The Bible In 90 Days: Solomon, there and back again…

In today’s reading we hit a climactic point in the Old Testament narrative. We have followed Israel out of Egypt and a later generation into the promised land. We’ve seen the taking of land in Joshua and Israel’s ambiguous tenure in it. At the end of Judges we see two disastrous signs: civil war and rape. Israel demands a king and gets one in Saul. Order and unity is brought to the nation, but this begins to unravel as Saul’s unrighteousness and short sightedness leads to his judgment, and with him Israel’s as well. Then comes David, who like Israel before him is driven into the wilderness. But unlike the first generation of Jacob’s children, David prevails in the wilderness overcoming numerous temptations. David eventually triumphs over Saul, inherits the throne and proves himself a lover of mercy like the LORD. But David’s unfaithfulness again brings judgment upon his house, and by 2nd Samuel civil war and rape rear their ugly heads again. But unlike Saul (and Pharaoh?) David’s heart is not hard. He repents of his sins subsequent to their committal and thus is the recipient not merely of God’s judgment but God’s mercy. Today we are left with Solomon on the throne, and we read of Israel’s state of blessing under him:

20The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. 21And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life…29God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (1st Kings 4:20-21, 29-34)

God commands human beings to be fruitful and multiply before and after the flood. (Gen 1:28; Gen 9:2) When creation takes a downward turn in Genesis 11 God calls Abram and Sarai to be the new parents of a new humanity. Abram, who would become Abraham is promised that he will become a great nation, one through which all the earth’s people will be blessed (Gen 12:1-3). This barren couple will have numerous descendants, so many that they will be nearly uncountable (Gen 15:5).

The Old Testament tracks the ever increasing fulfillment of the blessing and the promise, despite sin and the curse. There is a pattern of sin, exile and restoration, with the restoration continually bringing greater blessings to the people of God despite persistent disobedience. Here the blessing begins to reach its widest scope. Israel takes full possession of the land promised to it and occupies it in peace. Abraham’s children are numerous as the sand, and the nations are blessed through this family become a nation. Solomon, a type of the Second Adam, takes to studying the creation, and through such study and understanding demonstrates his wisdom to the nations. Unlike Adam who attempts to procure the gift of wisdom apart from the giver, Solomon’s wisdom is requested and received from the LORD. King Solomon prefigures King Jesus who is the living embodiment of divine wisdom, and who would ultimately lead all the nations to repentance. (1 Cor 1:24).

The Bible In 90 Days: The Life Is In The Blood

I have been reflecting on Leviticus the past couple days, and in particular on the blood prohibition in chapter 17. I came across an interesting interpretation on a friend’s blog:

In his recent Concordia commentary on Leviticus, John Kleinig gives a good summary of what I think is the best explanation of the blood prohibtiion of Lev 17:

“many animists regard blood as the most potent of all ritual substances. The blood of an animal was either drunk or, more commonly, eaten with its meat to gain its life-power, its vitality and health, its virility and fertility, its energy and strength.” For the nations surrounding Israel, blood was food for deities (cf. Book 8 of the Odyssey), and was used to ward off evil spirits.

For Israel, however, God is the God of life and death: “God reserved all blood for himself as the life-giver. It had to be given back to him. People could not use blood to gain supernatural life-power for themselves, nor could they manipulate it to grant life-power to those who lacked it. It could not be handed over to other gods and demons, since they had no right to use it, nor were they allowed to acquire life-power from it. Above all, no Israelite was allowed to consume the blood from any animal. God ordained that it was to be used ritually only in the rite of atonement and the practices associated with it. Yet the power of blood in that rite did not come from the life in it, but from God’s word which had instituted its use. That Word determined its function in the rite of atonement.”

This also implies that everything Israel ate was “dead,” since it was drained of life-blood. Israel was forbidden to eat living animals, or animals that still had blood-soul in them. Instead, they were required to eat dead things, and recognize that Yahweh alone gave life to and through the dead food.

For Christians, one perenniel question is how this prohibition of blood relates to the Eucharistic consumption of blood. Kleinig suggests that “Christ’s institution does not really violate the taboo, because it is the ultimate reason for it.” He appears to mean that Israel was forbidden to eat animal blood because there is only one life-giving blood, the blood of Jesus.

To that, I would add this additional note: While Israel was required to eat only dead things, Christians are invited to eat “flesh” with the blood, and that means we are invited to feed on a living Christ. But this is not really blood of “flesh,” since Jesus has been raised out of flesh into the life of the Spirit. (We have the complication that Jesus offered His blood before His resurrection, but let’s ignore that for now!) Perhaps we should put it this way: Fleshly life is sustained through consumption of dead food, meat without life-blood; but the life of the Spirit is sustained through consumption of living food, body with life-blood. Fleshly life is sustained by the flow of the life of the flesh, which is in the blood; the life of the Spirit is sustained by the flow of the Spirit.

The Bible in 90 Days: Reprint

Below is rerun of something I posted a few months ago on the Joseph story…

In his book Messengers of God, Eli Wiesel describes the Joseph narrative as a slow-paced, monotonous, overdetailed, overwritten story that can put the reader to sleep. I’d prefer to see it as textured, rich and earthy. It’s certainly been the highlight of the daily lectionary for me of late. And usually I find it’s the grace, not the devil, that’s in the details.

Yesterday we read the story of Joseph’s encounter with Benjamin, whom the other brother’s have to bring before Joseph if they are to return to Egypt for more grain in the midst of the famine. The meeting is so emotional that Joseph must retire. Robert Alter notes that the literal translation of the Hebrew in 43:30 is something akin to “his mercy burned hot.” He withdraws to gather himself and then returns to dine with his brothers. He seats them in accordance with their ages, from firstborn to youngest. This may seem like one of the “overwritten” parts of the narrative. But it’s telling. It reveals Joseph’s knowledge and his brother’s ignorance. They do not know who he is, but he knows who they are, intimately so. And now Benjamin sits in the place that Joseph would have sat. And he does take Joseph’s place indeed, literally. For Joseph shows the sort of gratuitous favor to Benjamin that Jacob showed to Joseph so many years before. Joseph recreates the set of circumstances that led to his own demise. He favors the youngest brother, perhaps wondering if the same jealousy and enmity would develop.

In today’s reading the plot thickens. Joseph has the sacks of all his brothers loaded up with silver. Here is where the irony becomes thick. In chapter 37 Joseph’s brothers receive silver in exchange for their brother who they sell into slavery in Egypt. Now, hard as they try, they cannot leave the silver in Egypt. It follows them relentlessly and seems on multiple occasions as if it will lead them into bondage (or worse) as well. But the brothers do not stand accused when Joseph’s servant comes upon them. It is only Benjamin who will suffer harsh consequences, for in his bag is found Joseph’s own silver cup. Joseph has gone to great lengths to recreate the situation of his own betrayal. His brothers again have the opportunity to betray their youngest brother, the favorite son of their father, and to leave Egypt with sacks full of silver.

The Bible In 90 Days: Notes on Genesis

My church is doing the Bible in 90 days this summer. I’ve agreed to post regular notes on the readings. So here goes with some preliminary thoughts on Genesis. This is overview, big picture sort of stuff, so if you’re reading put your track shoes on…

  • Lesslie Newbigin has this to say about the opening chapters of Genesis:
    • The first chapter of Genesis was almost certainly written during the time when Israel was in exile in Babylon. And we must picture these writers as slaves under the shadow of this mighy empire with its palaces, fortresses and temples. Babylon had its own account of creation, as we know from the work of modern scholarship. It was a story of conflict, battle and bloodshed. Violence was the theme underlying the whole creation story as the Babylonians understood it…The writers of Genesis had quite a different picture of God. They were the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Moses. They knew God as the redeemer God, the God who had saved his people from bondage. And they had a totally different picture of God’s creation–not as the result of violence but as the action of a God of love and wisdom, who, out of sheer love, desired to create a world to reflect his glory and a human family to enjoy his world and give back his love. (A Walk Through The Bible, 7.)
  • Genesis begins by painting a harmonious picture of reality where human beings are in right relationship with God, one another, their world and themselves. This picturesque world quickly falls apart at the seams. It’s said that every worldview answers four questions: (1) Who am I?; (2) Where am I?; (3) What’s the problem?; (4) What’s the solution?. Genesis answers all of these. It answers the identity (1) question. Genesis tells us that we are beings created in God’s image, male and female, and that we are to share in God’s rule over God’s world. It answers the location question (2). Genesis tells us that we are good creatures in a good world that reflects God’s love and wisdom. It also addresses the question concerning evil and tragedy (3). What’s wrong with the world?? Genesis tells us that the tragic aspect of reality that we all know too well is the result of a broken relationship. And it addresses the salvation or deliverance question (4). The solution to the tragedy is the healing of the broken relationship between Creator and creature, one which God brings about through the history of redemption.
  • There is a pattern in Genesis that goes something like this: sin, exile, restoration. It’s evident in chapter 3 with Adam and Eve, chapter 4 with Cain, in the flood story, and of course in the Babel story. It’s a theme that will recur in Israel’s history, and one important for understanding the mission and message of Jesus.
  • Genesis 6:1-3 is always an interesting text to attempt to interpret. Who are “the sons of God” that take the daughters of men in marriage. Traditionally the sons of God have been taken to be the line of Seth referenced in 4:25-26. The preface for the flood then is the line of the promise mixing with the line of Cain. Contemporary scholars tend to understand “the sons of God” as angelic or divine beings, with the continued transgressing of boundaries precipitating the flood. Some rabbis understand the “sons of God” to be despotic rulers who, like the English Lords in the film Braveheart commit sexual abuses with those betrothed or married to another. What makes the latter interpretation compelling is that it fits into a reading of Genesis that, after the Fall, sees everything systemically breaking down. Genesis 3 describes the breakdown of individual relationships. Genesis describes the erosion of the family. If the rabbis are right, then Genesis 6 (as well as 5) points to the breakdown finally of society.
  • There’s a phrase that recurs again and again in Genesis: “…this is the account of”. The Hebrew transliteration of the phrase is toledot. It occurs exactly ten times in Genesis. The last of the first five occurrences takes us to the genealogy of Shem, and of Abraham. The first of the next five gives us the account of Terah, introducing the story of Abraham. It’s clear that Abraham is at the literary center of the book. The call of Abraham is God’s answer to the problem of sin, alienation and the curse. After the Babel story God calls a new Adam and Eve who would be the parents of a new humanity through whom all the world would come to be blessed.
  • Genesis begins with a cosmic and global focus. Then in chapter 12 it narrows to one couple. Then it widens again to one family, a family that will become a nation.
  • It’s important to remember that when we read Genesis, we’re not to take the characters as moral exemplars. Abraham isn’t the main character. Nor is Sarah, Isaac, Joseph or any of the people we encounter. The protagonist is God, and Genesis is Gospel, good news about God’s gracious saving and redeeming work.