Monday, March 22, 2010

March 22

OT: Numbers 33:40-35:34

God has a thing with blood.

I've spent much of today trying to figure out what that thing is.

On the one hand, he requires a lot of it. Most of His requirements involve the blood of animals, but He also has laws that require the blood of sinful humans. Today, He talked about the need for murderers to die. His explanation for this need is found in 35:33: "Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it." Specifically, this atonement needs to be enacted by the "avenger of blood," who is mentioned several times. I guess that the avenger of blood would be a close family member of the dead, but there doesn't seem to be a specific designation as to who would fill this role. And apparently, the avenger of blood should (?) want to kill the person, even if it was an accident. Even if someone unintentionally kills, without "malice aforethought,"they get handed a type of prison sentence: they must stay in a city of refuge until the high priest dies. That is, assuming that they make it to the city of refuge before the avenger of blood gets to them. That is an interesting way to handle the situation. God doesn't tell the avenger of blood to let up if it was an accident. He seems to give them license to kill the accidental murderer anyway if he doesn't make it to the city first. Weird.

So, God requires a lot of blood. But, based on today's reading, much of His requirement seems to be based on the fact that He does not like bloodshed, which I find to be a little ironic. He says that bloodshed pollutes the land. Furthermore, He earlier passed laws that made all bloodshed seem unclean, including different types of bloodshed that we would call "natural." I find that odd because it strikes me that the shedding of blood is integral to man's existence. Birth involves the shedding of blood. Death often involves the shedding of blood, even natural death. In short, blood kind of seems to be everywhere. It is part of the natural life cycle; it is part of the unnatural, sinful things that men do to each other; and it is part of God's punishment for sins.

So what is God's deal with it?

Here's my take for today: blood is an integral part of the sacred life that God created. It was not meant to be shed. Ever. In fact, man was not meant to die at all. Death came as a result of sin. And for that matter, so did painful childbirth. And so maybe all shedding of blood is the result of sin, either directly (like murder) or indirectly (like having babies). And so God is trying to convey that it is all unclean.

Maybe He is trying to tell us that this is not how it was meant to be.

And maybe that is why death still hurts so much, both for the person dying and for the people left behind. Maybe that's why I can have every assurance that God uses death as part of His plan, and yet I still mourn for my brother. We mourn, despite our faith, because we are supposed to. Because death is unnatural. And thankfully, God has harnessed it and can use it as a powerful tool to spread His kingdom. But it still wasn't part of the original plan.

So... that's where I am with that today.

NT: Luke 5: 12-28

We have already read this story twice, which is perhaps why I found myself focusing mainly on the Pharisees today. In verse 17, Luke tells us that the "Pharisees and teachers of the law...had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem." That was interesting to me. It shows that these people were curious about Jesus. They traveled from many different areas to hear what He had to say. I'm going to give them credit and say that they did not just come looking to condemn Him. I think that it is more likely that they were curious and interested in what this man had to say. I bet they had heard a lot about Him and wanted to check Him out for themselves.

And to their defense, Jesus' words in verse 20 do seem heretical: "Friend, your sins are forgiven." I totally agree with their mental response: "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" I mean, they're right, you know? Only God can forgive sins. And they don't know Jesus from Adam. If this had been my first introduction to Jesus, I would be thinking the same thing.

I love how Jesus is able to display His divine power in response. First, He shows that He could read their minds (of course, the Pharisees could say that Jesus merely deduced what they were thinking...and maybe He did!). They could not, however, account for the miraculous healing that followed. What is interesting is that verse 26 says that "everyone was amazed and gave praise to God." Wouldn't everyone include the Pharisees? I am reminded that many Pharisees did believe in Jesus, like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. The Pharisees weren't all corrupt. They were well-educated and zealous for the Law, after all. Their position of power, however, did corrupt many of their hearts.

Hmmm...I think that in saying that "everyone" praised God, Luke begins to highlight a bit of the complexity of the Pharisees. He is good at showing "bad guys" (like the Romans) in a favorable light.

Psalm 65:1-13

This beautiful psalm is a nature lover's delight. I am not a huge nature lover (I love the idea of nature more than actually being immersed in it), but do love the idea of God's order and provision. I love how nature is described as so orderly and shaped by God, and how its purpose is to tell about God and to bless people. I also love how universal these truths are. As verse 8 attests, "Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy."

Proverbs 11:23

I love the idea that "the desire of the righteous ends only in good." In short, when we are righteous, we want good things. Maybe that is why God is inclined to give them to us!


  1. Numbers: Can you imagine how he felt - the Canaanite king of Arad - when he "heard that the Israelites were coming". It gave me chills for him. The Lord of the Rings scenes really help my imagination here. Also, I love the setting of the boundaries for the promised land..."this will be your land, with its boundaries on every side." It makes me feel safe and secure, full of trust, in the promised land.

  2. i agree with your thoughts on luke! i had some of the same ones...

  3. Mom--I totally thought the same thing! Especially after it says that he heard them coming, and then the text traces their path from one place to the other, closer and closer. It was totally a LotR moment:).

    Ann--Good to have you back:)

  4. Numbers:

    Interesting. I agree with your assessment about the blood, though I would say that it is not completely accurate to say that the way things happened "wasn't part of the original plan." (I'm sure you already know this. I'm just being technical, but I felt I should mention it. I do know what you're saying.) We know from Ephesians that God intended Jesus to die for us from the beginning. Still, the way that God set things up, it is man's fault that there had to be bloodshed. (Hmmm, did Jesus' death satisfy that too?) The thing I wonder about is why the land would care. When a place has been defiled by bloodshed, is these some obvious, outward way to know that from observing the land itself (I mean, other than a dead person on the ground)?

    Oh, and in verse 35:24 (at least in the NLT) it does say that the "avenger" is the "victim's nearest relative." I would think, though, based on the Jesus side of God, that it would be better for the relative to forgive the accidental offender. I don't know. I guess God set it up this way because He knows how vengeful humans can be.


    Also intereseting. Hmmm...


    This was a good one. I loved the imagery. I definitely feel like I connect to God through nature.

    All right, Kim, I'll give you verse 8: "Those who live at the ends of the earth stand in awe of your wonders. From where the sun rises to where it sets, you inspire shouts of joy." Obviously, these days we know that the earth is round, but I could see Roman Catholics back in the day misusing this verse to prove that the earth is flat.


    "The godly can look forward to happiness, while the wicked can expect only wrath." This, I believe, is the true meaning of the verse in 1 John that says, "perfect love drives out fear." It is so hard to be godly, though, because we want to have our hapiness now. I wish I trused God more to give me hapiness His way instead of trying to take it for myself now the wrong way.

  5. 2012 Thoughts:

    Totally pictured LOtR at the beginning. Now I'm wondering if that was because of my mom's comment in 2010.

    Other than that, my thoughts on today's reading had to do with the practicality of God. When I think of God giving commands, I think of big, lofty things, like the Ten Commandments. And even the little ones, like the purity laws, have a whiff of holiness about them, with all their "set apart-ness." But His words to Moses today seemed eminently practical...and pedestrian. I pictured Him as a man sitting and talking to Moses: "Now, remember to set aside cities for the Levites...and they'll need to have some pastureland, too, say 1500 feet. No, 3,000. That's better. Okay, now you are going to have some tricky murder cases to deal with, but don't worry, I have an idea for that..." So practical. I feel like there are some implications here, something about the sacred that is found in the secular, but I can't quite flesh them out.

    It was also weird today (and has been weird for a few days, honestly) to contrast God's voice in the OT with Jesus' in the NT. In several of our readings lately, they have both spoken directly. And man...they sound so different.

    Lastly, our psalm was absolutely amazing! "O God...who stilled the roaring of [the] waves,/ and the turmoil of the nations./Those living far away fear your wonders;/where morning dawns and evening fades/you call forth songs of joy." WOW.