Day 362 (Dec. 28): 144,000 Israelites get seal of God, a crowd comes who survived the great tribulation and serve God, breaking seventh seal causes earthquake, angels blowing trumpets set off destruction on earth, fifth trumpet brings stinging locusts for five months, sixth trumpet blown releases angels who kill one-third of all people, the mighty angel with small scroll says to keep a secret and ate it, scroll was sweet but became sour in stomach

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.

Revelation 7-10:11

Questions & Observations

Q. So, this is all still John’s vision?  Why is this so crazy compared to everything we have read before … except for some of those wild monsters we read about in the OT.

A. This is John’s vision, but it is written in a particular type of genre of writing called apocalyptic.  It would have been a commonly used form for writing in this era, but since the Bible does not contain much of this type of literature (though parts of Zechariah, as we read yesterday, and Daniel 7-12 are examples we do have from the OT.  Note how similar the visions in the second half of Daniel are to what we are reading).

Apocalyptic literature hit its “peak” in the intertestament period, when Jewish oppression drove writers to create visions of God avenging their deaths at the hands of cruel pagans.  John, a Jew, is very familiar with this type of literature.  The key characteristics of this type of writing are vivid use of symbols, animals, numbers, and colors; but it is also characterized by its contrast to what we would call prophetic writing.  In prophetic writing (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, etc.), the situation is dire, but it is not too late for the people to repent — the common call of the prophet.  But this is not the case in apocalyptic literature: it IS too late in this case to repent, God Himself must intervene to avenge what has been done to His faithful children, something we see over and over again.  The wrath that is being poured out in these visions is to avenge those who have suffered at the hands of the unjust — something Christians had heavily experienced during the era of the Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian.

Q. (Revelation 7:1-8): Where does the 144,000 come from?  Are these Israelites alive or passed?

A. I’m going to assume you mean what is significant about it, because to me, the math is not in question (12 tribes, 12,000 sealed from each tribe).  There are numerous theories about it: some say it is a symbolic number.  One scholar I read noted that the number signifies completeness in two ways: by squaring the number of tribes (12×12) and multiplied by 1,000, which would have been understood to the original hearers as a sign of completeness.  Others view it as a literal number of Jews saved (Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that ONLY 144,000 PEOPLE will be saved in total!)  But there is not a lot of consensus.  I tend to see it as a symbolic number, since it is from a book that deals in symbolic numbers, not literal headcounts.  As to whether these Jews are alive or dead, that questions is impossible to answer, and is irrelevant anyway: they have completed their trial, so there is no longer a distinction between alive and dead- all are alive in Christ.

Q. (Revelation 7:14): Does the “crowd” refer to the rest of us — non-Israelites?  I thought Israelites were put on a level playing field with everyone else.  What is the great tribulation?

A. The common understanding is that the Jewish group is first seen by John as being a subsection of the great multitude, so that removes any notion of being the “special” section of the saved.  The Jews are still God’s chosen people, and His plan of salvation for the entire world had its origins with them.  But salvation is now for everyone.  The crowd is the survivors of the great tribulation, which the rest of the book will be showing to us.  Symbolically, this does describe all Christians from every nation and people, who ALL must pass through some form of trial and tribulation, either great or small.  That’s the way that I read what John has written here: it is a victory celebration for those, Jew and Gentile throughout all time, have come to salvation in Christ.

Q. (Revelation 8:6-13): Why is the significance of the star’s name — Bitterness?  How about the eagle?

A. The star has a few interpretations.  Those who hold to a more literal, “this represents this” interpretation argue that the language of Rev. 8 represents events of great leaders who have fallen (a “falling star”) in the history of our world.  I, frankly, don’t buy that, because there is no indication that this is what John means, and it requires too much pure speculation about who this is.  I think that takes too much away from what John is doing — writing symbolically — in this work.  I believe that the name, which refers to a type of plant, represents the coming bitterness that will befall the inhabitants of the earth in the midst of the coming tribulation.  The eagle is sometimes seen as a symbol of pending destruction, as in Deuteronomy 28:49, Jeremiah 4:13, and Hosea 8:1 — note that in Jeremiah the warning is followed by a declaration of “woe to us” and in Hosea there are trumpets that precede the warning.

Q. (Revelation 9:1-12): Ouch.  I don’t want to be in that crowd.  Locusts are a popular pest in the Bible.  Who is the Destroyer?

A. Most likely a symbolic personification of destruction, though some think that there is a powerful demon, a fallen angel, who is lord of the Abyss.

Q. (Revelation 9:13-21): Horses are popular in Revelation.  And, colors are pointed out when they are mentioned — here, the riders.  Why all the mutations of animals?  These visions can’t be actual — like back with Joseph’s visions when the wheat symbolized his brothers.

A. Yes, they are visions.  Horses are powerful symbols in this story because at the time, a warhorse would have been the most powerful weapon of war in existence.  They symbolized power, control, and conquest, and to a certain degree, they still do today.  Other animals — including some non-real ones coming up — are used because they often carry with them double meanings, the same reason that various colors are used.  The images of wild beasts and vivid colors drive our imagination, exactly as John desires.

Q. (Revelation 10:1-11): Is the mighty angel Jesus?  Can you point us back to the scripture that v.7 talks about when God revealed His plan to the prophets?  And, what is being symbolized when John ate the small scroll and it tasted sweet and then bitter?

A. No, Jesus is NEVER referred to as an angel.  It most likely refers to an archangel, one of the “high” classes of angels.  There is no Scripture that tells the exact spot where God revealed His plan to the prophets: it simply didn’t work that way.  God revealed pieces of His vision to the various men and women who were faithful to Him in the OT, and those visions, put together, and viewed through the “lens” of Jesus’ earthly ministry, gives us the vision for God’s plan.  The sweet/bitter of the scroll harkens back to Ezekiel, who was also ordered to consume a bitter message.  The sweetness is the inevitability of God’s victory, the good news.  The bitterness/sour is that this victory will involve the suffering of many or the bad news.  John must proclaim both messages, telling of Christ’s victory will be sweet, telling of suffering and persecution will be painful.

Day 354 (Dec. 20): Faith is key to salvation, Old Testament heroes were rewarded for their faith, others suffered and died for their faith knowing they would have a better eternal life, God disciplines those He loves, there is a peaceful harvest after suffering the pain of discipline, listen to God so you don’t miss God’s grace, God to shake the earth so only the unshakable will remain

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.

Hebrews 11-12

Questions & Observations

I could write observations for every verse in this reading.  All the reminders of the OT and how they have come to fruition in the whole picture of God’s word were so enlightening!  God is blessing us with so many answers and insightful closures at the end of the Great Book!

Q. (Hebrews 11:1): Let’s try this again: I don’t understand the virtue of hope.  Why should we hope for something if we believe it will happen?  To me hoping signifies doubt.  But, the teachings of the Bible encourage hope.

A. As this passage alludes to, the line between hope and faith gets fairly blurry, but I confess I do not understand in what sense you feel that hoping for something involves doubt — hope is very opposite of doubt.  God has give us a vision in the Bible of how life can be when we follow after Him instead of our own desires, but again, we live in that tension of “already” but “not yet”.  So we have seen how things can turn with God’s help, but they have not “turned” yet, so to speak, for many of us.  But we believe that there is a better future, a better world, etc. for us (and our children, and grandchildren, and…), and that I think is the basis of hope.  We seek and desire the world to come, the rewards of our labor, and the purging of sin/evil from the world — Revelation will cast a vision of — but we know that it is not yet here.  So we wait, but we wait hopefully, not pessimistically.  C. S. Lewis had this to say about hope:

Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

Q. (Hebrews 11:6): So to ask questions is to seek and by asking does not mean that I am weak in the Spirit, rather that I am trying to clear up confusion so I can gain understanding and BE closer to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit.

A. Yes, I would say that is correct.

O. (11:26): When a believer says, “Look up,” I have thought it just meant to consider God when I deliberating about something.  But, here we see it has more meanings like, “Keep your eyes on the eternal prize.”  And greed for the joy we’ll have in heaven is a great reason, but it has earthly goodness in it by actually bringing joy to your life and others.  Making others happy, makes me happy, makes God happy and vice versa: you get happy from others and God gets happy all over.  Making God happy makes me happy.  “Looking up,” always thinking of our heavenly home can get us through the hard times on earth and helps us make the right choices to get there.

Q. (12:7-9): What is divine discipline?  Does this mean that when something hurts us that we are being punished?  So, we should rejoice because if God punishes us, we know He loves us and is working to set us straight?

A. What the writer is arguing here is that the suffering and persecution that Christians often face (not from God directly) should be seen as discipline and instructive training for our own spiritual development.  Many who have suffered greatly under persecution achieve a level of faith that is difficult for us to even comprehend — God used (but did not cause) the situation and the persecution to deepen the faith of those who were suffering for the Gospel.  And as the passage reminds us, Jesus Himself is our example of how to persevere in the midst of suffering: He is our example and the truest Son of God.

O. (12:14): This reminds me of the Jackie Robinson story when instead of getting irate at the people persecuting them, he turned the other cheek.  He won his battle by staying true to his goal, having endurance and then many could see that he was no different from them.  If we let our oppressors ruffle our feathers and they see us get irate, then they are not seeing the Jesus’s love.

Q. (12:27-28): By unshakable, I would take it that “sin” and Satan have no power over us?

A. The power of sin will be broken (as we will soon see in Revelation), and the Kingdom that God will establish will be eternal, not finite as this world is now.

Day 313 (Nov. 9): Disciples chose seven men to assist them, Stephen is arrested, Stephen addresses the council

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.

Acts 6-8:1a

Questions & Observations

Q. (Acts 6:7): It’s nice to see some Jewish priests softening up and being converted.

A. There is certainly a degree of importance in this often missed verse.  Though many of the Jewish leaders condemned themselves by siding against Jesus, they were able to find repentance and be saved by the very plan that they had themselves enacted.  Surely that is God’s grace at work!

O. (Acts 6:15): So, take that!

Q. (Acts 7:2-50): OT, in a nutshell, right?.  Thanks, Stephen!

A. Sort of.  He definitely hits the um…highlights.  But his main point is that the Jews have a long history of rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit because of their hard hearts, as they are doing here in persecuting the Church.  Stephen is accusing them of being just like their ancestors, and I would say their response indicates that they did not like that accusation.

Q. (Acts 8:59-60): I guess Jesus’s believers knew what they were getting into after seeing Jesus crucified.  Stephen showed what kind of mercy he had on people by asking God to forgive his murderers.  I take it that Stephen is asking Jesus to welcome him to His Kingdom when he asks Jesus to receive his spirit?  Pretty amazing stuff.

A. Yes, I would say that is right.

Day 309 (Nov. 5): Burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea, women say stone rolled away, Angel told of resurrection, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene to inform disciples of resurrection, soldiers make up false story as to Jesus’ resurrection

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.

Mark 15:42-47

Matthew 27:57-61

Luke 23:50-56

John 19:38-42

Matthew 27:62-66

Mark 16:1-8

Matthew 28:1-7

Luke 24:1-12

Mark 16:9-11

John 20:1-18

Matthew 28:8-10

Matthew 28:11-15

Questions & Observations

Q. (John 19:38): John is the only account that says Joseph was a secret disciple.  Doesn’t this make 13?  And, we had talked earlier about the common number 12 — 12 tribes and 12 disciples.  But, I guess since Judas died, that would make it 12 again.

A. Joseph is a secret follower, but not one of the 12 (now 11- it will be 12 again soon).

Q. (Mark 16:1): Rob, I think we have talked before about the Sabbath being on Saturday and not Sunday.  I think you said it was because Jesus arose on Sunday, like it says in Mark 16:9.  But, why would this change the day we worship God, if He commanded it to be on Saturday?  Also, I looked it up online and the only thing I could see is that the Catholics changed it in their doctrine, 1,000 years before a Protestant denomination arose.

A. Oh it’s a much earlier change than that.  The early Church came to see EVERY Sunday (the first day of the week, corresponding to the first day of Creation) as a new Easter, a reminder of Jesus’ victory over death.  One of the arguments that we will see unfold in the midst of new converts to Christianity — primarily Gentiles — is the question of whether you needed to be a Jew first in order to become a Christian.  Ultimately, the leaders decide that you do not, and that because of Christ’s sacrifice, they are no longer under the requirements of the Law (something Paul will discuss extensively), including the Sabbath requirement.  That is why the transition from Saturday to Sunday took place: the most important day of the Christian week was no longer Saturday, but Sunday — it symbolizes the new beginning that Christians see taking place in Jesus.

There are some Christians who feel that the Church should still honor the Sabbath as defined in the Law: they are known as Seventh-Day Adventists, and one of the central differences between them and other denominations is their strict rule about worship on Saturday, not Sunday.  Personally, I see the value OF a Sabbath- we certainly benefit from a day of rest to focus on God and family, but in Christ, we have a new found freedom that says we can decide when that day of rest is, and that it is not REQUIRED to be Saturday (or even Sunday).

Q. (Mark 16:1-8): What is the purpose of the spices?  I would assume to honor and respect the person and also help with the smell of rotting flesh?

A. Yes and yes.  It was part of the Jewish burial ritual to honor the dead in such a way, and kind of like our modern embalming process: it was to help deal with the stench, which ironically, Jesus did not wind up needing.

Q. (Matthew 28:1): Matthew says there is an earthquake, but the others gospels don’t.  I would think that this is just a difference in the story being passed along since the disciples weren’t eyewitnesses.

A. The people who are likely telling this story to the different authors are very likely remembering different details — Matthew was also the only one who mentioned the dead bodies walking around.  Note what is being said here, however: the other Gospels don’t say, “And there definitely was NOT an earthquake”.  Try not to assume a negative, especially when dealing with eyewitness reports as you suggest.

Q. (Mark 16:9-20): Why are there two lengths of Mark — a shorter version that ends with v. 16:8 and a longer that ends with 16:20?

A. The earliest manuscripts we have — which are assumed to be the most reliable to the original writing — end at verse 8, with the women not telling anyone what they had seen.  There are a few theories about why: one is that the original ending of Mark was lost —scrolls such as the ones the Gospels were originally written on tended to lose the beginning and the end of the story.  Another possibility is that verse 8 WAS the original ending, and Mark meant it to be a pointed statement along the lines of “how could you possibly keep a story like that to yourself as it says the women did, and the women clearly DID end up telling people, etc.”  Anyway, regardless of the reason, later Church writers appeared to edit the ending of Mark to include the verses you see (and a few more tomorrow); these verses tend to relate to the resurrection stories told in the other Gospels, so they appear to be later additions rather then necessarily genuine stories.  For my reading of Mark, I view it that for whatever reason, Mark’s true ending is 16:8, either because that’s where Mark intended to edit it, or because it has been lost to history.

Q. I guess Mary is a common name back then?  I know Maria is popular in Spanish cultures.

A. Mary (Miriam in Hebrew to be technical, meaning “beloved”) was a common name on Jesus’ day.  It was the name of Moses’ sister and a prophetess in the Exodus story; Miriam was one of the most respected female characters of the OT (along with Deborah, Hannah, and Rachel), so it is little wonder that many girls were given this birth name.  As to the use of the name today (that would be Mary in English, Maria in Spanish, Marie in French and German, etc.), that has to do with Jesus’ mother, the Virgin or Blessed Mary, who is one of the central figures of the Roman Catholic world, which of course dominated the religious landscape of Western Europe for 1500 years.  That’s why the name was so common then, and is still common today.

Day 269 (Sept. 26): Wise men visit Jesus, Jesus’s family escapes to Egypt to dodge Herod’s jealous wrath, Jesus’s family returns to Jerusalem, Jesus speaks at the Temple, John the Baptist prepares people for Jesus, Spirit descends on Jesus, Jesus is baptized

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.

Matthew 2:1-23

Luke 2:41-52

Mark 1:1b-8

Matthew 3:1-12

Luke 3:1-18

Mark 1:9-11

Matthew 3:13-17

Luke 3:21-22

Questions & Observations

Q. (Matthew 2:1): Why would Mary and Joseph stay two years in Bethlehem?  Why wouldn’t they have gone back to Nazareth?  Do I have Jesus’s childhood whereabouts right: Born in Bethlehem until 2ish, then told to flee to Egypt until Herod died, then back to where his parents were from in Nazareth?

A. The story doesn’t tell us, but the distance between the regions was great — Nazareth was well north of Jerusalem, Bethlehem was due south — so, it is possible they were not eager to make the return trip.  Since Joseph, and possibly Mary, had family in Bethlehem, Joseph may have found work or something with family, but that’s just speculation.  You have the rest of the story right.

Q. (Matthew 2:5, 15): Just wondering who the prophet was.

A. In this instance, two different men: the first reference is from Micah, and the second one is from Hosea.  Sometimes the source is cited within the text (as in Mark 1), but most times Matthew (writing to a Jewish audience) assumed they knew the texts he was talking about (Jews studied and debated Messianic scriptures extensively in Jesus’ day), but the footnotes always list the reference.

Q. (2:16): I hope you have some reasoning that makes me feel better about the killing of all these baby boys being tied to Jesus’s birth.

A. Not really: Herod was a terribly cruel king who killed members of his own family because he considered them threats to his power.  So it is little wonder that he would react powerfully and kill children at the very hint of a threat to his power.

Q. (Luke 2:51): Here it is again, “his mother stored all these things in her heart.” I take from this that Mary is taking note to her child’s actions, thoughts, works and trying to support Him and maybe imagine what He’ll be like.

A. Imagine being able to interact with Jesus as a child or a young man.  That surely was fascinating to experience as His mother, and I see no reason that she would not treasure experiences that were surely like this one.

Q. (Mark 1:1b-8): How did John know to baptize?  I don’t think we have read why they are baptizing.  Have we been told what baptism symbolizes?  V. 4 says people should be baptized to show they have repented and turned to God.  But how does going under water symbolize this?

A. Baptism as we know it comes out of the ritual washing of the priests from Leviticus.  The baptism John offered was one of repentance: the people were immersing themselves in the “cleansing” water (the Jordan is a notoriously unclean river- remember Naaman’s objection in 2 Kings 5?) to show that they were washing away their sin.  Baptism (at least immersion) has come to mean following in the footsteps of Christ, and dying (being immersed) and rising to new life (coming to the surface).  But in John’s ministry, it was a sign of repentance.

Q. (Mark 1:6,7): If someone was dressed in camel-hair clothes, ate locusts and preached about Jesus, I doubt he would get a lot of followers.  Why the wildman lifestyle?  A footnote indicates that the Pharisees and Sadducees may have come to the river to be baptized.  I would think they would have a hard time accepting John the Baptist as a man of God.

A. You bet they had a hard time, we will see this come into play during Jesus’ ministry.  According to the Gospels, John had some sort of big following (though we have no idea how many), but it’s quite clear that his ministry got a lot of “word of mouth” endorsement.  How else could all the people hear what was happening outside the city?  As to why he went all wildman, I honestly couldn’t tell you, but it surely didn’t put as many people off as you seem to think it did.

Q. What is the purpose of having four accounts — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John — of Jesus’s life?

A. To get four different perspectives.  Each of the writers has their own pet themes and messages that they desire to share with their respective audiences.  I, frankly, love the idea that there is not one, but four different, fully inspired, perspectives on this God-man.  How could one even come close to telling the whole story?

One other note: if you take four different eyewitnesses to a major event (a battle, a crime, a miracle, etc.) you are going to get four different perspectives on it; that’s just human nature.  So again, the existence (and inspiration) of four different stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is just further proof to me of the depths God was willing to go to ensure that there is a “story” for each of us to connect with.  I personally love Luke’s gospel the best, but I find great things I admire about each of them, and I know others who feel the same way about Mark, John, or Matthew.

Q. (Luke 3:16): What does this mean: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”?  I don’t understand the “fire” part.  Will we get into baptism more later?  Or, should I ask some of the questions now.  Mainly, is infant baptism, sprinkling, immersion, all the same?  I was baptized at a church, dipped underwater.  I was always told that full immersion is what the scriptures instruct.  Our church has frequent infant baptisms.   I always thought the believer had to be old enough to know what it meant to formally accept and proclaim Christ.  I was in the Fourth Grade when I got baptized, but I know I didn’t understood the full scope of what it meant to be a Christian.  I’m still learning that.

A. If you learn everything about being a Christian, do let me know- then you can answer the questions!  Ha!

As to the baptism with fire, it’s a prophecy about Pentecost, which is down the road, so we’ll get to that.  There are more baptisms to see in later events, so let’s table the immersion/infant baptism thing for now, because it is long and not easily addressed.  I’ll work on it.

Q. (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22) These three Gospels all say that the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.  What’s the dove symbolism?  Why would the Holy Spirit have to descend on Him?  He is already God.

A. The dove was (and is) a symbol of peace, which probably had something to do with it.  There’s a note of Trinitarian doctrine in this question that’s worth considering: part of the Church’s understanding of the Trinity is that while each person of the Godhead IS God, there remains distinction between them in ways that are difficult to explain or even understand.  The way it is traditionally phrased is this: the Father IS God, but is NOT the Son or Spirit.  The Son IS God, but is NOT the Father or Spirit.  The Spirit IS God, but is NOT the Father or Son.  As to why Jesus “needed” the Spirit, I’m not sure there’s a good answer for that.  The Spirit will continue to have a huge role in the Jesus’ earthly ministry and beyond.

Day 267 (Sept. 24): The Word is God who created and gave life to all things, John the Baptist to spread the news about Jesus, Jesus’s ancestors, John the Baptist foretold, Jesus foretold

We made it.  I hope you enjoy the NT!  I CERTAINLY did and that is just after the first day!  Enjoy!

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.

Four hundred years after the last Old Testament book was written, the story of the New Testament begins to unfold, around 6 BC.

Mark 1:1

Luke 1:1-4

John 1:1-18

Matthew 1:1-17

Luke 3:23-38

Luke 1:5-25

Luke 1:26-38

Questions & Observations

O.  The New Testament writings start about 400 years after the Old Testament.   This time period is referred to as the intertestamental period.  Google it to learn about the political forces.  The thing I read about and found most interesting in Ch. 4 of The True Story of the Whole World (a book Rob recommended to help me see the narrative at work in Scripture) is that the Israelites had separated into four main identity groups: 1) The Zealots separated themselves from pagan practices and used military action to show their faith in trying to defend Judaism (obviously not Biblical of course!), 2) the Essenes’ tactic was to withdraw from the primary culture altogether, and they lived in various locations outside of Jerusalem, including in caves near the Dead Sea.  Their withdrawal from society had to do with what they perceived as an impure ruler (Herod) who served Rome, and a corrupted priesthood that was in cahoots with him.  The Essenes do not play a role in the NT story, as they would have no place in mainline Jewish society.  But the Dead Sea Scrolls that we have found were a collection of their Scriptures and writings. 3) The Sadducees became the primary members of the priesthood of this era, and were one group of Jewish leaders, who argued that they should work with their Roman overlords (such as Herod) in order to maintain the Temple worship and keep the peace.  They were the “conservative” party of their day: they had the least open interpretation of the Torah (only the first five books of the OT were valid to them), and so they denied what they saw as “radical” doctrines such as resurrection.  The High Priest, Caiaphas, and many of the other priests involved in Jesus trial were Sadducees.  4) The other major Jewish political party of this day was the Pharisees.  These are generally who the Gospels mean when they speak of religious leaders in Jesus’ day.  They were powerful men, who felt that if the people could be properly purified and follow the Law (as previous generations had failed to do), then God would send His Messiah into the world, and the Messiah would free the people from the Roman rule, violently if necessary.  As such, this level of desire for spiritual perfection made them very legalistic, which is part of the reason that these leaders and Jesus often were in conflict.

Q.  There is information about what happened in the 400 years of intertestamental period, but the Christian Bible does not include it because they do not believe it was inspired by God?

A. As we have mentioned, early Christians would have been familiar with the writings of the Apocrypha (the writings you refer to), but neither Christians nor Jews considered them to say anything new about God, so they never had the same status as the other writings of the OT.

Q.  Rob, do you have a good source for readers who want to look up a nutshell summary about the gospel authors and their relationship to Jesus?

A. Alas, I can’t.  I will work on one, and if there’s a short day, I will include it then.

Q. (Luke 1:3): And, on to the NT!  We are talking about the four Gospels here.  Gospel means the “good news” that the Messiah is born, right?  And the men who wrote the gospels were followers of Jesus and God inspired them to write an account of Jesus’s life on earth?  And who is Theophilos in v. 3?  Given the strong Roman culture, writing these accounts must have been inspired, because what other reason would they have for writing about Jewish stories.

A. Hum, ok, several questions there.  The Good News that is referred to is not the birth of Christ, but rather His death and Resurrection.  It honestly may be hard to tell from the way our readings are set up, but each of the four Gospels spends considerable time in the Passion story from Palm Sunday to Easter.  Two of the Gospels (Mark and John), don’t tell of Jesus’ birth story AT ALL!

As to the writers: ok, fine, I’ll include some stuff here.  (Hehe, just kidding)  Matthew is traditionally seen as one of the 12 Disciples (you can see his call story in Matthew 9, he is also called Levi), and he writes to primarily a Jewish audience — you will see more references to the OT in Matthew than any other Gospel.  Mark is traditionally seen as a companion of the Apostle Peter, and is referred to as John-Mark in the Book of Acts.  He is one of the 70 Disciples, a group of followers referred to in Luke 10.  Mark is viewed by most scholars to be the oldest Gospel (for reasons too complex to go into here), and he uses a central theme of what some call the “Secret Messiah”: Jesus’ repeated command for people to NOT tell others of His identity until after His resurrection.  Luke is a name referred to in the Book of Acts as well, as a companion of Paul.  He is traditionally known as a physician, and it appears from his writings (he is also credited with writing the Book of Acts) that a wealthy patron named Theophilos hired him to seek out information on the truth of the Gospel message by interviewing eyewitnesses.  For example, from this reading, it appears that he interviewed Jesus’ mother, Mary, for this is the only place where the Gospels recount her story.  Luke’s Gospel is the outsiders’ Gospel: it contains stories of Jesus’ interactions with women, Gentiles, and others outside of the Jewish mainstream, so it was probably written for a Gentile audience.  The writer of John is traditionally seen as another of the Apostles, along with his brother James, and one of the followers in Jesus’ inner circle with his brother and Peter.  John writes to tell the spiritual story of the Good News: he does not tell his story in necessarily the same order as the other three gospels (called the Synoptics), but rather tells his story around major themes such as light and darkness, and the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day.  John is also held to be the writer of the NT letters of 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation.

O. (John 1:1-5): This is gushing with simple words that encompass the beauty of God.  And some, like v. 3, reinforce the OT regarding creation.  These words really do sound like they are directly from God, not from a man.  If you have had a “God moment” (they are amazing and I strive for more and more of them), like God just puts a bright idea into your head or the right words just roll off your tongue but could in no way be from your brain, then you can understand how these words would come directly from God with Matthew as the voice to carry it.  And, “Word.”  If you think about that word and when people say, “I GIVE you my WORD,” they mean I am sharing it with you for our mutual benefit AND that it is the truth.  So, that would literally mean that God is handing us truth with His Word, the Bible.  And, LIGHT.  Just think about that word.  Not only does it mean wisdom, glory, like those who have it will shine to others.  But, for me, it also means how I can feel when I allow God to be present in me.  I feel light.  That lightness feels so amazing!  Looking at v. 4, I see that LIFE is another big small word.  I don’t think this means living and breathing here, I think LIFE means a reason for living.  LIFE, LIGHT, WORD.  And, I love v. 5.  If you carry the light with you, darkness can never take over!  I am putting that one in my memory verse bank!!!!

Q. (John 1:15): John the Baptist is telling everyone that the Savior is coming, but that he has been around for a long time, which we know that the Bible says he has always been with God, right?

A. John is a normal person, but called by God for a special purpose, just as all the Prophets were.  The message John is preaching is that God has always been with the world, but has now come INTO the world as a man.

Q. (1:18): The “unique one, who is himself God” is referring to Jesus?

A. Yes.  Jesus is the Word that the writer refers to.

Q. Is there anything you want to say about the ancestral lines?

A. One interesting note is there is variation at two different places between the two lines: who Joseph’s father is (Joseph being Jesus’ adopted father) and what son of David that line comes from.  In Matthew’s line, Jesus comes via David’s son Solomon, the two greatest kings in Israel’s history, and the whole list is of many of the great kings we studied.  Luke’s list is different: he has Jesus come from David’s son Nathan (not the same as the prophet who convicted David of his sin), and he lists a different father for Joseph.  How do we reconcile these two?  In my mind, Matthew is tracing the line to Joseph, and Luke is tracing the line to Mary, who was ALSO a member of David’s household in the tribe of Judah.  So while Luke refers to Joseph’s father in his line, what he most likely means is Joseph’s father-in-law, Mary’s father.  This is a unique way to explain how God could fulfill His promise to restore the throne to David’s family for all eternity, while at the same time promising that a son from Solomon’s line would NEVER again serve as king.  Jesus was born from David’s line, but via a brother of Solomon, Nathan, and adopted into Solomon’s line via His earthly father Joseph.  That makes Jesus the only person who could ever have both of those titles (son of David via Solomon’s line, and rule as Eternal King despite God’s promise that no son of Solomon would do so).  This is the type of stuff that is just amazing to me, and the ways that God reveals incredible truth in His prophecies: via God’s careful planning, David’s throne, via Solomon, is restored to its former greatness despite what God swore would never again happen.

Q. (Luke 1:5): OK, Herod was Roman, Greek, what?

A. Herod the Great was the Judean (not Jewish) king of the Roman province of Judea, which included Jerusalem.  So he was from the area, but was not authentically Jewish, which is why truly devout Jews never accepted his rule.

Q. (1:15): Here it says that John the Baptist was to abstain from alcohol, that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.  I know many Christians stay away from alcohol totally.  Does God speak out against alcohol?   Also, will there be a good spot to get into the Holy Spirit later?

A. We will save the Spirit for Pentecost in Acts 2, so that will probably be a few weeks away or more.  John is called in the spirit of the Nazirite, like the Judge Samson.  Numbers 6 provides a number of stipulations for being a Nazirite, and one of them is not consuming alcohol.  So it was not that God was incapable of working through people who drink alcohol, but rather that was John’s CALLING.  As to a more general rule on alcohol, we need look no further than Jesus to see God’s stance on alcohol.  Jesus was a Jewish man who kept Torah, and this involved participating in events in which wine was consumed (notably Passover), so it’s clear that he had no particular objection to its consumption.  In an era before basic sanitation, wine was much safer to drink than water, because the alcohol killed microbes.  Wine also had less alcohol content than today.  What the NT speaks out against is drunkenness: the intentional consumption of too much wine or whatever.  But outside of that and particular callings, the Bible does not come down as hard on alcohol as you might think.

Day 18 (Jan. 18): Jacob gives blessings to descendants, Jacob foretells future of sons, Jacob dies, Joseph reassures brothers, Joseph dies

Genesis 47:28

Questions & Observations

Q. (47:28): There is about a 140-year discrepancy when this story took place?  Can you explain anything about how scientists have a hard time pinning down the dates?

A. I am honestly surprised that they can even make the two estimates that they have.  I feel that the dates they suggest are a bit too specific for my taste, mostly because you are talking about a period that was more than 3,500 years ago.

Here’s how it breaks down: we have some dating and archeological evidence for the united kingdom of Israel (which was ruled by Saul, David, and Solomon- recorded in 1 and 2 Samuel) that exists somewhere around 1000 BC.  The OT tells us that each of these men ruled for 40 years each, so there is a 120 year period (roughly) of united leadership before the nation fractures and falls apart after Solomon’s death (recorded in 1 and 2 Kings and Chronicles).  So basically, from there, scientists (this would include archeologists, but also linguists and other fields of study) have to work their way back to the previous events as presented in the OT (there are some scholars who doubt the authenticity of most of the writings that predate David’s kingdom, so that option is “on the table” too, though I think these scholars are TOO skeptical).

Working our way back, the OT (mostly Joshua) tells us that Joshua and the armies conquered Canaan after 10 years or so, and that the Israelites were in the desert 40 years, and in Egypt around 400 years.  So now we are back 450 years from around 1000 BC (so somewhere around 1450 or 1500 BC — you see we’ve already got a “rough” date for anything further back).  From there, you can work your way back using different versions of the ages of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, but you’re really only going to be able to estimate the dates from there.  The two numbers that you see probably represent a more “conservative” and more “liberal” dating of the event in question.  It’s at least partially guess work: that’s the best we can do.

Q. (47:29): I think we saw this practice somewhere else for making an oath.  What is the significance of a hand under the thigh?

A. Um….Hum.  See, here’s the thing, when the Bible speaks of the hand “under the thigh”, that’s not really an accurate translation — it means grasping something, uh, near the thigh on a man.  (We saw this once before with Abraham’s servant who went find Isaac a wife)  Basically, by grasping the object in question, the person swearing the oath is basically swearing on the family line.  (Isn’t Bible knowledge fun!)

Q.  (48:3) Can we talk about blessings?  We have read where God blesses people, Jacob got the blessing from Abraham before he died.  Abraham blessed Joseph and his sons in 49:15-16, which is a beautiful tribute from Abraham to God for all He has done for him.  This may sound like a silly question, but what is the nature of a blessing?  Do all blessings come from God?  Are they a hope, or something definite?  Today, we say we have many blessings.  The noun form is easy to understand, it just means all of the goodness around.  But, when someone says, “May God bless you,” do we have the right to say that?  I don’t feel that anyone can speak on God’s behalf.  Or, is it a request to God?

A. In the ancient world, it was understood that rulers and patriarchs had a power that extended beyond their physical power: the ability to bless and curse.  It was thought that the gods (or God in this case) was especially receptive to a dying patriarch’s wishes for his children or others that he wished to pass his “blessing” on to.  So in our case, the blessing is something of a request to God (not a promise God makes if you will), but we could most clearly think of it as something of a magical pronouncement that had the power to accomplish what the speaker requested, whether for good (blessing) or evil (curse).  This is why it is such an important part of the story of say Isaac and Jacob and Esau, or Jacob and Joseph in this case.

O. (48:19): Like Jacob himself was chosen by God instead of his older brother for his father Abraham’s blessing, Jacob says that Joseph’s younger son, Ephraim, will be blessed more than his older brother, Manasseh.  As we have seen before, birth order does not seem to be important to God.

Q. (49:7): We talked about blessings.  Let’s talk about curses.  Is Jacob speaking for God here?  Does cursing end the men’s bad behavior or say it will cause their ruin?

A. The curses here are the result of Simeon and Levi’s violent actions in avenging their sister (which was allowable, but didn’t exactly help Jacob’s reputation), as well as some other violence that we are not privy to.  While Jacob’s curse did not cause the ruin of Simeon and Levi’s descendants, they did come true.  In the book of Joshua, the land is divided up by casting lots, and the blessings or curses that are mentioned here seem to have their “pay off” in that story.  Simeon’s descendants are chosen by lot (basically seen as God’s will) to receive land within Judah’s allotment — reducing the prominence of his tribe despite being one of the oldest sons.  Levi’s descendants had a central role in the religious life of Israel: they became the priesthood.  But because of this central religious role, the tribe of Levi received no land to themselves, and were dispersed among the other 11 tribes.  Thus, we see how the curse comes to fruition: both Simeon and Levi’s descendants see themselves dispersed among the other tribes and lose their political power.

Q. (49:10) This is getting exciting.  Here we see that “the one it to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor” is Jesus Christ?  So, Judah’s descendants will rule the Israelites until their No. 1 descendant arrives, Jesus?  Am I reading this right or totally off base?

A. Well, you’ve read it correctly, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.  What Jacob is saying here is that the line of kings will come from Judah’s line — this is, kingship will be the most important contribution of this line.  There’s at least one little hiccup: Saul, the first king of Israel, is not of Judah’s line, for reasons that will become clear sometime down the road (it’s not worth going into now).  But after him, David and his descendants will mostly rule (I’m not sure of the exact pedigree), but as you get further and further from David and Solomon, the line becomes corrupt, and before the destruction of Jerusalem (way way way down the line), God declares in Jeremiah 22 that a descendent of David (via Solomon) will no longer sit on the throne, so the family was cut off.  This was the last king that Israel would have (around 580 BC) before Jesus came to rule.  So, there was a period of almost 600 where Israel had NO king before Jesus (who was a king in a different sense anyway), but up until that point, the line of David was (almost) always in the picture, even if they became corrupt.

Q.  (49:1-28): Oh, where to start on this one?  Can you tell us what we need to take from Jacob’s blessings to his sons?

A. As I’ve been mentioning, some of this information will come into play during the land distribution in Joshua, and I think it will be mostly clear then.  Two things come into play here: Reuben (as firstborn) should be entitled to the “best” blessing, but he screwed up (no pun intended) and got passed over.  We’ve already discussed Simeon and Levi.  The big “winners” in this are Judah (which we discussed), Joseph (it doesn’t say it here, but Joseph’s two sons that Jacob blesses get the inheritance meant for Joseph — one of them gets Levi’s place so the math still comes out to 12), and Benjamin (who gets a good blessing despite being the youngest).  I don’t think there is much else to discuss here for the other sons, but if we come across something later that references that section, I will mention it.

O. (49:29-32): Jacob must have been saddened that he was not able to bury Rachel in the cave with his father, grandfather and Leah since she died alongside the road.

O. (49:33): I picture Jacob here so relaxed.  He has seen his son Jacob that he thought was dead, he has seen Jacob’s sons, the ones that will carry on the blessing, he has given his blessing, and he has nothing left.  This reminds me when my grandma passed.  I was fortunate to be with her when she left.  She was 96, a devout Christian and had a fairly healthy life.  She was lying there, taking long, slow breaths with the help of an oxygen mask.  We were the only two in the room … that I could see.  She kept trying to take off her oxygen, but I kept putting it back on and she would take another deep breath like she had just come up from being under water. She had her eyes shut, but she still knew what she was doing.  She wanted the mask off!  It was late.  I had flown overseas to see her.  I finally nodded off and she had pulled the mask aside again.  I stirred and tried to put it back on her, but she had gone.  She looked so peaceful.  My neighbor said that when his dad died, the ones around could see him going through judgment.  His dad was talking to someone.  He said, “Wait, they’ve got some questions for me.”  Then, he said, “OK, I can cross now.”  Then he said when his mom went through judgment, it was terrifying.  That’s not a great note to end on, so does anyone else have a story they would like to share of witnessing someone going to heaven?

Q. (50:16-17): This is a lie?  I don’t remember anyone ever telling Jacob the truth about his brothers selling Joseph into slavery.  Is the important part here Joseph’s recognition that it was God’s work?

A. Yep, the fellas are lying to try and protect themselves, but it doesn’t matter.  Joseph has forgiven them and seen the way that God worked everything out.

Q.  Do we know anything outside of what the Bible says about Joseph’s death?  He was the second to youngest, yet his older brothers outlived him?

A. The story doesn’t indicate how many brothers were still alive, but it appears that at least some of them outlived him.  We have no record of any sort about Joseph or his brothers in Egypt as far as I know outside of the Old Testament.

O. (50:24) I have spoken of this before, but I think it’s worth highlighting again.  It almost feels like God did not have the outward relationship with Joseph as he did with Isaac and Abraham.  Here he says, “God will surely come to help you …” which sounds like there is a hint of a doubt.  It seems that he is passing this message down from what his father had been told by God.  We never hear God talking directly to Joseph, only in his ability to interpret dreams.  But, obviously, Joseph was filled with the Spirit.  To me this just goes to show that the relationship God has with one person can appear different than any other relationship.  We should not compare how others revere Him, just be happy they know God and you know God in your own special way.  We all have different gifts!