Five Lessons from a Bible Story I Hate

I hate the story of the gang rape of the Levite’s concubine, but I still think we should read it, teach it, and learn from it.  Here a post I wrote for OnFaith: “5 Unexpected Lessons from a Bible Story I Hate“.

I discuss this tragic incident from Judges 19 in my chapter on rape and adultery in Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style.

Check it out.  Share it if you think it may help others. OnFaithJudg19

Release Day: Six things you can do

Today is the day you’ve all been waiting for.  September 1—Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style is finally available.

I know what you’re thinking, “What can I do to help promote this book?”  What a great question.  I’m glad you asked.  Here’s a list of six things you can do.

You could buy a dozen of copies of the bookP&P makes a great Christmas present.  Think of the cool things you could say to a family member in their Christmas card, “When I heard about the book Prostitutes and Polygamists, you were the first person I thought of.”  How cool would it be to be finished with Christmas shopping in September?  (Actually, a purchase of one copy would be sufficient.)

You could post the YouTube promo video on Facebook (see below).  Some of you have already done this (thanks!).  (Some have said the actor looked like Tom Cruise or perhaps Freddy Krueger, but no that’s actually the author in the book trailer.)  The video was filmed in an abandoned building, where the lower level was a dance hall, and the upper level where I’m walking were hotel-type rooms.  Hmm.

You could write a review for Amazon, Good Reads, Barnes and Noble, or somewhere else.  Some of you did this for God Behaving Badly (thanks!).  If you don’t have anything nice to say about the book, make something up.  Nah, don’t do that.  Be honest.

You could invite me to come speak at your church or campus fellowship on topics related to the book.  I love to speak about God and God’s word.

You could teach a Sunday school class on the book.  I bet it would be the first time someone taught a class on prostitutes at your church.  The Bible talks about prostitutes, perhaps we should too?  Do we really believe that “all Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching?” (2 Tim 3:16).

You could come hear me speak this Sunday at the Decatur Book Festival (if you’re in the Atlanta area over Labor Day).  The DBF is the largest independent book festival in the US.  All the big names will be there (and a few of us small names).

Wild Ideas: You could buy a full-page ad for the book in the New York Times.  You could get a t-shirt made with a picture of the cover and wear that every day for a year (that’s better than what Ezekiel had to do).  You could film a commercial about the book and then buy air time during the Super Bowl.

The person with the wildest promo idea in the comments below gets a free copy of the book.

Why did Nadab and Abihu get smitten by God? (Lev. 10:1-3)

Nadab and Abihu are killed in the Tabernacle, Leviticus - James Tissot

Nadab and Abihu are killed in the Tabernacle

I start a course in a few weeks on the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—the Pentateuch books everyone ignores, including me until this year.  I thought I should re-read these books and so for the past week or so I’ve been moving through Leviticus and have enjoyed learning about the various sacrifices.  Everything was great until I got to the story of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.  (Lev. 10:1-3). 

I can read what the text says, that they offered “unauthorized fire” so God consumed them, but it still seems unfair.  People do wrong things all the time, but God doesn’t usually fry them.  It sounds similar to what happened to poor Uzzah, who was smitten by God for trying to stabilize the ark (2 Sam. 6).

It appears that Nadab and Abihu were trying to do the right thing, but God was really picky, so he zapped them.  This is the sort of thing that gives the God of the Old Testament a bad reputation.  If you’re thinking, “Somebody should write a book about that”—I agree.  And I talk about the smiting of Uzzah in God Behaving Badly (pages 27-33), but I skip over the story about Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10.

In my blog I usually attempt to answer, or at least address, these types of questions, but this time I’m just going to ask the question and see what you all can come up with.

What do you think—why’d God kill them?  What was so bad about “unauthorized fire” (also called “unholy fire”).  Did their action really deserve sudden and immediate death?  When you teach on this passage, what do you say?

“But some doubted” (Matthew 28:17)

Immediately before Jesus gives his final words to his disciples, perhaps his most famous address, often called The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), the text includes a curious phrase.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I was speaking on The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) at a church retreat over this past weekend.  As I was studying the text, I kept reflecting on the phrase: “but some doubted.”

It seems so out-of-place right before Jesus’ final commission.

What can we say about these doubters?

1) Doubters were Jesus’ disciples.  The context suggests that these doubters were part of the eleven (Judas is now dead).  They were people who have seen Jesus teach, perform miracles, cast out demons, and come back from the dead.  Even disciples doubt.
Just because you struggle with doubt, doesn’t mean you aren’t a follower of Jesus. 

2) Doubters may have worshiped.  Notice the text here doesn’t say, some worshiped, others doubted.  It appears that the doubters were a subset of the worshipers.  People can worship and doubt.
If you doubt, keep worshiping. 

3) Doubters obeyed.  A few verses earlier, Jesus had told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to tell the disciples to come to Galilee.  After denying and abandoning Jesus at his moment of crisis the disciples this time, including the doubters, obey the command to go to Galilee.
If you doubt, keep obeying. 

4) Doubters doubted publicly.  Somehow people knew what these doubters were thinking.  We don’t know how, but presumably they let it be known that they were doubting.
If you doubt, let other people know so they can pray for you.

Personally, I’ve struggled with doubt more in the past few years than I ever have in my life.  I think one of the factors contributing to my doubts is that I’ve been focusing so much of my time and energy on some of the nastiest bits of the Bible, texts like the Canaanite Genocide (Josh. 10-11) and the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judg. 19).  I think most Christians need to stop ignoring these troubling texts, but perhaps most people don’t need to spend as much time reflecting on them as I do (maybe my next book should be on Psalm 23?).

I went a long time without telling anyone about my doubts, but that didn’t help them go away.  Finally, I started talking about them with my family and a few close friends, and God began to strengthen my faith.  It’s still a work in progress, but I’m confident, as I keep worshiping, obeying, and talking about it, my faith will continue to grow.