Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 17

OT: Gen. 32:13-34:31

Oooooh...we have another step in Jacob's continuing relationship with God. When God appears to him and tells him to settle at Bethel, Jacob tells his household to purify themselves and to get rid of any foreign gods. He explains to them that this God is the real deal: "I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone" (35:3). I also find it interesting that God appears to Jacob again in Bethel and basically repeats the promises He told Him the first time. Two thoughts come to mind about that: 1. Jacob had no written word of God, so I'm sure He needed some reassuring reminders of God's promise every once in awhile. 2. I find it interesting how the human relationship with God is somewhat cyclical in nature...and yet how it is not a flat circle, but (ideally) an upward spiral. God appears to Jacob in the same place and basically tells him the same thing...but it is not the same Jacob to whom He speaks. Jacob has come so far in His relationship with God that God's words probably have an whole different significance and effect on him now. It kind of reminds me of different points in my life where I have read and been amazed at the same Scripture. Each time, though, the "me" who reads the Scripture is different, is on a different point on my journey with God.

Okay, the Bible is definitely divinely inspired, but I've also heard that you can see the human authors' personalities come out through their writing. If that is the case, then Moses really liked lists. And if anyone should understand that, it's me. I love lists. I love organizing things. I especially like the combination of lists and recording history, which is what he is doing in 35:23-36:43. However, after reading that, I've decided that Moses' love for lists surpasses even my own! First of all, he records Jacob's sons. Good. Then he takes the opportunity (since Jacob and Esau have just buried Isaac in the narrative) to record Esau's sons. Also good. And then, maybe he thinks that that recording is not "list-y" enough, so he records them again in a more "list-like" form. Okay. And then, he records almost the exact same list again, but this time specifies that the descendants were chiefs. By this point, I'm like, "I got it!" But since Moses is on such a roll, he then goes on to list the sons of some random guy in the region! (Well, he's not totally random, since the region is his region (36:8), and there is some intermarrying between his family and Esau's, but still...) Next, Moses lists the kings and then the chiefs. Talk about thorough! Like I said, I understand the inclination, but

NT: Matt. 12: 1-21

Today, Jesus refers for a second time to one of his "deep concepts": "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." This phrase trips me out. (Now that I typed that, I realize that "trips me out" is probably a hippie drug reference, but if so, it is very fitting. This phrases messes with my mind and expands my perceptions of reality!) In today's reading, Jesus breaks two rules (or maybe the same rule twice), and then He explains why that's okay. That alone throws me for a loop. See, I am a "rule" person. Rules are comforting. They bring order and security to the world. You can follow the rules and know that you are doing the right thing. Compared to Jesus' standard, rules are easy. You can train yourself physically so that the performing of them is second nature. You can have them memorized so that you never have to struggle with what's right and wrong, with gray areas and matters of conscience. Just follow the rules, and you're safe. Sigh. To someone like me, that sounds heavenly.

I have been raised to be a good citizen, to think that rules are good. But Jesus maintains that rules are not enough. Rules can be distorted beyond their original intentions. Rules can become oppressive. A love for rules, in and of themselves, can lead to division and hatred and the desire to kill people. Rules do not bring holiness. They do not bring justification before God.

God does not desire "sacrifice." He does not desire the ritual following of rules per se. He does not desire merely our self-control and personal discipline. He desires something different, something more. He desires something that He sums up as "mercy." Again, this is a really deep concept, and I am just scratching the surface of its meaning, but if I had to sum up the principle of what He is saying, He is saying that we cannot achieve holiness through our own external efforts. To do what God desires, we must be defined by, driven by love. Later Scripture will clarify that we must be controlled by God's Spirit, by His perfect wisdom. No set of rules can provide a perfect guide through life. Rules are no match for sinful human nature. They are so limited, and so easily distorted by man. Instead, we must allow the Spirit to lead us and to guide us into all truth in every situation. Now, that is daunting to me. Rules sound easy by comparison. Keeping in step with the Spirit every second of the day sounds a lot harder. There is no "turning your brain off" there.

Psalm 15: 1-5

I like this psalm. It has a Proverbs-like vibe to it, and yet it is still really lyrical. I love the list of qualities it lays out for a righteous person wanting to "dwell in [God's] sanctuary." My only question regards verse 4. A person who dwells with God should "despise a vile man but honor those who fear the Lord." I really do get that, and believe me, I would like nothing more than to despise a vile man. But how does that square with Jesus' view of loving all people?

Prov. 3: 21-26

"My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck" (21-22). Love it. I love the whole thing, but especially these opening verses. I love how sound judgment and discernment are life. So true. Thinking back on my NT thoughts, I believe that on the core level, true "sound judgment and discernment" come from the Spirit. True wisdom is from God alone (I'm thinking I Cor. 1-ish thoughts right now). I do yearn for wisdom, for sound judgment and discernment, and I am grateful for the hope that the Spirit will grant those things to me as I try to keep in step with Him.


  1. I'm with you on the lists and rules. But one more cool thing about the "begats"--I heard a great sermon once about the genealogies called "Santa Claus doesn't have a genealogy." It's so tempting to skim these parts of the story, but they establish the historical setting. Many religions have myth, but Christianity is the one place where myth and miracle intersect with historical fact.

  2. Good point, Larry! Although, my childhood preacher said it totally counts as reading if you just run your finger over the genealogies:). Since I'm a nerd, I kinda like 'em, though.

    Added bonus: you saved this post from breaking my sixteen day comment streak:).