sacrificed, this God is not like that. Similarly, it might seem obvious in this chapter to tell parents not to make their daughters prostitutes, but that refers to temple practises of the local religions and was seen as a religious thing to do.  These rules are dramatically different.

Its a picture of a really great society.  Jesus blessed and adopted all this stuff for us when he quoted this chapter and said loving your neighbour one of the two greatest commandments, along with loving god. Love love love, love is all you need. And he told a parable to extend the Israelite concept of neighbour to anyone.

The latter half of the chapter is about not mixing in with the culture, fashion and practices of canaan where they will be settling. This section has the often quoted example of a dumb Leviticus rule, the one about not wearing a shirt with two types of fabric. Those rules seem a lot more arbitrary to us now.  Though the gist of not being a slave to fashion, or taking your cues entirely from the society around you is still relevant to christians.

 

2 Samuel 18

OK its all about how David reacts.

There is a battle, David wants to ride with them, but the grizzled, wiley general Joab says no, and strategically he has to agree, he’s too valuable a chess piece. But he asks them to be merciful to Absalom, his usurper son

The battle is in a forest, unfocussed, dangerous – 20,000 men die, “more claimed by the forest than the sword.”

And it works out that Absalom could easily have been spared, Joab had a clear choice.  But like a proper military man, he finishes him, finishes the bloodshed and the battle.  I think I know why he didn’t want David on the battlefield.

They run with news to David.  Joab carefully picks who will take the news.  We wince.

2 Samuel has hung off three decisive battles, the defeat of Saul, the end of the civil war that unified Israel, and now the defeat of the impatient heir.  The last two times, David loved his enemies so much that he killed the jubilant messenger in a rage.  Now his son is dead, Joab knows it, we know it.

The running of men to tell David is played out with considerable suspense.  But its a misdirect. David doesn’t kill anyone this time – he simply cries, he wails for his son.

The useless son who turned the people against him, who wasted his leadership skills and charisma undermining David and now contributing to the slaughter of many countrymen.

“If only I could have died in your place! Absalom, my son, my son!”

Love.

I pray for my family every day. They aren’t as bad as Absalom, but they aren’t always that great either.  My parents loved me too despite many faults, til the day they died.  This is a picture of the love of God, which David has learned at such a deep level. Crying over the one sheep who is lost.

David is a great leader, he’s been a relentless and mighty warrior, his battle will seemingly never end, as the prophet declared, for his sin. He’s the classic bold leader who always seems to win because he’s never afraid of losing. But inside he’s still that boy tending sheep, singing.  Whatever in him that ever cared about the politics is gone. The lord is his shepherd.

Genesis 16

A jolt back into real politik.  Another biblical pattern, from the clear exalted mountain to the murky mess of the plain, like moses getting the law and coming down the mountain to faithless revelling, or Jesus going from the transfiguration to the faithlessness of the people and the bickering of the disciples.

And for me going from Sunday to Monday.  Bless me, keep me positive.

…that prayer was answered, I had a great Monday. The rhythm and discipline of work is making me feel so good. Plus I am good at it, and its such a powerful thing to feel competent. Part of the sense of dread I feel for my son who is 23 is that there is every possibility he may never feel that. He is in a psychological prison. Give me wisdom lord, and bless Lewes

Abram and Hagar are helping god along again. It’s a crooked web of weakness being woven here as Hagar the Egyptian slave girl is left over from the faithless deception in Egypt where Abram pretended Sarai was his sister and virtually gave her to the Pharoah. So the remnant of that unfortunate event is now enlisted as surrogate mother for the nation of Israel.  A very earthly plan for a cosmic promise.

Did Sarah not think that setting up a younger, fertile second wife in the household would drive her crazy? Hagar gets uppity, Sarai gets hurt, there is a falling out, and Hagar runs off.

A person, not a pawn

But oh the intervention of God in this one. People call the bible the “Good book”. So it’s rather shocking how bad people are without any much comment on their behaviour.  God adjusts for the mess.  He could have condemned Abram: “Abram, you have managed to turn my glorious promise into a sordid soap opera, I can’t work with this.” I did not expect God to speak to Hagar first, after all its supposed to be about the bloke and the promise that his offspring will be like stars and lead to salvation, right?  Hagar is just the meat in the sandwich, so to speak.

No! She is a person, not a piece of meat!  God speaks to her, and makes his own promise to her who has lost all, no postion or protection, a single mum alone in an unforgiving culture.

Hagar will have a son, called “God hears” because God has heard her misery.  She names God “the one who sees me” In being seen, Hagar becomes a person, not a pawn. And she has seen the one who sees her.  To god, its not about the plan, its about the collateral damage, the lost lamb. Oh the love and tenderness of that interaction!

Again, though the promise has a sting – Abrams’ promise to found a nation included it becoming a slave nation. Hagars includes trouble for Ishmael.

These promises are jarring.  Perhaps I need to just trust God over my children.  Another of my sons is brilliant at wrong footing me on who he is, and who he will become, he’s great at making me panic.

I can’t force the plan. He sees them, he hears their misery.  Give me patience to trust you Father. Shine into the murky messes, Father, with the clarity of love. 

1Thess 5

How to live in the knowledge of Christ’s return?  One thing, don’t obsess over when it will be, just live. It’s not about timing it’s about living in expectation of Christ’s return, which he describes as living as children of the day.

It’s sort of a double metaphor on being asleep. He’s mentioned those who have died believers. They are asleep in the sense that they will wake up when Christ returns. But the people alive now who don’t expect Christ’s return are also asleep, in the sense that they are not ready for the thief in the night. He also compares it to being drunk, which is a night time activity which renders you in a stupor and not capable of being alert.

Being children of the day is to be alert to avoiding spiritual complacency. In the day you are sharp, and sober. You are dressed for action, which means wearing love and faith as a breastplate and salvation as a helmet.

I like that the armour metaphor is about putting on the qualities. It’s a decision to love and have faith, an active choice. So you are not relying on love from within. You may feel emotionally low on faith and love, but you adopt habits of love and faith that outrun your emotions.

The hope of salvation is the helmet. I think they didn’t understand medically that thinking occurred in the brain when Paul wrote this. But it’s a nice anachronistic thought anyway. The hope of salvation is an active thought process you can put on to protect your head against negative thinking, hopelessness.

He channels the grief over lost loved ones, those who are asleep, into this work of living in the day. By living life for the benefit of Christ you are honouring those who have died in him, and making sure you will always be together. It’s a tender word of encouragement: you are guaranteeing you will all be together.

Cherish most those who admonish you.  Its a hard job.  He has an ascending scale of treating each other, from warning the idle and disruptive, through encouraging the disheartened and helping the weak to generally being patient with everyone, with those who work hard admonishing worthy of the most respect. Its a rush of advice, like a parent sending their kid off to camp “make sure you shower, eat enough, wear sunscreen.”  He really loves these people. Rejoice, pray, give thanks. This is the christian work that is the will of god for our time.  Its interesting how once again there is not an emphasis on proseletysing. He’s not demanding that they preach, he wants them to live it.

1 Thess 4

So down to the teaching – two chapters.  Its a doddle really, the emotion of the book is in the part we have already read, Paul’s delight at how the truth has taken with them.  This bit is sort of a “carry on!” pep talk.

We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more

Sex!

First issue is sexual immorality, which may have been a pretty natural part of life for the Greek, idol worshipping community prior to conversion. He condemns it as bad faith towards others (taking advantage of a brother or sister) and God.  

The immorality is an excess of lust to the extent that the body is controlled by it alone. It is a simple corollary of God calling us to holiness. Even if everyone consents, God hates it, because he has called us to be holy.

Consent can certainly be misleading as a test of morality. Sometimes it’s the lesser evil compared to say, social ostracism or loneliness. We’ve all known of consenting relationships that are bad ones. Paul is saying that at the base of sexual impurity is a lack of bodily control; of your own urges making you indifferent to the impact on others.

The alternate view is that the urge makes it right… To dump a family, to persuade someone to do something they would rather not, to live with someone who must put up with feeling unloved.

Is it faithless to want to understand gods rules? Jacob didn’t ask God why he wanted him to sacrifice his son. It’s tempting when debating issues such as sexual purity as a Christian to argue that God’s way is actually the best practical way to live in our world. But it often doesn’t ring true, the psalmists could see that.

The bible does often call us to feel like strangers in this world. I think the western church, as it’s cultural dominance wanes, is struggling with this. We are not used to feeling marginal. Arguing for sexual purity is increasingly awkward in this sex mad world. Though Paul is taking to believers here. The church is sufficiently marginal that there is no suggestion of any sort of influence in the wider cultural norms.

Love

They don’t need to learn a thing, what praise! Just do what you are doing more and more. What does an ideal loving church look like? Here it is quiet and self reliant, quite surprising. Our love is what we should be known for, that is our advertising sign, our calling card and our cultural distinctiveness. Our teaching on sexual purity is for us.

1 Thess 2

Paul talks a bit like a used car salesman. He seems to be selling his own credibility all the time. It’s probably a cultural thing lost in translation, but now someone who is constantly saying “I have your own interests at heart, I’m not trying to trick you, I’m not making anything on this deal” sorts of statements sounds kinda shifty.

He spends the whole first paragraph talking about how pure their motives were. It is a picture of Paul’s attitude to the gospel, the importance and honesty of the message. Christianity is so much about truth.

And you wonder why? It was a place with many idols. The need to paint so thorough a picture of his honesty implies a lot of religious corruption.

Then he reminds them of his lifestyle among them. Is summed up by love. And part of that love was to be ethically beyond reproach. For example it seems he worked in a job to make sure he wasn’t sponging of those he was ministering to. The plot thickens… Has someone done a hatchet job on his reputation after he left Thessalonica?

It is in direct service of the Word that he works. His efforts, his tenderness – he thought of himself as like a nursing mother to them – are all to make it clear this is a special message, from God not man.

Is good to remember Christians are trying to be good people, but not just because we are told to be good, but because we have a message which we are obliged to share. We didn’t really deserve God’s grace, and the rest of the world doesn’t deserve not to know it, so our goodness is to show the goodness of God, to demonstrate that he is real and true.

He then thanks God that they believed with a strong faith that withstood persecution and testing. He is sorry for the Jews who see it as a religious duty to keep god’s message from the gentiles, how misguided that is and how, far from being what God wants, they are piling up the anger of God on them. As a gentile myself i am grateful for this. May I not write off a culture or religion as not being able to adapt to Christianity. Is very adaptable, because it is true.

He concludes very touchingly calling them his “glory and joy”. The gentile city that responded stunningly to the message will be his crown before Christ, and he deeply longed to see them again.

What a rap! And how much does Paul love People responding to Jesus’ message. It totally is the best thing he can imagine.

OK, so he’s gone from sounding like an over defensive used car salesman to this intense emotionally driven gospel loving man. He must have been something to see and hear. It makes sense because of the drama of his conversion, the shame he had to wear as a persecutor of Christians. He was a naturally obsessive guy, transformed by grace, and it must have flowed out of him unstoppably. Certainly, that is the tone of his writing.