We are all Sodomites

My recent post on the issue of homosexuality was posted a few days ago on the Missio Alliance blog.

Check it out here: “We are all Sodomites: Love, Mercy and the LGBQT Conversation.

The article is a condensed version of chapter seven of Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style.

See also recent articles I wrote on related topics:

Christianity Today Online: David Was a Rapist, Abraham Was a Sex Trafficker: What We Miss When We Downgrade Old Testament Stories to Sexual Peccadillos.”  As of today, this article has been shared over 3700 times on Facebook.  If you shared it already–thanks!

OnFaith Blog: “5 Unexpected Lessons from a Story I Hate” on the rape of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19.

Who’s voice is going to be heard?

When the Church“When the church whispers about sex
and the culture yells about it,
who’s voice is gonna be heard?”

(Prostitutes and Polygamists, p. 19).

Parents, children, pastors, teachers, all of us feel a bit uncomfortable talking about sex, sexual sins, and sexual scandals. We avoid the subject, or when we do discuss it, we whisper. But avoiding doesn’t make it go away (think of the proverbial ostrich).

The Bible doesn’t avoid it.  It talks about it in the beginning. God’s first command to the freshly made humans is basically, “Have a lot of sex” (my paraphrase of “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth”; Gen. 1:28).

And the Bible talks about Abraham pimping his wife Sarah in Egypt, Judah hooking up with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who’s pretending to be a prostitute, David’s affair (I call it rape) with Bathsheba, the gang rape of the Levites concubine (read my take on Judges 19 here).  And what’s up with all that polygamy and incest?

For some subjects like homosexuality, it seems like some churches are yelling, but generally I think they’re sending the wrong message.  I discuss homosexuality in the context of the story of Sodom, and you might be surprised by what Scripture says about the story of Sodom.

The Bible talks about sex and sexual scandals a lot.  We need to talk about these subjects because the Bible talks about them, assuming we think all Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching.

Our culture talks about sex all the time, perhaps Christians need to start teaching these overlooked, ignored sexual scandals of Scripture.  That’s what I try to do in Prostitutes and Polygamists.  Check it out.

Jerusalem: The Biography

No other city of the world has been at the center of history for four millenia.

Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac there (Gen. 22).

Adoni-bezek lost his thumbs and big toes right before being buried there (Judg. 1:6-7).

David established it as his new capital after becoming king over both Judah and Israel (2 Sam. 5).

Solomon built the temple there (1 Kgs. 5-8) which lasted for four hundred years.

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587 BCE destroyed the city, including Solomon’s temple (2 Kgs. 25).

The saga of Jerusalem continues into the New Testament and beyond.  Simon Sebag Montefiore’s 650 page Jerusalem: The Biography (2011) retells the city’s fascinating story over the course of almost 4000 years.  Readers will learn about the corrupt and incestuous family of the Herods (three of which appear in the NT) and the tragic destruction of the city in 70 CE by Titus.  Montefiore recounts the nations and empires who ruled and fought over Jerusalem: the Byzantines, the Persians, the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Crusaders, the Ottomans.

I wish I had read this book before visiting Jerusalem in the spring of 2014, but reading it has helped me remember and process my trip in retrospect.

The style is academic (40 pages of endnotes, 20 pages of bibliography and a 20 page index, all in small font), but the writing is quite readable, filled with stories (Abd al-Malik’s construction of the Dome of the Rock completed in 691 CE) and entertaining details (Jerome, the Latin translator was not particularly pious).

Montefiore’s background is Jewish, but his take on the New Testament is sympathetic, even though he clearly doesn’t write as a Christian. I’d be curious to hear what Muslims think of the book.

I found it particularly interesting in areas that I don’t know much, but wish I did (the Maccabees, the Herodians, early Muslim history). I still haven’t finished the book, but I’m about to arrive at the Crusades (about 1000 CE), where I expect to be enlightened about many things.

I have one major problem–the names get quite confusing, even overwhelming at times, so I have found myself frequently flipping back a few pages (“Who is this guy?”  “When did they take over the city?”). But that may be inevitable for a tale of this magnitude.

I’ll point out a few minor, nit-picky problems (because that’s the sort of guy I am, ask my family).

1) David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1) is not formatted poetically (p. 26), which makes it less understandable and harder to appreciate.  Always format poetry poetically, not like prose.

2) He calls the Jehoiakim the brother, instead of the son of Josiah (p. 46).  OK, this part of Judah’s history is really confusing and 99.9% of his readers are going to miss this one.  I wrote an article on Jehoiakim for the Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary (see also “Other Books“).

3) He misspells Absalom as “Abolsom” (p. 204).  I mean, come on, that’s not even close.

Despite, the name confusion, and the minor flaws, I’d highly recommend it.  If you love Jerusalem, history, and good non-fiction, it’s a great read.

The book was not given to me, I bought it at Costco.




Seeking Confirmation (Psalm 119:38)

Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared
(Psalm 119:38 ESV).

While most verses in Psalm 119 mention keeping, observing or delighting in God’s laws, this verse doesn’t really fit the formula.  The psalmist here requests that God’s promise (presumably to the psalmist) is confirmed.

One could argue that the psalmist is doubting God’s word.  The divine promise has clearly already been given.  Why then does God need to confirm his promise?  Can’t the psalmist simply believe?  Shouldn’t God’s promise be sufficient?  What is this doing in the Bible?

While we might be uncomfortable with a demand for confirmation from God, the Bible isn’t.  Other people of faith in the Old Testament seek similar confirmations.  The ESV and NAS include a note here with a reference to 2 Samuel 7:25, where David prays that YHWH confirm the promise given of an “eternal” dynastic lineage.  The connection is interesting.  Is David behind the request for confirmation in 119:38?  Who can say?  Psalm 119 mentions no one in the heading.  But whether Psalm 119:38 should be linked to David or not, in both texts a person of faith seeks divine confirmation and it seems to be OK.

When he was childless Abraham sought confirmation for the promise of offspring and God repeatedly gave him confirmation with visual reminders of dust, sand and stars (Gen. 13:16; 15:5; 22:17).

Even in the midst of what may appear to be doubt, the psalmist stays engaged with YHWH in the quest for confirmation.  The psalmist seems to know that it’s OK to seek confirmation directly from God.

The psalmist also knows his place relative to God–as God’s servant.  In addition to this verse, the psalmist calls himself “your servant” twelve other places in the psalm (119:17, 23, 49, 65, 76, 82, 122, 124, 125, 135, 140, 176).  (In his prayer of 2 Samuel, David also frequently referred to himself as “your servant”; 2 Sam. 7:20, 21, 26, 27, 28, 29).

God as we wait for you to come through on what you’ve promised give us patience, faith and confirmation. 

How does promise confirmation lead to fear of God?  Any thoughts? 

Apologies for skipping a week of blogging on Psalm 119 last Sunday.  I couldn’t make it happen, so I decided to cut myself a little slack. 

Image from http://epiphanyumc.org/confirmation