Some OT Background Stuff

Note: WordPress tells me today is my tenth anniversary on this blog.

Ref: Genesis 25-28 — I was discussing Genesis with a friend this week and remembered some background stuff that confuses most people about the Patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were not Hebrews as we think of it, but highly influenced by Abraham’s Mesopotamian background. Near as we can tell, he was either some kind of Aramean or Akkadian. In either case, the term designates a linguistic and cultural background, not so much a nation or tribal affiliation. However, we do know that these were very long-lived folk. Their ages at death are not at all out of line with noble/priestly folks from southern Mesopotamia. This meant their longevity was far greater than was common among Canaanite nations. Thus, Abraham and his kind were treated with some reverence by the locals.

Abraham was regarded as a prince, with his own substantial private army. He was still just one of a whole class of nomadic petty lords who didn’t hold territory with proper political boundaries. Instead, they moved into areas where there wasn’t any other large groups consuming the local resources, and spread out their herds. When scouts noticed a better area, they packed up the numerous tents and loaded the wagons. The areas Abraham sojourned were unsettled for the most part, and his camp was a small town with everything necessary for life done in-house. In almost every scene in the narrative, the principle figures were seldom alone. There were always servants and slaves, along with children, and often other relatives. They simply aren’t mentioned unless germane to the story. You should read the Old Testament under the assumption that no was alone unless the narrative specifically says so.

Abraham traveled from Padan-aram down through the unpopulated central highlands of Palestine with that vast household of armed men and servants, and all those domesticated animals. It was quite a caravan with hundreds of humans and wagons. The idea that Jacob traveled back up to Padan-aram alone is ludicrous. He had at least one armed bodyguard, and probably a couple of servants. That’s just for someone traveling in a hurry. More deliberate travel was undertaken with a substantial entourage. To the ancient reader, all of this would have been obvious and not worth mentioning. So if you read the passage where Esau comes in famished and encounters Jacob making stew, the more accurate image is Jacob supervising servants making the stew, and Esau walking in with at least one servant behind him.

Don’t get the idea Jacob was a prissy mama’s boy; by age 12 every noble boy was required to start training in arms. The biblical image is a man who focused on domestic stability and managing the daily operations of the household. It wasn’t exceptional, but quite common among educated and civilized men. Esau was the oddball, and frankly irresponsible. Remember that in Hebrew culture, a hunter was not a model for kingship, but a shepherd. You can be sure Jacob knew about herding sheep, if you consider his conversation with the shepherds at the watering hole near Haran.

Keep in mind that when Genesis refers to “Philistines” down on the coast it’s not a lie, but using current terms. The actual Philistine people didn’t arrive on the Palestinian coast prior to about 1300 BC, almost 1000 years after Abraham’s time. Hebrew people centuries later would not have recognized the ancient names for the tribes living in the coastal region back then, so when the records were copied (either by royal scribes or priestly scribes in the Temple) for later generations, the text was updated. The name “Philistines” was inserted so everyone would recognize the geographic reference (roughly Gaza today). The Patriarchs didn’t meet the actual Philistines, but whomever lived there before the Philistines invaded.

You cannot read an ancient Hebrew text with modern Western thinking and expect to understand it.

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Mixed Rides Photos

These images were collected from two different rides. First was the Grand Boulevard — River Trails loop. I rode it clockwise, and stopped at a park on the east side where the trail crosses over Interstate Highway 44. Aside from a maintenance crew, I had the place to myself. The view is looking northeast.

This is my beloved framing spot below the last dam on the Oklahoma River Reaction District. The water flow is still quite heavy and has been for a few weeks. That means the river downstream looks like a river instead of a trickle. It was louder than the massive flow of Interstate traffic just north of the dam.

Today I rode around Draper Lake. Despite the harsh cold, the crews are back out and working on the bikeway. This is the tail end of the old Westminster Road bed now transformed into a bikeway. It’s almost ready for paving, and I spotted the paver at the other end of the dam. They are building up the trail bed with loads of red clay in a lot of places. In the far background, the bikeway parallels an access road as they both run over a ridge.

This is the unpaved portion of the trail below the dam. The heavy equipment is scraping and shaping the trail so it has drainage on both sides. A lot of dirt will be required at the creek crossing farther off to the right of this image.

I stopped at the persimmon patch and they are now quite ripe. We’ve had several hard freezes. These things are soft and sticky, and quite sweet and not the least bit astringent. On the bikeway there are wild animal droppings full of the big seeds from these things, most likely left by deer.

This is a finished crossing. The road gets all new concrete, while the aprons get bollards to prevent motor traffic entering the bikeway. That is, unless someone has a key to unlock and drop that center bollard.

This is a crossing about half-way done. All this concrete for just a dirt road, but that’s how it’s engineered. The bikeway runs from left and right, parallel to the main Draper Drive in the background.

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For Everything a Season

An issue in the mind of Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7 was that of defilement. For him, keeping oneself ceremonially clean was equivalent to holiness, and the key to God’s favor. Since he was scrupulous to maintain that ritual purity, he felt no need of repentance. This legalistic focus on the details or ritual purity lulled his mind to sleep on the natural heartfelt sensitivity to one’s own sinful nature.

However, in the case of the prostitute, it is simply stupid to imagine a ritual of penitence as somehow defiling on Jesus.

We as believers are slow to execute any kind of punitive justice because our hearts know that, as long as people still breathe, there is time for God to break through. We bear no burden for anyone making that change, but we are there to receive them into the Kingdom when they do. We are thus wholly reluctant to execute human justice on even the gravest threats under any law. We should expect it to be exceedingly rare when the Spirit moves us to close the door on human life.

At the same time, we must remain ready for the sake of divine justice to ensure no one threatens the opportunity for others to repent.

So we bear the burden of developing a sensitivity to our divinely granted dominion in such matters. There are times when we execute justice, both by swinging the sword and by restraining the sword. Only God knows which we should do at any given moment, so we must remain wide open to the guidance coming down from Heaven in our convictions. And we can never forget how this can put us at odds with worldly human justice.

This is behind Paul’s admonition to live at peace with the world (Romans 12:18). There is a tactical calculus we learn in dealing with human governments at any given moment. Sometimes wisdom requires we let things slide, but on rare occasions we must sacrifice ourselves for a moment of revelation by opposing men who don’t know Jesus.

I had a very strange dream last night in which I was called upon to have pity on a very polarizing figure in our world today — Hillary Clinton. In my dream, she knew full well I was opposed to everything she stood for, and it was in my power to do her harm. But the Spirit spoke loudly to me that it was not the right time. I know beyond all doubt her tearful pleading was fake, but that wasn’t the point. All things in God’s time.

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Teachings of Jesus — Luke 7:36-50

Please understand that this is not the same event that took place in Bethany, on the hill east of Jerusalem close to the Crucifixion. Luke places this in the context of working in Galilee some time earlier, and the details are different enough that we can’t collate the two. It’s not hard to imagine how people would react similarly to Jesus’ ministry, particularly if they heard someone had done something they wanted to mimic. Equally, it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus would repeat some teachings in different contexts.

We can’t be sure of the exact details, but this passage makes very little sense unless the host who invited Jesus to dine was quite wealthy and prominent. Further, the man had taken on some distinctly Roman habits.

The dining room was equipped with a large central table. There were either Roman style couches raised off the floor, or a raised central platform with Hebrew style pads around a low table. Either way, the idea was to recline on the left side at an angle to the table and eat with the right hand. Knees were typically bent some so that feet were then well away from the table. Further, there was a substantial shadowy space along the walls where servants could move and where the general public could slip in and hang out unobtrusively and watch this formal meal with important discussions taking place among notables. This was how the wealthy and powerful flaunted it for the curious.

It’s obvious from the context that Jesus was not the guest of honor here. The most likely point of inviting Him was Simon’s own curiosity, and perhaps to allow the other quests to query this controversial rabbi. The meal setting symbolized a non-hostile setting in Hebrew culture in particular, and it smacks of yet another attempt to manipulate Jesus.

No Jewish women were present; this was typically a men-only occasion. But this prostitute had no trouble slipping up behind Jesus and engaging in her bizarre ritual. To top it off, no self-respecting Pharisee would tolerate such physical contact in public, but she didn’t actually interrupt anything. You’ll notice no one shooed the woman away. So once this woman began her ministrations, Simon thought to himself that Jesus couldn’t be much of a prophet, tolerating this ultimate sinner among Jews.

Jesus asked if He could say something, and Simon as master of ceremonies at this lavish dinner invited Him to proceed. The parable of loans requires us to understand that debts between Jews were typically limited to kin, either by blood or marriage. They were very personal in nature, with none of the formal and legal provisions we expect today. The debtor didn’t owe some impersonal corporation, but his own kin. Failure to repay hurt everyone dependent on the creditor.

But while perhaps rare, it wasn’t unheard of for such debts to be forgiven. Who would be more grateful and more likely to try doing favors in return for the mercy, the one who owed two months’ wages, or the one who owed two years’ worth? When Simon responded with the obvious answer, Jesus sarcastically noted how wise he was.

This a delicious irony here in what Jesus said. A prostitute was a parody of good moral hospitality. Yet here this woman provided the most lavish hospitality to Jesus in place of Simon’s scandalous lack of it. The obvious implication is that Simon never saw himself much indebted to God for his sins. That’s what it means to be “self-righteous” as Simon clearly was. That perfume was obscenely expensive. This woman spared no expense in offering all she had for her sins, taking great risk to do so. She groveled extravagantly where Simon was frankly rude. She wasn’t trying to cultivate another client. She was a penitent worshiping Jesus whose ministry was a very loud call to repentance.

Jesus announced that her sins were forgiven regardless of how great and numerous they were. What was left unsaid is that Simon’s sins were not forgiven. Now the others at the table wondered who Jesus thought He was to announce forgiveness of sins, but the answer was in Jesus’ final words: Your commitment to seeking God’s favor is precisely what wins that favor. The depth from which you have to crawl to enter His Presence isn’t much of a factor, but nobody has a prior claim on God’s mercy.

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Biblical Law Is Organic

It’s alive; it is the Person of Jesus Christ.

Westerners struggle with any use of “law” in the context of the Bible. Automatically the Western mind imposes the image of law as objective truth, when there simply is no such thing as “objective truth.” It is a myth, an artificial construct of fallen minds.

Reminder: Biblical Law is synonymous with God’s will, divine justice, Christ’s Law, divine moral character, the Person of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant, ultimate reality, Creation and cosmic moral code. It’s all one thing and the terms are interchangeable. For example, Christ is the living law of God; get to know Him and you know God’s will.

But it remains a living thing; reality is a person. Thus, some human agency can disregard some part of Biblical Law without getting immediately into trouble. Unlawful conduct chafes the Person of Christ. He might be patient with it, or He might not. Too much depends on the Father’s ultimate plans in revealing Himself through how He guides human events. We are in no position to ascertain such things without a direct revelation, often in the form of a prophetic word. Even then, it tends to be a partial revelation. It’s functional; it’s enough to help us decide what God requires of us. It’s never enough to satisfy our curiosity.

So, for example, we can say with all confidence that all empire building is sinful. You cannot build an empire righteously. However, God can decide to tolerate it for His own ineffable purpose, or because the imperial forces manage to avoid complicating things because they are going about it in a tolerable manner. It is possible to do imperialism better or worse; Biblical Law can explain the range of mistakes that make it so. Thus, an imperial government that sends its own citizens to colonize and improve life in some conquered territory is better than one that merely maintains garrisons to oppress.

Eventually every empire will be broken down, but the length and quality of that empire’s life can be expanded by doing things well, making it something God can use. It’s rather like the difference between a good wrench and a broken stick, when the need is to turn bolts. In the final analysis, neither good nor bad empires will be remembered once Christ returns. Still, the whole business of divine law in the first place is getting between here and the Final End of All Things.

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If Necessary…

Much of my counsel regarding romance aims at avoiding bad relationships in the first place. Still, I suspect a very large number of my readers are already in a relationship and it may not be as sweet a match as we would hope. Some of you are even near divorce, and you need to know how to face the difficulties.

Women and men are different, and they should be counseled differently. There is a common core of spiritual and moral advice on how to train your brain, but I seldom use the same approach with both. Frankly, men need less one-on-one, and more generalities and guidance. Even when we embrace the heart-led way, men from a Western background tend to respond better to generalized teaching, while women need something more thoroughly contextual. Granted, those are just generalizations, but if we don’t make them, we end up doing nothing useful.

So for men who find themselves in a struggle and don’t want to chat with me individually, I can hardly blame you. That’s how men are. So let me suggest something that might work for you guys: Σ Frame (“sigma frame”). No, this is not a blanket endorsement, but if you need someone who can help you develop a frame of reference for handling a challenging woman, that blog is better than most of the “red pill” stuff out there. The author maintains a close contact with Scripture and some of the basic assumptions of the Bible. It’s not about manipulating a woman so much as helping her stay close to God for herself.

The blog posts are loaded with discrete human behavior analysis that we wish wasn’t necessary. Honestly, my wife is a lot easier to deal with than most of the women I’ve encountered in this world. That’s why I married her in the first place, and it was a miracle of God that I stumbled across her. The techniques the author offers can help you help your woman be more like that. It’s good material for helping a woman who didn’t get a good foundation.

I trust that as you read that blog from a heart-led perspective, you’ll decide for yourself what fits you and what doesn’t. That’s what I hope you’ll do here on this blog.

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Hebrew Feudal Relations

I still read a lot of news about mainstream Christian religious activities. There seems to be some confusion about Hebrew feudal relations in the Old Testament household. Most of what we see in Western Christianity is far closer to Germanic or Anglo-Saxon culture, not Biblical Hebrew culture. To be honest, Hebrew feudalism is far more civilized than the Western style of feudalism. In the latter, people are property that come with the real estate, and we treat business the same where employment contracts are regarded as property. In Hebrew feudalism, only slaves were outright property.

The Hebrew feudal lord didn’t own the rest of his household in that sense. He owned the domain, a conceptual realm of influence and power. Hebrews didn’t “own” land in our sense of the word, but held it and occupied it. They could hold title to it, but in effect it was all God’s property. The whole idea was that by his wisdom and influence a householder could draw vassals to his domain.

Even the poorest peasant was considered lord of his limited domain. His household was a scaled-down version of a feudal domain, and his family was held to the same community standards and laws as the rich and powerful. The fundamental customs and law were drawn from the image of those who ranked as petty lords.

Aside from slaves, the lord of the manor could hire servants who were not property; everyone else was a vassal. Thus, there was a three-level relationship with the folks in his domain: vassals, servants and slaves. The whole thing was controlled by a covenant. Vassals were treated as family; if not blood kin, they were considered adopted. It was customary law that natural born family could be disowned for grave sins against the family covenant, but covenant adoption could not be easily revoked by the master of the household. Only the vassal could do that. The vassal’s position was voluntary. If he made such a grievous error as to threaten the whole household, he had to be executed in a solemn public judgment, subject to objections from the wider community. Anything short of that required the lord to work it out with the vassal.

Thus, a covenant wife was the senior vassal. Her husband was her protector and lord, but she was not property as is popularly assumed by Westerners reading English translations of the Bible. She was a living protectorate and her husband owed her a great deal of reverence. She was adopted into the covenant, and the whole household covenant was presumed based on her marriage to the lord. While he had the authority to execute justice for serious violations of the covenant, she was accorded the highest level of indulgence. Her actions had to threaten the integrity of the national covenant itself before anyone discussed execution, and for lesser violations the most he could do was only divorce her so she could return alive to her father’s domain. This was a customary element, a sort of prenuptial assumption in the marriage covenant.

This was unique to the Hebrew culture, as most Ancient Near Eastern neighbors considered wives outright property.

So we can read in the Law of Christ that only for infidelity could a man divorce his wife. Jesus noted that Moses permitted divorce for lesser mistakes, but the arbitrary stuff visible among Jews in Jesus’ day was a long way from the tolerance common among ancient Hebrews. If nothing else, divorce would be a grave insult to the woman’s family, so it had to be a pretty serious problem that made her intolerable. Otherwise, a man could not justify risking peaceful coexistence with another household like that. The intrusion of Greek and Roman imperial conquest greatly weakened the feudal ties among Hebrew households, and the wealthy Jews started getting away with murder, and not just as a figure of speech.

Having a family was the central element in Hebrew human existence. There was no such thing as employment and business that was outside the family structure. Our Western society is very sick in treating marriage as an extracurricular activity not essential to human existence. It’s flat out wrong to divorce love and marriage from business. It’s downright evil to have a business that isn’t a part of someone’s personal domain, in which all the employees are either servants or vassals. In Hebrew society there was no such thing as independent corporations.

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