Monday, May 04, 2009

For Monday May 4: 1 Sam 6-8, Acts 15:36-16:15

1 Samuel 6-8

The offering of gold (tumors and rats in the NKJV) has usually been understood as an indication that bubonic plague swept through the Philistine cities with the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant, and I find that explanation unobjectionable. However, an article in a recent Biblical Archaeology Review argued that the "tumors" were in fact phalluses, and they were to represent a plague of impotence among Philistine men. I can't find the article right now, so I don;t recall how they explained the rats. I didn't find the argument compelling, but I thought some might find it interesting at least.

The naming of Ebenezer is curious, because the city had already been mentioned (4:1), but at that point the Israelites lost the Ark. The contrast, I think (borrowing from Rick Phillips's sermon on the passage) is the lack of faith displayed in ch 4 (where the people want to use the Ark magically) and the acting on faith of ch 7. Thus the real connection between Ebenezer and God's deliverance is the acting on faith.

The text seems to assume an ambiguous stance regarding the beginning of the monarchy, hence critical scholars argue for a combination of different sources. Instead, we ought to understand that the people's demand once again reveals a lack of faith. God's giving them a king is not his caving in to their demands, but rather using the situation as the occasion to institute the monarchy, which he had always intended to institute (see Gen 49:10, Num 24:17, and Deut 17:14-20). We'll go into more detail about the significance of that in the succeeding chapters.

Acts 15:36-16:15

This is the beginning of Paul's second missionary journey, starting off with the division between Paul and Barnabas over Mark. It is not an auspicious beginning, yet God replaces Mark with Timothy for Paul, and calls them to go into Asia. We will see the results in following readings. It also indicates to us that it is not always possible for two particular Christians to work together. In such cases it is better for them to work separately (see also the note in the NKJV Study Bible where the annotator also observes that Luke does not assign blame in the situation.

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