SOAP Journal – 14 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 33:3)

Indeed, He loves the people;
All Your holy ones are in Your hand,
And they lie down at Your feet;
receive of Your words.

Deuteronomy 33:3

This verse is part of Moses’ blessing on Israel. This verse makes a few statements about God’s character and His interactions with His holy ones.

Statement One: Indeed, He loves the people. The word used, so my concordance tells me, denotes people in the sense of a people group or nation. In context and by the word used, this is about God loving the Israelites.

Statement Two: All Your holy ones are in Your hand. The word used for hand, again my concordance tells me, refers specifically to the open hand and denotes power or strength. God’s holy ones, the Israelites in this context, are under His power and protection and authority.

Statement Three: they lie down at Your feet. The translation I normally read, the NASB, included a footnote that this reading was also supported by the language in the phrase. And I find it to be more in keeping with what is said in the other parts of the verse as well as what happened in The Bible generally. The idea of lying down at one’s feet carries so many connotations that it would be difficult to unpack them all, but the two that come most readily to mind are the ideas of rest and of proximity.

Statement Four: they … receive of Your words. Dovetailing nicely with the concept of being close and at God’s feet is the idea of receiving His words. But the verb used does not seem as passive as the translation might indicate. Receiving something connotes a passive activity in which the receiver is acted on. But the verb used most frequently carries some meaning of taking. It is as if the idea is that the holy ones sit down at God’s feet so as to gain better access to God’s words that they might take those words and make them their own possession.

All of these are principles of how God deals with His holy ones; His saints throughout scripture. The apostles write quite a bit about how God loves us. Jesus, Himself, speaks of believers being given to Him by the Father; being in His hand by implication. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, literally sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to Him talk.

God loves me and I am in His hand. I can sit at His feet, metaphorically, as I do most mornings and listen for Him to speak to me. Let me rest in His care and avail myself often of the privilege of being close to Him and of hearing Him speak.

Father, thank You that You love us. You loved us before we loved You and demonstrated that love profoundly. Please make my heart desire to be in Your presence more and more that I might sit at Your feet and receive of Your words.

SOAP Journal – 13 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 32:43)

Rejoice, O nations, [with] His people; / For He will avenge the blood of His servants, / And will render vengeance on His adversaries, / And will atone for His land [and] His people.

Deuteronomy 32:43

The last part of the song that Moses teaches to the Israelites before his death caught my eye this morning. The song, as a whole, is an interesting thing. It is a mixture of prophecy about the impending faithlessness of the Israelites and winds its way around to this morning’s verse.

In these words, I see an early promise of the sacrifice of the Messiah. To make sense of it, though, I had to break it into three promises divided by the conjunction and. 

The verse begins with an invitation to the nations, to rejoice … [with] His people. The square brackets around with indicate that it was added by the translators. But this is the same song in which God has promised to make them jealous with [those who] are not a people and provoke them to anger with a foolish nation (v 21). It is possible that the phrase could be understood as inviting the nations; His people to rejoice.

The first part that caught my attention is the promise to atone for His land [and] His people. This is precisely what happened at the cross. Jesus made atonement by His death. And the law of the kinsman redeemer says that the One Who redeems the person also receives that person’s land inheritance. Back in Genesis, God gave dominion of the whole Earth to Adam, hence to people. It would seem that when people are redeemed, the Earth over which we were given dominion comes along for the ride. The word used for people here can also be used in the figurative to mean flock. And Jesus is my Good Shepherd.

But there is another promise: the promise of vengeance. The verse says that God will avenge the blood of His servants and will render vengeance on His adversaries. Almost this same phrasing is used in Revelation when those who are under the altar cry out to God, saying How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Revelation 6:10) Many of the atrocities committed against those who place their faith in God seem to have gone unanswered throughout history, but God has promised that vengeance is coming.

I think, though, that the order is deliberate. The fulfillment of these promises will happen  and has happened in the opposite order. Redemption is already available and vengeance has not yet come. But placing them in the order of (1) vengeance and (2) redemption is a reminder that all of us deserve the vengeance of God to be visited on us, but we can all be redeemed and preserved from that judgment.

Let me seek God’s judgment insofar as it is the end of suffering. Let me seek to see people redeemed, that God’s vengeance is taken on as few people as possible.

Thank You, Father, for redemption; for a way to not be waiting for Your vengeance to be visited on me. Please make my heart such as desires to see all redeemed and to see Your vengeance rendered only on those angels that rebelled.

SOAP Journal – 12 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 31:8)

The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Deuteronomy 31:8

The book of Deuteronomy is drawing to a close and the life of Moses with it. God summons Joshua and Moses to the tabernacle so that God can commission Joshua and, with that commission, deliver a prophecy about the faithlessness of the Israelites. They will turn away and they will worship other gods despite having seen the LORD do awesome things — seen these things with their own eyes. Joshua will later throw down the gauntlet and tell the Israelites to choose whom they will serve. This will be at the end of his time as leader.

With the bad news on his mind, Joshua hears this morning’s words from Moses.

The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you. You know that you are walking into a place where there are giants; where the people outnumber you by a significant margin; where the people are going to be faithless. Despite all of these obstacles, know Who it is that goes before you. If this were going to be attempted in your own strength and ability, then you would be best served to hang it up before you got started. But it is not you who has gone ahead to scout positions and prepare the field for battle, but God.

He will be with you. Not only has God gone on ahead to get things ready, but He will walk beside you. When you need counsel, He will speak with you. When you are weak and need someone to lean on, He will be there. As you obey and do as He has commanded, He will be present.

He will not fail you or forsake you. Things may look hopeless. In fact, the very first city with which the Israelites will do battle after crossing the Jordan is Jericho. The walls of Jericho might as well be the walls of Troy. There is no human way of getting past those walls. But God has promised to drive the people out before you and He will not fail you. There will be times when you are not sure how God is going to come through, but He will come through. He will not fail you or forsake you.

Do not fear or be dismayed. Sure, it may sometimes look bleak and things may not go well, but do not be afraid. God is still going on ahead of you to prepare the way. God is still with you to keep you in the way He has prepared. God will not fail you. God will not forsake you. With those promises in mind, do not be afraid or lose heart.

So goes Moses’ instruction to Joshua. And the same things can be said to all believers. God still goes before us and walks with us. God still holds Himself to the promise never to fail or forsake us. God is still as described in this morning’s verse. He has not changed.

In light of that, I should not be afraid of the future or of what is around the corner. God is already there. I should not be lose heart when it seems that God is not answering my prayers, because He has not left me or forsaken me. I do not always understand His silence — why He refuses to answer — but I understand that He will not fail me or forsake me. And that should be enough.

Father, I know that I have sometimes been fearful; sometimes dismayed. I also know that You are good to Your Word and that You have promised never to leave me or forsake me. You will not leave me a spiritual orphan, but will always remain my Father. Thank You for Your faithfulness.

SOAP Journal – 09 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I have read these verses before. This is familiar ground on which to tread. But I had not noticed that the verses are connected. There is no full stop between them as there is with other verses to signal the end of a thought. Tee only full stop appears in the middle of one of the verses. The punctuation might be inserted by the translators — I do not know enough about Hebrew to be able to comment intelligently — but I agree with the notion that these are linked thoughts.

Moses calls heaven and earth to witness. Wrongs, according to The Law, had to be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. So Moses calls in two witnesses: heaven and earth. This could be the physical heaven and earth, as in the sky and dirt, or the spiritual Heaven and Earth, as in the abode of God and of humanity respectively.

The part of these verses that I want to zero in on is in the middle of things: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days.

Moses had gone over God’s promises — the pleasant and the terrifying — and God’s commands — even those that are difficult to understand — and what the consequences of obedience and disobedience are. Moses had set before the Israelites life and death, the blessing and the curse. God does the same thing for me through His Word and through those who teach it.

What this presentation should do is prompt me to choose life. The consequence of which is that I and my descendants will live. How do I choose life? I choose lifeby loving the LORD [my] God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.

To love is a simple complexity. For example, I love my wife, but to live in such a way as makes that clear to her requires deliberate action on my part. I cannot blithely wander through life and expect that she will understand that I love her. Experience and available data do not support this idea. I must do things that she understands as loving her. Likewise, loving God is more than a feeling (now I have that song in my head), it is a deliberate choice to live out love as The Bible describes it.

Obedience is straightforward, but not always easy. I understand that God wants me to speak the truth in love, but some truths are difficult to take and trying to frame them in a gentle and loving manner requires a great deal of effort on my part.

Holding fast to God is a necessity if my faith is to survive the modern Western world. Everywhere, there are distractions and enticements that try to lure me away from the simplicity of the gospel and of my faith in God. There are outright assaults on the senses: billboards and advertisements of various kinds, music with earwormy lyrics and sounds and punditry blaring in almost every quarter. The Western world is an audio-video assault on my senses and my sensibilities. The only way to keep from being carried away by the waves of all this is to hold fast to God.

This is my life and the length of my days. If I want a full rich life and days that I can take pleasure in, then I must love, obey, and hold fast to God.

hank You, Father, for loving me first. Thank You for being dedicated to me before I was even aware of You. Please teach me to love and obey and hold fast to You so that I might walk in Your blessing rather than in the alternative.

SOAP Journal – 08 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 29:29)

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29

I have heard this verse quoted, but do not think I noticed it in my reading until  this morning.

There are things about which The Bible does not speak; areas in which The Bible seems to be mum. This is not to say that God has nothing to say on the matter, only that His thoughts on that subject are not revealed. There are secret things, or hidden things that God keeps to Himself. And He has every right to do so. Just as every person has every right to hold certain information close, so, too, does God have every right to withhold things from us. As with the lesser (us), so with the greater (God). This also means that God is not going to hold me to account for something which He did not reveal.

There are other things about which The Bible is quite specific. There are commands that are clear and prohibitions that leave no room for argument. There are blessings and curses and promises both pleasant and ominous. These things belong to me. God has revealed them so that I know them. If I know them, then I am now accountable for them. This is heavy when dealing with The Law, because it means that I know what the standard of perfection is and know that I have never, am not currently, and can never measure up to it. This is delightful when dealing with God’s promises, because it means that all of the promises that are properly directed to me (and not to, say, the Israelites specifically) belong to me. Just as the onus to obey is mine, so, too, the fulfillment of promises rests on the God Who made those promises.

As I struggle to obey, God sees and has made clear to me that He is mindful that I am but dust. He knows my weakness and my failures. He does not condone them, but nor is He surprised or shocked or put off by them. He is ready to restore me and move me forward.

The things revealed belong to us and to our children forever. While Moses said this to the Israelites, the principle is sound and what God reveals belongs to those to whom He has revealed it.

God, please make solid in me those things which You have revealed and which belong to me — both things to obey and promises in which to hope.

SOAP Journal – 07 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

If men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.

Deuteronomy 25:11-12

I paused to consider these verses. Not because I feel that they speak to me, but more because they perplex me. It seemed excessive to lop of some woman’s hand for trying to save her husband from a fight but accidentally grabbing the other man’s secrets, as the King James translates the word. So, I pursued it.

Most of the facts of the case are straightforward. Two men are struggling together, it is likely a physical altercation. One of these men is married and his wife wants to try to separate the men.

Having tried to part combatants before, I can say that I think it was a poor choice. It is much better, I think, to let people that have come to blows wear themselves out before trying to break things up. Most of their angry energy has been expended and I am less like to be cold-cocked while trying to inject some sanity. I am going to put aside the bad decision that begins this sequence and focus on the one that results in a punishment that feels, at first glance, disproportionate to the infraction.

Back to the facts of the case. The way this is described, it reads as though the wife’s purpose was to grab the man who is not her husband by the secrets (I find that euphemism hilarious). She did not reach out to stop the men, but rather reached out to grab the non-husband by the secrets.

Being roughly grabbed and pulled away from something by the genitals is sufficient justification in the minds of many men to do far worse than cut off hands. There is in men a visceral response to the thought of someone doing something to our genitals, even when the thing being done is voluntary. I had to be put all the way under to allow the doctor to complete a procedure in that area. We men can be protective of that anatomical region.

If that were not enough — and it really is not, though some men might argue that it is — the verb translated seizes, carries the additional possible meanings of to have or take or keep hold of, or to retain. There is a possible implication that the wife does not just grab the man who is not her husband by the genitals and pull him away from the fight, but that she retains her grasp on his genitals for some indefinite period of time.

So, to recap, two men are fighting and the wife of one of the men decides to get in the middle and break up the fight (which is a terrible decision, really) and deliberately chooses to separate the men by grabbing the genitals of the man to whom she is not married (which is an even worse decision). Apparently, there would have been no wrong done if she had (a) put her hand on just about any other part of their anatomy and tried to push them apart or (b) grabbed her husband’s genitals to lead him away from the fight. There are literally dozens of ways the wife could have chosen to try to break things up which would have resulted in everyone shrugging and telling the men they were probably being dumb to begin with, but she chooses the one way that would raise eyebrows.

I have been thinking, as I considered these verses, about the general public response to a politician’s fairly recently revealed comments about grabbing women by the genitals. His comment does imply that he is trying to assert any dominance or control, only that his position causes certain women to permit him to put his hand on their genitals. Based on the court of public opinion, losing his hand would be the least of this man’s worries.  Likewise, I think that a woman who grabbed a man by the genitals would have been subject to harsher punishment than what is prescribed here. As with so many of the dictates in The Law, it seems that it tempered the extremes to which society is wont by prescribing a less severe punishment than might otherwise have been and also acts as a deterrent to future would-be offenders.

How does this apply to me? The first thing that comes to mind is that I need to be tempered; tamped down by God in some things. My response is often visceral and reactionary and will not serve the ends of justice or of seeing lives and relationships restored. God is in the business of restoration: restoring lives and relationships and on and on. As is said elsewhere in scripture, the anger of man will not accomplish the righteousness of God (James 1:20). My responses to things are at their best; at their most useful and helpful when they are checked by God and filtered through His grace.

Thank You, God, for tempering the punishments that might otherwise have come to us. You completed the ultimate act of tempering justice when You took our punishment on Yourself and allowed us to receive grace instead. Please work in my heart to create one that is tempered by grace and responds to things through the filter of Your mercy.

SOAP Journal – 06 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)

When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

Deuteronomy 24:19-21

There is a conversation — a sometimes loud and none too civil conversation — about welfare and what Americans often call Entitlement Programs. Believers are divided on the subject and I think that we might do well to come back to what God has to say to the Israelites on the subject.

There are many tidbits in The Law about how to treat one’s countrymen. There are laws about whether or not to charge interest (not) and what to do with the collateral for a loan (make sure the poor person has anything that is necessary in hand when it is needed) and there is this morning’s instruction to leave something behind for the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan.

The three harvests called out are the staples of the time. The field generally referred to the grains that were grown and was an instruction to leave behind whatever you did not get on the first go around. This would provide grain that the needy could harvest for themselves and make bread. The olive tree was both a source of food (olives are delicious) as well as a source of a necessary ingredient (olive oil used in the breads and for cooking and flavoring things). Again, the needy were required to do the same work as the one getting the olives off the tree the first go around. The grapes were again a food source as well as the source of another staple: wine. To get olive oil or wine, the needy person would still need to press the fruit and do the same manual labor as those who were not in need.

There are a couple things I note about this provision. First, it is commanded by God of believers. There is no such requirement in the Ten Commandments and this is, therefore, not a general command to all of humanity. Second, it is a command given to the individual. This is not a case of everyone bringing in a percentage of their harvest and that being given out to others, but a case of those who have excess individually and voluntarily leaving that excess for those in need. There were tithes and offerings brought into the temple, but those were to have fellowship with God and one’s fellow believer and to provide for the supply and maintenance of the temple and the priests.

This has a couple of very practical applications for me.

On a personal level, there needs to be a recognition of where God has provided me with more than I need. Where this is true, I need to be ready and willing to be directed by God as to where He wants that excess. I want God to bless [me] in all the work of [my] hands. Not just the work that brings material gain, but in the labor of love that is trying to be a good husband and a good father and a good friend and a good steward of the things that God has entrusted to me like house and car and whatnot. If I want to invite God’s blessing on all my works (and I do), then I need to be mindful of where I can supply the needs of others.

There is a social application which boils down to me not supporting any program or plan that aims to help those in need without addressing their fundamental human need to earn their wage. Help those in need, absolutely. But do so in a way that respects their human dignity and gives them a chance to maintain that human dignity by earning what they get.

Father, thank You for supplying all my needs and for sometimes giving more than I need. Please keep me mindful of those times when I have an excess and to be attentive to You to know how You want that excess used. Please give me a heart that is willing and ready to help those in need and to do so in a way that respects the dignity You have afforded them as a person made in Your image.