Monthly Archives: June 2008

Bible in 90 Days: Day 30!


BiND:  Day 30


We’re a third of the way through!  Which seems like a perfect time for a little review, which makes today’s reading in Chronicles sort of nice.  There are a few things that seem to fall by the wayside as the kingdom goes on, and this is our opportunity to remember them.  Things like the ark of the covenant—remember that?  I don’t think we’ve heard about that since the end of Solomon’s reign.  It seems that it was tucked away in the Temple and forgotten by all the subsequent kings, but here we are being reminded of how important a symbol of God’s presence it was to the ancient Israelites.  How about kings actually praying, talking to God?  That didn’t seem to happen much post-Solomon either, and here we are today reading again David’s prayer of gratitude for being chosen by God, anointed (mashiah, messiah, remember?) as shepherd for the people.  Shepherd was a term often used to refer to kings, and today we even read about David referring to the people as sheep—sheep he has charge of. 

We also get a reminder that the name Solomon (Schlomo in Hebrew) is related to the word shalom—peace, wholeness, rest.  Back in Deuteronomy we read that when God finally gave the Israelites rest (or peace) on every side, they should worship together in one place.  Well, according to the Chronicler David created that peace on every side (with God’s help, of course), then assembled all the supplies, so that Solomon (the peaceful one, the one with no blood on his hands…yet) could create this central place for the community to worship. 

Notice what we didn’t get a reminder of…almost any sin.  The worst thing David does is conduct a census.  No Bathsheba scandal here!  You can bet the people this was written for, and the people writing it, knew all about it, of course—but talking it over again doesn’t serve the purpose of this text, which is to remind people of the good ol’ days and call them back to the under-reconstruction Temple for covenant observance and some good old fashioned manual labor.

We also get a little taste of David’s songwriting skills—he is credited with a large majority of the psalms, a few of which get wrapped up in David’s welcome-the-ark-to-Jerusalem speech.  David clearly loved music, at least in the eyes of the Chronicler, for he is also here named as the one who divided up the labor of the Levites (keepers of the temple and of ritual observance) into various jobs, including musicians.  10% of the Levites were appointed as musicians!  Wow.  I bet the music God (and the Levites) heard there was pretty excellent, don’t you think?


Bible in 90 Days: Day 29


BiND:  Day 29


Well, after a day like yesterday it’s hard to get into the post-exilic writing style of Chronicles.  These books will contain lots of things we already know about—they are yet another account of how we got into the exile situation in the first place, with stories of kings and sins and whatnot.  But we begin with genealogy—the biblically boring stereotype of lists of begats (at least in some translations).

The “Chronicler,” as he’s known, was for a long time thought to be Ezra.  Current scholarship debates this and suggests that the Chronicler wrote after Ezra and even used passages from Ezra-Nehemiah, as well as using as source material parts of Samuel and Kings, parts of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, as well as portions of the “final version” of the Pentateuch.  This is all significant because it’s clear that the books of Chronicles are a call to the returning exiles to continue to rebuild and to renew the covenant—the Chronicler neglects negative stories about “good kings” (especially David and Solomon) and shows extreme loyalty to the Levites (the priestly clan—did you notice how much room they got in today’s genealogies?).  He is interested in rebuilding Temple-based Judaism and wants to be sure that everyone knows that when we had a good thing going before, both the kings and the people were in on it.  And when we had a bad thing going before, both the kings and the people were in on it.


So why start with all these names?  Well, the Chronicler is up to something here.  He is likely trying to show that God’s hand has been in this particular people since the beginning of time—notice he begins with Adam—and has been guiding the family of chosen people.  We have talked before about how genealogies are important—there’s a growing interest in genealogy in our day, with where we’ve come from.  It helps us to be rooted in our family, and our faith family is no exception.  How can we be rooted in God’s family if we don’t even know who’s in it?  That’s what these lists of names are for—they show us where we’ve come from, and they also remind us that God knows each name and even cares enough to keep records.  Jeremiah will say that God has each person “written on the palm of my hand.”  This is just one way of showing that.


Having said that, 8 chapters in a row with practically no breaks?  That’s a lot of names.


Did you notice that there were a few breaks, and one was the recently popular Prayer of Jabez?  One little verse, where Jabez asks God for prosperity and enlarged territory (and gets it), has spawned a whole industry for the prosperity-gospel folks.  While it’s clear from biblical witness (not just this one verse) that we can and should approach God boldly in prayer, and even Jesus says “ask and you shall receive,” it’s not at all clear that asking for personal prosperity is what God had in mind (and in fact as we get into the prophets we will discover that this mindset can get you into trouble—even exile-type trouble!).  At least not the way it’s marketed now, with books and videos and speaking engagements.  I have a sneaky suspicion that the people who started the franchise based on this one little verse have indeed become prosperous…but maybe not through prayer.  (though who knows—it doesn’t help to limit the power of God, it’s true.)



sermon text for August 17


Matthew 15.21-28

 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

This story is simultaneously one of my least and most favorites.  I hate the way Jesus seems so high-and-mighty, holier-than-thou (though if anyone is going to be that, I suppose Jesus has the most legitimacy…), the way he is so uncompassionate and insulting.  I love the woman’s tenacity and her spunk.  And then I love that Jesus seems to have learned something–he seems to change his mind, or maybe to grow a little in his understanding of God’s grace.  Grace isn’t just for the children (often interpreted to mean the Jews of Jesus’ day), but for all–and even a crumb is enough.  (TCP)

Bible in 90 Days: day 28


BiND:  Day 28


Well, it’s a hard day in the life of an Israelite.  The kings just get worse and worse.  In the northern kingdom (Israel), they’ve finally prostituted themselves enough and end up overrun by Assyria, a powerful empire in that time.  The capital of Israel (Samaria) was overrun by Assyria in 722BC.  The Assyrians had a pretty shrewd annexation strategy—they would take over a land, cart the people off to somewhere else, and move in their own people or people forcibly relocated from somewhere else.  This way they could be sure political and military uprisings would be curtailed, since there would be language, cultural, and religious barriers to the new residents of the land getting together to resist the occupying forces.  This is the consequence, the deuteronomic historian seems to say, of covenant breaking.  Interestingly, this is basically the beginning of “Samaritans” as a category of people.  The new residents of the land are taught about the religious practices of “the god of the land” but they also continue in some of their own practices.  Later on down the historical line, the descendents of these people will be known as Samaritans, despised because of their impure blood and their impure religious practices. 


Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Judah, things are going sort of okay.  The kings aren’t quite as bad…well, except a few…and there are even two who are downright trying!  But by the time we get to Josiah, the king who reigns when the book of the law is “found” and who institutes widespread reform in religious and social practice, the one who brings the nation back to covenant keeping…well, it’s too late.  No matter how hard Josiah tries, he isn’t able to save himself or his nation.  Good works, even a good work of having faith, isn’t enough for salvation.  (As Christians, we know this:  we don’t earn our salvation, it’s a gift of God called grace.)  Josiah dies in a battle at Megiddo (remember Ron telling us about Megiddo, which is known as “Har Megiddo” (har means mountain/hill)—which leads to the word “armageddon”?  interesting…) and the next couple of kings just get the Israelites into even more trouble.  Ultimately the Babylonians (the Assyrians are toast by this time) come in and lay siege to Jerusalem, destroying the whole place, including the Temple, in 587 BC.


It’s hard to overstate the importance of 587 in biblical history.  This is THE central event of the Israelite people.  Everything (pretty much all the writing from Joshua on down through the history and the prophets and even into the new testament) leads here and back, over and over again.  The chosen people, the chosen house, the chosen land…chosen no more.  The very place where God chose to live…gone.  Overrun.  Destroyed.  Razed.  The people deported or killed.  This is the crisis of faith, the crisis of covenant, the crisis of life.  The people are taken away from their promised land, and it looks as though God has departed, leaving the people on their own.  It’s hard to imagine, but in the worldview of the time, in the religious belief of the time, either God had abandoned the people or God wasn’t the powerful deity they’d thought.  It’s not looking good.  And the king?  Well, after a few years in a Babylonian prison, he’s let out and ends up a courtier with a stipend from the king of Babylon.  It looks like his evil ways continue….but so does the Davidic dynastic line, technically.  You see, Jehoiachin can’t simply be eliminated because he is the last remnant of God’s promise, a glimmer of grace in a foreign land.  He is the hope of the historian, the hope of the Israelite people who still have energy to look to the future.

photo is of ruins of 1st Temple Jerusalem…what was left after the Babylonian army razed the city.  by 21stcenturycatholic, on Flickr.

 PS:  There are conflicting scholarly/religious accounts of just how many people went into exile—anywhere from “just the power players” to “everyone” seems to be on the table.  What’s important here is not whether the entire people was taken away or whether only the king and his court were—what’s important is that the people felt adrift, cut off, like they had left God and/or God had left them.  They were in exile not just from their land but their Lord as well.  In some ways we, who understand the covenant differently, can still relate to this.  Though we don’t believe there to be literal physical repercussions for covenant breakage (like losing a job or contracting an illness or enduring a tragedy), we do know from personal experience that breaking the covenant leads us to exile in different ways (whether an inner sense of disconnect from God or a literal being cut off from the community we need, or a bunch of other ways).  The ancient worldview can only see physical, or “real” consequences, whereas we are aware that there are other kinds of consequences.  So it is possible, if we wish, to read the exile in our own time as a physical manifestation of an inner/psychological/spiritual phenomenon.  Okay…end excursus on contemporary exile…


Bible in 90 Days: Day 26-27


BiND:  Day 26-27


Well, now we’ve met the first two major prophets—Elijah and Elisha.  Sure, there have been prophets before (Nathan, anyone?).  And we’ve met the “company of prophets” a bunch of times—those are the prophets who are in the employ of the king, who are members of the royal court, who get paid to say what the king wants to hear.  They’re basically “close political advisors” under a different name.  Elijah and Elisha are different.  They are each talked about as “man of God” and they do more than just go into a prophetic frenzy.  They tell the word of the Lord for the nation, they say the hard thing (not just the easy one), and they do miracles.  Now, remember that Elijah is pretty much the premier prophet in the Jewish tradition.  He’s expected to return to herald the coming of the Messiah.  Every seder includes a ritual opening of the door to let Elijah in, many dinner tables include an empty place set for him.  Clearly, the people who wrote about Elijah (to a nation in exile) needed to make clear who he was and what he meant.  He was the one who called people to live by the covenant, and who encouraged the kings to follow in David’s footsteps.  His miracles included raising the dead and parting the waters of a river.  He heard the voice of God in the silence after an earthquake/fire/wind.  His successor Elisha also (miraculously!) parted the water, raised the dead, fed the hungry, etc.  These two prophets are the forerunners of those prophets who have their own books (coming soon!).


We have also read about many of the kings who succeeded David and Solomon.  You may have noticed that all the kings of Israel (the northern kingdom) are talked about as being worse than anyone ever before—they just keep getting worse!  They sin.  They encourage the people to sin.  They worship idols.  etc etc etc.  Meanwhile, the southern kingdom of Judah has a few kings who “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” but also a few who were surprisingly good—they insist on seeking out a true prophet, they take down idols (but not high places), they don’t sacrifice to foreign gods, they basically follow the covenant…notice anything interesting here?  That’s right—the kingdom of Israel and its kings are illegitimate in the eyes of the deuteronomistic historians.  Only Judah and the kings following in David’s bloodline and footsteps are the real deal, and the writers go to great length to show us just how true this is.  Obviously, legitimacy is both dependent on and revealed by adherence to the covenant.  Interesting…


Well, tomorrow we get into the big moments of Israelite history—the defining events of ancient Israel, the events that bring us Judaism rather than just a Hebrew religious cult.  Check back!