Sunday, October 31, 2010
Wow, Lamentations has got to be the saddest book in the world! Here are some of the more chilling images from today's reading:
"Because of thirst the infant's tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them" (4:4).
"With her own hands compassionate women
have cooked their own children,
who became their food
when my people were destroyed" (4:10).
"Our skin is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been ravished in Zion,
and virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes have been hung up by their hands;
elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of wood" (5: 10-13).
Wow. One thing about the Bible is that it tends not to skip over the ugliness of Israel's history. It would be easy enough to say that God punished them for their sins and then gloss over the brutal effects. But no. Scripture dwells on the dark side of Israel's history. It's not just this suffering. It's the whole history--the leaders' hypocrisies, the people's sins, the nation's misadventures, the rampant immorality...all the bad sides are highlighted. And yeah, you get a gloss in Chronicles, but Samuel exposes even what Chronicles skipped over.
It's quite an amazing history, when you think about it. Modern history would, I'm sure, consider it to be ethnocentric (to put it mildly), but I think some of our own history books could learn a lesson or two from the Bible's "warts and all" approach.
That said, it does not make it an easy book to read. Like all of Lamentations so far, today's passage was wrenching.
NT: Hebrews 2:1-18
There is a lot I could say about this reading, but I think I'll concentrate on a thought about these two verses:
"In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (8-9).
For a couple of years now, I have been fascinated by the idea of kingdom of God. I've wondered what it was, specifically, and have studied basically everything that Scripture has to say about it. I might have already shared this, but my current opinion on the kingdom of God is that it is anywhere that God reigns supreme. That's why heaven is the only full version of the kingdom of God, and also why Jesus tells his followers that the kingdom of God is within them. God reigns in the hearts of Christians, and He fully reigns in heaven, and so His kingdom is any place where He is in total control. Yes, He is "in control" of everything, since He is all powerful, but with His decision to give us free will, He voluntarily renounced some of His control. And thus, His Kingdom is not in most of our world, which is populated by people who do not serve Him. Verse 8 backs up these ideas. It maintains that even though all things are ultimately subject to God, "at present, we do not see everything subject to him." So true.
BUT. But we see Jesus. In Jesus, we see a glimpse of the fullness of the kingdom of God, a fullness that we will never see in this world. And in his life, we see how that kingdom comes: Jesus is "now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death" (9). By willingly dying to Himself (quite literally, I might add), Jesus entered God's kingdom and is now "crowned with glory and honor." He also paved the way for us, made it so that we, too, can enter God's kingdom. As God's Spirit purifies us and teaches us to die to ourselves on a daily basis, as He teaches us to be more and more like Christ, God's kingdom comes more and more into our hearts, and we then live as citizens of that kingdom, even in the midst of this sinful world.
So...that's my metaphysical thought of the day. Like I said earlier, the rest of Hebrews had some good stuff, too:). Although, I will say that he quotes OT scripture in some really interesting ways...
This is a really good one. I love verses 2-4:
"Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits--
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."
It also makes for an interesting counterpoint to Lamentations!
"Like a coating of glaze over earthenware
are fervent lips within an evil heart."
That actually took me a little while to get, but I see now that it's saying that fervent lips gloss over an evil heart and make it look better, just like a coating of glaze makes earthenware look better. I guess.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
It's all about Psalms today! First, this whole reading in Lamentations struck me as one loooong psalm. From 2:20-3:20, Jeremiah takes us into the pit with him. Like yesterday, I was so saddened by my reading. I just thought Jeremiah did a very effective job conveying sorrow. And I just kept wondering, is there going to be any upside to this?
The upside comes in 3:21 and following. In fact, verse 21-23 are quite famous:
"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness."
Man, hearing those verses in context makes them so much more powerful. Given Jeremiah's circumstances, it is amazing that he can say that!
The hopeful vibe continues through 42, when it gets bleak again. But in the positive section, Jeremiah says a couple things that caught my attention. First, he says that God "does not willingly bring affliction/or grief to the children of men" (33). I appreciate that. Of course, it fits in well with Jeremiah's theory that the destruction brought on the people was the result of their own sin. And it is good to understand that punishment is not something that gives God pleasure.
I also thought the phrase, "to deny a man his rights," in verse 35 was fascinating. I would love to know what Jeremiah considers to be rights. I have struggled with how the idea of "rights" fits into the biblical picture of man and his role. And so my curiosity was definitely peaked at a prophet talking about a man's rights. Interesting.
In verse 52, Jeremiah transitions rather abruptly to his suffering at the hands of personal enemies. Again, it all sounded very psalm-like to me.
NT: Hebrews 1:1-14
A new book! And it's one that we can all agree that we don't know who the author is!:) In the first part of chapter one, the Hebrew writer starts making a case for the supremacy of Christ as God's chosen method of communication to us. In doing so, he quotes several psalms...
...and one of them is our psalm of the day! Can you imagine how excited the editors of this book were when that lined up? I know they had to be thrilled. This psalm itself sounds a lot like a condensed version of Lamentations, and particularly like the part where Jeremiah starts describing his personal enemies. Like Lamentations, though, it contains an affirmation of God's love and goodness.
Oh, and one more thing about the NT reading: I really liked and was intrigued by verse 14: "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" I love that picture of angels. I know next to nothing about angels, of course, and it's something that you probably can't talk about too much without sounding silly, but I love the idea of angels ministering to me. I wonder how that works...
Regarding quarrels and gossip.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Okay, I'm going to be a slacker and not research this book (I'm way too tired). But I am going to guess who wrote it. Hmmm, let's see...it's either Jeremiah or Ezekiel. Isn't Jeremiah the weeping prophet? Did I read something about him writing it when I read Jeremiah? I think so. I'm going with Jeremiah.
Argh. Now I have to check.
Yep, Jeremiah. At least, it's Jeremiah according to the first thing that popped up on my yahoo search:).
In that case, I'd say that this book gives a unique window into the prophet's personal sorrow over the sack of Jerusalem. In the earlier book, he didn't seem happy or anything, but his tone was one of warning and frustration, rather than sorrow per se. But here, you just see the sadness. And the images of Jerusalem are haunting:
"My eyes fail from weeping,
I am in torment within,
my heart is poured out on the ground
because my people are destroyed,
because children and infants faint in the streets of the city" (2:11).
"Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presences of the Lord
Life up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
at the head of every street" (19).
Oh, man. That is so awful. I have a thing about kids suffering. I'm sure most people do, but...man, that's just awful.
And also, I thought Jeremiah conveyed his sorrow really well in verse 11. I was particularly moved by the image of his heart being poured out on the ground. Very vivid. My heart was moved by that whole section.
NT: Philemon 1:1-25
Today, we begin and conclude the book of Philemon. I find this letter to be fascinating. It's like this little personal window into these people's lives. I am always awed by the way Paul "works" Philemon. And I put that in quotes b/c I don't think of it as a negative thing. Rather, I am just impressed with his persuasiveness, with the way he strong arms Philemon at the same time that he puts the ball in Philemon's court, so to speak. I have always wanted to know how the story turned out, but honestly, I can't imagine Philemon doing anything else but accepting Onesimus as a brother, especially since Paul wrote the letter to the whole church:). I mean, really, what else is he going to do?
It also highlights yet another dimension of Paul's views on slavery. He doesn't tell Onesimus to return to his believing master and to be a good slave, a la the letter to Titus. No, he tells Philemon to free him. At least, that's the impression that I got. I guess he didn't just come out and say that, but that was my understanding.
Anyway, an interesting letter, all around.
I like the first three verses, but in some ways, David sounds a bit...a bit haughty in this psalm. I guess you can also read it as zeal for righteousness.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Well, today is our last day of Jeremiah. Oddly, knowing that we are at the end of the book kind of deflated my curiosity about today's time line. I did, however, look at the chronological order in my October 3 post, and it said that the last chapter does go at the end, chronologically speaking. It has the end of the list as: 39: 15-18; chs 32-33; 38:14-39:14; 52:1-30; chs 40-44; 52:31-34. So let's do it this way:
39: 15-18--Jeremiah sends a message to Ebed-Melech the Cushite while "confined in the courtyard of the guard."
chs. 32-33--In the tenth year of Zedekiah and the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah buys a field and promises eventual restoration.
38:14-39:14--Sometime after rescuing Jeremiah from a cistern, Zed comes to him one last time and has a secret conversation where Jeremiah warns him yet again of impending disaster. In chapter 39, the Babylonians break into the city, take captives, burn and plunder, capture Zed, kill his sons and all his officials in front of him, put out his eyes, and take him to Babylon in shackles. They also treat Jeremiah really well.
52:1-30--Basically, the same as above, minus the part about Jeremiah.
chs 40-44--the aftermath in Judah, and the flight to Egypt.
52:31-34--Jehoiachin freed from prison after 37 years.
I was also curious as to where chapter 51 fell in the time line, and my intro puts the whole chunk of prophecies against Babylon (chs 46-51) much nearer to the beginning. I thought that was interesting, given the Babylonians' positive reaction to Jeremiah during the siege. You'd think those words would have turned him against them.
I have more thoughts on the actual content of the material, but my time line digging took way too long. I'll just say that the line, "For the Lord is a God of retribution" got me thinking about the nature of justice and particularly of our innate desire for eye-for-an-eye-style justice. I kind of think that, to some degree, those desires are from God, since He has them, too, and we are made in His image. And yet, He makes clear to us Christians that retribution is His job. And then I started thinking about the need for us to pursue justice while on earth and what that looks like. And I also thought about God's mercy and grace, and how that fits in. And they were all swirly, big picture thoughts, without a lot of coherence to them. So it's probably good that I am quickly running out of blog time:).
NT: Titus 3:1-15
Hmmm, verses 1-2 certainly play into yesterday's theory. Paul stresses the need for "the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men." I can't be sure, but if I had to guess, the reasoning behind these instructions is the same as the reasoning behind the instructions regarding women and slaves: "so that no one would malign the word of God" and to "make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (2:5, 10). To me, there seems to be a clear concern here regarding the outside perception of Christians.
Enough reading between the lines, though. I also like the lines themselves. I personally love these instructions to Christians. For one, they help justify my lack of personal fire about politics:). I love to think about politics, but I just can't muster up the passion to get in there and fight. And these verses suggest to me that perhaps getting in there and fighting isn't our calling as Christians. Or if political involvement is the calling of some, then that involvement should conform to the pattern shown in these verses. And in political discourse, these verses set a pretty high standard!
Psalm 100: 1-5
Another praise psalm. I am really enjoying all of these upbeat psalms.
Prov. 26: 18-19
Against saying that you were "just joking" as an excuse for deception.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
More prophecies against Babylon. I had two main thoughts today:
1) Jeremiah's attitude toward Babylon in these prophecies seems to stand in marked contrast with his earlier attitude. It's not the destruction part; I get that he is saying that Babylon is no longer a tool used by God to punish Israel. Rather, it is the attitude he encourages in the exiles. Apparently speaking for Judah, Jeremiah says,
"'Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured us,
he has thrown us into confusion,
he has made us an empty jar.
Like a serpent he has swallowed us
and filled his stomach with our delicacies,
and then has spewed us out.
May the violence done to our flesh be upon Babylon,'
say the inhabitants of Zion.
'May our blood be on those who live in Babylonia,'
says Jerusalem" (34-35).
Needless to say, this tone sounds different than the one struck in 29:5-7, when Jeremiah told the exiles, ""Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." I know that it is a completely different context, but it just made for an interesting contrast to me. And I guess it shows that Jeremiah was a true patriot, that his first concern has always been the well-being of Judah. Seen in the light of chapter 51, one can clearly understand how the instructions in chapter 29 were strictly for Judah's benefit.
2) Verses 42-43 raised some interesting questions about the nature of prophecy for me:
"The sea will rise over Babylon;
its roaring waves will cover her.
Her towns will be desolate,
a dry and desert land..."
Hmmm. So...in other words, Babylon will be a flooded desert? How does that work exactly? It seems clear to me that something is definitely meant to be figurative here. And yet, there is no "like" or "as" or clear term to indicate figurative language. And that raises some questions about the intentions behind prophetic language in general. I have noted that some of Jeremiah's more dramatic statements don't seem to happen the way he says they will. He seems to make it abundantly clear, for example, and that EVERYONE who remains in Jerusalem during the siege will die. And he seems equally clear on the fact that EVERYONE who goes to Egypt will perish. But then...the same book unapologetically reports that that was not the case. And sooo...that makes me wonder whether or not I am imposing some of my modernist, scientific standards on a premodern, poetic text, and it makes me wonder whether that lens is keeping me from understanding the full meaning here. Just a thought...
I know that it is sometimes disturbing for literalist-leaning Christians to allow for such "wiggle room" when it comes to Biblical language, but for me, it is far more disturbing to read, from a literal perspective, about specific prophecies that are contradicted in their own book. I don't know that I could ever have a fundamentalist faith, simply because I can't overlook that type of stuff. And as much as I believe in ultimately handing the reins of my understanding over to God, I have an equally strong belief that the God who made my brain did not intend for me to turn it off whenever I read His Word. And I guess that I'm just thankful that the God who made my brain gave me the tools to make some kind of sense of the seeming discrepancies I find in Jeremiah. My English degrees are paying off, at least for my faith:).
NT: Titus 2:1-15
I had some more thoughts about the pastorals today. I still haven't done any actual research on them, but my fellow Bible blogger has jogged my memory that they are called pastorals:). Here's today's theory: the pastorals were written later in Paul's life (certainly Timothy was; Paul seems on the brink of death), and he has realized that the end of the world may not be as soon as he had earlier believed. Thus, he is transitioning to prepare Christianity for the long haul. In letters like Corinthians, for example, he tells people not to bother with marriage if they can help it. By Ephesians and Colossians, he is starting to temper that radicalism, and it seems to be about gone by the time he gets to the Pastorals. In its place are concerns about the longevity of the faith. And thinking of the future, Paul has three main concerns, as evidenced in the Pastorals:
1) Sound doctrine--Paul is constantly stressing the importance of sound doctrine and able teaching in these letters. In today's reading, for example, he tells Titus, "You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine," and he then spends the next nine verses outlining exactly what to teach to various groups in the church (1-10). These letters reflect a constant concern that people are going to distort the truth and teach the wrong thing to the future church.
2) Societal stability--In contrast to the radical egalitarianism of Galatians 3:28, the Pastorals show a great concern for the maintenance of social norms. And though I really don't think that Gal. 3:28 contradicts with the passages on "household rules," I do think you can see a shift in concern here. Even today's passage breaks up the church into rigid groups of people, each of which have specific duties based on their social position. And the instructions to the women and slaves, in particular, reflect the ideals of the dominant culture. It seems that the motivation behind these instructions center around the reputation of Christianity within the dominant culture. The instructions for young women, for example, are given "so that no one will malign the word of God" (5). And the rules for the slaves are set forth "so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (10). So it seems that Paul is concerned with social stability at least in part to help buffer the church from outside accusations. In light of the constant (and often realized) threat of persecution, that concern makes sense to me.
3) Church unity--I have already discussed at length the degree to which Paul is concerned about quarrels, and given the power of foolish arguments to split churches and turn brother against brother, I'd say he was right to be concerned.
So that's the theory of the day, given to you for free:). If you have any other theories, feel free to share.
A praise psalm lifting up God's name and remembering some of His works.
"Like one who seizes a dog by the ears
is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own."
This is so, so true. It reminds me of this time I tried to intervene in a dispute between a cashier and the woman in front of me in line regarding the use of a particular coupon. Without going into detail, I'll just say that I am totally sorry that I did:).
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
In today's reading, Jeremiah prophesies against Damascus (49:23-27), Kedar and Hazor (49:28-33), and Elam (49:34-39). And then...(drumroll, please)...Babylon finally gets its prophecy (50:1-46). It is long and involved, but basically, the prophecy foretells the same type of destruction as the other kingdoms. In fact, it foretells the same type of destruction that Judah received...only Babylon's prophecy does not include a surviving remnant.
And on a sidenote, I have to say that I am beginning to find all the similes to women in labor quite amusing (49:24, 50:43). So in other words, one of the worst things that the prophets can picture is...a normal part of most women's lives. I can see Jeremiah reading these prophecies and one of the Judean women thinking, "Well, I've been through labor nine times, so if it's like that, I think I can handle it!" (Yeah, that's probably not what they were thinking, but it's still an interesting choice of image, given how common and domestic an experience it was.)
NT: Titus 1:1-16
I have several bite-sized thoughts for today, so let's do this in bullet points:
--I usually just skim over the openings of Paul's letters, and reading this one, I can understand my impulse. The sentence is so long and involved, and I honestly have a hard time figuring out exactly what it means: "Paul, a servant of God and an apostles of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness...(1)" I don't get the "for." Paul is an apostle for faith and knowledge? I mean, I get the general principle, but "for"? I'm an "English type," so I'm more nitpicky about words than most people, but I just couldn't quite get a handle on that preposition.
--Wow, what does Paul have against Cretans? "Even one of their own prophets has said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true" (12-13a). Good lands! Stereotype much?
--I have always been intrigued by verse 15: "To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact both their minds and consciences are corrupted." Whenever I think of this verse, I think of a toddler versus a Jr. High boy. Yes, my toddlers are naturally selfish, but when it comes to so much of the bad stuff in this world, their minds are pure. They literally can't grasp the corruption around them. On the other hand, when I was in Jr. High, I was amazed at the ability of my classmates to make even the most innocent thing into something perverted. It seemed that no one could say anything without them snickering (which would then have me racking my brain to solve the puzzle, being the word person that I am. Probably not a good habit.) Anyhow, I believe that principle is true in adults, too. If your heart is pure, you can stand around many things that an impure heart could not. Recently, a friend of mine told me how he watched in awe as a fellow Christian witnessed to a woman who was a stripper. He said how he knew the man witnessing had a pure heart and was wanting to help her, but how his own impulse would have been to run the other way. Now, in that example, I don't think it was that his heart was impure (I have a whole different theory about that impulse), but it did remind me that as Christians, we have to take Christ's message to the world, which includes "impure" situations. If we ourselves are tempted by those situations, then we can't be effective ministers of Christ in them. I guess our goal is to be more and more like Christ, who could eat with drunkards and prostitutes (and even have them wash his feet and dry them with their hair), and still be pure of heart.
Two praise psalms.
Prov. 26: 13-16
Four verses against sluggards.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Today, Jeremiah hands out doomsday prophecies to Moab (48:1-47), the Ammonites (49:1-6), and Edom (49:7-22). What is interesting is God's reaction to these predictions of destruction. In 48:31-32, God says,
"Therefore I wail over Moab,
for all Moab I cry out,
I moan for the men of Kir Hareseth.
I weep for you, as Jazer weeps,
O vines of Sibmah."
Later, He says,
"So my heart laments for Moab like a flute;
it laments like a flute for the men of Kir Hareseth.
The wealth they acquired is gone" (36).
Though this land will suffer from God's wrath which He quite willingly pours on them, the same God who causes the suffering weeps over it. That is kind of crazy, but I think it highlights the interplay between God's sovereignty and man's free will. He allows the free will, but He punishes the sin that comes from that free will. And His punishment causes sorrow even to Him.
In 49:12, God also makes clear that, unfortunately, even innocents are punished: "This is what the Lord says: 'If those who do not deserve to drink this cup must drink it, why should you go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, but must drink it." So clearly, there are those "who do not deserve to drink this cup." Among those, I would assume are Moab's "little ones," spoken of in 48:4. And even in the midst of this suffering of innocents, God maintains that He takes care of widows and orphans:
"Leave your orphans; I will protect their lives.
Your widows too can trust in me" (49: 11).
NT: 2 Timothy 4:1-22
I liked our bold verse for the day, in which Paul charges Timothy to "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction" (2). I was particularly intrigued by the phrase, "in season and out of season," and I wondered what that meant. For some reason, the way it struck me today was in terms of the seasons of my own life. When I am "in season," I am fired up for God and am enjoying a super-close relationship with Him. When I am "out of season," I am still plugging along, but I am not feeling that fire, that closeness with God. It reminds me of the tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, in Psalm 1. I am not always "in season." And yet, the world does not wait for me to be "in season" to be a light to it. I always have to be a light, whether I am "in season" or out. And I always have to be prepared to reach out to others, whether I am feeling on fire or not.
Now, granted, I have very little basis for that interpretation, but that's how I read it today.
I also love verses 6-8, mainly because they are so poignant: "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." Maybe it is because I have heard those verses so much, but they have become iconic to me. They are so simply and elegantly worded. I love how Paul simply states, "the time has come for my departure." And the spare, yet effective parallel structure in the next verse has helped to firmly root it in Christian minds throughout the centuries: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." That's what I so desperately want to be able to say when the time comes for my departure.
In the rest of this section, we get a glimpse into some of Paul's more personal sufferings. Institutionally-mandated beatings are one thing; personal betrayals are quite another. In verses 9-18, Paul tells about several people who have left him and harmed him. Demas "deserted" him (10). Alexander "did [him] a great deal of harm" (14). And when Paul was in an especially vulnerable position on trial, everyone deserted him (16). How disheartening it must have been to have no one come to support you, even though you had done nothing wrong. For as fiery and driven and confident as Paul can be, I really felt such compassion for him reading these last few verses. There is something so vulnerable about him here, such as when he asks Timothy to bring his cloak and urges him to get there before winter (13,21). The thought of Paul shivering in a prison cell, hoping that one of his few friends would bring him one of his few earthly possessions is just sad to me. And it presents such a stark picture of a life thoroughly spent for God. Paul was right; he had been "poured out like a drink offering" (6).
Two uplifting praise psalms.
We are clearly in an "anti-fool" section of proverbs. All of them recently have been down on fools.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Today, Jeremiah finishes his threats to the Egypt-settling, Queen-of-Heaven-worshiping Israelites. Even in the midst of their continued rebellion, however, Jeremiah does maintain that a remnant will one day return to Jerusalem. It will just be very, very small (44:28).
The rest of the reading consists of prophecies against the Egyptians and the Philistines. So far, God has not been a fan of the Egyptians. Jeremiah's prophecies against them start with "contemporary" Egypt (44:29-30), and then jumps back to Egypt under Pharoah Neco (46:1-26). Then at the end of the reading, Jeremiah breaks bad news to the Philistines (47:1-6). In between the gloomy prophecies, Jeremiah pauses to reassure "Jacob" that God loves them and that a remnant of them will be saved.
NT: 2 Timothy 2:22-3:17
Let's talk about some themes in Timothy so far. We have already discussed the theme of social hierarchy. There is also a strong theme regarding arguments and quarrels running through both letters. Here is a quick recap of Paul's thoughts on the matter:
--False teachers "promote controversies rather than God's work," and they distract people with their "meaningless talk" (1 Tim. 1:4, 6).
--"I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger or disputing" (1 Tim. 2:8).
--Deacons must not be quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:3).
--Timothy should "not rebuke an older man harshly" (1 Tim. 5:1).
--The man who teaches false doctrine "has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind" (1 Tim. 6: 4-5a).
--Timothy should "warn [his church] before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen" (2 Tim. 2: 14).
--Timothy should not "have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful" (2 Tim. 2:23-24).
That's a lot for two short books--and we are not even done with the second! Apparently, Paul is a pretty low drama guy, which is interesting to me b/c he can be quite, um, passionate and forceful in his writings. I definitely can appreciate a low-drama approach. Of course, what is hard about applying this no-quarrel theme in the church today is when we try to determine what is a meaningless argument. What might seem absurd and pointless to me might be a "salvation issue" to someone else. It's kind of like trying to apply Romans 14. What qualifies as a "disputable matter," and what constitutes doctrine-to-be-defended-at-all-costs? Where does instrumental music fit on that spectrum? What about women's roles? What about when and how and how often we take the Lord's Supper? What about our responsibilities to the poor? Depending on one's views, some of those things are "disputable matters" to be left to people's own consciences, and some are bedrocks of the faith.
Hmmmm. It really is hard to be a unified body of believers. That's why we need God's Spirit so badly to guide us and to empower us.
Um, yeah, so...the rest of the reading. I loved 2:22, which said to, "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." And I also loved verse 24, which I quoted above.
I found 2:1-5 to be fascinating. It starts off as a typical "last days" laundry list of sins. And yet, verse 5 seems to indicate that these people will be members of the church! Paul says that they "hav[e] a form of godliness, but deny its power" (5). Verse 5 also tells Timothy to "have nothing to do with them." To Paul, you couldn't have godliness without being part of God's church, right? And the only people Paul tells Christians to shun are other Christians who are not living right, correct? So...wouldn't verse 5 indicate that these selfish, greedy, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, indulgent, brutal, treacherous, rash, conceited people are church members? That is crazy! (And man, when you start typing the list out, you realize how long it is!)
I remember once asking my dad that if God was so powerful, if His love was so transformative, then why didn't Christians act any better? I was in college, and it was an honest question. I wasn't just complaining. It' was just that the picture of Christian behavior I saw in the Bible simply was not being mirrored in so many of the people whom I loved and worshiped with. And it was beginning to affect my faith. My dad answered that I underestimated the power of sin in this world, which I think was true. In verse 5, Paul gives another suggestion. Such people have a form of godliness, but deny its power. Untransformed Christians deny the power of God to change their lives. They do not let Him change them, and He respects their sovereignty as individuals. Now, I am honestly not thinking of anyone or any group of people specifically right now, but I do know that there are untransformed Christians in churches today. And of course, as a Christian, I have to look at that list honestly and see if any of it describes me. And to the degree that it does describe me, I have to ask whether or not I am denying the power of God to refine me and to transform me.
Yikes, this is going long. I will close by simply quoting the last verse, which is generally used to support the divine inspiration of the Bible: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, sot hat the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good word" (16-17).
Psalm 94: 1-23
A psalm calling on God to be an avenger and to punish the wicked. After reading so much of Jeremiah, this psalm is somewhat ironic to me. It assumes that God will punish Israel's enemies, but in punishing the wicked, God also brings disaster on Israel itself.
Three colorful proverbs decrying fools.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Wow, nothing and no one made any sense today. It's like the people all lost their minds! First of all, Johanan (whom I liked!) and co. go to Jeremiah for some guidance. They swear up and down that they will do whatever God tells them to, even if it is hard (42:5-6). Ten days later, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah, and turns out, God throws them a softball: Just stay in Jerusalem. No big deal, right? I mean, before Gedaliah was killed, everything was fine. Jeremiah says that Nebuchadnezzar will be cool. So...just stay. Now, I will say that this instruction was kind of interesting to me, just b/c it was the opposite of what Jeremiah said for so long, which was, "Don't stay in Jerusalem! Run, don't walk, over to the Babylonians!" Of course, Jeremiah isn't really saying the opposite; he's saying the same thing, although it looks different now. He's saying, stick with the Babylonians. This is God's plan for you.
Anyhow, you wouldn't think that would be so hard, would you? And yet, all the people were completely infuriated and took God's instructions as their cue to march off to Egypt! What on earth?? And here is the truly bizarre thing. Jeremiah, Mr. "Everyone who goes to Egypt will die" goes right along with them! What?? I would be like, "Have fun dying in Egypt, suckas!" Okay, maybe I wouldn't be like that, but I definitely wouldn't go with them!
Seriously, I was so confused, even more so because they didn't all die in Egypt. In fact, they seem to settle in and take up idol worshiping without any problem at all. And then, Jeremiah gives them another prophecy warning them to stop burning incense to idols. What? How about some follow-through on the fact that they are in Egypt in the first place? You are seriously giving them another chance?
I mean, seriously. For all the wrath that has been poured on this people, God is looking pretty merciful today!! God gives people so many chances, it's crazy. And yet, of course I am really glad He does...
NT: 2 Timothy 2:1-21
My favorite parts of today's reading were Paul's three metaphors that he gave to Timothy:
--"No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer" (4).
--"Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules" (5).
--The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops" (6).
Paul then tells Timothy to "reflect" on these metaphors, "for the Lord will give you insight into all this" (7). Now, I don't claim to have insight from the Lord, but I do love metaphors:). And now that I think of it, this would make a nice three point sermon. I could think of all kinds of ways to make it interesting. Too bad I'm not a preacher:).
Anyway, the first one seems obvious: Christians should serve God with single-minded devotion and not be distracted by worldly pursuits. The second one is a little tougher, especially since Paul uses the word, "similarly," which kind of throws me off. I think it is saying that Christians must stay on God's path, the "straight and narrow," so to speak. They have to play by the rules--God's rules. So where the first was a call to devotion, purpose, and focus, the second metaphor is a call to righteousness and adherence to God's word. They are "similar," in that both metaphors describe lives organized around God's will, but the first one is more about overall motivation, and the second is more about the practical execution.
Now for the third metaphor. I think that the third metaphor is meant as an encouragement, as a reminder of the kingdom of God. I almost put heaven, but I think that we can enjoy some of the "crops" of a Christian life while here on earth. Crops like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All of those things are the "fruit" of God's Spirit in our lives. And when we work hard to do our part to cultivate those fruits, then we enjoy them in our lives.
Those are my interpretations of the metaphors, at least. If anyone has any others, feel free to share!
Two praise psalms.
I love how these two contradicting proverbs are placed on right after the other. At least no one can accuse the author of proverbs of unintentionally contradicting himself! Clearly, he knew what he was doing! Verse 5 says not to "answer a fool according to his folly," and verse 6 says to go ahead and do it. So...which is it??
Friday, October 22, 2010
First of all, a quick question: Why didn't everyone who chose to remain in the city die by the sword? Wasn't that a prophecy? I'm not going to look it up, b/c I'm not sure how to do so quickly, but I seem to remember several times where Jeremiah told the people to surrender to Babylon, and warned that anyone who remained in the city would die. Did I misunderstand that?
Okay, on to today's story. I am still digging the narrative, especially b/c we are in a section of the Bible of which I have no memory. It's like when I first took U.S. History and every presidential election after about 1820 was such a nail-biter. I was like, "I wonder who will win!" Yes, that's sad (for so many reasons), and yes, it is also probably sad that I don't remember this history...but it does make for interesting reading. For instance, regarding my earlier question, I was reading fully expecting a blood bath when the Babylonians came crashing into Jerusalem after an 18 month long siege (approx). I did remember what happened to Zedekiah from when we read about it in...Chronicles? But as for the rest, I was all ears.
There was not a bloodbath, though. In fact, other than their horrible treatment of Zed, the Babylonians seemed pretty reasonable for conquering marauders. They took a bunch of people off to live in Babylon, left some others under a new leader (Gedaliah), and were super nice to Jeremiah (which probably didn't help him shake his un-Judean rep). On a sidenote, it is kind of crazy to me how interested these world leaders were in Jeremiah. I mean, he's just a guy saying things that he heard from his God. Why does Nebuchadnezzar care? I'm still not sure why Zedekiah would care--I mean, it didn't seem like he was a particularly faithful man. Anyway, I was impressed to see how famous Jeremiah apparently was. Nebuchadnezzar was a fan of his!
In fact, the meanest guy of today's reading was not a Babylonian at all, but a fellow Judean (at least, I think he was). Ol' Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, was a really bad guy! First, he acted on the behest of the Ammonites (argh), and then he killed Gedaliah and co., and I really like Gedaliah! He seemed reasonable (40:9-10), and things were going so well under him! And then this clown has to come along and ruin everything. Boo, Ishmael!
Thankfully, Johanan (who kind of reminded me of Joab, with his Macchiavellian tendencies), came to the rescue, even though he wasn't able to kill Ishmael. And that's where our story today ends. Johanan is leading the captives he rescued from Ishmael, and they are now scared of the Babylonians, since the Babylonian appointee to power has been murdered. I can't wait to hear what happens tomorrow, as I have no inkling of what is coming next!
NT: 2 Timothy 1:1-18
Still no research on Timothy (it's been busy here lately), but I have to say that this passage just sounds like Paul to me. Clearly, I am not an expert in textual analysis, but this is all "typical Paul" type stuff. Besides, it is so personal that it makes me wonder why someone would make it up. I mean, I think Ephesians and Colossians are Paul, too, but they are so general that I do see a point to them, even if they weren't Pauline. But this is all so personal. Anyway, I'm rambling now.
I like how Paul gives a shout out to Timothy's mom and grandmother in verse 5. It was yet another reminder to me of the importance of raising godly kids. I also liked Paul's instruction to "fan into flame" his spiritual gift (6). I thought that the active tense of that verb was interesting. So often, that type of instruction is passive, b/c the work to be done is the work of the Spirit inside you. Yet, here is an example of the active role that the Christian takes in their own spiritual growth. By nature, flames of passion are transitory. In my own life, I sometimes get the picture that God starts the fire in me, and it is then at least partly my job to keep it going. Verse 6 supports this idea. And it leads up to one of my favorite verses in the Bible is verse 7: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." Love it.
Paul then exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel, nor to be afraid of suffering, and he reminds Timothy of the grace and power of God, which has been lavished on Paul himself (8-12). He admonishes Timothy to hold the course, both in regards to Paul's teachings and in regards to Timothy's own spiritual gift from God (13-14). In the remainder of the passage, Paul states matter-of-factly that everyone has deserted him, though he is thankful for the house of Onesiphorus (15-18).
Psalm 90: 1-91:16
Wow, I really didn't notice that these were two psalms while I was reading them! Anyway, the one from Moses has one of my favorite verses:
"Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom."
On honor for fools and undeserved curses.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Wow, today's reading was so exciting!
First of all, I have kind of given up on the time line b/c I can't keep those "exile kings" straight. Regardless, today's events happened during the reign of Zedekiah and prior to the conquest of Jerusalem. But lots happens, both on the national stage, and in Jeremiah's own life.
On the national stage, Babylon pulls away from Jerusalem to do battle with Egypt, who is appearing to be a good ally, after all (key word: appearing). This is good news, right? I'm sure everyone is breathing a big sigh of relief to have Babylon off their backs. But then here comes Eeyore and Chicken Little rolled into one, still giving the same doom-and-gloom prophecy: Babylon is going to beat us, surrender while you still can, everyone who tries to fight the inevitable will die, and so on. Clearly, this is not what people are wanting to hear. And because Jeremiah seems so unpatriotic, he is then mistakenly accused of trying to defect to Babylon! And honestly, given his recent prophecies, I can see why they thought that! I mean, he's telling everyone else to go to Babylon. Why not him? Of course, he is not trying to defect b/c the irony is that Jeremiah might just be the most patriotic of all the Israelites. He truly wants what is best for the nation. What is best just happens to be the opposite of what is popular. Thus, the chest-thumping nationals ready to fight for Jerusalem are not happy with him.
First, Jeremiah is locked up for desertion. Then, he is thrown into a muddy cistern, apparently to die. Then, he is rescued and placed back into the courtyard of the guard. In the midst of this turmoil, he keeps meeting with Zedekiah, who seems to have some kind of love-hate relationship with him. On the one hand, Zedekiah probably hates Jeremiah's message. On the other hand, he seems to really think that he is a true prophet. Thus, he just can't kill him. Instead, he rescues him from his first prison, only to turn him over to the cistern-dumpers, only to order him pulled back out. Add periodic secret meetings together, and you get a truly bizarre relationship. Anyway, today's reading ends with Zedekiah once again calling for Jeremiah and listening to the same prophecy again. I think it's like, Zedekiah knows what he is supposed to do. He knows he has an order from God. But he just can't do it. He just really, really doesn't want to. So he keeps asking, "What was that order, again?" in hopes that it might change. At least, that's my theory.
NT: 1 Timothy 6:1-21
One day, when I actually have a little time, I'd love to hear what scholars think about this book. To me, it really seemed to take the "social hierarchy/social values" teachings of Ephesians and Colossians and elevate them to the next level. For example, its instructions to women, while not new, are certainly the harshest of any of the books, in my opinion. And today, the instructions toward slaves are similarly zealous. Slaves are to "consider their masters worthy of respect," whether or not their masters are worthy of respect (1). And they are to serve fully and faithfully, even if their masters are believers. Also, it is interesting to me that this passage has no corresponding instructions to masters, even though context makes clear that there were believing slave owners in the community.
Also, even though Paul warns Timothy strongly against the "love of money," and urges him to "flee" from it (7-11), this passage also has the only NT reference that I can think of that does not speak of rich people negatively. Let me know if you can think of others, but verses 17-19, while stern, make it clear that one can be rich and still be a Christian. Now, as a very rich person (globally speaking, of course), I'm down with that. But I do think it is interesting. This whole book seems almost like an antidote for all that counter-cultural, crazy stuff that Jesus was talking about. Camel through the eye of a needle, what? Crazy talk! Now, I don't think they contradict, of course...but I do kind of have a hard time seeing how they fit together, exactly. So if anyone has any insight there, feel free to share!
But like I said, as a globally-rich person, I liked Paul's instructions in verses 17-19. He tells us "not to be arrogant nor to put [our] hope in wealth, which is uncertain, but to put [our] hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (17). Nice! I think that part of me really likes this verse, b/c I feel like I already do it, whereas Jesus' teachings are always so challenging. And with Jesus, I feel so far away from where he is pointing. But this--I can do this! And again, I wonder, Is this the right attitude, the right interpretation? Is this good? I just don't know. But that said, I also like Paul's next instructions to be "rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share" (18). Again, that seems so do-able. So attainable. So...not like the rich young ruler, or the poor widow, or even Zaccheus. Those stories are so hard. This is much easier.
But then I have to ask myself, what is the relationship between these instructions and those stories? How do they work together? And specifically, how do I understand them so that my life will look how it is supposed to look? I want to know God, and to be with God, and I want to do whatever it takes to do that. But...what does it take?
Psalm 89: 38-52
So...I'm wondering if the "anointed one" whom God has rejected is David (38). If so, then this guy has to be a contemporary, right?
On the importance of self-control.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Today, we took a break from prophecies and got a couple of narratives. The first one was an object lesson from God, in which He contrasted the obedience of the Recabites to Jonadab son of Recab with the disobedience of the Israelites to God. To demonstrate their faithfulness, God had Jeremiah invite the Recabites all in for a drink of wine. In accordance with their forefather's wish, they refused, and went on to explain his eccentric and sweeping commands regarding their lifestyle. According to his wishes, his descendants had maintained a nomadic, tee-totaling existence, which, honestly, seems really arbitrary and random. Perhaps that was part of God's comparison. It was like, "These people can follow these bizarro commands just because their ancestor told them to, and you Israelites can't even follow my laws." Of course, you could also argue that God is comparing here, and not contrasting. Perhaps, He is saying, "I know you might not understand the reason for all of my laws, but a lack of understanding is not an excuse for disobedience. Look at the Recabites! They do totally random things out of trust in their forefathers' wisdom. Why can't you trust me?" Either way, it is an interesting object lesson.
In chapter 36, we get the second narrative, in which Jeremiah dictates all of his prophecies to Baruch to be put on a scroll and read to the people. That made me wonder about the prophecies we have read so far. Were they all delivered orally to the people, or did Jeremiah write them down? It all got a little "meta" for me for a second, when I wondered if the book of Jeremiah was actually the second scroll, but I didn't pursue the thought very far.
What I did take from this lesson was the really vivid picture of a man following God's orders, working, and producing something of great value for his people...only to have that thing completely destroyed by his enemy. And then God simply telling the man to start over and do it all again. Like I said, that was a vivid image, b/c I know that my feelings would have probably been pretty crushed. After pouring myself into a work that I believed wholeheartedly to be from God and to see that work crushed--and crushed by one who was supposed to be my leader!--I would have surely been quite dejected. The idea of starting over would have been overwhelming. And yet, Jeremiah did it. He wrote the whole thing again, and even added more (36:32)!
NT: I Tim. 5:1-25
I had several different reactions to today's reading. Let's start with the positive:
--I liked Paul's instructions on treating various members of the body of Christ as different types of family members (1-2). I thought his instructions made a lot of sense and showed love and respect to all parties.
--I loved the idea of our obligation to take care of our immediate families. Of course, that sounds like an obvious and natural thing to do, but so often, Jesus sounds like we should hardly care about our families ("First let me go and bury my father." "Let the dead bury the dead." Good grief! Plus, all that talk about leaving, and even hating, one's family. Yikes!). And yet here, Paul pointedly notes that the children and grandchildren of widows "should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God" (4). In verse 8, he takes it a step further, declaring that, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (8). Thank you! I cannot imagine not caring for or providing for my family, emotionally as well as physically. And for me, that includes not leaving them to go traipsing off on some mission for God! I just have a hard time believing that God would want me to do that. And I think that you can care for your family and yet have God as your number 1 priority. I wouldn't do anything for my family. After all, God's teaching comes first, not my family's desires. Hmmm...I have more thoughts about that, but I've just spent the last two minutes drumming on the keyboard trying to put them into words, and it's not happening. Moving on.
So those were some things I liked. Here are a couple questions I had:
--Taken with Paul's earlier statement about working and eating ("If a man does not work, he shall not eat"), how should verses 9-10 inform my attitude toward charity? Even though James says that taking care of widows is a sign of pure religion, Paul provides several stipulations in his letter to Timothy. According to verses 9-10, Timothy should not give charity to a widow unless she is "over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds." (Sidenote: I actually really like that list as I think about how I am supposed to be living my own life.) So...should we only give charity to those whom we believe are "good" people? Are these instructions indicative of a general principle here, or are they specific to this one situation? So many questions.
--Why does Paul seem so "against" younger widows? First, he seems to view their inclination toward marriage as a weakness and as an indication of their lack of dedication to Christ (11-12). And yet, then, he tells them to marry (14)! It's almost like he doesn't seem to think that young widows are capable of any good apart from having a husband, having kids, and taking care of a household. To him, it's either that, or become gossips and busybodies. Is there no middle ground? Trying (very hard, I might add) to think in Paul's defense, perhaps the social situation of women in that day was such that there truly wasn't a lot for them to do apart from taking care of a household, since they were so powerless in society. Thus, Paul encourages them to do what they can, to devote themselves to others, rather than live in a vacuum, in which all there is to do is fall into temptation. Still, if that's the case, then why did he fault them in verse 11 for their desire to marry?
--Last question: In passages like Romans 12 and I Cor. 12, Paul seems to take pains to describe the equality of the members of the body of Christ. One body, many parts, right? And yet, in verse 17, he seems to hold up the gifts of preaching and teaching as worthy of special honor. Why is that?
Well, those are all my questions. If anyone has any ideas about answers, feel free to share.
Psalm 89: 14-37
I always feel mildly sheepish when I talk about a psalm and then realize the next day that the psalm isn't over yet. Today's installment of Psalm 89 made me wander if Ethan the Ezrahite was a contemporary of David. He speaks of David in such glowing terms, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of hindsight here. So maybe this was written while David was alive?
I thought it was interesting (and believe me, I'm probably the only one) that verses 25 and 26 were linked not by content, but by imagery. They talk about two very different things (good news and weak righteous people, respectively), but what links them are the contrasting pictures they each paint of water potability. Again, just me, I know, but I thought the coupling of the verses was cool.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
It's kind of interesting to read the same things again and again and to be hit by them in different ways. Today, I read, yet again, about Judah's impending punishment and restoration, and yet, they still hit me in a fresh way. To think about such harsh punishment, coupled with such loving restoration, truly is to ponder "great and unsearchable things you do not know" (33:3). In chapter 33, the punishment side was depicted in verses 4-10a, and the restoration was pictured in 10b-26. And the restoration was, if possible, even more wonderful than the punishment was horrible.
When I read the promises in verses 15-16 for Israel to always have a king from David's line and to always have a priest standing before God, I, of course, thought about Jesus. The book of Hebrews, in particular, pictures Jesus both as an eternal king and priest, much like the mysterious Melchizedek from Genesis. Verse 22 does seem to portray numerous priests, although that also reminded me of the teaching of Hebrews that we are all priests.
In chapter 34, Jeremiah brings another specific charge against the Israelites. He accuses them of reneging on their commitment to set their Hebrew slaves free. Not only was the freeing of slaves part of a specific covenant between King Zedekiah and the people, Jeremiah also reminds them that it was part of Deuteronomic law (8, 14). Regardless, the Israelites apparently freed their slaves, and then changed their minds and re-enslaved them. Nice. As a result, Jeremiah reminds them of the "walking between the dead animal halves" part of the covenant and vows that they will end up like those animals.
NT: 1 Timothy 4:1-16
Paul warns Timothy against those who will "abandon the faith" and "follow deceiving spirits," specifically ones which "forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods" (1, 3). Reading these verses reminded me yet again of the danger of adding to God's law or putting rule on rule. As verses 3-4 make clear, God created things to be enjoyed. Granted, we have to enjoy them the right way, but He certainly didn't create things like marriage and food so that we would stay away from them!
This section also has the famous verse 12, in which Paul tells Timothy, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." I know that Paul is talking directly to Timothy here, but as a youth minister's wife, I love this vote of confidence in a young person. We tell our teens the same thing that Paul tells Timothy.
I also appreciated Paul's instruction to "watch your life and your doctrine closely" (16a). It's amazing how easy it is for me to stray off the path, especially in heart issues. Things that start out good can end up empty or prideful...which is why I, like Timothy, always need to watch my life closely. And as far as doctrine, wishful thinking can often cloud what I read plainly in the Bible. Again, that's why I always need to watch it closely, to examine where my beliefs are coming from.
A praise psalm from Ethan the Ezrahite. I remember that last time around, I wasn't too enamored with ol' Ethan, but today, I enjoyed the simple ode to God.
Prov. 25: 23-24
Against sly tongues and quarrelsome wives.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Today, Jeremiah says/does two positive things. First of all, he foretells the time of a new covenant, where 1) God will relate to and judge each person individually, and 2) God will put His laws in people's hearts and minds. The passage describing the transition from old to new is beautiful:
"The time is coming," declares the LORD,
"when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,"
declares the LORD.
33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."
It occurred to me that the idea of God writing His laws in our minds and on our hearts is fulfilled by the presence of His Spirit within us. The indwelling of God's Spirit in each individual follower is one of the major differences between the old covenant and the new, and could account for this view of the internalization of God's law.
The second positive thing that Jeremiah did was to buy a field. Apparently, Jeremiah was a kinsman-redeemer, like Boaz was, and so he had a choice/obligation to buy a relative's field. In doing so, though, God helped him to make the bigger point that, "Houses and vineyards will again be bought in this land" (32:15). Seen from this perspective, Jeremiah's purchase was an act of faith in God's promise to one day restore Israel.
NT: 1 Timothy 3:16
Paul gives instructions for overseers and deacons. In verse 11, he talks about deacons' wives, and apparently, an alternate translation for that is "deaconess." To be honest, though, I have a hard time seeing how that translation would work. If that's true, then Paul only gives one verse of instructions on deaconesses, which is oddly placed in the middle of five verses of instruction on deacons. Why would deaconesses have a shorter list of qualifications? Why would Paul not specify, for example, that deaconesses be the wives of one husband, since that qualification is important both for overseers and deacons alike? It really makes more sense to me to read the text as, "deacon's wives."
Paul closes this section with what appears to be an early Christian hymn (16).
The Sons of Korah write an incredibly Davidic psalm, in which the author describes the pit he is in and begs God to save him from it.
Regarding verse 20, I don't know why it is that bad to sing songs to a heavy heart. Wouldn't that cheer it up?
And verses 21-22 are the verses that Paul quotes in Romans 12.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
The dream goes on, however, to promise retribution on Judah's enemies (16) and to depict a day where Judah will be restored in its own land (30:17-31:14). In this section, dancing and joy is described (31:4), along with fruitful vineyards (5). God "will lead them beside streams of water/ on a level path where they will not stumble" (9a). Furthermore, the people "will be a well-watered garden,/ and they will sorrow no more" (12b). So clearly, there is also some really good stuff in this dream.
In today's reading, Jeremiah has a prophet showdown with Hananiah. This is apparently after the first wave of exiles have left, and Hananiah predicts that Babylon will be defeated in two years. Jeremiah, of course, disagrees with this prognosis, and instead predicts that Hananiah will die that very year. And he does, two months later.
Next, Jeremiah sends quite a letter to the exiles. He tells them to settle into their new homes, to continue life-as-normal as best they can, and even to pray for the prosperity of their current cities! Again, that sounds a little crazy. I mean, pray for your conquerors?? What the what? But Jeremiah's view of God's plan transcends nationality, and though he passionately loves Israel, he loves God more. And he recognizes that conforming to God's larger will is actually what is best for Israel.
In the midst of this letter, we arrive at one of the most lifted-out-of-context passages, one that has emblazoned graduation cards, mugs, and knick-knacks in Christian bookstores across the country. I am, of course, referring to Jeremiah 29:11, which proclaims,
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
I must admit that I had heard that this verse was taken out of context, but I had forgotten what the actual context was. Thus, even though I am very familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, it still completely startled me when I stumbled upon it as I was reading along. Before I got to the end of the verse, I have to admit that I was laughing. For one thing, I didn't realize that the verse was in such a specific letter. And honestly, that doesn't rock my world. Universal concepts can be contained in specific letters, such as Paul's letters to churches and individuals. Just a few verses later, in fact, Jeremiah assures the people that if they seek God with all their hearts, they will find him (13). That's definitely a universal idea. The thing that got me is how we use verse 11 as a blithely optimistic, "follow your dreams and shoot for the stars," type of thing. And yet, the people to whom the promise is specifically given are languishing in exile...and they have just been told that it's going to be awhile! I almost feel like our graduation cards need some kind of footnote, with some caveats. "Verse written to people in exile." "Verse does not guarantee exile-free existence." "Future may still include long-term suffering." I don't know--something!
At the end of today's reading, either in the same letter, a separate missive, or a word-of-mouth message, Jeremiah calls out Shemaiah for messing with him behind his back. He then lets the exiles know that Shemaiah is not a true prophet.
NT: 1 Timothy 1:1-20
Yep, probably should read some background info on this one. No time, though. The problem is that Paul is "talking in code," as my friend, Courtney would say. He is describing a problem, but not giving enough details about the situation for an outsider to put the pieces together. Apparently, some people in Ephesus are teaching false doctrines that involve mythology and genealogies (3-4). And these men don't know what they are talking about, and they are distracting everyone by their meaningless drivel (6-7).
And then I got to a section that I know cognitively that I have read before, but honestly, I have NO memory of it AT ALL. It is verses 8-11, which starts, "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels..." Paul then goes on to list such people who are in need of the law. I was quite confused on what law he was talking about, b/c for some reason, these verses didn't seem in line with his other teachings of the law. Maybe it's just me, though. It almost made me think that he was talking about, like, civic law. Also, I noted with interest that in the list of baddies, along with perverts and liars, were slave traders. Hmmm. Maybe Paul is not as sympathetic to slavery as other passages make it sound? Then what to make of those passages?
I also thought that verse 13 was interesting: "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief." It is that last phrase that gets me: "I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief." I have some questions about that statement, but I have tried and failed to put them into words, so I will chew on them myself instead.
Lastly, Paul tells Timothy to "hold on to faith and a good conscience" (19), and not to be like Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom Paul has "handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme" (20). Yikes! Very 1 Cor 5-ish!
A great psalm, by David. My favorite verse was verse 11:
"Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name."
On not being annoying.
Friday, October 15, 2010
I referred to my chronology of Jeremiah, and interestingly, it places chapter 26 between 7:15 and 7:16. In other words, according to the chronology, chapters 1-7:15 were the earliest portions of Jeremiah. Then came chapter 26. And then 7:16-20:18. I looked back at Jeremiah 7 and have no idea how they deduced this.
As for chapter 26 itself, I found it to be quite poignant. Here, you actually see people besides Jeremiah doing something right! But first, Jeremiah goes to the temple and tells the people that unless they turn from their ways, then the Lord "will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth" (6). Because he said such a negative-sounding thing about his country, Jeremiah was branded as unpatriotic, and everyone seemed to be in agreement that he should die. When the officials heard about all this, they came out to investigate, and both sides pleaded their cases. I especially love Jeremiah's conclusion: "As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood upon yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing" (14-15).
Well. Nothing quite makes an impact like a man willing to hand over his life for what he believes. After Jeremiah speaks, the elders totally (and reasonably) side with him, and in the process, prove that they know their history! They point out that Jeremiah has not done anything different from Micah, an earlier prophet from God. And they seem to take Jeremiah's words to heart. Although they don't explicitly say anything about repenting themselves, it is all so hopeful. And that kind of makes it sad, knowing how it all turned out.
Chapter 27 comes much later in the timeline of Jeremiah, according to my chronology. This time, Jeremiah sends messages to various nations via their envoys to Zedekiah. Can you imagine the impertinence? I bet Zedekiah was sooo mad when he found out that someone was claiming to be a representative of God and was communicating with other nations through envoys sent to him, without his approval. And from the message itself, you'd think Jeremiah was Babylonian! He forecasts Nebuchadnezzar's power and advises everyone to bow down and submit to him. It all sounds crazy, but understanding it from Scripture's perspective, Jeremiah is trying to save lives here. He's saying, "Look, this is going to happen. Submit to God's plan, and you will live." God's plan may not have looked the way they wanted it to look, but it certainly beat total destruction!
NT: 2 Thess. 3:1-18
Paul continues to encourage the church in the midst of persecution, and he concludes with a nice blessing: "May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance" (5).
The rest of this section is used by Paul to warn the Thessalonians against idleness. He prescribes hard work for them, and reminds them of a rule that he gave them: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." I am all for that, but b/c this verse has been used for such a variety of purposes, I would also like to point out that, like all of Paul's instructions, this one was intended specifically for those in the church. That said, I also believe it makes for a pretty good rule in general, but I don't think it should ever become an excuse to not help the poor. I don't advocate enabling people's bad habits, but I also don't think that we should become cynical against poor people just because some take advantage of the generosity of others. I need that reminder, as I have been known to err on the side of cynicism sometimes.
I love verse 13: "As as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right."
Lastly, I thought that the verses regarding church discipline were interesting (14-15). This is not the first time that Paul has recommended that we shun people. I see where he is coming from, but I think that we as a church have had a hard time applying that today. So often, that type of judgment and "punishment" seems so hypocritical and hateful. Clearly, Paul's purpose is the restoration of the person, and yet, often that kind of treatment pushes them away. I don't know. I just don't know how to apply this type of instruction.
Another psalm by the Sons of Korah, in which they plead with God to turn from his wrath and to "revive us again" (6).
On the importance of moderation. There is such thing as too much of a good thing!
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Today, Jeremiah continues his harsh words toward the false prophets. Listening to his description of them in 23: 32-36 makes me realize the possibility of having false prophets even today, people who claim to be Christians, yet "lead my people astray with their reckless lies," people for whom "every man's word becomes his own oracle and so you distort the words of the living God" (32, 36). In fact, I'm pretty sure that I have been guilty of that last bit. I know that I have distorted God's word with my own opinions, wishes, and thoughts. I pray that He does not give up on me and my brothers and sisters as we seek to share Him with the world, and that He continues to refine us so that our words are more and more in line with His Word.
I also thought God's indignation of the phrase, "This is the oracle of the Lord," was interesting (23: 33-40). Out of curiosity, I looked the word, "oracle," up on biblegateway.com, and it has been used several times so far in scripture. The first time was regarding Balaam, but there were also oracles of David, and oracles from God in Isaiah. So the problem is not with the word "oracle." Maybe God is just getting tired of uninspired people claiming to speak for Him? I don't know.
In chapter 24, God gives Jeremiah another object lesson, this one involving figs. The good figs represent the people carried off into Babylonian captivity. I'm guessing they were carried off into captivity b/c they took Jeremiah's advice and surrendered, which would explain God's favor toward them. As for the leaders and those who remained in Jerusalem, God has nothing but wrath.
In chapter 25, Jeremiah has been a prophet for 23 years, and he recounts how Judah has ignored all of his warnings. Thus, God is, of course, about to punish them. We see another extended "cup of wrath" metaphor in verses 15-29. Speaking of cups of wrath, I read something interesting the other day regarding Jesus in the garden. The author of the book I was reading shared his theory that Jesus' agony in the garden was not about the suffering He was about to endure, but about the wrath He was about to endure from God. After all, the author reasoned, many martyrs have died in worse ways than Jesus, and done so bravely and even joyfully. Was Jesus weaker than them? The author argued that He was not. Rather, unlike them, He had to face the full force of God's wrath. Though the author does not mention it, I think that Jesus' reference to the cup supports his theory. As we have discovered, in the OT, the "cup" was a common metaphor for the wrath of God.
NT: 2 Thess. 2:1-17
Well, we did not leave prophecy behind in Jeremiah today! We have lots of prophecies about the end times in Thessalonians, as well. As usual, I can't make heads or tails of them.
I did like the reference to the "sanctifying work of the Spirit" in verse 13. I guess I just liked the wording, and the description, however succinct, of God's work in the lives of Christians.
Lastly, Paul's prayer in verse 16 is short, but good: "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." Maybe that's more of a blessing than a prayer. Regardless, I like it.
A great one, by the sons of Korah. I love the descriptions of yearning for God. I've been a little fired up here lately, spiritually speaking, so I can relate to some of these images of longing. I especially love verses 1-2:
"How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God."
I really liked this proverb--both the content and the wording:
"Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
and a gentle tongue can break a bone."
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
"'He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?'
declares the Lord" (22:16).
I decided to lead with that b/c that verse is amazing. I can't stress how much I love it. I had heard and loved it before, but I must admit that I had totally forgotten its existence. Thus, it was a wonderful surprise this morning. It's just so profound. To know God means to defend the cause of the poor and needy. Of course, taken with all of Scripture, we know that there is more to it than that, but I definitely think that this verse is saying that you can't know God without that.
Along those lines, in today's reading God also tells the people to, "Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place" (3). I'm not going to get political in my discussion today, but let's just say that I had some thoughts about the "alien" part and what that means for Christians in this country.
Other than the first five verses, the bulk of today's reading consisted of prophecies toward Shallum, or Jehoahaz (22:6-17); Jehoiakim (22:18-30); the leaders in general ("shepherds," 23:1-4); and the prophets (23:9-20). None of them are in for a good time.
Once again, though, God does remind His listeners that He will bring back a remnant when it is all said and done (23:3-4). He also promises that he will bring a Davidic king, "who will reign wisely/ and do what is just and right in the land" (5-6). As I do with most prophecies about future kings, I automatically assumed that this one was about Jesus, though honestly, I can't see that it is a perfect fit...
NT: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
Today, we begin Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians. Right off the bat, verse three caught my eye, where it talks about how "the love every one of you has for each other is increasing." That has definitely been my experience with Christianity. It's not that I hated people before; it's just that I loved myself so doggone much. The longer I have followed the way of Christ, however, the more His Spirit has increased my love for those around me. I still have light years to go, of course, but it just makes me so excited to know that the Spirit does that in people.
In the rest of this section, Paul encourages the Thessalonians in their continual struggles. It seems from the context that, persecution-wise, they can't catch a break. Paul tries to encourage and strengthen them with his words, assuring them that those who persecute them will be punished and that they themselves "will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God," as a result of their endurance (5).
Asaph asks God to intervene and fight against His enemies, and he gets specific about how he would like them to be treated. He wants God to give them the "Midian" treatment, and to do to them as He did to Sisera, Jabin, Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah, and Zalmunna. Some of those names sound familiar--especially Sisera--but nothing specific came to mind.
The first three proverbs praise aptly spoken words; a wise man's rebuke and one who listens to it; and a trustworthy messenger, respectively. The last one criticizes the "man who boasts of gifts he does not give" (14).
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Today, I had two thoughts on the nature of being a prophet:
1) Prophets had to talk a lot and say the same things over and over. I've been thinking that Jeremiah, like Isaiah, is a little repetitive, and yet, if it is a record of what Jeremiah preached to the people, then it would be repetitive, wouldn't it? His job was to proclaim one message to the people, over and over. I'm sure he talked to different groups, which would account for some of the repetition, but he also tried to warn people multiple times. After all, his was a desperate, deadly serious message. He would undoubtedly want to give people every chance to hear it and respond to it.
2) Being a true prophet had to be a pretty horrible job. It would be one thing if you could say whatever you thought people would want to hear, like if you could say, "Peace, peace," even when there was no peace. But Jeremiah had a horrible message. No one would want to hear what he had to say. And to have to be so unpopular for so long would be hard for a person, I'm sure. Today, he even gets beaten and put in the stocks due to the unpopularity of his message (20:1-2). Truly, I can see absolutely no motivation for this lifestyle unless one was totally convinced that he was the voice of God.
To add to his unpopularity today, Jeremiah's message was expanded by God to include an urging that the Israelites voluntarily surrender to the Babylonians (21:8-10). Yes, I'm sure that went over really well. Very patriotic-sounding: "you are going to lose no matter what you do, so you should just go out and surrender". Of course, to continue the theme of my exhaustion-driven ramblings from yesterday, such a move would be a total surrender of personal control, not to the Babylonians, but ultimately to God. It would mean believing Jeremiah's story about your sinfulness and humbly submitting yourself to God's punishment. Ironically, by totally surrendering to God's discipline--via the Babylonians--you would find life. Taking matters into your own hands--via self-defense--would only mean death. That's kind of ironic, and it kind of highlights a central paradox of Judaism/Christianity. In dying to ourselves, we find true life. On the contrary, when we cling to life, we find death.
NT: 1 Thessalonians 5:4-28
In my ongoing quest to live every moment for God, I was encouraged and inspired by verses 5-8:
"You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet."
I don't get drunk, and but I find the sleep reference fascinating. Obviously, sleeping at night is not wrong; it is a very necessary part of being human, like eating or breathing. In the context of what Paul is saying, though, I think a modern rendering of this idea is of "sleep-walking" through our life. I am growing to truly loathe the times that I waste, the times that I sleep-walk through my days. I'm not saying that I never relax; on the contrary, I believe that relaxation is wonderful. But I guess it can be like alcohol, or fat. A little bit is good for you, but it is almost too easy to be a drunkard or a glutton. Same with rest and relaxation. It's something that we need, but it's easy to be a sluggard, especially for short periods of time throughout the day. Rather than succumb to that wastefulness, I want to always be self-controlled and alert.
In other news, 1 Thessalonians wraps up today, and I always love his final greetings. They are so succinct, so quotable. Toady he gives us these wonderful pieces of advice:
Live in peace with each other.
Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
Be joyful always.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
Do not put out the Spirit's fire.
Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil (13-22, give or take a few lines).
That's all great advice, and I could ramble on indefinitely about each of those instructions. I'll just say that I loved the vibe I got in verses 12-15. It was all about how the body of Christ should respect and love each other, how they should be kind and patient with each other...and with everyone else!
Today, I had a set-the-Bible-down moment. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes as I'm reading Scripture, I just have to set the Bible down and respond immediately. Today, it happened regarding verses 3-4:
"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
I have read these sentiments so much in Isaiah and Jeremiah, and I know James 1:27, so I know enough to understand that this is not a recommendation. And after hearing it for the 27,000th time, I thought, "I can't take it anymore!" And I printed and filled out a volunteer guardian ad litem form. I'm going to mail it tomorrow and call them b/c the next training session starts on the 18th, and I don't want to miss it. I tell you that 1) as a testimony to the power of Scripture, and 2) for those who know me to hold me accountable to that commitment. It is something that I've thought about for awhile, and I now have some more time, since my kids are older. I'm not saying that being a guardian ad litem totally fulfills my responsibility to the poor, but I do think it is a step in the right direction.
All about exercising caution and discretion during litigation.