Friday, March 26, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 3 and 4

Exodus 3:14—“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”'” I discussed this passage in my Old Testament Chapter Summary of Exodus 3, but it is important enough to mention here as well. God is the great “I AM.” About the best we can understand that term is the God exists—and He always has and He always will. If we were to speak to Jehovah today and ask His name (as Moses had done), we would get the same response: “I AM”. God just…is. There is a sense, of course, in which I could say “I am,” that is, I now exist. But I’m not “I AM” like God is “I AM.” I haven’t always existed. But God is eternal and self-existent. The question “Who created God?,” as many have asked, is nonsensical. If another being had “created” God, then that other being would be God, which means the created “God” wouldn’t be “God”, the creator “God” would be “God”—if that makes any sense, which it doesn’t. Again, God is eternal—“I AM.” We, as humans, cannot fathom eternality, but that’s because we are finite beings.

In John 8:58, in one of His never ending arguments with the Jews, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” There can be no clearer statement of Jesus’ divine eternal existence than this. Those sects who argue that Jesus was a “created” being and thus not eternal simply are arguing in the face of Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58. The Jews certainly understood what Christ was saying—that He is God—and they wanted to kill Him. And eventually, of course, they did—or at least, His human manifestation. The concept of the “godhead,” or, more popularly, the “Trinity, though that word isn’t found in Scripture, is indeed Biblical. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Again, incomprehensible to man, but only the arrogant and rebellious refuse to admit that understanding eternal deity is utterly impossible for human beings to comprehend.  Humility is not something man is good at, but is essential in the face of an infinite God.

Exodus 4:8—“Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign.” When God worked miracles through man, it was always to reveal or confirm the message given. Obviously, to know the mind of God, He had to reveal that miraculously to man. But in order to convince men that the message was truly from Jehovah, He enabled men to work miracles—miraculous testimony confirmed by miraculous events. Why should anyone have believed Moses when he told them that God had spoken to him? Well, the miracles he did should have proven his word. Only God can suspend and interfere with natural law. There are many who, through trickery, deceit, and magic, have attempted to duplicate true miracles, and they have deceived many. But nobody has been able to do the wide variation of miracles that God and His envoys did. Let one of the modern “miracle workers” still a storm as Jesus did. How about raising the dead? I have asked several of them, over the years, to heal my blind eye; I’ve told them I would put my glass eye on display for all the world to see if they would only heal my sight. Needless to say, my glass eye remains. Has the reader seen any other glass eyes on display from those whose vision has been restored? No. There is a limit to human chicanery. Only God can truly work miracles and they were performed, as in Moses’ case, to confirm the message God had (miraculously) given him.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 1

Mark 1:2-3—“As it is written in the Prophets: Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’” This is a quotation from Isaiah 40:3. When citing Old Testament passages, the New Testament writes most often quote the Septuagint, which was a 2nd century B.C. translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Isaiah, and the other Old Testament authors, wrote nearly exclusively in the Hebrew language, and in that tongue (as translated into English), Isaiah 40:3 reads, “The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God.” This is the American Standard Version’s rendition. I cite it here because of the word “Jehovah.” The passage—Mark 1:2-4 being witness—refers to the work of John the Baptist who was “prepare the way of the Lord”—Jesus, of course. But note that Isaiah 40:3 refers to Him as “Jehovah.” This causes great angst among those, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that Jesus was a created being, not an eternal one with the Father. Obviously, “Jehovah” is God, and Isaiah 40:3 by referring to Jesus as “Jehovah” classifies Him as eternal deity. We don’t think of Jesus as “Jehovah,” (and the Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly don’t), but when we understand the Hebrew terms for “God,” it is clear that the name Jehovah can certainly apply to Him.

The Hebrews had four basic terms for the Eternal Deity. “El” is most often translated “God” in our versions. It basically signifies “strength.” Any time you see a Hebrew name with “el” in it, there is some reference to God—Israel, Bethel, Emmanuel, and so forth. "El-Shaddai" in the Hebrew is usually translated “God Almighty.” The was the name specially known to the patriarchs. The Hebrew word “Adonai” is translated “Lord” in our versions, which is not really a good translation. It is a difficult word to translate, but the concept is perhaps most accurately stated in God’s pronouncement to Moses “I AM THAT I AM.” When you see the term “Lord” in the Old Testament, it will almost always be a translation of Adonai (I refer mainly here to the old King James Version and old American Standard Version). But when you see the word “LORD” in capitals in the old KJV (the New KJV does not do this), it is the Hebrew word “YHWH”, usually referred to today as “Yahweh.” But, to make the distinction between "Adonai" and “YHWH,” the old ASV translates the latter “Jehovah” (the New American Standard and New International Versions follow the old KJV and translate it “LORD”). The word denotes, in effect, a “covenant” God; in other words, it was “YHWH“ (Jehovah) who made a “covenant” with the Israelites through Moses, not El or Adonai. To return to Isaiah 40:3, Jesus obviously had/has a significant part to play in any “covenant” God makes with man, especially in this New Testament age. So it is in all wise proper and correct to refer to Him as “Jehovah.” The New Testament, of course, was written in Greek, so the word “Jehovah” is never found in the ASV’s translation of the New Testament. This information is simplified for my purposes here, but it catches the major idea of deity in the Old Testament.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 1 and 2

Exodus 1:8—“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This is probably the most famous Pharaoh in history and we don’t even know his name. I’m not going to bother speculating, most of us would never have heard of him anyway. But he was a shrewd Pharaoh, and also one who had no conscience. Verse 7 says “the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them,” so much so that they apparently outnumbered the Egyptians (v. 9). Thus, Pharaoh enslaved them (v. 10), and then started killing the male babies (or ordered such, v. 16). Some have wondered why, if the Israelites had the greater population, they did not revolt. The main reason was the Egyptians had the weapons and the Israelites did not. There were places in the Old South where the Negro slaves greatly outnumbered the whites, but there were only one or two major slave revolts all during the time of American slavery. In Egypt’s case, slavery didn’t help—“the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (v. 12). Israel was getting into the position God wanted them—with sufficient numbers to conquer the land of Canaan. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. Which is no surprise; God’s plans will not be defeated by puny humans.

Exodus 2:11-12—“Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” We’ve already seen that some of God’s greatest men could act in decidedly ungodly ways—Abraham lying and committing adultery, Isaac lying about Rebecca being his wife, Jacob being a deceptive sneak if there ever was one, his sons had their hands full of debauchery, wickedness, and blood, even the saintly Joseph worked a magnificent dishonesty upon his brothers. And now here’s Moses murdering an Egyptian. In his defense, he came to the aid of one of his Hebrew brethren. But his use of force was certainly excessive and uncalled for. Keep in mind, Moses was the grandson of Pharaoh; could he not have used some of that influence to stop the Egyptian from mistreating the Hebrew? Was killing the fellow absolutely necessary? It is highly doubtful that the Egyptian would have resisted the authority of a kinsmen of Pharaoh. Why such barbarism on the part of Moses? We must always remember, in these early books of the Bible, that we are dealing with a very primitive people, men and women who had no written law from God and who lived in difficult, dangerous, and uncultured times. Survival was not easy, and this produced hard, calloused men who did what they thought necessary to ensure that survival. As we shall see, God was often very harsh in His handling of these people; it’s the language they knew and understood because it was the kind of world they lived in. Too many today want to judge ancient peoples by our standards, and that is a gross, egregious error. It was a dog-eat-dog world, often kill or be killed, and we’ve seen some of these rough edges already. Go back to perhaps the best example of this—Genesis 34. Simeon and Levi killed a whole city-full of men because one of them had raped their sister. And their father Jacob did not castigate them for murder—he was worried about his own hide: “You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me” (Genesis 34:30). So what that two of his sons had murdered a huge contingent of men and enslaved the women and children. “Just don’t trouble me.” This doesn’t excuse what Moses did in Exodus 2, but it does help us to understand how an otherwise godly man could act in such a vile manner.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part 25

Old Testament

Genesis 49 and 50

Genesis 49:10—“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” It is important to realize that Old Testament prophecies must be viewed through New Testament lenses. That sounds simple enough, but that’s because we have the completed Bible and can do that. But verses like Genesis 49:10 were probably not recognized, at the time of writing, or for long after, as Messianic in nature. Indeed, most of the “Messianic” passages we have studied (e.g., Genesis 3:15, 9:26, 12:1-3, etc.) can only be understood by studying them through the interpretation of the Holy Spirit as given through Jesus and His apostles. We know now that “Shiloh” (“peace bringer”) came from the tribe of Judah, the tribe from which the house of David descended (the “scepter”, i.e, kings came from Judah). Jesus, of course, was a descendent of Judah as well. So this verse gives us one more name to add to the Messianic tree: Adam-Seth-Noah-Shem-Arphaxad-Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-Judah, and if the reader recalls the strange story in Genesis 38, the birth of Judah’s son, Perez. Genesis is a marvelously unified book and only the blindness of crazed skepticism refuses to see it.

Genesis 50:25—“Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, "'God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.'" The great faith of Joseph. Here was his whole family in Egypt, and a small number at that. Only 75 came from Canaan to settle in Egypt; who was to know if that number would multiply or die out? But Joseph believed. His father Jacob had told him that God had promised the land of Canaan to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So Joseph tells his brothers at his death, “When you go back to Canaan, take me with you.” Joseph probably well understood that it wouldn’t be his 11 brothers who did it; he is simply speaking this for posterity’s sake. It would be almost 300 years before Joseph did indeed return to the land of Canaan. But he knew, because of the promise of God, that Israel’s people would go back. This is a wonderful example of faith in the promises of the Lord. How many of us know where our descendents will be 300 years from now?

New Testament

Matthew 27 and 28

Matthew 27:25—“And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’" In spite of all modern attempts to exonerate the Jews from killing Jesus, it cannot be done. Here, from their own lips, they claim the deed. Peter will accuse them of it in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death,” and they didn’t deny it, many of them repented of it. Indeed, the Jews could not have killed Jesus without the acquiescence of the Romans; that’s what the six trials of Christ were all about. But the Romans had no reason to execute Christ and no doubt would not have done so without the insistence of the Jewish leaders. Pontius Pilate was simply trying to keep the peace. The fact that the Jews were the instigators of the death of Christ is no excuse, of course, for persecuting them. Such has been done down through the centuries by so-called “Christians,” and it has besmirched the religion of Jesus. The Lord wanted to convert the Jews, not persecute and kill them. True Christians will never persecute anyone, period.

Matthew 28:11—“Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.” This refers to the resurrection of Christ. The chief priests then bought off the guards with money. What we see here is the incredible intransigence of these Jewish leaders. What did Christ have to do to convince these people? Well, there wasn’t anything He could, that’s the point. Some people are so hard-hearted, so close-minded, so stubbornly prejudiced and obstinate that no amount of evidence will persuade them. Folks, keep in mind that the rejection of Christ by humans is not because of a lack of evidence; there is plenty of evidence to prove to the honest heart Who He is. Rejection is based on an obduracy that will not believe, regardless of the testimony and proof presented. God does give us freedom of choice. He has not made the evidence so overwhelming that men cannot refuse it; if people want to find a reason to disbelieve, they can do so. But the facts and truth are there for those who will deal candidly with them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part 24

Old Testament

Genesis 47 and 48

Genesis 47:27So Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions there and grew and multiplied exceedingly.” The land of Goshen was a very rich, fertile area on the eastern side of the Nile Delta, the “Lower Nile” region. Egyptian geography is a little confusing. The “Upper Nile” is actually in the south, much of it actually south of Egypt. It’s called the “Upper Nile” because it’s in the highlands. The “Lower Nile” is thus in the northern part of the country, at a lower sea level. The Nile River, which is the longest river in the world, flows from south to north, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. Over the last 100 miles or so the river fans out into many branches, and looks like an upside down Greek letter, “delta,” from whence it gets its name. As noted, the land of Goshen was in that area. The children of Israel “grew and multiplied exceedingly.” That will become a problem in a few generations.

Genesis 48

Genesis 48:5—“And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” In this verse, Jacob is talking to Joseph. There will be twelve tribes of Israel in the land of Canaan among whom the land will be divided. These “tribes” will be descended from the twelve sons of Jacob, of course. However, there will not be a “tribe of Joseph.” His portion will be partitioned among his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Thus, Jacob tells Joseph that his two sons “are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” The reason for this is that Levi will be the priestly tribe, and thus will have no land allotment. In order for their to be 12 divisions of land, Joseph’s sons will be given a share each. There was no especial reason why the land had to be divided into 12 portions rather than 11, except there is a symbolic meaning to the number 12 for the Jews; it stood for the totality of organized religion, thus the complete nation of Israel. The number 12, or its multiples, are very prominent in apocalyptic literature, such as the book of Revelation. Check my articles on “Numerical Symbolism” on my “Book of Revelation” blog for a fuller explanation of this.

New Testament

Matthew 26

Matthew 26:13—“Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her." We don’t know exactly who this woman was, though it appears to have been Mary Magdalene or Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:3). Regardless of who it was, she did a noble deed. The oil she used was indeed expensive, 300 denarii (John 12:5), which was almost a year’s wage for an average worker. Yet, Jesus commended her because “she has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). He asks no more than that of any of us.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part 23

Old Testament

Genesis 45 and 46

Genesis 45:8—“So now it was not you who sent me here, but God.” The providence of God is a remarkable thing. Twenty-two years prior to the events of this chapter, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers. He obviously had no clue as to why God would allow such a thing to happen. But now, it becomes evident to him that Jehovah was involved in the process; “God sent me before you to preserve life” (v. 5). He obviously still did not understand all of God’s rationale, but saving his family was sufficient for Joseph. But notice, it took 22 years for God to work His plan out. And it’s further interesting how God used sin—the selling of Joseph into slavery—as a catalyst to this whole providential adventure. And, of course, it wasn’t the only sin in this story; we can recall the attempted seduction of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife, and even Joseph’s own less-than-blameless deception of his own brothers, though I won’t criticize him too harshly for what is a rather brilliant scheme. Still, he wasn’t above board with them. Nonetheless, the providence of God is an amazing thing; but we must have the faith and patience to let Him work out His plans in His own time. Unfortunately, that patience is lacking in too many of us.

Genesis 46

Genesis 46:3—“So He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.” The Lord is speaking to Jacob here. It had been a long time—indeed, decades—since Jehovah had communicated directly to Jacob, and so He appears to the patriarch again, one more time, in his old age, to reassure him. We aren’t given any indication of doubt in Jacob’s mind, but God had told him earlier that Canaan was the land that his descendents would inherit. Could Jacob possibly be wondering if he would err by going down to Egypt, i.e., moving his family from the country God had promised would be his? Well, if there was any doubt in Jacob’s mind, the Lord removes it here, and indeed, in verse 4, tells him “I will also surely bring you up again.” All of this was part of God’s design, thus He didn’t want any worries in Jacob’s mind. The Lord is concerned about how His people think and feel. Yet, more essential is the accomplishment of His purposes.

New Testament

Matthew 25

Matthew 25:35-36—“For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus pictures for us the great Judgment Day scene. The “sheep,” who will enter into “eternal life,” were rewarded because of their actions as described in verses 35-36. The “goats,” whose end will be “everlasting punishment” (v. 46), were guilty of neglecting the good works Jesus mentions. It is interesting that nothing is said here about the love or grace of God; our works have much to do with our salvation. No, we aren’t going to work our way to heaven; God will never “owe” us salvation. But, Jesus being our witness here, neglecting godly, Christian service to others will cost us our souls. It is also interesting that Jesus says nothing about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, sound doctrine, church attendance, and other matters that sometimes we perhaps overly emphasize. Now, certainly it is important to note that all of what God commands us is vital, but, at least according to this passage, the emphasis on the Day of Judgment will be on how well we have served others. True greatness in God’s kingdom is not found in sitting on a church pew; it is found in sacrificial service to others (Matt. 20:26).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part 22

Old Testament

Genesis 43 and 44

Genesis 43:34“Then he took servings to them from before him, but Benjamin's serving was five times as much as any of theirs. So they drank and were merry with him.” Jacob’s 11 sons return to Egypt, this time bringing Benjamin with them as Joseph had demanded. Joseph invites them to dine with him, and verse 34 indicates that he had acquired a bit of his father’s nepotism. Joseph is going to show favoritism to Benjamin twice in the Genesis account; they were full brothers, both being the son of Rachel. In chapter 43, it’s possible that Joseph is showing this partiality to Benjamin to see how his brothers would react—would they be offended as they were when Jacob favored Joseph? There is no indication of such animosity here. Later in Genesis, however, Joseph will superfluously prefer Benjamin and it doesn’t look good. Yet, his other brothers give no indication of ill will against Joseph for doing so. They have matured and that’s much of what Joseph was attempting to determine.

Genesis 44:17—“But he said, "Far be it from me that I should do so; the man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father." This is the apex of Joseph’s test of his brothers—will they sell out Benjamin, who was currently their father’s favorite, they way they had done Joseph 22 years before? Were they the same men or had they changed? It would have been interesting to see what Joseph would have done had the 10 brothers said to Benjamin, “See you later, pal, we’re going home.” But, of course, Judah comes to the rescue and Joseph now knows that his brothers have developed into much better men than they had been before.

New Testament

Matthew 24

Matthew 24:34—“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” As I argue extensively in my “New Testament Chapter Summaries” blog, verses 4-35 of Matthew 24 apply to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This is contrary to what I consider a gross misunderstanding by premillennialists, who wish to apply this section to the Second Coming of Christ. Verse 34 indicates that the generation currently alive would witness the things Jesus had just been talking about. Well, obviously that would fit the 70 A.D. thesis, and not the Second Coming theory. How do the premillennialists get around that? They do so by claiming that the word “generation” can mean “race,” which, thus, “this race”—i.e., Jews—“will not pass away…,” which can obviously stretch indefinitely. There are a couple of things wrong with this. To be fair, the Greek word used here can be translated “race,” but there isn’t one single instance in the KJV New Testament where it is, and it’s found 42 times (if I added correctly). So the scholars who knew the language best, chose the word “generation.” Plus, I personally have a tiny bit of a problem with calling the Jewish people a “race.” Judaism is a religion, not a “race.” If I were to convert to Judaism, that wouldn’t change my race, that would change my religion. Now, again, to try for equanimity here, the idea of “race” can be considered as those bound by a common descent, which the Jews would be. And indeed, any Jew who converted to Christianity would still be a descendent of Abraham. But Jesus condemns the Jewish abuse of Judaism as a religion; he never censures the Jews as a “race” of people. So the whole context and construction of the language and religion forbids the word “generation” in Matthew 24:34 being translated “race.” Indeed, if it weren’t for premillennialism trying to pilfer this passage for its erroneous doctrine, no one would have ever considered Jesus meaning anything other than the “generation” to whom He was talking.