Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 23

OT: Gen. 46:1-47:31

I must say, I kind of got chills yesterday during Joseph's joyous reunion speech when he happily invites his whole family to Egypt. Yeah, it sounds great now, but we all know how that's going to turn out. Joseph, of course, recognizes the move as being in line with God's plan, and it is. In today's reading, God Himself assures Israel that going down to Egypt is the right choice: "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again" (46: 3-4). All of that is totally true, and God is faithful...but His ways are not always the easy ones. That's for sure. There is a lot that happens in between Israel's present and the fulfillment of God's promise that is probably better for them not to know right now.

I must say, the modern American in me chafed at Joseph's hard dealings with the people. I am reminded of how foreign a concept "welfare" was back then, and even how revolutionary God's own instruction was for his people to leave behind some of their grain for the poor. Apparently, you didn't just give grain away back then, even if people were starving. Instead, you bought all their livestock, all their land, and even them as people. Joseph may just be executing Pharoah's wishes at this point, but I find it sadly ironic that his family will one day end up on the wrong side of that type of hard-nosed policy.

I also think it is interesting how detestable the Hebrews already were in the Egyptians' sight. Back in 43:32, the text describes a meal with Joseph and his brothers: The Egyptian servants "served [Joseph] by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptian who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to them." Then in today's reading, Joseph instructs them to tell Pharoah that they are shepherds, saying, "Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians" (46:34). Is it any surprise that this relationship did not end well?

NT: Matt. 15: 1-28

I am still finding Jesus' relationship to the Law very interesting. He came to fulfill it, yes, but in the meantime, He seems to be breaking it left and right. Although, I can't remember if the ceremonial washing of hands before eating was part of God's Law, or if it was added later. Regardless, Jesus thinks it's a little bit ridiculous.

And He has a good point. When He chastises the Pharisees, He appeals to the heart of the Law. "Honor your father and mother" is one of the ten commandments, but the Pharisees break it when they neglect their parents for the sake their own traditions. I think it's easy to bash the Pharisees here, but I recently gained some insight into them when I read all about Jewish history in one of my books, Writings of the New Testament. That book described the Jewish act of interpreting the Law as a communal activity. I am really fuzzy on the details right now, but the Jews call it midrash, and those writings are basically transcriptions of conversations between the Jewish leaders as they try to figure out how to apply the Law to modern times. See, Jewish life had evolved. When the Jews received the Law, for example, they were more agrarian. By Jesus' time, many of them lived in cities, such as Jerusalem. Thus, many of them didn't have fields at that point. could they follow the Law that says to leave behind grain in your fields for poor people? Midrash was an attempt to interpret the Law for "modern" times, to find ways to obey it when you are living a different lifestyle. Honestly, reading the whole explanation kind of made me sympathize with the Pharisees. They were zealous for the Law and were trying to figure out how to keep it. They weren't like the Israelites in older times who completely neglected the Law. On the contrary, they were very dedicated to upholding it. In fact, their goal was to provide a "hedge around Torah" so that they would not even come close to breaking it. But sadly, their zealotry over how to keep the exact letter of the Law ended up completely missing the point. It took them away from God, to the point where Jesus called them "blind guides."

I find the example of the Pharisees convicting. Like them, I see the value in Scriptural interpretation as a communal event. Yes, we are supposed to read the Bible as individuals, but if we only lean only on our own understanding, we are liable to end up with some wacked-out, divisive views. I believe that we should always be studying and interpreting as the body of Christ together. Like them, I also seek to know how to interpret Jesus' teachings in modern times. I try to figure out how to apply it in specific ways to my life today. No one has ever slapped me on the cheek, for example. So what does "turn the other cheek" look like to me? I seek answers like that. And like them, I like "hedges" and boundaries. For example, God gives specific commands regarding marriage. However, I've never read any specific commands regarding male/female friendships outside of marriage. Even so, I have my own "policies" governing my interactions with other men. You won't, for example, find me going out to eat with another man or talking to another man about my problems. Not that the Bible specifically says that's wrong, but that's a "hedge" that I put around the Bible's commands.

So really, I see that I have a lot in common with the Pharisees' view of Scripture. The warning I get from Jesus is not to miss the point. The point of Scripture is not rules, but relationship. God might lead me, for example, to fulfill "turning the other cheek" in specific ways in my own life, but I am not the interpreter of that command for other people and their situations. I can point to Scripture and advise and recommend, but when it comes down to it, I am no authority. Similarly, I might put up hedges to help keep me close to God, but I shouldn't judge other people if their hedges look different. And I shouldn't miss the point with my hedges. If they are becoming a distraction from God or are hardening me to His will, then I need to change them.

Well, that was a meandering tangent. I did not dream when I started typing that I would go off on all that. One more thing before I move on: I love that when Jesus calls the Pharisees "blind guides," Peter asks him to "explain the parable to us." That's what I'm talking about with the figurative language:). They make me laugh sometimes:).

Psalms 19: 1-14

What an amazing psalm. I always forget how much it has in it! I love the ode to nature in v. 1-8, and the way it describes nature as a form of divine revelation. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge" (1-2).

And I like the shift from praise of general revelation to praise of special revelation (isn't that what Scripture is called?). Keith Lancaster made parts of this portion into a song, and I always sing it in my head while I read it.

David is finally showing some humility in 12-13: "Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me." Amen!

My favorite verse of this psalm, though, is the last one: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer." I latched onto that one a couple years ago while reading through the Psalms, and it has since found it's way into most of my journals and Bible covers:).

Prov. 4: 14-19

Good reasons not to follow the path of the wicked.

(Poor Proverbs--I'm always out of words by the time I get here)!


  1. Genesis: I may not be recalling this right, but I think I remember reading Joseph say something about God turning his father's family into a "great nation." I wonder how he knew that? I could understand him praising God for preserving his family, keeping them alive during the famine. But, a great nation? In a land where their kind were despised by the locals? Hmmm... Well, maybe Joseph had heard of the promises God gave to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. That must be it. (Unless God just revealed it to him, which is quite possible too.)

    Matthew: Apparently, Jesus was all about the condition of a person's heart and their level of faith, not so much their actual actions (though, obviously, the heart stuff should lead to good actions). I can relate some to the Pharisees because I used to be like that (even more than now). As a child, it was a lot easier to focus on rules instead of the motivation behind following them, especially growing up around conservative people. I was especially arrogant because I did well in school and was always told how smart I was. However, I got so wrapped up in my "good girl" image that, when I did want to do something "bad," I got really good at hiding it. I wanted so badly to be "right" (or at least to appear that way), but I really just made a big, hypocritical stink of myself. The truth is, everybody has sin. I know that now, and I rely so much more on grace than I used to. I won't deny the possibility that I may have swung too far the other way now and dance a little close to the "line" sometimes (whatever that is). I'd rather let God put His own hedge around me than build up my own (and, believe me, He SO does... like for real). But, I feel so much more connected to the Spirit than I ever did before. That's not to say that I don't ever get arrogant anymore. (Quite the contrary, unfortunately.) Anyway, you're right, no one should judge anyone else's hedge (or lack thereof). We just need to keep encouraging each other to rely on God and to try to please Him. Faith (and humility, though that's so hard to come by) is SO much more important than simply being "right."

    Psalms: Ah, so David isn't perfect after all. :) Actually, I really do love that prayer. Only God can keep us from sinning. On our own, well, we're just hopeless.

    Proverbs: Ditto what you said.

  2. 2012 Thoughts: As in 2010, I was struck by the irony of the happy trip to Egypt. Today, I also saw that it is Joseph himself who lays the groundwork for Israel's eventual slavery, as he transforms a free Egypt into a country where Pharoah owns all, including the people. That power arrangement never ends well, and the sad irony is that it ended particularly bitterly for Joseph's own people.

    Even considering that future, I did love how God appeared to Jacob in yet another dream as he started his journey. The first time God ever appeared to Jacob was when he set out to get a wife so many years ago. Now, here is God doing the same thing on Jacob's very last trip. I thought that was cool.

    In the NT, I was struck by how confusing Jesus can be. For one thing, he fusses at the Pharisees for not taking care of their parents (Mt 15:4-6). But just a few days ago, in Mt. 12:47-50, Jesus seems to blow off his own family, including his mother. Also, I don't get his reaction to the Canaanite woman. He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel?? What about John 3:16?? As I read, I did think that whole scene might have been a test for his disciples. I don't know. Still mulling it over.

  3. More 2012:

    Thinking about Jesus' relationship with his family, it occurs to me that Matthew simply records Jesus' initial remarks. Jesus very well may have then gone out to his family. Each gospel writer wrote to a specific audience for a specific purpose. Perhaps the reason Matthew focused on Jesus' words was because people were losing their families because of their faith. (Jesus did talk about turning brother against brother, and so forth.) And so perhaps Matthew's point was not that Jesus blew off his family, but that Jesus also considered His followers to be family. Perhaps Matthew was reassuring the new Christians that even though their biological family had forsaken them, their "church" would be their new family. Maybe.