Not done yet…2 Kings 25

I just finished reading through the history of Israel from creation to exile in the year-long Bible reading plan I’m doing.  My heart warms every time I read the last few sentences of this massive historical train of books that begins in Genesis and ends in 2 Kings. OT Scholars have often called this the “Deuteronomic history” of Israel, precisely for the way in which the latter books especially view the actions and events in Israel’s history in light of the covenant blessings and curses promised by Moses back in Deuteronomy.  A king is faithful to the Law; God blesses the nation.  The kings and people are unfaithful; covenant curses come upon them.  Of course, the bad kings, it seems, always outnumbered the good, the high places and idol worship remained more than they were removed, and the ultimate covenant curse of the Exile was brought first in devastating fashion to the 10 Northern tribes of Israel by Assyria and then later to the kingdom of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

2 Kings 25 is a terrible chapter.  The author recounts how the army of Judah is defeated, the walls are broken down, the kings’ palace and Solomon’s temple are burned, all the wonderful objects of worship (some going back to Israel’s glory days under Solomon) are melted down and/or carried off to Babylon like plastic rings from a Chuck E. Cheese evening. All is lost.  Israel failed the covenant.  The curses have come.

But it doesn’t end there.

27 In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. 28 He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. 30 Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived.

The glimmer of hope.  This is that scene after the credits of the movie where it’s alluded to that the main character hasn’t really died, that hope remains still in the darkest hour, and that good is not finished.  Of course, the main character isn’t Jehoiachin.  It’s God.  And he’s still working.  He’s not done yet.  The pattern of Genesis where God’s chosen people (Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, the Israelites at the Exodus) stumble and trip over themselves into what appears to be accidental blessing is resumed here in these few verses.  The failed king is pulled out of prison and banquets at the table of a Gentile king.  The candle that was snuffed out by Assyria and Babylon and wicked kings re-ignites just before the curtain closes.  Israel may have failed YHWH’s covenant, but YHWH hasn’t failed Israel.  He’s not done yet.

“the still, small voice”

We talked about Elijah this last week with our students.  Elijah had quite a resume: stopped rain for 3 1/2 years, confronted a wicked king at risk of his own life, moved in with a family and they didn’t grocery shop for 3/12 years, raised that family’s son to life from the dead, challenged 450 false prophets to a “fire from heaven” contest (the prophetic version of a cage match), actually got fire to fall, went Jack Bauer on the 450 and killed them, after killing them, outran the king’s chariot to the city to get out of the rain, walked 40 days and 40 nights straight to meet with God on Mt. Sinai fueled by a single meal.

Yet, Elijah showed up in 1 Kings 19 to meet with God.  He explains his concern: I’ve tried really hard to get Israel to return to worshipping the True God, they aren’t, they’re killing those who do, and I’m pretty much the only one left.  In essence, he’s saying, “God, your plan isn’t working. I’m doing my part, but it’s not working.  And I’m the only you’ve got now.  and to think that you’d even allow my life to be threatened must mean you don’t get how important I am to this plan of yours.”

So God does two things.  First, He shows up.  This is the part of the story that gets a lot of press.  He calls Elijah out of the cave and says, “Get ready, I’m showing up.”  Then a cliff-shattering wind, earthquake and fire show up.  But the text says, “the LORD was not in” any of these.  These in fact were just the opening acts, to use a concert term.  Finally, Elijah can hear the voice of God.  The voice asks him to air his complaint again.  (Perhaps through this display of power, God is trying to remind Elijah that he’s got this under control.  Just his showing up sends shockwaves of wind and fire and earthquakes out as precursors.) Elijah airs his same complaint yet again.

–This is where most sermons about Elijah stop.  Elijah felt bad, he hears the “still, small voice of God”, and he doesn’t feel as bad and everything is ok.  And if you wait to hear that still, small voice today, you too can find comfort and not feel bad or depressed or whatever.  Unfortunately, while it may be an emotionally moving sermon, it has forgotten to read what the “still, small voice” actually says.  Internal fuzzies are not the point of this story.  Let’s go on.–

The second thing God does though is rarely contemplated.  Elijah, this great prophet, apparently still has an important lesson to learn.  God tells him to anoint a new king for Aram, a new king for Israel, and Elisha, a new prophet in his place.  Wait, a prophet in his place?  That’s right.  Those three will finish the job.  O, those three and the 7000 others who still worship me.   You think you’re the only option I have, Elijah?  That your worries are necessarily mine?  That I’m wringing my hands at the failure of Israel to repent and my only hope is you?  Sorry.  There are at least 7003 others I have.  One is even going to directly replace you.  You aren’t needed.

I’m not sure what comfort Elijah is supposed to take from this.  God’s response to his worries about the nation and his own life seems to be, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a replacement for you.”  The response seems to be, “Elijah, your mistake is that you think that I need you.  I don’t.”

It can be harsh to think of God in those terms.  He doesn’t need us: you, me, or anyone. Something about that very statement makes us feel small, perhaps neglected, perhaps unloved.  That’s the worst recruitment effort ever.  How many church committees and VBS staffs have been filled by passionate pleas aimed straight at people knowing how desperately we need them?  It’s nice to be needed.

But we aren’t.  If Elijah, rock star prophet, wasn’t, I’m certain that I’m not.  I went grocery shopping two days ago and cooked food in an oven.  I didn’t have a self-refilling pantry or a fire falling from the sky.

But deep down, as much as it may grate on our current notions of love and self-importance, we need to hear that we’re not needed.  We need to be humbled by the fact that we’re not all-star free agents God is trying to sign.  We need to be provoked into realizing that if we delay in our obedience to Christ, he doesn’t have to wait for us forever, he can find someone else.  We need to be invited in amazement by a God totally without need of us who yet gave Himself to redeem us and love us.

We need.  He doesn’t.  Creature meet Creator.

Ancient Chinese Food Mentioned in Old Testament!

Found in Psalm 106:14, I never knew that the Israelites were lovers of delicious fried Chinese dumplings until now.  Here is the proof, provided by the translators of the ESV:

“But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert;”

Did you see it?  Look again:

“But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert;”

They craved Wantons.  Delicious, fried, tasty. Who wouldn’t?

Moral of the story: Don’t settle for just reading one translation of the Bible!!  Not only will you miss out on discovering tasty (sorry) gems like this, but often times we need to see a slightly alternate wording to get us to slow down and see things we may not have noticed before. And if you’ve done the work in learning the Biblical languages, you’ll now know how to order Wan-Tons at your favorite Chinese buffet in Hebrew!

(for that one person who read this all seriously, this is all a joke, minus a couple parts of that last paragraph!)

Purity is Backwards. (Joseph)

Joseph was in a line of several men* who slept with their slaves.  In a great reversal, Joseph became a slave who didn’t sleep with his mistress.

*Abraham with Hagar, Jacob with Bilhah and Zilpah.

Reading through the Bible? Encouragement from Bonhoeffer

I’ve been trying to read through the whole Bible this year, just about to finish Deuteronomy in my OT reading.  I’ve talked to many people who gave up trying to read the Bible after hitting the middle of Exodus (some multiple times).  I highly sympathize with them.  But I was encouraged by a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I discovered a few weeks ago, and thought I would share with the one or two of you who read my posts: (it’s a little longer…but if I could type it, you can read it!)

“Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men.  We become a part of what once took place for our salvation.  Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land.  With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance [we] experience again God’s help and faithfulness.  All this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality.  We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth.  There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace.  It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth.  And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also.

A complete reversal occurs.  It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ.  It is in fact more important for us to know what God to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today.  The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ  rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the last day.  Our salvation is “external to ourselves.”  I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.  Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his Cross, and his resurrection, is with God and God with him.”

from Life Together, chapter 2.

God is not the creator?

Interesting article in the UK’s Telegraph today…

I have never come across any other works by Prof. Van Wolde in my OT excursions, but this is just an obviously flawed argument from the get-go.

Within the article itself…

“She said technically “bara” does mean “create” but added: “Something was wrong with the verb.””

So the word technically means “create.”  But it doesn’t mean create, apparently?

The crux of this interpretation requires one to add a unknown nuance to the verb, namely “to separate.”

Yet simply replace “create” with “separate” in several passages below and see the problems.

Psalm 51:10- “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

Isaiah 4:5- “Then the LORD will create a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night over the entire site of Mount Zion and over its assemblies.”

Isaiah 42:5- “This is what God the LORD says—
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and life to those who walk on it—”

Malachi 2:10-   “Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (The meaning of “separate” in this usage would basically nullify the entire argument of this verse?!)

I would also argue that the trying to fit the Genesis account into the grids of other ANE texts is inherently flawed.  Most OT scholars see the resemblances NOT as a copy-cat, but rather as a polemical device, using common images with key changes to support the unique theology of YHWH.

No doubt this story is reported not for its fundamental claims but rather because it provides yet more excuses against belief in God for those who so wish.  After all, not even Christians believe God created the world anymore!