Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Exodus 20 (10 Commandments)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, year 1 (Most recently on Oct 5, 2014)

"Ten Commandments":  This is not in the Hebrew.  It simply begins, "God spoke these words."

אנכי ("anocki", meaning "I", 20.2)  The first word of the ten commandments have nothing to do with rules, but God affirming his role as their savior and Lord.

לא ("lo", meaning "no", 20.3 and throughout the section)  This form of no means "really, do not."  Hebrew has another word for "no" in the case of most negative prohibitions; la is a supremely strong prohibition, almost could read:  "You will not take other Gods."

חסד ("khased", meaning "lovingkindness", 20.6)  This word means more than simply love as an emotion.  It is combined with the verb, עשה, which means "do."  Khased is the long-standing, faithful love of God that manifests itself in continued acts of generosity.  The question for interpretation is whether khased here refers only to God's love to Israel in this particular covenant (ie, God will loyal if you are loyal).  The evidence for Khased referring only to God's love in terms of this covenant stems from research on ancient convenants between dieties, kings and people.  However, Exodus 34 describes God's khased (the word is in Ex 34.6) after the apostasis.  This reveals that God's love, while bound in a covenant, is greater than the covenant.  Furthermore, I think it is fair to make the argument that the 10 commandments grow out of God's khased for the whole world, not just Israel.

רצח ("rasah", meaning "kill", 20.13)  Does this word mean murder or kill?  NET Bible note matches well with the TWOT bible on this:  "Refers to the premeditated or accidental taking of the life of another human being; it includes any unauthorized killing (it is used for the punishment of a murderer, but that would not be included in the prohibition). This commandment teaches the sanctity of all human life."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Exodus 14:10-29 (Crossing the red sea)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Sept 29, 2014).

For those on the NL:  I struggle a great deal with this text, because the innocent seem to suffer.  Perhaps, never really suffering oppression, I do not understand the harsh realities that undergird this text (escape from slavery and destruction of the military that allows for the system).  Here the Word of the Lord teaches me that some systems are so horrifically out of line with God's intentions that they will be destroyed, not simply by human weapons, but by God. 
If this is altogether too much, you can focus the fact that the Israelites are not so much told to be still, but to be quiet.  Sometimes, we need to be very quiet to see God at work!

ילחם from לחם   ("lakham", "fight", 14.4):  The word here means fight; in the niphil form (which it is here), it means wage war.  The "Lord Sabboth" (YHWH) is a God willing to fight for his people.

לכם("lakem"; two words, "to you all"; 14.4): God is not telling a particular individual to stay still, but the whole nation.  He will fight for all the people, the good, the bad, the lame.  In fact, he is speaking to the people that were just complaining.  He will free all who were enslaved.

תחרישון from חרש ("hkarash"; "be silent"; 14.4)  This word is translated here as "still" but it also means "be silent."  I think the be silent is more relevant here because the Israelites have been complaining.  Its not about "letting go" but "shutting up" ;-)
Here are some other uses of this verb: 
Esther 4:14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."
Job 33:33 If not, listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.
1 Samuel 7:8 The people of Israel said to Samuel, "Do not be silent in crying out to the LORD our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines."

רוח  ("ruach", "spirit"/"wind"; 14:21)  When I first read vs 21, I was thinking a lot of Genesis 1:  The Spirit moving; God dividing things; dry land appearing.  As it turns out, none of the words really match up.  Divide and dry land are different words than in Genesis 1.  Spirit here really means east wind...but...but...it is worth pointing out that the Spirit must be sent to engage against the forces of chaos and death.  I don't think one really stretches the Hebrew or theological narrative to say that the Exodus recalls, if not relives, the creation story of a God whose Spirit moves against chaos to create life.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Genesis 39:1-23 (Joseph in prison)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (most recently Sept 21, 2014).

Summary:  This snippet from Joseph is rather interesting because we'd probably be more likely to focus on the powerful scenes of reconciliation at the end of the story.  This particular chapter gives one large room to preach "social justice" sermons (injustice toward minorities) or "prosperity gospel" (work hard, endure and God will bless you and those around you).   I am still wrestling with the idea of a God who causes us to prosper.  I wonder if my generally liberal protestant background, which is so nervous about prosperity Gospel, undercuts a healthy understanding of God's blessings in our lives.

סלח ("saleakh", "thrive", 39:2, 3, 23)  Last week in the narrative lectionary we focused on blessing.  This week we come upon the word "thrive."  What does it mean to thrive?  Once again, we cannot deny the "worldly" aspect of God's presence in this world.  Joseph (and his masters) gain health and wealth through his work. 

Two wrinkles:  Perhaps this idea of thriving is an Old Testament way of saying bear fruit.  This verb also appears in
Psalm 1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
Whenever their is fruit, there is service to the neighbor because fruit doesn't do the tree itself any good.

Second, life isn't so simple that those who believe in God, only good comes to them.  In fact, the story of Joseph indicates the opposite -- that a life in God, even a thriving life, includes set backs!Psalm 37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
Proverbs 28:13 No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

עבד ("ayved", "servant, slave", 39:17, 19)  This word of slave will take on huge importance in the book of Exodus.  For now, I wanted to point out that Joseph is never called a "slave" until he is punished.  Everyone benefits from him and then he is showed no mercy.  I think this may be a more common feeling/experience of people outside the dominant social group.  A moral minority is uplifted, promoted and praised...one might even think that one has achieved a modicum of acceptance.  Then there is trouble; then there is name calling, no due process, imprisonment.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Genesis 6:16-22; 9:8-15

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Sept 5, 2015)
Summary:   This is a story that many "modern" people have trouble accessing.  It is a hard text for us as a pastors too.  I think the first connection point is found before this NL pericope begins, in vss 5-11, where God declares the world filled with violence.  No one living in 2014 should find it hard to imagine God's anger over the violence plaguing the world.  I don't think we need to walk away from God's fierce disappointment within this story.  This is the human condition.  Surprisingly God's wrath is absent, at least in words, from this story.  That is because God's wrath is connected with his abandonment.  This story is not about an angry God who leaves people to their own devices, but intervenes by destroying in order to bring about life.

What I wrestle with in this story is not simply the violence done by God, but the question of how eschatological to go with my sermon.  The story can be seen in light of Christ's ministry (teaching us the way of non-violence), Christ's death and resurrection (he creates a new non-violent humanity), but ultimately, Christ's next coming (he brings about a non-violent world.

I also wonder if a more personal appraoch is helpful, in that God is willing to kill us -- that within us which is hostile to him -- to make us alive.

Lastly, I would recommend reading the other flood narratives, especially the Epic of Gilgamesh.  It becomes quite clear our God is very different from other deities.

באה ("bo" meaning 'Go in':  6:17,18, 19):  The word, like many Hebrew words, can have a variety of meanings, ranging from "go in" to "come in" to even "bring in."  God "goes into"/"brings" the water; humans and the animals, "Go into" and are "brought into" the ark.  This is an interesting way of thinking about God's activity in Baptism, the ark of salvation (1 Peter); God destroys us in the water, but brings us home in the ark!

כל ("col" meaning 'all', repeatedly):  This word means all.  It is used throughout this section.  God's care is for ALL of creation, and one could argue, for ALL of humanity, in that we need to learn how be reborn to be less violent.

אות ("ot" meaning 'sign', 9:12)  God knows we need a sign, not just a covenant.  As the song said, "I need a sign!"

זכר ("zocar" meaning 'remember', 9:15)  The question here is -- why does God need to remember?  Perhaps linguistically we can get around this.  This verb is in the qal perfect, which means it is to be read as as imperfect, meaning incomplete action.  This can refer to future action or present on-going action.  This actually makes sense because the God of the whole heavens and earth is always shining clouds on the earth -- there is always a rainbow from God's perspective!  God is always remembering his covenant with us.