Samson Was an Idiot

This morning, as I finished reading about Samson in the One Year Bible, I was struck once again by a thought that first came to me when I read the Book of Judges as an adult: Samson was an idiot.

 

It is important that we teach the Bible to our children in ways they can understand: children don’t generally understand nuance and the Bible is a nuanced story, so I understand why we play up the heroic qualities of the Bible characters and gloss over their many faults.  But, I think we make a mistake when we teach the Bible stories in such a way that leave children with the impression that the Bible is a series of stories about moral exemplars that they should emulate.  In fact, almost no one in the Bible is a moral exemplar and the primary point of the Bible is not to inspire us to live better (though it contains much wisdom about living), but rather the primary point of the Bible is to tell us about God and the lengths to which he will go to save his people.

Samson is not a hero; Samson is an idiot.  Samson’s story occurs at the end of Judges as yet one more example of Israelite society spiraling out of control.  The point of Samson is not Samson himself; the point of the Samson story is to clearly show the effects of sin and pride and to show that, despite all their idolatry and idiocy, God has not abandoned his people.

In other words, the point of the Samson story is the same as the entire Scripture: it is about the grace of God.

–Andrew Forrest

Leprosy, Blood, and Semen (!)

Leviticus 13-16 seems obsessed with how leprosy, blood, and semen make people ceremonially unclean.  To modern readers, all the details about what to do if you happen to touch blood, or be menstruating, or have an emission of semen, etc., seem crazy.  But to the Israelites, this was actually helpful information.

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Leviticus 15:31 explains why.  The Lord tells Moses:

“Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by wdefiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”

It was a matter of life and death that the Israelites not enter the presence of God in an unclean state, so the purity laws in Leviticus are meant to help the Israelites know when they are unclean, and to know how to become clean again.  Note that “clean” and “unclean” are not moral categories–good people would become ritually unclean all the time.

When Jesus came along, he explained (see today’s reading in Mark 7:1-23–great timing!) that though the ancient people thought that external circumstances could make a person unclean, in fact it is what comes out of a person’s heart-internal circumstances–that make a person unclean.  So, we no longer concern ourselves with ritual uncleanness, because Jesus’s death (the ultimate sacrifice) makes all who trust in him clean before God.

–AF

All Those Exodus Details Explained in Pictures

All those details, measurements, and specifications!  The 2nd half of the Book of Exodus is long on detail and short on drama.  But, the details are actually really interesting, if you can draw back and see the whole picture.

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The 2nd half of Exodus is God telling the Israelites how to properly worship, while they are still roaming in the desert.  It’s important that they get the details right, since the Living God is not someone you carelessly approach.  All these details are meant to help the Israelites understand who this God is who brought them out of slavery.

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–AF

Is God Unfair to Pharaoh?

Anyone reading the account of the plagues in Exodus comes upon a troubling phenomenon: sometimes Pharaoh hardens his own heart (8:15), whereas other times (7:3, 10:1) the Lord hardens Pharoah’s heart.  Which is it?  If it is the Lord who causes Pharoah’s heart to be hard, then how is it fair for Pharaoh to be held responsible for his actions?

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Short answer: I don’t know.

Longer short answer:

The Bible is not a legal brief, written and revised countless times by people trying to close every possible loophole for future liability.  The Bible is not an airtight mathematical theorem of a complex geometry problem.  The Bible is instead a collection of writings that reflect God’s interactions with men and women over the centuries.  The Bible tells the great story of redemption; it does not attempt to answer every question, reconcile every inconsistency, and remove every nuance.  If it were a legal brief, you’d need to fire your lawyer.  But, it’s not.  The purpose of the Bible is not to defend God from a lawsuit; one of the purposes of the Bible is to tell us what we need to know about God’s plan of salvation.

I’ve wondered if perhaps the parts of the Bible that give us difficulty, that trouble us, are perhaps the parts of the Bible to which we most need to pay close attention.  Maybe God wants parts of the scripture to trouble us.  Maybe the parts that give us pause are the parts over which we most need to pause.

Beware Theological Schemes That Explain Everything

I tend to be wary of theological explanations that have an answer for every difficult spot in the scriptures. It is true that sometimes we have difficulty in the scriptures because we haven’t studied enough, and in these times explanations can be helpful and clear up a perceived difficulty that really isn’t a difficulty at all.  But other times, the scripture is just difficult, and no one can really give a satisfactory explanation.  The Bible is not a legal brief–ambiguity is allowed.  The Bible is not a mathematical proof–you are allowed to have remainders that don’t completely fit into the system.

Two Ways of Understanding Pharoah’s Hard Heart

  1. Maybe we take the text at face value: sometimes Pharaoh deliberately resists God, and sometimes God supernaturally increases Pharaohs resistance.  This seems unfair, but our perspective is admittedly limited, and maybe the Exodus can only happen if Pharaoh becomes more and more stubborn.  Maybe things have to get worse before they can get better.  As we’ll see, God will ultimately use Pharaoh’s evil against itself, so as to lead the Egyptians to destruction in the Red Sea.  And, as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 9:14-19, we are not in the position to judge the Lord’s actions.  We are not God.
  2. Maybe God just gives Pharaoh over to the desires of his heart.  Maybe God doesn’t make Pharaoh do anything: maybe God just lets it happen.  Maybe God knows that Pharaoh is not going to relent, but God’s foreknowledge might still allow space for Pharoah’s free (wicked) choice.

I don’t have a good answer to this theological problem, but maybe that’s okay.  After all, life is not neat; life does not conform to a legal brief or a mathematical theorem.  And neither does scripture.

What do you think?

–AF

Exodus 1 – Andrew

Exodus begins in medias res with a listing of the names of the children of Jacob.  (Jacob is also called Israel, and so his children are called the “Israelites.”  The Hebrew name for the book we call Exodus is “Names,” taken from the first word of the Hebrew text of Exodus.)  But who is Jacob, how did he have so many children, and how did they all end up in Egypt?  To learn all that, you’ll need to read Genesis….

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A few notes about Exodus 1:

  • The Israelites are an immigrant people to Egypt, but the Egyptians, who initially welcomed them, begin to fear them because they grow numerous.
  • The Egyptians decide to start oppressing the Israelites, but their oppression has the opposite effect (v.12): “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.”
  • Pharaoh then commands the death of all the Hebrew baby boys.  In other words, Pharaoh plans to commit genocide.  Some things never change….
  • In Exodus 1, we already see what will be the main theme of the first half of the book: a struggle between Pharaoh, the divine king of Egypt, and the Living God.  Things will get interesting.

Leave thoughts or questions in the comments below.

–AF

 

[This post first appeared on my blog on 8/25/14.]

3 Don’t When Reading Genesis

Genesis is hard enough as it is; here are three things NOT to do when reading the first book of the Bible (and to keep in mind as we read the rest of the Bible).  [This post first appeared on my blog, www.andrewforrest.org, 1/19/15.  I thought it might be helpful as we wrap up reading Genesis.  –AF]

"The Tower of Babel," by Pieter Brueghel
“The Tower of Babel,” by Pieter Brueghel [c. 1563]

Continue reading “3 Don’t When Reading Genesis”

Audio Recordings of Wednesday Bible Study

We have a Bible study on Wednesday evenings on the Bible readings.  The first 2 weeks are posted below.  (Subscribe to our podcast here.)

Hope to see you on a Wednesday.  –Andrew

 

On Judgement in the Psalms

January 7 – Psalm 7

Today’s Psalm is an example of the sort of Psalm we’ll see over and over again: a Psalm that cries out for justice.  Over and over again, we’ll read the psalmist say: “God, vindicate me, and punish my persecutors.”

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The desire to be avenged on one’s enemies can sometimes strike Christian readers as inappropriate.  I find C.S. Lewis to be extremely helpful on the issue of judgment in the Psalms (as he is always helpful):

“The ancient Jews, like ourselves, think of God’s judgement in terms of an earthly court of justice.  The difference is that the Christian pictures the case to be tried as a criminal case with himself in the dock; the Jew pictures it as a civil case with himself as the plaintiff.  The one hopes for acquittal, or rather for pardon; the other hopes for a resounding triumph with heavy damages.  Hence he prays ‘judge my quarrel’, or ‘avenge my cause’ (Psalm 35:23)….

“Behind this lies an age-old and almost world-wide experience which we have been spared.  In most places and times it has been very difficult for the ‘small man’ to get his case heard.  The judge (and, doubtless, one or two of his underlings) has to be bribed.  If you can’t afford to ‘oil his palm’ your case will never reach court.  Our judges do not receive bribes.  (We probably take this blessing too much for granted; it will not remain with us automatically).  We need not therefore be surprised if the Psalms, and the Prophets, are full of the longing for judgement, and regard the announcement that ‘judgement’ is coming as good news.  Hundreds and thousands of people who have been stripped of all they possess and who have the right entirely on their side will at last be heard.  Of course they are not afraid of judgement.  They know their case is unanswerable—if only it could be heard.  When God comes to judge, at last it will.”

–from Reflections on the Psalms, by C.S. Lewis (pp. 10-11)

 

–AF

Jan. 7 – Genesis 16:1-18:19

 

Genesis 1-11 is about how the world became such a mess.  Genesis 12 begins the story (which is still unfolding) of what God is doing to fix the mess.  God’s plan is laughable: he will save the world through one man’s family.  That man is Abram (later called Abraham).

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There is a problem, however: “Abraham and Sarah [his wife] were old, advanced in years, and “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.”  In Genesis 15, we read how God made a covenant with Abram and promised Abram as many children as there are stars in the sky, and that through that family would God bless the whole world.  So the fact that Abraham and Sarah still do not have children is a major problem.

In Genesis 15, Sarah takes matters into her own hands and decides to have Abraham father a child through her servant.  He does, and unsurprisingly the servants pregnancy causes problems in the family.  Whenever we decide to use our means to achieve God’s ends, it always goes badly for us.

16:6, One of the original sins of men is passivity.  That was Adam’s sin at the Fall–“It was the woman YOU gave me, Lord”–and that’s Abram’s sin here (along with the obvious sin of lust.”  He agrees to do what he knows is wrong by sleeping with the maid, and then he refuses to speak up for her.  I think this verse is heartbreaking.

16:11-14, Circumcision is like a gang tattoo: it’s meant to signify your allegiance.  Think of the significance, then, that baby boys are circumcised before they know what it signifies.  What this means is that God’s covenant comes to us first, before we deserve it or earn it.  It is a covenant of grace.

16:18-19, Abraham wants God to make the covenant with his son Ishmael, the first-born.  But, as we’ll see over and over again with the patriarchs, God subverts primogeniture and chooses the younger son.  God has a way of subverting human expectations.

17:17 – Abraham thinks God’s plan is ridiculous.  And he’s right.  But, God works in ridiculous ways.

18:1-8 – Note the picture of ancient Near Eastern hospitality: Abraham drops what he’s doing to care for his guests.

18:1 – It’s a very mysterious guest that Abraham entertains, but though we know it is a divine guest, Abraham does not.  (The event is referenced in Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”)

–AF