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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Week 23: Samson

Samson’s story says that, in his youth, “the spirit of the Lord began to stir him . . .”

Astute Living in The Story readers likely will notice numerous biblical themes coming together in the story of Samson.

  • An angel visits a barren couple and promises a son (like Abraham and Sarah, Elizabeth and Zechariah).
  • The father asks the angel’s name (like Jacob wrestling, like Zechariah’s encounter).
  • The father “sees” God in the angel and fears he will die (like Jacob, like Moses).
  • The son is consecrated from birth and marked by acts of ritual purity (like John the Baptist).
  • The son is destined to deliver God’s people but in the end he is betrayed by someone he trusted. With his last breath and his arms outstretched, he defeats the enemy with a surprising reversal (like Jesus).

Again and again the Samson story testifies to God’s unexpected and undeserved mercy and faithfulness.

The portrayal of Samson’s dubious moral character, foolish hot-headedness, and stubborn independence underscore God’s mysterious way of choosing and using unlikely people for ministry . . . (like me!)

Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 272-282). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.

Living in The Story readings for Week 23

Judges 14-21

Psalm 6

Psalm 31

Psalm 85

Psalm 143

Acts 8-9

Luke 22-23

Week 22: War and Violence

As my husband and I watched the powerful movie Lincoln, we were particularly moved by one scene in which President Abraham Lincoln rides slowly through a still smoldering battlefield. Everywhere he looks, the bodies of soldiers are tumbled together, a horrific grey and blue sculpture of death and destruction.

I wept.

On the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, in the days before he carried his old rugged cross up the hillside, Jesus wept—not for himself but for all those who turned their backs on the peace he offered. Instead of peace, people turned to violence. Jesus saw clearly how this sin against shalom destroys the soul of a person. And so, Jesus took up his cross and walked right into the violence, bearing its burden and thus breaking its power by his own self-giving.

Even though the texts of Joshua and Judges represent an understanding of God-ordained, God-ordered violence, there is and always has been an alternative biblical vision of who God is and, therefore, who the people of God should be. Countercultural witness woven throughout Scripture tells another story of the God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34, Neh 9, Ps 86, 103, 145).

A countercultural witness embedded in Scripture calls upon the people of God to turn away from violence and to live in harmony. It is only when we read Scripture through this kind of alternative lens that we can reread, reframe, reconsider what is truly true for our believing and for our living today . . .

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Week 21: Cornerstone

The thread of “cornerstone” is woven throughout the Scriptures.

The thread of “cornerstone” is woven throughout the Psalms, the Prophets, through Luke and Peter. This image challenges us to ask what it means to us that the Christ is the cornerstone . . .

God-through-Christ is doing a bigger work that is larger than the people of Israel. Now, in the spirit of Pentecost, all humanity is being called into relationship with the Christ of God—the one whom God has sent into the world; the one who embodies the image, presence, essence, and being of the invisible God. This understanding sees all creation as interrelated to the Christ who is foundation and cornerstone . . .

But there is another thread: the psalmist and the prophets, Luke and Peter all speak of those who “stumble” over this stone, and they grieve the disturbing rejection of this foundation of creation, this foundation for living.

I grieve as well.

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Week 20: Joshua

This week and next, we are forced to deal with troubling aspects of narrated violence

When Joshua and the army of Israel marched around the city of Jericho, when the priests blew the trumpets, when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, the text says Joshua said:

Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction . . . Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword everything in the city—men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys . . .

Josh 6:15–21

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble saying “The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God” whenever I read something like this. It’s hard for me to stomach that this proactive violence is part of our Holy Scripture.

When we read these stories in the church’s Scriptures, we are forced to deal with troubling aspects of this narrated violence; especially troublesome is that violence is said to be sanctioned by, even commanded by, God . . .

We may well ask what do these violent, ancient stories . . . have to do with us?

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