The Tower of Babel is a story that often presents a challenge to contemporary readers—a straightforward reading leaves a number of unanswered questions. Is this really how diversity of language arose on the Earth? Why exactly was the Tower built? And what was so problematic to God about the building of the Tower that He felt the need to intervene in such a direct way? Most secular scholars see this narrative as ancient mythology that puts forward an origin story on how the diverse languages of the world arose. The book of Genesis, where this story resides, is famous for its brevity in storytelling. As most Western readers lack a historical or Middle Eastern cultural context for these narratives, it can be particularly challenging for us to “fill in the details” on things in the Torah or Old Testament narratives that the writer assumed the listener or reader would already understand. While there will always be scholarly nuances to debate about this 3000+ year old story, there are a number of fascinating elements with real relevance for our own modern lives. The Confounding of Language First, while the story comes across as an origin story on the languages of the world when divorced from the rest of the larger book of Genesis, from a strictly textual perspective this cannot be the case. The story does indeed say that God confounded the language of those building the city/tower to disrupt their work, but in Genesis 10:5, even before the story of … Read More
One of the easiest traps to fall into when reading the Bible is to read it as a collection of hero stories and to try to extract “life lessons” from observing the characters within. (In actuality, the Bible is moreso an expansive, multi-millennia story about God’s actions on this Earth to bring the human race back into relationship with himself.) But, I do think there are lessons to be learned from study of characters in Scripture. One of the clearest character juxtapositions in the Bible seems to be that of two of Israel’s kings, David and Saul, as detailed in the Books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. Here’s what I think it comes down to: David has this intriguing, almost excessive trust in God whereas Saul, although a “religious” man, at the end of the day, won’t put anything in God’s hands. I never noticed this until recently when I read through much of 1 and 2 Samuel quickly while studying the Message translation. There are handfuls of brilliant and sometimes comical details in the narrative which illustrate this. Let me start with Saul. Saul’s Need for Control There are some strange events that happen in Saul’s life as king. But one way to summarize these events is through the lens of Saul’s fundamental lack of trust in God. The first example comes early in Saul’s reign. While Saul is in preparation for one of the largest battles of his early career, Samuel, the prophet of Israel who anointed … Read More
It’s a well-known story. Jesus and his disciples are crossing over to the other side of the lake. Jesus falls asleep in the boat. A furious storm breaks out over the sea. The boat fills with water and Jesus remains asleep. Panicked, the disciples cry out to Jesus. He wakes and calms the storm. After Jesus quiets the wind and the waves, he turns to his disciples and says “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” So why this rebuke from Jesus? Why does he criticize the disciples? What, precisely, is Jesus bothered with? I’m finding this passage absolutely fascinating because I think there is something really subtle going on that I have just noticed for the first time. 35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no … Read More
“The crucial question in prayer is not whether God suspends the laws of the universe, or whether he grants what people ask for, but whether we really open ourselves to him, open ourselves to his creating, saving presence” (Christianity Rediscovered, page 137). In his now classic book, Christianity Rediscovered, Vincent Donovan writes of his experiences sharing the message of Christianity with the Maasai tribes in Tanzania. Prior to approaching the various Maasai clans, the young Catholic priest resolves to simply present the message of Christianity—stripped as much as possible of his own Western rituals and conventions. He presents the teaching of Jesus without offering anything else that would cajole the people into a response. Nor does he ask for anything in return. As Donovan proceeds through his instruction with the Maasai, he is faced with the question, “How should Christians pray?”
And God said to Abraham, “…You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised. (Genesis 17:9,11,24) What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ (Romans 4:1-3) There is no denying that circumcision is a bizarre ancient ritual. In fact, scholars from a wide range of disciplines continue to debate the purpose and origin of the practice. I’m the kind of person who gets tripped up on stories that aren’t clear to me and I’ve long wondered about this part of Genesis. Now, a couple decades later, I think I finally understand it (or at least, enough of it).
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