Church Write-Up: Pentecost Sunday and Psalm 46

Some items from church this morning:

A. It was Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost commemorates God’s giving the Holy Spirit to the church in Acts 2. The youth pastor visited two kids for his children’s message. One of the kids testified that he shares his faith—-that God is the creator and that Jesus died for our sins—-with a neighbor kid, but the neighbor kid does not believe. The youth pastor encouraged him that God, through God’s spirit, can generate faith in the neighbor kid through what the kid shared.

B. The pastor’s sermon revolved around Numbers 11. God places his spirit on seventy elders and two people prophesy throughout the camp. Joshua is jealous for Moses’s sake. Moses affirms that he wishes all the LORD’s people were prophets and that God would put God’s spirit upon them. The pastor speculated that Joshua was upset because he felt that the two Israelites prophesying diminished the authority of Moses. Perhaps Joshua felt that he himself benefited from Moses being the only person with God’s spirit and thus did not want the spirit to be democratized. Joshua is close to the ultimate man in charge and that gives Joshua a greater influence than if everyone were in charge because everyone had God’s spirit. But God’s spirit is not diminished by being spread out and shared. It is like a candle: a fire on a candle can kindle another candle without itself diminishing. We are prophets, the pastor said, when we share the Gospel and convey forgiveness to others.

C. I consulted some Bible commentaries to see how they accounted for the democratization of God’s spirit in Numbers 11:29. What historical events, context, or interests led to the concept that all of God’s people should be prophets? Christians would say, of course, that God’s eventual plan was for all people to have God’s spirit, that Christianity fulfilled that (to a greater extent than existed before), and that Numbers 11:29 was divinely-inspired prophecy about this. But how would historical-critics, who lack a commitment to the Hebrew Bible being a Christian document, account for the concept of the Holy Spirit’s democratization in Numbers 11:29? The commentaries that I consulted were not particularly helpful. The Word Biblical Commentary, as it usually does, laid out scholarly proposals about possible socio-political/historical contexts behind the text. Its conclusion was that Numbers 11 was seeking to legitimize other authority structures besides the conventional ones (i.e., priests). Either this was David or lay prophets who were claiming the right to be heard. That does not adequately explain why the text supported a democratization of God’s spirit. The issue of democratization recurs throughout the Hebrew Bible. At times, it is depicted negatively: people oppose Moses’s authority by claiming that they, too, are God’s people or have heard from God, and God affirms Mosaic authority. At other times, democratization is supported, as when Joel predicts that God will pour out God’s spirit on all flesh, or when the Book of Zechariah presents a holiness in Jerusalem that breaks out of the temple. Perhaps a naturalistic scholar can say that someone had the idea that, if God were the creator and loved God’s creation, God would desire that all people partake of God’s spirit.

D. The Presbyterian church that I attended in upstate New York sends out written e-mails for its services in these Corona times. I was especially moved by today’s sermon. I will not feel pressured to share its sermon every week, but what it said this week was helpful. The pastor talked about the Spirit helping us to persevere and to do things that we did not think we could do. The pastor shared about how, when his first wife was deathly ill in 1995, he was unsure if he would be able to take care of her. She was the one who had changed their child’s diapers. But the pastor crossed that bridge when he came to it. That resonated with me because, as my county enters stage 1 of reopening, I will soon have to resume doing things at work that I dread doing. But, hopefully, God will be there with me as I cross that bridge when I come to it.

E. I will reserve this item here for my faith struggles. On (B.), I would not say that I resent the democratization of God’s spirit. I would say, though, that I have felt left out in the past from what God is doing. God appears to speak to other people and to work in their lives in tangible ways, but I do not see that in my life. My resentment is not as great as it was in the past, and that is probably because I am no longer in school, which is where I encountered great moves of God in the lives of others. Part of my resentment may be because I want influence and admiration from others; part is because I would like a personal touch from God to know of his care and concern for me personally. The line that came in my mind was the sermon point that people make about Moses entering the Tent of Meeting, which was available to all Israelites (Exodus 33:7): we are as close or as far away from God as we want to be. Cold comfort. On (D.), if I had heard that sermon in the past, I would have been ready with my list of “but what about”s? What about the times when God has not helped me to do a task well? What about the times when I was nervous and afraid and alienated others on account of that? Where was God’s spirit in that? Nowadays, I do not have that problem as much. Zoloft calms my nerves, and people at work are helpful and supportive. I find that, once I get back into the groove, I can do the tasks or cope with them. But do I attribute that to God’s spirit strengthening me? I struggle to do that, and yet I do pray for God’s strength and that helps me to face tasks.

F. The Sunday school class was about Psalm 46. The Psalm describes natural and political cataclysms. The pastor speculated that the natural cataclysms could have been inspired by the intense earthquake that hit Israel and Judah in the eighth century B.C.E., which Amos and Zechariah both mention. The political cataclysm could have been inspired by the death of Josiah a century later, which marked the ascension of Babylon as the world power. Both the natural and political cataclysms are described as the undoing of creation, the order and regularity to which people are accustomed. The sea, also, is a symbol of chaos, as Hebrews feared going out to sea. Amidst all of this cataclysm is the conviction that God is God: God rules and his words accomplish what they set out to do. Psalm 46 encourages people to be still and know that God is God. That could be directed at evildoers, telling them to desist from their resistance and rebellion against God, or it could be reassuring God’s people that God reigns. The pastor commented briefly on “Selah” and said that it may be intended to introduce a new topic. In v. 3, it marks a transition from talking about natural cataclysm to talking about the river of living waters in the Temple.

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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