The Sword of Levi

On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.” Genesis 34:25-29

Levi was raw and impetuous early on. Fueled by righteous anger against the humiliating of his sister (and the inaction of his conflict-avoiding father), he and his brother Simeon tricked Hamor and the Hivites into getting circumcised, and, while they were still healing, exacted vicious revenge. On his death bed, his father Jacob cursed him for his violence, prophesying he would be scattered in Israel: Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”  (Genesis 49:5-7)

Interestingly, the strain of this passion for justice and standing unabashedly for what is right coursed through the tribe of Levi, and was boldly exhibited generations later in judgment on those who had made and worshiped a golden calf. Moses said, ‘Who is on the Lord‘s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.”‘ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And Moses said, ‘Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord,.. so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.’” This time, harsh justice was directed explicitly by God and measured without anger on the guilty for the purity of His people. The man of the sword, using his weapon for good, became the tribe of Levitical priests, bearers of the “sword of the Spirit, the Word of God,” scattered throughout Israel for holy ministry. (Genesis 49:5-7; Exodus 32:26-29; Numbers 35:8; Deuteronomy 10:8;18:1; Ephesians 6:17)

Waves crashing sand, rocks, Western NZ

God appoints personalities and proclivities, and through our lives, He redeems them for His good purpose. What, when untrained and immature and unsurrendered, is initially used for troublemaking or destruction, can be sanctified into an instrument for good. For us, we offer these uncultivated inclinations to God to shape; for others, we direct and discipline and pray that God correct and train in constructive usage. Ofttimes, those with the strongest personalities can be effective leaders and orators, those with creative minds keen strategists and encouragers, those with clever mischief the light and sweet humor in any gathering. When bridled, and tamed if necessary, young tendencies can develop into remarkable talents God uses greatly.

Gracious Appointer of every good and perfect gift, take and mature and employ all You have entrusted to us, for the blessing of Your church and the glory of Your name. (Romans 12:6; James 1:17)

Crushed and Spread

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens… But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.” Exodus 1:5-12

Joseph, as Prime Minister of Egypt, had saved the nation during a seven-year famine through his foresight and disciplined leadership, but even brilliant legacies can diminish to nothing over time. God’s intent to increase the Jewish nation had come to pass, and the new Pharaoh was threatened by this immigrant people’s strength, so he ordered their oppression. His plan backfired, as the more they were crushed, the more they spread.

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Richard Wurmbrand, evangelical minister who endured 14 years of Communist imprisonment and torture in his homeland Romania in the mid-1900s, tells of a wordless sermon in an underground church. Spies often infiltrated the middle-of-the-night services, looking to nab the preachers for something said that could be discerned as against the state. Upon suspecting one in their midst, a preacher took his small glass of water, dropped it to the ground, and crushed it under his feet, only to break the pieces into multiple shards and have them spread across the floor. He walked through them, through the congregation, teaching without a word this Exodus lesson, one that was recorded throughout the book of Acts and repeated over and over in Christ’s church through the centuries. “There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word… And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” (Acts 8:1,4;13:45,49-50;9:29-31;11:19-21)

We are promised persecution. How do, or will, we respond? Do we shrink away from disagreement or opposition to keep comfort and peace, or are we willing to speak and stand for truth no matter the consequence, and allow God to use the trouble to spread His word? Do I care more about my safety and security than God’s broader eternal plan? How willing am I to bear the cross today for what I may not see Him doing now, but what I can trust He is doing for down the road? (Luke 9:23; 2 Timothy 3:12)

Lord, in the face of opposition that is now and what will come, keep me faithful to You with steadfast determination, filled with Your Spirit. When afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down, may I rejoice to bear Your life, manifest Your grace, and spread abroad the love of Christ for Your sake, that others can know Your life also. (Acts 11:23-24; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

Fruitful in a Foreign Land

Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.” Genesis 47:27-28

The elderly Jacob, after early reluctance and limited trust, traveled with 70 from his family and household to Egypt to be reunited with the favored son he had long thought dead, and to survive. God had sent Joseph to Egypt decades earlier for the saving of His people, and although shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians, Pharaoh allotted this family, because of his love and respect for Joseph, the best of the land. And there, far from the promised land on this foreign soil, three generations of God’s chosen were fruitful, and multiplied greatly. (Genesis 45:5,7;46:34)

Sometimes the Lord takes us from a ‘home’ of comfortable and familiar, a place of health, harmony, financial security, ease, into a foreign land of illness, discord, fiscal upheaval, tragedy, the tangled and painful consequences of dark sin, or isolation, to plant us anew, teach us, and make us fruitful. When the place is at first strange, we cannot imagine anything more than adjustment, getting through- all is unfamiliar and uncomfortable and has not yet possibilities. There is no bigger picture or longer view. But once we agree to accept that God has brought us to this foreign soil, and release ourselves to the new venture crafted by His sovereign hands, we can begin to see beyond our own wants to a farther horizon, make inroads, put down roots, and begin to grow. Sometimes what never occurred to us, never showed as the slightest blip on our radar screen, is a luxurious next place for us in God’s grand plan, and we miss out when we refuse to set out on the journey He is prompting us to take.

“I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:16,5

Am I resisting new and different, foreign and difficult? If so, likely my eyes and fears are set on those very places and things, rather than on my Lord and Leader. His plans for new work, ministry, relationships, skills, service, involvement, even habits, are creative and good. The One Who calls not only enables, but finishes the work He intends, and that to His glorious praise. Why would I pull back, or turn away? Why would I choose complacency and famine over fruitfulness and spiritual plenty? (Numbers 23:19; Philippians 1:6)

Good Master, make me always willing to go where You call, and make the most of the lands and situations You appoint. Bear Your lasting fruit through my life.

The Long View

Joseph said to his brothers, Come near to me, please.And they came near. And he said, I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come.”‘” Genesis 45:4-11

Joseph, mistreated and sold by his brothers, falsely imprisoned by Potiphar, forgotten for two years in prison by the released cup-bearer, now prime minister disguised from his brothers by his Egyptian position, garb, and language, finally reveals to them his identity. Note how fluidly he refers to God. His life is bound up with Him and His wide purposes, The goodness He works in all things. Joseph tarries not in present circumstances, but is fixed in the eternal ways of the Sovereign. (Acts 17:24-25,28; Romans 8:28)

Macon on precipice, CO 4, vertical w perspective

Taking our view up a notch makes all the difference in our reception of our situation, and our handling of challenges that confront us. When, instead of getting fixated on events or curveballs, cruelties or difficulties, we put on our God-glasses, the helmet of salvation, the mind of Christ, we can say first “but God,” and “because God.” We learn to view all with a spiritual perspective, and look for the meaning that is deeper and always there. What is He doing, teaching, inviting me to see or change? When conflict arises, where can harmony be built? In disagreement, what can I do to bring unity? When I am unjustly treated, am I willing to ‘go to the cross’ and forgive as my Savior has? Praying for and intentionally loving our enemies softens our hearts toward them, seeing the lost as unable to discern spiritually helps me understand their behavior and attitudes. When my longings go unfulfilled, what can I learn of the spiritual fruit of patience, faithfulness, and self-control, what new attributes of Jesus are revealed in His consistent care and provision and lovingkindness? (Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Ephesians 4:32; Luke 6:35-36)

Gracious Lord, please train me in the long view, an eternal perspective in all my day-to-day. Keep me surrendered to Your will and expectant of Your handling everything to accomplish Your grand and good plans.

Higher Judge, Higher Way

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother… For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. It is good not to… do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Romans 14:1-6,12-13,15,17,19,21

The human tendency in the course of living is to establish our own standards and compare ourselves to others. Paul tells the Romans, be done with that! You think it’s alright to eat certain foods rejected by religious followers, you judge others who abstain or indulge, and even cause others to stumble by exercising your freedom because it caused them to doubt or go against their conscience- Stop! The Lord is Judge, all will stand before Him. You are focusing on and weighing the wrong things.

Our mission should be not to judge or stumble others, but to act in love, to make deliberate decisions that prefer others and promote peace, joy, and spiritual unity, to be willing to give up what is my privilege for another’s good and growth. This is what is mutually edifying: it builds up the weak and the less weak, it points us all to a higher way that is directed to Almighty God, not ourselves.

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Who and what is it I really care most about? My comforts and pleasures? How many times do I hear myself say, “I want to..”? Or, maybe my chatter denigrates others’ choices,  political persuasions, activities or lack thereof, as though mine are superior. When I accept and bow before the Higher Judge, I am free to live and love the higher way, for the blessing and benefit and upbuilding of others for whom Jesus also died and lives.

Righteous One, forgive my low deliberating, my fleshly living, and elevate my energies in every way. May my words and thoughts be pleasing to You. Cause me to pursue what is highest and best for everyone, especially for Your honor and glory. (Psalm 19:14)

One and Number One

“One of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Mark 12:28-34 (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

The Scribes, always stirring chatter and controversy with the Pharisees and Jesus, had been trying to pinpoint Jesus on “to dos,” and He always pointed them higher and deeper than they’d anticipated. Now one with an earnest desire to understand asked which commandment was most important. Jesus responded that the greatest was not so much a task to follow or an activity to avoid, but a matter of who ruled the heart. The light seemed to go on for this honest seeker; he realized this was a call above and beyond offering tangible sacrifices, to love.

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God is one, a singular God, not to be mixed with the strange and foreign gods of image, money, self, professional or personal accomplishments, family. And He is to be Number One, first and only on the throne of our hearts, the object of our soul’s deepest affection. The first two commandments emphasize this unique place of God, setting the stage for all other commandments, and the Shema (“The Lord our God, the Lord is one”), recited several times daily by the Hebrews, reminded them of the oneness of their God. It does us well to keep these truths at the fore also. (Exodus 20:3-5)

Our tendency can be to want to do things, to be busy, and check off commands with our deeds and meetings and work of our hands, when the Lord calls us to be sure our hearts are the true altar. Have I laid down self for my Savior? Am I acting from love for my God? Is my devotion to Him, or to the thing or deed or to serve my wants?

“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart;
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.”  ~Dallan Forgaill (530-598)

Lord on high, You are the One and Only. Captivate my whole heart with this truth, and engage all of my efforts to adore You before all else, and exalt You above all others.

Willing Spirit, Weak Flesh

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak…’” “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”  “Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.” “And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean.’” Matthew 26:40-41,57-58; Luke 22:31-32; Mark 14:66-68

Jesus the Master Teacher, knowing His crucial hour was at hand, had prepared and warned His disciples that Satan himself, the deceitful, evil one whose goal is to steal, kill and destroy, was crafting temptation against them, and they must watch and pray. They followed Him to Gethsemane, where, weighted down by heavy hearts and eyes, they surrendered to sleep once, twice, three times. Jesus, surely exhausted from agony and sorrow, persevered in troubled, gut-wrenching prayer with His Father, His only surrender being to His perfect will. He was alert when Judas the betrayer and the soldiers came.

Rivulets in sand, vertical

Sleeping is not alertly watching. Willing is not doing. Following at a distance is not pressed close. Oh, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak! We can splash and play in the water, facing a peaceful shore, and be unaware of the lusty, bounding waves about to swallow us. We can think we’re firmly standing on solid ground when the sand beneath our feet gives way. It is more dangerous to think we’re immune to the very evils we smugly decry in others than to bloody our knees to wrestle in prayer, resisting temptation to the absolute point of NO!

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:18-25

Lord and only Deliverer, make me keenly aware of the lurking and ferocious enemy who would have me. Keep me watching, praying, surrendered fully to Jesus Christ my Lord. (Romans 16:17-20; 1 Peter 5:8)