Collateral Bloggage What passes for thought around here…

6May/10Off

Theology Thursday: More Evidence of Jephthah’s Innocence

This post is a follow-up to one I did back in February, wherein I argued that Jephthah (full story here), while being an idiot for making a rash vow, did not commit the abomination of human sacrifice by offering up his daughter as a burnt offering.

(You can now apologize for not reading that post, and then go read it.)

I won’t recapitulate my whole argument here, but here’s the punch line:  Jephthah’s daughter was dedicated to the Lord, for service in the tabernacle, in some capacity which precluded her from marrying and raising up descendants for her father.  Thus the sorrow over her virginity.

But, in order for my thesis to hold true, a couple of things need to be at least weakly established:

  1. There were women who served in some capacity at the tabernacle.
  2. These women were unmarried.  (And were perhaps forbidden to marry.)

So let’s take these points one at a time.  First, were there women who served at the tabernacle?  Yes.

Now, I have to point out that I’d read the two references on this numerous times and somehow completely missed the first one and barely noticed the second one.  And I’ve read the Old Testament a half-dozen times.  So don’t feel bad if you’ve missed one or both.  First, we have Exodus (missed by me mostly because the section it’s in is among the more mind-numbing passages in all of Scripture):

Exodus 38:8 (ESV)

8 He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.

So I guess those ladies weren’t particularly given to vanity, because they gave up their mirrors for the sake of the Tabernacle.

(Show of hands, please.  Did anybody else reading this ever take note of it?  I missed it in at least six read-throughs, two go-rounds with an audio Bible, and listening to verse-by-verse teaching through Exodus.  Missing it actually took effort.)

And the other reference, which spurred this post, and which I’d noticed but not dwelled on before, is this:

1 Samuel 2:22 (ESV)

22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

So that’s two solid references to women serving at the Tabernacle.  Now, I do have to admit that both references are to them serving at the entrance of the Tabernacle, not in it.  Still, they’re somehow attached to it.

But were these married women?  I have only one argument here, and it has to do with the amorous activities of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas.  Because they were evidently fishing in the company pond.  And here’s my main point:

If the women were married, Hophni and Phinehas would have incurred a death sentence for adultery.

Now, of course, they were committing adultery, or at least Phinehas was, because he was married.  So wouldn’t he have been liable for the death penalty in this regard?  Well, I’m not certain.  The Law seems to only prescribe it in the case of a man seducing another man’s wife.

Deuteronomy 22:22 (ESV)

22 "If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

It’s fair to point out that the events of early 1 Samuel, we’re just getting out of the period of the Judges, and it was a very compromised time.  Hophni and Phinehas were abusing their positions as priests in more than one way (taking more than their share of the sacrificial meat).  And who was going to bring them to justice?  They were pretty much in charge.

Still, I think that if these were married women, there would’ve been more of a stink raised about it.  Jealous husbands probably wouldn’t have taken it sitting down.  I’m not going to pretend this is anything like a rock-solid case, but it’s at least persuasive to me.

And just in case anyone’s forgotten, my whole point here was to at least raise the possibility that when Jephthah spoke of sacrificing (or dedicating) his daughter to the Lord, there may have been precedent for young ladies being dedicated to Tabernacle service.

And that’s pretty much as far as I can take the argument.  There were women who served at the Tabernacle, and they were (from all appearances) unmarried.  It would have been really helpful if the Law described more about how these women were chosen for this duty, but it seemed to dwell rather more on the duties of the men

(If anyone has a reference I’ve missed, please enlighten me.  I may have to call Steve Gregg about this one.)

BTW, I purposely neglected the case of Anna (Luke 2), who lived at the Temple as a widow from a young age.  I think she might’ve been a special case.

4Feb/10Off

Theology Thursday: Redeemed

Back on New Year’s Eve, I engaged in a short debate-ish thing with my Esteemed Partner in Pavement Pounding about Jephthah, and specifically about whether he sacrificed his daughter in Judges 11. (Whoa, I just totally pulled that chapter reference out of my head!  Sweet!)  I took the negative proposition, that Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter, though the wording of the passage seems to indicate he did.  (You can go read it if you want.  I’ll wait.)

Mostly my position is based in logic.  And it goes like this:

  1. God does not approve of human sacrifice
  2. God approved of Jephthah (Hebrews 11)
  3. Therefore, Jephthah did not engage in human sacrifice

But then, a couple of weeks ago, I came across an additional bit of support for my position.  (By the way, you’d probably like to know what I think Jephthah did sacrifice, right?  The short answer is something acceptable.)

My new evidence came from Exodus 13, when the Lord commanded the consecration of the firstborn.  Here’s the passage:

Exodus 13:12-13 (ESV):

12 you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD’s. 13 Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.

The “shall be the LORD’s” part seems to indicate that they would be sacrificed.  But not all species would be sacrificed.  Only clean animals.  Others would be redeemed with a lamb.  And firstborn sons, in particular, were consecrated to the service of the Lord (see Numbers 3), though later the tribe of Levi was taken for that service (but all firstborn sons of other tribes still had to be redeemed).

But my main point here is that an Israelite couldn’t offer just anything to God.  Even when bringing a clean animal to sacrifice, it had to be spotless.  God seemed to be very particular about what could be offered. 

In this passage, the example of a donkey is given.  Checking Leviticus 11 (a lot of 11th chapters in this post), we note that the donkey doesn’t have cloven hooves, so it’s unclean.  It has to be redeemed (or throttled, apparently).

So, back to Jephthah’s case.  He promised to offer what came out of his tent to the Lord.  But he was an Israelite, and knew that he could only offer something clean.  Anything unclean, he would have to redeem.  But it would still belong to the Lord.

So, Jephthah’s daughter would have been redeemed, but would have been consecrated to the Lord.  If this is so, and she was dedicated to service, she may not have been able to marry.  This makes a good deal more sense when one considers that she lamented not her impending death, but rather her virginity.  Jephthah’s grief would be explained by his knowledge that his line would end with her, since she was his only daughter.

This also seems to match the chronology of Judges 11, as one of the concluding verses says this:

Judges 11:39 (NKJV, just because it’s more word-for-word)

39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.

It might be stretching things a bit, it seems the “she knew no man” happened after Jephthah had fulfilled the vow.

BTW, I’m comfortably out of the mainstream with my interpretation here.  Most commentators think that in the time of the Judges, the Law wasn’t observed particularly well, and so resorting to human sacrifice wasn’t be all that surprising, and Jephthah was honored for keeping a painful vow.  But the writer of Hebrews doesn’t mention the sacrifice at all, so I think my explanation fits.

Now that we’re done with that, I’m shocked that my feeble little brain is just now really connecting the redemption of the firstborn with the fact that mankind was redeemed by the Lamb of God.  The unclean redeemed by the clean.  The broader idea of redemption by a lamb/bull is pretty well documented, but this specific idea is just now settling in for me.  Guess I need to keep reading.

29Jan/09Off

Theology Thursday Lite: Favoring the Good Side

I think I'm mailing it in this week.  But I like this verse (it's the Second Commandment):

Exodus 20:4-6 (NLT, emphasis mine):

4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 6 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

Notice that God isn't timid about punishing anyone, but He's really more about rewarding those who do right.  I think there's some bearing here on the subject of Eternal Hell (which you may recall, I'm less and less convinced is really taught in the Bible).  God's character is much more about rewards than punishments.

Or I could be reading too much into this, but it seems like one hears more about the punishment to the fourth generation.  I thought I'd balance it a bit.  And that's a wrap for today...

7Aug/08Off

Theology Thursday: Carrying the Name

As I mentioned in my Monday Morning Musings this week, I've long suspected that exclaiming "Oh, my God!" does not constitute a violation of the 3rd Commandment, which states (in the NASB):

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

If not for the corpus of built-up interpretation that equates "OMG" with "taking the name in vain," how might we view this?  By the way, check out the Message on this:

No using the name of GOD, your God, in curses or silly banter; GOD won't put up with the irreverent use of his name.

Is this rendering even close to the real meaning?  I don't really think so (not that I'm surprised...it is The Message, after all).  But, I didn't want to be hasty, so I looked up the word translated "take" in Strong's (courtesy NETBible).  Here's what I got:

1) to lift, bear up, carry, take
1a1) to lift, lift up
1a2) to bear, carry, support, sustain, endure

So, take is in there. But in the context of the other definitions, it seems to mean more "take up" than "use." So what's it mean? Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host who also teaches Old Testament, has said on many occasions that it means, "committing evil while acting religious."

Which justifies the thought I had back in the 80s, when David Duke (former-KKK-white-supremecist-pond-scum, the last adjective of which is totally redundant) said on national television, "I claim Jesus Christ as my personal savior," that he was taking the name of Christ in vain.  Likewise for any who do evil in Christ's name (Fred "God hates fags" Phelps, you there?) or in God's name (Al Quaeda?).

All that to say that I don't believe "misusing" God's name is a specific violation of the 3rd Commandment.  But is it okay?  I personally flinch whenever I hear anything approaching "OMG," which includes "Gosh".  I once heard Ethan's Sunday School teacher use it while doing the Bible Story of the day.  I wanted to throw something at her.  I don't want my son using such language.  Am I overreacting?

And yet, you'll catch me saying "Geez!"  What?  How about, "Oh, my word!" or "My goodness!"?  Aren't they all derivatives?  How about "Crikey!" and "Cripes!" and "For Pete's Sake!"?  How far do I take this?

Here's another angle.  How about if you put your husband/wife into the position of God in the statement.  What would people think if you said, "Oh my wife, it's hot out here?"  Isn't it a bit silly?  Does using her in that kind of speech lift her up or cheapen her?  Not sure you could argue the former.

What about darn, dang, and drat?  Why not just go with damn?  Aren't they the same?  While researching the various varieties of variations, I discovered the term "minced oaths" from Wikipedia, the locus of all knowledge we take other people's word for (BTW, that link contains some naughty language).

I guess, for me, even though I don't think many of these are specifically forbidden for Christian folks to do, they're not a good thing.  Any of them.  Specifically, the uses of "OMG" and it's forms.  They've been so long associated with "taking the name in vain" - even in popular (secular) culture - that they now rise to that level.  As Christians, we should try to move as far from that as possible.  As for some of the minced oaths, I can see it two ways.  To be completely consistent, we'd have to nix all of them.  On the other hand, it shows a certain innocence to stay away from the more crass terms and use something "nicer" (even if it really isn't nicer).  That alone could be the thing someone notices, which causes them to ask you what makes you different.

I'm curious about others' opinions on this.  If you use OMG (or OMGosh), is it just habit?  Do you think it's good/bad/indifferent?  Now you have a topic.  Discuss...

28Mar/08Off

A Pro-Life Contradiction?

I'm disappointed by John Grisham. Don't get me wrong; he's a very talented, sometimes brilliant writer. At least one of his books would make my Top Ten Favorites list. But, his latest work displays at least one occurrence of shocking ignorance.

His latest book, The Appeal, deals with the messy topic of tort reform. Sort of. I'm pretty sure I know where he stands on the issue, but I'm disappointed by it (but maybe he'll prove me wrong). More than that issue, though, is his apparently shallow view of pro-life issues.

In the book, a fresh new face is being put in the race for the Supreme Court of Mississippi. As he's being considered by a conglomerate of Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy players, he's asked his opinion of several issues. I quote:

The Appeal, p. 128:
Abortion? Opposed. All abortions? Opposed.
Death penalty? Very much in favor.
No one seemed to grasp the contradiction between the two.

It would be one thing if this last sentence were a comment from a narrator in the story. A character who, perhaps, had a shallow understanding of the topic. It isn't. It's basically an editorial comment from an author who probably thinks he's a deep thinker. He's obviously not, at least not on this issue. He is, in all likelihood, a deep feeler on these issues. A little thought would have prevented him from making this obvious mistake.

I imagine there are many out there who, like me, don't see a contradiction between the two ideas. And it's not that I haven't thought about the issue. So, I figured I'd put a little plug in here for some clarity of thought, in case any of my legions of readers should ever encounter this argument.

On the surface, it can seem strange that those who are most ardent in their defense of the unborn would so blithely go along with the death penalty for murderers. But, beyond the surface lies the key issue: the respect for innocent life. The baby is innocent. The murderer is not. And that is pretty much the whole argument.

Allow me to attack this by way of responding to common objections you might hear.

1. But, the Bible says, "Thou shalt not kill"...

Umm...no it doesn't. Unless we're to believe that God would have stated in Exodus 20:13, "do not kill", then turned around in 21:12 and said, "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death", we have to realize the word "kill" in Exodus 20:13 should be translated "murder". Otherwise, the other laws regarding all the offenses that draw the death penalty don't really make sense. Oh, and I'm not saying it should be translated "murder" for the sake of making the Bible coherent on the issue. I'm saying that it's more accurate to the Hebrew reading, which is why most modern translations render it as "murder."

2. But Jesus told us to forgive...

True. However, we're not talking about whether or not I should forgive a murder personally. I should be prepared to forgive anyone who sins against me. We're talking here about government policy. Should the government forgive? If so, then why do we have prisons? Surely we could just forgive criminals and trust them not to do it again, right? Wrong. The government is there to protect its people.

For a scriptural response, Paul acknowledges that the government has the right to execute criminals.

Romans 13:4:
4 For [the ruler] is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

My main point here is, murder is a crime against society, not just against an individual. Society must have a way to punish it. In some cases, that will mean removing a murderer from society in a permanent way.

Let me state categorically that I do not support the death penalty for all murderers. But I believe that to keep all murderers alive is a gross injustice. And it's bad for society.

3. But an innocent might be executed...

This, of course, is a red herring. Yes, it would be absolutely terrible if an innocent man (or woman) were executed. But, the question I'm addressing here is not the actual implementation of the death penalty, but rather the question of its morality. The question to put back to the questioner in this case is, "Okay, but do some murderers *deserve* to die?" This will cut through the fog most questioners are trying to create. If the answer is not, "Yes," then you're dealing with someone who doesn't think clearly.

One of my favorite radio personalities, Dennis Prager, frequently comments on this issue that the death penalty for murderers is the only commandment given in all five books of the Torah. If you want to verify this, the passages are (but not limited to): Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:12, Leviticus 24:17, Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 19:11-13.

This is an extremely emotionally-charged issue, and it's difficult to discourse about it without emotions getting frazzled. But we should not be afraid to stand up for our values when they're challenged.

1Feb/08Off

Jesus and the God of the OT

It's not at all uncommon these days to hear people, even ostensibly Bible-believing Christian people, claim that the God of the OT and the God of the NT are somehow different. Not so.

Yesterday I came across (again) this passage:

Exodus 34:6-7a (NIV):

6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

How often do we hear that the God of the OT is anything but "compassionate and gracious"? All. The. Time.