Cover-to-Cover – Ezekiel (2)

We are still churning through Ezekiel, and by all accounts it is a tough read.  Not exactly sure what exactly Ezekiel was like as a person, but I’ve got a pretty good mental picture going.  A couple quick thoughts about what we’ve been reading this week…

First, lots of comparing Israel to a prostitute.  And not just subtle hints either.  Full on graphic descriptions of their “unfaithfulness” that make me cringe a bit as I read.

Which is exactly the point.

Idolatry is no light issue for God.  It is number one in God’s top ten.  Apparently, it isn’t something God shrugs his shoulders at or turns a blind eye from.  He knows that it not only robs Him of honor and glory, but it always leads to the de-humanizing of the people whom he loves.

I know that the last few words might seem out of place in our discussion of Ezekiel.  Almost as out of place as a verse read earlier this week…

“As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I take no delight in the death of the wicked, but rather they they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Ezekiel 33:11

A couple days ago, while reading from Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement, I was reminded that God’s holiness and his love are not in opposition to one another.  Rather, they are meant to be held together.  They are connected.  Forgive me for quoting at length:

Herein lies the danger of bipolarizing God … God is either loving holiness or holy love, but God is not dualistic in attributes.  If one plays this dualistic game very often, one courts the danger of turning God into a confused being who struggles over what to do with sinners.

God’s wrath – and we’ll leave its meaning open for now – springs as much from God’s love as it does from his holiness.  As Miraslov Volf puts it so well, “God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love.  God is wrathful because God is love … The world is sinful.  That’s why God doesn’t affirm it indiscriminately.  God loves the world.  That’s why he doesn’t punish it in justice.”

Ok.  I guess that’s enough for now.  I’ve got the all important Four for Friday to get to.

Jeremiah (2)

So we are about all done with Jeremiah.  And not a moment too soon.  I had forgotten how long Jeremiah is.  Isaiah has more chapters, but Jeremiah just seems longer.  Maybe that’s because he had such a difficult message.  Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak to the impending judgment of Israel, and both have a word of hope for restoration.

The problem with Jeremiah is that even the hopeful stuff sounds pretty discouraging.  The hope for Judah is that they aren’t the only ones who are going to be punished.  All their neighboring nations will be as well.  Of all the verses that get quoted out of Jeremiah, 48:25-26 are a couple that don’t get much press…

“Moab’s horn is cut off,
her arm is broken,” declares the Lord.
“Make her drunk,
for she has defied the Lord.
Let Moab wallow in her vomit;
let her be an object of ridicule.”

That’s nice.

In fact, there are only two or three verses from the latter half of Jeremiah that really ever get mentioned.

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of them, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future.” All well and good, except for a couple problems.  One, it is directed at an entire covenant community, not individuals.  And two, what we understand prosper to mean and what it might have meant for a nation to prosper are two different things entirely.  Any attempts to claim this verse as a promise that we are never going to suffer hardship or trail are problematic to say the least.  This isn’t some magic-verse to guarantee that we will never fail…  even miserably so.  It is simply a promise to his covenant people that they (as a community) will flourish… eventually.

If we spent as much time focusing on the couple verses that follow, then we might even discover the means by which we (as the new covenant community) will “prosper.”

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

Jeremiah 29:12-14a

In fact, one could even say that the “calling and listening” and the “seeking and finding” is the very prospering Jeremiah (and God) has in mind.  Food for thought.

The other verses that get some play are 31:33-34…

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Again, strong promises for God’s community of faith.  This is one of those verses that I have to believe is being fulfilled progressively.  It may have been intended and received by Jeremiah’s original hearers to a certain degree.  With the coming of the Christ and the Spirit which followed, it was realized to an even greater degree.  And one day, it will be fulfilled completely.  God speed the day.

Cover-to-Cover – Jeremiah (1)

Dr. Dog – Where’d All the Time Go

Taking a break today from the uber-informative top five outdoor gear essentials series to return to something that’s been neglected for quite a while.  Yes, that’s right.  The Cover-to-Cover experience is still going on.  While the summer provided all sorts of challenges to overcome, and I’ve got a good bit of make-up reading to do sometime this year, I’m still plowing ahead.

So in the four month blogging hiatus, you’ve missed out on my sage comments for nearly a third of the Bible.  Sad, I know.  Of all the books that I missed out on talking about, Isaiah is the one that I most regret skipping out on.  In many ways, Isaiah is the book on which the New Testament most heavily leans.  Anyway, all that is for another post… maybe.  Our church preached through select passages of Isaiah.  Maybe you could ask them for copies of the sermons.

At any rate, for those of you still on board with the read the Bible in a year challenge, we find ourselves in the middle of Jeremiah.  All I can say is that it is pretty depressing stuff.  If you have any experience reading through the prophets, you’ll know that judgment seems to be a pretty common theme.  So much so, that you might be led to believe that God really likes judgment.  I don’t necessarily hold to that view.  I tend to think that the judgment only magnifies his mercy and grace all the more.

However you look at it though, there was plenty enough reason for judgment.  God’s people had not only “prostituted” themselves to other Gods, they had sunk pretty low on the scale of human depravity…  again.  From the sounds of it, things had gotten pretty bad.  Widespread sexual impurity (5:7 ), human sacrifice (7:31), and injustice against the poor (5:27-28).  Honestly, stuff that was pretty deserving of judgment.  I’ll leave you to connect any of the dots to the present day.

That said, there are glimpses of hope in the first half of the book.  Including the passage in chapter 23 dealing with the  “righteous branch” that is to come.  I don’t think it is any accident that “shepherd” language is used to describe the one to come.  I seem to remember someone referring to himself as the “good shepherd.”

Also, take note of the two fig baskets of chapter 24.  There aren’t just a ton of references in the Bible to figs.  And in the gospels, there is something of a famous incident involving Jesus cursing a fig tree.  Needless to say, I think Jeremiah’s ministry plays a part in forming Jesus’ understanding of his own identity and calling.

Ok…  as noted earlier, the first half is pretty dismal.  Things start to brighten up a bit in the latter half.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 16

Kyte – Fear from Death

This past week’s reading was pretty straight forward.  King after king (with very few glorious exceptions) led both the Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) kingdoms away from God into idol worship.

They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree.

They worshiped idols, though the LORD had said, “You shall not do this.”

They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.

They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal.  They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire.

So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence.

Selected verses from 2 Kings 17

“Removed them from his presence” is another way of saying, they were taken by force to be slaves by conquering nations.  The Northern Kingdom is carried off by Assyria, and Judah is eventually taken into captivity by Babylon.  This period of time is often referred to simple as “the Exile.”

It is hard to overstate the significance of their exiled-ness.  It obviously impacted their living circumstances, but it more profoundly affected everything else about them.  The way they understood their relationship to God.  Their place in the world.  Their ethos as a nation.  Hopes for the future.  And so on.

And while there was something of a return during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, their life in the land was a shadow of their former way of life.  Over some centuries, this sense of being in exile developed not only in a geo-political sense, but also in a spiritual one.  All this is important to hold together as we head into the prophets sometime soon.  And of course, all this sets the stage for an even greater deliverance…  what one might even call a resurrection.

There’s so much more that could be explored in the verses above, but maybe the most striking line is “they worshiped worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”  I don’t necessarily think that the verse is suppose to be a once and for all statement about their value as human beings.  However, it does make quite clear that we become like what we worship.  And worshiping idols (of any sort) takes away from the dignity of our humanity…  always.  Of course, the opposite is equally and wonderfully true as well.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 15

The XX – VCR

The Bible’s a funny thing.  You can read it and read it and read it again, and it seems like there is something new to discover all the time.  Such was the case for me this week.

First off, I think I’ve found out who I would want to be if I could be anyone from the Old Testament.  It would have to be Elijah.  He got to do loads of cool stuff.  Showdowns with false prophets.  Fed by birds.  Calling down fire from heaven.  Hearing the whisper of God.  More fire from heaven.  Skips out on dying…  just whisked away to heaven on a fiery chariot.

Ok, so that’s all stuff that I more or less knew.  But what stood out to me on this go around were the similarities between Elijah and Moses.  Not sure why I didn’t see it before.  The author of 1 and 2 Kings is more or less screaming it.  A journey that takes forty units of time (years for Moses and days for Elijah).  Elijah’s journey ends at Horeb.  The same place where Moses and the Israelites journey began.  It is at Horeb that Moses is allowed to see the glory of the Lord.  Presumably at the very same cave, Elijah hears the gentle whisper of God.  They both have water parting experiences.  There is more, but that’s the obvious stuff.

In case that’s not coincidence enough, there is also this little episode in the gospels called “the transfiguration.”  Yet another incident involving a mountain (which is curiously un-named) and the glory of God being revealed.  And who do we find there?  None other than Moses and Elijah.  Oh yeah, and Jesus.

What do you think?  Maybe the gospel writers are trying to make a point?  Moses and Elijah were both present to see the glory of God in a way that no one else had in Israel’s history.  And now that story is evoked all over again.  This time not to tell us something about Moses or Elijah, but to reveal something about who Jesus is.  Maybe it is saying that when Moses and Elijah were on the mountain before and they got to see God (just a little bit), they were in fact seeing Jesus.  Or more certainly, when they see Jesus, they are in fact having the full-disclosure of God…  not just God’s back or a whisper…  but God in full view.

No idea how I missed all that before.  You would think that they might have made mention of that in one of the several graduate school courses I had on the Bible.  Maybe they figured it was so obvious that it didn’t need pointing out.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6

Cover-to-Cover – Week 14

The Morning Benders – Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)

Ok, now where were we? I hate to say it, but since Spring Break, it has been something of a struggle to get back on track with the old read through the Bible in a year plan.  However, I’m making headway.

One silver lining in having to do a ton of reading to catch up is that I’ve been able to cover 2 Samuel in about 2-3 sittings.  And what a doozy.  That’s right I said “doozy”…  I think that makes me officially a woman.  In fact, I don’t even know any women who use that word.

If no one has put this thing to film, I need to go out and buy the rights immediately (can you buy the rights to the Bible?).  This thing is Gladiator, 300, Kingdom of Heaven, Book of Eli, all rolled up into one.  Death and carnage at every turn.  In a word… epic.

Let’s just take a look at some of the more notable characters…

Joab.  Not one of the more well known characters from the Bible, but he’s David’s right hand man.  Pretty much anything that needed getting done, Joab did.  He’s taking out David’s enemies left and right.  Of course, occasionally he took matters into his own hands.  And he may have tried to set himself up against David towards the end of his life.  But Joab was bad to the bone.  One of my favorite Joab episodes is when he has to confront David about being a whiner baby after Absalom dies.  Really, you should go read it right now.

Absalom.  Of course, some of the more obvious stuff was his revolting against his father, killing his brother, and sleeping with all his father’s concubines.  I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m guessing the whole “concubines” idea was a dude’s idea.  Speaking of rocket scientists, how about Absalom’s demise?  Could have been a scene from Dumb and Dumber

Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

2 Samuel 18:9

After which, he was quickly dispatched by the aforementioned Joab.  Classic.

David.  Ah, David.  All the time it seems like there is so much focus on the whole Bathsheba thing.  Really, that’s small potatoes compared to the number of people he wipes out during his reign.  Not to mention that enormous amount of dysfunction he either allows or causes within his own family.  The list of crazy-David’s-family stuff is really too long to list out, but the amazing thing is that despite the sexual stuff, and the bloodshed, and the poor family leadership he exhibits, he is still always known as “a man after God’s own heart”  (Acts 13:22).  Just nuts.

The good news (i.e. gospel) is that if there is hope for him, then I guess there is for this more “minor-league” sinner, as well.

Happy reading.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 13

Sam Amidon – How Come That Blood

So I’m a bit behind in the old Bible reading.  Shocking, I know.  At any rate, I have finished 1 Samuel which is essentially the story (or tragedy) of Saul.

Part of what saddens me about Saul’s story is the same thing I appreciate about it.  It is so very real.  So typically human.  Saul starts with all kinds of amazing potential.  He’s the very first king of Israel.  He has some major victories and is loved by the nation.

However, it doesn’t take long for things to start heading downhill.  In fact, the rest of 1 Samuel could be seen as Saul’s steady descent into becoming a lesser man.  His thirst for power and popularity cause him to act rashly, and apparently disqualifies him from being a fit leader of the nation.

As David’s star begins to rise (pathetic pun, I know), he becomes jealous and petty.  And what began as a man of strength and power degenerates into an insecure wannabe.  If it weren’t so very typical, it might be funny.  However, it’s universal applicability is what makes it ring true.

I’ve wondered repeatedly while reading through this book if there was the possibility of things being different for Saul.  Could he have repented?  Could he have chosen to honor God (and David)?  Could he have taken the high road?  Could his story have been redeemed?  I like to think so.

Cover-to-Cover – Week 12

Greg Laswell – Off I Go

If you are tearing through the Bible in a year, it is possible that the story of Ruth (and Naomi…  and Boaz) might have barely registered on your radar.  All four chapters are easily read in one sitting.  And while God doesn’t “appear” to factor much into the story, I stand by the assertion that God is in fact the main character of the Bible…  all of it.

So this simple story of tragedy, loyalty, hope, and redemption mirrors God’s much larger story that serves as the backdrop for Ruth.  And given that these same themes are found in this larger story, the story of Ruth can be seen in a sense as a microcosm of the human situation.

The key to understanding that this story as the unfolding of of God’s grand purposes in the world, and not just a story of things working out for some specific individuals, is the genealogy at the end.

18 This, then, is the family line of Perez:
Perez was the father of Hezron,

19 Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,

20 Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,

21 Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,

22 Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David.

Ruth 4:18-22

David, the king of Israel, is the grandson of Boaz and Ruth.  And if we follow the line of descendants long enough…  well, you likely know where all this is going.

And in the sort of irony that is typical for God, the unfolding of His story hinges on a person who is the least likely (at least, by Jewish accounts) to be at the center of his cosmic plans – a woman.  And not only a woman, but a foreign woman.  Right in the middle of a story that will take us straight through David, Solomon, on up through Jesus and beyond, we have Ruth.  God takes her very “simple” story and redeems it for the sake of all humanity.

Starting to sound at all familiar?

Cover-to-Cover – Week 11

The XX – Intro (live)

We’ve been in the book of Judges this week, and I doubt I’ll be any more help than your average Study Bible.  But who knows?

The book of Judges seems to be one long slide into greater and greater depravity.  The book opens with the frequently repeated observation that they were unable to drive out completely the other nations.  This is meant to be a not so subtle clue that they are setting themselves up for idolatry later on.  And sure enough, we only get so far as chapter two before they initiate a pattern of idol worship that will be the refrain of Judges.

Yet, the one characteristics of God that gets most clearly highlighted in the midst of all this is his long-suffering.  His willingness to forgive and forgive and forgive.  Even as the nation continues on its gradual decline.

The decline begins with the people.  They chase after other gods, only to be handed over to foreign powers.  Then God raises up a judge to deliver.  At first the judges seem like noble enough heroes.  Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah.  Even Gideon, at first.  Then things begin to take a turn.  Gideon is wildly successful, and somewhere along the line, something got twisted just a bit.  It became more about him than about God.  And he began to draw attention to himself.

While the moral bankruptcy of the people is seen throughout, eventually we see the faults of the leaders more and more.  Abimelech, Jephthah, Samson.  And if the point isn’t clear enough, how about these gems: The Levite (so shameful we don’t even get his name) and his concubine that dies being raped to death in Gibeah.  The civil war that ensues.  The genius plan hatched to get wives for the Benjamites.  All pretty sordid stuff.

In those days there was no king in Israel;
everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 21:25

Cover-to-Cover – Week 10

Greg Laswell – Around the Bend

So a couple nights ago, I’m reading through some of the latter chapters of Joshua in which the land is being divided up among the Israelites.  As I’m wrapping up, I state the obvious to Alison, “Man, this stuff is boring.”  To which she mutters some words of general agreement.  Of course, my attitude towards this section of the Scriptures reveals more about me than it does about the text.  And as best as I can tell, there are at least three things about my approach to these passages that keeps me from being able to appreciate them as the words of God.

1)  Our need to see “me” in every passage.  I talked about this some in church a little bit ago, but we tend to approach the Bible like a self-absorbed conversation partner.  As long as the conversation is about me, my accomplishments, my hopes, my concerns, everything is good.  As soon as we start talking about something else, our mind wanders.  Things seem dull.  We are bored.   So all this talk about the Israelites sinking roots in the Promised Land begins to sound like the adults’ voices in a Peanuts cartoon largely because we fail to see what it has to do with me. But can you imagine a group of people who had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 YEARS finally having a place to call home?  Or a race that had had been slaves in another nation for centuries, finally liberated, and finally in a (promised) land in which they can sink roots?

2)  Our culture of mobility.  No question that modern advancements in transportation have increasingly made moving places something that can happen with little effort.  However, this ability to move with relative ease from one place to the other has also heightened a sense in which we are dis-placed.  Disconnected.  Severed from a connection to land and place, we simply can’t identify with more agrarian people who didn’t see land exclusively as a commodity, but as a gift.

3)  Our tendency to separate spiritual and physical.  This is clearly related to the previous issue, but it runs a bit deeper.  We have a hard time understanding why people would have gotten all worked up over a plot of land.  Why don’t these people know (as we do) that one’s spiritual life isn’t determined by where they are physically?  We worship God in spirit and in truth.  Right?  And yet, the biblical witness is clear.  The separation between physical and spiritual simply doesn’t exist.  There is no getting around the very earthy understanding that God’s people had at that time…  God’s presence and his blessing are organically linked to the land.  In fact, judging from the continued turf wars happening in the Middle East, not much has changed for some.

Maybe that helps.  Maybe it muddies the water even more.  Happy reading.