Posted by: Adgalle | May 19, 2010

Desperate Times

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 28-29

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Desperate times call for desperate measures…”  According to this passage, disobedience to the Lord breeds desperate times — and how true that is!

Though the Lord is certainly capable of sending His wrath on people or withholding it or even placing His favor over people (and in large part this passage is most certainly talking about that), I do think it likely, too, though, that when we are disobedient to God, things naturally tend to go wrong as well.  While we certainly have free will, I do think that God designed each of us with a purpose in mind — and as we progress through our lives, we are either moving toward or away from that purpose.  Moving toward our purpose often brings blessing, while moving away from it brings calamity.

Focusing back on God’s wrath, though, the passage here says that times of utter disobedience from the Israelites will result in times os desperate that the people will have no food and will resort to cannibalism.  First, it takes true desperation to get to the point of cannibalism.  More than that, though, I think it takes a lot of selfishness.  I would imagine (and I could be wrong, since I have never been in this situation) that if I were in those shoes I would probably rather starve to death than eat my own children.  Actually, I would be looking for food for my children, before myself!  The truth is, though, that desperation also breeds selfishness. 

Remember American disasters like Hurricane Katrina?  People were killing others for the sake of saving themselves.  They were looting local stores, and stealing things from others’ homes.  When times are desperate, people get greedy and selfish.  I suppose it takes truly extreme circumstances to bring out the realistic depth of our sinful natures.  We are not only sinful creatures; we are animals!

God says that things like this would not happen to the Israelites if only they would remain faithful to Him.  Imagine our world if all people were honest and faithful to God.  Instead of looting the stores and stealing from others, I think we would see a greater instance of people giving items of abundance away for the use of others in need.  I could be wrong, but it’s a hunch and I’d like to thing it’s true.  The character of God is so life-changing that it truly can mean the difference between killing someone and saving their life.  We just have to be on the right side of that split.

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 30-31

Posted by: Adgalle | May 19, 2010

Humanitarian God

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 24-27

Once again, we see God’s character through the laws that He ordains.  Remember back when He instructed the Israelites to care for their poor, widowed, and orphaned?  Here, He expands on that — and once again Israel is set apart from its neighbors and contemporaries by the uniqueness of the laws they enforce.

Referring to debtors and creditors, the Israelite law was painstakingly specific in order to preserve the personal honor and integrity of the debtor.  Unlike many other Near Eastern cultures of the time, the creditors were not allowed to enter the house of the debtor in order to choose what must be held as collateral; rather, the creditors must wait outside, and not only allow the debtor to choose which possessions would act as a pledge but also to maintain his personal space.

Later, we see the law regarding the beating of a guilty man in a dispute; though the man has done something awful enough to deserve a beating, God puts a limit on the number of lashings a man may endure, most likely to put a limit on the degree of humiliation acceptable for an Israelite.  He does not wish for His children to be degraded — only rebuked for their follies.

Beautifully, God’s laws that uplift and preserve the integrity of His people also concern the tithe.  We learned earlier that every three years the tithe of the people must go toward the vulnerable among them — the alien, the widowed, the poor, and the orphaned.  Here, God reiterates that law.  Just think about it for a moment.  Imagine if a third of our tithe went directly back into our own communities, designed to fulfill whatever needs they may have.  What if instead of giving the full ten percent of our tithe to our local church body (although this is an excellent use of our money, it could be filtered in other directions, too), we put one-third of that money instead toward organizations like soup kitchens and free clinics that provide services to those who cannot afford basic needs?  What a blessed world we would live in!  May we strive to be this diligent in caring for the marginalized in our communities!

God cares about people.  That’s what it all comes down to — and if we’re honest, we’ll admit that in order to honor Him, we should care about whatever He cares about.  That means adhering to His command to assisting the poor and the marginalized.  That means maintaining justice and going out of our way to makes others’ lives better.  After all, He went out of His way to send His Son to die for us so that we may live.  The least we could do in return is give life back to those around us.

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 28-29

Posted by: Adgalle | May 18, 2010

Honoring Women

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 21-23

Within the law that God laid out for the Israelites, there are many ordinances that involve women — and though God (and the Jewish/Christian churches) has been accused of being oppressive of women, looking at things from within the context in which they were written gives us much deeper insight into the character of God.  From there, we can see that God is truly honoring of women.

First, we see that when an Israelite soldier marries a captive woman, she is given a mourning period for her family (much longer than the typical Israelite period of mourning), and if for any reason he is displeased with her and divorces her, he brings shame upon himself and she is protected from any lowering of status.  From the time she marries the Israelite man, she must be treated as an Israelite woman, with all of the privileges that come with that status. 

Secondly, men are greatly punished for mistreating women; there is an enormous fee for slandering a woman and accusing her of not being a virgin on the wedding night, though she was.  When her parents bring proof of her virginity (usually the linens of the wedding bed, stained with her blood), the man must pay twice the bride price required for rape and he cannot get what he attempted to gain by slandering her, which is a divorce.

While these laws may seem harsh, especially from today’s perspective, the judgment is completely acceptable for their time period.  Today, refusing a divorce would seem to be a punishment for the woman, who would have to endure living with an intolerable man.  While that may still be the case in Biblical times, women in their culture usually had no land and no inheritance in their father’s house, so the husband’s duty was to care for her.  The husband held certain law-enforced responsibility toward his wife or wives, and there was punishment if he failed to fulfill those duties.

Elsewhere in the ancient Near East, men could divorce women for virtually any reason, and with little to no consequences.  Israel was unique in its honoring of women.  Most assuredly, the God of Israel held women to a much higher esteem than any other “gods” of the neighboring nations.

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 24-27

Posted by: Adgalle | May 16, 2010

The Prophet to Come

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 17-20

Sometime’s it’s hard to understand what the Lord is guiding, and it’s easy to wish He would just spell it out for us.  For the Israelites, they needed someone who could hear the word of God and guide them (like Moses did) so they were always moving in the right direction.  So, God promised to send a prophet.

Throughout the years, there were many prophets, true and false, that graced the dirt roads of the Israelites.  There were individuals with similar roles in other cultures as well, who could advise the rulers.  The Israelites’ prophets have a special deal, though: either they say only what God wants them to say, or God Himself calls the individual to account.  Just the thought of it makes one frightened of speaking inappropriately or inaccurately.

Truthfully, though, the prophet ha a great deal of power in the Israelite community.  The role of the prophet was one of checks and balances, for all practical purposes.  Though they certainly were used for guidance and protection, etc., the prophet was there to challenge the system and keep those in power in line.  In other words, if the king or the priests or others in power begin to think too lofty of themselves and start treating the nation poorly (or even rewriting the law to benefit themselves), the prophet would have divine coversation with the Lord and would be in the position to challenge authority in a way that would pull the rest of the nation behind him.  Beautifully, though the Israelites government certainly had the potential for corruption (and oftentimes fulfilled this potential), the prophet could plant the seeds of rebellion by the people through the word of God.

A few other laws mentioned in this passage made me think of one prophet in particular — one who was yet to come, but who would shake the foundations of Israel.  Jesus was considered a prophet to many, and in many ways, He was.  Though fully human and fully divine, He spoke words given to Him by His Father, and in that sense He was most certainly a prophet.  He was also a prophet hated by many — especially those in power, specifically because He posed a threat to them.  He, more than anyone else before or after Him, truly challenged the powers in place.

Subsequently, the powers in place (the High Priest and the people as a whole) have Jesus killed.  Interestingly, though, it is by the hand of the Roman governor Pilate that the sentencing of crucifixion occurs (though by the prodding of the people).  The law described here in Deuteronomy regarding the High Priest as the ultimate judge over difficult Jewish matters seems to be circumscribed in the case of Jesus.  Though He is taken to the High Priest, the priest is no longer the final authority — perhaps because of the blood-hungry people who sought out a more grusome punishment, one only the Romans were suited to give.

In this passage, we also see the law regarding the word of the false prophet, speaking the words of other gods while claiming to speak for Yahweh.  This, in essence, is what Christ was accused of committing.  Though He never said He spoke in the name of any Canaanite or Egyptian god, for example, Christ did call Himself God — and though these were still the spoken words of the God of Israel, the people failed to recognize it.  All they saw was a man who seemed to threaten their way of life.

How often do we mistake the word of God for something else?  How often do we completely miss what He is trying to tell us?  I can only hope our hearts will be more in tune to Him than that of the priests of Israel at the time of Jesus.  May we test and approve everything against what God has said, that we might understand His will and His words.

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 21-23

Posted by: Adgalle | May 15, 2010

Return the Blessing

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 14-16

Much of this passage is spent impressing upon the Israelite people the need to give back to society as the Lord has blessed them.  This may be with precious possessions or with an abundance of food or livestock.  It may also be by canceling debt or by releasing slaves.  In whatever way they can, the Lord asks them to give.

Keep in mind that God is not instituting a communist society.  There is no central government assigning rations to people, and He is not asking that everyone be poor for the sake of others.  What He is saying, though, is that when there is a perceived need, it is good for the people to meet the needs of others with freewill offerings.  There is no law or stipulation saying how much must be given and at what time.  All God commands is that the needy be helped.  It is a social responsibility.

Referring to the freed servants, God commands through Moses in 15:14, “…Give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you.”  As God gives to us, we are to return the blessing by giving to His people.  The sentence directly after this reminds them of their former enslavement in Egypt, and how God brought them out of it — a sentence so frequently uttered in these Scriptures!  God is certainly motivating them by empathy here, but could it be that He also intends them to understand that the best ministry is to those who are encountering what we have already overcome?

So many times in my life, after I have endured hardship or faced challenges, and have come through to the other side, quickly afterward I have met people going through similar circumstances.  After the death of a dear friend, I mourned for quite some time — and just as I finally found peace, my new college roommate suffered the same loss in her life.  Because of what I had been through, I was able to counsel her and comfort her in ways I never could have imagined before.  God puts these opportunities in our paths.  It is our responsibility to realize the empathy and take action.

Difficult circumstances prepare us for opportunities such as these, and the blessings of God equip us with the tools to bless others as well.  As He gives to us (in whatever capacity), He asks us to give back — and, going a step further, perhaps many of those blessings are really intended for the other person in the first place.  God is simply putting them in the right hands for them to be passed on.  Humans have innate needs to be understood and loved — and though we don’t always know much about the people God puts on our path, we are fully equipped to meet those needs.

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 17-20

Posted by: Adgalle | May 15, 2010

The Word of False Prophets

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 11-13

Once again, God reminds His people to beware of schemes to lure them away from Him and the covenant.  Here, though, in chapter 13, the threat is not the women of the cities who might lure the men into worshipping other gods, but rather teachers or prophets who predict things accurately but tell the people to worship other gods. 

The tricky part about these people is that the things they say are actually coming true.  God is aware that just because a person does not go to Him for guidance doesn’t mean they will not predict anything accurately — whether by chance or even by the use of spiritual forces outside of God.  The truth is, though, that if we are not for God, we are against God — and calling on the powers of spiritual beings outside of the one true God is a dangerous tactic because in all likelihood it is demonic.

God’s point comes down to one thing: remain faithful to Him no matter what.  No matter how enticing or how legitimate the prophet seems to be, if he says to turn away from God, from Yahweh, send him away!  No matter how close a friend the person might be (whether it is a relative, even), if the command is to abandon God, abandon the person instead!  God sees this as a capital offense — and rightly so!  The community of Israel is centered entirely around their God, and so any seduction away from God is a threat to the community at large and must be eliminated.

Even today, we must be on our guard against people or things that would seek to lure us away from God.  It is easy to be sucked into worldly opportunities, but in all things we must test others’ words against the words of God that we have already heard.  If something does not seem to align with the character of God, run in the opposite direction!  It’s that simple.

That doesn’t mean that we should shun people who don’t know Him, or live in a bubble of protection to remain on track with God.  God’s greatest commandment is to love others — and part of loving them is to speak truth into their lives with our words and actions.  We can only do that if we are present, and in a non-judgmental way.  Our hearts must be guarded, however, so that we not lose sight of who He is.

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 14-16

Posted by: Adgalle | May 14, 2010

Circumcised Hearts

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 8-10

Moses instructs the people in Deuteronomy 10:16 to circumcise their hearts, and to stop being stubborn or “stiff-necked” people.  That sounds great on paper, but what does it really mean?

Throughout the passage, Moses kept calling the people “stiff-necked,” reminding them of the many instances in which they grumbled against the Lord and their leader, and when they abandoned their God to worship Baal, the god of the Moabite women.  The people were obstinate, extremely difficult to manage and subdue, and they would not yield to the laws of the Lord.  Rather than submitting themselves to His authority, they chose to manage themselves — and they did not do well at it!

Contrarily, the idea of circumcision is one of the covenant.  In this passage as well as the previous one and others, God focuses on the preservation of the covenant, protecting His people from traps and dangers in order to ensure that the covenant continues to be passed from generation to generation.  The circumcision, first ordained for the Israelites by God through Abraham, was a sign of the sacrificial covenant by shedding blood.  It signified to the community that the individual was under the umbrella of God’s covenant and was thus bound by contract to follow the laws and statutes given by God, in order to receive the promises of God (land, fertility, many descendants, etc). 

To circumcise one’s heart, then, is a turning from the stubborn refusal of God and an alignment with His ways.  The heart, in today’s society, typically stands for the gamut of emotions one may feel — but in the ancient Near East, the heart was symbolic more so of logic and reason.  Therefore, to circumcise the heart is to mark oneself with the covenant of God, to allow one’s logic and reasoning to reflect the personal relationship with God.  Every decision the people make, every cultural idea or ritual, every simply daily task is to reflect who God is to them.  In short, to circumcise the heart means to express complete devotion to God, even in the simplest of tasks.

This is a hard lesson for anyone to learn, especially the Israelites who have been “stiff-necked” throughout their entire journey.  Even their difficulties in wandering through the desert, however, has purpose and reason for God.  God explains in chapter 8 that the wandering served “to humble” and “to test” the people — so that He might know their hearts and examine their devotion to Him.  Even in difficulty, there is reason.  There is purpose to challenging times in our lives.

Even the most difficult of circumstances can lead us back to God.  My prayer is that in those moments, our own hearts will reflect our devotion to Him, and that He may be honored for it.

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 11-13

Posted by: Adgalle | May 14, 2010

Monotheism in the Ancient World

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 5-7

Throughout this passage, Moses is reminding the people of the laws God set in place for them, so that they might remember them are follow them as they cross the Jordan, fight for their land, and settle in the Promised Land.  Though much of this Scripture is a bit repetitious from the books preceding it, there are some interesting these woven throughout.

First, we see Moses consistently bring up the idea that idols and other gods will be a snare to the people if they allow any tolerance for those things.  Why?  He says this because God is very concerned with maintaining the covenant and protecting it.  Remember, God’s covenant with these people is to make of them a great nation, to bless others through them while also blessing them and loving them as His own people.  They become a blessing to the entire world through their later descendant, Jesus Christ.  Preserving this lineage and ensuring Christ’s upbringing in a Godly and righteous home means protecting the covenant, which must be passed on from generation to generation.

Second, and perhaps most intriguing, is the idea in 6:4 that “the Lord is one.”  This could mean a number of things, but the IVP Bible Background Commentary for the Old Testament outlines a few possibilities.

According the the commentary, there are four possible definitions to the word “monotheism.”  Philosophical monotheism is what most people today consider when the word is mentioned — the idea that there has only ever been one God in existence.  Henotheism is the idea that many gods are present, but one is denoted as supreme before the others.  Monolatry, contrarily, is the idea that a given group of people makes the choice to worship one God, regardless of the existence or nonexistence of other gods.  Finally, practical monotheism states that many gods are acknowledged but most worship is directed toward a particular one.

Judging by the laws that God sets in place for the Israelites, He intends for them to worship and acknowledge only Him — which leave little room for practical monotheism or henotheism.  What the Israelites actually believed and practiced, however, could be a bit more gray an area, especially given how easily they were seduced into worshipping the god of the Moabite women.

I have seen History Channel specials on Abraham and the other forefathers of the Israelites, and they tend to emphasize the uniqueness of these men in that they were the first of their time period to believe in only one God.  I am unsure, however, of the legitimacy of these claims.  While it is true that no other nation at this time had any sort of trend even approaching monotheism (at separate periods, the Egyptians and Babylonians attempted a monotheistic religion, but it was very short-lived and did not seem to catch on with many citizens), it is still a weak argument that the Israelites or even Abraham himself truly believed in the existence of only one God. 

I would argue, most certainly, that the words of Jesus in the New Testament definitely make clear that philosophical monotheism — that only one God (though trinitarian as He may be) was ever in existence.  Perhaps God’s pressing of this issue for the Israelites (and also His banning of idols or other gods before Him) is indicative of His intention to impress upon His people the merits of that viewpoint — because they were, in fact, easily ensnared by other cultures and religions.  Perhaps the Israelites themselves at this time were unsure of this core belief.

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 8-10

Posted by: Adgalle | May 13, 2010

Never Before

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 3-4

“Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of?  Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?  Has any god ever tried to take for Himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” Deuteronomy 4:32b-34

In the ancient Near East, a god was known by his favor over his people.  The reputation of a nation’s god or gods (typically nations had many gods, but would uphold one as a patron god) hinged on the success of the nation, both militarily and economically.  As the Israelites survived the plagues of Egypt and the exodus, then after forty years reappeared on the radar of the nations in the land of Canaan and conquered many armies much larger than their own, the reputation of the God of Israel grew to a fearsome one.  God’s goal was thus met — that He be made known through His people.

As He seeks to make Himself known to His people and to the world around them, Yahweh does things very differently than the supposed gods of the other nations.  No other god was like Yahweh in that He got personal with His people.  He took a covenant with the people, gave them laws (thus revealing His purposes and His nature), outlined their future plans.  The experience of the Israelites was an incredibly unique one when paired against that of the people around them. 

I am sure I have mentioned it before, but consider other popular religions of today.  Versus Judaism or Christianity (for both worship the same God; only one upholds Jesus as the Son of God, however), few other religions can even lay claim to the personal interactions with God.  Religions like Buddhism and Hinduism are very egocentric, and though Islam purports to have origins in the Hebrew covenant with God and that this is the same God, the Qur’an departs from the Hebrew Scriptures by claiming that Ishmael (not Isaac) was the son of promise to Abraham. 

Let’s face it: no other religion is like Judaism or Christianity.  The God of Israel is unlike any other God ever worshipped on earth — and how beautiful He is!

“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.” (4:39)

Amen!

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 5-7

Posted by: Adgalle | May 12, 2010

As a Father Carries His Son

Today’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 1-2

I never learned so much about the parental nature of God’s love for us until I became a mother.  It wasn’t until I held my little boy in my arms for the first time that I understood the gravity of a truly selfless love — and though I dearly love my husband and will follow him wherever he may lead, my love for my son is of a different nature, a protective one. 

Here’s the thing: my son will have heartaches in his life.  Every human since the beginning of time has endured them, and no one in the future will be exempt from them.  Maybe his first heartache will be over a breakup with a girlfriend, or over the death of a grandparent or great-grandparent (or even a parent!).  Maybe it will be the loss of a friend or a personal failure.  I don’t know what it will be or when it will come, but at some point in my little guy’s life, something will break him.  Something will crush him to the point where he will likely question whether or not he has the strength to get up again.  In time, though, he will rise.  He will struggle to his feet, and he will be better for it.  I hope I am there in that moment to ease his pain.

I can’t know the path of my son’s life, but I do know that the love of God over His people is a parental one — and though I cannot be everywhere always for him, God can.  God will be with him in every difficult moment, every impossible decision, every failure and every success.  God will guide him like He did the Israelites; He will allow punishment and rebuke when it is needed; and He will be waiting when my son comes running back into His arms after failure and disobedience.  God will smile over him, protect him, hem him in. 

As the Israelites are poised to enter the Promised Land (and fight off the inhabitants of it!), they need some encouragement — and what better an encouragement than the thought that God is their Father, who carries them as a son (1:31)?  What better inspiration of courage than a reminder of His past faithfulness? 

Oh, Lord, may we remember You, honor You as our Father.  May we trust You in all things, and fall into You when we cannot walk another step — knowing You will carry us as Your child!

Tomorrow’s Scripture: Deuteronomy 3-4

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