Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Elisha and Naaman)

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary (Most recently All Saints Sunday, 2014).

I found this text fascinating though in terms of my understanding of a prophet.  Elisha's actions in chapter 5 and 6 offer a different vision -- a very Christ like vision -- of what it means to be a prophet and perhaps too, for this Sunday, a saint.

Key words:

נביה  ("Niveah" meaning "prophet" (2 Kings 5:13))  Often times we think of prophets as those who either a) predict the future or b) bring down the judging word of God.  In this case, the prophet also extends God's healing.  In this sense, God offers a foreshadowing of John's baptizing people in the river Jordan.  In fact, in chapter 6, the prophet Elisha saves lives and acts as a peace maker between Syria and Israel.

טהר ("tahar" meaning "cleanse, purify", 2 Kings 5:12, 13, 14)    We saw this word back in Psalm 51.  In Hebrew, this word is associated with pure metals (especially gold); it is often associated with ritual and ceremonial cleansing and furthermore, cleansed items used in worship. You could go a couple of ways here: First, that God's cleansing is like removal of dross from metal -- getting rid of the crap in our lives that we might be pure. Second, you could argue that the cleansing has a purpose (to be used in worship and service to God). Third, you could argue that ultimately forgiveness neats a ritual cleansing, including through washing with water or blood.

אראם  ("aram" meaning "syrian" (2 Kings 5:1))  It is worth pointing out that ARAM is not a Jewish country.  There are three vying kingdoms in the time of Elisha:  Israel (Northern Kingdom, with its capital in Samaria), Judah (the Southern Kingdom, with its capital in Jerusalem) and Syria (with its capital in Damascus).  They explicitly worship other gods and are routinely at war with the Israelites (and Judeans), as chapter 5 (see later in the passage too) makes clear.  Given this reality...
* God still is soverign over their armies (2 Kings 5:1)
* God still is willing to hear their soliders - Namaan
* God is willing to forgive one of their army members for attending worship of another God because his job requires it. (2 Kings 5:18)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (most recently Oct 19, 2014).
To get at the story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan, I looked at the Psalm 51 portion of the readings.

Summary:  There are rich theological themes in this Psalm 51.  For my blog this week, I try to get into some the words, which are rich in imagery in the Hebrew.  Hopefully these descriptive words can be a means to get into the Psalm and accompanying story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan.   As a side note, I've always seen the fullest expression of Gospel in this passage in the existence of the Psalm 51.  God turned David's sin into something that was enduring and lasting.  His child died, but his words of lament have comforted people for centuries.

Key Words:
נביא  ("Nivea" meaning "prophet", 51:1 (intro to Psalm):  The word prophecy often means prediction in modern popular imagination and film (Harry Potter/Star Wars).  The prophets in the Bible did not predict the future.  Rather, they spoke the word of God, which often included future possibilities for judgment or promises of blessing.  But the main job of the prophet was to speak the Word of the Lord to the present situation, in this case, a king who had sinned badly.  Very badly.

נתן  ("Nathan", name of the prophet, 51:1 (intro to Psalm):  The prophet's name "Nathan" means gift.  Even the harsh words of God are a gift to David here in that he calls David to repent, to have a restored relationship with God.  When we deny calling 'sin' 'sin' we deprive people of the gift of forgiveness and repentance.

רחמים ("rakamim" meaning "compassion", 51:2) The origin of this word רחם meaning is womb.  In the plural it means compassion; this is clearly feminine way of thinking about God's love; it is like a woman's care born in her womb. 

מחא ("makha" meaning "wipe", 51:2;9):  As the TWOT points out, almost every time this verb shows up in the Hebrew Bible, it is significant.  For example, God will wipe out the earth with a flood; God will wipe away every tear in the eschaton (Isaiah 25:8).  The literal action means:  "Erasures in ancient leather scrolls were made by washing or sponging off the ink rather than blotting. "  Literally erase away, expunge!  So that when God reads the book of life, he reads them no more.

כבס  ("kabas" meaning "launder", 51:3;7)  TWOT:  "to make stuffs clean and soft by treading, kneading and beating them in cold water...it is used always for clothing, 'to launder'"

טהר ("tahar" meaning "cleanse, purify", 51:3;7)  In Hebrew, this word is associated with pure metals (especially gold); it is often associated with ritual and ceremonial cleansing and furthermore, cleansed items used in worship.   You could go a couple of ways here:  First, that God's cleansing is like removal of dross from metal -- getting rid of the crap in our lives that we might be pure.  Second, you could argue that the cleansing has a purpose (to be used in worship and service to God).  Third, you could argue that ultimately forgiveness neats a ritual cleansing, including through washing with water or blood.

חול  ("khul" meaning "twirl" translated here as "born", 51:5) from the moment the person begins writhing, twirling, dancing, moving, even in pain, they are born with sin.

אמת  ("amat" meaning "faithfulness" or "truth", 51:6) What is it that God desires?  It is not simply truth as in a true statement, but faithfulness.  Something beyond propsitional truth is desired here.  We could do a lot more here, but the NET translates this nicely with integrity.

ברה  ("barah" meaning "create" 51:10)  Just a reminder that this verb is only associated with God as the subject.  Humans can fairly be described as co-creators in the sense of we can imagine, build, make, name...but we cannot create life; nor can we create a new heart.

קדש ("kadesh" meaning "Holy" 51:11)  This is the only time in the Old Testament we have an unambiguous reference to the Holy Spirit.  The NRSV does not do Christians justice when they translate the words with lower case holy spirit.
 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Joshua 24:1-15

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Oct 12, 2014)
Summary:  I found the subsequent verses (16-24) just as, if not more, fascinating.  Joshua does not simply offer them the promises, but also the consequences and challenges of following God.  Do we do the same in our preaching?  This text challenges me:  Do I preach the consequences of not serving the Lord as much as I preach the benefits of serving him? 

But if this is reading too far ahead, the preaching challenge of this text remains:  Can you preach the necessity of worshipping the Lord without preaching decision theology?

More practically:  What are the other gods out there today?  Who are the gods of old and the gods of the new?

 ירא ("yarah" meaning "fear", 24:13)  This word is translated as fear, revere and obey in various translations.  How we translate this word?  This linguistic question rests on a theological question:  what does it mean to fear the Lord?  We are back in the Ten Commandments and Luther's explanation of the first commandment:  "We are to fear, love and trust God above all things."

Fear could be understood more in terms of reverence -- be in awe of the Lord!  I think this is something that we need to preach and inculcate in our parishoners.  We often, post-enlightment, reduce the miraculous nature of God.  God still does wonders and the church must proclaim this. 

However, in vs. 20 Joshua suggests that not worshipping God has extremely negative consequences, including punishment by God.  More than respectful awe is meant by the word "fear" here.  As a pastor, I see people all the time motivated by their fears:  fears of being alone, fears of being scorned, rejected, poor, dead, the list goes on.  I discover that people are often profoundly motivated by their fears.  When we fear God, his consequences, his judgment above all things, in this and I would argue in this alone, do we find true freedom.   What we fear will be our God.

עבד ("ayved", "serve, worship or be slave", 24:13) This verb shows up throughout the Exodus narrative.  Who will the people serve?  Pharaoh or the Lord?  It is interesting that all these words are related:  serve, be slave, worship.  To worship is to serve, even be slave to; there is not thought of worship that does not entail obedience.

The Exodus narrative is done, but as the people enter the promise land, at stake is who the people will worship.  Before it was Pharaoh; but now their options are the gods of old or the gods of the new.  This reminds us that a) there will always be alternatives to worship of God; b) we will always be worshipping some god or another.  Atheism is not really possible.

רע ("rah" meaning "evil", 24:15)  There is a great expression here, "If it is evil in your sight to worship the Lord."  For some, worship of the Lord will be unacceptable, even among God's people.

בחר ("bakhar" meaning "chose", 24:15)  It is interesting that the people cannot choose the Lord.  They can only choose to worship other gods.  Even when Joshua declares his loyalty (seemingly a passage that gives evidence to decision theology), the Bible still does not want to say that we can choose God.  We have free will -- to turn away, but that is it.