Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Horse of a Different Color (Zechariah 6)

In Zechariah, what colors were the horses that pulled the four chariots of divine judgment? Red, black, white and gray (Zechariah 6:2)

The biblical image of four horses of disparate colors did not originate with the famed four horsemen of the apocalypse (Revelation 6:1-8) but rather the book of Zechariah (Zechariah 6:1-8). Zechariah, the eleventh of twelve minor prophets, was written during the time that the Jerusalem temple was being rebuilt (520-518 BCE).

Zechariah begins with a succession of eight visions (Zechariah 1:7-6:8). The final oracle proves the most obscure and climactic and of the lot (Zechariah 6:1-8). In it, the prophet sees four chariots emerging from bronze mountains (Zechariah 6:1-3). Each chariot is powered by a horse of a different color: red, black, white, and gray or dappled (Zechariah 6:2-3).

With the first chariot were red horses, with the second chariot black horses, with the third chariot white horses, and with the fourth chariot strong dappled horses. (Zechariah 6:2-3 NASB)
The first three horses’ pigments are relatively straightforward while the last has generated discussion (Zechariah 6:3). The steed is described by the Hebrew barod (Genesis 31:10, 12; Zechariah 6:3, 6). This word is translated variously as “dappled” (ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV), “gray” (CEV), the combination “dappled-gray” (NLT, NRSV, RSV) and “grizzled strong” (ASV, KJV).

J. Carl Laney (b. 1948) presents the dominant interpretation:

Zechariah..observes that each of the four chariots were drawn by a team of horses—the first chariot by red horses, the second by black horses, the third by white horses, and the fourth by a team of strong, dappled horses. “Dappled” suggests white spots on a dark background. (Laney, Zechariah (Everyman’s Bible Commentaries), 70)
Marvin A. Sweeney (b. 1953) analyzes:
This last term is problematic as the Hebrew texts reads sûsîm běruddîm ’amuşşîm. The term běruddîm apparently refers to “spotted” horses as the root brd is related to the term for “hail” which suggests the general shape of stones or spots. The term ’amuşşîm, however, creates difficulties because it is derived from the root ’ms, “to be strong,” and appears in Zechariah 6:7 as an apparent reference to the “strong steeds” that pull the chariots. Although some scholars maintain that the term has been misplaced here from Zechariah 6:7 by scribal error or that it is a textual corruption for ’adummîm, “red” (cf. Zechariah 6:2) that is designed to suggest spotted red horses, the term can be read as a reference to the “spotted strong horses” of the fourth chariot. (Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets, Volume Two (Berit Olam: Studies In Hebrew Narrative And Poetry), 625)
The horses are differentiated and defined by their colors. Many have tried to find further significance in their hues. George L. Klein (b. 1955) acknowledges:
Zechariah never explained the symbolism of the colored horses. Consequently, any conclusion one might reach concerning the horses’ colors remains tentative. One approach holds that the colors function solely to distinguish the horses, having no further importance. Alternatively, others attempt to determine precisely what the colors might signify. A particularly popular view associates the horses’ colors in Zechariah 6 with the colors of the horses in Revelation 6:1-8. Following this approach, Merrill F. Unger [1909-1980] suggests that white indicates victory (Revelation 6:2; also Revelation 19:11, 14), red stands for bloodshed (Revelation 6:4), black represents judgment (Revelation 6:5-6), and the dappled color signifies death (Revelation 6:8). Unger fails to demonstrate the accuracy of his association with the diverse colors of horses and concepts such as judgment. Neither does Unger prove that the colors of the horses in Revelation 6 rest on that of the horses in Zechariah 6...The interpretation that the colors signify geographical regions might have merit, but it also lacks certainty. Much like the symbolism in the prophecy in Daniel 7, the ancient rabbis believed that the colors of the horses symbolized world kingdoms. Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome represented probable candidates. However, any association between the colors and world kingdoms must remain tentative at best. (Klein, Zechariah (New American Commentary), 186-187)
Some have tried to link the horses in Zechariah’s final vision (Zechariah 6:1-8) with the steeds in his first oracle (Zechariah 1:8). David L. Petersen (b. 1943) examines:
The horses of the first chariot are bay; those of the second, black; those of the third, white; and those of the fourth, dappled. Only two of these four colors, bay and white, occurred in the description of the horses in Zechariah 1:8...Much ink has been devoted to a comparison of the first and last of Zechariah’s visions, since they both include detailed descriptions of horse colors. Most instructive, however, are the contrasts within this similarity. In the first vision, there are an indefinite number of horses of each color. In the final vision, there are almost certainly eight horses, two per chariot. In the first version one horse has a rider. In the final version all belong with chariots. In the first version we see the horses rest in the divine corral; in the final version we see the horses at an opening that leads into the domain of human affairs. In the first vision the horses have just come from surveying the cosmos, whereas in the second they are about to set out to roam over the earth. In the first vision the colors seem to have no rationale, i.e., there are three colors, two of which are almost identical. In the final vision there are four distinct colors and/or patterns, which, so the interpretation goes, point to the four major points of the compass. The distinctive colors provide the basis for the interpretation of the final vision. Such was not the case in the initial vision. (Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 268-269)
Petersen evaluates another theory as well:
Perhaps the most comprehensive explanation of the colors of the horses is that used most recently by Gerhard von Rad [1901-1971], Friedrich Horst [1896-1962], Joyce G. Baldwin [1921-1995], and others. They maintain that the colors of the first vision are those of the sunset, those of the end of a period, and those of the eighth vision are those of the early morning, those of a new dawn and day. Intriguing and apt as this suggestion is, it is difficult to see how the “dappled” designation is more appropriate for dawn than sunset. Further, I suspect that though this suggestion might explain the origin of the colors, i.e., signifying the temporal frame of Zechariah’s night vision, it does not function importantly as a statement about the interpreted significance of the visions. (Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 269)
There many be no symbolism entailed. Mark J. Boda (b. 1962) notes that each of the horses’ displays a naturally occurring pigmentation:
The colors identified for the horses are the normal range of colors found in nature. The Hebrew tern for “red” (,adom) can be used for a deep brown horse or a chestnut horse, for the chromatic range of this word includes brown (animals), yellowish-brown (lentils), deep red (blood), wine color (wine) and pink (flesh). The Hebrew term behind “brown (saa roq) should be translated “sorrel,” a color combining red and white that produces a pinkish tone and is found among horses. The final color, “white” (laban), regularly occurs among horses. There is no need then to attach symbolic meanings to the colors of the horses in this scene. (Boda, Haggai, Zechariah (The NIV Application Commentary))
Pamela J. Scalise (b. 1950) speculates that the colors say more about their owner than of the horses themselves:
The variety of colors emphasizes the owner’s wealth. In the ancient world, kings and emperor’s owned chariots and used them to exert their military power in war and their authority over conquered territory. These horses and chariots suited their purpose, for all of them were powerful. Israel’s most powerful enemies had used chariots against them—Egypt (Exodus 14:25, 15:4) and the Canaanites at Hazor (Joshua 11:6, 9) and Tabor (Judges 4:5, 5:28). Kings of Israel and Judah had owned chariots, but in postexilic Yehud the only chariots belonged to the Persian emperors. (John Goldingay [b. 1942] and Scalise, Minor Prophets II (New International Biblical Commentary), 239)
Have you ever experienced a vision? What meaning, if any, do you attach to the horses’ colors? Why are these horses, unlike those in other oracles (Zechariah 1:8; Revelation 6:1-8), pulling chariots? What is the meaning of the vision?

The horses are sent in directions as different as their colors. Barry G. Webb (b. 1945) notices that none goes east:

The chariots with the black horses go north; those with the white ones go west, and those with the dappled horses go south. Only three points of the compass are represented, and only three colours (of horses) instead of the four of Zechariah 6:2-3. Furthermore, Zechariah 6:6 opens (in Hebrew) with a connecting word which normally occurs only in mid-sentence. All this taken together seems to indicate that the opening part of Zechariah 6:6 has been accidentally lost in transmission, and that in the original form of the text all four points of the compass were covered. In any case, Zechariah 6:8 makes it clear that the chariots went everywhere, to enforce God’s kingship in every place. (Webb, The Message of Zechariah: Your Kingdom Come (Bible Speaks Today), 104)
The narrative concludes by focusing on the black horse traveling to the north (Zechariah 6:8). Mark Allen Hahlen (b. 1959) and Clay Alan Ham (b. 1962) comment:
Of the three directions depicted, the movement of the black horses to the north is emphasized; these horses are named first and again in Zechariah 6:8. North is a place with ominous connotations for the Hebrews (Jeremiah 1:14, 4:6, 6:22; Ezekiel 1:4). From there, enemies of Israel and Judah have entered the land (Jeremiah 10:22), and to the north is the land of the exile (Jeremiah 3:18, 6:22, 16:15, 23:8). Although other nations besides Babylon may be included in the designation “the north” (Isaiah 41:25; Jeremiah 1:15, 46:10, 50:9), Babylon is surely the focus here. (Hahlen and Ham, Minor Prophets, Volume 2: Nahum-Malachi (College Press NIV Commentary), 394)
William P. Brown (b. 1958) delineates:
Between the bronze mountains come four chariots, drawn by different colored horses. Their mission is identical to that of the horses found in the first vision, namely to “patrol the earth” (cf. Zechariah 1:10-11). The two bronze mountains, nowhere else mentioned in scripture, likely mark off the boundary between heaven and earth. The image of the chariot represents the presence of God (Habakkuk 3:8). Indeed, a common title for God was “rider of the clouds” (Psalm 68:4). As the four winds, the chariots are commanded to scatter in all directions (cf. Jeremiah 4:13). The winds were traditionally conceived as messengers of God (Psalm 104:4)...Since it is not mentioned in the list of directions (Zechariah 6:6), the first chariot, with red or bay horses, is the one, presumably to fly eastward. Yet it is the second chariot (with black horses), which heads towards the north, that gains the spotlight. It is through the black horses that God’s spirit is set at rest. The land that lay to the north, which included the land of Shinar (Zechariah 5:11), was traditionally regarded as the land of the enemy of Israel. To claim that God’s spirit is at rest in the north is tantamount to claiming that the superpowers that have plagued Israel throughout its history have been subjugated once and for all. (Brown, Obadiah through Malachi (Westminster Bible Companion), 156)
James E. Smith (b. 1939) summarizes:
The cycle of visions comes to a close with a symbolic portrayal of worldwide judgment. In the first vision the angelic reconnaissance force found the world to be at ease and the people of God humiliated. Now divine wrath is unleashed against those oppressors. The security of Zion, the people of God, is thus achieved. (Smith, The Minor Prophets (Old Testament Survey), 553)
Zechariah’s message is one of hope. Elizabeth Achtemeier (1926-2002) interprets:
Various colored horses...pulling war chariots symbolic of God’s sovereign might, come forth from the entrance to heaven, which is here symbolized by the two impregnable mountains of bronze (cf. Jeremiah 1:18). The horses and chariots are said to represent the four winds of heaven (Zechariah 6:5, contra RSV; cf. Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 7:2). That is, they are the messengers of God (cf. Psalm 104:4). Impatient to leave on their mission, they are dispatched by God all over the earth, symbolizing that his sovereignty is worldwide. This is explicitly stated in the oracle of the Lord in Zechariah 6:8: God’s spirit is at rest in the north country; nothing further needs to be done before the Lord can bring his Kingdom. (Achtemeier, Nahum--Malachi (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 129-130)
Peter C. Craigie (1938-1985) adds:
The vision of the departure of horses and chariots on worldwide missions of military intervention establishes not only a central part of the meaning of all eight visions, but also a chronological perspective within which to interpret the prophet’s words. The restoration of the temple and of leadership in Judah presupposed a renewal of the Kingdom of God in the world; it intimated that more lay in the future than simply a refurbished temple and a rejuvenated government. Only when foreign nations were overthrown could the chosen people be truly free once again...Although the words are concerned with Zechariah’s immediate present, with the temple and government in Jerusalem, time is collapsed in the vision to join the present to what was a more remote future. What was happening anticipated in a mysterious fashion what was yet to happen. And though we may find the visionary words as difficult to grasp in detail as did the prophet’s first audience, we may share with them the absolute conviction of the prophet’s central message. God was and is sovereign in human history. (Craigie, Twelve Prophets, Volume 2 (Daily Study Bible Series), 186)
Israel’s enemies assume that Yahweh is another god they had vanquished like all the others. Zechariah’s final vision (Zechariah 6:1-8) affirms that Yahweh is a horse of a different color.

Why do you think none of the horses is explicitly said to travel east? How does your perception of God’s sovereignty affect your life? How active is God in history? In your life?

“There’s only one of him and he’s it. He’s the Horse of a Different Color, you’ve heard tell about.” - Guardian of the Emerald City Gates (Frank Morgan, 1890-1949), The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Must Work For Food? (II Thessalonians 3:10)

Complete: “If anyone will not work, let him not ___.” Eat (II Thessalonians 3:10)

II Thessalonians addresses people who act parasitically by taking from the church without making any contribution (II Thessalonians 3:6-13). Paul commands the Thessalonians to not be idle and reminds them of the example set forth by he and his fellow ministers (II Thessalonians 3:6-9). He then mentions a policy he had implemented when he was ministering in Thessalonica (II Thessalonians 3:10).

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. (II Thessalonians 3:10 NASB)
These are Paul’s harshest words on the subject. Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007) paraphrases: “No loaf for the loafer (Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background Growth and Content, 221)!”

Jon A. Weatherly (b. 1958) comments:

This command should have been familiar to the idlers from the beginning, as it constituted a memorable part of Paul’s oral instruction...The content of the command is deliberately terse and parallel, probably to make it easier for the Christian converts to remember. “Will” here does not indicate the future tense but translates θέλω (thelō), indicating a willingness to do the action mentioned. So Paul’s original oral instruction specifically censured the refusal to work, not the inability to work. The sanction placed on such people is that they “shall not eat,” a phrase translating an imperative verb which might be translated “must not eat.” Clearly the church could not stop the idle from obtaining bread from other sources, so the point is that the church should not subsidize those in their fellowship who refuse to support themselves when they have the means and opportunity. All the verbs in this command are in the present tense and emphasize continuing action, so the instruction might be translated, “If anyone continually does not want to keep working, he must not keep eating.” (Weatherly, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The College Press NIV Commentary), 296)
Leon Morris (1914-2006) adds:
The saying emphasizes the will — “If anyone won’t work, refuses to work...” The concluding clause is not a statement of fact, “he shall not eat,” but an imperative, “let him not eat.” Paul is giving the clearest expression to the thought that the Christian cannot be a drone. It is obligatory for him to be a worker. (Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 256)
The command appears to have been a slogan during the author’s ministry in the area. Gene L. Green (b. 1951) speculates:
The author makes no mention of the teaching about work that they had briefly included in the first letter (I Thessalonians 4:11-12), reminding them rather of the oral instruction that, according to many Roman and Greek authors, was more potent than written communication...This instruction came in the form of an authoritative command (II Thessalonians 3:4, 6, 12; see I Thessalonians 4:11): “We gave you this command” (NRSV; parēngellomen). The verb is in the imperfect tense, which suggests that the teachers had given this command on various occasions during their rather short stay in Thessalonica. (Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 349)
Though unwritten, the command has both biblical and theological roots. Beverly Roberts Gaventa (b. 1948) explains:
The language employed is quite emphatic, referring to the presence of the apostles with the believers and using the language of command. Neither the Gospels nor the Pauline letters contain any such “commandment,” and it may be that the writer draws on proverbial wisdom that has developed from Genesis 3:17-19 (see also Psalm 128:2 and Proverbs 6:6-11). The Didache, an early Christian manual of instruction, reflects a similar wisdom: “[N]o Christian shall live idle in idleness. But if anyone will not do so [i.e., work], that person is making Christ into a cheap trade; watch out for such people” (12:4-5; author’s translation). (Gaventa, First and Second Thessalonians (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching) , 130)
Theologian Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) probes:
The first point that we must make from an ideological standpoint is that work belongs in every sense to the order of necessity. If God gave it to man as a means of survival, he also made it a condition of survival. This is what Paul has in mind when he says that if a man will not work, neither should he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10). Work is no part of the order of grace, liberality, love, and freedom. Confusion must be avoided in this regard...In Christ the order of necessity is by no means abolished. There is victory over it...But death, evil, and the powers still exist. They constitute the order of necessity in which man is always set...Work has to be accepted in a sign of our creatureliness and our sinfulness. (Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom, 505-506)
John Piper (b. 1946) summarizes, “Able-bodied people who choose to live in idleness and eat the fruit of another’s sweat are in rebellion against God’s design. If we can, we should earn our own living (Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, 147).”

It is uncertain why the Thessalonians were not working. Gordon D. Fee (b. 1934) interprets:

The “surprise” element for the later reader is the fact that Paul had had to make such a ruling, apparently in an ongoing way, when he and his companions were present with them...Although we have no hints in the text itself as to why this had been a matter of concern even from the beginning of his ministry there, there can be little question that the issue is not a recent one, one that had come up after the apostolic trio had left Thessalonica. Both Paul’s opening clause “when we were with you”) and his putting the verb in the imperfect “we used to give you this command”) indicate that something was not quite right among them from the beginning. (Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 332)
Some have seen the Thessalonians’ lack of diligence as the result of perceiving the second coming as so imminent (I Corinthians 7:31) as to make work futile. Brian D. McLaren (b. 1956) and Tony Campolo (b. 1935) relay:
The Apostle Paul-who expected the imminent return of Christ–had to warn the Christians of his day to get in about their business, for apparently some were spending all their time waiting for Christ’s return instead of working and earning a living for themselves and their dependents. No freeloading, Paul declared (II Thessalonians 3:10) (McLaren and Campolo, Adventures in Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel, 62)
This theory posits that the church at Thessalonica was so convinced of the second coming that they stopped everything to wait. The opposite is often true now as contemporary churches do nothing to demonstrate that they are actively anticipating the second coming.

The belief that the Thessalonians refused to work while waiting is not the only view of the situation in Thessalonica. Craig L. Blomberg (b. 1955) explicates:

Much of Paul’s eschatological teaching in II Thessalonians makes it clear that some people are thinking that the parousia is extremely imminent or has actually passed (see especially II Thessalonians 2:2). Not working is then related to the assumption that this life or present world-order is on the verge of vanishing. But increasingly, scholars are agreeing more that a sociological problem is more likely in view here. Paul never explicitly connects the Thessalonians’ idleness with his teaching about the parousia, but there is much in the Greco-Roman practice of patronage and benefaction that could have led to the problems described here. If a significant number of the Thessalonians before converting to Christ had been clients who worked only sporadically and relied on the gifts of their wealthy patrons...then it is understandable that they might have expected well-to-do leaders in the Christian community to treat them in a similar fashion...But Paul will consistently challenge the conventional system of patronage throughout his epistles. (Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (New Studies in Biblical Theology), 180-181)
G.K. Beale (b. 1949) sees problems with sociological considerations being the rationale behind the Thessalonians’ slothfulness:
This may have been an encouragement not to support those who refused to engage in some self-supporting livelihood, perhaps recalling the command of II Thessalonians 3:6 and anticipating the similar imperative of II Thessalonians 3:14. Some scholars exclude any connection of the problem of work with eschatalogical error and see it related only to a sociological problem in the Hellenistic world. For example, Ronald Russell locates the “idle” against the sociological background in the average Hellenistic city, where opportunities for work were often limited and there was widespread unemployment and a diverse social class of poor people. Sometimes such people were able to come into relationship with a patron or benefactor who would support them in exchange for various forms of service. Russell contends that some of these poor in Thessalonica who became Christians formed client relationships with Christian benefactors in the church but then took advantage of the context of Christian love and did not feel any obligation to reciprocate with appropriate service. Since such reciprocal service was an expectation in the culture, the populace at large would have taken a dim view of the church if it allowed the new Christian converts to sponge off wealthier Christians. Consequently, Paul wanted to avoid such a bad witness...The sociological approach, however, is likely not an exhaustive explanation of the situation. Maarten J.J. Menken [b. 1948] rightly concludes that, while such a sociological view explains the reason church members were unemployed, it does not explain “their unwillingness to work”...Rather, the false teaching that the final resurrection and Christ’s parousia has come explains their desire not to work. (Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series), 255-256)
Ernest Best (1917-2004) speculates:
Such teaching would have been necessary in view of the Hellenistic dislike of anything other than intellectual labour for free men; Christians, taught that they were free, would have run the danger of thinking they ought to cease manual work; this is more probable than that they would think themselves too pious to work (Adolf Schlatter [1852-1938]) or too ‘spiritual’ (cf. Walter Schmithals [1923-2009], Robert Jewett [b. 1933]). The danger was probably inflamed by the apocalyptic atmosphere of the Thessalonian community and so became an acute problem for it; lacking this atmosphere Paul did not need to take up the point in other letters; the initial teaching was sufficient to control the situation. (Best, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 338)
Victor Paul Furnish (b. 1931) summarizes:
Most interpreters regard the attention given to disruptive idleness as evidence that our author knows it to be a problem in Christian circles (cf. Wolfgang Trilling [1925-1993] 1980, 152). There is less agreement, however, about why certain believers were no longer willing to work. Some offer a theological explanation, attributing it to the (perhaps fanatical) belief that the day of the Lord had already arrived, from which it was concluded that mundane responsibilities were no longer important (e.g., Paul-Gerhard Müller [b. 1940], 2001, 294). A variation of this view holds that those who regarded the Kingdom as Paradise restored were rejecting as obsolete the decree of Genesis 3:17-19 that humanity must sustain itself through the arduous tilling of the soil (Maarten J.J. Menken [b. 1948] 137-141). In fact, however, the author himself neither specifies nor even implies that the problem of idleness has its roots in an erroneous eschatalogy...Sociological explanations of the problem, even when they are plausible, are also hard to substantiate from what is actually said...Because the author’s whole discussion of this matter is couched in such general terms, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions about the situation that may have evoked it. Indeed, some have questioned whether the author even had a specific situation in view (e.g. Willi Marxsen [1919-1993] 1982, 100). Perhaps he has simply imagined a situation that allows him to emphasize very concretely...the vital importance of adhering to apostolic tradition. (Furnish, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 177)
Whatever their reasons, it is likely that members of the church at Thessalonica were slacking and that their behavior necessitated the reminder. As such, the policy does not speak to unemployment in general but rather to those who have options to work and choose not to take them.

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) distinguishes:

It is refusal to work that is reprobated here...Comparable sayings are quoted from Jewish and early Christian literature. Rabbi Abbahu is cited as saying, “If I do not work, I do not eat” (Genesis Rabbah 2.2 on Genesis 1:2). In a non-Pauline area of the early Christian world the Didache instructs its readers how to deal with visitors who come to them in the Lord’s name: “If he who comes is a traveler, help him as much as you can, but he shall not stay with you more than two days or, if necessary, three. If he wishes to settle down with you and has a craft, let him work for his bread...But if he has no craft, make such provision for him as your intelligence approves, so that no one shall live with you in idleness as a Christian. If he to do, he is making merchandise of Christ...beware of such people” (12:2-5). (Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 45), 200-201)
Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) concurs:
The command that the person isn’t to eat who doesn’t work because he doesn’t want to work—this command means that his fellow Christians shouldn’t feed him. Hunger may teach him to work for his own food. His fault lies in a lack of desire, not in the job market. (Gundry, Commentary on First and Second Thessalonians)
Also in agreement, Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) advises:
Be careful not to use this verse on those who are willing but unable to work. It is easy to glibly dismiss the difficult conditions of those with disabilities, lack of job training, or lack of job availability. Paul’s harsh words are for people who are unwilling to work when they have both the ability and the opportunity. This phrase should used to hammer the poor. (Osborne, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Life Application Bible Commentary),146)
Victor Paul Furnish (b. 1931) notes that this guideline was presented in such a way as to make it foundational to the functioning of the community:
He conveys this as a rule of fundamental importance (note the emphatic “this” and the imperfect tense [=continuing past action]): “This is what we were commanding you: ‘If someone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10b, author’s translation). Formally, this command is typical of regulations that stipulate how particular situations should be dealt with in the life of a particular community...Moreover, its linking of eating to work reflects the view, expressed in many ancient sources, that providing for one’s own livelihood is a responsibility that must not be shirked, and that there will be serious consequences when it is (e.g. Proverbs 6:6-11; cf. Proverbs 10:4. 12:11; Pseudo-Phoculides, Sent 153-54; Dio Chrystostom Or. 7 [discussed by Hock, 1980, 44-45]). (Furnish, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 176)
With this in mind, many communities have institutionalized this rule, including the first permanent English settlement in America, Jamestown. Robert Jewett (b. 1933) notes that North America is not the only continent to create rules based upon this Scripture:
The only quotation from the Bible in the constitution of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is the famous line about not being fed without working. It is curious that it played a larger role in a communist state than it has in mainline churches around the world, where it is occasionally cited as a warning against laziness but it is never included in the founding instruction of church members as indicated by II Thessalonians 3:10. Could this and other passages in the Pauline letters disclose a tradition of voluntary communalism that has been buried by our dominant interpretive tradition? (Jewett, Paul the Apostle to America: Cultural Trends and Pauline Scholarship, 73)
This mandate often sounds harsh to modern readers as, in some ways, society appears to be moving away from this principal. Kenneth Minogue (b. 1930) chronicles:
I take my bearing from what Bernard Williams [1929-2003] wrote when the Social Justice Commission (of which he was a member) published its report in October 1994..Inequalities, he argued, must be eliminated as much as possible, and ‘everyone is entitled, as a right of citizenship, to be able to meet their basic needs of income, shelter and other necessities’. We are clearly some distance from St. Paul’s ‘if any would not work, neither should he eat’. (David Boucher [b. 1951] and Paul Kelly [b.1962], “Social justice in theory and practice”, Perspectives on Social Justice: From [David] Hume [1711-1776] to [Michael] Walzer [b. 1935], 263)
Still, beneath II Thessalonians’ argument is the premise that work is inherently good for humanity. Henry Cloud (b. 1956) speculates that work’s responsibility is actually empowering:
People who don’t obey this law of cause and effect, who don’t own their behavior and the consequences for it, feel enormously powerless. They become dependent on others who encourage their irresponsibility to maintain their dependency. They have no confidence in their ability to cause an effect. This is why Paul says in II Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat..” He knows that there is dignity and joy in good behavior. (Cloud, Changes That Heal: The Four Shifts That Make Everything Better...And That Everyone Can Do, 101)
D. James Kennedy (1930-2007) sees compassion in the rule given to the Thessalonian church:
Most people feel a twinge of guilt when they hear those words, as if they were without compassion. But this is the most compassionate statement on the subject of economics that has ever been uttered. Were that dictum not followed to a large degree, famine and starvation would plague the world. So let it be proclaimed to a deaf culture committed to a form of socialism that scholar Rousas Rushdoony [1916-2001] calls “the politics of guilt and pity”; if one will not work, nether let him eat. (Kennedy, How Would Jesus Vote?: A Christian Perspective on the Issues, 103-104)
What are the benefits of working? Do you view work as a blessing or a curse? Why were the Thessalonians idlers? What is the connection between working and eating? How does this passage speak to modern welfare programs? Should II Thessalonians 3:10 be a foundational principal for governments? When have you seen someone take advantage of charity? How should Christians assist the unemployed? At what point does one move from helping to enabling? Does Paul add stipulations to Jesus’ mandate in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:42)?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:42 NASB).” Interpreters often focus on either II Thessalonians 3:10 or Matthew 5:42 and ignore the verse that does not suit their purposes. For instance, social activist Shane Claiborne (b. 1975) never addresses II Thessalonians 3:10 in either of his first two books on being an “ordinary radical”, The Irresistible Revolution (2006) or Jesus For President (2008). In contrast, ultraconservatives seldom mention Matthew 5:42 when lauding the benefits of enforcing II Thessalonians 3:10.

Feeding the needy is a critical issue at the heart of Christianity. Michael W. Holmes (b. 1950) records:

Human beings, Jesus reminds us, do not live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3), but neither do they live without bread. Work is the means by which humans acquire “bread,” that is, the necessities for life (food, clothing, shelter). In the biblical tradition, people who are able to work do so in order to provide for themselves and their families. They also work in order to provide for those who, for whatever reasons, are unable to work (Acts 20:35; Ephesians 4:28). Indeed, “in the Bible and in the first centuries of Christian tradition, meeting one’s needs and the needs of one’s community (especially its underprivileged members) was clearly the most important purpose of work.” (Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (The NIV Application Commentary), 283)
Knowing when and how to help feed someone’s needs is not always clear cut. Gary W. Demarest (b. 1926) acknowledges:
Wherever the gospel of Christ has truly taken hold of the lives of people, difficult questions arise with regard to the poor and needy. The initial impetus of the Bible, New and Old Testaments alike, is the responsibility of the better-off to help and care for those in need. But having said that, the questions must still be raised as to why they are in need. Sometimes it is a matter of tough luck, sometimes a matter of circumstances, sometimes a matter of physical or mental limitations, sometimes a matter of geography and/or politics. The reasons are many and complex...Here, the only people to whom the proverb was applicable were those who were quite capable of working and for whom work was available, but who persisted in their refusal to work. (Demarest, 1,2 Thessalonians, 1,2 Timothy, and Titus (The Preacher’s Commentary, Vol. 32), 143)
R.A. Torrey (1856-1928) answers:
Matthew 5:42 undoubtedly teaches that the disciple of Jesus Christ should give to everyone that asks of him, but it does not teach that he should necessarily give money. When Peter and John were appealed to in Acts 3:2-4 by the lame man at the Gate Beautiful they gave to him, but they did not give him money–they gave him something better. Paul distinctly says in II Thessalonians 3:10: “If any man will not work, neither let him eat.” This does not mean that if a man is a tramp we should not give him when he asks, but it does mean that we should use discrimination in what we give him. (Torrey, Practical And Perplexing Questions Answered, 64)
Using discernment instead of creating a blanket rule regarding giving to the needy is wise counsel.

What do love and justice require with respect to the distribution of wealth and income? Under what circumstances should we give money to those in need?

“Work is not man’s punishment! It is his reward and his strength, his glory and his pleasure.” - George Sand (1804-1876)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wisdom: A Peace of Paradise (Proverbs 3:17)

Complete: “All her (Wisdom’s) ways are pleasantness and her paths are ____.” Peace (Proverbs 3:17)

Proverbs is one of five biblical books classified as wisdom. Not surprisingly, several of its passages laud wisdom. Proverbs 3:13-20 is one such section.

Richard J. Clifford (b. 1934) notes:

Most commentators...take Proverbs 3:13-20 to be a single eight-line poem...The poem is an encomium of Wisdom through the listing of her benefits to human beings and the depiction of her role in God’s act of creation. The encomium of wisdom remarkably foreshadows the encomium of the wise woman in Proverbs 31:10-31, even to the singling out of the hands (Proverbs 31:19-20). Like the lectures of chapters 1-9, the poem provides motives for hearers to pursue wisdom with all their heart. (Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 53-54)
Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) distinguishes:
This section is more a hymn than typical exhortation. It has none of the imperatives generally associated with exhortation. It personifies Wisdom, and its beginning (“Blessed...”) is elsewhere used in the instructional hymn...In context it supports the general exhortation to pursue wisdom. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 81)
The poem extols wisdom’s relative value in comparison to more traditional riches (Proverbs 3:13-16), its value to humanity (Proverbs 3:17-18) and its divine origins (Proverbs 3:19-20). Roland E. Murphy (1917-2002) explains:
Her value is beyond any of the most precious metals (a frequent comparison; compare Proverbs 8:18-19 with Proverbs 3:14-15). The description of wisdom in Proverbs 3:16 echoes the standard portrayal of the Egyptian goddess Ma‘at, who has the ankh (life) in one hand and a sceptre (ruling power) in the other. Wisdom brings riches, but the great benefit is indicated in Proverbs 3:17, paths of peace. (Murphy, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New International Biblical Commentary), 24)
Wisdom is personified in this unit as a trustworthy guide (Proverbs 3:17), assuming the Lord’s role (Proverbs 3:6). Wisdom is also presented as a woman. Frederick Buechner (b. 1926) denotes, “‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness,’ says Solomon, then adding, just in case there should be any lingering question as to her gender, ‘and all her paths are peace’ (Proverbs 3:17) (Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized, 125).”

Among wisdom’s benefits to humankind is peace.

Her ways are pleasant ways And all her paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17 NASB)
Proverbs 3:17 assures that, contrary to popular opinion, wisdom can make life joyful.

Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) relays:

It is not just quantity of life (length of days) that is promised to those who have a relationship with Wisdom, but quality as well. Wisdom’s path is pleasant. The path refers to one’s life, and the lives of those who are wise are not only pleasant but also characterized by peace. This reminds us of the consequences promised to those who heed the instruction/commands of the father in Proverbs 3:2. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 138)
Though wisdom leads to peace, it may not always seem this way. Dave L. Bland (b. 1953) admits:
To a youth, the path of wisdom may not initially be pleasant and peaceful (see Proverbs 2:1-4). Yet for those who allow wisdom to instruct them, it will lead to peace (Proverbs 3:17). (Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Solomon (College Press NIV Commentary), 72)
In the pantheon of valuables, where do you rank wisdom? Were you to personify wisdom, would you envision it as male or female? How are you actively pursuing wisdom? What enticement would lead you to pursue wisdom more vigorously? What are the byproducts of wisdom?

Proverbs 3:17 assures that peace is an offshoot of wisdom. This concept is central to the book of Proverbs and the Bible as a whole. Leo G. Perdue (b. 1946) characterizes, “The pathways of Woman Wisdom are characterized by pleasantness and peace (Proverbs 3:17). These descriptive terms point to the state of well-being and delight into which the sage enters, once wisdom’s teaching is followed and incorporated into life (Perdue, Proverbs (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), cxv).”

Alluding to this verse, the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 59b) asserts that the entire Torah is intended to promote peace. This premise is still seen in Jewish worship. Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (1954) remind:

This verse and the next [Proverbs 3:17-18] are used in liturgy, particularly when the Torah is returned to the ark followings its reading. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 31)
The Hebrew term “peace” (the common word shalowm) conveys more than the absence of war. Max Anders (b. 1947) explains:
Unlike the confused darkness of the path to destruction in chapter 2, the paths of wisdom are pleasant and peaceful. Wisdom puts us on the path of highest pleasure, not boredom. Peace (Hebrew shalom) stands for the joy and prosperity that accompany the full blessing of God, not merely the absence of conflict. (Anders, Proverbs (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 29)
The source of this wisdom and peace is God. Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) instructs:
People mistakenly think that peace—shalom as positive flourishing, not just lack of conflict—comes from these goods in themselves rather than from relationship with God, which is integral to the genuine enjoyment that Wisdom provides (Proverbs 3:17). (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 26)
In the next verse, wisdom is described as a “tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18), an obvious allusion to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). It implies that wisdom can lead the way back to paradise.

Ellen F. Davis (b. 1950) expounds:

The sages move home, to their own ancient tradition, with the reference to the tree of life (Genesis 3:18). The image stands out; because, outside the first chapters of Genesis, this is the only direct reference to that famous tree, from which our first disobedience separated us (see Genesis 3:24). The sages seem to suggest that laying hold of wisdom reverses our original exile and brings us back to Eden. Those who find wisdom experience something of the joy of paradise: “All her ways are ways of pleasantness” (Proverbs 3:17). The sages here use a technique that is common among the biblical writers. In just a few words they evoke the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the foundational story for humanity’s history with God. That story remains in the background as a foil against which the sages’ understanding of wisdom appears in sharp outline...One might sum up all the teaching of Proverbs by saying that wisdom means holding two things always together: discerning knowledge of the world plus obedience to God. As we shall see, the tragedy that occurred in Eden was the separation of those two essential elements of wisdom. It is the sages’ task to reconnect them. (Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Westminster Bible Companion), 43)
How does wisdom lead to peace? What is the connection between peace and wisdom? Do you exhibit the peace that only wisdom can provide?

“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)