Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

Old Testament Paper: Jeremiah 20

March 1, 2010

Yesterday I posted the paper I wrote on Rahab in Joshua 2.  Today I will post the paper I wrote on Jeremiah 20:7-13.  If anyone finds this helpful, please feel free to use it for personal or group study.

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THROUGH THICK AND THIN IN JEREMIAH 20:7-13

INTRODUCTION

Jeremiah’s accusations of God in Jeremiah 20:7-13 are intense at best and blasphemous at worst.  How is it that Jeremiah, a mere man, could accuse God as he does?  Are these the rants of someone with no regard for the Holiness of God or the legitimate qualms of a rational and emotional child of God?  While Jeremiah’s statements are bold, his words are not the only place where God is affronted in this way.  In fact, when looking at Jeremiah 20:7-13 in light of similar Biblical texts, it becomes easier to see Jeremiah’s words as a radical honesty that seems to draw him closer to God.

ACCUSING GOD?

At the start of this passage, Jeremiah declares, “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you overpowered me, and you have prevailed” (v. 7a).   Such strong language leaves the reader wondering, “What has the Lord done that would deserve such strong accusation?”  Fortunately Jeremiah tells us what he takes issue with.  “I have become a laughingstock all day long,” he says, “everyone mocks me” (v. 7b).  It seems a bit odd that Jeremiah would accuse God for enticing and overpowering him because of the response of others.  That is until the readers proceeds to the next verse.  Jeremiah boldly declares, “the word of the Lord has become a reproach for me/ a reproach and derision all day long” (v. 8b).  Indeed, he claims, “Whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’” (v. 8a).  At this point the reader has a good idea why Jeremiah is accusing the Lord so vehemently!  It is God that has put these words in his mouth and if he decides not to speak the words God gives him, he says “there is something like a burning fire shut up in [his] bones” (v. 9b).  These feelings are so intense it seems as though Jeremiah has no choice but to speak!  If he does not, he becomes “weary with holding it in” (v. 9b) and claims that he cannot hold it in (v. 9b).  In light of this it seems that Jeremiah’s accusations are legitimate!

In Psalm 35:17-28 a similar scene plays out between the Psalmist, who is supposedly David, and God.  While there seems to be more details included regarding the Psalmist’s “treacherous enemies” (v. 19a), the passage with the statement, “How long, O Lord, will you look on?” (v. 17a).  How long will you sit up there on your pearly white throne, God, while I am dying down here?!?  What is the Lord lax in responding to?  The Psalmist practically begs God to “Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!” (v. 17b) thus revealing his predicament.  The Psalmist continues on saying, “You have seen, O Lord; do not be silent!” (v. 22a) and then as if that was not bold enough, he proceeds to tell God, “Wake up!” (v. 23b).  Another great example of accusations of God is found in Job 23 where Jobs says, “Oh, that I knew where I might find [God], that I might come to his dwelling!  I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments” (v. 3).  It seems that Job is essentially saying, “Boy, would I give God a piece of my mind!”  After all, God did hand Job over to Satan to be tested just short of death (Job 1:12, 2:6).

So Jeremiah is in good company when he accuses God.  Indeed, both David and Job are considered men of faith in the eyes of God (cf. Hebrews 11:32-34, Job 1:8).  So while it is irreverent to accuse God as Jeremiah does, this radical honesty leads to a better understanding of God’s provision.  After making his bold accusations against the Lord, Jeremiah begins to see God’s goodness in his situation.  He says, “The Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble” (v. 11a).  Now the persecutor is no longer God, but his “close friends [who] are watching for [him] to stumble” (v. 10b).  Next Jeremiah says, “O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind” (v. 12).  This is a more positive view of God’s work than the enticement and overpowering of verse 7.  And to cap it off, Jeremiah declares, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of the evildoers” (v. 13) which surely indicates a change of heart and a certain level of closeness with God.  Similarly, the Psalmist ends Psalm 35 with a declaration that “[his] tongue shall tell of [God’s] praise all day long” (v. 28).  Likewise, while the narrative takes longer to describe Job’s journey, he says, “God understands the way to [wisdom], and he knows its place.  For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens” (Job 28:23-24).  Thus Jeremiah’s radical honesty eventually leads him to a place of contentment where he is closer to God.

CONCLUSION

If the only Biblical text that remained was Jeremiah 20:7-13, it would be hard indeed to view God in a positive way.  However this lament, as well as the many others in various Biblical texts, plays a distinct role in Jeremiah’s life of faith.  This glimpse of Jeremiah’s inner struggles help present day Christians see that honesty is part of being faithful.  While the human condition contributes to many feelings of anger, it seems as though Jeremiah’s lament shows the reader that God can handle that too.  In the end, God walks through the angry times as well as times of contentment.  God truly is with his children through thick and thin!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Davis, Ellen F. Getting Involved with God. New York: Cowley Publications, 2001.

“Holy Bible.” In The Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV), edited by Harold W. Attridge. New York: Haper One, 2006.

Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible. New York: Free Press, 2007.

Old Testament Paper: Rahab in Joshua 2

February 28, 2010

As I mentioned in my post about my Old Testament class last semester, one of the papers I wrote was on the story of Rahab in Joshua 2.  While I must be honest and say I had to rewrite it and only received a “Satisfactory” which I believe was the equivalent of a B, I post it here for two reasons: 1) it may prove helpful to those who take the class in the future and 2) for those who are interested in reading it just because.  Though I’m not sure how helpful it will be, please feel free to use this for personal or group study.

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RAHAB: PRAGMATIST, TRAITOR, OR PERSON OF FAITH?

INTRODUCTION

Rahab is a minor character in some respects, but as the narrative in Joshua 2 is presented, Israel’s success in acquiring the land of Canaan is largely due to Rahab’s assistance.  What were her motives in assisting the Israelites?  Was she a pragmatist who figured she would rather be on the winning side?  Was she a traitor with a grudge against her government or community?  Or was she a faithful person who made the decision to serve the God of Israel?  This essay will show that Rahab was not just one of these, but rather is a dynamic character who is a pragmatic, traitorous, person of faith.

PRAGMATIC, TRAITOROUS, OR FAITHFUL?

As an author develops a story line characters are developed to serve various purposes throughout their work.  Whether the story of the Israelite spies and their interaction with Rahab is a factual story or not, Rahab does not function as a flat character, but as a dynamic and integral part of the narrative.  In one respect, she is a pragmatist seeking to protect and preserve her life and the lives of her family (Josh 2:12-13).  Since she tells the Israelites, “I know that the Lord has given you the land” (v. 9a) it is a very logical and pragmatic decision to choose the side of the victor who can preserve your life (vv. 12-13).  Rahab is thus the savior of her family and herself.  In this case however, Rahab’s pragmatism is also proves traitorous.  While her family will more than likely be thankful to have their lives spared, when Rahab sent the king’s men away (vv. 4-5), the lives of those in her community were given over in order her family’s safety (vv. 17-20).  From the standpoint of her fellow Canaanites then, Rahab is a traitor who handed them over to the enemy and gave their land to the enemy.  And if hiding the Israelite spies (v. 4) was not enough to prove this, the assistance she provided to help them escape the city (v. 15) as well as her parting words on how to avoid the king’s men (v. 16) surely do.  One wonders if Rahab has some reason to commit treason in this way.

The fact that Rahab sent away the king’s men (v. 4-5) could indicate that she was not happy with the leadership of her country.  Or perhaps the economic situation in place at the time was not beneficial to her.  Even though it is possible that Rahab, and maybe her family, sold flax for a living (v. 6), she was also a prostitute to bring in more money.  While her decision to help the Israelites was most definitely pragmatic, in the eyes of the Canaanites, she a traitor.  However, there is one more layer to Rahab’s dynamic presence in this chapter.  True, her decision was pragmatic and traitorous, but it was also courageous!  It took a great deal of courage and fortitude to assist the Israelites when the king’s men demanded to have the spies handed over to them (v. 3-4).  While it is possible, there is no indication that she was asked, coerced, or forced to lie to the king’s men.  It merely says that she “took the two men [referring to the Israelites] and hid them” (v. 4).  Why would she take such a chance with her life and the lives of those she loved?  One possibility is that the two Israelite spies “offered to allow her family to survive in lieu of payment for her services”[1] as a prostitute.  While Kugel admits that this is a cynical reading of the text, when Rahab says “I have dealt kindly with you” (v. 12), it could be read in this way.  However, since Hebrew word used for “kindness” in this passage (v. 12) is translated from the word hesed, and the Jewish concept of hesed is often translated as “‘steadfast, loving-kindness,’”[2] Kugel’s cynicism does not seem warranted.

Rather than cynicism, it seems Rahab is “celebrated as doing hesed towards Israel.”[3] This, coupled with Rahab’s unequivocal statement of, “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below” (v. 11), indicates that Rahab is a person of faith.  So while her decision is pragmatic and traitorous, it is her faith in Israel’s God that moves her to lie to the king’s men (v. 4-5).  She “[has] heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea…and what [the Israelites] did to the two kings of the Amorites” (v. 10) and it seems as though this brought her to a place of belief.  So while “there was no courage left in any of [them] because of [the Israelites]” (v.11a, emphasis added), Rahab exhibited great courage in assisting the Israelites.  It seems as though the Canaanites fight to protect their land while Rahab fights to protect God’s people as well as those in her immediate family.  Thus the Canaanites courage is misplaced.

CONCLUSION

In Joshua 2, Rahab is developed as a dynamic character that is integral to the plotline of the story as well as the end result of Israel acquiring the land.  Though there is a sense of pragmatism in her decision, and while her community would deem her a traitor, Rahab is in fact a pragmatic, traitorous, person of faith who courageously and heroically[4] saved who she could while assisting the people of the God.  In this light, it makes sense that Rahab would be honored in Hebrews chapter 11 where it is as a result of her faith that she “did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace” (v. 31).


[1]James L. Kugel, How to Read the Bible (New York: Free Press, 2007), 373.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith (Loiusville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 127.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 193.

Fall 2009: Old Testament

February 26, 2010

Today my friend said she wanted to hear about my classes here at Princeton Theological Seminary.  And so I will blog.  I am actually going to do a series of posts one for each class.  This post will be on Orientation to Old Testament Studies (OT2101).  Here is the intro to the syllabus:

The goal of this course is to orient you to major aspects of the study of the Old Testament.  These aspects include

  • the content of key blocks of OT literature
  • their major theological emphases
  • the historical context in which the OT materials were written
  • methods of approaching the biblical text
  • the place of OT material in Christian faith and life.

My Old Testament class (OT) met for lecture twice a week (which we call ‘plenary’ here at PTS) and had precept (AKA discussion or recitations) once a week.  Lectures were held in a large auditorium and since it is a required class for all entering Juniors that very few can place out of, you are in there with most of your entering class.  Precepts are 8-10 people and while sometimes led by professors, most are led by Ph.D. candidates.  This year the class was taught by Dr. Denis Olson and Dr. Jacqueline Lapsley.  While many here have bachelor’s degrees in religious studies of some sort, my degree was in English (literature) so I have never taken any “survey” type courses in Biblical studies.  I did take Systematic Theology prior to arriving at PTS, but that’s another ball game entirely.  So for me, the biggest benefit of the class was being able to systematically go through the OT.  While I went to church with my grandmother some as a child, I did not come to faith until I was 14.  Being that the OT isn’t preached on as frequently, I had a lot to learn.  In addition, it helped me place well known OT stories into the frame work of the larger narrative.

The texts we used for the class were: How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James Kugel (Free Press, 2007) and Getting Involved with God:  Rediscovering the Old Testament by Ellen Davis (Cowley, 2001).  There were also three recommended texts: Walter Brueggemann’s books Reverberations of Faith:  A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes (WJK, 2002)  and The Prophetic Imagination, Second edition (Fortress, 2001) as well as How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (Zondervan).  This book was on the Recommended Reading List that was sent out prior to arriving at PTS and was a good resource for creating outlines on each book of the OT.  As book outlines were a big part of the mid-term and final exam, this was very helpful.  That said, the PRIMARY text, was the Bible itself.  Here is what the syllabus had to say about that:

It is not accidental that the BIBLE receives primary emphasis in each week’s assignment.  In this course please use the Harper Collins Study Bible edition (the HCSB) as the basic text for your study.  Since we are not working from the original Hebrew, it is important to have a common translational base for our study and discussion together.  The HCSB uses the NRSV as its translation, and also provides you with valuable brief notes on each passage, as well as helpful short introductions to each book of the Bible.

This was refreshing to see because it would not be hard to get wrapped up in all the scholarly dialog and loose focus on the Bible itself.

Aside from the midterm and final exam, two papers were required as well.  They were short papers that were intended to reflect in depth study of the passage itself with minimal (if any) references to secondary sources.  I wrote my papers on the story of Rahab in Joshua 20 and the lament of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 20:7-13.  While half of my classmates wrote on each of these passages with me, the other half wrote on Amos 5 and Daniel 7.  The papers were not easy As but fortunately we were allowed to rewrite the paper so that was nice.  The course went something like this:

  • The OT in the Christian Canon
  • Formation of Genesis-2 Kings
  • Genesis 1-11: The Story of the Beginning
  • Lecture: The Stories of Israel’s Ancestors (Gen. 22 assignment due)
  • Discussion of Genesis 22
  • Exodus from Egypt
  • Covenant and Law
  • The Deuteronomistic History and Settlement
  • Israel and the Nations:  Part 1 and Q & A
  • Lecture: The Emergence of Kingship
  • Royal Theology
  • Prophecy (Amos and Hosea)
  • Isaiah of Jerusalem
  • Jeremiah
  • Isaiah 40-55
  • Lamentations: Suffering, Poetry, and Theology
  • Psalms: Poetry and History of Interpretation
  • Wisdom (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes)
  • The Book of Job and Its History of Interpretation (Professor Leong Seow)
  • Daniel and Apocalyptic:  Israel and the Nations (Part 2)

My favorite part of this class was when Dr. Seow was a guest lecturer on the history of interpretation of Job.  I don’t think I will ever forget that lecture.  As for the mid-term and final exam, the final was cumulative and they were both very demanding exams.  I was quite drained after studying for and taking these exams.  I do not generally learn well in survey classes since both the professors and students struggle with how deep to go since the breadth of information being covered is so large.  That said, I am definitely grateful to have had the opportunity to take this class.  I learned quite a bit, got to place stories I knew in the larger framework of the OT, and had the opportunity to wrestle with some of the challenges of preaching from the Old Testament.

BCE

February 6, 2009

I took the Bible Content Exam (BCE) today.  For those of you who are not the Presbyterian type, that’s the first test required as a part of the ordination process.  It is a 100 question, multiple choice test and is not meant to be super hard.  On top of that, you only have to get a 70 or above.  BUT! some of the questions on the test are kinda crazy.  Things like “Who said (inset semi-familiar, somewhat random verse sinppet here)?”  and “What prophet spoke to the such-and-such area when so-and-so was king?”  I have no idea if I will pass it or not (yes, even when I only need a 70).  But then again, I have had very little formal education in Biblical studies.  There were quite a few questions that I knew the answer only because of what I learned in the last year.  Considering that I have been a Christian for over 14 years, I’d say that’s pretty significant.  And it is not stuff I learned in the graduate classes I have taken.  I digress.  I wish I had been able to look over more of the olf tests before taking the test today.  And I wish I had been able to study more Old Testament “stuff” before hand like I planned.  But it didn’t happen.  If I fail, it’s not a big deal.  I have plenty of time to take it again.  And I was able to see some trends in areas of the Bible I am not as proficient in: the Prophets (both major and minor) and some of the epistles.  So for now I will move on to other things and wait to hear about the results.