The Pharisees seek a sign from heaven (Mk 8:11-8:11)

“The Pharisees came.

They began

To argue

With Jesus.

They were asking him

For a sign

From heaven.

They wanted

To test him.”

 

Καὶ ἐξῆλθον οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ ἤρξαντο συνζητεῖν αὐτῷ, ζητοῦντες παρ’ αὐτοῦ σημεῖον ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, πειράζοντες αὐτόν.

 

This seeking of signs was common among the gospel writers, in Luke, chapter 11:16, and especially in Matthew, chapters 12:38 and 16:1-4.  The Pharisees wanted a sign.  There was no mention of the Scribes here, as in Matthew.  These Pharisees were a political party, a social movement, and a religious school of thought that became the basis for later Rabbinic Judaism.  They had they own expert explanations of Jewish law that sometimes appeared to be hypocritical or arrogant, with the letter of the law above its spirit.  They had a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple.  The Pharisees in the New Testament, often engaged in discussion and disputes with Jesus and his disciples, as here.  Mark said that some of these Pharisees came to Jesus (Καὶ ἐξῆλθον οἱ Φαρισαῖοι).  They began to argue, dispute, or discuss with Jesus (καὶ ἤρξαντο συνζητεῖν αὐτῷ).  They asked him to show them a sign from heaven or a heavenly validation of his work (ζητοῦντες παρ’ αὐτοῦ σημεῖον ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ).  They wanted to test or tempt Jesus (πειράζοντες αὐτόν).  Heavenly signs had been common among the prophets to prove their authenticity.

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History versus story

In what sense are these biblical books literal interpretations of what was happening?  History means different things to differ people.  History is always an interpretation.  In fact, our concept of what is history is always changing.  The result is that a literal interpretation means that you have to understand what they were trying to say about God, not the incidentals surrounding the events.  The idea of footnoting has become a general practice that was not known over a thousand years ago.  History sometimes refers to a good story.  Even in our own lifetime we can still argue about the events surrounding the death of President John Kennedy or the victims at the OJ Simpson house.  Thus, it does not seem out of place to question events that supposedly took place either pre-historically or thousands of years ago.  They did not have to happen exactly as detailed by men writing about them years after the described events.

The moral use of the Bible

Some see the Bible as some sort of instruction manual on how to live a supposed good life.  Somehow, the Bible serves as a backup proof text for all the great questions in life.  A biblical response is either good or bad, not subject to argumentation.  You can only discuss the text.  Putting your life and belief system in the Bible means that you are trumping every other argument.  “The Bible tells me so” ends the discussion and the argument.  You can only agree, disagree, or argue about the meaning of the text, if your morality is based on the Bible.

Yahweh responds to Jonah (Jon 4:9-4:11)

“But God

Said to Jonah.

‘Is it right

For you

To be angry

About the bush?’

Jonah said.

‘Yes,

Angry enough to die.’

Yahweh said.

‘You are concerned

About the bush

For which you did not labor.

You did not grow it.

It came into being

In a night.

It perished

In a night.

Should I not be concerned

About Nineveh,

That great city,

In which there are more

Than a hundred

And twenty thousand persons,

Who do not know

Their right hand

From their left hand.

There are also many animals.”

Thus, the story of Jonah ends with a reprimand for Jonah.  Jonah continued to argue that he had the right to be mad.  At times, he sounded like Job and his complaints.  God, not Yahweh, asked him if he had a right to be angry.  Jonah insisted that he was so angry that he was willing to die.  Then Yahweh asked him about the bush.  It appeared one day and was gone the next day.  Jonah did nothing to make it grow, so why was he so angry about the dead bush.  On the other hand, Yahweh was concerned about the great city of Nineveh with 120,000 people and lots of animals.  Yet, there was a parting shot at the people of Nineveh.  Apparently, they were so dumb that they could not tell their right hand from their left hand.

Prudence (Sir 8:1-8:3)

“Do not contend with the powerful.

Otherwise you may fall into their hands.

Do not quarrel with the rich.

Otherwise their resources may outweigh yours.

Gold has ruined many.

Gold has perverted the minds of kings.

Do not argue with the loud of mouth.

Do not heap wood on their fire.”

Sirach has some common sense prudent statements about life. Do not argue with powerful people or you might fall into their hands. Do not quarrel with the rich because they have more resources than you have. Don’t let your life be ruined by gold, as some kings have. Don’t argue with loud-mouthed people because you are only putting more wood on their fire.

Job attacks his friends (Job 13:1-13:12)

“Look!

M eye has seen all this.

My ear has heard and understood it.

What you know,

I also know.

I am not inferior to you.

But I would speak to the Almighty Shaddai.

I desire to argue my case with God.

As for you,

You whitewash with lies.

All of you are worthless physicians.

If you would only keep silent,

That would be your wisdom!

Hear now my reasoning!

Listen to the pleadings of my lips!

Will you speak falsely for God?

Will you speak deceitfully for him?

Will you show partiality toward him?

Will you plead the case for God?

Will it be well with you when he searches you out?

Can you deceive God?

As one person deceives another?

God will surely rebuke you,

If in secret you show partiality.

Will not his majesty terrify you?

Will the dread of him fall upon you?

Your maxims are proverbs of ashes.

Your defenses are defenses of clay.”

Once again, Job made a strong defense of himself. He had eyes and ears. He was not inferior to his friends as they had made him out to be. He wanted to argue his case before the almighty Shaddai, but all he had were his friends. He turned on them saying that they were liars and worthless physicians. They would have shown their wisdom by keeping silent. He wanted them to listen to him. Why did they speak falsely and deceitfully for God? Did they think that they could deceive God like any other person? Are they not afraid of this majesty? Their thoughts are like proverbs of ashes and clay. Job had finally turned on them in earnest.