Prayer Psalm: 55
Prayer Point: What are you afraid of in this world? What concerns do you carry with you every day? The opposite of living in perpetual fear is to live a life of continual prayer. Try praying throughout the day. Put this verse into practice: “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.”
Jesus commands us to not be afraid in verse 32. What would be free to do in verses 32-34 if we were unafraid? Why is selling our possessions and giving the money to the poor a better investment than keeping it for ourselves? What is the connection between our treasure and our heart?
Jesus often told stories that described a master leaving his house in the care of his servants while he went on a journey, or in this case, to attend a wedding (see Luke 12:35-40). In each of these stories the master is Jesus himself and his absence refers to his ascension into heaven. His disciples (the original twelve and us) are those who are left in charge of his house. Each disciple of Jesus is entrusted with certain responsibilities and gifts to fulfill those responsibilities.
How will the faithful servants be rewarded? What will happen to the servants who spurn their responsibilities?
What would it look like for us to be faithful with the things that God has entrusted to us?
As the vision continues (by the way it began with yesterday’s reading, Revelation 13:1-10), another beast emerges out of the sea. Each of these beasts represent world empires or evil systems empowered by Satan who oppress the people of God.
In what way does this beast also mock the lamb of God? This is always true of world systems whether they are political or economic or militaristic, they all claim to give us what only Jesus can give us, peace, prosperity, security and wholeness. They are all mockeries of the Jesus the real thing. How does this second beast deceive the world with regards to the first beast?
What sort of religion and economic system does he set up? How would this have caused suffering for God’s people?
Opposition to the Nehemiah’s rebuilding efforts begins with ridicule from their enemies. How do the Israelites respond to the opposition? Opposition is now ratcheted up. Sanballat and the neighboring tribes plan to attack Jerusalem before the wall is rebuilt. What two things do the Israelites do in the face of the threat? What does God do to frustrate the plans of the enemy?
*Sirach is a Jewish holy book written about 100 years before the coming of Christ. It is not considered to be Scripture by the Jewish faith nor our tradition, but the book is still worth reading. We offer Sirach in addition to the Old Testament readings.
1 The one who keeps the law makes many offerings;
2 one who heeds the commandments makes an offering of well-being.
3 The one who returns a kindness offers choice flour,
4 and one who gives alms sacrifices a thank offering..
5 To keep from wickedness is pleasing to the LORD,
and to forsake unrighteousness is an atonement.
6 Do not appear before the LORD empty-handed,
7 for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the commandment.
8 The offering of the righteous enriches the altar,
and its pleasing odor rises before the Most High.
9 The sacrifice of the righteous is acceptable,
and it will never be forgotten.
10 Be generous when you worship the LORD,
and do not stint the first fruits of your hands.
11 With every gift show a cheerful face,
and dedicate your tithe with gladness.
12 Give the Most High as he has given to you,
and as generously as you can afford.
13 For the LORD is the one who repays,
and he will repay you sevenfold.
14 Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it;
15 and do not rely on a dishonest sacrifice;
for the LORD is the judge,
and with him there is no partiality.
16 He will not show partiality to the poor;
but he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged.
17 He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan,
or the widow when she pour out her complaint.
What do keeping the commandments and making an offering have in common? (As I see it, only those who observe the commandments can make an offering to the LORD. This raises the question: why would anyone who does not keep the commandments want to make offerings to the LORD? I don’t think he would. So, only those who want to observe God’s laws will want to make offerings; all the others would only be paying lip service. Hear Isaiah: “The LORD says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.'” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV))
What is the substance of verses 35:3-4? (It sounds like “kindness” is far more effective than we might imagine. Giving alms also is deceptively more significant than Sirach may lead us to believe. Consider Proverbs 19 verse 17: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.” According to Solomon this business of providing for the poor is taken very seriously by the LORD. Do not misconstrue the words “lends to the LORD ” as a springboard to manipulating the LORD — that will not happen.
Is not verse 35:5 just a re-stating of just how important repentance is? (Keeping from wickedness certainly is pleasing to the LORD. Forsaking unrighteousness = repentance. We believe that while salvation is a gift of God, repentance of the heart is necessary in order to receive that gift. Repentance is a turning away from our wicked ways. — j.t.)
What is said in verse 35:6 which may make us balk? (“Do not appear before the LORD empty-handed…” We tend to think that exemptions should be made for the poor. Oddly enough that is not the attitude of the bible. Such an exemption would be seen as showing partiality which is to be avoided. On the “old days” [in the time of Moses] an annual census was taken and what amounts to a tax was charged to all persons over the age of twenty. “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the LORD. All who cross over, those twenty years old or more are to give an offering to the LORD. The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD, making atonement for your lives.” (Exodus 30:11-16 NIV) Unfortunately we don’t know if that 1/2 shekel is silver or gold. Jesus pointed out an object lesson to his disciples regarding this issue: “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'” (Luke 21:1-4 NIV) So being poor is no excuse! And let’s face it, the poor and widows had a special place in God’s heart but still no exemption.)
What does the offering of the righteous do? (Sirach 35:8) (“The offering of the righteous enriches the altar, and its pleasing odor rises before the Most High.” (NRSV))
What other advantage does the sacrifice of the righteous have? (“The sacrifice of the righteous is acceptable, and it will never be forgotten.” (Sirach 35:9 NRSV) This verse is actually the second part of a couplet [the first part being verse 8]. j.t.)
What kind of heart is the LORD looking for in worship? (Verse 35:10 tells us not to “stint” which Webster’s says can mean “frugal” or to hold back. The LORD wants us to be generous when it comes to giving to him. In one of the earliest accounts of offering — the ones offered by Cain and Abel — this issue arose. “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Genesis 4:2-5 NIV) Please understand that it was not what was offered so much as how or with what heart the offering was made. Notice the word “but Abel brought fat portions…”. That “but” tells us there was something “less” in Cain’s offering. That Cain became “angry” because of this, is also another indicator. While sacrifice is important, it is the underlying spirit of the worshiper that is more important still. “For I [i.e., the LORD] desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 NIV) Because we’re so much more “advanced” than those of the Old Testament we know that God does not require for himself any burnt offering. “If I [the LORD] were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” (Psalms 50:12-15 NIV))
Verses 35:11-13 expand on the premise that “God loves a cheerful giver…” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV) Paul, in one of his encounters with Jesus, was told by him, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35b).
What do verses 35:14-17 reaffirm? (They reaffirm that God show no partiality, let’s say, especially to the poor but rather, he will listen to the one who is wronged. Verse 35:17 amounts to a “shout out” to the widow and orphan — that they be assured that they are not forgotten by God.)