I’ll be frank: the last half of Exodus 22 and the first half of Exodus 23 read like God suddenly gave up on organizing his laws into categories and just started declaring norms. The NASB gives the section the header “Sundry Laws,” which sound like laws pertaining to your sundry. But no, “sundry” is an adjective, not a noun. And if you look through this legal grab-bag, you can find some recurring themes, like gods.
Sometimes a lot of different things happen in a chapter. In today’s chapter, for example, God tells Jacob to go dwell in Bethel, which Jacob does, and God has a message of blessing for him once he settles there. Also, people die: Rebekah’s nurse Deborah, Rachel as she gives birth to Jacob’s twelfth son Benjamin, and then old Grandpa Isaac. If you can find a common theological or spiritual thread through all these events, more power to you. But as far as I can tell, the only theme tying them together is “some things pertaining to Jacob’s family happened in Canaan.” Sometimes chapters are like that.
The genealogies of the Bible, particularly those in Genesis, get a bad rap as containing little action and entirely too many hard-to-pronounce names. But while today’s chapter isn’t a genealogy and has no shortage of action, it’s still packed to the gills with people and places with names like Chedorlaomer and Zeboiim. Honestly, as I read these lists of kings at war and their home nations, my eyes gloss over and in my head I start thinking, “In the days of Guy king of Place, and Different Guy king of Other Place…” and if you do the same, I wouldn’t blame you. But that’s what we get for not possessing a native-level familiarity with the ancient Hebrew language.
The adventure continues in today’s chapter, at least until it ends. And since early childhood, I’ve associated the book of Acts with Paul’s snakebite from this chapter. I remember a Sunday school handout telling the story of the storm, shipwreck, and island encounter through text and illustrations. In a simple but realistic style, one of the drawings depicted Paul withdrawing from the campfire with a writhing snake clinging to his hand. It was exciting and a little bit scary, and it locked the idea into my head that sometimes missionaries have adventures. It was like the book of Acts itself had latched onto my brain with serpent teeth.
We’ve got a few different events that we could conceivably talk about from today’s chapter of Acts. Timothy makes his first appearance, the high-class fabric merchant Lydia becomes a Christian, Paul exorcises a spirit of divination and gets in trouble for it, and Paul and Silas go to and get out of jail. I could dig into any one of these events, and there’s a good chance I’ll hit more than one. But before I do, I want to hit an event so subtle you might easily miss it: the introduction of Luke.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 12:2. It describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” I’ve said before that there’s a fine line between Christianity and masochism, and it’s not difficult to fall into spiritual self-flagellation (or physical, if you’re a 13th-century monk). At times, to varying degrees, I’ve succumbed to the temptation to embrace and pursue suffering for its own sake.
Real talk: I often come away from Paul’s words here feeling obligated. In my mind, it’s as if Paul is trying to get us to worship God, or to make us feel like praise is the proper normative response to the blessings he describes, and thereby to make us feel compelled to praise. And that’s odd, because the passage is far more about what God has done for us than what we should do for God. Why do I react to it this way? I think we might get something out of this, so let’s sit me down on the couch with this slice of Ephesians 1 and talk about my feelings.