Friday, March 16, 2012

Wear Shoes, No Service (Exodus 3)

Where did Moses take off his shoes? At the burning bush (Exodus 3:1, 5)

As the leader of the exodus, Moses plays a significant role in the Bible but before leading the Israelite people, he leads Midianite sheep (which may have been as good a precursor as any). Moses is exiled in Midian where he marries the daughter of the local priest (Exodus 2:15-22). While tending his father-in-law’s flock on Mount Horeb, the extraordinary breaks into the ordinary when God famously appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames (Exodus 3:1-2). This is known as a theophany, a visible manifestation of God. Some have quipped that the burning bush is also the first road sign.

God immediately sets the tone of the encounter by issuing two commands: come no closer and remove your footwear (Exodus 3:5).

Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5 NASB)
Moses is naturally terrified (Exodus 3:6). In the midst of this alarming scene, Moses’ choice of footwear was likely the furthest thing from his mind and the text makes no mention of whether or not he regains the composure to comply but the presumption is that he did so. Promptly.

Marc Vervenne (b. 1949) observes:

Moses is allowed and even called upon to stand on holy ground, but he is not to approach any more. Exactly the same situation is presented by the tale of the Sinai revelation: Israel is called upon to stand on the outskirts of the holy precinct on a given moment, but may not ascend the mountain any more [Exodus 19:12-13]. Like Moses before they are standing on the border of the holy. The veil has been lifted but not removed. (Vervenne, Studies in the Book of Exodus, 135)
The encounter transforms Moses’ life. Max Lucado (b. 1955) remarks:
With these...words Moses in enrolled in a class on God. Immediately the roles are defined. God is holy. Approaching him on even a quarter-inch of leather is too time is spent convincing Moses what Moses can do, but much time is spent explaining to Moses what God can do. (Lucado, The Great House of God, 27)
At the burning bush, God calls Moses to lead the exodus and the tale’s dramatic features and historic impact make it one of the Bible’s most famous stories. Stephen J. Binz (b. 1955) lauds, “The mission of Moses is the prototype of the many other calls that will follow in the history of salvation. Of all the vocation narratives in the Bible, this is the longest and most memorable (Binz, The God of Freedom and Life: A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, 20).”

The directive to remove his shoes was a significant enough detail to be incorporated into Stephen’s retelling of the history of Israel in Acts (Acts 7:33). Peter Enns (b. 1961) writes, “Why...must he remove his sandals? This is a sign of reverence common in the ancient Near East, a practice that continues to this day. Joshua is commanded to do the same in Joshua 5:15 (Enns, Exodus (The NIV Application Commentary), 98).”

As Enns alludes, removing one’s shoes is still a sign of reverence in parts of the world. In deference to this passage, certain Hasidic groups remove their shoes before approaching the grave site of a holy person. The practice clearly has ancient roots. J. Gerald Janzen (b. 1932) explains:

On entering one’s tent or someone else’s, one removed one’s sandals to walk cleanly on the rug spread on the ground. A host’s invitation to remove one’s sandals (especially the offer to remove them and wash the feet, as in Genesis 18:4 and John 13:1-17) was an offer of hospitality—an offer of one’s home as the visitor’s home away from home. One accepted such hospitality by respecting the sanctity of the host’s space and moving about in it courteously. If the God of the ancestors, whom contemporary scholars characterize as a family or clan God, could receive such hospitality at Abraham’s hands (Genesis 18:1-8), it should not be surprising to find the same imagery used here, where Moses finds himself in the presence of that same God (Exodus 3:6)...Moses finds himself in a presence that is unfathomably sacred, a presence that invites him to be at home at the same time that it claims his profound respect. He who has felt himself “an alien residing in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22) now finds himself a guest of God. (Janzen, Exodus (Westminster Bible Companion), 28-29)
Douglas K. Stuart (b. 1943) expounds:
There are many references in the Bible to taking off or putting on sandals, but none has any connection with holiness except this one. Presumably, taking off shoes was done when entering the presence of a superior person which usually would occur formally when one was at the superior person’s house, palace, or tent. Thus Sinai/Horeb is here implicitly identified as “Yahweh’s place.” Thus the very ground is holy—something said of no other location in the Bible. (Stuart, Exodus (The New American Commentary), 114-115)
Carol Meyers (b. 1942) adds:
The descriptions of priestly attire in the tabernacle passages do not mention priestly footwear [Exodus 28:1-43, 39:1-31; Leviticus 8:5-9); presumably priests went barefoot as they traversed the sacred precincts of Israel’s god. A similar removal of shoes as a sign of respect in the domain of the deity is found in the custom of Muslims taking off their footwear as they enter a mosque; and to this very day, members of priestly families traditionally remove their shoes when they recite certain blessings in the synagogue. (Meyers, Exodus (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 53)
While shoes certainly serve a practical purpose, Moshe Chagiz (1671-1750) posited that there might also be a spiritual dimension to God’s request. Nosson Scherman (b. 1935) documents:
Moshe Chagiz offer a deeper reason for wearing shoes. Man does not want to touch the ground directly because the ground was cursed as a result of Adam’s sin [Genesis 3:17]...Thus, man took to wearing shoes...Shoes are only worn on accursed ground; on holy ground, one goes barefoot, making contact with the ground. (Scherman, Yom Kippur, 77)
Some still find spiritual value in making a barefoot pilgrimage. Barbara Brown Taylor (b. 1951) challenges:
Take off your shoes and feel the earth under your feet, as if the ground on which you are standing really is holy ground. Let it please you. Let it hurt you a little. Feel how the world really feels when you do not strap little tanks on your feet to shield you from the way things really are. (Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, 67)
What do you do to indicate respect? When do you take your shoes off? How do you think the sheep responded to the burning bush? Had Moses been hiking barefoot, what would God have commanded him to do? What made the ground holy?

Terence E. Fretheim (b. 1936) clarifies:

This ground is now holy because of God’s appearance, not because it was already holy. There is no holiness inherent in the place as such, no natural sanctity, but that which is not holy now becomes so by virtue of the divine purpose for the place (not just the divine presence). That which is an ordinary part of the natural order is sanctified, set apart for special use by God. This setting apart was not only for this occasion but also for the future. God’s appearance to Moses establishes Sinai/Horeb as a sacred place (cf. Exodus 3:12; Genesis 28:16-17). God draws a particular plot of ground, an aspect of the creative order, into a new sphere of relationship. (Fretheim, Exodus: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 56-57)
As evidenced by Moses’ wilderness encounter with God while completing a mundane task, God’s holy ground is not limited to the walls of a church or to any single place. Meyers records:
At this point, the notion of sacred space becomes an explicit part of the narrative for the first time in the Hebrew Bible. The word for “place,” māqôm, is often a technical term in biblical Hebrew for a sanctuary or holy place (cf. Genesis 28:11, 19); and “holy ground” likewise connotes sacred space. (Meyers, 53)
Douglas K. Stuart (b. 1943) adds:
The theme of the divine Presence is a major topic of Exodus. It often is emphasized by commands requiring distance from God so as not to intrude too far on his holiness, proximity to which carries with it danger to the person not properly prepared (sanctified). This passage, with its come-no-further command, is remarkably parallel to that of Exodus 19:9-25, where a series of conditions of sanctification (procedures that confer holiness) and distance...are imposed upon the Israelites. Thus what God’s people would eventually have to learn from God through him, Moses now began to learn from God. (Stuart, Exodus (The New American Commentary), 114)
Not even Moses was exempt from recognizing God’s holiness. This is the first time that the Hebrew noun for “holy” (qodesh) is used in Scripture. Donald E. Gowan (b. 1929) explains:
“Holiness” has been identified as the quality of divinity itself, as the term is used in scripture, and so it seems that Exodus begins talking about God where we ought to begin. (Gowan, Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary, 26)
How do you acknowledge God’s holiness? Have you known any preachers who assumed the pulpit barefooted in deference to this passage? Is there any place that should be considered holy ground today?

“Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth, but our bodies and our earth themselves. “ - Frederick Buechner (b. 1926), Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, p. 52

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12)

In I Corinthians 12, what analogy is used by Paul to explain how members of the church should work together? The body

In writing to a divided Corinthian church (I Corinthians 1:11), Paul stresses unity. The apostle assures the Corinthians that they have all been endowed with spiritual gifts and that though they do not exhibit the same gifts, this was not grounds for division (I Corinthians 12:1-11). He then makes the natural progression from spirit(ual gifts) to body (I Corinthians 12:12-27). In doing so, he equates living out Christianity to functioning as the body of Christ.

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. (I Corinthians 12:12 NASB)
The analogy of the body was not uncommon in antiquity though Paul was likely the first to translate the metaphor into terms of religious communion.

Gordon D. Fee (b. 1934) comments:

In I Corinthians 12:12-26 Paul reinforces means of a common political-philosophical analogy—the “body” politic now viewed as the “body” of Christ. He begins with the analogy by highlighting the two essentials, unity and diversity (one body, with many parts; I Corinthians 12:12, 14), and by focusing on their common experience of the Spirit in conversion as the key to unity (I Corinthians 12:13). But the essence of the elaborations of the analogy (especially I Corinthians 12:15-20) is the need for diversity if there is to be a true body and not simply a monstrosity. By its very nature the analogy shifts focus momentarily from the gifts per se to the diversity of people who make up the community in I Corinthians 12:21-26. (Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 583)
The metaphor stresses that Christians are all members of the same team. Anthony C. Thiselton (b. 1937) informs:
The so-called “weak” must not feel that if they happen to have not received certain gifts, they are somehow not a genuine part of the body [I Corinthians 12:15]...Paul reassures those who are anxious about comparisons with supposedly more “gifted” members, and underlines their role, status and welcome. On the other side, he rebukes “the strong” who seem to think that only those of similar social status and similar spiritual gifts are “real” Christians” [I Corinthians 12:20-21]. (Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 990)
Marion Soards (b. 1952) asserts that “in Christ unity dominates diversity and makes diversity genuinely meaningful and constructive (Soards, I Corinthians (New International Biblical Commentary), 263).”

Watchman Nee (1903-1972) relays the practical application:

It means that the children of God at Corinth are the Body of Christ; so, both according to the spiritual principle and the spiritual fact, they should express themselves as the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is the universal church, the church which is in all places and throughout all generations both in space and in time. However, the brothers in a locality must at least stand in the same position, applying the same principle to express the same fact. In other words, the minimum boundary of unity is the boundary of locality. (Nee, Further Talks on the Church Life, 109)
Does a functional hierarchy exist in the religious institutions with which you associate? Should it? What analogy would you use to describe the church? What part of the body do you see yourself as serving? Are there any unnecessary parts of the Christian body, e.g. is anyone the appendix? What is the basis of the unity of the body of Christ?

God is the architect of both the human body and its metaphorical counterpart. The Spirit of Christ should be strong enough to make all other differences minor by comparison. Richard B. Hays (b. 1948) relays:

In I Corinthians 12:13 Paul recalls for the Corinthians the basis of their unity in the one body: all of them, at the time of their conversion and initiation into the community of Christ’s people, were “in the Spirt...baptized into one body” and “made to drink one Spirit.” (Hays, First Corinthians (Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 214)
Joseph A. Fitzmyer (b. 1920) clarifies:
He [Paul] identifies the members of the community, first as “Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12), then as the “body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:27), and eventually as “the church” (I Corinthians 12:28). As such, the many members of the Christian community must use all their diverse manifestations of the Spirit “to the good” (I Corinthians 12:7) of the whole, because Christ is the unifying principle of the church. (Fitzmyer, First Corinthians (The Anchor Yale Bible), 474)
Though Christ is clearing seen as the glue that holds the unit together, there is a glaring omission from Paul’s analogy as presented in I Corinthians 12. Alan F. Johnson (b. 1933) writes:
Curiously, he does not call Christ the “head” of the body in this chapter (but see Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:15-16, 5:23; Colossians 2:19). This may alert us that Paul is here (I Corinthians 12:12-30) using the body metaphor differently than in Ephesians and Colossians. Here the point is not the head-body metaphor but that many parts form one body...In Paul’s mind there is some sense in which the divinely constructed union (I Corinthians 12:13) of the many diverse parts—organically interrelated, interdependently, harmoniously and functionally one body—constitutes now through the Holy Spirit the reality of Christ’s visible presence and activity in the world. (Johnson, 1 Corinthians (IVP New Testament Commentary), 230)
Christ’s headship of the body of Christ is a prominent theme elsewhere in the Pauline epistles (I Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:13, 4:15-16, 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 2:19) including later in this particular letter. Jerome H. Neyrey (b. 1940) writes:
In I Corinthians 15:20-28 Paul speaks of Christ as the new Adam—the new head/source. On one level the argument simply states that as all die in Adam, so all rise in Christ (I Corinthians 15:21-22; see Romans 5:12-21). But the passage says much more...Like other Christians, Paul visualizes Christ’s headship by stating that “all things are put in subject under his feet” (I Corinthians 15:25, 27; see Hebrews 1:13, 2:6-8). Christ is head, both as source and sovereign. (Neyrey, Paul, in Other Words: A Cultural Reading of His Letters, 136)
Paul sees Christians as the embodiment of Christ in the world with one spirit dictating the body’s movements. Jürgen Becker (b. 1934) argues that for Paul, this is not a metaphor but rather a description of the living solidarity of those who share the same spirit.
In Paul the figurative and comparative use of the body idea as unity in diversity is still largely dominant. Yet because his theology is determined by the new christological being of the eschatalogical church, for him the comparison becomes a statement on the nature of the church. Now the church is the “body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:27), not just comparable to the body. Through the one Spirit who expresses himself in the diversity of spiritual gifts, all are baptized into one body which is Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-13). (Becker, Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles, 428)
Is “the body of Christ” merely a metaphor or a reality? How does the church act as Christ’s physical presence in the world? Historically, why has Christianity seen so many schisms? Why have most Christian divisions been rooted in the writings of Paul when the apostle strongly stressed unity? Is Christ the head of your church? Is Christ the head of your life?

“Yes, I see the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Why We Can’t Wait, p. 104

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Liberals Will Be Made Fat? (Proverbs 11:25)

Who will be enriched (or made fat) according to Proverbs 11:25? A liberal man

Proverbs 11:23-27 forms a unit that addresses the theme of generosity and selfishness. Amid this inclusio, Proverbs 11:24-25 features parallel proverbs that laud being generous including detailing the blessings that flow from benevolence. The King James Version reads:

The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself. (Proverbs 11:25 KJV)
This translation uses a more traditional definition of liberal: “tending to give freely; generous”. The word is typically rendered in some form of the words “liberal” (ASV, KJV, RSV), “generous”(CEV, HCSB NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV), or “(one who brings) blessing” (ESV, MSG). The latter is truest to the Hebrew (b@rakah) which means “blessing”. R.N. Whybray (1923-1997) explains that the proverb’s subject is:
literally, ‘person of blessing’. This phrase could equally mean ‘a person who has received divine favour’. (Whybray, The Book of Proverbs (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the Old Testament), 69)
The English Standard Version conveys this interpretation:
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. (Proverbs 11:25 ESV)
Michael V. Fox (b. 1940) explains:
A “soul of blessing” (nepeš berakah) is a person who bestows blessings on others. (Thus the Vulgate: anima quae benedicit “a soul that blesses.”) “Blessing” here means material gifts, as in Genesis 33:11; Joshua 15:19; I Samuel 25:27; and II Kings 5:15...In conjunction with Proverbs 11:24, this verse reinterprets Proverbs11:24a (in spite of Proverbs 11:24b) by identifying the one who “scatters” as one who is generous to others. (Fox, Proverbs 10-31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible), 543)
Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) add:
This suggests an allusion to the verse in Psalm 23:5...usually translated “You have anointed my head with oil. My cup runs over.”...According to Rashi, the words nefesh b’rachah (literally, “the soul of blessing”) refers to a person who is generous with money, and the word marveh refers to a person who satisfies the needs of the poor. The verse continues the argument being made by the author of Proverbs: Virtue has a pragmatic purpose. Doing good will result in getting good. The notion of disinterested virtue in the history of ethics evolved much later than the period of time in which the Book of Proverbs was written. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 114)
As noted, the proverb not only encourages generosity but claims that one’s largesse will be rewarded. Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) summarizes:
This saying, in synthetic parallelism, develops the topic of generosity from Proverbs 11:24 through the example of food and drink. Those who feed others will themselves be fed...“Soul” (nepeš) is the throat area, the core of the body or self. A literal translation is “the throat of blessing will grow fat.” One who gives food and drink to others will be given food and drink and will thrive. See Luke 6:38. (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 125)
Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) justifies:
The naming of positive consequences for generosity shows that Proverbs is not above naming self-interest for the motivation of good behavior. Both individual and community interest are encompassed in this teaching, since both the self and the other are said to derive good from a person’s giving nature. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 263)
This rationale was a part of Israel’s collective worldview. Claus Westermann (1909-2000) posits:
This group of proverbs [e.g., Proverbs 11:25, 19:17, 22, 22:9] is especially important for the spirit of the community, from which these sayings emanate. Israel experienced its God again and again as the one who looked on the needs and had compassion for his own. It is a response to this work of God that is reflected in those who, by looking to him, minister compassion to others whom they encounter along their way. (Westermann, Roots of Wisdom: The Oldest Proverbs of Israel and Other Peoples, 47-48)
Do you bless others materially? Have you ever witnessed someone being unexpectedly repaid for an altruistic act? Should self interest be a motivating factor in benevolence? Does one always receive blessing in response to generosity?

Many have seen an underlying principle at work in the aphorism. Kenneth T. Aitken (b. 1947) comments:

The paradox highlighted in Proverbs 11:24 rings true: the tight-fisted man ends up the poorer and the open-handed man the richer (cf. Proverbs 11:25). The saying has in mind meanness and generosity with money, and looks toward the poor in society. Speaking about Christian giving, Paul puts it this way: “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (II Corinthians 9:6). The underlying principle is applicable to life and human relationships in general: as we sometimes say, we get out only what we put in. (Aitken, Proverbs (Old Testament Daily Study Bible Series), 128)
Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) agrees:
It is axiomatic that greedy and selfish people, epitomized in Western literature as Mr. Scrooge, are hated by the populace at large while generous people gain love and respect. What the hoarder fails to recognize, however, is that in the economy of God the greedy ultimately lose even the material things they try so hard to keep while the benevolent only prosper more and more. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 127)
Cecil Murphey (b. 1933) argues that the proverb touches on a component of divine design:
God has built an important principle in the universe, and one that too many people never understand: Givers receive even more than they give. Jesus stated the principle this way: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back: (Luke 6:28). (Murphey, Simply Living: Modern Wisdom from the Ancient Book of Proverbs, 149)
With what are you most stingy? With what are you most generous? Would you characterize yourself as a “generous” person? Is the universe designed so that benevolence is rewarded?

“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.” - Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

Disclaimer: No offense or political affiliation is intended by using Fred Freesqueeze’s image of Michael Moore (b. 1954). Amazingly, if you perform a Google image search of “fat liberal” the results are predominantly images of Moore and by definition, he does embody both adjectives.