Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Enemies Given Speech Test

I was reading something recently, and the author mentioned a particular cultural fact as a "shibboleth." I remembered that word from the Old Testament, but couldn't immediately place the context.

Wikipedia had this to say about the word:

During World War II, some United States soldiers in the Pacific theater used the word lollapalooza as a shibboleth to verbally test people who were hiding and unidentified, on the premise that... the word is an American colloquialism that even a foreign person fairly well-versed in American English would probably mispronounce and/or be unfamiliar with.

This word is found in the scripture below. I still wonder why so many of the Ephraimites had a lisp. W. Garrison writes the explanation following the scripture.

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. Judges 12:5-6

According to the account in Judges 12, a tendency on the part of ancient Ephraimites to speak with a slight lisp cost these people 42,000 casualties in a time of civil war.

Fighting against the forces of Gilead under the leadership of Jephthah, famous for having made a sacrificial offering of his own daughter, the warriors of Ephraim found themselves outnumbered and outclassed. They suffered a decisive defeat, broke ranks, and tried to ford the Jordan to return to their own territory and safety.

His enemies couldn’t be distinguished by their physical appearance, insignia, or weapons so Jephthah resorted to a stratagem based on regional differences in speech. Men of Ephraim traditionally had trouble sounding the Hebrew consonant shin, functionally equivalent to the English s. This tendency to lisp was especially obvious when they tried to pronounce “shibboleth” – Hebrew sibboleth – the common name for an ear of grain.

Jephthah’s border patrols seized all stragglers and tested them by demanding that they say the crucial word. Those who “could not frame to pronounce it right” were executed on the spot (Judg. 12:6).

Monday, March 30, 2009

A rose by any other name

English Puritans of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were so immersed in Scripture that many of them chose words and phrases from Holy Writ as names for their children. Lower’s English Sur-names reports that a jury list from Sussex County included these specimens:

Faint-not Hewitt

Redeemed Compton

God-reward Smart

Meek Brewer

Peace-of-God Knight

Be-faithful Juniper

Kill-sin Pimple

Seek-wisdom Wood

Make-peace Heaton

Stand-fast-on-high Stringer

Search-the-Scripture Moreton

Weep-not Billing

(and my personal favorite...)

Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith White

(Garrison, Webb., Strange Facts About the Bible, Testament Books, New York, 1968, pgs 39-40)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sacred Scars

"In ancient Judea, the good shepherd would take the sheep on long journeys through the ravines and the wadis where the steep and narrow slopes keep out the light. Sometimes, the shepherd had no choice but to lead his flock through the wadis. Avalanches, flash-floodings, poor weather conditions, rock-slides, poisonous plants, and predators were perennial dangers the shepherd faced with his flock. Overexposure to the sun could be very dangerous to the well-being of the flock. The shepherd had to be prepared so that none of these things would deter him. He had to know the paths so that the flock would not be swept away in a flood.

...The shepherd had to be ever mindful...where he was leading the flock.
Frequently thick fog would settle in, so the sheep would follow the shepherd by the sound of his voice and shepherd song. The shepherd's voice and presence gave comfort and confidence to the sheep...The well-being and safety of the flock was up to the shepherd. The shepherd's arms, body, and feet were often scarred with the wounds he suffered for his flock while fighting predators who attempted to destroy them (Jewish 23rd/Samuel 111-112)."

Such scars were often a way that a true and faithful shepherd could be identified as such. Healed wounds indicated that the shepherd was willing to make great sacrifices for the well being of his flock and could be trusted in all circumstances.

Just as the faithful shepherd received scars in his arms, feet, and body while defending his flock, our Savior bears witness of his faithful protection through these same tokens. He tells us:

Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet;
be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen (D&C 6:34, 36, 37).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Flakes of Fire

Everyone in my family and most of my friends know that I enjoy the challenge of trying to make sense of “weird scriptures”- meaning the seemingly strange, bewildering, or extremely boring. This is because I have learned that something good is always hidden there if I can just decode it.

Well, it looks like I am in good company. A big thanks to my son John who just sent me this quote from Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

"To be seen only by those who have eyes to see, ...flakes of fire are embedded in the holy scriptures. There, these transcending truths may appear in the midst of routine lineage history. They may be found within chronologies, genealogies, and duties, or may follow upon now dated economic data.

When encountered, their sudden richness is so breathtaking and light-intensive that, like radioactive materials, they must be handled with great care. They both light up the mind and infuse joy into the soul. (Alma 19:6.)"

YES. That is exactly how it feels.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Doing all we can

In 2 Nephi we read:

"...for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23)

If read superficially, the phrase "after all we can do" could be interpreted to support the idea that we must push ourselves continually, and work, work, work- ­ never being at peace or experiencing spiritual rest. We have the feeling that there is always something more we can and should be doing. It is as if we are trying to casserole our way into heaven.

Because there is no real measuring stick to determine when we have done all that we can do, there is always the possibility that we will neglect the one deed that would have qualified us to access needed grace.

Perhaps there is another way that the scriptures interpret this phrase. Using the principle of linking, we can find this same phrase mentioned three times within four verses.

"And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do,...to repent of all our sins...and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain...

...since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away...as a testimony to our God at the last day,...that we have not stained our swords...since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby."
(Alma 24:11, 15)

Certainly, as a demonstration of our faithfulness and also as a way that we can show our love for the Lord, we will want to serve in his kingdom, and will strive to bless the lives of others (sometimes even with casseroles). But we will not misunderstand. The phrase, "all we can do" means that "all we can do" is "repent."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spiritual Dynamite

The comfort we receive from the Savior generally comes through the Spirit. This comfort is often compared to that of a downy quilt. In one sense this is true, but it is a rather limited and sentimental definition.

"Barclay shares a helpful insight which enriches our understanding about the role of the Comforter:

...In Greek the word is full of power and of the promise of the God-given ability to face and to master any situation in life....The word comfort is derived from the Latin word fortis, which means brave, and originally the word meant someone who puts courage into you...The word in the Greek is endunamoun, whose root word is dunamis, power, from which the word dynamite comes. In the days when the King James Version was translated, to comfort a person meant to fill that person with a power like spiritual dynamite. The Holy Spirit does not simply come and wipe our tears away; he gives us a dynamic power to cope with life."
( cited in Beloved Bridegroom 123-124)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Power and Grace x 5

Along with its linguistic richness, the Hebrew language offers intriguing mathematical insights. The Jews used a different numbering system than the rest of the world. Instead, of using separate symbols, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet also had a numerical value.

Many of the numbers have symbolic associations. Let's take the number 5, for example. In Hebrew, 5 is associated mainly with two ideas. They are: the power of God and grace.

God's power was symbolically represented by the five fingers on a hand. In Israel today, many wear a hamsa an amulet that is shaped like a stylized hand. They thus invite God's protection over the affairs of their lives.

When David was preparing to face Goliath, we are told that he went and gathered five smooth stones. By this action David was symbolically invoking God's power to help him be victorious in his battle.

It is instructive to note that when Jesus demonstrated his power to feed the multitude (five thousand), that he used five loaves of bread.

Five is also the main number associated with Grace. Interestingly, Moroni admonishes his readers to come unto Christ and to be perfected. In Moroni 10:32-33 we read that it is by grace that we are able to become perfect in Christ. A person familiar with Hebrew would expect to find (in those two verses) the concept of grace mentioned five times. And guess what? It is!

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then ye are sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ ....

Friday, March 20, 2009

Messianic Miracles-- Leprosy Part 4

Eventually, in spite of the evidence and proof of his claims, Jesus was sentenced to death by Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. What happened next is recorded in Luke 17:11-19. This time, not one but ten lepers came to Jesus asking Him to heal them. "The way He responded is recorded in verse 14:

And when he saw them he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed.

Jesus sent these ten lepers directly to the very priesthood that, under the leadership of Caiaphas, had just decreed a sentence of death against Him. This meant that instead of one messianic miracle, there were now ten messianic miracles performed-- the first messianic miracle was performed ten times over.

Ten times over Caiaphas and the priesthood had to spend seven days investigating the whole situation.

Ten times over they had to decree that all ten of these lepers had been cleansed and healed of their leprosy.

Ten times over they had to decree that Jesus performed the miracle and record it in the archives of the Temple.

It is really showing some Jewish humor, if you will, on the part of Jesus that He chose to send to the leadership of Israel ten healed lepers right after they decreed His rejection by sentencing Him to death.

His Messiahship was proclaimed, not merely by the mouth of two or three witnesses, but by the mouth of ten witnesses (Fruchtenbaum)." And since the number 10 symbolically represented Israel, Jesus made a clear statement that he had the power to cleanse and heal all of Israel.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Messianic Miracles-- Leprosy Part 3

The First Messianic Miracle Performed

With all of this information in mind, we can now go to Luke's account (5:12-14) of the first leper being healed and begin to sense the significance of this monumental event. As a physician, Luke includes an interesting detail in his account. He said that the leper was a man "full of leprosy." In Greek, this implied that his affliction was so far advanced that he was near death. This healing made a very dramatic statement.

The leper recognized the Savior's authority and had faith in him when he sought out Jesus saying, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Then Jesus touched the leper saying, "I will; be thou clean." and immediately the leprosy departed from the man. In verse 14 we are told what happened next.

"And he [Jesus] charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them."

By saying "tell no man," Jesus was not telling the man to keep his healing a secret; but that first it needed to be reported to the proper authorities. He meant, "Don't linger and discuss your healing with the masses."

By the phrase ­ for a testimony unto them ­ Christ meant the leadership at the Temple. According to their own standards, only the Messiah could heal leprosy. This man would be a walking witness of Christ's power and Messiahship.

Can you imagine the consternation of those priests at the temple as the former leper related his story? This first Messianic miracle set in motion the process by which the leadership of Israel would be required to fully follow, for the very first time ever (since the Law of Moses went into effect) the procedures in Leviticus 13 and 14 and begin an in-depth investigation of the Savior's claim to be the long awaited Messiah. They would be forced to come to a decision regarding that claim.

Unfortunately, even after this miracle and several others- ­ which again, according to their own Rabbinic rules could only be performed by the Messiah, ­ the leadership of
Israel repeatedly rejected Jesus as the long awaited Savior. The result of this rejection is stated in John 15:22-24. Jesus explained:

If I had not come and spoken [to] them, they [they would not be guilty of] sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man [ever] did, they [would not be counted guilty]: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

Tomorrow...the best way to annoy false leadership.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Messianic Miracles-- Leprosy Part 2

Attitudes of Judaism at the Time of Christ Regarding Leprosy

In the Old Testament all lepers mentioned there received their affliction as a result of serious sin ­ either their own or that of a relative. The Rabbis listed 10 sins believed to cause leprosy (pg 9 Heb. Roots). For this reason, leprosy was considered to be a physical manifestation of the spiritually disfiguring effects of sin.

A common rabbinic saying about leprosy was, "It is easier to raise the dead than to heal a leper."

After the Law of Moses went into effect, there was no record that any Jew was ever healed of leprosy. Miriam's healing was before the Law was in effect. Naman was healed, but he was a Syrian Gentile, not a Jew. Leprosy was the one disease left out of Rabbinic cures. ­ There was no cure whatsoever.

Yet Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 gave the Levitical Priesthood detailed instructions as to what they were to do if ever a leper was healed. These instructions were the most detailed and time consuming of all rituals in the law of Moses. Most of the younger priests considered that learning them was a waste of time since they felt certain that they would never have to implement them.

The Procedure to Declare a Leper "Clean" went as follows:

1. To begin, a leper approached the Priesthood leaders at the temple and said, "I was a leper, but now I have been healed." The Priesthood gave an initial offering of two birds to initiate the ceremony.

2. For the next seven days the Priesthood was required to make an intensive investigation to determine three things:

A. First, was the person really a leper? There were numerous skin diseases, maybe their affliction was only psoriasis or eczema.
B. Second, if indeed he was a real leper, had he actually been cured?
C. Third, if he was truly cured, what were the circumstances of his healing?

After the
seven day investigation, if it was found that (a) the man truly had been a leper, (b) had shown evidence that he had been healed of his leprosy, and (c) the circumstances of his healing had been witnessed and documented, then (d) on the eighth day, there would be a lengthy series of offerings.

Final Offerings and Anointings

On the eighth day the healed leper brought to the temple:
2 male lambs- ­ trespass & sin............if poor:..1 male lamb
1 ewe lamb- ­ burnt offering ........................... 2 turtle doves or young pigeons
flour and oil ­ meal offering ..............................grain and oil

Tune in tomorrow....there are some exciting connections to come.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Messianic Miracles-- Leprosy Part 1

The Life of a Leper

1. The life of a leper was a living death. In the early stages, his face became severely deformed. His first loss would be his nose and ears, followed by the gradual loss of his hands and feet. He also lost his sense of touch and his ability to feel pain. With this sensory deprivation, he could inadvertently hurt himself or be harmed by the rats which would come to feast at night on his unfeeling flesh. Although physically deformed, a leper's mind remained unaffected. Each personal encounter with the unafflicted would be a fresh reminder that his presence caused a sense of revulsion.

2. Lepers couldn't come into a walled city or walk under the same tree as one unaffected. They would be denied shade while watching someone else enjoy that privilege. The last time I was in Israel, the temperature reached 134ยบ, and shade was a highly coveted commodity.

3. Lepers could no longer associate with family and friends or even walk within arm's length.

4. They were highly contagious ­ even if the leprosy was only in the beginning stages. The leper was required to go about with an uncovered head, disheveled hair, and torn clothing, as a warning to others.

5. Everything a leper touched was considered "unclean" and hence unusable. This included clothing, house, vessels, etc.

6. The lepers were required to warn the unaffected. They had to cover their mouths and lips and cry, "Unclean, unclean." (Lev. 13:45)

This uncleanness did not just mean that the leper was dirty or refer only to physical uncleanness. It implied that your ritual impurity was a permanent state. Ritual purity was required for service in the temple, and ritual uncleanness meant that you were prohibited from being anywhere near the vicinity of the temple. (pg 8 Hebrew Roots, leprosy paper)

The Jews believed that any unclean person who attempted to stand in God's Presence would be destroyed. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah there is an excellent example of this principle. Isaiah found himself, in the Spirit, in God's heavenly Temple. His response to this experience is found in verse 5.

"Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts."

Compared to the holiness of God, Isaiah symbolically considered himself a spiritual leper whose earthly environment could be compared to living in a leper colony.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Messianic Miracles

When studying the New Testament, it is helpful to remember that there were established cultural expectations regarding the Messiah and his power.

Sometime prior to the Savior’s coming, the ancient Rabbis divided miracles into 2 categories:

A. Those anyone could perform if empowered by the Spirit and
B. Those reserved only to the Messiah

The Savior performed both types and the responses to those actions held tremendous significance. Three of the healing miracles that the Rabbis said that only the Messiah would be able to perform were:

1. Healing a leper (Luke
2. Casting a demon out of a dumb (mute) person (Mark 5:6-13; Matthew
12:22-29). This was because it was necessary to call a demon by name in order to cast it out. It took divine power to discern the name of the demon when the possessed person was unable to speak.
3. Healing a man born blind (John 9:1-12).

As an aside, one of the other Messiah-only miracles was thought by some to be the ability to walk on water and all that it implied (Job 9:1-8; Matthew 8:23-27). It was thought that Satan had dominion over the water (See also D&C 61:18-19). To walk on water meant that you had vanquished Satan’s kingdom and put his head ­ or power ­ under your feet.

Tomorrow, we'll go into more depth concerning the first Messianic healing miracle: healing a leper. This had special implications for the house of Israel living under the Law of Moses.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Missionary Thought

My youngest son is coming home from his mission in less than two months and this thought reminds me of him and all of those dear souls who serve as missionaries.

It takes no special effort or ability to criticize and condemn error. Any limited mind can do that, and enjoy the boost it gives the ego. But it takes much discipline and self-denial to confront error with a calm resolve, with personal godliness, and with a blameless and constructive and upbuilding presentation of the Truth in its simplicity and beauty.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Blessings and Cursings Part 3

Another layer of testimony is embedded in the names of the twelve tribes and where they were told to stand as witnesses to the recitation of the covenant that the LORD was making with them.

The six tribes of blessing on Mount Gerizim (Deut. 27:12), when read together in the order they appear, will yield a sentence: "Hear the son, join him and praise him, for he will reward you by adding you to himself, the son of God's right hand."

Likewise, the six tribes of cursing on
Mount Ebal (v. 13): "You will see a son and a troop of blessed ones dwelling together, but the judge will wrestle with you."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blessings and Cursings Part 2

Well within sight of each other, Mount Ebal's rather barren appearance contrasted with the more profusely-covered Mount Gerizim. This difference was used in a ceremony to symbolize the blessings for those who obey God, and the curses for those who disobey - a principle that applies as much now as at any other time during scriptural history. This picture from the lds.org library is my favorite for showing this.

Gerizim and Ebal

The following is a sampling of the blessings and curses which were recited. I used the NIV because it was so much shorter. For a complete list-especially of the curses- see the rest of Deuteronomy 28.

If You Choose To Obey God

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. - Deu 28:4 - The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. - Deu 28:7 - The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. (Deuteronomy 28:1-8 NIV)

If You Choose To Disobey God

However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking Him. - Deu 28:21 - The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. (Deuteronomy 28:15-22 NIV)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blessings and Cursings Part 1

I love how the Lord uses geography of the Holy Land to emphasize his significant teachings.

Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses gave instructions that the blessings and cursings of the covenant should be read aloud on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal :

The same day Moses charged the people as follows: When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim for the blessing of the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali. Then the Levites shall declare in a loud voice to all the Israelites … (Deut 27:11-14).

Then follow the blessings and the cursings, after each all the people shall say, “Amen”.

These instructions were carried out under the leadership of Joshua:

All Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark in front of the levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD has commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. (Josh 8:33-34).

We may wonder how it was possible that the whole population of the Israelites, at least 600,000 adult men, could hear this reading of the law without a modern public-address system, and be able to respond with “Amen” to each of the blessings and curses.

An article on bibleplaces.com refers to an experiment conducted in the 19th century by J.W. McGarvey, during his tour of the Holy Land . He describes how these two mountains face each other with their slopes being about one mile apart, with the Biblical city of Shechem lying between them. On the side of both mountains there is a deep semicircular recess, which form two natural amphitheatres, where voices can carry for considerable distances. For his experiment, McGarvey stood between the two mountains, in the place where the Levities and the people of Israel would have stood. He said that there would have been enough space for 600,000 Israelites and their families. One of his two companions climbed halfway up Mt. Ebal , and another climbed halfway up Mt. Gerizim . Each evidently stood within the two natural amphitheatres, where they could each represent six tribes for the blessing and the curse.

The author read the blessings and the curses, and his two companions responded with, “Amen”, as Moses had instructed. The companion on Mt. Gerizim could hear the author clearly, and his response could also be heard clearly. The companion on Mt. Ebal could hear the voice of the author, but had difficulty distinguishing the words because of trees and terracing on the mountainside, which affected the acoustics. McGarvey suggested that if Joshua had a loud voice, he could have easily been heard by the whole the whole people of Israel , even without the Levites repeating his words.

This experiment shows that God chose the best place in the land to conduct this ceremony of renewal of the covenant, so all the congregation of Israel could hear the words of the Law clearly, and agree to them.

The natural amphitheatres do not work so effectively today because of recent building development, but still show clearly in photographs and aerial mapping.

Google Earth

BiblePlaces--color emphasis added

Monday, March 9, 2009


And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin's mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him. Genesis 43:34

Mess is an archaic or colloquial term for a portion, or serving, of food. The miltary still uses this term-as in Mess Hall. Joseph sent "portions" from his own table to his brothers, who could not sit with him because of his station as next to Pharaoh (Genesis 43:34). When David told Uriah to go to his home, "there followed him a present from the king"—there is no indication in the Hebrew that it was "a mess of meat," as the KJV has it (2 Samuel 11:8).

The Hebrew word in these two cases is the one which is translated "gifts" in the account of the great banquet given by King Ahasuerus to celebrate the coronation of Queen Esther (2:18). It is an interesting fact that the well-worn phrase "a mess of pottage" does not appear in the Biblical account of Esau's sale of his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) or in the reference to it in Hebrews 12:16.

(The Bible Word Book, Bridges & Weigle pg 223)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Biblical humor

While the primary purpose of the Hebrew Bible is to teach people how to live a spiritual life and serve God, many of the stories contained in the text are quite humorous. Some of these situations result from a funny predicament and may include humorous imagery as well.

For example, the plague of frogs. First, the imagery invoked of a country overrun with jumping frogs, including frogs in the palace, in the bedrooms of Egypt, in the ovens and kneading bowels is quite ludicrous. Then, as if this image is not funny enough, the Egyptian magicians, trying to downplay what Moses had done, "brought up frogs on the land of Egypt " (Exodus 8:3) to show that they could do the same thing. One would think they would have tried to eliminate the plague (but, of course, they couldn’t).

There is even humor in the word used to describe Moses’ prayer to God asking for the frogs to go away. Moses cried (vayitzack) to God. Moses had to cry because the noise made by all those frogs required that Moses scream to be heard (see the commentary of Sifse Chachamim).

Friedman, Hershey. International Journal of Humor Research, Vol. 13, Sept. 2000

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fire from Heaven

And it came to pass, when the time was come that
he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face
to go to
Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his
face: and they went, and entered into a village of the
Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not
receive him, because his face was as though he would
go to
Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John
saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command
fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even
as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and
said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For
the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but
to save them.
Luke 9:51-56

God was going to get their enemies, and this is what
the disciples believed when they wanted to call down
fire from heaven.

In the time of Christ, there was an imprecatory prayer
that was frequently used to curse Rome. It went
something like this:

"Dear God, Please cause a river
of fire to flow from heaven, and let it burn every
Roman, each in his own house, amen

This is probably what Jesus' disciples were referring to
when they wanted to call down fire from Heaven on those who
did not believe or show hospitality to their Master.

(Fleming, James W. 2002. Desert Spirituality. Biblical Resources Conference Lecture Series, June, pg103)

Jesus did not respond in kind to to His
nation’s enemies, the Romans and Samaritans.

When we have trouble forgiving painful hurts
and slights – especially concerning those we love – we
can remember that the Lord is longsuffering, patient,
and kind to all – even our enemies – because he knows
it is possible that some of them will repent and come
unto Him. He is anxious to save as many as possible.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Shall Not Want

When I was a child we repeated the 23rd Psalm in school every morning after the Pledge of Allegiance. Unfortunately, its meaning was never explained to the class. I understood much of it, but I thought the phrase, "I shall not want" meant that He was my shepherd whether I wanted him to be or not.

One wiser individual better understood the true intent of David's words when he wrote of the Shepherd:

I shall not want or lack...

...rest for He maketh me to lie down.
...refreshment for He leadeth me beside the still waters.
...restoration for He restoreth my soul.
...guidance for He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.
...confidence for I will fear no evil.
...companionship for Thou art with me.
...comfort for Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
...provision for Thou preparest a table.
...joy for my cup runneth over.
...anything in this life for goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
...anything in eternity for I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

When we have a good shepherd, there is no need that goes unfilled.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Bread of Friendship

Designer Mies Van der Rohe observed that “God is in the details.” The smallest details can truly reveal someone’s heart. The Last Supper contains many tender insights into the nature of Christ. A knowledge of middle eastern meal customs is helpful to our understanding here.

While eating a meal, it was customary to place three small "loaves" of bread at each setting. These resembled modern tortillas or pancakes. Pieces of this bread were doubled up, spoon fashion, and used to scoop up the stews and sauces. By practice, this was done with much expert cleanliness and was not at all messy. When one prepared such a mouthful and handed it to another at the table, it was a sign of friendly regard. An affectionate exchange of food would take place only between friends. In some parts of the Middle East, this "sop" is called "the bread of friendship."

In John 13:26, we read of such an exchange:

Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot...

Through the sharing of his sop, Jesus truly practiced his own teaching – to "love your enemies."