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.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

40 Old Testament Stories: Solomon's Judgement

The story of Solomon and the two women is a relatively well known illustration of his wisdom.  It's a little graphic for our day and age.

Two women come to Solomon and with one living child.  Each woman claims that the living child is her son and that a dead child is the other woman's son.

Solomon orders that the child be cut in half and a half given to each woman.  One woman agrees with this, the other says, no, let her have the child, at least then he will be alive.

Solomon discerns that the woman who is willing to give up the child rather than have him killed is the true mother.

It is a shocking story on many levels.

The point, of course, is that God has given Solomon wisdom and discernment.  To modern ears it sounds incredibly callous.  To people of Solomon's time, life was cheaper and the story would have sounded less shocking.