The Cheap Value of Life under Communism

From the Gulag Archipelago:

The interrogators had neither voice nor strength left to threaten and torture; they had one universal method: feed the prisoners nothing but salty food and give them no water. 
Whoever coughed up gold got water! 

One gold piece for a cup of fresh water! People perish for cold metal. 

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Understanding Psalms 11-20

Psalms 11

Psalms 11 is positioned as David addressing those who tell him to flee. The wicked pursue David (v2), and the righteous must worry (v3). David responds that God is not ignorant of his situation. Instead:

Psa 11:4  The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

God is actively watching the Earth, and David’s faith is in God’s coming judgment. God tests individuals (v5), and then judges the wicked (v6).

Psalms 12

Psa 12:1  …Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.

Psalms 12 starts with an implicit criticism of Yahweh. Yahweh has not acted swiftly and the righteous have been destroyed. As a response, Yahweh is stirred to action. The groans of the needy have inspired God to act (v5). In this chapter, as in the other psalms, the poor and the needy are equated with the righteous. Although the wicked swarm from every side (v8), God will give His people safety (v5).

Psalms 13

Psa 13:1  To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalms 13 describes an abandonment of David by God. This situation is unthinkable to David. He wonders why God has left him. As with other psalms, this abandonment is described as “hiding His face”. David’s enemies triumph (v2), and he is on the verge of death (v3). This death is euphemistically labeled “sleep”. David appeals to God’s ego: if God lets David’s enemies win they will brag about killing a follower of Yahweh. David imagines a future time when God will answer his prayer (v5).

Psalms 14

Psa 14:1  To the choirmaster. Of David. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.

Psalms 14 begins by describing the wicked. They are evil (v1), ignorant (v3), and they declare that God does not exist (v1). Describing the wicked is thematic in the Psalms, and this verse describes them as abandoning God in favor of sin.

But not all people are wicked. Instead, the text describes how God will right the wrongs and restore justice to the righteous:

Psa 14:5  There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The theme of Cosmic Justice echoes strongly in this chapter: A wicked contingent who prospers but will soon be punished. A righteous contingent who must trust in God’s salvation. God, looking from heaven, upon the Earth to test the hearts of man (v2). The last verse tells of the coming judgment in which Yahweh restores the fortunes of “his people” (v7).

Psalms 15

Psa 15:1  A Psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

Psalms 15 is a psalm of David. It speaks of a time in which Yahweh still dwelt in the tabernacle, as opposed to the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. David wonders who can dwell in God’s holy place. This psalm lists out the characteristics of a righteous man. He does what is right (v2). He does no evil to his neighbor (v3). He does not lend money at interest (v5). He does not take bribes (v5). In this context, David also says that the man “does not change” (v4).

The psalm throughout is layered with Cosmic Justice. The righteous will prosper because God will protect them. The reader can understand where they sit before God, by reading and following the prescriptions of the psalm.

Psalms 16

Psalms 16 is enigmatic in that this very easily can be a psalm in times of distress or in times of great prosperity. David calls on God to “preserve him” because he puts his trust in Him (v1). This is followed by praised of God and the righteous people (v3). David disfellowships those seeking other gods:

Psa 16:4  The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

Verse 4 might be cursing those who seek other gods, or it might be rendered that “the idols” multiply, meaning something like they chase after all sorts of gods without profit. David puts his faith in Yahweh, who instructs him in righteousness (v7) and protects him (v10). Verse 10 has been used as a text to indicate life after death, which is possibly but not necessary. It could be that David is recounted the many times he was in “Sheol” (close to death) and God saved him.

The Cosmic Justice in this chapter is individual. David follows God and in return is blessed by God. There is a hint of punishment of the wicked, but the focus is on a right relationship with Yahweh.

Psalms 17

Psalms 17 begins for an earnest call for God to respond to supplication. Verse 3 states in bold terms that Yahweh has tested King David and has found nothing.

Psa 17:3  You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.

As with other Biblical passages, God tests hearts to know what man will do. David proclaims his righteousness. He has passed. He has avoided violence (v4) and held fast (v5).

For this, he calls for God’s response. The idea is that God has some obligation to respond to the needs of His own people, Cosmic Justice. David follows with calling Yahweh the savior of those who seek God (v7). David extends this idea to himself. Because God protects His people, God should protect David (v8, 9).

After describing the wicked, David calls on God to “Arise” (v13). God’s justice will be swift and with the sword. The curse states that although they prosper, and have many children, that they will come to an untimely end. The children will inherit the wealth (v14). David contrasts this wealth to his own content with being in God’s presence (v15).

Psalms 18

Psalms 18 serves as praise towards Yahweh for answering David’s pleas. In previous Psalms, the content alluded to a coming salvation or was modified after the fact. Psalms 18 reads uniquely as a psalm dedicated to praising God’s response.

The format follows typical Cosmic Justice mindset. David called on God to execute judgment. Because of David’s righteousness, Yahweh responds with justice against the evildoers. David reciprocates with praise.

The first few verses focus on King David’s calls to action. David called when on the verge of death (v3, and metaphorically referenced as the “cords of Sheol” in v5). And God responded (v2). This response was fierce and swift. The earth rocked (v7) and fire came from the mouth of God (v8). He rides a “cherub” and flies through the wind (v10). The imagery is warlike. And a warlike response was needed. David recalls that his enemy was too strong for him (v17).

The salvation was a function of God’s justice and David’s righteousness. David served God faithful, and God reciprocates in kind:

Psa 18:20  The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.

Psa 18:21  For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

Psa 18:22  For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.

Psa 18:23  I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt.

Psa 18:24  So the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

The next few verses detail David’s outlook on Cosmic Justice. God acts according to man’s actions. God punishes the haughty (v27), but saves the pure (26). It is cause and effect, reaction to action. God enables His people.

In this context, God’s ways are “perfect”. Justice and righteousness equate to perfection. Because God chooses to operate on a principle of Cosmic Justice, God is perfect. The perfection, in this sense, is a choice. God is being praised, not for inherent metaphysics, but for right act.

God’s actions extend to punishment of the wicked. When God poured out His power, his enemies begged for mercy but found none (v41). The time for repentance is long over, replaced with justice.

The psalm ends with David again praising God. He details how he will praise God among the nations. This is the same bargaining chip used elsewhere to convince God to act. In a reversal of the standard psalm format, it is David who is fulfilling his end of the bargain as the psalm closes.

Psalms 19

Psalms 19 is a general psalm of praise, much like Psalms 8 although Psalms 19 does not contrast God with creation. God is glorified in his own right. David writes of God righteousness, His glory, and the perfection of God’s laws.

The psalm starts out with very personified praises towards God. “The heavens declare His glory” and “sky proclaims His handiwork” (v1). Both “day” and “night” glorify Him (v2). Verse 3 seems to be an acknowledgement that this praise is not vocal in nature, no one can hear it.

This transitions into general praises for God’s law, which then, the author affirms. The author, showing solidarity with God’s laws, asks for forgiveness of unknown transgressions (v12). These unknown transgressions are contrasted with willful rebellion, from which the author also asks protection (v13).

The chapter ends by assuring God that everything David does is meant to be acceptable to God, and as a result, God should find him worthy:

Psa 19:14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalms 20

Psalms 20 is a “Psalm of David”, but better reads as a psalm written “about” David. The setting appears to be King David preparing for war, and the people pray for God to intercede on his behalf. The themes of Cosmic Justice are invoked for David’s success.

This prayer operates on multiple levels. The people pray that Yahweh intercedes on David’s behalf, but this is concealed by the confidence in Yahweh’s success. The prayer is offered as if it has already been fulfilled, perhaps reinforcing the need for Yahweh to act. If He does not act, the failure would be God’s.

By rendering glory to God before the act, this serves as both positive reinforcement for God acting and gives God the praise that He desires. This quid pro quo is seen in verses 3 and 4:

Psa 20:3  May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah.

Psa 20:4  May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!

The people focus on David’s loyalty to God, and depend on God to repay this loyalty in turn. King David, perhaps, answers the people in verse 6, shifting the 3rd person perspective to a 1st person perspective: “I know that the LORD saves his anointed.”

The verse ends with multiple confirmations that Israel depends on Yahweh for success. This is linked to a call for God to respond to this prayer of praise:

Psa 20:9  O LORD, save the king! May he answer us when we call.

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Understanding Psalms 1-10

Psalms 1

The purpose of Psalms one is to encourage individuals to follow Yahweh. A contrast is drawn between someone who follows God and someone who follows the wicked. The psalm concludes with a blanket warning of coming Cosmic Justice:

Psa 1:5  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

Psa 1:6  for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The wicked, although they currently exist, will soon perish. They will be judges on their actions.

Psalms 2

Psalms 2 begins in with a global scope. The “nations” rage (v1). The kings conspire against God (v2). But Yahweh laughs; He plots the destruction of these arrogant nations. The chapter ends with a warning of a coming Cosmic Justice:

Psa 2:12  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalms 3

Psalms 3 is attributed to King David. David’s enemies doubt that Yahweh will save him. But David prays for salvation, and God answers. Although this Psalm is limited to the lift and times of King David, Cosmic Justice is found in David’s call for God to execute judgment on the “wicked”. The wicked live and threaten God’s people. David, almost challenging God’s reputation, notes that the wicked doubt God’s capacity to save. The Psalm uses standard language calling on God to act: “Arise”.

Psa 3:7  Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

Psalms 4

Psa 4:3  But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

Psalms 4, another psalm of David, is a call for other men of his time to place their trust in God. The psalm begins with recounting that God has acted before, has saved David in times of need. This serves as evidence of God’s power and righteousness. Other men are called to follow suit. David assures his listeners that Yahweh protects the righteous. David sleeps safe knowing God is protecting him (v8).

Psalms 5

Psalms 5 begins, as many psalms do, with a call for God to listen to the prayers of His people (in this case David). In this psalm, David alludes to being oppressed by the wicked. King David appeals to God’s character in consistently punishing the wicked. The implication is that God should now act in the same fashion and punish David’s oppressors. Because God hates evildoers (v5) and abhors the bloodthirsty (v6), God should not let the actions of David’s enemies go unpunished.

Psa 5:10  Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.

The psalm ends with assurance that the righteous will be protected by God. As with the prior implication that if God does not punish the wicked, He is violating His character, David further implies that if God does not protect His people, He is violating His character.

Psalms 6

Psalms 6 is enigmatic. The author, David, is being punished by God for some unknown reason. David calls on God not to punish him in God’s wrath. The idea is that if God waits, His wrath will subside, and the punishment will not be as strong. When God is angry, the punishment will be harsher.

David describes his situation. He is close to death (v2). His enemies surround him (v8). He cries to the Lord day and night (v6). There is an element of bargaining with God. If God were to let David die, David would not be able to praise God.

Psa 6:5  For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?

Praise is David’s bargaining chip. It is something God values, and might regret to remise.

The psalm ends with a reversal of fortune, either an anticipated reversal or a post-script. Yahweh responds to David’s prayer, and David predicts a coming judgment of the wicked.

Psalms 7

Psalms 7, much like Psalms 6, is a call for God to act. David is again in conflict with his enemy. But David believes he is in the right. There is no call for God to forgive sins before salvation. Instead David challenges God to let his enemies kill him if he has done wrong (v5).

David calls on Yahweh to “Arise… in anger” (v5). God is called upon to “awake” (v5) as if God was not in action and is spurred to act.

The psalm descends into a general description of Cosmic Justice. God judges all men everywhere. He tests them to see if they are good or evil, and then acts accordingly.

Psa 7:8  The LORD judges the peoples; judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.

Psa 7:9  Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous— you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!

Yahweh is then praised for judging righteously, using a “sword” (v13), “arrows” (v13), and even using the enemies’ own traps against them (v15). The psalm ends in praising Yahweh’s righteousness.

Psalms 8

Psalms 8 is a general psalm of praise. Yahweh is praised for silencing His enemies (v2). His glory fills the earth and heavens (v1). Compared to Him, man is nothing (v4). But God still cares enough for man that He blessed man and gave dominion over the Earth. This act of condensation is amazing and praiseworthy. The psalm ends how it began, praising Yahweh’s name:

Psa 8:9  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalms 9

Psalms 9 begins with a callback. Often in Israel’s speech about God, they reference His earlier acts to emphasize His power. This shows God is real, and acts in decisive ways. The act of recalling God’s actions are a way to sing His glory.

David says that he will “recount all your wonderful deeds” (v1). These deeds include enforcing Cosmic Justice. David’s enemies “perish” (v3). God has defended the righteous (v4). God has judged the nations (v5). God destroyed evil cities (v6). David’s view is that God is currently judging the world in righteousness, as evidenced by justice being performed:

Psa 9:7  But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice,

Psa 9:8  and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.

Psa 9:12  For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

The psalm then subverts itself. David moves from describing a world ruled by God to asking for deliverances from the “gates of death”. David has faith in God’s sovereignty over the world, so God should now act inspired by David’s faith. David, like in Psalms 6, reminds God that if he lives he will sing praises to God. Although Psalms 6 is more explicit, the argument is that if David dies then God will forgo the praise.

With a second reversal, David changes his speech to declaring that God’s judgment has been executed. The wicked are killed (v17) and the poor are saved (v18). But perhaps this is hope. The next verse calls on God to act. God is commanded to “Arise” and judge the nations (v19). God is to put the wicked in their place (v20).

Psalms 10

Psalms 10 is an anonymous psalm. It begins by challenging God:

Psa 10:1  Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psa 10:2  In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

Psa 10:3  For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.

As is common in the Psalms, the poor are positioned as those who do not deserve punishment. God’s enemies oppress them. The psalmist wonders why God does not act.

The wicked are positioned as evil foes, and a long list of ills are described. In verse 5, the prosperity of the wicked adds insult to injury. Not only are these people evil, but they live charmed lives. They defy God in their actions (v4) and words (v6).

God is called to “Arise” (v12). The implication is that the wicked are defying God and God’s character is at stake. Open defiance cannot go unpunished. The wicked say “You will not call to account” (v13). If God does not act, He will prove them right.

The verse ends with general praise. God is the king of the earth (v16), not man. God responds and protects His people (v17), just as a king would. His job is to execute justice and ensure there is no more terror on Earth (v18).

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Understanding Supply and Demand Graphs

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On the Purpose of Hebrews


Anderson states later that Hebrews is dealing with different questions than those arising in the context of modern Christian theologizing and the thinking of the Apostle Paul. In contrast to these, he says, “Here we deal with questions such as the following: ‘Does the community envisaged in Hebrews keep the whole Torah or any part of it? What is the relationship in Hebrews between covenant, the people, and the Torah?’” (1989:269). To Anderson, it is clear that the recipients of the Letter do indeed keep Torah and that the bond between covenant, the people and Torah remains intact. This is a very Jewish world!

But, is there no law that is done away with the coming of Messiah? Most certainly there is! Anderson affirms that Hebrews 7:11-12 refers only to a change in legislation as it regards the cult (Temple ritual), sacrifice and priesthood, not to a wholesale jettisoning of the Law of Moses. Discussing the use of the passive verb nomotetheo in this context, Anderson states “7.11 refers to specific commandments concerning the Levitical priesthood and their sacrificial service to the people, nothing more. . . . Those commandments were of course part of the Torah, but not its totality. . . . The Torah as such never enters the picture” (1989:269-270).

In other words, the change in law spoken of in 7:12 refers only to priestly law due to a change in priesthood, from the order of Aaron to that of Melchizedek. Contrary to the widespread evangelical assumption of overwhelming discontinuity in Hebrews, Anderson indicates that “What is referred to in 7.12 is the one elemental discontinuity permeating the epistle, the cultic life of Israel. . . It is ‘liturgical law’ (8.2,6), and only liturgical law, that is changed in Hebrews. Inferences concerning other aspects of Torah or the Torah as such are unwarranted” (1989:270).

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pagels on the tension between paul and james

Noted scholar Elaine Pagels points out the tension between the teachings of Paul and the teachings of James and the Twelve:

Paul’s impassioned preaching soon attracted a considerable following of Gentiles in the Syrian city of Antioch, but it also embroiled him in bitter disputes with other followers of Jesus. People who belonged to the Jerusalem group led by Jesus’ brother James apparently charged that Paul’s “gospel” was so radical that it contradicted what they had heard from the most respected leaders, including James himself and the disciples Peter and John. Although what Luke later wrote in the Book of Acts glossed over these disputes, Paul’s own words suggest that initially he was concerned that Peter and James—or, at any rate, their followers—might oppose him for preaching to Gentiles a “gospel” that had dropped all Torah requirements, although he says that finally they agreed to let him teach it.

So when other leaders in the movement accused Paul of having no credentials to speak for Jesus, whom he had never met, Paul burst out in anger. He sarcastically called his accusers “super apostles” who were forcing him to talk about matters that made him feel foolish and uncomfortable, since what he had to say would sound like boasting. Paul insisted that he taught only what came to him directly “through revelation”—not from Peter, James, or anyone else on earth. Paul insisted that his authority came straight from God—from “visions and revelations of the Lord.”

Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (p. 44). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


When John accuses “evildoers” of leading gullible people into sin, what troubles him is what troubled the Essenes: whether—or how much—to accommodate pagan culture. And when we see Jesus’ earliest followers, including Peter, James, and Paul, not as we usually see them, as early Christians, but as they saw themselves—as Jews who had found God’s messiah—we can see that they struggled with the same question. For when John charges that certain prophets and teachers are encouraging God’s people to eat “unclean” food and engage in “unclean” sex, he is taking up arguments that had broken out between Paul and followers of James and Peter about forty years earlier—an argument that John of Patmos continues with a second generation of Paul’s followers.57 For when we ask, who are the “evildoers” against whom John warns? we may be surprised at the answer. Those whom John says Jesus “hates” look very much like Gentile followers of Jesus converted through Paul’s teaching. Many commentators have pointed out that when we step back from John’s angry rhetoric, we can see that the very practices John denounces are those that Paul had recommended.

Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (pp. 53-54). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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Fracking Primer

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