30 June 2010

Jun 30

Reference links:
Old Testament

Israel gets destroyed today. That surprised me. I knew it was coming, but we were just going along, one bad king after another, so to have it actually happen was a surprise. (Actually, it kind of reminds me of when my mother died. She had been sick so long that when she actually died, I was not quite expecting it even though I knew it would happen sometime.)

Israel was destroyed during the reign of King Hoshea of Israel. The Assyrian king, Shalmaneser (cool name!), besieged Samaria, conquered it, and exiled the people.  I remember reading somewhere that only the upper classes were exiled. Which just adds to my opinion that there was quite the disconnect between the religious, political, and military elite and the common people.

The author, of course, blames this downfall on the sins of Israel and its kings. He completely ignores the fact that Israel was a small weak country in between two powerful countries (Egypt and Assyria). In such a geographic and political situation, it was no wonder that Israel eventually fell.

According to the textbook I am currently reading for more background (Understanding The Bible by Stephen Harris), it was probably at this time that that the Torah started mixing together multiple narrative strands. Some of the people of Israel likely fled to Judah, and they would have brought their own oral and/or written traditions. The textual support for this hypothesis comes from the fact that one of the narrative strands has a primarily northern (i.e., Israel-centric) point of view while the other narrative strand has a primarily southern (i.e., Judah-centric) point of view.

After the Israelite ruling classes are exiled, the king of Assyria sends other people to live in the lands.
But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.
I suppose this is a sign of the God of Israel becoming more universal. Before, he was the God of the Israelites only, and while he wanted to destroy everyone else who lived in the promised land, he generally did not demand that they worship him, only that the Israelites not worship their Gods. Now we have God demanding that others worship him, but his power, or at least his concern, is still limited to a small geographic area.

New Testament

Paul travels a bit more. During these travels, he brings a man back to life just by holding him. After that, he talks to some of the religious leaders and tells them that he he will be suffering in prison soon and not see them again. I find these anecdotes interesting because it seems like the author of Acts is walking a fine line of trying to make Paul seem as powerful (and therefore, as authoritative) as possible without making him bigger than Jesus. It is also interesting that, as far as I remember, Paul never mentioned any ability to do miraculous deeds in his own letters.

In any case, Paul shares his misgivings not to get sympathy but rather to encourage them to take his instruction to heart. He warns the leaders against false teachers and then entrusts them to God. Then he leaves.

Psalms and Proverbs

I like the structure of today's psalm. The psalm is telling everyone and everything to praise God. It starts with the highest and most mighty things and moves on to smaller things. Last of all in this listing is humanity and its praise. The structure emphasizes that humanity is only a small part of the universe. And while I cannot get behind the call to "Praise the Lord!" I can certainly get behind this sweeping vision of all creation.

And the first of today's proverbs certainly applies to me,
Fools’ words get them into constant quarrels;
they are asking for a beating.
I am most certainly a fool when it comes to keeping my mouth shut (or, rather, not keeping my mouth shut).

29 June 2010

Jun 29

Reference links:
Old Testament

More kings, some with very short reigns. Each entry is nearly exactly the same. Boring! Even the assassinations are boring (For reference, here's the king chart again.)

We do learn that Menahem of Israel was a pretty terrible guy:
He killed the entire population and ripped open the pregnant women.
Has he no standards? Really, he should have lived up to the standards of David and Joshua and stopped at killing the entire population.

Also, what's with the confusing names? In addition to more J and A names, we read that Pekahiah of Israel was assassinated by Pekah. That's practically the same name!

I bet that this is another point in the Bible where people give up when they are trying to read through the whole thing.

New Testament

Today we read a story about a group of Jews attempting to cast out demons in Jesus' name:
A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.
This is an interesting contract to the story in Mark and Luke:
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”
“Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.
Even though I think the whole idea of demons and the casting out thereof is ridiculous, this contrast does bring up some interesting thoughts about the different attitudes towards "outsiders" at different points in the development of the New Testament canon.

It makes wonder about the early attitudes towards outsiders casting out demons in Jesus' name. Although the first story does not imply that the group in the first story always failed (indeed, it says that "on time when they tried it" they failed), it does have a different feel than the later story. The first story implies that only some have the power/right to use Jesus' name to cast out demons. The second implies anyone does.

The second story in today's reading tells about a riot in Ephesus. The craftsmen of Ephesus were upset because of the effect of Paul's preaching. According to the text, their grievance was thus,
Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!
In this passage, the author undermines his own credibility in two ways. First, he falls into the standard trap of implying that those who had worshiped with the aid of representations thought that the representations were divine. Rather, most religions contemporary with the development of Judaism and Christianity understood that their idols were merely symbols of the divine.

Second, the author seems to need to imply that the Ephesians were upset mainly for economic reasons. Maybe that was the case, but let's look at what was going on here. Their goddess was being threatened. I think that most people would be upset if they thought that someone was trying to eliminate belief in their god. Look at how upset people get at the imaginary "war" on Christmas.

By twice showing that he does not take the beliefs of the people of Ephesus seriously, the author of Acts does serious injury to his reputation, at least in my opinion. If he has to belittle the beliefs of others to prop up his own beliefs, it makes me think his own beliefs may not be worth as much as he wants us to think.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is another psalm of praise for God. It's also another point at which every single natural phenomenon is attributed to God's direct intervention. At least that's more forgivable in poetry.

The second of today's proverbs is awfully similar to Proverbs 17:15. Compare
Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
both are detestable to the Lord.
It is not right to acquit the guilty
or deny justice to the innocent.

28 June 2010

Jun 28

Reference links:
Old Testament

Instead of trying to summarize, I will just link the chart of kings of Israel and Judah that another Bible blogger linked yesterday. The important point (which is to say, the only point I can remember clearly), is that most of the kings have names that start with J. Except for the ones whose names start with A.

I find it kind of odd that King Hazael of Aram named his son after Ben-hadad, the former king of Aram whom Hazael murdered.

We read about Elisha's final prophecy today. He tells King Jehoash of Israel that he will defeat Aram. Then he has Jehoash beat some arrows against the ground. Jehoash does so three times and only then does Elisha bother to tell him that the number of times that Jehoash struck the ground would indicate how soundly he beat Aram (based on some undisclosed scale). How was Jehoash to know?

After Elisha died, his bone apparently had the power to bring people back to life. Creepy.

New Testament

Today we read about Apollos, "an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well." Apparently,
He refuted the Jews with powerful arguments in public debate. Using the Scriptures, he explained to them that Jesus was the Messiah.
It is a pity the author of Acts did not seem to think it worthwhile to repeat these wonderful arguments. I am curious to see whether or not they are any less inane than modern apologetics.

The rest of the reading is about Paul's journeying. We learn that
God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.
Today is the day for miracles transmitted by touch, isn't it?

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing particularly noteworthy.

27 June 2010

Jun 27

Reference links:
Old Testament
At about that time the Lord began to cut down the size of Israel’s territory.
The Old Testament is often presented as a record of God's role in the history of his chosen people. However, when I read things like the books of Kings, it seems to me more like a record of people trying to interpret the twists and turns of history as the manifestation of God's will.

Now that we are no longer isolated tribes and kingdoms but have a wider view of the rise and fall of countries and peoples, it seems almost silly the way that the books of the Bible attribute every success or hardship directly to God's plan. The very idea of a chosen people lacks credibility when you see that their ups and downs are no different than those of everyone else.

Back to the reading. In Israel, King Jehu dies and is succeeded by his son Jehoahaz. In Judah, After Ahaziah's death, his mother, Athaliah, kills all of his children and becomes queen. However, one child manages to escape with the aid of Ahazia's sister Jehosheba. Athaliah does not seem like a pleasant person. In addition to having murdered her grandchildren, everyone seems quite ready to rebel against her when the rescued child, Joash, is made king at age seven.

Joash is made king due to the actions of the priest Jehoiada (keeping all these names straight? I'm not). Jehoiada makes a convenant bewteen God, the king, and the people. He also starts a campaign of destroying the worship of Baal. As of this point, Jehu has cleared out the Baal worshippers in Israel and Jehoiada under Joash has cleared them out in Judah.

Joash has a long reign and acts in ways that are pleasing to the Lord (including repairing the temple). However, as is usual, he is still not perfect: he does not destroy all the pagan shrines nor does he stop people from worshiping there.

Worship of non-Yahweh deities is so persistent that it seems obvious that Yahweh was not considered the god of the people. Seen in that light, the systematic destruction of anyone and anyplace dedicated to worship of other Gods takes on the flavor of a military and priestly elite forcing their beliefs onto the common people. When I look at it that way, I feel sorry for the worshipers of Baal and the pagan deities.

New Testament

More travels of Paul: Corinth, Cenchrea, Ephesus, Caesarea, Jerusalem, and back to Antioch. The standard pattern is followed:  Paul preaches, some people are converted, others are not. Sometimes people get mad at him and chase him out of town.

I do find this scene entertaining:
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.”
This seems like rather unnecessary advice. One thing Paul has never been is silent. Over and over (and over and over and over) again we have seen Paul preaching and teaching his beliefs, regardless of his own safety.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing particularly noteworthy.

26 June 2010

Jun 26

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today is a bloody, bloody day. Jehu kills King Joram of Israel as well as King Ahaziah of Judah in his quest for the throne of Israel. He then kills everyone who might be a threat to him: any relative, friend, or associate of Ahab, the former king. Some of the gruesome highlights. Jezebel, the wife of Ahab and mother of Joram, was killed like this:
So they threw her out the window, and her blood spattered against the wall and on the horses. And Jehu trampled her body under his horses’ hooves.
Next, he has all of Ahab's sons killed and their head sent to him and placed in heaps.
Now the seventy sons of the king were being cared for by the leaders of Samaria, where they had been raised since childhood. When the letter arrived, the leaders killed all seventy of the king’s sons. They placed their heads in baskets and presented them to Jehu at Jezreel.
The final gruesome highlight is the massacre of the followers of Baal. Jehu gathers all of the priests and followers of Baal for what he claims will be a huge sacrifice. He then traps them all in the temple of Baal and his men murder them all.

The amount of death and destruction wrought by Jehu must have been sickening to behold (at least for one with modern sentiments). Even if Joram was corrupt and terrible and even if this was supposedly of fulfillment of God's prophecies against Ahab and Jezebel, I just cannot like Jehu after he led such a bloody, compassion free rebellion. Fortunately, I don't think I am expected too since after all of this he
did not obey the Law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit.
New Testament

Paul and Silas continue to go around preaching. Some of the Jews and gentiles in the cities where they preach accept them. Others are jealous and cause trouble for them.

Paul then continues onto Athens where he preaches to the council there. He seems to have received a more friendly reception there, quite possibly because the people of Athens were much more open to new ideas and discourse.
It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.
As usual, Paul convinced some of them and not others. Paul shows that he has a much better understanding of the human mind than Jesus did. Instead of starting with a condemnation of those he was trying to persuade, Paul started by complimenting them:
Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
When I was in Athens with my family, we visited the Areopagus, where this group met. While we were there we saw a man dressed as Paul reciting some scripture (I am guessing this passage). Biblical LARPing!

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm has lots of nice lines, but somehow fails to come together as a coherent whole (in English translation, at least).

I do like today's proverbs, even if I do often have problems using few words:
A truly wise person uses few words;
a person with understanding is even-tempered.

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent;
with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

25 June 2010

Jun 25

Reference links:
Old Testament

Elisha continues to favor the kind woman from Shunem. He warned her of an upcoming famine, so she and her family went elsewhere for the duration. Once they returned, she went to the king to ask for the return of her home and land. Just as she arrived, Gehazi, Elisha's servant, was telling the king about the time Elisha brought the woman's son back to life. The king was so excited to meet the woman and her son, that he promises them everything they lost,
including the value of any crops that had been harvested during her absence
Since she was gone during a famine, that's probably not saying much.

We then read about th death of King Ben-Hadad of Aram. This is the guy who, in yesterday's reading, tried to have Elisha killed for thwarting his attacks against Israel. Today, Ben-Hadad sends gives to Elisha along with an inquiry as to whether or not he will survive his sickness. One wonders why Ben-Hadad thought he'd get a good reception.

Ben-Hadad's messanger was Hazael. Hazael asks if the king will recover and Elisha says:
And Elisha replied, “Go and tell him, ‘You will surely recover.’ But actually the Lord has shown me that he will surely die!”
We then read that Elisha sees into the future and the terrible things that Hazael will do as king of Aram:
I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!
Hazael's response shows us a lot about his disposition:
Hazael responded, “How could a nobody like me ever accomplish such great things?”
He did not deny that he would do these things given the power. He only denied that he would have the power to do such things.

Elisha then reveals that Hazael will be king. At which point, Hazael goes back home and murders Ben-Hadad. Ben-Hadad does not die of his sickness. He is murdered by Hazael after Elisha tells him that he will become king. It seems to me that Elisha is partially responsible for this murder. He's the one who told Hazael that Ben-Hadad would die and that Hazael would become king. Perhaps Hazael would have murdered Ben-Hadad anyway, but it seems to me that Elisha inspired Hazael to muder as soon as he returned home.

And... more kings of Israel and Judah. Some of them we have heard about. Others are new. As of the end of this reading, Ahaziah rules Judah and Jehu has just been secretly anointed king of Israel.

New Testament

Some things about human nature never change. Today we read about how Paul and Silas were imprisoned because of financial dispute. The two men had exorcised a demon from a slave girl. Her owners were making money from her possession and resented this. Thus, Paul and Silas end up in prison.

This story gives some interesting insights into the role of the author of Acts in the ministries of Paul and Silas. He was not active; he seems to have been just an observer or, perhaps, and observer and recorder. You can tell because Paul and Silas were the ones sent to prison, not the author (a noticeable shift from "we" back to "they").

In any case, a miraculous earthquake breaks down the prison. That seems like a lot of probable destruction to the town just to free Paul and Silas. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, Paul, Silas, and all the prisoners stay put. This convinces the guard to listen to Paul and Silas, and he and his whole family convert.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is a poignant description of unfulfilled faith. Over and over again in this psalm, the poet expresses his faith in God along with his fear and loss of hope. He is counting on God to come to him quickly and save him from the despair he is falling into. And yet, in the context of the psalm, he is never saved. He is never helped.

I never was a believer, but I have read stories of those who deconverted, and it seems that this psalm speaks to a common experience of many ex-believers. They start feeling twinges of doubt, but they have full faith that God will rescue them. When he fails to, their doubt becomes stronger, until finally they despair and give up faith. The happy ending to these stories is that they then realize that they can actually live quite well without faith or religion. (I'm not claiming that the last step always happens, but it generally did for atheist bloggers or those people who are sharing their story on an atheist blog.)

Interesting proverb:
It is wrong to punish the godly for being good
or to flog leaders for being honest.
To ever so briefly comment on current events... flogging our leaders seems like a perfect description of what the media does whenever a politician dares to speak honestly, dares to speak their mind against convention or the party line. They get villainized, analyzed,  and generally abused. And yet, we should appreciate it when our leaders share truth with us. We may not agree, but we should respect the fact that they are not just pandering the perceived desires of popular opinion.

24 June 2010

Jun 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

Random miracle! Elisha and a group of prophets build a new meeting place. In the process, one of them drops a borrowed ax head. Elisha makes it float to the surface so it can be retrieved. I am glad borrowed goods will be returned successfully and all, but I don't completely see the point of this story (other than, I suppose, to continue showing that Elisha is powerful).

Elisha seems to have a much better relationship with the King of Israel than Elijah did. In today's reading, Elisha repeatedly warns the king where the Arameans plan to attack so that Israel can counter them. Eventually, the King of Aram catches on and tries to capture Elisha. Elisha calls upon the power of the Lord to trick the attacking army and trap them in Samaria, which seems to be the current acting capital of Israel. We then get this intriguing tidbit:
When the king of Israel saw them, he shouted to Elisha, “My father, should I kill them? Should I kill them?”
“Of course not!” Elisha replied. “Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.”
The bit I find interesting is Elisha's "Of course not!". From the first pages of Joshua down through the battles of David, the answer has been "Of course!", and God heap punishment upon those who did not kill their war prisoners. When did this transition from "Of course!" to "Of course not!" happen, and why did we not hear more about it?

The rest of today's reading talks about the King of Aram's siege of Samaria. The city experiences a great famine, and eventually people start to eat their own children. The King of Israel fetches Elisha, intending to kill him because of the hardships visited upon the city. Although this might seem like a bad thing, it seems to be the very thing which spurred Elisha to action. It was not until the king took action that Elisha and/or the Lord saw fit to save Samaria.

In any case, God caused the Arameans to hears the sound of a great army approaching, and they fled. The people of the city of Samaria were then able to pillage the belongings the army left behind. Hurrah for no more starvation!

New Testament

Today we shift from what has been our narrative for the last few days (the adventures of Paul and Barnabas) to a new mode. Paul and Barnabas go separate ways over a disagreement over who they should take with them. Paul then starts to travel with Silas. As they start to travel, we get a super sudden (like, almost mid-thought) shift from third person to first person plural.

According to the footnote, this is where Luke joined Paul. This seems reasonable because the rest of today's reading becomes a lot more detailed about the travels of Paul and his companions. I could believe that Acts up until this point was written by someone who had the earlier parts told to them. Since the relation was second hand, those parts were less detailed. Now that the author is actually travelling with the person he is writing about, the level of detail increases.

Another interesting tidbit from today's reading: one of the converts in Macedonia is Lydia from Thyatira who is a merchant. Yay for female entrepreneurs!

Psalms and Proverbs

David continues to put his faith in God and cry for rescue from his enemies.

23 June 2010

Jun 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

Elisha totally continues to prove himself the model which the New Testament writers looked to when deciding what miracles should be attributed to Jesus. He brings a boy back to life, he feeds 100 people with 20 loaves of barley bread and a sack of grain, and he heals a leper. In addition, he removes poison from a stew.

Today's reading also gives the impression that Elisha is not exactly social. Originally, he did not want to go to the dead boy. Instead, he just wanted to send his servant. The mother of the boy insisted that he come (and it is a good thing he did since the servant's action did not bring the boy back to life). Later, when Elisha heals Naaman, the leper, he sends a messenger out to him instead of meeting with him. Elisha later meets with Naaman after he is healed, but I get the impression that Elisha does not like to be too directly involved with the miracles. Maybe it is because he is shy or humble or anti-social. Maybe he figures that by not showing himself before the miracle has occurred, he can get the miracle recipient to focus on God instead of himself.

Also, we learn that Elisha's servant, Gehazi, cannot resist worldly temptation. Naaman offers Elisha many gifts. Elisha refuses them, but Gehazi later tricks Naaman into giving those gifts. As punishment, Elisha infects Gehazi with Naaman's leprosy (Gehazi and all his descendants, which seems a little unfair).

New Testament

The topic of today's reading is which parts of the Mosaic law do the gentile followers of Christ have to obey. In particular, Paul and Barnabas were dealing with the question of whether or not gentile believers needed to be circumcised. The general consensus is that since the believers are receiving the gifts of the holy spirit without circumcision, it need not be required. Instead, the gentile believers need only:
abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood.
The demands that the gentile believers were circumcised came from believers who were Pharisees. Given the way Pharisees are represented in the gospels, this might cause some people to immediately dismiss this concern. Of course Paul and Barnabas were right and gentile believers do not need to be circumcised!

I think, however, it is worth investigating more closely why the Pharisees might have thought this necessary. My guess is that, despite the representation of the Pharisees in the gospels, the Pharisees did not see obeying the law as a matter of right or wrong, justification or lack thereof. Instead, I hypothesize that they saw living by the law as a way of living a more pure life and, therefore, putting themselves in a mindset which would make them more accepting of God's presence. Thus, this debate was not just a matter of blind following of the law verses God's true desires.

And given that the decision in Jerusalem was only reached after a long decision, I am guessing that the apostles in Jerusalem did not think that this issue was trivial to decide either.

Psalms and Proverbs

Another psalm which cries for help. I find it interesting that this psalm seems to reinforce the idea that rebuke and correction should be welcomed when it is from the right person:
Let the godly strike me!
It will be a kindness!
If they correct me, it is soothing medicine.
Don’t let me refuse it. 

22 June 2010

Jun 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Too tired for commentary, so I'll settle with making sure we all stay up to date on the plot.

Moab rebels. Joram attacks. Jehoshaphat joins. King of Edom joins. Elisha calls on God for miraculous water. Elisha predicts victory for Joram and co. Joram and co. win.

Elisha calls forth miraculous oil, reminiscent of the loaves and fish (if "reminiscent" is the right word for a book that came long before the gospels). Elisha promises a woman a son in her old age reminiscent of all of the other babies given to those who could not have them.

New Testament

Paul and Barnabas are mistaken for Greek gods (Hermes and Zeus, respectively). They protest against it. They almost fail to restrain the people from sacrificing to them. The crowd proves fickle. Paul is stoned. He lives. They travel to other cities. They travel back to Antioch.

Psalms and Proverbs

Violent psalm. Good proverb.

21 June 2010

Jun 21

Reference links:
Old Testament

Started 2 Kings today. No summary needed because 1 and 2 Kings are pretty much one book. In fact, I hardly noticed we had made a transition until the fact of Elijah's being taken up tickled some neurons.

The King of Israel after Ahab was Ahaziah. He was destined to die because his father had sinned against God. He morally injured himself falling through the latticework of an upper room of his palace. Being somewhat interested in the architecture of the home, the description of Ahaziah's injury made me wonder about the home in ancient Israel. What were the living quarters of palaces like? What were common homes like? Did they follow the typical Mideastern/Mediterranean courtyard plan, favored for it's cool interior? How were they arranged within the community? Were homes clustered or spread out? Make me want to reread The House: Its Origins and Evolution. Anywho, that's completely beside the point of today's readings.

God decides to let Ahaziah die because he has the presumption to try to ask another God whether or not he will live. Elijah is referred to as "Elijah from Tishbe" as if there's some other Elijah we might get him confused with. The fire of God, summoned by Elijah, kills 100 men who were doing nothing more than following the king's orders (and not even being that pushy about it); Elijah didn't let up on the killing until the king's captain groveled.

After this, Elijah is taken into heaven by a whirlwind accompanied by a chariot of fire. Jesus didn't get anything as cool as that. Elisha inherits Elijah's power. He immediately uses it for some good (purifying the water in the town of Jericho) and then some bad (killing 42 children who made fun of him). If the text supported it at all, it would be so easy to frame this in terms of Elisha getting use to his power; he does not realize how much power his curses have now and so unintentionally murders the children. Instead, it appears that he is just a jerk with power (but he's God's jerk with power, so it's all okay, right?).

New Testament

Today's reading is easy to sum up: Paul and Barnabas preach to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Some Jews resent that and acted against them. The reading does contain this interesting line:
and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers.
One point for predestination, I suppose.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm talks about how God knows you completely and knows everything you do. Super inspiring to believers, I can guess, but super creepy to the rest of us.

I am intrigued by today's first proverb:
Anyone who loves to quarrel loves sin;
anyone who trusts in high walls invites disaster.
Looking at the different translations, this is obviously a difficult proverb. To me, this makes the most sense if it is understood metaphorically. The one verse on that link which translates this metaphorically (which, it's worth noting, claims to be from the same translation I am reading) as well as the text notes on the first translation imply that this should be taken as boasting inviting disaster. This is obviously not a metaphor in usage in the US these days. But I find it interesting that there is a metaphorical interpretation that makes sense in modern US metaphor (and is, therefore, almost certainly completely divorced from the actual text): high walls could be seen as cutting oneself off emotionally.

20 June 2010

Jun 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read a kind of weird story about a bunch of prophets. King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah want to wage war against the King of Aram. They ask the prophets whether or not they should attack, and the prophets say yet. Then ask one more prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah, and he says they should not attack (after sarcastically saying that they should).

Then Micaiah implies that God intentionally mislead all of the other prophets so that Ahab would go to war and be killed:
Then Micaiah continued, “Listen to what the Lord says! I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’
“There were many suggestions, and finally a spirit approached the Lord and said, ‘I can do it!’
“‘How will you do this?’ the Lord asked.
“And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’
“‘You will succeed,’ said the Lord. ‘Go ahead and do it.’
The whole setup here is bizarre. Prophets being misled, God using such roundabout ways of killing Ahab, God taking advice from a bunch of random spirits. All very strange.

In any case, the kings go to battle, and Ahab dies despite hiding amongst the common soldiers. The rest of the reading is taken up with the descriptions of more kings. Jehoshaphat of Judah  was pretty good but not great. Ahaziah of Israel was terrible.

New Testament

Paul gives a history of the Israelites to bolster his case that Jesus is the Messiah and then gives a little of the history of Jesus. This is all to make the point that through Jesus people can be saved. Not a super interesting day.

Psalms and Proverbs

Some more good proverbs, especially the second one.
A friend is always loyal,
and a brother is born to help in time of need.

It’s poor judgment to guarantee another person’s debt
or put up security for a friend.

19 June 2010

Jun 19

Reference links:
Old Testament

King Ben-hadad of Aram mobilizes his forces against Israel. Anticipating victory, he send a message to King Ahab of Israel:
Your silver and gold are mine, and so are your wives and the best of your children!
I find it hilarious that Ben-hadad only demands the best of Ahab's children. I guess he does not want to be bothered with the possession of inferior children.

Ahab seems perfectly happy to give all of these things to Ben-hadad, but draws the line when Ben-hadad insists that he also be allowed to send people in to take everything valuable in the palace. That, in my opinion, shows a bit of mix up in priorities on Ahab's part.

Now Ahab is motivated to battle, and, with God's approval and help, he beats Ahab twice. However, Ahab ruins any cred he might have earned with God when he refuses to kill Bed-hadad and, instead, makes a treaty with him. As punishment, an unnamed prophet tells Ahab that he and his people will die.

After that, we break the flow of the narrative for a story which gets the same result (Ahab is screwed) in a different way. This story also brings Elijah back into the thick of it.

Ahab wanted a vineyard for a vegetable garden but the owner would not sell it. Jezebel takes care of the situation and has the man murdered. Ahab then buys the vineyard. God did not like this and so had Elijah curse Jezebel and Ahab. Ahab repents and so God decides,
I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.
So because Ahab fasted and wore burlap, he gets to make his children suffer his punishment? God has a warped sense of justice (but then, we knew that).

New Testament

Saul and Barnabas do more preaching and travelling, travelling and preaching. We learn that Saul is also known as Paul (well, we all knew that, but this is the first time the text has mentioned it).

In one of the cities where Barnabas and Saul preached, we have another interesting use of miraculous powers. Saul is confronting a sorcerer who is trying to prevent them from preaching to the governor.
Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. Then he said, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him.
When the governor saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.
Two things strike me about this story. First, Saul invoked the power of the Lord to cause someone harm. This seems very out of character with Jesus' use of heavenly power. Other than the fig tree incident, it seems like Jesus used his miraculous powers for good, not harm. If he wanted to cause harm, he pulled out his fists (okay, that was pretty much just in the temple, but still, he could have smote them then, but he chose not to).

The other thing that strikes me is that the governor is said to convert because "he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord". Based on what we saw, it seems like we never got around to teaching. The governor converted because he was impressed by Saul's power.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm seems to have been written while the Israelites were banished to Babylon (we haven't gotten there yet in our readings). I am not sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, it conveys a touching image of homesickness and longing. On the other hand, it contains these lines:
Happy is the one who takes your babies
and smashes them against the rocks!
Not so big on that sentiment.

18 June 2010

Jun 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

Elijah flees for his life and, in the process, sleeps under a broom tree. And what's a broom tree? This is a broom tree:
I am guessing that it is a tree whose branches were suitable for making brooms.

After some wandering in despair, Elijah talks to God on Mount Sinai. I do have to admit that I like the description of Elijah's conversation with God. It really shows the transition between the older (violent, wandered around with the Israelites) and newer (more distant but also becoming more universal) visions of the God of the Israelites.
And as Elijah stood there, the Lordpassed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
God is not the violence, but he causes it. And yet, God's whisper is more awe inspiring than the earthquake or wind storm.

God gives Elijah a new assignment.
Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet. Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha! Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!
7000 out of who? Out of everyone? If so, then God is putting into motion a massive massive murder campaign. And yet, I cannot think what other group these 7000 could come from.

Finally, today's reading finishes when Elijah gets as far as finding Elisha in his new assignment.

New Testament

Apparently Herod Agrippa had James killed and Peter imprisoned. Peter then miraculously escapes from prison. This story reminds me of the recent story which included Phillip teleporting. It just feels out of place and made up in a way that Jesus' miracles did not. I think that is because Jesus' miracles were (a) in aid of others and (b) something that happened intentionally. In both today's story and the teleportation story, things just happen to people. Poof! A man disappears! Poof! Another gets out of his chains. They feel less like miracles and more like the tricks of magician.

In any case, Peter's escape annoyed Herod, so he killed some people and then went to Caesarea. I was in Caesarea. It was a very nice place, right on the Mediterranean. You can walk on the old Roman aqueduct that was built in the time of Herod the Great. Back to business. Herod died when the Lord struck him with sickness. He was consumed by worms. Ewww.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm has a different structure than the others we have seen so far. Every other line is the same:
His faithful love endures forever.
Between those repetitions are praise for God and a description of all the wonderful things he has done (most of which involve killing people).

This psalm also gives a hint of ancient Hebrew cosmology:
Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.
Many people think that Genesis describes creation from nothing. However, a closer reading of the Biblical texts show that the Israelites did not see the universe this way. Rather, they modeled the universe as a bunch of water-like substance in which God created the earth. With that in mind, we can read see the same imagery used in Genesis as in here:
The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
and later
Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.”
and finally
Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.”
In other news, we get some good proverbs today. In fact, we have had a pretty good run lately.  Much better than when we kept reading about wisdom.
Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate,
so stop before a dispute breaks out.
Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
both are detestable to the Lord.

17 June 2010

Jun 17

Reference links:
Old Testament

It's huge! It's amazing! It's Elijah's prophet v. prophets extravaganza! On one side, we have the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. On the other side we have Elijah, the last prophet of the Lord, the only survivor of Jezebel's killing of God's prophets.

Today, our two sides are going to participate in a bull burning challenge! Which side will be able to get their god to burn a bull? Let's watch and find out.

Elijah lets the prophets of Baal go first. They are preparing the bull and putting it on the altar. Now they start to dance around the altar and call on Baal. Let's see what happens.


It's noontime now, and the prophets of Baal seem to have gotten no response. It looks like Elijah is throwing out some taunts, and some pretty low hitting ones at that.
“You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
Harsh. Baal's prophets are getting desperate. They have resorted to cutting themselves with knives and swords. That's gotta hurt.


It's evening now, and the prophets of Baal are still going at it. But it looks like Elijah is making his move! He is preparing the bull. It looks like he's building something to put it on... an altar of some sort? Yes, it's an altar build from twelve stones. Look at that use of symbolism!

Now what is he doing? He's digging a trench? Is that for the blood? Wait, no! He's having his assistants pour water on the bull and the wood and the altar. And now he's having them add more. And yet more! The trench is filled. Everything is soaked. It will take a miracle to make this pile burn.

Now Elijah is praying in front of the altar. We cannot quite hear what he's saying, but he's certainly less active than the prophets of Baal.

And now, what's this? Fire is flashing down from the sky! The bull is burning, the wood is burning, even the water is evaporating! Elijah's done it! He invoked his god and burned the bull. He's the winner! And the crowd goes wild.

Oooh, maybe a bit too wild. Elijah's told them to capture all of the other prophets so that he can kill them. Due to federal regulations, we must end our program now and avoid showing you that bloody scene.


Seriously though, isn't kind of suspicious how these days the God of the Israelites would be about as successful as Baal in a situation like this?

New Testament

The believers in Jerusalem do not approve of Peter's associating with Gentiles. Then he explains it to them and they do approve. Goody!

Continuing the current theme of expansion of the church to include Gentiles, we read about how members of the church in Antioch also started to preach to Gentiles. Eventually Barnabas and Saul start teaching there and win many followers.

We also read about how during this time one of the believers predicted a famine, a prediction which was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius. This would be more impressive if the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54) had not ended had not ended 6 years before what scholars consider the earliest date for the composition of Acts.

Psalms and Proverbs

After our short run of short psalms, we get a rather long one. Today's psalm is a combination psalm of praise and history.

Today's second proverb is an interesting one:
If you repay good with evil,
evil will never leave your house.
So repaying good with evil is bad. What about the other three combinations. Obviously, repaying good with good is good. And the "turn the other cheek" school of thought would have us believe that replaying evil with good is good. Does it, therefore, symmetrically follow that following evil with evil is bad? Or is it more ambiguous than that?

16 June 2010

Jun 16

Reference links:
Old Testament

Lots of churn in Israel today. We go into a bit more detail about the short reigns of Nadab son of Jeroboam and Baasha (who is, apparently, the son of Ahijah; I wonder if that's the same Ahijah as the prophet).

In particular, we learn that Baasha became king when he killed Nadab. Baasha rules for quite a while (24 years) and then we start cycling through kings quickly. First Baasha's son Elah becomes king. After 2 years, Zimri, a leader in the army, murders Elah while he is drunk. He only reigns for 7 days before the people decide they don't want a murderer for a king and instead choose the commander of the army, Omri, to be king. Tibni tries to become king but gets killed. After Omri's death, his son Ahab begins to rule.

By this time, the writing is pretty formulaic. Throughout the descriptions of the various kings of Judah, we see the repeated themes of
  • the new king being even more evil than any of the kings before
  • the new king killing all of the descendants of the old king
  • God getting angry at the evil of the new king
  • the new king eventually failing (sometimes this failure is only declared and happens to the son of the king, sometimes the failure happens to the king directly)
We also read this random throwback to Joshua 6:
It was during his reign that Hiel, a man from Bethel, rebuilt Jericho. When he laid its foundations, it cost him the life of his oldest son, Abiram. And when he completed it and set up its gates, it cost him the life of his youngest son, Segub. This all happened according to the message from the Lord concerning Jericho spoken by Joshua son of Nun.
This is in reference to Joshua's curse upon anyone who tried to rebuild Jericho.

These elements make me think that this whole section was composed just to fit a certain pattern, to check off certain requirements in the mind of the author(s). It has little narrative value and seems to have little direct symbolic value. Rather, the narrative value seems to be "the kings were bad" and the symbolic value probably has something to do with the number of kings and the contrast of the churn of these kings with the stable reign of Asa of Judah.

After all that, we switch gears and meet Elijah. He gives a prophecy against King Ahab. He then goes off to live in the wilderness where God sends ravens to feed him. He eventually goes to live with a widow and her son. While living with her, the Lord makes sure that she always has flour and oil enough to feed the three of them. After the widow's son dies, Elijah brings him back to life.

If these sorts of miracles seem kind of familiar, you'd be right. Even after one days reading, we can see that the authors of the gospels had Elijah in mind when they attributed various miracles to Jesus.

New Testament

Peter visits Cornelius. Even though Cornelius is a gentile, Peter visits him. His earlier vision with the unclean animals helped him realize that he can and should interact with gentiles. The descent of the Holy Spirit onto those gentiles only serves to reinforce this position.

It makes perfect sense that as the apostles started to realize that Jesus' return was not actually immanent they would try to find ways to strengthen their community. Perhaps they had grown all they could staying strictly within the Jewish community, so they felt like it was time to branch out and start accepting gentiles.

Psalms and Proverbs

We seem to be in a section of super short psalms. Today is only three verses.

This is a good proverb:
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,
but dwelling on it separates close friends.
and this one reminds me of the Tea Party...
Evil people are eager for rebellion,
but they will be severely punished.
'Tis one thing to recognize when a rebellion is necessary. 'Tis another to actually want one to happen.

15 June 2010

Jun 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

Ack! Too many characters possess similar names. Bad Bible author, bad! No biscuit. Ahijah prophecies that Jeroboam's son Abijah will die (and he does). Later we read how Abijam rules Judah after Rehoboam. I am guessing that after today, I will have no memory of which one was which.

In any case, back to the plot. Jeroboam send his wife to a prophet (Ahijah) to inquire about the sickness of their son (Abijah). Despite her disguise and the prophet's blindness, he knew that his visitor was Jeroboam's wife. He informed her that God would,
will bring disaster on [Jeroboam's] dynasty and will destroy every one of [Jeroboam's] male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will burn up your royal dynasty as one burns up trash until it is all gone. The members of Jeroboam’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures. I, the Lord, have spoken.’ ... Go on home, and when you enter the city, the child will die.
As usual, this group punishment grates upon modern sensibilities; we just no longer accept that it is appropriate to punish a man's family for his sins.

The child dies, of course. Then Jeroboam reigned in Israel for 22 years. His reign was not a peaceful one, but still, 22 years seems like a long time for someone to rule after a threat from God. In addition, his son Nadab became the next king.

At this point, the narrative gets a bit confusing because the reigns of the kings of Judah are interleaved with the reigns of the kings of Israel. In Israel, we have Jeroboam then Nadab then Baasha. In Judah we have Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa, and Jehosophat. This seems to be a period of frequent, if not constant, war between the kingdoms. As far as we are told, the only one of these kings who followed the ways of God was Asa (although even he was willing to use bribery to get another king, the king of Aram, to break his treaty with Israel and agree to a new treaty with Judah).

New Testament

Today we learn about the devout Roman officer, Cornelius. Spurred on by a vision from God, Cornelius invited Peter to his home. He was given this honor, at least in part, because his
prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering
The idea that gifts to the poor count as offerings in this new religion is a nice one. It certainly beats out the Deuteronomic standard where offerings were for the priests.

(That said, we should not fall into the mistake of assuming that Deuteronomic Judaism or the beliefs and actions attributed to the Jews by the authors of the New Testament were representative of actual Jewish belief at the time. At the time of Jesus and his contemporaries, Judaism was a dynamic and changing religion, and many of the ideas that gave rise to Christianity were floating amongst the Jews at the time.)

Back to the plot. Peter accepts the invitation from Cornelius, but not before he has a vision telling him to eat all sorts of things that he considered unclean.
Peter went up on the flat roof to pray. It was about noon, and he was hungry. But while a meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”
“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”
But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.”  The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.
I can tell Peter what this means. It means it's time to go eat some bacon!

Psalms and Proverbs

Short psalm today, but a nice one. The psalmist is reflecting on harmony.
How wonderful and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in harmony!
Harmony is wonderful and pleasant!

The second of today's proverbs is about bribes. It is rather interesting in light of today's reading about Asa. Both that reading and this proverb imply that bribes are not necessarily bad (although I think they are).
A bribe is like a lucky charm;
whoever gives one will prosper!

14 June 2010

Jun 14

Reference links:
Old Testament

So I never mentioned the details of what happened to the land of Israel in yesterday's reading. Israel was divided into two parts, Israel and Judah. Judah was ruled by Solomon's son Rehoboam, and Israel was ruled by some random dude, Jeroboam.

Today, we see that Jeroboam is not going to last long. He fears that the people will turn back to Rehoboam if they go to Jerusalem to worship. To prevent this he has two golden calves created and placed in the kingdom of Israel. He and the people worship and sacrifice at these idols and at restored pagan temples.

This, of course, displeased God, so he sent a man to utter a prophecy against Jeroboam. The prophecy itself is very specific, and if someone in the modern age could pull out such a specific prophecy, it would be a great boon to the whole idea of prophets and prophecy:
O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.
The altar then splits apart as a sign that the prophecy truly was from God.

Sadly for this prophet things come to a bad end. God had instructed him not to eat or drink until he returned to the land of Judah. However, another prophet wanted to meet him, so the second prophet lied to the first prophet and said that God had sent him a message telling him to invite the first prophet to eat.

The first prophet believes the second prophet, and they eat together. God then uses the second prophet to convey his annoyance:
Then while they were sitting at the table, a command from the Lord came to the old prophet. He cried out to the man of God from Judah, “This is what the Lord says: You have defied the word of the Lord and have disobeyed the command the Lord your God gave you. You came back to this place and ate and drank where he told you not to eat or drink. Because of this, your body will not be buried in the grave of your ancestors.”
The first prophet then departs for home and is eaten by a lion. The second prophet buries his body and seems truly grieved. I am not quite sure what the purpose of this story is. Is it to show that these times were so ungodly that even the prophets were not in tune with God? Was the point to encourage people not to listen to others if they thought they had a mission from God? I don't know!

New Testament

The Christians in Jerusalem are suspicious of Saul's conversion. Barnabas brought him to the apostles, and they seem to have accepted his conversion. With approval from the apostles, Saul seems to have gained the reputation necessary to preach to the people of Jerusalem. However, his old allies, the Jews in Jerusalem, threatened to kill him after he argued with them, so the rest of the community of believers sent Saul back to his home town.

The line at the end of that section caught my attention.
The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.
The early history of the Christian church is often portrayed as a time of relentless persecution. However, this shows that there were, in fact, times of peace and growth.

Oh yeah, and Peter performs a couple more miracles, including raising a woman from the dead.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is interesting in light of our current Old Testament readings. The poet asks the Lord to remember David and the promises made to him. I wonder when this was written.

13 June 2010

Jun 13

Reference links:
Old Testament

In a way I cannot quite put my finger on, the tone of today's reading feels different from what we have read in Kings so far. Certainly, it is more narrative than the recent temple/palace catalog, but we have seen cases before where fairly similar tone was maintained despite the difference in style. This just sounds like an altogether different source. Given that Kings was compiled from many sources, it may very well be.

There is an obvious and simple understanding of today's reading. Solomon sinned by marrying foreign wives and aiding them in their worship of foreign gods. For that, God punished him by declaring that Solomon had rendered the covenant between himself and Solomon's descendants null and void and, therefore, splitting the kingdom of Israel in two and giving most of it to someone else. I suppose God would think it a just punishment of Solomon's straying to let him live out the rest of his life and then punish his descendants.

However, what I see in this reading is a struggle between different tribal gods. In particular, since it was Solomon's wives who were blamed for causing him to stray, I am guessing the author is giving his own version of the struggle between worshiping a fertility goddess and worshiping a god of war. Here's how that might of looked.

Solomon's reign was fairly peaceful, especially compared to his father's reign. During this time of peace, the war god Yahweh started to seem inadequate, so the Israelites went back to their pantheistic roots and revived worship of fertility goddesses. These deities proved to be better suited to the times of prosperity.

The author of the source(s) that went into today's reading was writing from a vantage point where the kingdom of Israel had already been divided. He needed something to blame. Since strife had once again brought the war god Yahweh into a position of prominence, the author blamed worship of other gods for the trouble that happened later. By this point, the myth of history declared that the Israelites had always been monotheistic and so the worship of these alternate deities was attributed to Solomon's foreign wives.

Also, 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines? For reals?

New Testament

Saul converts. He sees a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus and starts to declare him to be the son of God. One thing that we can say about Saul is that he is nothing if not enthusiastic, almost to the point of obsession. First he passionately persecutes the followers of Jesus and then almost immediately starts just as passionately preaching for Jesus.

That said, from yesterday and today's readings, it is not clear how much actual persecution Saul actually did. Yeah, the reading starts out with his big plan to bring all followers of Jesus back to Jerusalem and chains, but then he has his conversion experiences on his way to his first stop, Damascus. While I am sure that he probably executed some persecution, I wonder how much Saul's reputation is being exaggerated by the author of Acts to make Saul's conversion seem more miraculous.

Psalms and Proverbs

I can get behind this proverb:
Those who mock the poor insult their Maker;
those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished.

12 June 2010

Jun 12

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading is all about the wealth and splendor of Solomon's court. As part of this, we read the story of the Queen of Sheba. He impressed her with his wisdom, causing her to reply,
Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told.
In this passage, the Queen of Sheba is set up as a skeptic. She did not believe that all she had heard of Solomon was true until she saw it for herself. Since she, a skeptic, is convinced of Solomon's wisdom and greatness, it follows that we, the readers are also supposed to be convinced.

Of course, that doesn't convince us skeptic. The problem with skeptics is that we do not change our mind on hearsay, even if the person telling the story claims that another skeptic was convinced.

New Testament

Well, I'm glad to see that I was wrong and Simon's purpose was not to show that even a magician is converted by Phillip's preaching. Instead, his purpose is to show how the power of the apostles exceeds that of magicians completely (which, I suppose, still means the general point stands: these people really believed in magicians and I'm expected to trust them?). In any case, Simon gets a lecture because he wants to buy the power to give people the Holy Spirit.

Apparently, giving people the Holy Spirit was not the only amazing power of the apostles. Today we also read how, after converting a travelling Ethiopian, Phillip gets snatched away by the Lord to another place. Teleportation!

Psalms and Proverbs

Today we get plenty of fodder for platitude from both our psalm and proverbs.
Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
that we might learn to fear you.
Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
but the Lord tests the heart.

11 June 2010

Jun 11

Reference links:
Old Testament

It's the grand opening of Solomon's temple! The priests deposit the ark in the Holy of Holies. This apparently makes God happy because his presence fills the temple.

Solomon dedicates the temple with a prayer. In this prayer, we get the first hint that God, who has already evolved from one tribal god amongst many to the one true God, may be evolving further into a universal God:
In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name.
It makes sense that Solomon, who seems to have been heavily involved in trade with other nations, would be the one to point out the possibility of people from other nations worshiping the God of Israel.

Solomon seems to spend a lot of his prayer of praise reiterating how the temple that he built honors God. Somehow, it does not surprise me that Solomon is the type who would toot his own horn.

Also, lots and lots of animals were sacrificed.

There, before the Ark, King Solomon and the entire community of Israel sacrificed so many sheep, goats, and cattle that no one could keep count!
Solomon offered to the Lord a peace offering of 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats.
That must have been a disgusting sight.

New Testament

Stephen gets to his point! But I am not quite sure his claims are quite sound. In particular,
Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you!
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit was not among them until after their death, which does not seem consistent with this. Based on his next statements, Stephen may be trying to imply that the Holy Spirit acted through the prophets and the ancestors of the Jews ignored the prophets, but that ruins the parallelism between the resistance to the Holy Spirit of the people that Stephen is talking to and the resistance of their ancestors. I guess what I am saying is that Stephen's either saying something that contradicts Jesus' words or his rhetorical skills suck.

His next sentence is also a little sketchy:
Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute!
Let's see, Moses himself, possibly Aaron and Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, and Nathan were all prophets, and that's only in what we have read of the Old Testament so far! Moses, Aaron, and Miriam sometimes had a hard time leading the ancient Israelites, but one can hardly say they were persecuted. Deborah was a successful judge. Samuel had to deal with Saul, it's true, but he was honored throughout his life. As was Nathan (although he may not be dead yet, so there's still a chance for persecution). In fact, I do not think we have yet seen a prophet persecuted by the Israelites. Once again, Stephen is either wrong or guilty of bad rhetoric.

In any case, the Jewish leaders stone Stephen because of his accusations. This serves to introduce the theme of persecution of Jesus' followers as well as the character of Saul (later Paul). Saul, at this point, spends his time persecuting the now scattered Christians.

We also read the story of Phillip and Simon. Phillip, a follower of Jesus, went to preach in Samaria. There he encountered Simon, who
had been a sorcerer there for many years, amazing the people of Samaria and claiming to be someone great. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, often spoke of him as “the Great One—the Power of God.” They listened closely to him because for a long time he had astounded them with his magic.
However, Simon is convinced by Phillip's preaching and decides to follow him.

I quoted the interesting bit above. The text takes the time to make sure we know that Simon was revered as a great and powerful magician. This is not to condemn him. It is, rather, to show the reader how convincing Phillip (and, therefore, Jesus) must have been to convert this great and wonderful magician. This means that the author of Acts believed in magicians, and he assumed the belief in magicians was common enough that the conversion of one would act as convincing evidence. And yet we are supposed to take his testimony seriously?

Psalms and Proverbs

We get some great (if gruesome) poetic imagery in today's psalm:
My back is covered with cuts,
as if a farmer had plowed long furrows.

10 June 2010

Other Bible versions

Mentioning the Brick Testament reminded me of the alternate representations of the Bible out there. For your amusement:

What others am I missing?

Jun 10

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading describes the building of Solomon's palace as well as some of the furnishings for the temple. It reminds me strongly of the description of the Tabernacle from Exodus. Solomon's palace was a much more complicated structure than the temple and, so got a lot more description. I enjoyed the read, but there's nothing really to comment on.

I did, however, find great pictures of what the palace and temple metalwork may have looked like... from the Brick Testament (in particular the sections on The Temple of Yahweh and Solomon's Palace).  I love legos.

New Testament

More history review, but now with some commentary. We go from Moses' vision of God in the burning bush through Solomon's building of the temple. Here is an excepts that I am guessing makes up part of the build up to Stephen's point:
So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years. [Hmmm, rejected ruler who gave miraculous signs, I wonder who could be seen as a contemporary analog of that.]
Psalms and Proverbs
We may throw the dice,
but the Lord determines how they fall.
Actually, no, not really.