Sunday, March 7, 2010

March 7

OT: Numbers 8:1-9:23

Reading about the Levites today, it occurred to me how the idea of individual freedom is such a new development. I haven't studied philosophy in a long time, but if I had to guess, the seeds of that idea were born in the Renaissance, and the idea reached its full fruition in the Enlightenment. We are lucky enough to live in a country whose founding was very much influenced by those Enlightenment ideas. And so, to us, the idea of having your path in life predetermined for you seems unnatural and unjust. We have the right to freedom, after all. Yet, for most of history, people did not have that right to freedom. People's positions in life were so often predetermined by the circumstances of their birth. And the roots of that practice are not just found in ignorant, pagan societies; no, you can see the roots in the Bible. After all, God decided that the Levites were to be wholly given to Him, and that He, in turn, would give them to Moses and Aaron. They had no say in the matter; if you were born a Levite, that's how it was. Like I said, the concept of our life path being chosen for us is such a foreign and offensive idea. And yet, maybe it is not such a bad thing, in and of itself. It is bad when people's lives are manipulated by those in power, yes. And it is bad when the powerful people make decisions that cause the poorer people to suffer, yes. That is unjust, and the Bible speaks out against that type of injustice very vocally.

But I daresay that in western civilization today, we don't even like the idea of God determining our path. We like the idea that we choose God, not that He chooses us. We like the idea that we control our destiny and that we can choose to willingly give it to God. But often, when we see God leading us down a path that is not of our choosing, we see it as unfair. Just recently, a teen wrote Greg about his life circumstances. The teen is not physically in the place where he wants to be in life, and he is so angry about it. His conclusion was, "If God loved me, He wouldn't have brought me here." Since he is a teen, his faith is still in rudimentary stages, and so he expresses things bluntly. But I think that we all tend to struggle with the idea that we have very little control in life, that God directs our paths in ways we don't understand. At least, I do. And yet, that's how God works. He determined that the Levites were going to have one kind of life, and the other tribes would have another. He determined that men would have one kind of life, and women another. And for us, He determined "the times set for [us] and the exact places that [we] should live" (Acts 17:26). He determined that my brother would struggle with bipolar disorder, and that the Ards' house would burn down, and that this poor teen would be marooned away from all his friends for years. Our Western-influenced humanity might tend more than others throughout history to rail over the "injustice" of our lack of control, but the truth is, it has always been this way. And God doesn't seem to see anything wrong with it.

NT: Mark 13:14-37

Yeah, so this is where Jesus' prophecy seems to veer away from AD 70. He talks about how "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies be shaken" (24-25). And then He says, "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens" (26-27). Hmmm...I think how sensus plenior works is that the whole prophecy has to come true on one level, and then the whole prophecy has to come true at another level, in another time. It was explained to me using the Isaiah 9 passage ("Unto us a child is born..."). The theory was that Isaiah's prophecy had happened in his day. There was a child born who fulfilled these things on a rudimentary level. But the prophecy found greater and deeper fulfillment in Jesus, who was the true "prince of peace" (and all those other things). SO...for this to be an example of sensus plenior, there has to be a level where all of this has already happened (in AD 70), and a level where it will all happen again (with the second coming). So clearly, on the level it has already happened, those words in verses 24-27 were figurative. Ultimately, though, they will be fulfilled literally, with Jesus' second coming.

Theory #2. Everything up to verse 24 happened in AD 70, and everything after that will happen at the true end. Some support for this theory is found in verse 24a: "In those days, following that distress..." It is like a "step 1, step 2" thing. Step 1 was in AD 70; step 2 will be at the end of time. Unfortunately, Jesus clearly makes it seem like all these things will happen close together. According to verse 24, step 2 will happen "in those days," the same days as step 1. And then Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (30). Based on those weaknesses, I am inclined to go with the sensus plenior theory: It all happened once, and it will all happen again.

Fun fact about AD 70 (not really): Before that year, there were four major sects within Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. After that year, only one was left standing. Any guesses? As Luke Timothy Johnson notes in Writings of the New Testament, "the Sadducees disappeared with the temple; the Essenes and the Zealots were wiped out by the war with Rome" (55). Only the Pharisees survived, in part to their adaptability to new circumstances. And since they were the only ones to have survived, the Pharisaic movement "became the dominant form of Judaism for the next two millennia" (53).

Don't we all feel so informed now?:) Moving on...

Psalm 50:1-23

I love the idea that God doesn't need the people's sacrifices. He ridicules that misconception quite powerfully in verses 9-13. Clearly, all those admonitions and laws were for the people, not to fill some kind of need in God. I like how you see them catching onto that as time progresses. David definitely gets it, and so does Asaph (the author of this psalm).

Proverbs 10:29-30

I love both the images of refuge and rootedness, and they are both used here. I love how the way of the Lord is a refuge for the righteous and how the righteous will never be uprooted. Instead, to echo Psalm 1, they will be like a tree, planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in season. Love it.


  1. I think you're right about the western civilization not wanting God to determine the path. I, on the other hand, am very comforted by that idea. Acts 17 has given me much peace about the exact place and time I find myself.
    He does know the plans He has for us; I think it's cool.
    Oh, and I like that you write in the historical present. To me it makes the words on the page jump up and run around a bit. :)

  2. Numbers:

    Yeah, I agree about what you said about God's control over our lives. Like Caryn, I am also comforted by the idea. (After all, God knows SO MUCH MORE than I do what is best for me, and He even knows ME more than I do.)

    My thought when I read the Numbers passage was about how God set apart different groups of people for different things. In our current culture, we're expected to be politically correct and call everyone equal. While I believe everyone is entitled to equal opportunities, we are certainly not all the same in our talents, abilities, or preferences. It is interesting to me that God made the Levites special apart from the other Israelites, and He made the Israeltes special apart from the other people in the world. God (at least from what we see in the Old Testament) is not politically correct at all. In fact, He chooses favorites and instructs them to kill the other groups of people who are in the way. When Jesus comes, He shakes things up a bit in his encounter with the Samaritan woman, and then God calls Paul to help include the Gentiles. However, it is clear to me that God does make distinctions between different groups of people. Of course, He made them, so He has every right to give them different roles and designations. I don't know that other people have the right to do that. Still, where God has already designated (between males and females, for instance), we should pay attention.

    In general, I am becoming less and less enthused by our Western culture. I mean, I still feel very cushy with the way things are, but we by no means have the perfect system here. We are way too rich for our own good, and it is possible that we have too much freedom for our own good (though, don't get me wrong, I DO love my freedom! and I'm grateful to our military and our forefathers for securing our freedom). Anyway, certain things in the Bible are a challenge to understand fully when viewed through a Western lense.

  3. Mark:

    Kim, this issue of timing for these events is kind of weird for me because my parents actually believe that, essentially, Jesus already did come back in AD 70. I haven't had the stomach to dig in and study as intensely as they have (I still have too many emotions tied up in the subject to be objective, so my official stance is "I don't know"), but I do know a little of why my parents think what they do. Some of the stuff mentioned here (like the physical Temple being destroyed) obviously happened in AD 70 becase we have historical records of such things. My parents say that the talk of "fleeing to the hills" was a warning for the believers during that time so they would physically run out of there when it all went down and save their lives. Okay, that seems plausible to me, though I could also see any of this having a double meaning. It gets a little weird, though, when my parents talk about what they deem "figurative language," such as the stuff about "heaven and earth." Apparently, they have studied prophecies in the Old Testament, comparing the warnings to the actual events, and there are certain phrases that the Israelites would have understood (so they say) but that shouldn't necessarily be taken literally. "Heaven and earth" is supposed to refer to the Jewish leaders, or the entity in charge of the Jewish way of life back then (or it could be Roman govenment; I don't rightly remember... something like that). Obviously, with the temple being destroyed, along with all of the geneological information, God made it such that the Jews can't practice the Old Law correctly even they wanted to, which is a HUGE HUGE thing. Anyway, I think they say that verses 24 and 25 have something to do with that. As for myself, I think that some of it must have happened in AD 70, and some of it is still yet to come (becuase, I mean, we're still here). I'm down with the thought that we may end up repeating a different version of things that have already happened. It even makes sense to me from the context that when he says "this generation," Jesus could mean, literally, the exact people he was speaking with at the time. Of course, THAT could have a double meaning too. I do wish I knew more about what happened in AD 70 from a historical standpoint. I have heard things from other people (my parents), but I haven't really read anything for myself. Anyway, I should probably stop now before I type myself in circles. :) (If you're interested, I can try to dig up some of the information my parents gave me about this stuff. I haven't read it all myself, but you might get more out of it as a history buff.)

  4. Caryn and Becky, I think of you both as "free spirits," and so I think it is interesting how you are both comforted by the idea that you are not in control. I am, um, NOT a free spirit, and though I understand that it is MUCH BETTER for me to not be in control...I still want it:). Cognitively, I don't, but emotionally, I do. When I see things spinning off in "wrong" directions in my life (wrong in my mind), I tend to get a wee bit freaked out. It takes some very deliberate focusing on God to achieve "perfect peace" in those situations.

    And Becky, I am with you on the whole, "maybe we have to much freedom, wait, what am I saying, freedom is AWESOME" type of thinking:). It's like, of course I don't want to forfeit my freedom--I LOVE my freedom. But more and more, I see how absolute freedom can lead to a lot of trouble. And as our society's moral restrictions continue to fall away, I think it will even get worse.

    As for your parents, I'm sorry if I touched a nerve. The ironic thing is that I could personally hardly care less whether all that happened in AD 70, whether it refers to the end times, or whether it applies to both. It makes no difference to my faith or life. I only investigate it out of curiosity and for apologetics sake. In other words, I want to be able to talk intelligently to people who are confused about the text or who see it as some type of contradiction in the Bible (since Jesus seemed to clearly say that all that would happen before that generation would pass away). I'm sorry that whole thing became such a breaking point for your parents, and that people judged them for their interpretation. For all I care, they could think it all came to pass in 1995:). It shouldn't matter; it's just an interpretation, and it's definitely not a salvation issue.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. You always challenge me and expand my thinking on the text. It's good to have you back!:)