Double Church Write-Up: God’s Wife; Acts 16

I have been moving this week, so I lacked access to the Internet until now. Consequently, I did not write my customary Church Write-Ups for Sunday and Wednesday. That one post that appeared on Monday was scheduled several weeks in advance. A lot of my book reviews will be like that over the next several months.

In any case, I am back online now, so here is a double Church Write-Up! The following items largely convey the pastor’s thoughts, with some of my own added.

A. The youth pastor was saying that, even when he is bored in reading the Bible because he has heard the stories numerous times before, the word of God still has its effects on him. That is an interesting, even a comforting, thought: that the word is working its healthy, cleansing effects in me, even when my reading of it is lacking in quality. But is such an idea consistent with the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3f.): the word of God only produces fruit for a person with a good heart, while it seems to be nullified in the hearts of those with materialistic or hardened hearts?

B. The Sunday service celebrated the church’s preschools. Incidentally, the pastor said that the LCMS denomination has the second largest church school system, after the Catholics. Speakers shared stories about the schools. The principal of one of them told about a boy with extreme social anxiety. The boy would throw things out of his room when his family had company, hoping to encourage the visitors to leave. As he attended the preschool, however, he came out of his shell and started giving visitors tours of the house. Another speaker shared that many families who have their children in the preschools are not Lutheran themselves but want their kids to receive a Christian education; some of the parents have become Christians as a result of their children’s influence.

C. In the Sunday school class, the pastor talked more about Hosea. His focus was on the marriage imagery in the Book of Hosea: the idea that God and Israel were married to each other. The pastor said that such imagery was prominent in the eighth century, for it is present in Hosea and in Isaiah 61-62. Prior to that, the primary image of Israel’s relationship with God was that of a legal covenant, modeled on ancient Near Eastern covenants between kings and their subordinates. The pastor was assuming a certain chronology of biblical sources, even though he conveyed awareness of alternative perspectives. He assumed that the Pentateuch came first and dated to the time of Moses, that the Song of Solomon was composed by Solomon in the tenth century, and that Isaiah 61-62 was by Isaiah of Jerusalem in the eighth century. Many biblical scholars advance different dates for these sources. Still, the pastor made an intriguing observation: God’s relationship with Israel is likened to a legal covenant in some sources, but as a marriage in others. Both themes carry over into the New Testament, he noted, with Hebrews emphasizing covenant and Revelation and the Gospels depicting a marriage between Christ and his bride. I recall that rabbinic literature likens the Sinaitic covenant with a marriage.

D. Hosea 2:15 states that the Valley of Achor will be a door of hope. The Valley of Achor occurs in Joshua 7. Achan, the Israelite, is stoned to death for taking a Babylonian garment, in violation of the cherem. God in Hosea is reminding Israel of her faithlessness from the beginning, even as God promises to rewrite Israel’s history, changing the negative to a sign of hope. God will also take the name of the Baals from Israel’s mouth, such that Israel will remember them no more; neither will they conflate the LORD with Baal, ascribing to God aspects of Baal (i.e., “Yahweh and his Asherah,” as occurs in Israelite inscriptions). The LORD is married, not to Asherah, but to Israel, and God is Israel’s husband, not merely her lord (Baal). God gives Israel a new beginning.

E. Related to (C.) and (D.), biblical scholarship, as I understand it, largely tends to contrast Hosea’s wilderness traditions with those of the Pentateuch. Hosea 2:14 depicts the wilderness as a place where God will woo and speak tenderly to Israel, as part of her spiritual restoration. The Pentateuch traditions, by contrast, present Israel in the wilderness as rebellious against God and Moses, and God as continually ticked off at her. The pastor said that, even in the Pentateuchal traditions, Israel becomes closer to God in the wilderness, notwithstanding the bad times. In the wilderness, they depended on God day by day for guidance and provision.

F. The pastor speculated that the mountain from which John beheld the new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, in Revelation 21:9-10 was Mount Hermon, which overlooks Jezreel. In that case, there would be further overlap between Revelation and Hosea: a marriage between God and God’s people, and the prominence of Jezreel as a place of restoration (Hosea 1:11; 2:22).

G. Hosea in Hosea 3 purchases back his wife Gomer for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer-and-a-half of barley. The pastor said that chomer is the Hebrew word for donkey and is used as a unit of measurement to convey the amount of barley that a donkey can carry; actually, the word for donkey is “chamor,” but I do not know if “chamor” is related to “chomer.” In the ancient Near East, grooms paid a price to the bride’s father. Similarly, Christ bought Christians with his blood.

H. The Wednesday Bible study focused on Acts 16:1-15. The Spirit, in some manner, prevents Paul from going to Bithynia in Asia Minor, and Paul was called instead to go to Macedonia, a rugged territory; this, according to the pastor, is the first recorded incident of the Gospel going to Europe. The Gospel still arrived at Bithynia, however, as I Peter 1:1 indicates. Perhaps Christians in Acts 2, who were from different countries, carried the Gospel there. The pastor likened that to a situation in the LCMS: the pastor thought that two candidates would be excellent pastors for nearby LCMS churches, but these pastors decided instead to remain with their own churches. He also compared it to how his message is sometimes different in the second service from in the first, because someone in the second service needs to hear a particular message. God knows who needs what, when, and from whom.

I. Timothy had a Greek father and a Jewish mother. He was uncircumcised, perhaps for the sake of peace in the family, but Paul had him circumcised because they were visiting Jewish-Christians. The church council in Acts 15 decided that people did not have to become Jews before becoming Christians, and that decision was spread throughout the churches. The pastor said this goes against the scholarly view that the church lacked doctrinal unity in the first century, for here Paul is, spreading a decision to the churches he visits. At the same time, the pastor said that the Jewish-Christians in Acts 16 were not entirely comfortable with the Acts 15 decision, so Paul at the very least was meeting them where they were. I do not think that, in Acts at least, Paul in Acts 16 is contradicting the Acts 15 decision. Acts 15 affirmed that Gentiles did not have to become Jews to become Christians, but Acts 21:20ff. seems to deny that this entailed that Jews were expected to abandon their own customs when they became Christians. Jewish Christians may have seen Timothy as Jewish, or as somewhat Jewish, and thus they thought that he should be circumcised.

J. Acts 15:20 forbids Gentile Christians from things strangled and from blood, which probably means eating blood. The pastor said this may relate to the importance of consuming Jesus’s blood at the Eucharist. I am unsure what he thought the precise connection is: maybe that Christians are not to eat animal blood, and that reminds them that Christ shed his own blood for them.

K. Lydia in Acts 16 was a seller of purple, a lucrative business because purple was worn by royalty. She led a prayer meeting by the river because the group was not a synagogue, which required ten men to be official; this group was predominantly women. Lydia became a Christian as she heard the word of God, under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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