I know, I just could not resist that we are still in the midst of one of the craziest winters here in the middle of the US: snow, ice, more snow, spring temperatures, fog, even freezing fog (I call frog), rain, snow, and more.
During the past several years, we have had extraordinarily mild Midwest winters. In fact the meteorologist this week said for three years the total snow accumulation of those years is now less than we have had in the past two months.
Still, these cold weeks has kept me to my itinerary of reading the Bible over the course of the year. I have now completed Genesis, Romans, Isaiah, and Mark. This week I added Exodus and tomorrow I Thessalonians.
Earlier I mentioned that it is interesting how the Old Testament and the New Testament books are being paired. Genesis is the beginning of the Israelite story and Romans is the beginning of the Christian church. I began to understand.
The second pairing has been Isaiah and the gospel of Mark. In my understanding, Isaiah is the Israelite’s manual of prophecy, which tells of the coming Messiah, a savior of the faithful people. Mark was written to the Jewish people as an argument that Jesus is that expected Messiah.
Now here is another issue. This winter weather has prohibited me to join in a conversation with others. The planned Bible study with others making this same journey had to be canceled due to the road conditions. (I suppose I am lucky that I can post my ideas as I read and others can react.)
I have to admit that reading Isaiah was challenging. I am realizing that I need tour guides and find them in the pages of the study Bibles.
For years I have used the Life Application Study Bible (NIV), but this time I am using the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). And I have even turned to the Archeological Study Bibleas I believe I mentioned previously.
Reading through Isaiah, though, is must more difficult for someone who has limited knowledge of ancient history. The study notes are my tour guides!
Not only am I learning the history of ancient people, I am learning more about John Wesley and how he read these same scriptures. I am ending up getting two journeys in one.
(For another side note: I take notes. Not just a few, I take lots of notes that include what I am learning, what I am thinking, and now what Wesley is thinking. Sometimes I wonder what I am going to do with the volumes this is going to create. Still, I have discovered I do go back once and a while to check on something that struck me as interesting, confusing or even profound.)
Reading scripture takes one back in time. I am reminded how different life must have been in ancient times.
For instance, this morning in the early chapters of Exodus, the plagues that God delivered upon Egypt are being listed. As often as I have heard about the plagues, I did not realize that there is a line in many referring to the Egyptian sorcerers or magicians.
According to the scriptures, found in Exodus 7-9, the plagues could be re-created through the arts of the sorcerers and magicians. But then, as the list of plagues continues, these arts fail. The sorcerers and magicians begin to see the plagues of “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:16-19).
Even though the Pharaoh continued to deny the power of God as demonstrated through Moses and his brother Aaron, his own sorcerers and magicians had to admit they could not duplicate the powers.
Reading the scriptures is not a leisurely trip, but one that challenges one. I am so glad that I have the study notes to help, but it is also making me wonder what I might still be missing.
I have resources, but I am thinking about all the classes I took in literature. The truth is that I never did have a course on reading ancient literature. Now I am wishing I had more skill in ancient literature.
As I was growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on in our small elementary school. I remember getting hooked on mythology and read everything I could about mythology.
Admittedly, that was maybe 55 years ago, and my memory for details is not good. And in all that reading, there was nothing about the Egyptian gods or even other ancient cultures—it was Greek and Latin mythology.
I need to hire tour guides that specialize in ancient literature. The Archeological Study Bibleis a major help, but it does not fully develop my understanding of the symbolism that is buried in the ancient scripture.
(I welcome any suggestions for websites or resources that I can locate to improve this journey.)
Needless to say it is too early for me to draw any conclusions about this journey at this point, but I know that I am finding surprises in the stories and I am seeing the timeless truths of humanity.
What I do not understand is how we do not directly teach or share the literary themes of the Bible and parallel them to the literature of our own culture.
Humanity has a tendency to repeat behaviors that complicate our lives. The timeless themes of the scripture just reinforce the simplicity of Bible’s good news: “God loves us so much that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him has eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Add to that the commandments that Jesus taught us in Matthew 22:
36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,[a] and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Life can be so much simpler if we could just accept the truths Jesus taught us with these two commandments. I cannot stop but to frame so many horrors in our lives thought that one primary thought: Love one another as you want to be loved.
Just think about some of the worst human experiences and test it against that parameter: What if we loved each other like we want to be loved?
- Would there be gun violence?
- Would there be homophobic attitudes?
- Would there have been one neighbor arguing with another over a fence?
- Would there be a bully in school?
- Would there be road rage?
The list goes on into infinity. Why even looking back through ancient history, if the Israelites could have demonstrated that love for one another above all else, would there have been all the legendary battles, the vicious treatment of slaves or even slaves at all?
My journey through the ancient scriptures is not anywhere near over, and the wild winter weather is helping me stay on my itinerary for the journey. The side trips through the study notes are adding new understanding to my experience.
And, as I resume my daily routines, the stories, and the lessons I discover are like snapshots that I look at over and over. I am finding surprises and I am finding truths that enrich my earthly journey.
Please join in my prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the scriptures
In which your faithful people
Mapped out the directions
For life eternal.
May the ancient words
Reveal universal truths
So your love survives
Despite the detours people take.
May the stories of old
Guide today’s people
In ways to guide others
To love one another, too.
And as our journeys near completion
May the snapshots of our lives
Serve as guides for future generations
That they may know love always wins.
In the name of you the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Ghost, amen.