25 Apr 2017

Untamed God and Dangerous Grace

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exodus, Grace, Jonah, Precision Obedience, Romans

Walking with God is not always safe

The Bible is a dangerous book about an untamed God full of dangerous grace. I am not sure if the Bible is more dangerous to our patterns or structure that we invent or to “things surely believed.” But the Bible continues to remind us to never forget that God is God.  Of all the truths about God it seems Scripture continues to say

God loves passionately
God relents from punishing
God does some how deal with evil
God will not submit to our system/pattern/doctrine

As C. S. Lewis wrote of Aslan in Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, he is not safe but he is good. These seem to be things you can take to the bank.

When God Operates Contrary to Our Box

Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2.13) is a powerful God truth rooted in the four statements listed above. It guides this section.

I believe in repentance. Jesus told us to preach “repentance and the forgiveness of sins” (not sure why we never quote Luke’s version of the Great Commission, it says nothing about baptism). Repentance is connected to the forgiveness of sins. God commands repentance. I believe in repentance. I preach repentance. See my article Repentance and Seasons of Refreshment.

Yet the Bible does not conform to our desires nor our neat little patterns, systems of doctrine nor things surely believed. Some of the greatest stories of mercy, grace and forgiveness in the Bible have one thing glaringly absent: Repentance!

I had read these stories before. I often assumed repentance was in these stories. I even imposed the idea upon these stories.  Truthfully sometimes I simply never stopped to notice what was actually in the text.

STORY OF JONAH

It was the Book of Jonah that first exposed how badly I had read my Bible and how the unseen lenses over my eyes literally changed the Bible to fit my patterns, systems and things surely believed.

In the Book of Jonah we will find:

King repenting
people repenting
animals repenting
we even find GOD repenting

But there is not a single solitary word of Jonah’s repentance. An instructive exercise is to read Jonah 2 and then read Psalm 51 and the Prayer of Manasseh (see my article to read this wonderful text, Prayer of Manasseh: Heartbeat of Jewish Spirituality).  The contrast between David (or Manasseh) and Jonah is not only stark it is intended by the narrator.

We have read the psalm in Jonah 2 and it sounds pious, religious and even thankful … but there is no repentance. Jonah is the master of religion but he is not contrite before God. Every line in Jonah 2 is from the Psalter … Jonah has memorized “the prayerbook” and knows how to say the right things. He believes himself to be the purveyor of “sound doctrine.”

But there is not a peep from Jonah’s lips that sounds remotely like David in Ps 51 or Manasseh in the Prayer of Manasseh.

Have mercy on me, O God …
Wash me, thoroughly from my iniquity ..
I know my transgressions …
you are justified in your sentence …
I was born guilty …
wash me …
create in me a clean heart …
do not caste me away from your presence [and Jonah wants nothing to do with God’s presence] …
restore to me the joy of your salvation …
I will teach sinners …
a broken and contrite heart …
(Psalm 51)

The contrast between Jonah and the Nineveh is glaring. They look like Job on the ash heap and they sound like David.

Jonah’s lack of repentance is highlighted in chapter 4 with his death wish (4.3, 9). But most glaringly is when he throws the God Creed back in Yahweh’s face (4.1-2, quoting Ex 34.6-7) as his motive for rebellion against the Lord. God’s willingness, his “pattern,” of relenting from punishment is the very basis of Jonah’s rebellion.

A GOLDEN CALF, MOSES, GOD CREED

Jonah’s quote of the God Creed is stunning and it is organically connected to our next story of our untamed God and his untamed ways. The origin of the God Creed is the Golden Calf episode (Ex 32-34). In a story that must be read together from Exodus 32 to 34, we find Israel returning to paganism. Moses storms down the mountain, smashes the covenant tablets of stone. Yahweh states he will destroy these ingrates and fulfill his promises to Abraham thru Moses (one should recall that Israel’s sin is worse than that of Nineveh, Israel has seen the wonders of Yahweh, but the Assyrians do not even know who this God is!).

Moses intercedes. Yahweh forgives. Yahweh renews the covenant with Israel. Yahweh comes to dwell with Israel anyway.

What is glaringly missing from anywhere in Exodus 32 to 34 is repentance. There is no sacrifice of atonement. No plea for mercy from Israel.

Moses prays. Moses offers himself as atonement but God rejects the offer.  But, as in Jonah, there is not a peep of “we have sinned against the Lord” in any form.  There is nothing.

What we have in Exodus is a magisterial declaration from Yahweh that he has forgiven. This is where we read

I will do the very thing you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight … and he {the LORD} said, ‘I will make my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, The LORD, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (33.19-20).

This is the Hebrew Bible equivalent of Jesus hanging on the Cross say “Father forgiven them …” Except it comes directly from Yahweh.

Then the Yahweh utters the epic God creed a few verses later in 34.6-7.

Yahweh, Yahweh,
God merciful and gracious
slow to anger,
overflowing with HESED and faithfulness,
keeping HESED for a thousand generations,
forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty.”

You will note that I have not quoted 34.7b. Not because I do not believe it however. But because it is likely not part of the God Creed itself as the grammar shifts from the self-declaration of God.  Also because when Jonah quotes the text, he drops v.7b and replaces it with “who relents from calamity.” That is Jonah interprets the Creed as a whole as not having to do with punishment but the absence of punishment. For more on the God Creed in Exodus 34.6-7 see my sermon here: “Preach the Old Testament #2: The Gracious & Compassionate God.”

In response Moses falls on his face in worship. God’s words in 33.17-19 and 34.6-7 mean what they mean precisely because there was no “basis” for forgiveness other than God’s will to forgive.

Israel did not motivate God’s grace by providing repentance. Its absence makes the God Creed all the more epic. No wonder it is quoted and referred to over and over and over again in the Hebrew Bible.

Jonah is exactly where the historical Israel was. God had showered grace and mercy upon him, God had saved him in spite of himself. Just as he had Israel. This is what makes Jonah’s attack up Yahweh and his plea for Yahweh to kill him so shocking. Such astonishing grace, given to Israel, would be a travesty if given to Nineveh. Jonah’s lack of repentance calls attention to the fact that he did not believe he needed Yahweh’s grace every bit, if not more, than the pagans in Nineveh.

A Note from the Apostle Paul

Is it any wonder that the apostle Paul goes to this very story in Exodus when talking about Israel in Romans 9-11 (9.14 citing Ex 33.19). Paul roots his words not in a theology of repentance or precision obedience (as much as Paul truly believed in true repentance and godly obedience!). Paul grounded his HOPE in the the God of the Golden Calf episode and the God of the book of Jonah.  The God who demonstrates those characteristics listed above.  So Paul quotes the Bible,

What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? [the perspective of the prophet Jonah]
By no means! For he [God] says to Moses,

‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons of knowing that God is God is that God is not obligated to wipe out anyone, even people you and I may think deserve to be nuked as Jonah did. It is this fundamental disposition of God to “relent” that is the one thing that gives us all hope!

Those of us who believe we have repented, that believe we have fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law, that believe we have done precisely what God has commanded … the question that we need to ask is, did we really? Jonah has convinced himself that he has done those things.

I do not know how such people sleep at night. I am quite certain that in spite of my best efforts at self examination that I probably have never done any command of God precisely as Jesus would have done … and that is the standard. So Moses, the author of Jonah, and Paul all hang their eternal hope upon GOD and his character.  I suspect the biblical writers are telling us to do the same thing.

Do not misconstrue what I have said. God does call us to repentance. But repentance is no meritorious act. And Scripture, in the most foundational narrative of the people of God, demonstrates God is God and mercy and grace are rooted in God’s own character.  This is precisely what Hosea quotes God as saying in Hosea 11.9, that is alluded to in the Book of Jonah!

I will not execute my fierce anger:
I will not destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no human,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.

In the Book of Jonah it is the pagans that repent and not the people (= Jonah) who have the Bible and correct doctrine.  Perhaps this is why according to ancient Jewish tradition the Book of Jonah is publicly read from beginning to end on the Day of Atonement. We want to join the pagans on the ash heap and we praise the God who forgives and reveals himself in the God Creed in Exodus 34 and ultimately in the Messiah Jesus.

Conclusion … Jesus’s Brother was Correct

So I end where I began. The Bible is a dangerous book. If we read it as God gave it it will constantly tell us that our patterns, our systems and our things surely believed are not always as sure as we want them to be.

James, the Lord’s brother, understood this truth as much as anyone, existentially! He had openly ridiculed Jesus in unbelief (John 7.1-5). Mercy triumphed over judgement in his own personal life, that is why he pens those words in his little letter (James 2.13).

Now I encourage you to read prayerfully Jonah 1-4 and Exodus 32-34. Listen to what is actually there. The author of Jonah assumes you are deeply familiar with the story of the Golden Calf …

K. C. Moser once quipped that God’s grace is his glory He was correct. Note how glory is connected to the grace name in 32.17ff and 34.1-7.

God will rock our world.

Our response is that of Moses and Paul … fall on our face and praise the King of Glory.  God will not be tamed but God is good.

Late night thought. There is controversy in some churches over what is called “the role of women.” So I want to list some indisputable facts about what is stated point blank that women did in the Bible itself. So here they are, indisputable facts. There is not a person that can successfully deny these facts.

The Register of Women from the Holy Spirit

Wives (no need for BCV)

Mothers (no need for BCV)

Lovers (Song of Songs 1.2-8; 2.8-17; etc) Song of Songs does not present women simply as the object of a man’s pursuit.  The Song of Songs is literally egalitarian beyond dispute. Many scholars believe a woman was the author of the Song.  The woman is the primary speaker and primary actor in the Song.  Sadly this book is typically and utterly ignored as having nothing to say regarding how women and men relate as equals.  See my series of blogs on the Song but especially Returning to Eden: Song of Songs, Celebrating Sex & Egalitarian Women.

Singer (Ex 15.20-21; 2 Chr 35.25; etc)

Liturgical Dancer (Ex 15.20; etc)

Deliverer/Redeemer (Miriam, Micah 6.4) The biblical tradition includes another woman redeemer, Judith. She was revered in Jewish and Christian traditions. Sadly she is practically unknown among modern Evangelical believers but Clement, a first century shepherd in Rome, held her up to the Corinthians as a model of faithfulness.  Luke echoes her in describing Mary the Mother of Jesus.  See among other places, Judith: Salvation by a Woman, Judith’s Psalm of Praise.

Judge (Judges 4-5)

Warrior (Judges 4-5)

Proclaimers of God’s Mighty Acts/Victory (Ps 68.10)

Mourners (Jeremiah 9.17ff; etc)

Prophet (Ex 15.20; 2 Chr 34.22ff; Lk 2.36ff; Acts 21.8f; 1 Cor 11.5; etc) See Huldah Who? The Forgotten Ministry of a Female Prophet

Entrepreneurs (Proverbs 31.10-31; Acts 16.14)

Workers at the Tabernacle (1 Sam 2.22)

Rulers (2 Chr 23; Esther)

Author (Esther 9.29, 32; Pr 31.1-9; probably Ps 131)

Pray-er (1 Sam 2.1-10; 1 Cor 11.4-5; etc) In the Greek Bible of the early church (LXX) there are many examples of women prayer warriors.  Susannah in the Greek version of Daniel.  Esther was known as a passionate role model of prayer before the Lord in the LXX.  Susannah was one of the most famous women in the early church and Esther (and Judith) were patterns to emulate.  See on the Greek Esther: Greek Esther: Prayer and Aid from the All-Seeing God and Savior

Legislator for Worship festivals (Esther 9.29,32)

Sage (2 Sam 14; Pr 31.1-9)

Teacher (Pr 1.20-33; Pr 9.1-6; Pr 31.26; Acts 19.26) See Selina Holman: New Woman and the Exegetical Conscience of Churches of Christ

The Voice of Wisdom (Proverbs 1-9, Lady Wisdom)

Worship/Musician leaders in the temple/Psalms (Ps 68.24-25)

Disciple (Jn 4; Lk 8.1-3; 10.38-42; etc)

Deacon (Romans 16.1-2) See Voices on Female Deacons in the Stone-Campbell Movement

The financial support of Jesus’s ministry (Lk 8.1-3)

Carrier of New Testament Epistle (Rom 16.1-2)

Traveling coworkers of Paul (Phil 4.3; Rom 16.6,12)

Evangelists (Jn 4.39-42; Phil 4.2-3) See Where Are ‘Apostate’ Women Preachers taking Us?

Patron/Benefactor (Romans 16.2)

Shepherds (Gen 29.1-9; Ex 2.15-19)

Hosts for congregations (Rom 16.3-16; 1 Cor 1.11)

First to proclaim the resurrection (Jn 20.17-18; Mt 28.1-10; Lk 24.1-12, 22)

I think too often we do not acknowledge these facts. In fact many simply do not know these facts.

 

Overlooked Memory verses on women in the Sacred Record

““Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with FULL AUTHORITY to confirm this second letter concerning Purim … Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records” (Esther 9.29, 32)

 

The Lord announces the word,
and the women who proclaim it
are a mighty throng …” (Ps 68.11)

or

Yahweh gives the command:
great is the company of women
who bore the [glad] tidings
(Ps 68.11)

Conclusion

Biblical women are not simply seen but not heard.  Nor are biblical women only allowed to participate in the singing of the church.

Women are the image bearers of God and reflect his glory into the world around. Biblical women are not just wives, daughters, handmaidens and caretakers of children (and nothing wrong with any of these!). Biblical women serve, at the call of God, every conceivable role that men have served in the Bible.

Some times what people call and mean by “traditional” roles of women they actually mean “male made roles for women,” not biblical roles for women.

5 Apr 2017

Yahweh, God of Grace for the Nations

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Church, Exegesis, Faith, Grace, Jeremiah, Love, Salvation

Several years ago Ronald Hals in an epic little book, Grace and Faith in the Old Testament (should be required reading, only 96 pages), noted that many western believers miss the “ocean of grace” in the Hebrew Bible because they have have not “learned to listen to it.” Grace, of course, comes to us via the Greek language yet the “OT” is written in Hebrew, so we do not expect it to use Greek vocabulary. To illustrate, simply because a particular language does not use the English word “car” does not imply there are not millions of “four wheeled internal combustion engine vehicles going down the road” in that country.

Grace Not Invented by Paul

Grace is not the invention of the apostle Paul. It is on every page of the Hebrew Bible. There are a cluster of words that proclaim the teaching, and they are everywhere. But more often the Hebrew Bible shows us pictures of Yahweh. When I lived in Milwaukee I became friends with a Jewish rabbi.  One of his statements to me has never left, “If Saul of Tarsus was half the student of the Torah his writings indicate he was then he did not need an encounter with Jesus to know that Ha-Shem is infinitely loving, merciful and gracious. It is on ever page of the Tanak.” I already knew that but to have a Jewish rabbi emphatically point it out was memorable.

Some of the most poignant images of grace in the Bible are the pictures of the suffering that Yahweh endures, not only from the sin of Israel but the sin of the nations. And of these, one of the most moving images is the “emotional catastrophe” (to use an image myself) that comes upon Yahweh, when God must finally deal with horrific sin.

Even when punishment must finally be given, after Yahweh’s long suffering, the Hebrew Bible voices these poignant words towards the murderous Babylonian Empire:

[I]n wrath may you remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3.2)

These images reveal what kind of God we worship. Jeremiah contains some of the most gripping of these. Christians are not mere theists! I am, in fact, an atheist towards many of idols and false gods that people fashion and worship. Christians do not merely believe just any god. We believe in and worship the Father of Jesus! That is the God of Israel revealed ultimately in the Nazarene.

Yahweh’s Merciful Justice

Near the end of the book of Jeremiah, there are a series of oracles against various pagan nations that have tormented Israel from the days of Abraham down to the the time of Huldah and Jeremiah. These nations have committed every war crime imaginable from enslaving refugees to raping women and making war on various non-combatants. Thus we read of Egypt, Moab, Ammon, and Edom. Each of these enemies of God have oracles “against them” in Isaiah, Obadiah, Amos, and other prophets. Jeremiah also notes that each of these nations, pagan idolaters all, and enemies of humanity, will finally be dealt with.

That does not sound very gracious, we may possibly think. But that is not the end of the story.  The ugliness of the Cross turns into the beauty of Resurrection. God’s judgement comes only after sometimes centuries of mercy. There is no knee-jerk in the Lord. God will stop evil! That in itself is Good News, just ask anyone that has been victim of continual systemic evil!

Jeremiah’s Images of Hesed and Grace

But punishment for the pagan nations is not God’s last word. After punishing Egypt, Yahweh declares his mercy on them. They, like Judah, with have an “exile” because of their sin. But “afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, says Yahweh” (46.26). Of Ammon, God promises them, “afterward I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites, says Yahweh” (49.6). And of Elam, “but in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam” (49.39).

It is with Moab, that ancient enemy of God’s people, that we get an incredibly moving picture of Yahweh. Moab is arrogant, prideful, worshipers of the demonic god “Chemosh.” They have been Israel’s enemy since the days of the Exodus. They too will suffer the fate shared with Judah from the Babylonian invasion. In language that echoes the Exodus narrative itself, Moab has brought the “destroyer” upon themselves.

But Yahweh, the God of Israel, loves Moabites. The knowledge of the self-inflicted consequences of their sin moves the Lord in powerful ways. As the consequences of that sin are manifest in Jeremiah 48, God bursts into tears. Our God!

Usually available for five bucks used via Amazon this book should be on your immediate reading list. Learning to “listen” (ears to hear) is the gift of this small treasure of a book. Just may change the way you read the whole Bible.

I myself know his insolence, says Yahweh;
his boasts are false,
his deeds are false.
Therefore I wail for Moab;
I cry for all Moab;
for the people of Kir-heres I mourn.
More than for Jazer I weep for you,
O vine of Sibmah! (48.30-32)

The narrative in Jeremiah does not simply tell us that Yahweh mourns and cries over the punishment of pagans. That is moving enough. Rather the text goes on to describe that this is a traumatic event for Yahweh. Moab’s punishment causes God pain. There is no image here of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The image is that of “Sinners in the Hands of a Suffering God of Hesed.” Note how Jeremiah directly connects Moab’s self inflicted wound to God’s pain.

And I will bring an end in Moab, says Yahweh, those who offer sacrifice at a high place and make offerings to their gods. Therefore my heart moans for Moab like a flute, and my heart moans like a flute for the people of Kir-heres; for the riches they gained have perished” (48.36).

These are arresting words to say the least. God’s heart “moans like a flute!” That is a powerful image. I think we are supposed to hear the sound of the flute as we read those words.

Egypt, Ammon, and Elam all “deserved” what they got as the saying goes. But such punishment seems to effect the Creator God deeper than it is possible for humans to imagine. In Jeremiah the Lord is torn to pieces by Judah his people (Jer 8-9). In Hosea God’s heart is “destroyed” at the thought of punishing his “son” (11.8). God has this same response at the thought of having to deal with evil in the pagan nations in Jeremiah.

But as with Israel, God’s last word to Moab is not punishment. God’s last word is the promise of mercy to Moab. God’s tears flow into rivers of grace for even the pagan nations. This is the God of Israel, the Father of Jesus of Nazareth, speaking,

Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab
in the latter days, says Yahweh.
Thus far is the judgment on Moab.” (48.47)

The Last Word … is Grace

The last word is is not that Yahweh will overcome the evil. The last word is that Yahweh will find a way to not only to remove evil from Moab, Egypt, Ammon, and Elam the bitter enemies of Israel and Judah for centuries. Rather the final word is that Yahweh will find a way to “restore the fortunes” of these nations.

The God We Worship

What kind of God do we worship? Jeremiah tells us we worship a God that loves even the pagan tormenting enemies of his own people so much, that he weeps so violently that his heart is like a flute in mourning.

What kind of God do we worship? Jeremiah tells us we worship a God who does indeed deal with evil ultimately by overcoming it. Now Jeremiah does not tell us how Yahweh is going to do that. But as disciples further along in the Story, we know that Yahweh has done this through a weeping and suffering Servant whom we call Jesus the Messiah of Israel.

Grace is on every page of the Hebrew Bible. God’s love is so rich, so deep, so powerful that the New Testament proclaims that Jesus is the testimony of Yahweh’s love for the world. A love that is not only for Israel. It is for the pagan nations. In fact it is not only for Israel and the pagan nations but literally for the “world.” John 3.15-16 is about the God of the “Old Testament” it is not about Jesus’s love.

No wonder Israel proclaimed in song to the nations, as our Psalms regularly point out, “your [Yahweh’s] steadfast love {hesed} is higher than the heavens” (Ps 108.4).

This is the message of the saved by Yahweh’s grace people TO the pagans that surround us. That my beloved friends is worth reflecting on.

The Old Days

Many years ago I began to pray thru the Psalms from beginning to end each month. There were a lot of reasons for this but it has truly altered my experience of the entire biblical text. I grew up with very little exposure to the “Old Testament” beyond a VBS level of instruction. The most consistent emphasis in my memory was that the “Old Testament” was largely irrelevant to “New Testament Christianity.”  There was major discontinuity between the “Old Testament” and “New Testament Christianity” in fact.  Its worship had nothing to do with Christians for it was grounded in ritual, legalistic, and was the opposite of “spiritual” worship thus it was “nailed to the cross.”

But I started to develop a love affair with the Hebrew Bible while in undergraduate college at what is now Heritage Christian University. I took my first Hebrew class in the fall of 1987 with Stephen Broyles. I ended up taking all the Hebrew classes available (Broyles was the only teacher, later I would take more Hebrew with Dr James Smith at Florida Christian College when I lived in Kissimmee and then at Harding Grad) majoring in the “Old Testament.” Broyles was the first to tell me to check to see “how the NT used the OT” a thought that never occurred to me. Why would Paul “use” the “Old Testament” when he was an inspired apostle and could speak on his own authority (something Paul rarely does btw).

Discoveries

Several years ago I picked up a used book by Henry Shires by the title Finding the Old Testament in the New. It is an older book dating back to 1973. I read it with great profit. Nearly one third of the book, chapter 6, was devoted to “The Book of Psalms in the New Testament.” Even though I had worked my way thru the Psalms many times by then I was blown away with how deep the NT writers are immersed in the Psalms.

This immersion carried forward into the early history of the church. And because it is impossible to exaggerate the Psalms in the early church, if a person truly wants to understand “New Testament Christianity” the Psalms are going to be involved in whatever they mean by the historical reality of first century Christianity.

I used to imagine early Christians were just like us. Everyone had a Bible! But in fact NO ONE had a Bible. No one owned even a portion of it. “Books” were scrolls and later a codex. These were incredibly expensive so books were kept in communal locations. They were read orally never silently to oneself. The Psalms was one of the single most important books in early Christianity. The Shepherd of Hermas was immensely important. If you want something besides a fantasy of early Christianity, Hurtado is essential.

I repeat, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Psalter in the life of Jesus or early church. I noted not long ago that of all the Christian manuscripts that survive from the first 3 centuries, the Psalms outnumber every book of the NT by magnitudes of order except Matthew and John both beat the Psalms by 1.  See my linked Psalms and the Temple: : What Jesus and the Early Way Experienced.

There are few things that have hindered (in my opinion) the appreciation of biblical faith more than the inherited Dispensationalism of the Stone-Campbell Movement. This misguided tool foists upon the “New Testament” text categories that simply did not exist in the first century. But it has been useful in polemical debate. We have to use it to get rid of instrumental music, circumcision, holy days … and Huldah!! But the use of the “Old Testament” by the writers of the New Testament proves beyond reasonable doubt that for them it was authoritative.

But that does not solve, in my mind, how the NT writers sought out the “Old Testament” (a phrase that no biblical writer ever used in reference to the books of the Hebrew Bible) to guide the “Gatherings” in the first century. See for example my linked Paul and the Unquestioned Authority of the Old Testament.

Ephesians 5.19 and the Psalms

Take Ephesians 5.19 as today’s example. For years we have gone to battle over the meaning of psallo. It is an inconvenient truth that all admit the word “at one time” included instruments. But the argument is, that, when Paul used the word it had changed and no longer included it. Debaters will say that TODAY’S Greek the word does not include instruments.  But there is a two thousand year journey there.

But then there is Josephus, a contemporary of Paul, who uses the word multiple times to describe Levites singing and playing on harps in the temple. But the claim is that Josephus is imitating classical Greek rather than koine. It really is quite complex in fact (and then you have those folks that say you don’t have to have a PhD to read and understand the Bible but then they mark arguments on psallo that are so complex that many PhDs cannot follow them!). All lexicons will tell you the word means to play in the LXX which is also koine Greek but debaters will not tell you that! Standard lexicons like Liddel and Scott will say the word includes instruments. Finding evidence for psallo including instruments is not difficult to do.

But while we fought over psallo, I missed something vitally important largely because I did not know the “Old Testament” like Paul and the first century church. I knew that Paul told the believers to sing … Psalms. This is why in the Church Fathers we find such devotion to the Psalter. Paul commanded that we sing PSALMS. Down through the history of the church there are numerous examples of believers that held the opinion that the ONLY “authorized” words to give to God in praise was the book of Psalms itself. The Regulative Principle forbade the use of “humanly made words” in the worship of God. Most have not taken this position but it is not a rare one (many in the Reformed tradition have held this position especially, they rejected humanly authored songs just as they rejected instrumental music).

What I missed for a long time, was that Paul’s entire directive is formulated in language that comes from the Psalter itself. Paul does not say just sing Psalms. Paul says,

sing and make melody to the Lord in your heart …”

sing and make melody [to the Lord]” is a directive that occurs in the Psalter no less than five times. The exact Greek phrase, “sing and make melody to …” occurs no less than three.

“… I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
I will sing and make melody to the LORD {ᾄσομαι καὶ ψαλῶ τῷ κυρίῳ}”
(Psalm 27.6 = 26.6, LXX)

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
Praise the LORD with the lyre;
make melody {ψαλῶ}to him [the Lord] with the harp of ten strings
(Psalm 33.1-2)

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody {ψαλῶ} to our God on the lyre
(Psalm 147.7, we recall that Paul mentions thanksgiving as well in 5.20)

Other parallel texts but not the exact Greek but very close …

O God, my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody
(Psalm 57.7)

My heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make melody …”
(Psalm 108.1)

What is noticeable is how closely associated the word psallo is to the phrase Paul quotes and its use in the Psalter. Is there any indication that Paul uses the word in a manner differently than in source material he quotes??

These last two texts, Psalm 57.7 and 108.1, also mention Paul’s other debt to the Psalter, “the heart.

The “heart” is one of the most common words in the Psalms occurring a whopping 105 times. It is beat out by “hesed” (steadfast love in NRSV).

You have put gladness in my heart” (Ps 4.7)

God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart” (Ps 7.10)

Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his [Yahweh’s] face!” (Ps 27.8)

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him
(Ps 28.7)

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king
(Ps 45.1)

“I give thanks to you, O LORD my God,
with my whole heart
and I will glorify your name forever.”
(Psalm 86.12)

I will praise you with an upright heart
(Psalm 119.7)

We can multiply these quotations but this is sufficient to make the point. Paul is not giving the Ephesian congregation some new “spiritual” directives for worship of God. Paul is literally channeling the Book of Psalms. The Psalms proclaim loudly, and clearly, that the values of a human being, the loves, the desires, the grateful worship with thanksgiving comes from the heart and are expressed in singing joyfully with music to the Lord.

Finding the Old Testament in the New

So some conclusions:

When Paul instructs believers to sing the Psalms he uses language from the Psalms themselves to do it.

When Paul tells us to “make melody to the Lord” he is quoting the Psalter itself. We “make melody to the Lord” (Psalm 27.6/Eph 5.19)

Making melody, as we have seen, is the sound of “thanksgiving” being offered to the Lord as we see Paul say the next verse in Eph 5.20, this too comes from the Psalms.

When the apostle conceived of a life of song, a life of praise, a life of thanksgiving, a life of worship, he framed it according to the Hebrew Bible and particularly the Book of Psalms. The “Old Testament” taught the “New Testament” church how to worship the God of Israel.  This is also why all the words that the New Testament uses for “worship” come straight out of the Septuagint … there is no exception to this.

The apostle that wrote these words in Ephesians 5.19-20, and the manner in which he did, is exactly why we can see this very same apostle going to the temple in the book of Acts to “worship” (Acts 24.11, cf 21.26-27) and declares to the anti-Semitic Roman believers that “the worship” belongs to the Israelites (Romans 9.4, a passage that is routinely silenced).

I knew that Paul mentioned singing Psalms in Ephesians 5.19. The significance of that never sunk into my consciousness however. But what I did not know for many years, was that Paul quotes the Psalms, when he tells us to sing the Psalms from the heart and given thanksgiving.

The reason I did not know was because I did had not studied one of the most important books in the first century church, the Psalms.

Today is April Fools Day. And sometimes I wonder if April 1 is the only day. This very morning my “news feed” on Facebook was hit by a number of very foolish and down right wrong “memes” posted in various “Church of Christ” groups in support of the identity markers of our group. The exegesis is as sectarian as Westboro Baptist Church and simply wrong. Some examples of things I read just this morning: the NT church does not use instrumental music because God rejected it in Amos; the King James Version is the only non-New Age Bible; Church of Christ is the only name of God’s church; and the “Plan of Salvation” with a cool graphic of steps with “hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized” all in ascending steps. There was a big down ward point arrow between the step of confession and the step of baptism that says “point of salvation, enter into salvation.” These brothers and sisters are loving and sincere I am sure but this is an instance of false teaching. All of these are. So I wrote the following …

April Fool’s Day Controversial Musings on Context and Sectarianism, I stress these are MUSINGS …

I begin with a question: How do I know if I am a sectarian? One indication is, do I misapply or ignore a biblical text to “prove something” to another individual that in its own context the passage does not support or teach. Let me give a personal illustration – you may or may not be able to identify with it.

When I was younger than I am, I was taught and used various techniques to convince other people that they were wrong and needed to be baptized. One memorable technique was what I call the “Unto, Unto, and Into” argument. This is a widely used argument. Here is a direct quotation from a church website, I saw this today so and it is not uncommon (I copy and paste it unedited)

The prepositions “unto” and “into” are grossly misunderstood by many religious people, and they fail to come to a knowledge of the truth because of persuasive but misguided teachers of false doctrines.

‘Unto” means toward, or in the direction of. “Into” means inside of, or within. Paul stated in Rom. 10:10, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Thus literally, belief and confession are unto (toward, or in the direction of) righteousness and salvation. But they do not put one INTO Christ.

Notice how entrance INTO Christ is obtained! The Apostle Paul stated (Gal. 3:26-21), “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” He further stated (II Cor. 5:11), “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” Baptism is the only act that the Bible says puts one INTO Christ. The other obedient acts point in that direction. When you enter a building, you may take many steps which bring you closer, or “unto” the building, but there is one distinct step which gets you “into” the building. UNTO” is not nearly the same as “INTO“. (End of Quote)

The biggest problem with this argument is that it is pure nonsense. It is wrong! It is false! It is an argument that can only be made only with a 406 year old version of the Bible.

This false teaching is based upon the unique idiosyncrasies of the King James Version and cannot be sustained by the Greek NT or any other modern English Bible. The argument is put forth to convince the person to do what you want them to do – it is not put forth in an effort to find truth.

So as in some kind of “step” or “ladder” repentance merely points to forgiveness, confession merely points to salvation/forgiveness, but baptism actually is “INTO” and not merely point to salvation. In fact this is graphically laid out in innumerable memes across the world wide web.

In fact the very texts quoted above (Romans 10:10 and Galatians 3.26f) destroy this “unto” and “into” argument. Does it ever occur to the person using it that the exact same Greek word is used in both texts to express relationship to salvation or Christ? That word is “eis.” Yes, “eis.”

For one believes with the heart and is so justified {or believes unto righteousness} that is EIS dikaiosune … and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved (EIS soterian). Romans 10.10. Faith is eis justification and confession is eis salvation. (In the Greek the word translated as “righteous” is rendered “justified” too. So we have that we need to deal with and is synonymous with “salvation.”)

Galatians 3.27 says we are baptized EIS christ. This preposition does not mean something different in these contexts. K. C. Moser years ago in his brilliant little Gist of Romans quietly put to rest this argument that was birthed out of a need to win an argument with the Baptists and not from reading the New Testament itself.

I am not attacking the importance of baptism. But baptism derives its meaning from faith and repentance and not the other way around.

I do not want to denigrate faith as if it simply points to salvation.

Faith is EIS salvation
Confession is EIS salvation
Repentance is EIS salvation

If we are to be biblical we need to hold these texts together and see how they function in their contexts.

Trying to be “distinct” from others often results in some interesting aberrations. The unbiblical, yes the language of Ashdod, that I have heard from every preacher I’ve ever witnessed perform a baptism is but one example.

“I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of your sins.”

I ask anyone to demonstrate that the addition of “for the forgiveness of your sins” to the words of the Great Commission is anything but the doctrines of men (in fact there is not a single example of anyone even being baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” much less all that plus “for the forgiveness of sins” anywhere in the New Testament). Give a single example of any NT baptism with that lingo used.

Where did Paul or Peter or Philip or anyone do such a thing? The addition is a human invention and a polemic against (again) the Baptists developed by some of our Re-baptist brethren. Alexander Campbell rejected the addition of the phrase as both unbiblical and sectarian. Baptism expresses FAITH in the Crucified Christ. It expresses repentance as well since we are burying one that has died to sin. This is why Mark 1.4 calls baptism “baptism of repentance eis/for the forgiveness of sins.”

One last notion. People grow in their knowledge. This includes baptism. Every text written by Paul, or Peter, that mentions baptism are, without exception, are addressed to people ALREADY baptized and NOT non-baptized people about to get baptized!

Romans 6 is telling already baptized people what baptism did. Galatians 3 is telling already baptized people what baptism did. Colossians 2 is telling already baptized people what baptism did. First Peter 3 is telling already baptized people what baptism did. Context matters.

The goal is to witness (Luke’s word) to fulfillment of God’s Promises in Jesus of Nazareth. My goal is not to witness to baptism. There is not a single sermon “on” baptism in Acts or the entire NT for that matter. When a person comes to faith in Jesus – not baptism – we do baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit or as in Acts they are baptized in the name of Jesus. This person will learn about the MEANING of their baptism just as a person that just got married will learn about the MEANING of the marriage as they live the marriage.

So I return to my opening question. If I deny the plain teaching of Romans 10:10 because it conflicts with my (“denominational”??) identity then I just might be a sectarian. Paul himself obviously had not problem with saying what he said about faith, confession or baptism.

Maybe instead of a ladder that we climb we need to recognize that we are saved by faith in the faithful Christ. We express our faith in him in many ways, changing our lives, making him Lord, following him to the water … all expressions of faith itself.

Part of a piece. Don’t use sectarian arguments because they allow you to win an argument. Musings concluded

29 Mar 2017

Jonah, the Son of Jonah and the Gentile Mission

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Acts, Exegesis, Jonah, Mission

Every time I study Jonah I learn something new. Sometimes things are staring me in the face but I am slow that I miss them. So here in the Rocky Mountains we are going thru Jonah in Bible class and this week I have been tracing the “sign of Jonah.”

Luke “plays” with the “sign of Jonah.” Peter and Cornelius come together much like Jonah and the Ninevehites. Here are some interesting things to note that are both parallel and sequential in the story in Acts 10.1-11.18 indicating that Luke is “fishing” with the Jonah story to shape how he tells the Cornelius narrative in Acts of the Apostles. I am also grateful when my suspicions are confirmed by other students.

1) It is a delicious irony that the man commissioned to go to a goyim is the “son of Jonah.” Peter is the “son of Jonah.”

2) Joppa is in both stories (Jonah 1.13/Acts 9.43) and there is hesitancy on the part of both messengers to go

3) Jonah and the “son of Jonah‘s” reluctance to be God’s messenger is overcome only by divine intervention (fish/vision). Jonah is in the fish three days (1.17) and the “son of Jonah” is given the vision three times (Acts 10.16; 11.10)

4) The commission to both Jonah’s is verbally parallel, “arise and go” (“anastethi kai poreutheti“, Jonah 3.2, LXX; “anastas … kai poreuou, Acts 10.20)

5) the goyim “believed” (empisteuo/pisteuo, Jonah 3.5; Acts 10.43) in the word and were forgiven

6) the response of the goyim elicits a hostile response (Jonah 4.1; Acts 10.14; 11.2)

7) God responds to the hostility (Jonah 4.2-11; Acts 11.17-18)

It seems to me that Luke’s point here is that the God that sent Jonah and the God that sent Peter are the same God of Israel. He extends grace and mercy to “everyone who believes” just as “all the prophets testify” (Acts 10.43).

The God of Israel has sought to bless all nations through his people and Jesus is the ultimate representative of Israel to the nations. The Jewish Messiah is everyone’s Messiah!

Blessings … oh yeah the “Old Testament” matters

I have defended the Christian freedom for this elsewhere for observing days in honor of the Lord, so will not do that here but Genesis 1.14-15 (TEV, NJB, etc) and Romans 14.5-6 are sufficient for people who accept the authority of Scripture. See the following for that defense: Easter/Pascha: Bobby V, Theology & Freedom, Part One; Easter/Pascha: Bobby V, History & What They Didn’t Tell Me about the Early Church, Part Two; Lent: Theology for Ash Wednesday & Bobby V.

Lamentations of Israel

In the Hebrew Bible, the people of God often recognized the Spiritual need to lament individually and corporately. So powerful was this urge that over half of the Psalms are lament.

Israel has a day of mourning or lamentation called Tisha B’Av or the Ninth of Av. On this day the whole Book of Lamentations is publicly read as Jews lament the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC and AD 70 along with the sin that led to such horrific destruction.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously
with her,
they have become her enemies

(Lam 1.3)

For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed

(Lam 1.16)

Look, O LORD, and consider!
To whom have you done this?”

(Lam 2.20)

Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we
may be restored;
renew our days as of old –

unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us
beyond measure

(Lam 5.21-22)

Lament is not simply about “complaining.” Rather it is about coming clean before God about the state of things and finding grace, shalom, healing, and renewal.

Renewal. Making things new. Healing the hurt of the world. That is what we seek. There are many things I can take responsibility for in my life and confess to God and beg God’s forgiveness.

But like Jesus lamenting on the cross, moaning the words of Psalm 22, we can confess that the hurt of the world is bigger than me, bigger than my sin, bigger than even all of us.

So the season of Lent, which reminds us of the power of repentance, it is totally appropriate to lament. We are messed up despite our best daily efforts. Our would is in such pain and such misery. And the Bible forces us to recognize the world’s hurt not just our own. So lament fills our world as people thrash about looking for answers.

The Hurt of the World

Thus the rock group Nine Inch Nails powerfully gave utterance to lamentation. But it is in Johnny Cash, who covered the song, the pain is nearly unbearable.

I hurt myself today
To see if I can still feel pain
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything …

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liars chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair

This is the Hurt of the world! Often times it is of our own doing. Many times it is not. Our culture teaches us to hide it all away. To bury it inside. To deny the pain and the hurt. And we die a little more as a result.

Sadly, churches often participate in this evil plot. It is weakness. It is a lack of faith. It is un-American. But it is profoundly biblical! It is in the lament that we let go and let God. It is in confessing the hurt of the world that we join the entire human race before the Creator God desperately in need of his renewal and his healing.

Lent provides us a specific “appointed time” where we can tell God we hurt. Here we can come clean over the failed marriages. Here we lament the broken promises as parents. The moments of selfish greed that wrought hurt. The times we have failed to love and cherish those that mean the most.

We can also, finally, lament the suffering, abused, and starving children around the globe. We can come clean to our failure to love our neighbor as God himself does. We join hearts with the moms whose tears, as in the Book of Lamentations, are their food. We lament that the powers of this world would rather build weapons of mass destruction than make sure their citizens have food to eat.

The world is hurting. Its people. Its animals. Its trees. God’s world is crying. The testimony of inspired Scripture lets us hear the hurt of creation. We often overlook these passages or dismiss them in our “Modern” worldview. Here are a few,

The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the earth,
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt …
The wine dries up, the vine languishes,
all the merry hearted sigh …”
(Isaiah 24.4-7, read down to v.13; See 33.2-9)

For the land is full of adulterers;
because of the curse the land mourns,
and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up ...”
(Jeremiah 23.9-11; see Jeremiah 4.23-28; 12.7-12)

Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel;

The Hurt of the World is everywhere

for the LORD has an indictment
against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or HESED
and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
THEREFORE the land mourns,
and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing
(Hosea 4.1-4)

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and share the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves …” (Romans 8.19-23)

Jesus’s Lamentation

We ourselves have hurts so deep that to even acknowledge them produces tears pain.

But in lamentation God’s Spirit works profoundly. In it we become dependent children trusting in our Abba that he not only will but IS somehow already healing the world itself and ourselves along with it. We join Jesus as he prays Psalm 22,

O LORD do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!”

Lament opens us up to not only healing but renewal. The Psalmist, and Jesus, gain divine strength to believe in a new future. Thus the Psalmist says (Jesus),

I WILL tell of your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I WILL praise you:
you who fear the LORD, praise him!”

and

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations
.

Gracious Healing of the Wounds

Somehow our hurts are mixed into the Messiah’s. Somehow the Messiah’s hurts are representative of the world’s. And as the Messiah joins us in our lament the miracle of God’s healing and renewal comes to all creation.

The Gospels point to the Cross as that moment of the Great Lament and the Great Renewal. It is there that the Messiah said to Israel, I am one with your Lamentations. It is there that the Messiah says to Johnny Cash, I am one with your Hurt. It is there that I join Jesus in lamenting the hurt of the world … and discover God’s New Creation.

During this season, this appointed time, take time to learn the language of biblical lament. Include the hurt of the world in your time of reflection.  Here the Holy Spirit works the even the hells of our own making and brings renewal to our world through the Messiah’s lament hanging on the Cross. His lament is everyone’s lament because at that moment the Jewish Messiah is every human that has ever hurt.

The Seasons/Festivals of Genesis 1.14

My “Natural” but very Unnatural Assumption

Then God commanded, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the night from the day and to show the time from the day, year and religious festivals” (Genesis 1.14, GNB)

According to Moses in the first creation account of Genesis, the lights were given to determine the worship calendar of Israel.

For a good portion of my life when I read Genesis 1.14 (memorized the chapter) I simply assumed that the “seasons” (KJV/NIV) where winter, spring, summer and fall. After all those were the only “seasons” that I knew anything about.

It never even occurred to me to ask, much less investigate, what seasons meant to an Israelite. I was a textbook example of simply assuming that my world and Israel’s world were the same. I was guilty of a huge error, that of anachronism.

I ignored the context of Israel, the context of Scripture. For those that believe biblical authority is real and not simply a slogan this error is anathema.

My rather “natural” assumption, shared by many in my Stone-Campbell heritage, that “seasons” was merely winter, spring, summer and fall, was anything but “natural.”  In fact it is quite unnatural because I brazenly ignored the vast historical distance between Genesis, ancient Israel and myself.

The biblical world was seemingly identical to my own world, except perhaps for cars and electricity but nothing that made me “see” the entire world differently.  It never once occurred to me that my ignorance was quite vast.  Israel’s “seasons” certainly were part of a calendar.  But Israel’s calendar was very different from the one we Americans use daily and simply impose without question upon the text.  Israel’s calendar is a lunar calendar and our modern one is solar.  Israel’s calendar was religious where as ours is not. I had no clue that Israel’s calendar and seasons might not be exactly the same as the calendar I use daily (which I never investigated) and its seasons were just like mine.

Israel’s calendar had “seasons” of course, but they are not what we call winter, spring, summer and fall.  Rather the seasons are times or festivals that celebrate the work of Yahweh as Creator and Redeemer. Israel’s calendar is much closer to what is known as the “church” calendar in our world.  But being raised in a rabidly anti-liturgical tradition, like the Stone-Campbell Movement, I likewise had only the foggiest idea of what that was.

I have since stressed the absolute necessity of honoring the historical context of Scripture. There is a massive cultural gap between biblical text, even the New Testament, and our everyday world. I have written about this Grand Canyon chasm here Evel Knivel, The Grand Canyon & Us: The Strange and Deep Gulf to the Bible.

Genesis 1.14, Calendars and Worship

Fifteen years ago I was working on my understanding of creation and new creation and Genesis 1.14 smacked me with my hubris. A number of facts came to light that I had no clue about. When I came to understand that the Genesis one was not written with Charles Darwin in mind, I was able to to ask “what did this mean to an Israelite in 1200 BC, 1000 BC, 700 BC, AD 1?” The instinctive apologetic against evolution was not even on their radar screen.  What did the text say to them? Several things, noticed and commented upon for centuries by rabbis, church fathers and others, became visible to me as well.

First, the word for lights is unusual. The text does not say “stars.” In other places where this word occurs, it is in the description of the Lamp Stand or Menorah in the Tabernacle. But the Tabernacle/Temple was something that I had paid almost no attention to at all, I had less appreciation for its significance in Scripture than I did for the word “seasons” in Genesis 1.14.

The Tabernacle/Temple in the Hebrew Bible is the place where heaven and earth meet, it is the dwelling space of God, it is a miniature cosmos. It is a map, if you will, of the whole realm of God.

The “lights” on the Menorah are the only illumination in the inside the sanctuary.  The lamps on each point of the Menorah look like stars or better planets against the velvet black sky. The night sky reminds us of being inside of the Tabernacle. It seems this term is deliberately chosen in Genesis 1.The word lights reminds us of the sacred furniture within God’s Space in the Tabernacle  (Exodus 25.37; 27.20).   The lights in the sky remind us of WORSHIP and the Tabernacle is a miniature cosmos.

Second, this is why the second word, “seasons” is also not the word in the Hebrew Bible that is used for winter, spring, summer and fall. It is the “appointed times.” In all the other uses in the Bible it refers NOT to summer/winter but to Passover, Tabernacles, First Fruits. It refers to festivals! For example the exact phrase from Genesis 1.14 occurs in the following locations in the Hebrew Bible:

And they shall stand every morning thanking and praising the LORD … and whenever burnt offerings are offered to the LORD on sabbaths, new moons, and APPOINTED FESTIVALS, according to the number required of them, regularly before the LORD” (1 Chronicles 23.31)

The contribution of the king from his own possessions was for the burnt offerings; the burnt offerings of morning and evening, and the burnt offering for the sabbaths, the new moons, and the APPOINTED FESTIVALS, as it was written in the law of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 31.3; see also Zechariah 8.19; Neh 10.33; Ps 10.19; etc, etc)

The “seasons” of Genesis 1.14 is translated “appointed times/festivals” more properly and is so in other texts.  But what are these “seasons” on the calendar that an Israelite in Hezekiah’s day would think of? They are outlined in several texts but the most convenient for our purposes is Leviticus 23 which uses the very language of Genesis 1.14.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: These are the APPOINTED FESTIVALS [or seasons] of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my APPOINTED FESTIVALS …” (23.1-2).

The seasons are Sabbaths and Passover/Unleavened Bread (23.1-8), First Fruits (23.9-14), Pentecost/Weeks (23.15-22), Trumpets (23.23-25), Atonement (23.26-32), Booths/Tabernacles (23.33-43).

When Moses had finished teaching Israel the “seasons” on the calendar the text reads, “Thus Moses declared to the people of the Israel the APPOINTED FESTIVALS of the LORD” (Leviticus 23.44)

Genesis 1 does not speak to us primarily of the seasons of the solar calendar though those are not necessarily excluded. Genesis 1 speaks of the seasons of worship, the festivals of the Lord. The new Moon marked the time go great celebration and worship to Yahweh.  The Moon and the lights told Israel when it was the season of Passover, the the season of Booths and the like.

It would seem that the worship of God begins on the first page of the Bible.

Did Ancient Jews Understand Genesis 1.14 as Festivals?

The Septuagint translation of Genesis also translates Genesis 1.14 as referring to the Israelite calendar. Sirach 43.7, numerous references in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jubilees, and Philo interpret Genesis 1.14 as referring to the Israelite worship calendar. Since many do not have these common to the ancients sources I will cite them.

From Ben Sira we read,

It is the moon that marks the changing of the seasons,
governing the times, their everlasting sign.
From the moon comes the sign for the festal days,
a light that wanes when it completes its course.
The new moon, as its name suggests,
renews itself,
how marvelous it is in this change,
a beacon to the the hosts on high,
shining in the vault of the heavens
(Sirach 43.6-8)

From Jubilees 2, a passage that is an interpretation of Genesis 1 itself,

And on the fourth day he made the sun and the moon and the stars. And he set them in the firmament of heaven so that they might give light upon the whole earth and rule over the day and the night and separate light and darkness. And the LORD set the sun as a great sign upon the earth for days, sabbaths, months, feast (days), years, sabbaths of years, jubilees, and for all of the (appointed) times of the years — and it separates the light from the darkness — and so that everything which sprouts and grows upon the earth might surely prosper. These three kinds he made on the fourth day” (Jubilees 2.8-10)

Many other passages can be cited from Second Temple Judaism, as well as the rabbis following the Second Temple period, that clearly indicates that Genesis 1.14 was understood in reference to the worship calendar of Israel.

Conclusion: Genesis 1.14 calls us to “Seasons/Festivals” of Worship

Roger Beckwith, who has studied Israel’s calendars in detail for many years writes in his Calendar and Chronology, Jewish and Christian: Biblical, Intertestamental and Patristic Studies, on Genesis 1.14,

when the lunar calendar appears in the Old Testament, it is often precisely in priestly, or cultic, contexts that it does so. Thus, it is hard to believe that Gen. 1:14-16 and Ps. 104:19 are referring simply to secular ‘seasons.‘”

Gordon Wenham concurs with our conclusions in his Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis 1-15,

“‘What is clear is the importance attached to the heavenly bodies’ role in determining the seasons, in particular in fixing the days of cultic celebration. This is their chief function’.”

Our brief exercise with Genesis 1 has shown us how unspoken assumptions can blind us to what is rather explicit in the text itself. Our experience of public worship conditions us, as surely as Pavlov’s dogs, to see certain things. For those raised on an allergy to Catholicism we have “naturally” hidden from our eyes anything that looks like “liturgy.” In fact our experience has subverted the text itself and we come away with something that no one for thousands of years actually did.

But Genesis 1 reminds us that the seasons, the festivals, the rhythm of worship is woven into the fabric of creation itself by its Creator.

The lights make us think of the Tabernacle and the “seasons” make us think of the pilgrimages to the Tabernacle … that is the festivals of Yahweh, appointed times of great joy, great fellowship with both humans and deity.

This is why numerous modern translations have abandoned the rendering of “seasons.” And seasons is a fine translation as long as we read it as an Israelite. The seasons are Passover, Tabernacles and First Fruits! Those are the seasons on Israel’s calendar.

So translations for a hundred years (thousands if we include the LXX and other ancient renderings) have had festivals or religious festivals in Genesis 1.14. These include Moffat, TEV, GNB, NEB, REB, etc and most commentaries.

From the first page of the Bible we are called to a different conception of time itself. The lights remind us to mark off God’s Time.

And I am reminded of the danger of ignoring the historical setting of Scripture. When I did I missed a fundamental point the Holy Spirit makes on the very first page of the Bible.

Genesis 1.14 is talking about time … festival time. The four “seasons” that North American Bible belt disciples grew up with were something that never even occurred to an Israelite.

Blessings

For Further Reading

David J. Randolph, “Festivals in Genesis 1:14,” Tyndale Bulletin 54.2 (2003): 23-40

John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One

Fox’s translation of the Torah is a work of art. He makes you work with the text.

Introduction

Those who are reading the Bible through this year (2017) have recently finished the Book of Numbers and are in Deuteronomy. I have been reading these holy texts in Everett Fox’s wonderful translation, The Books of Moses.

These first five books of the Bible are called variously “The Torah,” “Pentateuch,” ie sometimes “the Law of Moses.” These books are the bedrock foundation of the entire Bible and everything in the Bible.  Regardless of what we call these books they are fundamentally a Story, a narrative from Creation to Promised Land.  It is in a sense Paradise-Paradise Lost-Paradise Regained, or “Presence-Exile-Presence Regained.”

We can separate Genesis from Exodus from Leviticus from Numbers from Deuteronomy but that is really artificial.  There is only one Story and it runs thru these five books. Yet sometimes it is helpful to look at a portion of the Story but we need to remember the big picture.  So since we just finished Numbers, and it often horribly caricatured, I thought I would take a moment to offer some reading hints for Numbers.  It is a powerful book and offers profound guidance for God’s People to this day. It is my prayer that we will not only read it more but prayerfully with deeper appreciation of its powerful word.

Orientation to “In the Wilderness.”

English speakind disciples are done no favors by the tradition of calling this book “Numbers.” The usual caricature is that this book is endless genealogies.  I always know when some one has not read the book when they claim they were stumped in Numbers because of the numbers and names. Indeed “numbers” are a very small portion of the content of fourth book of Torah.

But the name of fourth book of Moses is not Numbers in Hebrew, its name is “In the Wilderness.” As with so many cases in the Bible this word, “wilderness” carries deep meaning. It is a description of the literal location of the people of God but also a wry comment on the condition of the people themselves. And this second notion profoundly speaks to modern disciples as well.  God’s people are “in the wilderness.”

“Numbers” is part of the Story of Paradise lost to Paradise regained. It cannot be separated from, nor even properly understood, apart from the larger story of Genesis to Deuteronomy. Numbers is about life between salvation event and destination of salvation realized. “We” are no longer in Egypt but have we arrived at the destination of our journey, this remains true today as Christians we exist between the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection at the end. We are “between the times.”

Therefore, I call Numbers “Life After Grace.” But what grace? What Grace! Only Gentiles would ask such a question! The Story of Genesis-Leviticus (the story thus far) is pure grace.  This grace:

A) Grace: God created all that is out of infinite love
B) Grace: When all creation was lost God elected a pagan, Abram, to bless the whole of creation
C) Grace: Yahweh’s Mighty wonders in defeating the gods – including “God” incarnate, Pharaoh
D) Grace: The crossing of the Red Sea and the defeat of the greatest army in the world without an ounce of Israelite work
E) Grace: Being carried on Eagles wings to Sinai and witnessing the revelation of God
F) Grace: Immanuel in our midst – God living with (in the very center!, Tabernacle, Lev 26.11-13) his people and walking among them just as in the Garden thru the Tabernacle
G) Grace: Being chosen to be God’s unique possession in all creation as his kingdom of priests

Ohhhh Yes the Fourth Book of Moses is Life After Grace! It is only after the grace of being engrafted as members of the covenant of love community, after passing thru the Sea, after having God’s indwelling Presence among us that we are marked as God’s People. And it is only then that we can move forward … this is our Story.

This is the Story of the People of God in every generation not just 3500 years ago. This is not just an ethnically Jewish story. It is the people of God story.  The apostle Paul certainly did not believe that “Numbers” was nailed to the cross. When teaching sound doctrine to the former pagans in Corinth (some seem like they are still pagans!) he teaches those Gentile believers to look at the generation “in the wilderness” as their own spiritual ancestors.  They are not “my” (Paul’s) ancestors but “our ancestors” (1 Cor 10.1).  Paul closes the historical gap between the Corinthian Church and the believers in the wilderness. He dares to claim that the wilderness generation were “baptized into Moses” (Paul uses the word “eis” here! 10.2) that they “ate the same Spiritual food and drank the same Spiritual drink” and that it was the Messiah that was in the wilderness (10.4).

The Corinthian believers are part of the same Story as the those in the wilderness. It is not a different Story. In fact they are the same “people.” The first century people of God were to be shaped and molded and indeed learn what it means to be the people of God from that ancient generation in the wilderness.  I suspect that Paul would say the same to the 21st century people of God too.

Our “book” can be organized in the following fashion as we try to, as Paul instructs us, understand this magnificent word from God’s Spirit. The book has the following narrative flow into three movements or parts.

1) At Sinai: Numbering and Organizing the Army of God, ch’s 1-10
2) Army of Rebellion and Death, ch’s 11-25
3) Generation of New Life, ch’s 26-36

The Army of God (Num 1-10)

Numbering, and organizing, the Army of the Lord of Hosts is the thrust of chapters 1-10. God’s redeemed from the death of slavery holy nation is transformed into the Army of the Lord while at the foot of Mount Sinai. The sense we get in reading is an overwhelming “how can we be defeated!?” We are God’s Army!! More than Conquerors.

With six hundred thousand fighting men, the army of God literally dwarfs even the greatest armies of the world (for comparison in the modern world the USA invaded Iraq with 148,000 troops). The first ten chapters almost lull us into a feeling of faithfulness, power, invincibility.

The narrative points inexorably to 10.11-13 which, for the narrator is the most exciting event (perhaps like the lunar launch!). The army of God is finally on the way to the Promised Land, with Yahweh as our Protector and our Guide dwelling in our midst. Israel is prepared to go forth as a “living doxology” to the God of all grace.

In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, THE CLOUD LIFTED from over the tabernacle of the covenant. Then the Israelites set out by states from the wilderness of Sinai, and the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. They set out for the first time a the command of Yahweh by Moses.

But notice Israel celebrates the Passover before they march. Worship, the response to the God of All Grace, grounds all life (ch 9) note the grace extended to the unclean and the aliens among “us” (9.1-14).  The image is of this massive redeemed nation, with a colossal army, with a God that has already defeated the greatest army in the world, is finally organized, finally delighting in God, ready to take on anything that can be thrown at them. Who can challenge the Army of the Lord??

So much so that Moses bursts into worship to conclude the section in 10. 35-36.

Arise, O Yahweh, let your enemies be scattered,
and your foes flee before you.

Wilderness is both a place and a “state.”

The Army of Rebellion and Defeat, ch’s 11-25.

The reader of Numbers is jarred with the unbelievable shocking contrast between the ending of ch.10 and the opening of 11. Indeed 11.1-3 set the tone for the degenerated “mob” that was just presented as the invincible army of the Lord.

Now the people complained in the hearing of Yahweh about their misfortunes …”

Here we are introduced, for the first time, “In the Wilderness” to the notion that God’s People are not just simply out in the boonies but that their hearts are no where near God. Interestingly enough the narrative plays on this by saying that the fire of the Lord  “consumed some of the outlying parts of the camp” (11.1). The “outlying parts” are those areas that are the farthest from the Presence of the Lord. Another wry comment that carries more meaning than simple literal distance. The people are far from the One who has redeemed them in love and married them making them his “treasured possession.”

That God’s people are far from him is manifested in that they complain, grumble, and live in constant rebellion. They are IN the Wilderness. Wilderness is not simply a place of geography but a STATE in which the faithless people of God are so frequently in – even today. Now this mumbling is all the more disturbing because Story to this point has been one of God’s Salvation, God’s Redemption, God’s setting the captives free, God living among them! They are cared for, they are organized into the greatest Army on earth.  Yet they complained about “their misfortunes.”  But it only just begins.

After attacking Moses in chapter 12, the narrator tells us of the gigantic army’s abysmal failure in the face of insignificant odds. The report of the spies (ch 13) must be read against the back drop of the Exodus and the census of the warriors in the first 10 chapters. Yahweh did not need a single Israelite soldier to bring the Egyptian Empire to its knees (a prayerful reading of Exodus 14 is in order)! In fact all Israel did was grumble and whine even then.

But Yahweh created for himself the largest fighting force the world had ever seen. No force in Canaan could hope to challenge the 600,000 man army of God! Yet the People of God saw themselves as mere “grasshoppers!!” Perhaps an echo of “who told you you are naked” (13.33) is going on here. What should have been the D-Day of Israel turned into a stunning moment of self-defeat. This is stunning UNfaith just as at the Red Sea. Israel is indeed “in the wilderness.”

They (we!) are so faithless that they want to undo Yahweh’s grace, they deny it. We need to grasp the shocking nature of Num 14! They want to hire an Anti-Moses – an Anti-Redeemer – the first Anti-Christ!!! and go BACK to Egypt (14.4). This is tantamount to telling Jesus we would rather he did not die on the Cross because we want to go back to slavery. Perhaps the text that sums up the whole book is the lamentation of Yahweh …

How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (14.11).

In a wonderful episode, Yahweh decides to eradicate such a perverse generation. They were beyond hope! or so it seems. So the text tells us that Yahweh will punish the people and fulfill his promises to Abraham using Moses himself (v.12). But Moses appeals to the Story.  Israel has already proved faithless from the very moment of salvation in the Golden Calf while the “vows” of the marriage were being signed. And Yahweh revealed the great John 3.16 moment of the Bible in Exodus 34.6-7.  Now Israel is guilty of rejecting the whole Exodus work of God. We should meditate on the significance of what is going on.  This is no mere failure of Precision Obedience on Israel’s part.  It is a rejection of the entire salvation narrative: plagues, deliverance thru the sea, divine indwelling, the manifestation of God himself. It is difficult to exaggerate the level of spitting in the face of God in Numbers 14. This is outright rebellion.  The Army of God has become the Army of Rebellion.

But Moses appeals to Yahweh’s own testimony that he forgives “wickedness, REBELLION, and sin.”  So the text says, and we the people of God need to hear this.

Now, therefore, let the POWER of Yahweh be great IN THE WAY that you promised when you spoke, saying,

‘Yahweh is slow to anger,
and abounding in HESED,
forgiving iniquity and transgression,
but by no means clearing the guilty,
visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children
to the third and fourth generation’

Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the GREATNESS of your HESED just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt until now” (Numbers 14.17-19)

This is the basis of all hope in the Hebrew Bible

Even the much maligned words about children Moses understood that as good news.  And if we pay attention to the narrative of “in the Wilderness,” the children of the Army of Rebellion were not punished. The children would become the Generation of Life in the wilderness as we will see below.  The self-declaration of Yahweh, appealed to by Moses “in the Wilderness” is the very truth that keeps God’s people alive.  Amazing grace delivered Israel from Slavery.  Amazing grace kept Israel as God’s people in the face not of mere sin but outright rebellion (see Psalm 121 on the “Keeper of Israel”). Paul did not invent the truth of “where sin increased grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5.20).

Faith is the Victory, and that truth is the core of the Torah in the Hebrew Bible … in the Law of Moses itself. The rest of the narrative of the Army of Rebellion to chapter 25, is one sad episode after another that culminates in yet another “Golden Calf” type episode in Numbers 25. The Generation that was to be the Army of God ends in utter shame as the Army of Rebellion.

 

Have God’s People ever left the Wilderness? Look at the history of the church. But the grace that is present on each page of the “Book of Numbers” is that even in their faithlessness, even in their disobedient state, even as pathetic as they were … God never once abandoned his people, he never left them, he never stopped giving them the food of angels, though punished he never ceased showering them with his Hesed ... He never cast off his people in the wilderness. Even in discipline and punishment for rejection of the Gospel of God’s grace, Yahweh is true to who God is.  Why is it that we are so frequently blind to the astonishing grace of God when it is penned in neon lights by Moses!?

The Renewed Generation of Life, ch’s 26-36.

A new generation, raised “in the Wilderness,” is numbered.  But it is not numbered this time for an army but for distribution of the land, exists by a double grace. They inherit the Exodus and are preserved by Yahweh to show up the faithlessness of the parents. You can read thru these 10 chapters and almost miss how it changes. There is no more rebellion (not even a hint), there is not a single Israelite death recorded in these chapters and the whole focus of the book becomes future oriented to Life in the land of Grace. Thus the door of hope is open for God’s People … they do not have to be in the Wilderness.

In the narrative the present readers of the book belong to the Generation of Life, not the Army of Rebellion. It is where we are in the Story. What an encouraging word. The Story does not end in Rebellion but in Grace fueled Hope.

We need to see “Numbers,” like all of the Torah as a unified narrative as already stated. Leviticus and Numbers do not, and never have, existed “alone.” They are part of the Story. All the “laws” given are embedded in, and as part of, the Story of Redemption. They do not have life apart from the Story of Grace. To put it another way, the law of God does not function separate and apart from the Story of the Grace of God.

Faithfulness and Faithlessness

As a whole, “Numbers” proclaims loudly that God’s People are always on a journey in various stages of faithfulness and faithlessness. We never arrive at the destination of perfection. This “pattern” is embedded also in the Psalter. Note for example the historical Psalms 105, 106 and 107. God’s faithfulness is ingrained in the worship of Israel relating how God stuck with and loved Israel in Ps 105 (recounting the events of the book of Exodus).

The amazing Hesed of the Lord is exalted in Ps 106, following the narrative structure of God’s people “in the wilderness” even as we descended into gross sin (read Psalm 106 with Numbers). But true to his nature, Yahweh is Hesed after all!, this Psalm is bracketed by 107 which exalts the matchless hesed of God for the very ones who find themselves in various states of Wilderness. It concludes with the exhortation “Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the HESED of the LORD” (107.43). The Generation of Life has life solely because Yahweh is in fact the God of all steadfast love and grace.

Psalm 105, 106, and 107 is the worship re-enactment of the narrative the Books of Exodus and Numbers. What the people of God are supposed to get out of this Book of Torah is that God loves us in spite of our sin and we constantly throw ourselves at his feet for mercy. We need to pay attention to the Pattern. Numbers motivates grateful repentance and faithful devotion to our Lord, Redeemer and Husband.

Numbers 22-24

God’s Faithful Hesed Highlighted

The story of Shrek breaks out “In the Wilderness” (Num 22-24), a talking ass uttering words of wisdom is surely hilarious … and I think it is supposed to be memorably humorous.

When we read this episode “in the Wilderness,” we need to realize that in the narrative no one, not even Moses, is aware of what is going on. Balaam is summoned to curse the mass of unfaithful, ungrateful members of the Army of Rebellion.

But Yahweh refuses to allow this to happen. Even now they remain his treasured possession. We learn from this that Yahweh is constantly fighting our battles for us even when we have no clue what the principalities and powers have in store for us. The people of God do not even pray for protection against Balaam, they are unaware. Yahweh’s grace is upon even those who constantly are living in faithlessness. Paul did not invent the truth of “if God is for us then who can be against us?” What utter grace shown by God in being our Shield and Defender as we sing in the Psalms.

There is no one that is immersed, in the “Story” of God’s People, “in the Wilderness” that has any delusion that these people are God’s People except upon the basis of Yahweh’s own mercy. They want to go back to Egypt.   Yet he still chooses to live among them. God’s people will never be his people because we somehow get everything precisely right. We are his because even in our failures, he steps in the gap as in Numbers 22-24.  Hesed says I will not give up on you. And the God of the Bible never did give up on Israel … even in death he did not give up on Israel.

The Book of Numbers is the backdrop for the most quoted verse in the “New Testament,” John 3.16.  Jesus points to Numbers 21 in John 3.14f. The Rebellious Army, ever faithless, grumbles at the very gifts of God’s grace in Numbers 21.4-9. What is so amazing about the Shrek story is that it tells the story of God protecting these ungrateful whining people. The Shrek story is about Yahweh protecting the “Army of Rebellion.”

Final Words

These are things Moses, Jesus and the Holy Spirit wished New Testament Christians understood about a book, though holy to the Lord, is rarely even opened by restoration Christians today. The great book called “In the Wilderness” is … where we learn that God’s people have less than zero claim to righteousness and yet God in a stunning act of Grace lives with sinful humans because he loves them. It is a book that shows us not only where God’s people were centuries ago but where his people have been since. We are routinely faithless, thankless, and ungrateful in the face of earth shattering grace.  We often run from the vision of being God’s victorious Army to be living if fear and defeat.

No wonder Paul pointed the church of God in Corinth to the people of God “in the Wilderness.” Numbers is Life AFTER Grace.  Will we live victoriously or will we live in fear and defeat.

Blessings.

The Way of Wisdom

Biblical wisdom literature deserves constant and prayerful reading for disciples of Christ. The Spirit gave them as tools to navigate in a good but fallen world. Often in life there is no mathematical formula for what to do. We need “wisdom” or “discernment” of what we should do. Wisdom rarely gives a specific rule. Rather Wisdom wants to make us wise for the various kinds of situations that come up. So we read “Answer not a fool according to his folly.” But in the very next verse we read “ANSWER a fool according to his folly” (cf. Pr 26.4 & 5). Which is it? The answer is, it depends! The wise person will know if the circumstances warrant a reply or ignoring. Wisdom is knowing when to say something, to know if the circumstances warrant a reply.

Form of Religion but No Power

Wisdom applies this principle to the big areas of abuse in our lives. Those are Food, Sexuality and Wine. Many Evangelical/Restoration type Christians want to make an ironclad law, “wine is sin.” No discernment. Just sin.

The position is utterly unbiblical not only in what it claims but also in its approach. Scripture never teaches, and no one in history ever imagined until the American Temperance Movement in the 19th century, that consumption of wine/alcohol was in itself sinful. No Jew and no Christian ever taught such a thing previously.

The Bible teaches “wisdom” in regard to these matters (food, sex, wine). Indeed biblical wisdom places gluttony, or over eating, in the same category as drunkenness but extremists always either deny it or ignore it. But the Sage says clearly,

Do not be among the winebibbers,
or among the GLUTTONOUS eaters of meat;
FOR the drunkard and the glutton will
come to poverty, and drowsiness
will clothe them with rags
(Proverbs 23.20-21)

Both food and wine are gifts that are abused by the unwise. They are moral equivalents here and other places.  Indeed God seems to take gluttony with utter seriousness and nuked Sodom for its excess in this matter.

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She was arrogant, OVERFED and unconcerned for the poor” (Ezekiel 16.49)

However I have never seen Evangelicals condemning 10 ounce steaks at the Outback as sin. Nor do I see them, based on Pr 23.20-21 saying that eating meat is sin. Yet gluttony and drunkenness, both examples of a lack of self-control and over indulgence, are exactly the same. They are behaviors of the unwise.

Food, Sex, Wine are all divine gifts of grace. Each one has the potential to be very harmful if abused. None is sinful. Wisdom teaches gratitude and respect for each.

I was publicly castigated for suggesting this rather plainly taught Scriptural truth. So I visited the book that most Christians forget exists, Song of Songs. Our ignoring this brilliant and beautiful Spiritual book shows itself in our leaning toward pagan ascetic attitudes. As unpopular as it may be with some, there is not the slightest hint in Scripture that wine is any more toxic than sexuality or food. It is their abuse that is condemned. Here is the biblical Wisdom Triad:

Food is Gift from God. Gluttony is abuse of gift and sin.
Sex is Gift from God. Fornication is abuse of gift and sin.
Wine is Gift from God. Drunkenness is abuse of gift and sin.

Though these are repeatedly mentioned as gifts to be thankful for some extremists embrace nearly Gnostic attitudes of asceticism which Scripture refuses to endorse. Paul explicitly condemns ascetic attitudes and directly connects it to God as Creator, 1 Timothy 4.3-5,

“through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage [= abstain from sex because it is bad and produces a faux spirituality] and demand abstinence from foods [= abstain because it produces a faux spirituality], WHICH GOD CREATED to be received with THANKSGIVING by those who believe and know the truth. For EVERYTHING created by God is GOOD, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with THANKSGIVING; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.”

Paul will have nothing to do with the Creation denying false and pagan spirituality of asceticism.  When he speaks here he is channeling the entire Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism … these are pagan notions (these have been manifest in Christian history as neo-Platonism and Gnosticism) not Hebraic ones that he condemns in 1 Timothy 4.1-5.

The Creator God Gives Divine Grace in Food, Sexuality and Wine

But these gifts of grace (Food, Sex, Wine) are held together beautifully in Scripture itself. I have two daughters. We have a gun. I have not told my girls that having a gun is a sin. It is a sort of hobby nothing else. I have not taught them to fear guns. I have not taught them that having a gun is a sin. The biblical path of wisdom on food, sex and wine is respect them it as God gave them.

So Proverbs warns about adultery. But also praises sex as God intended it. So Proverbs warns of excessive eating (gluttony). But also teaches us to be thankful for food. So Proverbs warns of drunkenness. But also teaches gratitude and proper use (see Proverbs 3.9-10; 9.1-6; 31.6-9 for grateful use of wine; see 20.1; 23.20-21; 23.29-35 on abuse of wine).

This is what we do with guns. We teach how to respect and properly use this gun. It can cause serious pain and suffering if not respected and can even kill. Guns can be extremely dangerous in the hands of a fool. Just as food, sex and wine are dangerous in the hands of a fool. Thus I have taught my girls about boys … I do not want them to live in fear of men. I pray that a godly man will come to both my girls.  But they also need to know that there are dangers in any any relationship. Be wise in that relationship.

Song of Songs & Divine Gifts of Grace

But these (Food, Sex, and Wine) are held together repeatedly. I have quipped in the past that Song of Songs is a book that most Christians pretend does not exist. Some do not even read it. Clearly the Song exerts no discernible affect on most disciples theology/doctrine. But that is why it is there! One of the greatest treasures, not the only one, of the Song is that it vaccinates God’s people from the faux pagan spiritualities of neo-platonism and neo-Gnosticism both of which major in denying the inherent goodness of Creation itself.

But Song of Songs will have none of these neo-gnostic tendencies that deny the goodness of God’s creation (bodies, sex, food, wine, etc). These are GOOD.

And Song of Songs is not shy about WINE. It embraces the goodness of wine just like it does the goodness of sexuality. And it uses food and wine to talk about sex as GIFT from God. Indeed love, food and wine go together in the Song of Songs like a horse and carriage.

Further the Song compares the intoxicating nature of love with the intoxicating nature of wine. There is not the slightest hint in Song of Songs … something that God wrote thru the Holy Spirit … there is not the slightest hint that there is something morally tainted about 1) food 2) sex 3) wine. Lets look,

1.2 “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For/because your LOVE is better than WINE

For this comparison to have any validity the wine not only has to be some pretty potent stuff but also morally desirable  other wise the metaphor does not work.

1.4 “We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love MORE than WINE

Here again this comparison is based on the potency of the wine. The JOY of love is even more intoxicating that wine.

4.10 “How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride!
how much BETTER is your love than wine”

once again this image is based on the nearly narcotic (to use a fitting metaphor) effect of wine. She is even more addictive than wine. This is how the “compliment” works.

5.1, “I come to my garden, my sister my bride;
I gather my myrrh with my spice,
I eat my honeycomb with my honey
I DRINK MY WINE with my milk

Then the text uses two imperatives:

EAT, DRINK, friends and be DRUNK with love

This text in 5.1 is a direct and explicit comparison of the intoxication of wine and the intoxication of sexual love. And for the critic’s sake, note how Food, Sex and Wine all are in this verse and celebrated.

7.2 “Your navel is a rounded bowl
that never lacks mixed wine

This text is so self-evident how can we even begin to imagine that it is a NEGATIVE comment on wine or that the author thinks yayin is Kool-aid!! Now the Platonists and the neo-Gnostics hated this stuff. The Platonists allogorized it away and the Gnostics simply chunked it out of scripture.

7.9 “your kisses like the finest wine
goes down smoothly,
gliding over the lips and teeth

this is pure celebration by the Spirit guided author. Kissing is good. Kissing is enjoyable. Kissing is exciting … it even more powerful than wine. For this image to have any legitimacy the WINE has to be powerful stuff!

8.2 “I would give you spiced wine to drink,
the juice of my pomegranates

I do not think this can be misunderstood. The image utterly fails if the comparison is to “kool aid,” Dr Pepper or water. Sexual love does something to human beings that is like what sexual love does to human beings. And she not only compares it to wine but “spiced” wine. This is Good. This is Godly. This is celebration. It is Food as gift. It is Sex as gift. It is Wine as Gift!!

There are a number of other allusions to intoxications in the Song of Songs. They merit serious study and appreciation. Further the images of food, sexuality and wine mingle all thru the book under the Holy Spirit’s supervision. Each points to the GOODNESS and the GREATNESS of the divine gift.

Gifts. Gifts. Gifts. God’s Gifts

In the Bible, these (Food, Sex, Wine) are inherently good. Thus we see wine and other intoxicating drinks were used in the worship of God being poured over sacrificial offerings on the altar as drink offerings (look them up, Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5,7,10 18:12; 28:7,14; Deuteronomy 18:4; 1 Samuel 1:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5; Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Nehemiah 5:11; 10:37,39; 13:12). And the ministers were even paid with wine! The Levites received wine for themselves from the tithes given by the worshipers (Numbers 18:30).

In the Song these things (Food, Wine & Sexuality) are celebrated.
There is not the slightest hint of embarrassment.
There is not the slightest suggestion that God is displeased.
In fact it may be an insult TO God according to the Song to imply such a thing.
These are pure gift of divine grace to humanity.
Song of Songs illustrates the plain statements of other scriptures:

you give wine to gladden the human heart” (Ps 104.14)

Go, eat your bread [food = gift] with enjoyment,
drink your WINE with a merry heart [wine = gift]
FOR GOD APPROVES OF THIS …
Enjoy life with your wife whom you love [intimacy/love = gift]
(Ecclesiastes 9.7-9)

Wine is stated, explicitly, to be a REWARD or BLESSING from God for faithfulness and obedience to his covenant,

If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, the LORD your God will maintain with you the covenant of love … he will love you, bless you … [with] grain, WINE …” (Deut 7.12-13; see 11.14 and 33.28 among many other places)

Conclusion: Biblical Wisdom is Gratitude and Respect

We really should read the Song of Songs more. It will liberate us from neo-platonic and neo-gnostic tendencies that attack the doctrine of creation and lead toward paganism in asceticism. The Bible teaches respect and gratitude for the gifts of grace God has given.

Food is gift to be thankful for. Gluttony is an abuse of the gift and sin.

Sex is a gift to thank God for. Fornication is an abuse of the gift and sin.

Wine is a gift of grace to rejoice and thank God for. Drunkenness is an abuse of God’s gift and sin.

Wisdom teaches gratitude for God’s gifts. Wisdom teaches respect for God’s gifts of grace. Wisdom teaches proper use of God’s gifts. Wisdom teaches us to celebrate the goodness of divine gifts and caution against abuse of them. But there is no where in biblical wisdom for asceticism. Such is a pagan notion and there is nothing spiritual about it. Rather food, sex and wine are all grace and celebrated with passion in the Song of Songs. We would have a far healthier view of our world if we heard the greatest of all Songs more. It is Holy Scripture and it is good for doctrine, righteousness and equipping the person of God for all good works and things (2 Timothy 3.15-16).

For other thoughts along these lines see my Beer & the Bible: What the Bible Really Says.

See also my series of blogs on the Song of Songs, Holy of Holies: Returning to Eden, The Song of Songs, Sexuality & Spirituality