Monday, January 31, 2005

I love Scripture, but man...

There are some seriously strange things that happen throughout the Old Testament.
Some of them are just weird, others annoying, and still others make my head want to explode.

I spent the day working through first and second Kings. By the title you may have guessed that it is basically a history of the different Kings who reigned in Israel from the end of David's reign to the exile into Babylon.

The first thing (at least the first thing I can remember at this point), that struck me was an account about Elisha the prophet. He takes the mantle of prophet from Elijah who is taken away by a chariot and horses of fire up into heaven and he is given a 'double portion' of the spirit that was given to Elijah. Very cool, he does some really great things with it. But then there is this short passage in 2Kings 2:23-24 where some kids make fun of him and call him "baldhead". I'm sure that the translation does not do justice to this insult, and maybe Elisha was having a bad day or something, but his reaction just makes me scratch my head, as he curses the kids and two 'she-bears' came out and 'tore' 42 of them... No matter how I try to square it in my head it is just not sitting well...

Then there is something that is just plain annoying... If you have read straight through 1 & 2 Kings ever, then you will definitely know what I am talking about. Trying to follow the chain of rulers in Israel is ridiculous, especially after the kingdom splits. It is hard enough trying to understand that while one king reigns in Judah for 50 years, there are 5 different kings in Israel over that same span, but then we have Joash, who after he becomes King, becomes Jehoash. But no one tells you this, so of course you are thinking this is someone else. Then he dies and becomes plain old Joash again. This is the case with a few of them. Then there are the repetition of names. It is hard enough to follow the kings of the split kingdoms of Judah and Israel, but when Ahaziah, the king of Judah bites the dust, I don't expect to see him again as King of Israel in the next paragraph. I just feel like I need to write up a genogram to follow the succession of Kings in these kingdoms. I am 90% certain that I did not follow it.

Now, to break out of Kings for a moment, let's jump back to the book of Judges. The Judges were raised up to protect and care for Israel. It was before they rejected God and asked for King to rule over them like the other nations around them. Now, there were many 'interesting' things about the Judges in Israel, not all of them were 'stellar' by any standard and even some of the most famous, like Sampson, really mucked things up from time to time. But I want to take a look at one Judge in particular by the name of Jephthah. Some people like to call Jephthah a "tragic" figure. Personally, I like to think of him as a huge jackass. If you want to see what I am talking about, turn to Chapter 11:29 and read just about the dumbest thing I have ever heard a human being do.
Now, I understand that the times and culture were very different, and perhaps there was a chance that animals were wandering in and out of Jephthah's house all day long, but so is his child and, presumably, his wife. For those of you who do not know the account and won't go look it up, Jephthah is about to go fight with the Ammonites, and he prays to God saying that if the Lord lets him beat the Ammonites, then Jephthah will sacrifice to God the first thing that walks out of his house upon his return home. Now, it seems to me that Jephthah just didn't have his thinking cap on. When people come home from battle, the word travels through the village that they are coming back, and there is news as to whether or not they have been victorious, so people are going to come out and either praise them or pity them for their efforts. Jephthah was a man of war, he had to know this... but alas, he makes his vow. And what is the first thing that walks out of his house upon his return home? Fido the family beagle? His nasty mother in law? a llama? No, it is his very own daughter, his only child, who he must now sacrifice because of his vow. And the best part is that she was cool with it... she just wants to go chill with her friends for a couple months before he lights her on fire, but she's down... man, what a culture...

I would also like to share a phone call I received from my sister with her own mind bender out of the book of Proverbs, Chapter 26 verses 4 and 5:
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,

lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Now, this is pretty tough to explain, even as proverbs go. Especially to a teenager who sees most everything without any nuance. She looks at these two verses and says, "why would they put a direct contradiction in scripture like that" - to which I smugly reply "any human being can see that it is not contradictory"... Yes, I am a big fat jerk sometimes. I did apologize, because right after I said that, she asked me to explain it and I spent a good minute tripping over my own tongue, not to mention my brain.

I know it sounds as though I am complaining, but actually I find all these things fascinating and they really don't bother me like they probably would some other people. I suppose that is because I approach scripture somewhat fideistically, thinking that, of course, whatever is in there is supposed to be there because of who God is and how He has ordered things. But I really do love to think about them and ponder what the purpose is, even though in many cases I'll never know and likely never understand them on this side of eternity.
So forgive my grumbling. It comes with the territory I think. When this is all you do it can become a pain in the butt like any other job. The challenge is to keep it fresh, and approach it with reverence all the time.

Now on to Chronicles! yikes....

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