Saturday, May 30, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: The Scarecrow

I've been reading Michael Connelly since I first read The Black Echo (Connelly's first novel) several years ago. His main character has been the homicide detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch (the choice of name is deliberate: see selections of Bosch's paintings online). Bosch is not in this work. Rather, the main character is Jack McEvoy, a reporter for the LA Times, who, about the time he gets laid off (budget cuts) as a reporter, stumbles into a serial murder case. McEvoy has figured in a couple of earlier Connelly novels.

The story is compelling and fast-paced, well up to Connelly's highest standards. Also along for the ride this time is FBI agent Rachel Walling, who has appeared in a number of previous Connelly novels. 

I won't tell you any more about the plot, since it is relatively standard for serial killer murder mysteries. If you like serial killer stories, you'll enjoy this one. If you don't, read it for Connelly's killer prose.

There are two primary subtexts to the story as well. The first is the demise of the newspaper largely due to the Internet, which is clearly close to Connelly's heart, having previously been a crime reporter. The other is the dangerously intrusive nature of the Internet and related technology. I remember when the Sandra Bullock movie The Net came out, techies were pooh-poohing it, saying that the things depicted couldn't be done. I'm not so sure that's the case anymore, and there's a cautionary tale here for those who would carelessly spread their lives on the net for all to see.

Uncle Ben's Book Blog:The Temple and the Church's Mission

I've also started reading G. K. Beale's The Temple and the Church's Mission for a book discussion group meeting at Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC on Thursdays this summer. We will be covering about two chapters per week, so we'll be done by the middle of July.

First Impression: A useful book, but perhaps given to over-interpretation with regard to the significance of various items related to the Old Testament Tabernacle-Temple material.

Related Books: Patrick Fairbairn, Typology. Having read this will give some historical context.
On the Types and Symbols of the Vessels of the Tabernacle and in Solomon's Temple, 1864. Downloaded from Google Books.
Frederick Whitfield, The Tabernacle Priesthood and Offerings of Israel, 1875. Also downloaded from Google Books.

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: The Peculiar Life of Sundays

I just began this book yesterday. The April Atlantic had a synopsis of it, and I found it in the Greenville County Library. After two introductory chapters; the first a sort of thematic reflection, the second on Sunday in antiquity, it surveys the history of Sunday in England and the USA over the last three centuries or so. It does this by looking at how Sundays were practiced (or not) in the lives of observant Christians, such as Samuel Johnson and William Law; non-observant Christians, such as John Ruskin and Oliver Goldsmith; and lapsed Christians, such as Henry David Thoreau and Robert Lowell. 

I've read the first chapter, from which I got two useful bibliographical references. The first is Alexis McCrossen, Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday, Cornell U. Press, 2000. The second is Craig Harline, Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl, Doubleday, 2007.

I've obviously not yet read far enough to know what the difference is between non-observant and lapsed Christians.

Uncle Ben's Book Blog

Okay. Nobody reads this blog anyway, so this is mostly for my own entertainment, and for self-reminders concerning what I've read. Plus, the two-three people per year who happen by this site might get some help on their reading.

I'm simply going to report on what I'm reading. Some of the posts will be similar to reviews I post on Amazon (under the name otrabbi). But other will simply report on things I find interesting or useful.

Monday, May 25, 2009

2 Samuel 9-13; Luke 7:36-8:25

2 Samuel 9-13

Chapters 9-10 contain the last good news of the reign of David. Ch 9 gives us the affecting story of David's reception of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan. David essentially adopts him on the basis of the promises made to Jonathan. It is a beautiful picture of God's adopting us, and feeding us at his table because of Christ. We are as worthless to God as Mephibosheth was to David, yet he has welcomed us into his family. Nick Willborn has a wonderful sermon on this passage, but it does not appear to be available at sermonaudio. If anyone knows where it might be found, let me know.

Ch 10 chronicles David's defeat of the Ammonites, who had called in the assistance of the Syrians. David's victory essentially established Israelites control over the entire area described as the land of promise in Numbers 34. This control extended through the reign of Solomon, when the division of the kingdom brought it to an end. The only time when that great an extent of Israelite control was established was under Jeroboam II (2 Kgs 14).

Chapters 11-13 mark the beginning of the decline of David's rule. First, of course, there is the double crime of the adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Most evangelicals seem to read the passage as if the adultery with Bathsheba were the more heinous sin, but the text itself seems to place the emphasis on the murder of Uriah. The adultery with Bathsheba is concluded in five verses, while the murder of Uriah occupies twenty-two. Further, why was Bathsheba out bathing where she could be seen? My own view is that Bathsheba is not guiltless in the affair. She was already a part of David's court contingent (note her connections in vs 3). Here husband Uriah was one of the thirty (2 Sam 23:39) as was her father Eliam (2 Sam 23:34). Knowing that David was in residence, she may have seen an opportunity to advance her own status, though she doubtless did not foresee her husband's death. The fault certainly lies with David.

Chapter 12 is the well-known confrontation between Nathan and David, that finally brought David to repentance. Nonetheless, the child of the adultery died, and David's house is thrown into turmoil as the direct judgment of God on David. This decent into chaos began with Amnon's rape of Tamar and Absalom's murder of Amnon. What is particularly noteworthy in the whole episode is David's passivity, and his inability to bring himself to punish his guilty sons. This inability simply added to the chaos.

Luke 7:36-8:25

In this material, Jesus emphasizes his ability to forgive sins, and begins his parabolic teaching. We have moved into the period of increasing opposition to Jesus, and only his devoted followers are given to understand the meaning of his teaching. The rest are left to ponder the master's rebukes. The closing episode of Jesus calming the storm shows his deity to the disciples. As he has asserted his deity in possessing the power over the spiritual realm (the forgiveness of sins), so he asserts his deity in possessing the power over the realm of nature.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

2 Samuel 1-8; Luke 6:20-7:35

My apologies to the zero people who have stopped by the last couple of days to keep up with their Bible reading, but I have been busy with all the events involved with graduation time at the seminary. No w I can get back to the more ordinary business of life.

2 Sam 1-8

Shifting back to the Samuel-Kings version of the history of Israel, we come to that period of transition from the reign of Saul to the reign of David. Such a transition is not easy even at the best of times, and these were not the best of times in Israel's history. The book of 2 Samuel begins with David's lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. Some might wonder about the appropriateness of David's lament, given that Saul was an ungodly, wicked man, who had hunted David mercilessly and opposed him in any way he could. But remember. Saul was the duly anointed king of Israel, he had led Israel in war against her enemies, and he died in the midst of the prosecution of that war. David's lament recognizes the loss to Israel of Saul's good labor. It may well be a lesson for us in times of political turmoil, that it is right and proper to mourn those who have served us as leaders when they fall, even though it might well be the case that they have been ultimately unsuccessful, and should have served us better than they did.

Chapter 2-5 trace the history of the short civil war between the forces of Saul and those of David. It tells of the perfidy of Joab in the assassination of Abner (for which Joab will pay after the death of David). The section then concludes in chapter 5 with the account of David's acclamation as king over all Israel, cemented in a sense by his victory over the Philistines recorded at the end of the chapter.

Chapters 6-8 record the establishment of David's political and religious capital at Jerusalem, the making of the Davidic covenant, and David's succeeding victories. Chapter 6 and 7 are among the most important theologically in the entire Old Testament. The political acumen of David shown in ch 6 is often overlooked, or not taken with sufficient seriousness. In choosing Jerusalem for his political capital, David made a smart choice. Jerusalem was located on the border between Benjamin (the tribe of Saul) and Judah (the tribe of David). With its selection David was announcing that he was not going to play favorites, either for his supporters or against the house of Saul. In taking the city from the Jebusites, David proved his military prowess. In making it both his political and religious capital, David indicated something about what was to be the entire tenor of his reign. The following victories recounted in ch 8 simply serve to emphasize the rightness of David as the king of Israel. He is getting the job done.

As to the Davidic covenant, it casts its shadow not only over the remainder of Old Testament history, but over the New Testament as well. The Messiah is designated a descendant of David. As we get further into the Old Testament, I will draw the reader's attention to places where this covenant continues to show its influence.

Luke 6:20-7:35

The first part of this material constitutes the "Sermon on the Plain," as compared to Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount." Are they different account of the same event? It is certainly possible, and many commentators take that position. On the other hand, Jesus preached and taught for over three years. It is clearly the case from the gospel accounts that he revisited key themes and teachings on more than one occasion, so it possible that this is a different even than the Sermon on the Mount. Again, commentators differ. Some may object, however, noting that the two "sermons" differ. That being the case, how can they be accounts of the same event? We have to recognize that the gospel writers, while accurately recording what Jesus said, did not record everything he said. So each account of Jesus' teaching is an accurate, true, and faithful excerpt of the statement Jesus made on that occasion. That being the case, the differences between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain may simply represent differing excerpts from what Jesus said on the one occasion.

A second key thing to note here is that Jesus is setting himself above the Old Testament prophets. In his working of miracles, he is like Elijah and Elisha, but he is greater than they. In his teaching, he is like than the writing prophets, but again, he is greater than they. The writing prophets frequently said, "Thus says the Lord." Jesus said, "Thus, I say" (see, for example, 6:27, 46). 

Third, Jesus again appears in the guise of Elijah and Elisha in 7:1-17. First, he healed the servant of a foreign military leader (similar to the healing of Naaman). Then he raised the widow's son to life (reflecting events from the lives of both Elijah and Elisha). Note also how the people responded (7:16 ): "A great prophet had risen among us!" Third, by drawing the attention of the crowds to John the Baptist, he deliberately contrasts his ministry with that of John, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Jesus is the successor and the greater one to come. Yet the people don;t like the tune the piper plays (7:31-35). We need to be careful that we respond to the song the Scriptures play, and not go seeking tunes for itching ears.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

1 Chronicles 9-10; Luke 6:1-19

1 Chronicles 9-10

Chapter 9 lists genealogies of those who settled in Judah after the exile. Note that it includes descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh (vs 3), which were part of the Northern Kingdom before the exile. Some thus remained through the exile, perhaps having moved down to Judah after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. The bulk of the material has to do with the descendants of the Levites who would thus be serving in the second temple. This connection between the Levites (and the continuity of their service after the exile) is important for the author of Chronicles, as it ties in to his emphasis on the temple and its service in the period of the Israelite monarchy. 

Chapter 10 gives a brief account of the death of Saul and his sons. Thus, the first king of Israel came to bad end, and his line did not continue as kings. It was an abortive rule, and set the stage for the rise of David and his line.

Luke 6:1-19

It should be of interest to most evangelicals, though it seems not to be, that much of Jesus' teaching dealt with, or was provoked by, issues regarding the Sabbath. It is clear in the contest between Jesus and his opponents that the issue was not that the Sabbath was to be observed, but how the Sabbath was to be observed. Some, of course, will respond that Jesus is dealing with Jews, and thus is merely addressing Jewish concerns. However, Jesus doesn't deal with ceremonial regulations or, for that matter, much of the judicial legislation. This would seem then to indicate that the Sabbath was to continue to be observed even after the temple and its accompanying regulations came to an end.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

1 Chronicles 7-8; Luke 5:17-39

1 Chronicles 7-8

Chapter 7 completes the genealogical information on the tribes that settled Palestine proper. Among other things it shows that Naphtali almost disappeared. Chapter 8 repeats some of the Benjaminite genealogy, focusing on the line of Saul. This chapter also begins the brief account that Chronicles gives of the reign of Saul. Though the author obviously considered this material essential, he is much more concerned with David, the first king of the Davidic messianic dynasty.

Luke 5:17-39

The healing of the leper that immediately precedes this section links with the ministry of Elisha and the healing of Naaman (2 Kgs 5). This section itself shows that Jesus is greater than the greatest prophets. He heals a paralytic, he calls his own disciples, and he shows himself the successor to, and preeminent over, John the Baptist.

Monday, May 18, 2009

1 Chronicles 6; Luke 4:40-5:16

1 Chronicles 6

This is the longest of the genealogical chapters, probably due to the fact that it deals with the Levitical line, which is a major topic of consideration in the Books of Chronicles. The Books of Chronicles focus on two things: the Davidic kingdom and the Solomonic temple. Since it is the Aaronic line (a subset of Levi) that has charge of temple worship, the author is careful to give Levi a prominent place in the book. It is also clear that the Levites were settled among the tribes of Israel, and their responsibility, though not mentioned here, was to teach the Israelites the Law of God.

Luke 4:40-5:16

It is clear from the gospel accounts that Jesus spent some time teaching and healing before settling on those whom he would call as his special disciples. Thus it is probably the case that they had been following him for some time. So Jesus was not new to Peter nor Peter new to Jesus when this event occurred. Nonetheless, the magnitude of the miracle produced a holy awe in Peter, and an awareness of his sinfulness, much like Isaiah's temple vision (Is 6). The absence of this sense of holy awe when dealing with God is one of the real troubles afflicting the American church today.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

1 Chronicles 1-5; Luke 4:1-39

1 Chronicles 1-5

Considered by some to be the most boring part of the Bible, the genealogies of 1 Chronicles set the context for the history of Israel. In a certain sense, 1 Chron 1-9 parallels Genesis-1 Sam 8 in a tightly condensed fashion, accomplished through the use of genealogies. Chapter 1 covers the primeval history down through the end of the patriarchal period, including the "off" lines of Ishmael and Esau. Chapter 2 gives the descendants of Judah, including the line of David. Chapter 3 continues the line of David down to the postexilic era. Chapters 4-5 summarize the descendants of Judah, Simeon, Reuben, Gad, and one-half of Manasseh. They are probably given in this order because Judah was the tribe from which the kings would come, the territory of Simeon fell within the bounds of the territory of Judah (see Joshua 15 and 19), and the other three tribes were the tribes that settled east of the Jordan.

All of these long-forgotten names tells us that God does not forget his own (2 Tim 2:19), and that he was faithful to fulfill his promises to the patriarchs.

Luke 4:1-39

The order of the temptations in Luke is different from that in Matthew. The latter seems to be the order of occurrence (notice the use of the conjunctions in Matthew), and brings the focus to the issue of Christ's kingship, an important consideration in Matthew. Luke's order brings the focus to the prophetic test of obedience, again in character with the themes of the book.

Luke's account of Jesus' ministry then begins with him in the synagogue, reading from the book of the prophets, showing himself to be the fulfillment, and drawing a pointed parallel between himself and Elijah and Elisha. The account then speaks of Jesus casting out demons and healing the sick, emphasizing by means of these miracles his prophetic authority.

Friday, May 15, 2009

1 Samuel 29-31; Luke 3:7-38

1 Samuel 29-31

There are a number of things to note about this section. First, the reign of Saul begins and ends with the men of Jabesh-Gilead (compare ch 11 with 31:11-13). Second, while Saul and the men of Israel are being slaughtered by the Philistines, David and those with him enjoy remarkable success over their enemies, and they are providentially prevented from having to go into battle against their fellow Israelites. Third, David uses the spoils of war to cement relations with those Israelites he had been serving, even while being persecuted by Saul (see 30:26-31). Thus the stage is set for the beginning of Saul's reign.

Luke 3:7-38

This section summarizes the ministry of John the Baptist, which is preparatory to the ministry of Christ, and ends with Jesus' baptism. The temptation of Jesus follows his baptism (as in Matthew and Mark), but Luke puts off that by inserting at this point the genealogy of Jesus back through David to Adam. This genealogy differs from that of Matthew in two respects. First, Matthew's genealogy goes back only to Abraham, while Luke's goes all the way back to Adam. Second, they are obviously different genealogies, in that several of the names differ. These differences have been accounted for in a number of ways, but the most plausible explanation is that Matthew traces the legal genealogy through Joseph (see how Matt 1:16 is worded), while Luke traces the physical descent through Mary. This also explains in part the fact that Luke traces it back all the way Adam, demonstrating that through Mary, Jesus is the promised seed of woman.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

1 Samuel 26-28; Luke 2:36-3:6

1 Samuel 26-28

This is the second opportunity David has to take the life of Saul. Once again, Saul responds with the words of repentance and acknowledgement of sin (see vs 21). But David clearly does not believe him. It is the case likewise with many of us. We know people who are frequently professing repentance, but there is never any change of life to accord with it. That seems to be David's analysis of Saul's statement, because immediately afterwards, based on the sense that he will die at the hand of Saul, he moves to among the Philistines. He still does not attack Israel, but misleads Achish into thinking he has.

The continuing decompensation (look it up--it essentially means that he was falling apart) of Saul has begun the slide down the steep slope. There is no stopping Saul from unraveling at this point. He demands a word from God that is not forthcoming. You readers take note. If you persist in rebellion against God, or more simply in disobedience to his commands, do not expect that God will answer your prayers. He shuts his ear to the wicked. This is another indication that Saul's repentance is only skin deep. That, plus the fact that Saul was ready, out of his own desperation, to undo a righteous law that he himself had imposed (see 28:3).

As for the appearance of Samuel, I do think it was Samuel appearing, by special dispensation of God, in order to pronounce judgment on Saul. Note how the medium is terrified. This appearance was something entirely unexpected for her, hence it was out of the ordinary, and not brought about by her machinations in the "spiritual realm."

Luke 2:36-3:6

Anna's appearance parallels that of Simeon, but she is given no specific statement, except the reporting of her own testimony to all who would listen regarding the appearance of God's anointed. Note also the comparison of Jesus with John (2:40, 52; cf. 1:80), and thus with the Old Testament prophets, especially Samuel. Luke is continuing to draw the lines of the Jesus' portrait as the fulfillment of the great prophet. This is further illustrated by the one episode we have from Jesus' boyhood, his discussion with the teachers in the temple. Here we also learn that Jesus has a clear sense of his calling and purpose. There appears to be no uncertainty on the part of Jesus about who he is or what he is about. This is in contrast with a portrait often painted by scholars, who seem to think that Jesus really didn't know much about who he was and what he was supposed to do until well on into his ministry.

The preparation for the ministry of Jesus begins with the ministry of John the Baptist. This is one of the few things that is set forth clearly in all four gospels.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

1 Samuel 24-25; Luke 2:8-35

1 Samuel 24-25

We continue the twisted tale of Saul's irrational pursuit of David. Providentially, Saul unwittingly presents himself as a fat target to David, to which temptation David responds by cutting off part of Saul's garment. Even that he immediately regrets as an unwarranted assault on the person of the Lord's anointed. In the aftermath, Saul admits that David will be king, but asks only that his own house be preserved. Saul did not live to see David fulfill that promise.

The story of the death of Nabal shows the reader another difficulty that David had to deal with: antagonism from those who were probably not supporters of Saul, but neither were they supporters of David. In those days, armies lived off the land. There were no supply lines from the rear to the front. Everything was at the front. therefore, it was necessary for armies to supply themselves where they were. David's protection of Nabal and his resources was probably not from purely unselfish motives, but Nabal's hard-hearted response was as foolish as his name. It was only the quick action of Abigail that saved, for the short term, the life of Nabal, but the integrity of David as well. It is clear in these stories that even though David and his men were hunted by Saul and the armies of Israel, they did not take out their frustration on the people of Israel. David, though not yet actual king, acts more kingly than Saul.

Luke 2:8-35

A story that almost everyone knows by heart. But have you ever stopped to consider the shepherds? These were people who were considered unclean by the Pharisees because of the requirements of their occupation. Yet to them, and to them alone, is the angelic announcement made. I still remember a sermon from more than thirty years ago in which the preacher emphasized this point, taking us on the shepherds trip from the fields into Bethlehem. They were astounded that nobody else had heard what they had heard, nor had seen what they had seen. Hence they tell everyone what they had seen and heard. Likewise, the testimony of Simeon. This old man was told that he would see the Lord's Christ before his death. But how many saw the baby Jesus without any sense of who he was, or who wondered about what was happening with that old man and the couple with the baby.

We tend to assume that everyone knows about Jesus, but they don't. That's why we are called on to bear witness to what we know, what we have seen and heard.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

1 Samuel 22-23; Luke 1:67-2:7

1 Samuel 22-23

As Saul's opposition to David continues, it also increases, to the extent described here. David fears for the lives of his family, hence he sends them to live in Moab (remember David descended from Ruth). In addition, Saul's enmity extends to anyone who has helped David or might have helped David. Even though David has done nothing against Saul, nor has he done anything worthy of Saul's enmity, yet it is there. So likewise the enmity of the world against the sons of God is always there, even though no offense may ever have been given. Note also the sorrow that David expresses, knowing that his approach to Ahimelech has occasioned the deaths of all those slain by Doeg.

In chapter 23, it is apparently fear of Saul and what he might do that occasions the men of Keilah (whom David had saved from the Philistines), and the men of Ziph (to whom David had done no harm) to seek to hand David over to Saul. It is only when the Philistines launch a new offensive against Israel that Saul is forced away from his maniacal pursuit of David. Thus faithfulness to God may engender opposition to us that is unreasonable both in its origin and in its continuation, but as David, we are to trust to the Lord for protection against those enemies. This also is a type of the opposition that Christ faced from his enemies, in that it was entirely irrational, in that the work of Christ was no threat to his enemies, unless they persisted in their sin.

Luke 1:67-2:7

The Song of Zechariah: As with the Song of Mary, this song sets out themes formerly seen in the Old Testament in the work of the prophets. Note the similarity between Luke 1:80, and 1 Sam 2:26. All of these things together point to God's doing a new work, fulfilling the promises made by the Old Testament prophets.

Monday, May 11, 2009

1 Samuel 20-21, Luke 1:46-66

1 Samuel 20-21

This material covers two matters, both related to David's estrangement from Saul. Saul recognized that David was a threat not only to him as king (having no understanding of David's respect for the Lord's anointed), but also to the continuation of his house as the ruling house in Israel. Jonathan, in his friendship with David, seems to recognize that David is indeed the one appointed by God to succeed his own father, but he has no ambition for the throne. Jonathan;s close friendship with David serves further to anger Saul because it is further confirmation that the place of his house in Israel will not last beyond his own personal reign. Saul has moved from a humble acceptance to God's causing him to be made king to having a jealous grasp upon the throne of Israel.

Having Saul's murderous threats against him confirmed, David flees to the Philistines, apparently thinking there was no place in Israel for him. However, he finds he has jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and has to play the madman to escape. One of the humorous lines in this chapter is that of Achish, who says, "Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence?" One wonders how often other leaders have had similar feelings about some of those who serve under them.

Luke 1:46-66

This section is dominated by the Song of Mary, also called the Magnificat, from the first word of the song in the Vulgate. This song is thematically tied to the Song of Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-10. In part this makes the point that God is still about the same work he was in the Old Testament, in the continuing display of his covenant faithfulness to his people. In part it certifies the son of Mary as the successor to the great prophets and kings of the Old Testament. Displaying Jesus as The Great Prophet (Deut 18:15-22) is one of the themes that runs through Luke, so it is important to recognize it early on in the book.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

1 Samuel 16-19, Luke 1:1-45

1 Samuel 17

This is a great text for preaching, and not for preaching about slaying the Goliaths in your life. Rather, the story teaches us what it means to be a man after God's own heart: to be more concerned for the honor of God and his cause than for one's own safety. I'll leave that part to your own study of the text. 

On the technical side, the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Samuel and the Septuagint have "four cubits and a span" in vs 4. I don't know really how to determine which reading to prefer, except that the DSS and LXX reading sound like an attempt to make Goliath sound more normal-sized. SO I prefer the reading of the Masoretic text.

One additional note. Once David had decided to use the weapons with which he was familiar (wise counsel even outside of wartime), the end of the context with Goliath was decided. David didn't have to fight on Goliath's terms, as everyone else in the Israelite army had assumed. The sling stone that David would have used was not a pebble, so the "death by slingshot" of Goliath is not a miracle. Rather the stone was baseball-sized, weighed about a pound, and came out of the sling at about 120 mph. What's surprising is that the stone itself didn't take off Goliath's head.

1 Samuel 18-19

Although David won the day against Goliath, it set Saul against him, because Saul knew that the preference of the Lord had moved from himself to David. Thus these two chapters focus on Saul's attempts to remove David by indirect means. The remainder of 1 Samuel focuses not on the ongoing Israelite battle with the Philistines, but on the internal strife due to Saul's faithlessness and David's striving to be faithful in circumstances that would try the best of men. It is to David's credit (and of course the Lord's work in his life) that David succeeds in remaining faithful, and overcoming all the temptations to take out Saul.

Luke 1:1-45

We have hit the first of the "we" sections in Acts, so it is an appropriate time to take a break from Acts to go through Luke. Mark began his gospel with the ministry of John the Baptist. Matthew began his with the announcement of the birth of Jesus. Luke begins his with the angelic announcements to Zechariah and to Mary. Angelic announcements to previously barren women are found a number of times in the Old Testament, so these announcements fit that pattern, except that for Elizabeth, the announcement is not made to her, but to Zechariah. In addition, Mary is a virgin, not a barren woman. So the gospel begins by, in a manner turning the Old Testament on its head.

Friday, May 08, 2009

1 Samuel 15-16; Acts 18

1 Samuel 15-16

This is perhaps the most tragic story in the story of the young kingdom. Saul, who earlier was not ready to put himself forward has now become the interpreter of the word of God, and the decider of right and wrong. Note that he attempts first to claim that he has been obedient (15:20), and then places the blame upon the people (15:21, 24). Thus he intends to have Samuel compare the situation to what was recounted in the preceding chapter, where the army, be hungry because of Saul's foolish vow, began to slaughter the sheep and eat them with the blood still in them (14:32). Saul was then forced to come in and correct the people's behavior. However, the text tells us (15:9) that Saul had the lead in the action of sparing Agag, and the people went along.

Therefore God repented of making Saul king (15:11, 35). But in Samuel's rebuke of Saul, he says, "the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man that he should repent (15:29)." Many translations try to hide the fact that the same verb (repent) is used in vss 11 and 35 as is used in vs 29. Clearly it is being used in a different sense in vss 11 and 35 than it is in vs 29. But the writer wants us to struggle with the fact that while the Lord's rejection of Saul seems to present a change in God's mind, it is an action that is not contrary to his character as Truth itself. Saul himself has caused the rejection.

In chapter 16, we have the account of the selection David as Saul's replacement. Here the emphasis is on David's heart (vs 7), whereas with Saul, all the emphasis had been on his appearance. Saul looked like a king. David was of kingly character and mindset. It should be noted here that "a man after God's own heart" is often taken to mean that David had a great love and affection for God. There is no doubt that he did, as the Psalms demonstrate, but that is not what the phrase means. The "heart" in the Old Testament is primarily the seat of intellect and will. Thus a man after God's own heart was a man who saw things from God's perspective, and willed himself to act accordingly. This will become clear in subsequent chapters.

Acts 18

In the wake of continued Jewish opposition to the gospel, Paul shook the dust off his cloak (vs 6) and declared his determination to focus on the Gentiles. The chapter also gives the account of Paul's return through Asia, and of the appearance of Apollos

Thursday, May 07, 2009

1 Samuel 13-14, Acts 17:16-34

1 Samuel 13-14

This is a difficult section, for a number of reasons. First, the age of Saul when he became king and the length of his reign are both missing from the Hebrew text of ch 13:1 (also missing in the Septuagint). It reads, "A son of a year (the Hebrew idiom for saying that someone is a year old) was Saul when he became king, and he was king in Israel two years." It is possible that Saul reigned for only two years, but he was certainly not a year old when he became king. The TNIV reads, "Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years." The number forty for the length of Saul's reign is found in Acts 13:21, but the age of thirty is pure guess-work. Josephus (Jewish Antiquities: 6.14.9 and 10.8.4) gives twenty years, though some manuscripts of the former passage give a total of forty. We can safely rely on the total of forty from Acts, though perhaps as a round number.

This passage also shows the difficulties that the Philistines caused for Israel, both because of their chariots and their iron-works. Chapter 14 shows the ungodliness of Saul, in his inability to wait for Samuel to make his appearance, and his folly, in regard to the vow that he made. Jonathan's violation of the oath from ignorance certainly caused the inquiry of God to be snubbed (14:37), probably not for the purpose of putting Jonathan to death, but the show make evident the foolishness of Saul;s vow.

Acts 17:16-34

This is a well-known passage: Paul debating the Greek philosophers in Athens. His message may be summarized as follows: The God who made us all (united in one blood, vs. 26) is a spirit, the creator of all things. he is also the righteous judge of all deeds, calling all to repentance, and appointing a day of judgment, to be presided over by the man appointed, whom God has raised from the dead as proof that he will judge all.

This raises two questions for us. First, do we proclaim a God who calls to repentance, who will judge, and who has raised a mediator from the dead? Second, are we deeply distressed by the idolatry surrounding us as Paul was?

Follow-up on 1 Samuel 10

For those of you reading the NRSV, you find the following paragraph between the end of 1 Sam 10 and the beginning of 1 Sam 11: Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-Gilead.

This material is found in the first scroll of Samuel found in the fourth cave at Qumran, as well as in the work of the Jewish historian Josephus "Jewish Antiquities" Book 6, Chapter 5, Section 1. It is on the basis of these two sources that the translators of the NRSV thought it necessary to add the material. While this information may be true (and I have no reason to doubt the testimony of Josephus) I think it should not be included in the Scriptures. It did not survive in the canonical form of 1 Samuel in the Hebrew text, nor does it appear in the ancient versions.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

1 Sam 11-12; Acts 16:35-17:15

1 Samuel 11-12

In ch 11, Saul proves his qualifications as king by victory in battle. Thus, as the monarchy is established in Israel, there is a four-fold series that proves the king. The first step is private anointing by a prophet. The second step is public acclamation. The third step is proof in battle. The fourth is proof in godliness. The first three steps are accomplished at the beginning of his reign, as here in chs 9-11 with Saul. The fourth is established over time. Hence, at the end of ch 11, there is the public acceptance of Saul as the first king of Israel at Gilgal. The events of ch 11 take us back to the entry into the land under Joshua (Josh 5), and provide a stark contrast with the events of Judges 19-21. In the latter, Israel fell into civil war through their sin, and almost destroyed one of the tribes. In 1 Sam 9-11, a man from the tribe that was almost destroyed brings Israel together once again in successful warfare against its enemies.

Ch 12 brings the cycle of judges to an end and starts the monarchy, with Samuel handing over his leadership to Saul. Though the people sinfully demanded a king, Samuel assures them that if they will remain faithful, the monarchy will not be to their evil, but God will be pleased to use it for their good. This call to faithfulness Samuel ties into the history of Israel up to this point, from Egypt through the time of the judges. The chapter ends with both the promise and the warning that is characteristic of the prophetic ministry.

Acts 16:35-17:15

This section shows first Paul's demand that justice be observed in the Philippian treatment of him and Silas. It also introduces the direct and forceful opposition from the Jews that then follows them into Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. This material also includes one of my favorite phrases from the KJV (17:5): certain lewd fellows of the baser sort." None of the modern translations can compare to that for being clear, forceful, and funny all at the same time.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

1 Sam 9-10; Acts 16:16-34

1 Samuel 9-10

Here we have the beginning of Saul's reign. He is privately anointed by Samuel as "captain over the Lord's inheritance" (10:1, KJV). Then he is shown to be one of the prophets, drawing the people's attention to him. These signs were to confirm to him that he was indeed the anointed of the Lord (10:9). Finally, he is publicly chosen by lot from among the tribes of Israel. Some have apparently compared this to the casting of lots regarding Achan, as if the very fact of Saul's being chosen by lot were a sign of judgment. I think that is erroneous. First, the comparison is not apt. In the case of Achan, the sin was not a general sin among the people. The casting of lots was to point out the guilty party, who had not come forward on his own, though his sin had brought disaster upon the whole people. Second, the selection of Saul is public confirmation of what Samuel had already done privately. Third, it seems to be the case that Saul was very humble in all of this. He did not go seeking to be anointed king. Even after he was anointed king, he did not mention it to his uncle (10:16). Then, when the casting of lots took place, Saul was hiding among the baggage (10:22), obviously not putting himself forward. No, the casting of lots was simply the standard method in the Old Testament of selecting persons for whatever reason, in such a way that God would clearly make his will known. Finally, note the last verse of ch 10. Even though Saul had been publicly selected by lot as king, there were those who were not impressed with the choice. That sets us up for tomorrow's reading.

Acts 16:16-34

By preaching in Philippi, Paul is, for the first time, proclaiming the gospel in what is essentially an entirely pagan city. In the verses leading up to today's reading, the implication is that there was no synagogue in the city, hence the small number of faithful Jews met for prayer by the river. Second, the girl with the divining spirit fits a more thoroughly pagan context. Thirdly, the response of the people (vs 20) focuses on their being Jews, in this case a little understood (to them) religion that strikes at the very foundations of their beliefs. Nonetheless, the suffering of Paul and Silas gives opportunity for the proclamation of the gospel, which continues to bear fruit in the midst of rank paganism.

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.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

For Sunday May 3: 1 Sam 1-5, Acts 14-15

I Samuel 1-5

This is the story of the birth of Samuel (ch 1), in a sense both the last judge and the first prophet (see 3:20), the demise of the house of Eli, and the expansion of the Philistine problem for Israel. It is the period when the glory has departed (4:22). It is a difficult time for Israel, for they are being made to pay the piper for their disobedience and faithlessness. Samuel is one of the great men in the Scriptures, but he cannot fix Israel by himself. But in spite of all that bad news, God is at work behind the scenes, providing godly leadership for his people, and shaming the gods of the nations. A good way to read the Books of Samuel is to keep Hannah's Song (2:1-10) in mind as you read, seeing how God works out what is expressed in that song.

Acts 14-15

Chapter 14 is the account of the last part of Paul's first missionary journey, which began at the beginning of ch 13. It makes clear that the faithful preaching of the gospel will produce conflict. The gospel is the aroma of life to those who believe (2 Cor 2:16), but the aroma of death to those who do not. The latter resent the stink of death being waved in their faces. Any "gospel" proclamation that does not provoke opposition to the message preached is no gospel proclamation. Chapter 15 is the account of the Jerusalem council. For those of us who grew up in a largely Gentile church, the offense of the gospel to Jews may seem odd. But as most of the first believers were Jews, there quickly arose the questions: what are we to do with our Jewishness? and what about the Gentiles? Is this a Jewish sect that Gentiles must become Jews to join, or is it something new? Further, these questions have serious theological ramifications, therefore it was necessary for the council to decide the issues at once. However, once the council has spoken, the issues don't disappear overnight, and they must then be worked through in the course of the ministry of the church.

Joshua, Judges, and Ruth

These three books really form a set, for various reasons. First, they cover the period from the entry into the land to the rise of the monarchy. Second, they show us something of the character of Israelite life during that period. Third, they prepare us for the rise of the monarchy, by showing us the weakness of the Israelite confederacy under the judges, due to Israelite unfaithfulness. The books cover a period of about three hundred and fifty years. This is based on entry into the land in 1406 BC (based on a 1446 BC date for the Exodus), and the anointing of Saul as king about 1050 BC (based on dates for Solomon [970-930 BC] and David [1010-970BC]) and assuming about a forty-year reign for Saul. Admittedly, the chronology is difficult, but that is another discussion for another time.

The Book of Joshua divides into three parts: The conquest (chs 1-12), the division of the land (chs 13-21), and the covenantal conclusion (chs 22-24). The conquest can be further subdivided into four parts: Entry into the land (chs 1-5), conquest of central Palestine (chs 6-8), conquest of southern Palestine (chs 9-10), conquest of northern Palestine (chs 11-12). This account is intended to show that Israel established itself throughout the general area of Palestine, not to show that they conquered each and every inch of Palestine. There is, therefore, no contradiction between Joshua and Judges regarding the conquest. Most critical scholars consider the Book of Joshua to be entirely a fabrication by a writer of a much later period. This is based on a certain reading of the archaeological evidence, and on sociological models. Neither of these is equipped to deal with the fact that archaeological evidence is partial, and must be interpreted on the basis of textual data, while the sociological models assume that everything can be accounted for solely on the basis of human activity. Neither of them wants to take God into account.

The Book of Judges divides into two parts, the rules of the judges (chs 1-16) which are dominated by the Midianite oppression (Gideon, chs 6-8), the Ammonite oppression (Jephthah, chs 11-2), and the Philistine oppression (Samson, chs 13-16). The second part demonstrates the low estate into which Israel had fallen with idolatry (the Danites, chs 17-18), and profound immorality (chs 19-20). The theme verse of the book is, of course, 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." But the tragedy of the book  can also be summarized by a comparison of 1:1-2 with 20:18. In this period, Israel was reduced from gathering together to remove their enemies from the land, to being gathered against one another in civil war. 

The Book of Ruth has more to it than can be done justice in a couple of lines. But it gives "the other side" of the picture we get from Judges. Even though the people were disobedient; even though the people were oppressed by outside forces; yet there were faithful men and women among the people, and amid the seeming chaos of the times, life for many went on as usual.

As for lesson for us, we should learn here to remember that God has given us a great calling to conquer the earth through the power of the gospel (Joshua); that in any age the church is likely to be weak and oppressed (Judges); but yet the Lord knows those who are his and there are yet faithful men in the land (Ruth).

Friday, May 01, 2009

Deuteronomy and the Ten Commandments

The common critical view regarding the organization of Deuteronomy is that it is disorganized, and that the level of disorganization can only be accounted for by the fact that the book was developed and added to over time. However, John Walton has argued in his A Survey of the Old Testament (coauthored with Andrew Hill, and now in its second edition), that the legal portion of Deuteronomy actually presents the reader with a sequential exposition of the Ten Commandments. His outline is as follows:

First Commandment: chs 6-11
Second Commandment: chs 12
Third Commandment: 13:1-14:21
Fourth Commandment: 14:22-16:17
Fifth Commandment: 16:18-18:22
Sixth Commandment: chs 19-21
Seventh Commandment: 22:1-23:14
Eighth Commandment: 23:15-24:7
Ninth Commandment: 24:8-16
Tenth Commandment: 24:17-26:15

While the reason for the location of some laws is still obscure, the reader can benefit from considering Walton's proposal, and beginning to see the laws in light of the commandments. John Currid, in his commentary on Deuteronomy from Evangelical Press, essentially follows Walton, although disagreeing with him on a couple of minor points.