Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jesus, King of Insults

There is much I love about God, but one of the things that gets me most excited is his holy sarcasm. Both God the Father, Jesus during His Incarnation, and prophets and apostles have used clever sharp-tongued wit to infuriate the enemy and to make important points, which are remembered in Scripture for us to learn from. Permit me to diverge a bit and provide some examples.

Exhibit A: Elijah vs the Prophets of Baal

1 Kings 18:27-29 -- 27 And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry louder, for surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. 29 And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.

He mocks the false prophets by insulting their "god." And when they lose the competition, Elijah has them slaughtered. Imagine if religious debates were settled that way nowadays. The rampant idolatry that pervades this culture probably wouldn't exist. Unfortunately, false prophets are a little harder to discredit with logical arguments than with miracle competitions. Sound Scripture can be ignored by your audience. Fire from heaven is a little harder to give a cold shoulder to.

Exhibit B: God mocks idols and idolaters

Isaiah 41:21-24 -- 

21 “Present your case,” says the Lord.
“Bring forth your strong reasons,” says the King of Jacob.
22 “Let them bring forth and show us what will happen;
Let them show the former things, what they were,
That we may consider them,
And know the latter end of them;
Or declare to us things to come.
23 Show the things that are to come hereafter,
That we may know that you are gods;
Yes, do good or do evil,
That we may be dismayed and see it together.
24 Indeed you are nothing,
And your work is nothing;
He who chooses you is an abomination.

Notice the rhetorical questioning. God says "show us what you can do," knowing fully well that they can do nothing. Therefore the very act of demanding them prove themselves is simultaneously mockery.

Sweet, sweet mockery. You might get the impression that God is a bit passive-aggressive. Allow me to suggest that there is something in every form of human emotion (anger, sadness, happiness, love, hatred, jealousy etc) that is pure, but because we are sinners we corrupt the image of God (Genesis 1:27) that is in us. God, however, not being a sinner, does not ever sin in how He expresses His emotions. Thus, looking at God, we can learn what aspects of our emotions are godly and which are not. Passive-aggression is often used in a spiteful way, to hinder communication between friends and family. This, I would suggest, is sinful. But the act of using sarcasm when you are angry is not inherently wrong -- I say this, because I'm convinced that God did it. Let's follow His lead, however: it appears that sarcasm/passive-aggression is a valid way to undermine the image of idols. By mocking them and making them out to be a joke, you weaken their power, and this is inherently good, because people may be saved from the grasp of idolatry and false prophets if they see that they are nothing special. Mockery serves a very important purpose in facilitating this. 

Exhibit C: Jesus calls the Pharisees 'gods,' cites unflattering Psalm while He does so

One verse that Jehovah's Witnesses like to bring up to argue against Jesus being God is the one where He is surrounded by Jews in the Temple, and they are on the verge of stoning Him after He claims, "I and My Father are One." (John 10:30-31), and He deflects their criticism by saying the following,
33 The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? 35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 
Rather than saying that He is not God, here, Jesus is saying that if the Pharisees were called "gods," (elohim, mighty ones --  the Greek here uses Theoi, Strong's #2316), then how much more did Jesus deserve to be called 'God,' since He actually was God? This is confirmed by the fact that immediately after, the Jews tried to catch Him to stone Him again, but He escaped (John 10:39).

But I want to explore the Old Testament verse He's citing. Following the footnote from Bible Gateway (that's the viewer I use to read the Bible conveniently online), I'm led to Psalm 82. It's short, so here is the whole thing:

God stands in the congregation of the mighty;
He judges among the gods.
How long will you judge unjustly,
And show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy.
Deliver the poor and needy;
Free them from the hand of the wicked.
They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.
I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
For You shall inherit all nations.
In each place where the word 'gods' is used, it is the Hebrew word elohim. The word simply means "mighty ones," with connotations of ruler-ship. You can tell that it is applied to God when the plural noun (-im suffixes in Hebrew signal plurality, to my layman's knowledge) is given a singular verb. In this passage, those two uses have plural verbs, identifying the 'elohim' as lesser 'mighty ones,' i.e. not God. The two uses of God in the psalm also use the word elohim, but use a singular verb, which identifies it as referring to the Trinity. The Most High uses the term Elyon, another name for God.

When Jesus called the Jews in the Temple "gods," He was identifying them as the elohim in this psalm. Those who are wicked...who oppress the poor and needy...who, though they are mighty, will die like any other man. The Psalmist is petitioning God to judge them.

Jesus was insulting their pride. By calling them "gods," He was actually being derogatory and implying that they were wicked oppressors doomed for destruction.


What subtleness! No matter how many times you return to a part of Scripture, you can always learn something new about it. Hopefully this little detour has offered you a new perspective on this verse. I, for one, can't read this passage any more without imagining Jesus with a smirk on his face, being cheeky, egging on His hecklers by insulting their intelligence and their pride, without compromising His claims of divinity.

If we want to follow in His footsteps, we must be careful that we do not mock out of sinful motivations. That's an extra consideration we have that a perfect Being need not worry about. But if you have made sure that your heart is in the right place, that you are not in sin, that you have prayed up and that your relationship with God is healthy -- by all means, sharpen thy tongue in the name and service of the Lord.

God is, among other things, our role model. Let us imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

~ Rak Chazak

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