If anyone ever tells you that the Bible is outdated and has no application for modern life, just point them to Exodus 25 through 29. You’ll find these chapters immediately relevant whenever you have to build a furnished replica of the tabernacle and outfit the priests to offer sacrifices in it. All sarcasm aside, though, you may come away from these chapters wondering not only what they have to do with your life, but also what they even describe. They don’t have any helpful illustrations, and they’ve been translated for us English speakers from a several-thousand-years-old instance of a foreign language, so don’t be surprised if they’re less clear than Ikea instructions.
Welcome to the Ten Commandments, also referred to as the Decalogue. In Judaism, they’re known as the Aseret ha’Dibrot, which might be translated “the Ten Sayings,” “the Ten Statements,” or, as my dad is fond of putting it, “the Ten Words.” They’re not technically imperative sentences, but they do prescribe certain behavior, or more accurately, they proscribe certain behavior. And they certainly are sayings, as the chapter says right out the gate that God says them.
The Pentateuch is weird. Genesis is mostly narrative with periodic genealogies. Exodus, too, consists of sizeable portions of narrative containing occasional genealogies, but here in Exodus 12, we see detailed instructions for observing Passover woven into the story. The ancient Hebrews had no problem deriving what ought to be from what is, because in their view, a moral God had created a moral universe, and he had told them how things should be in it. The bulk of the chapter consists of God issuing Passover norms to Moses and Aaron. But you can set those aside for the moment, because I want to talk about that narrative portion in the middle where God does what he’s been saying he’s going to do, namely, killing the firstborn of Egypt.
If there’s one phrase for which the book of Exodus is known, it’s “Let my people go.” But if there are two phrases for which the book of Exodus is known, the second one is “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” Or “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Or “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” There are a lot of different ways that the phrase shows up, and they’re even more diverse in the original Hebrew, so let’s take a look at some of them.
Today, as Joseph continues to use his position of authority to mess with his brothers, I want to take a look at two questions: where has God been in Joseph’s life, and how do people talk about him?
I might as well confess: I don’t pray in groups much anymore. That’s not to say that I don’t pray out loud, but when I do pray out loud, usually the only one who hears me is God. Or I’ll be offering a cursory ritualistic prayer before eating a meal with family or church family. I bring this up because when I do pray as part of a larger praying group, sometimes I become acutely conscious of the other people hearing my prayer as well as God. Sometimes we pray with witnesses to the act, or an audience, or however else you might term the third parties listening to what you’re saying to God. And as a result, we may say certain things for the benefit of the people listening.
If you don’t want to hear Jesus’ last message to his disciples before his crucifixion, you’d better either close your Bible or skip ahead to John 18. The other gospel authors each spend maybe half a chapter on the Last Supper, but John devotes an entire three chapters to Jesus’ words over the meal, plus a fourth chapter in which Jesus gives a prayer entrusting the disciples to God the Father. It’s time to dig into these meaty chapters, so in the words of professional video game expert Tim Rogers: click that X, or buckle that seat belt. You make the choice.
Ah, the third chapter of John: home to the favorite verse of sports fans everywhere! If you’ve ever gone to a football game or channel-surfed for more than ten seconds (remember television?), you’ve doubtless seen the “John 3:16” signs in the crowds, pointing sports enthusiasts to perhaps the most concise statement of the gospel in all scripture. You’ll find this verse situated in the midst of a covert dialogue between Jesus and a powerful Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus has questions, and Jesus has answers.
And Nicodemus has more questions in response, because dang if Jesus’ answers don’t seem unnecessarily cryptic.
The gospel of Mark is weird, but at least it’s synoptic. You probably already know that Matthew, Mark, and Luke comprise the three synoptic gospels, but you may not know that the word “synoptic” comes from the Greek words συν, syn, meaning “together,” and οπτικος, optikos, the adjective form for the word meaning “seeing” or “sight.” We call Matthew, Mark, and Luke the synoptics because they’re looking together at the same events from Christ’s life, looking at him in more or less the same way. John’s gospel, however, is so weird it isn’t even synoptic. In all probability, John was the last gospel to be written down, so it’s like John’s saying to us, “I’m going to complement the synoptics by giving you a whole different vantage point on Jesus Christ, and it’s going to blow your mind.” I may be editorializing a bit with that last phrase, but the fact remains: the gospel of John provides a distinct look at the life of Jesus Christ, and it is weird.
Did I already talk about how the night before the crucifixion is Judas’ fifteen minutes of fame? I did? Great. I guess I’ll have to find something else to talk about. And that shouldn’t be too hard, because while there is a lot of Judas in Mark 14, there is also a lot of other things, because it’s a big chapter. At 72 verses, it’s cleanly the biggest chapter in Mark. Let’s see what else it contains.