OT: I Chron. 4:5-5:17
More genealogy today, and as usual, I am totally lost. But that's okay, b/c I am going to talk about Jabez the whole time.
First of all, how weird is it that Jabez is just thrown in the middle of this genealogy? I didn't realize that these are literally the only two verses about him in the Bible. He is not even listed in the genealogy itself! Seriously, I have no idea where this story came from. Who is Jabez? We know nothing about him. We don't even have a good idea of his righteousness. All that Scripture says is that he was more righteous than his brothers. Well, maybe that's not saying much. I don't get the impression that too many people were righteous in those days.
Of course, the main reason that Jabez stood out to me was that his prayer was used to make a man very, very wealthy through a Prayer of Jabez book series. I had serious misgivings about the concept at the time, as it sounded like just another version of the "health and wealth" gospel. And now reading through the Bible this year, all my misgivings have proven very well-founded, in my mind. Allow me to tee off on this for a moment.
First of all, the idea that you can lift an obscure prayer out of the Bible and use it as a magic charm makes it seem like the Bible is a book of incantation. Why don't I write a book called The Prayer of Hezekiah, and tell everyone with a terminal disease to boldly pray for another fifteen years? Because that was Hezekiah's prayer, not mine!
Even more than that, though, the thought that we should pray Jabez's prayer for ourselves bothers me b/c I am seeing such an evolution of awareness b/t the OT and the NT. The NT Christians' level of understanding of the kingdom of God far surpassed that of the OT Israelites. And that is not the fault of the OT'ers, necessarily; it is just that the NT'ers had received a much fuller revelation. And when the NT'ers pray, they do not pray for God to bless them and expand their territory. And they certainly don't pray to be free from harm and pain. Rather, they pray for God's Kingdom to come, His will to be done. They pray for boldness in the face of persecution. They pray for the gospel to spread throughout the world. To suggest that we post-NT Christians should revert back to the limited (and often self-serving) view of OT Israelites is ridiculous to me.
Of course, one logical objection to my rant is the psalms. Do I not believe that we should pray the psalms? I absolutely believe that we should pray the psalms...when they are in line with an NT understanding of God's kingdom and His will. I do not believe that we should pray for God to break our enemies' teeth. I am not even sure that we should grovel for our lives, though I guess that we should be honest before God. But the bottom line is, I believe our goal as Christians is to get past this ultimately selfish concern for our lives, our comfort, our safety. Our number one concern, and our number one prayer should be that God's kingdom will come on this earth, regardless of what that means for our own safety and comfort.
My thoughts are evolving and refining as I write, but I'm only going to confuse myself and any readers by going further, so I'll stop here. I'll just conclude by saying that I will not be praying the prayer of Jabez anytime soon.
NT: Acts 25: 1-27
Man, Paul's adversaries do not give up, do they? Two years later, and they are still hatching assassination plots and clamoring for his death! I must say, I very much enjoyed reading about all these machinations and especially reading about the interchanges between the Romans. I love getting outside views of Christians, and I found Festus' synopsis of the dispute around Paul to be fascinating: "When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive" (18-19). A dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. What a summation. No wonder these men were intrigued! This whole situation had to seem incredibly bizarre to them. And I wonder if Festus' wording indicates that he thought that Jesus really was dead (after all, they probably had records of his execution), or if he was simply presenting the Sanhedrin's side of the case. Anyhow, as a result of his confusion, Festus later admitted that he had nothing to write about him to Caesar (26-27). He was apparently hoping that this discussion between Paul and Agrippa would enlighten him on a few points.
I also wonder how in the world Luke had such a detailed knowledge of the interchange between Agrippa and Festus before Paul was present. Perhaps someone had relayed it to Paul while he was in prison there?
I love the idea of laying our requests before God each morning and then waiting in expectation for God to answer them (3). That is a beautiful picture of faith.
I also loved verse 4: "You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell." Sometimes, people see God's bloodshed itself as unfair or even evil. A viewpoint of faith in God, however, does not judge God by the same standards that He puts on humans. God has the right to take away life b/c He is the one who gave the life. Likewise, He sets the standards for our behavior, not His. He is the one who gave us the ideas of justice and mercy; He defines them. I remember a frustrating conversation with my brother once when he was railing against God's unfairness, and I kept trying to tell him that He would have no understanding of fair and unfair if it weren't for God. And that God doesn't have to play by our rules. When He punishes the wicked, or allows sin to exist in the world, He is not being "unfair." He is being God. This is a hard pill to swallow (as much for me as for anyone else, believe me), but I believe that it is absolutely essential to understand if you are going to maintain a faith in spite of the pain and suffering on this earth.
In our Sunday night small group, we are reading an ominously-titled book called The Bait of Satan, which is all about "offense." So far, the thesis of the book seems to be that satan uses "offense" as a major tool to divide God's kingdom. And the book is all about how we are not to allow ourselves to indulge the feeling of being offended, because being offended gives the devil a foothold, I guess you could say. Anyhow, the author has already used this proverb in his book: "An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel." It supports his point nicely.