Praying Priestly Blessings — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, April 29,2021, based on readings from Numbers 6.
It was selected by reader, Jon Polk from Hong Kong
“Oh how our world needs to see Christians as agents of blessing! So many of our loudest voices are selfish, hurtful, and negative towards others. To be fair, I don’t believe all Christians act that way, in fact, I don’t believe that most Christians act that way, but many who get the most air time in public do act in less-than-kind ways. Our world desperately needs to hear a voice of compassion and blessing from us as followers of Christ. This passage relates to the Aaronic blessing, but when we look back at the covenant with Abraham, he is called to be a blessing to all people. So too, we must use our voices and actions to be a blessing not only to other Christians, but even to those who are not.”

Scripture Focus: Numbers 6.22-27
22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 
24 “ ‘ “The Lord bless you 
and keep you; 
25 the Lord make his face shine on you 
and be gracious to you; 
26 the Lord turn his face toward you 
and give you peace.” ’ 
27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

Reflection: Praying Priestly Blessings — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Through the Aaronic blessing, God puts his name—his identity—on the Israelites. As followers of God today, a part of our identity is as carriers of the blessings of God that are intended for the world.

One of the primary purposes of humanity, upheld throughout the entirety of scripture, is being a blessing to others.

Adam and Eve’s charge was to cultivate and spread God’s blessings.
Abraham was called to bless all people through his offspring.
Through Moses, God began building a nation intended to share with the world the blessings of God’s wisdom and justice.
Sounding over and over within the societal laws of Israel is a drumbeat of blessing and caring for others, even foreigners, as members of one’s family.
The prophets, time and time again, spoke of spreading God’s blessings and the light of truth to the gentile nations.
Gabriel’s annunciation of Christ’s birth and Mary’s song about it later both put at center stage blessings for all of humanity.

Blessing others is a baked-in quality of the Imago Dei in all people. When we refuse to bless others, we are shoveling dirt over the image of God in us, burying our treasure in the ground and refusing to invest it out of selfishness and fear.

Only in Christ, however, can that Imago Dei be brought fully to life and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then, blessing others may go beyond simple kindness as we take on our role as a royal priesthood.

Just as the family of Aaron were priests under Aaron, we are priests under Jesus, our high priest. We are charged, as the Aaronic priests were charged, to pronounce God’s blessing.

If we were to rewrite the Aaronic blessing for Christ’s order of priests, using images and teachings from Jesus, to put his identity on us, it might look something like this:

Like a mother tending to her children,
A shepherd tending sheep,
Or a gardener cultivating a garden,
May our Father bless and protect you.
May our Father’s eyes shine on you
Delighting in you as his child, showing you grace and love.
May our Father’s face be raised to you,
Welcoming you in his presence, bringing you peace.

Through this blessing, God puts his name, his identity, on those who will accept it. May we pronounce this priestly blessing not with words alone, but in how we live and walk through our world.

Music:The UK Blessing” — Churches from all across the UK sing “The Blessing” over their country.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.23

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 23 (Listen – 4:18) 
1 Corinthians 4 (Listen – 3:15)

Read more about Becoming a Blessing
From Abram, you made a great nation
Through Abram, you promised to bless the nations
Make us, O Lord, a blessing in our nations

Read more about Identity Lost, Identity Gained
God, our father, is greater and more loving than Isaac…No one who comes to him will need cry, “Do you have only one blessing, my father?”

Complaints and Responses — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, May 11, 2021, based on readings from Numbers 20.
It was selected by reader, Brad Elledge, from Frisco, TX
“This one hit me on so many levels because it addressed so many of my favorite sin patterns… Leading to gnashing of teeth. Pride and self-sufficiency. Not honoring God. Taking things personally rather than taking the high road and responding in grace. Forgetting God’s faithfulness even when we aren’t faithful. Not trusting God enough to complain when it would be legitimate to do so. Guilty down the checklist. This devotional takes a brief passage and provides an exploded diagram. It no longer looks like an over-reaction from God, but an epic character fail by Moses with consequences for a man who should know better. We all should know better.”

Scripture Focus: Numbers 20.10-13
10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

Reflection: Complaints and Responses — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Complaint is not always sinful but leaders too often treat it that way. 

The Israelites often complain. Sometimes their complaints are unjustified or overdramatic, but other times they concern legitimate needs. Sometimes God calls their complaining or grumbling sinful, but other times no condemnation is specified. 

In today’s passage, we see unhealthy complaining and unhealthy responses by leaders. Only Moses’ response, however, is condemned by God. Also, despite Moses disobeying his instructions, God still miraculously answered the people’s complaint. No one is a hero in this passage except God.

Healthy complaints come from reality falling short of what was promised. Israel’s promise from God, through Moses, was a land flowing with “milk and honey.” Not even having water was a natural point of complaint. 

Both times Israel complained about lack of water the confrontation got heated and personal. Both times they went beyond complaining to accuse Moses of plotting to kill them. Moses complained to the Lord in Exodus 17 that the people were ready to stone him. (Exodus 17.1-7) In today’s passage, he called them “rebels.” (Numbers 20.8-12) Moses took these personal attacks to heart, growing angry rather than compassionate toward the people’s legitimate needs.

God didn’t condemn the people or Moses for their complaining. He simply supplied their lack. At Rephidim, The Lord stood beside Moses as he struck a rock to bring forth water. At Meribah, God instructed Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water. It is a tender and god-like act to speak things into being, but Moses rejects this plan, opting for a show of force. 

Moses speaks to the people instead of to the rock. Instead of speaking words of life, bringing life-giving water, he speaks harsh, brash, and prideful words. He defends his honor instead of honoring God. He proclaims his power, his ability, and his “righteousness” instead of demonstrating trust in God.

God says to Moses, “You didn’t trust me. You didn’t honor me. But I will still be faithful to the people and supply what they complain for. I will still be faithful to my promise and bring them into the land.” (Numbers 20.12)

For followers and leaders, complaining legitimately and responding honorably are difficult. When the reality of our world does not match the promises of God, complaint can be a spiritual practice rather than a sin. When we complain, instead of calling into question God’s holiness, we can point to God’s holiness as a reason for him to act.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. — Psalm 55.18

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

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 15 (Listen – 5:46)
Romans 13 (Listen – 2:35)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021

Have we heard from you yet? Tell us about posts from the past year (September 2020 – July 2021) that have helped you in your faith.

Read more about Complaining in Prayer
Have you ever wondered if it was appropriate to express your thoughts, feelings, and darkest emotions to God?

Inheritance of Rachel’s Daughters — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, May 18, 2021, based on Numbers 27.
It was selected by reader, Barbara, from Chattanooga
“Praise the Lord! He always intends so much more than we can imagine!”

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 — Readers’ Choice

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
Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you; show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you. — Psalm 143.8

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

Today’s Readings
Judges 17 (Listen – 1:50)
Acts 21 (Listen – 5:55)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
We want to hear your voice about the posts from the past eleven months (September 2020 – July 2021). Tell us about posts that challenged, comforted, and helped you.

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.

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.