Thursday, April 22, 2010

Inherit The Wind

“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind:
and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”
Proverbs 11:29

The Word of God contains many examples of Hebrew poetry and poetic language, but no book contains better examples of the nature and character of this poetry than the book of Proverbs.

When modern Americans take the time to think of poetry, the vast majority of us think of songs sung on the radio – poems with meter, rhythm, rhyme and even melody. These characteristics of modern day popular poetry are not shared with ancient Hebrew; poetry does not characteristically rhyme, for example. Instead, poetry was used as a way of expressing emphasis, enhancing contradicting points, or even, to a lesser extent, facilitating memorization. In our text, for example, we have a classic example of Hebrew parallelism. The first line speaks of one troubling his own house coming to naught. The second line uses parallel imagery to communicate the same idea. In the second line, the subject is called a fool and, again, loses everything to become a servant to the wise (i.e. he who does not trouble his own house, presumably).

It is from this particular verse that the 1955 play, Inherit the Wind, dealing with the issues surrounding the teaching of evolution in the public school system and was based on the infamous “Scopes Trial” of 1925. The families around which the action of the play revolves divide themselves into both camps – guaranteeing an unhappy ending for many involved.

The structure of our text, and other such parallel passages, does allow for easy memorization, as the two ideas reinforce one another to drive their point home. It does not, however, take away anything from the meaning and intensity of the message of the verse. In fact, Jesus Himself pronounced what could be called the corollary to this verse: “And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:24-25). This little nugget of poetic wisdom, as the entirety of the rest of Scripture, is as profound in its truth as it is humble in its structure. RST

Monday, April 19, 2010

Outside the Camp

“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Heb 13:13)

In the book of Numbers chapter 19, the sacrifice of the unblemished red heifer is detailed for the children of Israel. This sacrifice was to be made outside the camp, and the body was to be completely immolated, including even the dung (Num 19:5). This differed from the other sacrifices in that, in those others, some part of the sacrifice was physically presented before God on the altar or given to the priests to consume. Here, however, the heifer was to be burned to ash, and those ashes used to make for the people the water for impurity (Num 19:9).

This water was to be used in the purification of those who had become unclean through touching a dead body (Num 19:13), or for purifying those things which are not fully consumed by fire (Num 31:23).

Being outside the camp was a real manifestation of being outside the presence of God. Those who were unclean were not allowed in the camp because the presence of God was there (Num 5:3).

This is the situation being referred to by the author of Hebrews when he points out: “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Heb 13:12). Notice that there is no water for impurity here – it is the blood of Christ itself which now purifies all believers – all of those who become “… partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:6) by being “grafted in among them” (Rom 11:17).

In verse 13, therefore, we are called to join with Christ in His rejection at the hands of men by joining Him outside the camp of Judaism, “…hold[ing] fast the profession of our faith without wavering” (Heb 10:23) and to endure the reproach that will follow. RST

Monday, April 12, 2010

Boldness or Fear?

"And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake" (Heb 12:21)

The author of the book of Hebrews goes to great lengths to prove to his readers the superiority of Christ to every aspect of Judaism they had heretofore known. In the culmination of his argument, the author hammers home this point very graphically.

Judaism was about law keeping. In chapter 10 we learn that the priestly ministrations legislated by the covenant were over when Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, [and] sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12). In chapter 12 the author places the new covenant foretold by Jeremiah and the old side-by-side for comparison. “For ye are not come unto the mount that … burned with fire, nor unto … the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words…For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake. But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (Heb 12:18-24).

How remarkable a contrast! On the one hand, a mountain of fire upon which if any beast should tread, they should be put to death! On the other, the City of God; “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven” (Rev 21:2). This new city on Sion, wherein “a Lamb [stands]” (Rev 14:1), by whose light “the nations will walk, and the kings of the earth” (Rev 21:24) is the heritage for “the one who conquers…and [God] will be his God, and he will be [God’s] son” (Rev 21:7).

John Bunyan, in his work The Pilgrim’s Progress describes Sinai this way: “it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next the way-side did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid…lest the hill should fall on his head; … There came also flashes of fire, out of the hill, that made Christian afraid that he should be burnt.” This is the guilt which comes from the law: that “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).

Contrarily, this city on mount Sion is one wherein we may “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). RST

Friday, April 9, 2010


“seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses …
let us run with patience the race set before us” (Heb 12:1)

In our text above, the author of Hebrews seems to be indicating that we, as Christians, are surrounded by all those who have gone before us, watching us as we persevere through this world towards our “expected end” (Jer 29:11). Is this the true sense of this word as it is used in context?

The Greek word translated here as ‘witnesses’ is μαρτυρων (marturôn). A variation of this word also occurs in Acts 1:8: “…and ye shall be witnesses (μαρτυρες, martures) unto me.”

Both of these words derive from the Strongs Greek Number 3144 – μάρτυς – meaning “of uncertain affinity; a witness (literally [judicially] or figuratively [generally], by analogy a ‘martyr’” (emphasis mine). We can see from this definition that the primary sense of the word, then, is not of a spectator witnessing an event, but rather of one who has seen or encountered something previously and has been called to testify to their circumstances or outcome.

In that sense then, we can more clearly understand what the writer of Hebrews is trying to communicate to his audience. Having just enumerated dozens of individuals from Jewish history who exhibited extraordinary faith in the face of trials set before them because they counted God as able to deliver on His promises; the writer then implores his readers, effectively, “What more do you need? God has proven Himself over and over throughout history to be faithful to reward those who maintain and persevere in their faith toward Him. Who are you – indeed who are we to question that God will do what He has said He would do and reward those who earnestly seek after Him?”

It is these “witnesses” that God has used over and over again throughout history to remind the children of Israel of His faithfulness. From the pillar set up by Jacob at Beth-el (Gen 28:18) to Joshua’s twelve stones memorializing the crossing of the river Jordan (Jos 4:7), God uses the testimony of witnesses to encourage those who come afterwards towards holiness. RST

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sealed in Blood

“…neither the first testament was dedicated without blood” (Heb 9:18)

The writer of Hebrews makes the case that Christ is superior to virtually every aspect of Temple-oriented Judaism, progressing first from the angelic realm (chapters 1 & 2) to Moses (chapters 3 & 4) to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood itself. In chapter 8, the author quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (Heb 8:10). Jesus Christ, he argues, has established that covenant Himself through His death and the presentation of His blood in the heavenly tabernacle: “the heavenly things [should be purified] themselves with better sacrifices…for Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself” (Heb 9:23b-24).

That the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah needed to be sealed with the blood of a sacrifice may have been surprising to some. After all, Jeremiah did not talk about the shedding of any blood. Therefore, the writer reminds his audience that even the first covenant, given to Abram, was not without the shedding of blood at its outset, in addition to the ongoing blood sacrifices it required from the Levites.

In the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, we read where God commanded Abram to kill a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pigeon. Abram was to divide the animals in half, but not the birds. The halves he was to place on either side of a trench, allowing the blood to drain into it. When night fell, Abram was gripped by a terrible dream: “and it came to pass that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp…passed between those pieces” (Gen 15:17).

It was customary that, when two parties covenanted with one another, they would pass between slain animals in this manner so that the blood of the animals would soil and stain their robes. This would serve as a permanent reminder to them of the promise they had made and an oath to fulfill that promise, lest what happened to the animals happen to them. So, too, the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah, was instituted with the shedding of blood; but this time, that blood was used to purify the implements in the heavenly tabernacle (Heb 9:23), allowing us to have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19). RST

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The King Whom You Have Chosen

“And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked;
behold, the LORD has set a king over you” (1 Sam 12:13)

As Samuel chastised the people of Israel for their desire to have a human king to rule over them when God Himself was functioning in that role, he tells them that things will go well with them if they follow Him. But this comes with a warning, as well: “But if ye will not obey the voice of the LORD…then shall the hand of the LORD be against you” (1 Sam 12:15).

A ruler had long been promised to the descendents of Jacob: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah” (Gen 49:10) and reiterated: “there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). Clearly, the tribe of Judah was to be the royal line of Israel, just as the tribe of Levi was to fulfill the priestly role in Jewish life. In point of fact, virtually every king over Israel hailed from the tribe of Judah, as prophesied. One glaring exception, however, was Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, not Judah, whom Samuel himself anointed (1 Sam 9).

There are two schools of thought here. The first, that once the kingship of Israel passed into the tribe of Judah, it would not depart it. The second, that the intent of God was always to have rulers come from Judah. The first is most easily disproved by focusing on the proof for the second. In point of fact, Samuel is ordered by God to anoint Saul – but not as king! “To morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over my people Israel” (1 Sam 9:16). And during the anointing itself: “Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the LORD hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance” (1 Sam 10:1). Clearly, God’s intention was not that Saul function as king, but merely as regent, ruler or captain, ever subservient to the Kingship of the LORD. When Samuel presented the anointed Saul to the people, to be their ‘captain,’ it was they who shouted, “God save the king” (1 Sam 10:24) choosing a creature over their Creator. RST

Monday, March 22, 2010

His Holy One

“It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

Jesus Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of [us] who, through him, are believers in God” (1 Pet 1:20-21).

It is difficult at times to look back over biblical history and tie together all of the threads that God has woven into a single tapestry. Our finite, temporally-locked minds have difficulty giving credence to these amazingly well laid-out plans that stretch for millennia. Our own existences are limited to less than a single century, yet God had ordained the sacrifice of His son as the atonement for our sins long before He had commenced creating any one of us (Rev 13:8).

By picking out a “people for Himself” (1 Sam 12:22), many throughout history have been led to believe that God’s ultimate favor rests on Israel. However, scripture teaches that God’s ultimate favor rests on Himself. God, through providential history works towards one goal – His own Glory. And God is most glorified through the redeeming work of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. In fact, hints of this were given even to Abram: “…and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen 12:3). While God would single out Abram’s son Isaac for his eventual people, it would be through this line that God Himself would be glorified and all people everywhere blessed. Isaiah, in our text, speaks of this son of Jacob and Israel who would be a light, not just to the other sons of Israel, but to the Gentiles, as well.

The apostle Paul noted how the Jews had so withdrawn into their Judaism that they missed their Messiah: “…Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for … as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear…their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see” (Rom 11:7-10). Why would God give them a spirit of slumber? Eyes that they should not see? Ears that they should not hear? Paul continues: “… through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles” (Rom 11:11). Thus fulfilling the promise given to Abram and reiterated in Isaiah: “A light to the Gentiles… my salvation (ישׁועתי) unto the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6) RST