Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15

OT: I Chron. 19:1-21:30

Well, well. It would appear that the chronicler has done a bit of "cleaning up," as one of my Bible professors once put it.

First of all, and maybe I'm wrong, but isn't chapter 20 about where the David and Bathsheba story should go? 2 Samuel 11 starts pretty much the same way this chapter starts. The 2 Samuel passage goes: "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem" ( 2 Samuel 11:1). And just so we're all on the same page, here is the first verse of I Chron. 20: "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, Joab led out the armed forces. He laid waste the land of the Ammonites and went to Rabbah and besieged it, but David remained in Jerusalem. Joab attacked Rabbah and left it in ruins."

In 2 Samuel, the author follows that verse up with the sordid tale of David and Bathsheba. The chronicler, on the other hand, opts not to go that route and instead follows up with a tale of David's military victory.

That was nothing, however, compared to the first verse of the next chapter. When I got to 21:1, I was like, "WHOA! Hold the phone!" Okay, I didn't actually say that, and I don't actually know what "hold the phone" means, but I was extremely startled by the first verse: "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census." Satan. Now, I'm sure we all remember 2 Samuel's version, but let's compare again, for the sake of accuracy: "Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go and take a census of Israel and Judah'" (2 Sam. 24:1). Again, whoa. In 2 Samuel, it is God who incites David. In Chronicles, it is Satan. What do I think about that? I don't know--what do you think about that? Does that seem like a contradiction to you? If every word of the Bible is literally true, then what do we do with these two verses? I have no answers, only questions.

Though I will say this: I like the Chronicles version better. It's easier, you know? 2 Samuel is hard. It is complex. You have good guys (David, God) doing bad things, and it might make you wonder if they are still good guys. Chronicles smooths all that out for us. The good guys do good things. (Well, okay, David forces his prisoners into labor, and God does kill 70,000 Israelites, both of which kind of sound abhorrent to a modern unbeliever, I'm sure. After all, I'm not sure what do with them as a modern believer. But I'm getting off track. Focus, Kim.) My point is, I like life simple, and I like truth simple. And apparently, the chronicler is with me on that one. And yet, from my experience, life and truth don't work that way. They are knotty and complicated. They are hard to work out sometimes. And over and over this year, I have had to ask myself, "What do you do with things that you don't 'get'? What do you do with the things you can't work out in your head?" And honestly, in most areas besides faith, my answer is to throw in the towel. I will openly say that I don't 'get' politics. I just don't feel that I have enough information to intelligently assess what is going on in our government and our economy, and there is so much "noise" around the issue, that my reaction is to slough the whole thing off. I don't want to hear about it, I don't want to read about it. Same with "drama." When big, thorny conflicts come up in my community, I know that I usually can't understand all the motivations and factors involved, so I'd rather not hear about it at all.

And yet, I can't do that with my faith. When I read something I don't understand in the Bible, I can't walk away from it. I have to dig in there and work through it. And often, I do have to simply fall back on, "God is bigger than I am." Often, I do have to revert to a position of humility and, ultimately, ignorance. As a finite human, after all, I am largely ignorant of God's plans and His ways, other than the ones He chooses to share with me. I'm starting to ramble, but the point is, I'm beginning to understand that it is good for me to be confused by the Bible sometimes. My confusion teaches me not to walk away just because I don't understand something. It trains me to hang in there and dig and not to give up just because something is complicated. It makes me use my brain in ways that I don't want to, b/c my brain wants to be lazy.

That said, I still don't know what to make of the God/Satan discrepancy. Any thoughts?

NT: Romans 2:25-3:8

Well, I'm glad that this passage was short b/c it was thorny and knotted and complicated to me, just like I was talking about in the OT section. Nothing seems contradictory or anything, but I had to take a moment to wrap my head about what Paul is talking about with the "law."

Now, we all remember the Law. It was that long lists of regulations in the Pentateuch. Off the top of my head, the Law told the people...oh...not to eat shellfish, not to wear clothing of various types of material, and for women to isolate themselves from society during their periods. I know there were tons of other, more universal-sounding laws, but those are the type that stick with me when I think of "law." Okay, with that in mind, let's revisit a few verses from yesterday's reading:

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)" (Romans 2: 13-15).

I LOVE these verses b/c they open a door to the universal nature of God's law, as well as to the possibility of salvation for those who have never heard the gospel. And yet, when I think about those verses in terms of the law that I read in the OT, I get confused. I mean, were there people out there whose consciences told them not to eat shellfish, and not to wear "mixed" clothing, and not to be around people during their periods? Does your conscience really tell you things like that?

Depending on your perspective, today's passage either furthers your confusion or gives you a key to interpretation. For me, it did the latter. In today's passage, Paul starts talking about true righteousness and its relation to the law. True righteousness seems very much related to the law, he has not yet said one thing against the law, and yet, Paul maintains that it can come apart from the law. Verse 27 articulates all this better than I just did: "The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker."

Now, that all sounds good, but think about it for a second: How can you not be circumcised and still obey the law? The law says to BE circumcised! It's as simple as that!

I know I might sound obtuse right now, but bear with me...I'm gaining a lot of insight into the law through this train of thought. Paul seems to be clearly saying here that you can obey the law, even without obeying all of its external regulations, like circumcision, dietary restraints, clothing regulations, and rules on uncleanness. And in light of the entire OT, that's a pretty crazy concept! I don't think that the Israelites understood those regulations as symbolic. They were physical rules that you had to follow.

All of this correlates to my theory of God's evolving relationship with man. God doesn't change, and His purposes don't change...but man does change and grow. And God relates to man on man's level. He starts off on a very physical level with man, but the physical stuff is meant to point to deeper spiritual stuff. And ultimately, a lot of the physical stuff falls away, and God reveals that the heart of His law can be followed even by people who have never heard of His law. Because God's law is more than what food you eat, or what clothes you wear, or even (heaven help me) the specific way you worship or the sign in front of your church building. God's law is so much deeper than those external markers. It is something that can be understood by everyone, of every tribe and tongue, b/c it is ultimately written on everyone's heart. It is perhaps similar to what Enlightenment thinkers called, natural law.

Hmmm...I must think further on this, but my brain is feeling quite empty now, and as my friend Courtney would say, "If the Spirit isn't giving you anything to say, then that's your sign to shut up":).

Psalm 11: 1-7

A psalm in which David takes refuge in God, who takes vengeance on the wicked.

Proverbs 19:10-12

I liked verse 11, and I'm pretty sure it was used in our Sunday night study on "offense":

"A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense."


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  2. Well, I have thoughts on the God/Satan thing, but they're probably pretty obvious. =) The chronicler had an agenda, and that agenda involved smoothing over the tough things in history.

    Although, again obviously, I do not buy into the idea of divine inspiration, there are models of Biblical inspiration which better explain discrepancies like this.

    Geisler and Nix talk about Biblical revelation and inspiration at length in their A General Introduction to the Bible (a book with an extreme conservative bias but which is still useful). To summarize the table that summarizes their discussion, different theories of revelation take on the range:


    mechanical dictation - God reveals himself in individual words dictated to the Biblical author

    verbal dictation - God reveals himself in individual words by shaping the writer's style

    verbal inspiration - God reveals himself in words holistically (i.e., idea by idea, not word for word) through a supernatural process of inspiration

    conceptual inspiration - God reveals himself in concepts which the writer puts into his own words

    instrumental revelation - God reveals himself through the writer's own words which God "elevates"

    personal revelation - God reveals himself in acts which the writer records and interprets based on his own cultural and personal background

    illumination - God illuminates the minds of the Biblical authors but in no way tells them what to right (i.e., the Biblical authors are people particularly close to God, but they write on their own)

    intuitionalism - the Biblical authors have an intuitive knowledge of God and write from that perspective


    The last four allow for inconsistencies like the Satan/God inconsistency here. One could make a compelling case that the two before that also would allow for inconsistencies like this.

    It is also worth noting that, according to Harris's Understanding the Bible, in the Hebrew scriptures, Satan (or "the satan" as the Hebrew says) was never painted as God's enemy. Rather, he was God's accuser against humanity, the prosecuting attorney in the ongoing trial of humanity.

    Given that, one way to reconcile the change from God to Satan in this passage is to interpret the chonicler changing from direct action by God to an action on the part of one of God's servants (like the evil spirit which taunted Saul).

  3. Wow, Erika, thanks! That really helps. I might have to look into those books b/c I am in serious need of an OT commentary/guide (as you can probably tell).

    And I kid you not, my husband, Greg, was telling me that "accuser" stuff not 15 minutes ago. I thought the OT use of "the satan" was fascinating, and it actually did help me begin to understand the discrepancy.

    Thanks for your help, and for all the useful info!

  4. I agree with Kim..that was a great explanation Erika! Thanks!

    I have always really wondered about that concept of "divine inspiration" ...that comment makes me want to delve deeper.

  5. I would definitely recommend Harris's Understanding the Bible book for a general overview. I am about half way through it, and it has been super helpful. That said, I chose the Harris book because (a) it was a textbook which covered the Old and New Testament in 1 volume, (b) it was well rated on Amazon, and (c) it was available from my local library. I am guessing any textbook which meets (a) and (b) would do just as well.

    The Geisler and Nix book may also be helpful but it focuses more on the process of inspiration, canonization, transmission, and translation and spends very little discussing the actual content of the Bible except for in so far as it relates to those issues.

    And since you've got me started on books...

    Joel Hoffman's And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning was an interesting look into the process of translation, although, as I say in my review, it is not without its flaws.

    Both Karen Armstrong's A History of God and The Bible: A Biography are fascinating. Karen Armstrong is a master storyteller who knows her stuff. A History of God looks at the history of the idea of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is fascinating to see how much they influenced each other.

    I am only halfway through The Bible: A Biography, but that book is equally fascinating. Armstrong tells the story of how the Bible came to be. In many ways, it is like the story version of the information in Harris's textbook. For those of us doing the one year Bible project, I would recommend both, but for people who want something less intense, Armstrong's book is the one I would recommend for learning about authorship and history in an easy-to-read book.

    It is worth pointing out that although Armstrong presents a balanced view of the subject she discusses, she is quietly clear about which movements and interpretive traditions she feels more sympathy for. Given her deep knowledge of multiple religious traditions, it is not surprising that she leans towards interpretations which lean toward the universal.

    (I've sure been dumping a lot of words on your blog lately =)

  6. Wow, Erika, thanks for the recommendations. I am seriously going to look into the Harris book, the Armstrong one, and Geisler and Nix. It sounds like Harris and Armstrong are who I most need write now, but I am very interested the the material you described with Geisler and Nix. And good idea about checking the library. That seems obvious, but my first impulse would be to buy the books. I'd rather check them out first, if that is possible. I'll let you know if I end up reading them.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to share some of your information!