Daily Prayer :: Wind

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February 22 – Joshua

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Joshua 24

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:… I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

More thoughts for meditation

The second section of the Tanakh is called Nevi’im (lit. spokespersons or prophets). It contains two sub-groups, the Former Prophets (the narrative books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings) and the Latter Prophets (the books of major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). Many of the writings of the Latter Prophets are thought by scholars to be older than the narratives of the Former Prophets which precede them in the collection, and were profoundly influential on the direction and development of Judaism.

The story of Joshua was written to assure the Israelites that God will reward obedience, and to record the entrance to and conquest of the promised land. Joshua demonstrates his faith in God as He follows the orders given to Him and takes leadership of the nation. Joshua truly was “strong and courageous” (1:7).

Joshua and the Israelites enter into the promised land in an amazing way. As they arrive at the Jordan River they are provided with a miraculous crossing. As God prepares to turn over Jericho he shows great grace to a prostitute named Rahab, the ancestor of King David, as the city is overcome miraculously.

Joshua follows God’s orders and first conquers the central area of the promise land. This includes the miraculous manner in which God gives them the great fortress of Jericho. Ai was the next town and although it took two tries, the first due to sin in the camp, on the second attempt God again moved and dominated. Next, the Israelites occupied the southern land and then the northern land to complete their occupation; however, although they controlled the region, they never did completely conquer it.

In the final chapters the land is divided up and distributed among the tribes of Israel. Some of the larger cities are placed aside for the Levitical priests who did not receive a portion of land, due to their duties. Before Joshua dies he gives a great challenges: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (24:15).

Suggestions for action

Hebrews 4 mentions Joshua during an exhortation to enter the Sabbath rest of God that Jesus has provided, the ultimate  expression of “entering the land” like Joshua led the people to do: “’Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’  For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God.” We are still called by courageous examples to “enter in.” All but Caleb and Joshua were too afraid to enter the promised land on the first go around. Likewise, people are still afraid to put their full trust in God.

Unlike Joshua and Caleb, the other Israelites followed the Lord’s calling out from Egypt, but they did not follow Him into the land. Many Christians repeat this same error. They have followed the Lord as He led them out of the spiritual death of sin and guilt. They are “out of Egypt” so to speak. They are forgiven of their sins. They have new life in Christ. However, they do not follow the Lord on “into the land.” They do not follow by faith into the promise of abundant of life. They do not follow the Lord in humble dependence for transformation, for fruitfulness, for a life of courage.

The story of Joshua calls us to assess who we serve, which “gods of our fathers” we have retained, and whether we insist that our “house” serves the Lord. Let’s take our own inventory and decide.

February 21 — Miriam

Today’s Bible reading

While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had indeed married a Cushite woman); and they said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth. Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them came out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the entrance of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words:

When there are prophets among you,
I the Lord make myself known to them in visions;
I speak to them in dreams.
Not so with my servant Moses;
he is entrusted with all my house.
With him I speak face to face— clearly, not in riddles;
and he beholds the form of the Lord.

Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow. And Aaron turned towards Miriam and saw that she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother’s womb.” And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her.” But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp for seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” So Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days; and the people did not set out on the march until Miriam had been brought in again. – Numbers 12:1-15

More thoughts for meditation

Moses, Aaron and Miriam are the leaders of Israel during the pivotal era of their history. Some dispute their relationship, but Aaron and Miriam became known as Moses’ older siblings. In Numbers, Moses takes two censuses to gauge the strength of the people as they near the promised land, thus the name of the book. In today’s reading, his own strength is verified.

As a young girl in Egypt, Miriam midwifed alongside her mother Yocheved. Together they defied Pharaoh’s decree that all Jewish baby boys must be killed at birth. According to the Talmud (a huge collection of doctrines and laws compiled and written before the 8th Century, A.D., the basic book of Jewish law and interpretation), we also know that when Pharaoh demanded that all baby boys be drowned, Miriam’s father, Amram, decided to separate from his wife so that they would have no more children. Since he was a leader of the Jewish people, many followed his example. Miriam accused her father, “You are worse than Pharaoh! Pharaoh’s decree is against the boys; you are effectively causing that there are no Jewish girls also!” Through her urging Amram remarried his wife, and Moses was born.

According to Shemot Rabbah (a Jewish midrash, or commentary on Exodus), when her mother placed Moses in a basket on the Nile, it was Miriam who hid in the reeds and waited to see what would happen (she knew that this child was the prophesied redeemer, and that somehow he would be saved), and it was she who arranged that he be nursed by his own mother.

Later, after the Exodus and the splitting of the Red Sea, Miriam led all the women and girls in song and dance (Exodus 15). Together with Moses and Aaron, she led the Jewish people for the forty years they were in the desert. During this time (again, according to the Talmud), the Jews were provided with water in honor of her merit.

Throughout her life, we can see Miriam focus on family unity and preservation. When she saw her younger brother willfully separating from his wife (as had her father), she did not stand by, but voiced her protest. Apparently, Moses was keeping ritually pure by separating from his wife but having sex with a Cushite woman. This is one interpretation of a somewhat inscrutable passage. Some people think this “Cushite woman” is really Zipporah, Moses’ wife from Midian, who perhaps is dark and a suspicious non-Israelite. Some say (with the historian Josephus) that Moses took a Nubian wife during an Egyptian military campaign and had two wives. Others say Zipporah had died and this was a second wife. All this is not important, perhaps, but interesting.

Miriam did not go to Moses directly, as was her usual way. So she did not learn of his motives. She made an assumption according to hearsay. So, instead of going to him directly, she criticized Moses to his older brother, Aaron, in the hope of rectifying the situation. Prophets but were not required to withdraw from normal family life; as far as Miriam was concerned neither was Moses.

Miriam’s intentions were upright, but she erred in her basic evaluation of Moses. Moses was a unique individual, a prophet like no other. Being such a supreme prophet, standing head and shoulders above others, he was not to be judged by the same yardstick and the same parameters as others—even another prophet as great as Miriam or Aaron. As our reading shows, Miriam was punished for her criticism, despite her good intentions.

Miriam meant well. She felt that Moses’ behavior was arrogant, and might serve as a poor example for others to follow. She certainly did not intend to slander him! Moreover, she did not even confront Moses directly, but spoke to Aaron, who she felt could better address the situation. So, why was she punished so harshly? The big reason was because Moses needed to be led by God and lead. But there might have been another reason: because she was Miriam.

As a leader of the Jewish nation, even if she felt uncomfortable broaching the subject with Moses, it was her obligation to do so. Interestingly, this was the one time when Miriam did not speak up fearlessly when she perceived an injustice. The one time she goes to Aaron instead of confronting Moses directly is the one time she fails. And she gets called out on it by God, as if to say, “From you I expect nothing less than total fearlessness.”

Suggestions for action

Miriam’s punishment becomes a watchword. When protecting oneself from leprosy, it is written, “Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way, as you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:9). So why was she punished so severely? It was certainly to be an example. For one thing, she teaches that God does not dispense one-size-fits-all justice. Every individual is judged uniquely according to his or her abilities and potential. And for someone like Miriam, her behavior (which in an average person might be considered meritorious!) is considered sinful.

Consider the way a small stain may not even be noticeable on a plaid shirt, but will stand out sharply on a white shirt. Miriam is the white shirt. A wrongdoing so slight it might not be noticed in another, stands out sharply against her pristine background. That’s one way to look at it. And the stories of the Old Testament are all about causing us to ponder.

So perhaps a main  lesson from this account is: Remember that God dispenses justice to all. Even the greatest and holiest can’t “get away” with doing wrong. And remember that God’s justice is custom-tailored to each individual, based on who the person is and what God expects from him or her.

February 20 – Jacob and Rachel

Today’s Bible reading

God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him.  God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he was called Israel.  God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you.  The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”  Then God went up from him at the place where he had spoken with him.  Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it.  So Jacob called the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.

Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.” As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem),  and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. – Genesis 35:9-21

More thoughts for meditation

The story of Jacob and Rachel is a great love story. Jacob is Abraham’s grandson. His story is in Genesis 25-50. His name was changed to Israel (one who wrestles with God). Jacob’s sons are the family leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. His given name means “supplanter” or “one who grabs.” In the case of Jacob, he grabbed his twin brother Esau’s heal when we was being born. Jacob later supplanted Esau as the heir of their father, Isaac.

Jacob was sent by his father to find a wife from his uncle Laban’s family. He met Rachel at Laban’s well and for him, it was love at first sight. He single-handedly moved the great stone cover off of the well, perhaps trying to impress his future wife (Genesis 29:10-11). Jacob stayed with Laban’s family and within a month, he fell deeply in love with Rachel and determined to marry her. Laban convinced Jacob to work for him for seven years before he could have Rachel. Jacob agreed. Jacob cared for Rachel so much that the years “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20).

After the seven years of labor, Laban agreed to allow Jacob to marry Rachel. In traditional wedding ceremonies, the bride usually had her entire face covered with only a small opening for the eyes. After Jacob married the woman and spent the night with his new bride he woke up in horror to discover that he had been tricked. Jacob thought that he had married Rachel but he had instead married her sister, Leah. Jacob was outraged and when he confronted Rachel’s father Laban, the father told Jacob that it was customary to have the eldest daughter marry first. Laban said that Jacob could also marry Rachel if he agreed to work another seven years for him. Jacob, smitten by Rachel, quickly agreed and worked another seven years for Laban. Nothing could stop Jacob because “his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah…and he worked for Laban another seven years” to secure Rachel for his wife (Gen 29:30). Jacob had once deceived his brother Esau and had tricked him out of his rightful birthright. Now it was Jacob’s turn to be tricked.

Jacob’s other wife, Leah, had several children but Rachel remained barren. Rachel once said that if she didn’t have children she would die (Gen. 30:1). She eventually gave birth. As this growing, nomadic tribe was on the move again, Rachel had problems with her second labor, she  “began to give birth and had great difficulty….and as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, ‘Don’t despair, for you have another son.’ As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin” (Gen 35:16-18). Ben-Oni means “son of my trouble” but Jacob, now called Israel, named him Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.” This may have been due to Rachel’s being Jacob‘s favorite wife or his “right hand“ to him. Perhaps Benjamin, was named after her.

“So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb” (Gen 35:19-20). Rachel had died but Jacob’s love for her never did. Jacob loved Rachel at first sight and at last sight. He set up a marker so he could come visit her and let people know how he honored her.

In the New Testament Rachel is mentioned during the account of Herod searching out and killing boys who might be the Messiah. Matthew quotes Jeremiah, whose prophecy is fulfilled: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18). Ramah is the territory in which Bethlehem is situated. She who had so much trouble being married and then giving birth is a sympathetic ear for mothers weeping over their lost children.

Suggestions for action

Let’s appreciate the love and loss so vividly described in these ancient and influential stories of Jacob and Rachel. Part of why the stories are preserved is because they enshrine great truths: love and family matter, and most of all, God’s guidance and blessing are the foundation of true life. Loss, deception and violence may mar our way, but the Lord guides our steps. In your family and in your schedule today, why must you trust God?

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