What we are reading this week (beginning Friday, June 17, 2022):
• Exodus 28-34
• Jeremiah 12-18
• John 10-16
• Psalms 78-84
Notes on Exodus
Chapter 28 is about the construction of the high priest’s garments, including the ephod and the breastpiece. Notice the Urim and Thummim (30), kept in a pocket of the breastpiece. These are almost like “holy dice”. They were used to make decisions. For example, see 1 Samuel 14.41. The consecration of the priests takes up all of chapter 29. It was a big deal. Meticulous details, including the dissection and presentation of the animals in sacrifice for this ritual are given.
The two men, Bezalel and Ohiliab, assigned to oversee and build the articles for the Temple worship, created an enormous amount of items (31.2, 6). Their work and contribution is documented over the next chapters. The concept of the Sabbath is one that is near and dear to God’s heart. As the Law unfolds over these next four books, we come back to it again and again. It is a sign (31.17). We will read later that it is an eternal command. The golden calf, if we read carefully, was thought of— at least by some— as a proxy for God (see 32.5). Nonetheless, God was not happy about it on any level. Without Moses’ intercession, this may have pushed the Lord over the edge so that he would obliterate the entire nation (32.10). Aaron was such a weakling. “They gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (32.24). Interesting to note that all of this gold had been given to the Hebrews out of love and respect by the Egyptian people on their way out of town. How easily we turn the blessing of God into a distraction or even an idol. The Levites were the priestly tribe, pastors to the other eleven. Apparently, they were chosen because of their response to Moses (a Levite himself) when he came down from the mountain (32.26, 29). Still, the name “Levi”—the name of the patriarch of the tribe—means “attached”, symbolic of their priestly role, living geographically the closest to the presence of God. Moses was the first person in history to break all ten of the Ten Commandments (34.1). The issue of the Hebrews keeping themselves separate from other people groups came from 34.15-16. Of course, they were also to bring salvation per the Messiah to the other nations, but only chose the part about excluding others—when convenient— that is found here. Moses’ 40-day fast with neither food nor water was a supernatural fast (34.28). If the human body goes more than three days without food or water, permanent damage occurs.
Notes on Jeremiah
At the opening of chapter 12, Jeremiah weighs in with his own frustrations. God answers him in the second half. Jeremiah is called to drama ministry in chapter 13, asked by God to create two illustrations, one regarding a linen belt (1-11) and a second one simply telling a parable about wineskins (12-14). We back up chronologically just a bit. A dire warning is sounded for the king and queen of Judah in 13.18-27. If things were not bad enough with the Babylonians hovering, a drought is announced by the Lord in 14.1-6.
Jeremiah intercedes in anguished prayer for his people in 14.7-9, but God tells him to not waste his time (14.11: “Do not pray for the well-being of this people… I will not listen to their cry… I will not accept [their sacrifices]”). God continues to lay out a message of destruction and terror, even as the prophet tries to insert prayers of protection. Jeremiah is tenacious in praying for his people (19-22). This back-and-forth between the interceding prophet and the wrathful God continues all through chapter 15.
Jesus talked about “fishers of men.” Jeremiah did, too, but in a much more negative sense! (16.16). Jeremiah’s life will now be a living illustration in many ways: he can’t marry, he can’t grieve the dead, he can’t go to parties. All of this is to generate conversations that the young prophet is to take advantage of to express God’s heart to his people. See 16.1-13. God’s frustration continues to spill out in chapter 17 through verse six. However, there is an abrupt change in verse seven, where he acknowledges that there are still those faithful in the land, and the Lord gives them promises very similar to what we find in the first psalm. The conversation for the rest of the chapter bounces back and forth between God and Jeremiah. It closes with words regarding the Sabbath. Once again, we see how very important this day is to the Lord. The closing words of the chapter are quite harsh, reminding the people that failure to remember and keep the Sabbath will result in “unquenchable fire” that God himself will ignite (17.27). Chapter 18 is another one-act drama, but this time Jeremiah is only the observer. God leads him to the potter’s house, and this well-known illustration is played out for the prophet, with extended commentary through the entire chapter.
Notes on John
In John 10, Jesus gives a great word picture of his relationship with his people between that of a shepherd and his sheep. “The sheep listen to his voice.” Sheep recognized their shepherd’s voice. There is so much theology right there! Again, Jesus’ detractors made it very clear that they fully realized that he was claiming to be fully God (10.33). You will have to cut out a few more verses of your Bible here if you want to keep making the claim that Jesus never said or implied such a thing.
Raising Lazarus (John 11) was one of the most significant moments in Jesus’ ministry. I’m drawn to the sisters, their differing perspectives, and Jesus’ love of both of them. Both tell Jesus the exact same thing: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (verses 21 and 32). In response to Martha, Jesus responded with a most powerful statement: “I am the resurrection and the life.” For Mary, he just cried with her. Martha was concerned that Lazarus’ body would stink after four days. Did it? Even if Jesus raised him, he had been in carcass mode for most of a week, so what do you think?
I wonder to this day why Jesus allowed Judas to be the treasurer, when they were subsisting on gifts from friends, often women, and he simply raided the account at will (12.6). We find some telling narration in 12.16. So much art, especially the classical European, portrays Jesus and band going around as a holy group of spiritual giants. The reality is that the disciples were near totally clueless until after the Day of Pentecost (and even beyond: see John 21.1-3). Peter wanted to know who the betrayer would be, and most likely thought Jesus was talking about him after he had denied him three times (see 13.24, 38). Why is 13.35 so overlooked and under-obeyed, yet we’re okay with that? (“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””) Jesus said that we could ask for anything in his name, and he would do it. Of course, many run with this and create large followings by “claiming” things. However, Jesus told this to his disciples after being with them for three years. And they would not be able to put it into practice until after they watched him die, and then saw him resurrected. All of this would seriously affect what they would be asking for! 15.2 says that Jesus cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit. This actually could be translated as “lifts up every branch”. Instead of cutting us off when we are unfruitful, the implication is that he lifts us up (and vine growers will tell you that overgrowth is mercilessly lopped off) and then we are able to produce again.
John 18.4-5 is some of my very favorite verses:
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
The power that just emanated from him here is astounding. His words of self-identification knocked over a few hundred strong and heavily armed men.
Notes on Psalms
The Lord’s presence hovers above the Ark of the Covenant. This is where the carved cherubim are seated. See 80.1. The New Moon festival (81.3), celebrated throughout the Old Testament and the New, was not instituted by virtue of the Torah. It was a festival that was added on by the people of Israel without a Scripture foundation. Yet God later affirms it in both testaments (e.g., Isaiah 66.23 and Colossians 2.16).
Psalm 84 is a wonderful chapter to commit to memory. I love all of the names and phrase-names of God that we find here.
There is an ongoing conflict between the “flesh and the spirit” that we are all aware of. However, I am intrigued by Psalm 84, where we read, “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Normally, the heart and the flesh are in conflict: we want God with our hearts, but our physical, bodily issues of the flesh (being tired, weak, unmotivated, et. Al.) push back against this. This psalmist, in contrast, has both his heart and flesh desiring God. This would be a great objective in our prayer and spiritual walk.