Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bible Challenge: Joshua part 2

The second half of the book of Joshua is, frankly, rather boring.

It starts with a recap of all the battles that the people of Israel won both in lists and in a dialogue between Joshua and God.  The territory they have won is distributed to the tribes.

Cities of refuge are established - where someone who kills unintentionally can flee to avoid being killed in return.  This is the first distinction we find between the concepts of murder and manslaughter and that they should have different punishments.

Then Joshua gives his final exhortation, the people renew their covenant with God and Joshua dies and is buried.  We are now set to begin the history of the nation of Israel - because they have now become not just group of wandering tribes, but a nation with cities and land and laws.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bible Challenge: Beginning the histories

We are now beginning the last section of the Bible - if you have done both years of the Bible Challenge you have now read most of the Bible.  All that is left is the books that are called the histories.

These books are the ones that tell the history of the nation of Israel from the arrival in the promised land through the rebuilding after the return from exile in Babylon.  This is a period of more than 1000 years.  We tend to think of Biblical times as all the same - but think about the difference in how we live even over 100 years.  Things have changed a lot since 1914.  Now think about how much things have changed since 1014.  That is the amount of time that passes between the beginning of Joshua and the end of Nehemiah.

We start with the book of Joshua.  Joshua picks up the story of the people of Israel at the end of their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

God had brought them to the brink of the promised land, right after the flight from Egypt, but they were afraid and didn't trust God, so God had them wander in the desert for 40 years.  They are now back at the edge of the Promised Land and ready to go in.

The most familiar story in the first half of the book of Joshua is the story of the fall of Jericho in which the walls of Jericho fall from the blast of the trumpets of the people.  But notice also the story of Rahab - it is one of many stories in the Bible where someone from outside, who the people would see as an irredeemable sinner, is used by God to work his purposes.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bible Challenge: The book of Daniel

Daniel is an example of what is known as apocalyptic literature.  It is telling a story that is on the service about one thing, but is really about something else.

This type of story telling is used when it is either too dangerous or too polarizing to talk about what you really want to talk about - but you can use an story about the same themes set in a different time to make your point.  Some modern examples are the original Star Trek talking about race relations, which they couldn't do on television in the 1960's but by setting it in the future they could raise the issues or MASH - which is really about the issues of Vietnam, but by setting it in Korea they could get it on television.

The story of Daniel is set in the time of the captivity of the people of Israel in Babylon.  The book was actually written about 200 years after the return of the people from exile.  The themes - staying true to the law of God even in the midst of persecution and hardship - were themes being raised by the group of teacher who eventually became the Pharisees in Jesus' time.  They were calling the people back to obedience to God in the midst of a nation being influenced by many of the surrounding nations.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Bible Challenge: Ezekiel part 2

This week we have the second half of the book of Ezekiel.

By this point you probably have discovered that much of the imagery in Ezekiel is a little strange.

The second half of the book begins with a series of oracles - or prophecies.

There are articles against the various nations around Israel - the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Philistines.  A long oracle against Tyre and a short one against Sidon.  Then there is an oracle against Egypt and Pharaoh specifically. These oracles tell the nations what they are doing wrong and why they will fail.

We then have several oracles for the nation of Israel.  These are called oracles of restoration.  They encompass a few themes: responsibility, both of the individual and the nation and the duties of the shepherds of Israel (that is the kings).

In chapter 37 we have perhaps the best known part of the book of Ezekiel, the valley of the dry bones. - the point of the oracles around this one is that God can call faithful followers from even the very bones.  God will breath new life back into the nation of Israel.