03 June 2010

Jun 3

Reference links:
Old Testament

Not a super interesting day. Sheba of Bicri's rebellion is put down because he holes himself up in a town where the people are willing to give him (or, rather, his head) over to David. David gets involved in more battles, and he and his men kill more Philistine giants. David sings a song of praise that bears great resemblance to the psalms (probably why the psalms are generally attributed to David).

The most interesting part of today's reading comes in the description of a famine and cure. God sent a three year famine on the land because of the injustices Saul had done to the Gibeonites (hey God, did you wait long enough there?). David asks the Gibeonites what they can do to make amends. They say that the only thing that will satisfy them is to be given seven of Saul's descendants to kill. David obliges and they kill the descendants.

Now, depending on whether or not Saul's sons and grandsons were involved in the injustices inflicted upon the Gibeonites, this may be comparable to punishing people for war crimes or it may be more like murder and/or human sacrifice. Either way, it's unsettling.

New Testament

Today we start the Acts of the Apostles. The obvious thing to notice about this book is that it is not a gospel. We are done with them!

According to the Wikipedia article. The author of acts was most likely the same as the author of the Gospel of Luke. As with that book, it is unclear whether or not this person was actually Luke. However the author is more likely to be the person traditionally credited than in the rest of the gospels.

"Acts" are a particular genre of writing from this time period which generally describe the activities of people and cities. The various acts of Christianity, including this and various apocryphal books, cover the acts of Christian miracles and conversions.

Although Acts talks about the Apostle Paul, his letters are never quoted, leading scholars to conclude that the author of Acts did not have access to Paul's letters at the time of composition. The time of composition itself is disputed, with some traditional scholars putting it as early as around 60 AD and others putting it nearer to 100 AD.

Today's reading starts with a reiteration of the promise that the holy spirit will come to guide the apostles.  It also describes the ascension of Jesus into heaven, from which point, it seems, he will no longer make bodily appearances until his return (a useful excuse for why contemporaries of the author no longer interacted with a risen Jesus).

We also read about how Matthias is chosen to replace Judas. This story contains two interesting elements. Once again, the New Testament is treating random lines from the Old Testament as if they were prophecy. In this case, random lines from two psalms are used to justify the replacement of Judas:
Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’
21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus
I continue to think that this is a stupid way of justifying decisions.

I also find it interesting the the apostles choose the new apostle by lot. I thought that using selection by lot and attributing the result to God was mostly a feature of the Old Testament writings.
So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.
According to Wikipedia, the Eastern Orthodox Church still considers casting lots to sometimes be a valid form of decision making (or at least did less than 100 years ago):
In the Eastern Orthodox Church this method of selection is still occasionally used. In 1917 MetropolitanTikhon was elected Patriarch of Moscow by the drawing of lots.
I personally would not consider lot casting decisive unless I came up with the same answer multiple times (at least 10).

Psalms and Proverbs

Both the psalm and the proverb from today's reading are rather well known. The most interesting thing is this line from today's psalm:
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.
I never realized the moon was particularly harmful.