Honey and Grace

Scripture Focus: 
Psalm 81.16
But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
   and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.

Reflection: Honey and Grace
By John Tillman

The honey from the rock in Psalm 81 is an image of God’s provision. Asaph is making reference to similar imagery in the Song of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy. This is the song Moses sings to the people right before his death as he passes leadership to Joshua. In the Psalm, Moses uses the image of honey from the rock to describe God’s provision for Jacob and metaphorically for Israel in their desert journey which has come to an end. 

In Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 81, he notes that, “God extracts honey out of the rock—the sweetest springs and pleasures from the hardness of afflictions; from mount Calvary and the cross, the blessings that give greatest delight; whereas the world makes from the fountains of pleasure stones and rocks of torment.”

Puritan pastor, Thomas Wilcox, also takes the image of Christ the Rock and combines it with the imagery in Psalm 81:

“If ever you saw Christ, you saw him as a Rock, higher than self-righteousness, Satan, and sin, and this Rock follows you; and there will be continual dropping of honey and grace out of that Rock to satisfy you. Examine if ever you have beheld Christ as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Be sure you have come to Christ, that you stand upon the Rock of Ages, and have answered His call to your soul, and have closed with Him for justification.”

The rock implies our suffering and our sojourn, but it also implies a sure foundation of Christ on which we may stand. Honey from the rock is an image of extravagance brought out of scarcity. Honey is a treat, an extra. It provides energy and health, but it, chiefly, is pleasurable and even indulgent.

The grace and mercy that we receive through the gospel of Christ is honey from the rock. It goes beyond satisfying some need or law or rule. Christ pours out, upon those who follow him, extravagant grace that goes beyond a dry court ruling of “not guilty.” It is the passionate, running embrace of a father receiving back a son from the dead.

Seek for Jesus in your pain, in your desert, in your struggle, for it is only from him that you can receive, not just sustenance, but honey from the rock.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds; they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 1 (Listen – 6:27)
Psalm 81-82 (Listen – 2:36)

This Weekend’s Readings
Deuteronomy 2 (Listen – 5:06), Psalm 83-84 (Listen – 3:20)
Deuteronomy 3 (Listen – 4:33)Psalm 85 (Listen – 1:25)

Read more about Too Good Not to Be True
“The preacher is apt to preach the gospel with the high magic taken out, the deep mystery reduced to a manageable size.” — Frederick Buechner

Read more about The Ram and the Cornerstone
May we not reject the stone of suffering, of sacrifice, of self-control, or of truth.

The Ever-Patient Agriculturalist

Scripture Focus: Psalm 80.8-11, 14-18
8 You transplanted a vine from Egypt; 
you drove out the nations and planted it. 
9 You cleared the ground for it, 
and it took root and filled the land. 
10 The mountains were covered with its shade, 
the mighty cedars with its branches. 
11 Its branches reached as far as the Sea, 
its shoots as far as the River.

14 Return to us, God Almighty! 
Look down from heaven and see! 
Watch over this vine, 
15 the root your right hand has planted, 
the son you have raised up for yourself. 
16 Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; 
at your rebuke your people perish. 
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, 
the son of man you have raised up for yourself. 
18 Then we will not turn away from you; 
revive us, and we will call on your name. 

Reflection: The Ever-Patient Agriculturalist
By John Tillman

The psalmist compares Israel to a transplanted vine that is intended to bring the wine of God’s blessing to the world. Throughout the Bible, God is often pictured as an ever-patient agriculturalist.

God begins by planting a garden in which to place humanity. When tares are sown among his wheat, he delays judgment for the sake of his crop. He is a shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and gives his life for them. As the sower, he scatters seed even to soil others abandon. He is the oxen-driver who prepares a well-fitted and “easy” yoke for us. He is the orchard owner, giving his fruitless trees another year and every opportunity to flourish. He is a vinedresser, tenderly transplanting his vines from bad soil to good. He grafts in wild vines to join his true vine from which the blessings of wine will flow.

Israel was to become the representatives of God upon the Earth. They were to be set apart from the nations, yet welcoming to all nations. Their holiness was not intended to condemn other nations but to call them out of the darkness. God uprooted and transplanted Israel out of Egypt. He saved them from the darkness of idolatry and from under the thumb of empire. But a little bit of Egypt stuck to their roots. Eventually, they would become as evil as the empire they were extracted from.

Like his vineyard and like the fruit tree, God wants to give us every opportunity to flourish. God desires that we be placed, planted, protected, preserved, and made productive by him. We, however, can put a halt to his husbandry.  Our soil can resist his seed. Our roots can refuse his tending. Our branches can frustrate him with our fruitlessness. We can uproot in our hearts what he plants, replanting our own idolatrous crop of greed, lust, and anger.

Eventually, God, will till under fruitless vineyards. Eventually fruitless trees will be cursed and cut down. Eventually, our tares will be separated from our wheat and burned. We will experience both God’s justice and his grace.

We can participate in this process of sanctification now, becoming a partner to our own cleansing, tilling under our own sinful crops, and enabling a rebirth of fruitfulness.

The purpose in deconstruction is reconstruction.
The purpose in uprooting is to replant.
May we rejoice in being pruned and replanted.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help. — Psalm 69.15

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 36 (Listen – 2:15)
Psalm 80 (Listen – 1:58)

Read more about The Cultivating Life
We have written before, “cultivation is supernatural,” but the simple actions of cultivating faith are not ethereal or fanciful. They are the practical, steady doings of the farmer.

Read more about Cultivation Is Supernatural
Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural. We give plants a safer, healthier place to grow than exists naturally, and they give us better food in greater quantities.


Miscarrying Justice

Scripture Focus: Numbers 35.30, 33-34
30 “ ‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 
33 “ ‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.’ ”

Reflection: Miscarrying Justice
By John Tillman

God’s laws against bloodshed hold two concerns equally: that the innocent not be wrongfully executed and that the guilty not escape justice. 

The standard of evidence for capital punishment in the Bible is higher than in our own legal system. Two eyewitnesses were required. The law also acknowledged that even this safeguard couldn’t stop people from bringing false testimony (or allowing it to stand) and taking someone’s life as a result. Later in Deuteronomy, the law states that those whose testimony is proved false should be subject to the same penalty as those they accuse. (Deuteronomy 19.16-19) How many witnesses would testify if our perjury penalties were similar?

This legal requirement came into play in the Sanhedrin’s trial of Jesus. (Mark 14.53-65; Matthew 26.57-67) Matthew tells us that “finally” two witnesses spoke up against Jesus, but in Mark we get the detail that even their testimony did not agree. Mark’s repeated mention that no two witnesses agreed with one another is a reference to this law, which highlights the illegality of Jesus’ trial and the corruption of the Sanhedrin.

The point of these scriptures is not that these laws should be our laws. The point is that justice and bloodshed should matter to us. Violence, whether carried out by citizens or whether carried out by corrupt government agents, should matter to us.

Modern people are prone to shake our heads at ancient societies and exonerate ourselves from such corruption. However, there are multiple and repeated testimonies and witnesses that our justice system often convicts the wrong people and at times, even executes them. Multiple witnesses agree. We often miscarry justice.

God warned the Israelites that bloodshed would defile the land. Then, echoing through the prophets we hear God repeatedly holding the people responsible for the blood of the innocent, the poor, and the foreigner. 

God does not take bloodshed lightly. The blood of the victim, the blood of the falsely accused, even the blood of the murderer matters to God. The calls of the prophets about bloodshed echo in our halls of justice too. We cannot dismiss bloodshed or violence as a legal problem. It is also a spiritual problem.

May we carry out the penalties of human justice prayerfully, with trembling hearts and hands, aware that we are imperfect and fearful of our just God. May we seek justice humbly, loving mercy, and rejoicing when those declared innocent go free.

Further Reading: You may find further information about wrongful convictions through the following resources: The Equal Justice Initiative and The Innocence Project

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 35 (Listen – 4:41)
Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

Read more about To Maintain Justice
May we reach out, stand up, and rescue. May we fight injustice to bring light in the darkness…

Read more about Living Justice
God declares the fasting he desires from his people is justice (Isaiah 58:5-7).

Ready to Exit the Desert

Scripture Focus: Numbers 34.16-19
16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “These are the names of the men who are to assign the land for you as an inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua son of Nun. 18 And appoint one leader from each tribe to help assign the land. 19 These are their names: 
Caleb son of Jephunneh, 
from the tribe of Judah…

Psalm 78.52-57
52 But he brought his people out like a flock; 
he led them like sheep through the wilderness.
53 He guided them safely, so they were unafraid;
but the sea engulfed their enemies.
54 And so he brought them to the border of his holy land,
to the hill country his right hand had taken.
55 He drove out nations before them
and allotted their lands to them as an inheritance;
he settled the tribes of Israel in their homes.
56 But they put God to the test
and rebelled against the Most High;
they did not keep his statutes.
57 Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless,
as unreliable as a faulty bow. 

Reflection: Ready to Exit the Desert
By John Tillman

God brought Israel quickly through the desert to their promised land. Once there, they claimed that the obstacles were too great, the enemies too tall, their own strength too weak to enter. Based on these false assumptions, they rejected the gift of God, condemning themselves to wander. Their faith wasn’t ready to exit the desert and enter the promised land. Desert months turned into desert decades. Asaph compared Israel to a faulty bow, from which an arrow cannot find its target, no matter the skill of the archer.

The exit from Egypt was more than salvation from slavery. God began shaping Israel to walk in their role as his priestly nation, to bless all nations. Israel was intended to be God’s “city on a hill” to which all nations would stream to seek God. Ultimately, they would fail. Their light would turn to darkness and they would become as wicked as the empire God saved them from and more wicked than the empires he would wipe out before them.

God has a role for us to play in his blessing of our world. We are to become his beacons of light. We, the body of Christ, are the city on a hill. But do we have the faith to step into our role?

How many times do we choose to comfortably clutch our pet sins we don’t want to leave behind, rather than move forward in freedom?

How many times do we overestimate our opponents of sin and the Devil and underestimate God?
How many times do we choose wandering over walking where God has called us?
How many times do we lock ourselves out of the doors God opens for us?

As a whole, Israel gets a second chance. They received what God was ready to give them 40 years ago. The faithful, Caleb and Joshua, enter the land later despite being part of the generation that rejected God. 

We can be faithful within our generation or our culture. It is our inheritance from Christ, to shine in a dark world. May we not shrink from it. If we want to be faithful bows, launching the light of the gospel into the hearts of the world, we need to get ready to exit our desert.

May we leave sin and doubt in the desert, crossing the Jordan toward God’s calling to be his city on a hill.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 34 (Listen – 2:59)
Psalm 78.38-72 (Listen – 7:12)

Read more about Tobiahs and Little Foxes
May we throw out the old baggage, and maintain our walls so that the little foxes do not wreck the spiritual life we cultivate before God.

Read more about Over Jordan
The Jordan symbolizes a place at which faith and courage are required.

Sojourn of Grace

Scripture Focus: Numbers 33.2
2 At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey.

Psalm 78.10-11, 17-18, 32-33
10 they did not keep God’s covenant 
and refused to live by his law. 
11 They forgot what he had done, 
the wonders he had shown them. 

17 But they continued to sin against him, 
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High. 
18 They willfully put God to the test

32 In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; 
in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. 
33 So he ended their days in futility 
and their years in terror. 

Reflection: Sojourn of Grace
By John Tillman

Asaph’s Psalm 78 is a poetic filter through which to view Moses’ detailed record of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness. The geographical mapping of their physical wanderings lines up next to the spiritual map of their wavering faith. This poetic trip Asaph offers as a parable, a metaphorical reading of the historical events.

God saves them.
They slander him.
God leaves them.
They cry out for him.

Asaph is not interested in hiding the flaws of the past but in praising God. (Psalm 78.4) You won’t find Asaph eloquently defending past sins so that descendants can have pride in their heritage. Quite the opposite. Asaph calls the people stubborn, rebellious, and disloyal. God, however, is patient, blesses them, and saves those who turn to him.

Asaph is upfront and direct about the failures and sins of the generations before him. His purpose is for future generations to be more devoted to the Lord, not go back to the ways of the past.

Idealization of the past and idolization of past leaders and historical figures is a problem in every culture. In Christianity, this idealization and idolization keeps us from seeing the full beauty of God’s grace and mercy as he worked through flawed systems and people.

When we imagine Moses as the perfect lawgiver, how can we expect God to use us lawbreakers? We cannot do so unless we lie to ourselves about our own holiness and become like the Pharisees.

When we imagine David as the ideal, benevolent king, judge, and warrior, how can we expect God to use us to provide justice? We cannot do so unless we lie to ourselves about our capacity for justice and become selfish, abusive dictators like David at his worst moments and like most of his descendants.

We, like the Israelites, are on a sojourn of grace. Part of God’s grace is that we don’t have to deny our past nor go all the way to him at once. God honors the sojourner and guides us to himself, step by step. Even when we misstep or fall back, he will be faithful to us.

We have not arrived. Like Aaron, who climbs a mountain to die, and Moses, who will soon do the same, we may not finish the journey. We will suffer as we leave rebellions behind us. We will, step by faithful step, navigate towards being more faithful and more reliant on God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — Psalm 96.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen – 4:53)
Psalm 78 (Listen – 7:12)

Read more about Blessings of the Dispossessed
May we sojourn humbly in faith. May we enact justice and peace. May kings come to us, recognizing a source of God’s blessings.

Read more about The Blandness of Hell
Those who go to Hell, do so on their own. God lays no hand upon them—merely pushes the door open for them.