Week 5

29 January - 4 February: Psalms 20 - 24, Numbers 1 - 25, Acts 7 - 14, Proverbs 6

Wednesday29 Jan20Numbers 1 - 3.39Acts 7.1-53
Thursday30 Jan21Numbers 3.40 - 6Acts 7.54 - 8.25
Friday31 Jan22.1-11Numbers 7 - 9Acts 8.26 - 9.19
Saturday1 Feb22.12-21Numbers 10 - 13Acts 9.20 - 10.336.1-19
Sunday2 Feb22.22-endNumbers 14 - 17Acts 10.34 - end 126.20-end
Monday3 Feb23Numbers 18 - 21Acts 13.1-41
Tuesday4 Feb24Numbers 22 - 25Acts 13.42 - end 14


The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we went straight from Ps 19 at the end of Week 3 to Ps 25 at the beginning of last week!  However, the psalms can be read in any order, so this won't affect your reading this week.
Psalm 20 provides an opportunity to pray for those who lead the nations, and for our own Queen and government in particular.  But although we give those who lead us significant power to make laws and decide how life will be lived under them, the psalmist reminds us that salvation comes from God, not from any human agency.
Psalm 21 also emphasises this.
We read Psalm 22 as part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy.  Within it are some of the last words Jesus spoke on the cross: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'  It is a prayer for help from God in dire circumstances, giving us a way to speak to God at such times, remembering that Jesus, in his final hour, became one with us in suffering.
Psalm 23 is one of the best known parts of the Bible.  It forms the basis for the well-known hymns 'The Lord is my shepherd' and 'The king of love my shepherd is', and is frequently used in funeral services.  The image of God walking with us in dark places, looking after us as a shepherd looks after his sheep, is a great comfort.
Psalm 24 is a confession of God's sovereignty, that everyone and everything that exists does so through him.  The references to the sea and the rivers refer back to the creation when God's spirit moved over the waters, bringing order out of chaos.


Numbers is often neglected, but Origen (a 3rd century father of the church), who thought Leviticus' inclusion in the canon 'bizarre', wrote a series of sermons based on Numbers.  He wanted to show the people of his time that it wasn't 'heavy and burdensome food' but rather that it was filled with 'insight, wisdom, and spiritual sustenance'.  Let's see what we make of it!
It's name - Numbers - comes from the census lists of the people of the twelve tribes of Israel in chapters 1 and 26.  The Hebrew name for it is 'In the Wilderness', and it tells the story of Israel as the people journey on from Sinai, where they received the law towards the Promised Land.
The metaphor of wilderness for the journey of faith is used in Isaiah, about the return of the people from exile in Babylon, and picked up again by John the Baptist.  Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days, echoing Israel's forty year testing in the wilderness.
We too may find it helpful to view growing in faith as a journey through a spiritual wilderness to our eventual home with God.
Numbers contains stories and laws, details of journeys and lists, instructions for worship, and reports of military battles and legal decisions.  Chapters 1 - 10 and 26 - 36 were probably put into their final written form around the time of the return from the Babylonian exile (about the 5th century BC), while chapters 11 - 25 were probably collected in written form somewhat earlier between the 10th and 8th centuries BC, but some final editing throughout is likely to have taken place later than any of these dates.
In Numbers, we read how the generation which left Egypt was succeeded by a later generation, and eventually by the generation which went into the Promised Land.  Chapters 1 - 25 tell the story of that first generation of the exodus.  The second census list in chapter 26, which is very similar to the census list in chapter 1, moves the story onto the next generation.  The transition from one generation to the next is a frequent cause of dispute in families and organisations, and is very relevant for the church where the faith of one generation needs to become fresh for a new generation.  We should look for examples of death followed by resurrection as we read, and find hope in them that God will work in new ways as well as in familiar ways.

The Acts of the Apostles

The purpose of Acts is the formation and development of disciples of Jesus Christ.  It should be read as biography - the story of how those first disciples (meaning those who learn), now apostles (meaning those who are sent) so that we can learn from them how we in our turn should both learn and be sent.
Acts tells us how the first churches established by Jesus' disciples after his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost struggled with a range of issues.  These issues are very relevant today - how the Christian should relate to other Christians, to non-Christians and to the state, problems with prayer, the purpose of teaching and preaching in the church, how the church should organise itself ...
This is the story of the interaction between a God who reveals himself through his people and a community trying to understand what he is saying, and how that should direct them.
But it not just one story.  We read about Peter and about Paul, and how the church moved from Jerusalem out to the surrounding countries in the Roman Empire.  The Roman state is ever-present in this story, as is the Jewish faith and law from which Christianity sprang.  For us, our relationship with the secular state and community and our relationship with past tradition are equally important.
Chapters 7 to 14 continue the story of Stephen and how he came to martyrdom, with the church beginning to experience persecution by both the Jewish and Roman authorities.  The result is the scattering of the community - which has the effect of taking their witness out into the whole of Judea and Samaria.  God can use even dire events like persecution and martyrdom to spread the gospel.
We are reminded that these early Christians were so fired up by their new faith that they were prepared to give up everything, possessions and even life itself - the strength of commitment that we see in a Martin Luther King or a Nelson Mandela.  There is a limit to the claim that the state or tradition can put upon the Christian, because it is God who rules.
So the witness spread beyond Jerusalem, and as it did so had to grapple with new issues.  The gospel is not magic, nor is it for sale.
And then we have the dramatic conversion of the arch-enemy, Saul.  The persecutor becomes an apostle, having heard the voice of Jesus speaking directly to him.  Validated by the Jerusalem church, Saul, now Paul, takes the gospel out to the gentile nations, assisted by Barnabas.

Proverbs 6

Chapter 6 contains warnings about business practices, sloth, devious people, the wrongful use of parts of the body, and adultery.

No comments:

Post a Comment