Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Reading carefully

A couple of days ago, I was reading about Mary & Martha. A story I know well. Martha invites Jesus & his disciples for dinner and then gets in a stooshie over Mary not helping  with the cooking.

But that's not what it says. It doesn't say she invited them for dinner; it says she 'opened her home to him'. In context, Jesus and his disciples are on tour. Previously in the chapter, he sent out 72 of them, in an advertising campaign to the towns he was planning to visit. They were to stay with people in those towns.

Now 'Jesus and his disciples were on their way'. The tour has begun. They don't just need a nice dinner; like the 72 they need a place to put up for the night (or several nights). So Martha doesn't just need to cook one dinner for 13 extra people*  She needs to cook for several meals, buy the extra food, fetch extra water, make beds, perhaps rearrange rooms, dust... As Jesus said, 'you are worried and upset by many things'.

Available soon...

Then I was preparing a Sunday School Lesson about crossing the river Jordan. Another story I know well. After they cross, they are told to take 12 stones from the river and pile them up, so that people would remember what God had done. Sunday School lessons state this. This is what the Visual Aids I have used always show, as has every illustration I myself have drawn.

But that's not what it says. It says 'put them down at the place where you stay tonight', and 'Joshua set up the twelve stones'. No mention of a pile. They might have been stacked in a tall pillar, if they were flat enough. Or arranged in a row. Or a circle.

In fact, having just done some Googling, and looking at the Blue Letter Bible, it turns out that:
  • 'Gilgal' means 'circle' or 'wheel'. This is explained in Joshua 5v8-9 as referring to God 'rolling away the reproach of Egypt' when they were circumcised. But it could easily be God making a pun. He frequently does.
  • The word 'Gilgal' is certainly used in Hebrew for a stone circle, such as the (very different, very large) stone circle called Gilgal Refaim.
  • There are also small stone circles in Israel like the kind I'm imagining at Gilgal.
Next time I illustrate this, I will draw a stone circle.

Do either of these things matter? No, they don't (except insofar as the truth  matters).

But it does show that you need to read very carefully. Because some things really do matter, and you don't want to read them wrong.

*Or however many, but I'm assuming the whole 72 were not there! But maybe more than 12? What about the women who followed Jesus? Of course, the disciples might also have split up between different houses. Who knows? It was a hassle, anyway.

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