Blog update:

Abraham: The Shaping of a Life and Culture.

Over the next few months, my posts will primarily focus on the life of Abraham as I attempt to "blog a book."

Entries in Bible (8)


The world stage, part 16 (Conflict at Babel, part 2)

We're in the middle of discussing the conflict at the Tower of Babel. Yesterday we discussed Nimrod, one of Noah's son's descendants. In addition to Nimrod, who (in a sense) founded the Assyrians, Ham’s other offspring will become such people groups as the Philistines (10:14), the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, and the Canaanites (10:16, 18), all of which will be enemies of God’s future people the Israelites. After the flood Ham’s crime against his father (exposing his nakedness) leads to a curse and his sons represent the seed of the serpent—those that are faithful to themselves and not to God—and already the signs of conflict with the seed of the woman are developing (per Genesis 3:15).

This explains the results of the wicked line of Ham, but what of the righteous line of Shem? 

The simplest answer is that they eventually join with the wicked sons of Ham and even participate in the construction of Babel. Shem’s descendants are listed last in the table of nations. We find out from his list of descendants that the “the earth was divided” during the time of his great grandson, Peleg, whose name means “division” (10:25). A few verses later we are told that the territory of Shem’s sons “extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east” (10:30, emphasis added). The table of nations then ends with a summary of Shem’s descendants and of Noah’s descendants in general.

Immediately after this, the story of Babel is recounted. Remember that though there is a chapter break between Genesis 10 and 11, the narrative is continuous. So in context the move from the list of nations to the construction of Babel reads as follows: 

The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east.  These are the sons of Shem… .These are the clans of the sons of Noah according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. (Gen. 10:30-11:2) 

When we read the account of Babel in context it becomes more plain that these “people” who migrated “from the east” at least included the sons of Shem: they are the ones specifically named as having settled in the east.[1]  The way the text is structured, it’s as if the narrator is saying at the end of chapter 10, “These are the nations.  Now let me tell you how and why they where separated after the flood” (as mentioned in 10:32). According to 11:1, the whole earth speaks the same words and they are sticking together. Apparently, all of Noah’s sons’ descendants—all 70 nations—are somehow represented at Babel. 

But these people do not just journey together, sharing the same language. They also share the same belief or ideology. This fact is easily overlooked because the phrase “had one language” obscures the Hebrew, making it sound as if the writer of the text is trying to doubly emphasize the language issue.  However, as James Jordan explains, “the word translated language in this verse actually means lip.  The phrase ‘same words’ refers to language, but the phrase ‘same lip’—literally ‘one lip’—refers to religion,” in addition to carrying the idea of spoken language.[2] The people of the earth, all descended from Japheth, Shem and Ham, gathered in Shinar with one language and one religion, one belief, one ideology.  In essence, the righteous joined with the wicked for self-exaltation in a united rebellion against God at Babel (11:4).

I'll wrap up this discussion of the conflict at Babel tomorrow, but think on this: How easy is it for the righteous to join with the wicked? Is it not possible for this to happen and the righteous not even be aware of it?

[1]See Jordan, Primeval Saints, 55.

[2] Ibid., p. 55.  In a footnote Jordan lists other instances of “same language” meaning same lip: Zephaniah 3:9; Psalm 81:5; Job 27:4; 33:3; Psalms 12:2-4; 16:4; 40:9; 45:2; 51:15; Isaiah 6:5; 6:7; Malachi 2:6-7.  Also, a margin note in the New American Standard Version of the Bible notes that “same language” could read “same lip.”


Being disected 

Have you ever read something just to, well, get through it? No doubt, this is the plight of students everywhere. "Just gotta get through this... just gotta get through... ." It could be an assignment for school or work, or even an article or a book a friend recommended and you feel obligated to "read" it. The pile of books and magazines to read is ever growing. Add blogs to that, if you happen to be a blog reader (and I say thankya).

What about the Bible? Ever read it just to get through and check it off your list of... whatever list it is you have for yourself? (Yeah, I know. There are a ton of issues with this attitude, but I don't want to address them here and now.)

Often times, we approach texts the wrong way. We seek to plow through but the texts never get through to us. This is especially true of the Scriptures. There are loads of books out there that speak to us, but the Bible is a book that speaks to us and reads us. It's not always a pleasant thing being read, but we so desperately need a good reading and often.

Hence the need for meditation on the Bible. It is food for the soul and we need it to get into us. To get through us. As Mark Batterson puts it in his book Primal, "If the goal of reading is to get through the Bible, the goal of meditation is to get the Bible through us." This getting the Bible through us takes time and effort. But the work is good and the results are healthful.

I've often read the Bible like it was some sort of cadaver to be dissected and analyzed and pulled apart so I could argue it, often against other Christians, sad to say. What I need is a dissecting myself, that I might see and, perhaps, show others that they too might see and savor the glory of God (Piper-influence phrase, I admit).

Steve Schlissel says it well: "The word of God is a living and active sword, not a cadaver awaiting dissection." May you and I be dissected today, that we might be healthier tomorrow.


This is a reminder: Form informs as much as content(?)

I've said this before, but I'm going to repeat it again.

In writing, content obviously communicates to us. This goes for novels and stories, essays, plays, poems, etc. Content communicates.

I will add to this that form communicates as well. By "form," I mean that the way the words are placed on the page, the order of the words, sentences, ideas, sections, chapters, etc., all communicate as well.

So what? you may be asking. Fine. That's a fair comment.

Here's an example from the Bible.

The book of Matthew is about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the content part of the book. This is the easy part for most of us to get--the events, the plot, the characters--basically the sorts of things we'd be tested over if we were in school and this was one of our text.

What many of us don't see, is that the way the story is told is also part of its message. In this case, we can point out that the book of Matthew is written with a Jewish audience in mind, an audience that understands the various national and religious nuances that we Gentiles overlook or don't understand. We can add that the order in which the content of the book plays out loosely follows the events of the Jewish Old Testament. For example, Matthew 1-2 have many similarities to Genesis and Exodus; Matthew 10 is like mission instructions, similar to Joshua; Matthew 13 is similar to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, etc.

Other "form" elements that can inform our understanding of the book? Matthew structures the genealogy at the beginning so it is symmetrical, listing fourteen names between Abraham and David, David and Josiah, Jechoniah and Jesus (see 1:17). He chooses to tell the birth of Jesus so that we see it from Joseph's perspective (1:18-25). At the beginning he continually interjects that these things happening around the birth of Jesus are fulfillments of prophecy. Further in the book, Matthew begins to tell something, but then shifts gears before the story is completed (at least in the sense that we think of "completed"). For example, when Jesus is sending out the Twelve disciples in Matthew 10, he gives instructions but there is no mention of them actually leaving or returning (Luke 10 records both).



I grant that there is much more to see and say about this--you may not be even remotely convinced. Even so, consider this as the bottom line: When you read the Bible--or any work of literary art--try to pay attention to form as much as content. It informs. I think you'll start to see your understanding of the piece opening up in your imagination and understanding.


Sacrifice... from Abraham's perspective, part 4

Today I'll offer a brief conclusion to our look at Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac from his perspective.


All is still. Breathless. Reader, Abraham, Isaac—all wait to see what will happen. Then the narrator interrupts our reading as the angel interrupts the sacrifice: “But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said ‘Abraham, Abraham!’” For the third time in this story, Abraham is addressed by name and for the third time he eagerly responds, “Here am I” (22:1, 7, 11). The angel explains, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (22:12). Now God has the ocular proof of Abraham’s devotion; he has experienced it firsthand. Abraham has passed from questioner and become the constant responder. He is, in word and now in sacrificial deed, a selfless, God-honoring, devoted “friend of God.”   


Yes, I've fudged a bit and offered some of God's perspective here. Even so, we know that Abraham is called and goes, apparently without hesitation. We know that he viewed the offering he was to give as some sort of worship. We know that his inner devotion is deep, perhaps unshakable, at this point in his life. He truly lives up to his epithet of "friend of God."

Beginning in the near future (perhaps next week), I'll begin a series of posts that look at this same passage but with a closer eye on what God is requiring and what he is doing in this test. Remember, as readers, we know this entire encounter is a test. God knows the episode is a test. Abraham does not. 

God's ways are clearly not our own. His character, although revealed to us--at least in part--in scripture, is deep and difficult to plumb. We must be careful how we interpret the Bible; we must be careful about the conclusions we draw.


Almighty God, open our eyes wider that they might see more wholly who you are and what business you are about here on earth. Amen.


Jesus Journal #6

I was flipping through the journal I've started keeping about the life of Jesus and I came across a few of my comments over Matthew 7:1-5. The passage's subheading in the ESV is "Judging Others." In light of all the political hoopla over the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, called by former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, I thought the passage fitting.

As I mentioned yesterday, many people were getting hot and bothered about the event--on both sides. People for it and against it had things to say, some very heated and vitriolic. And, no doubt judgments were made.

Now my intention is not to "go off" on this or throw some Bible verses at you about how judging is BAD. In fact, to not make judgments about things is nearly impossible. Rather, I want to print the passage and then give a few comments in hopes of giving a new perspective.

Matthew 7:1-5:

 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."


I've always thought about this judgment in terms of judging sins. But don't we make so many more types of judgments? Don't we "judge" whether or not we can make it through a yellow light before it turns red? Don't we "judge" whether or not the milk is bad when we see that it's out of date? Don't we "judge" when we see someone's face is cast down and then ask them what's wrong? Don't we make all sorts of "judgments" like these ALL THE TIME?

Sure we do. So if this is the case, then maybe Jesus isn't just talking about pointing out people's sins so we can help them.

Jesus' primary point seems to be that people should be aware of themselves before seeking to help others with--well, I'll use the term "sight problems," since Jesus gives an analogy of specks and logs in the eye. We should be aware of how we "see" before we go and help others with their sight. 

In other words, a key aspect of this so-called "Judging Others" passage has to do with point of view or perspective. This, of course, is why so many of our judgments are made in the first place, isn't it? Don't we make judgments of other people because they see the world differently than we do? Sure, sometimes these differences are sin issues; but sometimes they're just differences in understanding, learning, up-bringing, experience--any number of things.

I'm not trying to soft hand sin. God hates sin, judged his own son because of his people's sin. Still, we need to see that Jesus is talking about perspective and sight problems. And, whether we like it our not, part of the reason why we think other people have issues that we need to "judge," is because of our own sight problems. It may turn out that our own issue is much greater than the issue that we're judging... we just can't tell because we're seeing other people's specks through our logs.