Saturday, September 27, 2014

Taking God Down With Us

Commenting on Genesis 3, Farrar Capon writes:
Eve is not just "the woman" to Adam now; he tells the LORD that she's the woman "YOU gave me." Once the blame game has started, you see, it will stoop to anything to avoid a time out --- even if it might give us a respite from battling God's offensive line-up. On and on we've gone, complaining but never letting up. "Why does God allow terrorists to fly planes into buildings?" "What sort of God would let my innocent baby die of leukemia?" "If God is just, why do the wicked prosper?" "Why did he give me a wife who can't tell north from south?" We will take even God himself down with us, if that will assuage our indignation at a deity we ourselves invented.1

1.  Robert Farrar Capon, Genesis The Movie [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2003], p. 305

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Truths are like puppies

Truths are like puppies. There's no point in arguing over whose truth is the best, any more than there is in quarreling about whose puppy is the cuddliest. Truths or puppies, we care about them because we find them delightful, not because we understand them. They appeal more to our sense of humor than to our sense of importance. So if there's even a grain of veritas in that vinous comparison, the most any of us can say is, "I like my truth-doggy better than yours." Anything more pretentious, and we forget that we can keep truth only as a pet. It's fun to have around, even if it wets our floors and chews up our slippers; but we really know very little about the beast. Only God knows the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We just pat its head, pull its tail, and hope for the best. Only the Father, who holds Truth Itself in his beloved Son, actually owns it.1 

1.  Robert Farrar Capon, Genesis The Movie [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 2003], p. 297

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So (by Peter Enns)

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read ItThe Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lot of factors affect the amount of stars I give each book: readability, the depth of research involved (footnotes/endnotes/bibliography/appendices), logical argumentation (to support the entire thesis), the goal or aim (telos) of the book (plot development), good humor/sarcasm, author's temper, etc... Peter Enns deserves 5 stars for every one of these factors except logical argumentation. For that, he deserves 4 stars at best. (To be fair, though, it's not as though Enns is being illogical; the book is actually very logical).

There are a handful of places in which Enns takes for granted certain controversial scholarly conjectures without much elaboration (e.g. "insufficient" evidence for a worldwide flood and certain ancient battles recorded in Joshua, Jesus being a Pharisee, the Four gospels being written after 70 A.D. by people who were not eye-witnesses of Jesus, non-mosaic and post-exilic authorship of Pentateuch--not simply a post-exhilic redaction of mosaic authorship, etc.), and I think that definitely weakens his thesis significantly; but since he includes a detailed list of recommended reading--some of which I have also read and would recommend--I figured it was reasonable to give give him 4 stars for that.

Admittedly, because his thesis is NOT about disproving the Old Testament's historical accuracy entirely, but rather is about helping Christians in their faith by reading their bible more honestly in light of scholarly research--in light of a God who is sovereign and perfectly comfortable with allowing whatever historical and scientific inaccuracies are there (from fallible human authors)--no one should be surprised to find out that Enns took certain scholarly conjectures for granted as he compiled the book.

Enns is an exceptionally talented communicator of complex historical and theological ideas, and for that alone this book is worth reading. He does promote an evangelical message of unwavering faith in Jesus Christ alone, the God of the Bible for salvation, and for that he should be commended. To be clear though, Enns considers the first seven books of the Old Testament scriptures as ancient near eastern myth, and the remaining books of the bible (including the New Testament) to be subject to scholarly scrutiny regarding its historical accuracies as well. For many Christians, this will become a stumbling-block to their faith in Christ; however I can imagine the opposite occurring as well. I imagine many well-educated Christians becoming invigorated by Enns message about the faithfulness of the God of the Old Testament, Jesus the Messiah, and the work of His Holy Spirit in renewing creation.

I don't think it is fair to rate this book poorly (with one or two stars) simply because I think it contains significantly debatable arguments. It was very enjoyable to read. I read it in two days. It was that enjoyable; and no book that enjoyable deserves 1 or 2 stars.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Conformity to a pre-existing narrative

In a review and discussion of several hundred articles and dozens of doctoral dissertations written from the 1960s to the 1990s on the transmission of traumatic effects of the Holocaust to the second generation of survivors in North American families, Irit Felsen writes that the study of these descendants does not provide evidence of psychopathology—members of the second generation do not develop psychological disorders because their parents underwent psychic trauma, in other words—but suggests rather that we should discuss the transmission of trauma in terms of personality development. Individual psychic development is determined by both self-definition and one’s relatedness to others, and in normal development these two processes facilitate each other in the production of healthy individuals. In the context of development within an environment in which one must relate to parents, not to mention other family and community members, who suffered massive psychic trauma, development will reflect this context, and this is especially so within cultures that stress relatedness and interdependency within family and community. 
Worldview is inherited largely from family and wider community, and when both have been exposed to trauma, the second generation will also be affected. Members of this generation find themselves repeating and reenacting aspects of their parents’ trauma. They become obsessed with the lack of memory and the uncanny repetition of the trauma in their parents’ lives, identifying with these victims while seeing an unbridgeable gap between themselves and their parents. Because their parents have not themselves integrated the trauma into their autobiographical memories, the second generation feels the effect without directly experiencing the trauma that has caused it. As in the cases of their parents, the signifier—the effects of the trauma—are present, while the referent—the trauma itself—remains outside of conscious knowledge. 
...Whole communities can be affected by trauma, and Kai Erikson, in his own studies of communities destroyed by disaster and in his survey of research done on other such communities, has found no examples of such trauma creating increased senses of communal bonds or other positive effects. Nor should this be surprising. As Erikson has observed in his study of communities that have undergone trauma, it is the community that provides context for individuals and can cushion pain; when all or most of the individuals of a community suffer massive trauma, the community itself will be profoundly and negatively affected. Disasters that befall entire communities will fracture the social group, observes Erikson, and dominate the way the community sees itself and the imagery it uses. 
Communities can, of course, try to take control of traumatic events, whether they have affected individuals or the entire society, and fit them into existing social worldviews and stories in order to make the trauma understandable—attempt, in other words, to control the trauma by creating a recognizable narrative for it. As Kalí Tal points out in discussing the literature and art surrounding the Vietnam War, trauma shatters survivors’ worldviews, and so makes communication of the trauma, done within language that has meaning and significance only within the context of a worldview, impossible. This is why trauma survivors who try to create narratives of trauma often express so much frustration with the limitations of language. As Tal shows, however, the stories of the war produced by those who did not participate in combat tend to conform to pre-existing national narratives. The trauma is then erased within stories that do not actually address it, but subsume it within narratives of the struggle of good against evil and the like.1

1.  Janzen, D. (2012). The Violent Gift:Trauma’s Subversion of the Deuteronomistic History’s Narrative (pp. 32–34). New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Misusing and Abusing the Keys of Christ's Kingdom (Matt. 18, sections A & A')

As noted in previous posts, chapter 18 of Matthew's gospel is one of five discourses that divide the entire book, and it also happens to be structured in a neat 5-point chiasm:

A)  18:1-4  Becoming like children in the kingdom of heaven: Humility before brethren who turn-back
    B)  18:5-9  If a brother causes another brother to stumble
        C)  18:10-14  Do not despise the Father's lost sheep
    B')  18:15-22  If a brother sins against another brother
A')  18:23-35  What the kingdom of heaven is like: Forgiveness of brethren who ask for it

Verse one of chapter 18 begins with a seemingly odd statement: 
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 

I mention that this is seemingly odd because of what narrative it immediately follows. In the last narrative section, Jesus had a private discussion with his apostle, Peter, about the importance of not "offending" (Greek: scandalizomen) a Jewish tax collector (the collector of the two-drachma temple tax in 17:22-27). Jesus did not want to cause his Jewish brother--his brother in covenant with Yahweh--to stumble (scandalizomen) and lose respect for Jesus as a Rabbi (teacher) of Israel. Because Jesus wanted to teach Peter how important that lesson was to learn, as one who was just given keys to the kingdom of heaven, to bind and to loosen people on earth (Matt. 16:19), he told Peter to go fish in the nearby lake and grab a coin out of its mouth, miraculously provided to cover the temple tax for both of them: 
"...not to give offense (scandalizomen) to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a stater.1 Take that and give it to them in the place of you and me." (17:27)

It is after this lesson that Jesus' apostles ask him, "Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 

The apostles were not concerned about abstract theological or eschatological concepts. They were not concerned about who the most powerful, most important, or most influential human being in heaven was going to be. They were concerned about who, on earth among them, would be the greatest ruler of the Church. Jesus had just finished telling them twice that he was about to go to Jerusalem and be delivered into the hands of the chief priests, elders, and scribes to be killed (16:21; 17:22-23), and Matthew tells us that "they were greatly distressed" (17:23). The very next conversation between Jesus and his apostles involves this same concern, and they want to know who the greatest apostle is among Jesus' disciples. They want to know who the greatest apostle is because it would be Jesus' apostles who would rule over the people of God, the new Israel united with him in his death, resurrection, and ascension (Matt. 10:1-7; c.f. Mark 9:33-41; Luke 9:46-50; 22:24-30). 

At this point it's important to notice that what Jesus does next is just as valuable as what he says next. 

Matthew tells us that Jesus called a child to himself and set him before him.  In other words, an Israelite child within earshot was called by Jesus; after that call, the child turned toward Jesus and was willing to sit before him. Then Jesus spoke, saying: "Truly I say to you" --and the you is plural in the following instruction, referring to his apostles who are in the room with him-- "unless you (plural) are turned back and come to be like children, you (plural) will not come into the kingdom of heaven; whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

This was a warning from Jesus to his apostles that even they could fall from grace. This was a warning that even they might stumble (scandalizo) and fall short of entering the kingdom (and as we find out later, Judas would be one of them in the room to actually do so). If they were to rule the new Israel, they were supposed to rule the way Jesus wanted them to; and Jesus wanted them to heed his call and humble themselves like the child did. If they found themselves straying away from him, they need to turn back around and follow him. They were to do this precisely because they represented Jesus, their king, as they went about exercising authority over the Church in his name. They were  not to expect the people of Israel, like the Jewish Temple-tax collector in the previous narrative, to heed Jesus' call if they were not willing to humble themselves and follow Jesus to the end, just as Jesus humbled himself and followed his Father's will to the end. If they were to be shepherds of Israel, they were to emulate their Chief Shepherd, Jesus. 

Although this comes from the next section of the discourse, Jesus' following comments should not be overlooked either. Immediately after section "A" Jesus says: 
"and whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble (scandalizo), it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (18:5-6)

This echoes something Jesus told his disciples in one of his previous discourses. In chapter ten, when speaking of his coming in judgment upon that generation of rebellious Israelites (10:16-23), Jesus said that "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me" (10:4). The word for "sent" in 10:4 is, literally, apostled. The Father commissioned Jesus to be His apostle, sending him into the midst of Israel, and so Jesus commissioned twelve disciples to be his apostles in the midst of Israel too. Jesus sent them into the midst of wolves dressed in sheep's clothing to rescue his perishing sheep. Jesus sent them to preach and teach that the last days of the old covenant were upon them, and that they needed to follow him if they were to be saved; they needed to put their trust in Jesus and the word of the ones he sent in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 18, Jesus is reminding his disciples again about how serious this responsibility is. It is so serious that if they don't humble themselves and come to be like children before Jesus, even they won't enter the kingdom of heaven. (And as I mentioned a moment ago, Judas was one of the apostles who would fall away prior to entering.) 

As noted above, this entire discourse between Jesus and his apostles is unified. Units "A" and "A'" mirror each other in their emphasis upon the kingdom of heaven (18:1, 23). Between these units we find a discussion about causing fellow Israelite brothers to stumble (scandalizo) in their walk back toward (and with) Jesus. In between these sections we learn why it was important for the apostles to not be a stumbling-block before other brethren, and also what kinds of ways they could behave if they were to confront another Jewish brethren that remained stumbling blocks (scandalizomen) before others. (Throughout the book of Acts, the enemies of the Christians are not Gentiles; they're Jews who don't accept the claims of Jesus and his apostles about his lordship. Imagine how difficult it would have been to minister to Jewish brethren caught in the tension between the faith they were raised their whole lives to believe, i.e. temple-centered Judaism, and the message of the apostles about Jesus-centered Christianity.) In the center of all five sections (seen above) we find the Father's love for His people; we find the very heart of the Father's will in sending His Son into the midst of Israel. We also find the heart of Jesus, who wants his apostles to become like "sons" of their Heavenly Father too. 

In the corresponding section to "A" (18:23-35, section "A'") Jesus provides a parable about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. This, of course, is a parable about the will of the Father in sending his Son into the midst of Israel to represent him, and the slaves are likened unto Jesus' apostles and their treatment of the people within the King's realm. The "King" visits his people, and the "Lord" goes to collect debt appropriately. After pronouncing judgment against him, the slave begs his Lord for mercy and promises to pay what he owes. Because the slave pleads with him and promises to pay off his debt, the Lord then has compassion upon him, releases him from the pronounced judgment, and forgives him. Mentioning these things is not accidental. It is intentionally illustrative of how Jesus approached his apostles. He came to them. He pronounced judgment upon them, saying "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" They believed, repented, and followed him; and he showed compassion upon them, absolved them, and forgave them. This was to be the way they ruled the new Israel. This was to be their reminder in their time of trial, when they found fellow Israelites causing others to stumble and fall on their way into the kingdom, on their walk with Jesus, after hearing his call. They were to forgive their "offensive" Israelite brothers in the same way. They could pronounce judgment justly even as their Lord did, but if their brethren were to plead with them, they were to forgive. Even if their brother was to sin against them seventy times, they were to forgive that many times. The reason for this overflowing, abundant amount of forgiveness was, of course, because the people of Israel were living in a terminal generation. God's judgment upon them was at hand (Matt 3:7-12). They were the ones who received "little ones" into the fold of God to receive Christ, and in the receiving of them they were supposed to forgive from the heart too, not just superficially, because that too is what would show the heart of their Father in heaven: that every one of His sheep is worth saving.

These instructions were originally to Jesus' apostles, but they apply to all other apostles of Christ's Church as well. When God calls people to Himself, and then commissions some of them to represent Him and rule over His sheep, that exercise of authority is supposed to be accompanied with humility; and not just any definition of humility will do. Humility, in this case, must be defined by the illustration laid out by Jesus. They must come to be like children before Jesus. They must not be be a stumbling-block among other brothers and they must confront their brothers when they are causing others to stumble too. Even when sinned against, they must show great mercy, absolve those who repent, and forgive as many times as their brothers seek forgiveness. They are the ones who are called by Christ to bind and loosen on earth, and so they are the ones who must hold the keys to Christ's kingdom faithfully.  

Matthew 18 is not a set of "laws" on how to deal with all kinds of conflict among all kinds of Christians. It was never supposed to be viewed that way. It was never supposed to illustrate what absolutely must be done procedurally in order for all perceived "offenses" among all Christian brethren to be resolved. Such over-arching generalizations are preposterous. In its original historical context, chapter 18 was a set of instructions for apostles regarding the way they handled Jewish opposition to Christ's message and Jewish converts who were stumbling (or causing others to stumble) in their faith. By extension, the "procedures" of Matthew 18 only apply to directly to Jesus' apostles and their apostles, but certainly not everybody in the Church. As a private discussion between Jesus and his apostles, those instructions pertained to their responsibility as judges of Christ's Church (which is why there is a repeated reference to "two or three witnesses" and another mention of "binding and loosening" exactly like Jesus' commission to Peter in 16:19; c.f. 18:18). 

Matthew 18 was a set of examples and warnings to the appointed rulers of Christ's Church, examples and warnings about misusing and abusing the keys He gave them. And the first keys He gave them were compassion, absolution, and forgiveness. The officers of Christ's Church would do well in using them first still, instead of shirking responsibility or throwing down the gauntlet on laymen and laywomen. 

1.  A stater is a silver coin worth four drachmas.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

You Shall Surely Die? (John Day's "Creation to Babel")

In Creation to Babel: Studies in Genesis 1-11, John Day discusses the subject of the death penalty pronounced upon Adam and Eve in the Garden. Below is an excerpt from Day's book (including his original footnotes, for further reference):

God states that on the day that Adam and Eve eat of the tree of knowledge, they will surely die (Gen. 2:17). But as the serpent predicts (Gen. 3:4–5), they do not die that day (though they do later). How are we to explain this? 
(1)       Some interpret death as metaphorical, referring to the alienation from God implied by the expulsion from the garden (e.g. G.J. Wenham, R.W.L. Moberly, R.P. Gordon),49 but this view is unconvincing since it is not the most natural way of taking what is said. As James Barr pointed out,50 there are about forty other instances in the Hebrew Bible where we read that someone will surely die, and these all imply imminent literal death. 
(2)       It has occasionally been proposed that môt tāmût means ‘you will surely become mortal’. This view is found, for example, already in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (‘you shall incur the death penalty’), Symmachus (thnētos) and in Jerome (mortalis), who followed him,51 as well as by many subsequent Christian interpreters, and in modern times it has been followed by a few scholars.52 However, although providing a seemingly simple solution to the problem, this view is unlikely, since this meaning is nowhere else attested for this verb, and in addition it would appear that the first humans are already mortal, since Gen. 3:22 implies that they have not eaten of the tree of life (even though they had not originally been forbidden from doing so). 
(3)       Should we see God as a liar and the serpent as telling the truth? This provocative view has been held by several scholars recently, including John Gibson and James Charlesworth.53 This seems unlikely, however, since it is natural to suppose that the reader is meant to identify with God over against the serpent, the latter being cursed in the end. Moreover, we should observe that the serpent is telling only a half-truth in stating that their eyes will be opened but they will not die. For death is clearly depicted as the ultimate result of their disobedience, since the couple no longer have the possibility of accessing the tree of life following their expulsion from the garden (cf. Gen. 3:19, 22, 24). Although death does not happen immediately, the couple’s fate is sealed from the moment they disobey God. 
(4)       It has occasionally been pointed out that beyôm can mean not only literally ‘on the day that’ but also more broadly ‘when’, so that one might render ‘for when you eat of it you will surely die’.54 For example, Jer. 7:23; 11:4, 7 refer to things God is supposed to have said when he led the Israelites out of Egypt, but the subject matter concerns God’s commandments to the Israelites to obey, which sounds more to do with the Sinai covenant than anything happening on the literal day of deliverance from Egypt. There is also other evidence that yôm could sometimes mean ‘time’ rather than a specific day, though the latter is most frequently intended. Indeed, a specific day does appear to be intended in Genesis 2–3, since the serpent takes up the expression beyôm in Gen. 3:5, saying to the first humans, ‘You will not die; for God knows that on the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods,55 knowing good and evil’, and as we see from Gen. 3:6–7, this happened immediately on the very same day. 
(5)       Finally, it has sometimes been claimed that Adam and Eve did not die immediately because of God’s grace and mercy (so, e.g., Hermann Gunkel, John Skinner, Gerhard von Rad, David Clines, James Barr and Johnson Lim), a view already implied in Milton’s Paradise Lost.56 By a process of elimination of other views noted above, none of which seem to be likely, I find this view the most plausible. It fits well with the theme of divine grace operating alongside judgment that we find throughout the early chapters of Genesis, though it has to be admitted that in this instance it is not specifically drawn attention to as an act of grace.1

49 G.J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC, 1; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), p. 90; R.W.L. Moberly, ‘Did the Serpent Get it Right?’, JTS 39 (1988), pp. 1–27 (16–18); idem, ‘Did the Interpreters Get it Right?’, JTS 59 (2008), pp. 22–40 (34–37); R.P. Gordon, ‘The Ethics of Eden: Truth-Telling in Genesis 2–3’, in K.J. Dell (ed.), Ethical and Unethical in the Old Testament: God and Humans in Dialogue (LHBOTS, 528; London: T&T Clark International, 2010), pp. 11–33 (22).
50 J. Barr, ‘Is God a Liar? (Genesis 2–3)—and Related Matters’, JTS 57 (2006), pp. 1–22 (12).
51 A. Salvesen, Symmachus in the Pentateuch (JSSMS, 15; Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), pp. 9–10; Jerome, gloss on Gen. 2:17 in Liber Hebraicarum Quaestionum in Genesim 308 (PL 23, col. 941).
52 Cf. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, I, pp. 124–25; Speiser, Genesis, pp. 15, 17; D. Jobling. ‘The Myth Semantics of Genesis 2.4b–3.24’, Semeia 18 (1980), pp. 41–49 (47); A. LaCocque, The Trial of Innocence: Adam, Eve, and the Yahwist (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books [Wipf & Stock], 2006), pp. 99, 101, translates ‘deserve to die’.
53 E.g. J.C.L. Gibson, Genesis (2 vols.; Daily Study Bible; Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1991–92 [1991]), I, pp. 113–14; Charlesworth, The Good and Evil Serpent, pp. 275–324.
54 So niv; similarly God’s Word translation.
55 The Hebrew kēʾlōhîm is ambiguous, but on balance the translation ‘like gods’ seems preferable to ‘like God’, since in Gen. 3:22 God states that the humans have come to know good and evil ‘like one of us’, including both God and his heavenly court. The translation ‘like gods’ is also supported by the lxx, the oldest translation we have (in addition to the Vulgate). It is also sometimes argued in favour of the plural ‘gods’ that the verb in the immediately following expression yōdeʿê ṭôb wārāʿ, ‘knowing good and evil’, is in the plural. Since, however, the ‘you’ being addressed here is also in the plural it is difficult to feel totally confident about this particular argument.
56 H. Gunkel, Genesis (HKAT, 1.1; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 3rd edn, 1910), p. 10, et Genesis (trans. M.E. Biddle; Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), p. 10; J. Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1910), p. 67; von Rad, Das erste Buch Mose, p. 77, et Genesis, p. 92; D.J.A. Clines, The Theme of the Pentateuch (JSOTSup, 10; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 2nd edn, 1997), p. 70; Barr, ‘Is God a Liar?’, p. 22; J.T.K. Lim, ‘Did the Scholar(s) Get it Right?’, in R. Boer, M. Carden and J. Kelso (eds.), The One Who Reads May Run: Essays in Honour of Edgar W. Conrad (LHBOTS, 553; London: T&T Clark International, 2012), pp. 69–79. Cf. J. Milton, Paradise Lost III.38–42 (cited in Gordon, ‘The Ethics of Eden’, p. 20).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

1.  Day, J. (2013). From Creation to Babel:Studies in Genesis 1–11 (pp. 38–41). London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury.

Parables of War

After the partial destruction of the great city in Rev 11:13-19, John's vision turns to "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Rev 12:1). His vision of this woman and of the dragon who strives to devour her and the messianic child she brings forth concludes with a description of the "rest of her offspring" and their conflict with the dragon: "[12:17] Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and witness of Jesus. [12:18] And he stood on the sand of the sea." Rev 13 details the war of the dragon, through its terrestrial surrogates, with the offspring of the woman. It emphasizes the impropriety of political and religious allegiance to the beasts that make war on the saints and it concludes with the Nero gematria. Rev 14 inaugurates the defeat of the dragon and its beasts on earth by means of the celestial worship of the followers of the lamb. This promise of eventual defeat of the antagonists constitutes an exhortation to the audience of the Apocalypse of John that they should stand fast in their present predicament. 
...My efforts in rereading this text are directed not to positing and defending new positions in the discussion of John's mythological resources, but to illustrating how his deployment of those resources can be understood as effective in the context of the Judean War.1 

1.  John W. Marshall, Parables of War: Reading John's Jewish Apocalypse [Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press; 2001], pp. 134-5 

Abundant Allowance by Royal Sanction (Isa. 49:23)

Commenting on Isaiah 49:23, Eusebius of Caesarea writes:
He then states that kings will be the foster fathers of the church of God, and he says that the women who rule them will be her nurses. And we saw with our own eyes this literally fulfilled among them, for those who bear authority in the above mentioned position have carried the church of God as foster fathers. And the women who rule over them (here the text is clearly referring to those who are served as the "principalities and powers" over each nation and each district in the above mentioned kingdom) will provide for those of the church who are in need as nurses, supplying them with an abundant allowance by royal sanction. ...Then he says that when these things actually turn out, then you will know that I am the Lord, and those who submit to me will not be put to shame. It is good neither to esteem lightly nor to despair of the hope of those things that God has promised would happen. For those who submit to him will not be put to shame.1 

1.  Eusebius of Caesarea, trans. Jonathan Armstrong, Ancient Christian Texts: A Commentary on Isaiah [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic; 2013], p. 247 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Humbly Gleaning (An excerpt from 'The Romance of Redemption,' by Warren Gage)

"Ruth" by Antonio Cortina Farinós
“Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, ‘Why have I found grace in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’ ”
(Ruth 2:10)
Reading: Genesis 19:30–37; Ruth 1–4
Ruth’s Story
Naomi looked out of her window, waiting for her daughter-in-law to return. She had been up all night because she knew the mission was fraught with danger. Naomi knew that Boaz, an elderly relative, was a near kinsman to her late husband and as such a possible kinsman-redeemer for Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law. Boaz had shown compassion toward Ruth and Naomi, and so Naomi had suggested that a marriage be arranged. But Ruth was a Moabite, from a people whose ancestry was begotten of an illicit sexual union between Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his daughter. Lot’s daughters had gotten their father drunk in order to lie with him. Moab, the son Lot’s daughter conceived, was the ancestor of Ruth’s people. The Moabites were notorious for immorality and idolatry.
So how was Naomi to prove to Boaz that Ruth was a covenant daughter of the faith? Naomi told Ruth to go to the threshing floor by night and to wait for Boaz and his men to finish drinking in celebration of their bounty after the harvest. Ruth was to take note of the place where Boaz lay and to approach him secretly while he slept. Ruth was to lie down at Boaz’ feet—not by his side. She was to uncover his feet so that the chill would awaken him in the night. Naomi instructed that after Boaz awoke, Ruth was to ask for covenant marriage according to the levirate law of the kinsman-redeemer. Naomi knew that she was placing Ruth in a position like Lot’s daughter, where Ruth could take advantage of Boaz. But Naomi knew that Boaz would see that Ruth would not behave like her immoral ancestress. It was Naomi’s way of showing Boaz that although Ruth was a Moabitess by birth, she was truly a daughter of Abraham by faith. Yet Naomi’s plan was not without danger. If anyone recognized Ruth that night, her reputation for purity would be gone forever (Ruth 3:14).
So Naomi anxiously awaited the dawn. At last she saw the silhouette of a young lady approaching the house. But in the light of the early dawn, the young lady’s shadow looked like it belonged to a pregnant woman. That couldn’t be Ruth, Naomi thought. But as the young woman drew near, Naomi saw that it was Ruth after all—carrying something in her apron. As Ruth entered the house, she told Naomi that Boaz had promised her right of redemption would be respected. Then Ruth opened the apron of her gown, and she showed her mother-in-law that she was carrying a large portion of grain that Boaz had given her. Naomi gave thanks to the Lord. All the bitterness of her past life was turned to joy. Naomi knew that the Lord had given her a sign that Ruth would bear a child to Boaz. God would preserve her and her daughter-in-law. How wonderful are the ways of the Lord, Naomi thought. She recognized that the union of Boaz, a son of Abraham, and Ruth, a daughter of Moab, would heal the ancient quarrel that had divided Abraham and Lot so many centuries before. God would work a great redemption through her daughter-in-law.
Ruth looked at the abundance of grain Boaz had given her, and she thought of the first time she had come by chance to the field of Boaz to glean. Her arms had grown weary from her hard work, and her back had begun to ache from the long hours of stooping in the late springtime sun.
Ruth had been working since early morning in that field, gleaning from the meager stalks of barley left by the reapers—mostly by the edges of the field. She had paused and stretched her sore muscles, thinking how gracious the law of the Lord was to make provision for the stranger and the poor by letting them glean. She had learned about the law of the Lord from her late husband, Mahlon. She recalled how the tenderness of the Lord’s mercy had struck her, for in her country there was no similar provision for the widow or the stranger. Ruth was now both a widow and a stranger. The brief rest from her labor allowed Ruth’s mind to wander, and she grew reflective. She had learned about the God of the Hebrews from her husband, who was now dead. They had been married for ten years. Ruth assumed from the childless marriage that she was barren. But it didn’t matter anyway, she thought. She was a Moabite, and no respectable Israelite man would have her. So she comforted herself in the love of her mother-in-law and in the love of the Lord.
After the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons in Moab, Naomi had decided to return to Israel. Years before she had fled to Moab with her husband to escape a famine in Israel. But after the death of her husband and sons, she resolved to return, and Ruth had insisted on going with her. Ruth’s anguish at Mahlon’s death still tore through her heart. There was little hope for Ruth or Naomi—two grieving widows with no sons to care for them. But Naomi was determined to return to Israel, and she had urged Ruth to return to her mother’s house in Moab. Instead, Ruth’s great love for her God and for her mother-in-law had compelled her to go with Naomi.
And so Ruth accompanied Naomi on the journey back to Bethlehem, the town Naomi had left many years before. Their arrival had caused quite a stir. A Moabite in Bethlehem! The people of Israel were all too familiar with the history of the people of Moab. All Israel knew that the king of Moab had once hired a prophet to curse Israel as they fled from Egypt—although Moab had been cursed instead. All Israel also remembered how the Moabite women had tried to seduce the sons of Israel at Baal Peor. They knew that Chemosh, the idol god of Moab, required violent and bloody child sacrifices from the Moabites. Even the namesake of this people, Moab himself, was born out of the incest and drunkenness of the family of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. It was all recorded in the book of Genesis. The very name of Moab was scandalous to the people of Israel.
And now there was a Moabite stranger gleaning in their fields. Naomi was too old to work in the field with the gleaning women, but Ruth was still strong, and she was willing to work for both of them. So she had come to glean in the field behind the harvesters. Although Ruth couldn’t help but notice all the whispering, the women gleaning with her had been kind to her. They respected her love for Naomi, and they were amazed that Ruth, a Moabitess, claimed Naomi’s God as her own.
The painful thoughts and memories passed. Ruth wiped her brow with her sleeve and resumed her work. As she gathered a few more stalks overlooked by the harvesters, she gave thanks to the Lord for His law, for the grace of the commandment that would provide both her mother-in-law and herself with a supper that evening. Naomi was all she had now, but she was a kind and godly woman in spite of her deep bereavement at the loss of her husband and sons. Husband and sons—Ruth was now unlikely ever to have either. She was a Moabite widow who was poor and barren. God may have provided her with a means of obtaining food, but what else was there ever to be for her? Who would ever notice her, or give her any regard?
So she continued working in silence, stooping to pull more stalks from the ground. Lost in her thoughts, Ruth was startled by a man’s voice nearby, greeting her fellow harvesters.
“The Lord be with you,” he shouted, and the workers around her responded, “The Lord bless you!”
Ruth asked the young woman working next to her who this man was. “His name is Boaz,” she answered. “He is the owner of these fields.” Ruth returned to her work, but a few moments later, she heard footsteps and looked up to see that Boaz was walking towards her. She rose nervously to greet him, trying to think of a proper way to express her gratitude to him for permitting her to glean. But Boaz spoke first.
“Listen, my daughter,” he said. “Do not go to work in another field. Stay and work in my field, following along with the young women working near you. You will be safe here. I have given orders that you be protected. When you are thirsty, you are welcome to drink from the vessels of water which are drawn for the harvesters.” Ruth could hardly believe what she was hearing; she immediately knelt down to the ground before the man, overwhelmed by his kindness.
“Why have I found grace in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” she said.
His next words startled her even more. “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me—how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you did not previously know,” he said. “May the Lord reward your work and may your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
Boaz’s words brought a peace to her heart that she had not known since her husband’s death. She answered, “I have found grace in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not worthy to be called one of your maidservants.” With a bow, Boaz moved on, and Ruth returned to her gleaning. Her heart was filled with thanksgiving, and she thought to herself, “Surely the Lord God is watching over me after all.”
At mid-day, the harvesters rested and ate. Ruth sat apart from the others, not thinking herself worthy to sit with the people of the Lord. As she ate alone in silence, she again heard Boaz’s voice. This time he was calling her! “Ruth! Come join us and share our meal!” Humbly, she came and sat with the other reapers, and she ate until she was satisfied, saving enough to share a simple supper with her mother-in-law.
Ruth returned to the field and worked until evening, but the gleaning was different now. It seemed to go more easily. That morning she had gathered the barley stalks that left upon the ground by the harvesters according to the law of the Lord. But now, she also found grain left behind that had already been cut down, lying there as if it had been left for her. “This is strange,” she thought, and as she was wondering about this, the young woman next to her spoke. “You have certainly found favor with the owner of this field,” she said. “As you left the meal to return to work, I overheard him command his servants to pull grain from the bundles they had already gathered and leave it for you.”
“How kind the Lord’s people are to strangers,” she thought. “Their love goes beyond the requirement of the law.” Ruth returned to her gleaning, marveling at the favor she had received that day. She continued gathering until evening, then stopped to beat out the stalks of grain. When she returned to Naomi that evening, she was carrying a half-bushel of barley—far more than she could have imagined she would be able to gather.
“The Lord blessed your labor today, Ruth,” Naomi said. “Tell me—in whose field did you glean? Someone took notice of you to do you this measure of kindness!”
“His name is Boaz,” Ruth replied. Naomi’s eyes widened, and she lifted her hands to heaven. “May he be blessed of the Lord! Ruth, this man is one of our closest relatives. Truly God was leading you today!” And so all through that season, Ruth followed Boaz’s instructions, gleaning faithfully in his fields alongside the young women working there until the end of the summer harvest.
Your Story
Ruth’s love for Naomi and her humility before God demonstrated her true faith in the Lord God of Israel. Month after month Ruth labored in Boaz’ field, stooping low over the earth to collect the fallen stalks—first of the springtime barley and then of the summer wheat. Ruth could not imagine that anyone would take notice of her—bereft and poverty stricken as she was. She came from a rebellious and idolatrous people. She was a foreigner and destitute. She was a widow without children and only an aged mother-in-law to care for. Perhaps this is why she was completely overwhelmed when Boaz spoke kindly to her and made provisions for her comfort.
But there is much more to Ruth’s story. Boaz did not merely take notice of this poor foreign widow and provide food for her. We learn from Scripture that Boaz was a “close relative” or “kinsman redeemer” of Naomi’s family. According to the custom of the time, the closest blood relative had the duty of preserving the family name, and thus of marrying the widow of a deceased relative.
Surely Boaz had already seen in Ruth a faith much like that of Abraham, the father of the faithful. Ruth, like Abraham, left her people and her country to come to a strange land. We, too, must exercise the same faith, as Christ calls us to follow him and live as aliens in a foreign land (Heb 11:9), and love him above our family of origin (Matt 10:37; Luke 14:26). Boaz knew well that faith can be found in unlikely places—even in a poor, barren Moabite widow—for his mother Rahab was a Canaanite of Jericho (Matt 1:5), a harlot who had been rescued from death to become an ancestor of Christ himself and whose faith would be memorialized forever in Scripture (Heb 11:31).
And so Ruth’s story is much like ours. Like Ruth, we were destitute outcasts, strangers to the covenants of promise and the family of God (Eph 2:12), with nothing to offer God but our barrenness and poverty. Far too many of us, like Ruth the Moabite, come from family lines scarred by the most heinous of sins. Thus, the question Ruth asked of Boaz is the same question we might legitimately ask of our Savior: “Why have I found grace in your eyes?” Like Ruth, we can point to no righteousness in our works, no respectable family history, nothing that qualifies us for the redeeming love of Christ.
But just as Ruth is a picture of us, Boaz is a picture of Christ. Boaz prayed that Ruth would be blessed by the God of Israel, “under whose wings you have come to seek refuge” (Rut 2:12). Ruth later echoes these words when she asks for Boaz to redeem her. As she lies at his feet, she asks Boaz, “Spread the corner of your garment over your servant” (Rut 3:9). Some translations recognize that the Hebrew word for the “corner of a garment” that Ruth mentions here is also the word in chapter 2 that is translated as “wings.” Ruth is thus asking Boaz to be like God to her—to spread his wings of protection over her. Because Boaz goes beyond merely providing for her physical needs but also takes in and redeems her—though she is an outcast—he becomes an image of God Himself, who promises to hide us under the shadow of His wings (Psa 17:8; 91:4). Like Boaz, Jesus does not simply offer to care for us and provide for us. He pledges to stand as our Redeemer and to one day take us as His bride.
Ruth could never have imagined, as she stooped over those fields of Bethlehem to glean, that not only had Boaz taken note of her, but God Himself in heaven had appointed her to be nothing less than the hope of the world. For it was the barren Ruth, humbly gleaning in Bethlehem’s fields, who would one day have a son by Boaz named Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David the King, ancestors in the line that led to Jesus Christ! The very fields where Ruth gleaned, where the outcast was taken in, would one day hear the songs of angel choirs announcing to shepherds the birth of a greater Redeemer from Bethlehem than even Boaz! What a story of redemption! Ruth, humbly gleaning in the Bethlehem fields, was appointed by heaven to be the hope of the world, one of the ancestral mothers of Jesus!1

1.  Gage, W. A. (2014). The Romance of Redemption: Biblical Types of the Bride of Christ (pp. 38–43). Fort Lauderdale: St. Andrews House.