18 December 2010

Dec 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

Habakkuk is fun to say. Try it: Habakkuk! Here is the description from Understanding The Bible:
Composed when Babylon was about to devastate Judah, Habakkuk contains a miniature theodicy, reflecting the prophets effort to find a worthy purpose in Yahweh's permitting the destruction of his people by unbelieving foreigners.
Like Micah, it is believed that Habakkuk was modified by later editors. In this case, the modifications may include the whole third chapter.

Habakkuk's vision consists of two questions to God each followed by an answer. The second answer is followed by a prayer.

The first question can be summarized as: Why does God not seem to listen when his people are surrounded by violence and wickedness and cry out for help?

To this, the Lord replies that he is raising up the Babylonians to conquer other people even though the Babylonians are guilty of pride and cruelty. In conjunction with Habakkuk's answer, it seems as if God is saying that his answer to the wickedness of his chosen people is destruction by the hands of the cruel and proud Babylonians.

Habakkuk's section question is: Will the Lord really let the evil Babylonians get away with killing off God's chosen people? Will he let them get away with killing everyone, even those who are more righteous than the Babylonians?

The Lord's reply to this question is no. The Babylonians will not remain in power forever. The proud, the wealthy, the greedy, the corrupted will have the tide turn on them, while the righteous will live. Yet this response is general enough that it seems to apply not only to the Babylonians but to the Israelites too: the righteous will live, but those who oppress others will be turned upon by those they oppress.

The book ends with a prayer from Habakkuk. The prayer praises God's power and splendor, sometimes in rather violent terms (pestilence, plagues, earthquakes). Habukkuk then goes on to imply that when God destroys, it aids in the bringing of eventual salvation:
Was it in anger, Lord, that you struck the rivers
and parted the sea?
Were you displeased with them?
No, you were sending your chariots of salvation!
It is for this reason, to save his chosen people, that God shows his fury. Therefore, the Lord will eventually defeat the people he uses as a tool to punish his chosen ones.

This theodicy has two problems. The first problem is that, like all theodicies, it ultimately rests on the assertion that God is mysterious and his ways cannot be understood. This is a minor problem. Although that basis makes the theodicy unsatisfying in the general sense (it provides no real explanatory power), it is still perfectly sufficient for anyone who is willing to accept the basic premise that God is mysterious and cannot be understood.

The second problem, more substantial, problem is another common one. If God is using the Babylonians as tools in his master plan, what does that imply about their free will. On the one hand, you could say that God is just using the evil that would be present anyway. On the other hand, the first of the replies Habukkuk attributes to the Lord explicitly says that God is raising up the Babylonians to be his tool of destruction. Thus, at the very least, you could say God is enhancing their natural evil tendencies which does not seem like a thing a so-called good God would do.

This second objection was not likely a problem for Habakkuk since he seems to imply that the only important people are the Israelites. Thus, if God uses other people as tools, it is fine. All that matters is that God follows through on the plan to punish and restore of Israel.

New Testament

More trumpets! Today we read about numbers 5 and 6. Both are weird.

Trumpet number five releases locusts from a bottomless pit. And they are the weirdest locusts you have ever heard of:
The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. They had what looked like gold crowns on their heads, and their faces looked like human faces. They had hair like women’s hair and teeth like the teeth of a lion. They wore armor made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle. They had tails that stung like scorpions, and for five months they had the power to torment people.
I am sure that's all symbolic of something, but I have no idea what. More interestingly is this:
[The locusts] were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were told not to kill them but to torture them for five months with pain like the pain of a scorpion sting.
Five months of torture? Even with all the symbolism, the very idea of a God who would command five months of pure torture in any form or context (and, even worse, an eternity of torture in hell), can hardly be considered good. At some point, you cross over from just punishment to cruelty and sadism.

The sixth trumpet releases four angels who have been bound in the Euphrates River. They kill 1/3 of the people on earth in various ways. But those who did not die still refused to repent and worshiped idols.

That's all for today. In some ways, it's more entertaining reading Revelation and not caring about the symbolism. If I cared what the symbolism meant, I would be looking things up and making guesses. As it is, I just get to enjoy the crazy.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverb is more stand alone, and a pretty sensible one:
Never slander a worker to the employer,
or the person will curse you, and you will pay for it.