OT: Nehemiah 5:14-7:60
I will resist the urge to go big and metaphorical again today, even though I totally could. I love taking the metaphorical view, but I don't want to do disservice to the actual history here.
Plus, this seems like one of the few books we have read in which everything has gone well! I mean, there was that whole "marrying foreigners" thing, but the people truly repented of it. And some people were charging usury, but they repented, too. And Ezra and Nehemiah have seemed completely upright the whole time (though part of me wonders if the first person narration doesn't have something to do with that).
Rather than dwell on "big picture" implications today, I delighted in the details of the wording. For some reason, I loved when Nehemiah replied, "Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head" (6:8). It was the phrase, "making it up out of your head" that got me. I also thought it was interesting when Nehemiah described Shemaiah as being "shut in at his home" (10). Is that where we get the phrase, "shut ins"? Was Shemaiah a "shut in" like we use the term? Was he too old/sick/weak to come out of his house? Because that question was on my mind as I read it, I did see that he proposed to meet Nehemiah in the temple, which makes me think he wasn't a total "shut in."
I also liked the description of Hanani, who "was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do" (7:2).
And lastly, I liked that, like Solomon, the exiles rebuilt the temple and the walls first, and then worked on their own individual homes (4).
NT: 1 Cor. 8:1-13
I love these first three verses: "Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he out to know. But the man who loves God is known by God." Those verses encouraged me; they made me feel like it was okay that I feel like a complete idiot most of the time, who hardly knows a thing. And they reminded me of a similar quote that I recently read from John Adams, in a letter he wrote his granddaughter: "You are not singular in your suspicions that you know but little. The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know...Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. That is enough. So questions and so answers your affectionate grandfather." I love how both John Adams (who, of course, was alluding to the fabulous Micah 6:8) and Paul make similar points. They say that while knowledge is important, it is not the most important thing. And that's good, b/c we can't know, we will never know, all that we long to know. But we can love God and love others. And that is the most important thing.
But of course, as the chapter makes clear, those opening verses are not an argument in themselves, but rather a platform to discuss how Christians are supposed to exercise their beliefs within the church. Specifically, Paul is discussing the various views within the church on idols. As always, Paul refuses to be totally relativistic. He affirms that there is a truth in the situation, which is that "an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one" (4). At the same time, Paul claims that the objective truth is not the most important part of the situation. The most important part is people's hearts. He understands that "not everyone knows" the objective truth (7), and that it is the state of the heart, and not the objective truth itself, that determines whether or not someone sins or acts faithfully. According to Paul, even if you know the truth (that idols are nothing) and do the "right" thing (in good conscience, eat meat sacrificed to them), but have no regard for your weaker brothers, you sin. So...you can know the right answer and act according to the right answer, but still sin. It seems in this case, then, that the Christians were not judged by their knowledge of the objective right answer, but by their love for others.
I had to stop and let that sink in for a minute. That is profound.
At the same time, my ever-cantankerous brain has a question about this line of reasoning. The theme of this chapter, and of Romans 14, seems to be that those who are strong should serve the weaker brothers by respecting their erroneous, yet honest, beliefs. Okay, I got that. But...is there a line? Can't you get to a point with that logic where the weak essentially rule the church? Where we can't do anything new or bold b/c some "weaker brother" might object?
I guess that you can't really codify Paul's words here, and make them into a pat set of rules that apply in the same way to every situation. And I guess that's why God instituted the positions of elders and deacons to figure out how these words do apply in all the different situations that come up in the life of a congregation. And that is why I am so thankful that my church has great leadership, and why I pray often for the wisdom of those people. It is not always an easy job to apply the truth of scripture to the turbulence of real life.
This is a happy psalm, and I especially love the imagery of God's creation. I especially love the image of God gathering "the waters of the sea into jars" and putting "the deep into storehouses" (8). Cool.
The first proverb seems so simple as to border on redundancy:
"The way of the guilty is devious,
but the conduct of the innocent is upright."
You think? And yet, even though that verse seemed totally obvious to me, I do see the application. First of all, it made me think of Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was a brilliant man, and he had some good ideas, but the first sign to me that he was trouble was his deviousness. Maybe it is me, but when someone is sneaky and deceptive, it sends up a red flag, even if I agree with their beliefs. And I didn't agree with a lot that Hamilton said, but I have agreed with subsequent politicians, only to be dismayed by their underhanded tactics.