St. John Lutheran Church-Drake
Sabbath Day's Journey
Sabbath Day's Journey
October 17, 2021
This Sunday is our third week in the Epistle to the Hebrews [4:1-13 (14-16)]. This section contains the well-known quotation which the writer describes as ‘somewhere’ in the Old Testament (see verse 4), but it is a VERY well-known passage from the second chapter of Genesis and describes God’s resting on the seventh day. The writer is not claiming to be ignorant—or even too busy to check his Bible.
In a way, by doing this the writer claims to be the unimportant part of the equation. Just as the high priest wore the linen garments and looked like an angel, a messenger, the details of who he was were not important. This is especially true when he was going into the Most Holy Place and sprinkling the blood in various places, here and there. He was told to do certain things; but the blood was the important thing; the man was just the messenger; he was delivering what he was told to deliver.
What also draws our attention to this verse is the combination of ‘he has said’ and ‘thus’. For these two things to come together is an unusual combination. This verb tense emphasizes a ramification into the present, and so it is not just translated as ‘he said’, but ‘he HAS said….’ And the word ‘thus’ before a verb can mean ‘so intensely’ [See A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2000; page 742].
This epistle is called a ‘word of exhortation’ near the very end of the work, at Hebrews 13:22. Here is a somewhat-literal translation:
And I exhort you, brothers, endure the word of exhortation. For, indeed, through a few [words] I wrote to you. Know the brother of us, Timothy, having been released, with whom, if soon, I come, I will see you.
This sounds like the apostle, Paul, but the literary style of this entire epistle is significantly different from his writings. Could it still be him? Of course! But that is certainly not the important thing.
The apostle Paul happens to give the only other word of exhortation that is in the New Testament. In Acts 13[:14-15], here is the introduction to that section (again, in a somewhat-literal translation):
And setting sail from the Paphos, the ones around Paul come into Perga of Pamphylia; and John departing from them, returned into Jerusalem. And they going through from the Perga, arrived into Antioch, the Pisidian, and going into the synagogue in the day of the sabbaths, they sat. And after the reading of the law and of the prophets, the synagogue rulers sent to them, saying, ‘Men, brothers, if there is in you any word of exhortation to the people, speak.’
It seems that the word of exhortation comes near the end of the service at a synagogue. This may be why the Epistle to the Hebrews is near the end of the New Testament—because it is a word of exhortation and comes near the end. By being at the end, it may point to important ramifications. And it may be written by Paul, but that is not the important thing.
It is a similar thing that the two volumes of Luke are never together in a New Testament manuscript. If you wrote two volumes, you would, in all likelihood, want them to be put together. But the structure of a fourfold gospel of Jesus is more important than the two volumes of one of Jesus’ many followers.
The blood is the important thing; it was sprinkled here and there; the man was just the messenger.
October 10, 2021
This Sunday is the second week in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and this week’s text is already at the end of the third chapter [3:12-19]. Last week’s blog looked at the first four verses of this epistle and saw what was essentially a two-part focus for the rest of this literary masterpiece, first a look at Jesus, and second, a look at the cleansing of sins that was accomplished by him.
A connection to the Day of Atonement, a special day in the Hebrew calendar, was made. This day was special because the high priest was able to enter into the so-called ‘Holy of Holies’, the Most Holy Place. A special person was needed to enter a special place. And the high priest was the right person for that job.
The book of Leviticus goes into some detail to describe what the high priest had to do before entering that special place. The high priest was to enter with some animals for offerings, and he was also to wear linen (see Leviticus 16:3ff). What does this mean? Linen is basically the color white, and the high priest usually wore other colors. But having linen as something for him to wear on this special day made him look very much like an angel, since that is the color of the clothing that angels often have.
So, it would follow that there are seven Old Testament quotations in Hebrews which start by comparing Jesus to the angels. Seven is an important number, and Jesus is an important person. Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, ‘having become by so much better than the angels, as he has inherited than them a more excellent name (1:4).’ Here they are [in somewhat-literal translations, shortened to be brief, but also supplying the Old Testament references]:1:5a For to which of the angels he said, ‘You are my son… (Psalm 2:7)’.
1:5b And again, ‘I will be to him for a father… (2 Samuel 7:14)’.
1:6 And when he again brings the first-born into the inhabited earth, he says… (Deuteronomy 32:43 in the Septuagint).’
1:7 And toward the angels he says… (Psalm 104:4).’
1:8f But toward the Son, ‘Your throne, God… (Psalm 45:6,7).’
1:10ff And, ‘You, at the beginning, Lord… (Psalm 102:25-27).’
1:13 But to which of the angels has he ever said… (Psalm 110:1).’
There is another set of seven in the next chapters. That this is again seven DOES seem to be deliberate, since the writer breaks up the passage from Isaiah 8:18 from its previous verse with the phrase ‘And again.’ He did not need to do that, but that action does add one to the ‘official’ number of quotations found in this part of the writing.
2:6ff But one solemnly witnessed somewhere, saying, ‘What is man… (Psalm 8:4-6).’
2:11f For both he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one, for which he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will proclaim… (Psalm 22:22).’
2:13a And again, ‘I will put my trust in him (Isaiah 8:17).’
2:13b And again… (Isaiah 8:18).’
3:7ff Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says… (Psalm 95:7-11).’
3:14f For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said… (Psalm 95:7, 8).’
4:3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as he has said… (Psalm 95:11).’
The next set of seven quotations has that interesting beginning, similar to the first quotation of the last set, that this Old Testament passage is ‘somewhere’. The only problem is that this passage is extremely well known!
What may be the case here is that, describing this verse as ‘somewhere’, this is somewhere different from the previous verses. And in much the same way the high priest would sprinkle blood seven times in one place, and then, when he would sprinkle that special blood in another place, and that place would be ‘somewhere’ new. And these various Old Testament passages are sprinkled within this epistle.
4:4 For he has said somewhere concerning the seventh thus: ‘And God rested… (Genesis 2:2).’
4:5 And again in this… (Psalm 95:11).’
4:7 Again he defines a certain day, ‘Today’, saying in David after such a time, as he has previously said… (Psalm 95:7).’
5:5 Thus also the Christ did not glorify himself to become a high priest, but the One speaking to him, ‘You are my son… (Psalm 2:7).’
5:6 As he says also in another… (Psalm 110:4).’
6:13f For God, making a promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you… (Genesis 22:17).’
7:17 For it is witnessed, ‘You are a priest unto the age… (Psalm 110:4).’
Even without a pattern of sevens, these multiple connections to the Old Testament are still very much appreciated, even to this very day.
October 3, 2021
This Sunday is our first week in what is sometimes called ‘The Epistle to the Hebrews’ [2:1-13(14-18)]. We are moving on from the Epistle of James. The two are in the opposite order in the New Testament—because Hebrews is longer. But whichever writing is studied first, they are similar to each other, and there is a benefit in studying them together, or one right after the other.
Two of the big differences between the two works are that the Epistle to the Hebrews is MUCH longer, and the writer of this work is unknown; the title of this work is NOT ‘The Epistle OF the Hebrews’. It is simply, ‘to (or ‘toward’) the Hebrews’. We know the people who are receiving this work, but we do not know the one who is sending it. This may be one of those situations where it is not important who the writer is. That fact may be distracting from the interesting content of this epistle.
The writer usually gives his name at the beginning of the work, and with a knowledge of the writer comes the knowledge of his style of writing, and this helps in understanding the writing itself. In other words, the beginning of a work is important. And that is true for this epistle as well. Unfortunately, the beginning of this epistle is the reading for Christmas Day. If you can think of today as Christmas Day, we can look at the first few words of this epistle.
I hope I am not scaring you away by saying that the first four verses of this epistle are complicated. The nice (and not-so-nice) thing about those complications is that they usually disappear when they are translated into English. This one, long, run-on sentence (in the original language) is called a ‘period’.
I also hope you do not find the following quote unimportant. What follows is a somewhat-long but helpful quote regarding Hebrews 1:1-4 from F. Blass and A. Debrunner’s, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A Translation and Revision of the ninth-tenth German Edition Incorporating Supplementary Notes of A. Debrunner by Robert W. Funk (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1961; page 242):
The period, i.e., the organization of a considerable number of clauses and phrases into a well-rounded unity, is rare in the NT. Since the period belongs to a more elegant style, it is most frequently met in Hebrews, which certainly is to be regarded as artistic prose by reason of the composition of its words and sentences. Paul … does not generally make the effort required by so careful a style; artistic periods, therefore, in spite of all his eloquence, are not to be found in his writings, while harsh parentheses and anacolutha abound. The prologue to the Gospel of Luke is a beautiful period; Lk elsewhere forsakes this device, it is true, and the introduction to Acts is not a period but a series of clauses strung together; only the introduction of the apostolic decree in A 15:24-6 forms a genuine period.
Hopefully, after such a long quote, you see the importance (and rarity) of the structure of these first four verses of this letter. And here is a somewhat-literal translation of it (and although this translation may be helpful, what also may be even more helpful is to look at what other translators have given us):
In many portions and in many ways God, having spoken to the fathers in the prophets, in the last days of these he spoke to us in a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the ages; who being radiance of the glory and character of the hypostasis of him, and bearing all things by the word of the power of him, having made a cleansing of the sins, he sat in the right of the greatness in high places, by so much better becoming [than] the angels as a more excellent than them he has inherited a name.
What is to be made of this? What may be helpful is to see this within the context of the entire New Testament. From the four gospel accounts (better yet, the fourfold gospel) we know that Jesus (the Son) is important, and we know that his death on the cross is important. And the meaning of that death on the cross is more obvious within many of the epistles of the New Testament, but in that death of God’s son, there is the forgiveness of sins or a cleansing.
There may be something even more interesting here. That phrase (cleansing of the sins) happens to be three words in the original language of the New Testament (Greek). And both the word ‘Son’ and the words ‘of the’ (which is only one word in the Greek)—from the middle of the phrase ‘cleansing of the sins’—are twenty-one words from the beginning and ending of this section. In other words, the word ‘Son’ has been put in an important position, and the action of his ‘cleansing of sins’ is also in an important position (and the number twenty-one is made up of three, multiplied by seven, and both of those numbers are also important in the scriptures).
This ‘cleansing’ is a very visual term, and this word is connected to God in different ways; but it is God who ultimately is able to make something truly clean. Whether God wished to do that in the Old Testament by the sacrifices in the tabernacle or temple, or in the New Testament, by the blood of Jesus, he is ultimately still the One doing it. The LORD is the ONLY One who can TRULY cleanse and clean.
The two things that are needed, when it comes to the tabernacle or temple, are a person and the action that is done at that special place, and these two things are given in the two important places highlighted above. It will become more obvious as we progress through this epistle, but there are some connections with this epistle to the great Day of Atonement, an important day in the calendar of Israel. And the structure of this epistle will, in some ways, imitate the layout of the tabernacle or temple. This is a very ‘visual’ way to structure a literary work, and this method has been used for centuries.
In this work we will continue to see comparisons to the Old Testament sacrificial system and the layout of either the tabernacle or the temple. But the most important thing to remember regarding this is that Jesus is literally at the center of it all.
September 26, 2021
This Sunday is our last week in the Epistle of James, with the text this time being at the very end of this literary masterpiece [5:13-20; there is also the option of reading the first twelve verses of chapter five]. But the end is not necessarily the most important point. Sometimes a final important point may be earlier within the work.
There are obviously a LOT of important points that the writer makes within this entire work. Are there any points which are slightly more important than the others? What is the overall structure and message of the work, and to what is it ultimately pointing? To help answer such a question, it is important to look again at the beginning of the work to find out what has been emphasized.
In the case of the Epistle of James, it is important to remember that the writer originally wrote to those who were of ‘the twelve tribes in the dispersion’. The first readers and hearers were both Jewish and dispersed. And the Jewish nature of the text is seen in the numerous commands. In some cases, these commands were gathered into groups of ten. It will be noted here that the Hebrew language had a very close connection to numbers; their letters were also their numbers.
With this importance of commands, it is also important to remember the two ‘levels’ of commands; when these commands are numbered, those that are counted are the more direct imperatives, in the ‘second person’ and not in the ‘third person’. (The word ‘let’ is usually incorporated in the translation to show that the imperative is in the third person.) The other distinction was the positive command (‘do this’) and the negative command (‘do not do that’).
The first half of the first chapter had a positive command that had to do with being dispersed, and then there was a negative command that also had to do with the dispersion. After the negative command, there were some very positive words about God, the Father, giving good and perfect gifts from above (see 1:17).
After this, there are a few negative commands; and some of the first of them seem to be at the beginning of sections rather than the end (see 2:1 & 3:1). There is a double negative command in the third chapter that seems to be near the end of a section. Interestingly enough, after this double prohibition (‘do not exult over and lie against the truth’; 3:14b), there is a contrast from the positive words that were in the first chapter: ‘This is not the wisdom from above, coming down, but on the contrary, is earthly, natural, demon-like (3:15; a somewhat-literal translation).’
After this section, the writer is nearing the end. That can be seen because he uses the word ‘therefore’ for the first time within the work (at 4:4). The commands after this word are a bit more important. What follows after ‘therefore’ are the following ten commands (with, again, somewhat-literal translations):
#1 (4:7a) Therefore, be subject to God….
#2 (4:7b) and oppose the devil….
#3 (4:8a) Draw near to God….
#4 (4:8b) Sinners, cleanse hands….
#5 (4:8c) and two-souled, hallow hearts….
#6 (4:9a) Be distressed….
#7 (4:9b) and mourn….
#8 (4:9c) and weep….
#9 (4:10) Be humbled before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
#10 (4:11a) Do not speak against one another, brothers.
Like in the first chapter, after this section, there follows something quite positive, although it is somewhat hidden. The following is a somewhat-literal translation of what immediately follows the last command (1:11b-12). What seems to be the most positive words have been put in bold print.
The one speaking against a brother or judging the brother of him speaks against law and judges law. And if you judge law, you are not a doer of law but a judge. One is a lawgiver and a judge, the one being able to save and to destroy. And who are you, the one judging the neighbor?
This could be considered a ‘second stage’ of the gifts that were given in the first section of the epistle. These gifts are wonderful; they came from the Father above. They are able to save, and they are able to destroy—and those two things are a HUGE difference. If you would like to think of what point in the structure of the tabernacle or temple would match this, it may be the altar of sacrifice. At that point, because of what is sacrificed on the altar, something is destroyed, but something is also saved. And the one who is in charge of saving and destroying at that point is much better at his job than we could ever be.
The section that follows this positive point could be called a transition-point to the final section of the work (chapter 5). This section starts and ends with the phrase, ‘Come now.’ (4:13 & 5:1; and there is only one other use of the word ‘now’, in between these two occurrences, at 4:16, and there are no other occurrences of this word ‘come’ in this epistle.) The word basically means ‘lead’, and that is not a bad idea for those who are scattered. By a phrase which would appeal to those who are scattered, the writer has the attention of those who are ‘dispersed’ in some way. (Along with this section is the reminder that scattered people can easily focus on themselves by saying something like, ‘Tomorrow I am going to go HERE.’ The writer of this epistle, in a very wise way, puts our scattered focus on the Lord; see 4:15.)
After this ‘Come now’ section, it also happens that there are ten more commands. Note that the negative commands are not at the end this time, but are the fifth and the seventh. This is not the end of the writing, but in between these two commands is a better ending; it contains the last use of the word ‘telos’ or completion. And the Lord’s ending is a better ending than the ending of anyone else.
Here are the ten commands in the last chapter of the epistle (again, in somewhat-literal translations):
#1 (5:1) weep….
#2 (5:7) Therefore, be longsuffering, brothers, until the Parousia of the Lord.
#3 (5:8a) Also you be longsuffering….
#4 (5:8b) Strengthen the hearts of you, because the Parousia of the Lord has drawn near.
#5 (5:9) Do not murmur, brothers, against one another, lest you are judged. Behold, the judge stands before the doors.
#6 (5:10-11) Take an example, brothers, of the suffering evil and of the longsuffering of the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we esteem blessed the ones enduring; you heard of the endurance of Job; and you saw the completion of the Lord, that the Lord is very compassionate and pitying.
#7 (5:12) And before all things, my brothers, do not swear….
#8 (5:16a) Therefore, confess to one another the sins….
#9 (5:16b) and pray on behalf of one another….
#10 (5:19-20) My brothers, if anyone among you is led astray from the truth and anyone turns him, know this—the one turning the sinner out of the error of way of him will save soul of him out of death and will hide a multitude of sins.
The sentence which contains the last imperative, the last sentence of the entire epistle, has similar language to the first negative ‘do not be led astray’ at 1:16. All through this epistle, the writer has had things to say to those who are scattered.
Before this last list of commands, it was mentioned why the negative commands are basically in the middle, surrounding the Lord’s completion. If, like above, you are thinking about what point in the tabernacle or temple would match this point in the epistle, one could think of the most holy place or ‘the holy of holies’. This is where the high priest ended up on that very special day of the year. This is a good place to have an ‘ending’ or ‘completion’, especially if one feels ‘scattered’.
This completion of the Lord that is in the sixth command may be pointing us to the cross. Even if the Jews who were getting this epistle were not present outside of Jerusalem when Jesus was on the cross, the symbol of the cross was significant in the Christian Church from basically the beginning, and the cross was a significant ‘gathering point’ for these who were scattered. Jesus, with his cross, brought them to completion. And he does similar things today.
Perhaps a tabernacle/temple structure will be studied in the next epistle, the Epistle to the Hebrews. Within all these laws is some very good news, just as in the tabernacle/temple there is also some good news. That importance of the negative commands may also be pointing us to the four prohibitions which come up in Acts 15, which James relates for the first time and also which may be connected to the four gospel accounts. In the same way, after some bad news comes some good news. More details about those connections must be saved for another time as well.
What is the point of looking at this text in this way? It is a good reminder that all words are not created equal. There are some small sections that are pointed to that are important, and these contain the closest thing to good news in this epistle. The people who were hearing these words for the first time—and this applies to some people today—those people were very focused on the Law, the bad news. But this epistle seems to be hinting at things that are much more important.
September 19, 2021
We continue on in the Epistle of James, and this week’s reading [3:13-4:10] closely follows the reading of the previous week. And we are nearing the end of this interesting epistle. What is the final message for those to whom the letter was originally written, to those who have been scattered ‘in the dispersion’ (James 1:1)?
Whenever you travel, there is usually an end to your travels. There is a word that comes up several times within the epistle that hints at an ending. It could be considered a completion, a perfection, a fulfillment. It is translated in a variety of ways, and it occurs in a variety of forms. Here are its eight occurrences—as a noun, verb, and an adjective—as well as its context (and the word itself will be in bold, and it will be translated in a similar way throughout the epistle, to help you find it more easily; and the translations themselves will also be somewhat literal):
1:4a And let endurance have a complete work….
1:4b …in order that you may be complete and entire, in nothing having lacked.
1:17 Every giving good and every complete gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, with whom is no variation or shadow of turning.
1:25 But the one having looked into law, a complete one, that of freedom, and continuing; this one, not having become a hearer of forgetfulness, but on the contrary, a doer of work, this one blessed in his doing.
2:8 If indeed you complete a royal law, according to the writing, ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well.
2:22 You see that the faith worked with his works, and from the works that faith was completed.
3:2 For many we all stumble; if anyone stumbles not in a word, this a complete man, able to bridle also the whole body.
5:11 Behold, we esteem blessed the ones enduring; you heard of the endurance of Job; and you saw the completion of the Lord, that the Lord is full of compassion and pitying.
There is an interesting ‘coincidence’ that is somewhat hidden within this work, with the words with which this idea of ‘completion’ is connected. The word starts by being connected to endurance, as a result of enduring something or being patient. And the last occurrence also ends with mentioning endurance right before, the endurance of Job, but the word at this last occurrence is connected to Someone much more important.
The second occurrence speaks to the one who is reading or listening to the words of the text, that the person may be complete. And the second occurrence from the end speaks of a complete man as one who does not stumble in what he says.
The third occurrence is connected to gifts that come from above, from our heavenly Father. And the third occurrence from the end is referring to Abraham and the time of his testing by the Lord, a time when the Lord was significantly involved in his life and would have significant ramifications—when the Lord told him to sacrifice his son. In this situation, the faith and the works go together; it could be said that the faith is ‘concrete’ and finds its ending in the works.
The fourth occurrence of ‘complete’ is connected to the law. And there is a connection to the law in the fourth occurrence from the end.
With these similar connections, there is also a progression toward an end. The movement starts with the person who has been ‘dispersed’, and the movement progresses toward the law (which is not always a negative word!), and this is in the important middle-section of the structure. And rather than having the progression go toward the person who is trying to endure and come to some finality, the writer says that ‘you saw the completion of the Lord’. Next week we will look at the importance of this section in James.
September 12, 2021
Last week’s writing started us in the Epistle of James, a writing to those who were scattered in the ‘dispersion’. This week’s reading is from the first part of chapter 3[:1-12]. Last week we looked at two significant commands in the first chapter, one was positive; and one, negative. (Do this; do not do that.) And what they commanded was comforting to those who were (and may still be) dispersed.
Commands are important for the Jews. Another thing that is important, that closely connects to commands, is the word ‘law’, and one of the more important meanings of this word is the first five books of the Old Testament. These books, as a whole, are also called the Torah (a Hebrew word), and this word has the meaning of instruction or teaching. The word Pentateuch may also be used to describe these books. This is a Greek word that means five books (or containers).
It is interesting how this word ‘law’ shows itself in this epistle. There are exactly ten uses of the word ‘law’. There are six occurrences in the first two chapters, and the first and last of these six occurrences both connect to the word ‘freedom’. And the last four occurrences happen in one verse near the end of the work.
What follows is a listing of these ten occurrences, along with a bit of the context (since sometimes another occurrence of the same word is close by), in a somewhat-literal translation [and the word ‘law’ will be in bold, and that will make it easier to find that word and to note the words around it; and there will also be some other ‘helps’ within the brackets]:
1:21-25 Wherefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of evil in meekness, receive the implanted word, the one being able to save your souls. And become doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…. But the one having looked into law, a complete one, that of freedom, and remaining; this one, not becoming a hearer of forgetfulness, but on the contrary, a doer of work, this one will be blessed in his doing.
2:8 If indeed law you complete [or ‘finish’, ‘bring to an end’] a royal, according to the writing: “You will love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.
2:9 But if you receive faces [show partiality], you work sin, being reproved by the law as transgressors.
2:10 For he was keeps all the law, but stumbles in one, has become guilty of all.
2:11 For the one saying, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ But if do not commit adultery, but you murder, you have become a transgressor of law.
2:12 Thus you speak and thus you do as through a law of freedom, being about to be judged.
4:11 Do not speak against one another, brothers, the one speaking against a brother or judging him speaks against law and judges law; but if you judge law, you are not a doer of law, but on the contrary, a judge.
Since the word law is connected to freedom at its first mention and last—if the instances in James 4:11 are not included—it might be good to investigate that connection more carefully. (A look into the connection between the law and the word ‘complete’ will be next week.) It seems that, with the perspective of Acts 15, the law is strongly connected to the idea of freedom.
Before James gets up to speak in Acts 15, Peter speaks out against laws, and he describes them as a ‘yoke’ (verse 10), something that a farmer would use to hold some of his animals in such a way that they would do some difficult work for him. And then Peter says something that sounds like something St. Paul would have said (somewhat literally):
‘But on the contrary, through the grace of the Lord Jesus, we believe to be saved, in the same way as those also [Acts 15:10].’
His use of grace is obviously significant, and its connection to the ‘Lord Jesus’ helps to make that point. And what that means certainly becomes clearer in other parts of the New Testament.
September 5, 2021
This week’s epistle starts us looking at a particularly interesting one, the Epistle of James; last week I suggested that we look at that text instead of the other ones. This Epistle has a lot of Old Testament connections, much like the Old Testament Reading and the Gospel Reading working together. The text for this Sunday, though, does not start us in chapter one of James; the text for this Sunday is from James 2[:1-10, 14-18].
The reason behind this is probably that the first chapter of James was given as the Epistle Reading for the First Sunday in Lent for this year, the ‘B’ series. The text for that Sunday was only verses twelve through eighteen. It might be good to have a better introduction to this special work, to start at the very beginning.
Beginnings of literary works are usually very special. And this epistle was extremely well-crafted. And the person who crafted it was also an important one. James was a leader in the early Church. And he was also a step-brother to Jesus. But you would not think that to be the case when he starts out this writing in this way (and what follows is a somewhat-literal translation of James 1:1):
James; of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, a slave; to the twelve the tribes in the dispersion. Greetings!
Perhaps the word ‘slave’ stands out to you. That word is a very negative term these days. And James does not even put that word out in front to start even the thought that he would brag about his extremely low position. He throws it in, right at the end, right before he describes the people to whom he is writing. And those people to whom he is writing could easily be putting themselves down; after all, they have been ‘dispersed’. But James does not go into great detail on that either. In both cases, he does not focus on the negative for very long. (In fact, the word for ‘Greetings’ is very similar to the word for ‘joy’!)
Because of that lack of detail when speaking of the ‘dispersion’, we are not sure when this letter was written. But, ultimately, the chronology of the letter is not that important. The theology, on the other hand, IS very important.
It is easy to see in this epistle a similarity to the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. Now this epistle certainly has a lot of good advice, and there are also a large number of commands in this book. But those commands are not all of the same level of importance.
In the Greek language, it is interesting that there are two types of commands. There are commands in the ‘second person’. This is a normal command, when you say to someone, ‘Do this!’ There are also commands in the ‘third person’, and this is a less important command. The latter MAY be translated in one of the following ways: ‘Let him or her do that’ or ‘have him or her do that.’
In the first section of James, right at the very beginning (verse 2), there is a clear, strong command in the second person. And this COULD be translated somewhat literally as ‘Lead all joy.’ The word literally means ‘lead’ or ‘rule’, and figuratively means ‘consider’ or ‘esteem’ [A Concise Lexicon to the Biblical Languages; Peabody, Massachusetts, USA: Hendrickson Publishers; Part 2, page 58]. And, at the very end of this section (verse 16), there is another clear command—with all the intervening commands being in the third person (and, therefore, secondary)—and this time the command is a prohibition. Again, quite literally, the text says, ‘Do not err,’ and one of the main ideas in this verb is to ‘mislead’ [A Concise Lexicon, Part 2, page 102]. These two verbs are quite appropriate for those who have been dispersed and are without a leader.
When it came to commands, the Jews had two different types of them. The Jews would consider commands to be either positive or negative—do this and do not do that. And this structure of a positive command at the beginning and a negative command at the end would certainly appeal to them.
In Acts 15, when James gets up after Peter, Paul, and Barnabas had spoken, he connects this word of gospel to an Old Testament passage in Amos, and he also gives, at the end of his speech, four prohibitions. But within that context, and in that situation as well, those prohibitions are not so negative, because he connects them, immediately after, with Moses being proclaimed.
This is a very positive description of Moses, since something that is proclaimed is usually good news. If you are interested, the word was used in this way before chapter 15: In Acts 8:5, Philip proclaimed the Christ. In 9:20, Jesus was proclaimed as the Son of God in the synagogues. In 10:37, John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism. And in 10:42, Jesus was proclaimed to the people that he was designated as the judge of the living and the dead. To have Moses proclaimed may, initially, seem like a negative thing. But the prohibitions do not have to stop at saying to someone ‘Do not do that.’ There is much more good news to be found, even within the Pentateuch.
The comforting message here in James is, admittedly, a bit subtle. When these people are getting dispersed, there is ultimately a better leader than anyone of them could ever be. James does not seem to be pointing them back to the place where they originally started. He seems to be pointing them literally upward. What follows are some excellent words of comfort after that prohibition that caught their attention near the end of the first chapter:
Every giving good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the lights, with whom he has no place change or of turning shadow. Having purposed, he brought forth us by a word of truth, that we should be a certain first fruit of the creatures of him [a somewhat-literal translation of James 1:17-19].
What does this mean? Much could be said! But what follows will be brief.
The perspective certainly is a much broader one. One could think of Jesus when he mentions ‘coming down from the Father’. But it seems that the writer is taking us back to the very beginning, at the time of creation. On the first day, he created light, but he did not have to do that; he could have saved that for the fourth day. And, on the fourth day, when he created the greater and lesser lights, he gave them authority.
Ultimately the writer is referring us to every day. Good gifts come every day. Perfect gifts—like the forgiveness of sins and eternal life—may come every day as well. And they all come from above, from the Father. And this is the Father who had the Son who called himself the Light of the world (John 8:12).
It may be helpful, during these times when those in authority are put down and mocked, that God gives authority that no one can do without. Whether one has been scattered or not, God is still God. And do not forget that the designation of ‘Father’ is certainly significant.
August 29, 2021
This week, for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the Gospel text continues in Mark 7, and the Old Testament text for this Sunday [Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9] connects to that text by mentioning some important ‘decrees’ and ‘judgments’.
Jesus is talking about what defiles a person and what cleanses him. Jesus ultimately says that what comes OUT of a person is what defiles him and NOT what goes IN. And, at the end of Mark 7:19, the writer makes this parenthetical comment that says, in these few words (and in a somewhat-literal translation) that Jesus, with the words that came before, was ‘cleansing all the foods.’
To make it even more clear, the Amplified Bible does a good job in connecting this statement to the laws of the Old Testament in this ‘translation’ of that text: ‘Thus He was making and declaring all foods (ceremonially) clean [that is, abolishing the ceremonial distinctions of the Levitical Law]).’ [The Amplified Bible; Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Zondervan Publishing, 1965; page 59.]
The Law in the Old Testament is a big topic, you might say that this is an especially important topic for the early Christian Church. How would they deal with all these laws within the especially important books such as Leviticus and Deuteronomy? That is also an important question for the Christian Church today.
It may be helpful to see how the word ‘cleansed’ is used in other places in the Gospel according to Mark. In this gospel account, the majority of uses are when Jesus was cleansing people from leprosy. (The verb is mentioned three times in Mark 1:40-42, and is mentioned nowhere else in this account besides here in chapter seven.) But the word is also mentioned three times within the book of Acts, and it may be helpful to see those uses.
In Acts 10, Peter—who is the writer behind the secretary, Mark—is having his vision while in Joppa. That town is on the coast of the Mediterranean and is perhaps one of the world’s oldest cities. He has a vision of many different types of animals, and God says to him, ‘Rise up, Peter, kill and eat,’ but Peter does not want to, since some of those animals are considered unclean by Old Testament standards. And then God says this (again, in a somewhat-literal translation): ‘What things God cleansed, you do not make common [Acts 10:15 & 11:9].’
Peter also has the ‘final say’, as it were, regarding the last use of this verb, ‘to cleanse’, in the Acts of the Apostles. Here is the famous Jerusalem Council, in Acts 15, where they are wrestling with the issue of whether or not Christians should be circumcised—another law that could be fulfilled.
Peter is the first one to stand up and permit his words to be recorded (although others have said much before this, and these words from Peter sound a lot like Paul says elsewhere):
Men, brothers, you (yourselves) understand that from ancient days among you, God chose through my mouth the nations to hear the word of the gospel and to believe. And the heart-knowing God testified to them, giving them the Spirit, the Holy One, just as also to us, and nothing distinguished between both us and them, by faith having cleansed the hearts of them [a somewhat-literal translation; Acts 15:7b-9].
There is SO MUCH that could be said about these words. They are certainly significant, and they certainly point to the good news, the gospel, in a way that is seen more clearly in other parts of the New Testament. (By the way, this is the very first time in Luke-Acts that the word ‘gospel’ is in its noun form and not as a verb. If you would like to look at the word as a verb before its use here as a noun, here are those passages: Luke 1:19, 2:10, 3:18, 4:18, 4:23, 7:22, 8:1, 9:6, 16:16, 20:1, Acts 5:42, 8:4, 8:12, 8:25, 8:35, 8:40, 10:36, 11:20, 13:32, 14:7, 14:15, & 14:21; it is also used three times as a verb after, at Acts 15:35, 16:10, & 17:18.)
For the next few Sundays, the Epistle text will be from James, and it will certainly be a good ‘change of pace’ to look at how this gospel emphasis (as a noun) continues on in Acts 15, as well as in the book of James.
This week, for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the gospel text goes back to being somewhat normal. That text is Mark 7:1-13, and within that text, the prophet Isaiah is quoted, and it ‘fits’ that the words quoted are a part of the Old Testament text for this Sunday [Isaiah 29:11-19].
What does not ‘fit’, what does not seem normal, is this whole idea of an Old Testament quotation in the Gospel according to Mark. In the gospel text, at the start of the quotation, the prophet is named. And this mention of a prophet happens only in one other place, at the very beginning of the gospel account. Even though the words of Isaiah are used elsewhere by Jesus (see Mark 4:12 & 13:24-25), and even though the words of other prophets are quoted, Isaiah is the only prophet named in this account.
The first time this is done, at the very beginning of the account, is obviously an important position. Here is a somewhat-literal translation of those first words of this gospel account:
Beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, [Son of God,] as it has been written in Isaiah, the prophet, ‘Behold, I will send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way; a voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of him.”’
Another thing that does not ‘fit’ is that the first part of this quotation comes from Malachi 3:1 and not from Isaiah. What is going on here?
There seems to be an extremely strong emphasis on Isaiah in the Gospel according to Mark. As was mentioned above, other prophets are quoted in this gospel account—Zechariah is quoted in Mark 14:27, for example—but none of them are mentioned by name.
The beginning of the gospel account seems to be a good time to emphasize prophets, since there was both John the Baptist and Jesus coming on the scene. But Jesus seems to be taking on more of a role than just a prophet.
The next time someone is specifically quoted is when Jesus is talking about Moses. This also happens in the text from Mark 7. One might also say that it also happens at the beginning of chapter ten. At other times the parts of the Pentateuch are quoted, but, here again, the name of the writer is not given.
After Moses, the next time someone is specifically quoted is when Jesus is referring to King David [Mark 12:35-36]. Here, again, is a somewhat-literal translation:
And answering, Jesus said, teaching in the temple: ‘How the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Spirit, the Holy: Lord said to the Lord of me, “Sit at the right hand of me, until I put the enemies of you under the feet of you.”’
To what do these quotations point? They point to some of the most important people in the entire Old Testament. Isaiah is certainly a major prophet. And both Moses and David were very important. And although Jesus has roles similar to these three Old Testament figures, he is, by far, more important than all of those three put together. He stands out within the text in more ways than one.
This week is the last Sunday for a text from the Gospel according to John [6:51-69] for a while. Next week we will be back to looking at the Gospel according to Mark—and various other Old Testament books which connect to that gospel account. But the Gospel according to John is certainly a special thing.
So, it would follow that this special account also has a special structure. A structure of a text is not an outline; that would be too-modern of a way to look at a too-ancient of a text. A structure of an ancient text is more like the map of a journey. A map gives, somewhat literally, a bigger picture. And the journey on that map offers comparisons to other things that are around and to other parts of the journey that are similar.
The last two blogs have proposed the use of a modified ‘word of exhortation/encouragement’ within this structure, and the primary focus has been those first four chapters. This final blog will deal primarily with the remaining chapters, but what would probably be helpful would be to look at the entire account. This will be done, but only in a very limited fashion, to save on space. And the emphasis in those remaining chapters will be their connections to the Jewish festivals that are mentioned within those chapters.
Many have brought up the importance of the Jewish festivals in the Gospel according to John; this is nothing new. One relatively intimidating and recent work could be recommended here for more detail if this is an interest; it happens to be in German though: Dorit Felsch, Die Feste im Johannesevangelium: Jüdische Tradition und christologische Deutung [Mohr Siebeck, 2011].
Looking at the entire gospel account, and taking into account what has been discussed the last two weeks, here is one possible ‘structure’ for this entire gospel account—and, therefore, a way to look at it that may help to understand it.
Many of the words below are simply phrases taken from various parts of the text, usually the beginning—translated somewhat literally. If the words are a summary of the text; it is usually in italics; words in capital letters are meant to draw your attention to see their connections elsewhere; they may be added or may be in the text. Some summaries and biblical references will be left out, to keep things from being too cluttered. Again, what follows is simply one suggestion to see the text’s bigger picture (and this is already a BIG text):
The Introduction [1:1-18]
And this is the WITNESS of John… [1:19]
The next day… [1:29]
The next day… [1:35]
The next day… [1:43]
And on the THIRD day … the FIRST SIGN [2:1, 11], and the Passover … [2:23]
Nicodemus comes … to the LORD [4:1] … and the Samaritan woman comes.
The SECOND SIGN [4:54]
‘After these things there was a Feast of the Jews [5:1]’ … and Jesus heals on the Sabbath … and there is talk of the Jews killing him [5:18].
After these things … the Passover was near [6:1,4].
The LORD gives thanks…. [6:23; cf. v. 11]
After these things … the Feast of Tabernacles was near [7:1-2]. At this feast Jesus makes an appearance halfway and at the end [7:14 & 37].
And, passing along …[9:1] Jesus again heals on the Sabbath—but there is a bit more trouble for the one who is healed than the trouble Jesus has.
Then it happened, the [Feast of] Dedication … [10:22].
Mary was the one anointing the LORD … [11:2].
The Passover was near [11:55].
Six days before the Passover [12:1] Jesus came to Bethany. The next day … [12:12]. Before the Passover … [13:1].
JOHN 13-20: THE ARREST, CRUCIFIXION, AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS
Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples [John 20:19ff]
Jesus’ second appearance to the disciples [John 20:26ff]
This, the THIRD time Jesus was manifested to the disciples… [John 21:14].
This is the disciple, the one WITNESSING concerning these things… [John 21:24].
Much could be written about just these few things. As I mentioned above, much HAS been written about these things. Like many other structures, the beginning has some similarities to the end. And hopefully you see a point to the two signs near the beginning of the account. And then, after a ‘generic’ feast—where Jesus begins to head toward his death, a year goes by from one Passover to the next.
Why mention two Passovers, one at the beginning and one at the end? Here is a similar question: Why do the Jews make the eighth day important? (See John 21:26a.) If you count something twice, it is definitely important. Mentioning the two Passovers takes the reader/listener from talk of killing Jesus to the accomplishment of that talk.
I am not implying that there was some early liturgical calendar for the four gospel accounts to be read. But there is an importance to these words in the church—or any place where Christians GATHER TOGETHER—after all, that is basically what the word synagogue means.
The added use of the word ‘Lord’ by the writer points to liturgical actions as well. After the beginning of the first Passover of the main section, there is the reference to the Lord giving thanks, as in the ‘Eucharist’ (the Lord’s Supper). And before the second Passover is mentioned, there is the anointing of the ‘Lord’, and that is also a liturgical action. The liturgy is where the Lord really comes alive.
The liturgical year, whether it is Jewish or Christian, helps to bring what is in the past to the present. And this fourth gospel account is EXTREMELY good at that point. When Jesus says, ‘I AM…’, this is ALWAYS true, even right NOW.
August 8, 2021
This week continues with a text from that very special Gospel according to John [6:35-51], and we continue to look at that special structure of that gospel account.
It may be helpful to remember that this special account is usually the last of four gospel accounts and, better yet, the end of a fourfold gospel. Within a context of proclamation, and also with some very broad literary strokes, the first three gospel accounts may be connected to the Trinity—the Gospel according to Matthew and the Father, the Gospel according to Mark and the Son, and the Gospel according to Luke and the Holy Spirit. With such a significant and strong beginning, the fourth gospel account may be seen as a good, meaningful conclusion, as a Jewish and very special type of word of exhortation/encouragement—but with more emphasis being on a ‘gospel’ word rather than on the ‘law’ of exhortation or encouragement.
One of the lesser-known characteristics of this word of exhortation/encouragement, as it occurs in Acts 13[:16], is the motion of one or two hands by the speaker. This motion of the hand occurs elsewhere in Acts. In one place [12:17] it is designed to quiet a loud crowd. Very literally, the verb means to ‘sway downward [See A Concise Lexicon to the Biblical Languages, Peabody, Massachusetts, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987; A Concise Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, page 69.]’. The picture may be one of an uplifted hand with a downward motion, and such a picture would fit with a gracious God who brings down his good gifts to a very sinful world.
In some languages, the singular of the word can sometimes indicate the plural. When a person makes the request in English, ‘Give me a hand’, they are usually hoping for more help than with just one hand. In the same way, when someone is given a round of applause, something that takes two hands, this is also called ‘giving someone a hand’.
So, at Acts 13:16, there is some type of motioning with either one hand or two. If this was meant to for two hands—and we may not know for sure—then there might be an even greater connection to the Gospel according to John in that the first two signs are specifically numbered within this gospel account.
It should be said that there are literally MANY other signs as well, and some count a total of seven signs, while others are counting eight. But they are not clearly numbered as these first two are.
The first sign is Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine. The second sign is Jesus healing the nobleman’s son. Here are the supporting texts, in a somewhat-literal translation:
This Jesus did, the first of the signs, in Cana of Galilee, and the glory of him manifested, and the disciples of him believed in him [2:11a].
And this again, a second sign Jesus did, having come out of Judea into Galilee [4:54].
As was mentioned above, there are many other signs mentioned. The most obvious proof for that is in the following well-known text, where the writer is speaking DIRECTLY to the reader or listener:
Many other signs Jesus did before his disciples which have not been written in this book. But these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, life you may have in his name [20:31].
The thought is that these first two signs MAY be compared to the motioning of two hands. And, as was said above, there are a lot of other signs, but they certainly and ultimately point to Jesus as the One with the authority to make a difference in a world that is filled with so many problems.
Another indicator that these first two signs are important may be that, in between them, there is a structure leading to a rare mention of Jesus as Lord. This mention of ‘Lord’ by the writer of the gospel account (and not someone else in the narrative) is certainly significant. It happens frequently after his resurrection, but it only happens very rarely BEFORE the resurrection when the writer himself uses it. And he chooses to use it in in John 4:1—although some manuscripts do NOT have this word—it does not appear in some; in others the name ‘Jesus’ is also left out and only ‘he’ is there. It appears in this way in the middle of this concentric structure; the appropriate, connecting phrases are translated somewhat literally here as well:
The disciples believed the scripture and the word which Jesus said [2:22b].
And when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover at the Feast, many believed in his name, beholding his signs which he was doing [2:23].
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night—John 3.
‘…this one baptizes and all are coming to him [3:26b].’
‘When, therefore, the Lord knew….
…that the Pharisees heard that Jesus was making more disciples and was baptizing more than John—though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples—he left Judea and went away again into Galilee [4:1-3].’
A Samaritan woman comes to Jesus at a well during the day—John 4.
‘And out of that city many believed in him because of the woman’s witnessing… [4:39a].’
The man believed the word … and he and his whole household believed [4:50b & 53b].
There is a great contrast, of course, between the two large sections (shown in italics). You cannot get a greater contrast than a male ruler of the Jews and a Samaritan woman who was
married five times and the one she was living with now was not her husband. There is also the contrast of night and day.
But we should not focus too much on the others. The ultimate focus should be Jesus, and, in this case, the ‘Lord’—although, as was said above, that word does not appear in some manuscripts.
A stronger case may be made by saying that the word ‘Lord’ is very numerically close to the middle of the two uses of the word ‘sign’ at 2:11 and 4:54. The addition of chapter and verse divisions do not help too much when looking at the various structures of a text. I had the time this week to number the words and it is quite close—I counted 925 words in the first half of the structure—from the word ‘sign’ to ‘Lord’—and 920 in the second half—from ‘Lord’ to ‘sign’. [I counted using the Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th revised edition, 1993.]
If that structure makes a difference, then the Lord, who literally (in a way) is in the middle of things, certainly makes a difference. With his two raised hands, rich blessings are given out.
August 1, 2021
As always, the Old Testament reading is connected to the Gospel reading of the New Testament. And the next three weeks are quite special in that the gospel text is from the Gospel according to John. This happens at no other time. And the Gospel according to John is exceedingly special, and so that will be the focus here, at least for the next three weeks.
The other gospel accounts are very similar to each other and are often called the ‘synoptic’ or the accounts with a similar viewpoint. But the Gospel according to John is so special that it often uses more library space than the space devoted to the other gospel accounts.
When examining the differences between those three accounts and the Gospel according to John, there is a lot that could be said. And many of the people who examine those differences go to various libraries and schools and examine those differences to their depths. But the first people to hear about those differences did not go to schools and libraries, but they went to churches—and not only churches, but to synagogues as well. The context of those places is significantly different in those two places than that of the school or the library. The ultimate focus of both the church and synagogue should be a gracious LORD.
Within such a context, it may be helpful to see this fourth gospel account as a modified ‘word of exhortation’ or ‘word of encouragement’. This is a Jewish type of message, one that people would expect after the ‘Old Testament’ readings. The entire Epistle to the Hebrews (see Hebrews 13:22) may be considered an actual word of exhortation, and Paul’s speech in Acts 13 is called the same thing (see Acts 13:15).
It seems like there are two basic parts to a word of exhortation, the word of the Lord that is laid out at the beginning, and the exhortation that comes from that word that appears at the end. There are some similarities in the Hebrews and Acts texts that may point to these two transition points: ‘Thus he has said … therefore, do not….’ These points are found in the following verses (and are sometimes translated in a way that does not make these words obvious): Acts 13:34 & 40; Hebrews 4:4 & 10:35
The Gospel according to John lays out a word, and words are certainly special at the beginning of the account [see John 1:1-14]. And the two words of the first phrase, that of the word section, they also appear at a major division in this gospel account, that of the end of chapter 12 and the first part of chapter 13 [see John 12:50].
But this gospel account as a ‘word of exhortation’ falls very short if you were expecting some kind of exhortation at the very end. An overwhelming amount of the text is given to the emphasis on the word.
There are some commands given in the last chapter of this gospel account. It may be interesting to see some of these commands (given in a somewhat-literal translation) in John 21:
Verse 6 Jesus to his disciples ‘Cast the net in the right side of the boat, and you will find.’
Verse 12 Jesus to his disciples ‘Come, breakfast.’
Verse 15 Jesus to Peter ‘Feed my lambs.’
Verse 16 Jesus to Peter ‘Shepherd my (little) sheep.’
Verse 17 Jesus to Peter ‘Feed my (little) sheep.’
Verse 19 Jesus to Peter ‘Follow me.’
Verse 22 Jesus to Peter ‘You, follow me.’
There is a lot of repetition here, but that is okay. Although all the commands are directed to the people of that time, the three central commands seem to be the most important. But the really important words given in this account are eternal. Jesus said, in the last verse of the text for today [John 6:35], ‘I am the bread of life.’ He did NOT say that he WAS or WILL BE the bread of life. That is a big difference.
July 25, 2021
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is directed toward part of the Flood account [Genesis 9:8-17], and much could be said about this. People have focused on the Flood for MANY years (although it has not been MILLIONS of years), especially since a worldwide flood left the earth, in some ways, as if it had evolved over millions of years.
The nice thing from a literary perspective is that what is given is not just accurate, both historically and theologically, but this account also an emphasis on God’s remembering (see Genesis 8:1). That is what is in the center of a concentric structure which is the account of the Flood, but actually it is the account of Noah’s ‘account’ (or ‘lineage’ or ‘generation’). This is an important word throughout the Pentateuch.
There are ‘accounts’ from Genesis 2:4 to Numbers 3:1. And at the middle of this account of Noah, there is the phrase that ‘God remembered Noah.’ That’s an important factor, and it makes a difference to the rest of the account.
What is interesting is that, after the text for this Sunday, within this account of Noah something happens that is somewhat negative. Noah drinks too much wine. It’s a dangerous thing, and other writers have brought that point up elsewhere.
That ‘situation’ about Noah is started with this interesting phrase (9:20a): ‘Noah began to be a man of the soil.’ For one thing, the word ‘began’ is related to the idea of profanity, and that is certainly not a good thing. The word is used before this at Genesis 6:1 when the so-called ‘sons of God’ do not begin to do a good job with the daughters of men, and, at this very point, God gives his first mention of the punishment of the Flood. Another point that could be made is that the word ‘soil’ is like the name ‘Adam’, and that also takes us back to a bad thing. Because of sin of the first two people, the LORD God curses the soil.
These negative points on the end of certain sections may be found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Sometimes things are left in a very bad situation. This happens at the end of Genesis, at the end of the Pentateuch, and at the end of the entire Old Testament. Comparisons can be made to the present. When something bad happens, that may actually turn into a very good thing. For both the ancient and the modern groups of people, it is a nice thing to remember that ‘God remembers’. A bigger perspective is usually much more helpful.
The Old Testament Reading for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost is from Jeremiah 23[:1-6], and the text predicts the reign of a very important king. It is very unfortunate that this picture of a king does not have the significance that it did in the past. Very few people in the twenty-first century have an accurate picture in their minds as to what it means to be a king.
One picture that may be helpful that has been present from almost day one—actually this happened on day four—is that the things in the sky have some dominion. Here are those words in a somewhat-literal translation [Genesis 1:16-18]:
And God made two of the great lights, the greater light, for governing of the day and the lesser light, for governing of the night, and also the stars. And God gave them in the expanse of the heavens to cause light upon the earth, and to govern in the day and in the night and to separate between the light and between the darkness, and God saw that it was good.
The sun, moon, and stars all govern in a way, and they are over the people of the earth. In much the same way, a king reigns over some people. In a very simple way, it is a height issue. The king is over those he governs. He sometime does this by sitting. The problem with sitting is that the king would usually be lower than the others if the others are standing. But the others may be doing something like falling on their faces, and that ends up being an extremely low position.
One interesting tradition is the use of stars in the thrones of the ancient kings. Stars have been grouped into constellations for centuries, almost from day one. I mentioned last week that the book of Job mentions the constellations of Pleiades and Orion, and that is a very old book.
One very interesting connection is between the constellations and the living creatures of the LORD’s throne that are mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New, although they basically have a different order each time they are mentioned, and that can be confusing.
The various constellations are below. The first row are the names of the constellations if you are interested in something like astrology (having the stars determine the future—that seems to be VERY much out of the range of their authority, although it is certainly NOT out of the LORD's authority). The second row are the more typical names of all the constellations. The third row are the four living creatures that come up, each at the same interval (except for the difference between an eagle and a scorpion; this may be explained in that a scorpion has been connected to evil because of its ability to kill; and if you would like to look at the stars that make up this constellation, one might see an eagle's head calling out).Aires ram
Taurus bull ox
Leo lion lion
Scorpio scorpion eagle
Aquarius water-bearer man
July 11, 2021
For the Old Testament Reading on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, this time we go to one of the so-called ‘minor’ prophets. (They were called that because of the length of their works and not because of the frivolity in their messages.) The text is from Amos 7[:7-15].
Sometimes prophets are quickly and easily dismissed. But they usually have some very good and important things to say. This prophet will be quoted twice in the book of Acts, once at the very important Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15).
Councils are important, and Amos mentions an extremely important council somewhat earlier in the book. Here is a somewhat-literal translation of 3:7
Specifically, the Lord Yahweh will not do a thing, specifically, unless he reveals his ‘plan’ to his servants, the prophets.
This word translated ‘plan’ here is much more complicated than just having one word as its equivalent. In Holladay’s ‘concise’ lexicon, the definition of ‘confidential conversation’ is given for its occurrence here [William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Eerdmans Publishing, 1971; page 254]. The verses that are cross-referenced within the Concordia Self-Study Bible are the following: Genesis 18:17, I Samuel 3:7, Daniel 9:22, John 15:15, and Revelation 10:7. There are the LORD’s plans from literally Genesis to Revelation. Plans are important, and prophets are important throughout the Old and New Testaments; they often reveal the LORD’s plans.
Some people have described the Old Testament as the LORD gradually becoming less involved than he was before, and that can certainly be seen in some ways. It seems as though the LORD was used to walking in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. And then things, of course, started to fall apart.
Then things continued to fall apart even more. The prophets usually promised that some bad things would happen in the future. That seemed to be pretty normal, but, they were still despised, and people did not want to hear this bad news. That is pretty normal as well.
Amos was one of the first of the minor prophets (about 700 years before Christ), and there were more after him, but you can tell that, at this point in time, the people wanted to hear some good news.
As things continued on through the centuries, this desire for good news continued to grow. And it may also be seen in the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek. What follows are a couple of examples of this.
In the Greek translation of Amos 5:8, the LORD is not described as one who made the constellations Pleiades and Orion (this is, incidentally, the only time, other than the book of Job, where these constellations are mentioned), but, very simply, he ‘who makes all things.’ It seems that the mention of these two constellations was somewhat negative and that the translator wanted to be more positive.
At Amos 7:7, the Hebrew text simply has the following: ‘This he showed me.’ But the Greek, ‘This the Lord showed me.’ The translator wanted to make sure that the reader knew who was talking.
And one of the most interesting changes is in Amos 4:13. Here is the Hebrew text in a somewhat-literal translation:
Specifically, behold, one forming mountains and one creating wind and one revealing to man what is his thought, and one making dawn, darkness, and one walking upon the high places of the earth, Yahweh, God of hosts, his name.
Here is the Greek translation of the same verse:
For, behold, I am strengthening thunder and creating wind and proclaim to men his Christ, forming morning and darkness, and mounting upon the high places of the earth; Lord, the God, the ruler of all, his name.
Did you catch the most significant difference? The Greek starts with a first-person reference, and this is not that important. But instead of ‘what is his thought’ (in the Hebrew—and that phrase is very similar in its letters to the one word for ‘Messiah’), the text has the anointed one, the Christ (in Greek). People were waiting for the Christ for a LONG time.
When the Christ finally came, he came with a special prophet who prepared the way for him. But he surprised the people by the way this Christ acted, going to the cross. And this Anointed One continues to surprise, since we are often so focused on ourselves.