Hope From The Hebrew Scriptures

In previous entries, I have examined examples of the translators of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek used the Greek word for hope. Those Greek translations were what the early churches across Europe and Asia used as their “Scriptures” as Paul and the other writers are writing what becomes the Christian Scriptures. So, how the translators used the Greek word for hope and how modern English translators use the English word are somewhat different.

For instance, where you find the word “hope” in an English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Greek translation often has the word for “substance” (hupostasis). This creates a strange situation in translating Hebrews 11:1, where faith is typically understood as the “substance of things hoped for”. Because of the difference in understanding hope between our culture and the Greek culture, it would sound somewhat like it was saying “faith is hope of what is hoped for”.

Frankly, who cares about the difference between the way the Greek translators understood hope and how we see it through the lens of English translations today? Well, think about “love”. I can say that I “love” pizza, my dogs, and my Jeep. But I also use the word for my love for my daughter, which is distinctly different than my love for my wife, which is distinct from my love for my Savior. Yet, in English, it’s the same word. In Greek, they are much more precise about love, and that’s what I’m getting at. They are also more precise when it comes to hope.

A glaring exception to this is Job. Ironically, one of the most depressing books of the Bible led the translators of the Hebrew into Greek to use the Greek word for hope in many of the same places later English translators used it. A good example is in Job 4 where Job’s friend Eliphaz argues that if Job is suffering, then it must be because he sinned. He makes this statement:

“Your words have helped the tottering to stand, And you have strengthened feeble knees.
“But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; It touches you, and you are dismayed.
“Is not your fear of God your confidence, And the integrity of your ways your hope?
“Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed?

Job 4:4-7 NASB

The Hebrew word is “tiqvah”, which is commonly translated into English as “hope”. In the Greek text, though, it is either the word referenced above (hupostasis) or another word, “hupomone“. Yet, the translators consistently translated it as the typical Greek word for hope used later in the Christian Scriptures, “elpis“. In other words, this place, and most of the book of Job, is an agreement between the Greek culture and our own about hope.

Again, so what? Well, look at what Eliphaz claims. He claims that Job’s hope is his own integrity. In this, both the Greek and English agree with the translation. But when we look at Job’s reply in another place we find this:

“Be silent before me so that I may speak; Then let come on me what may.
“Why should I take my flesh in my teeth And put my life in my hands?
Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.
“This also will be my salvation, For a godless man may not come before His presence.

Job 13:13-16 NASB emphasis mine

Here, the translators differ. In Hebrew, we “yachal” (wait) and in Greek, “hupomone” (endure). In English, we have “hope”. The ground that will not crumble away, the foundation that will endure, and the only secure future we can look to is with our Creator and Savior. Call it hope, call it assurance, confidence, or expectation, whatever. All else may fail, all else may fall away and crumble around us (and eventually, it all will), we may lose every other relationship on earth, but we will never be lost from our Savior.

This isn’t an argument about whether salvation can be lost once gained. This is about the confidence we can have in the One having created us, who also made it possible for us to relate to Him. This is about confidence, not in ourselves or our own ability (which is pitiful), but confidence in He who is powerful, powerful to call stars into existence with a mere word. He who forms galaxies and quarks also secures our relationship with Him, and draws us into His presence, before His throne, and into His lap. The book of Job isn’t about the disaster that Job experiences, but about the secure hope we can have in our Powerful Savior.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

In Closing…

The Epistle to the Hebrews closes like a letter. Not much else has sounded like a letter, but the ending does. Could the ending have been added to an essay to support Pauline authorship? Probably not, but authorship aside, the content of the wrapping up of this epistle has very interesting elements.

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21 NASB

Is it interesting that, while the benediction begins calling on God to equip the disciples, it ends with praise of Jesus specifically? It turns out this is somewhat unique to Hebrews. Although, considering the great length the writer has gone to deify Jesus, it should be expected.

This benediction also contains the only direct reference to Jesus’ resurrection in the entire letter (I had to go back and check that). Which is only true because Jesus’ resurrection is assumed in the many references to His ascension and intercessory work in heaven.

Notice what is prayed for. That the God who raised Jesus, the Good Shepherd, from the dead would equip the writer’s audience. And the equipment would “every good thing”, the purpose of which is the practice of God’s will (or Jesus’ will), and the method of equipping is God Himself “working in us that which is pleasing in His sight”.

Think that through for a moment. Once more, we see that the life we live is less about us than our Savior. It’s our life to live, is it not? Yet it is our Savior “working in us” which equips us to do His will. Like Paul wrote, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, or, basically, let it happen. Our role is submission, our achievement is the will of another not our own, and our participation is almost passive.

I say “almost” because we are held accountable for our participation. We are, in fact, supposed to participate in the work/will of our Creator. The struggle is to “discover” that work/will. We have so much baggage, so much self, so much we desire that we can barely hear His voice through all the noise.

The most amazing, unimaginable, fantastic, unbelievable opportunity in human history is to participate with the Creator of the universe on His projects. Instead, we choose to consume anything we want that we believe makes us safe, great, and powerful over others. We become about our clothes, our image, our rights, our comfort, our money, our…whatever. And we miss our Creator’s purpose.

When you consider the immense depth of love such a powerful Creator has for rebellious creatures, doesn’t it seem strange that we are so quick to dismiss His eternal powerful projects to focus on our own temporary weak goals? And yet, that describes humanity throughout human history. A world-wide flood resulted from this propensity, and yet, it continues.

Perhaps, on this day where a “world power” celebrates freedom from oppression, we can decide to trade our slavery to ourselves for freedom as slaves to our Creator? We can choose to do that because He is also our Savior. Celebrate submission, even as we celebrate freedom.

So, what’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Sacrificing Sheep

Participles are extremely flexible words. Using two words, one of them a participle, four sentences making up three verses can be summarized. Titles are places to condense, and paragraphs are places to expound.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Hebrews 13:15-17 NASB

There are familiar elements to these verses, but I have rarely heard them all used together. We (Americans) don’t like ideas like “sacrifice” and “obey” much. These concepts get in the way of our self-focused lives. I’m generalizing, but it certainly applies to me. And, from commercials and what passes for entertainment around me, I think it applies to far more people than just me.

This isn’t a great spot to unpack all that Scripture says about sacrifice, so a slice will have to suffice. Sacrifice isn’t exactly what we typically think it is. Sacrifice, in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, satisfies a few practical theological requirements. Look at God’s response to Noah’s sacrifice after the flood:

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.
“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”

Genesis 8:20-22 NASB

Our Creator, the Destroyer of the world through flood, smelled the aroma of the sacrifice. And then, having smelled the aroma of the sacrifice, He promises never again to interrupt the cycles of this world. He promises this even though He can see that the people He created are twisted from birth. That is the effect of sacrifice, that is how our Creator responds to sacrifice. Well, some sacrifice, He doesn’t respond that way to all sacrifice.

So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Genesis 4:3-7 NASB

Cain did not “do well” with his sacrifice. There has been a lot of speculation about why Cain didn’t do well enough that his sacrifice wasn’t accepted by God. All we can truly assert is that the description of Abel’s offering was qualitatively better than Cain’s. So, the difference is qualitative, rather than the actual substance of what was sacrificed. There is a qualitative requirement for our Savior’s acceptance of a sacrifice.

The prophets, starting with Samuel, write as follows:

Samuel said,
“Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He has also rejected you from being king.”

1 Samuel 15:22-23 NASB

“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”
Says the LORD.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.

Isaiah 1:11 NASB

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward.

Jeremiah 7:21-24 NASB

For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6 NASB

And in case you are thinking that “praise and worship” is different…

“Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
“Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
“But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:22-24 NASB

There are more, but you get the gist. There is more that our Savior requires than the practice of singing and praising. Look again at the second of the two components included in “sacrifice” in Hebrews 13:16, “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Sure, we like the singing part. That’s fun. But doing good and sharing is what pleases our Savior. Even the content of the praise should be thankfulness, as in agreeing that God has given us all we have.

The second element, obeying our leaders, is included because I believe it’s part of the actualizing of our ‘sacrifice’. When we submit to those our Savior has placed over us, when we make the burden He has placed on them lighter, then our sacrifice to our Savior, is real, coming from a sincerely dedicated heart. To do good stuff, to sing loud songs, and to give stuff to others isn’t enough if we refuse to submit to our leaders. And keep in mind that the refusal to submit is evidence of a prideful heart. It’s not one more thing on a checklist.

In fact, none of these things are checklist items. Loving justice and doing good, sharing and praising are all things that are supposed to originate from a devotion to our Savior. Religious practice without a relationship with our Creator is pointless. In fact, a case can be made that the object of our worship at that point isn’t our Creator at all.

So, let’s be the “sheep” of our Good Shepherd, sacrificing to our Savior, those things acceptable to Him. Let us practice our praise, our doing good, our submission, all because our Creator is also our Savior. Love, give, submit, for we are disciples of Jesus.

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Maybe It’s Not About Food

Have you ever watched a movie, or read a book where what you thought the movie was about turned out to be nothing at all what it was truly about? Happens to me with the best of reads and flicks. I think good authors and directors design it that way. The writer of Hebrews sort of does that with this “paragraph” of text.

In the the last entry, I covered the consistency statement about Jesus sandwiched between trusting leaders to avoid false teaching. But, what the writer does with the “false teaching” reference is actually surprising. It turns out it’s not actually about food:

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:9-14 (NASB)

So, we start with the reference to teaching about food, and end up looking at Jesus in heaven. On the way, we leave Jerusalem and view the crucifixion. Yeah, it’s a weird journey when you think about it. From food laws through crucifixion to heaven…wait, that sounds vaguely familiar. Do you see it?

In this letter to Hebrews, one of the “elements” claimed to be missing is any reference to Communion. Yet, if you go back and read those last sentences of the passage above again, do you see it? It’s the path of Jesus from the upper room to His ascension. In common application of communion, that’s what the Lord’s Supper refers to as well (Luke 22:14-20, Mark 14:22-45, Matt. 26:26-29).

But, of course, the path chosen by Nicodemus, has to pass through Exodus, in a sense. The writer uses a reference to the sin offering, the type of offering which in English translations is often “whole burnt offering”. In this type of sacrifice, nothing is eaten, there is no portion for the priests, and all of it is consumed by fire. The problem is that, when it’s an ox or bull, that’s a lot of animal to burn up. So, it’s divided up, with specific parts of the organs burnt on the altar, and the rest taken outside of the camp and burned.

What the author does here is point out how Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem. Remember that he is trying to encourage his audience to endure rejection from their fellow Jews rather than give in, and compromise their faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Here, he calls them to go outside the camp.

For us, this is like calling us to reject “science”, or “philosophy”, of the learned and schooled, the wisdom of this world. It’s challenging us to endure the smirks, the eyerolls, the sighs of the ones who have “done the math”. For this world, to believe that there is a Creator, that this Creator loves His human creatures, and that He is our Savior through the historical figure of Jesus is ludicrous. To go further and claim deity for Jesus is simply irrational. And yet, it’s true.

The writer of Hebrews calls on his audience to go “outside” and join Jesus, because the view from “outside the camp” is a view of the heavenly city. What we are seeking we will never find among the “accepted” of this world. We, like the host of witnesses who have gone before, seek a city not made with human hands. We seek to pass through the Holy Place, through the thick curtain, and enter the Most Holy Place, there to find Jesus on the throne interceding on our behalf with the Father.

So, it’s not about food, not really. It’s the transition from food (the upper room) to the cross (the sin offering burned outside the camp), and then to the foot of the throne in heaven. One day, the cup of communion will be shared with our Savior once again, when we “drink it new in the Kingdom of God”.

The writer looks forward, and the path he takes is the path of communion. The elements are there, flesh and blood. The crucifixion is in sight, and also the scene in heaven. The call is to leave the comfort of acceptance by the world, and go outside, to the reproach of the Anointed One. Rather than be carried away by pointless rules, carry the reproach of our Savior.

I suppose this is a call for volunteers to be the “village idiot”. Or, it’s a call to follow Pilgrim away from his family and village, to the Celestial City. It’s likely both.

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation