“What Now?…”

As I draw near to the end of my Old Testament class, I am excited to consider how this experience will be used in my ministry in the future.  As director of Spiritual Formation for my congregation, I have several avenues in which this material will be of great benefit.  I will list them here.

  1.  Worship.  I have already had an opportunity to share my takeaways from our study of the lament psalms.  I preached two services this past Sunday based upon Brueggemann’s “The Costly Loss of Lament,” framework.  It was good in that many shared with me a gratitude for having been given the freedom to “lament” in worship along with addressing their true emotions.  It was very well received by several in my congregation.  I intend to work with my senior pastor and worship leader to incorporate more opportunities to experience worship in non-traditional ways in the coming year because people are always looking for alternative ways to connect and experience God’s presence.
  2. MLK Weekend.  I already have a sermon planned for Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend 2018 based upon the work we did with the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.  The annotated letter, along with the work with the Book of Amos, I believe, will give me a great start to helping my  congregation to engage with an issue that is still just as relevant today as it was 5o years ago.  As well, my church is in the heart of Birmingham, AL , which I believe will make it even more real for our hearers.  However, without this course, I would have never made the Amos connection.  So I believe my congregants will find it most interesting since many of them have never even heard of Amos!  (But really, who has outside of seminary??)  So good stuff!
  3.   Sermon Series.  As well, I like the idea of creating a few (maybe a series) of sermons that truly get into the messages of the prophets.  Only with this course have I come to truly understand the different messages.  Economics vs. Social Justice vs. Religious Issues – all relevant today if we take the time to understand their points.  I normally only have the opportunity to preach 4-5 times a year, but I think people would enjoy those messages.  My congregation loves “learning something they have never heard before” concerning biblical culture, history, politics, etc.  And to learn that the prophets were addressing different social and cultural issues would maybe bring life to a part of the Bible that most folks have never studied before.  Sure did for me!
  4. Disciple Bible Study.  I normally teach a “Disciple Bible Study” course during the school year on Wednesday nights.  I am heavily considering leading Disciple III in the fall which deals specifically with the prophets during the monarchical period.  I have never felt equipped to lead this particular study because of my lack of knowledge regarding the time period and the prophets’ culture in general.  I look very much forward to engaging this material more deeply in order to truly learn more about it, but also to be able to present it in the classroom with as much value added as possible.  Out of all the “Disciples,” this is the one that most people avoid.  I am hoping to create some excitement around it!
  5. Sunday Morning Curriculum.  I also teach a Sunday Morning class on complete scripture study.  I have always created my own curriculum.  I have a couple ideas that I am going to pray over and submit to the class for a vote.  One is a study of the Davidic Dynasty.  Our study of the Judaean Royal Prophecy along with the Deuteronomist theory would make such an interesting study if we read through the scriptural stories that most people are familiar with.   The second would be a study of the Post-Exile period including Ezra, Nehemiah, the second Deuteronomistic redaction and the associated prophets.  The point being, trying to bridge the gap between the exile and the period of the New Testament.  Why did those temple authorities hate Jesus so much??  Interesting for me for sure, but I am quite certain that particular class would enjoy those conversations also.
  6. Big Ideas and Essential Questions.  I am slated this summer to work on a team inside my church to create a two-year scope curriculum that will better prepare our 4th & 5th grade students for confirmation in the 6th grade.  Our confirmation process lasts for an entire school year, and we have identified many weaknesses in their complete understanding of the major themes of the Bible.  This is our number 1 priority, to give as much understanding to those children as possible regarding the nature of God, the importance of their decision, the meaning of grace, etc…  Having become accustomed to thinking in terms of “Big Ideas and Essential Questions,” this framework will be most beneficial to me in beginning the outline process for that project.

 

Finally, I really enjoyed the extra resources coming out of the Bible Odyssey site.  I can using that site quite often in the future as a research vehicle that is easily accessible and easily digested when one has specific questions and specific topics to research.  Each speaker was top-notch.

Overall, I loved the course, learned tons, and am always looking for ministry applications inside my classroom work.  I have definitely walked away with much usable content for my congregation and I am so thankful for it.  Way to go OOTLE!!  And big thanks to Dr. Lester and Sun-Ah Kang for making it such a fun and enjoyable experience!!

 

“Trust…”

 Trust. Which ancestral stories relate to the issue of trust in divine promises? List some specific episodes that stand out in your mind that have to do with issues of belief, trust, and faith. What developments can you trace in the growth and quality of the ancestors’ trust?

When discussing the issue of trust in the Book of Genesis, most Christians can immediately discuss Abraham, his call and his trust in God during its fulfillment.  We are raised on such beliefs as Abraham’s faith and his judgment as righteous because of it.  However, it is quite an undertaking to track the growth of Abraham’s trust in God over his journey to Canaan.  But in looking closely at his responses and decisions in some of the lesser discussed stories of his life, it is pretty clear to see that the Abraham we admire and hope to emulate is a very “spiritually evolved” version of the man that started off on that initial journey.

Even though an old man when setting off, we can almost feel a youthful exuberance as Abram packs up his family and begins his trek west, with only the Lord as his guide.  He did so without hesitation (Genesis 12:4.)

However, it did not take long for his trust in God to falter.  Even though God has promised him much, Abram falls victim to fear of being killed by Pharaoh and passes his wife off as his sister in order to save his own life.  Maybe his faith isn’t so strong after all (Bandstra, p. 82).

But I have to hand it to Abram.  God’s promises were so slow in coming that it would have been understandable for him just to give up and head back to Haran.  However, Abram didn’t run home.  He stuck it out with God.  For over twenty years Abram and Sarah wandered that foreign land waiting for God to act.  And there are multiple examples of how his trust in God deepens and develops.

“In a fit of generosity and evidently also a show of faith, Abraham allowed Lot to choose where he wished to be. Lot chose the well-watered Jordan valley. In response, God reiterated to Abraham his promises of land and offspring (13:14–17), and Abraham moved to the Hebron area.” (Bandstra, p. 83.)

Consider it, here Abraham was, the elder, giving the choice of land (promised to him by God, we remember) to his young nephew.  Israel, as I understand it, is a barren, desert place in most instances.  Of course Lot chose the best land for himself.  But Abraham graciously gave it to him without thought of how he would feed his own flocks and household.  This exhibits a great amount of trust in the promises of God, in my opinion.  Abraham has faith that God will protect and provide for him.  Let Lot have the best of the land.  Lot didn’t have Elohim watching out for him….

Another episode in the saga of Abraham that doesn’t get much attention is the subsequent command by God that all Abraham’s male family members be circumcised.  I have never understood the required act of circumcision until now.  In reading Bandstra’s explanation, I can see where even participating in the act itself was a great leap of faith for each Jewish father.  Think of it, one slip of the hand, an infection from and unclean instrument and BAM! No more offspring. The promise of God is rendered null and void.

“Circumcision established itself within Judaism as a distinctive mark of covenant commitment. Sealing the covenant by circumcising the organ of procreation with a knife, with its implied threat of sterility, has the effect of symbolically handing over the possibility of offspring to the grace of God. By practicing the rite from generation to generation, the Israelites almost literally placed their future into the hands of the God of covenant.” (Bandstra, p. 88.)

This event also is evidence of a growing trust Abraham has with God.  By accepting the circumcision covenant, their relationship moves from a type of charter covenant (in which God makes the promise, and Abraham is required to do nothing in return,)  to an agreement more of equals (or a treaty covenant,) in which Abraham now has requirements and responsibilities in the relationship (Bandstra, p. 86.)

I believe it requires much more trust to agree to this type of arrangement (with the negative consequences of a broken promise,) than it does just to simply accept the gift God is offering.  It is the kind of agreement one enters in to when the other entity is well known.  This demonstrates the growth of the relationship between God and Abraham over the years.

The pinnacle of the Abraham Cycle, as well as the climax of the relationship between Abraham and the Lord is found in Genesis chapter 22.  We see Abraham expressing a true and unwavering trust in God as he follows God’s instructions to offer Isaac as his sacrifice.

I have always struggled with the idea that a parent would willing sacrifice his own child.  Regardless of my love for God, I believe that I would turn away from God before hurting my own child.  Why?  Because I love my children more than I can say.

So I was greatly intrigued by the following statement made by Ellen Davis:

“what is at stake is not obedience merely but total mutual trust. The point of the test is to see whether Abraham trusts God even to the point of relinquishing the child on whom the blessing, the covenant, and his own happiness depend. Abraham’s fear of God is a condition of complete vulnerability before God, “costing not less than everything” (T. S. Eliot);”

Ellen F. Davis; The Binding of Issac

 According to Davis, Abraham was attached to Isaac, not only through parental love, but also because Isaac was the living embodiment of God’s promise.  All Abraham’s hope and life’s striving was tied up in Isaac.  And by sacrificing him, Abraham stood to lose more than a son.  He would be losing everything he had ever trusted God for.

My only answer to this is that Abraham had to be trusting God for something greater. What other possibility was there?  Whereas, I would look at the loss of Isaac as the end of my covenant with a God that doesn’t keep his promises, it occurs to me that Abraham had to look at the situation as the next step in his journey with a faithful and trustworthy God.  Only after spending years of daily trust in God could he have made that decision.  Only after years of seeing God at work and coming to understand his nature, could he make that walk up the mountain without question.

He had become a different man than the one that began the journey with God a lifetime ago in Haran.  And by reading his story can we have the faith to trust in God and take our own journey into our promised future.

“My Creation Story…”

In our study of the origins of the Torah, we have been given the task to formulate a creation story that coincides more with other sources from the Old Testament than with Genesis 1 and 2, (for example: The Psalms, Job and Isaiah.)   As we look closely at these passages, we see elements of a narrative that are very different from what we see in Genesis.  We see chaos, war, and a violent beginning to the ordered world as opposed to our traditional understanding of a well-planned execution by God (Stanley, p. 212.)

Why would the Bible hold any differences in this story?  I was as shocked as any to encounter what seems to be, contrary, statements within the Old Testament.  It helps to understand that the Pentateuch (or first five books of the Bible) is actually a compilation narrative with stories from at least 4 different sources:

E – The Elohist;

J – The Yawist;

P – The Priestly Writer; and

D –  The Deuteronomist Historian

It is believed that creation stories were recorded during the Babylonian Exile period by the Priestly Writer (Lecture.)  This setting gives rise to the theory of why we have contradicting information regarding the story.  A couple of proposed reasons for the contradictions are:

 

  1. It was a response to a similar story, the Enuma Elish, found in the Babylonian culture.  In their story, the pagan god, Marduk was credited with creation.  In our Genesis version, we see a similar tale, however, Yahweh is given center-stage and all the credit for the creation.  Perhaps this story was the writer’s way of assuring the Jewish exiles that their God was the creator of the universe and still in control of their destiny. (Stanley, p. 213.)
  2. The Priestly Writer could have also used this narrative to express God’s unending concern and care for His people, even in the midst of great trials.  His ability to bring order to chaos might have been a great comfort to a people whose world was turned upside down (Stanley, p. 214.)

As we examine the ideas that multiple sources were used to create the Pentateuch, the most compelling idea I have found was shared by Jean-Louis Ska in his video, “Formation of the Pentateuch”:

“The image I use is the image of a city that was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt after an earthquake.  The earthquake is the exile.  Some buildings survived the earthquake, some did not survive, so some buildings are very old, some are completely new because they were built after the earthquake, and some buildings are mixed buildings, because they reused old elements that were integrated into newer buildings.  I would say, with this image we have, perhaps, a way of entering into the world of the Pentateuch and the world of modern scholarship about the Pentateuch.”

The image of using both the old and the new to create something of order and beauty makes sense to me.  I will look at the these writings differently  from now on into the future.

 

My Creation Story

There was unrest among the divine council.  The earth was filled with tumult and disorder.  Who was to blame?  The enemy of all creation, the great dragon Rahab.  The One exalted above all others rose up to confront this evil.

God raged throughout heaven, searching for his nemesis, Rahab.  This mighty dragon ruled the earth with fear and chaos.  God tore apart the mountains, and shook the earth from its foundations, subduing Rahab and her armies (Job 9:4-14.)  In His quest, he ripped apart the earth and unleashed the springs and waters of the deep along the surface. (Psalm 74:12-17.)

The Lord chased Rahab across the sky on his chariot, flames blazing from his wings.  The dragon fled to the seas of earth, creating much tumult.  As God pursued her, the thunder from his presence rebuked the waters, and the seas expelled her.   (Psalm 104:1-9.)  He crushed her and her forces, thereby restoring order and harmony to the earth.  (Psalm 89:8-10)

Our God is strong and mighty.  The winds and the waters obey him.  Fire and wrath accompany him everywhere he goes.  We fear our God, for he holds the power to destroy as well as bring order.  Oh praise to Elohim, for He is holy.  Who can stand in His presence without being consumed?

Judges 19:1-21:25

In studying the narrative from Judges, 19:1 – 21:25, we find a horribly disturbing story of torture, murder, seeming indifference, and revenge.  Could civilized people really behave this way?  As we analyze the different elements of the story, we find support for the theory that the story has been embellished by the writer.  Although this seems strange to modern readers, Carol Meyers helps us to understand the motivation behind such works:

“Like other ancient storytellers, the shapers of biblical narratives were not concerned with getting it factually right; rather, their aim was to make an important point. Their narratives could serve many different purposes, all relevant to their own time periods and the audiences they were addressing. They might take a popular legend and embellish it further—the better the story, the more likely that people would listen and learn. They used a variety of sources plus their own creative imaginations to shape their stories.”

What would you say is the central message or theme of the story? What purposes would the story have served for the people who preserved it and told it in ancient Israel?

The central theme of this story, in my view, is “Israel sticks together.”  This means that, as long as you are an Israelite male, you can count on your brothers to defend you, and avenge you when you have been wronged.  Judges is one of the Deuteronomistic History books (Stanley, p. 265,) meaning that it was edited as part of  the whole narrative concerning the history of Israel.  Because we believe this editing to have taken place either during or after the Babylonian exile (Lecture,) the intent of the creator could be surmised as follows:

  1. National Unity –  Especially in the post exile period, I can imagine the remnant of Israel trying to rebuild the country.  After a couple of generations in a foreign land, they would need some stories to create a sense of nationalism among the returning exiles.  By taking a tribal legend, and expanding it to include the entire nation (Lecture,) the editors could be trying to build a sense of unity among the people.  The point being, the entire country rose to the call as one of the members had been wronged.  It is reminiscent of the commands of Nehemiah 4:19, “Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there!”They were all being encouraged by the support of their kinsmen.  This was a common practice among the biblical writers according to Paula McNutt,

“Particularly in crisis situations such as political subordination or exile, or periods of rapid social change, the biblical writers in various periods would have appealed to and reinterpreted sacred history (myth) to legitimate claims about the present and to encourage others to accept these claims, with such intentions as strengthening national identity, or reaffirming or reinterpreting shared values.”

  1. Devotion to Yahweh – If this tale was created post exile, then it makes much sense that that the editors would bring great amounts of focus onto ridding the nation of sinful practices. As we see in Deuteronomy 17, wicked acts must be purged from the people if the nation as a whole is to be spared Gods judgment.  By taking such extreme measures (wiping out almost an entire tribe,) the editors are sticking closely with the idea that  “We must abolish all sin, or face the consequences.” A major theme in Deuteronomy.

List, in detail, the plot elements that would seem strange or even offensive to many modern readers in your social context. How, in detail, might these narrative elements have been perceived by an ancient audience? How might these narrative elements have functioned for that audience and its society? (That is, what good might these strange and offensive elements have served for the original hearers?)

  1. Levite has a concubine
    1. This was completely acceptable to the ancient people
    2. The concubine served as the “property,” by which the Levite was wronged and provided the justification for the acts of revenge.
  2. Levite allows his concubine to be abused
    1. This practice of “radical hospitality”might have been familiar to the audience due to a very similar story in Genesis 19:1-11.
    2. Possibly this would have resonated with the audience as the Levite having been in a “no win,” situation.  This was a feeling they could identify with and empathize with his desperation.
  3. Levite desecrates her body
    1. By sending the various parts of her body to the tribes, the Levite was issuing a formal request for justice from the nation.
    2. In receiving these body parts, the tribes were probably incensed and moved to join in the acts of revenge on behalf of their kinsmen.
  4. The Israelites kill everyone except virgins at Jabesh Gilead
    1. The destruction of the community came as a consequence for not helping the tribes in a time of need. This says to the nation that, “We all are expected to support and defend each other.”
    2. By sparing the 400 young women to marry with the Benjaminites, the nation was exercising great compassion on that tribe so that it would not be wiped out. This is a symbol of Gods grace and covenant toward all of Israel.
  5. The Israelites ordered the abduction of Israelite young women for the Benaminites
    1. Unfortunately, taking women for their own uses would have been understandable for the ancient audience.
    2. I think the main point of adding this plot element was to restore or make Benjamin complete again after the Lord’s judgment. Again, a central theme of Deuteronomism, completing the cycle of disobedience, consequences, repentance, and restoration (Stanley, p. 256)

 

How does the story depict the leadership of Israel during this premonarchical period?

“In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” – Judges 21:25

While there was no king, it appeared in the story that there was decision-making at some level by consensus: evident by the fact that the tribes agreed to send warriors to fight on the Levite’s behalf.  But also there was great confusion of the “leaders” at times, such as how to provide wives for the remaining Benjaminites.  Almost as if some said, “Hey, lets do this,” and all the others just went along and replied, “Yeah, that’s a great idea!”  Those ideas didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  It looked almost like a loosely held anarchy with people being willing to follow anyone that seemed like a leader.

There was, however, another reverence for Deuteronomy’s commands.  They did seek the Lord on more than one occasion to ask if they should continue in their battles.  Even after significant losses, two days in a row, they maintained their obedience to the Lord’s commands and came away victorious (Judges 20:23-28.).

We don’t know the exact reasoning for the addition of this story in the larger narrative of Israel’s history.  However, it is clear that the points being made follow the same theme reiterated by the post exilic authors: When we return to God, He is faithful to reconcile, provide for and maintain justice for us.

“Deuteronomistic Narrative In The Old Testament”

In studying the Deuteronomistic history presented in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, we seek to understand the intent behind the writer’s efforts, and to understand what types of backwards looking lenses were used to view the history of the Hebrew people.  We use the term, “Deuteronomistic” because there is a heavy parallel between the giving of “the law” in the Book of Deuteronomy and the stated consequences of disobeying that law in the historical books previously mentioned.  Below, I will summarize these parallels as best I can:

Deuteronomy 28:1-68

“Your life shall hang in doubt before you; night and day you shall be in dread, with no assurance for your life.” – Deuteronomy 28:66

This scripture sums up this lengthy chapter in which the people are shown two very different consequences for their future behaviors.  If they follow the law, as it is handed down in this Book of Deuteronomy, then all will go well with them.  Abundance and blessing will overflow in every part of their lives.  In everything thing from business to family matters, they will reap only prosperity.

In contrast, if the people choose not to obey the commandments of Yahweh, then they will experience the very opposite consequences.  They will experience every kind of disaster, lack, defeat and failure including their final destruction at the hands of a foreign army.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Absolutely.  This chapter is recounting the theme we see throughout the prophets of the Old Testament.  Obey God, everything is good.  Follow other gods, things will go very badly.

Is This Passage Intelligible?

No.  I do not think most people in the world believe that if God is angered, He will bring about our destruction; not even Christians.  For secular people, that idea is ludicrous.  For followers of Jesus, I think most like to focus on the grace of Christ’s message and believe that we will be redeemed of our misdeeds, not destroyed for them.

Is This Passage Moral?

Interestingly to me, in a world view sense, it implies a code of justice – You get what you deserve.  So, in that respect, yes, you could almost say that it upholds the highest of moral codes.  However, as believers, we do not conform to a “justice” –themed ideology.  We believe in grace, mercy compassion and not getting what we deserve. But I do believe, in an academic sense, that, yes, it is moral because the expectations and consequences are clearly stated.

Joshua 23:1-16

This passage recounts how Yahweh has kept the promises of Deuteronomy.

“not one thing has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you; all have come to pass for you, not one of them has failed.” – Joshua 23:14

In this final speech, the Israelite leader Joshua urges the people to remember the covenant, acknowledge God’s faithfulness, and stay true to it so that things will continue to be well with them.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Yes.  We see an incredibly similar statement from King David at the time of his death to his son, Solomon.  In ancient writings, it was common for authors to ascribe certain sayings to people of renown in order to give them more credibility (Lecture B.)  Here we see the same theme, almost word-f0r-word uttered by two dying leaders.

Is This Passage Intelligible?

Yes.  In a sense of cause and effect, Joshua reminds the people that these were the words given to them before entering the land, both the people and God held up their ends of the bargain, and everything followed right along as promised.  It is logical, based upon this evidence, that we could expect the same outcome if we engage in the same behavior.  This quote from our suggested reading, summarizes this theme:

 “There is no true neutrality, however; no dispassionate, unbiased, and presuppositionless presentation of the facts is possible. People always write about the past because they wish to communicate some kind of truth to their readers or to advocate some kind of virtue. It has always been so; it will always remain so.” (257)Provan

Is This Passage Moral?

As much as the facts of the true Iraelite situation are accurate, then I would say this passage is moral.  If all visible evidence points toward God keeping His word, then Joshua’s admonition to continue on as they had been seems sensible to me.

1st Samuel 12:1-25

In this chapter, the prophet Samuel speaks and “sets the record straight” as he acquiesces and anoints a king for the people of Israel.  He re-emphasizes how demanding a king is a sin for his people, and how the nation will be judged upon the behavior of the people themselves and that of the king.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Yes.  Over and over again, we see the same Deuteronomistic theme, of the nation being judged based upon the actions of their leader.  One of the many accounts can be found in 1St Kings 15:34 –

“He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam and in the sin that he caused Israel to commit.”

 Is This Passage Intelligible?

Yes.  As Americans, we bear the consequences of our governmental leaders’ poor decisions at times.  And much like the Israelites, we choose to “be led.”

Is This Passage Moral?

It does not feel moral to me.  First, to hold a nation responsible for the actions of one man doesn’t seem quite fair.  And second, Samuel pulls his “miracle card” by creating a great weather event – just to show the Israelites he is right.  That seems very vindictive to me.

2 Kings 24:18-25:12

“Jerusalem and Judah so angered the Lord that he expelled them from his presence.” – 2 Kings 24:20

This passage details the fall of Judah to the Babylonian army in 586 B.C.E.  According to the writer, the city of Jerusalem fell because of their evil king, Zedekiah.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Yes and no.  This passage is consistent with the ongoing prophetic message that God allowed the fall of Jerusalem due to the people’s disobedience.  However, the very next line (24:20) says, “… Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.”  If Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, then it would make more worldly sense that of course the Babylonians would seek to destroy them.  It was part of the warring culture of the period.

Is This Passage Intelligible?

I believe, it is easy for most people to comprehend that the destruction of Jerusalem came because of the poor decisions of its leaders.  However, I do not believe most would cite theological decisions, but instead, they would point to the disastrous political and economic choices made by King Zedekiah.  He chose to rebel against a conquering army that outnumbered and outgunned him at every turn.  I think most people would say he was a poor leader and his failure has nothing to do with God.

Is This Passage Moral?

Again, this does not feel moral to me.  This rendition of the story feels as if the writers took advantage of the situation and used it to promote their cause.  Almost as if to say, “Horrible things have happened.  And God let them happen, and it is all your fault for not doing what he said!”  It is reminiscent to me of the “prophets” that railed against the sinfulness of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit.  It doesn’t fit my “loving God framework.”

2 Chronicles 36:11-21

This passage also speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian exile.  However, it pays special attention to the broken covenant.  It highlights the unfaithfulness of the priests and the people, and points specifically to this reason for the destruction.

Is This Passage Coherent?

Yes.  The primary message from Deuteronomistic narrative is that “the people of Israel stand in a covenant relationship with Yahweh…. and in violating the terms of the covenant, Yahweh will rain a series of curses upon them.” (Stanley, p. 256)  The covenant is a spiritual one, and the only lens used in looking at the history of Israel is from a spiritual perspective.

Is This Passage Intelligible?

As I mentioned in the Deuteronomy passage above, this justice driven idea does make sense from a world view (in some ways.)  However, the whole idea that the entire nation was evil and disobedient is pretty far-fetched.  These people had jobs and families and communities.  There had to have been some redeeming qualities such as love, integrity, honesty, etc… that existed there.  It is hard to imagine that God saw nothing good there.

Is This Passage Moral?

It seems this is a heavy-handed scare tactic to get the people back on the straight and narrow; much like the “Scared Straight” videos from the eighties highlighting the disastrous results of recreational drug use.

However, these writers were not casting stones from afar.  They had been deeply affected by the exile as well.  I am able to maintain some level of grace for them as I am reminded by Claude Mariottini, in the article Historiography, that they were just trying to make sense of everything that had happened:

The writers of the Deuteronomistic History sought to provide a theological explanation for the destruction of Israel and Judah. The Deuteronomistic History shows that from the conquest of Canaan through the end of the monarchy Israel had violated the covenant and that violation demanded divine punishment.

How else were they to explain that everything they ever believed about being God’s chosen people turned out wrong?  And, more importantly, how could they keep it from ever happening again?

 

“mes·si·ah…”

Definition of messiah:  “the expected king or deliverer of the Jews.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Dear Hope and Daniel,

I am writing today to  share with you some information that I hope will be of use to you as you begin your personal faith journeys for yourselves.  Even though you are still in elementary school, I believe you can understand these ideas I want to share with you.  And why would I share this with you?  I believe that a full and complete understanding of the Bible is the cornerstone of being able to defend your faith against those that would seek to undermine it.  So let’s talk about the messiah.

No doubt, you hear the word, “messiah,” and you think of Jesus.  That is what you have always been taught.  As Christians, we look at the entire Word of God through the lens of Christ’s revelation to us. However, in the Old Testament, several “messiahs” were spoken of, and we need to understand who they were and what function they served in the history of the Jewish people.

First of all, what does it mean to be “anointed” by God?  It means to be chosen, or set apart, for God’s purposes.  It means to be a servant that God empowers to fulfill a certain role.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “messiah” refers to the expected king or deliverer of the Jews.

Unfortunately, the Jews found themselves in need of “deliverance,” many times in their history.  For example, let’s look at the Babylonian exile.  God’s people in Jerusalem had been defeated in battle, captured, and deported to Babylon in 586 B.C.E.  It was there they found themselves wondering how it was they came to be there, and how would they ever return to Jerusalem and the promised future God had given them through his covenant with king David.  They couldn’t see much hope of ever getting their old lives back.  At this point, a prophet known as “Second Isaiah,” spoke to the people of the Persian King Cyrus, God’s “messiah” that would create a way for them to return home (Stanley, pg. 462.). So even though, he was a foreign king, he was considered a deliverer of the Jews because he released them from their captivity.  In her article, “Cyrus the Messiah,” Lisbeth S. Fried also points out something of great importance to the Jewish people.  Cyrus not only released the captives, but he also sent them back home with the express direction to re-build their temple.  He also provided funds, materials, and protection for those being sent to accomplish this.  No wonder he was seen as somewhat of a savior for the people.  He was restoring their national identity as “God’s people,” along with their homeland.  So, not only were they getting to go home, they were going to reclaim the promises God had made to their ancestors.

Another leader from Jewish history is also referred to as “anointed one.”  His name was Zerubbabel.  He was the governor of Jerusalem when the exiles returned from Babylon.  You are probably wondering why the people needed a messiah if they had finally managed to make it home.  Well, things didn’t go as they had expected once they got home.  It was hard.  They were experiencing droughts and famines.  Their city was in ruins.  There were hostile people living there that really didn’t want them to return.  The prophet Haggai, in chapter 2 points to Zerubbabel at God’s “anointed one;”  the person that would lead the people out of this terrible situation and into the life God had promised them (Lecture.). Even though he wasn’t officially a king, he did succeed in doing what God wanted for the people, he re-built the temple that the Babylonians had destroyed in 586, and in doing so, he led his people back into a covenant relationship with God.

“Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak” (Zechariah 6:11).  Zechariah was also a prophet in Jerusalem as the exiles were trying to rebuild their city.  This man Joshua was the high priest of the new temple.  And God spoke to Zechariah and to symbolically place a crown on Joshua’s head signifying that he was considered a “king.”  Why would Jerusalem need a “king,” when they already had a governor (Zerubbabel)?  Well, in that time, people normally listened to what a king had to say.  And mostly they followed the king’s orders.  So by, showing the people that Joshua was a king in God’s eyes, the hope was that the people would listen to him and follow his teachings (Lectures.)

See, the whole reason, according to some earlier prophets like Isaiah of Jerusalem, that the Jewish folks had be captive and sent to Babylon in the first place was because they turned away from God and started worshiping others.  And these folks coming back to Jerusalem had most likely grown up hearing about God, but also living in Babylon, a place with multiple gods and religions.  The people coming back to Jerusalem needed someone to lead them into lives that were faithful to Yahweh.  They needed someone to teach them how to worship Him and live by His rules so that they would never fall away from Him again.  That was the job given to Joshua because God had picked him and empowered him to be the spiritual leader of the community.  It is easy to see how he could be seen as a messiah isn’t it, as he is responsible for saving his people from their own unfaithful actions and future retribution from Yahweh as their ancestors had experienced?

So you see, the people of the Old Testament had many people that held the title, “messiah.”  And each one because he was believed to be chosen by God to save or deliver his people.  Why do you need to know this?  Because as we read the Bible, we always need to understand the setting and context for what we are reading.  By having an understanding of the times in which these words were written, we are empowered to do two things:  1.  To see more clearly the history of our ancestors in the faith, and thereby, learning from their experiences; 2.  By understanding our history and context, we are better equipped to not only defend our faith and beliefs, but also to share our ideas with those that have questions.

Children, you may wonder where I found this information regarding the messiahs of the Old Testament.  I had several resources: 1.  My textbook:  The Hebrew Bible, by Christopher Stanley; 2.  Lectures from my professor, Brooke Lester; and the article, “Cyrus the Messiah,” by Lisbeth Fried.  As always, don’t take my word for it.  Read it for yourselves.

“The Rise of Monotheism…”

In our study of pre-exilic prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we are taking a deep look at the cultural and political structures  that led to both the destruction of Samaria and Judah.  This post is written in response to an article by Christopher A. Rollston:  “The Rise of Monotheism In Ancient Israel: Biblical and Epigraphic Evidence.”

What is Rollston trying to get across, using what evidence, and reasoning from it how?

The main point of Rollston’s article is that the nation of Israel, early in its history, believed in several gods, One of which was Yahweh.  As time progressed, this belief system morphed into a belief that Yahweh was head of a pantheon of gods; and then finally that He was the One, true God.

Rollston’s reasoning and evidence flow from the following points:

  1.  Israel, in its beginning, was a small nation surrounded by several large polytheistic nations.  Israel was influenced greatly through ongoing contact with these nations and its culture matured along with those around it. (page 98.)
  2. These primary nations, Ammon, Moab, and Edom held similar belief systems of a “divine council,” or assembly of gods.  Both epigraphic and biblical evidence supports the idea that all three nations had a chief, or national god, during the time period in discussion.  These national gods were part of the greater assembly of gods.
  3. “When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; the LORD’s own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share.”  – Deuteronomy 32:8
    1. It is believed the above scripture was an earlier form of this text.  In it, the head of the Pantheon and is assigning different nations to the care of other, lesser gods.  Yahweh was “assigned” the nation of Israel.
    2. It is also believed, that as the belief in monotheism grew, this verse was changed from “the number of the gods;” to “the tribes of Israel,” in many later translations.  The later translations presented the more Deuteronomistic historical view of the “One true God belief.”
    3. Yahweh, it appears was Israel’s “national” god for some time, while operating within the construct of a divine assembly.
  4. Multiple excavation sites in Israel have unearthed religious inscriptions referring to “Yahweh and Asherah.”  Asherah was a believed female goddess and venerated in the surrounding areas. Along with the discovery of abundant numbers of female idols from archaeological projects in Israel (pg. 109,) we also have scriptural evidence of Israelite Asherah worship in 1st Kings chapters 14 and 16 for example.

 

What differences emerge between the “world in the text” (the biblical narratives) and the “world behind the text” (the actual history that produces the biblical narratives)?

The biblical narratives have been found by scholars to contain many “pseudo-corrections.”  These are alterations made to the original texts by the scribes as they were copying them.  These “corrections” were motivated by religious objections held by those responsible for the preservation of the stories. Most changes to the stories and oral traditions were made as the nation moved from a polytheistic belief system to a monotheistic one. One correction, noted above, was the change of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (page 105).

As the cult belief system moved from polytheist to monotheist, the language and sometimes whole stories regarding the prophets were changed to reflect a more Deuteronomistic view.  As well, narratives regarding the reforming kings, namely Josiah and Hezekiah, were changed to later take on the theme of monotheism as a core value.  Many times, actions taken as military or political strategies were presented as theological reforms by the revisionists (Lectures.). In many ways, these “good” kings were portrayed as being first and foremost concerned with the worship of the One true God, when in reality, one could argue they were more interested in protecting themselves from the encroaching hostile nations surrounding them.

How might a religious community of your own experience respond to Rollston’s piece…or to the discovery that the piece’s claims are not even slightly controversial in the field of biblical studies?

On first read, I believe most in my faith community would be shocked, if not horrified to read this article.  The idea that the chosen ones of Israel would have, at any time, worshiped anyone except Yahweh would be unthinkable.  We are very much ingrained with the idea, “You shall have no other gods before me,” leads us to assume that the Israelites were monotheistic from the very beginning.

But if we truly think about it, of course they were polytheistic.  That was the main theme for the prophets for hundreds of years!!  “Turn back to Yahweh, stop worshiping foreign gods.  Don’t marry foreign women, they will pollute you with their idol worship!”

Of course they worshiped other gods.  The Bible tells us so, repeatedly.  However, we are so conditioned in the way that we think, we can be very closed-minded when it comes to “heresy.” I don’t know exactly how my congregation would react to this article, but my first thought is “OH NO!”  and then after a while of thinking about it, “probably so…”