Bible Quizzes for Smart People LII
Bill Long 2/16/07
1. "I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their juice spattered on my garments, and stained all my robes. For the day of vengeance was in my heart..."
This verse was on the heart of Julia Ward Howe, wife of prominent abolitionist Samuel Gridley Howe, and she decided to pen a song that soon became emblazoned on the hearts of the Union troops and the North as the Civil War began to unfold. Called "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," this timeless tune and precious words pick up on the theme of the divine judgment that she felt was being worked out on the battlefields of that strife. The words appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862. Everyone knows the first and fourth verses; the second and third bring home with chilling power the fear and the loneliness of the men, as well as the relentless march of the judgment of God through the War. Here are those two verses, verses worthy of memorization:
"I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on."
This war would truly be an epic struggle in her mind, a fight that would exemplify that greater struggle between the "Hero, born of woman" and the "serpent" (recalling the Protoevangelium of Gen. 3:15). But where is this passage, and what is the larger context of the words?
2. "If I wash myself with soap/ and cleans my hands with lye,/ yet you will plunge me into filth,/ and my own clothes will abhor me."
We go from a verse interpreted in a somber but victorious way to this verse, one that expresses the author's desperation, sadness and weakness. He is expostulating with God, the God who was supposed to love and care for him. His point is that he has done nothing wrong, but that God has, nevertheless, judged him. Even if he were to try to do everything he could, to wash his hands with the most astringent cleansing agent of antiquity, God would ignore this effort and plunge him back into the filth. I am so grateful for this book of the Bible, for it unmasks all our pretentions when life has truly turned out much worse than we thought it would. I don't know if we hear ourselves in these desperate words, but they are forever a testimony of one faithful person--that all he could do seemingly wouldn't change God's attitude towards him at all. On the contrary, all that he could do in presenting himself "cleanly" would work against him as God just plunged him back into the filth. Where do you find these most disheartening verses?
3. "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds."
This verse hits right at the heart of Biblical ethics. When I was being nurtured in faith in my late teens/early 20s, the line I kept hearing from my well-meaning teachers was that ethics were neither situational nor personal; that is, ethical decision-making consisted of isolating the relevant Biblical principle that corresponded to the facts of our situation and then applying it. The principles were eternal; the Biblical advice, therefore, was also eternal. But, as I matured in my thinking, and as I read this verse, I adopted a different perspective than the one I learned. The author of this verse imagines various ethical responses to a common reality. He realizes that in many circumstances there is no "right or wrong" answer. The thoughtful conscience, guided no doubt by a number of considerations, had to be left to itself to become "fully convinced." The author knew that our commitment to difficult ethicial decisions was deeply related to our "buy in" to those decisions. If we weren't "fully convinced" in our minds, then we would waver and not be able to defend our decisions at a later time. Thus, it seemed to me, the Bible not only taught a situational ethic but an ethic that was entirely personal. Principles there may be, but a lot of leeway was allowed by this Biblical author to come up with our own responses to life's challenges. Where do you find this verse, and how does the author argue in the surrounding verses?
4. "Your only son XXX, whom you love..."
I can't read this verse without having a surge of emotion within, for in this passage the author skillfully wraps the reader in a shawl of pain by adding the parenthetical comment "whom you love." We feel the same surge of emotion in the parable of the prodigal son when the father sees the wayward son afar off and runs to meet him and hug him. Something about fathers and sons who love each other tugs at our hearts. And, our heart-strings are especially yanked when we realize that the sacrifice of the beloved son is in view. This passage, then, provides a type for Christ, especially in the theology of Paul. Christ is the antitype, the one whom God loved but still chose to give for the sins of the world. This bolded verse had such a grip on Soren Kierkegaard that he wrote his masterful Fear and Trembling to try to deal with its implications. Where do you find it, and is the verse moving also for you?
5. "See, the Lord's hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear," NRSV. The KJV has: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear."
One of the many things that a person of faith has to learn throughout life is the hard lesson of the silence of God. Indeed, I think this principle was the chief theological issue of the 20th century. Why is God seeemingly so absent when the needs of the world cry out for intervention and that right quickly? There really is no convincing answer to the question so phrased. But there is a countervailing Scripture, such as the one bolded, which stresses that the Lord doesn't have short hands or dull hears. Maybe we first learn to believe this when we examine our lives after many years. We can see so many ways that our life could have been different; indeed, the regrets sometimes overwhelm us. But, on the other hand, if we listen hard enough, and look deeply enough, we realize the truth of this verse. God's hand was not too short, neither was the divine ear heavy. It is quite an affirmation to be able to say this. Which author says it?