Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lev 4 for Feb 17

Behind the specification of procedures to be followed is an interesting examination of types of various sins. The paragraph with 4:2 in it talks about doing something wrong unintentionally, including among priests. We're such a cynical age such things sound tinny to us, as a form of rationalization, but after all, this category here is to be dealt with by a sin offering (4:3). So to categorize unintentional sin is not a way of rationalizing it, in Leviticus. It's sin, with an offering that needs to be offered. But then, another part of our brains, fueled by another part of our culture perhaps, says, "oh, that's too much: we don't want to rationalize our sin, but we don't want to conceive of it as something for which an offering to God is necessary either." Sorry, but we're not trying to mirror our culture into Leviticus, or onto the Lord. But we must live with the fact.

The second category, mentioned in Lev 4:13-21, is becoming very interesting in our times once more, though in the past it was shunned as unfair because it doesn't follow a distributive justice model, a model that Scripture also uses (Ez 18:4). This second category is the sin of the whole culture, hitherto undiscovered, upon discovery. Upon discovery, the culture, the "assembly" of the group that commits the error ("the whole congregation of Israel commits error," 4:13) must make an offering. A present-day example would be the recent apology to the American Indian by the current U.S. Administration.

The third category (4:22-26) is very well known: unintentional sins of the leader. These need a particular offering, separate from the previous offering of a bull. This is the offering of a male goat without defect. Again, a separate category with its own procedure.

The fourth category (4:27-31) is the unintentional sins of the "people of the land" (4:27 lit). By calling for a female goat in this case, whereas the leader's sins require a mail goat (4:28; 4:23) the text is saying that both are sin, but also that the sins of the leader have a different quality than those of the non-leaders.

Of the many things that can be said about the pattern of the details of the procedures for these offerings in each case, let's not overlook what they have in common.

First of all, these offerings are triggered by committing of (unintentional) sin, or, the subsequent discovery of it. They are not triggered by a scheduled festival, even the Day of Atonement.

Secondly, these offerings point to forgiveness explicitly, if there is any question about whether or not the offering provides for forgiveness, it is explicitly stated to provide it (20, 26, 31). The first case is encapsulated in the second (20).

Anything missing here, thinking about the whole procedure? This whole chapter is about sin offering triggered by the committing of various sins. It is triggered whether known immediately as in the first case, or discovered later, as in the other three.

What about the actors in the event? Those who commit have one role: the killing of the animal. The priests have another: the offering of the animal. This division of labor highlights the distinctive function of the priest in the Old Testament portrayal of forgiveness. All the guilty party can do is kill, not offer what is killed. Someone outside the guilty party must do the offering. No self-forgiveness going on here.

Pr 9:13-18 for Feb 16

The "woman of folly" (in the Jerusalem Bible of 9:13, "Dame Folly," which personifies folly) practices what is sacrosanct and near universal in most societies: the association of like with like, the concept that birds of a feather flock together. She, being naive (13), calls out to the naive (16); like, calling to like, to get together.

This is in contrast to wisdom, which also calls out to the naive, as we have recently read (Pr 9:1-6). Other contrasts: wisdom is inviting us to "understanding" (9:6). Folly "knows nothing" (13). If people are "making their paths straight" (15), wisdom calls them to go forwards, to "proceed" (9:6), but folly calls those people to make a turn (16).

Wisdom and folly are both calling out. There has been lots of ink spilled over the extent to which an invitation is a quid pro quo, an "in order to, you must" idea. This is not supported. Folly says "let him turn in here" (9:16). Wisdom says, "let him turn in here" (9:4). Both wisdom and folly have the same target: the naive person. Both are in direct competition in the city (9:3; 9:14). However, wisdom is at "the tops of the heights of the city" (3), whereas folly "is on a seat by the high places of the city." (14). Perhaps there is an allusion to the exalted location of wisdom, compared to that of the woman of folly.

The passage has many comparisons to convince the reader which is better. Although both wisdom and folly have the same target, they have opposite locations for those who turn in to them. For wisdom, it is life (9:6), living. For folly, it is Sheol, the realm of the dead (9:18).

The offers are also of different quality: wisdom offers prepared food, and wine (9:2). Folly offers bread and water (17). The reader is invited to conclude (in response to folly's claim that "bread eaten in secret is pleasant," etc) that what folly offers ... still tastes like bread! and that folly's "water" after stolen, still tastes like water! This is implicitly compared to what wisdom offers, the prepared food and the wine.

Thus not only are the endpoints contrasted (life and death), but what the offers are in themselves are also contrasted. That is the advantage of the Wisdom books. They invite us by other ways than just prohibition and command. They invite us to analyze what things themselves are, and what they provide. Religion is a bigger thing than command and prohibition only. It is knowledge and wisdom along the way, and that, of course, by invitation.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ex 40 for Feb 15

The details of the tabernacle, the garments, and the blessing of Moses (39:45) give way to the placement of things in chapter 40. Location, location, location, finally gives way in the final paragraph of Exodus to the location of the presence of of God with the Israelites "throughout all their journeys." (40:36).

It is a fitting ending for the book which began with "the sons of Israel who came to Egypt" (Ex 1:1). Early in the narrative, God announces "I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians" (3:8), and finally in our chapter for Feb 15, "Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (40:35).

Put yourself in Moses' shoes. All that work! Chapter 40 is full of all the work that Moses personally does, adjusting the position of everything (40:17ff), doing everything just right (40:16), including the anointing the priests (15). And then, what all those commands were for ... were they "for us?" No. "The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (34,35), and ... "Moses was not able to enter." Would you be bummed, or thrilled?

Ex 38 for Feb 14

A ton of gold, about three tons of silver and two tons of bronze (38:24,25,29), carried by the Israelites as they journeyed in the wilderness, fashioned into the elements which went into the tabernacle and its furnishings -- seems a lot! and great!

It is great for a couple of reasons. It's a good reminder of the weight of worship in a metaphorical sense.

If each able-bodied man (38:26) shared the carrying of the weight equally, it would be only about a third of an ounce per person (cf. Ex 25:3). About the weight of a coin.

On the other hand, the total would outweigh the weight of the golden calf (32:24). And rightly so.

And so the weight of metal carried by the Israelites was enough to remind them of the "gravity" of worship, and not so much that the individual contribution to worship was too heavy a reminder.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Luke 8:11-15

I have some concerns involved with the use of this passage among others to establish the following set of ideas. I do not think this passage establishes them.

1. If we become tired of doing good works, we will be eternally condemned.
2. If we are eternally condemned, we did not endure until the end.
3. What we sow, that we will reap at the proper time.

the good soil

In the course of this parable, the sown seed, which is "the word of God" (8:11) corresponds exactly to one of four cases. In one case, it is that of "the good soil" (8:15). This case corresponds to

a. "the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart ..." (8:15);
b. "and hold it fast..." (8:15);
c. "and bear fruit with perseverance" (or, "steadfastness").

Looking at these statements, we immediately rule out 3, as out of the scope of this case within the parable. This case, indeed, the whole parable, is not speaking at all of what a person sows, but of the word of God sown in a person.

We immediately rule out 2 as out of scope. This case within the parable is entirely descriptive of the good soil, and does not speak about eternal condemnation, either to assert it in some sense or deny it.

This is often overlooked. The outcome discussed of this case is the bearing of fruit. To say anything from this case within the parable about eternal condemnation is unwarranted jumping to conclusions.

This same logic applies to the attempt to use this case in support of 1. This case does not address eternal condemnation at all.

In all candor, there is no a priori reason it could not have. The text of 8:15 may easily have added some comment about failing to hold fast, or failing to bear fruit with perseverance, but this portion of the parable doesn't.

among the thorns

In the case of the seed which "fell among the thorns", who does this case correspond to? "These are the ones who have heard, and

a. as they go on their way they are choked with worries";
b. "...and riches";
c. "...and pleasures of [this] life";
d. "...and bring no fruit to maturity".

It is important to understand that the outcome described is no less than the fact that they bring no fruit to maturity. However, the process is described not only by this negative outcome, but by the fact that "they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life."

The plant itself is choked, resulting in no fruit. Therefore, again, as in the previous case, it is not describing what the plant sows, but what the effect of the word of God sown on such as soil is. Therefore 3 is not a consideration, any more in this case than in the one previously discussed.

Any argument about the plant dying, or not being alive at all, is unfounded. 8:7 shows that "the thorns grew up with it." Growth implies that the plant is alive. It is the mature fruit that does not exist. An existing plant is choked by thorns.

We will be playing a repeating theme in pointing out again, with this case, that nothing is said about eternal condemnation. Such things are often called "ad hoc"s, the bringing up of a consideration not spoken of or implied by the text.

However, someone may well ask the question if this case describes something that "endured to the end." To ask this question about this case, is to ask whether the plant being choked, dies. The parable does not say that. The interest of this case is the thorns growing up with the plant, and the negative consequences of it being choked by them. By implication, the consequences of those whose case corresponds to this one is that they are choked and bring no fruit to maturity.

Of course, this picture is not a commended or commendable case. It is meant to draw us to the sad conclusion of no fruit of life brought to maturity, due to what the thorns signify, the choking of the plant.

Lots more can be said about the moral dangers of the things signified by the thorns: worries, riches, and pleasures of this life. This case is assumed to apply to some, as all the cases do. We must take this sad outcome to heart.

on rocky soil

What does this case respond to? Do we see a pattern or sequence in the presentation of these case in our parable? The last case is one of perseverance or steadfastness; the previous one is a case of growth but no fruit brought to maturity; this case is of growth "for awhile" (8:13). In the description of it in 8:6, this plant actually grew up, but "as soon as it grew up it withered away." (To anticipate, the time aspect of the first case of the four is of even shorter duration. So we see the pattern of the parable from the first to the fourth case.) Here (8:13), "those on the rocky soil are those who

a. "when they hear, receive the word with joy";
b. "...have no [firm] root";
c. "who believe for awhile";
d. "...and in time of temptation fall away".

What is the difference in the description of this case, compared to that of the seed choked by thorns? Both plants grow up. The third case has no fruit, and our case here has no root, or no firm root. However, this case receives the word with joy and grows up. It is after growing up that it withers away. Therefore this is a more severe condition than that of the seed choked by thorns: whereas the plant choked brings no fruit to maturity, this says nothing per se about the its internal condition, the causes being outside the plant. However, in this case, the plant itself withers away.

This plant falls away in time of temptation. It withers away. The two descriptions are mutually supportive: to fall away, having no [firm] root, is a withering away. The problem is the not having a firm root. There the moral point of the case lies. Withering and falling away due to having no firm root is what is to be taken to heart, and this case avoided. Does 1, 2, or 3 apply here? No. For the same reasons. The parable does not make a point about the final state of this case. Indeed, the words chosen are different than those describing a death of the plant. In the case of bringing no fruit to maturity, and in this case here, that of withering, the words are deliberately evocative of something that happens during the lifetime of a plant which requires taking to heart. Eternal condemnation is not the subject of this parable.

However, the relationship between having a root or firm root and not withering away and falling away is implied. Not only so, but there is a cessation of belief implied in this case. To believe "for awhile" is to have a time come in which they do not believe. This, in turn, is connected with falling away and withering. Opposed to this is the single positive fact that the word is received at once with joy. Therefore this case answers to the premise of 1, and the conclusion of 2, but not either syllogism as stated. The conclusion is that the plant withers and falls away.

beside the road

Finally, we deal with the opening case of the parable. Here, unlike with the other three cases, where we must point out that salvation or eternal condemnation is not mentioned, in this case it is. If this is indicative of a deliberate contrast, then, since this case mentions lack of salvation and the other ones don't, the other three cases are not trying to describe eternal condemnation, by that very contrast. In this case, however, the parable helps us by explicitly talking about lack of salvation. In 8:12, "Those beside the road are

a. ...those who have heard";
b. then "the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart";
c. ..."so that they will not believe and be saved."

To believe the word they have heard would be to be saved. This is prevented by the taking away the word from their heart.

We have been talking all along about plants that sprang from the word of God sown. Not in this case. Yet, even here, those beside the road are viewed as those upon whom this event has occurred, or rather these two, the planting of the word in the heart, and the taking away by the devil of the word from it. What is prevented by the devil (and the trampling of the ground under foot, 8:5)? Time to grow. To land beside the road, those conditions must change in order for a seed to grow.

The moral implications of this for the hearer are securely in the area of seeing the necessity of time for the sprouting of the Word of God to life, and that time must be free of the activity of the devil taking the seed away, and free from being trampled under foot. The word of God cannot be trampled under foot or taken away by evil, or else there will be no opp to believe it and be saved.

Examining our assertions 1-3, we see that this parable gives no support for them. The first case is the only one demonstrable as to lack of salvation, and it is because of the conditions obtaining at the beginning of the event, not whatsoever at the end.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mt 7:21-23

We make lots of mistakes about Mt 7:21-23

First, we think of doing the will of the Father as doing what's right, what's commonly regarded as ethically good. Not so. It is doing the specific will of God. It is the carrying out of the King's bidding. Those whom the King sends to do His will are not aware ahead of time what He will ask them to do. This is shown by the rest of the saying: the point is He never knew them. They didn't do His will, and they were evildoers no matter what they ethically, for TWO reasons: first, because He never knew them, and second, they said they were doing everything they did -- in His name! We've forgotten what it means to do something in the King's name. We're not monarchical enough in our thinking, although we remember stories about kingdoms. To do something in the King's name is to do it under His bidding! But He never knew them! The King sends those He knows to do His bidding. Those who claim His name for what they were doing, whom He never knew -- evildoers!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mt 27:32-66 for Feb 13

Matthew's story of the death of Jesus on the cross (Mt 27:35ff) shows many elements of society in attendance, nearby, or passing by, just as if in a painting -- the lone exception, we might say, was the disciples.

The "soldiers of the governor" -- "the whole Roman cohort" (27:27) -- carried out the execution (35). They were not portrayed in a kindly light (28,29,30,31,32,34), because of their verbal and physical cruelty. They were knowledgeable enough in the cruelty, yet their culpability is not given the sole stage. Like many soldiers of many times, they indulged in their role, had nothing much left they could do, and receded into a background of the picture (35-36).

The behavior of the two "robbers" (38,44) -- that is, the two who were being crucified with Jesus on the right and left of Him -- their behavior during the crucifixion is made identical, as far as Matthew chooses to describe it (cf. Lk 23:39-43), to what "the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders" did. How ironic that these two elements of the story say the same things at this point (Mt 27:43-44). The crime of robbery was nothing compared to the mocking heart (41) shared with the religious group (41,44) and passers-by (39).

The passers-by were hurling abuse and wagging their heads. What was that? What are the passers-by passing by for, one might reasonably ask, there at Place-of-a-Skull (27:33)? Lest we think of it as a group of ignorant youth, letting off steam by making fun of those older, we hear what they have to say in 27:40; for just passing by, they are quite knowledgeable and are hardly there by chance.

There is a snowballing of religious hatred here: the almost "formal" irony of the sign above the Lord's head, put there by the soldiers (27:37): "This Is Jesus the King of the Jews." Then, what the passers-by "hurl" -- they certainly aren't asking for clarification -- is joined together with what the religious leaders say (or rather, mock): verses 42-43. Last of all the robbers. Soldiers, passers-by, big religious leaders, adding mockery to the abuse and head wagging of the passers-by, and last of all, at least one of the two co-crucified robbers....

AND ALL OF THEM UNKNOWINGLY SAYING THINGS WHICH MEAN FAR MORE THAN THEY COULD HAVE KNOWN! The soldiers' sign: He really IS the King of the Jews. The passers-by: Christ really is the Son of God, and the Temple of His body really will be rebuilt in three days. The religious leaders: God really will rescue Him, and God really does delight in Him. The robbers, echoing the insults they hardly were the ones that invented, almost helping us learn everything said, so as not to miss the depth of unintentional affirmation in what they all were saying.

The inner disciples were conspicuous in their absence. But others were there: "those who were standing there" (47). Matthew reveals something very interesting about them in a moment. But among them at this very moment before Jesus dies, one is moved to do something besides stand there; but only one (48).

Then "Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit." (50). The "again" there is a reference to verse 46. Of course, those who heard that, the ones "who were standing there" got the meaning of that wrong too (47). This almost certainly points to them not knowing Aramaic: almost certainly, then, they were Gentiles! Gentiles were standing there when Jesus died (cf. 28:19).

The world was all there, and the sheep (except the women afar off (55)) were scattered.

Ex 34 for Feb 12

Ex 34:2. What are you gonna make of God Himself telling you "Be ready by morning"?

In other words, put yourself in Moses' place. He asked for something like this in 33:13. God continues in 34:2, "...and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to Me on the top of the mountain."

On the one hand, "be ready by morning" is not a type of command that sends a person running off. It's like an appointment setup. Also, this is not Moses' first meeting with God. It's almost a procedural meeting in its sound: God is going to write on some new tablets to replace the old ones, and Moses is to make blank ones and bring them (34:1).

On the other hand, that's not all that happens. God gives Him the 33:13 request. And if the word 'more' could hold what happens, then I would say and "more." But "more" doesn't hold it (34:5-7).

The closest thing in my experience to this is the experience of hoping and asking for something good from someone you love, and not knowing whether the answer will be yes or no. And then, completely out of your own control, their love hits you like you were on a train track and you never saw the high-speed train coming. Some people say such a thing has never happened to them. Some people will say maybe. But it happened between Moses and God here.

Moses had asked "Let me know Your ways." In support of the significance of 34:5-7, and the fact that we're still figuring it out, is the translation in 34:7. Why do the translators add "the guilty," confessing (in the translations that confess to such things) that the phrase is not in the original? It's because we don't comprehend very well how God "forgives iniquity, transgression and sin, yet He will by no means leave unpunished, visiting the iniquity..." on the same people. So we are still trying to say those must be other people, and we put it as "He will be no means leave the guilty unpunished." The truth is, both forgiveness and punishment can occur to the same people regarding the same sin. Numbers 14:20-25 is an illustration of how this can be, in the temporal sense, and perhaps something like 2 Cor 5:10 explains how something like this is part of the relationship of God and Christians, not just God and the people of 34:5-7.

So we're still figuring out Ex 34:5-7. An easy way to remember the location of this passage is Exodus 3 4 5 6 7. Thought I'd share that. ;)

There is something regarding theodicy here, just as there is in Romans 3:25-26 on this same subject, the relationship of God's righteousness to sin. Non-Christians feel this intuitively. They know because of a sense of right and wrong that the glib self-association of Christians with God's approval and non-Christians with God's rejection just sounds like the taunt of a proud older brother to the younger, saying the younger brother is "out" and he is "in." When a non-Christian hears passages saying (Ga 6:7) "God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" -- that actually can used by God to appeal to the person's conscience. Who could trust a deity that is a god of partiality? Romans says unequivocally (Rm 2:11) that "there is no partiality with God." Grace is not partiality. The way God exercises grace is NOT partiality. The non-Christian might listen, if we can explain how 3 4 5 6 7, and other verses, must be used to explain, not compromise, God's righteousness.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ex 32 for Feb 11

Ex 32. No sin against greater light had ever happened to that point since the Fall.

In a sense, the whole movement of Genesis through Exodus 31 has been necessary to get us to here with understanding. Looking at Exodus 20:20, we'd have to say that when "all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance" (20:18), and then Moses said all that was "in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin" -- it didn't work. We'd have to say that what the "sons of Israel" saw: "the appearance of the glory of the Lord" (24:17), which was "like a consuming fire on the mountain top" (24:17) -- didn't work. Aaron saw God (24:9-10), and "they ate and drank," remember that? Well, that worked. They "sat down to eat and to drink" with their new idol in 32:6. That Aaron made, along with an altar (32:4-5).

And no clearer explanation embedded in the narrative had yet been given of the handling of sin. The people "have corrupted themselves" (7). Their destruction (10) is not just a "consequence," the way we tell children "what you did has consequences." It was the deserving of wrath. And the wrath of God is not a "fit," the way it is with us. The wrath of God is the cause of being destroyed by God.

So the shock of the narrative is "let Me alone" (10) from God to Moses! God anticipates Moses and what He is going to say. What did Moses say? He already could have had his own life and progeny, so what Moses said was not for his own sake.

Look at the "argument," if we can be so bold, with the text, between Moses and God! God says to Moses "your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt..." (32:7). Moses says to God "Your people, whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt..." (32:11). God tells Moses to leave Him alone, "that My anger may burn..." (32:10). Moses says "why does Your anger burn against Your people...?" (32:11).

And then you see why we've had to read from Genesis to get here. Two arguments by Moses. The second one is (32:13) "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel" -- pointedly, Israel, -- didn't we wonder, way back in Genesis, what this striving with God talk was all about, even prevailing! (Gen 32:28)? The name "Israel" is pointed here. God had used "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" in meeting Moses (Ex 3:6, 15), and Moses had adopted that (4:5). But not here. Moses is not the first one that God has allowed to prevail in striving for a blessing, and not the last (Rm 5:10).

But why is it Moses that is here, at this point? That's behind the first argument by Moses (32:12). The second one (32:13) was Moses asking God to remember His promises to this nation descended from Israel, the one who strove with God, and prevailed. The First argument (32:12) is Moses saying, in effect, 'how about me, and everything that used me, regarding the Egyptians. Did you do that regarding the Egyptians, so that that whole thing would backfire?'

What Moses actually says is "Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth.'...." (32:12).

So Moses is permitted to have a dialog with God, an argument, with two points, and of course God knows all this, that's why He anticipates in 32:10.

The outcome is amazing: "So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people." (32:14).

The fire on the mountain. Seeing God. All the people's promising (19:8), and all Moses' explaining to them "all these words which the LORD had commanded him" (19:7). None of that worked.

What "worked" and ascended to the mind of God and "changed" it -- was two things, which Moses put forward as his argument -- what God had done before, for God to be consistent with that (32:12); and what God had promised before, for God to be consistent with that (32:13). Neither one of these things were in the people. They were things in God. That's how God dealt with His people deserving destruction.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ex 31 for Feb 10

Just when you feel you're about to go under because of the details, the passage gives you a perspective as high as a mountain (Ex 29:43-46; 31:12-18).

A paradigm for all technical work: "in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill" (31:6).

A paradigm for all rest: "on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed" (31:17).

A paradigm that work can be shared: God tells Moses "see, I have called by name Bezalel" (31:1) and "I myself have appointed with him Oholiab" .... (Also a reminder that those God has called us to work with might be strangely named, or otherwise different than us: "tribe of Dan" (31:6)! :)

Our sense of what holiness means is being built up in this book, increasingly. Holy places, holy things, holy gifts (Ex 28); holy garments, "for glory and for beauty" (Ex 28:40); consecration of priests, anointings, ordinations, atonements (Ex 29-30); ransom, participated in by all equally, for atonement (30:12-16). Incense and oil, uniquely made, not to be used by all (30:32, 38).

What is the greater "heavy statement," I have no idea ... the bombshell dropped in 29:46, which ties the book together from its beginning to there ... or the bombshell dropped in 31:13. Both are highlighted by their content (which, unlike Italics, which they didn't have, translates to all languages -- repetition of the significant phrase of Exodus: "I am the LORD" (29:46; 31:13). If calling it "italics" doesn't help us see the significance of it, capitalize it, or think of it as the Big Picture. We should not forget the big picture. Especially in lieu of what's about to come up in the next chapter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mt 26:14-46 for Feb 9

Not just the betrayal (Mt 26:14-16,21-25,45-46). Not just the falling away (31-35). Not just the combination of those elements with the elements of companionship with Jesus in the events right up to that (36-46). This section is significant because of those things certainly, but more significant in those words of Jesus about how He went about handling this time (38-44).

Our gospel since 9:15 had been predicting this time and aspects of it. For seventeen chapters we have witnessed the closer and closer approach of this time -- and beyond it! The disciples had gone beyond it with Him too, talking themselves about His "coming" (24:3), and heard even more: chapters 24-25 are an extended and intense depiction of His coming. The depiction takes many forms: prophecies, parables, direct advice, indirect advice. Yet the time just ahead is not ignored; just previous to our section it is there again: "you do not always have Me" (26:11).

Here in our section for today we have what the disciples did (26:19,36) and denied that they would do (35); what the betrayer, one of them (14), did (14-16,23), and could not hide that he would do (25); what Jesus did (26-30), and would not do until a farther future (29); and finally, what He would do in a nearer future regarding them: they'll be going to Galilee, and He will go before them, almost like old times! Jesus speaks of His resurrection in passing, using that moment to help the disciples with an immediate consequence of it that they could understand, a trip to Galilee (32).

Then we see and hear the internal side of all these things: something only He was bearing, or could bear, or could hardly bear (38).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ex 28 for Feb 8

What good is Aaron as priest, unless God says Aaron is a "priest to Me" (28:3)? What kind of holiness is there that is not "holy to the Lord" (Ex 28:36)?

This applies not only to Aaron. Since we are dealing with Aaron's garments in this chapter, someone might say "I'm a Protestant. I put no stock in a person's garment, but in a person's heart."

In a few pages we'll see something very hard to understand about a person's neck, including Aaron's, which is a few inches above his heart (32:9, lit.). If a preacher wants to play with images, there's three parts of the body for illustration. Two of them are covered (also literally!) in our chapter: the heart (28:29-30), and the forehead (28:38). I can just hear the illustration now, that for something to get from our forehead, to our heart, it unfortunately has to get past our neck, which is often the problem. I'm squirming already.

But the garments are for the person as a whole. It is Aaron himself who is a priest to God, not part of him. And it is Aaron who takes away or bears (28:38) the "iniquity of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrate."

Indeed, if Christians understood 28:38 better, we'd have a better life of devotion to God. How many of us feel that if we don't keep up our things consecrated at a high enough level, God will not accept us finally after all? We are hopefully reminded by others if not by the Word itself that our salvation is "not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:9), but rather than that, we would rather have God accept our things which we "consecrate." Why? Because we can "control" that. Since the Fall, the good and evil that we "know" -- i.e., determine -- is more attractive to us than that which God has determined.

And so the garment lesson of Ex 28 hits us from the backside, just as it did the early church in the Donatist controversy. Inward consecration has iniquity in it. We really need an externally supplied garment specified by God and a priest to bear the iniquity of the holy things which we, like the sons of Israel, consecrate.

And just as with Aaron, the garment is supplied. Christians "have clothed yourselves with Christ," Paul says (Gal 3:27). Christ is our garment, and our priest.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ex 26-27 for Feb 7

Whoever said the devil is in the details hasn't read Exodus 26-27. It's details, details, details, and God, God, God.

What to one reader is a test of faith, this reading through of details, is to another a glorious moment in the display of faith, believing that God truly is in the details (cf. Lk 12:7). What is "easier" for us to believe? (1) that Moses disappears for forty days and forty nights (Ex 24:14-18), coming back with instructions from Him (25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8) for a building a "sanctuary" (25:8), or, (2) that the ordinances about charging interest(22:25) and marriage (22:16-17)and slavery (21:7) also originate from Him? The first is easier, no? We're prepared for people to tell us that God has told them to build a place for worship in such and such a way -- but we're not prepared to hear that God has told them about such "cultural" specifics.

As it turns out, the we humans historically tend to reject both. But speaking as armchair theologians of today, that's how we are.

Therefore, since we are not so different from these who were with Moses, what has God provided for our understanding so far in Exodus? Certainly He has shown His tremendous work and power with this people, and the whole region by then knew that God is God (15:14-15). Perhaps, when we (or they) come to deciding whether it is God, or the devil, who is in the details, the decision (for ourselves, or for them) will be easier.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Ps 30 for Feb 6

If we go to the Psalms expecting trite piety, we'll get out of it, most likely, the trite piety we were expecting. No need for that here.

An example of that would be to see Ps 30:2 as commonplace religious talk. Many skeptics have constructed a theory of religion that says "religious people" (I know, it's a vague term -- but here, they probably mean people who think that God is active in some of the details of their lives, at least at times.) attribute at least some of what happens that's unexpectedly good, to God, and other things they look for "normal" causes for.

Thus they see, for example, Ps 30:1. If people want to postulate an invisible "gardner" tending the good plants, so the criticism goes, then we consider this akin to talking English to our pets.

To all such condescending drivel, this Psalm says hogwash. Read 30:1 with an emphasis on the "You" in "You have lifted me up," and you will see that the Psalmist is making a claim far different than someone looking at a pet and saying, "you like me when I give you a treat, don't you?" If we want a tame religion going in, we'll emerge with what we came for. Just don't foist it on the text.

God lifted David up. In verse 6, he notices his complacency, very much akin to the skepticism I've been describing. He thought that things would just go on and on by themselves the way they had been going, so well for him. Things didn't, however (30:7).

When we read this Psalm without the presupposition that the Psalmist is an idiot, unable to notice when God does something compared to other causes, it becomes a very serious set of assertions.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mt 24 for Feb 5

There are two verses, one here, one in the previous chapter, with an important implication that wouldn't have been unnoticed by the original readers. It is impossible to avoid the implication of Mt 23:10 that the Lord is telling the disciples that their leader, namely He Himself, is the Messiah. The same with Mt 24:5" Many will come "in My name, saying 'I am the Messiah.'" If they are coming in Christ's name, saying 'I am the Messiah', what does that say about who Jesus says the name "Christ" properly belongs to?

Mk 14:62 is often regarded as the Synoptics' "direct" statement by the Lord of His identity as Messiah. However, this is pedantic. We saw in Mt 11:3-6 one way Jesus answers the question of who He is. Mt 24:5 is another, as also 23:10. It is saying the thing by obvious implication.

However much we love eschatology or dislike it, there is no getting around that there is conflict described as part of its events, a very "Old Testament" idea: in the prophets "a day against everyone who is proud and lofty / And against everyone who is lifted up, / That he may be abased" (Is 2:12) is envisioned. We hear Isaiah's "against every fortified wall" (Is 2:15) here in Mt 24:2.

So did the disciples (24:3). But the Lord makes eschatology, like every other aspect of theology, intensely personal. In Mt 24 Jesus doesn't time the eschatology, He personalizes it. Putting ourselves in the disciples' place at that time, how would we like to be told, "see to it that no one misleads you" (24:4)? That is not speculative theology about timing. That is describing a danger to watch for.

Mt 24:9-14 is no different in that respect, using a three-fold invocation of "many" to emphasize the solemnity: many will fall away, many false prophets will arise, and the love of many will grow cold.

As with many of the points Jesus makes in Matthew earlier, about what is impossible and impossible (cf. 19:26; 21:21-2), we are drawn away from self-reliance in Mt 24. Nothing could be more direct than to be told that "false Christs and false prophets" are trying to "mislead, if possible, even the elect" (24:24). Part of the resolution is Mt 24:25.

However, Mt 24:25 is not the only resolution to the problem of what the false Christs and false prophets are trying to do. If all we had to ward them off was Mt 24:25, we would have basically our own knowledge. We know God and His ways, but the better half of the relationship is that God knows us (Mt 7:23). If anything is out of the realm of possibility that any man could do, it is what Jesus talks about in 24:22. For our sake, a whole period of time is "cut short." It would be as if God wanted the team which is ahead at the end of the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl to win, but if He had left the game to go into the 4th quarter, that team would have lost, so God cut short the game.

For God to cut short the commonly recognized prophetic time of trial is one thing. For Jesus to announce it here is quite another, in what it says about Him. Here at the end of the Lord's ministry to the disciples, He is plainly using language with them that forcefully implies who He is, the Messiah predicted to govern God's kingdom coming, AND its preceding events.

What about those details about the preceding events? The language that He uses about what they should do (24:15-20) is very gripping, and, at the same time, very deliberately instructional, at the simple level of a how-to. How are we to understand that Jesus is speaking of eschatology, the last days, yet is saying things about getting things out of one's house, and what it would be like to be pregnant or have small children, or the weather at that time, or what to do about if it's a day of rest, ... and to pray about such details?! This too, is only language that can make sense of the Messiah Himself is speaking to you about something that is completely under His governance.

Finally, we can understand 24:13 in that light. "The one who endures to the end, he will be saved" is about the events of that time, and about how He governs the events of that time so sovereignly that (look at 24:9!) enduring to the end is not at all about one's physical life, but about coming through these events as a rescuee.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Ex 19 for Feb 4

The contrast between the meeting with God at Sinai (19:17ff) and the previous deliverances including the exodus is deliberate (20:2).

In hearing about the preparation "to meet God" (19:17), in particular, about the sounds and sights surrounding that morning (19:16), we should remember that we Americans are a jaded people, served up with images for our entertainment consisting of the fictions of the cinema and the human imagination. It is very hard to enter into the depiction of the sounds and sights without comparing it to that which has been served to us as entertainment.

One thing that helps is to constantly remember that this is NOT being presented for entertainment. Curiosity, a draw of entertainment, is explicitly warned against (19:12,21). Entertainment is also completely foreign to the preparation demanded (19:10,15).

God answering Moses! (19:19): no images can convey the content of that discussion. The spatial language is also very deliberate: "the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up." God's initiative is evident in the granting of the time of approach.

Why does the narrative immediately go to words of God about the people, the first directly quoted as His words on Sinai after God "descended upon it" (19:18)? Perhaps because the object of God's dealings with Moses was not a secret knowledge for Moses, but to have something for the people. The first words of God directly quoted are a testimony (19:21) to the concern for people that they won't die. This is often overlooked.

Other details that contribute to this concern for the well-being of the people are the previous day's words of God to Moses in 19:3-8. The words are for the people. God's own explanation for the event of the next day is "so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever." (19:9). Hmm. The last phrase has a somewhat contemporary application, doesn't it?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Ex 18 for Feb 3

When family is good, it makes its point like no other source can. Here in Exodus 18, Jethro is a reminder from outside the details of Moses' day-to-day, of an adjustment that would be profitable for him to make.

What responsibility of leadership can wear a leader out more than an excessive bearing of a burden? This kind of "not good" (18:17) is not something that is a categorical moral issue, but it is a bona fide moral one.

Jethro says "if you do this thing and God commands you, then you will be able to stand" (18:23). To divide up work so that it is manageable is so garden-variety on the scale of moral issues that it doesn't receive its due: how many Nobel Prizes go to those who have slimmed down their areas of responsibility?

Yet a day doesn't get very far before such choices have to be made. This accomplishment is so garden-variety, that any plan, of any kind, even evil plans, must take it into account. The Lord said something about the nature of this aspect of moral life, the fitting of means to ends, many times over: sayings about avoiding the judge (Lk 12:58); sayings about being shrewd in relation to others (Lk 16:8), and the combination of shrewdness like serpents with innocence like doves (Mt 10:16). Luke 16:8 also wryly points out that "the sons of light" lag behind "the sons of this age" in acting shrewdly. Thus Moses got help from the outside.

There is some humor in the story when we read it with one eye closed. "In-laws!" In light of the dramatic acts of God, the miraculous aspect of life all around him -- "here comes my father-in-law...." How 'inappropriate' at such a time. But what are you gonna do? Wisdom is very hard to swallow, when you're in the world of the totally dramatic. It almost has to sneak in without an invitation.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Ex 16 for Feb 2

The "economics" (who does what, when, to what effect) of "salvation" from the Egyptians (Ex 14:13) will be different from what the original readers expect: if we've been reading attentively (e.g., Ex 14:13, 14:30, 15:2) this salvation from the Egyptians sounds a lot like in the New Testament, something also called "salvation," with similar characteristics (cf. Eph 2:8), namely, 14:13, in saying "which He will accomplish for you"; 14:14, saying "the Lord will fight for you while you keep silent!"; and 14:15, saying "why are you crying out to Me?", i.e., they needed to keep silent. There's even the same sequence, God working first (14:19ff), then, faith (14:31). Conclusions are things like "the Lord is a warrior..." (15:3), and actions like ... dancing (15:20).

But after that, what should we make of the grumbling (15:24), then more of it later, where the whole group does more grumbling (16:2)? The specific blame-targets of their grumbling are Moses and Aaron, and their accusation is incredible: that Moses and Aaron are deliberate killers (16:3).

Who did God redeem (Ex 12:17)? These hosts, were the hosts of Whom? (12:41)? Whom did He lead, day and night (13:21-22)? Before the Exodus, and the parting of the sea, when they saw Egyptian chariots, naturally, they became "very frightened" (14:10). In this case, hardly noticed in the story by many, their consequent crying out to God was not good (14:10; 14:15): although understandable, it must have been the wrong kind of crying out!

In a way, God dealing redemptively with external threats to their life, then dealing with their quality of life, is exactly what every doctor has to do, in dealing with the cause rather than just with the symptom. It is what every relief worker or fellow soldier does toward those being protected. But these being protected are really something else, contrary to expectation. The grumbling is commented upon by God in 16:12, in ways that echo something like an ominous rebuke.

And how is this grumbling partially answered by the manna? The manna is a daily distribution. How could somebody buck up against God who provided it daily? Well, it did happen: they stopped being a group that grumbled because of not knowing where daily food might come from; however, some "did not listen to Moses" and tried to take control of their own needs on a different schedule (16:20). Grumble about water (15:24). Solved. Grumble about food (16:3). Solved. Next chapter: quarreling and grumbling about water again (17:2-3). What is the constant here?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Mt 21:23ff. for Feb 1

The chief priests and elders of the people "feared the crowds" from the beginning (Mt 21:26) to the end (21:46) of this New Testament passage in the One Year Bible. It didn't prevent them from being able to think, some (21:41), but what they said (21:27) and did (21:46) was all within their strategy of their relationship to the crowds.

Their "fear" of the crowds was not absolute, as we sadly see later (27:20). It was more a cagey, bide-your-time-for-now fear. How does the Lord deal with this attitude here?

He recognizes the insincere question, the trap question, the agenda-based question of 21:23, and He does something unusual in this case. He takes the question out of their context, to the extent that He even offers to answer it (21:24), if they could come out from behind their agenda. Their agenda included a desire not to be caught in an error (21:25), and not to be unpopular (21:26), and they don't budge from that. However, the cost of the answer they give Jesus is that they are publicly exposed to the very unpopularity and error that they were trying to avoid, because they publicly say they are ignorant of the answer to an obvious question (21:27).

But the Lord doesn't stop there, merely confounding their attempt to trap Him, but He continues to speak to them further! Here are two parables in which He is using dialog with them right in the middle of the parable (21:31; 21:40). This is very unique. However, it is not going to turn out well for them. Jesus places them at the end of the first parable below a rung of society that is considered the lowest by the people. If there is anything worse than being behind the lowest rung of present society, it is to be behind the lowest rung in a future permanent one (21:31).

It gets worse for them, the ones who were the recognized authority in matters of religion. In the second parable, the Lord predicts that the kingdom of God, far from being only a static point at which to arrive at as the goal of this life, is completely impregnable to attack ... not only so, but it is the offensive weapon that smashes any attacker into dust (21:44).

Therefore the Lord in the space of twenty-two verses of teaching and dialog shows not only the hypocrisy and evil motives of the ruling religious establishment (21:27), and places their earthly ambitions in a very unfavorable light compared to the heavenly ambitions of the weakest and most despised sinners, but describes the doom of their opposition to God's kingdom itself, both in the impregnability of it to the attack, and in the destruction of the attacker.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 68-75)

1:17a. In this section Moo does lots of comparison, and survey of the thoughts of other authors, and deliberation, before making his own conclusions on the meaning of "the righteousness of God."

His conclusion, that it is "the act by which God brings people into a right relationship with Himself" (p. 74) has every bit of what he says is going for it, going for it. I would like to point out some overarching issues of method and context.

What's a commentator on Romans to do? There have been SO MANY commentators on Romans, and humility demands not to think of oneself as the only one who has seen anything. Instead of wanting to "get one's two cents in," one may hope for a quarter of a farthing or a half lepton. And so a commentator "must" check with the landscape of other commentators.

But a Reformer or sola scriptura advocate would be leery of that. Why so? Because whether you're good at not believing everything you hear, or not so good, the history of avoiding the temptation of noticing what others say over what God says is not good, despite the warning of Gal 1:10. Here with Moo and "the righteousness of God" we got a bare smidgeon of a paragraph on the texts which use the phrase (p. 70), before we are launched into pages and pages of the comparison of the views of others (70-75). The texts get touched on, but mostly while considering a set of views.

The context of the sentence containing the phrase "the righteousness of God" here is "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed." Now to explain this is partially to be able to say, how if the righteousness of God is "the act by which God brings people into a right relationship with Himself," how such a thing is contributory to why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. Does the act by which God brings people into a right relationship with Himself explain at least partially, why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel?

Not unless you add what Moo forgets: "in it!" If there is "an act by which God brings people into a right relationship with Himself" then does Moo believe or show that it is revealed in the gospel? Then he would make the connection Paul makes! The reason Paul is not ashamed of the gospel is not because there is such a thing somewhere as an act by which God brings people into a right relationship with Himself, but that such a thing, or some other candidate for the content of the phrase, is ... revealed in the gospel!

We cannot be content to substitute "with it" for "in it." The reason Paul is not ashamed of the gospel is NOT because the righteousness of God goes with it. Not enough. Paul is stronger, i.e., says more than that.

Neither does Paul say he is not ashamed of the righteousness of God, because of what that is. Paul says it is the fact that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel that makes him not ashamed. This is especially true when we tack with Moo on "is revealed" meaning revealed by a dramatic act or acts (pp. 69-70).

However, let's assume that Moo captures a good portion of the sense of what the righteousness of God is, that it has an event-feel to it, not a static-substance feel. The righteousness of God as an act. Let's ignore the stipulation that the relationship between the gospel and the righteousness of God must be such, that the righteousness of God is revealed "in it." What is the act? We know that Moo believes salvation is the work of God (p. 68): "Salvation is, from first to last, God's work [emphasis in original]." He would blow us away if he would say that the righteousness of God must be no less than His work, His work of saving, revealed in the gospel. Possibly more.

If we say only that the act is God bringing people into a right relationship with Himself, and that alone, then one objection comes to mind, that comes from restricting the righteousness of God to that. God's righteousness is not impugned for what He does but often for what He doesn't do. We are not aware of God being so much attacked for bringing people into relationship with Himself, but for not doing xyz.

Moo uses the word "vindication" (p. 73) here, as Paul may be said to in Rm 3:4, but doesn't expand on it. Can the righteousness of God which is revealed in the gospel not also contribute to the vindication of God against accusation? If so, would not that heavily contribute to a lack of shame on Paul's or any evangelist's part? Would you not be happier to spread the gospel if you believed that it vindicated objections toward God, which you know you've heard, that without the gospel, you don't have an answer for, but that with it, you do? Of course!

We need only bring up the things that Romans 3:3ff. itself brings up: God vindicated as judge, and God vindicated as faithful to his word, which includes promises.

So how is the gospel, and particularly, the fact that in it the righteousness of God is revealed, contributory to Paul's not being ashamed of it in his ministry? Is God bringing people into right relationship with Himself in the gospel contributory to that? Of course. But there is more, but only as long as the revelation of this act is "in it," i.e., in the gospel. The gospel may also vindicate the Lord against accusation, making us unashamed of the gospel, to say the least.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Ps 25:16ff. for Jan 31

This portion of Ps 25 may answer typical questions both believers and unbelievers ask.

We are devoting a number of posts corresponding to the relative amount of reading given in the One Year Bible to Psalms and Proverbs within the Old Testament, which is about 25%, just as we do with the New Testament within the Bible.

The unbeliever may well ask, when we pray, why do we expect anything at all? The believer may well ask, when we pray, how can we ask "let integrity and uprightness preserve me" if we have already admitted the lack thereof, three verses before (25:21; 25:18)?

These are typically "Western" approaches to God -- that is, trying to figure out "the permanent structure" of a relationship between ourselves and God, like an Aristotelian taxonomy or cosmology. How is the East different? It's dynamic!

The East is interested in describing "the present" more than in describing permanent structures. That's how Peter can in one narrative be told that God has revealed something to him from heaven, and six verses later can be called "Satan" and told to get away (Mt 16:17; 16:23). It is the same here in this Psalm. When in yesterday's reading David asked for pardon, the very next verse after he had described God's path as "to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies" (25:10-11), he was not being inconsistent. He was not offering his request for pardon in lieu of otherwise keeping the covenant, nor was he offering a mathematical claim that he was statistically keeping the covenant 51% of the time or more. David was speaking of what characterized the present moment.

That's why David can do in 25:18 what people have a hard time doing in the West: in one breath, asking for both deliverance and forgiveness -- not a quid pro quo, but both! We need both, constantly. Let Aristotle contemplate the order of it, and keep switching the order of his circles!

The unbeliever's question is not on the order of what basis to make requests, but what expectation of results can there be. Here, I don't mean to use the word 'unbeliever' pejoratively. Let's say someone, anyone really, may have that question, just as those in love may sometimes question the love. But what is it that becoming a believer entails, without which no one is a believer, but this? a connection with God in some way. We can leave it general, like that, sufficient to make this point. The unbeliever "rightly" has no confidence in asking for something from something there is no connection with. You cannot connect to nothing to expect something.

But then we immediately see that the question of the unbeliever is answered, by showing the connection to be a dynamic relationship to one's Creator (whose image we are made in; thus, He is not a machine or a process.) An automatic answer can be expected from machines and processes, but not from God, just as in other interpersonal relationships. Sometimes we get one kind of answer, and sometimes another. It is not chance, or invention, any more than a communication in marriage is based on chance.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ex 10 for Jan 30

In the story of the conflict between Pharaoh and Moses in Exodus 10 the details are very much contributory, but God's purposes continue to be explained as well.

We had already seen by Ex 8 a new detail, the making of distinctions between Pharaoh's servants and people, and God's (8:21-23). This "division between My people and your people" is reflected in some of the further plagues (9:11; 9:26), but Ex 9:20 stands out as an important detail about a moral aspect of the distinction.

These distinctions made by God (10:23; 11:7) or regarding God (9:21) are understandable also as demonstrations of God's mastery. Pharaoh attempts to mimic this by unsuccessfully trying to make some empty stipulations of his own (10:10; 10:24).

The narrative is very deliberately repetitive in its details about the hardness and hardening of Pharaoh's heart (10:27; 11:10). As a preview, in the original time with Moses, God announces to Moses "I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion ... after that he will let you go." (3:19-20). Very early, before Moses' meeting with the elders and the first meeting with Pharaoh, God tells Moses that he will harden Pharaoh's heart (4:21).

Pharaoh hardens his own heart (8:15; repeatedly, perhaps in each case, 8:32). God holds Pharaoh responsible (7:16; 8:29; 9:2; 9:7; 9:17; 9:30), even though He hardens Pharaoh's heart. And our chapter for today's One Year Bible adds Pharaoh's servants to the puzzle! (10:1-2). Yet they too are responsible: "As for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear before the Lord God." (9:30). God through Moses asks Pharaoh directly, "how long will you refuse ...?" (10:3; cf. 9:2).

Part of the explanation from the text regarding the meaning of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart comes in the two purposes God mentions in today's chapter: "I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, [1] that I may perform these signs of Mine among them." That's the first reason God gives. Then He adds "and [2] that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD." (10:2). Yet it is not all for mockery.

We cannot be anachronistic from the point of view of thousands of years later, knowing the fame of the event and the story here and in the rest of the Bible. We cannot say "well of course God can demonstrate mastery over Egypt. Look at subsequent history!" We can't say in the first or second inning, "of course they won; look at the final score!"

So far, Genesis has been about the activity of God, beginning with Creation itself; it included His providence over the whole world (Gen 9:17), and in Egypt (Gen 50:20). With the patriarchs His activity was providential, but mostly interpersonal. The goal for these events in Exodus would not alone be for His people, nor alone to keep His promises, nor alone to show His making a distinction between His people and others, .... Not only to mock Egypt, but also for Egypt: "so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth" (Ex 9:14).

Why teach Egypt? The saying is that bad news travels fast. God wanted it to also travel far. God's providential care under Joseph, for Egypt, may have been forgotten (Ex 1:8). But in these events God's name may have been more successfully spread: "in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth." (9:16).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (p. 67)

1:16. In discussion when Paul says here that the gospel is the "power of God for salvation to everyone who believes," Moo says "the lack of an explicit object after 'believe' is also characteristic of Romans" (p. 67). However, Moo tries to supply an explicit object partially by being selective with the use of "believe" in Romans, and partially by looking at things far afield, slogans in our culture, and concepts from some people's systematics.

He begins well, by trying to stick with an explanation of why "believe" can stand characteristically in Romans without an explicit object: "the language of faith has become [in Paul's day] so tied to what God has done in Christ that further specification is not needed [by Paul]." (p. 67)

So let's look at the commentator's bane here, at least one of them, and take a lesson from it: if something is not explicit, can it be made clearer by making it explicit? Certainly! As long as it is "it," and not something else jumping in.

Why Moo does not do the work of mentioning the large number of occurences of believe and faith in Romans which do have explicit objects, and getting a consensus from them in their contexts what Paul means in his implicit uses of believe as here, is a lesson. Instead, he supplies his vote on some of the systematic war slogans.

Let's take one example of the attempt to cast a vote. In Romans 4:18, Paul says that Abraham "in hope against hope believed." Does this verse teach an act of the will on Abraham's part? "The will to believe" may be a famous phrase in philosophy and religion, but ... look for it in Genesis describing Abraham as Paul is in 4:18. We've studied Genesis together in our One Year Bible so far, and can we think of a place where Abraham geared down by an act of the will to believe or keep believing? Conversely, can we think of any of the many places Abraham by an act of the will expressed disbelief?

I think Moo is aware of the non-support of this verse, and Romans 10:9, which has "with the heart one believes" for the systematics war slogans he wishes to vote on, plus and minus, on this page. For two reasons: one, when he cites these two references, he says "cf." In other words, for what he is saying, compare and consider these verses. That's a hint he knows that the verses don't support the point.

Another hint is the backtracking. It's as if he announced his political party, and then rushes to explain with qualifiers what you should also remember about him: "we must never go to the extreme ... we must also insist .... as ... puts it ...." (p. 67). Things like that are the way backtracking is done, but why? Just use, non-selectively, places Paul explicitly describes the object of faith! Faith in Jesus Christ!

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 65ff)

When we comment on the Bible, we're also tempted to get a comment in that comes from what we, separately, also think, or from what our friends, separately, think: what "friends," as in our theological party, think.

Try reading a commentary from a vastly different theological party than your own, and see how often you "get mad...." Or, conversely, see how great a blessing it is when a commentary, or even a sermon, gets back to the text and says what the text is saying, or even implying.

Compare this to the visceral feeling of reading a commentary that exudes your theological party's ideas at every turn, but unsupported. Like the tonic that the orcs fed the hobbits when running them in the Lord of the Rings Two Towers, it's an anti-energy energy. And it runs afoul of Mt 15:9. When you do stuff like that, as most Ph.D candidates know after their verbal examination, you will be most readily cured by various forms of humor on the part of your examiners -- especially mockery of your method.

Commenting on Rm 1:16, "I am not ashamed," and asking the question whether it is an idiom, a litotes, Moo compares it to 1 Cor 1:18 in a surprising way on p. 65. He says the foolishness described in that verse "would make some degree of embarrassment about the gospel natural". Since this is so contre temps, so against the spirit of the times, it certainly deserves to be noted. How often do you hear a Christian say, "in a way, my religion is embarrassing"! Many people would be very refreshed to hear this, instead of the hype they always expect.

And that spirit can well be applied to a first-time reader (which we should always try and remember to imitate) hearing Paul say "it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...." Put the original hearer's ears on! "You mean to tell me that God is going to rescue people and the physical universe from all the horrors of death and decay, plus assured accountability for sins, by THAT? some piece of news? about the benefits coming from some death in the First Century, and what happened on the following Sunday?" How embarrassing!

Have you ever rescued someone, or been rescued, physically? It's embarrassing, very often, to be rescued. Rescue and embarrassment go even more well together when we're rescued from where or what we shouldn't have had to be rescued from. Then some time passes -- and we're thrilled about it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ex 8 for Jan 29

Warfare is not always solely military. Its goal(s) may not always be annihilation. Exodus 8 is about the progress of such a war.

The war had started with a setback after Pharaoh's first meeting (5:1) with the elderly brothers (7:7) Moses and Aaron, a setback summarized in 5:20-23.

We readers have already known the goal of the explicitly war-related actions of the brothers, the people, and God, at least from 3:20 on. Or have we? We can get one impression from Ex 3:8ff., but perhaps quite another from 5:2 and 7:17a. So chapter 8 begins with the opposition "dug in," that is, confident in their side (7:22-23). But they were digging more at this point -- literally (7:24).

This confidence on Pharaoh's part came because of a sense of parity which first shows in 7:11. It was not unanticipated, since the story of the setback has prepared us to understand that this was not a fake war.

People have a hard time understanding how if there's a God in a particular war, why that warfare of good and evil is not a fake war. "Isn't God orchestrating it?" people with and without belief in the existence of God ask.

Exodus 8 continues the description of the war that has setbacks, parity, and, as every soldier in wartime knows, odd stretches of time, in which there is nothing going on but what has already happened (7:25). But here in chapter 8 there are more indications of the genuineness of this war.

If the goal of the war is simply Ex 3:20, physical deliverance from Egypt, that's one thing. But if it's also Ex 3:21-22, an alteration within all of Egypt toward the Israelites, and the refutation of 5:9 with changes in the opinion of even Pharaoh from what he articulated in 5:2 -- then, the non-physical aspect of the war is also strategically important.

And that's what we progressively see in that line of description which begins with the startling example of parity, near-parity, or disintegrating parity in 7:11ff.

Chapter 8 continues that theme of the attempt at parity with an event that describes almost the very nature of what happens in conflicts of evil with God: conflict starts off looking like parity, as we saw in 7:11. Then it looks like the parity breaks down, 7:12. Then it looks, in 8:7, like the mimicry has gone wrong somehow, turning itself on its perpetrators, invoking more misery.

We could say that 8:8 describes a portion of this war that people in college call "RealPolitik," involving feigned diplomacy on the part of one side, to get an advantage. But on Moses' side, as part of the ideological, parallel goal, Moses engages honestly, saying what he says to Pharaoh about honor (8:9). (Pharaoh can have honor? which must sound shocking to sergeants.) In 8:10 it is very clear that this warfare is not just physical: this phase is explicitly for Pharaoh to "know that there is no one like the Lord our God." In 8:15 we see the proof that the diplomatic talk by Pharaoh was feigned or retracted.

In the next engagement (8:16-19), the suppliers to Pharaoh not only start believing that what Moses and Aaron do is superior, but that it is from God -- and they voice that belief (8:19). Another echo of the twin goals of this warfare. But Pharaoh is no Nebuchadnezzar: he doesn't change his mind.

In the rest of the chapter, the common warfare themes of pre-warning (by Moses; 8:23), attempt at partial settlement (by Pharaoh; 8:25), leniency (by Moses; 8:29); and retrenchment (by Pharaoh; 8:32) are described. Since this is warfare not only of physical goals, but of ideological goals, it makes some sense that it shares many aspects with other wars with these two aspects, throughout history. But why does GOD do all this? Couldn't God have set the Israelites running like Lot from Sodom and just nuked Egypt? putting up Pharaoh in the equivalent of Zoar? licking his wounds close by and admitting everything God wanted him to admit?

God has a tertiary goal. It is not just the physical goal of rescuing individuals, It is not just the spiritual goal of showing that there is none like Him. God has a third goal.

What is it? A nation? That might be a guess, from 3:8. To demonstrate faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham, etc? That might also be a guess, from 6:4.

Beyond covenant. Identity. God says something to Moses that we haven't seen in the story of the Bible so far, and that, almost in passing, trumps all the above: He tells Moses -- to tell Pharaoh! -- something. "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, "Israel is my son, My firstborn. So I said to you, 'let My son go that he may serve Me'; but you have refused to let him go" (Ex 4:23).

In Exodus, God "wins" -- we're getting ahead of ourselves, only in chapter 8, but ... -- God wins, as the Hebrew language often describes it, "in" Israel his son.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 63-64)

We want to read the Moo commentary critically (non-hagiographically) and fairly.

1:16-7. What is a precise relationship between righteousness and faith/belief in these two verses? Moo, introductively, says there is a "connection between righteousness and faith" (p. 64). What is it? He says that righteousness is "based on faith" (p. 64). But is that the whole story of what the phrase "from faith to faith" means here?

It says that in the gospel, righteousness of God is revealed, from faith to faith. The Greek prepositions connote "from" and "to" in the motion sense. We might hear the Greek prepositions connoting "coming out from faith; headed toward, landing on faith" ( ἐ κ   ...   ε ἰ ς).

Let's explore the connotations of such a phrase. This is more specific than "based on."

If I used Twitter to send a message to a friend, and I said, "I'm coming out from Dallas, and headed toward and landing in Dallas" -- someone might smile. Not going very far, are we? Exactly!

"Based on" is one of the most general relationship indicators, in English. A knowledge of calculus is "based on" knowledge of arithmetic, but we can't get our calculus from everyone whose knowledge is based on arithmetic. The problem then with "based on" is two problems. It's too vague for some purposes in English, and it's not the same thing as the twin locators ek ... eis.

Just past our 18 pp. / week schedule target for today, on p. 76, Moo summarizes helpfully what the conclusion is that he reaches, regarding "from faith to faith." He says "the combination is rhetorical and is intended to emphasize that faith and 'nothing but faith' can put us into right relationship with God."

... "Can"? God, through faith, does put us there, Rm 5:1. Moreover, the nuances of righteousness ek faith (out of it), and eis faith (directed to it, landing on it), are rich. We'll see soon (p. 76) that Moo's list hits only some of them.

Mt 18 for Jan 28

The parable of the "Unmerciful Servant" could easily be called that of the "Wicked Slave" (Mt 18:32).

The "ethical" teaching of the parable is in 18:33 in summary form, refined to a sharp point in 18:35. The first question, however, should be how is this parable an implication of Peter's question about forgiveness and the Lord's answer in 18:21-22.

Surely part of the point of the parable is the vast disparity between two amounts of debt. The wicked slave's debt was upwards of 20 billion dollars by modern American reckoning, and the fellow slave's amount owing was about $8000. In the transactions among the world of fellow-slaves, the smaller amount of money, while it's not like just a few coins, is in the common financial-debt range, while 20 billion dollars is in the infinitely greater and impossible to conceive of, much less ever pay, range.

Was the slave wicked before 18:28?

The context of the parable is the interpersonal forgiveness of sin. The Lord says that the reason for the parable is what just was discussed with Peter about forgiveness of sin against us by our brothers (18:23). The debt of "one of his fellow slaves" (18:28) pictures this in the story.

Just as the $8000 debt can stand for interpersonal sin and its forgiveness or non-forgiveness, the 20 billion dollar debt that "the one who owed him ten thousand talents" (18:24) owed to the king -- that can stand for the debt of sin owed to God. If so, then yes, the slave was wicked before 18:28, hugely so, culpably so. The original readers of the story would hear the debt amount and see 18:25 as a righteous punishment.

If we cannot clearly see 18:25 as righteous, it is because of our modern tendency to look at debt as civil and almost not culpable in any way. Especially in the current debt climate! Not so the ancient world.

The Lord has been speaking in mostly non-parabolic ways about the seriousness of sin in this chapter, ever since, really 18:6. People who cause someone to sin (18:6), or internal things that cause someone to sin (18:8-9), or the sin of despising of "these little ones" (18:10), is about the seriousness of sin.

The parable of the lost sheep, because it is dealing with someone who has "gone astray," (18:12), is about the extent to which rescue of someone who sins should go, using another image, that of wandering. On the shepherd's part, seeking and finding those who wander, compared to just hanging around with the ones who aren't lost, is a dealing with sin.

However, the parable of the lost sheep has an uncertain, warning element to it that will prepare us for the direct-assault-on-sin lessons of the rest of the chapter. It says "if it turns out the he finds it," speaking of the shepherd searching (18:12-13). At risk of talking about yesterday's text, I'll just mention that we can't turn that parable on its ears, and say it is about Jesus the shepherd who always finds all the lost sheep. In this parable, if he finds ONE lost sheep, "he rejoices over it more than over the nine-nine" (18:13) -- in this case, because of the implied work and risk. Shepherds of souls know that their work is not inevitable success. They are happy for each individual one, because of the work and risk.

The relevance of 18:15-20 to the topic of sin is left as an exercise. ;) By the time we hear the discussion that Peter brings up we are prepared to deal with interpersonal sin in both stark and risk-taking ways.

So when the kingdom of heaven is brought in, it is precisely to show how God deals with sin in both stark (18:25) and risk-taking (18:27) ways, at the great cost to Himself signified by the size of the debt. Again, because of our cultural side-with-the-consumer presuppositions, we'll fail to see that the sympathy of the parable is naturally toward the gracious king. It is the wicked slave who is wicked, not the king. We should repeat that to ourselves until we remember it, I would think.

Do you have qualms about "his lord, moved with anger, handed him [the wicked slave] over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him" (18:34)? This lord does not bail out that corporation! It is impossible to see the point of the parable (18:35) if we do not see that the slave is wicked, not his lord.

In light of how the parable ends, 18:23 troubles many people because of the stark relationship of comparison: surely the king represents God here, and the slaves represent men and their debt of sin. The parable is to illustrate something about the kingdom of heaven's king, that we humans are liable for our debt of sin to God, and because of that, we must forgive the $8000 around us.

Don't read salvation ideas into this parable. This parable is about our interpersonal sins, answering Peter. This is about you as the big debtor way beyond all fathoming or paying back. What are you going to do with your fellow slaves' $8000 debts to you?

Where does Jesus put you or me, when He turns and looks you and me in the eye in 18:35? Does he put you or me among the torturers? No, He puts us right before 18:28, at the point of choice about that, having had our previous meeting with the king that went a certain way (18:25-27).

So we see the questions about "you mean I'll go to hell if I don't forgive that $8000?" and such things, are questions of impertinence. That's how the parable answers Peter's question! Why is it, Peter asks by implication, so many times, seventy-times seven? Do the math! what is 20 billion compared to 8000? Far more, a far greater ratio, than that small number of 490. Are you complaining, Peter? Would you tell the king settling his accounts with you that you're about to go choke your fellow slave for $8000? What would the king do when he found out?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ex 4 for Jan 27

The commission of Moses can be both seen from "Moses' side," and from God's "side" in these two chapters and the previous chapter. This is an amazing story of the interaction of God with a sinful man in direct confrontation but toward a good end.

Moses has already voiced two questions, in 3:11 and in 3:13. Here in 4:1 is his third. God has answered the other two, and He answers this one. The first two were full of content (3:12; 3:14). This is an answer with actions associated with it, "that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham ... has appeared to you." (4:5).

God speaking: Promises, assurances. God demonstrating, and providing a repeatable demonstration. Followed on Moses' part by ... -- PLEASE GOD I AM WEAK AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN FOR THAT KIND OF THING.

What kind of thing? Speaking! He wasn't weak in 2:12. He was tough. He was self-confident in 2:13. He was self-confident about himself ... but for representing God as spokesman, no (4:10).

Again, God gives promise and assurance about that (4:11-12). Followed on Moses' part by a "polite" no (4:13). Moses had run out of things to think up as excuses, and had nothing to do but be polite with his no.

This refusal, in spite of what God has already shown and done, is a pattern with human beings. We see it in Romans 1:19-21. In Numbers 14:20-23 there is a very famous example of it that is also carried into the Psalms (95), "today if you hear His voice." We already saw it in the One Year Bible New Testament in the upbraiding of the Cities in Mt 11:20ff.. We also see it in matters of the message of salvation, in Jn 3:16-18. It is the "no" of disbelief / rejection.

And we see the extremity of the Lord's understanding of how a certain weight of responsibility is unbearable for some people. There is no greater unbearable responsibility that a man could feel, than that which makes a person say to God, to His face, "please, please, no, send somebody else, anybody" like Moses did.

So perhaps that is why we know so much of this face to face (cf. Dt 34:10) between God and Moses. God lifts the responsibility in a way, off Moses, and proves that He is capable of it: by calling Aaron (4:27)! Moses had already heard (4:14-17) that in some sense the responsibility could be off him, onto his brother, But God did not get a commitment out of Moses then. He got a Moses who was looking into it. In the narrative Moses wants to go back to Egypt to see if his people "are still alive." (4:18). God works with him, positively (4:19-23), and in a severe negative event that we only see the resolution of (4:25). Moses needed outside help, and God saw to it that he knew that.

Therefore, when God brought Aaron to Moses by directly speaking to Aaron (4:27), perhaps that was what got to Moses; at least, it was the immediately preceding thing. Then Moses divulged everything to his brother (4:28), and the rest of the speaking, and meeting, and displaying of the signs God gave him were completed, with two results: "the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped" (4:31). And we are at the beginning of a great story.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ps 22:1 for Jan 26

Ps 22:1, "... Why has Thou forsaken Me" sounds so much more proper than "why have you forsaken me?", but in this case, is the "proper" improper, and isn't the improper, really proper?

In all forsakings, the closer the relationship, the worse the forsaking.

1) Does it at least make us squirm that some "otherwise very smart people" think that a Creator not only tolerated a religion that sacrificed innocent animals, but required it specifically, at one time, the sacrifice of animals "without defect" (Lv 5:18)? The forsaking -- putting to death -- of these animals should very much make us squirm, and lament the "unfairness" of such a stipulation by the Creator of those animals and the galaxies. They say He stipulated it, and participated in it, and it made them shout (Lv 9:24).

C.S. Lewis has the temerity to call this kind of use of sacrifice a "deeper magic from before the dawn of time," before the galaxies, God having a plan involving an even deeper "unfairness" than that to animals: Paul says "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5:21). And this, no less than the participation by God in Lv 9:24, is not just ledger-logic, an "I'll take it as if you were on this side of the ledger, and Christ on the other side" -- but, the logic of reality: Christ was made sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.

2) When the Lord "cried out with a loud voice" this verse (Ps 22:1) in Mt 27:46 and Mk 15:34, He was about to die. He was innocent. He did not deserve death. Who forsook Christ on the cross? Was Christ mistaken in believing so? He did not ask God if He would, but why He did. Some "otherwise very smart people" think this actually was what happened. A perfect Creator forsook His perfect Son, for the reason that Paul gives as if in answer to Ps 22:1.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gen 50 for Jan 25

How is it that so many people cannot remember a verse like Gen 50:20, but can remember most of the events of Genesis 3?

I don't think I would choose Gen 3 to memorize over Gen 50:15-21. Doesn't fixing take priority over etiology, if you had to have one or the other? Diagnosis only, or recovery, which do we want, given one of the two? But then again, people prefer sunsets. Go figure....

The two issues raised in this chapter are raised every day when we join in to work in the "fallen" world around us. The first issue might be called a theodicy. Can it really be true that God meant what his brothers did to Joseph in Gen 37 for his good and the good of others? Someone might say that 50:20 is espousing an end-justifies-the-means ethic, at least in God's case. Rev 21:4 talks about such an end, although it doesn't say that such things justify God. He has already justified Himself in Christ, Rm 3:4.

The second issue is the dealing with uncertainty regarding forgiveness. It's common nowadays to say that "we don't know" if God has saved (including forgiven) somebody, that only God knows. 50:19, is not, by the way, Joseph saying that. Otherwise it must have be written, 'you may need to be afraid, for am I in God's place?' But as it stands, it says "do not be afraid, for am I in God's place?" The reason they need not be afraid, is it's out of Joseph's hands to pronounce on the issue. Joseph however knows and expresses God's verdict, saying about his brothers, "God will surely take care of you" (50:25).

This deference to the decision of God regarding events goes way back through the book, even through Laban and sister's odd comment -- didn't you think it odd at the time? -- in Gen 24:50. (What if Eve had been the same way toward the serpent? What if Eve had said "This matter comes from the Lord. We cannot speak to you bad or good" !!) Let's learn this! Laban had his own opinions about the proposal, but when we see that the Lord meant something to happen a certain way, we need to properly get out of the business of ultimately judging that the result will be bad. Joseph is not interested in doing that. His tears (45:2) had taught him, and have taught us.

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 53-63)

In going through Romans with Moo (about 18 pp. week), it's certainly beneficial to notice the things he is noticing about the details of grammar. Very few things are unavailable so far to us in the English, at least in the parsimonious translations. The details are reflected in the English which he often expresses as what the Greek says. That's encouraging!

1:6-7. Moo overlooks the repeated use of "called" -- as an adjective -- in these two verses (as well as far back in 1:1). The Romans are "the called of Jesus Christ" (1:6) and "called saints" (1:7). Describing the meaning of called, he describes a verb: "the powerful and irresistible reaching out of God in grace to bring people into his kingdom" (p. 54). Hearing that said makes us want to ask Moo, did God do so here? If so, and they are in fact "called saints" -- then they're "in." You can't have a powerful and irresistible reaching out of God without an effect! I.e., they're in! This reticence is especially unusual in that Moo also says this call is "effectual" (p. 54).

Moo has no such reticence about Paul himself. On p. 42, he says "Paul, as a called apostle, has been set aside by God." If it is a fait accompli in Paul's case, it is a fait accompli by God Himself no less in their case, when Paul says that the recipients are "called saints" and are "the called of Jesus Christ."

Our prior calling entails work. Not to be called, but because called.

1:12-14. Going into the nuances of the division of humanity as Greek/barbarian, wise/foolish is fine; however, he misses Paul's humor as he applies the division to Rome: you Romans, whether it's to the Greeks or barbarians among you, to the wise or to the foolish among you, I'm eager to preach the gospel to you whoever you are!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mt 15:29 - 16:12 for Jan 24

There are times of little or no opposition to what is good, but if any times should have been purely that, it would be those times we're reading about here in Matthew, during this stage of the Lord's ministry. But they weren't such.

The opposition story (16:1ff.) is similar, in the way it is introduced, to how chapter 15 begins. Pharisees and scribes (15:1) are natural co-workers, but "Pharisees and Sadducees" (16:1) are not. Between the two of them, however, they held the field in the area of religion, for those who weren't off in the Essene monastic movement, or among the Zealot party versus Rome. So to hear, as we do in this passage from Jesus to beware "of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (16:12), is equivalent to someone coming to us and saying "beware of most teaching around here."

So what was the original reference Jesus made (16:6) a reference to, exactly? A straight-across comparison of 16:6 and 16:12 indicates that the teaching of the Sadducees and the Pharisees is one, in this respect. It is a "teaching" that the Lord wants them to beware of: their teaching is equated with leaven. What is it in the "teaching" (16:12) that the disciples need to beware of, that is like leaven?

Well, what is leaven? We have already heard a parable narrating its characteristic behavior in bread: it is inserted into unleavened bread and gets mixed together until the bread is all leavened (13:33). So the teaching of both parties is a leaven to beware of. What incipient thing that works like leaven does "the teaching" of both groups have in common, and is also what the disciples need to beware of?

The Pharisees and Sadducees had come to the Lord just prior to that comment of His: "testing Jesus, they asked Him...." (16:1). This, without having to go any further, provides one of possibly many examples of teaching that is like a leaven and must be avoided.

"They asked Him to show them a sign from heaven." With all the healings, and the two miraculous feedings of thousands, and the walking on water, by Peter also, only interrupted by Peter's doubt, not the Lord's ability, the reader must be wondering, what possible sign could be lacking?

The analysis about such questions is still fresh in the reader's ears: "an evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign" (Mt 12:38). Here, in today's section from the One Year Bible, it is "testing Jesus, they asked Him." To test Jesus, in the manifest presence of His works (the magnitude of which attracted crowds time after time) is similar to the testing of God in the wilderness. As the biblical commentator about those Old Testament events said, take care that there is not in any of them "an evil, unbelieving heart" (Heb 3:12). This dovetails with the criticism of Mt 12:39, and the further explanations about an adulterous generation in our chapter.

What the Pharisees and Sadducees had in common was their unbelief toward Christ despite what has manifestly happened again and again. Not skepticism alone, but unbelief in the presence of overwhelming and convincing evidence. It is completely contradictory to have seen God's work and test God at the same time. It is completely contradictory to know what Christ has done and to test Him at the same time. In the wilderness, they had not simply a skeptical heart, but un unbelieving heart after all that God had done. Here, their teaching led them to test Christ, in spite of what everyone knew that He had done.

The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was their unbelief despite what they knew the Lord had done. Such a thing resisted the many instances of what had already happened, and demanded more, "on demand."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gen 46-47 for Jan 23

If you're the type that skips the endings if they're not about conflict, you'll want to skip here too. But that might mean that you have a hard time entering into the happiness of others. We often can't stand it, but it should now be OK to elaborate on the fact that others have been made safe, and are now safe, having seen it done here. Otherwise we would be forced to slight God Himself for saying something as sweet to Jacob as "Joseph will close your eyes...." (46:4).

God appears to Jacob when the conflict is resolved. Is it "un-American" for God to show up when we don't "need" Him anymore, or again ... how would we know that? We don't.

There is something seldom noticed in 46:4, in God's words to Jacob there when he was in Canaan: "I will surely bring you up again" (46:4). God tells this to Jacob, even though Jacob dies in Egypt (50:1-3). But God surely brings "him" up again to Canaan -- about seventeen years later (47:28) -- after he has died.

Jacob adopts this view of himself in saying "you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place" (47:30). Is it merely a way of speaking? Was it a way of speaking in the case of God's words in 46:4? Look at Mt 22:31-32. Jesus understands this in the same way as Jacob, and evidently, as God Himself does.

What should be made of the difference between Jacob's instructions to his brothers about what to say about their occupations (46:34) to Pharaoh, and what they actually say to Pharaoh right away, instead (47:3)? Although it doesn't seem to make a difference to Pharaoh in the story, there's a slight slur, perhaps, about them, that the Pharaoh makes to Joseph: "...if you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock" (47:6). Joseph had only brought half of his brothers into the meeting in the first place (47:2)! It may be nothing. But it also may be a continued testimony to Joseph's predictions in 46:34.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Moo Commentary on Romans (pp. 50-52)

Moo is near the end of his comments on the first paragraph of Romans, 1:1-7. Paul's first words should give us a way to see the direction we are invited to walk with him as we read his letter.

Let's imagine ourselves as recipients.... Has Moo helped us think of ourselves as recipients? Certainly. Paul says "among whom [among the Gentiles] you also are the called of Jesus Christ." The called of Jesus Christ are among the Gentiles. It is "unto" (ε ἰ ς) obedience of faith among all the Gentiles that Paul received grace and apostleship, and so writer and readers are matched.

The major events of the turn of an age are all here: the good news of God -- the death and resurrection of God's Son who is also a descendant of David; the designation of the Son's Lordship; the grace received, through Christ, which is behind Paul's mission as well as behind all of their calling as saints, his and theirs. This turn of an age is worth writing a letter about! The Messiah has risen from the dead, given apostleship (to Paul) and sainthood (to both) through grace (to both) and by calling (to both); this is all new, and the ongoing spread of the news is great and important.

There are some problems when Moo descends from what Paul says here in 1:1-7 to what readers of the commentary might be thinking. (Like a documentary film, a narrator is describing a situation, then, we are jolted when the narrator turns and talks to the camera, looking at it in the eye and saying "I know what you are thinking. Here's what I say about that!" It's an unfortunate distraction from being a commentator on Paul, and we should notice when he does so, commenting on the comments of our day, if you will.

More important, whether commenting on Paul, or on us, is how Moo deals with other views, and how he supports his own assertions. Moo's distinctive way of interaction is to mention other views, and the sources of where they are discussed, but then to give an opinion as if to break the deadlock of other views that are different then his. Moo will sometimes give a reason for his chosen view, not always.

The hardest thing to do is notice one's own blindspots. These take the form of what we think is "obvious," most of the time. "Of course -- that's obvious." Think of what you have heard others say under that rubric!

Even when an opinion is not is not contradicted by other commentators, that doesn't leave it in the clear, as if by default.

On these three pages, the problem is trying to set up a complex relationship between two concepts which are yet to be explained properly, obedience and faith. But let's let it pass for now. We are only in the first paragraph of Paul. And Maybe Moo is only winking at us.


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