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.

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.

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