Friday, December 31, 2010
Mom, Greg, Courtney, Larry, Ann, Becky...thank you for all your support and encouragement through the early months of blogging. Your willingness to share your thoughts about Scripture was such an encouragement to me. Just to know that someone was actually reading was also great accountability. You guys are awesome.
Woody, I'm so glad you joined the blog, and that you gave me the honor of praying for your family this year. Thank you so much for your encouragement along the way.
Erika, I especially thank you, for your faithful reading, and for your readiness to engage on tough questions. Thank you for giving me a different perspective on so many different issues and for letting me use you as a sounding board to work out some of my own thoughts. I appreciate your own efforts to study and understand a belief system that is so different from your own. Often, just knowing that someone else was attempting to read and blog the Bible in a year inspired me to keep going with my own efforts. And almost all of the best, ongoing conversations on here have been with you. So thank you for that.
And now...I look forward to a year of studying the Bible on a deeper level, as well as a more private one! Thanks again to you all for your encouragement and support!
In today's reading was the only verse I had previously known from Malachi:
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (3:10).
For all my father's deistic leanings, he regards verses like these with an almost superstitious literalness. And I have to hand it to him, they have proven true in his life. He and my mom give to others with reckless abandon, and it does seem like God in turn rains down money on them. Knowing as much as I do about their financial situation, I can attest that some of their windfalls are almost absurd in their unlikeliness. So that's probably the biggest lesson my dad has taught me about faith. The idea that you should give beyond what you are able to seems borderline self-destructive. And yet, I have seen even in my own life that when you step out on faith, God catches you.
That's just one verse in our reading, though. The overall thrust of the text is that the day of the Lord is coming, where He will be a refiner's fire and a launderer's soap to the people (3:2). Those images are fitting for chapter 3, because the chapter seems to indicate that "the day of the Lord" referred to is more of a Jesus-level coming than an end times event. It seems that even with this day of the Lord, people will have a chance to be refined and cleaned, though those who reject God through their actions will not enjoy having their sinful deeds exposed.
In that same chapter, however, there is some "end times" imagery that you see in Revelation. For instance, the text refers to a "scroll of remembrance" that sounds very similar to Revelation's "book of life." Such imagery is continued in chapter 4, where it speaks of the wicked being burned, much like the lake of sulfur imagery in Revelation. There is also a passing reference to the "sun of righteousness," which might coincide with the imagery of God being an eternal sun for His people that is found in Revelation.
NT: Revelation 22:1-21
Today's reading concludes John's vision. He sees a crystal clear river of life flowing throughout the city; he sees Psalm-1-esque trees on either side of the river, which have leaves of healing for all nations; he sees God and Christ ruling on thrones in the midst of the city; and he sees that it is eternally daytime, as God Himself provides the light for this new world. All in all, it is a beautiful picture.
Then, John interacts with the messenger angel a bit more, and the angel reminds him that all of this is coming soon. The book closes with an invitation and a warning. There is an invitation for all who are thirsty and who desire God to "Come!" (17). And there is a warning against adding or taking away any words from the book of Revelation (18-19). I clarify that last part b/c these verses are often used as a warning against adding or taking away from the Bible as a whole (conveniently bound in the same "book"). I don't think we should add or take away from the Bible, but it doesn't seem like proper exegesis to me to apply this verse so firmly to all of Scripture, when it clearly refers to the prophecy of Revelation.
The book concludes with a wish for Jesus to come soon, and with a blessing on the readers.
A simple praise psalm, probably intended for worship in the temple.
Prov. 31: 25-31
The conclusion of one of my favorite sections of Proverbs.
I particularly love the image of a godly wife being "clothed with strength and dignity" (25). Today's passage also inspires me to "watch over the affairs of [my] household" and not to "eat of the bread of idleness" (27). That's a good reminder for today, because I woke up feeling lousy with a cold and would like nothing more than to eat of the bread of idleness today! But there is too much to do for that!
Thursday, December 30, 2010
It is currently 4:24 a.m., and I'm up and doing my Bible reading and blog for the day because I cannot sleep to save my life. So...who knows how this blog will turn out.
Today, we started the last book of the OT. It is an oracle from Malachi that is structured as a dialogue between God and the Israelites. God starts by telling the Israelites that He loves them, and they demand to know how God has loved them (1:2). This question seems to indicate that not all has gone well for Israel lately. I haven't researched the book, so I don't know where they are in history right now, but I can think of plenty of bad things that happened to their nation that might make them question God.
In answer to their question, God contrasts his love for them for his hatred toward Esau (2b-5). He seems to maintain in these verses that He is not with--and never will be with--Esau's people, and that they will be ruined. That was kind of sad to me, but I know that God has a reason for His words and actions here.
In verse 6, God turns the tables on the questioning Israelites by asking them why they don't treat Him with honor and respect, since they claim Him as their Father and Master. From this point on, the questioners play ignorant and so God outlines exactly what they have done that has displeased Him:
--They bring crippled, blind, and diseased animals for sacrifice (8-9). This seems to be a classic case of giving God one's leftovers. It is a temptation for all followers of God b/c, oddly, God is not as coercive as most entities who demand respect. In verse 8, for example, God contrasts the people's offerings to Him with their offerings (taxes?) to the governor. They wouldn't dare cheat their government, b/c they know there will be immediate repercussions. Similarly, I think sometimes I show more respect to Uncle Sam than to God. I know there are going to be repercussions if I don't give the government the amount of money they ask for at the time they ask for it. So I pay it in full and on time. But since God doesn't hammer me with late fees or threaten me with jail time (at least not here on earth), I'm much more tempted to skimp on my giving to Him.
--They show partiality and break faith with each other (2:9-10).
--They intermarry with pagans (2:11).
--They divorce their wives (2:13-16). God is not cool with this at all. In fact, He declares that He hates divorce (16). One of the side effects of divorce is the negative effect it has on children, and verse 15 can be read as God showing particularly concern for that side effect.
--They are violent men in general and/or they beat their wives (16, depending on which translation you go with).
Because of these things, there times of worship are meaningless to God, and He threatens to break the covenant He has with them (1:10-2:9).
NT: Revelation 21:1-27
After all the carnage and pain depicted in Revelation, today's reading is almost uniformly positive. The only (very notable) exception is verse 8, which says, "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
Other than that sober warning, chapter 21 depicts the fullness of the kingdom of God in the way that we usually think of heaven. There is a new heaven and a new earth, and God dwells on it with His people, the ones whose names are in the book of life. Verse 4 is particularly beautiful to me: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
The reading ends with a description of the new Jerusalem, a city of solid gold, with a beautiful wall around it made up of all different kinds of gemstones. There is no temple in the city b/c God and the Lamb are the temple (22). I liked that. It is like the whole Bible depicts the decreasing distance between God and man until they are literally dwelling together in peace for all eternity.
A short and simple praise psalm, which closes with a militaristic outlook. The psalmist sees God's people as His instrument to punish the nations.
I have always loved this part of Prov. 31. Many women find it overwhelming and intimidating, but I find it empowering. The writer describes the ideal woman as strong, hardworking, intelligent, resourceful. He values the contribution of such women to their families and to society. To me, it is such a positive description of women, and one to try to emulate.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Here is what confused me about the final chapter of Zechariah: it seemed to talk about the end times, but then still held forth the possibility of rebellion and punishment.
Verses 6-11 definitely seem to talk about the end of time, what we call the full coming of God's kingdom. Starting in verse 7, it says,
"It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime--a day known to the Lord. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name" (7-9).
Okay, that seems like "the end" to me: perpetual daylight, streams of living water, a full kingdom of God. Good stuff.
And in that light, as gruesome as verses 12-15 are, they do stay with the spirit of Revelation, which makes clear that those not belonging to God will be punished.
What gets me is verses 16-21, which say that any nation who does not then sacrifice to God would be punished. See, my conception of the kingdom of God is that when it comes in its full, that will all be over. You are either thrown into the lake of fire (to borrow from Revelation), or your name is written in the book and you're saved. And then it's time for heaven, right? What is this middle ground? I don't get it.
NT: Revelation 20:1-15
Meanwhile, in our alterna-version of the end of time, Satan is sealed into the Abyss for 1,000 years, during which time he is unable to deceive any of the nations (1-3). Then, all of the martyrs raise from the dead and reign with Christ for that same thousand years (at least, I assume it's the same time period). That's called the first resurrection (5).
After that thousand years, Satan is released and goes back to deceiving nations. He raises up an army, I guess an army of all the nations he has deceived. And then they march into battle against God. It's set up as this climatic scene, but fire from heaven immediately destroys them, so it's not much of a battle! Satan is thrown in the lake of burning sulfur where, along with the beast and the false prophet, he "will be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (10). Yikes.
Next, we apparently have the second resurrection, when everyone raises from the dead and is judged for their works. Verses 12-13 seem to picture big books that have everything that we've done in our lives. Yet, verse 15 pictures just one book in which a person's name is either there or not. Maybe the first set of books determine whose name is in the book of Life. Anyhow, death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire, as were anyone whose name was not in the book of life. So...Hades is hell...right?....so I guess at the end of time, those whose names are not in the book don't go to hell, but into the lake of fire?
Psalm 148: 1-14
A praise psalm that enjoins all of creation to praise the Lord.
I love these verses and have thought of the first line often throughout my life:
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Like yesterday, I got a bad case of whiplash from the reversal that happened between chapters 12 and 13. In chapter 12, it's all good for Judah. God is going to make Judah "a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling" (2), "an immovable rock" (3), "a firepot in a woodpile," and "a flaming torch among sheaves" (6). In other words, Judah is going to kick some serious booty. The oracle further says that, "on that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going out before them" (8). Whoa. That is some forceful imagery. If this section were graphed according to the positivity of the images, 10:8 would definitely be the high point.
It starts to go downhill from there. It also starts to get weird. Verse 10 says, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." Okay, I had a little bit of trouble with "person" here. We start out in the first person, and the first person is clearly God. God will "pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication." Yes, the "I" there is clearly God. The first person continues in the next sentence, which says, "The will look on me, the one they have pierced." So...you would think the "I" there is God, too, right? But when and how did they pierce God? What does that even mean? For a Christian, the answer is obvious, right? This is a reference to Jesus. Even John 19:37 quotes this verse when telling of the crucifixion. And honestly, I can think of no other explanation, even if I wasn't a Christian. God being pierced? It makes no sense.
But...neither does the rest of today's reading, in light of the Christological interpretation (not sure if I used that word right). For one thing, it says that everyone in the area would mourn the pierced God's death, and they didn't when Christ died. Also, chapter 13 continues the prophecy with, "On that day." So it is clearly linked with the events of the preceding verses. And it says that on that day, God would get rid of all the idols, and there would be no more false prophets, and parents would stab their own kids if they prophesied falsely. And again, I saw none of that in the NT.
Like I said earlier, I still can't see another explanation for that verse besides that it was about Christ. It makes absolutely sense to me apart from God becoming a man and getting pierced. But I don't really understand how the rest of the prophecy is about Him.
I feel compelled to try and make it make sense on the blog, but like I have said all along, I'm not the Bible's apologist. It can speak for and handle itself. I am just a student trying to learn. And I have so many questions. Maybe further study on prophecy will one day shed light on these questions. Maybe not. My hope, though, is that just by asking them, I can grow closer to God. I ask questions about the things and people that I care about, that I want to know better. And that's what I'm reading the Bible as honestly as possible; I want to honestly know the God who gave it to me.
NT: Revelation 19:1-21
We are nearing the end. The bridegroom is coming for the bride, and the wedding feast is about to take place. I don't know that I ever understood that the wedding feast would involve eating all the bad guys (17-18), but then again, I'm thinking that all of this language is highly figurative. After all, the bridegroom kills all the bad guys with a sword that comes out of his mouth, so....it doesn't really seem literal.
Speaking of figurative language, I love the imagery in verses 7-8:
"'Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.'
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)"
I love the image of the collective church waiting as a bride for Christ to return, and especially that her beautiful clothes are the "righteous acts of the saints." That is beautiful to me.
The bridegroom is a warrior. Before he gets his bride, he must vanquish all his enemies. Apparently, his main enemies are the beast and the false prophet, and both of them are thrown into a lake of fire (20). Clearly, I don't know what the beast and the false prophet stand for, but the clear image is that when Christ returns, it will be really good news for some people, and really bad news for other people. So, it is both exciting and really sobering to realize the import of these events.
One verse that stood out to me today was verse 10:
"His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;
the Lord delights in those who fear Him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love."
There is a lot to say about this verse, but here is its application to me: I tend to really prize human effort, to prize efficiency, dependability, productivity. If I am not being efficiently productive, I often feel like a failure. This verse reminds me that God is not impressed with man's efficiency or his productivity. What he wants is not my best, most efficient and productive efforts at life; what he wants is my heart and my faith.
King Lemuel warns his son not to chase women and wine. He makes a pretty valid point that someone with everything shouldn't even need wine. Wine should appeal more to people who are hopeless and desperate than to future kings--or people who have responsibilities (5).
Monday, December 27, 2010
Well, today's reading got confusing quickly. But before I get to that part, I have two tangential observations:
In 10:1, Zechariah proclaims:
"Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime;
it is the Lord, who makes the storm clouds.
He gives showers of rain to men,
and plants of the field to everyone."
Okay, so here is my tangential observation. So often, people quote that verse that says God makes it rain on the righteous and wicked alike, and they interpret it like rain is a bad thing. As in, "God lets trouble come to both the righteous as well as the wicked." But that verse is referring to rain as a good thing, so it's the other way around. That verse is saying that blessings come both on the wicked and the righteous. That type of misinterpretation (and honestly, I used to misinterpret that verse) highlights to me the way we sometimes call things struggles that are not struggles. I know a lot of times, we tend to interpret things that are basic parts of life as the "suffering" talked about in the NT. Like, if we have financial trouble, or someone we love dies, we apply the verses on suffering to those situations. And it's not like they don't apply at all, but usually, those verses specifically refer to being persecuted for righteousness sake, which is something that rarely happens to us Western Christians. Anyway, like I said, that observation doesn't have a lot to do with the text, but those are the thoughts the verses spawned in my head.
My other semi-tangential observation regards 11:4, in which those who make money unjustly say, "Praise the Lord! I am rich!" I thought that was a sobering exclamation. I wonder if we ever interpret things as God's blessing, when they are really a result of our own selfishness and greed.
Okay, onto the confusing part. Throughout today's reading, there is a running metaphor in which the nation of Israel is referred to as God's flock. At first, God shows anger toward the shepherds, or leaders, who do not take care of the flock:
"My anger burns against the shepherds,
and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord Almighty will care
for his flock, the house of Judah,
and make them like a proud horse in battle" (10:3).
The rest of the chapter then foretells the results of God's pasturing: the people will be mighty and numerous, they will be reunified and joyful. Several times throughout the chapter, God says things like,
"I will strengthen the house of Judah
and save the house of Joseph.
I will restore them because I have compassion on them.
They will be as though I had not rejected them,
for I am the Lord their God,
and I will answer them" (6).
Similarly, chapter 11 continues the theme of God's anger toward bad shepherds. Okay, maybe not. I wrote that last sentence and then went to find the verses that supported it, but I couldn't. It seems instead that in this chapter, God is mad at the flock from the beginning. Their shepherds are jerks, but it seems like it is part of God's plan (5-6)? Then--and this is where it gets really confusing--God says that He will pasture them Himself. When I read it at first, it seemed like this was God's compassionate reaction to the bad shepherds in verse 5. And at first, God is the prototypical Good Shepherd: "So I pastured the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I pastured the flock" (7). Aww. That's a great image, and, like I said, it's very typical of the Good Shepherd talk continued by Jesus.
But then...God gets tired of His flock and breaks His rods and deserts them! Huh??? Granted, it said that "the flock detested" Him, and thus, His response was typical of the wrath He has shown elsewhere. I guess why it was so jarring to me is that Zechariah used the shepherd imagery, and that imagery is always positive. It was like when Harrison Ford played a bad guy in the the movie I'm not going to name b/c I don't want to spoil it. Part of the shock of the twist at the end was that Harrison Ford doesn't play bad guys! And good shepherds don't desert their sheep! Sheep aren't even smart enough to detest their shepherd. That's the point of the analogy: sheep are too dumb to take care of themselves, so they need a good leader. To punish sheep just doesn't make sense to me.
Hmmm. I'm beginning to see that my problem is with the choice of analogy rather than the content. Due to my preconceived notions of that analogy, I found God's actions to be particularly troubling. Plus, it was such a reversal from chapter 10. I was just very confused by that whole section.
NT: Revelation 18:1-24
Today, Babylon/the prostitute/the city that is not to be named gets destroyed, and all her fellow business partners mourn the loss. Heaven, on the other hand, celebrates, as do the saints, because Babylon is being punished for persecuting the saints.
This psalm paints a great picture of upside-down Kingdom. It is so apt that I need to quote it at length:
"Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked."
In these verses, the psalmist warns us against trusting in powerful men, and instead tells us that God is with oppressed, the hungry, the imprisoned, then blind, the foreigner, and the widow. In other words, God humbles the exalted and exalts the humble.
First of all, who would twist someone's nose so hard that it would bleed? That's just sick. But in the same way that a twisted nose produces blood (again, gross), stirring up anger produces strife.
It's slowly dawning on me that this Bible is about to give Proverbs 31 the shaft. We have only 4 days left, and that whole chapter to go!
Sunday, December 26, 2010
For the first eight verses of today's reading, the prophecy turns negative, warning Hadrach, Damascus, Hamath, Tyre, Sidon, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Ashdod that they will be conquered. I don't know if those are separate kingdoms or different towns in the same kingdom, but the bottom line is, things will take a turn for the worse for them.
Verse 9 reverts back to positive messages for Jerusalem. In that verse, Zechariah prophecies of a future king:
"See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Of course, we believe that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy during the triumphal entry.
The rest of the prophecy continues with good news for Jerusalem, news of prisoners being released, battles being won, and prosperity returning and strengthening the people.
NT: Revelation 17:1-18
Today, we are introduced to a prostitute who kills saints and sleeps with the kings of lots of nations. A beast with ten horns will eventually kill her.
One phrase that was repeated several times in this passage really encapsulates my frustration with Revelation: "The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction." The idea of something once existing, not currently existing, and existing again in the future is simple enough to grasp, and yet...what?? I get the idea, but not the application. Perhaps the reason I don't get it is that, "This calls for a mind with wisdom," and clearly, I am lacking in that area (9).
I do see, though, why my dad is a preterist. I think that's what it is called. Basically, he thinks that the events in Revelation already happened, that the language is all symbolic, and it is mostly to do with Rome. Verses like verse 9 seem to indicate to me that John expects his audience to understand much more of what he is saying than I do. And if that is true, then he must be writing about current events and kingdoms, things "a mind with wisdom" can grasp. I know it is not the popular view to say that Revelation already happened or is purely symbolic, but that's how I'm personally leaning.
An ode to God's faithfulness, which spans the generations.
This one is kind of funny: it tells people who have played the fool or planned evil to cover their mouths. Kind of silly sounding.