Today’s Roots, Tomorrow’s Fruit

Scripture Focus: Psalm 74. 7-9
7 They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. 
8 They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” 
They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land. 
9 We are given no signs from God; 
no prophets are left, 
and none of us knows how long this will be. 

Reflection: Today’s Roots, Tomorrow’s Fruit
By John Tillman

Asaph was a prophet, a poet, and a creative leader living in the golden age of the kingdom of Israel and of the worship of God in the Temple. He is often noted as playing the cymbals, and was appointed chief over all the Temple musicians.

David’s psalms are largely autobiographical. Asaph’s seem focused on the fate and faith of the country in times ahead. Despite living in Israel’s best years, many of Asaph’s works contain laments about the destruction of Israel or the Temple. 

During the lifespan of Asaph, The Temple was never under any threat similar to his description. It would be hundreds of years before the Babylonians laid waste to Solomon’s Temple and hundreds more before the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jesus’ day.

For this reason, some think this psalm was likely written later by a descendant of Asaph or merely in his style. Some think it could be looking back to the battle at Shiloh and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant. 

However, psalms were often considered to be prophecies. Jesus described David’s psalmody as being written, “by the Spirit.” When we know many psalms are prophetic, perhaps we need not doubt the prophetic nature of this psalm.

Christians often idealize (even idolize) David and his time as king. However, the roots of the sins that would eventually destroy the kingdom were present in David’s reign. Perhaps, Asaph saw that.

Prophecy seems to run in Asaph’s family. One of Asaph’s descendants speaks up before King Josiah in a moment of crisis with a prophecy from the Lord about salvation from invading armies. Prophecies can tell of coming salvation or warn of coming disaster. There’s no question which we prefer to listen to.

We need prophetic warnings no matter what our circumstances. It doesn’t matter if we live in a golden age or in one we wish could be restored to its former state, the warnings of the prophets are for us. Even in times of blessing, prophets speak to the roots of sins that will bear bitter fruit in the future. Today’s roots grow tomorrow’s fruit.

May we never shrug off the messages of prophets, especially when they tell us something that we don’t want to hear. Heeding dire warnings of the prophets during a golden age, may be the best way to ensure a flourishing, rather than a failing, future.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 30 (Listen – 2:20)
Psalm 74 (Listen – 2:34)

This Weekend’s Readings

Numbers 31 (Listen – 5:52), Psalm 75-76 (Listen – 2:33)
Numbers 32 (Listen – 5:22), Psalm 77 (Listen – 2:12)

Read more about How to Read Prophetic Judgment
Judgment-filled prophecy is one case in scripture where it is safer to assume it’s about you than others. 

Read more about Sufferings and False Prophets
Some [faithful prophets] were maligned for being unpatriotic or hating their country. Some were arrested, killed, or accused of conspiracy against the king.

Inequality Wounds With Greed and Envy

Scripture Focus: Psalm 73.1-3
1 Surely God is good to Israel, 
to those who are pure in heart. 
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; 
I had nearly lost my foothold. 
3 For I envied the arrogant 
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

From John: Rewriting this entry from 2019 reminds me that we often struggle to stay above the fray when we see the arrogant and wicked succeed. May we concern ourselves more with our own steps than theirs.

When men doubt the righteousness of God, their own integrity begins to waver. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Reflection: Inequality Wounds With Greed and Envy
By John Tillman

The psalmist is thrown into doubt and pushed to the limits of his understanding by the inequality he sees in the world.

Inequality is a double-edged sword.

One edge is called envy. It is dulled from overuse and makes up for being unsharpened with a harsh, serrated edge. It saws at its victims rather than slices them.

One edge is called greed. It is sharp and quick, and drips with an anesthetizing coating. It slices to the bone, yet victims hardly feel pain. Most don’t realize they have been wounded or don’t realize its severity.

The psalmist is cut by the edge of envy and the wound grieves him. How can God be just if wicked people are so prosperous? How can God be caring if those he loves suffer? But as he pursues God in worship, he comes to understand the other side of the sword.There are wounds here for all of us.

The wound the psalmist addresses is mistaking stored up justice for absence of justice. The wealthy who ignore the poor are not escaping justice and we are not responsible or qualified to carry out justice.  We are not to eat the rich, but the bread of life.

Our wound if we are wealthy, is to think that we are not that wealthy, or that the poor are not that worthy of help. After all, those richer than we are should do the heavy lifting of caring for the poor, shouldn’t they? After all, poor is a synonym for lazy. We call ourselves prudent, not greedy—responsible, not cruel. We forget that we were poor and undeserving when Christ gave all he had to cancel our debt of sin.

At times, suffering psalms, like this one, have been misused to shush protesters. “Don’t be so angry. Just preach the gospel and rely on God.” This pie-in-the-sky kind of cold comfort ignores one of the frequent commands of scripture—that the powerful are held responsible by God for the wellbeing of the weak.

May we humbly seek the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is in Christ that we will find the compassion to overcome our cynicism and the generosity of spirit to overcome our jealousy and greed. May we never doubt God’s goodness based on earthly evil. May we never give evil a pass on Earth, delaying justice (that is within our power) until Heaven.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.— Matthew 5.6

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 29 (Listen – 5:05)
Psalm 73 (Listen – 2:56)

Read more about Incest, Greed, and Idolatry
Paul would have us as uncomfortable with greed and idolatry as we are with incest and other sexual sins. But are we?

Read more about God Shivering on Concrete
Our God humbles nations addicted to greed—including His own.

The Smell of Our Sacrifices

Scripture Focus: Numbers 22.2
2 “Give this command to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Make sure that you present to me at the appointed time my food offerings, as an aroma pleasing to me.’

Reflection: The Smell of Our Sacrifices
By John Tillman

Based on Numbers 22 and similar scriptures, I have often joked at a barbeque that “Even God likes the smell of meat cooking over a fire.” This marginally “biblical” joke is a good chuckle for Bible nerds but also raises legitimate questions to ponder. 

The smell of sacrifices that pleased God was not pleasing to his stomach, as if God were hungry for the flesh of his own creatures. So what did it please?

Smells stir up powerful emotions and memories within us. This is a part of God’s design in us, so when God tells us that smells bring him pleasure, emotional connection and memory seem the likely intention of God’s meaning. What emotions or memories are stirred in an eternal being like God, when the smell of sacrifices wafts through his tabernacle?

The ceremonies of the Tabernacle and Temple point both backwards and forwards. The spaces and their design evoke images of Eden and images of God’s Temple as described in Revelation and other visions of prophets throughout the Bible. The activities, such as sacrifices, also point both forward and backward in time.

The sacrifices point back to Eden. Acting as priest for his newly sinful and flawed children, Adam and Eve, God made the first animal sacrifice. These animal’s skins “covered” the nakedness of Adam and Eve. Their inner shame, that expressed itself in fear and a desire to hide, was comforted and covered tenderly by God.

The sacrifices point forward to the cross and to Christ’s victory. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the last, and only, sufficient sacrifice for sin. In Revelation, Jesus is the Lamb, slain but still living, victorious and triumphant.

How do our sacrifices smell?

When our sacrifices (our tithes, our offerings, our volunteering, our serving others, our forgiving of wrongs, etc.) are given today, they also have a wafting influence that testifies to God, to each other, and to the world. Paul interprets this metaphorically and spiritually in examples of living our faith before others, sacrificing to give aid to each other, and as Christ giving himself for us. (2 Corinthians 2.15-16; Philippians 4.18; Ephesians 5.2)

Let us then take the command of God seriously, and make our daily sacrifices ones which aid one another, aid our communities, and aid the body of Christ as it serves the world.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will offer you a freewilll sacrifice and praise your Name, O Lord, for it is good. — Psalm 54.6

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 28 (Listen – 3:51)
Psalm 72 (Listen – 2:21)

Read more about Sacrifice of Self
We have been called to imitate our self-sacrificing savior, Jesus, by giving of ourselves to do good for the benefit of others.

Read more about Anointed Servants
Sometimes when we think of sacrifices, and especially of the cross, we think of God demanding to be “satisfied.” This is an incorrect/incomplete picture.

Inheritance of Rachel’s Daughters

Scripture Focus: Numbers 27.5-7
5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord, 6 and the Lord said to him, 7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.

Reflection: Inheritance of Rachel’s Daughters
By John Tillman

In the ancient near east most women barely ranked above pack animals. They didn’t inherit property, they were property. Their word was not considered reliable. Their will was not considered or acknowledged. This was a cultural reality passed down from the very first women of Israel—Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel. 

Leah and Rachel show us the spectrum of marriage at that time. Rachel represents a fairytale saying mutual love was possible. Leah reveals an ugly reality that sexual slavery, loveless manipulation, and bitterness were the far more likely normality. Both women recognized Laban sold them like property. (Genesis 31.14-16

Generations later, descendants of Rachel’s first born son, Joseph, come before the Lord to seek justice. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah, and Tirzah lay out a case, not only for themselves but for every woman to follow them. God, the righteous judge, grants their request and grants the same rights to all women of Israel.

It would be easy to pause here and simply praise the daughters of Zelophehad as heroines of women’s rights. However, the answer God gives them is a bandaid, not a biblical ideal. When we wish to restore biblical ideals, we must turn far enough back in our Bibles to find the ideal God set up.

Jesus taught that some laws of Moses were “not this way from the beginning.” These laws were given because the hearts of the Israelites were too hard to live up to Edenic ideals (Matthew 19.3-9). 

Jesus gives primacy of importance to Edenic law rather than Mosaic law. And just as Jesus looked to a greater law than Moses, he grants to men and women a greater inheritance than any land or property.

Inheritances are promised and given, not earned or attained. They can’t be purchased or procured. They are granted, not gained. Jesus granted women something greater than Moses granted. 

In every interaction with women, we see Jesus elevating them and treating them as if they belonged among his disciples. He gave to women a unique revelation, being the first to see and speak of his resurrection.

May God soften our hearts to live beyond the Mosaic rules for the hardhearted. In Jesus, the Edenic ideal, not the Mosaic compromise, is restored. Daughters of Eve, and of Rachel, carry a gospel inheritance. Without their inclusion, the kingdom of God is incomplete.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 27 (Listen – 3:08)
Psalm 70-71 (Listen – 3:29)

Read more about Resisting Culture’s Mold
Laban’s daughters both recognize that they have been badly treated. The women describe their marriages as being “sold” like foreigners.

Read more about It’s in the Bible
If we look carefully, we can see God actively disrupting cultural assumptions and human traditions that people in scripture accepted as normal.

Our Hope Amidst Violence — Worldwide Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 69.16-21
16 Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; 
in your great mercy turn to me. 
17 Do not hide your face from your servant; 
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. 
18 Come near and rescue me; 
deliver me because of my foes. 
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; 
all my enemies are before you. 
20 Scorn has broken my heart 
and has left me helpless; 
I looked for sympathy, but there was none, 
for comforters, but I found none. 
21 They put gall in my food 
and gave me vinegar for my thirst. 

Reflection: Our Hope Amidst Violence — Worldwide Prayer
By John Tillman

In 1995, with Aparthied still close in the rear view mirror, the Rugby World Cup was hosted and won by South Africa. In 2009, the story was turned into a film starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Sports metaphors and movies are inspiring, but the struggle in South Africa was just beginning. 1998 saw bombings in South Africa and attacks scattered over the entire continent. The times were tense, violent, unpredictable. 

From that time and place, comes this prayer. It was written by South African Christians and published in a book of prayers prepared for a worship conference in Berlin in 1998. Like many of the prayers we read in the psalms, this prayer is familiar with violence and suffering. This prayer’s response is inspiring for us today.

These problems still exist in one way or another, popping up in one country, then another. We still see abuse, rape as a weapon of war, and mass killings motivated by tribal conflicts or religious radicalization. Often the chief victims of these events are women. We also still see state-sanctioned terrorist attacks and state-approved assassinations. We still see disproportionate responses to violence both by police forces around the world and by governments.

Today’s psalm, referenced by gospel authors, (Matthew 27.34, 48; Mark 15.23, 36; Luke 23.36; John 19.28-30), reminds us that Jesus entered violence and scorn on our behalf. May the church follow Christ’s footsteps as he moves to help those affected by violence.

His eye is on the sparrows. Is ours?

Join this prayer today for all people across the world experiencing oppression, violence, and exile. Whether people suffer because of their religious beliefs or any other reason, we pray on their behalf.

A Prayer of Hope from South Africa
Oh, God,
You can do anything, anywhere, any time.
All knowing, all seeing God,
There is nothing hidden from you.
You see the women of Africa:
Who are refugees,
Fleeing their war-torn countries
With babies on their backs and luggage on their heads.
Some who are victims of human rights violations, abuse, infected with AIDS.
We put our hope in you, oh God.
For you hear even our unmentioned prayers
You watch not only the sparrow, but you see us too.
And your hands guide us all the way.
Above all, you offer us the gift of eternal life.
We praise your holy name.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Thy Name, L. A. (Tony) Cupit, ed., Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world

Divine Hours Prayer: the Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all others.” — Psalm 16.1

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 26 (Listen – 7:47)
Psalm 69 (Listen – 4:04)

Read more about Reflecting the Unity of Christ
Prayers for unity and peace coming from brothers and sisters in places where violence is common, are especially to be emulated and repeated…

Read more about Blossoming of Joy in Adversity
We find examples of joy under persecution and difficulty in Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, and many others in scripture.