Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Legacy of Omri

Illuminating the Old Testament

My recent review of the ESV Archaeology Study Bible reminded me that I never came back to this idea. It's time to rectify that.

1 Kings 16:21-28 recounts Omri's reign over the northern kingdom of Israel. The text briefly mentions that he had to quash a competitor and that he moved the capital of Israel to Samaria. And that's all we would know about Omri's reign if we only had the biblical record.

Archaeology provides more detail. Omri didn't just pitch a tent and call it Samaria. He built a palace that has been compared to Solomon's work in Jerusalem. And he made Samaria a commercial power. Under his leadership, Israel prospered.

Part of that prosperity was due to the fact that he conquered Moab and forced them to pay tribute, a fact that the Bible only obliquely references later when the Moabites rebel against that tribute.

Omnri's wealth and military prowess so impressed outsiders that the Assyrians called future kings "son of Omri." He should, by all rights, have quite the legacy. He may not have been David or Solomon, but he was an impressive king.

God was not impressed. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, this is the legacy of Omri of Israel:

"Omri did evil in the eyes of the LORD and sinned more than all those before him. He followed completely the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit, so that they aroused the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, by their worthless idols."

We must never forget that the Lord is not impressed by money, power, or success in the things of the world. The only question is "Did you follow God?"

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Related:
A Covenant of One
The Bible and Archeology

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review: ESV Archaeology Study Bible

I received a (disclosure: free) review copy of the new ESV Archaeology Study Bible from Crossway, and then had to ask myself how I'm going to evaluate this thing. Ultimately I decided the only question I really wanted to ask is whether the notes actually illuminate the text in question. Trivia can be fun, apologetics are useful, but a study Bible should make a meaningful contribution to your understanding of the text. I didn't want "Oh, that's cool" but "Oh, that's what that means." While I was at it, I also compared the notes to the ESV Study Bible (Crossway) and NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan) because it'd be good know if this thing didn't contain anything new. (Yes, I am in possession of far too many study Bibles.)

First, the details as listed by the publisher:

The ESV Archaeology Study Bible roots the biblical text in its historical and cultural context .... The Archaeology Study Bible assembles a range of modern scholarship—pairing the biblical text with over 2,000 study notes, 400 full-color photographs, 200 maps and diagrams, 200 sidebars, 15 articles, and 4 timelines.
It also contains the usual kind of cross-references and textual footnotes. It's stuffed pretty full, and frankly it's a back-breaking monster that you aren't going to wag to church. But that's not what it's for. It's for study — whether you're just doing it for your own edification, or you're preparing a lesson or sermon.

So is it any good at that?

To answer that question I looked at sections of Genesis, Exodus, Nehemiah, 2 Kings, Malachi, and Matthew. One thing I appreciated is the editors largely resisted the urge to add non-archaeology comments (something that Zondervan failed to do). If archaeology didn't add much to a passage, there wasn't much in the way of notes. Now the notes themselves are not always golden. Malachi in particular had largely trivial notes — things that really didn't affect your understanding of the message of the text. I should add that each book has a brief introduction that includes a general summary of how archaeology has contributed to the understanding of that book. It says for Song of Songs, "Given the subject matter and poetic style ..., there is little archaeology can do to illumine the central message of the text." (Yet it still has some interesting bits about fruits and perfumes and locations mentioned in the text.) So I feel like they're trying to be honest and not waste your time.

In most of the sections I looked at, however, the notes really did add to the passage. I expected Genesis and Exodus to be full of useful information, and they were. Matthew as well. 2 Kings I didn't quite know what to expect. Every passage didn't have great notes, but many did. The simple truth is archaeology just doesn't have something to offer about every passage. The editors obviously had to flesh out the notes, but they were cautious about doing so with non-archaeology material.

So how does this study Bible compare to the ESV Study Bible? I saw very little of the note material from one in the other. Diagrams, pictures, and charts, though, were frequently re-used. Both have a number of articles and essays, and there wasn't a lot of overlap there, either. So already having the ESV Study Bible shouldn't make you rule this one out.

So how does this study Bible compare to the NIV Archaeological Study Bible? It shouldn't be surprising that there's more overlap here, but I found the notes to be more applicable and the essays to be (a little) more useful. Also, the ESV notes are theologically more conservative than the NIV notes (which frankly surprised me). If you have the NIV, I'm not sure you need a new one, but I do like Crossway's version better.

A quick note about the essays: They give you a thumbnail sketch in a few pages on topics about which whole books have been written. You can't take them as the end-all on the topic, but you can use them to make you aware of issues in archaeology that you may want to investigate further — perhaps in something like Hoerth's Archaeology and the Old Testament.

Now, study Bibles are not devotionals. They don't do the heavy lifting for you. They tell you about the text and leave it up to you to see how that should affect your life. So simply reading the notes in the ESV Archaeology Study Bible is not going to make you love Jesus more or live more like him. But it can help you see the text more clearly, and that can.

Rating: 4/5 — Recommended


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The God Who Wants Peculiar People

Deuteronomy 22-26 (and much of the rest of the Pentateuch) contains rules for Israel that are odd to modern eyes and ears. There rules about what you can eat, what you can wear, and how to style your beard. God tells them what they can plant and what animals they can yoke together. Why are these rules so weird, and why does God care about such minor things?

God desired his people to be a peculiar people. He wanted them to stick out. He wanted them to be separate from their neighbors. Many of these peculiarities seem pointless, but the "pointless" peculiarities call attention to (and protect) important peculiarities.

The word in and around Canaan would have been that these guys are weird. "They dress funny, they don't eat perfectly good food, and they take a whole year off from work every seven years." But once people started watching them, they should have seen even weirder things:

They treat the poor, women, and foreigners with kindness and respect. There are no murderers, thieves, or adulterers among them. They don't sacrifice their children to their gods. They don't even have shrine prostitutes or idols. In fact, they seem to only have one god. And their god seems to bless everything they do.
Of course, things didn't really shake out that way because they weren't very good at following rules.

So God made himself a new peculiar people. He took people from every tribe and made them his own, this time putting his law in their minds and hearts (cf Jer 31:33) so that they can be the holy people he desires (1 Pet 1:15-16).

We don't always follow the rules so well either, but when we do it can be glorious:

"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred." — from the Epistle to Diognetus

Or another picture:

"Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . not spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's Church, they become the nurslings of their confession. But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another ..." — from the Apology of Tertullian

We are not perfect. We will not be perfect until Christ comes and makes us, finally, like him. But we can strive to imitate him. When we love like he loved us, that kind of peculiarity will stick out. The world cannot miss it. And then they will ask us the reason for the hope that is in us. And the lost will be saved. And Christ will be glorified.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The God Who Hates Slavery

God hates slavery.

I know, that's a hard statement to defend. Slavery was allowed in the Old Testament and in the New. The Bible condemns sexual immorality, gossip, and greed, but it never gets around to condemning slavery. But I still think the Bible, even the Old Testament, teaches us that God hates slavery.

We have to acknowledge that "slavery" is loaded with meaning now that it didn't have then. Slavery in ancient times was primarily related to financial debt and war. In the former case it was their version of bankruptcy — you could sell yourself for money to pay your bills. In the latter case it was simply part of their approach to war; you would take your enemies lands, treasure, livestock, and labor force. Taking their labor force took their young males (reducing their chance for a reprisal) and gave you workers for your own needs (whether you wanted them to build pyramids or work in fields).

Being a slave in ancient days wasn't fun; you were property with no more rights than a mule. But it wasn't the same thing as the more modern version that looked at a vast swath of humanity as sub-human. It was typical human might-makes-right, not colonial you-are-lucky-to-serve-us. So ancient slavery was not as odious as the Western version eventually became.

And God still hated it. He showed it in four rules he gave Israel:

1) No Israelite slaves
The Israelites weren't allowed to enslave each other. Their version of debt slavery was what we would call indentured servitude — with benefits (Deut 15:12-15).

How the Israelites were expected to treat each other was supposed to be a picture of proper behavior — this is what God wanted from everyone everywhere for everyone everywhere. What God's law teaches is that when people are poor, you should do whatever you can to help them help themselves and if necessary to just help them. You leave the corners of your fields unharvested, you don't charge them interest on loans. You give them food. And if things get so bad that they have to sell themselves for money, you don't treat them like slaves. They don't become your property, they become part of your family. You accept their labor for a few years and then you send them on their way with gifts to help them restart their life. They were supposed to show the world debt slavery didn't need to exist.

2) Shield the runaways
"If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them" (Deut 23:15-16).

Remember the stories of the Underground Railroad? Remember the stories of slave owners pursuing runaways hundreds of miles? Which side does it sound like God was on? Yearning for freedom is part of the human condition. When people can't take it anymore and work up the nerve to risk running away, God says to let them, shelter them.

3) Kill the kidnappers
One of the fundamental aspects of Western race-based slavery was the kidnapping of people to sell as slaves. This was a capital offense is Israel (Deut 24:7, Ex 21:16).

4) Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18)
Yeah, that one is still on the books. Was this applied as broadly as God desired? No. Jesus had to take them to task over that (cf, Luke 10:25-37). But knowing how God intended it to be applied, can we really argue that God was totally fine with people being treated as property?

Well, then, why did he permit some forms of it?

He modified what they were allowed to do, but he permitted pressed labor and debt slavery because, if I may borrow a phrase, their "hearts were hard" (Matt 19:8). This was a part of their world. He discouraged it — like divorce, like polygamy — but he didn't ban it outright. Why give them more rules they simply could not follow?

But the groundwork was there. Israel paid no attention to it. The early Christians waffled over it for the same reasons. It was a worldview shift that was hard for them to make.

It took centuries for our moral imagination to catch up with God. And yet there is still slavery in this world. There is still slavery in the United States. So what are we going to do about it?

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See also:
Review: Not for Sale
On Human Trafficking

Monday, May 7, 2018

Review: The Gospel According to God

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3).

It is important to know that Christ died for our sins. It's also important to know that this happened in accordance with prophecy.

In The Gospel According to God, John MacArthur takes us through one of those scriptures, what he calls "the most remarkable chapter in the Old Testament" — Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (usually referred to simply as Isaiah 53).

If you aren't familiar with this passage, simply read it and you will be shocked by its specificity. MacArthur then opens the scripture up to show just how specific it is.

And here even those who are familiar with the passage may be surprised. MacArthur will explain how it is far more specific than it appears at first glance. And he shows how catching all the verb tenses reveals the providence and grace of God that is still to come.

Isaiah 53 has long been one of my favorite parts of the Bible, but this book has given me a knew love and admiration for this passage. Be prepared for your heart to sing.

Highly recommended.

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I was provided a free review copy from Crossway, but the book's totally worth paying for.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The God Who Protects Women

God watches over the weak. We already saw that God watches over the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner. His concern covers all women. In a world that regarded women as little more than a commodity, God expected Israel to treat them fairly.

This is displayed in one of the more controversial passages in Deuteronomy:

"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives" (22:28-29).
The complaint is that this passage forces a woman to marry her rapist. (Language experts debate whether the word rendered "rape" in this verse means rape or should it be translated more like "seduce". The word in this verse is different from the one in the previous command that is clearly referring to rape. But it really doesn't matter for the purposes of this discussion.)

It sounds harsh until you think about the world they lived in. There are two important things to consider.

1. Like most ancient societies, Israelites valued female virginity. Not being a virgin would seriously damage a young woman's marriage prospects, and you dared not try to pull a fast one by keeping the young woman's situation a secret. (cf, Deut 22:13-21)

2. A woman really only had two ways to "make a living" in this time period, specifically, housewife or prostitute. If she didn't have a husband she was totally dependent on either family or community charity — or that ... other option.

So this man in verse 28 has done this young lady a terrible wrong, whether he forced her or simply seduced her. And now he is forced to provide for her for the rest of his life.

Is this an ideal situation? No. Ideal went out the window when the act happened. We are now making the best of a bad situation. As unpleasant as living with this cad might be, she's got a roof and food and hasn't been forced to resort to prostitution to survive. Also of note, this passage has a parallel of sorts in Ex 22:16-17. In it, the girl's father has veto power over the marriage (presumably if the culprit is too horrible, Dad won't permit it), so this passage is really more about the "he can never divorce her" part — that is, he has to provide for her for as long as he lives.

Also in this chapter, though adultery is a capital offense, the woman was to be given the benefit of the doubt if there was a real chance it wasn't consensual (v 25-27). Divorce was grudgingly permitted (cf Matt 19:8), but the woman was to be given a "certificate" (Deut 24:1-4) — preventing her from being labeled as an adulteress later.

In a perfect world, none of this would be necessary. In the world we actually live in, these people were expected to take pains to protect women from the abuses of men's sexual excesses. God watches over the weak. And he expects us to do the same.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The God Who Wants Your Children

The people of God have always struggled with building a multi-generational faith on the experiences of a few people.

"Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt ..." (Deut 11:2-3).

To our knowledge, Jacob's sons saw nothing like Jacob's vision. That was it until Moses. The generation of the Exodus saw many mighty works of God; their children less so. And their children saw few if any miracles until the time of Christ.

So how were the children of Israel to pass on their faith?

"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth" (Deut 11:18-21).

Fix these words ... in your heart and mind
This chapter, like the whole book of Deuteronomy, says again and again "carefully observe all these commands I am giving you." First and foremost, your children need to see you following the word of God. Let them see it in action, see how it permeates your life.

Some Jews literally tie symbols on their hands and foreheads to remind them of the Law. Like the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets so popular twenty years ago, the idea is to be reminded to live out what you believe. People say that character is caught more than taught; the Bible agrees. Your children will believe what you say only when it is also what you do.

Teach them to your children
But don't assume they'll "catch" the faith. Teach it to them, too. Surround them with it. Talk about what we believe and why. Often.

This particular passage doesn't mention telling them the stories of days gone by explicitly (though "these words" may include Genesis and Exodus and surely includes the beginning of Deuteronomy which recounts some of God's mighty acts). However Jewish society was built around the great feasts that remembered God's works (eg, Deut 16), and there were other reminders as well (eg, Josh 4).

For Christians, our "Passover" is obviously the cross and the resurrection. Our kids need to know that it really happened and why it matters. And then they need to know what difference it's supposed to make in our lives.

If your kids are like mine, this will be both easy and hard. Kids ask lots of questions. Sometimes it seems like they'll never stop. But Christianity can get lost in all the noise in their heads and lives. Some of their friends aren't Christians; some are "Christians" in name only. This seems unimportant at times; it seems mean at times. It can get crowded out by sports and friends and by Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. And they may wonder why the stories about Moses and Jesus are true but the stories about Hercules and Harry Potter are not. And we have to be able to steer them through that.

If we completely give up, Christianity will march on because God will always have his people. But I really believe God wants your children. And you want him to have them, too. So make sure they see and hear the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Easter: No Fooling

This year Easter will fall on April 1. I can't wait to hear the skeptics cluck about how appropriate it is for Easter to be April Fools' Day. Those ancient rubes thought miracles were everywhere, so of course it was easy to convince them a guy rose from the dead, but we're smarter, more discerning. There's no reason for us to believe some silly story made up to fake a religion.

Unless all of that is wrong.

Dead People Don't Do That
Ancient people did believe in miracles. They did believe the gods could act upon the world. Except for this: They didn't believe in resurrection (ie, someone being permanently returned from the dead).

As NT Wright has ably shown, ancient pagans universally believed that resurrection did not happen. Not only that, they thought it was a heinous idea. They didn't want to be resurrected. Matter (and therefore the body) was evil, and people were lucky that death could free them from that.

Some ancient Jews did believe in a bodily resurrection but with one caveat: There would be one mass resurrection at the end of time. The idea of one person being resurrected was a nonsense.

The Christian idea of a special resurrection for Christ was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles," if I may borrow a phrase.

Nonsense
It was even nonsense to the first Christians. Jesus first appeared to a group of his female followers who reported to the Twelve. "But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (Luke 24:11).

Even after the other Apostles had seen the Lord, Thomas wouldn't believe until he saw it with his own eyes, nay, touched it with his own hands (John 20:24-28).

After the Twelve and even a great mass of disciples had seen the risen Christ, some still doubted (Matt 28:17). Even though they'd seen it with their own eyes, it was hard to believe something so contrary to everything they'd been taught, everything they knew.

Eye Witnesses
When they spread this story around the world, they did so with a very clear, "I was there, I saw it."

"For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1).

If people didn't believe, they were told "he appeared to more than five hundred ... most of whom are still living" (1 Cor 15:6), feel free to check it out.

Not Simple Rubes
They were certainly less educated people than we are today, but they were not idiots. They knew the resurrection was too fantastic. But then they saw it with their own eyes, touched it with their own hands. And they told their stories to people who judged them trustworthy and left their stories to us.

It is an incredible story. But it is a story no one would make up.

Because this incredible story is true, we can have hope. Hope for forgiveness, for peace, for life everlasting in the house of a God who loves us as his own children.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The God Who Loves You Anyway

This morning I found myself thinking about this passage from Deuteronomy 7:
"The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery ..." (v 7-8).
Today we seem to have two opposing self-esteem problems — both in our society at large and in the church. On the one hand we have people who think they are the lowest of the low, the stuff dirt looks down on. Maybe it's due to things in their past, or maybe it's just how they see themselves. These people cannot imagine they have any value and can't believe God could want them.

On the other hand we have people who think they are so fabulous that the stars themselves need to wear shades to look upon them. Their egos tend to be a little fragile, but they want to think they are reason the sun rises in the morning. And they seem to think God is lucky to have them.

God's message to his chosen people, to the nation he was giving "a land flowing with milk and honey," was that they were nothing special. "I didn't rescue you because you were so wonderful. I just loved you."

God's message to his redeemed people, to the nation he gave his Son for, is that we are nothing special, but he loves us: "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1Cor 1:26-27).

God takes things that aren't special and makes them special. He takes ashes and makes crowns, slaves and makes sons. God doesn't want anyone who thinks they're special. But he collects the worthless and counts himself richer because of them.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The God Who Sees The Poor

It was Hagar who first called him "the God who sees me" (Gen 16:13), and Deuteronomy 10 tells us that God still sees those of low estate:

"He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing" (Deut 10:18).

Because of his concern for the poor — be they orphan, widow, immigrant, or simply poor — God tells Israel to make sure they are kind, generous, and fair to them.

They were told to be kind to foreigners (10:19), to give the entire tithe to "the Levites ... the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows" every third year (14:29, 26:12), and to cancel debts every seven years (15:1). In general, "If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need" (15:7-11).

Also, they weren't to charge Israelites interest (23:19) or take any necessities in pledge for loans (24:6, 10-13). Instead they were supposed to be be careful to pay their workers promptly (24:14-15), to make sure the weak were protected in court (24:17-18), and to leave food for the poor to collect in the fields (24:19-22).

What God told the Jews in Deuteronomy is clearly meant to inform New Testament believers as well (eg, Matt 25:31-45, James 1:27).

If we remember that everything we have is from God, we cannot be selfish as if we somehow deserve what we have and the poor deserve their poverty. We have been blessed and therefore are expected to be a blessing.

Now most people don't hate the poor. Who wants to see starving children and widows? But it's easy to become so caught up in our own lives that we forget them, leaving them to their own devices. The lesson of Deuteronomy is that God expects us to be active in caring for the poor and that he will judge us based on how we respond.

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Related:
Helping the Poor Biblically
Loving Neighbors 7000 Miles Away