Good When It’s Good

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to parent children when you’re asking them to do what they want to do? It’s amazing. It’s the same with dogs, managing employees, and, I suspect, even cats give the appearance of obedience in such situations. But what about when the need is to do what needs to be done, and the need is no fun, not easy, and not quick? What happens to the obedience of children, dogs, employees, and possibly cats?

The story of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt has pictures of this beautiful relationship between the sons of Israel and their God, Yahweh. One of those is found in Chapter 19. God describes what He wants of the people in glowing, wonderful terms.

Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on beagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 19:3-6 NASB

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

These sons of Israel, who rebelled when thirsty, and questioned Moses when hungry, even when provided with Manna, are to be special to Yahweh. They will be the “possession” of His, from all the nations on the earth. As Americans, being someone’s “possession” doesn’t sound great. In our culture, this sounds subservient, inferior, or oppressed. In Hebrew, this word has much different meaning. The Hebrew word is only used about 8 times (according to the Strong’s Concordance numbering), and of those, twice it is used for the treasure of kings (1 Chronicles 29:3, and Ecclesiastes 2:8), and the other six times, it’s used in reference to Israel, as Yahweh’s chosen people. If you want to look it up, it’s Strong’s 5459, and you can view the definition and usage here.

It’s enough to say that “possession” in English doesn’t truly do it justice. It would be like what we’d keep in the vault, and not the little one at home, but the impregnable one at the bank or something. It’s not just something owned, but something precious. That’s idea of what God is giving to the people. And for this special position within the other nations of the world, they are to keep His covenant. There’s an agreement involved, and already, American minds and hearts, go “Of course, there are strings attached!” And there are. And these strings are more like ropes of chains to be fair.

The people are to obey the voice of Yahweh, and keep His covenant. That sounds easy on the surface, but it never is for these people. Even so, they like the sound of the offer, and agree to it:

So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.

Exodus 19:7-8 NASB

This is a beautiful picture of a relationship between the Creator of the universe, and His human creatures. Out of all these He created in His image, He selects this nation. It’s amazing, wonderful, and should make us somewhat jealous to be included. And, to be honest, we are. We too, are in a covenant with our Master, Jesus. Or, another way to say it, we are in a covenant with our Creator, through Jesus, our Savior. Either way, the truth of this covenant is clear. And we may respond like the sons of Israel, but we need to remember that par of the covenant includes us being a “possession”.

The covenant established by Jesus is different, in many ways, from this covenant established between Yahweh and Israel. But it has a lot of similarities too. For instance, this covenant is established by God, not by us. This covenant includes a relationship with God, a relationship established and defined by things on both sides, ours and His.

This next statement is where many will disagree with me. Which is fine, because it’s an interpretation, and nothing more. The covenant established with Israel at Horeb/Sinai was not predicated on their obedience. It sounds like it is, to be fair, yet, in practice, this covenant is maintained in the face of their disobedience, and flat out rebellion, by God. It was the blessings of the covenant that were predicated on their obedience.

If this is true, that the covenant at Sinai was established and maintained by God, then we have yet another similarity with our own covenant with God through Jesus. They, too, were saved (i.e. set apart from all other people by being in relationship with God) by grace, not by works. Our own covenant with God is established through the sacrifice of Jesus, our Christ, our Redeemer, and Savior. These titles of Jesus make Him the One through Whom we have access to our Creator (through His sacrifice), and there is no other. Yet, in similar fashion, Jesus is Lord, making Him synonymous with Yahweh of the Hebrew Scriptures. Meaning Jesus established this covenant with the people of Israel as well.

The differences between the two covenants are in how they are carried out, the definitions of “obedience” between God and His people. In the covenant with Israel, they brought sacrifices over and over, from what God provided to them. In the covenant through Jesus, He becomes the eternal sacrifice, once for all sin. So, sacrifice, that form of worship in a single place where God placed His name, that is changed by a single event. In this way, Jesus truly does sum up all of the law and prophets in Himself.

But what remains is similar is that we too are to be obedient. And that’s the part we miss. We call that being “legalistic”. But is it? It’s not about following the law to enter the covenant, because the covenant was not established on our obedience. It’s about enjoying the benefits of the covenant through obedience. And, before you run amok thinking this refers to circumcision and Sabbath keeping, remember how Jesus sums up all the law and prophets, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Sabbath-keeping and circumcision were to mark the people of Israel from among the other nations of the earth as holy to Yahweh. If you want to do that, go to church, and be immersed. Like “Sabbath-keeping”, attend church every week. Like “circumcision”, be immersed once. After that, simply “walk about” living life as in the presence of your Savior. Live and make decisions based on being the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Live out the love poured into you by your Creator and Redeemer. Love the Lord (Jesus is Lord) with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

See, we don’t need to view the covenants as that much different. They are, but they are much more similar than they different. They are, in this interpretation, much more connected with obedience than we seem think.


Where’s the Proof?

Egyptology is a remarkably new area of study for archaeology. That’s not to say that people haven’t been digging up and examining places and things within Egypt. What I mean is that any understanding of the language of hieroglyphics is relatively recent (1800). The languages of Mesopotamia and India were already well understood by the time that the Rosetta Stone was discovered.

One of the problems with placing the Exodus account in a historical context is that there seems to be no record of Hebrews or “sons of Israel” in Egypt among the surviving records. So, we have to look at clues within Exodus to attempt to guess at the time frame. There are a lot of different theories, counter-theories, and suggestions of timing. And there are are many who simply consider the Exodus to have never happened at all.

One of the clues is found in Exodus 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (NASB) Again, there are a lot of theories about who this might have been. There is a period of Egyptian history when they were ruled by foreigners known as “Hyksos“, about whom we know very little. The best guess is that the Joseph and the Exodus took place either during, or shortly after this period. But, there remains the problem of the lack of record.

The lack of record of the Hebrews in Egypt or any such departure of a huge population from Egypt is the normal argument against the historicity of the biblical account (Google it, you won’t find one argument against Exodus being a historical event that isn’t based on the lack of reference to Israel). But there are reasons why this lack of evidence isn’t that surprising.

For instance, the Egyptians are well-known historical revisionists. Every book on Egyptology makes mention of one dynasty erasing or modifying elements or references to previous ones. The hieroglyphic writings were most often painted, and while durable, were also often painted over, or removed.

Add to this problem that Egypt, as a geographical reference, has been occupied by one or more people groups, successively and continuously, for almost 6,000 years. There has to be a lot of records either removed, reused, destroyed, or simply remaining to be found. In other words, the lack of evidence has many possible, and very plausible, explanations.

Essentially, no one can either prove or disprove the historicity of the Exodus using available archaeological records from Egypt. The Hebrew Scriptures remain the best record we have for the event of a million or so ethnic Hebrews leaving the land of Egypt to sojourn in the desert wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula.

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

Knowing God Through Combat

The life of a believer, follower, or disciple of Jesus can be summarized as spent getting to know Jesus better.  The process of knowing Him more has the added affect of changing the disciple into the likeness of their Master.  The typical methods used today are prayer, Bible study, worship, perhaps service to others, or ministry within a church.  But what about combat?  What about the biblical method of learning about our God through learning combat?  You haven’t heard about that particular method?  Ah, then this entry is for you!

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).  These nations are: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. (Judges 3:1-3 NASB)

From the passage above, you can clearly see that Yahweh used the Canaanites in the land to teach His people about Himself through combat.  Does that seem a lot to derive from the word “test”?  Fair enough, then consider the next few verses:

They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses.  The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. (Judges 3:4-6 NASB)

Does the testing seem more clear now?  And, not only the testing, but the people’s struggle to pass the test, becomes clear.  The people of Yahweh seemed content to live among the people, as Canaanites themselves!  Combat was the method Yahweh used with His people to distinguish them from their Canaanite neighbors, to demonstrate they were different than the Canaanites.  Through combat, His people became holy, it was a test to sanctify His people.  Instead, His people married among those they were supposed to oppose.

Do you see where this is headed yet?  We, as disciples of Jesus, are to be obviously different than our “neighbors”.  We are supposed to be holy.  We’re not supposed to look or act like “everyone else”.  Our priorities and goals are supposed to be different.  We’re supposed to be distinguishable from those around whom we live and work.  But, most of the time, we seem content to be different at church.  That we go to church at all seems to be difference enough for many of us.  While going to church is great, and necessary, it’s not “holiness”, or not nearly enough of it.

For a disciple of Jesus, the struggle to be different, for holiness, is not about being an individual.  It is personal combat against the pressure to be unlike Jesus.  This can be difficult, even in church.  But, the struggle for holiness can be easily forgotten in the rest of life.  It’s easy to forgive ourselves for not being different “out there”, after all, who wants to be “offensive”?  Well, to be clear, Jesus did.  John 6 is a great view into Jesus’ “Church Growth Strategy” – drive off inauthentic followers.  To be His disciple means we will be fearlessly offensive as well.

It’s not easy being a disciple of Jesus.  It takes whole-hearted determination, perseverance, and pig-headed stick-to-it-tiveness.  It takes study to get to know Jesus’ priorities, His point of view, and His goals.  It takes study of both Testaments.  The people of Yahweh, the sons of Israel, struggled with Yahweh.  That’s what their name means.  They earned it.  And it’s time for us, as disciples of Jesus, to enter into this struggle as well.

Suit up!  Grab your gear!  Let’s get out there, and fight!

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

What Did God Want?

People, people who believe and follow the One True God, desire to know what He wants, His will.  Or, they think they do.  Does this Creator we worship, Who we follow, does He also meet our standards or follow our senses of justice and propriety?  I hope not, and we would probably say no, but the alternatives can be frightening and sobering options.

They said, “Why, O LORD, God of Israel, has this come about in Israel, so that one tribe should be missing today in Israel?” (Judges 21:3 NASB)

The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were carved into the gold shoulder boards of the high priest.  Think about that.  The man responsible for leading the people in worship before their Creator, Yahweh, the God of Israel, carried the names of all twelve tribes into the tabernacle to perform his duties. Not eleven tribes, or ten, or two, but all twelve were carved on those shoulder boards.  This God having brought these people from slavery in Egypt had their names inscribed in gold.  So, why would He then have one wiped out?

And the people were sorry for Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. (Judges 21:15 NASB)

Who made a “breach” in the tribes of Israel?  If it was the God of Israel who made the breach, if it was the will of their Creator and Lord that there be a breach, then why try to repair it?  And why would their God desire and bring about a breach in the first place?  Were they truly so evil that there could be no repairing, no restoration, no forgiveness?

Keep in mind that verse 15 is not “dialogue” where the people say this, but rather author explanation.  The author and the people of the events are separated by hundreds of years.  Yet the author preserves this assessment of the situation as he faithfully records the details of the event.  To him, it is as inspired as the rest of the record.

If this assessment is to be taken at face value, if it is true, then was the repair of this breach made by God also His will?  Did the God of Israel also desire for the tribe of Benjamin to be preserved, after such a rebellious defense of such distorted behavior (transgression on top of iniquity)?  I think the repair, but maybe not the methods, were the will of God.

People say stupid things.  In fact, this entry could be considered by some to be pretty stupid.  I don’t think the stuff people say are necessarily the will of God.  I believe the oaths taken by the people of Israel in reaction  against their brother, Benjamin, were not what God wanted them to do.  But they made those oaths before God, and held themselves to them.  It was this behavior of the people that brought about both the destruction of Benjamin, and the busted solution to repair the destruction.  On the one hand they were rash in making the oaths, and, on the other, faithful in keeping them.

This passage serves to illustrate that the Maker and Sustainer of the universe works with flawed human creatures. He doesn’t wipe them out for their ridiculous mistakes, but forgives and works those mistakes into His purpose and design.  This passage also illustrates that, in the cosmic war against the enemy of God, things don’t always go according to plan.  But, in the end, the twelve tribes named on the shoulders of the high priest remained.  It was an expensive victory, much more expensive than intended, but still a victory over the enemy of God seeking the destruction of His people.

That’s my view through the fence this morning.  What do you see through your knothole?

Literary or Legacy?

To this point in Judges, the people have not been repentant, only whiny. They complain about the oppression, but seem unconcerned about their iniquity and rebellion toward Yahweh. They had no idea up to this point. But now…

And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.”  And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines?  The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand.  Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.  Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”  And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.”  So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. (Judges 10:10 — 16 ESV)

The question I have here is whether this change is literary device, or a legacy from past judges. Are the people finally getting the point? Or, have they all along, and the author is including the detail here, he omitted before? This is a serious question for me, because Yahweh seems unimpressed with any evident progress made here. So, have they been aware all along, and confessed in this way in the past?

On the other hand, is confession repantance? Or, does confession progress toward repentance only when the words accompany a change of mind and heart, and then result in action? When is repentance authentic? Or, is that even the point? The people clearly weren’t authentic in Gideon’s day, and Yahweh delivered them.

But, here, Yahweh has had it. He’s no longer interested in delivering them, only to have them betray Him again. So, whether the change is only in that the detail was included here, or, this is truly a new development for them, it doesn’t impress Yahweh. He refers them to the gods with whom they have “cheated” on Him.

This concerns me. Can I exhaust the mercies of my Master? This isn’t simply an “Old Testament problem” either. Read the first three chapters of Revelations, and see how similar is my Master’s view there to Yahweh’s here. 

So, if the people have been “putting away the foreign gods from among them” before, Yahweh knows this won’t last. But if, as I fear, this marks a new development for the people, that Tola and Jair have left a 50 year legacy of faithfulness imprinted on the people, then development isn’t what gets my Master’s attention. I can’t claim “improvement” to win His favor in the face of continual failure.

On the other hand, His mercy eventually overcomes His pain of rejection. He becomes impatient over the misery of Israel. Literally, “His soul was shortened in the misery of Israel.” Yahweh felt the misery of His people in His soul. We don’t think of our Master having one of those, but it seems He does. The misery of those He loves hurt Him more deeply than the hurt of their betrayal. 

How can we not weep for our Master? How can we be so callous as to turn a blind eye to His pain, and harden our heart toward the hurt we cause Him; He who loves us without limits? We don’t expect our human friends to put up with what we put our Creator and Savior through. We know the standards of our human relationships, but we flagrantly disregard the standards of our spiritual relationship. And which is more important? Our actions say something other than our bumper stickers.

Perhaps weeping over our misery is the wrong response. Maybe weeping over the pain we have caused our Master is a better response. Perhaps when we acknowledge the relational pain we cause Him, then we truly repent. When we mourn plight of our Master, then we join Him in the amazing relationship He wants with us.

Those are my questions as I peek through this knothole at His work and play. What do you see of our Savior through your knothole in the fence?

Surviving In Political Culture Change

Times change. People come and go. Nations rise and fall. And then we do it all over again. The sons of Israel walked into a “power vacuum” in Canaan when Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. Every city was pretty much on their own. It was a perfect situation for an invading people. But then…

The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.  So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.  And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. (Judges 10:6 — 9 ESV)

Egypt was on marginally interested in what went on in Canaan because they had a lot of local problems to distract them.  But they would sweep through soon enough. Mesopotamia was between empires following their own invasion of mountain peoples. Soon enough, Assyria would rise up and conquer the “known world”. 
In the meantime, nations began to reform in Canaan along their normal native cultural lines. Soon Ammon was a power, Moab, Phonecia (Tyre and Sidon), and now Philistines were another new-comer to the scene. These groups formed kingdoms, while the people of Israel remained a collection of confederated tribes.

So, how does a group of loosely knit tribes survive in a world of centralized kingdoms?  You make friends!  You try to fit in, do business, “play ball”, swap stories…maybe share stories, or, as in the case of this tribal confederacy, adopt stories.  “Yeah, my story is kind of like that, only…” eventually became, “Yeah, we worship that god too, only…” which led to, “What a coincidence, we worship the same god! Who would have thought?”  All to survive in this changing political cultural landscape.

We do it too. We adapt creation as a belief to macro-evolution. We subscribe to the Big Bang Theory as a “world origin” story.  Sure the science is more metaphysics than actual physics, but it’s popular, and no one respects our beliefs any more. Dark matter and string theory makes so much more sense than a supreme Creator Deity to everyone else, so we need to subscribe too. 

Eventually, belief in God will become lost within the cultural adaptation through which we have filtered it. Or, we can honestly look at the universe from the perspective of a Creator Who has a purpose within His design. In such a model, we look for His handiwork and craftsmanship, not some way to explain Him away. We marvel and wonder at Him, rather than become enamoured with what He has made. 

We have a choice of approach. The easy and popular approach is to go along with popular science. The less fun, less respected approach is to go along with the Creator, and believe what He reveals.

I choose to walk with my Master in the cool of the day, and believe what He tells me. How about you? What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Passion Week XIXd

“You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30 NASB)

I can only assume that Judas has left by this time.  Luke never tells us that.  In fact, none of the Gospels, except John, tells us when Judas leaves to get the soldiers.  These guys were just squabbling about which one was the greatest, and then Jesus tells them they will judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  Without the detail about when Judas leaves, it might cause one to wonder if Judas would also be a judge.  Probably not.

This statement of Jesus is full of surprise.  These are the guys who have stood by Jesus in His trials.  Although they’re getting ready to jet later that evening.  There is some translation “wiggle room” in verse 29.  The ESV has “and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.” The problem is that “kingdom” is the direct object, but of which verb. It can be paired with Jesus’ granting the disciples, or with the Father granting Jesus.  It occurs at the end of the phrase, so its position in the sentence leaves some ambiguity.  The Greek texts have no spaces nor punctuation, so that sort of thing is left up to translators.  As you can see, they disagree somewhat about whether the disciples get a kingdom or not.  An additional issue is that verse 30 begins with a subordinating conjunction denoting purpose (“hinna” clause).  So the ambiguity continues with the context supporting either Jesus’ receipt of a kingdom enabling the disciples to eat at His table, or that the receipt of a kingdom by the disciples enables them to also/therefore eat at His table.  If your eyes haven’t crossed or you haven’t moved on to another blog, then you’ve survived the technical portion of today’s entry.

I think it makes more sense for the disciples to receive a kingdom because the following comment about them judging the tribes of Israel.  If it weren’t for that, I’d go with just the dining experience, but I think there’s more to it because of the role of judge.  Having said that, the meal with Jesus also means something.  We think of “kingdoms” in a way like an autonomous ruler having total control over the “kingdom”.  When I believe Jesus has the cultural understanding of a subordinate kingdom, like the one Herod had under the Roman governor of Judea.  I get this from the use of the word “grant” or “appoint” that Jesus (or Luke) uses here.  But it also comes from the close relational implication of sharing a “table”.  The type of kingdom and the way in which they administer such a kingdom implies a close subordinate role under Jesus.

Now, consider that in less that 30 verses Jesus will be betrayed, alone, and in chains.  And Jesus knows this.  Here He tells these guys who are about to desert Him that because they have stood by Him in His trials, He will grant/appoint/bestow a kingdom.  They are already forgiven for their fearful desertion of their Master.  Think that through.  Jesus doesn’t wait for them to come back around before telling them about a kingdom waiting for them.  He doesn’t wait for them to earn it in any way whatsoever.  We think of grace because of Jesus’ death, or His resurrection, or because He intercedes for us from the right hand of the Father to where He ascended.  But grace is a fact even in the past because of what Jesus would do in the near future.

How much more so for us?  Consider where you may be in your relationship with Jesus.  What you see is nothing compared to what Jesus sees.  Where we see failure and disaster, Jesus sees princes, princesses, kings, and queens.  Where we see impoverished faith, our Master in heaven sees riches beyond imagination, where gold is the cheap stuff we use to pave streets.  Redemption is now a reality because of what Jesus has done.  We may not feel it, see it, taste it, or even hear it; but we are redeemed right now.  Struggle with Jesus.  Wrestle with the Almighty!  Rage against the rebel within!  Obedience and faith are won on the spiritual battlefield, fighting the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms.  We can fight side-by-side, together in the ugliness of war.  Together we will then eventually see the light of victory before the throne of Jesus.  The point is to continue the struggle.  It only looks like we’re losing right now.  Eventually a kingdom waits for us (not one of our own necessarily), where we will experience the salvation of the presence of our Savior, Redeemer, and King. To help us see this, Jesus speaks of the end as if it’s already a reality; which it is.

We can’t see it ourselves, but it’s a done deal even so.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?