30 December 2010

Dec 30

Reference links:
Old Testament

It's the very last book in the Christian ordering of the Old Testament books. It seems odd to think that after a year, we are almost done. What will our last book be about?
Contrasting foreign nations that honor Yahweh with Judah's apathetic sacrificial cult, the prophet Malachi instructs a disspirited, disorganized audience of Judeans on how to please their God and predicts the future Day of Yahweh, evoking the reappearance of Elijah and the coming of Yahweh's irresistible messenger of the covenant. 
... In Protestant and Catholic bibles, Malachi appears as the last book of the Old Testament, an appropriate placement because the book concludes with a prediction that Yahweh will send a "messenger" who will prepare his people for the climatic event of history, the Day of Yahweh. The title of the book, Malachi, means "my messenger"; it may have been taken from the reference at 3:1 and may not be the name of a historical prophet. Although the text gives no information about the writer or the time of composition, the book is customarily dated in the fifth century BCE, shortly before the time when traditional prophecy in Israel is thought to have ceased. 
When we get to today's reading, we see that the "apathetic sacrificial cult" that Harris refers to brings up one of those topics that are uncomfortable for moderns. If, as other prophets claim, it is the state of the heart of the one who gives the offering that matters, why is God so obsessed with physical perfection of the sacrificial animals? Perhaps, one might claim, the problem is that these animals are being given as sacrifices just to get rid of them. However, that stands rather in contrast to prophet's reasoning as to why such sacrifices are bad:
When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
Are we to be expected to believe that a governor cares about the state of heart of those who give him gifts? No! He just cares about the quality goods. By analogy, that is what the prophet is implying about God. A later statement further supports the "you should give me good things because I am powerful" view of Malachi's God:
“Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and my name is feared among the nations!"

The next interesting bit is Malachi's claim that other nations honor Yahweh:
But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name.
Is this a claim that other people were honoring the God of Israel, or is it a claim for the more universalist belief that other people worshiping their gods purely were actually honoring the one true God claimed as the God of Israel?

This discussion is followed by a stern warning to the Levites to shape up.

The next section starts with a rather quotable bit:
Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors?
As is usually the case with quotable passages of the Bible, this is followed by some bits that do not seem to have quite as much continuing relevance. In this case, the author rants against men who marry women who worship idols. The following bit ranting against men who are unfaithful to their wives and against divorce have greater continued relevant. The bit about divorce is, in fact often quoted at length.

Tomorrow we finish Malachi and the Bible.

New Testament

Today's reading starts with a verse that implies that the author of Revelation believed, or at least was willing to assume, the ancient Jewish cosmology of the earth and heavens existing in the midst of a primordial ocean:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.
At this point everything, including Jerusalem, is renewed, and God will live among his people. Everyone good and victorious will receive blessings and all who are evil or do not believe will be thrown into the fiery lake.

The renewed Jerusalem is presented as the bride of the lamb, and it has all sorts of symbolic construction details. It is from this description that we get popular depictions of heaven as a place full of things like streets of gold.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's proverbs are all about the value and skills of a virtuous wife.