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.