Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead?

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JUDGES 8:18-9:21 | LUKE 23:44-24:12 | PSALM 99:1-9 | PROVERBS 14:9-10

Gideon is victorious over the Midianites and does away with the kings.  The Israelites are free people again, and ask Gideon to be king.  But Gideon declines.  He is content to live his life with his large family of many wives and seventy sons.  The text says that there was forty years of peace following Gideon’s victory. 

But after Gideon is dead and gone, it is the same thing all over again.  The children of Israel forget their God, Yahweh—the God of their fathers who brought them out of Egypt and established them in the promised land, and delivered them from their enemies time and over again.  They forget all this, including the recent past of Gideon’s leadership, and “prostitute themselves” to idol-worship.

And if this wasn’t enough, they are persuaded by Abimelek, one of Gideon’s sons by his concubine to make him king.  Gideon had declined the offer of kingship many years ago, of course, but he did have seventy able sons, the text tells us, and yet, Abimelek, the concubines’ son is the one who takes it upon himself to campaign for king, and eventually has himself appointed as king of Israel. 

One of Gideon’s sons, Jotham speaks out against this, but to no avail.  Like the thorn bush in the story that he tells, it is Abimelek who is chosen by the people.  It is to be seen how all this turns out in the days to come.

But for now, turning to our reading in the book of Luke, after the crucifixion is completed on Friday evening, we learn that a man by the name of Joseph of Arimethea asks Pilate for the body of Jesus so as to render a proper burial.  We don’t know much about this man other than that he was “a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action.”  It is this Joseph who makes burial arrangements. 

Where were the disciples, I wonder?  Surely, they must all be in mourning at what had happened to their leader, this man with whom over the last three years, they had followed willingly—having left everything—their own families and occupations, even.  But now that it was all over, was not there not a single one of them who was curious as to stay up and keep watch over the body that still hung on that hideous cross?  Was there not a single one of them who might have paused to wonder if perhaps they ought to get the body down and bury it? 

We don’t know where any of them were, including Luke, the writer of this book, and yet, Luke does dutifully record the work of Joseph of Arimethea and also of the women from Galilee, perhaps Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ own mother, Mary, and perhaps others with them who stood afar and saw Joseph take the body away.

And as was the custom of the day, these women then went home and prepared the things for embalming the body.  But the next day would be the Sabbath, meaning they would have to wait for the first day of the week, i.e., Sunday morning, before they could go back to the tomb of Jesus’ burial. 

And that is just what they do.  But when they arrive at the place of the tomb, they are puzzled:  they find the stone that covered the tomb to have already been moved, implying that someone had already been there, and when they venture inside the tomb, they find no body! 

Instead, they find two men in “clothes that gleamed like lightning” sitting there as though they were expecting to see them there.  And they say to the women Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”  

What?  What did they mean?  “Raised again”– as in:  he is alive?  Could it be true?!

And so, as Luke tells the story, the women then come immediately to find the eleven disciples, Luke included, and they tell them just what they have seen and heard.  But the disciples do not believe a word of it.  None of them do, except Peter. 

Peter, the one who had so much faith at one time that he actually walked on the water with Jesus—even if it was just for a while—the same Peter who said he’d do anything for Jesus but openly denied all knowledge and association with Jesus when the going got tough—it was this same Peter who heard the women’s absurd story and yet, he didn’t completely disbelieve them. 

True to form, he wished to see for himself if there might be any truth to this.  And so, he runs to the tomb; runs right inside the tomb, and finds only the linens in which the body had been draped—but no body was in sight!  

Where was the body?  Had it come to life?  Could it be true?!

In our Psalm for the day, we see David offering up praises to the Lord Almighty.  As we study the history of the Jewish people and learn of the many times and the many ways in which they chose to turn away from their God, there is great meaning in David’s words.  He says:

8 LORD our God,
you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds.

And finally, one verse from the book of Proverbs that may serve as food for thought:

9 Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.

Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do

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JUDGES 7:1-8:17 | LUKE 23:13-43 | PSALM 97:1-98:9 | PROVERBS 14:7-8

Gideon is the man of the hour, and in these two chapters we learn of how Gideon leads a small band of men—no more than three hundred—to defeat the Midianites, the dominant peoples in that region.  Although Gideon might have taken with him a much larger army of people and weaponry, in the end, based on God’s guidance, he dismisses several thousand of his men save the three hundred, and his primary weapons are a torch in the right hand, and a trumpet and a jar in the right. 

The scene is somewhat reminiscent of Joshua and his men taking the city of Jericho.  A cry of jubilation and praise to the Lord, the blowing of trumpets, the breaking of the earthen jars to the ground, and holding up their torches—this was the style of warfare that Gideon employed.  And he was victorious in routing the Midianites.

And he wasn’t one to forget an insult easily, either.  When Gideon approaches some others along the way and asks for succor, he is turned away, and Gideon does to them what he promises he will do:  to come back after he has finished the job of finding the two absconding enemy kings, and to punish those who dismissed him with a scourging of thorn briers.

Turning to our reading in Luke, we find a most curious set of events: Jesus is shipped off to Herod, who taunts him for a while, and then sends him right back to Pilate who then tries to talk the people into letting him release Jesus.  And so, here’s the big question:  since when did the ruthless Roman administration show so much consideration to the will of the people?  Not since Pilate in his review and treatment of Jesus! 

And so the story goes as Luke recounts what happens next:  Pilate attempts to persuade the people to release Jesus for the annual pardon-one-prisoner program, but the mob is crazed, and instead demands that not Jesus, but Barabbas—a hardened criminal—be let go.  Pilate does just that, and the die has been cast once and for all.  Jesus is executed like a common criminal, in fact, he has for company two other criminals who had already been on death-row, and perhaps in the name of efficiencies of scale, all three accused are now crucified on the same day.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  These are Jesus’ words even as he lies bleeding a slow death.  Words that will forever set the bar for what true forgiveness really is.  Forgiving the sinner even before the sinner has sought forgiveness. What a concept!

Some time back, I had wondered about the concept of forgiveness whilst pondering the passage in which Jesus says that we must forgive seventy-times-seven.  I was wondering at that time if forgiveness was available only for the asking, or if was to be made available even if before it was asked for, or worse still, if it wasn’t asked for at all.  I think I might have found my answer here in these words of Jesus who is clearly offering a forgiveness to those who haven’t asked for it yet, and possibly don’t even realize their need for it.

The rest of the passage tells of the very gruesome nature of the crucifixion, and even as I ponder the physical agony of such an execution, I am drawn to the story of the one criminal who engages Jesus in conversation.  This is one smart criminal.  Smart and humble.  He says simply to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus immediately says to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Our two Psalms for the day are psalms of praise.  In Psalm 98, we see David exhorting and urging all to sing and shout praises unto the Lord.  Both man and nature is to sing and shout praises.  Do not remain silent when you can sing and shout praises. 

This is reminiscent of Gideon in that he and his men took down the cities of the Midianites by virtues of their shouts of praise.  The sound of praise is an extraordinary one; let us use the voices that we have been given to sing and shout the praises of God.  David says this:

4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
5 make music to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the LORD, the King.

7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
9 let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.

Finally, from the book of Proverbs, we have yet again a couple of verses that compare and contrast the ways of the wise and the foolish.  Solomon, the wise king of Israel offers this admonition to his people:

7 Stay away from a fool,
for you will not find knowledge on their lips.

8 The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways,
   but the folly of fools is deception.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.

We are the People of His Pasture

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JUDGES 6:1-40 | LUKE 22:54-23:12 | PSALM 95:1-96:13 | PROVERBS 14:5-6

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13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 

These are the words of Gideon to the angel who approaches him with a view to recruit him to be a leader unto his people.

And a leader was needed indeed.  The children of Israel had once again forgotten the God of their fathers and their identity as a chosen people, and it wasn’t long before they had become worshipers of Baal and were struggling to hold onto their land and livelihood.  And so, yet again, they cried out to God to rescue them from their oppressors, the Midianites and others who kept invading them from the south and west across the Jordan. 

Gideon, a young man from the tribe of Manasseh (Joseph’s son) was the one chosen to be a leader this time, and quite a young man he was.  He was curious in that he didn’t take at face-value the words of the angel, and asks that a sign be shown to him.  The angel does just that, and the next day, Gideon does as he is told:  he tears down the altar of Baal in his father’s house, and builds one in the proper prescribed manner and makes a sacrificial offering as instructed. 

When the neighbors ask what all this is about and express fear that Baal will be angered, Gideon’s father replies, “If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar!”  Gideon goes on to ask for two further signs of God—just to be sure that all this was from the Lord God indeed, and God obliges him with his specific requests: to see dew on only the fleece one morning, and dew on only the ground on the next.

Turning to our text in Luke, we are now in the thick of things:  Jesus has been arrested, and is taken down to Pontius Pilate.  Pilate does say unequivocally “I find no basis for a charge against this man” but lacks the gumption to release him.  Instead, he sends Jesus off to Herod, and Herod tries to get Jesus to perform some supernatural acts—as if Jesus were some circus performer—and when he fails to elicit any response from Jesus, he sends him back to Pilate.  Two spineless Roman governors who will forever have the blood of an innocent man on their hands!

We also find in this passage Peter’s denial of Jesus—three times in one day—just as Jesus had predicted only yesterday.  Alas, we think we know ourselves when we so vehemently profess our love for the Lord, but it is really the Lord who knows us—and knows us really well, better than we will ever know ourselves.

Turning to our reading of the Psalms, we find these two that are overflowing with praise for God, the creator and keeper of this universe.  In Psalm 95 we find these few verses.  The analogy of God as a loving shepherd is indeed a very comforting one.

6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

And in Psalm 96, we find these verses: 

11Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Finally, from the book of Proverbs, we have one verse that I wish to offer for reflection:

6 The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none,
but knowledge comes easily to the discerning.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.

Your Consolation Brought Me Joy

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JUDGES 4:1-5:31 | LUKE 22:35-53 | PSALM 94:1-23 | PROVERBS 14:3-4

Continuing in our reading of the book of Judges, we find here a most interesting phenomenon:  a female judge of Israel by the name of Deborah.  I wonder how that came about in a time and age when women were considered as good as chattel.  How it did we do not know, but what we do know is that Deborah wielded power in what she said—and when she summoned Barak, a young man from the tribe of Naphtali and ordered him to lead the Israelites against the local Caananite king that was oppressing the children of Israel at the time, Barak takes up the charge but asks that Deborah go with him.  Deborah goes with him, and the battle is won. 

There is also mention of yet another woman by the name of Jael, who albeit being a Caananite has her allegiance to the Israelites, and plays a part in bringing a complete victory to Barak.  It is said that after this battle, there was peace for forty years, viz. is approximately two generations.  It is to be seen what comes next in the history of this fascinating people called the Jews.  Deborah’s song of victory and praise is a long one, and to this end, she says this:

31 “So may all your enemies perish, LORD!
   But may all who love you be like the sun
   when it rises in its strength.”

Turning to our reading in the book of Luke, we are fast approaching the time of Jesus’ ordeal on the cross.  There is an interesting interlude prior to the time of Jesus’ arrest when Jesus instructs his disciples to arm themselves with swords, giving them the impression that he is preparing for battle or perhaps even self-defense, but Jesus is quick to explain that it is only so that the prophecies of old might be fulfilled in that Isaiah’s words “he was counted among the transgressors” is brought to pass. 

And yet, the sword is not the answer to the situation at hand.  When Judas Iscariot comes in leading a contingent of Roman soldiers to identify and arrest Jesus in the dead of night, the disciples with sword in hand are quick to use them, so much so, that a soldier’s ear is lopped off.  But Jesus will have none of this.  He immediately goes to the bleeding man, most likely screaming in pain, and touches his ear to restore it to normal.  Just like that!

Can you imagine the rest of the life of that young man—described here as a “servant of the high priest”—possibly sent on this important mission to arrest Jesus because he was possibly a strapping young man who might have exuded the authority of the high priest himself with his presence on this important occasion. 

Imagine what he must have thought and felt when he realized that he was no longer bleeding, nay, that his ear had been reattached and that he was altogether whole?  Do you think he continued in his mission to arrest Jesus?  I don’t think so!  He would have gone back to his master, the high priest and told him exactly what had happened to him.  The high priest would have listened in amazement, no doubt, but the high priest took no action to repeal the chain of events that had been set into motion as far the arrest and trial of Jesus was concerned.

Woe is unto that high priest!  Woe is unto him for turning a blind eye to so great an evidence that this man Jesus was indeed the Son of God who had performed this miracle upon a man who was technically his enemy!  Woe is unto that high priest for continuing down the path of death and destruction despite having the truth revealed to him at the last hour!  It was in his power, just as it would soon be in the power of Pontius Pilate to drop all charges laid against Jesus. 

But the die seems to have been cast, and it is to be seen what comes next in this horrific crucifixion story.  Jesus says to those who have come to take him away:“Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

Turning now to our reading of the Psalms, we find David, king of Israel, speak to the omniscience of God’s persona.  He says to his own people just as much he says to every reader of his writings, these words:

8 Take notice, you senseless ones among the people;
   you fools, when will you become wise?
9 Does he who fashioned the ear not hear?
   Does he who formed the eye not see?
10 Does he who disciplines nations not punish?
   Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge?
11 The LORD knows all human plans;
   he knows that they are futile.

David goes on to claim the promises of the Lord Almighty, and we see how his words might apply to both his personal life and the life of his kingdom.  And viewed from the lens of our study of Jesus’ own plight and agony before his ordeal, we can see a faint similarity in the type of prayers and pleas that David employs in his hour of need.  The circumstances are different, and yet, the cry for help and strength remains the same. 

These prayers are ones that even we in our mortal and insignificant selves may claim in our own moments of need.  There is a sure confidence in David’s words even as he offers praise, pleads for help, and reaffirms God’s sense of justice.  He says:

16 Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
   Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
17 Unless the LORD had given me help,
   I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
   your unfailing love, LORD, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me,
   your consolation brought me joy.

Finally, our one verse from the book of Proverbs for today that is worthy of our reflection:

3A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride,
   but the lips of the wise protect them.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.

Do This In Remembrance of Me

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JUDGES 2:10-3:31 | LUKE 22:14-34 | PSALM 92:1-93:5 | PROVERBS 14:1-2 

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16 Then the LORD raised up judges,who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the LORD’s commands. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

This was the state of affairs of the children of Israel.  So much for the Lord’s commands; so much for Moses’ reminders; so much for Joshua’s telling them their history and exhorting them to love the Lord and only the Lord. 

So much for all of that!  Because within a couple of generations, Israel has become so assimilated with the ways of the natives that they have forgotten who they are, where they have come from, or how they even got there.  And it wasn’t as if this was a two-way street in terms of a cultural exchange either; it was all one-way where the Israelites completely gave up their faith and adopted the natives’ gods for their own. 

If there was one thing that was taboo, it was this, i.e., idolatry.  But time and again, the children of Israel suffered from complete lapses of memory.  Their memories, however, seemed to return only when a leader or a judge rose up from among them and petitioned God for mercy.  When this happened, God did indeed honor the request of the judge, and the people prevailed against their enemy.  But it wouldn’t be long before the memory lapse would occur again.  And so it went.

Turning to our reading in the book of Luke, we find Jesus serving the Passover meal to his disciples, but this is no ordinary Passover.  The disciples most likely didn’t fully understand what Jesus meant when he referred to the bread and wine as his own body and blood.  But it would all make sense in a few days. 

This is what Luke tells us Jesus did:  19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’

Jesus goes on to speak to his disciples on the matter of who is really important.  Jesus says:  the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  And these aren’t empty words, indeed.  Jesus speaks these words just moments after he has washed the feet of all his disciples and has served them the Passover meal.

May it be that we are able to practice what we preach!  But we are weak in that our actions don’t often match up with our words.  Just as the ancient Israelites’ actions didn’t match up to their words, or even Simon Peter’s actions didn’t match up to his words. There he was vowing in the presence of the other eleven that he would go with Jesus to the very end, even to prison or to his death in serving the Lord, but Jesus calmly looks at him and says to Peter:  “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Turning now to our reading of the Psalms, we find two.  The first one, Psalm 92 starts out with verses of great praise:

1 It is good to praise the LORD
   and make music to your name, O Most High,
2 proclaiming your love in the morning
   and your faithfulness at night.

And in the next psalm, we see David declare the omnipotence of the Lord in these verses:

1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty;
   the LORD is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
   indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.
2 Your throne was established long ago;
   you are from all eternity.

Finally, a verse from the book of Proverbs for all women for all time.  Solomon, the wise king of Israel says this:

1 The wise woman builds her house,
   but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.

Teach Us to Number Our Days

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JUDGES 1:1-2:9 | LUKE 21:29-22:13 | PSALM 90:1-91:16 | PROVERBS 13:24-25

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The possession and establishment of oneself in a new land cannot be accomplished overnight; nay, it takes a generation or two, as we see here in the opening chapter of a new book titled Judges I.  Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt, and Joshua leads them into the promised land of Canaan and settles them there, but it will still take some doing for the Israelites to settle all the territorial details. 

We see now a further detailed description of just which of the twelve tribes go to battle with the native Canaanites in the small towns and villages: to either conquer and uproot, or to conquer and subjugate.  For the scholars of history and archeology, these passages are sure to be fascinating in that they provide much detail to seek out the evidence of these early inhabitants of these particular areas in ancient Palestine.

But despite Joshua’s strong exhortation before his death, we soon see an instance of apparent violation of the most fundamental of precepts that was to be observed by the Israelites:  love of God and abhorrence of idols.  And yet, there is apparently some form of idolatry that is being practiced by some, perhaps the influence of the local natives, and we see here a sharp admonition delivered by an angel of the Lord in a place called Bokim. 

The angel says to them, speaking for the Lord, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? 3 And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.’” 

The immediate effect of this is a repentance and the offering of sacrifices—the only way the people knew how to make things right.  It is, of course, to be seen how long this spirit of contriteness will last.

Turning to our reading from the book of Luke, we find Jesus continuing in his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing.  The text tells us that during the day he would be found in the Temple teaching his disciples and others who may have had the interest to stop and listen, including of course, the many elders of the Temple who were curious about this Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, the carpenter. 

And in the evenings, Luke tells us, Jesus would retreat to the mountains—the Mount of Olives, or the Mount of Gethsamane.  During the day when Jesus is teaching in the Temple, his words are fascinating to the ordinary people who stand amazed at the things that they see and hear; but Jesus’ words are also fascinating to the elders of the Temple for more reasons than one. 

Given that we know the full story now, we can safely surmise that these might have been the types of the thoughts in the minds of the elders of the Temple:  What is he saying– this young upstart from Nazareth?  What could all this mean?  What blasphemy it is that he continues to proclaim himself as the ‘Son of Man’ and speak of these end-times, and alludes to himself as the purveyor of the future, nay, life beyond this life when he speaks of the Kingdom of God.  Just who does he think he is?  Does he not know that we know who exactly his father is—that carpenter called Joseph from Nazareth!  What heresy within the walls of the Temple!  What utter nonsense he continues to speak! Surely, something must be done to stop him before these simple people begin to imagine all these things that he is telling them to be true.  Surely, we must plan to put an end to this at once!

And that is just what the leaders of the Temple do—they find in Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, the perfect strategy to have him identify Jesus in the dead of night on the Mount of Gethsamane.  We shall soon learn about how all this comes to pass. 

But in the meantime, we find that Jesus prepares to observe the Passover—the ancient Jewish feast established in the land of Egypt when the angel of death passed over (hence, The Passover) the houses of those who had the blood of a lamb applied to their doorposts.  In remembrance of this great event that secured the life of the children of Israel even as all of Egypt wept at the death of their firstborn, the Passover was forever established as a token of annual remembrance. 

Little do the disciples know that this is the greatest Passover of their lives that they will ever observe.  In a few short days, their Lord and master, Jesus himself would be that slain lamb of the Passover, and it was in the shedding of his blood that rescue and redemption would be made available for one and all who might choose to apply his shed blood onto the doorposts of their hearts.  The angel of death would indeed pass over their souls because it would have no power to claim it.  This was one Passover that the disciples would remember forever indeed, because, in hindsight it would all make sense.

Our first Psalm for the day is one that is ascribed to Moses.  It is a psalm with great overtones of humility in seeking the Lord’s mercies.  These few verses are indeed ones that would behoove us to read, remember, and apply to our lives:

12Teach us to number our days,
   that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
   that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

The second Psalm for the day is an amazing one of praise that displays overarching confidence in the might and power of God Almighty to forever provide and protect.  If Moses is the author of this Psalm as well, it is one that he has indeed written out of his own personal experience!  And as for me, it is one that I committed to memory as a young child at the direction of my mother.  To this day, I know it by-heart in its entirety, and reproduce it here in the King James Version (KJV) that I learned it in, and am most familiar with.

Psalm 91

1He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

 2I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.

 3Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.

 4He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

 5Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;

 6Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

 7A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.

 8Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.

 9Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;

 10There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

 11For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

 12They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

 13Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

 14Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.

 15He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.

 16With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

Finally, from our assigned reading of the verses in the book of Proverbs, there is one that is worthy of reflection despite being viewed controversially in these modern times.  From my own perspective, the “rod” is not necessarily to be taken literally, but rather serves as a symbolism of an implement to offer correction.  For all parents, the admonition is this:

24 Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
   but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.

Your Redemption Is Drawing Near

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JOSHUA 24:1-33 | LUKE 21:1-28 | PSALM 89:38-52 | PROVERBS 13:20-23

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Joshua is now an old man of a 110 years, and he calls for a meeting of the leaders and judges of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The meeting place is Shechem, the place that Joseph’s remains were brought back from Egypt and buried.  It was actually a tract of land that Jacob, aka, Israel, Joseph’s father had once purchased, and it is here that Joshua summons the people to have this meeting. 

The purpose of the meeting is to give unto the people what the Lord has commanded Joshua to tell them:  their history and a renewal of the covenant that God had made with their forefathers.

And so, Joshua begins from the very beginning.  He tells them of how this man called Abraham who once lived “beyond the Euphrates river,” which is modern-day Iraq, was befriended by God one hot summer day.  A covenant was made with Abraham to make him a father of many nations, and in his old-age, his wife Sarah, 90 years old at the time conceives and bears a son and they call him Isaac—meaning ‘laughter’, because Sarah had first laughed when her husband Abraham told her that they would have a son. 

After Isaac’s birth, Abraham’s faith is tested when he is asked to sacrifice his one and only son, and when he passes this test, God continues to bless Abraham and his descendants.  Isaac marries Rebekah who bears him twin boys:  Jacob and Esau, Jacob being the second-born.  While Esau proves to be a man of shallow temperament who is quick to sell his inheritance to his brother for a bowl of stew, Jacob gets the lion’s share of his father’s blessing, and goes on to become the father of twelve sons—the twelve who are the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel, and from whom the entire Jewish race has originated.

Jacob and Rachel build a home together and raise their eleven boys, the last of which is Joseph, the apple of his father’s eye.  But Joseph’s ten brothers scheme to be rid of him and do the unthinkable:  they sell him into slavery in Egypt.  Jacob is devastated, but God does not forget the covenant that he has made to him to bless him and prosper him, and in the most amazing of circumstances, it so happens that God is with Joseph through the most horrific of ordeals and raises him up to become an influential official within Pharaoh’s kingdom. 

And in an even more amazing series of events, it is because of his station that Joseph is able to come to the aid of his brothers and family, and there is in time, a great reunion.  Jacob and Rachel, and Joseph’s eleven brothers (Benjamin, the youngest of Joseph’s sons is born after Joseph’s disappearance) come to be with Joseph and make Egypt their adopted homeland thanks in no small measure to Joseph’s largess.

But Joseph eventually passes on and the native Egyptians forget who these Jewish people living amongst them are, and over time, the Jewish aliens in Egypt are reduced to slaves.  They spill their blood, sweat and tears in building the great pyramids and the many architectural marvels of ancient Egypt, and the years roll by. 

And then one day, God looks to see the state of these people—descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and takes pity on them.  These were the people with whose ancestors was the great covenant made, but here they were wasting away in slavery.  And so, God raises up Moses—a Hebrew child who had been raised as an Egyptian prince—to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt back to their homeland, nay, the “promised land”.  Moses is the leader of these brow-beaten Israelites, and in a most miraculous series of happenstances, Moses leads this great exodus out of Egypt.

For forty years, Moses serves as God’s mouthpiece and holds together the children of Israel even as he leads them forward to the land of Canaan.  But Moses breathes his last before he can lead them through the promised land, and the baton is now passed on to Joshua.  Joshua then completes the great mission of bringing the people into this land flowing with milk and honey, and in undertaking the grave responsibility of distributing the land among the twelve tribes.  The people are now completely settled, and Joshua is near the end of his life. 

It is now that he gathers all the people together and says this to them: 14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

And so the great covenant that was first established with Abraham, and then renewed with Isaac and Jacob, is now renewed in this place called Shechem:  the Lord God would continue to honor the promise made to their forefathers and to flourish them in this new land, which was now to be their homeland.  This is the final message that Joshua delivers to the children of Israel before he breathes his last.

Next, turning to our study of the book of Luke, we see Jesus continuing in his ministry of teaching, preaching and healing.  There is the story of the poor widow who gives in the Temple the only thing she has, i.e., her last coin.  Jesus makes an example of her to all the self-righteous folks of the day.  He then goes on to speak to the matter of the end-times, and as mysterious as all this may seem, we are left with only what Jesus has said, and it is up to us to discern the days that we live in to wonder if these might perhaps be the end times indeed. 

Jesus says this:  25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Changing gears again, we see that our Psalm for the day is a continuation of a long one from the one we read yesterday.  In this part of the psalm, David is pleading to God to be his help and refuge.  Not unlike many of us in our dark hour, David, the great poet-king of Isarel says:

46 How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?
   How long will your wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember how fleeting is my life.
   For what futility you have created all humanity!
48 Who can live and not see death,
   or who can escape the power of the grave?
49 Lord, where is your former great love,
   which in your faithfulness you swore to David?

Finally, we have four verses for our reading from the book of Proverbs, but the one that I wish to present here is this one:

20 Walk with the wise and become wise,
   for a companion of fools suffers harm.

May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.  Amen.