Lord, for the Years

The subject of this post is the hymn “Lord for the years your love has kept and guided” by Timothy Dudley-Smith. I’m a day behind here, as I had picked this hymn for yesterday (12 April), being our wedding anniversary and it was the hymn we chose for the congregation to sing at the end of our wedding ceremony in 2003 to accompany us as we walked back down the aisle together at the start of our marriage.

We especially love the last lines, “Past put behind us, for the future take us, Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone”. This is the Christian understanding of marriage, that a couple starts a new life, putting behind us any previous relationships or failings and seeking to live together as one household, but always under the direction of Jesus Christ.

The other words of the hymn have a wider focus than just the life of one couple. Verse 1 refers, perhaps, to anyone who seeks to know God, thanking him for his timeless qualities of love, inspiration, cheer (a rarely used word in religious circles but an important one), salvation, pardon and provision. Verse 2 praises God for his ‘Word of life’ that “sets our souls ablaze, teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us”. This refers primarily to the Bible, but the Bible is best understood not as the source of wisdom in itself but rather as a pointer to the living Christ who is its source and the true Wisdom of God.

Verses 3 and 4 remind us of the real problems of the world: the dangers for some people of pleasure and wealth, as well as those who are hungry and helpless. But all are indeed “lost without him” and so for all the world we “pray that Christ may reign”. Which brings us back to verse 5 where I started, as we ask God to help us put ourselves on the cross and Christ on the throne.

Brother, Sister, let me serve you

Today’s choice of hymn from Sing Praise is, unlike many of the others, very well known to me.  “Brother, Sister, let me serve you” is sung in many churches, but was also one of the hymns that my wife and I chose for our church wedding at St Luke’s Eccleshill.

The reason it makes a good wedding hymn is that it covers the many ways in which a couple in a long-term relationship serve each other, irrespective of what religious affiliation they may or may not have, but it is also a thoroughly Christian text that begins “Brother, Sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you, pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too”.  The inclusion of “grace” reminds us that we need God’s help to make our relationships work well, and that second line points to the truth that being served by others graciously takes effort and grace just as much as being the servant.

These various ways of serving are summarised in the second verse as “we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load”, a reference to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41) that “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile”. This is itself said to be a reference to the Roman law that a soldier could make someone carry their equipment for one mile, a law invoked when Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross on the way to his crucifixion.   But forcing? compulsion? crucifixion? How does that square with love? Perhaps it is intended to mean that when our partner is suffering, is under the pressure of external forces, we are expected to share that burden.  It finds expression also in the traditional English marriage service where each partner is asked to make a vow to love the other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”.  Marriage cannot be expected to be a lifetime of easy happiness, but where there is the commitment to support each other in all circumstances, it can survive and even flourish and grow in difficult times.

The following two verses (3 & 4) list some of the ways this will work in practice: “I will hold the Christ light for you in the night-time of your fear, I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear”; “I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I’ll laugh with you, I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through”. 

The fourth verse is again thoroughly Christian as it looks forward to “singing to God in heaven in perfect harmony”, although “we” here must mean the whole Christian community, past, present and future, since Jesus taught that there will be no marriage in heaven: our individual loving relationships will be blended into the perfect love of God that God intended for all creation.

Linda and I have been married for nearly eighteen years now. We’ve certainly known the ups and downs of “sickness and health”; while not experiencing poverty we’ve known the uncertainties of the private rental market and times when expenditure exceeded income; and certainly our share of weeping and laughter.  We can testify to the truth of the words of this hymn. 

The one line I haven’t quoted yet is the first half of the second verse: “we are pilgrims on a journey, and companions on the road”. Now you know where our domain name (pilgrims.org.uk) comes from – from this hymn and our experience of living it out.

The Apocrypha in Lent – 15 March

If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.

15 March. Ecclesiasticus chapters 23-26

Yesterday’s chapters focussed on the dangers of inappropriate speech, and the first part of chapter 23 continues that theme with warnings against swearing – both in the older sense of “taking God’s name in vain” and in the more contemporary sense of “foul language”.  The writer warns that “a man in the habit of using improper words will never break himself of it however long he lives”.  That reflects experience, it is indeed a hard habit to break.

However I beg to differ with the writer over verse 14: “Remember your father and mother when you are sitting among princes, in case you forget yourself in their presence and behave like a fool”. The implication is that our parents would have been shocked by hearing us use foul language.  But actually, experience suggests that the habit of swearing is usually learnt from parents, or from childhood friends.  For such people, ‘foul’ language is just ‘normal’ language.

The next section (chapters 24-26) is largely about sexual relationships and marriage.  The boundaries of what is acceptable do of course change across times and cultures, and much of what was considered sinful in Biblical times is usually not considered wrong in liberal 21st century Britain (such as loving same-sex relationships, or sex before marriage).  But on the other hand, we would now consider it wrong to marry off adolescent girls, as was normal in those days – not that that is specifically mentioned here, though there is a warning about the risk of “headstrong daughters” (girls who turn out to be promiscuous) in 26:10-12.

Some relationships, though, such as adulterous ones (23:22-27), are still considered immoral by most people, though not illegal, and incest (23:17) is both.  Let it never be said that the Bible is dull or out of touch with reality!

What modern readers will find most shocking about these chapters, though, is not the sexual references, but the attitude to women generally in chapters 25-26.    While it is true that there are unhappy marriages as a result of a wife’s jealousy or nagging (25:17-20) or alcoholism (26:8), the text is silent about the much more common problem (almost certainly prevalent then as now) of violent and controlling husbands.  In fact, these passages display a contempt for women that is quite alien to modern thought, although perhaps still seen in the Sharia law of traditional Muslim communities. They still consider it bad for a wife to support her husband (25:22), good for a woman to remain silent (26:14) and allow a man to divorce his wife because she will not obey him (25:26)

At the end of chapter 26 there is, at least, praise for a good wife – though even here, silence, modesty and chastity are the prized virtues, and “a beautiful face on a well-proportioned body [with] shapely legs on firm-set heels” being regarded as a virtue betrays a thoroughly male-dominated culture.

All  this “wisdom” about relationships between men and women is a reminder that cultural attitudes of 2200 years ago  are still alive and well among us.

 

 

The Apocrypha in Lent – 16 February

If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.

16 February. Tobit chapters 8-11

This story has few unexpected twists.  When it comes to the wedding night, the burning of fish offal works just as the angel predicted and the demon flees to Egypt (how do they know that?).  Likewise, as soon as Tobias meets his father again, the fish gall does its work and heals his blindness (interestingly, Asian traditional medicine claims improved sight as one of the health benefits of consuming fish gall bladder, although it is not recommended by Western doctors as it can have severe side effects on the kidneys).

More interesting is the prayer that Tobias and Sarah offer before consummating their marriage.  Together they offer their marriage to God, asking him to bring them to old age together, and Tobias promises to take his wife not out of lust but to serve her.  That is a sound foundation for marriage – for a couple to serve each other and God, pray for each other regularly, and expect the marriage to continue the whole of their lives.  Perhaps the death of her previous seven suitors was because they approached her with the wrong attitude.

The attitude to in-laws in this story is very positive too.  We are left in no doubt that each set of parents regards the other with honour, and Sarah’s parents regard Tobias as a new son just as much as his parents regard her as a new daughter.  When a happy marriage is formed, both families gain from the new bonding.  Truly a “win-win situation”.   No doubt it helped in this instance that they were all Jews from the same tribe, but even when there is a marriage between people of different racial or cultural backgrounds, it can be an opportunity for each family to learn something of the other’s culture.  It is sad to see, as happened with one of my wife’s relatives, someone being cut off by their parent because their chosen partner was from a different ethnic group.

The Apocrypha in Lent – 15 February

If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.

15 February. Tobit chapters 5-7

If yesterday’s opening chapters suggested that this is a work of fiction, today’s leaves us in no doubt.  In real life people do not meet angels posing as their distant relatives, nor have their feet swallowed by a fish (cue the music to “Jaws”), nor find that the offal of the same fish is a cure for blindness and demon-possession.    The storyline may be a bit crude compared with today’s novels, but don’t forget this was written over 2000 years ago – it certainly compares well with the likes of the tales of Andersson or Grimm!

What seems equally strange to our Western culture is the idea that a marriage might not only be arranged between a boy and girl from the same extended family, but put into practice immediately.  No period of betrothal, no plans for a family wedding, not even a dowry: Tobias and Sarah are introduced, have a marriage contract drawn up, a wedding feast in her father’s house, and are sent off to consummate the marriage, all in one evening.  Again, this is probably exaggerated for literary effect rather than representing the actual culture of the time.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from this, perhaps it is in the way that Tobias is told to accept Sarah not only as a wife but as a sister – “From now you are her brother and she is your sister. She is given to you from today for ever” (7:11).  In obvious ways, the relationship a man has with his wife must be very different from that with his sister, but the point being made is that the relationship forged in marriage is as unbreakable as that between siblings. Even if a marriage is not a happy one, there are still responsibilities that should not be denied, any more than the family ties between brother and sister.  More positively, at its best the relationship between brother and sister can be easy-going, affectionate and mutually supportive, and so should a good marriage be.

 

The Bible in a Year – 26 November

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

26 November. Ephesians chapters 4-6

By pure coincidence, today’s bible reading includes one of the two passages on which I preached in church this morning (Ephesians 5:21-30), so I will share here the text of that sermon.  That is why this is a rather longer blog post than usual.  The theme was “safeguarding Sunday” with a focus of the work of the Mother’s Union; the other Bible text was John’s gospel, chapter 8 verses 1-11.

 

Today is Safeguarding Sunday.  And if you groan inwardly when I say that, I can understand why.  Safeguarding is something we hear a lot about in church these days, and rightly so.  But it is a rather unglamorous subject for a sermon, a bit like when the lectionary comes round to the verse about God loving a cheerful giver, and the treasurer gets up and asks people to put a bit more in the plate each week.

Given what we hear in the media in the moment about certain celebrities, we can easily think that safeguarding is only about protecting children from the unwanted attention of men.  That’s part of it of course, but it’s much more.  We talk about “vulnerable adults” too. And this year, we have been asked by the Mothers Union to look at a particular aspect of safeguarding vulnerable adults.  The sixteen days each year leading up to the 10th December which is International Human Rights Day are when the MU focuses on the issue of gender-based violence.  So that’s our theme today. Gender-based violence, or GBV for short.

Let’s start by making sure we know what we are referring to.  The definition that the MU uses is “any act of violence or abuse which is directed at someone because of their gender” noting that it “most commonly affects women and girls.”  Most obviously, GBV includes the sort of relationship problems that affect people in most cultures across the world: domestic violence, stalking, sexual harassment and rape. These are nothing new. All of them can be found in the Bible, if you look in the right place.  Coming right up to date it also includes new problems such as people-trafficking for prostitution, cyber-harassment and revenge pornography.

The effects of these forms of abuse are not just scars, bruises and unwanted pregnancy.  They include mental, psychological and emotional wounds that are not visible on the outside but can take years to heal.

You might well ask, why am I as a man giving this talk when this type of violence is suffered by ten times as many women as men?  Because it affects us all, even if we ourselves are neither victims nor perpetrators.  When I did jury service, one of the cases I heard involved a man who beat his wife and daughter for not giving him the respect he thought he deserved as the head of the house.  The other was a case of sexual assault by a shopkeeper on one of his female customers.   Also, five women (not in this congregation) who have known me well enough to confide in me have told me of the violence or controlling behaviour they have suffered from their present or previous partners.  The chances are I have known many other women in a similar situation but who did not know me well enough to say anything.   This is for their sake.

The particular effect of GBV that the Mothers Union want us to think about this year is Stigma. If it becomes known that a woman is being abused by her partner, people around her may say “I don’t understand why she stays with him”. But many women who experience domestic violence and abuse are made to feel that somehow it is their fault, or that what they are experiencing is not abuse, because it hasn’t involved physical violence.  The Mothers Union has a threefold challenge in response to this unnecessary stigma – “Break the silence, Lift the shame, Shift the blame.”  Break.   Lift.   Shift.   Let’s see what that might involve, and listen for what you might be able to do.

Why is this an issue for the Church?  Let me give you three good reasons.  Firstly, look at our Gospel story.  This could be titled “Jesus breaks the silence”. A woman caught in  adultery is brought along for him to say whether she should be stoned.  “Moses commanded us to stone such women”, say the religious leaders.   Oh no he didn’t!  Or at least, that is only a half truth.  In Leviticus it says this: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”  So where is the guilty man?  Is it more likely in a male-dominated society that the woman seduced her neighbour’s husband, or that he forced himself on her?   And where is God’s concern for justice or mercy in the way these so-called guardians of morality react to this situation?

Jesus, we are told, writes something on the ground before inviting any of her accusers who is without sin to stone her.  This is one of those bits of the Bible where you really wish the writer had given us a bit more detail. Go on, John, tell us what Jesus wrote.  Was it the whole of the Leviticus verse that made the man just as deserving of death as his victim?   Was it the names of men in the community known to be two-timing their own wives? Was it all the ten commandments, meaning that no-one could claim to have kept all of them?  Whatever he wrote, it had the desired effect.  Not one of them could bring himself to cast the first stone and risk the charge of hypocrisy.  Jesus alone had the moral authority to call out men’s sexism.  And while he did not condone the woman’s part in the affair, he merely told her to sin no more.  After that experience, I’m sure she didn’t.

Secondly, Jesus also lifted the shame. The unnamed woman had faced a death sentence.  He effectively commuted that to a challenge not to be in such an inappropriate situation again.  But he did as much as he could, within the religious law that he had come to fulfil, to remove from her the stigma of being called an adulteress.  As with the other people he healed, he sent her back into the community as evidence of the transformation that his gospel of love and mercy could bring.

The Church is a channel for God’s unconditional love, a place of wholeness, healing and new beginnings. You might ask, don’t we have police, hospitals and social workers to deal with domestic violence?  Yes we do, but they can only deal with serious crime and physical wounds.   We cannot expect hard-pressed police, NHS staff or social workers to spend the time it takes getting alongside someone to help them overcome the stigma of violence and its mental and psychological scars. But the Church is – or at least should be – an army of volunteers with Christ-inspired compassion who can provide that kind of support.

The Mothers Union in England is doing good work in Christ’s name.  They support women’s refuges, provide food and clothing for women and their children who have had to flee from a violent home situation.  And they use all the available tools of democracy – lobbying, marches, conferences and social media – to raise awareness of these issues and try to influence political decisions.

The third reason why the Church should get involved is that we believe that God made men and women in God’s own image – “male and female he created them”.  God’s intention was for men and women to live as equals – maybe sharing out the duties of a home in different ways, but respecting each other as equally God’s child and an equal partner in relationship.

This is reflected in our first Bible reading, which could be titled “Paul shifts the blame”.  Certain male church leaders like to quote this verse from Ephesians: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.”  They are less keen on quoting the previous one: “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Nor a few verses later, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.  In other words, if Christ was prepared to die for us, you should be prepared to give up anything, even your life if necessary, for the sake of your wife.  Then, and only then, will it be appropriate for her to show the same level of submission as she would to Christ himself.   If the culture we live in does not reflect God’s intentions in this respect, if men treat women as sex objects or slaves rather than God-given equals, then it is the mission of God through his redeemed people to do something about it.

We, the Church, are the ultimate worldwide body, and the problem is a global one.  As well as the common forms of GBV that I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, there are other forms of violence prevalent in certain cultures. You may be aware of some of these. So-called ‘honour killings’; forced marriage, child marriage, FGM; and infanticide or selective abortion (where girls are killed at or before birth because only boys are valued).   These are issues among certain immigrant communities in the UK, as well as in their home countries. According to the World Health Organisation, taken together these various forms of violence affect one in three women, and globally, women under 45 are more likely to be maimed or die as a result of male violence than through cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.  For comparison it is estimated that only two or three percent of men are victims of gender based violence.

The Mothers Union is a worldwide organisation with a mission to support families.  Across the world, the MU is tackling the problem of gender based violence in two ways.  At a local level they work with women directly to provide emotional support, housing, training in employable skills, literacy and general education. For a woman who is capable of making her own living and can read and write is more likely to be able to escape from domestic violence than someone who has to rely on her husband or father or everything.

When a woman suffers violence, her children also suffer.  Here is a story of a woman they met is South Sudan, who we are calling Grace:

Grace was abducted by members of an armed group from her home at night. She was raped in front of her husband and children, taken to the bush and given as a sex slave to one of the armed group commanders and forced to stay with him for four years. During that time she bore two children by the Commander. She was eventually rescued with her two children and was initially welcomed joyfully in to her community, however after some weeks they started to despise her. Her husband would not take her back as his wife, and her family were afraid of her because of her experiences, and what she had been exposed to. The community abandoned her.

At a national and international level, the M.U. works with the United Nations and governments to tackle some of the really big issues such as FGM which require nationwide education programmes to change attitudes.

Sometimes the opportunity arises for church and secular authorities to work together.  Let me tell you a story from our own experience.  When Linda and I went to India in 2006, we attended the official opening of a new housing development. It had been built by a Christian development agency to house hundreds of people from two villages who had been made homeless by the Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004, but the local secular authorities were involved with a development on that scale.   The church leader, welcoming families to their new homes, told them that this was to be a new start in their lives. New homes were to mean a new way of living. “I want this to be a village”, he told them, “where husbands no longer beat their wives.”  And after a dramatic pause, he went on “and a village where wives no longer beat their husbands”.  That got a laugh, but it was true – domestic violence works both ways, and often it can be even harder for a man to admit to being a victim of it than for a woman.

So let’s recap on how the Mothers Union is tackling gender based violence, and what we might be able to do in our own small way.

Break the silence – when people are suffering, silence is not an option, and Jesus was willing to stand up for them.  Remember the story of the Good Samaritan – it was the person who did something, not the pious passers-by, who was commended for loving his neighbour.  The MU is acting by supporting individual victims, by education to make both women and men aware of the issues, and by campaigns at national and international level. Safeguarding policies now require us to report our suspicions that someone is being abused to an appropriate person.

 

 Lift the shame – let it be said again, someone who is physically or sexually assaulted or coerced into doing something they do not want to do, bears no blame but is in need of help. Nor should she have any reason to feel ashamed of what has happened.   By providing safe havens, counselling and practical help, the MU helps women to regain their dignity and lose the shame and fear. If you or I come across someone in the grip of gender based violence, we might feel helpless to help them, but we can at least point them to agencies with the expertise to help.  “I know a woman who can” should be our response.

Shift the blame – Jesus made it clear that his anger was against those who victimised the woman and let her partner in adultery off scot-free.  Laws in many parts of the world still need changing to make scandalous behaviour such as FGM and forced marriage a crime, or to enforce such laws where they already exist but are ignored.  The MU is working towards that goal.  But even in our own culture, where equality laws are much stronger, we men still need to be made more aware of our own attitudes and the effects of our actions.

In preparing this talk I realised that I cannot honestly say that I have always treated girls and women with the full respect they deserve. You may feel the same. In a few moments we will have the opportunity to confess collectively any way we may feel we have been complicit in any form of abuse.  Later in the service we will also be invited to make a commitment to take safeguarding seriously.  But before we stand to declare our common faith, an then confess our sin, let’s have a few moments of silence to reflect on what we have heard.

Full details of “16 days of activism against gender violence” can be found on the M.U. website.

“Grace’s story” is  © Mothers Union 2017

The Bible in a Year – 6 September

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

Please excuse the delay in publishing the notes for the end of Daniel and all of Ezra, with only brief comments, as I was on holiday for a week and only making short notes to be typed up later.

6 September . Ezra chapters 8-10

In the last couple of chapters of this book, the issue of intermarriage comes into focus.  It was seen as such a terrible thing that it was acceptable for men to put away their wives and children when challenged, leaving them with little or no means of support.  What is so bad about mixed marriage that it can justify this breaking apart of families?  Most of us will know couples of different religions, or where only one is religious at all, who seem perfectly happy.   But religious leaders are always worried that having a non-believing spouse will tempt people to fall away from practice of their own religion, cease to attend public worship, start seeing things from a secular or pagan perspective.

But note that it is only men who were seen as guilty’ here – presumably Jewish women also married gentile men, but did not come in for the same criticism.  Perhaps it is that they were not permitted to initiate divorce proceedings, or perhaps because Jewish identity traditionally passes through the female line, it mattered less if the father of the household was not a circumcised Jew.

The book seems to end strangely with this issue of intermarriage, rather than with something to do with the Temple that has been the subject of most of the book.  Maybe there was more, which has been lost.

The Bible in a Year – 19 August

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

19 August. Ruth 1 to 4 (entire book)

The short book of Ruth contrasts with yesterday’s reading (the Song of Songs).  They are both stories written down (and maybe even composed) centuries after the time in which they were set.  Both tell of relationships between men and women: the Song of Songs was about passionate but unrequited love, whereas this is a tale of family relationships, bereavements and an arranged marriage.  Ruth may or may not have been a real person (we have no way of telling) but like any Biblical story, indeed any good story, it is intended to make a point.

The story starts with Ebimelech emigrating from Bethlehem to Moab (at that time very much enemy country) due to a famine.  No doubt many others did the same.  In those days there would have been no refugee camps or international aid, and immigrants from Judah would not have been welcomed.  So it is perhaps surprising for a start that Ebimelech’s sons married local girls – that would have made them unclean under Jewish law, although the story does not make that point.  But in fact the marriages are successful, so much so that when father and sons have all died, Naomi and Ruth return together to Bethlehem.

Now the boot (or sandal – see chapter 4 verse 7) is on the other foot.  Although Naomi has been welcomed back by her relatives in Bethlehem, Ruth as an immigrant from an enemy country has to establish herself as one of the community.  Gleaning left-over ears of barley after the harvest is the only way for her to gather food to eat or sell.  By a series of coincidences (or God-incidences as many people prefer to say) she meets her late father-in-law’s relative who owns the field, and with careful negotiation by Naomi, what starts as a master-servant relationship quickly becomes a marriage.  Boaz has no hesitation in taking this non-Jewish widow as his wife, and it seems that unlike some arranged marriages, this one was a love match a well.

The lesson here seems to be that welcoming, and even marrying, people from another country, whether they come as refugees from famine or as part of an existing multi-ethnic family, is quite compatible with God’s plans (despite earlier religious laws against such intermarriages). Indeed, little did the characters in this story know that, as we are told in an epilogue, Ruth is said to have become the ancestor of the great king David. Today’s asylum-seeker may herself, or through her descendants, become a great leader of our people. This book therefore makes a welcome change from the black-and-white laws of other parts of the Old Testament, reminding us that there is no place for racism in the Kingdom of God.

The Bible in a Year – 31 March

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

31 March. 1 Samuel chapters 18-20

Today’s reading explores the complicated relationship between David, his patron King Saul, Saul’s daughter Michal who was given to David in marriage, and Saul’s son Jonathan who fell in love with David.  It could be the plot of a soap opera – the father-in-law with a mental illness and murderous intent, the (probably gay) brother-in-law, and the wife torn between loyalties to her biological family and her husband.  If God could be in this messiest of dysfunctional families, he can be with all our families, whatever their problems.

 

The person at the centre of all these relationships was David, and he seemed to be able to cope with all of them.    When Saul sent him into the heat of battle hoping that he would be killed (as David would later do with Uriah), David returned triumphant.  When Saul demanded as a dowry the foreskins of a hundred Philistine soldiers, David obliged. When he found himself loved by both Michal and her brother Jonathan, he took it in his stride (though his intimacy with Jonathan seems to have been restricted to embracing).

Finally, Saul’s threats become too much and Jonathan helps David to escape from a dangerous situation.  But this is not the last we will hear of these characters.

The Bible in a Year – 23 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

23 February. Numbers chapters 28-30

Taking this further detailed account of the requirements for worship (chapters 28-29), if we omit  all the details of animal, grain and wine sacrifices (as no longer being part of Jewish or Christian worship) then we are left with the principle of the church leaders and servants offering prayer to God every morning and evening, plus twice on the Sabbath, and “holy convocations” (larger gatherings of people) on festivals through the year.

 

The pattern continues with Catholic and Anglican clergy being expected to say the ‘daily office’ of morning and evening prayer, whether in church or alone, and holding public services on Sundays, while putting extra effort into special occasions.  Those special occasions should stand out either as joyful (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost) or more reflective and penitential (Holy Week, and Advent).

 

Chapter 30 is a totally different theme, and again reflects the patriarchal culture: a single adult woman or widow was expected to honour her word as much as a man, but an unmarried woman still under her father’s authority, or a married woman, was only bound by her own word if her father/husband did not contradict it.  The reason given was to ‘protect’ such women from making foolish vows, but to us it seems like unnecessary control.  However there is still value in married people – husbands as well as wives – checking out their plans with their spouse before making any commitments, to ensure harmony in the marriage.