Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October 6

OT: Jeremiah 6:15-8:7

More talk about how the people have sinned against God through idolatry and immoral lifestyles, and how they will be punished for this sin. For me, the highlights were:

1) The contrast between 6:16 and 7:22-26. In 6:16, God admonishes the people to,

"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls."

This verse stands out to me, one, because I think there is a conservative Christian publication called "Seek the Old Paths," or something like that. And two, because it seems to espouse a common idea, which is that the past was more righteous than the present, and we need to return to it. And yet, that interpretation contrasts with God's message in 7:22-26. According to God, past generations were really bad, too. He claims that the "forefathers" he brought "out of Egypt...did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts" (22, 24). This hardly seems like a golden age to which the nation should return. And this era is when the Law was given, a fact which God mentions in verse 23. So basically, from the advent of the Law until Jeremiah's day, people had been corrupt. God says as much in verse 25-26: "From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their forefathers."

So clearly, it would seem that God's desire for people to seek the "ancient paths" does not stem from a glorification of past generations. What does it mean, then? If I had to guess, God is telling the people to seek His Law. His Law provides a path that the people should take. And so, today, I would say that the "ancient path," the "good way," is found in God's Word, in His instructions to His people. It is not found in a particular generation. To me, that is a huge difference. By nature, I do not glorify the past. I love history, but there is no period to which I long to return. I do, however, firmly believe that all Christians should seek "the good way" of God's word. And in that sense, I can see how finding the "ancient path" could involve moving forward. After all, we stand on the Biblical understanding of those who have come before us; surely we can take their learning and go even further than they did in living out God's word.

2. The stern warning in 7:4-15. In those verses, God makes clear that you cannot hide behind religion. The Israelites could not take refuge in the Temple, b/c the Temple itself could not save them. To make His point, God asks them a series of questions in verses 9-11: "Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, 'We are safe'--safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?" Even today, I think it is easy to fall into the trap of hiding behind our religion to save us. We kind of fall into the trap of thinking we are "safe" because we go to church or because we claim the "correct" beliefs. And yet, those things will not save us without a true love for God, which manifests itself in our actions. In fact, such hypocrisy seems to add even more sins to our name. The repeated phrase, "which bears my Name," seems to indicate God's great indignation with the hypocrisy of those who claim to be His followers. Not only do they condemn themselves by their actions, they defile His Temple by their presence. Yikes.

3. The idea of something not entering God's mind. In 7:31, God says, "They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire--something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind." I am very glad that God is revolted by this practice, and I just find it interesting that such a despicable act did not enter God's mind. I have to admit that there are times when I read about a particularly heinous crime or when I watched a scene from a gross horror movie as a teenager, when I have thought, "How would someone even think to do such a thing? How can you be that creatively evil?" It seems that God has the same question for His own people.

NT: Colossians 2:8-23

Today, I'm going to give you a big chunk of Johnson's theory on Colossians, as outlined in Writings of the NT. All the verses he talks about are in this section, so it seems fitting. Also, his discussion helped my understanding of the text, so I thought I'd share it. It's all about the identity of the "opponents" whose philosophy Paul is refuting:

"'[Paul's] characterizations tend to be general: he calls their teaching a 'philosophy' based on human traditions according to 'the elemental spirits of the universe' and not Christ (2:8). This 'philosophy' generates a desire to observe festivals and a special diet (2:16). It also involves an admiration for physical asceticism (2:20-22). This philosophy in fact would appear to be some variety of Judaism, since the role of Torah (2:14) and of circumcision (2:11) figure in Paul's response. The most problematic piece of the puzzle is provided by the troublesome text in 2:18:

'Let no on disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement [or, humility: tapeinophrosyne] and worship of [or, with] angels, [for such opponents are] taking a stand on visions, being puffed up without reason by a sensuous mind.'

The pieces have been put together in various ways. Some scholars have detected advocates of pagan mysteries, others an esoteric and rigorous form of Judaism, such as the Essene type. Still others have found Judaizing Gentiles, as in Galatia (see Gal. 3:19; 4:3, 9). The mention of visions, however, suggests Jewish mystics of the Merkabah variety. These were fond of esoteric traditions and demanded strict observance of Torah and sexual asceticism as prerequisites for their flights of prayer to the heavenly throne chariot (merkabah) where they 'worshiped with angels' (cf. 2 Cor. 12:1-5, Ezek. 1).

More important than their specific identity is the way the agitators understood perfection or maturity before God, and the attitude they adopted toward others in the Colossian community. They saw perfection as the achievement of new levels of spiritual status, marked by observance of law, sexual asceticism, and above all, initiation into the higher mysteries of visionary experiences. By such marks, the could identify who was 'fleshly' and who was 'spiritual.' Christ was for them only a beginning; to be fully mature before God meant taking on more elaborate and visible forms of religious observance, including the experience of higher planes of ecstasy" (396).

Wow, that took awhile to type. I really found that whole discussion to be really interesting, and not only interesting, but possibly applicable. Reading it made me wonder if I'm not a little bit like those "opponents" sometimes, if I don't see Christ as the "beginning," but then measure spiritual maturity by certain external standards. I mean, I know that we are supposed to always be growing and maturing in Christ, but Johnson's last sentence, save the ecstasy part, kind of hit me. I just don't want to subconsciously add anything to the gospel, if that makes sense.

Okay, last thing before bed: I love, love, love the last verse of today's reading: "Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (23, emphasis mine). I think the main reason I love that verse is because I am a hard-core rule follower. I love rules and external regulations. If I don't think I have enough, I'll make some up for myself. Yes, I know I'm a weirdo. And yet, I have found this verse to be so, so true. External regulations, in and of themselves, lack any value in restraining indulgence. In fact, if you factor in the Romans 7 argument, they can actually push you toward sensual indulgence. Rules can't save you. Only Christ can save you. More than outward actions has to be transformed. The heart has to be transformed, and only Christ can do that. And, on a practical level. this verse shows me the limitations of trying to regulate morality. Strictly speaking, it is impossible to legislate Biblical morality, b/c Biblical morality is not about outward actions, but about the state of one's heart.

Psalm 78:1-31

This psalm goes well with Jeremiah 7:22-26. It portrays the early Israelites just as poorly as God did to the prophet.

Proverbs 24:26

"An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips."

Or a smack in the face, if it is unpleasant honesty:).


  1. "Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" ... External regulations, in and of themselves, lack any value in restraining indulgence. In fact, if you factor in the Romans 7 argument, they can actually push you toward sensual indulgence.

    I see a straightforward application of this sentiment to the preachings of the many evangelical preachers who preached sexual purity and the evil of homosexuality and then engage in it themselves.

  2. Yeah, it really is bizarre how often that happens...

  3. I don't think it's actually that bizarre. I think that people tend to be most virulent and irrational exactly where they are weakest.

  4. True. Greg and I have both realized that the qualities that we react most vehemently to in other people are the ones we don't like about ourselves.