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.
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."
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!