For Everyone Series Goes OT

Just noticed on Amazon that the For Everyone Series made popular by N.T. Wright’s series on the New Testament is starting on the Old Testament. I have no idea how I missed this as it looks like Genesis came out in 2010. John Goldingay is authoring this series. Here is what they have out so far:

Genesis 1-16

Exodus & Leviticus

Joshua, Judges, Ruth

1 & 2 Samuel

1 & 2 Kings

1 & 2 Chronicles

If these are anything like their New Testament counterparts they will be inexpensive and very helpful. Has anyone read any of these?

The Significance of Ceremony – Joshua 24

In Joshua 24 you have a renewal of Israel’s covenant with God just prior to Joshua’s death. Some covenants in the ancient world were done in a very specific way. We see that pattern reflected in Joshua 24. The Hittites (who are mentioned in the chapter) had a form of covenant called the Suzerain-Vassal treaty (sounds like some kind of dread disease). The treaties followed this order:

  • Preamble – Included the names the parties involved, invoking the names of their gods  (24:2)
  • Historical prologue – lists the benevolent actions of the suzerain on behalf of the vassal (24:2-13)
  • Stipulations – Listed the obligations of each party, especially the vassal (24:14-15 & 22-23)
  • Deposit – Instructions for the recording of the treaty, a schedule of how often it should be read, and where it was to be deposited (24:25-26)
  • Witnesses called – These witnesses might be the gods or might be a third party (24:26)
  • Blessings and curses – What the results of obeying or disobeying the treaty included (24:19-20)

These agreements were surrounded in ceremony. Ceremony is important in culture because it shows just how important something is. Ceremony shows significance. What is more, each of these elements provide leverage for the parties involved to have motivation to keep their end of the deal. While it is not intended we read this into the text, I do think it is interesting that these same elements are still present in modern weddings:

  • Preamble – We see this in the vows – “I _________ take you _________ to be my wife.”
  • Historical prologue – We typically here this when the minister tells what he knows about the story of the couple he is marrying or any special stories or background he has with them or they have with each other.
  • Stipulations – We see this in the vows, “for better or for worse…richer or poorer…sickness and health.”
  • Deposit – Wedding rings serve this role. The deposit of the record of the covenant in the ancient world was to serve as a reminder of what had been agreed to. It was to be present and visible to the parties involved in the covenant. Maybe a couple keeps around their unity candle as a reminder or has the dress in a special place.
  • Witnesses – weddings are full of witnesses. Covenants are community events and community agreements. When we hear things like, “Before God and these witnesses” at a wedding, that is a very ancient practice of invoking the witnesses of divinity in order to highlight the necessity of maintaining faithfulness to the covenant agreement.
  • Blessings and curses – Wouldn’t that be exciting to see this section on the order of events handed out at the next wedding you attend, “Next the father of the bride will present the couple with their formal blessings and curses” Most weddings don’t include the formal “blessings and curses” section.

Couples today could just say, “I do” and “I do”, husband and wife, kiss the bride and be married. But most people don’t do that. Most people want something they will remember. People value ceremony. It is important we really make ceremony meaningful so that the real underlying meaning of what is happening is not missed.

Do you think ceremony is still valued today or have certain ceremonies, like weddings, become such a tradition that most people don’t even realize the significance of it all?

The Importance of Keeping Our Promises

We studied Joshua 9-10 this morning in Bible class. Joshua and the Israelites are in the promised land and they are in the process of conquering the land. Some of the neighboring people, the Gibeonites, figure they won’t defeat the Israelites in battle. So they resort to trickery. They put on their oldest shoes, pull wineskins from the trash heap, and collect moldy bread and set out on the short trek to the Israelite camp in Gilgal. God’s people had been told not to make any treaties with the people in the land, but these people claimed to live far, far away and they gave honor to God. Without consulting God for his direction they make a treaty with the Gibeonites only to find out shortly later that they lived nearby!

The first lesson is one we see often in Joshua, that in all things we need to rely on God and seek him out through prayer. The second lesson, that I want to focus in on with this post is the importance of giving our word and making good on it. The Israelites put themselves in a bind because God commanded them to destroy everyone in the land but he also commanded them to make good on their oaths. In our world, the treaty wouldn’t stand. Written on lies and false pretenses it wouldn’t make it through a court of law due to all the trickery that lead to the covenant being signed.

Avoiding the loophole:
They didn’t look for a loophole on how to weasel out of their contractual obligations. Instead they honored it and spared these people. What is more, in Joshua 10, the Gibeonites are attacked and call on Israel for aid. If they wanted a loophole out of this treaty here it was. They could have just said no and let the Gibeonites suffer defeat. That might have ended their covenant with the Gibeonites and got rid of them for good. Instead, they took the very best troops the had, marched all night and defeated the attackers, rescuing the Gibeonites.

Zealously upholding our integrity:
I am amazed at the zeal by which they stood by their word. They made a promised and they were going to do everything in their power to show that they were willing to make good on their word, even if it was dangerous or uncomfortable. I think most of us might be tempted to take one of many of the loopholes that presented themselves. This story challenges us to take our word seriously because when they gave it their best we see that God then came and fought for them! I think the same thing can happen today. When God sees us honoring our word he is willing to come alongside us and assist.

All of our actions that people see teach them something about the God we claim to serve. If they see us as honorable and true to our word, that has a positive reflection on God. If we claim to be Christ followers and yet are not trustworthy to those around us, what are we teaching people about the God we say we are trying to be like?

Let us all be true to our word, careful of what we promise, and go to as great of lengths necessary to show ourselves to be honorable and have integrity.

Numbers 13 & Joshua 2 – Lessons in Partnering with God

In Numbers 13 we read about the 12 spies who went into the land and decided that tackling the promised land shouldn’t be on their agenda. Although the produce of the land was good and abundant, ten of the spies believed that land was too formidable for them to conquer. Right away you get a clue that their focus is in the wrong place, “They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” – (Num 13:27). The problem is Moses didn’t send them. God did (Num 13:1). Their focus has already shifted from a God-initiated and promised activity to a man-initiated one. The next word they say was not what you want to hear at this point…”But” (13:28). Yep…the land is great. It’s just like God said. But. We are took weak. They are too strong. We can’t do it. We are afraid.

This is when Caleb and Joshua stepped up and put their faith in God’s promise into action saying, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” When C&J say “We” you can be their “We” is different than the “we” of the other ten spies who reply, “But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” It is pretty clear that Caleb and Joshua’s we included God and the ten’s did not. If that is true, both groups were right. The ten were right. Left without God in the picture and his power and wisdom they couldn’t do it. The two were right. With God fighting for them it could be done. The question for us is, are the things we doing inclusive of God? Or better yet, are we participating with God in what he is initiating and doing in the world today? or are we going it alone, attempting to find victory through our own power and ability? How you answer that question changes your perspective on what you do in life from “I can or can’t” to “We can”.

Fast forward forty years to Joshua 2. Joshua and the Israelites send two spies into the land saying to them, “”Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” (Joshua 2:1). Ever wonder if that number had anything to do with the last time they sent spies? This time they come back with a favorable report, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (Joshua 2:24). What I find interesting about this report is that it doesn’t contain the things one might expect to hear from spies –  No chariot count, no report of the weaknesses of the city, when the gates open and shut, or what kind of weapons they have. Why such a favorable report lacking all the “relevant” military information? They weren’t there to spy out the strategy or strength of the land because their report would have reflected it. All they did was go in the city, talk to a prostitute, and run for their lives and yet they came back with a favorable report! They knew God had given them the land due to Rahab’s report. She confirmed everything God had told them – the land was theirs, the people were afraid, etc.

Sometimes, like the 10 spies in Numbers 13, I am looking for things that aren’t important or confirm the wrong things. If God wants to win a battle what are we looking for? Are we looking for our own strategy of how our power will bring down the walls or are we looking for confirmation of what God’s plan is and how he will do it when we partner with him. God could have said, “Give me thirty seconds and the land will be empty, all destroyed, and you can move in.” But he didn’t. He partnered with them, expected them to act in faith, and he did all that was necessary to win the battle. If our faith is going to grow we have to stop looking for how we are going to get it done and start to try and see how God is going to do it.

It is important for us to realize that we don’t get let in on all the details of what is going to happen or how and that is important because if we were there would be little reason for faith. For instance, ever wonder if the first time they sent spies that the people in the land were already afraid? Think about it, Rahab’s report of what God had done were events that happened forty years ago and yet those events still struck fear in the hearts of the people in the land. Don’t you think the inhabitants of Canaan were quaking in their boots back in Numbers? And yet the Israelites doubted and feared them. When God tells us to be strong and to not be afraid, don’t you think he already knows how it is going to work out? The battles might look impossible but not with God. In Christ the victory is already won. But still there are times we have to step up and march around the city walls and wait to see God bring them down.

Was Rahab a Prostitute or an Innkeeper?

Have you ever noticed the footnote in the NIV on Joshua 2:1 that says Rahab may have been an innkeeper rather than a prostitute? If that is true, imagine all the grief she is going to get in heaven when everyone keeps going up to her saying, “Oh…so you’re Rahab the prostitute!” and her constantly correcting people that she was really just an innkeeper. While the word for prostitute and innkeeper are similar there are many other clues that still points to Rahab being a prostitute:

  1. Joshua 2:1 calls her a prostitute. That is what the word means. Although innkeeper is similar it is not the word being used here.
  2. The suggestiveness of her name. The verb root of Rahab means “to open”. In Ugarit this word was used in reference to female anatomy.
  3. The Talmud talks of Rahab in a sexual way (Megillah 15a)
  4. The New Testament witness to Rahab as a prostitute (Heb 11:31 & James 2:25). This one pretty much puts the whole thing to rest. If the inspired New Testament writers refer to her as such then that is as strong a witness as you can get (right there with Joshua 2:1).

The beauty of it all is that God was able to use Rahab to complete his plan. Remember, she eventually became Boaz’s mother, the mother in law of Ruth, and great grandmother of King David, ending up in the lineage of Jesus. While the skeleton in her closet was her profession at the time of the battle of Jericho her fear of the Lord shown through more brightly.