SOAP Journal – 15 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 34:7)

Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.

Deuteronomy 34:7

In the midst of a miracle-filled life, it might be an easy thing to overlook this miracle that was ongoing in the life of Moses until the last. Moses, despite being advanced in age, was just as vigorous and sharp-eyed as he had been in his youth. I have seen reports of people who pass 100 years of age and they are not usually as vigorous as in their youth. They are often spry for their age, but nothing compared to their younger days.

This is what I sometimes think of as a “minor miracle;” something God does that might make the news, but is not often going to set off alarm bells about how far beyond the pale it is. Medical science would want to take tissue and fluid samples to try to figure out how this came about.

I cannot generalize this out into a promise of health or longevity or both. That is not the principle. And there are few, if any, other accounts of such a thing in the rest of scripture.

What I can state as a principle is that God gives what is necessary to accomplish the task He has given us. Moses’ task was to deliver the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt then lead the Israelites around in the wilderness for 40 years. To do these things, he needed clear vision and bodily vigor. Moses needed to be able to be the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night. He needed to be able to see landmarks clearly so he could follow God’s directions. His undimmed eye and unabated vigor were provision for the task set before him.

Whatever work God has called me to, God will also provide what is needful for me to accomplish it. I have often heard stories from missionaries or evangelists about how God provided exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment for the ministry to go forward; for that person to fulfill the commission of God in their lives.

Let me trust that God will provide what is needful when it is needful and I will never be disappointed (as long as I understand the difference between needful things and desirable things).

One last note, before leaving this book. I was looking for the idea of loving God and following some command to be repeated. It was not, to my recollection.

Father, thank You for providing all our needs according to Your riches in Christ. Thank You for giving us instruction and providing what we need in order to carry out that instruction. Please keep my eyes on Your provision, not on what I perceive myself to be lacking.

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.

SOAP Journal – 08 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 8:3)

He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.

Deuteronomy 8:3

Moses is still not past the point where he is reminding the Israelites of all the things that God has already done for them. And I cannot find fault. Moses has 40 years’ worth of God’s work in lives of and on behalf of the Israelites of which to remind them. Such a thing is likely to take a while. I have not yet lived 40 years and recounting all of the things that God has done just for me, let alone for my family and friends, could fill pages.

This verse also happens to be the one quoted by Jesus when He was tempted in the wilderness. Satan tells Jesus that He (Jesus) should turn stones to bread to ease His (Jesus’) hunger. Jesus quotes back that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. Knowing what precedes that part of the statement — He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know — adds a whole new dimension to Jesus using this verse as His reply. He knew that the Father let [Him] be hungry and that His (Jesus’) hunger would be taken care of by that same Father.

In both instances, there is a single message: Where God has led me, God will sustain me. God is not surprised by my circumstances or wringing His hands over how to meet my needs. He, Good Shepherd that He is, has already walked this ground and prepared places for me to eat my fill — spiritually and physically — and places for me to slake my thirst — again, spiritually and physically — and places for me to lie down and rest in safety.

I had lost sight of this truth. It is not that I never knew it, but that my focus wavered and my gaze wandered. I looked around at the wilderness instead of seeing the manna right in front of me. I saw the desert and ignored the water pouring from the Stone. I saw and was distracted by the obvious lack and thereby overlooked the equally obvious provision.

Sometimes, God is going to let me suffer lack. It may be food or drink or any of a number of things. The purpose of the lack is not to deprive me, but that He might be my supply and that He might make [me] understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.

Father, please forgive me for looking at my lack instead of Your abundance. I am wrong when I focus on those things instead of Your provision. Thank You for providing for me every good and necessary thing and some things that are not necessary. Please teach me to keep my eyes focused on Your provision and sustaining and not on the things I think I am lacking.

SOAP Journal – 11 April 2017 (Numbers 35:1-3)

Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan [opposite] Jericho, saying, “Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities. The cities shall be theirs to live in; and their pasture lands shall be for their cattle and for their herds and for all their beasts.”

Numbers 35:1-3

As God goes through and explains to Moses how the Promised Land is to be split up — and God is quite specific on more than a few points — God includes instruction to provide a place to live and a means of support for the Levites; those who would serve in the tabernacle. The Levites, who get no inheritance, are given cities scattered around amidst the other Israelites.

As a believer, the parallel is interesting. God orders things so that I have a place to live and a means of support, just as He did for the Levites. My wife and I recently went through the ordeal of house hunting because the new owners of the building we have lived in for years decided to do major renovations on the place. I am sure that there are people who enjoy house hunting, but we were on a deadline and a budget and neither one was terribly conducive to an enjoyable house hunt. But God opened a way and we have a place to live. The same has happened in my job. About six years ago, I was in the teaching profession and things were rough for teachers — particularly English teachers, since there are (or were) so many, apparently — and no doors were opening for me. I got this crazy idea to try my hand at something other than teaching and applied for jobs in the technical writing field. God opened a door with an awesome boss who saw potential and hired me on. I can go on recounting the times and ways that God has provided a place and a means of support for me throughout the years, but there is a second component that needs to be addressed.

The Levites were the tribe who received God as their inheritance. They served in the tabernacle and ministered to the LORD alongside the priests. Christians also receive God as our inheritance — Heaven is not Heaven if God is not there — and Christians are called to serve God in various capacities. The Bible does recount times when the priests and Levites left the service of God to support themselves, and those were dark times for the Israelites.

The application comes down to two things for me. First, I can rest confident that God will provide my needs. Second, I need to be found faithful in my service to God and His people.

Thank You, Father, for providing my needs and being my portion. Thank You also for the privilege of serving You and Your people. Please teach me to rest in Your provision and to be found faithful in ministering to You and my fellow believers.

SOAP Journal – 13 January 2017 (Exodus 33:2)

I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.

Exodus 33:2

After the Israelites had broken several commandments at the foot of the mountain where God was talking with Moses about the tabernacle. After Moses crushed the golden calf into powder and poured it into the water and made the Israelites drink it. After the Levites went through the camp and culled the people. After Moses interceded for the people and God had performed a culling of His own, God tells Moses to lead the people on to the Promised Land. In the midst of this instruction — instruction that left the Israelites keenly aware of how badly they had messed up — God comes to this statement.

I do not intend to claim this promise or anything like it for myself. I am not an Israelite and I am not going to the Promised Land and all of those people groups named are long since gone. I do, however, see a couple of principles that I can consider this morning.

First, God prepares the way in which He sends us. The Israelites were told to go to the Promised Land. God is also promising to send a messenger; an angel ahead of them to clear the way. I recollect that Uriah — one of David’s mighty men and whom David left to die in battle over his (Uriah’s) wife — was a Hittite. And I seem to recall that the Amorites and Jebusites and Canaanites are all still in the Promised Land when the Israelites arrive. So what gives?

I looked up the tense of the verbs (yes, I am a word nerd) and the first — I will send — is in the perfect, which communicates a completed action and the stem used communicates the simple meaning of the verb. So this might be better rendered I have sent. The second — I will drive out — is also in the perfect, but the stem used can communicate an extended or repeated action. Which makes me think that the action is completed — God drove them out — but it will need to be done again and again to maintain its completion, like saying I mopped up the water left on the floor by the leaky pipe. Until the pipe was fixed or replaced, the action was repeated so as to maintain its completion. Best my mind can do at this hour.

So, too, God may sometimes prepare a way that needs maintenance once I get where He is sending me. In fact, this is often the case. I have heard testimony from missionaries and folks in various types and kinds of ministry for whom God prepared a way so miraculous that it could only be His doing. But that way, in order to be kept open, had to be maintained. It might have been a relationship that God made possible or a source of funding that requires regular attention, but God prepared the way for those He sent. Which is the second application: God’s provision often requires maintenance.

Once the Israelites reach the Promised Land, the manna stops and they eat from the crops growing in the land. But those fields will go fallow unless someone tills them and sows them and prunes fruit trees and vines and whatnot. That provision of food required maintenance. The manna required daily gathering. I can actually not think of an instance wherein God provided that He did not require upkeep. I mean, God planted the Garden of Eden and told Adam to tend the garden. Provision made, upkeep required.

Finally, I note that God’s messengers are powerful. God names six people groups that His one messenger is going to kick out of the Promised Land. One messenger. Singular. If God has sent someone — this includes little old me — to perform a particular task, then God is going to make sure that His messenger is successful in that task. Later in The Bible, God sends one angel to defeat an army. Just one angel. I need to let the magnitude of God’s power really sink in and make itself real to my heart and mind. When I do, I will never think that anything is too difficult for God to handle. Not my fears. Not my hangups. Nothing.

So, three principles. One: Where God sends, God prepares the way. Or, as Chuck Smith put it, where God guides God provides. Two: God’s provision requires upkeep. Three: God is so powerful that one messenger sent by Him is sufficient to conquer armies and entrenched nations.

Father, thank You for these reminders. Please open my ears to hear where You are guiding and strengthen my hands to maintain what You have provided. Keep me mindful of Your power and reliant on You and Your power to overcome the difficulties in my life.

SOAP Journal – 19 December 2016 (Exodus 23:10-11)

“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard [and] your olive grove.”

Exodus 23:10-11

God has finished giving the Ten Commandments and is in the process of giving The Law, which feels like several chapters of God going back over the various Commandments and giving color and scope to them. In these verses — the some verses following — God gives color and scope to the command to keep the Sabbath.

The Sabbath; the Rest was not just a once a week thing, it was a once every seventh year kind of thing. The teachers I have heard over the years have been quick to point out that harvesting for six years and doing no harvesting in the seventh year was a call to trust God to provide and to work diligently, particularly in that sixth year. And I am quite sure that is a part of what God had in mind. But He also gives some scope in verse eleven (11). He says that the reason for the rest is (a) so the land can rest (let it rest), (b) as a form of workfare (so that the needy of your people may eat), and (c) as provision for wild animals (the beast of the field may eat).

Letting the land lie fallow would later be borne out by history as a viable method for increasing the productivity of land. Give the land some time off and it produces more in the years it is sown and harvested. There were studies done a decade ago or more in which machines were shut down about once a week and the studies found that the machines lasted longer, had fewer breakdowns, and were just generally better machines. I find myself wondering what the Israelite farming family were doing during that year in which they did not work the fields. Did they improve their homes? Did they pursue the arts or better themselves with all that time? I see a lot of burnout in the modern workplace and wonder if some portion of that is due to us working the same job day-in and day-out for years and years without a respite. Just curiosity.

The Old Testament did not really have a welfare system as we know it today. There was, however,  a workfare system. The Israelites were commanded to leave the corners of their fields unharvested and not to pick up the bits that dropped from the carts and bundles during harvest. The corners and the dropped things were to be left for the poor to gather up. The book of Ruth shows this system in action. The Bible‘s model for providing for a person or a family is simple: Work. No work? No food. Before I go nuts on this, Israelites also received a parcel of land as inheritance and then split it up among the family as the years went by, so a place to live was handled. But food and clothing had to be handled by the individual or family. Every seventh year, there should have been a few fields that were left completely unharvested by the owners so that the poor could have a go. It would be a chance for the poor to put in that bit of extra effort to try to get ahead of things, maybe even make some headway toward getting out of poverty.

Finally, the wild animals. Some thoughts presented themselves here. First, God provides even for the wild animals. The idea being that God wanted the Israelites to have a constant reminder that the wild animals were taken care of by God, how much more would He take care of the Israelites, His Chosen People. Second, we have problems in the modern world with wild animals coming into cities looking for food. If there were areas outside the cities — which is where these fallow fields would have been — where the wild animals could find food, we might have fewer problems with wildlife entering cities. Third, the wildlife eating the food in the fields might have provided a bit of fertilization of those fields.

This brings me around to the question of application. I am not a farmer and I have no land to let lie fallow, so that strict interpretation is out of the question. On the other hand, I am a working person and I do recall that Jesus later says that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man. So this whole resting thing — including the hardcore taking a year off part — is meant to benefit people. The application I take from this is that I need to keep work and rest in their proper place. There should be more work than rest — a 6:1 ratio, or thereabouts — but the rest must be included. Let me work when it is time to work and rest when it is time to rest.

Father, thank You for this reminder that You take care to provide for everyone, including even the wild animals. If You care enough to provide for even them, how much more will You provide for Your children. Thank You for so great a love and for so clear an example of Your provision. Please teach me to keep work and rest in their proper relationship and to include both in my life as You would have them.

Fat Sheep. Lean Sheep. (Ezekiel 34:20)

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.”

Ezekiel 34:20

God has been speaking to Ezekiel about the shepherds of Israel; the leadership, particularly the religious leadership. God has already said that the leadership have been feeding themselves and not taking care of the flock, making them the worst kind of shepherds. After that, God turns His attention and His discourse to the fat sheep.

I know that God is speaking in metaphor here. I know this because God explains His metaphor in verse 31. It is one of those places in scripture where God just comes right out and says, “This is metaphor.” Since the metaphor is equating people to sheep (or goats), what does it mean that there are fat sheep and lean sheep?

God gives some insight, but it is also metaphorical, so this interpretation is subject to revision in light of better understanding. God speaks of the fat sheep feeding on the good pasture and trampling the rest; drinking the clear water and fouling the rest; pushing with shoulder and butting with horns.

My understanding of pasture and water is twofold. First, those terms, in their most obvious sense, refer to the basic needs of life. It is entirely possible that God is calling out people who not only have plenty of the basics, but also ruin what basics remain so they become unusable. Essentially, they grow prosperous while ruining the livelihoods of others. It is possible, and God knows there are plenty of people — even, I am sad to admit, believers — who do this today. Second, those terms might refer to the basics of spiritual life. The people might have been pushed away from nourishing spiritual fodder for things that kill; from worshiping the True and Living God to worship of idols and things that cannot really accomplish anything on our behalf.

The other images — those of jostling and butting heads — feel a little on the nose to me. There are plenty of instances in life where we jostle one another for position; for what we perceive to be something good. Examples abound of places in life where we lock horns and butt heads with one another. We even use that very language to describe the action.

All of the imagery boils down to a couple truths that come to my mind. I am sure that others will see it differently, but it is metaphor and can hold up to multiple interpretations.

Truth number one is that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. This truth is reiterated all over The Bible, so I am confident that it is true, regardless of whether or not it is what was intended to be communicated by this metaphor. Pride lifts us up in our own eyes and makes us think that we are more important than others. This self-importance can and often does lead to the kinds of behavior God describes: taking for yourself and ruining for others, jostling for position, butting heads with others. Humility recognizes the importance of others over self. Pride asserts the self over others. As Paul wrote: Do not just look out for yourself, but also look out for your brethren (Philippians 2:4).

Truth number two is that God is the One Who will ultimately judge between us all. If I think I have been wronged, I need to let it go — God will render judgment in the end. This does not mean I should not confront my fellow believers and speak the truth in love, but that I need to let go of the butt hurt that came with it. This both unburdens me of the emotional distress and sets me on a path to being able to exhort my fellow believer. I am much more likely to be able to speak truth in love if I have let go of the hurt that the action caused.

This whole thing makes me think it could be written up as a Seussian bit of rhyme, à la:

Fat sheep, lean sheep,
Kind sheep, mean sheep

I will have to consider that as I go through the day. With that, I need to meditate on the reminders that I need to be humble and look out for my fellow believers as well as let go of the hurt that comes with others not being obedient to this command, since God will render judgment.