Week 33: Elijah

A bright Elijah thread weaves throughout the Scriptures. Elijah’s story begins during a time when Israel’s story had become a sad history of rebellion and civil war. The united kingdom of David and Solomon had fractured into two separate nations: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. In First Kings 16, the storyteller says:

Now Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. And Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him.


Ahab was breaking bad and his queen Jezebel may have been even worse; Elijah was the prophet God had sent to stand against them and challenge their wickedness. It was a thankless, dangerous job, and King Ahab disdained Elijah as the “troubler of Israel.” . . .

The bright Elijah thread even weaves into the story of Moses. Tradition has it that Mt. Sinai and Mt. Horeb are the same mysterious mountain—a numinous space, a thin place of intersection between heaven and earth. As the story goes, when Moses was on the mountain, he heard the voice of God in fire and cloud, in rumblings, thunderings, and quakings. In contrast, when Elijah met God on the mountain, this time God was present in the silence . . .

Centuries after the ancient stories about Elijah were penned, NT theologians read and reread their Holy Scriptures and interpreted the meaning and tradition of Elijah based on their encounter with the Risen Christ . . .

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Week 32: Solomon

It is a sad irony that the kingdom King David built was so short lived. David’s heir, Solomon, followed his father’s path of aggressive empire building, but then Solomon’s own son saw the kingdom rent by civil war. The expansive land and legacy of David and Solomon dwindled into the small nation of Judah consisting of only two of the original twelve tribes. A look at Solomon is a look at the temptation to foolishness even for the wisest among us.

One of the most famous stories about the newly crowned king is the story of God’s gift of wisdom as told in First Kings 3 where the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream: “Ask what I should give you.” The young Solomon answered with wise humility.

Humility is the foundation of greatness and it pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked [for] a wise and discerning mind.

And God gave Solomon great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt.

He was wiser than anyone else and his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations.

He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He would speak of trees, from the cedar that is in the Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish.

People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.

1 Kings 4

The nation of ancient Israel saw its Golden Era with the reign of Solomon.

But power corrupts, they say, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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Week 31: Wisdom

“All the psalms are part of Israel’s Wisdom Tradition, but Psalms 111 and 112 are some that sing and eloquently that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Fearing the Lord. Surrendering to the Inscrutable. Awed by the Awesome. While, biblically, the “fear of the Lord” generally means submission, allegiance, and obedience, this “fear” also suggests an appropriate heart-thumping, knee-knocking, spine-tingling response. The fear of the Lord comes from faith that trembles at the majesty and marvels at the mystery.”

Wisdom is a tradition that stands in healthy tension with the covenantal narrative of the Law. When the Law offers “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” as the Word of the Lord delivered from the mountaintop and set in stone, Wisdom says yes-and; the “word is very near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart” (Deut 30: 14). When the Law’s Deuteronomic understandings say “you get what you deserve,” Wisdom argues “yes-but . . . sometimes life doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to work.” When the Law thunders, “thus saith the Lord . . .” Wisdom hears the voice of God in the silences and in the still small voice, trusting that “when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isa 30: 21).

When the Law reveals the will of God in the offering of the sacrifices, the duties of the priests, and the practices of the Temple, Wisdom also discovers the will of God in a mother’s love, a father’s devotion, and the faithfulness of a friend.

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Week 30: Confession

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions . . .

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise . . . .

Psalm 51

The church traditionally understands that King David wrote this song of yearning and remorse after his great sin against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. If you’ve been reading Second Samuel this past week, you’ve remembered this sad tale of David’s fall and the consequent undoing of his family.

Mercy is all there is for times like these, mercy that can stare us down, that will expose our hubris, name our deadly acts, and challenge our sinful attitudes so that we may be restored to life. This is the only way, facing the darkness within so that we might find the light; naming our brokenness so that we might be healed.

David cried out for mercy, compassion, and cleansing. So, of course, the God who is mercy, compassion, and steadfast love turned to David with that ever-amazing grace. With God nothing is unforgivable.

Even so, cycles were set into motion; Pandora’s box had been opened. God doesn’t wave a magic wand to eliminate the natural consequences of our actions.

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Week 29: David’s House

Living in The Story adds First Chronicles to the reading cycles this week. The Chronicler probably composed his account of Israel’s history as much as 500 years after the events took place. As you read, watch for differences between the ways different theological historians relate past events. (Or maybe “historical theologians” might be a better term) . . .

As we read these stories of David during Week 29, we come across this little story in Second Samuel 7. Once you start unpacking it, it’s surprising how many layers there are. David lives in a “house of cedar” (a palace) and proposes to build a “house” (a temple) for Yahweh. Temple building is one of the things kings do; yes, surely to honor God but also (maybe) to try to control God, to use God as a way to legitimate the king’s power.

But then Nathan the prophet receives—and delivers to the king—an oracle from the Lord of hosts. Thus says the Lord . . . “Do you think you can build me a house? No! I Am the one who will build you into a house, secure your reign and the kingdom forever. And I will be one who will never take my steadfast love away from you and all your descendants forever.”

Thus says the Lord.

It’s a fascinating reversal. God took David from a pasture, raised him up to be king, and made him lord and savior of the people in the kingdom of Israel. David’s house changed the course of Israel’s history. David is Israel’s pivot.

Here’s another layer.

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Week 28: Signs and Symbols

When John’s Jesus speaks of living water, we are immersed in a biblical sea of water-word pictures that portray The Story from Genesis all the way through to Revelation.

  • The Spirit hovered over the waters of chaos. God separated the waters from the land, and it was good (Gen 1).
  • The springs of the earth burst out of their bounds and chaos reigned once again until an ark of salvation rode the waves to safety and new beginnings (Gen 9).
  • The waters of the Red Sea parted and God’s people walked through the very center of the seas of chaos—out of slavery and into freedom (Ex 10).
  • Water flowed abundantly from a rock to sustain the lives of God’s wandering people (Ex 17; Deut 8).
  • God is the Lord of all creation who walks on the water, who rules over that chaos and makes a pathway through the seas (Job 9:8; Ps 77:20; Isa 43:16).

And this Jesus—the one sent from God, the one who brings God’s presence to us—Jesus too is pictured as walking on the seas and calming the storms of chaos (Mark 6:45–52; Matt 14:22–33; John 6:16–21) . . .

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Week 27: David

The stories about David in the Hebrew Scriptures sometimes sound like tall tales and there is good reason for that.

This week, we begin the David stories, some of our best children’s stories. We read about the shepherd boy who used his slingshot to kill a lion and a bear when they attacked his flock, the pure hearted youth singing songs of praise with his harp, the bold young man taking down a giant with a single stone shot from his sling, and the discounted youngest child who was honored above his seven handsome brothers and anointed to be king of Israel.

Who remembers the children’s song about a boy named David and the giant that came tumbling down? When I was a girl, my Sunday school friends and I would spin like a slingshot—“round and round and round and round”—then come tumbling down together in a giggling heap.

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Week 26: Samuel

Reading some of these ancient stories about Israel and the Ark of the Covenant makes me think of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. These old stories seem to engage in some of the same sort of magical thinking Hollywood has created about the power of this strange and holy relic.

Remember our sacred scriptures are not verbatim words from God but rather the gathered and evolving wisdom of a community set in its own time and place . . .

These chapters in First Samuel introduce us to the first king of Israel and give us the backstory of Saul and how he became king. I always find it poignant to read this explanation about why the people thought they needed a human king.

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel. They said:

“No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

(1 Sam 8:19)
“So that we may be like other nations.”

It makes me sad to hear similar sentiments lived out in some current day churches of the United States.

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Week 25: Ruth

The voices of biblical woman are mostly muted, filtered through the voices of the male writers of the text. Even so, women of Scripture speak with their own power, albeit from the edges and the underside of power and privilege. The women of the Bible do not necessarily show us how women ought to behave; rather they tell us something about how women throughout history have acted within their time and place, from within their own particular circumstances.

These women are not to be used as simplistic templates shaped by our own modern Western standards of acceptable or unacceptable behavior, because, for the most part, the stories of Scripture reflect the patriarchal mores of the ancient Middle East and the Roman Empire. But also, of course, woven throughout these secular influences are the religious convictions of the people of Israel. The Israelites and the church did not (and do not) exist in a vacuum. Expectations and pressures from the surrounding culture are as powerful today as they were then, and too many of us stay unaware of the many ways our culture can influence our religious understandings and practice.

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Week 24: Job

Not many stories are as powerful as the drama of Job. Notice how his story is not told within the context of the Abraham/Isaac/Jacob tradition, nor is it understood within the circumstance of Moses and the Exodus. The story of Job is set apart from the lineage of Israel. Job’s tale is its own, set outside of time.

“There once was a man in the land of Uz . . .”

A righteous man, blameless, and upright, “no one like him on the earth.” And then his loves, his living, and his life were all placed in jeopardy by an odd divine wager that unleashed mountains of troubles, oceans of despair, and miserable comforters. We hear blessing and cursing and eloquent searching. We listen to assertions of innocence and guilt. We recognize calls for judgment and justice . . .

I remember, growing up, the conventional wisdom from my childhood praised the “patience of Job.” But when I read the story for myself instead of just hearing the Sunday school version (a very important phase in the growing up process!), I realized Job wasn’t at all “patient.” Like some of the psalmists, Job doubts, complains, criticizes, argues, proclaims his righteousness, and challenges God to a contest of integrity.

What a relief for me to discover that doubt is a crucial part of faith!

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