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.