Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reading In Context Part 1

Jesus had a rabbinic method of teaching that often alluded to the Hebrew scriptures. He would insert phrases and even single words from a story in His Bible, from which the audience could hear a greater meaning.

For instance, the saying "This house is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves" alludes to both Isaiah 56 and and Jeremiah 7. By knowing the prophecies in those passages, His audience would have heard a deeper message than from His words alone. Without a good knowledge of the Old Testament, we completely miss these.

His own audience was quite biblically literate, and easily would have recognized them. There is a passage in 2 Chronicles that may be the background for another of Jesus' allusions.

In 2 Chronicles 28, a scene takes place when the kingdom of Israel is divided into the northern 10 tribes of Israel and the southern 2 tribes of Judah. Ahaz, the king of Judah, led the nation into terrible idolatry, worshipping Baal and sacrificing children to idols. Because of this, the Lord let Judah be attacked and defeated by Israel.

This is the first time that Israel actually took prisoners of the tribes of Judah. They were on the verge of leading 200,000 of them away as their slaves, but a prophet reminds them that God let them defeat Judah as a punishment for idolatry, and they were guilty for worshipping idols too. He tells them that if they took their own brothers captive, it would compound their guilt before the Lord.

So some of the leaders of the tribes repent of their sin and set the Judeans free. It says,

Then the men who were designated by name arose, took the captives, and they clothed all their naked ones from the spoil; and they gave them clothes and sandals, fed them and gave them drink, anointed them with oil, led all their feeble ones on donkeys, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brothers; then they returned to Samaria. (2 Chron. 28:15)

We rarely read of a story of such compassion between nations at war, where one binds the wounds of the other and gently restores them to freedom. By anointing them with oil and putting them on donkeys, it even hints that they are treating them like royalty – because this was the way the coronation of a king was performed (see 1 Kings 1:38-39). This was a remarkable moment of grace between the tribes of Israel.



  1. Just to be clear, the 1 Kings 1:38-39 passage references Solomon's mule, not his donkey. A mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey, and is a large animal, as large as a horse. Mules were ridden into battle. Look up mules in Wikipedia. The donkey is a humble animal. The mule is more impressive and kingly. Common people didn't normally own mules in Bible times, which is why they were the property of kings.