Category Archives: Ancient Truths

Beyond the Margins

Have you ever had one of those nights when you don’t even know where to begin? Your head is swimming with thoughts inspired by the wisdom of someone you feel fortunate to have encountered. That’s how I feel right now after a 2-hour concert/walk through the Bible with Michael Card.

Where do I begin? Michael Card stated his secret purpose was to entice, manipulate…  do what it takes to inspire his audience to read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. He weaved songs together to provide a musical narrative of Scripture. By the end, I was in tears as the reality hit me. God’s greatest desire is to be with His people. I know this. But some how tonight, I got a deeper glimpse of God’s heart. And I am undone.

While I don’t know that I would pay to hear most Christian musicians preach, I could sit and listen to Card for hours. He plumps the depth of Scripture like few Christian artists could. Here are some of the things that stood out to me.

  • Card is working on a book about slavery and freedom called A Better Freedom. Card said, “The only way you will ever be free is to become a slave of Christ.”
  • Leviticus is full of details about things like warts and mold. But those details point to spiritual realities. We see Jesus in the models and stories of the Old Testament. Card said, “God is in the details.”
  • The story of Hosea and Gomer shows us our wayward hearts. Card sang a song as Gomer talking about the faithfulness of her husband despite her unfaithfulness.
  • God gave Israel a great gift called the Year of Jubilee – a time when all debts would be canceled. It was to be a year-long party every 50 years where families and individuals were restored. But there is no record of Israel every observing the Year of Jubilee. This utopia idea has its completion in Jesus.
  • In Psalm 51 after David has committed a horrible sin, all he had to give to God was his brokenness. And that was what God really wanted in the first place. David said that what God wants is broken and contrite heart.
  • Card said, “The things that have hurt you in life, aren’t wasted. They are redeemed –  God uses them  to save the world.” He pointed to the cross as a perfect example of how God turns tragedy into victory.
  • Throughout the concert, Card kept on referring to friends and mentors who influenced each song. It was clear that his music comes out of community.
  • Card said about the book of Revelation, “In the end, God gets what He wants. Do you know what God really wants? He wants to be with you – His people.” Card said that the reward of  following the Law in Leviticus 16:12 is that God will walk with His people. From the tabernacle to the Temple, the dwelling place of God was to be with His people. Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means God with us. Jesus’ last words to His disciples were, “Behold, I am with you always.” He then promised the Holy Spirit, which lives in the heart of God’s people. Card said, “What God wants the most is what we need the most.” The story ends in Revelation with complete restoration as sin, death and separation from God are forever dealt with. God is fully with His people.
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America’s Jewish Roots

Thomas Jefferson. James Madison. John Adams. Benjamin Franklin. These men shaped the framework of America’s laws, constitution, and government. But we may never have heard of these men and their revolutionary ideas if it hadn’t been for a Jewish man who lived thousands of years before they did.

I am talking about Moshe (Moses) who led the Israelites and developed a set of laws that were remarkable for their day. Many of the ideas that we find in our modern sense of democracy have their roots in the Torah, especially Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

There is no parallel in antiquity to the  laws outlined by Moses in Deuteronomy.  Other legal traditions resembled vassal treaties where the kings set the laws without much focus on protecting the rights of the everyday person.  

In Deuteronomy, God is the law giver through His prophetic leader – Moses. The laws were written to “all Israel.” Deuteronomy 10:17-19 insists that there should be no favoritism. This meant “due process” and equality under the laws should exist for everyone. This is remarkably close to many of the ideas we find in the American legal system.

The Torah focused on the importance of protecting the rights of the widows, orphans and resident aliens. It prescribed case law that regarded property rights and everyday problems in an agrarian society. Some of the laws may seem archaic by today’s standards. But we have to understand that the laws of ancient Israel were remarkably progressive for their time. This reveals that God is long-suffering in molding His people. He knows that there is only so much progressive change that we as humans can endure at one point in history. Change is a long process. 

Deuteronomy shows an understanding of the potential for the abuse of power by a king. Moses established in Deuteronomy 17:14-17 that the power of the king should be limited. Any king should not stand above the laws. He simply ensures that they are followed. This pasage even hints that the priests are responsible in ensuring the documents that the king will use to guide his rule.

The Hebrew Scriptures demonstrate a clear separation of powers where the king, priests and prophets all served to kept each other in check. In Israel – the power of the king was not absolute. Everyone ultimately was responsible to God. The basis of the law was a covenant relationship with God and the people.

Moses wrote laws and then connected them with what God had done for the Israelites in the past. He wrote how they had once been aliens and that God had taken them out of Egypt. Thus, they were to be careful how they treated aliens living in their midst.

The fact that the laws came from God and reflect His principles also served to remind the people that they were accountable to God. There existed a sense of reciprocity. God would one day judge them for their actions.

Moses issued a divinely orchestrated social order that Israel was supposed to implement as God’s people – a light to the nations.

Just like the Israelites, the founding fathers of America talked about God as the giver of human rights. Although not all of these men were Christians, most of them had a belief in God and recognized the centrality of God to forming a just society.

Nothing New Under the Sun

While studying for my Old Testament exam today, it suddenly struck me that the Hebrews in the Bible are not that different from people today. Although we have the Internet and modern plumbing, when it comes to basic human nature – humanity keeps making the same mistakes. Our society may have evolved somewhat from the Bronze and Iron Ages. But I don’t know that we are as “enlightened” as we might want to think we are.

Regardless of who you think wrote the Torah, it is a fairly progressive document. From the focus on social reforms in Deuteronomy to the depiction of a gracious God who keeps on giving second chances, I have found my OT plunge this semester to be eye opening. Sure, there are comments about stoning rebellious children and seemingly unimportant laws about mildew. These seem extreme or out of touch to us today. But overall the heart of the Law was meant to push the people toward an ideal that we might find remarkable today.  I wonder what would happen if the Year of Jubilee were reinstated today. Given all the financial problems in the world, that might be a refreshing idea from thousands of years ago.

Putting myself in the other person’s shoes is a lot harder thing to do when you are trying to relate to somebody who lived 3,000 years ago. Yet, I can certainly relate with many of the emotions and situations that the Israelites must have felt. I understand what it is like to mess up and keep needing mulligans from God. I know what it is like to face new challenges and transition just as the Israelites did as they stood on the edge of the Promise Land.

I know the pain that King Saul must have felt when God’s voice seemed distant. I can relate with the sense of an overwhelming task just as Moses must have felt many time on his journey in the wilderness. There are other times  this semester that I read a story and was challenged to the core by the example presented. For example, I may not have felt as generous as Joseph did when he finally revealed his true identity to his brothers.

What makes Scripture such an engaging text? Is it that the people are so real? Is it that I approach the text differently than a non-believer? Is it that there really isn’t anything new under the sun and these people are a lot like me?

Genesis 3:1-7

A closer reading of mankind’s great fall in Genesis 3 has brought a number of things to my attention that I have not seen in the past. One of the greatest aspects of Biblical study is that you never reach the bottom.

Here are some notable things that jumped out in a group discussion as well as some of my own “original” observations.

  • The story starts out describing the snake as more crafty than the other beasts of the field. God obviously made the snake so we don’t know if crafty here is supposed to be a good thing.
  • The identity of the snake is never connected with Satan in this passage. For starters, it seems strange to us that a snake would talk. But Eve doesn’t seem to be affraid or give any sense that a talking snake is odd. The snake could have been possesed by Satan or possibly influenced by demons. On the other hand, there is no textual proof to indicate that the snake acted in malice except Eve’s accusation when confronted by God. Could this merely be a snake that innocently asked the wrong questions?
  • The NT book of Revelation cleerly states the snake in its prophecy is Satan. The concept about Jesus crushing the head of the snake suggests that the snake symbolizes Satan. This issue is hotly debated by Biblical scholars and preachers.
  • The snake framed its question to focus on the liberty of the individual. I find this interesting in a society that focuses on individual rights.
  • Eve replied that they could eat of all the fruit of the trees except for one. Then, she added that they couldn’t even touch the fruit. This goes beyond what Adam was told. He received the instruction before Eve was created. We don’t know if Eve added to what God said or Adam did it. We don’t know if God added some additional parameters to help protect Adam and Eve. This brings up the rabbinic concept of hedges and fences around the law. These extra little rules made it difficult to transgress the law. Maybe this was the first law hedge.
  • No where in the text does it tell us what kind of fruit it was that Adam and Eve ate. Literature has developed the notion that it was an apple. But it could have been almost anything. This shows us that some of our general concepts about a passage may be wrong because we have been more influenced by tradition than what the text actually says.
  • The snake said that you will not surely die. The Hebrew indicates that the snake mentioned death twice in this response. That is where we translate the “surely” part. But this could have meant to describe more than one type of death. The original Hebrew is not clear.

Slavery in the Bible

One of my favorite Christian artists, Michael Card, recently said at a concert that he is working on a book that explores the concept of slavery in the Scriptures. Some mistakenly discredit what the Bible has to say on the topic because it doesn’t outright prohibit the practice.

It can be easy to forget that the Bible is the redemptive story of God’s interaction with humanity. God knows that you cannot completely change everything over night, and He always meets people where they are to take them where they should be. We must be patient with societies in the past just as we will need people in the future to be understanding of us. Each new generation has its practices that future generations will find odd or outright immoral.

Here are some quick thoughts on the Bible and slavery:

  • Everyone is a slave to something or someone.
  • All true Christians are “slaves” to Christ so that we may be free from the grip of sin and death.
  • God brought the Israelites out of Egypt “the land of slavery.” But when things got tough they preferred the familiarity of slavery over the hardships of freedom.
  • God desires obedience not sacrifice.
  • Jesus didn’t have an entitlement attitude neither should His followers.
  • After the introduction of the Law, the Israelites were not to enslave each other because they were to be a nation of slaves to God.
  • God provided for humane treatment of slaves in the Law.
  • Slavery in antiquity was somewhat different than modern slavery. Some people even sold themselves into slavery to pay off a debt for a period of time.
  • Jesus came to set the captives free.
  • Paul encouraged Philemon to treat Onesimus (his slave) as a brother. This was as close to prohibiting slavery as Paul could get without completely sidetracking the greater purpose of his mission. Slavery during the Roman Empire was a central part of the world’s economic system. Calling for the outright end of slavery was something that Paul didn’t seem to want to overtake.
  • Jesus forever set aside the distinctions between slave and master.
  • The Year of Jubilee was a gift from God to the Israelities that we don’t know if it was ever practiced. This year long celebration and the forgiveness of debt is a foreshadowing of Christ’s work on the cross. 

Seeing God in My Rearview Mirror

“Many times we don’t realize God’s active involvement in our lives until we look back in the rear view mirror.”– Glen Pullin, fellow MCC church member

If you study through the Hebrew Scriptures it is hard to miss the fact that God is the chief actor in the story. Nothing takes place without his foreknowledge. He is behind every scene working to produce the best finale. He is the director. Yet somehow he gives the actors free will to make decisions. There is a mystery in the tension between man’s (limited) free will and God’s sovereign power. I don’t really understand it. But I know that both are true.

From Abraham Job to to Moses to Joseph to Daniel, we see God’s involvement in everyday affairs and spectacular encounters. More than just permit evil to happen, God works through it.

Overcome by the power of the moment, it can be so easy to forget God’s track record. Whatever we are dealing with becomes all we see. It obscures our view of God. We don’t see Him working despite our pain, struggle or trial.

David Eells wrote in Sovereign God, “Evil is a tool of God’s sovereignty to bring us to purity and maturity…Sometimes we look at circumstances instead of the Word and think that the devil has been able to put a stop to God’s plan. God would have never made the devil if he had been someone who could stop His plan.”

As we see in the story of Joseph being sold into slavery or Jesus condemned on a cross, God uses sin to produce a holy, living result. It can be almost impossible to recognize God’s involvement in the heat of the moment. But nonetheless God’s divine reversal is taking place. Just as Glen said to me, we may only see God when we look back at what He has done and marvel at the fact that He was in our situation after all.

In God’s Hands

“Knowing the cross is knowing the hands that made me.”– Hillsong DVD

Wow, just think about that for a moment. The same God that took such great care in making you paid such a great price to reclaim you.