Breadcrumbs of Hope in the Old Testament

Sure, there are some great verses that always get pulled out and posted somewhere (or made into a sign at Hobby Lobby), but if you try to read one of the books from start to finish, unless you have been taught about their structure, it can feel like you are being thrust into a movie filled with battle scenes, destruction, mythic creatures, judgements, legal proceedings, and declarations of love, switching from one scene to another without a predictable pattern.

Reading through the prophetic books of the Old Testament can be a daunting task. 

Part of the issue is simply that we are expecting one type of writing style when in reality there are many styles represented, and they aren’t in chronological order.  The literary elements that you learned back in high school are very much in play – and when you read it like that .. some of it makes more sense. Or at least it helps you realize that when Jeremiah says something like “Every head is shaved, and every beard cut off; every hand is slashed and every waist is covered with sackcloth” (Jer 48:37) – it doesn’t mean this is true of every single person. You are able to understand that he’s exaggerating – but for sure, people are mourning, they are devastated, and it’s not just a family. It’s an entire people group he is talking about (in this case, the Moabites)

One book I’d recommend that will give you a good overview of the types of writing styles you see across the prophetic books is “Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic” by D. Brent Sandy. 

I know some trains of thought hold that since we are living in New Testament times, we don’t have to pay THAT much attention to the Old Testament. I do not agree with that at all.  It might seem that the Old Testament doesn’t have anything to do with our world today, and yes, many of the stories and prophetic words address historical issues with nations of bygone eras.  Yet there are also portions that, if you study them from a human failure/flourishing perspective,we can easily find ourselves and our world in the stories.The text can then also inform our understanding of what it should look like as God’s kingdom works itself out in our world.

Trust me….the frustration with leaders, the pain of national struggle and moral failure, the injustice…. It’s there in the text just like it is here in our world today. 

Yet what I am fascinated with again, after studying John 10, is something from my final paper in a class a year ago.

The prophetic books are full of passages scattered throughout that look forward to “one day” when all things are made right. Taken together, they yield a prophetic hope of what God would do and how it would look…and let me tell you.. it was a good picture. Like really good… for EVERYONE. 

It’s this prophetic hope that the Israelites clung to when they were refugees returning to their homeland with nothing. They were discouraged, because they suffered due to choices of those that had gone before them, and now they were left with the rubble and difficult work of rebuilding. They were trying to remember who they were, and who their God was, and what He had said of them. There was discord between those that left and those that stayed, so you had some disagreements even within the community as it was being rebuilt. 

Read that again – slowly – and think of it in global terms, not just a western-American-first-world mindset. Especially if you have never had to worry about a place to live (like me).  People experience this today all the time.

So they remembered. They remembered the promise of God to their ancestors, words collected over the past generations, and the promise of something better. One day, God would come for them – and when He did:  

  • They would have a good king, one that would rule them well, like David (and in his family line of course)
  • Their enemies would be conquered!
  • They would once again be a shining example that would draw the world to Yahweh!
  • Everyone would sit under their own vine and fig tree (prosperity and blessing for the land)
  • The old would live a long time and kids wouldn’t die young (good health)
  • Justice and righteous living would run down like water from the mountains (no one taking advantage of another, honest leaders, everything fair/equitable)
  • Peace all around in community. People caring for each other!
  • Laughter and dancing, celebrations galore!
  • Everyone would know the Lord, and he would teach them!
  • Everything would be holy and good again, not stained by sin!
  • Sin would be forgiven forever (release of burden and fear)

Pretty big list huh? Prosperity, health, peace, forgiveness and freedom. All the nations coming to Yahweh and living rightly in his ways. On top of that, there were all these other documents showing even more of what people thought it would look like when Yahweh returned (called extra biblical texts). These were written in the timeline between the last book of the Old Testament and the time when Jesus was born. What you end up with is this larger than life picture, one that I’m not sure I fully grasped until now.

Sure, I knew Jesus fulfilled prophecies. But I think there is a tendency to reduce the “bigness” of expectation to just a list, thus reducing the level of impact their fulfillment should have for us. Yet if you can take time to marinate a bit in the world into which the prophets spoke, it makes the things that Jesus says and does come to life in a way you never would have expected. It ceases to be an apologetic list of prophecies Jesus has fulfilled and becomes LIVING HOPE.

Here is what I mean:

Ezekiel is pretty much a scathing book of how wrong everything had gotten. He’s a bit more hardline and exacting than some of the other prophets when it comes to the temple, but very much in line with them on his critique of the leaders, teachers, and priests of Israel (three of the top things all the prophets spoke against). For example, in Ezkiel 34:4-6 we read:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves!……You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally… My sheep wandered over all the mountains… they were scattered… and no one searched or looked for them

What then follows is God’s plan to solve it in verses 11-16

I myself will search for my sheep and look after them… I myself will tend my sheep.. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice

We know the pattern of scripture is that when God decides to act, he acts. As good Jews, the Israelites of Jesus day were probably looking for God to act like he had before on their behalf: A just king, a non-corrupt priest, and battle plans where the Lord would go before them and do another exodus thing – free them from their oppressors!

So when Jesus shows up on the scene and claims to be the good shepherd, he’s like “remember when Ezekiel prophesied that God was going to come be a shepherd because the leader’s weren’t?”

Yeah, I’m here now doing just that. Finding the lost. Binding up the wounded

“Remember how Ezekiel also said God would come and live in your midst?” (Ezel 37:27)

Yep, I’m walking right here. Are you willing to believe this is how I want to do this?

“Remember how God told Moses no one could see him without dying? Remember Isaiah’s vision where he thought he would die after seeing the Lord?” (Isaiah 6)

Guess what. You are watching me RIGHT NOW and I’m not smiting anyone. I’m bringing them back to life. Did you catch that? 

THIS is why who Jesus is as Shepherd matters so dang much. It’s so much deeper than a list of prophesies he fulfilled. He was walking into the hope they had heard and dreamt about for YEARS.

Yet most of Israel couldn’t see it.

Our world hasn’t changed much in some ways. People are still wandering and longing for better.

Yet we live in the time of God walking with is people! We live in the time of God being shepherd, of God finding the lost and binding up the broken!

It can be tempting to long for “better” when a different leader is in power here in America. Some lived like that the past 4 years, some are longing for that now. But the “better” as believers we are to hope for is really God’s Shalom, and the picture is bigger than we can really understand. So let’s be careful to not confuse Jesus shepherd-leadership with the current mayor/governor/ senator/president. They will all come and go. What Jesus has done will not change.

Now, since the picture of shepherd today might not work well in a society that is largely unfamiliar with sheep-keeping, I have to ask myself: what is the parallel today?

It’s not a church, or a doctrine, or a theological answer.
It’s not an opinion or argument or political viewpoint.
None of that is shepherding.

People need to know there is a resting place for their weary lives and a salve for the pain of their past and present. They need someone to defend them from being attacked.

They need a place to find sustenance when they are on empty.  Something steady they can count on. Someone to help lead them when they don’t know what to do. Someone to step in and remind them who they are, so they walk with purpose, not wandering and aimless. Someone to lead them into life giving things.

People are going to have to see some of those qualities in us that know the Shepherd before they will be willing to trust that He’s really there and really able to be a shepherd for their lives.

So my question to you … do you KNOW Jesus as Shepherd, for your life, or do you just know the verses that talk about him as such?

Can you talk about Jesus as your shepherd as clear as you can articulate your political views? (sorry if I am stepping on some toes here). If not.. why not? Is that an area of growth for you perhaps?

One thing I know is that sheep are stubborn. I certainly know I am. Jesus as my shepherd has had to do quite a great deal of prodding me from time to time….. but I always know He’s leading me into places that he wants me. 

I’d encourage you to take some time to reflect on Jesus as your Shepherd this week… and recognize you are walking in partial fulfillment of the prophetic hope of the ages!

Blessings, my friends!

Redemption of the past

So today is the first Sunday of Advent, and this morning the pastor was reading over the first chapter in Matthew – which, if you have read it – is a geneology of the dads (and a few moms that are mentioned) in the line of Jesus. I suspect some of us have always skipped over this part because…. well.. unless you want to take the time to research them all, it doesn’t seem to be of all that great importance.

Oh, but they are.

You see, Matthew doesn’t start with humanity’s origin. Instead, he starts with the promise given to Abraham, and traces the geneology all the way from that first promise to the birth of Jesus. God first spoke to Abraham (then named Abram) and essentially told him to pack up and go to a new land, sight unseen. If he would do that, God promised a long family line that would ultimately be a blessing to all of humanity. So with the list of names, Matthew is setting the stage, telling his readers that everything in his narrative is what it looked like when God started unfolding his promise.

I have always thought it interesting (and good!) that Matthew mentions a few moms in the geneology as well…. although if you look into them, their stories are hard to swallow. Tamar conceived due to incest (her own pursuit, but that is another story)…Rahab was a non-Israelite and a prostitute, Ruth was a non-Israelite and a widow, and Bathsheba was seduced into committing adultery.

Lest you think these women were called out because of their shameful conceptions or because they were foreigners, let’s not forget that many of the men in the list also had skeletons in their closet. One sacrified his son to another god, one committed murder to hide his adulterous affair. Some followed God and his ways, but many did not. Some, due to their own desire and quest for personal gain, directly disobeyed things God told them not to do, and both they and their nation suffered as a result. Not exactly a stellar lineup.

When I stop to think of the stories of these women that often get shoved under the rug, it’s painful to sit in the reality of their experiences, especially when I look at them through 21st century eyes. I know there are many women today that have lived these same stories, and so I tread carefully here, not wanting to bring pain or mishandle what I am saying. Please forgive me if these words step on hard places, that is not my intent.

I believe these stories are in the bible to, with careful eyes, see the sin committed against Tamar and Bathsheba, see what was and what was not done after the transgression, and to know that God was NEVER ok with the things that happened. There should have been justice for them. I cannot imagine how painful these stories are to read for women whose stories read the same in our day.

I can’t help but wonder if Matthew called them out specifically to elevate them, wiping away their cultural/historical shame by showing that even their lives and their personal pain played a role in bringing about God’s promised Messiah. It’s like his version of saying “you shall no longer be called……” —- “Now I call you blessed!”

The fact that Ruth and Rahab are also in this lineage stands out primarily because Israelites were told to not intermarry with the cultures around them, lest they begin to worship other gods. Yet these two women recognized that Yaheh, the God of the Israelites, was unique – and they chose him, thus becoming followers of Yahweh by faith.

Why do I bring this all up?

I’m not trying to offer some trite “all things happen for a reason” theology, nor am I trying to answer why God allows some things and not others. We live in a very broken world where we hurt each other, and hurt begets hurt, and without a change of heart, a change from the inside.. nothing will ever be different. We need healing, we need hope, and that is exactly what Christmas and the advent season should remind us of.

I share this to remind you that no matter who you are or where you come from, no matter your story, your lack or abundance of personal pain, no matter what you have gone through, there is very real way that you, when you cling to the God of Israel found in Jesus, play a role in bringing about his redemption to the world in our day and time.

Your life is a witness that joy is possible after the deepest, darkest pain. That there is life after something that could have left you dead inside. That choices you made or were made for you do not have the last word – just like in sending Jesus, God declared that the power and kingdom of man would not have the last word.

My prayer for you in these coming days before Christmas is that in your heart you can bow before the One who came in the flesh, to walk in our brokenness, and let him whisper to your soul… “I am light, I am your healer, and I will redeem all that is broken to bring you back to life”

Blessings my friends!

Lessons from Mark’s crucifixion story

Up here in the Boulder area, just like everywhere else, churches are largely still online. There are one or two smaller ones that are meeting in person, but not many. Today we decided to visit one of them, primarily because we know the young lady that is the worship leader.

The congregation must have been doing a full study on the book of Mark, and today we happened in on the story of the crucifixion. I’ll admit that it was hard to sit through a sermon that only seemed to talk about the horror of my sin and how Jesus paid the price. I know he did all that! But it was a bit of a throwback to earlier days when that was all that sermons seemed to be about. Grace, Jesus. You do so much more than save from sin. Grace. So I listened, determine to have an open heart for what I needed to be reminded of.

Two things struck me about the story this time. Chapter 15 tells of Simon, a simple passer by that got pulled into the fray. He wasn’t there for the show – the text tells us he was “passing by on his way in from the country”. Maybe minding his own business, maybe pausing to see who was next being crucified. Yet here he was, being commandeered to carry the cross of Jesus, someone he didn’t even know.

This part of the story gave me pause. Why? Because it forces the question:

Do we ever stop to recognize people that are walking right beside us in our own life-crucifying situations?

I hope we do.

Who those people are might surprise you. You might think it *should* be someone who is spiritually mature, or older, or who has the same life experience. But, like Simon, there is the distinct possibility that the person (or people) God brings to walk along side you might be the person (or people) you least expected. It certainly was for me – but what a blessing it turned out to be in time! Be open to that.

I can think of a thousand reasons why Jesus might have wanted one of the disciples to help carry the cross, perhaps so they would learn how to bear a cross with him, but that is not how the story plays out. When we walk a long road bearing a weight of something so hard… we are changed, even when its not our own burden.

The second thing that got me to thinking was the portion where, after being beaten, they put a robe on Jesus and a crown of thorns and “falling on their knees, they worshipped him” (v19)

One can hardly call that worship. It was outright mockery, and it saddened me, but the reason why was because of the richness of what I now carry having spent 2 1/5 years studying the old testament. Over and over, Israel made a mockery of God. They thought they worshipped, but their lives betrayed the words they said and sacrifices they brought. So we all know the story – God decided to step in and fix a system that no human could ever get right.

In Ezekiel, God says he will rescue his flock, he will search after them and look for them (Ezekiel 34:10-11)… and that is exactly what God did through Jesus. He should have received worship, rightful worship.. and yet they did what they had always done, even when their God showed up in the flesh. When he did not bow to their political ideals, their ideas of power and kingship, they took matters into their own hands and did what the world would have done with someone that opposed their ideas: They ended the threat (or so they thought)

So I ask this of myself even as I type it:

Do I ever try and make Jesus bow to my political ideas, my own ideas of power and the way the world should work? (ouch, yes I know, I have to think deeply about this too). The world is not the way it should be, I think we all know that and long for it to change. I HAVE to remember the kingdom he is building is one that is uniquely his, and one that the world will NOT understand. It is won not by political parties or the right people in office, but one by one, in hearts and minds and by mercy and kindness and grace. It will not make sense at times. It will include people that think opposite me, and that is ok.

Let us be people who walk with the sobering knowledge of the crucified Christ – yes. But because of the reality of his resurrection, let us also be people who seek to love those we consider enemies, to walk beside others bearing burdens, and to hold out the hope that the light HAS shone in darkness, and it will NOT overcome.

Blessings, my friends!

Lessons from Job

In all the times I have read the book of Job, I never paid attention much to how quickly the end is wrapped up. Have you?

I was thinking about this last weekend for some reason.

After 41 chapters, there are just 16 verses that talk about how God blessed Job after his trials. Of those, its the last 4 that somehow we always tend to read and think “oh, that’s nice. Everything turned out ok for him”.

Starting in verse 12: “So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had [thousands of sheep, camel, oxen and donkeys]. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters…. [he] lived to see four generations of his children and grandchildren”….

I am sure I will learn a lot more about this entire book this semester in my writings and poetry class, but for now I think I want to ponder a few things on my own.

FIRST

I have often wondered of Job was a real person, and whether or not there really was a conversation that was had in the heavens that preceded all that great loss. Have you ever wondered the same? Not to doubt God’s word, but to wonder at the reason for this specific story. Does my faith still stand, even if it is an allegory? Of course. Nothing can shake that. And, as usual, part of the purpose of scripture is to be able to see ourselves in it, and perhaps undo some wrong understanding we have of God ourselves as we read the dialogue between the various characters.

I know part of the purpose of the story was to undo a previously understood view of God’s blessing: He blesses the righteous, and if something bad happens, it must be God’s judgement and therefore you are in sin or have done something to offend God.

Have you ever wondered that about situations in your life?

Even in the time of Jesus people still thought this. Think about the story of Jesus healing the blind man. People asked him “who sinned, the boy or his parents?” They could not get past the truth that sometimes things just ARE, and no one caused them. Jesus took the opportunity to turn that around and remind them that this was a chance to reveal God’s glory – and of course the boy was healed.

Yes we suffer consequences of our actions, but hard things aren’t necessarily judgement or an indication you have offended God. Don’t make that assumption.

SECOND

Another truth came to life to me over a year and a half ago, one Saturday in January when I woke up in a panic. It was probably the worst part of things when Jon and I were going through the divorce, for a number of reasons. I was freaking out at the implications of my marriage ending. Fearful of judgement when people found out. Asking God why. Being angry at all that I was losing, scared of all I would have to face on my own. Angry because I couldn’t let myself get mad at Jon because I didn’t want to hurt him any more. I knew I had to give my body something to distract it, so I climbed the Manitou Incline that day for the first time.

(For those that do not know what the Manitou Incline is, its a huge set of steep steps up what used to be an old railcar line. It climbs 2000 ft in altitude in just under a mile.)

I was dehydrated from breathing so heavy and crying by the time I got to Manitou. Not a pretty sight (Starbucks iced tea to the rescue).

But in that moment, when I was doing everything I could to try and regain my mental sanity, I remembered Job. I began to wonder if there was ever a heavenly conversation over me and my life. I can just imagine:

“Have you considered Tama? She has a best friend in her husband, two great daughters, a supportive family, a good job, a new house. Almost an empty nester and now in a beautiful place she has always wanted to live. She’s in seminary and knows what she wants to do. Of course she praises you, God. See what happens when you take away the marriage that has been her foundation for 25 years.”

Oh.

Let me tell you.

First: I am certainly NOT at all saying that God and Satan had a conversation about our marriage ending.

Second: Whether you believe we have an adversary that fights against us (Paul certainly wrote about it) , or whether you believe this story is simply an allegory, let me tell you that the lightbulb went off in that very moment, and gave me what I needed to break the mental whirlwind I was drowning in.

Frankly, there are things that just happen in life that are very much a threat to our faith and believing that God cares about us. It can undermine how we see Him, what we believe about Him, and who we think He is. We have to wrestle with that amidst promises of His faithfulness to us and care for our lives.

Are we able to see that those things are still true in the face of whatever may come? The loss of a marriage, a relationship, a child, a job, your health.. your church family?

THIRD

We have a tendency to expect that when we go through difficult stuff, the good stuff should follow soon. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know…..but I can be honest that sometimes my thought process can be like “ok God, I got through something hard, now can you get things back to normal?”

It never occurred to me that for Job to SEE the blessing after such great loss, it took years. Ten kids… that’s at least 11 years for all of them to be born (if they were one after the other). Four generations past that. People, this is a BIG LENS that the author is using to tell us that over the rest of his life, things were good. It didn’t happen all at once. It happened little by little. Child by child being born, sheep and camel and donkey, one by one, year after year.

What’s the takeaway for us here?

I think it’s deeper than “count your blessings” – but that is a great way to start. I think it’s a challenge to open up to see what is alive all around us that we have missed. Where is love we haven’t seen, grace we didn’t know was being shown, mercy we can extend just because we have been given mercy ourselves?

It’s an invitation to come alive, to be resurrected after hard things, to know God more deeply than you have before. This is why I think Paul talks about our faith being deepened by trials, precisely because they draw us closer to the very heart of the One who made us.

So learn from Job. God is not your adversary, toying with your life to see if you will still follow Him. He is alway there, always listening, drawing near, always leading forward to life.

Blessings, my friends, and thanks for listening.

Fan, or… something else?

As I sit and think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I am struck by the reality that sometimes I have no clue how it really happens. I can look back over my life and I realize that one day I was introduced to the person of Jesus, and then nearly three decades later it’s like I blinked ….and I see that my life has been full of watching people and walking beside people that know Jesus, and that is part of how I learned. They have walked through the ups and downs of life with me all these years (and I have with them as well). As a result, I can honestly say I have fallen in love with who Jesus is, his purposes to show such ridiculous grace to this entire world, and his kingdom values where the poor are lifted up, the broken and lost find hope and healing, and everyone gets to play.

But see, I don’t think we can get a full picture of who Jesus is just by being around his people. Because, if you ask them, they probably learned much of what they know from studying Jesus himself, by reading their bible and diving in, and by leaning on the character of God when life didn’t measure up. But why is this hard nowadays?

Whether you have been in church for some time, whether you are new to it all, or somewhere in between — I think sometimes what we have a tendency treat the actual stories of Jesus as if they were on our Instagram feed.

We scroll through the pages of scripture, convenient with subtitles and/or red-lettering, and we go “that’s a cool story” (double tap HEART)… not sure about that one… and, just like on Instagram, we love and comment on the bite-size stories that present themselves.

Its like having a window into someone else’s life, much like we see on social media.

But we stop there.

If Jesus parables and stories are intended to be a window into the kingdom he came to bring, then shouldn’t we put a bit more study into it than just slighly remembering the story? Instagram pix might be great for catching up, showing something you are proud of or you think is beautiful, maybe its for selling a product or any number of other things… but Jesus came to transform us….. and it takes more than just liking a parable to transform.

I know sometimes we wrestle with seeing how very different Jesus and his ways were in his day and culture, and how shocking what he said might have been to his hearers, and maybe that makes it difficult for us to tranlate to our own day and age. But if we are to really be a disciple of Jesus, we must look. We must question. We must let it transform us.

Its the difference between being a “fan” … and someone who is falling in love with the God who loves them.

It’s interesting for me too, as I start writing my first exegetical paper for one of my seminary classes. See, I have chosen a passage from Hebrews (5:12-14) where the author is challenging his audience and their spiritual maturity. The writer is an intellectual of sorts, familiar with Greek reasoning and ways of dialogue, and he is trying to challenge things that are distracting the church body from maturing in their faith…. and they are distracted precisely because they have stayed at only being content to know the basics of faith: repentance, baptism, resurrection, etc.

N.T Wright leverages a challenge in his commentary on this passage, that we who profess faith should always be aware if our answer to grasping the more difficult things of the faith is “I don’t get it, that’s too difficult to understand”.

That doesn’t mean that we get it all right away though, so please don’t think I am saying that. What I am saying is that we need to remain teachable, always learners to how God is at work in the world around us, how the words of Jesus need to transform us from the inside out – and how we need to be willing to wrestle with the difficult things our world presents us today.

God is not absent from this world, my friends. We may not always be able to see it, but if you really seek to follow Jesus.. I can guarantee you will get it one day. Be willing to be like Jacob and wrestle, or like Thomas and ask for proof. Just don’t close your eyes and stop looking!

A possible new take on Eph 2:3

Yes, friends, this is my bookshelf. One of them. After having gotten rid of just as many before we moved to Colorado, believe it or not! I am all for e-readers and Amazon Kindle.. but there is something about reading an actual book for me. I like to be able to highlight and mark up what strikes me as I’m reading – mostly because I fly through books and can’t recall which one I was reading that made such a great point – but if I can flip back through them I can find my notes!

This summer, I’ve been doing some “light” reading (just kidding – theology books not required by seminary, just stuff I’m interested in. You know, 300 page books that take a month to read. Those I got delivered to my ipad.. much easier for toting around). One of them recently reminded me of a passage I read over earlier this year and had started researching.

Ephesians 2:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath”. (Or as some bibles translate, objects of wrath, or children of wrath)

I have always cringed getting to that last part.

The concept of God being wrathful is something I struggle with … and I am pretty sure I am not the only one, either.

This idea of being under or deserving God’s wrath fits well with the Old Testament view of God being full of wrath for the enemies of Israel, and how Ancient Near East (ANE) peoples understood gods to be.

Yet I cannot help but wonder if Paul’s statement was spoken not only as a Jew who once believed that God had wrath for anyone not following the law, but also to a group of people whose worldview believed in wrath as well (like did his gentile audience believe their gods were wrathful, and thus he was including himself in the description of being deserving of wrath?)

I know the idea of wrath seems to be all over the pages of the Hebrew bible (our OT). I know Paul speaks about it. Yet if Jesus was God in the flesh, and Jesus himself was not full of wrath, how then can we say the character of God is wrathful? I will be honest, the picture I am getting as I go through my OT classes is a completely different picture. I’ll have to unpack that later as I go through round two this next semester 🙂

Anyway…. I recently re-read Tony Jones book “A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin”, and just like the first time I read it, it opened my eyes to views of the atonement of Jesus that do not require God to be a god of wrath. Did you know they were out there? That is certainly something I was never taught in the evangelical church!

So I looked up the Greek for the last part of Ephesians 2:3

First off, I will say that the word “deserving of” [wrath] isn’t in there. these are the words that are:

_____

We were (eimi) – to exist, to be present (so this is present tense.. reads better as “are”)

By nature (same) – by nature

Children – (teknon) – children, offspring

Of (same) – of

Wrath – (orge) – anger, indignation, violent emotions, impulse, natural disposition or temperament; movement or agitation of the soul, especially anger

Is it possible when Paul spoke of wrath in this passage that he was referring more to OUR character and nature instead of God’s? That we, before we understood the transforming nature of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we naturally were governed more by violent emotions, anger, impulsivity, and the like?

This understanding would certainly fit with the previous verse where Paul is speaking about satisfying the cravings of the flesh. In addition, when you look further towards verse 12 where he addresses the way Gentiles were formerly excluded from citizenship and the promises of Israel, he doesn’t speak of Gentiles being under wrath there at all, which you would think Paul might state, if he thought everyone outside of Israel was under God’s wrath.

It’s nothing groundbreaking, and certainly not anything some of you might have not unpacked yourself, but it certainly broke through a difficult section of scripture for me so I thought I’d share!

A little disagreement with Paul

Alright – today ya’ll I am going to be a bit more theological, I hope you don’t mind.

Our Passage: Galatians 4:25 through 31

I’m reading though Galatians this week, and as I come to this section, I am having an issue with what Paul is doing with it. I can clearly see he is talking to the people of the city, and, based on the previous chapters, trying to remind them that in Christ, they have freedom – so stop trying to earn God’s favor and covenant relationship by adhering to the law. He is speaking to a first century audience, one that has been walking in freedom in Christ yet is now being challenged to be more stringent by those who obey the law.

What bothers me is the Hagar and Sarah story usage. I get where he is going, I can see the analogy he’s making about how the Jews in the earthly Jerusalem are in slavery as they were unwilling to accept what God had done through Jesus, yet those who believed in Jesus and accepted his forgiveness were now citizens of the “heavenly Jerusalem”. Yet after finishing my Old Testament course, I see this passage with completely new eyes.

I do not deny that the apostle Paul was inspired by the Lord to write this for his Galatian audience. I do not deny that those who cling to Jesus are children of promise. However, his analogy with the slave and free woman, I have to beg to differ.

The way I see it, Paul actually took a piece of scripture out of context to make his point.

In verse 30 he says:

“But what does Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son’. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”

Again, I get the analogy he is making, and I won’t deny the point of us focusing on the freedom we have in Christ being the one who justifies us, rather than adherence to a set of religious rules.

But have you gone back to read the passage Paul is referencing (Genesis 21:10)? That’s not something God said, it’s what Sarah told Abraham once Isaac had been born.

Hagar and Ishmael had been around for 13 years until Isaac was born. A big feast held when Isaac had been weaned (could have been his 2nd or 3rd year)… and the text tells us that Ishmael was mocking them.

So Sarah did what any mother might naturally do when you see a teenager mocking your toddler. GET OUT OF HERE! Leave him alone. Let’s not spiritualize this too much: Her momma bear came out. I wouldn’t doubt if in the back of her head she was also thinking “he doesn’t matter anyway, MY SON is the one God promised.” (I know, some of you are probably cringing that I would assign a very selfish thought to Sarah here. But she was… human…)

Abraham was actually concerned at what Sarah was asking. Keep in mind, Ishmael was the only son he had known for 13 years until Isaac was born. He loved Ishmael. So he asked the Lord what to do. God’s response was still full of promise. Yes, he said Abraham could acquiesce and send Hagar and Ishmael away, but he promised that Ishmael would also become a great nation because he was Abraham’s seed as well.

Then what we see the text showing us is that God took care of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:15-20). He didn’t abandon them whatsoever… He saw her need, and He provided for her.

This passage in Genesis, rather than condemning Hagar and her son, actually shows us God’s heart of compassion for those who are rejected and outcast. We also have to recognize that, once she left Sarah’s company, Hagar wasn’t a slave any more… she was free, and was a mother of someone that would father a nation on his own.

How’s that for throwing a wrench into Paul’s analogy?

I’m not saying his analogy didn’t work for the Galatians. I can see pieces of it now, and recognize what he is saying. Yet for me, everything in me now cries out to see this a little differently. Paul used pieces of the Old Testament to make his point, but he made an analogy and point that the original text wasn’t actually trying to make.

Man. That is a lot to think about at 7:45am. Come to think of it, I better run – it’s Saturday and I have places to go!

Hope you have a refreshing and restful weekend, whatever your plans!