Tag: Old Testament

Sirach offers words of Wisdom

We live in a day full of information but often bereft of wisdom.

This morning I read something I had never read before. I went to the Catholic Bible and read from the book of Sirach. Chapter 24 speaks of Wisdom, she who comes forth from the “Creator of all things.”

The Creator, the ancient text says, gave Wisdom a place in which to dwell. The people of Jacob, of Israel became that dwelling.

The passage personifies Wisdom as a woman come to dwell among a people. This paints a beautiful image of what we know from the Old Testament. The writer of Sirach recognized that Israel had been specially blessed as a place for the Creator’s Wisdom to be gradually revealed.

Wisdom speaks of the Creator and Israel:

“Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
In the holy tent I ministered before him,
and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
and in Jerusalem was my domain.
I took root in an honored people,
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage” (vv. 9-12, NRSV, Catholic Edition).

Can’t we see this as we read both the Hebrew Scriptures and then the new Christian testament? Wisdom established. Wisdom taking root.

Wisdom “grew tall” like a tree, Sirach says. She could be seen in her majesty, but she was not only seen. Wisdom “gave forth perfume. She was to be inhaled and enjoyed.

“Like cassia and camel’s thorn I gave forth perfume,
and like choice myrrh I spread my fragrance,
like galbanum, onycha, and stacte,
and like the odor of incense in the tent ” (v. 15).

And, in the imperfect but fertile Hebrew soil Wisdom spread and gave glorious delights and abundant fruit. And Wisdom issued an invitation for all who desire her to “eat your fill of my fruits.” She also gave a promise, that possession of her would be “sweeter than the honeycomb.”

“Like a terebinth I spread out my branches,
and my branches are glorious and graceful.
Like the vine I bud forth delights,
and my blossoms become glorious and abundant fruit. [148]
Come to me, you who desire me,
and eat your fill of my fruits.
For the memory of me is sweeter than honey,
and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb” (vv. 16-20).

And once we taste Wisdom, we want more, because we will never have all of her. And as we obey Wisdom we rise above the sin that so easily ensnares us.

“Those who eat of me will hunger for more,
and those who drink of me will thirst for more.
Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame,
and those who work with me will not sin” (vv. 21-22).

Wisdom is found in the law of Moses, the early chapters of our Bible today, Sirach said. This grand woman, Wisdom, is specially revealed in God’s law.

The law of Moses “overflows . . .  with wisdom” like the Pishon and Tigris rivers in the spring (v. 25).

The law of Moses “runs over . . . with understanding” like the Euphrates and the Jordan at harvest time (v. 26).

The law of Moses “pours forth instruction” like the Nile and the Gihon in vintage (v. 27).

The first humans dd not know Wisdom fully, nor will the last (v. 28). This should humble us. We have a tendency to speak with such certainty about the things of God. Will we every learn that there always is more to learn of the Infinite and of Wisdom?

For her thoughts are more abundant than the sea,
and her counsel deeper than the great abyss (v. 29).

But Wisdom makes a promise.

“I will again make instruction shine forth like the dawn,
and I will make it clear from far away.
I will again pour out teaching like prophecy,
and leave it to all future generations.
Observe that I have not labored for myself alone,
but for all who seek wisdom” (vv. 32-34).

Such a beautiful thought. The Wisdom of Scripture will again shine forth like a beautiful dawn, and her teachings will be poured out to all future generations. And it is not just for the sake of Wisdom herself, but for everyone who seeks her.

 

Excerpts From: Thomas Nelson. “NRSV, Catholic Edition Bible, eBook.” Apple Books. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/nrsv-catholic-edition-bible-ebook/id386605154?mt=11

Challenging the idolatry of power

Readings for a second day in a row confront me with notions of present day idolatry right here among seemingly Bible-believing Christians. Today’s reading comes from Walter Brueggemann in his book, Old Testament Theology: An Introduction. It is somewhat risky to pull out one paragraph from a lengthy, in-depth book, but it is worth the risk because it may stimulate thought.

Near the end of the book, Brueggemann is discussing hope as revealed in the apocalyptic book of the Old Testament, Daniel. Apocalyptic is described by Brueggemann as “the extreme conviction that God will make all things new.” (p. 364) This idea is all over the Hebrew Bible, but it takes a different form in Daniel, which I will not get into.

Brueggemann says one of the spinoffs from biblical apocalyptic (New Testament included) is in U.S. religion, which has a “great attraction”  to such modes of thought and speech. Now let me turn Brueggemann loose. (All quotes, pages 364-365.)

“That way of hope, however, has been cast into modernist modes of dispensationalism that for the most part contradicts the theological force of hope in God.”

A brief stop here. Yes, dispensationalism is a modern invention, and Brueggemann seems right — there is a real sense in which dispensationalism becomes a god in and of itself, thus distracting from the true God who is to be worshiped and trusted.

“Much of that current thought, prominently in the Left Behind Series, has an odd and disastrous alliance with right-wing politics that characteristically supports and celebrates U.S. military adventurism. This odd and widely embraced juxtaposition of apocalyptic imagery and superpower self-aggrandizement demonstrates in an unmistakable way how such daring imagery is easily pressed into the service of idolatry. The outcome of such an alliance is that the rhetoric of hope is matched to a politics of despair that intends at all cost to preserve the status quo of privilege, entitlement, and self-propelled security.”

In essence, Brueggemann here has offered an indictment of American Christianity. He seems to be saying that we Americans have taken the apocalyptic notions derived from Scripture and married them to a distinctly American religion that is more about us than about God. This alliance is formed to preserve three things that are not of Jesus, it would seem — privilege, entitlement, and self-propelled security. Jesus clearly stood for the under-privileged, spoke of responsibility not entitlement, and offered security through God not ourselves.

And lest my left-wing friends take too much joy in the above, let me say that they have their own odd and disastrous alliances.

I’ll let Brueggemann continue:

“Such a utilization of apocalyptic hope is a disastrous idolatry because the God to which apocalyptic hope attests stands precisely against such craven hungers of present arrangements of power and security. Hope stands as a contradiction of all such idolatries. Indeed the very superpower status of the United States, so valued in many forms of contemporary apocalyptic rhetoric, more likely stands, in the tradition of Daniel, as one of the empires that will fall rather than as an icon of the new rule of God. In the contemporary U.S. religious scene, such an idolatrous alliance of future hope and current power employs the rhetoric of hope precisely in the practice of hopelessness, bespeaking not eager trust but immense fear.”

It seems to me that since World War II, the United States has developed an out-sized trust in its own power — economic and military. During the war itself, I do not think that was so much the case, especially among the regular folk. This growing trust in worldly power is a back story to our declining trust in Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

I need not say more; there is enough here to ponder.

Keller: The Bible and poverty

Poverty “is seen in the Bible as a very complex phenomenon. Several factors are usually intertwined. Poverty cannot be eliminated simply by personal initiative or by merely changing the tax structure.” (p.34)

Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, stakes out a biblical position on poverty and wealth that transcends polarizing views of the issues. In short, it takes no one off the hook, either the rich or the poor.

The second chapter of his book is titled “Justice and the Old Testament,” but it doesn’t just stay in the older portion of Scripture. It simply starts there. Here are some excerpts:

“The Bible is not a classist tract that sees the rich as always the villains and the poor as always virtuous.” (p.27)

“The gleaning laws enabled the poor to be self-sufficient, not through getting a handout, but through their own work in the field.

“How can business owners follow the same principle? … [T]hey should be willing to pay higher wages and charge lower prices that in effect share the corporate profits with employees and customers, with the community around them. … How could a government follow the gleaning principle? It would do so by always favoring programs that encourage work and self-sufficiency rather than dependency.” (p.30)

Regarding the story of manna during the exodus (Exodus 16:16-18):

“Any manna that was hoarded simply spoiled. … In 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 Paul interprets this as an abiding principle for how we are to deal with God’s material provision for us. He likens our money to manna. … [T]he money you earn is a gift of God. Therefore, the money you make must be shared to build up community. … To extend the metaphor — money that is hoarded for oneself rots the soul.” (pp.30-31)

“… [W]hen we come to the Old Testament social legislation, the application must be done with care and it will always be subject to debate. … Thoughtful people have and will argue about which is the most effective way to help the poor. Both sides looking for support in the Bible can find some, and yet in the end what the Bible says about social justice cannot be tied to any one political system or economic policy.” (pp.31-32)

“The three causes of poverty, according to the Bible, are oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure. … I have concluded that the emphasis is usually on the larger structural factors.” (p.38)

“It is not our lavish good deeds that procure salvation, but God’s lavish love and mercy. That is why the poor are as acceptable before God as the rich. It is the generosity of God, the freeness of his salvation, that lays the foundation for the society of justice for all.” (p.40)

(This is my third post on Keller’s book.  The first is here and the second here. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)

Keller: Church and state in the Bible

Timothy Keller offers one the quickest and best understandings of church and state from a biblical perspective that you will find. It comes in chapter two of his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just.

“In the Old Testament believers comprised a single nation-state, with divinely appointed land apportionments and with a religious law code backed up by civil sanctions. … but in the New Testament this changed. Christians now do not constitute a theocratic kingdom-state, but exist as an international communion of local assemblies living in every nation and culture. … Jesus’s famous teaching to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21) signaled this change in the relationship between church and state to one of ‘non-establishment.’

“Though believers are still a ‘covenant community,’ a people who are bound together to obey God’s will, the church is not a state. So the apostle Paul, for example, calls for the rebuke of an adulterer in the Corinthian church. And if he does not repent, says Paul, expel him from membership in the community (1 Corinthians 5). Nevertheless, Paul does not demand his execution, as would have been the case in Israel.” (pp.21-22)

This is so helpful. It’s interesting that American Christians on both sides of the church-state separation debate tend to focus on the founders of our nation and not the Founder of our faith.

The two sides, in case you missed it, are basically identified this way: In one corner of the “boxing” ring we have the defender’s of Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation of church and state. And in other corner we have those who believe the United States was essentially a Christian nation that granted freedom of religion. You might have guessed, I go with the former group.

No need to argue all of that now. Keller simply gives a good perspective.

(This is my second post on Keller’s book.  The first is here.)