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 them...to 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.