Wednesday, August 4, 2010

August 4

OT: 2 Chron. 35:1-36:23

To me, 2 Chronicles really ended on a high note. I can't believe that I am actually sad to see it go!

The last reading of the book centered around Josiah and the exile. First, Josiah throws one heckuva Passover celebration, one which dwarves all the Passovers before it, all the way back to the time of the prophet, Samuel! What was most impressive to me was how Josiah donated so many animals for the people's sacrifices. It was his generosity (and that of his officials) that allowed the celebration to be so big. I thought that the chronicler did a good job of magnifying Josiah's Passover celebration, even after he had focused so admiringly on Hezekiah's.

I also had to look back at yesterday's passage b/c it seemed from today's reading that Judah was carried into exile because of the sins of Josiah's successors. I thought that was odd, since I remembered the Kings account making it clear that God had planned the exile even before Josiah came to power. But yesterday's reading straightened it out for me. As in Kings, God told Josiah that "I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am goin to bring on this place and on those who live here" (2 Chron. 34:28).

Still, Josiah's death seems so random. He went out pointlessly to war with someone who didn't even want to fight him, got wounded, and died. I can't tell from the text whether God orchestrated his death or not. On the one hand, you could argue that God arranged the situation in order to spare Josiah, as promised. On the other hand, the text says that God had commanded Neco to warn Josiah against fighting him, so you could argue that God was trying to spare him (35:21-22). Regardless, Josiah made the choice to fight anyway.

If you can't tell, my thoughts on Paul's predestination section have ironically brought me back around to the sovereignty of choice that God gives us. I have been focusing so far on how in control God seems to be of every situation. And though I still firmly believer that's true, more so than I ever have before, my mind has been opened to the idea of how God's control and our free will can exist side by side. It is all mind-bending and a little beyond me, but I have what I believe to be a tenuous grasp on it for now.

A few other final notes:

--Does the reference in to "the Laments" in 35:25 refer to Lamentations? Jeremiah wrote Lamentations, didn't he?

--I thought it was interesting how firmly the chronicler seeks to establish that God sent the people into exile only after He gave them opportunity after opportunity to repent. The text says, "The Lord, the God of their Fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place" (36:15).

--I like how the chronicler portrays the land as happy to see the people go. He says, "The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed..." (21). Environmental types would love that imagery:). I do love how the Bible speaks of the land. You definitely sense an awe and a respect for God's creation in so many of the writers, as well as a conviction that man's violence and bloodshed "pollutes the land," as we have read so often before.

--I loved how the book ended. It was genius. The last words of the book are of Cyrus' proclamation to the captives, telling them that they can return: "Anyone of his people among you--may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up" (23). The ending is sudden, and yet it provides sufficient closure. Masterful, I tell you. If only the beginning of Chronicles had had the same dramatic thrust as the end!

NT: I Corinthians 1:1-17

Well, one book ends, and another begins: today, we start the letter to the Corinthians. And I've gotta say, I read all those nice opening lines with a grain of salt, knowing how Paul is about to light into the crazy church of Corinth. I do like that Paul tends to start on a positive note in his letters. He talks about how he thanks God for the Corinthians (4), how God has enriched their speaking and knowledge (5), how they do not lack any spiritual gift (7), and how God will keep them strong to the end (8). And I truly don't think Paul is just schmoozing them here, his subsequent smackdown notwithstanding. On the contrary, I can see how all these things would be true, despite the problems in Corinth, and I applaud Paul for finding the positive.

The positive only lasts about nine verses, however, before Paul starts trying to intervene in their mistakes. For one thing, the church is divided. Plus, it is divided in a really bizarre way, apparently into camps based on who baptized whom. Paul, of course, considers such division to be utterly ridiculous and asks rhetorically, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" (13). Well. When you put it that way...

For a Christian who believes in the utmost importance of baptism, I found Paul's statements in verses 14 and 17 to be somewhat befuddling. In verse 14, he says that he is "thankful that I did not baptize any of you" before listing a few exceptions. Now, I guess that is understandable, given the nature of their disputes. But then he takes it a step further in verse 17: "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel..." What the what? Aren't those two things kind of...interrelated? Didn't Jesus himself tell us to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you?" (Matt. 28:19-20a). So...isn't baptizing part of preaching the Gospel?

That's kind of a conundrum. It doesn't keep me awake at night or anything, but I would like to know exactly what Paul meant by that. Any ideas?

Oooh, oooh! I just had a flash! It seems that the Corinthians were focusing on the shallow, external parts of baptism, such as who baptized you. And Paul's point was that the point of the Gospel is not immersion in and of itself, but rather in the deeper truths of baptism, of being buried with Christ and raised to a new life. Strictly speaking, Paul's job was not to baptize. It is to preach the Gospel, and baptism can only be understood in the light of that fuller picture. So that's where I stand on this moment:).

Psalm 27:1-6

I like this psalm of David. Rather than beg for his life, he expresses confidence in God. Of course, it doesn't appear from the psalm that there are any enemies currently breathing down his neck. All of the trials he mentions seem very hypothetical at this point. Thus, he can focus on the more elevated parts of Judaism. He can say that all he desires is to "dwell in the house of the Lord" and "to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord" (4). And really, I am not so much doubting David right now as I am seeing myself in him. I have no enemies breathing down my neck, no threats on my life or livlihood, and so it is easier to pursue more "elevated" (I guess you could say) forms of Christianity. "God for God's sake," instead of, "God HELP me right now and keep me alive another day!" I note all this b/c I do think I have been a bit judgmental lately about people in the Bible who are desperate for God to save them on a physical level. Who's to say that I wouldn't be the same way? I'd like to think I'd be like those NT Christians whose only concern seemed to be the furtherance of God's kingdom, but I haven't exactly been put to the test....

Proverbs 20:20-21

One proverb warning against cursing one's parents, and another warning against easy money.

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