10 September 2010

Sep 10

Reference links:
Old Testament

We get something a little different today. That's nice.

Isaiah tells of his vision of the Lord. In that message, he is charged with delivering a message with the people. The passage is familiar. The Lord says,
“Yes, go, and say to this people,
'Listen carefully, but do not understand.
Watch closely, but learn nothing.'
Harden the hearts of these people.
Plug their ears and shut their eyes.
That way, they will not see with their eyes,
nor hear with their ears,
nor understand with their hearts
and turn to me for healing.” 
This passage is quoted several times in the New Testament to describe Jesus' reception by the people of his time. A couple observations about this message. Based on the quoting, only the "Listen carefully" line and the one following are what Isaiah is supposed to say to the people. The rest is God's commentary to Isaiah.

In that commentary, it sounds as if God is instructing Isaiah to do what he can to prevent people from understanding. Furthermore, he seems to want to prevent people from turning to him for healing. That seems decidedly at odds with the idea of a loving God.

Next interesting bit is this passage:
Later, the Lord sent this message to King Ahaz: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.”
But the king refused. “No,” he said, “I will not test the Lord like that.”
Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign.
Conventional wisdom is that wanting to test the Lord is bad. That the Lord, being tested, will refuse to submit himself to such human weakness and folly. Such conventional wisdom makes sense to an atheist because people need to somehow validate that God never seems to respond in ways that can be objectively verified.

But this passage provides a counter to such conventional wisdom. Ahaz is admonished for not testing God. Now, one could claim extenuating circumstances (he was, after all, asked to test God). But still, it is an intriguing challenge to conventional wisdom.

Immediately following that is a famous passage. The New Living Translation gives it as this:
All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
However, as other translations point out and as Joel M. Hoffman's And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning goes into at length, the word translated as 'virgin' almost certainly did not mean virgin in the original Hebrew. The NET Bible site has side-by-side comparisons of several translations and an informative translators note:
Traditionally, “virgin.” Because this verse from Isaiah is quoted in Matt 1:23 in connection with Jesus’ birth, the Isaiah passage has been regarded since the earliest Christian times as a prophecy of Christ’s virgin birth. Much debate has taken place over the best way to translate this Hebrew term, although ultimately one’s view of the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is unaffected. Though the Hebrew word used here (עַלְמָה, ’almah) can sometimes refer to a woman who is a virgin (Gen 24:43), it does not carry this meaning inherently. The word is simply the feminine form of the corresponding masculine noun עֶלֶם (’elem, “young man”; cf. 1 Sam 17:56; 20:22). The Aramaic and Ugaritic cognate terms are both used of women who are not virgins. The word seems to pertain to age, not sexual experience, and would normally be translated “young woman.” The LXX translator(s) who later translated the Book of Isaiah into Greek sometime between the second and first century b.c., however, rendered the Hebrew term by the more specific Greek word παρθένος (parqenos), which does mean “virgin” in a technical sense. This is the Greek term that also appears in the citation of Isa 7:14 in Matt 1:23. Therefore, regardless of the meaning of the term in the OT context, in the NT Matthew’s usage of the Greek term παρθένος clearly indicates that from his perspective a virgin birth has taken place.
In short, the author of Matthew quoted a badly translated version, but he didn't know that it was badly translated. The fact that a Biblical author failed to quote the Hebrew Scriptures correctly does, however, discount the plausibility of certain forms of Biblical inspiration.

New Testament

Paul continues ranting without substance. I am sure that he feels very strongly about what he is saying, but it sure does not give me much to say.

I do find this bit at the end interesting:
When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him.
This is interesting because there seems to be a discrepancy between this version of Paul's story and the version told in Acts.
After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.
It could be that Paul was escaping from both the governor and the Jews, but it seems odd that neither passage mentioned both groups.

Psalms and Proverbs

Kings' dinners cannot be trusted.