Week 5

Make Option 01: (Exercise 87 in Stanley.) Read Amos 2:6-16; 5:10-17; 6:1-8; 8:4-9:4. In about 750-1000 words, what does Amos say is wrong with Israelite society? What will happen to the people of Israel if they don’t change their ways? Is there anything that they can do to avoid this fate?

The Book of Amos is a piece of prophetic literature found in the Bible. Amos is the earliest of the prophetic books and we see trends, started in Amos that continue throughout the other prophetical books in the Hebrew Bible (New Interpreter’s Bible, 339). Amos makes a lot of predictions about the end of time and the fate of Israel if she does not change her ways. Amos discusses the problems with Israelite society and specifically cites that the people do not care for the poor or the afflicted and abuse and oppress them; the elite fine the poor to death and then use the money from the fines for immoral acts, the people commit sexual immorality, etc. (Amos 2:6-8).

Amos prophesies in chapter eight that Israel will rise, like the waters of the Nile, be tossed around, and then sink back to its normal height, like the waters of the Nile (Amos 8:7-9). Amos also prophesies that YHWH will not forget the deeds done in Israel (Amos 8:7). Based on this statement from YHWH, I understand it to mean that YHWH will not forget the heinous acts done in the city and the city will always suffer because of it. However, in previous chapters YHWH seems to be wanting them to change their ways and repent (“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said.” Amos 5:14). YHWH might intend to do harm to the entire nation of Israel at this point, but might realize that taking out the entire city would be punishing the righteous, the poor, the afflicted, etc. that have not committed the crimes YHWH is angry about. The crimes YHWH seems to be angry about are the crimes of the elite, not the poor. Many of the crimes YHWH is citing as injustices are crimes selling the needy, fining the poor and using the money for lavish expenditures, etc. These are crimes the poor simply could not participate in, white collar crimes, if you will. This makes the entire passage more confusing, because if there are some committing the crimes, but not all, how can YHWH righteously punish all the people of Israel. However, on the flip side, Amos makes the statement for YHWH that YHWH will not forget the deeds that have been done in Israel, which leads into the prophesy about Israel being risen, tossed aside, and sunk back down.

One idea is that the prophesy about what will happen to Israel is a metaphor. YHWH specifically uses the Nile as an example of what will happen to Israel. Every year the Nile floods its banks, then goes back to its normal water table after a few months. The Nile could have been chosen to be used as a metaphor for the constant rise and fall of Israel (like the constant rising and falling of the Nile). What YHWH, through Amos, could be trying to say is that the suffering Israel will incur is suffering of the rise and fall of it as a prominent nation. For example, when we have white collar crimes occur today (think the whole Bernie Madoff fiasco), how does the government punish them? They take away their money and put them in a high security prison (granted it is for white collar crimes, but they still can’t eat gold leaf, look it up, the governor of California had it sprinkled on all of the food for his recent Oscar’s party). YHWH might be trying to do this with the nation of Israel. Allowing it to rise and fall keeps the people from becoming overly rich and greedy and allows for the nation to “restart” itself every time it falls. Regardless of how Israel will be destroyed by YHWH, it seems from the text that it will occur in some shape, form, or fashion and the people need to be repentant, even though it does not seem YHWH will change its mind at this point. The people of Israel angered YHWH by their greedy ways and by taking advantage of the poor and marginalized (why can’t these people ever get it together?!) and it seems from the statement that YHWH will not forget the deeds done in Israel, that the nation is going to be destroyed because of their sinful ways.

The Book of Amos seems to have inspired other prophetic literature, all with a common theme: “The end is coming!” Even though the Book of Amos is one of the least popular prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible, it still served as the ground work for all of the other prophetic books (New Interpreter’s Bible, 339-340).

 

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Week 4: Apocalyptic Literature

One hot afternoon, I was sitting in my car waiting to go into the church for a meeting. I had my large sweet tea in one hand and was propped up against my other hand, resting. Suddenly, I heard a voice speaking to me.

“Come, follow me.”

“Is that you, God?”

“No, I have been sent from our Lord to tell you important information.”

By this point I was excited.

“Just one more question. Can the sweet tea come with me?”

“Yes, yes, alright! Can we go now?!”

“Of course.”

I stepped out of my vehicle and onto a field. The field was barren and no life had obviously lived there in quite some time.

“Why did you bring me here? Is this the Valley of Dry Bones?”

“You preach every Sunday in the Valley of Dry Bones. Why would God ask you here?”

“True.”

At this point several things happened all at once. I saw a dove, obviously dehydrated and starved, desperately searching for nourishment. I then saw a dog pounce on top of a dove, at the same moment a hunter in the background shot the dove. The bullet went through the dove and into the dog. Both were alive and suffered for quite some time until meeting their end. During this time, I had lost the ability to speak. Once the dove died, the dog soon followed and I regained my composure and the ability to speak coherently.

“Being, what have you just witnessed?”

“I’m not entirely sure. The dog was so focused on the dove, it did not notice the hunter when it pounced on the dove and thus met its end as well. Surely, though the hunter must have seen the dove AND the dog before pulling the trigger.”

“You are correct.”

“Which part?”

“All parts.”

We sat in silent reflection for a good while, before I had the courage to speak again.

“This is a metaphor, and I understand the dove is a representation of the church and the dog is a representation of the evils of the world, but who is the hunter?”

“Ah, now you are beginning to think for yourself. The hunter is every Christian that did not speak out against injustices. Did not speak out against the things of the world, which we are called not to engage in. Did not speak out against status quo. Did not speak out against the loss of religious freedoms. The hunter is the church, not the church Jesus established, but the church that is more concerned about status quo than reaching those in need.”

“So is the dove a representation of a church that does not exist?”

“No. The church is the people. The dove is a representation of all of those who spoke out against injustices. Spoke out against status quo. Spoke out against the evils of the world.”

We sat in silence for a few more minutes while I pondered my thoughts.

“So the hunter became afraid of the true church and killed it, which also killed the world?”

“Perhaps.”

We sat in silence some more.

“Is there any way to change the outcome?”

“There are always ways to change outcomes. Alas! Changing this outcome would be going back to the core of Christianity, not many are willing to do this, you see.”

“But surely the church will not perish?! Surely there will be no world without the church?!”

“Do not forget. The dog died at the hands of the hunter, as well.”

“So this is how it will all end?”

“Perhaps.”

“Can you say anything else on the matter, besides “perhaps?!?”

“Perhaps.”

…..

At this point I began to feel crunching under my feet. I looked down and the lifeless body of the dove was somehow under my own foot.

“Dear one, each individual action we make give one of the three beings [the dog, the dove, or the hunter] more power. We each face choices and challenges every day. Each moment could be just enough for the hunter or the dog or the dove. Do you understand?”

“I believe I do.”

“Good.”

“I do have another question though.”

“What is it?”

“What point in time does this scenario take place?”

“That has not been decided. Like I said, each action could be just enough for one of the three.”

We sat in silence some more.

“You haven’t touched your sweet tea you were so adamant on bringing. Why is that?”

“Oh. I forgot about it. I guess watching something I love die makes it a little hard to enjoy the sweet tea.”

“It has not happened as of yet, dear one.”

With those as our parting words, I was whisked back into my car in the same position I began in. When I went to take a sip of my sweet tea, I realized it was unsweet and had a note attached to the side of it, “get to work” it said. I smiled, stepped out of my vehicle, stretched, and went in to face the hunter itself.

 

Apocalyptic literature has its place in ancient and modern times. Ancient apocalyptic literature was not labeled “apocalyptic” during the time in which it would have been written (http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-21-ch16.html). The Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible most closely resembles what we think of when we hear the term “apocalyptic literature;” many people immediately think of the Left Behind series of books, movies, and now video games. However, true apocalyptic literature is a “revelation from God through a mediator about future events that may unfold” (http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-21-ch16.html).

 

I imagine that for some Christians the thought of the apocalypse is terrifying, while for others it is comforting. Some Christians are terrified by the images that seem to be ingrained in the post-Left Behind series world. While some take comfort in the idea of being reunited with God and Christ. I can see where both sides would have something to seemingly fear in their ideas and images associated with apocalyptic literature, because the world tells us that suffering is wrong and bad. Is there such a thing as good suffering? I’m not sure, but I think we need to analyze where some of our ideas about apocalyptic literature come from, and what it actually is.

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Week 3: Conventional Wisdom

Make Option 02:

In the lecture “Wisdom,” I suggest that the book of Ecclesiastes frequently “sets the bait” of conventional wisdom (Eccles 3:1–8; 7:1–13) in order to “spring the trap,” confronting the reader with a dissenting wisdom that subverts that conventional wisdom (Eccles 3:1–8 is surrounded by 2:1–26; 3:9–22; Eccles 7:1–14a is followed by 7:14b–29). Write an original composition that uses modern examples of conventional wisdom to “set the trap” for a dissenting perspective that subverts the conventional wisdom. Some examples of conventional wisdom that may prove useful:

Remember, your goal is to “fool” your reader (at least briefly) into assenting to such conventional wisdom, before surprising the reader by subverting the conventional wisdom with a dissenting perspective.

In a few follow-up paragraphs, explain to your reader how the biblical examples serve as templates for you. Describe briefly, citing course materials, the ways that conventional and dissenting wisdom function (sometimes called “speculative wisdom”) in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes.

“This is all in God’s Plan; God will take care of you”

Recently, I spoke with someone who had just lost her husband of 40 years. She and I spoke and she explained to me that she is angry with God. I asked her why and she said “because he took my husband from me!” Obviously, my response to her was “This is all in God’s plan; God will take care of you!” This made her feel visibly better and she was finally able to accept her husband’s death and move on. We also sang all five stanzas of “God will take care of you.”

WRONG!!

As a Christian American, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone utter this phrase at funerals, deathbeds, when someone has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or any time a negative life event happens. We are often reminded of scripture that says: God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect (Romans 12:2). Cancer does not fall into any of those categories. Losing a loved one does not fall into any of those categories. All of these things we “blame” God for do not fall into the categories of good, pleasing, and perfect. However, we like to blame God when things do not go the way we hope, expect, or plan.

I once read a book that explained that Heaven is a place of “no more.” What the author meant in this statement is that Heaven is a place of no more (fill in the blank). For example, No more suffering.

When I look at this through the lens of the book of Job, it makes sense. Job’s desire was to blame God, however, the adversary was the one who was testing Job. Also, Job was allowed to be mad at God and question God. His friends challenged them on this… they felt his actions were wrong. God is silent for time, and then lays out the account of why God is blameless and the strong one. In this, Job was able to be wise by grappling with the harsh reality of what God had “allowed” and he was restored. The friends were punished. Bandstra discusses this in the reading for this week. He states that Job is one who has a hard time and could not perceive the things that had happened to him. Once God speaks to Job, Job never gets a full explanation of why the events occurred, however he is given a new family and more wealth than he had ever had. Bandstra discusses this concept and speaks about the idea that this could be a metaphor for the suffering one encounters when they sin and the retribution God has on the person. However, Bandstra also discusses that the story could have been using Job to reference the nation of Israel and narrate the story they were going through (he refers to Habel for this). However, ultimately Bandstra explains that this text is an excellent example of the theology of retribution. He looks at the idea behind the theology in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, as well as Job and makes the statement that retribution is not the only nor most important factor in human-divine relations.

In summary, how did I respond to the freshly widowed woman? I told her that it is acceptable to be angry and wrestle with God. It is Ok to not be OK. I told her to look at the Book of Job; someone who has had everything taken away from him and at the end is rewarded for his loyalty and faith in God. I explained to her that sometimes our faithfulness is rewarded and sometimes it is not, and we as Christians have to be okay with that. And lastly, by questioning God, we gain wisdom, peace, and restoration about whatever is troubling us.

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Week One. My Own Lament

This week, one of the options for my class was to write a lament based on Psalms. Here is my attempt at a lament.

O Lord, hear my feeble cry!
I cry to You from the rural, country church,
Where I feel like Ezekiel wondering if these bones can again have new life,
Yet I feel my cries are in vain
Then, alas O Lord I feel like you deliver me as I drive 90 miles an hour to the sister church, Where I preach
It feels as if I have been delivered into sunlit fields of life, as King David would say
But alas, my cries are in vain,
For the next Sunday when I pull into the parking lot, the church is still there
O Lord hear my feeble cries; O Lord hear my weakness.
The administrative chair harps on me, the old ladies wear too much perfume,
O Lord how much more can I take
They tell me that I am young, I remind them of their grandchild, in reality, Lord I know it’s their great-grandchild.
O Lord hear my pleas!
If I get moved in June, Lord I will know that You delivered me
I will know that You delivered me to the land of milk and honey and have not left me or forsaken me to perish.

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OOTLE Week One- Out of the cave.

I am doing this part of seminary backwards. This is my last class that I need before graduation/commissioning in the UMC. I am taking this course as a “visiting student” at Garrett (My home institution is the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA). I am currently a local pastor in the UMC who is serving two congregations in the middle Tennessee area.

During my time as a pastor of two country churches, I have discovered one common theme: people do not know the bible. Even the ones who do “know” the bible, reject anything that is not in line with what they have always been taught. Now of course, I am making a generalization (which is not appropriate when being a good student of the Hebrew Bible).

Within the weekly reading, the main thing that stuck out to me was section 3.2 (Spoken Word to Written Text). I love to be reminded that the HB/OT was once oral tradition and was eventually written down. This is a hard concept for many of my parishioners to understand… when I share this with them, many times, they say things like “No, Moses wrote all of the Torah and that is that,” I then get alarmed. When I read Deuteronomy 34, I discover that Moses died… HE WAS WRITING AFTER DEATH!!! AHHH!!! MOSES WAS THE WALKING DEAD!!!!

Within the lectures, I enjoyed hearing once again about the problem with “Old” and “Hebrew,” specifically the fact that most of us read the bible in English, not in Hebrew. The English translations that we often use are just that, translations. Within my ministerial setting, I have tried to convey this before, however, at one of the congregations that I once served, I was using the NRSV for preaching. I was one day approached by a elderly man in the congregation who informed me that the original bible was the KJV and that it was written by God. I informed him that I wasn’t aware of God physically walking on earth in 1611.

I share this because I know that for myself and others, we often get caught up in thinking that what we have been taught is the truth. At times, this might be the case, but we should always be willing to evaluate what the authentic truth is. This is a journey, but we must not be afraid to step into the light and see true dog and not the shadow. If you are not sure what I mean by the true dog and not the shadow, check out this link about the Allegory of the Cave.

Blessings on this journey!!!

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About Me

My name is Jonathan Tolbert. I live in Manchester, TN and have a wonderful wife and foster children. I am a United Methodist pastor currently serving two congregations in the middle Tennessee area.

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