By God’s grace, English translations of the Bible are generally of very high quality, far higher than the translations of any other ancient text. More effort is put into securing just the right sense and nuance when translating the Bible than anything else, because so much is at stake. Due to my over-education, I have the rare privilege of reading English translations not only alongside the original Hebrew, but alongside other translations used by the earliest Christians in Greek (the Septuagint), Syriac (the Peshitta), and Latin (the Vulgate). And when I came to Zephaniah 3:1, I noticed something strange: unusually, all the English translations I looked at disagreed with all the early versions. What’s going on here? (more…)
In a famous episode of The Simpsons, Homer exposes both presidential candidates as in fact space aliens conspiring to take over the earth and enslave humanity. Among the watching crowd, one person proposes voting for a third-party candidate, and one of the aliens responds, “Go ahead! Throw your vote away!” after which Ross Perot in frustration punches through his hat. The episode ends showing that one of the aliens has in fact won the election.
Ross Perot’s 1992 independent campaign for US president received 18.9% of the popular vote, a larger percentage of the vote than any other candidate outside the two-party system since Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 bid to derail William Howard Taft’s reelection campaign (resulting in the election of Woodrow Wilson). Yet despite his success attracting individual voters, Ross Perot received no votes in the electoral college. Not since 1968 has any third-party candidate received any electoral college votes, apart from individual faithless electors who have not changed the outcome of the election. It is easy to see why many people consider voting for anyone other than the Republican or Democratic candidate is simply “throwing you vote away.” I would like to suggest a more nuanced analysis. (more…)
The day was hot and dusty. The sun beat down mercilessly on the hills, the rocks, the long-parched dirt. The people were standing in the sun, sweating. There were a lot of people! Maybe half a million, maybe a million, perhaps more, unimaginably many people.
And they were on the move. They had been walking for years with their tents and their families, their goats and their sheep. More than years, it had been decades. Most of them were not old enough to remember when they started; they had only heard the stories, terrifying stories what life was like before- before… They didn’t even have a word to call the crazy events that had set them moving all those years ago, which only the oldest few among them now remembered. But they knew the heat and the dust, the tents and the rocks, the animals and the sacrifices.
Their old leader, the last of his generation, the oldest one among them still alive, remembered those days, and he knew where they were going. He said they were getting close, that in just a few more weeks now, they would get to their new home. But he did not expect to live that long himself. He looked healthy for one so unimaginably old, still sharp-eyed and walking around. But he had already named his successor, another one of the oldest among the people (he was over eighty years old!), who remembered when it all started. Their oldest leader warned them that he himself would not arrive with them to where they were going.
And so, on this hot, dusty day, they stood outside in the heat and the sun, in their sweat and their thirst, to listen to their old leader for what might be the last time. He had a lot that he wanted to tell them! He had been talking to them for days, preparing them for the future, but also reminding them of what happened in the past, before most of them were born. They needed to know where they came from, and where they were going, and most importantly, why. And they listened, because they knew he was speaking the words of their God to them. Their old leader was the spokesman for the God who had rescued them back then and who walked with them now, the God whose tent was among them, who had come with them all these years and decades, the God who was with them here in this hot dry place, and who was soon going to bring them to their destination.
Their old leader struggled up a slope, helped by some of the younger men, so that his voice could carry above their heads. When he finally reached a spot where most people could see him, he turned around slowly, and everyone hushed except for some of the babies scattered among the crowds. The people waited in silence for his words.
But unlike previous times, when he had told them of their God’s care for them, had warned them to avoid evil, and instructed them how to live good lives with their God, this time he… sang. He sang! His voice, surprisingly strong in one so old, echoed off the rocky slopes above him, and the beautiful, mysterious words echoed in their hearts. It was a song about their God and about his people – about them! It was a confusing song about worship and rebellion, about their God and other gods, about how awe-inspiring their God was, in both his kindness and his unique perfection. The oldest among them listened most intently, and tried to save the words in their hearts; they knew they would need to think about this more later. And after the old leader sang, his appointed successor repeated it after him, just to make sure that it was remembered, that it would not be lost.
Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel. He said to them, “Pay attention to all the words which I am warning you today, which you will command your children to keep doing all the words of this Law. For it is not a meaningless message to you, but it is your life, and by this message you will prolong days upon the ground which you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deut. 32:45-47)
Over three millennia ago on a hot dusty slope overlooking the Jordan River, Moses, the servant of God, taught a prophetic song to the Lord’s people and encouraged them to remain faithful to God and to pay attention to his message. God’s message to his people is not just good advice, not just beautiful poetry, not just rules to live by. God’s message to us is our life. “For this reason, we must pay attention all the more to what we have heard” (Heb. 2:1).
There has been a lot of discussion over the past week of Rick Perry’s claim that President Trump is God’s “chosen one” to be president. Obscure points of Christian theology have spilled over into mainstream media, and political commentators have felt obliged to weigh in on doctrines of predestination and election. The two most common talking positions seem to be shaping up as “God has nothing to do with politics” and “Of course God chose our president; get over it.” But the analysis has focused primarily on politics, and I think reflecting on the theology may be more helpful. In particular, what the Bible says about God’s involvement in selecting leadership may be useful for adding the nuance lacking in the public discussion, and may serve as a useful reminder of what Advent is about. (more…)