Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Judges 10-19: in those days…

Judges is not a pretty book. It describes the vicious cycle that the people of Israel tend to get stuck in. The cycle goes something like this:

1) The people of Israel worship idols and do other generally unfaithful things.

2) God raises up a great leader.

3) The people of Israel follow the great leader, thus following God.

4) The great leader dies.

5) Return to #1 and repeat the cycle.

That is the book of Judges in a nutshell. There is an iconic phrase repeated a few times throughout the book of Judges; it describes and laments this state of affairs: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” –Judg 17.6 NRSV

This phrase encompasses much of the tension in the book of Judges. First, it acknowledges that the people of Israel have some serious issues. Despite their efforts to live faithfully, they keep turning away from the LORD. Time and time again, they find themselves doing what they want instead of what God commands.

Second, it blames this vicious cycle on the fact there there is no king in Israel (17.6). Here, we begin to hear the cries of the people of Israel for an earthly king—an earthly authority to carry out the ultimate authority of the LORD. In 1 Samuel, we see this request granted…but that’s for another entry and another day!

On one hand, I find Judges to be an incredibly frustrating book. The lives of God’s chosen people are not only imperfect, but completely appalling (i.e. Judg 19). As Israel returns to God and runs from God over and over again, I just want to scream, “Decide what you want, already!”

But on the other hand, Judges is a hopeful book; we have all been the people of Israel. We have all been faithful to God, and unfaithful, and faithful again…and the story goes on. The cycle continues, even in our lives today.

And as the cycle continues, there is God—raising up a leader, reaching out just one more time.

And another time.

Every time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Numbers 14-Judges 9

I’m back! My week in Atlanta visiting Candler was fantastic, but I didn’t have my laptop with me, so blogging unfortunately didn’t happen. Reading, however, did happen—so that is good news! And I am home this week, so I should be able to blog more regularly again.

So, Numbers 14-Judges 9. It is basically impossible to cover all that ground in one blog, so I won’t even pretend to try. But since this is a Shema Summer, it seems wrong to reflect on anything but this:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” –Deut 6.4-9 NRSV

This is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. For some time, this has been a formational passage for me—it reminds me of who I am and what I am called to do. As a person of faith, these words of Scripture speak to me—I am commanded to love the LORD alone. My life is to be shaped by the words of Torah, by God’s commandments, by Scripture. I am to remember these words always, in the midst of my everyday life.

A hunger to do just that led me to major in Bible, which has proven to be an incredible opportunity to engage and remember God’s truth. But the kind of remembering described by Deut 6.4-9 is much deeper than reading, writing, or thinking—this kind of remembering is a form of living.

We can read the Old Testament this summer. We can write insightful blogs about God’s truth. We can ponder the deep questions of life and faith. But if it doesn’t shape the way we live, we haven’t truly remembered.

Bind God’s truth on your hand. Fix it as an emblem on your forehead. Write it on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Remember God’s truth with every step you take.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Numbers 4-13: spying on the promised land

Numbers 13 tells the story of Moses sending spies into Canaan to scope out the promised land. God commands him to send a leader from each tribe to “spy out the land of Canaan” (13.2 NRSV). So Moses picks his team of spies, and they head off to Canaan only to find big, scary people. Today’s reading ends with the spies reporting their findings to the people of Israel, with every spy but Caleb giving hopeless reports.

But all this talk about spying on the promised land got me thinking about my own life, and how in some ways, it reflects this story. This week I am heading down to Atlanta to visit Candler School of Theology—a place that could be my promised land, my next step after I complete this chapter of my journey at Bluffton. And later on this summer, I will be setting out on a seminary road trip, visiting six other seminary options. It is going to be an exciting summer of discovery and discernment!

Now, I am not going undercover, nor do I expect to find any Nephilim along the way, but in some ways, I am spying on my promised land. Just like the Israelite spies, God is leading me on this journey and is with me as I scope out my next step, my promised land. And just like the Israelite spies realize that the promised land is not the perfect place, I know that no seminary is perfect, either!

This week, this summer, and beyond, my prayer is not that I find the perfect seminary…my prayer is that I find the right one.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Leviticus 21-27; Numbers 1-3

“And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.” –Lev 25.10-12 NRSV


Leviticus 25 sets forth a fascinating economic vision for God’s people: every 50 years, all property returned to its original owner. All debt forgiven. A blank slate. Wealth redistributed. Equality restored.

Not your typical campaign promise, right?

But that is the economic policy to which God calls the people of Israel. While we clearly live in a vastly different economic reality, I think this gives a glimpse into Kingdom economics; Jubilee law sets forth a prophetic economic vision in which needs are met, freedom abounds, and equality is restored. And best of all, Jubilee is a tangible reminder that God is the true owner of land and all other resources.

“…the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” –Lev 23b NRSV

Aliens and tenants. Well, that changes everything.

You see, Jubilee means that nothing is ours forever. Not even for the duration of our stay as aliens and tenants wandering around this land that doesn’t belong to us.

But Jubilee means that everything is God’s.

And most of all, Jubilee means that there is enough to go around.

We just have to let go of what we think is ours, remembering that it is truly God’s—as are we.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Leviticus 11-20

“If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.” –Lev 17.10-11 NRSV

Blood is a pretty big deal in Leviticus. It’s easy to read a passage like this, be turned off by the fact that it mentions blood four times in the space of two verses, and label Leviticus disgusting and irrelevant. But I would argue that it is neither disgusting nor irrelevant. In fact, this passage has a whole lot more to do with the value of life than eating blood; when blood is mentioned in Leviticus, the issue at hand is life. Leviticus 17.10-11 is a reminder to the people of Israel that blood—life—is sacred and belongs only to God.

Blood= life.

Life= God’s.

Not so gross after all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Leviticus 1-10: ritual & ethics

“You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statues that the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.” –Lev 10.10-11 NRSV

In the introduction to Leviticus in The HarperCollins Study Bible, biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom describes the role of the priest as a pedagogic one; the priest is called not only to carry out the rituals commanded by God, but to teach the people of Israel how to live as God’s holy and chosen people.

This teaching happens not in addition to, but through the ritual acts of the priests; Milgrom points out the connection between ritual and ethics, saying that “the ethical element fuses with and even informs the ritual, so that one may seek a moral basis behind each ritual act” (150). What this means is that there are no simply ritual acts—ritual acts are inherently connected to and informed by ethical acts.

In a very real way, by carrying out the rituals commanded by God, the priests are teaching the people of Israel an ethical lesson, a lesson in how to live. Central to this lesson is the holiness and distinction of the people of God. The rituals described throughout Leviticus distinguish between “the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (10.10)—these rituals represent and embody the ways in which the people of Israel are a chosen and holy people, set apart as the people of God. Once again, ritual is inseparable from ethics.

With all this in mind, I have a few questions (and no answers). I invite reflection and dialogue!

1. What are our rituals?

2. (What) do our rituals teach?

3. (In what ways) are ritual & ethics connected in today’s church?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Exodus 31-40: rest for all seasons

“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest.” –Exod 34.21 NRSV

Here, God commands the people of Israel to rest in God and with God even in the midst of life’s busiest seasons. God says, “I know the work is piling up, and I know you think your life depends on that work—but your life really depends on me. Rest in me and rest with me in the midst of chaos.”

You see, this sabbath thing is not just a friendly suggestion; Exodus 31.15 states that “whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.” Sabbath is a good idea, but it is more than that—it is a commandment on which the Israelites’ lives depend. And why is this a matter of life and death? Because the sabbath is “holy to the LORD” (31.15), part of what sets the people of Israel apart as God’s chosen people.

All this talk about sabbath got me thinking about rest and how terrible I am at real, holy to the LORD, sabbath rest. Part of this, I think, goes back to growing up (and still living in) a parsonage; for all of my life, Sunday has meant game on—Sunday school, church, youth group, committee meetings, church gatherings—all wonderful things, but not rest. So the idea of the holy day of my faith tradition being a restful one has simply never been my reality.

However, I think sabbath is less about one restful day a week and more about a balanced life marked by regular and intentional rest. I am no better at this. College has been an incredible journey, but one thing it has not been is a season in life marked be regular or intentional rest. But here in Exodus 34, God speaks to me right where I am, reminding me that I am called to rest in God and with God in every season of life, even in college!

Perhaps if Exodus 34.21 were written for college students, it might read like this: “For every six pages you write, take a break and rest in and with Me. Even in the chaos of finals week, take the time to be with Me. I am better than coffee.”

Here’s to rest. Here’s to sabbath. Here’s to the coffee of our souls.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Exodus 21-30: echoes of enemy love

“When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.” – Exod 23.4-5 NRSV

Do you hear the call to love your enemies?

This is a call that echoes throughout the history of God’s people—way back to the Israelites and the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Here, God gives some practical advice: return your enemy’s lost donkey; help your enemy unload their donkey after a long journey.

Now, I know that none of my enemies have donkeys and oxen, and I’m guessing the same is true for you. These kinds of cultural details always fascinate me and remind me that the biblical text was written in a context very different from my own. But even though we don’t live in a world of donkeys and oxen, the spirit of this passage—which echoes throughout Scripture and our faith tradition—is one that can and should be applied today.

This passage calls us to do good unto our enemies, in turn calling us to do good to all people. Here, we are called to treat our enemies like we would treat our brothers and sisters, chasing after their stray dog and helping them unload their groceries on a hot summer day. And as we do good unto our enemies, we open ourselves to the possibility that today’s enemies just might become tomorrow’s friends.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Exodus 11-20: reflections on God as warrior

“The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.” –Exod 15.3 NRSV

The LORD is a warrior. This statement calls to mind many conversations I’ve had with people about the Old Testament, which almost also go something like this: “I just don’t like the vengeful, violent God of the Old Testament—I prefer the merciful God of the New Testament.” It’s true, the OT and NT have some strikingly different themes, but “choosing” the God of the NT over the God of the OT is impossible; by choosing God, we choose the God of the universe—not the God of half the canon.

So, with that being said, I’d like to reflect a bit on this idea of God as warrior. In Exodus 14, we get a good description of what it means for God to be a warrior. Moses proclaims to the Israelites, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (14.14 NRSV). Because God is a warrior, the Israelites are not warriors; they need only to keep still and trust in God.

Further, God tells Moses, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers” (14.18 NRSV). God’s purpose as a warrior is to reveal Godself and God’s power to the Egyptians by proving that God is abundantly more powerful than Pharaoh. In the context of the ancient Near East, where earthly rulers were worshiped as gods, God’s victory over Pharaoh proves two things: first, Pharaoh is not God; second, the LORD reigns over even the world’s greatest powers.

As someone who is committed to nonviolence, the depiction of God as warrior is one that tends to make me uncomfortable. However, I have found that often the most difficult texts are the most important ones to engage. With that in mind, I have found these three observations helpful in understanding the war imagery in this text:

1. God is the warrior, which means that God’s people are not warriors.

2. As God’s people go to battle, God’s people are only to be still and trust in God’s power (14.14).

3. The purpose of God’s waging war is the establishment of God as the ruler over even the world’s greatest powers.

God as warrior means that I am not a warrior; I am called only to be still and trust in the God who rules over all that seems powerful in the world.

“Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” –Exod 15.21 NRSV

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Exodus 1-10: flaming foliage

I am not Moses, but I have seen a burning bush. I was not keeping the flocks of my father-in-law, nor was I in the wilderness; I was driving down the road and there was a flaming bush in front of a BP station. I immediately called my mom, who excitedly asked, “is it consumed?!” Yeah, it was consumed. Oh well.

Moses, on the other hand, sees a burning bush that was not consumed (3.2). Weird. So, being a curious human being, Moses decides to check it out. Then the burning bush starts talking to him (3.4). Weirder. But it turns out the voice in this bush is the voice of God—the God of Moses’ people. The bush—well, God—speaks truth. God knows the sufferings of God’s people (3.7). And God not only knows, God makes a promise to deliver God’s people (3.8) and promises to be with them as they journey.

This is a familiar story, one that is often used to describe the call of God in one’s life. Reading the story through this lens today yielded some insights into the process of discerning God’s call. So, for all of you on life’s journey of discernment (which I tend to believe is everyone, always), here are some of my thoughts on Exodus 3:

First, it struck me that curiosity  led Moses to the call of God. The angel of the LORD appears in the burning bush, and Moses says, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up” (3.3 NRSV). This got me thinking—what are the burning bushes in our lives? What are the things we just can’t pass by, the things for which God has given us a natural curiosity? I think this story encourages us to stop and gaze into the flaming foliage in our own lives. We might just find God!

Next, what Moses discovers in this burning bush is truth. God knows Moses and the struggles of his people. This is the God of his father—his family—his identity. This is not just an intriguing bush, this bush turns out to be the God of everything Moses is and knows. Our curiosity is not in and of itself proof of God’s call, but when our curiosity leads us to truth, it seems we are in step with God on the journey.

Finally, God makes a promise to Moses: God will deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt and be with them on their journey, remembering God’s covenant. God not only speaks truth of Moses’ situation, God also promises to journey alongside Moses and his people. I believe this promise is for us as well, as we travel on this road of discernment, led by God and supported by one another.

Follow your curiosity. Seek the truth. Trust God’s promise.

And always be on the lookout for flaming foliage.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Genesis 41-50

“Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as [God] is doing today.’” –Gen 50.19-20 NRSV

My Old Testament professor highlighted this verse over and over again, calling it the thesis of Genesis. When I read this verse today, well-marked in my study Bible from OT class, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “It’s all good—God says so and so does Joseph.”

It’s no secret that Genesis is filled with people doing harmful things. It does not take long for the created-good people of God to start behaving badly. Each generation has its quirks, its tragedies, and its triumphs. But even though the journey is a rough one, it is permeated by one word: good. Genesis begins with God seeing that all creation is “very good” (1.31); it ends with the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, with Joseph proclaiming that the harm his brothers intended has been used by God for good.

Good= the beginning and the end of this book, this story, our story.

God creates humankind. Humankind is good.

Humankind does harmful things.

God transforms hurt into healing, death into life, bad into good.

Good wins.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Genesis 31-40

Genesis 34: The Rape of Dinah.

Dinah, the daughter of Jacob & Leah, catches the eye of Shechem, the son of Hamor, a Canaanite. Shechem rapes Dinah, then tells his father he wants to marry her. Jacob’s sons are furious about what happened to their sister, but they decide to trick Hamor, Shechem, and their entire city into being circumcised so Shechem can take Dinah as his wife. After the entire city is circumcised, while the men of the city are still in great pain and unable to fight, Dinah’s brothers plunder the city, killing all the males and capturing all the women and children.

Sometimes the Bible puts forth an incredible vision of peace—a vision of the world as it should be.

Genesis 34 is not one of those times.

Rape. Lies. Violence. Greed. Vengeance.

Not to mention the fact that all of this plays out between two groups, the in-group and the out-group, the people of God and the Canaanites, the chosen and the…not-so-chosen.

So, what do we do with a text like this one? What does it mean for this story and other stories like it to be part of this collection of texts we call Scripture?

Well, I think the first thing it means is that we are intended to engage these difficult texts. We are not supposed to skip over them, simply flipping pages until we find the next happy ending. We are supposed to read Genesis 34 and sit with it for a while. How does it feel?

Are you angry along with Dinah’s brothers?

How do you think Dinah feels?

Does this act of revenge satisfy you?

Can you hear the cries of the women and children of the city?

At the end of this story, nothing is solved. Jacob is furious with his sons at the possibility of the people of Canaan retaliating and attacking his household. Jacob’s sons reply to their father, “But dad—they treated Dinah like a whore! They deserved it!” Not only is an entire city dead and plundered, the Canaanites are probably mad, Jacob is mad, and Jacob’s sons are mad because Jacob is mad. And Dinah’s voice is silenced. Mission accomplished? Not so much.

Well, in keeping with the biblical text, this blog will also end with no solution.

After all, the Bible is not something to be solved. It is something to be engaged.

Sometimes that engagement yields hope. Sometimes it yields frustration and discomfort.

Sit with it. Sit with God.

Wrestle with it. Wrestle with God.

But whatever you do, do not ignore it.

“On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey.” –Gen 34.25-29 NRSV

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Genesis 21-30

As I read these chapters, I could not get this thought out of my mind:

The “first family” of the people of God is a messed up bunch.

This can be either a comforting or disturbing realization. I tend to think that truth lies in the tension—in this case, the tension between being relieved that even Abraham’s family was dysfunctional and being shocked that Abraham’s family was imperfect. It seems to me that the paradoxical reality of the human condition is located right here, in these stories, in this mess, in this family—the chosen people of God.

This is our story, too. A story filled with deception, jealousy, death, greed, lost blessing…and new life, abundant blessing, and the promise of God.

It is easy for us to read these chapters and think, “How can ALL this happen in the space of ten chapters?! How can God’s chosen people do so many questionable things?! How is THIS the story of God and God’s people?!”

But to find the answer to those questions, we need not look any further than our own lives and the life of the church. Do we not live this paradox, as people created good but behaving badly, as God’s messed up but chosen people?

The truth is in the tension—in the midst of this grand family drama, God is present, God is speaking, God is leading God’s people.

The same is true today.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Genesis 11-20

So, day two. Here we go:

  • Gen 12.1-3—God asks Abraham to leave everything he knows—it is in the unknown and unfamiliar where God’s blessings are poured out. I think there is a lot of truth in this. How is God calling us away from comfort and familiarity into radical trust?
  • Gen 12.10-16—Abram lies to gain entry to Egypt. I find this fascinating—our beloved father Abraham was an illegal alien. Hmm.
  • Gen 15.1—God says to Abram, “I am your shield.” As we take possession of all that God has for us, I think this is true for us as well. God is our shield; our job is to trust and to follow, not to fight.
  • Gen 17.5, 15—God renames Abram and Sarai; they are now Abraham and Sarah. After learning in Intro to OT about the significance of names in the ancient Near East, these details stuck out to me. God says that Abraham and Sarah are new people—who does God say that we are?
  • Gen 17.17; 18.12—Abraham and Sarah laugh at God’s promise. I think sometimes God’s will is just plain hilarious—but we must always remember that there is nothing too wonderful for God (18.14).
  • Gen 18.17-19—I think these are interesting verses to think about in terms of God’s will. God says, “should I hide my promise from Abraham? Absolutely not—I have chosen him!”  God is not some celestial secret-keeper, hiding God’s plan for our lives. We can trust God to guide us by God’s Spirit and through our community as we seek to walk in God’s ways.
  • Gen 18.19—the way of the LORD= doing righteousness and justice. Yes.
  • Gen 18.22-33— Abraham bargains with God. I love this example of prayer—raw, honest, and formative for all parties involved, including God. This seems to be an example of the kind of dialogue for which prayer calls.

“The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.’” –Gen 18.17-19 NRSV

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Journey Begins: Genesis 1-10

My friends and I have decided to spend this summer living with the Bible in community. We will be journeying through the Old Testament from now until August when we head back to school at Bluffton University. This past semester in my Methods of Biblical Interpretation class, we learned that if we are to be shaped by Scripture, we must live with Scripture. Just as the people we live with impact our lives, the choice to live with the Bible is a choice to engage and be shaped by the biblical text. In addition, many of us took Introduction to New Testament this semester; in that class we journeyed through the New Testament together, living with the Bible and one another in an academic setting. This summer we have chosen to join together and engage Scripture from wherever we are, across the country and around the globe. I invite you to join me, and join us, on this journey!

Genesis 1-10
  • Gen 1- I noticed a cyclical pattern of God making a declaration, the phrase "and it was so" (1.9, 1.11, 1.15, 1.24), and God seeing that creation is good (1.12, 1.18, 1.25, 1.31). This cycle is one I have witnessed in my own life recently, which makes sense as creation is not a one-time event but an ongoing activity of God in the midst of our lives and the world.
  • Gen 1-2- I love that the two creation narratives stand side by side, indicating the diverse nature of truth in the opening chapters of the Bible.
  • Gen 2.1-3- Rest is important. God rests. College students need rest. These words seemed particularly relevant in these days of much awaited rest following an intense academic year!
  • Gen 4.10-12, 15- God subverts the narrative of retributive justice and redemptive violence; Cain is punished for killing Abel, but God puts a mark on Cain to prevent others from killing him. Four chapters into the Bible, God is working to stop the cycle of violence on earth.
  • Gen 5.21-24- I am fascinated by Enoch. That is all.
  • Gen 6.11, 13- violence is what corrupts the earth, causing God to grieve (6.6) and be sorry that God created humankind (6.7), leading to the great flood. Since I read the Bible through the lens of nonviolence and peacemaking, this caught my eye.
  • Gen 9.6-7- "Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed; for in [God's] own image God made humankind. And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on earth and multiply in it." Here it is clear that life-- the abundance and flourishing of humankind-- is God's will, not violence.