Day 52

Better Together

Wisdom Proverbs 5:15-23
New Testament Mark 6:6b-29
Old Testament Exodus 29:1-30:38

Introduction

I have never been very good at using visual aids. I am not a very practical person. On the other hand, my great friend, Nicky Lee (who, together with his wife Sila, has pioneered The Marriage Course and other courses for couples and parents), is extremely practical and often uses visual aids.

When he is speaking at weddings he sometimes uses a visual aid to illustrate the passage in Ecclesiastes 4, where the writer says, ‘Two are better than one… A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’ (vv.9,12).

As a picture of marriage, Nicky takes two strands of different coloured wool and weaves them together. Together they are stronger and yet they can quite easily be broken. Then he takes a third strand of nearly invisible fishing line. With this third strand, it is almost impossible to break the two pieces of wool. (I did try to use this illustration once but, for reasons I cannot remember, it went horribly wrong!)

The point that he makes so well, and that comes out of the passage in Ecclesiastes, is that while friendships and marriages are wonderful gifts, having God at the centre of a friendship or marriage provides an invisible thread of enormous strength.

In today’s passages, we see how two are stronger than one in marriage, mission and ministry.

Wisdom

Proverbs 5:15-23

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
  running water from your own well.
16 Should your springs overflow in the streets,
  your streams of water in the public squares?
17 Let them be yours alone,
  never to be shared with strangers.
18 May your fountain be blessed,
  and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer —
  may her breasts satisfy you always,
  may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
20 Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?
  Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?

21 For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
  and he examines all your paths.
22 The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them;
  the cords of their sins hold them fast.
23 For lack of discipline they will die,
  led astray by their own great folly.

Commentary

Marriage: two become one

This is a wonderful picture of marriage as a source of blessing (v.18a), rejoicing (v.18b), love (v.19a), grace (v.19a), satisfaction (v.19b) and romance (v.19c).

It is a beautiful description of marriage in which two people ‘become one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). Part of its beauty lies in its exclusiveness. The writer uses the evocative image of a spring, well or fountain to describe the delight of sexual union. However, it is a delight that is grounded in exclusiveness, and he stresses this four times (Proverbs 5:15–18).

The greatness of the emotional and physical love between a husband and wife (‘enduring intimacies’, v.19, MSG) is contrasted with the ‘cheap thrills’ of ‘dalliance with a promiscuous stranger’ (v.20, MSG).

That is why the writer warns so strongly against adultery. Be aware, he says, that God is watching (v.21). And the path that leads to adultery is ‘evil’, ‘wicked’, sinful, foolish and leads to death (vv.22–23). We see an example of this in the New Testament passage where it was Herod’s adultery that led to him murdering John the Baptist (Mark 6:14–29).

While the fact that our ‘ways are in full view of the Lord’ (Proverbs 5:21) is a warning against adultery, it is also a reminder of the strength that comes from having ‘the Lord’ involved in a marriage, as the third strand of the cord.

God’s love for us is the best example and central guiding principle of how we should love one another.

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for the difference that the third strand, the presence of Jesus, makes to a relationship. Thank you that two are better than one and that a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

New Testament

Mark 6:6b-29

6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

John the Baptist Beheaded

14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Commentary

Mission: two by two

Marriage is not the only answer to aloneness. Although marriage is a great blessing, we are reminded here that we do not need to be married to know community or completeness. Jesus was not married and he was the most complete human to have ever walked this earth. He modelled another way of wholeness.

Jesus went around ‘doing the stuff’ (to coin a phrase used by John Wimber). Then he sent his disciples out to do the same. They went out and preached, drove out demons and healed the sick (vv.12–13).

It is significant that he sent them out in pairs: ‘two by two’ (v.7). This kind of mission can be very lonely if you are on your own. It is so much better to go out in pairs.

It must have been great fun and deeply satisfying to go out together and preach the gospel, drive out demons and anoint the sick with oil (‘For the significance of anointing oil see Exodus 30:22–33) and see them healed as a result (v.13). ‘They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits’ (vv.13–14, MSG).

They did it together. By contrast with these disciples, poor John the Baptist had been on his own in prison. We see in him a striking example of moral courage in speaking truth to power. He had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’ (v.18). He did not hesitate to incur the wrath of the great and powerful as often as was found necessary.

Herod liked to listen to John (v.20). He felt better after a good sermon! But there was one thing in Herod’s life that he refused to give up: his adulterous relationship with Herodias who, not surprisingly, held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. This made Herod morally weak, and it stopped him from enjoying a relationship with God.

Herod, like Pilate with Jesus, was not keen to order the death of John the Baptist. But Herod made a foolish offer and found himself in a position where he would have lost face had he not gone ahead and ordered John the Baptist’s execution.

While John the Baptist had followers (John 1:35), he had to face prison and execution alone. Jesus sent his disciples out ‘two by two’.

Jago Wynne, author of the book Working Without Wilting, talks about pastoring mid-week gatherings for people working in London. He says that those who came by themselves from their workplace as isolated Christians generally looked weary, struggling with the pressures of working life.

On the other hand, those who had found other Christian colleagues and who came to the services in groups of two or more were almost universally far more upbeat and radiant.

Jago writes, ‘If we are isolated Christians in our day-to-day environments, whether that is the workplace or school or university or home, it is good to pray for the Lord to provide us with another brother or sister in Christ. Even their mere presence can be a source of encouragement to keep going in serving the Lord in life and in mission.’

As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, ‘Two are better than one… If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up! … Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12). This verse is often used to illustrate the importance of friendship and unity in marriage – but the original context of this verse is actually that of friendship.

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for friendship. Thank you that you do not send us out on our own. Thank you that as we go out, two by two, we know that there is a third cord also. You said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations… and surely I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:19–20).

Old Testament

Exodus 29:1-30:38

Consecration of the Priests

29“This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests: Take a young bull and two rams without defect. 2 And from the finest wheat flour make round loaves without yeast, thick loaves without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves without yeast and brushed with olive oil. 3 Put them in a basket and present them along with the bull and the two rams. 4 Then bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the tent of meeting and wash them with water. 5 Take the garments and dress Aaron with the tunic, the robe of the ephod, the ephod itself and the breastpiece. Fasten the ephod on him by its skillfully woven waistband. 6 Put the turban on his head and attach the sacred emblem to the turban. 7 Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head. 8 Bring his sons and dress them in tunics 9 and fasten caps on them. Then tie sashes on Aaron and his sons. The priesthood is theirs by a lasting ordinance.

“Then you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

10 “Bring the bull to the front of the tent of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. 11 Slaughter it in the Lord’s presence at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 12 Take some of the bull’s blood and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and pour out the rest of it at the base of the altar. 13 Then take all the fat on the internal organs, the long lobe of the liver, and both kidneys with the fat on them, and burn them on the altar. 14 But burn the bull’s flesh and its hide and its intestines outside the camp. It is a sin offering.

15 “Take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. 16 Slaughter it and take the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar. 17 Cut the ram into pieces and wash the internal organs and the legs, putting them with the head and the other pieces. 18 Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord.

19 “Take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. 20 Slaughter it, take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. Then splash blood against the sides of the altar. 21 And take some blood from the altar and some of the anointing oil and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. Then he and his sons and their garments will be consecrated.

22 “Take from this ram the fat, the fat tail, the fat on the internal organs, the long lobe of the liver, both kidneys with the fat on them, and the right thigh. (This is the ram for the ordination.) 23 From the basket of bread made without yeast, which is before the Lord, take one round loaf, one thick loaf with olive oil mixed in, and one thin loaf. 24 Put all these in the hands of Aaron and his sons and have them wave them before the Lord as a wave offering. 25 Then take them from their hands and burn them on the altar along with the burnt offering for a pleasing aroma to the Lord, a food offering presented to the Lord. 26 After you take the breast of the ram for Aaron’s ordination, wave it before the Lord as a wave offering, and it will be your share.

27 “Consecrate those parts of the ordination ram that belong to Aaron and his sons: the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. 28 This is always to be the perpetual share from the Israelites for Aaron and his sons. It is the contribution the Israelites are to make to the Lord from their fellowship offerings.

29 “Aaron’s sacred garments will belong to his descendants so that they can be anointed and ordained in them. 30 The son who succeeds him as priest and comes to the tent of meeting to minister in the Holy Place is to wear them seven days.

31 “Take the ram for the ordination and cook the meat in a sacred place. 32 At the entrance to the tent of meeting, Aaron and his sons are to eat the meat of the ram and the bread that is in the basket. 33 They are to eat these offerings by which atonement was made for their ordination and consecration. But no one else may eat them, because they are sacred. 34 And if any of the meat of the ordination ram or any bread is left over till morning, burn it up. It must not be eaten, because it is sacred.

35 “Do for Aaron and his sons everything I have commanded you, taking seven days to ordain them. 36 Sacrifice a bull each day as a sin offering to make atonement . Purify the altar by making atonement for it, and anoint it to consecrate it. 37 For seven days make atonement for the altar and consecrate it. Then the altar will be most holy, and whatever touches it will be holy.

38 “This is what you are to offer on the altar regularly each day: two lambs a year old. 39 Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight. 40 With the first lamb offer a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil from pressed olives, and a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering. 41 Sacrifice the other lamb at twilight with the same grain offering and its drink offering as in the morning—a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord.

42 “For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the tent of meeting, before the Lord. There I will meet you and speak to you; 43 there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.

44 “So I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. 45 Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. 46 They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.

The Altar of Incense

30“Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. 2 It is to be square, a cubit long and a cubit wide, and two cubits high—its horns of one piece with it. 3 Overlay the top and all the sides and the horns with pure gold, and make a gold molding around it. 4 Make two gold rings for the altar below the molding—two on each of the opposite sides—to hold the poles used to carry it. 5 Make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 6 Put the altar in front of the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law—before the atonement cover that is over the tablets of the covenant law—where I will meet with you.

7 “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. 8 He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. 9 Do not offer on this altar any other incense or any burnt offering or grain offering, and do not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Once a year Aaron shall make atonement on its horns. This annual atonement must be made with the blood of the atoning sin offering for the generations to come. It is most holy to the Lord.”

Atonement Money

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. 13 Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord. 14 All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. 15 The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives. 16 Receive the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord, making atonement for your lives.”

Basin for Washing

17 Then the Lord said to Moses, 18 “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 19 Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. 20 Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord, 21 they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”

Anointing Oil

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, 23 “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 24 500 shekels of cassia —all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. 25 Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. 26 Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, 27 the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, 28 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. 29 You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.

30 “Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. 31 Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. 32 Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. 33 Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.’”

Incense

34 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices —gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, 35 and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. 36 Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. 37 Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord. 38 Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people.”

Commentary

Ministry: two lambs

The elaborate ceremonies we read about in this passage emphasise the meticulous care with which a holy God was to be approached. It was the outward adorning that gave the priests glory, beauty and holiness. In the New Testament, the garments that lead to inner beauty and holiness come from God’s Spirit in your heart.

In these Old Testament ceremonies, everything had to be multiplied. That is why they needed two rams (29:1,3), two gold rings (30:4) and, most significantly, two lambs (29:38). The multiplication of implements and sacrifices was a sign of God’s greatness. They pointed to the inadequacies of any animal sacrifice or ritual to truly bring us to God. Two is better than one – but it is still not enough.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that all these regulations have been set aside: ‘The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless’ (Hebrews 7:18). Instead of two lambs, one perfect lamb was sacrificed for us – Jesus. ‘He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself’ (v.27). We no longer need a multiplication of sacrifices.

Atonement was necessary (Exodus 29:33,37; 30:10,16) and required ‘the blood of the atoning sin offering’ (30:10).

Jesus shed his own blood for us. Paul describes his death on the cross as a ‘sacrifice of atonement’ (Romans 3:25).

It was only through sacrifice that the priests could approach the altar ‘to minister’ (Exodus 30:20). ‘Ministry’ means service to God. It is the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that enables you to be involved in ministry (service of God and of others).

Prayer

Thank you, Jesus, that you are the one perfect lamb who was sacrificed for my sins once and for all. Thank you that I no longer need a multiplication of sacrifices. Thank you that, as the great hymn puts it, I am ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven’.

Pippa adds

Mark 6:26

‘The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse [Salome].’

It is not good to go back on an oath, but better than doing something so wrong. Herod should have been prepared to be humiliated in front of his dinner guests and break his oath or find a way around it. Are you ever tempted to do the wrong thing just to save face?

Verse of the Day

Exodus 29:42

The LORD ‘will meet you and speak to you’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

¹The Marriage Course and Marriage Preparation Course are both for couples who wants to invest in their relationship and understand how to navigate married life. For more information about the courses, to find a course near you, or for tools and tips on running a course, visit themarriagecourses.org

Jago Wynne, Working Without Wilting, (Inter-varsity Press, 2009)

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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