I’m lagging in the posting. I did write the journal entries for class, but haven’t gotten around to posting them here for feedback. I’ve simply posted all of the entries for the past three weeks into one entry on the blog. Enjoy.
Entry 2: 100% read
When Moses had set out to conquer Canaan, he sent spies. All of the spies, except two, Caleb and Joshua, were afraid of the surrounding nations. The spies did not trust God to protect them against the other occupants in the land. After Moses death, God places Joshua in charge. It is under Joshua that Canaan is conquered. God reminds Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1: 6, 7, 9 NRSV) and to also honor humanity’s agreement to the covenant.
One of the cities to be taken was Jericho. Rahab, a prostitute, shows kindness to the spies Joshua sent to inspect Jericho. The hospitality code was an extremely important code of conduct during their time. Rahab asks for protection, a mutuality of kindness, when the Israelites attack Jericho. She is granted this protection.
As the Israelites prepare to invade Jericho, they cross the Jordan. God cuts off the waters of the Arabah Sea, reminiscent of the Red Sea waters being lifted up when the Israelites exited Egypt. Our God is consistently faithful to take people from bondage and into freedom. He uses miracles and memories to remind us of his steadfast love and protection.
Sadly, we consistently rebel against God. We trust that our way and other gods will serve us better. “Therefore the Israelites are unable to stand before their enemies; they turn their backs to their enemies, because they have become a thing devoted for destruction themselves. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12 NRSV). It is difficult to think of our God as one who will destroy his people for a lack of faithfulness. Christians might find this especially hard because we have been forever pardoned for our sin through Christ. However, we, myself included, must remember that our God wants uninterrupted fellowship with us. Much like a marriage covenant, if we breach that contract with adultery, God will leave us. The covenant is not a license to sin and we must maintain our portion of our agreement.
“…I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you. For your part, do not make a covenant with the inhabitants of this land; tear down their altars. But you have not obeyed my command. See what you have done!’” (Judges 2:1-2 NRSV) God reminds us that when we don’t honor the covenant, there will be consequences. Our God is holy and we must reverently worship him as such.
During the time of Judges, the Israelites consistently pursued evil. However, in God’s faithfulness, he delivered them from oppressors. God also honored people in society that the culture rejected. Deborah was a female judge. Together with Barak, they win the battle against Sisera. Prior to the battle, Deborah tells Barak to go and fight. He tells her he can’t do it without her. She tells him that if he does this, that the honor will go to her, a woman, rather than him. This is an interesting point considering how women are frequently viewed in the church today. When we look at Scripture, we can see that God places women in authority and grants them honor even when patriarchal societies would deny women respect.
Patriarchal societies can even go so far as to degrade women and abuse them. In Judges 20, a concubine is raped. Men came to have sex with the angel who visited the man and his concubine. Wanting to honor the hospitality code so the men wouldn’t have sex with the angel, the man gave his concubine to be raped. She winds up dead and her body is cut up and sent to the twelve tribes to remind them that sexual immorality is a sin. It is a reminder to the tribes that they have adopted the practices of the surrounding nations; practices they were told explicitly not to adopt by God. However, I struggle with this passage. The man did not admit his wrongdoing. Why is the hospitality code a higher standard of proper behavior than a denial of rape and protection of women? Through this heinous act, Israel unites itself briefly. Does the wickedness of others justify our response? Does an evil act justify the end result? Why does God permit such things? I’m still baffled.
“‘…Far be it from me; for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt’” (1Sam. 2:30 NRSV). Eli’s sons, heirs to priesthood, did not accept their responsibilities with reverence. They treated God’s holiness casually. God says that he will not regard those who hate him with favor. What do we make of those who are wicked and do well today? Will we only look to earthly measures? Sometimes it is difficult to remember the covenant and eternal rewards of devotion to God when we see wickedness prosper in this tangible, physical life.
“Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him” (1Sam. 3:7 NRSV). Samuel was called in by God in preceding verses. Can we be called by God before we know him? What does this mean for goodness and wickedness? Also, Eli failed to restrain the sins of his sons. Are we responsible for other people’s wickedness, especially our family’s? Why?
Samuel, however, was a righteous man. He was a prophet used by God. Saul was anointed by Samuel. Initially, Saul pursued God, but he started to seek evil. Under Saul, the people started to break the covenant. God tells us “If you will fear the LORD and serve him and heed his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well; but if you will not heed the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king” (1Sam. 12:14-15 NRSV). We will be punished for disobedience to the covenant. As a Christian, living under a new covenant, are we still punished? It isn’t a license to sin. How are we to pursue righteousness under this new covenant then?
David was a man who, despite his sin, was considered a righteous man. What characterizes a righteous man? There are aspects of David’s life that left me curious? In 1Samuel 18:1, we learn that David was one in Spirit with Jonathan, Saul’s son. What does it mean to be one in Spirit? How would it have been understood in that culture compared to today? When David learns that Saul wants to kill him, Jonathan sends David away. Before they part, they kissed each other and wept. How are we to read this text as it would have been for the audience then? David was married to women, Jonathan’s sister being one of them. We don’t see text saying David was married or anything with Jonathan. It was an intimate friendship. What does that mean through our cultural lens today?
Often in our cultural lens, especially the church, we are told that women are to have men be the spiritual leader of the home. Abigail was called a beautiful and intelligent woman. However, Abigail did not inform her husband Nabal about her plans to meet with David and convince him not to harm them. Would she have been rebuked by our churches today?
Churches have taught that calling on spirits of the dead is part of pagan worship and we are told not to perform such acts. However in 1Samuel 28:15, Samuel appears to Saul. Since it was Saul who called on the dead, would this have been an evil act? Is it important to note who is performing the act? Is an evil deed dependent on the character of the one doing it?
David, as mentioned previously, was a righteous man. One of his most grievous offenses was the adulterous act with Bathsheeba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. God tells David that because of this, the sword will never depart from his house. Is this why Christians endure persecution to this day?
David’s house most certainly endured the sword. His sons Absalom and Amnon were at odds for Amnon raping Tamar. Amnon loved Tamar, but after he raped her, he hated her. Why do we despise someone when it was our sin that wrecked the relationship? When David found out about Amnon’s death, he mourned for him. While it would be nice to assume David mourned over Tamar’s rape, the text does not say this. How are we to reconcile this? David was also told to stop mourning for Absalom, who killed Amnon to avenge his sister’s rape. He was told that if he did not stop mourning than his loyalty to the Israelite people would be questioned. Will we be called to loyalty to God and his people above our friends and family that pursue foolishness? When we are, how do we come to peace with such a call?
How do we compare people’s righteousness? OT violence is often justified by comparing it with the surrounding nations. Ahaz was a king that did evil, even sacrificing his son to Molech. Is it presumptuous to assume we are not as bad? Growing up in a relative truth society, it is hard to think we are humble and good when we say we need to stop idolatry and heinous acts. Yes, we need to stop murder. However, am I anymore justified in self-defense than a terrorist? Do they not think they are acting for their god? Our society today teaches that each person can have their own god. Are we to sit idly and accept this, even if it means their god requires things like child sacrifice?
If we practice these acts, can we provoke God enough to be cast from him? God destroyed Samaria through the Assyrian invasion and exiled his people. What do we make of that? God gives chances for repentance. Kings Hezekiah and Josiah did not do evil in God’s eyes as their predecessors had and the land experienced peace. Yet, Josiah’s successors Johoiachim and Johoiachin started to pursue evil and led their people to do the same. In 587BC, Jerusalem fell. The Southern Kingdom experienced the Babylonian exile. Where is the threshold of evil? At what point is God provoked enough to send people away from him? The anger of God is difficult to comprehend. In true justice, he can’t overlook sin. If he does, we will not adhere to the covenant. Thankfully, even in our sin God is merciful. He brought the Israelites out of exile. Today, he delivers us continuously from temptations that ensnare.
Entry 3: 100% read
God in his great mercy brought the people back to the Promised Land. Zerubbabel leads the people back to rebuild the Temple. Although rebuilt, it was not the same grandeur as Solomon’s. Solomon’s choices caused the kingdom to be divided. God gave the instructions for how the Tabernacle should look. The scope of its beauty was quite expensive for that day. Why would God instruct a dwelling place to be built that would force the tribes to become divided?
Zerubbabel builds another Temple but the people who remembered Solomon’s temple were saddened. “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy” (Ezra 3: 12 NRSV). Why was their sadness over the aesthetics of the building? Does God not deserve a building of beauty? Is this simply a human desire? God leads us regardless of the building we meet him in.
After Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple, Ezra and Nehemiah lead other expeditions that result in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. They observed the Festival of booths, Passover, and the other Festivals as commanded by God. Why do we not observe these today? Are we forsaking parts of the covenant by not observing these festivals? God always upholds his portion of the covenant. “Now therefore, our God- the great and mighty and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love…you have been just in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly” (Neh. 9:32-33 NRSV).
When we act wickedly, God will punish us. He cannot neglect sin. Punishment is not to be thought of like dictator and subject. It is more palatable to westernized sensitivities to think of God’s punishment like that of a parent gently correcting a child. Nehemiah witnesses the merchants selling on the Sabbath day. He warned them about these practices and said, “…If you do so again, I will lay hands on you” (Neh. 13:21 NRSV). Is abuse sanctioned by God here? Nehemiah asks God to look on him with favor in this regard. It is most likely a misinterpretation of the text to read abuse here.
In Neh. 13:25 though, Nehemiah says, “And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God…” (NRSV) Why was Nehemiah not punished for abusing these individuals, regardless of their sin? Western ideals can’t grasp this as being remotely permissible. Viewing these texts through a modern lens, there also arises the problem with a denouncing of inter-racial marriage.
During those days, when the Israelites married non-Jews, they started to take their spouses gods as their own. Ahab married Jezebel and wound up worshipping her god, Baal. The foreign women caused the Israelite men to sin against God. God highlights the problem of idolatry and Israel’s adultery by calling Hosea to be a prophet.
Hosea, as a vassal to God, was commanded to marry Gomer, a prostitute. The imagery of their marriage was used as a tool to highlight Israel’s affairs with other gods. Hosea keeps chasing Gomer. They love each other, but she has children with other men and keeps engaging in adulterous relationships, despite how dearly loved she is. “In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there, Israel is defiled” (Hosea 6:10 NRSV). Israel defiled herself like Gomer defiled herself. They engaged in extramarital relations.
God is gracious regardless. He desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6 NRSV). Even though Israel kept sacrificing to Baal and walking away from God, God healed Israel. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them” (Hos. 11:4 NRSV). God will discipline us for our sins, but he is quick to be compassionate. He is intimate with his creation, even when his creation forgets who the Creator is.
God adheres to covenant loyalty. As God promised to give land and multiply the house of Abraham and his heirs, God remembers his covenant in Amos 9:8 “The eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth-except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob” (NRSV). God is faithful to maintain his portion of the covenant, even going so far as to plant the house of David and never pluck them from the land he has given them again as is told in Amos 9:15 (NRSV). Our God reigns forever and ever. While we sin and experience discipline for that sin, God will draw us to himself and be gracious. We do not endure the wrath our sins deserve because our God is a God of chesed love.
Entry 4: 100% Read
Those who seek the Lord are wise to do so. What is wisdom though? Is there variance in true wisdom? What some consider folly would God consider wise? God uses the wise to confound the foolish. God’s ways are not our ways. As such, can what appears to be foolish actually be wise? How will we discern the difference?
Job was a righteous man before God. However, he becomes tested. Satan asks God to test the authenticity of Job’s faith. ‘“But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face’” (Job 1:11 NRSV). Why does God permit Satan to do such things? Is this permission a characteristic of a truly good God? If God is good, and are consistently reminded that he is, why would he allow such afflictions from Satan? Does our faith need such testing in order to be proved? Why does faith need to be proved? Are we not saved by trust, not works? Is the testing of trust necessary for admittance to heaven? Is that coercion then or free will?
Have we ever been wrongly comforted by a friend as Job was? I know I have. Sadly, the church has offended believers too. Too often, church can be like Bildad saying, ‘“See, God will not reject a blameless person, nor take the hand of evildoers’” (Job 8:20 NRSV). Church, and consequently friends in the church, at times even myself, will counsel people. They state that if an individual was actively pursuing God, that calamity would not strike. At times it can feel that way. Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer through? Can a person, like a Pharisee, be truly wicked and seemingly prosper? I know it to be false, but if we increased our faith, would our sufferings lessen? Bildad seems to be stating that here. Where is that evidence in life when it feels like the righteous prosper? Although, how do we know a truly devoted person from a façade? Is it only through God’s testing that we are proven? Again, how is that free will in love?
The Psalms are beautiful compositions that wrestle with these very questions. That is why it is my favorite book in the Bible. Also, I love writing and poetry so I am instantly drawn to the book. Although the Psalms authors question God and wrestle with the struggles of life, God is always held reverently, as he should be. His power and might is acknowledged. After all, God is the one who created the heavens and the earth. “The heavens are telling the glory of God’ and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19: 1 NRSV). It is good to recognize God as the creator and abide in his covenant. “…Happy are all who take refuge in him” (Ps. 2:11 NRSV). He is the God of our salvation and he will come to our aid. While we can question that, we must acknowledge that God is Lord and he upholds covenantal loyalty.
When humanity commits to the covenant as well, wisdom is gained. The book of Proverbs contains short teachings that instruct the reader how to gain wisdom for application in this life. “For learning wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity;” (Prov. 1:2 NRSV). Sometimes, the wisdom doesn’t make sense. Since God is higher than us, his inspiration can be confusing. “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked” (Prov. 10: 3). At times during this life, it feels like the righteous do go hungry and the wicked prosper. Perhaps these verses speak of eternity’s hope when God will reign and his kingdom will appear on earth as it is in heaven.
“Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?” (Ecc. 3:21 NRSV). Humanity’s fate is the same as the animals. We all will die. The great equalizer is death. What is hope then? Can animals place trust in God and gain entrance to heaven? This verse from Ecclesiastes says we don’t know. What is hope then? Is the pursuit of this knowledge as the author of Ecclesiastes asserts? Why do we try to search the Scriptures for truth and right living then? It is good and prudent, but can it also be meaningless as the Ecclesiastes author drones on about?
The imagery in Song of Solomon found in chapter 4 is cultural. If my husband told me my breasts were like twin gazelles, I would be confused. Deer pranced and were light-footed. They searched for water in the desert and leaped to find sustenance. Since we don’t have that imagery used in our writing today, we don’t understand the literary uses to draw a reader closer to God. It is a book about sex, used to teach Israel about marital fidelity so they would stop pursuing sexual idols like their neighbors and return to God. Our current culture is also highly sexualized, albeit in different manners, and the temptations for sex outside of God’s mandates have often led people to abandon God. Song of Solomon is a relevant text to show people that God’s mandates do a society well to obey. The text is intense and highlights the abundance available in God alone.
Daniel is apocalyptic literature. Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon. He appointed Daniel to his court for the ability to interpret dreams. Daniel asks that he does not have the diet of the royals. Even while just eating vegetables, he becomes stronger than the others in the court. Would it be testing God today if we refrained from eating cultural grub in order to show God as supreme? How would a diet change today speak to God’s glory? Can it? Has our obsession with dieting simply turned into idolatry and we wouldn’t have the same outcome as Daniel?
Daniel’s three friends refuse to bow down to the statues Nebuchadnezzar had set up. They had to face the fiery furnace as a result. Thankfully, they were not burned up, but their executioners were. Is this miracle possible today? Do we not have enough faith and that is why we haven’t seen something occur on that grandeur? What statues have I bowed down to because I am a people pleaser? God sent Nebuchadnezzar out to be like an animal so he would learn that God is the Lord of lords. How does God send us out from his presence today so that we might remember he is King? Is it possible for the Christian existing in the post-cross world? Are only non-Christians ever sent to learn such lessons?
The formatting of 1 Maccabees is unlike other texts in the Protestant cannon. All of Scripture is inspired. However, while God’s law is mentioned, he himself isn’t talked about often. There is history of Jerusalem being besieged and Judas’ fight to prevent desecration of Judah. “You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people” (1Maccabees 2:67 NRSV). Other canon does not seem to permit avenging death. The motive seems off. Understanding all Scripture is inspired and from God, what sense are we to make of books that are held in lesser esteem? Why include them? These texts seemed misaligned with the representation of God’s character in other texts. There was much discussion about Gentile kings in authority and the battles that ensued. It was a dark and bloody period in history. God seemed largely silent in the text. There is some discussion with God, but decisions seemed to be made of their own accord. Is this why there isn’t much information about the Intertestamental period other than fighting? What does this say about God’s involvement during that period of history? Is he ever more silent in some eras than others? Also, did God command then avenging? I don’t see evidence for it. If he did, what would that say about God and humanity as vassals for retribution?