Bible criticism is not an excuse to say the Bible’s rubbish and criticise everything contained within it, it’s about looking at it as a text and learning from it! This is some of the bits we thought about in unit one. Although, I haven’t yet said what the first module is – it’s an overview of the Old Testament!
Literary criticism in high speed…
Historical criticism asks questions of the source, the who, when and how. Form criticism asks the why and what of the text, looking at background setting, sometimes considering aural background too. Redaction criticism considers how the text has changed and the significance of the author input. Textual criticism is the differences between texts/copies. Rhetorical criticism is the resonance today of the author’s technique/artistry. Reader response is how we interpret to create meaning. Feminist criticism (or other marginalised group) is thinking from a different perspective, that of a traditionally marginalised group. Narrative criticism considers how the text works as a story – plot, point of view, characters, setting.
I can see how it would be easy to get caught up in one type of criticism, and to find views from another distracting or even to be asking the wrong questions, particularly when one area floats your boat and another doesn’t.
However, for me the who and how, is always accompanied by the why questions. Careful examination of a text at word level would be incomplete without examination at book level. To see something from meters away is vastly different than under a microscope, both are beautiful and unique but together provide a picture that is something else altogether. I love the play between these in the sense that what one highlights another ignores, and vice versa. Together though, they go a long way to providing a deep, rich, telling of God’s Word.
Reader response is the one that felt a little out of place with all the others, mostly because it is so subjective, difficult to critique, and varies from one reader to the next. But this is perhaps the one we automatically revert to, when not engaging in any of the others.
And for anyone with absolutely no clue what I’m talking about, I know exactly where you’re coming from, before doing this unit I didn’t have much clue either!
These types of criticism are ways of looking at a text, anyone who’s studied English literature may have come across some of these before, questions you ask, ways of investigating. The idea is that by looking at the texts in greater detail you can get a better understanding of what is being said. Understanding what was happening historically at the time a text was written can give you some clues as to why certain things are discussed. Looking at the language can help you understand the age of the text but can also give you some clues about differences that happen when you translate and how some ideas are somehow lost in translation.
Understanding where the reader is coming from in terms of their prior learning and experience can affect what a person is expecting to read, and what perspective slant they will put on what the text says. Asking questions helps understanding, even if that means asking more questions and looking for more answers, it all helps build a bigger, rounder, fuller picture!
It’s been something that’s been sitting on the back burner in my mind for a long, long time. I felt God was calling me when I was a teenager but I wasn’t convinced about it, or rather about my ability to do; I was pushing back saying no, or maybe later. Roll on a number of years and God brought it back to the front again. And I reached a point where I figured there was only so long I could say no to God, especially in light of a no could be classed as disobedience and therefore sin!
So, I’ve done the first block of 5 weeks now. Each section of my course requires a bit of writing (and then an assignment at the end), and so I’m wondering about posting the thoughts up here as well! First I need to do a little bit of work on the website… so the first of the posts may not happen just yet!
I think through what I am going to say before I say it, what I am going to write before I write it. I retype texts messages. If you read anything in my notebooks you will find lines through lots of parts. My mind has an almost constant stream of verbal dialogue running. I have days where I can’t keep up with it all. No, I am not insane! It’s just the way I am wired. I think through things I have said, things I should have said, things I wish I had not said. Some conversations and thoughts run through my head for days.
In an argument I can never find the words to say, I stand there like a gawping fish, my mouth opening and shutting with nothing coming out. After the argument every possible excellent comeback comes to mind, everything I should have said is there waiting for me, taunting me. When someone verbally attacks me it’s even worse, and the only response is the one to fight away tears.
Why do I do it? As I say, part of it is who I am, but not all of it by any means.
Have you ever said something to someone that you wish you could take back the moment it slips from your lips? Have you had a conversation with someone and part way through the conversation they suddenly turn silent and you have no idea even slightly what you just said to cause it? Have you ever had someone walk out of your life permanently because you said ‘what’ when you genuinely didn’t hear what they said? Have you said and thought something that turned out to be untrue and it offended them so much they refused to talk to you no matter how many times you apologised?
It amazing what affects words can have, both good and bad, what damage you can inflict with them.
I realised that I cannot change what comes out of my mouth, once it has been said, there’s no taking it back. Once out in the open people can, and do, make judgements of it. I can’t replay time and have the conversation all over again with all the things retrospectively I wish I had said. I can’t have both sides of the conversation and have it turn out exactly as I want it to.
I came to the conclusion, wrongly, that it was better just not to talk, not to let people so close that I would be able to hurt them, that they wouldn’t then be able to walk out on me. Saying nothing, leads to not hurting people. So that’s the way it became. I didn’t share my life, I didn’t enter into deep conversations. I hid in the background hoping no one would notice me or be hurt by me.
I used various Bible verses in my mind to justify the decision. Verses about how it’s better to remain silent than be thought a fool, how reckless words piece like swords. I felt that my voice in the crowd was not a valuable or helpful one, so I stopped using it.
The self-editing became worse because there was so much more that remained unsaid, so many more unstated arguments, so many conversations I wish I had had. I almost began to loathe the things I thought, not because they are bad but simply because I heard them so often without an other side to the conversation, without outside input. I know I don’t think the way everyone else does and I had an underlying feeling that because others don’t think the way i do, so maybe I was wrong.
In spite of how lonely I became, I still thought the world would be better without my input. Apparently God has other ideas!
I figured that remaining silent was a good thing. But that’s simply not true. The Bible talks about the value of speaking up for those who don’t have a voice, of declaring the goodness of God, of sharing the irrefutable testimony of what God has done in our lives. If I stay silent none of those happen. And beyond all that, what if God has a specific purpose for my voice, in saying nothing I am preventing that from happening, and being disobedient.
God challenged me a while back to find some new friends, ones I could open up to and be honest with. Slowly He is bringing people into my path for that purpose, and for that I am incredibly thankful.
Editing for me though is unavoidable, I can’t stop the train of unending mental yabber from happening but I can choose to use my voice and how I do that. I can chose to still be careful about what I say, to say the best and most encouraging of things rather than be negative and critical, but to say something. So that is what I am doing. I am opening my mouth (well not always my physical mouth, as I have not yet worked out how to blog verbally and make it translate to words on the page!!) to share my life and experience. I am declaring what God has done in my life and who He is. And I am letting people know me, to hear me. It’s tough changing the habits of a lifetime, and certainly not something I could do without God’s help, but I am slowly beginning to see a side of myself that I hadn’t expected, one that wants to speak!
Having sat for a little over two hours yesterday doing a piece of work on a website that simply would not cooperate under any circumstances, while I got more and more furious with it, and as I contemplated smashing my laptop, I realised it was simply time to stop and walk away. It’s not my computer’s fault, it was more an incompatibility between what I wanted the website to be able to do and what it could actually do, what it had been programmed to do.
Two questions came to mind, why were my expectations so high? And why did I get so riled up by it, allowing it to get under my skin and frustrate me completely?
Expectations is easier to answer. My expectations are always high, I expect far more of people and myself than is possible the majority of the time. And because of that I often feel disappointed that reality did not match up to my expectations. The expectation that people will be all that God wants them to be, the perfect version of themselves. The expectation that they will know what I am thinking and act accordingly. The expectation that they will be genuine. The expectation that they have enough time to act in the most appropriate way. Obviously, I know that isn’t all possible, and certainly not all of the time, when I sit and think about it, but in the moment of disappointment it is not the first thought to go through my head. I should allow them, and myself, the grace to be a work in progress, to still be on the journey to becoming all that God wants but somehow, I rarely remember that, I rarely offer people the grace to make mistakes, to be having a bad day, to be rushing, to be themselves instead of what I think they ought to be.
In terms of the frustration, the work was not the root of the problem. There had been something nagging at me all day. It took some thought to pinpoint it. I had not achieved what I had planned to do. I had not lived up to the expectations I had for myself and my day.
I returned from my dog walk early, and knew I couldn’t go to work until late, so I thought it would be great to get an hour of writing and editing done on Moses, and to get an hour of work out of the way. Instead time disappeared, evaporated, vanished. I’d love to say it was in an alternate productive manner, but it wasn’t. I surfed Facebook and Instagram and opened an enormous Birthday parcel that had been delivered. And there you have it, that one word makes all the difference to my day, Facebook. Facebook is my personal poison, one I willingly and repeatedly ingest. After scrolling for a short while I feel worn out, exhausted, overwhelmed, depressed, inexplicably fed up, and I feel like something is crushing my chest. I need to escape it but am completely unable to leave. This is now the point where many people turn around, look at me blankly and decide I am out of my mind. It’s okay, I get that response a lot, I am used to it, and I know Facebook does not have this effect on most other people. The feeling is clearly not entirely physical, as I have not used enough muscles or brain power to suffer any of those symptoms. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that it is something else. I’ll come onto that!
Probably eighteen months ago I made the decision to change the way I used FB, initially I tried to just ignore it, then I hid the app and turned off all the notifications, but neither made any difference. So, I told my friends I wasn’t going to be on FB much and if they needed me to contact me directly, then I deleted the app from my phone. It was tough the first few days, but after that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was incredibly liberating. I was only checking in once every two months to read my notifications, and I refused to read the feed at all. The “I’ll just have a quick look and see what’s happening mentality” is finally being kept under control. But not this time. I ‘needed’ to check my Birthday messages for the forth time, only the quick look and only reading my wall and notifications rule no longer applied apparently and I read the feed. I probably only read twenty posts in the feed, but it was more than enough to bring on all the feelings, only because it had been a while I didn’t instantly recognise or acknowledge them. I logged out and flicked without even thinking about it onto Instagram, flicking in a manner that can only be described as mindless. Normally I only read or look at a few messages at a time, this was way beyond that.
By the time I got to work, had sat in my empty office for three lonely hours, I’d had enough of the world. All I wanted was to go and hide in bed.
So, what is it that makes social media so poisonous to me? I get sucked in, I then don’t know when to stop, I see things that encourage me to feel depressed about my own life, and I lose track of time. My time is sucking into a black hole and never returned to me – that is part of the annoyance with it. It always seems to take, and never give anything I want or need back. It takes my time, my joy, my energy, and in return offers unpleasant feelings, discouragement, rose tinted images of others’ lives, a view of all the things I don’t have, and on some days offers something I genuinely wish I had never seen. Rarely do I feel thankful and enriched by something I have seen or found.
Completely separately, and not on social media, I watched a video and took an online quiz about how you hear God. It was by Havilah Cunnington – if you don’t know her, she is an amazing Christian lady at Truth to Table, someone I discovered a few months ago. I thought it sounded interesting, and a bit of fun, and was surprised by the results, but then thought nothing of it. Now having processed through all the things of the day and why I felt the way I did, I am beginning to wonder if I’ve just overlooked something hugely important! The result was that I hear God through my feelings.
I wonder if the feelings I get when I sit on social media are God’s promptings, to make me get off it, to clue me into how detrimental it is to me, to point out how it is altering my focus and thinking in a way that is not what He intends. I can glance over Bible verses by the dozen on social media in my flicking, barely reading, let alone absorbing them before I launch onto the next post. The verse I’ve seen before rarely holds the same appeal as something new and interesting that I haven’t seen before. But it is only in reading or hearing, and then absorbing, chewing over, that it becomes knowledge, a part of who we are, something we can rely on and remember. Only in pausing and consciously taking something on board can the very fabric of my soul be changed. And the sad truth is that what we take on board most is often not the things of God! I’m still chewing this one over.
I would like to challenge you this week to consider: how much time you spend on social media, what you do on there, how it affects you, and whether you spend as much time absorbing God’s Word as you do the contents of those social media pages, images and videos.
I am contemplating if I need to take a break from Instagram as well for a while…
Edit: having typed this up a few days ago and mulled over what I wrote, I’m not sure I’ve explained adequately! I don’t particularly mean that God makes me depressed, I mean that God uses the feels I am naturally prone to as a way of speaking into my life. If you enjoy something you are more likely to repeat it, if you find something unpleasant you are more inclined not to do it again. Social media isn’t as cut and dry as that. God knows what I absorb and take on board, He knows where my thoughts lead. So, the quicker the uneasy feeling, the faster I stop. I simply wonder if He is trying to discourage me from staying there. I’m not sure my edit has really improved what I am saying… let’s perhaps deem this post as incomprehensible drivel for now!
I am writing a book currently – retelling of Bible character’s stories alongside my own life. The one I have been writing over the last few weeks is about Gideon. I’m not going to post that here now. Instead I’m going to share what came out of a comment someone made about why I had overlooked the fact that Gideon had come to a bad end.
The stories are about overcoming obstacles. They are not about polishing up a halo for the person – in this case Gideon! David’s story mentions nothing of Bathsheba!!!
Every story will have far more details than can ever be mentioned! It would be phenomenally boring to mention every detail of someone’s life: the time they walked into the door and got a bruise, stubbed their toe on the bed, argued with the Mrs about what they would be eating today, every time they went to the loo, or travelled to buy food, every time they walked from one tent to another, every time they sacrificed an animal for their sin, every time they ate and slept. The reality is that not all events help in the telling of a particular portion of a person’s life.
Gideon was not a perfect man. Who is?? Perfection on earth is not possible unless you are God! We are limited beings, with a limited knowledge and perception. Gideon’s failing was slipping back into old ways, for failing to keep the grounding of God in his life, failing to hold onto to who God was, and to step into a worship of Him while the goodness of God faded from his mind! We are all capable of such things, perhaps not to the extent Gideon did it, but forgetful nonetheless! The disciples saw Jesus feed a crowd of thousands of people, yet only months later didn’t believe Jesus could do it again. They had forgotten His miraculous nature, His desire to feed the hungry, His love for His people. Their limited minds could not understand!
The only real difference now for us is the Holy Spirit, the living presence of God residing in our lives, to help prompt us, but only if we choose to listen! A prompting remains useless if ignored! And the more you ignore the promptings, the harder it becomes to hear them at all!
So the questions really should be, not why have you chosen to ignore Gideon’s tarnished halo, but how do we prevent forgetfulness from creeping into our lives? How do we hold on to who God is when we can’t see Him? How do we make a break from the mistakes of our past and the mistakes of our parents? How do we follow God wholeheartedly when life gets tough? Who will stand beside us to hold us accountable for our actions? Who will help us worship, even as God’s goodness fades from our limited minds?
It’s not that I think Gideon’s failings are insignificant, it’s simply that parts of his life are not helpful in showing how we can overcome our obstacles, and step into the calling God has for our lives.
My friend Jim over at Prophecy Toolkit has been writing too. I’ll be honest his material is significantly more deep and theological than mine, so if you’re in for a light read then perhaps he’s not for you. The main content is a commentary on Revelation, for all those who have read it and wondered what on earth it is talking about! His website has only been up a couple of weeks and already has lots of interesting things up. So if you need something more meaty, flick over there for a good read!
I was challenged to write about two men with frankly the oddest names, only to discover the mention they get is the grand sum of a few verses each in chapter 7 and 8 of Isaiah. I have to admit, I had never heard the names Shear-Jashub or Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz before, perhaps I had not paid close enough attention when reading Isaiah, so I had to get reading before I could write about them.
This section of the Bible falls about 300 years after David and Goliath, but the nation looks very different. During David’s rule the people of God were united, but the kingdom split with ten tribes in the North which became the kingdom of Israel, while the remaining two tribes in the South became the kingdom of Judah. The North chose Samaria as its capital, while the South had Jerusalem as its capital. It is this divide we continue to see in the New Testament time of Jesus; the Jews in the South despised the Samaritans of the North.
Isaiah was the prophet sent to the South, while Hosea was sent to the North at much the same time. Both prophets were sent to call the people, the nation, back to God.
We open Isaiah with a few key verses:
‘The children I raised and cared for have turned against me… No matter what I do for them, they still do not understand. Oh, what a sinful nation they are! They are loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil and corrupt children who have turned away from the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel, cutting themselves off from his help… No matter how deep the stains of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow… If you will only obey me and let me help you, then you will have plenty to eat. But if you keep turning away and refusing to listen, you will be destroyed by your enemies.’ Isaiah 1 : 2 – 20
Isaiah was a man that heard God, and saw visions from Him, but the messages he was to pass on were not all pretty or encouraging. In fact, many were doom and gloom, of impending destruction, captivity and death. Not at all the kind of messages most people want to be burdened with. Not only did Isaiah feel God had messages for the people but He also had message God wanted to use his sons to pass on. Before they were born God indicated the names He wished each son to have, a name that would remind the people of something specific.
Isaiah’s first son was to be named Shear-Jashub which means, a remnant will return. His second son was Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz which means quick to plunder, swift to spoil.
Sometimes we glance over names because so few names in this country have an instantly recognisable meaning. People would recognise Daisy and Hope but what about Jonathan or Matilda? These names though meant something to the people, they were in their everyday language. It would be like me naming my child Destruction-Comes, Christ-Returns or Love-Overcomes-Evil. Anyone who met us or heard of us would instantly know and understand that I had a message. Obviously, some people would choose to believe Destruction-Comes was talking about the destruction the child was bringing each time they entered the room, but they would understand clearly that you were communicating something important.
God had a message for Isaiah’s sons to give and they didn’t even have to use words because their very name expressed God’s message each and every time their name was spoken. Their names reflected the messages Isaiah had been sent to tell the people.
One of Isaiah’s messages was to tell the people that the whole area would be deserted, a wasteland, with the people driven to distant lands. Only a few would survive and return – the remnant described in Shear-Jashub’s name – only to be invaded again and again. Isaiah’s son’s name reflected this concept that no matter what happened to the people, each time only a remnant of them would return to Judah. The remnant were the faithful few, those whose hearts were not hardened to Isaiah’s message, who were faithful to God and who understood that Shear-Jashub’s name was not only a message of gloom but also a message of hope. The name meant there was hope for those who remained faithful. God would bring that remnant back safely to their homeland, He would protect them no matter what circumstances surrounded them and no matter the outcome for the rest of their community. There was hope for those who chose to listen and not be hardened to the heart of God.
Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz’s name would reflect the destruction other nations would bring to the people of God. They would plunder Israel and Judah, and carry off their wealth, they would spoil the land. While Shear-Jashub’s name bought a glimmer of hope to a few, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz’s name was intended to work differently, it was to strike fear into the hearts of the people and to remind them of their past.
Isaiah‘s message reminded the people about the promised land God had brought them into, but they had spoiled it. Instead of following the ten commandments, and in particular having no other gods beside the One true God, they had allowed the practices of the land to continue, they had even joined in. They worshipped other gods. The people had been given something precious and instead of protecting it, they had spoiled it. They allowed others to plunder its promise, by not stamping out the practices they knew God did not want for them. And because the people had allowed all this to happen God would allow other nations to further spoil and plunder the nation. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was a reminder that doom was coming, it was imminent.
Isaiah’s message, that we opened with, was for the people to turn from their wickedness and return to God for help. The people thought they knew best and refused to listen, so both of God’s messages expressed in the names of Isaiah’s sons came true. The people were scattered and carried off in many directions, and only a few of them came back to the land to pick up the pieces and rebuild what little there was left. The names were significant. But what relevance do they have today?
God may not speak His messages through people’s names in the same way now, but He does still speak. He does still have a message to bring, and it is not always the variety we want to hear. Sometimes the message does sound like doom and gloom, sometimes it prompts us to acknowledge things we don’t want to hear, to admit things we have done. But no matter how difficult the message can be to swallow there is always hope. Hope because of another name, the name of Jesus. Jesus made the way for all things to be different, He brought the possibility of restoration in our relationship with God. So, because we can call on the name of Jesus, we will always have hope. No matter how dark the places we are seem, no matter how dreadful the circumstances appear, and no matter how far we think we have fallen – that hope always remains. The knowledge that the price Jesus paid on the cross has changed everything forever is a blessing, not so that we can continue in our dark places but so that we can change our ways and be counted as the faithful remnant who return to Him again and again.
So, what’s in a name? Well once you start digging beneath the surface you discover that there is a great deal to be found in a name. Before I finish, let’s just go over what the name Jesus means. It comes from the Hebrew Yehoshua. Yeho- meaning (the same as Yahweh) the Lord, and -shua (from yasha) meaning to deliver, save or rescue. The literal translation of Jesus is God saves. The name of Jesus is important, because God brought His message through Jesus, he saved the people through Jesus.
So for those of you who have been here before, you will realise that this website was set up for the purpose of selling my hand-painted t-shirts. While I still have stock and am willing to sell these, I have decided not to do it as a business. However, I didn’t want to waste all my careful work in setting up the website and coming up with a name etc etc. So I have made the executive decision to continue the website and use it as a way of blogging, an outlet for my writing.
I make no promises about how often I will get a chance to write or what I will write about yet… but if you are interested watch this space!
Also apologies, I haven’t yet had the chance to upgrade to a secure site yet. It is on my to do list!
I took a walk along the canal with my camera and phone. I was absolutely fascinated by the bare winter trees against the beautiful blue sky.