Monday, October 31, 2016

To whom is it addressed?

Prophecy in the ancient Near East was a political tool of state propaganda that was used to preserve the prevailing order. Generally, the divine message of the prophets refers to the king and addresses the fate of the royal house; it has little to do with the common people. In Assyria in particular, prophecy serves to legitimate the ruling dynasty.—The Prophets of Israel, page 15

<idle musing>
A good bit different from the Hebrew literary prophets, isn't it? Sure, they do address the rulers, but not to legitimate them! They rebuke them for their treatment of the poor and marginalized and for their worship of other deities. And they warn of the coming doom unless the change their hearts and lifestyles.

You do see prophets, like Nathan, who legitimate David's dynasty. But Nathan was also the one who confronted David about Bathsheba and Uriah! Don't try that in Assyria if you want to live.
</idle musing>

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Praxis matters

Righteousness and justice—how one relates to God and human beings—are the hallmarks by which humanity in general, and God’s people in particular, shall be evaluated. The prophets challenge God’s people in times of crises in order to elicit a change in behavior. When people worship gods who do not control the world, consequences ensue. When people treat the poor as commodities, consequences ensue. These two foci remind readers of the Twelve of their own responsibility to behave as those who fear YHWH, who learn to distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, and who live accordingly.—James Nogalski, "Recurring Themes in the Book of the Twelve: Creating Points of Contact for a Theological Reading," Int 61 (2007):135–36

Friday, October 28, 2016

Those pesky prophets!

Nowhere else in the entire ancient Near East did prophets or other men of God ever proclaim such a message. True, outside Israel, gods could be angry and bring disaster upon their cities, countries, and people. Yet the foundations on which the relationship between God and his king, his city, or his people rested was never questioned. What the prophets of Israel, in turn, announced was outrageous and new in the ancient world. Quite rightly, they have been described as Männer des ewig Neuen “men of the eternally new” (Bernhard Duhm). This is not contradicted by the fact that they really did not intend “to say anything new, they are only proclaiming old truth” (Julius Wellhausen). But since they made this ancient truth—namely, the relationship to God mediated by kings, judges, priests, seers, and sages—dependent on God’s desire for justice, they reversed the traditional order.—The Prophets of Israel, page 8

<idle musing>
A new book started. I hope you enjoy the excerpts as we go along. I'm a bit ambivalent about the book—there aren't any footnotes! How can he defend some of his statements without documentation? So it's more like a series of long lectures on the subject of the Hebrew prophets and the prophetic books. He takes a far more critical stance than I do, but the insights he offers are great, as the preceding paragraph shows.

Enjoy the ride!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A different perspective

From James D. Nogalski, “Joel as ‘Literary Anchor’ for the Book of the Twelve,” in Reading and Hearing the Book of the Twelve, ed. James D. Nogalski and Marvin A. Sweeney, SymS 15 9Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 20000, 95: Instead, [Hosea] 14:5–9 [4–8] offers the foundational promise of YHWH’s salvific intention, on which the call to repentance is built. This promise is not offered because Israel has repented; it offers the reason why Israel should repent. The significance of the call to Israel and its position at the end of the writing lies in the open-ended nature of the invitation. It becomes a type of divinely initiated RSVP to which Israel is called to respond, but no response is narrated. In fact, the final verse of the book indicates that the open-ended nature of the call is transferred to the reader. (emphasis original) <idle musing>
Wow! I had always read it the other way, too. What an eye-opener! That's the kind of God we have...
</idle musing>

From beginning to restoration

The Christian life now is not about fear that we will fail to keep happy the One who loved us while we were still enslave to darkness. The Christian life is really about grasping two concepts: our adoption into God’s family—which means Jesus is our brother, and that God loves us like he loves Jesus—and our purpose in God’s plan to restore his kingdom on earth. We are, and will be, God’s new divine council. He is our Father. We are his children, destined to live where he lives forever. We are his coworkers, tasked with helping him release those still owned by the lord of the dead and held captive by unseen powers of darkness.

That is what the Bible is about, from Eden to Eden. That is your destiny. Your life now is not about earning your place in God’s family. That cannot be earned. It’s a gift. Your life now is showing appreciation for your adoption, enjoying it, and getting others to share it with you.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 154

<idle musing>
A fitting final excerpt from the book, wouldn't you say? As I said at the beginning, I like this book. It's a great introduction to the whole issue of the spiritual/unseen realm in the Bible. But—and this is a huge but—it's too simplistic. The real (unseen) world is more complicated than he makes it out to be. Sure, the general overview is correct, but if you spend much time reading the ancient sources, well, let's just say, "It's complicated!" And I think God wants us to see it that way, otherwise we would get too comfortable with the boxes we create. We do anyway!

So, I recommend the book as a first step. But go on and read other stuff; I haven't finished his more scholarly version yet, but what I have read seems good: The Unseen Realm. Another book, which I excerpted from extensively a year or so ago, is World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.

A book that recently appeared and that I haven't had a chance to look at yet but looks great is Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry Hurtado (and, yes, the lower case "g" on gods is correct!). Hopefully I'll be able to snag a copy of it at AAR/SBL!

Next up? Not sure. I haven't had a lot of time to read this summer, between cabins, Eisenbrauns, and copyediting. Hopefully I'll have something for you tomorrow : )
</idle musing>

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Which will it be?

As Christians, we’ve probably heard many times that we need to be like Jesus. We certainly do. But when we hear that, we tend to process it only in terms of being good, or maybe “less bad.” We turn what’s actually a nearly inconceivable idea—that we will one day be as Jesus is—into a performance obligation.

Rather than feel guilty about how much we aren’t like Jesus, and pledge in our hearts to “do better,” we need to let the blessing of what he did, and will do, rewire the way we think about being like him. We can turn Christ-likeness into a task we must perform lest God be angry with us, but that’s bad theology. It turns grace into duty. Or we can be grateful that one day we will be what God is thrilled to make us—what he predestined us to be (Rom 8:29)—and live in such a way that people enslaved to dark powers will want to join us in God’s family. One perspective looks inward; the other looks heavenward.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 153–54

Monday, October 24, 2016

Of the world? Or not of the world?

When our worldview is attuned to God’s plan to rescue people from every nation, making them part of God’s family, we are not of this world. Being of this world is to be absorbed by the world’s concerns and living accordingly. Unbelievers should be able to tell from our speech, behavior, ethics, and attitude toward others that we’re not cynical, selfish, or harsh—that our focus is not on getting ahead or on using people. We should not live to gratify ourselves. We are to be the antithesis of these things. In other words, we are to live as Jesus lived. People wanted to be around him because he wasn’t like most everyone else.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, pages 144–45

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Go organic!

Just ran across this, posted by a seed company, not sure which one anymore, but I think it was Baker Seeds. The article is entitled Organic farming beats conventional method, new finding shows Read the whole thing, but this paragraph sums up the mess we are in:
“Results from long-term experiments have shown that continuous use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides only ensures short term gains in production, but fails to give high yields sustainably in the long-term owing to declining soil fertility as demand for nutrients exceed natural replenishment mechanisms, especially where high yielding varieties are used,” says Dr Anne Muriuki, Centre director KALRO Kabete and technical coordinator of the organic farming trials.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

We've lost sight of it

In essence, baptism was a loyalty oath and a message to the demonic powers (as well as any people present) of just whose side you were on in the spiritual war. Ancient Christians understood this better than we do today. Early church baptismal rites included a renunciation of Satan and his angels because of the this passage [1 Pet 3].— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 144 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
We've lost sight of that, though, haven't we? We're practicing atheists in our daily life, living by our own strength, doing our own thing. Of course, as so many songs say, when we reach end of our own strength, we cry out to God! As if God were simply an energy drink or a Powerbar™ that we took when we ran low on energy.

So, we're selling God short and robbing ourselves of the opportunity to enjoy the presence of God in our lives. Continually. Moment-by-moment. Resting in his love for us and living by his power in us.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Yep, they're real

Another implication of the passages of Scripture we’ve examined is that the notion of demonic strongholds is biblical. We aren’t given a full description of demonic zones or turf boundaries, or even a spiritual pecking order for the dark side. We are told, however, that the unseen powers see earth as their domain. We’re told those powers resist God’s kingdom and don’t want people to become part of God’s plan to spread his good rule everywhere. That means we should expect resistance we can’t explain with logic or empirical evidence and we can’t defeat it on our own. God has given us his Spirit and unseen agents of his own to help us further his mission (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; Heb 1:13; 1 John 4:4).— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 133

<idle musing>
Mind you, this is written by a non-Charismatic! Further, he is correct—on both counts: demonic strongholds are a biblical concept. And, most important to remember for those who want to lay out a roadmap, we aren't given the details. Nor should we spend a great deal of time trying to develop a roadmap. It's a distraction from the task of living a godly life and shining in the corner of the world where God placed you.

3 By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory. 4 Through his honor and glory he has given us his precious and wonderful promises, that you may share the divine nature and escape from the world’s immorality that sinful craving produces. (2 Pet 1:3–4 CEB)
What more do we need?
</idle musing>

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's never too late!

This just showed up in my RSS feed this morning. Here's the first two paragraphs to whet your appetite:
A hundred years ago, the New York Times reported on a rather sophisticated study for the time: 4,600 cases of cancer appearing over a seven year period, suggesting that the increased consumption of animal foods was to blame. A century later, the latest review on the subjects concluded that mortality from all causes put together, ischemic heart disease, circulatory, and cerebrovascular diseases was significantly lower in those eating meat-free diets, in addition to less cancer and diabetes.

I’m surprised they found such significant results given that people in these studies typically didn’t stop eating meat until late in life. For example, in the largest study done up until recently, up to a third of subjects ate vegetarian for less than five years, yet they still ended up with lower rates of heart disease whether they were under 60 or over 60, normal weight or overweight, used to smoke or never smoked; those that had stopped eating meat had lower risk, suggesting that decades of higher risk dietary behavior could be reversed within just years of eating healthier.

Do read the whole thing—and consider adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet! It's never too late

The Messianic Secret

The “new plan” of God’s—that he would die and then rise from the dead to reverse the curse of the fall—isn’t at all evident in the Old Testament. Instead, clues are scattered throughout the Old Testament in dozens of places. Never is it all revealed in one place. The messianic profile is only clear in hindsight—and even then only to someone who already knows what to look for and expect.

Intelligent supernatural evil beings, of course, knew the prophesied son of David had arrived (Matt 8:28–29; Luke 4:31–35). That much they could grasp from the Old Testament. But nothing the demons ever say creates the impression that they understood Jesus was come to earth to die and rise again, reversing the curse.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, pages 101–2

<idle musing>
Which is why Paul can call it the mystery of the gospel...
</idle musing>

Monday, October 17, 2016

Take off the blinders!

It’s time we looked at ourselves through supernatural eyes. You are a child of God, fit for sacred space, not because of what you do or don’t do, but because you are in Christ, adopted by God (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5). You’ve been extracted from the realm of darkness and “transferred … to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13).

We must never, not for a moment, forget who we are in Christ—and what that means to the world.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, pages 84–85

<idle musing>
Ah yes, where the rubber meets the road. The supernatural does intersect with the seen realm in a very real way.
</idle musing>

Thursday, October 13, 2016

He's unlike us

Many of the strange laws and practices of the Old Testament are grounded in the need to teach people that God is unlike everything else. In his nature and character, he is unique; he is completely other than humanity and anything else. For Israel, that was a truth that had to be reinforced at all times. Otherwise, God might be thought of as ordinary.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 72

lt;idle musing>
It wouldn't hurt us a bit to realize that, either. We like a tame god, one we can control and manipulate. Fortunately, we don't have one!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Whence salvation?

Being right with God is another way of talking about salvation. But despite what we’ve often been taught in Sunday school, salvation didn’t come to Israelites by obeying rules, by following the Law. Whether in the Od Testament or the New, salvation is never earned, or even deserved. It’s given by the grace of God in response to faith.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 72 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
I like to tell people to read Hosea when they tell me that the OT teaches salvation by law. It's just not true! But it sure does make a nice, neat system : (

Life is messier than we want to admit...
</idle musing>

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The plot

Our story so far: God cast aside the nations and their people at Babel. The lesser gods assigned to them took dominion (Deut 32:8–9). When God started over with Abraham, it was clear that he planned to one day reclaim the nations through the influence of Israel (Gen 12:3). But the gods of the nations would have to be forced to surrender their power and worship (Ps 82:6–8). That meant conflict—in both the seen and unseen realms. As soon as there was an Israel, she was in the crosshairs of the gods.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 67

<idle musing>
OK. Kind of. I would rate this as a bit too simplistic, but I have to remember he isn't writing this book for me. He is writing this book for the average person who hasn't spent most of their adult life reading ancient languages and ancient texts and histories. So, yes. I can agree with it as a basic overview.
</idle musing>

Monday, October 10, 2016

Image bearers

[R]epresenting God means every job that honors him is a spiritual calling. Every legitimate task can be part of moving our world toward Eden and blessing fellow imagers—or not. God doesn’t view people in ministry as more holy or special because of their job descriptions. God cares about how each of us represents him where we are. We either stand against the darkness, sharing the life God wants everyone to ultimately experience, or we don’t. The opportunity doesn’t need to be spectacular; it just needs to be taken.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 34

Thursday, October 06, 2016


What I’ve heard in church over the years doesn’t just miss the boat—it makes the supernatural boring. And even worse, the church’s teaching emasculates the unseen, supernatural world, rendering it powerless.

A lot of what Christians imagine to be true about the unseen world isn’t. Angels don’t have wings. (Cherubim don’t count because they are never called angels and are creaturely. Angels are always in human form.) Demons don’t sport horns and a tail, and they aren’t here to make us sin (we do that just fine on our own). And while the Bible describes demonic possession in rightfully awful ways, intelligent evil has more sinister things to do than make sock puppets out of people. And on top of that, angels and demons are minor players. Church never seems to get to the big boys and their agenda.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 19

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

First question

But let’s not lose track of the question I asked at the beginning. Do you really believe what the Bible says? That’s where the rubber meets the road. It won’t do you any good to learn what the Bible really says about the unseen world and how it intersects with your lie if you don’t believe it.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, page 16

<idle musing>
And most people don't—unless it fits their preconceived ideas and endorses their current lifestyle, of course! Then it's true.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The physical book

When it comes to the format discussion, the physical book is here to stay. With studies published on exhaustive reading, the correlation between screens and reduced retention, and the often expressed active joys of using a physical book, it it impossible for me to see a future entirely empty of them. There is still very much a need and desire for academic book use in its physical form, particularly in the Humanities.—Against the Grain, 28/2 (2016): 20

It's right in front of you!

The members of God’s heavenly host are not peripheral or insignificant or unrelated to our story, the human story, in the Bible. They play a central role. But modern Bible readers too often read right past, without grasping the fascinating ways the supernatural world is present in dozens of the most familiar episodes in the Bible. It took me decades to see what I now see in the Bible.— Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, pages 15–16

<idle musing>
Indeed! I have taught various incarnations of Old Testament Survey many times over the years. The thing that always delights me is when the lightbulb goes on as people see that the biblical world is a supernatural world. All of a sudden they start seeing it everywhere. That's when I'm glad to be a teacher : )
</idle musing>

Monday, October 03, 2016

Apotropaic summary

This study has used apotropaic intercessory texts as windows into ANE and biblical theologies—specifically studying the kinds of human agency the intercessors portray in response to divine threats of doom. Ritual texts present intercessors as straddling divine and mundane worlds: following prescribed pathways for amending the status quo with the gods’ help, even using magical speech with divine approval, while nevertheless petitioning the gods from their position as mortals. The biblical texts show the intercessors’ initiative, courage, rhetorical skills, and love for their people as they speak out in opposition to their deity.

Both the ANE ritual texts and the biblical narratives find their way out of the paradox central to apotropaic intercession—how to depict humans as countering divine will while still holding the gods supreme. But they do so differently. In their depictions of human agency the biblical writers had far more freedom than writers of the ritual texts, and far more at stake than simply avoiding imitation of ritual practices like their neighbors’. While the ritual texts were meant to assist intercessors in accomplishing their goal, the biblical texts, as sacred stories, had a different purpose: illustrating what YHWH seeks from his intercessors, and by extension, his people: standing up for others, with courage, in the face of injustice and near-certain doom—even injustice and doom from YHWH himself! YHWH’s secret applause as his people challenge his own decisions shows his ultimate interest in building human integrity in an uncertain world. The idealized relationships in all these texts, ritual and biblical alike, show divine efforts to help their people navigate the treacherous tides of sin and threat.—Forestalling Doom pages 241–42