Day 262 (Sept. 19): Nehemiah calls for registration of exiles, list of exiled families with a count for each, Israelites settle in their towns, Ezra reads Law of Moses, Nehemiah tells them to celebrate for this sacred day

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Nehemiah 7:4-8:12

Questions & Observations

Q. (Nehemiah 7:65): We have talked about casting lots before as a way of asking God to identify or choose.  Can you explain the process in more detail?

A. We covered this way, way back in March (the 28th to be exact, day 87), but I am happy to reexamine the question.  The two stones: seen here: http://www.bibleandscience.com/store/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=29, would have basically served as the “yes” and “no” for questions that the High Priest asked.  In the Joshua story — as we were looking at when we first addressed the topic — we saw that the priest would basically put the question or names on paper, and then cast the two stones towards the question to determine the answer.  That’s basically all there is to it.  It was one of the responsibilities of the High Priest, but both Christians and Jews have moved away from the practice.

Q. (7:66-73a): At first, I thought 42,000 people in one city is a pretty large number.  (I still can’t imagine cities as big as they were back then.  I always imagine small because of the more physical lifestyle and it was just long ago.)  But, when you consider that this was all of the men (not women, children, servants, etc.?), then it’s not much when they scatter throughout all of Israel.

A. The nation was significantly smaller than the size under David or even Joshua, but keep in mind that’s only the people who returned: there were still people, including Jews, there: the king used them to grow crops on his land.

Q. (8:8): Here they say the Book of God.  It’s the same as Book of Moses or Moses’ Law, right?

A. Yes.  Many Jews would still use that title today.

Day 250 (Sept 7): Daniel’s vision of four beasts, ‘beasts’ vision explained, Daniel’s vision of a ram and goat, Gabriel explains the vision, writing on the wall, Daniel explains message

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Daniel 7-8:27

Daniel 5

Questions & Observations

O. It had been a while back since we had discussed Daniel, so I googled him to refresh my memory about his place in society.  I found this summary to be eye opening:  http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/christian-ministries/bible-heroes/daniel-the-interpreter-of-dreams-and-visions.html

Q. (Daniel 7): Wow.  This is one of those places in the Bible where it reads so fast because it’s so enthralling.  We have the vision explained, so there is only one question left for me.  Does this vision come into play in the OT or is it yet to come?  This is just a glimpse of the devastation we’ll see in Revelations, right?  (You’ll probably make me wait on that answer.)

A. Visions like this one are a bit more complicated than “has it happened” I’m afraid.  In one sense, this vision has already come to be.  It is a description of the rise and fall of four nations in the Middle East during this era: the lion is Babylon, which will soon fall to the Medo-Persian Empire (which we see with the death of the king in chapter 5 with the writing on the wall).  The leopard with four wings is the Greek empire that swiftly conquered under Alexander the Great (the four wings imply swift movement).  After Alexander’s untimely death, his empire was divided into four parts (the four heads of verse 6), none of which were as powerful as the united empire under Alexander.  The last beast is the Roman Empire, which conquered much of the known world.  The ten horns of the last beast seem to represent the coalition of the Roman provinces.  The last “horn” appears to represent the Emperor of Rome, who would stand in direct opposition to God, and therefore be seen as the great enemy of the Ancient One (similar to our vision of Gog back in Ezekiel).  We obviously know that the “final” confrontation between the powers of this world and God has not yet taken place, so you could argue in that sense that the vision is not yet complete.  This is very common in scripture: we have this tension of already but not yet, if that makes any sense.  It is the same way we understand what Christ has done for us.  His sacrifice has already won for us the victory over sin, but He has not yet claimed the final victory- already, but not yet.

One other note, the “characters” in this story (the four nations) are also seen in the vision of the statue of Daniel 2 (Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome) and to a lesser extent the vision of the ram (Persia) and goat (Greece) in chapter 8.  Note the divisions of the Greek empire into four parts.

Q. (8): Again, this vision is for then or now?  In 2300 years from then, it would have happened around 1850.

A. A little bit of history will help unravel this one: one of the four parts of the Greek Empire (called Seleucid Empire after one of Alexander’s generals) had control of the restored nation of Israel (this is in the future of our reading timeline, and between the Testaments).  One particular ruler of this nation, Antiochus Epiphanes, attempted to exterminate the Jewish faith via imposition of Greek god worship and cutting off Jewish customs such as circumcision.  He rashly desecrated the rebuilt Temple and incited a revolt — which we will talk about later — by the Jews.  After this revolt, the Jews reconsecrated the Temple.  The distance between these events was just over three years, which would give us around 1150 days (roughly).  Since sacrifices at the Temple were made to God every morning and evening (as it says in verse 14), we double that number to get the 2,300.  That’s what it means: It refers to the period of just over 3 years when the Temple was not “functional” because it was desecrated.  The reconsecration event has become known as Hanukkah, a relatively minor Jewish holiday that is celebrated to this day around December.

Q. (8:3-12): We have talked about the symbolic meaning of horns long ago.  This would be a good time to review it again.

A. The horn is a symbol of power.  I think that about covers it.

Q. (8:25): It’s awesome to see Gabriel in this text, and also does the Prince of Princes refer to Jesus?

A. It refers to God, or possibly a Prince of heaven (which might be an angel like Gabriel), but I think God is correct.

O. (5): According to Wikipedia, this story is where the saying “He didn’t see the writing on the wall” originated.

Q. (Daniel 5:8-9): Why was the writing on the wall written so that the King or his spiritual leaders could not read it?

A. They could read it (the words simply refer to currency in the ancient Near East), but they could not interpret it.  There is a lot of discussion about why DANIEL could interpret it when the other men failed, but unfortunately there’s not a lot to go by there.  Sorry.  I don’t know the answer to that one.

Day 16 (Jan. 16): Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt twice, brothers feast at the palace, silver cup trick, Judah pleads with Joseph, Joseph reveals identity

Genesis 42-45:15

Questions & Observations

Q. (42:9): Joseph sees his dreams come true.  Are we to believe that this just happened, that Joseph can see into the future or that God made it happen?  In Gen. 45:5, Joseph said that it was God who sent him to Egypt to save his family.

A. My interpretation would be that God was telling Joseph in the vision that he would be the leader of his family, and that his power would rise even above his father Jacob (the sun in Joseph’s dream).  It was God that provided the vision to Joseph, but it was unclear exactly HOW this would come about.  God’s actions, especially providing Joseph with the interpretation of dreams that he could not have known otherwise, certainly points to God being involved in the process, but you can decide for yourself if God “made it happen” in the deterministic sense.

Q & O. (42:14): I see a common scenario thus far in the Bible of schemes for the purpose of assessing loyalty, honor and love.  1) In the Garden, the serpent tempts Eve and Adam to see if they are following God’s commands.  Adam and Eve fail and lose their cushy lifestyle.  2) God tests Abraham’s loyalty by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son.  Abraham is rewarded with a blessing that he is the father of many and through his descendants, all nations will be blessed.  3) Jacob’s loyalty to God is tested when he is tricked by Laban and has to put up with Laban’s cruelty.  Jacob remains true to God, giving Him the credit for his fortune.  4) Jacob tests his father-in-law with his spotted goats and sheep. Laban tries to trick Jacob, but it backfires on him.  He fails the test. Jacob outwits him and prospers.  5) Joseph tests his brothers compassion by planting a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag and accusing him of stealing.  Joseph wins his brothers back.  There are obvious reasons for these tests of love and loyalty.  These tests seem necessary to set wrongs right or weed out the bad apples.  God has apparently administered some of these tests himself and allows others to test on his behalf.  Who tests us — God, the devil or both?

A. Let me start by saying that you have asked a complicated question that does not have a single concrete answer.  In James 1:13, James tells us that God does not tempt anyone to evil, at least directly.  But it is quite clear in the information you have assembled that God DOES allow testing of our hearts, in the examples that you cite, and even in the life of Jesus who was led by the Spirit into the wilderness specifically to BE TESTED by Satan (in Matthew 4).  So scripture does show that God is willing to put us to the test in order to prove (to ourselves and those around us) that our faith is genuine and not easily cast aside.  We will see more examples of the temptation God allows in Job (our next reading) and Exodus.

O. (42:21): Joseph’s brothers feeling that they are suffering the consequences of mistreating their brother reminds me of “an eye for an eye …” Exodus 21:24.

O. (42:32): This verse shows the class inferiority between the Egyptians and Joseph’s brothers.  It’s interesting whom God chooses to carry out his work, not the most famous or rich, but more often the humble.

Q. (43:37): Jacob’s sons from Leah are not his favored sons.  We know that this troubles the brothers.  But, yet, here they have changed their attitude and promise to protect the one known surviving favored son.  Can you give us some insight on why they changed?

A. I think that they are changed men, but their resolve to protect Benjamin comes down to their love for their father.  The story seems to imply that the brothers feel that if they return to Jacob without Benjamin, Jacob will die of a broken heart, having lost both of the sons he cares most about.  It would appear that, besides Reuben who obviously thought the whole idea was a bad one, the other brothers came to regret their decision, and they probably DID assume that Joseph was dead- in that regard they told the truth as they understood it.

Q. Also, we talked in an earlier day’s readings about how Joseph was sold as a slave because of his bragging about his dreams.  Potiphar noticed God’s presence in Joseph, so when was his turning point to follow God?

A. It appears being sold into slavery was Joseph’s turning point as well.  While the text does not state it, it appears that slavery humbles him and helps him to focus on God.  Since he is a slave, Joseph is “stuck” in his service to Potiphar (and later the jailer), but rather than be bitter about his downfall, Joseph trusts that God will restore him.

Q. (44:15) Was Joseph a prophet?

A. In the sense of being able to see the future?  Sort of.  Don’t forget, the story told us that the only vision that was actually Joseph’s was the one of his family bowing down to him.  The rest of the visions and dreams have been from other people (the baker, cupbearer, and Pharaoh).  So I would be hard pressed to declare Joseph a prophet.  In the particular verse in question, it almost appears that Joseph is just using bluster to intimidate his brothers.  He can’t really see how things are in the future, he’s just bragging to them.

The other thing that is worth mentioning is our understanding of the word “prophet”.  The word has a very particular meaning to Jewish readership in particular.  The Prophets (capital P) were a particular group of individuals whose were give a particular vision by God: to call His people back into right relationship with Him.  Prophecy is not just about predicting the future, but rather about calling for people to repent and return to the ways they know to be true but are not following.  The “future” aspect of prophecy works in two ways: the prophet will warn about what happens if the people fail to repent (Jeremiah is the poster boy of this), and the other way prophecy works is in more the sense we are used to seeing.  A prophet such as Isaiah will talk about a day in the future when God will act in a particular way to restore things that have gone wrong (the result of the people failing to repent).  Basically, prophesies such as those about Jesus are about the way that God will restore things to rights, and not abandon His people.  So in this definition, I would say we can clearly see that Joseph is not a prophet in the sense that the Bible defines it.

Q.  (37:7) I’m backing up here to address something I forgot in Day 14.  I have never appreciated egotism.  I don’t think it’s a pretty quality.    Personally, I would have sided with the brothers.  This conflict seems to work in God’s favor in the long run, but he hasn’t purposely set it up like this, right?  He just knows how it will turn out.  I’m trying to accept that God doesn’t control people, he just knows what they are going to do.  In this story of Joseph and his brothers, it’s hard not to think God is making conflict for his own purposes, especially when Joseph said that God made it all happen to save their lives (45:5).

A. This is a pretty complicated story, and it can be hard to sort out exactly what God is doing with these men.  As I mentioned a couple of days ago, it is important to understand that without Joseph in Egypt, the family probably starves.  Now having said that, you are touching upon one of the most important issues that the Bible wrestles with: what role does God play in our destiny (if any)?  I can tell you honestly that its not going to get any easier, as both Exodus and Job both discuss this issue in complicated ways.  So buckle up, we’ve got a ways to go.

My response to the issue of God “setting up” the situation for the brothers is one where I would disagree.  The mindset that I bring to complicated scriptures like this one (and others such as the crucifixion, by the way) is to say God did not cause people to do evil things.  God did gift Joseph with visions of the future, but He did NOT make Joseph arrogant and desire to brag about his visions to his father and brothers.  God certainly did not make Joseph’s brothers desire to kill him, and then settle on selling him into slavery.  But God may have provided a way of protecting Joseph: He may have made it so that the caravan that Joseph was sold to pass at just the right moment to keep his brothers from killing him (since slavery is vastly preferable to being dead).  In the end, Joseph being in Egypt allows his brothers the chance to find forgiveness, after everyone (including Joseph) has been punished for their sins.  So basically, did God cause the situations in this story?  I would say no (though I think there would be some who would disagree with me).  But God did bring salvation to the family THROUGH the terrible actions of Joseph and his brothers.

This is foreshadowing of the cross itself and the sacrifice of Christ (Joseph being the Christ figure).  Did God make Judas betray, Caiaphas accuse, and Pilate condemn?  No.   The crucifixion was the darkest moment in human history: the one man in the entire world who was truly innocent of sin was tortured and brutally killed in our place.  Yet that moment was necessary for the restoration of God and man.  Out of that moment of darkness, God brought light three days later.  The darkness of the crucifixion changed everything.  God took the worst of who we are, our jealousy, our fear, and our willingness to kill, and used it to bring about the salvation of the entire world.  That is the true power of God’s grace: not to cause evil, but to bring goodness through it.