Preaching Psalm 13 (Exegesis)

28 06 2009

Last week I taught a Summer Class at RTS Atlanta (where I work) – “Advanced Biblical Exegesis”. As part of it we looked at Psalm 13. My own preparation and (more significantly) the students’ great insights were worth posting I thought (RSV):

Slide

Notice the strong repetition throughout, wherein the ideas in each line in the left column are restated in a slightly different way in the right column – sometimes intensified, sometimes reduced in force. At two points this pattern is broken as part of shaping the larger movement – note the “one liners” in white. In addition “How long” holds the first part together, even as “lest” gives shape to the second. The psalm gains momentum, by the former being longer than the second. The two form a kind of mirror image (Chiasm), with the cry to God at the start of verse 3 standing between them as a focal point,  just as verses 5-6 lie outside them as Conclusion. A neat tid-bit which came out of class was the echoes in verse 1. In the first line one thinks of the constant OT promise that the LORD will remember his people, and the Aaronic blessing – ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you‘ (Num 6). In this case the Psalmist wonders that the Lord has forgotten and hid his face, leading him to ask in v3a that the lord might “consider” and “lighten his eyes”. Maybe there is something in this second part of the center – the LORD’s face is still shining, what is needed is enlightened eyes to see this.

Something else which came out was the shifting focus in both vv1-2 and in vv3-4 of God / author / problem. Only after mentioning God and his own inner struggles is the substance of the problem (“enemies”) revealed. There is suspense here, in that you are left to wonder what the issue is. Only after he addresses his issues with God and himself does he mention the concrete problem behind it all. There is something to this I think, which resonates with the enlightened eyes part, which may lead us to come up with something like: WHATEVER YOUR PROBLEM, THE REAL ISSUE COMES DOWN  TO HAVING YOUR OWN EYES OPENED TO THE LORD. This resonates with the conclusion too. We have no sense that the problem has gone away. What changes is the author’s confidence in the Lord. When we have a problem, where does the real issue lie?

How would you preach this? Any thoughts are welcome, but next post I will consider this question further…

Posted by Bruce Lowe





Thinking Like a Christian

1 06 2009
Close shot of Rodin's The Thinker at the Musée...
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I have been reading Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus” (don’t stop reading… its gets better!). Epictetus was a slave of Nero and a Stoic philosopher. These two things together are very important –given that Nero was a great persecutor of Christians and that many of us today think like Stoics! We rely on rationalizing a bad situation into a good one as a way of coping with life’s difficulties, which is exactly what Stoicism was all about. What is interesting is that Epictetus doesn’t interpret the mindset of Christians in his own day this way!

Speaking about “Freedom from Fear(4.7.1), he rationalizes that if a person doesn’t really set his heart on living or dying he may come into the presence of a tyrant (Nero?) and not be afraid of what he might do. He then goes on to speak about two kinds of people who don’t rely on the power of reason to get them through such a situation. The first is the madman who for some reason doesn’t care about losing children or wife and thus won’t mind losing themselves.

The second is “the Galileans” which all scholars believe is a reference to Christians. He says they are able to make face death because of “custom / practice” (Grk: ethous). This is tantalizing as to what he might mean. My best take is that it is pack mentality. Its was seen as “the thing to do” among Christians to die under the tyrant – part of what had become the custom or the thing to do. This would make sense that he would think of categorizing Christians this way. But what’s interesting to me is what he doesn’t lump Christians in with Stoics who rationalize it like this: “cannot reason and demonstration teach a man that God has made all things in the universe and the whole universe itself, to be free from hinderance, and to contain its end in itself, and the parts of it to serve the needs of the whole.”

For Epictetus the secret to happiness is to rationalize your own misfortune in terms of some greater good. And isn’t this what we who are Christians do as well? I’m not at all sure that being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12) means quite what we think it means. In the context of Romans 11, the will of God is not easy to understand, it is mysterious (11:30-33), it is not at all what you expect. And after we have been transformed by the renewing of our minds it is only then that we understand this (strange) will of God (Rom 12:2b). I think we think that the transformed mind is the mind that can rationalizing things better and better. But this is Stoicism. In the entire context of Romans 11 and 12:1 having a transformed mind seems to have more to do with responding to God’s mercy aright, and submitting your will and lack of understanding to him whose mind is greater (see again 11:30-33). Like Job who never knew why it all happened… but in the end put his hand over his mouth, the transformed Christian mind is a mind which has reconciled itself to not knowing a great deal of the time.

Do we worship the mind, as Christians today? Are we a closet Stoic, thinking this is actually Christianity?

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Is Paul Divided? 02

26 05 2009
Copenhagen c.
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Here is the second good quote. This one comes from Troels Engberg-Pedersen of Copenhagen:

Paul should not be seen against a ‘background’ from which he would stand out in splendid isolation. Such a picture would not do justice to the many and complex ways in which he interacted directly with his cultural contemporaries. Instead, we should view Paul as one among them, as a coplayer within a shared ‘context’ that would allow any player to stand out momentarily and for a specific issue of interpretation, but also to receded again later into the shared context.

It does seem to me that we often do Paul and ourselves an injustice when we oversimplify his background, and separate him unnecessarily from his own “culture.” Your thoughts?

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Is Paul Divided? 01

22 05 2009
Marquand Chapel: Yale Divinity School
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I came across this great quote about the need to consider Paul in his total cultural context. I have one other from the same book “Paul Beyond the Judaism / Hellenism Divide” which I will post soon…

“A Hebrew born of Hebrews” he tells us himself, “as to the law a Pharisee. Yet he wrote only and fluently in Greek… others are also making a strong case that Paul was more aware of the specifically philosophical school discussion of his day than we had previously guessed. Yet it is impossible to ignore the fact that frequently he also employs interpretive strategies and traditions from reading the Jewish scriptures that are strikingly like those found in early and later Jewish interpretations, both sectarian and rabbinic. Impossible, too, to erase the typically apocalyptic scenarios that intrude into Paul’s argument, even in places where he is sounding most “Hellenistic” or “rabbinic.” He was, it seems, all these things at once.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Ira Glass – down to earth advice on storytelling 03

20 05 2009
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www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hidvElQ0xE

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Ira Glass – down to earth advice on storytelling 02

16 05 2009
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 18:  Host/executive pro...
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This is the second clip from Ira Glass.

Again right click the link below and open as a new window…

Enjoy!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qmtwa1yZRM

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Ira Glass – down to earth advice on storytelling 01

12 05 2009
Ira Glass of This American Life giving a lectu...
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Recently I stumbled across three great talks on you tube (about 5 minutes each) by a media guy Ira Glass.

Check out the first talk by right clicking the link below and opening it in a new windo…


www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7KQ4vkiNUk

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Keller Power Point on Luke 15

11 05 2009

Keller on Luke 15

Keller's preaching hand gestures
Image by djchuang via Flickr

MikeK mentioned Tim Keller on Luke 15. Here is a power point which may introduce his view….

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Can the Prodigal Son be an Evangelistic Talk? 03

10 05 2009
Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son
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I don’t want to drag this out into too many posts, so let me just cut to the chase – Most authors today agree that Luke is writing to help his readers see why Christianity is the real fulfillment of God’s history for his people. It is written to Gentile Christians who are a bit worried that they might be riding the wrong horse (see Luke 1:1-4).

So what is the role of these three parables? On the one hand they exposes Jewish exclusiveness. On the other they affirms that God loves those who apparently have no right to be included among his people. If we look to chapter 16 and discussion about using worldly mammon to get people into the kingdom, there seems to be a message in the lost parables, for Christians – don’t forget God has a heart for those who are yet to come in, just as he had a heart for you! Don’t be like the elder brother and the religious leaders who are exclusive and have no thought for lost ones.

Yes these parables are meant to challenge an elitist attitude. But this doesn’t mean they don’t have a secondary word to the lost. The Christian audience themselves would be reminded that they were once lost and God was pleased to seek them out. This reminder (I think) can be used directly with non-Christians when preaching these parables to them.

So should we preach about the older brother or the younger brother? It can and should be preached in terms of exclusivism – both Jesus’ setting and Luke’s setting seem to make this reasonable. But I also think Jesus’ setting and Luke’s setting make it reasonable to focus on “the Lost.” In so far as he reminds his Gentile audience of the way God loved and sought them  this can be well applied to people who aren’t Christians yet. IN NOTICING THE IMPORTANT PLACE OF THE OLDER BROTHER THEREFORE, WE SHOULDN’T FALL TO AN EXTREME AND FORGET THAT LOTS OF DETAILS ABOUT THE FATHER’S LOVE FOR THE YOUNGER BROTHER (not to mention the sheep and the coin) ARE INCLUDED! This chapter is still a great resource for evangelistic preaching.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Conversation with an Atheist Friend (Wrap-up)

8 05 2009
XINGHE, CHINA - DECEMBER 12: U.S. Ambassador t...
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Well from this point there was just some further discussion which just kind of turned into personal reminiscence of our childhood.

What might we say in conclusion? It would be nice to hear from you at this point. Maybe there’s someone who has been reading who would like to jump in and dialogue a bit... Your turn!

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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