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04 September 2019

Summaries of the Old Testament’s books.

It’s nice to have the book order memorized, but it’s far more useful to know what’s in the books. So here’s a brief summary of each book of the Old Testament.

Books of Moses.

GENESIS. These are the formation stories of the earth and the Hebrew people.

  • Creation.
  • Adam and Eve and humanity’s fall.
  • Noah ben Lamech, and humanity wiped out by floods.
  • Babel, and humanity’s scattering.
  • Avram ben Terah, or Abraham the Hebrew; his relationship with God, and his relocation to Canaan.
  • Jacob ben Isaac, or Israel; his relationship with God, and the creation of his large family—the ancestors of the 13 tribes.
  • Joseph ben Jacob, or as the Egyptians called him, Chafnat-pahaneakh; how he went from slavery to become Egypt’s vizier, and his brothers’ relocation to Egypt.

EXODUS. Primarily it’s about the Exodus—how the Hebrew descendants of Israel became a nation, became enslaved by Egypt, and had to be saved by the LORD himself. It tells how the LORD did that, through 10 plagues of judgment upon Egypt. It introduces his prophet Moses ben Amram, his Law, and his instructions for the tabernacle (which’d be replaced four centuries later by the temple).

LEVITICUS. Largely consisting of commands, Leviticus mostly focuses on how the LORD wanted his priests to perform his ritual sacrifices, and his definitions of ritual cleanliness. He wanted Israel to be holy; these were the steps they had to take.

NUMBERS. What happened to the Israelis (KJV “Israelites”) after the LORD handed down his commands at Mt. Sinai: Wandering though the wilderness, grumbling all the way; failing to enter Canaan, so wandering through the desert some more; rebellions from certain malcontents, and opposition from other Hebrew nations. Various new commands were added by the LORD as needed.

DEUTERONOMY. Right before the Hebrews entered Canaan, Moses gave a book-long speech to the new generation of Israelis, reminding them of the Law and informing them what they were in for. (And foretelling how they’d repetitively go through a cycle of repentance.)

03 September 2019

God’s still small voice?

Y’might’ve heard this story before.

1 Kings 19.11-13 KWL
11 The LORD said, “Go out. Stand on Mt. Sinai before the LORD’s face.”
Look, the LORD passed by.
A great, strong wind tore away the mountain, breaking rocks before the LORD’s face—
but the LORD wasn’t in the wind.
After the wind, an earthquake. The LORD wasn’t in the quake.
12 After the quake, a fire. The LORD wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire, a voice—a thin whisper.
13 When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his robe and went out to stand in the cave’s opening.
Look, the voice to him said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This is the only instance in the bible of a ק֖וֹל דְּמָמָ֥ה דַקָּֽה/qol demamá daqqá, “a voice, a thin whisper,” better known by the way the KJV puts it, “a still small voice.”

The only instance. Nowhere else is the LORD described as talking this way. Usually he’s super obvious, and super loud. Frighteningly loud, and even people who knew and loved him would cower in terror, ’cause God’s louder than the loudest thing the authors of the bible could describe. Usually they’d go with thunder, or “many waters”—multiple waterfalls, or ocean waves, which are the darnedest things to talk over. Rv 19.6

Yet for some reason, the still small voice is how everybody seems to think God talks to people: He’s quiet. A tiny whisper. Something you can barely hear.

I would argue they can barely hear him for other reasons. Not because he’s quiet—or worse, because he’s silent.

02 September 2019

The senators dismiss the Galilean prophet.

John 7.37-52.

The last day of the Sukkot festival was treated like Sabbath. Lv 23.36, Nu 29.35 Every day, God was presented a ritual food offering; on the last day they presented a ritual drink offering. The priests drew water from the Šiloakh pool (where Jesus later sent a blind guy to wash himself) then walked round the temple’s altar with the water. Then the officiating priest lifted his hand to indicate the ritual was over… and then this happened.

John 7.37-39 KWL
37 On the last day, the great day, of the Sukkot feast, Jesus stood and called out,
saying, “When anyone thirsts, come to me and drink!
38 When one believes in me, as the scriptures say,
‘Rivers of living water will flow from his womb.’ ”
39 Jesus said this about the Spirit who was about to receive those who believed in him:
The Holy Spirit hadn’t yet come, for Jesus hadn’t yet been glorified.

Jesus’s bible quote isn’t an exact quote of anything. He was going for a general idea of water bubbling up from within, as implied in verses like this one.

Isaiah 58.11 KWL
“The LORD led you constantly. He satisfied your soul in scorched lands. He strengthened your bones.
You’re like a well-watered garden, like a water spring which doesn’t produce foul water.”

It’s similar to what he told the Samaritan at the well:

John 4.13-14 KWL
13 In reply Jesus told her, “All who drink this water will be thirsty again.
14 Whoever would drink the water I give them, won’t be thirsty in the age to come.
Instead, the water I give them will become a water spring within them,
bubbling up into eternal life.”

As John said, this is a prophecy about the Holy Spirit, who wouldn’t come Ac 2.1-4 till after Jesus was raptured and glorified. Ac 1.9-11 Come to Jesus and receive the water of life; receive the Holy Spirit.

Still, it galvanized the people, who were pretty sure Jesus was either the Prophet or Messiah… although as you can see, there was still some debate about his credentials to be Messiah. He was Jesus the Nazarene, after all—and they knew Messiah didn’t come from Nazareth.

John 7.40-44 KWL
40 So some from the crowd who heard this word said, “This is truly the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “This is Messiah.”
And some said, “No, for Messiah doesn’t come from the Galilee!
42 Doesn’t the scripture say Messiah comes ‘out of David’s seed’ Ps 89.4
and ‘from Bethlehem,’ Mc 5.2 the village where David was from?”
43 So there became a split in the crowd about Jesus.
44 Some of them wanted to arrest Jesus, but nobody put their hands on him.

We know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I remind you John didn’t include Jesus’s birth story; he just showed up in his 30s to be baptized by John, gather students, and start teaching. John states multiple times he came from heaven, sent by the Father, which was good enough for John. Not so much for the Jerusalemites, who were looking for any reason to disqualify him. Jesus is descended from David ben Jesse, Mt 1.1 and wasn’t just born in Bethlehem but had ancestors from Bethlehem; Nazareth was founded by Bethlehemites. His provenance definitely doesn’t disqualify him from being Messiah. But for doubters, any excuse will do. We get the same way nowadays; all humans do.

29 August 2019

How do we fund our churches?

Back in high school I invited a schoolmate to my church. After the service he confessed he was really bothered by the offering plates.

Right after the worship songs, but before the karaoke (Christians call it “special music”—it’s where someone gets on stage and sings along to an instrumental track, i.e. karaoke), we passed offering plates. People put money in ’em. Sometimes in envelopes, so you couldn’t see how little they gave. Sometimes not, so you could.

This bugged him: In the church where he was raised, they had an offering box in back of the auditorium, and if people wanted to put money in it (or, too often, trash), they could. He felt the box was way more appropriate than our ostentatious “Look what I gave” display, which reminded him too much of this story:

Mark 12.41-42 KWL
41 Sitting opposite the temple treasury, Jesus watched how the crowds threw money into the treasury.
Many wealthy people threw in much.
42 One poor widow who came by, threw in two coppers, worth a quadrans. [5¢]

That, and he didn’t like the fact we interrupted the service to beg for money. People should just give, he figured.

Me, I’d grown up hearing you funded your church through tithes. Ten percent of every paycheck—gross, not net—went onto the offering plate. And if you didn’t cough up the dough, you’d be cursed. No, an usher wouldn’t shout, “Tithe, motherf---er!” although that’d be awesome; I didn’t say cursed at. It meant we expected this bit of Malachi to come true:

Malachi 3.8-9 KWL
8 “Does any human cheat God like all of you cheat me? You say, ‘How do we cheat you?’
In tithes. In offerings. 9 You’ve cursed yourselves. The whole nation is cheating me.”

We’d suffer shriveling finances. We’d heard scary stories about people who stopped tithing, and suddenly they couldn’t live within their means anymore. Apparently if God doesn’t get his cut, he takes it out of us in other ways. Ways we won’t like.

The pastors preached this because it’s what they were taught. They thought it was the biblical principle of how tithes work. They never bothered to investigate beyond Malachi and see if the bible doesn’t teach more about the subject. It does; I just wrote about it.

When I bothered to investigate, I also discovered tithing, as a means of financing Christian churches, is actually a recent doctrine. It only cropped up in the United States, a very short time after the year 1776. That bit of information give you any hint as to why churches suddenly began to preach about tithing?

Right you are: Because from the Edict of Milan in the year 313, to the American Revolution in 1776, churches were funded by the state. Our tax dollars took care of ’em. (Well, considering the United States used to be British colonies, our tax pounds.)

28 August 2019

Tithing: Enjoying one’s firstfruits with God.

TITHE taɪð noun One-tenth.
2. verb. Set aside a tenth of something, either as savings or as a charitable donation.
3. verb. Give [either a tenth, or any variable amount] to our church.

Most Christians define tithe as a donation to one’s church. But what we donate is pretty variable. Might be $20 a week, or $100 a month, or two hours of volunteer work (i.e. cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the carpets, sterilizing the toys in the nursery… you do sterilize the toys regularly, right? Babies put ’em in their mouths). It’s whatever we regularly donate, although some of us aren’t all that regular about it.

But for small churches, what we collectively donate isn’t always enough to cover our church’s expenses. Nor does it allow us to give pastors a stipend, or do much charity work… or pay the utilities or rent. Which is why Christian preachers so often feel they should remind us the word “tithe” comes from the Saxon teóða, “tenth”: It means a tenth of something. And that something would be your income. Whatever your job pays you, your tithe should equal a tenth of it—and that’s what you oughta be contributing to your church.

And you need to bring your whole tithe to church. ’Cause it says so in the bible.

Malachi 3.8-12 KWL
8 “Does any human cheat God like all of you cheat me? You say, ‘How do we cheat you?’
In tithes. In offerings. 9 You’ve cursed yourselves. The whole nation is cheating me.
10 Bring your whole tithe to my treasury: There’s unclean food in my house!
Please test me in this,” says the LORD of War. See if I don’t open heaven’s floodgates and pour down blessing till you overflow.
11 I rebuke the blight for you: It won’t ruin your crops. It won’t kill the vines in your field,” says the LORD of War.
12 “Every nation will call you happy, and consider you a land of delight,” says the LORD of War.

Most preachers only quote verses 8-10, and don’t bother with verses 11-12. They should. These verses reveal the context of what the LORD actually means by מַעֲשֵׂר/mahašer, “tithe.” He’s not talking about Christians who are stingy with donations: He’s talking about Hebrews who didn’t contribute their crops to their community food closets. Old Testament tithing was about food.

I know; you might never have heard this idea before. You’d be surprised how many Christian pastors are totally clueless about this fact. I grew up Christian, and hadn’t heard any of this stuff till my thirties. But it’s all in your bible, hiding in plain sight.