Monday, January 31, 2011

New Year: Lev 7-9 for Jan 31

So far, if we only saw the "sacrificial part" of sacrifice, and not what sacrifice is to the priests, and even in some sense what sacrifice is to God (9:24) we haven't read these three chapters carefully! Leviticus 9:24 is the apex of the sacrificial system.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Year: Lev 4-6 for Jan 30

Sometimes what we're talking about is a way to highlight what we're obviously NOT talking about. Maybe some of this is going on here, with "unintentional" sins, or sinning "by mistake."

The obvious unmentioned subject in Lev 4-6 is defiant sin, which is explicitly contrasted with another type of unintentional sin (Nm 15:22, sins of omission), and dealt with separately. The unmentioned subject is mentioned later, and called sinning defiantly, or willfully, or with a high hand, in Nm 15:30ff. The writer of Hebrews knows his readers know that (10:26).

In the narrative form of Lev 4-6 we see principles at work under the surface, namely, first of all, the universality of application. Questions like "what if I didn't know I was sinning at the time?" are answered. Also, like "what if I can't make restitution right now?" Also, "what if I'm a priest myself?" ... or a leader ... or just a common man? There is universality of application, and no "outs" for anyone.

Look at these chapters from the point of view of the priest's job. The cleaning bill, by itself, would bankrupt the city, if the law were completely followed! The laundry bill (6:27) for this work would be big as well, even though very practical counter-measures are in place (6:11).

Let's look once more at the universality. If "a person" does something wrong, sacrifice of an animal (4:1). If the wrong was done by everybody, ("everybody does that ..."), or a priest does something wrong, a bull is sacrificed (4:3,14). Leader, a male goat. Common person, a female goat or a lamb. Public speech or testimony, according to the ability of the person, either goat or bird or grain. Property, a ram, plus restitution.

So, is it what a society might expect are a set of "livable" laws? These laws are prohibitive in both senses, in the sense that they function to prohibit excuses, and that they are onerous. Does the punishment overwhelm the crime? If a person does something unintentionally wrong, does an animal REALLY have to be killed? Wouldn't a child of four in every generation be asking these questions?

The obligations incurred by even unintentional actions far outstrip the performance of worship by the priests. This tension would be obvious, to a priest, and a careful reader. The burden is further explained and resolved in Hebrews 9.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Year: Lev 1-3 for Jan 29

What about the sacrificial system, people ask, can we gather for today? Read Leviticus and see!

Here in our chapters, there's the heading, Lev 1:1. It's there if you want it to be there, and it's there if you don't want it to be there. The question is worth asking, "how can God Himself, the creator of the zillions of stars and galaxies, specify the treatment of animals in a sacrificial system?" ESPECIALLY since Hollywood constantly is telling us that no animals have been harmed during the making of our movies....

The first answer is, that certainly this question cannot be considered a "modern question," by any means, as if no one could possibly think of it. Gen 14:19-20 sticks it in our face, that the One who has heaven and earth as a possession calls one man from Ur of the Chaldees, ziggurat-land, and blesses him. Interest in the sacrificial system of those whom He has promised descendants to is not as far-fetched as that. So if we squirm at Lev 1-3, we're trying to strain gnats while swallowing camels. Which sounds like it would hurt the camels, too, to me.

There are some questions that Lev 1-3 answers that, if you think about it, might have nagged us from previous chapters. Is God predisposed toward animal, against grain sacrifice, and could that be the reason He rejects Cain's sacrifice in Gen 4? No, and no. Grain sacrifices in Leviticus 2 are perfectly fine sacrifices, and even have that "soothing aroma" attribute that skeptics laugh at (2:9,12).

Another question that might nag us, is, are the Israelites performing copy-cat, culturally learned ritual a la the nations around them, and wouldn't that kind of explanation of the sacrificial system be ipso facto more believable than God's dictation of it?

Again, I want to say "no, and no." Even if we find another culture's contemporary xyz document that says everything in Lev 1:9 except "to the LORD," still "no." The readers of Leviticus are not stupid, and they would not be impressed with attempts to make them stupid, so that the skeptic may seem smart! Namely, it is no less a fact that sticks out, that God specifies these sacrifices, to them, than it is a fact that sticks out, to us. For the opposite reason however: among our contemporaries, we are wont to be blase about God, but furious about animals. They were not sensitive about animals, and completely dumbfounded by the acts of God! That is why this is a fact that sticks out to them!

We should have been complaining, anyhow, back in Exodus, where in 27:8, the altar was specified to be made "as it was shown to you in the mountain." The altar, and everything else: based on a pattern revealed privately by God to Moses on top of Mt. Sinai! We should stop swallowing camels in our attempt to look smart. The Hebrews were copying something else, and it wasn't their neighboring cultures. Hebrews 8:5-6 is sensitive to this.

A few more plugs for the intelligence of the reader of Exodus and Leviticus. It is just as obvious to the early readers, probably more so, since a question would be coming from their own children more quickly and urgently than to ours: 1) why does the bread they use have to be unleavened, daddy (2:11)? 2) what is "the salt of the covenant of your God" in 2:13? Is God particularly specifying some significance to the salt? 3) Why is blood sprinkled, in one scenario (3:8), and completely offered up in another, along with fat, to the Lord, i.e. never eaten (3:17)? This should be thought of as T.B.D. -- to be determined. The readers hear this, and hear that the complete explanation is not given, and know that the text itself is leaving this to us as a question to be pondered.

Friday, January 28, 2011

New Year: Ex 38-40 for Jan 28

The Old Testament idea of "calling by name" (Ex 35:30) applies to Bezalel. However, Bezalel is not God's automaton, but is described in the next verse: "He [God] has filled him [Bezalel] with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship." The calling of a man by name, on God's part, does not empty the man, but fills him with what is needed "to make designs for working ...." (35:32). Bezalel continues in our chapters: starting all the way back from 36:8, he continues without even being mentioned by name through the rest of 36. He is mentioned at 37:1, but not at 38:1, where we begin.... "Then he made ... then he made ...", summarized in 38:22-23.

Oholiab the engraver, workman, and weaver, continues with the priestly garments in 39:2ff. The two work together, presumably, when the text goes from mostly "he made" to mostly "they made." It is eventually broader than that: "the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did." People should remember that verse, Ex. 39:32. In characteristic biblical fashion, the text just says "So Moses blessed them" (39:43).

The sequence that followed everything being set up correctly was the presence of the LORD, continuously, for one time only? No, "throughout all their journeys" (40:38). When things are correctly specified "just as the LORD had commanded," (39:43), not only does the LORD bless them, but the blessing goes on into the years (40:38).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Year: Ex 35-37 for Jan 27

Look out! You'll miss it if you tend to skip "details!" God and the Israelites start the honeymoon here! (in fact starting with Ex 34:10, including our chapters for today.)

Just as there are "Ten Commandments" in 34:28, refering to the original ones in Ex 20, there are ten "you shall" or "you shall not" sentences in the covenant God makes starting in 34:10. These are 34:14,17,18,20,20,21,22,25,26,26. Moses was commanded to write those down. God, on His part, includes them in a covenant with Moses and Israel (34:27). It's interesting to hear that God makes this covenant with Moses and Israel.

Jeremiah 2:2-3. "The Love of your Betrothals." That's here. Going now from all "the things that the LORD has command you to do," the whole collection (35:1), to specific things (35:4), is a good thing. The people shine here. They get something to do. Something to work on. This is always a good thing in a relationship, rather than staring at each other (35:20).

Not only did things start to work. Things started to work -- from the heart (35:21-29).

Things continued to work (36:3-6). And then, quietly, with little fanfare, the work went on in chapter 36 of building, according to Ex 26 patterns, which the reader notices, but doesn't. When something is going well, according to plan, it's possible to for the reader to read chapter 36 without hardly noticing the correspondence to Ex 26:1-4, 26:15-29, and 26:36-37. Perhaps it was also done so that Bezalel and Oholiab could whistle while they worked. Same with Chapter 37 and Exodus 25 and 30.

One application to our lives could be in this simple observation of the details of these chapters. When something is going wrong, do we not often dwell on all the details of it, even if not trying to fix it? But when something is going right, do we skip the details? Are we a people more enamored with our failings, than when we do well? Why should we be?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Year: Ex 32-34 for Jan 26

Exodus 32 is one of the most dramatic, in the sense of tension-filled, chapters in the Bible.

Does anything in Aaron's past, or for that matter, in the past of the Israelites, prepare us for 32:1-6? Aaron, no, but the people, yes, back to 15:24-25, if you stick to just times after the redemption of the people from Egypt. Before that, Moses also grumbles (5:22-23).

The sequence of this event in the narrative is significant. The readers have (just) been told in beautiful detail about the priesthood of Aaron and his sons. Now this same Aaron is seen as a weak and pliable (32:2-4), a people-pleaser, idol-maker, liar about God Himself (32:5), and a rationalizer regarding his sin (32:24). There couldn't be a more dramatic picture contrast between Aaron wearing his garments for glory and beauty, and having a breastplate over his heart with the names of the sons of Israel on it, and Aaron with the sons of Israel in 32:1-6.

The dialog between Moses and God in 32:9-14 would be even more dramatic if we hadn't read a similar dialog between Abraham and Moses in Gen 18:22-33. Here, the dialog between Moses and God goes a step further than Abraham's questions. Some people might say that 32:9ff is a way of expressing, in narrative literary form, the inner logic of one side of an issue (32:9-10), followed by the inner logic of another side, and that the statement that the Lord changes His mind describes, in narrative form, one of the major priveleges of being in covenant with God: He listens to Moses, in this case. He listened to Abraham.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Year: Ex 29-31 for Jan 25

Buried, but not really buried, in the details of Aaron's garments, was the narrative of his priesthood function before God in Ex 28 (28:4,12,29,30,35,36,38,41,43).

Now, if we look at 29:1ff. as the hard part, the skip-over part, we'll miss some of the greatest things the passage has to teach us, even to help understand Christ.

The sprinkling of blood (29:21) on Aaron's garments, which were constructed "for glory, and for beauty" (28:1), is INTENTIONAL. All the gold we read about. All the precious gems and rings and musical sounds on his garment -- sprinkled with blood before any service was done, i.e., in the consecration.

Similarly, the representation of the twelve tribes is described with objects. In the previous chapter, it was "before the LORD," 28:29. Here, regarding the sacrifice, the ram of ordination, "Aaron and his sons shall eat those things by which atonement was made." Let us not squirm at this, because otherwise how can we understand Jn 6:51ff, which in turn made others squirm?

29:42ff. is not only explanatory, but shows the wisdom of the function of the priests, who serve "continuously" (29:38). For God to "dwell" among the sons of Israel (29:45), is due to a meeting. This meeting is described in 29:42, and it is at the place of offering. How incredibly sad that those who were His own did not understand a verse like Mt 12:5, which not only is a good New Testament comment on the work of the Old Testament priest as here, but on Jn 5:16. To work on the Sabbath was the privelege of the priest.

Why so? The sacrificial system had not only a "continual burnt offering," but a reminder of the continual presence of God, in the anointing oil and the incense, which are physical, olfactory reminders the persistence of the presence of God, and the reminder was for the priests alone (30:37-38). The priest alone was the one who bore the anointing oil, and who alone dealt with the incense. The presence of God is mediated by the continuous work of the Priest, who is sprinkled with blood, and has names on His heart.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Year: Ex 26-28 for Jan 24

Are the details of tabernacle construction (Ex 25-27) of interest to God? Not merely that, but they are specified by God, and He does so by giving a pattern (cf. Heb 8;5). Really!

We could answer a possible objection here. Perhaps an objection might occur to some people, or even ourselves, that religions often try to posture their practices as having been directed by a god, in order to create awe in the communicants, for the purpose of controlling behavior.

The answer to such objections, if they are levelled at Exodus from chapter 12 on, is that such a theory doesn't fit what we read. If the Israelites had an imagined god, and were trying to convince the readers that the Tabernacle was specified by the god, and their rules were specified by the god -- why then, are the rules so helter-skelter? Why are even the main rules so few (ten; Ex 34:28)? Why is the Tabernacle so broadly specified, with provocative annotations like 25:22, that point to something necessarily beyond themselves? Instead of being a concoction, Exodus reads for all the world like what you are doing when you have an ongoing relationship in which the things written down are incomplete, but that's OK, because God's presence is the main thing, directing the incomplete details toward their end.

An analogy would be the difference between following the instructions of an architect who is on the site with us, versus doing things all by ourselves, in the absence of an architect. Exodus shows all the signs of a people who are taking up things under direction, not a people faking being directed! If God says to write this rule down about ascending to the altar by stairs (Ex 20:25ff), in the same instruction set as not to worship other gods (20:23), this is how we would truly expect those who follow a living God to write it down. It bears all the earmarks of people being directed, not people trying to impress you with their organized religion.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

New Year: Ex 23-25 for Jan 23

How to predict what it will be like when God comes down to "the top of a mountain": don't try to predict it .... (Ex 19:20).

Don't abridge it. For example, don't have a version of your Bible where you write "skip 20:22 - 23:19."

Don't evolve it. For example, don't say "we call abc in this verse here a primitive form of a'b'c', which is what is really what it is now."

Don't rank it. For example, don't say "this is cultic, this is politic, this is theologic: first, second, and third in importance."

But by all means observe it! We haven't looked at the difference between the famous "And God spoke all these words, saying" section (20:1ff), and how 21:1 starts (and continues in our chapters today): "Now these are the rules."

Rules is rules, as the saying says. We're way out of our league here. If we're at a place where mountains need to be consecrated (19:23), and the angles of eyesight need to be protected (20:26), we're not dealing with the familiar.

If a genre-guess can be permitted, we can guess that the rulings of Ex 18:13ff. are possibly what 21:1ff. includes. They read as an ephemeron of rulings. Thus, one verse passes from what is right for the Lord, to what is right for the pot in the kitchen (23:19). Indeed, this conflation itself may be intentional, to show that the Law is for "top to bottom."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

New Year: Ex 19-22 for Jan 22

Sinai (Ex 19-20) is not the reason for which God delivered the Israelites from Egypt.

God delivered the Israelites "to bring them up from that land, to a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:8). It was all due to the fact that "God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and that was all about the land farther north. This is repeated in 3:17.

Why then Sinai? There are lots of reasons. One was that it was a personal promise to Moses, way before he even went back to Egypt from Midian (3:12). Moses had been right there (3:1; 3:12). Twice (4:27). He is going back to family and in-laws, as we saw in Ex 18, with a few people for Jethro to meet.

Originally, Moses had proposed a three-days' journey to Pharaoh -- to make sacrifices to God (3:18; 5:3). God, in re-iterating His purposes to Moses, tells him "I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (6:8).

After the first plague, God says to Pharaoh "Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness." This does not go beyond what 3:18 and 5:3 proposed. Similarly, "that they may serve Me" in 8:1,20; 9:1,13; 10:3. That's how both Pharaoh and Moses understand it in 8:27-28, and how Pharaoh's servants understand it in 10:7,8. When Moses subsequently mentions that "we have a feast to the Lord" in 10:9, Pharaoh, perhaps not comprehending this combination of serving and feasting, makes an off remark (10:11), and it's interesting that of all the events to follow, this event is elaborated on with his most contrite words (10:16-17). After the ninth of the ten plagues, Pharaoh gives what he thought would be Pharaoh's final offer, to let them go without their flocks and herds (10:24).

Ex 12 gives more reason for us to understand God's purposes for redeeming Israel. There, on the eve of the deliverance from Egypt, before the events at Sinai, God institutes the Passover "ordinance" (12:43). in perpetuity for the Israelites, and starts their calendar at month 1 on it (12:2). Symbolic acts, such as eating a meal "in haste," etc. 12:11; rules about how the meal should be made, and who should be and not be there, 12:44-46. The whole of chapter 13 highlights the perpetual (13:10) significance of the Passover and Unleavened Bread week (13:7). No anticipation of Sinai is part of this ordinance.

The same doing things for their own sake occurs in the pivotal events of the crossing of the Red Sea. And so, up through Exodus 15:21, including the redemption from Egypt and the deliverance of the people from Pharaoh's pursuing army, it's all working out what God has done and what is appropriate in response to that.

Enter 15:22ff, in which we see the following: "So the people grumbled at Moses ...." (15:24). In 15:25 we read "there He [God] tested them." That was one test. Then in 16:4, another. We see the reason behind Paul saying "Why the Law, then? It was added because of transgressions (Gal 3:19). Paul had explained "if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise" (Gal 3:18). His summary statement is "What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise" (Gal 3:17). It is very important to remember that here, at Sinai, there already is an existing covenant, which the Law does not invalidate. The inheritance -- what the promises promised -- are not invalidated by the Law.

Here in Exodus 20:20, is the reason for this meeting at Sinai: "Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.'"

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Year: Ex 16-18 for Jan 21

Redeemed people. Exodus 15-18.

God (1): "Let My people go, that they may serve Me." (Ex 8:20).

People (1): "When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses." (14:31)

Moses (2): "In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You have redeemed; / In Your strength You have guided to Your holy habitation." (15:13)

People [3 days later, 15:22] (2): "The people grumbled at Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?" (15:24)

Flash forward, about six weeks after (16:1).
People (3): "Would that we had died by the LORD's hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full: for you [Moses and Aaron] have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." (16:3)

God (3): "I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel." (16:12)


cf. Ex16:27-28, 17:2-7. He tested them (15:25b, 16:4). But when they tested Him, it was Not a Great Idea on their part.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Year: Ex 13-15 for Jan 20

You can tell if you're in step with Exodus pretty simply by this point: 1) can you sing Exodus 15? (or, to be kinder, could you sing it if you could sing?) or 2) could you attend, at least, Ex 15:20-21?

There are plenty of events/topics to discuss in these three chapters. Where to start? In the previous chapter, Exodus 12, we read something that really hasn't been touched on since the beginning of the Bible. It's all well and good to be against something: the world (Gen 6-8); the tower of Babel (Gen 11); Pharaoh's holding the Egyptians in servitude (Ex 1-12); but NOW, that we are a group ... what are we headed for, when there's nothing against us in sight? What are we supposed to be about, and doing?

Answer 1: go where you're supposed to. In this case, follow the pillar and the cloud.

Answer 2: do what you're supposed to. Ex 12:14-27, for example, teaching yourselves and your children an object lesson based on learning the history that has happened.

Answer 2, to me, is amazing. Well, they both are amazing. Answer 1: At the beginning of their independence, the Israelites had clear guidance of supernatural origin. Answer 2: this is the difference between this religion and all forms of a do-it-yourself religion: the religion that we "do," whatever it is, must be in appropriate response to what has been done (that we didn't do, God did).

Answer 3: Remind yourself what's happened, in case you forget, or conveniently forget, the great beginning, how you got here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Year: Ex 10-12 for Jan 19

The redemption of the nation "with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment" (Ex 6:6, RSV) is highlighted by their leaving Egypt as if timed: "at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day" (12:41).

Looking at the subject of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart should wait until Ex 14. Here in 10:1-2, it is put in the strongest possible terms so that no one can miss it. Far from having their God be someone who is dependent upon Pharaoh's heart, their God acts upon Pharaoh's heart, just as He acts in these acts of judgment, and for purposes that are beyond dealing with Pharaoh. Purpose #1: "that I may show these signs of mine among them," (10:1). Purpose #2: "and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son's son how I have made sport of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them" (10:2). Purpose #3: "that you may know that I am the LORD" (10:2).

Think of these judgments from the point of view of the Israelites. Don't they already know that God is the LORD? Well, yes, and no. Back in 4:31, they responded well to Moses' and Aaron's signs; they "heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel." But when Pharaoh did nothing about it but make their lives worse, the people blamed Moses (5:21), and Moses had no one to "ask" but God, telling Him that He has not redeemed His people "at all" (5:23)! So the Israelites, and Moses, and the Egyptians, are still seeing that God is God, which is what God Himself says is happening in 6:1 and 10:1. Because of "their broken spirit, and their cruel bondage," the Israelites would not listen to Moses telling them what God was saying (6:6ff; 6:9). God is showing them, so that they will know it truly enough and well enough for 10:2.

God has hardened Pharaoh's heart for those purposes. Is Pharaoh depicted as someone as darkly evil as he can be, then? No. Moses calls it quits with Pharaoh prematurely (10:29; cf. 12:31-32), and certainly both he and we ourselves are unprepared to hear Pharaoh say "and bless me also!" (12:32) when he finally lets the people go! What is going on there? He had said the same kind of thing, regarding himself personally, in 8:28, and in 10:16-17. For the Israelites to know that He is the LORD is also to know that He redeems nations with an outstretched arm, yes, but He deals with individuals as He wills, with no unfairness or injustice. God had hardened Pharaoh's heart, yes, but Pharaoh wasn't the only one showing inability to listen (6:9), and the Israelites were not the only ones who also learned from these events (9:20; 10:7; 12:33-36). Consider that it is very possible, for God to deal with individuals fairly, nations fairly, and accomplish His will, at any and all times.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Year: Ex 7-9 for Jan 18

Before we say we can't fully understand God's justice, we could say that sometimes we might not grasp it at all.

If we have been reading so far, we have been prepared for these judgments(Gen 15:14; Ex 3:8,19,20). But when we read about these "ten plagues" as they actually come upon Pharaoh's kingdom (7:20; 8:6; 8:17; 8:24; 9:6; 9:10; 9:23; 10:14; 10:22; 12:29) aren't we these days overwhelmed with a sense of overkill, that somehow God surely ran up the score?

How is it then that Gen 19:23-25 is often more easily acceptable? Is it not because of our sense of distributive justice, which is affirmed in Gen 18:32? Hundreds of years before, God had told Abraham what he was about to do in that case, and from that, and with further clarification to Abram, his sense of justice (Gen 18:23-25) was satisfied.

Therefore just as Abraham was told beforehand, these judgments were announcements beforehand as well, but in this case, not only to the children of the covenant, but to Pharaoh himself, even regarding the worst and final one (Ex 4:23).

Not only is this judgment pre-announced, but as with the destruction of Sodom, the justice of it -- its strict "deservedness," if that is a word -- is known to God thoroughly, beforehand. "I will know," God says, then finds out, about the deservedness of one. "I know," He says about the deservedness of the other (Gen 18:21; Ex 3:19). Not only does God know, but we know, that He knows what the recipients deserve. Not only does God know, but Pharaoh knows, that God knows what he and his servants deserve (9:30).

Yet, upon Egypt there is a judgment, not a destruction. Destruction doesn't have as goal, to teach anything further in this life, to those destroyed, but this judgment is full of lessons for Pharaoh and Egypt, those judged (Ex 3:20-22; 7:1,5,12,17; 8:10,19; 9:14-16,19,29,30).

It's not unreasonable to expect that we ourselves are the ones needing (re-)teaching regarding God's fairness and the deservedness of His justice, if we were not taught by Genesis. Assuming, therefore, that we are convinced that God is just, are we then still tripped up by the descriptions of the plagues, because of their -- showiness? Perhaps.

There is a deliberate depiction of God's versus Egypt's power. This goes against our sense of fair play, but should it? We "know," from the perspective of God teaching us in the year 2011, that God is powerful. Do we think it should be a given, and that signs and wonders are overkill? In answer to that, we should recall, what did the Israelites have? They had what Genesis teaches, but Genesis did not depict Abraham's seed as fully in bondage at any time. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob worked miraculously, but had not displayed the power of redeeming a whole nation from bondage. The descendants of Jacob went to Egypt seventy in number. God is shown here to fully teach the Egyptians and ourselves, that His power is in the service of both justice, and redemption.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Year: Ex 4-6 for Jan 17

When the results are not forthcoming for Moses in Ex 6:9, we can't say that he didn't anticipate the difficulty in the attempt (4:1), and express himself freely to God about the difficulty.

God Himself predicted this; He also furnished helps for Moses: a) signs (4:2-9). The first problem is that the signs fail to convince Moses to use the signs, or do anything (4:13). God accomodates Moses by bringing in b) Moses' older brother's help. There is some irony in the use of this accomodation, since Moses becomes convinced by the promise of a family member's help, after the help of miracles does not do it. After a direct promise does not do it (4:12).

There is another implied miracle in the narrative. Moses is still in Midian. Aaron is back in Egypt. God tells Moses three things about Aaron. First, that Aaron is a good speaker. Second, "behold, he is coming out to meet you." Moses hadn't even gotten on-board with this yet, and Aaron is coming toward Midian (4:19)! Thirdly, something that is just slipped in almost under the radar: Aaron, God says, "when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart" (4:14). So Moses finally gets off the schneid.

That could have been the problem all along. God Himself may appear to you! God Himself may promise you! God Himself may give you signs that would convince Bertrand Russell! But if those you love have rejected you, as far as you know, you may not get going.

God may be merciful to you and get you going, yet He will also teach you the pre-eminence of Himself -- watch for Him to (4:24-26)! -- along the way.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Year: Ex 1-3 for Jan 16

Moses is hard to introduce. Time has passed, an indeterminate amount of it (Ex 1:8). It is a different environment for the "people of the sons of Israel" (1:9), and Moses, while growing up in it, regarding the Pharoah's daughter, the text says "he became her son" (2:10). Yet God tells him after many years "'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'" (3:6). We could say that while Joseph was nurtured in Jacob, and became great in Egypt, Moses was nurtured in Egypt, and became great in Israel (Dt 33:10). Joseph was buried in a coffin in Egypt (Gen 50:26). No man knows Moses' burial place in Israel (Dt 34:6). Joseph knew Pharaoh face to face (Gen 47:5-7). God knew Moses face to face.

The conversation between Moses and God takes two chapters of prepation of the reader, we might say. Why? Just how is Moses "Egyptian" (2:19) and how was he one of the "brethren" (2:11) centers around his infancy (2:5). But Moses tried to answer that question definitely, by striking down someone who was beating "a Hebrew" (2:11), and yet his zeal backfired on him (2:14). His attempt to self-identify had backfired, so neither was he accepted in Pharaoh's court (Pharaoh "tried to kill Moses," 2:15), nor evidently among his people, so he became a stranger in a strange land (2:22), an "Egyptian" (2:19) who was a Hebrew, who had moved to Midian, and married into that nation (3:21). He was "far off" (naturally speaking) from Israel and Egypt both.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Year: Gen 48-50 for Jan 15

Families are awkward and messy, and things are left unfinished and unresolved as often as not.

This passage, which is most centered on Jacob's gathering to his fathers until the last two paragraphs (50:15ff) of Genesis, is not different. There are great moments, when three generations are together, Jacob, Joseph, and his two sons, at Jacob's bedside when he is ill. Yet what is to Joseph a wrong on Jacob's part (48:13-14,17), and displeased him (48:17) is deliberate on Jacob's part, and due to foresight (48:19), not bad eyesight (48:10).

Again, in the scene in which Jacob pronounces to his sons the foresight of "what shall happen to you in days to come" (49:1), the pronouncements are uneven, as is what shall happen to them each, uneven: some cryptic (49:19), some metaphorical (49:21), some straightforward (49:13), and for two, for Joseph and Judah, very extensive: 5 verses for Joseph, and 5 for Judah.

At the last, at the end of this book, when Joseph himself dies, although he had "made the sons of Israel swear, saying, 'God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here,'" (50:25) yet the end of the story leaves that task undone, and with no explanation why (50:26). Such is the unevenness of families, even of this one, blessed "up to the bounties of the everlasting hills" (49:26).

Joseph taught his brothers about God's ways, unforced, when he could have said things to his own advantage, about their past. What did Joseph tell them? "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.' Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them." (50:19-21). And to us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Year: Gen 44-47 for Jan 14

To give these chapters their due would take the skill of everyone on this planet who has ever missed their father, and anyone who has ever missed a son, and anyone who has had love for a brother, and any family member who has missed another, put together -- and then they could not come up with such a tremendous story, even if they had the freedom to make up fiction. For one simple reason: we know that through this story blessing has in reality come to the world, and will come.

There is humor here, when the brothers of Joseph, who were clever enough when they were younger to fake story after story, prove embarassingly stupid before Pharaoh in 47:3, after being coached in 46:34, how to speak to Pharaoh.

Another interesting issue is how the Lord's use of history and "the big picture" is undoubtably emphasized, but the specifically religious piety of either Joseph, or his brothers, or Jacob, is minimal. 46:1-4 is the sum of God's direct and explicit intervention in the events of this story. Is this saying something? I do believe so. In modern terms, we could say that it is not necessary for God to micromanage, for His will to occur.

The climax of the narrative of Genesis is 45:1-13. God, however, has foreseen and planned, and the reader knows or remembers, more: what God said hundreds of years before to Abraham: "Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years" (15:13). We haven't reached the end of this history, which was always known to God and originally told to Abraham long before.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Year: Gen 41-43 for Jan 13

Ancient narrative form was never greater than in this story, for pure human interest.

"After two whole years" (41:1) directly recalls Joseph's request of 40:14, for us to consider, and ask ourselves what is being said about the events in the lives of those God leads.

How is it that the two years are passed in silence, without comment on Joseph's state of mind? We learn well enough about that in 41:16. But indeed, the story abbreviates from all that could be said. It summarizes (41:37). It gives the conclusions of events that it does not describe (41:39-45).

There is also a "point of theology," if we could call it that, regarding God's provision for Egypt. God is not "tribal" like the other gods. If it suits Him, he tells Pharaoh life-saving things (41:25), and Joseph is very plain about it (41:28), even to the detail of why Pharoah had two dreams (41:32). In the process, the reader might even recall that Joseph's dream came twice (37:6-9). The last verse of chapter 41 extends this theme of God's provision, to the whole world, almost as an extra thought (41:57).

When Joseph, while disguised from his brothers, tells them "for I fear God" (42:18), the reader understands this as a meaning two distinct things. Joseph is saying that in disguise, and the brothers take it that he is vowing his honesty in that way, and it is understood by them as so. However, But since the reader knows it is Joseph, then Joseph's piety comes out there. Also, in the story of the explanation of the "steward of Joseph's house" (43:19) there is an even stranger example of reference to The God of Jacob given -- by an Egyptian! He says "Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money" (43:23). Perhaps Joseph gave him those exact words to use regarding the incident. But the text has it coming out of his mouth. In any case, in Abraham's seed that nation was blessed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Year: Gen 38-40 for Jan 12

The art of teaching by telling a story is contained in Genesis.

In our chapters today, there is nothing asking us to compare and contrast Judah (Gen 38) with Joseph (Gen 39ff). Yet -- how could we miss it! Judah is an unprincipled, almost totally pragmatic thinker, in ethics. The possible results of an action are the determinative thing that sway him.

We saw this yesterday in 37:26-27. Here, he's a "buyer," assessing the price and agreeing to it, not thinking ontologically about the item, just about the moment. Giving Judah's reasons, "he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law" (38:16), the text is screaming at us, saying 'see how he thinks about things?' !

Judah's comments in 38:23, "otherwise we will become a laughingstock" are not only further evidence of his thinking, but hints that the text is telling us: 'Judah, you are a laughingstock.' This type of life, that doesn't act on principle, but tries to fix things as they come up, is being commented on from 38:1 throughout this chapter. We should watch for ethical systems that invite us wing-it after bad choices have been made.

In the story of Judah in Gen 38, indeed from Gen 36-38 we can't help but notice that God, either by the names "God" (Elohim) or "LORD" (Yahweh) or Lord (Adonai) is only mentioned in his providential judgment upon Judah's sons (38:7-10). Judah is mindless of the spiritual aspect of this judgment, thinking only of consequences and fixing them (38:11). This stretch of time, from Joseph's boyhood to becoming grown up (39:6), describes in narrative form what we, using a modern term, could describe as "secular" life. Relativistic morality. Same-O events and issues (38:27-30). Pre-occupation with one's own state (37:35).

Regarding Joseph, however, we see that God's constructive activity is brought in very dramatically again: "the LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man." (39:2) Again, this is the narrative form inviting us to contrast Joseph with the others ... more precisely, God-with-Joseph, compared to God with Judah and the fam, during this period.

The story of Joseph follows that of Judah. Not only is there a contrast between the sexual behavior of Joseph and Judah, but there is also a contrast in a teaching about right behavior and its results. Things go well for Joseph, but all the good is taken away, not once (39:20), but twice (40:23). In its place, there are circumstances of severe restriction.

Then why the adversity for Joseph? Joseph's adversity was coterminous with his moral battles, which he is successful in. This is another contrast between Joseph and Judah. The judgment upon Judah's sons was from God (38:7-10). Joseph, by contrast, has blessing from God. The adversity in Joseph's life comes through family disputes, or from evil agents 39:17-19, or from the ignorant application of justice (39:20) or by the forgetfulness of people (40:23), but the blessings from God are interwoven with all of these things, and will bring these things to a narrative conclusion, which we have already heard the hint of (37:4-11). Like Jacob then, we should in our own day keep these hints in mind.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Year: Gen 35-37 for Jan 11

Sibling rivalry. Since Cain and Abel, i.e., since the first.

The undercurrent of the remnants of it is even in the geneology lists of Esau and Jacob. Jacob's is listed before Esau's, and yet Esau's is listed going way forward in time (36:31), and in huge detail, hearkening back to Isaac's prophecies about him (27:39-40). It's clear, also by repetition (36:11,15), that Esau is discussed because of that history's importance. We don't know quite why, as yet, from what is stated. Perhaps also the names themselves were significant to the original readers.

But the sibling rivalry is accompanied by details of sibling differences. Jacob was "a quiet man, dwelling in tents" (25:27); Esau, a hunter, capable of murderous intent (27:41). This was not monotonic for Esau (33:9), and Jacob has a future lordship prophecied about him (27:29). But in the development of the relationship of Jacob's sons, the rivalry takes center stage. With nuances: Reuben, firstborn, is followed by two brothers of warlike mein and activity: Simeon and Levi (35:23). Simeon and Levi are the ones who killed all the males in Shechem. Reuben's name is missing (34:25,30). Here, at the beginning of the Joseph-story, the sibling rivalry also includes the aspect of Jacob's preferment of the youngest (Joseph) not the oldest: this is contrary to what Isaac his father wanted to do.

Reuben is not favored by his father. He is also different from his brothers in his treatment of Joseph (37:21; 37:30). Perhaps he sees the prospect of rescuing Joseph as a way of gaining favor with Jacob (37:22). In any case, Reuben did not take part in selling Joseph to the caravan.

America, as a melting pot and as a democracy, has a recent history. This history is not so marked with deep interest over one's ancestors and their personalities as the vast majority of cultures have been, especially in the Ancient World. Whether one's ancestors said one thing or another can be passed down as significant explanation of their descendants. God is building something here through the very thing that the ancient world kept track of, in detail. Genesis exists, in part, because children are expected to know what transpired among their ancestors, even the stories, and even the words. Do not be surprised, therefore, when there is a phrase from a story, that is taken up by a descendant.

Here is one example you may have noticed in our chapters. Judah here says "'What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.' And he brothers listened to him" (Genesis 37:26-27). Consider the exhortation James makes in Jm 2:14-17. When James says "What does it profit, my brethren" (James 2:14, RSV, etc.), the ears of his brethren of the Diaspora pick up! This is familiar exhortation language, coming from the stories of the ancestors. It has similar foils: what is dead is of no profit. Let's do something that has profit!

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year: Gen 32-34 for Jan 10

There's not two parts of the patriarch's lives in Genesis, religious-God, and regular-relationships. It's one thing. The relationship stories are great. Here we have the zeal for one's sister (34:31, 34 passim), a completely-laid out brother-brother reconciliation with all the cost involved to give it a try (32:13-15), and the success of that (33:4), and of the zeal (34:25-29).

However, not complete success, in the case of either one. In the first, the reconciliation was for that day, but there is no record of Israel joining Esau in Seir (33:14; cf. 35:29, 36:6). Also, there is an undertone in the "why this?" comment of Jacob (33:15, lit.), coupled with the fact that Jacob does not go to Seir, but to Succoth, that hints that the day was one of reconciliation, not complete unification with Esau. God was leading Jacob separately. In the second, Jacob's comment on the actions of his sons speaks for itself (34:30), as to their myopia. Yet, the story also shows that there was to be no unification with those of "the city of Shechem" (33:18) either.

The interest of the reader in the religious-God aspects of these chapters might well center on the wrestling story (32:24-32), and even more on God's comments on it (32:28-29). But the incident is integrated with the rest of Jacob's life. From pre-birth, Jacob has been a wrestler-supplanter-schemer. Even if he learned faithfulness during his twenty years with Laban (31:41), he learned it while recognizing the actions of God (31:42) as a necessity, for him not to be "empty-handed" (31:42). It was before God that he departed from Laban (31:51-55), before God that he handled the possible threat of Esau (32:9-12), and with "a man" that he wrestled and demanded a blessing (32;26). Since that "man" renamed Jacob to Israel (32:28), and we find out later that it is really God doing the renaming (35:10), we must conclude that the wrestling story is part of the great Hebrew tradition of speaking of the Lord indirectly, out of respect.

However, the name "Israel" itself (32:28, meaning "he who strives with God" / "God strives") says something about how God deals with aggressive personality types. 32:28. Such types "prevail" (in this case; 32:28) This is strangely reminiscent of the Lord's comment in Mt 11:12, about the kingdom of heaven and violent men, and God knocking Paul to the ground in Acts 9:4. You don't escape God by being a Type A person. If He wants you, He'll both bless you and make your hip hurt.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

New Year: Gen 29-31 for Jan 9

Employment. Employment became tough for Jacob (31:41-42), but what a lesson Jacob learned from it (31:42).

These chapters have also some of the greatest humor in the Bible, in the interactions of Jacob and his wives and concubines, enshrined in the names of Jacob's sons. Some of it is lost on us because we don't hear the humor in the words, what we call "puns", and some of it we have to think about. For example, so far, have we had a hint of some humor in the naming of a person, provided by God Himself? Isaac! But, every culture can identify with the dilemma of what to name children, and probably every culture has expressed the aspect of whimsiness in the naming of their own, with of course all the joy too.

The payback theme is under the surface here, too. Abraham -- schemed. Laban -- schemed. Jacob -- schemed, and was the inferior schemer at first, until God took up his cause regarding the sheep.

Was Jacob the "model employee," as he avers in 31:38? Hardly. One of the heights of high mockery of self-righteousness is Jacob's speech to Laban in 31:36-42, when the reader knows all along what Rachel had done in 31:34-35. Had Laban searched one more camel, what could Jacob have done about his vow (31:32)? The rashness of vowing one's righteousness when the evidence of otherwise is sitting there close by will come up again. For Jacob. But let's not get ahead of the story so far.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

New Year: Gen 25-28 for Jan 8

As we mature, our parents tell us things, but don't state all the implications they can think of, as often. They couldn't, and probably wouldn't, because they are also "telling us," by skipping some things, that they think we can follow more of those ourselves.

Here, at the very time we would expect "everything to be perfect" for the foundation of the nation that takes its name from this man, is Israel (Jacob), lying through his teeth (27:24), having been prodded by his mother into an elaborate makeshift masquerade (27:8), that could only work because of advanced onset of age on the part of has father Isaac (27:1). And yet the direction of history is described as coming through these events (27:33, 39-40).

This is not the first time the story has shown God's use of the contrary deeds of men, and the vicissitudes of events in time, inviting us to consider the implications of them, and how God's plans come about in the midst of them, in spite of them, using them. One way the explanation is given is by showing that the contrary deeds are taken up by God to bring about things in God's plan. The very promises to Abraham in 12:1ff. and 15:19-21 fulfil an imprecation and blessing uttered by Moses waking up from wine, 9:25-27. Abram and Lot separate due to conflict (13:8), and God uses that for teaching Abram what land to walk around in (13:12-18). A war, going back and forth (14:10-23); famines (26:1), and travels (25:18), and literal cover-ups (27:16), and barrenness of the womb (25:21), and old age, and people in the Old Country (24:27), and schemes to produce children (16:2). Here, even the warrior-personality of Esau (25:29-34), and even his revenge-plans to kill his own brother (27:41-45) all illustrate how God is over the contrariness of them all, fulfilling what He has promised. The text doesn't say "do you see that God's promises will come about despite these contrary things?" It teaches them this way, so that we will come to conclusions by following this history ourselves.

Friday, January 07, 2011

New Year: Gen 22-24 for Jan 7

Just like most tests, this one just arrives. No reason is given to Abraham for the instructions, other than reasons that between friends show understanding of what is the nature of the test: "your only son ... whom you love ... Isaac." The reader knows the irony of "Isaac" (meaning "he laughs 17:19), and God gave him the name.

But along with the name, God said "I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him" (17:19).

There are some other salient details in the words describing God's command: "one of the mountains of which I will tell you...." This is code-language, going back to the start: "Go forth ... to the land which I will show you" (12:1). It's as if God is reminding him of the beginning, and how well it had transpired until then. The characteristic language of the covenant. This test is not a test for genuineness of covenant relationship, but a test within the ongoing covenant relationship. This test is not an exclusion test. Abraham is not taking a college weed-out course, to make him flunk.

They make movies about someone who had to cut a leg to stay alive in the wild. How long did 22:8-9 take? Could anyone capture the ramifications of that walk, and that setup, and that moment of 22:10-11?

Was it a genuine test? Yes. What was the result? "Now I know that you are a fearer of God" (lit., 22:12) This is very similar "I know" language to what God said about Sodom before He went down to see it in 18:21. This going down to Sodom is for thorough knowledge: "to see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, and if not, I will know" (18:21). The command to Abraham, which the reader, but not Abraham, knows is a test, produces this knowledge, this investigated, open, factual knowledge of Abraham that he is this: a fearer of God."

This knowledge (very important not to miss this) does not stay secret in the counsels of God, but God tells him. God told him about the wickedness of Sodom ahead of the judgment. Here, he tells Abraham about what he is. Not what he became, but what he is. Passing the test did not make Abraham into a fearer of God. He was that, before. When God says "now I know" -- and wants you to know it too -- that is a seal of the truth of it, a seal far greater than if you only figured it out for yourself.

This test was for Abraham's good. God knew that Abraham was a fearer of God. God knew that Abraham "considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead" (Heb 11:19). Abraham now knows that God knows that thought, as well as all his other ones, but particularly important, evidently, within this covenant relationship, is for Abraham to know that God knows that that's what God is to him. That's your friendship to God, when you know that God knows that you fear him... from your experiences together through thick and thin.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

New Year: Gen 18-21 for Jan 6

The story of the promise and fulfillment of the promise to Abraham about Isaac sandwiches the rest of the stories in these two chapters through 21:7. The final two stories of chapter 21, about Abimelech, and about Hagar and Ishmael, develop further another theme of Genesis, the story of the nations and their origin. 18:18 ties the two themes together.

Abraham understands that God judges all the nations (18:25). Before now we have seen God actively executing justice, indeed from chapter 3 onwards. We even come to understand that God knows the future sins of nations from long beforehand, in doing so (15:16). God therefore has judged individuals in Gen 3-4, the whole world but the Noah-8 in Gen 6-8, the confederacy at Babel in Gen 11, and the pattern continues, but now with this very important new difference: Abraham reasons with God about it (18:22-33)! Beforehand!

In the process, we learn more about the relationship of justice and mercy upon a society. Perhaps by their collective (18:32) presence or activity, until that too utterly fails toward the rest (19:14), the righteous prevent destruction of the wicked (18:32).

In baseball, as we are in the off-season, there are schemes of assessing the strengths of each team. But the season doesn't often seem to go as predicted. "That's why you play the games," people say. By the end of the season, not before, baseball fans know for certain, what exactly is the case. This aspect of goodness and justice -- that it is an item of knowledge, not chance or whim or inscrutable action -- has been a theme since Genesis 1! God's knowledge of the goodness of creation is emphasized -- e.g., "God saw that it was good" (1:21). He knew that it would be good of course. But after creating it, he saw that it was good. Knowledge of fact, as fact.

Now, God's knowledge of Sodom is brought out in narrative form. His justice is completely according to true knowledge. In narrative form, that comes out as the fact that God "will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know" (18:21). God shares this attribute of His justice not only with Abraham, but (19:13) with lowly Lot, who is all mixed up, now and later (19:8, 18-19, 31-36), though God puts up with it (19:21), remembering Abraham (19:29).

God's justice is also announced to those who are ultimately, in this case, judged. His were-to-be sons-in-law are told (19:14). Justice is something that God makes understandable to humans.

In the example of Lot's wife, we have told to us, in story form, a very somber reality, on top of all this: in some cases, mercy is also announced (19:16), executed upon the receiver of it (19:16-17), but its present benefit forfeited. Lot's wife, 19:26. She escaped the judgment of the rain of sulfur and fire out of heaven on Sodom (19:24). The angels had her in their hand (19:16) just as securely as they had Lot, with his whining personality babbling on (19:18-19). She knew that the judgment was behind her, not on her. How do we "remember Lot's wife" (Lk 17:32)? Having escaped, not to turn back, lest our advantage of escape be shortened in this world.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

New Year: Gen 15-17 for Jan 5

Somebody reading might say about these chapters, "here's where it gets good!", and we should take the enthusiasm from that, and run with it too!

Realism, almost unbelievable realism. Is Abram so amazingly transparent toward God that he can actually tell him "what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (15:2)? That sounds like a complaint to me, almost a full-on, straight to God challenge. But, there is some balance hidden in the first verse: "in a vision." Abram saw this vision, which included God and him talking. Perhaps that is significant, perhaps not, but at least, if we are afraid for Abram because of this attitude, there is an out.

So 15:4 makes sense as another, more direct encounter: "Then, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying ...." Or perhaps it continues the vision. In any case, the subject of the vision continues.

A first-time reader can spot things that we may not have thought of. Think of the listener in Princess Pride, interrupting us, and maybe asking us questions, as a child might ask, hearing this story. In 15:8, Abraham's question might make a young listener say "You're kidding me. He's asking THAT, again??? Didn't God already tell him that, a million TIMES?" And sure enough, the kid would be right: back in 13:15. And 12:7.

The next part is thus a "good part," the deepening of the promise-based interactions of God and Abram, with action, and dramatic dialog in a dramatic moment (15:12-13). solemnified by a unilateral act on God's part (15:17), and the reader hearing about what it meant: "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram...." What exactly was that covenant? Summarized in one sentence: "To your seed I have given this land..."(15:18). Then he gets real specific about the details, as a kind of fine print that shows the scope and hugeness of the covenant.

Chapter 16? in verse 2, back to trying to get things to work somehow, things that could be put under the category of running interference for God, to make it look right, that He's doing things, and it becoming a kind of mess (16:4-6). It's all under God's watchful eye, the God who Sees (16:13), and things go on after the birth of Ishmael for 13 more years under that scheme (16:16-17:1). Is the reader supposed to connect the dots here, between the scheme (16:2), and the time passing so long? Perhaps there is some significance to this delay, but judging from 17:1b, that present moment wasn't due to a delay, and in chapter 17 it really gets good again.

Since nature abhors a vacuum, we might be tempted to insert "spiritual growth" in these intervening years, but then, what about 17:18? Can't be that much spiritual growth there: Ishmael was already a young boy of 13, and Abraham had heard God tell him "I will multiply you exceedingly" (17:2). He fell flat on his face after that. But he must have got up again, because to hear about Sarah, he falls back down on it (17:17). We must conclude that falling on one's face may not be an act of pure piety, from 17:17. He gets corrected in the next verse.

Let's not forget the "as for Me" when God talks about this covenant, on His side (17:4), followed by the "as for you" in 17:9. The "as for you" part is not what establishes the covenant: God Himself does that (17:7). Abraham's part is to enforce the sign of that covenant. On everybody ... we'll get to that. But anyway, let's not miss the extreme interest generated by the particulars: a ninety-nine year old and his ninety-year-old wife, promised by God -- think of the time-frame, that ONE YEAR later, and families know what one year later means as far as the beginning of a pregnancy, when that means the beginning will occur ... Anyway, a ninety-nine year old is told by God to circumcise his foreskin and that of his entire male household, and that this will go on forever, because God said so. The story got good.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Year: Gen 11-14 for Jan 4

As readers, we are in tremendous tension here. God's judgment during Noah's time did not change his covenant announcement that "the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth" (8:21). If God is not going to destroy man by flood, and man's intentions are evil from youth, how is God going to accomplish good among men?

We get the idea in chapter 11, that man is not the only agent, but that God is still around and active! The tower of Babel story tells what people (11:2; 11:5), set themselves to do: stay together, and make an name for themselves and accomplish anything they want (11:4, 11:6). But God breaks up this combination of evil intentions and getting together to accomplish them.

In chapter 12, we see that God deals with one person again, just as with Noah. This time, however, God does something further than spare a person. He sets up the future for that person, and the affairs of that person. This future will affect the whole world: "in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (12:3).

So perhaps the readers expect a hero, like Nimrod, "the first on earth to be a mighty man" (10:8). What we read about is a blunderer (12:18-20), even conniver (12:12-13), having trouble with his family over posessions (13:7-8), needing direction (13:9-17), but who keeps getting contacted by God (12:1; 12:7), trying to settle down, only just when he does so (13:12), God contacts him again and tells him to travel (13:17). He keeps getting these promises from God (12:1-3,7; 13:13-16, 14:19-20), and the altars and gifts he gives to God seem to come after the promises, not the promises after the altars (12:8; 13:4; 13:18; 14:20)!

Monday, January 03, 2011

New Year: Gen 8-10 for Jan 3

Sooner or later, whether looking at the real world, or reading the Word, we come across something and have to say "I sure don't get that!"

Part of not getting something, is not knowing whether what we're missing is unimportant, or whether it's very important, or something in between. At the end of chapter 7 is the dismal picture that "He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the land." In a way, we understand the universal judgment, by making it similar to throwing everything out of, say, a garage, saving nothing, because nothing is worth saving. 6:7 prepared us to see this happen, and it did.

Having come to grips with that, and the obvious supernatural assumptions behind the story, knowing, as readers did then, that eight people, four men and four women, cannot take care of so much for 150 days (7:24), I "sure don't get" that God "smelled the soothing aroma" in 8:21! I'm happier (as a Trinitarian) even, that the Lord said things to Himself (8:21) than trying to figure out what that smelling signifies, and whether it is extremely important, or not. Am I missing the foundations of substitutionary atonement, or am I worried about a metaphor?

Meanwhile, other important things are being introduced. Covenant. A unilateral one, at that. With some subtlety being expressed: 1) Previously, God had told Noah that "I will establish My covenant with you" (6:18). That sounds like something a teacher would say "remember this; it will be on the test." 2) Now, in 9:11, He says "I establish My covenant with you." The event itself. 3) In the future, God describes what happens in this "everlasting covenant" (9:16) -- and it doesn't depend on us seeing a rainbow, but on Him seeing it! This is extremely important. If we weren't convinced that there are such things as unilateral covenants before this, Genesis 9:16 should convince us that this one is. Only God has seen all the rainbows.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Year: Gen 4-7 for Jan 2

People soon weary of being taught morality directly. Rule after rule after rule, and we need not wonder why there are lawyers! One of the charms of a story is that it sneaks past our defenses against lists of rules, and gets something besides the rules across: sometimes this something is "doing" life, we could call it. How in the world, in light of what just happened in Genesis 1-3, could life be conceivably done?

Would it be by just saying that God helps (4:1)? No. Would it be by compartmentalizing, i.e., obligation-to-God stuff, versus the rest of life (4:3-7)? No. Here's how the story portrays that:

The human family is out of Eden, but God does not remove Himself from them. His (differing) "regard" for Cain, and for and Abel (4:4-5) covers their respective offerings, not the other way around. God explains to Cain that if he (Cain) does well, he will be accepted. This shows that God is not compartmentalized to only being interested in offerings. The reader had just heard this, in the sequence just read, how God had dealt with Abel. "The LORD had regard for Abel, and his offering" (4:4). God does not highly regard offering, when mismatched with a person whom He does not highly regard.

Indeed these chapters progressively describe the course of many descendants, all of whom but Noah -- and one other -- either died in due course, or were judged by a flood. However, embedded in this story of God dealing with "the wickedness of man" (Genesis 6:5) is this phrase describing Noah, and this one other, Enoch -- that each of them "walked with God."

This is in Genesis 5:24 in Enoch's case, and 6:9, in Noah's case. Given that this is a story, the reader is told something, in story form, perhaps to just think about in 5:24, but it is made veryexplicit in 6:9. What is the contrast described so starkly, but not explained, between Cain and Abel? Between Enoch's destiny and the death of everybody else listed around him? How does a person "do life" even in the presence of what's around him and in him? It's who you walk with.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year: Gen 1-3 for Jan 1

May the Lord show us great things in His Word this year.

In Genesis 1-3, which is almost a necessity for some to read, to start the new year right (!), the chief question that might occur to us is why is it that Eve doesn't die, either immediately herself, or together with Adam after he eats?

There are quite a few details to consider in the text in looking at this question.

Later, neither Adam himself, nor Eve, but only the serpent, is directly cursed by God, going by the use of the word itself. Yet Adam's future death is announced using other words, in 3:17-19.

One answer that must be considered is that God had already announced by His creative fiat what must therefore come about, regarding humankind, in Genesis 1:28. If humankind does not increase and multiply, God's pronouncement would come to be naught. The reader knows this.

There is tension, all the more so after reading 2:17, God's warning to Adam that he would die on the day he ate of it. How is it that mankind will increase and multiply, following the eating of the fruit?

The serpent talks about the events on the day of eating the fruit as well. He directly contradicts 2:17, saying "Ye shall not surely die" in 3:4 (RV). Notice the plural. The serpent is referring to both Eve and Adam there.

The tension is very unexpectedly developed. Wouldn't you have expected a Zeus-like scene of thunder and fury?

Instead, God Himself ... walking in the cool of the day ... and questions! The text invites us to make an early comment on the effects of sin on Adam and Eve, by stating that they hid themselves from the Creator of the universe, among the trees of the garden. There is a definite ridicule of this resort of Adam and Eve, this hiding in the trees, that is hard to miss, in that text (3:8).

Not only that, but the sowing of the leaves, as it is presented to the reader so matter-of-factly, is also a surprise consequence. Here's why so: God had warned Adam, and Eve subsequently knew about, a consequence of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The devil contradicted that, and instead indicated other consequences of eating it. If all the consequences -- the same-day death, and their becoming like God, knowing good and evil -- truly came about, would we have expected the events to be sewing leaves and hiding in the trees? No! The narrative is a pure surprise to the reader at this point. Neither immediate death, nor immediate behavior antagonistic to God, but shame and hiding, and God walking in the cool of the day, in the garden, eliciting a confession of the truth from them.

God doesn't ask the serpent for the truth of anything. His immediate and far future is simply announced: to be cursed now, and to be bruised in the head by the seed of the woman.

Again, way before we hear of how the Lord makes good His word that they were to die on that day, God has already announced not only the fate of the serpent, but the participation by the seed of the woman in that fate! The Lord's sovereignty is certainly evident to the reader at this point again, and the tension still left to be resolved, just how it is that Eve's seed will bruise the serpent's head, if she and Adam are to die that day.

The resolution is that their death is decreed that day. Just as so many things, the creation of the very world, was by fiat, by decree, so their death was decreed then, but the resolution of the problem was also partially already revealed, in the comment about the seed of the woman. God is master of all events that occur, and is not dethroned by any of them.


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