Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Bible Challenge: Torah

The first section of Scripture that we are looking at in our 2-year read through the Bible is the Torah.

The Torah is the first 5 books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Torah comes from a Hebrew word meaning instruction or teaching. They are also sometimes called the Pentateuch, which comes from a Greek word meaning five books.

The origins of the books that make up the Torah are lost in the past.  We aren't sure when the stories in Genesis and Exodus were first told or when the laws that we read in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were first complied.  We do know that these books were composed by multiple authors and that they were edited over time.  The books are made up of prose, poetry and law.  The stories in the Torah range from primeval history to events approximately two thousand years before the birth of Christ.

The books of the Torah were compiled and edited over a long period of time.  The first collection of the books was in about the 11th century before the birth of Christ.  The final form of the Torah was set in the 5th century (or about 600 years) before the birth of Christ.

There are six major parts in the Torah:
1. The primeval history - which is Genesis chapters 1 to 11
2. The patriarchs - which is Genesis chapters 12 to 50
3. The liberation from Egypt - which is Exodus chapters 1 to 16
4. The say at Siani which is Exodus chapters 17 - 40 and the book of Leviticus
5. The journey which is the book of Numbers
6. Moses' farewell which is the book of Deuteronomy

There are a couple of themes that we see in the Torah:

1. These are the foundational stories of the relationship between God and humanity.  We see over the course of the Old Testament a movement from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being the most powerful God among many to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being the only God.  Note that the first commandment says "...you will have no other gods before me..." not that you won't have other gods.

2. The creation is, at its basis, good.  That is the theme of the creation narrative, that creation is good and that human beings are made in the image of God.

3. The rules that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob give to the community of Israel are, for their time, radically just, compassionate and merciful.  We read statements like, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" as harsh and judgmental, but for their time, when an injury was addressed by wiping out an entire clan, they were radical in their moderation.

4. Over the course of the Torah we see the relationship between God and humanity move from a Covenant between God and Abraham to a Covenant between God and the family of Jacob aka Israel to a Covenant between God and the nation of Israel.

Have fun exploring the Torah - here are the challenge reading schedule (if you are behind you can catch up by reading all seven days a week, instead of the six days a week in the challenge.

September 10 – 16 – Genesis
Day 1 – Chapters 1-4   Day 2 – Chapters 5–8
Day 3 – Chapters 9-12 Day 4 – Chapters 12-16
Day 5- Chapters 17-20 Day 6 – Chapters 21-24

September 17-23 – Genesis
Day 1 – Chapters 25-28           Day 2 – Chapters 29-32
Day 3 – Chapters 33-37           Day 4 – Chapters 38-42
Day 5 – Chapters 43-46           Day 6 – Chapters 47-50

September 24-30 – Exodus
Day 1 – Chapters 1-4   Day 2 – Chapters 5-8
Day 3 – Chapters 9-12 Day 4 – Chapters 13-16
Day 5 – Chapters 17-20           Day 6 – Chapters 20-24

October 1 - 7 – Exodus & Leviticus
Day 1- Chapters 25-28 Day 2- Chapters 29-32
Day 3 – Chapters 33-36           Day 4 – Chapters 36-40
Begin Leviticus
Day 5 – Chapters 1-4   Day 6 – Chapters 5-9

October 8 – 14 – Leviticus & Numbers
Day 1 – Chapters 10-13           Day 2 – Chapters 14-17
Day 3 – Chapters 18-22           Day 4 – Chapters 23-27
Begin Numbers
Day 5 – Chapters 1-4   Day 6 – Chapters5-7

October 15-21 – Numbers
Day 1 – Chapters 8-12 Day 2 – Chapters 13-16
Day 3 – Chapters 17-20           Day 4- Chapters 21-24
Day 5- Chapters 25-28 Day 6 – Chapters 29-32

October 22-28 – Numbers & Deuteronomy
Day 1- Chapters 33-36 Begin Deuteronomy
Day 2 – Chapters 1-4   Day 3- Chapters 5-8
Day 4- Chapters 9-12  Day 5 – Chapters 13-16
Day 6 – Chapters 17-20

Thursday, June 2, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Daniel in Babylon

The story of Daniel is written as if it happened during the exile in Babylon.  It was actually written more than 150 years after the people of Israel returned from Babylon.  It is an example of a story that is set in a different time so that it can tell the truth to the people that they can't hear in a contemporary setting.

There are two examples of this in American t.v. shows:
MASH - which was set in the Korean War and told truths about the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggles of the 70's.
The original Star Trek was set in the future and told truths about the Civil Rights Movement, the movement for women's equality and welcoming the stranger.

Daniel is set in the Babylonian captivity and tells stories of how to resist oppressors, how to hold to your faith when it is challenged and how to trust in God when things look bad.

Friday, May 27, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Valley of the Dry Bones

This is one of the best known bits of prophecy.  It is also one of the favorites of clergy, I suspect because it is so easy to visualize.

The prophet Ezekiel is put down in a valley of bones.  We are told several times that the bones are dry.  The point is clear.  These are the remains of those who have died.  There is no life here.

God puts the bones together and breathes life into them.  Lest you miss the point: God is the giver of life.  God can bring life even in the midst of death; God can bring the dead to life and can bring life to places where there seems to be no life.  God is in control.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Job

The story of Job has tons of themes, but the one that I like the best is the way that God answers Job.

Job has lost everything and his friends are telling him that he must have done something to deserve it and if not then God is mean.  Job attempts a defense of God, but speaks as if he knows what he is talking about.

God, apparently, looses patience with Job and speaks to him.  What I love is how God starts.  God lists lots of things that happened at the creation of the world and asks Job where he was when those things happened, or how something came into being.  This is God being sarcastic.  It doesn't happen very often, but it's kind of fun to read.  This underlines one of the themes of the book of Job, and a theme that appears throughout Scripture: If you want to annoy God, speak as if you truly understand him and know what he wants - and if you really want to annoy him speak as if you know what he wants other people to do.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Esther

The story of Esther is one of those that has lead me to tell fifth and sixth grade boys that they shouldn't read the Old Testament because there is too much sex and violence in it. Which, of course, leads to them rushing to read it :)

The story of Esther is a story about doing what you can no matter where you find yourself.  It's also about taking risks for the people that you love.

This story is the core of the Jewish holiday of Purim which features a telling of the story and the giving of sweets to each other, especially three cornered cookies supposed to represent Haman's hat.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Captivity in Babylon

The exile of the people of Israel in Babylon in one of the defining events in the history of the people.

Biblical scholars talk about the pre and post exhilic periods of the history of Israel.

Babylon carries off all of the people with education and skills and leaves the poor behind.

The division of the people, the changes in the way that they approach the laws of God and the struggle to reintegrate as a nation after the exile mark the third era of the history of Israel, and the results of that echo down even to the time of Christ.

The tug of war between the group that focuses on the strict obedience to all of the details of the law and those who focus on spirit of the law rather than the specific observance can be seen in the discussions between Jesus and the Pharisees.  Those two points of view come directly out of the experiences in the exile - and 500 years later they are still influencing the nation of Israel.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Naaman

One of the themes that recurs through the Old Testament is that the God of Israel isn't only interested in the people of Israel.  The God of Israel is willing to act on behalf of people who are not part of the nation of Israel.

This is one of those stories.  Naaman is the general for the army of one of Israel's neighbors.  He comes down with leprosy, the most terrifying disease of Biblical Israel.  When he has no other choice he turns to the God of his wife's slave girl for help.

There are two things about this story that make it interesting:
1. The God of Israel is willing to act, even for someone who has been and might be again the enemy of his chosen people
2. The God of Israel doesn't act in the same way that other gods do.  There is no flash of light, no loud noises, no theatrics, just an instruction to go wash in the river.

We see in this story God acting in unexpected ways - that is another one of the themes that recurs throughout Scripture.  God is often found in unexpected places doing unexpected things.