Month: May 2015

The Uncle I Never Met

Robert Maurice Oldham Grave MarkerIn November of 1944, in the US, Franklin Roosevelt had just won his fourth term as president. In Western Europe, Allied forces were gradually retaking land from the Nazis (the Battle of the Bulge began the following month). In the South Pacific, US planes were bombing Singapore and Tokyo while US aircraft carriers (Lexington, Intrepid) were being attacked by kamikazes.

Also, in November 1944, a Private (First Class) in the US Army Signal Corp died in an accident, a gas explosion in the South Pacific (a not uncommon occurrence in military contexts). His name was Robert Maurice Oldham. He had just turned 21 (his birthday was Sept. 11).

He was also my uncle, my mom’s older brother.  I was born in 1962, so I never met him. He is buried in the Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky, next to my mom’s parents.

Dad at Oldham Grave SiteSeventy years after his death, in November of 2014, my father and I visited his grave site and that’s when I took these photos.

On Memorial Day, my family and I remember his service to our country.

Righteous Jehu’s Righteous Lies and Slaughter (By Peter Lyon)

I’m currently teaching a course at BTS on the books of Samuel and Kings. One of the assignments is to write a blog about a controversial passage in these two books.  This one is written by MDiv student Peter Lyon, who chose to write about Jehu (the subject of my dissertation: Righteous Jehu).

When one hears a story about a man ordering 70 young princes to be decapitated, and then hears of that same man stacking those heads in two large piles at the entrance to the city gate, it would be natural to assume that the man in question is the villain of the story. In 2 Kings chapter 10 however, the text presents the perpetrator of these gruesome acts, Jehu, as the hero – the man carrying out God’s justice on the evil heirs of Ahab and Jezebel.

How did we get here? Ahab and Jezebel are the most notorious villains of the book of Kings – unrepentant idolaters, barbarously brutal, and viscously greedy – after witnessing their acts of evil it is only natural to wish for their righteous judgement. The prophet Elisha anoints Jehu, commander in the army, King over Israel and commissions him saying:

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. 7 You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. 8 The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. ”  2 Kings 9:6b-8

Jehu carries this judgement out swiftly. He kills the king in his chariot, and has Jezebel thrown from a window. He has the princes decapitated, and stacks their heads as a message to the people. He then deceives the prophets of Ba’al into gathering all together and has them executed without exception. And how did the Lord respond to this rampant slaughter?

…the Lord said to Jehu, “You have done well in following my instructions to destroy the family of Ahab. Therefore, your descendants will be kings of Israel down to the fourth generation.” 2 Kings 10:30

Needless to say, this passage of Scripture is not flannelgraph material, I do not expect the Children’s Minister at my church to be lesson planning this one for the kids. I find it difficult myself for a number of reasons:

  1. Generational Judgment: it makes me uncomfortable when children are punished for the crimes of their parents. Or the idea that four generations of Jehu’s descendants will rule as a reward for his obedience.

  2. Imperfect Judge: Jehu was a witness to Ahab’s evil up until this point and had done nothing. And when he is called to act as judge, he uses violence and deceit. Is lying and killing acceptable in the service of God? When are we allowed to break commandments?

  3. Judgment Contextualized: Now none of this is particularly strange or brutal for the time period it is occurring in. In the ancient world, if one is assuming the throne by force, it is only natural to eliminate all those who have a “right” to the throne by birth. Would I be as uncomfortable with the way in which God’s justice was enacted if I lived then instead of now? Most likely, no, this would not have been as strange to me then, but does that ease the discomfort of my 21st century self?

I have chosen the word uncomfortable a lot here instead of something stronger because I stand firmly in the understanding that all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. Perhaps how those wages are paid out is immaterial, but how do we reconcile this picture of obedience with the obedience we are called to live out?

Prostitutes and Polygamists Book Trailer 1

If you’ve ever wondered…

“What’s up with all the weird sexual behavior in the Old Testament?”

…then you should check out the book trailer for my new book, Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style (Zondervan). The book is now available for pre-order. It comes out Sept 1, 2015.

If you know anyone interested in the topic of sex, feel free to share the video.

In the video, I’m walking through the top floor of derelict building in downtown Grand Rapids that used to have a dance hall below. These upper rooms were smaller, hotel-type rooms, perhaps rented on a hourly basis.

Too Weird for Hollywood (by Jason Craig)

I’m currently teaching a course at BTS on the books of Samuel and Kings. One of the assignments is to write a blog about a controversial passage in these two books.  This one is written by MDiv student Jason Craig.  

Although biblical blockbusters like Noah and Son of God have been trending in Hollywood, certain biblical accounts would never work on film. The “man of God” narrative from 1 Kings 13 is one example of a screenplay disaster. The story begins with Hollywood potential, but quickly spirals into a Christian Baleconfusing mess.

Visualize the scenes: King Jeroboam (Christian Bale) has defied God by constructing unauthorized temples in the hill country of Ephraim. A scraggly prophet (Kirk Cameron) ascends the wind-swept mountain of Bethel, screaming rebukes and predicting the demise of Jeroboam’s dynasty. Then, reaching for the prophet’s throat, the king’s hand shrivels and the altar explodes. Fantastic!

The story, though, takes a surreal turn when the man of God encounters another prophet (Christopher Walken), who is so desperate for a houseguest that he convinces the man to break his fast. Then, dissolving to the next scene, the man of God is mauled to death by a lion. What?

What is God the formula for meting out punishment?” Idol-loving Jeroboam lived a long life. The old prophet feigned a word of the Lord without consequence. The hillside hero, however, eats early and—boom—big cat justice. The prophet’s death creates a tension that offends our sense of fairness. Disorienting as it may be, several lessons emerge from this narrative:

  1. God’s sin-punishment gauge is different from our own. Jeroboam maintained a trajectory of evil, but continued to reign for 22 years (1 Kings 13:33). God delayed judgment until Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 23:15–17). The man of God began on a righteous path, but failed to seek the Lord before breaking his vow. His trajectory of disobedience led to a swift death. The old prophet started off poorly but ended honorably by mourning the man’s death and burying him in his own tomb. God honored this trajectory of obedience.
  2. God is gracious in an environment of disobedience. Jeroboam’s hand was restored even though he stood in direct opposition to God. Likewise, the old prophet lived a long life with the message of God on his lips (1 Kings 13:32). Even God’s command to the man of God was gracious gift. The vow was a protection for the prophet, lest he divide his loyalties and join the hill-country corruption.
  3. Serving God does not preclude us from punishment.. An aching stomach and the wooing words of a stranger were opportunities for obedience. Instead, the prophet broke all three components of his vow by walking to house and compromising at the table. Sin compiles to form a dangerous trajectory. Let us not be fooled into thinking that a life of ministry gives us a special dispensation. A vigilant spiritual life is restrained in the face of temptation, preferring the voice of the Lord to the world.
  4. The lion models perfect obedience. Not only does the lion obey the voice of the Lord, but it defies its natural inclination to consume the man, the donkey, and curious bystanders.

 How can we prevent our sin from forming a dangerous trajectory?