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.