Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20

OT: Jeremiah 35:1-36:32


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?

Prov. 25:25-27

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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Well, I can give you my opinion on your questions about 1 Timothy: It was not actually written by Paul. It was written by person in a later church, a church that was becoming more bureaucratic and trying to get out of the clear obligations to help other laid out in parts of the NT composed earlier.

  3. I can definitely see the logic of that opinion, especially coming from a secular perspective. And if I did not have faith, I'm sure I would play the "Paul didn't write it" card far more than even traditional scholarship plays it. Anything that seemed inconsistent, I would attribute to a different author. Case closed.

    Of course, I DO have faith and believe that the Bible is inspired by God. Thus, I am more asking the question to people who also have that faith. From my observations of Christianity, I have seen how it is easy to take a "Christian worldview" that holds certain parts of Scripture higher than others. I can see it so clearly in today's church world. It seems to me that so many of the older generation have a Christian worldview that heavily weights the Law and the epistles. Their concerns are mainly toward the social order. For example, they are concerned with authority, with women's roles, with the fabric of society (the homosexual debate plays into this), with families and the roles within families. Things like that.

    But amongst the younger crowd, you see a totally different worldview. This worldview heavily weights the prophets and the gospels. It is radically concerned with taking care of the poor, rebelling against cultural norms (such as materialism, the American dream, etc), and living like Jesus did. Shane Claiborne, Francis Chan, David Platt, Brian MacLaren, and Richard Hughes are all popular authors who seem to weight Scripture this way. And I can't tell if the outlook is a trend, or if this is really the New Guard, the future of the church.

    I personally lean toward the New Guard (and maybe that's just b/c I'm in their age demographic), but I see the strengths and weaknesses of both. The Old Guard (yeah, let's go with that)values personal morality and understands the importance of a stable society in way that the New Guard seems to overlook. But they can also be quick to dismiss or explain away the plain commands of Jesus. I have heard many of them openly scoff at the idea that one would actually apply His more difficult teachings.

    On the other hand, the New Guard conveniently overlooks the more problematic passages about social hierarchies, and sometimes seems to ignore the epistles all together, especially their instructions on homosexuality and women's roles. I believe that they are right on in their understanding of the HEART of the Bible (love God, love others), but I'm not on board with the way that they seem to ignore the more "problematic," non-PC aspects of God's instructions.

    What I want is a faith that takes the Bible as a coherent whole. I don't want to explain away the Sermon on the Mount, but I don't want to discount 1 Timothy, either. And I guess that when it comes down to it, when I actually think about it in specific terms, I have a hard time seeing what that looks like. Thus, I would love to hear some feedback from believers who have also wrestled with this idea of following the WHOLE Bible.

    As always though, Erika, thanks for sharing your opinion. I never would have thought at the beginning of the year that my most faithful commenter would turn out to be an atheist. God blesses us in mysterious ways:). Thanks for thinking with me.

  4. Oh, and I don't mean to suggest that you cannot continue to share your thoughts on this matter. Please feel free! I would just also like to hear from believers.