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.