OT: Numbers 8:1-9:23
Reading about the Levites today, it occurred to me how the idea of individual freedom is such a new development. I haven't studied philosophy in a long time, but if I had to guess, the seeds of that idea were born in the Renaissance, and the idea reached its full fruition in the Enlightenment. We are lucky enough to live in a country whose founding was very much influenced by those Enlightenment ideas. And so, to us, the idea of having your path in life predetermined for you seems unnatural and unjust. We have the right to freedom, after all. Yet, for most of history, people did not have that right to freedom. People's positions in life were so often predetermined by the circumstances of their birth. And the roots of that practice are not just found in ignorant, pagan societies; no, you can see the roots in the Bible. After all, God decided that the Levites were to be wholly given to Him, and that He, in turn, would give them to Moses and Aaron. They had no say in the matter; if you were born a Levite, that's how it was. Like I said, the concept of our life path being chosen for us is such a foreign and offensive idea. And yet, maybe it is not such a bad thing, in and of itself. It is bad when people's lives are manipulated by those in power, yes. And it is bad when the powerful people make decisions that cause the poorer people to suffer, yes. That is unjust, and the Bible speaks out against that type of injustice very vocally.
But I daresay that in western civilization today, we don't even like the idea of God determining our path. We like the idea that we choose God, not that He chooses us. We like the idea that we control our destiny and that we can choose to willingly give it to God. But often, when we see God leading us down a path that is not of our choosing, we see it as unfair. Just recently, a teen wrote Greg about his life circumstances. The teen is not physically in the place where he wants to be in life, and he is so angry about it. His conclusion was, "If God loved me, He wouldn't have brought me here." Since he is a teen, his faith is still in rudimentary stages, and so he expresses things bluntly. But I think that we all tend to struggle with the idea that we have very little control in life, that God directs our paths in ways we don't understand. At least, I do. And yet, that's how God works. He determined that the Levites were going to have one kind of life, and the other tribes would have another. He determined that men would have one kind of life, and women another. And for us, He determined "the times set for [us] and the exact places that [we] should live" (Acts 17:26). He determined that my brother would struggle with bipolar disorder, and that the Ards' house would burn down, and that this poor teen would be marooned away from all his friends for years. Our Western-influenced humanity might tend more than others throughout history to rail over the "injustice" of our lack of control, but the truth is, it has always been this way. And God doesn't seem to see anything wrong with it.
NT: Mark 13:14-37
Yeah, so this is where Jesus' prophecy seems to veer away from AD 70. He talks about how "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies be shaken" (24-25). And then He says, "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens" (26-27). Hmmm...I think how sensus plenior works is that the whole prophecy has to come true on one level, and then the whole prophecy has to come true at another level, in another time. It was explained to me using the Isaiah 9 passage ("Unto us a child is born..."). The theory was that Isaiah's prophecy had happened in his day. There was a child born who fulfilled these things on a rudimentary level. But the prophecy found greater and deeper fulfillment in Jesus, who was the true "prince of peace" (and all those other things). SO...for this to be an example of sensus plenior, there has to be a level where all of this has already happened (in AD 70), and a level where it will all happen again (with the second coming). So clearly, on the level it has already happened, those words in verses 24-27 were figurative. Ultimately, though, they will be fulfilled literally, with Jesus' second coming.
Theory #2. Everything up to verse 24 happened in AD 70, and everything after that will happen at the true end. Some support for this theory is found in verse 24a: "In those days, following that distress..." It is like a "step 1, step 2" thing. Step 1 was in AD 70; step 2 will be at the end of time. Unfortunately, Jesus clearly makes it seem like all these things will happen close together. According to verse 24, step 2 will happen "in those days," the same days as step 1. And then Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (30). Based on those weaknesses, I am inclined to go with the sensus plenior theory: It all happened once, and it will all happen again.
Fun fact about AD 70 (not really): Before that year, there were four major sects within Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. After that year, only one was left standing. Any guesses? As Luke Timothy Johnson notes in Writings of the New Testament, "the Sadducees disappeared with the temple; the Essenes and the Zealots were wiped out by the war with Rome" (55). Only the Pharisees survived, in part to their adaptability to new circumstances. And since they were the only ones to have survived, the Pharisaic movement "became the dominant form of Judaism for the next two millennia" (53).
Don't we all feel so informed now?:) Moving on...
I love the idea that God doesn't need the people's sacrifices. He ridicules that misconception quite powerfully in verses 9-13. Clearly, all those admonitions and laws were for the people, not to fill some kind of need in God. I like how you see them catching onto that as time progresses. David definitely gets it, and so does Asaph (the author of this psalm).
I love both the images of refuge and rootedness, and they are both used here. I love how the way of the Lord is a refuge for the righteous and how the righteous will never be uprooted. Instead, to echo Psalm 1, they will be like a tree, planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in season. Love it.