OT: Deut. 33:1-29
I generally find OT blessings to be quite esoteric, and these were no exception. I don't really know what they mean or why they are important, and frankly, I can't see them being extremely comforting to the Israelites, following that grim forecast they have just received. What is the point of telling all these positive things to a people whom you clearly know are going to forsake God and suffer dearly for it?
Two things did strike me about the passage. One, did you notice that Simeon was completely left out? I mean, he was not even mentioned! The second most neglected tribe was Issachar, who got thrown in with Zebulun (18). I wonder if there is any significance there.
I also noted that Levi received quite the lengthy blessing, and Moses' description of "him" sounded like some of the instructions that Jesus gives His followers regarding earthly ties. Moses says of Levi, "He said of his father and mother, 'I have no regard for them.' He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant" (9). I am thinking that this description is a bit hyperbolic, but as you probably know by now, I am very interested in this concept of God before family. I mean, I acknowledge it cognitively, but for me, to love my family is to love God. When I love my family, I sacrifice for them and try to become more like Christ. So it always kind of hits me the wrong way when I hear about people leaving and/or neglecting their families for the sake of God. I think one of the reasons that this concept is so anathema to me is that my mom always balked at the idea of neglecting one's family to do God's work. I have distinct memories of her being frustrated with ministers whose families obviously suffered from their absence. Also, I have heard repeatedly that in ministry, one's family comes before the "ministry." It is their first ministry, I guess. Greg wholeheartedly adheres to this concept, and it is such a blessing to our family. Plus, we have both seen the tragedy that results from ministers choosing not to put their family first. Adultery, divorce, and the painful rebellion of children are always bad, but the repercussions are even worse when they happen in the life of a beloved minister. In those cases, such tragedies affect far more people than just the family itself.
SO...I say all that to say that I still don't quite understand what all this "hate your father and mother" talk is about. I know it is saying to put God first, but I have trouble seeing how it plays out in practical terms.
NT: Luke 13:1-21
What luck! This passage comes just a day after my musings on how we view history (from yesterday's psalm). I noted that in biblical times, the renditions of history tend to interpret everything as an act of God based directly on the actions of the people. If famine came, then the people had been sinful. If prosperity came, then the people had been blessed. There are passages that refute this "health and wealth gospel" perspective, of course. Job, for example, suffered horribly, but was without sin (a fact that was grossly misinterpreted by his friends). And both David and Asaph speak about the wicked prospering while the righteous suffer. But Moses, Asaph (in other psalms), and Solomon (in Proverbs) all tend to interpret history in the way I've described.
And that is why, of course, Jesus anticipates that that is how his listeners have interpreted history. They tell him about some atrocity committed by Pilate against the Galileans, apparently expecting Him to explain it as the result of the sins of the victims. Now, this is where it is important to read closely. It does seem at first like Jesus is definitely debunking such thinking. He says, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (2-5). What is interesting to me is that Jesus doesn't say that the dead people weren't sinners. He says instead that those who did not die are not any better. And he doesn't actually dispute the fact that the dead perished because of their sin. He says instead that the living will also perish for their sin if they don't repent.
Now, Jesus definitely leaves room to theorize that the dead didn't perish as a direct result of their sin. Perhaps He is saying simply that it was sin that brought death into the world and that all death is thus a result of sin. And perhaps He is simply using the events of the day as a springboard to do what He has been trying to do all along: call the people to repentance. And I tend to believe this interpretation. I don't think, however, that His words close the door to the idea that tragedy happens as a result of sin.
HOWEVER, if the book of Job taught me anything, it is that it is not my job to figure out why tragedy happens or to judge people who suffer. My job is instead to love them and to try to show Christ to them. I simply explore the idea because it is there in the Bible, and because it is an interesting interpretive structure to me.
Psalm 78: 65-72
Wow, if I hadn't read the rest of the psalm so far, I would take verse 65 as a huge slam against God: "Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, as a man wakes from the stupor of wine." In other words, "God must have been passed out drunk to let all this crap happen to us!" However, in light of the rest of the psalm, God was most definitely never asleep; He was instead actively bringing on this suffering as a result of the people's sins. Thus, this verse is clearly completely metaphorical. Asaph is just saying that it seemed like God had checked out.
I absolutely love Asaph's description of David: "He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of this people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance" (70-71). Remember, Asaph has a gift for animal imagery, and he clearly realizes that he has stumbled onto a brilliant metaphor. David the shepherd becomes the shepherd of his people. Perfect!
"An anxious heart weighs a man down." Ain't it the truth? The rest of the verse says, "but a kind word cheers him up." That, of course, is true, too, but do you know what has been working for me lately? I have been learning to redirect my worry into meditation on Scripture and on the nature of God. I heard somewhere recently that if you know how to worry, you know how to meditate. Worrying is kind of like the mirror opposite of meditation. When you worry, you dwell on negative things, and when you meditate, you dwell on God (which is a positive thing). Hearing this made me realize that I could be really good at meditation:). After all, I excel at combing over and over a problem in my mind, in rolling it around in my brain and really mulling over it and chewing on it. So now, when I find myself doing that, I simply redirect my thoughts to what God might have to say on the subject. I reflect on whatever verses come to mind and what those verses teach me about His nature. I must say, this technique has been really helpful so far, which is why I am sharing it with any other worriers out there (or should I say, great meditators:)).