Saturday, June 30, 2012

silliness from the C-J editorialists on health care/insurance, SCOTUS, and ObamaCare

For far too long, America’s shame has been the rising number of people who can’t get health care because they can’t pay for it.

The more direct shame is a series of policies that make health care far too expensive-- and that so few "knowledgeable" people know so little about the cause/effect. (See: my paper in CATO for a good discussion of this.) Then again, the C-J advocates making it a lot more expensive to hire unskilled people-- and then doesn't understand how this could limit their employment options.

But in a stunning victory for the Obama administration...

"Stunning"? I'm a little surprised (but not stunned) that they're stunned. Maybe that says something about their worldview?

One terror of a job loss in this economy is the accompanying loss of employer-provided health care for workers and their families...

Right. That's one of many reasons why we shouldn't link health coverage with employment. But we beg for this outcome, when we subsidize the purchase of health insurance through employment!

And young people start out in jobs that don’t provide such benefits and they can’t afford coverage on the open market. Nationwide, 30 million Americans lack health care coverage. In Kentucky, about 650,000 people — one-sixth of its people — have no health insurance.

Because we have all sorts of policies that make coverage so much more expensive-- so expensive that some cannot afford it and others decide it's not worth it. Duh!

Yes, it requires most people to buy health coverage or face a tax penalty. And how exactly is that a problem in a nation where those of us with coverage already are paying the costs of the uninsured through taxes and higher insurance premiums?

Well, for one reason, because the problem cited is tiny compared to the "solution".
And nothing (at least so far) from the C-J on all of the interesting angles (and potentially troubling for them) in the ruling

more on SCOTUS, ObamaCare, and health care/insurance

Last night, I posted a bunch of links-- with key points in the blog post-- on the SCOTUS decision on ObamaCare. Check that out if you haven't already.

A few more thoughts: 

-We'll have a series of explicit tax increases in 2013-- payroll taxes and investment taxes on some of the wealthy; excise tax on medical device sales. There will be a reduction in the subsidy of unreimbursed medical care on one's income taxes-- nice to see a loophole get reduced (why not eliminate it), but odd to see them go after that in the context of trying to improve access to health care.

-Mandating coverage/purchase is one thing. The extent of the coverage mandated is quite another. Mandating coverage for preventative care and for rare, catastrophic events causes minimal distortion and cost inflation.

-In 2014, there will be "new limits" on savings in HSA's/MSA's. I hope this doesn't reduce incentives-- to pursue true health insurance and take more ownership of one's health care decisions-- too much.

-In 2018, there will be a 40% tax on "Cadillac" health insurance plans. This is an ad hoc fix for what should be done-- disallow the immense ($100B+), regressive subsidy currently in place, as so many employees receive subsidies to acquire health insurance through their place of employment. (The 40% is a penalty beyond the original subsidy, so that's an interesting approach.) This subsidy is at the root of most of our problems in health care/insurance. So, this will help, but it's still six years away. 

-The impact on business, particularly small business, is still mixed with a unhealthy dose of uncertainty. The SCOTUS ruling tells us that ObamaCare passes Constitutional muster. This move forward still does not pin down the impact on businesses and business decisions-- most notably, the desire to invest, expand, hire more workers, etc. That's better news for the economy, but far from good news.

-This CBS article (h/t: C-J) mentions one of the big concerns going forward. Economists call this the moral hazard problem; laypeople refer to it as a bailout (at least in some settings). Most recently, it was seen in the federal government's willingness to bail out entities that were deemed "too big to fail". (More accurately, it would be "too big to be allowed to fail".) The problem? If one has a sense they will be subsidized, it encourages riskier behavior-- ironically, of the sort that the policy attempts to mitigate. This problem-- and seeing politicians avidly extend it-- makes economists wince.

There’s also an added safety net for all Americans, insured and uninsured. Starting in 2014, insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage for medical, nor can they charge more to people with health problems. Those protections, now standard in most big employer plans, will be available to all, including people who get laid off, or leave a corporate job to launch their own small business.

What if people-- particularly the young and healthy-- decide (reasonably) that paying the penalty (and getting insurance when/if they get really sick) is considerably cheaper, without any additional risk. The policy begs for abuse. On top of that, one of the prospective gains from ObamaCare-- expanding the risk pool to include younger, healthier people-- would be mitigated or the problem could even be exacerbated.

The article continues by noting Justice Roberts opposition to ropes (rather than strings?) from the Federal government to the states on Medicaid rules, coverage, and funding. 

The Medicaid expansion would cover an estimated 17 million people who earn too much to qualify for assistance but not enough to afford insurance. The federal and state governments share the cost, and Washington regularly imposes conditions on the states in exchange for money. Roberts said Congress’ ability to impose those conditions has its limits. “In this case, the financial `inducement’ Congress has chosen is much more than `relatively mild encouragement’ – it is a gun to the head,” he said.

Although one can debate the extent of the force implied by government, this is a clear case where democracy could easily struggle to reflect the will of the people. If state X wants to do something, they may have little or no control over what happens in DC. 

some of the wisdom out there on the SCOTUS ruling on ObamaCare

A sampling of good stuff from both sides of the political spectrum. I hope you enjoy it!

First, Bert Atkinson in Independent Journal Review: sees this as a “short-lived celebration” for the Left and “payback for Obama’s numerous, ill-advised and childish insults directed toward SCOTUS”. (I’m not sure about the psychology of the last point, but it’s interesting. Anyway, the rest of the essay seems spot on to me.) 

Chief Justice Roberts actually ruled the mandate, relative to the commerce clause, was unconstitutional. That’s how the Democrats got Obama-care going in the first place. This is critical. His ruling means Congress can’t compel American citizens to purchase anything. Ever. The notion is now officially and forever, unconstitutional. As it should be.

Next, he stated that, because Congress doesn’t have the ability to mandate, it must, to fund Obama-care, rely on its power to tax. Therefore, the mechanism that funds Obama-care is a tax. This is also critical…Obama declared endlessly, that it was not a tax, it was a penalty. But when the Democrats argued in front of the Supreme Court, they said ‘hey, a penalty or a tax, either way’. So, Roberts gave them a tax. It is now the official law of the land…Obama-care is funded by tax dollars. Democrats now must defend a tax increase to justify the Obama-care law.

Finally, he struck down as unconstitutional, the Obama-care idea that the federal government can bully states into complying by yanking their existing medicaid funding…Therefore, a state can decline to participate in Obama-care without penalty…Are we going to have 10, 12, 25 states not participating in “national” health-care? Suddenly, it’s not national, is it?

Roberts “upheld the law on the basis of the argument that although the Congress and the president specifically said that the mandate funding the legislation was not [sold as] a tax, it [should] be "construed" as one. Roberts pointedly said that this was not an opinion on the quality or advisability of the law merely on the taxing authority of Congress (even when they don't intend to pass a tax).

That the law was passed on a purely partisan vote, that few who voted for it read it or were fully briefed on the contents of its 2,700 pages, that its first 10 years of operation are now projected to cost nearly $3 trillion, twice their initial estimate, and that it is now evident that many employers will opt to pay the penalty and cancel their existing health plans leaving millions of Americans unable to continue their present coverage as advertised -- none of these are constitutional issues. Congress does not have to read or understand what it passes and advocates are free to distort financial projections and demagogue…This is American government at the dawn of the 21st century. It's all perfectly constitutional.

Now, also in keeping with our constitution, on Nov. 6, 2012, the American people will have their say…

The only thing missing here is the recognition that 51-53% (of those who vote) will get to jam their preferred version of reality down the throats of the losers.

He had three options: Strike down a signature piece of Democratic legislation in its entirety, which would look highly partisan; strike down the individual mandate, which would look even worse since it was a conservative Republican idea; or uphold the law in a way that's designed to do maximum political damage to the Democrats and protect the Court's current corporate status…

Stock prices in the for-profit hospital industry soared, rising 7% in heavy trading immediately after the Court ruling. Stocks for the nation's largest health insurers barely moved…That tells us something important: Roberts' decision to side with the liberals and moderates didn't exactly create a revolution in our health care economy…

By joining with the liberals, Roberts was able to write the ruling himself. He did it in a way which the other four disagreed with, but which was designed to provide talking points for Republicans and the Right. He labeled the mandate's penalty a "tax" (which it is; so is the so-called "Cadillac tax" on higher-cost health plans, which Obama campaigned against and then personally inserted into the bill)…

Justice Roberts's opinion makes him a hero for a day to many liberals. It also moves the Court, at a stately pace, toward an aggressively right-wing view of the federal government's power. Moreover, it keeps the Court at the very heart of issues where it does not belong. For all its obvious appeal, it is self-aggrandizing and far more radical in its reasoning than in its outcome. That reasoning may have serious consequences down the road…

That said, consider the way the Roberts opinion envisions the world. We are governed by politicians who want to force us into gym memberships and stuff broccoli in our faces. The democratic process is not enough to protect us from such palpably unpopular laws. We need the Supreme Court, wielding the Constitution, to protect our liberty to spend our money where we like, and not elsewhere. To accept that these are urgent constitutional concerns, you need a very mistrustful sense of government… (This is reminiscent of Joe’s thread that devolved into a discussion of government as exercising force—or not.)

Roberts's argument has force only in a Tea Party view of government and personal liberty… (And this in contrast to Purdy’s view of statism and collectivism. Now what?)

Charles Krauthammer at is effusive in his praise: of the great constitutional finesses of all time. He managed to uphold the central conservative argument against Obamacare, while at the same time finding a narrow definitional dodge to uphold the law — and thus prevented the court from being seen as having overturned, presumably on political grounds, the signature legislation of this administration.

Why did he do it? Because he carries two identities. Jurisprudentially, he is a constitutional conservative. Institutionally, he is chief justice and sees himself as uniquely entrusted with the custodianship of the court’s legitimacy, reputation and stature…

Whatever one thinks of the substance of Bush v. Gore, it did affect the reputation of the court. Roberts seems determined that there be no recurrence with Obamacare…

National health care has been a liberal dream for a hundred years. It is clearly the most significant piece of social legislation in decades. Roberts’s concern was that the court do everything it could to avoid being seen, rightly or wrongly, as high-handedly overturning sweeping legislation passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.

How to reconcile the two imperatives — one philosophical and the other institutional? Assign yourself the task of writing the majority opinion. Find the ultimate finesse that manages to uphold the law, but only on the most narrow of grounds — interpreting the individual mandate as merely a tax, something generally within the power of Congress.

Result? The law stands, thus obviating any charge that a partisan court overturned duly passed legislation. And yet at the same time the commerce clause is reined in. By denying that it could justify the imposition of an individual mandate, Roberts draws the line against the inexorable decades-old expansion of congressional power under the commerce clause fig leaf.

Law upheld, Supreme Court’s reputation for neutrality maintained. Commerce clause contained, constitutional principle of enumerated powers reaffirmed…

Obamacare is now essentially upheld. There’s only one way it can be overturned. The same way it was passed — elect a new president and a new Congress. That’s undoubtedly what Roberts is saying: Your job, not mine. I won’t make it easy for you.

Similarly, at HuffPo, Adam Winkler sees this as the emergence of the “Roberts court”, supplanting or at least competing with the “Kennedy court”. 

With this deft ruling, Roberts avoided what was certain to be a cascade of criticism of the high court. No Supreme Court has struck down a president's signature piece of legislation in over 75 years. Had Obamacare been voided, it would have inevitably led to charges of aggressive judicial activism. Roberts peered over the abyss and decided he didn't want to go there.

Roberts' decision was consistent with his confirmation hearings pledge to respect the co-equal branches of government, push for consensus, and reach narrow rulings designed to build broad coalitions on the Court. He promised to respect precedent. His jurisprudence, he said, would be marked by "modesty and humility" and protection of the precious institutional legitimacy of the Court.

Today, the institutional legitimacy of the Court was buttressed. President Obama wasn't the only winner at the Supreme Court today. So was the Supreme Court itself…

Perhaps as a result of the Roberts' Court's controversial 5-4 rulings, public opinion of the Court is at an historic low…recent polls show the Court's public approval rating has dropped from 80% to 44%. Three in four Americans now believe the justices' votes are based on politics. Nothing could be worse for the Court's institutional legitimacy.

Roberts may have voted to save healthcare because he wants to preserve the Court's capital to take on other big issues heading toward the Court. Legal experts predict the Roberts Court will invalidate a key provision of one of the most important laws in American history, the Voting Rights Act, next term. And the Court is set to end affirmative action in public education. Both policies have been centerpieces of America's commitment to civil rights for over 40 years.

The Roberts Court has only just begun.

But at Jewish World Review, National Review’s Rich Lowry isn’t buying any of this and is highly critical of Roberts:

Chief Justice John Roberts famously defined himself as an umpire in his confirmation hearings. But an umpire is willing to make the toughest calls. In his ObamaCare decision, Roberts the umpire blinked. By issuing a decision that forestalled the tsunami of criticism that would have come his way had he struck down the law (as an activist, a partisan and an altogether rotten human being), Roberts effectively rewrote the constitutionally problematic portions of it. He overstepped his bounds. The umpire called a balk, but gave the pitcher a do-over. The ref called a foul, but didn't interrupt the play.

As a result, there's ObamaCare as passed by Congress. Then there's ObamaCare as passed by the Supreme Court…

Roberts gets points for cleverness. He set clear constitutional boundaries without striking down the law. He largely sided with the critics of ObamaCare without enraging its supporters. He came up with the only 5-4 decision that wouldn't subject his court to the calumny of the Obama administration and law-school deans everywhere. All the op-eds that had been drafted trashing the legitimacy of the court have been filed away for now.

As chief justice, Roberts has competing priorities, of course. But it's not his job to redraft laws under the guise of judicial restraint. On ObamaCare, the umpire struck out.

Obama doesn't get to reprise his favorite role as victim of GOP tactics. The onus to live with, clean up or gut Obamacare remains with Congress. The decision did not fall prey to right-wing judicial activism.

Besides, there's something tasty about Roberts saving Obama's signature legislation from oblivion — after then-Sen. Obama voted against confirming Roberts in 2005. So much for Obama the moderate, Obama who really wants to work across the aisle — more accurately known as Obama the fictional icon.

University of California, Berkeley law professor John Yoo doesn't think Roberts believes the content of his own opinion. Yoo believes that Roberts doesn't buy his own argument on the individual mandate but wrote an opinion "meant to pull the court out of a political fight."

Yoo concluded, "That's the real message for conservatives: We shouldn't put all our eggs in one basket and hope the Supreme Court is going to save us." He's right. Some fights are best fought in the ballot box.

Barack Obama won the battle, but will lose the war. The Supreme Court decision makes Obamacare the central issue in the 2012 election, just like it was in the 2010 election. And we know how that turned out…the Supreme Court did not let Obama off the hook by striking down the law. Now he will have to defend it during the election…

Remember what this law does. It requires everyone to spend upwards of 7 percent of their income on health insurance or pay a fine of several thousand dollars. Neither is an attractive alternative for the young and the poor who are the president's political base. And, with the expansion of Medicaid rejected by the Court, the government will not be there to help them…

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

my notes from chapter 13 of The Story (I Kings 12-16)

The Folly of Rehoboam (I Kings 11:26-12:24, 14:21-31)

-Olasky’s “Christ met with Moses and Elijah; often Christians do not”, emphasizing 1/4 of the Bible and unconsciously imitating Marcion’s heresy of eliminating the OT (I Cor 10:11)
-review: the life of Solomon including his wisdom, accomplishments, ministry and worship, and earlier in ch. 11, his failures and fall
-latter includes his many wives and idolatry—and God's judgment and consequences pronounced: God raised up adversaries against Solomon and much of the kingdom would be taken from his son, Rehoboam
-intro to this segment of Israel's history: GCM's "In this [story] and the four following chapters (12-16), we have the appalling story of the break-up and degradation of the nation. It covers a period of about 60 years, from the disruption after the death of Solomon [with Rehoboam and Jeroboam], to the corruption under Ahab and the coming of Elijah."
à perhaps the most important unknown/under-rated Biblical story of Israel…

11:26,28's intro to Jeroboam and his rebellion (skim)
-26a's "also...rebelled against the king"-- see: Hadad and Rezon's rebellions against Solomon (11:14-22,23-25)
-26b's revealed background:
-"one of Solomon's officials"-- rebellion from within
-"an Ephraimite" (the dominant northern tribe; more later)
-"his mother was a widow" (an unlikely candidate to lead)
-28's reputation and position:
-"a man of standing"; "how well [he] did his work"
--> " charge of the whole labor force of the house of Joseph (E&M)"
-despite only being a "young man"

11:29-39's Jeroboam's kingship-to-be (read)
-29-30's "about that time", alone on the road, met by Ahijah the prophet who tears his cloak into 12 pieces as an illustration of what had already been prophesied to Solomon (I Kings 11:11-13; reminiscent of Sam 15:27-28)
-31,35's ten pieces/tribes for Jeroboam
-32,36's one tribe left for David's sake (36's "a lamp before me in Jerusalem")
--> funny math here (10 + 1 = 12?) and what about 12 tribes?
-Judah is assumed since it was in the house of David; Benjamin as the one tribe
-tiny Benjamin often mentioned in tandem with dominant Judah (and the two later known as Judah)
-33's cause: "forsaken God", engaged in idolatry, "have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right"
-34-35's transition to be after Solomon's death
-a key factor later: date not specified or known to Jeroboam (w/ app. to waiting on God's timing)
-38's covenantal blessing, incl. "dynasty", conditional on his obedience
-39's purpose: to "humble David's descendants" for a time (ended fully with the appearance of Christ)

11:40-43's conclusion (skip)
-40’s Solomon tries to kill Jeroboam and he flees to Egypt
-43 for Solomon's death (at 60) and succeeded by his son, Rehoboam

12:1-4 (read)
-1's Rehoboam goes to Shechem (about 35 miles north of Jerusalem) to be made king
-W&Z's "a fitting [and] sacred spot...reminded the Israelites of their divinely revealed destiny as a nation and of God's faithfulness." (Gen 12:6-7, 33:18-20, 35:4; Josh 24, 8:30-35)
-but traveling to become king implies political troubles
-Miller and Hayes' "Rehoboam [went] north to negotiate the matter of kingship. Probably the people of the north had already given signals of disloyalty to Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty. One clear signal [was] their failure to send representatives to Jerusalem affirming their support of Rehoboam in the first place."
-2's Jeroboam returns from exile in Egypt and 3's leads a group to meet with Rehoboam: 4's offer to "serve" if he would "lighten" Solomon's "harsh labor and heavy yoke" (I Sam 8:11-18!)
-"serve" (voluntarily) vs. forced to comply or rebellion
-"harsh labor"-- conscription for Solomon's building projects; "heavy yoke"-- high taxation to finance his governance (I Kings 4:7,20-28, 5:13-14, 9:15,22, 11:28)
-didn't complain about Solomon's idolatry, but only about his (redistributive) fiscal (G&T) policies

12:5-7 (read)
-5's "three days" to think about it-- smart to ask for time
-6's consultation with Solomon's elders-- smart to retain and use his father's elders
-but when looking for counsel, he didn't asked God...
-7's advice: "if today you will be a servant to these people...they will always be your servants" (Pr 15:1)
-"today" vs. "always"-- a good investment (SR vs. LR)
-the epitome of leadership is service (Mk 10:42-45)
-importance of first impressions, getting off to a good start

12:8-11 (read)
-8a's "But Rehoboam rejected [their] advice"
            -as he had rejected God’s counsel (as had his father!)
-remarkably stupid/arrogant, esp. in that culture (Lev 19:32)
--> why did he find this advice unpalatable? control, capitulate now—with much to prove (SR/LR, given Solomon's long shadow), practical difficulties of reducing the size of govt
--> also implies that he was surprised by their advice; thought they would advocate continuing his father's policies
-see also: taking their advice as an insult to his father &/or made no sense given the apparent success of Solomon's reign and his famous wisdom
-8b-9's consultation with "young men"-- his childhood friends ("grown up with him") and current advisors ("serving him")
--> why did he ask another group?
            -2nd opinion; what if they had concurred with the elders?
-didn't like that advice (already reduced the decision to the status quo or more oppression)
-already made up his mind; if so...
-looking/hoping for affirmation or a scapegoat? (w/ app. to us and others in counsel)
-interesting that he would want three days
-10-11's advice (Dt 17:20)
-substance: increase their burden—heavier yoke, scorpions vs. whips (Ex 1,5)
-scorpions as "metal-spiked leather lashes"-- representing stricter punishment for lawbreaking
-style: talk tough-- 10b's "my little finger is thicker than my father's waist"; 11's scourge with whips and scorpions
-even if this was the best/chosen policy, more tact?!
--> 12-14's three days later, Rehoboam delivers the news
-except 10b's "my little finger is thicker than my father's waist"!
-in a word, decided to pursue their fear instead of their love
--> in sum, his folly in choosing the counsel of young vs. old; buddies vs. objective outsiders (incl. 9's "we" vs. 6's "me"-- too closely tied to his friends)
-MH's "Solomon had 1000 wives and concubines, yet we read but of one son he had to bear up his name, and he a fool." (esp. ironic given Solomon's entire purpose and direct audience for Proverbs!)
-Reardon’s “Many a life has been ruined—and in this case, a kingdom lost—because someone preferred the pooled stupidity of his contemporaries to the accumulated wisdom of his elders.”)

12:15-24 (skip)
-15a's "So the king did not listen to the people..."
-15b's begins the chain of events to fulfill God's word (11:9-13)
-free will vs. predestination; not condoning any actions, but merely noting connection to God's promised punishment
-21's Rehoboam "mustered" 180K troops "to make war" and "regain the kingdom"
-but 22-24a's word from Shemaiah "the man of God"-- a prophet: 24a's "do not go up to fight against your brothers...go home...for this is my doing"
--> 24b's obedience; civil war averted

14:21,22-24,25-28,29-31's summary of Rehoboam's reign (skim)
-21's personal characteristics, incl. age and length of reign: reigned for 17 years; became king at age 41 (born to Solomon around age 19, about a year before David's death)
-MH's "Solomon came to the crown very young, yet he was a wise man. Rehoboam came to the crown at 41, when men will be wise if ever they will, yet he was foolish."
-22-24's sin of the nation; in sum, 22's "Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord. By the sins they committed they stirred up his jealous anger more than their fathers had done"
-25-28's Shishak attack
-25's king of Egypt; had already thumbed his nose at Judah by harboring Jeroboam when he rebelled against Solomon (11:40)
-26's "carried off the treasures of the temple of the Lord...and the royal palace"-- taken or given as tribute
-a la Eccl, the vanity of Solomon's wealth, power and accomplishments-- five years into his reign!
-27-28's replaced gold shields with bronze; symbolic of Judah's "golden age" ending
--> an instrument of God's discipline, taking their liberty and wealth; and the Israelites get an old wish—to be slaves to Egypt again

                                      The Sins of Jeroboam (I Kings 12:25-13:34)

12:25-30 (read)
-25's fortifies Shechem to live there, builds up Peniel (Gen 32:30)
-26-27's "thought": "The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David"-- since the people would want to go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, they would kill him and give their allegiance to Rehoboam
-not much faith in the people
-no faith in God; ignores God's promises and past performance
-28b-29's action: "made two golden calves" and told the people to worship them—in Bethel ("the house of God"; Gen 28:11-22, 35:6-7, Jud 20:26-27) and Dan (Jud 18)—vs. traveling to Jerusalem (Dt 16:16)
-directly disobeys God's word (Dt 12:4-6,14's "the place the Lord will choose")
-28a's "after seeking advice" (12:5-11; what advice did he get from them?)
-appealed to the distance they would have to travel
-a self-centered argument, pretending to care about others (w/ app.)
-but not most convenient geographically: Dan in far north and Bethel very close to Jerusalem
-prob. as much political as religious; Bethel/Dan as far south/north of Jeroboam's kingdom early-on
-later, an overreach with Bethel falling to Judah and Dan falling to Syria at times
--> 30a's "this thing became a sin"
-promoted violations of 1st/2nd C’s; led to later intro of Baal worship & merging with Canaanite religious practices (I Kings 16:30-33 w/ Ahab)
-see also: 31-32's sin details
--> interesting that he waited patiently for God's timing and plan after receiving word/promise of his future reign, but not here...
-when perceived as a matter of survival and continued well-being as king
-all this despite God's earlier warning to Jeroboam (11:38)
--> instead, Jeroboam should have gone to God or thought about what God had already done vs. choosing an evil (albeit practical) means to a "reasonable" end
-NIVSB's "Jeroboam abandoned religious principle for political expediency"
-w/ app. to taking God's agenda into our own hands-- as our own agenda
--> Jeroboam vs. Aaron: both built golden calves on others’ advice—as inappropriate means/timing to reasonable ends; claimed that the gods had delivered them from Egypt (12:28b); sons with similar names (14:1,20's Abijah/Nadab; Lev 10:1's Abihu/Nadab)
-amazing that Jeroboam would repeat Aaron's error (w/ app. to learn from Scripture and from the past; obtain and follow good counsel; Is 42:23, I Cor 10:11)

13:1-5 (read)
-1's man sent by God from Judah to Bethel when Jeroboam was at its altar making a sacrifice (Amos 7:10-17)
-interesting that God prevents an army with a civil agenda from going to Israel (12:21-24), but sends a prophet with a religious agenda instead
-amazingly bold, esp. in timing and place; fearing man vs. God
-public rebuke for large and public sin (Gal 2:11-14, I Tim 5:20)
-2's cry "against the altar"-- "by the word of the Lord": Josiah would sacrifice the priests of the high places on it (II Kings 23; Lev 26:30's more general prophecy)
-prophesying Josiah—"from the house of David [Judah]"?!
-a supernatural prophecy 290 years in advance
-3's sign from God to verify the future prophecy (5’s fulfillment): altar split and its ashes poured out-- signified God's power and the unacceptability of Jeroboam's sacrifice
-4a's Jeroboam stretched out his hand and ordered the man of God to be seized
-4b's hand "shriveled" and he couldn't "pull it back"
-in both cases, "hand" symbolizes authority (or lack of)

13:33-34 (skim)
-33a's "even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways"; 33b's "once more appointed priests...from all sorts of people"
-connect to previous story (no longer a strange tangent)-- but a lesson not learned (Jer 35:17)
-34's summary: "This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and...destruction"
-which sin? appointing all sorts of priests, refusal to repent despite warnings, or the whole story?
--> see: Crabb's conference on "the sin of Jeroboam" and Hosea
-northern kingdom's 20 kings as all evil; 16 of 20 explicitly commit the sin of (or walk in the ways of) Jeroboam (in Hosea's time, II Kings 14:24, 15:9,18,24,28's 5 of 7 kings; in sum, II Kings 17:21-23)
-see also: Hos 8:5-6, 10:5; 6:4, 13:2-3's decline to exile; our loves determine our life's direction; and Eccl's vanity

                               From Jeroboam's Fall to Elijah (I Kings 14-16:28)

14:1-5 (skip)
-1's illness for Jeroboam's son, Abijah (not 15:1's king of Judah)
-2-4's commands his wife to visit the prophet Ahijah—in disguise, with (customary) gifts

14:6-9 (read)
-6's ambush: identifies her and her disguise ("why such pretense?") and gives her the "bad news" before she can even inquire of him or give him the gifts-- why?
-why waste time? 
-more dramatic
-no op to give him the gifts-- assures perceived pure motives
-ironic given his physical blindness (14:4)
-instant credibility for his prophecy
-illustrates that this was in God's hands, not hers or Jeroboam's; see: 6b's "I have been sent to you..." (!)
-7-9 for God's message for Jeroboam-- through his wife and Ahijah (with Reardon’s “a harshness hardly surpassed on any page of Holy Scripture”):
-7-8a for God's provision—and given God's activity on behalf of Jeroboam, gratitude, obedience, and faith should have followed
-but 8b-9 for Jeroboam's (lack of) participation

14:10-16’s outcome (read)
-10-11’s personal: "because of this, I am going to bring disaster on [his] house"
-male as lit. "him who urinates against the wall" ("piss/pisseth" 8x in KJV: 16:11, 21:21; II Kings 9:8, 18:27, Is 36:12; I Sam 25:22,34)
-shameful: dung, dogs and birds!
-ironic: MH's "He thought, by his idolatry, to [preserve] his government, and by that he not only lost it, but brought destruction upon his family."
-12-13’s son dies—a good man, taken out early; the only one to be properly buried
-14-16's national—new king, but future disaster connected to present and to-be-continued sins: 16b's "the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit"
-"caused"—individual and external responsibility for sins committed! (24x in I,II Kings; II Chron 21:11, Mal 2:8, Mt 18:6-9's children and body parts, Rom 14:20-21, I Cor 8:13, 10:32)
-see also: God would "give [them] up because of [their] sins" and Israel as "a reed swaying in the water"-- apt given their political (and spiritual) instability
-on latter, post-split, 20 kings in each kingdom; in the North, greater instability, violence and apostasy-- nine different 'dynasties' over 210 years (930-722/721); in the South, all in David's line except Athaliah (930-586)

--> Jeroboam dies as well—and then the sad parade begins…
15:1-8's Abijah/Abijam (of Judah; II Chron 13)
15:9-15,16-22,23-24's good king Asa (of Judah; II Chron 14-16's details)
15:25-32's Nadab (of Israel)
15:33-16:7's Baasha (of Israel)
16:8-14's Elah (of Israel)
16:15-20's Zimri (of Israel)
16:21-28's Omri (of Israel; omit)
16:29-34's intro to, and summary of, Ahab (of Israel)
--> nearly one-third of the Kings material is devoted to the 34 years that Ahab and his sons ruled vs. the kingdom of God (represented most by Elijah and Elisha)
--> the agenda of Kings' writer/compiler was to highlight the extent to which a king and his nation were faithful to God and how he and they dealt with idolatry-- rather than his and his nation's earthly historical importance (see: number of verses for various kings)
-w/ app. to what matters for us within God's economy; all else is "vanity"

Monday, June 25, 2012

spending a Sunday AM with a group of atheists

It was an interesting and enjoyable time. (If they met at a different time, I would consider continuing to meet with them.) I learned a few things and said a few things. Hopefully, there will be seeds and fruit from the invitation-- at least for my friend (who will reciprocate by attending church with me down the road), but perhaps for others who were there too.

Some details:

-There were 11 others in attendance. They were discussing a book (more later)-- smart since that kept them grounded and moving forward. The group members came from a variety of religious backgrounds. The leader was a former So. Baptist minister.

-They seemed like thoughtful people and were respectful of me and religion in general. They asked where I went to church and a few seemed surprised at my reply, but I can't be sure that I wasn't simply imagining that response. In any case, they commended Southeast on a few things-- their success in building community, addressing felt needs, etc.

-The book, by Ron Aronson, is trying to encourage the search for a "positive" approach to atheism. Up to now, atheism has been largely "negative"-- what it's against, rather than what it's for. (In this, ironically, it resembles much of the Religious Right, especially in previous decades-- which has had the same problem, at least in terms of perception.)

-To the extent that atheists have had a positive angle to their beliefs, Aronson points to "progress" as a false god of sorts for them. But he notes that "progress" is not driving out religion-- and that "progress" has revealed itself to be a mixed bag, since it can be twisted and misused. (In this, I saw a parallel with the post-millennial optimism among Christians of the early 20th century. Two World Wars and other events turned that to pessimism. Fundamentalists responded to "the World" in opposition while Social Gospelers largely continued in the mainline denominations. After a few decades, many Fundamentalists moderated into Evangelicals. And even now, we see "moderation" of a sort as Evangelicals work toward a more Biblical worldview of doctrine and esp. practice.)

-One lady (raised in Reformed Judaism) made a really interesting point-- that "religion offers a perspective that encourages humility", by noting both our ability to do great things and bad things, that we are from the dust of the earth.

-For the author, but not so much for those in the discussion group, there was conflation between self-professing Christians who are religious and those who are mostly cultural. I didn't get to add this observation, but I love David Reagan's comment that most self-styled Christians are merely "practical deists".

-Aronson's project and the desire of the group to answer his call are both commendable. But I think the project is unlikely to get very far. First, it's not clear that atheism can provide what they seek. Second, if it can, it will be tempting to avoid the exercise, because it is easier to stick to criticism than to do the hard work of developing a positive philosophy. Third, if it's possible and many atheists are willing to put in the effort, they'll find that they run into all sorts of disagreements among themselves. Could atheism stand the fractiousness that would result?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kyle's terrific sermon this week on marriage

Terrific sermon from Kyle Idleman at Southeast last weekend (June 9-10). The text was I Kings 11 (drawing from chapter 13 of The Story, which includes excerpts from I Kings 3-11).

Kyle begins to segue from Solomon toward his primary applications, by defining marriage at 12:20 into the sermon. (If you're only going to listen to part of this, start there.) Then at 15:30, he offers the "sucker question"-- a la Amos' approach and Paul's at the end of Romans 1-- where some people in the audience are expecting one answer/angle and they get (quite) another.

Later, he gets to "same-sex marriage" and answers why it is-- and is not-- difficult to talk about. Not because it's political, since it's biblical before it's political-- and that it's God's definition not ours. Not because it will offend, because a key element of Christianity is offending ourselves and each other-- with God's word, wanting what's best for ourselves and others. Moreover, Kyle noted that he's simply sharing God's message-- with a good analogy to a UPS driver delivering a tough package and a wonderful reference to Ezekiel 33's "watchman"!

Why is it difficult to talk about? First, the "moron" in North Carolina (the term he used on Saturday evening, but not on the video'ed service). Second, because the Church has struggled so much on this topic, particularly with respect to divorce. At 26:50, I love the point he makes about the allure of positive marriage/family examples-- as an intended example of light in darkness.

That's two weeks in a row on similar topics-- in particular, calling the Church first to repentance, so that we and others will be more at home in the goodness of God's kingdom. 

my notes on The Story, chapter 13 (I Kings 3-11)

The Life & Times of King Solomon (I Kings 3-11)

Intro to I and II Kings
-like I & II Samuel/Chronicles, originally one book
-separated by translators of the Septuagint
-Septuagint and Latin Vulgate also paired Kings with Samuel as four "Books of Kingdoms/Kings"
--> together, cover span of Israelite monarchy-- from Samuel/Saul to Judah's exile in Babylon
-Kings vs. Chronicles: similar material/focus, but
-latter emphasizes Judah and the priests
-Judean monarchs come off looking bad in the former and good in the latter
-author: unknown; traditionally Jeremiah, but modern scholars now disagree: prob. based on writings of many prophets, but one author/editor given consistent style/substance (Ezra, Ezekiel?)
-date: completed during last half of Babylonian exile (560-538), given Jehoiachin's release from prison at end of II Kings
-written to audience in exile-- encourage repentance, hope
-theme: limited historical account/assessment of kings largely based on God's covenant vs. military/social/economic
-most attention/space given to those who deviated substantially from the covenantal norm
-focus on lessons of history vs. history per se, incl. obedience/blessings pattern (revisited)

Intro to Solomon
-Solomon's story unusual in OT as more historical than narrative
-less application than normal, but sets the table for Eccl.
-ruled for 40 years (971-931 BC) after his father, David
-mother: Bathsheba
-chs. 1-2 on David's last days and Solomon's tough road to kingship

3:1-5's intro
-1a for Solomon's "alliance w/ Pharoah" and "married his daughter"
-marriage of these types to promote peace and trade
-an interesting opening to Solomon's kingship (post-ascension)
-both allude to future compromises/struggles with wealth/wives (11:1-6, Dt 17:17; w/ app.)
-but this particular wife was probably not a stumbling block since Egyptian gods were not listed among those worshipped

-the most significant of his wives (mentioned often, incl. 7:8b's separate palace; 9:16b's dowry-- the town of Gezer, a strategically located city near two trade routes)
-1b's implicit list of accomplishments, incl. palace, temple, and the wall around Jerusalem
-2's people "still sacrificing at the high places because a temple had not yet been built"
-3's sum of Solomon's walk w/ God: "showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places"
-4's "went to Gibeon" (Josh 9:3-27; "the most important high place") "to offer sacrifices"—"1,000 burnt offerings"
-MH's Solomon was "very free and generous in what he did for the honor of God...Those that truly love God and his worship will not grudge the expense of their religion." (w/ app.)
-in fact, in all facets of life-- living large!
--> 5's "the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream" and asked what Solomon wanted God to give him (Jn 16:23)
-that night-- cause-and-effect

3:6-9's response (in the dream)
-6a's opening: acknowledgement of God's "kindness" in David's life
-7b's humility of the man/king: "I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties"
-"little child"-- fig. &/or lit.? Solomon was about 20 years old when he assumed the throne (I Chron 22:5, 29:1)
-humility cont'd: 6,7,8,9's 4x "your servant" (6 for David; 7,8,9 for Solomon); 8a's "among the people you have chosen"; 9's 2x "your people"
--> complete dependence on God at this point; off to a great start!
-8b's greatness of the task: governing "a great people, too numerous to count" --> 9b's "for who is able to govern this great people of yours?"
-9a's request: "given [me] a discerning (lit. "hearing") heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong" (Ps 72:1-2, Pr 2:3-9, Jas 1:5, 4:3)
-w/ app. to God's P and our P
-vs. what else he could have asked for (power-- vs. his efforts too; kill enemies-- remove probs; material/physical blessings)
-despite David's deathbed words to Solomon! (2:6's "according to your wisdom", 2:9's "You are a man of wisdom")
-a mark of wisdom to know how little one knows
-see: what David asked for (as implied by the Psalms!)

3:10-14 for God's response
-10's sum: "The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this"

--> 11's "since you have asked for...discernment in administering justice"
-"and not for..."
-"long life or wealth for yourself"
-health and wealth revisited
-"for yourself" vs. others
-"the death of your enemies" (like David)
--> God is interested in what we do and don't ask for!
--> 12's requested blessing: "I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart..."
--> 13's unexpected blessing (Mt 6:31-33, Eph 3:20): "Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for-- both riches and honor..."
--> MH's "the way to obtain spiritual blessings is to [pursue] them, to wrestle with God in prayer for them...the way to obtain temporal blessings is to be indifferent to them and to refer ourselves to God concerning them. Solomon had wisdom given him because he did ask it and wealth because he did not ask it."
--> 14's conditional blessing: "And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did" --> then "I will give you a long life" (Dt 6:2, 22:7, Pr 3:1-2,16; Dt 17:20's long reign)
-only has to meet the standard of his father-- high, but certainly not perfection
-didn't choose obedience; died around 60 years old

3:16-28's famous example of Solomon's wisdom (skip)
-probably had been heard in lower court, but unable to resolve the case given its difficulty-- no evidence, only she said, she said
-Rene Girard: “Note that it does not matter who is the biological mother. The one who was willing to sacrifice herself for the child’s life is in fact the mother.”
-w/ app. to wisdom being often easy-to-see after-the-fact

6:1's timing: began in 480th year post-Israelites left Egypt
-a huge verse for chronological purposes; with the dates of Solomon's reign set in history, this is often used to date the Exodus at 1446 BC
-interesting that it took this long...
-God working his plan patiently for Israel through history; allowed it to take awhile to clear the land
-indicates that the building was secondary to His sheer presence and their obedience (w/ app. to focus on people/God vs. buildings)
-see also: 6:37's 4th year of Solomon's reign (966 BC)-- first three years to get established, to prepare for the tasks ahead
-w/ app. to training, being single, etc. (Josh 1-5); MH's "It is not time lost which is spent in composing ourselves for the work of God, and disentangling ourselves from everything which might distract or divert us."
-6:38's completed 7 years later (7.5 years, given the months)
-lasted until 586 BC when the Babylonians destroyed it; rebuilt 536-516
8:22-30's opening
--> opens with praise and reason for praise
--> Solomon vs. priests here-- former's willingness and ability, but supposed to be a theocracy-- God ruling through a human king
-23a's "O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you"
-24b's mouth and hand (vs. hypocrisy, etc.)
-27's rhetorical Q: "will God really dwell on earth?"-- the heavens cannot contain him, let alone Solomon's temple (see: 30's "heaven, your dwelling place")
            -getting it, even in the OT

8:55-61's blessings
--> in sum, a model for prayer: 56's praise for God’s words/works, 57's request for God's presence, 58 (from God!) and 61's ability and willingness to obey and “fully commit”, 59b's daily help, 60's evangelization (more later)
--> prayer for self, the people of his generation, and the peoples of the world
-backed by 62ff’s mega-offerings in number, variety and length

9:1-9 for the Lord's 2nd visit to Solomon (3:5-15)
-1's "when Solomon had finished...and had achieved all he had desired to do"-- both God-centered and more self-centered projects
-the statement itself as interesting-- end of current agenda vs. life's purpose as completed
-as opportunity vs. burden; GCM's "It was the hour when the accomplishment of work meant the relaxation of effort." (w/ apps. incl. Solomon, retirement, during-trial vs. post-trial, worship vs. post-worship)
-and danger correlated with level of accomplishment
-see also: the timing of God's visit
-after completion of the projects (w/ app.)
-leaving the big legacy/spotlight aspects of his life/reign
-post-pinnacle for Solomon; post-Temple for Israel
-about 24 years into his reign; around the age of 40 (w/ app.)
-4's if Solomon would "walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness as...David did" and obey the Lord...
--> then, 5's promise that his descendants would continue to rule
-"integrity...observe my decrees/laws" as attitude and action
-" did"-- "walk" and David as the standard
-and what David "did" comes before 4b's obedience!
--> but 6-9's if not (incl. idolatry), then...
--> GCM's "The king was called to a new sense of responsibility as to his own life, and as to the administration of his kingdom. Alas, the sequel is a very sad one."
à in sum, ch. 10’s mixed bag and ch. 11’s implosion

10:1-5's intro to the queen of Sheba
-1a's "Sheba"-- probably in SW Arabia (Yemen), connecting sea trade of India and East Africa with northern Arabia (e.g., Damascus, Gaza)
-aside from Solomon's wisdom, such a long trip perhaps motivated by trade considerations-- to promote trade or to pay Solomon tribute to allow trade
-see: 2a's “very great caravan"
-1a's "when [she] heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the Lord, she..."; 4-5's seeing and being "overwhelmed" by Solomon's wisdom, wealth, and worship (burnt offerings, incl. its symbolic passion)
-connecting 1a's fame to his relation to God, 4-5's wisdom, wealth and worship (8:42's answered prayer)
-import for evangelism; GCM's "That is true fame for the servant of God, that people are attracted through him, not to him, but to the God whom he represents."
-w/ app. to our gifts (or great fruit --> roots) as a catalyst for sharing our faith-- who gets the glory?
-requires consistent Godly lifestyle (here, in the context of business practice) and giving credit to Christ when able and appropriate
-1b's "came to test him with hard questions"; 2b's "talked with him about all that she had on her mind" (4:34; Mt 12:42)
-w/ app. to seekers:
-people with genuine Q's vs. people with tough Q's looking for an out
-people curious to see the style (vs. substance) of our response
--> 3a's "Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her"
-"explain" vs. "tell"-- requires teaching ability over and above sheer knowledge
-vs. buzzwords, pat answers
-esp. in contrast to usual correlation of knowledge with pride and lack of love or empathy
-w/ app. to our willingness and ability to answer-- or find the answers to-- tough Q's

10:6-9 (skim)
-6's amazing reputation for achievements and wisdom
-w/ app. to how others see us, if we display excellence of some sort (at least effort and character)-- and whether they connect those to God
-7a's reputation so strong that it was difficult to believe without seeing him in action (!)
-7b's but in fact, reputation was "not even half", "far exceeded" by reality
-in contrast, expectations frequently outweigh reality (vs. I Cor 2:9)
-8's exclamation about the resulting happiness of his officials (w/ app.)

-9's "praise be to the Lord your God..."
-prob. recognizing his God within a pantheon of her gods vs. a personal relationship
-despite Solomon's wonderful evangelism, apparently not effective at this point (w/ app.)

10:10,13's closing gifts indicate a probable trade agreement (skip)
--> connect between trade and evangelism-- then and now
-Solomon's worldliness, but also focused on the outside world and evangelism
-w/ app. to libertinism vs. legalism, heresy vs. incorrect traditions
-MH's intro to Ch. 11 as "the cloud his sun set under"
-see also: 1's "however"
-up to now, have seen Solomon living large vs. legalism, and weaknesses mostly hinted at (wealth, military power-- horses)
--> here, developed fully

11:1-8's wives and concubines (skip)
-1's "Solomon loved many foreign women"
-3a's 700 "wives of noble birth" and 300 concubines (Dt 17:17a, Pr 31:3's warnings)
-700 and 300 as fig. or lit.?
-no time for church/God—or driven to his knees in prayer!
-1's Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, Hittites
-2a's "nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites" not to "intermarry with them"-- "because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods" (Ex 34:15-16; Dt 7:1-6)
-despite God's command and good reason, 2b's "nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love"
--> why?
-because he could!...
-perhaps peer pressure (like all the other kings)
-esp. given concubines, lust and personal pleasure
-but how is 2c's 'love' defined here?
-his wives: 3b's "led him astray", 4b's "turned his heart after other gods" (Neh 13:26; Mt 6:24)
-interesting that some of the blame is seemingly put on the wives, although Solomon is fully culpable
-so that 4c's "his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord"; and 6a's "So [he] did evil in the eyes of the Lord"
-vs. 4d's "as...David...had been"; and vs. 6b's David who apparently did "follow the Lord completely"
-comparison to David (revisited)
-David as an interesting standard (revisited)
--> wealth/power and women as his weak spots
-w/ app. to what are our weak spots?
-former w/ app. to affluence vs. lack of dependence on God
--> probable stages of his sin: resisted, tolerated, and rationalized evil/idolatry (Jas 1:14-15)
-his sins did not occur all at once (would be easy to dismiss if so)...
-see: parallels to Samson; MH's Solomon "sinned away his wisdom as Samson did his strength (and in the same way)"
--> a strange/interesting/sobering failing for Solomon
-the over-arching role and general danger of pride
-in his 40s and 50s and apparently not earlier
-so wise a man on an important topic about which he had warned others (Pr 5-7, etc.)
-despite his earlier fervent worship of God
-despite his earlier choice of wisdom over wealth (one of his later stumbling blocks)
-despite his father's struggles in this arena with Bathsheba and many wives
-see: should have been instructive vs. easier to fall
-where was his Nathan? the near-impossibility of providing accountability for the wisest and most powerful man in the world

11:9-13 for God's judgment
--> 9a's "the Lord became angry with Solomon"
-10's in the face of the Law and an explicit command in God's visit to Solomon
--> 11-13's judgment rendered to Solomon
-11b's punishment: "tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates" (see: 11:26-40)
-MH's a just punishment: "since he had revolted from God...his kingdom should revolt from [him]"
-12-13's moderations:
-12b's not during his reign, but his son's-- more painful?
-13's "will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe"
-the one tribe as grace and God's to give, not his right as the king's son/heir
-"for the sake of" 12,13's David, 13's Jerusalem
à next chapter of The Story…