The Bible in a Year – 9 October

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

9 October. Galatians chapters 4-6

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul introduces the theme of “Flesh and Spirit” which also appears in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians.  What exactly he mans by the “flesh” is a matter of some debate, but something like “the human tendency to please oneself, even at the expense of others” seems to be getting close. The Spirit, on the other hand, is God’s presence with us drawing us into the sort of lifestyle that pleases God, because it involves laying aside our own self-interest for the sake of others.  The starkest contrast between these two influences is in chapter 5 where Paul lists first of all the “works of the flesh” – including the many forms of human conflict as well as various sexual sins and drunkenness.  “By contrast”, Paul writes, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity [or goodness], faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (5:22-23).

I recently went with a small group from our church on a weekend away at which we considered these fruits of the spirit.  We were urged to work at developing these fruits in the coming weeks. I know I certainly have to work at patience and self-control!  But given that the whole thrust of this letter is about Christians no longer having to conform to religious rules, the last thing Paul would have wanted is people either comparing themselves competitively with others to see who is the most joyful or generous, or getting anxious about not being as much like any of these as they would like to be. The whole point of these “fruits” is that it is God who grows them in us.  We just have to provide the right kind of soil, that is to say, by being open to God through prayer and scripture, we create the right conditions for these fruits to grow in the way we live with other people.

The Bible in a Year – 17 June

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

17 June. Joel chapters 1-3

Joel is one of the shortest books of the Bible, a mere three pages in most editions.  Its theme – that of God’s punishment of Israel for idolatry and other sins by sending the Assyrians and Philistines to conquer them, and a later restoration of the land to reoccupation and economic prosperity – is found in many other Biblical writings of the period.

 

But it also contains some of the most profound revelations of God’s future plans for his people.  Chapter 2, verses 28-32 are quoted by St peter in his address to the crowds on the day of Pentecost to explain the coming of the Holy Spirit: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions … everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”.

 

Chapter 3 contains what seems like a vision of a final judgement of all people in the “valley of Jehoshaphat”.  The latter was a name of a king of Judah, but as the name simply means “The Lord has judged”, there is no real clue as to what location might have been intended.  It does however tie in with other Biblical prophecies such as that of Armageddon, suggesting that whatever the “last day” might be, it will involve some kind of war or other physical encounter in the Bible lands.

 

The penultimate verse of the book is a wonderful promise: “But Judah shall be inhabited for ever, and Jerusalem to all generations.” It has not been fulfilled literally, for there was a time when the holy city was abandoned, but it is still revered by all three Abrahamic religions as a holy place, and in Christian thought “Jerusalem” is a metaphor for the Church wherever it is found.

The Bible in a Year – 28 March

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

28 March. 1 Samuel chapters 9-12

Two days ago we encountered Samuel as a young boy, dedicated to God by his mother. Yesterday we saw him as a wise leader – not leading his people in battle as other ‘judges’ did, but keeping the peace with his wise judgements. Today we see him hand over leadership as another young man (Saul) is chosen by God to lead his people, this time not as a priest, judge and prophet like Samuel but as a military king, as they wanted.  In what to Saul must have seemed a chance encounter with Samuel, he is anointed as the future king of his country.  Late, he is officially elected (by God’s will made known through the drawing of lots that is, not by democracy as we know it) and crowned in front of representatives of all the tribes. After that, he goes on to lead a successful military campaign against the Ammonites.

 

But in between the intimate personal encounter when he is told of God’s choice (confirmed by a prophecy fulfilled in his own life), and the public event, Saul is sent by Samuel to encounter the ecstatic prophets at Gibeah, where he is caught up in their ecstasy himself.  In modern Christian terms we would say he was “filled (or baptised) with the Holy Spirit”.  The coming of the Spirit on a person is usually understood as an equipping for service,  a giving of gifts or talents from God that they were not born with, for the purpose of making God’s ways known, or his will done, on earth.

 

Saul was from a rich family and so presumably would have been educated, but like so many other great Biblical characters (Abraham,  Moses, David and Amos among them) he was a herdsman as a young man – in his case of donkeys rather than sheep.  For all these people, their time alone away from the busy ways of a town, and in nights under the stars, helped them to be open to God’s call, and to his indwelling Spirit.  But he would not have encountered Samuel if his companion (probably a family servant) had not known of him and pointed Saul to him for guidance. So often it is true that one person can, by a single encouraging or corrective word, witness to God’s truth and point another on the right path for their life.

All these elements came together to make Saul the great king that he would become: an education, time spent meditating in solitude, a religious friend who was not afraid to witness to him, the word of prophecy given by someone else, a sacramental anointing, and finally the encounter with God’s spirit of ecstacy.  To quote from John Bell’s hymn “enemy of apathy”:

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
Waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
She weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
Nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.