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Psalm 147

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

Praise the LORD.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3 He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

4 He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.

5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.

6 The LORD sustains the humble
but casts the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make music to our God on the harp.

8 He covers the sky with clouds;
he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.

9 He provides food for the cattle
and for the young ravens when they call.

10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;

11 the LORD delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.

12 Extol the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion,

13 for he strengthens the bars of your gates
and blesses your people within you.

14 He grants peace to your borders
and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.

15 He sends his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.

16 He spreads the snow like wool
and scatters the frost like ashes.

17 He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
Who can withstand his icy blast?

18 He sends his word and melts them;
he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

19 He has revealed his word to Jacob,
his laws and decrees to Israel.

20 He has done this for no other nation;
they do not know his laws.
Praise the LORD. (NIV)

What I wouldn't give to live among a Christian community that knows it is God and not our army that is our savior. Deliverance comes from the Lord, and He strengthens the gates of His people -- Christians, not Americans. Does it mean we never have troubles? Look at verse 2. He gathers the exiles, yes, but they were indeed exiles. Trials and heartbreak do not mean God has abandoned us. Yet, it is from God that all good things come.

Current projects

Posted by Gary Labels:

Here's a little about me and my short-term goals.
I've taken three years of Greek and one of Hebrew. While my Hebrew has kinda gone unused, I've stayed sharp in Greek enough to use it in a way that (hopefully) edifies God's people. My Hebrew is good enough to understand a technical commentary (usually) even if I don't read fluently at all.

So, my projects right now include:
1. Go through Romans (NIV/ESV/Greek) with Leander Keck's commentary on Romans.
2. Go through the Pentateuch (NIV/ESV) with Hamilton's commentary.
3. Continue work on my audio Greek New Testament.
4. Write a book on Pacifism.

Sadly, I don't know how to import sound files to blogspot, or else I'd load a sample clip of Philippians 1 at medium pace.

Speaking of audio Bibles, I just bought the Bible Experience (Old Testament) for my family. I'm really excited and hope it arrives in the mail soon. It was only 36 bucks completely new on Amazon, so I couldn't pass up this Christmas present for the family!

Introduction to the Pentateuch

Posted by Gary Labels:

It's been a goal of mine to do a comprehensive study of the first five books of the Bible. They are the foundation of who our God is, and contain revelation about life, death, marriage, justice, grace, mercy, and faith. The stories highlight human experience and, taken together, these books tell one ongoing story.

Although we identify with Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, the main character of the Pentateuch is God. Throughout the first eleven chapters of Genesis, God acts in direct relation to all of humanity. When mankind scatters, God picks one person -- Abraham, and begins a new promise and blessing with Abraham and his descendants. The one continual theme throughout the Torah is covenant. Specifically, God's covenant promises given in Genesis 12-17. How will God intervene when something happens that threatens that promise coming true? How will God act when Israel goes to Egypt, becomes enslaved, and forgets the Lord their god? Quite a bit of the Torah is filled with cliff-hanging moments of suspense where we're left to wonder just how God will rectify the situation. His responses are breathtakingly amazing. His faithfulness stretches to the skies and beyond -- no one can measure His goodness.

Truthfully, Christians seem to neglect these books, except to use Genesis in relation to marriage. What a shame! Let's revive the flame of passion for these books. They've earned their place in the Bible and are not just extra weight.

For this study, I rely on my NIV Study Bible, an NASB Life Application Study Bible, an ESV Literary Study Bible, and I rely heavily on Alexander Hamilton's Handbook on the Pentateuch, which Josh Kingcade had us buy for our Pentateuch class at OC. I highly recommend this book to all of you, though you won't need it to follow my study.

So, here are the links! Check back often, because this note will be updated as I complete more and more notes.

Genesis Overview
Exodus Overview
Leviticus Overview
Numbers Overview
Deuteronomy Overview

Genesis 3: The Day the Harmony Died

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I'm once again going to be stealing from "When a Man loves a Woman (Part I)."

A major connection between 2 and 3 is the word "naked." Note that the word "crafty" in 3:1 looks very much like the word "naked," so that provides a clear link between the two chapters. Now, in this land of harmony, the craftiest of all the wild beasts holds a conversation with the woman. The serpent purposefully misquotes God, and then reacts with feigned shock that God would ssssay sssuch a thing. I imagine the serpent was slack-jawed with his tongue hanging out awaiting the woman's reply. And reply she does, for she knew well what she was supposed to do.

But the serpent guffaws and says "you (two) definitely won't die; God just knows that once you eat of it, you'll be like Him -- you'll be able to judge for yourself what's good and what's not." The way the woman heard it, she would understand "knowing good and evil" not as moral choice, but as in autonomy. What flashed through her mind was the situation in the movie Home Alone: stay up as late as you want, watch whatever you want on TV, and (of course) eat whatever you want.

What's ironic is that everything the snake said was technically true. He didn't lie, but he did deceive. Once she (and the man) bit into the fruit (pomegranate?), they were no longer innocent and now knew evil as well as good. They gained moral familiarity with evil, but never had the autonomy that the snake tricked them into thinking they'd gain. That tricky snake! What's more, they didn't "die" right on the spot, but the introduction of sin into the world brought about a decay that is moral (corruption), social (distrust), and physical (death).

Overwhelmed with this new feeling -- guilt, it is called -- they hastily cover themselves physically in an attempt to hide from their own emotions. When God approaches, he asks the man, who is the head of the two, what happened. As woman's leader, he is ultimately responsible and God demands an accounting from him first. He quickly places blame on the woman. So God demands an accounting from her, and she likewise blames the snake.

The snake, being of a class lower than humanity, does not merit an opportunity to explain its actions. Punishment follows for the snake. In poetic justice, since the snake made them eat what they should not eat, God makes the snake eat dirt, which we all know snakes cannot eat. That is the snake's curse. Then God goes back up the hierarchy ladder to the woman, and pronounces something to her. With pain she will bring forth children. Then he goes further up the ladder and pronounces judgment on the man. God will not curse man, but God curses the ground because of man. In case you don't like the idea that God didn't give the snake a chance to explain itself, please realize that the point is not that God is unjust, but that man and woman are special and are given consideration beyond that of a mere beast.

So, the five dialogues of God here are: A: demand accounting from man; B: demand accounting from woman; C: judgment on snake; B': judgment on woman; A': judgment on man. God gives both man and woman exemption from being directly cursed, and allows them an opportunity to explain their actions. As such, both man and woman are special to God and in His image. They are subject to God and it is righteous for Him to punish them, but He grants them dignity. Humans are both a cut above the rest of creation. This is somewhat like how medieval nobles were not supposed to be executed in an undignified manner such as hanging, but they would instead be beheaded (except in cases of high treason).

God allowed them to maintain dignity and cover their shame by making them garments to cover their physical nudity. Then they were expelled from the Garden and moved eastward. Always east with the book of Genesis, for some reason. Despite the fact that every event in Genesis 3 has "death" written all over it, the man names his wife Eve, which means "life-giver." He believed in God's promise in 3:15.

They had rightly earned God's distrust, so he sends them out and sets up the first ever miltary watch: cherubim and a flaming sword. Despite the death of this chapter, the last word, strangely, is "life."

Genesis 2: The Finishing Touch

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I'm pretty much plagiarizing myself here. I hope you guys don't mind me re-posting what I wrote under "When a Man loves a Woman (Part I)." I don't think I could ever top that dramatic (and romantic) retelling of Genesis 2. And so, without further stalling...

Here God is an intimate potter, crafting humanity with his hands. He set the man, his first creation, in a garden he had planted, so that the man could work the garden. More than work, God has given man food, too! But despite God's full presence being near to the him, the man feels lonely, and in God's infinite wisdom, it is not good for the man to be alone. God seeks a solution within what He has already made: He brings every living creature that he had made to the man, to see what he would name it. Nothing would work, though.

So God puts on a knowing smile, and tells the man to lie down and relax. After making the man sleepy, God pulls a second blueprint, one much like the man's own, out of the man's dreams. God strokes his beard for a moment and says to Himself: "Now, if I use this blueprint, it's going to take a rib. Neither one will be complete alone if I do this thing. But... nothing else could possibly do." With a nod of His head, God goes to surgical work and extracts a rib, then closes the flesh around the wound, and he crafts the rib into the most amazing thing the man ever dreamed of.

When the man wakes up, he asks the Lord God what happened, and He just smiles and says "One sec. Let me show you what I've been working on while you were asleep." Then, with a flourish of his hand and a few angelic trumpets in the background, in walks the woman.

The man is overjoyed, and immediately makes a pun (which sounds like something I'd do). First, he calls her "a bone of his bones" and "flesh of his flesh," which is something an ancient Hebrew would say that more or less means you've adopted someone as your "blood brother" or "soul sista." The irony is that she is literally crafted from his bone and flesh. Then he makes the pun: I will call her woman, for she was taken out of man!" (The pun is true in Hebrew as well, though it's completely lost in Greek.)

The chapter near its end with an explanation that this Edenic experience is the reason that a man shall forsake/leave his parents and cling to his wife, and the two become one flesh. This means much more than just "they're gonna hold each other tight and have sex." However, the wording should make that very thing spring to your mind, because that is symbol of union between man and woman (and God, whose name is often invoked during the union). It symbolizes that in marriage, the two become a completely new entity. A new family. Their new bond to one another supersedes the child-parent bond (though it doesn't nullify it).

Chapter two concludes by telling us that the two of them were naked, and they felt no shame. This is the part of the passage that preachers tend to omit. Have you noticed that? It always makes me giggle. This little statement shows that originally, the man and his wife were in a state of harmony with one another and had perfect innocence. There was none of that inner psychological turmoil that comes from shame. And yet, despite the happy picture this entire chapter paints, it does end with the first negative word in the Bible: shame.

Genesis 1-2: Reflections on God

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In the last note, I played story-teller and tried to bring to life the story of creation. This time, I want us to look at this gem of scripture through another facet, and see even more of how it reflects God's beauty. Specifically, we're going to be focusing on the theological statements of Genesis 1.

The "Word of the Day"
I'm not sure how many of you are interested in analyzing the structure of how things are worded. If you're not, then feel free to skip this. But if you're curious, Hamilton provides a great model for how the days of creation are structured:
1. Introduction: "and God said"
2. Creative word: "let there be"
3. Fulfillment of the word: "and there was/and it was so"
4. Description of the action: "and God separated/and God made/and God set/so God created"
5. Name-giving or blessing: "and he called/blessed"
6. Divine commendation: "and it was good"
7. Concluding formula: "there was evening and there was morning"

Theology: what this teaches us about God
This section implies a compare/contrast with other ancient Near Eastern creation myths. Sometimes what is not said speaks more loudly than what is said. That said, the first observation is the oneness of God. Unlike with pagan gods, God has no wife or consort. He is self-sufficient and everything God wants for fulfillment is found within himself - particularly in His ability to create. As I'm writing this, ironically, my worship playlist turned to "Shema Yisrael," a song based off Deuteronomy 6:4 which is the foundation of Judaism: "The Lord our God, the Lord is one."

The second major truth revealed here is that there is a clear distinction between deity and humanity, between creator and creature. His nature is different from that of humanity in some way. By comparison, if you trace back most ancient kings' genealogies, many claim they descend from a deity. The Sumerian kings of ages past claimed that their remote ancestors were divine, for instance. Egyptians kings claimed to be fully divine in their own right, as (eventually) did Rome's Caesars. Arguably, so did the emperors of Japan and China. This distinction between humanity and divinity in our Bible is completely unique.

A third truth is that God is plural in his nature. As Gen. 1:23 says, "let us make man in our image and our likeness." This can be interpreted many ways. Despite what might seem obvious, this statement has nothing whatsoever to do with the Trinity. However, God is plural in majesty. There is a grammatical concept called the "plural of majesty," which is where monarchs refer to themselves as "we" instead of "I." It's dropped out completely in American English, of course, since we are democratic. Something similar exists in the German polite address, and I've seen remnants of the royal "we" in Japanese. The main character in the anime Bleach, Kurosaki Ichigo, encountered a runaway princess and he was quite confused that she referred to herself as "we."

The reason royals use "we" is that it instills the image that they are larger than life. The Royal Person is to be addressed uniquely because of His or Her unique majesty. God's use of the royal "we" achieves much the same effect but on a grander scale: He is the cosmic Creator-King. He is also communal and intimate, intensely desiring our fellowship. In fact, some say He is not speaking royally, but is communally inviting another force to give Him a hand in crafting humanity. The three "communal" interpretations that make sense are: 1. He was speaking to His angels (for surely angels had a hand in crafting woman!), 2. He was speaking to His spirit (not yet fully revealed as the Holy Spirit), or 3. He spoke to the heavens and the earth. This last one is most interesting, because it really fits 2:4, which reads like a genealogy. It almost implies that the heavens and earth took part in creating Adam and Eve.

A fourth truth is that God is both moral and holy. My true goal in this study of the Pentateuch is to discover the meaning of holy. It is the full essence of God's nature, and it is separate from simply being morally good. However, God's holiness is the basis for His moral demands.

A fifth truth emphasized in these two chapters is God's sovereignty and majesty. God effortlessly binds the Deep Abyss, the waters, and the dry land beneath to take form and produce life, and does this by simply telling them to do it. You can tell a creature with ears, like your annoying little sister, to do something simple and the kid might still not do it, but God can tell something without ears to do something impossible, and that thing obeys.

Nowhere does God meet any sort of resistance or antagonism in this story of creation. For instance, he does not have to slay mighty Tiamat the dragon, then split her hide in two and use one half to fashion the earth and the other half to fashion the skies. God doesn't have to battle any celestial monsters or rival gods. Another illustration is that the stars, sun, and moon, which many in the Near East revered as gods, are nothing but an afterthought. The Bible makes a point of saying what they are to do: they are God's vassals who rule over the day and night, but are subject to God. So, God creates effortlessly with mere words and encounters no resistance because he is sovereign. From a pacifist's perspective, God's power for peace flows from his sovereignty.

So, in short:
1. God is Self-sufficient
2. God is clearly different from humanity, and vice-versa
3. God is plural in His nature
4. God is both moral and holy
5. God is uniquely sovereign -- everything is at His command.

Genesis 1: A Wonderful Campfire Story

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Imagine, if you will, a campfire many thousands of years ago. A kind, elderly Hebrew man pokes the fire with a stick, roasting a lamb for a feast. His grandson, sitting in his lap, looks up and says, "Grandpa, why do we work so hard for six days and then rest on the seventh day?" The kindly grandfather smiles with satisfaction and amusement. He opens his mouth and is instantly cut off: "Grandpa, how did God make the world?" He pats his grandson's head affectionately, and points to the fire.

Amid the crackling of the fire and the smell of roasting meat in the cool, night air they both stare off at the flames. *Funny thing, flames,* he thinks. *Their have no definite shape or form. They're a primeval force, but not something you can hold.* "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the land," he says with a grand flourish of his hand, drawing the boy's attention to everything around them. "Now, the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the surface of the Deep Abyss, for there was nothing in that bottomless pit, and God's spirit had nowhere to stand, so it hovered over the waters..."

Though a very small section of the Bible, there's a lot here to look at and ponder, and there's definitely been a LOT of pondering by Jews and Christians alike over the past three millennia. In this post I intend to focus in on the creation story and bring out its poetic elements. I'll address theological issues in greater depth in a different post.

Overview of Creation
The week of creation follows a linear pattern where God first furnishes each area to make it inhabitable (days 1-3), then fills it with things meant to thrive there in days 4-6. The culmination is God resting on the seventh day and setting it apart as holy. On day one, God makes light in general, then comes back to fill the darkness with luminaries: the stars, moon, and sun. On day two, God creates an expanse to separate land-bound bodies of water (the "water below") from the "water above," and calls this barrier "sky." (Presumably, the "water above" refers to clouds or whatever mystical place they believed rain fell from.) God comes back later and fills these two waters with fish and birds, creatures made to live in just those places. On day three, God takes the water under the sky and makes it collect in specific areas, forming dry ground. He creates vegetation so the land is inhabitable for animals. Later, He comes back to add animals, and finally, man. Then comes rest.

Sadly, blogspot sort of limits me from giving a good graph of how this works. Hopefully this will still be enough of a visual aid. Hamilton chronicles the days of creation like this:
Day 1: God creates light in the orbit.
Day 2: God creates the heavens to separate water from water in the sky.
Day 3: God creates vegetation on the dry land.
Day 4: God creates the luminaries in orbit. (Echoes day 1)
Day 5: God creates birds/fish in the sea and sky. (Echoes day 2)
Day 6: God creates land animals, and finally mankind. (Echoes day 3)

To understand how God does this creation business, we need to look at verse 2: "now the earth was formless and void." Another way to word that is that the world was "unstable and empty." On days one to three, God creates stability in the environments (orbit, sky & sea, land), and on days four to six He actually fills the environments. It's very important to note the order that God created in. Look, this is how I would have done it instead:

Day 1: Gary creates light in orbit.
Day 2: Gary creates luminaries in orbit.
Day 3: Gary creates the heavens to separate water from water in the sky.
Day 4: Gary creates birds/fish in the sea and sky.
Day 5: Gary creates vegetation on the dry land.
Day 6: Gary creates land animals, and finally mankind.

I think this is how most people go about their projects, isn't it? We work with one thing at a time and complete it before moving on to something else. For the sake of staying on topic, let's conveniently ignore the fact that I would have accidentally drowned the birds with this order, OK?

God was so very purposeful in creation! With great care He first prepared each environment. Never did He rush His work. When day one's work was done, He sat back and reveled in the beauty of His creation, making sure everything was right before moving on to the next day.

He started with the least elements of creation: the sun, moon, and stars, and then worked his way up. But not until every environment was furnished completely did he create any living thing whatsoever. Let me note that Hebrews didn't consider plants to be "alive." Only creatures that draw breath are "alive."

Ever is God the cheerful giver of blessings and life. He gives a special blessing to the truly living things on days five and six. On day five, he blesses the birds and fish (v 22), telling them to flourish. And as for day six? How does God bless the creatures of the land? Their blessing is not multiplication, but a ruler made in God's own image. This ruler, man, is over the birds and fish also, but lives on the land and is much closer to those creatures. God tells this creation -- humanity -- to be fruitful and multiply, and graciously gives us dominion over all the rest of creation.

Whenever God looks at His creation, His feeling is pleasure and awe. It is because of His love and grace that He blesses creation. The Creator is so fond of the creation, and we likewise are fond of Him if we are in a right relationship with Him. Grace, with God as its provider to all creation, was part of God's interaction with us from the very beginning.

Genesis 16: Covenant (Interlude with Hagar)

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Sarai takes charge 16:1-6
Now, they’d been living in Canaan for ten years [since chapter 12], and they’d been trying and trying to have a baby. Perhaps, as Hamilton notes, they see this not as “we’re going to have a baby!” but rather as “we have to have a baby!” In any case, Sarai gets impatient and comes up with a way around her infertility. Whereas Abram turned to Egypt when the land was infertile, now Sarai would have them turn to Egypt again to get around her own infertility. Sarai intends to give Hagar, a slave they picked up in Egypt, to Abram to be a surrogate for her.

The central verse here is verse 2. Sarai is the impatient one. She comes up with the plan, and tells Abram what to do. Abram acquiesces to his wife uncritically (Genesis 3, anyone?). So, through Egypt he again finds fertility: Hagar conceives. And once again Egypt becomes hostile: Hagar begins to despise Sarai.

Sarai’s response is to hold Abram responsible for her own idea. “May the Lord judge between me and you” is an expression of very clear hostility. (It’s probably up there with “God d*** you!”) He backs down and lets her do whatever she wants to Hagar. So, Sarai mistreats her servant and drives her out.

Sarai’s behavior here is completely inappropriate. Much like Eve, she has a tendency to usurp power in the relationship, which inevitably leads to bad results. And Abram, like Adam, sure doesn’t seem like much of a man here. Circumcision jokes can’t be used for Abram, because he was lacking in the manhood department before being given circumcision. Sorry – I couldn’t resist.

The Lord appears to Hagar 16:7-15
Apparently Hagar was traveling alone to Shur while pregnant. She stops at a well along the way, and the angel of the Lord appears to her. The angel asks her where she came from, and where she’s going. All she can answer is where she came from – she has nowhere to go. The angel tells her to return and submit to her mistress, yet the Lord will give her a blessing much like that of Abram: descendants beyond number. Her son Ishmael will grow to be great in his own right. Let’s not miss the pun in verse 11: “You will name him ‘God hears,’ for the Lord has heard your misery.” Ishmael is called a “wild donkey of a man,” both referring to his hostility (donkeys are stubborn!) and to his wildness (he was an outdoorsman and archer by trade, living away from civilization).

Let’s talk Hagar for a moment, because she is quite special. She’s the first person that the angel of the Lord ever appeared to. What’s more, she’s the only person to ever give God a new name: the Living One Who Sees Me. This is also the only event in the Bible where an encounter between God and a woman leads to a commemorative place name (“Well of the Living One Who Sees Me”).

Hagar is also special because she, not Sarai, is the prototype for Mary. Mary likewise gets pregnant through no fault of her own, and is greatly shamed by the community and her betrothed. The angel of the Lord appears and saves her from the disgrace. Now, I believe in the virgin birth, but no one would have believed her until the angel appeared. Until that time, she was a confused and shamed girl who had no idea where to go or what to do.

OK. End-of-the-show lesson segment. As I say in my notes over Genesis 3: a man should listen to his wife. It’s important to hear her ideas, and even more important to listen to her feelings. However, uncritically letting her take the lead is simply out of the question. Lesson number two: God cares for everyone, even the people that God’s chosen people despise. Even those caught in unspeakable shame with nowhere else to turn. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, God hears your pain.

Genesis 15: Covenant (Part I)

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Genesis doesn’t tell us where Abram is at this time. Is he still in the King’s Valley? Back at Hebron? Did he sneak off to his altar between Bethel and Ai? We don’t know. It’s not important. What is important is that the Lord immediately reacts to Abram’s act of faith by appearing to him once again. The Lord tells Abram not to fear – why might he be afraid? Perhaps because Lot didn’t come to his senses and leave Sodom like any sane person would have done after that rescue? Perhaps he fears retribution from the eastern kings he just defeated? We can’t say for sure.

In any case, the Lord is Abram’s Shield and his great Reward. Abram’s response just smacks of depression: “what can you possibly give me, since my chief servant will now be my heir?” (Apparently he is still fixed on making Lot his heir.) The Lord specifies now that it will indeed be an heir from Abram’s own body that will bring forth descendants. The Lord took Abram outside (was He there in Person?) and showed him the stars. Indeed his descendants will be innumerable (second time promised, third if “great nation” counts). We now can say that the middle eastern sky shows about 8,000 stars on a clear night, but that’s an uncountable number.

Abram believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Here is the first explicit reference to faith in God’s promises. The Lord begins a formal covenant declaration by stating who He is: “I am the Lord, who brought you out…” Abram now believed in the promise for a son, but now he asks for a guarantee for the land promise. So the Lord instructs him to bring some animals for a covenant. Abram brought these to the Lord’s presence and cut them in two and arranged a path to walk through the halves.

Let me quickly explain how covenants work. Butchering animals is pretty icky, but there’s a good reason for it. When you make a serious covenant, both members go through the path of animal halves. It symbolizes an oath that says, “if I am not faithful to this covenant, then may I be cut in two just as these animals are.” It's especially solemn if you're the one who arranges the animals. And so Abram arranged the halves, and waited until dusk.

Then he fell asleep, and thick darkness surrounded Abram. From his dream, he heard the Lord speak a promise about his descendants going to Egypt, becoming slaves, returning here, and taking the land. The Lord gives the Amorites time to repent, even.
When the sun had set completely, the thick darkness still enshrouded Abram. Not just is he asleep, but even if he did wake up, he’d see nothing. I would say he is in a semi-lucid state, like where you’re asleep but you still hear and feel what’s happening around you. So, the Lord appears in the form of a blazing flame and passes through the pieces. In his dream, Abram feels the heat on his face, and hears the Lord again: “to your descendants I give this land…” God gave the land from the Wadi el-Arish to the Euphrates, two very major rivers. Even though separate peoples possess it now, it will be given to his descendants.

I want to tell you why this section makes me shake and even cry. To pass through the halves is to say “if I break my covenant vow, may I be cut in two likewise.” The Lord passed through the halves in the form of flame, and when Abram awake, the halves were charred; he could not put himself under the same damning oath. Oh, what grace, that God would spare Abram in advance for any unfaithfulness! That the Lord would put Himself under such an oath out of His great love for us!!! It’s amazing. So amazing.

Genesis 14: The Empire Strikes Back

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The Conquest 14:1-12
Kederlaomer, king of Elam, has three allies that he goes to campaign with one spring. Now, he had five vassals who had been his subjects for twelve years. In the thirteenth year, they refused to pay tribute and gathered together in rebellion against him while he was away at war. As his troops came back that fall from an extremely successful year, the rebel alliance (which included Sodom and Gomorrah) ambushed them in a valley. Their hope was to catch their former master and his troops battle-weary on their march home. This hope was dashed to pieces, and the rebels were utterly routed. Kederlaomer even launched a counter-offensive to take the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he plundered the cities completely – taking also Abram’s nephew Lot.

The Rescue 14:13-16
One of those who escaped must have known Lot, and Lot must have told of his uncle Abram. The fugitive finds Abram in Hebron and tells the whole spiel. Abram immediately moves out with all 318 trained fighting men in his household to rescue Lot. Even with such a small force, he pursues over a hundred miles and routs the four great kings. He’s confident enough to even divide his forces into smaller units to “surround” the much larger army. As is the case when Hebrews fight, it is God’s faithfulness that empowers them to victory (“those who curse you, I will curse”). And so, Abram and his Amorite allies rescue Lot and they come to the King’s Valley, near Jerusalem.

Politics, politics, politics 14:17-24
Now, the king of Sodom comes out to meet Abram. Then Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem) comes out to bring Abram a simple meal in thanks of what he’s done. Melchizedek gives an honest gesture of friendship and hospitality. You see, he was a priest-king in the service of God Most High. What is interesting is that he probably attained his position as a high priest of the Canaanite god, who also has the title “god most high.” Yet at some point, he came to know the real God, because Abram acknowledges his blessing and gives a tithe to God through Melchizedek. Abram recognizes completely that it is God who gave him victory that day, and openly declares his faith and thankfulness with that tithe.

The king of Sodom, who had been passive through this entire affair, speaks up. “Of course, you’ll give me back my people, but keep all the goods for yourself.” If Abram took this offer, then he’d certainly be richer. However, it would put him in Sodom’s debt, in effect making him a vassal just like Sodom was to Kederlaomer. Here we see the first example of Sodomite hospitality – it comes with strings attached. They were a people who had no problem inflicting the same wrongs on others that they had suffered for twelve years.

Yet, Abram refuses this get-rich-quick scheme and takes nothing for himself, other than the meal for him and his men (offered by Melchizedek and not Sodom), though he will accept the shares for his Amorite allies. Whereas the last chapter has Abram making peace amid family strife, here he does “become a blessing to the nations” by solving international strife.

In this chapter, Abram shows great courage and devotion to his family. Abram acknowledges that God grants victory, and he proclaims faith in God, because God is faithful to him. Also worth noting is that Abram is not moved by greed for material gain. He wants to point not to his own wealth, but to God. He wants for everyone to say “God made Abram rich.”

What the king of Sodom tried to pull is much like the “rent-to-own” scheme people fall for, where you pay two to four times the price of an item over a long period of time. We could also liken it to the misuse of credit cards. Interest piles up, and you eventually become enslaved as a debtor. Abram refused to fall for that. Financial schemes are a true snare. We must be wary and remember that God will provide our needs – maybe not all our wants and desires, but all our needs will certainly be met.

Genesis 13: Separation Anxiety

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The Return 13:1-4
This chapter opens by repeating the end of chapter 12: Abram went up from Egypt with everything he had. This is extremely important. Verse two spells it out more clearly that he had become wealthy because of the time in Egypt. Most people who end up tricking and embarrassing a king, end up leaving the king’s throne room empty-handed and beheaded. Not just did Abram survive, but he actually prospered through this time in Egypt. Yes, he was exiled in shame, but he came out better for it.

It’s not that God condoned his trickery. God didn’t approve of Abram’s actions, and that goes without saying. God blessed Abram not as a nod of approval but because of God’s faithfulness. Abram realized this, so he went back to where he built an altar between Bethel and Ai and worshiped God in thanksgiving. It also allowed him to renew his commitment to the Lord and remember who he is.

The Separation 13:5-13
The herdsmen of Lot and the herdsmen of Abram get into some petty squabbles. Really, the plains were big enough for both of them, but because of greed, Lot and his herdsmen felt that there actually wasn’t enough space. Lot demanded an area for himself. Verse 6 shows how Lot perceived the situation: “there’s only room for one sheriff in this town.” Sadly, they break into an argument even though they are surrounded by not-so-friendly Canaanites and Perizzites. Being surrounded by enemies is a terrible time for people to fight among themselves, but that’s what’s going on here.

But because of the famine incident, Abram has renewed his faith in God’s ability to provide for him. Abram takes the initiative in settling the dispute. He comes to Lot and, surprisingly, gives Lot the first choice of which land to take. Since Abram his older, custom would allow him first choice, but he chose humility and peace-making over custom here. Lot, on the other hand, acted on greed. Seeing the fertile plain around the Jordan river, he took this area completely for himself. He didn’t take into account the wickedness of Sodom, and even pitched his tents near them. Here, Lot has clearly chosen wealth over family, honor, and virtue.

The Lord Appears 13:14-18
Abram acted in faith that God would provide for him, even if the more fertile places were chosen by Lot. Surely he even expected it. The Lord was watching, though, and He appeared to Abram because He was pleased with this act of faith. Whereas Lot looked at the land in selfish greed (v 10), Abram looked as God commanded and was blessed.

The Lord reaffirms the land promise (the third time He has said this) and even reaffirms the promise for innumerable descendants. This is noteworthy. Abram at this point probably thought that God was going to give Abram descendants through his adopted son, Lot. Remember, Lot’s father Haran died earlier. So, Abram is basically Lot’s godfather. And yet, Abram let Lot separate, which might put that promise of descendants (through Lot) in jeopardy. The Lord thus showed Abram that Lot’s separation will not threaten either of those promises. Finally, God tells Abram to move around and inspect all the land God is giving to him. So Abram goes to Mamre and builds an altar there, then calls on the Lord again in thanksgiving and praise.

As a geography side note, Mamre is a city named after Mamre the Amorite, whom Abram allies with (see 14:13). Hebron itself means “union,” so it’s fitting that Abram would move here and then make these allies. Hebron is also called Kiriath Arba, which means “town of Arba.” It’s named after Arba, who was a great leader of the tribe of Anakites (Joshua 14:15). However, this name is a pun because it also means “town of four,” and in Joshua 15:13-14 it says that Caleb drove out Anak and his three sons (total of four opponents). These two towns are clustered close together,and Abraham holds this place very dear to his heart. He builds an altar here, allies here with Mamre, Aner, and Eschol, and this is also where Sarah dies.

Let’s remember how Abram handled the dispute with Lot. Being surrounded by hostile foes makes a very poor time to fight among your own family, yet it’s what we Christians do. If we don’t present a united front as even a small group, then how are we going to stand? Christianity is a religion of togetherness. We either stand together, or we fall together. Just as the Lord is one (Deut 6:4), let us be one also.

The lessons in this chapter are wonderful: humility and initiative are important in settling disputes. Don’t let pride, greed, or your “rights” (like Abe’s right to first choice) get in your way of making peace with family. Trust that no matter what obstacles arise, God will still provide for you. And, once again, worship God and thank Him for His goodness!

Genesis 12: A(nother) New Hope

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

The Call: 12:1-3
Acts 7:2 says that God originally spoke this to Abraham back when he was in Mesopotamia, before he moved to Haran. Genesis doesn’t tell us this, but the NIV interestingly translates verse 1: “The Lord had said to Abram.” It could just as easily be translated “said.” In any case, if you read Genesis on its own, it seems that Abram’s call was completely out of the blue.

Moving on, here’s what God says. How very special: the Lord appears and gives Abram seven promises. How many people get seven promises from anyone? Ever? Abram gets seven from God. Wow.
1. I will make you into a great nation
2. I will bless you
3. I will make your name great
4. You will be a blessing
5. I will bless those who bless you
6. Whoever curses you I shall curse
7. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you

All of these promises are actions on God’s part, promises given unconditionally based on God’s faithfulness. Some of these promises strongly echo 1:28, a gracious blessing given because of God’s love. Throughout the previous eleven chapters, we see the word bless(ing) occur five times, and five times see the word curse*. But in these two verses alone we see the word bless(ing) five times. Wow, that starts Abraham’s story off on an amazing note of hope!

The Response: 12:4-5
So, Abram left just as the Lord commanded. Abram’s response was obedience. He took with him everything that was his to take: his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all his possessions and servants. He took everything with him because he had no intent of coming back. Abram’s response was complete obedience to a wonderful promise.

The Journey 12:6-9
Verse 6 tells us that the Canaanites were still in the land in those times. Well, what did Abram expect? Did he think that the land would already be clear and unclaimed before he got there? Possibly. In any case, the presence of the Canaanites presented a problem for Abram and troubled him. However, the Lord appeared to Abram and reassured him of the promise to give Abram this land. After the Lord appeared to him, Abram built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. God responded to Abram’s (apparently) unspoken nervousness at the Canaanites’ presence, and appeared personally to reassure Abram. How amazing! Abram’s response quite naturally would be to give thanks to God for showing such grace and favor. After this, Abram continued toward the Negev.

Famine 12:10-16
Now, there was a famine in the land. Since Egypt has a stable food supply, Abram went down there when the famine got severe. Dr. Joel Hoffman made some excellent observations on the way famines work. God doesn’t send them, they just happen “in the land.” In Bible times, shame is reserved for how you feel after doing a shameful action. Circumstances, however, should not bring us shame. We shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help. The economy, for instance, isn’t our fault.

Back to the text now. Abram wants to provide for his household, even if it means going to Egypt. There is a problem, though. There’s a risk that Pharaoh may notice his wife and want her in his harem. Since it’s bad form to take another man’s wife into your harem, the custom is to kill the woman’s husband first. You know how politics works: he meets with an “unfortunate accident,” but it’s an open secret that the man in question was actually assassinated. Fearing this, Abram tells his wife to give only a half-truth and say that they’re brother and sister. This way, Pharaoh won’t assassinate him.

So, they go through with this plan, and indeed Pharaoh treats Abram well for Sarai’s sake, and takes her into his harem. However, Abram has resorted to trickery and forsaking his marriage to save his own hide. How will the Lord react to this? The Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh. Why? Because “whoever curses you, I will curse.” The Lord kept his promise and was faithful to Abram. Sarai went through with the deception and was faithful to Abram (in saving his life, even by pretending they weren’t married). Abram, however, was being unfaithful to both of them to save himself. But the Lord is still faithful.

Exile 12:17-20
The Egyptians may not have been perfect models of morality, but they emphasized absolute truthfulness. Abram has thus broken faith with not just the Lord and Sarai, but also with the king he had deceptively befriended. So, Pharaoh summoned Abram, gave back Sarai, and sent Abram on his way. Abram was clearly NOT welcome in Egypt any more, and he left with everything he had, even that which he gained by deception.

Abram had no reason to be ashamed when he entered Egypt and asked for help. No; it’s when he’s exiled from Egypt that he should feel ashamed. And all of his household knows of it, too. I wonder how Sarai feels right now? Not so great, probably.

Lessons to be gained from this chapter:
1. The Lord will provide, even when obstacles give you pause. Give Him praise for providing.
2. Don’t let circumstances mar you with shame. Famines happen.
3. God is faithful to His people, even when we are unfaithful.

A Guide for those who want to Argue with Pacifists

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

[This is completely tongue-in-cheek, but it wouldn't surprise me if everyone who had ever argued with me had read such a guide before]

Pacifists. We all know them. Those naive head-in-the-clouds idealists who say that Jesus was a hippie and refused war. What should you do when confronted by one? Do you have a pacifist contingency plan? Recent studies show that your chances of encountering a pacifist are greater than your chance of a zombie apocalypse by at least three-to-one. Lucky for you, I'm willing to share my contingency plan.

1. Use a long run-on sentence giving the military history of your entire family. Nothing shows your nationalistic pride like doing this. Give them the most important and emotional argument there is.

2. Remind pacifists that your family members died so they could speak freely -- and then tell them to stop speaking their minds, because it's disrespectful.

3. Cowards. Enough said.

4. Quote the Armor of God passage as if it legitimizes using a sword of steel. Make sure you also launch into an explanation about how "our struggle is not against flesh and blood" shows that physical warfare, i.e. "our struggle," achieves spiritual success as well as fighting flesh and blood.

5. Quote Romans 13 as if it means we should go to war and help other countries rebel against oppressive governments. I can't emphasize this one enough, people! Romans 13:1-7 clearly says that we are to be good and obedient citizens. Yes, it says this with specific regard to tax evasion and policing matters, but obviously we are not good and obedient citizens of the USA unless we teach other countries to rebel.

6. Remind your ignorant hippie opponent that Jesus spoke to a centurion -- and in Luke, the centurion was praised highly. Clearly, there was nothing ironic or out-of-the-ordinary about Jesus speaking to Romans. Romans were his best friends. The crucifixion was just a lovers' quarrel.

7. Make vague reference to the entire Old Testament. Duh. There's warfare there. God obviously wanted war from the beginning, or else He would have just made Eve.

8. Speak very emphatically about the biblical virtue of democracy, and how Christ died to bring us that freedom. "The truth shall set you free" is a good starting place here.

9. Jesus told his disciples to carry swords, so quite obviously his policy allowed for military action. Yeah. Beat that.

10. Quote Ecclesiastes 2. There is a time for everything. God obviously made war, peace, love, hate, death, life, baby-making, and not-baby-making. Clearly, these are all OK in God's eyes.

The Secret Revelation of Gabriel

Posted by Gary

So, some people found a stone that is supposedly called the Revelation of Gabriel. National Geographic is hyping it up because of a reference to part of this stone that, when mistranslated, would mean "in three days live," which on its own apparently kills Christianity's unique dying and rising three days later. Oh wait -- except that Jesus wasn't the first for that, in the first place. The reference is actually to Hosea 6:1-3, which says "in three days raise us up," and is referring to all of Israel corporately.

National Geographic is going to hype this up just like they did for the Gospel of Judas. Here is an English translation done by Michael Sheiser. The part in question is lines 80 and 81. Note that almost zero lines here are completely intact, and the first 6 are completely unreadable. This really says nothing about Christianity. Don't be fooled by the hype!

My thanks to April DeConick, Doug Magnum, and Michael Sheiser for information on this one.

a poem based on John 11

Posted by Gary

Read the chapter, then read this poem. Written at 2:30 a.m., 5/23/09. I originally wrote this on Facebook, and decided to transfer it here.

Lord, where are you?

You called me to follow, and in you I place my trust.
I gave my heart to your renewal, and you brought me life.
Yet you are far from me now, and my strength fades.
Lord, where are you?

My sisters are crying, calling you to come! How they trust you!
We pray day and night for the messenger to reach you soon; I want to see you.
Yet you are far from me now, and my sight fades.
Lord, where are you?

You say this isn’t fatal, and we all must trust you.
Tears of longing roll down my face. I will breathe life anew in the resurrection.
Yet you are far from me now, and my final breath fades.
Lord, where are you?

Lazarus: COME OUT!
Oh Lazarus: Where were you?

Love for Enemies

Posted by Gary Labels: , , ,

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you: don't resist an evil person. Rather, whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him also the other. And whoever wants to sue you and take your shirt, give to him also your coat. And whoever charges you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks, and do not refuse the one who wishes to borrow from you.

He goes on to say:
You've heard that it was said: 'Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise upon the malicious and the benevolent, and makes it rain upon the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what have you really done worth mentioning? Do not the tax collectors also do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what exceptional thing have you done? Do not the gentiles do the same? So then, be holistic as your heavenly Father is holistic.

In Matthew's teaching on retaliation, Jesus quotes Ex 21:24. Mainly because of Jesus' reference to this passage, many people mistakenly see this as a dichotomy between the Old and the New. The Old Testament teaches retaliation, while the New teaches forgiveness. That's way off to left field, though. This law forbids turning justice into vengeance, an execution into a bloodbath. What happens if someone insults the mafia? Do they just insult you back? No; they'd kill you. What happens if you kill a member of the mafia? They'd kill you, your pets, your family, and everyone you've ever had a crush on. The natural instinct is to hurt someone much worse than they hurt us, and this law actually forbids that.

"Eye for an eye" is not the ideal response, but enforcing this limit of vengeance will prevent people from committing worse sins. The point of this law is that the punishment may not exceed what the crime merits (so the poor are not overpenalized) and it may not fall below what the crime merits (so the rich do not escape with a slap on the wrist). To quote Alexander Hamilton's Handbook on the Pentateuch: "What Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount is elevate the response to evil beyond the concern for simple justice to voluntary assistance for the oppressor" (p. 206).

Then He specifically points out the godly response to public humiliation (the Greek verb in this context means a slap to the face, though the word is also used of roughing someone up), being taken to court, and enforced labor. No matter what sort of person wishes to borrow from you, you are supposed to give.

Now, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18, which says to love your neighbor. That chapter elaborates that one must love strangers/sojourners/foreigners as oneself, also. Interestingly, the Dead Sea Scrolls add to Lev 19:18 "...and hate your enemy." As if such a thing ever needed to be taught! Hating one's enemies is just common sense.

Jesus, however, considers hating one's enemies as something that needs to be untaught. What is our purpose in doing this? "So you may become sons of your Father who is in heaven." In this use, "son" means more than just parent-child relationship: here it means resemblance/imitation of your Father (this is a subset of the "members of a category" usage of "son"). By loving our enemies, we resemble our Father in heaven. Well Jesus, how does that work? How does God love His enemies?

"He makes his sun rise upon the malicious and the benevolent, and he makes it rain on the just and the unjust." Hmm. So, God allows sun and water to reach the crops and cattle of even those hostile to God? God actually gives the same life support to them? Well Jesus, good point. Loving those who love us does not necessarily reflect the change that comes from following after the Lord, nor does fellowship/greeting to our friends and relatives.

So, Jesus: God's love is universal, because he gives life to even those hostile to Him. What about us? What should we do, Jesus? "So then, be holistic as your heavenly Father is holistic." Let me explain why I prefer "holistic" to "perfect" here. Jesus' point is not that we must know exactly how to provide flawlessly and perfectly for each and every person even when we just met them. Only God can do that. Rather, His point is that we must be all-encompassing and indiscriminate in our love, giving it to everyone. Note once again that the example of God's love for His enemies is that he grants them life instead of either actively killing them or passively permitting them to starve. Oh, and I also prefer "holistic" because I am not translating on the 8th-grade reading level, as the (T)NIV does.

Luke's quote, in context, is also quite interesting. In 6:20-26, Jesus pronounces blessings upon those who are poor, those who suffer, those who are wronged. "You are blessed when the people hate you and when they single you out and treat you with reproach and throw away your name as evil for the sake of the Son of Man" (think of something gross that you'd reflexively throw off if you touched it). Jesus goes on to explain that the same happened to the prophets, whereas the people loved and applauded the false prophets who claimed that the Lord was with them all the time. Now Luke puts forth the love-for-enemies passage, and he even inserts the teaching about retaliation inside the love-for-enemies section.

But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, pray for those who insult you. To the one who strikes you on the cheek, turn also the other, and do not refuse [to give] your shirt to whomever asks for your coat. Give to everyone who asks, and do not demand it back. And however you wish people to treat you, treat them likewise. For if you love those who love you, what special thing have you done? For even the sinners love those who love them. And if you show benevolence to those who show you benevolence, what special thing have you done? The sinners do the same thing, too. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what's special about that? Sinners also lend to sinners expecting to receive back their own things. Nevertheless, love your enemies and show benevolence and lend without expecting anything back. Thus will your reward be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungracious and malicious. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

Jesus blesses his audience "you who are poor," and "who hunger now" and "who cry now" (reference to fasting and weeping, perhaps?). He then tells us, the audience, that we are actually blessed when we suffer abuse. He does not say to resist such things. Actually, the fact that he points to our reward for suffering instead of specifically saying how to react implies that he expects us to, not necessarily welcome it, but certainly endure it. For doing so, we will be counted among the prophets.

Lest anyone say I avoid the prophetic woes section: Jesus then addresses the "rich" as if they were present, though they are not. The "rich" are those who do not listen to Jesus' message of radical service to God, and who instead are so blinded by the religious establishment's status quo that they do not see the need for immediate and decisive action to further the Kingdom of God.

Now, Jesus switches back to the blessed "poor," his disciples. This passage is similar but not identical to Matthew's parallel. Luke says to turn the other cheek to the one who strikes you -- this is not a backhanded slap of humiliation, but an act of violent aggression. Luke flavors this passage to show it in the light particularly of giving alms to the poor (a point that Matthew emphasizes just shortly after his parallel for this). Another difference in Luke is that instead of giving God the holistic attribution, he says that God is good/kind. For what that word means, read 1 Chr 16:34 or start reading the book of Psalms from chapter 100 to 136. When it says that God is good/kind, it also says "His love endures forever." To understand what Luke means in verse 36 about being "compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate," read Jonah 4:4 or Joel 2:13. That is what we must imitate if we are to be sons of the Most High.

International Day of Prayer

Posted by Gary Labels: , ,

Today is the IDOP for the persecuted church worldwide. Many people today are languishing under torture or duress for the sake of the Name. What about us? We go to church, chat afterward, and rush home to watch the Cowboys game. Eat, drink, and be merry.

This is not how we should be. We must be constantly alert soldiers, armored with righteousness and faith, with the Sword of the Spirit -- the Word of God -- as our weapon. When Paul uses that phrase in Ephesians 6 (and in 1 Timothy 4), he is referring to words with God: prayer. Prayer is our weapon, and we must be constantly diligent and alert, praying at all times.

I only hope these stories will give you an idea of the need for this warfare.

Brave men like Gao Zhisheng of China stand up in opposition to the Communist Party's policy of brutal control over religious affairs. He was captured in February this year and carried away to brutal torture. He has not been seen publicly.

Women of steadfast faith like Asia Bibi of Pakistan are under duress because of their faith. Asia was arrested and is awaiting trial on charges of blasphemy. She belongs to one of the three Christian families in her village of 1500 families. When her Muslim coworkers began to pressure her to reject Christianity for Islam, and she said that "Our Christ is the true prophet of God." As the story says: "Upon hearing this response the Muslim women became angry and began to beat Asia Bibi. Then some men came and took her and locked her in a room. They announced from mosque loudspeakers that she would be punished by having her face blackened and being paraded through the village on a donkey." Christians got the police to intervene before this could happen, but she still awaits trial on blasphemy charges.

Some Christians were not so lucky as to have police intervention. In Gao's case, police intervention was the problem and not the solution. During one of the last times he was kidnapped, they tortured him grievously, leaving no place untouched and no torture means unused. They used the electric baton everywhere. His testicles. His anus. His mouth. They stuck toothpicks into his... "lamp."

It's not just men and women. Children are suffering, too. Silvia Merry Sarker, a Christian girl in the 8th grade, was kidnapped by four men of a Muslim family who wants to take her father's land. They forced Silvia to convert and marry one of them, Al-Amin by name. She is not even twelve years old, but a forged affidavit claims that she is 19, married, and converted to Islam. Her kidnappers were detained as suspects, but got out on early bail before police could garner any useful information. She's been missing for three months, and Silvia's father is afraid to send his older daughters to school ever since his youngest, Silvia, was kidnapped. The government of Bangladesh is being negligent of this Christian minority's plight.

The way of peace is being killed. As Revelation explains, for righteousness to truly come, the righteous must first shed their blood and fill the cup -- "for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure" (Gen 15:16).

See also the Persecution Blog. "Fear none of the things you are about to suffer. Behold! The Devil is about to cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested and may have affliction for ten days. Become faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life... Whoever overcomes will by no means be affected by the second death." Rev. 2:10-11.

Published Response to the Talon of 10/30/09

Posted by Gary Labels:

Oklahoma Christian University's student-run newspaper, The Talon, ran a patriotic opinion article recently.

I decided to publish a response article: "A Christian Perspective on Warfare." I forgot to title it, but the editor gave it a good title.

Update: Someone decided to respond to me: "Defending this Nation's Guardians."

I love taking any questions about pacifism -- or religion in general. Please approach in kindness, love, and humility. I hope that I've exhibited those traits so far.

I want to challenge people to really read their Bibles. Not just vaguely remember that some passage exists somewhere that mentions this or that, but actually know what's going on and why. Biblical education is necessary, because the Bible is too good to not share, and God is too good to keep to ourselves.

Ephesians 2:1-4, ESV: A critique

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

The ESV has been a refreshing translation to me in some ways, though I am not fully convinced of it yet. I don't take it at face value simply because it has an affiliation with the Church of Christ.

So, in reading Ephesians 2:1-4, here is the ESV text:

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
(courtesy of

Overall, the ESV's intent is to preserve the original flow and syntax of the Greek text as much as is intelligibly possible in English. This comes with its advantages and disadvantages, of course. On the one hand, reproducing the connectives (..."and") at beginning of sentences does preserve the original pattern and allow readers to see the connection between passages more readily. The lack of clear paragraph division also preserves the ambiguity of the original text, which leads to some fun for the English and Bible majors.

Verse 3: I can understand rendering ἐπιθυμίαι (desires) as "passions"; perhaps that is the better translation than what I usually use. However, the beginning connective for the sentence is removed. Verse 3 is an admission that it is not just "you" but "we" also who lived among them once. The circumstantial participle "carrying out" is fair, thought contextually influenced. However, I can see why they did not render ἐπιθυμίαι as "desires" before, since they use it here for θελήματα. While that's all well and good, I have to scratch my head about the desires of the body and mind. How should I word this objection?

Firstly, let's look at the word for "body." Precise translation of σάρξ (flesh/sinful nature) is a tricky matter. Literally it means flesh, but the metaphors they attached to the word flesh are different from the ones we attach to it now. As Dr. Joel Hoffman, a biblioblogger with a much clearer understanding than my own, says:
"In our culture, “flesh” has at least three main metaphoric uses: physicality (“he’s here in the flesh”), robustness (“flesh out”), and sex (“the flesh trade”)."

While it may be debated that Paul meant sinful nature by σάρξ, the debate is over my head so I won't go there. However, it sure seems odd to translate it as "body." No doubt it was for euphony since it fits well corresponding to "mind." Yet, the biblical word body should not be attached with sinfulness; Ephesians particularly uses the church image of the "body" of Christ. Should we really use the word "body" in such a context as this, given the treatment of body (σῶμα) in Ephesians? I think translating σάρξ as body is a bit of a stretch, and euphony does not grant proper justification; it mars the otherwise-positive uses of body in Ephesians: church as body of Christ, and woman as man's body (i.e. "without your wives, you would have an empty existence like a disembodied floating head [watch Futurama]. Knowing how irreplaceable your wife is, love her."). Body in Ephesians is not ever used negatively, so this is a poor choice.

I also have problems with "mind" here. διάνοια can mean mind/heart, the thinking faculty/understanding, or simply thought. In the Septuagint it was sometimes used as a translation for לֵב (e.g. Gn 17:17), but here it occurs in the plural. Really, my concern comes down to a theological question: "were/are the body and mind of unbelievers corrupted in a way that a believer's mind and body are no longer corrupted?" Perhaps this isn't the right question, and perhaps διάνοια has been translated effectively. However, I still find that the difference in number between σάρξ (singular "flesh") and διάνοιαι ("minds/thoughts") leads me to believe "flesh and [corrupt] thoughts" would be more precise. While the plural can mean minds, or perhaps could be translated as a collective singular "mind," (which is way over my head), I still find "thoughts" to be more natural. Or, if collective singular, "mind-set" would be better than simply "mind."

Theologically, Paul said that the Gentiles were corrupted completely, body, heart and mind - in Romans 1, but Romans is the latest Pauline epistle and so contains his fully developed understanding. Would it be a mistake to retro-interpret Ephesians 2 in light of Romans 1? I take the canon as it is (though I value Tobit as I value Mere Christianity), and so I accept the final form. Ephesians was also written by Paul, the Paul of faith, and for me that qualifies applying Romans to Ephesians without regard to historical authorship or time of writing.

So, the "sons of disobedience" were fully corrupt, body and soul. However, in Ephesians 2 we have the "before" and the "after" of the transformative power of the Gospel. And the fact is, Christians are still subject to corruption in both "flesh" and "thoughts," though I do not think it right to call us utterly "depraved." I must ask my more scholarly friends reading this: how does this theological subject impact the translation of Ephesians 2?

Moving on, this text fails to take into account the difference between the English perfect tense and the Greek perfect tense. There is some overlap, and sometimes a Greek perfect should be translated as an English perfect, but here it would be better rendered "by grace are ye saved," as the King James says. While the King James translators may have had inferior textual witnesses and a weaker grasp of Greek than modern translators, they did know English quite thoroughly. So, the King James Version's treatment of the perfect tense is better than some of the more modern translations (see Daniel Wallace's Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics on the intensive perfect).

Another critique: participles are rendered without flavor, as if our flexibility in participle use is correlative with its use in Greek. Actually, there is quite a bit of overlap, but English readers are simply not acquainted with usage of the participle. The average American does not even know what a participle is, in fact. So, it's a poor idea to say in v 4 "God, being rich in mercy..." Even though one can use an English participle with a causative idea, it's so awkward to us that few readers indeed would be able to grasp its meaning.

Now, let me give you my [rough] translation, then I'll let you go on your merry way.
And you were dead in your transgressions and your sins, in which you once walked according to the custom of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air -- the spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all also once conducted ourselves in the desires of sinful nature, doing the bidding of our sinful nature and our [futile] thoughts. But God, because He is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

All in all, I consider the ESV a good translation to be used by very well-read readers who want to have a greater understanding of how Hebrew and Greek syntax works. This particular text they do alright with, but I still disagree at least on the "body and mind" part.

Overall, this critique was a fun exercise and nothing more.

Thought for the Day

Posted by Gary Labels:

Love keeps no record of rights, either.