Christianity 201

February 13, 2016

The ‘Gratuitous Violence’ of the Old Testament

Judges 4:21 NIV But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

Click here to read all of chapter four.

Peter Enns is a renown theologian, Biblical scholar, author and teacher at Eastern College. This is his 4th time here at C201, and his style seemed like just the right thing for a weekend study/devotional. For some of you today’s subject may raise more questions than provide answers. You may disagree with one of his conclusions, but I do believe that Peter has great respect for the text. Click the title below, not only to read the post, but see an image based on the verse cited above!

“people are just dying all over the place”—reading the Old Testament historical books

This semester [I’m] teaching a course on the Old Testament “historical books”—Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. (I cover Chronicles as part of my Biblical Hermeneutics class under “midrash.”)

As I always do for my biblical canon courses, I read through that portion of the Bible during break. And as I’m revisiting these stories, I’ve found myself thinking, “Please, Lord, let these be greatly exaggerated if not largely manufactured stories.”

With hardly a break, I am struck (pun intended) by how casual and heartless the ancient Israelites were about violence and vengeance. The ancient Israelites, by and large, were plain old nasty, mean, and not the kind of people you’d want to cross—or even playfully tease.

. . . Or better: the Israelites we meet in the Old Testament were that way.

Frankly, I have no idea what “ancient Israelites” were actually like—those tending the sheep, growing their grain, telling stories to their children, hiding from invaders. We don’t really know anything about them. We just know of a precious few, and we only know them through what anonymous writers said about them probably many centuries later.

How fair were these writers? Were they even trying? What ax were they grinding? What was their deal?

At any rate, regardless of how they got there, the people we meet in these stories have issues, and you can’t help but wonder what the point of all this is in a holy book. If I were writing the Bible, I’d throw in some more positive stuff—like not glorying in impaling or beheading your enemies or people who want to take your stuff.

Or at least have God step in now and then and say, “Hey, will you people cut. it. out?! Enough of this already! If you only knew the shelf life these stories will get and how people are going to use them. . . . ”

But God seems OK with it. At least that’s what the writers have written.

Yes, reading the stories from conquest to exile can be an eye-opening experience, not for the faint of heart, and probably not without someone to talk it through with. Sometimes I wish the Bible came with a toll-free customer service number. (And no, that’s not what prayer is. Sheesh.)

Even leaving aside the whole conquest of Canaan (aka extermination of Canaanites and any other living thing), people are dropping like flies. It seems like major death is the end result of nearly every story you read. People are just gonna die. Brace yourself. And often those killings are portrayed as good, just, honorable, and normal—like, “What’s your problem? This is just what happens, you know?”

I started going through these books and listing the violence and general vindictive nastiness, but then stopped. I have a busy schedule. Plus it’s getting discouraging.

All of this reminds me of a couple of things I tend to harp on, and I think for good reason.

  1. Knowing something of when and why these stories were written might help us understand something of what the writers are trying to say. Discerning all this isn’t straightforward by any means, but I think it’s worth the effort.
  2. And after you’re done with all that, we readers of the Bible still have to decide what WE  are going to do with all of it, how we are going to process it for our life of faith here and now. And that’s not easy either.

In The Bible Tells Me So, I basically come down on these two things as follows:

  1. I think at that these stories were written in a tribalistic context, and thus reflect that context—this is how stories of gods and nations were told.  Further, the writers exaggerated and/or freely shaped the past for theological and/or propagandistic purposes.
  2. I do not think these stories should be read theologically uncritically, meaning simply accepted as prescribing what God is like. The Bible isn’t a rule book or owner’s manual, and we don’t get off the hook so easily. What God is like transcends the stories written about him.

I’ve said a mouthful here, I know. Agree or disagree, but my thinking comes from reading the Bible respectfully and carefully, not from an antagonistic or dismissive point of view.

The Bible—as it always has—raises plenty of questions on its own. And when we engage those questions, we are joining a long and honored conversation.

July 29, 2015

Figures of Speech in the Bible

Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.
 -Psalm 119:97 NLT

Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love.
-Psalm 199:159 ESV

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
 -Matthew 11:15 NLT

 

This is taken from the website ThinkTheology.org which I strongly recommend bookmarking in your computer. You can begin by clicking the title link for this article below. If you do, you’ll also find links in the introduction to other parts of a series, of which this is just a small part.

Figures of Speech In The Bible

Time to take a “Cat nap”. I had to “bite my tongue”. He was “putting all his eggs in one basket”. I was “falling in love”. Time for me to “hit the books”. These are all examples of idiom or figures of speech. What is an idiom? One dictionary defines an idiom like this. “an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own” I like this definition. It really captures the importance of understanding cultural context when seeking to understand an idiom. Did you know that the Bible is full of idioms? In other words the Bible is full of sayings or expressions that cannot be understood in and of themselves because they have a separate meaning of their own. In the book of Job chapter 19, verse 20 we can find a wonderful ancient Hebrew idiom preserved for us from the oldest book in the Bible. “I have been reduced to skin and bones and have escaped death by the skin of my teeth.” Job 19:20

The phrase from Job “By the skin of my teeth” does not mean that teeth have skin. The phrase can only be understood as a figure of speech. A person cannot find its meaning via literal interpretation. It wouldn’t make sense. In order to find the literal meaning of a figure of speech you need to unpack the figurative non-literal meaning of the language being used. Screenshot 2015-07-27 13.16.54

First: There are figures of speech that leave out the meaning or important words. These figures of speech affect grammar or sentence structure.
Here is an example: Matthew 11:18, “For John came neither eating nor drinking.” What does this mean literally? We know John had to eat and drink but this is pointing out that John turned down invitations to have meals with others. Because it didn’t contribute to his purpose.

Second: There are figures of speech that add (rather than leave out). Words or meaning is inserted.

Here is an example: Note the duplication in John 1:51? “Verily, verily I say unto you…” What does it mean literally?: This repetition places emphases on a word for effect by duplicating it. The New International Version of the Bible translates John 1:51 in this way “I tell you the truth”. It would be like saying the popular phrase “I guarantee it”.

Here are some other examples of figures of speech that add words for effect. This list is by no means exhaustive.

  • Repeating words at the beginning of sequential sentences. Matthew 5:3-11, “Blessed are the poor…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…”.
  • Repatative use of the word and for effect. Example: Acts 1:8, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”.
  • Repetitive use of the words neither or nor for effect. Example: Romans 8:38 and 39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God”.
  • Repetitive use of the same word or phrase at the end of a sentence. Example: “O Israel, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield. O priests, descendants of Aaron, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield. All you who fear the Lord, trust the Lord! He is your helper and your shield.” Psalm 115:9–11.
  • Bookending a sentence with the same word. Example: Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice.”.
  • Repetition of the same word in various forms in the same passage. Examples:““There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’” John 16:12–15, Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer…” Revelation 17:6, “I wondered with great wonder”.
  • The use of exaggeration. Example: 2 Samuel 1:23, “Saul and Jonathan…they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

Third there are figures of speech that change meaning or words.

  • Sometimes the noun is changed. Example: Proverbs 10:20, “The tongue (what they say) of the righteous is choice silver.” Matthew 6:21, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart (what you think and feel) be also.”;
  • Sometimes the idea (not meaning of a word) of a word can be exchanged for another related idea. Example: Mark 16:15 “Preach the gospel to every creature (humans).” Philippians 3:19, “Their god is their stomach (they are their own god)…”;
  • Sometimes something unpleasant or crude can be changed to something pleasant. Genesis 15:15, “You, however, will go to your fathers (you will die) in peace…” John 11:11, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep (he is dead)…” One very famous, provocative and controversial euphemism is found in Ruth 3:7-9, “And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet (some scholars believe this is another way of saying she uncovered his sexual organs) and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings (consummate our marriage Ezekiel 16:8) over your servant, for you are a redeemer.””

There are so many figures of speech in Scripture! Here are some more for you to explore.

 

July 22, 2014

When God Tells Stories

Many times at Thinking Out Loud there have been references to the sometimes-controversial Rachel Held Evans, but it might surprise you to see her here at Christianity 201. However, she’s been blogging the Lectionary this year, and while the concept of what follows is, at one level, quite simple, I hope you’ll read what she writes and get lost in the wonder of how the Creator of the universe chooses to communicate with us.

To read at source, click here.

I’m blogging with the lectionary this year, and this week’s reading comes from Matthew 13:24-43:

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’ 

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’

In the Gospel reading for this week, we learn that in the time between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the events leading to his death and resurrection, the travelling teacher communicated through stories.  Matthew goes so far as to say “without a parable he told them nothing.”

It is an astounding detail when you think about it: The God of all creation, the One who knows every corner of the cosmos and fathoms every mystery, the One who could answer every theological riddle and who, I suspect, chuckles at our volumes of guesses, our centuries of pompous philosophical tomes debating His nature, when present in the person of Jesus Christ, told stories.

  • Stories about farming.
  • Stories about kneading bread.
  • Stories about seeds and trees and birds.
  • Stories that somehow, in their ordinary profundity, “proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus, who certainly could have filled volumes, favored riddles to lectures, metaphors to propositions, everyday language, images, and humor to stiff religious pontification. In a strange burst of joy, Jesus even exclaimed,  “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Religious education is good and important, certainly. But it’s not as important as paying attention. It’s not as important as seeking the Kingdom in the quotidian rhythms of the everyday. It’s not as important as obedience. 

After all, Jesus didn’t come for the rich, the educated, or the right. Jesus came for those with listening ears and open eyes, those who are hungry for righteousness and thirsty for God, those comfortable with metaphors and similes and “almosts” and “not yets,” those content to understand without knowing fully, those with dirt in their fingernails and flour in their hair.

In Matthew 13, we encounter several parables all packed in together, each one worthy of a thousand different reflections. (The one about the seed that grows into a tree is one of my personal favorites.) Each of these parables features Jesus’ very favorite subject, the thing he spoke about more than any other: The Kingdom. 

The Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed, Jesus said, that grows into an enormous tree with branches wide and strong enough to make a home for all the birds. It is like a buried treasure, a delicious feast, or a net that catches an abundance of fish. The Kingdom is right here, Jesus said. It is present and yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. The Kingdom isn’t some far off place you go where you die, the Kingdom is at hand—among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. It is the wheat growing in the midst of weeds, the yeast working its magic in the dough, the pearl germinating in a sepulchral shell. It can come and go in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus said. So pay attention; don’t miss it.

This Kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This Kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a war horse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.

And yet there is more to this Kingdom that is still to come, Jesus said, and so we await a day when every tear will be wiped from every eye, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears shaped into a pruning hooks, when justice will cascade like a river down a mountain and righteousness like a never-ending stream, when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will live together in peace, when there will be no more death.

On this week when our newspapers reveal the ugly reality that evil and good grow alongside one another—in the world and even in our own hearts—the parable of the wheat and the weeds seems especially weighty. As reports of civilian casualties mount, we see that, just as Jesus warned, human attempts to “root out evil” on our own, by force, result in the destruction of innocent lives. 

Every. Single. Time. 

Like it or not, this parable challenges, (perhaps even mocks), our notion of “precision airstrikes,” of getting rid of the “bad guys” without hurting the “good guys.” The fact is, we don’t see the world as God sees it. We are not equipped to call the shots on who deserves to live and who deserves to die, who is evil and who is good—especially when, if we’re honest, we can feel both impulses coursing through our own bloodstreams.

While we could certainly digress into an eschatological conversation about exactly what Jesus means when he talks about throwing evildoers into the fire, the instructive call of this parable remains the same: to let God do the farming. God is the judge—not you, not me, not kings, not presidents.

“Without a parable, he told them nothing.” 

Yet still we struggle to understand. Still we struggle to obey.

Two-thousand years after Matthew recorded these parables about seeds and wheat and yeast, we’re still combing our theology books for answers. We’re still talking about airstrikes and minimizing civilian casualties. We’re still seeking power and vengeance, knowledge and stuff.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle tells of a young woman who told the author, “I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was eight or nine. I didn’t understand it, but I knew what it was about.”

That’s often how I feel about the parables of Jesus. I don’t understand them exactly, but I know what they’re about.

L’Engle concludes: “…One does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding—that intellectual understanding which we are so fond of—there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing, knowing things which you are not yet able to understand…As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.” 

The God of the universe has beckoned us into His lap to tell us a story, to teach us to pay attention.

Let those with ears hear.

December 22, 2013

Understanding Different Literary Forms in Scripture

Today’s thoughts are from the Bible In One Year (BiOY) page of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) in England, the original home of The Alpha Course as taught by Nicky Gumbel, who also authored these thoughts.  What follows is excerpts, click through to read in full.

How to Read and Understand the Bible

How do we interpret the Bible and understand what it says about what we should believe and how we should live? In interpreting the Bible there are three main questions we need to ask:

  • What does it actually say? The Old Testament is written in Hebrew (and Aramaic), and the New Testament in Greek, but we are fortunate to have access to excellent translations. Obviously it can help if we can read it in the original language, but generally we can be confident that most modern translations are trustworthy and accurate. As we read we need to be asking what it actually says. It can be helpful to use extra notes, or compare different translations, to help us understand it better.
  • What does it mean? In order to answer this question we have to ask: What sort of literature is it? Is it historical writing? Poetry? Prophecy? Apocalyptic? Law? Wisdom? Gospel? The passages for today are each different types of literature, and therefore we read them in different ways.Next, we need to ask what it meant to the person who first wrote it and to those who first read or heard it. Then ask, ‘Has anything happened subsequently to alter our understanding of the text?’ For example, what difference does the coming of Jesus make to our understanding of Old Testament passages?
  • How does this apply to our lives? If we ignore this question, then our Bible reading becomes a mere intellectual exercise. Once we have worked out what it says and means, we must think through how it applies to our daily living.

Each day’s readings at BiOY involve three passages, you’ll have to click through to read these in full. There are also prayers at the end of each section. Again, click through to read.

In these passages, we see three different types of literature (poetic, apocalyptic and historical). We also see at least three ways in which to relate to God in our daily life.

1. Be real with God (poetry)

Psalm 144:9–15

God wants us to be real with him. The psalms are not prayers from nice people using polite language. They are often raw, earthy and rough. They are an honest, true and personal response to God. They are written in the language of poetry. We interpret poetry differently to prose…

Comparison is something that we often use in daily speech. It also comprises almost all the language of theology. When two things are compared it does not mean they are alike in all respects. Usually there is some intended point of comparison on which we are asked to concentrate.

The language of Psalm 144:12 is an example of such language: ‘Make our sons in their prime like sturdy oak trees, Our daughters as shapely and bright as fields of wildflowers’ (MSG)

…the psalmist inspires us to worship (v.9). He speaks of his longing for God’s blessing on his family, his work and the security of his nation. He ends, ‘Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the Lord’ (v.15).

2. Make a difference by your prayers (apocalyptic)

Revelation 8:1–9:12

Apocalyptic literature is the literature of dreams and visions, of divine mysteries and the end of history. It is full of symbols that need to be decoded. In it we are given glimpses of things that are often at the very limits of human understanding, and the complicated and fantastic imagery can help us begin to grasp things that are beyond comprehension.

Apocalyptic literature is notoriously difficult to interpret. Within the Bible it is found in several places – especially the books of Daniel and Revelation. Typically, the reading from the apocalyptic writing for today is not easy to understand. It appears to be Christ calling the world to repentance and his warning of the coming judgment…

…We live in the time between the first and the second coming of Christ. We see evidence of much of what is written about in these chapters happening in our world. Our response should be prayer and repentance.

3. Fulfill God’s purpose for your life (history)

Ezra 1:1–2:67

God has a purpose for your life. You are called to do something special for him. The book of Ezra shows us that even when it is God’s plan, there will be plenty of opposition and resistance. But God is with you (1:3) and God’s plans will ultimately succeed.

In the book of Ezra we find ourselves in the more familiar territory of history. The historical books of the Bible are not simply records of what happened, they also provide interpretations of the events they describe. Historical writing was seen as a prophetic activity, both recording the facts and explaining or revealing how God was at work through the events that are described.

The opening verse of Ezra is an excellent example of this bringing together of fact and interpretation: ‘In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing’ (v.1).

Contemporary inscriptions show that Cyrus king of Persia allowed other captive nations to return home as well, so we are on firm historical ground here. At the same time the writer explains the significance of these events. He highlights how they fulfilled the earlier prophecy of Jeremiah that the exile would last approximately seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12 and 29:10).

This is not just a lesson in ancient history; it is a revelation of God. It shows us God’s faithfulness to his people, it reminds us that he is a saving God, and it demonstrates how he is in command and control of history.

Before the judgment: ‘Heaven fell quiet – complete silence for about half an hour’ (8:1, MSG). During this period of trembling suspense all of heaven is silenced, possibly symbolizing the opportunity for the prayers of God’s people to be presented to and heard by God.

…We each have a unique purpose for our lives. We have different projects, depending on our different jobs and passions and giftings, but our underlying motives should be the same – a concern for God’s glory and God’s people. God will fulfill his purpose for you.

May 23, 2013

Jesus is the New Temple

Jesus A TheographyI am currently working my way very slowly through the book, Jesus: A Theography by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet. The book explores various aspects of Jesus’ ministry and goes beyond the simple ‘womb to tomb’ biography by dealing with the pre-incarnate and post-incarnate Christ. I’m currently about half-way through the book and landed on this section where the authors enumerate the various places where Jesus takes on the role that Israel formerly ascribed to ‘temple.’  This is taken from pages 171-173. I encourage you to visit Bible Gateway or Bible Hub to check out the various references in context.

  • The Jews understood that the temple was the one place on earth where heaven and earth intersected.  It was the extension of the garden of Eden, the playground of angels and humans.  Jesus was God and man.  He was the joining together of God’s dwelling and the dwelling of humans.  Jesus is the reality of Bethel, the “house of God,” which is marked by commerce between the heavens and the earth.  (Recall Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, where angels ascended and descended from heaven to earth, and Jesus’ words to Nathanael in John 1 that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s house.)
  • Jesus identified Himself as the tabernacle of God, the fulfillment of the tabernacle of Moses, where God’s glory rested.  The words of John 1:14, He “dwelt among us”, literally mean He “tabernacled among us.”  In the same text, John went on to say “and we beheld his glory.”
  • In John 2:19, Jesus said to the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  John then informed us, two verses later, that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body.
  • In Matthew 12:6, Jesus announced that he is greater than the physical temple.  The physical temple was a signpost.  Jesus is the reality.
  • In Colossians 2:9, Paul says that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus in bodily form.  In other words, Jesus is the dwelling place of God.
  • In John 20, Jesus breathed into the disciples.  They were now a new creation.  He then gave them the word of proclaiming forgiveness to sinners.  Forgiveness was the rule of the temple in Jerusalem.  The temple afforded forgiveness of sins by the sacrifices that were offered there.  Now Jesus, the real Temple and the real Sacrifice, offered forgiveness.  And those who were part of the Temple, His disciples, declared it as well.
  • In His ministry in Galilee, Jesus was acting and living as though He were the temple itself.  He was fulfilling all of the temple’s functions.  To have your sins forgiven in that day, you had to go to the temple.  Jesus was subverting this system by offering forgiveness Himself.
  • After the temple of His body was destroyed, Jesus rose again on the third day.  Fifty days later, at Pentecost, thousands of Jews were converted to Christ.  They were the “living stones” that were “hewn out of the one Rock,” which is Christ.  In Mark 14:58, one of the witnesses at Jesus’ trial said, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man'”.  These living stones became the building blocks for the house of God.  Jesus, the real Temple, had increased.  Now the church has become the temple of God on earth.
  • In Acts 2, an unusual event occurred on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem.  The Spirit of God fell on 120 disciples of Jesus.  They spoke in tongues, and tongues of fire appeared on their heads.  The real temple of God was being born right in the midst of the old physical temple.  The tongues were the reverse of what happened in Babel.  At Babel sinful men tried to achieve unity by creating a tower to reach the heavens.  God judged their effort and confused them by scrambling their languages.  At Pentecost the Spirit of God united them, they spoke in other tongues, and they understood one another.  The fire on their heads is reminiscent of the fire that fell from heaven on the temple when it was dedicated.  The new temple of God is not built with human hands.
  • The temple was a signpost of a future reality.  It was God’s dwelling place.  It was the place of forgiveness, redemption, restoration, and wholeness.  It was the place of God’s presence on earth.

 

July 2, 2012

Reading the Psalms of Lament When You’re Having a Good Day

Today’s reading is from Jake Hunt at the blog Wiser Time, where it appeared several months ago under the title, How to read the Psalms when you don’t feel like the psalmist.

About a third of the psalms in the Bible are laments– psalms in which the author lays a complaint before God and asks for his help. If you read Psalms regularly, which is a good idea, you’ll come across lots of heavy content. More than we’re accustomed to expressing in worship, but that’s another post.

A lot of this language can seem foreign to us. I don’t usually feel like all my bones are out of joint. I don’t often flood my bed with tears, and I don’t currently feel like I have more enemies than I can count. But we shouldn’t just read or think on happy things– if we did we’d ignore a lot of the Bible.

Here are a few tips for reading and learning from the psalms when our own situation doesn’t line up with the author’s.

Learn not to put on a happy face.

The psalms are an absolute smackdown of the idea that we have to be happy to worship God, or pretend to be. Every day with Jesus isn’t sweeter than the day before; some days with Jesus are really lousy. Psalm 88 (“darkness is my only companion”) was not written to get the people pepped up, but it was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and it was written for public worship.

God is big enough to handle our lament. He wants us to bring our sorrows to him; he wants us to worship him through tears when that’s all we can do. Reading the psalms will remind us of that.

Think of others.

Even if you’re not feeling so sad you forget to eat your food, chances are someone around you is. Let the language of the psalms help you understand how your grieving friends feel. Let it open your eyes and remind you that there are hurting people in your life who need your words, prayers, and tears to bear them up.

Remember Jesus went through this for you.

Jesus “fulfilled” the psalms, and the rest of Scripture, by taking on himself everything it means to be human, and to be one of God’s people. He knows what it means to feel forsaken by God, because he actually was– so that he could guarantee we never would be.

Every lament we read in the psalms is something that happened to our Savior. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Reading Psalms with that in mind should drive us to a greater appreciation of what he’s done for us.

Wait.

I started reading a psalm a day in my first year of seminary, and it’s generally been part of my routine since then. At the time I was 24, and had enjoyed by God’s grace a generally happy life. It was hard to identify with the psalms of lament, or with the idea of longing for heaven: life on earth was pretty great.

Life on earth is still pretty great. But deaths of friends and family, infertility, bouts of depression, the vulnerability (and tiredness!) that comes with kids, watching friends hurt, and seeing more of life in general have meant that at 30 it’s a lot easier to see what David was talking about than it was at 24. And I’m still young, with more joy and more suffering to come.

An older friend told me once, “When I was young it was hard to want heaven. The older I get– yeah, it’s not so hard anymore.”

If you’re in a happy season, thank God for it, and stay in the Word– the happy parts and the heavy parts. The day will come when you’ll need the language of lament, and it’s good to have it in your heart ahead of time.

~Jake Hunt

May 6, 2011

Proof Texting the Celebration of a Terrorist’s Death

Stuart James at Credo House (Reclaiming the Mind blog) posted this, as apparently Facebook and Twitter were counting the Bible verses people were using to either justify or condemn the celebration following Osama Bin Laden’s death.  His was a top ten list

Top ten most quoted bible verses on social media following the death of Osama bin Laden:
1. Proverbs 24:17 “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.”

2. Psalm 138:8 “The LORD will make PERFECT the things that concern me”(KJV). (NIV: “The LORD will vindicate me; your love, LORD, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands.”)

3. Proverbs 21:15 “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” (Rick Warren started this one):

4. Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?”

5. Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

6. Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

7. Proverbs 11:10 “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.”

8. Proverbs 24:18 ” … or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.” (The popularity of this verse is due to it finishing the sentence begun by the #1 most popular verse.)

9. Proverbs 24:1 “Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company;” (probably an effort to quote Proverbs 24:17)

10. Proverbs 28:5 “Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.”

…but the list continues at this Christianity Today post with 14 more verses, though you’re fine just to stay with the ones listed here.   Personally, I think this was a good time not to weigh in on the discussion either way, but to practice the silence that Proverbs teaches is the hallmark of wisdom.

…I know some of you are thinking that this is more the kind of thing I would post at Thinking out Loud, but I believe that those of us who desire spiritual maturity — and to reflect spiritual maturity — should be very careful when it comes to polarized debate or polarizing reactions to current events.

Knowing God, and knowing the character of God means that there is no conflict between verse #1 and verse #7 or between verse #3 and verse #5.  It means living in the complexity of the tension that exists between two conditions, not a simple either/or type of response.