Returning to Holy Space

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 9.26-33
26 But the four principal gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. 27 They would spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning. 
28 Some of them were in charge of the articles used in the temple service; they counted them when they were brought in and when they were taken out. 29 Others were assigned to take care of the furnishings and all the other articles of the sanctuary, as well as the special flour and wine, and the olive oil, incense and spices. 30 But some of the priests took care of mixing the spices. 31 A Levite named Mattithiah, the firstborn son of Shallum the Korahite, was entrusted with the responsibility for baking the offering bread. 32 Some of the Kohathites, their fellow Levites, were in charge of preparing for every Sabbath the bread set out on the table. 
33 Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night. 

Reflection: Returning to Holy Space
By John Tillman

Chronicles includes genealogies of those who went into exile and those who came out. The chronicler lists those who returned with Ezra and Nehemiah and makes special note of those set apart for tasks related to temple worship.

The chronicler looked back to earlier times, when David and Samuel designated and redesigned the tasks of the Levites who took care of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle and the temples that followed were complex systems. There were gatekeepers, inventory keepers, bakers, perfumers, and architects tending to the practical needs of the space. There were also artists, musicians, teachers of the law, prophets, poets, and students, tending to the intellectual and spiritual needs of the space.

We don’t sacrifice animals in our modern worship spaces but have other complex logistics and tasks. We rely on professional and volunteer leaders to meet practical, intellectual, and spiritual needs.

The Bible presents an ideal that the place we worship God should be holy and beautiful. The Bible is also honest about the shortcomings of sacred spaces and leaders. Samuel became Israel’s spiritual leader due to corruption in Eli’s family, including financial and sexual abuse.

When Jesus entered the Temple as a babe, it was a place of music and prophecy where Anna and Simeon sang over him. When Jesus entered as a child, it was a place of debate and questions, where he amazed the elders. When Jesus entered as a man, he drove out the grift that had overtaken a space designated for spiritual seekers.

As he set free the doves, perhaps Jesus thought of his impoverished parents offering doves after his birth because they could not afford a lamb. Even in this morally and spiritually compromised space, Jesus’ ministry continued as the blind and lame came to him there for healing, and he taught there regularly.

It is hard and holy work to make space for worship. From sweeping the floor to composing the music, every task in a worship space is glorious in God’s sight. No worship space is perfect in holiness. Like Jesus, we may have a painful history with earthly Temples, the Church. We may be hurt, lamed, or blinded. Even so, Jesus calls to us.

Jesus continues his ministry in his church, healing the lamed and blinded and teaching the doubtful and questioning. Like the chronicler, we can return and rediscover holy space even after disaster and suffering.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Hallelujah! Praise the Name of the Lord, give praise, you servants of the Lord, You who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praises to his Name, for it is lovely. — Psalm 136.1-3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 9-10  (Listen 7:46)
Psalms 85 (Listen 1:25)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 11-12  (Listen 12:59)Psalms 86-87 (Listen 2:17)
1 Chronicles 13-14  (Listen 4:13)Psalms 88 (Listen 1:58)

Read more about Maintaining Sacred Space
Making sacred space where humans and God can interact is a priestly duty. It is also one each believer bears today.

Read more about Where is the Love?
Where is the love in this scene? Who does Jesus love? Who or what is he fighting for?

Sheerah the City Builder

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 7.21-24
Ezer and Elead were killed by the native-born men of Gath, when they went down to seize their livestock. 22 Their father Ephraim mourned for them many days, and his relatives came to comfort him. 23 Then he made love to his wife again, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. He named him Beriah, because there had been misfortune in his family. 24 His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah. 

Hebrews 11.13-16
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. 

Reflection: Sheerah the City Builder
By John Tillman

Most readers probably don’t remember Sheerah because her only mention is in a genealogy. Genealogies typically go father to son, father to son. Mentions of females are notable.

Genealogies seem boring to modern readers. Name after name parades down the page (often names we have difficulty pronouncing) and we just don’t see the point. 

The extreme individualism of our age is one reason for this boredom. We don’t typically feel connected to our ancestors. We see ourselves as solo artists or heroes, not a part of a whole. However, genealogies go beyond record-keeping. They tell stories.

Reading these passages was a way to re-experience the stories of those mentioned. Readers knew the stories from the other scriptures and the prophets. Their memories would light up as they read even just the names. Like a cameo of a Marvel character appearing briefly in a post-credits scene, these lists of names have exciting tidbits for those with the patience to read them.

The miniature stories we find in genealogies are hints of a larger tale. They are like open windows installed in a stairway, and it is worth pondering what the architect, the writer of the genealogy, hoped we would see.

Sheerah was a leader and architect. She built multiple cities, one of which bore her name. The other cities were twin cities on a border between two Israelite tribes: Ephraim and Benjamin. Upper Beth-Horan and Lower Beth-Horan, were not typical farming settlements. They were extremely important militarily and as part of the country’s religious life. 

Beth-Horan guarded an important ascent toward Jerusalem and was a city dedicated to the Levites amidst those tribes. The “upper” part of the city was Ephraim’s and the “lower” part was Benjamin’s. Levites from these cities would serve in Jerusalem’s Temple on a rotating basis.

The writer of Hebrews says all the faithful long for another land, another city. This includes the men and women listed in the genealogy of faith called the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. 

Our genealogy of faith is full of imperfect, broken, and flawed humans leading to Jesus. God is not ashamed to be called their God and he is not ashamed to be ours either. We are not alone in our walk of faith. Connection to and knowledge of our “cloud of witnesses” can inspire more Sheerahs to build cities leading others to God’s city.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Then the angel showed me the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and glowing crystal clear. Down the middle of the city street, on either band of the river were the trees of life… — Revelation 22.1-2a

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 7-8  (Listen 9:04)
Psalms 83-84 (Listen 3:10)

Read more about No Such Thing as God Forsaken
May we not lose hope in our God or hope for our cities.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Please consider becoming a donor. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

A Place for Creatives

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 6:31-32
31 These are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the Lord after the ark came to rest there. 32 They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, until Solomon built the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. They performed their duties according to the regulations laid down for them.

Reflection: A Place for Creatives
By Erin Newton

Chronicles creates a bookend to the Hebrew Bible. Forming the final words of God before Christ, the message is a reminder of what God has done and the promises he has kept to his people—his exiled, battered, traumatized, and faith-shaken people.

They had been the outsiders, the misfits, the foreigners. Even when it was time to “go home,” the place they returned to was nothing like what they had left.

Some people were hand-picked to lead the people out of exile and into a new life. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel were just three people out of a multitude. We know a lot about them. The rest of God’s people seemed destined to be nameless and forgotten.

But God took the time to guide the Chronicler through a history of his people—name after name after name. God had not forgotten. Each name is the word of God saying, “I didn’t forget him” and “This one, she’s special to me.”

Among that list is a set of musicians, the creatives of the group. They were given the task of creating songs, performing music, and providing an avenue for worship to a people who did not have the same talents.  

I’m a member of a group of writers that come together to encourage and provide advice for one another. Most of the group are fiction writers. They take pen and paper and manage to turn ink into beauty. I have heard soul-stirring narratives, spirit-lifting comical scenes, and emotionally riveting memoirs. The gifts displayed in this small group are incredible, but each writer often gives a dismissive shrug, “I’m not a real writer.”

And so, the inner critic lies to us, as Ruth Buchanan would say. In a place where we find so much joy, we doubt our place, our importance, our worth.

Even more when we look at those gifts among God’s people. A few chosen people usually lead the church by preaching and teaching. Are the rest forgotten? This list of musicians would suggest not.

Artists are features of the church, not accessories. The creatives are highlighted as important among God’s people. We must recognize the gift of creativity and the talent offered to the body of Christ. The God who clothes the lilies and paints the sky has given a bit of himself in these people. Let us invite more beauty into our worship through the hands of the creatives.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Splendor and honor and kingly power are yours by right, O Lord our God,
For you created everything that is, and by your will they were created and have their being. — A Song to the Lamb

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 5-6  (Listen 12:53)
Psalms 81-82 (Listen 2:36)

Read more about The First Spirit-Filled Work
The first Spirit-filled individuals were artisans, builders, makers. Their skilled minds, hearts, and hands wrought God’s people a place to meet with God.

Read The Bible With Us
Immerse in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace. Learn more by engaging in a new way.

The Prayer of a Man Named “Pain”

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 4.9-10
9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 

Reflection: The Prayer of a Man Named “Pain”
By John Tillman

Jabez was born from pain and named for pain. This man called “Pain” cried out to God to avoid experiencing or causing pain. We should never sneer or be surprised when people in pain pray for relief.

Jabez prayed for God’s provision, presence, power, and protection.

Praying for God’s provision includes praying for “things” but goes beyond that to pray for God’s providential will. Praying for provision means requesting what we need in order to do what God would have us do.

Praying for God’s hand means longing to walk in God’s presence. God is omnipresent and with us at all times and places, but when we pray for his hand on us, we mean a greater experience of his presence.

Praying for God’s powerful hand means trusting God’s arm is not too short to save nor too weak to work in and through us according to his will. God’s power is for his purposes. His power will not go with us if we stray from his purpose.

Prayer for God’s protection confesses humility. We acknowledge our lack of control and that we cannot protect ourselves from spiritual or physical dangers. Sin and death hunger to devour us, and we, like Cain, fail to master them. Therefore, we need God’s protection.

The chronicler inserts Jabez’s story in the genealogical record of Judah but does not list Jabez as anyone’s father or son. It is a little bubble of narrative bursting out of a chart of records. Why is this story here?

The Bible only mentions Jabez one other time. 1 Chronicles 2.55 notes a town of scribes presumably named for Jabez. Many of the texts we hold dear today were copied and cared for by scribes such as the ones who lived at Jabez.

Perhaps the chronicler knew of Jabez before the exile or even lived there? Whether or not this is true, Jabez’s prayer must be one the chronicler longed to see come true in his life and the lives of other exiles.

When hurting, cry for healing. When exiled or outcast, cry for rescue and inclusion. When called a cursed name, cry for blessing and fruitfulness. When suffering pain in this world and homesick for our true home, cry for relief. Lives defined by pain can find solace, salvation, and supply in God when we cry out to him.

Pray for relief and blessing from pain.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger. — Psalm 119.54

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings

1 Chronicles 3-4  (Listen 8:52)
Psalms 80 (Listen 1:58)

Read more about Ask and Keep Asking
Lord, help us to ask and keep asking…grant us greater wisdom, enlightenment, hope, and power.

Read more about Beyond Second Chances
God goes beyond giving second chances. Scripture is full of second chances, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh chances, and beyond.

Beginning Again

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 1.1-4
1 Adam, Seth, Enosh, 2 Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, 3 Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. 
4 The sons of Noah: 
Shem, Ham and Japheth… 

Psalm 79.1
1 O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; 
they have defiled your holy temple, 
they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
2 They have left the dead bodies of your servants 
as food for the birds of the sky, 
the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild. 
3 They have poured out blood like water 
all around Jerusalem, 
and there is no one to bury the dead.

Reflection: Beginning Again
By John Tillman

No act of judgment is the end of the story. God is always ready to begin again.

The banishment from Eden, the flood of Noah, and the destruction of Jerusalem are all referenced in our readings today. Each event is a horrific loss followed by God starting over with the faithful.

Chronicles comes from the pain of the Babylonian exile and looks to the past to see the future. The chronicler recognizes the need to return to the beginning to remember who God is and who humans are. Beginning with creation, the chronicler writes the longest genealogical record in the Bible. The chronicler tells the story of a God willing to start over, no matter how often we fail.

Adam lost Eden. Then he lost two sons. He lost Cain to the beast of sin that made him a murderer. He lost Abel to Cain’s rage. In Seth, God started over.

Noah lost his entire world. Then, he lost a son to an act of rebellion and shame. In Shem, God started over.

Psalm 79 cries out in pain and anger. The psalmist has lost home, the Temple, and many who died. Most likely written from Babylon immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the writer mourns the loss of both places and people, both destroyed buildings and bodies.

The psalmist’s hot tears and stinging loss are not without hope. The writer foresees a time when mercy will come for the oppressed, freedom for prisoners, salvation for the dying, and judgment for the wicked. God, in the exile, is starting over. 

Most of us will never be physically exiled from our homeland or see our families slaughtered or enslaved. We endure other forms of exile and suffering. Losses of friendships, communities, and broken institutions feel like a death. On top of these losses, we have seen abuse and death within our communities of faith, our cities, and our nation. We can all join the psalmist’s lament, “How long, Lord?”

The psalmist assures us that God hears our groans, complaints, cries, and distress. The chronicler assures us that, no matter what has been lost, God is already at work to restore, repair, rebuild, and rescue.

There is nothing humans can ruin that God cannot restore. Are we ready to begin again?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed be the Lord! For he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city. — Psalm 31.21

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 1-2  (Listen 11:18)
Psalms 79 (Listen 1:50)

Read more about From Your Nothing…Something Beautiful
Give your scarcity, your vacuum, your past to Jesus. Sense him hovering over it with you. From your nothing Jesus can make something beautiful.

Read more about Lasting Revivals and Normal Idols
Josiah cleansed Israel and Judah from top to bottom, but the next generation went bottom up. The changes didn’t stick. Why?