Friday, August 5, 2011

Lot: A Slow Boiled Frog (Genesis 13:12)

Where did Abraham’s nephew, Lot, move after separating from his uncle? To Sodom.

When Abraham (then Abram) journeyed to the land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1), he took his late brother Haran’s son, Lot, along (Genesis 12:4). Both prospered and eventually the land was not big enough for the both of them (Genesis 13:6). Their hired hands began feuding (Genesis 13:7) and Abraham decided to resolve the conflict by dividing the land and allowing Lot to choose his portion (Genesis 13:8-9). Lot saw the fertility of the land to the east in the Jordan valley and selected it (Genesis 13:10-11). It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Each time Lot’s location is reported thereafter, his contiguity to the city gates of Sodom is closer. Lot begins in the vicinity of Sodom (Genesis 13:12), becomes a resident (Genesis 14:12) and eventually is seen sitting at the gate, a place of prominence (Genesis 19:1). From the outset, Sodom’s citizens are appraised as “exceedingly wicked” (Genesis 13:13 NASB) and Lot slowly became one of them.

How did you choose where you live? Were there any moral considerations?

It is said that if a frog were to be put into a cauldron of boiling water, it would instinctively leap to escape danger. Conversely, if placed in a pleasant kettle and gradually boiled, frogs would not relocate as their survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes. The analogy of a slow boiling frog has become a widespread anecdote used to illustrate the need for awareness of slowly changing trends as well as the obvious sweeping changes.

The metaphor is based on study conducted by A. Heinzmann in 1872 which encompassed examining 27 frogs. Heinzmann planned to heat decapitated and brain damaged frogs with only one of their legs in the water. He progressed to an arrangement where the frog was seated on a cork floating in a cylinder of water. Heinzmann then elevated the temperature of the frog’s habitat from 21° (Celsius) to 37.5° over the course of 90 minutes. Eventually, Heinzmann advanced to working with undamaged frogs. In his twelfth trial, a healthy frog was boiled from 23° to 39° without any movement though the amphibian could have freely escaped throughout the experiment if it so chose. Heinzmann successfully replicated the results in two of his next three trials. He then reproduced the experiment with freezing temperatures. (Heinzmann [1872], “Ueber die Wirkung Sehr Allmäliger Aenderungen Thermischer Reize auf die Empfindungsnerven”, Archiv fur die Gesammte Physiologie, Bd. VI, 222-236)

Though Heinzmann’s findings were corroborated by C. Fratscher in 1875, today, modern scientists refute Heinzmann’s findings. Whether true or not, the analogy of the slow boiled frog conveys truth as evidenced by Lot’s story. Lot was “righteous” (II Peter 2:7) and yet his association with Sodom ruined his life. Through his residing in the doomed city, his wife died (Genesis 19:26) and when he is last seen in the Biblical text, he is involved in a drunken, incestuous relationship with his own daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). “Righteous” Lot’s downfall began by moving closer and closer to the “exceedingly wicked”.

Are you in danger of becoming a slow boiled frog in any aspect of your life?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Job’s Fairy Tale Ending (Job 42:14)

How many daughters did Job have? Six [3 before his testing and 3 after his testing] (Job 1 and 42)]

Job had the ideal life. He was “was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil (Job 1:1, NASB).” Job had an abundant family with seven sons and three daughters, the ancient Hebrew equivalent of 2.4 kids (Job 1:2). Job was also rich. The Bible goes to great lengths to enumerate his possessions (Job 1:3). Then the calamity for which he is known occurred and he lost all of his holdings (Job 1:14-17) and children (Job 1:18-19). After his redeemer came, Job’s story concludes with a fairy tale ending in which Job and his family live happily ever after. An inventory of his resources after his restoration shows that his assets have doubled since before his trial (Job 42:12). In contrast, though his family is rebuilt, Job has the same number of children at the end of the story as when it began (Job 42:13). The 2:1 rectification ratio does not work when dealing with human life. The implication is that life is irreplaceable.

Job’s story also takes a subtle yet radical turn after his renewal as his daughters, not his sons, move to the forefront. Before the crisis, Job’s sons represent the vanguard. They held feasts on their birthdays and invited their sisters (Job 1:4). After the crisis, uncharacteristically, the focus is on the women, not the men, of Job’s family. Job’s seven sons remain unnamed and no comment is made about them (Job 42:13) while his three daughters are all named and extolled (Job 42:14-15). In fact, of his 20 children, Job’s last three daughters are the only ones named in the Biblical text. Their names were Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch (Job 42:14).

He named the first Jemimah, and the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. (Job 42:14 NASB)
The text not only names Job’s daughters but also discusses them. Fitting with Job’s fairy tale ending, his daughters were the fairest women in all the land (Job 42:15). Job also provided his daughters with not just a dowry, which would later transfer to a husband, but an inheritance, an income that belonged to them alone (Job 42:15). This allowed Job’s daughters self sufficiency which was highly irregular in a time period when women and men were not treated equally (Numbers 27:1-8). As such, Job’s daughters have become associated with female equality.

Why are Job’s second set of daughters named? What about his trials would change Job’s relationship to his daughters? What prompted their inheritance?

Norman C. Habel (b. 1932) speculates that Job’s providing his daughters with an inheritance is indicative of his character. He writes, “By giving his daughters an inheritance with their brothers Job demonstrates that he continued a policy of justice and equity in his life which went beyond the normal practice of the ancient world (Job 31). In Israel, for example, a daughter would only inherit the property of her father if there was no male heir (Numbers 27:1-8).” (Habel, The Book of Job: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 585)

Job is deemed “blameless” and “upright” and to be so entails a concern for the poor and oppressed. Job’s actions foreshadow the equality that Paul would preach.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NASB)
That women should receive an equal inheritance is a relatively modern thought. There are still realms where equality is not practiced. When, if ever, should a double standard exist between men and women?
“The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. If it’s educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. But if women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then they're going to fall behind.” - Barack Obama (b. 1961), Ladies’ Home Journal, September 2008

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reservations for Mansions or Rooms?

Complete: “In my Father’s house are many _________________; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? Rooms of mansions (John 14:2).

On the night that he was arrested, Jesus comforted his disciples by assuring them they he was leaving to prepare a place for them (John 14:1-4). He adds that in his father’s house are many “rooms” or “mansions” depending upon the translation (John 14:2). In modern English, this is quite a discrepancy.

What real estate is in question? Which do you prefer? Why?

The more appealing “mansion” originates with the King James Version (KJV) in 1611 and has been adopted by the ASV (1901) and NKJV (1979). John 14:2 marks the only time “mansion” appears in the KJV. This opulent imagery has become prominent from its use in the KJV and countless hymns (“Mansion Over the Hilltop”; “A Mansion in Glory”; “An Empty Mansion”; etc.).

The KJV’s English Bible predecessors do not use the word “mansion”. John Wycliffe’s New Testament (1385) reads “dwelling” and its successors, the Geneva Bible (1560, “dwelling places”) and the Bishops’ Bible (1568,“dwelling places”) follow suit. Most modern translations opt for “dwelling places” (HCSB, NASB, NRSV) or “rooms” (CEV, ESV, NIV, RSV).

These readings fit the context of being located within a house and are also truer to the Greek word used, μονή (moné), which indicates nothing of structure, whether lavish or humble. It means “a staying, abiding, dwelling, abode.” or “to make an (one’s) abode.” This word is used only twice in the New Testament, both times in John 14 (John 14:2, 23). In the latter passage, even the KJV translates the word “abode”. The word is common in extant Greek literature appearing in the Apocrypha, Philo (22 BCE-50 CE), and Josephus (37-100), and always indicates an “abode”. The common verb related to the Greek noun in question, meno, famously employed by Jesus in John 15:4-7, is typically translated “abide”. Neither word suggests luxury.

The KJV was likely influenced by the most famous Latin translation, the Vulgate, which uses the word mansiones, the plural of mansio, in John 14:2. Mansio means “a remaining, stay, sojourn; station, halting place.” In 1611, when the KJV was first published, the English word “mansion” did in fact refer to a dwelling place. The KJV is not incorrect, the language has simply changed through the centuries.

Two modern versions avoid the debate by summarizing what the text means. The New Living Translation (1996) reads that there is “plenty of room” and The Message (1993-2002), Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, claims that there is “more than enough room”. These renditions present the passage’s intent and convey very good news. There will be room at the inn.

Does it matter to you whether you have a room or mansion prepared for you? Is there room for everyone?

For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:10, NASB)

Note: This post is indebted to Doug Kutilek’s article “A ‘Mansion’ over the Hilltop?”.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Isaac & Rebekah: Opposites Attract

Which woman won a rich husband by offering to water a stranger’s camels? Rebekah (Genesis 24:20).

Abraham sent an unnamed servant, presumably Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2), on a mission to acquire a wife for his son, Isaac, with the explicit caveat that the woman not be a Canaanite (Genesis 24:1-9). The servant left with ten camels and when he arrived at his destination prayed that the woman who agreed to give him water would also agree to water the camels as a sign that she was the woman he was to select (Genesis 24:10-14). Before his prayer is even completed ,it was answered as Rebekah appeared and watered the camels (Genesis 24:15-20). Rebekah would return with the servant and marry Isaac (Genesis 24:67). Whether or not Isaac was a prize to be “won” is up to the reader.

When have you prayed for a sign? Have you ever prayed for a very specific sign and received it?

This story is a prominent example of what Robert Alter labels a Biblical “type scene”, a story that recurs in the Biblical text. In the Bible, men often travel to a foreign land to procure a wife at a well. This is not surprising as many people today go to “watering holes” in hopes of attracting the opposite sex. This is the first time the motif appears. Isaac, (Genesis 24:10-20), Jacob (Genesis 29:9-10), and Moses (Exodus 2:16-17) all meet their wives at wells in strange lands. Alter suggests that Saul’s excursion for his father’s camels is an aborted version of this type scene (I Samuel 9:11-12). This paradigm also illuminates the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well (John 4) as like an Old Testament betrothal scene, Jesus, as the divine Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35), encounters a woman (John 4:7) at a well (John 4:6) in an alien land (John 4:5), and discusses her marital status (John 4:16-17).1

In type stories, since the essential plot points are the same, the devil is in the details. The differences are accentuated and therefore significant. In Isaac’s case, Isaac is the only character who does not go to the well himself. Not only is a surrogate sent, but Isaac does not even commission the intermediary. This illustrates Isaac’s character as he is consistently depicted as passive. Isaac is typically the character acted upon, not the one performing the actions.

In contrast, Rebekah is a worker. She offers to go the extra mile and water the stranger’s camels. In just three short verses, 12 verbs are used of Rebekah (Genesis 24:16, 18-20). Some have found great humor in this text, as camels were not domesticated at the time this story occurred. This would mean that Rebekah was running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Whether or not the camels were domesticated, Rebekah works at a frenetic pace. She worked. Isaac did not.

In the case of Isaac and Rebekah, opposites attracted and the match was a good one. When Isaac saw Rebekah, he loved her (Genesis 24:67). This is the first time the word “love” is used in the Bible of a couple.

When discussing marriage, Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate (Matthew 19:6 NASB; Mark 10:9 NASB ).”

If you have one, where did you meet your significant other? Was God involved in the meeting? Are all marriages ordained by God? What experiences have influenced your beliefs on the subject?

1Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative. (New York: Basic Books, 1981) 51-60.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Malchus: Beloved Enemy

What was the name of the servant who had his ear cut off at the time of Jesus’ betrayal? Malchus.

All four gospels record that when Jesus was seized, one of his disciples impulsively lopped off the ear of one of the arresting party (Matthew 26:51-52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-51; John 18:10-11). Only in John’s gospel are the disciple (Peter) and the victim (Malchus) named (John 18:10). Some have suggested that John is able to name names because the involved parties were dead at the time of publication and no longer in danger of retribution. John’s account emphasizes Malchus’ name by deliberately adding the clause “and the slave’s name was Malchus” (John 18:10, NASB). Malchus is one of only two people healed by Jesus (not counting the resurrected Lazarus) to be named in Scripture (Mark 10:46; John 18:10).

Peter faced a crisis when Judas identified Jesus for arrest in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:49; Mark 14:45; Luke 22:7-48; John 18:1-5). Not thinking that Jesus’ story should take this turn, the impetuous disciple assumed that somebody had to do something. When faced with fight-or-flight response, Peter drew his sword to fight (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-50; John 18:10). His blow severed Malchus’ ear. Luke and John specify that the right ear was lost (Luke 22:50; John 18:10), a fact that may indicate that Peter was left-handed as facing one another, Malchus’ right ear would be on the side of Peter’s left hand. Peter may have simply been an inept swordsman. Either way, Peter missed his target as he almost certainly was not trying to amputate an ear but rather to behead an enemy. In his mind, this was not a criminal act of murder, but a military act of war.

Malchus was a natural target. He was the symbol of authority, the servant of the priest orchestrating the arrest (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50; John 18:10). The grammar implies Malchus was the representative from the high priest in this scenario. Malchus means “counselor” or “king”. Ironically, he may have severed as the high priest’s eyes and ears during the arrest.

Have you ever acted impulsively because you thought somebody ought to do something? What would you have done if you were Peter? If you made the choice to attack, who would you have targeted? Why did Peter attack Malchus instead of Judas?

Peter’s assault of Malchus would likely have a started melee had Jesus not intervened because the culture advocated reciprocal justice, “an eye for an eye”, an ear for an ear (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38). Jesus makes it clear that though Peter is a fighter, Jesus is a lover. Jesus restores Malchus’ ear (Luke 22:51) and rebukes his advocate (Matthew 26:52; Luke 22:51; John18:11). Interestingly, only Luke notes that the ear was healed (Luke 22:51). Jesus hits the undo button and nullifies the harm that his charge had done. Mending Malchus would be Jesus’ last recorded miracle during his earthly life. In healing Malchus, Jesus saved Malchus from maiming and Peter from retribution.

Peter’s sword gave Jesus the opportunity to perform one last act of love as a savior to the world that would murder him. Jesus’ healing of Malchus in the midst of being arrested radically demonstrated his teaching to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35). It also knocked down the disciples’ last bastion of building an empire by force. Jesus never used violence. Unfortunately, there is occasionally a disconnect between Jesus and his followers and Christians have been known to utilize brute force.

Does Jesus ever need defending by violence? If so, when? When have Christ’s followers hurt you? How much of Christ’s work in the world is undoing the harm his followers have caused? How many Malchus’ ears caused by bold Peters has Christ not healed?

Malchus might have served as Jesus’ escort to the high priest. As the servant of one high priest and the patient of another (Hebrews 2:17, 3:1, 4:14, 15, 5:10, 6:20, 8:1, 9:11), Malchus was left to choose which high priest he would serve. The Bible leaves his decision open ended though the fact that his name lives on may be some indication of his choice.