Life in the Blood

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 17.10-12
10 “ ‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.” 

Genesis 4.10-12
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 

Genesis 9.4-5
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

From John: We live in a world of casual, uncaring, bloodshed. Worse than that…we are often unmoved by that bloodshed. We are unmoved by children dying in shootings or children dying crossing the border or children dying in the womb. At least, not moved enough to change anything. As Russell Moore said in a recent Christianity Today article, “Americans—especially Christians—should ask just how much we have adjusted ourselves to this kind of horror. How numb to it all have we become?” 

We need to reinvigorate our hearts to care about the shedding of blood, our careless collaboration in it, and our callous response to seeing it. Because of this, we return to this rewritten devotional from 2021.

Reflection: Life in the Blood
By John Tillman

Biological facts often reveal spiritual truth. Our life really is in our blood. 

We often measure life based on brain activity. For example, the rapper, DMX, recently died after life support was removed following a coma/vegetative state. However, many of the brain’s commands are carried out by the hormones, proteins, and other chemical signals that travel through the blood.

Everything that makes us alive circulates in our blood. Life “moves” within us even when we are at rest. When blood stops moving, or is spilled out, life ends. 

The most important and revealing reason for the prohibitions regarding blood was spiritual not physical. Blood is life given for atonement. Since the blood of the first animal, killed by God in the garden to clothe Adam and Eve, animals have given their lives for human sin and creation has groaned for the blood spilled. (Genesis 3.21; Genesis 4.10-12; Romans 8.20-23)

All spilled blood, God says, is precious and holy, not only on its own but because it points to the blood of Jesus. Christ’s blood is the most precious blood in history, but every drop of blood shed draws precious meaning from his. 

Blood is still life and it should disturb us when blood is spilled. Blood is the life of our brothers and sisters of every race. Blood is the life of the unborn. Blood is the life of those dying of Covid. Blood is the life of both Christians and non-Christians murdered for their faith. Blood is the life of victims of every kind of violence whether in distant wars or neighborhood streets, whether in mass shootings or lone suicides.

So both the lives of a police officer lost stopping a mass shooting in Colorado and of a Black citizen, crushed by a police officer’s knee are united in that their lives point to and plea for Christ’s blood. One is lost in self-sacrifice and one cries out from the ground in a plea for justice.

May we revive a holy respect for blood, no matter where, how, or by whom it is shed. May we not carelessly “eat” blood by profiting from violence, supporting bloodshed, or indifferently shrugging off bloodshed that doesn’t affect us.

God will require an account. (Genesis 9.5; Isaiah 5.7) When he does, we must plead the blood of Jesus to cover all of our bloodshed. Only in his blood will we find true life. (John 6.53-57)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Jesus taught us, saying: “He who comes from above is above all others; he who is of the earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven bears witness to things he has seen and heard…since he whom God has sent speaks God’s own words, for God gives him the Spirit without reserve.” — John 3.31

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

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 17 (Listen 2:39) 
Acts 13 (Listen 7:36)

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Rulers with Borrowed Scepters

Scripture Focus: Genesis 49.10
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

From John: Rulers with borrowed scepters abound. This post from 2021 reminds us that, even the best of them is not worthy of the honor we owe to Christ.

Reflection: Rulers with Borrowed Scepters
By John Tillman

Most of what Israel says to Judah has little to do with the son in front of him, but the Son who was to come through him.

The ruler prophesied would eventually come to Judah. The staff of rulership that Israel saw, resting between the feet of Judah’s descendants, would one day be claimed and taken up.

Ten tribes broke away from the Davidic kings’ after Solomon’s death. The Northern secessionists kept the name, Israel, and the Southern kingdom, composed of Judah and Benjamin, was called Judah after the tribe of its rulers.

Judah and Benjamin managed to preserve their identities and heritage through Babylonian captivity and, eventually, were returned to their capital of Jerusalem to rebuild. The northern tribes were less successful, if at all, in holding on to their unique identity. This is perhaps due to how muddled and corrupted their identity was even before captivity.

The Northern kingdom never had a ruler who could be classified as “good.” In fact, King Ahab, whose name is synonymous with poor leadership and corruption, might be considered one of the better kings Israel ever had. He set quite a low bar, but most who came after him were even worse. Almost half of the kings of Israel took the throne by insurrection or assassination.

The rulers of Judah fared better but still suffered political swings from evil and idolatrous rulers to pious and faithful reformers. However, none of them were the one foreseen. That is Jesus alone.

Jesus is the king we are waiting for—every other ruler is using a borrowed scepter.

From Joseph’s beneficent Pharaoh to Moses’s genocidal Pharaoh, rulers are highly variable. But no ruler, not the best of Pharaohs or of Judah’s kings, not any emperor or empire past, present, or future, is worthy of our unswerving loyalty. Any of them will betray our hopes. None of them can be trusted to deliver us. The best human rulers are but poor stand-ins for Christ and the worst of them are anti-Christs.

No matter if we live under Pharaohs or Sauls, under Davids or under Ahabs, under Hezekiahs or under Nebuchadnezzars, they are only shadows that will pass and grass that will dry up and blow away.

We, like Simeon, (Luke 2.25) are waiting for our true king, Jesus, the root of Jesse, the “glory of Israel.” (Luke 2.29-32) Our king and kingdom are from another place. (John 18.36)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Exalt yourself above the heavens, O God, and your glory over all the earth. — Psalm 57.6

Today’s Readings
Genesis 49 (Listen 4:54
Matthew 10 (Listen 5:07)

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Mistakes for Good?

Scripture Focus: Genesis 48:17-19
17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Reflection: Mistakes for Good?
By Erin Newton

God can take something meant for evil and make it work for good. But what about mistakes? Can God take a human mistake and use it for good?

As Jacob lays on his deathbed, Joseph brings his two sons to see their dying grandfather. Jacob blesses the boys with promises given to his own sons. But the grandsons are blessed out of order! Ephraim, the younger, is given the elevated blessing, a firstborn’s portion. Manasseh, the oldest, is blessed as a second-born.

Jacob is blind, and Joseph assumes his crossed arms were an accident. Jacob continues by granting Ephraim the greater blessing.

Joseph only sees a mistake being made. (He even tries to jump in to correct his father.) He bases his assumptions on how things ought to be. He has done everything right, reconciled with his brothers, and visited his ailing father. This should be a straightforward situation; nothing can go wrong.

Like the story of Joseph’s enslavement and deportation to Egypt, God worked through situations that looked hopeless or bound for misery. We are accustomed to looking at tragedies and preaching to our hearts that God can work something good out of them. But what about things that look haphazard? What about the events that look like someone messed up? 

The text never really indicates if God divinely inspired Jacob to switch the blessing order or if a mistake was made that Jacob accepted. The blessing was done, and the results could not be changed.

How many times do we look at a situation and assume that someone has made a mistake? If it’s a small thing, we don’t give it a second thought. But what about the big mistakes—the doctor who missed a diagnosis, the airline that lost your luggage, the distracted driver that hit your car, or the cashier who overcharged you?

When these things happen, we fault the person for making a mistake. We think, “If only they had done it right, I wouldn’t be suffering right now!” We cling to an “if-only” faith.

Jesus was blamed for an “if-only” scenario. “If only you had been here, Lazarus would not have died” (John 11.32).

It is easier to blame someone for making a mistake rather than trusting God to work among errors. God works through perceived irregularities. Think of the “if-only” times in your life. Hear God say, “I know, son, I know.” 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lesson
The same stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. — Psalm 118.22

Today’s Readings
Genesis 48 (Listen 3:43
Matthew 9 (Listen 4:56)

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Through Mirrors Dimly

Scripture Focus: Genesis 42.8
8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.

Reflection: Through Mirrors Dimly
By Erin Newton

This chapter opens with the next saga in Joseph’s life, the reunion with his brothers. It is a long story with many twists and turns. If Joseph’s life were a movie, the tagline would be: “What you meant for evil, God has meant for good” (Genesis 50.20).

Joseph was abused by his brothers. They tried to kill him but settled for having him sold into slavery. He was wrongfully accused and imprisoned. Joseph, however, rose to a place of authority in Egypt and his brothers, unknowingly, came to him to seek mercy.

Joseph was a blessing in disguise. He wasn’t in a real disguise; his brothers simply didn’t recognize him. Now grown older, they had graying hair and aged faces. Despite their long separation, Joseph could recognize his brothers. So, it is more likely that God prevented the brothers from recognizing him.

Here is something good, life-giving in fact, but they are blind to it. The brothers cling to hope that the man before them will be merciful. Their vision is muddled, like seeing through a mirror dimly.

What makes this story intriguing is the vantage point we have as readers. We know who the man is, we know it is their brother. If we’ve read this story before, we know it ends with joy.

But we never have that vantage point in our own lives. We are blind to how God will make all things work together for our good. We only feel the pain of our suffering, the sting of desperation. Like the brothers, we are taking steps in faith and worrying about every new crisis.

God was still working in Joseph’s story and the big reveal took much longer than we’d hope in this chapter. (We are a bit prone to demanding instant gratification, in stories and in our lives.)

We see through a mirror dimly, partial vision of God’s greater plan.

When the shadows tempt us to despair, let us pray:
Lord, you see us in the darkest of places where everything seems impossible. We need a way out, but every door is shut. Let us cling to the truth that you sent Joseph to store grain for his brothers, seven years before they ever knew they needed it. Our lives are as precious as those. Let us step in faith knowing you have stored up provision before we knew to call on you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast forever.
The hills stand about Jerusalem; so does the Lord stand round about his people, from this time forth forevermore.
The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway over the land allotted to the just, so that they just shall not put their hands to evil. — Psalm 125.1-3

Today’s Readings
Genesis 42 (Listen 5:08
Matthew 3 (Listen 2:17)

Read more about Vengeance, Arrogance, and Partiality
May we find in Jesus forgiveness to replace our vengeance, humility to replace our arrogance, and justice to replace our partiality.

Read more about Treasure in Our Sacks
We underestimate God’s generosity. Like Joseph, Jesus doesn’t accept our payments, he suffered and made our payment in full.

Spiritual Twins

Scripture Focus: Genesis 33:3-4
3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

Reflection: Spiritual Twins
By Erin Newton

Before 2016, when I read the story of Jacob and Esau, I thought the note about their twin birth was a random fact. After having twins of my own, I’ve had a front-row seat to their unique relationship. Like brothers, they are the best of friends and, sometimes, the worst of friends. Despite the quarrels, they are closer than any other.

Jacob and Esau are usually thought of as enemies. One loved, one unloved. Israel versus Edom. Jacob was the trickster and Esau was impulsive. In the New Testament, Esau is always labeled for his quickness to sell his birthright for a meal. A poor choice, to say the least, but he did something more memorable.

Esau was angry enough to kill Jacob. But time had passed. Jacob had been the victim of someone else’s trickery. God allowed Jacob to learn his lesson from Laban’s hand, instead of vengeance from Esau.

Forget the birthright-stew debacle. Remember when Esau showed unmerited forgiveness. He loved his brother. He ran to him. He hugged him. He wept. The reunion of Jacob and Esau is a picture of brotherly love. 

Both brothers humbled themselves. Esau laid aside his grudge. Jacob laid aside his pride. Time healed some of the wounds, but humility brought peace. 

When Esau saw the face of Jacob and Jacob looked at the face of Esau, they saw themselves. Twins. Sure, Esau’s a bit hairier than Jacob but they share the same genes. Both were sons of Isaac and probably looked like their father.

My twins are identical, but you’d never know it. There was a problem in the womb, and now the scars and diagnoses create a visible distinction. But technically, each twin is a perfect donor match to the other. They can heal one another if needed. A better “eye for an eye.”

The Bible calls believers “brothers and sisters” in Christ. We are a kind of identical, spiritual twins. We have different scars, our environment shaped us differently, but we’re bonded together. We see each other and see ourselves, as children of the Father.

Look into the faces of those around you. Your friends and your neighbors, the barista and the doctor, a child with disabilities, and an octogenarian with a walker—these people reflect the image of your Father.

Grudges and pride must die. Run. Hug. Weep. These people are your brothers (and sisters). One God, Father of all (Eph 4.2-6).

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

Today’s Readings
Genesis 33 (Listen 2:59
Mark 11 (Listen 3:59)

Read more about Running to Forgive
A prodigal son approaches home…limping…fearful of rejection…the wronged party embraces him and kisses him. It’s Esau running to meet Jacob.

Read more about From Esau to Jacob
We are not hated. We are loved. This is demonstrated in Christ as God turns “Esaus” into “Jacobs.”