Q Combinations 4: Donne, Chagall and a possible prayer of Jacob’s
This is a complete mismatch chronologically – but there seems an undeniable synergy here (to me at least). For Jacob (the deceiver) is the one from whom the nation is named and the one privileged with extraordinary divine encounters. Read more
The Black Dog (10 years on) 5: THE INSENSIBILITY OF FAITH…
It’s been very moving to have messages in the last few days about my black dog posts. Thank you! At least it shows that it’s been worth it. As I mentioned in the first post, I’m genuinely not motivated by the kind of confessional culture that is all around us; still less am I trying to elicit sympathy. And I’m definitely not seeking advice or support (kind though some offers have been!). It is only to help those who don’t quite have the words for this yet. But I do realise that it’s raised lots of questions for some… Read more
Deep (?but not stuck) in the frozen wastes of winter faith: Brueggemann on Beck on Freud & James
Q regulars will be aware that issues related to depression come up here from time to time. One or two have encouraged me to be a bit more open about such things and to pick up a few things that others might find helpful, or at least a resonance.
So here are a couple of extended quotations from Walter Brueggemann’s most recent book, Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. These paragraphs jumped out at me from his middle section on the need for prophetic grief in the face of contemporary suffering, In this he echoes the mourning of Jeremiah and Lamentations in particular. Read more
Diving into the OT deep end with Joshua’s Conquest
Well, I feel I rather drew the short straw at ASLP on Sunday with Joshua 11-12 as my passage – but then actually, each of the sections in the series has had its moments, so I realise I wasn’t alone! But this section provides a summary of Israel’s conquest of the Land in the preceding 10 chapters, concluding with its triumphant list of 31 indigenous kings beaten and executed. Not only that, but in passing it has all kinds of profoundly difficult lines, not least Joshua 11:6 and Joshua 11:20. Read more
BananaMationMan is back: The Creation as you’ve never seen it before
Well, the boy’s done good again. For most of the weekend, Joshua (aka Bananamationman) worked on a very ambitious white-board stopmotion narrating the story of the Creation from Genesis 1-2. It’s frustratingly brief – but then when you realise it took around 11 hours of drawing and photographing each move, you can understand! There are some lovely touches – my particular highlights are the waves, the fish and the bird.
Awesome. Beams of paternal pride pour forth!
God, The Refugees and The Dynasty: An overview of Ruth
The book that has occupied my thoughts for much of the summer is that almost hidden gem of the OT, the Book of Ruth. It was the focus of this year’s All Souls week away, and so my talks are issued as a free podcast. What blew me away is that of all the books in the OT, it is perhaps the most unrelentingly positive and inspiring. This is despite the fact that its dark historical and literary context was the Book of Judges, and that the suffering and vulnerability of 2 of the protagonists, Naomi and Ruth, were very real. Read more
Studies inspired by Eat This Book
As Q regulars will know, Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book – The Art of Spiritual Reading is a favourite. As part of BibleFresh (the 400th Anniversary celebrations of the King James), we decided to devote the summer term’s studies for our Fellowship Groups to looking at passages inspired by the book. Each passage looks at how the Bible itself describes its impact on the believer’s life. Read more
Steve Jobs on our shared mortality
Last month’s Wired UK Carried a host of mini-articles by various techie, business gurus and Apple groupies about the phenomenon that is Steve Jobs. One of the standouts though was Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, an account of his address at Stanford University in 2005. Read more
A woman’s perspective: Girls in Trouble’s album “Half you half me”
A gentle, initially distant, rhythm guitar draws us into this album Half You Half Me by New York duo Girls in Trouble. But when the gorgeously fluid voice of Alicia Jo Rabins begins, one is stopped short by the arresting incongruity of the opening line: We are androgynous, double-faced beings. Read more
Nothing Buttery: a Reductionism Rant
Reductio ad absurdum: one of those nice little Latin phrases that comes in handy every now and then. It has a noble pedigree and describes an age-old form of argument designed to pick one’s opponent’s claims apart. It means ‘reduction to the absurd’, or ‘to the point of absurdity’. And it is definitely worth mastering. Read more
The four levels of hearing a divine word
Hebrews 3 has always held a fascination for me because of the way that the writer skillfully weaves 3 or even four (if you assume he had future generations like ours in mind) together to understand the way God speaks. So it was great to get the chance to delve a little deeper in my prep for our BibleFresh sunday at the weekend. It is one of those striking passages where the tense of one word profoundly shapes our understanding of a whole chapter.
And in this case it is the tense of the word “says” (3:7 – λεγει). As the English translation correctly has it, it is present tense – despite the fact that the writer immediately goes on to quote an ancient psalm, which is itself a reflection on an ancient event. It thus offers a template for how God speaks through ancient texts… and is therefore quite an significant passage for a whole host of reasons…
Anyway, here’s the talk and my overview of the passage’s levels:
How can I give you up? An overview of Hosea
Our small groups are studying the book of Hosea this term and so last week I had the job of giving an overview and providing background for it.
In my prep, I was particularly struck by the effect of reading the relevant chapters of 2 Kings (ch 13-17) alongside Hosea, because these give the historian’s verdict on each of the Israelite kings who were Hosea’s contemporaries. I also found it very helpful having preached on the life of Solomon last term (see post last Dec) because that puts everything into perspective.
You can download the talk here (you may have to get a free login to get it – and beware – the sound quality is pretty rubbish for some reason). Here is the accompanying handout and talk outline.
Reflections on King Solomon’s Problems
We came to the end of a series on the life of Solomon on Sunday morning and I had the dubious honour of handling the last bit. It struck me that Solomon’s fall is one of the strangest and most alarming episodes in Israel’s history. Think of all that Solomon was and did:
- Chosen to be David’s anointed successor – over and above his older brothers (1Ki 1-2)
- Offered anything he wants from God (1Ki 3:5) – he asks for the greatest thing: wisdom, with the result that all other blessings were given him.
- Commissioned by God to build the temple, something his father wasn’t allowed to do (1Ki 6)
- Visited by the Queen of Sheba (1Ki 10) who is wowed by everything she witnesses… And gives credit where credit is due
Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness. (1Ki 10:9)
This was the Mount Everest of the Bible – things never got better. In fact, things went dramatically downhill after this. In large part because things went dramatically downhill for Solomon. In fact, despite only seeing the king’s dark side in 1Kings 11, the passage for Sunday, the seeds were there for years.
- Overwhelming opulence – the catalogue of his wealth (esp 1Ki 10:14-29) is positively obscene.
- The Hugh Hefner of the ancient world? He had 1000 women in his official entourage – who knows how many ‘unofficial’ women there were.
But no doubt some contemporaries saw this as merely an ancient expression of divine blessing and national prestige.
The thing that haunts me is how on earth the man who sought God’s wisdom became such a fool. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this since Sunday, and it strikes me that a couple of things are crucial – and very important lessons for us
- A Drifting Heart: throughout his work, the writer of 1 & 2 Kings is seeking to explain first the nation’s split (after Solomon died) and then ultimately how the 2 Israelite kingdoms ended up in destruction and exile. One of his key interpretative grids is formed by Deuteronomy 17‘s instructions for the king. And a central instruction is for the king to protect his heart. Notice how often we’re told in 1Ki11 that Solomon’s heart was affected: went astray (v3), turned and not fully devoted (v4), turned away (v9) – in contrast to his father David (v6). Ever so subtle, perhaps, but lethal nonetheless.
- An Unaccountable Authority: but there is another contrast with David, even more scary. Where were the Nathans in Solomon’s court, the prophets who would speak truth to power. David wasn’t perfect by any stretch. But he had faithful people who stepped up to challenge him, no doubt with knees knocking. And David turned back. There’s no record of anyone doing that. Perhaps some tried – there’s a hint that some might have done in v2, but the king was defiant and unassailable.
Woe to those of us who don’t watch their hearts, and who allow no one to question or challenge them. For the heart is deceitful above all things.
Some have asked for the C S Lewis quote that I used on Sunday, so here it is:
Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And, taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature — either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures and with itself.
To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other. (Mere Christianity, pp86-87)
Jesus in Tijuana Mexico… via U2?
A good friend of mine, Drew Wolff, has recently got back from a trip with his family to help on a Habitat building programme in Tijuana, Mexico. He sent these great pics. You’ll see at the centre of the first is a rather interesting biblical reference – which will be well known to U2 fans the world over.
Jeremiah 33:3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.
For it superimposed onto the Gate number at CdeG Airport Paris on the cover of their 2001 album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. And it also gets a nod in one of the best songs of the last album (IMHO), No Line on the Horizon, Unknown Caller. It is particularly fitting for the latter because of the title (though note that the numbers are fiddled around a bit because obviously, there’s no 33 o’clock!).
This one presents quite a stark contrast too. This is what Drew said in his email:
I thought this one was pretty poignant, too. I struggle for ways to stretch my imagination but it seems to describe the Christian life. The bleakness of what is in the foreground is not changed. However, behind it all is the bright light that dominates the picture. It helped in trying to imagine the light that illuminates everything in the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation. And also in the foreground, is a group of believers helping build a house. A good metaphor for God’s answer to everything
Handling King David’s Successor & the challenge of OT Narrative
Sunday morning brought the not entirely straightforward prospect of starting our series on the life of Solomon from 1 Kings, and doing it on Remembrance Sunday. The passage (1 Kings 1-2) is certainly a tricky one – an account of ancient realpolitik with all kinds of court machinations and skullduggery.
But part of the challenge from the passage was simply the problem of OT narrative. There are many things we need to be aware of when tackling it, as well as a number of good books to help get into it. A good start is the classic Fee & Stuart How to read the bible for all its worth. But two things in particular struck me as requiring clarity. With OT history, we must:
- Remember to draw our own conclusions – the writers tend to offer minimal editorial comment, let alone divine comment. This is partly a matter of style; partly because of what is assumed. They assume that the Torah is known and the basis for interpretation of events. Therefore we are invited to apply what we know from that to what we read in the narrative. Of course, that is a problem in a biblically illiterate age such as our own, and so it is one of the reasons people are so quick to dismiss or condemn such narratives. The job of the teacher today then is in part to fill in those gaps, to explain the moral benchmarks we should be working with.
- Remember it’s grey and not always black and white – this follows on. We are not to assume that the protagonists can always claim the moral high ground. In fact, often they do terrible things which must, rightly, be condemned (e.g. raping a sister, fratricide, coups d’état etc etc). When it comes to human politics, there are always problematic decisions are at best somewhere on the sliding scale of shades of grey. And the Israelite monarchy is no exception, even at its best. In fact, the only king and ruler who can truly be said to make clear cut, black and white decisions, is Great David’s Greater Son, King Jesus.
These then provided a methodology for expounding these two big chapters. The two big ideas are relatively easy to dig out because of the repeated phrases, so these formed the two main sections of the talk.
- 1 Kings 1: one phrase is repeated 9 times (1:13, 1:17, 1:20, 1:24, 1:27, 1:30, 1:35, 1:46, 1:48), of which the first example is – “Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne“.
- 1 Kings 2: one phrase is repeated 4 times (2:12, 2:24, 2:45, 2:46), of which the last closes the chapter – “The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon’s hands.”
The other problem with these chapters is the blizzard of names, unfamiliar to most. So I took that ultimate expression of Court Politics and rivalries, the game of chess, to illustrate it. So here is the outline:
Then once Solomon is anointed king, there’s the small difficulty of his rivals and potential schemers.
Click here to download the talk.
Stop Press: £2 off Christopher Ash’s new book for 1 week only
Following yesterday’s review of Remaking A Broken World, those lovely chaps at 10ofThose have offered a once in a life time offer (well, for the time being, anyway)
£2 off the price – for 1 week only – and what’s more it’s already discounted.
Too good to miss
Make sure you add in promotional code: meynell200
Tracing biblical melodic lines: Christopher Ash’s new overview ‘Remaking a Broken World’
Some years ago, I found myself in the middle of an awkward, and at bizarre moments heated, discussion. It was all to do with how one understands scriptural unity, and what the best way to articulate and summarise that unity. In other words, what’s the best way to do a bible overview? One side suggesting it didn’t really matter; the other side was strongly advocating that the only way was to follow the Graeme Goldsworthy Kingdom model (as articulated in his Gospel & Kingdom trilogy and According to Plan amongst others). I found myself more or less disagreeing with both, for different reasons. Read more