Friday, January 29, 2010

The Testudo

Just as Paul’s readers would have been familiar with the Roman military machine and the armor worn by the Roman soldier, they would have been familiar with Roman military formations. The imagery of the testudo, or tortoise formation held a strong message for the churches of Paul’s day and today as well.

The tortoise was formed when a command was given on the battlefield and certain of the soldiers began to create the perimeter of a square. Immediately other soldiers filled the center, and the final perimeter was drawn, so that in seconds, a square mass of soldiers had been formed. The soldiers of the perimeter quickly locked their shields together, creating an impenetrable wall around them all. The soldiers inside the perimeter raised their shields above their heads and locked them as well, effectively creating the semblance of a tortoise who had withdrawn its head into its shell.

One soldier was commissioned to be the eyes of the testudo, shouting out orders so that each soldier, even the one in total darkness at the very center of the square, could hear that one voice and know where and how to step so that the entire mass could continue to move forward in an absolutely impenetrable formation. [note: some fabulous Zion implications here!]

What a tremendous picture Paul has painted for the Ephesian church! He has challenged each believer with their individual responsibility to understand the enemy, anticipate the battle, and know his own armor well. He has used powerful imagery to help each one understand how to use that armor, perhaps even to symbolically put it on every day, being reminded of the power God has given each believer to be victorious in every situation.

But a single soldier cannot hold out very long. Paul’s readers were well aware of the disciplined fighting force the Romans represented and his use of such imagery admonished them to take their positions as part of just such an army. As much as each one would protect himself, he must be willing to fight with and for his brother: “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (v. 18). Each one should be willing and practiced to be a part of that tortoise, shields locked with those around him, surrounded by a solid wall of unshakable faithfulness, listening only to the voice of the Lord, and moving forward at His command.

All of the references and wonderful illustrations for this article can be found at

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Sword of the Spirit

and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, praying always with all prayer and supplication.

Each Roman soldier carried several weapons. The standard javelin was a long-distance weapon, although sometimes an additional short-distance javelin was also carried. Each soldier carried a spatha, or gladiator sword, as well as a smaller, lighter one. The belt held a side dagger, and inside the shield were five lead-weighted darts called plumbatae.

These darts were barbed and could quickly kill a man or a horse. However, the barbs caused such excruciating pain that anyone hit by them was immediately incapacitated. For this reason, the plumbatae were often refered to as “fiery darts.”

The Roman soldier, therefore, actually carried a private arsenal, not just a weapon. It was imperative that he knew his weapons well, was able to make split-second decisions as to which one to use, and had the coordination to switch from one to the other.

The sword of the Spirit is the only truly offensive weapon that Paul mentions, and the imagery is strong and clear. If the Ephesians were to effectively use their arsenal, they had to know it and know it well. They would have to discern what part of it to use when, as Christ did when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. The enemy was defeated when very specific words were used to counter the enemy’s specific attacks.



Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Helmet of Salvation

And take the helmet of salvation,

The Roman helmet worn during the first century was of unique construction. It was designed to give the illusion of height, making the soldier even more intimidating. It was outfitted with neck and ear guards. It was also reinforced inside with several metal rods to protect the soldier from a weapon called the falx. This three-foot, curved blade mounted on a three-foot wooden handle was a deadly “slash and sever” weapon. One swipe with the curved blade could sever a limb or instantly decapitate an enemy. Or a blow brought down upon the head could easily split it in half. The metal rods kept this from happening.

Here, Paul warns his readers that the head will be a particular target. If the enemy could keep the Ephesians from being transformed through the renewing of their minds, if he could whisper lies in their ears, he could be victorious. Paul’s answer was to walk constantly and purposefully in the firm knowledge of their salvation.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shield of Faith

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

The Roman shield was constructed so that its curved shape deflected blows, arrows, and darts. It was made of several layers of wood and covered with lacquered canvas and calf skin. It was a hand’s-width thick and reinforced with iron edging, and few weapons of that day could penetrate it.

When Paul tells the Ephesians that their faith will be their shield, he is not talking about mental assent or belief. In typical Hebraic fashion, he is referring to faithfulness: a life marked by constant commitment to godly living, which would create strong, thick shields with solid edges, able to deflect all that the enemy would fire.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Feet Shod with the Gospel

having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

Roman shoes were called the caligulae and are the most common article found in archaeological digs of Roman sites. Made of leather, the shoe’s longevity comes from the many pieces of metal, or hob nails, imbedded in the bottom. These unique additions to each shoe gave them remarkable longevity, making them seemingly last forever.

They also provided great traction for the soldier who had to climb slippery rocks or run through loose sand. And they turned each shoe into a weapon. If an enemy had been knocked down but not subdued during hand to hand combat, one stomp with the caligula could easily spell death.

Here, Paul reminds the Ephesians that the gospel is the key to longevity: the believer will indeed last forever! Further, it will keep the believer from slipping and falling, regardless of the surface being walked on. And one stomp with the shoes of the gospel will stop the enemy in his tracks.


Friday, January 22, 2010

The Breastplate of Righteousness

having put on the
breastplate of righteousness,

The overlapping metal strips of the Roman breastplate made it virtually impenetrable. It covered both the front and back of the soldier and had additions for each arm. Though it provided incredible protection, it was heavy and awkward to wear and required a great deal of training to be worn effectively.

It often chafed a soldier’s skin, creating sores that could be incapacitating. To keep this from happening, a tunic was worn under the armor, but a special piece was needed to protect the neck from chafing. This piece of bright red fabric was called the focale. Although it protected the skin from chafing, it created a vivid target for enemy archers who could kill the Roman soldier with one arrow strategically aimed where the focale protruded from the breastplate at the base of the throat. Some believe this is where the term “focal point” is derived from.

Paul says the breastplate that will protect the Ephesians is righteousness. Here, he is referring to practical righteousness, the right choices a believer must make every day to stand against temptation and live a life of godliness. That kind of righteousness, however, can be heavy and uncomfortable, sometimes even awkward. Each compromise made to eliminate the chafing could create a focale: the perfect target for the enemy.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Waist Girded with Truth

Stand therefore having girded your waist with truth

It is interesting that Paul begins his discussion, not with the armor or the helmet, but with the belt. As a part of the uniform, the belt was important as a means to carry smaller weapons, or to “gird up the loins,” creating a sort of pantaloon that gave the soldier more mobility.

It is significant ,however, that at this point in Roman history, an unbelted tunic was a symbol of shame, indicative even of weakness, effeminacy, or laziness. If a soldier needed to be disciplined by a superior officer, he would often be humiliated in front of his peers by being stripped of his belt.

To the Ephesians, Paul says the truth of God is a symbol, not of weakness or laziness, but of power and is the foundation that supports all other weaponry. The enemy is the father of lies, and integrity, practical truthfulness, and honesty is a necessity for victory.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dressed For Protection-The Whole Armor of God

All of the references for this set of eight posts will be listed at the end.

Finally my brethren be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. Eph. 6:10–13

These are Paul’s words to the Ephesians, some of the most famous in all of the New Testament. The message is powerful and practical, beginning with his choice of words. In verse 11, he tells the Ephesians to “stand” against the wiles of the enemy, using a Greek word that means “to vigorously, strongly and actively oppose.”

In verse 12, the word used for “wrestle” is the same word used for that activity in the public games, indicating a very real battle. (See blog entries Wrestling Against Darkness Part 1 and 2 --- oct. 5-6 2009)

In verse 13, the word “withstand” has the connotation of being the last man standing. When the battle is over and the battlefield is littered with the dead and dying, the Ephesians were to be on their feet, victorious, and preparing for the next battle.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Scientists of the Word

I like this true story.

In a biology class taught by one Professor Agassi, sat a student who was interested in becoming a great scientist. To begin his training, the professor slapped a fish down before him and said, “Here is a fish. Observe it!” After about half an hour the student, having jotted down a few observations about the fish, gave his one-page list to the professor. Upon reading it, the wise teacher muttered, “Nice job, but you’ve barely begun. Go back to the fish and observe some more.” Several hours passed as the young student recorded more and more details. He took his findings a second time to the professor, who responded by saying, “That’s great, but you’ve only scratched the surface! Now, how about taking a real look at that fish?”

The hours turned into a day, the day into many days, until the student returned to the professor one more time. This time he brought almost a book full of details concerning every single facet of the fish. He described the way each of the fish’s fins curled, the various shades of color in its scales, the texture of its tail, and many more features he had painstakingly noted. The professor, looking more pleased by now, told the student that because he was finally learning the art of careful observation, his desired career of being a scientist had just begun!

The point of the story is obvious. We, too, are science students. Our “field” of study is the Scriptures. If a professor can require his students to be diligent in their observation of fish, surely the wise Teacher Himself would desire that we make even more careful observations concerning what is written in the scriptures.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Clothing of the Righteous

One fabric stands out in the Bible—linen. In fact, it is mentioned 105 times. It is first mentioned at the end of Genesis when Pharaoh dressed his new second-in-command, Joseph, in fine linen (Gen. 41:42). It must have been the fabric of the wealthy.

The next time we see it is in Exodus, in the description of the tabernacle (chapters 25–27). The courtyard hangings, the “gate” to the courtyard, the “door” to the tabernacle, the curtains for walls inside the tabernacle, and the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies were all made of “fine woven linen.” God chooses only the best for His house, so linen must have been the best. Most of the garments for the priests were made of linen (Exod. 28). The one exception was the blue robe for the high priest, which was made of wool.

The child Samuel, who ministered in the tabernacle, and King David wore linen. After being promoted by the Persian king, Mordechai was dressed in linen, as well as the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Ezekiel and Daniel both had visions of a “man clothed in linen” (possibly the pre-mortal Jesus, representing His role as priest).

In Ezekiel 16, the prophet describes Israel as a baby left in a field and how God took her and raised her to be a beautiful woman. “Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth…” (v.13a). Yeshua was wrapped in linen at His burial. In the book of Revelation, we learn that angels (15:6), the bride of Messiah (19:8), and the armies of heaven (19:14) are all dressed in linen, which, for believers, represents “the righteous acts of the saints.

Some characteristics of linen might give us a hint of why God may have chosen it as His apparel for His holy ones and the cloth to adorn some of His holiest earthly items:

• It originated in Egypt and was used to wrap Egyptian mummies in because it symbolized light and purity and displayed wealth. It was expensive because of the labor intensive method of producing it. The Israelites took a supply of it with them from Egypt, which was used for the tabernacle (Exod. 25:4), and some of them may have learned how to make it from the Egyptians (Exod. 35:35).

• It has the ability to absorb and lose water rapidly. Thus, it is popular in warm climates, as it allows the body to breathe and is exceptionally cool, making it superior to cotton in this regard. Priests must have found it most comfortable while working around the heat of the sacrificial altar and especially in the desert during Israel’s 40 years of wandering.

• It is less likely to cling to the body when wet than other fabrics.

• It is made of flax, the strongest of vegetable fibers and two to three times stronger than cotton. Fishing nets, twine, and rope are also made from flax fibers.

• It is resistant to moths and carpet beetles, and thus lasts a long time. When the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, who died 1213 BC, was discovered in 1881, the linen wrappings were perfectly preserved!

Israel Teaching Letter April 2009

Friday, January 15, 2010

Be Quick About It

And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon [him], and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
Acts 12:7

“The story of Peter in prison, chained between two soldiers, seems to take on a feeling of intrigue and urgency when the record stated that the angel told Peter to “rise up quickly.” Without understanding the idiom used, the reader feels that Peter must move with haste or he will be caught by guards-either those beside him or those posted at the prison entrance.

Generally we think that Peter was not to be slow in his rising up. The word quick is generally interpreted by westerners as dealing with time. However we should think of him going forward with life and power. Peter is told to rise because the power is with him. He is with an angel who has power to free him from chains and anything else that resisted them. Why should they have to hurry?” Pg. 89

Several scriptures tell of the quick (those who are alive) and the dead. One example:

Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. I Peter 4:5

Thursday, January 14, 2010

God's Jewels

And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
Malachi 3:17

“Jewels are generally considered precious because of their financial worth or durability. While that may be true, there is another specialty and function for which jewels are distinguished. It is their ability to reflect light. Even common glass has been formed into crystals that imitate jewels, and when hung near candles and on chandeliers they receive the light. They then magnify, dispense, and project it into realms far beyond the reach of the light they received initially.

Their brilliance is not inherent. The beauty of a jewel comes from its ability to reflect the light which enters its prisms. That is when the brilliance, richness, and color is made known. In and of itself, a jewel is just another stone. But when it receives light, then it becomes something most desirable. God compares souls to jewels.

This idiom causes us to reflect on the question of how much of God’s light is reflected, magnified, and intensified through our personal living. It is a question that is as lasting as the jewels we wear and which we often hold up to the light and examine. I hope there is brilliance and beauty to be observed in our lives.” Pg. 183-184

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Foxes and Stone Walls

Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.
Neh. 4:3

“Sometimes with sayings or idioms, it is clear that someone must have said such a thing, and over time it became a way to express a message. A fox is not the smallest or the lightest creature, but this metaphor [seemed to be familiar to the inhabitants.]

This was an expression regarding the weakness of the walls of a city. It was a hyperbole saying that a fox would be able to break down their walls. Today we might say, “My mother could whip the whole bunch of them” or “their defense was thin as paper.”’ Pg. 52

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beware of Dogs

“If someone says “she has the eye of an eagle” they do not intend for us to consider that she has had an eye transplant. But if the characteristics of an eagle and its eye are known, then we have the key to knowing that she can see even the smallest thing that takes place. So to understand an idiom one must consider the common characteristics of the main element in the idiom.

Since the word beware is included before the word dog, “man’s best friend” should not come to mind as the objective of the idiom. However knowing that dogs are vicious would be the more likely message in the saying. One of the most vicious things that is evil is to gossip. Paul told the saints,

Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers,…” Philippians 3:2a.

He was warning them to beware of gossipers, for they are vicious.

We are warned of the “beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.” We are told not to go on “witch hunts.” Criminals are told to fear “the long arm of the law.” So it does not seem unusual for Paul to warn the saints of “dogs.” They understood that he spoke of gossiping.” Pg.77

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cleanness of Teeth

Recently I read a book called “Unlocking the Idioms: An LDS Perspective on Understanding Scriptural Idioms.” The author is George M. Peacock. The writing style is very accessible. It is the kind of book that is fun to share with your family—especially the teens. If you live in the Salt Lake area you can get it at the library. I will be sharing some of its insights on idioms this week.

“During the apostate times wherein Amos was not able to get his people to return to God in obedience and righteousness, The Lord said to him,

”And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD. Amos 4:6.

Even though Amos had to suffer through these conditions with his people, it seems that God is telling Amos that he had blessed them with “cleanness of teeth.” [Donna: This has nothing to do with good dental hygiene] That idiom should be identified as a metaphor, telling of times of famine. [Everyone has clean teeth when there is no food.] Today we try to indicate hard times with sayings like “we’re going to have to tighten our belts a lot before we can get through this.”’ Pg.30

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Very Long Response

Saul, the future king of Israel, was looking for the prophet Samuel. The young, handsome man encountered some young ladies and, using as few words as possible, asked them (I Samuel 9:11), “Is the seer here?

The young ladies replied (1 Samuel 9:12-13): “He is. Behold, he is before you. Hasten now, for on this day he has come to the city since the people will have today’s sacrifice in the high place. When you come to the city, you will immediately find him, before he ascends to the high place to eat; for the people will not eat until he comes, since he blesses the sacrifice, and afterwards those that are invited shall eat.

The Talmud wonders about this strange and very lengthy response and concludes that the young maidens prolonged the conversation because Saul was a very good looking (albeit reticent) young man (Babylonian Talmud, Berachos 48b).

International Journal of Humor Research, Vol. 13:3, Sept. 2000, 258-285. Hershey H. Friedman, Ph.D. & Bernard H. Stern

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who can find a virtuous woman?

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. 11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. 12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. 13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. 14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar. 15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. 16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. 17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. 18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. 19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. 2021 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. 2425 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. 26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. 27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. 29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. 30-31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. . Proverbs 31:10-31

The poem is skillfully crafted. It is both acrostic (each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet) and chiastic in structure. Either one of these is sufficient evidence of the poet’s skill; the integration of the two is astounding. The chiasmus is as follows:

A: High value of a good wife (v.10)
B: Husband benefited by wife (vv. 11-12)
C: Wife works hard (vv. 13-19)
D: Wife gives to poor (v. 20)
E: No fear of snow (v. 21a)
F: Children clothed in scarlet (v. 21b)
G: Coverings for bed, wife wears linen (v.22)

H: Public respect for husband (v.23)

G´: Sells garments and sashes (v. 24)
F´: Wife clothed in dignity (v.25a)
E´: No fear of future (v. 25b)
D´: Wife speaks wisdom (v.26)
C´: Wife works hard (v.27)
B´: Husband and children praise wife (vv. 28-19)
A´: High value of a good wife (vv. 30-31)

The center point of the chiasmus is v. 23, the declaration that the husband is highly regarded at the gate. The verse has been read as almost an intrusion on the poem; all the other verses praise the wife, but this verse alone focuses on the esteem the husband commands.

Far from being an intrusion, however, v. 23 actually establishes the central message of the poem: this woman is the kind of wife a man needs in order to be successful in life.

In short, the original intended audience was not young women (“this is what kind of wife you should be”) but young men (“this is what kind of wife you should get”). This does not mean that the poem cannot be used to instruct women, but the interpreter must recognize its primary objective.

Although it may seem strange that a wisdom poem on the virtues of a good wife should be directed at young men, it is in keeping with the whole thrust of Proverbs. The book everywhere addresses the young man (“my son”) and not the young woman. It expounds in great detail on evils of the prostitute and how she is a snare for a young man; it says nothing about lusty boys and the threats they pose for young women.

It is a false reading, however, to suppose that biblical wisdom despises women or views them as fundamentally corrupt (this poem alone contradicts that notion). There is no double standard; the gender slant in Proverbs is a matter of audience orientation rather than ideological bias. Proverbs directs the reader away from the prostitute and toward the good wife because its implied reader is a young man. For the same reason, Wisdom is personified as a woman and not as a man.

(Garrett, Duane A., The New American Commentary, vol. 14, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1993, pgs 248-249)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Foster Mothers

But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children
: 1 Thessalonians 2:7

The Eastern text reads, “And like a foster mother who loves her children.” In the East, the children of kings, princes and noblemen are entrusted to the care of foster parents. This strange custom grew out of the practice of polygamy. Rulers and rich men who have many wives have more children than they can take care of in their own homes. So they entrust them to the care of servants and faithful citizens, who are granted certain privileges and other remuneration for their faithful services.

This custom was common in biblical days, and it still prevails in some parts of the Near East. “And Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria. And Jehu wrote letters, and sent to Samaria, unto the rulers of Jezreel, to the elders, and to them that brought up Ahab’s children (II Kings 10:1).” Children brought up in this way love their foster parents and do not wish to part from them.

Paul and his co-workers had been like faithful foster mothers to the Thessalonian Christians. They had taken care of them as though they were their own children.

(Lamsa, George. New Testament Commentary, A.J. Holman Co., Philadelphia: 1945, pg 388)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cows of Bashan

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!” Amos 4:1 [NIV]

"Even if the cows of Bashan are the finest around, it is doubtful any woman would consider being compared to one a compliment! We must remember that Amos has been a herdsman, and he is familiar with these animals. Obviously, he sees something in the women of Israel that reminds him of them. Perhaps it is their size—all these women care about is filling their bellies. Perhaps it is their careless and callous attitudes.

Cattle are known to have a difficult time keeping within the bounds of their pasture, trampling anyone weaker and smaller who happens to get in their way. Or perhaps it is a combination of both. It seems these women have an unquenchable passion for pampering and pleasure, no matter what the cost, no matter who is in their way. This is completely unacceptable to a God who promises to satisfy those who help the needy (Isa 58:6-11)."

(General Editor Jean E. Syswerda, NIV Women of Faith Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mischigan, 2001, pg 1494)

Bashan was a rich pastureland where the needs and wants of cattle were easily met. Possibly the prophet's comparison of the women to "cows" is a type that compares to those Isaiah mentioned who "trampled" the courts of the Temple.

"When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? Isaiah 1:12 NKJV

In that instance, the Israelites being addressed were comparable to beasts (of both sexes) in that they cared only for their personal comfort- i.e. eating and sleeping and procreating. Those things took precedence over their faithfulness in keeping covenants and treasuring up thoughts of their Creator.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Carrying the Daughters

Women in the Scriptures--our theme for the week.

Speaking of the honors and comforts to be received by God’s ancient people, the Jews, from those Gentiles who have persecuted them in the past, when they are brought back to their own land, the Prophet cries —

I will lift up my hand to the nations. . . . And thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. Isaiah 49:22

This is the same as to say that Israel, the new-born children of God, shall enjoy lowly offices of service, and even parental nurture at the hands of those nations from whom, during eighteen centuries of wandering, they have suffered so much. And, therefore, in the next verse we read-

And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, And their princesses thy nursing mothers; They shall bow down to thee with their faces towards the earth.

[note: Nursing fathers and mothers were the equivalent of governesses in British thought at this time]

It should be borne in mind that girls in the East do not receive anything like the consideration shown to boys. In this, the order which the teaching of Christ has introduced amongst us is entirely reversed.

The despised position occupied by women in Palestine [note: This was written in 1913] is pointedly expressed in the daily prayer of every adult Jewish male, “Thank God, who has not made me a woman!” and in many other painful ways. There is, therefore, a touch of intense meaning given to the picture of the honour which God has in store for His ancient people, when He declares — (even) Thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders!

(Neil, Revd James., Peeps Into Palestine, Stanley Martin & Co. Ltd, UK, ~1913)

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Shining Face pt. 5

Another phrase in the Aaronic Benediction is "the Lord lift up His face (countenance) upon you." The Lord lifting up His face or countenance on us is the image of Him lifting up His face or His presence upon us, and in this case, to give us His peace – His shalom.

Typically in Hebrew, to indicate a greater portion of something, a Hebrew word is often doubled for emphasis, e.g. gadol, gadol, which literally means, "big, big," as a way of saying "the biggest." So, in this Aaronic blessing, to reuse the imagery of God's face is to really make a emphatic point that His presence is with us –­ literally "in our face."

The literalness of this translation obscures the force of the Hebrew and fails to convey the imagery related to the court of a king. In biblical idiom, to seek the face is to desire an audience (Ps. 104:4). The king shows favor to his subjects by giving them an audience or access to "the light of his face," whereas his disfavor is expressed by his "hiding" his face from them (Ps. 13:1).

In ancient Egypt, subjects who were called into the audience of the Pharoah were not even to look into his face unless he verbally gave them permission to do so. Even then, the king who was on his throne would look down upon his subjects who were looking up to him, not the other way around. Therefore, we can know for certain that the phrase means something else. From other passages, we learn that the phrase actually means that the king "lifted his face" by the act of raising the features in a smile, the opposite of dropping them in a frown (Lo appil panai ba-khem); literally, "I will not drop my face against you," (Jer. 3:12; cf. Gen. 4:5-6; Job 29:24). This is an expression to say that the sovereign is extending his friendship to you. It is indeed a powerful mental image of our God smiling down upon us.

Happy New Year! And may each of us be blessed with God's shining light in our lives this year.