04 April 2010

Apr 4

Reference links:
Old Testament

Wow, the author of Deuteronomy managed to fit a mini-recap into a discussion of offering a portion of the first harvest of the year. I am impressed. When these first fruits are offered, the one giving the offering is supposed to give a very terse summary of how God made Jacob prosper and eventually the Israelites ended up in Israel.

Every third year, a special tithe of the crops must be given to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. That's nice. I think it is good to help those in need, and I think that it is good to have giving be systematic (whether through a religious/governmental system as for the Israelites or with a personal system). In my experience, regularly scheduled giving, whether it's an hour a week or $5000 a year, tends to be less likely to be forgotten and, therefore, has a larger impact in the long run.

After that, Moses instructs the Israelites about the blessings and curses they are to give once they reach the promised land. Once they cross the Jordan, they are supposed to set up some stones as an altar at Mount Ebal and cover them with plaster. Some of the tribes give curses and others blessings. Then the Levites tell the people of Israel a bunch of things that will cause them to be cursed.
  • Creating idols
  • Dishonoring parents
  • Stealing property by moving a boundary marker
  • Leading a blind person astray on the road
  • Denying justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows
  • Having sexual intercourse with any of your father's wives
  • Having sex with an animal
  • Having sex with your sister
  • Having sex with your mother-in-law
  • Attacking a neighbor in secret
  • Accepting payment to kill an innocent person
  • Not affirming and obeying these instructions
The list seems like a random subset of various regulations we have seen before.

New Testament

Jesus visits two sisters, Mary and Martha. When Martha complains that Mary is just sitting listening to Jesus while Martha preps dinner, Jesus remarks that Martha is worrying over details and Mary has found the truly meaningful thing. I agree with the lesson that it is too easy to get caught up in the concerns of day-to-day life and miss out on what is important. On the other hand, knowing how people react under stress, I doubt Martha got much out of the lesson at the time.

The rest of today's reading is about prayer. Apparently, the key to getting God to answer your prayers is to keep asking until he gets annoyed.
Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
I actually am kind of surprised that Jesus is so blatant about the fact that bugging God until he gives in is a valid prayer technique. Seeing the second passage in context also shows how many people, Christians and atheists alike, often take that passage out of context. I almost never see anyone mention the requirement for persistence when they mention the second part.

The next passage is also rather well known.
“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
To this I respond: Would you put your children in a room full of knives? Would you leave them alone with a lion? Well then, what are we to think of a God who creates a world where earthquakes and natural disasters kill so many people? What are we to think of a God who could banish all natural disease but will not? You may say that the world is fallen, but natural causes of so much human suffering can certainly not be part of a reasonable punishment for human sin.

Psalms and Proverbs
At the blast of your breath, O God of Jacob,
their horses and chariots lay still.
The images that came to my mind upon reading this were dragon-like fire or garlic breath.

Also interseting,
Human defiance only enhances your glory,
for you use it as a weapon.
So you see, atheists are helping God.

Two good proverbs today and one nearly tautalogical one. Can you figure out which is which?
Fools think their own way is right,
but the wise listen to others.

A fool is quick-tempered,
but a wise person stays calm when insulted.

An honest witness tells the truth;
a false witness tells lies.