All who could understand

Neither foreigners nor children were excused from extended law-reading sessions:

There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read before the entire assembly of Israel, including the women, the little children, and the foreigners who were with them (Joshua 8:35)

On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3)

What could this mean for God’s covenant community today?

A simple timeline of the patriarchs

When I saw the tables in this post, I knew I wanted to see a graphical representation of that information. Being a procrastinating overachiever, it took me 3 months to come up with and execute my own concept (which, I admit, isn’t revolutionary):

Timelines of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph

Here are some things that leaped out to me:
• Jacob and Esau would have known their grandpa Abraham. Most certainly he told the boys about Yahweh’s promises, which to my mind makes Esau’s despising his birth right the more egregious.
• Isaac would have known of grandson Joseph’s “death”. (Isaac also vastly miscalculated the time of his death by about 40 years.)
• There are big blanks in the lives of Abra(ha)m, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph where seemingly nothing important happened. (The operative word being ‘seemingly’.)
Over to you, dear reader: Anything you’re seeing for the first time, or in a new light?

There are no uninteresting Bible passages

I recently completed reading the book of Numbers, which contains such edge-of-your-seat, can’t-wait-to see-what-happens-next sections such as 1:5-46 (the first census), 7:1-89 (offerings at the dedication of the temple), and 33:1-49 (the stages in Israel’s journey).

If you consider these passages a potent sleeping potion, this post may be helpful.

First, we all have spheres in our lives where we’re obsessed with names and numbers. We bloggers can have an unhealthy preoccupation with our site analytics. Maybe you’re a sports fan and can’t imagine life without post-game stats. Or perhaps the stock market is your thing: following the performance of certain stocks is a daily ritual. Car lovers know a lot about engine horsepower. Techies can wax poetic about RAM and processor speeds. Fans of fiction (whether it be on TV, at the movies or in a book) can tell you all about the life of their favourite character(s). And to indict myself, we ladies have a tendency to want to know all the stats about a newborn baby (Name? Gender? Weight? Length? Natural or CS? How long was labour? When can I see him/her?)

So the problem isn’t that these passages are lists of irrelevant names and numbers. The problem is that we’re clueless as to why they are important. In order to appreciate them, we need to understand why they were placed in the sacred scriptures.

Second, though you may find these lists tedious, be assured God doesn’t. Who is responsible for the three sections I mentioned above? (Answers in Numbers 1:1-3, 7:11 and 33:2) Yahweh is responsible for us having to read all that stuff. You and I may not care how many male goats Abidan and Ahira presented at the tabernacle 3,500 years ago, but God does. He delights in the service and obedience of His people: none of it is trivial to Him.


(First point above by Iain Duguid [what a vowelicious name!] in a sermon titled “Stand up and be counted” on Numbers 1:5-64. Second point by Dale Ralph Davis in a seminar on Numbers 7-9 titled  “Everything you need for a trip ”.)

The book-ends of the Bible

The beginning of the book of Genesis and the ending of the book of Revelation give us a glimpse of the world as the all-good all-powerful Creator God has planned it.
What do both pictures have in common? For starters, humankind has unrestricted access to the holy God. From elsewhere in the Bible, we know that there’s no sin and consequently, none of its pernicious effects. And that’s where I’d normally stop. But here are a few overlooked aspects:

  •  A wedding (Genesis 2:22-25, Revelation 19:7-9)
  • A well-watered garden (Genesis 2:8, 10-14; Revelation 22:1-2)
  • Trees for food (Genesis 2:16, Revelation 22:2)

 

In other words, life in the new heavens and the new earth is not just going to be limited to the spiritual plane, but shall be an experience for all the senses!

[PS. Just had to break my lengthy hiatus to celebrate the 6th anniversary of this blog today!]

A concentrated course on the New Testament canon

Here’s a profitable way to spend 3 hours of your time: listen to these three lectures by Michael Kruger:

  • Origin of the canon (length 46:04)
  • Date of the canon (length 50:18)
  • Contenders for the canon (length 46:09)

I strongly suggest listening when you’re mentally alert as he packs things in very tight.

Regular readers of this blog may know I’ve read some extracanonical material (Maccabbees, the Protoevangelium of James, the Patristics). I was especially helped by Dr Kruger’s comments in the third lecture on these and similar material.

The Q&A session (length 28:40) is excellent, not only because the questions are good, but also because the questioners used a microphone 😉

To take in the same material at your own pace drop by Dr Kruger’s blog, Canon Fodder, and read the posts in the series 10 Misconceptions about the NT Canon and 10 basic facts about the NT Canon that every Christian should memorise.

Was Samson buff?

Warning: pure speculation and conjecture ahead.

All we can be certain about Samson’s physical appearance is that he had long hair. In contemporary artwork, he is normally depicted as someone who would know his way around gym equipment. But what if he was a regular guy—maybe even unimpressive to look at? I’d like to think so.

For one, he was able to fool people regarding how to subdue him (Judges 15:11-17; 16:4-15).

Second, and more fundamental, is that a non-muscular Samson would fit in with God’s pattern of using the things that are not to shame those that are (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). After all, He’s the same God who whittled down Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 so that the Israelites would not get fat heads (Judges 7:1-7). Had Samson been a muscular fellow it would be easy for others and himself to attribute his strength to him and not to the God who set him apart before birth.

Of course, this is all fanciful and may well be erroneous. But it’s just a thought 🙂

Paul and Artemis of the Ephesians

The Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century AD (Ephesu...
The Artemis of Ephesus, 1st century AD (Ephesus Archaeological Museum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Acts 19:23-41, we read of an incident that happened towards the tail end of the apostle Paul’s two-year stay in Ephesus. Interestingly, this account doesn’t contain direct speech from Paul; rather we are told what others reported him to have said.

Demetrius the silversmith quotes Paul as saying “gods made with hands are not gods” (Acts 19:26). If that is a correct quotation, then Paul was teaching clear and uncompromising truth as found in the Old Testament: that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), and Artemis (or Zeus, or Baal, or whoever) wasn’t it.

Demetrius succeeds in working up the crowd, and a two-hour chanting session ensues. The town clerk then comes out to calm the people down, giving a speech of his own. About Paul and his companions, he says that they were neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of Artemis/Diana (Acts 19:37).

That Paul wasn’t into theft isn’t surprising. But that he hadn’t said anything that could be interpreted as being insulting to the honour of a false god is. He had preached the gospel, he had preached the truth about the living God, but he had not—according to the city clerk—blasphemed the religion of the city.

In our increasingly multi-everything society, that’s something for Christ-followers to keep in mind as we engage with those whose beliefs differ from ours: an approach that’s full of both grace and truth, just like the Saviour we profess.

This blog post was drawn from a lecture given by Christopher Wright, based on a chapter in his book The Mission of God.

What about the Canaanites?

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.

TL;DR/ Conclusion

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.

2 articles on Acts

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.

 

One way in which the gospel transforms us

As a young teen, my go-to choice of humour was sarcasm. Following advice from one of my brothers (who follows this blog, hi!) I tried to kick the habit, but picked it up again when I started attending a high school where we actively cultivated it  (we impressionable students were under the influence of a couple of teachers in the English department who had sarcasm and irony down pat). Sarcasm and I parted ways in recent years, and I always thought that it was because my brand of humour didn’t translate well into another language and culture. I may have missed the real driving-force behind the change:

One of the ways you can tell a person doesn’t get the gospel—they’re very religious, really know their Bible, big into doctrine—they don’t have a good sense of humour. Well, some years ago somebody said, “The way I can tell a Pharisee is this: they go around looking at people saying, ‘That’s not funny.’”

There’s another kind of humour, I would call it the relativist humour, which is very cynical, very sceptical, very bitter but also sometimes very cutting towards people they don’t like, which shows that in the end everybody’s self-righteous, even the so-called open-minded people. They say, “Oh, I’m open-mined. I hate bigots, I hate self-righteous people. I can’t stand them. I feel much superior to them. I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.”

And so the gospel takes that all away because the gospel makes you able to laugh at yourself, and it’s the only kind of humour that’s funny. It’s the only kind of humour that’s healing. And you can laugh at yourself without cutting. There are people who make fun of themselves and you can tell that they’re bitter, they’re upset, and they’re kind of into self-loathing. That’s not the gospel, of course.

As you know the gospel makes you not think too much of yourself or too little of yourself, it just makes you think of yourself less. Often because you’re full. You’re not worried, you’re not having to steal self-acceptance from what everybody else says, and as a result, what? Well, it means you poke fun at yourself but not in a way that you’re really trying to bring your own self down and you’re funny. You’re finally funny. Tweet that. I dare you.

Tim Keller, in a talk titled The Gospel-Shaped Life. (The above is an edited transcript of a sub-point of one his four points.)

A somewhat related post: Did Jesus laugh?

Don’t be shy to share your thoughts in the comments!