Thursday, November 20, 2008

Window on the Word

The Other Nebo

Derek has already reflected this week on providence and the will of God from a phrase found in Nehemiah 7. That passage has been on my mind since he preached from it on Sunday. Most of the chapter is given to a list of names, the kind you find in Numbers or Chronicles, or even the beginning of Matthew and Luke. The fact that a nearly identical list is found in Ezra 2 makes Nehemiah 7 a double whammy! Didn’t I just read this? Not again!

Nehemiah 7 is one of those chapters that test the resolve to read through the Bible in a year. Those chapters which are much more likely to be skipped over or “skimmed” than read. Put those names in a pile over there with the book of Leviticus, and the last third of Exodus. And while we are at it, why not throw in Ezekiel and Jeremiah (we’ll keep Isaiah for Christmas time), and if the Zechariah and Revelation aren’t careful, they might find their way on our list. Keep the good stuff, the exciting stuff, the encouraging stuff. Keep some of the hard stuff, but out with redundancy! Out with the unapproachable! Out with lists! I can see it now – The Executive Summary Bible, available in luxurious calf-skin leather in time for the Christmas buying season.

Well, that might be a little farther than most of us are ready to go. But these lists -what to think of them? What am I supposed to do with “the men of the other Nebo”? I didn’t even know there was more than one Nebo to choose from.

No, not that one . . . the tall one . . . no, not that tall, the other tall one . . .the heavy set tall fellow with the beard . . yes, yes, that Nebo. Now, about the sons of the other Elam...

Those lists may have been important in Nehemiah’s time, but for us, what would be the harm in passing them by? Surely it crossed Derek’s mind to just skip this passage as he has made his way through Ezra and Nehemiah, if not the first time, surely we could miss out on the list a second time.

The first harm, or at least potential harm, is the desire to pick and choose from among the things of God. Where is the natural stopping point between passing over longs lists and “just hitting the high points” of a book? And from the high points of a narrative to treating the Bible like a buffet line (load up on Gospels, some Romans, and yes, yes, make room for Genesis, but I think I’ll pass on James, and it doesn’t look as if I’ve left any room for Esther. I really wasn’t that hungry, anyway.). When we become God’s editors, when we decide this piece or that piece is out, there is no logical stopping point. I may not like lists, but maybe she does not like all the indecencies in Judges, and he is not that sure about all this bloody cross talk. Either Paul’s words about inspiration and usefulness and equipping the saints applies to the whole or to none at all. That is not to say that each passage is equally useful in training for godliness, but that all are at some level God-breathed and useful.

But second (and related), there is the issue of trust. Who do I trust more? Into whose care shall I place my soul? Does God know best what my soul needs? And if so, did He know what He was doing when He set out to provide His word? When I come to passages like Nehemiah 7 and I begin to think that my soul can do without these names or that ancient legal code or the geographical boundaries established under Joshua, am I not placing more trust in my own judgments than in God’s? Am I not saying to God, “If I were writing the Bible, I wouldn’t have included this or that”? By reading and preaching on a list of names, did we not to some degree say, “We trust God when He put this in His word that He knew what He was doing.”

1 comment:

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