David Ker (Lingamish) has just begun a series called the Bad Boy Bible Study based on a passage from Ship of Fools. The reason for his study series can be capitulated in the first paragraph of his recent post “Exegetical Sketches: Bad Boy Bible Study”. In his bible study post, David has tagged me in his ship of fools to offer some thoughts about this passage from 2 Kings 2:23-24. He made a great statement that made me really think about this.
The best way to get a handle on interpreting the Old Testament is to repaint the heroes as villains. The Bible is God’s holy word. It is inspired. But we confuse inspiration with inspirational. Just because God wrote the book doesn’t mean he populated it with good guys. On the contrary, and I think this is one of the most amazing aspects of the Bible as a sacred text, you get to read all the dirt on God’s chosen people. His kings were killers and schemers. His prophets were ragers and whackos. It’s as if God is his own hostile witness, daring you to idolize his chosen ones.
David, thanks for the word that causes us to be more honest with ourselves and our theology. I’ve been guilty of whitewashing the sins and faults and weaknesses of my favourite bible characters. After this series of studies, I don’t think I’ll be able to clean-up any of the faults in the upcoming bible characters. The bald-headed Elisha will be a tough text to deal with. It’s almost impossible to whitewash the sins and faults of our biblical hero Elisha.
Here are David’s rules: 1) You’ve been asked to teach or preach on this passage; and 2) What would you say?
Well, I don’t think I have any big theological statements to make. Perhaps this will be a passage I can preach on some day, but definitely not in the near future. These are just some preliminary thoughts that are not too well-thought through yet so they’re probably full of holes. The law is apparent in this text. I still have to get my head around it and see how and where the gospel can be ushered in. Here’s my thought on the passage of 2 Kings 2:23-24.
1/God is not a respecter of persons. God is not a respecter of any age, race or economic class. God loves everyone, and “everyone” must include both the young and the aged; people of every color: red, yellow, black and white; and yes, both the rich and the poor. All have a place in the kingdom of God. That is the justice and righteousness of God. Romans 2:11-12 says: “For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” (NRSV). The theological hinge is that sin touches people of all ages, all races, and all economic classes, etc. In our tendency to seek retributive justice for the poor and disadvantaged, we have also taken a partial preference to a particular group. We’ve painted the poor and disadvantaged as the only innocent victims. We have tended to alleviate them from any guilt because it might seem easier to shift all the blame over to the oppressor of the victim. It unjustly shifts all the blame and alleviates any responsibility from the victim who may have some responsibility to accept at least some of the blame. On the other side of the equation, this is also unjust.
2/ Law and gospel made clear: This text is not preached on very often (and it’s also not in the lectionary). Why isn’t it? Perhaps we have intentionally avoided this tough passage because we don’t see anything that is particularly redeeming and gospel-oriented about Elisha’s wrong-headed thoughts and actions. But reflecting back on my own guilt of whitewashing the biblical text, I’ve found that this prevents me from seeing my own reflection as to who I really am, which an unworthy sinner is. But I’ve found that by leaving the text to speak for itself leaves room for the gospel to be the good news to be effective. In other words, by allowing our heroes look more human with warts and all, the law is able to function effectively when scripture is allowed to interpret scripture. With us humans getting in the way, we often prefer to distort it with our personal interpretation hide the ugly truth. By letting Elisha be who he really is, an imperfect human being, the gospel can be allowed to speak more clearly about God’s grace which cures the ills of our sin.