Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Shining Face pt. 4

In the Aaronic Benediction, the Lord says to us, "The LORD make His face to shine on you."Why do I want His face to shine on me? Well, the Bible says a lot about "shine." Shining has to do with becoming light, illuminating like daybreak when the brightness of the sun pierces the darkness. The word for shine used in this blessing has to do with luminescence, as when light glows through from within, as an inner light.

This idea of shining – "The LORD make His face to shine upon you" – also has something to do with divine approval. In His presence we have God's approval and He is pleased with who we are and what we are and what's been going on. That which is dross should burn away in His presence. In Daniel 9, Daniel implores the Lord to lift up His face and shine on His sanctuary and reverse the desolate condition of Jerusalem. He says, "Lord, shine on Jerusalem again. Shine Your face on Jerusalem. Show Your face in the midst of this situation."

So when you recite this Aaronic Benediction, "The LORD make His face to shine on you," you are asking God to come and bring His very presence, because where God is, there is light. Light symbolizes life and prosperity. To see the light is to be born – the light of life – to be alive.

"The LORD make His face to shine on you – is also to light you up, to bring understanding. It is associated with life, salvation, with wisdom and understanding. Look up the word "light," and you will find numerous examples of this, e.g. God will give "light to the nations," "The LORD is my light and my salvation." Where there is light, there is the LORD.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Shining Face pt. 3

To raise your face is to look up. God often says to us, "Look up. Don't look down. Look Me square in the face." He tells Job, "Get up off the ground and look at Me now. You've been railing against Me. You've been bellyaching about talking to Me. So, now talk to Me." God says to Job, "Look at Me." Well, what is it that God wants to look at? God wants to see Job's face, as He wants to see each of our faces to see what is going on inside of us.

You may have said the same thing to your kids or a friend. You say, "Look me right in the eye," and they get all nervous if they have done something wrong and say, "I don't want to look you in the eye." Why don't they want to look at us? Because, as you look in someone's face, you see in their eyes, you see in their heart, and you just know.

Often when talking to a close friend, without revealing their innermost thoughts, you can discern the problem. Then, they may say, "How did you know?" And you answer, "Well, I looked at your face." People can tell when we are worrying, thinking, or even lying by the look on our face. Once you learn someone's face, it is a dead giveaway of their emotions within. They can't hide it from you. You can tell when someone is happy, angry, guilty, or content just by looking at their facial expressions.

God did not want us to make any mistake about His intentions and wanted us to look right into His heart, so decided to show us "His face." He was not going to "hide" His face – His innermost being and thoughts – from us.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Shining Face pt. 2

"The Lord Make His Face Shine Upon You"

One of the most repeated Scriptures about the "face of God" is from the Aaronic Benediction. In this blessing, the one giving the blessing prays that God would make "His face" to shine upon those receiving the blessing.

This phrase, "the Lord make His face to shine upon you," is an interesting Hebraic concept. It means to turn, to turn towards you, to turn around, to turn back, to pay attention again. But why God's face and not another part of His anatomy?

Let's take a look at the biblical uses of this image, the FACE. One's "face" identifies who a person is. When you see a face, you know exactly who it is. Sometimes you can tell who a person is by the back of their head, their hairline, the kind of clothes they wear or how they walk and so on. But you only truly know who someone is when they turn around and look at you. Otherwise you could make a mistake. Sometimes identical twins are a little tough to identify, even if you can see their faces. But even at those times, a careful study of their faces will tell you who it is, because it reflects what's inside. It reflects the person, it identifies the person.

Our face has something to do with who we are when it comes to our countenance. It reveals our emotions, our moods, our dispositions and a reflection of what is going on in inside of us. Proverbs says, "A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance" (15:13). Also, "Cain was very angry and his countenance fell" (Gen. 38:15). When you have a hard face, your kids and spouses will tell you, right? "You've got that face. Don't look at me like that. Don't stare at me like that," they will tell you.

So from our face, one can tell a lot about what is going on inside. A person's face can be shining when they are happy, or they can be shamefaced when they have done wrong. One can have an evil or flaming face, an angry face. Or, one can have a sweet face, revealing inner innocence and lack of guile. In Scripture, "lifting up one's face" (Job 11:15) indicates that one has nothing to hide and there is no shame nor guile in him.

On the other hand, the Bible also talks about "hiding one's face," which means to turn away from someone, either in shame (on the part of the sinner) or disgust (on the part of God who cannot be in the presence of sin). The psalmist, realizing his sin has alienated God, says, "Hide not Your face far from me: put not Your servant away in anger..."(Ps. 27:9). Meanwhile, feeling the pain of his oppressor, the psalmist pleads with God to intervene, when he says, "How long will You forget me O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" (Ps. 13:1).

Then, in Psalms 10:11, it speaks of the wicked man who oppresses the poor and stupidly thinks that God is not watching him: "He has said in his heart, 'God has forgotten: He hides His face; He will never see it.'" To harden the face is to promise no appeal (Prov. 21:29). Determination was evident when Yeshua (Jesus) "set his face" to go to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51). Calamity is assured when the face of God was set against a people (Jer. 44:11).


Monday, December 28, 2009

A Shining Face pt. 1

Today's post represents a milestone for me. One year ago I entered the blogging world and began sharing from my collection of scripture insights. Thank you for reading and commenting. I have loved learning additional insights from you.

The posts this week are excerpted from an article written by C. H. Wagner.

The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
Numbers 6:25

The writers of the Bible often use the anatomy of God to describe aspects of His nature and character, e.g., when they speak about "the face of God," "the arm of the Lord," or the "hand of God," etc. What exactly do these expressions mean?

There are great differences between the Hebrew mindset of the writers of the Bible and the Greek mindset that most of us have today because of our educational systems which were designed after the model of the ancient Greeks. Hebrew thought is more concerned with the "function" of an object, i.e., what does it do? Greek thought is more interested with the "form" of an object, i.e., what is it?

Therefore, when reading Scripture written by the hand of the Hebrews, we need to pop into their heads to extract the fuller meanings of words and concepts that were intended when they were written. To really get a grasp of Scripture, we need to be thinking like the writers.

The "face of God," is used in many passages throughout the Bible. To understand its meaning, we have to move away from the Greek-minded, literal meaning of one's face as simply the arrangement of one's eyes, nose and mouth. We need to consider the way one uses his face from the context of ancient history, considering "what does it do?" In other words, how was the face or facial expressions used to bless or reject a person at the time when the Bible was written? Then, we need to see how the writers of the Bible used this imagery to express the nature of God so that we can understand more about the Lord and our relationship to Him.

The Hebrew word for face is panim, which not only means "face," but is also used in the Bible for "presence." The shewbread of Exodus 25:30, called the Bread of Presence, is written as Lechem HaPanim, literally the Bread of the Face. In other words, this was the bread that stood in the Presence, or before the face of the Lord. In Israel, the Ministry of Interior is called the Misrad HaPanim, or Office of the Presence. Literally, this is the government office that keeps a record of all citizens and new immigrants, as well as tourists and those wanting to extend their visas, or their presence, in the Land of Israel.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 10

The Christmas story is a story for everyone – in the words of an angel, “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Good tidings can be translated as “good news,” meaning the Gospel.

And what is this Gospel of great joy spoken of by angels? In 3 Nephi 27:13, the risen Lord gives us one definition: “Behold, I have given you my Gospel,” – the good news, the glad tidings – “and this is the gospel. . .that I came into the world to do the will of my Father.

The great good news and joyful tidings of this season can fill us with the wonder and awe experienced by those at the first Christmas, as we also realize that a tiny baby was born so that we would have a Savior, a Redeemer who could grant us peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 9

Simeon and Anna

When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple, they were blessed by a certain Simeon, a righteous and faithful man who "was waiting for the consolation of Israel." We read in Luke 2:27 that Simeon "came by the Spirit into the Temple" and found the child Jesus who had been brought there by his parents.

A testimony and witness would be borne by Simeon, a soul who sought for and lived by the inspiration of the Spirit, and followed its promptings. Although he was fairly old, nevertheless it was revealed to him that he would not die until his eyes beheld the Messiah. The fulfillment of that sacred promise was realized as he held the 41 day old baby in his arms.

Simeon blessed the tiny child and gave a prophecy concerning him. He said, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel..." It is of interest that the word "fall" here is used in only one other place in the New Testament. It is found in Matthew 7:27 where it reads, "And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."

Under the influence of the Holy Ghost, Simeon's prophecy pointed to another fulfillment of the Savior's parable--that because of their rejection of their Messiah, the house of Israel would suffer a great fall. This came to pass literally in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple.

Simeon's remark in verse 35 mentions that a sword will pierce through Mary's soul. It is noteworthy that the Greek word used for sword here means a large sword such as Goliath used (1 Samuel 17:51) and the verb tense means "constantly keep on piercing" (Wiersbe-Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. I, pg 178).

Anna, an aged prophetess, had spent her life in fasting and prayer at the Temple. Other women in scripture are also mentioned as prophetesses. They are Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and the wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:3). Phillip the Evangelist had four daughters who were all prophetesses (Acts 21:8-9). We are told in verse 36 that Anna was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.

Since Luke wrote his epistle under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we can expect that every piece of information given about Anna has something important to teach us. A closer examination of these facts reveals marvelous truths.

First, Anna was the daughter of Phanuel, which would be written Peniel in Hebrew. Peniel is found as a place name in Genesis 32:30 where it says: "And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." Peniel literally means "the face of God."

Next we are told concerning her tribe, which was Asher. Asher was one of the lost ten tribes that had been carried away into captivity around 722 BC. During this period of the second Temple, mostly just the tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived in the land, plus the tribe of Levi who served in the Temple. Obviously, Anna's genealogy had been preserved through her individual family for an important reason.

Asher was the son of Jacob and Leah, and when he was born, Leah exclaimed, "Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed." The name "Asher" means happy and blessed. Perhaps Leah named her son under inspiration which pointed to a time when one of her descendants through Asher--a daughter named Anna (meaning Grace)--would be blessed for her faithfulness.

The meanings of these three names taken together (Asher, Peniel, and Anna) express beautifully Anna's feelings concerning the choice blessing that was hers: "Happy am I" for I have seen "the face of God" through His "Grace."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 8

Baby Jesus at the Temple

According to the Law of Moses, parents were required to bring their male sons to the Temple when 40 days old. We sometimes have the idea that Mary and Joseph must have been very poor, because when they came to the Temple, they brought only a pair of turtledoves. Luke stops there. The Levitical law stated that parents were to bring a lamb to be sacrificed for the redemption of a child, and two doves or pigeons were brought for the mother’s purification and atonement. Leviticus 12:8 says that if the parents were too poor to pay the usual redemption price for their child, they could omit the lamb and substitute two young pigeons.

There is another possible reason, besides poverty, that Mary did not bring a lamb. We know that lambs at that time were very inexpensive – less than a dollar. Mary and Joseph were visited by shepherds who had witnessed angels, and according to tradition, whenever shepherds visited, they each brought at least one lamb as a gift. (Mountford 48)

And there is another consideration. Zacharias was a wealthy man. In the late 1800’s, the ruins of his palatial home were still standing. Tradition says that he had hundred of lambs grazing on the hillsides. Would he and Elizabeth have allowed Mary to come like a pauper to the Temple at Jerusalem without a lamb? They both had had strong, independent witnesses that their own son, John, had been sent into the world to be a special forerunner and witness for Mary’s Son. John and Elizabeth also knew that Mary’s child was the long-awaited Messiah. Even if Mary and Joseph were poor, would they allow them to appear at the Temple without a lamb, when it was so incredibly simple to make one available?

Perhaps it was not because she was poor that Mary did not bring a lamb. There was a greater reason than poverty. Each lamb brought to the Temple was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the True Lamb of God. He had been born into the world to be a sacrifice for all mankind, and how could He ever be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb? (Mountford 53-54)

Mary knew, from long association with the Temple, all about animal sacrifices. Her grief must have been great as she contemplated the possible implications of bringing her Son – the Lamb of God – to the Temple as a living sacrifice. Mary had to fill the part almost of a priest.

It was her own flesh and blood there in her arms, and the oral traditions tell us that as she stood at the entrance of the Temple, she wept as she looked upon her beautiful baby, and kissed Him and said, “O, how can I give him up? O, I would give a thousand lambs, let them all be slain, for Him; only let me keep him! O, how can I give Him up, so dear and precious to me?”

Then suddenly, she said, “I am Thy handmaid. I ask Thee to give me strength to be able to give Him up. He is so precious. But I am obedient to Thy will, for I am Thy handmaiden.” So she then prayed, “Strengthen my heart.” And the answer came, “Thy heart is strengthened, O Mary.” Thus the unwritten histories tell us the voice of angels said to her as she was entering the Temple. (Mountford 55-57)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 7

Shepherds and Angels

Shepherds were outcasts from polite society in Israel at that time. Theirs was a generally despised profession and they were not even allowed to bear witness in court even if they were eyewitnesses to a crime.

Yet how fitting that the good news about the Lamb of God should be given first to shepherds. Shepherds were not easily fooled. They were practical men who had little to do with fantasy. If they said they saw angels and went and found the Messiah, then you could believe them. (Wiersbe 176)

The first announcement of the Messiah’s birth was given by an angel to some anonymous shepherds. Why shepherds? Why didn’t they go to the priests or the learned scribes instead? Why a field and not Temple Mount?

Historians tell us that in all probability these shepherds were guarding lambs who were destined for sacrifice at the Temple. They were very vigilant in their callings, because the lambs for sacrifice had to be without any blemish. Shepherds were also responsible for determining which lambs were the first born, which some specific offerings required.

Shepherds were brave boys and men as well, for in those days bears and lions still roamed in Judea.

Angelic Announcement

The manifestation of rejoicing angels to the shepherds in the fields nearby is a lovely assertion at the very beginning of the story of redemption that the grace of God in Christ is for the meek of the earth.

Jacob, Moses and David were all shepherds, and these humble men of Bethlehem were heirs to their faith and godliness. At first only one angel was visible to them, and he was accompanied by a manifestation of the resplendent Glory of God.

In Jewish writings we find this quote: “Four things were missing from Herod’s Temple; namely: the Ark of the Covenant, the Urim and Thummim, the oil of anointing, and the Glory of the Lord.” The “Glory of the Lord” was referred to as “Shekinah” glory – or the glory of the Holy Spirit. That glory had departed Israel in the days of Ezekiel. Because the people refused to repent, it, along with the prophets, had disappeared from Jewish history. Many righteous people for hundreds of years had mourned its loss.

Now it had returned to announce the birth of Israel’s True King. Such a wondrous event as the King of Israel being born required a sign to these humble witnesses. The sign was that they would find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. One would normally expect that a baby born to be king would be wrapped in luxurious garments, surrounded by servants, and reposing in a palace. With a simple trusting faith, they went searching for the new babe, and found the manger.

God’s glory had dwelt in the tabernacle and the Temple, but had departed because of the nation’s sin. Now God’s glory was returning to the earth in the person of His Son. That lowly manger was a Holy of Holies because Jesus was there. (Wiersbe 176)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 6

Joseph “did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace(Matthew 1:19). And so he considered, as the best course of action, a private bill of divorce, after the precedent of either Deuteronomy 22:26 or 22:29. Such an action would need only two witnesses, and would bring the least possible reproach upon Mary. This solution would allow her either to bear her illegitimate child in private away from Nazareth, or to marry the father, if possible. Obviously Mary’s future well being was more important to Joseph than his own vindication.

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit(Matthew 1:20).”

Both Mary and Joseph were asked by God to accept the disgrace and shame of a couple who had “sinned.” Joseph was told to name the child (v. 21), an act which would be interpreted by all as an admission of paternity. This would also be equivalent to an admission that he had lied in previously asserting his innocence.

In the eyes of the people, then, either Joseph was a weak man who could not control his passions, or, worse yet, a fool duped into raising another man’s son. (Because of Mary’s three-month sojourn in Judah, the gossips could make a strong argument for the latter view.) Such matters would not be soon forgotten in a close-knit country village.

God could have made it easier. He could have smoothed the way, but He did not. Mary would gather her belongings and go quietly to the house of Joseph. She would go with relief, certainly, that her beloved no longer doubted her, and that he was one with her in understanding the marvelous revelation of God. But she would go also under the disdainful eyes of her friends and neighbors, and perhaps the sorrow of relatives, which she could do nothing to alleviate.

For Mary and Joseph there would be no happy wedding, bridesmaids, feasts, laughing children, gifts or good wishes. The cloud of suspicion was made worse because there could be neither repentance nor explanation, only passive endurance: “For what glory [is it], if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer [for it], ye take it patiently, this [is] acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called:…”

God saw to it that His own Son was provided with sterling examples of such traits in his childhood. Jesus was “called” to follow the pattern of meek suffering in well-doing that Mary and Joseph set for him. The grace under pressure which they showed during an extended trial was the object of his keen discernment. He could not fail, as he grew up, to hear the whispers and the innuendos; but from his parents, never a complaint.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 5


What kind of man would God choose to be the earthly role model for His Son? When Jesus returned from his first pilgrimage to his home in Nazareth, Luke records (2:51) that he was "obedient to them" [his parents]. From Joseph he learned the trade of Tekton, meaning not just a joiner or carpenter, but a master builder, somebody who worked on the various materials needed for the construction work, including timber and iron, but most frequently stone. Surely Jesus and his foster father were able craftsmen, skilled in the uses of a variety of materials. (With Jesus in Jerusalem, pg 33-34, Bargil Pixner, Corazin Publishing 1996)

Carpenters were regarded as particularly learned. If a difficult problem was under discussion, the Rabbis would ask: "Is there a carpenter among us, of the son of a carpenter, who can solve the problem for us?" Jesus was likely a carpenter who had learned the trade from Joseph, his earthly guardian.

The high esteem in which carpenters were held in Israel counters the common sentimental idyllic notion that Jesus and Joseph were only naive and amiable, simple manual workers. (Jesus' Jewishness, pg 162, Charlesworth, Crossroad Publishing, New York, 1996)

Joseph was called a "just" man in scriptures (a technical religious term) meaning that he would be known as a Tzaddik, a righteous man and a faithful observer of the Mosaic law.

Joseph, with such a positive reputation both with his craft and with his life style, would have, in all probability, been the best qualified person in Nazareth for answering questions and settling disputes among the neighbors.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 4


The angel then said “Fear not” – as angels always do – and then told her that she would bring forth a Son. And what was Mary’s reply to the Angel’s astonishing news and the high honor of his salutation? We can read it in Luke 1:38 — “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.”

A handmaid was a bond slave with the lowest possible status – the slave to the other slaves in a household.

Yet regardless of the potential outcome, Mary placed herself at the disposal of God and submitted to His will and care – and well she should in the light of three things.

First, the penalty given in scripture for unfaithfulness during betrothal was death by stoning. Mary had to trust that God would protect her as her pregnancy became evident and it was known that she did not yet live with Joseph as his wife.

She had to have faith as well that the Lord would protect her from being ostracized from the community, which would result in her Son being forever branded illegitimate.

And finally she had to trust that God would help her explain to Joseph what had happened, so that she would not be divorced from the binding betrothal relationship.

Ridicule, contempt, and loneliness were among the trials that Mary would endure for her faithful obedience. From Mary we can learn faith, humility, and trust in the promises of the Lord, even when we are wrongfully judged by others.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 3


There are many traditions given in the oral histories concerning Mary (Hebrew:Miriam). The stories relate that Mary was born to her parents after long years of childlessness. In gratitude for the gift of a child, her parents dedicated her to the Lord, just as Hannah had done with Samuel many years earlier. Just as Samuel served in the Temple as a child, the old traditions say that Mary did so as well.

Israeli researchers have proven that some kinds of girl's service in the Temple corresponds with historic facts. The girls performed various services for the priests and were given a thorough religious education from the scriptures in return. Upon reaching the age of 12, they had to leave the Temple service, but those living nearby continued to do knitting and sewing work for the Temple (Pixner-Jerusalem-pg 19).

At the time of Gabriel's visit, we read that Mary was a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph. Gabriel informed Mary (Miriam) that she would give birth to a Son, and that she was to call his name Jesus. In Hebrew, Mary's language, Jesus is pronounced "Yeshua," which name has as its root meaning "he will save."

There are many lessons we can learn from Mary. We are told that the Angel Gabriel came to her and we know from the Book of Mormon that she was a virgin most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.

Gabriel greeted Mary with these words: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee.” God often encouraged his servants that he was “with them.” Greeting like “hail” were normal. Then why did she feel troubled and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be? It was because rank and status within society determined whom one should greet and with what words.

As both a young woman and a young unmarried person, Mary had virtually no social status. “Hail” was a greeting that was used between equals. By using that greeting, the angel was acknowledging her equality with him. The title “favored” and the promise “the Lord is with you” were not traditional, even if she had been a person of status.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 2

Zachariah in the Temple

The priest who attended to the incense service entered the Holy Place, and received from his assistant the incense. It was placed into his cupped palms. [Note:The Hebrew idiom for appointing to an office is "to fill the hand, " alluding to the offerings placed in the hand--authorizing him to act as priest. See Exodus 29 (Hertz Chumash, pg 435)] The coals from the outer altar were placed on the top of the inner altar and then the assistant retired from the room.

The priest was left in the sanctuary alone while all of the other priests were waiting outside. The Jewish writings say that after the overseer gave the signal to burn the incense, the priest began to let the grains fall slowly from his palms across the top of the altar. When the entire chamber filled with the cloud of incense, the priest prostrated himself in adoration and went out of the sanctuary (Mishnah Tamid 6:3).

The scene just described happened every morning and evening. Whenever the people saw the smoke of the incense offering, which they believed to be a symbol of true consecration to God, they fell down before the Lord and spread their hands out in silent prayer. They arose when the priest who had make the offering came out to recite the blessing.

Going into the Holy Place always carried with it a sense of danger (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-23). And there was a rabbinic tradition that if a priest were going to die, an angel would be standing on the right side of the altar of incense (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 42c). The priests were admonished to quickly come out after completing their duties lest they "terrify Israel" and cause the people to fear that their prayers were not accepted. To show his relief at making it out in good condition, the priest sometimes prepared a feast for his friends the hour he came forth (Yoma 7:4).

No wonder the presence of the angel Gabriel caused Zachariah to be fearful and troubled.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Notes on the Nativity 1

The material I will be using from now until Christmas is excerpted from my 2006 Education Week presentation and was later recorded on a longer CD titled "The Holy Child Jesus."

Zachariah and Elizabeth

In Israel, being childless was a major tragedy. The Jewish rabbis said that seven people were excommunicated from God and the list began, "A Jew who has no wife, or a Jew who has a wife and who has no child." (Barclay - Luke pg 10) If a woman remained childless after ten years of marriage, it was considered grounds for divorce, since having a family was one of the important reasons for marriage.

Barrenness was thought to be a major sign of God's disfavor and a result of divine judgment. To counter this belief in their case, Luke stresses that Zachariah and Elizabeth were completely faithful and met the standards of being considered "righteous before God," which meant that they loved God and their fellowmen, trusted God and believed His word. As evidence of their love and trust, they faithfully observed all revealed rules of behavior, and repented and offered sacrifices when they fell short of full obedience. (JNTC. 103)

Zachariah (Heb. "the Lord remembers") and Elizabeth (Heb. "oath or covenant of God") were both from the priestly line of Aaron. Taken together, the combined meanings of their names bears a witness of God's faithfulness: "The Lord remembers his covenant." The word "remember" can mean more than just "not forgetting." It is used at times to mean "to intervene on behalf of." (Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, pg. 58)

It is used in this sense in Genesis 30:23 "And God remembered Rachel...and she conceived and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach." Another woman who petitioned the Lord to "remember" her and give her a child was Hannah.

In 1 Samuel 1:11, Hannah prayed, "Oh Lord of Hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me...give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life,.…." Perhaps these scriptural precedents gave Zachariah and Elizabeth hope that God might yet still intervene in their behalf and grant them this righteous desire of their hearts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Lord, our Doctor

I recently read an insightful little e-book regarding the various blessings obtained from living the Word of Wisdom. A short quote follows.

"The Lord expects us to seek him in faith as our source for healing. In Exodus 15:26 God tells us “…I am the Lord that healeth thee.” In the German Bible, according to the Martin Luther translation this text reads “… I am the Lord your doctor.” Rabbi Eric R. Braverman explains why this is literally true.

“God is the only true physician (Deuteronomy 32:39) not just because he says so, but because his instructions to the priests in regard to leprosy in the book of Leviticus present the foundation of epidemiology—checking the spread of disease through quarantine, evacuation, and sometimes destruction of houses, as well as pathology and dermatology, diagnosing as well as prognosing about skin lesions.”

Rabbi Braverman is one of the growing number of medical doctors who is recognizing that healing cannot be removed from its spiritual and scriptural foundations. We must recognize that God is the ultimate source of all healing power, for he is also the source for all life. He was revealing laws about prevention and treatment long before modern science “discovered” such things."

Horne, Steven H., Health is a Blessing: A Guide to the Scriptural Laws of Good Health, p.55

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weights and Balances

Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers [different] weights (stones), a great and a small
. Deuteronomy 25:13

"In most countries money was originally paid out by weight. The standard unit of weight among the Jews was the shekel, which was represented in patriarchal days and for long after by a stone or stones of specific gravity.

As no two such weights were of similar appearance, and not all equally ponderous, even when of the same apparent size, the eye of the customer had no standard of estimate by which he might detect the trader’s dishonesty, who used different weights for different occasions and customers.

[Donna: Lighter stones were placed on the scales when selling (so that a lesser quantity was sold for the stated price), and heavier ones were used when buying (so that more was obtained for the same price).]

Hence the significance of the command in Deut. 25:13. There was also a proverb regarding this practice:

A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight. Proverbs 11:1

The practice of weighing money is very ancient. In the account of the transaction between Ephron and Abraham, we read that the latter weighed to the Hittite landowner, as purchase money for the cave of Machpelah, “four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchants (Gen 23:16)”; and there is evidence to show that the practice continued till the time of Jeremiah.

The shekel was the standard weight of the Jews, so let us see how it stood in relation to their other weights. It was divided into two bekahs, and the bekeh into ten gerahs. The talent equalled 3,000 shekels; and between the shekel and the talent came the “pound” or maneh, which according to Ezekiel 45:12 contained sixty shekels, though at other times it contained only fifty; and at one time no less than one hundred shekels.

During the winter of 1937-38, while living in the American Colony in Jerusalem, we were very much interested in the manner of measuring the value of wood which was brought there for sale. It was hard wood, mostly chunks and roots of the olive tree, fairly dry. There was in the backyard of the Colony an old crude pair of balances. The Arab who brought the wood on the back of his camel would place in one “pan” of the balances a rough rock which had been brought in from the field. Then he would fill the other pan until the balances balanced; then unload and repeat. As the weight of the rock represented a certain value in wood, and the arrangement had been agreed upon, all concerned seemed to be satisfied."

(Bowen, Barbara M., Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind, WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1944, pgs 99-100)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

We All Need A Sabbath Rest

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
Exodus 20:9-10

Every working creature needs a Sabbath rest—that goes for people, animals, and even the soil! People and animals need a break every seven days, and even the soil prospers with a break at least every seven years. Every wise farmer understands the need to put fields and crops in rotation so the soil can replenish at least one growing season every seven years.

Dr. Mark Virkler cited a study comparing two identical farming soils. One was farmed continuously for eight years while the other was allowed to stand fallow contained 1.097 parts per million (ppm) nutritional solids, while the fallow or rested field soil yielded an astounding 2,871 ppm of nutritional solids! That is almost two-thirds more nutritional solids than the over-farmed soil! (Mark and Patti Virkler, Eden’s Health Plan—Go Natural! [Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1994], 64; citing Max Gerson, A Cancer Therapy [Bonita, CA: The Gerson Institute, 1990], 176-181)

Elmer Josephson noted that the anti-God government that seized the reigns of France after the bloody French Revolution decided to increase the entire nation from a seven-day workweek to a ten-day cycle. Before long, the nation’s horses and mules became diseased and died at alarming rates. After scientists investigated, “they found that a return to the seventh day principle was necessary to physical welfare, health, and long life. . .as someone has said, ‘The donkey taught the atheists a lesson in practical theology.’

(Josephson, God’s Key to Health and Happiness, 163 cited in Rubin, Jordan S., The Maker’s Diet, Siloam, Lake Mary, Florida, 2004, pgs. 167-168)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Five Words

A dear friend shared this quote with me (thanks, Karen!) and I have thought about it often.

"Then I turned my search to Scripture and was overwhelmed by fives. I was astounded to discover, leafing through my Bible, how many of the passages I had marked over the years happened to consist of five words. Many of the most powerful promises in all of Holy Writ are wholly writ in fives. (In English translation at any rate; whether the original Hebrew and Greek are even more austerely economical, I do not, alas, know.)

God’s word to Moses by the light of the burning bush, “I will be with you”; Jesus’ triumphant “I have overcome the world”; and Mary Magdalene’s ringing Easter witness “I have seen the Lord” all are cinquefoil, as it were.

So many of Jesus’ words are familiar to us in clusters of five: “I am the good shepherd,” “Your faith has healed you,” “Rise and have no fear,” “My peace I leave you.” The Hebrew scriptures as well bloom with five-petaled flowers: “I know you by name,” “I will send an angel,” “Love is strong as death.” Similarly, the vision of Saint John at Patmos—the insight that “death shall be no more”—manages to express one of our faith’s essential convictions in five little words. And there is the divine economy of “light shines in the darkness” and “this Jesus God raised up.” Perhaps my own personal favorite, a wonder of brevity set like a gem in another, is “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’”

It is not only blessed assurance that comes in quinary, of course. Think of the serpent in Eden, beguiling Eve with “You will be like God.” Or one of Abraham’s least golden moments when, surrounded by lascivious Egyptians, he whispered to Sarah, “Say you are my sister.”

Admonitions seem naturally to lend themselves to this compression: Scripture positively brims with five-leaved proverbs and aphorisms: “Go and sin no more,” “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Similarly, some of the poignant prayers in the Bible consist of five words: “Lord, have mercy on me,” “Make haste to help me,” “I believe; help my unbelief!” And Thomas, unforgettable, utterly unambiguous, “My Lord and my God.”

Desolation as well seems to fit into quintupled phrases: the devastating “all the disciples forsook him” could be a Holy Week meditation all by itself, as of course could Jesus’ cry from the cross, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” And for me, one of the most perfect visual brushstrokes in the Gospels is the detail from the story of the disciples on the Emmaus road: “They stood still, looking sad.

(Douglas, Deborah Smith., The Praying Life: Seeking God in All Things, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, 2203, pgs 4-5)

There was another five word phrase the author related that is not included in the passage above. In an utter triumph of the human spirit, the last thing Etty Hillesum said to friends as she boarded a train bound for a concentration camp was: "Tell them we left singing."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dancing- A Symbol of Praise

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;
Psalms 30:11

Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13

"Dancing is primarily a physical and visual means of praising, honoring and thanking God. In the Bible it is often combined with song and instrumentation. Movement joins human and inanimate sound to praise God. Dance is one way of thanking and confessing God “with tambourine and dance;…Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!(Ps 150;4, 6; 149:3 NRSV).

Dancing and instrumentation are related to prophecy. Miriam the prophetess commanded the women of her time to thank God for making them victorious over their Egyptian enemies (Ex. 15:20-21). The context here is a post battle victory celebration, usually led by women meeting returning warriors. This is also the proper understanding of Isaiah 52:7, which should be translated “How beautiful are the dancing feet of the women [a feminine participle in Hebrew] who spread the good news of peace”).

Dancing was used to celebrate God’s victory in battle and the human “weapons” who were used by God (Judg 11:34; 1 Sam 18:6-7; 21:aa; 29:5). The prophets who met Saul also danced and played instruments (1 Sam 10:5)….

Dance in the Bible symbolizes praise, freedom and equality. An apt summary of its significance is found in the personification of wisdom, a crucial quality needed by artists (Ex 28:3; 31:3; 6; 35:10). Wisdom itself dances, makes sport, laughs. As God created the world, Wisdom was God’s architect, daily dancing before God’s face (Prov. 8:30). God created the world with a dance-like joy, and we humans are to respond with a joyful dance."

(ed. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinios, 1998, pgs 188-189)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Made a Gazingstock

"But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly whilst ye were
made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used." Heb. 10:32-33

During the time of the New Testament people would gather in the large open-air theaters or the large coliseums to watch as vicious animals were brought on stage. The animals would be made to do things to entertain the crowd.

It is interesting that the Hebrew Christians were reminded that they had been treated the same way as the animals. In Hebrews we read, " ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions;" The word "gazingstock" is a word that was used for showing and entertaining with the wild animals on stage. These Christians had been treated just like wild animals. They had been laughed at, pointed at, mocked, and looked upon as strange creatures.

The reference here also relates to the custom of exhibiting men doomed to death, in theaters. "In the morning men are exposed to lions and bears; the conclusion of the fight is death."

We sometimes forget what the early Christians had to endure.