15 December 2010

Dec 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

As we zoom through all of these minor prophets, I am kind of annoyed that Understanding The Bible orders its OT commentary by (approximately) the order of the books in the Hebrew scripture. Such an order is educational but somewhat annoying from a practical perspective.

In any case, let's see what the book of Micah is all about:
Sharply critical of Jerusalem's ruling classes, including Davidic monarchs and priests, the rural prophet Micah prophesies doom upon Israel and Judah. Expanded by later interpolations, Micah's oracles are edited to include predictions of Yahweh's future universal reign, additional denunciations of social abuses, and hopes for restoration.
... Micah, fourth and last of the eight-century BCE prophets, was a younger contemporary of Isaiah of Jerusalem. Active between 740 and 700 BCE, he directed his earliest prophecies against Israel's idolatries, predicting the fall of the northern kingdom. 
In today's reading, Micah spreads the message of guilt and judgment to both Samaria and Jerusalem, Israel and Judah.

I find this part of Samaria's punishment to be noteworthy:
Her streets will be plowed up
for planting vineyards.
Generally, Biblical judgment against cities seems to come in the form of complete destruction. However, it makes sense that a rural prophet would see turning the city back into the countryside as fitting punishment. A similar passage is mentioned later in reference to Jerusalem:
Because of you, Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field;
Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins!
A thicket will grow on the heights
where the Temple now stands.
Continuing on, the people of various cities are told to prepare for punishment. The powerful people who oppress others will be marked out for punishment because of their evil. A similar theme is picked up later when Micah declares the guilt of the oppressive leaders (using cannibalistic imagery).
Micah then goes on to rant a bit about how the people do not listen to true prophets like himself. Instead, they only listen to comforting false prophets. Later, there is another rant against false prophets which ends with Micah's declaration of his own power as a prophet. I wonder if the author of Jonah had Micah in mind when thinking about the prophets who were a bit too full of themselves.

Micah also includes the standard message that Israel will someday be restored in the days when the Lord will rule all the world's people from his mountain and weapons of war will be repurposed. But until then, there will be suffering and exile.

New Testament

Today, the lamb starts breaking the seals. This brings forth a white horse with an armed and crowned rider; the rider wins many battles. The breaking of the second seal brings a red horse with an armed rider; the rider takes peace from the earth. The third seal brings a black horse whose rider holds scales; he will make food scarce and expensive. The forth reveals a pale green horse whose rider was Death; he is given authority to kill 1/4 of the earth's population.

These are the famous horsemen of the apocalypse, although they appear to be conquest, war, famine, and death rather than the more familiar war, famine, pestilence, and death. In this telling, Death gets to take charge of pestilence.

But more to the point, if you have read Terry Pratchett's discworld novels, you are probably giggling. Death is a pretty prominent character in some of those such as Thief of Time, and a very amusing one at best. The Bible's version, not so cheery.

Continuing on to the fifth seal. This seal reveals the martyred faithful souls. They are waiting to judge the world and avenge their blood. No loving judgment from that crowd. They get white roles and are told that their time is near, but they have to wait for some other martyrs. Now, given that the whole history of Christian and Jewish martyrdom could not have lasted much longer than history since Revelation is written, we once again see how wrong the Biblical authors were with there conception of soon.

The breaking of the sixth seal causes an earthquake and darkness. Various other disasters occur (many of which would be downright impossible if you took them literally). These disasters cause everyone on earth to hide and ask to be saved from the coming wrath.

That ends today's reading.

Psalms and Proverbs

Apparently we start the sayings of Agur today. All I know about Agur is that is the son of Jakeh. In the first three verses of Agur's saying, he declares himself to be lacking wisdom and worthiness. The forth praises the superiority of God. In short, classic techniques for trying to impress people. Set the bar low, bring to mind the higher standard, and then implicitly be compared favorably to that higher standard when you exceed the expectations you set.