Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 27

OT: Jeremiah 51:1-53

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. 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.

Psalm 99:1-9

A praise psalm lifting up God's name and remembering some of His works.

Prov. 26:17

"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:).

1 comment:

  1. I had a funny thought about Titus 2 when I did this reading. The various instructions to old men, young men, old women, and young women are pretty familiar scripture. I remember when I used to read this passage with the understanding that I was one of the "young men." I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but I'm pretty sure that nowadays the advice for "older men" is what I'm supposed to be following. :-)