Friday, July 1, 2011

Sacred Bread & Profane Men

Whose men ate the Bread of the Presence? David’s (I Samuel 21:6)

While visiting Nob, under the auspices of being on a mission for king Saul, David petitioned Ahimelech the priest for fives loaves of bread for his militia (I Samuel 21:1). Having no “ordinary” bread readily available, the priest consented to give David consecrated bread with the stipulation that the men had remained sexually pure (I Samuel 21:4). The bread in question was the Bread of the Presence (I Samuel 21:6).

The Old Testament’s Holiness Code dictated that the Bread of the Presence (in the KJV “shewbread”) be continuously in the presence of God on a specially dedicated table (Exodus 25:30). In taking this bread, David and Ahimelech violated priestly law.

This text cuts across the core of organized religion as it addresses what happens when the profane infringes upon the sacred. Building on the work of Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) concluded that “all the definitions given up till now of the religious phenomenon have one thing in common: each has its own way of showing that the sacred and the religious life are the opposite of the profane and secular life.”1

What is your response when secular things infringe on items you deem sacred? How do you feel about worship services that incorporate traditionally secular rock music? More concretely, had you been the priest, would you have violated the law to give David the bread?

David receives no admonition for eating the sacred bread and Jesus endorses the decision as well. When questioned by the Pharisees regarding his disciples’ plucking grain on the Sabbath (and as such violating the law), Jesus cites this case as precedent (Matthew 12:3-4; Mark 2:25-26; Luke 6:3-4).

Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) affirmed that whether consciously or subconsciously people are inclined to meet their basic needs first. Could it be that when people are hungry, their hunger takes precedent over religious statutes? Should we meet someone’s physical needs before their spiritual longings?

“I don’t know how your theology works, but if Jesus has a choice between stained glass windows and feeding starving kids in Haiti, I have a feeling he’d choose the starving kids in Haiti.” - Tony Campolo

1Mircea Eliade,Patterns in Comparative Religion. (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1958) 1.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lamenting the Crucifixion

In which book is it prophesied “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”? Psalm (22:1)

At the ninth hour (3 PM) on the day he was crucified, Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34, NASB). To accent this exclamation, Matthew and Mark leave his words in the original Aramaic. Jesus was not merely groaning but also quoting the opening lines of the 22nd Psalm.
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. (Psalm 22:1, NASB)
Psalm 22 has numerous striking parallels to the crucifixion of Jesus. In his “Images of Jesus” class at the University of Tennessee, David Dungan (1936-2008) assigned students the task of drawing as many parallels as possible between the Psalm and the crucifixion.

How many parallels do you see? What do you make of the connection between the psalm and the crucifixion?

Some have speculated that in citing the Psalm’s initial verse, Jesus intended to relay the entire Psalm’s content. Psalm 22 is classified as a psalm of lament and like almost all psalms of that genre, the psalmist begins in gloom and ends in hope.

Do you think Jesus intended to reference the entire Psalm or just its initial verse? Why?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Ordinary Inbreaking of the Holy Spirit

How is the Holy Spirit described at the baptism of Jesus? As descending like a dove.

In the Synoptic gospels (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9:1-11; Luke 3:21-22), the baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry. In each account, the Spirit is present descending upon Jesus like a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). In Luke, “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove (Luke 3:22, NASB).” It is possible that the Spirit came literally in the form of a dove.

While John’s gospel does not explicitly include the story of Jesus’ baptism it does relate John the Baptist testifying to having seen “the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove”(John 1:32, NASB). In fact, only John describes the dove as continuing to abide over Jesus. Based upon the fourth gospel’s account, commentators as early as Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) have associated the dove resting upon Jesus with the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:2 (Against the Heresies 3.17.1).
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2, NASB)
The simile connecting the Spirit and the dove has long perplexed scholars as this comparison is not found in the Old Testament. Why would the spirit manifest itself as a dove? Do doves descend uniquely? What does choosing to be portrayed as a dove say of the Spirit?

For whose benefit did the Spirit appear? In Matthew and Mark, Jesus recognizes the Spirit in this form, while in John’s gospel, John the Baptist perceived it. In Luke no spectators are discussed. Perhaps the Spirit was present and only the spiritually aware recognized it. John and Jesus possessed “eyes to see” (Matthew 13:16; Mark 8:18; Luke 10:23).

At one of the most critical junctures in Scripture, the Spirit shows its approval by appearing discreetly and unimpressively. How many people missed it?

Has God ever broken into your life through something as commonplace as a dove? Have you ever been reassured by something that seemed trivial to others?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Pearly Gates

Of which precious jewel are the gates of the Holy City made? Each gate of a single pearl (Revelation 21:21)

Near the conclusion of the Book of Revelation, the New Jerusalem descends out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:10). Included in the city’s description are twelve gates, three on each of the squared city’s walls, inscribed with the name of one of Israel’s twelve tribes (Revelation 21:12). Each gate was made from a single pearl (Revelation 21:21). In response to this fact, author J. Stephen Lang quipped, “Imagine the size of those oysters.”1

It is from Revelation 21:21 that we get the term “pearly gates”, in use since 1708.

Why were the gates to the New Jerusalem constructed of pearl as opposed to gold, platinum, etc.? Why a material so exorbitant?

Revelation 21 goes into great detail describing the opulence of the Holy City. Pearls are rare in Scripture. They do not appear in the Old Testament and are referenced only eight times in the New Testament (Matthew 7:6, 13:45, 46; I Timothy 2:9; Revelation 14:4, 18:12, 16, 21:21). The city’s description serves as a reminder that the Christian’s eternal home will be lavish. It is a comfort perhaps not felt as much in a wealthy country like the United States as it was to the book’s original audience.

The pervading image of the pearly gates is of Peter guarding the gate to a city in the clouds. As noted, the New Jerusalem rests on earth as opposed to an ethereal locale. Peter’s connection to the gates is presumably due to his having been given the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19). Peter, however, does not appear in Revelation as the gates are defended instead by angels (Revelation 21:12). Do you prefer the popular image or the Biblical account? Why?

Gates were used to fortify a city. At the time of New Jerusalem’s descent, the devil had already been vanquished to the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10). Who are the pearly gates designed to keep out? Are the gates merely aesthetic?

Why is the New Jerusalem a gated community?

1J. Stephen Lang, What the Good Book Didn’t Say: Popular Myths and Misconceptions about the Bible. (New York: Citadel Press, 2003) 185.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Elijah: Troublemaker for God

Which prophet did Ahab call “troubler of Israel”? Elijah (I Kings 18:17)

When Ahab encounters Elijah, the king addresses the prophet as “troubler of Israel” (I Kings 18:17). The only other time this descriptor is used in the Bible it is employed to characterize Achan (I Chronicles 2:7) whose disobedience wronged the entire nation (Joshua 6:18, 7:1, 18-26).

Ahab incorporates a gerund as he uses the verb ‘akar (meaning “to trouble, stir up, disturb, make (someone) taboo”) as a noun. Though many translations render the word as “troubler” (ASV, ESV, NASB, NIV, KJV, NRSV, RSV) this term is not actually in the dictionary. The word “troublemaker” (used by the MSG and NLT) is an accurate translation. Elijah was a troublemaker.

This is a terrible insult and not just due to its severity. Could Ahab not think of anything better? What is your most creative insult?

In the story, Elijah does what prophets do. He confronted the realpolitik (diplomacy based on realism rather than idealistic or religious concerns) of Israel’s kings. Elijah is introduced in the Biblical text by accurately predicting a drought in Israel (I Kings 17:1, James 5:17). The prophet attributed the drought to Israel’s unfaithfulness as Ahab had turned the people’s worship away from God and onto Ba’al (I Kings 18:18). Ahab blamed the messenger (I Kings 18:17).

Have you ever seen someone blame another for a problem they created? Have you? Why do people do this?

At the time of this confrontation, Israel was indeed troubled as the nation had endured three years of drought (I Kings 18:1). Yet it was not Elijah who was the troublemaker of Israel. Elijah courageously corrected Ahab saying, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals (I Kings 18:18, NASB).” Elijah was the troublemaker of Ahab, not Israel. Making trouble for politicians tends to be a primary facet of a prophet’s job description.

Who are today’s prophets, those who righteously confront politicians? Who, if anyone, should you be troubling? Can you handle the backlash of being labeled a “troublemaker”?