Sunday, January 22, 2017

Reading the Bible: POETRY and the PROPHETS (Job to Malachi)

Artist's interpretation of Ezekiel's vision. Art by Benji303 @ DeviantArt
These reactions on reading the Bible are not meant to be scholarly commentaries but only reactions.

The Prophets are difficult reads. Here are heavenly, surreal visions. Here, prophets and true messengers of God are preaching to a nation that is not listening. The Old Testament is the story of Israel, their continued disobedience and yet God still helps them, God still has mercy. We see that God, ultimately, only wants the best for his people. They have given themselves to idolatry even to the point of sacrificing their own children to these false gods. They followed destructive practices which only led to their self-destruction.

Readers and Christians today can get tired of reading about Israel's repeated mistakes. Why don't those Israelites wise up and just stop doing bad things? But we have no right to say that, because we are all Israel. If we lived at that day and time, we might have also followed false gods. We will still rebel and rebel in the face of God. But the good news is with Christ, sin no longer has any hold on us. We have been forgiven, and even if we are still tempted, we are free from death and the law of God's punishment. We are continually growing to Christlikeness, a journey that we must go through in this short life until the moment we die. This growth is not finished today, or at some point in the future.

The Poetry books of the Bible start with the famous story of Job, who is probably the man who had suffered the most in the world. Job is frequently cited as one of the most astounding and beautiful works of literature, and in reading it, I feel that it is. For me, these passages about true wisdom are the best poetry I've read:
“People know where to mine silver and how to refine gold. They know where to dig iron from the earth and how to smelt copper from rock. They know how to shine light in the darkness and explore the farthest regions of the earth as they search in the dark for ore. They sink a mine shaft into the earth far from where anyone lives. They descend on ropes, swinging back and forth. Food is grown on the earth above, but down below, the earth is melted as by fire. 
Here the rocks contain precious lapis lazuli, and the dust contains gold. These are treasures no bird of prey can see, no falcon’s eye observe. No wild animal has walked upon these treasures; no lion has ever set his paw there. People know how to tear apart flinty rocks and overturn the roots of mountains. They cut tunnels in the rocks and uncover precious stones. They dam up the trickling streams and bring to light the hidden treasures. 
“But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding? No one knows where to find it, for it is not found among the living. ‘It is not here,’ says the ocean. ‘Nor is it here,’ says the sea. It cannot be bought with gold. It cannot be purchased with silver. It’s worth more than all the gold of Ophir, greater than precious onyx or lapis lazuli. Wisdom is more valuable than gold and crystal. It cannot be purchased with jewels mounted in fine gold. Coral and jasper are worthless in trying to get it. The price of wisdom is far above rubies. Precious peridot from Ethiopia cannot be exchanged for it. It’s worth more than the purest gold. 
“But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all humanity. Even the sharp-eyed birds in the sky cannot discover it. Destruction and Death say, ‘We’ve heard only rumors of where wisdom can be found.’ 
“God alone understands the way to wisdom; he knows where it can be found, for he looks throughout the whole earth and sees everything under the heavens. He decided how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall. He made the laws for the rain and laid out a path for the lightning. Then he saw wisdom and evaluated it. He set it in place and examined it thoroughly. And this is what he says to all humanity: ‘The fear of the Lord is true wisdom; to forsake evil is real understanding.’”
In the Psalms, I am moved by the verses emphasizing the transience of life. In Psalms 39, it says that life is fleeing away. Life is described as  'no longer than the width of a hand',  a breath, a moving shadow, a passing wind, a traveler passing through. In Isaiah, our life is described as grass that dies quickly, flowers whose beauty fade by tomorrow.

There are many interpretations and commentaries even on one verse of the Bible, and it would take a whole lifetime to study it all. Though, practice and applying the teachings is more important than filling your mind with just knowledge and analysis. Belief and faith, along with the daily walk with God, is an everyday battle. Everyday I am facing the same old struggles along with unexpected new ones, but the good news is God gives us grace sufficient for each day.

Next up are my reactions to the more interesting parts: Christ's life and teachings in the Gospels, and the last of this blog series is my experience and changes in my life after reading the whole Bible for the first time (I am sure this is not the last read-through!).

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