09 December 2010

Dec 9

Reference links:
Old Testament

Let's see what Understanding The Bible has to say about the Book of Joel:
After comparing a plague of locusts then devastating Judah to Yahweh's imminent day of wrath, Joel predicts an outpouring of the divine spirit on all humanity and proclaims judgment on foreign nations.
... Although it gives no conclusive evidence of the time it was written, the conditions it describes --- locust invasions, drought, and crop failure --- suggest that the prophet was active during the fifth century BCE, a period of severe economic hardship for the postexilic community of  Judah.
It sounds like things are going to be a bit confusing at time:
The second part of Joel presents some difficulties because in the manuscript text, many passages seem to be out of order.
Harris also tells us that this book, with it's signs of the end times, cosmic battles, outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and claims of divine presence among the faithful, had a large influence on later writers such as the author of Acts.

Joel, the author, seems to live in a time when the lands were plagued by many types of locusts. He interprets these as a warning.

I have been reading Guns, Germs, and Steel so I find the crop descriptions fascinating. That book makes me realize how much farming and crops are technologies; they were developed fairly recently. By the time the Joel was written, many staples, including the difficult to domesticate apple, were being grown as the staples of the food supply in Judah. Yet so many things that we consider staples, such as all the foods developed in the new world and anything domesticated in the last couple thousand years, was not yet domesticated. How odd it would be to be transported to a world where the food was both so familiar and so different.

In any case, that is all rather beside the point. The point is that the locusts ate all of these crops. Also, there's drought and fire. Joel takes these disasters as a sign that the day of the Lord is near.
The day of the Lord is near,
the day when destruction comes from the Almighty.
and later
Let everyone tremble in fear
because the day of the Lord is upon us.
He was as wrong about that as the New Testament authors were. Like with the NT books, it is difficult to make a case that Joel meant that the day of judgment was near in cosmic rather than human terms. If the day was only near in cosmic terms, why would one plague of locusts be a sign of it? The locusts would be no more noteworthy than any other natural disaster.

The locusts come in crowds, vast and unstoppable like an invading army. The Lord leads them in their destruction. Because Joel believes that this attack comes from the Lord, he tells the people to repent. Joel,  continuing the fine tradition started by Moses, advises that the people pray that God saves them so as to save God's reputation:
Let them pray, “Spare your people, Lord!
Don’t let your special possession become an object of mockery.
Don’t let them become a joke for unbelieving foreigners who say,
‘Has the God of Israel left them?’”
Reminding God that he will be mocked for killing off his people is, I suppose, a tried and true strategy.

In any case, Joel promises that if the people repent, the Lord will end their troubles and bless them. After this, the Lord will pour out his spirit upon his people. All will see prophetic visions and there will be wonders to behold. Those who call on the Lord will be saved and those who do not will be judged for harming his people.

As punishment, for taking the Israelites in slavery, God will give the people of these offending nations in slavery to the people of Judah. That, I think, is a rather questionable judgment for a so called good and moral God to give out.

Once the divine judgment has been given, the people of Judah will live in peace and prosperity forever, but the lands of their enemies will become desolate.

And that's the end of that book.

New Testament

We start our last New Testament book today: the Book of the Revelation of John. Like Daniel, this is an apocalyptic work. According to Harris,
Revelation affirms Christianity's original hope for an immediate transformation of the world and assures the faithful that God's prearranged plan, including the destruction of evil and the advent of Christ's universal reign, is about to be accomplished. The book presents an apokalysis (unveiling) of unseen realities, both in heaven as it is now and on earth as it will be in the future. Placing a government oppression and Christian suffering in a cosmic perspective, Revelation conveys its message of hope for believers in the cryptic language of metaphor and symbol.
... Although Revelation was not the last New Testament book written,  its position at the end of the canon is thematically appropriate. The first Christians believed that their generation would witness the end of the present wicked age and the beginning of God's direct rule over the earth. Revelation expresses that apocalyptic hope more powerfully than any other Christian writing. ... Although the Gospels and Paul's letters contain strongly apocalyptic passages, Revelation is the only New Testament document composed entirely in the form of a literary apocalypse. 
... Although one tradition states that Revelation is the work of John the Apostle, son of Zebedee, and that he is the same person who wrote John's Gospel, this assertion was questioned even in the early church. ... 
 Eusebius suggests that another John, known as "the Elder," who lived at Ephesus about 100 CE, may have been the author. A few critics accept this view, although the majority believe that we can know little about the writer except for his name and his assertion that he had been exiled to Patmos, a tiny Aegean island off the western coast of Asia Minor (western Turkey). 
... Writing about 180 CE, the churchman Irenaeus stated that Revelation was composed late in the reign of Domitian, who was emperor from 81 to 96 CE. Internal references to government hostilities toward Christians, policies then associated with Domitian's administration, support Irenaeus' assessment. Most scholars date the work about 95 or 96 CE. 
On to today's reading! The author starts out by declaring that he, John, is sharing a message that was given to Jesus to show his servants. The author then declares that "the time is near", continuing in the tradition of authors who thought the end times would be soon.

The letter opens with greetings to seven churches; the choice of seven is probably symbolic given the numbers prominence in the rest of today's reading. After the greetings, John gives a brief bit of personal background on how he came to write this book.

As part of this background, John tells of a vision of seven lamp stands which surround "someone like the Son of Man" who holds seven stars and has a sword coming out of his mouth. This vision seems rather terrifying, and John, based on his falling at the vision's feet, seems to agree. The vision reveals himself to be Jesus and explains that the lamps represent the seven churches and the stars represent their angels. The idea of groups of individuals having a protecting angel reminds me of Daniel with it's vision of the archangel Michael defending the Israelites.

That's all for today.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of particular note.