Friday, June 24, 2011

Israel's Marching Orders

How many days did the Israelites march around Jericho? Seven (Joshua 6:15).

The Israelites’ first battle in their conquest of the Promised Land famously came at Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27). Jericho presented the unique problem of being defended by casement walls, a system by which an inner and outer wall running together protected the city.

Foregoing the traditional methods of capturing walled cities that would incorporate scaling ladders and battering rams, God provided the Israelites with a unique strategy. He gave them very explicit instructions to march around the city silently for six days and on the seventh day to circle the town seven times, shout loudly, and await for the walls to fall (Joshua 6:2-5).

This command seems to not only have no logical rationale but drawbacks as it eliminates the element of surprise and could fatigue the soldiers. This tactic has never been utilized before or since.

Have you ever felt God asking you to do something that would appear foolish? Did you do it? What does this say of your faith?

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. (Hebrews 11:30, NASB)

Did the marching serve any strategic function?

In Battles of the Bible, Chaim Herzog (1918-1997) & Mordechai Gichon (b. 1922) theorize that the marching would be seen as a religious progression and after lulling the enemy into a false sense of security for six days, the breaking of the pattern would be shocking on the seventh (p. 48). It would be like a baseball pitcher throwing many pitches in one location and disorienting the batter by changing that spot. There is a later example of this tactic in Julius Sextus Frontinus (40-103)’s Stratagems (I.IV.8) suggesting its use in antiquity.

Military historian Richard A. Gabriel developed his own theory on the marching by reading between the Biblical lines (The Military History of Ancient Israel, p. 131). Gabriel postulates that the army’s protest marches created a diversion allowing special ops forces to enter the city through Rahab’s scarlet cord (Joshua 2:18, 21). He notes that while the Bible says the function of the cord was to indicate which family to spare in the extermination, there would be no need for the cord on the outside of the city as the battle would be fought inside. Instead, Gabriel argues that it signaled the entrance point to the city. After six days of infiltration, a strong contingent would be inside the gates and at the sound of the trumpet could overtake the city from within and open the gates. Gabriel interprets the walls tumbling down as a metaphor for the city’s defenses depleting. While Gabriel plays fast and loose with the Biblical text, he does provide a military reason for the Israelites’ marching orders.

Did the marching serve any function or was it merely a way for God to test the faith of God’s people? Do God’s mandates have a practical function or are they arbitrary?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jacob: The Chase Is On

Who was the man whose brother held onto his heel? Esau.

When we first see the patriarch Jacob in the Bible, he is grabbing his twin brother Esau’s heel (Genesis 25:26). What makes this anecdote highly abnormal is that this grasping is done whilst emerging from the birth canal. Is there any wonder his mother, Rebekah, was uncomfortable during her pregnancy (Genesis 25:22)?

In addition to demonstrating highly advanced motor skills (babies typically cannot pick up objects until four months and then only larger objects), the story is emblematic of Jacob’s character. In fact, he was named from this event as Jacob literally means “heel holder” and came to mean “supplanter”.

Some branches of psychology assert that what one knows of their own birth can have an impact on their own life. What do you know of your own birth? Has it had any impact on you?

Jacob would spend a great deal of his life chasing his older brother’s birthright and blessing. This had been prophesied as God had informed Rebekah before the twins were born that the older would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23).

If God had wished for Jacob to claim the birthright and blessing, why was he not born first in the first place?

The prophecy would be fulfilled and Jacob would eventually supplant his older brother using opportunistic and deceitful tactics (Genesis 25:29-34, 27:1-41). His name would eventually be changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28, 35:10) and this name would become the name of his descendants’ nation. In a role reversal, Jacob would spend much of his adult life on the lamb fleeing from the perceived pursuit of his vengeful older brother, Esau (Genesis 27:41-45).

Jacob’s pursuit of Esau was not triggered because he despised him but because he wanted what Esau had. It was not personal. It was business. Have you ever objectified someone and treated them as a means to an end?

“Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.” - Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jesus: A to Z?

Which book describes Jesus as the Alpha and the Omega? Revelation.

The expression “Alpha and Omega” fittingly appears at both the beginning and end of the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:13). At the beginning of the book, God uses the self designation (Revelation 1:8) and at the end of the book, it is Jesus using the epithet (Revelation 22:13). Based on these passages, an Alpha and Omega in juxtaposition are commonly used as a Christian symbol.

Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet respectively. The English equivalent would be that Jesus is the A and the Z. God and Jesus are at the beginning and end of all things. Bill Cosby once quipped, “My father established our relationship when I was seven years old. He looked at me and said, ‘You know, I brought you into this world, I’ll take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, I’ll make another one look just like you.’” Like Cosby’s father, God was there at the beginning and will be there at the end.

What of the letters in between? Is God as active at point M as at A and Z?

The real implication is that God is eternal. God’s everlasting nature is cited at the beginning and end of the most apocalyptic book of the Bible. When Jesus speaks of the apocalypse in the “Little Apocalypse” of Mark 13, he notes, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away (Mark 13:31, NASB; also Matthew 24:35, Luke 21:33).” When dealing with the apocalypse, Jesus too stresses his interminable nature.

Why when discussing the end of all things does the Bible emphasize the eternal nature of God? Does this give you hope? Why? Why not?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing Through Silvanus

Who was Peter’s secretary? Silvanus (I Peter 5:12)

Many have concluded that Silvanus served as Peter’s secretary during the composition of I Peter. Silvanus is thought to be interchangeable with Paul’s companion Silas as Paul’s letters refer to a Silvanus (II Corinthians 1:19; I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:1) and Silas and Silvanus are the Greek and Latin forms of same name respectively. In fact, some translations (MSG, NIV, NLT) of I Peter 5:12 simply forego the name Silas in favor of Silvanus.

Secretary may not an entirely accurate job title in this case. The text reads “through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly...” (I Peter 5:12, NASB). Many scholars have concluded that writing “through” Silvanus signifies that he was the served as courier as Silas had done previously (Acts 15:23). Some argue that given the vast regions to which the epistle was addressed (I Peter 1:1), this interpretation is improbable.

It is equally likely that Silvanus served as Peter’s scribe, known as an amanuensis. Paul also incorporated an amanuensis (Romans 16:22). A modern equivalent might be the stenographer. Supporters of this view argue that Silvanus, as amanuensis, likely had great influence on the structure and configuration of the writing as Peter presumably had very little education as a fisherman (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11).

How much leeway did an amanuensis have? How much of himself did he pour into the manuscript? Does it matter who performed the actual penning of the Biblical letters? Why? Why not?

Writing “through” Silvanus is ambiguous. Perhaps it should be. The process by which the Holy Writ was written is mystery. The real issue is not who formulated the documents but rather who inspired them.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” - II Timothy 3:16, NASB)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reuben's Redemption

What was the name of Jacob’s first son? Reuben

Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob’s twelve sons (Genesis 29:32, 35:23; Exodus 6:14; Numbers 1:20, I Chronicles 5:1). These brothers are the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. (Israel and Jacob are synonymous - Genesis 32:28, 35:10.)

After conducting a long-term study Kevin Leman, author of Firstborn Advantage, The: Making Your Birth Order Work for You, identified the following firstborn characteristics: reliability, perfectionism, a propensity for list making and dichotomous thinking, some social introversion and strong leadership skills. Over half of United States presidents were firstborns (23 of 43). Does Reuben exhibit any qualities of a firstborn son (Genesis 30:14, 35:22, 37:20-30, 42:21-38)?

Despite being eldest, Reuben lost his birthright (Genesis 49:4; I Chronicles 5:1) due to having relations with his father’s concubine, Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). When we next see Reuben, he is interceding to stop his brothers from murdering their younger brother, Joseph (Genesis 37:21-22). Why is Reuben, the brother who has committed the heinous sin, the one of the ten who does not go for the kill?

Perhaps it is precisely because he knew what it was to commit a horrific transgression that Reuben interceded to stop his brothers from following suit. Reuben was a man in need of redemption.

Unfortunately, the scandal was never forgiven. On his death bed, Jacob doled out blessings to his twelve sons and limited Reuben’s portion citing the indiscretion with Bilhah (Genesis 49:2-4). Reuben’s redemption never came.

Reuben’s story personifies the need for a redeemer. Redemption is the theme that runs through the Bible and the thirst that Jesus quenches.

“At the heart of Christianity there is a mystery, but it is not the mystery of intellectual appreciation; it, the mystery of redemption.” - William Barclay (1907-1978)