Moses dictated that the Israelites must set up three Cities of Refuge – that any Israelite could flee to if they accidentally killed someone. Lethal accidents must have been surprisingly common back then if they required three cities to accommodate those accused of manslaughter. Actual murderers, who killed someone with malicious intent, would not be allowed refuge, ‘You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you (v.13). Things aren’t going well with us here in the UK in terms of the pandemic, national debt and social unease. We kill over 200,000 unborn children a year in state-sponsored abortion clinics. When that much innocent blood is shed, no-one can expect their country to thrive.
There had to be more than one witness to bring about a conviction and perjury was punished severely. For the third time in the Old Testament, Moses decrees an ‘eye for an eye, tooth for tooth’ (Deut.19:21). This time it applies to false testimony. If someone falsely accused another of a crime that warranted the death penalty, then the false witness deserved death. Jesus quoted this phrase in Matthew 5:38-42 and called us to forgiveness. If someone insults us, we shouldn’t retaliate. We should forgive immediately and not hold a grudge.
When going into battle, even against armies much greater than them, the priest would remind the Israelites that the ‘Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory’ (20:4). Anyone who was afraid or faint hearted was allowed to avoid battle – ‘so that his brothers will not become disheartened too’ (v.8). Lack of faith is infectious. When we are waiting on God to provide a great victory, we need people of faith standing alongside us.
The Israelites were told to completely annihilate the tribes who lived in the cities they were to inherit or they would lure them into idol worship, a grievous sin against the Lord. It is interesting that the Israelites were not told to convert the local natives into Jews. That was obviously impossible. Since the resurrection of the Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we aren’t told to conquer and destroy other countries, we are told to preach the gospel to that they can turn to Jesus and be saved. Through the name of Jesus, we now have power to evangelise and to save rather than to destroy and kill.
God cares for the environment and instructed the Israelites not to wantonly cut down precious fruit trees to use their wood for war. We should preserve our food-chain and the natural environment for generations to come.
‘There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent’ (v.7). Fifteen years ago, I woke up on the morning of Easter Saturday, the day I was scheduled to be confirmed and join the Catholic church and was stunned by what I found outside. As I stepped out of my back door and walked around the side of my house, there was a carpet of pure white feathers on the ground (‘there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (v.10)’). I have never seen such a thing before or since. A whole flock of owls would have been hard pressed to provide this many feathers. An entire duvet would have had to have been disembowelled. I have heard pastors pour scorn on the popular notion that a feather could be sign that an angel has been near. However, as with all supernatural occurrences we shouldn’t judge and mock things we haven’t personally witnessed. I take this as a clear sign that my Guardian Angel had been rejoicing in celebration that finally, as a repentant sinner, I was going to be saved.
We are each assigned a Guardian Angel at the time of our conception to protect us and guide us to conversion. He does this by gentle promptings, arranging for us to meet people or encounter situations that will invite us to confess our sins, freely accept Jesus into our lives, believe and inherit eternal life. I was baptized as an infant and, if I had died soon after, I would have gone to heaven. However, as a teenager and a young adult I freely started to sin. My sins were frequent and, on reflection, serious. Even though I was a baptized Christian and had a tiny seed of the Holy Spirit within me, I think I was being led by the enemy ever so gently into hell. It just felt normal because all my peers were leading the same sort of life. I do think that as adults we have to freely make a choice to repent, say sorry to God and accept Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour. We have to believe in our heart and confess with our mouth. As a Catholic, this can be done by choosing to go through the Sacrament of Confirmation – which gives us an ‘indelible spiritual mark’ indicating that Jesus Christ has marked us ‘as a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness (CCC,1304)’. A Protestant could also become confirmed or say the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’. The supernatural gift of Praying in the Spirit is wonderful evidence to show that we truly believe and that our repentance had been accepted by God, that we are fully adopted as God as his son or daughter and the Holy Spirit is now supernaturally activated within us. If we ask for it, we can experience the constant, live presence of the Holy Spirit edifying us and sanctifying us – illuminating areas of sin in our lives and empowering us to overcome them.
‘Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost‘ (CCC,1302). Following confirmation, I asked for the Holy Spirit to fully activate his gifts with me (a process known as ‘Baptism in the Spirit’) and a few weeks after doing this, I received the supernatural gift of Praying in Tongues (Praying in the Spirit).
I used to be lost – like a lost sheep or the prodigal son – because I had chosen to be lost. I had been safe with my heavenly Father and could have stayed with him all my life without straying but, of my own free will, I wandered off and became lost / submerged in the sin of the world. When I repented and came back into God’s embrace, there was joy and celebration. Jesus lifted me up and placed me on his shoulders for all to see. Both the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin shows that God is actively looking for the lost. The lost sheep is so far away, it can’t get back by itself. The shepherd has to go and look for it, calling it but its name. The parable of the lost coin shows that someone can become lost simply by not doing anything. We can simply chose to ignore God’s gift of eternal life and not bother to become baptized and accept Jesus into their lives. We can just fall into the dust and dirt of the world and become lost. The coin didn’t wander off. It simply fell off people’s radar. However, God always knows where we are and will actively come looking for us, driving away the darkness from our lives with his light and sweeping away the sins that have covered us, that are hiding us from his face.
I have been a lost and prodigal son. I know what it was like to be far from God, mired and enslaved in sin and squandering my inheritance prior to being joyously welcomed back. It is wonderful that our Father watches out for us to return and sees us from a long way off. He will come running to us and embrace us. God doesn’t wander away from us. We always know where He is and how to find him. He is always present and overjoyed to see us return to him. The bitter older brother in the parable is an intriguing character. The parable ends without him being reconciled to his brother or accepting his Father loves him. He lived a resentful life full of grudging duty and legalism. He had never fully enjoyed his father’s provision, benevolence and mercy. Both the Father’s sons had problems. We are all rebellious in our own ways. Neither of them understood the infinite love and compassion of their merciful father, who represents God.
People who have been devout Christians from the cradle sometimes have a problem with prodigals. They can’t see why such a fuss needs to be made when one returns. Proud and self-righteous Cradle Christians can demonstrate little joy in their lives when a fellow Christian repents and returns to church even though we are called to be joy-filled evangelisers of the gospel. We all need to reflect that Jesus died for us. We all have an enormous amount to be grateful for and ensure we have made a personal conscious adult decision to repent, ask Jesus fully into our lives and for the Holy Spirit to give us a full measure of all his spiritual gifts. If heaven rejoices when a lost prodigal son or daughter is found, then so should we.
The Pharisees had repeatedly complained when Jesus ate with sinners or healed people on a Sabbath. The Pharisees should have been rejoicing – along with the angels in heaven – when they witnessed conversions, repentance and healings.
The king has been richly blessed by God. His ‘lips have been anointed with grace’ (v.2).
He rides forth victoriously to uphold justice and loves ‘truth, humility and righteousness’ (v.4). The Queen of Great Britain exemplifies these virtues and we extend our condolences to her on the death of her husband, Prince Philip.
We can see why God has blessed our Queen with such a long life. She is not embarrassed to profess her faith in Jesus Christ. Our National Anthem is a prayer for God to save her and give her long life. Even though she has experienced many public and personal tragedies, deep inside her she has the deep rooted joy of the gospel.
Jesus’ dominion will last for ever. He loves justice and righteousness. He hates wickedness (v.7). His name is above all other names.
The Holy Spirit anoints Christians with his everlasting joy.
‘Therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy’ (v.7).