Daily Devotion for May 13, 2014
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
A terrific worship video from Hillsong. Warning: guitars ahead.
Prayer for the Day Ahead
Who can tell what a day might bring? Therefore, gracious God, cause me to live every day as if it were to be my last, for I cannot know that it is not. Help me to live this day as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
[God is with me every moment of every day.]
For Those Mired in Crime
O Mighty God, who spares us when we deserve punishment, and in your wrath remembers mercy; I humbly implore you, of your goodness, to comfort and enlighten all who suffer in prison, deserved though their punishment may be. Bring your light into their lives, O Lord, that they may know your only Son and find repentance and forgiveness in his name, leaving aside the guilt of past sins and the yearning for the darkness within which they committed them. And trusting in your truth and mercy, that they not place their hope anywhere except in the holiness, which only you can give them.
And awaken all criminals, whether convicted or free, to the light of conscience and self-knowledge, that they may learn to serve you and their fellow man, and so find their place at your side when they leave this earth. In Christ's name I beseech you on their behalf,
Lord, in utter humility I thank you and glorify you, that you might hear the prayer of one so small as myself, amidst the billions of souls among billions of stars in one of billions of galaxies in your universe. Let me go forth in your peace, keeping your Spirit always in my mind; and bless me, I pray, that I might always follow your will and live in the radiance of your blessing.
Think of the day ahead in terms of God with you, and visualize health, strength, guidance, purity, calm confidence, and victory as the gifts of His presence.
Genesis 32:13 (ESV)
So he [Jacob] stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, . . . forty cows and ten bulls.
After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them.
But the firstborn of a cow . . . you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall burn their fat as a food offering.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy . . . .
Notes on the Scripture
Understanding the Bible: Literalism and Genre [Part 1]
If you have not read yesterday's discussion of genre, you might want to read that first.
Genre classifies a text so that we might know how the author intends us to understand it. In the genre of history, for example, the author expects us to believe that the characters were actual people and that the events happened. In a parableParable is actually a specific subgenre of allegory, i.e., metaphor which intends a pointed one-to-one correspondence with a real person, place, situation, etc., we are certain that the people involved are not actual people and that the events did not occur, but there is a literalness to the meaning; we are to see a specific metaphor. And in poetry, the people and places might be historical or fictional, and we are invited (unlike a parable) to find meaning freely; we can use our imagination.
Genre is thus especially important in deciding how literally we are expected to read a book or verse. This creates another issue, because “literal” has two meanings, and confusing them leads to all sorts of problems.
Dictionary.com defines literal as “taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory.” This is a good definition, but in Biblical discussion there is a second and equally important meaning. The “literal sense of the Bible, as a whole”, is that the words are the words spoken or inspired by God. To see this disctinction, answer this question: Is “He maketh me lie down in green pastures” literally true? Using the first definition, of course it isn't: it is a metaphor. Using the second definition, of course it is: it's the Word of God.
Having said all this, lets look at today's four Scriptural passages, with this in mind: How are we to understand “cow” in each of them?
Gen. 32 is pure history. We are to understand that 40 cows is factual. Jacob gave Esau forty actual animals. There is nothing in or about the text to indicate anything else.
Gen. 41 is also historical but the paragraph is visionary. We are to understand that Pharaoh actually dreamed of seven cows but also that the vision is metaphorical and prophetic; the cows did not actually exist.
Numbers 18 is law. “Cow” is generic; it doesn't reference a specific historical animal, as in Gen. 32. On the other hand, it refers emphatically to a cow, and nothing else. If we decided Jacob actually had 39 cows, or two of the “cows” were actually steers, it would not violate the literalism of the reading. But we cannot read Num. 18 to mean a steer or two goats. Law demands an different kind of literalism than history.
Finally, in Amos 4:1, is Amos talking about a herd of cattle? Hardly. This is a book of prophecy, which often relies on metaphor and overstatement (hyperbole). He is calling someone (rich Hebrew women) “cows” to insult them. The most ardent hardshell fundamentalist will not find actual cows in this passage.
Although, at some level, most people understand these things intuitively, there is a good reason for spelling it out (as we will see tomorrow). “Do you believe the Bible is literally true” is an unanswerable question. The only good answer is: “What do you mean by literal?”
Continued tomorrow . . .