As I write this, I’ve read ahead a chapter or two, and as I think about the chapters surrounding Hosea 12, the prophet is bringing more of Israel’s history to bear through his prophecy. Even today, Judaism is a religion of history, a culture of history. The Torah is equal parts law and narrative, God’s revealed norms for ethical behavior intertwined with the record of his intervention in human events. If prophecy is a message from God, a crucial part of Hosea’s prophecy is God’s reminder to his people: in case you’ve forgotten, we have a history.
I can’t believe we’re already finished with Hebrews. I mean it; despite my familiarity with it, I somehow got it into my head that it had fourteen chapters. But sure enough, here’s the end, from the exhortations to good behavior to the last little bits of theology to the personal notes. It spans two pages in my Bible, and even before I turned the page, I could tell by the tone that the book was wrapping up. There was not going to be another chapter.
In the past two chapters, the author of Hebrews has been making the point that Jesus is better than angels. In this chapter, he makes the point that Jesus is better than Moses.
So here’s a letter from Paul to Titus. But who’s this guy? A search for his name throughout the entire Bible turns up some references from 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and even the final chapter of 2 Timothy, so he’s not a complete stranger to us, even if he’s a bit of a minor character in the New Testament. Whenever Paul mentions him, it’s in positive terms, comforting brethren, conducting himself respectfully and helpfully. Titus? Everyone loves Titus. He is an okay guy.
What’s good enough for you? What’s worth committing to? Paul wrote more than one letter explicitly dealing with legalism, especially first-century Judaism’s Torah-based legalism. And while he doesn’t hit the problem as aggressively in his letter to the Philippian church, it’s still a concern: he warns his readers about “evil workers,” the “false circumcision,” even calling them “dogs” (2). These individuals are committed to adherence to the Law, thinking they can make the grade based on their own works. What’s good enough for them? Being good enough.
Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians with a return to that much-loved topic of circumcision. It may just be the cumulative effect of the whole letter, but this chapter strikes me as giving the clearest picture of his opponents and their motivations yet.
Paul’s got a two-pronged argument here for those among the Galatians who would want to hang onto the Jewish law and insist that it’s necessary for salvation. He starts with a contrast between law and faith, similar to his arguments in the first handful of chapters from Romans, then moves into one based on chronology. But before we get into all that, I just want to note: the Galatians are by and large not Jews themselves! But they’ve bought into this false gospel from diehard Jewish legalists that being a Christian means getting circumcised and getting your kosher on and keeping the Sabbath. Which, honestly, strikes me as a serious feat of persuasion, getting predominantly Greek Gentiles to adopt the restrictive legal code of a minority religious-ethnic group that enjoys no particular popularity in the Roman Empire.
Paul really likes his metaphors. In this chapter, he’s hardly introduced one metaphor when he moves on to another: a metaphor-shark swimming in the stream of consciousness, never stopping. He’s got three metaphors here: a letter of commendation, the stone tablets of the old Law, and Moses’ veil.
I got a surprise this morning. According to my memory, Psalm 150 was a litany of exhortations to praise God with various musical instruments, with zero substantive theological content. As it turns out, the List of Approved Instruments is bookended by reasons to praise God, a context to establish why praising God is a good thing to do with your music. The lessons here are twofold: the best source for determining what the Bible says is the actual Bible, and also my memory is failing me in my old age. I’m thirty-four.
The home stretch of the book of Psalms is full of songs of praise, and Psalm 147 is no exception. Brueggemann’s classification scheme designates it as a psalm of new orientation, in which the formerly oppressed and wounded of Israel praise God for coming to their aid. Having been lifted out of the pit of suffering, Israel now worships God in song for his protection and provision.