Monday, August 31, 2009

The True Vine

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. John 15:1

"An interesting Jewish concept can be seen in the illustration of the True Vine in John 15:1. Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser." At the time of Jesus, a golden grapevine was draped across the four columns at the entrance to the Temple. Josephus records that its beauty was such that it was known as a marvel of size and artistry to all who saw with what costliness of material it had been constructed. [Jewish writings] say that people would sometimes make a freewill offering by purchasing a golden leaf, berry, or cluster which the priests would then attach to this vine. Often those who gave generously to the Temple had their names inscribed on the golden leaves. This was a custom that all were familiar with in Jerusalem.

When Jesus depicted Himself as the True Vine, He was undoubtedly contrasting Himself with this artificial vine, suggesting that if the disciples would offer themselves to Him to the degree that people offered their substance to this golden symbol, the result would be abundant spiritual fruit."

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Great Commandment

Ancient Temple postings begin on Monday.

I love this poem written by my dear friend Lisa. It was inspired by her ponderings on the first and great commandment.

I had to learn to love the Lord –
My will fought long His great command.
Though I saw merit in His word,
I felt abandoned by His hand.

My pouting soul, by grace, is free;
For Truth revealed Love’s selfless length
And spoke that Christ is loving me
With all His heart, might, mind, and strength.

Lisa K. Phan

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Pinnacle of the Temple

The information below helped me to more easily picture the context of this scripture quote.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
Matthew 4:5

"In the second temptation Jesus... saw himself on “the pinnacle of the Temple,” and the temptation was to leap down, and to land at the foot of it unharmed (Luke 4:9-12; Matt. 4:5-7). “The pinnacle of the Temple” may be either of two places. On the south side of the Temple rose the Royal Porch. The outer wall of the Royal Porch rose straight up from the side of the hill on which Jerusalem and the Temple were built. There was a sheer drop of 450 feet to the Kidron valley below, a drop so famous and notorious that Josephus tells us that no one could look down it without being overcome with dizziness (Antiquities 15.11.5).

Edersheim has another suggestion to make. The first great event of the Temple day was the morning sacrifice which had to be made as soon as dawn came. There was a tall tower in the Temple, on the top of which a priest was stationed with a silver trumpet to sound the blast upon it when the first streaks of dawn came across the hills, and so to tell all men that the time of sacrifice had come. At such a time the Temple court would be thronged with expectant worshippers, with their eyes fixed on the priest who waited to give the signal that the dawn had come. If Jesus chose to leap down from the top of that tower at that moment he would indeed have an audience for his miracle of sensation."

(Barclay, William., The Mind of Jesus, HarperSanFrancisco, United States of America, 1960, pg 36)

Request from Donna--I don't know if the readers of this blog prefer the random nature of my posts, or if they would like some postings about aspects of the same topic for a while. I have 15 postings ready relating to some of my ancient Temple information and I thought I'd go with that theme for a while. If you think it would be better or more interesting to mix them up with other topics, will you let me know?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ancient Covenant Formula

This article by Richard Booker is a good abbreviated summary of ancient covenant practices. These practices were also used when business partnerships were established. There is much more that could be written, but this short simplified outline is useful to increase our understanding.

"What is a Covenant?
From the beginning of time, people have understood a covenant to be a binding agreement between two parties. The word "covenant" actually means to "cut a covenant by the shedding of blood." A blood covenant has always been considered the most sacred of all compacts. When you enter into blood covenant with someone, you promise to give him or her your life, your love and your protection forever.

The Covenant Ritual
In ancient times, people expressed their covenant relationship in a dramatic way. they would exchange their coat or robe, which represented themselves, as a means of mutually committing their lives to one another. Then they would exchange their belts. Because the belt held their weapons in place, it symbolized their power. By exchanging it, they were pledging their strength, support, protection and ability to fight for and defend one another.

Next, the two parties would actually "cut the covenant" by killing an animal and splitting it down the middle. the bloody halves of the animal represented the two people making the covenant. They would then make the covenant walk between the pieces of flesh. by this act, they were showing their willingness to give up the rights to their own lives and begin a new walk with their covenant partner unto death.

After cutting the covenant, they would raise their right arms, cut their palms, and bring them together to intermingle their blood [Example: blood brothers]. As their blood intermingled, they believed their lives were intermingling and becoming one, taking on the nature of their blood covenant partner.

Following this, they would exchange names as a means of identifying with one another. As they were now known by each others name, the would be expected to think, talk, and act like their blood covenant partner.

The next step was to make a scar over the cut as a permanent testimony to the covenant. It would always be there as a guarantee, reminding the two parties of their covenant rights and responsibilities.

They would then give the terms of the covenant, pledging to commit their assists to one another and taking responsibility for the other's liabilities.

Next, they would have a memorial meal to symbolize their covenant union. They would take a loaf of bread and break it in two and feed it to each other. Then they would serve each other wine. The bread and wine represented their lives. By exchanging them, the two parties were expressing their desire to become one with each other.

Finally, they would leave a memorial to the covenant by planting a tree which they sprinkled with the blood of the animal. The blood-sprinkled tree, along with the scar, was a lasting testimony to their sacred covenant relationship."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hidden Witnesses

Amos was a reluctant prophet who was called to warn the surrounding nations that their unrepented sins were the cause of the destruction soon to fall upon them.

Jennifer Orten made a list of the nations that were warned and found a profound message encoded. Here is what she discovered. It reminds me of the message hidden in Genesis about Noah's genealogy.

Amos = burden bearer, to lift up
Damascus = Moist with blood
Gaza = fortified, strong
Tyre = the rock
Edom = red, of blood, an idiom for the Gentile nations
Ammon = son of my people, a great people; pertaining to a nation
Moab = fruitful, seed of the father
Judah = praise the Lord
Israel = prince with God

"The burden bearer, lifted up, is moist with blood. [He] fortifies and strengthens as the Rock. [Through his] red blood the Gentiles, a great people and nation, the seed of the Father, are fruitful and shall praise the God of Israel, [becoming] princes with God."

This is wonderful! Thanks, Jennifer!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Prophetic Perfect

But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness. 1 Nephi 5:5

When I first read the verse above, I wondered if Joseph Smith had mixed up his verb tenses because Lehi referred to having "obtained a land of promise” while they were obviously still in the desert and that was a future event. I thought perhaps it was a way of expressing faith in things to come as though they had already come. I was delighted when I came across the Hebrew language idiom that perfectly fit this (and many other) scriptures. It is another witness that Joseph Smith really did translate the Book of Mormon. He didn’t even know English grammar that well, much less Hebrew and Aramaic.

John Schoenheit wrote: “In the Hebrew and Aramaic idiom in which the Bible was written, when something was absolutely going to happen in the future, it is often spoken of as if it had already occurred in the past. Hebrew scholars are familiar with this idiom and refer to it as “the prophetic perfect” ... and the “perfective of confidence.” Students studying Semitic language and thought sometimes call this idiom, “here now, but not yet” or “already—not yet.”

Unfortunately, the average [person] has no knowledge of the idiom. This is due to the fact that in the vast majority of the cases in which it appears in the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts, the translators have not done a literal translation into English, but have actually changed the tense. Thus, the “prophetic perfect” is rarely apparent in English Bibles.

In fairness to the translators, because the English language seldom uses anything like the prophetic perfect, most Christians would only be confused if it were left in the text. For example, the Greek text of Jude 14 says that the Lord “came” with thousands of his saints. Scholars of the biblical languages recognize that Jude was simply using the prophetic perfect to indicate the certainty of the Lord’s coming in the future with thousands of saints. But if they translated the verse literally, the average Christian would probably become confused and wonder, “When did the Lord come with thousands of his saints? The first and only time he came he had only a relatively small band of followers.”

In his magnificent work Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, E. W. Bullinger says that the switch from the literal future tense to the past tense is technically the figure of speech Heterosis. He wrote that the past is used instead of the future to emphasize the certainty of an event. [The past tense is used instead of the future tense] when the speaker views the action as being as good as done. This is very common in the Divine prophetic utterances where, though the sense is literally future, it is regarded and spoken of as though it were already accomplished in the Divine purpose and determination. The figure is to show the absolute certainty of the things spoken of.

One of many examples is found in Numbers 21:34. When Israel was coming out of the wilderness, Og, the king of Bashan, and his army came out to fight them. God wanted to assure Moses that Israel would win the battle, so He said, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you(NIV). Interestingly, almost every English version deviates from the usual practice and translates the verb in the literal past tense instead of translating it in the future tense. Thus, even in the NIV, it seems that the battle is over even though it had not yet been fought.”

For more information on “The Prophetic Perfect” see John W. Schoenheit, The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul, Appendix E, pp. 223-240.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Lord Rejoices

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin...
Zechariah 4:10 NLT

On challenging days, these words of Ezra Taft Benson can give all of us a lot of comfort.

"We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope."

"A Mighty Change of Heart," address prepared [but not delivered] 1986. Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.398

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lambs and Pigs

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. Mosiah 3: 19

Studying the contrasting natures of the pig and the lamb can be very instructive.

A lamb is very easy to kill. One account I read concerned a butcher who had been asked to slaughter a family’s Passover lamb. The butcher anticipated a routine experience, as he had slaughtered many animals. He related how after slitting the small creature’s throat, the little lamb turned and licked the blood off of the butcher’s hands. This hardened butcher deeply moved and forever changed. In many respects, the lamb is a lot like Jesus. He steadfastly set His face to go to His Jerusalem to die there. He willingly sacrificed His life for us and for our sins. He endured the cross – despising the shame.

Pigs are not like that at all! Compared to the pig – the lamb is almost suicidal – it yields very easily to the blade and its blood is drained with little fuss. Here’s what one writer says about observing the death of a pig.

...As minimal as the apparatus of intelligence is in the pig, the principle of survival is unbelievably tenacious. It took four men to get that animal down, and each able-bodied man was hanging onto a leg as that stubborn thing jerked. It wasn’t at all like a lamb; it was definitely NOT going to lay down its life. Somebody had his foot on its head and neck, and that fat thing was still squirming and jerking. At that point, one of the men looked at me, handed me the knife, and said, “Would you like to —?” There was a sudden and intense repulsion in my soul that took me by surprise. This shrinking back sprang from a strange kind of identification with that animal, down on its face, squealing and writhing and fighting for its life.

The perception was clear and frightening: I saw too much of myself in that animal. I passed the knife to someone who was experienced at this sort of thing, and he knew exactly where to put it. Later, when we had that animal taken apart, all the entrails removed, he took out the heart and showed it to me. The knife had gone right into it, slitting it deeply, and yet the animal did not die immediately. It squealed and made a ruckus and writhed and contorted until practically the last drop of blood was out of its body. I never saw anything DIE so hard as that stubborn, filthy pig, squealing to the end.


The pig is a good type for the natural man.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor. 2: 14

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Forgiveness by the Numbers

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Matthew 18:21-22

"The Jewish Rabbis at that time taught that a man was to be forgiven three times, but no more. Peter multiplied this number by two, added one more for good measure, and then patted himself on the back and said, "Look what a wonderful fellow I am to be willing to forgive like that!" Peter indeed was willing to forgive, but his mistake was that he measured himself by a human rather than a divine standard.

So Jesus says to him, "Not just seven times, Peter, should you forgive your brother, but seventy times seven." An alternative in translation is "seventy-seven times" instead of "seventy times seven." At any rate the meaning is the same, for Jesus was teaching that a person should always be ready to forgive. It is not a problem of counting but a problem of conduct."

(Lightfoot, Neil R. 1986. The Parables of Jesus. Vol. 1 (Revised). Abilene, TX: A.C.U. Press., pg 47)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Motivation Behind the Evil Report

And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. Numbers 13:32-33

"[Jewish writings] portray for us the devastation which accompanies the quest for honor and self-aggrandizement. This is revealed to us by our Sages who relate that the spies, who were chieftains of their people, feared and suspected that their right to leadership would be repudiated upon the entry of Israel into the Promised Land. As a result they spoke slanderously of the land so that Israel would choose to remain in the desert and they would thereby retain their supremacy (Zohar, Parshas Shelach, Mesilas Yeshorim ch. 11).

Thus, we perceive with great clarity the inordinate amount of sorrow, tribulation, and retribution brought about by the desire for glory. The events depicted are a blatant display of the bitter and frightful consequences which accompany the attribute of jealousy. It was this trait which caused Korah and his band of followers to perish from both this world and the next. Thus we have a tangible portrayal of the aphorism of our Sages: "Jealousy, desire, and (the quest for) glory remove a person from the world."

(Kaplan, Aryeh, ed. 1991. The Torah Anthology, Book Fourteen. Brooklyn, New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation., pg xii)

Only Joshua and Caleb dared to give a faithful report of the Promised land and that at the peril of their lives.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

"Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. . . ." Joseph Smith

Everyone wants to be happy. Joseph Smith taught that our earthly experience was meant to give us every opportunity to feel that way. I love this quote by David McCullough regarding the founding fathers and their definition of true happiness. It incorporates cherished LDS beliefs regarding education and agency and service.

"But it is in their ideas about happiness, I believe, that we come close to the heart of their being, and to their large view of the possibilities in their Glorious Cause.

In general, happiness was understood to mean being at peace with the world in the biblical sense, under one's own "vine and fig tree." But what did they, the Founders, mean by the expression, "pursuit of happiness"?

It didn't mean long vacations or material possessions or ease. As much as anything it meant the life of the mind and spirit. It meant education and the love of learning, the freedom to think for oneself.

Jefferson defined happiness as "tranquility and occupation." For Jefferson, as we know, occupation meant mainly his intellectual pursuits.

Washington, though less inclined to speculate on such matters, considered education of surpassing value, in part because he had had so little. Once, when a friend came to say he hadn't money enough to send his son to college, Washington agreed to help -- providing a hundred pounds in all, a sizable sum then -- and with the hope, as he wrote, that the boy's education would "not only promote his own happiness, but the future welfare of others …." For Washington, happiness derived both from learning and employing the benefits of learning to further the welfare of others.

The entire fascinating lecture can be found here:

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Drunkards of Ephraim

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
Isaiah 28:1

"Drunkard" in this instance is used metaphorically, referring to one who is carried away with his own sense of power, pride, and glory. The Israelites had become drunk with power and false religious zeal, the Baal worship. In the East when people are carried away with their false pride and power we say, "they are drunken."

Ephraim was situated in one of the most fertile parts of Palestine (note: the fat valley). The land was graced with wheat fields and vineyards. Wine was abundant. Then again, the people boasted of their power and glory. They were the descendants of Ephraim, the second son of Joseph, whom Jacob had blessed, predicting that he would become a great people [Gen. 48:5-22]. Moreover, the name of Israel, the prince of God, was bestowed upon Ephraim and his descendants.

Therefore, Ephraim was the crown of the pride of Israel, but had defiled himself by worshiping pagan gods. Now he was wearing upon his head a shameful diadem. Ephraim had been unfaithful. He made alliances with pagan nations, and had utterly forsaken the Lord God of Israel and his everlasting covenant.

(Lamsa, George M. 1964. Old Testament Light. San Francisco: Harper Collins., pg 663)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bibles and Translations

This was prepared as an Institute handout--I thought it was very useful and would be a good reference to have. I would also add the New Living Translation (NLT) to the list as a good cultural resource.

By Jesus’ day, Hebrew was no longer the native language of the Jews, though it appears that its use was not limited to scribes and scholars. Nevertheless, in the synagogues, the traditional ancient Hebrew text would be read, followed, for purposes of understanding, by a translation into the current language of the people, i.e. an Aramaic translation or “targum.” This practice may go back to Nehemiah 8:8.

Similarly, English-speaking members of the Church should know the King James Version, but also read modern translations for understanding. The KJV is the official English Bible of the LDS Church, but not necessarily the sole Bible for individual members to read and study.

We clearly prefer the King James Version of the New Testament, but we are not adamant about that. Any responsibly prepared version could be used and might be helpful to us.(Elder John K. Carmack, The NT & the LDS, p. 2)

If [the Bible] be translated incorrectly, and there is a scholar on the earth who professes to be a Christian, and he can translate it any better than King James’s translators did it, he is under obligation to do so, or the curse is upon him. If I understood Greek and Hebrew as some may profess to do, and I knew the Bible was not correctly translated, I should feel myself bound by the law of justice to the inhabitants of the earth to translate that which is incorrect and give it just as it was spoken anciently. Is that proper? Yes, I would be under obligation to do it.(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 14:226-227)

Modern apostles have used modern translations of the Bible to supplement difficult KJV passages: e.g.

Neal A. Maxwell, (Ensign, May 1991, p. 90); RSV (Revised Standard Version)

(Ensign, Dec. 1986, p. 23); NKJV (New King James Version)

Jeffrey R. Holland, (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 34); NEB (New English Bible)

Robert D. Hales, (Ensign, Nov. 1997, p. 26). NIV (New International Version)

Recommended Versions

New King James Version (NKJV)- For those who want a KJV with some modernized grammar and vocabulary.

New International Version (NIV) Study Bible- A very readable Bible done by conservative Evangelicals. I like it for the Old Testament notes. The NT notes may be more theologically biased.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)- The best single translation available.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Selling the Righteous

Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; Amos 2:6

To sell the righteous: The innocent are declared guilty for a bribe; and rich men sell into slavery poor honest people whose only crime was that they were in debt to them, sometimes only to the value of a pair of shoes. This sale of the innocent man gives the connection with the story of Joseph, spoken of by the Rabbis as the innocent victim of hatred and slander.

(Hertz, Dr. J.H., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 2nd Ed., Soncino Press, London, 1992, pg 152)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Best Old Testament Message

Joseph F. Smith once said that the love of a true mother was the closest analogy we have to help us understand God's love for us. Yancey's words below expand on that theme.

"Out of their tortured history, the Jews demonstrate the most surprising lesson of all: You cannot go wrong personalizing God. God is not a blurry power living somewhere in the sky, not an abstraction like the Greeks proposed, not a sensual super-human like the Romans worshiped, and definitely not the absentee Watchmaker of the Deists. God is "personal." He enters into people's lives, messes with families, shows up in unexpected places, chooses unlikely leaders, calls people to account. Most of all, God loves.

As the great Jewish Theologian Abraham Heschel put it,

To the prophet, God does not reveal Himself in an abstract absoluteness, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world. He does not simply command and expect obedience; he is also moved and affected by what happens in the world, and reacts accordingly. Events and human actions arouse in Him joy or sorrow, pleasure or wrath ... man's deeps may move Him, affect Him, grieve Him or, on the other hand, gladden and please Him.... The God of Israel is a God who loves, a God who is known to, and concerned with, man. He not only rules the world in the majesty of His might and wisdom, but reacts intimately to the events of history.

More than any other word pictures, God chooses "children" and "lovers" to describe our relationship with him as being intimate and personal. The Old Testament abounds with husband-bride imagery. God woos his people and dotes on them like a lover doting on his beloved. When they ignore him, he feels hurt, spurned, like a jilted lover. Shifting metaphors, it also announces that we are God's children. In other words, the closest we can come to understanding how God looks upon us is by thinking about the people who mean most to us: our own child, our lover.

Think of a doting parent with a video camera, coaxing his year-old daughter to let go of the living room coffee table and take three steps toward him. "Come on, sweetie, you can do it! Just let go. Daddy's here. Come on." Think of a love-struck teenager with her phone permanently attached to her ear, reviewing every second of her day with a boy who is himself infatuated enough to be interested. Think of those two scenes, and then imagine God on one end and you on the other. That is the message of the Old Testament."

From The Bible Jesus Read by Philip Yancey.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Be Strong

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. Joshua 1:9

(Like the LDS who read through the standard works on a schedule, the Jews read through the first five books of the Bible on a yearly basis. The weekly scheduled verses are the same for Jews everywhere in the world.)

"According to Jewish custom, the completion of any of the first five books of the Torah [Bible] is marked in the Synagogue by the congregation exclaiming “Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other”—an echo of the words of the ancient warrior, “Be of good courage, and let us prove strong for our people, and for the cities of our God” (II Sam. 10:12).

Be strong means to carry out the teaching contained in the book just completed."

(Hertz, Dr. J.H., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 2nd Ed., Soncino Press, London, 1992, pgs 190-191)

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Sandal-Lachet

He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. John 1:27

"John’s humility comes to expression again when he says that he is not worthy to untie the lachet of Christ’s sandal. This takes us back into the travel on the hot and dusty paths of Palestine. As one walked in the heat and the dust, one’s feet inevitably become dirty. When one came into a friend’s house, the first courtesy provided was water to wash the guest’s feet. But the host would not normally do this himself. To attend to the feet was a task fit for a slave, and it would be a slave who was expected to do the actual washing of the feet.

We may get a little help in appreciating the significance of John’s words if we reflect on customs among students and rabbis. Rabbis were not paid for teaching their disciples. Their teaching was always in one way or another instruction in the Bible, and they held that it would be a dreadful thing to take money for teaching God’s Word. So a rabbi’s needs had to be met in some other way. It was the custom for every Jewish boy to learn a trade. Sometimes we are told that this arose out of some grand notion of the dignity of labor: I greatly doubt this. In the case of people like rabbis it was sheer economic necessity. If the rabbi could not be paid for teaching, it was obviously important that he get a little money in some other way (cf. Paul and his tentmaking [Acts 18:3]).

But that was not the whole story. The rabbi could not work a full day and still have time to devote to his studies. Here the students could help. They were expected to perform all manner of little duties that freed their rabbi from preoccupation with the minor chores of life and gave him time to put into his books. There is a pertinent regulation which in its present form is dated about A.D. 250 but is probably much older. In view of John’s words it is not unlikely that it went back to New Testament times.

It reads: "Every service which a slave performs for his master shall a disciple do for his teacher, except the loosing of his sandal lachet." The feet of even godly and learned rabbis got hot and dusty and smelly. It would be most unpleasant to perform the office of taking off the sandals and washing those feet. It was just too much to expect of a student. Anything else he would do. Cheerfully. But, please, not the sandal lachet! It is fascinating that John selects precisely this duty which the student would not do for his rabbi and says of it, "I am not worthy."

(Morris, Leon. 2000. Reflections on the Gospel of John. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers., pgs 33-34)

Thursday, August 6, 2009


For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. Mark 7:10-11

There seemed to be a problem in the time of Jesus with people seeking to avoid the financial responsibility of caring for their parents by telling them that they had made a vow and declared their resources "corban" meaning "dedicated to God." This was convenient because they could still use their resources until their death, when the money would then go to the Temple. And they could break the commandment to honor their parents using supposedly righteous pretenses. The quote below is a little technical, but helpful in understanding this passage.

"Honor your father and your mother
(Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5.10; Cf. Lev. 9.3; 20.9; Deut. 27.16; Exod. 21.16.) The force of "honor you father, etc." juxtaposed with the oath of benefit, can be understood only if one realizes that the Rabbis interpreted "honor" as meaning providing the father and mother with the physical necessities and does not mean honor or respect as this term is understood in English.

What you have gained...given to God The translation does not convey the true meaning of this passage. The expression "given to God", in the Greek is doron, which translates the Heb. corban, "a sacrifice," as in Mark 7.11, which frequently, in Jewish literature, means an "oath." The text then should read, "If anyone tells his father or his mother Corban (a vow!) what you would have gained from me, (you shall not have that benefit), he does not honor his father."

"According to Pharisees, a vow must be kept since it is written in the Bible that a man should not break his word (Deut. 23.24; Num. 30.3). But if a man took a vow against biblical precept he must keep his vow and not observe the precept for which undoubtedly, according to them, he will be punished for not observing the precept....According to Jesus no vow can be taken against a biblical precept."

Zeitlin goes on and points out, "However, to avoid a clash between two commandments in the Bible, namely, “honor thy father and thy mother” and “he shall not break his word” if a man took a vow not to honor his father and mother, the Pharisees introduced a legal fiction by which he could absolve his vow. This is called in the Talmud hafarat nedarim. Thus according to the Pharisees, if a man takes a vow against a biblical precept his vow can be absolved."

(Zeitlin, The Pharisees and the Gospels, p. 265)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Moses – “Seeing No One"

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. Exodus 2:11-12

"Verse 12 states that Moses killed the Egyptian only when “seeing no one.” According to one interpretation, it is not to be understood that Moses was afraid or had a bad conscience. Instead, the text should be read in light of Isaiah 59:15-16, where exactly the same Hebrew expression appears, “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory.”

Moses was not indifferent; he intervened when he saw that no one cared for justice. Moses realized the depth of the suffering of his people, not only from their outward oppression but also their inner distress. While this interpretation may not do justice to the context, it is nevertheless thought-provoking and instructive."

(Larsson, Göran., Bound For Freedom, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. Peabody, Massachusetts, 1999, pg 24)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Teaching With Authority

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Matthew 7:28-29

In Israel, it was customary to teach by citing the source of your information- usually the rabbi you followed. For example, a scribe would preface his teaching by “I say unto you in the name of (insert name of teacher/rabbi) that ... (fill in the teaching). This gave the listener a chance to evaluate the teaching based on the prominence of the teacher’s name. When Paul wanted to stress the quality of his religious education, he informed his listeners that he had sat "at the feet of Gamaliel.” If you quoted a prominent Rabbi, then your words were given more weight by the listeners.

Samuel Lachs further explains, “The crowds were used to the type of preaching which characterized the Scribes-Pharisees. Their procedure was to teach the Oral Law by citing the authorities from whom the speaker received the traditions being transmitted. Failure to do so was considered not only a display of arrogance but destructive of the system, breaking the continuum of the process. This is emphasized in the statement "Anyone who says a thing in the name of one who said it brings deliverance to the world, as it is said, And Esther told it in the name of Mordecai [Esther 2.22]."

Jesus' presentation appeared strange to the people, who were accustomed to hearing citations together with the tradition taught. Jesus appealed to no such authority in his teaching, neither by name nor by inference. ... We may assume that originally “authority” had the meaning of “Rabbinic Authority.” The people were surprised that Jesus should teach like one ordained.”

(Lachs, Samuel Tobias. 1987. A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., pgs 60-61)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Yes, Yes; No, No

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Matthew 5:37

The following quote is a bit out of date, but still represents a general attitude in the Middle East. Those folks generally love to haggle.

"As fixed prices are unknown in the East, buying and selling is a complicated business. Each merchant has his own prices and quotes them to each customer as he pleases. The customer is afraid of being cheated and has his own idea of the price. This makes business burdensome.

For instance, if one decides to buy a pair of shoes or a garment, it means a day’s work and much exhaustion because of mistrust and incessant bargaining before making the purchase. When the price cannot be settled by bargaining, merchants and their customers generally take oaths by temples and holy names in proof of their sincerity. They take an oath saying, "By God’s name and his holy angels, this pair of shoes cost me six dollars but you can have it for three dollars". When such oaths are ineffective then they resort to swearing. Thus, "If I lie to you I am the son of a dog or an ass, the shoes cost me three dollars but I will let you have them for a dollar and a half." To all of this the suspicious customer replies, "By my only son’s head, I will not pay you more than a dollar.” If this fails, the merchant is apt to spit in the face of the customer.

Instead of this conventional cross play, waste of time and temper, Jesus here insists on directness and frankness in dealing with one another. He knew that when a man is cheated he would try to cheat others, and if one is deceived by oaths uttered on sacred names he would likewise do the same in transactions with others. "Yes, yes" and "No, no" is the only successful and straightforward method in business. The Orient is only now learning that such a method is far superior to their traditional system."

(Lamsa, George M. 1936. Gospel Light. San Francisco: Harper Collins., pgs 39-40)