Friday, June 10, 2011

Paul and Barnabas: Mistaken Identity

In which city did Paul and Barnabas receive oxen and flowers? Lystra (Acts 14:13)

When in Lystra, in modern day Turkey, missionaries Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus respectively. The priests responded by bringing oxen (the Greek tauros could also be translated “bull” as evidenced by the CEV, NIV and the NLT) and wreaths in hopes of offering a sacrifice for the people. (Acts 14:8-20)

Paul and Barnabas refused the irregular gifts and corrected their theology. Besides, what would they have done with the oxen?

The fact that the people responded as they did is perhaps not surprising. In his legendary epic, Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE-18 CE) relays a fable of a previous visit by Zeus and Hermes to the Phrygian region (also in modern day Turkey). The deities came in human form disguised as peasants and no one in the region demonstrated hospitality except the poor elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon. The duo were rewarded by being spared when the gods flooded the valley and destroyed its inhabitants. (Metamorphoses VIII. 616-724). The people of Lystra naturally wished to avoid the same fate.

While the people were misguided, they did look the in breaking of the divine in their daily lives. How do you recognize when God is involved in your life?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jubilee and God’s Impractical Economy

What is the 50th year called in the Old Testament? Jubilee.

Jubilee appears in the 25th and 27th chapters of Leviticus as part of regulations dubbed the “Holiness Code” by scholars. The mandates concerning Jubilee focus on the compulsory returning of land and property (including humans) to their original owners in somewhat of a national do-over.

The name “Jubilee” comes from the Latin version (jubilaeus) of the Hebrew word yowbel which literally means “ram”. A blow on the shofar (made from ram’s horn) announced Jubilee (Leviticus 25:9).

Jubilee does not appear to have made it past the rules phase. Outside of Leviticus, the only Biblical reference to Jubilee is in Numbers 36:4. There are no Biblical stories set during Jubilee and there is no record of it being enforced. What other Biblical concepts have gone unimplemented? Why did this, of all laws, remain neglected apparently even during the era in which it was written?

Jubilee would obviously greatly benefit the poor. It might also allow for new leaders to emerge and prevent old leaders from using their power primarily to maintain it, thus benefitting the entire society. How else would a Jubilee benefit the whole society and not just the poor? Would it have any benefits for those holding property?

Jubilee is a reminder that “The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.” (Leviticus 25:23, NASB)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Saul: Blinded By The Light

What was the immediate result of Saul’s meeting Jesus on the Damascus Road? He was blind.

Saul’s famous encounter on the Damascus Road left him blind for three days (Acts 9:7-9). While God (particularly in the Messianic age) is often characterized as opening blind eyes, the only other instances of a divine agent causing blindness are to the men of Sodom (Genesis 19:11) and an Aramean army surrounding the prophet Elisha (II Kings 6:18). In each instance, the blindness was temporary.

Why did God use blindness to reach Saul? Of the five senses, blindness would be the one loss that would be most jolting and halt his movements. He could have persisted in his journey with the loss of hearing, speech, touch, or taste. Blindness made him stop in his tracks.

At estimates as high as 80%, the eye accounts for by far the greatest percentage of our sensory intake. In eliminating the majority of stimuli, blindness may have made him hear God more clearly. Is this why many close their eyes during prayer?

Blindness also rendered Saul more helpless than if he had lost any of his other senses.

Blindness had religious ramifications, disqualifying Saul from much of Jewish worship (Leviticus 21:18, 22:22; Deuteronomy 15:21). The proverbial punishment fit the crime as Paul’s physical malady mirrored his spiritual condition.

What was the primary point of Saul’s blindness? To render him helpless? To stop him in his tracks? To accentuate his spiritual condition? Other reasons?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Elijah and Speaking Louder Longer

How many books did Elijah write? None.

Elijah is in many ways the quintessential Old Testament prophet. And yet he wrote nothing and his prophecies have seldom been interpreted as prognosticating Israel’s long-term future. He intervened in the life of the people, performed miracles, and spoke to their present situation. Elijah is evidence that, contrary to popular belief, a prophet is a forthteller, not necessarily a foreteller.

Still, Isaiah, at 66 chapters the longest of the Old Testament’s prophetic books, is the most mentioned prophet in the New Testament. Isaiah is quoted or referenced 85+ times in the New Testament. While Elijah appears in 29 verses and six books of the New Testament, he is never quoted. Are words more lasting than actions? Jesus famously said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33, NASB)

And yet the people did not anxiously await the return of Isaiah, but rather Elijah (Malachi 4:5, Matthew 17:10, 11, 12, Mark 9:11)

French author Michel de Montaigne, (1532-1592) famously wrote, “Saying is one thing and doing is another.” Which speaks louder longer, actions or words?

Ideally, the Christian will do both.

“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” - attributed to Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Judas the Betrayer

Who was known as the betrayer? Judas.

Judas was known as the betrayer. A comment reminding of his treason is even added to his name in Matthew and Mark’s list of the twelve (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:19). Is the moniker just?

The apocryphal Gospel of Judas purports collusion with Jesus, elevating him to the truest of disciples. Whether taking the apocryphal gospel or the Bible, Judas did not act alone as he was either working with Jesus or Satan. The canonical record is clear that it is the latter (Luke 22:3, John 13:2). Judas’ remorse over the results of his actions supports the fact that Jesus’ death was either not the assumed result of his action or that he was not acting of his own accord.

Based upon Judas’ appearance with the other Jewish radicals at the end of the lists of disciples, there has been speculation that Judas wanted a messianic kingdom, perhaps more than the other disciples as he was the only non-Galileean. Satan tells half-truths more than bold faced lies. If Judas was under the impression that handing over Jesus would usher in the oft mentioned kingdom of God, he would have been correct. If Judas did in fact want a kingdom and it was offered, it would fit Satan’s modus operandi of telling only the attractive portion of the stories.

Did Judas’ betrayal serve any function? It would appear that he only gave away Jesus’ location, a position that Jesus himself noted should not have been hard to discern (Matthew 25:55). Did Judas benefit the scribes in any way?

On a larger scale, for some atonement theories, Satan needed to have some agency in the death of Jesus and Judas does represent Satan’s involvement in the death.

Is it significant that Jesus’ death was an inside job?