Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27

OT: Zechariah 10:1-11:17

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.

Psalm 146:1-10

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.

Prov. 30:33

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!

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