Psalm 122

Psalm 122 is about going to Jerusalem, as well as desiring Jerusalem’s prosperity and peace.  Last week, I shared songs about Psalm 121.  This week, allow me to share this song, which is about the first line of Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the LORD” (KJV).

What I’d like to focus on in this post is Psalm 122:5: ” For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.”  Patrick Miller in the HarperCollins Study Bible says the following: “Jerusalem is praised…as a place where just judgment may be found (cf. Deut 17.8-13; Isa 2.2-4; Mic 4.1-4)…See 1 Kings 7.7.  On the responsibility of kings for rendering justice and judgment in Jerusalem, see 2 Sam 15.1-6; 1 Kings 3.16-28; Jer 21.12; 22.15-16.”

Miller cites a lot of passages there.  In Deuteronomy 17:8-13, the levitical priests are the ones at the central sanctuary who pass judgment in difficult cases.  In some of those other passages, however, such as Jeremiah 21:12 and 22:15-16, God appears to want the Davidic monarch to execute justice.

The reason that this whole issue stood out to me when I was reading and studying Psalm 122 was that I had recently listened to a podcast on I Kings.  The podcasts are done by Matthew Ryan Hauge and Craig Evan Anderson, both of whom have Ph.Ds.  They’re excellent, in my opinion, for they go into I Kings in depth, explaining why people are acting as they are in the text.  In the podcast on I Kings 3:4-15, in which Solomon asks God for wisdom so that he could judge the people, one of the hosts was saying that Solomon here was trying to usurp power that did not belong to him.  The host noted that Deuteronomy 17:8-13 says that the levitical priests are to be the ones who are to judge, but here Solomon was, wanting to be the judge himself.  (UPDATE: Looney under my blogger post notes that Deuteronomy 17:9 mentions a judge who was not a Levite.  As I look again at Hauge and Evans’ notes about their podcast, they, too, seem to acknowledge the existence of non-Levite judges.  Still, their argument appears to be that kings, according to Deuteronomy, were not the ones who were to judge.)

I think that the host is raising important issues, but I am not entirely convinced by his interpretation, for a variety of reasons.  For one, how do we know that either Solomon or the narrator of I Kings 3:4-15 was aware of the law in Deuteronomy 17:8-13?  My impression is that there are many scholars who date Deuteronomy later than King Solomon.  Moreover, while the Deuteronomist indeed added things to I Kings, my understanding (based on what a number of scholars have said) is that he did not write all of the narrative in I Kings himself.  Couldn’t the part of the story about Solomon asking God for wisdom so that he could judge the people be prior to the time of the Deuteronomist?  If so, then maybe the narrator is not portraying Solomon as doing something wrong in wanting wisdom so that he could judge; rather, the narrator may assume that Solomon’s request is reasonable, since kings in those days judged.

Second, God in I Kings 3:4-15 approved of Solomon’s request for wisdom.  There is no indication in the text that Solomon was illegitimately seeking to usurp power that belonged to someone else.

Third, I do not know how Hauge and Anderson approach the diversity of Scripture—-if they believe that the Bible contains different voices with different ideologies, or if they believe that all of the Bible is the viewpoint of God.  The thing is, the Hebrew Bible strikes me as rather diverse on the issue of who should judge.  Deuteronomy 17:8-13 says that the Levitical priests should, but there are other passages that are either okay with the Davidic king judging, or that encourage the Davidic king to do so.  How do we know that I Kings 3:4-15 is not one of the voices that presumes that the Davidic king should judge?

But things may be messier than I have implied so far in this post.  The reason is that, while Psalm 122 appears to be okay with the Davidic king judging, it appears to have been influenced by Deuteronomic thought.  Psalm 122:4 mentions giving thanks to the name of the LORD.  That is a Deuteronomic concept: that the house of God is a place where God has put God’s name, not a home that God himself inhabits.  Psalm 122 may adopt some aspects of Deuteronomic ideology, but not other aspects.  Or could the Deuteronomistic School have changed its mind by coming to accept the role of the Davidic king as judge over Israel?

Published in: on August 24, 2013 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Addicted to One’s Own Glory vs. Living for God’s Glory

I was reading through blogger and pastor Morgan Guyton’s archives yesterday.  There’s usually something in his posts that really resonates with me, whether or not I agree with everything he’s saying.  It’s like he has had many of the same questions that I do, and he has found constructive ways to address them.

In his May 20, 2011 post, God’s holiness and hospitality, Morgan says the following:

“For those who have been stomped on by the world, I can understand the attraction of Revelation’s bowls of wrath and trumpets of rage against the seemingly invincible social order. How is God hospitable to those whom we ignore and mistreat? Does he have to smash a bottle on our heads to get us to shut up and let somebody else talk? What does God do about the people who need to be the center of attention when the only way to throw a perfect eternal party is for God to be the center of attention because He can handle the attention?”

I especially liked the part about how God should be the center of attention because he can actually handle it!

What Morgan said there reminded me of one of Mark Driscoll’s twitter updates (although I gather than Morgan is not exactly a fan of Mark Driscoll!).  Driscoll said (see here):

“Most people are miserable because they’re addicted to their own glory & they’re not getting it. Living for God’s glory is the way to joy.”

I’m sure that people can take issue with what Mark Driscoll said, and how he said it.  I for one would be very hesitant to say that something is true of “Most people”, since I don’t know most people.  Moreover, there are many people who are miserable because they’re clinically depressed, not because they’re disappointed that they’re not being glorified enough.  That said, I identified with what Mark Driscoll wrote because I feel that it describes me: I’m often miserable because I want to be affirmed or praised, and I’m disappointed when I don’t get that affirmation or praise that I desire or think I deserve.

The question is this: How can I live for God’s glory?  What does that mean?  Going back to Morgan’s quote, sure, I’d hope that I would lay aside my desire for people to pay attention to me and let everyone pay attention to God, if God were in the room!  And maybe God is in the room.  But all I see are the people!  And, that being the case, I see us all as competing for attention.

Overall, living for God’s glory may entail thinking more about God (God’s beauty, God’s love), and thinking more about others.  The challenge, for me, is figuring out how to do so.  I can think more about God by reading the Bible.  But, right now, I’m reading about Solomon’s power struggles in I Kings 1-2.  How is that an inspiring way for me to think about God?  Well, maybe it isn’t.  At the same time, I do have a degree of empathy for Solomon, who was trying to rule, amidst shrewd and high-ranking people who did not even want him as king.  When I can sympathize and empathize with someone who feels vulnerable, that, in my mind, is a positive step.  But is it good enough?

I feel obliged to list other ways to live for God’s glory: service work, helping others, and listening to others’ stories.

Expressions I Don’t Recognize, The Coming Evangelical Collapse, I Kings 22

1.  Zosia Zaks, Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults, page 167:

Keep a log book of common expressions and conversational patterns.  For example, if you keep hearing people say, “She’s having a bad hair day!” or “He’s ill!” write these phrases down.  Privately ask your Work Buddy or someone you trust what they mean or look in an idiomatic dictionary and write the definitions nearby.  In this case, “bad hair day” means someone is frustrated, and “ill” means someone is cool.

I thought that “bad hair day” meant someone’s hair looks bad, and that “ill” means sick.  I guess I’m behind the times!

2.  When Michael Spencer was alive, I never read his blog, “Internet Monk.”  It wasn’t that I had anything against him.  There were just so many blogs out there, that I never clicked on “Internet Monk” whenever I saw it on somebody’s blogroll.  I already had enough to read!

With Michael Spencer’s tragic passing, there have been a number of tributes to him on people’s blogs.  The one that really made me want to read him was K.W. Leslie’s post, R.I.P. Michael Spencer, in which K.W. linked to Michael Spencer’s post on the coming evangelical collapse.  My initial perverse thought was, “Wow, sounds good to me!”, so I decided to read Michael’s post on this.

Here are Michael’s posts: The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 1The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 2, and The Coming Evangelical Collapse: Part 3.

I had three reactions to the posts: perverse pleasure, disappointment, and interest.  Let me start with my perverse pleasure.  Michael predicts that the younger generation will leave evangelicalism in droves, saying “Good riddance!” as they walk out the door.  Eventually, evangelical institutions will lose their power and influence because of the lack of funding for their endeavors.  Michael states: Evangelicals will become synonymous with those who oppose the direction of the culture in the next several decades. That opposition will be increasingly viewed as a threat, and there will be increasing pressure to consider evangelicals bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society.  And, while Christian conservatives will respond to this with their typical “cultural war” rhetoric, most people won’t listen to them.

Why my perverse pleasure?  Because I would love for conservative evangelicals to realize that not everyone cares for their judgmentalism and narrow-mindedness, and to feel the brunt of that backlash.  Still, I don’t want society to take away the right of evangelicals to practice their religion, for that’s what pluralism is all about.

The whole part about “bad for America, bad for education, bad for children and bad for society” brings several things to my mind.  There’s the evangelical movie Tribulation (starring Margot Kidder of Superman fame), in which society under the Antichrist refers to Christians as “haters.”  I think of conservative opposition to passing out condoms in public schools.  I respect conservatives for endorsing a view of sex that honors people as human beings rather than as objects, while upholding marriage and family.  But are they placing teens at risk by withholding from them the means to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs?  And, while there are plenty of friendly evangelicals out there, there is also a host of closed-minded ones.  Frank Schaeffer once said that the home-schooled kids of yesterday grew up to become the right-wing agitators at Tea Parties and health care forums of today.  I’m all for criticizing the government, but I have problems with the way that some Christian conservatives dehumanize their opponents (and, yes, liberals do it too).  Then there’s the pain that homosexuals have experienced in evangelical Christian households.  Some of those households are accepting.  Some are not.

Where’s my disappointment?  Michael Spencer believes (if I’m reading him correctly) that Christians need to emphasize doctrine in order to avoid irrelevance.  He criticizes mega-churches and the prosperity Gospel as part of the problem, and he says that the younger generation of evangelicals is illiterate in the Bible and Christian doctrine.  Several of my readers will appreciate Michael’s points here.  But, personally, I laud the Christian churches that are trying to become more relevant to people’s day-to-day problems.  I mean, how do a lot of these doctrinal debates help anybody: predestination vs. free-will, substitutionary atonement vs. other models, etc.?  They’re interesting, but do they speak to people’s struggles and desires for a better life?  Often, they degenerate into shouting matches.  If Christianity is trying to become more practical, then I applaud that!  And this doesn’t necessarily have to entail dumping doctrine, for there are some (such as Tim Keller) who are able to show how Christian doctrine relates to people’s lives.  But, unlike Michael Spencer, I feel that an over-emphasis on doctrine is why so many are leaving evangelicalism, not a path to saving it.

Where’s my interest?  I was intrigued by Michael’s statement that many evangelicals will flee to the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, impacting those forms of Christianity.  That reminded me of the time that Frank Schaeffer became Orthodox and put the pro-life cause on the church’s plate (or so some criticized him for doing!).  Michael also predicted that the emerging church will get absorbed into mainline Protestantism, and he expressed hope that missionaries from the Third World will come to America.  While we’re declining spiritually, the Third World Christians are experiencing the Holy Spirit and becoming grounded in Christian doctrine.  Maybe they’ll have something to teach us, Michael thinks!

Michael also said that the decline of evangelicalism will not mean that God is not at work.  For Michael, if this decline takes place, God could use it to strip evangelicalism of a lot of its garbage (e.g., the prosperity Gospel).  And, as the non-committed leave, a hard-core faithful few will remain.

3.  For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 22.  King Ahab of Northern Israel wants to go to war with Syria to take back the city of Ramoth-Gilead.  He gets the support of the righteous King Jehoshaphat of Judah, who encourages Ahab to seek the LORD before he undertakes the battle.  Ahab then consults 400 yes-men, who prophesy that Ahab will triumph against Syria.  Jehoshaphat asks Ahab if there is a prophet of the LORD whom they can consult, and Ahab brings in Micaiah, whom Ahab hates because he always prophesies evil about Ahab.  Micaiah predicts that Ahab will die in battle, so Ahab puts him in prison.  But Ahab does die in battle, even though he disguised himself as a common soldier to prevent the enemy from recognizing him.

I want to comment on why Ahab was wrong to go to war for Ramoth-gilead.  I mean, God had blessed Ahab in a previous battle against Syria (I Kings 20).  Why not this time?  Was it because Ahab was a sinner?  Perhaps, but Ahab had repented in I Kings 21; plus, if God wanted to kill Ahab in battle for his sins, why did God allow Micaiah to warn Ahab that he would die if he went out to fight Syria?  (But, maybe I shouldn’t blow off that possibility too easily, for Micaiah did say that God sent a lying spirit to the false prophets, so perhaps God wanted Ahab to die as punishment for his sins.  As a prophet of the LORD, however, Micaiah had to tell the truth, so he gave Ahab a warning.)

I think part of the problem was that Ahab was about to conduct a war of choice.  In I Kings 20, Syria was threatening Northern Israel, so Ahab’s war in that case was one of defense.  In I Kings 22, however, Ahab is the aggressor.  I Kings 22:1 says that there were three years of peace between Israel and Syria.  The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III records that Syria and Ahab’s Israel were actually allies in fighting Assyria at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C.E.  But Ahab decided to interrupt that peace between Israel and Syria in order to take back a city that the Syrians owed him.  It was an important city, for Ramoth-Gilead was a city for the Levites, a city of refuge (Deuteronomy 4:43; Joshua 20:8; 21:38).  But Ahab probably had broader ambitions.  The Jewish Study Bible states that Ahab’s interest was “weakening the Arameans so that Israel could reassert its authority in Galilee and north Transjordan while Judah could strengthen its influence in Edom and other parts of southern Transjordan.”  And, since Syria was worried about Assyria to her north, Ahab felt that his opportunity to pounce was ripe!

Some may consider Ahab’s move to be a fine example of thinking ahead: he wants to prevent Syria from becoming a power that can threaten Israel in the future, so he tries to empower Israel by retaking land that used to belong to her.  Others may see Ahab’s act as treacherous, as unnecessary, or maybe even as an indication of his lack of faith.  Here God had protected Israel from Syrian invasion in I Kings 20.  There had been peace between the two countries for three years, perhaps due to God’s blessing.  And here Ahab wanted to throw all that away.  He wasn’t even thinking about God when he came up with the idea to fight Syria for Ramoth-Gilead, for Jehoshaphat is the one who suggested that he seek the LORD.  Perhaps Ahab was about to conduct an unnecessary battle of choice, rooted in pride and a distrust of God.  Ahab was picking a fight. 

Published in: on April 10, 2010 at 11:05 pm  Comments (2)  

Organizational Challenges, Moses, I Kings 21

1.  Zosia Zaks, Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults, page 27:

Some autistic people have difficulty managing all the tasks that go into maintaining a home.  What has to be done first?  Where do you begin?  What are the steps involved in cleaning a tub?  Which chores are mandatory?  Which are optional?  And how do you schedule your time so everything is completed thoroughly without sacrificing other life activities?

Zosia offers suggestions.

2.  I watched Moses, a 1995 movie starring Ben Kingsley.  What went through my mind was Moses’ complexity as a character.  Moses was slow of speech, reluctant to be in the spotlight, and meek and humble.  Yet, there were plenty of times when he took bold action: he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, and he drove away shepherds who were bullying Jethro’s daughters.  I identify with Moses in terms of his shyness, but not as much in terms of his boldness.

Moses depicts Moses as a shy and socially-awkward outcast when he was in Pharaoh’s court, which may have been one reason that Moses felt more comfortable among the Hebrews, even though he was officially the grandson of the Pharaoh.  But Moses gained confidence as the movie went on, to the point that he could give orders and eloquent speeches to the Israelites in the wilderness.

In the 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments, by contrast, Charlton Heston depicts Moses as someone who was loved in the Egyptian court, to the consternation of his cousin, Raamses, who feels overshadowed by Moses.  Moses was a hero because he had conquered Ethiopia and built Sethi a city.  If Moses got to the point where he was slow of speech and lacked confidence, it was because he had become burnt along life’s path, not because he was always that way.  Suffering an identity crisis and being expelled from his home, family, and the woman he loved were what burned him.  But, with God’s help, he found his way.

3.  For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 21.  King Ahab of Northern Israel wants Naboth’s vineyard because it is close to his palace in Jezreel, and he desires to make it into an herb garden.  He offers to purchase it from Naboth, but Naboth refuses to sell it, for it is his family’s inheritance.  There are commentators who suggest that Naboth was honoring God’s law through his refusal, for the Torah bans the sale of land in perpetuity, requiring sold land to be returned to its original owner in the Jubilee year (Leviticus 25).  And the Torah is sensitive to keeping tribal land in the tribes (Numbers 36:37-38).  I doubt that the Torah banned Naboth from selling his vineyard, for the Israelites sold land.  But Naboth may have felt that he was honoring the Torah through his refusal to sell it, for, under Ahab, Naboth wouldn’t have gotten his vineyard back.  Ahab probably didn’t enforce the Year of Jubilee.  Consequently, Naboth was honoring the Torah’s principle of keeping land in the family.

Ahab pouts because Naboth won’t sell him his vineyard, and his wife, Jezebel, is baffled because Ahab is the king.  Many commentators contend that Jezebel was accustomed to the monarchy of her home region of Phoenicia, where a king could simply take a subject’s property.  The IVP Bible Background Commentary states that “Israelites believed that all the land was Yahweh’s land, while the Phoenicians would have seen the land as royal fiefdoms—all land was on grant from the king” (383).  And, several years before, the prophet Samuel warned the Israelites who desired a monarchy that a king would take their vineyards (I Samuel 8:14).  As bad as Ahab was, I have to give the Northern Israelite system credit because there was some rule of law, which limited even the leaders.  Ahab couldn’t just take Naboth’s land: he had to purchase it.  And, when Jezebel plotted to take Naboth’s vineyard, she did so by getting two witnesses to testify that he’d blasphemed God and the king, which were capital crimes.  So she couldn’t just take Naboth’s property either: she had to go through legal channels.

VV 9, 12 say that Jezebel ordered the false witnesses to set Naboth high (be-rosh) among the people, before testifying that Naboth blasphemed God and the king, leading to Naboth’s execution by stoning outside of the city.  Jimmy Swaggart says that the false witnesses were pretending as if they were exalting Naboth by setting him high among the people, right before they pulled the rug from under him.  This could be true, for I Samuel 9:22 refers to Saul being placed be-rosh, meaning he was exalted.  If that’s what Jezebel did to Naboth, then that was cruel.  It reminds me of something I heard on Dr. Phil, where a girl said that some bullies called her and pretended to be her friend, right before they proceeded to trash her.  It’s wrong and callous to toy with people’s emotions.

Naboth was stoned to death, and II Kings 9:26 indicates that Jezebel killed Naboth’s sons as well, since they were entitled to Naboth’s vineyard, which was their inheritance.  Jezebel didn’t want Ahab to have any competitors for Naboth’s vineyard!  As Ahab enjoys his vineyard, Elijah the prophet comes to him to deliver God’s stern message.  According to Elijah, Ahab will die, and the dogs will lick Ahab’s blood in the very place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth.  Because Ahab repented, however, this did not literally happen, though it did occur to Ahab’s son, whose blood was licked in the field of Naboth (II Kings 9:21-26).  Still, Ahab’s blood was licked by dogs in another location, at the pool of Samaria, as we will see in the next chapter.  I Kings 22:37-38 treats that as the fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy, so a prophecy doesn’t always have to be fulfilled exactly to be fulfilled.    

Published in: on April 3, 2010 at 10:44 pm  Comments (1)  

I Kings 20

For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 20.

King Ben-Hadad of Syria, his army, and thirty-two kings have besieged and attacked Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel.  Ben-Hadad lays claim to the wives, children, silver, and gold of King Ahab of Northern Israel, and Ahab does not refuse him.  Then Ben-Hadad says that his servants will go through Ahab’s house and the house of his servants and take whatever pleases them.  At that point, Ahab concludes that Ben-Hadad has gone too far.  At the advice of his elders, Ahab sends messengers to Ben-Hadad, telling him to kiss off (my paraphrase).  Ben-Hadad then threatens to fill Samaria with Syrian troops, such that each Syrian soldier will be unable to grasp a handful of Samarian dust, for there won’t be enough dust to go around, with all of the Syrian soldiers there!

Ahab tells Ben-Hadad that one who puts on armor shouldn’t brag like one who’s taking it off.  Essentially, that means that Ben-Hadad is counting his chickens before they’re hatched: he’s acting like he’s already defeated Northern Israel, before the battle has even begun!  And indeed, Ben-Hadad is cocky, for, at the time, he’s getting drunk with his kingly allies.  He assumes that the battle is finished, and in his favor!

A prophet promises King Ahab that God will deliver the Syrian multitude into the hands of Israel, who will know that God is the LORD.  God will do this by the hands of “young men of the governors of the province” (my translation).  The word translated as “young men” can mean “servants” (Genesis 22:3), or it can be a term for some kind of soldier (II Samuel 2:14).  In any case, Israel was the clear underdog in this battle.  The number of Israelite “young men of the governors of the province” is 232, plus there are 7,000 additional Israelites going out to fight (I Kings 20:15).  The Israelites slaughter the Syrians, and, because v 25 states that Ben-Hadad later replaced the Syrian army that he had lost “horse for horse, and chariot for chariot” (which implies that his new army was as big as that which the Israelites had slaughtered), the 7,232 Israelites had defeated an army of at least 127,000 Syrians (see vv 29-30)!

Ben-Hadad retreats back to Syria and plots to attack Israel again.  The prophet warns Ahab that Ben-Hadad will return in the spring, which scholars say was a good season for battles because of the pleasant weather and the greater availability of provisions (e.g., food).  That spring, Ben-Hadad brings an army to Aphek.  Many cities bear that name—one in the Northern Israelite tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:29-30), one in modern-day Lebanon (Joshua 13:4), and one near the Philistines further south, in Sharon (Joshua 12:18; I Samuel 4:1; 29:1).  But the Aphek in I Kings 20 is probably the one in Southern Syria (see II Kings 13:17), close to a Northern Israelite boundary.

The man of God affirms that Israel will defeat the Syrians once more, especially because Ben-Hadad has downplayed the power of the Israelite God.  Ben-Hadad said that the Israelites only won the last battle because it occurred in the hills, where their gods possess their power; in the plains, however, the Syrians will triumph.  The commentaries that I consulted made a couple of good points.  Mordecai Cogan pointed out that the Syrians’ chariots were not as effective in the hills as they would be in the flat plains, and that’s a good practical reason that Ben-Hadad thought he’d have better luck in the plains.  And the Intervarsity Bible Background Commentary said that Israel was very hilly, so that’s why the Syrians assumed that the gods of Israel were more comfortable with the hills than with the flat-lands.  The Syrians wanted to draw the God of Israel out of his comfort zone so that they could beat his people, Israel.  But God wanted the Syrians to know that every place is his comfort zone, for he’s a powerful God.

The Israelites kill 100,000 Syrian foot-soldiers in one day, and the remaining 27,000 are killed by a wall which falls on them in Aphek, as the Syrians are retreating to that city.  Ben-hadad hears that the kings of Israel are generally merciful, so he sends servants to Ahab.  Ben-Hadad’s servants put on uncomfortable sackcloth and tie a rope around their necks, probably to indicate their surrender to Ahab as well as Ahab’s newfound power over them.  Ahab regards Ben-Hadad as his brother, probably because the two of them had a relationship by treaty (see I Kings 9:13 for a parallel example).  And the two kings arrive at an agreement: Ben-Hadad restores to Israel the towns that his father took, and he allows Israelites to do business in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

But a prophet is not very happy with this agreement!  He asks a fellow prophet to smite him, and the fellow prophet refuses.  The prophet then says that, because the fellow prophet didn’t obey the voice of the LORD, a lion will smite him!  The Hebrew word translated “smite” can mean to “smite” or to “kill” (see Exodus 2:11-12), but most commentators maintain that the lion kills the disobedient fellow prophet, rather than just wounding him.

The prophet then asks another man to smite him, and this man does so, to the point of wounding the prophet.  The prophet now looks like a beat-up Israelite soldier, and he approaches King Ahab.  The prophet says that a Syrian hostage was entrusted to him, and he was told that, if the hostage got away, he (the prophet disquised as a soldier) would lose his life or pay a talent of silver.  But, alas, the hostage got away, so what should happen to him?  King Ahab says that he (the prophet disguised as a soldier) should be punished.  The prophet then reveals himself to be a prophet, and he proceeds to upbraid Ahab for letting Ben-Hadad go free.  In the name of the LORD, the prophet in v 42 refers to Ben-hadad as “the man of my cherem”, meaning that Ahab should have killed Ben-Hadad to honor the LORD, who had helped Israel in battle.  The prophet predicts that Ahab will lose his life, and Israel will lose out as well.  Ahab then returns to his house and sulks.

I want to comment some about how this chapter relates to surrounding chapters.  In I Kings 19, which we read last week, God instructed Elijah to appoint Hazael as the King of Syria, predicting that Hazael will ravage Northern Israel.  In I Kings 20, however, God helps the Israelites to defeat Syria (under Ben-Hadad).  But Ahab lets Ben-Hadad go, after making what appears to be a lucrative agreement for Israel and Syria.  In I Kings 21, Ahab kills Naboth to get his vineyard, and God through Elijah prophesies the destruction of Jezebel and the house of Ahab as punishment.  But Ahab repents, so God decides to postpone the destruction to the time of Ahab’s son.  In I Kings 22, Ahab decides to go to war with Syria to get back for Israel the city of Ramoth-gilead.  The false prophets of the LORD tell Ahab he’ll succeed, whereas Micaiah says that Ahab will die in battle.  Ahab puts Micaiah in jail and dies in battle.  Ahab’s death demoralizes the Israelite army, so it retreats. 

God had predicted that Syria would defeat Northern Israel at some point, as judgment for Israel’s slaughter of God’s prophets.  Yet, God didn’t allow that to happen right away.  Rather, God took the time to demonstrate to Ahab, Israel, and also the Syrians that the LORD is God.  Perhaps God was giving the Israelites another opportunity to repent.  After Ahab defeated Syria, Ahab chose to trust in Ben-Hadad rather than to honor the LORD.  Ben-Hadad proved to be a disappointment, however, for he promised as part of his agreement with Ahab to return the Israelite cities that the Syrians had taken, yet he apparently didn’t return Ramoth-Gilead.  But God still gave Ahab somewhat of a chance, for Micaiah warned Ahab not to fight the Syrians for that city.  Ahab could have lived and not died.

Interestingly, the Septuagint reverses I Kings 20-21, so that the story of Naboth’s vineyard precedes that of Ahab’s defeat of Syria.  Is this order conveying the message that Ahab repented for killing Naboth and taking his vineyard, so God decided to protect Israel in the days of Ahab from Syrian domination?

Or maybe God didn’t punish Northern Israel right then and there because it wasn’t the right time.  God wanted the punishment to come later, under Ben-Hadad’s successor, Hazael.  Then, the time for judgment would be ripe, and God would bring along Jehu to purge Israel of Baalism.  This is an example (albeit a grisly one) of how God operates in seasons.  Yet, free will can still come into play, for God can postpone punishment based on repentance. 

The part about the Syrians recognizing the mercy of Israel’s kings has often caught my eye when I’ve read this chapter.  I’ve seen this as an indication that even Israelite kings in their corruption learned from the mercy of God, and showed that mercy to others.  As Ellen White said, “By beholding, we become changed.”  Yet, as a preacher I heard pointed out, Ahab didn’t show mercy to all of the prophets of the LORD he slaughtered!  Ahab was willing to show mercy to people he deemed important, those who could help him out—through lucrative agreements or consent to be ruled.  But he didn’t show mercy to those who annoyed him or did not benefit him.  And, ironically, he was willing to show mercy when it wasn’t to God’s honor, and to dispense with mercy when it was.

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 12:29 am  Comments (1)  

I Kings 19

For my weekly quiet time, I studied I Kings 19.

Queen Jezebel of Northern Israel has threatened to kill Elijah, for he has just led Israel to the LORD and has slaughtered the prophets of Baal.  Elijah then flees all the way from Northern Israel to Beersheba, which is in the southern-most part of Israel—in the kingdom of Judah.  The Hebrew Bible often uses the expression “from Dan to Beer-sheba” to refer to all of Israel, for Dan is the northernmost part of Israel, while Beersheba is the southern-most (Judges 20:1; I Samuel 3:20; II Samuel 3:10; 17:11; 24:2, 15; I Kings 4:25; I Chronicles 21:2; II Chronicles 30:5).  So Elijah made a long trip!  And, in a wilderness close to Beersheba, Elijah got to rest, and an angel gave him food.

Elijah then travelled further south, to Horeb, the mountain where God revealed the law to Israel in the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 1:6; 4:10, etc.).  God asks Elijah what he is doing there, and Elijah proceeds to complain.  Elijah says that he’s been zealous for the LORD, for the Israelites have forsaken their covenant with God, torn down God’s altars, and killed God’s prophets, and now they want to kill him.  God then tells Elijah to stand on the mountain, for the LORD is about to pass by.

There is a great wind splitting rocks and mountains, an earthquake, and a fire, but God is not in these phenomena.  Then, God speaks to Elijah in a still, small voice.  He instructs Elijah to go all the way north to Damascus (in Syria) to appoint Hazael the king of Syria.  He’s also to anoint Jehu the king of Israel, and Elisha as his (Elijah’s) successor.  Elisha lives in Abel-Meholah, which is in the Northern Israelite tribe of Manasseh.  As far as the narrative of I-II Kings is concerned, Elijah only did one of these tasks—he anointed Elisha as his prophetic successor—while Elisha interacted with Hazael and anointed Jehu king of Northern Israel.  Many try to explain this by saying that Elijah appointed Hazael and Jehu through Elisha.  Elijah anointed Elisha as his successor, and Elisha went on to appoint Hazael as king of Syria, and Jehu as king of Northern Israel.

Many preachers use I Kings 19 as a text on how to deal with depression.  They see in the chapter the lesson that we should get some rest, for that is what Elijah did in the wilderness near Beersheba.  They say that the chapter teaches God’s love for us, for God ministered to Elijah through an angel, who brought Elijah food.  One pastor I heard in Boston said that God gave Elijah an assignment to get him out of his funk. 

All of these are important lessons.  But there’s something larger in I Kings 19.  God is showing Elijah that (in the words of Rick Warren’s opening chapter in The Purpose-Driven Life) “it’s not all about you.”  Elijah thought that the future of Yahwism in Northern Israel depended on him, the last remaining prophet.  But God informs Elijah that God has been at work in what seems to be a dismal situation.  God has reserved (or will reserve, depending on how you translate v 18) seven thousand people who have not worshipped Baal.  So Elijah is not alone.  But God has also told Elijah to do the things that will bring about God’s wrath on Northern Israel along with the end of Baalism in that region.  Elijah is to appoint Hazael as king of Syria, and Hazael will afflict Northern Israel and kill many Israelites (II Kings 8:2; 10:32).  Elijah is also to anoint Jehu the King of Israel, and Jehu will slaughter the house of Ahab and Jezebel, as well as eliminate Baalism in the Northern Kingdom (II Kings 9-10).  And Elisha will kill people, too.  Some have related this to the bears who killed the kids mocking Elisha (II Kings 2:23-25).

But, to cut Elijah down to size, one commentator remarked that God was trying to show Elijah that he’s not indispensable, whatever he may think.  Even when Elijah is gone from the scene, God’s activity in history will go on.

I wondered about the significance of God not being in the great wind, the earthquake, and the fire, as well as of God speaking in a still, small voice.  I found a variety of explanations—from commentators ancient and modern, scholarly and homiletical.  Some of them overlap.  One said that God was trying to soften Elijah’s wrathful heart by showing him that God’s not all about the things that God usually uses for his wrath—winds, earthquakes, and fire; rather, God prefers to reveal himself gently, with mercy, in a still, small voice.  Another explanation is that the wind, earthquake, and the fire were caused by angels, who were preparing Elijah for God’s arrival by instilling in him a proper humility and reverence; but, after all this, God speaks to Elijah with love, in a still, small voice.  (But, as Jimmy Swaggart notes, so many Christians prefer a lot of fanfare to listening to God’s still, small voice, which is what actually conveys God’s character and will for us).  Another view is that God was teaching Elijah that God doesn’t always work with a lot of fanfare, for God sometimes prefers to work behind the scenes—as God was doing when he reserved seven thousand Yahwists unto himself.  And The IVP Bible Background Commentary stated that people in the ancient Near East believed that theophanies (e.g., thunderstorms) were the gods engaging in battle, and that the gods arbitrarily appointed and deposed king; I Kings 19, however, states that God does things for a purpose, presumably, to bring himself glory by eradicating Baalism.

I think that all of these explanations are edifying and perhaps point to the truth, but I’m not entirely satisfied with them.  Sure, God is loving and gentle, but God was telling Elijah in his still, small voice to anoint people who would bring bloodshed on Israel, as a part of God’s wrath.  Yes, God doesn’t always work with a lot of fanfare.  And God was about to work in a pretty low-key manner—reserving faithful Yahwists unto himself, and having Elijah appoint the people who would eliminate Baalism in Northern Israel.  But what’s the point of that in I Kings 19?

I think that the answer is related to God’s work in Elijah’s ministry before the events of I Kings 19.  God cut off the rain at Elijah’s word.  He sent fire from heaven, influencing the Israelite spectators to exclaim that the LORD (not Baal) is God.  But, for some reason, all of that fanfare was not enough.  Jezebel was still intent on killing Elijah.  And the fact that God needed to inflict further wrath on Israel may indicate that the contest on Mount Carmel had limited effectiveness.  Sure, the Israelites replied that the LORD is God in response to fanfare, but Baalism remained in the country—what do you think Jehu was eliminating in II Kings 9-10?  The Israelites may have responded temporarily to fanfare, but they weren’t accustomed to listening to the still, small voice.

What was God’s goal in all of this—in his wrath upon Israel and his preservation of a remnant?  Biblical scholar Moshe Weinfeld believed that the Deuteronomistic School travelled from Northern Israel to Judah after the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria.  In the view of Weinfeld and many scholars, much of the Hebrew Bible came from this school—the Book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-II Kings, at least in their final forms).  Could the Deuteronomistic School have descended from the Yahwistic remnant that God preserved?  Perhaps.  I’d like to think that God had a big goal in mind, rather than just aiming to slaughter Northern Israel and leave things at that. 

This chapter has important themes.  Some of them appear contradictory, but balance is important.  These themes include our importance to God and God’s mission, balanced with our realization that we are small in the grand scheme of things.     

Published in: on March 20, 2010 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Scattered Thoughts on I Kings 18

For my weekly quiet time this Sabbath, I studied I Kings 18, which is about Elijah’s confrontation of the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel.  

I learned something new in my study today, which, apparently, most commentators (both older and recent ones) know.  You know how Elijah outruns the chariot of King Ahab in v 46, after Elijah has brought an end to the drought that God caused in punishment of Israel’s Baal worship?  Elijah was actually doing that out of respect for King Ahab, for kings had people who outran their chariots (see I Samuel 8:11; I Kings 1:5).  At first, I thought that Elijah was showing off to Ahab by outrunning his swift chariot, or that God was teaching Ahab that a prophet running with God’s power is superior to the mighty chariot of a king.  Actually, the latter may have been one lesson that God wanted Ahab to learn, for the verse stresses that the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, right before it says that Elijah outran Ahab’s chariot.  So Elijah was showing proper respect to Ahab, and also demonstrating to the king the power of God.

Who lives, and who dies?  That’s a question that was on my mind in today’s quiet time.  I Kings 18:40 says that Elijah slew the prophets of Baal, but there’s no statement that he also killed the prophets of Asherah.  Was that because he believed that even the true God needed a consort (his Asherah)?

John MacArthur states: The killing of the 450 prophets of Baal (18:19) fulfilled the law’s demands that false prophets be executed (Deut. 13:1–5) and that those embracing idolatry or inciting others to practice it were worthy of death (Deut. 13:13–18; 17:2–7).

Okay, so Elijah killed the prophets of Baal in obedience to Deuteronomy, but he didn’t kill everyone who had embraced idolatry.  Before his successful confrontation of the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel, most of Israel halted between two opinions, worshipping both the LORD and Baal.  But Elijah didn’t slaughter them, notwithstanding the command in Deuteronomy.  Why did Elijah punish some and not others?

Then we have Elijah showing respect to Ahab by outrunning his chariot.  Okay, Ahab has repented, and now he’s a king who supports the worship of Yahweh alone.  But, not long before, he had promoted Baal worship, or at least he allowed his wife to do so.

Maybe the people Elijah didn’t kill were spared because of their repentance, whereas the prophets of Baal were slaughtered because they did not turn to the LORD.  Perhaps the prophets of Baal didn’t say “the LORD is God” while the mass of the Israelites were doing so.  But I’m reminded of the Golden Calf scene in the 2006 ABC movie, The Ten Commandments.  Moses was mad at the Israelites for worshipping the Golden Calf, and he invited people to join the LORD’s side.  Some did so, including Aaron, who made the calf.  Others did not.  They included those who were defiant against the LORD, and also children, who didn’t know what was going on.  Moses then tells the side that had joined him to kill the side that had not, and Aaron enthusiastically started to plunge his sword into people.

But, even if Aaron had repented, what right did he have to be so enthusiastic in murdering those who worshipped the calf—the calf he had made?  Shouldn’t a newly-recovered sinner be a little more humble?

I also confronted the question of “Did God violate the Israelites free-will?”, which I Kings 18:37 invites.  In v 37, Elijah is asking God to send fire on the altar that he had built to show the Israelites that the LORD is the true God, as opposed to Baal, who didn’t send fire on the Baalite altar.  My translation is as follows: “Answer me, LORD, answer me and this people will know that you the LORD [are] the God, and you caused their heart to turn backward.”

There are at least two different interpretations of this verse.  One says that God caused the Israelite’s to worship Baal.  In its favor is the fact that “caused their heart to turn backward” is in the past tense, and so it can’t refer to the Israelites’ repentance because that has not yet happened during the time that Elijah is delivering up this prayer.  So, for adherents to this view, v 37 refers to Israel’s apostasy.  Also, there are passages in which God is said to harden the hearts of Israel and to cause them to err (Isaiah 63:17).  So God is in the practice of doing that sort of thing.

The second interpretation of I Kings 18:37 is that it refers to God turning the hearts of Israel towards himself, the true God.  In its favor is that fact that there are passages in which “and you shall know that I am the LORD when I have done such-and-such” refers to a future event: the “such-and-such” may be in the past tense grammatically, but it’s referring to an event that will take place in the future (see Exodus 10:2; Isaiah 41:20; Ezekiel 21:5).  So Elijah is asking God to send fire on the Yahwist altar so that Israel will know that God is the one who brought them to repentance, after the fire has come down, that is.

Then there are different interpretations of how God brings Israel to repentance.  Does God make the Israelites repent in a Calvinist, “irresistable grace” sort of way?  Or does God influence them to repent by the miracle of sending the fire onto Elijah’s altar, which gets their attention and leads them to the realization that the LORD is the true God? 

If I’m reading the Jewish commentator Rashi correctly, Rashi goes with the view that God turned the hearts of the Israelites towards Baal, yet he asserts that the Israelites’ free-will was still in the equation.  He states:  You have given them a place to turn away from following You, although You were able to direct their hearts toward You.  Rashi appears to be saying that God allowed the Israelites to turn away from him, not that he forced them to do so.

What’s interesting is that, even in Isaiah 63:17—a verse that says God has hardened the Israelites’ hearts and caused them to err—the Israelites are asking God not to do so, but to lead them to repentance.  So, somehow, the Israelites are still able to reject their hardening and to desire something better.  This may relate to some of Ken Pulliam’s discussions on original sin, and how God can hold us responsible for sin when we’re born with a sinful nature—see Christian Philosophers Attempt to Defend “Original Sin”–Part One, Christian Philosophers Attempt to Defend “Original Sin”–Part Two, and Paul Copan’s Comments on the “Original Sin” Post

Speaking of free-will and determinism, I was thinking this week about my quiet time on I Kings 16—see The Old South, I Kings 16.  In I Kings 16, God uses General Omri to punish King Zimri for his sins.  Omri acts according to his own personal ambition, yet God is somehow using him to effect his righteous will.  Is Omri’s God’s puppet?

My thought this week was essentially, “Who cares?”  I’m going to live my life assuming that I have free-will—that God is not using me as a puppet.  That gives me hope: I don’t have to make the same mistakes, but I can choose a different path.  It’s in my hands!  Yet, some in Alcoholics Anonymous would say that I’m flawed, that I need to trust in God to keep me sober and work with God, who will remove my character defects.  Part of me agrees with that point-of-view.  So, on a practical level, I need free-will, but I also want God’s help.  And, personally, I don’t think that God is going to use me to do something bad for his glory.  God has brought me to the point where I desire good, not bad.  And, in my opinion, God only uses the selfish ambition of man (as he did with Pharaoh or Omri) when that selfish ambition is already there!  God doesn’t put it there, but he uses what is there. 

I also encountered a beautiful lesson in Rashi.  In I Kings 18:26, “he”—presumably Elijah—gives the prophets of Baal the bullock that they will use for their offering.  This is in tension with other parts of the chapter.  V 23 says that the prophets of Baal are giving out the two bullocks that are to be used in the competition between them and Elijah, and v 25 states that the prophets of Baal select the bullock that they will use.  One scholar I read said that Elijah was trying to avoid the charge that he was fixing the contest, so he allowed the prophets of Baal to select their own bullock.

So what’s Rashi say about v 26?  He says that the bullock that the Baalites selected tried to get away, for he didn’t want to be offered to a false god.  But Elijah told the bullock that God will be glorified through that act, and Elijah then gave the bullock back to the Baalites.  So there’s a lesson here about God using people and animals for his glory.

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 1:44 am  Comments (1)  

Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 6, I Kings 17

1.  Here’s an interesting quote from my reading today of Phyllis Schlafly’s Power of the Positive Woman:

George Gilder demonstrates in his book Sexual Suicide that the family is the institution that has civilized the male.  It enables female stability and nurture to prevail over masculine mobility and violence.  Man’s role as family provider gives him the incentive to curb his primitive nature.  Everyone needs to be needed.  The male satisfies his sense of need through his role as provider for the family.  If he is deprived of this role, he tends to drop out of the family and revert to the primitive masculine role of hunter and fighter.  (96)

2.  For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 17.  According to v 1, Elijah is from Gilead.  In Genesis Rabbah 71, there’s a rabbinic debate about the meaning of the word “Gilead.”  One rabbi interprets Gilead to be the geographical region in the Transjordan—the area that is east of the Jordan, where Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh chose to settle, instead of the Promised Land (Numbers 32).  He contends that Elijah is from the tribe of Gad, which is traditionally the location of Tishbi (Elijah’s town).  This is most likely the correct interpretation, but something confuses me.  In I Kings 17:3, after Elijah tells King Ahab of Northern Israel that it will not rain until he (Elijah) says so, God tells Elijah to go east to the Wadi Chereth, which is in front of Jordan.  Many maps put Tishbi close to the Wadi Cherith.  But why would God need to tell Elijah where the Wadi Chereth is, if Elijah is from that area?  Wouldn’t Elijah already know?  Or is the part in v 3 about the Wadi’s location something the author inserted for the benefit of the reader, who may not know where it is?

The second rabbi says that Elijah was from the tribe of Benjamin, for I Chronicles 8:27 mentions Elijah in a list of Benjaminites.  So how does this rabbi interpret “Gilead” in v 1?  He states that mi-toshavei gilad refers to those sitting in the hall of hewn stone, where the Sanhedrin meets.  The footnote in my Judaic Classics Library states this is because galed means “a heap and a witness” (Genesis 31:47). 

Another issue that came up in my study was the length of the famine.  Luke 4:25 and James 5:17 affirm that it lasted for three-and-a-half years.  Some believe that this conflicts with I Kings 18:1, which states that Elijah appears before Ahab to end the famine in the third year, which many translators and commentators understand as the third year of the famine.  How could the famine end in the third year, yet last three-and-a-half years?  I’ll be reading the explanations of the harmonizers next week.  But here’s something that’s weird: Josephus says the famine only lasted one year!  He quotes the historian Menander of Ephesus (second century B.C.E.), who discusses a year-long famine during the reign of Ethbaal, king of Tyre, whose reign was during the time of Ahab.  Was Josephus compromising the biblical narrative to embrace an extra-biblical source that supposedly corroborated a detail of the biblical history?  If so, he’s not the last to do this!  There are maximalists who have compromised the Bible in their attempt to reconcile it with history.  Among other examples, I think of those who date the Exodus to the time of Raamses because that fits the setting of the Exodus story better, even though I Kings 6:1 dates the Exodus centuries before that!

Another issue in my study concerned v 9.  The Wadi Chereth, where Elijah is eating and drinking during the famine, dries up.  Interestingly, there’s a rabbinic view that says God was trying to get Elijah to make it rain, for God was merciful, but Elijah steadfastly refused God’s request.  According to this view, God dried up the Wadi in one of his attempts to make Elijah let up.

But, back to v 9!  The Wadi dries up, and God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath in Sidon, where God has commanded a widow to sustain him.  What’s this mean?  Did God tell the widow woman that Elijah was coming and that she’ll have to support him?  The commentators whom I read say “no.”  According to them, v 9 just means that God ordained for the Sidonian widow woman to support Elijah, not that he gave her a command.  They relate v 9 to God’s providence.  And the word for command—tsavah—sometimes carries this connotation.  In II Samuel 17:14, God commands that the good counsel of Ahithophel be defeated, and this occurs when Absalom heeds Hushai rather than Ahithophel.  But God didn’t verbally command Absalom to do this; rather, God ordained the event through God’s providence.

But I wonder if the woman could have received a verbal command from God.  Elijah comes to her and asks for water, and she gives it to him.  Then he asks for food, and she says that she only has enough for her and her son, and they’ll eat that during the short time that they have left.  But Elijah tells her to fear not, and to make him a cake, before she makes food for herself and her son.  Elijah predicts that the meager amount of oil and meal that she has will last until God ends the famine.  The widow then obeys Elijah, and, sure enough, Elijah’s word comes true!

But why did she trust Elijah’s word?  He’d done no miracles up to that point!  Even during this miracle of the self-regenerating food (or something like that), she may have had some lingering doubt about Elijah’s status, for it was later—after Elijah raised her son from the dead—that she said, “Now I know that you are a man of God…”  You mean she didn’t know that before Elijah resurrected her son?  Yet, even before Elijah performed that feat, she (on some level) thought that he was a prophet, for, when her son dies, she accuses Elijah of bringing her sin to remembrance.  According to some, she’s contending that Elijah brought God’s attention onto her family by staying at her place—since Elijah is a prophet and had God’s continual eye.  The result was that God noticed some of her sins and decided to punish the son for the sins of the mother.

But back to my question!  Why did she trust Elijah enough to give him the little food that she had in a time of famine, before she’d even seen evidence that he was a prophet?  Did Elijah have a comforting yet authoritative persona that influenced her to trust him and do what he said?  Did she figure that she had little to lose, since she and her son were about to die anyway?  Or could she have heard a message from God, telling her to sustain Elijah?  She was reluctant, but she still did it, and that was remarkable! 

Perhaps echoing the rabbis, Rashi states that this story resembles Genesis 24.  There, Abraham’s servant is looking for a bride for Abraham’s son, Isaac, and he suggests to God a sign: if a woman gives him water when he requests it, and also offers to water his camels, then she’s the one!  And the right woman turns out to be Rebecca, the niece of Abraham.  Similarly, in I Kings 17, Elijah requests water from the Sidonian widow, and, when she gives it to him, Elijah knows that she’s the widow God was talking about—the one who would support him. 

I thought a little bit about charity.  I listened to a preacher who said that God is pleased when we give out of our scarcity, not out of our abundance.  And, indeed, there are biblical passages that appear to suggest this (e.g., Mark 12:41-44).  But I compared the Sidonian widow with Rebecca in Genesis 24.  Indeed, the widow gave out of her scarcity, and she’s to be commended.  But did Rebecca?  She performed a hefty task, watering the servant’s camels, but was that a huge sacrifice on her part?  And was it a sacrifice for her family to invite the servant to its home for a meal and lodging?  I bet they could have afforded it!  Personally, I think God’s happy when we give, period, whether it’s out of our scarcity, or out of our abundance.

A final point: in Luke 4:25-26, Jesus said that God could’ve sent Elijah to any widow in Israel, but God didn’t do that.  Rather, God sent him to Sidon, which was quite a trek from the Wadi Cherith, where he was staying!  Israel was much closer, and Elijah would probably have to go through Israel anyway to get to Sidon.  So why was God so intent on Elijah getting to Sidon?  Couldn’t Elijah have stayed with an Israelite widow?

There are a variety of possible answers: there was danger for Elijah in Israel, none of the Israelite widows was worthy, etc.  But here’s what’s ironic: Sidon is where Queen Jezebel is from (I Kings 16:31).  It’s where her father, King Ethbaal, is ruling.  Jezebel had brought Baal-worship to Israel.  Now, Elijah was bringing Yahwism to her land, Sidon!  We can also learn lessons of not writing entire people-groups off just because they have some bad apples, or even of not writing off the bad apples!

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 12:44 am  Leave a Comment  

The Old South, I Kings 16

1.  For Black History Month today, I watched The Rosa Parks Story (2002) and To Kill a Mockingbird

As I watched The Rosa Parks Story, with its emphasis on maintaining one’s self-respect in the midst of a culture that treats one as an inferior, I was reminded of the wikipedia article on Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor then Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.  It states the following about her childhood in the Jim Crow South, and how her parents raised her to overcome racism and not to limit herself:

Rice experienced firsthand the injustices of Birmingham’s discriminatory laws and attitudes. She was instructed to walk proudly in public and to use the facilities at home rather than subject herself to the indignity of “colored” facilities in town. As Rice recalls of her parents and their peers, “they refused to allow the limits and injustices of their time to limit our horizons.”[83]

However, Rice recalls various times in which she suffered discrimination on account of her race, which included being relegated to a storage room at a department store instead of a regular dressing room, being barred from going to the circus or the local amusement park, being denied hotel rooms, and even being given bad food at restaurants.[4] Also, while Rice was mostly kept by her parents from areas where she might face discrimination, she was very aware of the civil rights struggle and the problems of Jim Crow Birmingham. A neighbor, Juliemma Smith, described how “[Condi] used to call me and say things like, ‘Did you see what Bull Connor did today?’ She was just a little girl and she did that all the time. I would have to read the newspaper thoroughly because I wouldn’t know what she was going to talk about.”[4] Rice herself said of the segregation era: “Those terrible events burned into my consciousness. I missed many days at my segregated school because of the frequent bomb threats.”[4]

During the violent days of the Civil Rights Movement, [her father] Reverend Rice armed himself and kept guard over the house while Condoleezza practiced the piano inside. According to J.L. Chestnut, Reverend Rice called local civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth and his followers “uneducated, misguided Negroes.”[84][85] Also, Reverend Rice instilled in his daughter and students that black people would have to prove themselves worthy of advancement, and would simply have to be “twice as good” to overcome injustices built into the system.[86] Rice said “My parents were very strategic, I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms.”[87] While the Rices supported the goals of the civil rights movement, they did not agree with the idea of putting their child in harm’s way.[4]

Rice was eight when her schoolmate Denise McNair, aged 11, was killed in the bombing of the primarily black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church by white supremacists on September 15, 1963…Rice states that growing up during racial segregation taught her determination against adversity, and the need to be “twice as good” as non-minorities.[89] Segregation also hardened her stance on the right to bear arms; Rice has said in interviews that if gun registration had been mandatory, her father’s weapons would have been confiscated, leaving them defenseless against Ku Klux Klan nightriders.[4] 

On To Kill a Mockingbird, I appreciated the role of Boo Radley more this time around.  Boo was a recluse who was viewed as a “boogy man” by his neighbors, yet he had a protective attitude towards the children, Scout and Jem. 

A scene that sticks out to me is the one where Cal, the black housekeeper, rebukes Scout for criticizing her guest’s mannerism of putting syrup on his dinner.  In the movie, Cal takes the place of the child’s mother, who has died.  That reminds me of what I saw on The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (in which Collin Wilcox of To Kill of Mockingbird plays a role), where the white lord of the manor tells the elderly Miss Jane that she practically raised him, so he’s reluctant to threaten her for her decision to drink from the “whites only” drinking fountain.  The old South baffles me.  Whites could have affection towards African-Americans, yet they could turn around and smile and jeer when a lynching was taking place, as if they were at a picnic (as pictures of lynchings document). 

But there could be exceptions.  In the fictional work, To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s Atticus Finch, and also the white sheriff, who is fair-minded and laments that a black man died “for no reason.”  Are people shaped by their culture?  If so, then how could Harper Lee conceive of white characters who thought outside of their culture, who chose to treat African-Americans fairly rather than as inferiors?  And how could African-Americans choose not to interiorize the insults of their society, to see themselves as people of dignity who are deserving of rights?

2.  For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied I Kings 16.  I thought about issues of providence and free will.  Vv 18-19 brought this issue to my attention.  There, Zimri, the new king of Israel who has just assassinated the previous king, burns down his own house while he’s inside of it.  Zimri is worried because Omri, the commander of Israel’s army, has just been appointed king of Israel, so he’s coming to Zimri to lay claim to his position, by force if necessary.  And v 19 says that this happened because of Zimri’s sins, in walking after the path of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin.

This baffles some people, for Zimri only ruled Israel for seven days.  How could the Deuteronomist make such a judgment about Zimri’s short career?  He didn’t exactly have time to be righteous or wicked, right?

But the Deuteronomist may be criticizing Zimri because he went with the flow.  He didn’t protest against the idolatry that Jeroboam had established.  He wasn’t an Atticus Finch.  Or, more to our topic, he’s not Abijah in rabbinic literature, or Tobit, who went to Jerusalem to worship, even though their Northern Israelite culture didn’t think highly of that.

But here’s where providence and free-will come in.  Omri chose to leave the Philistine battlefield where the Israelite army then was to go to Tirzah (the capitol of Northern Israel) and lay claim to the kingship.  Zimri chose to burn down his house with himself inside of it, afraid of what Omri would do to him.  These people are acting according to their free-will, as it is shaped by their carnal impulses of spite, greed, or fear.  Yet, the biblical author asserts that God is at work in all of this, accomplishing his just purposes.  Is God causing the characters to act in this way?  Are they making their own decisions?  The answer to both may be “yes.”

Yet, here’s something else that’s weird.  In I Kings 15-16, God lifted Baasha from the dust so that he could become king of Northern Israel in place of Jeroboam’s dynasty.  Yet, v 7 says that God punished Baasha because he killed the person representing the house of Jeroboam, King Nadab, Jeroboam’s son.  Just because God appoints a person king, that doesn’t mean he has the right to murder the person who is currently in charge.  David recognized that when he was on the run from Saul.  Jeroboam didn’t kill King Rehoboam (though, to be fair, God didn’t promise Jeroboam that he’d have Rehoboam’s dominion, Southern Israel).  But God could make exceptions on this policy, for God commanded Jehu to kill Ahab’s house as punishment for its murder of God’s prophets (II Kings 9:7).

So maybe God has plans, which he executes in response to our decisions.  But he desires for us to behave righteously in the course of his plans—he predicted that Baasha would be king, yet he didn’t want Baasha to kill the current king, but rather to trust God to work things out.  Yet, even when people misbehave out of their carnal desires, God can use that to fulfill his just desires.  Does God cause them to make their bad decisions?  Perhaps God’s working with the carnality that’s there—not creating it, but working with it, or pointing it in a certain direction.  “Hey, Omri, now’s a good time for you to become king!  I know it’s what you’ve always wanted!” 

Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 1:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Alexander Haig, Color Purple, Randy Nations, I Kings 15

1.  I learned today that Alexander Haig has passed away.  Alexander Haig had an illustrious career as a soldier and an advisor to Presidents.  He served Douglas MacArthur in Korea, became a hero in the Vietnam War (after leaving his government post under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara), advised Nixon during Watergate, commanded NATO, and took charge when President Reagan was shot.  “I’m in charge here!”, the movie, Nixon, has his character say as he rolls a sick President Nixon through the hospital, in reference to his bold declaration when Reagan was shot. 

I first heard of Alexander Haig in 1988.  During the Democratic primaries for President, Al Gore was debating Richard Gephardt.  Gephardt said to Gore, “You’re beginning to sound like Al Haig more than Al Gore.”  And Gore replied, “And you’re beginning to sound more like Richard Nixon than Richard Gephardt!”

Al Haig also ran for President in 1988, only he was a Republican.  According to the AP article that I read this morning, he supported continuing the Reagan Revolution, even as he railed against the Reagan Administration’s deficits.  (Good for him!)  I vaguely remember reading in the 1988 Presidential Biblical Scoreboard (a Christian conservative publication) that he was open to tax increases, which somewhat took me aback, because Republicans don’t say that out loud.  But I wouldn’t bet my life on my memory there, for I read this morning that he encouraged President Obama not to raise taxes or embrace protectionism.

There have been numerous depictions of Al Haig in movies, from his role in Korea to his activity in the Reagan Administration (see Alexander Haig – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).  The ones I’ve seen are in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Oliver Stone’s The Day Reagan Was Shot, and the controversial Showtime miniseries, The Reagans.  In Nixon, he was a handsome, level-headed advisor.  In the latter two films, however, he was a wild-eyed fanatic.  “Give me the word, Mr. President, and I’ll turn Cuba into a parking lot!”, he said on The Reagans (and in real life).  My favorite part on The Day Reagan Was Shot was when Haig handed Reagan a thick book on Central America (I think) and asked him to read it.  Reagan replied, “I’m more interested in the big picture, and I leave it to you guys to take care of the details.  So can’t you just give me the gist, like one or two pages?”  Haig was baffled, saying, “One or two pages?”  And Reagan responded, “One page.”

I just remembered this anecdote about Haig in Lou Cannon’s President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime:

Veteran Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin…received an even colder [reception] from Haig a few days after Reagan took office.  Haig revoked the privilege extended by Henry Kissinger during the Nixon Administration, and continued during the Ford and Carter presidencies, of allowing the Soviet ambassador to enter the State Department through its underground garage, a practice that reflected the special nature of the superpower relationship.  Dobrynin’s chauffeured limousine was turned away when the driver tried to pull into the garage, and Haig made sure that reporters were told of the incident.  The new administration seemed to be sending a bristling message to the world that there would be no more U.S. coddling of the Soviets.  (256)

Yup, there’s a new sheriff in town, Soviets!

The last time I heard Alexander Haig was when we were about to go to war with Iraq.  Haig was on Sean Hannity’s show, and he came across as a nice, gracious old man.  He even called Alan Colmes a “good fella” (if memory serves me correctly).  But he predicted that our liberation of Iraq wouldn’t take that long: we’d be in, then out before you know it.  When that didn’t happen, I arrived at an insight: Not everything I hear on right-wing radio reflects the way the world is!  That’s why I’m more skeptical nowadays about going to war.

But Al Haig deserves honor, and that’s why he’ll get on my blog.  R.I.P. Alexander Haig!

2.  For Black History Month today, I watched Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which stars (among others) Whoopi Goldberg (in her debut), Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey (back when she was fat).  Although I was bored with The Color Purple the first time I’d seen it, I decided to watch it again after seeing Danny Glover in QueenIn Queen, Glover played a supportive husband and father.  But (for some reason) I felt obligated not to celebrate that, for I remembered a role in which he was a horrible husband and a negligent father: on The Color Purple.  So I decided to watch it again. 

Whoopi plays Celie, Glover plays her husband Albert, and Oprah Winfrey plays the brash Sophia.  Plus, there are two other characters you should know about to understand my write-up.  One is Shug, who is Albert’s mistress, a dancer.  And the second is Millie, the mayor’s wife, who is white.  Sophia works for Millie after having spent years in prison for assaulting her.

Two scenes stand out to me.  Near the end of the movie, Shug and her new husband tell Albert that they’ll be taking Celie with them to Memphis—for good.  Shug and Celie got to be good friends, and Shug realizes that Celie wants to leave her abusive, unappreciative husband.  Albert is upset (not because he loves Celie but because he needs a woman to take care of the house), and he tells Celie that she won’t make it in the world because she’s ugly, misshapen, and isn’t even a good housekeeper or cook.  When Celia is about to kill Albert, Shug and Sophia try to stop her.  Shug tells Celie to come with her so they can immediately leave.  And Sophia advises Celie not to make the same mistake that she made—to do a rash act of violence that will get her in jail (or worse).  “He’s not worth that!”, they say.  Fortunately, Celie makes the right decision and leaves with Shug.

This just reminds me not to give in to hate, for the person I hate is not worth me being consumed with anger or breaking the law.  Celie had an opportunity to make a new life for herself, and revenge would blow that for her.  The same is true for me and others.

The second scene was when Sophia got to see her children on Christmas, and her boss, Millie, was driving like a maniac outside the home of Sophia’s family.  Millie crashes, and Sophia’s relatives go out to help her.  But Millie is afraid of them because they’re black, and she frantically tells them that she’s always been good to the “coloreds.”

This scene stood out to me because I sometimes have the impression that African-Americans I’ve known are sensitive about people being afraid of them.  When I lived in New York, black people would come up to me asking for money, and they’d say, “Why are you afraid of me?”  But I had a right to be afraid, for I don’t like being accosted on the street by complete strangers!  I’m that way with many people, black and white. 

3.  I was thinking some about Randy Nations on Lost.  Randy Nations was John Locke’s boss who harrassed and fired him.  I also learned that he was Hurley’s jerk-boss when he worked at the chicken place.  When Hurley won the lottery and bought the chicken place and the box company where Locke works, he tells the fired Locke, “Randy Nations is a double douche.”

I saw something similar on Men of a Certain Age.  Owen works for his dad’s car dealership, and his dad ends up in the hospital.  His dad leaves the management of the company, not to Owen, but to some handsome, charismatic jerk, who’s good with the ladies and the customers, and likes to needle Owen.  When the jerk says that he values the services of all the employees—both the quarterback and the water carrier—pointing to Owen as he says “water carrier,” Owen decides that he’s had enough.  He goes to a competing car dealership and applies for a job.  From what I saw in the ad for next week’s episode, he actually does a good job there!

How does one deal with jerks?  That’s one reason I’m afraid of getting a job—having to deal with the Randy Nations of the world.  And, while it’s not always greener on the other side of the fence, there are times when a change can do us a world of good, as Owen learns.

4.  For my weekly quiet time, I studies I Kings 15.  But I’m going to talk some about I Kings 13-14 as well.

Asa is a good king of Judah, in that he eliminates a lot of idolatry in the nation.  But, when Baasha, the aggressive king of Northern Israel, sets up a fortress in Ramah, which is not far from Asa’s city of Jerusalem, Asa decides that he needs help.  So he bribes Ben-Hadad of Syria, who proceeds to whip Northern Israel around and to take her northern cities.  Baasha then leaves Ramah and goes back to Tirzah, the capital of Northern Israel.  Asa then recruits all of the Judahites to tear down Ramah and to build two new cities, which would protect Judah from Northern Israelite aggression.

I Kings 15 doesn’t offer an explicit value judgment on Asa’s acts, but later interpreters did.  The Chronicler, in II Chronicles 16, says that Asa was wrong to go to Ben-Hadad of Syria for assistance, for he should’ve trusted in the LORD, who had defeated Judah’s enemies in a previous battle during the reign of Asa.  And, in the Babylonian Talmud Sotah 10a, rabbis say that Asa was wrong to make every Judahite male tear down Ramah and march further north to build the two cities—especially the scholars and the newly married bridegrooms, who should’ve been exempt!  The passage says that Asa got a foot-disease in I Kings 15 because he sinned with his feet.  It may be thinking of Asa forcing every Judahite male to march for his construction projects.

A lack of faith is a significant issue in the Jeroboam story.  Jeroboam is appointed king by the prophet Ahijah, who tells Jeroboam that he’ll have an everlasting dynasty if he obeys the LORD.  Well, Jeroboam becomes the king of Northern Israel, as Ahijah predicts.  But does he trust in the LORD?  No.  He fears that allowing the Israelites to go to Jerusalem for the festivals—in obedience to God’s command—will warm their hearts towards the king of Judah and lead them to overthrow Jeroboam.  So he sets up alternative sanctuaries with golden calves and non-Levitical priests.  Jeroboam sins and causes Israel to sin through his fear, which reflected a lack of faith.

Yet, he’s not totally without faith, for when his son is sick, he consults Ahijah, the prophet who predicted he’d be king.  He must believe that Ahijah has some prophetic authority, for he sends his wife to him in a dire situation.  But why’s he trust God here, but not when he made the golden calves–in violation of God’s command.  It doesn’t make much sense!  But his story sheds light (for me at least) on what James 1:7 says: a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

I also think of Abijam, the son of Rehoboam, king of Judah.  In II Chronicles 13, he is called “Abijah”—”my father [is] Jah”—and he expresses faith in the God of Israel during a battle with Northern Israel.  And God helps Judah against her enemy.  In I Kings 15, however, he is called “Abijam”—”my father [is] the sea.”  The sea represented chaos and anti-creation.  Yam was a Canaanite and Phoenician god, whom El used to whip Baal into line and who then ruled as a tyrant, until Baal defeated him and restored order.  Why did Abijam adopt the name of Yam—or is the Deuteronomist saying that his disobedience of God resulted in disorder and chaos for his nation, calling him “Abijam” to reflect that thesis?  Some say that “Abijam” is simply a misspelling, based in part on the fact that it doesn’t appear in the Septuagint.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I still like discussing it because it’s relevant to my larger discussion on faith and the unpredictable turmoil of life.

I’ll stop here.

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