Blogging Old Testament Style – Power

This blog post will be on the topic of power. My professor started her lecture with this quote about power.

“And the good ruler is precisely the one who exercises his power as it ought to be exercised, that is, simultaneously exercising his power over himself. And it is the power over oneself that thus regulates one’s power over others.”
― Michel Foucault

Israel was ruled by judges and yet they were clamoring for a king because other nations also had kings. God tells Samuel to tell the people of Israel that there would be pain and despair that would be headed there way if they were ruled by a king. What Israel was doing was rejecting God as their king. God was the one who ruled over them. However, they wanted a human king and God relented.

Saul is chosen as the first king. However, he ends up disobeying God when he does not wipe out his enemies in battle and keeps some of their bests livestock. Whether Saul was malicious or naive in his disobedience is up for debate. Eventually, God regrets choosing Saul and rejects him as king. God chooses David the son of Jacob to be the next king. Saul looks to kill David and David goes on the run. Saul would end up killing himself and David would soon become the king of Judah and eventually unite the 12 tribes of Israel under one kingship.

Israel would reach new heights under the rule of David. Through God’s favor, David would easily defeat his neighbors and expand Israel’s boundaries. However, power got to David’s head. Kings were supposed to be in battle. Yet on one occasion he decide to stay behind. This is when his eyes wandered and saw Bathsheba as she bathed. He had sex with her even though she was married to Uriah. She ends up getting pregnant and David unsuccessfully tries to get Uriah to sleep with his wife to cover up the affair. He eventually gets Uriah killed by moving him up in the battle lines. Nathan comes and rebukes David and David repents. As punishment, his son dies and David changes his ways and goes back to God. Power is a tricky thing. Even the greatest people in the Bible are tempted and fall prey to it. However, prophets like Nathan played an important role as mediator from God and also a person who would keep the king accountable. All people in power need people like Nathan next to their side.

God makes a covenant with David promising that his descendants would continue to rule Israel. However, power hunger strikes again in the form of rebellion by David’s son Absalom. Absalom tries to kill his father but ends up dying. Eventually Solomon becomes king and takes Israel to even greater heights. However, Solomon also gets caught up in his power and builds a palace that is so much greater and larger in size and scope than the temple. He also adopts the ways of his foreign wives. God is angered and the kingdom of Israel eventually breaks apart between the ten Northern tribes of Israel and Judah and Benjamin in the south. The arrogance of power has led to the split of the kingdom. Power has been abused and God’s wisdom and presence has been rejected by the kings. As time would go on, Israel would have mostly disobedient kings leading to their conquest by Assyria. Eventually, Judah would follow two centuries later when it was conquered by Babylon. Judah had a series of faithful and disobedient kings. Just as God had warned, the arrogant power of the kings would lead to pain and despair.

These passages remind me that humans must be careful when they have power. We should not be scared of power. However, we need to be aware of how our power can hurt others. Power must be taken seriously and must be used with the discernment and guidance of God. So I don’t think the lesson is to run away from power. I think it takes courage to to take power and use it for good in the obedience of God’s will and plans.

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Blogging Old Testament Style – History and Memory, War and Violence

The topic for this blog post is history and memory, war and violence. The Israelites are a forgetful bunch. God has been faithful to his people. He has taken them out of slavery and provided for their needs. He has led them to victory in battle. Yet, the Israelites forget what God has done and continually live in disobedience. Throughout the Old Testament there is a pattern where God leads Israel into victory in battle when they are obedient and God leaves their presence and Israel gets routed in battle when they are disobedient to God. During the time that Israel was led by judges, there were periods of war and peace dependent on whether the judge was obedient to God in his/her leadership. However, as time would go on, the judges would become more disobedient and times of peace would become shorter. God was being faithful to his part of the covenant while Israel was not and this would be the recurring theme throughout the Old Testament.

Israel had a certain way of fighting holy wars called “herem”. This would lead to the wiping out of whole people groups. In Deuteronomy 20, God commands the Israelites to completely destroy the seven nations that were occupying the Promised Land. Through “herem”, they were to completely annihilate these nations leaving no one alive. For many people, God’s call for total destruction of the enemies of Israel becomes very problematic. Why would God do this? Is God perpetrating genocide? This seems to be against what we think is good. I wrestle with the violence in the Old Testament. Maybe those nations were already evil and they are all being punished for their collective sin. Maybe God doesn’t want any of the evil of those nations to contaminate the purity and holiness of God’s chose people. I’m not totally sure. I don’t have a good answer for this. Yet, I must still believe in the goodness of God even when my sense of what is good and just are disturbed.

One place of random and disturbing violence takes place in Genesis 34. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, is raped by Shechem. Shechem’s father wants Dinah to marry his son. Dinah’s brother deceive Shechem and his family by accepting them into Jacob’s family if they would be circumcised. While the men of Shechem’s family are in pain from circumcision, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, killed every man in Shechem’s village. This passage is disturbing in many ways. First, a woman is raped and then her rapist wants to marry her. The woman is treated like property. She has no rights. Yet, her rapist has no remorse and has the audacity to ask her hand in marriage. Second, the violence perpetrated by Simeon and Levi seems extreme. Even though we can all sympathize with their anger because of the rape of their sister, their act of revenge seems so extreme. They use circumcision as a trap to slay every man in Shechem’s city. However, in this case, both Jacob and God disapprove of their actions. In Deuteronomy 49 when Jacob is dying, he curses Simeon and Levi while blessing his other sons. Even with God’s disapproval, the situation speaks to the brutal violence in the Old Testament.

So does this mean that there are just causes for war and violence? I’m not sure. The Old Testament’s violence is something I can’t always understand and fathom. God give me the understanding and grace to know you are good even when I don’t comprehend the reasons for violence in the Old Testament.

Blogging Old Testament Style – Boundaries and Law

The topic for this blog is boundaries and law. The Israelites had many, many, many laws passed down to them from God. Some of them made sense and others are head-scratchers. Why do they care so much about skin diseases? Why are they so considered with bodily discharges? If you go through the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, sometimes your head spins. The laws are very specific. There was no part of life that was not affected by these laws. Even with the obscure laws, I focused on the obedience of the Israelites to what God has told them to do. Even if it doesn’t make sense, do they still have the faithfulness to follow God’s laws? The level of discipleship called for in these laws are pretty rigorous. I couldn’t imagine following them to the letter of the law. Yet since they were God’s chosen people, they lived under the laws of God. As long as they followed these laws, they were under the protection of God. This discipleship was building an identity which I talked about in my last blog post. These laws are setting God’s people a part so that other nations could see God glorified through their obedience. Also, the Israelites had shown a propensity to disobey God when Aaron made a golden calf while Moses was away receiving the Ten Commandments. Thus, they needed boundaries and laws to be obedient to God. They were serving under Yahweh. They were in the presence of the most Holy. They had to live in a way that reflected the holiness of the God they served. God continues to repeat throughout the Old Testament that Israel is God’s people and that God is Isreal’s God. This covenantal relationship is sealed in these laws.

Many of the laws were very just. There were laws on freeing slaves and returning land to their original owners after certain amount of time. It was forbidden to charge interest on loans. The practice of gleaning allowed the poor to pick up the uncollected harvest that had fallen onto the ground. There were direct and clear laws to protect and take care of the widows, orphans, and foreigners. These just laws were pervasive throughout the Old Testament. It is when Israel starts to forget to follow these laws of justice that God gets angry. Israel will forget to take care of the least of these. However, in God’s law, the vulnerable should be taken care of.

Another theme that pervades the laws is this ban on intermixing. There were specific laws banning the mixing of different breeds of animals, of different species of plants and crops, and of different threads for their clothes. This seemed to be a large metaphor for them not to intermix and assimilate into the cultures of their neighbors. God wanted his chosen people to be set apart and not to be tempted to defile themselves by entering the sinful worship practices of their neighboring cultures.

So what do these laws mean for Christians today? Jesus said he came to not abolish but to fulfill the law. Christ through his incarnation opens up who can be included into the people of God. Many times we can easily dismiss the Old Testament laws as antiquated and useless. However, they have much to teach us about how to live an obedient life of discipleship. We must know and understand the laws of the Old Testament to understand what is going on in the New Testament. Why is circumcision such a big deal in the time of Paul? You need to know the history of circumcision in the context off Israel. Also, Jesus expands and redeems some of the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. The point is that you must understand the full context of the Old Testament laws to understand what Jesus is doing in the New Testament. We should not be so hasty to just devalue and dismiss what God did through these laws for his chosen people.

Blogging Old Testament Style – Identity and Ethnicity

Today, I will be blogging about the next topic in my class which is identity and ethnicity. This topic has a special place in my heart because it’s something that I have thought about deeply throughout my life. As an Asian American who is a child of immigrants from South Korea, my ethnic identity has been a huge part of who I am. I’ve always felt connected to the story of the Israelites. Moses has been someone I really resonated with as he is also someone trying to find his identity. The theme of identity and ethnicity is sprinkled all over the Old Testament.

God chooses the Israelites to be his people. He makes a covenant with Abraham and which ensured that his descendants would become God’s chosen people. It’s interesting how God develops their identity. In one way, he tries to set them apart from their neighbors. They are told not to intermix and intermarry with foreigners. They are not to adapt the practices of foreigners. God is trying to develop an identity for his chosen people. This is a people without a homeland. The temptation is to assimilate with another culture. However, God has made the boundaries clear. His people are to reflect the holiness and purity of their God. However, on the other hand, God also gives clear commandments to be hospitable and generous to the foreigner and immigrant. So it wasn’t as if the Israelites didn’t welcome those from outside of their community. There are numerous stories of foreigners playing a large part in the story of Israel. Rahab hides the soldiers of Israel inside of Jericho. She is a foreigner that knows the power of their God. She wants to be a part of what they have. So she is included into their community. Ruth stays loyal to her Jewish mother even when her husband dies. Both Rahab and Ruth are part of the lineage of Jesus. These two foreign women are used by God to bless and push forward the people of Israel. The identity of Israel has an exclusive nature and yet there are many instances of hospitality and dependence on the foreigner and immigrant.

I relate to the story of Moses because he is born into a culture that is not his own. He is a Hebrew born in the land of Egypt. Not only that, he’s in the halls of power in the Pharaoh’s palace. He learns the customs of the Egyptians and is separated from his own people. He runs away after he is rejected by his own people and assimilates into another culture. He intermarries and becomes part of the Midianite people. However, God calls him back to save his people. Moses is hesitant because he doesn’t know if his people will accept him. As an Asian American growing up in the United States, I know what it means to navigate in a society that isn’t familiar to you. I lived in diverse places in my life. However, I always knew that the dominant culture was white. White was what was right and proper. There were times I wish my name was more “American”. I wished that my last name sounded more “American” like “Wilson”. Then I would feel like I’d fit in more. While I felt that, I didn’t always feel like I fit in with my own people. I didn’t always feel “Korean” or “Asian” enough. I felt the pull of two different cultures. It wasn’t until college that God opened my eyes to my identity and to know who I really was made to be. I was an Asian American made in God’s image. Once I knew my identity in who I was in Christ, I was able to reach out and truly love both people in my own culture and people outside of my culture. God is building the identity of Moses. He needs to regain his identity in who he’s made to be. Even as he goes back to save his people, he is slowly learning to connect to his Hebrew roots. His fears start to fall away and he is empowered to lead this people group that have just been released from the bonds of slavery. The ethnic identity of Israel and Moses is important and not just something incidental. Their primary identity is in Yahweh. However, their identity as Israelites were connected deeply to who they were in and in the covenant they had with God.

On another note, we read an article in class written by Gale Yee on the story of Ruth. Yee looks at the story of Ruth through the lens of an Asian American woman. She turns the Ruth story on its head. She sees Ruth as an exploited foreigner. Her mother-in-law Naomi has complete control over her. Her sister-in-law Orpah decides not to go with Naomi. Usually, Orpah is seen as the bad daughter-in-law. However, for Yee, Orpah is a courageous woman who asserts her freedom. It is Ruth who gives up her freedom to be under the control of Naomi. Even the love story between Boaz and Ruth is looked at in a negative way. Ruth is seen as a foreigner exploited by Boaz and Naomi for financial gain. As an Asian American who is the son of immigrants, I could resonate with some of Yee’s points. I don’t now if I totally agree with all that she says, but I was fascinated by her viewpoint. We need more diverse voices to speak into these Old Testament stories. The story of identity and ethnicity is illuminated when more people of color and women have an equal voice in the conversation. I hope that space will be made for these prophetic voices at the table of biblical scholarship and theology.

Blogging Old Testament Style – Creation

Here is my first of my ten blog posts for my Old Testament blogging project. The topic I will be tackling is creation. Creation seems to be the appropriate place to start since that is how the Old Testament and Scripture start out. We are all familiar with the creation story of God creating the world and everything on it in six days. The important takeaway for me is that the intent of God was to create something that God called good. Before we rush into the fall, I think we need to just soak in the goodness of creation. God breathes new life from nothingness. God has breathed new life into humanity through his breath. God has the ability to take something that is dark, dead, and nonexistent and turn it into something living, vibrant, and illuminating. God is the ultimate creator and we must never forget that. I am someone who cannot meditate by myself without falling asleep. So I have had to resort to prayer walking because it keeps me awake. But more importantly, prayer walking helps me focus on God because I am aware of his presence out in creation. Even if I’m walking outside, seeing the leaves on the trees and hearing the birds chirping allows me a deeper connection to God’s creation. Even if I’m outside on a busy street with cars roaring and people talking, I can still feel God’s presence as he is the creator of all things. Even walking by people gives me a connection to God. When I am praying inside by myself, there’s sometimes a tendency for me to just focus on myself without having perspective about what is outside of my home. Even when is I see another human being outside, I am aware of the presence of God the creator.

Sometimes I wonder if we move to the fall of humanity too quickly without realizing the goodness of creation from the beginning. I grew up focusing on on our depravity as humans. Thus, there was not much in this world to redeem. I was heavily influenced by the “Left Behind” series and similar dispensationalist theology. My father would talk about all the signs in current events that pointed to the coming apocalypse. My father was heavily influenced by this thinking. He would tell me and my brother that we were specially chosen by God and we would need to be vigilant as we would meet with Jesus again, probably sometime soon. This thinking made me disregard God’s creation since I had only seen what was broken and sinful about it. However, it wasn’t until I reread the creation story that I was reminded of God’s intent for creation. Even though we had messed it up, we had an opportunity to also redeem creation back to its original intent through the help of the Spirit. God has sent us out on a mission to be stewards of his creation. That sort of change in mentality has made such a difference in my life of discipleship.

On another note, I learned in my class that the Old Testament contains an alternative creation story that is much different than the Genesis account. This creation story was much more violent. In Psalm 74:12-17, the creation story starts out with God defeating the Leviathan, a sea monster. From there he finishes up his creation. There is this violent battle that is contrasted by the peaceful creative work by God in Genesis. There may have been some influence in this Leviathan story from the Babylonian creation story contained in the “Enuma Elish”. In this story, various gods fight each other in a violent battle that leads to the creation of the world. There are some similar overtones to the Leviathan. However, what makes the Leviathan story distinct from the Babylonian account is the fact that Yahweh defeats the Leviathan and is truly the creator and ultimate master, while in the Babylonian story, the gods are of equal strength and have a evenly matched violent battle for control of the earth. It’s interesting to note that the Old Testament has influences from its neighboring cultures. This does not take away the uniqueness of the Hebrew Bible. However, we can better understand these Old Testament passages when we understand their historical context and find out what cultural norms and practices of its neighbors of its time may have had an influence in their stories and practices. This is key to exegeting the Old Testament.

Blogging Old Testament Style

I have not blogged for a very long time. I used to blog more often years ago when I had more time and energy. I think blogging for me was a cathartic process. I needed an outlet to express myself. I’m an introvert who doesn’t always feel comfortable to verbalize my thoughts. Blogging allows me an opportunity to process on a computer screen versus in person. I wouldn’t say I was blogging so people would read my blog, though I appreciated people that did read it. I will restart blogging for a class I am taking in seminary. I will be blogging about the Old Testament. I am currently taking an introduction class for the Old Testament. Each week for ten weeks, the class will explore 10 different topics in the Old Testament. I will write a blog for each of these 10 topics giving my take on these subjects. For the few of you who do read this, I hope you will be blessed by it. I welcome any feedback you might have. Thanks so much!

When the Holy Spirit says “Speak Up!!!”

I’ve been on sabbatical since July 1st. It’s been a great time to be rejuvenated and reconnect with God. I’ve also started seminary and it has literally blown my mind in many ways. This sabbatical has allowed me to have bigger vision and bigger dreams. However, I’ve felt antsy since I don’t have a ministry context to apply what I’ve been learning since I am on sabbatical. I feel like a basketball player who’s been relegated to the bench and I’m like “Put me in coach! I’m ready to go back in!” 

As I finish up my sabbatical, the them of “speaking up!” has been coming up. I have been hoping to develop my prophetic gifts. Is there space for me to do this? I’ve been thinking about this returning to college ministry. A few years ago, I was fortunate to be a part of InterVarsity cohort of up and coming Asian American staff in the nation called the Daniel Project. That experience changed my life in so many ways. It was the impetus for me to dream big. My dreams were so small before the Daniel Project. I only knew what was around me and I just went with the flow. However, I’d be angry because I wouldn’t speak up of what I wanted and needed. Through the Daniel Project, I learned the importance and necessity of speaking up. It was a great experience to hear other people in the cohort with speaking up and telling people about their dreams and what they really wanted. Since that time, I’ve been learning how to speak up. At different moments, the Holy Spirit has been telling me “Speak up!!!”

During this sabbatical, I have been experiencing that so much. “SPEAK UP!” So as I finish up my sabbatical, I’m ready to come back and “speak up!” Of course, I’m a broken vessel who will still need to learn how to do this well. However, in my recent experience, if there’s a choice between speaking up and staying silent, usually speaking up has yielded the best results. When I stay silent and keep my dreams and prophetic words to myself, I end up being angry at myself for not saying anything. Also, if the Holy Spirit is really speaking to me, other people miss out on what the Spirit has to say through me. I say this not in an arrogant way but as a way to acknowledge to each other when the Holy Spirit is speaking through people. 

So as I await my return from my sabbatical, I am ready to “speak up!” The Holy Spirit brings us joy and empowers to live out our God-given dreams through our God-given vision. I’m ready to get back in coach! I’m at the scorer’s table. I look forward to what God has store for me as I “speak up!” Especially to my Asian American brothers and sisters, speak up when prompted by the Spirit. Speak up about your hopes and dreams. Speak up about what you need and what you want. Let’s release all our anger, resentment, and fears to unleash all the hopes, dreams, and longings that we have hidden inside the deep core of hour hearts. Once the Spirit moves, the Kingdom of God becomes unleashed and its transformative and redemptive power cannot be harnessed.