The Bible in a Year – 30 July

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and also my introduction to the Proverbs.

30 July. Proverbs chapters 13-15

Another three chapters of the short sayings of Solomon.  One of the Bible readings in church this morning (from the Revised Common Lectionary which many churches use) was from 1 Kings chapter 3 (see my notes for 13 April).  In that reading, the Lord appears to Solomon at Gibeon, the principal place of worship in Judah in those days, and offers him anything he wants.  Rather than “absolute political power” or great wealth, or the death of his enemies, Solomon requests “an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil”. Although obviously already a respected ruler (he had just married the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh) he was aware that many skills are needed to become a great leader, with discernment of people’s motives among the most important. That is one of the aspects of “emotional intelligence” that I suggested in my introduction to the Proverbs are what this book is really about.  God commends him for this wise choice and adds riches and honour as a bonus.

Again, it is difficult to single out particular verses, but let’s look at those that refer to relationships between parents and children. To our culture in which corporal punishment is frowned on or even illegal, “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them” (13:24) seems shocking, but at the time it would have seemed sensible advice. Even now, the dangers of over-indulging children are evident in rising obesity, children addicted to smartphones and youngsters attacking their teachers. That leaves us with the question of how children should be disciplined if physical chastisement is ruled out.  It only leaves leading by example, which is tough, but ultimately the best way to pass on a pattern of righteous living.

Take another verse: “A fool despises a parent’s instruction, but the one who heeds admonition is prudent” (15:5). No mention there of the rod, but the emphasis here is on the child’s responsibility to accept instruction and correction, rather than on the parent’s responsibility to teach them. It’s not clear in Proverbs what the age of the intended audience is, but there are many references to “young men” so probably teenagers are in mind – in later Judaism, 12 is the age of Bar Mitzvah when a boy becomes an adult and responsible for his own actions under the law of God. I guess these sayings may have been taught in classes for boys approaching or following their initiation as young adults.

Another relevant verse is 15:20, “A wise child makes a glad father, but the foolish despise their mothers”. Why does on half of the saying refer to fathers and the other to mothers, other than to make a literary symmetry?  Maybe the point is that fathers rather than mothers were responsible for discipline, while the mother provided emotional support. Many young men find their relationship with their father difficult in adolescence, but retain an affectionate relationship with their mothers, and who would go so far as to say they despise their mother?


Lessons learnt as adolescents are, of course, still relevant in later life, so whatever age you might be now, these teachings are still worth hearing. A good relationship with your parents is still to be prized, even when they are elderly; and most people as they grow up will sooner or later be parents themselves and will need to put these lessons into practice.

The Bible in a Year – 24 May

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

24 May. Jeremiah chapters 34-37

The book of Jeremiah, as I have noted before, is confusing because it is not in chronological order.  For instance chapter 37 records how Zedekiah was installed as a puppet ruler of Judah by the Babylonians, but earlier, chapter 34 opens with Zedekiah already in post.  In it, this turncoat king does something extraordinary: he applies one of God’s commandments which the Jewish people had ignored for centuries, that they must not keep any of their fellow men or women as slaves – or at least not for longer than 6 years and only if the servant in question had voluntarily sold themselves into slavery (presumably to pay off a debt).


But no sooner had the slave-owners complied with the law than they tried to recapture the freed slaves. The law of God meant so little to them that even when enforced by the authorities, they tried their best to get round it for their own advantage.  God’s response was to ironically tell them that for denying others their freedom, they themselves would be ‘free’ from God’s protection and would be killed.  So often people see religious rules as purely restrictive when in fact they represent a form of protection: to follow God’s way is to receive his protection against falling into the sort of sin that rebounds on oneself.  The more people in a society who live by faith, the healthier that society will be. And the more who ignore God’s laws, the worse it will be for everyone.  It’s a lesson that is forgotten in each generation and has to be re-taught and re-learnt, often the hard way.


In chapter 35 the Recabites are held up as an example. They seem to have been an ascetic tribe within Israel, continuing to live a nomadic and austere lifestyle even when the rest of the people had been living the ‘good life’.  They might be compared to Quakers or Amish, for example, or the monastic orders of the Middle Ages. Although to others their self-denial might have seemed pointless, in fact their faithfulness to God was contrasted with the self-seeking of the majority.  We need such people in our society today.  Where can they be found?  There are some small Christian communities who live in this counter-cultural way, but if anything they are to be found more in secular movements and communities where sustainability of food, energy and the environment are more likely to be the aim rather than obedience to God.  But why not both?  Why are more Christians (or people of other faiths) not living this way?  It’s a challenge and one I know I must face myself.


In chapters 36-37 (going back to the previous reign of Jehoiakim), the king calls for the scroll that Jeremiah has had written of all his prophecies to date, and because he will not accept their message he burns it.  Burning sacred writings is always a provocative act, yet Jeremiah was a man of peace, and rather than retaliate himself he merely emphasised that the king was provoking God to wrath, and had a second copy of the scroll made for posterity, while he himself was put in prison.  It is not easy to walk the way of non-aggression in the face of such opposition.  Few people manage it; Jeremiah and Jesus were among those who did.

The Bible in a Year – 30 March

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

30 March. 1 Samuel 15-17

So far we have seen Saul proclaimed as King by God’s decree and filled with the Holy Spirit; but also learnt of his weaknesses, which were impatience and lack of foresight.  In chapter 15 he achieves his greatest military victory to date, but shows another weakness by failing to slaughter the animals as well as the people, as God commanded.  For this his kingship was rejected by God, and the Spirit of God left him.   Leaving aside for now the question of why God commanded the slaughter of innocent civilians and animals as well as soldiers, in this rejection by God we see perhaps the first statement in the Bible (15:22) that obedience to God is what God desires, more than obedience to religious laws.


The boy David from Bethlehem was anointed King in his place by Samuel, but secretly. David goes on to achieve the archetypal giant-slaying feat of killing the heavily armed Goliath with a simple sling and stone, turning the tide of battle against the Philistines.


Saul, we are told, became troubled by an “evil spirit” after his rejection by God, and the boy David – later known as a famous composer of many of religious songs that we call Psalms -plays the lyre to soothe him.  This “evil spirit” may have been depression; but at the end of Chapter 17 when David is brought before Saul after defeating Goliath, Saul appears not to recognise him.  So either the stories have got out of order, or maybe Saul was suffering from dementia? Playing familiar music is often a good way to calm the distress of people with this illness.