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|Tuesday, April 25, 2017|
As I have been reading the Bible in 90 Days I have been writing my immediate reflections on Facebook. My Biblical Interpretation professor in seminary said, “You need to be careful about things that rise immediately to the top. Sometimes they are cream. And sometimes they are just scum.” Some people have asked me to compile these commentaries. So here they are unedited, beginning with the most recent posts.
Bible in 90 days, Song of Solomon (Song of Songs). Ecclesiastes was written by old Solomon. Song of Solomon was written by horny young Solomon and his many ladies. Oh, blessed biology It makes the world turn. Oh passionate love, you bring us some of the happiest days of our lives.
Note to prudes, this is not an allegory of the Heavenly Father for his Church. This is ancient erotica in full flower.
Bible in 90 days, through Ecclesiastes. I always felt like it was a cynical read or a buzzkill. Now at age 52, I see it as an appeal to mindfulness and living in the now, living in the moment. Meaningful work right in front of me today is fulfilling.
Solomon also reaffirms how much of life’s ambitious pursuits are absurd. Like it or not, that’s true. And life ain’t fair. That’s true too.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. Proverbs at age 21 blew my mind. At age 50, seems like common sense. That’s because at 21 I lacked a good deal of common sense. :)
Reading the Bible in 90 days compared to a Bible Study or the Sunday readings in Church is like going from a kitchen garden to farming 40 acres. It’s like going from the assembly line to upper management. It’s like going from a lemonade stand to running a franchise. There are things that become apparent from high elevation, that are difficult to see from the ground.
So I am in the Psalms now. They are very familiar as we recite portions of them every Sunday. But I started to notice the headings of the psalms. Some mention the event in King David’s life about which the Psalm was written.
As I was reading about David’s climb to the top in Kings and Chronicles, it seemed all about the fighting and the intrigues, and very thin on spiritual content. But now, reading the Psalms, I see them as David’s interior spiritual life, his spiritual commentary on what he was experiencing during the battles and intrigues.
Each of us has a public narrative, that is mostly secular. People may know you go to church and little else. Yet inside, each of us has a rich spiritual narrative that we guard. The Psalms are David’s rich intimate spiritual narrative that he chose to make public. This is what makes the psalms not just great ancient literature, but so powerfully and prayerfully relevant to my own public/private life.
Also plowed through Job today. This is clearly a philosophical argument, written in the format of wisdom literature with several voices debating the mystery of evil and suffering in the world.
This is fiction. Think about it. Imagine trying to articulate your position as eloquently as Job did when your skin is cracked and festering and you are wracked with fever and boils?
Anyway, there are some great lines in the debate. Three friends who give a range of opinion to Job as to why this has happened to him. Job always answering short of cursing God for his wretched circumstances. God concluding that “why bad things happen to good people” is waaay above any human’s pay grade. Then a tidy ending: The three friends offer a sacrifice to pay for their crass remarks. Job is restored, and lives happily ever after.
When bad things happen to me or to you, read Job. Herein are all the things you should never say to anyone thinking you will be “helpful.”
Reading the Bible in 90 days, finished Nehemiah. He was the Persian-appointed governor of Jerusalem (Ezra was the priest and scribe). He rebuilt the wall around the city, funded by the Persians. The people after exile, humbled and threatened on every side, rebuilt with the tool in one hand and the weapon in the other, and against all odds, prevailed. In both books Ezra and Nehemiah, they write about discovering the scroll of the Law, reading it out loud to the people, and a renewal of their covenant with God.
At midlife we begin to lose status—”over the hill” etc. But we have grown wise. We have learned that there are no shortcuts. We have the long view, from the high elevation. We have learned to be patient. We also have a kind of balanced courage that differs from the impulsive passionate all-or-nothing courage of youth. Plodding along, we use this season of life to repair the breached walls, the ruined towns, the relationships that we laid waste to in our rash youthful certainty. It is a bittersweet season.
Reading the Bible in 90 days, finished 2 Chronicles and through Ezra. Ezra—it’s like I never read it before. Excellent summary of the 70-year Exile, and return to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
In Jesus day, Jerusalem was occupied by Rome with a puppet king. In Ezra’s day Jerusalem was occupied by the Persians (Iran) and on an even shorter leash. Israel after their exile refer to themselves as “the Jews”. The tone of the book is renewed self determination and return to the old theocracy, but the reality is that they are now a conquered feeble state.
In life, there are certain setbacks that settle in, that require us to radically accept ourselves, warts and all, just as we really are. Often, we aren’t ready to settle until we’ve had the stuffing knocked out of us. But in the end, altered, sustained, we continue, and live on.
Reading the Bible in 90 days, into 2 Chronicles, the retelling of 2 Kings. King Solomon spent the first 20 years of his reign fulfilling his father’s desire to build the temple.
Building something for the honor or fulfillment of our forebears is a powerful life force. Most young marriages spend the first 10 years in a power struggle as each partner seeks to honor the parents’ dreams. A president carries out a war his father started, but did not finish. And we lay unfinished business onto our children. All of this is done mostly unconsciously, and with great ambition.
So Solomon built a temple that impressed people. God honored the effort and showed up. But this was never God’s residence or home address. It was the beginning of putting the Infinite God inside a box. And in the end the Babylonians smashed it to bits, peeled it’s gold and silver overlays, and melted down its sacred vessels.
On the plus side, it did keep Solomon busy for 20 years. Perhaps better than conquering and hamstringing his neighbors.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. King David sets aside a chunk of change for his son, Solomon, to build the temple: 3,750 tons of gold and 37,500 tons of silver. In today’s dollars that is three hundred and seventy billion, seven hundred and eighty four million, fifty five thousand dollars— $370,784,055,000. No wonder Solomon’s temple was one of the 7 wonders of the world.
Into 2 Kings in the Bible in 90 days. Amid all the civil wars and border wars, and unfaithful kings, emerge the wonder working prophets Elijah and Elisha. In midlife, in the middle of all the chaos, what or who do these figures represent?
It feels like they are the spirit if my innocent childhood, the spirit of my young and idealistic self, still burning brightly inside of me. These wonder workers ever calling me to interrogate my assumptions. Calling me to remember what and who brought me thus far. Calling me to keep the faith. They keep me from becoming cynical.
Reading through the Bible in 90 days, I’m into 1 Kings. I see the whole of the OT as a composite sketch of the complex human life in all its seasons. With the rise of David to power, I see everyone’s desire for conquest in their 30’s, fueled by hormones, ambition, and the longing for recognition by their forebears.
David and Bathsheba is the cusp of midlife. The cartoon of the midlife crisis. After David, Solomon goes all soft and the kingdom is divided and the accrued interest of David’s conquests are spent down. After Solomon there are two kingdoms N & S in constant conflict. About one in five of these kings is “good” and the others are “evil”.
The divided kingdoms represent the complex dynamics of conscious and unconscious that are at play inside every person. Before midlife we are little aware of the unconscious battles. But in midlife, the soul searching and radical acceptance begin. Good and Evil are not so simple, both live inside me, and depending on the context, play out in befuddling ways.
St. Paul at midlife said, “I find it to be a law that when I set out to do good, evil lies close at hand.”
Paul Simon said, “The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away.
Reading the Bible in 90 days, Joshua has come and gone and I’m into Judges. After this gut wrenching genocide and purge of the Promised Land, and all the promises made by Israel to live right; no sooner does old Josh die, and the opening of Judges reads: “after that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.”
I read all of this as one human life lived. Developmentally, we believe everything we’re told as young children, but about age 10 our rational mind, working at a literal level begins to scrutinize the stories of childhood. An adolescent emerges, full of intelligence and hormones but with limited self-awareness. Years of trial and error ensue, with great victories and defeats and general drama. This is the season of the biblical Judges.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. Joshua leads them across the Jordan to take the Promised Land. This is another mini-birth story as they pass through the waters, and then the whole nation of men is consecrated by circumcision. (“Born of water and the Spirit” John 3)
Beginning with Jericho, they strike the 35 kingdoms of the hill country in a campaign of genocide. No record of this in archeology. They do spread through the hill country gradually. The don’t take the coastal plain, much richer agricultural ground with stronger people—the Philistines (and they never really will).
OK, the spiritual take away inside of me. I’m given the gift of my life. What I make of it is my gift back to God. Within me are vast unyeilded territories. Some are easy to master, others are very resistant. God is with me for the whole campaign of my life.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. Finished Deuteronomy, the fifth of the Five Books of Moses. The Law, the Blessings, and the Curses, expounded upon at great length. Two things I experienced as I read.
There are a couple of principles that endure. God cannot be effectively opposed. It’s just a waste of my life to oppose God. God’s going to do what God’s going to do. I can be flexible or miserable. My choice.
The voice of God in all this law giving sounds like a threatening/repeating parent to a naughty child. After all the talk, you know the kid is still going to have a tantrum in the cereal aisle. I have heard it said, that between two people in a dispute, the one who is doing all the talking is the one who has the problem. In Deuteronomy, God’s doing a lot of talking, and God’s got a problem—how to keep his people healthy and faithful when they face the temptations in the Promised Land.
Reading through all those laws was a burden. But we have thousands of laws in our day too. The Rule of Law is what makes civilization function. Most of us never run afoul of the vast majority of our laws. The same probably applied to the average Israelite. The vast majority of all the laws were of little consequence to a law-abiding citizen then, as now.
These ancient laws were declared in the context of the laws of the surrounding cultures. Every law of Israel was also a judgment of the laws of the surrounding cultures. I don’t even want to print the kinds of abominations that happened as a matter of course in the surrounding cultures. But if you read between the lines on the Laws of Moses, you can get a picture of the icky stuff going on.
Reading through the Bible in 90 days. Into Deuteronomy. The last half of Numbers was all about conquests and land grabs and the total destruction of the unchosen people who were living there. On a literal level I’m wincing as I read through this. We also know from the anthropology of the place that this sweeping conquest never happened; it was more of a gradual process that involved a lot of assimilation.
So, I back away and put on the glasses of a metaphor. Israel is not a nation, Israel is me, and the story of is the story of my single human life. Genesis is a dream. Egypt is gestation. Crossing the Red Sea is my birth. The naivete of the dessert, is my childhood. The giving of the law is my first day of kindergarten. The struggles of the next 40 years are my skinned knees and ego of growing up to young adulthood. At age 20, I stand at the high pass of Mt. Pisgah ready to go into the Promised Land. All of the adventure, and the tribes before me are the struggles to integrate and coalesce my character during my 20’s.
Reading the Bible in 90 days, now that it is clear that the slave generation will not be going into the promised land, they have little to lose by behaving badly. Their relationship with God seems not unlike one of those dog invisible fence shock collars. A series of boundary challenges and internal squabbles ensue. It does not go well when they cross the wire. God keeps them on a short leash, for the sake of their children’s future.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. In Numbers, the plot thickens. Most of the rules are laid down now, and the census is done. The people number 600,000, and two years or so they make it to the border of the Canaan, the promised land. Scouts report that it is “flowing with milk and honey” and lo and behold, there are already people living there. (these two elements correlate.) Everyone is certain that they can’t prevail against such established strong peoples. In their negative faith they show that they have not been sufficiently repatterned. They are still slaves in their hearts.
This slave generation will wander in limbo in the dessert. Their children will grow up free. The children will ingrain in their hearts the internal settings that are required for conquest. This reminds me of immigrant families. The immigrant generation sacrifices so that their children may have a better life. And their children succeed like crazy.
As for the immigrant generation, though, they themselves are stuck in a caste with limited possibilities, they transmit all of their longing and passion into their kids (for better or worse). They succeed vicariously.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. In Numbers there is a procedure for husbands who “feel jealous” and think their wives are cheating on them, but can’t prove it. It’s straight out of medieval witch hunts, or extremist sects that shall remain unnamed here.
The woman swears before the priest that she’s true. Then she drinks “bitter water.” If she is lying, the poison will make her thigh wither and her belly swell and render her barren. If she’s true, the poison will have no effect.
And what does the jealous husband get if he is wrong in his accusation . . . no consequence.Later, Jesus was questioned about Moses giving permission for divorce. Jesus just cut through all the crap and said, “It was because of your hardness of heart” (that Moses had to address any of these issues.)
Thankfully, this obscure rule seems to have been little used. I’ll watch the rest of the story and see if it pops up again.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. Flew through Leviticus. Glossed over the census in Numbers, and got to the dedication of the Tabernacle, which was set up in the center of the camp. What a party. I did the math. $71,000 in silver and gold vessels donated by the 12 tribes. $145,440 worth of meat served at the party.
A sad note, among all the numbering of the people, the tribes, and their families, Moses no longer has any family. His brother Aaron does. But the last we hear of Moses’ family, his wife Zipporah, and his 2 sons Gershom and Eliezer, is in Exodus 18. They have been living with Zipporah’s father in Midian. They come out to the camp to pay a visit, and then return to Midian. I dunno Moses, was it worth it?
Reading in Leviticus, I was surprised that there was no permanent real estate ownership. Every 50 years was the Jubilee, when all debts were cancelled and property was redistributed. All deals paid for property, including slaves, were pro rated relative to the Year of Jubilee. Basically you would pay the value of the annual crop x the number of years remaining before the Jubilee. God owned the land, we stewarded it.
In reality this is absolutely true of life. Nobody takes their ten acres or their house with them to heaven. So you live 100 years, it doesn’t matter, all you really carry with you is your eternal soul.
Deeper into Leviticus, reading through the Bible in 90 days. All these very strict rules seem harsh. I keep in mind as I read, that to the people of the time, all of these things made sense. So I imagine myself coming out of 100 generations of slavery, suddenly free and facing a world of choices. Psychologists call this process “repatterning.” So the people who had never known freedom or how to live free, found these boundaries, all these rules to help them change their patterns for life. The end goal was to repattern Israel as a distinctive culture with a strong sense of identity. If you have ever tried to change your habits, you know how daunting the project can be.
Moving on, we get to the festivals and feast days, the Sabbaths, sabbatical years and the Year of Jubilee. I feel very happy as I read these events. As a farm kid I feel the joy of all these harvest festivals inside of me, and I can see myself attending them with deep happiness and thanksgiving.
Makes me want to bundle the first shock of Palouse wheat in July and present it at the altar in gratitude for the harvest of First Fruits. And in fall with the successions of harvests we do have a big display in front of the altar from Hallowe’en through Thanksgiving.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. Into Leviticus and the shaping of a theocracy society. The first several chapters describe the various sacrificial offerings on the altar in the Tent of Meeting. Then a few chapters on skin diseases and what to do to protect the public health.
The work of a priest in this age was much more like a public health nurse and butcher, and an FDA meat inspector, than anything spiritual. The priest’s work for the good of society was to “distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean,” ch 10.
The altar, near as I can tell, was never cleaned. I imagine was bespattered with layers of cooked blood, the ground beneath caught dozens of gallons of blood daily, and round-the-clock the choking smell of burning flesh filled the tent. Next to the Altar of Sacrifice stood a smaller Altar of Incense, burned to take the edge off of the stench and to represent prayer ascending to God.
Seems primitive and barbaric, but. . . Incense remains today in worship as a visible representation of our prayers. The perpetual fire of sacrifice remains in the form of the sanctuary candle above the reserve sacraments. The consecrated Body and Blood of Christ are a vestige of the sacrificed offerings. And the Church building stands as a testimony in the community.
Just don’t come and show me your skin disease at coffee hour, I’m not qualified to opine.
Finished Exodus. I always perceived that the main goal was the giving of the Law, but not so. Clearly the establishing of the “Tent of Meeting” and then upgrading it to “the Tabernacle”, with all of its detailed accoutrements, is the culminating project of Exodus.
All the rest, the manna, the 10 Commandments, the golden calf, etc., were interruptions to the urgent goal of building the Tabernacle.
Reading Exodus. Seems to be the oldest story of collective bargaining between labor (Hebrews) with Moses and Aaron representing the union. and owner (Egyptians) with Pharoah and his advisors representing the brick manufacturer. Something had to give, and both sides knew it. At first labor just wanted leave of absence to go into the dessert and worship their God. Ownership was stubborn and hard hearted and refused their terms. Labor went on strike with a series of 10 plagues. Ownership said “Go . . . and don’t come back.” Then the owners shut down the whole brick factory. Labor found themselves unemployed and wandering in the dessert and “free.” Spent 40 years complaining about it to the union bosses.
Finished Genesis. Reading the Bible in 90 days. All this family chaos makes for some sweet reunions. Forgiveness, reconciliation, truth speaking, releasing of hostility and vengence. When I began Genesis I kept thinking, “If only s/he hadn’t done that, there . . .then the story might have taken a different turn.” By the end of Genesis, I had let go of the fantasy that life can be lived perfectly or without personal damage, but that there are other ways through the mess, surprisingly, and grace filled.
OK. Day 3, reading through the Bible in 90 days. Moving away from the distant tales from Adam and Eve, Noah, etc. to some ugly stuff. Swindling, betrayals, stealing from your own family, prostituting yourself to your father in law to get a baby. The polygamy and commerce of women in general is very disturbing. Tribal loyalties, and the total disregard of foreigners. And as before, the drive not just to make a living , but to make a killing. If I am to be honest, all of these currents of human nature flow inside of me, though I wish it were not so.
Day 2, reading the bible in 90 days. Abraham-Isaac—Jacob and their kin. The main motivations in life seem to be to get God’s blessing, then get rich, which demonstrates that one is indeed blessed. Does not square well with the Beatitudes.
Reading the Bible in 90 days. Reading through New Testament eyes gives me a different take on the first 16 chapters. To various people God says, “to you and your descendents I give this land.” It’s an old con that still works today. What if any of these forebears had replied, “No thanks, I’m happy with the little bit I have here.”
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