Friday, November 11, 2011

Moses’ Varied Background (Exodus 18:1)

Where was Moses’ father-in-law a priest? Midian (Exodus 18:1)

Moses lived 120 years (Deuteronomy 34:7). His life can be divided neatly into three forty year increments: living in Egypt (Exodus 2:5-10; Acts 7:23), living in Midian (Exodus 2:15-22; Acts 7:30), and wandering in the wilderness whilst leading the Hebrews (Exodus 7:7; Acts 7:36).

Moses began life in Pharaoh’s court, having been adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:5-10). After years, presumably raised as an Egyptian in Egypt’s royal family, he began to feel empathy for his native Hebrews and impetuously murdered an Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:11-14).

Wanted for murder, Moses fled Egypt and spent his exile in relative obscurity in Midian (Exodus 2:15). Midian was one of Abraham’s sons from his second marriage (Genesis 25:2, 4). It was in Midian that Moses’ life was most “normal”. He married the priest’s daughter, Zipporah, and had two children (Exodus 2:21-22, 18:2-4).

Though Moses likely felt his life would end in Midian, at the age of eighty God called him into service and back to Egypt to evacuate his people.

Did Moses’ time in Midian prepare him for his life’s calling of leading the Exodus? How important is having a clear cut nationality? How do you define yourself in terms of ethnicity and nationality? How do you feel Moses would have described his ethnicity and nationality? Would it have varied at different junctures?

At no point in his life did Moses ever live with his own countrymen in a land they owned or even possessed a permanent dwelling. He was perpetually a stranger in a strange land. Moses answering the question of where he was from would likely have resembled modern answers of children born to missionaries and military personnel who have traveled the globe never really having lived amongst their ancestors’ people.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Moses’ own Hebrew culture had not yet developed its ethnicity. In his provocatively titled book Moses the Egyptian, Jan Assmann (b. 1938) writes, “What we would today call their ‘ethnicity’ or ‘cultural identity,’ which would set the Israelites apart from their Egyptian host culture, did not yet exist because the construction of this identity was precisely the function of the Law (Assmanm, 70).” And the Law had yet to be written.

This does not mean that Hebrews did not recognize themselves as being unique. Moses’ biggest criticism from his family came ostensibly because of his wife. While scholars are divided as to whether this wife was Zipporah or a second wife, Moses’ siblings were alarmed in part because he had married a “Cushite” (Numbers 12:1-2). (For my more detailed analysis of this story, read this previous post.) God intervened in the matter and sided with Moses (Numbers 12:4-9).

Whether or not Moses’ wife’s nationality was the real issue, it cannot be denied that Moses married someone whom his siblings designated as “other”. It is perhaps not surprising, that Moses, who never quite seemed to have a home, seemingly had no problems marrying someone so different from himself.

What is your stance on interracial relationships? Why do you believe as you do? How do you think your own heritage has influenced your views on the matter?

“I hope that people will finally come to realize that there is only one 'race' - the human race - and that we are all members of it.” - Margaret Atwood (b. 1939)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Bible’s Longest Verse (Esther 8:9)

What is the longest verse in the Bible? Esther 8:9 (85 words)

Though the Bible had been divided into sections for centuries, the chapters and verses that are in modern Bibles were not separated until the 16th century. Robert Estienne (1503-1559) was the first to print a Bible that was broken into standard numbered verses. His New Testament was first printed in 1551 and a Hebrew Bible followed in 1571.

Of the Bible’s 31,173 verses, Esther 8:9 is the longest in most all English translations. Esther 8:9 reads:

So the king’s scribes were called at that time in the third month (that is, the month Sivan), on the twenty-third day; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded to the Jews, the satraps, the governors and the princes of the provinces which extended from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces, to every province according to its script, and to every people according to their language as well as to the Jews according to their script and their language. (Esther 8:9 NASB)
The verse consists of 43 Hebrew words, making it the longest verse in the Masoretic (Hebrew) Text as well. Significantly longer versions of I Samuel 11 were found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls. Though not canonical, several verses of I Samuel 11 from these sources surpass Esther 8:9 in length.

In English, Esther 8:9 is significantly longer than its original Hebrew, typically spanning between 70-90 words. In the King James Version (KJV) it consists of 90 words as compared to 86 (ASV), 81 (NASB) and 80 (ESV) in other prominent word-for-word translations. In thought-for-translations, the text is cleaned up and reduced further. For instance, Esther 8:9 is comprised of 71 words in the NIV and cut down to 55 in the CEV.

Though you have likely never read a Bible that was not divided into verses, the concept of doing so has always faced some criticism.

Do you like the division of the Bible into verses? Why might it not be a good idea?

Esther 8:9-12 is a reversal of Esther 3:12-15 which features a report of the genocidal edict that Haman issued through the authority of King Ahasuerus. It is a turning point in Esther but is not especially significant to the Bible as a whole. Likewise, Revelation 20:4, the longest verse in the New Testament (68 words in the KJV) is also of no particular note.

As such, the length of a verse is not is not as significant as its depth. There are times where, as Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) advises, “Shorth is better than length.”

What do you feel is the most important verse in the Bible? What verses do you feel have far more depth than length? Do you know of anyone whose depth of life exceeded its length?

“It is not length of life, but depth of life.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Adoniram The Slave Driver (I Kings 4:6)

Who was in charge of the forced (slave) labor under David, Solomon and Rehoboam? Adoniram

Adoniram served in King Solomon’s court (I Kings 4:6; 5:14). Near the close of the reign of Solomon’s predecessor, David (II Samuel 20:24), and at the outset of the reign of his successor, Rehoboam (I Kings 12:18), Adoniram’s office was held by Adoram. Since Adoram seems to be a contraction of Adoniram, it is generally believed that the same person held the office during all the three reigns. As such, Adoniram was a mainstay of the royal court.

Adoniram’s position is described in various translations as managing the “forced labor” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, RSV), “labor force” (NKJV, NLT), “slave labor” (MSG), “the tribute” (KJV), and “men subject to taskwork” (ASV). Officially, Adoniram was the government’s head of the department of forced labor. Adoniram was quite literally a slave driver.

Israel had quite a pool of slaves to draw from. All people conquered by Israel in the conquest of the Promised Land were subject to forced labor (Deuteronomy 20:11). While this was originally not intended to include Canaanites, the mandate eventually was extended to encompass them as well (Joshua 16:10; 17:13; Judges 1:28-35). Both David (I Chronicles 22:2, 15) and Solomon (I Kings 5:13-16; I Kings 9:15-22; II Chronicles 8:7-10) made regular use of slave labor.

Given Adoniram’s longevity, Martin J. Mulder (b. 1923) concludes, “It can be said with some level of certainty that, in view of his long record of service, Adoniram must have been a good organizer. Though ironfisted, he was of value for the construction and glory of the new state and dynasty (Mulder, 1 Kings 1-11 (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament), 168).”

What is the longest you have held a single job? Who do you know that has longest tenure in their job? Do you think longevity is indicative of competency?

The only act of Adoniram that the Bible records is his final one (I Kings 12:18). Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam had foolishly taken the advice of his young peers over his elder advisors and consequently alienated the overworked inhabitants of Israel’s north (I Kings 12:3-15) In yet another tactical error, the king dispatched Adoniram, his veteran superintendent of forced labor, to the north in the midst of a labor dispute (I Kings 12:18). The taskmaster was the worst possible person for the task and not surprisingly his presence served to add fuel to the fire. Adoniram was stoned, Rehoboam fled (I Kings 12:18) and the nation would be forever divided.

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) explains:

What an act of obtuseness! Adoniram is clearly the image of the worst oppressive impulses of the regime, a lightning rod to attract whatever hostility and resistance are still latent in the North. Adoniram is murdered by the crowd of resisters, surely an act commensurate with the violence of Moses against the Egyptian foreman, also an agent of forced labor (I Kings 12:18, see Exodus 2:11-12). In both cases the royal official is killed in the interest of symbolic resistance against an entire regime and its practices of exploitation. (Brueggemann, Solomon: Israel’s Ironic Icon of Human Achievement (Studies on Personalities of the Old Testament), 152)
Adoniram lived through the rise of the kingdom and was a loyal servant. He saw the glory of Israel’s united kingdom and one of the few personal benefits to his premature death is that he was not forced to witness the fall of the kingdom for which he had worked so diligently. Though forced labor does resurface in the Old Testament, Adoniram’s position is never again referenced.

Adoniram was killed due to his employer’s imprudence. He was put into a position in which he had no chance of success.

Have you ever been assigned a task you were incapable of completing? Did you attempt it anyway? Have you ever assigned such a task? Do you think God would ever designate an impossible chore?

“God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” - popular Christian aphorism