Leviticus 18 – The Voice

NOVEMBER 22 (Year One)

God allowed His people to eat meat, but He had concerns about how and where these animals would be killed. The commandments can be summarized this way: every time an animal is used for food, its death must be treated as a sacred event. That’s why God tells the people to present it to Him in the sanctuary. Whenever one of God’s creatures gives its life for one of our meals, that life is to be respected.

Blood is central to life. It makes life possible. That’s why blood is so significant to the sacrifices, and violating any of these laws results in severe penalties.

The Eternal One spoke to Moses.

Eternal One: Go, talk with the Israelites. Tell them I am the Eternal One, your God. You must not act as you saw the Egyptians do when you lived in Egypt, nor should you act as they do in Canaan where I am taking you. Do not follow their practices. From here on out, you will live by My commands and honor My decrees and live your lives according to them alone. I am the Eternal One, your God. Stay devoted to My decrees and commands. The person who observes them will live by them. I am the Eternal One.

You must not have sexual relations with anyone closely related to you. I am the Eternal One. This includes your father and your mother. You are to honor her as your mother and not have sexual relations with her. You are not to have sexual relations with your father’s wife; you might as well violate your father. You are not to have sexual relations with your sister—whether she is your father’s daughter or mother’s daughter, regardless of where she has lived, with your family or elsewhere. Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; since they are your own flesh and blood, such an act would bring shame to you. You are not to have sexual relations with your stepsister, the daughter of your father and his wife; for she is still your sister. Do not have sexual relations with your father’s sister, your aunt; she is your father’s flesh and blood. Do not have sexual relations with your mother’s sister, your aunt; she is your mother’s flesh and blood. You are not to dishonor your father’s brother, your uncle, by approaching his wife for sexual relations. She is your aunt. You are not to have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife. You are not to have sexual relations with your brother’s wife, your sister-in-law; you might as well violate your brother. You are not to have sexual relations with a woman and her daughter, her son’s daughter, or her daughter’s daughter; they are blood relations. It would be a disgusting act. As long as your wife is living, do not marry her sister or have sexual relations with her. This would make them rivals.

You are not to have sexual relations with a woman while she is in her menstrual impurity. Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife; such an act defiles you both. Do not sacrifice your children to Molech. Such an unholy sacrifice desecrates your God’s name. I am your God, the Eternal One. You are not to have sexual relations with a man in the same way you do with a woman; such a thing is detestable. Do not engage in a sexual act with an animal—this includes men as well as women; such behavior defiles you and perverts the proper order of things.

Do not defile yourselves by engaging in any of these perverse things. I am driving out all these other nations ahead of you because they have corrupted themselves with disgusting acts like these. The entire land of Canaan is so impure that I will punish the land until it vomits out those who dwell upon it. I want you to keep My decrees and judgments. No Israelite and no outsider living among you should commit any of the detestable acts that the people who were in Canaan before you committed when they desecrated the land. Do not desecrate the land or the land will vomit you from it as it has done to those who were there before you. All those who commit these disgusting acts will be cut off from their community. Therefore, observe My laws and do not commit any of these disgusting acts which have been committed by the people who lived in the land before you. If you observe them, you will not defile yourselves like they did. I am the Eternal One, your God.

Yesterday’s Reading

Tomorrow’s Reading

Mark 1 – The Voice

NOVEMBER 4 (Year One)

When Mark writes in the first chapter about a mysterious man entering the scene, instantly the reader recognizes there’s something very different about Jesus. He comes into the picture not as a rock star but rather as someone humble, kind, and yet, still kingly. Mark describes the people who are drawn toward this man as regular people who have become affected by the character, passion, and light of this strange Galilean.

Maybe that’s why Mark jumps right into the action of Jesus’ story. He offers little by way of introduction. He writes nothing about Jesus’ family tree. Unlike Matthew and Luke, he doesn’t mention His birth. Mark’s retelling begins with Scripture and the preaching of John the Baptist who calls people to repent. Like all the greats of history, Jesus doesn’t just arrive—He is announced—and who better than John to do that? Right before Jesus makes His entrance into Mark’s narrative, John says, “I’ve washed you here with water, but when He gets here, He will wash you in the Spirit of God.”

This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King, the Son of God.

Isaiah the prophet told us what would happen before He came:

Watch, I will send My messenger in front of You
    to prepare Your way and make it clear and straight.
You’ll hear him, a voice crying in the wilderness,
    “Prepare the way of the Eternal One,
    a straight way in the wandering desert, a highway for our God.”

That messenger was John the Baptist, who appeared in the desert near the Jordan River preaching that people should be ritually cleansed through baptism with water as a sign of both their changed hearts and God’s forgiveness of their sins. People from across the countryside of Judea and from the city of Jerusalem came to him and confessed that they were deeply flawed and needed help, so he cleansed them with the waters of the Jordan. John dressed as some of the Hebrew prophets had, in clothes made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He made his meals in the desert from locusts and wild honey. He preached a message in the wilderness.

John the Baptist: Someone is coming who is a lot more powerful than I am—One whose sandals I’m not worthy to bend down and untie. I’ve washed you here through baptism with water; but when He gets here, He will wash you in the Spirit of God.

The Jordan River is the setting of some of the most memorable miracles in the Old Testament. On their journey through the wilderness to the promised land, the Israelites walked across the Jordan River on dry ground because God parted its waters. Elisha, one of the prophets of God, healed Naaman by telling him to bathe seven times in its waters. Partly because of miracles like these and partly because of a growing wilderness spirituality, many of the Jews in John’s day are out to hear him and be ritually baptized in the Jordan’s cool, cleansing waters. They are looking for God to intervene miraculously in their lives as He has done in the past. What they don’t know is that God is about to intervene, for at that time Jesus leaves Nazareth and heads south.

It was in those days that Jesus left Nazareth (a village in the region of Galilee) and came down to the Jordan, and John cleansed Him through baptism there in the same way all the others were ritually cleansed. But as Jesus was coming out of the waters, He looked up and saw the sky split open. The Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove, and a voice echoed in the heavens.

Voice: You are My Son, My beloved One, and I am very pleased with You.

After that the Spirit compelled Him to go into the wilderness, and there in the desert He stayed for 40 days. He was tested by Satan himself and surrounded by wild animals; but through these trials, heavenly messengers cared for Him and ministered to Him.

After John was arrested by Herod, who ruled the Jewish lands on behalf of Roman interests, Jesus went back into the region of Galilee and began to proclaim the good news of God.

Jesus: It’s time! The kingdom of God is near! Seek forgiveness, change your actions, and believe this good news!

As Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He met the first of His disciples, two brothers, Simon and Andrew, both fishermen who were casting their fishing net into the shallow waters.

Jesus: Come and follow Me, and I’ll send you to catch people instead of fish.

Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed Jesus at once.

When He had walked a little farther, He saw the sons of Zebedee, James and John, in their boat repairing their nets. Right away He called to them, and they dropped what they were doing and left their father Zebedee and the hired men aboard the boat to follow Him as His disciples.

They came at last to the village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee; and on the Sabbath Day, Jesus went straight into a synagogue, sat down, and began to teach. The people looked at each other, amazed, because this strange teacher acted as One authorized by God, and what He taught affected them in ways their own scribes’ teachings could not. Just then a man in the gathering who was overcome by an unclean spirit shouted.

Unclean Spirit: What are You doing here, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I can see who You are! You’re the Holy One of God.

Jesus (rebuking him): Be quiet, and come out of him now!

The man’s body began to shake and shudder; and then, howling, the spirit flew out of the man. The people couldn’t stop talking about what they had seen.

People: Who is this Jesus? This is a new teaching—and it has such authority! Even the unclean spirits obey His commands!

It wasn’t long before news of Jesus spread over the countryside of Galilee.

Right after they left the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. They told Him about Simon’s mother-in-law who was there in bed, sick and feverish. Jesus went to her side, took her hand, and lifted her up. As soon as He touched her, the fever left her and she felt well again—strong enough to bustle around the house taking care of her visitors.

Just before night fell, others had gathered all the sick, diseased, and demon-infested people they could findIt seemed as if the whole town had gathered at Simon and Andrew’s door. Jesus was kept busy healing people of every sort of ailment and casting out unclean spirits. He was very careful not to let the demons speak because they knew Him and could reveal to the people who He really was.

Early in the morning, Jesus got up, left the house while it was still dark outside, and went to a deserted place to pray. Simon and the others traveling with Jesus looked for Him. They finally tracked Him down.

Whenever possible, Jesus seeks out solitude so He can pray and meditate. Jesus reveals His humanity. In these silent and reflective moments, He seems to refuel mentally, physically, and spiritually because Jesus hears His Father speak during His time alone. Throughout Jesus’ ministry on earth, hearing from His Father seems to help Him focus on the mission at hand: redemption.

People: Everybody wants to know where You are!

Jesus: It’s time we went somewhere else—the next village, maybe—so I can tell more people the good news about the kingdom of God. After all, that’s the reason I’m here.

So He traveled to the next village and the one after that, throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and casting out unclean spirits.

Jesus is confronted with a man who has leprosy—a skin disease that makes him ritually unclean according to Jewish law. This creates a problem with the authorities.

A leper walked right up to Jesus, dropped to his knees, and begged Him for help.

Leper: If You want to, You can make me clean.

Jesus was powerfully moved. He reached out and actually touched the leper.

Jesus: I do want to. Be clean.

And at that very moment, the disease left him; the leper was cleansed and made whole once again. Jesus sent him away, but first He warned him strongly.

Jesus: Don’t tell anybody how this happened. Just go and show yourself to the priest so that he can certify you’re clean. Perform the ceremony prescribed by Moses as proof of your cleansing, and then you may return home.

The man talked everywhere about how Jesus had healed him, until Jesus could no longer come into a town openly without the risk of being mobbed. So He remained on the outskirts. Even so, people still sought Him out from far and wide.

Psalm 22 – The Voice

OCTOBER 30 (Year One)

For the worship leader. A song of David to the tune “Deer of the Dawn.”

Jesus prayed this individual lament from the cross (Matthew 27:46Mark 15:34). Though it begins with a sense of abandonment, it ends on a triumphant note.

My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?
    Your ears are deaf to my groans.
O my God, I cry all day and You are silent;
    my tears in the night bring no relief.

Still, You are holy;
    You make Your home on the praises of Israel.
Our mothers and fathers trusted in You;
    they trusted, and You rescued them.
They cried out to You for help and were spared;
    they trusted in You and were vindicated.

But I am a worm and not a human being,
    a disgrace and an object of scorn.
Everyone who sees me laughs at me;
    they whisper to one another I’m a loser; they sneer and mock me, saying,
“He relies on the Eternal; let the Eternal rescue him
    and keep him safe because He is happy with him.”

But You are the One who granted me life;
    You endowed me with trust as I nursed at my mother’s breast.
I was dedicated to You at birth;
    You’ve been my God from my mother’s womb.
Stay close to me—
    trouble is at my door;
    no one else can help me.

I’m surrounded by many tormenters;
    like strong bulls of Bashan, they circle around me with their taunts.
They open their mouths wide at me
    like ravenous, roaring lions.

My life is poured out like water,
    and all my bones have slipped out of joint.
My heart melts like wax inside me.
My strength is gone, dried up like shards of pottery;
    my dry tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    You lay me in the dust of death.

A throng of evil ones has surrounded me
    like a pack of wild dogs;
They pierced my hands and ripped a hole in my feet.
I count all my bones;
    people gawk and stare at me.
They make a game out of dividing my clothes among themselves;
    they cast lots for the clothes on my back.

But You, O Eternal, stay close;
    O You, my help, hurry to my side.
Save my life from violence,
    my sweet life from the teeth of the wild dog.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lion.
    From the horns of the wild oxen, You responded to my plea.

I will speak Your Name to my brothers and sisters
    when I praise You in the midst of the community.
You who revere the Eternal, praise Him—
    descendants of Jacob, worship Him;
    be struck with wonder before Him, all you children of Israel.
He’s not put off
    by the suffering of the suffering one;
He doesn’t pretend He hasn’t seen him;
    when he pleaded for help, He listened.

You stir my praise in the great assembly;
    I will fulfill my vows before those who humble their hearts before Him.
Those who are suffering will eat and be nourished;
    those who seek Him will praise the Eternal.
    May your hearts beat strong forever!
Those from the farthest reaches of the earth will remember
    and turn back to look for the Eternal;
All the families of the nations
    will worship You.
The Eternal owns the world;
    He exercises His gentle rule over all the nations.

All the wealthy of the world will eat and worship;
    all those who fall in the dust will bow before Him,
    even the life that is headed to the grave.
Our children will serve Him;
    future generations will hear the story of how the Lord rescued us.
They will tell the generations to come
    of the righteousness of the Lord,
    of what He has done.

Hosea 2-3 – The Voice

OCTOBER 20 (Year One)

Jezreel means “God sows [seed].” He will bring the people back to their land, and they’ll never be uprooted again.

Eternal One (to the future reunited people): Give your brothers a new name: My People;
        and give your sisters a new name too: Shown Mercy.
    I’m going to publicly charge your mother, Israel, with being unfaithful to Me.
        But you must bring the accusation against her—you bring it—
    Because she’s not My wife anymore and I’m not her husband.

Israel was unfaithful to God by worshiping the fertility gods of her neighbors and forging diplomatic and military alliances with these foreign nations.

    Look at her! She must cease from her whoring ways,
        even her adulteries from her breasts; she must remove her lovers.
    If she doesn’t stop, I’ll take away all her clothes and jewels
        and leave her as naked as the day she was born.
    I’ll make her like the bare rocks and soil of the desert
        where nothing grows because there’s no rain:
        I’ll kill her with thirst.

    When I divorce her, I won’t take care of her children
        because they are children of wickedness, tainted by that very prostitution.

Whenever God’s children abandon proper worship of Him in favor of any earthly thing—be it worship of another god, dependence on themselves, or trust in foreign leaders—they break their covenant with Him. Breaking that promise is like committing adultery, which is literally the destruction of a marriage covenant. Here, God is furious with Israel because they have chosen to serve the gods of other nations in addition to Him; they are committing adultery against Him.

Under the rule of King Jeroboam II in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, worship of a Canaanite deity named Baal is common. Many people believe he is the god of weather and therefore the one who makes the earth fertile and produces crops. Like God, he is worshiped through the donation of gifts and sacrificing of animals, but Baal is also honored by the activities of prostitutes at shrines dedicated to him. The men and women who are employed at those shrines are paid for their fertility rituals by customers (worshipers) not only with money but also with the produce of the land their sexual activities supposedly fertilized: bread and water, wool and flax, oil and wine.

    Their mother was a prostitute;
        she brought shame on herself when she had these children.
        She chased her customers, saying, “I’m going to go looking for my lovers.
    They’re the ones who give me my bread and water,
        my wool and flax, my oil and wine.”
    But I’ll block her way with a thorn hedge;
        I’ll put a wall up around her, blocking her usual paths,
        and she will wander after her lovers like a dumb sheep.
    She’ll chase after them, but she won’t catch them.
        She’ll look for them, but she won’t find them.
    Then she’ll say, “I’m going to go back to my original husband
        because I was better off then than I am now!”

    She didn’t know I was the One who gave her the grain and wine and oil—
        not those fertility gods she was worshiping.
    I made her rich with silver and gold,
        but she devoted it to another divine master!

    So when harvest time comes, I’ll take back My grain,
        and when the grapes ripen, I’ll take back My wine.
    I’ll take away the wool and flax I gave her to make clothes
        so she wouldn’t be naked.
    The land will be stripped bare,
        and this unfaithful wife of Mine will be walking around
    Embarrassingly naked in the sight of her lovers,
        and none of them will be able to rescue her from Me.

    So I’m going to end all of her celebrations
        now that she uses them to honor other masters
    Her pilgrimage festivals, her new moon celebrations, her Sabbath feasts,
        and all her other gatherings.
    She says she’s entitled to her vines and fig trees
        because they’re her wages from prostitutionthey’re gifts from her lovers.
    But I’m going to destroy them all. I’ll turn them into a tangle of brush,
        and wild animals will eat up the fruit.
    I swear that I’ll punish her for honoring other masters on My special days,
        even her burning incense to those false gods.
    She got dressed up in her rings and jewelry;
        she went after her lovers, and she forgot about Me.

    But once she has nothing, I’ll be able to get through to her.
        I’ll entice her and lead her out into the wilderness where we can be alone,
        and I’ll speak right to her heart and try to win her back.
    And then I’ll give her back her vineyards;
        I’ll turn the valley of Achor, that “Valley of Trouble,”
        into a gateway of hope.

This is where Achan was judged for keeping forbidden spoils of war when Israel first entered into the land after the exodus.

    In the wilderness of exile she’ll learn to respond to Me
        the way she did when she was young, when I brought her out of Egypt.

And I swear when that day comes, she’ll call Me “my husband” and never address Me again as “my master” as she did those other gods. She’ll never invoke the name of any other master again.

Everyone will forget that gods by that name ever existed. When that day comes, this is what I’ll do for My people: I’ll make a covenant for them with the wild animals and flying birds and crawling insects, and they’ll agree never to devour her crops again. I’ll smash all the bows and swords and weapons that could be used to invade their land, and they’ll live in security.

(to His reclaimed bride) I’m going to marry you, and this time it’ll be forever in righteousness and justice. Our covenant will reflect a loyal love and great mercy; our marriage will be honest and truthful, and you’ll understand who I really am—the Eternal One.

    And I swear that when that day comes
        I’ll answer the sky and prayers for rain,
        and the sky will give the land the water it’s asking for.
    And the land will give the grain and wine and oil the fertile soil they need to develop,
        and the crops will shout back to Me, “God sows!”
    I won’t just restore the agricultural abundance;
        I’ll sow into My beloved land and plant the people in the land and make them My own.
    To the one who has not been shown mercy,
        I’ll rename her Mercy.
    I’ll tell Not My People, “You are now My People!”
        and he’ll respond, “You’re my God!”

The Eternal spoke with me again.

Eternal One: Go and love a woman who is loved by someone else and is adulterous. Care for her and protect her, just as I love the people of Israel even though they’re unfaithfully turning to other gods and selfishly eating sacred raisin cakes in their honor.

So I paid the bride-price for this woman, less than I would pay to own a slave: six ounces of silver, about ten bushels of barley.

Hosea (to the woman): You’re going to live with me for a long time. I didn’t buy you just for my own pleasure, and I’m not going to cast you aside. But I’m not going to let you commit adultery again—in fact, you’re not going to have sexual relations with anyone, not even me.

In the same way, the people of Israel will go for a long time without having a king or prince of their own, without having any altars or sacred pillars, and without having any way of divining answers through a vestment or images. And afterward, once their devotion is renewed, they’ll return and genuinely worship the Eternal their God, and they’ll end their rebellion against the royal house of David. In those days they’ll come trembling to the Eternal One and rediscover His goodness.

Leviticus 2 – The Voice

SSEPTEMBER 28 (Year One)

Eternal One: Any time one of you brings a grain offering to Me, it should be the finest flour mixed with olive oil and frankincense. Give it to Aaron’s sons, the priests. One of the priests will take a handful of the fine flour mixed with olive oil and frankincense and offer up a memorial portion on the altar, and the smoke of the offering will rise and be a pleasant aroma to Me. The rest of the grain offering is for Aaron and his sons. It is a most holy part of the fire-offerings dedicated to Me. No one other than the priests may eat it.

The sacrifices and offerings not only please God but they provide for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. All the priests are from the tribe of Levi and participate in the spiritual heritage of Aaron, Moses’ brother. With some of the offerings, God prescribes that the priests must share in the food brought by the people. By eating from their sacrifices, the priests participate in the lives of those who wish to approach God. Some sacrifices are described as “memorial” offerings to God. These are offerings that ask God to remember His people and keep them in His good favor.

Eternal One: Any time one of you brings a grain offering that was prepared in an oven, it should be bread made without yeast from the finest flour mixed with oil or a wafer made without yeast spread with oil. Any time one of you brings a grain offering that was prepared on a griddle, it should be made without yeast from the finest flour mixed with oil. Separate it into pieces, pour oil on it, and present it as a grain offering. Any time one of you brings a grain offering that was prepared in a pan, it should be made from the finest flour and mixed with oil. Whenever you bring any of these grain offerings to Me, it should be given to the priest who will then take it to the altar. The priest will offer up the memorial portion on the altar, and the smoke of the offering will rise and be a pleasant aroma to Me. The rest of the grain offering is for Aaron and his sons. It is a most holy part of the fire-offerings dedicated to Me. No one other than the priests may eat it.

Every grain offering that is presented before Me must be made without yeast because it is forbidden to offer up any yeast or honey to Me by means of the fire-offering. When you bring an offering of the first and finest part of the harvest to Me, you may bring yeast and honey but they must not be offered up in smoke as a pleasant aroma. You must salt every grain offering you bring so that the salt of your covenant with God will not be missing. You will season all of the offerings you present with salt.

In the ancient world, salt was a valuable substance. It was used for a variety of purposes: to preserve meats, promote healing, and seal friendships. When covenants were made, people celebrated with fine meals seasoned with salt and other spices. The permanence of salt symbolized the permanence of God’s covenant with His people (Numbers 18:19). Jesus echoes this covenant practice when He instructs His followers to be salt in the world (Matthew 5:13).

Eternal One: If you present a grain offering from the first ripe grain of your harvest to Me, bring fresh new grain, crushed and roasted in the fire. Also mix it with oil and frankincense because it is presented as a grain offering. The priests will then offer up a memorial portion of the grain mixed with oil and all of the frankincense as a fire-offering to Me.

Matthew 20 – The Voice

SEPTEMBER 8 (Year One)

Jesus: The kingdom of heaven is like a wealthy landowner who got up early in the morning and went out, first thing, to hire workers to tend his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a day’s wage for the day’s work. The workers headed to the vineyard while the landowner headed home to deal with some paperwork. About three hours later, he went back to the marketplace. He saw some unemployed men standing around with nothing to do.

Landowner: Do you need some work? Go over to my vineyard and join the crew there. I’ll pay you well.

So off they went to join the crew at the vineyard. About three hours later, and then three hours after that, the landowner went back to the market and saw another crew of men and hired them, too, sending them off to his vineyard and promising to pay them well. Then finally late in the afternoon, at the cusp of night, the landowner walked again through the marketplace, and he saw other workers still standing around.

Landowner: Why have you been standing here all day, doing nothing?

Workers: Because no one has hired us.

Landowner: Well, you should go over to my vineyard and work.

And off the workers went. When quitting time arrived, the landowner called to his foreman.

Landowner: Pay the workers their day’s wages, beginning with the workers I hired most recently and ending with the workers who have been here all day.

So the workers who had been hired just a short while before came to the foreman, and he paid them each a day’s wage. Then other workers who had arrived during the day were paid, each of them a day’s wage. Finally, the workers who’d been toiling since early morning came thinking they’d be paid more, but the foreman paid each of them a day’s wage. As they received their pay, this last group of workers began to protest.

First Workers: We’ve been here since the crack of dawn! And you’re paying us the exact same wage you paid the crew that just showed up. We deserve more than they do. We’ve been slogging in the heat of the sun all day—these others haven’t worked nearly as long as we have!

The landowner heard these protests.

Landowner (to a worker): Friend, no one has been wronged here today. This isn’t about what you deserve. You agreed to work for a day’s wage, did you not? So take your money and go home. I can give my money to whomever I please, and it pleases me to pay everyone the same amount of money. Do you think I don’t have the right to dispose of my money as I wish? Or does my generosity somehow prick at you?

And that is your picture: The last will be first and the first will be last.

God’s glory and kingdom are His, so He is free to lavish goodness on anyone He pleases. If someone feels jealous because her friend’s husband seems nicer than her husband, or because another’s brother works no harder than he does but somehow earns far more money, or because another’s classmate who has the intelligence of a sponge always seems to get better grades, then God’s generosity will indeed undo all we have come to know and expect.

As Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem, He took His twelve disciples aside and once again told them what was about to happen.

Jesus: We are going to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the teachers of the law. He will be condemned to death, and the priests and teachers will turn Him over to the Romans, who will mock Him and flog Him and crucify Him. But on the third day, He will be raised from the dead to new resurrected life.

As Jesus was speaking about the things that were to come, Zebedee’s wife, whose sons were among Jesus’ disciples, came to Jesus with her sons and knelt down before Him to ask a favor.

Jesus: What do you want?

Zebedee’s Wife: When the kingdom of God is made manifest, I want one of my boys, James and John, to sit at Your right hand, and one to sit at Your left hand.

Apparently the wife of Zebedee secretly thinks her sons have worked harder and sacrificed more for Jesus than the other disciples, and she probably suspects that Jesus loves them best. She thinks He will at least do the right thing and reward their hardest work and most loyal service. She also hopes that if her sons are there on the nearest, closest thrones, she may spend eternity near and close, too, clutching onto their coattails.

Jesus (to all three): You don’t understand what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? Can you be ritually washed in baptism just as I have been baptized?

Zebedee Brothers: Of course!

Jesus: Yes, you will drink from My cup, and yes, you will be baptized as I have been. But the thrones to My right and My left are not Mine to grant. My Father has already given those seats to those for whom they were created.

The other ten disciples learned what the Zebedee brothers had asked of Jesus, and they were upset. So Jesus called the disciples together.

Jesus: Do you want the Kingdom run like the Romans run their kingdom? Their rulers have great power over the people, but God the Father doesn’t play by the Romans’ rulesThis is the Kingdom’s logic: whoever wants to become great must first make himself a servant; whoever wants to be first must bind himself as a slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as the ransom for many.

So finally Jesus and His disciples left Jericho and headed for Jerusalem; and, of course, a large crowd followed them. Two blind men, sitting on the roadside, heard the crowd approaching with Jesus.

Two Blind Men: Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!

The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted louder.

Two Blind Men: Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!

Jesus (taking the two blind men aside): What is it that you want, brothers?

Two Blind Men: Lord, we want to see.

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and so they followed Him.

Exodus 18 – The Voice

June 6 (Year One)

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, the priest of Midian, heard about all that God had done for Moses and His people Israel, and how the Eternal had rescued Israel out of Egypt. Now Moses had sent his wife, Zipporah, and her two sons back to Jethro from Egypt, and Jethro had cared for them in his long absence. Moses had named one son Gershom, because as he said, “I have lived as an outsider in an unfamiliar land.” Moses had named the other son Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper, and He rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.” Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) brought Zipporah and her two sons into the desert to meet Moses when he and the people of Israel were camped near God’s mountain.

This place is special for Moses, for it was here that he first met God in the burning bush.

Jethro sent a servant with a message for Moses.

Jethro (to Moses): I, Jethro, your father-in-law, am coming out to see you and I’m bringing your wife and two sons with me.

So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law. When he saw him, he bowed down before Jethro and kissed him. They each asked how the other was doing, and then they went into Moses’ tent.

Moses told Jethro the whole storyHe told him everything that the Eternal had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians on behalf of Israel. He told him about all the misery and tribulations they had run into during their long journey. And then he told how the Eternal had rescued them. Jethro was thrilled to hear of all the kindness the Eternal had shown Israel, especially how He rescued them from the powerful hand of the Egyptians.

Jethro: Praise to the Eternal, for He rescued you from the powerful hand of the Egyptians, from the cruel grip of Pharaoh. He has liberated His people from beneath the harsh hand of their Egyptian masters. Now I know with all my heart that the Eternal is greater than all gods because of the way He delivered His people when Egyptians in their arrogance abused them.

Jethro then took a burnt offering and sacrifices and presented them to God. Aaron and the rest of the Israelite elders gathered to dedicate a meal to God with Moses’ father-in-law.

On the next day, Moses sat and served as judge, settling disputes among the people. Those with grievances surrounded him from sunrise to sundown waiting to present their case. Jethro noticed all Moses was doing for the people.

Jethro: What do you think you are doing? Why are you the only one who is able to judge the disputes of all these people who surround you from sunrise to sundown?

Moses: These people come to me seeking direction from God. When two people are arguing and can’t resolve their differences, they come to me; and I settle the matter between them. This is one way I help God’s people understand His requirements and instructions.

Jethro: What you are doing is not good for you. The responsibility is just too much. You are going to wear yourself out. Not only that, you’re going to wear out the people too. You can’t do it all by yourself. I am going to give you a piece of advice, so listen up and God will be with you. You should represent the people before God, and carry their concerns to Him. Teach them God’s requirements and pass on His laws. Show them the right way to live and the kind of work they should be doing. As for all these other duties you have taken on, choose competent leaders who fear God, love truth, despise dishonesty, and won’t take bribes. After you divide and subdivide all the people into various groups of a thousand, hundred, fifty, and ten, put the men of integrity you selected in charge over the various groups. Let these righteous leaders be ready to judge the people whenever it is necessary. If there is some major problem, they can bring that to you. Otherwise, these select leaders ought to be able to handle the minor problems. This will be much easier for you, and they will help you carry this burden. If you do what I advise and God directs you, then you will be able to handle the pressure. Not only that, but all these people standing around needing help, they will be able to return to their tents at peace.

Moses accepted Jethro’s advice and did all that he said. He chose competent leaders and put them in charge of the community of Israel. He divided and subdivided the nation into groups of a thousand, hundred, fifty, and ten, and he appointed a leader over each group. The righteous leaders judged the people whenever disputes or problems arose. Any major quarrel, they brought to Moses for his judgment; but every minor argument, they judged themselves.

When it was time for Jethro to return to his own land, Moses sent his father-in-law on his way.

Genesis 49-50 – The Voice

January 16 (Year One)

After this, Jacob called all of his sons to him.

The Children of Jacob

1 Reuben7 Gad5 Dan11 Joseph
2 Simeon8 Asher6 Naphtali12 Benjamin
3 Levi
4 Judah
9 Issachar
10 Zebulun

The Children of Joseph

1 Manasseh
2 Ephraim

Jacob: Gather near to me, so I can let you know what to expect in the days to come.

    Gather around and pay attention, you sons of Jacob.
        Listen carefully, my sons, to Israel, your father.

    Reuben, you are my firstborn son,
        my power and the vigor of my youth,
        first in rank and first in power.
    But you are out of control, like floodwaters; you have forfeited your place
        because you have lain with your father’s wife
        and defiled his bed—you climbed onto my couch!

    Simeon and Levi are indeed brothers, kindred spirits
        who use their swords for cruelty and violence.
    May I never enter their confidence;
        from the two of them I must part company to retain my honor.
    Because in their anger, they’ve killed men,
        and they’ve hamstrung oxen on a whim.
    Their anger be cursed, for they have fierce tempers.
        Their wrath be cursed, for they can be cruel.
    I will scatter their children among Jacob’s descendants
        and spread them throughout the land of Israel.

    But Judah, your brothers will praise you.
        Your hand will firmly grasp the neck of your enemy,
        and your brothers will bow down before you in respect.
    Judah is a lion cub;
        my son, who rises from the prey,
    Who crouches down and stretches out like a lion,
        and like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
    The scepter will not depart from Judah;
        the ruler’s staff will rest securely between his feet.
    Until the One comes to whom true royalty belongs,
        all people will honor and obey him.
    He ties his foal to the vine
        and his donkey’s colt to the choicest vine.
    He washes his clothing in wine
        and dips his robe in the blood of grapes.
    His eyes are darker than wine,
        and his teeth are whiter than milk.

Israel’s blessing speaks not only what is but what will be. His words establish Judah as the father to the royal line from which King David and his dynasty will one day come. They anticipate God’s eternal covenant with David that brings peace and prosperity to the entire world. It is little wonder that early Christians referred to the risen Jesus as “the lion of the tribe of Judah,” for they found in Him the fulfillment of Israel’s blessing.

Jacob: Zebulun will settle near the shores of the sea,
        and he will be a safe harbor for ships.
        His border will extend to Sidon.
    Issachar is a strong donkey,
        lying down between its saddlebags.
    He saw a good place to rest
        and a land that seemed pleasant,
    So he bent down to shoulder another load
        and embraced a life of hard labor.

    Dan will judge his people,
        as one of the tribes of Israel.
    Yet Dan will also be a snake by the road,
        a viper along the path
    That strikes at the horse’s heels as it goes by
        so that its rider falls backward.

    I wait patiently for Your salvation, Eternal One!

    Gad will be raided by thieves,
        but he will raid them in return.

    Asher’s food will be rich and delicious,
        and he will produce royal delicacies.

    Naphtali is a beautiful doe, wild and free,
        that bears lovely fawns.

    Joseph is a fruitful plant that grows beside a spring,
        its fruitful branches reaching over the wall.
    The archers fiercely attacked him,
        shot at him, and pressed hard against him.
    But his bow remained taut and strong,
        his arms firm and agile.
    They were made so by the strong hands of God
        by the Mighty One of Jacob, by the Shepherd of the Rock of Israel,
    By the God of your father, who will come to your aid,
        by the All-Powerful One who will bless you
    With the blessings from heaven above,
        blessings of the deep that lie beneath,
        and blessings of the breasts and womb.
    May the blessings of your father be more potent
        than the blessings of the ancient mountains.
    May they extend to the heights of the everlasting hills,
        and may these blessings now rest on the head of Joseph,
        on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

    Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
        devouring prey by morning
        and dividing spoil in the evening.

Now all these are the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. This is how their father described them when he blessed them—blessing each one with a blessing that suited each son.

When Israel’s inheritance of the land is divided, Levi is not included; but Joseph’s two sons become the leaders of two tribes descended from Joseph. Manasseh and Ephraim take Joseph’s and Levi’s places, filling out the twelve tribes.

Jacob (charging his sons): I am about to join my ancestors in deathPlease do as I ask, and bury me with my ancestors in the cave at Machpelah, near Mamre in the land of Canaan. It is located at the edge of a field owned by Ephron the Hittite. Abraham acquired the field from Ephron as a burial site for his family. This is where Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried, also Isaac and his wife Rebekah. I buried Leah there myself. The field and cave were purchased from the Hittites long ago.

After Jacob finished with these instructions to his sons, he pulled his feet up onto the bed, breathed his last breath, and joined his ancestors in death.

As his father passed on, Joseph threw himself onto his father’s face, crying and kissing him. Then Joseph told the physicians in his service to embalm his father and prepare him for the journey. So the physicians embalmed Israel. It took 40 days to embalm him because that’s how long it takes to embalm a body properly. And the Egyptians paid their respects by mourning and weeping for him for 70 days.

When the time of mourning had passed, Joseph addressed Pharaoh’s household.

Joseph: If I have found favor with you, please speak to Pharaoh on my behalf. My father made me swear an oath. He said, “I am about to die. I want you to bury me in the tomb I made for myself in the land of Canaan.” So I ask that you allow me to go out of Egypt to bury my father. When I have honored his request, I will return to Egypt.

Pharaoh: Go up to Canaan, and bury your father as he made you swear to do.

So Joseph went up to Canaan to bury his father. And all of Pharaoh’s servants went with him in a long procession that included the elders of Pharaoh’s household and the land of Egypt. Joseph’s own household, his brothers, and his father’s household joined in the solemn march. Only their children, flocks, and herds were left in the land of Goshen. Both chariots and charioteers accompanied him as well. It was a grand procession. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad near Canaan but still beyond the Jordan River, the great company of mourners paused to observe seven days of mourning for Joseph’s father. The weeping and lamentation grew so loud that the people who lived there, the Canaanites, could not help but notice the profound grief expressed on the threshing floor of Atad.

Canaanites: The Egyptians must have experienced a terrible loss to mourn so deeply.

This is why this place of mourning that lies beyond the Jordan was renamed Abel-mizraim.

So Jacob’s sons carried out his last instructions as he had directed. They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite so he could have a place to bury his family. After he had buried his father, Joseph gathered his brothers and the vast company of mourners who had journeyed with him to bury his father, and they all returned to Egypt.

When Joseph’s brothers began to realize the implications of their father’s death, Joseph’s brothers began to worry.

Joseph’s Brothers: What if Joseph still bears a grudge in some way against us and decides to pay us back in full for all of the wrong we did to him?

So they sent a message to Joseph.

Joseph’s Brothers’ Message: Your father gave us this instruction before he died. He told us to say to you, “Please, I beg you. Forgive the crime of your brothers and the sins they committed against you. They were wrong to treat you so badly.” So please do what your father asked and forgive the crime that we, the servants of the God of your father, committed against you.

Joseph cried when they spoke these words to him. And his brothers approached and fell at his feet.

Joseph’s Brothers: Look! We are your slaves.

Joseph: Don’t be afraid. Am I to judge instead of God? It is not my place. Even though you intended to harm me, God intended it only for good, and through me, He preserved the lives of countless people, as He is still doing today. So don’t worry. I will provide for you myself—for you and your children.

This same sentiment is expressed in Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:28). God can take even the meanest intention and make it work for good for His devoted followers.

So Joseph reassured them and continued to speak kindly to them.

Now Joseph remained in Egypt for the rest of his life—he and all of his father’s household. He lived to be 110 years old, long enough to see Ephraim’s children down to the third generation. Joseph adopted the children of Machir (Manasseh’s son) and brought them up as his own. One day, Joseph told his brothers,

Joseph (to his brothers): I am about to die, but God will someday come to you, lead you out of this land, and bring you back to the land He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

At that, Joseph made the rest of Israel’s sons swear to him an oath.

Joseph: When God comes to you, you must take my bones along with you out of this place and back to our homeland.

Then Joseph died. He was 110 years old, and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The story of Joseph ends with the children of Israel living in Egypt. They live there in peace and security through many generations knowing that their future is not in Egypt; their future is in another land, a land of promise, a land most of them have never seen.

Exodus 9 – The Voice

June 10 (Year One)

Eternal One (to Moses): Once again, go visit Pharaoh and give him My message: “The Eternal, God of the Hebrew people, says to you, ‘Release My people, so that they can serve Me. If you refuse to release them and strengthen your grip on them, then the hand of the Eternal will come down hard on you: a terrible disease will afflict all of your livestock in the fields—horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep. But the Eternal will distinguish between Israel’s livestock and Egypt’s livestock, so that not a single animal that belongs to Israel’s people will die.’” He has already determined the time when this plague will begin, saying: “Tomorrow He will strike the land.”

Then the Eternal did exactly as He said and sent this sign on the next day. All of the Egyptians’ livestock began to die, but not a single animal from Israel’s livestock perished. Pharaoh sent investigators to check Israel’s livestock, and they found that not a single one of their animals had died or become sick. But Pharaoh’s heart was still as hard as stone, and he refused to release the people.

Eternal One (to Moses and Aaron): Reach into the furnace and grab handfuls of ashes. Moses, throw these ashes up into the air—right in front of Pharaoh. It will turn into a fine dust that will cover all the land of Egypt and cause painful abscesses to break out on people and animals throughout the land of Egypt.

So they removed ash from the furnace and stood directly in front of Pharaoh. Moses threw the ashes up in the air, and it caused abscesses to break out on people and their animals. Even the most talented magicians in Pharaoh’s Egypt could not stand before Moses, because the abscesses broke out on their bodies as well as the rest of the Egyptians.

The Eternal made Pharaoh’s hard heart even harder, and Pharaoh was not moved by the miraculous deeds and the words of Moses and Aaron, just as the Eternal had told Moses.

Eternal One (to Moses): Get up early tomorrow morning and stand before Pharaoh. Tell him, “The Eternal, the God of the Hebrews, has a message for you: ‘Release My people, so that they may serve Me. This time, if you refuse, I’m going to send a series of plagues upon you yourself, your servants, and your people. Then you will see that there is no one else as great as I am in all the earth. For by now I could have easily raised my hand and struck you and your people with a disease so lethal that you would be erased entirely from the earth. But I have kept you in power for a reason, to show you My greater power and to see that My name and reputation spread through all the earth. But you still try to dominate My people and refuse to release them from the land. This time tomorrow, I will unleash an enormous hailstorm upon you—a storm like no other that has ever occurred in Egypt since its beginning until now. So gather all your livestock and anything left in your fields into a safe place. Protect it the best you can, for every man or animal left unprotected in the field when the hailstorm arrives will die.’”

Some of Pharaoh’s servants feared the Eternal’s message, so they gathered their servants and livestock into the safety of their houses. But there were others who did not take seriously the Eternal’s word, and they left their servants and livestock unprotected in the field.

Eternal One (to Moses): Raise your hand up toward the heavens, and hail will rain from the sky across the entire land of Egypt—upon people and animals and all the crops in the field throughout the land of Egypt.

So Moses raised his staff up toward the heavens, and the Eternal released loud thunder and hail from the sky, and fire streaked down upon the earth. He caused hail to rain down upon all of Egypt. As the hail fell, lightning pierced the darkness and lit up the sky. The hailstorm was so intense that it was like no other that had ever occurred in Egypt since its beginning. The hail pounded everything to the ground that remained in the fields, both people and their animals; it crushed every crop, it shattered every tree. There was only one place the hail did not fall—Goshen—where the people of Israel lived.

Pharaoh then sent for Moses and Aaron.

Pharaoh: I admit that this time I’ve gone too far. I have sinned. The Eternal is in the right; I and my people have done wrong. Go back to the Eternal and plead my case. We have had enough of your God’s thunder and hail. I will agree to release you—you and your people will not stay any longer.

Moses: Watch closely. The moment I step outside the city gates, I will lift up my hands to the Eternal, and the thunder and hail will stop. Then you will know that the earth belongs to Him. But I know very well that you and your servants do not yet fear the Eternal God.

(The flax and barley crops were both destroyed, because the barley heads were nearly ripe and buds had formed on the flax when the hail fell. But the wheat and the spelt had not yet sprouted, so these crops were spared.)

Moses left Pharaoh and departed the city. He lifted up his hands to the Eternal and prayed. When he did, the thunder and hail and heavy rains stopped. But as soon as Pharaoh saw that the weather had changed, and he and his servants were certain that the hail and thunder and heavy rains were no longer a threat, they became utterly defiant and Pharaoh hardened his stubborn heart once again. Because his heart was as hard as stone, he refused to release the Israelites as he promised. This happened exactly as the Eternal One predicted through Moses.

Genesis 38 – The Voice

April 24 (Year One)

It was about this time that Judah decided to leave home, so he parted company with his brothers and went to see Hirah, a fellow from Adullam. When he was there, Judah laid eyes on the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and slept with her. She conceived and gave birth to her first son. Judah named him Er. She conceived again and gave birth to her second son, whom she named Onan. She then gave birth to her third son, and she named him Shelah. (Judah was away in Chezib when she gave birth to him.)

Now Judah arranged for Er, his firstborn, to marry a woman named Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was a particularly wretched human being in the eyes of the Eternal One, and so the Eternal ended his life. Judah summoned his second son, Onan.

Judah (to Onan): You know our customs and the duty of a brother-in-law in a situation like this. You must go and marry your brother’s wife and make sure your brother has an heir.

Resentful that any child born in this kind of marriage would not be his, Onan would interrupt intercourse and spill his semen onto the ground whenever he slept with his brother’s wife. That way he would not father a child that would belong to his brother. Onan’s selfish behavior was as wretched as his brother’s to the eyes of the Eternal One; so the Eternal ended Onan’s life like his brother. Judah summoned his daughter-in-law Tamar.

Judah: Tamar, it is best if you remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up.

Now Judah said this because he was afraid that Shelah, too, would die as his brothers had. So Tamar went and remained a widow with her father.

After losing two sons, Judah thinks Tamar must be a dangerous woman. What he isn’t willing to admit is that his own sons were wicked.

After a while, Judah’s wife (Shua’s daughter) also died. When Judah’s time of mourning was over, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went to Timnah to work with his sheepshearers and enjoy the festivities. When Tamar learned that her father-in-law would be coming to Timnah to shear his sheep, she took off her widow’s clothes, put on a veil to conceal her true identity, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim along the road to Timnah. You see, Tamar harbored deep resentment toward her father-in-law because she knew by this time that Shelah had grown up, but she had not been given to him in marriage as Judah had promised. When Judah passed by and saw her, he thought she was a prostitute because she had her face covered. He decided to proposition her, so he walked over to her by the roadside.

Judah: Come on, I want to have sex with you.

He had no idea she was his daughter-in-law, but she had a proposition of her own.

Tamar: What will you give me in return if I do?

Judah: I’ll send you a young goat from my flock. How about that?

Tamar: Only if you give me something to hold until you send it.

Judah: What should I give you as my personal guarantee?

Tamar: Your personal seal on the cord you wear around your neck, plus the staff you carry.

Tamar knows Judah cannot be trusted, so she asks for two items so personal and unique they can easily be linked to him.

Judah did as she asked and gave her his seal and walking stick. He then went and slept with her, and she conceived his child. Then she got up, took off the veil, and went back home, putting on her widow’s clothes once again.

Judah kept his word and sent his friend Hirah the Adullamite with the young goat so he could retrieve his seal and walking stick from the woman. But Judah’s friend couldn’t find her anywhere.

Hirah the Adullamite (to Timnah’s elders): What happened to the temple prostitute who was at Enaim by the side of the road?

Elders: We have not seen any temple prostitute here.

Bewildered, the Adullamite returned to Judah.

Hirah the Adullamite: I couldn’t find her, and what’s odd is that the elders claimed they haven’t seen any temple prostitutes around there.

Judah: Well let her keep my things then. If you go back, we’ll be laughed at. I did what I promised. I sent the young goat, and you tried but could not find her.

Approximately three months later, someone told Judah, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has been promiscuous. It’s obvious her business has even made her pregnant.”

Judah: Bring her out and expose her for what she is, and then let her be burned.

As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law.

Tamar: It was the owner of these items who made me pregnant. Please, take a close look and tell me whose personal seal, cord, and walking stick these are.

When Judah saw them, he realized they were his.

Judah: She is more in the right than I am. I did not keep my word and give her in marriage to my son, Shelah.

Judah didn’t sleep with her again.

When the time came for her to deliver, she discovered she was carrying twins. While she was in labor, one of them put out a hand; and the midwife tied a scarlet thread on it, so she would know which one came out first. But just then he drew his hand back into the womb, and his brother came out firstThe midwife had never seen anything quite like this.

Midwife: What a breach you’ve made here, little one!

So the child was named Perez. His brother followed, the one with the scarlet thread on his hand. He was named Zerah.

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