David and the Sword of Goliath

Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine. -1 Samuel 17:38-40

Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” 9 And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.” -1 Samuel 21:8-9

Within the story of David, this particular pair of verses tell a story all of themselves. Here is David, unafraid, but unable to use the armor of Saul, confronting Goliath. In using the word “test,” in relation to Saul’s armor, David is saying he doesn’t know if he can trust the armor against Saul’s strength. He hasn’t examined the armor for weakness or defect, nor tried it in battle against a lesser foe. He prefers his own sling and smooth stones over the armor of a king.

And yet, when David is fleeing from that same king just a few years later, does he trust in his sling and stones? No, he takes the sword of Goliath. David, in other words, fights with the sword of a man too large and fearful for Saul, the king — and anyone else in Israel — to overcome.

Two things should jump out at us.

First, the symbolism to the Philistines at Gath, when he later comes there, cannot be missed. Here is David, the man who killed the champion of Gath, a champion no-one believed could be defeated in single combat, coming to the city where that champion lived. And with him he carries the sword of the defeated champion itself.

Second, David’s growth is such that he has moved from being unable to support Saul’s armor to being able to use the sword of a man who defeated Saul. He has leapfrogged Saul in his abilities and strength. But we shouldn’t limit this growth to the physical, for there is clearly a spiritual side to it as well. David has moved from the more primitive weapon to the more advanced one. He does not have less faith (no-one says to David, “Why do you need a sword? Don’t you trust God?”), but more. But even with more faith, he still realizes he needs the appropriate tools. This is not single combat, but general warfare; a sling is not the proper tool to have in hand.


Circumcision in the Center

Genesis 17 contains another interesting and important chiasm surrounding the covenant circumcision, which was given to Abraham just before Isaac was born:

– When Abram was ninety-nine years old (1)
— the LORD appeared to Abram (1)
— that I may make my covenant between me and you (2)
—- Then Abram fell on his face (3)
—– you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. (4)
—— your name shall be Abraham (5)
——- Every male among you shall be circumcised. (10)
—— As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah (15)
—– she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her. (16)
—- Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed (17)
— I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. (19)
— God went up from Abraham.(22)
– Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised (24)

There are a number of different patterns different writers have pointed out in this passage –but the important point is that in each of them, circumcision is given the weight and focus of the passage. It’s clearly a crucial piece to understanding God’s covenant with Abraham, and the centrality of circumcision within that covenant structure.



Focusing on Remembrance: Chiasm in the Flood

We all know the story of the Flood, right? What is the focus of that story, though? What is it that God would have us remember about the Flood? Is it the death of all those people? The judgment of God? The miracle of Noah?

The chiasm of the Flood gives us the answer to this question.

A: Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. -Genesis 6:11
B: And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.” -Genesis 6:13
C: Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.” – Genesis 7:1
D: In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. -Genesis 7:11
E: The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. -Genesis 7:17

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. – Genesis 8:1

E’: And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. -Genesis 8:1
D’: At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. -Genesis 8:6-7
C’: Then God said to Noah, “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. -Genesis 8:15-16
B’: ….the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. -Genesis 8:21
A’: And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. -Genesis 9:21

A second time, with just the themes rather than the verses:

A: Man’s broken covenant with God
B: God’s determination to destroy his creation
C: Command to enter the Ark
D: Beginning of the Flood
E: Rising flood waters

God Remembers Noah

E’: Receding flood waters
D’: Ending of the flood
C’: Command to leave the Ark
B’: God’s promise to never destroy by water again
A’: God’s new covenant with man

So what is the center of the chiasm? God remembers Noah. But why should this be the central point of the entire story? Because God promised to save Noah through the flood, and the center of the chiasm shows God remembering, and preparing to keep, his promise.

The Flood, then, centers on the promise making and promise keeping character of God — as much of the rest of the Scriptures.


The Diety of Christ: Lifted Up for Deliverance

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. -John 3:14-15

We can imagine Jesus sitting in the cool of the night, perhaps talking quietly with his Disciples, or perhaps just resting after a long day. He’s just left Jerusalem, where he cleansed the Temple, and deftly avoided being proclaimed King of Israel.

Through the darkness of that night a man comes to the fire. He approaches Jesus tentatively, perhaps. Maybe Jesus recognized the difficulty this man would have coming to Jesus, and tells the Disciples to leave, to allow them to speak alone. Or maybe he allows them to listen, to learn, as we can do through the Scriptures.

The man is Nicodemus, a well known and highly respected Rabbi of the time. He’s a member of the Sanhedrin, and Pharisee, who, perhaps, feels emboldened by the cleansing of the Temple, which he would have seen as a strike against the religious arch-enemies of the Pharisees, the Sadducees.

Jesus and Nicodemus proceed to have a rather strange conversation about being born again, a conversation that can only really be understood in the context of Second Temple Jewish thought on the concept of being born again. There were many ways a man could be born — through birth, through his Bar Mitzvah, through marriage, through having children, through being called a Rabbi — for the Jewish life was full of rites of passage, incidents that identified the man with another group or another family.

But here was Jesus, this man from Nazareth, who was hanging around in the Galilee with a group of disciples, and calling himself a Rabbi, and he is speaking of some new sort of being born again. Being born of the Spirit? What is that, and what does it mean?

So Jesus explains, in this passage, precisely what he means.

The new birth, this being born in the Spirit, this is brought about through faith. Just like the people who looked at the bronze snake that Moses lifted up in the wilderness became identified with that snake through faith, so Jesus would be lifted up, and those who had faith in Jesus would become identified with him. And this new community, this new association, would be a new birth, just like being married, or having children, or becoming a Rabbi.

But in so saying, Jesus let slip who he is — God himself. For if only God can give eternal life and Spirit, and if faith in Jesus can bring about that eternal life and birth in the Spirit, then who must Jesus be, but God?

For those who claim that Jesus never claimed to be God in the flesh, this is a difficult verse indeed, for here Jesus claims to be God in terms that are very difficult to deny.


Devoted to Destruction

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. -Joshua 6:20-21

How could God DO such a thing?

After all, doesn’t God love each and every person he created? After all, isn’t God in the business of mercy, rather than punishment?

Maybe the God of the Tanach just isn’t the same as the God of the New Testament, right? Would you look Jesus in the eye while he was cleansing the Temple and say, “you’re being hateful today?” Didn’t Jesus call the Pharisees children of the devil, and whited graves? Isn’t the God of the New Testament also the God who called down judgment on Jerusalem in 70AD, using the Roman Army to tear it down stone by stone? No, the modern penchant of seeing the God of the Tanach as some earlier, angrier, God, just won’t work.

Then what are we to do with a God who devotes entire cities to destruction? Down to the last lamb, the last infant, the last dog, the last cat? There are two incidents in this narrative that can explain, if we just take the time to read them.

First, there is Rahab. We often treat the story of Rahab as if it stands alone, as if it doesn’t relate to this destruction of Jericho at all. But clearly Rahab’s family is the one Canaanite family who made it out of Jericho alive.

Second, there is Achan. Again, there is no way to detach the story of Achan from the story of Jericho itself, even though we often associate it with the first battle at Ai. Jericho is where Achan took some of the devoted goods. God explicitly ties the fate of Achan to the fate of Jericho in Joshua 7:12.

Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction…

As Achan is identified with the Canaanites through his taking of devoted things from Jericho, he, himself is devoted to destruction. As Rahab identifies through faith with Israel, and the God of Israel, she becomes a part of Israel, and hence removes herself, and her family, from being devoted to destruction.

You see, the entire narrative of Jericho, and a few of the other Canaanite cities being devoted to destruction, turns on faith. Where you place your faith is what you identify with. Rahab placed her faith in Yahweh, and became a part of Israel.

Achan, on the other hand, looked at the future with uncertainty. He placed his faith in the things of this world, and was devoted to destruction with the things of this world.

Before we accuse God of not doing right, of committing genocide, or some other atrocity, we need to remember that God was merciful in providing a way, through faith, that all the people of Jericho could have been saved. If they would have repented, they would have been saved, like Rahab. Because they would not, they were destroyed, like Achan.

God has, in fact, devoted this entire world to destruction. Where is your faith?


The Deity of Christ: Cleansing the Temple

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” -John 2:13-16

The Temple, in the days of Jesus, was a thriving business enterprise as well as as a religious one. People would travel from all over the world to see this magnificent structure, this wonder of the Roman world, and make some offering there. That people would give to the Temple from their own native coin was not enough, however —the family of the High Priest wanted more. So they set up shop in the Courtyards of the Temple itself, exchanging “pagan” money for “Temple coin,” because only “Temple coin” was accepted in donations, and selling “pre-approved” sacrifices. After all, isn’t it easier to buy a sacrifice already approved by a priest than it is to have the animal you bring inspected and approved?

Jesus would have none of this.

He entered into the Temple and took possession of the courts with a whip, so that no-one could exchange money, or buy a “pre-approved” sacrifice.

In doing so, Jesus effectively claimed to be the Messiah. He connected himself with the Hasmonians, who had cleansed the Temple from Greek control 200 years earlier, with the Pharisees, who hated this Priestly racket, and with the prophecies of the Tanach about the Messiah.

But for those who didn’t think the Messiah was divine, Yeshua went one step further.

He called the Temple, “my Father’s house.”

To call someone your father is, of course, to say you are descended from him. But further, in that culture, it was to call yourself his equal, his likeness —to say, “your father is a thief,” is to say, “you are a thief.”

So here Jesus of Nazareth, at the very beginning of his public ministry, in the middle of the Passover Feast, proclaims himself to be the Son of God —or rather, the incarnation of God himself.


Narrative 81: Achan's Sin

(Updated with the correct link. Argh!)

This week we encounter one of the hardest problems in the Scriptures —corporate imputation of individual sin. We don’t spend a ton of time resolving the problem, however, in our pursuit of the events surrouding Israel’s first defeat in the Conquest, the defeat at Ai.


The Ground of Focus: Genesis 3:19

Eve has eaten from the fruit, and Adam has followed suit. They have hidden from God in the Garden, and finally admitted what they have done. Now comes the scene in Genesis 3 where God lines them up and gives three speeches, one to the serpent, one to Eve, and one to Adam. We normally call these curses, they aren’t really curses, they’re consequences. God laid down the rules before the foundation of the world, and he is now telling them what is going to happen because they broke the rules.

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” -Genesis 3:17-19

It’s the last verse in this section we’re really interested in:

A you return
B to the ground
C since (kî) from it you were taken
C´ for (kî) dust you are
B´ and to dust
A´ you will return

The center of this chiasm emphasizes the state of Adam before God put his spirit into him in contrast to his state at this moment. Now that Adam has eaten of the fruit, he is as the dust of the ground from which he was taken.

This isn’t physical death, as most readers assume. People have two parts, a body and a soul. When those two are separated, physical death surely follows. What God is saying here is that as you were spirit separated from body before you were created, you will now be spirit separated from body now. You remain spirit separated from God, but you also become spirit separated from body.

Spiritual death is the result of the sin of Eden —though physical death follows on its heals, spiritual death is what God covers with the institution of the sacrifice, and provides a permanent solution for in the death of Christ.

This chiasm emphasizes the importance of the concept and nature of death in the life of Adam, and hence emphasizes the importance of life in Christ.

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