misquoted verses – vengeance is mine

RORSCHACHOften Christians repeat the cliché “vengeance is mine saith the Lord” in order to prove some sort of political or social point. The statement is used to oppose the death penalty, to oppose personal retribution, to oppose any negative repercussions towards those who do evil. But these interpretations appear to be stretching the text too thin.

The statement is derived from Romans 12:19. In Romans 12:19, much like the cliché, Paul is making the concerted point that his listeners should not take vengeance but allow God to work God’s vengeance:

Rom 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Paul, in his characteristic style, is taking Old Testament phrases and twisting them to apply them to a new context. This is a really important point: the Old Testament text absolutely does not make the point that Paul is making. Instead, the exact opposite is the idea. Nowhere in the Old Testament context is God asking people to voluntarily step back and allow God to take justice. Instead, the idea is that the people have failed to take justice so God is being forced to take justice.

The Old Testament quote comes from Deuteronomy:

Deu 32:35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’

The context of this quote is that Israel has abandoned God. God had raised Israel to be blessed, and they repaid God with evil. So God responds:

Deu 32:21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation…
Deu 32:25 Outdoors the sword shall bereave, and indoors terror, for young man and woman alike, the nursing child with the man of gray hairs.
Deu 32:26 I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces; I will wipe them from human memory,”
Deu 32:27 had I not feared provocation by the enemy, lest their adversaries should misunderstand, lest they should say, “Our hand is triumphant, it was not the LORD who did all this.”‘

Notice the absence of any ideas that the righteous should just defer to God. The punishment is a national punishment due to Israel’s inaction (and presumably some number of righteous would also fall in this national punishment).

God’s response is not “divine punishment”. Instead, God is utilizing human agents. Enemy armies invade and kill the rebellious Israelites. God wants those enemies (and Israel) to know that this was God’s judgment. God uses human agents.

Elsewhere, God is appalled because He cannot find any human agents to execute judgment:

Isa 59:14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.
Isa 59:15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.

The context of Isaiah 59 is Israel is again in rebellion from God. No one in the land is executing proper punishments. This makes God “displeased” and God is forced to take matters into His own hands. God wants people to take vengeance, let no one does.

In Isaiah 63, God is wet with the blood of His enemies and wonders why He has to go it alone:

Isa 63:3 “I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, And I have stained all My robes.
Isa 63:4 For the day of vengeance is in My heart, And the year of My redeemed has come.
Isa 63:5 I looked, but there was no one to help, And I wondered That there was no one to uphold; Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; And My own fury, it sustained Me.
Isa 63:6 I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, Made them drunk in My fury, And brought down their strength to the earth.”

God “looked” for someone to assist Him. God could not find anyone to “uphold” justice. God then resorts to taking matters into His own hand. The specific response is a very bloody slaughter.

This “God seeking human justice, only to be disgusted and then taking the initiative” is a pretty common theme in the Bible:

Eze 22:29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.
Eze 22:30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.
Eze 22:31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.”

In Ezekiel, the events are the same. God sees wickedness. God looks for a judge. But God finds no man and is forced to take matters into His own hands. The imagery here is that a wall has been breached (a section of the wall has fallen and opened a hole to enemy troops). What would happen in ancient warfare is that each side would rush to the wall. The champion would “bridge the gap” and ensure no enemy warriors were able to penetrate the gap in the wall. This is an extremely violent image. Because there was no one willing to stand up, God again is forced to act. God specifically mentions that He would not have to act if only mankind would have.

In Jeremiah, the theme is the same:

Jer 4:27 For thus says the LORD: “The whole land shall be desolate; Yet I will not make a full end.

Jer 4:31 “For I have heard a voice as of a woman in labor, The anguish as of her who brings forth her first child, The voice of the daughter of Zion bewailing herself; She spreads her hands, saying, ‘Woe is me now, for my soul is weary Because of murderers!’
Jer 5:1 “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; See now and know; And seek in her open places If you can find a man, If there is anyone who executes judgment, Who seeks the truth, And I will pardon her.

Jer 5:6 Therefore a lion from the forest shall slay them, A wolf of the deserts shall destroy them; A leopard will watch over their cities. Everyone who goes out from there shall be torn in pieces, Because their transgressions are many; Their backslidings have increased.

In Jeremiah 5, the problem is “murder” (other sins are also listed later) and God seeks anyone who executes “judgment”. God is described as a lion, wolf, or leopard that consumes the wicked (possibly a figurative statement meaning God will use enemy nations to destroy Israel).

In all these passages, God is not wanting individuals to take a back seat role. God actually desires someone to right the wrongs, punish the wicked, give justice to injustice.

So why does Paul use this to tell his listeners not to take vengeance?

The answer is that Paul (like Mary, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, James, and John) was expecting God to return to Earth with an army of angels and destroy the wicked. Jesus gives a good illustration of this idea:

Mat 13:37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.
Mat 13:38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,
Mat 13:39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Mat 13:40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.
Mat 13:41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,
Mat 13:42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Mat 13:43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Paul adamantly believes this. Paul believes that God is soon returning to Earth with an army of angels to kill the wicked and save the righteous. As preparation for this, Paul goes so far as to tell people not to marry in 1 Corinthians:

1Co 7:27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

1Co 7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none,
1Co 7:30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess,
1Co 7:31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.

This is the context of Romans 12, “Vengeance is mine”. Paul is not saying that all Christians always and forever should never ever take vengeance (and that those who did in the Old Testament were wrong). Instead, Paul is saying “Hey look, God is coming back soon so we just have to wait. God will be the one to right the wrongs.” Paul is placating the Zealots, who want to kill their oppressors (which might, in turn, cause general Roman retribution). Paul is avoiding a violent and direct confrontation with their Roman overlords.

Rom 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

This launches directly into Romans 13, the often misused passage on government. In Romans 13, Paul states not to resist the authorities (Paul is most probably talking about government). Then Paul says to pay taxes to this government. Paul is keeping the peace between Romans and Zealots, not advocating new and crazy criminal policy.

In the modern world, 2000 years removed from the context of Paul’s teaching, it is very dangerous to try to take Romans 12:19 as some sort of absolute. Should Christians just allow others to steal from them without retribution? After all, calling the cops and pressing charges is “vengeance”. Should Christians sit by and allow murderers to roam? No, when God says “vengeance is mine”, often it is because He is disgusted that mankind has not done justice.

Posted in Bible, Misquoted Verses, Morality, Open Theism, Theology | Leave a comment

professional photographer 2 minutes of hate

April 15 is known as Tax Day in America. Within the professional photography community it is a day of rage. In 1984 terms, it is their Two Minutes of Hate. Up to a third of photography business profits might be consumed due to taxes. One would be prone to believe the rage would be against the government for excessive taxes, but the rage actually takes the form of hating those who avoid taxes (not illegal) or dodge taxes (illegal).

Complaints, sarcasm and mocking abound:

Bitter Photogapher 1
Bitter Photogapher 2

Other days, this hate is directed against those who take cheap pictures, or have friends take their pictures, or who buy their own cameras. See this blog post, where a bitter photographer vents using ridiculous calculations (while ignoring inconvenient benefits of buying a camera you can keep forever). In his world, everyone should work 100 hours to pay him to work a day or two ($25 per hour is the average US wage and $2500 is apparently his wedding price). And what does this $2500 get a new bride? Usually not full copyright release or sometimes not even digital prints, but the photographer usually keeps both of those to safeguard for himself (and never use except to sue the bride). Photographers tend to hate people editing their own pictures of themselves or not giving the photographer the proper homage.

Why do these photographers hate all sorts of people wielding cameras who are not “professionals” (and I admit I am painting with a broad brush)?

It comes down to competition. Photographers are not above using unionist tactics: threats, force, and the strong arm of the government. Photographers hate the digital revolution which has placed professional grade equipment into the hands of amateurs. They now have to compete with “free” quality photos by people trained for “free” on YouTube. As such, it is harder for them to command $1000 for a couple of pictures sold on mediums that are marked up a thousand percent. One unpardonable sin is any photographer that releases pictures in RAW and/or without copyright.

Those who cannot be reached by the strong arm of the state are belittled. Professional photographers mock photos that people did not pay hundreds of dollars to procure. Sure, some self-labeled photographers are subjectively terrible, but my experience is that consumers tend to love their terrible photos. I have seen them on walls and office desks and in wallets. I smile and nod, “Color popping. Oh, very nice.” The really funny thing is that for all the smugness of the photographer community that they are bested by cheap amateurish images. And this is not even mentioning that many amateurs take high quality photos.

When the general public sees professional photographers advocating licensing or government certification, consumers should fight back. The professionals wish to use the government to force competition from the field. The professionals wish to stop people from having abundant and cheap personal photos. It is an impoverishing mentality. Consumers should hail the digital revolution as liberation from the tyranny of smug elite core of photographers. Consumers should hail the plummeting prices and cheap alternatives. If professionals believe they are worth their prices, let them prove it in the free market.

On a side note: For newbie amateur photographers, I suggest the Canon 6D ($1,399), which rates better than the more expensive Canon 5D Mark ii. When this is coupled with the 50mm 1.4f ($350), the images are spectacular.

Addendum:

From the comments section on one of the links:

bitter photographer 3

Posted in Econ 101, Economics, Goverment, Incentives Matter, Price Controls, prices, Standard of Living | Leave a comment

dealing with certain contradictions in the Bible

bad time interpretation
Simple question: to whom does the Earth belong? This question is not as easy as it appears.

In Genesis, man is given dominion:

Gen 1:28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In Psalms 115, God has given the Earth to man:

Psa 115:16 The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s; But the earth He has given to the children of men.

In Psalms 24, the world belongs to God:

Psa 24:1 A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.

In Psalms 47, God is King over the Earth:

Psa 47:2 For the LORD Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth.

In John, God is not in control but forces of evil prevail:

Joh 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.

In Luke, Jesus prays that the Earth will experience God’s will as God’s will is being experienced in heaven:

Luk 11:2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

These represent only a small spattering of verses on the topic. So, who owns the world? God, Satan, man?

Someone who wants to take each verse as hard and absolute will have to invent a complicated narrative. Maybe God gives the Earth to man, then revokes the Earth from man, then gives it back to man in another context, and then Satan gains control. This narrative is not explicit in the Bible and must be assumed onto the text.

A better narrative is that each phrase has meaning only to its specific context. To God (in Genesis), man is to rule to the Earth. To King David, God is powerful and active, exerting His will wherever He sees fit. To an unnamed Psalmist, God has planted man on Earth and gives them general discretion on how to live their own lives. To Luke, God’s will is being thwarted on Earth and he prays for God to take control. To John, God will soon come to Earth and take control.

None of these phrases are total and absolute. In some senses God is King of the Earth. In other senses, God is not in control of the Earth. In some senses, man controls the Earth. In other senses, man does not control the Earth. In some senses, God is being thwarted by the forces of evil. In other senses, God is not being thwarted by the forces of evil. None of the phrases are meant to be a hard and fast rule (to the exclusion of all else). Each is specific to its own context and cannot be blindly exported to the rest of the Bible.

When people wish to pull phrases out of context and then apply those phrases over all the texts of the Bible in every context, they do injustice to the text. This methodology ignores how languages generally function and this reverses the meaning of some specific texts. A better method of reading the Bible is to use reading comprehension. Individuals often speak in generalities and often cater their word choice to the context of their meaning. No phrase, in itself, should be taken as a hard and absolute meaning.

Posted in Bible, critical thinking, Figures of Speech | 3 Comments

in defense of video games

I was good at itVideo games are a recent phenomenon among American males. In today’s world, among the younger generations, it is hard to find a male under the age of 30 that does not play video games. As just one example: when looking for applicants for a University of Texas study, researchers were unable to find males that played less than two hours of video games per week. This is how pervasive video games are in American society.

Video game critics will use all sort of arguments to undermine the fact that video games exist and are loved. The feminists are in full assault, wishing to preach their dull witted propaganda to a male dominated consumer base. Politicians want to extend the reach of the government to cover all aspects of video games. Pastors might complain that video games distract from “real” life, a theme I have heard in sermons. Older generations will complain that they played outside as children. Ironically, they then tend recollect about all the interesting and fun outdoor activities that they once did (pretty much all of which would get their parents arrested for child negligence in today’s world).

All of this ignores very positive benefits of video games (not even mentioning the inherent economics lessons hidden in video games). The best overall benefit of video games is, really: “people love to play video games.” How is this forgotten in the discussion of video games? If people were talking about banning Ice Cream or high altitude mountain climbing, wouldn’t the complaints mostly be ignored? Despite any negatives, it is generally accepted that people should be free to pursue their own lives as they see fit. Sure, an infatuation with Ice Cream might make someone fat and low oxygen settings might destroy the brain, but why is it any business of anyone else what leisure activities that people dedicate time to accomplish? What makes a video game player different than a football game watcher or a long distance runner? All are needlessly time consuming activities for entertainment. In the modern world, where people are richer than ever before in history, why can’t the excess free time be spent on something the individual likes doing? In the modern world, people don’t need to permission of others or the government to do things. People get to do things because they want to do those things (as long as it is not immoral).

People might not realize that video games massively improve people’s standard of life. Video games, for some gamers, have untold mental resiliency benefits. See this anonymous player (Rory) on the video game franchise Fallout:

why we play video games

Not everyone can be special. Not everyone can rule the world. Not everyone can live a fast and interesting life. Video games serve as one medium to bridge the gap (a very cost effective medium at that). People now can be special. People now can rule the world. People can both do and see things that never could have been imagined 25 years ago. In video games, there is no limit to the possibilities. Video games are more than just entertainment; they are a window into another world. Video games allow virtually free travel to exotic places and free access to impossible adventures. The shear value of this consumer surplus is impossible to calculate.

But video game critics don’t care. They do not see young Rory as a man with his own life, dreams, values, and independence. They want to replace his value set with their own. They want to enslave him into a world that they think is better. He is just a pawn for people to use to build their own vision of utopia.

Video games have value. Sometimes more so then TV shows, movies, sports, outdoor activities, food, or anything else that people enjoy. Attempting to pre-empt value sets with arbitrary other value sets is not a Christian value. It is not even civilized. As Peter states in the Bible, “don’t be a busybody”:

1Pe 4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.

Posted in Video Games | Leave a comment

understanding psalms 89

Psalms 89 is said to be written by Ethan the Ezrahite. It was probably written in the time of the rebellion of Absalom (David’s son). King David is being defeated by his enemy and the writer calls on God for salvation from this dark time. The psalm’s overall message is one of hopeless abandonment with reminder to God of God’s promises. The point appears to be a concerted petition to God to move God to action.

Psa 89:1 A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite. I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
Psa 89:2 For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
Psa 89:3 You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant:
Psa 89:4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.'” Selah.

The psalm writer starts this psalm with praises to both God’s love and God’s faithfulness. The psalm writer states that he will personally spread this message. In other psalms (such as Psalms 6), this line of thought is tied to an implicit “threat” to God: “If I die, then I can no longer preach your name.” This passage serves as a basis for the petition to God, for the psalm writer will eventually call upon God to fulfill God’s faithfulness and love.

Ethan reminds God of God’s promises to David. David was in trouble, and Ethan wants God to act in order to preserve God’s promise. The writer links God’s faithfulness with God’s promise to King David. The unspoken point is that if God wishes to remain faithful then He must honor His promises to King David.

Psa 89:5 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
Psa 89:6 For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,
Psa 89:7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?
Psa 89:8 O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?

The psalm writer next references God as compared to a sort of heavenly council (the text calls this an “assembly” or “council” and they stand “around” God). This could be a reference to God as compared to pagan deities. It could alternatively be God compared to angels. The idea might be similar to that found in Psalms 82: that various angelic rulers assemble in the heavens and God acts as supreme. God is surrounded by lessor and subservient beings, and none of them compare to God.

What is very interesting is that this scene contradicts notions of omnipresence. God sits in the heavens. God sits among other beings. God is surrounded by them as they praise Him. The author of this psalm seems unfamiliar with modern notions of omnipresence. The image of God is imaginable by the reader, with no hint that the writer believes anything else.

The point of this passage is a praise to God. Although other people and nations serve other gods, Yahweh is supreme. Other angelic or divine beings must fear and praise God. God is a “God of hosts” (God of armies) and is “mighty”. No other being in the heavenly realm shares the same level of power. Ethan expounds upon this power:

Psa 89:9 You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
Psa 89:10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
Psa 89:11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
Psa 89:12 The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
Psa 89:13 You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.

This passage serves as further praise towards God. God can defeat His enemies as they spring up. God can stop waves when they spring up. The idea is that God can respond to events in such a way that nothing can overcome God. God’s strong arm is a figurative illustration for strength. This strength imagery is repeated throughout this passage.

The entire heaven and Earth are said to be God’s. The sense in which this is true seems to be in God’s rulership or jurisdiction. The Earth is God’s because God cannot be opposed with serious strength when God purposes to accomplish something. God is said to have created or founded the world, giving more reason to think that His power is unopposed. All the illustrations seem to call out “if God acts, then no one can oppose”.

Consider the writer’s concept of God’s power in relation to concepts of omnipotence (total sovereignty). God is responding to events that He did not cause. The relationship is dynamic. God sees something, and then God acts and counters that thing. God is powerful, and God uses that power in a reactive way. The picture that Ethan paints is not one of God proactively stopping problems that He foresees. The picture is instead one of God responding to events that God does not like.

Psa 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Psa 89:15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
Psa 89:16 who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted.
Psa 89:17 For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.
Psa 89:18 For our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.

The psalm then focuses again on praise. God is said to be loving and faithful. God is worshiped, presumably, for these attributes. God’s righteousness is highlighted continuously by God’s people. In part the worship is because God has granted His people particular favors. God has made them strong and “their horn is exalted” (an idiom meaning that the recipient is triumphant). The people currently prosper because of God’s continuous work in their lives.

The psalm writer is presenting Yahweh as active and relevant to Israel’s destiny. God is not passive, but bestows present day blessings upon His people. This leads the people to worship Yahweh. God, here, is presented as living and dynamic.

Psa 89:19 Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said: “I have granted help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people.
Psa 89:20 I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him,

The psalmist references some sort of vision from times past. This is most likely in reference to statements that God gave to Samuel about David. There are several accounts of God seeking out a new King after Saul failed. The “finding” might be in reference to 1 Samuel 13:14:

1Sa 13:14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”

The idea seems to be that God surveyed the people and chose one from the midst. This was King David, who becomes the star of the Old Testament. Psalms 89 is a testament to David’s celebrity. The next passage illustrates the place that David held in Israel’s history:

Psa 89:21 so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.
Psa 89:22 The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him.
Psa 89:23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.
Psa 89:24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted.

Yahweh is said to “love” David. Yahweh promises to “keep” him forever. Yahweh promises to fulfill His “covenant” with David. The author is strongly communicating that King David held a special and unique status with Yahweh. These personal links are establishing a basis to contrast against God’s current negative disputation to King David, which is described in the second half of the psalm.

God strengthens David (v21). God fortifies David against David’s enemies (v22). God will destroy those who threaten King David (v23). God promises, personally, to stay true to King David (v24). The idea is that God has a personal and unique connection to King David. This reinforces the entire point of the passage: because of King David’s unique relationship, God should intervene and save David. The writer continues:

Psa 89:25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.
Psa 89:26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
Psa 89:27 And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.
Psa 89:28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him.

Verse 25 uses an idiom to explain God’s intent towards King David. God will put King David’s “hand” on the sea and on the rivers, most likely meaning that God will extend King David’s rule to the ocean and to the rivers. “Hand”, throughout the Bible, is figuratively used for “power”. By the time that Psalms 89 was written, King David had already extended his rule to these areas. This could very well be a hindsight observation, as there is nothing explicit before David conquers telling of the extent of his rule.

King David is the said to cry out to God. This does not have to be a direct quote, but just a general statement. King David cries out to God throughout the Psalms. King David has similar statements to this throughout his writings, so this mode of thought is not foreign to King David’s character.

As with the rest of this psalm, King David is given a unique place. David is the firstborn. David is the highest King of the earth. God will keep David forever. God’s unique relationship with King David may explain God’s double standards for King David and the previous king, King Saul. Whereas King David commits several of the same offenses as Saul, David is forgiven whereas Saul is not. The passage even explicitly claims that God will give King David’s descendants more leniency due to their position as an heir of King David:

Psa 89:29 I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.
Psa 89:30 If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules,
Psa 89:31 if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments,
Psa 89:32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes,
Psa 89:33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness.
Psa 89:34 I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Psa 89:35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.

This is styled as God speaking on behalf of David. God says that David’s children will forever be rulers. God specifically states that they will be rulers in spite of their wayward activities. God will punish, but God will not abolish the Davidic rulership. This is all brought back to David. Saving the kingship of David’s sons is linked to God’s steadfast love of David. It is linked to God’s faithfulness to David. God specifically claims that a violation of this lineage would be a “lie to David”. This David-centric psalm will not allow God to revoke His promises to King David under any conditions, no matter how trying. As the psalm later explains, God is on the verge of violating this eternal promise. By styling these verses as being spoken by God, the writer explicitly is claiming that if God fails to save David that God will have lied.

There is a slight difference in the approach of this passage and others relating to the same concept. In other passages, David’s lineage can be cut off. In this passage, they will endure forever. This psalm was most likely written before the book of 1 Kings was written. In 1 Kings, God threatens to cut off David’s lineage due to their personal rebellion:

1Ki 9:6 But if you or your sons at all turn from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them,
1Ki 9:7 then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them; and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight. Israel will be a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

The message is not consistent but is modified towards its audience. To King David, his lineage would last forever. To King David’s successors after David is dead and gone, they are warned that their lineage can be cut off. When King David is in need, God is said to have given an eternal promise. When King Solomon may reject God, the promise is able to be revoked. Psalms 89 continues by claiming that King David’s line shall rule as long as the sun shines:

Psa 89:36 His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me.
Psa 89:37 Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” Selah.

It is here that the psalm takes an abrupt turn. Before this point, the psalm gives little hint that the psalm writer is under any distress. If the psalm had ended at this point, it would be assumed that this was a psalm of praise, highlighting God mercy and faithfulness. No ulterior motive would be suspected. But the psalm is not one of praise. Instead, the praise is just a facet of an overall objective. That objective is a petition to God to save King David. The author is under the thought that God is destroying King David:

Psa 89:38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
Psa 89:39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
Psa 89:40 You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
Psa 89:41 All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
Psa 89:42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
Psa 89:43 You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not made him stand in battle.
Psa 89:44 You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground.
Psa 89:45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah.

The text attributes all the ills that have befallen King David to Yahweh. God has cast him off. God has renounced the covenant (the same covenant that was earlier described as eternal). The text is as persistent with God’s curses towards King David as the text was persistent with God’s blessings towards King David earlier in the psalm. God has “cast off”, “rejected”, “renounced”, “defiled”, “breached”, “exalted [enemies]”, “turned back”, “cut short”, and “covered”. God is the actor and everything that has happened to King David is at the hand of God. To the author, God is punishing in an extreme way.

Psa 89:46 How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Psa 89:47 Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man!
Psa 89:48 What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah.

This is an interesting argument, made complete by a series of interesting thoughts. The writer first makes a dual claim that Yahweh is both hidden and burning in wrath. God is neglecting, but at the same time exacting vengeance. This idea might be that by Yahweh’s withdrawal, He has allowed human actors to take charge. God’s wrath is His lack of protection, and the agents who fill the void are, in turn, agents of God’s wrath.

Alternatively, being hidden could be some sort of metaphor for not being present (not protecting). This certainly could also be the case. It would help explain passages such as Psalms 139:8-10, in which God is said to be present with King David wherever King David may go.

In any case, the text seems genuine, for the author then uses this to move straight into an argument as to why God should change. Ethan challenges God to remember how quickly men die. The argument is that God may not realize that He is wasting the time of those who worship Him and it would be a shame to waste away the life of God’s people in a state of despair. If God just spends large amounts of someone’s life in punishment, then it is almost like that person was created in vain. Why create someone only to perpetually punish them?

The writer points out that all men die (perhaps contrasting a man’s life with God’s life). And then the writer adds: “Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?” This is a rhetorical question with two possible answers based on the context. Either “nobody” can deliver a life from death (illustrating that man’s life is short) or “God” can deliver a life from death (saying that God should save His people because He can).

It is important to note that this is an argument to God. It does not read as if it is a vain emotional outburst. The author is in pain and is in deep despair. The author wants this pain to stop and wants God to act. Ethan goes on to question God’s love:

Psa 89:49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?
Psa 89:50 Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations,
Psa 89:51 with which your enemies mock, O LORD, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.

The writer appeals to God’s love and faithfulness. This is an accusation. God is being derelict in His responsibilities to King David. The entire first part of the psalm sung praises to God for God’s enduring covenant with King David, and now the author claims that there is no visible evidence that God is fulfilling His part in the promise.

Ethan goes on to claim that there are deep insults to God’s servants. The argument, although less pointed, also serves as an accusation: There is a group of people who serve God who are being persecuted. God is standing by and not silencing the mocking. This could be addressing the subject matter of the mocking (the mocking most likely centers around claims that God “does not see” and “does not act”) or by silencing the mockers (by punishing or killing them). The writer is calling on God to remedy the situation. God must act such that those who mock God can no longer do so. God’s people can then live in peace.

The psalm ends with a simple praise:

Psa 89:52 Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.

The author’s conception of God runs counter to the Classical picture of God. God is in heaven, looking down on Earth. God sees events and reacts to those events. God can be moved to action and the psalm writer eagerly petitions God to change. This change is a change for the better in the eyes of the psalmist.

God is also seen as dealing intimately with King David (and Israel). All evils that befall King David are the work of God. All blessings that befall King David are the work of God. Nothing seems to be left to happenstance, at least as it relates to King David. This could support a notion of omnipotence, that God is actively controlling all things. The text does present God as supremely powerful (more than all other creatures). But it does not seem that God controlled the sin of Israel. Instead, God is controlling the punishment of that rebellion. In the author’s mind, God is attempting to shape people’s actions through a series of blessings and punishments (which are both tempered by overarching covenants). The author argues that the punishment has been served adequately.

The author criticizes God while at the same time praising God. The praises are applied to God while at the same time the author presents a path for God to take to prove that those specific praises apply to God. The author sees God as reasonable, and he presents a logical argument for God to consider. In all of this, nowhere is the assumption of classical omniscience. The idea that God knows everything in the future is not in this text, but contrary to it. The idea that God simultaneously considers all logical arguments at the same time in the same sense is not present in the author’s mind. Instead, people can present God with ideas and God will consider them as they are presented. The author believes that he can influence Yahweh.

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eyewitness account of aztec sacrifice

From Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s The Memoirs of the Conquistador:

Indeed, hardly a day passed by that these people did not sacrifice from three to four, and even five Indians, tearing the hearts out of their bodies, to present them to the idols and smear the blood on the walls of the temple. The arms and legs of these unfortunate beings were then cut off and devoured, just in the same way we should fetch meat from a butcher’s shop and eat it: indeed I even believe that human flesh is exposed for sale cut up, in their tiangues, or markets.

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movie review – Killing Jesus

killing jesusKilling Jesus is a TV-movie adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s work of the same name. The purpose of this movie seems to be to build a more historical portrait of Jesus, rather than the influx of spiritually focused TV films. The setting is very convincing as most actors actually look Middle Eastern and the filming was done in the desert of Morocco. The architectural detail is also convincing, especially during scenes of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. One has to wonder if they are not re-experiencing life in the Jewish religious tradition of the first century.

Killing Jesus stars Haaz Sleiman (a young Muslim actor famous for his voice work in the Assassin’s Creed video games) as an uncertain and soft spoken Jesus of Nazareth. The cast also is not shy to other famous names: Rufus Sewell, John Rhys-Davies, and Kelsey Grammer. This miniseries does not suffer from the same casting mistakes as Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Jesus, at times, is as surprised about his own miracles as others. Jesus learns who he is from Peter in an awkward scene when he asks his disciples who they think he is. Throughout the miniseries, Jesus’ primary message is one of ethics. There is always a slight hesitance and uncertainty in everything Jesus says. It is as if Jesus says something, not knowing if it is true or not, and then evaluates and accepts the claim. This tends to be slightly comical at times.

The scenes are generally well acted and believable. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Herod pretends to want to see the new King but instead sends troops to kill young children. The events are brutal and compelling, as Herod’s soldiers rip children away from mothers and cut down resisters.

John the Baptist is beheaded in a similarly shocking and compelling scene. The Biblical account was modified to having Herodias and Salome fabricate the plan in advance due to their mutual hatred of John’s ministry. They plot to seduce Antipas into killing John the Baptist through an exotic dance. Herod Antipas poses the terms before the dance and is not reluctant when the request to behead John is revealed during the dance. In an odd twist, Salome is said to have bad dreams of John’s head from that point forward. I am not sure what that adds to the plot.

One negative about this series is that it both focuses on spiritualizing historical Christianity with bias towards modern theology. For example, in one scene the wife of Pontius Pilate wonders when she will meet the Jewish God. Pontius Pilate responds that the Jews believe God is omnipresent and invisible. Why is this scene included in the miniseries? What is agenda is being pressed?

Rural Jews in Israel could be hardly said to accept omnipresence. There was a strong tradition of God inhabiting the temple sporadically through Israel’s life. Two historical Jews that seem to have accepted omnipresence are Josephus and Philo (Philo in a more philosophical and Platonic sense), but there is little evidence that the Jews in general believed this. In the gospels, Jesus reinforced the claim that the temple is God’s house during the cleansing of the temple:

Mat 21:13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Another inaccuracy from the same scene is that any Gentile expected to meet any god, especially in upper class Roman society. Most Greeks, except for laymen, had long ago abandoned the gods of Homer. Mystery Cultism was vogue, as well as Platonism, Stoicism, and Epicureans. It was definitely a scene that could have been cut.

Probably the worst part is the depiction of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ ministry is changed from one of a coming Kingdom of God (filled with imagery of angels slaughtering the wicked), to a half-hearted and vague teaching of ethics. The Kingdom of God is spiritualized. The disciples are shown to hold the belief and are left wondering why God’s army of angels does not materialize. There is a scene in which James and John ask to sit on the right and left of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. In the show, Jesus becomes astonished and claims that the question fundamentally misunderstands his ministry. The writer is making it seem as if an Earthly kingdom with thrones was not part of Jesus’ eschatology. The actual exchange suggests the exact opposite. In Jesus’ Kingdom, there would be those on his left and right although he had no right to choose those individuals:

Mar 10:35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Mar 10:36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Mar 10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Mar 10:38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
Mar 10:39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized,
Mar 10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

The Biblical narrative suggests Jesus believes that the Kingdom of God will have a right and left hand to his throne. Throne imagery is consistent in early Kingdom preaching, and does not seem figurative. The Kingdom of God was to be a real place. O’Reilly does not seem to want to add the very historical understanding of the Kingdom of God in his historical narrative of Jesus. And one very strange thing he skips is the resurrection of Jesus, which is depicted as a kind of spiritual resurrection.

Other complaints are minor. Jesus lacks enthusiasm when overturning the temple tables. He picks up the money and starts handing it out. Jesus is baptized fully clothed (which probably is a good historical anachronism), the Sanhedrin is shown as having general power to execute people. There are other nitpicky items, but they are minor.

There are a lot of small details that I enjoyed seeing. Jesus is a toddler when the wise men reach him. The film makes much of the Pharisees and Sadducees attempting to trick Jesus, such as a trap with a coin of Caesar. The film makes clear the various roles of Herod, Pontius Pilate, Antipas, Herodias, Ciaspas, Caiaphas and Annas. It is a good overview of Jesus’ life.

In all, the miniseries is very good. It gives a more realistic portrayal of ancient life than any competing film. The characters are not wooden. It towers about other TV movies, which portray Jesus as if he was psychotically happy or immovably stoic. In Killing Jesus, Jesus is given a personality and acts like a person. The disciples are given individual motivations (as well as Jesus’ enemies). If a hybrid movie were to be made with Killing Jesus spliced with Mel Gibson’s The Passion, it would probably be the best Jesus film in existence.

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