A new semester has begun. Here is a summary of the first week with Joshua.
Joshua – They finally made it! Now what?
In Joshua, the promise left unfilled at the end of the Torah is resolved. They make it into the promised land. But, that is not the end of their Journey. Now they must fight to make place for themselves and chose to remain faithful to God lest they end up being cast out just like their predecessors, the Canaanites. To do this the people are given a new leader Joshua who is cut from the same cloth as Moses, and given God’s command/permission to enter the land. And their faithfulness is continually tested as they either win (Jericho) as they follow God’s instruction, or, are defeated (Ai) because they don’t.
We also explored the mixed references to Canaanite genocide in the conquest section of the book along with others, in the land disbursement section, that showed Canaanites still remaining in the land. We then turned to the archeologists who have challenged the historicity of the Joshua account (especially at Jericho) and wondered how a theological interpretation might be better suited to the text. Joshua’s farewell address helps us here, bookending the story with calls of faithfulness to God. As Joshua’s last words call the people to choose whom they will serve, we recalled Joshua’s interaction with the Commander of the Lord’s army in chapter 5, where Joshua asks, “Are you on our side or that of our enemies?, to which the Angel responds, “Neither.” The challenge of the Angel’s response seems to linger as the book closes. The real question for the Israelites it seems, is not whether God is on their side, but whether or not they will choose to be on God’s side.
Thanks for joining us for the journey through God’s word.
Week Seven – Oct. 29 Numbers
In week one on Numbers we looked at themes for the book taken from the first 3 verses. The story of God’s people in the dessert (Bemidbar), growth in Numbers (Arithmoi), and Paqad (to count). I suggested all three can be held together as we read through this narrative of the Israelites figuring out how live with God in their midst, how to be fruitful, and how to be a people that counts and matters. During this Wilderness period they struggled greatly with the challenges and difficulties that they faced. They complain, challenge the leadership, made rules, revise some of the rules, get punished by God for their unfaithfulness, but also blessed, fed, and forgiven. Along they way, we also needed to face some difficult passages that are very unfair toward women, and the harshness of the penalties for questioning and unfaithfulness.
In week two, we get much of the same themes continued as the people get closer to the promised land. Perhaps it can best be summarized in the story of the bronze serpent. The people complain. They get bitten by snakes and die. They repent. And God gives them the bronze serpent for healing. They stray – they suffer – they’re sorry – they’re healed. It really is two steps forward and one step back kind of processes: the Israelites start winning wars and get blessed by an internationally known prophet with a talking donkey, but Moses gets banned from the promised land, and the people get tempted by another tribe. Finally, as the book settles down there is some beauty and hope found in the structure and guidance of offerings and festivals that will help them remember their struggles and triumphs.
Week Six – Oct. 22 Leviticus
We had a wonderful group brave the wind on Tuesday evening to learn about the (surprisingly) intriguing Third Book of Moses we call Leviticus (a manual for priests descending from the tribe of Levi). We discussed several helpful perspectives and lenses through which to view what can be viewed as a rather tedious (not to mention graphic) collection of laws and rituals. Exodus ends with a gaping need for the community to establish a ritualistic code by which forgiveness can be reached (i.e. the golden calf incident). As is always God’s modus operandi, grace abounded and God provided a way for the community to atone for their sins and worship God faithfully in the age to come. I emphasized that Leviticus is that means of grace and that way of atonement that God provided–a set of laws/customs/rituals that is solely their own and not imposed upon them against their will as when they were slaves in Egypt. It is important to remember that “impurity” and “uncleanliness” were not sins, but only temporary statuses requiring purification. Leviticus also outlines the major Jewish festivals and feast days and kosher food laws that many faithful Jews subscribe to today. Essentially, this book is about holiness and how God’s people are being made holy.
I outlined several perspectives with which readers can view Leviticus by using a PowerPoint presentation. I shall attach that presentation for your viewing.
Week Five – Oct. 8 Exodus
We experienced two interesting sessions exploring the 2nd book of the Bible, Exodus. We’ve dug into the travels of the Israelites and all the various emotions that come into play for the major leaders like Moses, Pharaoh, Jethro and Aaron. Our overall theme was what does it mean to go from God’s people who were in Bondage to Pharaoh to Bonding with the Israelites ONE and only God. We had many questions about the violence in this book, why so many rules/laws, and oh that tabernacle. We even had some pop quizzes to engage our brains. Fun times!!
Below is a great link which we attempted to view (projector challenges) so please watch on your own. Great summary of this complex book of the Bible.
Wonderful to be with you all and continued Blessings on this Grand Sweep!
Week Four – Oct. 1 Genesis 28-50
The story continues as Jacob, despite multiple twists and turns, marries and starts his family. Out of family jealousy and natural disaster, we enter into the lengthy story of Jacob’s son Joseph, his rise from slave to second in command in Egypt, and how he saved his family and they find themselves prospering in the land of Egypt. As someone said last week, “This sounds like a movie or soap opera plot!” Join us On Tuesday nights as we continue to explore the ongoing story of God’s interaction with God’s people – 6:00 p.m. in the dining room of First Presbyterian Church, Cedar Falls.
Week Three – Sept. 24 Genesis 12-28 (cont.)
Last week we transitioned from the foundational stories of Creation, Fall and Redemption in Genesis 1-11, to God’s choosing of a particular family to be keepers of God’s covenant promise for all people. That promise started with Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12. The fulfillment of that promise didn’t come easily, as we were reminded of problems in several generations of having children to extend the generations and increase the family. We saw how people used creative (or we might say shocking to us!) ways of dealing with these problems. But the promise was renewed over and over again as we saw how from the beginning God has used flawed people to accomplish God’s good purposes – from Abraham and Sarah and Hagar through Isaac and Ishmael. We ended up with Isaac’s son, Jacob, using trickery and deception to gain the birthright and blessing from his father, taking it away from his twin Esau. Esau’s threats of revenge sent Jacob heading for safety in the hills of his mother’s family.
It really helps to wear reading glasses when reading the Old Testament. Two lenses help us see the story of God’s relationship with Israel. When God identifies Godself, God will say one of two things. God will either reference his relationship with Israel’s ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or God will reference the work done by God to liberate the people from slavery in Egypt. It will not be until much later in the Old Testament that God identifies Godself in a third way – as the God who brings the people of Israel back from their exile. More on that later.
The stories of the covenant and of the exodus frame the whole of the Old Testament. The story of the exodus we will get to in the next book, Exodus. The story of the covenant begins in Genesis 12. Here God choses a particular people through whom God will bless all the earth, Abram and Sarai. Their names will be changed to Abraham and Sarah and they will be the parents of the nation of Israel. Here begins the story of Israel, God’s people, who are blessed as to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-4).
Week One – Sept. 10 Genesis 1-11
We began our journey through the bible with an introduction and overview. We’re also going to make an effort to post weekly updates from our study. Those are included in our Friday emails a few days before the Tuesday Bible study. Consider it a preview.
How do we read the bible? It is a library – a collection of stories, history, law and poetry. Do we read it as such, or do we use it to look things up like an encyclopedia or an early version of Google? A good way to interpret one passage in the bible is to see it in relationship with the rest of the biblical story. That is especially true as we understand Jesus to be God incarnate, the Word made flesh. Jesus is the Word, capital ‘W”. The bible is God’s word, lower case “w”. Our understanding of Jesus, the Word, helps us to better see the bible, the word.
The journey through the bible begins before ‘the beginning’ with the creative work of God. You’ll notice there are two creation stories! Both show God’s power and God’s love across the entire canvas of creation. It is good, very good!
These first eleven chapters focus on humanity as a whole ending with humankind’s efforts to make a name for ourselves with a tall building. God put an end to that building project and scattered the people. That story marks the end of one way of God working with the world God so loves. A new beginning awaits in chapter 12. The God of creation is also the God of covenant.