Not In This Alone

We are not alone. There is a lot of possible inference possible in that statement. Who is “we”? That’s probably the first question to ask. So, if I told you that ‘we’ refers to “disciples of Jesus”, that would clear up only part of the meaning. The other part, “why are we not alone, who is with us?” remains unanswered.

Scripture clearly teaches that we are never left alone by our Savior. His Spirit lives within us, so, in that sense, we are never alone. But there is another sense in which we are not alone that tends to escape us. It has to do with an anomaly in English where the same word is used for the second-person pronoun whether singular, or plural. This obscures for us when Scripture teaches something for many and for a singular person.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Hebrews 12:12-13 NASB

For instance, the “your” in the above passage, the pronoun that reveals the writer of Hebrews is asking his audience to work on themselves, it’s a plural reference. That’s not surprising, and may be obvious to anyone thinking it through. Why would it be singular? Even so, we want to take this and apply it ourselves, individually, which would be wrong. That’s what escapes us.

Perhaps to call it wrong is to overstate the problem. The letter was written to a group, and this section details the application of the previous 10 chapters to that group. Therefore, when we seek to apply it to an individual, we apply it in a way it wasn’t designed. It may allow for such application, but that wasn’t the intent. How can I know that? Let’s read further…

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

Hebrews 12:14-16 NASB

The verbs beginning these verses are imperatives (commands), but guess what “person” they are in. If you guessed second-person-plural you would be right. That first imperative sets up the remaining verb, “see to it”, which is also plural. The verb “falls short” is also plural, but in reference to “others” it’s third-person. These are clear in Greek, but understood only by inference in English.

The context of these admonitions to apply the truth of the supremacy of Jesus, of His supreme covenant, and the discipline of our Savior as proof of our acceptance, all this application happens in groups. All of it. Yet we are slow to apply it to ourselves within church, although we may judge others by it in church. We are slow to let this command to “live at peace with all men” sink into our souls. Instead we allow hate, anger, even what some may refer to as “righteous anger” drive us. Yet the anger of man never accomplishes the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

I don’t think it is a sustainable position that people out of control doing damage and breaking Scriptural laws glorifies our Creator. I don’t think it is a sustainable position that there is any excuse for it because, from the above passage the root of bitterness defiles many. Just because our Savior died for our sins does not give us leave to create more for Him to die for (Romans 6:1). There are alternatives to wanton mob violence. Although such violence seems to pervade our planet, we, as disciples of Jesus, do not have leave from our Master to join in such things.

So, it falls to “us” to “see to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” We are to speak out, to call out the sin, to call out the disregard for our Savior. But, let’s do so living at peace with all men, not by joining the violence or starting our own. And, let’s be clear, mobs respond to perceived injustice, and are often right about that injustice. But they also often follow a horribly wrong response.

Many people reading this blog may not know that this isn’t just Minneapolis, it is Hong Kong, Delhi, and places in Indonesia and more places. All of them are violent mobs, but no one religion, no one race, not even the same “injustice”. It is still the same destructive response which falls short of the grace of our Creator and Savior.

So, this isn’t an entry to a single person, but to all y’all claiming Jesus as your Savior, to all y’all following Jesus as His disciples, and to all y’all having “tasted the heavenly gift” of Hebrews 6:4. To all of you, pursue peace with all men and sanctification of the Spirit of Jesus. Please drop the torches and pitchforks, and make peace and holiness your goal and purpose.

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Confusing Clarification

I am well aware that many of my attempts at clarity tend toward obfuscation. Sometimes, it’s even intentional. Therefore, I suppose this blog really isn’t designed for a massive readership, and I’m fortunate and blessed when anyone reads this stuff.

In my defense, such as it is, or is required (which I don’t think it is), I deal with Scriptures that often are confusing without being obviously confusing. So, my obfuscation actually clarifies the problem before I lamely attempt to clarify. It’s like so many that believe they must, and actually attempt to, “get people lost before they can be saved.” I always thought that was an insane approach to sharing the good news of Jesus, but I’m learning to appreciate it.

I realized that I’ve been confusing to clarify just this morning, although I wouldn’t have disagreed had someone brought it to my attention. I was working on a Greek passage in Hebrews that was difficult for me, but it wasn’t the vocabulary that was difficult. The different grammatical parts were unexpected, and difficult for me to conceptualize in English. So, there weren’t any difficult words to explain, only difficult grammatical constructions.

When we read a translation of Scripture, we’re getting the grammatical sort of confusion clarified for us. It’s only when we read a passage in multiple translations that we get some sense of the difficulty, and then, only when the translators disagree on how to translate the grammatical elements. So, it’s not always easy for us to spot confusing passages when the vocabulary used is familiar.

So, enough with my self-defense of obfuscating Scripture (or making clear the obfuscation already there). Here’s an example:

and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Hebrews 2:15 NASB

That seems simple enough, and most translations sound very similar. But here’s how I translated it:

and liberate these, as many as were caught by fear of death through slavery of every living thing.

my own translation

That’s a big difference, especially “every living thing” instead of “all their lives”. And, to be clear, I’m wrong. The problem I faced was that the grammatical construction in Greek was unfamiliar to me. The construction is composed of a preposition (through), a pronoun (all), the definite article (the), and an infinitive (to live), all in that order. For translators for hundreds of years, that means “all their life”. For me, I’m missing stuff like “them” or “their” in the construction. In fact, I think I completely missed the noun this phrase modifies. All the life of whom? Well, all translations seem to agree that the phrase modifies “those…subject to slavery” (see any other translation, even King James). I opted to modify “slavery”. Yeah, no.

So, I suppose my point is not simply that I’m wrong a lot, or that Greek isn’t easy (It’s Greek to me! You were thinking it). My point is that sometimes what seems merely odd is actually more peculiar than you imagine. And then, sometimes what seems clear actually isn’t. I consider part of my calling and gifting to perceive the ironies of our life with our Creator. I’m still working out how to communicate what I discover to others. Whether others care or not depends partly on my ability to communicate, and partly on who’s reading.

So, I’ll spend some time improving my understanding of Greek grammar. And I hope to be back with another entry, clarifying the obscure. Please forgive me if I obscure the clear on the path to clarifying. Irony is like that, sometimes, ironically.

Prepositional Combat

One of the difficulties in translating Hebrew into English are the wide range of usage of Hebrew prepositions. Understanding what a particular preposition means is very dependent upon the context. Just in the first few verses of Israel’s combat with Amalek, we excellent examples.

Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

Exodus 17:8-9 NASB

The Hebrew prepositions are as follows:

  1. …Amalek came and fought with Israel…
  2. Moses said toward Joshua
  3. “Select for us men…”
  4. “Go, fight in Amalek…”
  5. “I will stand on the top of the hill…”

The problems aren’t obvious until you read most translations, and see only about half of these prepositions. For instance, the NASB uses “against” for “with” in number 1, and almost all have “against” instead of “in” for number 4. This more explains the difficulty in translating Hebrew prepositions than it does what actually happened.

But why one preposition in one place, and another where you would expect what was used earlier? For instance, why didn’t Moses say “fight with Amalek” instead of “in Amalek”? The preposition, with, was used to introduce Amalek showing up to fight Israel in verse 8, why not use it again in verse 9?

My concern is perhaps unfounded, because there may not be much, if any, significance in using with versus in when speaking of engaging in combat. On the other hand, in Greek for instance, there is much difference. The preposition para in Greek, means “beside” or “alongside”, and this roughly corresponds to the Hebrew preposition “with”. But there are a couple of Greek words for “in”, one of which means, “inside”, as opposed to “among”. In Hebrew, there’s not much differentiation, in is in. So, perhaps Amalek was more tentative (“alongside” for combat), where Israel rushed in among them for combat (or Moses instructed Joshua to fight that way).

It’s hard to make definitive assertions one way or the other. The elasticity of Hebrew prepositions truly makes it difficult to know for sure. But knowing the various choices that were made may help at least expand the visualization of the event. What did it look like? What did the people see? What was it like to be there, standing among those Joshua tested in choosing for battle? What did the people feel when Amalek showed up? Was it over the sudden presence of water at Rephadim?

We don’t know for sure, but perhaps exploring the event through the additional lenses provided by these prepositions may help us bring a dusty ancient event into more vibrant focus.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning, what’s it look like from yours?