Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 18

OT: Isaiah 28:14-30:11

Hmmm...I think I'm just going to take this one from top, and single out the different verses and sections that jumped out at me:

28: 14-19--What is the "covenant with death" that the people made, and why would they think a covenant with death would protect you from death?

28:20--I like the image of a bed that "is too short to stretch out on," and a blanket that is "too narrow to wrap around you." Taken in the context of the preceding verses, I picture this metaphor as applying to our human efforts to protect and secure ourselves. We can try by our own efforts to make a bed for ourselves, so to speak, but it will never be adequate for true rest.

28:23-29--Isaiah seems to apply that man's knowledge of farming, even the practical details of it, comes directly from God. This reminds me of conversations I have with my son. He knows that God made trees and mountains and clouds and all that, but he also sometimes claims that God made cars and houses and other man-made stuff. The way I explain it to him is that man made those things, but God gave him the brains to do it.

29:1-10--Isaiah delivers a grim prophecy to the city of Ariel.

29: 11-12--I thought these verses were interesting. Although I assume that Isaiah openly prophesied the earlier words to Ariel, he claims nevertheless that, "For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll," words that they are unable to read. It reminds me of the idea of being ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing, but never perceiving. Often, the simple truth can be right in front of our faces, but our hardness of heart keeps us from seeing it. Thinking of that makes me wonder about the ways that I am currently blind to those kinds of obvious truth.

29: 13-16--This passage was full of familiar imagery, all of which was borrowed from it and used in the New Testament. Jesus quoted verse 13 in Matthew 15:9 when talking about the Pharisees. Paul quotes verse 14 in I Corinthians 1 when he talks about how God frustrates man's wisdom. Paul also alludes to verse 16 in his defense of predestination, when he says, "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" (Romans 9:20-21).

30:1-7--Isaiah chastises the people for forming an alliance with Egypt. I guess that this alliance is particularly insulting to God because Egypt was their former oppressor, from whom God delivered them. God makes clear that they would have been better off to form an alliance with Him, as Egypt is sure to fail them. In a particularly colorful phrase, God declares that "I call her Rahab the Do-Nothing" (7).

30:10-11--There just seems to be something universally applicable to human nature in these verses:

"They say to the seers,
'See no more visions!'
and to the prophets,
'Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
prophesy illusions.
Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel.'"

I think that there is something inherently offensive about God to us humans. As much as we long for some eternal purpose, we also long to be master of our own universe, and God shuts us down on that point. Instead, we are confronted with a force outside of ourselves, who defines our purpose for us, and commands us to lay our own lives and desires and dreams at His feet. He also gives us a demanding standard of righteousness that does not usually mesh well with our natural instincts. Thus, when confronted with the reality of a God who does all these things, our tendency is to say, "stop confronting us/ with the Holy One of Israel." Instead, we want to hear that we can basically continue doing whatever we want; in other words, we desire pleasant things and illusions.

NT: Galatians 3:23-4:31

First of all, as a Christian who firmly believes in the importance of baptism, I loved verses 26-27: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." I also found it interesting how that verse runs right into the famously egalitarian verse 28, which declares, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In some ways, Christianity is the great leveler. It doesn't matter what your background or income or ethnicity or gender is; in Christ, we are all part of the same body. As much as I love this verse, however, and as much as I believe in the deep, central truth of it, I also see how it could be misapplied. Paul is not saying that there is no difference between Jews and Greeks, slaves or free, male nor female, and he is not denying that we all have different roles to play in the body of Christ. On the contrary, Paul repeatedly asserts in his letters that we do play different roles. He even goes so far as to instruct slaves to embrace their roles and not to let slavery bother them, which honestly sounds pretty crazy to me. And he clearly describes different roles for men and women, though I've acknowledged in earlier blogs that there is some debate over how and to what degree those instructions are currently applicable. So I don't think that Paul is contradicting those many passages. Rather, I think he is making a statement on identity and worth. As Christians, our core identity is found not in our social roles, but in Christ Jesus. And as such, we all have equal worth in Him. Different roles, but equal worth.

I've also decided that Paul is the king of metaphors. He makes two extended metaphors in this passage to describe the relationship between followers of the Law and followers of Christ. The first is to do with children before they receive their inheritance. The child who has not yet received his inheritance represents the one who follows the Law. The child who is at the age where he comes into his inheritance is the one who follows Christ. The second involves Ishmael and Isaac. I'll let you guess which boy stands for which group:).

Also, I thought Paul's allusion to his "illness" was quite interesting. I know a lot has been read into verse 15, where Paul says, "I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." This has made many people think that Paul is saying that something was wrong with his eyes when he visited the Galatians. Support for this theory is found in the fact that Paul apparently couldn't write his own letters much of the time, and when he did write, his words were very large (Gal. 6:11). If he truly was suffering from an eye problem, I wonder if it was some kind of residual effect from being blinded by God for three days. Hmmm...

At the same time, he twice refers to his condition as an illness, and it appears to have been a passing phenomenon. Are eye conditions illnesses? Do they come and go? That doesn't sound right to me. So maybe it is something else.

Psalm 62:1-12

This psalm is kind of in sync with our passage in Isaiah. It is all about how God alone is our refuge. We should turn to Him alone (and not Egypt, for example) in times of trouble.

Like last time, I also loved verse 9:

"Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath."

I always love these type of verses when I read them, and then when I actually type them out, I think, "I am such a weirdo! Who likes these depressing kinds of verses?" I guess I just really love "big picture" verses. I like to see the big picture of life, and these verses provide me with sweeping vistas.

Prov. 23: 19-21

I like the image in verse 19 of keeping one's heart on the right path.

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