Tag Archives: Hebrew Bible

Yahweh’s Blue Yonder: Understanding Judaic Roots Helps Us Become Better Stewards!

I recently had been reading a textbook for a class I had taken in college entitled , ‘Environmental Ethics and Policy’ Book – the book is essentially an anthology of many different articles on various aspects of environmental ethics. One of the most interesting entries I have recently discovered is ‘Judaism and the Environment’ . I know that I had stated that I am interested in what Christian ethical standard may exist with regard to the environment- but we shouldn’t supercede our Judaism roots- what sort of precedents for environmental stewardship did YHWH impend upon the ancient Israelites?

Robert Gordis, the author of this section, of course is wise to bring up the issue that many have with ‘Genesis 1:28 – the verse telling mankind to essentially go out and ‘subdue it’ – ‘it’ being the earth. Gordis then states that “it then declared that subduing enemies in war is primarily a male undertaking, the verb ‘subdue’ teaches that the obligation to propagate the human race falls upon the male rather than the female.”

After going through a phew more interpretations as to what the ‘subdue’ might mean from other jewish commentators, Gordis states something quite insightful ‘ These interpretations , however, are phrased in generalities. The true genius of Judaism has always lain in specifics. Thus, there is no passage in the Hebrew Bible ‘ Love your enemies’ – What we do find instead are concrete instructions for dealing with those we dislike. For instance, Proverbs 25:21 commands us: ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink’ – Similarily, Judaism’s teachings about people’s duties and rights vis-a-vis the natural habitat are not to be sought in high-sounding phrases which obligate them to nothing concrete; rather, they will be found in specific areas of Jewish law and practice.”

Two words, he introduces, I think are worth considering- ‘tza’ar ba’alei chayim’ – meaning the ‘pain of living creatures’. The Fourth commandment was to be extended to animals- rest for one’s ox, donkey, and every creature on the Sabbath. The prohibition of a farming having an ox and a donkey yoked together to plow a field- because of the greater strain that would be impounded on the weaker animal- how much more than, could this apply to Tilicom and all the other creatures of SeaWorld…

 

There were laws against slaughtering an sheep or ox with its offspring on the same day, and not the mention the traditional laws of kosher slaughtering which were designed to generate the reverance for life that YHWH desires.

The second Jewish concept? – ‘bal tashchit’- meaning , ‘do not destroy’ . Mr, Golbis goes on to give specific instances of how this would apply in the lives of the Israelites, but it can be summed up by saying ” This principle derives in part from the recognition that what we are wanting to call ‘our’ property is really not our own, but God’s”.

In capturing Tilikulm, putting him in captivity, torturing him ( literally!) and using him for our own gain, we are clearly in severe violation of ”tza’ar ba’alei chayim'”- what greater pain could you cause to a living creature than to steal it from its family, starve it when it doesn’t perform what you want-  ( mind you, it was not permitted to place a muzzle upon an ox, so it could not eat any grain during the threshing period), and allow fellow captives to attack it( YES, this goes on!).  We have put a tremendous yolk upon dear Tilikulm and other captives of SeaWorld ( just to name one corner of the animal captivity industry) – more than any of the ox or donkies to roam the earth- we are destroying what YHWH has created- in many ways, we are acknowledging the splendor of the sea by creating a whole theme park based off of this aesthetic, the aesthetic of the big blue yonder- we want it so much that we think through our control, we can create the environment for it without ever having to be vulnerable enough to see it for ourselves in the wild.

Something’s up when we can spill oil in the oceans via oil rigs, overexploit fisheries, yet ‘love’ the ocean so gosh dang much, we create Sea World. This is hypocrisy.. this is double-facedness, this is lukewarm-ness… this is poor stewardship, the minute we cease to respect the natural , cosmic order of life, we cause pain, and interefere with God’s partnership as co-stewards of our big blue gem- Earth.

Bal Tashchit… until next time…

Royal. Bodies. #StayWokeAdvent #Ferguson

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Over a week ago, NBA basketball star LeBron “King” James found himself in hot water after breaking a rule. While hanging out with Prince William and Duchess Kate, LeBron violated British royal protocol by wrapping his arm around Kate’s back. The bodies of the members of the British Royal family are national treasures, and palace officials work to make sure that particular customs are adhered to.

Today I would like to reflect on the Advent Lectionary selection, 2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16 (NRSV). Because the personal is political, and vice versa, I purposefully chose what I believed to be the most difficult text to deal with during this season of repentance. The chapter itself brings a lot of baggage, and so if you do not understand the context (historical & theological), it becomes more about King David and his reign rather than the actual kin(g)dom of God. The prophet Nathan is approached by David and is asked whether or not David is the one to build YHWH’s temple.  Nathan at first approves of the project, but then that night, God speaks to Nathan, and tells him, hold up homey, I have other plans. Verse 6 says, “I [YHWH] have not lived in a house since the day I brought the people of Israel from,  Egypt, to this day but I have been moving in a tent and a tabernacle.”

Right away, YHWH is reminding Nathan the prophet and King David that the central story for Israel is THE Exodus. The story of God liberating the Hebrew people from the wrath of Pharaoh is the foundational narrative by which we understand God’s sovereignty. God’s freedom is a freedom for others, a releasing of the captives whose bodies are suffering affliction. The human body is of utmost importance to YHWH because in it is located the imago Dei, as well as the primary means by which God receives worship (READ: LOVE). Therefore, White Supremacist systems that value the value of one group of people over People of Color, especially Black men, are in direct opposition to the Kin(g)dom of God.

Because God has blessed humanity with embodied spiritual existence, ALL of our actions do matter. The books of 1st and 2nd Samuel are good reminders. When the Israelites reject the prophet Samuel as kyriarch Samuel first reminds them that YHWH was the divinity who reigned over them since delivering their ancestors from Egyptian oppression (1st Samuel 8:), and that with this new political structure Israel desired, there would be consequences: “He will take your male and female slaves” “He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers” “he will take your sons to be his horsemen” (1st Samuel 8:10-18). In each example that the prophet Samuel gives, he refers to the future king’s lordship over Israel’s children’s bodies. Israel’s monarch will become Pharaoh: “And in that day, you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

David is not allowed to build YHWH’s temple because he had too much bloodshed on his hands (1st Kings 8). What God does promise him however is that God “will raise up your offspring after [David], who shall come from [David’s] body” and YHWH then promises to establish that progeny’s kingdom. David’s throne will be made to rule forever (2nd Samuel 7:16). Now, it would be quite easy to spiritualize this promise, but we must not ignore the theological significance of the human body here. God’s shares God’s divine power with us human beings so that we may reign with God. The kin(g)dom of God is not some otherworldly reality in the great by and by; the kingdom of God takes place whenever the Holy Spirit is active and working within and between human bodies. The question is, what does the kin(g)dom of God look like in the here and now?

The Israelites failed to believe the words of the judge/prophet Samuel, and by the time King David rose to power in Hebron, it was too late. King David’s sexual assault set in motion events where the reign of God became absent. The murder of Uriah, the death of Bathsheba’s newborn child, and number of political conspiracies and military battles that were waged against David’s household. One must ask herself, “Where exactly is God’s kin-dom found during the days of King David?” Okay, really where was God’s reign found during Israel’s monarchies?

Might I suggest that God reigns and continues to rule through the prophets? Nathan, Samuel, Huldah, and Deborah and a number of YHWH’s prophets stood as God’s voice, re-telling the Exodus story and God’s liberating activity when it comes to human affairs. Israel could exist with a king. Israel could be perfectly fine without the military dictators in some instances that we read about in Judges. Israel could be Israel even while in exile. Why? Because God chose to execute God’s rule through the prophets.

Notice what Nathan says about YHWH, that Ya has been moving through tent and tabernacle. God prefers to be on the move, marching with suffering humanity in their struggles for justice. In the Gospel of John, chapter 1:14, the original greek means that YHWH set up God’s tabernacle in Jesus’ royal flesh. And where did the Logos take up residence? Christ was not to be found among the powerful, but the outcast, the sick, and his fellow first century Judeans who were being colonized and terrorized by the Roman Empire. In the wake of the #Ferguson movement, where are the prophets? The kingmakers of the world (the racist media) are vying to make Al Sharpton king once more so that they can control the narrative. Yet it is clear that there is no need for an earthly ruler when all of humanity has the potential to have the reign of God in their hearts. The Spirit of Jesus is working in the midst the women and men organizing and updating their fellow human beings on Twitter, marching the streets to #ShutItDown, to end the current anti-Christ system of police brutality and mass incarceration.

There is no need to look for messiahs to save the poor. Human beings can and must do it themselves.”- James Cone, Malcolm & Martin & America: A Dream or a Nightmare?, page 315

This has been my contribution to the Theology of Ferguson #StayWokeAdvent lectionary reflections.

The Liberating LORD of Peace, part 2: Revelation #TheNewPacifism

Debunking The Myth that Christian Pacifists Are Allergic to the Old Testament

Ground Rules: Part 1 of The Liberating LORD of Peace.

There is a popular belief that continues to be universal, unchallengeable truth in Christian circles: Christian pacifists run and hide from the Hebrew Bible because of the Holy Wars and violence. Not only is this a fallacy in the worst, it is quite untrue of myself. In the first place, as Christians, Christian pacifists and advocates of non-violence have a love of the Christian canon; if they did not, they would cease to call themselves Christians. That is what separates Christan non-violent artists from secular as well as other religious pacifists.

For example, Lisa Sowle Cahill, in her Love Your Enemies, on more than one ocassion, takes the liberty of questioning the pacifist Christian’s loyalty to the Jewish Bible. For example, her comments on pacifist and early Christian theologian Tertullian:

“The nature of that faith and life are defined in relation to Scripture, the New Testament taking precedence over the Old” (1)

“The primacy of the teaching of Jesus in regard to killing is developed in the context of Terullian’s polemics against Judaism, and by means of a distinction between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ divine laws.” (2)

This dis-ingenuity continues in her analysis of the Alexandrian Fathers, as she typically subsumes Origen and Clement in the same boat.

“While the Alexandrian School did not deny the historical meaning of most biblical texts, it subordinated them to a high meaning. It was this freedom over against the literal sense to which the Antiochene exegetes reacted so negatively. However, the ability to transcend the literal sense without rejecting it allows interpreters such as Origen to retain the Old Testament while refuting the Jewish Tradition, which retained the Mosaic Law, and gnostic Christians who rejected the Old Testament because of its ostensible incompatibility with the New.” (3)

I reject Lisa Sowle Cahill’s view of Church history and the church in Alexandria, but if one goes along with Cahill’s particular and all too familiar narrative, it goes something like this: The strength of Augustine’s Just War theory, so it goes, is that it incorporates the story of the Hebrews into the narrative of the early Christians and thereby avoids the racial and religious violence of supercessionist Christendom.

A non-violent AnaBlacktivist theology begins with the God of Peace (Judges 6:24). Now, I object to certain Christian theologians who would call upon “The Nonviolent God” without having their foundation being the Hebrew Bible, for to address God in this manner, without doing so, is to do linguistic violence upon God’s revelation, for upon revelation in the very notion of non-violence. We cannot address God as we please. Contrary to relativism or much that gets accepted as theology today, Christians are dependent upon revelation first.  As James Cone put in his A Black Theology of Liberation, “In the Bible, revelation is inseparable from history and faith. History is the arena in which God’s revelation takes place.” The Exodus is the beginning of revelation history, or God exposing Godself to humanity; in the choosing of enslaved Hebrews under the crushing oppression of Pharaoh, God communicated to humanity what type of God YHWH was: a Deity in solidarity with the poor.  Reading the First Commandment as a call to faithfulness to YHWH alone, the second commandment initiates a non-violent religious response to the world order by teaching the Jew and the Christian how to communicate with God, for we cannot have a relationship with God on our own terms, for that would be the beginning of violence.  True peace is sustained by fellowship with the Godhead, by the Divinity’s playbook, or what we call covenant. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon comment on the Second Commandment:

“To be able to call God’s name entails moral obligation. Because we had to be told God’s name, we cannot make God mean anything that we want. God must reveal who “I AM” is through loving actions toward Israel and by the resurrection of Christ.  Revelation is the way we name our discovery that God has discovered  us.  God has chosen to come close to us, to be intimate, to reveal the “name that is above every name” (Phillipians 2:9) in order that we might joyfully witness to the whole world that we have not been left to our own devices.” (4)

In addition to the revelation of the Creator as well as the Ten Commandments, the Hebrew Bible provides a plethora of resources that I will briefly outline, with the help of John Howard Yoder and Black theologies:

A. The Imago Dei: Revert back to Genesis 1, and then chapter 9; all of humanity is found to be in the image of God before & after the “Fall.”  To argue that the somehow that image within us is lost, I would have to disagree for the lack of sufficient evidence posed in Scripture. Murder is prohibited because all people are stamped with the divine image (Genesis 9:6), and that image no one can measure for only God has rights over human life as Creator. African American Christianities have throughout the years found new and exciting ways to uphold the doctrine of all of humanity’s sacred worth. In the mid-20th century, it was Martin Luther King Jr. who appropriated Boston Personalist philosophy to proclaim the infinite value of every human being. Today, one could argue that Womanist theologians are the bearers of this tradition.

B. The Notion of Blood as Sacred: John Howard Yoder suggests that at the most, the idea that blood is sacred was an idea prior to Israel being placed in exile. The shedding of blood is wrong; thus Leviticus is quite graphic in detail about the consequences for eating the blood in the meat from animals (check Leviticus 19:26 & 1st Samuel 14:33). Eating blood is strictly forbidden–thus uncritical Christian endorsement endorsements of the Twilight novels and movies comes into question (couldn’t help myself there). The blood is the life of the creature, and this includes humanity. (5) The power of the blood has historically been a mainstay in Black Churches, with spirituals such as “Were You There, When They Crucified My Lord” and in “secular” poetry and song such as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” which help us to remember the bloodshed during the times of lynching & Jim/Jane Crow.

C. A Close Reading of the Wars of the Holy One: Rather than label the crusades in the Hebrew Bible the Holy Wars, I prefer the Wars of the Holy One, particularly the Holy One of Israel.  It is a far more accurate label for biblical and theological reasons. One cannot generalize that the military efforts of modern society are compatible with the Ancient Israelites. In fact far from it! One does not see today that prophets are giving military instruction or doing espionage; what we see are professionals whose lives are geared toward the MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. The wars of the Holy One have at their core, “Yahweh himself gives the victory. […] [Victory is a miracle.]”(6).  Complete dependence upon God, the YHWH of Armies (Chad’s translation for YHWH Sabatoah) is what gives humanity the victory and not dependence upon chariots and horses (Psalm 20:7).

A concrete example from the biblical text that I ran into actually one morning during my devotional reading of Our Daily Bread was 2nd Kings 6: 8-22.  The YHWH of Armies has surrounding hosts around his prophet Elisha (verse 17), and rather than slaying his enemies the Aramean army, Elisha asks YHWH to strike them blind, as the prophet leads them into another city.  The king of Israel, being the power-monger that the monarchs tended to be, desired to kill (ahem, re: take credit away from YHWH of Armies) his enemies. Instead, Elijah advises the Israelites to feed their enemies (v 22)  The victory of fellowship is  far superior to the victory of the sword. Indeed this is exactly the reason why YHWH of Armies restricts the Israelite kings from warmongering and institutionalizing human enslavement (which, of course, YHWH’s word goes unheeded, thus, the Exile) like in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The imagery of YHWH Sabatoah/YHWH of Armies was expressed vividly in David Walker’s “Appeal To The Color Peoples of the World.”  The theological usefulness of the YHWH of Armies  for Walker was viewed as a resource of liberation to give hope for the downtrodden in their time of despair. 

D. Diasporic Judaism: Lastly, what I find most compelling  about Yoder’s reading of the Hebrew Bible is his understanding of the Jews mission within the Exile.  Along with the rejection of the Maccabees (as well as the Zealot model) as heretics since God, in the eyes of some, had not blessed their violent revolution, God’s command to God’s people to seek the peace of the city where they are sent (Jeremiah 29:5-7) for no longer is the divine activism of YHWH found in the centralized  location of  Judah, but throughout the world.  Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s restorationism in light of the prophets should be seen as a FAILURE theologically. (7)

In a similar vein, Black Christianities’  existence as part of the African Diaspora better enables these practicioners to witness to a New Pacifism, by way their history of marginalization. It is only by learning from those who have a history of subjugation that the privileged can learn what it means to live powerless; that is, a refusal to live by Western, violent notions of “being powerful.”

For part 3, I shall look at Jesus, the apostles Paul and Peter, as well as the Johannine literature to observe their continuity with the Jewish non-violent tradition.

1.Lisa Sowle Cahill. Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1994. Page 48

2. Ditto. Page 45

3. Ditto. Page 49

4. Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon. The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in the Christian Life. Nashville, Abindgon Press, 1999. Page 42

5. John Howard Yoder. The War Of The Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence And Peacemaking. Editted by Glenn Stassen, Mark Thiessen Nation, and Matt Hamsher. Brazos Press, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2009. Page 74

6. Ditto. Page  69

7. Ditto. Page  72-73

Recommendations:
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments In The Christian Life. 1999.