Month: October 2011

Shame avoidance (Psalm 119:6)

“Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments” (Psa. 119:6 NRSV).

Psalm 119 is the longest prayer in Scripture.  The psalmist addresses God directly.  The word “your” appears 212 times in 176 verses in the ESV translation (in Hebrew possessive pronouns are usually added as a suffix to the end of the noun being possessed).  Throughout the prayer, the psalmist speaks of blessings that come upon a person focused on God and God’s word.  The blessing of verse 6 focuses on shame avoidance.

(The English word, “Then” at the beginning of the verse comes from the Hebrew word, ‘az, which begins with the Hebrew letter, Aleph otherwise it couldn’t fit into this Aleph section of the psalm.)

In the previous verse, the psalmist wished for help in being steadfast to keep God’s statutes.  Now the results of that wish are revealed.  A fixation on God’s commandments prevents shame.  It’s hard to know exactly what the psalmist’s shame involved, but for those of us who are familiar with shame, we can guess.  Public humiliation, embarrassment, brutal defeat in a competitive context, having your book ripped to shreds in the blogosphere (speaking hypothetically, of course).  (I avoid shame by using a spell-checker–just found out that I had misspelled “embarrassment”–apparently many bloggers and emailers  don’t share my spell-shame-a-phobia.)

Now you might decide that this verse doesn’t really apply to you.  If you don’t mind shame, you don’t need to focus on God’s words.  If you enjoy utter humiliation, then don’t worry about God’s commands.  Ah, but if you’re trying to avoid those things, fix your eyes on God and God’s laws.  Sounds like good advice.  Blogging through Psalm 119, one verse each Sunday, is one way for me to stay focused on God and his words.  I hope you come along for the ride (only 170 more verses).

What do you do to avoid shame? 

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I hate Study Bibles, part 2

My previous post (“I hate Study Bibles”) generated more interest than many of my posts, so just like Hollywood, I thought it warranted a sequel.  Just to be clear, I love God’s word, but all those extra tidbits of “knowledge” scattered around the pages of the Bible drive me nuts.

Yesterday, I was teaching on the Pentateuch and I showed my class the following quote from an unnamed Bible in the introduction to the book of Exodus,

“Most Christians recognize Moses as the author, writing sometime after the Exodus from Egypt (about 1445 BC).”

There are several potential problems with this statement, but let’s just focus on the date of the Exodus that most Christians apparently agree upon.  (I realize the author of this statement may have only been trying to say, “Most Christians recognize Moses as the author” and just worded it badly, but then that would be another problem.)

I decided to ask my class on Thursday which century they thought the Exodus occurred (BC, of course).  Answers ranged from the 20th to the 7th, the most popular answer was the 15th, which the date 1445 BC would fit nicely into.  (There are good arguments for placing the Exodus in both the 15th and the 13th century, which I won’t go into here.)

While it was the most popular answer, it was still only one-third of the class, so not  really “most”.  And these are seminary students, who presumably would know more than the average Christian.  One of the students said, “The average Christian is totally clueless about when the Exodus happened.”  I’d read a Study Bible that included comments like that.

Share an example (positive or negative) of your favorite Study Bible comment. 

I hate Study Bibles

I love the Bible.  I’ve devoted my life to the teaching of God’s word.  But I have a confession to make.

I hate Study Bibles.  Not the actual Bible part, the “Study” part, where they add all those extra notes in the margins and at the bottom of the page.

I want to invoke the curse at the end of Revelation (21:18-19), which states that if anyone adds to the words of the prophecy, all the nasty things that Revelation describes will come upon them.   Seems appropriate, don’t you think?

Why?  A valid question.

The comments in Study Bibles appear to have the same authority as Scripture because they are printed right there on the same page.  That’s scary.  Hence the Revelation curse.  In fact, since the comments often attempt to clarify an unclear text, they seem to have more authority than God’s word.  Obviously, discerning readers will view the comments critically and take them with a grain of salt, but most people don’t do that.

I can’t count the number of times during a Bible discussion someone says, “Well, my Bible says…”.  I ask, “Is that your Bible, or a note in the margin?”  It’s usually a Study Bible comment.  In my 5+ years of teaching at Seminary, I’ve read hundreds of papers that quote Study Bibles in academic papers.

Study Bible comments are kind of like stuff on the internet.  Sometimes the information is good, sometimes it’s junk.  But at least when you go to the internet, you know you’re going to find some junk.  You don’t expect to find junk in your Bible.  At least you shouldn’t.

Some Study Bibles are relatively harmless, and even helpful at times.  The notes are limited and just provide context and background that most typical Bible readers just don’t know.  But most Study Bibles can’t resist the temptation to speak with authority on matters that Scripture isn’t clear about (here comes that Revelation curse).  They often give a particular theological emphasis or interpretation.  I’ve seen comments that attempt to lay out the correct biblical perspective on Baptism, authorship of a book, spiritual gifts, women in leadership, the environment, etc.  Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t–that doesn’t matter–what matters is that people are inserting their theology directly into the text.

I’m not going to mention any Study Bibles in particular (there are hundreds out there), and I realize that many people love them and find them helpful.  Just a word of caution, take those comments with a grain of salt.

View Study Bible comments like you’d view the comments from a person in your Small group.  Sometimes you agree, sometimes you don’t.  Study Bible comments can be like the person who talks too much, talks too dogmatically and doesn’t ask questions.  They’re not fun to have in a discussion.

What kind of information do you want or find helpful in your Bibles? 

A wish for “captivity” (Psalm 119:5)

“O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes” (Psalm 119:5).

The psalmist exposes the desire of their heart here.  It’s not exactly a prayer, more of a wish, a wish that they can keep God’s statutes.

The Hebrew word translated here as “O that” is ‘ahalay.  (As you surely realize by now, it must start with the letter Aleph to begin a verse in this Aleph section of the acrostic.)

The only other place the word ‘ahalay appears in the Hebrew Bible is when the  unnamed Israelite servant girl tells her mistress, Naaman’s wife, “O that my Lord were with the prophet in Samaria.  Then he would cure him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3).  Naaman, the Aramean general has leprosy, and in the spirit of Jesus’ command to love your enemies (Matt. 5:43), this servant girl wishes (the NAS translates ‘ahalay here as “I wish”) that the man who kidnapped her and took her from her family gets healed.  Naaman listens to her and eventually gets healed (2 Kings 5:4-15).  An amazing story.

Similarly, the psalmist wishes to remain captivated by God’s laws.  What does that tell us about the psalmist?

1) The psalmist prefers captivity to God’s statutes over freedom.

2) The psalmist knows that help will be needed to keep God’s statutes.

3) The psalmist believes that God is interested, willing and able to help the psalmist fulfill their wish.

God, make me more like the psalmist.  What wishes do you express to God?