Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 30

OT: Daniel 7:1-28

As we enter our last month of reading through the Bible in a year, I have been pondering the value of the endeavor. Specifically, I am wondering about the value of just reading the books, without getting any background info. With the NT, I usually know enough about the books because of my background in the church. But there have been many OT books that I can't make heads or tails of. And I definitely haven't researched each of them like I should. My current belief is that reading un-researched books has very limited value in my life. It's like the Ethiopian eunuch--Scripture didn't have value to him until someone explained it to him. When I just blindly plunge into a book about which I am totally ignorant, I am not studying the Bible; I'm just reading the words. It reminds me of the phrase, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." If you don't know the background and context of the words, you can make them say just about anything you want.

I'm not sure where all that came from. Maybe it is because I didn't research Daniel at all, although the stories are familiar to me. Daniel is a good example of what I'm talking about, though. I do know that many (most?) scholars consider it to be apocalyptic literature written sometime during the Maccabean somethin'-or-'nother. I read all about it in my NT commentary last year, and the author (a believer, btw) made a pretty compelling case. I don't know if he's right, but I do know that there is nothing in the book of Daniel that overtly claims to be historical fact. It doesn't attempt to give historical details, like the Pentateuch and the histories do. It just skips around from story to story, with little or no intro to them. Today, for example, our story is set in the first year of Belshazzar's reign. Well, two chapters ago, we read about the last day of his reign. And the last chapter was set during his successor's reign. So it's not like any pains are being taken to maintain chronology or to relate historical detail.

So...what if it is apocalyptic literature? Wouldn't that mean that I would read it differently than if it were a history? Wouldn't that be something that I would need to have an opinion on going in? It just seems to me like we need to read books based on the standards they set for themselves, not on the standards my modernism and/or ignorance sets for them. If Daniel is apocalyptic literature, I shouldn't read it like a history. And I won't be able to decide unless I research it.

Which I'm not going to do tonight.

So...I guess I'll just enjoy the story? This one is less popular with the Sunday school crowd, perhaps b/c of its esoteric imagery. With all the weird animals and spinning wheels and strange details, I thought we were back in Ezekiel for a minute. Here's what I thought about, though, when I read the story (and what got me thinking about research again). If it is apocalyptic literature, then the author has specific kingdoms in mind, and those kingdoms would be based on the present historical situation at the time of writing. I can't remember who the Maccabeans revolted against (or were they the people the Jews revolted against?), but Rome helped the Jews, right? Something about Rome setting up the Hasmonean dynasty? Ehh...anyway, my thoughts kept going, b/c some parts of Daniel's vision seemed very messianic. Verses 13-14 speak of "the son of man" being able to come into the presence of God and being given authority and an everlasting kingdom. And that got me to thinking that, in terms of inspiration, it doesn't matter if the author is one of Daniel's contemporaries or some dude in the Maccabean period. He's still inspired, and he is still making messianic prophecies, even though he knows nothing about Jesus. One thing both the potential authors have in common were that they were both firmly in BC territory, chronologically speaking. So whether it is straight history or (perhaps more likely) apocalyptic literature, it is still inspired by God, and it still points to His Son.

NT: 1 John 1:1-10

Yeah, so I haven't researched 1 John, either, though I am very familiar with the content. I'm pretty sure the authorship is not in serious dispute. For one thing, just look at the language. To me, it sounds like clear-cut, see-Spot-run, light-loving, Johannine language.

Today, I particularly enjoyed the contrast between verses 5-7 and 8-10. Verses 5-7 really challenge believers with the idea that we cannot be in the light while still walking in darkness. It challenges us to leave sinfulness behind and to walk with Christ. But lest we become fooled into thinking that means we are supposed to be perfect, we have verses 8-10 to balance us out. Those verses maintain that we all have sin, and that we can be cleansed of that sin if we confess it. It's ridiculous (and dangerous) to claim that we are without sin in our lives.

Psalm 119:153-176

Random thought of the day: the psalmist cannot write an ode to God's word without interjecting his personal life and personal struggles into it (e.g. 153-4, 157-8). And that inability reminds me of...me, with this blog. I toyed with the idea of blogging straight Bible and keeping my personal life separate, but I found it completely impossible. Scripture means little to me apart from its application to my life. I have no interest in talking about it theoretically; I talk about it in the context of living it. It's kind of like this psalmist. His love for God's word is not some lofty, theoretical love. No, it is something he clings to in the midst of his personal suffering and pain. And for me, hearing about that pain enhances my understanding of his talk about his love.

Prov. 28:23-24

Against flattery and robbing your family.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November 29

OT: Daniel 6:1-28

Today, we read the famous story of Daniel and the lions' den. I have heard this story a million times, but a few things still stood out to me as I read it for the million and first time. One was the statement made by the satraps and administrators regarding Daniel's conduct: "We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God" (5). That is quite a statement, and it is with that same type of blamelessness that I strive to live my own life. Sometimes when I see something bad come out about a politician or someone, I wonder, "If someone were to scrutinize my life with that same intensity, would they find anything?" I mean, obviously they would not find anything huge and sensational, like an affair. But am I truly blameless in all I do? I want to live my life in such a way that if I were being scrutinized by others, they could not find anything against me.

It also struck me how flippant the kings could be when it came to making laws, and yet, how rigid the rules were against revoking them. Compared to our own government, the Babylonians' system is horrible! (And same with King Xerxes' system in Esther.) It really hit me today how bad it would be to live in a land where one man's whims could immediately become irreversible law. That king didn't even have ultimate power. Whatever happened to come out of his mouth at any given time is what had ultimate power. That makes no sense. I'm so thankful that governments have since evolved far beyond that point.

I was struck again by that terrible power of the king when he demanded that Daniel's accusers be thrown into the den of lions, along with their wives and children. Good grief! Did he not learn his lesson about impetuousness with his first decree? The idea of innocent women and children being devoured by lions is so sad! I'm very glad that that general model of judging the family for the sins of the father has passed.

NT: 2 Peter 3:1-18

Like many of the pastoral letters, 2 Peter spends some time prepping the church for settling in for the long haul. Many seemed to believe that Jesus' return was imminent. To them, Peter urged patience, and he gave a bit of explanation:

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (8-9).

The two elements of Peter's explanation is that God's plan and His sense of time are bigger than ours, and His delay comes from patience, wanting to give everyone a chance to turn to Him.

Even though Peter urges patience, he still employs the image of God's return to spur the church to righteousness. He tells them, "Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward tot he day of God and speed its coming" (12). In verse 14, he elaborates that, "since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him."

As Peter closes his letter, he also mentions Paul, both to emphasize his agreement with him (15), and to warn that Paul's letters are a little confusing and thus, open to distortion (16). I agree with him; Paul's letters can definitely be confusing!

Psalm 119: 129-152

We read three more stanzas today. My favorite verse was verse 143:

"Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands are my delight."

I like the idea that, even in the midst of trouble, we can always take delight in following God's commands. After all, to borrow a phrase from Peter, following God's commands allows us to "participate in the divine nature." And that is a delightful thing.

Prov. 28:21-22

Against showing partiality and being stingy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 28

OT: Daniel 6:1-28

Chapter 6 abruptly transitions from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to the reign of Belshazzar. We are given no information to bridge the two reigns. Thus, some questions I had that were left unanswered were, What happened to Nebuchadnezzar? Where do Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego figure into this new king's entourage? Or do they? Belshazzar seems not to be aware of Daniel, although his wife does. So what have Daniel and friends been doing during this time? And for that matter, how has Belshazzar's reign been going? We only see it on its last night.

And on its last night, the king has a feast with articles brought from Nebuchadnezzar's temple, which was a temple to idols (22-23). Thus, God let him know that his reign was about to end by writing in Aramaic on the wall, "Numbered, numbered, weighed, divided," or "mene, mene, tekil, parsin" (25). At the behest of Belshazzar's wife, Daniel was brought before the king to explain the writing. What was confusing to me was that Daniel contrasted the idolatrous Belshazzar with the supposedly faithful Nebuchadnezzar. But it was Nebuchadnezzar's temple from which Belshazzar got the idols. So...it doesn't really seem like Nebuchadnezzar was that faithful to me.

Anyway, at the end of the chapter (and the end of the night), Belshazzar is slain and replaced by Darius the Mede. That means we have the lion's den coming up! One great thing about Daniel is that so far, it has been totally full of accessible stories.

NT: 2 Peter 2:1-22

Today, Peter lights into "false prophets" (1). It's hard to get a clear picture of these people because Peter's description of them is so varied. According to chapter 2, here are some of the things that the false prophets do:

--"secretly introduce destructive heresies" (1)
--"bring the way of truth into disrepute" (2)
--be greedy (3)
--exploit people with made up stories (3)
--"follow the corrupt desire of sinful nature" (10)
--"despise authority" (10)
--be "bold and arrogant" (10)
--"slander celestial beings" (10)
--"blaspheme in matters they do not understand" (12)
--act like "brute beasts, creatures of instinct" (12)
--"carouse in broad daylight...reveling in their pleasures while they feast with" other Christians (13)
--have adulterous eyes (14)
--"never stop sinning" (14)
--"seduce the unstable" (14)
--"are experts in greed" (14)
--"have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam" (15)
--"mouth empty, boastful words appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature" (18)
--"entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error" (18).
--promise people freedom, "while they themselves are slaves of depravity" (19)

Because of the wide variety of the accusations against these false prophets, it is difficult to give a coherent summary of their sin. I would say, though, that the main thrust of Peter's accusations is that they are teaching, by words and by actions, that you can be a Christian and still indulge in the sinful nature. The only accusations that don't specifically fit in with that summary are the one about slandering celestial beings and blaspheming against stuff they don't understand. All the other accusations can fit into that synopsis.

Besides the diatribe against false prophets, the two other themes running through chapter 2 are angels and the Old Testament. Peter makes a few esoteric statements about angels here. In verse 4, he mentions that "God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment." Then, in verse 11, he accuses the false prophets of slandering celestial beings, and maintains that "although they are stronger and more powerful, [angels] do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord." There is a lot that is interesting about this statement, but for me, the main thing was that Peter seems to differentiate between angels and celestial beings. So...if celestial beings are not angels, then what are they? And how can people make slanderous accusations against them? What kind of accusations? I would really like to know more about Peter's thinking on angels.

The other theme is Peter's use of the OT. In his discussion in verses 5-9, he takes a page from Paul's playbook in 1 Corinthians 10:1-10. In these sections, both Paul and Peter use the OT as a warning to NT Christians to avoid immorality. They highlight various evil actions that were committed in the OT, and emphasize God's punishment of those actions, in order to deter NT Christians from taking their morality lightly. Peter also continues this trend when he talks about Balaam in 15-16.

At the end of the chapter, Peter says that it is better to never be a Christian than to know God and then turn back to sin (20-22). That reminds me of a similar idea in Hebrews 10:25-29 about deliberately sinning after receiving knowledge of the truth. There was another similar passage we have read about how bad it is to reject God after knowing the truth, but I can't find it. If you know where it is, please share.

Psalm 119: 113-128

Several verses in today's psalm reminded me of the 2 Peter reading. Mainly, it was the verses like 118-119 and 126-8. Those verses emphasize how wrong-doers will be punished and how the righteous need to stay on God's path.

Prov. 28:19-20

Two proverbs against chasing fantasies and wanting quick riches.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

November 27

OT: Daniel 4:1-27

Well, today's story was familiar, but I had forgotten about the strange presentation of it. In the plot of Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about a tree that gets chopped down. He learns from Daniel that the tree represents Nebuchadnezzar himself and his eventual, temporary loss of sanity. God will take his sanity from him to show him that God is in control, and not him. In other words, Nebuchadnezzar's craziness is the result of his pride. All this happens, and as a result, the king finally acknowledges God's sovereignty and has his kingdom restored.

While the storyline is straightforward, the presentation is confusing. It starts with a letter from Nebuchadnezzar to all the people of the world (4:1). There is no introduction to this letter, and so when Neb started talking about a dream he had, I initially assumed he was talking about the statue dream from chapter 2. The dream in the letter, however, was totally different. As I read, I also got confused because of the shifts in person. Nebuchadnezzar alternates between first and third person, which made me wonder at first if the whole chapter was the letter, or if only parts were. But reading back over it, I see that the whole chapter was the letter.

One thing you do see in the letter is that Nebuchadnezzar still doesn't fully get the idea of God. The letter was written after the fact of this experience, and yet, he says of Daniel, "the spirit of the holy gods is in him" (8). So clearly, even after this experience with God-given insanity, he hasn't quite caught on to the picture of monotheism that Daniel is presenting to him.

NT: 1 Peter 1:1-21

I love verses 2-8, because it is loved by those close to me. My friend, Courtney, has latched on to verses 3-4, and has emphasized in particular the idea that God has already given us "everything we need for life and godliness" (3). Her point is that we so often get overwhelmed and stressed by life's demands, and we feel inadequate to our tasks. And yet, with God's power, we are never inadequate in the face of the tasks He gives us. As Christians, we are already equipped with all that we need for life and godliness.

I especially like the application of that concept that is found in verse 4. Through God's power that He gives us, we are able to "participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." I especially love the phrase, "participate in the divine nature." That is exactly what I long to do in this life. I don't just want to worship God from a distance; I want to commune with Him by participating in His very nature. And I do that, I believe, through the love that I show to other people.

Greg loves verses 5-7 and has preached a couple of good lessons on them. One point that he made that I really liked is that love, that very quality through which we participate in God's divine nature, comes only after a process of spiritual growth and development. You start with just faith and with the desire to "be good." Because of your desire to be good, you then seek to grow in the knowledge of what is good. And what you learn teaches you the importance of controlling yourself and reining in your sinful impulses. And self-control over time is perseverance. Perseverance leads you to a form of love, which is brotherly kindness. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, after all. And then you get to real, deep, agape love. It really helped me to understand how much truly loving someone is part of a greater spiritual process.

And I also love how this process "keep[s] you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." I hate ineffectiveness about as much as I do unproductiveness, so the assurance that that "these qualities" listed in 5-7 will keep me from both is very comforting to me.

Psalm 119: 97-112

Two more stanzas of the psalmist's ode to God's word. I love the passion behind these ideas, as well as the ideas themselves. This psalm motivates me to dive into my Bible study, which I hope to do much more of this coming week.

Prov. 28:17-18

Verse 17 is about the negative effects of murder on the murderer. Verse 18 contrasts the blameless with the perverse.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 26

OT: Daniel 2:4-3:30

Today, we read the exciting conclusion of the Nebuchadnezzar dream story. After giving all credit to God, Daniel proceeded to relate Neb's dream of a four part statue, which represented four major kingdoms of the world. The dream also foretold of God's kingdom, which would be established in the time of the fourth kingdom, and which would last through eternity. In Sunday school, I learned theories of which kingdoms were represented by the statues, but I can't remember them right now. I do know that the Medo-Persians were involved.

In chapter 3, we read the story of the fiery furnace. I've always wondered where Daniel was during this time and why he was not defying the king's orders along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Regardless, it is a good story. My favorite part is the quote from the three men to Nebuchadnezzar: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (3:17-18). To me, that is the ultimate statement of faith. Their faith is not dependent on God's actions. He can save them or let them die--it doesn't matter. They will choose to have faith and to be faithful either way.

NT: 1 Peter 4:7-5:14

I deduced from this passage that Peter shared the belief of many NT Christians that Jesus was going to come back very, very soon. My deduction stemmed from 4:7, in which the author declares, "The end of all things is near." Well....not really....

I do agree that the end of all things is near fore each of us personally, though, which makes the instructions that follow that declaration pertinent to all of us. In light of the brevity of life, we do need to "be clear minded and self-controlled so that [we] can pray" (7). And we should "offer hospitality" to each other and "use whatever gift [we have] received to serve others" (10). I love that reminder that our gifts and talents and resources are not given to us for our own sake, but for the sake of the larger body of Christ. Also, I like the idea that God's grace comes in various forms, and those forms are the different gifts that He gives each of us (10). In lavishing love on my family this week, my parents are administering one form of God's grace to us. In hosting a gingerbread house party for the kids at my church, I am administering another form of God's grace to them. In teaching God's word to others, the teachers at my church are administering yet another form of God's grace. You get the point. The list goes on and on. But the bottom line is that when we do these things for each other, we are showing God's grace to one another.

Verses 12-19 continue the theme of suffering. In chapter 5, Peter gives some advice to elders and to young men, respectively (1-5). He also tells his audience once again to "be self-controlled and alert" and to be aware of/resist the devil (8-9). He closes with the reminder that God will help them stay strong (10).

Psalm 119: 81-96

In these two stanzas, the psalmist emphasizes that he would have died without his love for God's word.

Prov. 28:15-16

Against wicked rulers.

November 25

OT: Daniel 1:1-2:23

WOO-HOO!! We are in Daniel, people! That is so exciting to me.

I enjoyed reading the familiar narrative today, especially in light of all the prophecies we've been reading about the Babylonian exile. We've seen the perspective of Jeremiah, who was left behind with the exiles, and we've seen the perspective of Ezekiel who was taken in the first wave and lived with the "common people." Now, we get to see the perspective of the young, rich men who were taken into the king's service. I have to say, when you think of the big picture, Daniel and his friends had a pretty sweet deal. They got relocated into a (relatively) sophisticated culture, and were given the royal treatment: good education, good food, good wine. On the other hand, though, they were ripped away from their families and all that they knew, and carried into a foreign land. So it was a mixed bag.

Here's a random detail I've always found interesting: Daniel is known by his Hebrew name. And yet, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are known by their new Babylonian names. Why is that? It's not a big deal, but I'd appreciate some consistency here:).

The story of Daniel refusing to eat the king's food has a lot of applicability to teenagers, and so I've heard it used in lots of illustrations in sermons to youth. The idea generally conveyed by the speakers is that, like Daniel, teenagers live in a Babylon, a culture that continually pressures and lures them to conform to its standards. They are also surrounded by their peers, who often wield more influence over them than do their parents. Thus, like Daniel, they need to resist their culture and resist peer pressure, and instead conform to God's standards, the standards that have (hopefully) been passed to them from their families.

In chapter 2, we read the first half of the story of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and we see the more brutal side of the Babylonian culture. Because his wise men could not tell the king his dream, he decreed that all the men be cut into pieces and their houses destroyed. Good grief! That is not great leadership! Thankfully, Daniel prayed to God, and God revealed the dream to him. Tomorrow, we will read the rest.

NT: 1 Peter 3:8-4:6

I enjoyed reading these instructions to Peter's audience. Perhaps my two favorite parts were 3:8-9 and 3:15-16. The first says, "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil for evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." The second says, "But in your hearts always set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." I love how both of these instructions emphasize good interpersonal skills. Christian behavior should be defined by love and harmony and compassion and gentleness and respect. Those are such important parts of our witness.

My Church of Christ self has to give a shout out to 3:18-21, which is a good baptism reference.

Chapter 4 again extols the virtues of suffering, which is a recurring theme in 1 Peter. One of the benefits of suffering mentioned today is that suffering strengthens us so that we are more resistant to sin (4:1). That makes sense to me. To withstand physical suffering (and especially to do so with grace and strength) requires perseverance, like James says. And that perseverance can also help people as they fight their own sinful impulses.

Psalm 119:65-80

Speaking of the goodness of suffering, verse 71 says,

"It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees."

I thought that idea tied in well with Peter.

Prov. 28:14

It's good to fear God, and bad to harden our hearts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 24

OT: Ezekiel 47:1-48:35

Chapter 47 has one of those prophecies where you are reading, and it slowly starts to dawn on you that it's a metaphor of some kind. Maybe the fact that it dawned on me slowly reveals more about my own intelligence than the nature of the prophecy, but regardless, I did finally conclude midway through the water section that the water was somehow Israel. In an inversion of Jesus' metaphor about the goodness of saltiness in Matt. 5:13, Ezekiel describes Israel as the fresh water that will desalinate the "world" of the Mediterranean Sea. The fresh water starts from the temple, and eventually spreads to all the water, bringing all kinds of life and vegetation with it (47: 3-10). As much as the fresh water spreads, however, there will still be pockets of saltiness that will not desalinate (11). So there's your metaphor.

The rest of chapter 47 and 48 are devoted to land allotment. Now, normally, that is not a fascinating topic, and it wasn't really that scintillating today. In light of my thoughts on property ownership from yesterday, however, it did raise a few questions. The main question was, "Hasn't the land already been allotted?" Don't the tribes already have their eternally granted properties? If so, is this just a reinforcement of those existing property lines, or are these new portions? That would probably be easy enough to figure out, but--full disclosure--I'm currently at Disney World, about to leave for the "Pirates and Pals" fireworks show, so the chances that I'm going to be doing a comparative study of Ezekiel and Leviticus (or Numbers or Deuteronomy) tonight are slim. However, I note for future record that if these land allotments are different, then I have a few questions about them.

NT: 1 Peter 2:11-3:7

Speaking of Disney World, I am definitely experiencing some cognitive dissonance between reveling in "the happiest place on earth" and reading instructions to live "as aliens and strangers in the world" (2:11). I don't really feel guilty, and I am loving spoiling my children (or rather, having my children spoiled, as I am in no way personally bankrolling this little venture), but my readings have definitely helped keep our vacation in perspective. The "eternal" part of this vacation is the love we pour into our children, which will hopefully equip them with the confidence to go out into the world and serve boldly.

Anyhow, today Peter urges us to "abstain from sinful desires" and to "live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (12). I love that. So often when I am on the internet (usually on a Christian site, which makes it even worse), I see Christians behaving terribly toward "pagans." There seems to be this idea that if you just make someone feel stupid, then they will see the error of their beliefs. In the meantime, I'm reading such comments and thinking, "You've lost already." It doesn't matter if we make our point when talking to non-Christians. If we don't do it with love, we've lost. 1 Peter gets this. Rather than tell us to make converts with our wittiness and brilliance, it advises us that the best witness is our own good actions.

Along those lines, verses 13-15 tell us to submit to authorities. Verse 15 makes clear that the reason for this advised obedience is to "silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." Again, we silence that talk through "doing good" (15). I think the instructions to slaves regarding masters are given here for similar reasons, though such submission also has the added bonus of making you more Christ-like (18-22). That idea, though naturally repugnant to us, would probably be encouraging to an audience familiar with unjust suffering, whether slave or free.

Chapter 3 continues the trend of valuing good works by advising women to submit to their husband and to define themselves by their inner character qualities rather than their outer appearance (4-5). Similarly, husbands are to treat their wives well.

Psalm 119: 49-64

Two more stanzas of the ode to God's word. The "Zayin" stanza reminds me of 1 Peter, b/c it deals some with suffering. The verse that jumped out to me was verse 50:

"My comfort in suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life."

Peter has been busy elaborating on this comfort to the early church.

Prov. 28: 12-13

The first contrasts the popular reaction to the victories of the righteous and wicked, respectively. The second advises people to confess their sins.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 23

OT: Ezekiel 45:13-46:24

Ezekiel continues to update the law. As in past days, the major changes have to do with the temple. Also, in today's reading, several mentions were made of "the prince" (45:16-17, 22-25, 46: 2-8, 10, 16-18). Moses' law made mention of a future king, but it definitely did not contain this degree of regulation regarding the king.

In 46: 16-18, there are some laws about property ownership, and I think that the Israelite theory of land ownership is fascinating. In so many cultures (including my own), land is a commodity that belongs to whoever can buy it (or in the past, take it through force). In Native American cultures, the land belonged to no one. The Israelite culture took kind of a middle ground. Ultimate ownership of the land was not determined by money, like in my culture. But unlike the Native American culture, it did belong to someone. It was regarded as a person's portion, or inheritance, and as such, it could never be taken away from that person's descendants. It could be transferred temporarily, but it was always to revert back.

NT: 1 Peter 1:13-2:20

The instructions today have a stern edge to them: they advocate self-control (13), obedience (14),and holiness (15-16). They remind us of God's impending judgment, and of the subsequent need to "live your lives as strangers here, in reverent fear. In verse 22, the text tells us to "love one another deeply, from the heart."

There are many reasons given for such instructions. First of all, we have been redeemed with "the precious blood of Christ" (19). Secondly, we have been born again, "of imperishable" seed (23). Thirdly, our lives here are very short (24-25). When we understand those ideas, it becomes a lot easier to live with the kind of focus that today's scripture requires.

I also like the idea of us being a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (2:9). So often, I tend to be a "lone ranger" in my relationship with God, but in the past few years, especially, I have learned more and more how it is supposed to be a collective experience.

Psalm 119:33-48

The "He" stanza emphasizes how much God has to teach us to follow His word. It's not something we naturally do on our own.

Prov. 28:11

Argues that there is not necessarily a correlation between wisdom and wealth.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22

OT: Ezekiel 44:1-45:12

Well, it really does seem like we are getting an update on the Law. I wonder why this new version never comes up in the NT, particularly in the gospels. Lots of times, they refer to the law of Moses. But not the law of Ezekiel. Granted, I don't have a good enough memory of Mosaic Law to know how much of this new stuff is repeat and how much is new. But I think the stuff about the sacred districts is new, as is everything that has to do with the temple.

The description of priestly attire in verse 44: 18 is interesting: "They are to wear linen turbans on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire." I don't know that any mention of this was in the Mosaic Law (and I'm too tired to look it up right now), but my preacher preached an interesting sermon around this verse. He theorized that the idea behind this command was that God did not want the priests to be all sweaty, causing people to stop and say, "Wow, look how hard they are working." If that happened, it would take the focus off God and onto the priests themselves. And when the focus was on the workers, it distracted from the Lord. The application was that, as workers for God, people should not see us "sweat." Whenever we mention what we are doing for God, or draw attention to how hard we are working, we are taking the focus off God and putting it onto our own efforts. I thought that was an interesting theory behind and application to this verse.

NT: 1 Peter 1: 1-12

We've moved on to the next book, which is yet another reminder that we are on the home stretch.

According to the intro, the author is Peter, and the audience is the persecuted and scattered church. Peter's purpose in this first section seems to be to give some much needed encouragement to the beleaguered Christians. He starts by reminding them of all the good stuff that comes with following God:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade..."(3-4a).

As Christians, we have been born into a new life, full of the hope of eternal life. And that was good for these guys to hear, b/c of all they were going through. Peter even puts a positive spin on all that:

"In this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (6-7).

Peter emphasizes the short duration of the trial ("a little while"), as well as all the good that is going to come from these trials (refinement of faith; praise, glory, and honor).

He also points out how these early Christians enjoy a privileged position in the grand narrative of God's relationship with man. Unlike the prophets who came before them, they have knowledge of the Christ.

Psalm 119:17-32

I liked how the psalmist referred to himself as "a stranger on earth" (19), b/c that designation is what Peter gave to his audience. He called them "strangers in the world" (2).

I also love verse 32:

"I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free."


Prov. 28:8-10

Three proverbs against corruption. The first speaks out against collecting exorbitant interest. The second is against ignoring the law. The third warns against leading others astray.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 21

I think I'm going to try to do the OT and NT in question format. Heaven knows I had enough questions...

OT: Ezekiel 44:1-45:12

Wow, how detailed are these temple measurements?
Is it just me, or are we getting repeats of measurements by this time?
Is it possible to picture exactly what the angel is showing him?
And more importantly, why are these measurements so detailed?
Why does it seem like the angel is giving Ezekiel a whole new Law?
Or is it a whole new Law?
Is there any overlap between these instructions regarding temple measurements and sacrifices, and the Mosaic Law?
Is this just an update of Mosaic Law from the tabernacle to the Temple?
How do these external regulations relate to Jeremiah's idea of writing the Law on their hearts?
Does Jeremiah's idea just apply to Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit?
Why institute a whole new set of laws so close to the coming of the Messiah?
Should I consider 400+ years as too close to be giving new laws?
Did the returning Israelites pattern the Temple after this vision?

NT: James 5:1-20

What does James have against rich people?
Is he against rich people per se, or just against rich people who hoard their wealth, cheat their workers, and murder innocent men (3, 4, 6)?
What qualifies as a life of luxury and self-indulgence (5)?
In what ways, if any, do I fit the description of this type of rich person?
What does James mean that the Lord's coming is near (8)?
Why does he say, "above all," before giving the command regarding swearing?
Is swearing really more important than doing good works, holding our tongue, and being spiritually wise?
If we say anything more vehement than "yes" and "no," are we really going to be condemned (12)?
If not, why did he say that?
What does condemned mean in this context?
Why don't we have our elders anoint us with oil in the name of the Lord when we are sick?
Can your prayers really gain someone else forgiveness for their sins (15)?
And what about this whole healing through prayer thing?
Is that supposed to be a blanket statement?
Why does the book end so abruptly?
Why do I have so many questions today?

Honestly, part of the reason I have so many questions is that I'm irritated that my exhausted son is tossing and turning and still not going to sleep after laying in bed for an hour. I'm stuck in a hotel room with him, and I'm stressed about his lack of sleep, and all that is making me cranky, and when I'm cranky, I have lots of questions. I'm not sure why; I just know that about myself.

But I'm glad I wrote these questions down. Maybe when I read back through the Bible two years from now, I'll be in a better frame of mind and can actually answer some of them!

Psalm 119:1-16

I didn't have questions about Psalm 119. In fact, I really liked it. I especially liked 9-11:

"How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you."

Oh, no. I just copied that from biblegateway, and the NIV is different! It's supposed to say, "How can a young man keep his way pure?" Oh dear. This is going to require quite an adjustment for me. Turns out, I've memorized most my Bible verses in what is now an outdated translation!

Prov. 28:6-7

Verse 6 says its better to be poor and blameless than rich and perverse. Verse 8 contrasts those who keep the law and those who hang out with gluttons.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November 20

OT: Ezekiel 40:28-41:26

Oh my heavens. The temple measurements continued throughout today's reading. That was all there was. Measurements. So many details, and yet I don't have the foggiest clue what this thing looks like. I'm just picturing a lot of walls and alcoves and palm trees and cherubim. Everything is very symmetrical and uniform. And beyond that, I don't have a clue.

All I know is that it appears to be a vision of the restored temple. Maybe tomorrow we will see where he is going with this.

NT: James 4: 1-17

Thank goodness for good ol' practical James. It is a wonderful counterbalance to the tedium of Ezekiel right now.

Today, James warns us to resist the selfish "desires that battle within you" (1). Such desires lead to coveting, quarreling, and even murder. They also sabotage our prayers by infusing them with impure motives (3). Instead, we are to resist such worldly impulses, separate ourselves from the world, fight the devil, and submit to God (4-7).

I love the simple, parallel wording found in verses 7-8: "Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." My favorite phrase in there is, "Come near to God and he will come near to you." That is one of those verses that comes into my head often, one that has built itself into the foundation of my faith.

Verses 11-12 talk about judgment. I have been interested in the NT's teaching on judgment lately, b/c my mom has enlisted my help in writing a lesson on the subject. Specifically, the lesson addresses how we are supposed to treat our brothers and sisters. My mom falls firmly on the "don't judge" side, as do I...and yet, there are several passages in the Bible that seem to advocate some level of "in house" judging, or judging among Christians. These verses in James, however, support the other side of the coin. They warn against the folly of judging others, and conclude by asking rhetorically, "But you--who are you to judge your neighbor?" (12).

In verses 13-15, James warns against the presumption of treating future plans as if they were set in stone. I don't know if it was b/c of a sermon I heard one time, or what, but these verses have deeply influence my way of thinking, to the point where I can hardly relate future plans without throwing in a knee-jerk, "God willing." Although the words can be reflexive and shallow, I am appreciative of these verses for providing the constant reminder that my future is not in my hands. We are not the masters of our own fate, and it is delusional to act otherwise.

Psalm 118:18-29

The praise psalm continues, and in it, we find the famous verse,

"The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone" (22).

It's famous because Jesus quoted it in all the synoptics. (Confession: I was sure that Paul had quoted it, maybe in Corinthians, but I looked it up to be certain. And I was truly flabbergasted that it was Jesus who had quoted it, and in all three synoptic gospels. Peter also preached it in Acts 4, and it is mentioned in 1 Peter. But not Paul, ever.)

Prov. 28:3-5

Regarding justice.

Friday, November 19, 2010

November 19

OT: Ezekiel 39:1-40:27

In chapter 39, Ezekiel continues his prophecy against Gog of Magog. I'm still unsure of who they are, so I turned to my "trusty" Google. One of the first sites I clicked on referenced Gen. 10:2, which listed Magog as a son of Japheth. The site went on to say that Magog was associated with the ancient people known as the Scythians. Keep in mind, though, that it said all this in large, bright blue, comic sans font, so take it with a grain of salt:).

Anyhow, that doesn't help me know who they were, and frankly, I'm not really motivated to pursue the issue further right now. Regardless of who they are, the prophecy says that they will one day attack Israel and be slaughtered by them. Animals will feast on their bodies (17-20), and then the Israelites will bury their many, many bones (11-16).

In chapter 40, God gives Ezekiel a vision of the temple in the land of Israel (apparently, a restored land). The entire chapter is then taken up with detailed measurements of the temple. Hopefully, we will see the point of this vision in tomorrow's reading. Today's was just the set up.

NT: James 2:18-3:18

Well, Ezekiel didn't do much for me today, but it's okay b/c James was wonderful!

First, James wraps up the discussion on faith and deeds. His main point in verses 18-26 seems to be that you cannot separate faith from deeds. In verse 18, he rhetorically quotes someone who separates the two, and then he counters, "I will show you my faith by what I do." He then gives three examples to show that faith without works is dead. The first example is of the demons, who do have faith in God and even fear of God, even though they obviously don't follow Him (19). The second example is Abraham, whose faith in God was supported by his active willingness to sacrifice his only son (21-23). His third example is Rahab, whose faith was shown in her aid to the spies (25). His point is that, as with Abraham, our faith and actions work together (22). It is funny, though, that the verse James quotes to make his point (Gen 15:6, quoted in verse 23), is also used by Paul to make a completely different point. At least I think it is. If I recall correctly, Paul is making the point that righteousness comes by faith and not through the law. He cites Abraham b/c Abraham came before the law. And I don't think James is disputing that. He is just making the broader point that our faith and our actions are meant to coincide.

In chapter 3, we get another famous passage: the section on taming the tongue. James colorfully compares the tongue to a bit in a horses' mouth, a rudder of a ship, and a spark that starts a forest fire. The point is that, as small as our tongue is, it controls us more easily than we control it. I personally have found this to be very true. In verses 9-11, James makes the point that it is ironic (and, I might add, hypocritical) that we use the same tongue to "praise our Lord and Father, and curse men, who have been made in God's likeness." Thinking of that view of man reminded me of something C.S. Lewis said. I don't have the exact quote, or even where he said it, but he made the obvious-if-you-think-about-it point that all the people we deal with on a daily basis--including the people we snub and judge and ignore--are eternal souls. When you think about people that way, as beings made in the image of God, it becomes much harder to treat them dismissively.

I also liked verses 13-18, which speaks of truly wise people as those who live good lives, filled with good deeds and humility. I especially love the description of wisdom in verse 17:

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."

I very much want to be wise by these standards.

Psalm 118: 1-18

A praise psalm.

Prov. 28:2

On the nature of a good king.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November 18

OT: Ezekiel 37:1-38:23

Today, we read what is by far the most famous passage in Ezekiel: the valley of the dry bones. It's weird, b/c as prominent a place as we've given it, it is not even the biggest section of the chapter. That award goes to the second part (15-28), which was dedicated to a strange metaphor about joining two sticks together, Ephraim and Judah.

The fourteen verses that told of the valley of the dry bones described yet another of Ezekiel's visions. God took him to a valley of bones and proceeded to bring the bones back to life. For Ezekiel's purposes, the metaphor related to how God was going to resuscitate the dying nation of Judah. I think the illustration has since been more widely applied to the idea that God can breathe life into the dead, as shown both in Jesus' miracles (and His resurrection) and, spiritually speaking, in our lives today.

Chapter 38 contains a prophecy against Gog, which foretells of a day when Gog will attack the restored Israel and be destroyed.

NT: James 1:19-2:17

Today's reading was hard-hitting for me, coming as it did after a day in which I lived less than gloriously. James reminded me that I should hold my tongue and be slow to anger (19), and that it is useless for me to simply listen to the Bible without applying it (22-25).

One verse that has had a recurring impact on me lately is 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." That idea has influenced a lot of my actions of late.

In chapter 2, James reminds us not to show favoritism, especially based on wealth. I don't think that I tend to show favoritism strictly b/c of money, but I do see how I can gravitate toward the effects of money. For example, I would rather hang out with a well educated person than a poorly educated person. I would rather spend time with people who have a certain amount of social graces than someone who has never learned those graces. I would rather spend time with people who are well spoken and have had a variety of interesting experiences than someone with limited experience and limited ability to articulate. And not always, but often, there is a correlation between wealth and education, wealth and social graces, wealth and richness of experience. And so, generally, the people I gravitate toward are not usually very poor. They also aren't generally extremely wealthy, but you get the idea. These verses remind me that I need to make a point to reach out to all people, not just the ones who have something to offer me personally.

Near the end of the section, James hits the "faith and works" discussion, in which he boldly declares that "faith by itself...is dead" (17). I know that is a strong sentiment, but it makes perfect sense to me, and I think James' discussion provides a nice counterpart to the Pauline thought in Romans. To me, both ideas are meant to be understood in light of each other.

Psalm 117:1-2

Wow, that was a really short psalm.

Prov. 28:1

Contrasts the cowardliness of the wicked with the boldness of the righteous.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 17

OT: Ezekiel 35:1-36:38

Since Ezekiel is symbolically prophesying to mountains today, I googled Mount Seir to see who he was talking about. According to Wikipedia, Mount Seir was on the southeastern border of Edom and Judah. So this prophecy is to Edom. Shockingly, it is full of doom and gloom, not just because Edom shed blood (after all, God has had several countries shed plenty of blood), but because they enjoyed it so much and they gloated over Israel during the process (35:6, 12-15).

In chapter 36, Ezekiel offers some hope to the beleaguered Israel (1-12), but also reminds them that they brought this calamity on themselves (13-20). God also makes clear that He is not restoring Judah b/c they deserve it, but instead, He is acting out of concern for His holy name (21-23, 32). He also tells the Israelites that, "I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws" (27). I don't know how Bible scholars interpret that prophecy, but I wonder if it found its ultimate fulfillment in Acts 2, where God's Spirit descends upon His church for the first time.

Ever since I discovered this Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible (published in 1973, baby, and looking very much the part), I have liked referring to it, b/c it has a bite-sized paragraph on each chapter of the Bible, along with lots of color pictures:). Regarding chapter 36, it reads in part,

"Those who returned from exile were truly and permanently cured of idolatry (25). But the total transformation of a 'new heart' is realized only 'in Christ' (2 Cor. 5:17). Ezekiel was thinking of something far more complex than a heart transplant: the heart, in Jewish though, stood for the whole personality, the essential man."

I thought that was all pretty interesting. And it seemed to me that the handbook's explanation of the prophecy was a great example of sensus plenior application.

NT: James 1:1-18

Ahhh, I love me some James. Martin Luther called James "an epistle of straw," mainly b/c it threw a kink in his precious "sole fide" theory. In seeming contrast to a lot of Pauline thought, James really emphasizes the importance of actions in the life of a Christian. Apparently, people see that idea (expressed most fully in James 2) as some big contradiction to Paul. To that I say, "Where did you get the impression that actions don't matter to Paul?" Paul is all about actions. Remember? He is Mr. "Hand them over to Satan" if a Christian's actions don't match their talk. His letters are full of instructions and guidelines on just about every area of Christian action.

Anyhow, I'm getting ahead of myself. Today's reading contains several distinct sections, all of them good. The first is found in 2-6. Verse 2 is especially famous: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds..." I can never read that without remembering my brother's retort, which he once wrote me in a letter. In discussing his response to his troubles, he brought up his thoughts about James. "'Consider it pure joy?' he said, "Yeah, right. Consider it pure hell.'" As, um, forceful as his response was, I think it highlights the craziness of James' idea. I always test this idea when I have a particularly bad stomach virus. I lie in bed and think, "I am going to consider this pure joy." It doesn't work very well, especially when you consider joy to be synonymous with happiness. But in the Christian worldview, the highest goal is to become more like Christ. Our suffering makes us more like Christ, by testing our faith, developing perseverance in us, and making us mature and complete. Thus, it is good, at least in the hands of a person who allows it to do those things.

Verses 9-11 exalt the poor and slam the rich, and they also provide a reminder that, like the rich man, we are like transient flowers, which soon fade away.

Verse 12 is about perseverance, and relates well to verses 2-6.

And verses 16-18 remind us that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." I love that wording. Did you hear that they retranslated the NIV? I am not happy about that. I hope this verse stayed the same, though.

Psalm 116:1-19

A praise psalm to God for rescuing the author from personal distress.

Prov. 27:23-27

These four verses seem to be an admonition to keep track of your financial business.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November 16

OT: Ezekiel 33:1-34:31

In chapter 33, Ezekiel hears that Jerusalem has fallen and shares a prophecy that he claims to receive the night before. I believe him, of course, but I can see how skeptics would think, "Suuuuuure." Although, honestly, he has been prophesying the fall of Jerusalem for awhile now, and the actual content of the prophecy is not all about the fall of Jerusalem. Instead, it is another reminder that people will be judged individually, according to their actions. People who turn from their wickedness will be saved, and people who turn from their righteousness will not. Past actions do not matter; it is what the people are doing right now that counts.

In chapter 34, I noticed many themes that continue in the New Testament. Verses 1-10 describe the leaders of Judah as "shepherds," and these shepherds are condemned in an elaborate metaphor. Similarly, the leaders of the New Testament church are called elders, or shepherds (1 Peter 5). The condemnation of these leaders is also echoed in some of Jesus' accusations against the Pharisees, such as when he accuses them of placing heavy burdens on the people.

In verses 11-16, God says that because the earthly shepherds are doing such a lousy job, that He Himself will be their shepherd. This metaphor is, of course, continued by Jesus, who calls Himself the "good Shepherd," and provides his own lengthy metaphor contrasting Himself with hired hands and sheep thieves (John 10).

In verses 17-24, God says that, in His role as shepherd, He will judge "between one sheep and another, between rams and goats" (17). The figurative language here is very similar to Jesus' description of judgment in Matthew 25.

In verse 25, God says that He will "make a covenant of peace" with His people, which reminded me of the talk of reconciliation b/t man and God in Ephesians 2 and 2 Cor. 5.

I always like seeing how themes of the OT inform the language of the NT. It is a helpful reminder that the two testaments are not disjointed, conflicting documents, but rather one story of God's relationship with man. The one flows naturally into the other.

NT: Hebrews 13:1-25

The Hebrew writer concludes today with the usual potpourri of instructions. He urges the church to keep loving each other (1), to keep showing hospitality (2), to remember those in prison (3), to honor marriage (4), to be content and free of the love of money (5), to continue to imitate their leaders (7), to stay grounded in the face of "strange teachings" (9), to obey their leaders (17), and to pray for the author (18-19).

I like the idea of entertaining angels. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I like it. I also like how verses 9-10 urge the people to continue to rely on grace for justification, rather than falling into the trap of relying on outward rules. I personally can always use that reminder. It continues to amaze me how people (such as myself) have this innate need for rules. If the rules aren't there, we make them up. Sometimes I think we do that with the Bible. Freedom in Christ is a big, nebulous, almost scary concept, and too often, we run back to the shelter and definition of rules. The problem is that we often then make these rules universal, instead of viewing them as what they are: man-made props to help us stay on the right path. To the degree that they do their job, they are good. But to the degree that they distract us from the truth of the gospel (that we are saved by grace through faith), they are harmful.

Psalm 115:1-18

This psalm seems like a real song that people would sing in an assembly. Maybe all the psalms are "real songs that people would sing," but I guess that, in terms of form, this one looks more like a psalm that we would sing today.

Prov. 27: 21-22

Verse 21 is fascinating. It compares the praise a man receives to a crucible and furnace that test silver and gold, respectively. I guess it is saying that the reaction we have to praise shows the state of our heart. I know that often, my heart swells with pride when I am praised, even if I am praised for a spiritual quality. I'm thinking that that reaction shows that my heart, deep down, is prideful. There are also times when I feel humbled by praise, so I guess in those times, my heart is in a better state.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15

*Exhaustion alert*

OT: Ezekiel 31:1-32:32

Ezekiel's prophecies against Egypt continue today with three new installments. I thought it was interesting that the second one was called a lament (32:2), and in the third one, God instructs Ezekiel to "wail for the hordes of Egypt." All this destruction, though from God, is portrayed as a tragedy. In the first prophecy (chapter 31), a lot is made of Egypt's grandeur, and it would seem that the tragedy of this great kingdom was that they put themselves above God. In verse 10, God says, "Because it towered on high, lifting its top above the thick foliage, and because it was proud of its height, I handed it over to the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness" (10-11). In chapter 32, its fate is compared to that of Assyria, another grand nation that apparently got too big for its britches.

Another interesting fact that the last prophecy brings up is the terror that Egypt and Assyria caused (32:23, 24, 25, 26, 27). Several of these verses seem to indicate that their terror-spreading is one of the factors that led to their punishment. For example, verse 25 says, "Because their terror had spread in the land of the living, they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit; they are laid among the slain." But then, verse 32 brings up a point that had already occurred to me, namely that God "had [Pharoah] spread terror int he land of the living." So I'm not sure if the terror-spreading is listed as a reason or as an irony. There's more going on in this section--several different refrains, and a particularly enigmatic verse 32:31--but I don't have the mental energy or the insight to explore right now.

NT: Hebrews 12:14-29

This section contrasts the old and new covenants in ways that are alternately comforting and challenging. Verses 18-24 are comforting b/c they contrast the fear and mystery that surrounded God in the old covenant with the joy and accessibility that are characteristic of Him in the new covenant. To make this point, the Hebrew author contrasts the stormy and stern Mt. Sinai with the joyful and crowded Mt. Zion.

In verses 25-27, however, the writer points out that, given our immense accessibility to God, we have no excuse to turn our backs on Him. After all, "if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?" (25). I'm wondering if the person who "warned them on earth" was their particular priest and prophet, b/c the one who warns from heaven seems to be Jesus, who is specifically described in verse 24. Regardless, these verses definitely induce some fear of God, but in a good way.

I like the picture of God's kingdom in verse 28. It is called "a kingdom that cannot be shaken." As a person who craves stability, I love that image.

Psalm 113:1-114:8

All I can say about these praise psalms was that I was really amused by the image of "mountains [that] skipped like rams" (14:4). I definitely pictured that one, and it made me smile.

Prov. 27: 18-20

You reap what you sow; your heart is the source of your identity; and your eyes are never satisfied.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 14

OT: Ezekiel 29:1-30:26

Today's prophecies focus on the destruction of Egypt. In the first half of chapter 29, the Nile River figures prominently and in interesting ways. First of all, it is mentioned twice in statements explaining the reason for God's wrath against Pharoah: "You say, 'The Nile is mine; I made it for myself" (29:3, 9). Pharoah's declaration indicates that he has placed himself in the place of God and has refused to acknowledge God's presence. That arrogance borders on an idolatrous worship of self, and God plans on bringing that to an end. In speaking of that end, the prophecy again uses the Nile to paint a figurative image. Pharoah is described as the "great monster" of the Nile, whom God is going to fish out. Pharoah will not be alone, though, as God is going to "make the fish of your streams stick to your scales" (4). Thus, the reader gets a crazy image of this big sea monster, with all these fish stuck to him, being fished out of the Nile and thrown into the desert to die. I've got to say, that's a memorable image. Brutal, but memorable.

The rest of the reading discusses the fall of Egypt in more detail, adding other reasons for their fall (Egypt's failure to save Israel and their use of idols), the means of their fall (Babylon), and the reason for Babylon's victory (b/c God felt sorry for them for not defeating Tyre???).

Today, I was struck yet again by the overall theme of the prophets that God is in direct control of the fate of all nations.

NT: Hebrews 11:32-12:13

We wrap up the hall of faith chapter today, with the author switching from a chronology to a collection of generalities. I actually think I like the generalities better; they are very well written. I love the list that stretches from verses 32-34:

"And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies."

I'm a sucker for good parallel structure.

The way that the writer goes on to speak triumphantly of the horrific deaths of various martyrs (36-38) reminds me that the Bible's view of life is very, very different than our typical view. These verses reinforce some of the thoughts I've had about Ezekiel in the past couple of blogs. I also like the reminder that many of these people died without having "received what had been promised" (39). The grand narrative of God's work in history is bigger than any one life, and there is no guarantee that we will understand all the reasons behind and meanings of the events of our lives at any point during our lifetimes. Like those martyrs, we play only small roles in a very large play. And yet, those roles are glorious. Regarding those players, the Hebrew writer declares, "the world was not worthy of them" (38).

In light of those ideas, the writer then urges us to play our little roles to the fullest:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

What resonated most with me today was the idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus. Right now, my life is full of wonderful opportunities that God has given me to glorify Him. And I am determined to make the most of them. I have been determined to "run with perseverance the race marked out for" me. And yet, in my determination, I have begun to take my eyes off Jesus. Instead, my eyes have been focused on myself, on getting done what I have to do, and persevering through the busyness and stress of it all. I have been relying on myself, and not on God's strength. And honestly, my actions have stopped being a form of worship to Him. Now, I know that I can't always keep the perfect mindset in everything I do, but in this case, I know that my faulty mindset has come from my lack of reliance on God, especially through prayer. And after trying to handle everything on my own for the past couple of days, I am more than ready to fix my eyes back on Jesus!

Psalm 112: 1-10

A lovely little psalm of blessing to those who fear God. My favorite verses are 4-5:

"Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.
Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice."

I also like the idea of his heart being secure and of his act of scattering "abroad his gifts to the poor" (8,9).

Prov. 27:17

One of my favorite proverbs. I am so thankful to have several friends (including my husband) who sharpen me "as iron sharpens iron."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 13

OT: Ezekiel 27:1-28:26

For half of today's reading, I was thinking, "Who the heck is Tyre, and why is Ezekiel going on about them?" And then, the lightbulb came on: Tyre is code for Babylon.

Or not. I just looked it up in my Bible handbook, and according to it, Tyre is code for Tyre. Oh well.

I actually kind of enjoyed reading about Tyre's wealth and their trading habits. Ezekiel painted a picture of a beautiful, thriving civilization. I can see how, living in that civilization, you would be tempted to think you were invincible. In fact, when I don't watch myself, I tend to think that about my own civilization. Thinking about the destruction of Tyre provided a sober reminder that no country is invincible.

And as with the other countries, the result of Tyre's destruction is, "Then they will know that I am the Lord" (28:24).

NT: Hebrews 11:17-31

Today, the hall of faith continues, and it occurred to me that (duh), this section is yet another retelling of Israel's history. I love seeing the Israelites' treatment of their own history, especially their artistic slants. In Psalm 105 and 106, for example, the psalmist(s) tell the same history, but employ contrasting themes to organize their renditions. The Hebrew writer, on the other hand, takes the theme of faith and chooses to view all of Israel's history through that lens.

It's funny how the best thing he can think to say about Jacob is that, "when he was dying, [he] blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff." One of my Bible professors pointed out that lame "praise" earlier this year when we discussed what a sleaze Jacob was. But hey, I'm glad the guy was able to find the positive:).

I also like that Rahab was included. She was also included in the lineage of Jesus, which shows just how far faith will carry you in the NT. And when I think of God's dim view of prostitution (Oholah and Oholibah, anyone?), I am reminded how the story of Rahab provides a stark example of God's grace.

Psalm 111:1-10

A praise psalm, which concludes with the famous proverb, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (10).

Prov. 27: 15-16

Against quarrelsome wives.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November 12

OT: Ezekiel 24:1-26:21

Wow, today's reading really helped me to focus my thoughts on the nature and meaning of life. And it reminded me, yet again, that the Bible's answers to those questions are vastly different from our natural answers. Our instinctive, animalistic impulses are very much at odds with the Bible's teachings.

According to today's reading, the most important thing in life is to know God. Knowledge of (and submission to) our Creator is more important than comfort, than security, than our relationships, than life itself. And when you orient your mind to that way of thinking, readings like today make more sense. They are still hard, but they fit into that bigger picture.

For one thing, God kills Ezekiel's wife and commands him not to mourn...in order to make a point. This action is yet another example of the idea that God treats His prophets like pawns in a chess game. I don't know about you, but my first impulse is to think that physical death should not be used as a metaphor. And yet, God thought that it should, and Ezekiel submitted to His judgment. Because the most important thing in life is knowledge of God and not relationships.

In chapter 25, Ezekiel gives a series of prophecies to various nations (Ammon, Moab, Seir, Edom, Philistia, and Tyre). In every case, the prophecies contain dire predictions of suffering and destruction. And in almost every case, they end with an explanation of sorts: "Then they will know that I am the Lord" (25:11; see also 7, 14, and 17). Come to think of it, that was also part of God's reasoning for the metaphor with Ezekiel's wife: "So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord" (27; see also 24). Apparently, "knowing the Lord" is higher on God's priority list than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

That's all kind of crazy to me, and I feel compelled to give the caveat that understanding God's view of our lives does not negate the many, many teachings of the Bible that tell us humans to value life, to protect the lives of the helpless, to preserve life through service to our fellow man, and so forth. Certainly, deference to God's sovereign power over life should not produce an attitude of callousness toward the pain and suffering around us. Life is a sacred gift from God--it is not for us to take it away. But it does belong to God, and He can do with it what He wants. And these examples of God's perspective on life should help us Christians to put our lives in perspective, and not to cling to them as our highest priorities.

NT: Hebrews 11:1-16

Speaking of which, today we begin reading about "The Hall of Faith," which highlights many examples of people who understood the reality stated above. Because they valued knowledge of God over personal security, they were willing to step out on faith. Today's examples were Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. Because of his faith, Abel was murdered by his brother. Because of his faith, Noah was ridiculed as he labored for months (years?) building a seemingly ridiculous boat. Because of faith, Abraham left everything he knew and plunged out into the great unknown.

I love verses 13-16. Verse 13 notes that, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers here." If the "things promised" were the formation of the nation of Israel and the eventual coming of the Messiah, then most of these guys did not even know about the things promised. They just believed in God and did what He said to do. I also like the part about admitting that they were aliens and strangers. The more I read God's word and orient myself to His worldview, the more I feel like an alien or stranger. The idea that self-preservation is not my top priority should definitely make me stand out in a world full of beings longing and fighting to survive.

Psalm 110:7

This is one of the psalms quoted by the author of Hebrews! I'm not sure, given his creative use of the psalms, whether he thinks that the whole psalm applies to Christ, or just the verses he quoted.

Prov. 27:14

The example in this proverb proves that it's not just the thought that counts. Sometimes the best of intentions can end up causing more harm than good.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11

OT: Ezekiel 23:1-49

Well. Today we have another one of those "thirty year old" sections, so I'm not old enough to talk about it:).

I will say that as I was reading, I thought, "I see the point, but why is all this disgusting stuff coming out of God's mouth? Wouldn't there be a better way to make this point?" And then it hit me: God is not above using shock value.

There is a famous example of a preacher (I believe it was Tony Campolo) who used shock value. In a sermon before a large audience, he stood up and announced, "Three million people starved to death in Africa yesterday, and you people don't give a s--- about it." (I just made that number up, but he was obviously quoting a statistic.) His next sentence was, "And what's worse, you are more upset that I just said s--- in church than that three million people starved in Africa."

Now, I personally think I might have been more offended that he assumed I didn't "give a s--- about it" than the actual word. That said, I would have been offended by the word, and in the moment, his second sentence would have been true of me. I felt offended by the word just in hearing the example. It's kind of like God's vivid sexual descriptions in Ezekiel; there's a big part of you that says, "This is just uncalled for!" And yet, what's worse--the fact that God is using crude language or the fact that people are sacrificing their children in the fire? Disgusting imagery or direct rebellion? That's the benefit of using shock value to moral ends. The shock that you feel at the example reminds you of the shock you should be feeling about the tragedy itself.

NT: Hebrews 10:18-39

We get two very different sides of a coin in this reading. On the one side, we see the amazing benefits of having such a powerful high priest and of being covered with such a perfect sacrifice. As verse 22 says, we can now "draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water" (23). Yay! I love the fact that we can draw near to God with a clear conscience.

But lest we get too cocky and self-assured, verses 26-31 urge us NOT. to. take. Christ's. blood. for. granted. These might just be the most frightening verses for Christians, because they really do seem to describe post-conversion behavior. With many of the other stern warnings against sin, you can think, "Well, Christ's blood covers that. We aren't perfect, but we are saved through grace." But you get to these verses and it's like a slap in the face. Yes, we are saved by grace, but we cannot take God's grace for granted. It reminds me of Galatians 6:7, which warns us not to be deceived: "God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." When our lives as Christians make a mockery of Christ's death, I do believe that there is going to be some unpleasant reaping going on.

I have always wondered, though, whether this section really is post-conversion or not. It specifically talks about deliberately continuing to sin after receiving "knowledge of the truth." Maybe it is referring to those who hear the truth, but reject it outright, instead of accepting it. It compares this attitude to rejecting the law of Moses in verse 28, so maybe there is something to that interpretation. Regardless, I always take it as a stern warning to check myself. Do I deliberately keep on sinning? I mean, I sin every day, but is it a deliberate pattern? It's worth pondering.

Psalm 109:1-31

David isn't feeling particularly merciful in today's psalm, which continues the theme of impending punishment that we found in both the OT and NT readings. Not the cheeriest of themes.

Prov. 27:13

This proverb sounds familiar, but I'm not sure enough about the practices to which it refers to really understand what it is saying.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10

OT: Ezekiel 21:1-22:31

I'm going to be honest: today's Bible reading was not a glorious experience. I was tired, and I have a cold, and I could see no distinguishing features between today and previous days in either the OT or the NT readings. At one point, I decided to see how long we have been reading prophecies centering around the coming destruction. It's been over a month; we started Isaiah on September 8. Halfway through today's reading, I began to wonder if my Bible force-feeding was bringing any glory to God. I tried my hardest to focus, but just had a hard time. I did talk to God and just told Him that I hoped the discipline itself brought Him glory.

Anyway, when I get tired and cranky, I generally just have questions about the reading, rather than any insight or inspiration. For instance, in verse 3, God says that he is "going to cut off the righteous and the wicked." That fits into a lot of other prophecies, but what about the vision where the guy marked all the righteous on the forehead? Or what about God's new deal, where He was going to judge people individually?

How does this all fit together?

NT: Hebrews 10:1-17

There is more "shadow" talk in verse 1, which continues the discussion about Jesus, the new high priest. We hear more about how Jesus does not have to continue to make sacrifices, because He made the ultimate, perfect sacrifice when He died for us.

My cranky question comes with verse 5, when the Hebrew writer quotes a psalm and directly attributes it to Jesus. My question is simply, why? I mean, clearly he knew that it wasn't Jesus who said it, and clearly he feels that the Psalms have some serious, Messianic tie-ins...but why misquote? I enjoy literary freedom as much as (if not more than) the next guy, but I just didn't see the purpose.

Okay, griping about it actually got my synapses firing, and I am beginning to see a purpose, which is very much in keeping with his crazy use of OT texts. The purpose is that the quote provides a good synopsis of so much of what Jesus said about external actions being unable to please God. And the last verse, especially, describes the role of Jesus very well. So the psalm is very fitting.

My favorite verse in this section is verse 14. The only thing that bothers me about it is that it is a sentence fragment, which doesn't make it very quotable. But I love how it sums up the mystery of Christians. There is a paradox about Christians: by accepting Christ, they are fully justified and made perfect in God's eyes (when it comes to judgment). And yet...they aren't perfect. Not even close. What gives? How can God think of us as perfect when we are obviously such screw-ups? Verse 14 puts it together for me: "by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Christianity is both an all-at-once type of thing and a process. If Jesus' blood covers us, then we are perfect in God's sight. And yet, our transformation into the likeness of Christ is a gradual thing that only happens as we give God more and more control of our lives.

Psalm 108:1-13

I did enjoy this psalm very much, in part b/c I read it aloud this morning to help focus my day. I was too tired to dive into Ezekiel, but I thought a psalm would be nice. And it was. I particularly loved the declaration:

"For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies" (4).

Prov. 27:12

About the wisdom of avoiding unnecessary danger.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 9

OT: Ezekiel 20:1-49

The year, according to the Eerdman's Bible Handbook I recently unearthed, is 591. It's around July or August (man, this book gets specific). And Ezekiel has just been instructed to give the exiled elders a little history lesson in response to their inquiry into God's will. For a short, simple question, they get quite a long response!

This history lesson is obviously designed to highlight the recurrent pattern of covenant-rebellion-punishment-restoration that has occurred throughout Israel's history. Thus, Ezekiel uses similar phrases over and over:

--"with uplifted hand I swore to them" (5, 15, 23, 42)--Regarding God's establishment of covenant or assurance of punishment.

--"desecrated my Sabbaths" (13, 16, 21, 24)--always included as part of the description of the people's rebellion.

--"for the sake of my name" (9, 14, 22, 24)--God's reasoning for inevitably showing mercy and grace to the Israelites. That might sound self-serving, but if God's glory is the highest goal, then it makes sense to me that it is His highest goal, as well.

One interesting thing about Ezekiel's use of this cycle in telling Israel's history is that he made the time of Egyptian slavery fit into that cycle. I had never heard before that the reason God allowed the Israelites to be enslaved was because "they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt" (8). Like I said, that was just interesting.

Also of interest was the section in which God basically told the Israelites, "Like it or not, you will never NOT be my people" (32-44). Verses 32-34 put the section the most clearly:

"You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will reign over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath."

I guess there are several ways to look at that. You can view is as tyrannical or overly controlling, perhaps. I, however, tend to view it through the lens of a parent. I hope this never happens, but my children may one day rebel against me and everything I believe in; they may come to hate me; they may do great harm to me. But there is nothing they can do that will make me stop being their mom, not just in terms of biology, but in terms of love and action. And my ever-present "mom-ness" may be unpleasant to them at times. It may seem unfair; it may even seem suffocating to them (I hope not, but I'm just acknowledging the facts). But my choice to always be their mom is not so that I can control their lives or make them miserable; it is because I love them and want what is best for them.

And now that I'm thinking about it that way, let me say something else about God's motivations as related in Ezekiel. I mentioned earlier that He was motivated by the desire to glorify Himself. That's not actually what it says. Every verse talking about "the sake of his name" mentions His concern for His name among other nations. Those nations are (obviously) full of people, and if God's ultimate goal is to save the world (see John 3:16), then He has to be concerned about His reputation among the nations. So I see God's actions here as striking a pre-Jesus balance between maintaining His holiness (via punishment of the people) at the same time as He maintains His great love (shown in his pity for the people and His concern for His name among other nations).

NT: Hebrews 9:11-28

The Hebrew writer continues his comparisons between the old and new covenants. Both required blood--one of many, many animals, and the other of Christ (12-14). Similarly, both were like wills, in that they were put into effect only after death occurred--again, the animals, and Christ, respectively (16-21).

The contrast comes when considering that the new covenant takes place in heaven, where the old one took place in--Plato alert!--a mere "copy of the true one" (24). And because his blood was perfect, it only had to be shed once (25-28).

Psalm 107:1-43

Another lengthy and interesting praise psalm, giving glory to God through the ups (e.g. 8-9) and downs (e.g. 10-16).

Prov. 27:11

A father imploring his son to be wise.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November 8

OT: Ezekiel 18:1-19:14

In chapter 18, Ezekiel takes pains to outline what is apparently God's "New Deal": from that point on, people would be judged as individuals, and "the soul who sins is the one who will die" (4). Ezekiel first gives the example of a righteous father and a sinful son (the son dies), and then a sinful father and a righteous son (the father dies). Next, he gives an example of a wicked man who repents (he lives), and a righteous man who goes bad (he dies).

In verses 25-29, God brings up the charge that He is unfair, and answers that the people are unfair. I wondered in what context came the charge from the people. Was the accusation a result of the old policy or the new? He cites it after laying out the new policy, but of course, that policy sounds like the fair one...so...why are the people complaining? And if the accusation is in response to the old policy, does the new policy represent God's reaction to the complaint? Hmmm...probably not, b/c rather than answer that He has changed policies, He simply highlights the people's own injustice. I don't know. Frankly, this whole section was kind of confusing to me. It makes sense if you read the Bible as an evolution of God's relationship with man, but the whole notion of God "changing policies" in the first place is a little weird.

I also like how God twice declares that He does not take pleasure in death. In verse 23, He asks rhetorically, "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?...Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" In verse 32, He expands this thought: "For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!" I like those verses, as they put God's wrath in some kind of perspective. I think it's easy for me to get overwhelmed by the fury and brutality of it all and to miss the fact that, as passionate as He is about it, it is not His desire.

NT: Hebrews 9:1-10

Speaking of changing policies, Hebrews continues its theme of God's transition to the New Covenant. As I noted in the OT section, the idea of any transition at all in a God who is "the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow" is a little bit baffling, to say the least. But relationships evolve and grow, I guess. And if you look at the Bible as telling the story of one relationship--that b/t God and man--then it makes sense that it would develop and evolve. All relationships do.

The evolution that is described in this reading is that of the tabernacle worship forms changing into something more internal. Regarding those forms, verse 10 maintains that "They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order." This fits in with the earlier discussion of Jesus being the new high priest, followed by the assertion that the new covenant is written on our hearts. We've covered the priests and the covenant, and now we are moving onto the external forms described in that covenant.

Psalm 106: 32-48

The grim historical retelling continues today.

Prov. 27:10

And odd proverb about how it is better to turn to a nearby neighbor for help "than a brother far away."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

November 7

OT: Ezekiel 16:43-17:24

The rest of chapter 16 continues the metaphor of Judah being like a promiscuous woman, but this section locates the woman within a larger family of promiscuous women: her mothers, sisters, and daughters. In this network of women, Judah's older sister is Samaria, and her younger sister is Sodom. I thought that was interesting, because the first we hear about Samaria is during the divided kingdom, where it is part of Israel. Sodom, on the other hand, came much earlier in Israel's history, during the time of Abraham. So wouldn't Sodom be the older sister? Or is the place in the family determined by level of sins? Even then, I think of Sodom as pretty bad. Anyway, all that to say, I thought the "little sister" designation was interesting.

I also thought it was interesting that in verse 53, God says that He "will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them." Okay, I can see Jerusalem and Samaria, b/c they are cities representing the Israelites. But Sodom? I thought Sodom was long gone! That verse reminded me of when Jesus told...someone...that on the day of Judgment it would be more bearable for Sodom than it would for them. Like this verse, Jesus' statement raised questions about the eternal fate of the Sodomites, which, for me at least, raises questions about the eternal fate of all the OT pagans who were excluded from God's people. In the end, though, I leave all that to God. Those verses just give me something to chew on.

In chapter 17, God gives the Israelites a parable about two eagles and a vine. The first eagle is Nebuchadnezzar, who "plants" Zedekiah, the vine. The vine flourishes and grows, as it is planted in fertile soil. Unfortunately, a second eagle, Egypt, comes onto the scene, and the vine reaches out to that eagle. Because it forsook the first eagle, it will now be uprooted and destroyed. I was intrigued by how positively the vine's situation was portrayed. To me, being set up as a puppet king by an invading army would not be ideal, but this metaphor makes it sound just wonderful. The description fits in to the oddly positive treatment that Babylon receives in many of the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, I guess b/c Babylon is portrayed as the chosen instrument of God to punish His people.

NT: Hebrews 8:1-13

I vividly remember reading verse 5 as either a high schooler or a college student and thinking, "Holy cow--this guy knows Plato!" It was always oddly shocking to me when church history and school history intersected, and the writer's statement that earthly sanctuaries are a "copy and shadow of what is in heaven," seemed to reveal a clear knowledge of the idea of Platonic forms. I thought that it was cool how he applied that knowledge to his understanding of the Law: "This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: 'See to it that you make everything acc0rding to the pattern shown you on the mountain'" (5). I also like this clear assimilation of philosophy and Scriptural understanding b/c it helps to debunk the idea that knowledge of or belief in God is anti-intellectual. People--even Christians--have tended to use some of Paul's statements about God's wisdom v. man's wisdom (e.g. I Cor. 1:18-25) as evidence that Biblical truth and human philosophy are inherently incompatible. And in some cases that is true; Paul elsewhere maintains that, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:5). But that verse does not automatically exclude any extra-biblical line of thought; rather, it excludes those philosophies (or even simply the degree to which those philosophies) deny God's presence. The Hebrew writer, then, has no problem using Platonic philosophy to further his understanding of God's Law and the reasoning behind it.

I'm a bit loopy from Nyquil, so I'm not sure if any of that made sense to anyone but me.

This section closes by quoting Jeremiah 31, where God said that he would make a new, personal covenant with His people. The personal, individual nature of this covenant suggests that it will not be with one particular nation, but with each person who knows and follows God, regardless of his/her ethnicity. It also ushers in a deeply personal era, in which God will "put my laws on their minds/and write them on their hearts" (10).

On a sidenote, I understand how the Hebrew writer's use of OT can be off-putting to our modern beliefs about the rules of using and citing sources, but I have very much enjoyed the way he has woven together disparate elements of the OT (psalms, prophecies, laws, obscure OT figures) in order to build a coherent argument regarding the high priesthood of Jesus--which you could argue is itself an artistic construction used to describe Jesus' role to a predominantly Jewish audience. The result for me is that, more than any other book, this one seems so definitely "inspired." (Disclaimer: I know that they are all inspired; I'm just saying that I personally can clearly see it in this case.)

Psalm 106: 13-31

The psalmist continues his alterna-history today. I think there is so much to say about the juxtaposition of Psalm 105 and 106, both praise psalms which relate completely different historical viewpoints. I can't quite put it into words right now, but there are a lot of thoughts there.

Prov. 27:7-9

The first two seem like simple statements of fact. The third extols the earnest counsel of a friend.