From slave to master

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17

And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Deuteronomy 5:21

I was at a luncheon a couple months ago with Jim Jordan and seem to recall he made reference to the change made to the tenth commandment between Exodus and Deuteronomy. As you can see from the verses, the wife is moved from a position of being inside the house, one of the possessions of the man that are part of the household, to being outside/above the house, which would put her in a position of mastery over the house and its possessions.

Here’s an idea regarding this change in the command. When the ten commandments were first given, Israel had just left Egypt, the house of slavery (Exodus 5:2). The second telling of the ten commandments takes place right before Israel enters to possess the land (Deuteronomy 5:33) at the end of Moses’ life. I’m wondering if the tenth command mirrors this change in Israel’s status as they move from slaves in Egypt to a position of mastery in the promised land. I’m sure it has significance beyond this reference to the history of redemption, but it seems to tie in with Israel’s changing status.

Devour widow’s houses

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Luke 20:45-47

Last week we received our house tax appraisal for 2007. The value of our home had been raised well above what we recently paid for it. Perhaps some folks would find it gratifying to know that the state government agrees with their assessment of the potential value of the house. I found it extremely frustrating that my annual “rent” payment to the government (you know, the money I pay Texas so it grants me permission to continue dwelling in my home for another year) was going up so much.

A couple days later I headed downtown to protest the appraisal. Given that we had just bought the house and I had all the paperwork with me, it proved quite straight forward to get the appraisal lowered to the amount we had paid for the house.

While I was sitting in the cubicle talking to the appraiser, I overheard a portion of a conversation in the cubicle next to me. From what I heard, I surmised the woman was 1) quite elderly; 2) likely a widow; and 3) living on social security. And she was basically saying that the new appraisal on her home might force her out of it. And the response from the scribe appraiser was, so sorry, but we don’t make the rules.

How have we come to this, where injustice is such a part of our lives that we have institutionalized the devouring of widow’s homes?

Not metaphorical messiness

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Proverbs 14:4

I find this verse very encouraging as a parent. So much is said about the blessings of children in the Bible, yet being a parent sometimes feels overwhelming. Tricia “sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks” (Proverbs 31:17), yet it is difficult to keep up with a full household day in and day out.

But God wants us to know that wisdom counts the cost, and that messiness is in some cases the cost of abundance! Not metaphorical messiness… real messiness.

Notice the proverb assumes we value cleanliness, and does not directly challenge that value. Messiness isn’t wise in and of itself. In fact, I believe it could easily be argued that in many cases messiness is unwise because it makes the household harder to run.

But assuming that you value neatness and organization in your home, this proverb challenges us to count the cost and realize that neatness is not a virtue above all others, and must be set aside at times. So I encourage all the homemakers reading this to take heart and be of good cheer. Cleanliness is not, in and of itself, next to Godliness.

Garage gleanings

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. ~ Leviticus 19:9-10

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. ~ Leviticus 23:22

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. ~ Deuteronomy 24:19-22

And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. ~ Ruth 2:2-3

Think of it. God commanded farmers to be inefficient at what they do for the sake of the poor. They were not to maximize their “stewardship” of their resources but were to instead allow economic inefficiency to benefit the poor.

This is so contrary to the drumbeat of stewardship and resourcefulness that receives most of the attention in the American church (at least in my experience). The gleaning laws were not about some special act of charity. Rather, in the normal course of your work and life, you were to be a bit sloppy and inefficient so others might benefit. You were not to be faithful in the little acts of diligence so God would bless your work. Instead, you were to neglect what might be considered normal diligent work so that God would bless you.

But how might this apply to the very non-agrarian life most of us live? One pattern that Tricia and I have tried to establish that might be an application is this: we don’t do garage sales. In the normal course of things, all that stuff that might go into a garage sale goes to Goodwill. Oh, we sell an occasional large item on eBay or Craigslist. But rather than seeking to capitalize on the clothes, toys, and household items that need a new home, we pass them along with the hope that they might help the poor. In this way we aspire to “not reap your field right up to its edge”.

In what other ways might we live out the gleaning laws today? Where should our normal view of diligent stewardship give way to a Godly inefficiency that benefits the poor?

Blessed and BLESSED

In Luke 11:27, a woman declares:

“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”

Back in Luke 1, Elizabeth had declared to Mary:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Mary responded by saying:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, or he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed…”

Yet when Jesus responds to the woman’s statement of Luke 11:27, he says:

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Which leaves me confused. Not regarding the content or truth of what Jesus says, but rather the purpose of what appears to me to be a purposefully broken parallel between the two conversations. Why does Luke present such a sharp contrast between the two events?

For some reason this sequence reminds me of Jesus’ claim in Luke 7:28:

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Is the transition away from Mary blessedness analogous, that her blessedness is in the context of the shadows of night, and that in the dawning of the new day / new creation blessedness takes on a new order of magnitude, dwarfing that which came before? In other words, is the transition between Luke 1 and Luke 11 pointing to the turning point in redemptive history when the word became flesh and dwelt among us?

Job the firstborn?

Here’s a thought. What distinguishes the sons of God? Faith. What distinguishes the firstborn of God? Faithful perseverance through suffering. Compare Job 1:3 to Job 42:12. Job’s inheritance from the Lord has doubled, hinting at the double-portion received by the firstborn son. What took place between these two accountings of Job’s inheritance? A whole lot of suffering.

I can think of at least one other firstborn son who demonstrated his standing via suffering (Philippians 2:5-11).


My brother is asking some questions about WWJD. I’ll leave such questions to him, and instead turn the question on its head (or inside out, or something). Whatever one thinks of WWJD, I suggest it is particularly unhelpful to read the Bible in such a way that it condemns Jesus and his activity while on earth as recorded in the gospels.

Oddly enough, this means we have to leave a bit of room (perhaps only a small space over in the corner) for a single man, perhaps even a pastor or elder, to spend time in the the company of women of ill repute. And he might just be drinking a beer. And picking up the tab.

And now I’ll open the floor: anyone want to try to unpack the acronym WWWLJD? Take a shot at it in the comments.

Walk on Water

I was listening to Audio Adrenaline’s “Walk on Water” yesterday in the car and had a thought. Actually, several, all related to the story of Jesus inviting Peter out onto the water. Here’s the version of the story in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 14:22-33):

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Thought #1: Compare this passage to Hebrews 12:2… it seems to me that the author is referring back to Peter’s experience.

Thought #2: Okay, this is a bit more complex, but stay with me. What is the sea to an Israelite? And a boat on the sea? It would certainly call to mind the ark floating on the waters of judgment. And the rough seas would remind an Israelite of the gentile nations (see Psalm 68:22, Isaiah 23:11, Isaiah 60:5 among others). Here we have Peter getting out of the ark (the only safe place on an angry sea) and walking on the waters of judgment. Or, at the level of nations, leaving the safety of the promised land for the chaos of the gentile nations.

Jesus was instructing Peter on what was coming and on how to survive. Everything was about to become topsy-turvy. The church would be dispersed throughout the world, and in so doing would paradoxically be used to gather in the elect. The angry waves of the sea would be crashing all around. How would Peter and the early church (and us) survive? By fixing his eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Winning the war yet losing

It’s been several years since I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but for some reason I was thinking about it while mowing the yard last week. I was trying to ascertain the meaning of his ending (if there is one) in which the hobbits head home and have to free the place from oppression and restore its natural beauty.

It suddenly struck me that perhaps Tolkien was reflecting on his own experiences and thoughts about his homeland in light of World War I. Is the entire trilogy a warning that there’s no point in bleeding and dying to win a global war if you surrender your homeland to the same sorts of evils in the name of progress?

Goliath the dog

In my post Samson and Goliath, I said:

Goliath himself understood (sort of) that the God of Israel was treating him as a joke. “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (see 1 Samuel 17:43) he asks rhetorically… only it turns out it wasn’t merely rhetorical, it was actually worth pondering, because the answer was a resounding “Yes!” This too parallels Samson, when the 30 companions answer his riddle with rhetorical questions that were actually the heart of the matter (see Judges 14). “What is stronger than a lion?” they ask. Well, duh! Samson is… he just ripped one limb from limb.

I’ve been thinking about this interesting aspect of Philistine questions (that they seem to have a knack to ask profound questions that cut to the heart of the matter without realizing it and thinking they are merely making some rhetorical flourish), and I suddenly realized there as an another dimension to Goliath’s question.

Turning to Matthew 15:21-28, we have the following story:

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In Jesus’ interaction with the Canaanite woman, the Canaanites were dogs, and it turns out there is a kind of dog that shames the sheep with her faith and pleases the master! The Philistines were not true Canaanites, but had settled in Canaan and seem to substitute for the Canaanites in opposition to Israel at the time of Goliath. By asking whether he was a dog, Goliath was not only hinting that he was the punch line in God’s joke on the Philistines, he was also hinting at the path of humility and faith open to the Canaanites (and the Philistines). The table laid out for God’s people had plenty of scraps if they would simply hunger for true food.