Day 187: Proverbs 17-19; The Wisdom in Repetition

As I was reading through today’s Proverbs I actually caught myself thinking that this reading was getting a bit monotonous.  I’m pretty sure that some of the things that we read today were things that we read yesterday, or multiple other days.  In fact, there are a great many of the proverbs in the three chapters that we read today that are somewhat repeated from yesterday and days past.  I started to think to myself “why would Solomon repeat things multiple times?”  I definitely had to catch myself here because I think that I was starting to get a bad attitude around them.  Suddenly though, I wast struck but the wisdom in repeating these wise sayings… it isn’t about the vast amount of different wise sayings as much as it is about the wisdom found in the sayings that are there.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Photo Credit: www.faclan.org

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Photo Credit: www.faclan.org

I also realized that there are many examples of repetition in the Bible as well.  There are also many reasons for the repetition we find in Scripture!  Part of it, probably the main reason actually, comes from the Hebrew culture and their writing.  Hebrew writing has no punctuation.  If you read it in the original writing, or look at the dead sea scrolls, there really is very little break in the lines of writing at all.  This means that there are no symbols for adding emphasis like the exclamation point… and certainly no little smiley/frown faces to communicate emotions.  What this means for us, is that when things are repeated, especially when they are repeated in succession, there is a great deal of emphasis that is meant to be heard in it.  Think in Isaiah 6 or Revelation 4 when the Angels are singing “Holy Holy Holy” about the Lord.  This isn’t because they are stuttering or something, neither is it because of some sort of a lack of creativity on the part of the writer.  It is the repetition of the words that makes them powerful in the Hebrew language!  If you were to put it in today’s texting language, God is HOLY! =)

We’ve actually encountered the this type of repetition in Scripture many times in the past.  Think all the way back to Genesis, with the 2 creation narratives that we read.  One was most specific towards the details while the other was more focused on the human aspect, yet both were very geared towards the point that it was indeed God that created all things.  If you think ahead towards Abraham and the many times that the covenant was reaffirmed, we see the emphasis on the covenantal relationship that defines Israel, all which begins with God as well.  We see this with Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the giving of the Law, Joshua, and many many more throughout the history of Israel.  I have written more about this in another blog that I occasionally write in  as well.  It is an article called ‘Pete and Repeat.’  Feel free to check it out!

So today, and in the coming days, as you are reading these proverbs and one sounds familiar, take a moment to think about where you heard it before.  Maybe go back and look for it in the previous days’ readings.  Solomon is repeating these for a reason, not simply because he can’t think of anything else to say.  Perhaps these repeated sections will touch you in a special way today… perhaps they are things that we all need to hear again and again that we may better live our lives bringing honor and glory to God.



Day 173: Psalms 103-105; How Great is Our God

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!

These are fitting words for the psalms that we read through today!  All three are psalms of praise that tell of the many acts and words of the Lord and all three proclaim His glory and splendor!  I don’t honestly think that there is a lot to be added to these Psalms… I think that they are best re-read over and over.  I would encourage you to do that today!  Take time to read these Psalms at least two more times.  As you do this, take time to think back over the past 6 months… over all that we have read and encountered in the Scriptures.  Do you remember the times that the psalmist is talking about?  Take some more time to think about the things in your life… how have you seen God at work in your day to day walk?

PSALM 103-105 are psalms of praise and thanksgiving that are written anonymously.  Each is didactic in nature, with psalm 105 actually being more of a historical account of God’s amazing works in redemptive history.  Though all three reference times past, they can also draw our attention to God’s work in the present and in our own lives as well.



Day 129: 2 Chronicles 20-22; Jehoshaphat to Queen Athaliah

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

The prayer of King Jehoshaphat in our reading today, is quite possibly one of the least known, best prayers of the people of God in the Bible.  Jehoshaphat, having no where else to turn, goes to God and basically rehashes the Covenant with God, asking Him to act on their behalf because they have indeed turned their hearts toward Him.  The prayer really gives us a deep insight into the Hebrew Theological thinking as well, relating back in their ancestry, almost rehashing their history as an appeal to God.  We talked about this at the beginning of 1 Chronicles, how the people look to their past as a way of being closer to God.

This prayer, and the narrative of Jehoshaphat is also set in between the narrative of his father, Asa, and the following narrative of his son and grandson.  Remember back two days to the narrative of King Asa, towards the end of his life he is threatened by the Northern Kingdom.  What does he do?  Rather than seeking the face of God, he sends tribute to King Ben-Hadad of Syria for help.  In this act, the Lord calls him out and Asa becomes very angry and bitter at the end of his life.  Later, after the reign of Jehoshaphat, we read the narratives of Jehoram and Ahaziah (also known as Jehoahaz and not to be confused with the wicked Ahaziah that reigned in Israel).  They are simply evil and do not follow the Lord and we see very clearly the results that come of it.

However, Jehoshaphat does not follow in these evil ways, he does not place his trust in others, he is moved to prayer and places his faith in God.  What happens in this?  Not only does God promise that the battle against his enemies will be won, God says that they will not have to life a finger because “the Battle is the Lord’s.”  All they need do is believe and go out to face down their enemy.  No doubt this took some courage, I can’t imagine having to go out and face down an innumerable enemy army.  However, as they stand at the ready, Jehoshaphat rallies them saying, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”  I have visions of Aragorn rallying his troops before the gate of Mordor or the Young King Peter leading the charge against the White Witch.  These analogies disintegrate pretty quickly, but you get the idea.  The people are rallied and God wins the victory… and the spoils of war are almost more than they can handle.

Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor Photo Credit: www.pegelowssoapbox.blogspot.com

Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor
Photo Credit: www.pegelowssoapbox.blogspot.com

Like I said though, the narrative of Jehoshaphat is Juxtaposed between the pretty good and the really bad, and we continue on today to the really bad.  The reigns Jehoram and Ahaziah (again, also known as Jehoahaz and not to be confused with the wicked Ahaziah that reigned in Israel) are relatively unremarkable.  They are similar in nature, being completely evil in the sight of the Lord.  During their reigns all that was gained during the reigns of Asa and Jehoshapaht were lost; spiritual, geographically, economically, and the like.  There is continual strife within the families, which ultimately led to Queen Athiliah’s wicked reign and the almost extinction of the Dividic line of Kings.  However, as I said a couple days ago, we have to keep in mind the Lord’s covenant with David, something that the writer of 1 & 2 Chronicles wishes to impress on his readers as well.

He writes, in the midst of the narrative of Jehoram, “Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.”  This is a testament to the faithfulness of God in the face of evil and sinful leaders.  I think that the writer is communicating something else here as well to his audience, the notion that God is at work and working in the face of sin and rebellion.  Even when we can’t see God’s actions or the outcomes that He means to bring about, God is still at work in the world, always seeking to bring about His will.  What will?  The same Will that God has been working towards since the beginning.  The same Will that God has been working towards in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, and now the line of David… and it is the true nature and purpose of the covenant community (the Elect) of Israel… and of the Church today… “I will be your God and you will be My people, and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”



Day 123: 1 Chronicles 27-29; David's Final Charge

This last section of 1 Chronicles is a tribute to the final acts of David and all that he had done in his reign.  We’ve read about all the people that he has conquered, all the wealth that he has accumulated, and all the people that he appointed to the different positions as he made preparations for the building of the Temple.  Yet at the end of all of this, we see what I think is the most significant thing about David, about his reign over Israel and his life before God.

David's Charge to Solomon Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

David’s Charge to Solomon
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

As David is wrapping things up with his life he calls all the people together and gives them a charge, and does the same with his son.  His speech could have been about all the things that he has done and all the preparations that he made so that everything will now go right because he has laid the groundwork for the building of the Temple which he wanted to do but couldn’t because God said no.  However, that is simply not the case with David.  When David speaks to the people and to his son Solomon, he gives all glory, all honor, and all praise to God alone.  David says, “Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my father’s house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father’s house, and among my father’s sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.  And of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons) he has chosen Solomon my son to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel.”  David’s emphasis is on the Lord’s work and decisions that made all of this possible, not because of anything that he had done.

The same goes for his charge to Solomon too.  David doesn’t point out his own good works, or even the ability of Solomon to complete this task on his own.  Instead, he implores his son to seek after God in all his works and in doing so Solomon will find success.  David says, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”  Solomon’s work is done, and only can be done, because it was the Lord who appointed him to do it.  David has done well in making preparations, Solomon will do well in administration… yet it is all because the Lord, the God of Israel ordained it and sustained it.  David recognizes this in his life and encourages his son to continue this.

In many ways, David’s story is Israel’s story… or at least what Israel’s story was supposed to be.  David is clearly blessed by God, and is clearly chosen by God.  One of the scary theological terms that we use for this is “ELECTION.”  It refers to the obvious fact that is pointed out time and again that God has clearly chosen David and has blessed him.  In the same way we see this with the people of Israel, as God has chosen them to be His people not because they were special or extra good in some way, but because God chose them.  Now, generally speaking, when people talk about ELECTION, the conversation disolves into an argument and winds up being about people deciding about who is in and who is out… or about how a loving God could choose some and not others.  While I acknowledge that those arguments are out there, I think what is more appropriate to approach in this discussion is the purpose of the ELECT in God’s plan and working in the world.  You see, ELECTION has never been simply about who is in and who is out.  The purpose of ELECTION is about God’s working through a specific group of people to bring about His will, His reign, and His blessings in the world.  The original ELECTION of Abraham comes with a covenant promise that, as God’s ELECT people, they will be a blessing to the whole world.  It wasn’t about God not choosing the other nations of the world, but about how God is going to communicate His blessings, His grace, and His love to the entire world!  This becomes even more important and prominent in Jesus Christ, but we’re still many hundreds of years away from that yet in the Biblical narrative… so stay tuned!



Day 114: 1 Chronicles 1-2; Books of the Chronicles

As I said towards the end of the writing yesterday, up until now everything has happened in a fairly chronological order.  Yesterday we came to the end of the narrative of the kings of Israel and Judah with the final exiles being carried off to Babylon.  We will pick up on that again, however, we now take a step back and look at the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles.

In the Hebrew Bible these books actually compose the last two books of Scripture, while the Christian Bible has these two books towards the end of the “historical” section of the Biblical Cannon.  Tradition has it that these books were written in the “post-exilic” time of the nation of Judah.  While the author is anonymous, both Jewish and Christian traditions hold that it was Ezra the priest that actually wrote this all down along with the book that bears his name, Ezra, and the book of Nehemiah.

Timeline of the Old Testament Patriachs Photo Credit: http://www.ltradio.org/charts/

Timeline of the Old Testament Patriachs
Photo Credit: http://www.ltradio.org/charts/

Today’s reading was, I admit, a bit arduous.  No one likes to read genealogies  especially when they don’t lead to a story.  However the way that the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles are set up, they go through the history of humanity, and then focus in specifically on Israel, David, and then the kingdom of Judah.  As this book was written post-exile, it would have been written for a group of Hebrew refugees that had just returned from exile.  They were, for all intents and purposes, in the same boat as the Israelites were when they first entered Canaan.  They had no land to call their own, no houses, no Temple, no cities or anything.  They were starting over… however this time they didn’t have a nation of a million battle ready soldiers to drive the people of the land out, they had to start over in the midst of oppression, fear of attack, and with a sort of lost identity.

Lost Identity?  Yes… I meant to say that.  See, the exile wasn’t simply about God being mean and pushing these people out of their land.  There was a lot more to it than that.  Remember a ways back, when we talked about the people of Israel living a “Theo-centric” existence?  I couldn’t find the exact date on which we talked about it, however what we see with the nation of Israel, especially when they are in the wilderness, is that they want to live as close to the center of their universe, God, as they possible could. This is seen in how they camp around the Tabernacle, the place they believe that heaven meets earth.  Later, when the Temple is built, that becomes the place of God’s dwell.  Again, this is the place at which heaven and earth meet.

This idea of Theo-centrism also applies to the land in which they live.  Canaan was given to them by God and, though they sinned all the time, their identity was wrapped up in it and, even though they forgot God, it was still a core part of their identity as Hebrews.  However, as I just said, they did sin… they sinned A LOT!  Their identity was twisted and mangled, much like it was in Egypt.  Israel had become slaves once again… slaves to sin.  Once again, they needed to be stripped of their identity and re-identified as God’s people.  In this case, it required punishment and removal of the old by God.

Exile was a very traumatic event because it stripped the people of everything that made them who they were.  You know they say that you’ll never miss something until it is gone, well… this would be very true here.  The people of God lost what they would consider to be their access to God through the Temple.  They lost their inheritance from God in the land.  They lost everything that it was that made them who they were… or so they thought.  However, the one thing they didn’t lose was God.  We’ll see this in some of the many prophets that were sent to the Jewish exiles, and how God works for them through people like Esther and Daniel.

But that, right there, the fact that they never lost God, is the whole point of the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles.  It was written to remind the people of Judah who they were and whose they were.  The covenant did not end with the Exile of God’s people.  In fact, God was still at work, upholding both ends of the covenant as He had always done before.  Though God’s people might have felt “dis-located,” God was trying to show them that they could never truly be absent from the one who is omnipresent.  And in some ways, their presence in the land of Babylon was just the beginning of God’s people fulfilling God’s promise that they would be a light and a blessing to all nations.

Wow… that’s kind of getting ahead of the story.  Today we begin Chronicles.  It takes us through the history of Humanity, of Israel, and then talks briefly about Saul.  It zeros in very specifically on David, and then Solomon, and then on to the Kingdom of Judah primarily.  Why?  Because this was written for returned exiles… and Israel never returned.  As you read, especially in the first half of 1 Chronicles, try to call to memory all that we have read and talked about in the last 4-5 months.  Take some time to look back… to see the bigger picture of God at work in the lives of these people, in the nation of Israel, and how He has been and is continually faithful all the time and everywhere.



Day 109: 2 Kings 12-14; Joash, Jehoash, Jehoahaz, Jeroboam II, and Amaziah

I was trying to come up with some sort of a witty name for today’s reading as it is much more of the same stuff that we have been reading, but I failed in my efforts.  So, today is simply more narratives about the kings of Israel and Judah.  Some of these kings are good, and others are not so good…

English: Amasias was the king of Judah, the so...

English: Amasias was the king of Judah, the son and successor of Joash. Русский: Амасия — царь Иудеи (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joash, king of Judah, we read, does good in the eyes of the Lord.  He seeks to repair the temple of the Lord.  Yet he doesn’t turn completely to the Lord and tear down the high places and stuff.  The same goes for Amaziah, the son of Joash, king of Judah.  Both were relatively good kings, but not so much so that they follow God completely.  There is a segment in the narrative of Amaziah in which we see him adhering to the law, not taking revenge on the sons of those who killed his father which is another example of how they followed the Lord and sought to do what was good in His eyes.  God’s response to this is to bless them, for the most part, and grant them victory of their enemies and peace for a majority of their reigns.

English: Jehoahaz of Israel was king of Israel...

English: Jehoahaz of Israel was king of Israel and the son of Jehu (2 Kings 10:35). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In sharp contrast to this, the kings of Israel are not so great.  Jehoahaz, Jehoash, and Jeroboam II, were all wicked kings in the sight of the Lord.  They are all the decedents of Jehu, which we read yesterday were promised to reign on the throne for a total of four generations because of the work that Jehu did for the Lord.  There is a bit of a bright side to these kings in that at times they seek after the Lord and the Lord grants them favor through victories and the like.  Ultimately, we read that God doesn’t wipe out Israel on account of the evil of any of these kings because of His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I find the reference of these particular people to be quite interesting because it skips past more recent “versions” of the covenant with David and with Moses at Sinai, and references the original covenant that was put in place.  While I don’t know if it is abundantly relevant in this passage, it is a unique diversion from the norm of talking about the covenant and the promise in general and not necessarily naming names.

Another thing of importance in this story is the death of Elisha.  Though it comes with quite a bit less pomp and circumstance than that of his master Elijah, none the less, even this great prophet succumbs to mortality.  Yet even in death, it seems, God’s work through Elisha wasn’t quite finished.  There is a brief narrative of a dead man touching the bones of Elisha and being instantly revived.  You might be thinking, “great, another miracle from a prophet…” but I think there is something a bit deeper in this.  Remember back to the “holiness codes” when we talked about how people were not allowed to touch the dead lest they become unclean.  An event like this seems to call a Law like that into question in some ways.  Interestingly, as prophet who serves as the mouthpiece of God in that time and place, calling people to repentance and speaking for God (sometimes we refer to them as heralds of the Kingdom), acts even in death in a way contrary to the world of sin and death in which he lived.  We see here once again a dramatic foreshadowing of death bringing life in a very little way.  Without discounting the narrative at hand, anytime we see someone raised to life we ought to keep in the back of our minds the resurrection of Jesus!

P.S.  Did you notice the brief mention of Jonah here?  It is the only other place in the Old Testament where Jonah is mentioned outside of the book that bears his name.



Day 89: 2 Samuel 8-11; David's Victories and Kindness

For many people, readers, historians, and scholars, this is largely considered to be the “Golden Age” of Israel.  The Lord gave David success in everything he did.  As we have talked about so many times this really has to do with the covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel.  If you remember back to the end of Leviticus, when we talked about the blessings and curses section of the Covenant, you’ll recall what God said he would do for the people of Israel if they were to follow Him.

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.  I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.  I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you.  You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.”

Thus far, if you were to think back over the story of the people of Israel, we have seen ample examples of what it means when the people disobey God.  We saw it in the Judges Cycle and earlier with Joshua’s leadership in the conquest of Canaan.  In these times we have seen both the good and the bad, a lot of the bad.  But in all of this, God has been faithful to the people of Israel.

Today we are seeing the rewards.  There is no back and forth here… no cycle… David is following after God with everything he is, holding nothing back and God, true as He always is to the covenant, is blessing the socks off of them.  As I said, Israel is in their golden age.  Their boarders are expanding.  Their enemies are subdued.  Almost nothing can shake them…

Almost nothing… Like all people though, David is human, and as we read at the end of today, he is not exempt from sin… a sin which we will talk more about tomorrow.

There is one other narrative that is present in today’s reading, that of David and Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.  David promises Jonathan toward the end of Jonathan’s life that he would be kind to his offspring.  The reason that they made this pact though is because it was customary back then for a new royal house to remove the family of the old house.  This would ensure that the people would follow the new king.  This is why Mephibosheth fell at the feet of the king and offered to be his servant.  David’s reaction to Mephibosheth was completely the opposite of what would have been expected.  But David is true to his word and exalts Jonathan’s son, providing for an outcast as if he was royalty which, also is him following after and honoring the Law of God.



Day 68: Joshua 22-24; Choose Whom You Will Serve

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

These are some of the famous last words of Joshua.  Like Moses, as he is preparing to die, he calls the people of Israel together and they rehash the covenant again.  The people of Israel are reminded of all the great deeds of the Lord, of who they are and whose they are.  They are reminded that they came from one man who was called out of a distant land.  They are reminded that all that they are and all that they have become is not because of them, but because of God… only because of God.

This particular passage rings with the overtones of election, of predestination, and echos of the adoption.  It is, as you have probably guessed already, a foreshadowing… the whole covenant is a foreshadowing because it is fulfilled in Christ.  Joshua says in effect, “you are God’s people because God chose you, guided you, protected you, sustained you, walked with you, fought for you, and now has given you peace.  You have scene the work of the Lord, and you have seen the other gods around you.  So choose this day whom you will serve.”

Joshua also reiterates the notion of the blessings and curses of following or not following the covenant.  The people say “we will follow God.”  Joshua replies that your profession here is a witness against yourselves.  I wonder if this isn’t part of why we have the practice of profession of faith.  Does that too serve as a public witness against us, that we have publicly chosen to follow God?  I don’t necessarily know that there is a correlation there, but it seems pretty strong.

As we ended yesterday, so we will end again today.  God has been faithful.  The first 6 books of the Old Testament are, at the very least, a testament to the nature of the character of God and His abundant faithfulness and providence.  All of what has happened to the people of Israel since the very beginning has been ordained and directed by God Himself.  Whether it be sustenance during a time of famine, protection in the wilderness, the powers against the Egyptian gods, the giving of the Law, or the conquest of a people much larger and stronger than them in Canaan, all of this has happened because of God.  If there is a life lesson here, it is that nothing happens apart from the knowledge and sustaining power of the Father.  He has ordained our days from beginning to end and He will watch over us and work His will in our lives each and every day.  We have seen it and continue to see it.  So the question for us is the same:

WHOM WILL YOU SERVE?



Day 31: Leviticus 8-11; Holiness Codes (Part 1)

The last verses of Leviticus 11 really sum up where we are going for the next couple of days.  They read, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground.  For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Before we go into that though, (which we will be talking about for the next couple days) there is the story of Aaron’s consecration, and also of his sons’ death.  We read that Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons go through the whole consecration ceremony that was originally described in Exodus 29, and that in doing so they are ordained as priests.  After this happens, we see once again the manifestation of the glory of the Lord coming to rest on the temple.

tabernacle

With God’s presence clearly seen, it is somewhat of a mystery as to why it is that Aaron’s sons would do something so obviously flawed to them as offer inappropriate sacrifices before the Lord.  They are consumed with “the fire of the Lord,” yet another image of God’s holiness.  It was interesting to read yesterday in Leviticus 6, in relation to this, that the fire of the alter of burnt offerings was never to go out.  God’s refining, purifying fire never goes out… There is never a time in our lives when God says its ok for us to sin, even if it is just a little sin.  The fire of God is always active and ever consuming.  We see here that God does not stand for sin, for us to act contrary to His commands.  It is wholly against and contrary to His nature.  What we don’t read in this passage is the motive or the attitude of Aaron’s sons when they do this wrong thing.  Did they even know?  Were they doing it on purpose?  This is something that the writer, presumably Moses, chose not to include in this narrative.  I guess we could ask ourselves if it really matters what our motive is… sin is sin.  Thanks be to God that we ourselves have been consecrated in the blood of Jesus and our sin has been washed away!

A little side note to all of this (we will get to the Holiness codes of conduct and stuff tomorrow)…

I think it is important for us to understand some of the back ground of the narratives in the Old Testament, these stories that we are reading that sometimes seem so distant to us.  To do this, we must understand better the nature of the Hebrew worldview… it may actually enlighten our own perceptions of the world as well…

For the Hebrew people, the world was not as cut and dry as we like to think it is now days.  Western culture especially has a very hard, mechanistic worldview in which everything is a secular, physical, and material.  In many ways we look at the world through a deistic perspective… “God is out there somewhere, but this physical world is not His realm.”  We talk about all things spiritual as being mystic… other… out there… not normal reality.

Not so the Hebrew people.  For them, the realities of the physical and the spiritual world were very intertwined.  They believed, as maybe we should, that the physical world is really a manifestation of the Glory of God, an eruption of God’s majesty.  God wasn’t just over and above the world that we live in, He is alive and active in it.  For them, the whole world was a sacred place; a place in which God could be manifested in a tree, a rock, some sand, the water, or in the sky, rain, etc.  It isn’t that any one of these was God, nor did any one thing contain God, but God is present in all of creation.  So really then, in a world in which God is revealing God’s self to God’s chosen people, every place, event, and object had the ability of being an encounter with God, or in Theological terms, a “Hierophany.”

With this being the case then, we move on to the stories, the details, and the narratives of the Old Testament.  If God is present everywhere, and the world is a sacred place, manifesting God’s glory, then every move one makes, every action taken, every activity participated in has very real religious implications.  In fact, it could be said that every activity is a religious activity.  What would life be like for us if we thought this way?

To take this a step further then, the goal of life for the Hebrew people would be to be as close to the center of this religious life, as close to the presence of God, as they could possibly be.  Now this center really wasn’t a single place for quite some time.  If you remember with me, when God reveals Himself to Abraham, a stone is set up as a way of remembering, and Abraham dwells near to that place.  He wants to be close to that “center” as he can be.  Why?  Why couldn’t he just travel back whenever he wanted?  Well… with all the world being sacred, and the understanding that God sustained the world, these people believed that they needed to be as close to the center as they could be to keep their link with the Divine.  If they lost that link, they would loose their lives, their purpose, their everything.  This is why Moses pleads with God to go with the people of Israel when they leave Sinai in Exodus 33, because if they leave that center and God doesn’t go with them… they would die.

So, what does this have to do with the Tabernacle?  Well, God agreed to Moses and said He would go with, and then commands the creation of a dwelling place.  This would become the center for the people of Israel… religiously and quite literally as the people camped around it.  In today’s reading we see that the glory of the Lord comes down into the Tabernacle and dwells there.  Upon the completion of the Tabernacle, it became, for Israel, the very center of the universe… the hinge on which all other things turned.  We talked about this several days ago at the end of Exodus… The Tabernacle is the place at which Heaven meets Earth… it is the One True Center, around which all the other centers, those hierophanies (the burning bush, Jacobs ladder, water from a rock, etc.) came around.  This was their link to the Sacred, to God and to life.

So… to get back to the Narratives of Scripture then, what is the point of telling these?  The reality is that these were passed down orally for many hundreds of years before they were written down.  This includes the instructions for the making of the Tabernacle and those genealogies that we all “love” to read.  But for the Hebrew people, this was all about connection to the center.  When they told the stories, they relived the experiences, became part of that time and that place… when the glory of God descended on the Tabernacle… when God appeared in the burning bush… when Abraham saw the smoking fire-pot and passed between the animals…  As they relived those connections to the Center, to the divine, they also participated in and received the blessings given to their Fathers and Mothers at that time.  They became part of the narrative and found, as we should find, their story in the greater story of God’s actions and working in redemptive history.  And, just to toss something else out there… this changes the whole meaning of “honor your father and mother” when you consider your father and mother to be not simply your parents, but everyone that was ever in your family tree.

A special thanks to Professor Travis West for a great class yesterday on this!  More to come on this in the future as well!



Day 11: Genesis 34-36; family dysfunction…

Every family has their dysfunction…

We talked about it before with Abraham and Issac, and it appears once again with Jacob.  When we read a story like that of Genesis 34, we can see very clearly that this family of Jacob, or Israel, really wasn’t the perfect group of God followers that we sometimes make them out to be.  I sometimes even wonder if God was looking down on them thinking “really guys?  You’re going to act like that?”  I’d be willing to bet that sometimes God looks at us the same way.

However, I think also this that this, as well as the somewhat crazy things that Abraham and Issac did, illustrate a really major point about God:  Unconditional Love… and perhaps even Unconditional Election.  You see, God chose Abraham (and thus Issac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel).  There was nothing that any of these people did that made them more worthy than any other people.  God chose them to be the vehicle through which the whole world would be blessed.  His covenant with them did  not say that the whole thing was off if they didn’t act perfectly, or serve Him in a way other than what He prescribed.  His choosing them was unconditional… His Love for them, also Unconditional.  No matter how many times they screwed up… and there was and will be a lot of them, God still loved them, even to the point of punishing them with exile.  Like the covenant, and the vision of Abraham where it is God alone who passes between the animal pieces signifying that really only God will truly be able to hold up His end of the covenant, God is true to His word, His choice, and His Love for His chosen people.

This is true with us as well.  As people of the Reformed Church, one of our tenants is “Unconditional Election.”  This is often a major sticking point for people because of the word “election” and the associated (and confusing) topic of predestination.  While we aren’t going to get into that right now, the point of Unconditional Election is truly that God chooses us through no merit of our own.  It isn’t anything that we’ve done, it is all God.  Ephesians 2:4-6 speaks directly to this: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”  We too are members of this Covenant relationship; a people chosen by God through the blood of Jesus Christ.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:8-10.

P.S. a bit of Trivia for you:  One of the more famous Advent/Christmas verses finds its name first in Genesis 35:19… calling the area of the town of Bethlehem “Ephrath.”  This is echoed in one of the prophesies of the coming Messiah, the fulfillment of the covenant in Micah 5:2  “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days….”