Bible study

This tag is associated with 6 posts

Bible Note: Psalm 50:9-13- God doesn’t need you

question-week2I’ve been reading through the Bible and making a kind of commentary on the whole thing as I go. Needless to say this has been a lengthy project! Here’s an expanded note I made in Psalm 50.

I know the saying I’ve heard many places, “Never quote/read a Bible verse.” The meaning is of course to emphasize the word “a” and point out that all verses have context. Although that is true, I don’t think that means we can never read just one verse and get a clear meaning or teaching out of it. Here’s a pretty neat verse, though:

50:12- “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”

In context (50:9-13), you can see that it is surrounded by God noting that God has no needs, that God does not need to eat or drink, and the like.

In the Ancient Near East, sacrifices were often thought to be providing the needs for the gods. Here, in context (50:8, 13), it is clear that YHWH is distinguishing Himself from those alleged deities. There are no needs God has. Indeed, if God had needs, there would be no need to tell us because all belongs to God already. This is a powerful reminder of God’s sovereignty over all the universe.

There is also no small amount of irony/humor involved in the passage. The irony is centered on the fact of God’s power as well. Supposing that a God who created the entire universe does exist, is it not frankly hilarious to imagine that same deity depending on us to provide food? Against the backdrop of the Ancient Near East (see Walton’s work for an extended look), this makes more sense, though. It was thought that by providing for food and drink for the gods, the one offering the food could free the deity up to take care of more cosmic needs. In stark contrast, the God of the Bible claims not only to be fully capable of taking care of the cosmos, but also asserts there are no needs God has that we can fulfill. It’s an astonishing declaration of God’s might.

It also can provide some degree of comfort: God doesn’t need you. Grace is a gift.

What are your thoughts? How might we take this verse in its ancient context and draw out the humor for today?

Bible Note: Judges 15:1-3 and the right for vengeance

question-week2As I’m working through the Bible writing a kind of running commentary on it as I go, I continually encounter depths of the material I hadn’t encountered before. One such place is the Samson narrative–one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible. The following is an extended version of one of the notes I put in my running commentary:

In Judges 15:3, having discovered his wife was given to someone else, Samson notes that “this time” he has the right to take vengeance. What does this mean? Is Samson saying that he has a right ‘this time’ as opposed to last (when he took vengeance because of the Philistines getting the answer to his riddle through his wife)? Or does he mean that he has a right ‘this time’ in addition to the last time?

Added dimension: In 14:19 when he strikes down 30 Philistines he does so in the power of the Spirit of the LORD. Further dimension: 14:4 speaks of how the LORD was seeking to confront the Philistines.

It seems to me this must imply that God, in sovereignty, is guiding the events towards an end God desires. Given this, we may be tempted to say Samson’s right is indeed a right to vengeance–a divinely given one. But it is possible God is also using this (clearly) sinful man in spite of the sinfulness of his behavior, including his desire for vengeance (which belongs to God alone).

Which interpretation do you think is correct? Why?

Book Review: “The Bible Story Handbook” by John Walton and Kim Walton

bsh-walton

John Walton and Kim Walton’s The Bible Story Handbook is a resource for teaching 175 Bible stories and their meanings. I want to say at the outset that this wide range and its being written towards a general audience (with teaching to children as a special focus) in no way means this is an easy or unchallenging book.

The book has a great introduction that argues that we need to be teaching the actual point of the Bible stories we use in lessons in Sunday School, sermons, and the like rather than abstracting the stories and chopping them apart to draw out specific illustrations we’d like to have. This is a very challenging introduction, not because it is technical, but because we so often do see this done in teaching the Bible and we so often do it ourselves. For example, we might see the story of Jonathan and David as about friendship rather than about what God was doing through the people acting in the story. A more extreme example is from the authors: one of their children came home and had been taught the story of Cain and Abel in Sunday School. But the point of the story–which was told sans violence because of the age of the children–they were told was that Cain and Abel had bodies. That’s it.

It is this level of abstraction that John Walton and Kim Walton work against in the book, consistently arguing story-by-story that the point of the Bible is to teach us about God and God’s action in human history. The stories are each outlined in the same fashion. There is a subheading listing the passage that has what the Bible story is (i.e. Samson and Delilah) followed by the verses that will be discussed (i.e. Judges 16). Then, there is a “Lesson Focus” that outlines key parts of the lesson in a sentence or two, then has main focal points of the lesson in bullet points. After that there is a Lesson Application which hones the Lesson Focus in to what we might take from the lesson. Then, the biblical context of the lesson is highlighted (this section often begins the same if there are multiple lessons in the same book). After that, Interpretational Issues are addressed (such as Samson’s hair and his strength). Background information related to the text is given (such as looms and their usage at the time of the story). Finally, “Mistakes to Avoid” puts forward the key meaning of the text and highlights some errors related to interpretation that people often make related to the specific text.

These sections each have vital information and are certainly of great value for those who want to preach, teach, or explore God’s Word.

There are a few downsides to the book. At times, it seems the “Mistakes to Avoid” might not fully explain why certain interpretations are “mistakes” or why the preferred interpretation ought to be put forward. The book has very broad application but does focus on teaching the Bible stories to children. It would perhaps have been nice to have similar notes about how to direct the lesson towards adults. These are both largely just nitpicks about what is an otherwise phenomenal book.

The Good

+Extremely challenging to many presupposed ideas about how to tell and teach Bible stories
+Great selection of Bible stories
+A constant stream of firm exegesis yielding sometimes surprising insights
+Applicable immediately to teaching settings

The Bad

-Would have been nice to have more focus on teaching Bible stories to adults as well
-Some of the “mistakes to avoid” do not seem like mistakes after all

Conclusion

John Walton and Kim Walton have done a great service with The Bible Story Handbook. I would recommend it for the shelf of the pastor, teacher, and laity. Anyone can benefit from reading the book, whether they are just learning the Bible or coming back to stories that have grown familiar with time. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: Crossway provided me with a copy of the book for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever, nor did they request changes or edit this review in any way. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

John Walton and Kim Walton, The Bible Story Handbook (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Awesome Person of the Bible: Michael

There are few persons (using the word “person” here in the broad sense as opposed to meaning simply “humans”) in the Bible more awesome than Michael the Archangel. He only shows up a few times, but those times in which he does appear, he is one bad (read: good) dude. Seriously, check out the three major places he shows up:

1) Daniel 12:1: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.”

You read that right. The archangel Michael is the prince of God’s chosen people. And by prince, we don’t mean that sissy version of a prince who’s always running around wishing he wasn’t king or being stupid. We mean he’s the ruler, protector, and guide of Israel. He protects them until God’s chosen people are delivered, according to God’s plan.

I know, “So what? There are a bunch of princes out there. Big deal.” Fine, but what about:

2) Jude 1:9: “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him [the devil] for slander but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!'”

Oh yeah, that’s right. The archangel Michael fought with SATAN over Moses’ body. Not only that, but he won the fight. How did he win? By invoking the name of the Lord, YHWH. You may be saying “Wow, that’s not a very big deal. I could probably do that.” Think so? How about:

3) Revelation 12:7-9: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

Uh huh. Try that one on for size. First off, Michael’s an archangel. That, on its own, makes you awesome. But Michael isn’t just some rank-and-file archangel, he is an archangel out to kick some massive tail. Michael is just chilling out in heaven one day, picking his teeth with a toothpick made of demon’s bone, when suddenly war breaks out between God and Satan. I don’t know about you, but I’d be running the opposite direction. What does Michael do? He gets his gang of burly warrior-angels and fights Satan and the demons. And notice what the text tells us about Michael: “[Satan] was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.” Yup, Michael is more powerful than Satan himself. He comes along and literally hurls Satan out of heaven and down to the earth. I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty awesome.

Archangel Michael, you are a certified “Awesome Person of the Bible.”

SDG

———

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Devotion for an Apologist/Philosopher: Ecclesiastes

There are so many verses, chapters, and books in the Bible which resonate with me as a Christian philosopher/apologist. Ecclesiastes ranks near the top, however, due to its wonderfully philosophical message and style. The underlying theme of Ecclesiastes is that without God, everything is meaningless.

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
says the Teacher.
‘Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.’… What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:2, 9).

The book starts with the idea that there is “nothing new under the sun.” The theme of “under the sun” is important to note. Consistently, “under the sun” is used to refer to “on earth.” It is in stark contrast to the “permanence of heaven” (TLSB). The theme contrasting life here on earth with heaven does not become apparent until very late in the book, so we too shall leave it until the end.

Solomon continues to explore the idea that that which we do “under the sun” is utterly meaningless. “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (1:18). The more we know, the more we sorrow. We can see themes like this in atheists like Albert Camus or Sartre, whose exploration of a world without God lead them to question whether suicide may be the only valid option.

“For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity [also translated “meaningless”]. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (3:19-20). The Teacher/Preacher goes on to contemplate our end: “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? …Who can bring [man] to see what will be after him?” (3:21, 22b). It is death itself which makes life meaningless. Who knows what happens after death? Everything “appears utterly futile” (Waltke).

However, the Preacher/Teacher does not want us to collapse into despair. Without God, under the sun, all is meaningless. But with God, there is hope, joy, and meaning. This theme is sown in chapter 5 (verses 2-3; 7; and 19-20). Yet before fully developing this theme, Solomon returns to a life (and death) under the sun.

The existential life under the sun is absurd. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun” (9:5-6). Again the theme is “under the sun”. Without God, the life under the sun is meaning. We die, we pass away forever, we know not what comes after death, and even our actions pass away from under the sun. We no longer have a “share” in what is done under the sun.

The theme repeats throughout the book. “Under the sun”, all is meaningless, there is nothing new, and life itself passes away. Even a constant search for pleasure can only be meaningless.

Yet the conclusion to Ecclesiastes radically re-imagines the book. Solomon’s point so far has been that “you cannot make sense of life” (Waltke). Life under the sun is meaningless, futile, and vain. Existentially, the more we know, the more despair we can find. The more we explore life “under the sun,” the more we realize that it will be extinguished, and our actions will no longer impact that life.

The story does not end there, however. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). The final verses of the book turn the meaning of the entire work about. The Preacher/Teacher comes to the conclusion: without God, all is meaningless; with God, there is good and evil, there is judgment, and there is duty. Rather than striving for nothing, we should strive for God. Rather than despair and futility; there is duty and good. Without God, life is meaningless; with God, there is meaning.

Sources:

Bruce Waltke, “Understanding the Old Testament.” Institute of Theological Studies. 2009.

The Lutheran Study Bible. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009).

The picture is from The Lutheran Study Bible.

———

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Devotion for a Philosopher/Apologist: Job and Natural Theology

One thing I’ve noted throughout my involvement in apologetics and philosophy is a constant need and desire for good devotions. I’ve written some guidelines for how to go about a devotional life here, but I’ve noticed that many readers are coming to my site looking for actual devotions themselves. Thus, I’ve decided to start this series of devotions for the Christian Philosopher or Apologist.

Job and Natural Theology

Recommended reading: The book of Job, a chapter or book on natural theology

Often, I find myself struggling, as I am so enmeshed in abstract concepts of God and philosophy, to maintain that personal connection with my Lord. Nowhere do I find a better place to reignite this personal connection than the book of Job. It appeals to me on a number of levels–it has verses which demonstrate the greatness of faith, the horrors of evil, and the greatness and existence of God.

As Christian philosophers/apologists, we can smile and nod along with such passages as Job 12:7-10″

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

We can note how often we echo these very words, pointing to such things as the teleological argument or arguments from design. Scripture preaches what we teach! We are told here that creation itself witnesses the Creator! But these aren’t the only verses in Job which help affirm the tasks to which we have set ourselves, for we are told in Job about the attributes of God (He is unchangeable 23:13, almighty chapters 25-26, majestic 37:1ff, omnibenevolent 34:10 [though note that we must be careful to assertain doctrinal truths from Job’s friends, who are often mistaken about the works of God], and sovereign 1:21) we are informed that religious experience can convey knowledge (4:12, but again note that this is a friend of Job’s, so be careful with interpretation), and we discover that there will be a physical resurrection (19:25).

Already, we have experienced many of the parts of Job which speak directly to us as apologists and philosophers. But there is so much more here! We are to focus upon faith. As I said before, I often lose sight of my personal relationship with God in the midst of the abstract arguments, but Job (the book) calls us towards such a strong relationship with God.

Job 5:8-27 can give us great comfort. It is God to whom we commit our cause (5:8). God does great and unsearchable things, providing for our every need (5:9-16). Furthermore, we are comforted in times of trouble. God may allow us to be wounded, but he binds us, we may be shattered, but God heals us (5:18).

Finally, within Job we have a stirring account from God. Another struggle I can find myself involved in is an inflated view of my knowledge. Job struggled with this same issue, as he complained to God about his sufferings. God’s response is not to explain suffering, but to reassert His greatness and unlimited knowledge (see the dialogue in chapters 38 and following). We are then shown what our proper response is to God’s great majesty, Job 42:1-6:

Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? ‘Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job understands how our lives should reflect our commitment to God. We too often utter what we do not understand, when we encounter God, we realize that compared to His great glory, we can only repent of inability to always be perfect ambassadors of Christ. Yet, along with Job, we know that our redeemer lives (Job 19:25). What a great blessing it is to know that we will walk with him, in the flesh, upon the earth!

God’s grace and peace to you, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. I hope this devotion will be helpful in your studies. I’d appreciate any feedback you can give me to help improve any future devotions I may share.

The image in this post was a (very unprofessional) photograph by me of the Lutheran Study Bible and the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,563 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason