Thorns, Thistles and Toiling

Author Jeannine Seery

“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’

To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life’” (Gen 3:16–17, NIV).

Perhaps it’s because of the immThorns, Thistles and Toilingense joy and pain I’ve experienced being a parent that I’ve been thinking a great deal
lately about how the actions of Adam and Eve, our first parents, influence our daily lives.

As I’ve read it and heard it preached, the curse itself seems to be pretty straightforward: Women will toil in childbirth while men toil in work. I find myself wondering, though, how is this ancient curse evidenced in our modern existence, as we seek to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

At the very core of the curse is the act of rebellion against God. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with what their Father had given them and deemed it necessary to follow their own interests. They chose to look outside of their relationship with God for fulfillment, instead of trusting that He would satisfy their every need. In doing so, they broke relationship with Him. The rest is history.

I’m not sure if the curse, as seen in 21st century America, is only the actual pain of childbirth and hard work. I believe that we are cursed also (perhaps even more) by our desire to find satisfaction, identity and meaning in our children and work, rather than our relationship with God.

Male and female, it seems that we are endlessly striving to make a name for ourselves—whether that would be in reaching the top of the corporate ladder, or parenting the next Albert Einstein. Take a look at the shelves of your local bookstore: You’ll find countless resources on how to become a more effective, successful person in the world of work. A quick search on the internet can yield a wealth of information on how to best meet the physical and emotional needs of your child, even before birth.

The creators of these resources appeal to our deepest insecurities and deceive us into believing that if we can somehow find the secret formula, our success will be guaranteed.

People typically aspire to be the absolute best at what we do, which in and of itself is a noble pursuit. Our problems begin to arise when we seek to measure our intrinsic value by our successes and failures. Contrary to what we’ve been told, we are not what we do. It has never defined the essence of who we are, and it never can. We have been created by a loving God to bring glory to His name in all the circumstances of our lives. And often the very circumstances that bring Him the most glory are the times of our greatest failure, times when we give up trying to work in our own power and instead allow His power to be made perfect in our weakness.

The Word of God says in Eccl 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” While our daily struggles may not appear in the same form as our first parents’, their essence is quite similar. We often find ourselves dissatisfied with the path that God has ordained for us, which leads us to pursue our own agenda. Instead of taking our confusion and dissatisfaction to the one who knows us best, we are tempted to look outside of our relationship with God to find answers to our failures and disappointments. We toil, not against actual thorns and thistles, but against “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things [that] come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19 NIV). We seek the forbidden fruit of this world that will never satisfy, while God waits for us to come and walk with Him in the cool of the day. He can meet our every need, if only we would let Him.

 

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

 

“Soul” Searching in Deuteronomy 6:5

Author Andrew B. Perrin

Soul Searching in Deuteronomy

In Deut 6:5, Moses admonishes the Israelites to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV).

But how well does the English translation “soul” in this verse convey the meaning of the underlying Hebrew word? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers eight definitions for the word. Since we can be certain Moses did not have a copy of this dictionary in hand, we must delve into the Hebrew text in hope of gaining fresh insight into this ancient verse. We can do this in four easy steps.

 

STEP 1: Make the Switch to Hebrew and Establish a Preliminary Definition

Locating the Hebrew word behind the English word “soul” is made easy with The ESV English-Hebrew Reverse Interlinear Old Testament. In this resource, each word of the English translation is aligned with its corresponding Hebrew word. When we look directly below “soul” in Deut 6:5 we see that nephesh is the Hebrew word behind the translation.

Now that we have this Hebrew word in mind, we establish a preliminary definition, what scholars call a “gloss.” If using print resources like Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, we look up the English word “soul” and locate the reference to Deut 6:5. We then note the Strong’s number, 5315, to the right of the passage and look it up in the numerically-keyed Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary appended to Strong’s. With Logos Bible Software we just double-click the word in the reverse interlinear and our preferred lexicon opens, which for me is A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Holladay.¹

A survey of the entry for nephesh in Holladay shows us that the word has up to 10 potential meanings including: “breath,” “living being,” “man,” “life,” “soul” and even “corpse.” Since words function in context, we need to investigate what our word means in various contexts, not just lump all the definitions together.

 

 STEP 2: Briefly Explore the Word in Other Ancient Semitic Languages

It is often valuable to investigate the cultural contexts from which a word emerged. The most efficient way to detect the potential influence of other languages on our Hebrew word is to consult a resource such as the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT).² For Logos Bible software users this resource is a click away. For those using the print edition, a convenient index coded with Strong’s Numbers allows readers to easily access the dictionary.

By looking up the Strong’s number 5315 we are directed to the TWOT numerical entry 1395a on nephesh. This article informs us that similar words in Ugaritic and Akkadian were associated with breathing and by implication the throat. Further nuances are seen in equivalent Arabic words that can also mean soul, mind, life or appetite.

With this broader context of associated meanings in mind we can now move on to isolate the unique contours of nephesh in the Old Testament.

 

STEP 3: Survey the Usage of the Word in the Old Testament

There are two perspectives that must be considered when understanding the usage of a word: (1) frequency (how many times a word is used); and (2) distribution (where the word is used). Investigating usage along these two axes allows us to establish a spectrum of meaning for our word in the Old Testament context.

To determine the frequency and distribution of a word we can use Logos’ concordance function or Strong’s. If using Strong’s we must look up the English word “soul” and tabulate only the number of occurrences with the Strong’s number 5315. In total there are 757 occurrences of the noun nephesh in the Old Testament. We can consult a selection of these passages to ascertain the spectrum of potential meanings.

At this stage we already see that nephesh in the Old Testament is a diverse term touching the many facets of life and living.

By narrowing the scope of our study and focusing on the distinct features of the occurrences of nephesh in Deuteronomy, we see that the term has special significance in light of Israel’s conduct and relationship with God. While Deuteronomy often uses nephesh to simply denote existence (Deut 12:23) or desire (Deut 14:26), the word is afforded a unique nuance that extends the spectrum of meanings provided above. Of the 35 occurrences in Deuteronomy, nephesh appears in close proximity with the word “heart” 11 times. This consistent pairing is seen most often in the phrase “with all your heart and all your soul” referring to the diligence and commitment the Israelites were to exhibit towards God’s laws (compare Deut 10:12).

With the broader palette of Old Testament usage, as well as the unique coloring of nephesh (שׁפנ) in Deuteronomy in mind, we can now return to the beginning of our investigation and examine Deut 6:5 once again.

Nephesh is often used to denote:

The very essence of existence (Gen 2:7) which departs at death (Gen 35:18; 1 Kgs 19:10).

The seat of human emotion and/or desire (Psa 35:25; Song 1:7; Ezek 24:25).

The organs, or physical actions, associated with breathing (Ps 105:18; Job 41:21; Isa 5:14).

 

STEP 4: Revisit the Passage to Find the Meaning of the Word in Context.

Our study has shown us that the English translation “soul,” especially when paired with “heart,” is ambiguous and lacks the precision required for an accurate interpretation of Deut 6:5. In this context nephesh is primarily a synonym for life and is distinct from other words such as “heart” (lev) that is closely associated with the mind rather than emotion. Instead of understanding “soul” as the immaterial spiritual component of a person, this concise understanding better conveys the passage’s call for an all-encompassing and lived-out devotion to God.

 

Notes:

¹A lexicon is an in-depth dictionary about a specific corpus of writings. Because of this, lexicons contain more lengthy and detailed entries than dictionaries.

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

What does the Bible teach about … Righteousness and Truth?

Author Craig C. Broyles

Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it.  Isaiah 45:8 NRSV

Some words from the Bible are used so frequently in Christian vocabulary that we assume we know their meaning. What does the bible teach acout righteousness and truth?But often they have been so colored by our traditions that their meaning has shifted from biblical times. Fortunately, to recover these ancient meanings we do not have to rely on archaeology and inscriptions (though these resources are often helpful). Most scholars use the same resource every Christian has access to: the Bible.

A word’s meaning or definition is best determined by how it is used. The usage is found through considering the following contexts:

1. The sentence (grammar and syntax)

2. The genre (a literary type) and literary context

3. The situation (historical and sociological contexts)

Let’s now examine two words—righteousness and truth—to see how these features can shed light on a word’s usage and meaning.

 Righteousness

God’s Righteousness in Isaiah 40–55

For many Christians “righteousness” (sedeq or sedeqah) can simply mean conformity to God’s moral law. This conformity should then be exemplified in moral behavior. There are indeed biblical references that support this perspective (Deut 6:25). But there are other facets to this diamond of biblical “righteousness,” especially when we focus in particular on God’s righteousness in Isaiah 40–55.

1. The Sentence. “Parallelism” is characteristic of Hebrew poetry, and it can provide an immediate clue to the field of meaning (often called the “semantic field”) of a particular word in a particular context. In this verse we see that as “righteousness” rains down from the skies, it produces “salvation.” While there are different kinds of parallelism, in this case “salvation” and “righteousness” appear as near synonyms.

2-3. The genre and literary context, and the historical situation. This hymnic fragment follows a pivotal oracle (44:24–45:7) in Isa 40–55. These chapters are addressed to the Jews exiled from their homeland to Babylonia in the mid-sixth century BC. They had little hope, except for “the word of our God” that “stands forever” (Isa 40:80). In this pivotal, prophetic word, God announces that he will use Cyrus, king of Persia, as his agent to restore the Jews to their homeland and to rebuild Jerusalem. He even calls this Persian king “my shepherd” and “anointed” (or “messiah”)! Now we can make sense of why “salvation” and “righteousness” are one and the same thing for these Jewish exiles. God, by “saving” his people from deportation, “puts things right” for these oppressed people. This amounts to nothing less than “rescuing righteousness.”

“My righteousness” and “my salvation,” that is, God’s salvation and righteousness, are parallel terms in Isa 46:13 as well. In this speech the Lord challenges His people to believe that “the man of my counsel from a far country” (46:11), namely Cyrus the Persian, will bring God’s “righteousness” and “salvation” to Zion/Jerusalem. Similarly, three times “my righteousness” and “my salvation” appear as parallel terms (51:5, 6, 8) that bring the Lord’s comforting and restoring of Zion/Jerusalem (51:3). Finally, in Isa 45:21 the Lord characterizes Himself as “a righteous God and savior”—in contrast to the idols of the nations. In this speech against the nations, they are given an altar call, so to speak (“turn to me and be saved”), wherein they may confess, “only in the Lord … are righteous deeds and strength” (i.e., rescuing acts; 45:22–24). Indeed, “in the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified” (or “made right,” yisdequ). This verse uses the verbal form of the Hebrew word for “righteousness.” The righteousness of God in Isaiah 40–55 does not denote the absolute, moral standard by which He judges and condemns people. What is decisive here is that God’s “righteousness” is virtually synonymous with His “salvation”—even though his people disobey His “law” (Isa 42:24) and His “commandments” (48:18). In fact, it is in spite of Israel’s being “far from righteousness” that God declares “I bring my righteousness near, it is not far” (46:12–13; compare, 48:1). Thus, the “righteousness” of God in Isa 40–55 anticipates the rescuing righteousness of God that is fundamental to Paul’s epistle to the Romans (see esp. 1:16–17).

Truth: Truth in the Psalms

As with the term, “righteousness,” many in Western society conceive of “truth” (’emet) as an abstract, absolute standard or norm of reality. But the Old Testament tends to treat “truth” in the context of relationship.

In the Psalms ’emet, (תמא) is frequently paired with khesed, which is translated as “steadfast love” (NRSV, ESV), “lovingkindness” (NASB), and “love” (NIV). All fifteen of these pairings describe attributes of God. This pairing of terms, along with the psalmic prayers and praises that use it, associates ’emet, (תמא) with relational loyalty. Hence, the NRSV and ESV translators use “faithfulness” in these contexts. The echoes in Ps 86:15 point to the famous confession in Exod 34:6: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (’emet).”

At this moment during the Golden Calf incident, the Lord revealed His merciful “faithfulness”—in spite of His people’s rebellion.

In some cases where “truth” is used in reference to humans in the psalms, it is better understood and translated as “authenticity.” When the hymn, Ps 145, celebrates that the “Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (145:18 NRSV), it refers to those who call on the Lord with sincerity and authenticity and not necessarily to those who are in full conformity to an absolute standard of “truth.” Ps 51 is a classic confession of personal sin.

The claim, “you desire truth in the inward being” (Ps 51:6 NRSV), points to the sincere, authentic confession exemplified in the psalm itself. The temple entry liturgy of Ps 15 echoes this same notion: “those who … speak the truth from their heart” (15:2). These uses of ’emet do not point to “truth” in the sense of moral perfection but to “true” speech that authentically reflects one’s heart.

Word studies can be fruitful endeavors. By listening closely to how the Hebrew writers used their words we can get closer to how they thought. In the cases of “righteousness” and “truth” they primarily considered them not as external, moral standards or norms, but within the context of a committed relationship. In Isaiah 40–55 and the Psalms, God’s “righteousness” and “truth” exhibit themselves as salvation and fidelity. Human righteousness in the Psalms exhibits itself as authenticity.

 

Bible Study Magazine delivers tools and methods for Bible study, as well as insights from respected Bible teachers, professors, historians, and archaeologists. Take over 30% off the cover price—subscribe now!

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

Love Potion: Numbers 5

Author Michael S. Heiser

When’s the last time you heard a sermon on Numbers 5:11–31?

One of the things I enjoy telling people in conversations about Bible study is that “if it’s weird, it’s important.” This passage certainly qualifies in both respects. The strangeness of the passage is easily detectable, but only careful Bible study makes its importance apparent.

LovePotion#5Numbers 5:11–31 describes a water ritual to determine the guilt or innocence of a woman suspected of adultery. A husband is to bring the wife under suspicion to the priest, along with a required grain offering that will “bring iniquity to remembrance.” The priest in turn prepares a jar of water mixed with dust from the tabernacle (5:16–17). To this mixture is added the curses against her written “in a book” (5:23). Either the curses were written and erased, so that the erasures are swept into the water mixture, or the ink is washed off into the water mixture. The woman is compelled to drink the concoction after saying “Amen, Amen” in response to the priest’s invocation of blessing or cursing upon her, depending on her innocence or guilt. If she is guilty, the ingested mixture will cause pain and sterility; if there is no such reaction, she is deemed innocent (5:27–31).¹

Since the instructions in Num 5 were given by God (5:11), the water ordeal is a means of divination, whereby it is expected that God will use the ritual to answer a question human beings cannot. That the Israelites could use such divination comes as no surprise, as the high priest had the Urim and Thummim at his disposal, and various biblical characters utilize the casting of lots for discerning the mind of God on a matter (Josh 18:6-8; Prov 16:33; Acts 1:26).²

This passage provides a useful starting point for discussing why biblical characters were permitted to practice divination at all, when elsewhere such methods are condemned (e.g., Deut 18:9–14).³ But let’s instead focus on one practical implication of this passage.

Students of the Bible know that adultery was punishable by death in ancient Israel (Lev 20:10–11). Surprisingly, death is not the penalty for the guilty woman in Num 5:11-31. The normal word for adultery (na’af, נאף)—the word used in connection with the death penalty—does not occur in this passage, further distancing it from being a capital crime. Why these discrepancies?

The answer lies in the fact that the guilty woman was not discovered in the act of adultery (5:13). Since this is the case, the community and, particularly, the angry husband, is effectively prohibited by the law of the water ordeal from taking matters into their own hands. This would serve as a protection for women suspected of adultery, or who might be the target of someone’s animosity or jealousy. The point is that secret adultery can and will be punished only by God.

 

Notes:

¹There are explicit parallels to this procedure in the literature of the ancient Near Eastern world of biblical times. For example, one of the laws in Hammurabi’s code (COS 2.31) concerns a river ordeal for a woman accused of adultery.

²Urim and Thummim: The exact nature of the Urim and Thummim and how they were used is unknown. A literalized translation of the terms would be “lights and perfections.” The Urim and Thummim are distinguished from the casting of lots as a method of divination in the traditional Hebrew text (the Masoretic Text) of 1 Sam 14:36–42, though this is often obscured by English translations that follow the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (e.g., ESV).

³See Michael S. Heiser, “The Old Testament Response to Ancient Near Eastern Pagan Divination Practices.”

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

Enter the Summer Pastoral-Leadership Giveaway!

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This is the perfect opportunity to get the resources for your pastoral and leadership needs. Save hours in sermon preparation with the help of Logos 5, and add an invaluable set of resources, knowledge, and wisdom to your library.

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John Chrysostom on Paul’s Attitude toward the Galatians

Author John D. Barry

John Chrysostom (ca. AD 347–407) was the Bishop of Constantinople, a position which he took against his will. A very prolific theological writer, as well as an articulate speaker, he wrote homilies (sermons) on about half of the New Testament books.

John Chrysostom on Paul’s Attitude towards the Galatians

John Chrysostom“Now that this Epistle [to the Galatians] breathes an indignant spirit, is obvious to everyone even on the first perusal; but I must explain the cause of his anger against the disciples. Slight and unimportant it could not be, or he would not have used such vehemence. . . . What then was the offence which roused him? It was grave and momentous, one which was estranging them all from Christ, as he himself says further on, ‘Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing’ [Gal 1:2]; and again, ‘Ye who would be justified by the Law, ye are fallen away from Grace’ [Gal 1:4]. What then is this? For it must be explained more clearly. Some of the Jews who believed, being held down by the prepossessions of Judaism, and at the same time intoxicated by vain-glory, and desirous of obtaining for themselves the dignity of teachers, came to the Galatians, and taught them that the observance of circumcision, Sabbaths, and new-moons, was necessary, and that [Paul’s abolishment of these things was to be ignored.] For, said they, Peter and James and John, the chiefs of the Apostles and the companions of Christ, forbade them not. Now in fact they did not forbid these things, but this was not by way of delivering positive doctrine, but in condescension to the weakness of the Jewish believers, which condescension Paul had no need of when preaching to the Gentiles; but when he was in Judea, he employed it himself also.”¹

1John Chrystotom, Homily on Galatians. Translated volume edited by Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. XIII.

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

Are There Really 10 Commandments?

Author Michael S. Heiser

One of the most enduring elements of the Bible and the Judaeo-Christian worldview within Western culture is the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Even if one can’t recite them all, most people have seen the fiery finger of God etch the commandments into two stone tablets as Moses—for many of us, Charlton Heston—watches in awe.

It seems to go without saying that the list of the Ten Commandments is something that Judaism and Christianity have always agreed upon.  Well, that is not exactly true.

Counting the commandments

Countint10Commandments Historically speaking, Jews and Christians—and even denominations within Christianity—have disagreed on exactly how the Ten Commandments should be listed and expressed. In fact, how to precisely spell out the commandments was an issue of considerable importance during the Protestant Reformation. The difference concerns how many commands are to be found in the first six verses and last two verses of Exod 20:2–17, the initial listing of the commandments received by Moses at Sinai.¹ An interactive chart found here illustrates the disagreements.

Context is key

One point of context is required before we can understand the thinking behind the differences in the listing and expression of the commandments. Any listing of the commandments must result in a total of ten, because three other passages of Scripture fix the number of commandments at ten. Exodus 34:28, Deut 4:13, and Deut 10:4 each clearly tell us that God gave Moses ‘asereth hadvarim (“ten words”; “ten statements”) at Sinai.

Interestingly, the Jewish tradition treats the statement in Exod 20:2 (compare Deut 5:6) as a command when the wording has no imperative force to it at all. This latitude arises from the fact that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament exclusively uses ‘asereth hadvarim (“ten words”) instead of ‘asereth hamitsvot (“ten commandments”) with respect to the contents of Exod 20 and Deut 5. After regarding Exod 20:2 as the first “word” of the ten, verses 3–6 are then thematically understood as speaking to a single prohibition: making idols for worship.

There are actually three imperative statements in this group of verses (“You shall have no other gods before me”; “You shall not make for yourself a carved image”; “You shall not bow down to them or serve them”), but to consider them as separate commands would move the total beyond ten.

Christian perceptions of Exod 20 are not rooted in the Hebrew terminology ‘asereth hadvarim (“ten words”), and so Christian formulations do not regard verse one as the first point of the Decalogue. As a result, all of Exod 20:2–6 is considered the starting point, and the imperative wording (“You shall not”) prompted the “commandment” terminology so widely known and used today.

Augustine’s enumeration & influence

The enumeration adopted by Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism originated with Augustine. While they prefer it, the enumeration of Augustine is not a point of dogma. Section 2066 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is representative of the acknowledgement that, “The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied in the course of history.”³ Reformed Protestants and Greek Orthodox Christians also reject verse 1 as a command, but distinguish verse 3 from verses 4–6 as the first and second commands. This position is likewise not dogmatically taken.

The last two verses are the other major point of divergence in expressing the number and contents of the commandments. Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism divide Exod 20:17 into two commands to achieve the number ten, a necessity in view of seeing Exod 20:2–6 as the first command. This dichotomy is perhaps puzzling, since the entirety of the content of verse 17 speaks about one’s household and possessions, and in light of the thematic grouping at the beginning of the Decalogue. Thematic grouping at the beginning of the Decalogue and thematic splitting at the end doesn’t make sense—unless one keeps in mind the need to wind up with ten!

Despite the numerical disagreement over how to count the commandments, the moral core of the Judaeo-Christian ethic has never been in doubt among those Jews and Christians who take the Bible seriously. A lack of certainty on how to count the Ten Commandments is no impediment to understanding their importance for honoring God and our fellow human beings.

 

Notes:

Catechism: A summary of religious doctrine often in the form of questions and answers.

¹With respect to the second listing of the commandments in Deut 5, this issue concerns Deut 5:6–21.

²Orthodox churches do not consider verse 2 a prefatory comment. Rather, all of verses 2–3 are considered the first commandment.

³Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Doubleday, 2003). See also note 20a in The Jerusalem Bible (Doubleday, 1966) on Exod 20.

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

Seeing What’s Right in Front of You

Author Jeannine Seery

“Pick me up, Mommy.”

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard those words in the past eight years. Most times, I’ve gladly complied with the request. But as the years pass, it’s quickly becoming more difficult to do.

My children are quite a bit larger than they once were. While it may be quite easy to whisk up a whining one-year-old, toting around a three-and-a-half-year-old is a totally different story. For one, it slows me down quite a bit. Have you ever tried to flag down a school bus while running with a very large toddler in your arms? Most of the time, you don’t make it.

SeeingWhatsRightInFrontSo with all the carrying I’ve been doing, I’ve been thinking about what I carry with me when I come to spend time with God. When I sit down to open up His Word, what am I holding onto that might distort my view? Are the trials and tribulations of life causing me to see His character in an unrealistic light? What items are getting in the way of correctly seeing where He’s leading me? Are there worries and anxieties weighing me down? Is unresolved anger or bitterness skewing my perspective? Most importantly, how can I find my way free of these things in order to commune more fully with Him?

Psalm 68:19 sheds light on my questions: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (NIV). There is a reason why I find it so difficult to see God accurately when I’m carrying these things—I’m just not meant to do it. Day by day, He calls me to come and pour the weight of my burdens on Him. In exchange, He gives me His load to bear, a load that is “easy” and a burden that is “light” (Matt 11:30).

It’s hard to comprehend that the One who poured His life out for us encourages us to pour our burdens on Him. It seems somewhat indulgent to ask the God who sentenced His Son to death in our place to lighten our somewhat insignificant daily load. Yet we are each implored, “Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7 NIV). Not because He is more capable of dealing with our burdens (He is), or because they are too heavy for us to bear (they are), but because He wants to carry them; the incomprehensible love He has for each of us prompts Him to do so. He knows that when we place the burdens we carry squarely upon His back we are able to achieve greater intimacy with Him. What our Father wants most of all is for us to look upon His face with nothing at all impeding our view. Should we ever worry that our load is too much for Him to bear, He reassures us that “his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lam 3:22–23 NIV).

Only when the weight of our world is cast appropriately upon the one who holds the world in His hands are we able to live to our fullest potential in Christ. We can follow His lead and obey His commandments because we are unencumbered. We can see clearly where He calls us to go because nothing obstructs our vision. We can singularly focus our energy on what He has called us to do because we are free from outside distractions. We are much less likely to stumble and fall because there is nothing between us and God. Our gaze can be fixed upon Him.

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

A Fat King and a Left-Handed Man

Author Leonard Greenspoon

Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a foot and a half long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man. After Ehud had presented the tribute, he sent on their way the men who had carried it.

At the idols near Gilgal he himself turned back and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” The king said, “Quiet!” And all his attendants left him. Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, “I have a message from God for you.” As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

After he had gone, the servants came and found the doors of the upper room locked. They said, “He must be relieving himself in the inner room of the house.” 25 They waited to the point of embarrassment, but when he did not open the doors of the room, they took a key and unlocked them. There they saw their lord fallen to the floor, dead. While they waited, Ehud got away. He passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah.

When he arrived there, he blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them. “Follow me,” he ordered, “for the Lord has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands.” So they followed him down and, taking possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab, they allowed no one to cross over. At that time they struck down about ten thousand Moabites, all vigorous and strong; not a man escaped. That day Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for eighty years.—Judges 3:15–30 NIV

 At first glance—and probably, at second—this passage from chapter three of the book of Judges does not seem like a promising source of humor. And yet ancient Israelites would have found this very funny indeed.

Before turning to this specific passage, let us consider that we are separated from the world of biblical Israel by several millennia, thousands of miles, and vast linguistic and cultural differences. Many aspects of their comedy may therefore elude us. Moreover, those who wrote in biblical Hebrew were without most of the means by which we today transmit humor in a written medium—they had no marks of punctuation (no explanation points and no quotation marks), no capital or small letters, no highlighting or underlining, no italicizing, or bracketing. And think about how much humor today is conveyed through oral presentation. This was undoubtedly the case in antiquity—perhaps even more so then.

AFatKingLeftHandedManThis does not mean that we are without any resources to detect what would have been funny to an ancient Israelite. Far from it! Plays on words (frequently the most difficult feature to convey in a translation) and context will serve the intrepid interpreter well in this endeavor. Thus, for example, we observe how unusual it is that the Bible regularly describes an individual as right-handed or left-handed. Such a description serves two functions here: First, as a play on words, the hero Ehud’s tribe is Benjamin, which in Hebrew literally means “son of the South” or “right.” (Ancient Israelites oriented themselves with the Mediterranean Sea behind them, making East straight ahead and South to their right). Thus, it would not escape the notice of the reader that here was a Son of the South, or the right hand, who was left-handed (literally in Hebrew, “constricted as to his right hand”).

Moreover, because he was left-handed, Ehud strapped his sword to his right thigh. A minor detail, we might think. However, we can easily imagine that the Moabite king’s bodyguards, who would certainly have checked-out anyone seeking admittance to their monarch, performed only a perfunctory check on Ehud, never thinking that the weapon would be on his right, rather than the expected left, thigh. Alas, the need for security—and the means to outwit it—is nothing new.

The name of the Moabite king would have immediately attracted the attention of an ancient reader. Eglon comes from the same Hebrew root as the word for a fattened calf, often one prepared for sacrifice. And, of course, sacrifice is exactly what Eglon becomes at the hand of Ehud. The extended, rather gruesome description of Ehud plunging his sword through layers of Eglon’s fat could not have failed to make the comparison clear: Indeed, Ehud did have a “secret message” for the king, but not the one the Moabite ruler expected! Making the king a “sacrifice” weakened the resolve of the Moabite army; allowing for Israel to destroy them and subsequently enjoy a period of peace and prosperity.

Our analysis invites us to appreciate, as an ancient Israelite would, the re-telling (initially in oral form) of an incident that united a people in a shared memory and a good story.

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 2.

God’s Word through Multiple Voices: Part 3

The Case of Sennacherib’s Invasion of Judah

Author Craig C. Broyles

The case of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s invasion into Hezekiah’s Judah in 701 BC is one of the best-documented and most controversial events in the Bible and in archaeology.

In last week’s post, Dr. Craig C. Broyles discussed the Greek Historian Herodotus’ account of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah and the prophetic perspectives of Isaiah and Micah. This built upon his post on May 19th of the record of the events in 2 Kgs 18–19 and Sennacherib’s own account in a prism discovered in his palace. In this post, Dr. Broyles tells us how we should respond to these diverse, discrepant accounts, and reflects on what these events tell us about the prophetic word of God.

See an interactive map of this event here: http://biblestudymagazine.com/interactive/sennacherib/map.html

A Biblical Perspective on Hezekiah’s Decisions

Second Kings 18:7 (NRSV) appears to commend Hezekiah’s decision to join the rebellion (“The Lord was with him; wherever he went, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him”). The prophet Isaiah, however, condemns Jerusalem’s rulers for forming a coalition of rebellion with Egypt. Isaiah promotes the idea that Yahweh will “protect Jerusalem,” and cause “the Assyrian [to] fall by a sword, not of mortals” (Isa 31:5, 8; also see 30:31). Even though Judah has “deeply betrayed” the Lord, Isaiah promises their rescue (Isa 31:5–6). Meanwhile, Micah laments Sennacherib’s invasion as divine judgment (Mic 1:12).

How should we respond to this diversity and these discrepancies? Should we call them contradictions and dismiss the Bible as merely a human document? Or should we assert more forcefully that the Bible is God’s Word and concede that the resolution is simply unknown to us? First, we must not get defensive but rather take courage. If we have the conviction that the Bible is the word of God then we should believe that it is fully trustworthy—when properly interpreted—and can endure any legitimate scrutiny. Second, we should endeavor to be “noble-minded” like the Jews in Berea who were “examining the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11 NASB).

To come to terms with the perspective of 2 Kings we must examine the basis of the narrator’s claims more closely.

1. Scholars often call the writer of 2 Kings the Deuteronomistic Historian because his judgments of the kings of Israel and Judah are based on the book of Deuteronomy, especially chapter 12. His assessment that Hezekiah “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” is because he “broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole” (2 Kgs 18:3–4; compare 18:22), just as prescribed in Deut 12:3.

2. His comment that Hezekiah “rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him” (2 Kgs 18:7) is contrasted with the failure of his predecessor, King Ahaz, who constructed a pagan altar for the Jerusalem temple in deference to “the king of Assyria” (2 Kgs 16:10–18). From this Deuteronomic perspective, resistance to pagan idolatry becomes fused with independence from a foreign, pagan state.

3. The claim that Hezekiah “prospered” (literally, “succeeded;” 2 Kgs 18:7), even when “he rebelled against the king of Assyria,” must be seen in comparison to the king of northern Israel, Hoshea, who likewise rebelled. In Hoshea’s case, “the king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria” (2 Kgs 18:11); whereas, in Hezekiah’s case, his refusal to serve under Assyrian control and insistence on maintaining his throne and most of his people, was followed by the Assyrian repulsion from Jerusalem.  This insertion of 18:9–12, which is repetition from 17:5–8, into the story of Hezekiah confirms this interpretation.

Hezekiah’s “success” is mitigated just a verse later: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria cameGodsWordThroughPart3 up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them” (2 Kgs 18:13 NRSV). Hezekiah then apologizes to the Assyrian king and agrees to pay whatever tribute is imposed, including “silver” and “gold” from “the temple of the Lord” (2 Kgs 18:14–15). In addition, both Hezekiah himself (2 Kgs 19:4) and Isaiah (2 Kgs 19:30–31) refer to “the surviving remnant of the house of Judah.” Although the storyline in 2 Kings precedes the miraculous rescue of Jerusalem in center stage (2 Kgs 18:17–19:37), 2 Kgs 18:13–16 are important verses that might go overlooked. But other passages elsewhere in the Bible, namely Micah’s lament for these destroyed cities of Judah, make sure that the readers of the Bible do not forget those outlying towns that were not as fortunate as the capital city of Jerusalem (Mic 1:1–16). Sennacherib’s Prism claims that he had taken captive “200,150 people” and had “diminished his land.” And the wall relief of the siege of Lachish in Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh graphically illustrates the cruel terror with which the Assyrians repay their rebels, as does the archaeology of Lachish itself.

Theological Reflections on Hezekiah’s Decisions

Our “examining of the Scriptures” brings into sharp relief an essential point for responsible interpretation of the Bible. If we merely quote chapter and verse, presuming this represents God’s entire perspective on any given issue, then we misrepresent the Word of God which is often presented through many words, as well as diverse passages in the Holy Scriptures.

The events surrounding Hezekiah’s rebellion against the Assyrian Empire and Sennacherib’s invasion testify powerfully to the consequences of ignoring Yahweh’s prophetic word, on the one hand, and to Yahweh’s faithfulness during the eleventh hour, on the other hand. We can well imagine Hezekiah’s dilemma. On the one side he has his political and military advisers, and on the other, the prophet Isaiah. At stake are the lives and territory of the kingdom of Judah. Trusting in Yahweh may seem the obvious choice while reading the Bible, but if we were living in the midst of the realities and complexities of a vassal state rebelling against a ruthless empire—with its siege machines and threats of mass burials—we too may have made the decisions Hezekiah did. As today, the decision that befits faith and common-sense wisdom may not be clear.

 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 3.

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