31 July 2010

Jul 31

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read about Hezekiah. Hezekiah instituted reforms to undo some of the damage done by Ahaz. This time around, Hezekiah's reforms do not seem as impressive. Maybe this is because we know from reading the books of Kings that they will not stick. Maybe it is because from the way the chronicler relates things, my impression is that Judah had a bunch of okay kings scattered amongst a couple bad ones, and having to undo the effects of one of the bad ones seems par for the course.

In any case, Hezekiah reopens and restores the temple (and the chronicler limited himself to only one short list of the people working on that. What restraint!). After the temple is restored, Hezekiah hosts a huge rededication ceremony.

The way this section is written makes it sound like the temple had been abandoned for years and years rather than for the reign of one king. In particular, consider this speech (emphasis added):
“Listen to me, you Levites! Purify yourselves, and purify the Temple of the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Remove all the defiled things from the sanctuary. Our ancestors were unfaithful and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They abandoned the Lord and his dwelling place; they turned their backs on him. They also shut the doors to the Temple’s entry room, and they snuffed out the lamps. They stopped burning incense and presenting burnt offerings at the sanctuary of the God of Israel. 
“That is why the Lord’s anger has fallen upon Judah and Jerusalem. He has made them an object of dread, horror, and ridicule, as you can see with your own eyes. Because of this, our fathers have been killed in battle, and our sons and daughters and wives have been captured. But now I will make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us. My sons, do not neglect your duties any longer! The Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him, and to lead the people in worship and present offerings to him.”
This passage, especially the parts I emphasize, seem very targeted at a post-exile community. Remember that the books of Chronicles were probably written after the exiled Jews had been allowed to return to Jerusalem. My guess is that part of the purpose of the author(s) of Chronicles, especially this passage, was to try to inspire the people to reinstitute temple based worship, which had necessarily fallen aside while the people of Judah were in exile.

New Testament

Paul discusses how not all the believers have to have exactly the same beliefs about what is right or wrong. Not everything is a core belief. Paul's specific examples focus on diet, but I think he means to make a more general point. In particular, he hints at a more general message in a couple places:
Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval.
Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
I am going to break my own rule about not talking about current events today.

There are churches and individuals today that conflate religion and politics. Many believers are made to feel that if they want to be religious in the "right way" then they have to vote Republican, even if they only agree with the Republicans on a couple issues that the Republicans have managed to portray as vital to whether or not one is a "real Christian".

There are churches and individuals today that not only teach hatred of homosexuals and subjugation of women, they also teach that those who do not agree with them on these issues are not "real Christians". They teach that those people should be condemned and pushed away not just from their church, but from any church.

There are churches and individuals today that try to convince others that science cannot be trusted. That the only valid way to interpret the creation story is literally. They harm science education and they harm their own cause by causing many scientifically literate believers to distance themselves from religion.

Today's reading condemns all of those people. By conflating religion with particular non-core beliefs, these individuals and institutions are causing others to stumble and fall away from religion. They are not willing to let the Lord judge right and wrong. They feel the need to do it themselves.

Furthermore, and this is why I, an atheist, care, they push all of this into the public arena. Instead of aiming for living "a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit", they sow strife, and that strife affects my life. Perhaps they should think about this passage more often.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

30 July 2010

Jul 30

Reference links:
Old Testament

Mostly dull history.

Uzziah: Somewhat pleasing to God. Reigned 52 years. Seems to have been effective at building and improving defenses. Eventually tries to take on the role of the high priest which causes God to afflict him with leprosy.

Jotham: Pretty pleasing to God. Ruled 16 years. Conquered some people and extracted tribute out of them. Nothing else of note.

Ahaz: Evil, evil, evil. Ruled 16 years.  Followed foreign practices and sacrificed his own children. Turned to other Gods. Defeated in battle by Aram and then Israel. Shut up the temple.

New Testament

Paul makes a statement about obeying authorities and paying taxes. Of course, most people probably read this and try to figure out how it applies to their own attitude toward the government.

However, I am more interested in Paul in his historical context. It seems, from this passage and from what we read in Acts (such as Paul's appeals to the government authorities), that Paul and the early church very much did not want to be seen as troublesome by the Romans. Now, that doesn't mean they weren't seen as troublesome, but avoiding that impression seems to have been important.

That is consistent with what we read today. Paul's words implies that authorities and governments, even pagan governments such as that of the Romans, are legitimate and should be listened to. He even paints them as God's servants, despite not being part of the church community. Obviously, Paul wanted his communities to avoid trouble, at least when the trouble was not necessary.

As for the meaning of this passage with respect to modern life, I think it's pretty obvious that at least the simple reading of this must be wrong:
For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
And I'm guessing Paul knew it too, and was really just trying to warn the church in Rome to not hunt down trouble.

Today's reading also hearkens back to some sayings of Jesus from the gospels. First, the above reminds one of the idea of giving to Caesar what is Caesar's. The next part discusses the idea that loving one's neighbor as oneself is fundamental to fulfilling God's law. The last part discusses the imminent coming of the time of salvation.

This is interesting because sayings of Jesus which also appear in Paul's letter lend strong support to the idea that these ideas were associated with the historical Jesus rather than developed by later communities. Because Paul's letters came before the gospels and because the gospel writers do not seem to use Paul's letters as a source, this double tradition vouches for these concepts.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

29 July 2010

Jul 29

Reference links:
Old Testament

So at 40 years, Joash had a pretty long reign, especially compared to what we have been seeing lately. However, he was still murdered in bed before he was 50. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Joash performed acceptably as king as long as Jehoiada was alive. After Jehoiada dies, Joash starts listening to the people who want to worship idols and abandon the Lord. Now, the chronicler wants us to think this reflects badly on Joash, but I think Jehoiada also deserves some of the blame.

Joash became king at age 7; obviously, Jehoiada was doing most of the ruling at that point. Furthermore, Jehoiada had a lot of control over Joash personally; this can be seen in the fact that the priest chose two wives for the king. Thus, it seems likely that Joash never actually learned how to rule. He only learned how to follow. Once Jehoiada died, Joash just followed the next people who were willing to take charge.

After Joash, his son Amaziah rules. Amaziah is another decent but not great king, according to the chronicler, but based on everything we see, he seems rather bad. Violence and war characterize Amaziah's reign. He shows some success and some trust of the Lord in his defeat of Edom (throwing 10,000 prisoners off a cliff in the process), but then he turns to idols and earns God's anger.

God uses Israel to teach Amaziah a lesson. Israel defeats Judah in battle and ransacks Jerusalem. However, Amaziah lives for a good while longer until he is eventually assassinated like his father.

New Testament

Today Paul conveys a number of moral lessons to the community of believers in Rome. Lots of good generic advice such as: evaluate yourself truthfully, take advantage of your natural talents, love each other, work hard, be hospitable, live in harmony, don't be proud. Good advice that applies even to those outside of Paul's target audience.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's third proverb is pretty good:
False weights and unequal measures—
the Lord detests double standards of every kind.

28 July 2010

Jul 28

Reference links:

Old Testament

Jehoshaphat dies and his son Jehoram becomes king. That means that we have once again reached the series of names all of which start with 'J' or 'A'. Sigh.

Jehoram's reign only merits brief discussion in Kings. It does not even contain what sure seems like a rather important tidbit if it were true:
But when Jehoram had become solidly established as king, he killed all his brothers and some of the other leaders of Judah.
Both the author of Kings and the author of Chronicles find it worth mentioning that Jehoram married a daughter of Ahab (who was totally a bad influence). But apparently the author of Kings did not find these murders worth mentioning... unless they were made up by the author of Chronicles.

Jehoram comes to no good end. His kingdom is attacked, causing him to lose some territory and most of his family, and he dies of what my translation describes as a severe intestinal disease that caused his bowels to come out. Ewww.

After that the young Ahaziah briefly reigns as king. He is also evil and gets killed. His mother, Athaliah, kills the royal family and becomes ruler. Fortunately, Ahaziah's nameless sister, saves Ahaziah's infant son, Joash. Eventually, the priests hiding him declare him to be king and kill Athaliah.

Jehoiada the priest is pretty much running the show at this point and enacts a bunch of religious reforms. But the people are happy because it was an improvement over life under Athaliah.

New Testament

  • Paul declares himself apostle to the gentiles. 
  • Extended analogy about grafting branches onto olive trees; point being that God can choose to use the rebellion of the descendants of Abraham to save the gentiles.
  •  All Israel will be saved, but their rebellion is what allows the gentiles to be saved. 
  • "God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone." Unclear whether this means everyone as individuals or everyone in the sense of people from all nations or something like that. Consistency with the potter analogy implies the later.
  • Paul once again strings together verses from different parts of the Old Testament in a way which implies that were not separate. This seems especially deceptive when you realize he is writing for a largely gentile audience (i.e., not schooled in the Jewish scriptures).

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

27 July 2010

Jul 27

Reference links:
Old Testament

After yesterday's retelling of King Jehoshaphat's alliance with King Ahab, we get what seems to be, as far as I can tell looking back at the books of Kings, material unique to the books of Chronicles (ahh, I love search, best thing since sliced bread).

As part of his actions to try to turn the people of Judah to God, Jehoshapat appoints judges over matters both religious and civil. In particular, he gives the high priest ultimate decision power over all things religious.

Now, this is another one of those passages which is interesting in the historical context. At the time Chronicles was likely written, the exiled people of Judah were trying to understand their religion now that it was no longer a national religion. Passages like this one try to show that the Judaism has value (e.g., for settling disputes in this case) independent of political power. Thus, the religion of the exiles takes on new meaning even without the nation of Judah and the temple.

We also read about Judah's war with a bunch of surrounding nations. Long story short: they trust God. God saves them.

New Testament

Paul seems to think that he can pull a bunch of random verses from all over the Old Testament, string them together out of context, and put together a convincing argument. Now, I am fully aware that there have been schools of thought that consider this a valid form of exegesis. Each word and sentence of the scripture is imbued with meaning from God, independent of the original author's original intent.

I also realize that it is nearly necessary in Christian tradition to engage in some weaker version of this sort of exegesis. Without reading the Old Testament as pointing unambiguously toward Jesus, the New Testament case for his status as the Messiah becomes even less convincing.

That said, Paul is taking things a bit far here. The only thing that links these verses is that Paul thinks that they (in isolation) support his message. If we take this as our standard, then we can use the Bible to justify anything, including bad things like slavery or murder.

Oh yeah, and Paul's point, in short: The Jews were totally given their chance, so don't blame God if he abandoned them.

Psalms and Proverbs

Our third proverb today is kind of depressing:
Many will say they are loyal friends,
but who can find one who is truly reliable?
Although I cannot quite figure out what is meant by our second proverb, I think I like it anyway:
Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.
What I get from this is that it sometimes take a good amount of work to figure out the valuable core of an idea, whether in yourself or someone else. Yet, despite that, it is worth the effort to dig down and expose the gems.

26 July 2010

Jul 26

Reference links:
Old Testament

Nothing particularly insightful to say. More rehashing of the books of Kings. Jehoshaphat, son of Asa, was a pretty good king of Judah. He had great military and financial success, and he followed the ways of the Lord. However, he felt the need to get all buddy buddy with King Ahab, allying with Ahab in war and marrying one of his sons to one of Ahab's daughters.

The story of Jehoshaphat and Ahab's alliance is, as before, a rather amusing one. Ahab's prophets all prophecy the success of a war against Ramoth-gilead. However, Micaiah predicts failure. Micaiah is quite the character, fearless and sarcastic, he knows that Ahab will not listen to him and doesn't care.

Ahab decides to go to battle, but dresses as a common soldier to escape the notice of the armies of Ramoth-gilead. Yet, for all that, he is killed by a stray arrow, thus showing Micaiah's prophecy to be true.

New Testament

Paul expounds upon the idea that God will shower glory upon his select who come from both the Jews and Gentiles. Also, more about how keeping the law is not the way to go about being saved.

Reading Paul's writing, I am reminded of the story of Rabbi Hillel's explanation of the Torah. Paul says,
Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law.
For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands
Yet a story about Hillel,  a very influential Rabbi who lived before Jesus shows that even by the time that Paul was writing, this sort of understanding of the law is misleading (I won't say wrong since Paul was a Pharisee, but certainly misleading). In this story, a Gentile asks Hillel to explain the Torah while he stands on one foot. Hillel says, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanations; go and learn."

From this point of view, the law is not meant to be kept for its own sake, but is seen as a way learn about and internalize compassion for others.

Now, I am not claiming all of the Jews of Paul's time felt this way, but it does bring an interesting perspective to Paul's analysis of the law.

Psalms and Proverbs

Good proverb!
Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor;
only fools insist on quarreling.

25 July 2010

Jul 25

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read about Abijah's son, Asa. Asa is, for most of his reign, considered a pretty good king. He trusts the Lord for his military successes and enacts religious reforms (until he doesn't, then he's considered bad).

For a supposedly good king, we get hints of some pretty terrible actions. We read about a battle where the Lord help's Asa defeat some invading Ethiopians/Cushites (translation oddity). God defeats the invading army and Asa and his men kill and plunder the retreating army. Then:
While they were at Gerar, they attacked all the towns in that area, and terror from the Lord came upon the people there. As a result, a vast amount of plunder was taken from these towns, too. They also attacked the camps of herdsmen and captured many sheep, goats, and camels before finally returning to Jerusalem.
So while they were pursuing a retreating enemy, they also attacked and pillaged the towns and herdsman in the area? I try not to apply my modern moral standards to ancient societies too often, but really, this is completely unacceptable.

Another questionable decision made in Asa's range occurred during the religious reforms:
They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old, man or woman.
Again, blech! Not acceptable to me. But I do understand what the author of Chronicles is trying to do here. In the books of Kings, the blame for the fall of Judah to Babylon is placed squarely on the shoulders of a single person, King Manasseh, son of Hezekiah.

In Chronicles, the author is trying to spread the blame over the whole community. Under this model, the community cannot be blamed unless the whole community is seen as making a covenant with the Lord. Of course, this has happened before (with Moses, Joshua, Solomon...). However, reiterating the point and making the community have some of the responsibility for enforcing the covenant just makes it that must easier to later blame the community as a whole.

Asa eventually loses the favor of the Lord because he appeals to human help in a battle. He is then plagued by war for the rest of his reign. He died because he relied on his physicians rather than God to kill his foot disease.

New Testament
With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.
Well then, I'm convinced. If you really really feel like something is true, it must be true right? People would never ever believe that they were getting religious revelation if it wasn't true, right? That's why all of the world's religions are so consistent!

Oh wait, sorry, back to reality. Paul needs to learn that believing that you speak the truth does not necessarily make your belief true. But then again, I suppose that attitude is consistent with Paul's general attitude that those who do not agree with him are willfully rejecting God (as I have mentioned in the past).

Paul goes on to reinterpret God's promise to Israel to show how God has not actually broken his promise to Israel. He then talks about how it's perfectly okay for God to make arbitrary decisions because he's God. We then get an annoyingly bad apologetic argument for God's arbitrariness.
Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”
No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay,  doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?
This is the same sort of garbage that people try to pass off today. First, Paul resorts to the "God is mysterious" argument. I might be more inclined to see that as a legitimate argument if it weren't for the fact that it is only ever applied when theists are faced with something unpleasant. E.g., the problem of evil, God's arbitrary nature, bad things happening to good people, etc.

Paul then pulls out the argument that those who are made have no right to question those who made them, using the analogy of a potter having the right to make both decorative jars and garbage jars. However, this ignores the rather obvious fact that a clay pot is not conscious. It's not just that the potter is more wise and knowledgeable than the clay pot. The clay pot is inanimate.

Now, if a potter started making pots that were conscious, that were able to feel pain and have memories and judge and analyze then yes, the potter would have some obligation to take their feelings into account or at least justify his decisions to them. If God created humanity with the ability to suffer from the consequences of being a "garbage pail" rather a than a "decorative jar" then he has given them the right to question.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

24 July 2010

Jul 24

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today we read about Rehoboam's reign and some of his son Abijah's reign.

We start by reading how Shemaiah tells Rehoboam not to fight the people of Israel because they are their relatives. This advice seems to stick for the duration of Rehoboam's reign.

We also read about how, supposedly, all of the priests and Levites and people who wanted to worship the Lord left Israel for Judah. This is interesting for two reasons. First, we know that it is likely that many people did flee Israel for Judah after the fall of Judah to Assyria. This is how the traditions from the northern kingdom got incorporated into documents which were generally composed in the southern kingdom or by exiles from the southern kingdom.

This is also interesting because it seems like an attempt to write off the people of Israel as not much of a loss. It does not matter than 10 of the 12 tribes were lost by the time this work was written because all of the good people had left any way.

Two of Rehoboam's wives were cousins. In particular, Mahalath was the daughter of David's son Jerimoth and Jerimoth's cousin Abihal. I note this mainly because, as far as I can tell, we have never heard of Jerimoth before.

Both Rehoboam and his son Abijah have lots of wives and children. Family tradition, I suppose. Despite all the bad things said about Rehoboam, he does seem to have some wisdom:
Rehoboam also wisely gave responsibilities to his other sons and stationed some of them in the fortified towns throughout the land of Judah and Benjamin. He provided them with generous provisions, and he found many wives for them.
Smart man. Keep the sons out of trouble from the start.

Then, quickly: Rehoboam abandons the way of the Lord, gets defeated in battle but not completely, is declared evil because he did not seek the Lord with all of his heart, and dies what seems to be a natural death. His son Abijah becomes king and with the help of the Lord, defeats Jeroboam of Israel in battle.

New Testament

Okay, Paul back peddles a little today from the implication that believers should already be without sin:
And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.
Although it's not explicit, I certainly see how one could draw from this the conclusion that since the old bodies are still bound to sin, then the full promise of the Holy Spirit is not realized. Glad to see Paul is not completely ignoring reality.

I know I stopped keeping points awhile ago, but today we have another easy point for the predestination crowd.
For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
We then see Paul make a leap of logic which could very easily be taken another direction:
Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?
Another way this could be taken: Since he did not spare even his own son but let him be murdered, why would he bother to save anyone else?

I mean really, if I believed that someone had let his child be murdered for some supposedly greater good, I would not be particularly inclined to trust them.

Psalms and Proverbs

I was going to say that there was nothing in today's proverbs that we haven't seen before, until I got to the third one:
Punishment is made for mockers,
and the backs of fools are made to be beaten.
We may have seen this sentiment before, but this particular phrasing is particularly repugnant to one raised in a society which values free speech and generally finds corporal punishment inappropriate.

23 July 2010

Jul 23

Reference links:
Old Testament

The chronicler manages to justify Solomon's decision to build himself a glorious palace even though David had already built a palace. You see, the Ark had been in David's palace, therefore, Solomon's wife, a foreigner, could not live there. It sounds to me like yet another excuse.

We then read about the vast extent of Solomon's wealth and wisdom. I don't know if this is the same in detail as in Kings, but it is certainly the same in idea: Solomon is rich and wise and all around awesome.

However, there is a dark side to all of this, which does not come to light until after Solomon's death. After Solomon's son, Rehoboam, becomes king, the Jeroboam (who will later become king of the split kingdom of Israel) asks to have the load on the people lightened:
Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.
Notice that it was Solomon who was imposing harsh labor demands and heavy taxes. All of the wondrous and magnificent buildings were the result of abusing the people. The chronicler seems to want to smooth over Solomon's role in this, but he clearly bears the bulk of the blame for the state of things.

Today's passage also lends some support to Paul's implication that the Lord does not make his promises in good faith. Referring to Rehoboam's refusal to lighten the load on the people we read,
So the king paid no attention to the people. This turn of events was the will of God, for it fulfilled the Lord’s message to Jeroboam son of Nebat through the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh.
So it was God's will that Israel would start falling apart after only one generation of God's promise being kept? Yeah, a descendant of David will be on the throne for quite awhile yet, but the spirit of the original promise has already been broken.

Now, a justification of this could have been pulled off if the chronicler had not tried so hard to minimize Solomon's blame in the oppression of the people, but he didn't, and so we are left with some rather problematic implications for the nature of God.

New Testament

Today's reading pretty much mirrors yesterday, this time talking about how the Holy Spirit inside of one produces a force for good.

I still do not agree with the portrayal of human nature as a struggle between abstract forces of good and evil. For if evil comes from a sinful nature that is not truly part of self and good comes from the influence of the Holy Spirit, what is left for self? What is left when you strip away all desires and attribute them to abstract forces?

Although maybe that's the point and Paul is trying to make almost Buddhist like point about how self can only be found in loss of self. I kind of doubt that's what he's getting at right here though.

Psalms and Proverbs
Children who mistreat their father or chase away their mother are an embarrassment and a public disgrace.
I know this proverb has a legitimate point, but my brain still decided that the best image to bring up for a child chasing away their mother was a toddler brandishing a stuffed animal as their mother runs away in terror. And that amused me.

22 July 2010

Jul 22

Reference links:
Old Testament

Solomon is pretty much taking on the role of the high priest here. He is praying in front of the whole community and leading the giving of sacrifices. The priests seem like little more than assistants. Now, the dedication of the temple is a special event, but it still does not seem quite right for Solomon to be taking on these roles.

Solomon's dedication prayer (which is very similar to the one in Kings) has a couple points in it which make it fairly clear that this was composed after the destruction of Judah. In particular, there are references to exile (emphasis mine):
If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn back and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave to them and to their ancestors.
If they sin against you—and who has never sinned?—you might become angry with them and let their enemies conquer them and take them captive to a foreign land far away or near. But in that land of exile, they might turn to you in repentance and pray, ‘We have sinned, done evil, and acted wickedly.’
It is also very interesting how central the Temple is in these prayers. To earn forgiveness, the people must pray in the direction of the Temple.

God then answers Solomon in a very direct way, telling him that the Israelites will be forgiven as long as they follow God's commands.

The rest of the reading briefly describes Solomon's achievements and emphasizes that he only made the non-Israelites living in the land do forced labor. Well then, that makes it all okay, now doesn't it? I mean, these are only the people who were living in the land before the Israelites conquered it. In fact, we ought to be enslaving Native Americans. I mean really, someone who was a native in a land taken over by someone else doesn't deserve to be treated humanely, right?

New Testament

Paul makes the good point that human beings are contradictory creatures. They want to do right but often end up doing wrong instead. He then promptly loses any ground he may have gained by implying that this sinfulness is something separate from self. Individuals are invaded by sin, but sin is wholly other and can, therefore, be eradicated.

This, to me, seems like a harmful way of dealing with the capacity of humans to do wrong and act in ways that are inconsistent with their conscious desires. By making sin wholly other, we lose the insight to be gained by seeing it as coming from the same source as other human passions and desires which are labeled good. Paul, as perhaps should be expected by now, tries to separate the world into two neat parts: that in the self which is sin and that which is not. As usual, such stark division loses out on the complexity of human nature.

Paul also, in today's reading, makes it seem pretty absolute that accepting Jesus frees one from one's sinful nature ("He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit."). Clearly, human behavior shows that either this is not the case or pretty much no one actually has followed Jesus. The issue may well be addressed later, but for now Paul seems to be making claims about the power of accepting Jesus that do not hold up under scrutiny.

Psalms and Proverbs
Lazy people take food in their hand
but don’t even lift it to their mouth.
I know this is meant symbolically, but I want to point out that if this were literally true, then we would not have to worry about lazy people because they would quickly die.

21 July 2010

Jul 21

Reference links:
Old Testament

More details on the fittings of the temple. This section of the reading makes a lot more sense once you realize that the books of Chronicles were written after the temple was destroyed. Writing this was one of the ways the exiled people of Judah tried to preserve their memories and this important cultural and religious site.

We also read about the bringing of the ark to the temple and Solomon's words on this occasion. This stresses that the main point of the king, from the point of view of the authors in exile, was to provide religious leadership (which is different from being a priest). Stressing the religious rather than the military and political importance of the king probably helped the exiles to reinterpret their religious world view, which had always rested on a basic of the political and military success of the Jewish people, in a world where it was obvious that the political and military might of Israel and Judah had ended.

New Testament

Paul argues that the followers of Jesus are not subject to the law, because the law is meant to apply to the living, not the dead, and the followers of Jesus died with him. Now, I know this is meant to be a metaphorical argument, not a formal one, but it still seems pretty obvious to me that we would rethink the relationship between the dead and the law if the dead were still active in the world like these Christians are. Just sayin'.

Paul then goes on to make a rather ridiculous argument that it is only because of the law that we know what is and is not sinful. If we did not have the law, then we would not be tempted to sin. Now, if by the law Paul means moral intuitions, then his point is almost coherent, but even in that case, it still seems that Paul is conflating cause and effect. Do we desire to sin because the law (or moral intuition) says it is wrong? Or do we just mark certain behaviors and desires as sinful because of the negative effects they have been perceived to have? The later does a much better job of explaining the cultural diversity of the concepts of right and wrong.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

20 July 2010

Jul 20

Reference links:
Old Testament

The content of today's reading is pretty much what we have seen before with details added to make Solomon seem better and even more dedicated to God.
Solomon son of David took firm control of his kingdom, for the Lord his God was with him and made him very powerful.
That's the nice way of saying that he killed a bunch of people to consolidate his power. Now, these may have been necessary killings, but we lose something from this story if we forget that it was not just a joyous and peaceful transition from one powerful king to another.
There in front of the Tabernacle, Solomon went up to the bronze altar in the Lord’s presence and sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings on it.
That must have taken awhile. If we estimate at least half an hour of non-parallelizable time per sacrifice, that's 500 hours of sacrifice (about 21 days, 24 hours a day). That's a lot of time spent sacrificing.

After reading about how Solomon asks for and gets wisdom, we start reading about the building of the temple.
Solomon decided to build a Temple to honor the name of the Lord, and also a royal palace for himself.
Solomon decided to build a temple? I thought David had already told him he had to do it. It is also worth noting that this passage does not seem to mention the fact that David had already done lots of preparation and gathered lots of the materials. Also, Solomon's letter to King Hiram of Tyre was much more extensive than the first time we saw it.

We then read,
Solomon took a census of all foreigners in the land of Israel, like the census his father had taken, and he counted 153,600. He assigned 70,000 of them as common laborers, 80,000 as quarry workers in the hill country, and 3,600 as foremen.
"Like the census his father had taken"? So it caused a plague on the land? Was prompted by God and/or Satan to cause punishment? Or was it just like David's census in so far as it counted people (which, you know, is what censuses do).

I also find it somewhat appalling that simply being a foreigner in the land of Israel was considered sufficient reason to conscript you as a laborer. Maybe the chronicler meant foreign slaves? Foreign prisoners of war? If it includes foreigners who voluntarily moved into the land of Israel, then the idea of forcing them to work on the Temple is pretty despicable.

And then, architectural details.

New Testament

Most of the actual content of today's reading is, once again, targeted at the believer and like unicorn grooming to the non-believer.

But I will pull out one detail which I think is interesting independent of the believing in Jesus thing:
Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey?
I think there is some truth to this idea, although I would not choose to express it in terms of slavery and obedience. But it is true that those things you consider most important profoundly influence how you live your life. If you consider service to others most important, you will notice and act on opportunities to serve others. If you consider influencing others most important, you will live your life in such a way as to make that happen.

Overall I think this focus is good because it can act as a guiding filter through the many directions your life can take. However, it can also be harmful.

First, if you are unaware of what is driving you or if what drives you is considered inappropriate by the norms of your community, you may experience conflict or guilt, either internal or external.

Second, if you are shaping your life due to a particular set of concerns, you may, like Paul, come to believe that your way is right and all other ways are wrong. This can lead to all sorts of bad things, not the least of which is the development of an "us verses them" attitude.

Psalms and Proverbs

Two proverbs that are good with a little substitution.
[Always continue to] get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.

You can make many plans,
but the Lord’s purpose [the rest of your life] will prevail.

19 July 2010

Jul 19

Reference links:
Old Testament

Not a list! Hurrah!

That said, reading this is downright bizarre. If I switched up the names in the characters involved, I don't think I would recognize this as the same story of succession told in 2 Samuel. There is no sibling rivalry, no sick bed declaration of Solomon's kingship, no instruction to Solomon to kill the enemies that David has spared, no violent consolidation of the throne. Instead, we just have a well orchestrated succession with a focus on the temple and religious observances.

It's one thing to tell the story of a past from a different viewpoint. It is another and much more annoying thing to completely rewrite the past to fit an agenda.

New Testament

Today's whole reading, and especially the first passage, demonstrates that Paul is writing for believers.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
In fact, the Bible as a whole seems to be written for an audience of believers. In the Old Testament, that is people who believe that the Israelites are God's chosen nation. In the New Testament, that is people who believe Jesus is the Messiah.

Now, there's nothing wrong with writing for a particular audience. Often it's the only way to get into any real depth. That said, over and over again I have been told that if only I read the Bible, I will see how obvious it is that it is true. I will see how clear the arguments of the Biblical authors are. But that's most distinctly false. The Biblical authors are writing for an audience that already agrees with their basic premises and trying to convince them of the details.

And because of that, readings like today's are about as interesting to me as discussing the right way to groom a unicorn.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.

18 July 2010

Jul 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

More boring lists. Chronicles is my least favorite book of the Bible so far. The only thing remotely interesting today is this statement:
When David took his census, he did not count those who were younger than twenty years of age, because the Lord had promised to make the Israelites as numerous as the stars in heaven.
It is interesting only in so far as it makes no sense. The first part does not, in any way that I can understand, follow from the second part.

New Testament

Paul talks about the importance of faith in having a right relationship with God. While I have not done a through study, it seems to me that faith in the Bible (at least so far) is applied differently than faith today. Faith is never considered necessary for belief in God or belief in Jesus' power to perform miracles. Rather, faith applies to the idea that God will keep his promises or that Jesus is the Messiah.

Consider this fragment from today's reading:
God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead
In isolation, I think the modern English speaker would assume that "believe in him" means "believe in his existence". However, in context, it is pretty obvious that Paul is referring to believing in God's promises.

To some degree, faith was not applied to the idea of God's existence because the idea of some sort of deity or deities was taken as a background fact. Until we advanced enough in our ongoing development of finding better ways to explain things, the idea of external conscious beings was as defensible an explanation as any.

But still, I find the contrast between modern and Biblical usage interesting.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note, although I do agree that helping the poor is a good idea.

17 July 2010

Jul 17

Reference links:
Old Testament

Boring day! The reading talks about various roles at the temple and how they were assigned. In short, it's more lists.

The most interesting aspect of today's reading is that all of these roles were assigned using sacred lots. I've talked about lot casting before, and I still think it's a silly way to make decisions and am glad that most churches these days agree with me.

Actually, I would love to see churches that do not believe in letting women in leadership roles assign roles by sacred lot. The set the lots were being chosen from would have both men and women. If, across many such churches, the lots choose only men for leadership positions, then that would be an indication that choosing by lot is a valid way to determine God's will and that their interpretation of scriptural pronouncements on leadership were correct. If not, they would know that at least one of those things was wrong.

New Testament

Paul discusses how the faith of Abraham shows that it is faith, not adherence to the law, which justifies one with God. This is probably the least annoying passage from Romans yet. Actually, while I certainly do not agree with it*, it is not really that annoying at all. While other Jews may not agree with Paul's exegesis, it is not disrespectful of the Jewish interpretation in the way that yesterday's reading was.

* Nor do I disagree with it. It is hard to do either when someone is discussing the subtleties of something that you think is irrelevant.

Psalms and Proverbs
Lazy people sleep soundly,
but idleness leaves them hungry.
I wonder if the Hebrew had the opposite that is obviously implicit in the English: that diligent people do not sleep as soundly but have full bellies. Even if the Hebrew does not have that implication, it is certainly there for me.

It reminds me of Jesus' proclamations about Jesus' teachings which tell his followers to be like the lilies and the sparrows and not worry about where their food and clothing will come from.

Although the proverbs certainly seem in favor of hard work, other parts of the Bible remind us that there is a balance to be struck.

16 July 2010

Jul 16

Reference links:
Old Testament

Dude! I mean really, come on! David was not allowed to build a temple, so he just gathered all of the materials for it and had the workers start preparing them. What's up with that? First, how is that not violating the spirit, if not the letter, of God's command that David not build the temple? Second, why have we not heard about this before? There was not even the smallest hint of this in the books of Samuel or Kings, not even when we read about Solomon's building of the temple.

It's also worth noting that we seem to have heard nothing about David's instructions to Solomon about building the temple in the books of Kings. It seems that the chronicler has two modes of writing: nearly word for word quoting from the Deuteronomic History and complete fabrication.

The rest of today's reading is concerned with the genealogy and duty of the Levites. Chronicles claims that 24,000 Levites were required to supervise the work at the Temple. That seems rather excessive, in my opinion. 24,000 is a huge number of people. Even if there was a lot of work at the temple and supervision was needed 24/7, 24,000 people is a lot!

New Testament

Paul quotes a number of Old Testament verses to "prove" that all people are sinners. According to the footnotes, he is citing from the psalms (14:1-3/53:1-3, 5:9/140:3, 10:7, and 36:1) and Isaiah (59:7-8). The links I have provided are to the quoted verses in context.

First, note that Paul strings these all together as if they are a single continuous quotation from the scriptures. Obviously, they are not. Second, note that note that, as usual, the Greek Scriptures that are quoted differ dramatically from the Hebrew that our translation comes from. Third, note that everything Paul quotes from is poetry, which is generally known for hyperbole and other non-literal use of language. Fourth, note that three of the four quoted psalms are quite obviously referring to only the wicked or David's enemies, not all of humanity. The forth is arguably only referring to us fools who do not believe in God. (I can't say on the Isaiah passage since we have not got there yet.)

Put all this together and Paul's appeal to scripture is not only unconvincing; it almost seems as if Paul either must have been dishonest or ignorant of the scripture he was using to prove his point.

Paul then goes on to say why the Mosaic law is valuable:
its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
Let me rephrase that for you. Paul is saying that the purpose of the Mosaic law was to be impossible to keep to show the sin of humanity.

Let's unpack that a little. God, according to the Torah, entered into a covenant with the people of Israel. This covenant said that if the people upheld the law that God gave them, then God would bless them. If they did not, he would punish them.

Now Paul was claiming that God knew from the beginning that the law was impossible to keep. Furthermore, God made it impossible to keep on purpose.

This is like saying to someone, "If you can find me Shakespeare's original manuscript to Twelfth Night within a year, then I will pay you $50 billion. Otherwise, I will kill you." right after you secretly burned the manuscript you are asking someone else to find. It's a dishonest deal.

And yet Paul is claiming that that is the deal God made with the Israelites. God dishonestly made an impossible covenant just to prove a point. In addition to this painting a rather distasteful picture of Paul's God, it makes a mockery of the message of the Tanakh, the same scriptures Paul was just quoting to prove his point.

Oh, and the only way to get right with God is faith in Jesus. Apparently, God demanding the death of his own son somehow shows his righteousness and fairness. I guess if you repeat that enough, you'll eventually come to believe it is true.

Psalms and Proverbs

I have not been mentioning the psalms lately since we are on our second time through, but a bit from today's psalm seems appropriate given Paul's attitudes towards God's promises:
The Lord’s promises are pure,
like silver refined in a furnace,
purified seven times over.

15 July 2010

Jul 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

Fascinating, fascinating. Today's reading is almost exactly the same as the books of Samuel, sometimes word for word. The chronicler leaves out anything that is uncomplimentary to David including a time he was injured in battle and all of the family drama.

The phrasings, at least in translation, are so similar to those in Samuel that it seems the chronicler must have been working from the scroll for Samuel. The degree of similarity makes some of the differences between the two narratives even more perplexing.

Some of the differences are small differences of phrasing ("David has sent them to spy out the land" verses "David has sent them to spy out the city"). Others may be attributed to scribal error (700 charioteers killed becomes 7000 charioteers killed), others are obviously motivated from a desire to present David a certain way, and yet others are just bizarre.

The substitution of Gezer for Gob for the location where the Israelites battled the Philistines may also be a scribal error, or it may be a case of the Chronicler updating the location to be more relevant to the times. Other differences are harder to explain. David takes a census again, but this time, there are 1,100,000 able warriors in Israel (as opposed to 800,000 before) and 470,000 in Judah (as opposed to 500,000 before). David paid 600 pieces of gold for the threshing floor where he built an altar to God as opposed to in Samuel where he paid 50 pieces of silver.

Some changes are obviously motivated by the message the chronicler wanted to communicate. For example, Chronicles changes the one who prompted David to take a mysteriously evil census from God to Satan. It also contains an additional passage which explains why David built an alternate altar to stop the post-census plague even though, supposedly, he was well aware of the requirements to only make sacrifices at the Tabernacle (he was terrified by the angel).

It is hard not to notice all of these differences when the two accounts are so very very similar. Parallel passages like this should cast great doubt on the idea of the Bible being the directly inspired, inerrant word of God (as if enough doubt has not been cast already).

First off, the inconsistencies are not what you would expect from God. But even if you manage to explain all of those away with scribal errors and later redactions, you still have to wonder, why would God inspire the Biblical authors to write almost exactly the same thing twice? Is this information really so key that it needs repetition? It seems much more plausible that the non-inspired human authors were rewriting the traditional scriptures for their own purposes.

New Testament

Paul rants at the Jews. Circumcision is only valuable in so far as it is a sign of what is truly important: a changed heart. In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles will be declared God's people if they obey his law, Yet there is benefit in being a Jew, because God chose to give his revelation to the Jews, and God will be faithful to them.

Paul then goes on to what might be a legitimate complaint against those around him but what, given Paul's track record with correctly representing the beliefs of others, I would not be surprised to find out is Paul attacking a straw man:
“But,” some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) Of course not! If God were not entirely fair, how would he be qualified to judge the world? “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.
The argument above, as Paul presents it, does seem rather silly. However, his version seems like nothing more than a parody of the very legitimate disagreements over how God's justice interacts with predestination (whether complete or partial as in the case of Judas or the hardening of Pharaoh's heart).

Psalms and Proverbs

I read recently that many of the proverbs seem to support the status quo of the ruling elite. Today's first and third ones certainly fit that bill:
It isn’t right for a fool to live in luxury
or for a slave to rule over princes!
The king’s anger is like a lion’s roar,
but his favor is like dew on the grass.
The proverb in between those two, however, is quite instructive, especially given that I have something of a temper,
Sensible people control their temper;
they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.

14 July 2010

Jul 14

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today in Chronicles, we get to see what happens when history is written hundreds of years after the fact by people whose goal is to communicate a theological message, not what actually happened.
They sacrificed the regular burnt offerings to the Lord each morning and evening on the altar set aside for that purpose, obeying everything written in the Law of the Lord, as he had commanded Israel.
That sounds well and good until you remember the Law of the Lord referred to was, at best, nothing more than an oral tradition at this point. According to Wikipedia (and in agreement with Harris's Understanding the Bible):
Traditionally seen as recording the words of God given to Moses, modern scholarship dates the book to the late 7th century BC, a product of the religious reforms carried out under king Josiah, with later additions from the period after the fall of Judah to the Babylonian empire in 586 BC.
Next, we reread the story of David wanting to build a temple for the Ark, asking Nathan the prophet about it, and having Nathan first say yes and then say no to the request. We also read about God's covenant with David and his descendants.
Furthermore, I declare that the Lord will build a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and join your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for me. And I will secure his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my favor from him as I took it from the one who ruled before you. I will confirm him as king over my house and my kingdom for all time, and his throne will be secure forever.
Given that the books of Chronicles were written after the people of Judah were exiled to Babylon, this is a very interesting passage. By the time this book was written, the line of David had already ended forever, but the writers of the book still held hope that the Davidic throne would be reestablished. I.e., God's eternal promise failed to be eternal. (And before anyone chimes in, yes, yes, I know that Christians think Jesus fulfilled the promise.)

David prays a prayer of thanks to God and, in the process, makes an interesting comment on prayer. Remember that in the Old Testament world only special individuals, such as priests and prophets, were the only ones able to communicate with God. In that light, consider this comment from David,
O my God, I have been bold enough to pray to you because you have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him—a dynasty of kings!
Now, perhaps this comment is rhetorical, but even if it is, it shows that, in some sense, prayer was a bold move. How different this is from modern attitudes toward prayer which, coming from some people, treat it more like requests to a genie in a bottle.

Today's reading ends with a listing of military victories.

New Testament

Paul, oh Paul. This is going to be tough, isn't it? We just don't have compatible world views. You see the world in black and white. I see it in gloriously ambiguous color. You see disagreement as a sign of evil. I see it as a sometimes frustrating but inevitable effect of different view points. You see humans as inherently depraved and sinful. I see them as subject to cognitive biases, evolutionary pressures, and circumstance. You think that some other being is going to eventually dispense judgment. I realize that if we want justice, we are going to have to dispense it ourselves.

I guess we'll just have to put up with each other for awhile, but I think it's going to be an exercise in frustration.

Psalms and Proverbs
To acquire wisdom is to love oneself;
people who cherish understanding will prosper.

13 July 2010

Jul 13

Reference links:
Old Testament

The Ark finally makes it to Jerusalem. As before, David brought it into the city with much dancing and rejoicing. Details that were not given before (and probably fabricated to fulfill a particular theological purpose) are
  • the problem the first time was that the people carrying the Ark were not all Levites
  • all the Levites were called together for the return of the Ark
  • David assigned a bunch of musicians at this time
Given that the books of Chronicles are supposed to have a more priestly focus than the books of Samuel and Kings, I find it interesting that this incident, the first really recounted in great detail, is one where priestly function is important. Furthermore, it shows David as taking on, at least partially, the role of a priest by wearing priestly garments and instructing the Levites.

New Testament

I had already started to remember why I dislike Paul, but today's reading really highlights my dislike for him.

Today's reading is an extended exercise in Paul's inability to understand that what is obvious to him may not, in fact, be obvious to others. That, even if he is right in his beliefs, people can disagree with him without willfully denying the obvious. It is passages like this that propagate the annoying attitude that non-Christians must be wicked, terrible people. Obviously, in Paul's world view, everyone knows that God exists, but some people deny it because they are wicked.

Paul shows the classic signs of someone who does not really want to engage in those who disagree with him. He fails to assume those he disagrees with are honest, and he implies that only evil people can disagree with him.

Now, Romans was a letter to believers, not an attempt to engage nonbelievers. Nonetheless, such attitudes make me dislike Paul.

Psalms and Proverbs

Rather a depressing proverb today:
The relatives of the poor despise them;
how much more will their friends avoid them!
Though the poor plead with them,
their friends are gone.

12 July 2010

Jul 12

Reference links:
Old Testament

I want to take the time to look back at the books of Samuel and the books of Kings and compare them to the accounts in Chronicles but, realistically, I'm probably not going to. So I'll start off on the right foot (wrong foot?) by not looking back today.

We read about all the men who joined David at Hebron. The main point of this list, at least from my point of view, is to show that he had support from all of the tribes.

After describing how these men joined David at Hebron because they wanted to see him become king, the chronicler (thanks to Kim for the name) jumps to a time after David has become king and is bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

As before, this story makes God sound like a pouting toddler. After being neglected by Saul, the Ark is regaining its place of honor. When it almost tips over, a man, Uzzah, reaches out and steadies it (probably reflexively). This pisses God off and so he kills Uzzah. David, understandably, is a little put off at this, and abandons the Ark for awhile, as before.

We also read more about David's ever growing family and his battles against the Philistines.

New Testament

So apparently we finished Acts without my noticing. It just ends there with Paul still under house arrest in Rome.

Today we start the first of the epistles of Paul, Romans. Romans is believed to have been written by the apostle Paul and is, apparently, the longest of the epistles. It was probably written in the mid-50s. According to the Wikipedia article,
The main theme of this letter is the Salvation offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul argues that all persons are guilty of sin and therefore accountable to God. It is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that sinners can attain salvation. Therefore, God is both just and the one who justifies. In response to God's free, sovereign and graceful action of salvation, humanity can be justified by faith. Paul uses the example of Abraham to demonstrate that it is by faith that humanity can be seen as righteous before God.
Onward to today's reading!

In my translation, Paul describes himself slave to Jesus rather than the more traditional servant. According to some translation notes, the most accurate translation is probably "bondservant", indicating that he voluntarily entered into slavery, but that word is considered archaic. The point being, however, that Paul considers himself to be the property of Jesus, his only purpose being to do what Jesus wants him to do. 

Paul then lays out his purpose: to spread the good news of Jesus. He emphasizes that Jesus has a connection to the Jewish people through his Davidic ancestry but also that Jesus came to save the gentiles.

Having announced himself and his purpose, Paul then presents his reason for not having visited already. In short, he has been busy, but he really does want to see them. If Acts is to be believed, he wanted to see them so much that it took an arrest to finally get him to Rome.

Today's reading finished by Paul's emphasizing the importance of faith.

Psalms and Proverbs

Unlike some proverbs, which seem like they just comment on how things are, others declare how things ought to be:
A false witness will not go unpunished,
nor will a liar escape.
If only it were true.

11 July 2010

Jul 11

Reference links:
Old Testament

We are done with genealogies for now, but we apparently are not done with lists.

Today we get a brief narrative interlude describing how the people of Israel anoint David king. David and his troops then go on to capture Jerusalem. The rest of the post is a listing of David's warriors (the Three and the Thirty), interspersed with some tales of their valor.

I am guessing that the legends about David's warriors came about because the ancient Israelites, like most ancient cultures, had lots of myths about warrior heroes. In many cultures, the subjects of those myths attained an almost godlike statute. This was not appropriate for the monotheistic Israelites. To maintain their traditional legends without compromising their religious beliefs, these men became heroes in the time of legend, the time of David.

New Testament

Paul and the other voyagers spend the winter on the island of Malta. The locals receive them well, especially after Paul fails to die after being bitten by a snake and healing the sick. I find it interesting that Paul does not seem to preach to these folks despite their kind reception. Maybe he figures it is not a good idea to potentially upset the people is is trapped with for the winter.

When Paul arrives in Rome he starts preaching again. He meets with the local Jewish leaders and tries to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah.
[Paul] explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening. Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. And after they had argued back and forth among themselves, they left with this final word from Paul: "The Holy Spirit was right when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet, 
‘Go and say to this people:
When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’
As usual, the author of Acts does not bother telling of what Paul's arguments actually are. Also as usual, Paul seems to have an inability to comprehend that people might just honestly disagree with him. Instead, he ends their conversation with a cheap shot implying that the only reason they do not believe them is because their hearts have been hardened.

I find it interesting that this same passage from Isaiah is quoted in the Gospel of Matthew which was written about the same time as Acts. Were they written from two different traditions, one of which attributed using this to Paul and another which attributed their use to Jesus? Or was the duplication intentional?

Psalms and Proverbs

This proverb seems awkward:
Better to be poor and honest
than to be dishonest and a fool.
It's like it's setting up an opposing pair, but then the second half does not follow through. We get the expected honest/dishonest pairing, but without the expected poor/rich pairing.

10 July 2010

Jul 10

Reference links:
Old Testament
So all Israel was listed in the genealogical records in The Book of the Kings of Israel.
Well then, I'm glad we're not reading The Book of the Kings of Israel. This way, we only get a subset of the genealogical records.

Speaking of which, today seems to be the last day of genealogy. We read the genealogy of the exiles who returned from Babylon, and then the narrative leaps back to the past and we read the genealogy of Saul (again) and about his death.

I did not realize until today how much familiarity made the previous readings of genealogies easier to read. Today's genealogy is completely unfamiliar, and it was much more difficult to follow.

But yes, having just yesterday read Saul's genealogy, today we get to read it again. They are exactly the same, including the introduction part which you might have expected to contain some variety of phrasing. Why oh why, oh author of Chronicles, do you feel the need to repeat yourself so soon?

Saul's death, as far as I can remember, is reported pretty much the same as it was in the the books of Samuel.

New Testament

Paul goes on about how everything is going to be okay. Since he is the main character of the story, we know it will be. I find the message from the angel of Paul's vision interesting:
Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.
It makes it sound as if the other people on the ship are only being saved because they happen to be on the same ship as Paul, who is special. All of those other people who die in shipwrecks? Whatever! At least in Paul's case, he has a pretty legitimate case for why God would be especially protective of him. Most contemporaries of mine who use the "I was saved because of God." argument and ignore everyone else who suffered do not have that justification.

The ship is wrecked and everyone aboard escapes safely to the shore. Again, this is another great scene for a movie about Paul.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today we have another one of those proverbs that reads less like wisdom and more like a statement of how things are:
The poor plead for mercy;
the rich answer with insults.