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jerusalem_israelI head to Israel tomorrow (March 23) with folk from Biblical Seminary. There will be 15 of us: students, alumni and Derek Cooper, another professor.

We’ll spend 7 days in Jerusalem, 3 days in Galilee, travel back to Istanbul, where the rest of group will head back to JFK, while Derek and I will spend a 2 days in Istanbul, and 2 days in Athens (making a side trip to Corinth), returning home on April 6. In Istanbul and Turkey, Derek and I will be looking at possible sites for future Biblical trips.

I’ve never been to the Holy Land, so I’m really looking forward to the trip. Next fall when I teach about Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Hebron and I say, “When I visited there in the Spring of 2014…” perhaps students will finally respect me.

In addition to visiting the Israel Museum to see the Tel Dan Stele (aka, “The House of David” inscription–the oldest reference to King David), I’m looking forward to hearing about the story of the land from both a Jewish and a Palestinian perspective.

I’m going to try to post pictures and blogs while I’m there.  We’ll see…

I bought a new pair of sandals to wear on my trip (it should be a little warmer in Israel than in southeastern PA, which is expecting snow on Tues). Shannon said, “You’ll be wearing the same shoes as Jesus as you walk in his footsteps.”  WWJD? He’d wear sandals.

Have you been there? What was the highlight?

 In 1985, when I was a grad student in Industrial Engineering at Stanford, I took a course on Organizational Death. Why do companies fail, and what lessons can we learn from them? We love success in business and in ministry, so we focus on companies and churches that succeed, trying to learn from their example. I don’t remember much from my courses from almost 30 years ago, but this one had a deep impact on me: profound lessons often come from unexpected places.

Derek Cooper  and Ed Cyzewski know this to be true, and wrote a book that just came out (2014) entitled Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus, which looks at some of the ignored people from the gospels: Judas, the rich, young ruler, Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas and others.  What can we learn from this lot?  A lot, check out the book.

Here’s my endorsement:
Who wants to focus on the dropouts and doubters? Scripture does. And Cooper and Cyzewski follow the Bible’s example, apparently believing the radical notion that all Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching.  They take readers into unexplored areas of the Gospels that are typically ignored, in doing so they enlighten, encourage and exhort their followers into a deeper relationship with their lord and master.  I have no doubt that readers will profit from their wisdom.

If you are intrigued, check out this excerpt from Christianity Today (March 2013), on Judas: “You’re Probably More Like Judas Than You Think“.

Derek Cooper is a colleague of mine here at Biblical Seminary. He teaches World Christian History, and Ed Cyzewski is a graduate of Biblical.  They also co-wrote Hazardous: Committed to the Cost of Following Jesus

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809.  If he weren’t assassinated and didn’t die for any other reason, he’d be 205 today. In the Old Testament, my field, people live a long time.

Most Americans are familiar with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but there is another speech inscribed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, his Second Inaugural address, given on March 4, 1865, just over a month before he died, April 15, 1865.  (See the image below of Lincoln delivering the speech, and notice who is listening intently from the balcony, John Wilkes Booth.)

The speech was obviously political but also surprisingly biblical and theological. Just as Lincoln’s life was about to end, the Civil War was almost over, and the speech reflected on divine providence in recent events, with numerous allusions to Scripture. Frederick Douglass told his president afterwards that it was “a sacred effort.”

Speaking of North and South, Lincoln observes, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other.”

He continues, “It may seem strange than any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces (allusion to Gen. 3:19), but let us judge not that we be not judged” (allusion to Matt. 7:1).

While speaking about justice and 250 years of “unrequited toil” piled up by slave owners’ over the course of American history, he was still able to be gracious and humble in his words, granting that God was the ultimate judge: “the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9).

Lincoln concludes, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right…allusions to Psalm 147:3 and James 1:29…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

From our perspective of long speeches and boring sermons, Lincoln’s address was shockingly short, only 701 words, about 7 minutes long.

God give us Lincoln’s wisdom, his brevity, and his ability to connect Scripture to our contemporary context to confront injustice and enslavement. 

Lincoln 2nd Inaugural and Booth

Oyster Dome Hike Dave at sunset 4.45 pmIn Hiking Oyster Dome, Part 1, I told about my trip to Logos Bible Software in Washington state to tape two courses (1, 2, Samuel, and 1, 2 Kings). I concluded my week discussing David’s song in 2 Samuel 22 (which is the same as Psalm 18) where he praises his God for being his rock, his deliverer, and his savior. After a full week of taping, on Friday I wanted to head to the woods where I encountered God on my hike to Oyster Dome. After reaching Oyster Dome, I had 5 minutes to enjoy the spectacular view of forest, mountains, coastline, ocean, islands, clouds and sunset before heading back to my car, hoping to arrive before dark. (Review is now over.)

To read about how I got lost and needed to pray 2 Samuel 22 on Oyster Dome, click here.

Hiking Oyster Dome

Dave and Josh Burdick Logos Sign 1.17.2014 2

Recently, I was in Bellingham, Washington taping two courses for Logos Bible Software. For the sake of video consistency while taping each course, I needed to wear the same shirt. Monday through Wednesday morning I wore my red shirt for 1, 2 Kings. Then Wednedsay afternoon through Friday I wore my green shirt for 1, 2 Samuel (as modeled in front of Logos wall with Josh Burdick). My green shirt particularly was getting a bit ripe as the week progressed. By the end of Friday, the shirt would become more pungent.

To read more about my adventures hiking Oyster Dome, go to Biblical’s Faculty blog (click here).

Goliath had as much chance against David…as an Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an [opponent] armed with a .45 automatic pistol” argues historian Robert Dohrenwend, quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Using scholars like Dohrenwend, Gladwell concludes that Goliath was the real underdog against David.

I’m about halfway through Gladwell’s latest book and I’m loving it just as I’ve enjoyed two of his other books, The Tipping Point and Outliers, but I have a few problems with his interpretation of David’s epic battle against the Philistine giant (1 Sam. 17).

I’ll call the giant Goliath as Gladwell does, but to be clear the narrative refers to him as “Goliath” only twice in the chapter (17:4, 23), and uses the term “the Philistine” over ten times as often (e.g., 17:10, 11, 16, 23, 26(2)…) probably because of its derogatory connotations. While you may not frequently insult your friends anymore by calling them “You Philistine” (we do in our family) the term still has negative connotations today.

(To read Gladwell’s own narrative of how he rediscovered his Christian faith while writing D & Gclick here for the article in Relevant Magazine.)

A few weeks ago, I was in Bellingham, WA taping courses on the books of 1, 2 Samuel and 1, 2 Kings for Logos Bible Software. Since I was thinking a lot about David’s story for this Samuel course I had decided to focus on Gladwell’s new book for my morning cycle on an exercise bike. Despite my positive inclination toward all works Gladwellian, I found myself arguing with the author in my head as I pedaled.

Everything else I’ve read from Gladwell previously was about subjects I didn’t know much about, but I’m a  bit more familiar with the Old Testament, the book of Samuel and particularly, the narrative of my namesake.

Gladwell does good research (using, among other resources, Baruch Halpern’s book, David’s Secret Demons), but concludes that Goliath was a clumsy, half-blind oaf. Goliath’s armor made him immobile and his pituitary gland disorder (acromegaly) impaired his vision so severely that “the world around him is a blur” (p. 14). Goliath was a cross between Andre the Giant (The Princess Bride) and Mr Magoo.

david-and-goliath-1544Gladwell’s arguments are well-argued, but ultimately not persuasive. He focuses on a few obscure secondary aspects of the text and hinges his entire argument around them, ignoring the main thrust of the text. For example, Goliath says, “You come at me with sticks” but David just had one stick, therefore Goliath couldn’t see well.

Why would the Philistines pick a “hero” like the one Gladwell describes to represent them in battle? Even junior high school basketball coaches know that big guys are not necessarily good basketball players. For Goliath to defeat the hundreds or perhaps the thousands of people necessary to be chosen as a national champion he couldn’t have been an “Andre Magoo”, but needed to be more of a “Spartacus Maximus“.

The entire nation of Israel was afraid of Goliath.  Saul himself was not only tall, but also quite a warrior (the women later sang of Saul killing thousands: 1 Sam. 18:7; 21:11; 29:5). Warriors are not generally afraid of half-blind oafs.

The way Gladwell and Dohrenwend spoke about the supposed accuracy of ancient slingers (people who used sling-shots), it is surprising that US soldiers are not still using sling-shots to take down the Taliban in Afghanistan. I just don’t buy it.

I realize in the world of publishing, Gladwell is a “giant,” while Lamb is more of a “David”. Think of this post as a smooth stone aimed, not at Gladwell the person, but at his interpretation of one of the best-loved stories in the Bible. While I love to see new things from the text, sometimes the traditional understanding is the right one.

David, the underdog, defeated Goliath the champion with the help of his God.

I was working on my CV today (I’m not applying for jobs, I just update it regularly), and I decided to count up my publications by category (books, articles, dictionary articles, book reviews). As the number grew, I suddenly thought, “Perhaps this isn’t a good thing for me spiritually…

Abacus

Then I thought of David and the census. I’ve been thinking about David and the Israelite monarchy a lot lately since last week I was at Logos Bible Software taping courses on 1, 2 Kings and 1, 2 Samuel. The book of 2 Samuel ends with a bizarre story where YHWH is angry at his people so he incited David to count the people (2 Sam. 24:1-17).

1 Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” 3 But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” (2 Sam. 24:1-3)

In Chronicles it was Satan who incited David to count the people (1 Chron. 21:1). Did the biblical authors sometimes get confused between God and Satan? That’s not something you want to mix up.

The text of 2 Samuel 24 isn’t exactly clear what’s wrong with counting the people. After all, the book of Numbers does a lot of counting (hence the catchy title). But Joab clearly knows David shouldn’t do it.  For David, it seems to be related to pride in the size and strength of his military.

Gideon, after all, had too many soldiers and had to whittle down his army to 300 which was still ample to defeat the Midianites (Judg. 7) since it was YHWH that was fighting for Israel. Just as Gideon needed to depend upon YHWH and not the size of his military, David should do the same. By counting the people under his control, David would know how large his forces would be. He would then be tempted to rely on his enormous standing army for victory in battle, and not on the God who had delivered him from Goliath, the Philistine giant (1 Sam. 17).

Tragically, for David the divine punishment was severe upon the people. But why did YHWH punish them, for something David did that he provoked David to do? Great question–any thoughts?

For me counting publications, book sales or speaking requests can lead to pride, arrogance and a lack of dependence upon the God who’s given me my gifts, experiences and abilities.  As an act of penance, I decided to write a blog about the topic.

Next time I feel like counting, I’ll count my blessings.  I may even name them one by one.

How do we “take a census” today? Why is census-taking unhelpful spiritually?

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