Monday, April 3, 2017

April 3

Deuteronomy 23:1-25:19; Luke 10:13-37; Psalm 75:1-10; Proverbs 12:12-14

God is attentive.  I remember Hagar, naming "the God who sees me" (Gen. 16:3).  I remember how God rewarded the midwives in Egypt for their faithfulness (Ex. 1:21).  And I know how God will be described as "gently lead[ing] those that have young" (Is. 40:11).  (I am stunned to realize that the examples that just came to mind all deal with females or maternal imagery.  I had not realized this congruity until I wrote it.)

God pays attention.  God cares.  God notices.  Then, God provides and protects.  Our Old Testament reading today is full of God sustaining and keeping safe those at risk of need or already in need.

For the people whose need is pressing and immediate, God makes a way of meeting their scarcity.  God commands his people to leave behind harvested wheat or olives on the tree or grapes on the vine "for the alien, the fatherless and the widow" (Dt. 24:19, 20, 21).  Rather than squeezing every last drop out of their portion, the nation was instead required to plan for ways to help the poor and needy.  Justice and fair business practice are ensured for 'even the least of these' (Dt. 24:14-15, and also in vs. 17).  The collateral of the poor is hedged with requirements that keep the loan, interest-free though it already is (see Dt. 23:19-20), from making a bad situation worse (Dt. 24:12-13).  God wants to ensure that all of his people, from the powerful and wealthy to the marginalized, have ways to survive and, perhaps, even thrive.

God provides for the desperate, but God also protects those who are in danger of becoming needy.  A widowed woman has security guaranteed for her through her husband's brother.  So strong is the expectation that he would "fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law" (Dt. 25:5,7) that a failure to do so would result in public humiliation and lasting scorn (Dt. 25:9-10).  The ability to provide for a family is kept safe by the prohibition against "tak[ing] a pair of millstones - [or] even the upper one - as security for a debt" (Dt. 24:6).  In God's eyes, it is better that the loan be uncertain than that the man's livelihood be uncertain!  And, my personal favorite, a young bride is made secure: "For one year [a recently married man] is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married" (Dt. 24:5).  Moses is not only speaking about her emotional happiness; that year of marriage would likely provide children (and, hopefully, sons) who could care for the mother in case she were widowed too early.  God wants to keep all these people from becoming destitute, from needing the other provisions mentioned above.

I love this aspect of our God.  He thinks ahead and plans for our care should disaster befall us.  He puts security measures into place in hopes that these emergency plans will be unnecessary.  He encourages us toward righteous living "so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands" (Dt. 24:19).  Our reading in Proverbs echoes this exhortation - a righteous and diligent person "flourishes" (Pr. 12:12), "escapes trouble" (Pr. 12:13), and "is filled with good things" (Pr. 12:14).  As we live wisely and well, in accordance with God's good design, we live under these protective statutes.  And, yet, isn't it comforting to know that provision for the desperate is already prepared should we need it? 

- Sarah Marsh

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