Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rest and Possession: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 12 with poem by Phillips Brooks, Our Burden Bearer

Daily Readings
Psalm 69, Numbers 18, Deuteronomy 12, Matthew 17

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 12

Rest and Possession
Rest and possession, says Moses, is going require a very different regimen than we have experienced so far. What it is going to require is centralization of our worship and practice. No longer will twelve tribes be able to govern themselves more or less autonomously (cf. 185:1424). We will be governed by the LORD our God and from a central place where he will choose to place his name. Well what does ‘rest and possession’ imply? Possession, of course, implies the inheritance of the land that God has promised. ‘Rest,’ implies more than peace, the cessation of warring and security. Those surely, but more, and that more has to do with being the ‘possession,’ pun intended, of the LORD God himself. Gerhard von Rad (496:983) writes “…according to Deuteronomy’s conception, a condition in which Israel will belong altogether to its God and be wholly in his safe keeping. Rest is personified by the Garden of Eden and the Promised Land, both paradises. In the Christian literature, Hebrews in particular, rest is that place of empowerment found when one moves beyond verbal assent to God into a relationship of complete trust with action for Him growing out of that. The author of Hebrew’s assumes that the ‘rest’ Moses was talking about and von Rad refers to, was never realized by those who followed God and the Torah imperfectly, but was still possible as a result of the atoning work of Christ in the Christian era.

Deuteronomy 12 focuses on the centralization of worship in Israel and does so through clear prohibition of worshipping, or leaving intact or even inquiring about the worship practices of the other nations. They were to destroy the sites, the idols, the images, the pillars of every foreign holy place, once they had dispossessed the former inhabitants and come into possession themselves. Gods were devoted to nations and to places. The idea that a new people could come in with a different God and displace old gods was a radical, and perhaps culturally ‘foolish’ conception. That very notion is the subject of Moses’ peroration. It would normally be considered disastrous to offend the old gods, but Moses is saying, if you don’t completely destroy and ignore these old gods, it will surely be disastrous for you. This is a gigantic issue and one over which Israel stumbled.

To increase the likelihood of success of both replacing the old gods and centralizing Israel’s worship to one center, the killing of meat was secularized. That is, it was no longer required that they had to be at the approved altar to slaughter, say a beef. Rather, they could do it any time in any place and eat it as long as they did not consume the blood. The blood was simply poured out on the ground and disposed of. Whereas, if it was a sacrificial slaughter the blood would be poured on or around the altar as a part of the acceptable sacrifice. Chapter 12 thus becomes a keystone in the observance of the Torah.

Our Burden Bearer
Phillips Brooks

1835-1893

The little sharp vexations
And the briars that cut the feet,
Why not take all to the Helper
Who has never failed us yet?
Tell Him about the heartache,
And tell Him the longings too,
Tell Him the baffled purpose
When we scarce know what to do.
Then, leaving all our weakness
With the One divinely strong,
Forget that we bore the burden
And carry away the song.
407:249

Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, God of our hope; you restore the fallen and rebuild the broken walls. Teach us the song of thanksgiving, for you are the strength of your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:794:69 psalm prayer]

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