Cover-to-Cover – Week 8

The Morning Benders – Pleasure Sighs

As we’ve been spending some time in Deuteronomy this week, you may be thinking…

“Didn’t we already cover this?  Why are we getting all the same stuff again?”

So it might be helpful to know that while we are getting it all again, the group that Moses is addressing is in some ways hearing it for the first time.  Moses is addressing the Israelites who are about to cross over into the Promised Land.  None of whom were of age the first time it was given back at Sinai.  These are the sons and daughters of the generation of Israelites that were told they would wander in (and die in) the wilderness.

Which raises the follow up question…  why didn’t Moses just say, “and we read all of the Law to this generation as well?”  Again, there must have been some purpose for this Second Law (which is what Deuteronomy means).  Hard to know exactly why, but my take away is that each generation needs a comprehensive explanation of God’s word.  It isn’t enough to simply assume that they’ll just sort of figure it out along the way.  That godliness doesn’t just happen by a process of osmosis or by just hanging around parents who believe.  Each generation needs the Word of God presented afresh.  Deuteronomy is the detailed account of this generation’s choice to re-affirm the way of life to which God has called them.

That’s all I’ve got.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 7

The American Dollar – Anything You Synthesize (HT: Taylor Hall)

We have covered a lot of ground in Numbers this week.  Kadesh Barnea.  The earth swallows Korah, Dathan, and Abiram’s households.  Miriam Dies.  Aaron Dies.  Strange incident with snakes.  Balaam’s talking donkey.  Joshua is chosen as Moses’ successor.   Sprinkle several more offerings and a census in there are you’ve got a full week.

However, I was particularly drawn to two other episodes.

The first is when God and/or Moses calls forth water from a rock.  It is the “and/or” that seems to be of issue here.  God tells him to speak to the rock and it will happen.  Moses chooses to hit it twice with his staff.  And for this seemingly minor change of plan, Moses is told that like most of the rest of Israel, he himself won’t cross into the Promised Land.  The passage isn’t very explicit on what Moses’ sin was.  God does tell Moses that he did not trust Him enough to honor Him in the sight of Israel.  It appears that in doing what God had directed, Moses sought to draw attention to or honor himself rather than God.  An ever present danger for people doing “God’s work.”

But the other thing I loved in this section was Zelophehad’s daughters.  You remember them.  They were five daughters whose father had died son-less.  And so they pose the question, “to whom will his property go?”  And God tells Moses that it should go to them.  In a culture that was notorious for treating women as second-class citizens, we see God affirming their right to own property.

Now, I’m not pretending that this is the magic wand that makes all the other troubling passages we’ve read about women any easier to palate.  No less than three chapters later, we discover that a woman’s vow isn’t as good as a man’s.  But reading about Zelophehad’s daughters helps to balance the others out a bit.

I’ve had a few interesting conversations this week about God’s accommodation to culture.  There is certainly a sense in which it appears that God accepts/condones/commands behavior that we would find immoral today.  Tough stuff to work out, but perhaps there is a sense in which God meets people – entire cultures in history – on their terms or in ways they could understand.  Don’t hurt yourself thinking too much about that last thought.  I’m not even sure it is right.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 6

Two Door Cinema Club – This Is the Life

So we’ve learned some interesting things this week. Like…

A silver offering dish weighs 130 shekels. Not more. Not less.

Being a Levite has its pros and cons. On the downside, they are required to shave their whole bodies. On the upside, they retire at age fifty.

In addition to being The Creator and Author of Life, God is also The Accountant.

There is something called the “wave offering” that involves waving certain unmentionable body parts before the Lord as an acceptable form of worship. Am I the only one who finds that amusing? That text hasn’t come up in our current series on worship. I think maybe I’ve been hanging out with middle-schoolers too much.

On a slightly (and only slightly) more mature level, I love what is affirmed there in the middle of Numbers 9. God instructs that an alien (i.e. a foreigner or outsider to the convenant) can participate in the Passover…

‘An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must do so in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born.’

There is no favoritism with God. And while at times, it looks like God is being exclusive, there are also hints like these which reveal His open welcome to all.

There is more to say… much more. But I think we’ve covered enough ground for one day.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 5

Animal Collective – In the Flowers

Leviticus.  What’s to say?


Seriously weird.

So let’s keep this short and sweet.

The detailed instructions concerning the various sacrifices has God looking a bit OCD.

The laws concerning skin diseases, mildew, and “discharges” has Him looking like a germ-o-phob.

And then there is chapter 18 from today’s reading.  Once again… really?  They had to be told this stuff?  Baffling.

So what is going on?  There is tons one could say, but suffice it to say, “Leviticus is all about God’s holiness.”  It is stated outright in 11:44-45, and underscored by nearly every other verse in the book.  Everything about the book is saying that God is set apart.  Different.  Not common.

Even the chapters that seem to be about God’s “health plan” for the Israelites are really about contamination.  On the surface, it is about physical contamination.  But just below the surface is the idea of spiritual contamination as well.

How about all the sexual taboos?  They are preceded by injunctions against doing what people do in Egypt or in Canaan.  This too is all about “set-apart-ness”.

“Be holy, because I am holy.”

God is distinct, different from anything else in their experience.  They too are meant to be distinct and different.

deja vu

Lissie – Everywhere I Go

I was going to wait until next week, but seeing as we’ve just wrapped up Exodus, maybe now is the time to talk about it.

What’s the point of chapters 36-39?  Why does Exodus’ author feel the need to repeat nearly every word from 25-28?  Wouldn’t it have been enough to simply say “The Israelites had done all the work just as the LORD had commanded Moses” (Exodus 39:42)?

Bear in mind that whatever writing materials they might have used (tablets or papyrus/parchment) would have been costly and so each words counts.  Why not a little more detail back in Genesis on Jacob wrestling God?  Or some more explanation of Abraham’s near sacrifice/murder of Isaac?

Instead, we have a painstaking account of Israel meticulously constructing the Tabernacle in a way that exactly corresponds to the instructions God had given them.  And I suppose that’s the point.  Moses (or whoever wrote it) wanted future generations to understand that God’s instruction is not something to be spurned lightly.

We live in a religious culture that goes to great lengths to emphasize it isn’t what you do in relation to God that matters, but how you feel about God.  As long as our hearts are right, then all the external stuff called religion really isn’t of consequence.  In fact, it may be detrimental.  I’m not sure we can read too much into this, but my guess is that the Israelites felt that God needed to be heeded…  even in the details.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 4

The Postmarks – No One Said This Would Be Easy

Ok, so here we are four weeks in, and I’m guessing no one is loving me too much for the Cover-to-Cover challenge.  What sounded so well-intentioned, pious, and worth-while on the front-end is starting too lose its luster in a hurry.

If you are on track, you will have read through Exodus 36 today.  Not the most inspirational reading by anyone’s reckoning.  It would be the exceedingly rare person who finds the detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle inspiring.  More on this next week.

However, I think a word or two is in order concerning the ‘miscellaneous’ laws or what is sometimes known as ‘civil’ law.  I know that it seems like God is actively promoting retribution, but you should know that God isn’t trying to institute some detailed process for revenge.  These laws are actually meant to curtail an excess of revenge.

So for example for when it says things like, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” while gruesome sounding to our ears, could be read, “an eye and no more.”  You can’t kill someone for knocking out your tooth.  All you are entitled to is an equal measure of retribution.  Same goes for bulls goring and accidental deaths and so on.  The Law says, “you may be entitled life for life, but you can’t out of revenge kill off the offender’s entire family.”  Societies both ancient and modern left to their own tend towards barbarism.  It is the Judeo-Christian tradition that steers people towards more humane ways of being human.

Another example of humanity’s drift towards sub-human existence is the commandment that says, “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.”  Now apart from getting the middle-schoolers at church giggling, what purpose does this verse serve?  Does it seem as strange to you as it does to me that people need to be told that sex with animals is a departure from God’s plan for human sexuality?  Was it a widespread problem at the time?

Who knows.  The point is they had to be told…  Don’t do this.  This is wrong.  Again, society left to its own will sink to the lowest levels of human depravity.  It is God, his Word, and ultimately his Spirit that elevates human beings to their role as image-bearers of God.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 3

AA Bondy – A Slow Parade

I’m not really sure how many people are doing the Cover-to-Cover thing this year, but my guess is a bunch.  Alison is.  Both small groups I’m involved in are doing it.  A bunch of my co-workers.  I run into people at restaurants and grocery stores telling me they are on track.  Which is all good and well, but that leaves me feeling a little responsible for this being a good experience for them.

I know that I shouldn’t feel that way.  This is God’s Word and we tell ourselves all the time that a person can just sit down and read the Bible and God will use it for good in their lives.  But what if he doesn’t?  Or worse, what if instead of drawing people to Him, it pushes them away?  It wouldn’t be the first time that a person was put off by the way God is revealed in the Old Testament.

This week, we’ve been reading in Exodus.  And on the surface, it can seem like God is being arbitrary, capricious, fickle, mean.  Why was God “about to kill” Moses in Exodus 4?  Why is God the one who hardens Pharaoh’s heart?  Why was it necessary to kill all the firstborn in Egypt?

I don’t come with any answers today.  But all this highlights that there is much in the Bible that is strange and foreign to us.  Which for me raises the question… how much of that foreignness is due to being fallen and finite human beings unable to have God’s heart and mind or His much larger perspective on things?  And how much of the foreignness is a result of our being so far removed culturally from the time and place in which these things transpired?  As with most things Bible, my guess is both.

No blog post is going to make either of these massively complicated issues go away, but let me make one small suggestion.

Get help.

I know that the penultimate portrait of the ideal Christian is a person all alone with their Bible receiving what they need to understand “directly” from God.  But as I have (with very little success) tried to explore in previous posts, it is never just me and my Bible.  There is always a certain set of assumptions, and previous experiences, and cultural worldviews, and personal biases, and relational dynamics, and so on that guide our reading.

So you need others to help.  And while doing it with a group of people is good, if they are all share the same limitations of expertise and background then you’ll probably end up doing what I do…  stare at each other with blank looks and say, “maybe.”

Someone who is doing the read along came across this one-volume commentary and wondered if I would recommend it.

I would.  What you get is a commentary on the entire Bible in one book by some guys who ain’t dumb.  So when you read that Moses was about to die until quick witted Zipporah did what needed to be done (with a knife and no anesthetic – yikes), it might tell you something like this episode needs to be read in the context of the verses prior where God predicts Pharaoh’s refusal to obey God.  And refusal to obey God whether you are Pharaoh or Moses (or you and me) has serious consequences.  Something like that.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 2

As I’ve been reading along this week, I was reminded of the problem of setting versus date of composition.  Setting being the “when” and “where” the events are taking place.  Date of composition being when the story or book was actually written.  As you might suspect, as with everything Bible, this can be a very complicated issue.  However, the Genesis account will serve well enough to illustrate the difficulty.

Many conservative Biblical scholars would affirm Moses as the author of Genesis.  So, we have Moses writing some stuff down around 15th century B.C.  Of course, this means that Moses wasn’t a first hand eye witness of anything that is recorded in Genesis.  Which raises the question, how did he know?  I suppose there are some who would ascribe to a theory of God supernaturally revealing the info to Moses and he simply dictated what God said.  Most would affirm some sort of oral/written tradition that had been handed down over centuries, and Moses was the one who collected and shaped it into its final form.  Naturally, there are other theories about who wrote what and when.  Some would date the final form of Genesis much, much later.  Closer to 5th or 6th century B.C.

Anyway, all that’s sort of beside the point.  Mainly, I wanted to share a chart that might help you keep track of the flow of the story.  For what it’s worth…

Then, there is this one too.  It is loads of fun.

When Foster speaks…

…people should listen.

Elvis Perkins – While You Were Sleeping

I not only read the Bible.  I also read books about the Bible.  But in ultimate nerd fashion, I also read books about reading the Bible.

And this morning, I came across this quote from Richard Foster’s Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation:

“In seeking to discover this with-God life it is helpful to read the Bible in four distinct ways.  First, we read the Bible literally.  Reading from cover to cover, internalizing its life-giving message. By reading the whole of Scripture, we begin to apprehend its force and power.  We enter into the original dynamics and drama of Scripture: struggling with Abraham over the offering up of the son of promise…”

It goes on, but the example of Abraham and Isaac is as far as we’ve read so far.  There are three other “distinct ways” to read the Bible, but you’ll need to read the book to get those.

Never fear.  I’m certain that I’ll be sharing other nuggets of wisdom as I come across them.

Cover-to-Cover – Week One

Already a week in, and things have gotten pretty strange.  Let’s catalogue the depravity of humankind so far:

We manage to make it all the way to generation two before cold-blooded murder enters into the picture.  And it is violence at its worst…  religiously motivated violence.  What is Cain upset about?  Abel had an “acceptable” offering and he didn’t.  What a whiner baby.

“Sons of God” (whoever they were) getting with “Daughters of Men” (whoever they were).  Nice.

In fact, things get so bad that we are only six chapters into human history and God has to re-boot the human race with Noah.  Not that Noah and his family are any real prize.  Right after they get off the boat, there is some odd encounter involving Noah in the buff and one of his sons.

Shortly afterward, humankind tries to build a tower to “reach” Heaven.  Some people just don’t get it.

Abra(ha)m (the forefather of three world religions) pawns his wife off not once, but twice as his sister, in order to save his hide.  And technically, it wasn’t a lie.  She was his half-sister.  Its own brand of weirdness.  What’s maybe most troubling is that instead of some negative repercussion, he is “rewarded” with wealth in the form of livestock and money and slaves (?!?).

But all Abraham’s pathetic-ness doesn’t begin to touch that of his nephew Lot and his family.  Of course, the big clue is that Lot takes up residence in Sodom…  the ancient equivalent of Las Vegas, Amsterdam, and Bangkok all rolled up into one.  So when two angels come to “visit” Lot there, the citizens of Sodom come to his house to have “relations” with his house guests.  Lot’s brilliant solution?  Offer up his daughters to the crowd instead.

Speaking of his daughters…  one’s at a loss of words to know what to say about the whole incident with between them and Lot in the cave.  I mean really?  Lot was completely oblivious?  Really?  Just sick…  and coming from someone who lives in Arkansas, that says a lot.

It sort of seems like the writer of Genesis is going out of his or her way to say, “look at humanity at its most messed up, most broken, most depraved.”  This is the sort of stuff we would expect for soap operas, not God’s “chosen” people.  I find it interesting that the writer never says, “and they were very wicked” or “in doing this they sinned against the Lord.”  There is a remarkable silence when it comes to the behavior of these earliest biblical characters.  It is as if the writer is attempting to draw our attention to a much larger, grander story than the failings (no matter how spectacular) of these biblical characters.

In fact, perhaps the single most helpful thing to bear in mind during this year-long project is that the main character of the Bible is God…  not us.  And if we listen attentively to these early chapters of human history with this truth in mind, the tune we begin to hear is that God is faithful.  And He is good.  Even when we are not.