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Risky Business: the call of the prophet

June 7th, 2013 No comments

Recently, I had an opportunity to present a paper to the Students of Religious Studies conference at the Mid-Western Regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (that’s a mouth-full!).  My paper examined a word used frequently in the book of Daniel, בהל (bahal).  Traditionally, this word is translated as something akin to “alarm,” “distressed,” or “disturbed.”

This word is used as Daniel goes before King Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his visions.  My paper argued for an alternative rendering of the word, focusing on linguistic evidence, as well as literary themes found in the book, to support a translation that is something much stronger than mere distress or alarm–I argued that bahal is a word denoting fear, or perhaps even stronger than that, terror.

The book of Daniel is an example of apocalyptic literature.  Strange visions are common (and indeed, characteristic) to this type of literature.

Daniel’s visions are, indeed, quite strange.

Everyone remotely familiar with the book of Daniel knows that God gifted Daniel with the ability to detangle and interpret these strange visions.  He is  so sought after that his career spans across the reigns of three kings (and probably more, depending on whether or not there are time gaps in between these kings).

A frequently recurring word in the Daniel stories (particularly through chapter 11) is the word behal.  The same root appears all across Hebrew scripture, and frequently is translated as “to hasten” or “to hurry.”  In Daniel, though, the word seems to have a different nuance.  Many translators render behal as “to be distressed”, “distraught”, “disturbed”, or even “anxious”.

Is this translation good enough?  Does any of these words properly carry the force intended by behal?

I argue that it doesn’t.

While it is true that the word does mean “to hasten”, every single time the word occurs in the book of Daniel, the person who is behal’d is undergoing some sort of crisis.  For instance, Nebuchadnezzar finds out that his kingdom under attack, so he behals to go out and subdue the threat, utterly destroying his aggressors. In another event, his face grows pale and he is behal‘d.  In another case, the object of the verb shakes and trembles.

Is this mere “hastening?”

And now we come to Daniel.

While Daniel as a book is located in the Writings of the Hebrew scriptures (as opposed to the Prophets, as it is in English), Daniel as a person was clearly a prophet.  In the Ancient Near East, a prophet who goes before a king with bad news usually did not fare well.  Many times, bad news resulted in his death.   Daniel was likely very much aware of this.  Moreover, Daniel had just witnessed what happened to his friends Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego as a result of their disobedience–they were thrown into a fiery furnace. Daniel’s messages to the respective kings definitely were not full of good news.   King Nebuchadnezzar’s great power would be lost, and he would go nuts.  Belshazzar would see the very hand of God write on the wall of his own destruction.  And Daniel himself would be behal‘d of the visions in his own head.

Is Daniel merely “alarmed” or “disturbed?”  The context of the various passages seem to suggest that there is a lot more than mere worry going on here.

As I examined, translated, and studied these passages, I began to think.  These passages are so strange, so vague. Why even include them in our Bible? What is the point of Daniel?

Aside from the would-be messianic passages, I think Daniel has a singularly unique purpose for Christians:

Daniel shows us the potential catastrophe of what it means to be a prophet of God.

The theological take-away of these passages where behal occurs is that Daniel, like all of us who are called to the ministry, was simply a man delivering God’s word.  While Daniel is not included among the prophets in the Hebrew scriptures, Daniel is such because he declares what God is going to do.  I believe that when Daniel went before these authority figures, knowing that his very life was at risk,  he was frightened out of his wits.  He was terrified, scared to death to do what God had appointed him to do.

And yet, Daniel did it anyway.

As preachers and teachers of God’s word, our calling is to communicate God’s message of salvation to a world that desperately needs it.  Many brothers and sisters in foreign countries do so at the risk of their own lives.  They, like Daniel, are no doubt terrified.

And yet, they do it anyway.

How far are we willing to go for the sake of God’s message?  Will we go as far as Daniel did, willing to proclaim the Gospel, no matter what the cost?

 

Why I decided to live in a little college town

June 5th, 2013 No comments

Ok.  Enough is enough.

Enough people have been asking me this question, so I decided to address it on a blog for the world to see.  For those interested, you are welcome; for those not, I apologize.  You can skip this post at your discretion. 🙂

People ask me, “So Jon, why did you decide to stay in Wilmore?”  I overhear others say, “Who in their right mind would want to stay in this town?”  Still others say (and this is common among students, in particular): “I can’t wait to get the heck outta here.”

There is an impression that only the creepy folks stick around after graduation.  The creepiest of these continue to audit classes.  There is no doubt: I run the risk of being labeled a creep.

So why did I stay?

First, I stayed because this town is one of a few towns in the country where people with physical disabilities, like me, can maintain a sense of independence.  There is no need to live on a transit system.  There is no need to drive twenty minutes to get to the nearest grocery store.  For those too lazy to cook, we have restaurants here that cater to the poor seminary student’s (and graduate’s!) pocketbook.

Second, I do not drive, so I have to walk wherever I go, unless one of my friends is kind enough to take me places.  I prefer not to “bum” rides off friends.  Every major establishment in this town–grocery stores, gyms (not that I will ever use one), restaurants, laundramat, dry-cleaners, libraries–are all within walking distance.

Sure, some would say I might be relegated to a life of boredom (where are the movie theaters?), but I have independence here.

The third reason why I decided to stay in town is related to personal independence, but is particularly important for me.  As an aspiring academic, I have invaluable resources here.  I have a library just down the street–I do not have to rely on a third party to drive me for thirty minutes into  downtown Cincinnati to go to the nearest theological hub.  I have access to a wealth of resources, both college and seminary professors, who continue to help me to grow.  Not withstanding, I  have a group of friends that hold me accountable for my soul.

Oh yeah, and there is the potential opportunity to work for the two institutions which helped mold and shape me as a human being.  To teach at the college or seminary would be nothing short of a dream come true for me–to work alongside those who have mentored me over the years would be a privilege beyond description.

I believe that God’s calling to his servants is not as complicated as the majority of the Christian world would make it.  God has gifted each Christian with unique gifts and abilities, and he has designed us to use them for his glory as an expression of worship.

In Wilmore, I am able to do that.

Over the last ten years, I have lived in this town.  I have walked its streets.  I have formed relationships with people that I will maintain til the day I die.  I have had the honor of forming relationships with mentors that not only have coached me academically, but spiritually and personally as well.  I am able to maintain my independence.  I am able to study what I believe God has called me to study.Perhaps most importantly, I am able to begin living out my calling to teach God’s word to his children.

God has placed me in Wilmore for various reasons.  When he calls me to go somewhere else, I will go. Until then, I am content learning, growing, studying, and teaching.  I am happy and privileged to help students learn Hebrew which, as of now, is my favorite thing to do in the world.  Why would I walk away from that?

Soli Deo Gloria.

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