Friday, December 31, 2010

God's Faithful History

And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one [was] Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: Exodus 1:15

"The Old Testament gives clues into the kind of history God is writing. Exodus identifies by name the two Hebrew midwives who helped save Moses' life but does not bother to record the name of the Pharaoh ruling Egypt (an omission that has baffled scholars ever since).

First Kings grant a total of eight verses to King Omri, even though secular historians regard him as one of Israel's most powerful kings.

In his own history, God does not seem impressed by size or power or wealth. Faith is what he wants, and the heroes who emerge are heroes of faith, not strength of wealth. God's history thus focuses on those who hold faithful to him, regardless of how things turn out.

When Nebuchadnezzar, one of many tyrants who persecute the Jews, threatens three young men with torture by fire, they respond: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Dan. 3:17-18, NIV).

Empires rise and fall, powerful leaders soar to power then topple from it. The same Nebuchadnezzar who tossed these three into a fiery furnace goes crazy, grazing on grass in the field like a cow. The succession of empires that follow his–Persia, Greece, Rome–so mighty in their day, join the dustbin of history even as God's people the Jews survive murderous pogroms.

Slowly, painstakingly, God writes his history on earth through the deeds of his faithful followers, one by one."

May our faithful deeds be part of that sacred history for the coming year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Plug for the Old Testament part 2

"Most assuredly we cannot understand the New Testament apart from the Old. The proof is simple: try reading Hebrews, Jude, or Revelation without any reference to Old Testament allusions or concepts. It cannot be done (which may explain why many modern Christians avoid those books, too).

The Gospels can be read as stand-alone stories, but a reader unacquainted with the Old Testament will miss many layers of richness in them. Paul constantly appealed to the Old Testament. Without exception, every New Testament author wrote about the new work of God on earth while looking through the prism of the earlier or "old" work.

A Chinese philosopher insisted on riding his mule backward so that he would not be distracted by where he was going and could instead reflect on where he had been. The Bible works in somewhat the same way. The Epistles shed light backward on the events of the Gospels, so that we understand them in a new way. Epistles and Gospels both shed light backward on the Old Testament. For centuries, the phrase "As predicted by the prophets" was one of the most powerful influences on people coming to faith.

Justin the Martyr credited his conversion to the impression made on him by the Old Testament's predictive accuracy. The brilliant French mathematician Blaise Pascal also cites fulfilled prophecies as one of the most important factors in his faith.

Nowadays, few Christians read the prophets except in search of Ouija-board-like clues into the future. We have lost the Reformers' profound sense of unity between the two testaments.

Understanding our civilization and understanding the Bible may be important reasons for reading the Old Testament, but perhaps the most important reason is this:

It is the Bible Jesus read.

He traced in its passages every important fact about himself and his mission.

He quoted from it to settle controversies with opponents such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Satan himself.

The images–Lamb of God, shepherd, sign of Jonah, stone which the builders rejected–that Jesus used to define himself came straight from the pages of the Old Testament.

Once, a government tried to amputate the Old Testament from Christian Scriptures. The Nazis in Germany forbade study of this "Jewish book," and Old Testament scholarship disappeared from German seminaries and journals. In 1940, at the height of Nazi power, Dietrich Bonhoeffer defiantly published a book on the Psalms and got slapped with a fine.

In letters of appeal, he argued convincingly that he was explicating the prayer book of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus quoted often from the Old Testament, Bonhoeffer noted, and never from any other book. Besides, much of the Old Testament explicitly or implicitly points to Jesus.

The Old Testament contains the prayers Jesus prayed, the poems he memorized, the songs he sang, the bedtime stories he heard as a child, the prophecies he pondered. He revered every "jot and tittle" of the Hebrew Scriptures. The more we comprehend the Old Testament, the more we comprehend Jesus.

Said Martin Luther, "the Old Testament is a testamental letter of Christ, which he caused to be opened after his death and read and proclaimed everywhere through the Gospel."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Plug for the Old Testament part 1

"When Thomas Cahill wrote the book The Gifts of the Jews, he chose as the subtitle "How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels." He is surely right. Western civilization builds so directly on foundations laid in the Old Testament era that it would not otherwise make sense. As Cahill points out, the Jewish belief in monotheism gave us a Great Whole, a unified universe that can, as a product of one Creator, be studied and manipulated scientifically.

Ironically, our technological modern world traces back to that tribe of desert nomads. The Jews also gave us what Cahill calls the Conscience of the West, the belief that God expresses himself not primarily though outward show but rather through the "still, small voice" of conscience.

A God of love and compassion, he cares about all of his creatures, especially human beings created "in his own image," and he asks us to do the same. Every person on earth has inherent human dignity. By following that God, the Jews gave us a pattern for the great liberation movements of modern history and for just laws to protect the weak and minorities and the oppressed.

According to Cahill, without the Jews,

We would never have known the abolitionist movement, the prison-reform movement, the antiwar movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the movements of indigenous and dispossessed peoples for their human rights, the antiapartheid movement in South Africa, the Solidarity movement in Poland, the free-speech and pro-democracy movements in such Far Eastern countries as South Korea, the Philippines, and even China.

So many of the concepts and words we use daily–new, individual, person, history, freedom, spirit, justice, time, faith, pilgrimage, revolution–derive from the Old Testament that we can hardly imagine a world and our place in it without relying on the Jewish heritage.

Our roots go so deep in Old Testament thinking that in many ways–human rights, government, the treatment of neighbors, our understanding of God–we are already speaking and thinking Old Testament."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A God You Can Count On.

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth [is] mine: Exodus 19:5

"When we look back on the covenant between God and the ancient Hebrews, what stands out to us is its strictness, the seeming arbitrariness of some of its laws.

I see no such reaction among the Hebrews themselves. Few of them pleaded with God to loosen the dietary restrictions or eliminate some of their religious obligations. They seem, rather, relieved that their God, unlike the pagan gods around them, had agreed to define a relationship with them.

As the Puritan scholar Perry Miller has said:

When you have a covenant with God, you no longer have an ineffable, remote, unapproachable Deity; you have a God you can count on.

The Hebrews and God had entered into a kind of story together, and everything about their lives sent back echoes of that story. The story was a love story, from the very beginning. God chose the Hebrews not because they were larger and stronger than other tribes–quite the contrary. Nor did he choose them for their moral superiority. He chose them because he loved them.

Like any other starstruck lover, God yearned for a response. All the commands given the Hebrews flowed out of the very first commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

The Hebrews failed to keep that command, we know, but the reason Christians now call three-fourths of the Bible the "Old" Testament is that not even that terrible failure could cancel out God's love. God found a new way–a new covenant, or testament, of his love."

And thankfully for us, we are blessed with the Book of Mormon as an additional witness of what is available to us as we are true and faithful regarding our sacred covenants.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Little Tent, a Prayer Closet

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6:6

In biblical times, Jewish men wore a garment called a talith, talit (Pronounced tah-leet) or prayer shawl all the time – not just at prayer. Talith contains two Hebrew words; tal meaning tent and ith meaning little. Thus, you have “little tent.” Each man had his own little tent.

The apostle Paul was a Pharisee, but also a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). Many believe that he made Prayer Shawls, not tents to live in. Training and intensely specific skills were needed to make an acceptable talit-- and a lengthy article could be written on that topic alone.

Six million Jews could not fit into the tent of meeting that was set up in the Old Testament.
Therefore, what was given to them was their own private sanctuary where they could meet with God. Each man had one. It was his Prayer Shawl or Talit. They would pull it up over their head, forming a tent, where they would begin to chant and sing their Hebrew songs, and call upon Elohim, Yaweh, Adonai.

It was intimate, private, and set apart from anyone else – enabling them to totally focus upon God. This was their prayer closet.

[The jury is still out on this interpretation of "closet/tent," but I think it has some merit because in Biblical times, regular tent making was the work of women. Praying under a talit would have diminished outside distractions and certainly may have helped the one praying to maintain a deeper focus.]

Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh Come Let Us Adore Him

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. The following excerpt is from a favorite essay written by Sigrid Undset:

And when we give one another our Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans and all that lives and moves upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit—and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused. And to save us from our own foolishnesses and from all our sins He came down to Earth and gave Himself.

Venite adoremus Dominum.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Unsung Hero

Which was [the son] of Jesse, which was [the son] of Obed, which was [the son] of Booz , which was [the son] of Salmon, which was [the son] of Naasson , Luke 3:32

And he that offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah: Numbers 7:12

I did a study once on the names listed in Christ’s genealogy and was frustrated that I only find a few of the names in the Old Testament. I finally bought a clue and remembered that I needed to translate the Greek names of the New Testament into the Hebrew version. That’s when I discovered Nahshon. He’s a gem and I think we all need to know his story.

“We know from the Bible that Nahshon was a significant figure. He was the hereditary chief of the tribe of Judah and, as such, an ancestor of King David. He was also the brother-in-law of Aaron, the High Priest. He was, above all, a highly placed, highly privileged individual. Yet, he plays a cameo role in the Torah's account of the Exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the desert.

In the Midrashim, the collections of the interpretive legends based on the biblical accounts, our sages of old show us a very special human being. It was Nahshon, they teach us, who led the Israelites into the Red Sea just as Pharaoh's horsemen and chariots were about to catch them as they were fleeing Egyptian slavery. According to the legend, the sea did not split until the Israelites, inspired by Nahshon's bravery and faith, followed him into the breakers.”

[Donna: An addition here for the rest of the story-as Paul Harvey would have said.

According to other accounts, when Moses went to the Red Sea to divide it, nothing happened. Nahshon, who was standing close by, noticed and asked Moses what was wrong. Moses replied, “The Lord told me (see D&C 8:3) that if I would put my staff into the water, that a way of escape would open up. But it isn’t working.”

Nahshon answered, “If that’s what the Lord told you, then that’s good enough for me.” And he walked into the water and kept walking until the water was up to his nostrils. Only then did the waters part. ]

“Because he sanctified the name of God by springing first into the Red Sea;, he was given the honor of being the first to enter the Mishkan [Tabernacle in the wilderness].

One would expect such a person to be proud of his accomplishments and his honors, but, based on a careful reading of the Torah portion, the rabbis of old note that Nahshon claimed no special privilege or honor. They emphasize his modesty.

Unlike the other eleven tribal chiefs, Nahshon is identified only as a member of his tribe, not as its leader (Numbers 7:12 ). He did not, they claim, consider himself any better or any more important than any other member of his tribe. Being able to contribute was honor enough for him.

Our sages also note that the Torah emphasizes that Nahshon brought "his own offering." ( 7:12 ) He did not take the gift, as he could have, from the tribal treasury, but used his own resources. He understood that although the honor of going first was being given to him because he was the leader of his tribe, it was now his turn to make his personal contribution to the Mishkan just as all ordinary Israelites had already done.”

I’ll let you have the fun of finding types of the Savior in his wonderful ancestor.

The True Honor By Rabbi Lewis Eron

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Loving in Every Way

Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him. Doctrine and Covenants 59:5

Here’s an abbreviated version of what I have gathered from Hebrew thought and teachings concerning the four ways to love the Lord:

Heart = Prayer The heart is the seat of wisdom—and the wise person prays continually for increased understanding. Prayer is a form of worship.

Might = Physical strength When we use our strength to serve others, we are worshipping God.

Mind = Study In the Hebrew culture, study of the scriptures is considered to be the highest form of worship. The more we learn about the Lord, the more our love for Him increases. As that happens, we have greater desires to keep his commandments.

Strength = Resources Being generous and using all forms of our wealth to bless others is a way to show our love for Him. Those who have no money can donate their time and talents.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Palms of His Hands

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; Isaiah 49:16

In Eastern culture, the way of expressing great love and continual remembrance is by engraving, which we would call tattooing. This Oriental tradition involved tattooing the names of those you dearly love on your body -- while simply giving gifts to those you love slightly.

Most of us are probably aware that the process of tattooing is very unpleasant. Most of the time, a person is tattooed on the arm but sometimes on the back or chest. NEVER do you see a person being tattooed on the palms of their hands. Why? Because the palms of the hands are much too sensitive and delicate. The pain of having tattoos engraved on the palms of the hands would be too much to bear.

Yet God says, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my
. . . ".

God is also saying that it takes too long to look on the arm or the shoulders or across the chest, because that part of the body is almost always clothed with some type of garment. Therefore, God has tattooed us upon the PALMS OF HIS HANDS.

Isn't that a beautiful illustration of God's love for His children? He can see us constantly. He loves us so much that, figuratively, He is willing to bear the excruciating pain of having us tattooed on the palms of His hands because we are dearly beloved of Him. Some apply his engraving his church on the palms of his hands to the wounds in Christ's hands when he was crucified; he will look on the marks of them, and remember those for whom he suffered and died.

John 3: 16 -- For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

God is trying to show us how much He cares for us by saying that He has taken a most delicate and sensitive part of His being, and there He has tattooed our names. He doesn't want His love to be hidden underneath any garments or to be covered in any way. At first glance, He wants to be able to see us. That is the love of God. When we understand and see the beauty of these scriptures, we are then able to appreciate the compassion and love of God for us, His children.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Mark McWhorter wrote this piece for a younger audience and I have left it as is. It might be a good FHE lesson.

"Most people do not like to be told they are hardheaded. In fact, most people would be insulted if you told them they were hardheaded. In most instances, if you told someone he is hardheaded, you would be telling him that he is not reasonable. You are saying that he does not listen to all the evidence, and then make a proper decision on the evidence. You are saying that he will not change his mind, no matter what is said to him.

God said that the nation of Israel was hardheaded. In Ezekiel 3:7 , God says, “…for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.” The word “impudent” is the translation of the Hebrew word for hardheaded. God condemned Israel for this characteristic. The Israelites refused to listen to God and His prophets.

Then God told Ezekiel in verse eight, “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads.” God was going to make Ezekiel hardheaded. God was not saying that He was going to make Ezekiel a bad person. God was saying He would strengthen Ezekiel so that he could withstand the arguments of the Israelites. God helped him withstand the mocking of the people of Israel . Always standing up for what is right is having the right kind of hardheadedness.

God was not only going to make Ezekiel as hardheaded as Israel ; He was going to make him harder. In verse nine, God said He would make Ezekiel as hard as an “adamant.” This is the word for “diamond.” Diamonds are used to cut other rocks. God was giving the picture of Ezekiel being a diamond that is able to cut the flint of the Israelites. Flint is a type of rock. So, Ezekiel was not only able to withstand the Israelites, he was able to cut through their hardness. Israel would not win in this battle of wills.

Make sure you are the right type of hardheaded person. Study your scriptures. Learn all you can from it. Then teach it to others and do not let them take your faith. Do not let them discourage you from teaching and doing what is right."

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Other Side (Of the Sea of Galilee)

And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him: and he was nigh unto the sea. Mark 5:21

In Yeshua’s day the shore of the Galilee was divided into two major population areas. “We” lived on this side, “they” (the Gentiles) lived on the other side. If “we” went “there,” we became defiled.

The shore line was also divided into four political zones controlled by leaders appointed by Rome called “Tetrarchs.” (Luke 3:1) There was a tax collector stationed at the entry to each political zone. People often went “to the other side” by boat to avoid the tax.

Herod Antipas ruled “our” side of the Sea. He had killed John and was trying to capture Yeshua. When Yeshua healed on "our" side of the Sea He said: “Don’t tell anyone.” (Matthew 8:4) On the “other side” Yeshua said: “Go tell your neighbors.” (Luke 8:39)

(Lash, Neil & Jamie., “Jewels From the Journey,” Jewish Jewels,
Ft. Lauderdale, FL., pg 7

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The East Wind

In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind. Isaiah 27:8

A hot east wind blows across Egypt and Israel during the months of May and October and fills the air with a yellow haze of dust. It often lasts three days or more.

Today this is called hamsin ( hahm- seen). This wind is mentioned in the Bible as a symbol of God’s wrath.

(Lash, Neil & Jamie., “Jewels From the Journey,” Jewish Jewels, Ft. Lauderdale, FL., pg 5)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Empty Cisterns

The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads. (Jeremiah14:3 [NIV])

Judah depends on wells and underground reservoirs called cisterns for its water supply. The people dig cisterns out of solid rock or line clay reservoirs with cement to prevent seepage and evaporation. Women regularly gather around the cisterns to fill household water jugs and visit with each other. Irrigation trenches from the cisterns also nourish elaborate palace and city gardens.

In a land of little rainfall, cisterns provide water for the people’s survival and their social well-being. A drought impacts rich and poor, young and old, alike. The Israelites fear the droughts that have plagued their land over the centuries, realizing that God often uses such dryness as a judgment (1 Ki 8:35).

(General Editor Jean E. Syswerda, NIV Women of Faith Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mischigan, 2001, pg 1252)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"His Neighbor's Landmark" Pt. 2

In some places the land is divided in a very strange way. Facing the road would naturally be the most desirable for a lot. So the Chief would divide the lots so that only a very small breadth of the land would be allowed each man; one half line or perhaps up to two lines facing the road would run back almost indefinitely, so that a farm may be but a rod or two wide, and very, very long.

Then to make sure that each man know the size of his land, the old landmarks are looked over and marked by a double furrow, one furrow twice the width of the others; and to make it doubly sure, they place at each end a heap of stones which they call the “stones of the boundary.” Later on, if the furrow should disappear, the landmark of stones is still there.

We can understand how easily those boundary stones could be changed by a jealous and dishonest neighbor, even if it was forbidden by the law of Moses. It is still, as in the time of Moses, an unlawful and accursed act to remove the neighbor’s landmark.

There are no government surveyors or maps to which appeal can be make in case of disputed boundary lines. Furrows made by the plow for division are easily filled up, and the most common landmarks of mere piles of stones balanced one upon another, which a child could remove or knock down; yet they are respected and left untouched from generation to generation.

Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it (Deuteronomy 19:14).”

(Bowen, Barbara M., Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind, WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1944, pgs 94-96)

Monday, December 13, 2010

"His Neighbor's Landmark" Pt. 1

Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Deuteronomy 27:17

There are certain parts of Palestine held in permanent ownership, but in the northern part of the country each farmer has his land assigned to him for one or two years, the amount being measured by a cord of a certain length, which is according to the number of members in his family, and his ability to cultivate it.

This must be a very old custom, for the land was distributed in this manner among the Hebrews in the days of Joshua, their inheritance being divided to them “by line.”

In Psalms 78:55 we read, “He divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.

Among the Assyrians, in the days of Judah, we find these fatal words, “Thou shalt have none that shall cast a cord by lot in the congregation of the Lord (Micah 2:5).”

When the time of the year for the “lot” is due, all the men who desire to take part meet on the threshing floor, where the chief man of the town or village awaits them with a bag of small stones. On each stone he has written the name of a field or portion of a field, the “lot.” Many of the fields now have names similar to those in use during the time of our Lord. There is the “Field of Blood,” “Field of the Fight,” “Field of the Rocks,” and many others.

After all the men arrive, the Chief calls a small boy, far too young to know what it all means. The lad takes a pebble out of the bag and hands it to one of the men, and continues doing so until all are supplied. Not one of the men can read, he does not understand where his lot is situated, but when he receives the stone from the child he says, “This is my lot, may God maintain it.” A thought something like this is found in the sixteenth psalm, and the fifth verse, “Thou maintainest my lot.”

The Chief then reads the name of the field which is written on each stone, so that every man knows the portion of land assigned to him for the coming year.

The lot may be a long way from his dwelling, so that it will take him hours to reach it each morning and make him very late arriving home at night. The lot may be exceedingly rocky, barren and unproductive, where, work as hard as he is able, there will be but little raised. The lot may be the very last thing and place he would desire, but he takes it quietly. If unlucky one year, he looks forward to something more favorable next year.

David is no doubt thinking of these people when he rejoices that his “lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage (Psa. 16:6).


Friday, December 10, 2010

A Palm in the Courtyard

The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. Ps. 92:12-13

The palm tree grows slowly, but steadily, from century to century. It is not influenced by seasons which affects other trees. It flourishes whether it has a lot of rain or whether it gets little. It tends to grow straight even if weights are tied to it. The winds do not make it grow crooked. The palm tree will continue to produce fruit even when very old.

It was a custom in many of the societies of ancient times to plant palm trees in important places. Because they were considered beautiful and the fact that they lived so long they were planted in most palaces and in the courtyards of temples. Solomon even covered the walls of the Holy of Holies with carved palm trees.

In Psalm 92:12-13, we read, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” The psalmist is saying that those who follow God will be like the palm tree. They will grow and be fruitful in the courtyard of God.

(Mark McWhorter , Copyright 2002, Published by The Old Paths Bible School)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Fig Tree

The fig tree in ancient Palestine was the most important of all trees.

In a warm climate, like that of Palestine, it was fruitful during much of the year. Its so-called "immature figs" began to appear in April; then followed the two main crops, the early one in June and the later one in August.

The fig tee was valued for other reasons. Although it was not a large tree, ranging on an average from ten to fifteen feet high, its foliage was remarkably dense, well-suited for a cool shade from the summer heat.

The fig tree was recognized as a symbol of peace and prosperity. In the time of Solomon it is said that "Judah and Israel dwelt in safety, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, every man under his vine, and under his fig tree." Thus the fig tree was an invaluable tree and was cultivated all over the land of Palestine.

(Lightfoot, Neil R. 1986. The Parables of Jesus. Vol. 1 (Revised). Abilene, TX: A.C.U. Press., pgs 75-76)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Miracle of Aaron's Staff

Place [the staffs] in the Communion Tent, before the [Ark of] Testimony where I commune with you. The staff of the man who is My choice will then blossom. I will this rid Myself of the complaints that the Israelites are directing at you." Moses spoke thus to the Israelites, and each of the leaders gave him a staff for his paternal tribe. There were twelve staffs, with Aaron’s staff among them. [Moses] placed the staffs before God in the Testimony Tent. The next day, when Moses came into the Testimony Tent, Aaron’s staff, representing the house of Levi, had blossomed. It had given forth leaves, and was [now] producing blossoms and almonds were ripening on it. Moses brought all the staffs out from before God, and let all the Israelites see them. Each man took his own staff. Numbers 17:19-24 (Hebrew translation-different verse numbers. See KJV Numbers 17:4-9 )

Moses was instructed to take a single tree and split it into twelve parts, lest it be contended that Aaron’s staff was particularly fresh. Then the staff designated as Aaron’s should be placed in the very midst of the others, lest anyone say that it blossomed because it was located closest to the Ark and had for this reason sprouted almonds that were fit for food. Moses acted in accordance with these instructions and the staff of Aaron flowered.

The great miracle was that a dried wooden stick should sprout blossoms in the course of one night, and then buds and then fruit. So it was that when the people perceived this miracle, each of the tribal leaders picked up the staff that carried his name, admitting that the priesthood belonged to Aaron and the work of the Tabernacle to the Levites. Every claim of theirs was henceforth silenced.

Two wondrous things happened with the staff of Aaron.

The first miracle consisted of the fact that not only did the almonds blossom and then sprout two buds, but that while one of them shed its leaves in the expected manner of fruit-bearing trees that shed their foliage after the fruit is produced, the other shoot remained intact from then on, both in the summer and in the winter.

The second miracle was that the staff brought forth two kinds of almonds–sweet ones and bitter ones. The sweet ones sprouted on the right side of the staff, and the bitter ones on its left side. Whenever the Israelites acted in accordance with God’s will, the almonds on the right side would grow luxuriantly, while if they transgressed the will of God, those on the left side would flourish and the ones on the right would turn bitter. These three kinds of offshoots brought forth by the staff, are indicated in the scriptural text, following: "...had blossomed...had given forth buds and branches...and almonds were ripening on it."

(Kaplan, Aryeh, ed. 1991. The Torah Anthology, Book Fourteen. Brooklyn, New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation., pgs 45-46)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Fruitful Tree

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalms 1:3 [NIV])

The Psalms are packed with vivid word pictures and simple metaphors that make their messages immediately accessible and applicable. The person who loves and concentrates on God’s words and ways is compared to a fruitful tree here—only one of several places in the Old Testament where God’s people are compared to sturdy trees (Isa 44:2-4; Jer 17:7-8).

In a description of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ himself is depicted as a “splendid cedar” that will give shelter and shade to all who take refuge in him (Eze 17:22-24).

The tree metaphor’s richness is evident when we consider the elements of a healthy tree: the deep roots that feed and stabilize it, the branches that gracefully offer shade, the leaves that often possess healing properties, the fruit that nourishes.

A blessed person is one who is deeply rooted in the soil of God’s Word and who draws sustenance from his living water.

(General Editor Jean E. Syswerda, NIV Women of Faith Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, pg 858)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Like a Tree Planted

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Psalms 1:3

"The leaves shall not wither." He is saying this, that every word which flows forth out of your mouth in faith and love shall be a means to bring conversion and hope to many.

(Ehrman, Bart D., The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998, “The Letter of Barnabas”, chapter 11:8c, pg 353)

Friday, December 3, 2010

God, Our Refuge Part 2

"Spiritual refuge relieves the burdened. Psalm 46:1 says, "God is a refuge." He is a temporary shelter from the harsh forces or realities that are pressing in upon you and wearing you down. It feels like a protected environment, in which you can rest and recuperate temporarily, a secure place from which you can plan your next move.

One of the most beautiful pictures of this is Psalm 91:4: "He will shelter you under his wings." What a picture.

Have you ever seen little chicks hopping around chirping, pecking, doing chick stuff? All of a sudden, the chicks and the mother hen all become aware that there's a predator in the vicinity. The mother hen lifts both wings simultaneously, and within just a few seconds all the baby chicks disappear under them. They hide there. They're sheltered there. They regroup there. The chicks say to each other in the darkness, "My heart, my heart. Did you see the size of the teeth in that wolf?" But they're okay under the wings for a time. Eventually they have to crawl out to face the real world, but for a time there's nothing quite like being sheltered under wings.

This is very near the heart of God. It is bound up in the very character and essence of God to provide a kind of hiding place for his children under his wings. Just like God provided cities of refuge for those who were running from blood avengers, today God delights in spreading his protective wings and in folding his frightened, weary, beaten-down, worn-out children under those wings. He says, "Hide here for a time. Get out of the danger for a time. Regroup. Rest. Renew your strength."

Then when the time is right, when strength has been renewed, when souls have been restored, then he lifts his wings, and we venture back out into the world—a little calmer, a little stronger, a little more secure."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

God, Our Refuge Part 1

A couple of excerpts from an article written by Bill Hybel:

"God is a refuge for his children in times of danger and distress.

In certain parts of the ancient Middle East, where populations were spread out, societies weren't well organized, and judicial systems were few and far between, people kept the law and order by a rather aggressive form of tribal crime and punishment.

For example, if someone in your family lost his or her life at the hands of another person, your family would call a meeting. You'd discuss the situation, then appoint someone who became known as "the blood avenger." This person would become the representative from your family whose job would be to track down and kill the person who killed your family member. Then a celebration would ensue. Justice had been done.

A problem arose in the middle of that culture, however. There was no provision for accidental homicides, for unintentional deaths.

In the Old Testament books of Deuteronomy and Numbers and Joshua, we see God step into this situation. He addresses the problem by establishing cities of refuge. Joshua 20:23 says, "to designate the cities of refuge as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood."

God established six cities. They were spread out for easy access. They all had paths going their way and signposts pointing to the city of refuge. If a person committed an unintentional homicide, he or she would take off running. If the offender go to the city of refuge before the blood avenger tracked them down, they were safe inside the gates. After a time, a fair trial would be held. If the person were innocent, he or she would be set free. If the person were guilty, the blood avenger would do his thing.

But look at what God provided in the middle of this situation. He provided a place to run to, a shelter, a hiding place till a fair trial could be had. And look what God named these cities—cities of refuge.

The idea for these hiding places, these shelters, flows out of the very heart of who God is. It is bound up in the nature and character of God to provide safety and refuge to people who are feeling oppressed or hunted down. It is in the heart of God to provide safety and refuge to people who are running fast but wearing down. It is in the heart of God to provide safety and refuge for people who are hearing footsteps and who desperately need a hiding place.

You need to understand that our God is a refuge-providing God. He delights in that role. He only asks that you would avail yourself of the refuge that he provides."


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Learning to Fly

As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: Deut, 32:11

There is a beautiful passage in the Bible, Deuteronomy 32:11, 12, which gives a touching picture of the mother eagle teaching her young offspring to fly. She hovers over the warm, comfortable nest where the young birds have been so content and she begins to jerk at it and to tear it to pieces.

She flutters her wings over the nest to try to agitate the eaglets, and she keeps on until she has them all stirred up and completely frustrated. She tears at the nest until it is so messed up, and she nips at them until they are so upset, that they are ready to get out of there. All of a sudden, it doesn't seem nearly as desirable as it previously did! Finally, if they don't get out by themselves, she will kick them out of the nest with her powerful feet.

They are so frightened and disturbed by this time that they are frantic. They don't know how to fly, so they find themselves falling helplessly through space. What does the mother eagle do to them? She swoops underneath them and catches them upon her broad back. Then she tosses them off again, and continues to repeat this procedure until they finally begin to flutter their wings and gradually learn to hold themselves aloft.

You see, the mother eagle knows that she must get her eaglets out of that nest, for if she doesn't they will never learn to fly, and they will eventually perish. Likewise God, by the sufferings and sorrows of this earthly life, is "stirring up our nest," so to speak to "teach us to fly" to our heavenly home. He sometimes has to make that nest pretty uncomfortable in order to make us willing to leave it.

(Zodhiates, Spiros. 1998. The Lord's Prayer. Second Revised edition. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers., pgs 345-346)