Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Psalm for the day


For the music leader. Do not destroy. A psalm of Asaph. A song.

75 We give thanks to you, God. Yes, we give thanks!
    Your name is near. Your marvelous deeds are declared.

God says,[a] “When I decide the time is right,
    I will establish justice just so.
    The earth and all its inhabitants will melt,
    but I will keep its pillars steady.” Selah

I said to the arrogant,
    “Don’t be arrogant!”
To the wicked I said,
    “Don’t exalt your strength!
        Don’t speak so arrogantly against the rock.”[b]
Because what exalts someone
    doesn’t come from the east or west;
    it’s not from the south either.
Rather it is God who is the judge.
    He brings this person down,
        but that person he lifts up.
Indeed, there’s a cup in the Lord’s hand
    full of foaming wine, mixed with spice.
    He will pour it out,
    and all of the earth’s wicked people
    must drink it;
    they must drink every last drop!

But I will rejoice[c] always;
    I will sing praises to Jacob’s God!
10 God says:[d]
“I will demolish every bit of the wicked’s power,
    but the strength of the righteous will be lifted up.”

<idle musing>
I needed that today. The psalm starts out and ends with praise to YHWH, what is called an inclusio. The inclusio surrounds judgment on the evil and those who wield power unjustly. We live in the midst of that, we are called to live in the inclusio, praising God. It's a choice—sometimes not an easy one—but a choice nonetheless. We make that decision every moment of every day.

That's where I'm choosing to stand today. And I trust God for the power of the Holy Spirit to live it in me, because I can't do it on my own.

What about you? What will you choose?
</idle musing>

Sunday, October 25, 2020

John Stuart Mill is still relevant

“Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and without the means which he helps supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”—John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address: Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, Feb. 1st 1867, People’s Edition (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1867), 36

Friday, October 23, 2020

Silence isn't always golden

I overcommitted. I have too many projects right now and no time for recreational reading. The blog will reflect that for the next couple of weeks until I finish up a few of the projects I'm working on.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020


The fact that obedience is a crucial aspect of salvation underlies Paul’s encouragement to the New Testament church to “work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12)—this from the theologian of grace par excellence. Likewise, when the tax collector Zacchaeus pledged fourfold restitution for defrauding others (Luke 19:8), thus fulfilling the requirements of the Torah (Exod. 22:1), Jesus announced, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). It is certainly possible (and traditional) to read ]esus’s comments in terms of a truncated view of salvation as some internal “spiritual” transformation to which Zacchaeus’s visible actions testify. However, the text reflects the biblical perspective that obedience (especially when it concerns the reestablishment of justice) is itself a crucial component of salvation, in the sense of the restoration of communal well-being.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 88

Monday, October 12, 2020

The exodus as model

The point is that by remembering their own bondage and by modeling their actions on their holy and gracious deliverer God (who was attentive to them in their need), Israel will enact righteousness toward the vulnerable in their midst. The exodus thus functions as a lens for understanding the requirements for societal flourishing in a broken world by generating a special concern among the covenant people for the needy or marginalized. The experience of the exodus grounds Israel’s insight that human society cannot function properly—salvation is incomplete—unless the most vulnerable members are protected, provided for, and nourished.——J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 88

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Beware what you say

Beware what you say, because it can be used in the future to show how far off the wall you were! Case in point, a very good scholar, Bernhard Duhm, said this about Ps 119 in 1922:
What sort of purpose the author had in view during the composition of these 176 verses, I do not know. In any case, this “psalm” is the most meaningless product that one ever used to blacken paper; one could more easily wear down a heretic with it than with all seven penitential psalms.
Original German:
Was der Autor bei der Abfassung dieser 176 Verse für einen Zweck im Auge gehabt hat, weiss ich nicht. Jedenfalls ist dieser ‘Psalm’ das inhaltsloseste Produkt, das jemals Papier Schwarz gemacht hat; mit ihm könnte man einen Ketzer eher mürbe Machen als mit sämtlichen sieben Bußpsalmen.—Bernhard Duhm, Die Psalmen, 2nd ed., KHC 14 (Tübingen: Mohr, 1922), 427–28
Cited in ch. 3 of Bernd Schipper, The Hermeneutics of Torah: Proverbs 2, Deuteronomy, and the Composition of Proverbs 1–9 (Atlanta: SBL Press, forthcoming). Needless to say, very few people would adhere to that view today!

Friday, October 09, 2020

Well, who did it then?

One of the paradoxes of the exodus account is the interplay of divine and creaturely freedom in bringing salvation. Moses tells the people that they are to stand by and watch the salvation that God will work at the sea (Exod. 14:13), yet God tells Moses to actively participate in the deliverance by stretching out his hand with the staff, thus dividing the waters (Exod. 14:16); in this participation Moses replicates God’s primordial action of separating the waters on the second and third days of creation (Gen. 1:6—10). Even more strikingly, we find that YHWH calls Moses to “bring my people, Israel, out of Egypt” (Exod. 3:10), whereas he had just told Moses that he (YHWH) would “bring them up” (Exod. 3:8). This correspondence of human and divine action is rooted in our creation in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28), which allows us to adequately represent God on earth. That God is the ultimate agent of salvation, therefore, does not conflict with the fact that human agents are often used in the process of bringing salvation. And yet, while Moses directly confronts Pharaoh with the demand to let the Israelites go and even stretches out his hand over the sea, it is significant that neither he nor Israel has any direct role in fighting against the Egyptians; this is YHWH’s victory.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 84

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

The Exodus

It is significant that while the exodus is a case of sociopolitical or even military deliverance, in no case does Moses or Israel fight directly agalnst Egypt; that is solely God's job. Thls anticipates the theme, found throughout the Bible, that salvation is accomplished only by God; it is never achieved by human “works.”—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 83 n. 10

Monday, October 05, 2020

Two-fold salvation

The most fundamental meaning of salvation in Scripture is twofold: it is God’s deliverance of those in a situation of need from that which impedes their well-being, resulting in their restoration to wholeness. Wholeness or well—being is God’s original intent for creation, and that which impedes wholeness—sin, evil, and death in all their forms—is fundamentally anti-creational. Both the deliverance of the needy and their full restoration to well-being (in relationship with God, others, and the world) are crucial to salvation, and the term may be used for either or for both together.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 79

Friday, October 02, 2020

It's endemic—no, not the virus, misuse of power

Indeed, we live in a world that glorifies violence and makes an ideal of conquest and military supremacy. Whereas God wants the cloud of his Glory-presence to fill and cover the earth (as it did the tabernacle), we, by our violent misuse of the power entrusted to us, have covered the earth with a cloud of pollution, both physical and moral, thus shutting earth off from God’s full presence.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 55

Thursday, October 01, 2020

God's initial (and continuing) intent (hint: It's not what you think)

God’s intent from the beginning is thus for a cooperative world of shalom, generosity, and blessing, evident most fundamentally in his own mode of exercising power at creation. In the New Testament, Jesus even grounds love for enemies in the imago Dei, suggesting that this sort of radical generosity toward others reflects the creator’s own “perfect” love toward all people, shown in his causing sun and rain to benefit both the righteous and the wicked (Matt. 5:43-48; cf. Luke 6:27-35). In the end, nothing less than God’s own exercise of creative activity ought to function as the ethical paradigm or model for our development of culture, with attendant care of the earth and just and loving interhuman action. By our wise exercise of cultural power we truly function as imago Dei, mediating the creator’s presence in the full range of earthly activities, thus fulfilling the initial narrative sequence of the biblical story.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 52