John calls miracles ‘signs’. His gospel has the least number of miracles recorded – only eight – but he certainly chose to include the most spectacular! They are ‘signs’ because they point towards the true nature of the Son of Man, who was and is also the Son of God. They are the most dramatic of the healings, the biggest demonstrations of power over the natural world, and the raising of someone from the dead. Seven of them occurred during Jesus’ pre-resurrection ministry – seven, the biblical symbol of completeness. As John comments here in v11, they all showed his glory and caused his disciples to put their faith in him, leading to salvation.
The first one was at a wedding, probably of a relative or a local villager known to Mary’s family. Jesus was therefore also invited as a guest, along with at least some of his disciples. He probably looked forward to a few relaxing days of feasting and friendship, away from the publicity and attention that he was beginning to attract. But there was a major breakdown in the catering arrangements: no more wine! In a culture steeped in hospitality and generosity, this was a terrible faux pas on the host’s part. The family were certainly facing dishonor and ridicule; not what you wanted if you were father of the bride!
“Anything you can do, Son?”, his mother quietly enquired. Perhaps Jesus’ heart sank; this was not the quiet week he had planned! But he was kind-hearted, loved the host family and would not see them embarrassed. This miracle chose him, rather than the other way around. Perhaps it always does!
What this also shows me is the extravagance of God. He does not just give them enough wine to finish the day, but he turns six hundred litres of the local water into the finest of wines – the best that anyone has ever tasted. That is what God is like in his grace to us: he gives us way beyond our basic needs, more than we want or ask for, and far beyond what we can even imagine. A measure that is pressed down and running over.
Do we ever insult God by asking him for too little?
In the second ‘scene’ of John 2, we find Jesus at Jerusalem, in the outer temple courts, the place set apart for the Gentiles to approach God and to pray. But prayer would have been difficult, distracted as it was by the sound of ‘approved’ livestock and birds being sold for sacrifices, and money being changed into the coinage that was deemed acceptable by the authorities to offer to God. I can imagine that there was an over-emphasis on commercialism and petty regulation, along the lines of: “Only food sold here can be consumed on the premises”!
Jesus had had enough of watching and he made a whip to drive out the livestock from his Father’s house. It demonstrated that this was not a spur of the moment, emotionally driven action, but coldly premeditated. John comments on it by quoting Psalm 69 v9, an obviously messianic psalm (look it up). The Jewish authorities questioned Jesus’ authority to do this and were told, rather cryptically, that if the temple were destroyed, he would raise it again in three days. He meant his body, of course. The Jews took it much more literally and used this statement against him later at his trial. The famous temple begun, by Herod the Great, took from 20 BC until 64 AD to build, after which it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. All that remains today is the so-called Wailing Wall. The body of Christ had a rather brighter future!
This event in the temple courts is, I believe, different from the events described in Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19, which are all at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
JOSHUA 19, 20 and 21
Two and a half tribes, based at the West of the Jordan, have been given land, with seven more to go. I don’t know if the order of drawing lots was significant but the remaining seven came out as: Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. After that the Levites – who were not given any land inheritance – were provided with designated cities to live in. First the Kohathites, who were placed in within Judah, Simeon and Benjamin – those areas that were close to Jerusalem and the later site of the temple. Since the Kohathites were originally in charge of the holy things within the sanctuaries, that is very appropriate. It is important to live near the places where you will serve most often. Those Kohathites who were priests had first choice of the cities.
The Gershonites and Merarites were spread much further north; their original function in the desert was to carry and pack away the coverings and structures of the tabernacle – a role that would no longer have been so necessary once Israel had entered the Promised Land and the Lord’s Tent of Meeting was no longer mobile, but ultimately became a fixed building, the Temple.
The tribe of Dan was interesting, in that it failed completely to occupy its designated territory in the mid-Western part of Israel, just North of Judah; those Amorites occupying that region refused to be shifted and so the entire tribe of Dan migrated to the far North of Israel to the upper Jordan Valley. The town of Leshem was captured and renamed ‘Dan’. It is interesting, and maybe significant, that of all the tribes mentioned in Revelation 7, the tribe of Dan is missing. Some scholars speculate that their reputation for idolatry (Judges 18:30) disqualified them from a symbolic mention the final book of the Bible!
Joshua 20 has a recap concerning the use of the Cities of Refuge for those convicted of manslaughter. All were Levite cities (where, presumably, the Law of God was well known) and were strategically placed in the North, Middle and South of the land, on both sides of the Jordan. “Kadesh” means “consecrated”.
Joshua, himself was provided with his own city and lands – by a grateful nation! – and in his own tribal area of Ephraim. It is usually the leaders who are the last to ‘down tools’ and take a rest!
We now have the basis for a godly nation, farming and expanding, resting, and worshiping. God had fulfilled his promises to the letter and Joshua had done his duty. It now remained to be seen how the Israelites reacted to the incredible blessing that the Lord had poured out on them, and whether ‘gratitude’ was part of their vocabulary. A test of our spiritual ‘temperature’ is often seen in the way we relate to the Lord when we are resting, on holiday and in a contented phase of life; do we forget his mercies and his power? Worse still, do we imagine that our own righteousness and skill has achieved this destiny for us? If you want a window on human nature, have a look at the book of Judges in a little while!