Friday, December 31, 2010
Mom, Greg, Courtney, Larry, Ann, Becky...thank you for all your support and encouragement through the early months of blogging. Your willingness to share your thoughts about Scripture was such an encouragement to me. Just to know that someone was actually reading was also great accountability. You guys are awesome.
Woody, I'm so glad you joined the blog, and that you gave me the honor of praying for your family this year. Thank you so much for your encouragement along the way.
Erika, I especially thank you, for your faithful reading, and for your readiness to engage on tough questions. Thank you for giving me a different perspective on so many different issues and for letting me use you as a sounding board to work out some of my own thoughts. I appreciate your own efforts to study and understand a belief system that is so different from your own. Often, just knowing that someone else was attempting to read and blog the Bible in a year inspired me to keep going with my own efforts. And almost all of the best, ongoing conversations on here have been with you. So thank you for that.
And now...I look forward to a year of studying the Bible on a deeper level, as well as a more private one! Thanks again to you all for your encouragement and support!
In today's reading was the only verse I had previously known from Malachi:
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (3:10).
For all my father's deistic leanings, he regards verses like these with an almost superstitious literalness. And I have to hand it to him, they have proven true in his life. He and my mom give to others with reckless abandon, and it does seem like God in turn rains down money on them. Knowing as much as I do about their financial situation, I can attest that some of their windfalls are almost absurd in their unlikeliness. So that's probably the biggest lesson my dad has taught me about faith. The idea that you should give beyond what you are able to seems borderline self-destructive. And yet, I have seen even in my own life that when you step out on faith, God catches you.
That's just one verse in our reading, though. The overall thrust of the text is that the day of the Lord is coming, where He will be a refiner's fire and a launderer's soap to the people (3:2). Those images are fitting for chapter 3, because the chapter seems to indicate that "the day of the Lord" referred to is more of a Jesus-level coming than an end times event. It seems that even with this day of the Lord, people will have a chance to be refined and cleaned, though those who reject God through their actions will not enjoy having their sinful deeds exposed.
In that same chapter, however, there is some "end times" imagery that you see in Revelation. For instance, the text refers to a "scroll of remembrance" that sounds very similar to Revelation's "book of life." Such imagery is continued in chapter 4, where it speaks of the wicked being burned, much like the lake of sulfur imagery in Revelation. There is also a passing reference to the "sun of righteousness," which might coincide with the imagery of God being an eternal sun for His people that is found in Revelation.
NT: Revelation 22:1-21
Today's reading concludes John's vision. He sees a crystal clear river of life flowing throughout the city; he sees Psalm-1-esque trees on either side of the river, which have leaves of healing for all nations; he sees God and Christ ruling on thrones in the midst of the city; and he sees that it is eternally daytime, as God Himself provides the light for this new world. All in all, it is a beautiful picture.
Then, John interacts with the messenger angel a bit more, and the angel reminds him that all of this is coming soon. The book closes with an invitation and a warning. There is an invitation for all who are thirsty and who desire God to "Come!" (17). And there is a warning against adding or taking away any words from the book of Revelation (18-19). I clarify that last part b/c these verses are often used as a warning against adding or taking away from the Bible as a whole (conveniently bound in the same "book"). I don't think we should add or take away from the Bible, but it doesn't seem like proper exegesis to me to apply this verse so firmly to all of Scripture, when it clearly refers to the prophecy of Revelation.
The book concludes with a wish for Jesus to come soon, and with a blessing on the readers.
A simple praise psalm, probably intended for worship in the temple.
Prov. 31: 25-31
The conclusion of one of my favorite sections of Proverbs.
I particularly love the image of a godly wife being "clothed with strength and dignity" (25). Today's passage also inspires me to "watch over the affairs of [my] household" and not to "eat of the bread of idleness" (27). That's a good reminder for today, because I woke up feeling lousy with a cold and would like nothing more than to eat of the bread of idleness today! But there is too much to do for that!
Thursday, December 30, 2010
It is currently 4:24 a.m., and I'm up and doing my Bible reading and blog for the day because I cannot sleep to save my life. So...who knows how this blog will turn out.
Today, we started the last book of the OT. It is an oracle from Malachi that is structured as a dialogue between God and the Israelites. God starts by telling the Israelites that He loves them, and they demand to know how God has loved them (1:2). This question seems to indicate that not all has gone well for Israel lately. I haven't researched the book, so I don't know where they are in history right now, but I can think of plenty of bad things that happened to their nation that might make them question God.
In answer to their question, God contrasts his love for them for his hatred toward Esau (2b-5). He seems to maintain in these verses that He is not with--and never will be with--Esau's people, and that they will be ruined. That was kind of sad to me, but I know that God has a reason for His words and actions here.
In verse 6, God turns the tables on the questioning Israelites by asking them why they don't treat Him with honor and respect, since they claim Him as their Father and Master. From this point on, the questioners play ignorant and so God outlines exactly what they have done that has displeased Him:
--They bring crippled, blind, and diseased animals for sacrifice (8-9). This seems to be a classic case of giving God one's leftovers. It is a temptation for all followers of God b/c, oddly, God is not as coercive as most entities who demand respect. In verse 8, for example, God contrasts the people's offerings to Him with their offerings (taxes?) to the governor. They wouldn't dare cheat their government, b/c they know there will be immediate repercussions. Similarly, I think sometimes I show more respect to Uncle Sam than to God. I know there are going to be repercussions if I don't give the government the amount of money they ask for at the time they ask for it. So I pay it in full and on time. But since God doesn't hammer me with late fees or threaten me with jail time (at least not here on earth), I'm much more tempted to skimp on my giving to Him.
--They show partiality and break faith with each other (2:9-10).
--They intermarry with pagans (2:11).
--They divorce their wives (2:13-16). God is not cool with this at all. In fact, He declares that He hates divorce (16). One of the side effects of divorce is the negative effect it has on children, and verse 15 can be read as God showing particularly concern for that side effect.
--They are violent men in general and/or they beat their wives (16, depending on which translation you go with).
Because of these things, there times of worship are meaningless to God, and He threatens to break the covenant He has with them (1:10-2:9).
NT: Revelation 21:1-27
After all the carnage and pain depicted in Revelation, today's reading is almost uniformly positive. The only (very notable) exception is verse 8, which says, "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
Other than that sober warning, chapter 21 depicts the fullness of the kingdom of God in the way that we usually think of heaven. There is a new heaven and a new earth, and God dwells on it with His people, the ones whose names are in the book of life. Verse 4 is particularly beautiful to me: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
The reading ends with a description of the new Jerusalem, a city of solid gold, with a beautiful wall around it made up of all different kinds of gemstones. There is no temple in the city b/c God and the Lamb are the temple (22). I liked that. It is like the whole Bible depicts the decreasing distance between God and man until they are literally dwelling together in peace for all eternity.
A short and simple praise psalm, which closes with a militaristic outlook. The psalmist sees God's people as His instrument to punish the nations.
I have always loved this part of Prov. 31. Many women find it overwhelming and intimidating, but I find it empowering. The writer describes the ideal woman as strong, hardworking, intelligent, resourceful. He values the contribution of such women to their families and to society. To me, it is such a positive description of women, and one to try to emulate.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Here is what confused me about the final chapter of Zechariah: it seemed to talk about the end times, but then still held forth the possibility of rebellion and punishment.
Verses 6-11 definitely seem to talk about the end of time, what we call the full coming of God's kingdom. Starting in verse 7, it says,
"It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime--a day known to the Lord. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name" (7-9).
Okay, that seems like "the end" to me: perpetual daylight, streams of living water, a full kingdom of God. Good stuff.
And in that light, as gruesome as verses 12-15 are, they do stay with the spirit of Revelation, which makes clear that those not belonging to God will be punished.
What gets me is verses 16-21, which say that any nation who does not then sacrifice to God would be punished. See, my conception of the kingdom of God is that when it comes in its full, that will all be over. You are either thrown into the lake of fire (to borrow from Revelation), or your name is written in the book and you're saved. And then it's time for heaven, right? What is this middle ground? I don't get it.
NT: Revelation 20:1-15
Meanwhile, in our alterna-version of the end of time, Satan is sealed into the Abyss for 1,000 years, during which time he is unable to deceive any of the nations (1-3). Then, all of the martyrs raise from the dead and reign with Christ for that same thousand years (at least, I assume it's the same time period). That's called the first resurrection (5).
After that thousand years, Satan is released and goes back to deceiving nations. He raises up an army, I guess an army of all the nations he has deceived. And then they march into battle against God. It's set up as this climatic scene, but fire from heaven immediately destroys them, so it's not much of a battle! Satan is thrown in the lake of burning sulfur where, along with the beast and the false prophet, he "will be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (10). Yikes.
Next, we apparently have the second resurrection, when everyone raises from the dead and is judged for their works. Verses 12-13 seem to picture big books that have everything that we've done in our lives. Yet, verse 15 pictures just one book in which a person's name is either there or not. Maybe the first set of books determine whose name is in the book of Life. Anyhow, death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire, as were anyone whose name was not in the book of life. So...Hades is hell...right?....so I guess at the end of time, those whose names are not in the book don't go to hell, but into the lake of fire?
Psalm 148: 1-14
A praise psalm that enjoins all of creation to praise the Lord.
I love these verses and have thought of the first line often throughout my life:
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Like yesterday, I got a bad case of whiplash from the reversal that happened between chapters 12 and 13. In chapter 12, it's all good for Judah. God is going to make Judah "a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling" (2), "an immovable rock" (3), "a firepot in a woodpile," and "a flaming torch among sheaves" (6). In other words, Judah is going to kick some serious booty. The oracle further says that, "on that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going out before them" (8). Whoa. That is some forceful imagery. If this section were graphed according to the positivity of the images, 10:8 would definitely be the high point.
It starts to go downhill from there. It also starts to get weird. Verse 10 says, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." Okay, I had a little bit of trouble with "person" here. We start out in the first person, and the first person is clearly God. God will "pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication." Yes, the "I" there is clearly God. The first person continues in the next sentence, which says, "The will look on me, the one they have pierced." So...you would think the "I" there is God, too, right? But when and how did they pierce God? What does that even mean? For a Christian, the answer is obvious, right? This is a reference to Jesus. Even John 19:37 quotes this verse when telling of the crucifixion. And honestly, I can think of no other explanation, even if I wasn't a Christian. God being pierced? It makes no sense.
But...neither does the rest of today's reading, in light of the Christological interpretation (not sure if I used that word right). For one thing, it says that everyone in the area would mourn the pierced God's death, and they didn't when Christ died. Also, chapter 13 continues the prophecy with, "On that day." So it is clearly linked with the events of the preceding verses. And it says that on that day, God would get rid of all the idols, and there would be no more false prophets, and parents would stab their own kids if they prophesied falsely. And again, I saw none of that in the NT.
Like I said earlier, I still can't see another explanation for that verse besides that it was about Christ. It makes absolutely sense to me apart from God becoming a man and getting pierced. But I don't really understand how the rest of the prophecy is about Him.
I feel compelled to try and make it make sense on the blog, but like I have said all along, I'm not the Bible's apologist. It can speak for and handle itself. I am just a student trying to learn. And I have so many questions. Maybe further study on prophecy will one day shed light on these questions. Maybe not. My hope, though, is that just by asking them, I can grow closer to God. I ask questions about the things and people that I care about, that I want to know better. And that's what I'm reading the Bible as honestly as possible; I want to honestly know the God who gave it to me.
NT: Revelation 19:1-21
We are nearing the end. The bridegroom is coming for the bride, and the wedding feast is about to take place. I don't know that I ever understood that the wedding feast would involve eating all the bad guys (17-18), but then again, I'm thinking that all of this language is highly figurative. After all, the bridegroom kills all the bad guys with a sword that comes out of his mouth, so....it doesn't really seem literal.
Speaking of figurative language, I love the imagery in verses 7-8:
"'Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.'
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)"
I love the image of the collective church waiting as a bride for Christ to return, and especially that her beautiful clothes are the "righteous acts of the saints." That is beautiful to me.
The bridegroom is a warrior. Before he gets his bride, he must vanquish all his enemies. Apparently, his main enemies are the beast and the false prophet, and both of them are thrown into a lake of fire (20). Clearly, I don't know what the beast and the false prophet stand for, but the clear image is that when Christ returns, it will be really good news for some people, and really bad news for other people. So, it is both exciting and really sobering to realize the import of these events.
One verse that stood out to me today was verse 10:
"His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;
the Lord delights in those who fear Him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love."
There is a lot to say about this verse, but here is its application to me: I tend to really prize human effort, to prize efficiency, dependability, productivity. If I am not being efficiently productive, I often feel like a failure. This verse reminds me that God is not impressed with man's efficiency or his productivity. What he wants is not my best, most efficient and productive efforts at life; what he wants is my heart and my faith.
King Lemuel warns his son not to chase women and wine. He makes a pretty valid point that someone with everything shouldn't even need wine. Wine should appeal more to people who are hopeless and desperate than to future kings--or people who have responsibilities (5).
Monday, December 27, 2010
Well, today's reading got confusing quickly. But before I get to that part, I have two tangential observations:
In 10:1, Zechariah proclaims:
"Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime;
it is the Lord, who makes the storm clouds.
He gives showers of rain to men,
and plants of the field to everyone."
Okay, so here is my tangential observation. So often, people quote that verse that says God makes it rain on the righteous and wicked alike, and they interpret it like rain is a bad thing. As in, "God lets trouble come to both the righteous as well as the wicked." But that verse is referring to rain as a good thing, so it's the other way around. That verse is saying that blessings come both on the wicked and the righteous. That type of misinterpretation (and honestly, I used to misinterpret that verse) highlights to me the way we sometimes call things struggles that are not struggles. I know a lot of times, we tend to interpret things that are basic parts of life as the "suffering" talked about in the NT. Like, if we have financial trouble, or someone we love dies, we apply the verses on suffering to those situations. And it's not like they don't apply at all, but usually, those verses specifically refer to being persecuted for righteousness sake, which is something that rarely happens to us Western Christians. Anyway, like I said, that observation doesn't have a lot to do with the text, but those are the thoughts the verses spawned in my head.
My other semi-tangential observation regards 11:4, in which those who make money unjustly say, "Praise the Lord! I am rich!" I thought that was a sobering exclamation. I wonder if we ever interpret things as God's blessing, when they are really a result of our own selfishness and greed.
Okay, onto the confusing part. Throughout today's reading, there is a running metaphor in which the nation of Israel is referred to as God's flock. At first, God shows anger toward the shepherds, or leaders, who do not take care of the flock:
"My anger burns against the shepherds,
and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord Almighty will care
for his flock, the house of Judah,
and make them like a proud horse in battle" (10:3).
The rest of the chapter then foretells the results of God's pasturing: the people will be mighty and numerous, they will be reunified and joyful. Several times throughout the chapter, God says things like,
"I will strengthen the house of Judah
and save the house of Joseph.
I will restore them because I have compassion on them.
They will be as though I had not rejected them,
for I am the Lord their God,
and I will answer them" (6).
Similarly, chapter 11 continues the theme of God's anger toward bad shepherds. Okay, maybe not. I wrote that last sentence and then went to find the verses that supported it, but I couldn't. It seems instead that in this chapter, God is mad at the flock from the beginning. Their shepherds are jerks, but it seems like it is part of God's plan (5-6)? Then--and this is where it gets really confusing--God says that He will pasture them Himself. When I read it at first, it seemed like this was God's compassionate reaction to the bad shepherds in verse 5. And at first, God is the prototypical Good Shepherd: "So I pastured the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I pastured the flock" (7). Aww. That's a great image, and, like I said, it's very typical of the Good Shepherd talk continued by Jesus.
But then...God gets tired of His flock and breaks His rods and deserts them! Huh??? Granted, it said that "the flock detested" Him, and thus, His response was typical of the wrath He has shown elsewhere. I guess why it was so jarring to me is that Zechariah used the shepherd imagery, and that imagery is always positive. It was like when Harrison Ford played a bad guy in the the movie I'm not going to name b/c I don't want to spoil it. Part of the shock of the twist at the end was that Harrison Ford doesn't play bad guys! And good shepherds don't desert their sheep! Sheep aren't even smart enough to detest their shepherd. That's the point of the analogy: sheep are too dumb to take care of themselves, so they need a good leader. To punish sheep just doesn't make sense to me.
Hmmm. I'm beginning to see that my problem is with the choice of analogy rather than the content. Due to my preconceived notions of that analogy, I found God's actions to be particularly troubling. Plus, it was such a reversal from chapter 10. I was just very confused by that whole section.
NT: Revelation 18:1-24
Today, Babylon/the prostitute/the city that is not to be named gets destroyed, and all her fellow business partners mourn the loss. Heaven, on the other hand, celebrates, as do the saints, because Babylon is being punished for persecuting the saints.
This psalm paints a great picture of upside-down Kingdom. It is so apt that I need to quote it at length:
"Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked."
In these verses, the psalmist warns us against trusting in powerful men, and instead tells us that God is with oppressed, the hungry, the imprisoned, then blind, the foreigner, and the widow. In other words, God humbles the exalted and exalts the humble.
First of all, who would twist someone's nose so hard that it would bleed? That's just sick. But in the same way that a twisted nose produces blood (again, gross), stirring up anger produces strife.
It's slowly dawning on me that this Bible is about to give Proverbs 31 the shaft. We have only 4 days left, and that whole chapter to go!
Sunday, December 26, 2010
For the first eight verses of today's reading, the prophecy turns negative, warning Hadrach, Damascus, Hamath, Tyre, Sidon, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Ashdod that they will be conquered. I don't know if those are separate kingdoms or different towns in the same kingdom, but the bottom line is, things will take a turn for the worse for them.
Verse 9 reverts back to positive messages for Jerusalem. In that verse, Zechariah prophecies of a future king:
"See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Of course, we believe that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy during the triumphal entry.
The rest of the prophecy continues with good news for Jerusalem, news of prisoners being released, battles being won, and prosperity returning and strengthening the people.
NT: Revelation 17:1-18
Today, we are introduced to a prostitute who kills saints and sleeps with the kings of lots of nations. A beast with ten horns will eventually kill her.
One phrase that was repeated several times in this passage really encapsulates my frustration with Revelation: "The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction." The idea of something once existing, not currently existing, and existing again in the future is simple enough to grasp, and yet...what?? I get the idea, but not the application. Perhaps the reason I don't get it is that, "This calls for a mind with wisdom," and clearly, I am lacking in that area (9).
I do see, though, why my dad is a preterist. I think that's what it is called. Basically, he thinks that the events in Revelation already happened, that the language is all symbolic, and it is mostly to do with Rome. Verses like verse 9 seem to indicate to me that John expects his audience to understand much more of what he is saying than I do. And if that is true, then he must be writing about current events and kingdoms, things "a mind with wisdom" can grasp. I know it is not the popular view to say that Revelation already happened or is purely symbolic, but that's how I'm personally leaning.
An ode to God's faithfulness, which spans the generations.
This one is kind of funny: it tells people who have played the fool or planned evil to cover their mouths. Kind of silly sounding.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
OT: Zechariah 8:1-23
This has probably been true for awhile, but it hit me while reading today that Zechariah is giving good news to the people. That is definitely a reversal from the typical prophecies we have been reading. But the remnant is now back from exile and ready to rebuild the Temple, and Zechariah's words are full of encouragement and hope.
The overall picture from today's reading is one of reunification. Zechariah paints an image of God's scattered people all coming back together in Jerusalem and living in harmony and peace:
"This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God'" (7-8).
It occurs to me that this imagery is very similar to how I picture heaven. I know that I have brothers and sisters scattered across the globe and across time. Some have been brutally ripped from this earth and others pass peacefully, but the bottom line, the hope, is that we will all be brought together in heaven, much like these Israelites were brought together in Jerusalem.
Two verses I read that made me feel very blessed were verses 4-5:
"This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.'"
Right now, I'm celebrating Christmas with my husband's parents and his grandmother. His grandmother will be 85 years old on Sunday, and she often uses a cane. And she is celebrating Christmas with my 4 year old and 2 year old, who play around her while she rests in a chair. This picture, as normal as it seems to me, is an indication of a stable, peaceful society. When societies are in turmoil, infant mortality rates are high, and people don't live as long. Thus, Zechariah's prophecy of a city filled with old people and children is a prophecy of stability and peace. I know that that should be obvious, but I guess I am so used to that type of society that I take it for granted. Reading that passage made me very thankful for my society.
NT: Revelation 16:1-21
Well, even though things were looking up in Zechariah's day, all is not well here in the end times. The seven plagues are poured out of their bowls onto the earth, and they are very reminiscent of the plagues that struck Egypt in Moses' day. People break out into painful sores, rivers (and even oceans) turn to blood, darkness comes upon the earth, and demon frogs are unleashed. In addition, the sun scorches people and there is a giant earthquake. Oh, and there is also hail, which was an Egyptian plague.
Like the Exodus story, these plagues seem to continue because of the people's refusal to repent and turn to God (9,11). In the Exodus story, it was Pharoah who refused to repent, but here, it is the people as a whole. And like the Exodus story, there is some confusion over what is driving the plagues: in both stories, it seems to be some combination of God's will and man's stubbornness.
In the end, Babylon is destroyed.
David asks for God to rescue him, even while understanding the fleeting nature of life:
"O Lord, what is man that you care for him,
the son of man that you think of him?
Man is like a breath;
his days are like a fleeting shadow" (3-4).
Like yesterday, today's reading is another set of four, which is also an ode to strong animals.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Today's reading starts out with more horsemen. Zechariah and Revelation have been blurring together in their incomprehensibility, but it has begun to occur to me that there have been several motifs that Revelation has borrowed from OT prophecy. A few days ago, they both measured the Temple in some way, if I recall. And today, we have four horsemen from heaven who ride out into all the earth. It reminded me of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Not identical, but definitely similar images. I'm sure there are more similarities, but like I said, it's all jumbling together in my mind. One day, I'd like to do a real, in-depth study on biblical prophecy and hopefully make some sense of it all. Because of my skepticism of interpretations of Revelation, I think I would be more interested in looking at it from a literary angle, especially its relationship with OT prophecy. (And while I'm at it, some serious research on OT prophecy itself would be in order.)
Even though I got absolutely nothing but more confusion from chapter 6, chapter 7 struck a chord. It reminded me of Isaiah 48 (and Isaiah 1, for that matter) because it sharply criticized fasting and ceremonies that were not accompanied by justice and mercy. I found verses 5-6 to be particularly convicting: "Ask all the people of the land and the priests, 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?" Those questions hit home, b/c, as a practicing Christian for twenty years, I can attest to the fact that it is so easy to do the outward stuff in a selfish way. Since I have grown up in church, for example, it is a comfort to me to attend. That's not a bad thing in itself, but there have definitely been times where I have gone to church more for the cultural comfort of attending than to worship and glorify God. Another example is Christmas. Christmas is obviously not in the Bible, and so it is not comparable to the required feast days referenced by the prophet here. But it is similar in that it is a holiday that originated to celebrate Christ's birth (well, that was the Christian origin, at least. I think it really originated to commemorate the winter solstice, but you know what I mean). And yet, it is so easy to celebrate Christmas without giving Christ's birth a second thought. It is so easy to eat and drink for ourselves at Christmas, rather than use it as a celebration to give glory to God.
Of course, part of me thinks that there is nothing wrong with enjoying church and nothing wrong with enjoying the non-religious parts of Christmas for their own sake. For Zechariah, though, the litmus test of motives is found in how the people treat others. According to Zechariah, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other" (7:9). I love that. I love how it stresses action and yet doesn't leave the heart out, either. Simply doing the right thing is not enough. We are supposed to have love in our hearts, as well. In I Cor. 13, Paul warns us that, "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." So it is more than outward actions; it takes love. Which is manifested in outward actions.
I'm going in circles. I think the bottom line is that the message I see in passages like this one is that, while the ceremonial worship of God is good and important, it is not enough. What is even more important is how we treat other people, which should be a reflection of the love we have for them in our hearts. We need both the love and the action; one without the other is not enough.
NT: Revelation 15:1-8
It's almost time for some serious plague action: seven bowls of plagues are about to be dumped out onto the world, and then God's wrath will be completed. I don't know if this is good or bad, but there is definitely consistency between the testaments when it comes to God's wrath. I hear a lot that the OT God is angry and vengeful, and the NT God is merciful and loving, and so the message of the Bible seems inconsistent. To be fair, however, I think that God's mercy is shown in the OT, and His wrath is definitely present in the NT, in everything from the harsh pronouncements of Jesus to the abrupt deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, to pretty much the whole book of Revelation. Again, I don't know if that should be considered a good thing or a bad thing. It is good b/c the Bible does paint a consistent picture for us. But it is bad b/c God's wrath is scary, and people have a hard time understanding it.
Anyway, those are my thoughts for today. I feel like there is much more to say here, but my brain has run out of steam.
David pleads to God for relief from his enemies. I love a lot of this psalm. Verses 5-10 are all great. I think my favorite, though, is verse 8:
"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul."
These sets of four are so interesting. Today's set is an ode of sorts to animals. Ants are praised b/c they are hard workers that plan for the future; coneys are praised b/c they live in crags (why that's praiseworthy, I have no idea); locusts are praised b/c they work together in an egalitarian manner; and lizards are praised b/c they can go anywhere, even in palaces.
Egad. More weird prophecies today, both in the OT and NT!
One of my weaknesses as a reader of prophecies is that I'm not great at picturing written descriptions of inanimate objects. I don't know what it is, b/c I have always tested really well in reading comprehension skills, but I just can never picture stuff like the tabernacle and Temple, or any kind of geographical layout just by reading about it. Today, I couldn't really even picture the lampstand, b/c, well, I don't use lampstands. And I don't know what the channels to the lights are. Or really, even what an olive branch looks like. I just do better with people and actions, rather than objects. Anyhow, there is this lampstand, and it is supposed to somehow represent Zerubbabel, who is going to rebuild the Temple. I think. And then they two olive branches are two people who "are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth" (4:14). Okay.
And then there is a flying scroll filled with curses and promises of banishment for thieves and people "who swear falsely by [God's] name" (5:3-4). And then there is a big measuring basket with a woman inside, who represents the sin of the people in the land. And I thought, "What is he saying about women here?" But then it was carried by two women angels (I guess they were angels; verse 9 says that "they had wings like those of a stork"), so I calmed down about the choice of gender. The women angels were taking the basket "to the country of Babylonia to build a house for it" (11). I don't know what that means, but it can't bode well for Babylonia.
NT: Revelation 14:1-20
And the weirdness continues. Is it bad that I sort of think Revelation doesn't apply to me? I mean, I know it is supposed to be telling about the end times and all, but the symbolism is so heavy that I can't make heads or tails of it. And because it is so inaccessible, I just don't feel, deep down, like I am the intended audience. I just feel like if this were for me, I would understand more about it. Even OT prophecies, which were most definitely not written for me, are generally more accessible than Revelation. So maybe saying that Revelation doesn't apply to me is using the wrong phrase. It's more like I don't think it is for me.
Today, there are 144,000 righteous men standing before the Lamb on Mount Zion. I guess we are on earth in this picture--I often have a hard time telling whether we are in heaven or on earth in Revelation. Like, there are humans in this picture, and there is Mount Zion, but what is the Lamb doing there? Anyway, the 144,000 are blameless and redeemed and good to go, but I did wonder why it was just men. At least, I assume it was just men b/c it talks about not defiling themselves with women. And that in itself sounded somewhat misogynistic to me, and then I had to wonder if I was reading too much into a text that I clearly understand nothing about.
Do I have to keep summarizing? I'm going to opt out. Just know that there was a lot of punishment and wrath involved in today's reading, and the overall message seemed to be that the wicked will be eternally punished, but the righteous will be saved.
I did understand the psalm, thank goodness. It was written by David, apparently when he was fleeing from Saul. In it, he prays to God for rescue.
Prov. 30: 21-23
And then Proverbs brought the portions of the Bible that I didn't understand today to 3 out of 4. Apparently, "a servant who becomes king," a fool with a full stomach, an "unloved woman who is married," and "a maidservant who displaces her mistress" are four things that cause the earth to tremble. I guess that all these things involve reversals of what is expected and proper. But it is interesting that much of the message of the Bible is that the poor will be lifted up and the proud will be brought low. Wouldn't that cause the earth to tremble, too, according to this reasoning?
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
In another vision (or perhaps a continuation of the same one), the angel again assures Zechariah that God will plunder "the nations that have plundered you" (7-9). He also tells Zechariah that, "Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great numbers of men and livestock in it...and [God Himself] will be a wall of fire around it and...its glory within" (4-5). This vision of the walls of Jerusalem being removed and replaced by God Himself seems to be a vision of inclusiveness, which is continued in verse 11: "Many nations will be joined with Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you."
Then, we have an interesting section about the high priest, Joshua. I kept trying to make it about Jesus somehow (Joshua and Jesus are the same name, I think), but it didn't work b/c Joshua had soiled clothes, which represented his sins, which God then purified (3: 3-5). There still was something messianic about the whole thing, and verse 8 even said that the men involved were "symbolic of things to come," but I couldn't make it all work out in my head.
NT: Revelation 13:1b-18
Oh my goodness. No idea, no idea. There are beasts and dragons and horns and heads, and...I just don't know. If I had to guess, the two beasts represent countries? And the second beast is a country that formed an alliance with the stronger first beast? And I have no idea what the mark of the beast is, or what significance the number 666 has.
I did sort of like verse 10, as fatalistic as it was:
"If anyone is to go into captivity,
into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed."
I don't know what appealed to me about such a fatalistic and bleak verse, but there is something kind of freeing, I guess, about realizing that what will be, will be. Oddly, it kind of takes the worry out of it for me, and helps me to just relax and turn myself over to what is going to happen. I'm not sure why it has that effect on me, but that's how I felt when I read that verse.
I loved verses 1-4 of this psalm:
"O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me.
Hear my voice when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil,
to take part in wicked deeds
with men who are evildoers;
let me not eat of their delicacies."
I have recently tried my hand at liturgical prayer for the first time, and I have to say, I like it. Verses 1-2 strike me as a great opening for a prayer, and verses 3-4 seems like a great later part of the same prayer. I particularly like the request for God to set a guard over my mouth. I definitely need that!
No idea. The guy is talking about things he doesn't understand, like eagles and snakes and ships and relationships. I guess he's unmarried?
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I didn't have time to research Zechariah today, but I did see in the reading that he can join Haggai in the ranks of "prophets that the people actually listened to." In 1:2-6, he warns the people to repent from their sins, and at the end of verse 6, they do!
And then he has a vision. I think we can safely say that apocalyptic visions are not in my analytical wheelhouse. As a general rule, if there are horsemen or horns involved, it's not going to be my thing. The meaning of this vision seems simple enough, though: God is going to relent in his anger toward the exiled Israelites and restore them. In contrast, He is going to punish the nations who scattered them.
NT: Revelation 12:1-13:1a
I get more and more confused by Revelation, to the point where the best I can do is simply restate what happens. So, here goes:
Today, a woman surrounded by a moon and stars gives birth to a child. There is this huge, seven-headed dragon who is poised to eat the child right when it is born. But instead, the child is snatched up to heaven and the woman escapes into the desert where she is protected for 1,260 days, the same amount of time that those two prophets prophesied. Then there is a war in heaven, and Michael and the angels throw the dragon, Satan, to earth, where he pursues the woman (question: where did the woman have the baby? Heaven or earth?), but the woman is given the wings of an eagle to escape, and...you know what? You can read it yourself:). I just wish I knew what it all meant!
David prays for rescue from evil men and for God's vengeance to come upon them.
A particularly violent proverb against mocking and disobeying one's parents.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Today, we polished off yet another bite-sized book of prophecy. Haggai, it seems to me, has the distinction of being one of the few prophets that people actually listened to. He tells the remnant of Israel to rebuild the Temple, and they then get to work! Crazy!
I think some of the principles in Haggai's advice to the people are timeless. He essentially tells the people to put God first, and not themselves. Only when they do that will they find true fulfillment. He tells them, "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it" (1:5-6). For one thing, I like Haggai's admonition, which he later repeats, to "give careful thought to your ways." I am a big fan of giving careful thought to one's ways. I think it is important to examine your actions as honestly as possible. And so I like how Haggai encourages such reflection. Secondly, I know that he is partially referencing the bleak economic conditions of the time (b/c I read the short intro that Harris gave), but I also think that Haggai is describing a timeless human condition in these verses. He describes that emptiness, that Sisyphus-like feeling of futility that you get when you aren't focused on what's important in life. Verses 5-6 describe a discontentment in the people, a sense of not being fulfilled with their lives. Haggai's answer is simple: you aren't fulfilled b/c you aren't focused on what's most important. You aren't putting God first.
I can relate to the people's situation b/c it is not like they are turning and running from God. Harris says that they had already laid the foundation of the Temple, but had become discouraged. It's not that they said they wouldn't build the Temple; it's just that they were putting it off: "These people say, 'The time has not yet come for the Lord's house to be built'" (1:2). Because of their life circumstances, it was not convenient, or perhaps even prudent, to proceed with construction. And yet Haggai tells them, you have to put God first, even when it is hard. I can totally see myself in the people's position, and so Haggai's instructions are meaningful to me, even in the 21st century.
NT: Revelation 11:1-19
Today, John is told to measure the Temple, minus the outer court, "because it has been given to the Gentiles" (2). I'm a little confused as to why that matters. Aren't Christian Jews cool with Gentiles now? Then, God foretells that two deadly messengers are going to prophesy for 1,260 days in sackcloth, and will be able to do all kinds of miracles and bring all kinds of plagues. Their power is very reminiscent of the power God showed through Moses in Egypt. Afterward, a beast will come from the Abyss and kill them, and everyone will be happy, and the people will leave the prophets' bodies outside for three and a half days. Then, they'll come back to life and ascend to heaven.
I found verse 8 to be oddly amusing: "Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified." In other words, John is saying, *Cough* "Jerusalem" *Cough.* I thought the statement was interesting for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the slam it is on Jerusalem. And also, why did he have to disguise the city, and why did he do such a poor job of "disguising" it. I mean, if I get it, you can bet the audience did, too.
Ooh, ooh! Or maybe it is Rome.
Anyway, after the two messengers go to heaven, an earthquake comes and terrifies everyone, prompting them to turn to God. Then, the seventh angel announces that the kingdom of Christ has officially come down to the earth, and the 24 elders sing praises to God. I thought that that was a pretty violent coming.
Lastly, God's Temple in heaven was opened, and there was the "real" (Platonically speaking) ark of the covenant, along with lightning and thunder.
Psalm 139: 1-24
A famous psalm, mainly because of verses 13-14, which are used to support the pro-life position in Christians. And again, don't get me wrong, b/c I'm very pro-life, but I'm not sure these are the passages I would turn to to "prove" that a fetus is a real person. I mean, it's a psalm! Are we supposed to take it literally? Two verses later, David claims that his frame was woven together in the depths of the earth (15)! Is that where we think babies are made? No. The point of the verses is, of course, that God had a specific plan for David even before he was born, which is a very pro-life point. But as far as using this as some kind of literal proof of when life begins...well, that just doesn't work for me.
I think this is one where you need to read the whole chapter at one time b/c I am not getting the flow when the verses are chopped up like this. Today, we hear about four things that are never satisfied: the grave, the barren womb, land,and fire.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
And we're done with Zephaniah! Reading these books in one day really gives me a sense of accomplishment. Never mind that they are only about three chapters long:).
Zephaniah was written during the reign of Josiah, and Harris points out that he probably wrote before the book of Law was discovered and Josiah instituted reform. Harris also points out that Zephaniah repeatedly assures the people of the total destruction of the world, and seems unaware of God's assurance in Gen. 8:21 that He would never do that. Here are Zeph's predictions of complete annihilation:
"'I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,' declares the Lord.
I will sweep away both men and animals;
I will sweep away the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea.
The wicked will have only heaps of rubble
when I cut off man from the face of the earth,' declares the Lord" (1:2-3).
"Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord's wrath.
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole world will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live in the earth" (1:18).
"I have decided to assemble the nations,
to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them--
all my fierce anger.
The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger" (8).
Okay, it would seem from these three verses that God is fed up and is just going to destroy everyone. But there are some problems with that conclusion. For one thing, most of the book is consumed with carefully explaining to the wicked that they, personally, will be punished for their wickedness (1:4-17, all of chapter 2 with the exception of verse 3, and 3:1-7). The rest of the book, minus the three verses above, is devoted to providing various degrees of assurance to those who will be saved:
"Seek the Lord all you humble of the land,
you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility;
perhaps you will be sheltered
on the day of the Lord's anger" (3).
And regarding the Moabites and Ammonites:
"The remnant of my people will plunder them;
the survivors of my nation will inherit the land" (2:9b).
"The Lord will be awesome to them
when he destroys all the gods of the land.
The nations on every shore will worship him,
every one in its own land" (2:11).
And right after the total annihilation of verse 3:8, we have verse 9:
"Then will I purify the lips of the peoples,
that all of them may call on the name of the Lord
and serve him shoulder to shoulder."
And of course, 3:10-20 speak of a restored remnant of Jerusalem in typical prophetic terms. Harris says in his intro that 11-20 is probably a later addition, but he also mentions the possibility of 14-20 being added after Josiah's reforms. Regardless, 3:11-20 is not the only passage that makes Zephaniah problematic.
Here's my conclusion: The vast majority of the book (everything but 1:2-3, 1:18, and 3:8 speak in typically prophetic terms: God will punish the wicked, but spare and ultimately restore a righteous remnant). Those three verses definitely should give the reader pause, b/c they seem to clearly state total annihilation. However, in light of the overwhelming message of the book, these verses have to be hyperbole or something. And prophets have been known to employ hyperbole. I seem to remember one prophet talking about how Assyria was going to be covered with the ocean and be turned into a vast desert within just a few verses of each other (can't remember the prophet, but I'm pretty sure it was Isaiah. Second choice: Jeremiah). So my point is, I don't see a big difference between Zephaniah's worldview and the rest of the prophets. In fact, I probably would not have noticed it at all, were it not for Harris.
Hmmm...maybe I'll read Haggai first tomorrow, and then read Harris. That arrangement worked better with Habakkuk.
Lastly, here is my random thought of the day. It came to me while reading Zephaniah. In the OT, people's understanding of God's blessing, His love, and His provision was that they were manifested in physical terms: life, security, wealth, etc. So when those blessings were not present, there were two basic responses. Either, like Job and sometimes the psalmists, one would weep and wail and ask God why He was being unjust to them, or like most of the prophets, he would state that the reason they were suffering was because they had sinned against God and were being punished. In other words, either they were innocent and thus were suffering unfairly, or they were guilty and were getting what they deserved. The common denominator was certainty: Job and David knew that they were innocent, and most of the prophets knew that they were guilty. They knew that God was either being unfair or fair, and they knew why they believed that. It was the rare person in the Bible who said, "You know what? I don't get why this is happening, but I'm just going to trust God that it is the right thing." Oddly, one person who pops to mind is Eli. When Samuel informed him that the guilt of Eli's family would never be atoned for, Eli simply responded, "He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes" (1 Sam. 3:19). Another person is Habakkuk. When confronted with God's solution to Israel's injustice, he essentially said, "Well the Babylonian solution doesn't make sense to me, but I'm going to have faith that God has this under control."
In the NT, however, the concepts of God's love, His provision, and His blessing are separated from the physical. Because of that, physical disaster or suffering does not bring about a crisis of faith. In fact, if the suffering is brought about as a result of one's faith in Christ, then the suffering itself is seen as a good thing, a blessing. That outlook is such a radical shift from the OT. It's not so much as a reversal, though, as an evolution. It seems that throughout the progress of the Bible, the understanding of the people gradually opens up to accept that God can work all things to the good, and to acknowledge that suffering can be more than an injustice or a tool for punishment.
NT: Revelation 10:1-11
A giant, cloud-clad, rainbowed angel puts one foot on land and one foot on the sea and shouts, "There will be no more delay!" (6). Then, the thunder says something that John could not reveal. And then, the angel gives John a scroll to eat. As predicted, it tastes as sweet as honey, but turns his stomach sour.
As always, I have no insight into any of that.
A nice, enjoyable praise psalm. Our highlighted verse for the day was verse 6:
"Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly,
but the proud he knows from afar."
Now, that is a theme that stays constant through the Bible. From the provisions for the poor given in the Law to psalms like this one, from the message of the prophets to the words of Jesus, it's clear that God loves the lowly, the poor, the outcast.
A description of bad people.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
We read the entirety of Habakkuk today. Harris says that it was written "when Babylon was bout to devastate Judah" and that it "is less a book of prophecy than a collection of philosophical mediation and a psalm describing Yahweh as a world conqueror." He also brought up a really interesting point about the content of Habakkuk: although the chapter 1 concludes that God has Himself raised up Babylon to conquer Israel, there is no indication that this is the result of Israel's own sin. Here's what Harris says about it:
"Unlike Jeremiah or Ezekiel, however, Habakkuk does not argue that Judah's sins deserve so catastrophic a punishment. Indeed, he differs strikingly from the Deuteronomistic historians of the period in not asserting that the people's suffering is a result of their collective guilt.
"In Chapter 2, Habakkuk declares that he will 'stand on [his] watchtower' and await Yahweh's response, which is simply this: 'The upright man will live by his faithfulness.' That is, people must have faith that their God will eventually see justice done; this confidence in divine control of the outcome will sustain the righteous soul in its trials."
I found all that to be fascinating and could not believe that I had missed it in the reading. It's kind of crazy that Habakkuk differs from all the others by not claiming that Israel deserved such treatment. In fact, chapter 2, is all about the injustice of Babylon and how they were eventually going to get theirs.
And it's not that Habakkuk is wrong, or even contradictory to the others. They, too, think Babylon is horrible and cruel, and they, too, assert that God will pay them back in full. And now that I'm looking back over the passage itself, I remember that I took Habakkuk's vision of injustice in 1:2-4 to be about injustice in his own land, apart from the Babylonians. The injustice he is picturing here is not the injustice of conquest, but internal injustice. He says that as a result, "The law is paralyzed,/and justice never prevails." When you are being conquered, you don't turn to your judicial system for answers. Thus, the injustice described here seems to be a systemic injustice within Israel itself, and injustice that prompts Habakkuk to ask God to remedy it. Then God says He is going to bring Babylon, and Habakkuk is like, "Huh? But they're bad, too!"
At least, that's what I got from it. And I have to say, I can personally relate to Habakkuk's view of, "You know what? Everything doesn't actually make perfect sense to me," more than I can relate to the absolute moral certainty of the prophets. Not that I'm down on the prophets--not at all--I'm just saying that my own experience is more closely aligned with Habakkuk. I ask the same questions to god that Habakkuk asks in 1:2-4, and like him, I have to conclude that the righteous will live by faith (2:4).
NT: Revelation 9:1-21
Thinking back, I think that, as horrible as those other trumpets/seals/whatever were, no people specifically died. Plants died, animals died, and parts of the sun, moon, and stars died, but not people. With these next two woes, people come into play. The first one lets locust come out from the Abyss (what?) and torture all of those who did not have God's seal on their foreheads for five months. It was pretty awful. Then the next trumpet signaled that those same locusts would be able to kill a third of mankind. It doesn't say this time that there will be any distinction between God's people and those who are not.
Random thought: Didn't the Black Plague kill 1/3 of Europe? I wonder if there were people who thought that the sixth trumpet of the apocalypse had sounded. Wow, those must have been dark days.
Psalm 137: 1-9
A bitter, sorrowful psalm spoken from the perspective of one weeping on the banks of a river while in exile. The Israelites in the psalm are being tormented by their captors, who are demanding that they sing the old songs of joy they used to sing at home. In response, the psalmist has three inward responses: he vows never to forget his home and his ultimate source of joy, he flashes back to the horror of the actual conquest, and he bitterly wishes eye for an eye justice for his enemies, which is graphically portrayed in the desire for someone to smash their babies' heads against rocks. Yikes.
"Do not slander a servant to his master, or he will curse you, and you will pay for it."
Is the "he" the master or the servant? I get different messages from either designation.
Friday, December 17, 2010
A new day, a new book. According to Harris, Nahum was written around 612 BC, around the time of Assyrian's collapse at the hands of the Medes and the Persians (sidenote: I wonder if that dating is based solely on the belief that people cannot actually prophesy the future, and thus, the book could not have come before the collapse, or if there are other factors to it). Regardless, the fall of Assyria did happen, and Nahum was apparently pretty accurate in its portrayal both of Assyria's fall, and of its cruel practices. I read Nahum before I read Harris, and part of me wondered if the cruel treatment pictured in chapter 3 (Assyria as a woman being exposed and pelted with filth; the infants being dashed against the pavement) was meant to be read more as eye-for-an-eye type justice than over-the-top vengeance. And based on Harris' description of the Assyrian practices, these atrocities seem indeed to be mirror images of the kinds of things that the Assyrians themselves did.
Not that I'm saying that makes it any less horrible.
Of course, reading about Nineveh, you've gotta think of Jonah. It's kind of weird to read this guy's perspective (he is ready for the Assyrians to die a cruel, horrible death) and the perspective of the author of Jonah, who portrays the Assyrians more favorably. A few things pop to mind when I consider the two together. According to Harris, Jonah was written by a post-exilic author, so he has the benefit of hindsight. It would be easier to portray the Assyrians more sympathetically from that vantage point. In fact, I would almost say that he is portraying the Assyrians more theoretically than sympathetically. Like, they are the cookie cutter "bad guys" in the author of Jonah's illustration. It's like how we use the Nazis. Yes, no one likes the Nazis even now, but someone writing from the safety of their own home in 2010 would have a decidedly different perspective than someone writing from a concentration camp in 1942.
Thinking of it that way helps with the contrast of human perspective, but what about the idea that both of these books are divinely inspired? In that light, I think the two books make interesting counterparts to each other. Thinking of them together, I get the message that God loved even the Assyrians and wanted them to repent. They refused, however, and so they were punished for the many atrocities they chose to commit. You need both books together to see that. If you read just Nahum, you might think that God had no love or desire for the Assyrians. And if you read just Jonah, you might think that the poor Assyrians weren't bad--they were just misunderstood. Neither one of those pictures is accurate.
NT: Revelation 8:1-13
Wow, that seventh scroll was intense. When they opened it, "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (1). I had to stop and just picture that. I have no idea what the symbols mean, of course, but I can appreciate the import of the scroll.
After that, God unleashes destructiveness upon the earth. The basic gist seems to be that a third of everything dies. The land is burned, the sea turns to blood, the fresh water becomes bitter, and the sun and moon are partially destroyed. Of course, that last part reminds us how figurative all of this is, b/c I don't think that destroying a third of the sun would have the effect of making the day a third shorter. I'm just sayin. So...that was just a reminder to me (as if I needed one) that we are firmly in figurative-land here.
Lastly, I found the last verse to be kind of strangely funny. An eagle flies through the air while calling out, "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels" (13). Whoa. The trumpet blasts about to be sounded? This eagle makes it sound like woe hasn't already come to the earth.
Okay, one more thing. Thinking of the many prophecies we have read of judgment coming to various nations, it occurs to me that Revelation gives us a throne-room perspective of judgment on a larger scale. I don't have any commentary or insight into this, but I did think it was interesting to see judgment poured out on earth from God's perspective, rather than the ground-level perspective conveyed by the prophets.
A call-and-response type psalm. The leader gives a line about some praiseworthy attribute of God, and the followers then echo, "His love endures forever." I thought that some of the leader's lines were interesting, such as when he emphasizes how God killed kings that were antagonistic to the Israelites (15-21). There are several ways to read that, and two pop immediately to mind: 1) as a prayer from a narrowly nationalistic perspective, 2) as a prayer that embraces the paradox between God's punishment and his love. I think that the first way also acknowledges the special role that Israel played, and it is most likely closer to the author's intentions. But from a wider perspective, I personally like the second way of reading it. So often in the Bible, you see two very different sides of an infinitely complex God. The temptation for us finite humans is to embrace the side that best suits our purposes for the moment, and to ignore the side that is more "problematic." It is not fair to the text, however, to play up one side and ignore another, equally clear side. The challenge is to wrap our minds around how both sides can exist at once, and to embrace the complexity of the vision.
I thought the writer's prayer to receive "neither poverty or riches," but only his "daily bread" was interesting (8). It made me think of a similar prayer by Jesus: "give us this day our daily bread." Apparently, there is something to be said for living hand to mouth. After all, it is also how God fed Israel in the desert. He gave them only enough manna for the day and forbid them to stockpile. I guess such an existence would make you more aware of your total dependence on God. That awareness is so crucial that the Bible has two prayers that ask for that type of existence!
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Today's reading starts out with a prophecy that a ruler would come from Bethlehem, a ruler "whose origins are from of old,/ from ancient times" (2). This ruler would also
"stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
And he will be there peace" (4).
Now, I can see how the Jews would interpret this ruler, even in this passage, to be a military ruler. At the end of verse 6, there is one last reference to this ruler delivering them from the Assyrian army. Thus, I don't know if this is one of those sensus plenior things, where there was a man who came around that time and delivered the people from the Assyrians. But I do know that I can so clearly see Jesus in this prophecy. The Bethlehem birth and the shepherding of the people are two characteristics that obviously jump out. But I also see Him in the idea that His followers will live securely b/c His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be our peace. Christ's greatness does reach to the ends of the earth, and He is our peace--both physically, in his reconciliation of us and God, and spiritually, as we go throughout our lives. And because He is our peace, we do live securely, even in this dangerous world, even in the midst of people who want to kill us (and so often succeed in doing so). Our security, however, is not found in our physical lives or our safety or in anything here on earth. Our security is found in the fact that we have peace with God and will live with Him forever.
Oh man, that was just the first few verses.
I also liked the image in 5:7, which read,
"The remnant of Jacob will be
in the midst of the peoples
like dew from the Lord,
like showers on the grass,
which do not wait for man
or linger for mankind."
I'm sure the ephemeral nature of dew made that image less than comforting, but I thought it was lovely. I love the idea of God's people being like sweet dew on the grass of the world. Very nice. But then the next verse kind of kills the mood, b/c it likens the remnant to a lion that mauls the animals around it. Um, what happened to the dew?? This is a jarring juxtaposition of imagery, don't you think? And then, in the next verses, God talks about how "in that day" he is going to destroy Israel (10-15). I'm sorry--what? "In that day" is a transition between the "Israel is a lion" passage and the "Israel is going to die" passage. So...Israel is dew, Israel is a devouring lion, and Israel is going to be destroyed. That was some roller coaster imagery.
Moving on to chapter 6. We get the famous passage, but first, there is yet another Balaam reference (5). This man figures prominently in Israel's renditions of their history. I just don't get it.
One thing Harris said was that Micah rejected the idea that sacrifices brought people to God. I was all ready to argue with him on that one, b/c I didn't think that Micah 6:8 (the only passage I knew) ruled out the idea of sacrifices. But wow--the verses before it sure seem to. It's not just that Micah rhetorically suggests--and rejects--the idea of bringing sacrifices as a means to come before the Lord. It's that he compares them to child sacrifice, something that was clearly heinous to God (6-7). And I don't think he is saying that one is on par with the other, but just to have them together like that was pretty crazy to me.
And of course, I love Micah 6:8. It has always been one of my favorite verses. I love verses that sum up what God wants from us, and 6:8 does that beautifully.
Chapter 7 describes a land wracked with sin and distrust, but holds out hope that, even after this land is destroyed, it will rise again.
NT: Revelation 7:1-17
More craziness. All this symbolism is straight over my head. But I did love verse 9:
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lam. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
'Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb'" (9-10).
Reading those verses, it occurred to me: This is the end of the book. After all, we are almost done reading through the Bible. And this is the end of the story. Even though we are finishing the book, we ourselves are still in the middle of the story, somewhere in history between Jesus and Revelation. But this is how it ends. In a way, it reminds me of the end of LOST. At the end, part of you is kind of like, really? Really, this is where we were going? The story of the plane crash and the island and the Losties and the Others led us here? And thinking of the Old Testament, I think you can have that same reaction: Really? All that stuff about Israel being God's chosen people? All that violence toward other nations? And really? Here we are, all together at the end? One big happy family? But when you see the evolution in perspective that took place during and after the exile, and the massive evolution that came with Jesus and with the whole idea of going "into all the world," it kind of comes together. And, as with LOST, I still have some unanswered questions about how we got from point A to point B. But as with LOST, the end is so beautiful and moving and fulfilling that I don't care so much about my questions. I'm just glad that we (the peoples of the world) are all here together.
Not that the book of Revelation is even close to being over. I have a feeling that there is lots of violence and judgment and stuff left to occur.
A praise psalm to God.
God's word is flawless and "a shield to those who take refuge in him" (5). And we should not add to His words (6).
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Man, I didn't get a chance to blog--or even read--this morning, and I have begun to face the fact that I am not a night person. I am beat. But here goes...
I read what Harris had to say about Micah. Micah was a "younger contemporary of Isaiah," a rural prophet who was full of condemnation for the cities, particularly Samaria and Jerusalem. According to Harris, Micah "espouses the cause of the village peasant and is sharply critical of the Davidic dynasty and Temple cult. He scornfully denies that the sanctuary's presence in Jerusalem will protect the city from harm and predicts that both city and Temple will be reduced to rubble (3:1-3, 9-12)." To me, those verses condemn Israel's leaders in general, not the Davidic line per se. And I mean, maybe the current kings were part of the Davidic line (I have no idea), but didn't Isaiah and others condemn Israel and Judah in similar terms? I don't know. I also don't know, based on the section I read today, if Micah is indeed harsher against cities than other prophets were. I didn't really get that he saw the cities as the source of sin, as much as he saw the people as the source of sin. Most prophets have addressed their prophecies to countries and cities, and I've taken that to mean that they are addressing the people within those locations. I guess I just didn't see a huge difference in Micah from any other prophet.
But I am really tired, and perhaps not in the most analytical frame of mind.
And perhaps that is why I find that I have nothing insightful to say about the actual text of Micah. Like other prophets, he condemns those who practice injustice and mistreat others. In a typical passage, he declares:
"Woe to those who plan iniquity,
to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning's light they carry it out
because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them.
They defraud a man of his home,
a fellowman of his inheritance" (2:1-2).
I did get a bit confused with all the quotation marks, and sometimes had a hard time figuring out who was talking. For example, in 1:6-7, God is clearly talking and describing the way He is going to destroy Samaria. The verses naturally flow into verse 8, which starts with, "Because of this..." But then that person says that he "will weep and wail" and "go about barefoot and naked." Now, it would seem that that would be Micah talking, and the quotation marks back that up. But...how did they know to put quotes there? Are there quotes in the Hebrew? It's just that the person does not shift, nor does the general tone. I guess it goes from anger to sadness. And obviously, the image of God going barefoot and naked doesn't really work. But those kind of shifts always make me wonder...how do they know that it is a new person talking? Perhaps the interpreters are shutting the door on some interesting imagery regarding God. I don't know....I'm tired:).
NT: Revelation 6:1-17
Crazy stuff happens today! Seals are opened, voices boom, the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride in, the souls of the martyred cry out to God, earthquakes happen, stars fall to earth, the sky rolls back, and everyone on earth flees.
And I got about 0% of that imagery. I did get the idea that the end times were going to be bad, but that's about it.
Another very short psalm, exhorting the priests and those who minister in "the house of the Lord" to praise Him (1).
An introductory section for the sayings of Agur, in which Agur claims to have no knowledge of God and poetically asks who made the world.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Well, it turns out that Harris and my husband are in almost complete agreement on the book of Jonah. Both believe that the book is clearly intended to be a fictional story illustrating a greater truth about the need for love and compassion among God's people. (Well, to be perfectly clear, Greg's official position is that the story makes its point regardless of whether it actually happened.) Greg sums up the message of Jonah as, "Don't be a self-righteous jerk." And indeed, Jonah is a totally self-righteous jerk.
Whenever I heard the story of Jonah as a child, I remember that the explanation given for his disobedience to God's call was that he was afraid to go to Nineveh. At least, that's the message I heard most often. But no. Jonah himself clearly states his reasoning in chapter 4, when he tells God, "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (2). Jonah was afraid, alright, but not for his life--he was afraid that Nineveh would be saved. That is a whole other level of nastiness.
And like Harris says, Greg says that Jonah's jerkiness is contrasted sharply with the goodness and humanity of the pagans in the boat. The whole reason that Jonah is there in the first place is because he wants a large city to die a fiery death. And yet, these men, who don't know God, are willing to risk their own lives to save him. Rather than throw him overboard to end a desperate, terrifying situation, they continue to work to spare his life. Even though Jonah asks them to throw him overboard, they refuse. What a contrast! Finally, they relent, and, seeing the miracle of the calmed waters, they turn naturally to God. When Jonah later sees the miracles of national repentance and a vine growing out of nowhere, he only becomes bitter against God. Again, the audience is supposed to clearly see the irony that the pagans are ten times more decent and humane than one of God's own prophets.
And you've gotta love Jonah's message to the people: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." Yeah, he really put his heart into that one, right? Clearly, Jonah is not even really trying to convince them to repent. And yet, hilariously, the whole city completely and totally turns to God. The king even orders that the livestock fast and wear sackcloth. This story cracks me up. It is clearly meant to be funny. And Jonah's reaction is also hilarious, but more in a sad way. Rather than rejoice at God's power, Jonah pouts like a petulant child. In the subsequent interchange between him and God, it all comes out that Jonah only cares about himself and what is good for him. He cares about the fate of a vine more than the fate of 120,000 souls, b/c the vine keeps him cool. So he'd rather save a plant that helps him than a city that he hates.
The message here is devastatingly clear. God's people can easily get caught up in the worst kind of selfishness. They (we) have the message of God and are supposed to spread that message to others, but so often, we don't even care enough about other people to tell them. Even worse, there are people, sometimes large groups of people, even whole nations, that we would rather not preach to, b/c frankly, we'd rather them have to pay for their sins than be forgiven. That is so nasty. Jonah only cared for himself and his people. Christians today--even me--sometimes get caught up in putting the physical and spiritual well-being of "me and mine" before our calling to "go into all the world and preach the good news."
It's kind of sad how applicable a cartoonish figure like Jonah can be to God's people, back then and today.
NT: Revelation 5:1-14
Meanwhile, back in throne room, a scroll appears. It is sealed with seven seals, which represent the seven spirits of God. Oh, how I would love to know what that means. Anyway, John weeps because no one is worthy to open it. That seems like a very dream-like thing to do. I don't really know why John is crying, since he doesn't know what is in the scroll and since he probably has about as much an idea of what is going on as I do. But somehow, it strikes him as very sad that no one can open it.
Then, in comes a lamb with seven eyes and seven horns, a lamb that looks like it has been slain. That seems like a weird and gruesome picture to me. First of all, all those eyes and horns would almost be grotesque to people only used to regular animals, and then to see an animal that looks like it should be dead from the violence done to it would be extra gross. I say all this b/c I picture myself in John's place, as if I was seeing the vision, too. And I think that these would be my reactions. This animal, representing Christ, is worthy b/c he was slain to save men "from every tribe and language and people and nation" (9). Because of his worthiness, everyone then rejoices and worships the lamb, including "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them" (13).
A lovely little psalm rejoicing over brothers living in unity.
A reminder that justice ultimately comes from God and not from earthly authority, and a statement about the natural enmity between the wicked and the righteous.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Wow, Obadiah is short! As a result, the intro material I read on it was even shorter. I thought Harris' material was so short that I looked at another book, An Introduction to the Bible, by Fant, Musser, and Reddish. It was even shorter than Harris! Neither of them had anything about the author, but they both did say that the book most likely was written shortly after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BC. Apparently, Edom joined in the plunder and otherwise gloated over Jerusalem's defeat, and that was not cool. It was especially insulting because the Edomites were said to be descended from Esau, Jacob's brother. Apparently, the Israelites were expecting more brotherly conduct, but I seem to remember some prophecy about the descendants of Jacob and the descendants of Esau always butting heads. So perhaps Edom's behavior should come as no surprise.
Regardless, God condemns it and tells Edom that they will be paid back for what they did. And...that's about it for Obadiah.
NT: Revelation 4:1-11
Today, we get into some of the crazy stuff of Revelation. The scene is the throne room of God. God is depicted only as having "the appearance of jasper and carnelian." I'm not sure what carnelian is. His throne is encircled by a rainbow, with four eye-covered beings flying around it, singing,
"Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come (8)"
Around the throne, there are also 24 other thrones, occupied by elders. There were also seven lamps, which were "the seven spirits of God" (5). And a sea of glass.
As to the exact nature of the arrangement, or to what all of these things represent, I have no idea. It clearly seems, though, that the point of the passage is to convey the magnificence and awesome nature of God. Sometimes, we modern Christians forget the wonder and might of God, thinking of Him instead as a buddy or something. And though He does, of course, love us beyond all measure, He is still a Being to be feared and obeyed.
Psalm 132: 1-18
A psalm in honor of David and of the covenant God made with him.
Prov. 29: 24-25
When you choose to be an accomplice to evil, you become your own enemy. And fear of others will prove to be a snare. I like both of those proverbs.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
I had several, scattered thoughts today while reading:
In 7:1-6, God shows Amos two different disasters, and after Amos begs God to avert them, God relents. I wonder how many times God does things like that today. When horrible things happen, our natural tendency is to question God, to ask why He would let something like that happen. At the same time, though, I wonder how many tragedies He keeps from us, how many disasters He averts. The Sunday after the VA Tech shooting happened, I was sitting in church and began wondering what was to keep someone from walking in our assembly and opening fire. I came to the conclusion that nothing would keep something like that from happening. Something like that could happen at any time. And given the number of disturbed and mentally ill people in our society, combined with the number of guns, I began to marvel, not that such things happened, but that such things did not happen so much more. That line of thought made me realize that God probably spares us from so much. Amos' vision in these verses is an example that supports that theory.
Of course, the people will not avoid disaster forever, since they continue to sin. Some of their sins are described in 8:5-6, in which they say,
"When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?"--
skimping the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat."
Two accusations really hit home with me. Both have to do with the idea of skimping. First of all, the Israelites were skimping on their time with (and devotion to) God in order to pursue their worldly agendas. That reminds me of the times that I feel too busy to go to church, or the times I am tempted to spend the Sunday school or worship hour getting things done. Often the things I need to get done are church-related, so I try to excuse my impatience with sitting and learning about/worshiping God by saying that I would rather be working for Him. But the fact is, I can't even give God His proper reverence b/c I apparently think the world will stop spinning if I stop working even for a second. Such an attitude is the height of pride and arrogance. It ignores the simple truth that everything I am and everything I have comes from God and that I can do nothing without Him. When I put my agenda over Sabbath time with God, I am in effect placing myself above Him, saying that my plans are more important than the worship of Him.
Secondly, the Israelites skimped in their treatment of the poor in order to provide more things for themselves. In these verses, it is not like they are killing the poor in the street; they are just tipping the scales against them by acting in their own best interest. I can see this tendency in my own attitude toward giving. I am comfortable giving a certain amount each month. But when my giving gets "out of control," like it has this month, I tend to freak out and worry about how my own family is going to make it. That fear makes me stingy, makes me pull back the reins on my giving, much of which benefits the poor. It's "funny" how the verses mentions buying the needy for a pair of sandals b/c one thing I have been needing is some new tennis shoes. And those type of "needs" often tempt me to skimp on what I give to others so that I can provide for myself.
One small thing in closing: I thought that 8:11-12 were interesting. They foretell "a famine of hearing the words of the Lord" (11). I think that one of the consequences of being hardened in one's sin is that you do stop hearing God's voice. There comes a point where, through continued sin, you sear your own conscience so much that you shut out the Spirit's guidance.
NT: Revelation 3:7-22
Oops, Sardis wasn't the lukewarm church (like I said yesterday). It was Laodicea. Duh. I knew that. Really. How many sermons have I heard on the Laodiceans? Good lands.
But first, we get Christ's message to the church at Philadelphia. I could relate to Philadelphia today because Philadelphia had "little strength," and yet they were still hanging in there. I have an idea that their trials were a tad more severe than mine, but I have to admit that as I read this morning, in my exhaustion and vague sense of inadequacy for the many demands of my day, I took comfort from the idea that Christ appreciated that these people kept going and did their best, as weak as they were.
And then we get to the lukewarm church. In high school I found verse 15 so convicting: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other! So because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Yikes! This verse especially flies in the face of all my, "at least I'm not..." rationalizations. So often, when I seek to justify some moral failing of mine, I think, "well, at least I don't [insert something really bad]." And yet, in this verse, God tells the church, "I wish you were really bad! At least that way, everyone could see clearly that you were not My followers, and you would stop making Me look bad. As it is, you are defiling My Name with your continued association with me." At least, that's how I interpret His vehemence in these verses. Again, those are very convicting words for Christians.
I love this short little psalm, in which David rests contentedly with God. In verse 1, he says,
"I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me."
"I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me" (2).
Yesterday, I had to wake Anna up from her nap, and she was predictably fussy. I pulled her into my lap, and she wrapped her arms and legs around me and laid her head on my chest. As I stroked her hair and murmured to her, she calmed down, and then laid peacefully against me for...I don't know how long. I kind of lost track of time b/c she was so contented and quiet and relaxed, and I was enjoying her presence so much. When I read verse 2, the image I get is of Anna lying against me so peacefully. I want to be that way with God. I don't want to be fretful and worried about things that I will never understand. Instead, I want to trust in the God who loves me, who loves us all, and to rest quietly in His love.
Prov. 29: 23
Pride brings a man low, but a lowly spirit gains him honor.