Tag Archives: Old Testament

“It’s Boring!” (Until You See the Connections)

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.
2 Chronicles 3:1 (NIV)

When I began this blog over 12 years ago I called it Wayfarer because  a wayfarer is one who is on a journey, and anyone who has be the most casual reader of my posts knows that I reference my journey in almost every post. Life is a journey, for all of us. If I step back, I can also see that history is a journey in a macro sense. Humanity is on its own life journey from alpha to omega. I am connected to what has gone before us, and I am a micro part of the on-going trek of life through time.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks I’ve observed when it comes to people reading what we refer to as the Old Testament, or the ancient writings of the Hebrew people, is that it appears so disconnected from my life, my reality, and my daily journey. The further I get in my journey, however, the more I realize how everything is connected.

In today’s chapter we have a fairly boring recitation that an ancient Chronicler wrote of the design of Solomon’s temple. It’s actually a re-telling of an earlier recitation in the book of 1 Kings. It was likely written at a time after the exiles taken to Babylon returned to Jerusalem and were faced with the task of rebuilding Solomon’s Temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Have you ever observed how when there’s a current event on which everyone is focused (i.e. the royal wedding) and then all of a sudden there’s a ton of magazine articles, books, documentaries, and shows about royal weddings? The writing of Chronicles describing how Solomon built his temple, was likely written because everyone was focused on rebuilding that temple.

But wait, there’s more:

  • The Chronicler mentions that the temples was build on Mount Moriah, which is where Abraham obediently went to sacrifice his son, Isaac and then was stopped by God. So the temple they are building is also connected to the past and the founder of their faith.
  • For those of us who follow Jesus, we also see in Abraham’s sacrifice a foreshadowing of God so loving the world that He sacrificed His one and only Son. So today’s chapter is connected to that as well.
  • And the temple design parallels the design of the traveling tent that Moses and the Hebrews used as a worship center as they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for years. So, the temple is connected to that part of the story as well.
  • Oh, and then it describes “the most holy place” where only the high priest could enter once a year as a 20x20x20 cubit cube (a cubit is an ancient form of measurement, roughly 21 inches). When you get to the very end of the Great Story at the end of Revelation there is described a New Jerusalem. It is without a temple because Jesus dwells at the center but the entire city is designed as a cube. The word picture connects back to the design in today’s chapter. The entirety of the New Jerusalem is “most holy” because Jesus, the sacrificial lamb (there’s a connection back to Abraham’s sacrifice and the sacrificial system of Moses), has covered everyone’s sins and made everyone holy. The whole city and everything, everyone in it is holy.

Once you begin to see how everything being described in today’s chapter connects to the beginning and the end of the story it suddenly begins to get really interesting.

This morning I’m thinking about my Life journey. In the grand scheme of things it’s a little micro particle. It’s seemingly insignificant when you look at just the surface of things. But, then I begin to see how it connects to other people and their journeys. I begin to see how my journey has been made possible by everything that has gone before. I begin to see how my little, seemingly insignificant life journey, like a tiny atom in the body of time, is contributing love, life, energy, peace, kindness, goodness that will propel the story forward.

I’m just trying to walk my journey well. Connected to all that’s come before. Doing my part for those who will walk their journeys after. And, believing what Jesus taught and exemplified in His death and resurrection: when this Life journey is over an eternal Life journey will just be starting.

I hope you make good connections today.

The Importance of the Backstory

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
Leviticus 20:10 (NRSV)

Over recent months I have been reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. It is not an easy read. Rather than a simple and continuous narrative, The Silmarillion is a collection of stories that, together, create the cosmology of Tolkien’s fictional universe from its creation.  Having a lot of excellent on-line reference material has been extremely helpful.

Slogging my way through The Silmarillion I am constantly inspired as I make connections and gain a broader understanding of the backstory of The Lord of the Rings. Knowing the backstory makes the story I know so well even more colorful and thought provoking. I better understand why the elves are leaving Middle Earth and where they are going. I better understand exactly what the “Three rings of elven kings” really are and represent. I learn the skinny on Shelob the giant spider and the evil Sauron, the scary faces in the Dead Marshes, all the obscure references made by the hobbits and about hoard they find with the barrow wights in the Old Forest, and the song Aragorn sings as he and the hobbits camp on the road to Rivendell.

In many ways The Silmarillion parallels the loose collection of history, poetry, prophecy, and legal text that make up what is commonly known as the Old Testament. For many people these ancient writings are difficult to wade through and understand. Nevertheless, I’ve always found that without them I have an incomplete view of who Jesus is, what His message was about, and why things happened the way they did. The stories of Jesus suddenly gain more color and depth in context with the backstory.

One such example struck me this morning. According to Levitical law in today’s chapter, those who committed adultery were to be put to death – both the man and the woman who committed the deed. I then thought about the story in John’s biography in which the religious leaders, seeking to trap Jesus and discredit him, bring a woman to Him. She had been caught “in the act” of adultery and deserved the death penalty. They wanted Jesus to render the verdict. If He let them kill her then it would be unpopular with the crowds, but if He let her off then they could accuse Him of being a lawbreaker.

But Jesus knew today’s chapter as well as they did. If she was caught “in the act” then where was the man who was committing adultery with her? He was to be put to death as well. The story said that Jesus sat doodling in the dirt as the religious leaders were making their case. Perhaps Jesus was symbolically writing the name of the woman’s lover into “the record.” Knowing the law, I begin to understand how hypocritical, misogynistic, and crooked these religious leaders proved themselves to be with their accusations. Without even saying a word, Jesus’ brilliant response called the leaders to a legal point-of-order. His gracious forgiveness of the woman means even more to me in light of this context. [Note: you can read the brief story in John 8]

This morning I’m thinking about backstories. Beyond The Silmarillion and the Old Testament, there are also backstories to our lives, our families, our communities, our nation, and our world. I realize, once again, this morning why I love history. Knowing backstories helps me better perceive and understand things in the present. With that, I can made better decisions and judgements in the present just as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery.

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Sacrifice and At-one-ment

You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.
Leviticus 1:4 (NRSV)

I have blogged through the book of Leviticus only once since starting this chapter-a-day blogging journey ten years ago. That compares to the 2-3 times I’ve blogged through most of the other books in God’s Message. The reason for this is not a mystery. Leviticus is not an easy read and it’s even more difficult for most people to understand in a 21st century western culture. And yet, it’s part of the Great Story. Without it, our understanding of the story God is telling through history is incomplete.

Leviticus is ancient legal text. It’s part of what’s known as “The Law of Moses” (a.k.a. “The Books of Law” and “The Torah”) which is the first five books of what we commonly know as the Old Testament. Leviticus is a rule book and an instruction manual for the people of Israel regarding the system of sacrifices and offerings they were to make to God. As we see in today’s opening chapter, it’s a bloody affair.

The underlying reason for this gory, intricate system of sacrifices is given. If you blink you might miss it:

“…and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.”

The word “atonement” is not one we use much anymore. It’s a medieval word and the meaning is simple if you just break the word apart: at-one-ment. It’s to make two things one or to bring two dissonant parts into harmony.

We have to think about it in context of the story. The Great Story begins with creation, and with God placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve disobey God. They committed a sin by knowingly doing what they had been commanded not to do. God banishes them from the Garden. They are told that the punishment for their sin was that they would be separated from God and they would have to die a physical death. The punishment of sin was death.

In the Book of Leviticus, God is providing a prescriptive remedy for this situation. The appropriate animal, without defect, sacrificed on the altar would make temporary at-one-ment for that person and God. The person bringing the animal would place their hand on the animal and the animal became a substitutionary, sacrificial death for their sin. The death sentence God place on all of us in the Garden of Eden was transferred to the sacrifice.

This is a foreshadowing of the story. Leviticus sets the theme. The temporary sacrifices which the people of Israel made over and over again would one day be replaced by a permanent solution. The sacrifice of God’s own Son. The Lamb of God, without defect, sacrificed once for all.

This morning I’m thinking about foreshadows. I’m thinking how glad I am to have been born in the 20th century A.D. and not the 20th century B.C. I’m thinking about the long list of my own sins and acts of willful disobedience. I’m thinking about the physical death that I will eventually experience. I’m thinking about the nagging sense of loneliness, confusion, and spiritual isolation I felt before experiencing at-one-ment when I entered into relationship with Jesus and followed.

 

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featured photo: Mate Marschalko via Flickr

Poetic Device

source: jimmiehomeschoolmom via Flickr
source: jimmiehomeschoolmom via Flickr

“I spoke once, but I have no answer—
    twice, but I will say no more.”
Job 40:5 (NIV)

Okay, so no great spiritual inspiration from the chapter this morning, but I find myself musing on a textual issue that may be of interest to someone. For many years I ran across an odd pattern of phrasing, especially in the book of Proverbs, that left me scratching my head:

There are three things that are never satisfied,
    four that never say, ‘Enough!’’
Proverbs 30:15

My left brain would get its undies in a bunch and scream “Well, is it three or four? Why do you put it like that? Say what you mean!” But over time my right brain has been creatively open to understanding, and has patiently tutored his twin hemisphere about this odd way of turning a phrase.

The books of the Old Testament (Genesis through Malachi) were written in Hebrew, and a lot of it, including Job, were written in poetic in form. Unless you are a student or live in a hip city where poetry slams are common you probably don’t read a lot of poetry. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. Poetry as a cultural art form isn’t any where near as prevalent in our culture as it once was. Pitiful, but true.

In poetry, there are these things called poetic devices:

Poetic devices are tools that a poet can use to create rhythm, enhance a poem’s meaning, or intensify a mood or feeling. These devices help piece the poem together, much like a hammer and nails join planks of wood together. (education-portal.com)

One example of a poetic device in the english language is repetition. When writing, we typically don’t repeat, repeat, repeat, a word because it would sound silly and would confuse the reader, but you do use repetition in poetry. Edgar Allen Poe used this device when he wrote:

To the swinging and the ringing
of the bells, bells, bells–

The repetition of the word “bells” illustrates the “swinging and the ringing” and gives the reader a sense of the repetitive clanging that happens when a bell is swung and rung.

So the Hebrew poetry of books like Job, translated into English, uses this poetic device when communicating many things or a number of things. You mention one number, then immediately mention a greater number to give the reader a sense of a growing number, of things being added, and of the important of of the many:

Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
    you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
Ecclesiastes 11:2

For three sins of Gaza,
    even for four, I will not relent.
Because she took captive whole communities
    and sold them to Edom…
Amos 1:6

We will raise against them seven shepherds,
    even eight commanders
Micah 5:5

This is one of the things that I find fascinating and love about my on-going sojourn through God’s Message. I’m never done learning. I’m always finding new layers of depth, not only in the subject, but in the text itself. It makes me a better reader, it broadens my understanding, expands my appreciation, and I hope it makes me a better communicator.

Oh, and for the record, my left brain is much calmer now whenever I come across one of these poetic devices in the text. Thanks, right brain.

Mining Nuggets in a Boring Chapter

English: King Solomon in Old Age (1Kings 4:29-...
English: King Solomon in Old Age (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adoniram son of Abda (was) in charge of forced labor.

Solomon had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year.
1 Kings 4: 6b-7 (NIV)

 

Many people have told me over the years that they struggle to read the Old Testament because its ‘s boring. A chapter like the one today is probably a good example. Compared to the buttery, heart-felt lyrics of David’s Psalms, today’s chapter is dry toast.  The book of Kings was written as a historical record of Solomon’s reign. As such, it records of the names of his officials. But seriously, who really cares today who served as Solomon’s cook?

 

As I’ve read through these books over the years, I’ve learned to approach chapters like today’s with a certain frame of mind. You have to look for small details, repeated patterns, and names that are familiar. Sometimes these nuggets, when you put them together, become clues to a broader understanding of the context.

 

For example, today I noticed a few nuggets:

 

  • The description of Solomon’s kingdom is notably large and lucrative, especially compared to what his father David started with, and what the first king, Saul, had before David. Conclusion: David’s conquests were paying off, and Solomon was raking it in.
  • Solomon had TWELVE officials scattered around as district governors to provide the king and his household with provisions (not just food, it’s likely they also provided slave labor, military conscriptions, concubines for the kings sizable harem, livestock, building materials, and etc.). Conclusion: As I read through this and contemplated what it must have been like for the people in this district being forced to give up their stuff for the king’s pleasure, I suddenly remembered God giving a warning to the people through Samuel just two generations earlier. The people of Israel are beginning to experience exactly what God warned them:

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. 1 Samuel 8:10-18

 

  • Two of the 12 governors were sons-in-law, married to Solomon’s wives. Conclusion: A little nepotism has taken hold in the monarchy. History teaches us that political nepotism usually breeds favoritism, conspiracy, racketeering, poor management, and scandal. I’m seeing a tragic flaw emerging in Solomon’s wisdom.
  • David and Solomon were both noted for building their palaces and building the Temple, but I noticed that Adoniram is providing them with forced labor or slave labor (Adoniram’s has been at it a while, his name came up in 2 Samuel 20:24). Conclusion: Eventually forced labor, especially the forced labor of your own people, leads to civil unrest.

Taxation, nepotism, and slave labor. [Scratching my head, carefully avoiding the receding hairline] If I’m standing in Solomon’s sandals things seem pretty cushy. If I’m standing in the sandals of a common citizen on the outskirts of Gilead who just watched the king’s official walk off with my children, my livestock, and a two month’s supply of olive oil, I’m not exactly feeling the love.

 

I feel a storm cloud rising on the horizon.

Today, I’m thinking about how we sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees. This happens in families. This happens in business. This happens in churches. This happens in government. I’m thinking about broader implications of words, decisions, and actions. I’m praying for discernment to see the bigger picture around me, and for courage to make tough choices based on what I see and perceive.

 

Tragic Misperception

English: The ark of Noah and the cosmic covena...
English: The ark of Noah and the cosmic covenant / L’arche de Noé et l’alliance cosmique / 04 CATACOMBES NOE ET LA COLOMBE SAINTS PIERRE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Revelation 7:3 (NIV)

I have been watching with interest the trailers for the movie Noah. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood is going to do with the story. If you remember, the story begins with God being fed up with the evil of man and deciding to wash the slate clean with a flood. After this act of divine judgment, God makes a covenant never again to wipeout all living creatures on the earth with a flood.

I have heard many people say that God revealed in the Old Testament and God revealed in the New Testament are different. They describe God in the Old Testament a God of judgment while God in the New Testament as a God of love and grace. After my multiple journeys through the whole of God’s Message, I must respectfully disagree. When I was a child I perceived my parents as largely persons of wrath and judgment, but as I matured I perceived the depths of love and grace that were beneath the wrath. I have come to believe that as God’s story is revealed over time and as civilization has matured, we are able to more fully comprehend the person of God as God revealed Himself through the law, then the prophets, then through the resurrected Jesus and God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.

While God revealed Himself as righteous judge in the Old Testament, He also revealed His grace through the salvation of Noah’s family and through covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David. Jesus, in His New Testament arrival and ministry, certainly revealed God’s loving heart and desire for all to choose salvation, but He also spoke often of the Day of Judgment, of death, and of hell. We can see in today’s chapter that God near the end of the story is still a God of judgment. Four angels given power to wreak destructive judgment on the earth are present and ready. They are held back, however, by God’s loving desire to seal and protect His servants on Earth.

Both grace and judgment are part of God’s nature. To choose to see one part without the other leads to misperception. Misperception can lead to all sorts of tragic places.

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Missing the Signs

Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro at bat d...
Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro at bat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [Saul] demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself. 1 Samuel 13:9 (NLT)

As anyone who reads my blog for any length of time knows, my wife Wendy and I are big baseball fans. In particular, we are fans of the Chicago Cubs. One of the hot topics this off season for our beloved team is the play of young short stop, Starlin Castro. A few years ago Castro was brought up to the major leagues when he was still a teenager. He hit a home run in his first major league at bat and set a major league record of six runs batted in in his first major league game. His rookie year showed all sorts of promise.

Fast forward a few years and everyone in Cub’s nation is wondering what happened to the young phenom. His defensive play is atrocious, his concentration in the field is sometimes non-existent, and the tremendous talent at the plate has waned to the point you could call him average, at best.

How quickly things change. It’s tough to be consistent in the spotlight. Case-in-point: King Saul. After an initially grand start to his monarchy (which we observed yesterday), King Saul quickly begins to reveal some classic leadership blunders. The rookie king came out of the gate with some huge wins against the national rival Philistines. Saul had to feel on top of the world. He was young. He was king. He was batting a thousand and feeling invincible. Everyone faces adversary, however. And it wasn’t long before the young leader found himself behind in the count in the bottom of the ninth and staring at a bitter defeat. Saul panicked.

Those who are not avid followers of baseball may miss a lot that happens in a game. To the uneducated, the game moves slowly and there are huge periods of time when it seems nothing is happening. But, the game of baseball is constantly in motion. There is a continuous chess match going on between managers. There is psychological warfare happening between pitcher and hitter. There are secret signs being delivered constantly between the coach and the hitter, the catcher and the pitcher, the dugout and the fielders and runners. Critical mistakes are sometimes made because a player missed or ignored a sign from his manger that you’ll never see on television. Games are won and lost by seemingly insignificant mistakes which, innings later, lead to defeat.

When reading the ancient stories of the Old Testament, there is a very similar parallel. For those who are unaware of Old Testament history, it is easy to miss the hidden customs and contexts of historic, cultural and spiritual significance. To the casual 21st century reader, it seems of little consequence that King Saul called for the offerings and burnt them himself. On the surface, it appears that the rookie king is taking initiative, doing what needs to be done, and honoring God. In the context of God’s story, however, Saul just blew it – big time. He ignored the coach’s sign and foolishly attempted to steal home.

The Old Testament rule book for the nation of Israel was the law of Moses which is contained largely in the book of Leviticus. The major league rules of Saul’s day were very specific. Only the prescribed priests from the tribe of Levi were allowed to offer sacrifices. Period. When Saul ignores the law and offers the sacrifice himself it is as clear cut as if Starlin Castro punched the umpire an the face because he didn’t like being called out at second base. There is no gray area. No instant replay is necessary. Immediate ejection.

I have learned along the journey that leadership is not just about taking initiative and decisive action. There are times when a leader is required to sit back, bite his or her tongue, and let others do their job – even if others don’t do them the way we’d like them done or as capably as you think you could do it yourself. Sometimes leadership requires you to choose not to swing. You take a few pitches and work the count even though your entire being wants to swing for the fences. Sometimes you have to hold yourself in check, be patient, and let others do their jobs. By his refusal to wait for Samuel, who as priest was the position player designated to make the offerings, Saul showed his pride, arrogance, foolishness, and contempt for God’s rule book. It was more than a simple rookie mistake. Saul broke the rules in a big way and dishonored the game. The commissioner quickly bans Saul from ever making the hall of fame.

Today, I’m thinking about my own leadership. Where am I acting on my own when I should be letting others do their jobs? How might I be displaying impatience? Where am I displaying an “I’m the only one who can do this job” attitude? In what areas do I secretly believe I am irreplaceable?

God, help me learn from Saul’s mistakes. Help me to lead in such a way that I elevate others and honor you.