OT: I Samuel 2:22-4:22
This passage is heavy. There is a lot going on here that spurs some pretty big questions.
One troubling passage is found in 2:25b: "[Eli's] sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke, for it was the Lord's will to put them to death." This idea of God keeping people from repentance or hardening people's hearts is found throughout Scripture. Off the top of my head, I can think of Pharoah, Judas, and verses like Isaiah 6:10 (which Jesus Himself quotes in Matt. 13:15 and Mark 4:12). The concept is most fleshed-out by Paul in Romans 9, when he explores the idea of predestination. As an Arminian (a non-Calvinist; I honestly have no idea why they are called Arminians), I have trouble with that idea, b/c it seems to go against the great bulk of Scripture, which tells us that people choose their actions and that Jesus came wanting to save everyone (John 3:16). Today is not the day for me to discuss it in depth, but if nothing else, we will all have a chance to explore this idea when we get to Romans 9.
I will give one shallow thought, though. I think that the Biblical writers, as well as us today, grapple with the concepts of predestination and omniscience. It is hard to put into words a sovereign God whose will is always fulfilled and yet who also desires all men to be saved. And so sometimes, when we read or talk about God's will, the wording gets confusing. If God's will is always ultimately done, and if He knows all of our choices ahead of time, did He make us choose those things? I can't say for sure, but I just don't think so. Again, that idea just doesn't jive with the great bulk of Scripture.
It was also interesting and sad to read God's words to Eli about the massive punishment He is about to unleash. Sometimes I do wonder if, like Jesus, God is sometimes hyperbolic. I mean, seriously? Not one of Eli's descendants will ever live past the prime of life (2:33)? Ever?? That may have totally been the case, but when I read those things, I feel the same incredulity I felt when Moses told the people that if they just followed God, everything would go perfectly and splendidly for them. Or when Jesus tells us to hate our father and mother. Really? Again, those could all be literally true things, but I just see hyperbole there.
Oh, and I noticed some Luke 2:52 action in 2:26. "And the boy Samuel continued to grown in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men." Very much like the boy Jesus, no?
I also strangely loved Eli's reaction to yet another dire prophecy, this one from Samuel. Upon hearing that the guilt of his household would never be atoned, Eli said, "He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes" (3:18). As Christians, we, too, have to submit to a God whom we don't always understand. We often have to say, "God is God, and I am not," and move on.
Small detail: I have always pictured Eli as a somewhat wiry man. I picture him a little frail, which fits with the world-weariness that I see in him. Turns out, he was hefty (4:18). Who knew?
NT: John 5:24-47
In Jesus' words today, we again see the odd relationship between belief and actions in Scripture. In verse 24, Jesus maintains that "whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." Then, just a few verses later, He foretells of a time when "all who are in their graves will...come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" (28-9). I think that for Jesus, the answer is that to believe is to do good. I'm reminded of John 14, when He says three times that those who love Him will obey Him (15, 21, 23).
I also like Jesus' words in verse 39-40: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me and have life." The part of the Church of Christ that I most love is its reliance on Scripture and the importance it places on Scripture's teachings. My Catholic friend was cracking up at me the other day when I explained the concept of cradle roll to her. It struck me for the first time how odd it was that we feel the need to teach our six month 0lds about the Bible. We sing songs to them like, "Pat the Bible" and explain to them that "Bible words tell us that God loves us." And I love that about us. I am all about education!
However, I do think that we can make an idol out of the Bible (Greg calls it Bibolatry). It is definitely possible to study Scripture everyday and to totally miss what God wants from you. I remember back in January, when I first started this blog. I was also finishing up a daily Beth Moore study on the fruits of the Spirit. During that same time period, I was having a really hard time having patience with a sister in Christ. I knew that she needed my love and encouragement, but I was just at the end of my rope with her. And one night it finally hit me: What is the point of all this Bible study if I can't even love my neighbor??? In missing the point of the Bible, I was doing just what the Pharisees did.
Yet another psalm upon which we base a praise song (1).
I also like verse 3, "Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right." I wrote a blog earlier on the difficulty of constantly doing what is right, of constantly shining our lights. It's funny that I saw this verse so soon afterward.
These two proverbs are just splendid. Verse 30 says, "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones" (30). You know by now that I love verses about "life," and I also think the image of "a heart at peace" is just beautiful. And I can vouch for the fact that it is a wonderful, life-giving feeling. It is definitely something I need right now, as my to-do list is looking particularly epic.
I also love and adore verse 32: "He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." You see echoes of this idea in Matthew 25, with the sheep and the goats. And I definitely think there is an overall concept that extends beyond just the poor and needy. Whenever we mistreat or degrade anyone of the people that God created, we are really degrading God. And whenever we are overly critical of God's creation, aren't we being overly critical of its Creator, as well?