Monday, March 8, 2010

March 8

OT: Numbers 10:1-11:23

"If God is your co-pilot, you better switch seats."

Reading about God leading the Israelites today made me think of that old bumper sticker rebuttal. Yesterday, we learned that God would use a cloud to direct the people as He saw fit. He might have the people stay in one place for just a few days. Or maybe He would have them stay there a year. Regardless, they only moved if God led them (Num. 9:18-23). I wonder if they ever got impatient if they were in one place too long, or if they got overwhelmed if they thought that God was moving them too fast. It is sometimes hard to follow a God whose ways are not our ways.

Today's reading, however, showed how God was always looking out for them. The text says that as they traveled, "the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before find them a place to rest" (33). Moses seemed to understand the value of God's presence and direction with his proclamations: "Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, 'Rise up, O Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.' Whenever it came to rest, he said, 'Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel'" (10:35-6). He saw how God's leading and His presence protected the people.

The people themselves, on the other hand, were not as visionary. On the contrary, they "complained about their hardships" (11:1) and about their meatless diet (4-6). God was not cool with this attitude. He burned some of them with fire, and gave them an overload of quail to teach them a lesson. I'm reminded of how Paul says that all that was written in the Old Testament was written to teach us a lesson and to be an example for us (I Cor. 10:1-12). In this passage, Paul specifically cites the Israelites' behavior in the desert and essentially concludes, "So don't be like them."

Of course, you could say that David complained throughout the Psalms. Hmmm...conundrum. Maybe crying out to God and complaining are not the same thing...

NT: Mark 14:1-21

In the story of the woman's offering of perfume, Jesus continues His assault on practicality. This woman's gift was lavish, extravagant. The more practically-minded disciples rebuked her harshly for it, reasoning that she could have sold that for a lot of money to give to the poor. (John's account mentions only that Judas objected and that he did so out of greed. Matthew agrees more closely with Luke, pointing the finger at multiple disciples who were "indignant" at the "waste.") But the point is, the woman's devotion seemed impractical. It was too much; it was unbalanced; it was illogical.

In a society that prizes achieving "balance," I sometimes struggle with the radicalism of Jesus. I don't want to be "radical." I see how radicalism leads so easily to all types of distortions and bad things. Because of the negative effects of "radicalism," most western societies promote concepts like balance and logic. And yet, in the Bible's picture of Jesus, and in the devotion I see in His first followers, I see lives that are definitely not "balanced." They are not driven by logic and practicality.

And so, if the Bible is true, then we are called to a radical, impractical faith. We are called to forsake "balance" in the name of radical love and radical service. We are to be wholly devoted to God with every part of our lives. That idea reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote: "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important." Logically speaking, if the Bible is true, then we are called to be impractically radical.

Psalm 51: 1-19

This is my dad's favorite psalm! Because of that, I read it often in high school when I felt guilty about something. It's one of those that I have read and thought about so much that there is not much specific for me to say. If I had to pick a favorite verse, though, it would be verse 10: "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Okay, and 12: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grand me a willing spirit to sustain me." Good stuff.

I know I've talked about this before with the psalms, but I still have a little problem with concrete theology being built around them. Last time, I mentioned the reference to God knitting David together in his mother's womb in Psalm 139, and how I loved that verse, but that I also didn't see it as great proof that life begins at conception. I had similar issues with Psalm 22, and it was pointed out to me that the problematic text in question was a reference to the Messiah. (Oh yeah--duh!:)). Okay, well what about verse 5 of this psalm: "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me"? I really might be mistaken here, but I don't think that I was taught to believe in original sin. Because...if we are sinful from birth, then if babies and children die, then wouldn't they go to hell? And if that's the case, shouldn't we baptize infants?

I don't think that is the case, so....what is this psalm saying? I've always taken it that David is just being hyberbolic or figurative, but then again, you could use the same logic to make that case about God "knitting" David together in his mother's womb. Thus, my point would be that you can't use the psalms as literal proof of scientific of theological truths, because they are simply poetic expressions of a human's relationship with God. But if anyone feels differently on that point, please feel free to share your take on verse 5. Seriously, I'm all ears!

Proverbs 10: 31-32

More contrasts between the righteous and the wicked, this time focusing on their mouths.


  1. Numbers: Sometimes I wonder about their communication so I was delighted to read about the different signals they received from the blasts of trumpets! Also, I found vs. 30 interesting as one of them decided to turn back and how Moses encouraged him to continue on his journey. It just reminded me of how we are tempted sometimes to give up and receive encouragement from one another to press on.

  2. Numbers:

    It's funny, my first thought about the trumpets was that "God is so practical" in giving them a way to communicate with all those people, but then I read your bit about the Mark passage. Uh, I guess there's "practical," and then there's "practical." :)

    In verse 10:10, why does God need to be reminded of anything? Maybe that's just so the Israelites will feel like they are connecting with God when they blow the trumpets.

    In 10:35-36 and 11:17 we see God moving himself within physical space and physical beings, or at least that's what it sounds like. This confuses me, because I have always thought that God is everywhere all the time. What would be the difference between places where God is and places where God isn't? When the people were filled with God's Spirit, was that the same thing as the "gift of the Holy Spirit" from the New Testament, or was it different?

    Why are the Israelites hungry for meat when they have animals at their disposal (from their flocks and herds) that they could kill and eat? Was there a quota of live animals that they had to fill to make sure that they reproduced fast enough to have animals for the sacrifices? We know that the priests got to eat plenty of meat. I thought there were times the people would eat meat for sacfices as well (like during Passover).


    It is always a shame when good people get rebuked for doing right things.

    What was Jesus doing in the house of a person with leprosy (vs. 3)? Would that have made him ceremonially unclean? I wonder if the anointing he got had anything to do with that. (Probably not, but it's an interesting thought.)

    My impression about the story is that Judus was one of the main ones rebuking the woman, but then Jesus rebuked him. Judus was probably already feeling uneasy because he felt guilty about pocketing some of the money, so my guess is that Jesus' rebuke sent him over the edge. He may even have been put off by Jesus' "arrogance" in claiming that he was more important than the poor. Unfortunately, I can think of many times when, because of my own sin, I got all grouchy and "put off" by people who were actually doing the right things. This happens so often at church, questioning people's motives for things, etc. I guess the lesson here (just thinking about Judus) is that if I get grouchy about what other people are doing, I should check myself first.

    Yeah, a lot of the time doing the "right thing" does make a person stand out. Sometimes I can do that, but that's usually only when I'm on my high horse and feeling rebellious. It is hard to be truly humble but be willing to stand out at the same time.


    I noticed that, as much as David says that God doesn't want sacrifice, at the end of the Psalm he says he will give sacrifices to God. I guess it all has to go in the right order (repentance THEN sacrifice).

    My opinion is that the Psalms are mostly literal, at least about "scientific" type things. I think that God gave David spiritual insight so that what he may have meant as simply poetry, God made truer than he knew. So, are children born sinning? Absolutely. Children are selfish and defiant and everything else that adults are... BUT the difference is that they don't KNOW that they are sinning. Once they realize the significance of their actions, then they are no longer innocent. At least, that's what I think.


    No fair, my version takes out all the little poetic devices that your version has. :( It just writes out the meaning.

  3. Mom, I liked the trumpets, too, and I forgot to mention them! Thanks for bringing them up. God's instruction here helped fill in some of those details I was wanting earlier. My only question was that it said to sound two trumpets, not one trumpet twice. So I wondered if the Israelites sometimes got confused with that ("Wait, was that one trumpet, or two?":)) I know I wouldn't be able to tell the difference!

    Becky, this seems like something that goes in the "God is just way bigger than us" category, but I find the idea of His presence to be interesting, too. There is definitely a level where He is everywhere and where He hears all things. But then the Bible makes clear, that God's presence can be...condensed? into a certain place where humans can feel Him more powerfully. You see it in the holy of holies in the Tent of Meeting, and you see it in the Ark of the Covenant. You see it in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, in the person of Jesus, and in Jesus' declaration that "where two or more gather in my name, there I am with them." You see in poetically in the psalms, where David describes God sometimes as nearby and sometimes as far away. So I've mostly come to grips with the idea that there are two levels to God's presence, just like there are two levels to His "will." Or at least, that's the best way my little brain can understand it:).

    Speaking of the psalms, I don't know if I'm with you on your interpretation, but I appreciate the consistency of it. And I totally see the idea that babies and children are born sinning (trust me, with two toddlers, I can TOTALLY see it:)). And I can even see how it doesn't count against them b/c they don't know it yet. Where it gets problematic for me is that I'm part of a fellowship that practices "adult" baptism. And yes, we have stretched "adult" to its limits--I got baptized when I was ten. But even then, if your interpretation is correct, I would say that I should have gotten baptized when I was five! I KNOW I knew right from wrong before age ten. I know that I understood that I was making wrong choices, and even that I was "sinning." You can argue that I didn't fully understand the theological implications at age 5...but I didn't really at age 10, either. And even at age 3, my son knows and believes that 1) God made him, 2) he is supposed to make God happy, and 3) when he makes wrong choices, he does not make God happy. He has gotten to the point where he very deliberately makes wrong choices. And I definitely don't think he is ready to get baptized, but in light of the idea that he is consciously sinning...I don't know. Do you see my hang-up here?

    I don't really know what I think about any of this, but in the case of the psalm, I tend to revert back to my original, "it's figurative," position. And none of this is anything that I'm too hung up on. More and more, I see that I have to just throw myself on God's mercy and entrust my life and salvation, and my children's lives and salvation, into His hands. But it is just interesting to ponder...


    (Sorry these are all anonymous. I'm on Greg's computer, and I keep starting my comments before I remember to switch users. So I just post them anonymously)