31 March 2010

Mar 31

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read, yet again, about the three major festivals: Passover, the Festival of Harvest, and the Festival of Shelters. Since Passover started recently, the information is, at least, timely.

I rather like that the other two major festivals are focused on celebration. For the Festival of Harvest:
Celebrate with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites from your towns, and the foreigners, orphans, and widows who live among you.
and for the Festival of Shelters:
This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns. ... This festival will be a time of great joy for all.
Next we read some legal miscellany. The Israelites should appoint judges over the people. The text recognizes that even a wise judge would be led astray by bribes, and so judges should not accept bribes. Nothing is said about what would happen if a judge did accept bribes.
Never accept a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the decisions of the godly.
The decrees of the judges are final. Anyone who disputes the decrees of the judges must be put to death.
Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the Lord your God must die. In this way you will purge the evil from Israel. Then everyone else will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly.
I find the reasoning behind this interesting. The purpose behind killing those who dispute a judge's ruling is to inspire fear. I suppose, in some sense, all legal systems are based on fear (of punishment, ostracism, inability to access resources, etc.), but I think I still prefer systems where the primary basis of the system is principle, not fear.

Finally, we read the guidelines that a king must follow, if the Israelites ever decide that they want a king. This is another one of those passages that reads differently depending on whether you believe it was composed before or after Israel started having kings.

New Testament

I found this passage from today's reading hilarious. I think because my brain seized on the word "puzzled", so I read it in a perplexed voice.
When Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, heard about everything Jesus was doing, he was puzzled. Some were saying that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. Others thought Jesus was Elijah or one of the other prophets risen from the dead.
“I beheaded John,” Herod said, “so who is this man about whom I hear such stories?” And he kept trying to see him.
Beyond that, more repeats. Jesus feeds 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah, and Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.

Psalms and Proverbs

Kings have not been much of a topic in our readings so far, which makes today's readings stick out. As I mentioned, we read about guidelines a king must follow in Deuteronomy. In today's psalm we read of a king asking for God's blessing and guidance.

30 March 2010

Mar 30

Reference links:
Old Testament

God likes to test the Israelites every once in awhile just to see if they really love him. He must have self esteem issues.
If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before— do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul [physical and mental self].
God also has a zero tolerance policy towards those who try to entice the Israelites away from God.
Suppose someone secretly entices you—even your brother, your son or daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend—and says, ‘Let us go worship other gods’—gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known. They might suggest that you worship the gods of peoples who live nearby or who come from the ends of the earth. But do not give in or listen. Have no pity, and do not spare or protect them. You must put them to death! Strike the first blow yourself, and then all the people must join in.
And it sucks to be anyone who lives in a town where some people have gone astray.
If you find that the report is true and such a detestable act has been committed among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the open square and burn it. Burn the entire town as a burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt.
If people in a town have actually been tempted away from God, the whole town must be destroyed? Remember, these are allegedly God's direct commands, and so, in my opinion, it is perfectly reasonable to apply modern standards to them. By any reasonable modern standards of morality, this is horrendous.

After that we get a description of which animals are clean or unclean. We also get discussions of tithing, the forgiving of debts every seventh year, the release of Hebrew slaves every seventh year, and God's dislike of imperfect animals. Much of this we have heard before. Repetition can be useful for learning, but I still wonder how short the Torah would be if all the repetition were removed. Half the size?

New Testament

Speaking of repetition, today we read the story of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and was healed when she touched Jesus' robe. We also read that Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from death. Finally, we read about how Jesus sent out his disciples to teach and heal. All things we have read before.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of note today.

29 March 2010

Mar 29

Reference links:
Old Testament

Gah, it's late! So only highlights tonight.
Keep in mind that I am not talking now to your children, who have never experienced the discipline of the Lord your God or seen his greatness and his strong hand and powerful arm. They didn’t see the miraculous signs and wonders he performed in Egypt against Pharaoh and all his land. They didn’t see what the Lord did to the armies of Egypt and to their horses and chariots—how he drowned them in the Red Sea as they were chasing you. He destroyed them, and they have not recovered to this very day!
“Your children didn’t see how the Lord cared for you in the wilderness until you arrived here. They didn’t see what he did to Dathan and Abiram (the sons of Eliab, a descendant of Reuben) when the earth opened its mouth in the Israelite camp and swallowed them, along with their households and tents and every living thing that belonged to them. But you have seen the Lord perform all these mighty deeds with your own eyes!
I suppose part of the population may have seen these things as children, but God's sentence of 40 years wandering plus multiple killing sprees killed off most of the population that would have seen all these things.
Rather, the land you will soon take over is a land of hills and valleys with plenty of rain
Sadly, extensive droughts are a problem for modern Israel. I know that the climate has changed in that region over the times spanned by human civilization. I wonder if it was significantly different in the time of the ancient Israelites.
Your pattern of worship will change. Today all of you are doing as you please, because you have not yet arrived at the place of rest, ... When he gives you rest from all your enemies and you’re living safely in the land, you must bring everything I command you ... to the designated place of worship, the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored. ... Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings just anywhere you like. You may do so only at the place the Lord will choose within one of your tribal territories. There you must offer your burnt offerings and do everything I command you.
This passage confuses me. Didn't we read extensive passages in Exodus about the building of the Tabernacle? Wasn't that supposed to be the place all the sacrifices were performed? That sure does not sound like sacrificing burnt offerings "anywhere you like". I seem to even remember some passages to the effect that sacrifices could only be made by the priests at the altar, although I cannot remember them now.

New Testament

Jesus calms a storm. Jesus heals the man filled with many demons and sends them into a herd of pigs.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of note in today's psalm. However, we do learn from Proverbs:
A worthy wife is a crown for her husband,
but a disgraceful woman is like cancer in his bones.
I somehow feel that "cancer" must be a pretty liberal translation of whatever the original Hebrew said. Seeing as, you know, its designation as such is fairly modern.

28 March 2010

Mar 28

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today in short: "God tells the Israelites that they suck, but everyone else sucks more."
it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he [God] is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The Lord your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfille the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You must recognize that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not -- you are a stubborn people.
Moses recaps the golden calf incident to illustrate the stubbornness of the Israelites. He makes it clear that the Israelites forced him to endure enourmous hardships and trouble.

After telling the Israelites how much trouble they are, Moses beseaches them to change their ways.
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.
Obeying a yet unspecified set of commands and decrees seems a lot to sweep under the word "only". However, maybe this is meant to be read as two parts. First, God requires the Israelites to love him and serve him and live lives that please him. Separately, God gives the Israelites the decrees for their own good. Only the first set are general requirements from God. The second set are contextually generated requirements.

One of the interesting things about Deuteronomy ?:12-22 is that it is the first bit of Old Testament we have read in awhile that really fits what seems to be the contemporary Christian view of God. God is described thusly,
He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing.
That said, I am hard pressed to see how a God who has a chosen people shows no partiality.

New Testament

The parable of the farmer scattering seed! You knew we had to get here again sometime. We saw this parable in both Matthew and Mark. Jesus tells the same story, but his explanation differs in a small but, for me, vital way.

To review: a farmer throws seed on the ground. Birds eat some, some sprout and whither, thorns choke and crowd others, and some grow and thrive. Jesus reveals the meaning of this parable: The seeds taken by birds represent people who are kept from God's word by the devil. The seeds that whither up represent those who believe for awhile and then fall out of belief. The plants that were choked to death represent the people whose reception of God's word is pushed out by the world, but here is where the difference comes in. In Mark we read (Matthew is nearly identical):
The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.
But in Luke we read
The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.
Saying "no fruit is produced" has pretty much the same meaning as "never grow into maturity", but for some reason, the second phrasing made me think about the passage differently. Unlike the first two types seed which die off, this type of seed does grow, but it never reaches the point of maturity. However, it does stay alive, so is, in some respects, successful. Applied to a person, it seems to me like this group of seeds describes people who complacently think that they are living the life called for by their faith, but they are not actually doing so. To not comment on modern issues, probably most Christians in the US today are represented by this third category of seed.

Today's reading also talks about how you do not light lamps just to cover them up and so, similarly all that is secret will eventually be brought to life. It also contains the vingette about Jesus' true mother and brothers: When Jesus' mothers and brothers come to him, he declares that those who hear and accept God's word are his real mother and brothers. I still cannot read that story without thinking that it is concealing some deep family tensions.

Psalms and Proverbs

When I predicted yesterday what today's reading from the Psalms would be like, I predicted that today's completion of yesterday's psalm would describe how God eventually did save the psalmist from the hardships he suffered. I was wrong in detail, right in general gist. Instead, what today's reading contains is the psalmists declaration of how he will praise God once God does rescue the psalmist.

The first proverb today is almost tautological if you start from the position that God is good
The Lord approves of those who are good,
but he condemns those who plan wickedness.

27 March 2010


I have stopped adding pictures to posts because they make the posts take an extra ~10 minutes to write. Do people miss them? Prefer having them gone? I know that I often found them entertaining, and they helped to break up the wall of text, but I do not know if other people appreciate them enough to make the effort worthwhile. (And, since I haven't included any pictures in awhile, I have included a random one in this post. =)

Mar 27

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading seems to have these main points.
  • The Israelites have a duty to destroy their enemies because they are God's holy people.
  • For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.
    The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.
  • The Israelites should completely destroy their enemies. Now, while total destruction may have been a rational strategy for the ancient Israelites given the world at that time, it is not an attitude that I can accept in a being worthy of being called God.
  • When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy.
  • God will bless the Israelites if he obeys them and curse them if they do not. On the one hand, it is reasonable for God to demand something (obedience) in return for what he is giving (prosperity). On the other hand, it provides a useful out for the good and bad that inevitably happens in any society.
  • Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. ...
    ... But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed.
  • Everything God did in the dessert, including nearly starving and dehydrating the Israelites and killing tens of thousands for them was just to prove their character. I did not realize that mass murder was an acceptable way to prove character.
  • Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
New Testament

As I noted when we started reading Luke, one of the themes of Luke is a concern with women. This shows up in today's reading. We read the story of a woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, and we read a list of women who followed Jesus.

With just that summary, you might think that this is the same as the story presented in Matthew and Mark where a woman pours a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus' head shortly before his crucifixion. You may or may not be wrong. In detail, this version is quite different, but just similar enough to make it unclear as to whether or not one or two events were described (or one story grew in two ways).
  • Who: In Matthew and Mark, the anointing was done by woman. In Luke, the woman is specifically an immoral woman.
  • Where: In Matthew and Mark, this occurred at the home of Simon, a former leper. In Luke it occurred at the home of Simon, a Pharisee.
  • What: In Matthew and Mark, the woman came in and poured the perfume over Jesus' head. In Luke, it is Jesus' feet that are anointed with a mixture of an expensive perfume and the woman's tears. In both cases, the perfume was in a "beautiful alabaster jar".
  • The criticism: In Matthew and Mark, the disciples criticize the woman for wasting perfume that could have been sold for money to give to the poor. In Luke, Simon is aghast that Jesus is letting himself be touched by a sinner.
  • The resolution: In Matthew and Mark, Jesus declares that the woman has done a beautiful thing and will be remembered. In Luke, Jesus forgives her sins.
Luke's list of women travelling with Jesus shows that Luke, at least, viewed women as significantly powerful than we might think. Luke also notes that women were supporting Jesus out of their own resources. I do not have the background to know whether or not such activities were radical for the time. If they were, it does a lot to support the argument that Christianity treats women as equals (a view that, as we will see, Paul provides plenty of support against). If such a view was not radical for its time, it shows how much we had regressed before the 20th century women's liberation movements.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm appears to be another one in the pattern "God has abandoned me. Oh look! Now he's saved me." However, since it is broken over two days of readying, today we only get the part where the psalmist complains about how much he suffers for God and how God seems to have abandoned him. Presumably, tomorrow we will get the part where we hear about how God saved him and is wonderful and what not.

Today's proverb actually seems like a good one,
To learn, you must love discipline;
it is stupid to hate correction.
Learning does requires discipline and being open to acknowledging you are wrong.

26 March 2010

Mar 26

Reference links:
Old Testament

About half of today's reading repeats the 10 commandments. In the preface to that, Moses makes the following declaration,
The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Mount Sinai. The Lord did not make this covenant with our ancestors, but with all of us who are alive today.
This statement implies, or at least possibly implies, that the people receiving this speech are the same as the people who were at Mount Sinai. But this speech is being given after the forty years of wandering, so we know that the people Moses is addressing are nearly a completely different group than before. Maybe the Hebrew phrasing implies distant ancestors?

Getting back to the commandments, this list pretty much provides a straight repeat of the list in Exodus. Since then, I have learned that the use of the word "covet" in the passage below is probably completely wrong,
You must not covet your neighbor’s wife. You must not covet your neighbor’s house or land, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
The word translated as covet probably means "take." It seems to be a word for taking that had certain unrecoverable implications, but still, analyzing the Hebrew in context makes for a fairly strong case that it is an action that is being condemned, not thought crime.

The other half of today's reading contains an admonition to the Israelites to remember the Lord's commands and live a life faithful to his will. This passage summarizes as good as any,
Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children.
This part of the reading describes the land God is giving to the Israelites,
It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.
As I read that I could not help but think, "You know, that is not exactly something I would go around bragging about."

New Testament

Today's reading relates the story of Jesus raising a widow's son from the dead. The Wikipedia article on Jesus' miracles points out, that three of the gospels have stories of Jesus raising someone from the dead, but all of the stories are quite different. Given that descriptions of other miracles seem to overlap a lot, this makes me wonder if, by the time the gospels were written, there was a tradition of Jesus having the power to raise the dead, but there was no single story commonly associated with that miracle. Thus, each gospel author either drew from a different tradition or made up their own story to work in that aspect of Jesus' power.

In other news, Jesus more or less tells John the Baptist,  "Yes, I am the the Messiah."

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's reading from the psalms has some rather icky imagery.
But God will smash the heads of his enemies,
crushing the skulls of those who love their guilty ways.
You, my people, will wash your feet in their blood,
and even your dogs will get their share!”
I feel like the first two of today's proverbs must have lost something in translation.
Those who bring trouble on their families inherit the wind.
The fool will be a servant to the wise.
The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life;
a wise person wins friends.
Neither quite makes sense as a two line unit.

25 March 2010

Mar 25

Reference links:
Old Testament

Moses sets a high standard for the decrees and regulations that God gives the Israelites.
Obey them completely, and you will display your wisdom and intelligence among the surrounding nations. When they hear all these decrees, they will exclaim, ‘How wise and prudent are the people of this great nation!’ For what great nation has a god as near to them as the Lord our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?
Therefore, as we read these laws and decrees, we should remember that they are supposed to seem wise and prudent to people outside the Israelite community, so we should feel free to judge them by that standard. The standards of surrounding nations are not exactly the standard of modern America, but we do know that these laws were expected to stand up to some external evaluation.

In today's reading, Moses lays out what will happen to the Israelites if they do not keep their covenant.
If you break my covenant, you will quickly disappear from the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy. You will live there only a short time; then you will be utterly destroyed. For the Lord will scatter you among the nations, where only a few of you will survive. There, in a foreign land, you will worship idols made from wood and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.
The main thing I want to point out about this passage is the use of the phrase "heart and soul". Looking at a concordance, we see that this passage actually uses the words לבב (levav) and נפש (nefesh) . As I discussed several days ago, the translation "heart and soul" is rather terrible. The true sense of this phrase is more like "everything intangible about yourself and everything tangible about yourself". In particular, the passage makes no commitment to the abstract idea of a soul.

Today's reading also emphasizes the point that the God of the Hebrews is the only God and that the Israelites are pretty special to be his chosen people. This is interesting since earlier books in the Torah were far from clear on this point. In fact, they sometimes pointed to the contrary by declaring that the God of the Israelites was more powerful than the Gods of the various people they interacted with.
The Lord is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other.
It is statements like these that provide the value of Deuteronomy. Although the events it describes are all review, the commentary helps clarify the theological position that is being staked out. In fact, it is such theological clarity, sometimes in contradiction of the theology implied by the earlier books, support the hypothesis that the source material for Deuteronomy was composed independently of the rest of the Torah.

New Testament

Today is full of lessons from Jesus, some good, some bad.
  • Two people of equal inability cannot lead each other (blind leading the blind)
  • Students are not greater than their teachers, but can become the equals of their teachers
  • Don't criticize others for flaws you also possess (speck in your friend's eye, log in your own)
  • Good people will produce good, evil people will produce evil. What you say comes from your heart (trees and their fruit)
  • Without a strong foundation, you will falter in hard time (building your house on solid rock)
It's the second to last one that made me say that some of these lessons were bad. Here's the lesson:
A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.
The implication of this passage is that individuals are good or they are evil. However, I believe that such an attitude is both wrong and harmful. People are not inherently good or evil. They are a mixture of tendencies. Furthermore, for the vast majority of tendencies, whether they are good or evil depends on context. It is the minority of tendencies that are always good or always bad. This attitude is harmful because it leads to unfair condemnation of those who are perceived to do something evil. This, in turn, directly feeds in to a lack of mercy toward the one who did wrong.

Today's reading also contains the story of the Roman soldier who had faith that Jesus could heal his servant from a distance (although in Luke, the servant is described as a "highly valued slave"). This story also appeared in Matthew 8:5-13. Note, however, that in Matthew's version, the Roman solider came to talk to Jesus. In Luke's version, the soldier sends some respected Jewish elders to talk to Jesus.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm contains some highly entertaining imagery. Poetic imagery, so we cannot take it literally, but entertaining all the same.
Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds.
I wonder, is that ride like a horse, or ride like a wave?
Even those who lived among the sheepfolds found treasures—
doves with wings of silver
and feathers of gold.
I wonder if metallic doves were acceptable sacrifices?
Why do you look with envy, O rugged mountains,
at Mount Zion, where God has chosen to live,
where the Lord himself will live forever?

Surrounded by unnumbered thousands of chariots,
the Lord came from Mount Sinai into his sanctuary.
When you ascended to the heights,
you led a crowd of captives.
So God lives on a mountain with a bunch of prisoners?  Well, not the housing situation I would choose, but then, I'm not a deity.

24 March 2010

Mar 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

In today's reading, we review, amongst other things, the victories of the Israelites over Sihon of Heshbon and Og of Bashan. In the process, we learn a few things we did not know before.

With respect to the attack against Sihon of Heshbon, first God says,
Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land.
Then Moses sends ambassadors,
I [Moses] sent ambassadors to King Sihon of Heshbon with this proposal of peace
Then God causes Sihon to refuse the proposal of peace.
But King Sihon of Heshbon refused to allow us to pass through, because the Lord your God made Sihon stubborn and defiant so he could help you defeat him 
In short, Sihon of Heshbon attacked the Israelites because God hardened his heart. Furthermore, the proposal of peace that Moses sent to Sihon was never serious; God had already told Moses that the Israelites would conquer Sihon's land. Lovely.

Not surprisingly, the victory was brutal,
We conquered all his towns and completely destroyed everyone—men, women, and children. Not a single person was spared. We took all the livestock as plunder for ourselves, along with anything of value from the towns we ransacked.
Today's reading also provides support for the hypothesis that Deuteronomy was compiled from multiple documents, possibly coming from multiple traditions. First we read,
“Then as we turned north along the desert route through Moab, the Lord warned us, ‘Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.’”
(A race of giants called the Emites had once lived in the area of Ar. They were as strong and numerous and tall as the Anakites, another race of giants. Both the Emites and the Anakites are also known as the Rephaites, though the Moabites call them Emites. In earlier times the Horites had lived in Seir, but they were driven out and displaced by the descendants of Esau, just as Israel drove out the people of Canaan when the Lord gave Israel their land.)
Just a couple of paragraphs later, we read,
“When all the men of fighting age had died, the Lord said to me, ‘Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.’”
(That area was once considered the land of the Rephaites, who had lived there, though the Ammonites call them Zamzummites. They were also as strong and numerous and tall as the Anakites. But the Lord destroyed them so the Ammonites could occupy their land. He had done the same for the descendants of Esau who lived in Seir, for he destroyed the Horites so they could settle there in their place. The descendants of Esau live there to this day. A similar thing happened when the Caphtorites from Crete invaded and destroyed the Avvites, who had lived in villages in the area of Gaza.)
The parenthetical comments are not even consistent! The first one says that Anakites are Rephaites, but the second says that the Rephaites were "as strong and numerous and tall as the Anakites", so they cannot be the same people.

Finally, we learn that the ancient Israelites (and/or the authors of Deuteronomy) really did mean giants, and not just above average sized people,
(King Og of Bashan was the last survivor of the giant Rephaites. His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It can still be seen in the Ammonite city of Rabbah.)

New Testament

Luke lists the twelve apostles. However, his list is inconsistent in one member from Matthew and Mark's lists (Thaddeus verses a second Judas) (Matthew's list, Mark's list, Wikipedia discussion).

We also read Luke's version of the beatitudes today. Again, Wikipedia discusses some of the inconsistencies in the setting of the delivery between Matthew and Luke. We do not need to go into much detail about that though, since we already know that Luke is writing historical fiction.

Instead, I want to point out this particular statement,
when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back
I point this out so that I can make the admittedly snarky comment that when people say that the U.S. legal systems are based on the Bible, they certainly are not referring to this passage.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing particularly noteworthy in today's psalm, just another psalm of praise. Today's proverb is good though,
If you search for good, you will find favor;
but if you search for evil, it will find you!

23 March 2010

Mar 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today, we finish Numbers and start Deuteronomy. This is going to be a tough book to get through because I really have trouble typing Deuteronomy. ::sigh::

But before we get there, we need to finish up the last chapter of Numbers. The last chapter discusses women who inherit property. You may remember that the daughters of Zelophehad get to share in the inheritance of land because their father died before the Israelites reached the promised land (Numbers 27:1-11).

The heads of the clan they belong to went to Moses to let him know that this situation displeased them. See, if the women inherited the land and then married men from other tribes, the land would go to those tribes. This would cut into their land. A legitimate concern. So God tells Moses the solution: let women who inherit land marry anyone they want as long as that person is from their own tribe. Not a terrible solution, I suppose, but kind of an annoying one.

On to Deuteronomy! Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:
A large part of the book consists of three sermons delivered by Moses reviewing the previous forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and the future entering into the Promised Land. Its central element is a detailed law-code by which the Israelites are to live within the Promised Land.
In other words, recap! The recap serves the purpose of emphasizing the key themes of Israel's covenant with God.

Like with the other books of the Torah, tradition considers Moses the author of Deuteronomy, but modern scholars date it several centuries after Moses is traditionally thought to have lived (although the content may very well be derived from traditions and writings from earlier).

In today's Deuteronomy reading, we get a review of the time when God was going to send the Israelites into the promised land, but the scouts they sent brought back reports that made the people fearful. Because of their hesitation, God declared that none of the men of fighting age but Caleb and Joshua would enter the promised land. This threat causes the Israelites to reconsider their rebellion, and some of them try to enter the promised land. However, God is not with them, so the Amorites defeated those who entered their land.

While reading the recap, I thought of another way to interpret the basic facts. Let's assume, for the moment, that the Israelites really did reach the promise land, attack it, and leave. What would be an alternative narrative? Maybe the Israelites tried to attack and lost. Because they knew they were not powerful enough to defeat the locals, they continued wandering for forty years until their strength exceeded that of their enemies (either through their increase or the enemies' decline).

Now, my version is completely made up, but if it were true I could imagine that tradition would change the story around to make it more consistent with the idea that the Israelites were God's chosen people. A lost battle is inconsistent with the idea that the Israelites were God's chosen people unless the argument could be made that, for some reason, God did not want them to win at the time.

New Testament

More repeat stories in today's reading. These stories all share the theme of showing how Jesus is anti-establishment.

  • Jesus eats with tax collectors and other disreputable sorts.
  • Jesus' disciples do not fast even though John the Baptist's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees do.
  • Jesus harvests and eats handfuls of grain on the Sabbath.
  • Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
Of course, the Pharisees and teachers of religious law are annoyed at this.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is a pleasant psalm of praise. I much prefer these to the psalms of constant whining.

Today's proverbs teach that it is good to be generous. I agree!

22 March 2010

Mar 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we finish up the travel log. Then God tells the Israelites (via Moses, as always),
When you cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy.
Let's assume, for the moment, that God exists and is not the moody, violent being that he has appeared to be so far. Even given that and even accepting that this God is the creator of all humanity, I do not think that he really has any right to tell the Israelites to drive people out of their homes and cities and to take possession of it. Having created self aware beings, even a creator God has certain responsibilities not to destroy or order the destruction of such beings, in my opinion.

We read a description of the boundaries of the land that God gives to the Israelites followed by a listing of the current tribal leaders and a description of the towns to be given to the Levites (since they do not get land of their own).

The reading ends with a description of cities of refuge. We first read about those way back in Exodus, and now we get a lot more detail. Cities of refuge are places where one can flee after accidentally killing someone else.
designate cities of refuge to which people can flee if they have killed someone accidentally. These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be put to death before being tried by the community.
After describing, by example, types of killings which constitute murder and types of killings which do not. If the community determines a death to be murder.
In such cases, the avenger [the victim's nearest relative] must put the murderer to death when they meet.
I still think that a system where murders have to be killed by a family member of the person they murdered is kind of disturbing. I think it probably does produce a more realistic understanding of the death sentence for the community as a whole, but it seems rather bad for the avenger's state of mind.

Obviously, in a system where murderers are killed, you want to be pretty sure the death was actually a murder.
All murderers must be put to death, but only if evidence is presented by more than one witness. No one may be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
And why must murders be killed? Because God lives among the Israelites.
And no sacrifice except the execution of the murderer can purify the land from murder. You must not defile the land where you live, for I live there myself. I am the Lord, who lives among the people of Israel
That's right. Murder is wrong not because people are inherently valuable or anything like that, but because God thinks murder makes the land unclean. Now, I know pretty much nothing about theories of morality beyond that they exist, but I am pretty certain they can do better than "murder defiles the land".

If the community decides the death was accidental, the killer still faces punishment, but they also receive some protection.
The community must protect the slayer from the avenger and must escort the slayer back to live in the city of refuge to which he fled. There he must remain until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the sacred oil.
If the slayer leaves the city, he forfeits that protection.
But if the slayer ever leaves the limits of the city of refuge, and the avenger finds him outside the city and kills him, it will not be considered murder. The slayer should have stayed inside the city of refuge until the death of the high priest.
So pretty much, accidental killers are sent to prison for some time dependent on the life span of the high priest.

New Testament

Repeat stories. Jesus heals a man with leprosy, and tells him to keep the deed quiet, but the man lets people know. Jesus heals a paralyzed man after shocking the crowds by telling the man that his sins have been forgiven.

The bit of new material we get today is Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) as a disciple.
Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
Psalms and Proverbs

I like today's psalm because it's half about growing things, and I like growing things
You take care of the earth and water it,
making it rich and fertile.
The river of God has plenty of water;
it provides a bountiful harvest of grain,
for you have ordered it so.
You drench the plowed ground with rain,
melting the clods and leveling the ridges.
You soften the earth with showers
and bless its abundant crops.
You crown the year with a bountiful harvest;
even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.
The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture,
and the hillsides blossom with joy.
The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep,
and the valleys are carpeted with grain.
They all shout and sing for joy!

21 March 2010

Mar 21

Reference links:
Old Testament

Recap episode! The tribes of Reuben and Gad provide the frame for the recap. They think that the land that the Israelites have already conquered, Jazer and Gilead, perfectly fit their needs. They ask a favor of Moses,
The Lord has conquered this whole area for the community of Israel, and it is ideally suited for all our livestock. If we have found favor with you, please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.
Moses assumes that they want to get out of the rest of the fighting and starts ranting about God's anger. This morphs into part one of the recap. Moses accuses the tribes of Reuben and Gad of being like the spies who, forty years earlier, had discouraged the Israelites from entering the promised land and bringing the time of wandering down upon the Israelites.

The tribes of Reuben and Gad reply that they do not intend to discourage the rest of the Israelites. They just want to settle in Jazer and Gilead because it fits their needs well. They promise they will help fight and conquer the rest of the promised land. Furthermore, they promise that they will not ask for that land, as long as they get this. Moses agrees to this. Oh, and somehow the half tribe of Manasseh also gets the same deal.

We then get a recap of the Israelites travels since they left Egypt up through Aaron's death on Mount Hor. We start with a reminder of the atrocities in Egypt,
The people of Israel left defiantly, in full view of all the Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn sons, whom the Lord had killed the night before. The Lord had defeated the gods of Egypt that night with great acts of judgment!
Interesting wording choice, "The Lord had defeated the gods of Egypt". In particular, the context does not imply that the Egyptian gods were fake nor does it imply with certainty that they were considered real. The ambiguity is what is interesting.

This is followed by a long list of presumably all the campsites of the Israelites. A straight average of how long the Israelites stayed at each campsite gives a bit over a year to each. Obviously, cross correlating this with the rest of the travel accounts would allow us to get a better estimate of how long the Israelites stayed in each location. I am sure someone has done that.

Also, the list of place names would make an excellent source of inspiration for character names in a video game or something. For example: Moseroth, Alush, Jotbathah, and Rissah.

New Testament

Jesus performs a bunch of miracles in Capernaum. He heals many people and casts out demons. We also read the story of how Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law. This time, however, it is not clear that this Simon is the same Simon that becomes Peter the disciple of Jesus. For reference, here are the Matthew and Mark versions of the story. In both those versions, Simon whose mother-in-law is healed is clearly identified as someone who is already a follower of Jesus. In Luke's version, that is far from clear. In fact, it seems somewhat unlikely. In order, we read these three passages:
4:38-39: After leaving the synagogue that day, Jesus went to Simon’s home, where he found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick with a high fever. “Please heal her,” everyone begged. Standing at her bedside, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she got up at once and prepared a meal for them.
4:42-44: Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.
5:8-10: [After Jesus miraculously makes Simon's nets full of fish.] When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.
Why do I think these passages cast suspicion on the identification of the first Simon with the second Simon? After Simon's mother-in-law is healed, Jesus travels around. This provides a narrative break between the story of the healing and the next story, where Jesus miraculously helps some fishermen. The narrative break implies that the second Simon need not necessarily be the same as the first. Additionally, we see in the second miracle story that Simon was so impressed by the fish miracle that he fell to his knees in amazement. It seems suspicious to me that Simon would be so impressed by the fish but not have had such a strong reaction when his mother-in-law was healed.

Of course, we already know that Luke is the most blatant historical fiction writer of the three, so what story tell purpose would this change serve? One possibility is that Luke wanted to get rid of the implication that Simon Peter abandoned his wife or, perhaps, the implication that he ever had a wife at all.

Even if I am wrong (quite possible), and they are the same Simon, the stories are still inconsistent. In Matthew and Mark, Simon is described as a follower of Jesus before his mother-in-law is healed. In Luke, the mother-in-law healing comes before Simon becomes a follower of Jesus.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing particularly noteworthy today.

20 March 2010

Mar 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

Sexist double standards in today's reading! God tells Moses to tell the people that
A man who makes a vow to the Lord or makes a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do.
But that does not hold for women. If a woman under the thumb of a man makes a vow, that man may nullify the vow. The double standard of this law is softened slightly by the fact that the man only has the ability to nullify the vow the first day that he learns of it; if he does not the woman is under the same obligation to keep the vow as a man would be. But still, it's kind of stupid.

God commands the Israelites to conquer the Midianites for their role in the sex and idolatry we read about a few days ago. Each tribe sent a thousand men, and they conquered the Midianites. Let's read the account of the properly Biblical way to wage war (warning, it is primitive and inhumane).
They attacked Midian as the Lord had commanded Moses, and they killed all the men. All five of the Midianite kings—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—died in the battle. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
Then the Israelite army captured the Midianite women and children and seized their cattle and flocks and all their wealth as plunder. They burned all the towns and villages where the Midianites had lived. After they had gathered the plunder and captives, both people and animals, they brought them all to Moses and Eleazar the priest, and to the whole community of Israel, which was camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the generals and captains who had returned from the battle.
“Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the Lord at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the Lord’s people. So kill all the boys and all the women who have had intercourse with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.
That passage contains plenty of morally terrible things to ruminate upon, but I will limit myself to a couple. First, genocide is bad. I do not care if God commanded it. Genocide is not morally acceptable. Second, we have this:
Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.
I highly doubt that the Israelite soldiers were different than any other soldiers throughout most of history. We can be pretty certain that the virgins, after living through the death of their family and friends, were given over to the soldiers and to become sex slaves. Despicable.

Finally, we notice that Balaam son of Beor was killed because it was, apparently, Balaam's advice which caused the women to seduce the Israelites. Really, Balaam? The same Balaam who blessed the Israelites three times against the wishes of Balak? That came out of left field.

The genocide of the Midianites reminds me, whatever happened to Moses' sons? Last we heard, they had been brought to Moses by his father-in-law (a Midianite). But then we never hear about them. Did they go back with Moses' father-in-law? If so, they (or their descendants) must have been killed in this genocide.

New Testament

The Holy Spirit leads Jesus out into the wilderness where he fasts for 40 days. While there, the devil tempts him in three ways. First, the devil tempts Jesus to feed himself by changing stones to bread. Second, he tempts Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the world. Third, he tempts Jesus by asking him to jump off of a high tower so that the angels will save him.

When looking back at this passage in Matthew, I noticed that the order of the temptations changed. In Matthew the order was: bread, jump, rule. (Mark does not describe specific temptations.) The other thing that I noticed was the was that Luke seems to have a much better grasp of the size of the world. In Matthew we read,
Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.
As we all know, there is no peak high enough for anyone to see all of the world's kingdoms from (plus, there's the whole earth being round problem). In Luke we read,
Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
The phrase "revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time" is much more ambiguous than looking around from the top of a mountain. In particular, it is quite compatible with the devil showing Jesus a vision. Luke is doing his job of providing better narrative structure for the gospel story!

After his sojourn in the dessert, Jesus returned to Galilee where his teachings were well received. Then he goes to his hometown, Nazareth. He stands up in the synagogue on the sabbath and reads some scripture and then claims that he fulfills it. After that,
Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips.
Then he refused to do any miracles for them, and the crowd got angry at them,
Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.
In addition to having a much more antagonistic tone than the version of this story in Matthew and Mark, Luke's version occurs just after Jesus' baptism and temptation. In the first two gospels, it occurs much later after he had gathered up the disciples and done a bunch of other things. This is all perfectly reasonable if you accept that Luke is basically writing fiction based on the existing legends about Jesus. It is not at all reasonable if you want to believe that the gospels contain consistent tellings of the life of Jesus.

Psalms and Proverbs

I learned recently that the standard translation for the Hebrew נפש (nefesh) is pretty much completely wrong, according to Joel Hoffman (And God Said by Joel Hoffman). It is usually translated as "soul". However, based on contextual analysis, it probably means nearly the opposite: those aspects of life which are physically tangible (body, breath, blood, etc.). This has wider ramifications, which I will discuss when I finish and review Hoffman's book.

However, for now I just wanted to note that the alternate translation makes a lot more sense in today's psalm.
My soul [נפש] thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
Doesn't that passage make a lot more sense if נפש means all that makes up your physical being?

נפש is often paired with לבב (levav) in Hebrew. and we see a form of that word לב (lev) in today's Proverbs reading. לבב is often translated as "heart", but that, again, is not a very good translation. A better definition is "those aspects of life which are not physically tangible" (mind, emotion, intuition, etc.). Again, thinking about the contextually derived meaning makes the passage make more sense.
The Lord detests people with crooked hearts [לב],
but he delights in those with integrity.
"Crooked  hearts" is such a familiar phrase, that we can more or less make sense of it in this context, but the concept implied by לב is actually much richer than that implied by the English "heart".

19 March 2010

Mar 19

Reference links:
Old Testament

Descriptions of all the sacrifices to be offered for the various festivals. In summary, lots of bulls, rams, and lambs should get killed and lots of flour should get mixed with olive oil.

New Testament

The complete contents of today's reading is a genealogy of Jesus. As I am sure we all know, this genealogy does not match the one in Matthew 1. There are two traditional apologetics for this. One of the genealogies (traditionally Luke's) is actually Mary's genealogy, not Joseph's, as the text states. Alternately, Joseph had two fathers (e.g., a biological father and a legal one). Neither of these positions has textual support, and it seems much more likely to me that they were both just made up. Wikipedia has a much more detailed discussion.

Of less import but almost as much interest, Luke's genealogy goes from the present back all the way to Noah while Matthew's genealogy goes forward from Abraham.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is pleasant (although still on the inexhaustible topic of protection from enemies).
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. 

18 March 2010

Mar 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

We are reaching the home stretch on this whole dessert wandering adventure:
So these are the results of the registration of the people of Israel as conducted by Moses and Eleazar the priest on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Not one person on this list had been among those listed in the previous registration taken by Moses and Aaron in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, “They will all die in the wilderness.” Not one of them survived except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.
In other news, when land allocations are being decided, the daughters of Zelophehad get an allotment because their father had died without any sons. We learn that when a man dies without leaving any sons, his land may be passed on to his daughters. But the important part of this story is that the man's name was Zelophehad! I like it!

God chooses Joshua to lead the Israelites after Moses' death. It sounds like Moses' death will be coming up soon.

Finally, we get a review of the regular offerings to be given by the community:
  • Daily: 2 one-year-old lambs with no defects. With each lamb, 2 quarts choice flour mixed with 1 quart pure olive oil, and one quart of alcoholic drink.
  • On the sabbath: In addition to the normal offering, 2 one-year-old lambs with no defects, 4 quarts of flour moistened with olive oil, and a liquid offering.
  • On the first day of each month: In addition to the normal offering, 2 young bulls, one ram, and 7 one-year-old male lambs, all defect free, of course. Plus 6 quarts of flour moistened with olive oil per bull, 4 per ram, and 2 per lamb. Plus 2 quarts of wine per bull, 1/3 gallon for the ram, and one quart for each lamb.
New Testament

The time the author of Luke gives for the start of John the Baptist's ministry is very precise.
It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests.
In any case, John starts baptizing people, and he rants at them when he comes to them.
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
At the end of today's reading, we read about how John baptizes Jesus.
One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”
 Maybe I'll be able to get into this book more once I have recovered from the hour time shift.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

17 March 2010

Mar 17

Reference links:
Old Testament

God does not kill anyone today! Yay! I like days of not killing. Instead, Moses conducts another census.

Let's see how each tribe fared in God's recent string of killings (original numbers from the beginning of Numbers):
  • Reuben: 46,500 → 43,730 (-2,700)
  • Simeon: 59,300 → 22,200 (-37,100)
  • Gad: 45,650 → 40,500 (-5,150)
  • Judah: 74,600 → 76,500 (+1,900)
  • Issachar: 54,400 → 64,300 (+9,900)
  • Zebulun: 57,400 → 60,500 (+3,100)
  • Ephraim son of Joseph: 40,500 → 32,500 (-8,000)
  • Manasseh son of Joseph: 32,200 → 52,700 (+20,500)
  • Benjamin: 35,400 → 45,600 (+10,200)
  • Dan: 62,700 → 64,400 (+1,700)
  • Asher: 41,500 → 53,400 (+11,900)
  • Naphtali: 53,400 → 45,400 (-8,000)
Overall, about half the tribes lost population and half gained. Manasseh gained the most, and Simeon lost the most (it was a man from the tribe of Simeon who was sleeping with a Moabite woman; maybe they felt the brunt of those deaths extra heavily). Overall, the population went from 603,550 to 601,730, a net loss of 1820. (And no, there was no real point to that. I just like numbers.)

And, because it entertains me, a list of names from today's reading (* indicates a woman): Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, Carmi, Jemuel, Jamin, Jakin, Zohar, Shaul, Zephon, Haggi, Shuni, Ozni, Eri, Arodi, Areli, Shelah, Perez, Zerah, Hezron, Hamul, Tola, Puah, Jashub, Shimron, Sered, Elon, Jahleel, Makir, Gilead, Iezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Shemida, Hepher, Mahlah*, Noah*, Hoglah*, Milcah*, Tirzah*, Shuthelah, Beker, Tahan, Eran, Bela, Ashbel, Ahiram, Shupham, Hupham, Ard, Naaman, Shuham, Imnah, Ishvi, Beriah, Heber, Mlkiel, Serah*, Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, Shilem.

New Testament

The prophet Anna praises Jesus. Even though I have read this before, I did not remember the prophet Anna. She plays a minor role in this story, but given that the Gospel of Luke supposedly contains the most sympathetic treatment of women, seeing a female prophet seems kind of neat.

Jesus grows up to be healthy and strong and full of wisdom. At the age of twelve, he amazes the religious teachers in the Temple with his questions and answers. He did not tell his parents he was going to be there, so they were rather worried about him. However, Jesus seemed to think that they ought to have known he was there. But, in any case, Jesus was a very obedient child and
grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.
Despite the better narrative structure of this gospel, I am really having trouble getting into it. Somehow "and everyone was perfect and wonderful and obedient to God" does not make for an engaging story.

Psalms and Proverbs

A lot of the psalms have little notes at the beginning. Today's psalm has the most detailed of these yet.
For the choir director: A psalm of David useful for teaching, regarding the time David fought Aram-naharaim and Aram-zobah, and Joab returned and killed 12,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. To be sung to the tune “Lily of the Testimony.”
The psalm itself is same old, same old.

Today's proverb has good advice.
There’s danger in putting up security for a stranger’s debt;
it’s safer not to guarantee another person’s debt.

16 March 2010

Mar 16

Reference links:
Old Testament

As should not come as a surprise after yesterday's readings, Balaam blessed the Israelites for a third time. Apparently, the Israelites have beautiful tents. Also, they are awesome, but I like the part about tents.

Balaam's blessings do not please Balak, but Balak gives one final message. The summary version: the Israelites are totally going to crush everyone. This message is interesting because it has a passage that some claim the author of Matthew was referring to in the story of Jesus' birth (note that this is a weak connection):
I see him, but not here and now.
I perceive him, but far in the distant future.
A star will rise from Jacob;
a scepter will emerge from Israel.
In context it is not ideal, but not really worse than many of the other so-called fulfilled prophecies in the New Testament.

The last part of today's reading talks about how the Israelites were terrible people and had sexual relations with the locals (the Moabites). Some of the people even worshiped their God, Baal. God commanded Moses to execute all those involved in this worship. Then we get an odd little story.
Just then one of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman into his tent, right before the eyes of Moses and all the people, as everyone was weeping at the entrance of the Tabernacle When Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest saw this, he jumped up and left the assembly. He took a spear and rushed after the man into his tent. Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. So the plague against the Israelites was stopped, but not before 24,000 people had died.
God is super pleased by this murder, but that's not what's odd about this story; that, in fact, is perfectly normal for God. The minor weirdness is that Moses was married to a Midianite woman, so this sudden outbreak of anti-Moabite and anti-Midianite sentiment seems odd. The second odd thing is that no earlier passage had mentioned God plaguing anyone in this instance, so where to the 24,000 that had died come from? Both of these weirdnesses are fairly easy to rationalize, but they make the story awkward.

Also, I feel like the God approved penetrating of two people by a spear while having sex is a great opportunity for a feminist analysis. Sadly, I am not up to the task.

New Testament

Jesus is born in a manger. Shepherds come to visit after an angel tells them of Jesus' birth. (Luke's version of the nativity has no wise men or star.) Eight days after his birth, Jesus was presented in the temple, and Simeon, a man who had been waiting for the birth of the Messiah, recognized Jesus as such. This whole story is so familiar that it is hard to find anything new to say.

One thing that has differentiated the Gospel of Luke from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark so far is the emphasis on Jesus' position as the Messiah and the son of God even from before his birth. The first two gospels are much less clear about this. Given just those gospels, it is easy to see how the "adoptionist" belief could come about (this is the belief that Jesus was human and adopted as God's son only when he was baptized by John). The author of Luke, on the other hand, wants to make it clear that that is not his position.

Psalms and Proverbs
Without wise leadership, a nation falls;
there is safety in having many advisers.
Remember this proverb, especially the second part, the next time someone in the intersection of devout Christians and people who complains about the president's "csars". ;-)

15 March 2010

Mar 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

Let's continue the adventures of Balaam! But first, a remark on story continuity. Today we see a painfully obvious seam between what I guess were two versions of Balaam's story. Yesterday we read,
That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”
That verse ended yesterday's reading. In the very next paragraph (the start of today's reading), we read,
So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way.
Either God cannot keep his opinion consistent for one night or the text cannot keep its story straight for two paragraphs. Either way, such inconsistencies prove distracting for the reader.

In any case, that angel of the Lord blockw Balaam's way three times. Balaam cannot see the angel, but his donkey can. Each time the donkey shies away from the angel, Balaam beats him. God eventually gives the donkey the ability to speak, and the two of them have a little dialog about the beating. After this, God opens Balaam's eyes, and he is able to see the angel. The angel lets Balaam know that the donkey has saved his life. If the donkey had not shied away, the angel would have killed Balaam.

Balaam reaches the place where Balak (son of the king of the Moabites) is and
Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth-baal
That has no particular significance, but it is fun to say. Try it three times fast!

Up on Bamoth-baal, Balak and Balaam build 7 altars and sacrifice seven young bulls and seven rams on the seven altars. The goal of this exercise is to persuade God to let Balaam curse the Israelites. After the sacrifices, Balaam goes off to consult with God, and God sends him back with a blessing for the Israelites (surprise!). This upsets Balak, so he tries again. On another hill, they go through the same routine with the same results. They then try again on another hill, but the reading ends before we can see the result. Cliff hanger! (Well, not really; we can guess what's going to happen.)

The particular wording of God's second message to Balak through Balaam is interesting:
God is not a man, so he does not lie.
He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
God does not change his mind? How many times in the last couple weeks has he threatened to exterminate the Israelites and then changed his mind after Moses asked him not to?

New Testament

Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist, Zechariah gets his voice back, and everyone rejoices. Today's readings were rather heavy on verse. We had Balaam's blessings in the Old Testament reading, the Psalm and Proverbs readings, and a prophecy in verse from Zechariah. Zechariah basically prophecies that John will be an awesome prophet of God. And after all that detail about John's conception and birth Luke's perspective zoom's way out:
John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
Psalms and Proverbs
Break off their fangs, O God!
Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord!
May they disappear like water into thirsty ground.
Make their weapons useless in their hands.
May they be like snails that dissolve into slime,
like a stillborn child who will never see the sun.
God will sweep them away, both young and old,
faster than a pot heats over burning thorns.

The godly will rejoice when they see injustice avenged.
They will wash their feet in the blood of the wicked.
This sort of attitude really bugs me. It really triggers my anger when someone who claims to be good rejuices in the suffering of other people. The truly wicked deserve punishment, but those who enjoy the punishment of others are also wicked.

Quite reasonable advice in today's Proverbs reading:
It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbor;
a sensible person keeps quiet.

A gossip goes around telling secrets,
but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.

14 March 2010

Mar 14

Reference links:
Old Testament

Violence! Lots of violence today.

The Canaanites attack the Israelites. The Israelites ask God to help them. He does, and the Israelites completely destroy the Canaanites and all their towns.

The Israelites continue their travels and, of course, complain,
Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!
God punishes the people with poisonous snakes,
So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.
Fortunately, God listens to Moses' prayer.
Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!
Frankly, I find that whole story to be a bit weird. It would, however, fit perfectly in a story book of myths.

The Israelites continue their travels, and, for once, God gives them water before they start complaining about it. Maybe he's learning!

Then back to violence. King Sihon of the Amorites refuses to let the Israelites pass through his land. Instead, he attacks them.
But the Israelites slaughtered them with their swords and occupied their land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River.
A similar thing happened with King Og of Bashan (he he, Og).
The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, along with all his people and his land. Do the same to him as you did to King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon.” And Israel killed King Og, his sons, and all his subjects; not a single survivor remained. Then Israel occupied their land.
The rest of today's reading deals with how Balak, the son of the king of Moab, tried to get Balaam, a dude good at blessing and cursing people, to curse the Israelites. Balaam refuses because God tells him that the Israelites have been blessed.

New Testament

The birth story of Jesus in Luke is quite elaborate compared to that in Matthew (Mark, if you remember, has no birth story). The angel Gabriel, who earlier visited Zechariah, visits Mary and tells her she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Mary visits Elizabeth, and the baby in her womb (John the Baptist) jumps for joy. The Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth. She praises Mary. Mary praises God.

Psalms and Proverbs

Much of the time, Proverbs annoys me greatly, especially when the writings reflect negative attitudes that I have experienced at the hands of Christians. From today's reading,
With their words, the godless destroy their friends,
but knowledge will rescue the righteous.
This is not a verse I have had quoted at me (thankfully), but I have certainly had someone pull away from me because I was an atheist and, therefore, not fit to associate with. It is a painful experience to be on the receiving end of.