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Showing posts with label #Background. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Background. Show all posts

04 May 2016

Covenant: How God makes our relationship official.

Despite what you may have heard, it’s not just an extra-special contract.

Covenant /'kəv.ən.ənt/ n. Committed, intentional relationship. The parties who enter such relationships spell out the duties of one to the other, made with firm, binding promises.
2. v. To enter such a relationship.
[Covenantal /kəv.ən'ənt.əl/ adj.]

Our culture, including popular Christian culture, seldom understands the significant difference between “covenant” and “contract.” Usually because of marriage.

Seriously. Y’see, back when there was no such thing as separation of church and state, the government formally recognized various religious covenants: Baptisms, christenings, marriages, religious vows, and so forth. After the United States decided it was in our best interest (particularly the church’s best interest) for government to remain neutral, our governments nevertheless still kept marriage on the books. Because it comes in handy to know who is married to whom—for the purposes of inheritance, next of kin and spousal consent, parental rights and responsibility and custody, and so forth. (Plus there are tax breaks.) But the problem is our laws don’t legally define any covenant between the two… because a covenant’s about the nature of their relationship. All government does is recognize the legal contract between them. One which, as you know, our governments can easily dissolve. Or redefine, to the outrage of many.

So when your average Christian tries to define covenant, such as one of the many covenants between God and his people in the scripture, they tend to think of marriage. And tend to forget the concept of “marriage” they have in their brains… ain’t necessarily a covenant. Sometimes it is, because they remember it’s a formal relationship. And sometimes it’s not, because they forget the relationship part, and instead emphasize the idea it’s binding.

Of course it’s binding. The people who covenant together don’t merely intend to work together. They intend to be bound together, for life. Like a proper marriage, not a government-defined marriage.

God is relational. He wants a close personal connection between himself and his creation. But God is love, so he doesn’t wish any of his relationships to be a casual, go-as-you-please, Facebook-style friendship. No relationships of convenience: Those are impatient and self-serving, and neither of those things are love. God wants commitment. He wants to bind himself together with us. Hence he makes covenants.

This is why throughout the bible, heavily emphasized, we’ll find covenants. God makes ’em with everyone. He made one with Noah, Ge 6.18 Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Ge 17 Jacob, Ex 2.24 the entire nation of Israel, Dt 5.2-3 and anyone who joins Israel and willingly adopts the terms of God’s covenant. Is 56.6-7 Really, he’s made covenants with all of humanity, Ge 9.15 which is why he has every right to rule and judge us.

And of course we Christians recognize Jesus’s new covenant, in which God’s relationship with his followers involves giving us his Holy Spirit, and that we follow him instead of the stipulations spelled out in the Law. (Although since the Holy Spirit inspired the Law, 2Ti 3.16 we don’t disregard the Law! We simply recognize he supersedes it.)

God continually initiates these relationships because he wants his creations to become his children. He wants to interact with us, and be our loving God. Lv 26.12 He’s always wanted this. It’s why he created us humans in the first place. Our sin messed things up, and ever since, God’s been trying to put things back together.

20 April 2016

The Judean senate.

The folks who ran Judea… and condemned Jesus to death.

Something Americans need to be reminded of, from time to time: Ancient Israel was never a democracy.

  • Originally it was a patriarchy, run by the male heads of the Hebrew families: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
  • Then the Egyptians took over and enslaved ’em.
  • Then the LORD rescued ’em from Egypt. So it became a theocracy, where God and his commands ruled Israel… with Moses and the judges serving as the LORD’s deputies.
  • Then monarchy here on out: The rule of kings. The people wanted kings; the LORD gave ’em kings. In theory the kings were to function the same as the judges, with the LORD really in charge. In practice they did whatever the heck they wanted.
  • Then foreign kings: The Babylonian emperors, Persian emperors, Greek emperors, Egyptian kings, Seleucid kings. Each of ’em put governors, like Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, over the Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
  • Back to local kings: The Maccabees overthrew the Seleucids and put the head priests in charge, who accepted the title “king” and ruled till Herod 1 toppled them.
  • Back to foreign kings: Augustus Caesar took over from the Herods, and the Romans ruled till the caliphs conquered Jerusalem in 638. And so we move into the middle ages and Crusades.

In Jesus’s day, the Romans emperor was king. The Caesars appointed governors—military prefects like Pontius Pilate, puppet kings like the Herods, and procurators—to represent Rome’s interests, and make sure the locals didn’t do anything which’d interfere with taxes and “peace,” as the Romans defined peace. Everything else was left in the hands of upper-class locals: The head priests, the leaders of the older and wealthier families, the “elders” of Israel.

In Latin, “elder” is senex, and that’s where they got the word for their council of elders, senatus. It wasn’t an elected body, like our senates. It consisted of Roman nobles. Those who had the most to lose if the fortunes of Rome changed. The Roman Republic was an oligarchy, ran by the upper class. And when the emperors took over, and commandeered many of the senate’s powers, they still sought the senate’s advice and consent.

Well, Judea had a similar senate. After the Persians permitted Jewish exiles to return and rebuild Jerusalem, Persian governors organized the elders into a governing council, loosely based on the 70 elders of Israel in Moses’s day. Ex 24.1 By the first century this synédrion (Greek for “seated together,” which the Mishnah translated sanhédrin) consisted of 71 people: Seventy elders of Judea, supposedly representing the great Judean families; and the head priest, its naší/“president.”

This is the group which ran Judea in the New Testament… under the suspicious eye of the Romans.

08 March 2016

The cycle: The good old days, and the dark times.

Why history repeats itself.

Cycle. /'saɪ.kəl/ n. Series of events, regularly repeated in the same order.
2. [biblical] The repeating history of apostasy, oppression, revival, and salvation.
[Cyclical /'sɪ.klə.kəl/ adj.]

History repeats itself.

Most people figure it’s for the reason philosopher George Santayana famously stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” More accurately it’s that people didn’t learn from the past. They remember it just fine. But they think this time, they’ll get it right. The disasters of the past? People were naïve back then. We’re more intelligent, more evolved now. They failed, but we’ll succeed.

Then we don’t. ’Cause history repeats itself.

The usual form of this repetition is an up-and-down cycle. Historians call it all sorts of different things. An economic boom, followed by a period of downturn. An era of good feelings, followed by serious partisanship. A gilded age, followed by a panic. Good times, bad times, you know we’ve had our share.

We see the cycle in the bible as well. Different Christians call it different things. Often it’s the “cycle of sin” or “cycle of judgment” or “cycle of discipline”—something pessimistic. Since it’s an up-and-down cycle, some of us throw in the up side as well as the down: The “cycle of sin and repentance.” Regardless most Christians include the word cycle.

Looks like yea:


Round and round and round ya go.

Again, the steps and titles change depending on who’s making the chart. Sometimes all the phases cleverly start with the same letter, or spell out a word. (I don’t bother.) I have seven.

16 February 2016

Patriarchy: When fathers ruled the earth.

The system of government we find in Genesis—which some try inflicting on their own families.

Patriarchy. /'peɪ.tri.ɑrk.i/ n. System of government where the father, or eldest male, is ruler.
2. System wherein women are largely excluded from positions of authority.
[Patriarchal /'peɪ.tri.ɑr.kəl/ adj.]

When people talk about patriarchy nowadays, they tend to mean the second definition above: Women can’t seem to find their way into any official or significant positions of leadership. They can have unofficial power, like a First Lady; they can have insignificant power, like being in charge of cleaning the break room. (Gee, what an honor.) But never any serious authority; the “old boys’ network” keeps shutting them out.

Because the “old boys” don’t wanna work with women. Especially don’t wanna work for women. Doesn’t matter the reasons; they’re all different forms of sexism. It’s a way-too-common problem in the present day. But actually sexism isn’t what this article is about. (Not primarily. Sexism doesn’t have to be part of patriarchy. Problem is… it nearly always is.)

What I’m writing about is the first definition: The system of government we see among the ancient Hebrews, in the families of Noah, Abraham, and Jacob before the Law was handed down; and to a lesser degree the system we see in families thereafter. Before there were judges and kings, before there were cities and nations and empires, before there was anything, there were families. The families were led and ruled by the father or eldest male: The patriarch.

Now, we Americans grew up under democracy. When we’re in a situation where there’s no leadership, we figure, “Okay, we’ll take a vote”—all of us are equal, so the majority should rule, right? If one of us tries to seize power, we object, ’cause that’s not fair. But that’s because we were raised to be democratic. The ancients weren’t. Popular vote didn’t rule the day; the strongest or loudest or most dangerous did. This is Darwinism at its simplest.

The one best able to strike down his foes was usually the physically strongest; the man. And in order to maintain power, patriarchy was the system these men put into place. The man, the father of the family, the paterfamilias, ruled. They taught their kids this was the way things worked. So whereas our culture falls back on democracy to decide things, theirs fell back on patriarchy.

Not egalitarian, where spouses get an equal say. Not democratic, where the kids get a vote too. It was a dictatorship. What the patriarch decided was how things were. No one to overrule him, no constitution to say he violated civil rights, no legislature to control his behavior, no police to stop him. If he decided he was taking a second or third or hundredth wife, he did. If he forbade his daughter from marrying a certain man, she had to obey. If he ordered his son put to death for disobedience, off with his head. Seriously.

And there are a number of Christians who read about these “good old days” in the bible, and wouldn’t mind returning to them. Oh, I’ll get to them.

24 December 2015

“Silent years”: Did God once turn off his miracles?

What proof do Christians have of an absentee God? Only the lack of books between testaments. Which is hardly enough.

It’s usually round Christmas that preachers start talking about “the silent years,” or “the 400 silent years,” and how the annunciations of John the Baptist and Christ Jesus mark the end of them.

As it’s taught, for roughly four centuries between the writing of Malachi, “the closing of the Old Testament canon,” and Gabriel’s appearance to John’s dad, God was silent. He had no prophets—’cause if he did, the prophet would’ve written a book, but no prophets wrote a book, ergo no prophets. And he did no miracles—’cause if he had, someone would’ve written a book about it, but nobody wrote one, so nothing happened. If those 400 years weren’t silent, we’d have more books of the bible.

(Um… what about the books of prophets, and of divine doings, among the apocrypha, which were written during that 400-year period? Oh, insist these preachers, they’re mythology. They don’t count.)

Okay, first let me clear up one minor little mistake. The last book written of the Old Testament was more than likely 2 Chronicles, not Malachi. It’s what we find in the Hebrew book order: Malachi is bunched together with the middle books, called the Prophets, which the Pharisees accepted as canon before they accepted the last-written books, the Writings (Chronicles included among them). To be fair, they were both likely written round the same time, but still: 2 Chronicles last.

Now the way bigger mistake: The entire idea of “silent years” contradicts the scriptures. You knew I was gonna get to that, didn’tcha?

10 December 2015

The Pharisees: Those in the first century who followed God.

Nowadays it’s just another synonym for “hypocrite.” Just like, all too often, “Christian.”

Pharisee /'fɛr.ə.si/ n. Adherent of a first-century denomination of the Hebrew religion, which emphasized the widespread teaching of the Law.
2. A hypocrite. [Thanks to Jesus’s regular condemnation of hypocrites among the Pharisees.]
[Pharisaic /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪk/ adj., Pharisaism /fɛr.ə'seɪ.ɪz.əm/ n.]

People nowadays don’t really know much about the Pharisees—other than that they opposed Jesus an awful lot, and that he called ’em hypocrites right back. Mt 23.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29 So there’s a lot of false information floating around about ’em. Stuff like this:

  • “But they were hypocrites.” Yeah, some of ’em were. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have had to denounce that tendency in them. But be fair: A lot of us Christians are hypocrites. A lot of us humans are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is universal. Singling out the Pharisees just means we’re gonna ignore our own tendencies towards fake behavior.
  • “They were legalists.” Pharisees were all about teaching the Law, and as a result Christians assume they were legalist—that they thought God would save them because they perfectly followed the Law. Thing is, if that were true, John the Baptist wouldn’t have to shout at them to stop sinning, and taking their salvation for granted just because they were Abraham’s descendants. Mt 3.7-10 Because—just like us Christians—some were legalists… and some were libertines, who figured God forgives all, so do as you please.
  • “It’s not a denomination; it’s a political party.” Flavius Josephus called ’em that, and it’s easy to see why: There was no separation of church and state (make that temple and state) back then. When that’s the case, denominations seek power just like political parties do—whether it’s Calvinists and Anabaptists in medieval Geneva, Puritans and Traditionalists in early modern England, Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland, or Pharisees and Sadducees in ancient Israel. They were both.
  • “They universally hated Jesus.” We all know exceptions, like Nicodemus. We also forget: Every synagogue Jesus taught in was a Pharisee synagogue. His title, rabbí/“master,” was a Pharisee title. His apostle Paul, who wrote a big chunk of the New Testament, continued to call himself Pharisee. Ac 23.6 Many Pharisees didn’t care for him, but we certainly can’t say all.

As you know from your Old Testament, the Hebrews kept falling into the Cycle, a repeating bit of history where God’s followers fall away from him, then return to him. They sucked at passing the Law down to their children. Their next generation would grow up semi-pagan, the generation after that would be full-on pagan: Within 40 years Israel would be lawless, and the LORD would withdraw his protection, and their enemies would take a crack at ’em. Whereupon they’d repent, cry out to the LORD, he’d send them a savior, and they’d follow the LORD and his Law again. And the Cycle would repeat.

Pharisaism was meant to break the Cycle.