I haven’t finished compiling what was supposed to be mi today’s post (procrastination, procrastination), so I’ll share some videos that have impacted me over the last week.
First up is the tragedy of gendercide in India and China. My mother told me she was delighted when I was born—she really wanted a daughter. Sadly, because of cultural influences, not all mothers feel the same way. I found the audio commentary by the Centre for Public Christianity to be immensely helpful.
Second is another tragedy involving babies—abandonment of unwanted babies in South Korea. The silver lining is the orphanage that takes them in. Via a drop-box.
Finally, to all the single ladies: marry a man whom you wouldn’t mind dressing you one day. An extremely uplifting story from Australia of deep and joyful love in spite of circumstances:
I dislike throwing things away. It’s a good thing that I’ve moved so much in the recent past (6 times in 12 years), or else I’d have a lot more stuff of questionable utility.
This phenomenon is called the endowment effect, and it describes how something becomes more valuable to us simply because it belongs to us (or because we imagine it belongs to us). Incidentally, the endowment effect extends to non-physical things, for example, wanting to click on every link shared in your social media.
The conquest of Canaan under Joshua isn’t a comfortable topic. Why would God command the destruction of people, and can He do it again today?
Here are three resources I’ve found helpful on this topic, in the order in which I encountered them:
Chris Wright: What about the Canaanites?
In this sermon (length: 37 min), Wright gives three wrong solutions and three hopefully helpful perspectives.
The first of the wrong solutions is, “That was the OT. Thankfully, the NT puts it all right. God was never really like that,” OR “God has changed now that Jesus has come.” Have a listen for the other two wrong answers, and for the helpful perspectives which stem from setting the episode of the conquest of Canaan in the wider context of the Bible.
Greg Koukl: The Canaanites: Genocide or Judgement?
In this article, Koukl seeks to answer one of the New Atheists’ objections to the God of the Old Testament. The destruction of the Canaanites wasn’t a matter of genocide, but of judgement. They were a nasty bunch, with a culture that practised stuff that was detestable to God (Deuteronomy 9:5, 18:9,12; Leviticus 18:24-25).
God judges evil, and if we are offended when we read of the conquest it shows we don’t hate sin like God does.
Peter J. Williams: New Atheists and the Old Testament
Is there a link between religion and violence? How can a good God command the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites? What difference does the nature and character of God (e.g. omniscience) make in the issuing of such a command? Who does most of the fighting in the conquest of Canaan? Does God, who gives life, have the authority to take it away?
Watch the video (length 51:32) to see how Williams handles these questions. There’s a Q&A at the end.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
The killing of the Canaanites wasn’t indiscriminate: Rahab and her family were saved. We don’t know if she was an exception or an example, but what’s clear is that it was possible to switch allegiance to Yahweh and live.
When the Israelites became Canaanized, they too suffer the same judgement of being driven out of the land. God is morally consistent.
In all this, God showed extreme patience in delaying judgement. He waited 400 years to judge the Canaanites (Genesis 15:16). He waited hundreds of years to judge the Israelites—that’s why the prophets are so long.
We need to read the story in the light of the beginning and the end. In the beginning, the world was without violence. In the end the wolf will lie down with the lamb.
I hadn’t gotten very far into reading 1 Maccabees before I was overwhelmed with the number of strange names of people and places. I wondered, “Is this how it is for someone reading the Bible for the first time?”
1&2 Maccabees are part of the Old Testament Apocrypha and tell the story of Israel in the intertestamental period. The writing isn’t particularly riveting, and at one point the author even says his work isn’t meant to be accurate (2 Macc 2:28). That aside, the books are a useful historical source for learning how Hanukkah came about, for understanding the Hellenisation (adoption of Greek culture) in Israel and for explaining how there were two high priests in office when John the Baptist began his ministry (Luke 3:2).
During the period in which the books are set, the Jews were under oppression and were being forced to give up their distinctive Jewish practices—the Sabbath observance, temple worship, circumcision on the eighth day, etc. Their reactions ranged from capitulation to resistance.
Mattathias the priest and his five sons were among those who resisted, vowing to fight the spread of pagan worship in Israel. They were successful despite the loss of many lives. Things were looking up in Israel: temple sacrifices had been re-instituted and Jewish rule had been reinstated in the land. But the Maccabees were only human: Mattathias’ youngest son, Jonathan, combined the offices of high priest and prince, though he lacked the genealogical prerequisites for both. Jonathan’s son, John Hyrcanus, was as ruthless as any pagan ruler.
On completing the books of Maccabees, I wondered if there were any in Israel at the time who longed for a leader with the right pedigree, one who would restore pure worship of the one true God, who would rule in justice… He was on His way!
I grew up in an ahistorical form of Christianity and it was refreshing for me to learn that truly God doesn’t leave Himself without witness. The Holy Spirit was at work long before 1900, albeit using flawed human beings.
The readings start on Ash Wednesday (the 13th) and run from Monday through to Saturday. If you’re short on time, there’s a lite version. Happy reading!
The book of Acts is epic. It covers events over 3 decades on 2 continents involving thousands of people. Quite a few of the people mentioned by Luke are known to us from sources outside the Bible, see The Historical Reliability of Acts for more on that.
Today we know the book as ‘The Acts of the Apostles’, but humans and their actions aren’t its main subject. Read The Acts – of God? for a statistical analysis of nouns, verbs and speeches in Acts that demonstrate Luke’s main focus.