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

The “Bread” of the “Sandwich”

People love simple statements. There are some in Scripture, but most of them are fairly complex. While one exception might be Hebrews 13:8, the common use of Hebrews 13:8 is anything but simple. It seems, though, the most common users neglect the verses on either side, for some reason (imagine my eye-roll). It’s easy, when a passage seems made up of staccato statements, to pick and choose from among them, like they make up some sort of buffet. And, in this particular case, I’ve done it too.

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 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.

Hebrews 13:7-9 NASB (emphasis mine)

Jesus Christ is the same as He has always been. So, watch those who walk with Him so that you can as well. Notice that this doesn’t mean that I must apply the Jewish dietary laws to my current menu (bad teaching). It’s not necessarily a bad practice, it’s simply doesn’t bring you closer to Jesus. THAT is what the writer is getting at. What do most people do with verse 8? Depends on the group, but the typical usage ties it to some teaching found somewhere in Scripture, and justifies applying that teaching to wherever they happen to be. It has become, for some, the “multitool” of Scripture verses.

The truth is, there is tremendous comfort in knowing that Jesus is the same forever. And I believe this statement right here where it is in this passage is supposed to give that feeling. But the writer begins and continues to claim that, because of the consistency of Jesus, we can follow our leaders which will protect us from being carried away by varied and strange teaching. As you peruse the various entries of this blog, you may find things I’ve said that you believe qualify as “varied and strange teaching”. If you find any such things, please don’t be carried away by them.

Notice that these verses begins by referring to “leaders”. That’s also a neglected portion of this “buffet”. The writer of Hebrews calls on his audience to remember their leaders as a guard against false teaching. This works because Jesus remains consistent. We can imitate great leaders of our faith and experience the close walk with Jesus they experienced because our Savior remains consistent.

But we’re not great followers either. We have a “buffet” of churches now, and feel free to pick and choose among them based on what we hear, what the worship music is like, and whether the pastor remembers us. We feel empowered to direct the overseers, vote with our tithes, and kick up a fuss when leaders pick on us rather than those people.

So, this passage is a charge to follow the example of leaders. If they fail, take notice and don’t go that way. If they walk with Jesus, follow the same path, because Jesus is consistent.

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

The Basics

You would think that it makes more sense to start with basics, and move to the more complicated issues. That’s how we typically communicate or train others: move from the simple to the complex. The author of Hebrews does not.

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”

Hebrews 13:1-5 (NASB)

After covering the supremacy of Jesus over all other competitors for our devotion, after going into great detail about the heavenly ministry of Jesus on our behalf, after listing off examples of faith from Scripture, and after pushing for endurance in the face of difficulty, we finally have the basics.

It seems that these things can’t be left out, but they aren’t part of his discussion either. What we typically leave to the end is the “punchline”, but this seems different, like it should be the basic call on how to live. It’s true that Paul doesn’t put those sorts of things right up front, but he didn’t typically leave them to the closing either (Exceptions might be: 1 Thes. and 1 Tim.).

But, what if this is the punchline? What if the writer has been leading here all along, and all that has been said, was said to support these words? Honestly, I don’t think that’s true. A house isn’t finished until the trim and painting is done, and I believe that’s what we have here.

The argument may be “complete” in a sense, in that all the pieces and parts are there, and laid out in order with the proper structure. But the life of a disciple of Jesus is not intuitive. These things cannot be left unsaid. They are not part of the argument supporting the supremacy of Jesus. But anyone believing the supremacy of Jesus needs to live according to these basics.

So, here they are in bullet form:

  1. Love your fellow disciples
  2. Welcome those you don’t know
  3. Identify with the persecuted
  4. Honor pure marriage
  5. Be responsible with money, not motivated by it

They’re pretty simple and straight forward. And they’re hard. They don’t allow us to be selfish, self-motivated, or self-centered. They don’t allow us to be comfortable.

They do allow us to be loving, they allow us to be at peace with our Savior. This sort of behavior is external evidence of inner holiness. And these things are things with which I struggle.

What I have discovered is that I have to persevere in the struggle, and not be content with my failures in any one of them. It’s not okay that I’m selfish. It’s not okay that I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it however I want to do it. I live for my King, and at His pleasure. I am not my own, and I am not home yet. Neither are you.

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

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

The Unimaginable

Today, I have the day off as a holiday offered to me by my employer to celebrate and remember Juneteenth. I honestly was not that familiar with the day, and had to look it up. It took a while for what this day was to sort of sink in, and when it did, I was crushed by the enormity of something I had missed for most of my life.

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” – The beginning of General Order Number 3, read by Major General Gordon Granger at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.

I honestly have no emotional or mental frame of reference to help me imagine what it is like for an entire human population to live in a country with this heritage. Consider it for a moment: Their ancestors were brought to this country by force, and made to work as slaves. That’s where their “American Heritage” begins. And once freed, you would think that the nightmare was over, but it simply morphed into a continual, institutionalized system of abuse, right up until today, and it continues.

I have no words for that. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up with that, live with that, raise children with this background. I simply can’t. All I can do is call out the demonic that drove such a heritage. It is a demonic power that drove people claiming a Jewish Savior to steal, kill, and destroy another fellow human population. And it continues.

In some ways, I perceive this power is not as strong as it was. In other ways, I perceive it is more insidious, and attempts to deceive both populations into stealing, killing, and destroying. What I can’t fathom is how a people so confident in their faith in Jesus could somehow wrap their heads and hearts around killing, stealing, and destroying people. It boggles my mind.

I would point out that this demonic drive was pervasive. It wasn’t just blacks brought from Africa, but the native peoples of North America as well. They have also been part of a continual, institutionalized system of abuse. And it doesn’t stop there. Oh, how I wish it would stop, but it doesn’t. I weep, my heart breaks, but it doesn’t stop there.

In the essay by Ronald Wells, “The War with Mexico” in The Wars of America, which he also edited, he quotes1 Gene M. Brack’s book, Mexico Views Manifest Destiny, as follows:

Over the years Mexicans had become increasingly aware that many Americans…looked upon Mexicans as inferior beings. This had frightening implications, for Americans had respect for neither the rights nor the culture of those whom they considered inferior. They had been merciless in their treatment of the Indian and had reduced blacks to a brutal form of servitude. Mexicans were perceptive enough to recognize that a similar fate threatened them should they fall under American domination.

Brack, Gene M. Mexico Views Manifest Destiny, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975, pg 81

If this quote does not chill the blood of anyone considering themselves a white, Protestant, American, then I am left believing you remain under the demonic influence. And, I realize I have not substantiated my view that Manifest Destiny was, or is, a demonic influence. So, I will simply challenge you to consider the application of this pervasive American belief, and decide for yourself whether it is more stealing, killing, and destroying, or abundant life. I can’t see our application of it as anything other than stealing, killing, and destroying, the mark of the devil, according to my Master, Jesus (John 10:10).

I am left unable to imagine living and growing up with the heritage of blacks in America, Native Americans in America, or even Hispanics in America. Instead I’m left with my own heritage that created and institutionalized a system of destruction of these people, their culture, and their rights as fellow human beings.

Go back to the text of how General Order Number 3 begins. Did you notice how the second sentence begins:

This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.

General Order Number 3

The idea was there. The concept of equality, freedom, and justice were perceived, but the application became limited by a competing perception of inferiority. I’m not sure how we got there, but it was not through the application of Scripture, regardless of what any historical interpreter may claim. Such a view of inferiority is entirely antithetical to the Christian Scriptures. What the Holy Spirit reveals through His Christian servants writing under His inspiration reads as follows:

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Colossians 3:5-11 NASB (emphasis mine)

This is the reflection of the heart of our Savior, Creator, and Master. The King of all kings, Creator of the universe, He who died and rose again, says that there is no distinction. But we have made one, and we have brutally executed our selfish desires based on that distinction.

I don’t know what to say to blacks, Native Americans, or other peoples in America. I don’t know how to apologize to the Japanese Americans interned during World War II. I don’t know what I can do, other than confess the sins of my fathers, and do better myself. I don’t know what to tell these people as they fight for the rights and appreciation of their culture which has been denied them.

I do know what to tell the other Americans with the same heritage as myself: Repent! For starters, if what you read here does not make you weep for the sins of your fathers, then, again, I can only assume that the demonic influence that refuses to accept the clear charge from our Savior remains in you. Repent! Stop it! You cannot expect to escape the wrath of your Creator if you persist.

For many of us, the response to what I have written may be surprise. It was for me, as I have progressively come to understand my heritage. I had no clue. And that, too, causes me to weep. My ignorance furthered the problem, perhaps a little, but furthered it nonetheless. In my ignorance I remained part of the problem, not part of any sort of solution. I can’t remain that way any longer. The answer for myself is to learn the perspective of my Creator, and love my brothers and sisters, of any color, culture, or heritage.

Let us, as white Americans, repent, surprise or acceptance, either way, repent. Let us not be apathetic and ignorant any longer. In that way, we can finally begin to glorify our Savior, and see His creation as He sees it.

Quite a rant through this particular knothole, but I believe it is an important view. Feel free to post your own road to repentance, or, if you are from one of these peoples we have oppressed, I welcome your view. As I said, I can’t even hope to appreciate your view as completely as I would like to. But every word I hear and read from these perspectives helps me gain a little more clarity.

1 Wells, Ronald A. “The War With Mexico”, The Wars of America: Christian Views, Mercer University Press, Macon, GA 1991, page 75.

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

Priests of the Consuming Fire

Regardless of what you might feel or believe about the word “religion”, it has a place as a definition of the life of a disciple of Jesus. People may not like it, but it remains a reality. The Christian Scriptures refer to disciples of Jesus as priests. And priests practice religion. That is their primary function. Their entire role, perhaps life, is bound up in the practice of religion. And for disciples of Jesus, this is true as well.

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:28-29 NASB

The word for “service” above is a Greek word typically referring to a “hired hand” or even, in some cases, “enslaved”. The translators of the Septuagint used it for service to God (or other god), almost exclusively. and in the Christian Scriptures, it’s never used otherwise. Here, the writer of Hebrews combines it with “reverence and awe”, making the meaning unmistakable.

One of the dangers of only seeing our life with our Savior as a “relationship” is that we run the risk of missing His superiority. He is our Savior, but He is also our Creator, and not just of people, but the this vast, unimaginable universe. The writer was serious, dead serious, about serving our Savior with reverence and awe.

We think of Jesus as “love”. That makes us feel good because we don’t really understand love. I know that’s true because we get a warm fuzzy comfortable feeling from God being love, but not from God being a “consuming fire”. Suddenly we’re overly hot, on fire, about to die.

We need to strike a balance in our relationship with our Creator. We, as disciples of Jesus, must take Him more seriously than we do. The choice of the word for “service”, brings with it a life dedicated to working for God. For the Greeks, it can have religious significance, but it typically referred to working for someone. We think of our work-life as separate from our religious-life. That’s not how our Creator inspired Scripture to be written.

One of the more familiar passages speaking to service to God is Romans 12:1,2:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 NASB (emphasis mine)

In this passage, “service” is a noun, but the noun version of verb used in Hebrews 12:28. In other words, it’s the same thing said differently. The point for Paul in this passage is that our lives are to be completely dedicated to this life of service to our Savior. Which is very close to the meaning for Nicodemus, our writer of Hebrews.

Nicodemus provides a terrifying reason, missing in Paul’s call to service. “Our God is a consuming fire.” Do you think of Him that way? Do you consider that your seriousness in service is due to Him being a consuming fire? Our Creator is also our Savior, and He is love. But He is also a consuming fire! Think about that for a moment. That, logically, means that love is a consuming fire.

There is so much we miss in our life with our Savior. We do not pay enough attention to Scripture, and miss so much of what our Creator reveals about Himself to us. We have to fight our tendency to focus only on what we like about our Savior, and miss what He shows us about Himself. We need a more complete view of our Savior. We need to receive all of Him revealed in His Scripture.

This means that we need to spend more time in study of Scripture, something we tend to spend the least amount of time during the day. We also need the varied perspectives of our fellow disciples. Our Creator doesn’t reveal Himself fully to each person, but contextualizes Himself to His creatures. Jesus never healed the same way twice. The Holy Spirit doesn’t “fall upon” His people the same way, and there are different effects each time. Paul doesn’t write the same thing to every church, because they don’t all have the same people nor the same problems.

Let’s remember the seriousness of our religious relationship with our Creator. Let us live reverently and in awe of our Savior. Let’s keep in mind that the One before whom we live is a consuming fire. This isn’t an opportunity for roasting marshmallows, this is the fiery furnace with an extra Person in it. Let’s sober up and get busy.

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

Revisiting the Shake

Sometimes, when I write in the mornings, I am not able to sit and write without interruption. On weekends, it’s easier. So, this morning, I’m going to revisit my previous post. Not that my Master couldn’t use it in someone’s life, He can use anything. In fact, He can use nothing and still be effective. I simply need to pull something out of my noggin that’s been reverberating around in all that open space.

What does it mean that God will shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the wilderness?

The writer of Hebrews, Nicodemus, as I’ve been calling him, moves from the encouraging contrast between God in heaven, and God as He revealed Himself at Sinai, to prodding his audience to obey out of fear. Verses 25 through 29 of Hebrews 12 are nothing short of a threat. That may seem like an extreme way to put it, but it’s clearly a “stick” not a “carrot”. They want to be part of the unshakable kingdom, not the one to be destroyed by shaking.

They are saved from destruction by obedience, not refusing the voice of God. The implication is that they are trending toward rejecting or refusing the voice of God, and the writer is trying to reverse that trend. The entire book has been focused at precisely that goal, reversing the trend away from God. And yet, this is a strange way to pull their attention back on track. Quoting this passage in Haggai is a strange choice, especially at this point. As intentional as Nicodemus has been so far, this has to be intentional.

What did it mean for Haggai that God will shake the heavens, the earth, the sea and the wilderness?

On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

Haggai 2:1-9 NASB

This is the entire context of the quote (or reference) in Haggai. It may be familiar to you from the claim of the future glory of the temple, or you may have heard the quote, “the silver is Mine and the gold in Mine”, usually used completely out of context. But the entirety of this passage you have probably not heard. It hasn’t truly been fulfilled, not completely, at least not yet. Herod the Great tried, and the temple in Jerusalem that he built was impressive. But it wasn’t Solomon’s Temple, with the gold hammered into the walls and so on.

Nicodemus is probably pointing to the “Temple” in heaven as the fulfillment, although it existed before the building in Jerusalem. Even so, his use of the “shaking” seems disconnected from what Haggai had in mind. Haggai seems to have in mind “shaking out a bag of coins.” Look at the result, “I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations,” that is about money, and the splendor it can enable. Clearly the shaking results in wealth coming to Jerusalem to make the temple beautiful again.

So, when God shakes the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the desert, He is not destroying as much as “rearranging” them, or “re-appropriating” their wealth to His temple in Jerusalem. For Haggai, the fulfillment happens in the Jerusalem in which he lived. For Haggai, the “shaking” is something that Yahweh does to the Gentiles to bless the Jews. Yet, the wealth doesn’t show, the shaking doesn’t seem to happen like Haggai says. Or does it?

A case can be made that return of the Jews to Jerusalem under Cyrus did, in fact, bring with it the wealth of the nations. The items of the temple were returned, and wealth besides. While the temple wasn’t what they had remembered, it hadn’t been what it was when Solomon built it for over a hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in 586 BC. It had been plundered several times prior to the final destruction.

So, the shaking out the wealth of the Gentiles to bring it to Jerusalem is clearly not what Nicodemus had in view. What does he have in view?

What did it mean for the writer of Hebrews that God will shake heaven and earth?

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:25-29 NASB

The warning is an application from the comparison of Sinai and heaven, and is clear: Don’t be like those guys! Don’t refuse your Savior! If the Creator of the entire cosmos cares enough to speak with you, listen! It is dangerous not to. If the ones who heard Him at Sinai died before reaching the land because of their disobedience, then how will they (or we) escape Him? Why would they (or we) think they (or we) would be spared? That is essentially the point here for Nicodemus.

He pivots from applying the comparison to shaking. The word that Nicodemus chose to use for “shake” initially is different than “shake” used in the quote from Haggai, even though in English they’re the same. Nicodemus uses a word for shake that can have disastrous consequences (Acts 16:26), or refer to something shaken together to mix it (Luke 6:38).

Perhaps the best use can be found in the “Little Apocalypse” of Jesus (Matt. 24:29, Mark 13:25, Luke 21:26), where the “heavens will be shaken”. This is very likely what Nicodemus is drawing from in his use. But why quote Haggai? Nicodemus seems to have something very different in view than Haggai. While an end-of-all-things is clearly where Nicodemus is going, Haggai is pointing to a restoration-of-all-things. So, where’s the connection?

What it means for us that God will shake the heavens and the earth

The journey we are on while sojourning on this world may not be fun, but the final destination makes it all worth while. The day is coming when what we see will be completely remade, and we will know the life in the Garden we started with. That is the point. The new temple will be of greater splendor than Solomon’s because it will be the heavenly temple. The shaking of the world will dump from the nations all the rebellion against the Creator, and what is left will be holy and wholly His. There will be a “new heaven and new earth”:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4 NASB

That’s the result of the shaking. It will be the end of this world, and the beginning of the next. It will be when “tabernacle of God is among men”. The destination is what gives the journey meaning and purpose. What enables enduring this crazy world? Sure the Spirit of Jesus enables us, and He gives us purpose here and now. I don’t want to take away from that.

So, when it gets tough, and the purpose of our Savior for us includes pain, suffering, anguish, and loss, what makes it worth it? You see, the Spirit uses the promise of eternity to help us endure. He Himself is the guarantee of heaven. The destination makes the journey worth the effort, the pain, the frustration, and the suffering.

I think that’s a better treatment of “shaking” than the previous entry. Sorry it’s so long though. Thanks for pushing through to the end.

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