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". ;-)