by Lance Hawley
The short answer to this opening question is “God.”
I was first moved to study the Old Testament by a scholar who exhibited a communion with God through the text. He was a poet and convicted me of the inexhaustible wealth of the Hebrew Scriptures. He showed me that it was more than just a series of books that talked about God, but it was a meeting place to come face to face with the Creator of the universe.
The purpose of Bible study is experiencing God and growing into his mission. This goes for scholarly and devotional reading alike. No matter our exegetical abilities, when we read the Bible we ought to concern ourselves with knowing God. Ideally, close readings, attention to detail, and scholarly inquiry only deepens our understanding. Certainly, God is beyond our comprehension, but we are not left without a clue. The more we study Scripture, the more opportunity we have for knowing the fullness of God.
I seek to know Scripture like I know an old hymn. I want to know the lyrics, the historical references, the metaphors, the poetic rhythms. But it is not just for study sake; I want to sing the song. As the great Zion song says, “I heard their song and strove to join.”
Admittedly, I sometimes find myself devoting vast amounts of time to the study of the minutia of Scripture that does not seem to have much to do with knowing God. I sometimes miss the forest (God) for the trees (particular texts), but the right corrective to this is not to ignore the trees. Even the minutia, properly framed, filters up to knowing God more fully. I will attempt to illustrate with a few examples.
Wrestling with God through text criticism
Text criticism gives us a window into ancient interpretation. Sometimes variants in the manuscripts are just scribal errors, but often variants reveal disagreements or shifts among interpreters. For example, Job 13:15a, is translated by the NRSV as “See, he will kill me; I have no hope,” but the ESV has “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” The reason for the difference is a textual variant: the Hebrew word here is lō’ meaning “not,” but another ancient tradition reads lô meaning “to him.” The two Hebrew words sound identical. So does Job say that he does not have hope or does Job say that he will still hope in him? I think that it is fairly clear that the NRSV is more in tune with the book of Job and the variant “in him” is a later effort to make Job seem less despairing. But back to our question, what does this variant have to do with knowing God? Simply put, we cannot make the big points without observing the details. In this case, we get an insight into how our ancestors in faith heard and wrestled with the character of Job. Job is a book about the human experience of suffering and how one relates to God in the midst of suffering. This small little word matters to the portrayal of despair. In my experience, it contributes to my own wrestling with God as I observe injustices and resolve to speak to God without restraint. So the text critical question filters up to wrestling with God when the realities of injustice hit home. One can certainly wrestle with God without knowing Hebrew or this text critical issue, but the closer we look the more we bring to the table.
The awe and wonder of wordplay
I love wordplay and a good poetic turn of phrase. For example, in Isaiah 5:7, a parabolic song about a failed vineyard concludes with God expecting mishpat (justice), but getting mishpaḥ (violence), expecting ṣedaqah (righteousness) but getting ṣe‘aqah (an outcry). This pair of wordplay is obvious in the Hebrew and contributes to the richness of the poem. What I love about close study of the Old Testament is that it slows me down and draws my attention the creative detail of Scripture. God is a poet. The better we understand His poems, the fuller our communion with Him.
I do not study the Old Testament to prove or disprove its history or to contradict science. In my experience, these are unfruitful and misguided pursuits for the most part. Additionally, my primary reason for studying the OT is not to establish doctrine. Doctrine is important, no doubt, and the Old Testament certainly espouses doctrines, but these are typically secondary gleanings from the primary story of God among His people.
I study the Old Testament to learn from Israel’s witness to the character and actions of God, so that I might more fully understand the wonders of God’s work in the present. I want to sing the song of the Old Testament, which not only requires me to learn the lyrics and the tune, but also to join the chorus. The text hymns its King in strains divine. I hear the song and strive to join.
Lance Hawley is an Assistant Professor of Old Testament and biblical Hebrew at Harding School of Theology in Memphis. His research focuses on the book of Job and Hebrew poetry. He also has a major interest in biblical law and biblical canon as essential topics of study for followers of Jesus. Before joining the HST faculty, Lance served as a church planter in Madison, WI for ten years. He has a passion for the spiritual formation of missional communities. Lance and his wife, Laura, have three children.
Well, last week the blog was just not happening. I had a sick child and other things to focus on, so I will try to provide some reflections and thoughts this week, maybe I might even shoot for three posts just to make-up some work. Oh…and how about them Eagles! Congrats to all the well-tested and long awaiting Eagles’s fans. Enjoy this one! (I hope Philly is still there…awaiting reports…)
In view of my sermon topic this Sunday, we looked at Romans 4 for those not present at GracePointe church this past Sunday, this passage in Hebrews 2 speaks to the same notions that Romans 3:21-31 and Romans 4 address. First, Jesus Christ is the solution to the sin problem that has enslaved humanity from the earliest time. Second, Jesus’ death is a special fulfillment of the biblical story and releases humanity from that curse of sin. Third, In the Hebrews passage there is great care in selecting the language to point us to the human-ness shared by Jesus; He was one of us, able to accomplish the victory over death by the power of God and providing hope that we too might “run the race with perseverance” and “gain the prize.”
Here is Hebrews 2 (NLT) for you consideration and reflection today:
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
I think about what it means to be a “descendent of Abraham” and how we read the story of the Old Testament as our story as New Testament Christians. As I have said before, the death of Jesus is hard to make sense of unless it is placed in the context of God’s covenant relationship with Israel and their constant struggle of being an “unholy people in relationship with a holy God.”
The main points of this reflection from Hebrews 2 are (1) that Jesus Christ served as the “propitiation” for our sins, that is that he stood in the place of humanity’s sin and took the punishment upon himself. Jesus is our stand-in, our sacrificial lamb…behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Through Christ we are free from the exploitation of sin…but not the struggle, testing, and temptation of a world still waiting for the victory of God to come in full. Which then points us to verse 18, in which we (2) realize that Jesus Christ is not simply the Lamb that takes away sin, but the one who sympathizes and relates to the human struggle. In so doing, Jesus can help us in our times of struggle and testing. He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” The Hebrews writer encourages us to enter that rest of Jesus Christ…to pursue it in the daily grind. Today, may we choose to enter the rest of Jesus, who paid our sin-debt and provides help to the weary. Amen.
40:1 “Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
for all her sins.”
3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God!
4 Fill in the valleys,
and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
and smooth out the rough places.
5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The Lord has spoken!”
6 A voice said, “Shout!”
I asked, “What should I shout?”
“Shout that people are like the grass.
Their beauty fades as quickly
as the flowers in a field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fade
beneath the breath of the Lord.
And so it is with people.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fade,
but the word of our God stands forever.”
9 O Zion, messenger of good news,
shout from the mountaintops!
Shout it louder, O Jerusalem.
Shout, and do not be afraid.
Tell the towns of Judah,
“Your God is coming!”
10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.
Hear the 3 cries of the prophet in this verse today:
First, there is the cry to prepare the way for the Lord (1-4). Are you tired? Why? What are the main stressors? Has life been hard? Hasn’t gone the way you wanted? Are you hurting? Another year has come and gone, yet the same old routines and “stuff” are dominating your life? The Lord speaks COMFORT upon us. Not instead of our hurt and anxiety, but in the midst of it. Over and above all the noise and shouting, violence and oppression is someone with the boldness to tell us the truth…the Lord is coming! Not from a throne or your favorite city, not on the clouds or up from the ground…but out of the wilderness. Why? You see, our Lord knows what it means to be tired, hurt, and in pain. Often, from a theological lens that place in which we sometimes find ourselves is known as “wilderness.” Yet, the Lord has survived it and overcame it. Therefore, the prophet speaks hope that since we have a Lord who has overcome, so too can we. When I hear the distant cry of “Prepare the way of the Lord,” I am reminded that God is on the way!
Second, there is the cry that we are here only a little while but the Word of God remains forever (5-8). It might seem strange that after a comforting message of hope to the people, the prophet seemingly pulls the rug out from beneath us. We are like grass…we fade…shout it with me now! It seems…depressing. However, we are summoned by the prophet to build upon the hope we have that the Lord has not abandoned us and that we have beheld His glory. I think we all need a good reminder that the hope of the Lord is not rooted in me or you, but in the WORD that spans the ages and provides life, instruction, and promise to each generation. I remember Christmas mornings when the whole morning revolved around my sister and me. Now Christmas mornings truly revolve around my kids. I look forward to the day when, Lord willing, Christmas morning will center on my grandkids. Why? Because I am fading and my purpose is to pass on the spirit of Christmas and gift giving to my kids and then to their kids and so forth. Moving from the realm of Christmas to the realm of faith, we are fading and the church’s main work to preserve and pass on the WORD so that the glory of God can be revealed to the next generation…until “forever” in this passage is but a memory.
Last, there is the cry to proclaim the Lord’s victory in the midst of a reality of ruins and pains (9-11). Again, it seems strange that while the city lies in a heap of destruction that the order would come to proclaim victory. This passage puts the notions of victory and good news in the context of a people forgotten and oppressed. To whom is the victory given? To whom is the good news proclaimed? I think it is fair to argue that the people receiving the message of victory and good news are those who are outcasts in the world’s system of domination and violence. Listen again to the end of the passage… He will feed, He will carry the lambs—holding them close to his heart, He will gently lead. Hmm…seems oddly otherworldly to me.
Isaiah points us to the coming of the Lord in which we both experience and anticipate, knowing that the victory is secured and coming in full; so we wait for it while we live and rest in it when we die in assurance that the Word of the Lord guides this world out of the chaos of sin and death, and into the Kingdom of God.
As promised, I want to take a look at Philippians 2, a passage of Scripture that recounts Jesus’ journey to the right hand of God. Here is the text:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The Emptying of the Son and the Power of the Father
In Philippians 2:6-11 we find what some scholars suggest is the oldest surviving piece of writing on Jesus. We have what appears to be either a song or an informal creedal statement that we assume the church at Philippi either knew, had memorized, or even used in worship. Paul reminds them of a picture of Jesus that they need to carry with them during their time of struggle. Paul shows us that Jesus is the ultimate example of true service to God.
Equality with God:
But he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Grasped in this sense is not “comprehend” with the mind, but indicates an actual physical grasping. The Greek word means more like “exploited, grabbed, taken for one’s own advantage.” The NIV editorial board updated the translation here to read “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” Therefore, Jesus was not willing to use his divine nature for his own benefit. He refused to exploit his divine authority.
Jesus chose to make himself nothing. He “emptied” himself. This one word has been the subject of so much debate among theologians, “kenosis” in the Greek. It comes from the Greek word for to pour. He pours himself out. He gives himself and his authority away as he becomes born in the form of a human.
Becoming a Servant:
He takes on the form of a servant. There are two words for servant- “diakonos" (where the church gets the transliterated word “deacon”) which is an administrator, server, waiter, attendant. But then there’s “doulos;” a bondservant, slave, one without any authority. Jesus becomes a “doulos” not a “diakonos.”
I want you to notice something extremely important…this is the end of Jesus’ action in the text. In other words, Jesus’ part is over at the emptying, humbling, and serving. Paul is going to use the all important transitional word, “therefore” and so there is a continuation of the story as a result of what just happened…And you might notice that at this transition, it is “God” or the Father that takes over the action in the text.
Again, we might ask the question where Jesus receives his power, and we might also discover that in this text Jesus, the Son, makes himself into a vulnerable servant of God to which God responds by exalting him. It should not strike us as odd since Jesus himself made statements about God opposing the proud and given grace to the humble. Yet, in this text we see the power of the Son being the ability to empty himself, and the power of God being to exalt and bestow honor. While this text does indicate an equality of nature in the Father and Son, that is the same form…a reader of this text must see a striking contrast between the function of Father and Son. The Son reigns by the Father’s power, and the Father is pleased by the Son’s unwavering character.
According to the tradition of the church, Jesus has been busy in the last few days. On Sunday he entered Jerusalem. This action is known as the “triumphal entry” as people shouted “Hosanna” and laid palm branches down as a pathway into the city. I think it is fair to assert that the crowd gathered didn’t really understand the full implications of their welcome, nor did they understand the one whom they welcomed. (That might still be true for crowds gathered to worship God on Sundays…) Yet, Jesus knew the danger of coming back to Jerusalem and He was moving towards what we refer to as “Good Friday” and then “Resurrection Day.”
Well, today is Wednesday, and here are some readings and prayers and songs that might help us focus on Christ during the day today: (These have been selected from multiple internet resources and are not original to me)
14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
18 “As you go into the city,” he told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus told them and prepared the Passover meal there.
20 When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the Twelve. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”
22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”
23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
25 Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”
And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”
1 The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is also called Passover, was approaching. 2 The leading priests and teachers of religious law were plotting how to kill Jesus, but they were afraid of the people’s reaction.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, 4 and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. 5 They were delighted, and they promised to give him money. 6 So he agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around.
41 Then, surrounded by the Pharisees, Jesus asked them a question: 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
21 Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”
22 The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. 23 The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. 24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” 25 So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. 27 When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” 28 None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. 29 Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. 30 So Judas left at once, going out into the night.
31 As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once.
Some Prayers to Consider:
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of humility, patience and love to your servant. Grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen
Troubled God, in every generation you call your people to contend against the brutality of sin and betrayal. Keep us steadfast even in our fear and uncertainty, that we may follow where Jesus has led the way. Amen.
My savior, do you invite me to share in the glory of the resurrection? Please stay with me as I struggle to see how accepting the crosses of my life will free me from the power of the one who wants only to destroy my love and trust in you. Help me to be humble and accepting like your son, Jesus. I want to turn to you with the same trust he had in your love. Save me, Lord. Only you can save me. Amen.
Hymns and Song Titles:
All to Jesus I Surrender
Lord, I Give You My Life
Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?
From the Inside Out
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.