Old Testament benefactors are indignant when their favors are met with ingratitude. David later operates by similar principles in his dealings with the fool Nabal. While on the run from Saul, David and his men mingle with the shepherds who care for Nabal's flocks. His men do not interfere with or harass the shepherds. On the contrary, they provide protection. David naturally expects Nabal to be grateful for his service, and to express that gratitude concretely by supplying provisions for his men. When Nabal dismisses David, David's anger at the ingratitude is so intense that he marches toward Nabal's house with the intention of carrying out a war of utter destruction against him. He is arrested only by a gift from Nabal's beautiful, shrewd wife, Abigail. She brings a "blessing" (berekah) that pacifies David's rage. The conclusion to the story illustrates the flip side of Yahweh's promise to reward the generous. When David decides not to carry out "negative reciprocity" against Nabal, Yahweh steps in to repay Nabal for his ingratitude. Nabal's heart stops as he is relieving his bladder after a night of drinking. This suggests that for the Hebrew imagination, the circulations of gifts and gratefulnesses are never simply intrahuman. God is always involved, not only in exchanges between rich and poor but also in those among the wealthy. Yahweh takes the side of the recipient of gifts to reward the generous; Yahweh also takes the side of the insulted to pay back the ingrate.1
Monday, March 31, 2014
Gratitude: Never simply intrahuman
Monday, November 4, 2013
Jesus vs. Goliath (John 19:17-30)
John 19:17-30 parallels 18:13-27 in various ways, as seen also in John's neat chiastic arrangement (here). In 19:17-30 Jesus is taken from the Gentile "world" of Pilate's headquarters and back into the "land" near the city to be sacrificed on a cross, and eventually buried in a garden-tomb. Earlier in 18:13-27 Jesus was taken from the garden and sentenced to "die for the people" in that same land (v. 14). There in the land, Jesus declared that he had "spoken openly to the world" (v. 20), and in 19:17-30 Pilate writes an inscription above Jesus' cross for all to see, and he writes it in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, the three dominant languages of the world. Last of all, John the author is present in the background of both scenes, labeled as "the disciple" (18:15 & 19:26-27). In chapter 18, John is the disciple "known to the high priest" and allowed to enter his house (v. 15), whereas in chapter 19 John is known by Jesus, the true High Priest of God, and adopted into the "temple-house of Jesus' Father."1
The literary structure of 19:17-30 carries some interesting parallels as well.
A) Jesus carries his own cross (19:17)
B) The soldiers crucify Jesus, dividing two others, one man crucified on each side of him (19:18)
C) Pilate writes: "Jesus the Nazarene,2 the King of the Jews" (19:19)
D) Many Jews read the inscription; the inscription was in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek (19:21)
C') Chief Priests of the Jews correct what Pilate wrote: "This man said, I am King of the Jews" (19:21-22)
B') When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his garments, one for each soldier (19:23-24)
A') Jesus dies on the cross He carried (19:25-30)
In verse 17 (section A) Jesus is taken by soldiers, carrying his own cross to a place called Golgotha, which in Greek means "Place of the Skull." One Hebrew variant of Golgotha is gulgolet (גלגלת), which also means "skull," and is used throughout the old testament to describe "heads" of Israelites taken into the inventory of God's people. There are, however, a handful of other intriguing uses of gulgolet in the old testament which illuminate the significance of this name and place. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains lists three occurrences especially worth noting: Judges 9:53; II Kings 9:35; and I Chron. 10:10.
In Judges 9:53, a woman crushes Abimelech's gulgolet with a millstone, both echoing and foreshadowing the seed of the woman (Christ) promised to crush the "skull" of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). In II Kings 9:35, Jehu storms into the courtyard of Jezreel to fulfill the word of Yahweh's curse against Jezebel, the king's daughter. In Hebew, Jezreel means "that which God planted." There, where Yahweh had planted a wicked queen over Israel to chasten His people, Jehu would come to uproot both the fruit and the root of Israel's idolatry. Where the house of Ahab sowed seeds of wickedness, Israel's Queen would be trampled down by Jehu, leaving behind only her gulgolet, feet, and hands. By coming to crush the skull of Jezebel, Jehu foreshadows one aspect of Christ's work, by crushing a type of seductive harlot-bride, the King's daughter and persecutor of Yahweh's covenant people, as unveiled by Jesus to John (Rev. 2:18-29).
Finally, in I Chronicles 10:10 we find the Philistines taking the gulgolet of King Saul and bringing it to their central city of worship and into the temple of Dagon. That event echoed King David's triumph over the Philistine giant, Goliath of Gath, whose gulgolet was cut off and taken near the city of Jerusalem (I Sam. 17:51-54). There, where the skull of Goliath of Gath was placed, is where Jesus was crucified: Gol-Gath-a. In the place where King David brought the crushed skull of the giant, there Jesus, the son of David, King of Israel, crushed the skull of the serpent. But John tells the story of skull-crushing a bit different than one might expect. In first Samuel, David carries his victory trophy while Yahweh scatters his enemies. In John's gospel, this section (19:17-30) begins with Jesus carrying his own cross to Golgotha, the "Place of the Skull," and he ends with Jesus on the cross he carried. Like David, Jesus also carries his victory trophy as the Father scatters his enemies, but unlike David, Jesus becomes the trophy lifted up for all the world to see. His cross is the means of becoming lifted up, drawing all nations unto himself. As Jesus told Nicodemus at night, the Son of man must be lifted up so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14). Even during the day, within the temple, Jesus proclaimed the same message, saying "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me" (8:28). And in case John wasn't clear enough in that passage, describing the necessity of being lifted up on a cross, it was before Jesus' arrest in the garden that He cried out one last time: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." But then John adds, "He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die" (12:32-33).
In John 19:17-30, Jesus is hung on a tree, cursed of God, crushed for our iniquities. But in dying, the sins of the world are crushed with Him. When both the "Head" and "Body" are crushed, the Spirit of God raises up a new body, a glorified Body, and they --being one with Him-- crush the head of the serpent. It is through the work of the cross that Satan's head is crushed and Jesus achieves victory, as promised in Genesis 3:15. It is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our union with His resurrected life that new creation begins, light overcomes darkness, and the powers of evil are destroyed.
1. Peter J. Leithart, "We Saw His Glory" Implications of the Sanctuary Christology in John's Gospel, (published in Christology Ancient & Modern: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics; Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders, Editors) p. 128
2. Peter Leithart makes this interesting remark about the inscription of Pilate: "Pilate's inscription on the cross identifies Jesus not as a but the Nazarene (John 19:19). In John, Nazareth is barely mentioned (cf. 1:45-46), and in John's view Pilate's titlon likely alludes not to Jesus' hometown but to Isaiah 11's prediction of a Messianic Branch (neser) from the stump of Jesse. Pilate's declaration means: "Jesus the Branch, King of the Jews." Qumran texts link Isaiah's Branch to the temple-building Branch (semah) of Zechariah 6:12: "Behold the man whose name is the Branch." Neser and semah are synonymous titles for the Messianic King who will build the eschatological temple. With his famous Ecce homo, Pilate quotes the first half of Zechariah 6:12 as he presents Jesus to the Jews, and then by putting "Nazarene" in the titlon he finishes the sentence and names Jesus as the Messianic temple-builder, a new Solomon." Ibid., p. 127.
Monday, October 21, 2013
God is not nice
Commenting on I Kings 22:1-40, Peter Leithart makes some interesting observations about Yahweh being a God who challenges our plans in order to reform His Church. Leithart even approaches the story of Micaiah's prophecy and the deception of King Ahab in a very practical, pastoral manner, treating Yahweh exactly as He has revealed Himself. Dr. Leithart writes:
According to Torah, the true prophet is ultimately revealed by the outcome; if he is a true prophet, then what he prophesies will happen (Deut. 13:1–11), and in this story, Micaiah is shown to be the true prophet because Ahab dies in battle. But Ahab and Jehoshaphat have to make a decision before they know the outcome. How can they know which advice to follow? How can they tell a wolf cleverly disguised in sheep’s clothing from a sheep?
Jehoshaphat apparently discerns that something is wrong. When he hears all four hundred prophets in agreement, all agreeing that Yahweh promises success, he still wants to hear a prophet of Yahweh (1 Kgs. 22:7). Jehoshaphat is probably spiritually attuned enough to know that the word of God does not come with the message, “Everything is perfectly okay. You’re okay just the way you are.” As Barth says, dogmatics is the science that tests the church’s proclamation by the standard of the word of God, and if dogmaticians emerge from their study to announce “all is well; steady as she goes,” they have made a mistake in calculations. Or, to put it in the blunt terms that Long uses, “God is not nice” (2004). He does not exist to underwrite our projects, to ensure that our pursuit of money and fame and American empire goes smoothly. He is the “judge of all the earth,” whose word is an instrument for bringing all our projects, intentions, and aims, especially the most pious of them, under scrutiny and judgment.It is always a temptation to prefer a smooth, self-affirming word over a confronting word, and that temptation has been institutionalized, systematized in many contemporary churches. The word “sin” is avoided as needlessly offensive, especially to wealthy church members. Churches advertise their welcoming, nonjudgmental atmosphere, not so subtly (and viciously) implying that there are harsh judgmental churches out there and we all know which ones they are. American churches mirror consumer culture, offering a range of choices so that everyone can settle back into a Muzak spirituality, confident that they will not be confronted by any demands for radical change. But the word of Yahweh does not affirm us in our plans. It challenges our plans, confronts them, undoes them.1
...Micaiah’s vision of Yahweh asking for a volunteer to entice (פתה) Ahab is one of the most puzzling passages in the Bible and difficult on many levels. The least problematic aspect of this incident is that Yahweh is seeking help from surrogates, though the quaintness of the scene almost seems more at home in Goethe than in the Bible. The more troubling problem is the moral one: how can the God who is truth, whose word is truth, send out a lying spirit to inspire people to lie to Ahab? Is Yahweh ultimately just another trickster God, unreliable and deceptive?2
...What kind of God is this that puts misleading prophesies into the mouths of the court prophets of Israel? How is this consistent with the New Testament’s affirmations that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18) and that “in him is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas. 1:17)?As Davis points out, there is ultimately no deception here or, more accurately, the deception is completely telegraphed (2002, 327). Yahweh’s Spirit inspires the prophets to mislead and lure Ahab to his death, but then Yahweh sends Micaiah to tell Ahab he is being lured to his death. Yahweh sets a trap for Ahab, but politely shows Ahab the trap before he springs it. Yet, Ahab blindly goes to Ramoth-gilead, confident that he can cheat death and escape the word of Yahweh. Further and more basically, this passage makes it abundantly clear that Yahweh is not a great marshmallow in the sky. He is not a God who plays softball. Nor is he the god of the philosophers, a gorgeous but impotent force in heaven. He is a warrior who fights to win, and deception is part of his art of holy war. Elsewhere, Yahweh encourages his people to use deceptive military tactics (e.g., Josh. 7), and on more than one occasion he deploys an “evil spirit” to set traps for his enemies (Judg. 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10; 19:9; Ezek. 14:9).Many of the church fathers gesture toward the insight that God is a trickster when they develop atonement theories that suggest the cross is a divine trap laid for Satan. Recent work on the historical Jesus confirms the patristic insight into God’s shrewdness without adopting the “bait theory.” Jesus’s challenging parables, his provocative prophetic actions, his counterintuitive images and exhortations, his shrewdness in debate—all this testifies that Jesus is the incarnation of the God who lured Ahab to the battlefield of Ramoth-gilead.He is straight with the straight, merciful to the humble, but cunning with the wicked (ועם־עקש תתפתל) (Ps. 18:25–26), the God who catches the wicked in their own devices, who leads his enemies into the very traps that they set for the righteous. This is a God to be loved. But he is also a God to be feared. One should be grateful to be and remain in his good graces, for it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of this God. Yahweh is the ultimate trickster that outfoxes all human attempts to escape him. Yahweh is not only cunning. He is transcendently, infinitely cunning. The conclusion that God employs deception against deceivers should not lead to distrust or anxiety. There is a simple way to avoid falling into the traps of the infinitely cunning God: humbly trust him, for he is merciful to the merciful, and to the pure he is pure.3
1. Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings [Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006] pp. 160-1
2. Ibid. p. 162
3. Ibid. p. 163-4
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Accusations of Sabbath-Breaking: Matthew 12:1-8 (section D1)
Continuing where we left off in this series of Matthew gospel, we arrive at the central section of this narrative, which is connected by three pericopes: D1 (Matt. 12:1-8), D2 (vv. 9-14), and D3 (vv. 15-21).
As noted in a previous post, chapters 11 & 12 are compiled as one connected narrative of events, and each pericope within chapters eleven and twelve are connected by Matthew in a way which is not found in the other synoptic gospels (cf. Luke chap. 5-7). Also, this central section at which we have finally arrived focuses heavily upon one theme: the theme of Sabbath-Rest. As we go through this central section in its entirety, it will become more and more apparent that Matthew has "sandwiched" these Sabbath controversies between the surrounding pericopes in order to give his readers the sense that these events transpire around the same general time: the time of the Sabbath; the time of rest for the people of Israel.
Beginning with the first part (D1), we find this brief sketch of events:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Behold! Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!"
He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the House of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless ones. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
In order to appreciate the significance of these accusations by the Pharisees, it's important to ask and answer the question, "Was Jesus allowing his disciples to do something unlawful on the Sabbath?"
It is very clear from the text of God's Law that "work" was not allowed on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day of rest for God's covenant people. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of Yahweh your God. In it you shall do no work..." (Ex. 20:9-10). Also, as it concerns the actions of Jesus' disciples, God's Law also allows the poor to glean from the edges of certain fields, including grain fields (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 23:24-25; 24:19-22). But the problem with which Jesus was confronted concerning both of these aspects of God's Law --Sabbath resting and grain gleaning-- was that the Law did not, per se, clarify whether gleaning was permitted on the Sabbath Day. That is to say, if you look at all of the laws pertaining to the Sabbath Day, there is no clear indication that gleaning heads of grain qualified as the "work" forbidden in the Sabbath Laws. The Law simply does not address those overlapping issues. But the Pharisees did have an interpretation of the Law that addressed those overlapping issues. In fact, according to the pharisaical laws of 1st century Judaism, all forms of "reaping" were forbidden on the Sabbath because "reaping" was considered work. And the action of plucking heads of grain, and then rubbing them together to get the kernels inside, was considered a form of "reaping," and therefore was unlawful to do in their eyes.
But Jesus' response is very telling. Jesus does not spend any time affirming or denying their pharisaical interpretation. Jesus' response assumes it was lawful for his disciples to be gleaning on the Sabbath, which means that Jesus' response is not so much concerned with proving that there are exceptions to God's rules as it is with proving that the Pharisees have misunderstood the Law and its Lawgiver entirely.
Jesus asks them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the House of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?" This is a reference from 1st Samuel 21:1-6, in which we learn that David did, in fact, eat the bread of the Presence, which was, according to the strict letter of the law, designated for "Aaron and his children" (Lev. 24:5-9). The reason why Aaron and his children could eat "holy food" was because they were ritually consecrated as 'holy' to the Lord for their service in God's House, but laymen were not considered 'holy' (Lev. 22:1-16) unless they became properly consecrated according to the law (e.g. As a nazarite, or for holy war, etc.). Ordinarily, laymen like David were just ceremonially 'clean,' like the rest of ordinary Israelites who avoided defiling themselves with ceremonial uncleanness. But if we look at 1st Sam. 21 carefully, it is obvious that David had been consecrated as 'holy,' similar to the consecration of a priest, and the Priest considered it lawful to give it to him because he was specially consecrated as holy. Notice how obvious this is from the story of 1st Sam. 21:1-6:
Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.
Notice carefully that David assures the priest that he and his men have abstained from ceremonial uncleanness and that their vessels are holy too, not merely ceremonially "clean." This infers that David and his men have been consecrated as holy too, because only servants of the Lord who were ceremonially consecrated as holy could partake of holy food (Lev. 22:1-16). Jesus knew the Law taught this. But did the Pharisees make this connection?
But notice again, and just as carefully, that Jesus responds to the Pharisees with an assertion about it being unlawful for David to eat the holy bread. Well, which one was it? Was it lawful or unlawful for David to eat the holy bread? It is true that the letter of the Law only mentions in passing that Aaron and his children are to eat the bread, but was that law intended to exclude all other servants in God's House who became specially consecrated as holy too?
In the next verse, we learn a clue about why Jesus said it was unlawful for David to eat the holy bread. In the next verse, Jesus asks another question:
Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
Stop and think about this statement for a minute. Is it true that the priests of the Lord profane the Sabbath? According to Leviticus 24:5-9, which is the same place we learn that "Aaron and his children" are to eat the holy bread, we learn that the twelve loaves of bread were exchanged on the Sabbath Day. This means David entered the House of God and ate the holy bread on a Sabbath Day. But when you read 1st Samuel 21, did you conclude that the priest was profaning the Sabbath by working that day? My guess is that you assumed he did not profane the Sabbath that day, or any other Sabbath Day, because God ordered them to exchange the holy bread on the Sabbath Day. Even though God commanded His people to do no "work" on the Sabbath Day, the priests self-consciously affirm their duty to "work" on the Sabbath Day by exchanging the twelves holy loaves of bread every week.
But which is it? Are the priests profaning the Sabbath or not? Are they "working" on the Sabbath or not?
It turns out that what Jesus is doing is answering the Pharisees according to their own traditions of interpretation. The Pharisees attack Jesus for allowing his disciples to do what is "unlawful" on the Sabbath, according to their dubious traditions. Jesus responds with two equally dubious illustrations of law-keeping. And by responding in that way, Jesus arrives at the underlying problem with the Pharisees and their accusations of Sabbath-breaking: The Pharisees don't know the true Lawgiver.
The Pharisees know that God requires "burnt offerings" and "sacrifices," and so they offered sacrifices according to the letter of the law; whereas the Lord desired loyal love (i.e. mercy), not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). The Lord wanted them to know Him, rather than merely offer burnt offerings. But their love was like a morning cloud, and like the dew on the ground which goes away quickly once light shines on it (Hosea 6:4). Like Adam in God's Garden, they transgress God's covenant, and they deal faithlessly with God Himself (Hosea 6:7). They are evildoers tracked with blood (Hosea 6:8), banding together and lying in wait to commit villainy against God's people (Hosea 6:9). Their whoredom with Herod's idolatrous temple and their man-made traditions defiles them (Hosea 6:10). They do not know that something greater than Herod's Temple is before them. They do not accept his claim that "The Son of Man is Lord", let alone lord of the Sabbath. Therefore, when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people as promised on the day of Harvest (Hosea 6:11), the Pharisees will reap what they have sown.
As we progress through Matthew's gospel, we learn that because they refuse to turn away from their man-made idols, and turn to the Lord (Hosea 6:1), they will, instead, seek an alternative course of action. In the very next pericope we learn that the Pharisees conspire to destroy Jesus from that Sabbath Day forward (Matt. 12:14). From that day forward, they will attempt to tear Jesus apart, strike him down, and bind him up (Hosea 6:1). But little do they know that in doing so, He will fulfill what Adam did not. He will fulfill the life which Israel did not. He will be the faithful son of God which both Adam and Israel failed to be. Little do they know that after two days he will revive, and on the third day he will rise up, that his people may live before him (Hosea 6:2).
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