Monday, November 09, 2009

Questions in Hebrew

This question was raised by a student on behalf of someone else, and I have been slow to answer it. Specifically, how does one determine that the Hebrew sentence is a question? The easy answer is that there are several particles that indicate a question. The best example is what is called the he interrogative. This is prefixed to the first word in the sentence. There are other particles, such as the words for who, what, where, and why.

However, there are places where none of those markers is present, yet at least some translations render the sentence as a question. The particular text brought out for consideration is Hosea 13:14. That verse reads as follows in the KJV:

I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. (Hos 13:14 KJV).

In the ESV it reads:

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes. (Hos 13:14 ESV).

The easy difference to explain is the answer to the question, Why does the ESV have "where" at the same plac the KJV has "I will be"? The KJV translators read an infrequently used interrogative particle as the 1st person singular verb. This is one place where the Septuagint got it right, and the KJV translators should have paid attention to it.

But why does the ESV render the first part of the verse as questions, where the KJV renders it as statements? The problem is that there are no obvious markers of a question. The only real answer that can be given is this from Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar: "A question need not necessarily be introduced by a special interrogative pronoun or adverb. Frequently the natural emphasis upon the words is of itself sufficient to indicate an interrogative sentence as such." In other words, the translators of the ESV (and several other versions as well) seemed to think that the interrogative idea was obvious. Theological leanings on the part of the translators does not seem to play a role. Thus, the ESV, NLT, and NAS all render as questions. The NIV, TNIV, and CSB all render as statements.

Probably not a useful answer, but about as good a one as I can give.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Follow-up On Jesus and the Antichrist

I realize that it's possible the video is a hoax (but search on for "did Jesus name the antichrist?" and there is also a new updated version, "confirmed by a Jewish rabbi"), but many sincere Christians take this stuff way too seriously to start with. Look at how many people took The da Vinci Code seriously, and that even admits to being a work of fiction. Thus it is incumbent on Christians who know better to provide some corrective on this kind of silliness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Did Jesus Name the Antichrist?

There is currently a video clip making the rounds on the internet in which the narrator asks, and “answers” this question. His argumentation is as follows:

First, Luke 10:18 says, “And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” (KJV). The narrator says that while this was written in Greek, Jesus would have originally spoken the words in Aramaic which he claims was the most ancient form of Hebrew. At this point the listener should ignore everything that follows. Aramaic is a language related to Hebrew (that is, they both belong to the Semitic family of languages), but Aramaic is in no way a form of Hebrew. While there is some academic dispute whether Jesus taught in Aramaic of Greek, for the sake of the argument, let us assume that he spoke in Aramaic, since this man’s argument depends on it. From this verse, using the Hebrew lexicon of Strong’s Concordance, he finds the word baraq, which is the Hebrew word for “lightning.” He needs the Hebrew form, because the Imperial Aramaic form (that used in the Old Testament period) is birqun. The Syriac form (Syriac being a late form of Aramaic), found in the Syriac Peshitta translation of the Bible, is birqa. Thus he has established that lightning is baraq. And unless you’re really dense, you already see where this is going.

Second, he moves to Isaiah 14:12-19, which he interprets as referring to Satan (a standard view among dispensational interpreters, but not usually found among interpreters from other theological backgrounds). In this passage, he focuses on vs 14, which says, I will ascend above the heights.” “Heights” in this passage is the Hebrew word bamah. This, he implicitly imports into Luke 10:18 as I beheld Satan fall as lightning from heaven.”

Third, he observes that the Hebrew vav, which is attached at the beginning of words, and functions as a conjunction, is pronounced “u” or “o.” Thus, “lightning from heaven” would be pronounced barak obama. Unfortunately, everything is against him. “lightning from heaven” requires the preposition min, not the conjunction vav. Further, the word “heavens” which Jesus would have used is, in Aramaic, shamaya, not bama. Thus, the Aramaic which Jesus would have used would have been pronounced birqa’ min shamaya which is, of course, nowhere close to baraq obama. Now one may or may not like President Obama and his politics, but this kind of silliness ought to be soundly rebuked and denied by serious Christians.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Longman-Adam Follow-up

The really sad thing about this video clip and the others in the series, is that it is produced and promoted by the Wilberforce Fellowship (, named after William Wilberforce. What these folks apparently fail to realize is that Wilberforce's campaign against slavery was founded on the fact of a single human being, Adam, created in the image of God, from whom the first woman was formed, and from whom all subsequent human beings have descended. This formed the theological basis for Wilberforce's campaign, and the denial of it destroys the force of of Wilberforce's outrage. And if they aren't bothered by Longman's theological waffling about evolution, maybe they need to watch Ben Stein's Expelled for a look at what evolutionary thought leads to.

Longman on Adam, or Why I'm Not Surprised

The following video clip has been making the rounds of Facebook and evangelical and Reformed blogs for the past couple of weeks.

In this clip, Longman denies an historical Adam, seeing rather and evolutionary process at work, and is not even willing to affirm, at the end of an evolutionary process, God setting apart a unique person or persons as the first distinct human beings. Now anyone who has read much of Longman knows that he has little confidence in the historical reliability of the Bible, so these conclusions should not be surprising.

But let us examine his views a little more closely. Aside from the fact that he clearly has bought into the whole evolution thing, he is obviously greatly influenced by Ancient Near Eastern materials, arguing that the Bible is simply using ANE categories to talk about the creation of man. Many of the ANE creation myths are readily available in such anthologies as James B. Pritchard's The Ancient Near East, Vol. 1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures or Documents from Old Testament Times by D. Winton Thomas (out in a new edition in 2005). SO you can read for yourself. Then ask yourself the question: Does Genesis 1-2 sound like these ANE materials? If you can honestly say yes, then you can agree with Longman. However, the differences are far more striking than the similarities, not only in content but in style. Only if someone is already convinced that the Israelite material is essentially unoriginal, and was more or less borrowed from its ANE neighbors can Longman's thesis stand.

Further, his dismissal of virtually the whole history of not only Christian, but Jewish, interpretation of Genesis as simply "literalistic" is arrogant beyond belief. Such arrogance can only be sustained by isolation in a cultural setting in which you can dismiss all those who disagree with you as intellectual troglodytes and get away with it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Avoiding Over-Interpretation

This post was provoked by a student's request for some guidelines after some remarks I made in class about the danger of over-interpreting the Bible. I thought the comments might be more generally useful. If you follow this advice, you should save yourself from any major embarrassment in the pulpit.

First, use some common sense. If it sounds like it might be overly interpretive, it probably is, especially if you are a beginning student in the languages.

Second, make sure you know the grammar. By this, I don't mean that you've memorized Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics or Waltke-O'Connor's Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Instead, I mean that you have made use of the indices to look up the particular passage you're working on, or you've studied the particular construction you're interested in beyond what you might have picked up in your beginning language course. Grammar won't answer every question, or solve every dispute, but it will keep the beginner from making stupid mistakes out of ignorance.

Third, make sure you know the lexicography. If you're dealing with a particular word, or even a context, make sure you have consulted one of the major reference lexica. By this I don't mean Thayer's for Greek, or Gesenius for Hebrew. Unfortunately, I mean Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker for Greek, and the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament for Hebrew. Yes, I realize the former is $120.00 in hard cover, and the latter is $216.00 from CBD. But these are resources that you will use for a long time. In addition, they may be available for your Bible software at a somewhat reduced price. Also, by "consulted," I don't mean that you looked up the word and scanned through the discussion for the meaning you want. What I mean is you read through the entry; you have considered the possible connotations of the word, and you have considered the limitations on those possibilities made by context. It is true that BAGD and HALOT are not inerrant, and academic specialists certainly have quibbles with particular entries, but again, they can keep beginners from stupid mistakes. All that being said, there is still a place for Thayer's and for the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon, especially as a place for beginners to start. The big reference lexica can be daunting for beginners who are overawed by the crowded page and the cryptic abbreviations that they present. In addition, with regard to BDB, the articles on the prepositions are mines of information in themselves. The beginner will learn a great deal about the functioning of the prepositions in Hebrew syntax from those essays.

Fourth, make sure you're familiar with the commentary literature. Again, I don't mean here that you have read all the commentaries on the passage, but rather that you have read a representative sample, enough to know the parameters on the meaning of the passage. Two caveats here. First, don't begin with the commentaries. Work through the passage yourself first, and be pretty comfortable with your understanding, then consult the commentaries. Second, most students read too many commentaries. My rule of thumb is 3-4, with maybe as many as 6 on a particularly difficult passage. Make sure that the commentaries you choose represent a variety of types. You should have at least one pre-critical commentary on your list. You should also have one that deals with technical matters of language and text. Then you should have one that is more sensitive to the theology of the text. Types two and three rarely co-exist within the same covers. Further, the pre-critical commentaries are generally much more aware of the theology and overall biblical context of the passage than are more recent ones.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

God forbid that we should bequeath such Sabbaths to our children.

There was the dreary Sunday of his childhood, when he sat with his hands before him, scared out of his senses by a horrible tract which commenced business with the poor child by asking him in its title, why he was going to Perdition? A piece of curiosity that he really in a frock and drawers was not in a condition to satisfy--and which, for the further attraction of his infant mind, had a parenthesis in every other line with some such hiccupping reference as 2 Ep. Thess. c. iii. v. 6 & 7. There was the sleepy Sunday of his boyhood, when, like a military deserter, he was marched to chapel by a picquet of teachers three times a day, morally handcuffed to another boy; and when he would willingly have bartered two meals of indigestible sermon for another ounce or two of inferior mutton at his scanty dinner in the flesh. There was the interminable Sunday of his nonage; when his mother, stern of face and unrelenting of heart, would sit all day behind a Bible--bound, like her own construction of it, in the hardest, barest, and straitest boards, with one dinted ornament on the cover like the drag of a chain, and a wrathful sprinkling of red upon the edges of the leaves--as if it, of all books? Were a fortification against sweetness of temper, natural affection, and gentle intercourse. There was the resentful Sunday of a little later, when he sat glowering and glooming through the tardy length of the day, with a sullen sense of injury in his heart, and no more real knowledge of the beneficent history of the New Testament, than if he had been bred among idolaters. There was a legion of Sundays, all days of unserviceable bitterness and mortification, slowly passing before him.

Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, Book One, Chapter 3

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Out of the Country

We will be traveling to Wales for two weeks, starting tomorrow, so I will not be posting until after July 17.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: The Sharing Knife: Vol. 1: Beguilement

I just finished listening to this on CD today. I had read it previously, but had enjoyed it, and when I saw it at the library, figured I'd listen to it. Sometimes you pick up things listening to a book that you didn't pick up reading it.

To set the context: This is fantasy, set in a world where some centuries prior to the start of this story, the world was much more populous, and a class of sorcerers ruled. In the course of time, as people will, they went to war, and for this war they created a sort of creature called a malice which sucks the life out the area where it resides. The war ended, and the malice was killed, but not without it having left "eggs" all around. After several centuries, bringing us to the time of the story, the much reduced population is divided into lakewalkers and farmers. The lakewalkers are probably descendants of the sorcerers, and they have a sort of sixth sense (called "groundsense") that enables them to locate malices that have hatched and begun to prey upon the surrounding country. Thus the lakewalkers spend their time on regular patrols, trying to find malices and kill them before they get too big. The farmers are farmers and small town and city folk. They don't trust the lakewalkers, considering them to be practicioners of black magic, though they call on them in time of need. In like manner, the lakewalkers don't much care for the farmers, treating them as if they were children, though sworn to protect them from the malices.

The story: A farmer girl named Fawn has left home because she is pregnant by a neighbor boy who now doesn't want anything to do with here, because he is pledged in marriage to another girl from a wealthier family, which will raise the status of his own family. Fawn is headed to the city of Glassforge to seek her fortune. In the process, she runs into a lakewalker patrol, and becomes involved in the killing of a malice. In the process of this, due to the malice, she miscarries. She also meets one of the lakewalker patrolers (Dag) who saves her life. This first volume in the series (it is now up to four: vol. 2 is Legacy; vol. 3 is Passage; and vol. 4 [now in print] is Horizon) takes Fawn and Dag from their meeting to their return to her home, their marriage, and ends with their headed to his family.

All in all a highly recommended fantasy series (I also generally recommend other titles by the author, Lois McMaster Bujold).

Song of Songs: Response to Chris Carter, Part 1

Chris raises the valid question of whether or not I have made a false dichotomy between literal and allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs. In a certain sense, he is correct, as I deliberately omitted what is usually called the typological or symbolic approach, which seems to be what Chris is pushing. That is the view that E. J. Young argues for in his An Introduction to the Old Testament. In this view, sexual union is a type of spiritual union. To quote Chris, "between both the man and wife, and therefore simultaneously preaching the same between Christ and the church to the believing participants." The problem I have with that is that I don't think Chris's "therefore" follows. What it says is that sex is a type of the spiritual union of man and wife, and that the spiritual union between man and wife is a type of the relationship between Christ and the church. Thus, the sex is a type of a type of the real thing. This, I think, further weakens the connection between the apparent eroticism of the text of the Song of Songs and the "spiritual" meaning of the text.

I avoided the typological approach in my post because I wanted to focus on what I see as the real problem with the literal reading: the problem of authority. If the Song is literally about sex, then in what way is it authoritative for the believer? Are the practices described in the text "law"--in other words, we married believers are required to repeat them in our own lovemaking? Or are they merely observations about one particular couple, thereby reducing the Song to a narrative.

Another problem I have with the typological approach is as follows. Once we have said that sex between a married couple is a type of the spiritual union they enjoy, and (following Chris's argument) that spiritual union is a type of the relationship between Christ and the church, then what do the details of the text have to say? For example, Song 3:7 says, "Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! Around it are sixty mighty men, some of the mighty men of Israel." How does this connect with sex? How does this connect with the spiritual union of man and wife? In other words, what is the type here?

To be continued.

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: 1844: Vol. 1, Religious Movements

This work, which is the first of a three-volume set, was written by Jerome L. Clark in 1968. He was at that time Professor of History at Southern Missionary College, a Seventh-Day Adventist school, now renamed Southern Adventist University. Clark held the Ph.D. in History from the University of Southern California. Volume two of the set deals with areas dealing with man's physical or mental development. Volume three deals with philosophical and cultural movements.

The title 1844 comes from the fact that most of the movements dealt with had some particularly significant event transpire in 1844. Thus, the first chapter, deals with the Millerite movement, which predicted Christ's Second Coming in 1844. The non-appearance of Christ in that year became known in Millerite circles as The Great Disappointment. It was out of the remnants of the Millerite movement that Ellen G. White and Seventh-Day Adventism sprang, probably explaining Clark's interest. The second chapter deals with the rise of Mormonism. 1844 was significant for Mormons because that was the year that Joseph Smith was murdered. The Third chapter deals with the Stone-Campbell movement. The relation to 1844 here is less definite, but some of the Stone-Campbell people were involved in the Millerite movement, and hence affected by the Great Disappointment. Chapter four deals with the rise of anti-Catholicism in the wake of increased immigration from Catholic countries. The 1844 connection here was the extensive anti-Catholic rioting that took place in Philadelphia in the summer of that year. The events were so extreme that the anti-Catholic cause was embarrassed and discredited. Chapter five deals with higher criticism and the Bible. The connection to 1844 is somewhat tenuous, but Julius Wellhausen, who penned the most enduring form of the Documentary Hypothesis, was born in that year. In addition, 1844 was the year that Tischendorf discovered the Codex Sinaiticus at the St. Catherine's Monastery. The final chapter is titled "Mental Phenomena and Psychic Cults." Covered in this chapter are the Shakers, Swendenborgianism, Mesmerism, and phrenology, among others. Again, the connection to 1844 is tenuous, but certainly all these movements were active at the time.

The book is breezily written, much like the modern works of history written by journalists. I have in mind here the works of David McCullough (John Adams and 1776) as well as other writers. It reads easily, almost like a novel, and I would call it semi-scholarly in tone. Clark had clearly done his research, but in many cases what he writes is condensed from secondary sources.

What it shows is that America was a great boiling stew of ideas and movements in the decades leading up to the War Between the States, a fascinating period of American history.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: Assorted Books

This is summer, and I am working my way through a combination of books. As I have mentioned, I am about halfway through Beale's The Temple and the Church's Mission. Overall, it's a good book, but it could do with some judicious editing (there is a lot of repetition in the first four chapters) and some rearrangement of material (the ANE material and the Judaica could be put in two appendices, which would help relieve some of the repetition).

I am also reading One Step Behind by Henning Mankell. This is part of a murder mystery series featuring the Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. PBS has recently aired a few of the mysteries, which got me interested.

I also started (as lunchtime reading) Jim Butcher's Turn Coat. This is part of a fantasy series featuring the wizard Harry Dresden (the only wizard listed in the Chicago Yellow Pages). Full of dark humor, the books are an entertaining read.

I am also reading Walter Kaiser's A History of Israel. Yes, I know I should have read it eleven years ago when it first came out, but I had other things to read then. It's typical Kaiser--solid and workmanlike, but not exactly exciting. He argues for the early date of the Exodus, and does a decent job of defending against the so-called "biblical minimalists" who hold that nothing in the Bible was written before the Persian period, and that all the "history" before the Persian period is completely made up.

I am also looking forward to reading the trilogy 1844. It looks at religious, political, and social movements in the US in that particular year. I ordered it from inter-library loan, and I will have it tomorrow.

Exegetical Notes; The Song of Songs: Is it Literal?

For over a century scholars, including many conservative Reformed ones, have been saying that the Song of Songs is not an allegory, and ought to be interpreted literally. One of the criticisms that has been levelled against the allegorical approach is that there is a great deal of diversity in the interpretation of particular verses. Most of the opposition to an allegorical approach seems to spring from a modern opposition to the whole idea of allegory, or a reaction against the very real abuses of the medieval four-fold meaning approach to Scripture.

The recent material emanating from Mark Driscoll, however, simply makes obvious some of the very real weaknesses of the "literal" approach to interpreting the Song of Songs. First, there is the simple crassness of Driscoll's material, and that of others like him. Second, there is the question of how one approaches the book "literally." Is it a random collection of love poetry? That's the view of Tremper Longman in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. he says, "The Song of Songs, a sensual psalter, is composed of a number of different poems. Like the Psalms, they were written by a number of different authors, and bound together into a loose literary unity by a single editor" (341). Is it a collection of songs organized as a set of wedding songs (the traditional Arabic wasf) as some nineteenth century scholars claimed? Is it a "dramatic pastoral" as Delitzsch asserted? Is it none of these? Is it something else entirely? A look at Marvin Pope's commentary on the Song (Anchor Bible) will quickly educate the reader regarding the welter of profoundly different "literal" approaches to the Song that dot the interpretive landscape. And each difference in approach will result in different interpretations for particular verses. In other words, the charge levelled against the allegorical approach is equally valid against the "literal" approach.

Then there is the canonical question. Why is it in the canon? Did it make it into the canon as "literal" or as "allegory." If the latter, then are we justified in taking a "literal" approach? But if the former, then how do we explain the universality of the allegorical approach not only in the church, but in Judaism as well?

Then there is the authority question in application. When Paul says, "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor," we know that we are required not only not to steal, but to labor to provide not only for ourselves, but for others, as Paul goes on to explain. But when the Song says, "Sustain me with cakes of raisins" must we have groups of women providing us with raisin cakes as we meet with our spouse? Does 5:5 describe some sort of sexual play that we are required to emulate? And for that matter, how do we know (if the Song is "literal") that this is even talking about married folk? It's possible to infer marriage from a few select passages, but those passages are also capable of other interpretations. So some "literal" interpreters argue that what is depicted in the Song is simply sexual activity between consenting adults, with no implication at all that they are married.

On one hand, I can sympathize with the anti-allegorical tenor of the present age (something addressed quite well by George Burrowes in the introduction to his commentary). I can also recognize, given the character of our age, the interest in having a canonical "sex manual." But there are two considerations in regard to the Song that are often passed over. The first is that marriage is for time, not for eternity (Matt 22:30). Second, the Song begins with the statement, "The song of songs, which is Solomon's." Anyone who has had elementary Hebrew knows that a noun followed by its plural is one way in Hebrew of expressing the superlative. That's why the New Living Translation reads, "This is Solomon's song of songs, more wonderful than any other." The Holman Christian Standard Bible says, "Solomon's Finest Song." Marriage is a great thing. But it is not the greatest. marriage is a great love. But it is not the greatest. The greatest love is that of Christ for his church. It is that which the Song celebrates. The intuitive sense of spiritual men is that the depiction of that love, in all its complexity, is the purpose of the Song, that it is in its very character, an allegory.

So my challenge to you readers is to take a couple of allegorical interpretations of the Song (I would recommend as a starting point those in the Banner of Truth Geneva series by George Burrowes and James Durham). Read through them. Then ask yourself the question, which is true, Durham or Driscoll?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: 1491:New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

I just finished listening to this on CD (library copy). In this book the journalist Charles C. Mann summarizes and presents the conclusions of the current crop of archaeologists, anthropologists, geographers, ethnologists, and epigraphers who have bee studying the pre-colonial situation in the Western hemisphere. These conclusions can be summarized as follows. First, the pre-Columbus population of the Americas was orders of magnitude larger than what we were commonly taught in public school, with the population of North and South America perhaps being as large as the current population of the United States. That population was quickly reduced dramatically by smallpox and other imported diseases for which the native populations had no natural immunities. The other conclusion is that the so-called primeval forests (to which modern ecologists want us to return) were more likely than not the result of human design and intervention, and not the "natural" state imagined by Thoreau and others.

The other primary point that Mann makes is that these conclusions are widely debated, and the debates often spring at least as much out of politicized academia, environmentalism, and liberal guilt as they do out of a reasonable interpretation of the data available to us.

As a journalist, Mann is a better writer than most academics, and I particularly liked two phrases that came out of the latter part of the book. The first is "dialogues of the deaf," which refers to the fact that often in these encounters people are talking past one another (as in so much modern political discourse). The second is "the earnestly opaque language" of academics. Anyone who reads modern academic writing in any field knows how fairly that phrase categorizes almost all academic writing today.

The other consideration for me has to do with studies of the Ancient Near East. Current scholarly estimates of the population of the ANE are fairly low, certainly as contrasted with the kinds of numbers given not only in the Bible but in other ANE sources. Those high numbers are ordinarily explained either as hyperbole on the part of the writers in order to make wars and victories seem more impressive, or as a misunderstanding of the meanings of the terms used (for example, in the Book of Numbers, it is usually argued that 'eleph (usually translated "thousand") doesn't actually mean thousand, but refers to a much smaller military unit, so that estimates of the size of the Israelite group that came out of Egypt range from 3,000-5,000 on the lower and and about 25,000 on the upper end. This book raised the question for me as to whether it was possible that the ANE population was actually fairly represented by the numbers in the Bible and other ANE sources.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Exegetical Notes: ThePatriarchal History

In outlining the Book of Genesis, the difficult part is subdividing the patriarchal history. We know that it covers the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, but where do we draw the lines between them?

My division is as follows. Abraham occupies chs 12-23. It is true that Abraham does not die until ch 25. However, Sarah does die in ch 23, and ch 24 is devoted to the finding of a wife for Isaac. Ch 25 has the account of Abraham's death and burial, overseen by Isaac and Ishmael. It also contains the account of Esau's selling of his birthright to Jacob. However, I consider chs 24-28:9 to be the Isaac cycle, because throughout the section, Isaac remains a major player. The Jacob cycle runs from 28:10 through ch 35. Notice that 28:10-22 and 35:9-15 form an inclusio (a sort of narrative parenthesis) that sets off the beginning and end of the focus on Jacob. In both places, God appears to Jacob at Bethel. In both sections, God gives the land promise to Jacob. Finally, in both sections Jacob sets up a memorial pillar and pours oil upon it. Ch 36 gives the genealogy of Esau. Then chs 37-50 are the story of Joseph, ending with his death in Egypt.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: The Peculiar Life of Sundays

I have just finished the book and found it to be something very useful for those of us who are Calvinistic sabbatarians to read and consider. As I noted previously, the book begins with a chapter that sets the mood for the book, then moves on to a brief discussion of Sunday in antiquity, focusing on Augustine. This is followed by four chapters on the observance (or non-observance) of Sunday in England from the Elizabethan through the Victorian eras. Miller does this by sampling the writings of three sorts of people and the manner in which they practice Sunday (see my previous posts on the book).

Miller then devotes two chapters to sampling American practices of Sunday, ranging from Jonathan Edwards to the modern poet Robert Lowell. The final chapter surveys the state of religion in America (with a useful discussion about the difference between "religious" and "spiritual"). He concludes with a section on the future of the Sabbath, concluding that it is an almost lost force in American culture, and that that fact is unlikely to change. In the early chapters of his book, Miller makes the distinction between those who see Sunday as a holy day,a Sabbath;  those who see Sunday as a holy day/holiday combined, and those who see Sunday as a holiday. We currently face the fact that Calvinistic sabbatarian denominations make up about 1 to 1.5 percent of the population of the USA. And even in our circles, most members (and at least a large minority of ministers) see Sunday not as a Sabbath, but as a holy day/holiday. 

Two further observations: First, quoting from Craig Harline's history of Sunday, Miller notes that in "1890 there were 660 Sunday papers in the United States" (264). I thought Harline should have looked to see if he could have found six more. Second, many of the non-observant and lapsed Christian writers that Miller quotes spent their Sundays as children in a painful sort of forced inactivity or in a painful sort of forced activity (extended church services, extended catechizing, etc.) that made me wonder about what we are doing to our own children on our Sabbaths. Are we making our Sabbaths a day that our children hate?

(See also my Amazon review under "otrabbi.")

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: "Sunday" Update

Thanks to a nice note from the author, I now understand the difference between non-observant Christians and lapsed Christians. The former are those who don't go to church but have never made any public move away from the church. The latter are those who have publicly moved away from Christianity. Emerson and Thoreau would be examples of lapsed Christians.

Leviticus 18:9-11, or What Constitutes Incest?

This post is pursuant to an issue that a former student raised. I thought somebody might profit from it.

Leviticus 18:9-11

Literal Translation

9. The nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father or the daughter of your mother, born in the house or born outside, you shall not uncover their nakedness.

10. The nakedness of the daughter of your son or the daughter of your daughter, you shall not uncover their nakedness; for they are your nakedness.

11. The nakedness of the daughter of the wife of your father, born of your father, your sister she is. You shall not uncover her nakedness.


The key term here is moledet, which I have translated as “born.” In the twenty or so occurrences of this word in the Old Testament, it appears to have two distinct senses. The first is roughly equivalent to the English “kin,” as for example in Gen 12:1, “Go from your land, and from your kin (moledet), and from the house of your father.” Thus moledet is something between immediate family and  the larger group land or people (see also Esther 2:10, 20). The other sense of moledet is as the feminine participle “born.” That is clearly the meaning in Lev 18:9 and probably the meaning in vs 11. Even if it means “kin” in vs 11 (which I think is unlikely), it still seems to imply a blood relationship.

 The key verses here are 9 and 11. Verse 10 was perhaps included at this point due to the mention of “daughter.” The essential concern is to prohibit the marriage of brother and sister. However, recognizing the complexity of family relations in ancient Israel, the prohibition is given greater specificity. (The statement that “The Scripture does not present a class of people known as step-anything” is erroneous. It does, in fact, recognize such relationships, even though it may not give those relationships a technical name.)

 This greater specificity is as follows: Verse 9 prohibits a man’s marriage to his sister. Obviously the initial reference is to a sibling that shares the same two biological parents. It also prohibits marriage to a step-sister that is the daughter of the man’s father, but not the man’s mother. This was the case of Amnon and Tamar (2 Sam 13). They had the same father (David), but different mothers. The third prohibition is marriage to a daughter of the man’s mother, even though she is not the biological daughter of the man’s father. The verse also rules as irrelevant any consideration of where the “sister” was born. If she is the daughter of the man’s father, or the daughter of the man’s mother, he may not marry her.

 Verse 11 does not appear to add anything to verse 9. It seems to be equivalent to the second prohibition of verse 9. This accounts for the lack of clarity and consistency among the commentators.


The text does not seem to include a situation where man A, who has son a, marries woman B who has daughter b, with b being utterly unrelated to A. However, if the ESV rendering is correct, then the passage does address this situation. The problem is that the ESV rendering implies that what makes a and b effectively brother and sister is the fact that they were reared together. That is not true with the case under consideration. In the case under consideration, the children were raised apart, and did not enter into the same family until they were both of marriageable age.

 The WCF says only the following: “Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the Word.” 


My conclusion is that on the basis of a strict exegesis, the text at most can be read to imply that the marriage of a and b is prohibited. But it does not clearly so state. There may be other considerations that would oppose the marriage of the two, but I don’t see how it can be done on the basis of this text. There may be family considerations and dynamics involved in this particular case that would make the marriage of the two unwise, but on reconsideration, I don’t think Morecraft has an airtight case.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: "Temple" Update

I've now read the first four chapters of G. K. Beale's The Temple and the Church's Mission. I find myself in general agreement with his positions, but wish that he had spent more time in the exegesis of particular texts, and less with Ancient Near Eastern parallels. Plus, I think he is backwards on the idea that the Garden of Eden is a temple. Rather, the temple is a Garden of Eden. The temple points back to the pre-Fall state, and forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth. After all, the point of Revelation 21-22 is that in the NH & NE, there is no temple. The temple is a temporal institution that is intended to point to eternity.

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: The Hunted

Another Elmore Leonard book. I had listened to most of this in the car over the weekend, but finished it Tuesday. Take a businessman who has testified for the grand jury in a federal corruption case. The case never made it to trial, so the federal witness security program has moved him to Israel under a new name. Add a hotel fire at an inopportune time, a Marine sergeant about on leave, about to exit the Marines, a group of hoods out to kill the businessman, and you have the plot of a typical Elmore Leonard book. I've given you about all the plot you need. Just remember, Elmore Leonard is no Carl Hiassen. That is, his books are not usually comedies. That's all you need to know.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: Killshot

I listen to books in the car. When I go out of town on the weekend for a preaching assignment, I usually get a whole book done. Otherwise, it takes a couple of weeks to get through a book; depending, of course, on how long the book is. Usually, this means fiction, because I get the books from the library, and they don't seem to have a good selection of non-fiction available. It would be nice to get some good theology in audio book form. If anyone knows of such, let me know.

I just finished listening to Elmore Leonard's Killshot. It is actually an older book (1989) that I've read at least once before, but not for a long time. The movie version is out on DVD now (never made it to the theaters, even though it stars Mickey Rourke and Diane lane) and is on our Netflix playlist. So I thought I'd listen to it in preparation for the movie. If you don't know anything about Elmore Leonard, he is an older writer (born in 1925) and got his start writing Westerns in the 1950's. He made the move to crime fiction in the late sixties and never looked back. He became a fixture on the New York Times Bestseller List in the late eighties, and several of his books have been made into movies (mostly not nearly as good as the book). Perhaps two of the best-known movies are Out of Sight, starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, and Get Shorty starring John Travolta. Leonard writes crime fiction, not murder mysteries. What that means is there is usually no mystery, though there may be murders, and usually other crimes involved. The characters mostly function either on the wrong side of the law, or around its fringes, but they are always interesting. Leonard also has a real knack for dialogue.

Killshot focuses on a hitman teamed with another criminal, up against an iron worker and his wife, due to circumstances that bring them all together. I won't tell you more about the plot, because that's part of the fun of reading an Elmore Leonard. It's definitely worth a read.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: The Scarecrow

I've been reading Michael Connelly since I first read The Black Echo (Connelly's first novel) several years ago. His main character has been the homicide detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch (the choice of name is deliberate: see selections of Bosch's paintings online). Bosch is not in this work. Rather, the main character is Jack McEvoy, a reporter for the LA Times, who, about the time he gets laid off (budget cuts) as a reporter, stumbles into a serial murder case. McEvoy has figured in a couple of earlier Connelly novels.

The story is compelling and fast-paced, well up to Connelly's highest standards. Also along for the ride this time is FBI agent Rachel Walling, who has appeared in a number of previous Connelly novels. 

I won't tell you any more about the plot, since it is relatively standard for serial killer murder mysteries. If you like serial killer stories, you'll enjoy this one. If you don't, read it for Connelly's killer prose.

There are two primary subtexts to the story as well. The first is the demise of the newspaper largely due to the Internet, which is clearly close to Connelly's heart, having previously been a crime reporter. The other is the dangerously intrusive nature of the Internet and related technology. I remember when the Sandra Bullock movie The Net came out, techies were pooh-poohing it, saying that the things depicted couldn't be done. I'm not so sure that's the case anymore, and there's a cautionary tale here for those who would carelessly spread their lives on the net for all to see.

Uncle Ben's Book Blog:The Temple and the Church's Mission

I've also started reading G. K. Beale's The Temple and the Church's Mission for a book discussion group meeting at Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC on Thursdays this summer. We will be covering about two chapters per week, so we'll be done by the middle of July.

First Impression: A useful book, but perhaps given to over-interpretation with regard to the significance of various items related to the Old Testament Tabernacle-Temple material.

Related Books: Patrick Fairbairn, Typology. Having read this will give some historical context.
On the Types and Symbols of the Vessels of the Tabernacle and in Solomon's Temple, 1864. Downloaded from Google Books.
Frederick Whitfield, The Tabernacle Priesthood and Offerings of Israel, 1875. Also downloaded from Google Books.

Uncle Ben's Book Blog: The Peculiar Life of Sundays

I just began this book yesterday. The April Atlantic had a synopsis of it, and I found it in the Greenville County Library. After two introductory chapters; the first a sort of thematic reflection, the second on Sunday in antiquity, it surveys the history of Sunday in England and the USA over the last three centuries or so. It does this by looking at how Sundays were practiced (or not) in the lives of observant Christians, such as Samuel Johnson and William Law; non-observant Christians, such as John Ruskin and Oliver Goldsmith; and lapsed Christians, such as Henry David Thoreau and Robert Lowell. 

I've read the first chapter, from which I got two useful bibliographical references. The first is Alexis McCrossen, Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday, Cornell U. Press, 2000. The second is Craig Harline, Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl, Doubleday, 2007.

I've obviously not yet read far enough to know what the difference is between non-observant and lapsed Christians.

Uncle Ben's Book Blog

Okay. Nobody reads this blog anyway, so this is mostly for my own entertainment, and for self-reminders concerning what I've read. Plus, the two-three people per year who happen by this site might get some help on their reading.

I'm simply going to report on what I'm reading. Some of the posts will be similar to reviews I post on Amazon (under the name otrabbi). But other will simply report on things I find interesting or useful.

Monday, May 25, 2009

2 Samuel 9-13; Luke 7:36-8:25

2 Samuel 9-13

Chapters 9-10 contain the last good news of the reign of David. Ch 9 gives us the affecting story of David's reception of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan. David essentially adopts him on the basis of the promises made to Jonathan. It is a beautiful picture of God's adopting us, and feeding us at his table because of Christ. We are as worthless to God as Mephibosheth was to David, yet he has welcomed us into his family. Nick Willborn has a wonderful sermon on this passage, but it does not appear to be available at sermonaudio. If anyone knows where it might be found, let me know.

Ch 10 chronicles David's defeat of the Ammonites, who had called in the assistance of the Syrians. David's victory essentially established Israelites control over the entire area described as the land of promise in Numbers 34. This control extended through the reign of Solomon, when the division of the kingdom brought it to an end. The only time when that great an extent of Israelite control was established was under Jeroboam II (2 Kgs 14).

Chapters 11-13 mark the beginning of the decline of David's rule. First, of course, there is the double crime of the adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Most evangelicals seem to read the passage as if the adultery with Bathsheba were the more heinous sin, but the text itself seems to place the emphasis on the murder of Uriah. The adultery with Bathsheba is concluded in five verses, while the murder of Uriah occupies twenty-two. Further, why was Bathsheba out bathing where she could be seen? My own view is that Bathsheba is not guiltless in the affair. She was already a part of David's court contingent (note her connections in vs 3). Here husband Uriah was one of the thirty (2 Sam 23:39) as was her father Eliam (2 Sam 23:34). Knowing that David was in residence, she may have seen an opportunity to advance her own status, though she doubtless did not foresee her husband's death. The fault certainly lies with David.

Chapter 12 is the well-known confrontation between Nathan and David, that finally brought David to repentance. Nonetheless, the child of the adultery died, and David's house is thrown into turmoil as the direct judgment of God on David. This decent into chaos began with Amnon's rape of Tamar and Absalom's murder of Amnon. What is particularly noteworthy in the whole episode is David's passivity, and his inability to bring himself to punish his guilty sons. This inability simply added to the chaos.

Luke 7:36-8:25

In this material, Jesus emphasizes his ability to forgive sins, and begins his parabolic teaching. We have moved into the period of increasing opposition to Jesus, and only his devoted followers are given to understand the meaning of his teaching. The rest are left to ponder the master's rebukes. The closing episode of Jesus calming the storm shows his deity to the disciples. As he has asserted his deity in possessing the power over the spiritual realm (the forgiveness of sins), so he asserts his deity in possessing the power over the realm of nature.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

2 Samuel 1-8; Luke 6:20-7:35

My apologies to the zero people who have stopped by the last couple of days to keep up with their Bible reading, but I have been busy with all the events involved with graduation time at the seminary. No w I can get back to the more ordinary business of life.

2 Sam 1-8

Shifting back to the Samuel-Kings version of the history of Israel, we come to that period of transition from the reign of Saul to the reign of David. Such a transition is not easy even at the best of times, and these were not the best of times in Israel's history. The book of 2 Samuel begins with David's lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. Some might wonder about the appropriateness of David's lament, given that Saul was an ungodly, wicked man, who had hunted David mercilessly and opposed him in any way he could. But remember. Saul was the duly anointed king of Israel, he had led Israel in war against her enemies, and he died in the midst of the prosecution of that war. David's lament recognizes the loss to Israel of Saul's good labor. It may well be a lesson for us in times of political turmoil, that it is right and proper to mourn those who have served us as leaders when they fall, even though it might well be the case that they have been ultimately unsuccessful, and should have served us better than they did.

Chapter 2-5 trace the history of the short civil war between the forces of Saul and those of David. It tells of the perfidy of Joab in the assassination of Abner (for which Joab will pay after the death of David). The section then concludes in chapter 5 with the account of David's acclamation as king over all Israel, cemented in a sense by his victory over the Philistines recorded at the end of the chapter.

Chapters 6-8 record the establishment of David's political and religious capital at Jerusalem, the making of the Davidic covenant, and David's succeeding victories. Chapter 6 and 7 are among the most important theologically in the entire Old Testament. The political acumen of David shown in ch 6 is often overlooked, or not taken with sufficient seriousness. In choosing Jerusalem for his political capital, David made a smart choice. Jerusalem was located on the border between Benjamin (the tribe of Saul) and Judah (the tribe of David). With its selection David was announcing that he was not going to play favorites, either for his supporters or against the house of Saul. In taking the city from the Jebusites, David proved his military prowess. In making it both his political and religious capital, David indicated something about what was to be the entire tenor of his reign. The following victories recounted in ch 8 simply serve to emphasize the rightness of David as the king of Israel. He is getting the job done.

As to the Davidic covenant, it casts its shadow not only over the remainder of Old Testament history, but over the New Testament as well. The Messiah is designated a descendant of David. As we get further into the Old Testament, I will draw the reader's attention to places where this covenant continues to show its influence.

Luke 6:20-7:35

The first part of this material constitutes the "Sermon on the Plain," as compared to Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount." Are they different account of the same event? It is certainly possible, and many commentators take that position. On the other hand, Jesus preached and taught for over three years. It is clearly the case from the gospel accounts that he revisited key themes and teachings on more than one occasion, so it possible that this is a different even than the Sermon on the Mount. Again, commentators differ. Some may object, however, noting that the two "sermons" differ. That being the case, how can they be accounts of the same event? We have to recognize that the gospel writers, while accurately recording what Jesus said, did not record everything he said. So each account of Jesus' teaching is an accurate, true, and faithful excerpt of the statement Jesus made on that occasion. That being the case, the differences between the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain may simply represent differing excerpts from what Jesus said on the one occasion.

A second key thing to note here is that Jesus is setting himself above the Old Testament prophets. In his working of miracles, he is like Elijah and Elisha, but he is greater than they. In his teaching, he is like than the writing prophets, but again, he is greater than they. The writing prophets frequently said, "Thus says the Lord." Jesus said, "Thus, I say" (see, for example, 6:27, 46). 

Third, Jesus again appears in the guise of Elijah and Elisha in 7:1-17. First, he healed the servant of a foreign military leader (similar to the healing of Naaman). Then he raised the widow's son to life (reflecting events from the lives of both Elijah and Elisha). Note also how the people responded (7:16 ): "A great prophet had risen among us!" Third, by drawing the attention of the crowds to John the Baptist, he deliberately contrasts his ministry with that of John, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Jesus is the successor and the greater one to come. Yet the people don;t like the tune the piper plays (7:31-35). We need to be careful that we respond to the song the Scriptures play, and not go seeking tunes for itching ears.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

1 Chronicles 9-10; Luke 6:1-19

1 Chronicles 9-10

Chapter 9 lists genealogies of those who settled in Judah after the exile. Note that it includes descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh (vs 3), which were part of the Northern Kingdom before the exile. Some thus remained through the exile, perhaps having moved down to Judah after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. The bulk of the material has to do with the descendants of the Levites who would thus be serving in the second temple. This connection between the Levites (and the continuity of their service after the exile) is important for the author of Chronicles, as it ties in to his emphasis on the temple and its service in the period of the Israelite monarchy. 

Chapter 10 gives a brief account of the death of Saul and his sons. Thus, the first king of Israel came to bad end, and his line did not continue as kings. It was an abortive rule, and set the stage for the rise of David and his line.

Luke 6:1-19

It should be of interest to most evangelicals, though it seems not to be, that much of Jesus' teaching dealt with, or was provoked by, issues regarding the Sabbath. It is clear in the contest between Jesus and his opponents that the issue was not that the Sabbath was to be observed, but how the Sabbath was to be observed. Some, of course, will respond that Jesus is dealing with Jews, and thus is merely addressing Jewish concerns. However, Jesus doesn't deal with ceremonial regulations or, for that matter, much of the judicial legislation. This would seem then to indicate that the Sabbath was to continue to be observed even after the temple and its accompanying regulations came to an end.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

1 Chronicles 7-8; Luke 5:17-39

1 Chronicles 7-8

Chapter 7 completes the genealogical information on the tribes that settled Palestine proper. Among other things it shows that Naphtali almost disappeared. Chapter 8 repeats some of the Benjaminite genealogy, focusing on the line of Saul. This chapter also begins the brief account that Chronicles gives of the reign of Saul. Though the author obviously considered this material essential, he is much more concerned with David, the first king of the Davidic messianic dynasty.

Luke 5:17-39

The healing of the leper that immediately precedes this section links with the ministry of Elisha and the healing of Naaman (2 Kgs 5). This section itself shows that Jesus is greater than the greatest prophets. He heals a paralytic, he calls his own disciples, and he shows himself the successor to, and preeminent over, John the Baptist.

Monday, May 18, 2009

1 Chronicles 6; Luke 4:40-5:16

1 Chronicles 6

This is the longest of the genealogical chapters, probably due to the fact that it deals with the Levitical line, which is a major topic of consideration in the Books of Chronicles. The Books of Chronicles focus on two things: the Davidic kingdom and the Solomonic temple. Since it is the Aaronic line (a subset of Levi) that has charge of temple worship, the author is careful to give Levi a prominent place in the book. It is also clear that the Levites were settled among the tribes of Israel, and their responsibility, though not mentioned here, was to teach the Israelites the Law of God.

Luke 4:40-5:16

It is clear from the gospel accounts that Jesus spent some time teaching and healing before settling on those whom he would call as his special disciples. Thus it is probably the case that they had been following him for some time. So Jesus was not new to Peter nor Peter new to Jesus when this event occurred. Nonetheless, the magnitude of the miracle produced a holy awe in Peter, and an awareness of his sinfulness, much like Isaiah's temple vision (Is 6). The absence of this sense of holy awe when dealing with God is one of the real troubles afflicting the American church today.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

1 Chronicles 1-5; Luke 4:1-39

1 Chronicles 1-5

Considered by some to be the most boring part of the Bible, the genealogies of 1 Chronicles set the context for the history of Israel. In a certain sense, 1 Chron 1-9 parallels Genesis-1 Sam 8 in a tightly condensed fashion, accomplished through the use of genealogies. Chapter 1 covers the primeval history down through the end of the patriarchal period, including the "off" lines of Ishmael and Esau. Chapter 2 gives the descendants of Judah, including the line of David. Chapter 3 continues the line of David down to the postexilic era. Chapters 4-5 summarize the descendants of Judah, Simeon, Reuben, Gad, and one-half of Manasseh. They are probably given in this order because Judah was the tribe from which the kings would come, the territory of Simeon fell within the bounds of the territory of Judah (see Joshua 15 and 19), and the other three tribes were the tribes that settled east of the Jordan.

All of these long-forgotten names tells us that God does not forget his own (2 Tim 2:19), and that he was faithful to fulfill his promises to the patriarchs.

Luke 4:1-39

The order of the temptations in Luke is different from that in Matthew. The latter seems to be the order of occurrence (notice the use of the conjunctions in Matthew), and brings the focus to the issue of Christ's kingship, an important consideration in Matthew. Luke's order brings the focus to the prophetic test of obedience, again in character with the themes of the book.

Luke's account of Jesus' ministry then begins with him in the synagogue, reading from the book of the prophets, showing himself to be the fulfillment, and drawing a pointed parallel between himself and Elijah and Elisha. The account then speaks of Jesus casting out demons and healing the sick, emphasizing by means of these miracles his prophetic authority.

Friday, May 15, 2009

1 Samuel 29-31; Luke 3:7-38

1 Samuel 29-31

There are a number of things to note about this section. First, the reign of Saul begins and ends with the men of Jabesh-Gilead (compare ch 11 with 31:11-13). Second, while Saul and the men of Israel are being slaughtered by the Philistines, David and those with him enjoy remarkable success over their enemies, and they are providentially prevented from having to go into battle against their fellow Israelites. Third, David uses the spoils of war to cement relations with those Israelites he had been serving, even while being persecuted by Saul (see 30:26-31). Thus the stage is set for the beginning of Saul's reign.

Luke 3:7-38

This section summarizes the ministry of John the Baptist, which is preparatory to the ministry of Christ, and ends with Jesus' baptism. The temptation of Jesus follows his baptism (as in Matthew and Mark), but Luke puts off that by inserting at this point the genealogy of Jesus back through David to Adam. This genealogy differs from that of Matthew in two respects. First, Matthew's genealogy goes back only to Abraham, while Luke's goes all the way back to Adam. Second, they are obviously different genealogies, in that several of the names differ. These differences have been accounted for in a number of ways, but the most plausible explanation is that Matthew traces the legal genealogy through Joseph (see how Matt 1:16 is worded), while Luke traces the physical descent through Mary. This also explains in part the fact that Luke traces it back all the way Adam, demonstrating that through Mary, Jesus is the promised seed of woman.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

1 Samuel 26-28; Luke 2:36-3:6

1 Samuel 26-28

This is the second opportunity David has to take the life of Saul. Once again, Saul responds with the words of repentance and acknowledgement of sin (see vs 21). But David clearly does not believe him. It is the case likewise with many of us. We know people who are frequently professing repentance, but there is never any change of life to accord with it. That seems to be David's analysis of Saul's statement, because immediately afterwards, based on the sense that he will die at the hand of Saul, he moves to among the Philistines. He still does not attack Israel, but misleads Achish into thinking he has.

The continuing decompensation (look it up--it essentially means that he was falling apart) of Saul has begun the slide down the steep slope. There is no stopping Saul from unraveling at this point. He demands a word from God that is not forthcoming. You readers take note. If you persist in rebellion against God, or more simply in disobedience to his commands, do not expect that God will answer your prayers. He shuts his ear to the wicked. This is another indication that Saul's repentance is only skin deep. That, plus the fact that Saul was ready, out of his own desperation, to undo a righteous law that he himself had imposed (see 28:3).

As for the appearance of Samuel, I do think it was Samuel appearing, by special dispensation of God, in order to pronounce judgment on Saul. Note how the medium is terrified. This appearance was something entirely unexpected for her, hence it was out of the ordinary, and not brought about by her machinations in the "spiritual realm."

Luke 2:36-3:6

Anna's appearance parallels that of Simeon, but she is given no specific statement, except the reporting of her own testimony to all who would listen regarding the appearance of God's anointed. Note also the comparison of Jesus with John (2:40, 52; cf. 1:80), and thus with the Old Testament prophets, especially Samuel. Luke is continuing to draw the lines of the Jesus' portrait as the fulfillment of the great prophet. This is further illustrated by the one episode we have from Jesus' boyhood, his discussion with the teachers in the temple. Here we also learn that Jesus has a clear sense of his calling and purpose. There appears to be no uncertainty on the part of Jesus about who he is or what he is about. This is in contrast with a portrait often painted by scholars, who seem to think that Jesus really didn't know much about who he was and what he was supposed to do until well on into his ministry.

The preparation for the ministry of Jesus begins with the ministry of John the Baptist. This is one of the few things that is set forth clearly in all four gospels.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

1 Samuel 24-25; Luke 2:8-35

1 Samuel 24-25

We continue the twisted tale of Saul's irrational pursuit of David. Providentially, Saul unwittingly presents himself as a fat target to David, to which temptation David responds by cutting off part of Saul's garment. Even that he immediately regrets as an unwarranted assault on the person of the Lord's anointed. In the aftermath, Saul admits that David will be king, but asks only that his own house be preserved. Saul did not live to see David fulfill that promise.

The story of the death of Nabal shows the reader another difficulty that David had to deal with: antagonism from those who were probably not supporters of Saul, but neither were they supporters of David. In those days, armies lived off the land. There were no supply lines from the rear to the front. Everything was at the front. therefore, it was necessary for armies to supply themselves where they were. David's protection of Nabal and his resources was probably not from purely unselfish motives, but Nabal's hard-hearted response was as foolish as his name. It was only the quick action of Abigail that saved, for the short term, the life of Nabal, but the integrity of David as well. It is clear in these stories that even though David and his men were hunted by Saul and the armies of Israel, they did not take out their frustration on the people of Israel. David, though not yet actual king, acts more kingly than Saul.

Luke 2:8-35

A story that almost everyone knows by heart. But have you ever stopped to consider the shepherds? These were people who were considered unclean by the Pharisees because of the requirements of their occupation. Yet to them, and to them alone, is the angelic announcement made. I still remember a sermon from more than thirty years ago in which the preacher emphasized this point, taking us on the shepherds trip from the fields into Bethlehem. They were astounded that nobody else had heard what they had heard, nor had seen what they had seen. Hence they tell everyone what they had seen and heard. Likewise, the testimony of Simeon. This old man was told that he would see the Lord's Christ before his death. But how many saw the baby Jesus without any sense of who he was, or who wondered about what was happening with that old man and the couple with the baby.

We tend to assume that everyone knows about Jesus, but they don't. That's why we are called on to bear witness to what we know, what we have seen and heard.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

1 Samuel 22-23; Luke 1:67-2:7

1 Samuel 22-23

As Saul's opposition to David continues, it also increases, to the extent described here. David fears for the lives of his family, hence he sends them to live in Moab (remember David descended from Ruth). In addition, Saul's enmity extends to anyone who has helped David or might have helped David. Even though David has done nothing against Saul, nor has he done anything worthy of Saul's enmity, yet it is there. So likewise the enmity of the world against the sons of God is always there, even though no offense may ever have been given. Note also the sorrow that David expresses, knowing that his approach to Ahimelech has occasioned the deaths of all those slain by Doeg.

In chapter 23, it is apparently fear of Saul and what he might do that occasions the men of Keilah (whom David had saved from the Philistines), and the men of Ziph (to whom David had done no harm) to seek to hand David over to Saul. It is only when the Philistines launch a new offensive against Israel that Saul is forced away from his maniacal pursuit of David. Thus faithfulness to God may engender opposition to us that is unreasonable both in its origin and in its continuation, but as David, we are to trust to the Lord for protection against those enemies. This also is a type of the opposition that Christ faced from his enemies, in that it was entirely irrational, in that the work of Christ was no threat to his enemies, unless they persisted in their sin.

Luke 1:67-2:7

The Song of Zechariah: As with the Song of Mary, this song sets out themes formerly seen in the Old Testament in the work of the prophets. Note the similarity between Luke 1:80, and 1 Sam 2:26. All of these things together point to God's doing a new work, fulfilling the promises made by the Old Testament prophets.

Monday, May 11, 2009

1 Samuel 20-21, Luke 1:46-66

1 Samuel 20-21

This material covers two matters, both related to David's estrangement from Saul. Saul recognized that David was a threat not only to him as king (having no understanding of David's respect for the Lord's anointed), but also to the continuation of his house as the ruling house in Israel. Jonathan, in his friendship with David, seems to recognize that David is indeed the one appointed by God to succeed his own father, but he has no ambition for the throne. Jonathan;s close friendship with David serves further to anger Saul because it is further confirmation that the place of his house in Israel will not last beyond his own personal reign. Saul has moved from a humble acceptance to God's causing him to be made king to having a jealous grasp upon the throne of Israel.

Having Saul's murderous threats against him confirmed, David flees to the Philistines, apparently thinking there was no place in Israel for him. However, he finds he has jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and has to play the madman to escape. One of the humorous lines in this chapter is that of Achish, who says, "Have I need of madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence?" One wonders how often other leaders have had similar feelings about some of those who serve under them.

Luke 1:46-66

This section is dominated by the Song of Mary, also called the Magnificat, from the first word of the song in the Vulgate. This song is thematically tied to the Song of Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-10. In part this makes the point that God is still about the same work he was in the Old Testament, in the continuing display of his covenant faithfulness to his people. In part it certifies the son of Mary as the successor to the great prophets and kings of the Old Testament. Displaying Jesus as The Great Prophet (Deut 18:15-22) is one of the themes that runs through Luke, so it is important to recognize it early on in the book.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

1 Samuel 16-19, Luke 1:1-45

1 Samuel 17

This is a great text for preaching, and not for preaching about slaying the Goliaths in your life. Rather, the story teaches us what it means to be a man after God's own heart: to be more concerned for the honor of God and his cause than for one's own safety. I'll leave that part to your own study of the text. 

On the technical side, the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Samuel and the Septuagint have "four cubits and a span" in vs 4. I don't know really how to determine which reading to prefer, except that the DSS and LXX reading sound like an attempt to make Goliath sound more normal-sized. SO I prefer the reading of the Masoretic text.

One additional note. Once David had decided to use the weapons with which he was familiar (wise counsel even outside of wartime), the end of the context with Goliath was decided. David didn't have to fight on Goliath's terms, as everyone else in the Israelite army had assumed. The sling stone that David would have used was not a pebble, so the "death by slingshot" of Goliath is not a miracle. Rather the stone was baseball-sized, weighed about a pound, and came out of the sling at about 120 mph. What's surprising is that the stone itself didn't take off Goliath's head.

1 Samuel 18-19

Although David won the day against Goliath, it set Saul against him, because Saul knew that the preference of the Lord had moved from himself to David. Thus these two chapters focus on Saul's attempts to remove David by indirect means. The remainder of 1 Samuel focuses not on the ongoing Israelite battle with the Philistines, but on the internal strife due to Saul's faithlessness and David's striving to be faithful in circumstances that would try the best of men. It is to David's credit (and of course the Lord's work in his life) that David succeeds in remaining faithful, and overcoming all the temptations to take out Saul.

Luke 1:1-45

We have hit the first of the "we" sections in Acts, so it is an appropriate time to take a break from Acts to go through Luke. Mark began his gospel with the ministry of John the Baptist. Matthew began his with the announcement of the birth of Jesus. Luke begins his with the angelic announcements to Zechariah and to Mary. Angelic announcements to previously barren women are found a number of times in the Old Testament, so these announcements fit that pattern, except that for Elizabeth, the announcement is not made to her, but to Zechariah. In addition, Mary is a virgin, not a barren woman. So the gospel begins by, in a manner turning the Old Testament on its head.

Friday, May 08, 2009

1 Samuel 15-16; Acts 18

1 Samuel 15-16

This is perhaps the most tragic story in the story of the young kingdom. Saul, who earlier was not ready to put himself forward has now become the interpreter of the word of God, and the decider of right and wrong. Note that he attempts first to claim that he has been obedient (15:20), and then places the blame upon the people (15:21, 24). Thus he intends to have Samuel compare the situation to what was recounted in the preceding chapter, where the army, be hungry because of Saul's foolish vow, began to slaughter the sheep and eat them with the blood still in them (14:32). Saul was then forced to come in and correct the people's behavior. However, the text tells us (15:9) that Saul had the lead in the action of sparing Agag, and the people went along.

Therefore God repented of making Saul king (15:11, 35). But in Samuel's rebuke of Saul, he says, "the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man that he should repent (15:29)." Many translations try to hide the fact that the same verb (repent) is used in vss 11 and 35 as is used in vs 29. Clearly it is being used in a different sense in vss 11 and 35 than it is in vs 29. But the writer wants us to struggle with the fact that while the Lord's rejection of Saul seems to present a change in God's mind, it is an action that is not contrary to his character as Truth itself. Saul himself has caused the rejection.

In chapter 16, we have the account of the selection David as Saul's replacement. Here the emphasis is on David's heart (vs 7), whereas with Saul, all the emphasis had been on his appearance. Saul looked like a king. David was of kingly character and mindset. It should be noted here that "a man after God's own heart" is often taken to mean that David had a great love and affection for God. There is no doubt that he did, as the Psalms demonstrate, but that is not what the phrase means. The "heart" in the Old Testament is primarily the seat of intellect and will. Thus a man after God's own heart was a man who saw things from God's perspective, and willed himself to act accordingly. This will become clear in subsequent chapters.

Acts 18

In the wake of continued Jewish opposition to the gospel, Paul shook the dust off his cloak (vs 6) and declared his determination to focus on the Gentiles. The chapter also gives the account of Paul's return through Asia, and of the appearance of Apollos

Thursday, May 07, 2009

1 Samuel 13-14, Acts 17:16-34

1 Samuel 13-14

This is a difficult section, for a number of reasons. First, the age of Saul when he became king and the length of his reign are both missing from the Hebrew text of ch 13:1 (also missing in the Septuagint). It reads, "A son of a year (the Hebrew idiom for saying that someone is a year old) was Saul when he became king, and he was king in Israel two years." It is possible that Saul reigned for only two years, but he was certainly not a year old when he became king. The TNIV reads, "Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years." The number forty for the length of Saul's reign is found in Acts 13:21, but the age of thirty is pure guess-work. Josephus (Jewish Antiquities: 6.14.9 and 10.8.4) gives twenty years, though some manuscripts of the former passage give a total of forty. We can safely rely on the total of forty from Acts, though perhaps as a round number.

This passage also shows the difficulties that the Philistines caused for Israel, both because of their chariots and their iron-works. Chapter 14 shows the ungodliness of Saul, in his inability to wait for Samuel to make his appearance, and his folly, in regard to the vow that he made. Jonathan's violation of the oath from ignorance certainly caused the inquiry of God to be snubbed (14:37), probably not for the purpose of putting Jonathan to death, but the show make evident the foolishness of Saul;s vow.

Acts 17:16-34

This is a well-known passage: Paul debating the Greek philosophers in Athens. His message may be summarized as follows: The God who made us all (united in one blood, vs. 26) is a spirit, the creator of all things. he is also the righteous judge of all deeds, calling all to repentance, and appointing a day of judgment, to be presided over by the man appointed, whom God has raised from the dead as proof that he will judge all.

This raises two questions for us. First, do we proclaim a God who calls to repentance, who will judge, and who has raised a mediator from the dead? Second, are we deeply distressed by the idolatry surrounding us as Paul was?

Follow-up on 1 Samuel 10

For those of you reading the NRSV, you find the following paragraph between the end of 1 Sam 10 and the beginning of 1 Sam 11: Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-Gilead.

This material is found in the first scroll of Samuel found in the fourth cave at Qumran, as well as in the work of the Jewish historian Josephus "Jewish Antiquities" Book 6, Chapter 5, Section 1. It is on the basis of these two sources that the translators of the NRSV thought it necessary to add the material. While this information may be true (and I have no reason to doubt the testimony of Josephus) I think it should not be included in the Scriptures. It did not survive in the canonical form of 1 Samuel in the Hebrew text, nor does it appear in the ancient versions.