St. John Lutheran Church-Drake
Sabbath Day's Journey
what is a sabbath day's journey?
What is a Sabbath day's journey? First of all, it is a Jewish expression. We measure distances in meters or yards. The Jews had a certain distance that they could walk on Saturday before it would be considered work. So their synagogues that they went to on Saturday could not be very far away. The word appears only in Acts 1:12 and indicates a distance of about three-quarters of a mile.
With that in mind, I think it is important to remember the origins of Christianity. Just because we have an Old Testament, it does not mean that we call it the 'Outdated Testament'. Much of the Old Testament has a literary structure that we are not aware of because of our modern emphasis on chapter and verse divisions. Within many of these blogs, I try to get the reader to see a bigger picture, a larger perspective that often includes the Old Testament and the environment that was present when the New Testament was seeing the Light of the day.
Second, a Sabbath day's journey is intentionally short. These 'journeys' with a text, almost always one of the three readings for that Sunday, are deliberately brief discussions. This blog was never designed to be a comprehensive look at any text. Sometimes a specific word is studied in detail. But, as a whole, a blog entry, by itself, is meant to be quite brief.
Finally, since the term 'Sabbath day's journey' appears in Acts, it is meant to appeal to a wide variety of people. This blog is meant for those who cannot come on Sunday mornings. And it is also for those who do come on Sunday mornings but would also like a further study of the text. It is also for those who live somewhere else in the world (besides Drake and Freedom, Missouri, USA) and would simply like a further study of the text. It was meant to get these different groups of people to start thinking about the biblical texts. Part of the reason for this blog is that I am not able to have a bible class on Sunday mornings with either congregation, and so, to have a blog like this seemed like a good idea. I hope it is helpful for you, in whatever situation you may be.
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March 29, 2020
This is the Fifth Sunday in Lent, the Sunday before Palm (and Passion) Sunday, and I think it would be good to review the perspective that we have, because of the gospel texts which, for the last few weeks, have been from the Gospel according to John. This Sunday is also another Sunday in which the church services have been canceled because of the coronavirus, so I would like for this writing to be sort of a start for a Bible study as well.
No matter what year it is of the three-year series, the gospel text for Good Friday is from the passion account of the Gospel according to John. It is a good passion account to look at, but one can also benefit from the other passion accounts. Each one has a different and important perspective. And these are read, once a year, in the three-year series, on Passion Sunday, which is coming up next Sunday.
For the Sunday readings, a gospel text is picked from one of the four gospel accounts. And since Jesus is SO important, whether the text is small or big, the text is ultimately also important.
So, my suggestion is to read through the first fourteen chapters of the Gospel according to John this week, just two chapters each day. Since there are twenty-one chapters within the entire account, you could also read through the entire account in a week by reading an additional chapter a day. This is a warning, though, that some chapters within this account are quite long. Both of these are suggestions anyway, so it is ultimately up to you and your current schedule.
The suggestion to read two chapters a day is detailed below. Such a schedule would help you to look at the extremely wide range of people whom Jesus confronts within the first half of this account. And I think that reading those chapters might help you prepare for the Passion accounts both on Passion Sunday (Matthew’s) and Good Friday (John’s).
Since Jesus had his ministry for about three years, there was literally a multitude of people that the gospel writer could pick from to detail some of Jesus’ words and actions. And since this account was literally written for YOUR benefit (see 20:31), it may have been the intention of the author for the reader or listener to compare himself or herself to those in the account, and then to realize that, yes, God did so love the world—basically ALL who are in it—that he gave his only Son (see, of course, John 3:16).
In keeping with the living creature of this account being the eagle, this living creature has the greatest perspective of all. This account starts at the very beginning with God and the Word, and he ends with speaking to those who are currently engaged with the text. Sometimes the bible says things that apply directly to this very day—and this is most certainly true.
Here are the chapters and some corresponding notes (please feel free to contact me if you have more suggestions of comparisons or contrasts in the following chapters):
1-2 In chapter 1, Jesus says ‘Come, and you will see.’ Then one of his followers says almost the same thing, but he uses two commands instead of just one (see also 11:34). In chapter 2, there is the ‘first sign’, a miracle with authority. And the person involved who has the authority over Jesus (to some extent) is his mother.
3-4 In chapter 3, Jesus ends up talking with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. In chapter 4, Jesus is in Samaria, and he ends up talking to (and changing the life forever of) a Samaritan—basically an extremely distant (and hated) relative of the Jews—a woman who had been married five times and was living with someone who was not her husband. Also in chapter 4, there is the ‘second sign’, another miracle with authority. And the person involved who has authority this time is a ‘king-like’ figure, a royal (the word is sometimes translated as ‘official’).
5-6 In chapter 5, Jesus heals someone on the Sabbath, and he gets into trouble. It seems as though sin was connected in some way to the man being paralyzed (see 5:14). He was certainly not born with the problem.
9-10 In chapter 9, Jesus again heals someone on the Sabbath, and he again gets into trouble. In contrast to the person in chapter 5, a sin done by this person or his parents did not cause this problem (see 9:3). At the end of chapter 8, and near the end of chapter 10, at both those times, the enemies of Jesus are about to stone him.
11-12 After the second attempt at stoning Jesus, the following significant comparison is about to take place: Lazarus, the man who was dead for four days, is alive again. So how does this compare to Jesus? After all of this, some Greeks want to see Jesus, and some Jews still refuse to believe in him.
March 22, 2020-Is it okay to talk about the good news, even before you hear the full extent of the bad news? At least the LORD thinks so. You see that happening in the second half of the Old Testament book of the prophet, Isaiah.In the first half of the book, in chapter 39, while the focus was on the problem of Assyria, the prediction was made that there would be a problem for Israel from the country of Babylon. And you have, starting in chapter 40, the perspective of good news from the LORD despite the Babylonian problem. (I can understand why some people think that one of Isaiah’s followers wrote this part of the book much later than the first half.)
Obviously, the LORD is the true author. And he gives the good news when he wants to give it. And with all this talk about the coronavirus going around at the present time, some good news is certainly not too soon.
This week, the Old Testament text is from Isaiah 42[:14-21], but I would like to look at the ‘bigger picture’, the entire text of Isaiah 40-66. If you would like to turn this into a bible study—since the congregations will not be meeting for worship for a couple of weeks—I would suggest that you read a few chapters a day, starting at Isaiah 40, to see the progression and the wonderful (and not-too-early) comfort within this part of scripture. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or difficulties with a particular text.
I would like to focus on the start of that section of Isaiah 40-66 and to note how special the structure is, with its repetition, along with the special words that are used. Here are the first two sentences from that first chapter: ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.’
First of all, the word translated ‘comfort’ can also mean to be sorry or to regret. The form of the verb here is intensive, so a message we can take from this is that intense sorrow or regret may lead a person to do something nice for someone else. That is a good definition of the word comfort, a sorrow that is intense, an emotion that gets down to the level of another. This intense sorrow or regret ultimately becomes an action and delivers a gift.
Second, notice that the command is repeated. That something is said twice is not just a thing in the Hebrew language. All people everywhere repeat themselves when something is important enough.
Now to have a COMMAND repeated is something new. In Isaiah, there are other parts of speech that are usually repeated before this.
Usually a thing is repeated only once. Please note how unusual it is to have three of the same words together. And this is what is done in Isaiah 6, when one angel says to the other, ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ an apt description of the LORD of hosts, basically the Triune God. In Isaiah 21:9, Babylon has fallen—good news for us—and that action is repeated twice. And there are other pairs in the first half of the book.
In the second half of Isaiah, these non-commands come up twice in a row sometimes. But they are not very frequent. In Isaiah 41:27, the text may be translated something like, ‘Behold, here they are!’ But the same word is repeated. And in 43:11, 43:25, and 48:15, the word for ‘I’ is repeated right away. It should be said here that the LORD is the one who is talking in these places. And he is repeating himself for emphasis on himself and what he is doing. (It could also be noted that, in the last occurrence, the use of the word ‘I’ is not as emphatic as it was before. In other words, the LORD seems to be lessening his role in the picture, and the plan is for his WORDS to take a more prominent place.)
So, we have a double command, the first of its kind, at the beginning of the second half of the book. So where is the next ‘double-command’ to be found?
It is at the half-way point of this half of the book, amazingly enough. And while there is some variety, there is a noticeable progression in this second half of the second half. The first three commands are basically to ‘Wake up’ (51:9, 51:17, 52:1). Then the command is to ‘Depart’ (52:11), then ‘Build up’ (57:14) This same command occurs a second time, but only five words after a different command, to ‘Go through’ (62:10). And it is gates that a person goes through.
The first command to ‘build up’ is a road or a way, probably within the city gates. The second time the command to ‘build up’ is given, that is connected to a different thing to build, usually translated ‘highway’. That is something outside the city gates.
There is a definite progression here—from waking up, to leaving, to building up a way inside the city, and then to building up a way outside the city. This seems to be a good progression if the city you wake up in is surrounded by the enemy. This progression is your way out; this progression is your salvation.
After this midpoint in the second half of the book, there are also duplications of other words, but not with the frequency of commands. At 51:12, near that half-way point, the word ‘I’ is again repeated, and it is the emphatic use of the word this time. And it is also talking about the LORD, but the verb connected to it is interesting: the LORD is the one who ‘comforts’. This is the same word which was doubled in chapter 40.
Is the LORD the one who comforts, or is it we who are to do that? Ultimately, when we comfort, it is the LORD doing it through us. He is the only one who can give true comfort. And he chooses to do that through HIS words that we use.
Near the end of the book, in 57:19, the word ‘peace’ is repeated, and this is also something that the LORD is giving out. But, right after that, God says that there is no peace for the wicked. And in 58:2, the word ‘day’ is repeated, but it is not a significant thing and is usually translated with simply the word ‘daily’. These cannot match the progression within the double commands of the book.
I think the duplication of the commands is important. It certainly did not have to be there. And we Lutherans can instantly think of the law when we hear of commands. But these are commands to do some very wonderful things when it is ultimately the LORD who is doing them. That is ultimately the job of the pastor, to get out of the way. One seminary teacher used to say, ‘To be ordained is to be rendered irrelevant.’
In those first two verses of chapter 40 that were quoted above, notice that, at the end of that quote, there is talk about receiving ‘from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.’ This word ‘double’ is only a couple other places in the Old Testament, and only found elsewhere in the book of Job—now THAT is a book with some very different vocabulary. (It is also interesting is that the Hebrew word is very similar in sound to the English word ‘couple’.)
The LORD wants to make sure there is comfort. And he wants to give more comfort than there is sin. And he is very intense about it. And he wants to get down to our level. And that is what Jesus was all about doing. He is our way out. He is our salvation.
March 15, 2020
Last week the Old Testament text was Genesis 12:1-9, and I tried to be helpful by focusing on the intricate structure of Genesis 11-25. This week I was thinking that it might even more helpful to look at the larger structures that are surrounding that text, especially since the Old Testament text for this week is from Exodus [17:1-7]. And just how do those two books connect to each other?
I had mentioned that the book of Genesis has been divided into two parts of dissimilar sizes. The first, short part helps to set the stage for the larger, second one. The first part of essentially chapters 1-11 contains five mentions of ‘generations’, something that makes something more. Here are their occurrences (with very literal translations):
‘These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, when he created them in that day, Yahweh [the Lord] God made the earth and the heavens (2:4).’
‘This is the account of the generations of Adam, when in the day God created man in the likeness of God, he made him (5:1).’
‘These are the generations of Noah…(6:9a).’
‘And these are the generations of the sons of Noah…(10:1a).’
‘These are the generations of Shem…(11:10a).’
It seems that there does not have to be five occurrences of this phrase. The generations of Shem could have been included under the generations of the sons of Noah, since Shem was a son of Noah. But five is an important number. (There are often five books in different sections of the Old Testament.)
The point has also been made quite often that the heavens and the earth do not have generations like a person does. But this first occurrence, the way it is explained, does help the reader or listener to look for the literary structure of repeating something in a reverse order. That happens many times in the Old Testament, but this especially happens in Genesis. The order of the phrase, ‘the earth and the heavens’, is extremely rare in the Old Testament. Usually it is in the order of ‘the heavens and the earth’, as it is the first time it is mentioned. It happens in both orders to help a person see those intricate structures.
It could also be said that the rest of Genesis, essentially chapters 12-50, contains five similar mentions of ‘generations’.
‘And these are the generations of Terah…(11:27a).’
‘And these are the generations of Ishmael, son of Abraham, whom Hagar, the Egyptian, maidservant of Sarah, bore for Abraham (25:12).’
‘And these are the generations of Isaac, son of Abraham...(25:19a).’
‘And these are the generations of Esau, that is, Edom (36:1).’
‘These are the generations of Jacob (37:2a).’
I started that list by saying that ‘It could be said’, to give a hint that there is something more that could be said regarding the entire thing. In short, there is another occurrence of ‘these generations’. In the chapter devoted to Esau, the following is also said: ‘And these are the generations of Esau, the father of Edom (36:6).’
Why devote two occurrences of this word to a person and a race of people not too highly thought of in the Old Testament? It may be to make the only other appearance of this phrase into a total of twelve occurrences, instead of having only a total of eleven.
There happens to be one more occurrence of ‘these generations’ within the entire Pentateuch, something in Numbers 3:1. Here is the text: ‘And these are the generations of Aaron and Moses on the day when Yahweh spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai.’
Now that seems a little unusual to speak of Moses talking with Yahweh on Mount Sinai, when that happened most famously in the book of Exodus. But this is very close to a midpoint between the start of Exodus and the end of Deuteronomy.
Midpoints are important because they give an order and a structure to the work. (Remember that the Old Testament people did not have the structure of chapter and verse as we do.) All the generations that happened in Genesis are very important. And the story continues to be very important. God did not have to start all over again, although he was pretty close to doing that at various times. So many more wonderful details will be coming in the future.
God knows what he is doing. And he is doing a good job. His generations ultimately generate some very good things. And he likes to use a big number like twelve to show how often his blessings overflow.
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The Second Sunday in Lent will be the first Sunday in Lent that the gospel text looks at the Gospel according to John [3:1-17], and we will stay with that account until Palm Sunday. Since there will be a few more opportunities to look at that gospel account, I thought it would be good to look at the Old Testament text for this Sunday, since that text is from the special book of Genesis.
The use of Genesis within this first year of the three-year series is interesting. Last week we looked at critical ‘watershed’ chapter, Genesis 3. This week, the text is from Genesis 12[:1-9], another watershed chapter—since the start of the redemption story begins here with Abram. And on Trinity Sunday we will be looking at the very beginning in Genesis 1. And there is one more Sunday, during the season of Pentecost, when we will be looking at the very end, the very last chapter, Genesis 50.
Some people think that the farther away in time that something happened, the more disconnected they are from it. But just the opposite can be true. If a certain book of the bible is important, we will hear from its beginning AND its end.
In this Old Testament text from Genesis 12, Abram has been told to move to the Promised Land. As was mentioned above, this starts the story of redemption. God certainly created things, but how he redeems them is much more important. This is not just a story of ‘What happened?’; this is ‘What happened that is incredibly important?’
Some people look at these first chapters in the life of Abram/Abraham, and they think that the circumcision story or the story of him FINALLY having a son is the most important thing, and some people make either of these things the turning point for the entire section. (Turning points are typical in Hebrew literature.) But there could be another, more important, more central, turning point.
The turning point suggested below is the same one that appeared in the story of Noah (see 8:1), and it is the same turning point that will appear in the story of Jacob and Rachel (see 30:22). The turning point for those three stories is the same, the remembrance of God. The name ‘God’ is usually connected with a command. For ‘God’ to do something gracious is different and catches our attention. And his remembrance is certainly a good and different thing.
God does not have to remember us. We are sinners and do not deserve to be remembered. But he can choose to remember for a particular reason. And please remember that this is not a simple remembrance that makes a person’s name come to mind. This is a remembrance that does something good. This remembrance is an active and lively thing.
This remembrance changes things. The events before the remembrance and the events after the remembrance have a connection and are in a particular order, and it changes from something negative to positive, and the order is reversed.
It should be noted that some of the extremely negative things that involve Abram/Abraham may not described in a negative way in this ‘outline’ for a very simple purpose; God does not want these things to be remembered. Abraham could be remembered as someone who keeps lying about Sarah being his wife, but that is not a good thing to remember. The focus is meant to be on God’s good news.
For God to remember a person is significant. The criminal on the cross just asked to be remembered, and Jesus gave him so much more (see Luke 23:43). Here is an ‘outline’ of basically chapters 11-25 that go from negative to positive and turn at 19:29.
1. Genealogy: Sarah is barren (11:27-32)
2. Blessings are promised to Abram (12:1-9)
3. Abram’s possessions increase, although there are some significant difficulties (12:10-13:17)
4. Abram and Sarai live near Mamre at Hebron (13:18)
5. Details are given regarding the kings in the area (14:1-12)
6. Abram is tempted to get rich from the gifts of another (14:13-24)
7. Abram makes a covenant with Yahweh (15:1-21)
8. Hagar is pregnant with Ishmael and runs away (16:1-16)
9. The covenant of circumcision is given (17:1-27)
10. Isaac is promised (18:1-15)
11. Abraham intercedes on Lot’s behalf (18:16-33)
12. Most of Lot’s family is preserved (19:1-28)
AND GOD REMEMBERED ABRAHAM… (19:29)
12. Lot’s family line is preserved (19:30-38)
11. Abraham intercedes on Abimelech’s behalf (20:1-18)
10. Isaac is born (21:1-3)
9. Isaac is circumcised (21:4-7)
8. Hagar and Ishmael are sent away (21:8-21)
7. Abraham makes a covenant with Abimelech (21:22-34)
6. Abraham is tested regarding his love for his son (22:1-19)
5. Details are given regarding Nahor, Abraham’s brother (22:20-24)
4. Abraham purchases property near Mamre at Hebron to bury Sarah (23:1-20)
3. Abraham’s ‘possessions’ help him to find a wife for his son, although there are some small difficulties (24:1-58)
2. Blessings are given to Rebekah as she leaves her family (24:59-67)
1. Genealogy: Keturah has several children with Abraham (25:1-11)
Why go to such detail to tell the story? Because the story is so incredibly important. And this is just the start.