31 December 2010

Last thoughts

I made it! I read through and blogged the whole Bible. Here are my closing thoughts, in no particular order.

Was it worth it?

This project started as a whim; a bubble of an idea inspired by my shiny new Kindle (which I still love). I probably averaged around 45 minutes per day of reading, writing, and background research (not counting the time spent reading books about the Bible), so there were many times when I wanted to just drop the whole project and reclaim my time. 

But overall, it was worth it. Independent of the subject I chose to study, it was good to set a goal of blogging daily and follow through on it. Having a project that required daily output provided a good opportunity to show myself how much I could accomplish in a year. I have no idea how many words I wrote, but I am guessing it averaged at least several hundred per day. To just pick a number, 300 words a day for a year is over 100,000 words, enough, according to the internet, to make an average length novel.

As for choosing to read the Bible, it was as good a topic as any, and probably better than many. I learned a lot about the Bible's origins and its content. Given that I live in a predominantly Christian culture, knowing the Bible is useful. To some degree, the benefits have been immediate; there were at least two times this year that I understood a literary allusion that would have gone over my head if not for my Bible project.

Was it interesting?

Overall, no. The Bible has some good passages and stories, but those, for the most part, are the sections that you are already familiar with (Judges and selected passages of the prophets provide the main sources of surprisingly interesting text).

However, a lot of the Bible is dull and repetitive. If we could have skipped the detailed descriptions of buildings (temple, tabernacle, a palace or two) and the clothing of priests, we could have cut at least a couple weeks off of the readings. Probably a month. Another week could be dropped if genealogies were skipped. Dropping the passages that were word for word reproductions of other parts of the Bible would get back at least another week (Chronicles and Samuel/Kings, I am looking at you; synoptic gospels, you also get a glance).

Much of the rest of the Bible contains repetition that is more justifiable. Although the histories of Chronicles and Samuel/Kings sometimes share text verbatim, at other times they give different perspectives on the same issue. The same can be said for the gospels, prophets, and letters of Paul (in short, the vast majority of the Bible). But still, much of the repetition seems to provide little or no value.

In short, God needs a better editor.

Did this project change my opinion of the Bible?

To be honest, I haven't the foggiest idea. It did not fundamentally change my opinion of the Bible, but it's hard to remember the details of the opinions that I held then for comparison to those I hold now.

For example, I am strongly of the opinion that the authors of the books of the Bible believed that they were communicating messages they received from God. The prophets probably really saw visions (even though, like with dreams, most of the details were filled in during the retelling). The people who wrote books in the names of others probably really thought that the person they were attributing their words to would have held the same ideas in similar contexts. However, I cannot remember what I felt about this topic last January.

The gist of my opinion of the Bible as a holy book has not changed. It can still be summed up with "Is this the best you can do?" As the words of different people trying to find their place in the world, the Bible is a fascinating piece of literature. As a holy book, something meant to convey universal truths and/or instruction, it is a failure.

I have heard or been told many times that the words of the Bible are convincing. That if non-believers would just read the Bible with an open heart and an open mind, they would come away seeing its truth. Those people obviously have not read the Bible. I started this project with, I believe, a heart and mind as open as a doubter could have and have come away only strengthened in my opinion one of the worst things a doubter could do to convince them of the truth of the Bible is to seriously read the whole thing.

What stuck out the most?

I have been harping on this a lot lately, but I feel the need to take one last opportunity to say how selectively the Bible is used, both within the Bible and by modern day readers of the Bible.

Within the Bible, the authors of the New Testament books selectively apply the Hebrew scriptures. Suppose we are generous and grant that the authors of the Hebrew scriptures were writing words with double meanings that even they would be surprised at. Even then, when you look at the original context of the fragments of Hebrew scripture quoted by New Testament authors, you can see that most of the time, those fragments, which seem so applicable when quoted, are surrounded by other verses that have no applicability to the point the NT author is trying to make. Sometimes, they even contradict the point those authors are trying to make.

Reading the whole Bible also highlights how selective modern day readers tend to be when they quote the Bible. The worst source of offence is the psalms. Time and time again, I would read a psalm and see some familiar verses just to learn that they are surrounded by verses about God's wrath, requests for revenge upon enemies, etc. But this tendency is not limited to the psalms. Familiar verses are often surrounded by verses that are not just unfamiliar but which are downright at odds with modern beliefs about God and/or Christianity.

I was also amazed to discover how non-biblical much modern Christian thought is. This includes modern beliefs that have little to no biblical basis (e.g., most beliefs about heaven, hell, and angels) and ideas that are expressed in the Bible and ignored by modern believers. The later category is harder to give an example for since most examples are noticed by some people and ignored by others. Thus, some Christians both listen to and try to live by Jesus' words on wealth redistribution while others would likely be surprised to learn they are there.

This ties in with the final thing that stuck out to me: it would be hard to build a coherent belief system that truly took all of the Bible into account. This is to be expected in a book that is large in words, historical scope, and variety of authors. However, for those who believe that the Bible does contain a coherent belief system, this ought to be more worrisome than it seems to be. Almost any belief a Christian holds is challenged somewhere in the Bible. Yet few and far between are the Christians who avoid the trap of certainty.

This tendency is even worse, in my opinion, when some churches claim to know that other churches are flat out wrong. For most conflicts about biblical validity of beliefs within the church, the Bible allows both sides to make a case. Very, very few things can be said to have unambiguous biblical support when the Bible is considered holistically.

Would I do it again?


Well, maybe. There are Bibles which order the texts chronologically. I might be interesting to read through one of those. But I probably wouldn't bother to blog it.

In any case, if you base you beliefs on the Bible and haven't read through the whole thing, you definitely should do so. Even if you don't expect to understand it all (and you certainly shouldn't expect to), it's good to know what you are basing your life on.

Dec 31

Reference links:
Old Testament

We have reached the last day! I will have a post or two summing up some thoughts, but first, let's finish this thing.

Amongst other reasons, Christians reordered the Jewish scriptures so that the Old Testament would end with what could be considered a messianic prophecy. Let's see whether today's reading, the last in Malachi and the last in the Old Testament, manages to pull that off.

Today's reading talks all about the end times, the day of judgment, and the coming of the Lord. That coming is described at length:
But who will be able to endure it when [the Lord who follows the messenger] comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.
Certainly, this does not refer to the life of Jesus as described in the New Testament. Jesus the man certainly cannot live up to the description above. But the New Testament makes clear that Levites and sacrifices will not be the issue of the day when their visions of Jesus are fulfilled. Thus, taken as a whole, Jesus seems like a week candidate for filling the role of Malachi's returned Lord.

This is followed by a exchange where God accuses the people of leaving him, cheating him, and saying terrible things about him, they deny it, and he illustrates how they have.

The OT ends with a declaration that the day of judgment is coming to consume the wicked. The righteous will be blessed and the wicked destroyed. And, just to provide one more illustration of how the New Testament does not really fit the bill as a fulfillment of the Old Testament, the penultimate declaration of the Old Testament is
Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel.
The people are told to remember to obey the Law of Moses, the law that was considered obsolete in much New Testament thought (especially from Paul). By contrast, the reading, book, and OT end with a NT cited statement that Elijah will be sent before the day of the Lord comes.

Thus, our Old Testament readings end with yet another illustration of the the pervasive theme of selective application of the Hebrew scriptures by the early Christian authors.

New Testament

The end of Revelation continues its cheery tone (well, cheery for those who did not die horrible and painful deaths or get condemned to eternal torture). The speaker sees a river filled with the water of life and two trees of life whose leaves bring healing. Past curses are removed, and everyone remaining will live in the light of God.

This is followed by a postscript from the author. John declares that he is the one who heard and saw these things and was told to share his vision for the end times are near. The message John received is declared to be from Jesus. A warning is given not to change the words of this book. And the book is closed and the Bible ends.

Thus, the NT, like the old, ends on a theme that we have seen throughout the year: the NT authors consistently declare the end times to be near.

Psalms and Proverbs

Our readings end on kind of a random note: the rest of the proverbial poem about the virtues of a good wife.

30 December 2010

Dec 30

Reference links:
Old Testament

It's the very last book in the Christian ordering of the Old Testament books. It seems odd to think that after a year, we are almost done. What will our last book be about?
Contrasting foreign nations that honor Yahweh with Judah's apathetic sacrificial cult, the prophet Malachi instructs a disspirited, disorganized audience of Judeans on how to please their God and predicts the future Day of Yahweh, evoking the reappearance of Elijah and the coming of Yahweh's irresistible messenger of the covenant. 
... In Protestant and Catholic bibles, Malachi appears as the last book of the Old Testament, an appropriate placement because the book concludes with a prediction that Yahweh will send a "messenger" who will prepare his people for the climatic event of history, the Day of Yahweh. The title of the book, Malachi, means "my messenger"; it may have been taken from the reference at 3:1 and may not be the name of a historical prophet. Although the text gives no information about the writer or the time of composition, the book is customarily dated in the fifth century BCE, shortly before the time when traditional prophecy in Israel is thought to have ceased. 
When we get to today's reading, we see that the "apathetic sacrificial cult" that Harris refers to brings up one of those topics that are uncomfortable for moderns. If, as other prophets claim, it is the state of the heart of the one who gives the offering that matters, why is God so obsessed with physical perfection of the sacrificial animals? Perhaps, one might claim, the problem is that these animals are being given as sacrifices just to get rid of them. However, that stands rather in contrast to prophet's reasoning as to why such sacrifices are bad:
When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Are we to be expected to believe that a governor cares about the state of heart of those who give him gifts? No! He just cares about the quality goods. By analogy, that is what the prophet is implying about God. A later statement further supports the "you should give me good things because I am powerful" view of Malachi's God:
“Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and my name is feared among the nations!"

The next interesting bit is Malachi's claim that other nations honor Yahweh:
But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name.
Is this a claim that other people were honoring the God of Israel, or is it a claim for the more universalist belief that other people worshiping their gods purely were actually honoring the one true God claimed as the God of Israel?

This discussion is followed by a stern warning to the Levites to shape up.

The next section starts with a rather quotable bit:
Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors?
As is usually the case with quotable passages of the Bible, this is followed by some bits that do not seem to have quite as much continuing relevance. In this case, the author rants against men who marry women who worship idols. The following bit ranting against men who are unfaithful to their wives and against divorce have greater continued relevant. The bit about divorce is, in fact often quoted at length.

Tomorrow we finish Malachi and the Bible.

New Testament

Today's reading starts with a verse that implies that the author of Revelation believed, or at least was willing to assume, the ancient Jewish cosmology of the earth and heavens existing in the midst of a primordial ocean:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.
At this point everything, including Jerusalem, is renewed, and God will live among his people. Everyone good and victorious will receive blessings and all who are evil or do not believe will be thrown into the fiery lake.

The renewed Jerusalem is presented as the bride of the lamb, and it has all sorts of symbolic construction details. It is from this description that we get popular depictions of heaven as a place full of things like streets of gold.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverbs are all about the value and skills of a virtuous wife.

29 December 2010

Dec 29

Reference links:
Old Testament

Last day of Zechariah. The day of the Lord is coming, and bad things will happen in Jerusalem. Half the population will be taken into captivity. Wait, didn't that already happen? So the day of the Lord is going to be a repeat of Babylon's conquering of the city? That's not very creative of Zechariah.

But this time the Lord jumps into the fray. Amongst other things, he will divide a mountain for people to flee through. Is that more or less impressive than splitting a sea? A mountain is harder to split, but a sea is harder to keep split.

After the Lord takes action, good things happen in Jerusalem: it will always be light without the aid of the sun and the moon (actually, I think that would be freaky, but it's meant to be taken as good), life-giving waters will flow from Jerusalem, and the Lord will be worshiped over all the earth. The population of Jerusalem will grow. And the nations which fought against Jerusalem will suffer from plague.
Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.
Oh wait, that last one is only good if you believe that Israel is the only nation that is worth anything to God.

And people will panic and fight their neighbors and lose wealth and livestock... these continue to be things that are not good. The nations will eventually come to worship the Lord through blackmail: any nation that does not worship him will suffer from droughts and plagues.

And there, after a brief side note about how everything will be holy, ends Zechariah. His vision of the end times certainly strikes me as rather vengeful. The end times, in his view, are simply the time when his God chooses to tyrannically exert the power that he already posses. The only people who really matter are God's chosen people. All others are relevant only in so far as they relate to Jerusalem.

All in all, Zechariah was interesting but did not provide any insights.

New Testament

An angel throws the dragon (Satan) into a pit for 1000 years. For some reason, after that millennium, he must be allowed brief freedom once again. During this 1000 years, the martyred believers rule with Christ (but no one else is resurrected yet).

After the 1000 years, Satan is freed again and goes about to deceive that nations. He gathered an army to attack a city, but fire from heaven defeated them. At this point, Satan is thrown into the lake of fire with the beast and the false prophet.

That whole episode was rather pointless. Why not just throw Satan into the lake of fire in the first place? Obviously, it's because this is all symbolism that I don't get, but from a literary perspective, it's terrible story telling.

This is followed by an entertaining image of the earth and the sky fleeing from a being on a great white throne.

The being on the throne judges all of the dead and all whose name was not recorded in the Book of Life were thrown into the lake of fire with the devil, the beast, and the false prophet. This brings up the ever pertinent question: is it really just to prescribe eternal punishment and torture for the sins of any finite lifetime? I would say no.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverbs contain the good advice to speak up for the poor and helpless:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice.

28 December 2010

Dec 28

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading contrasts a universal God with a partisan God. The opening of today's reading contains this statement:
This message is from the Lord, who stretched out the heavens, laid the foundations of the earth, and formed the human spirit.
and continues with a lengthy discussion of how God will bless Judah and Jerusalem with military might, and they will defeat everyone else.

We also see what seems to be one of the inspirations for the story of Jesus:
They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son.
This is followed by a prediction of the restoration of peace in Israel. A fountain will cleanse all of the people from their sins and the Lord will erase idol worship. Sounds rather like Zechariah is not big on the whole free will thing, but I don't think free will is as Biblical a concept as many moderns make it out to be.

The Lord will also eliminate false prophecy by allowing murder for those who give false prophecy (with particular encouragement for parents to murder their children). Rather an extreme punishment for the crime, in my opinion. Also, one wonders how good life is when parents would murder their children. I certainly would not want to live in a world where the response to dissent was murder by family members. That sounds more like a dystopia than a utopia.

Today's reading ends with a bit of verse that may well have inspired Revelation. It talks of punishment and destruction. During that time, 2/3 of the people will die and 1/3 will live. These proportions should be familiar.

New Testament

Today's reading starts with a bunch of praise because God finally killed off all the evil people.

Then a white horse appears carrying a man who will be a dictator over all the nations. He will be called the
King of all kings and Lord of all lords
This is followed by a gruesome image where vultures are invited to feast on the bodies of humanity.

The man on the white horse defeats the beast and the kings of the earth. The beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into burning lakes, their followers were killed, and the vultures feasted.

One commonality in today's OT and NT readings is that they both present a time where God is reigning with his power, and they both sound like rather unpleasant times to be in. Not just the death and destruction; it is feasible to consider those are unavoidable side effects of getting to peace.

Rather, they sound unpleasant because they emphasize the dictatorial, unbending, restricted nature of those times. The people who are remaining in those times seem to be those who do not mind bending their will to that of an unforgiving leader, but, just in case their are dissenters, there are flaming lakes, vultures, and murderous families to take care of them.

It's as if the authors of these books do not really believe humanity can be reformed; rather, they seem to think the best that can be done is to select for the most obedient members and destroy all who do not toe the line.

Psalms and Proverbs

It's a long readings in proverbs today. According to the chapter heading, we are reading the sayings of King Lemuel. According to Wikipedia, no one really knows who King Lemuel was. Tradition equates him with Solomon, but that is just a hypothesis based on tradition and weak inferences from the meaning of the name Lemuel.

In any case, Lemuel claims that his mother taught him these sayings. The advice starts with a warning against wasting strength on women. If Lemuel was Solomon, he of many wives and concubines, he certainly did not listen to this advice from his mother.

Lemuel is also warned against drinking since it may prevent them from giving justice. Instead, only the dying and those in distress should drink. I am not sure I agree that it is good for those in poverty and distress to drink away their sorrows, but since this was targeted at a king, the point is: don't drink to excess.

27 December 2010

Dec 27

Reference links:
Old Testament

I did not get today's reading. It seems like there was a major mood shift, and I do not understand why. The common theme is shepherds.

The people are compared to lost sheep who have no shepherd. Those who should be their shepherds are corrupt, but God will become their shepherd. With God as their shepherd, the people of Israel and Judah will become mighty warriors and conquer their neighbors and grow numerous once again. As Israel and Judah are restored, Lebanon will be destroyed.

Then we have the shift. It is a shift in two ways. The style shifts from verse to prose and the tone shifts. In this part of the reading, the Zechariah seems to be implying that the leaders of the people of Israel and Judah are corrupt.
"Likewise, I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,” says the Lord. “I will let them fall into each other’s hands and into the hands of their king. They will turn the land into a wilderness, and I will not rescue them.”
This is in decided contrast to the previous verses talking about restoration under God's leadership.

To illustrate this new attitude it seems that Zechariah chooses to take care of some sheep intended for slaughter with two symbolic staffs, Favor and Union. He becomes impatient with the sheep and destroys Favor. Then Zechariah asks for his wages (the reading makes it sound like he asks the sheep for his wages; I don't know whether or not that's intentional). They pay him 30 pieces of silver which he then gives to a potter in the temple. This confusing episode is part of what the New Testament alludes to when Judas disposes of the payment for his betrayal of Jesus. After this, Zechariah breaks the other staff, Union, and then goes once again and acts as a worthless shepherd.

Maybe this is meant to be a reenactment of the historical relationship between God and the people. As a commentary on the author's present, it makes no sense given the preceding context.

New Testament

Today's reading is a denouncement of fallen Babylon.

Psalms and Proverbs

Stirring up anger causes quarrels as inevitably as hitting someone in the nose causes bleeding or churning cream yields butter. Which is to say, it's highly probably but not guaranteed.

26 December 2010

Dec 26

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's sounding more like good ol' doom and gloom for the enemies prophecy. One slightly novel bit is this proclamation:
Then the surviving Philistines will worship our God
and become like a clan in Judah.
That is oddly welcoming for a gloom and doom prophecy.

The rest of the reading is a prophecy about Zion's coming king. This contains the famous poetic parallel which some believe the author of Matthew misinterpreted when he implied that Jesus rode both a colt and a donkey into Jerusalem:
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.
When this king returns, war will end, prisoners will be released, and the people will be blessed. The Lord will also battle in defense of his people.

Thus ends today's fairly standard reading.

New Testament

Babylon/maybe Rome/who knows what is compared to a prostitute who causes all of the nations to commit adultery. She rides a beast with seven heads; this beast represents nations. They will all go to war against the Lamb and lose. They also hate the prostitute and will eventually consumer her.

All in all, a rather gruesome day.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

25 December 2010

Dec 25

Reference links:
Old Testament

The thing about the one year Bible division is that the Christmas reading is not terribly Christmas like.

Today, Zechariah describes the benefits of the Lord's blessings coming once again to Jerusalem. The second, after the return of the Lord to Mount Zion, is that the streets of Jerusalem will once again be safe for old and young people. This emphasizes the danger that must have been always present for the returned exiles. It may also convey to us the fact that the returned exiles were, in many ways, settlers. They may well have consisted mostly of people in the prime of life, willing to take on the arduous task of restoring Jerusalem. Not until the community was well established could leisure and age diversity return.

Other benefits will be a return of the exiles, prosperity, and international respect of the wisdom and blessings of Israel.

In another message, Zechariah declares that the traditional fasts and times of mourning should become festivals of joy and celebration. In this time, people from around the world will visit Jerusalem to seek blessing.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Zechariah has been its optimism and certainty that the time of restoration and blessing has come. It's a bittersweet read since we know that the return of the exiles did not result in lasting prosperity for Jerusalem and was, instead, only a prelude to a much longer and much more geographically dispersed exile of the Jews from the land of their origins.

New Testament

What a pity; I was wrong. We do have to read an angel by angel account of the pouring out of the plagues. As the angels pour their bowls, bad things inevitably happen. The details are not particularly interesting.

Before we get to the seventh angel, there is an interlude where "the kings of the east" march toward the west. Three evil spirits appear who gather the rulers of the world for a battle against God. Once everyone is gathered at Armageddon, the seventh angel pours from his bowl.

This causes a great earthquake which destroys Babylon. There were also giant hailstones.

And that ends today's craziness from Revelation.

Psalms and Proverbs

Four things strut about: the lion, the rooster, the male goat, and a king leading his army. Goody gum drops. What is the value of these proverbs?

24 December 2010

Dec 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

Zechariah's vision from yesterday finishes with four chariots going to the north, south, east, and west. These chariots carry the spirits of heaven who stand before the Lord. They have been sent to patrol the earth.

Zechariah's next message is about a future priest-king of Israel. The exiled Jews will send gold and silver, and Zechariah is instructed to make a crown from this. He is to put the crown upon the head of the high priest and tell him that he (or perhaps someone else) will be called the Branch and build a new temple. He will then rule as both priest and king. I am guessing this is generally taken as a prophecy about some future unknown priest-king since Jeshua never actually fulfilled that role.

Zechariah receives another message in answer to a question from the people of Bethel. The messengers asked whether or not they should continue to mourn and fast and the day the temple was destroyed. Zechariah responds that this fasting and mourning was always more for themselves than for the Lord. Like the people of Jerusalem in the past, they ignored the Lord's desire for kindness and social justice and focused on empty ritual. For this they were punished. The returned exiles should take this as a lesson.

New Testament

More repetition of actions! At least this time we do not have to read about each one individually. The author sees seven angels holding the seven last plagues. Before they commence their destruction, the victors of the battle with the beast sing a song of praise. Once that is complete, the seven angels pour out the plagues.

And that's all that happens in today's rather short reading.

Psalms and Proverbs

Another set of four things! These things are small but unusually wise: ants, hyraxes, locusts, and lizards.

23 December 2010

Dec 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

Gah! All this symbolism. I am going to start getting my OT and NT readings confused. Today Zechariah sees a lamp stand surrounded by seven lamps each with seven spouts and wicks and an olive tree to either side. These somehow represent the fact that Zerubbabel has God's favor for completing the rebuilding of the temple.

In particular, the lamps represent the searching eyes of the Lord, and the olive trees represent some heavenly beings. At least, compared to Revelation, Zechariah tells us what these different things represent.

After that Zechariah sees a giant flying scroll which contains a curse going over the land. The curse is against those who steal or swear falsely.

The next vision is a grain basket filled with the sins of the people and a woman named Wickedness. This basket will be worshiped in Babylon.

And that is the end of today's weird reading.

New Testament

The lamb and the faithful sing a song that only the small remnant of faithful can learn. An angel flies through the sky telling people to fear and worship God. Another angel declares that Babylon has fallen because of its immorality. A third angel promises God's anger and eternal punishment to any who accept the beast's mark.

Those who are to be punished are collected and pressed in the "winepress of God's wrath" until blood flowed in a deep stream 180 miles long. How horrid. Once again the Bible has led me to believe that even if there were reason to believe that the God of the Bible existed, he should not be worshiped. He should be despised as a terrible monster whose crimes exceed those of history's mass killings.

Psalms and Proverbs

Apparently, the earth can not bear reversals of fortune or status:
There are three things that make the earth tremble—
no, four it cannot endure:
a slave who becomes a king,
an overbearing fool who prospers,
a bitter woman who finally gets a husband,
a servant girl who supplants her mistress.
I did not realize the world was so uptight and lacking in understanding.

22 December 2010

Dec 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today, we continue the second of the 8 visions of Zechariah. I think. It's not completely clear yet whether the visions will be clearly demarcated.

Zechariah sees a man going to measure Jerusalem. This acts as a reason to reveal the fact that someday Jerusalem will grow populous enough that people will live outside the city walls. Then, the Lord will protect the city with a wall of fire.

This was probably a significant statement to people in a city that a disappointingly small number of exiles had returned to. This same sentiment probably motivated the next part of the vision where the Lord calls the exiles to return from Babylon. But someday, the Lord will live among the people of Jerusalem and many other nations will join the Israelites in worshiping their chosen god. A hopeful message.

Based on chapter breaks, we next start what may be the third vision. Or it may be part of the second still. In any case, this vision shows the high priest, Jeshua, standing accused by Satan. The Lord rejects Satan's accusations, but not, it seems, because they are wrong. Jeshua's dirty clothes and the comparison of Jeshua to a burning stick pulled from the fire imply that Jeshua is guilty as accused. However, in this vision God chooses to forgive that sin and purify Jeshua, promising that if Jeshua lives as he ought, he will gain authority over the Temple and its courtyards.

After that, God starts talking about how he is eventually going to bring his servant and remove all of the sins of the land in a single day. Of interest is that this promise is symbolized by a stone with seven facets. As we are seeing in Revelation, 7 is a very significant number, right up there with 12.

That's all for today!

New Testament

Remember from yesterday: a dragon (Satan) is attacking the people. Today the dragon gives his power to a beast from the sea with 7 heads and 10 horns and 10 crowns on the horns and on the heads were written names of those who blasphemed God.

The beast was wounded and then healed. This, apparently, was enough to get the world to pledge allegiance to it. The dragon and the beast were worshiped. The beast went on to blaspheme God and torture the faithful for 42 months. Those who worship the beast were those who were rejected by God.

Then another beast came from the earth. This beast required everyone to worship the first beast (weren't they doing so already?). The second beast impresses everyone with some miracles and then requires everyone to get a mark on their right hand or forehead. This became required to participate in commerce.

And that ends today's reading. A bit less coherent than yesterday's reading and, as such, not quite as entertaining.

Psalms and Proverbs

The author gives four random things he does not understand and then throws out a statement about adulterous women and their lack of guilt.
An adulterous woman consumes a man,
then wipes her mouth and says, “What’s wrong with that?”
Which leads to the obvious question: is consume meant canibalistically or euphemistically? The context implies the later, but our recent fantastical readings in Revelation bring the former to mind.

21 December 2010

Dec 21

Reference links:
Old Testament

We'll be sticking with Zechariah for nearly the rest of the year which is, admittedly, not that long at this point. Harris says,
A contemporary of Haggai, Zechariah employs a series of eight visions to encourage his fellow returned exiles to rely on Yahweh, restore Jerusalem and the Temple, and await the reestablishment of the Davidic line. The second half of the book contains increasingly obscure oracles from a later prophet, known as Second Zechariah. 
Today's reading is very optimistic. The Lord was angry with the Israelites, but he hopes that the returned exiled can turn from evil and live as they should. Israel will be restored and the nations who punished them will be punished in turn.

We then see some imagery that should seem familiar: 4 horsemen patrolling the earth (although not bringing any destruction) and four horns representing nations that scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem. This imagery has been repeated elsewhere, often in apocalyptic settings.

Zechariah also mentions four blacksmiths coming to destroy the four horns/nations. This is to punish them for the excessive punishment they have shown to God's people.

During all this, we read the following statement:
This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: My love for Jerusalem and Mount Zion is passionate and strong. But I am very angry with the other nations that are now enjoying peace and security. I was only a little angry with my people, but the nations inflicted harm on them far beyond my intentions.
Only a little angry? Some of the language used by the other prophets was pretty strong. They must have been exaggerating or wrong. Or God is misremembering or misrepresenting himself. Either way, it certainly does not seem reasonable to call God's pre-exilic anger little. Time softens all memories, I suppose.

New Testament

Today's reading would make a great anime. A pregnant woman,
clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head
Almost has her baby snatched away by a dragon (Satan). God saves the baby (who was destined to rule all nations with an iron rod; sounds lovely). The woman flees.

Then there is a war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels. The dragon loses and is hurled to earth. There he hunts down the woman, but she is saved, so he decides to pursue the rest of her children: the faithful.

Confounding but exciting!

Psalms and Proverbs

Eyes that mock their parents will be plucked out and eaten by vultures. Symbolically, I hope.

20 December 2010

Dec 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

After Zephaniah's pessimism, Haggai sounds positively cheery:
Anticipating renewed prosperity and a restoration of the Davidic kings, Haggai urges the apathetic community of returned exiles to rebuild Jerusalem's temple.
The minor prophets sure do whip us around in history, don't they? Yesterday's reading was composed in the reign of Josiah and today's is post-exilic.

Harris adds these additional details:
Although a remnant of devout Jews had returned from Babylon around 538 BCE and laid the foundations of a new sanctuary on the site of Solomon's Temple, they had since become discouraged ... Haggai, who prophesied in the year 520 BCE, urges the governor and the High Priest to persuade the people to return to the project, which they do enthusiastically. 
Haggai also expresses hope that the governor, Zerubbabel, will someday be established as the Davidic monarch, but Zerubbabel disappears from history without fulfilling that hope.

Haggai starts by pointing out that although the returned exiles have achieved some measure of prosperity, they are not yet content. Although they have enough to live, they are not reaping in proportion to what they sew.

Haggai believes this comes from the lack of a temple for worship. Because there is no temple, God is holding back the waters which would yield rich harvests. The governor, high priest, and all the people respond to this call, and they enthusiastically begin work on a new house for their God.

The Lord gives encouragement to those who remember the glory of the old temple. This new temple will not match the splendor of the old, but the people should not worry because, the Lord says, someday:
I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Well that's kind of a let down. Here was this great opportunity for God to talk about the inner rewards of worship and being good or the importance of community or any of the other things that moderns tend to claim is at the core of worship. Instead, the Lord says, "Don't worry about the new temple starting out plain, I will embellish it later."

On the day the temple foundation was laid, Haggai uses an analogy with food to indicate that sin and defilement spread much more readily than goodness and holiness. However, now that the temple is being rebuilt, the people can expect prosperity to come once again.

On the same day, Haggai tells Zerubbabel that Zerubbabel has been chosen by the Lord and will be honored. On that optimistic and ultimately futile note of hope, we end the book of Haggai.

New Testament

Today, the author is told to measure the Temple and the altar but not the outer courtyard. He is also to count the number of worshipers there. From there, we disjointedly transition to a declaration that the holy city will be run over for 42 months and a couple of folks will wear burlap and give prophecies during that time.

These prophets will be protected from harm and have great power; they can bring drought and plague and turn waters to blood. In short, they are not going to be using the power God gave them for good in any recognizable sense of the word.

After they finish their prophecies, a beast will kill them. But then they'll come back to life after a few days and rise to heaven (hmmm, where have I heard something like that before...). This event will be accompanied by natural disasters.

And then, finally, we get to the seventh and final trumpet. At this point, the world becomes the kingdom of the Lord and Christ, and there is much worship. The forbidding natural disasters which follow and the fact that we have 11 days of reading left imply that all is not going to be well and cheery from here on out.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverbs share the theme of things which cannot be satisfied.

19 December 2010

Dec 19

Reference links:
Old Testament

Our second to last one day book is Zephaniah. In summary,
Expanding on Amos' theme, the fearful day of Yahweh's coming judgment, Zephaniah predicts universal catastrophe, cursing Gentiles as well as unfaithful Jerusalemites. The assurances of forgiveness and restoration probably belong to a later compiler.
Zephaniah, predicts the universal destruction of life on the day of judgment. He also regards that day as near. Harris also gives some guesses as to the reason for Zephaniah's pessimism:
The Jerusalem whose sins Zephaniah denounces was thus a prereform city [because Josiah had not instituted his reforms yet] that may have been contaminated by the pro-Assyrian idolatries of Manasseh's administration. It seems, then, that Zephaniah was the first prophet to speak out after the long silence that Manasseh and his immediate successor, Amon, had imposed on the proponents of exclusive Yahwism.
The book starts with Zephaniah's lineage. He is the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah. Thus, he may have been descended from King Hezekiah. I looked around briefly to see if I could find any confirmation that Hezekiah had a son named Amariah, and I couldn't. On the other hand, I found no listing of his children, so we don't know that he didn't. In any case, that was many generations ago, so at this point he is just a dude. Possibly a dude with slightly higher status, but mostly just a dude.

Beyond that, there's not worth commenting on. The bulk of the book is a presentation of all the different people and nations that will be destroyed. Since there are mentions of remnants and survivors, it seems that the opening lines of complete destruction are hyperbole:
I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,” says the Lord.
“I will sweep away people and animals alike.
I will sweep away the birds of the sky and the fish in the sea.
I will reduce the wicked to heaps of rubble,
and I will wipe humanity from the face of the earth,” says the Lord.
However, Zephaniah does make it clear that the destruction will be universal even if it is not complete.

The last chapter certainly does represent a change in tone, although it is not clear whether it's part of the original, a later addition by the same author (perhaps after Josiah's reforms), or an insertion by a different author. I lean toward the second or third just because it is such a turn around in tone. To go from "I will sweep away everything" (even if it is hyperbole) to "Then I will purify the speech of all people, so that everyone can worship the Lord together" without some changes in the external world seems like a bit of a jump.

And that's Zephaniah.

New Testament

In yesterday's reading, we read about the blowing of the fifth and sixth trumpets. Before we get around to the blowing of the seventh trumpet, an angel appears with a small scroll. The angel spoke and seven thunders responded. Thankfully, the author is told to keep the words of those thunders secret so we don't have to go through yet another series of revelations... yet. The angel with the scroll praises God and then the author fetches the scroll and eats it. This scroll represents God's charge to the author to give prophecies.

That's all for today. Kind of a slow day compared to what we have been seeing.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverbs form a continuous though which describes evil people who curse their parents.

18 December 2010

Dec 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

Habakkuk is fun to say. Try it: Habakkuk! Here is the description from Understanding The Bible:
Composed when Babylon was about to devastate Judah, Habakkuk contains a miniature theodicy, reflecting the prophets effort to find a worthy purpose in Yahweh's permitting the destruction of his people by unbelieving foreigners.
Like Micah, it is believed that Habakkuk was modified by later editors. In this case, the modifications may include the whole third chapter.

Habakkuk's vision consists of two questions to God each followed by an answer. The second answer is followed by a prayer.

The first question can be summarized as: Why does God not seem to listen when his people are surrounded by violence and wickedness and cry out for help?

To this, the Lord replies that he is raising up the Babylonians to conquer other people even though the Babylonians are guilty of pride and cruelty. In conjunction with Habakkuk's answer, it seems as if God is saying that his answer to the wickedness of his chosen people is destruction by the hands of the cruel and proud Babylonians.

Habakkuk's section question is: Will the Lord really let the evil Babylonians get away with killing off God's chosen people? Will he let them get away with killing everyone, even those who are more righteous than the Babylonians?

The Lord's reply to this question is no. The Babylonians will not remain in power forever. The proud, the wealthy, the greedy, the corrupted will have the tide turn on them, while the righteous will live. Yet this response is general enough that it seems to apply not only to the Babylonians but to the Israelites too: the righteous will live, but those who oppress others will be turned upon by those they oppress.

The book ends with a prayer from Habakkuk. The prayer praises God's power and splendor, sometimes in rather violent terms (pestilence, plagues, earthquakes). Habukkuk then goes on to imply that when God destroys, it aids in the bringing of eventual salvation:
Was it in anger, Lord, that you struck the rivers
and parted the sea?
Were you displeased with them?
No, you were sending your chariots of salvation!
It is for this reason, to save his chosen people, that God shows his fury. Therefore, the Lord will eventually defeat the people he uses as a tool to punish his chosen ones.

This theodicy has two problems. The first problem is that, like all theodicies, it ultimately rests on the assertion that God is mysterious and his ways cannot be understood. This is a minor problem. Although that basis makes the theodicy unsatisfying in the general sense (it provides no real explanatory power), it is still perfectly sufficient for anyone who is willing to accept the basic premise that God is mysterious and cannot be understood.

The second problem, more substantial, problem is another common one. If God is using the Babylonians as tools in his master plan, what does that imply about their free will. On the one hand, you could say that God is just using the evil that would be present anyway. On the other hand, the first of the replies Habukkuk attributes to the Lord explicitly says that God is raising up the Babylonians to be his tool of destruction. Thus, at the very least, you could say God is enhancing their natural evil tendencies which does not seem like a thing a so-called good God would do.

This second objection was not likely a problem for Habakkuk since he seems to imply that the only important people are the Israelites. Thus, if God uses other people as tools, it is fine. All that matters is that God follows through on the plan to punish and restore of Israel.

New Testament

More trumpets! Today we read about numbers 5 and 6. Both are weird.

Trumpet number five releases locusts from a bottomless pit. And they are the weirdest locusts you have ever heard of:
The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. They had what looked like gold crowns on their heads, and their faces looked like human faces. They had hair like women’s hair and teeth like the teeth of a lion. They wore armor made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle. They had tails that stung like scorpions, and for five months they had the power to torment people.
I am sure that's all symbolic of something, but I have no idea what. More interestingly is this:
[The locusts] were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were told not to kill them but to torture them for five months with pain like the pain of a scorpion sting.
Five months of torture? Even with all the symbolism, the very idea of a God who would command five months of pure torture in any form or context (and, even worse, an eternity of torture in hell), can hardly be considered good. At some point, you cross over from just punishment to cruelty and sadism.

The sixth trumpet releases four angels who have been bound in the Euphrates River. They kill 1/3 of the people on earth in various ways. But those who did not die still refused to repent and worshiped idols.

That's all for today. In some ways, it's more entertaining reading Revelation and not caring about the symbolism. If I cared what the symbolism meant, I would be looking things up and making guesses. As it is, I just get to enjoy the crazy.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverb is more stand alone, and a pretty sensible one:
Never slander a worker to the employer,
or the person will curse you, and you will pay for it.

17 December 2010

Dec 17

Reference links:
Old Testament

Harris' description of the book of Nahum is short and sweet:
The prophet rejoices over Nineveh's deserved fall.
Further commentary gives a bit more detail:
Of Nahum's personal life or theological beliefs,w e know nothing except that his message was unlike that of any other known Hebrew prophet. He neither decried his people's sins nor prophesied their retribution; instead, his entire book is composed of three poems rejoicing over the ruin of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire. His gloating, unmitigated by compassion, contrasts markedly with the merciful attitude found in Jonah.
Nahum probably wrote about 612 BCE, either while the combined Medes and Babylonians were besieging Nineveh or shortly after the city's capture.  
On to the reading! The reading starts with a general overview of Nahum's version of God. Nahum's God is jealous, powerful, vengeful, and angry (although slow to anger). He is an absolutist who never lets guilt go unpunished. He is also good and a refuge to those who trust him.

After this, Nahum gets more specific and starts discussing the Assyrians. The Lord will rescue his people from their oppression (and will not punish them again apparently; that part is not so accurate a prediction). The Assyrians in Nineveh will be punished and fall; Nahum spends a fair amount of time on the details of their defeat and punishment. Those descriptions, the details of which are not particularly interesting, make up the rest of the book.

Not much to say about that one except that Nahum's version of God is not particularly attractive or worthy of worship for anything other than his shear power.
New Testament

The seventh and last seal is broken. At which point,
here was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour.
I find that precision to be rather hilarious.

After that, seven angels are given seven trumpets and another angel mixes prayers with incense to make an offering. The incense burner is then filled with fire and thrown to the earth, causing various disasters there. Whatever those mixed in prayers were about, it seems they were not prayers for peace, love, or goodwill. 

And then we get another set of actions which occur based on the a repeated action. The nesting in Revelation is like that of a Russian doll. This time the action is the blowing of the trumpets of the seven angels. 

The first angel causes hail and fire mixed with blood to fail upon the earth; this, of course, causes destruction on the earth. The second causes a mountain of fire to be thrown into the sea; this causes destruction in the sea. The third makes a star fall from the sky it made much of the earth's water bitter. The fourth causes 1/3 of each of the sun, moon, and starts to be made dark. Just in case you were thinking this whole thing might not be symbolic, several of those things would be impossible in real life; therefore, this must be symbolic (or flat out wrong).

After that, an eagle indicates that the last three trumpets will cause even worse damage.

Psalms and Proverbs

These proverbs are much less fragmented than earlier proverbs and, therefore, much more annoying to read a few verses at a time. In any case, Agur asks two favors of God: he wants to never tell a lie and he wants to be neither too rich nor too poor. If he is too rich, he may become self reliant, and if he is too poor, he may resort to crime.

16 December 2010

Dec 16

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we finish Micah. We learn that a ruler of Israel will come from Bethlehem. This verse is popular among Christians for the obvious reasons.

After that, I am not quite sure how the various declarations, but my guess is that the statements about being rescued from Assyria and the purification of the remaining Israelites apply to the time during which the new ruler is ruling. In this time, the restored Israel will be a powerful nation and wipe out their enemies. So it most certainly won't be a time of peace.

This description of the future is followed by the Lord's declaration of his case against Israel. Because the case still stands that however much prosperity will come to a restored Israel, they still need to be destroyed in the first place. The Lord lays out the good things he has done for Israel and then states that all he wants is for them to do what is good and right. But the people have not done this, and so they must be destroyed.

We then move back to what appears to be Micah's voice. He describes the despair that arises from everyone being evil. He declares the day of judgment is near and tells people not to trust anyone, not even friends or spouses.

Micah then reiterates the larger theme of the prophecy more personally and talks about how he will trust in the Lord, be punished for his sins, and then be restored.

The book ends with Micah asking the Lord to protect his people (using rather rural imagery), the Lord responding that he will, and Micah praising the Lord.

New Testament

To recap, yesterday, a lot of seals were unsealed. Today, four angels are waiting to destroy the earth and everything in it (these are, I believe, the disasters caused by the breaking of the sixth seal). Before they do so, the followers of God have a seal placed on their forehead. 12,000 people from each of the tribes of Israel are sealed. 12,000 people from 12 tribes is obviously symbolic, and the author probably didn't actually mean the twelve tribes given that this is an apocalypse of the New Testament. I am sure the details have some relevance, but I'll just take away the high level point that the author thinks the faithful will be somewhat shielded from the disasters.

After that, some people appear, and everyone starts praising God. The people who appeared are apparently those who died in tribulation. Revelation sure seems to imply that those who died in tribulation are better than those who didn't. It is those who die in tribulation that get to serve God and live a life death free from physical discomfort. But given that dying in tribulation is at least partially an accident of history, that seems rather arbitrary.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverb declares that
Every word of God proves true
From that and the obviously factually false statements in the Bible, we can conclude, therefore, that either not all of the Bible is the word of God or factual truth is not what the author is getting at. Although I wonder how one can get away with calling something factually false that was presented as fact as true. (Presented as fact as opposed to symbol or story.)

I also wonder if the various redactors of the Bible paid attention to this one:
Do not add to his words,
or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.

15 December 2010

Dec 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

As we zoom through all of these minor prophets, I am kind of annoyed that Understanding The Bible orders its OT commentary by (approximately) the order of the books in the Hebrew scripture. Such an order is educational but somewhat annoying from a practical perspective.

In any case, let's see what the book of Micah is all about:
Sharply critical of Jerusalem's ruling classes, including Davidic monarchs and priests, the rural prophet Micah prophesies doom upon Israel and Judah. Expanded by later interpolations, Micah's oracles are edited to include predictions of Yahweh's future universal reign, additional denunciations of social abuses, and hopes for restoration.
... Micah, fourth and last of the eight-century BCE prophets, was a younger contemporary of Isaiah of Jerusalem. Active between 740 and 700 BCE, he directed his earliest prophecies against Israel's idolatries, predicting the fall of the northern kingdom. 
In today's reading, Micah spreads the message of guilt and judgment to both Samaria and Jerusalem, Israel and Judah.

I find this part of Samaria's punishment to be noteworthy:
Her streets will be plowed up
for planting vineyards.
Generally, Biblical judgment against cities seems to come in the form of complete destruction. However, it makes sense that a rural prophet would see turning the city back into the countryside as fitting punishment. A similar passage is mentioned later in reference to Jerusalem:
Because of you, Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field;
Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins!
A thicket will grow on the heights
where the Temple now stands.
Continuing on, the people of various cities are told to prepare for punishment. The powerful people who oppress others will be marked out for punishment because of their evil. A similar theme is picked up later when Micah declares the guilt of the oppressive leaders (using cannibalistic imagery).
Micah then goes on to rant a bit about how the people do not listen to true prophets like himself. Instead, they only listen to comforting false prophets. Later, there is another rant against false prophets which ends with Micah's declaration of his own power as a prophet. I wonder if the author of Jonah had Micah in mind when thinking about the prophets who were a bit too full of themselves.

Micah also includes the standard message that Israel will someday be restored in the days when the Lord will rule all the world's people from his mountain and weapons of war will be repurposed. But until then, there will be suffering and exile.

New Testament

Today, the lamb starts breaking the seals. This brings forth a white horse with an armed and crowned rider; the rider wins many battles. The breaking of the second seal brings a red horse with an armed rider; the rider takes peace from the earth. The third seal brings a black horse whose rider holds scales; he will make food scarce and expensive. The forth reveals a pale green horse whose rider was Death; he is given authority to kill 1/4 of the earth's population.

These are the famous horsemen of the apocalypse, although they appear to be conquest, war, famine, and death rather than the more familiar war, famine, pestilence, and death. In this telling, Death gets to take charge of pestilence.

But more to the point, if you have read Terry Pratchett's discworld novels, you are probably giggling. Death is a pretty prominent character in some of those such as Thief of Time, and a very amusing one at best. The Bible's version, not so cheery.

Continuing on to the fifth seal. This seal reveals the martyred faithful souls. They are waiting to judge the world and avenge their blood. No loving judgment from that crowd. They get white roles and are told that their time is near, but they have to wait for some other martyrs. Now, given that the whole history of Christian and Jewish martyrdom could not have lasted much longer than history since Revelation is written, we once again see how wrong the Biblical authors were with there conception of soon.

The breaking of the sixth seal causes an earthquake and darkness. Various other disasters occur (many of which would be downright impossible if you took them literally). These disasters cause everyone on earth to hide and ask to be saved from the coming wrath.

That ends today's reading.

Psalms and Proverbs

Apparently we start the sayings of Agur today. All I know about Agur is that is the son of Jakeh. In the first three verses of Agur's saying, he declares himself to be lacking wisdom and worthiness. The forth praises the superiority of God. In short, classic techniques for trying to impress people. Set the bar low, bring to mind the higher standard, and then implicitly be compared favorably to that higher standard when you exceed the expectations you set.

14 December 2010

Dec 14

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's book, Jonah, should ring a bell. It contains the famous story about Jonah getting trapped in the belly of a sea creature. Understanding The Bible has this to say about the book:
A narrative about the vast difference between a God of infinite compassion and a prophet of painfully limited understanding, Jonah provides both a critique of some Israelite prophecy and an illustration of God's universality. Utilizing folklore, humor, and hyperbole to make his point, an unknown postexilic author sets his fictional tale in the eight century BCE, when Assyria dominated the ancient Near east. 
Jonah is chosen as a prophet to tell the city of Nineveh of their sin and their doom. He did not want this assignment and fled. The ship he ended up on was caught in a storm. By drawing lots, the passengers identified Jonah as the cause. Jonah tells them to cast him into the sea. They try to avoid doing so, but it becomes their only choice. Throwing Jonah overboard immediately stops the storm, and so the sailors decide to worship his god.

In the meantime, Jonah is swallowed by a fish and spends three days and nights there. Johan prays to God and is released. And that's the whole fish incident.

Jonah is commanded, once again, to go to Nineveh, and this time he goes. He delivers his message of destruction and the people repent (which is how you can tell this is fiction; the Israelites never repented because of the words of a prophet =P ).

Because of this change of ways, God changed his mind and did not destroy them. This makes Jonah angry. Jonah, like many a modern religious fundamentalist, does not actually want people to be good. He  would rather be right than see people saved.

God teaches Jonah a lesson by providing a shade tree and then taking it away. When Jonah feels anger over the loss of that tree, God tells him that even more sorrow should be filled for a city living in spiritual darkness.

And that ends the book. It's a good story. I also think that the lesson of not taking prophets too seriously is a good one. Someone doing God's will, this story tells us, does not necessarily understand God's ways. When the prophets show anger and hatred, that anger and hatred should be seen as theirs, not their God's. I think that can certainly be applied to some of the angry rants of the prophets we have read.

New Testament

A scroll is sealed with seven seals. No one is worthy of unsealing it except
the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne
This being is also described as
Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered
Most of the imagery in Revelation is pretty dense, but the surface imagery of this one is pretty clear. The lamb/lion == Jesus.

Today's reading ends with the 24 elders, the four winged beings, and all the angels praising the lamb.

Psalms and Proverbs

One proverb about justice and another which tries to simplistically divide the world into the righteous and the wicked.

13 December 2010

Dec 13

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read Obadiah, the shortest of the prophetic OT books, which Harris describes it as a book where
The prophet blasts Edom for benefiting from Judah's destruction.
Given that this theme seems to be covered in other places (e.g., in the beginning of Amos), there does not seem to be much point to including this book.

On to the content. Actually, there's not much more to add. Edom sucks. They did wrong by Israel and did not come to help when Israel needed it. They then plundered the land and killed the survivors. For this, they will be wiped out by their enemies. They will suffer as Israel suffered. And, to add insult to injury, Israel will be restored and come to occupy Edom. The end.

New Testament

More glowy people! Today the author sees another vision of a a being who is brilliant like jasper and carnelian. This being is surrounded by 24 thrones with 24 elders seated on them. In front of them were seven burning torches representing the sevenfold spirit of God. In front of all that is a sea of glass, and there were four eye covered, winged, animal inspired beings praising the Lord.

When did God's spirit become sevenfold? Why are there 24 elders? What does it all mean? I don't know. But it's late, and I don't actually care enough to look it up. Unlike other books, where I felt I might get some value out of understanding them, I am choosing to read Revelation as one long drug induced vision.

So in that spirit... jasper and carnelian and fire. Pretty!

Moving right along now... the four winged beings and the 24 elders spend their days praising the Lord. I suppose this is one of those passages that makes people think that all one does in heaven is sit around praising God all day.

And that ends today's reading.

Psalms and Proverbs

Assisting thieves will lead you into uncomfortable situations and fearing people is bad.

12 December 2010

Dec 12

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today, Amos is shown visions of locusts and fire that the Lord was preparing for Israel. Fortunately for them, in both cases the Lord changed his mind when asked by Amos.

After that, we learn that Amos had traveled to Israel and was making public declarations that Jeroboam would die. Jeroboam, not surprisingly, was not fond of these ideas and told Amos to go back to Judah. Amos replied by saying that he just does what the Lord tells him to do.

The Lord then shows Amos a vision of ripe fruit to imply that Israel is ripe for punishment. The Lord then vows to punish Israel and describes that punishment. In addition to the normal language of punishment, we read this intriguing bit:
“The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread or water
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
People will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from border to border
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it.
Beautiful girls and strong young men
will grow faint in that day,
thirsting for the Lord’s word.
I find it interesting that this is given as a punishment when one of the primary sins of the people is neglecting the Lord for other gods.

Amos then receives a vision of God's destroying punishment. That punishment includes another interesting bit that speaks to the prophet's vision of his God's universality:
“Are you Israelites more important to me
than the Ethiopians?” asks the Lord.
“I brought Israel out of Egypt,
but I also brought the Philistines from Crete
and led the Arameans out of Kir.
Israel, in both its blessings and punishments, is no more special than any other people. How different this is from the presentation of Israel as God's especially chosen ones.

The book ends with a description of Israel's promised restoration.

New Testament

The church in Philadelphia is praised for their obedience in spite of their small strength. Because of this, they will be protected in the terrible times to come (which, as is commonly the case, is described as soon). Those who make it victoriously through those times will becomes citizens of the new Jerusalem.

The church in Laodicea is lukewarm. This, declares the vision of Jesus, is worse than being either hot or cold. The people of the church are well off and complacent and do not realize their own misery. But if they let Jesus in, they still have a chance to join the side of victory.

That ends today's reading the the letters to the churches.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverb encourages humility.