Josiah’s Passover & The Lord’s Supper

This week we wrap up our series Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We’ve taken an overview of the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of God’s faithfulness. We’ve discovered that Yahweh keeps his promises regardless of what we humans do. We also discovered that our actions affect the way God’s faithfulness impacts us. When we live the life he calls us to then his faithfulness is a blessing. When we live contrary to his faithfulness, our sinful actions have painful consequences. This is what we saw the last two weeks as we looked to the 8th century BC in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah. The sin of Israel and Judah will bring painful consequences to the people, but God will remain faithful to heal and to save when they repent.

This week we turn to 2 Kings 22 and look at the story of Josiah. About 100 years after Hosea and Isaiah the 8 year old Josiah became king. Following the wicked reigns of his father and grandfather, Josiah chose not follow in their footsteps. We read that he was much like King David, and today is recognized as the 2nd greatest Davidic king.

All of Jerusalem had forgotten Yahweh. His temple had fallen into disrepair and had become the site of worship for Baal, Asherah, and star worship. Josiah ordered to restore the temple of Yahweh, and during that restoration a copy of the Torah was found (presumably Deuteronomy). Nobody knew about God’s word, or what to do with it. When Josiah heard the Torah read, he ripped his robes and sent his advisors to the prophet Huldah to confirm if what they were reading was true. 

The female prophet told these men that indeed the word of Yahweh was true and the punishment foretold in the Torah was coming. But she also had a word of peace for Josiah because of God’s appreciation for his heart. This destruction would come upon Jerusalem, but because of Josiah’s repentant heart, it would not happen during his lifetime.

Josiah calls all the people of Judah and reads aloud the Torah (as prescribed in Deuteronomy). When the people heard the words of Yahweh, they all pledged themselves to keeping the covenant. All of the idols and instruments of pagan worship were destroyed and removed and Josiah issued this decree:

“Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” – 2 Kings 23:21 NIV

In celebration of the renewed hearts and renewed commitment to Yahweh, the people eat the Passover.

Every Sunday at our gathering, we renew our hearts, we renew our commitment to Yahweh, and we eat the Lord’s Supper, a reapplication of the Passover by Jesus on the night he was betrayed (Mk. 14:16ff).

This week as we gather to worship, let us recommit to the mission and the covenant that Yahweh has made with us. And then let us eat the Passover of Jesus.

Sermon Text for 11/24/19 – 2 Kings 22:1-23:23; Mark 14:16-25

You Don’t KNOW God!

This week we continue with Great is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the book of Hosea. If you are unfamiliar with Hosea, it should only take about 10 minutes to read through the whole book. I’d encourage you to do so before our Sunday gathering. The focus of Hosea is to remind Israel (and us) of the painful consequences that come from rebelling against God, but at the same time reminding us that God’s love and mercy are far greater than all our sin.

Hosea does this by using two main images. The first is comparing Israel’s idolatry to prostitution/adultery. The second is more subtle, and involves the Hebrew root word yada which is frequently translated as “knowledge” or “acknowledge.” But yada is more than just knowing about someone. It is deeply and intimately knowing someone. In short, it’s true relationship that God desires from us. Over and over Hosea points the reader back to this truth. Let’s look at a few uses of this word in Hosea. (I’ll italicize the related word to yada in each verse.)

  • Hosea 4:1 – “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.”
  • Hosea 4:6 – …my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests…
  • Hosea 5:4 – “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord.”
  • Hosea 6:3 – Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him.
  • Hosea 6:6 – For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Did you notice that last verse? Jesus quoted that on several occasions, and Mark’s gospel ties it to the Greatest Commands (Mk. 12:33-34). In Matthew 9:13 Jesus quotes this verse to explain to the Pharisees why he is eating with sinners and tax collectors. In Matthew 12:7, it is in regards to the Pharisees accusation of Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath laws.

It seems to me that Jesus was trying to get the Pharisees to realize that they were acting quite a bit like the northern kingdom of Israel that Hosea was speaking to. They “knew” God, but they didn’t have the kind of relationship that He wanted them to have. They had exchanged relationship for ritual. This caused them to see Jesus’ actions as violations of rules rather than the Kingdom of Heaven on display. They became spiritually blind because they didn’t yada God.

This same sin plagues the church today. Some of us get so wrapped up in the ritual (wanting our worship the way we want it) rather than the relationship our God seeks from us. Hosea’s message is that God’s ultimate purpose is to heal and save. If we aren’t doing the same in our churches, our communities, and our families, then we don’t yada God! I’ll let Hosea have the last word.

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

Hosea 14:9 NIV

Sermon Text for 11/10 – Hosea 11; Mark 10:13-15

Looking At Ruth And Seeing God

This week we continue our sermon series called Great Is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the character of God revealed to us in the life and actions of widowed pagan foreigner by the name of Ruth. We looked at Ruth in our sermon and our auditorium Bible class back on July 14th. But I think it’s a point that is important enough for us to look at again. But before we look at Ruth, let’s begin by looking at God.

The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7 NRSV

The phrase steadfast love is the Hebrew word hesed. It’s how God introduces himself to Moses. It’s the very character of God and can be described as a “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” kind of love. When Moses is reminding the people of God’s covenant with them in Deuteronomy 7, he once again reminds the people that they serve “the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments…” (Deut. 7:9 NRSV) Again…hesed.

Now to the story of Ruth. Naomi has lost her husband, and her sons. She is going to return back from the land of Moab to Bethlehem in Judah to live out her days. She bids farewell to her two daughters-in-law (somewhat successfully) by saying “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.”  (Ruth 1:8 NIV)

Hopefully the bold words have tipped you off. The Hebrew word there is hesed. Notice that Ruth and Orpah are commended for showing hesed to Naomi and their husbands. Naomi is blessing them by asking Yahweh to do hesed to them as they have already done hesed to her and her sons.

This would be shocking to the original Israelite readers of this short story. The characters that most embody the character traits of Yahweh are not Israelites, nor faithful worshipers of Yahweh, nor wealthy, nor are they males. They are Moabite widowed women. Orpah quickly exits the narrative and we hear from her no more, but Ruth continues to be an example of Yahweh’s hesed through her relationship with Naomi.

Many different applications can be made here. But for now I want us to consider this one point. As we were reminded by the Deuteronomy 7 passage above, a clear example of God’s faithfulness is his hesed. To quote Bobby Valentine, “[Hesed] is the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the ’Jesus Creed.’” We discussed that last week. Sometimes God’s hesed is brought to us through our neighbor’s actions and faithfulness toward us and others. And we too are called to bring that hesed to others through our actions and relationships. 

When we look at the faithfulness Ruth shows Naomi, we begin to see a glimpse of the faithfulness of our God. To quote Jesus, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk. 10:37)

The Problem With the Ten Commandments

The Decalogue, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments, have impacted the world in ways that very few things have. They are the basis for many legal systems, they are foundational to our understanding of God, and unfortunately they are the source of much controversy in our day and time. They are a small portion of the sum of God’s Word given to Moses, and yet everyone seems to know (or know about) them. 

And still I think they are greatly misunderstood. The Decalogue is referenced throughout Scripture, and is present in its entirety in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. And yet even in these two passages there are differences between the two lists. They are ten “words” to be literal with the Hebrew language, and even what exactly those ten are is debated. Jewish readers will tell you the first command is:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Deuteronomy 5:6 NIV

If one counts this as a command rather than an introduction, then you wind up with 11. Various groups have debated on how to settle that discrepancy, some by uniting 2 & 3 (Dt. 5:8 & 11), while other groups combine 1-3 as one command and divide up the last command into two parts (Dt. 5:21).

In reality, determining the exact grouping is not as important as the text itself. But even the text is problematic when removed from the context of the Torah…after all the Decalogue isn’t independent of the rest of Torah, and really serves as more of a summary, or a statement of understanding before we get into the more technical parts of the law. What kind of killing is defined as murder? That detail is not in the Decalogue. We need the rest of the Torah for that.

Many government buildings have had statues, or monuments removed because the Decalogue was printed upon them. And while I can understand the Christian’s desire to see these monuments remain, I’m also puzzled. If we want God’s Word present at these government buildings, then why not seek to have the Sermon on the Mount put on a monument instead of the Decalogue? Or better yet, why not the Greatest Commands?

When Jesus was asked what the greatest command was he gave two, not one. They are connected and inseparable. I would suggest you cannot fully keep one without the other. Fully loving God requires loving your neighbor, and truly loving your neighbor requires you know and love God. 

I think it’s worth noting that neither of the commandments Jesus gave came from the Decalogue. Rather they come from the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) as well as the eighteenth verse of the various laws found in Leviticus 19.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 

Mark 12:28-31 NIV

Jesus said all the laws and prophets hang on these two commands (Mt. 22:40). Even the Decalogue falls short when compared to the Greatest Commands. Love God with all of your everything. Love your neighbor as yourself. “There is no commandment greater than these.” 

The real problem with any commandment from God is that if they simply exist in writing, they are useless. These monuments with the Ten Commandments inscribed have done little to prevent our culture from turning further and further from God.

Perhaps our world would be better served by Jesus’ followers living out the Greatest Commands instead of relying on words carved in stone. 

(Sermon text for 10/6: Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 12:28-31)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 54

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 51-55

This is going to be a short one because #Sunday, and Psalm 54 is a pretty short and succinct song.

We all go through seasons where people would rather cast judgement on us rather than talk to us. This happened to me recently where someone took issue with something I said and instead of coming to me they went and talked about it to someone else.

Psalm 54 resonated with me today. Though I have received no death threats, I do feel like “Arrogant foes are attacking me.”

Whenever people live and love like Christ and shine his light in this dark world, people who hate the light will fight back. Thankfully there’s a psalm for that.

Shine his light bright. Proclaim his Word. And when people attack you for doing so, know that you’re on the right track.

Blessings!

Miriam: Prophet of God?

This week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play as one of the three deliverers of Israel from Egypt, as well as the namesake of the mother of Jesus! (Our English translations notoriously anglicize names in Scripture. “Mary’s” literal name is “Miriam,” which should draw us to compare the two.)

We first encounter Miriam in Exodus 2 as she looks after the ark in which her baby brother Moses is hidden. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Moses, it is Miriam who suggests finding a Hebrew woman (Jochebed, the mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam) to nurse the baby. The Exodus narrative shifts to focus on the power of God over Egypt through many signs and wonders, and we once again find Miriam after the crossing of the Red Sea.

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”

Exodus 15:19–21 NIV

If you are reading, thinking, “I didn’t know women could be prophets,” this is exactly why I’m writing this article. Let’s remove any cultural biases we may have and see Scripture the way the writers (and the Holy Spirit) intended. So Miriam is a prophet! That means she is a spokesperson for God responsible for teaching, preaching, and instructing the people of Israel in the word of God. One of the ways Miriam proclaims the word of God is by leading the women in singing and dancing in praise of God! Scripture also informs us that Miriam was considered a leader of Israel right alongside Moses and Aaron.

“I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.”

Micah 6:4 NIV

I feel it important to comment on efforts to dismiss Miriam’s role, or status as a prophet and leader of Israel because she is a female. Yet if we simply let Scripture speak for itself and accept it for what it says, we will have a more accurate view of who God is, and be blessed in doing so. The truth is God uses who he wants, regardless of what we think he should do. He chooses people who bring him glory and accomplish his purposes in this world. God created both male and female in his image (Gen. 1:27) to proclaim his message, and Miriam did just that! She was not perfect, and was punished by God for treating Moses with contempt, but Moses and Aaron pleaded for God to restore her (see Numbers 12). Nevertheless, she is one of many female prophets listed in the pages of Scripture and deserves to be appreciated as such.

Consider the parallels between Miriam in the Hebrew Scriptures and Mary/Miriam in the Gospels. Besides sharing the same name, both protect the savior of Israel in Egypt (Ex. 2:1-10/Mt. 2:13-18), both write and sing songs to tell of God’s salvation (Ex. 15:20-21/Lk. 1:46-56), and their placement is important – Miriam at the beginning of the story of Israel as well as Mary/Miriam at the beginning of the story of the renewed Israel through our savior, Jesus.

Next week we will take a look at another female prophet who is often minimized, contrary to what Scripture tells us about her.

You’re Probably Reading the Bible the Wrong Way (Part 2)

In my last article I mentioned that followers of Christ need the entirety of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) in order to really understand God’s Word revealed to humans. Many will try to say we only need the New Testament, but this is not what the writers of the New Testament believed. They knew the entire Word of God was important (see my last article for further explanation.)

70% of the Bible is story. It’s narrative description of what has happened to humans seeking to honor God (or not) with their lives, and God’s interactions with those people. The other 30% of the Bible is messages back and forth between members of the story…letters written between the characters of the story. We need all of this to see the story of the Bible, as well as to properly understand Scripture in its own context.

Scot McKnight puts it this way in his book, The Blue Parakeet:

“There is not just one and only one story in the Bible. But there are two nonnegotiables (sic) in the Bible’s Story. First, there is a general plot from the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1-2 to the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 20-22. Second, there are redemptive benefits for those who participate in that ‘general plot’ by declaring allegiance to the God of that plot.”

The Garden was perfect. God’s creation was good and not marred by sin. The Garden represents the ideal relationship between God and his people. Here they are physically present with one another (Gen. 3:8). When will this type of relationship happen again?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5 NIV

Notice that we are once again in a garden setting in the physical presence of God himself and his radiance is all the light we will need.

God is about the work of restoring all things. He is working to make all things new again. Perhaps this is what Paul means when he tells us we are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15).

Next week we’ll look at the three main sections of the overarching story of the Bible, but for today I would encourage you to seek the answer to this question:

Does who I used to be still haunt me, or am I truly living like a new creation in Christ?

What am I Seeking when I Study the Old Testament? – 2018 Blog Tour

Here’s another awesome post that looks at the Old Testament from the keyboard of Lance Hawley. Lance is an Assistant Professor of Old Testament and biblical Hebrew at Harding School of Theology in Memphis. His research focuses on the book of Job and Hebrew poetry. He also has a major interest in biblical law and biblical canon as essential topics of study for followers of Jesus. Before joining the HST faculty, Lance served as a church planter in Madison, WI for ten years. He has a passion for the spiritual formation of missional communities. Lance and his wife, Laura, have three children.

What am I Seeking when I Study the Old Testament?

The short answer to this opening question is “God.”

I was first moved to study the Old Testament by a scholar who exhibited a communion with God through the text. He was a poet and convicted me of the inexhaustible wealth of the Hebrew Scriptures. He showed me that it was more than just a series of books that talked about God, but it was a meeting place to come face to face with the Creator of the universe.

The purpose of Bible study is experiencing God and growing into his mission. This goes for scholarly and devotional reading alike. No matter our exegetical abilities, when we read the Bible we ought to concern ourselves with knowing God. Ideally, close readings, attention to detail, and scholarly inquiry only deepens our understanding. Certainly, God is beyond our comprehension, but we are not left without a clue. The more we study Scripture, the more opportunity we have for knowing the fullness of God.

I seek to know Scripture like I know an old hymn. I want to know the lyrics, the historical references, the metaphors, the poetic rhythms. But it is not just for study sake; I want to sing the song. As the great Zion song says, “I heard their song and strove to join.”

Admittedly, I sometimes find myself devoting vast amounts of time to the study of the minutia of Scripture that does not seem to have much to do with knowing God. I sometimes miss the forest (God) for the trees (particular texts), but the right corrective to this is not to ignore the trees. Even the minutia, properly framed, filters up to knowing God more fully. I will attempt to illustrate with a few examples.

Wrestling with God through text criticism

Text criticism gives us a window into ancient interpretation. Sometimes variants in the manuscripts are just scribal errors, but often variants reveal disagreements or shifts among interpreters. For example, Job 13:15a, is translated by the NRSV as “See, he will kill me; I have no hope,” but the ESV has “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” The reason for the difference is a textual variant: the Hebrew word here is lō’ meaning “not,” but another ancient tradition reads meaning “to him.” The two Hebrew words sound identical. So does Job say that he does not have hope or does Job say that he will still hope in him? I think that it is fairly clear that the NRSV is more in tune with the book of Job and the variant “in him” is a later effort to make Job seem less despairing. But back to our question, what does this variant have to do with knowing God? Simply put, we cannot make the big points without observing the details. In this case, we get an insight into how our ancestors in faith heard and wrestled with the character of Job. Job is a book about the human experience of suffering and how one relates to God in the midst of suffering. This small little word matters to the portrayal of despair. In my experience, it contributes to my own wrestling with God as I observe injustices and resolve to speak to God without restraint. So the text critical question filters up to wrestling with God when the realities of injustice hit home. One can certainly wrestle with God without knowing Hebrew or this text critical issue, but the closer we look the more we bring to the table.

The awe and wonder of wordplay

I love wordplay and a good poetic turn of phrase. For example, in Isaiah 5:7, a parabolic song about a failed vineyard concludes with God expecting mishpat (justice), but getting mishpa (violence), expecting edaqah (righteousness) but getting e‘aqah (an outcry). This pair of wordplay is obvious in the Hebrew and contributes to the richness of the poem. What I love about close study of the Old Testament is that it slows me down and draws my attention the creative detail of Scripture. God is a poet. The better we understand His poems, the fuller our communion with Him.

I do not study the Old Testament to prove or disprove its history or to contradict science. In my experience, these are unfruitful and misguided pursuits for the most part. Additionally, my primary reason for studying the OT is not to establish doctrine. Doctrine is important, no doubt, and the Old Testament certainly espouses doctrines, but these are typically secondary gleanings from the primary story of God among His people.

I study the Old Testament to learn from Israel’s witness to the character and actions of God, so that I might more fully understand the wonders of God’s work in the present. I want to sing the song of the Old Testament, which not only requires me to learn the lyrics and the tune, but also to join the chorus. The text hymns its King in strains divine. I hear the song and strive to join.

Grand Opening

Many people wonder why God doesnʼt send big, visual, miracles our way anymore. They read about people speaking in tongues, miraculous healing, casting out demons, and they wonder why God seems so distant. We read about the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Why are none of us recipients of the miraculous empowerment of the Holy Spirit? Why isnʼt God allowing his people to perform miracles here and now? Well, we can find out in the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 2:3b-4 – This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

According to the writer of Hebrews, God used signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit as a way of testifying that his son, Jesus, did in fact bring salvation to those who chose to obey him. The signs were a way for God to indicate to humans that this shift in the way of doing things was divinely orchestrated! Simply put, God was using the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the miracles kind of like a grand opening at a new store. Letʼs say that a store that has been around for quite a while is purchased by some new owners, and they come in and renovate. Of course they want everyone to know about the changes, so they do this by having a big grand opening where they give away prizes, and do big and very showy things to alert the people of the changes. Now the grand opening doesnʼt last forever, and it doesnʼt need to. Thereʼs no reason for you to have a grand opening several years after the fact because it serves a purpose, and then itʼs no longer needed. The same is true with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and miracles in Godʼs church.

These people were so used to the Old Testament way of doing things that when Godʼs people were bought by the blood of Christ, and they were now under new ownership, God wanted to get the message out. He had a grand opening with all kinds of wonderful and very visual miracles, healings and the like that announced to the world once and for all that a new way of doing things was here. Out with the old covenant (or old testament) and in with the new covenant (or new testament)! So what about us today? We donʼt need the grand opening. Instead, we need to be looking forward to the time when the store gets relocated into itʼs permanent location in Heaven. Until then, we are the word of mouth. We are the means by which Godʼs church keeps growing and developing new members.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.