Friday, September 22, 2017

Small-town Minnesota

Just ran across a marvelous essay on living in a small town in (southern) Minnesota.
Yet I know that all that scarcity—or the perception of it—is what drives cultural life here. Rather than paucity, I see abundance of life and fullness of experience. A dynamic current runs through our community life. Though much of rural life is defined by scarcity of people and places, it’s precisely that sparseness that compels people to get involved. That’s what moves us toward action and makes events more meaningful. It’s a scarcity that’s vibrant.

Rural life is plentiful and life-giving in its own way. So I continue down this path, engaging in life’s mystery. I look for opportunities. I take on some of the boldness mirrored by so many around me. I say yes. I will continue to experience the mystery of life and faith as I cast anchor in the vibrant scarcity of rural life.

Indeed! Of course, Grand Marais is a bit different in that we aren't a farming community—not enough dirt or level ground here—and the nearest town over 250 is Two Harbors, about 1.5 hours away (or you could go to Thunder Bay in Canada). We already have a food co-op and a thriving art scene that is nationally known. And, most importantly, we have Lake Superior!

The limited role of intercession

Intercessory prayer, however, rarely eradicates sin. Sin usually remains suspended over the sinners until divine judgment has been fulfilled (cf. Num 14:19–25, Jer 7:16) or until an act of atonement has been made (cf. Num 15:22–29). The same understanding seems to apply to David’s intercessory prayer and his subsequent sacrifice of atonement. Not unlike in the wilderness rebellion against Moses and Aaron, the people’s offense required both intercessory prayer (“they fell on their faces”) and Aaron’s cultic form of intercession (incense offering) to propitiate the divine wrath and to atone for the people’s sin. Only then the plague came to a halt (cf. Num 16:45–50, 2 Sam 24:18–25).—Standing in the Breach, page 247

Thursday, September 21, 2017

From despot to servant

Schenker catches the narrative development insightfully when he observes that from 2 Sam 24:3 onward, especially from v. 14 to v. 17, the account testifies to the transformation of the ruler. David’s conception of power does a 180-degree turn. At the outset of the narrative, the king is only concerned about personal power that is expressed through a numerically strong army. When the king’s seer confronts David with his guilt, David repents and attempts first to save himself (v. 14). As the extent of the disaster that David has caused becomes evident to him, the king prefers the downfall of himself and his family to that of the people (v. 17). Schenker observes,
King David changes from a despot to a father of his country; he no longer exploits his people and his power, rather he offers himself and his family for the people.
Only when David comes to stand in the right relationship to the power of a just ruler does he receive divine instructions to build an altar for himself and the people.—Standing in the Breach, pages 244–45

<idle musing>
I think there might be a lesson for us there. Servant leadership is a buzzword, but this passage shows that if it is really embraced, and not just tossed about, God can do something.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why was David forgiven, but Saul not?

A brief comparison with 1 Samuel 15 is quite illuminating. Besides the reoccurrence of the expression of God’s change of mind concerning the punishment (נחם [nḥm]; cf. 1 Sam 15:29, 2 Sam 24:16), in both accounts we find reference to the sin of a king. In both instances, God sends a prophet in the morning to draw attention to the monarch’s transgression (cf. 1 Sam 15:12, 2 Sam 24:11). This is followed on both occasions by a double royal confession of guilt (cf. 1 Sam 15:24, 30; 2 Sam 24:10, 17). Initially, however, Saul sought to justify his failure by blaming the people (1 Sam 15:14, 21), while David fully acknowledges his guilt and is eventually ready to take upon himself all the punishment (2 Sam 24:17). Saul is not even ready to accept his own judgment (1 Sam 15:24–25). In fact, Saul does not change much during the conflict with Samuel, while David acknowledges the divine word communicated through the prophet and thus repented genuinely. Authentic repentance of sin averts the wrath of God and often leads to the reestablishment of the divine-human relationship. By praying that Yhwh would redirect the punishment onto himself, David appears to earn the right to pray for pardon for the people. David’s prayer was heard.—Standing in the Breach, page 244

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Wrath? Yes!

The notion of the wrath of God is not a pleasant one. Indeed the modern consciousness resists it mightily. Jonathan Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is cited often, but only for negative and antiquarian reasons, that is, an example of a time and a theology that are long gone. Again, however, a dismissal of this notion may be simplistic and reflective of a tendency to cut the moral nerve of our theology. The wrath of God is a metaphor, an anthropomorphic figure, to express the conviction that there is in the universe a moral connection, that the love and mercy of God are not apart from or understandable without the justice of God. Sin is not finally, and in the Bible never actually, an abstract notion. . . . It is a breakdown in the nature of relationship, a moral breach that always has consequences . . . It is not a divine appetite that confession seeks to satisfy, but a divine nature that is just and insists that the universe reflect that justice.— Patrick D. Miller, They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994) 247–48; cited in Standing in the Breach, page 239 (emphasis original)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Carta Online!

Carta has a new online program coming soon. It looks great; they are going to premier it in Boston at AAR/SBL in November. You can get a preview here:

Figurative language? Or literal? Is there a difference?

The traditional position, both in philosophy and in linguistics – and indeed the everyday view – is that (1) there is a stable and unambiguous notion of literality, and (2) that there is a sharp distinction to be made between literal language, on the one hand, and non-literal or figurative language on the other. According to this view, while literal language is precise and lucid, figurative language is imprecise, and is largely the domain of poets and novelists. In his 1994 book The Poetics of Mind, cognitive psychologist and cognitive linguist Raymond Gibbs examined this issue. Based on a close examination of the key features that are held to distinguish literal and figurative language, and based on a wide-ranging survey of different kinds of psycholinguistic experiments aimed at uncovering such a distinction, Gibbs found that there is no evidence for a principled distinction between literal and figurative language.—Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction, p. 287

All that's left…

Like so often in the psalms, David entrusts himself to Yhwh’s mercy (cf. Ps 51:1 [MT 51:3]). Divine mercy is one of the fundamental attributes that Yhwh has revealed to Moses in the aftermath of Israel’s archetypal sin, the golden calf (רחם [rḥm]; cf. Exod 34:6). Since then, Israel has invoked divine mercy, as one of the last resorts, like one who has nothing left to claim for oneself, but to throw oneself to the “womb pity” of God (רחם [rḥm]; cf. Dan 9:18).—Standing in the Breach, page 237

Friday, September 15, 2017

How does this king thing work anyway?

The prophets speak on behalf of God to the people, while the kings are called to rule and judge wisely on behalf of the divine King. The prophets are called to stand in the breach on behalf of the sinful people, whereas the kings have the responsibility of protecting the people against earthly enemies (cf. Ps 72). Unlike the prophet, the king’s role is not primarily advocating for the people before the heavenly throne and speaking to the people on behalf of God. In fact, it is interesting to note that God communicates to a person as great and pious as King David through the prophets Nathan and Gad. Having said this, Israel’s kings also intercede occasionally for the people.—Standing in the Breach, page 224

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Worship wars, part 2

From The Christian Week
I have recently had the opportunity to visit two of the most popular churches in my city. They both had something in common when it came to worship. First, both had very good worship bands that were obviously very talented. The lights in the auditorium were dimmed (or right out) and the lights were on the band. The band only played a few songs and most of the congregation listened instead of singing along. Basically, both churches put on very nice and professional Christian music concerts.
I’m seeing and hearing a lot of this in the last several years.

Back some 15 years ago, while we still lived in the Twin Cities, we went to a all-city gathering of a megachurch that had local campuses scattered throughout the city, such that each branch was only a couple of hundred. Our daughter was involved with one of the branches and invited us to join her for the big gathering, advertised as a worship service. The first 30–45 minutes were basically a big concert, complete with light show. Truly spectacular, but I wouldn’t have called it worship; the songs were not singable by a congregation and there was no attempt to involve the congregation. It was just a (well-done) concert.

Sadly, that seems to have become the norm in many places—and not just megachurches, either. : ( Maybe I’m an old man waxing nostalgic, but I seem to recall that once upon a time people would enjoy sitting on the floor and singing (admittedly not very good or theologically deep) choruses together. If somebody could play a couple of chords on the guitar, they would accompany, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was the body was together and sharing.

That seems to be dead now. People talk about getting together for a Bible study, and you enquire about the format. Response, “Oh, we’ll throw in a CD and sing along with some well-known Christian artist for a song or two, then we’ll throw in a teaching DVD by a well-known Christian teacher.” My question, “Is there any interaction on the part of those there?” Response, “Oh, sure, we’ll discuss the teaching a little bit, but hey, what do we know compared to the teacher?”

The Reformation is dead.
</idle musing>

Justice? What is justice?

In the Old Testament, justice always describes a relationship between two entities. When applied to God, the terms for justice can be used with reference to the relationship between God and the world, between God and society, or between God and individuals. Correspondingly, when applied to humanity, justice can refer to the relationship between an individual and the world, between an individual and God, or between an individual and society. The relational aspect of justice gives it a dynamic and process-driven character. That is to say, justice can increase and decrease, it can be attributed or denied, and therefore ultimately remains elusive.

The motif of justice in the Old Testament has two axes: divine justice and human justice. Both axes involve—albeit with different emphases—cosmological, historical, anthropological, theological, and ethical dimensions. Both axes share three further aspects: the belief in justice, the problematizing of justice, and the redefining of justice.—The Development of God in the Old Testament, page 30

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

There are limits!

The outcome of Samuel’s prayer (1 Sam 15:11) is already foreshadowed in the prophet’s warning that was voiced in the context of his commitment to pray for both people and king: “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (1 Sam 12:25). We find the same dynamics in Deut 10:12–22. There intercessory prayer for pardon can only be effective in the long run, if the prayed-for party returns to Yhwh and His ways. In the case of Saul, we have seen that there are indicators that suggest that his repentance was not genuine. This understanding of intercessory prayer is strongly endorsed in Jeremiah’s intercessory activity. Jeremiah has to learn as well that there comes a time when intercessory prayer for the disobedient party is rendered ineffective and judgment takes over, if the party itself does not return to God (cf. Jer 15:1). In spite of the prophets’ persistent warnings and prayers, Israel persisted in their disobedience. The prophetic warning materialized in 721 and 587 B.C.E.—Standing in the Breach, page 222

<idle musing>
Yes, there are limits to how long. I was in a discussion with someone a week or two ago who thinks that it is "too late" for the US and the Western world. Personally, I don't agree. Anyone who has read about ancient Greece and then compares it to modern western society would have to agree that western society still looks puritanical compared to them … and look at the success of the early church in those areas! If only we would spend more time praying and less time soapboxing, maybe we'd see the same results.

Of course, praying isn't as "sexy" and doesn't bring the personal accolades. And big gatherings, proclaiming victory over the darkness, are much easier than the moment-by-moment death to self necessary for real victory over the darkness.

But the call remains. It's our choice to obey it—or not.

Whose praise would you prefer? Society's? Your subgroup's? Or God's?

Just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Are you listening?

This pattern of informing the prophetic mediator is categorically spelled out in Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” Particularly in the case of Moses’ advocacy, I have argued that Yhwh does not just make the prophet privy to His intentions for information’s sake, but Yhwh does it because He seeks to elicit an intercessory response from the mediator (cf. Exod 32:10, Num 14:12, Deut 9:14). Moses responds to what is most likely a concealed divine invitation to plead for mercy by imploring the Lord: “why does your wrath burn hot against your people. . . . Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind (נחם [nḥm]) and do not bring disaster on your people” (Exod 14–32:11). As a result of Moses’ prayer, Yhwh changed His mind (נחם [nḥm]). about the intended judgment (Exod 32:15). So when we read in 1 Samuel 15 that “The Word of the Lord came to Samuel,” saying that God regretted (נחם [nḥm]) that He made Saul king because of his disobedience, we are most likely to understand that Yhwh is not only informing Samuel in characteristic fashion about His plans, but also that God is inviting a response from His prophet.—Standing in the Breach, page 209

<idle musing>
Are you listening to God? Are you hearing him say he's going to judge? If so, maybe instead of getting on your soapbox and condemning everything, you should get on your knees and intercede. OK, forget the maybe. You definitely should get on your knees and intercede. Then, and only then, do you have a right (and responsibility) to warn the people.

My experience (limited though it may be) is that if I start blasting without interceding first, it's out of a self-righteous attitude. On the other hand, if I intercede first, I find that I'm crying out for them because of love, not with a judgmental attitude. Try it!
</idle musing>

Monday, September 11, 2017

No silver bullet

In the context of Moses’ prayer, as recorded in Deuteronomy 9–10, there is good reason to argue that the efficacy of the intercessor’s prayer is dependent on the reception of the prophets’ instructions (cf. Deut 10:12–22). In other words, the response of the guilty party plays a decisive role in whether the mediator’s prayer is answered or not. Only if the sin is recognized and confessed, and one is committed to do so no more, is the mediator’s intercession likely to be effective long-term. This dynamic of biblical intercession is further confirmed in the context of Jeremiah’s intercessory ministry. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that Samuel’s speech ends in a warning that reminds of the covenant curses as we find them in the book of Deuteronomy: “you shall surely perish” (Deut 8:20, 27).—Standing in the Breach, page 205

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Long-suffering defined

The fact that Yhwh kept on calling and commissioning prophets over the centuries reveals that God is fundamentally committed to His people in love and righteousness.—Standing in the Breach, page 204

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

I can't help it!

[First Samuel 12] Verse 23 strongly suggests that intercession “is an inextricable part of the prophetic role.” It seems as if Samuel is not at liberty to refuse Israel’s request for advocacy before Yhwh. We shall see in our reading of Isaiah’s, Jeremiah’s, and Amos’s intercessory prayers that their ministries were driven by a compulsion to defend the sinful party even against divine prohibition to pray for the people. … Defending the sinful people in intercessory prayer before a loving and just God is the benchmark of the authentic prophet. Like Moses, Samuel is aware that Israel breached the covenant, and yet he could not but advocate for divine grace. In doing so, the prophet reflects in a sense the heart of Yhwh. Just as God could not cast away His repentant people in spite of their sins (cf. 1 Sam 12:22), so Samuel could not help but intercede for the undeserving.—Standing in the Breach, pages 203–4

Monday, September 04, 2017

Sensing the tension

Psalm 99 illustrates well God’s fundamental challenge. That is, how to be both a loving God and an “avenger of their wrongdoings” (Ps 99:8). According to Psalm 99, Yhwh’s kingship and holiness are ultimately defined by divine willingness to bear Israel’s sin, without leaving the sinners unpunished. Yhwh does not avoid sinners and their wrongdoings, but is patiently willing to endure their sins. At the same time God ensures that justice is done. This portrayal is not only fundamentally rooted in Yhwh’s self-revelation as a God of love and justice (cf. Exod 34:6–7), but is also of central importance for our discussion of Samuel’s intercessory ministry as depicted in chaps. 12 and 15.—Standing in the Breach, page 201

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Languages change, so should we

The old King James translation “helpmeet” does not mean a help mate but rather a helper who is “meet,” that is, suitable for the task. Woman is not man’s maid, nor merely his assistant, but a “suitable companion,” corresponding to him. She is the crown of creation, God’s last act that makes it all very good.—Ben Witherington in Torah Old and New, forthcoming from Fortress Press

Friday, September 01, 2017

Not just a veneer

Chapter 7 [of 1 Samuel] portrays a people who come to their senses in the face of opposition. With the help of Samuel, the covenant mediator, Israel is readily willing to remove all their idols from their midst and put their trust anew in their covenant God only. As we have seen, the narrative reports in some details of their repentant hearts. Israel confesses their sins and put their entire trust in Yhwh and His mediator (1 Sam 7:6). In other words, it is not about manipulative or mechanical practices that seek to evoke Yhwh’s favor. Rather, the narrative paints a picture of genuine repentance, reorientation of trust, and allegiance.—Standing in the Breach, page 189

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Obedience? Or politics?

In the first book of Samuel, the sea-people represent in some sense Israel’s fear. Thus, one of the central issues of chap. 7, as in so many other passages of the Old Testament, is the issue of trust. In whom does Israel put their trust? The foreign gods of a technologically more advanced people, a tangible symbol such as the ark, or their covenant God who delivered their fathers from Egypt? The reader knows from chaps. 4–6 that Philistine power rests on idolatrous loyalties that cannot save. Israel has little choice than to take refuge in Yhwh. Samuel’s intercession is in some sense detached from the world of warfare and politics, it is an act of obedience and courage in the face of a real danger and threat.—Standing in the Breach, page 188

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

He will hear!

Samuel’s intercessory prayer is emphasized by the comment that he cried out to Yhwh on behalf of Israel. This time, it is not the people who cry out in the face of danger (cf. 1 Sam 12:10, Ps 107), but their mediator. Here we find employed the most fundamental terminology to describe the dynamics of intercessory prayer: Israel urged Samuel not to cease to cry out to the Lord for them. Samuel cried out to Yhwh on behalf of Israel and Yhwh answered him (1 Sam 7:9). Miller argues that not only is the cry from trouble and suffering “one of the thematic threads of the Scriptures,” but so is the certainty that God will “hear and respond to that outcry.”—Standing in the Breach, page 184

Monday, August 28, 2017

A recurring theme

After Samuel disappeared from the biblical text for more than two chapters, he finally reappears in the narrative without introduction (1 Sam 7:3). Back on the scene, Samuel demands three things of Israel: (1) that they remove all foreign gods and turn radically from idolatry (2) that they renew their commitment to Yhwh (3) that they serve Yhwh alone (1 Sam 7:3). Samuel’s postulations echo Moses’ covenant faith as we find it expressed in Deuteronomy (cf. Deut 6:4–5, 10:12–22). Thus, Samuel affirms the core claim of Mosaic covenantal faith: to turn (שוב [shuv]) from idolatry and to recommit themselves wholeheartedly to Yhwh. Only then, God will deliver them from the oppression of the Philistines.—Standing in the Breach, page 179

Friday, August 25, 2017

What was he doing all night?

[First Samuel] Chapter 15, among other things, illustrates what Samuel meant when he declared that he, as a prophet, considers it as sin (חטא [ḥt']) against the Lord not to intercede for those entrusted to him (1 Sam 12:23). In characteristic fashion, the prophet is not only informed about Yhwh’s intention but is also commissioned to deliver the will of God (cf. Amos 3:7). In this case, Samuel is sent to inform Saul that God has rejected him as king because of his disobedience. In response to Yhwh’s strict words, Samuel spends the entire night in prayer with the Lord (1 Sam 15:11). Chapter 15 raises issues of great theological delicacy, such as the power and discernment of genuine repentance, election, and covenant obedience, divine mutability, and the limits of prophetic intercession.—Standing in the Breach, page 177

<idle musing>
What was Samuel doing all night? Another model of what a true prophet looks like. He's given a message to deliver, but before he delivers it, he spends the whole night interceding, asking God to be merciful—at least that's how I read it, based on Samuel's comment in 1 Sam 12:23. That doesn't seem to be the way some of these so-called prophets work today.

Even if you can get them to say anything other than "God will bless you with abundant material blessings," all they will do is stand on a hill and pronounce curses.

I know of exceptions, real prophets who almost sweat blood interceding, but they are the exception, not the rule.
</idle musing>

Thursday, August 24, 2017

It's in your hands

We have seen that Moses’ intercessory activity enabled Israel to make a new start. But ultimately, it is the people’s choice that will determine their future (the same dynamic is found in Numbers 13–14, where after a temporary pardon, it is up to the new generation whether they want to follow Yhwh or not). As faithful mediator, Moses stands in the breach before Yhwh in order to obtain pardon for them. He does not stop there, for with prophetic vigor equal to when he defended the people before God, Moses admonishes the people to change their sinful ways and recommit themselves to God and His ways (cf. Deut 10:12–20). This twofold ministry of representing the people before Yhwh and of representing Yhwh before the people is reminiscent of the later prophets. In fact, both aspects mark the genuine prophet (cf. 1 Sam 12:23; Jer 27:18; Ezek 13:5, 22:30).—Standing in the Breach, page 170

<idle musing>
This is beginning to sound like a refrain, isn't it? The intercessor stands in the gap, then rebukes the people. If the people respond in repentance, i.e., they change their hearts and their ways, then judgment doesn't fall.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

High standards

The narrative states several times that God was going to destroy Israel (cf. Deut 9:8, 14, 19, 20). It was only through Moses’ sacrificial and persistent prayer that YHWH showed mercy, changed His annihilative intensions, and renewed the covenant with them (Deut 9:19, 10:10; cf. Exod 32:10–14, Ps 106:23). Thus, the theology of this narrative seems to suggest that God’s grace and mercy must first be invoked and claimed in prayer (Exod 34:6–9). Not just by anyone, but by a faithful mediator.—Standing in the Breach, page 170

<idle musing>
OK, you "name it and claim it" people: There's the standard. Can you meet it?

I suspect not, because the goals of most are self-centered, not God-centered. You can't be a faithful intercessor without being God-centered. And if you are God-centered, the only things you want to claim are ones that will bring the maximum glory to God, not to self. And that basically disqualifies 99% of what most people in the U.S. want.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ouch! That hurts

Just ran across a (longish) post that attempts to explain why 81% of self-identifying evangelicals voted for, and largely continue to support, the current POTUS.
Donald Trump is what we evangelicals already are, or at least are becoming. It explains why he is so supported among us. Even after a cavalcade of circus-like activity coming from the White House since his inauguration, he still retains his support. Why? Why not, I say, if he matches what we actually value. We love entertainment, ourselves, power, and money. Trump gives us those things. We need to admit it. We love these values even more than the Son of God they obscure behind them. We might fill out surveys and claim differently, but we don’t live that way.
<idle musing>
Ouch! Unfortunately, as he points out in the main body of the post, it is true. The keynotes of traditional Evangelicalism of the 18th through mid-20th century (as highlighted by Bebbington) have been eclipsed by the love of self, which manifests itself in the love of entertainment, power, and money. The exact opposite of what conversion used to mean.

Lord, have mercy! Bring revival to your church!
</idle musing>

Moses as a type

The twofold prophetic role anticipates Jesus’ life and ministry. As one who is part of the divine council, he speaks with divine authority (Matt 5:21–22; John 5:19–30, 12:49–50, 17:8). As for Jesus’ intercessory prayer, as one who was tested in every way, yet without sin, Jesus can advocate on behalf of humanity in a unique way before the throne of God (cf. Heb 4:15, John 17).—Standing in the Breach, page 168

Monday, August 21, 2017


Moses speaks to the people as one who has intimate knowledge of Yhwh’s nature and purposes. Not only does his prophetic utterance presuppose intimate knowledge of the divine, but Moses’ intercessory prayer also testifies to a deep understanding of Yhwh’s attributes and plan. The intercessor can influence the divine decision-making and rebuke the people with divine authority because he has a “place” at the divine council (cf. Exod 24:2–4, 15–18; Deut 5:27, 31).—Standing in the Breach, page 168

Friday, August 18, 2017

No, it's more than that!

Often the prophet’s prime or sole responsibility is mistakenly perceived as receiving and communicating God’s words (judgment or salvation), but the biblical picture of the prophetic office is clearly twofold. It entails both the communication of God’s will and the representation of the people’s concerns before God. The prophets usually spoke with as much fervor and zeal to the Lord in prayer as to the people in judgment oracles. The reality of judgment and threat usually go hand in hand with intercessory prayer. Only the office of the prophet allows for this dialectic role.—Standing in the Breach, page 167

<idle musing>
If there is one thing you take away from reading this book, this is it. Prophets don't primarily foretell or even forthtell. Prophets primarily intercede.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I have so much of a problem with the current rage of "personal prophecy." Where's the intercession? How can you intercede when all you ever prophecy is "good stuff?" It reminds me of the false prophets in Jeremiah.

Of course, it didn't end so well for Hananiah, did it? (See Jeremiah 28.) Just an
</idle musing>

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Me, at book exhibits

This is me, at book exhibits (ARC = Advance Reading Copies)
You've got to go there to see the whole thing...

Fix it!

Restoring a breached wall by doing righteous community work is a longterm process. When the hour of destruction is advancing, it is the prophets’ duty to stand temporarily in the breach in prayer, before the gradual process of restoring the divine-human relation can begin. Deuteronomy 9–10 gives exactly expression to this dynamic. First, in prophetic fashion, Moses draws attention to Israel’s sin by shattering the covenant tablets (Deut 9:15) and hastens to defend the breached wall from YHWH’s destructive wrath (“For I was afraid that the anger that the Lord bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you” Deut 9:19). After having successfully fended off the first attack (Deut 10:10–11), the mediator urges Israel to repair the wall by recommitting themselves to fear YHWH and to love their neighbor (Deut 10:12–22).—Standing in the Breach, page 166

<idle musing>
Indeed. That's one reason I have a problem with "declaring the powers bound" thinking. If there is no repentance, you can rebuke demons all day long and it won't have any effect. Repentance is essential to repair the walls. Yes, we need to stand in the breach as intercessors, but we also need to call people to repentance—and live lives that reflect holiness ourselves!

I like how the CEB translates repentance: change your hearts and minds. Too often in the US Evangelical community, conversion has been nothing more than a change of mind. No change in behavior, just a mental assent to a set of beliefs.

Sorry, but that doesn't cut it. That's selling out the biblical definition for cheap grace, easy believism. I'm with the early Anabaptists here: no change in lifestyle equals no salvation. That's one reason Wesley organized his converts into bands and societies: to keep people accountable and to promote "scriptural holiness throughout the land." We could do a lot worse—and are : (
</idle musing>

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Judgment will catch up!

[E]ven after their most grievous offense was pardoned, they continued to be rebellious (cf. Deut 9:22–24). The continuous intercessory activity of Moses indicates, however, that his prayer, though powerful and effective, provides only a temporary solution to Israel’s predicament. It appears that Moses’ summons to a change of heart suggests itself as a more permanent solution to Israel’s rebelliousness. Their stubbornness, in the long run, can only be remedied through circumcision of heart (Deut 10:16), a metaphor for an inner renewal of the covenant relationship, a decisive act of committed obedience.—Standing in the Breach, page 165

<idle musing>
At the risk of overextending the application of this, I would say we're on the same path in this country...there's a limit to what intercession can do. At some point, individuals have to decide whether they want God or not. Contrary to what some think, you do reap what you sow. And violence always begets violence, just as hatred always begets hatred.

Unfortunately, the current evidence is that the choice is "not."

But we are called to pray anyway.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Faithfulness hurts

The fact that YHWH responds favorably to Moses’ threefold appeal reveals not only that mercy depends on YHWH’s character and His promises but also that God allows Himself to be persuaded by His faithful servant to let love triumph over justice. This is not to deny the fact that YHWH has the freedom of disciplining His rebellious son, but the outcome of Moses’ prayer strongly suggests that one of the central purposes of Israel’s election is God’s commitment to fellowship with His people. This is a commitment that in times of rebellion costs Him dearly.—Standing in the Breach, page 163

Monday, August 14, 2017

The stakes are high

In spite of the fact that Israel has been obstinate and rebellious from the moment of birth (Isa 48:4; cf. Deut 9:7, 24), YHWH is determined to glorify Himself by delivering Israel from exile and thereby show once again that He is God of gods (cf. Isa 52:5–6). This is a costly undertaking on God’s part because the restoration and preservation of God’s name (and covenant) is ultimately only possible by way of self-sacrificial commitment to His people. Thus, it has become clear that Moses raises a problem, which reaches to the very heart of God’s internal dilemma. How is one to consolidate divine justice with divine grace and loving commitment? There is no way that one can or should try to resolve this tension because it belongs to the very essence of God’s being (cf. Exod 34:6–7, Num 14:18). The fact, that YHWH allows, even invites, Moses to participate in this dilemma in faithful prayer speaks volumes for YHWH’s solidarity for His people. We have seen that Moses at no point excuses or belittles Israel’s rebellion and disobedience, but he juxtaposes it with YHWH’s history of loving and faithful commitment to them and with the fact that YHWH’s name would be at stake if Israel were annihilated.—Standing in the Breach, pages 161–62

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Where does the punctuation go?

In John 1:3–4, that is. Is there a stop at the end of verse 3? Or does it come at the end of the phrase, with the relative pronoun and participle going with verse 4?

Here's the Greek:
3 πάντα δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν 4 ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων·

I had never noticed it before, but NA27 (and I assume NA28) have the stop before the relative pronoun. Here's what Metzger says:

1.3-4 οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν {B}

Should the words ὃ γέγονεν be joined with what goes before or with what follows? The oldest manuscripts (P66, 75* א* A B) have no punctuation here, and in any case the presence of punctuation in Greek manuscripts, as well as in versional and patristic sources, cannot be regarded as more than the reflection of current exegetical understanding of the meaning of the passage.

A majority of the Committee was impressed by the consensus of ante-Nicene writers (orthodox and heretical alike) who took ὃ γέγονεν with what follows. When, however, in the fourth century Arians and the Macedonian heretics began to appeal to the passage to prove that the Holy Spirit is to be regarded as one of the created things, orthodox writers preferred to take ὃ γέγονεν with the preceding sentence, thus removing the possibility of heretical use of the passage.

Interestingly, Metzger disagreed with the Committee
[On the other hand, however, none of these arguments is conclusive and other considerations favor taking ὃ γέγονεν with the preceding sentence. Thus, against the consideration of the so-called Page 168 rhythmical balance (which after all is present in only a portion of the Prologue, and may not necessarily involve ὃ γέγονεν) must be set John’s fondness for beginning a sentence or clause with ἐν and a demonstrative pronoun (cf. 13.35; 15.8; 16.26; 1 Jn 2.3, 4, 5; 3.10, 16, 19, 24; 4.2, etc.). It was natural for Gnostics, who sought support from the Fourth Gospel for their doctrine of the origin of the Ogdoad, to take ὃ γέγονεν with the following sentence (“That which has been made in him was life” – whatever that may be supposed to mean). It is more consistent with the Johannine repetitive style, as well as with Johannine doctrine (cf. 5.26, 39; 6.53), to say nothing concerning the sense of the passage, to punctuate with a full stop after ὃ γέγονεν. B.M.M.]
So, the CEB translates it thus:
3 Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
4 through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
Not sure which I prefer, but it does make one pause to think...

Friday, August 11, 2017

The tension

The covenant relationship, by its very nature, makes certain demands on both sides of the party (Deut 26–30), by which life and blessing can be gained or lost depending on the human response. Childs helpfully comments: “Election was not a privilege to be enjoyed, but a calling to be pursued.” [fn: Childs, Biblical, 445. He draws attention to the fact that the same tension is still found in Romans 9–11, particularly 11:22: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.”] … there is a tension between Israel’s special status and the breached covenant. This dynamic is clearly in the background of Moses’ prayer. The Scriptures witness to this subtle but fundamental tension between election and covenant. On the one hand, YHWH, in sovereign love, choses people on His own initiative. This divine call is unchangeable because it depends on God’s loyalty. On the other hand, the chosen people have entered a covenant relationship that requires obedience. It is a real relationship that depends on both covenant people and covenant God. This dynamic tension cannot and should not be resolved because it is the dynamics of love.—Standing in the Breach, pages 152–53

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Slaves, but freed ones

YHWH’s legal claim to the ownership of Israel is based on His act of sovereign redemption. The verb פדה carries the sense of ransoming an enslaved party. Hence, on one level an acquisition of slaves has taken place, and on another level, Israel does not remain merely a “material” property which changed its owner, because the verb פדה is closely associated with the ֵgō'ēl (“redeemer”). In other words, YHWH is portrayed not as slave trader but as faithful and generous redeemer who ransomed Israel from bondage. There might even be a sense that the redeemer is obliged to ransom his near of kin, that is, His son (cf. Exod 4:23).—Standing in the Breach, page 149

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


I just saw this at Evangelical Text Criticism.

A New Approach to Textual Criticism: An Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method
Tommy Wasserman, Peter J. Gurry

Must get! By the way, go to the Evangelical Text Criticism blog and vote for the cover. I chose B

It's a lonely road

This act of humble self-abasement does not only come as a sharp contrast to Israel’s rebellious attitude, but also raises the question of why Moses would do this. After all, he has just condemned Israel’s behavior by shattering the covenant tablets? This brings us back to the twofold role of the prophet. On the one hand, he confronts and rebukes the people’s sin with divine authority, and on the other hand, he entreats YHWH with reverent boldness on behalf of the people. This puts the mediator in an uncomfortable position, as he is caught up between announcing judgment and pleading with YHWH for mercy and pardon in an act of costly intercession. Muffs comments, “Only boundless spiritual bravery allows the prophet to suffer the great loneliness of one who stands in the breach and at the same time to call on the people that does not listen.” [Muffs, Love and Joy, 32].—Standing in the Breach, pages 142–43

<idle musing>
A.W. Tozer said that it was a lonely road to travel for those who were totally sold out to God. Moses is one of the first to exemplify that. Later prophets will travel the same road—think of Jeremiah!
</idle musing>

A bit of lexical information

עון [`wn] indicates both guilt and punishment (that is, it includes the offense and the consequence thereof), and these are not separated in Hebrew thinking.—Standing in the Breach, page 139n291

Tuesday, August 08, 2017


Calvin sees in the divine demand to be left alone Moses’ sharpest and sorest trial of faith. The reformer compares it with God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22). First, the patriarch is told that in and through Isaac God will raise a people for Himself and then Abraham is to slay him. As Calvin observes:
The same thing is here recorded of Moses, before whom God sets a kind of contradiction in His Word, when He declares that He has intention of destroying that people, to which He had promised the land of Canaan.
Of particular interest is Calvin’s interpretation of YHWH’s demand to be left alone. He senses in this request a divine testing of Moses’ faith, while at the same time a means to provoke Moses to pray more earnestly. Calvin’s interpretation is not only congruent with the rabbinic interpretation above but also realizes the critical interrelation between Moses’ prayer and YHWH’s outworking of salvation history. Calvin denies the possibility that God was not serious, or even deceitful when He announced His intention to destroy sinful Israel. According to Calvin there is a delicate line between YHWH’s providence and Moses’ prayer.—Standing in the Breach, page 135

<idle musing>
One of the few times I agree with Calvin! : )
</idle musing>

Monday, August 07, 2017

Thought for the day

The wrath of God under which the idolatrous, sinfully perverted man stands is simply the divine love, which has become a force opposed to him who has turned against God. The wrath of God is the love of God, in the form in which the man who has turned away from God and turned against God, experiences it, as indeed, thanks to the holiness of God, he must and ought to experience it.—Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt: A Christian Anthropology (London: Lutterworth Press, 1947), 187

An encouragement?

Jacob [Exodus, 931] affirms the idea that let me alone actually means do not let me alone and is paradoxically a summons to persuade YHWH not to destroy Israel. Jacob develops the idea of an implicit invitation to intercede by remarking that YHWH could have shut the door and said: “Enough, do not speak of the matter anymore,” as he did when Moses requested permission to enter the promised land (Deut 3:26; cf. Jer 7:16). According to Jacob, God not only encourages Moses to intercede for Israel by increasing his self-confidence (“and I will make of you a nation mightier and more numerous than they,” Deut 9:14), but even provides him with a persuasive argument to counter His anger by reminding him of the promise made to the patriarchs (cf. Gen 12:2, Exod 32:13, Deut 9:27).—Standing in the Breach, page 134–35

<idle musing>
Not sure I'm convinced, but an intriguing idea, anyway.
</idle musing>

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Mode of action or attribute?

"Yahweh is again reminded [in Ps 86] that he is a good and forgiving (sallaḥ) God. The grammatical construction of the qaṭṭal verbal adjective, a form occurring only in this passage, underscores 'that here a divine attribute is bing described, not merely a mode of action.' [Kedar, 107f.] The enduring aspect of this forgiving element in God's personality is being emphasized."—Hausmann in TDOT 10:262

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The audacity!

YHWH’s request to be left alone implies the possibility of not leaving Him alone and thereby restraining God in the outworking of the judgment. In other words, God’s demand implies nothing less than that Moses has to make Israel available for punishment, as it were, otherwise YHWH would be hindered to act. Jewish interpreters have long noticed the disturbing notion that Moses is somehow capable of holding back God from executing His judgment. Rabbi Awahu comments:
If this verse were not written, it would be impossible to say it. This verse teaches us that Moses held the Holy One, blessed be He, like one grabs the cloak of a friend and said to Him, Master of the universe, I will not let you go until you have forgiven them.
Standing in the Breach, page 132

<idle musing>
Now that is audacity! And that's what we're called to as Christians: to intercede on behalf of others. As I've said many times on this blog, the prophets spend as much time interceding on behalf of the people with God as they do telling the people to repent. Would that were true of me!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

That sums it up

I would like to suggest that Deuteronomy 5–11 provide an intrinsic definition of Israel’s ְצָדָקה [ṣādāqah]. It is characterized by wholehearted love and trust in God and a devotion to keep the commandments (cf. Deut 10:12–20; 11:1, 22; 19:9; 30:16). In obedience to the law, the fear of YHWH is realized (cf. Deut 6:1–2, 24).—Standing in the Breach, page 127

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The book is dead! Long live the book!

Just ran across this today, about the "death" of the book. The final paragraph sums it up (although I encourage you to read it all):
All the handwringing that the book is dead is really directed to the “books that are really not books,” the kind of things enumerated above that were published as books at a time when that was, however inadequate, the most viable format. The long-form text, on the other hand, has no real competition outside of the entertainment area, where Netflix and HBO compete with the commercial novel (but not, for the most part, with the literary novel). For all our talk about reduced attention spans, some ideas require space to stretch out in, some areas need extended syntheses. It is a mistake to make a book more like the Web, valuable as Web-like publications are. But they are different kinds of publications. The future of the long-form text, the core meaning of a book, is in making it more like itself.
<idle musing>
I would take issue with reference materials being better digitally. There’s still a lot to be said for the paper dictionary/lexicon. I still reach for BDAG/LSJ/HALOT/BDB/DCH—there’s something about a paper version that makes it easier to pick up a lot of info in a quick glance and then go deeper. I have electronic versions of most of those, but find I rarely use them as opposed to the paper version.

That also goes for text editions. I find navigating a text with an apparatus criticus to be easier on paper—although I'm sure others would disagree with me there.

Sure, the hyperlinking is nice—and I take advantage of that. But, the initial look-up (for me) is easier via paper. Mind you, that's not because I'm a amateur at things digital—I built my first computer back in 1982 and have been on the Internet since 1995. I even ran an IT department for five years and had a network running Linux, BSD, and Windows in my basement for several years. But, there are things that are better on paper, just as there are things that are better digitally.
</idle musing>

Why interecession is necessary

God’s good original intention and purposes with Israel have been endangered by sin and God’s wrath. Divine change of mind has to be understood against this background. As we have just noted, not only does His tendency toward grace and mercy belong to YHWH’s constancy, but so too does His commitment to holiness. God’s intended judgment, however, is always open to an appeal to mercy and compassion. It is in the context of a loyal and responsive God that Moses’ intercessions, and any other prayer, must be understood. YHWH’s nature enables Him to respond to development and incorporate it in the shaping of the future, for better or for worse (cf. Jer 18:1–12). The notion that God genuinely concerns Himself with a prophet’s prayer in working out His judgment is not a sign of divine weakness or inconsistent behavior. Rather, it is a sign of true greatness. God can and chooses to accommodate human prayer in His will and plan.—Standing in the Breach, page 100

Monday, July 31, 2017

The distinction matters

To begin, it is clear that the Old Testament shows no signs of embarrassment in depicting God in human ways. Acknowledging the metaphoric value of anthropomorphic language, it is exactly this anthropomorphic language that helps us to perceive God in a truly personal and responsive fashion. It is surely noteworthy that all the adjectives employed in YHWH’s fullest self-disclosure are relational in character (cf. Exod 34:6–7). By the logic of the Old Testament, “God-talk” is either descriptive or prescriptive (third or first person) because YHWH in His grace and free decision revealed Himself in ways that are comprehensible to humans (that is, in anthropomorphic language). Strictly speaking, however, one should not forget that the Old Testament perceives humanity as theomorphic and not God as anthromorphic.—Standing in the Breach, page 99

<idle musing>
The distinction matters. Humans were created in the image of God, not vice-versa.
</idle musing>

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Those three extra phonemes

Recently Doug Petrovich attempted to rock the world by saying the Hebrews invented the alphabet (you can get the book here). His claim has been met with skepticism, to say the least. Many claim that those who are skeptical are doing so because he is using it to bolster a historical exodus. But, as always, things are much more complicated than that : )

For instance, I believe in a historical exodus. But I think his theory is bunk. You see, there are three phonemes (sounds) in the Hebrew language during the first millennium BC that don't have their own letter. It's all about the history of languages and stuff. I can't do a better job of explaining it than Eric Reymond does in ch. 2 of his forthcoming book Intermediate Biblical Hebrew Grammar: A Student's Guide to Phonology and Morphology:

The inventory of Classical Biblical Hebrew phonemes listed above [in a chart] is three greater than the number of graphic letters used to represent these sounds. This resulted in some letters representing more than one phoneme. Specifically, three letters were used to represent two phonemes each. The khet represented the phonemes /ḥ/ (IPA [ħ]) and /ḫ/ (IPA [x]). The ayin represented /ʿ/ (IPA [ʕ]) and /ġ/ (IPA [ɣ]). The sin/shin letter represented /ś/ (IPA [ɬ]) and /š/ (IPA [ʃ]). (Recall that the dot that distinguishes sin from shin is a medieval invention.) The existence of the phonemes /ḫ/, /ġ/, and /ś/ is thought to have existed in the Late Bronze Age Canaanite as implied by names and words in the El Amarna texts as compared to Egyptian transcriptions.[footnote:Daniel Sivan, Grammatical Analysis and Glossary of the Northwest Semitic Vocables in Akkadian Texts of the 15th–13th C.B.C. from Canaan and Syria, AOAT 214 (Kevelaer: Butzon and Bercker; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1984), 50–52.]
So, you see, in order for Petrovich's idea to be correct, he would have to posit that the 3 double-duty letters merged about 1000 years before they did and then divided again about 100–200 years later only to merge again in the first century (or thereabouts) BC. Sorry. Not buying it.

Friday, July 28, 2017

How does it work?

It is clear that God’s pronouncement of His name (Exod 34:6–7) forms a beautifully balanced statement on the goodness of YHWH who is committed to His people but who nonetheless demands moral integrity. Flowing from the loving divine commitment to the people, YHWH allowed Himself to be persuaded by His mediator to renew the covenant relationship (Exod 34:8–10). Although the covenant was renewed, the second half of the divine self-disclosure (YHWH’s judgment), did not find any concrete application in the context of Exodus 32–34. It seems to me that Num 14:20–35 sheds significant light on the nature of the divine name, particularly on the logic of YHWH’s visitation. In fact, I have suggested that YHWH’s twofold response to Moses’ prayer (Num 14:20–35) provides an inner-biblical commentary on YHWH’s nature as revealed to Moses on Sinai (Exod 34:6–7). It is particularly the important relationship between divine pardon and covenant maintenance, and the much-debated logic of the divine visitation to the third and fourth generation, that receive an illuminating outworking in Num 14:20–35. To be more precise, YHWH’s judgment on both the rebellious wilderness generation and on their offspring exemplifies how His holy name (Exod 34:6–7) is enacted in a concrete situation.—Standing in the Breach, page 98

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Did it work?

I suggest that the divine resolution is one not of fierce sovereignty, belittling Moses’ prayer, but rather a sophisticated and complex statement, which implicitly affirms pardon and covenant loyalty without failing to execute divine justice. I think that the problem has to do with the concept and meaning of divine selîḥâ, as envisaged in this context. If, as we have suggested before, Moses’ petition for divine selîḥâ is primarily a plea for the preservation of divine covenant loyalty, rather than Israel’s forgiveness in the sense of annulment of guilt and sin, then Moses’ prayer has been heard and achieved its objectives. That is, the continuance and preservation of YHWH’s covenant relationship with Israel and the assurance that they as a people will eventually settle in the promised land.—Standing in the Breach, page 97–98

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Moses's intercession, round two

The scout narrative is rightly called the second main focus of theological reflection on the nexus of sin, judgment, prayer, and divine verdict in the canonical sequence of the Pentateuch. Moreover, the relation between the golden calf account and the scout narrative goes far beyond common themes. There are numerous conceptual and verbal parallels between these two narratives. The problem of YHWH’s presence among a fundamentally rebellious people is significantly developed in relation to the outstanding promised land in Numbers 13–14 (cf. Exod 33:1–6). Moreover, it is in these chapters that the outstanding divine warning of a forthcoming judgment finds a concrete resolution (cf. Exod 32:34). For our purposes, however, most important is the intrinsic relationship between YHWH’s fullest self-disclosure of His name (Exod 34:6–7) and Moses’ praying the divine attributes “back” to YHWH in the face of a threatening judgment (Num 14:11–12). YHWH’s response to Moses’ prayer provides a helpful inner-biblical commentary on the meaning and implications of YHWH’s attributes in a specific context. The divine resolution encompasses both judgment and mercy. Although all the people who have despised YHWH are punished, YHWH maintains the covenant relationship with Israel as a people. By implication, the prayer of the covenant mediator was successful. Israel can continue as YHWH’s people; their children will be the bearer of the divine promise made to their ancestors, and they will eventually be given the chance to inherit the promised land alongside the two loyal scouts. Thus, YHWH’s response to Moses’ prayer includes the complex interplay of human rebellion, divine judgment, prophetic mediation, and God’s merciful and gracious disposition.—Standing in the Breach, page 95

<idle musing>
No one ever said figuring this stuff out would be easy! It gets complicated real fast, doesn't it? It still boils down to our individual response to the grace of God. God remains faithful and calls us to the same. He's merciful, too, and that mercy is huge, but at some point it has a limit, as we'll see later in the book.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

That seems backwards to me!

In gratitude and worship for the affirmative recharacterization of the divine name, Moses prostrates himself and launches his climactic prayer. In this petition, Moses resumes most of the major themes of his previous prayers and boldly advances them in the light of YHWH’s new revelation. Holding together personal divine favor and the good of the people, Moses prays: “If I have found favor in your eyes then walk in our midst for they are a stiff-necked people and pardon our guilt and sins and take us for your inheritance” (Exod 34:9; cf. 33:13). In total solidarity and in tune with his previous unswerving loyalty to Israel (Exod 32:32), Moses identifies himself with the people’s guilt and sin and makes their pardon depend on his intimate relationship with YHWH. Moreover, there is good reason to argue that Moses actually promotes Israel’s recalcitrant nature as the very reason for the resumption of YHWH’s presence and pardon. “Please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people (Exod 34:9, ESV).”—Standing in the Breach, page 94 (emphasis his)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Attribute versus action

Anger is an act, a situation, not an essential attribute. This distinction is implied in the words which are of fundamental importance for the understanding of all biblical words: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious.”—Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets, 71, as quoted in Standing in the Breach, page 93

<idle musing>
As always, Heschel hits the nail on the head. Wrath is a reaction of God because of his attributes. It is not an attribute of God in and of itself. This needs to be blasted from the rooftops and drilled into our thick, judgmental, parochial skulls. God is merciful and gracious. Yes, he does have limits to that and wrath and judgment will eventually fall. But, and this is a huge but, it is not an attribute of God to be wrathful.
</idle musing>

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Judgment might come

The revelation of YHWH’s name came as an affirmation to Moses (and through him to Israel) that YHWH is primarily and fundamentally for Israel. This is not to say that divine pardon can easily be presumed, for v. 7b comes as a stern warning that God’s moral order still matters. One could say that vv. 6–7a give expression to YHWH’s fundamental nature, whereas v. 7b gives expression to His action if Israel’s offence persists. Therefore, it can be seen that God’s visitation of Israel’s iniquities does not stand in an irresolvable tension with His fundamental covenant loyalty. The immediate and wider context of vv. 6–7 make it evident that YHWH’s wrath is provoked by and directed against a specific sin. In other words, divine wrath and judgment are circumstantial and temporary, and as the proportion of thousands to four generations indicates, they cannot overrule YHWH’s faithfulness and love.—Standing in the Breach, page 93

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The divine reversal

It looks very much as though YHWH in the aftermath of the golden calf incident deliberately reformulates His previous pronouncement. Most striking is the reversal of the order of His attributes. In Exod 34:6, YHWH commences with a fundamental statement about His nature. He is basically merciful and gracious, whereas in the Decalogue the warning of a jealous God precedes YHWH’s attributes of mercy and grace. In other words, there is a radical shift from an emphasis on divine jealousy to an emphasis on divine mercy, grace, and loyalty without denying justice. God allowed Himself in His sovereignty to be persuaded by the persistent prayer of His faithful mediator to overcome justified wrath with grace and loving compassion.—Standing in the Breach, page 92

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Knowing the unknowable

Reading Moses’ intercessory prayers, one gains a sense that the more Moses engages in prayer the deeper he is led into the divine mystery. There is a clear sense that God’s revelation is intrinsically connected to Moses’ response. Moses self-involvement enables an encounter with God of unprecedented nature. Through the use of a variety of metaphors and anthropomorphic language, a complex and sophisticated biblical truth is established: God is gracious and merciful and yet holy and morally demanding, He is seen and yet unseen, He is close and yet He transcends human perception. These irresolvable tensions are inherent in Exod 33:18–24 and are confirmed in the actual revelation of God’s name (Exod 34:6–7). The text, as Moberly observes, articulates, in its own way, “that sense which has been fundamental to classic theology that to know God is to know the one who surpasses knowledge.”—Standing in the Breach, page 90

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pressing through

Moses’ third prayer has understandably been described as the climactic prayer because, arguably, it is in this intense dialogue that the fundamental breakthrough happens. At the outset of the chapter, everything hangs in the balance: Although Moses is to lead Israel into the promised land, YHWH announces that He cannot go with a stiff-necked people. Thus, Israel’s future is still undecided and Moses is uncertain regarding his role and YHWH’s purposes. Verses 1–11 not only introduce the fundamental problem of how a holy God can live among a sinful people but also testify to a transformation of the people and, implicitly, of YHWH’s relation to them. This change of attitudes on both sides is significant for the development of the story. It seems that the text presupposes this mutual change of heart for Moses’ intercession to be fruitful. At the end of the chapter, YHWH affirms the resumption of His presence among the people and announces a show of His goodness to Moses in a forthcoming theophany.

In contrast to his previous prayer, Moses’ dialogue with YHWH is characterized by an increasingly brave and insistent tone. Although it is clear that the objective of Moses’ prayer has always been the restoration of the breached covenant relationship, Moses initially mentioned sinful Israel only in a seemingly incidental manner, as carefully exploring YHWH’s reaction after the previous divine word of reproof (Exod 32:33). Encouraged by not being opposed this time, Moses becomes bolder and speaks of Israel more directly. Although YHWH shows some reluctance in committing Himself to the people, we note that He does not dismiss Moses’ plea either. Moreover, it is noteworthy that Moses’ brave words are not presented in a negative light. It is likely that this is the reason that Moses’ prayer increases in boldness as YHWH is graciously willing to respond. The reader is reminded of the dynamics of Abraham’s dialogue with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:16–33). Moses’ audacity reaches its climax in his request to see YHWH’s glory (Exod 33:18).—Standing in the Breach, pages 89–90

Friday, July 14, 2017


On the next day, Moses returned out of his own initiative to the mountain to advocate for the people before YHWH. So far, Moses has climbed the Mount of God several times to speak with God. Every time, Moses followed God’s summons to come up (cf. Exod 19:3, 20, 21, 24:1, 12); this time, however, Moses sought God’s audition without invitation.—Standing in the Breach, page 87

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are you listening closely?

I follow a long interpretative tradition, which suggests that YHWH implicitly invites (by prohibition), possibly even tests, His mediator to challenge His justified yet circumstantial wrath. This line of interpretation has been substantiated by a number of observations: First, YHWH could have simply proceeded with His intentions without involving Moses at all. Second, and following from that, it appears that YHWH intentionally makes His decision vulnerable to Moses’ response (cf. Num 14:12). The imperative “leave me alone” opens the door “not to leave Him alone.” Third, by presenting Moses with an offer to make him the new patriarch at the cost of the death of the sinful generation, YHWH makes His intention and the fulfillment of the divine promise clearly susceptible to Moses’ response. All these points endorse the view that YHWH’s “no” is a subtle divine invitation to intercede.—Standing in the Breach, page 85

<idle musing>
Are we listening? Do we hear God calling us to intercede? Or are we too busy playing Jonah and rejoicing in the possibility of destruction? I fear it is too often the latter : (
</idle musing>

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How many times?

It is perhaps the acute seriousness of Israel’s sin and the extensive dialogue between YHWH and Moses that make Exodus 32–34 the most detailed and intense treatment of intercessory prayer in the entire Old Testament. Moses is said to have interceded four times on behalf of the sinful people in order to save them from YHWH’s destructive wrath and to reconcile them to their God (Exod 32:11–13, 32:30–32, 33:12–23, and 34:9). The theme of Moses’ persistent intercessory activity pervades the entire narrative.—Standing in the Breach, page 84

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Prayer as theology

Theology in its purest form is revealed by God Himself. It is certainly important to note that the deepest insight into the nature of God is given in the context of a prolonged prayer dialogue between Moses and YHWH.—Standing in the Breach, page 83

Monday, July 10, 2017


This just showed up in my e-mail inbox: The Positive Power of Walking Showcased at National Summit. And it's in St. Paul!
Many things leap to mind when someone mentions walking: fitness, fun, fresh air, relaxation, friends and maybe your most comfortable pair of shoes. But a word that rarely arises is “power”.

That will begin to change after the 2017 National Walking Summit (held in St. Paul, Minnesota September 13-15), which is themed “Vital and Vibrant Communities — The Power of Walkability”.

We'll see; I'm always skeptical about getting people to actually do more than talk when it comes to physical activity. But, hey, it's a start. Maybe if communities built the infrastructure for walking, people would do it. Can't hurt. We walk about five miles per day, but I wouldn't say that Grand Marais is "walker-friendly." There are few sidewalks and it's built on the side of a hill, which scares some people off. But, the whole town is about 2 miles long, measuring from the National Forest Service office on the west side to the DNR building on the east. And, aside from Highway 61, there isn't a lot of traffic.

Maybe we can get the mayor or city council to send somebody...

The rest of the story

The idea of liberation is sometimes summarized in the popular slogan “Let My people go.” The full demand Moses brings before Pharaoh in the name of YHWH is “Let My people go that they may serve Me” (cf. Exod 7:16, 26, 8:16).—Standing in the Breach, page 81 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
How easily we forget! There is no absolute freedom in this world; as Bob Dylan said, "You gotta serve somebody". I don't know about you, but Joshua summed it up nicely for me:

Worship the LORD, obey him, and always be faithful. Get rid of the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived on the other side of the Euphrates River and in Egypt. But if you don’t want to worship the LORD, then choose right now! Will you worship the same idols your ancestors did? Or since you’re living on land that once belonged to the Amorites, maybe you’ll worship their gods. I won’t. My family and I are going to worship and obey the LORD! Joshua 24:14–15 (CEV)
</idle musing>

Friday, July 07, 2017

About those warrior motifs

If one upholds the authority of Scripture, one cannot simply reject passages that speak of YHWH’s wars. It may be uncomfortable to modern ears, but one of the main metaphors for God in the Old Testament is that of a divine warrior. After the Exodus, YHWH is praised as a “man of war” (Exod 15:3). In fact, this metaphor is essential to the logic of a lot of biblical accounts that affirm that God saves His people in faithfulness from the enemy(ies). If we stay with the stories and observe what happens to the Old Testament metaphors, themes, and motifs in Jesus, we see that Satan and the demons become the principal enemies of God’s rule (Mark 3:22–27, Luke 11:14–23). Thus, Longman and Reid argue that Jesus’ whole mission should be viewed as a typological fulfillment of the divine warrior motif of the Old Testament. According to them, Jesus is presented as the eschatological divine warrior who by the “finger” (Spirit) of God brings in the kingdom by driving out the spiritual enemies of God (Matt 12:28, Luke 11:20) .—Standing in the Breach, pages 79–80

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Working together

Exod 17:11–13 illustrates that, while Moses’ prayer decides the outcome, Joshua’s leading of the charge in the valley is also necessary for victory. The text makes it absolutely clear, where the power to win comes from. Still, the message of this account is different from the Exodus from Egypt, where the struggle against Egypt was fought by YHWH alone (through the mediation of Moses; cf. Exod 14:14). Thus, Barth found in Exodus 17:8–16 a lesson of God’s working through man in a delicate balance which neither impaired God’s will nor destroyed man’s genuine activity. This delicate divine-human balance is central to the biblical concept of faith.—Standing in the Breach, page 76

<idle musing>
The technical term is synergism—working together—versus monergism, which claims it is only God doing everything; humans are basically puppets in that system.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Is YHWH with us?

[T]he Massah and Meriba account finishes with the open-ended question הֲיֵ֧שׁ יְהוָ֛ה בְּקִרְבֵּ֖נוּ אִם־אָֽיִן and implicit judgment: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exod 17:7). Thus, when it says in the next verse that Amalek came and fought with Israel, the question becomes urgent. Will the Lord help Israel or not? We have seen that, with and through Moses’ intercessory help, God’s divine presence is secured (Exod 17:10–13). Interestingly, in the scout narrative, also in the wider context of Moses’ intercessory prayer, Amalek wins against disobedient Israel because YHWH is not with Israel (Num 14:43). In other words, Num 14:39–45 contains a remarkable contrasting parallel to Exod 17:8–16. This time, Amalek (not Moses) is on “the top of the mountain” (cf. Exod 17:9–13, Num 14:40, 44) and triumphs over Israel. The roles are reversed. The reason, according to Moses: “Because you have turned away from YHWH, and so YHWH is not with you” (כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֤ן שַׁבְתֶּם֙ מֵאַחֲרֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה עִמָּכֶֽם)(Num 14:43). In the Exodus account, divine presence is visualized against the Amalekites through Moses’ staff, in the scout narrative through the ark of the covenant (cf. Num 14:44) .—Standing in the Breach, page 71

Monday, July 03, 2017

Yep. Not much has changed

Testing has to do with “putting God to the proof,” that is, seeking a way in which God can be coerced to act or show himself. . . . Israel’s testing of God consisted in this: if we are to believe that God is really present, then God must show us in a concrete way by making water materialize. . . . It is, in essence, an attempt to turn faith into sight.— Terence Fretheim, Exodus, IBC (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991) 189–90, quoted in Standing in the Breach, page 60

Friday, June 30, 2017

You are only seeing 1/3 the story

I believe that this text [Exodus 17; Israel vs. Amalek] offers a biblical corrective to what often looks from the outside as though the “Joshuas” of this world (that is, politicians, pastors, missionaries, and so on) do all the work. This account reveals where the true power to win comes from. In very memorable form, this story illustrates how the three parties that are always involved in biblical intercessory prayer (God, intercessor, and the party that is being interceded for) relate to each other.—Standing in the Breach, page 59

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Magic bullet? Not so much

[W]e also read in Gen 19:29 that God remembered Abraham when He destroyed the cities of the plain and sent Lot out of their midst. Lot’s wife, however, disobeyed and was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26). In other words, although God saved Lot for the sake of Abraham’s prayer, Lot’s wife was cut off from the effect of Abraham’s intercession because she did not turn away from her sins. Fretheim notes, “Choices people make can adversely affect the power of intercession and the divine engagement in their lives.”—Standing in the Breach, page 55

<idle musing>
Indeed! That's a theme that will come up repeatedly in this book. Intercession isn't a magic trick; People are still free to continue on in sin and unrighteousness. That's the tight rope that the intercessor must walk—pleading for mercy for the unrepentant, but also letting the unrepentant know about the consequences of their continued behavior and attitudes.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A little leaven…

Preserving even a tiny number of innocent humans is more important to God’s eyes than bringing deserved judgment on the guilty. Thus, this account underlines the biblical teaching that God’s will to save clearly dominates over His will to punish. This insight into the divine nature foreshadows the proportion of keeping steadfast love to the 1000th generation but visiting in judgment the guilty up to the fourth generation (Exod 34:6–7). Abraham’s prayer assures us that even a minority of righteous people suffice to avert God’s just punishment. This is not only a clear demonstration of YHWH’s grace and mercy but also an indication that in God’s economy a faithful minority can make a significant difference. This has of course important implications for the people of God today, who live in a primarily secular society. They have the capacity to function as agents of salvation and renewal.—Standing in the Breach, page 54

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How about your prayers?

Abraham mediates between God and the pagan cities thereby foreshadowing also Israel’s priestly function among the nations (cf. Exod 19:6). According to Genesis 18, Abraham blesses Sodom by interceding for the city. Even though Sodom and Gomorrah had sinned themselves beyond the possibility of blessing, it is amazing that Abraham was pleading for them to be spared from the divine judgment. Abraham intercedes for the corrupt pagans whom he did not even know. Wright compares Abraham’s response to YHWH’s judgment over Sodom with that of Jonah’s and remarks that many Christians’ attitude toward the wickedness of the world resembles more that of Jonah than that of Abraham [Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2006) 362]. Prayers are frequently made for people we approve of, or for projects that we endorse. The community of faith, however, does not often pray for the Sodoms and Gomorrahs of this world. Jeremiah encourages exiled Israel to pray for the welfare of their captors (Jer 29:7). Also Jesus endorses Abraham’s prayer by the hard dictum: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44–47).—Standing in the Breach, page 53

<idle musing>
Ouch! I suspect he is far too correct in that assessment. May God grant us mercy and may we embrace the way of Abraham!
</idle musing>

Monday, June 26, 2017

Prayer as theology

From Abraham’s dialogue with God we learn not only that prayer has its origin in the movement of God toward humans but also that the divine response to prayers should lead to a fuller and deeper understanding of God and His ways with the world. With regard to the former, we noticed that the enabling initiative for this great intercession came from God (“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do”; Gen 18:17). After YHWH’s invitation to pray, God waited for Abraham’s response (Gen 18:22). With regard to the latter, we noticed that God, not Abraham, emerges as the theological teacher from this prayer. I shall argue at some length in the context of our treatment of Exodus 32–34 that prayer and theology are intrinsically linked. Possibly the greatest of all the features of Abraham’s prayer is precisely the way in which it calls on us, when we pray, to develop a theology. Clements observes: “Prayer and the act of praying involve us in theology—the thinking out of the true nature and character of the supreme Ruler of the Universe.” Not only must we think about who God is and how He relates to the world but also we must learn to listen to God. Abraham’s “theology” was taught by God Himself in a prayer. As Abraham wrestles with the divine will, which was not fully manifest at the outset of the prayer, he penetrates deeper into God’s character and will.—Standing in the Breach, page 52

Friday, June 23, 2017

The school of intercession

God is teaching Abraham about His attributes, about grace and righteousness. We have noted in our exegesis that God is seeking to impart His grace and justice to Israel’s first intercessor, something that YHWH does in an even clearer way to Moses (cf. Exod 33:17–34:7). … [I]t is about a gracious accommodation of Abraham’s audacious explorations. It is in Abraham’s exploration of YHWH’s character and His ways that Israel’s patriarch grows in his understanding of his God.—Standing in the Breach, page 51

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Charles Halton has a delightful read on the first known poet over at LitHub. Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:
Have you met a professor of Mesopotamian studies? There are only a couple dozen or so of us scattered around the world, but we are very strange individuals. Meet one of us in person, and you may discover that we can hardly string together a coherent sentence. We stare at our hands and speak a German-English patois that neither the Germans nor the English can decipher. Our social problems must have begun in grad school; holing up by ourselves in small, windowless library carrels for hours on end reading the teeny tiny wedges the Mesopotamians etched into clay does something to our brains. In any case, we have an almost divine-like ability to take ultra-fascinating ideas and make them slightly less exciting than a traffic ticket. This is not the skill you need when trying to present the results of your research to a Netflix-addled public.
<idle musing>
I love it! And the worst of it is that he's correct!
</idle musing>

That pinch of salt

Does Abraham, by stopping at 10, implicitly admit that YHWH’s judgment is justified? Perhaps Abraham is now assured that God would act justly indeed and that he could leave the fate of the few righteous in God’s care. This does, however, not necessarily indicate that Abraham thought that the few righteous inhabitants may now “fare as the wicked” (Gen 18:25). Gen 19:29 seems to suggest that God, for the sake of Abraham’s intercessory prayer, dealt with Lot and his family separately. Thus, the bottom line seems to be that Abraham arrived at a point at which he was absolutely convinced that God is a righteous judge. It became evident that God does not want to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah merely on a whim. The patriarch learns that even a small minority of righteous people have the capacity to save an entire city that is dominated by wicked people.—Standing in the Breach, page 45

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Boldly humble

Given Abraham’s humility, it is amazing that his courage seems to grow during his conversation with God. God, in His grace, seems to encourage Abraham in his prayer by allowing him to stretch the capacity of divine grace and righteousness (cf. Exod 33:12–19). Thus, we clearly recognize here at the outset of Israel’s history, embodied in the patriarch, an important element which will come to characterize Israel’s spirituality: a bold and yet humble “I-Thou” relationship with God. The characteristic mix of boldness and humility anticipates the audacious intercessory prayers of a Moses and Jeremiah.—Standing in the Breach, pages 44–45

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Maybe Abraham should have tried one more time?

It is important to note that it is Abraham and not God who decides to conclude the discussion at 10. “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more.” Abraham seems aware that he might be stretching the limit of God’s grace. He is cautious and apologetic in his final request. God, however, is as neutral and determined to forgive/to endure (נסא [ns’]) the wicked city for the sake of 10 as He was for the sake of 50 at the outset of their dialogue (v. 32).—Standing in the Breach, page 43

Monday, June 19, 2017

Which is worse?

Interestingly, Abraham prays that God would “forgive” (NRSV), or perhaps the Hebrew (נסא) [ns’] should be rendered with “bear” with the wicked, for the sake of the innocent, and not for the removal of the innocent few from the sphere of judgment. Thus, Abraham seems to imply that there is greater injustice in the death of the innocent than in the life of the wicked. By praying that God should “endure” (נסא [ns’]) the wickedness of the majority for the sake of a minority of righteous, Abraham appeals no longer to justice, but to the mercy of God. The righteous ones do not exercise an atoning function for the others, but the effect is comparable.—Standing in the Breach, page 41

<idle musing>
An interesting idea, isn't it? Worth pondering...
</idle musing>

Friday, June 16, 2017

Privy to the divine council

It seems to me more significant that God is considering granting Abraham the privilege of access and participation in the divine committee that is to characterize YHWH’s prophets. Indeed, it is notable that two chapters later, in the context of Abraham’s prayer for Abimelech, Abraham is explicitly called a prophet (נִָביא [nby’]; Gen 20:7, 17). Jacob infers: “Abraham is the first prophet and confidant of God.” In the context of Israel’s later intercessors, it is characteristic of the true prophet that he is made privy to the divine secrets (cf. Jer 23:18). Indeed, Amos 3:7 is quite instructive: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (נביאים [nbi’im]). In the following chapters, it will become evident that the divine foretelling is an expression of God’s grace and mercy for His people and the world. In doing so, God not only invites prayers on behalf of the people from his prophets but also gives his servants a chance to warn the sinful party of an impending judgment (cf. Exod 32–34, 1 Sam 12, Amos 7).—Standing in the Breach, page 35

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Follow their example

There are notable intertextual links between the dynamics of Abraham’s dialogue with God (Genesis 18) and of Moses’ intercessory role, especially as portrayed in Psalm 103. In both passages, we find reference to God’s concern for (righteousness and) justice (Gen 18:19, 25, Ps 103:6). What is significant is that God does not want to exercise this justice on His own. For this reason, both Abraham and Moses are made privy to YHWH’s intention to judge and punish (cf. Gen 18:17–33, Exod 32:7–10). God does not hide from Abraham His intention to judge the sins of Sodom, nor does YHWH withhold His destructive plans from Moses after the golden calf apostasy. “He made known his ways to Moses” (Ps 103:7). Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed to His prophets His perspective on the situation and informed them in advance of His plans, so that they could communicate God’s will to the people and pray accordingly (cf. Amos 3:7) .—Standing in the Breach, page 33

<idle musing>
This view of the role of the prophet resonates far more with me than the popular Charismatic/Pentecostal "personal prophecy" peddler model. I believe it is far more biblical—and infinitely harder! And as Chesterton reminds us, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." The same can be said for this model of prophecy. You certainly won't get rich and invited many places to speak if you stand in the gap!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Smyth strikes again

Interesting tidbit I picked up today from Smyth:
966. The verb may agree with the nearest or most important of two or more subjects. The verb may be placed

a. Before both subjects: ““ἧκε μὲν ὁ Θερσαγόρα_ς καὶ ὁ Ἐξήκεστος εἰς Λέσβον καὶ ᾤκουν ἐκεῖ” Thersagoras and Execestus came to Lesbos and settled there” D. 23.143.

b. After the first subject: ““ὅ τε Πολέμαρχος ἧκε καὶ Ἀδείμαντος καὶ Νικήρατος καὶ ἄλλοι τινές” Polemarchus came and Adimantus and Niceratus and certain others” P. R. 327b, ““Φαλῖνος ᾤχετο καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ” Phalinus and his companions departed” X. A. 2.2.1.

c. After both subjects: ““τὸ βουλευτήριον καὶ ὁ δῆμος παρορᾶται” the senate and the people are disregarded” Aes. 3.250. (Cp. Shakesp. “my mistress and her sister stays.”)

Turning it on its head

We find not only the biblical roots of prophetic intercessory prayer in Abraham but also the beginnings of what came to characterize the Judeo-Christian understanding and experience of the divine-human relationship. It is a dynamic that the community of faith takes often for granted: the intimate “I-Thou” dialogue between God and His people. The commentators often refer to Abraham’s audacious bargaining prayer style with which he questions God’s justice. Therefore, one easily neglects or mishears God’s voice and teaching. Is Abraham really emerging as someone who through “haggling” seeks to persuade or even teach God to be more merciful? I shall argue that the point of the prayer dialogue in question is not so much about pressing the judge of the world to be more just and merciful, but rather the entire prayer dialogue, is about God inviting Abraham to participate in the outworking of the divine purposes. Therefore, YHWH is accommodating Abraham’s concerns and at the same time teaching Israel’s patriarch a major lesson about the divine character and how God envisages His people to engage in the divine economy, especially with regard to the nations.—Standing in the Breach, page 31

<idle musing>
We're back into this book again after a run through the Hurtado one. Isn't that a fascinating concept? God is calling us to be a part of who he is, what his heartthrob is. He develops this idea further in the coming pages; stay tuned!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I learn something new all the time

Did you know this? The LSJ in the entry “γαστήρ” remarks that ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχειν indicates pregnancy, whereas ἐν γαστρὶ λαμβάνειν refers to conception.

Old-time religion?

The early Christian emphasis on, and teaching about, everyday behavior as central to Christian commitment is yet another distinctive feature that has had a profound subsequent impact. In the ancient Roman period and down through human history, what we call “religion” tended to focus more on honoring, appeasing, and seeking the goodwill of deities through such actions as sacrifices and the performance of related rituals. “Religion” did not typically have much to say about what we call “ethics,” how to behave toward others, how to conduct family or business, and the formation of character.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 188

<idle musing>
For some reason, I don't think that's what people have in mind when they say, "Give me that old-time religion." : )

That's the final excerpt from this book. I hope you find it intriguing enough to read it all. And no, I don't get anything for endorsing it, not even a free copy of the book; I bought my copy at the Annual AAR/SBL meeting last November. But it was definitely worth the price of the book. In the immortal words of Augustine, "Tolle! Lege!" Pick it up and read it!
</idle musing>

Monday, June 12, 2017

Those blasted atheists!

When considered as a religion in that time, the most obvious oddity was Christianity’s “atheism”—that is, the refusal to worship the traditional gods. Yes, of course, as we have observed, Christians shared this exclusivist stance with Judaism. But pagans could write off the well-known Jewish refusal to worship the gods as an ethnic peculiarity. The aggressively transethnic appeal and spread of early Christianity, however, gave it no such character and made Christianity seem much more “in your face.” Other religious movements of the time had their oddities too. But early Christianity was not simply odd; it was deemed dangerous to traditional notions of religion and, so it was feared, also for reasons of social stability.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 184

<idle musing>
I always cast about for a good comparison—and I always come up empty. Perhaps the way we view an anarchist? But that's not quite accurate, either. But rest assured, the idea of Christianity was not readily welcomed by the ruling elites. It was unsettling. Chaos was at the door, and Christianity was letting it in—at least that was their opinion. Remember, the gods kept Chaos at bay. You served the gods to keep the status quo—it didn't really matter what you believed or how you acted, just as long as you placated the gods with the appropriate honors.

But along comes Christianity. It says that not only are the gods not to be worshiped with sacrifices, but indeed, those "gods" were actually evil demons! That idea isn't going to get a good hearing! Especially to those who have the most to lose. It is similar to the reaction that you get when you tell people that as a Christian you really should think twice about saying the pledge of allegiance...
</idle musing>

Verse for the day

I think this is an appropriate passage from Isaiah for our current status:
The earth dries up and wilts; the world withers and wilts; the heavens wither away with the earth. 5 The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, for they have disobeyed instruction, swept aside law, and broken the ancient covenant. 6 Therefore, a curse devours the earth; its inhabitants suffer for their guilt. Therefore, the earth’s inhabitants dwindle; very few are left. 7 The wine dries up; the vine withers; all the merry-hearted groan. 8 The joyous tambourines have ceased; the roar of partyers has stopped; the joyous harp has ceased. 9 No one drinks wine or sings; beer is bitter to its drinkers. 10 The town is in chaos, broken; every house is shut, without entrance. 11 There is a cry for wine in the streets. All joy has reached its dusk; happiness is exiled from the earth. 12 Ruin remains in the city, and the gate is battered to wreckage. 13 It will be like this in the central part of the land and among the peoples, like an olive tree that has been shaken, like remains from the grape harvest. Isa 24:4–13

Friday, June 09, 2017

Marcus Aurelius and tolerance

Sophisticated pagans such as Celsus and Marcus Aurelius apparently regarded Christianity as not simply unbelievable but, it appears, utterly incompatible with religion as they knew it. For them, Christianity was, we may say, “a clear and present danger” that had to be opposed.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 183–84

<idle musing>
I always find it interesting that Marcus Aurelius, generally considered one of the most enlightened of the Roman Emperors, was so adamantly against Christianity. Could it be that he saw more clearly than most today what the natural implications of Christianity are? I suspect so. Read a bit about him and I suspect you'll discover why...and it has ramifications for today, too.
</idle musing>

Thursday, June 08, 2017

You just don't fit in!

Granted, the early Christian household-code texts give general directions to the various categories of believers addressed, and their actual day-to-day situations likely would often have required adaptation, careful negotiation of relationships, and perhaps compromises, some of which may have been uncomfortable or even distasteful. For example, slaves ere often expected to provide sexual services for those who owned them, male and/or female. So any such demands would have produced intense moral tensions for Christian slaves, for whom such sexual service would be porneia. Christian wives married to non-Christians, and Christian children under the rule of non-Christian parents likewise, would have had particular tensions to deal with and difficulties in their efforts to live out their faith while avoiding some activities that they regarded as idolatry. For example, they would have had to deal with the typical expectation of all members of a household to take part in reverencing the household gods. But, all such difficulties and compromises included, the various behavioral exhortations and the particular efforts to actualize them in life comprise a major way in which early Christianity was distinctive in the ancient Roman-era setting.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 180

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Do ethics matter?

The notion that any treatment of slaves could be unjust suffering was a rather unusual one in the Roman period.— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, page 179

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Shame-based behavior or God-based behavior?

[T]he early Christian texts reflect a rather strong effort to promote widely in circles of believers a collective commitment to the strict behavior that these texts advocate. That commitment was laid upon adherents immediately upon their baptism, whatever may have been their consistency in observing it thereafter. These texts, therefore, which come from various locations and across the early Christian centuries, represent a historically noteworthy social project. It was probably novel in its time, comprising the formation of groups of believers translocally in the collective observance of certain behavior that was held to be essential to their distinctive group identity. Even though the total numbers involved were initially small, there is an evident seriousness and ambition to promote this project reflected in the Christian texts. And this effort obviously succeeded measurably, both in terms of the growth in numbers of Christian adherents and, apparently, in general effects on their behavior.

Furthermore, early Christian discourse proffered a different basis for the behavioral aims advocated. As noted already, Musonius and philosophical traditions in general appealed to the individual’s sense of honor and the avoidance of personal shame, shame in the eyes of others and so also internally, as the basis for the demands of living by their principles. But early Christian texts typically invoked divine commands, appealed to the divine calling laid upon believers to exhibit holiness, and notably, invoked the mutual responsibility of believers to one another in their behavioral efforts, reflecting a emphasis placed on the formation of a group ethos. That is, early Christian teaching made everyday behavior central in one’s religious responsibility to the Christian life. In place of worries about possible embarrassment socially, Christians posited the judgment of God. The difference was profound. Indeed, it is fair to judge that the impact of the distinctive stance of early Christian teaching involved “a transformation in the logic of sexual morality.”— Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, pages 170–71 (emphasis original)