Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2 Kings 22-23:30 – Josiah – Is There Still Hope?

22:1 – Josiah – son of Amon. He reigned for 31 years (640-609BC) over Judah doing what was right in the sight of the LORD as David had done – he was the ideal king (Deut.17:20) and fulfilled the prophecy given by the unnamed prophet of Judah (1 Ki.13:2). He became king while only 8 years old. The Babylonians with the Medes found freedom from Assyria at the death of Ashurbanipal in 626BC. They conquered the Assyrian capital of Ninevah in 612 and finally destroyed the Assyrians in 609. When Josiah turned 16 (in 632BC) he began to make certain religious reforms in Judah (2 Chron.34:3). In his 12th year as king (at age 20 – or 628BC), he began removing idolatry from Judah (2 Chron.34:3). His 18th year as king of Judah (age 26 and year 622) led to the repairs and restoration of the Temple of the LORD (2 Ki.22:3; 2 Chron.34:8). Hilkiah the High Priest oversaw the repairs of the Temple and “found” the “Book of the Law” (2 Ki.22:8; apparently it had been removed from beside the Ark of the Covenant – Deut.31:26) which after being read was then read in the presence of King Josiah (2 Ki.22:10). When Josiah heard the “Book of the Law” he tore his robes in repentance and sent his administration to Huldah the prophetess to inquire of the LORD concerning the Law. In response to the message of impending judgment given by Huldah, Josiah initiated full-fledged reform in Judah and even Israel. He called all the people, the priests, and the prophets (this last one is not found in 2 Chron.34:30) together to hear the reading of the Book of the Covenant (and thereby renew the Covenant – Deut.31:9-13), and to cleanse the land and the Temple, and to celebrate the Passover in an unprecedented scale (2 Ki.23:21). In his reforms, he had the aid of the writing prophets: Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. In 609BC, Pharaoh Neco of Egypt on his way to the Euphrates to engage the Babylonians (as ally or enemy?), Josiah challenged him to fight at Megiddo. Neco declared that God had sent him and that Josiah should not fight, but Josiah attempted to disguise himself and was shot with an arrow. He was returned to Jerusalem where he died and was buried.

22:8 – What “Book of the Law (22:8) / Covenant (23:2)” was “found”? Many believe it was at least a portion of Deuteronomy if not the whole book or even possibly the whole Torah. How is it possible that it should be “found”?

22:14 – Huldah the Prophetess? She appears to have been a relative (his aunt?) of Jeremiah (Jer.32:7). Huldah was not the only prophetess known to Israel/Judah – see Miriam in Exodus 15:20; and Deborah in Judges 4:4). The prophet Joel (2:23) would later declare by the word of the LORD that the Spirit would be poured out on all persons irregardless of gender, age, or status; and Peter on the Day of Pentecost would declare that the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled in the Baptism in the Spirit (Acts 2:14-21). What do we make of the contents of Huldah’s prophecy (see Deut.28:15-68).

22:20 – How could he be “buried in peace” in light of his violent end in 1 Ki.23:29?

23:3 – The pledge of the covenant is comprehensive. It involves heart and soul to all of the commandments, regulations and decrees and involves everyone (much as the renewal in Josh.24:1-27).

23:4-25 – Josiah’s Reforms: removed and destroyed all the utensils in the Temple of the LORD used to worship other gods; removed the pagan priests from the Temple; burned the Asherah pole Manasseh had put in the Temple; destroyed the quarters used by the male shrine prostitutes and the women who made clothes for Ashtoreth; desecrated all the high places in all of Judah; broke down the shrines at the gates of Jerusalem; desecrated Topheth where children had been offered to Molech; removed the horses dedicated to the sun and destroyed the accompanying chariots; removed the altars for astral deities installed by Manasseh and Ahaz; destroyed and desecrated the high places Solomon had built for his many foreign wives (see 1 Ki.11:7); destroyed and desecrated the high places and altars in Israel set up by Jeroboam in Bethel (see 1 Ki.12:25-13:5); removed the spiritists and mediums in Judah (see Lev.19:31; 20:27; Deut.18:11); removed the idols and tools for divination; and slaughtered the priests in Israel (see Ex.22:20; Deut.13:6-11; 18:20). He also commanded Judah (and Israel) to “celebrate the Passover” (see Ex.12:1-11; Deut.16:1-8).

23:13 – The “mount of corruption” (har hammashith;) is a Hebrew play on words with the name of the “mount of anointing (‘olives’)” (har hammisha) – (Konkel NIVAC 637).

23:22 – What made this Passover celebration so utterly unique? What would be the difference between the Passover celebrated by Hezekiah (2 Chron.30:1-27) and this one (2 Chron.35:18)? According to 1 Esdras (1:1-20) and Josephus (Ant.10.70-72) it was the sheer volume of sacrifices and the scope of uniting Israel and Judah in this celebration.

23:25 – What does it mean for Josiah to turn to the LORD with his whole “heart”, “soul”, and “strength”? (see Deut.6:4-5) Why should this be followed by a “nevertheless” concerning the judgment of the LORD (2 Ki.23:26)? Also, why would the LORD reject the place he has chosen and what is the significance of removing His Name from there (23:27)?

23:29-30 – Why did Josiah go to fight Neco of Egypt given the message to do otherwise by God (compare 2 Chron.35:20-25)? Also, why did he wear a disguise (compare Ahab in 1 Ki.22:30)? This was considered such a national tragedy that Jeremiah is reputed to have penned a lasting lament to be sung annually in memoriam (2 Chron.35:25). According to 1 Esdras 1:28, Jeremiah had warned Josiah not to fight against Neco, and according to Josephus (Ant.10.76) “fate” drove him that Judah might be judged by the LORD.

Friday, December 18, 2009

S*E*X and the Image of God

I just recently finished a wonderful book I received for review (it was outside of my normal reading which doesn't tend to be nearly so 'practical' :-).  Gerald Hiestand, Adult Ministries pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, IL, has written Raising Purity: Helping Parents Understand the Bible's Perspective on Sex, Dating, and Relationships.  This little volume has completely changed the way I think about relationships outside of marriage (okay, not completely...I was mostly with him before I read the book, but it was still a challenging and encouraging read).  His proposal is nothing short of revolutionary in its scope, however modestly it was written.  His basic premise is that our sexuality is connected to the image of God and therefore to be guarded against profaning.  This is paradigm shifting in our sexually laissez faire culture.  "Scripture expressly states that God created sex to serve as a living witness of the life-changing union that believers have with God through Christ" (16).  This relationship (more than others) images the gospel most clearly.  If his proposal is accurate (which I believe it is) then we who have confessed Christ as Lord must live lives of the utmost purity as witnesses to the good news of union with Christ alone as his pure and spotless bride.

He proposes (in accordance with Scripture - 1 Cor.7:9; 1 Tim.5:2) that anyone who is not a spouse should be treated as a 'neighbor' as far as intimacy is concerned.  We think that we have created something of substance and security by using the term 'dating' (as a title instead of just a verb), but Hiestand justifiably exposed the illusion of security.  He points out that we have simply replaced the commitment of marriage for a facade of commitment called 'dating'.  However, 'dating' by its nature means that there is no real commitment, otherwise persons would marry (granted marriage in our culture has less and less abiding substance, but this is exactly his point).  He saliently calls for a return to the emphasis upon marriage as the only binding relationship and therefore the only relationship where sexuality may properly be expressed at any level.

While this book has been primarily written for parents, it would be helpful for anyone.  It is not written at a technical level, but is very accessible.  He has lots of illustrations and also questions at the conclusion of each chapter that engage the reader with the concepts of the text.  The issues involved in 'Raising Purity' are the issues of humanity.  The Church must discuss sexuality from a Biblical perspective.  We cannot simply skirt the issue, nor tell ourselves that we must deny our innate desires.  We were created for sexual expression and enjoyment, and must find this only in the freedom of marriage which is blessed of God and truly images the relationship of God with His people.

In the coming weeks I hope to make some further comments about some of the specifics of the book.  Needless to say, I was very impressed...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2 Kings 20-21 - Hezekiah and Manasseh: Room for Repentance and Restoration?

20:1 – The LORD says Hezekiah will certainly die…but then Hezekiah prays and the LORD sends Isaiah back to Hezekiah to tell him that the LORD will actually heal him and he will live another 15 years (20:6; Isa.38:10-20). Has the LORD changed His mind?

20:8 – What is the significance of Hezekiah asking for a sign? (contrast with Ahaz in Isa.7:12)

20:12 – Why was Merodach-Baladan of Babylon visiting Hezekiah? (Isa.39:1)

20:13-15 – Why did Hezekiah show the Babylonians everything? According to 2 Chronicles 32:31 this moment was a test of the LORD. Did Hezekiah pass the test?

20:19 – How should we understand Hezekiah’s response to the LORD’s promise of plundering and exile by Babylon (20:17-18)? Does Hezekiah not care as long as it does not happen while he is king? Does Hezekiah simply acknowledge what will be no matter what and is thankful that the LORD has granted that it not occur sooner? (see the context for understanding this response as given in Isa.40ff)

20:20 – What is the significance of mentioning “the tunnel” that Hezekiah had dug? This tunnel is nearly 1600 feet long and allowed for water access in case of a siege.

21:1 – Manasseh – son of Hezekiah. He reigned for 55 years (697-642BC) over Judah (10 years the throne was shared with his father Hezekiah) doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD. According to Assyrian records, he supported Assyria as a vassal state with only one brief rebellion (2 Chron.33:10-13). He led Judah into idolatry that was worse than the nations driven out by Israel (21:3-5). He rebuilt the “high places” (like Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:31; which his father Hezekiah had removed in 2 Kings 18:4), erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah (like Ahab in 1 Kings 16:31; see Deut.16:21) which he even placed in the temple of the LORD, built altars to the starry hosts (like Ahaz in 2 Kings 16:10-16; see Deut.4:19; Jer.7:18), he also practiced child sacrifice (like Ahaz 2 Kings 16:3), practiced sorcery, divination, consulted mediums and spiritists (see Lev.18:21; Deut.18:9-13). He violated the Davidic covenant (2 Sam.7:7-17), the Temple of the LORD (Deut.12:1-32; 1 Kings 9:1-9), and the Mosaic Law (Deut.28:49-63). He rejected the word of the LORD through the prophets (2 Kings 21:10-15) and reputed to have killed Isaiah (see 21:16 below). According to 2 Chronicles 33:10-17 during his brief rebellion against Assyria he was taken as an exile (by himself?) in chains with a ring through his nose to Babylon (?) until he repented to the LORD (see the apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh) and the LORD restored him to his throne in Jerusalem. He even removed many of the idols and shrines he had built, but this appears to not have lasted long and the writer of Kings never mentions this positive note about Manasseh.

21:10 – What do the “prophets” signify? They signify that the LORD has not utterly abandoned His people. They are grace and mercy, righteousness and justice calling to His people to repent. They are representative of the faithful who hear the word of the LORD and obey. They are the testimony to the covenant and to the responsibility inherent in the covenant in order to experience the blessings of the covenant.

21:12 – “the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle”? (see Jer.15:1-4) The judgment of a plumb-line like the one used against Samaria will be used against Jerusalem (Amos 7:7-9) as well as like the washing of a dish that is turned over, but what does all of this mean? It means that the judgment which is coming will be beyond repair and will be utterly devastating even to the nations who are witness to this judgment.

21:16 – What does it mean that Manasseh “filled Jerusalem from one end to the other” by shedding so much innocent blood? Tradition says that Manasseh had Isaiah sawn in two (this account is given in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 5.1; several Targumim and many Early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Origen; see also Heb.11:37). Josephus wrote that Manasseh had prophets killed daily in Jerusalem as well as slaughtering any righteous persons he found (Ant.10.37-38).

21:18, 26 – What is the reference to Manasseh and Amon being “buried in the garden of Uzza”? Konkel suggests that the “garden of Uzza” may be referring to “an enclosed space constructed in honor of a Canaanite astral deity” named Attar-melek, which was the star Venus, in Arabic named “Uzza” (NIVAC 623).

21:19 – Amon – son of Manasseh. He reigned for 2 years (642-640BC) over Judah doing what was evil in the sight of the LORD just like his father Manasseh. He was assassinated (by whom?) and the assassins were put to death by those loyal to the family of David.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Praying like Manasseh

I must admit that I do enjoy reading the apocryphal books (those included in the canon of the Catholic and Orthodox churches and even those excluded), but one of my personal favorites is the "Prayer of Manasseh" (another is the "Song of the Three Children" which offers a wonderful take on what happened to the three Hebrews thrown into the fiery furnace).  I was reading it as part of my preparation for Bible study tomorrow night and was once again moved by the depths of the prayer (No, we aren't studying the Apocrypha, but I thought I'd include the prayer because we are covering the life of Manasseh).  While I have never had an issue with believing books such as this one belong to the canon (they certainly don't), I still enjoy reading them for a rather moving account of someone's perspective on 'the rest of the story' (to steal a phrase from Paul Harvey).  I'm actually appreciative of whoever it was who composed this prayer to fill in 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.
O Lord Almighty,God of our ancestors, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous offspring; you who made heaven and earth with all their order; who shackled the sea by your word of command, who confined the deep and sealed it with your terrible and glorious name; at whom all things shudder, and tremble before your power, for your glorious splendour cannot be borne, and the wrath of your threat to sinners is unendurable; yet immeasurable and unsearchable is your promised mercy, for you are the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful, and you relent at human suffering. O Lord, according to your great goodness you have promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against you, and in the multitude of your mercies you have appointed repentance for sinners, so that they may be saved. Therefore you, O Lord, God of the righteous, have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against you, but you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner.

For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied! I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities. I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; for I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offences.

And now I bend the knee of my heart, imploring you for your kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my transgressions. I earnestly implore you forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my transgressions! Do not be angry with me for ever or store up evil for me; do not condemn me to the depths of the earth. For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, and in me you will manifest your goodness; for, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy, and I will praise you continually all the days of my life. For all the host of heaven sings your praise, and yours is the glory for ever. Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"On the Uses of Adversity"

I have been reading certain books (Calvin, Barth, and Bonhoeffer) as an aid to my devotional life and recently began reading Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ.  It is a marvelous little book that has been daily driving me to tears in confession of sins like pride, gossip and worldliness, and to call out to the Lord in prayer for help.  How weak I truly am.  Lord I need you!

I came across this reading a few days ago and thought to share it (as it particularly pricked my heart in the midst of four months now of ongoing physical pain and the often mental and spiritual trials which have daily accompanied it):
It is good for us to encounter troubles and adversities from time to time, for trouble often compels a man to search his own heart.  It reminds him that he is an exile here, and that he can put his trust in nothing in this world.  It is good, too, that we sometimes suffer opposition, and that men think ill of us and misjudge us, even when we do and mean well.  Such things are an aid to humility, and preserve us from pride and vainglory.  For we more readily turn to God as our inward witness, when men despise us and think no good of us.

A man should therefore place such complete trust in God, that he has no need of comfort from men.  When a good man is troubled, tempted, or vexed by evil thoughts, he comes more clearly than ever to realize his need of God, without whom he can do nothing good.  Then, as he grieves and laments his lot, he turns to prayer amid his misfortunes.  He is weary of life, and longs for death to release him, that he may be dissolved, and be with Christ.  It is then that he knows with certainty that there can be no complete security nor perfect peace in his life.
I pray the Lord keep and preserve me by His power.  I know that in this world there is trouble and in every way and at every hour I need Him.  Lord be merciful to me a sinner...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2 Kings 18-19 -- Who is faithful to their word?

18:1 – Hezekiah – son of Ahaz. He reigned for 29 years (715-687 BC) over Judah (10 years the throne was shared with his son Manasseh) doing what was right before the LORD as his father David had done (18:3; for a paralleled alternate account of the reign of Hosea see Isaiah 36:1-39:8). He carried out religious reforms by removing the high places, smashing the sacred stones, cutting down the Asherah poles (18:4), repairing the Temple of the LORD, appointing priests, and celebrating Passover with both Judah and Israel (2 Chron.29-31).

18:4 – Nehushtan the bronze snake Moses had made in Numbers 21:4-9 was kept until the reign of Hezekiah and was being worshipped until he had it destroyed. Why did Judah keep it? The name Nehushtan is thought to come from combining the Hebrew words for ‘snake’ (nahash) and ‘bronze’ (nehoshet)– (see Hobbs WBC 252; Konkel NIVAC 599).

18:7 – Why should Hezekiah bring about the possible turmoil of Judah through reforms and his rebellion against Assyria? Because he trusted the LORD (18:5-6).

18:9-12 – Why is their repetition of the material presented already in 2 Kings 17:1-6? It may be to remind the reader of the consequences of disobedience to the word of the LORD in light of the imminent invasion by Assyria. Will Judah go into exile as Israel? Will Judah trust in the LORD in the face of seemingly impossible odds?

18:13 – In 701 BC Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah (after having finally settled its four year struggle against Babylon…though this would prove only temporary). He had just previously conquered Tyre and replaced its king, as well as conquering numerous other cities and nations. He is reported to have conquered 46 walled cities of Judah and many other smaller towns as well as deported 200,000 Judahites and surrounded Jerusalem (see Pritchard ANEP 371-373).

18:14-16 – While Hezekiah paid Sennacherib approximately one ton of gold and 30 tons of silver from the Temple treasuries, he also reinforced the walls of Jerusalem and built a water aqueduct system in order to preserve the city in case of siege (2 Chron.32:1-5, 30).

18:21 – What does it mean for Egypt to be a splintering staff of reed? (Isa.36:6; Eze.29:6-7)

18:22-25 – Is the field commander (the Rabsheka) of Assyria correct about the LORD?

18:26-28 – Why did the Rabsheka speak in Hebrew instead of Aramiac? He did this in order for those on the walls of Jerusalem to hear and understand the intimidating propaganda of Assyria.

18:29-35 – Why does the Rabsheka say, “Do not let Hezekiah…” and “Do not listen to Hezekiah…”?

18:31-32 – Assyria makes promises to Judah which the LORD will fulfill, but does so in order to usurp the place of the LORD towards the people.

19:1 – What is Hezekiah’s response to the threats? He needs a word from the LORD.

19:6-7 – The word of the LORD through Isaiah is both clear and concrete—Sennacherib will die for his blasphemy and Jerusalem will not be besieged and taken (19:8 demonstrates the first part of the LORD’s answer already coming to pass).

19:14-19 – What is the main thrust of Hezekiah’s prayer? He prays that there might be a universal confession of the LORD as God alone.

19:21-28 – A dirge or lament against Assyria (much like the one found in Isa.10:5-19). The LORD will lead Assyria by His own “hook” in their “nose” because of their treatment of Him and His people (see Amos 4:2).

19:29-31 – What is the “sign” to Hezekiah and what does it mean?

19:32-34 – Why did the LORD spare Jerusalem?

19:35 – 185,000 Assyrians were killed by the angel of the LORD, but King Sennacherib of Assyria and many with him survive and return to Ninevah. In 681 BC, King Sennacherib was assassinated by his two older sons, Adrammalech and Sharezer apparently after making his younger son Esarhaddon king ahead of them.

The following is Lord Byron's The Destruction of Sennacherib that happens to be one of my favorite English poems.

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

"The Destruction of Sennacherib" is reprinted from Works. George Gordon Byron. London: John Murray, 1832.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Apostle's Creed and the Assemblies of God

I've been teaching our congregation from the Apostle's Creed since some time last Spring (though not weekly and often only taking a short 10-15 minutes before we move into our intensive time of prayer for the remainder of our time together).  I have personally been deeply enriched by this study which is definitely outside of the norm for Assembly of God fellowhips.  In fact, I don't remember ever hearing anything about the creed in the numerous Assemblies that I've attended since childhood and most certainly we never confessed it together (that would have seemed to be too 'liturgical'...or in otherwords...too 'religious' and not nearly Pentecostal enough).  It is troubling to me to consider my wider Fellowship's failure to study, teach, preach, confess, and pray this creed (as well as the other ecumenical creeds).  I believe we have done ourselves a deep disservice and separated ourselves from the wider Church by doing so. 

The founders of the Assemblies of God (more specifically, the early Pentecostals) desired to cut out any creed as being 'man-made'. After but a few years, however, they formulated what they considered to be a Biblical statement of beliefs (though the language of a 'creed' was excluded, because there was still a rejection of things creedal as being 'human').  This was a say the least.  In rejecting credalism (which I believe may justifiably be rejected), our fellowship rejected the historic creeds of the Church and replaced them with our own (non-)creeds (which in some degree bore a similar structure to elements of the historic creeds, but in a less memorizeable, less confessional, and less ecumenical form). 

The form which the 'Fundamental Truths' (the title of our doctrinal statement) took was utterly lacking in memorability and thus incapable of truly serving a catechetical function (not to mention the numerous doctrines which may receive more emphatic clarity than is Biblically warranted and serves a more distinguishing purpose rather than a more ecumenical one). 

I was pleased to discover that the Assemblies of God has recently released an abbreviated form of the 'Fundament Truths' (intended for children and fitted onto a single small wall-poster) which moves in a positive direction for actually making our confession to be more readily memorizeable.  While this is a long-awaited move that may in fact enhance the confessional nature of our statement of faith, this still stands in place of such confessions as the Apostle's Creed which are central to the life and history of the wider Church (and which the Assemblies seems oblivious towards).  Perhaps in this move there will be a wider embracing of a confession which is better suited to discipleship (if it can be adapted to adult curriculum), but I would personally like to see the Apostle's Creed incorporated into our confession of faith as central and our distinctives as remaining in a more secondary/supportive role (and in this way these distinctives may be rightly emphasized as important, but also recognized as not holding the same status as the core of the Gospel).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

2 Kings 16-17 -- The LORD’s Presence—Promise and Threat

16:1 – Ahaz – son of Jotham. He reigned for (3 years as coregent then another) 16 years (735-715 BC) over Judah. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD unlike his father David and even acted like the kings of Israel (16:2; II Chron.28:1-2). He made idols and worshipped them (16:4; II Chron.28:2, 4, 24-25), offered his son (or sons – II Chron.28:3) in the fire (16:3 – apparently as an idolatrous act – see Deut.12:31; 18:9-10). Ahaz suffered a great defeat (II Chron.28:5-15 even though the captives of Judah were eventually returned) and while under siege by Pekah king of Israel and Rezin king of Aram he refused to trust in the LORD rejecting the word of the LORD through Isaiah the prophet and instead relied upon Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria (16:5-9; Isa.7-8) by bribing him (16:8). While delivering the bribe to Tiglath Pileser III he noticed the Assyrian altar and commanded a replicas immediate construction by Uriah the priest (see also Isa.8:2) and placement in the Temple of the LORD. This new altar was meant to replace the original altar which was then used by Ahaz for his own sacrifices (16:10-16) to the gods of Damascus (II Chron.28:22-23). In some sense Ahaz was following other Priestly-Kings like David (II Sam. 6:17-18) and Solomon (I Kings 8:63) – albeit in a wicked manner – so he seemed to emulate more especially Jeroboam I of Israel (I Kings 12:32-33).

17:1 – Hoshea – son of Elah. He assassinated Pekah king of Israel and reigned for 9 years (732-722 BC) over Israel doing evil in the eyes of the LORD, but was not considered as bad as others before him (17:3). Hoshea payed Shalmaneser V king of Assyria tribute for some time but quit and sent instead for help from Egypt (17:3-4) which was weak at this time due to many internal conflicts and therefore not able to help appropriately. His trust in Egypt was against the word of the LORD (Isa.30-31) and thus Hoshea was captured by Shalmaneser V, Samaria fell after a three year siege, and Israel was deported into exile according to the word of the LORD (see Lev.26; Deut.27-28; I Kings 14:14-16; Jer.31:15).

17:7-23 – The author of Kings makes explicit (just in case anyone already missed the critique) why all of this happened…Israel (and Judah was included in this prophetic sermon) had ultimately broken the covenant with the LORD and disobeyed all of the prophets sent to call back to faithful obedience (17:13, 20).

17:8, 11, 15 – “as the nations”? Israel is accused of acting like both the nations the LORD drove out of the land and as the nations all around them. Is this the struggle also of the Church…to be a people who belong peculiarly to the LORD who live differently than the people of the world? (see Deut.10:15; I Sam.12:22; Titus 2:14; I Pet.2:9)

17:9 – “The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God”? (If “secretly” is the correct translation – see Konkel NIVAC 577) Does the LORD see things done in ‘secret’? (see Ps.90:8; Matt.6:18; Eph.5:12)

17:24-28 – The Gentiles newly settled in the land of Israel appear to have a better understanding of the relation of the LORD to the land and the necessary obedience, but this is only short lived (17:29-41).

17:33, 44 – They “worshipped (feared) the LORD, but…”? (see Hos.6:4-10)

17:39 – To who are the LORD’s promises directed? (see II Sam.7:7-17; Isa.6:11-13; Hos.11:8-11; Amos 9:11-15) There is a promise of a “remnant”; thus the naming of Shearjashub (meaning “a remnant will return”) son of Isaiah (Isa.7:1-10). The promise is ultimately fulfilled in “Immanuel” meaning “God with us” (Isa.7-8; Matt.1:22-23). The presence of God is essential to the promise being fulfilled, but it must be remembered that the one who is both a “promise” is also simultaneously a “threat.” “The choice is not whether God will be present; the choice is only in the response to that presence” (Konkel NIVAC pg. 569).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bonhoeffer on the Reformation

I thought in light of Reformation Day (Oct. 31) I am posting about a sermon I recently read in the newly published Volume 12-Berlin: 1932-1933 of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works - English.  I was so thoroughly challenged by the words of his Reformation Sunday sermon (Nov. 6, 1932) that I couldn't help but share some of it. His text was Revelation 2:4-5, 7:
"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at the first.  Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent....Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.  To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God."
(The following is an excerpt from the sermon):
     Protestantism is not about us and our protest against the world, but rather about God's protest against us: 'But I have this against you...' 
     But we are still pretending, aren't we?  When it comes down to it, we know very well that it is not about 'A mighty fortress,' nor about 'Here I stand'; this is not the protest we are talking about.  We know full well about God's protest against us, and we know that, most of all on Reformation Day, God is out in force against us.  But we don't want to admit it, either to ourselves or to the world.  We are afraid we would look foolish in the eyes of Gd and the world if we admitted any such thing.  That's why we make so much noise about this day, October 31, hammering wrong ideas into the hands of thousands of schoolchildren, only so that they don't notice our weakness, so that we can forget it ourselves.
     No our time has run out for such solemn church feast days on which we put on an act for ourselves.  Let us stop celebrating the Reformation that way!  Let us lay the dead Luther to rest at long last, and instead listen to the gospel, reading his Bible, hearing God's own word in it.  At the last judgment God is certainly going to ask us not, ' Have you celebrated Reformation Day properly?' but rather, 'Have you heard my word and kept it?' (441-442)
He reminds the Church that the charge laid out by the Reformers (and found in his text) was that the Lord Himself was protesting against the Church and demanding repentance and works of obedience from Her.  Such a powerful reminder that the Church is in constant need of faithfulness...therefore let our cry be 'Semper reformanda' ('always reforming')!  With Bonhoeffer let us pray, "God be our help."

More on Secular Biblical Studies

Apparently my previous post has upset a number of self-proclaimed atheists -- in particular Mr. Jim Linville -- who favors the notion of studying the Bible from a 'non-religious' worldview.  My proposal is simply that this is an illusion of secular humanism and has no relation to reality.  The reality is that even an atheistic reading of Scripture always reads with a religious perspective (albeit one that does not embrace the faith of the subject matter).  Atheism is indeed a religious worldview and humanity cannot help but read anything from a religious perspective.  Just because one does not read the Scripture from the perspective of faith in God does not mean that one is reading without faith in something religious.  For the atheist -- and many supposed 'purely historical' readings, etc. -- faith is placed in self and the abilities of humanity and a whole worldview is involved wherein humanity (and pure 'reason') sits as creator (?) and judge of all things.  (Sounds rather religious to me)

I was quite surprised at the response I have received ranging from one who doesn't think I get Mr. Linville's proposal to another that believes I have been misguided.  Mr. Linville has even proposed that I should either have not been permitted membership in the Society of Biblical Literature and should now consider looking elsewhere for societal membership.  Ad hominem attacks abound in his blog response to me, but are these merely to avoid the ultimate question?  What is the genuine motivation behind such a proposal of study?  What is the point?  If the Scriptures are indeed true (as I must confess they are) concerning the necessity of faith in the Lord, then does a 'secular' reading of Scripture result in all the greater judgment at the Last Day when the reader fails to carry out (even opposes) a faith-filled responsive reading? 

To study the Scriptures as only any other book is to study the Scriptures in disobedience and rebellion to the Lord of the Scriptures.  It is not being true to all religions (or non-religions?).  It is being true only to the self as exalted above the One who has inspired the Scriptures...and the end result is not a purely scholastic reading, but a purely idolatrous reading devoid of true knowledge (and of the One Who is THE Truth).

I praise the Lord that He has not left us to our own devices concerning the quest for truth, but has given us Himself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in the clear words of inspired and holy writ...and indeed He dwells in us through the Spirit that we might be conformed to the image of the Son to the praise and glory of the Father.  I confess that I do not 'study' the Bible in order to be a better 'Biblical scholar' (though I pray that is so as well), but in order to be a more faithful disciple of the Lord.  Where else can we go to find the "eternal words of life"?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Secular Biblical Studies?

I just read on the Society of Biblical Literature facebook page about a proposal for Secular Biblical Studies offering a link to the site which purports to organize such a group of 'Biblical scholars' for reading the Bible in a "non-religious" manner.  The idea is that the Bible should be studied without any religious reading or understanding as presuppositional.  Is that even possible?  Is there any way for ANYONE to be "non-religious" about anything?  However, the site offers to organize a group to challenge the Evangelical Theological Society (and even the sub-heading of the blog includes the notion of "atheism"). the agenda is not to read the Bible in a "non-religious" manner, but in an anti-Christian manner.  But this sort of a direct proposal would be ridiculed as opposed to trying to read the Bible in a very naturalistic manner (which sounds very 'scholarly').  Is it possible that an 'atheistic' reading of the Bible will be "non-religious"?  Or will it simply offer its own godless reading where man sits as the arbiter of truth and revelation?  Further, what is the point?  Why would 'Biblical scholars' (or anyone else for that matter) want to "non-religously" read the Scriptures that claim to be the words of the Lord demanding faith from humanity?

What do you think?  Can there be any "non-religious" reading of the Bible?  Or should there even be an attempt to do so?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2 Kings 14:23-15:38 – Word of the LORD and Fall of the Kings

14:23 – Jeroboam II – son of Jehoash (or Joash). He reigned for 41 years (793-753 BC) over Israel though approximately 11 years were spent as co-regent with his father Jehoash) and did evil in the LORD’s sight (14:24) by continuing in the sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat.

14:25 – Jonah son of Amittai of Gath-Hepher (see Jonah 1:1) prophesies by the word of the LORD and Jeroboam II is therefore able to retake the boundary promised in Numbers – Lebo Hamath to the Arabah (Num.34:7-8 ; though see where the judgment comes from according to Amos 6:14). Why does the LORD care to bless Israel? (see 2 Kings 14:26-27)

14:26 – What was it that Israel “was suffering” so “bitterly” from? The problem appears to be not so much concerned with those outside of Israel as her antagonists, but those within Israel. Paul House (NAC pgs. 326-327) lists Israel as full of spiritual adulterers (Hos. 1:2; 4:1), thieves (Hos. 4:2), ungrateful children (Hos. 11:1-7), those who offer sacrifices instead of mercy (Hos. 6:6), those who worship idols instead of the LORD alone (Hos. 13:4), the oppression of the poor (Amos 2:6), injustice (Amos 2:7), immorality (Amos 2:7-8), love of wealth more than kindness (Amos 4:1-3), easy living more than righteous character (6:1-7). (For Judah’s sins and judgment see Isaiah 1-6)

15:1 – Azariah (also called Uzziah – see Isaiah 1:1; 6:1; Amos 1:1; 2 Chron. 26-27) – son of Amaziah. He reigned for 52 years (792-740 BC) over Judah and did what was right in the LORD’s sight, but he never removed the high places or stopped the people from making sacrifices there (15:4). He led Judah to victory by raising a great military and defeating the Philistines and the Ammonites and he rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem that had been torn down as well as building up several cities and towers (2 Chron. 26:6-15). After these great deeds he sinned against the LORD by entering the Temple and in his arrogance he offered incense. Thus the LORD gave him leprosy for the remainder of his reign and he was forced to share his throne since he had to live outside of the normal kingly precinct (15:5; the details are given in 2 Chron. 26:16-20).

15:8 – Zechariah – son of Jeroboam II. He reigned for 6 months (753-752 BC) over Israel and did evil in the LORD’s sight continuing in the sin of Jeroboam (15:9). He was assassinated by Shallum (15:13) and thus the word of the LORD was fulfilled concerning Jehu’s lineage on the throne lasting only four generations (10:30; 15:12).

15:13 – Shallum – son of Jabesh (probably a reference to the city of Jabesh Gilead – see Konkel NIVAC 549). He reigned for 1 month (752 BC) over Israel and was assassinated by Menahem. He doesn’t even receive recognition for being evil or right in the LORD’s sight.

15:17 – Menahem – son of Gadi (probably a reference to his being from the tribe of Gad – see Konkel NIVAC 549). He reigned for 10 years (752-742 BC) over Israel (though it may be assumed that he ruled only part of Israel and was competing with Pekah for kingship of Israel – see dates below) and did evil in the LORD’s sight continuing in the sin of Jeroboam (15:18). He is ignominiously is noted to have been the only Israelite king who “ripped open all the pregnant women” of a conquered city (Tiphsah by the Euphrates – MT; or more likely Tappuah about 10 miles from Tirzah – Old Greek), which was actually a city of Israel in apparent rebellion against him (15:16 – see the judgment of the Amonnites for doing the same in Amos 1:13). He also buys off an alliance (and retreat?) with Tiglath-Pileser III (called “Pul” in honor of conquering Babylon in 729 BC) of Assyria. He taxed the “mighty men” of Israel to raise the funds to buy off Assyria (15:19-20).

15:23 – Pekahiah – son of Menahem. He reigned for 2 years (742-740 BC) over Israel and did evil in the LORD’s sight continuing in the sin of Jeroboam. He was assassinated by Pekah and (other?) Gileadites (15:25).

15:25 – Pekah – son of Remaliah. He reigned for 20 years (752-732 BC) over Israel and did evil in the LORD’s sight continuing in the sin of Jeroboam (15:28). He allied with Rezin king of Aram/Syria against Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria and tried to ‘pursuade’ Jotham king of Judah according to the will of the LORD (15:37). He was assassinated by Hoshea after losing in battle to Assyria where many in Israel were carried away into captivity (15:29-30; by the word of the LORD prophesied to Amaziah – Amos 7:17).

15:32 – Jotham – son of Uzziah (or Azariah). He reigned for 16 years (750-734 BC) over Judah and did what was right in the LORD’s sight, but… (15:37; contrast the positive view in 2 Chron. 27:6). He defeated the Ammonites and exacted great wealth from them (2 Chron.27:5). He built up one of the gates of the Temple as well as the wall of Ophel and several cities and forts and towers (15:35; 2 Chron. 17:3-4). He became mighty because he sought the LORD (2 Chron. 27:6).

Prophetic Messages delivered at this time: ISRAEL – Jonah, Amos and Hosea; JUDAH – Isaiah and Micah.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

10 Reasons I Believe In A Recent Creation

(In no particular order)

1 – God was the only one present “in the beginning” to give a testimony of the “what,” “when,” and “how” (Gen.1:1) and has in fact done so.

2 – Genesis 1 describes one week of seven consecutive days of creation and not great ages or vague periods of time.

3 – Genesis 1 describes creation in reference to “kinds” that recreate after themselves and not evolutionary development, thus no necessary length of time between the various creatures in order to evolve.

4 – Genesis 5 gives a very precise chronological genealogy between Adam and Noah; and Genesis eleven gives another very precise chronological genealogy between Noah and Abraham (Abraham can be dated to some time around 1800-2000 BC). Any suggestion of “gaps” in names does not account for gaps in time since exact times between births and deaths are recorded.

5 – Genesis 6-8 describe a global catastrophe that more adequately accounts for the fossil record in opposition to the evolutionary suggestion of uniformitarianism (everything happened the same over time and there was no particular global catastrophe).

6 – Jesus lineage in Luke 3 traces from Jesus back to Adam treating the genealogies of the Old Testament as authentic historically.

7 – The various dating methods (radio-carbon, light travel, etc.) used by modern science presuppose vast ages and uniform decay and also that creation wasn’t already mature in the beginning. This discounts the obvious “maturity” of everything that was created (i.e., man and woman, animals and plants that are expected to begin reproducing, stars that are already in place and shining at various brightnesses and varying distances).

8 – The order of creation in Genesis one suggests a completely different order for creation than evolutionary theories involving great ages. Light appears before anything. The plants are created before the sun. Birds and fish are created simultaneously and the one does not evolve from the other, but create “after their own kind”.

9 – Death cannot be attributed to sin (as the Bible tells us in Gen.2:17 and Rom.5:12), if there was no recent creation, since death would have been present for many hundreds of millions of years prior to Adam.

10 – A recent creation has been held by the Church until recent history (see Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury, eds. Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009. Pgs. 23-78).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why We Should Read, Preach, and Teach the Old Testament

A friend of mine (Dave Peters) just posted some great comments (from Dr. Philip Ryken) about why we should read, preach and teach the OT (31 Reasons).  My own thought is that in our contemporary church setting, it would appear too often one of two extremes concerning the OT predominate: either improper understanding and over-emphasis (leading to forms of legalism) or improper understanding and no emphasis (leading to an emasculated Biblical worldview).  Understanding of the OT should be paramount for every Christian (it was the original Scriptures of the Early Church after all) as it is foundational to understanding the NT.  We cannot shy away from the difficult and ugly found in the OT, because it declares the LORD as truly Lord of all and points ahead to ultimate redemption in Christ Jesus.

Preach it Dave :-) !

Thursday, October 08, 2009

2 Kings 13-14:22 – “Grace for Israel and Judah?”

(Here is the first of a few personal comments and questions from my Wednesday night Bible study -- working through 2 Kings right now -- let me know what you think)

13:1 – Jehoahaz – the son of Jehu. He reigned for 17 years (814-798 BC) as the king of Israel and did evil in the LORD’s sight (13:2). His father, Jehu, had been promised by the prophet Elisha that final judgment would not fall on his family for four generations (2 Ki.10:30; see also Deut.6:10-12). However, because of idolatry Israel was defeated by the Aramaens and Israel’s army reduced to 50 charioteers, 10 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers (2 Ki.13:6-7).

13:3-4 – Judgment brings blessing? What was the purpose of the chastisement that Israel suffered at the hands of the Aramaens?

13:4 – Who might this unnamed “deliverer” be? Paul House (NAC 308 – he also mentions Hobbs and Gray as holding this position) and Gus Konkel (NIVAC 525) propose this “deliverer” was Elisha. The reasons given are that Elisha is named in the immediate context in language reminiscent of the “new” Moses (Deut.26:5-9) who would be another “deliverer” for Israel; further he is called the “chariots and horses of Israel” (2 Ki.13:14); finally, Elisha is portrayed in Kings as being a deliverer of Israel (2 Ki.3; 6:8-23).

13:6 – “…but they continued to sin…” – What were their sins? The religion of Jeroboam and the Asherah pole (see Amos 4:6-12).

13:10 – Jehoash – the son of Jehoahaz. He reigned for 16 years (798-782 BC) as king of Israel and did evil in the LORD’s sight (13:11). He defeated and captured king Amaziah of Judah and conquered Jerusalem: looting the treasuries of the Temple and palace, and carrying away many of the inhabitants into exile in Samaria (2 Ki.13:11-14). He also made an alliance with Assyria in order to try to oppose Aram.

13:14 – Why is Elisha called the “chariots and horses of Israel”?(see 2 Ki.3; 6:8-7:20; and also concerning Elijah: 2 Ki.2:12). He was here called this name on his deathbed after having anointed Jehu king of Israel nearly 40 years prior (2 Ki.9:1-3).  Even the servants of the LORD may suffer illness that leads to death.  There is no guarantee with the LORD other than that He is ever faithful.  We are called to look to Him and entrust ourselves in faith and obedience to His work and will.  The outcome of our life is not determined by our manner of suffering, or of death.  The outcome of our life is determined by the LORD Himself.

13:17-19 – What is the point of shooting the arrow and striking the arrows on the ground? (see 2 Ki.13:25)

13:21 – A miracle story is told of a “chance” throwing of a body into the grave of Elisha which results in the dead man being resurrected. Paul House notes the living miracles associated with the passing of Elijah and Elisha by saying, “Elijah has gone to heaven without dying; Elisha has kept giving Israel life after he has died” (NAC 308). How much more is our LORD capable of giving life if one of His prophets could be used to give life?

13:23 – What do “grace” and “compassion” have to do with the LORD’s
“covenant” with Israel?

14:1-4 – Amaziah – son of Joash. He reigned for 29 years (796-767 BC) as the king of Judah and did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight, but not like David and “not wholeheartedly” (2 Ki.14:4; 2 Chron.25:2). Though he received mention as fulfilling the Law of retribution in accordance with judging only those who sin (see Deut.24:16). However, he did not destroy the “high places” (Deut.16:1-8; 16:21-22), while he maintained the worship of the LORD at Jerusalem. In a campaign against Edom, he initially hired mercenaries from Israel, but by a message from one of the prophets concerning failure if the Israelites were with them, he summarily dismissed them (2 Chron.25:6-10). The dismissed Israelites then raided border towns of Judah which led to Amaziah’s challenge to Israel on the battlefield (2 Chron.25:20). This was the doing of the LORD because after Amaziah’s victory over Edom (10,000 were killed) he took Edom’s idols and established worship of them, therefore the LORD determined to judge him (2 Chron.25:20). He lost the battle against Israel and was utterly defeated at the hands of Jehoash king of Israel. Amaziah was captured, Jerusalem’s northern wall was torn down, and the city was plundered of both wealth and people (2 Ki.14:11-14; 2 Chron.25:22-24). King Amaziah lived another 15 years after the death of Jehoash king of Israel, but he never regained the confidence of his people and eventually was forced to flee to Lachish where he was hunted down and assassinated (2 Ki.14:17-19; 2 Chron.25:25-27).

14:8 – Why did Amaziah king of Judah challenge Jehoash king of Israel to
(see 2 Chron.25:7-13)

14:11-14 – Why was Judah defeated? (see 2 Chron.25:20) Sin may have led to the defeat, but what is the aim of the LORD in bringing about the defeat?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Another Post On Learning Biblical Languages

Elizabeth Groves (a recently hired Lecturer of Old Testament and Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary) posted several practical presentations on why we should take the time to learn Biblcal languages.  I enjoyed them (but then again I love learning painful as that can be).

Best of all is this music video about learning Koine Greek ("All Things Are Better In Koine" -- for those who also consider themselves to be Greek-Geeks).

Monday, September 28, 2009

When "Head" Doesn't Mean "Source"

A blogger I follow closely is John Hobbins.  He posted an intriguing (and controversial) blog post about the meaning of kephalē (κεφαλή, “head”) as used by Paul in 1 Cor. 11 and Eph. 5 on his blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry.  He calls (by citing the NIDB article by Max Turner) for a meaning of "head" instead of "source" which has tended to be the way for contemporary society (whether egalitarian or complementatian or anything in between) to avoid the issue and make Paul say whatever they want to hear him say instead of allowing him to say whatever it is that he actually said.  It is refreshing to read such posts and also a challenge to not make the biblical writers say what we want to hear, but to hear what they say.

Note the comments on his blog where people happily attack this proposal! :-)  What do you think?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Before You Pray...

I found it amazing to read Karl Barth's "Prayer" and find that he does not begin his discussion of prayer with the "how," "why," or "what," (as important as those matters may be) but with the answer!  This was shocking to me (though in all honesty it shouldn't have been).  What does he mean by stating that we begin with the answer and not with the questions?  Well, our questions (more often than not) are actually not straightforward questions, but attempts to skirt the heart of the matter.  When we question God (which I believe Scripture teaches clearly that God welcomes while also confronting this) we must be willing firstly to hear the answer.  And the answer is 'YES!' 

But this 'YES' is the 'YES' to the question posed (and necessarily answered) by God Himself (2 Corinthians 1:19-20).  It is the 'YES' that is found in Christ Jesus, but it is also an emphatic 'no' to our sins and our sinful and deceitful nature.  The 'YES' and the 'no' are bound up in God's Self-giving Love: incarnation, suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection and coming again.  Thus, his 'YES' (and 'no') is only to be identified in Christ Jesus.  This is what is meant by "praying in Jesus' name" (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-26), instead of simply as the conclusion often thoughtlessly tacked onto the end of our prayers.

In Jesus Christ, we find all our prayers answered with this YES (or AMEN if you prefer to sound more spiritual :-).  In Jesus Christ, prayer is offered according to God's good and perfect will and not according to our own desires and plans.  In Jesus Christ, all our questions are taken up in the question He poses to us, "Who do you say that I am?" and we must answer with Peter (being led by the Holy Spirit), "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matthew 16:15-16).
In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, he begins with "Our Father..." (Matthew 6:9), because all prayer that is genuine prayer begins with the 'YES' of Jesus our Lord and Savior.  The relation of God as "our Father" is not accomplished except through faith in Jesus His One and Only Son.  Our relation to the Father is only as our "Father" because of our relationship with (and 'in') Christ.  We can pray in faith with assurance, because Jesus prayed (and continually prays) for us...and not only does he continue to make intercession for us, but His Spirit does so in and through us (Romans 8:26-27, 34).  His Spirit testifies that we are indeed in Christ and therefore are heard and the answer is...YES!  Praise His Glorious Name!!!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sneezing as a Testimony

This last Sunday I gave a testimony in church that may seem a little unusual (but hey...that is kind of my M.O.).  I thanked God that I sneezed this last weekend.  Everyone kind of laughed probably thinking (as you do) that thanking God for sneezing is silly.  It's not...let me tell you.  The reason I give thanks for sneezing is because I haven't sneezed in over a month.  The end of July I fractured my nose and dislocated my septum (by punching myself in the face...long story and if you really want the details email me and I'll give them to you).  I then had surgery to fix my nose, which by the way leaves a person in extreme I can't recommend anyone getting a nose-job just for vanity, but I must admit my nose looks good now :-). 
Anyways, I was not allowed to sneeze while my nose was healing and I certainly wasn't going to sneeze before this (not that we usually have any choice about the matter, but you get the gist).  So I hadn't sneezed in a month and last week I had my final check-up for my nose and got the good report that everything looks good.  Then this weekend while driving home from Minneapolis (went to a Vikings game where they lost it in the last couple minutes) suddenly...I sneezed!  And it didn't feel hurt.  It was just a little discomforting.  YAY for sneezing. 

Why do I bring this up here?  Because there is even a story in Scripture where a sneeze (7 to be precise) was a testimony to healing.  In 2 Kings 4 there is an account of Elisha who visits a Shunammite woman whom God miraculously gives a son.  Then the son one day suddenly has a pain in his head, is carried to his mother, where he dies in her lap.  The mother sends for Elisha, but Elisha sends his servant Gehazi on ahead with Elisha's staff to place on the boy and bring about the boys healing.  It doesn't work.  Elisha arrives and when he does he shuts himself in with the dead boy, prays and even lays himself on top of the child...the child "warms", but is not brought back.  Then we read the following:
Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes! (2Ki 4:35 NLT -- emphasis mine)
The boy is raised to life and this is testified to by his sneezing!  So I've discovered that sneezing can indeed be a wonderful testimony.  Again...PRAISE THE LORD FOR SNEEZING!

Monday, September 07, 2009

We Confess What We Do Not Know

Yesterday I shared in church about the failure of our confession of Who God is and the glory that is due Him and then today when I checked my email I found a wonderful article by John Armstrong about the limitations of our knowledge and explanation of God.  Whatever it is that we affirm concerning God must include what we deny.  Gregory Nazianzen rightly proclaimed, "how do you describe the Essence of God? Not by declaring what it is, but by rejecting what it is not."  St. Basil echoes the same sentiment when he writes, “We confess that we know what is knowable of God and yet what we know reaches beyond our comprehension.”

Particularly when we speak of the very essence of God, we must also recognize that all our descriptions fall far short of His Glory.  Sometimes I fear that we in the church have created such neat and tidy theologies that we forget that the God of Whom we speak is indescribable and beyond comprehension.  The LORD does not fit into a nice little dogmatic statement (though we rightly confess the historic creeds with all the Church), we must never fail to recognize that every confession must entail a confession of falling short of His Glory.  It is such a wonderful thing that the LORD of all should condescend to make Himself known through the record of His covenantal relation to and with humanity (and particularly Israel) and not only that...He took on flesh and became one of us...Immanuel.  Praise His Name!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Maacah the "mother" of Abijah and Asa

The Problem
Recently I was chatting with a fellow who proposed that there may be an error in the Scriptures.  So in the course of the conversation he shared what he thought was the error and I've worked through what I think are some possible solutions to the apparent error (being someone who loves a challenge, believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, and just plain old loves to study the Bible).  So I thought I'd blog my thoughts about this...for whatever its worth.

Here is the problem: 1 Kings 15:2 says Maacah was the "mother" of Abijah and 1 Kings 15:10 says Maacah was the "mother" (depending on what English translation you look at because some say "grandmother") of Asa--Abijah's son.
Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah.  He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. (1Ki 15:1-2 NAS) 
So in the twentieth year of Jeroboam the king of Israel, Asa began to reign as king of Judah.
And he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. (1Ki 15:9-10 NAS)

Option 1- The term for "mother" may also mean "grandmother" since there are no other words available for referring to a grandmother.

The term in the Hebrew (אֵם) for 'mother' has a wider possible meaning than simply 'mother', it can also be applied to the matriarch of the family (grandmother, etc.), just as the Hebrew for "father" can also be applied to an ancestor that stands in the lineage of the family without being the specific/anatomical birth-father of the individual named (immediate context and the wider Scriptural context will normally shed light on which it is).

Besides of which, there does not appear to be a Biblical Hebrew word for "grandmother" besides אֵם which means just means "mother", but has (only in this immediate context) the wider meaning of "grandmother". So unless it can be demonstrated that the Hebrew of the Old Testament era has another specific word for "grandmother" I would say that אֵם is the appropriate term to refer to each -- mother and grandmother.  This works just the same as אָב means "father" "grandfather" "great-grandfather" etc. There is only this one word for "father", "grandfather" in the OT Hebrew (so far as I can tell). So context is the only possible aid in helping to know just what is being meant by the single word which appears to have been the ONLY word possible.

Thus, there are translations which reflect "grandmother" in 15:10 (NIV, NLT, NET) -- understanding אֵם to mean "grandmother" in this context.  But there are others (KJV, NAS, NRSV, ESV) that retain the reading as "mother" and choose to not try to resolve the possible difficulty posed by Maacah being the "mother" of both Abijam and Abijam's son Asa.  So perhaps other options should be considered as well.

Option 2 - The name of Asa's "mother" was Ana and not Maacah.

The Greek Septuagint (LXX) in 1 Kings 15:10 actually lists the 'name of his [Asa's] mother' as "Ana daughter of Abishalom" instead of "Maacah daughter of Abishalom" which is what the Hebrew Masoretic text reads.  All the English translations (ESV, KJV, NIV, NRSV, NAS, NET, NLT) I've looked at take the former (Maacah) reading for 1 Kings 15:10...thus believing that the Masoretic text (being the more difficult reading and therefore the easiest to explain the smoothing towards changing the name to "Ana" found in the LXX) is the preferred reading...whether they chose "mother" or "grandmother" the idea would be that the Masoretic text preserves the original text here (which is most likely and would also be in agreement with the Masoretic and LXX reading of 2 Chronicles 15:16 with the name 'Maacah' as the "mother" of Asa).  The fact that the LXX only changed the name in 1 Kings 15:10, but not in 2 Chronicles 15:16 speaks more to questions (at least for me) about the texual tradition of the LXX than it does about the dilemma at hand.  So I would say that the suggestion that "Ana" was the mother of Asa is to be rejected and we are still left trying to resolve Maacah being the "mother" of both Abijam and his son Asa.

Option 3 - Maacah actually raised Asa as her son (even though he was her grandson by birth) because the mother was out of the picture for some unexplained reason. 

This is actually not a strange option, since everyone would agree that even a child who is not biologically a son or daughter may be adopted by someone and therefore have a new "mother" or "father".  Joseph being the "father" of Jesus is a perfect example.  So perhaps Maacah acted as the "mother" of Asa and therefore held the rightful name of "mother".  all adoptive parents understand that being a "mother" or "father" of a child is far more than biological.

Option 4 - Maacah was his birth mother, thus the writer of Kings would be implying that Abijam (Asa's father) slept with his own mother, got her pregnant and she ended up giving birth to Asa. 

Thus, she would physically/anatomically be the "mother" of each of them. Often the writer of Kings records activities without offering any specific critique of the rightness or wrongness, but simply reports certain incidences and allows the light of the Torah (Lev.18:6-7) to declare the rightness or wrongness of something.  This may indeed be one of those cases.


Option 2 seems to betray a difficulty in the text of the LXX concerning the transmission of Kings (since Chronicles retains the reading of Maacah as "mother" of Asa) and therefore should be rejected out of hand.  Options 1, 3, and 4 are actually--in my opinion--viable options given the nature of the text and authors and the lexicography (semantic possibilities) of words.  I did at one point leans towards option one (with option 3 as slightly less likely), but currently find option 4 to be the most probable...given the way that the author of Kings has again and again offered the readers a story reflecting the sinful ways of Judah and Israel (and may give further justification for the removal of his "mother" Maacah from a place of prestige and authority beyond her public support and financing of idolatry -- see 1 Kings 15:13).

Perhaps there are even other options which I've over-looked.  If so please feel free to comment on that.  Also, I'd be interested in any thoughts on this subject whether positive or negative.  Or perhaps you don't care and you are thinking, "Rick has WAY too much time on his hands"... :-)

Monday, August 31, 2009

For Those Who Love the Writings of Lewis and Tolkien

There is a new book (July 2009) that documents the story of "The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends" who met to discuss literature and to share their various writings together.  I just wanted to share this short YouTube video with anyone who has ever enjoined the works of Lewis and Tolkien (who are two of my all-time favorite writers).  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reflections on the Beatitudes

I was reflecting on the beatitudes (while reading several books
that dealt with this subject) and had the realization that the truer characteristics Christ describes of His followers are in fact  demonstrated less by their action and more by their reaction.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Mat 5:3-11 NIV)
What do I mean by that?  I noticed that it is much easier for me to do something that fits this profile when its on my terms, my timing, etc., but not when I'm busy, having  a hard day, etc.  When reading the beatitudes I notice that the poor in spirit are lacking and/or abused first, that the mourners have suffered first, the meek have been humbled first, the merciful have been wronged unjustly first, the ones hungering/thirsting after righteousness are inadequate and unsatisfied first, the peacemakers, are in turmoil first, the persecuted...well they are being persecuted first.  So the reaction of Christ's followers are significant in demonstrating the Lordship of Christ in one's life.

I realize that the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in my life is more readily apparent (or not) when I'm reacting to something or someone else.  How I respond/react demonstrates more truly the work of God in my life than simply how I act (not that the acting isn't also extremely important, but it can certainly be used as a mask of what is really going on in my heart).  I once heard someone say, "No one really wants to be good, but everyone wants others to think they are good." 

My reaction to adversity and trouble truly demonstrates the working of the Spirit in my life and drives me back to the all-sufficient Cross of Christ.  His reaction "as a lamb to the slaughter" in the midst of hatred, rage, abuse, rejection, torture and even execution drives me back to His life...may I be found hidden in Him and live in step with the Spirit.

So I pray today that the Lord Jesus help me by His Spirit to not just act, but react in ways that reflect His life in my life (and my life hidden in His).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Grounds of Faith

I read a wonderful quote in a book I'm almost through by Mark Batterson (pastor of National Community Church) "Wild Good Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God" (2008: pg. 79):
Faith is not logical. But it isn't illogical either. Faith is theological. It does not ignore reality; it just adds God into the equation.... Faith is not mindless ignorance; it simply refuses to limit God tothe logical constraints of the left brain.... Logic questions God. Faith questions assumptions. And at the end of the day,faith is trusting God more than you trust your own assumption.
I was struck by this quote, because it reminds me of a saying by Augustine: Credo ut intelligam "I believe so that I may understand."
Faith is not logical or illogical, but theological. It is the firm foundation of life beginning and ending in Christ -- God for man and man for God. And there can be no other foundation and no other goal than this one. All knowledge, all logic, has Christ as the center and boundaries.
Lord, I my unbelief...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Al Mohler

I just listened to an amazing 2 part message by Al Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). He is both humorous and punchy! One might say prophetic to the Church, calling us to return to the Lord.

His proposal about evangelical bible studies being one of the most dangerous places in the world is well worth noting! He suggests that we MUST move beyond asking "What does this passage say to you?" to asking "What is God saying or showing us about Himself?" We should not be focused in our study of Scripture on personal application/meaning, but on glorifying God in everything! A hard-hitting reminder to myself to not study Scripture for myself but for the the absolute Glory of God.

The Hidden God Made Known

St. Basil the Great (one of the Cappadocian Fathers in his wonderful little book "On the Holy Spirit - 'De Spiritu Sancto') wisely wrote, "We confess that we know what is knowable of God and yet what we know reaches beyond our comprehension." These are wise words to be remembered by those of us professing to speak as if we know God. Indeed we know God, but this is by the Scriptures -- through the Spirit -- through Christ. But we only know in part (as Paul says).

We would do well to do theological and pastoral work in light of this with all humility. God has truly revealed Himself and given Himself to us and for us in Christ, but yet we must never forget that we are still broken and awaiting our final redemption. Our knowledge is only in part. May we know Him as He is in Himself -- Our Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit, but may we never think that we have fully understood this Great God who is hidden even in His revelation (think of Moses who was graciously permitted to "see" God, but only in passing), until He returns. Someday we will know Him as He is and that Day will be glorious...oh, for the Day of His Coming again when we will know Him in all his ineffabel Glory and Majesty! Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Word/s of Life?

"Simon Peter replied, 'Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.' (John 6:68 - NLT). This was Peter's reply after many had left from following Jesus. Were they offended by Jesus' statements about eating his flesh and drinking his blood for "life" or were they offended because Jesus had just said that only the ones the Father gives to him will come to him?

But let's move beyond the question of the motivation for so many deserting Jesus at that moment, I want to deal with Peter's reply to Jesus query of his immediate disciples, "Are you also going to leave?" Peter replies that they have nowhere else to go. He states that Jesus has "the words that give eternal life." But is this the end of his reply? No! In fact, it would be entirely insufficient for Peter to only believe that the words of Jesus give eternal life. No, in fact it is Christ Himself who is life. The rest of Peter's answer "and we believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." This is where the key rests.

The disciples who deserted Jesus may have believed his words could give life (after all he multiplied the fishes and loves by a seeming blessing of God). The key is not that Jesus' words alone give life, but that Jesus is THE life (John 11:25 -- concerning the death and resurrection of Lazarus where Mary and Martha's belief in his word as life needed to be redirected to Jesus as THE life; and John 14:6 where Jesus reminds his disciples that he is the way, the truth and the life and therefore no one comes to the Father except through him). This is not to downplay the words, but to emphasize the one whose words they are. The words point clearly to the Word (John 1:1). May we not only believe the words of Jesus, but let us place our faith in Jesus Himself as THE LIFE. It is the difference between believing something about someone, and actually believing in that someone. May my faith move beyond God's words and to God's Word -- the Lord Jesus Christ...where else can we go???

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Glory of the LORD and His Torah

I just listened to one of the most amazing defenses of Mosaic authorship of the book of Deuteronomy that I've ever encountered which was a lecture (about 50 minutes long) delivered to the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on Sept. 29, 1999 entitled "The Genesis of Deuteronomy." This message (while heavily academic) is similar to other messages I've heard from Dr. Block that are extremely pastoral and delivered as an impassioned plea to know and glorify the LORD in everything.

Daniel I. Block, D.Phil - University of Liverpool (Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and author of multiple commentaries, books and articles including the publicly lauded "standard" for commentaries on the OT with his "Ezekiel" [2 volumes in the New International Commentary of the Old Testament]) has presented many convincing arguments for the structure and compilation of Deuteronomy (not to mention the influence upon Genesis-Leviticus) and its relation to the rest of Scripture. He moves well beyond the likes of Martin Noth and Moshe Weinfeld and indeed offers a truly Evangelical approach and critique to the contemporary critical understanding and history of Torah. I hope he includes such work (and further develops it) as a part of his soon (?) coming commentary on Deuteronomy in the NIV Application Commentary series. It is always refreshing to listen to a Scholar who knows his stuff, but shares it in the spirit of a Pastor.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Happy Ramadan

Today begins the Islamic month of Ramadan where Muslims the world over will be fasting. I have participated in Ramadan for 16 years now, but as a Christian. I don't participate in order to obtain salvation or blessing, but in order to pray for Muslims everywhere to come to know the Lord of all. There are numerous resources that can aid Christians in better praying for Muslims during this month where in particular the Islamic community is praying for God to hear them and to have a revelation from Him. One site that I use is and it publishes a daily update (when subscribed to) for reading/prayer that can aid Christians in focusing their prayer time during the month. Reports every year show that more Muslims come to know the Lord Jesus Christ during Ramadan than during any other time of the year. Please pray!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Are You Learning Greek and Hebrew?

I've been asked this question numerous times (by some family, friends and my church), "Why would you want to learn Hebrew/Greek?" There have of course been times I've wondered the very same thing. It's hard work that requires tremendous amounts of time, energy, focus and just plain type A personality giftings (or would it be better to say a little OCD doesn't hurt :-)). I've taken a couple of years of Greek and Hebrew now at both the undergrad and now the Grad level and while I've learned alot, it seems the more I learn the more I realize that I don't know. The complexities of not only learning a language, but of learning a dead language that you are incapable of chatting with anyone in, that there is no new literature being written in, etc.

But them I'm reminded of why I do this when I begin to study the Scriptures in the original languages and soon realize all the things that are missing by only reading a translation. Not to mention it aids in memorizing the Scriptures in English and understanding the translations you read that much more clearly. I find that when I'm able to read something in the original language suddenly I feel that I can hear the voice of the Lord a little clearer and as if the words come to life.

Over the last few years I have grown to love learning languages more and more (while still struggling day in and day out) and to realize that to know Christ is not always an easy matter. Discipleship requires discipline and there is no easy path for following Him. The shortcuts to discipleship tend to water down the disciple.

While I don't think its necessary to learn Greek and Hebrew in order to follow Christ, yet there is inestimable advantage in reading what was originally written and thereby drawing closer to Christ and walking in faithfulness with His Spirit. The admonition of Paul to Timothy to "study to show yourself approved to God" is not the call to a casual study of Scripture and the following of the Lord, but a call to work hard at knowing the revelation of God and to walk in faith-filled obedience to it. I pray the Lord help us as His body (and myself as a servant to His glorious Church) to offer ourselves in obedience, to work as to Him and to bring Him greater glory through the process.

"I now studied much, about 12 hours a day, chiefly Hebrew . . . [and] committed portions of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory; and this I did with prayer, often falling on my knees . . . I looked up to the Lord even whilst turning over the leaves of my Hebrew dictionary." – George Mueller, 1829

"For the devil smelled a rat, and perceived that if the [biblical] languages were revived a hole would be knocked in his kingdom which he could not easily stop up again. Since he found he could not prevent their revival, he now aims to keep them on such slender rations that they will of themselves decline and pass away. They are not a welcome guest in his house, so he plans to offer them such meager entertainment that they will not prolong their stay. Very few of us, my dear sirs see through this evil design of the devil." —Martin Luther, 1524

Oh, for more George Muellers and Martin Luthers! Lord, help me in my weakness to study faithfully that I may be approved in the Last Day as a worthy Son and Disciple!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Judgment of God???

John Piper just posted an amazing (and controversial -- but what's new) blog. Just yesterday I was visiting with another minister about the ELCA convention that was meeting in Minneapolis to discuss the issue of homosexuality. I had voiced my heartbreak for the ELCA that has moved so far from her Lord that she would bless what God doesn't, and declare righteous what God declares sinful. I have no angst against the ELCA, but only compassion that they might return to the Lord. It seems that at the very church (Central Lutheran) where this was going on at 2PM there was a freak tornado that tore through downtown Minneapolis and ended at Central Lutheran by destroying the steeple (where it suddenly lifted and was gone). John Piper's blog gives some more details and what he believes may be the point of it all. We need to pray for the ELCA for repentance and righteousness.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Wonderful World of Wadholms is changing!

This family blog has basically been abandoned (due to Jenn's greater personal satisfaction in maintaining updates on Facebook :-). So it is being revived as Rick's personal blog (not excluding the family, but not posting the family updates that are better shared on FB) to just post random thoughts on life, theology and the Bible.

Choosing Prayer

I'm taking a directed studies this semester that is called "Advanced Pastoral Ministry Experience" where I get to choose anything that I feel is a weakness in my pastoral ministry. (I realize there are MANY weaknesses in my life that could be worked on). So after talking with my advisor I've decided to do this class on "Prayer" (beyond just praying for good grades).

However, I have to actually pick a couple of books on prayer and read them, then write a critical review/response for each book before writing a final paper on my personal prayer journey -- where I've been and where I intend to go and how I intend to get there. This should be a fun class. My only problem is actually finding any books that particularly focus on the pastoral ministry and prayer. This isn't essential, but I feel would be very helpful.

There are a number of books that I'm considering (Karl Barth "On Prayer";and Dietrich Bonhoeffer "Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible"), but I'd be interested in any proposals on what books anyone has read and would recommend as well as what particularly about the book has effected a beneficial change in your prayer life. I look forward to finding greater times with the Lord in prayer.