April 27, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.

Judges 7:1-8:17

     This is the account of Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites. God tells Gideon that he has too many men. That if the Israelites defeat the Midianites with that many men, they will take the credit for the victory themselves and not give the glory to God. Is this not a natural human tendency? We feel overwhelmed by our situation, we cry out to God and God sends us a message as to how we can and should act to get out of the situation. When things are resolved, we often take credit for our accomplishment, even though we only took action because of God’s prodding.

Luke 23:13-43

My New Testament reading today is Luke’s account of Pilate’s attempts to release Jesus and the crucifixion. Even as Jesus is in agony on the cross, He asks the Father to forgive those who put Him there. We are called to follow His example. Can we forgive, even as we are suffering from the wrong others have done to us?
The two men who were crucified alongside Jesus exemplify two different ways that people face hardship. I have known people like both of these. The first is the person who, even in the midst of suffering will mock all that is good and can only see it as having any value if it can do something for them. The second knows that they themselves were evil and deserve the suffering they are experiencing, yet will act to shield others from the same suffering. This story tells us that God recognizes such last minute repentance and will reward it. As long as we are aware of this world there is opportunity to repent and be forgiven.

Psalm 97:1-98:9

Lately, I have been somewhat concerned because I see things happening in the world that call to my mind the Biblical prophecies of the end times. This passage reminds me that the coming of the Lord will be a cause for rejoicing for those who love Him.
Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
break out in praise and sing for joy!…. For the Lord is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
and the nations with fairness.

Proverbs 14:7-8

Today’s proverb tells us that one does not learn anything useful by taking advice from those who are foolish. It also points out the importance of understanding the consequences of our actions.

April 26, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     Today, I read the story of how Gideon was called to lead the Israelites. I can certainly sympathize with Gideon. God calls him to lead the Israelites into battle against the Midianites, yet he is not the eldest of his father’s sons and his clan is not one of prominence. Why would anyone listen to him? The story tells us that Gideon pulled down his father’s altar to Baal, yet it was the town’s people who demanded that Gideon be delivered to them to be killed and his father who says that if Baal is really a god, let Baal deliver punishment to Gideon for the destruction of the altar.
     Even though Gideon was given a sign when the Lord first called him, he still puts out the fleece twice before leading the Israelites into battle against the Midianites. I understand why. It is difficult to be sure what God is calling us to do. I struggle constantly with knowing what God’s will for my life is. I wish to serve the Lord, yet I do not know what He wants me to do. I am striving to become someone in motion so that God can guide my path.

     Today, my New Testament reading was Peter’s denial, Jesus before the Sanhedrin and then before Pilate and Herod. I am so glad that we have the story of Peter’s denial because I have found myself acting as Peter did here, lacking the courage to acknowledge that I am a follower of Christ. There have been times when this story has provided me with the courage to overcome my fear and stand up and say that “Yes, I am a follower of Christ.” But this story has also provided me with the solace that God will forgive after those times when I was unable to muster that courage. I am seeking to emulate the Peter of Acts when he tells the Sanhedrin that he cannot help but speak of what he had seen and heard.

     I started reading a psalm each morning several months ago and I still do so outside of the reading I do to prepare this blog. I read the psalm I am writing this about a week or so back and at that time it did not have the same impact that it had this morning. This psalm brings lifts me up to rejoice in worshiping the Lord, but it also reinforces the lesson I received from the story of Gideon that I must strive to find how God wishes me to serve Him in my life today. Yesterday, I was thinking that my blog was becoming rote and kind of empty, that I needed to put more of myself into it. This morning, my Bible Study is made more meaningful by my seeking to write what the Scripture I am reading means to me.
     Praise the Lord! Lord show me how you wish me to serve you. Let me praise your name in all I do.

     There are a couple of ways to take today’s proverbs. The first is to look at them as a way to evaluate the actions of others. Certainly, we can see that those who are honest are consistently honest. In addition, we find that those who have lied to us once, have usually lied to us frequently so that we can trust nothing they say. With the second proverb, I am sure we all know people who are constantly making fun of things they do not understand and cannot be made to understand. Yet there are others who quickly understand the perspective of those they disagree with.
     But there is a second way to understand these proverbs. That is to look at them in our own actions and how what actions we choose effect who we are. The first proverb tells us that if we tell the truth, it becomes easier to tell the truth, and if we lie, we will do so more and more. One lie leads to a second, and that second to a third, and so on. On the other hand, if we tell the truth, even if it is hard, it becomes easier to do so in the future. With the second proverb, if we mock the beliefs of those we disagree with, it becomes harder to understand why they believe what they do and thus becomes harder to convince them of their error (if they are indeed in error). The second part shows us that if we respect the beliefs of others, even when we are sure they are wrong, we can more readily learn (because perhaps we will realize that in a particular case it is ourselves who are mistaken).

April 25, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     The Old Testament passage today is the story of Deborah. Once again, Israel falls away from God and once again they are oppressed and call out to God for deliverance. This time, the judge God raises up is a woman. She calls on one of the military leaders of Israel to go out to battle against the oppressors. She agrees, but tells him that as a result the credit for the victory will go to someone else. This is indeed what happens. Israel is victorious on the battlefield, but the enemy general escapes and is later killed by a woman at a place where he thought he could safely hide. What is interesting to me about this passage today is that it is told from the perspective that women are of lesser consequence than men, yet places the credit for the victory to two women without the slightest bit of sheepishness on the part of the writer.
     I am curious about something in this story, in the narrative of the story, Deborah tells Barak to call out “10,000 warriors from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali”, yet in the song celebrating the victory several other tribes are belittled for not joining the battle. If they were not called upon to join the battle, why were they criticized for not doing so?

     The New Testament passage today has Jesus telling the disciples to gather a traveler’s bag and their money and prepare for what was coming then recounts Him going to the Mount of Olives and Judas’ arrival to betray Him. Jesus reminds the disciples that they did not take anything with them when He sent them out to preach the Gospel and they had no needs. Then He tells them that now they should gather equipment together for travel, including a sword. Yet when the disciples tell Him that they have two swords among them, He tells them that it is enough. The only thing I can figure from this is that Jesus was telling them that they should be prepared for the coming persecution. What is the point of this exchange?
     Then Jesus and the disciples went to the Mount of Olives. Here Jesus tells the disciples to pray that they will be able to resist temptation. Then He goes and prays to avoid the suffering He knows is coming, yet surrenders Himself to the will of the Father. It is a reminder of what should be our prayer. We should pray for the outcome we desire, yet be willing to accept the outcome that is God’s will.
     When Judas arrives to betray Jesus, the disciples appear to think that the time that Jesus will lead them to throw out the Romans has come. Jesus tells them to put up their swords and surrenders Himself to the authorities.

     The psalm today talks of those in positions of power who take advantage of those without power because they think that no one will hold them accountable. The psalmist tells us that even if no one on earth will hold them accountable, God will. This passage tells us that God will mete justice out against those who oppress the powerless. It tells us that if we walk in righteousness, God will be our protector.

The proverb today talks about how arrogant talk will lead to problems. Talking about how great you are will be used against you later. Whereas those who wisely choose their words will be safer for it. The second proverb tells us that hard work is required to gain success.

April 24, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     My Old Testament reading today starts in Judges with when all of the leaders who had experienced the 40 years in the wilderness have died off. The passage says that God did not allow Joshua to drive out all of the people living in the land to test future generations as to whether they would follow the Lord’s commands. It recounts that when the leaders from the wilderness died off, the Israelites began to worship the gods of the peoples living around them and intermarrying with them. The passage tells us that when the Israelites began to worship other gods, God gave them over to a conqueror from among the peoples around them. When the Israelites called out to God, he raised up a judge to deliver them from their oppressors and lead them in following His commands. We can see the same tendency in the Church today. God will raise up a leader (or a group of leaders) who will lead a revival and the Church will grow. As long as those leaders are active in their ministry the revival will continue. Then those leaders will either die or retire and the Church will lose its vision for ministry and start to stagnate.

     The New Testament reading is Luke’s account of the Last Supper. Here Jesus instructs the disciples to break bread and share it among themselves in remembrance of His sacrifice (other Gospel writers have Him doing the same with the wine). Then something interesting happens. Jesus tells them that one of them will betray Him. They begin to discuss among themselves which of them would do such a thing. This discussion devolves into an argument over which of them will be the greatest. Jesus interrupts this argument to explain how in the Kingdom of God things are different. He tells them that the greatest in the Kingdom of God is not the one being served, but is instead the one serving. I have never thought of it before, but reading this passage reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha. I think that perhaps we should bring up what Jesus says here when we talk about that story.
     Finally, Jesus tells Peter that Satan is trying to lead him away. Peter proclaims his willingness to follow Jesus to jail. Peter’s braggadocio is probably a follow through from the argument over which of the disciples would be the greatest. In this passage, Jesus tells Peter that he will indeed deny Jesus, but instructs him to strengthen the others when he has repented. I think there is an important lesson here for all of us. We will from time to time fail to live up to God’s will for our lives, but that does not mean that we cannot repent and return to being faithful followers of God.

     The Psalm today calls on us to sing God’s praises in the morning and the evening. I am writing this blog in order to proclaim God’s love in the morning. Perhaps I should start writing a second blog entry in the evening? Whether this psalm is calling me to start writing a second blog entry each day or not, it raises up my desire to praise the Lord. The second part of this psalm reminds me of a hymn that I cannot quite remember the words of. But the phrase, “mightier than the violent raging of the seas,” strikes a chord within me of that hymn and how much it moves me.

     The second proverb this morning reminds me of something that I have seen often. The proverb says that those who take the wrong path despise the Lord. I have found that many times the philosophy of atheism (or other anti-Christian beliefs) follows a person choosing to live a sinful lifestyle rather than the other way around.

April 23, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     My Old Testament reading today is the introduction to the Book of Judges. It gives a quick summary of Israel’s conquest of the promised land. It repeats a theme that was brought up in the Book of Joshua, the failure of the Israelites to completely drive out the people who were living in the land when they got there, as God had commanded. God sent a messenger to them telling them that He would no longer drive the people’s out of the land before them because the children of Israel had failed to follow His commands. The messenger told them that as a result the gods of those people would be a continuous temptation to the children of Israel. The people of Israel remained faithful to God while those who had seen His wonders in the desert and in the early days of settling in the land still lived. This passage is a reminder of the consequences of not being faithful in fulfilling the Lord’s commands.

     Today’s New Testament passage is Jesus’ concluding comments about His prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus and the arrangements for the Last Supper. Jesus tells us that we must not become distracted either by our entertainments or by our worries about this life. We must stay alert and strive to follow God’s will in all aspects of our lives. We must continue in prayer that God will give us the strength to stand before Him in the face of these trials.
     All the passage tells us about Judas’ decision to betray Jesus is “Satan entered into” him. The best explanation I have seen for this is that Judas was trying to force Jesus to openly display His power to overthrow the Romans. Whatever the reason, Judas had decided that his own agenda was more important than that of God. It is certainly a common human failing to place our own priorities in the place of God’s.
     Finally, Jesus gives the disciples detailed instructions on how to find a place to prepare the Passover meal. Had Jesus made previous arrangements for this? Or did He divinely know that this man would be there and that the owner of the house he served would be willing to let Jesus and His disciples use his upper room? I do not know and apparently neither did the disciples, but they found things as Jesus had said and made the arrangements. They followed Jesus’ instructions without knowing if the owner was expecting them. We need to act similarly. When we feel the instruction of God we must act, whether we know if others are receptive or not.

The Psalm passage today reminds us of how short our lives are and that despite the sufferings we often experience that God is the source of our joy. It points out that we should fear God. God should inspire us with fear because of our sins. We do not deserve the mercy that He shows us. I struggle with this continually. I do not fear God as much as I should. As we continue to read, we are reminded that God is a shelter, a place of safety, to those who love Him. I fail Him so often, yet He continues to offer me forgiveness and His love. I cry out to the Lord that He direct me in the path He wishes me to follow.

     The proverb today is “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” I really like how this translation puts the second part of the proverb, “Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” Discipline is a product of a parent’s love for their child. Parents who do not discipline their children are demonstrating a lack of love for their children. Children instinctively know this. Children who behave badly a lot are looking for their parents (or someone) to express love by disciplining them. Children who are confident in their parents’ love are well behaved. Many of the problems in our society are the result of parents who did not love their children enough to take the time to discipline them.

April 22, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     My Old Testament study today is where Joshua calls the children of Israel together to renew their covenant with God. Joshua recounts the history of the people of Israel going back to Abraham’s father. Reading this account, it is amazing to me how much Joshua saw in his lifetime. Joshua saw the power of the Lord displayed over and over again from the plagues in Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea to the power of God when the Israelites invaded Canaan. After recounting these stories, Joshua calls on the people of Israel to choose what god they will serve, whether that is the God of Abraham or the gods of the Sumerians or those of the Egyptians, or those of the people of Canaan. Here Joshua says something that I have tried to make my motto since the day I got married. “But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua warns the Israelites that if they choose to serve the Lord and fall away to worship other gods, God will punish them harshly. At this time, the people of Israel rededicated themselves to serve the Lord.
     This passage is a reminder to us that we must rededicate ourselves to God periodically. We must remember that if we do not take the time to renew our dedication to serve God, we will over time start to drift away from Him. God will provide us with reminders of this, but we must respond to those proddings by the Holy Spirit. I received a fresh push this morning in our congregational worship service this morning. These Bible studies are only the start of what God is calling me to do.

     Today’s New Testament reading is the story of the widow’s mite and Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus uses the example of this widow to show us that we should give sacrificially. It is not enough to give out of our excess, we need to give to the point that we need to sacrifice at least some of our comfort and more.
     The next part of the passage is Jesus foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem. My Dad often talked about how many Biblical prophecies are about more than one future event. I think that this passage is one of those passages. Certainly on the surface it is about the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. Yet, when I read this, I cannot help but think about things that have been in the news lately. When I read Jesus telling the disciples, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’[b] and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them.” I cannot help but think of the recent controversy surrounding Harold Camping. Jesus then tells us that there will come a time of great persecution. When I read this, I think about what is happening to Christians in many Muslim countries, but not just in Muslim countries in many other countries as well. I, also, think of the declaration by the Obama Administration that they will fine those religious institutions that fail to pay for abortion coverage for their employees. I do not know what is coming, but I fear that the Church may soon be facing persecution in this country. On the other hand, I trust that God will give me grace to face that if it should come. Jesus tells us that the Spirit will give us the words to speak if we face this persecution.
     Jesus tells us that when we see Jerusalem surrounded by armies we will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. This was certainly fulfilled in 70 AD, but was this, also, a prophecy about today (or sometime in the future? I do not know, but there are certainly aspects of what is going on in the Middle East that could easily develop into something that would fit what Jesus says in this passage. As I said, I do not know, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. I know that God is in control of all of history and it will happen as He wills, no matter what humans may do to try and change that path.

     In today’s Psalm, the psalmist expresses his feeling that God is angry with him and punishing him. Yet he concludes by proclaiming praise to the Lord. We must remember this. The apostle Paul instructs us to give thanks to God in all circumstances. I will strive to do this in my life.

     Today’s first proverb tells us that if we spend our time with the wise, we will become wise, but if we spend our time with the foolish we will get into trouble. The second proverb is related to that. It tells us that trouble follows those who sin, while righteousness is rewarded by blessings. I have certainly seen how these are true throughout my life.

April 21, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     The Old Testament passage that I did my Bible study on today contains the response of the tribes that settled east of the Jordan to those that settled west of the Jordan concerning the altar that the former had built. Those settling east of the Jordan were afraid that later generations would see the Jordan as a divide between them as a people and that those west of the Jordan would not permit those east of the Jordan to worship at the Tabernacle. They built this altar as a witness between the tribes that those living east of the Jordan were as much the descendants of Israel, and God’s promise to Abraham, as those living west of the Jordan. If one looks at the history of human relations, this was a legitimate fear. This passage reminds me of a dilemma that we as humans who wish to worship the Lord face. It is human nature that we need symbols to remind us of aspects of God and to inspire us to worship God. However, we have a tendency to make the symbols the object of worship. The challenge that each generation faces is that of maintaining the symbols that remind us of God without worshiping those symbols as God.
     The passage continues with Joshua calling the children of Israel together to give them his final words, as he knows that he will die soon. He reminds them of what God has done for them and will continue to do for them. He calls on them not to adopt the customs of those non-Israelites still living in the land around them. God is faithful to fulfill His promises, but if we fail to follow His laws, disaster will follow. If we start to worship and serve things other than God, we will suffer for that action. This reminds me of why I have started attempting this daily Bible Study blog, not because I am a wonderful blogger and have something to bring to others, but because it is a discipline that will help me do a daily Bible study and will prevent me from spending my time doing other things that perhaps I should not. Hopefully, God’s Spirit will use this blog to help others in their study of the Bible, but as long as it helps me in my Bible study, it has served its purpose.

     The New Testament reading continues with yet another group of Jewish religious leaders attempting to trap Jesus. Some leaders that did not believe in resurrection thought they had found a logic flaw in the concept of the resurrection. If there is resurrection, what happens when someone has been married to more than one person who predeceased them, which of their spouses will they be married to in eternity? Jesus’ answer is that the flaw is in the assumption that people will be married after they are resurrected. He goes on to show how the Old Testament supports the concept of the resurrection. This story reminds us not to accept the assumptions hidden in questions from those who do not share our beliefs. The questions will often be phrased in such a manner as to hide an assumption that is not supported by our beliefs.
     After dealing with the question that the Sadducees had asked Him, Jesus turns it back around and asks them a paradoxical question. We are not told how those He asked the question responded and Jesus does not answer the question. There are those who think that Jesus is saying that the Messiah may not be a descendant of David, but I think that Jesus is saying that such “conundrums” are a result of over analyzing the Scripture. He goes on to warn the people against the teachers of religious law who want to be respected for their knowledge of the Law. The question He just asked is the sort of question they often spend their time considering. He points out that they often practice public piety and ostentatious obedience to the letter of the law, yet live lives that violate the very spirit of the Law by cheating those with little power. We see this time and again, people who proclaim their credentials as “men of God”, who sin when they think they are out of the public eye.

     The Psalm today extols the virtue of worshiping God. It is a reminder to me that if I start my day by worshiping God, and continue to do so throughout the day, my day will be filled with joy. The psalm continues by pointing out that God has promised that David will always have an heir. However, if David’s descendants fail to keep God’s commands, God will punish them harshly, but even so, God will keep His promise and maintain an heir to David.

     Today we have three proverbs. The first can be taken several ways, but I will choose to see it as a comment on how when someone carries a message from one person to another and does not convey the message accurately, they can get caught up in trouble that they would otherwise not be part of. On the other hand, someone who accurately conveys a message from one party to another in a dispute can help bring resolution to the dispute. The second proverb talks about the importance of accepting and acting on criticism. If you do something wrong, listen to those who tell you how you should have done it and learn. The final proverb is about the joy that comes from realizing your dreams, but points out that using evil means to achieve those dreams will bring more harm than the benefit of realizing your dream.

April 20, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     The Old Testament reading continues with Joshua and the leaders of the tribes of Israel giving towns from among the lands of each of the other tribes to the Levites. This is followed by Joshua sending the tribes whose land was east of the Jordan home (Moses had granted lands east of the Jordan to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh on the condition that they send their fighting men over the Jordan with the rest of Israel). Joshua sent them home with a large quantity of plunder from the conquest of Canaan and with instructions to share that wealth with those who had remained east of the Jordan protecting the families of those who went to fight. As they crossed the Jordan, these tribes built a large and imposing altar. The rest of the tribes of Israel were concerned because they were afraid that the tribes from the east of the Jordan were going to set up their own, separate worship system outside of that prescribed by God in the Law.
     The New Testament reading is about Jesus’ teaching in the Temple during the week between the Triumphal Entry and his arrest. The Jewish leaders begin a series of challenges to Jesus to get Him to say something to either offend the people or cause the Romans to arrest Him for fomenting insurrection. The first challenge is to ask Him by what authority He does what He does. Jesus’ response reminds me of something someone said about what to do when someone asks you for proof that God exists. When someone asks for proof (or evidence) that God exists, you need to ask them what they would accept as proof before you attempt to offer them any. In this passage, Jesus asks them whether John baptized by God’s authority or merely that of a human. They were unwilling to answer the question because to say that John’s baptism was merely human would have revealed to the crowds that they did not share the crowd’s beliefs, but to say that it was from God would have opened them up to charges of knowingly rejecting teachings from God. In particular, John had taught against the very practices that Jesus had so recently forcibly acted against when He drove the merchants out of the Temple.
     Jesus follows this up by telling the parable of the evil tenant farmers who refuse to pay their rent and kill the owner’s son when he is sent to collect. The Jewish leaders knew that this story was directed against them and it strengthened their resolve to kill Jesus, but they were still afraid of the people. This passage reminds us that there are times when we must call out those who are sinning (especially when they are doing it in the name of the Lord).
     The final part of this section of today’s passage is where the Jewish leaders challenge Jesus on paying taxes to the Romans. They sent men who “pretended to be honest men”. This is a complicated issue because paying the Roman taxes was unpopular and there was a strong teaching that doing so was against the Law. The Roman tax in question had to be paid in a particular coin that had been minted by the current Emperor (not by the Roman government at the Emperor’s instruction, but by the Emperor from his private estates). This was not a coin that was used widely in Palestine at that time, the average person would be unlikely to be carrying one of these coins. More importantly, it was minted with the image of the Emperor as a god. When Jesus’ questioners produced one of these coins, they revealed who they were and their real agenda. Additionally, when Jesus asked them whose picture was on it, He used the same word as in the Commandment against graven images thus pointing out that having one of these coins was tantamount to idolatry. Jesus’ answer is twofold. The first part of the answer is to say that if you are carrying Caesar’s coins (and these were Caesar’s coins, not Rome’s) then you should return them to him when he asks for them. The second part is that even having these coins is a violation of the Commandments. In this manner Jesus both supported the popular feeling about Roman taxes (that they were wrong), while saying nothing that the Jewish leaders could take to the Roman authorities to use against Him. This passage is not really about the issue of taxes, it has more to do with being fully committed to worshiping God and not having divided loyalties. The issue of taxation is addressed elsewhere by Paul.
     The Psalm is a psalm of praise. “I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever.” This morning this Psalm just fills me with joy at the thought of all that the Lord has done for me. He is mighty and powerful and all works according to His plans. We have a choice in this life, we can willingly order our lives to fulfill the will of God, we can have our lives ordered by God to fulfill His will. In either case, the will of God will be followed.
     There are two proverbs in today’s reading. In many ways they go together. The first says that a person of good sense will be respected. The second says that a wise person thinks before they act. The second tells us what defines a person of good sense and how people recognize them. A person of good sense thinks before they act. Both proverbs have a second part. The first one tells us that a treacherous person is headed for destruction. Look around you and think how often those who betray the trust put in them end up suffering for it. It sometimes takes time, but I cannot think of any exceptions. It often happens when those they put their trust in betray them. The second proverb tells us that not only do fools not think before they act, but they often brag about it.

April 19, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     Today’s reading continues on with the dividing of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel. Once the land was divided, Joshua designated the Cities of Refuge where someone who had accidentally killed another could go to be safe from a revenge killing. If someone killed another unintentionally they could go to one of these cities and present their case before the city elders. If the elders accepted their claim that it was unintentional, the killer could stay in that city and be protected from those who wished to avenge the death. The killer would need to be subject to the judgement of the assembly of that city and remain there until after the death of the high priest at the time of the death. This strikes me as an eminently just arrangement. The person who caused the death of another pays a penalty for that action of, at the very least, having to relocate to one of the cities of refuge. Additionally, the assembly of that city could impose further penalties (short of death) if, when they judged the case, they felt that the killer was unduly negligent in their actions leading up to the death.

     The New Testament reading for today is Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and the clearing of the Temple. I have previously blogged on the this passage about the Triumphal Entry here. My new thoughts on this passage as I read it today are about what an experience it must have been to be part of that crowd that day. Can we even wrap our heads around what it must have been like? The closest thing to that that I can think of having seen is the parade in Philadelphia after the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. Yet there is something different as well. I was not at that parade, but I have experienced the euphoria of cheering on a winning sports team. I have, also, experienced euphoric worship events. The latter have something that goes beyond what one experiences with a sports win. I can almost imagine how the “championship parade” atmosphere combined with euphoric worship would feel. What would it take for us to experience that in this country today?
     After this, Jesus went into the Temple and drove out those who were selling animals for use as sacrifices. It is not spelled out in the passage, but knowing human nature, I think we can draw some conclusions. These animals were almost certainly being sold for much more than what you could buy them for in the general market. Additionally, the priests probably got a cut for “certifying” that the animals were acceptable sacrifices. Finally, there were probably some kinds of obstacles to bringing animals purchased elsewhere to offer as sacrifices. All of this colors our understanding of why the leaders were trying to find a way to kill Jesus. It, also, tells us something about why they found it so difficult to find a way to do so. The people would have seen how the religious leaders were behaving in a corrupt and abusive manner that belied their claims of righteousness. The leaders wanted to find a way to get rid of Jesus that did not further undermine their claims to being the arbiters of righteous behavior.

     Our Psalm today is a cry to the Lord from someone who feels completely broken. It is an example of how, no matter how much life has gone wrong for us, we should still trust in God for our deliverance. The Psalmist here expresses the feeling that their entire life has been nothing but trouble and sadness. Yet, he still cries out to the Lord for deliverance. He still expresses a willingness to declare the wonders of the Lord. This is an example we must follow.

     We have three Proverbs today. The first refers to how when something you hoped for is put off beyond when you expected to receive it, it can deflate your spirit and leave you listless and despondent. This is over against how receiving something desired can energize you and make you work harder towards your goals. The second proverb is about the importance of accepting advice and listening to those who have authority. The third proverb follows on the second and points out that we should strive to learn from those who possess wisdom.

April 18, 2012 Bible Study

     I am using One Year Bible Online for my daily Bible study. For today, One Year Bible Online links here.
     The first part of today’s reading is from the book of Joshua where Joshua is dividing the land of Canaan up among the tribes. One of the first things I note is the recurring theme that the Israelites failed to drive the Canaanites out of the land. God had commanded them to drive all of the Canaanites out of the promised land and had promised to do so for them. The Bible does not really tell us why God did not fully drive the Canaanites out of the land for the Israelites. However the fact that as the Israelites became strong instead of driving the Canaanites out from among them, they enslaved them, may have something to with this. This failure to drive the Canaanites out is the seed of many of Israel’s later problems.
     The next part of the reading is the story of Zacchaeus and the parable of the talents from Luke 19. I have known Christians who do not associate with non-Christians. I often wonder how they expect to fulfill Jesus’ command to make disciples of all the earth if they never spend any time with those who are not already followers of Jesus. I understand that some new Christians need to avoid associating with those who would tempt them to fall back into their sinful lifestyle. But I have known long time Christians who avoid any socialization with non-Christians and who question the righteousness of those who do otherwise. As we read the Gospels, we see that Jesus spent a lot of time socializing with those considered sinners in His day. This story is yet another example of this. Zacchaeus was anxious to see this man that all the area was talking about. Jesus told Zacchaeus that He must come to Zacchaeus’ house that day. He did not say this because Zacchaeus was a righteous man, but because Zacchaeus was a sinner. The crowd was displeased with Jesus’ choice of hosts. They thought He should choose a more “appropriate” person to be His host. Zacchaeus responded to Jesus’ outreach to him by promising to change his life around. In the Torah, the law called for fourfold restitution for theft. Zacchaeus promised to not only restore fourfold to those whom he had defrauded, but to give one half of his wealth to the poor. Jesus told the crowd that He came to seek and save the lost. How can we as Christians claim to be imitating Christ if we do not also seek the lost (and hopefully, through the Spirit’s intervention, save them)?
     The second part of today’s passage from Luke is one that troubles me. It is quite clear. Those who are given gifts from God (whether talents, or money, or other benefits) are expected to make good use of those gifts. I have been given quite a bit in my life both in talents and material goods, yet I have failed to make good use of those gifts for the glory of God. I have long struggled with knowing what God wants me to do, but I know that I must work at being more active in serving Him, even if I do not know what path He wishes me to follow. I have heard it said that it is easier to guide something that is in motion to the correct course than something that is stationary. I must make a stronger effort to put myself in motion, even if it is in the wrong direction, so that God may more readily guide my path.
     Next we have a Psalm about Jerusalem. It is one of several interesting (and perhaps troubling) Bible passages about the importance of Jerusalem as the City of God in light of the current state of affairs in that part of the world.
     The final element of today’s reading is a Proverb. I read several translations of this to get a clear idea of it. I think it is something that is important to remember. The way to wealth is to gather wealth over time, not to attempt to get it quickly or through fraud. When one looks at the lives of many retired athletes, or those who have won the lottery, one sees the truth of this Proverb.

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