17 September 2010

Sep 17

Reference links:
Old Testament

The first part of today's reading consists mostly of a prayer/psalm of praise for God and the judgment he will bring (both good and bad). This text further emphasizes the theme of justice for the downtrodden. Overall, this part of the reading definitely has a number of lines that I can see being brought into modern prayers.

Today's reading also contains what I believe is a fairly well known verse that expresses a sentiment that seems to hark back to the deuteronomic vision of history (the good will prosper and the wicked suffer):
But for those who are righteous,
the way is not steep and rough.
You are a God who does what is right,
and you smooth out the path ahead of them.
As we are well aware by now, this sentiment is in direct contrast with the idea developed elsewhere, especially in Job and the New Testament, that the righteous do sometimes have a "steep and rough" path to tread. I would say that the New Testament authors, especially Paul, sometimes even go so far as to imply that being on the steep and rough path is a sign of righteousness.

After that, we switch back to Isaiah's standard gloom and doom. The message here is that the Lord's anger will serve to purify the Israelites and Jerusalem. Through suffering, their sin will be purged. Both this and the preceding section help me see why many Christians seem so fond of Isaiah. I had been quite confused on this point when Isaiah was mostly going on about the downfall of long gone kingdoms.

Speaking of which, the reading ends with some gloom and doom against Samaria. It does have this highly amusing bit:
What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
What great imagery!

New Testament

Paul continues to describe the hopelessness of
those who depend on the law to make them right with God
Paul then tries to make an argument by quoting several pieces of scripture. As usual, when Paul tries to make an argument instead of just declaring what he believes to be so, it comes across as somewhat incoherent and certainly not convincing. I like Harris's description of Paul's attempt to support his view on faith and the law using the Hebrew scriptures:
In support of his appeal to biblical authority, Paul finds only one additional relevant text, Habakkuk 2:4.
So let's see what Paul has going for him. A verse from a minor prophet and a particular interpretation of Abraham's call by God. From this, he tries to conclude that
The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.
Now, it is true that God's promise to Abraham was phrased as unconditional and the promises given with the law of Moses were conditional. However, I do not think that one can conclude from that that the two were incompatible. Certainly, hundreds of years of Jewish thinkers (and, now, thousands of years of Jewish thinkers) do not think the two scenarios as obviously incompatible as Paul wants his readers to think.

As a side note, passages like that which start out today's reading make it very easy to see how the Christian church ended up, for so many years, being anti-semitic.

I wonder what the Jewish believers thought of Paul's letters. It seems that often when Paul refers to the Hebrew scriptures, he is stretching the credulity of one who is familiar with them. I assume it must be even worse for those who are actually knowledgeable about them (such as Jewish scholars).

The converted gentiles, like many (sadly, that probably should be most) modern Christians, would not be familiar enough with the Hebrew scriptures to see how weak Paul's case really is and how much he is picking and choosing to prove his point. (And if you allow yourself to start picking and choosing, you can use the Bible to justify nearly any position.)

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.