Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.
//What do you think about this curious verse? God promises victory over Israel’s enemy, Amalek, and says when the victory is achieved, Israel should blot out all memory of them.
So what do they do? They write it down in their chronicles, and it becomes part of the Bible, preserving a permanent record of those whom they were to forget.
And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.
//Here’s a curious and obscure Bible story for you. Remember Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute so that she could be impregnated by Judah, her father in law? Tamar wound up birthing twins in this odd story.
In Bible days, the firstborn was awarded special status and privileges. The first twin to break into the world, then, would be quite fortunate. So, imagine the struggle going on inside Tamar’s womb to cross the finish line first.
During the birth, the first twin (Zarah) stuck his hand out of the womb and Tamar’s midwife tied a scarlet thread around it to indicate the firstborn. But then the other twin (Pharez), determined to be first, fought his way to the forefront and came out first. The midwife was astonished, and Zarah was stripped of the “firstborn” title, which was given to Pharez.
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
//Would you say a creed is a statement of belief, or is it a guiding principle? Today’s verse is considered worthwhile instruction, a sort of creed in its own, but what exactly are we supposed to believe?
The creedal wars were bloody in the first few centuries as our church fathers bickered over the words that best describe what we must believe. All creeds focused on who Jesus was, rather than the message he delivered. While love (or compassion) was the focus of Jesus’ teachings, its absence in the creeds made bitter theological wars possible, since not one creed stressed what Jesus taught. It remains so today.
Quoted below is the Nicene Creed, the foundation of most of today’s creedal statements.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Jesus mashed his eyes shut, trying to expel words that had burned into his brain. Those were John the Baptizer’s words, bellowed invectives Jesus heard over and over from the day he became a follower.
“Come, you sinful nation, cross the Jordan with me. As your ancestors crossed this river into the promised land, so cross with me, and be clean! Be purged of your sins! Enter Adonai’s holy land again, through these cleansing waters, and prepare yourself for his Messiah!”
Jesus rolled onto his back, listening to the snores of the others. Night had fallen several hours ago. He tried to craft a plan for their trip to the Galilee, but his concentration failed. The experience of a few days ago, with the Baptizer, still gripped him.
The prophet John had stood in the center of the river, still sporting the camel-hair coat that had become his trademark. A Jerusalem crowd filed by from the east as, one at a time, he dipped them in the Jordan and steered them on across to the Jerusalem side. “Make straight the path for the Messiah,” he rumbled, pausing only to suck air or dip another convert. “His sword will strike swiftly, the unclean slaughtered in heaps upon the ground. Do not be numbered with the sinful! Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees; every tree that bears no fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire! FIRE! Do not find yourself on the side of the sinful when your Messiah arrives!”
The Messiah. Always, the Messiah. John’s fiery message never wavered. “‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me,’” John shouted. “That’s what the prophet Malachi promised. Well, I am he! The Lord’s messenger! And what did Malachi say? ‘Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his Temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.’”
Of course, it didn’t happen, no matter how loudly John bellowed. Word of the Lord’s appearance never arrived from the Temple. No triumphant Messiah, no fiery bloodbath. Yet Jesus had followed John, allowed himself to be immersed in the river Jordan with the rest of John’s followers, because he was learning from this strange teacher, learning the words of the prophets, and then … then …
Then the epiphany occurred, as soon as he came up out of the water. Epiphany? No, more like a transformation, like a foreign spirit invading his body and buoying him up. There, standing waist deep in the Jordan River, Jesus lifted his hands and face skyward. He praised God above and then waded through the water to the shoreline and strode west—into the desert, where he would spend a time in deep contemplation.
–John’s Gospel: The Way It Happened, 2013, by Lee Harmon
And when [the magi] were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him.
//There are two different birth stories of Jesus in our Bible. One comes from the gospel of Matthew (see above), and the other comes from Luke. Here is Luke’s story:
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Both stories account for Jesus’ roots in both Galilee (Nazareth) and in Judea (Bethlehem). In Matthew, Jesus’ family resides in Bethlehem, and Jesus is born there in Joseph’s home. From there, Jesus’ family flees to Egypt, and later moves to Nazareth:
And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. –Matthew 2:23
But in Luke’s story, Jesus’ family resides in Nazareth, and inadvertently delivers the child Jesus while visiting Bethlehem. Then they return to Nazareth. So in one story, Jesus lives in Nazareth and goes to Bethlehem; in the other, he lives in Bethlehem and goes to Nazareth?
So, here’s the question: Is Jesus the Nazarene from Bethlehem, or the Bethlehemite from Nazareth?
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
//Ever thought about the poor in this way? If you marginalize the poor, you show contempt for God. This same thought is repeated in another proverb:
Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished. –Proverbs 17:5
It’s possible to read the instructions of Jesus and his great concern for the poor and attempt to spiritualize it all. We turn a concern for the needy into praise for the “poor in spirit.” Rather than help the poor in their need, we insist that what the poor really need is just to hear the gospel–and then, we forget what that gospel is. Jesus described his mission this way:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. –Luke 4:18
Some time, just do a concordance search on the word “poor,” and see if you’re able to ignore all of the references you find.
And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.
//The self-proclaimed “apostle” Paul writes that he learned about the Way of Jesus through revelation. He is emphatic that he not only received instruction from Jesus directly, but that he never shared that instruction with the Christian church in Jerusalem. He implies that it was fourteen years before he ever met with the other apostles in order to make sure that he was not “running the race in vain” over all those years. As the New Living Translation puts it, Paul wrote that he finally “wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing.”
It is therefore no surprise when scholars of early Christianity recognize differences between Paul’s thinking and those writings which appear more Judaic. Paul’s more universalistic Gentile Christianity presumably centered in Antioch, leaving Jerusalem to the Jews (though there is hardly any scholarly consensus on this). This dichotomy is often described as “Pauline” versus “Petrine” Christianity. I allude to this difference between Gentile and Jewish Christianity in my book about John’s Gospel, while also introducing yet a third flavor: the esoteric, spiritual message of the Johannine community.
Can you guess which of the three is my favorite?
by Tony Kessinger
The mysterious book of Revelation was addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Kessinger examines these “churches” (cities) in historical context, to see what lessons can be drawn for our benefit today.
This is a good book, so let me get my minor complaints out of the way first. First, it reads just a little dry, but that’s made up for by deep scholarship. It’s seldom that we readers get both. Second, Kessinger’s insistence that Revelation is the inspired word of God comes through a little too strong, sometimes making him seem just a little naive. For example, Revelation is usually considered apocalyptic literature, very similar to many other non-canonic writings in the first century, but Kessinger discounts that genre out of hand. Why? Because those other writings are purely fiction, and Revelation obviously is the inspired Word of God, so classing them together would insult God … regardless of how extremely similar the writings are.
One hundred pages into the book, though, it turns really interesting. Kessinger’s historical background sets the stage for each of the seven cities, putting you right square into the atmosphere of the first-century. Then, using the “historical method” of interpretation (Kessinger believes that Revelation was written specifically to these churches, but with the added purpose of providing inspiration and instruction to all churches through the ages) his deep exposition brings John’s Revelation to bear, so that the Bible’s words come alive. Kessinger liberally quotes other Bible scholars and historians, which helps a lot.
I strongly recommend this book if you wish to dig deep into Revelation’s audience. However, Kessinger does have a strong bias that it was intended also for our edification today, which devalues (in my opinion) the tension of that age. Particularly, the tension between Christianity and the Imperial Cult which was so strong in Asia minor at the time. For this reason, I give it only four out of five stars.
Xlibras Corporatio, © 2003, 248 pages
But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid;
For the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.
//When the Israelites escaped from the bondage of Egypt, they set about making a law code which would affirm the value of every life in the congregation. Never again would a life be lived with no hope of anything but slavery. No longer would the land belong only to a few rich folk, who benefited from the labor of others. Among the laws Israel enacted are these new economic principles, taken from marcus Borg’s new book, Convictions:
- Every family was to have its own piece of agricultural land.
- This land could not be bought or sold.
- No interest was to be charged on debts.
- Every seventh year, all debts were to be forgiven.
- Every fiftieth year, any land lost through foreclosure (inability to pay one’s debt) was to be returned to the original owner, without compensation.
The idea was to create a world very different from Egypt; one in which every family had the material basis they needed to survive. It didn’t work. Israel fell under kingship, lands began to be appropriated, and the dream fell apart. But it never died. The prophets continued to promise a day when, under God’s leadership, Israel would accomplish the dream. Today’s verse is an example: One day, the prophet Micah promised, everyone would sit peaceably under their own fig tree, rather than tending the orchard of another.
Are we getting close, yet?
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—
The sure mercies of David.
//The 53rd psalm is some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible. God calls to all who are thirsty, telling them to come to the waters. Telling we who have no money to come buy and eat, for the wine and milk is without price.
Then comes the verse above begging us to listen. Hear what God has to say and your soul shall live. Soon we learn what it is that we are to listen to:
For you shall go out with joy,
And be led out with peace;
The mountains and the hills
Shall break forth into singing before you,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
…and in the midst of this song of joy, the mountains singing to us, is this reminder: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. It would seem that the work of God’s hands, and not our own, is the path to joy.