Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Bible Challenge: Day 164

The scriptures read are Ezra 1-3, Psalm 133 and 1 Corinthians 8.

Ezra 1-3. The cream of Jewish society was taken into exile in Babylon for 70 years, till the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian Empire. Cyrus the Great let the Jews return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. Why didn't the Jews get assimilated as the Israelites did when they were taken into exile by the Assyrians? For one thing, the Jews came up with a form of Judaism centered on the Torah rather than the temple. That form of Judaism would continue alongside the restored temple worship and eventually survive the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD to become the rabbinic Judaism of today.

So in these first few chapters of Ezra we learn of Cyrus' decree, of who returned and in what numbers, and the start of rebuilding the temple and resuming the rituals and holy days.

Psalm 133. When I took Hebrew in college, we were taught to sing the first verse of this psalm. I can still sing it. And when watching a film about the raid on Entebbe, I heard the song sung to a different tune. The psalm is probably about the northern and southern kingdoms reuniting under one God. The oil imagery refers to anointing the high priest with olive oil. The Anointed One in Hebrew is Messiah, in Greek Christ.

1 Corinthians 8. In the Gentile world, your local meat market was attached to the local pagan temple. The excess meat from sacrificed animals was sold there. But if you are a Christian, can you eat meat offered to an idol? This was a big controversy and Paul comes up with a solution widely ignored by Christians ever since.

Basically Paul agrees with those who say there are no other gods and so the sacrificed meat is not actually dedicated to anything. But more scrupulous Christians, who can't get over a lifetime's association of meat with idols, can't shrug it off that easily. So does Paul tell them to grow up and get over their scruples? No, Paul tells those who don't see a problem with it to accommodate their weaker brothers. Don't force them into a crisis of conscience over meat. Better to become a vegetarian than to make them act in a way they aren't comfortable. The strong should protect the weak. That's Biblical. But we who know better don't like accommodating those we feel just don't get it, do we? We don't think we should baby them or give up our Christian liberty because they haven't arrived at the same conclusions we have over a controversial matter. After loving your enemy, compromising your freedom to protect the conscience of the weaker brother is the most disregarded Christian ethical injunction in the Bible.

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