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Q&A on July Readings

Note: The questions alone (with a link to their answers) are listed above the line in the opposite order that they were received, which means the most recent questions are at the top of the page. Below the line, questions and answers are given in the readings' order of the verses that prompted the question.

Q: After reading 1 Kings 11:1-4, I wondered whether anyone suggests that maybe one or two zeroes were added to Solomon’s wives and concubines. The Jewish historian Josephus says the size of the Israelite army was probably exaggerated. According to Josephus, “everybody did it”, and others (such as Paul Maier, if I remember correctly) say Josephus certainly exaggerated. Either way, Solomon’s wisdom apparently was a little short on this subject, since there were not only too many but from all the wrong places! Answer

Q: After reading 2 Samuel 13:1-2, I have a couple of questions. First, I am wondering about Amnon’s “love” for Tamar. “Love” as an English word is misused in a variety of ways; what does the original say? Given his sudden change of heart (v.15), it would seem that Amnon only wanted to possess her and, having used her, that his love went out the window. What about the consequences? The least punitive result should have been Amnon’s marriage to Tamar with no allowance for divorce. (Of course, for David’s son that would have been no punishment at all, as he probably could keep her and half-a-dozen others.) Obviously his “love” did not extend to that responsibility. Finally, verse 2 almost makes it sound as if, if Tamar were not a virgin, she would be “fair game”, already being unmarriageable by the rules of the time. Answer

Q: I have read sermons which were very critical of cremation as a “mutilation of the dead" (I wonder if the writers have really thought about the embalming process! I have never read Lutheran disapproval of that, although Orthodox Jews will not embalm their dead and bury them within 24 hours.) But, in 1 Samuel 31:12-13, supporters of Saul burnt him and his sons. After re-reading your comments, I suppose we should equate this burning to what happens in wartime, or in fires and accidents, and not stretch it to cover ordinary practice. Still, some Lutherans are opting for cremation for various reasons, for example, in California because land is so prohibitively expensive. Comment? Answer

Q: In 1 Chronicles 29:29, I wonder what happened to Nathan’s and Gad’s books. Are they included under other names? Answer

Q: I had some questions about the earlier and more recent Biblog posts on Psalm 51. If one baptized Christian announces God’s forgiveness to another in the course of a reconciliation (Matthew 18:15), is not the forgiveness also from God? We are told we may approach God directly in prayer; is the forgiveness we ask God for not assured unless we also ask for it from our pastor? Hearing God’s forgiveness pronounced by our pastor is surely a comfort, but is that always and only the way to receive it, in Lutheran teaching? Answer

Q: On 1 Kings 14:26 the comment was made, “We should understand that the Ark and all the temple furnishings were taken in Shishak’s raid.” Is this where the Ark of the Covenant was lost to Israel, or did they get it back later? Answer

Q: We read in Psalm 40:6, “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required” (KJV). I read what was previously posted, and what I got out of this verse was, “You have caused me to hear you.” That understanding seemed reasonable, given the times it is said that people would not hear and even that God would harden their hearts and close their ears. Is there more or a different concept in the original? Answer


Q: I have read sermons which were very critical of cremation as a “mutilation of the dead" (I wonder if the writers have really thought about the embalming process! I have never read Lutheran disapproval of that, although Orthodox Jews will not embalm their dead and bury them within 24 hours.) But, in 1 Samuel 31:12-13, supporters of Saul burnt him and his sons. After re-reading your comments, I suppose we should equate this burning to what happens in wartime, or in fires and accidents, and not stretch it to cover ordinary practice. Still, some Lutherans are opting for cremation for various reasons, for example, in California because land is so prohibitively expensive. Comment?
A: I definitely do not think that what was done with Saul should be normative for our practice today. Let’s start with what was done with Saul and other Jewish bodies and then consider practice today. Saul and his sons were cremated apparently both in order to prevent further abuse of the type they had already suffered (1 Samuel 31:9-10), which was something Saul had feared would have happened to him even while he was alive, if he had been found that way (1 Samuel 31:4), and because the previous mutilation prevented a usual burial. (1 Chronicles 10:12 and 2 Samuel 21:11-14 say the bones were buried, which probably means that the bodies were not burned entirely to the point of ashes.) Saul’s and his sons’ cremation was an exception to the usual burial practice of ancient Israel (another exception was cremation of bodies in connection with threat of plague; according to Leviticus 20:14 and 21:9 the worst criminals were to be burned, presumably alive). The embalming of Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 50:2-3, 26) were also exceptions to the usual burial practice, and I might agree with you that the embalming process in its own way “mutilates” the dead. Generally, within 24 hours (Deuteronomy 21:23) the Old Testament Jews buried corpses in caves, rock-cut tombs, or the ground. That practice might ideally continue today, although circumstances do not always allow it. We are accustomed to giving people time to travel to open casket visitations and funerals, although there is nothing wrong with a relatively immediate burial and a later memorial service. To be sure, people whose bodies are destroyed or otherwise lost in wartime, fires, or accidents have no opportunity to be buried in the usual way. Where routine cremation of the dead was once seen as a denial of the resurrection of the body, today, as you note, cremation is done for a number of other reasons. While we might say that there is arguably nothing wrong with cremating Christians today, I still think burying the body in the ground, embalmed or not, is to be preferred. Back to Top

Q: After reading 2 Samuel 13:1-2, I have a couple of questions. First, I am wondering about Amnon’s “love” for Tamar. “Love” as an English word is misused in a variety of ways; what does the original say? Given his sudden change of heart (v.15), it would seem that Amnon only wanted to possess her and, having used her, that his love went out the window. What about the consequences? The least punitive result should have been Amnon’s marriage to Tamar with no allowance for divorce. (Of course, for David’s son that would have been no punishment at all, as he probably could keep her and half-a-dozen others.) Obviously his “love” did not extend to that responsibility. Finally, verse 2 almost makes it sound as if, if Tamar were not a virgin, she would be “fair game”, already being unmarriageable by the rules of the time.
A: I will try to take each of your somewhat related questions in turn. First, I agree that Amnon’s “love” seems to have been nothing but “lust”, although the Hebrew word ’aheb is used for all kinds of love and desire, including God’s love for humanity and the fleshly appetites of a lazy glutton. A somewhat similar use of the verb may be Samson’s “love” for Delilah in Judges 14:16 and 16:15. (Interestingly, the Old Testament does not mention children “loving” their parents but honoring, revering, and obeying them.) Much is usually made of the different Greek words used in the New Testament for “love”, so you may be interested to know that at the equivalent of 2 Samuel 13:1 the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament used the word agapao not the word generally thought to be the more-erotic word for “love”. Second, as for the consequences, you are right in that Amnon should have been obligated to pay the bride price for Tamar and to marry her with no “allowance” for divorce (see Exodus 22:16 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Yes, Amnon’s “love” for Tamar did not extend to that responsibility, as you say, but the ultimate blame for failing to enforce those consequences is usually placed at David’s feet, since he was their father and the king. Of course, neither Amnon nor David should have been “allowed” to have more than one wife, but in the royal households it seems that ship had sailed. Third and finally, I don’t think the intent of verse 2 is to make it sound like Tamar would have been “fair game” if not for her virginity (although to some extent that may have been the case). Rather it seems that the verse intends to communicate that, as one commentator puts it, “The maidenly modesty of Tamar evidently raised an insuperable barrier to the gratification of his lusts.” Too bad the barrier’s insuperability was not perfectively effective! Back to Top

Q: After reading 1 Kings 11:1-4, I wondered whether anyone suggests that maybe one or two zeroes were added to Solomon’s wives and concubines. The Jewish historian Josephus says the size of the Israelite army was probably exaggerated. According to Josephus, “everybody did it”, and others (such as Paul Maier, if I remember correctly) say Josephus certainly exaggerated. Either way, Solomon’s wisdom apparently was a little short on this subject, since there were not only too many but from all the wrong places!
A: I certainly have not done an exhaustive search, so I cannot say that absolutely no one suggests one or two zeroes were added to the number of Solomon’s wives and concubines. I do know that my study Bible indicates many of the foreign marriages probably sealed international relationships, but it also points out that the marriages nevertheless violated God’s commands regarding both the number of wives and the taking of pagan wives. C. F. Keil notes there could possibly be an error with the numbers (there was something like Roman numerals back then, with letters having numerical value), and I suppose that error falls not far behind from what Josephus says about the Bible or what Paul Maier may have said about Josephus. We can believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Holy Scripture and at the same time allow that in the transmission of the text from the autographs down to our translations today someone may have made a mistake with the numbers, but I do not think we want to suggest the Holy Spirit is exaggerating too much. Other than the magnitude of the numbers, there is no other reason not to take them literally (for example, we are not reading an otherwise symbolic or figurative account). Keil perhaps more helpfully suggests the figures are round numbers that approximate the reality. Keil says Solomon may have received this total number of women into his harem during the whole of his reign but that only the 60 queens and 80 concubines mentioned in Song of Solomon 6:8 were in Solomon’s court at any one time. I do not think those lower numbers reduce the transgression of God’s holy law! Back to Top

Q: We read in Psalm 40:6, “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required” (KJV). I read what was previously posted, and what I got out of this verse was, “You have caused me to hear you.” That understanding seemed reasonable, given the times it is said that people would not hear and even that God would harden their hearts and close their ears. Is there more or a different concept in the original?
A: Understanding Psalm 40:6 to speak of God opening a person’s otherwise closed ears and enabling them not only to hear but also to understand and to keep the Word the person heard is certainly an acceptable understanding. The KJV’s, ASV’s, and NASB’s “opened” is in that sense a better translation than the NIV’s “pierced”, although the NIV gives “opened” as an alternative reading in the margin. To be sure, as the Small Catechism says, we “cannot by [our] own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, [our] Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called [us] by the Gospel, enlightened [us] with His gifts, sanctified and kept [us] in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers, and will at the Last Day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.” Back to Top

Q: On 1 Kings 14:26 the comment was made, “We should understand that the Ark and all the temple furnishings were taken in Shishak’s raid.” Is this where the Ark of the Covenant was lost to Israel, or did they get it back later?
A: Neither 1 Kings 14:26 nor the account of Shishak’s raid in 2 Chronicles 12:2-9 specifically says the Ark of the Covenant was taken from the Temple in Jerusalem in Judah at that time, although both accounts say “the treasures of the house of the Lord” (KJV) were taken. In fact, the Ark is not specifically mentioned again by name after the accounts of David and Solomon in both Kings and Chronicles. (There seems to be a reference to the Ark in 2 Chronicles 35:3 during the time of Josiah, but see here.) So, we are never specifically told when it was taken (much less of it ever being returned). On the basis of Jeremiah 3:16-17, some suggest the Ark was still around at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, under which thinking it would have been carried away to Babylon when Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. (I do not think that passage must be understood to mean that.) Regardless of when the Ark was taken, we know that the post-exile Temples had an empty Holy of Holies.
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Q: I had some questions about the earlier and more recent Biblog posts on Psalm 51. If one baptized Christian announces God’s forgiveness to another in the course of a reconciliation (Matthew 18:15), is not the forgiveness also from God? We are told we may approach God directly in prayer; is the forgiveness we ask God for not assured unless we also ask for it from our pastor? Hearing God’s forgiveness pronounced by our pastor is surely a comfort, but is that always and only the way to receive it, in Lutheran teaching?
A: I will try to respond to your three questions after an initial clarification. The forgiveness in view in Matthew 18:15-17 is the forgiveness between brothers and sisters in Christ. Individual Christians can and should actually forgive one another the sins they commit against each other. However, when it comes to sins committed against God, they can only point to God’s forgiveness for Christ’s sake; they cannot “effect” it as the called and ordained servants do (Matthew 18:18-20). So, first, forgiveness between Christians surely can be said to come “from” God in that His love and mercy for us in Christ and His Holy Spirit working in us brings about forgiveness between Christians, but forgiveness between Christians does not come “from” God in the same way that forgiveness between God and a specific human being comes “from” God. Second, we might say there is assurance and greater assurance. We can and should in prayer ask God for His forgiveness, as the Lord teaches us to do in His Prayer, and God’s forgiveness in answer to our prayer is certainly assured. Having said that, however, Lutheran teaching does make some distinction between the assurance of forgiveness asked in prayer and assurance of the technical absolution we receive from God’s called and ordained servants as from Christ Himself. (Notice, for example, how the Small Catechism refers to the minister’s words and actions “as valid and certain, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us Himself”; we don’t find such words about prayer, which is not a means of grace.) Third, individual absolution must not be the way that is always used, nor is it the only way to receive forgiveness. All the ways forgiveness is distributed ultimately rely on the sure and certain Word of God. I would locate individual absolution after preaching and Baptism and before the Sacrament of the Altar, which is essentially where Dr. Luther puts it in both his Catechisms. By concentrating on the benefits of individual absolution, Lutherans avoid the Roman Catholic error of mandating confession for the sake of the confession itself. By finding sure and certain comfort for troubled consciences in individual absolution, Lutherans also avoid the reformed error of denying that pastors can forgive sins on God’s behalf and acting as if only prayer were needed. Back to Top

Q: In 1 Chronicles 29:29, I wonder what happened to Nathan’s and Gad’s books. Are they included under other names?
A: As I mentioned in a previous Question & Answer about the Book of Jashar, there are a number of “sources” mentioned in the Old Testament that have not been preserved for our use today. In this case, we are talking about the records of Samuel the seer, of Nathan the prophet (see also 2 Chronicles 9:29), and of Gad the seer. Commentators speculate about these three in relation to other books mentioned elsewhere, for example whether or not they were parts of one larger book. Commentators also speculate whether or not the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles used the accounts we know as 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Similarities in the accounts are to be expected, since they are covering common material and could have drawn on the same sources. Higher criticism wants to make much of such similarities, but the similarities do not prove convincingly any of their claims. We can safely say that the Holy Spirit determined that the other books did not need to be preserved for our use the way the other books of the Bible have been preserved. We no doubt are missing nothing that is necessary for our salvation, although we curious cats would no doubt love to delve into more historical detail! Back to Top

 


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