There are a few interesting tidbits in today’s OT reading.
First, we see the quotation of the “shema” (pronounced sha-ma). This is the most fundamental Jewish prayer. My old Jewish grandmother used to say it at least 10 times a day. It is:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
It is this simple yet profound statement that God will drive home to the Jewish people of the next 1200 years. It will only be replaced by an equally simple yet profound prayer, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Another important verse we read in today’s reading:
16 “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test..
This is the verse Jesus quotes back to Satan when he is tempted in the desert.
Next we read chapter 7 and God makes this diving promise:
12 “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. 13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. 15 And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. 16 And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.
God promises prosperity to the Israelites if they follow his prescriptions. It is verses like this that will ultimately be taken to far by people like the Pharisees. However, there is underlying and important truth here. For all God has done for us He only asks one thing of us – to worship him in the manner He has proscribed. Remember Aaron’s sons? They died because they did not follow the proper ritual for the offering in the tabernacle.
I can hear the protests now! From Catholics, evangelicals, Baptists and reformed double secret probation Presbyterians alike. “All God wants from us is for us to love him back!” How very true that is! But I also say, “What is love?” Love, they say, is to will the good of another more than you will your own good. But how do you will the good of God who is infinitely greater than you? If you love someone, how do you show them that you love them? If you love your spouse and they desire that you make the bed each morning, what do you do? Do you leave it unmade? Or worse yet, do you half make it? Or worse still, if they have asked you to do it in a specific way what does doing it in a different way say to them? Love, my friends, is surrendering to the will of the other and acquiescing to their requests.
God said, “Do THIS in remembrance of me”. If we love God, how can we in good conscience deny him this request?
Paul returns to Jerusalem and things have changed. James is there, history tells us he is the Bishop of Jerusalem. However, known of the other Apostles are mentioned. Again we know from history that they have left the nest and are spreading the gospel far and wide. We are also told that “many thousands” have converted. This is key to remember. Often times we think of this entire period of small groups of converts here and there but that is not the case. Jesus had many thousands, probably tens of thousands of followers at the time of his death and resurrection. It is likely that most of those converted. In the 30 or so years since it is likely that tens of thousands more have been converted. This is what makes Christianity a problem. These people are behaving differently. They are no longer buying idols, they are mixing with sinners, and they are changing society. It is only because this movement is so large that the Roman Empire will ultimately see it as a threat.
It is in this context that we can understand the request that Paul take the Nazirite vow and spend time in the temple. The Jews still have political authority and are in league with the Romans. An uneasy truce exists between the Christians who at this point probably consider themselves a sect of Judaism and the temple authorities. Why would the Christians care to placate them? This is payback. Remember, Paul opposed the application of Jewish law to the converts. However, it is still necessary to act like and appear to be Jews to have access to the Temple and the synagogues and continue spreading the Gospel in the most fertile soil. What better way to make Paul eat a little crow then get him to comply with Jewish law for a few days? Politics has always existed in the Church, since the very beginning.
But God turns the situation for good. Paul ends up beaten and arrested but in doing so the Roman guards end up carrying him up the steps of the temple where the greatest evangelist ever will have the entire crowd of the temple focused on him. He will be given the opportunity to preach to them all.
One last interesting fact. In line 38 we read:
… And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”
The word for “Assassins” is “sicarii”. That literally means “short dagger”. As assassin is someone who kills by surprise or in secret, thus they do not carry a big visible sword, the carry a short knife or dagger. We know someone whose name is derivatives of this word … the betrayer Judas Iscariot.