Tag Archives: israel

10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

We don’t know if Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. We like to think she did, because what kind of a jerk would make his pregnant wife walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

But that raises a different question, one I haven’t heard much about. Why did Mary make the trip at all? The census (maybe, probably) required only the male head of household to register, so Joseph could have legally made the trip alone.

I don’t know much about 1st Century Judean birthing practices, but somehow I don’t picture the husband hunched over the birthing bed, coaching his wife through her Lamaze breathing. I’m going to rely on the evidence of pre-1980′s world-wide cultural norms here, and say that most of the time the husband waited in the front room smoking the hookah with the fellas while the women of the family (and maybe a trained midwife) coached the mother through her labor. The husbandly role, throughout history, has been to fret nervously in a different room, then boisterously take credit once the child is born. Mary didn’t need Joseph around during the delivery, she needed her family, her female relatives, the local support network. Why go to Bethlehem?

The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles, through some rough terrain, and the hill country along the way was constantly populated with bandits (the parable of the Good Samaritan starts with a man being mugged along some of these same roads).  I got nervous when my wife walked a few miles through Rome on a hot summer day while pregnant. I can’t imagine Joseph’s stress over Mary making the trip with him through that rough country. Again, why make the trip? Why not leave Mary in the care of her family while Joseph went to fulfill his legal obligation.

Luke tells us why Joseph went to Bethlehem. Why did Mary go?

There are a few possibilities, I guess. Maybe Joseph was a thoroughly modern and sensitive husband, and just couldn’t stand the thought of his wife giving birth without his support. Maybe Mary was a rock-hard badass, and the thought of grunting out our Lord and Savior un-aided in the barren rocks above Jericho just made her shout, “Bring it on!” Maybe Luke invented the census and the trip to Bethlehem in order to make the birth narrative fit Micah’s prophesy, in which case of course Mary had to go along.

There is another possibility. Maybe Mary had no reason to stay. Maybe the embarrassment of the pregnancy left her estranged from her friends and relatives, with no support and no family. Maybe nobody had added up the dates yet, and everyone was assuming it was Joseph’s child. Perhaps Mary was eager for a chance to get out of town, and give birth away from the chattering gossips and back-biting spinsters, away from the prying questions that an actual birth date would inevitably give rise to.

I don’t know. Maybe you have some better ideas.
laboroflove.mp3

labor of love
photo by introspectre

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

The Rage of Amos

I’m reading through Amos right now in The Bible Podcast – I don’t think I’ve ever used “Mr. Angry Voice” so much in one sitting than reading through those 9 little chapters. You know that thing that God does where he gives himself different names depending on which aspect of his nature he wants to express? Yeah, in Amos, he calls himself “The God Who Commands Armies”, and he has his rage on, for sure.

Amos almost seems hesitant to be the messenger of such doom. He keeps interjecting the phrase “The Lord God is Speaking”, like you would if you were telling someone about the David Duke’s political platform, and as you got the section on racial purity, you kept saying, “Now, this is HIM speaking, not me! I want no part in this!”

Except that Amos has a brilliant moment of courage, when King Jereboam of Israel and Amaziah the priest accuse him of undermining the social fabric of Israel. They assume that he is a prophet for hire (a courtly profession, like a royal adviser, in the Ancient Near East), and they try tell him to move his business south, to Judah, where they go in for that sort of fundamentalism crap. Amos replies, “You think this was part of my career plan? I was not a prophet by profession – I was a shepherd, and a farmer. God ripped me away from my flocks and fields, and sent me here as his mouthpiece. (7:10-17) God does not bring down his hand of justice without warning. When a lion roars, everyone quakes in fear. God has spoken … who can possibly refuse to prophecy? (3:7-8)” (I pulled that second part out of an earlier section, but I think it’s certainly part of Amos’ same line of thought about his vocation as a prophet).

So, why is God raging? What great sin has Israel committed, for which God is bringing the Assyrians and Babylonians to lead them away with fishhooks in their mouth? The Old Testament gives plenty of reasons, and every prophet that God sent brought them fresh reminders of new ways that they had violated the terms of their lease agreement on the land. In Amos, though, the voice is singular in it’s implication.

the poor

Israel has abandoned her poor.

“They sold the innocent for a few pieces of silver, and they traded the needy for a new pair of sandals. They trample on the dirt-covered heads of the poor, they push the destitute away.” (2:7-8)

“Listen, you painted pigs, in Prada and Hermès, living on the coast of Malibu! You oppress the poor; you crush the needy. You whine to your husbands to up the credit limit on your cards, you lunch at Spago and spa at Amadeus, but the time is coming when you will be carried away in a rusted out shopping cart, through the rubble of your gated homes” (4:1-3)

“You hate anyone who speaks the truth to you, anyone who rules justly in your public courts. You levied taxes on the poor, to take away their food and their livelihood, and you used it to build houses of ornate stonework, and vineyards of fine grapes. You will enjoy neither.” (5:10-11)

“Woe to those who live in ease in Zion, to those who feel secure on Mount Samaria … They lie on beds decorated with ivory, the sprawl out on their couches. They eat choice lamb, and the best calves, they sing songs all day, they drink the best wine, and they soothe themselves in fine oils. Israel is in ruins, and they don’t care.” (6:3-6)

It turns out that undermining the social fabric of Israel was exactly what Amos was up to.

spare change

Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Sodom series

  1. This morning’s sermon will be on …
  2. Sermon Prep (part 1)
  3. Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot
  4. Sermon Prep, part 3
  5. Sermon Prep: Finished!

Lot is an interesting character in this story. At first glance, he’s the hero, but as the story unfolds, we start to see some things that make us question his choices. In fact, one of the questions that keeps popping up for me when I read Genesis 19 is why Lot is called “Righteous”? What sets him apart, other than one moment of courage that, itself, seems sullied by a horrific compromise? So, here’s my run sheet on the guy.

Lot

19:1 Sitting at the gates of the city – this is a position of prominence in the city, the equivalent of a city council meeting, or high court. Lot has obviously done well for himself in Sodom.

Lot mirrors the actions of Abraham in 18:2, bowing to the angels.

Hospitality, one of the cardinal virtues of the ANE. Protection is implied, consent of the guest is a show of honor.

19:3 patsar me’hod – “he single-mindedly, obstinately pressed upon them with urgency, exceeding force”. Lot seems very aware of the kind of welcome the visitors will receive at the hands of the city. How long has Lot been living with the disparity between his position of respect and prominence in a wicked city, and his internal moral voice? The arrival of the guests seems to be a watershed moment for Lot’s moral identity.

19:6 Lot exits the safety of the house. He presumed that his prominence in the city would be a safeguard against the mob?

19:7,8 “do not act wickedly … they are under the shadow of my roof.” Lot’s perspective here is instructive. His assumptions about the people will be important later when we try to understand what the sin of sodom was. He assumes that they are not morally ignorant (they understand wickedness). They know his obligations as a host to the visitors (shadow of my roof). His offer of his daughters shows that Lot believes that the crowd is motivated by sensual lusts, which he hopes to divert away from his guests.

The offer of his daughters is ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly. What’s are the relevant features of this offer? Women as property under the sovereign rule of the male head of household, safety of guests over safety of family, homosexual vs. heterosexual?, how would this affect their status as “betrothed”? Are there other examples of this kind of barter?

How does Lot get called “Righteous” in light of this hideous sort of compromise?

The rejection of the offer shows that Lot’s assumptions about the mob’s motivation was wrong. There seems to be an air of violence about their intent, not just sensuality.

19:9 “who are you to declare judgement against us? You’re not from here, yet in your wealth and status you presume to declare what is right and wrong for us? Why should we bend to your moral pronouncements?” c.f. 19:1 – is this a latent resentment against Lot’s prominence, or a general revolt against moral restraint?

19:14 Lot’s sons-in-law thought he was joking about God’s impending wrath. Are they from the city? How does Lot’s willingness to marry into the city fit with his inner turmoil between morality and position? That they take Lot’s warning as a joke might indicate that they are unused to hearing language about righteousness, justice, and judgement coming from Lot.

19:16 But he hesitated. This is it. This is the window into Lot’s soul. In Sodom, he has wealth, he has position and prominence, he is integrating his family into the city, and everything that he has in this world is within those walls. The laughter of his sons-in-law has given him pause. Who are these visitors? How do I know that they’re telling the truth? Maybe my sons-in-law are right, and this is a huge joke. Should I risk everything by abandoning the city? It’s been a long time (how many years since the split w/ abraham?) since I’ve heard anything about, or from, Yahweh, and after all, the covenant is with Abraham, not with me … Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

19:19 Now he believes. Once outside the city walls, he sees the lovingkindness (checed – mercy? grace?) and compassion that motivated the angels to rescue him (Doug, how very reformed! Lot does not believe, and then is saved; he is saved, and then believes. And then runs!)

19:20 Lot is still looking for a city. Escape to the mountians? They have no Starbucks there! What if I just move to the suburbs instead, and chill over here in this little town.

19:23 The rising sun. Measurements of time are prominent in this story. The angels arrive at dusk, the violent mob assembles at night, at first light the angels urge Lot to run, and when the sun rises, he reaches the safe city.

That’s the wrapup. So, why is Lot called righteous? What righteous actions did Lot take? He offered hospitality, he protected the safety of his guests, and (though it was a bit late in coming) believed in the lovingkindness of God in protecting him and his family. He fled, which was an act of faith. But he was also a man at home in a wicked city, prominent among the people, who seemed to at least be able to navigate the moral ambiguity of that place. He offers up his daughters to be raped by an angry mob. He betrothed his daughters to faithless men. In the moment of decision, his faith falters, and he has to be dragged to safety.

So, why call Lot righteous? Why save him from the destruction of Sodom? 19:29 might be an indication that it actually has nothing at all to do with him or his actions: it says that God remembered Abraham, and so saved Lot.

Previous in series: Sermon Prep (part 1)

Next in series: Sermon Prep, part 3

Sermon Prep (part 1)

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Sodom series

  1. This morning’s sermon will be on …
  2. Sermon Prep (part 1)
  3. Sermon Prep (part 2): Lot
  4. Sermon Prep, part 3
  5. Sermon Prep: Finished!

(You can follow this whole thread by tracking the tag “sermonprep” in the site archives. Or, just click here.)

Remember how I decided to use all ya’ll to help me with my sermon prep? Well, the day is fast approaching, and I thought that, in the absence of any real content to add here at Addison Road, I would instead post my sermon prep here for you to peruse.

I imagine this will be similar to the sensation that most sane people have when they look at serial killer art: it wouldn’t be interesting, except that it comes from such a disturbed mind. Enjoy!

I start with a legal pad, a comfy writing utensil, and as many good verbal translations of the text as I can find. NASB is usually my first pick. Every major character or prevelant theme gets its own page in the pad, and I jot down clusters of questions or initial thoughts that come from the text. I tend to go translation by translation, and do a straight read-through rather than go verse-by-verse from translation to translation, scouring for distinctions in syntax. I’m not poking in the valleys yet, I’m looking for the mountains, the big things that were the most important to the author, and so should be most important to the reader trying to understand the text.

The text for this Sunday is going to be Genesis 18:16 – 19:29. So far, I have pages on my legal pad for Abraham, Lot, Sodom (city), Sodom (biblical references), What was Sodom’s Sin? (this one might stir up some firestorms), Justice and Righteousness, and Faith.

Here’s part one:

Abraham
He’s the one already safe from harm in this story – the covenant is begun, promise given, he’s miles away from the city of Sodom.

18:17 What’s the significance of the Lord’s inner dialog on whether or not to tell Abraham? Perhaps he knows that Abrahams bargain will fail? The subordinating conjunction “since” seems to be a non-squitur here. How does Abrahams place in the covenant promise have any bearing on whether or not God reveals his plans to him? Is this just to highlight his position of safety in the narrative that follows?

He pleads for God’s mercy on behalf of the whole city, for the sake of the righteous.

Ink is significant – why is so much space devoted to Abraham’s “used car salesman” technique of bartering God down to 10 people?

18:25 “shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” this looks like a common OT technique for petitioning Yahweh – appealing to aspects of his nature as the basis for him ammending his actions. c.f. Moses with Israel. Not “do this thing for my sake” but “do this thing for your own sake, since it is within your character to do so.”

What’s the right response of those who have already been saved from judgement toward those who have not? Interceding prayer, passionate concern. There is no room in this story for human judgement, for people standing on the sidelines and cheering on the destruction. If we can talk about God’s righteous judgement and great wrath without our hearts breaking, we have not understood how deeply his grace reached down to us.

19:28 The last thing Abraham knows in this story is that his intercession didn’t work. When the angels leave him, he knows that his bargain is in play, and the next thing he sees is the ash and smoke of the wreckage.

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