The Agora
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January 31

Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.

Reading 1 - Exo 4:2-4

"Then the LORD said to him, 'What is that in your hand?' 'A staff,' he replied" (Exo 4:2).

God can use even the most ordinary items to further His purpose.

"The LORD said, 'Throw it on the ground.' Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, 'Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.' So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand" (Exo 4:3,4).

"Moses looked down. He had forgotten his sheep and had been fingering nervously or gripping tightly the shepherd's rod in his hand. He cast it to the ground and ran from the serpent to which it was transformed, until at God's behest he took it by the tail and it lay still in his hand with its familiar feel. Yes, God can change the ordinary things, the things we use every day, to purposes beyond our imagination: if we trust Him. Have we learned the lesson? It is oft repeated. 'How many loaves have ye?' Even man himself can be changed. The leprous hand which Moses drew from his bosom depicted not only his own inner weakness and need of healing, but the power that lies around us and within if we trust the Lord. We may have but a rod, the everyday token of our normal life, but the Lord can work wonders with it. Nothing is ordinary when the Lord is around, neither the thorn bush in the wilderness, nor the shepherd's staff, nor the shepherd's hand" (Harry Tennant, "Moses My Servant" 31).

Reading 2 - Psa 56:8

"Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll [Or 'put my tears in your wineskin'] -- are they not in your record?" (Psa 56:8).

RECORD MY LAMENT: "Thou tellest my wanderings" (AV). "Wanderings" (Hebrew "nodh": Gen 4:16) and "bottle" (Hebrew "n'odh") are a play on words. Likewise, "record" or "tellest" ("saphar") and "record" or "book" ("sepher"). When the complete list of David's wanderings is compiled from 1Sa 21-30 it makes an impressive catalogue.

Thinking of Christ, this verse suggests his almost ceaseless 3 1/2 years of preaching, whilst going from place to place, up and down the land of Israel, with nowhere to lay his head (Mat 8:20; Luk 9:58).

MY TEARS: As for Jesus, consider Joh 11:35; Luk 19:41; Heb 5:7. Other Psalms references to tears: Psa 6:6; 39:12; 42:3; 69:10; 116:8. All of David's (and Christ's) travels, even if relatively insignificant, are assuredly noted and remembered by God. For the same general idea, see Mat 10:29,30.

LIST MY TEARS ON YOUR SCROLL: "Put thou my tears into thy bottle" (AV). According to some authorities, "lachrymatories" (or tear bottles) are still found in large numbers in ancient tombs. They were apparently used to collect the tears of the mourners at the graveside, and then stored away with the body. Others, however, suggest that the allusion here is to the custom of putting into bags, or small leather flasks, articles of value for safekeeping (cp Luk 12:33). Thus, 'O Lord, treasure up my tears as something of great value'.

Tears and bottle come together again, quite interestingly, in the account of Mary Magdalene's anointing of the feet of Jesus (Luk 7:37,38). From the bottle came precious ointment, but from the repentant sinner came even more precious tears. And so it is with us: the greatest gifts we can bring to our Savior are our faith, our repentance, our devotion, our love, and even our tears.

"Prayers are instantly noticed in heaven. The moment Saul began to pray the Lord heard him. Here is comfort for the distressed but praying soul. Oftentimes a poor broken-hearted one bends his knee, but can only utter his wailing in the language of sighs and tears; yet that groan has made all the harps of heaven thrill with music; that tear has been caught by God and treasured in the lachrymatory of heaven. 'Thou puttest my tears into thy bottle,' implies that they are caught as they flow. The suppliant, whose tears prevent his words, will be well understood by the Most High. He may only look up with misty eye; but 'prayer is the falling of a tear.' Tears are the diamonds of heaven; sighs are a part of the music of Yahweh's court, and are numbered with 'the sublimest strains that reach the majesty on high.'

"Think not that your prayer, however weak or trembling, will be unregarded. Jacob's ladder is lofty, but our prayers shall lean upon the Angel of the covenant and so climb its starry rounds. Our God not only hears prayer but also loves to hear it. 'He forgetteth not the cry of the humble.' True, He regards not high looks and lofty words; He cares not for the pomp and pageantry of kings; He listens not to the swell of martial music; He regards not the triumph and pride of man; but wherever there is a heart big with sorrow, or a lip quivering with agony, or a deep groan, or a penitential sigh, the heart of Yahweh is open; He marks it down in the registry of His memory; He puts our prayers, like rose leaves, between the pages of His book of remembrance, and when the volume is opened at last, there shall be a precious fragrance springing up therefrom" (CHS).

ARE THEY NOT IN YOUR RECORD?: God's "book of remembrance", or "book of life": Psa 69:28: 87:6; 139:16; Mal 3:16; Exo 32:32; Dan 12:1; Isa 4:3; Eze 13:9; Phi 4:3; Luk 10:20; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27; 22:19. The figure of this divine recording is related to the practice of earthly monarchs. In the court of the Hebrew kings was a "recorder", and "the chronicles of the kings" was the daily record of the events of each king's reign. Those who served the king in a special capacity or in an extraordinary manner would receive an adequate reward. But they were not necessarily rewarded at once; sometimes they seem to have waited years before their special service was finally compensated (Est 6:1-3).

Reading 3 - Rom 9:11

" order that God's purpose in election might stand" (Rom 9:11).

Being humans, our "logic" will always have trouble with these concepts because we cannot work on two levels at once. We are conditioned -- by all our lives and all our experiences -- to see and understand and make choices in a universe where our freewill is King. We see, we process in our minds, and we choose, and then we act. Free, sovereign creatures... making free choices.

But God lives in another dimension as well... maybe, we should say: several different "dimensions" where we cannot really go! We can barely understand what those dimensions mean. Maybe we DON'T understand, and the brain starts hurting trying to reconcile His absolute omniscience (or foreknowledge) and our freewill. How can we be choosing, really choosing, when God must already know how we will choose?

But the Bible, it seems to me, says we CAN! So I have to think that -- even if a part of my mind rebels at the juxtaposition of two ideas which seem practically exclusive of one another -- then the fault (shortcoming, weakness?) is with my own mind.

Put another way, I'd say we should be grateful that God has given us minds that can even ASK such a question, about time and eternity and the essential character and power of our Creator, while we -- when all is said and done -- are nothing but a fragile combination of mud and blood and brain synapses, sometimes firing and sometimes misfiring.

God has created us out of the dust, or clay, and given us a mind which can dimly comprehend the Great Other, beyond ourselves and our eyes and ears and smell and touch. In the words of Ecclesiastes, He has put "eternity" into our hearts (Ecc 3:11). But like the clam on the seashore, our little "hearts" and minds can't really fathom the depths of the sea, although it lays there, right next to us. But what we know of the love of God tells us that what we can only vaguely grasp now will surely be explained to us more fully later, WHEN we are capable of receiving it.

At least, that's how I "make sense" of predestination, foreknowledge, freewill, God, and man.
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