Reversible Blessings and Curses

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 28.15-19
15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: 
16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. 
17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. 
18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 
19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. 

“You wish to have the curse reversed? I’ll need a certain potion first…” — The Witch, Into the Woods, Steven Sondheim

Reflection: Reversible Blessings and Curses
By John Tillman

Curses in fairy tales are written to be reversed. The musical, Into the Woods, uses this storytelling trope as its primary plot device. Reversing the curse involves multiple characters from familiar storylines interacting and confronting each other with lies, betrayals, and, at times, the truth.

The opening sections of Deuteronomy 28 promise a blessing to God’s people that will be a pervasive good, touching their lives in every way. They will be “blessed in the city and blessed in the country…blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.”

However, God’s blessing can be reversed into an all-encompassing curse. They will be “cursed in the city and cursed in the country…cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.” God says this curse will “come on you and overtake you.” At times Israel would run an impressive race as God’s people, eventually this curse would overtake them.

Anyone steeped in the magic stew of fairy tales tends to see salvation through the lens of a heroic quest. Heroes in fairy tales, often through a combination of cooperation, wit, and luck, typically reverse their own curses. Divine assistance, from fairy godmothers or otherwise, is elusive and typically not determinative of the outcome. Humans, not the gods, exert heroic effort to break fairy tale curses.

Yet, we are not plucky heroes who can, with just a bit of luck, turn the tables on our enemy and reverse our own curse. We can’t make the potion. We can’t kill the dragon. We can’t climb the tower. And our kiss is the kiss of death, not a kiss of life.

Like many other curses of God, the curse of Mount Ebal is a reflection and reenactment of the curse of Eden. It overtook Israel, and it overtakes us. Peter describes our adversary as a roaring lion seeking to devour us. Paul describes an inner curse of sinfulness that even he, the great “Hebrew of Hebrews,” cannot escape.

Yet, the curse of Eden is written to be reversed. Within its words, a hero is promised who will break it. Jesus is that hero. The gospel message we carry is that, in Christ our curse is broken and all people can join him to be blessed in the city, in the country, when we come in, and when we go out.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

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

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 28:-20-68 (Listen – 10:11)
Psalm 119:25-48 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Two Lamechs, One Jesus
There are those who work to reverse the curse, flooding the earth with hope, peace, and rebirth. 
Which line of Lamech will you follow?

Read more about Accepting Jesus
May we, poor family that we are, join the holy family in redemptively reversing the curse.

The Sojourn of Sanctification

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 27.9-10
9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Be silent, Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the Lord your God. 10 Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.” 

Reflection: The Sojourn of Sanctification
By John Tillman

The desert sojourn is a transforming experience for Israel and this process of sanctification can be mirrored in the lives of modern believers.

When Israel entered Egypt, they were small, humble, and in need but carried with them God’s blessing. Egypt, so long as she remembered Joseph, enjoyed these blessings and was transformed into a nation that blessed other nations. Soon, however, nationalism took hold in Egypt. Joseph was forgotten. Foreigners were to be feared and exploited. Generations of Israilites were oppressed in slavery. They became a people unfamiliar with freedom and separated from the pleasures of life. They were disconnected from their calling to bless others.

The Exodus is about more than freedom. The desert transforms Israel. They are reintroduced to their purpose, calling, and empowerment. Those who had been exploited as foreigners were commanded to become a nation that blessed foreigners. Those who had been held in slavery, were commanded to become a nation marked by releasing slaves from bondage. Those who had been indoctrinated in the false gods of Egypt would become the teacher of all nations, showing them what the one, true God is like. 

God’s people are always in a process of becoming. Moses says, “Be silent…you have now become the people of the Lord, your God.” (Deuteronomy 27.9) When we come to Christ, we are freed from sin as the Israelites were freed from Egyptian slavery. Sin’s chains are struck from our hands in an instant, but it takes time in the desert with God’s word for the chains of an enslaved mindset to be melted from our hearts.

Jesus says, “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17.19) Jesus is our model, our pattern, our leader to follow through the desert as we are changed from one kind of people to another.

Paul says, “We…are being transformed into his image, with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Corinthians 3.18) God is glorified with every step we take in becoming more like Christ.

We are like the people of Israel in many ways. We are not just freed from sin, but called for a purpose. The desert of sanctification is transformational so let us hold nothing back from its influence. May we become the people of the Lord our God.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “It is not anyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?’ Then I shall tell them to their faces: ‘I have never known you; away from me all evildoers!’” — Matthew 7.21-23

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

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 27-28:19 (Listen – 13:27)
Psalm 119:1-24 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Attending God’s Lessons
Through their liberation from Egypt and their time in the desert, God became Israel’s teacher.

Read more about Ready to Exit the Desert
Their faith wasn’t ready to exit the desert and enter the promised land. Desert months turned into desert decades.

Short-Circuit Oppression

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 26.5-12
5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. 

12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 

Reflection: Short-Circuit Oppression
By John Tillman

Those who have been abused are not immune from becoming abusers. In history, those who overthrow oppressors, often succumb to the temptation of becoming oppressors. 

Moses, in his many instructions to the people before entering the land, is intentional about trying to prevent those who escaped oppression in Egypt from becoming oppressors themselves. Part of his strategy to short circuit oppression was in worship practices and prayers.

The declaration worshipers were to make when they brought in the firstfruits and the tithe was part history lesson, part confession, and part mission statement. It acknowledged humble beginnings, celebrated what God had done, accepted all peoples into God’s family, and committed the worshiper to care for the vulnerable. This was intentional. Because they had been oppressed they were commanded to care for the oppressed. Because they had been foreigners, they were to treat foreigners as native born.

Bringing our “firstfruits” and tithes to God is inextricably tied in the law to care for the poor, the foreigner, and the outcasts. It won’t matter what we do with our money if our hearts aren’t bent toward caring for the vulnerable.

Today we will pray based on this declaration from Deuteronomy 26.5-19:

Because of what you have done, Lord, we are yours.
Your hands have set us free of our own chains.
When we were hard pressed you brought us into a spacious place.
When we had nothing you gave to us abundantly more that we could imagine.

Lord we bring to you the firstfruits, tithes, and offerings of our lives.
Not our material things only but our hearts, thoughts, and souls, we give to you.
Let us not carelessly “eat” the tithe by participating in the mindless consumption of our culture and economy.
Bend our hearts to care for your church but not to neglect the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow.
May they eat in our towns and cities.
May they be satisfied and treated with dignity.
May our offerings and our care for others cause you joy.
As you have set us free, may we work to free all humanity.
As you have treasured us, may we look on all people as your treasured ones.

As you have made us holy and blessed us, may we extend to others your blessing and call others to your holiness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people! — Psalm 3.8

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

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 26 (Listen – 3:13)
Psalm 117-118 (Listen – 2:52)

Read more about Occupation of Meditation
The results of true prayer are tangible actions on our part, empowered by God to make a difference in our world.

Read more about Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor
Christians can look the darkest realities of poverty in the face and confidently say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

He Stoops to Raise

Scripture Focus: Psalm 113
1 Praise the Lord. n 
Praise the Lord, you his servants; 
praise the name of the Lord. 
2 Let the name of the Lord be praised, 
both now and forevermore. 
3 From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, 
the name of the Lord is to be praised. 
4 The Lord is exalted over all the nations, 
his glory above the heavens. 
5 Who is like the Lord our God, 
the One who sits enthroned on high, 
6 who stoops down to look 
on the heavens and the earth? 
7 He raises the poor from the dust 
and lifts the needy from the ash heap; 
8 he seats them with princes, 
with the princes of his people. 
9 He settles the childless woman in her home 
as a happy mother of children. 
Praise the Lord. 

Reflection: He Stoops to Raise
By John Tillman

The psalmist sees God exalted over the heavens, over the glorious phenomena of visible space. We learn of his vast, majestic glory in this way, through telescopes. But the psalmist also sees God stoop…

To understand God fully, we need a microscope, not just a telescope. The equally interesting, intimate glory of God is how infinitely small he is willing to shrink in order to meet us, save us, and lift us up.

This poem from two years ago explores Christ’s life as a process of descending and ascending. In every aspect of his life, and death, he intentionally moves from the highest place, to the lowest place. And why does he do this? So that, gripping our hands, he may ascend, raising us from dusty ash heaps to a glorious place, prepared for us.

He Stoops to Raise
He strips himself.
He lays aside
His Heaven
His throne
His clothes
His life

He lowers himself
Steps down, descends
He stoops
He kneels
Head bowed
He bends

He sinks, He digs
He slides, prostrates
Our sin
Hell’s gates

And then he lifts
His eyes, His face
To rise
To claim
His place

With him we rise
Gripped in His hand
The lost
The dead
No more
The damned

No more to die
Held by His side
We rise

Then he returns
All things in place

He then ascends
His throne above
The lamb
Our king
Our judge

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

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

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 23 (Listen – 3:10)
Psalm 112-113 (Listen – 1:49)

This Weekend’s Readings
Deuteronomy 24 (Listen – 3:21), Psalm 114-115 (Listen – 2:18)
Deuteronomy 25 (Listen – 2:38), Psalm 116 (Listen – 1:34)

Read more about The Gospel is an Uprising
The Anastasis can be understood as “already and not yet.” It is both completed in the past, coming in the future, and happening now, in our midst.

Read more about Greater Footstool, Greater God, Greater Redeemer
Christ, who is higher and greater than anyone has imagined, would become less and lower than anyone would imagine, to do for us what no one could imagine.

Abusive Assumptions

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 22.26-27
26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.

Reflection: Abusive Assumptions
By John Tillman

A court’s verdict is just a number on the scoreboard or the snapshot of a referee holding up one fighter’s glove. When we see an article about a Supreme Court ruling, that’s typically all we get—a snapshot. Detailed legal opinions from the justices give graphic, blow-by-blow accounts of how every punch landed and every point was scored.

The “Majority Opinion” shows the reasoning that won the majority of the court over. We learn the evidence the majority found compelling and vital. The “Minority Opinion” details the other justices’ disagreements with their colleagues, including evidence they weighed differently, and reasons they would rule differently.

Moses became the de facto Supreme Court for Israel. He daily heard case after case of everyday mishaps, typical crimes, and outright scandals during the desert sojourn. Eventually, Moses created a court system, appointing judges over successively smaller groups of people. These judges decided simple cases and sent only the most difficult cases to higher judges and eventually to Moses.

Moses had, or developed, a refined legal sensibility and the writings of the law reveal this. They often read like a listing of old case decisions. Sometimes we get only a ruling or verdict, but often, we get hints of Moses’ reasoning. Without familiarity with the cultural context, sometimes we scratch our heads at the verdicts we see. However, it can be helpful to keep our ears open to the compassionate reasoning we find.

In this case of two people in a sexually compromising situation, Moses gives the benefit of the doubt to the party more likely to be victimized. Abuse is assumed by the more powerful and the best is assumed about the target of abuse, not the worst. In Moses’ day, it was assumed that when someone cried out regarding abuse, help would come. In our day, this assumption has often proved false.

God expects us, like Moses, to use our logic to apply his love for others in our interactions with them. Whatever judgments we make about others should be humble (because we are also sinful), compassionate (assuming the best about the victims), and without bias (allowing no excuses due to someone’s prior status, wealth, or “importance”).

Moses’ task was to establish justice. Ours is as well. God will judge organizations, nations, churches, and individuals by how well we carry out justice—especially for abuse victims. May we avoid abusive assumptions and act to rescue them.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
Let none who look to you be put to shame. — Psalm 25.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 22 (Listen – 4:13)
Psalm 110-111 (Listen – 1:57)

Read more about Beyond Consent
The very first step of abuse is to groom victims until they consent to abuse.

Read more about No Princes :: A Guided Prayer
How many believers veil their trust in men as trust in God?

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