OT: Numbers 4:1-5:31
Okay, today's OT reading addressed two very different subjects, so I have to organize my thoughts on each....
First of all, it answered a few questions I had about the Levite clans and their jobs. Apparently, the bulk of their jobs had to do with the transport of the tabernacle from one place to another, and so, no, Kohathites could not just stroll in whenever they wanted to polish the lampstand:). In fact, 4:20 makes it sound like the Kohathites couldn't even look at the objects. They just had to cover them and go. They were basically a moving party.
Thinking about the items in the tabernacle reminds me of a church I went to in France. It was during my Senior year of high school, and I remember absolutely nothing about this church, except that it was a very small, two story building. The first floor was very plain, but the second floor was made up almost entirely of beautiful stained glass windows. It was breathtaking. From the outside, the building looked very nondescript, but from the view within the second story, it was astonishingly gorgeous. Our tour guide told us that centuries ago, peasants were never allowed into the second story; only the upper classes were. It struck me then that so many people had lived their whole lives around this building and had never been able to see what I was seeing then. I wondered if they had wondered about what was up there, if they had been so curious just to know what it looked like. And here I was, not knowing a thing about the church until that day, just getting to stroll upstairs and take a look around. It was a weird feeling.
That church building kind of reminds me of the tabernacle. It occurs to me that that tent was surrounded by people who lived and died without ever seeing what was inside. I am forgetting right now about how often the people heard the law, but I wonder if the contents of the tabernacle were well known to all of them through hearing about them when the law was read. Even if they were, I bet a lot of them were still pretty curious to actually see these sacred objects that were perpetually hidden from them.
The second part of our reading centered on what to do with accusations of adultery. At least the text acknowledged that often such accusations were unfounded, but I still thought the whole ritual was bizarre. Basically, the accused woman had to drink dirt water and agree to a curse that was called down on her if she had committed adultery. The curse itself was weird, too. I wonder if there were ever instances of a woman's thighs wasting away and abdomen swelling. How weird.
And I'm not trying to be a feminazi here, but doesn't this seem like a double standard? Why isn't a man's adultery just as condemned? Why isn't there any recourse for women? And I honestly get how historical views of women have shifted and all that. I get patriarchy and tradition and all. But these laws are from God, and God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So what do they say about His view of women? I really don't fully understand....
NT: Mark 12:18-37
Since we covered all this in Matthew, my only new thought is found in Mark's one deviation. Jesus' interchange with the teacher in the law starting in verse 28 is one of my favorite interchange in all of Scripture. (Another favorite would be his interchange with the woman in John 4.) I love seeing the connection between the Savior and the one with a seeking heart. This man kind of reminds me of the rich, young ruler in that he is searching for truth, and he has clearly been working on it and thinking about it for awhile. He is definitely on the right path in his thoughts b/c he recognizes that Jesus is giving wise answers, and instead of being threatened by that, he is drawn in. Unlike the others, he is not looking to trap Jesus; he is looking for truth. He wants to share his thoughts with another--to compare notes, if you will. And he realizes that Jesus might be his guy, so he jumps into the conversation. I wonder if doing so was risky. It is clear that all of the vocal teachers of the Law consider Jesus their enemy thus far. I wonder if by openly and honestly engaging with Him, this teacher was putting himself at risk in any way. Regardless, the teacher is willing to face that risk b/c he asks Jesus a real, honest question. And it is a good one. It is a "get to the heart of the matter quickly" question. He asks, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" (28).
By this point in the story, I am breathless, even though I know Jesus' answer. I always read it anew in Mark, b/c I read it from the perspective of this teacher who has clearly been thinking and searching and pondering. And so when I hear Jesus give His famous "Greatest Commands" response, it strikes me as so much more beautiful, b/c I am hearing it through this person's ears who is hearing it for the first time. And I seriously tear up each time b/c Jesus' response resonates so deeply with the man. In Jesus' response, he finds the validation for what he has been thinking and pondering so much in his heart. That must have been such a wonderful moment for the teacher, such a meeting of the minds. To be thinking something so radical (apparently, it was radical, b/c no one else has seemed to 'get it' thus far), and to have someone agree with you that your radical thought was the truth had to be such...such an epiphany. Regardless, the man completely agreed with Jesus, and basically restated the same thing back to Him. If anything, the teacher is even more emphatic than Jesus. And I adore Jesus' response to him: "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Again, my overactive imagination visualizes this moment almost like a moment of intimacy between two people who love truth. At this point, it is like the crowd has faded away, and I picture it almost being awkward that they are having such a deep, direct, earnest conversation with each other in public. Up until now, Jesus has been batting away adversaries; He is saying things that are true, but they aren't getting to the heart of things. He has been on the defensive. This conversation is such a change in tone; it is so the direct opposite of all that has come before it.
Sigh. I love it. I could talk about it all day (really!), but I must go on...
Reading today's psalm, I was able to pinpoint why I like David's psalms so much more than the ones by the "Sons of Korah" (like this one). The Sons of Korah's psalms are always so...official. They seem like "event" psalms, like they were commissioned. They seem like anthems, not like intimate interchanges with God. To me, today's psalm reflected patriotism more than it reflected a relationship. This psalm is like their version of, "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" or "God Bless America." And don't get me wrong: I like both of those songs. But I love "Holy, Holy, Holy" so much more. Or "Reign in Me." Or even David's own, "As the Deer." When I worship God, I prefer to worship Him more as an individual human, not as a countryman, if that makes sense.
What made me realize the distinction was verse 9, which was the exception that proved the rule. It reads, "Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love." When I read that, I thought, "See? This is what is usually missing from the rest of their psalms: some indication of a personal devotion to a wonderful, loving God." The rest of this psalm celebrates Israel's terrain, its citadels, and its military victories...and with them, God's power, of course. But there seems to be an unbalanced focus on the physical, and not on God.
At least, that was my conclusion after today's reading.
Okay, there is nothing like not understanding a proverb to make you feel stupid. I think that the point of Proverbs are to be really self-explanatory. They are meant to teach wisdom, not to confuse people! And yet, after reading this one, I thought, "'...so is a sluggard to those who send him'? Send him to where?" Why and how is a sluggard like smoke to the eyes to those who send him? Is it just annoying that he takes a long time? Is that what this verse is saying? I feel like I'm missing something really simple here. Oh, well--it happens! Any explanations would be welcomed!