Hearing the Prophets on Justice: A Response

One of the assignments I have given some of my students as we discuss the writing prophets of the Old Testament is to reflect on the following:

“What might be some ways that the prophetic words about justice for the poor and foreigner in the prophets studied this week speak to specific issues today?”

Here was one of the finest answers I’ve read from any student on this (I received permission to share from the student, but have left it anonymous). I find these points cogent and pointed and hear the prophetic voice echoing in them as a call to justice and righteousness as the “branch of Jesse” who was anointed by the Spirit to set to rights all things. I can see the blessed outstretched hand nailed to a tree in both the raised fist and the embracing arm.

Student Response:

The terms mišpāt (justice) and ṣedeq (righteousness) are paired together throughout OT prophecy and are concepts that are “indicative of God’s expectations for his people with regard to every aspect of society.”1 It is also not an accident that those made “right” with God and declared “justified” before Him in passages like Luke 18:14, Romans 2:13, James 2:21-25 (among many others) are expected to have the correct attitude about their salvation which will, in turn, compel them to do good works, stop judging people who aren’t like them or who have yet to get their act together, and instead, deliver people from their oppressive situations.

In order to avoid becoming too political, I will simply share some practical examples of how twenty-first century Christians can “do” justice.

  • If we know of someone who doesn’t share our nationality, and who is being oppressed by someone else who thinks they are somehow superior, step in for them and speak up to the oppressor. Be a peacemaker and do not allow the situation to escalate any further than it already has.
  • If we know of a single mom who is struggling to get by and her child’s father isn’t doing his part, offer her child care, or to pick up her groceries when we are at the store.
  • If we have the means, pay for the education of someone who couldn’t otherwise afford a higher education.
  • Seek employment in social services positions (the injustices going on in the American family are unprecedented).
  • Become a lawyer or a judge.
  • Start a food bank (or help someone already feeding the poor).
  • Become an advocate for people in nursing homes or care centers for the disabled (they often have no one to make sure they are receiving proper care. I believe this is a blight on our society).
  • Befriend someone who has moved to the country recently. I can’t imagine how frightening it might be live in a land where I don’t know the language, culture, or how to get around. 
  • Work in a center that is giving unwed mothers options other than abortion.
  • Adopt a child.
  • Mentor the child of a single mom or dad (or any child in a home where their level of care is sub-par).
  • If we know someone who is being abused by their significant other, counsel them to get out of the relationship and find them options that will help them get out.
  • Run for political office and be the change that you would like to see happening in our government.

The list could be longer, but I’m sure that you get the idea. As in every aspect of ministry, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.

1. Hayes, E. R. “Justice, Righteousness.” In The IVP Bible Dictionary Series: Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda, and J. Gordon McConville. InterVarsity Press, 2012. https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/ivpmmwd/justice_righteousness/0?institutionId=9758.

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Proverbs 31 and the Virtuous Woman

Here is a question I was asked about Proverbs 31 and the Virtuous Woman. I have found this passage to have a fairly wide misuse in the Church against women.

Question: Is there a commentary you’d recommend for Proverbs 31. I’ve read three different commentaries and each give a different perspective of the king, mother and virtuous woman. I don’t know who’s interpretation is correct.

My brief response:

You’ll find folks all over the place on this. I have my own take.

Some dude (no clue from where) named “Lemuel” who was a “king” (not sure of where) shares advice from his mother (the queen mother? And no clue who she is). How’s that for help?

The literary effect though is that the advice/wisdom spoken from “father” (Proverbs 1.8a; 10.1a) and “mother” (Proverbs 1.8b; 10.1b) plays out in the larger structure of the book where the “father” speaks wisdom to his “son” (chapters 1-9) and concluding with the “mother” speaking wisdom to her “son” (chapter 31).

Then regarding the “virtuous woman” of Proverbs 31, I would also connect this to “Lady Wisdom” that the “father” in chapters 1-9 tells the “son” to find and join himself to. Now at the end of the collection of wise sayings we hear a mother’s voice to the son in chapter 31. This “virtuous woman” is the personification of wisdom throughout the Proverbs. In chapter 9, she is contrasted with Madame Folly who will destroy the “son”, but is deceptively alluring and can even sound and look like Lady Wisdom (compare Proverbs 9.1-6 with 9.13-18). The “son” must heed the advice of the parent/s and seek wisdom above all else and finding such, bind and commit himself with all he has to such. This is the marriage to Lady Wisdom. What this passage is not intended to be is a passage for Mother’s Day sermons to talk about how women need to be. It is intended to speak to who we all must be as people in wisdom. If we join ourselves to wisdom then we will be like this (not in the details spelled out, but in the flourishing of life). We will find what the fear of the Lord compels us toward.

In other words, I read this last chapter in light of the early chapters and hear Mama Lemuel saying, “Wisen up, son! Listen to your mama! Do the right thing! Be the right kind of person! And it’ll be alright.”

So here is me also adding my voice in seeking to discern the wisdom of this passage. 🙂

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Genesis 2.18 and the “Not Good” of Creation: Random Reflections

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen.2.18, NIV)

Could it be that there was lack of “goodness” in God’s first creating? How might we come to terms with this notion? What does it even mean that something was “not good” when we as readers have heard the repeated refrain of “good/very good” in Genesis 1?

The “not good” of Genesis 2.18 seems to be about incompleteness for the man functioning as intended. In Yahweh’s response he brings the creatures before the man who names them (recognizing them for both what they are and what they are not). The man knows there is no counterpart to him. Yahweh then creates a co-equal “helpmate” for the man from the man. This will lead to the “very good” of the end of the creative week (1.31; noting that chapter 2 reads like a recapitulation to the creative week of chapter 1) as creation is sufficiently formed and filled toward fruitfulness.

It is striking to me that this “not good” could be enjoined upon the man as a participant with his creator in coming to know what is properly good in the “other” created from him even as he can know the good of the creatures that are not his partner.

Further, we should consider the knowing of good that is offered in Genesis 2-3. The relation to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil at the center of the garden is that it was not for those created in the divine image to lay hold of for themselves, but to only always receive the “knowledge of good (and evil?)” as gift of God through abiding faithfulness to the word of God. The command to “not eat” was good. To obey was to know this good as the gift of God’s word faithfully enjoined.

How might we think of the “not good” in relation to “death” since one may wonder if there was any notion of death prior to the rebellion of the man and woman? If we were trying to force “good/not good” to pertain to “death” prior to the rebellion of the man and woman in chapter 3 then we would have to wrestle with their categories in relation to ours. There would have to be “death” as we describe it in our modern context. This is necessitated by plant life being given for food which requires something we classify as “living” to “die” as part of its consumption. Further, cycles of life are set for functioning in the first chapter suggesting seasons that would lead to death and rebirth of creation in its annual cycles. However, ancient categories of “life” and “death” would not likely be such. It seems more likely that only things with the “breath of life” would be deemed properly “living” and thus no death present prior to the rebellion of chapter 3.

V0034167 The Garden of Eden illuminated by a tripartite extension of Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The Garden of Eden illuminated by a tripartite extension of light, symbolising the Trinity. Engraving by A.C. after H. Bol. By: Hans Bolafter: A. C.Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
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A Quick Exodus: A Brief Response

The following question, and my answer, emerged from readings on the Book of Exodus:

Student:

“It is interesting that the meaning of the word “exodus” means quick exit (1), why is it called a quick exit when it really was not?”

My brief response:

The Israelites had to be dressed to leave in a hurry (Exod. 12.11). They had to make bread without adding yeast (which required time for yeast to work; Exod. 12.15-20) and instead end up even taking their bread un-yeasted with them (Exod. 12.34).

Further, Yahweh had told them ahead of time that Pharaoh and the Egyptians would compel them to leave “quickly” (Exod. 11.1). Moses repeated this message to Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exod. 11.8). And Pharaoh and the Egyptians did precisely this, by compelling the Israelites to leave “quickly” for fear of all dying in Egypt (Exod. 12.31-33).

It is kind of like when a mom says, “You need to be ready to go whenever it is time to go” which means have shoes on, jacket handy, etc., so that as soon as it is time you are ready and can leave quickly.

Also, the forty years does not occur until the people fail in the book of Numbers after leaving Sinai and spying out the land. The days of the Festival of Unleavened Bread ending with Passover and the sudden leaving of Egypt in the night is what the “quick” exit points to.

As an aside, this seems to speak to some of the idea of the “quick” coming of the Lord mentioned later in Scripture (including especially the Gospels and the Revelation) where he will come suddenly (“quickly” or “soon”, Rev.22.7, 10, 12, 20) and thus issues calls to always be “ready” or prepared for that sudden dawning of a new day of liberation into life.

___________________________

1. Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 78.

Haggadah for Passover according to the Spanish rite (the ‘Brother Haggadah’)
1350-1374 CE, Catalonia, Spain
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A Pentecostal Hermeneutic: Video Intro with Brief Bibliography

Here I offer a brief (12 minute) video for some of my students on my proposal for a Pentecostal Hermeneutic. I thought others may benefit from it as well.

Brief Recommended Bibliography (excluding journal articles with the exception of the Reader edited by Lee Roy Martin and also the link to the many hermeneutical resources by Craig Keener)

Archer, Kenneth J., A Pentecostal Hermeneutic for the Twenty-First Century: Spirit, Scripture and Community (JPTSup 28; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2004).

Archer, Kenneth J., and L.William Oliverio, Jr, eds., Constructive Pneumatological Hermeneutics in Pentecostal Christianity (Christianity and Renewal – Interdisciplinary Studies; Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

Green, Chris E.W., Sanctifying Interpretation: Vocation, Holiness, and Scripture (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2015).

Grey, Jacqueline, Three’s a Crowd: Pentecostalism, Hermeneutics, and the Old Testament (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011).

Keener, Craig S., Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017).

Keener, Craig S. (n.d.). Biblical Interpretation. http://craigkeener.com/free-resources

Martin, Lee Roy, ed., Pentecostal Hermeneutics: A Reader (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

Noel, B.T., Pentecostal and Postmodern Hermeneutics: Comparisons and Contemporary Impact (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2010).

Oliverio, L.William, Theological Hermeneutics in the Classical Pentecostal Tradition: A Typological Account (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

Philemon, L., Pneumatic Hermeneutics: The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2019).

Spawn, Kevin L., and Archie T. Wright, eds., Spirit and Scripture: Exploring a Pneumatic Hermeneutic (London: T&T Clark, 2013).

Yong, Amos, The Hermeneutical Spirit: Theological Interpretation and Scriptural Imagination for the 21st Century (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017).

Yong, Amos, Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006).

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An Oracle Against the False Prophets: A Psalm for 2020

So many false prophets,
Deceived in their much prophesying,
Mad with their own imaginings.
Mad with their claims of divine approval.

Deceived long ago when they sold themselves to the powers of this age
Thinking to speak for the Lord who alone is lord.

Lying mouths, deceitful hearts, all of them.
Speaking, but ought not to be heard.
Thinking, but not Your thoughts.
Eyes to only see the kingdoms of this world.
Mouths to speak what their deceitful hearts desire.

Imagining the Lord with them,
They have not realized He has departed.
Indeed, He has departed far from them.

You, O Lord, You have borne witness against them,
But they will not listen.
You have given signs,
But they refuse to see.

They bless the wicked, yes, they bless the wicked;
They have cast their lot with them
Even as they speak such lies in Your name.

How long will we tolerate and welcome such?
How long before the Lord will silence such?

Forgive us, O God!
Have mercy
And do not hear their endless chatterings
And do not count us among these wicked deceivers!

May Your Name alone be exalted,
And every false witness brought low before your throne!
May Your Name alone be praised!
And may Your kingdom come at last!

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A Funeral Twice Undone: A Short Response

I received a question from a student pertaining to burial practices in light of a strange Elisha tale inserted into 2 Kings 13. I thought perhaps my response might help others to reflect on the cultural and historical differences pertinent to such practices that come to bear on our reading of such ancient texts. [Disclaimer: In no way am I an expert on such matters, though I have read numerous articles and chapters pertaining to ancient Near Eastern funerary rites and practices, and I must admit that there was not a monolithic system for such rites and practices].

Elisha died and was buried. Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

2 Kings 13.20-21 (NIV)

A Student:

“Did Elisha have an open grave or what- how could this other man just be thrown in there at the first sign of trouble? If Elisha was buried, even if it was a fresh grave with loose dirt, it seems like it should take a while to unbury him enough for another body to keep his corpse company.”

My Response:

Regarding burials, a cave (tomb) would often be used by those of high reputation and/or wealth that would have body sized cubby holes throughout. It would often include a table/bed/bench in the main opening and/or along the walls (or more likely several such tables/beds/benches) of sorts made of stone where the most recent body in that tomb would be placed until such a time as they had decayed sufficiently down to bones. At which point they might be moved to an ossuary box which was a bone box just big enough for the femur and all else to be deposited into it (as an aside, this practice with the use of ossuaries may have only arisen likely later than this period and belonged as a practice of the wealthy in the second Temple period). Such boxes were made of stone themselves.

Further, tombs were regularly open access (even as something covered the entry to keep wild animals out). They would not be sealed, but only generally closed up with ease of opening for people to add relations to the family tomb.

If (as seems less likely to me from this short tale) Elisha was buried in a shallow grave as it seems the poor and common folks were, then perhaps his grave was so fresh and shallow that the friends just dug up the bit of loose dirt that happened to be over Elisha, tossed their friend in the hole and ran (?). Though my reading prefers to entombment idea over a shallow grave.

The following is my proposed reconstruction of the incident: These friends/relatives of the dead man were wanting to preserve this man’s body in some fashion just as the Moabites were spotted in the area so they quickly toss his body upon one of the table/beds in the tomb of Elisha and then run. It may be they were performing a burial procession with the body (as was a practice of the time and in some cases in our own contexts) to his intended tomb just as the raiders appeared and they quickly opened the nearest tomb to toss in the body (with the intention of returning to properly finish the rites). Or perhaps they were intending to place it upon one of the other tables/beds within a tomb and felt there was insufficient time so they tossed the body upon (or sufficiently near) what ended up being Elisha’s body. The interrupted funeral ends with a second undoing of his funeral by him being resurrected. What seemed a story to end in ignominy becomes a testimony of the resurrection power of the God of Israel still at work through one of his prophets.

Does this help explain what is happening? This incident is due to funerary rites and practices being considerably different than anything we do in our modern western contexts with burial by digging dirt and putting bodies in coffins to lower into the ground.

Tomb of the Kings, Jerusalem
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Elijah the Reticent Prophet?

PIAZZETTA Giovanni Battista | Elijah Taken Up in the Chariot of Fire. | | Italian | Baroque

I have spent a fair bit of time in the study of the Elijah texts in 1-2 Kings (and continue to work on such for an upcoming commentary on 1 Kings). One thing that keeps bothering me about Elijah is his apparent reticence toward passing his prophetic ministry on to Elisha.

I’m still (honestly) bothered by the character of Elijah throughout his collected stories. And I’m not alone as witnessed in several recently published works.* He may take up the role of the eschatological prototype prophet in later traditions (Malachi 4.5-6; Sirach 48.12; 4Q246; 4Q521; 4Q558; Matt.17.10-12; Luke 1.17), but he is a complex and conflicted character in the narratives portraying him.

He was instructed to “anoint” Elisha (and Hazael and Jehu for that matter; 1 Kings 19.15-16), but simply throws his cloak over him as he passes by (1 Kings 19.19). Talk about a seeming passive-aggressive concession to imparting the prophetic anointing. In fact, he fails to follow through with the clear instruction from the LORD to go back the way he came and go to Damascus to anoint Hazael as new king of Aram, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi, new king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat as replacement prophet to carry out the final judgments against Ahab and his house (and by default the kingdom of Israel). Elijah never does anoint either Hazael or Jehu (both of which will only later be appointed by Elisha after Elijah is gone). Nor does he go to Damascus. The narrator has him going and finding Elisha and casting his hairy cloak over him as he continues on his way (to who knows where).

Then we find him apparently desiring to get rid of Elisha as Elisha persists against Elijah and the sons of the prophets who all seek to dissuade him (2 Kings 2.2-6). We are never told why in the narrative. In fact, Elijah keeps insisting Elisha stay behind at each city as he is being led to go to another location: Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, the Jordan. We also see Elijah only reticently relenting to Elisha’s requests by not even seeking its fulfillment, but just handing it over to the LORD as if he doesn’t really care if it happens or not (2 Kings 2.10). He seems throughout the text to not actually want Elisha in his place as prophet of Israel.

He certainly remains a rather troubling character (and not only for the house of Ahab, but also for the readers of his stories). But perhaps I am over-reading these texts. What do you think in light of these narrative indicators?

_________________
* Keith Bodner and Benjamin J. M. Johnson, eds., Characters and Characterization in the Book of Kings (T & T Clark, 2020) and Roy L. Heller. The Characters of Elijah and Elisha and the Deuteronomic Evaluation of Prophecy: Miracles and Manipulation (LHBOTS 671; Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2018).

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Psalms and Proverbs: A Question of Authorship

Part of my approach to teaching is requiring students to write questions about lectures, articles, textbooks, and Biblical texts. (Trying to help them be more Socratic in their own approach to learning). One of my students asked the following question (with my reply following):

STUDENT: In regards to the Psalms and Proverbs I always believed and was taught that David wrote Psalms and Solomon wrote Proverbs. Is that still believed to be true from you Scholars or is there a cross over of Solomon also writing the end of Psalms?

My Reply:

When considering issues of authorship we begin with self-claims in the texts we are examining (rather than simply tradition passed down, which is not dismissed, but relegated to a lesser role in determining who wrote what).

In the case of the Psalms, there are many with the name of David attached to them (eg, 3, 4, 5, etc.). But some are attributed to others: one to Solomon (72), one to Moses (90), some to Asaph (eg, 50, 73, 74, etc.), some to “the sons of Korah” (eg, 42, 44, 45, etc.), etc. Many have no self claims (eg, 1, 2, etc.). Some of the notations saying “of XXX” may not actually be a claim of who authored, but simply who might be associated with the song (particularly with regard to the songs attached to David). Finally, someone comes along sometime (at the very earliest) in the Exile and compiles five scrolls (see the notes in your Bible at the headings of Psalm 1, 42, 73, 90, and 107) filled with songs from their history that they have selected to include (that we call the Book of Psalms). Very likely this particular grouping appears later than the Exile in the form it occurs in our versions. [As an aside, there are some manuscripts we have found which have differing claims attached to some of the psalms as well as being other psalms in other collections including the one pictured below that we have called Psalm 151 from cave 11 at Qumran]

With the Proverbs there are several places attributing several of the collections to Solomon (1:1 prefacing chapters 1-9; 10:1 prefacing chapters 10-24), one collection that is attributed to Solomon but collected by men in the days of Hezekiah (25:1 prefacing chapters 25-29), and then two collections at the end of the book that are by men we don’t know almost anything about beyond their names: Agur (30:1 prefacing chapter 30) and King Lemuel taught him by his mother (31:1 prefacing chapter 31). Finally someone (at the very earliest) would have complied these in the days of Hezekiah (or as seems very likely, much later) into the collections we have in our book.

Of course, what we have in these cases are attributions and/or claims of authorship which could still be questioned upon historical bases. But we still do well to at least begin with the self-claims of the texts themselves even if we later may note features indicating other hands/minds involved.

11Q5: Psalm 151
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Amos: A Fresh Translation

A friend recently asked me if I might do a new translation of Amos for him to record a reading of it for a ministry he serves (which I will perhaps post the audio of here when finished).

This is one of those books that every time I make my way through it, I find it making its way through me. There is a sifting, a shaking, a sorting. The remnant in me that remains looks to the God of Israel with hope for mercy and restoration, the hope of a rebuilt dwelling for the Son of David.

The call of Amos roars across the pages and compels to faithful and righteous concern for “the other” (the weak, the poor, the needy, and all those who are abused). The message beckons for a turning from death to life, from unfounded celebrations to justified mourning, from self-congratulating worship to humility before the coming sovereign. The prophet/ic will not be silenced! The God of heaven’s armies is on the march! Prepare to meet your God!

For whatever it may be worth, here is my humble attempt at a fresh translation of this beloved message that speaks again and again to every generation that has lived at ease and in comfort … in need of a divine shaking. May he shake the foundations and may we stand in that day!

Amos: A Fresh Translation

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