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Archive for August, 2014

A proverb like this one is sometimes read as though it dismisses one thing in favor of another.

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. (Proverbs 21:31 NRSV)

By this understanding, the cavalryman’s preparation of the horse against the mortal engagement that awaits is seen as futile, because YHWH does it all anyway.

The is almost certainly not what the proverb intends. (more…)

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Although true religion can be prescribed, it can never be automated.

There is no mechanical predictability in the way we interact with our Maker. It is true that we must do the right things. But this does not mean that performance of the right actions simply elicits from God the response we require.

On the contrary, motive matters. (more…)

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A life that unfolds in the presence of YHWH is dynamic rather than static. Its investments are fruitful according to catalytic rather than summative patterns. Tit for tat and quid pro quo lose their explanatory power.

One gives, and then finds that she’s received more than she’s given. This latter observation is perhaps the most frequently declared testimony of those who have purposed to follow the LORD’s coaxing onto uncertain terrain. (more…)

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After detailing the radical bent-ness of the wicked, the writer of the thirty-sixth psalm finds himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of YHWH. The LORD’s loving justice is everywhere.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. (Psalm 36:5–6 ESV)

The Hebrew Bible does not traffic in the notions of omnipresence or ubiquity to which thoughtful readers of the Bible would eventually lay their hand. Its natural dialect is more concrete, more this-worldly. Yet, in spite of what might seem to our habits of thinking a limitation, the Hebrew poet knows how to say exactly what he wants to say. (more…)

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Bring on the loneliness, the incendiary thirst, the gnawing hunger, the near certainly of a relatively slow death!

I’ll take this, so the speaker of a proverb about domestic life stakes his claim, than live comfortably with that woman … :

Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife. (Proverbs 21:19 NIV)

Though spoken completely from a man’s point of view, the proverb’s roles are easily reversed. A ‘quarrelsome and ill-tempered husband’ is just as adept at draining the joy from comfort and companionship. (more…)

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How do we get God’s attention? How to snag some eye contact with the divine? Some face time with the Omnipotent?

If the question sounds irreverent, it’s likely because we’ve developed an aesthetic preference for not placing the question so frontally. But we still wonder. (more…)

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The thirty-second psalm is all but drunk with sweet release.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1–2 ESV)

Like most durable truths, this one has been hard won. Whatever the shattering failure of the writer, it led to writhing that seemed a sickness unto death:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

(more…)

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Sometimes a biblical proverb seems to deserve the ‘Well, duuhh …!’ response.

Usually this signals that we are missing something. We should figure out what it is, if only because we do not look our best in the light of historical ignorance.

Proverbs 21.3 illustrates the point:

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3 ESV)

Because we have long since lost our appreciation for the weight of cultic regularity, this proverb seems to declare a truism. Who needs a verse that simply tells us what everybody already knows? (more…)

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We have learned to be cynical about both leaders and leadership, and so we are slow to capture the rich blessing that a good leader produces for the fortunate community that surrounds him. To modern eyes and ears, the biblical account of kings and princes is sometimes embarrassingly lavish. Yet this impression fades when the relative restraint of the Hebrew Bible with regard to human leaders is contrasted with the sometimes slavish hyperbole that characterizes Israel’s ancient neighbors when they set to chronicling—and lionizing—their kings. (more…)

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Ah, to be young!

What glory. What fun. How awful.

Biblical wisdom is not as quick to glorify youth as we are, besotted by tan lines and taut skin. But neither does wisdom deny the splendor of the young. It gives them their due, in this case admiring the strength of young men.

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. (Proverbs 20:29 ESV)

At the same time, biblical wisdom is not satisfied by monochrome obsession with any one of life’s stages. As it admires youth’s undeniable beauty—who would want to deny it!—wisdom knows too the dignity of old age, in this proverb the splendor of an old man’s gray hair. (more…)

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