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.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Elijah vs. Baal's prophets

This was one of my favorite Bible stories when I was growing up.

I love that Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a duel of gods.

I love that he makes it hard on his God.  I love that he mocks the prophets when their god doesn't respond.

It probably says quite a lot about me that I like these things about the story.

The point of the story, of course, is that the God of Israel, is a true God capable of acting in the world while Baal, the idol is just that, and idol, with no power to help his people.

Of course, we are told not to put God to the test, but that is exactly what Elijah does, he tests God against the god of his adversaries and God wins.