The Battle of the Reed Sea

Exodus 14:19-31

You’ve probably heard the cliché, stuck between a rock and a hard place?  The people of Israel found themselves stuck between an army and an ocean, which is an equally impossible situation.

On one side stood the Egyptian army, Pharaoh’s personal guard with hundreds of chariots, chariot drivers, archers, and infantry. The Egyptian army was the superpower of its day. Chariots and horses were the ancient equivalent of tanks and helicopters.

On the other side, the Israelites faced the Reed Sea. You may know it as the Red Sea. That is how most Bibles translate it, but it was almost definitely not body of water between the mainland of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. That Red Sea is 220 miles wide, and not exactly on the route from the Nile Delta to Canaan.

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Israel’s Other Opponent at the Reed Sea

The people of Israel faced the might of the Egyptian army at the Battle of the Reed Sea, but that was not the only power that threatened them. Israel was caught between Pharaoh’s army and the sea. It was stuck, if you will, between the empire’s brutal version of law and order on one side and utter chaos and destruction on the other. The sea itself carried mythic connotations throughout the scriptures.

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One Person, Two Natures

Classical Christian theology asserts that the Son of God has two natures, one divine and one human, united at the level of being in one entity or hypostasis. The second part of this formula is as important as the first. If one says only that Jesus had two natures, it might sound as if there were two people, two minds or two souls rattling around in his flesh and bones. How can one being have two distinctly different natures?

Recognizing that all analogies of the divine are limited and even dangerous when pushed too far, let me introduce you to an earthly entity with two distinct natures. This a Consolidated PBY Catalina, a flying boat used extensively during World War II. The Catalina has the nature of an airplane. It does everything an ordinary airplane can do. It also has the nature of boat, with the ability to float, move people and cargo across the water and station itself at anchor. It even looks like a boat.

The Catalina is not two things, it is one thing with two natures. The one thing flies because of its airplane nature; it floats because of its boat nature.

The analogy, of course, breaks down when pushed too far. God and humanity – the creator and the creature – are far more different than two modes of transportation. In the words of Karl Barth, God is wholly other.

Jesus is one person, who breathed, bled and ate because of his human nature. He was born, grew, suffered and died because of his human nature. That part is clear enough. When looking at his divine nature, however, one needs to look beyond the obvious, beyond the miraculous deeds Jesus performed. Throughout the history of Israel, God empowered ordinary men and women who belonged to him to perform extraordinary and miraculous deeds. Jesus is different. In Jesus’ life, the ordinary, the extraordinary and the miraculous all point to something even greater. The Gospel of John calls them signs, pointing not just to God’s power to redeem, but to the fullness of the God the Father in the person of God the Son. Jesus’ divine nature is mysterious, ineffable, inconceivable, and incomprehensible because that’s what the creator of the cosmos is.

Apart from God’s self-revelation, we could know very little of God. The creator, in his eternal perfections, is ultimately beyond human comprehension. Nevertheless, what the Church has seen when it has looked deeply into the Holy Scriptures is this: Jesus, one person, two natures, fully and perfectly human, fully and perfectly God. By the miracle of the incarnation, the eternal word became human flesh.

Peace Returned to the Pacific

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Emperor of Japan’s announcement of surrender on August 15, 1945, bringing the horrible Second World War to its conclusion. The war in the Pacific began in China on July 7, 1937 when Japanese forces that had previously invaded Manchuria clashed with Chinese troops. Thus began a full scale Japanese invasion of Chinese territories, where tens of millions died over the next 8 years. For most of the rest of the Pacific, the war began in December, 1941, when the Empire of Japan attacked not only the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor but huge swaths of the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The Japanese empire invaded territories from Burma in the west to the the central Pacific islands in the east, from Papua-New Guinea in the south to the Aleutians in the north.

Pacific_Theater_1937-1942
Pacific Theater, 1937-1942, via Wikipedia, click to expand

Approximately 32.7 million people died from war related causes in the Pacific theater. By my calculations, that is approximately 15,000 per day. If that rate held, extending the war by even a month would have resulted in nearly a half-million additional deaths. Three months, 1.35 million additional deaths. A half-year, 2.7 million additional deaths. A full year, nearly 5.5 million additional deaths.

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The Canaanite Woman in the Matthean Context

I previously wrote about Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) in the context of Israel’s unique place in God’s salvation of the world: When Dogs Eat at the Family Table. These notes supplement that essay.

In a recent article, Ian Paul provides some insights about the story’s context in Matthew’s gospel: Did the Canaanite Woman Teach Jesus not to be Racist?

Parallels with Jesus’ Encounter with the Centurion

Dr. Paul writes:

This episode has much in common with the earlier encounter with the centurion in Matt 8.5–13. Both supplicants are gentiles; both are asking on behalf of another; both are met with an initial show of reluctance; both are in the end commended more highly than any Jew. The woman here receives a more negative initial response, but the pattern is very similar. in the midst of that encounter, Jesus expresses a global, multiracial vision of the kingdom when he declares that ‘many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham’ (Matt 8.11). He goes on to contrast this with the rejection of the ‘subjects of the kingdom’ who will be ‘thrown outside into the darkness’.

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