Sinai and the Saints

IVP has just come out with a new book which could be very helpful to people trying to figure out how to understand the laws of the Old Testament, Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community by James M. Todd III.

IVP asked me to give an endorsement, and the first half of it ended up on the back cover.  So, I thought I’d include my full endorsement here, for any one who’s interested.

“Many readers of the Old Testament struggle to understand all those random, bizarre, strict, and oppressive laws.  What’s a Christian to do?  Start by reading James Todd’s Sinai and the Saints.  Todd offers his readers engaging stories, provocative insights, and a compelling interpretation that offers a way forward, one that makes sense of the Law, and helps people understand it in light of Jesus and the rest of Scripture.”

Here are the other endorsements that appeared on the back cover:

“The failure to understand the relationships of the old covenant to the new is probably one of the most important areas where Christians need good help–and they will receive good help here.”  – Peter Gentry, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Anyone grappling with how to approach the laws of Exodus to Deuteronomy from a Christian perspective will find this book an invaluable introduction.” – T. Desmond Alexander, Union Theological College.

I hope you can check it out.


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?

Ephahs, Hins, and Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys

“You must have accurate scales and accurate weights, an accurate ephah and an accurate hin (1 gallon)” (Leviticus 19:36).

If you read that verse carefully, you should have a couple of questions. Here are mine:

1) What’s an ephah and a hin? 

2) Why does God care so much about accuracy (4 times in 1 verse)?  

3) What do ephahs and hins have to do with the book Flash Boys?  

Great questions.  In order,

1) An ephah is about 20 quarts. A hin is about a gallon. That knowledge should help you sleep better tonight. You can probably forget those numbers. I can’t remember them and I teach the Old Testament.

2) God values accuracy in scales, weights, and measurements because he wants his people to trade fairly. God is concerned about justice.  Let’s say you’re doing the milk run, looking to buy a hin of milk for your family.  But if the person you buy from has an inaccurate measurement and only gives you 3/4 of a hin, then a member of your family may go without milk on their Honey-Nut Cheerios tomorrow.  The milk seller profits from an unfair market mechanism.

3) While the complexities of the US stock market and high frequency trading are a bit more complicated than a barter system involving hins and ephahs, the same principles apply.  God is concerned about justice. In Flash Boys (2014), bestselling author Michael Lewis tells the story of a group of Wall Street traders and technicians who are attempting to create a fair exchange (kind of like an accurate hin).  Their exchange (IEX) is designed to prevent predatory high frequency traders (HFT) from skimming profits from investors who are simply looking for a fair price on a commodity, whether selling or buying.

You are probably familiar with Michael Lewis, and have probably seen a film or two based on one of his books.  I’ve read and would highly recommend Liar’s PokerThe Blind Side, Moneyball (he’s written a bunch of other bestselling books, but I haven’t read them).

Lewis is a great writer and story-teller. Here is what Malcolm Gladwell (see my review of David and Goliath here) says, “I read Michael Lewis for the same reason I watch Tiger Woods.  I’ll never play like that.  But it’s good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like.”

If you’re turned off by f-bombs, don’t read this book. I don’t think the title is particularly interesting, engaging or provocative, but I guess if you’re Michael Lewis you probably don’t need to worry too much about catching people’s attention with a title. The book gets a bit too technical at times, but I still found it hard to put down. If you are interested in fair markets, you’ve got to read this book.

If you like Goldman Sachs, be warned that they start out looking like the villains, but you’ll be relieved to know they repent by the end.

Hopefully, we will hear more about IEX Group, the “Flash Boys” who revolted on Wall Street, as more trades get directed to their exchange.  To watch the visually fascinating 3.5 minute animated video about the exchange they created, click here.  This book should be made into a movie.