Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 30

OT: 2 Kings 15:1-16:20

Well, today was the day where Israel finally fell. In the ninth year of the reign of Israel's king, Hoshea, Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, conquered the country after a three year siege on Samaria. After carrying off the Israelites, he sent people from many different countries to live in the city. See, now, that is starting to ring a bell. Earlier, when I posited that the enmity between Samaria and Jerusalem had to do with the fact that they were both capitals of rival kingdoms, that made a lot of sense...and yet, it didn't sound familiar to me. I knew that I'd heard about the reasons for the hatred between the two groups, and I am now thinking that it has more to do with this new wave of foreigners who have come to live in Samaria. And I think that the fact that Shalmaneser sent priests back to teach them about God, with limited success, will only compound the problem. There's more to this story yet to come, but I can't remember all the details, so I will wait until we get there.

Oh, and I love it when I make an observation on Scripture, only to have the next day's reading totally discredit my musings. Yesterday, I mentioned that it seemed like the author(s) of Kings had given up on explaining why God did what. They only mentioned that He did it, and then they would move on. Today's reading eradicated that trend, as the text goes into great detail on exactly why God sent the Israelites into captivity. And I can see why it did--that's a pretty big deal. Total defeat and captivity would be completely devastating to a nation and would surely make them question the power of their God. It was imperative to the people's faith, then, to understand these events as logical consequences of their idolatry, dictated by their sovereign God. Thus, the author of Kings spends 17 verses articulating exactly why the people were taken captive (7-23).

One thing that is interesting to me about Israel, Judah, and even the new "Samaritans," is that they did not choose between God and idols. No, they routinely worshiped them both. Sometimes, they got waaay bad and totally neglected Yahweh, but then a righteous king would restore the worship of Yahweh to the people. Most often, however, even the righteous king would leave up the high places and various sites of idol worship. Therefore, I think it is fair to argue that the Israelites were generally polytheists in practice. Whatever they might have said about God being the only God, when they worship other idols at the same time, they are polytheistic.

Here's the application for me: We don't have Asherah poles today, nor do we give offerings to Baal. However, there are many gods in our society, many things that people choose to worship. Money, for example, often controls people's lives and decisions in a godlike fashion. One's own dreams can also become the driving course, the supreme being, in his or her life. Security, comfort, pleasure, even family can become our number one priority, the organizing factor of our existence. And when we pursue both God and comfort, or God and money, or God and security with equal passion, I do believe that we are essentially being polytheistic. It's easy to worship God. It's much harder to worship only God.

NT: Acts 20:1-38

The history nerd in me is trying to learn about Luke from these "we" passages. I believe that the first "we" passage insinuated that the group picked up Luke in Troas (I'm too lazy to look it up right now). Today's passage seems to suggest that he joined them in Philippi (6), though they do go through Troas five days later. Hmmm...I just looked on a map, and Philippi and Troas are across the sea from each other (hence the sailing mentioned in the verse). So...I didn't really glean a lot about Luke. Oh well.

I had a few more questions today. First, Paul raises Eutychus from the dead...or does he? I guess verse 9 clearly states that Eutychus "was picked up dead," which is a weird way of putting it, but oh well. However, verse 10 doesn't really make it seem like Paul healed him. It just says that he "threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him," and then he said, "Don't be alarmed. He's alive!" I could easily read that as Paul running to the man in horror and beginning to mourn him, only to realize that he was, in fact, still alive. Verse 11 makes the whole story even more confusing. It just says, "Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left." Surprisingly, Luke does not identify the "he" in this passage, but it clearly seems like Paul to me. After all, Paul was the one preaching the incredibly long sermon. Why would Eutychus suddenly pick up and start talking until daylight? Plus, verse 10 starts with, "Paul went down, " and verse 11 starts with, "Then he went upstairs again." It just seems like Paul. Verse 12 does say that "the people took the young man home alive." But if verse 11 is about Paul, then the text never really says much about Eutychus, except that he was taken home. It's almost like Paul realized he was alive, and then left him down there and went back and finished his sermon. I don't know. Maybe it was just me, but that whole scene was written really strangely. It was not Luke-like at all to me, and the thing was, Luke was there! This is one of his firsthand accounts!

Also, why did Paul send his entourage in a boat and then travel by himself on foot (13)? That was weird.

Lastly, I found several of the things that Paul said to the Ephesian elders to be pretty cool. For one, I loved verse 24: "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." Now, that is a radically Christian perspective. I think we have definitely lost that somewhere along the way. Speaking of God's grace, I also thought it was interesting that Paul-the-former-murderer was able to say, "Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men" (26). What a powerful statement. Sometimes I forget that God's forgiveness covers us so completely that we are truly made innocent. That's crazy. And lastly, I loved Paul's statement in verse 35: "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.''' What I love about that verse is that it both reinforces the need to work hard and the need to be generous. Of course those two go hand in hand, but so often in politics, I tend to see one being exalted far above the other.

Psalm 148: 1-14

Another praise psalm, citing God's natural creation.

Proverbs 18:6-7

Two verses on the dangers of foolish people's speech. Both emphasize the dangers for them, not for other people.

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