Thursday, August 29, 2013

2 Chronicles 2:1-5:14


I'm a snob. At least that's what my friends tell me. And if your friends won't tell you a thing like that, who will?

They say I'm a snob about pens and paper. It is true that I prefer a fountain pen and dislike cheap paper. Does that make me a snob?

They say I'm a coffee snob. I do appreciate a good cup of coffee. I will drink the stuff they serve in church basements, but....

They say I'm a snob about beer and wine. I'm not really. I don't care if you drink beer from a can and wine from a box. I just reserve the right to make fun of you if you do.

And they say that I'm a Bible snob. Okay, I have strong but well-informed opinions about Bible translations and I'm not shy about sharing them. If that constitutes snobbery then I am guilty but unrepentant.

For this Year of Blogging Biblically I've been using the 2011 revision of the New International Version (NIV) as my primary Bible. The NIV was first published in 1978, underwent a minor revision in 1984 and was completely revised in 2011. I think that it was originally produced as a doctrinally driven alternative to the academic Revised Standard Version (RSV). For a time the NIV was the best-selling English translation of the Bible. There is a sizable cadre of Evangelicals who learned their Sunday School memory verses from the NIV. Today the English Standard Version which, I think, was produced to correct the perceived doctrinal flaws of both the RSV and the NIV, has taken a sizable bite out of the NIV's former dominance.

I chose the 2011 NIV for my Year of Blogging Biblically mostly because I hadn't done much reading from it. I regularly refer to other translations as well, especially the New Revised Standard Version.  The NIV is a fairly readable translation, a point in its favor. The Bible snob in me has found something in it to which I take exception. The NIV tends to translate certain difficulties away.

For example, the Hebrew Bible gives the name of the King of Tyre as "Hiram" in  Samuel-Kings (see 1 Kings 5) but in Second Chronicles the same name is rendered "Huram" (see 2 Chronicles 2, which parallels 1 Kings 5). Now, these are simple variants of the same name so the issue is minor.

Again, in the Hebrew Bible the name of the man whose threshing floor David bought is "Araunah" in Second Samuel 24.  In 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Chronicles 3:1 (from today's portion) the same man's name is given as "Ornan." This, too, is a simple variant.

The NIV smooths over all of these differences. It gives the name "Hiram" in both Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. Likewise the name "Araunah." This is obviously no big deal, but I think that it gives a false impression about the actual biblical literature, the writings that underlie our English translations. It makes it appear as if Samuel-Kings and Chronicles are cut from the same cloth, that they represent a single, coherent tradition. The fact is that these works come from different times, address different concerns, and reflect somewhat different traditions.

To the NIV's credit it does footnote the differences that it glosses over. My preference would be to have the actual text reflect the discrepancies and the footnotes indicate that "Ornan" is a variant of "Araunah," "Huram" a variant of "Hiram."

What do you think?

As for the narrative, in the chapters at hand Solomon allies with Huram to obtain more materials for the temple. The temple is built by a workforce impressed from the foreigners living in Israel. The temple's furnishings are made and the ark is brought into the temple. The cloud of YHWH's glory descends on the temple and drives the priests out.

Points to note:

In Solomon's prayer (2 Chronicles 2:4-6) the King says that the temple cannot contain YHWH, an expression of the Chronicler's theology.

The artisan Huram-abi (2 Chronicles 2:13-14) is described as having skills like those of Bezalel and Oholiob who decorated the tabernacle (see Exodus 31 and 35). The temple is a new tabernacle. Worship in the temple is contiguous with worship in the tabernacle.

The Chronicler says that the temple is built on Mt. Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1-2), the mountain where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac in Genesis 22).

And 2 Chronicles 2:18 says that there were 3,300 overseers managing Solomon's workforce. The parallel account in 1 Kings 5:16 says that it was 3,600. The Septuagint, that ancient Greek translation of the Hebrews Scriptures, has the number 3,600 in both places--a correction?

Next: 2 Chronicles 6-8

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1 Chroncles 28:1-2 Chronicles 1:17


The Chronicler doesn't tell us everything. Sometimes he seems to expect us to know the backstory to his narrative. 2 Chronicles 28:4 is an example of this. David says:

"Yet the LORD God of Israel chose me from all my ancestral house to be king over Israel forever; for he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons he took delight in making me king over all Israel."

The story of YHWH choosing David is not narrated in the books of Chronicles. There is an account in 1 Samuel 16 though it only tells how David is chosen from among his siblings, not how the house of Judah was chosen, then Jesse's house. It doesn't seem likely that the Chronicler had that story in mind.

In 2 Chronicles 28 David makes a farewell speech to "all Israel." Essentially he hands the kingdom over to Solomon, whom he refers to as God's "chosen." This description of Solomon is only found in Chronicles.

The description of the temple vessels in this chapter provides continuity from the first (i.e. Solomon's) temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the second temple which was built in the Chronicler's time.

The language used to describe the temple in this section is reminiscent of both the description of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25 and Ezekiel's vision of the temple in Ezekiel 40-48.

In chapter 29 all Israel (the Chronicler loves "all Israel") give gifts to supplement the materials that David has laid aside for the construction of the temple. There are echoes of Exodus 25 and 35 in this passage.

David offers a prayer that compares humankind's mortal limitations with YHWH's eternal sovereignty. The prayer ends with a doxology (vv. 11-12) like the one that was later appended to the Lord's Prayer.

Solomon is anointed king. The text says that this is the second time he was anointed, the first being 1 Chronicles 23:1. A note in the Harper Collins Study Bible suggests that this is an insertion made by a later editor who did not recognize 23:1 as a heading for all that followed.

1 Chronicles ends with a notice that David died and a brief summation of his reign. The Chronicler mentions some of his sources, books attributed to Samuel, Nathan, and Gad. The book of Samuel is probably a form of the books that we have under that name. What are the books attributed to Nathan and Gad? Are the books of Kings among them?

Of course 1 Chronicles doesn't really end. It continues into 2 Chronicles as a single narrative. Just like 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, the books of 1-2 Chronicles were originally one book.

In 2 Chronicles 1 we have an alternative account of Solomon's prayer for wisdom at Gibeon. The differences from the account in 1 Kings 3 are mostly minor. It is interesting to note that in 1 Kings 3:4 Solomon goes to Gibeon alone. Here he takes "all Israel" along and leads them in worship. Solomon prays for wisdom. His request is granted. Perhaps as a result, he accumulates many horses and great wealth.

Next: 2 Chronicles 2-5

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

1 Chronicles 25:1-27:34


In 1 Chronicles 25 David's reorganization of the Levites continues as he assigns the musicians their duties. It's interesting to note that the musicians are considered prophets. They prophesy with their instruments. Whether this represents some kind of spirit-induced improvisation is an open question.

It is also worth noting that musicians, and all of the temple functionaries, are subject to the king. Bringing the ark and building the temple in Jerusalem consolidated the king's power.

In chapter 26 the temple gatekeepers, treasurers, officers, and judges are assigned their duties.

Chapter 27 lists Israel's military divisions, tribal leaders, and civic officials. There is a note concerning another abortive and ill-fated attempt at taking a census. This time the issue is with Joab who proves to be an overzealous census taker. He tries to count those (tribal leaders?) under the age of 20.

This whole census business is fraught with dangers and difficulties.

Next: 1 Chronicles 28-2 Chronicles 1

Monday, August 26, 2013

1 Chronicles 22:1-24:31


This is new. After David's census and the ensuing plague in Samuel-Kings, there is a string of stories about David's dysfunctional family and the struggle for succession to David's throne. We get none of that in 1 Chronicles. Instead, the Chronicler tells us that David, who cannot build YHWH's temple on account of all the blood he has shed, begins to lay in supplies, huge amounts of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and cedar, so that his son Solomon can do the job.In 1 Kings 5 we read that Solomon procured his own supplies.

For all the Chronicler tells us, Solomon's ascendancy to the throne is smooth and uncontested.

David's speech to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 22 is reminiscent of, maybe modeled on, Moses' instructions to Aaron in Deuteronomy 31.

In chapter 23 David, now grown old, reorganizes the Levites. Since the ark is now residing permanently in Jerusalem, the Levites won't have to carry it, or the tabernacle, around anymore.

In chapter 24 David reorganizes the priests.

Next: 1 Chronicles 25-27

Saturday, August 24, 2013

1 Chronicles 18:1-22:1


I've chosen to go one verse over today's allotted portion. It would appear that 1 Chronicles 22:1 better belongs to chapter 21. It's just another awkward chapter division. There are a few of those in the Bible.

Chapters 18-20 tell of David's exploits in war. YHWH hands him victories. Yet it will be because of his warring ways that, according to Chronicles 22:8, David is deemed unfit to build the temple. Nevertheless, the spoils of war David collects will be used to furnish the temple.

Chapter 19 parallels 2 Samuel 10. David sends envoys to King Hanun of  Ammon. The king mistreats the messengers and so begins a war. Ammon hires mercenaries from Aram. David and Israel prevail.

Chapter 20 begins as 2 Samuel 11 did. It is springtime and David does not go to war. In 2 Samuel this signals the beginning of the episode with Bathsheba and Uriah, the lowest point of David's career. Chronicles makes no mention of those events. It mentions only Joab's victory against Rabbah.

In wars with the Philistines, the Israelites kill several giants. In 1 Samuel 17, David is said to have killed the giant Goliath. In 2 Samuel 21 it is Elhanan who killed Goliath. The Chronicler tries to reconcile the discrepancy by saying that Elhanan killed Goliath's brother.

The Chronicler is concerned with David's reputation to be sure. He is also concerned with YHWH's reputation it seems. In chapter 21 David takes an ill-conceived census which angers the Lord. When this story was told in 2 Samuel 24 it was YHWH who incited David to take the census in the first place. According to the Chronicler it was Satan.

YHWH is angry about the census and makes David choose from among three punishments. David believes that he is more likely to find mercy from YHWH than from a human agent and so chooses a three-day long plague. The plague is stopped at the threshing floor of Ornan (2 Samuel used the variant name "Aruanah"). David buys the threshing floor for 600 shekels of gold (1 Chronicles 21:25). This represents a considerable inflation over 2 Samuel's 50 shekels of silver (2 Samuel 24:18). David builds an altar on the site.

And here's the kicker: Ornan's threshing floor is the future site of the temple. 2 Samuel didn't mention that fact. The Chronicler is all about David's dynasty and the temple.

Next: 1 Chronicles 22-24

Friday, August 23, 2013

1 Chronicles 15:1-17:27


History is not the bald recitation of dates and events. The telling of history always involves interpretation. The Chronicler gives an alternative history to that found in 1 Samuel-2 Kings. The Chronicler imparts his (and he was most probably male) spin by judiciously omitting facts (there is no mention of the Bathsheba incident in Chronicles), creating speeches (which I think was a common technique in ancient historiography), and suggesting motives which were not found explicit, perhaps not even implicit, in the Samuel-Kings narratives.

For example, the Chronicler tells us that David's first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem was unsuccessful because it was not carried by the Levites. 2 Samuel 6 makes no mention of the Levites. The Chronicler may have been working with a different recension of 2 Samuel than the one we know from the Masoretic Text.

The Chronicler also notes that David's wife Michal, the daughter of Saul, sees David dancing before the ark and "despises" him. Chronicles doesn't tell any of the back story, however, and the confrontation between David and Michal is not narrated. In 2 Samuel 6 it seems that Michal is upset because David has made a fool of himself. In Chronicles it seems that she hates him for taking her father's throne.

At any rate, the ark is brought to Jerusalem and set up in a tent. This tent is not the Tabernacle which is in Gibeon at this time. Worship  and prayer take place in Jerusalem but sacrifices are offered at Gibeon. This will be the case until Solomon builds the temple.

David provides yummy comestibles to every person in Israel and then appoints liturgical personnel for worship.

In 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 there is a psalm. Just who sings it is an open question. Perhaps David taught it to the appointed singers. The psalm is cobbled together from parts of Psalms 105, 96, and 106. Everyone says "Amen."

Chapter 17 recounts events from 2 Samuel 7. David lives in a house (i.e. domicile). He wants to build a house (i.e. temple) for YHWH. YHWH, through the prophet Nathan, promises to make a house (i.e. dynasty) for David instead. David's son will build YHWH's house. A notable omission from the account in 2 Samuel is YHWH's threat of punishment against David's son in the event of transgression. This is typical of the way the Chronicler sanitizes the story of David and Solomon.

David's prayer (1 Chronicles 17:16-23) is close, but not quite identical, to the prayer is 2 Samuel 7:18-29.

Next: 1 Chronciles 18-21

Thursday, August 22, 2013

1 Chronicles 12:1-14:17


Did I mention that everyone loves David?

1 Chronicles 12 begins with a flashback to David's time at Ziklag. While he is there an army begins to gather around him including, notably, some ambidextrous Benjaminites, members of Saul's own tribe. One Benjaminite soldier, a certain Amasai,whose name occured in chapter 6 before plays the prophet. Inspired by "the spirit" he proclaims loyalty to and peace upon David.

At Hebron, where "all Israel" had gathered to anoint David king, the ranks of his army swell even more. Interestingly, the more remote tribes send far greater numbers of soldiers. David is no mere tribal leader. He rules the entire nation.

Chapter 13 recounts David's first attempt to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Saul, David says, disregarded the ark. Chronicles again emphasizes the unanimous support of Israel's leaders for the undertaking. Details of the story vary from the account in 2 Samuel 6, but hapless Uzzah still dies for touching the ark. For the time being, David leaves the ark in the keeping of Obed-edom the Gittite (i.e. a Philistine ex-pat). The name Obed-edom is elsewhere applied to a gatekeeper and a singer, Levitical temple functionaries. Are these the same person? Obed-edom prospers while the ark is in his keeping.

David prospers, too. His predecessor Saul showed up in 1 Chronicles just long enough to die in an ignoble fashion, along with his sons, and have his head displayed before the idols of the Philistines. All because Saul was not faithful. By way of contrast David acquires wives, sons, daughters, and wealth. The model of faithfulness, David lets YHWH determine his battlefield strategy, defeats the Philistines, captures their idols and burns them in keeping with Deuteronomy 7:5 and 12:3.

In the parallel account found at 2 Samuel 5:21 David and his troops captured the Philistine idols but no mention was made of them being burned. It seemed there that the idols were kept as spoils of war.

Chapter 14 ends with a note that David's fame spreads internationally. YHWH brings the "fear of David" on all lands.

Okay, maybe not everyone loved David. At least those who don't love him fear him.

Next: 1 Chronicles 15-17

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

1 Chronicles 9:1-11:47


1 Chronicles 9 brings it home. It begins with a list of the Judahites who returned from Babylonian exile to resettle Judah and the city of Jerusalem. The text pays particular attention to temple functionaries:  the priests, Levites, and gatekeepers.

Next follows a Genealogy of King Saul repeated, with some variations, from the previous chapter. It introduces Saul whose story is told in Chapter 10.

Actually, very little of Saul's story is told in chapter 10. Basically he dies on a battlefield by his own hand. The same story was told in 1 Samuel 31. The Chronicler is not much interested in Saul. He dies because of his unfaithfulness. He mostly serves as a contrast to David whose (much sanitized) story begins in chapter 11.

David becomes king, captures Jerusalem, and makes Joab his general. YHWH, as we now from our reading of 2 Samuel, loves David.

The list of David's "mighty men" is largely repeated from 2 Samuel 23 though there are some variations. All the chieftains and "all of Israel" love David.

Everybody loves David.

Next: 1 Chronicles 12-14

Monday, August 19, 2013

1 Chronicles 7:1-8:40


I'm back. I have returned from Pittsburgh, from the 2013 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA and I'm ready to resume the year of blogging biblically. If you have been reading along, we are now a little more than 1/3 of the way through this project.

I should care about the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles more than I do. I recognize that genealogy can be fascinating. I don't watch a lot of television but I enjoy the show Who Do You Think You Are? in which celebrities have their ancestry researched. The stories are often compelling.

My wife has been tracing her own genealogy and mine. I like the fact that my family tree includes royalty and war heroes and Mayflower passengers and the founder of a town in Virginia. It is interesting to know what lies in my family's past--to find out where I came from, if you will.

Genealogy is important. It establishes legitimacy and confers identity. That's what these early chapters of 1 Chronicles are about. The books of Chronicles were written for Israelites (well, Judahites) who had returned from exile in Babylon. They wanted answers to questions like "Who are our legitimate rulers?" "Who are the authentic priests?" "Who are the heirs of YHWH's covenant?" and "Who are we?"

I live in modern, individualistic western culture. I know that my ancestry is important to my identity. How much more must ancestry mattered in the collectivistic culture of ancient Israel. In that time and place people were not defined as individuals so much as members of their family, village, clan, tribe, and nation. It is no wonder they were interested in genealogy.

So I should care more about 1 Chronicles 1-9 than I do. It's just that I am much more interested in stories than in lists.

The seventh chapter of 1 Chronicles traces the descendants of Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Asher. Chapter 8 follows the family tree of Israel's first king, Saul, from his ancestor Benjamin through a few generations of Saul's descendants.

Next: 1 Chronicles 9-11

That Communion Memorial


It was a Tuesday morning a couple of years ago. At my weekly pastors' text study two of my colleagues, my friends, got into a heated discussion about whether Baptism should be a prerequisite for admission to the Sacrament of Communion. Until that time I didn't know feelings ran so high on the subject.

The guiding documents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stipulate that Baptism precedes Communion. Those documents were written for a different time in the life of the ELCA. We have since entered into a full Communion agreement with the United Methodist Church, a body that has no requirements for admission to Communion and welcomes anyone who presents themselves to receive the Sacrament.

With these things in mind, and in conversation with others, I wrote a resolution which was presented to the Northern Illinois Synod's annual assembly in June of 2012. The resolution, which was passed, memorialized the ELCA Churchwide Assembly "to institute a process necessary to review and possibly revise the ELCA's guiding documents concerning admission to the Sacrament of Holy Communion."

My resolution was the only memorial sent to the ELCA that had to do with "Theology and Practice." So it was considered on its own. The ELCA Memorials Committee recommended that the Assembly act to "request the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, in consultation with the Office of the Presiding Bishop and the Conference of Bishop, to establish a process to review current documents concerning administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion" and to request a report to the ELCA Church Council next year.

Last week I attended the 2013 Churchwide Assembly as a voting member. When my memorial came up for discussion on Wednesday my synodical bishop leaned over and asked, "Brant, are you going to speak to it?"

I said, "I wasn't planning to."

He said, "I think you should."

So dutifully but reluctantly and with absolutely no preparation, I stood and stammered something about the resolution into the microphone. I'm not sure that I was clear. I'm not even sure that I was coherent. The Committee's recommendations were adopted by the Assembly anyway.

Later in the day, a friend who thought that I was advocating in favor of Communion for the unbaptized (I really wasn't) told me that I was "throwing out nearly 2000 years of Christian tradition." I didn't correct her. Neither did I point out the irony of the accusation coming from a female pastor.

Later still, another friend told me via FaceBook that "Your resolution is getting quite a bit of conversation on ELCA Clergy page." 

 "The point," I answered, "was to start conversation."

He replied "Mission accomplished."

I looked in on the FaceBook conversation. There was strong feeling expressed on both sides of the issue. There was also the usual amount of flaming and sarcasm. 

I'm not ready to say that the mission is, in fact, accomplished (We should all know better than to use that phrase prematurely) but I'm happy that the conversation has begun. I'll be interested in seeing where it leads from here.

For the record, my congregation's bulletin invites those who are "baptized and receive Communion in their own tradition" to come to the table. I'm content with that.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Elizabeth Eaton Elected

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been blessed with good leadership from its inception 25 years ago. I have held its three Presiding Bishops--Herb Chilstrom, H. George Anderson, and Mark Hanson--in high regard. Today, in a historic vote, we elected our first non-Minnesotan, Elizabeth Eaton. 

Oh, Bishop Eaton also happens to be female. 

The ELCA has often upset certain sectors of Christianity, never moreso than in 2009 when our Churchwide Assembly voted to allow congregations to call qualified pastors living in life-long, covenanted, monogamous same-sex relationships. Our commitment to God's grace and Christian freedom, and our respect for the believers' bound conscience don't satisfy everyone. 

I have noted before that some Christians disapprove of women serving in positions of church leadership. I have already seen a snarky tweet from one such group. It is, I suppose, to be expected. 

As a voting member of the Churchwide Assembly I can say honestly that I believe Bishop Eaton was elected because, of the candidates who emerged, she was the one who seemed best, to a majority of the Assembly, to lead the ELCA at this juncture. She seems to be a gifted, faithful, visionary leader who also happens to be female. 

I am pleased to be a part of the ELCA. i am thankful for the ministries of our three previous Presiding Bishops. I pray God's blessings on our Presiding Bishop-elect. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Churchwide Assembly

Tomorrow morning I will board a plane bound for Pittsburgh where I will spend a week serving as a voting member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Churchwide Assembly. I have attended one Churchwide Assembly previously, the 2003 Assembly which was held in Milwaukee. I tell people that it is the Assembly at which we did not discuss human sexuality.

It is a privilege to be elected a voting member. I expect to put in long hours doing the work of the Assembly. I also expect to have a little fun. Worship this year should be extra special as the ELCA is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

I'm looking forward to Thursday evening when I will attend a banquet for ELCA Ecumenical and Interfaith representatives.

2013 is either the last biennial assembly or the first triennial assembly depending, I suppose, on your perspective. At any rate previous assemblies were held every two years. In the future, as a cost saving measure, they will be held every three years.

If you would like to read more about the Assembly, there is a decent article here at I think you'll be able to watch a live webcast of the Assembly here at Who knows? You might even catch a glimpse of me. (Note to self: Do not pick nose!)

I don't know if I'll have much opportunity to update this blog while I'm gone. We shall see.

Always being made new.

1 Chronicles 6:1-81


Chapter divisions were not originally part of the biblical text, you will recall. They were added later. Some of the chapter divisions make better sense than others. The chapter division at Genesis 2, for a negative example, interrupts the flow of the creation narrative begun in chapter 1.  The chapter division at John 14 undermines Jesus' teaching to his disciples. Without the division, John 13:38-14:1 read:

Jesus answered (Peter), "Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  (NRSV)

Do you see the point? Jesus is saying "You're going to deny me. Don't worry about it." But someone put a big old chapter division in the middle of it completely obscuring the point.

On the other hand, the chapter division at 1 Chronicles 6 makes good sense. This lengthy chapter deals with a single subject: the Levites. Here we have genealogical material relating to the tribe of Levi from which the temple functionaries were drawn. Aaron's line serve as high priests. Other Levites had other duties.

The tribe of Levi was not given a territory of its own. They live in cities distributed throughout Israel.

Next: 1 Chronicles 7-8

Friday, August 9, 2013

1 Chronicles 3:1-5:26


The books of Chronicles were written for Judahites who had returned to their homeland from their exile in Babylon. So, after 538 BCE, maybe as late as 400 BCE. Chapter 3 lists the descendants of kings David and Solomon, that is, the dynastic kings of Judah. Athaliah, Judah's one queen, (2 Kings 11) is not included in the list. She was not descended from David. She didn't reign long and wasn't any good, anyway. Some of the monarchs are given different names than the ones recorded in the books of Kings.

1 Chronicles 3:22 poses an interesting problem:

The son of Shecaniah: Shemaiah. And the sons of Shemaiah: Hattush, Igal, Bariah, Neariah, and Shaphat, six.

What's wrong here? There are only five sons named, not six. I've written elsewhere that a doctrine of biblical inerrancy is useless because we don't have any inerrant Bibles. So, there you go.

Chapter 4 lists the descendants of Judah and Simeon. Judah's family tree includes the only reference in the Bible to a certain Jabez. Jabez prayed:

Jabez was honored more than his brothers; and his mother named him Jabez saying, "Because I bore him in pain."Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!" And God granted what he asked. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

Jabez wouldn't be worth mentioning at all except that a book, The Prayer of Jabez, became a bestseller a few years ago. I haven't read it but I understand that it promises blessings to those who say Jabez's prayer every day for 30 days. This seems to me a rather mechanistic view of God. Say the right words, perform the proper actions, get what you want. I don't believe that God works this way. I did, however, like the T-shirt that said:

I prayed the prayer of Jabez for 30 days and all I got was this lousy shirt.

That and the "Left Behind" boxer shorts made me giggle like a schoolgirl.

The name "Jabez" means, or sounds like the Hebrew word for, "pain." I think the Chronicler includes this prayer, not as a model for believers to follow, but as a way to counteract Jabez's unfortunate name.

Chapter 5 deals with the two and a half Israelite tribes that settled in the Transjordan: Reuben, Gad, and 1/2 Manasseh. God punishes their infidelities.

The stained glass window depicted above graphically shows the descendants of Jesse, the father of David. His sons literally grow from a branch sprouting from Jesse's loins. I found the photo at this website.

Scripture quotes in this post are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

Next: 1 Chronicles 6

Thursday, August 8, 2013

1 Chronicles 1:1-2:55


Old Testament scholars refer to the writer or, more precisely, the school of writers, who produced the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and 1-2 Kings as the "Deuteronomist" or "D" for short. The Deuteronomistic writings have certain distinctive theological concerns. They are strongly Yahwistic and focused on the Jerusalem temple. D favors the Davidic dynasty. Idolatry and worship in unauthorized locations are grievous sins. The downfall of Israel and, later, Judah are YHWH's judgment against his errant people.

The "Chronicler," author or authors of 1-2 Chronicles, represents a different school of thought. The books of Chronicles offer an alternative history. The Chronicler is much more interested in "all Israel" while the Deuteronomist focuses on Judah. The Chronicler also sanitizes the story of David, omitting the whole business concerning Uriah the Hittite. I will try to suss out the Chronicler's distinctive theology as we go along.

Personally I think that the first 9 chapters of 1 Chronicles is the dullest part of the entire Bible. It is made up mostly of genealogies. The material in these first two chapters is largely cribbed from Genesis.

A couple of notes:

1 Chronicles 1:1 is the first mention of Adam, the first man, since Genesis 5:5. He will not be mentioned again in the Old Testament. Adam actually features more strongly in the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews didn't put much  emphasis on him at all.

The Chronicler never uses the name Jacob. The progenitor of the 12 tribes is always referred to as "Israel" except in quotes from Psalm 105 in 1 Chronicles 16.

Achar, the troubler of Israel mentioned in 1 Chronicles 2:7, was called "Achan" and "Achor" in Joshua 7. He's the guy who kept some of the spoils of war for himself.

A couple of my study Bibles note that in Hebrew 1-2 Chronicles are called "The Events of the Days."

Next: 1 Chronicles 3-5

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

2 Kings 23:1-25:30


As I wrap up my reading of 2 Kings, it's probably a good time to note that this is also the end of a single, extended narrative in the Hebrew Bible. The story began at creation in the book of Genesis and ran through the period of the Patriarchs when YHWH chose the descendants of Abraham and Sarah to be his special people. Those people wound up in Egypt serving as Pharaoh's slaves until YHWH appointed Moses to lead them out into a land of promise. After 40 years of travel and travail, they entered the land and, under Joshua's leadership, conquered and settled in it. For a time Israel was a loose tribal confederation led by charismatic judges.

The book of Ruth, set in the time of the judges, interrupts the flow of the narrative.

Eventually the people demanded a king such as other nations had. Saul, the first king of Israel, failed to establish a dynasty. David, YWHW's fair haired boy, succeeded him and was followed by his own son, Solomon. After Solomon the kingdom was divided. The Davidic dynasty continued in the southern kingdom, Judah.

Kings of Israel, the northern kingdom, came from several dynasties. None of the northern kings was reckoned any good but Ahab was by far the worst. Ahab was opposed by the prophet Elijah and his protege Elisha. Jehu, anointed by Elisha, was a staunch Yawist, and a violent reformer. Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, its people scattered in exile and never heard from again.

Monarchs of the southern kingdom were, for the most part, not much better than those up north. Two notable exceptions are the reformers Hezekiah and Josiah. Josiah's reforms are the subject of 2 Kings 23.

Before we get there, I want to mention that we'll be moving into 1 Chronicles next. The books of Chronicles repeat much of the material from 1 Samuel-2 Kings though with different, sometime very different, emphases. 1-2 Chronicles also form a single narrative with Ezra-Nehemiah. With the exception of the insertion of Ruth, the Christian canon, to this point, is identical to the Jewish canon of scripture. After 2 Kings, the canons diverge. The Jewish canon goes next to the book of Isaiah. The Jewish canon puts the books of Chronicles in a different section of the Bible altogether. They are, in fact, the last books of the Hebrew Bible and are preceded by Ezra-Nehemiah.

In the past I have read the Hebrew Bible in its Jewish order and found it instructive. It is worthwhile to separate the books of Kings from the books of Chronicles. On the other hand, it is useful to put Ezra-Nehemiah after the Chronicles. Canonical order is, at least in part, theologically driven. The Protestant/Catholic Old Testament ends with the book of Malachi which promises that the prophet Elijah will return. Matthew, the first book of the New Testament describes John the Baptist as wearing clothing like Elijah's (Matthew 3:4).

But back to 2 Kings 23. After hearing the reading of the book of the law, King Josiah deposes the priests of Baal and Asherah. He removes the objects of pagan worship, gets rid of those "consecrated workers" (who may not have been male cultic prostitutes), closes down the high places, et cetera. Not only does Josiah clean up worship in Judah, he moves north and destroys the altar that Jeroboam built at Bethel. This fulfills a suspiciously specific prophecy from 1 Kings 13. Human bones are used to descrate the illegitimate altars, but the bones of the nameless prophet of 1 Kings 13 and his Samaritan friend/antagonist are left undisturbed.

This reformation does not happen bloodlessly. Josiah has the priests of the high places slaughtered on their altars.

Perhaps most significantly, Josiah commands that the Passover be observed, something that has not happened since the time of the Judges.

In spite of Josiah's thoroughgoing Yawhism, the Lord is still angry about Manasseh. Judah's fate is sealed.

Josiah dies in battle against the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco. He is succeeded by Jehoahaz, another evil king. Jehoahaz is captured by Neco. Judah pays tribute to Egypt.

Next up, another evil king, Jehoiakim, takes the throne. Jehoiakim is a vassal to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. YHWH punishes Judah by sending waves of pagan marauders. The Babylonians keep the Egyptians at bay.

King Jehoiachin is no good. During a seige he surrenders to Nebuchadnezzar.Jerusalem falls. The wealthy and powerful, the soldiers and skilled workers, are taken into exile. The Babylonian king puts Jehoiachin's uncle Mattanaiah on the throne, renaming him Zedekiah. Zedekiah rebels disastrously.

Jerusalem is again beseiged. After two years, the city wall is breached. Zedekiah is captured. He is forced to watch his children executed and is then blinded by his Babylonian captors. The temple and all of Jerusalem's important buildings are destroyed. Some of the Judahites go back to Egypt. It's over. YHWH's people gave it a good run, but it's over. For now.

Eventually a remnant will be allowed to return to Judah and build a new temple, but that's getting ahead of the story.

Unlike the Assyrians, the Babylonians settled their exiles in communities and allowed them to preserve their culture and traditions.. During the Babylonian captivity the early Hebrew Scriptures were collected and studied. This may be the time in which rabbinic Judaism got its start.

The books of Kings end with a hopeful note. After 37 years Jehoiachin is released from prison and treated kindly by the new Babylonian king, Evil-merodach.

Next: 1 Chronicles 1-2

Monday, August 5, 2013

2 Kings 20:1-22:20


Good King Hezekiah, having instituted thoroughgoing religious reforms in Judah, and having successfully withstood an Assyrian seige, now falls ill. Informed that his illness is fatal, Hezekiah prays to YHWH. He is granted an additional 15 years of life. (Personally, I don't think I'd care to know the year in which I will die). The prophet Isaiah prescribes a poultice of figs. I wonder if this treatement would have been effective without the prophet's say-so.  Isaiah also gives Hezekiah a sign: the shadow on a sundial retreats ten intervals. The sun stood still for Joshua. For Hezekiah it moves backward.

When Hezekiah is visited by Babylonian officials, he shows off the wealth of his palace. This must have been a mistake. Isaiah warns that Hezekiah's offspring will lose the palace to the Babylonians. Hezekiah takes it as good news, though. At least there will be peace and prosperity in his own time.

As good as Hezekiah was, his son and successor Manasseh is bad. Ahab bad. He undoes all of his father's reforms. He builds altars for Baal and poles for Asherah, consults with mediums, makes his son pass through the fire, and in general does anything at all that will piss YHWH off. So YHWH vows to wipe Jerusalem like a dish and turn it upside down. That's how bad Manasseh is.

2 Chronicles 33 tells the story a little differently. Manasseh is still bad but a brief exile in Babylon improves his attitude and teaches him that YHWH is God, indeed. The Bible is not just one book and doesn't have a single point of view.

After Manasseh's long reign, his son Amon takes the throne briefly. He's no good. His servants kill him. "The people of the land" kill the servants and put Manasseh's 8 year old son, Josiah, on the throne.

When it comes to reforms, Josiah makes Hezekiah look like a slacker. The reforms begins when the priest Hilkiah finds the Book of the Law in the temple. This is probably an early edition of the book of Deuteronomy. Some skeptics suggest that Hilkiah didn't find the book so much as manufacture it. When the book (with its promised blessings and threatened curses) is read to the king, he sends messengers to consult with a prophet named Huldah (a female leader, teacher, and speaker of God's word who instructs men). She prophesies that the curses in the book will come to pass but, in deference to Josiah's piety, they will be delayed a generation.

Next: 2 Kings 23-25

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Bible Wasn't Written to You

I knew a woman who read from the Bible every day. Notice that I didn't say she read the Bible. She read from it. I'm sure she never read the Bible all the way through. I doubt that she ever read an entire book of the Bible unless it was 3 John. She read verses, maybe a paragraph, a story, or a chapter but she didn't read the Bible.

Every day she would open her Bible to a random page, read what was found there, and try to apply it to her life. She used the Bible superstitiously. She used it for divination.  She believed that the Bible was written to her.

One day she read a verse, I think it was from Isaiah, and became convinced that God had promised her many children. Sons. At least three of them. Her biological clock was ticking. So, without informing her husband she quit using birth control. She had a son but was soon after divorced. Within a few years she remarried and had another child, not necessarily in that order. This time it was a daughter. Then the mainspring on her biological clock ran down. Like Sarah, she passed the age of childbearing. Short of a Sarah-like miracle the many sons she believed God promised her will never materialize.

Her story is, to the best of my knowledge, factual. She may be an extreme example, but let hers be a cautionary tale for us all. The Bible was not written for us.

The Old Testament was written for ancient Hebrew speakers. For Israelites, men mostly. For priests serving in the Jerusalem temple. For Judahites in the Babylonian exile, trying to make sense of their experiences.

The New Testament was written for first (and maybe early second) century Christ followers. For people who expected Jesus' immediate return. For Jewish-Christians trying to figure out what the destruction of the temple meant. For believers living under the oppression of the Roman Empire. For Ephesians, and Galatians, and Philippians, and the members of 7 churches in Asia Minor. And others. But not us.

The Bible was not written for 21st century westerners. It most certainly wasn't written to be used superstitiously by pre-menopausal women desperate to have children. You can't just dip into the Bible at random and find God's will for your day. The Bible isn't a horoscope. The Bible isn't a fortune cookie. The Bible wasn't written to you.

This doesn't mean that there is nothing in the Bible for us. We just have to use our heads to get at it.

Context is key to biblical interpretation. A verse must be understood within its chapter. The chapter within its book. The book within the canon. Knowledge of the situations for which the various books of the Bible were originally written increases our understanding. Only when we understand the Scriptures can we begin to apply their message to our own lives.

Friday, August 2, 2013

2 Kings 18:1-19:37


The northern kingdom is gone forever. In Judah Hezekiah, a new king  from David's line, has taken the throne. He is, according to the author(s) of 2 Kings, one of the good guys. One of the best.

Hezekiah trusts YHWH. He does right. He removes the high places. He destroys the nehushtan, the bronze snake that Moses made to save the Israelites from snakebite back in Numbers 21. The Judahites had been worshiping it. Seems like they'd bow down to any graven image. He rebelled, more or less successfully, against the Assyrian overlords and kicked some Philistine butt too.

2 Kings 18:9-12 recount the fall of Israel and the exile of its people. Beginning at verse 13 we have an account of Hezekiah's dealings with the Assyrians. At first he capitulates and pays heavy tribute. It must not have been enough because king Senecharib of Assyria sends his officials (with odd sounding official Assyrian titles: Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh) to parlay with Hezekiah's officials. If I read it correctly, the meeting takes place outside of the city of Jerusalem but within earshot of the city walls. Aramaic was the regional lingua franca but the Assyrians insist on speaking Hebrew so that the Jerusalemites will hear and understand. They bad-mouth YHWH (as if he were just another national god) and threaten to besiege the city.

In chapter 19 we meet, for the first time, the prophet Isaiah. He assures the king's officials that they have nothing to fear from Senecharib. The Rabshakeh, via messenger, starts a second round of negotiations with Hezekiah. That is if threats and insults to one's God can be considered negotiation. Hezekiah prays. Isaiah prophesies. Senecharib will pay for his blasphemies. Jerusalem may eat what grows of itself (i.e. be beseiged?) for two years but in the third year they will cultivate crops again.

That night an angel of the Lord (the same one from Exodus 12?) kills 185,000 Assyrians in their camp. Sennecharib goes back to Assyria. Some years later he is murdered by his own sons while worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch. Apparently YHWH could save Jerusalem, but Nisroch couldn't do a thing for Sennacharib.

The chronology of the events in these chapters is not entirely clear. There are extant Assyrian records that describe Sennacharib's campaign against Jerusalem. Their description of events varies somewhat from what we have here. Apparently the Assyrians claim to have exiled quite a few Jerusalemites. There is no mention of an angel killing 185K Assyrian soldiers.

Next: 2 Kings 20-22

The Oncologist and God

When my father was sick with the esophageal cancer which eventually killed him, he was treated by an oncologist whose waiting room was decorated with Christian symbols. There were crosses on the walls. There a dove figurine on the reception desk. A small stack of Bibles sat on a table in one of the corners.

When the doctor learned that I was a pastor, he engaged me in conversation about matters theological. I quickly realized that he was a premillenial dispensationalist, a theological position with which I take exception. I didn’t want to argue theology with the oncologist who was treating my father, so I mostly listened as he waxed on about the Rapture, an event which he expected to take place very soon.

As we drove home from the appointment my dad asked, “What did you think of the doctor’s religion?”

“He gave me a lot to disagree with,” I said. “What’d you think?”

“It’s nice to meet a doctor,” my father said wryly, “who doesn’t think that he is God.”

My dad could be witty like that. I think he was also making a serious point. My father was more comfortable being treated by a doctor who, for all his scientific knowledge and training, for all his skill and high tech wizardry, recognized that he was still, after all, a fallible human being.

That, for me, is one of the benefits of worship. To put myself deliberately in the presence of God reminds me of my own limitations.

That, I believe, is the great value of preparing for worship with an order of confession. It’s not that we need to wallow in guilt. It’s that we are reminded once more of our humanity and God’s gracious divinity.

That, I think, is one of the most important reasons we pause to pray before a meal. It reminds us that the food on our table is a gift, a gift to be shared with the people around the table and with those in our world who are hungry.

Now don’t take me wrong. I’m still no fan of premillenial dispensationalism. I’ll argue against it until Jesus comes back. But I think my dad had it right. It’s good to meet anyone who doesn’t think that they are God.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

2 Kings15:1-17:41


King Amaziah of Judah has a long reign. He's not bad. He just doesn't crack down on the high places, which the author of 2 Kings finds objectionable. Amaziah has leprosy, a fact which, like everything else in the books of Kings, is attributed to YHWH. The Lord is not only an interventionist God, he's also something of a micromanager according to these books. Because of Amaziah's illness, and I think mostly because it rendered him unclean, his son Jotham takes care of matters in the palace. Jotham will succeed his father as king.

Next we have a rapid succession of kings in the north. Zechariah, the fourth and, as predicted, last generation of Jehu's dynasty is assassinated by Shallum who takes the throne. Shallum reigns for one month before he is killed by Menahem. Menaham sacks Tiphsah and rips open its pregnant women. War is hell.

Manhem reigns for 10 years. When Assyria comes up against him, he pays tribute and avoids destruction. Menahem's son Pekahiah is next on the throne. His reign is a brief two years. He is killed by Pekah who then rules Israel for 20 years. During Pekah's reign Isreal loses significant territory to the Assyrians. Many Israelites are dported. Pekah is overthrown and assassinated by Hoshea who will be Israel's last king. We'll come back to him.

None of these kings of Isreal is assessed positively. All but Shallum are said to have "done evil in the Lord's sight." Shallum probably would have done evil too if he'd held the throne longer. All of them persist in the sins of Jeroboam: unauthorized forms and times of worship.

Chapter 16 puts us back in Judah. There king Ahaz has ascended to the throne after his father Jotham. His kingship is not reviewed favorably. He makes his son "pass through fire," which may be a circumlocution for child sacrifice, or it may mean some kind of trial by ordeal. Whatever it is, it's detestable. Although other Judahite kings did not remove the high places, Ahaz is the first king since Solomon who is said to worship at them. When Pekah of Israel and king Rezin of Aram come up against Ahaz in Jerusalem, Ahaz sends tribute to Assyria and requests help, an action which the prophet Isaiah will roundly condemn when we get to the book that bears his name. Despite prophetic objections, it works. Assyria attacks Aram and kills king Rezin.

When Ahaz travels to Assyria to meet king Tiglath-Pileser, he worships at a pagan altar there. He has a replica of that altar built for the Jerusalem temple. Did he introduce the worship of foreign gods into YHWH's temple? It isn't clear. YHWH's old bronze altar is then used by the king for divination. He makes other alterations to the temple which are somehow for the sake of the Assyrian king. At his death Ahaz is succeeded by his son Hezekiah.

Chapter 17 returns us to the northern kingdom. Hoshea will be the last king of Israel. He is a vassal to Assyria but, when he approaches Egypt to form an alliance, the Assyrians march in, conquer Israel, and carry its people into exile.

Well, not all of them. As a matter of historical fact, to deport an entire population was impracticable. The Assyrians probably carried the rich, the powerful, and the elite into exile leaving the poor and powerless behind. As was their practice, the Assyrians scattered the exiles throughout their empire and resettled other conquered peoples in the land.

Syncretism. Idolatry. Worship in unauthorized places and times. Worship of gods other than YHWH. If you haven't caught on by now, these are the worst imaginable offenses in the books of Kings. Israel was guilty of all these and more. For this reason, we are told, YHWH rejected his people and allowed them to be conquered. Judah was guilty of the same sins but was allowed to run on for a while longer.

Chapter 17 ends with a polemicized, if not legendary, description of the origin of the Samaritans who, in later times, would would be reviled by the Jewish people. It seems that the pagans who were resettled in Israel were being eaten by lions because they didn't know how to honor Israel's God. A priest from among the Israelite exiles is sent back to his homeland to teach them to worship YHWH. He wasn't very successful. The pagans simply added YHWH worship to their own abominable practices. 
So these nations worshiped the LORD, but also served their carved images; to this day their children and their children's children continue to do as their ancestors did. (2 Kings 17:41).
Ancient Israel is no more. It's ten tribes are forever lost.

Next: 2 Kings 18-19