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 7 (Jan. 7): Isaac is born, Hagar and Ishmael leave, Abraham told to sacrifice son, Sarah dies, Isaac marries Rebekah

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.

Genesis 21:8-23:20

Genesis 11:32

Genesis 11:32

Genesis 24

Questions & Observations

O. (21:12): God seems to be saying that both women are important, but Sarah is Abraham’s wife and he should please her.

O. (21:28): Abraham added 7 ewes to the covenant he made with Abimelech.  If you recall in Day 3’s answers, the number “7” signifies completeness.

Q. (22:9-11): It’s hard to imagine Abraham willingly ready to sacrifice his son and Isaac willingly lying on the altar ready to be killed.  Abraham’s trust in God has grown since he was afraid of the rulers killing him, a foreigner, and taking his beautiful wife.  Abraham willingly sacrificing Isaac foretells God sacrificing his own son?

A. This passage, above all else, demonstrates Abraham’s absolute trust in God’s goodness and direction, even when the direction itself did not make sense to him.  Since Abraham had such great trust in God, however, we should understand a few things.  Abraham understood that this was the child that God had promised him; all of Abraham’s descendants were going to come from Isaac.  So there had to be some way that this was going to be true — God had proven Himself faithful to Abraham, and Abraham’s obedience I think reflects this in his decision making.  Abraham understood that God was going to provide for him in some way (see 22:8 and 13).  Note that when Abraham leaves his servant and he and Isaac continue on together, he uses the word “we” when talking about his return (22:5).  He fully expects to return with his son.  The writer of Hebrews also points to Abraham’s thinking: that even if he killed Isaac, God was capable of bringing him back from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19) and restoring him to Abraham.  So there certainly was a great deal of trust in Abraham following God’s commands, but the text implies Abraham believed that the loss of his son would not be permanent.

Q. (22:11) The text says that an Angel of the Lord spoke to Isaac.  I always thought it was the Lord himself.  Angels seem to have a lot of authority with God.  Will we learn more about angels later?

A. The word “angel” means messenger, and it is tough for us to understand that cultural understanding of the ancient messenger.  Basically, an official messenger (sometimes called a herald) was seen and treated as though they were actually the king or ruler who sent them; the mindset was that they did not merely speak on behalf of the king, but AS the king (hopefully you can see the difference).  In this light, it is more clear what the OT writers want us to understand: a messenger or angel of God should be read as the actual presence of God being there.

This helps explain why sometimes the language gets a bit murky when describing an angel appearing, but God doing the talking (we will see several more examples of this, notably in Exodus 3 in the call of Moses).  This appears to be strictly an OT distinction: angels in the New Testament (such as Gabriel in Luke 1) speak on BEHALF of God, rather than as God.  Honestly, I am not sure the reasons for this, but it might have to do with a cultural shift in the understanding of the role of angels.

One other note: the concept of angels is not one scripture appears very interested in fleshing out (no pun intended) for us.  While scripture makes it clear that angels (and demons frankly) are real, it almost never provides detailed accounts of them.  This ultimately is because the focus of the reader should be on God, not on God’s messenger.

Q. (22:18): This is telling of Israel.  What is the significance of Israel?  Or, do we get into this later?  This verse says “all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”  What does this say about predestination and the chosen that I have heard about?

A. I think that this question has multiple answers that will unfold over the remaining course of the Biblical story.  On one level, we see in Exodus that God describes the Israelites (you’ll see where the name comes from shortly) as a chosen people to show what right relationship with God should look like- this is part of how the Ten Commandments will come into play (more on that later).  The problem is that (he he, spoiler alert) the Israelites fail to live up to the promises that they make to God, despite Him remaining faithful.  But where Israel fails, God sends the Messiah into the world to succeed where ordinary human fell short.  A central theme of Jesus’ ministry is continuing this quest to reunite God and man: Jesus speaks of the ways that people can walk in right relationship with God, and that He himself is at the heart of this message.  And since Jesus (the Messiah or Christ) is Jewish or an Israelite, Christians often assume that the promise to Abraham that the entire world would be blessed by his offspring refer to Jesus himself.

Q. (23:5): The Hittites respect Abraham calling him “my lord” and an “honored prince.”  Is this because he had favor with God?

A. I think so.  Abraham had clearly proven himself a force to be reckoned with (because of God, not because of anything Abraham had done), so that even the elders of other clans and tribes show their reverence for him.

O.  (24:26-27): There is a strong respect between the Lord and Abraham.  They both serve one another.  Abraham’s servants carry the same trust in God as Abraham.  Abraham must have been a successful champion for the Lord to his people.  I like to see the strong relationship that God makes with his followers and how much He will work for them.

Q. (24:40): Abraham must be in God’s presence a lot if he can say that an angel will be with his servant on his trip to find Isaac a wife?  How can Abraham order God’s angels?

A. Perhaps God informed Abraham of the way He would help Abraham’s servant.  I don’t think Abraham is bossing any angels around.

Q. (24:48): Why was marrying relatives OK in Bible times?

A. Family relationships (which frankly border on what we would understand to be incest- the married relationship between close relatives) were more common in the ancient world than today.  Though I would point out that even in the fairly recent modern world, we see things like closely interrelated monarchies of various countries who intermarry, so perhaps we are not as distant from this situation as we would like.

OK, here’s the bigger picture response: the big problem was not Abraham seeking a close relative for his son to marry; the big problem was intermarrying with the local tribes, which is clear Abraham does NOT want to do.  Thus, when presented with the choices of either marrying close kin or intermarrying with other tribes, the choice is clear: Abraham and the generations of Israelites that follow him will choose to “preserve” their ethnic heritage.  This will actually become part of the Law: there will be particular commands against intermarrying, again for the purpose of being a nation set apart for God’s purposes.

O. (24:54): Serving meals and washing feet have been shown to be proper ways to serve guests.  I like to see the love for the Lord and love of one another displayed throughout Abraham’s extended family.

Day 6 (Jan. 6): Sarah and Abraham promised a child, Abraham pleads for Sodom, Sodom destroyed, Lot saved, Trick on Abimelech, Isaac is born

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.

Genesis 18-21:7

Questions & Observations

Q. (18:12-13): It’s interesting here how God new Sarah laughed quietly at the thought of having a child at her old age.  However, later in this chapter, He says He has to go to Sodom and Gomorrah to see if they are as wicked as He has heard.  So, I’m wondering if God hears, but doesn’t see?  I’m sure He can do anything He wants.  Or, is it that He wanted to see how His presence affected the people — if his appearance and power would frighten them and they would stop their evil ways?

A. Certainly I think the writer of Genesis wants us to know that God does see, as we discussed in the Hagar section yesterday (“you are the God who sees me”) as well as hear.  We should assume that God is using figurative language for His “coming down” to see a situation (this same language was used at the Tower of Babel as well).  God is using the language of being a human being, who would have to investigate Sodom or the Tower of Babel in order to verify its truth.  But we believe that the consistent nature of God is that He knows everything there is to know (what we call omniscience) and any passage that appears to contradict this concept (i.e. God didn’t REALLY know what was going on at Sodom) should be dismissed as figurative.  It appears that the angels God sent were a final “test” for the area, one that the men of the town fail miserably.

Q. (18:20-32): God is about to punish Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham pleads with Him to spare the righteous.  There are so many points here.  Abraham felt close enough to God to keep asking him to spare all of the people if just a small percentage were righteous.  What made Abraham feel he could keep haggling with God? Abraham did plead with respect.  And, is God showing mercy here by not destroying all, for the sake of the righteous?  Obviously, Abraham is trying to save Lot … again?

A. While I certainly think Abraham is concerned about Lot, he appears to be testing his understanding of who God is.  Is it in the nature of God to destroy a town full of evil people if there were 50 or 20 righteous ones?  And the answer appears to be no — though the story goes on to present an alternative situation: God removes the righteous ones—Lot and his relatives — and THEN destroys the city.

One other note on this back and forth between Abraham and God (as a minister in college once shared with me): the story tells us that Abraham stopped asking before God stopped granting.

Q. (19:5): Sodom and Gomorrah sound horrible.  I see why God wanted to flatten them.  I guess this is where the word sodomy originated?  How can these people forget the great power of the Lord after knowing what he did with the Great Flood?  Why did Lot want to live among so much evil?

A. I could not tell you the origins of the word, but I would imagine there is something to that.  Regarding the forgetfulness of people: we quickly forget the mercies of God, even when we have been directly saved by them.  This is going to be a major theme of the Israelites and their journey in the wilderness: despite God’s constant interventions and provision, the people still rebel and abandon their oaths to God (something to watch for).  I have no idea why Lot would choose to live in such a place, though it sounds to me like perhaps he was not a person of great moral character in his willingness to throw his own daughters “to the wolves” in this story.  Lot appears to benefit greatly from the righteousness of Abraham.

Q. (19:18): Why does Lot challenge the angels?  I would think their appearance would be enough authority that Lot would do exactly as they say without arguing.

A. He appears convinced that there is a better place for himself and his family. Perhaps he thinks a bit too highly of himself, doesn’t he?

Q. (19:29): Why does Abraham have so much family loyalty to Lot when Lot seems to prefer to live among the wicked?  The covenant God made with Abraham has obviously built trust between the two.  God goes to battle for Abraham even when what God is protecting — Lot — is very stubborn.

A. Clearly Abraham honors his family, which keep in mind was the only family that traveled with him when God called Abram to start his journey.  Abraham is faithful to a fault here.  Perhaps this is part of the way the author wants us to see the goodness and loyalty of both God AND Abraham.

Q. (19:30-38): Ok, another weird situation.  Why didn’t they just move back with Abraham and find husbands there?

A. It appears that the author is giving us the origins of two of the tribes that live in the surrounding area of Israel during the time of the Kingdom (beginning in the books of Joshua and Judges).  With the Moabites in particular, they appear in regular reference throughout the OT (Ruth was a Moabite), and Numbers 21:24 and 22:4 points to the loyalty that God had to Lot (on behalf of Abraham): God told Moses that the Israelites (Abraham’s descendants) would have no conquest in the land given to the descendants of Lot (the Ammonites and the Moabites)

Q. (20:2) Why didn’t Abraham learn his lesson the first time when he asked Sarah to say they were siblings (Gen. 12:10-20)?  It seems that God views intercourse between a man and wife as sacred, but Abraham and Sarah view breaking that bond as saving their lives.  Maybe it takes time and trials to put your fears aside and trust God?

A. This is a tough question, because neither time that Abraham and Sarah perform this little trick are they punished by God.  Quite the opposite — they benefit greatly both times (20:14 and 15) from their deception.  God appears to “allow” this deception to ensure Abraham (and Sarah’s) protection in hostile realms (which appears to be the true purpose).  And as Abraham points out: they really are half brother and sister.  God certainly does put a great deal of emphasis on honoring marriage (it actually becomes His symbolic way of describing the unfaithfulness of Israel to her Husband [God] in stories such as Hosea), so why Abraham and Sarah are not punished for this action is unknown to me.

O. (21-6-7): Now, the jokes on Sarah.  This is almost a comical twist of events.  Sarah laughed at the thought of God giving her a child at her old age.  Now, she is laughing at herself in disbelief that such a blessing did come to her and Abraham.

Day 5 (Jan. 5): God and Abraham’s covenant, sacrifices, Hagar’s relationship with God, circumcision

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.

Genesis 15-17

Questions & Observations

O. (15:5): I would love to be a fly on the wall at this conversation.  I can’t imagine the Lord telling me that I am the root of all of these descendants.  How incredible that must have felt to be handed that kind of “trophy.”  If we all trust in God, we can feel that way too.

Q. (15:9): You talked about sacrifices in Day 4’s readings, but I still don’t get it.  Killing animals seems so violent.  I just don’t understand why such violence would be pleasing.  Maybe it’s something for me not to understand?  Also, I see the three’s in this passage — a goat, a ram and a heifer, all 3 years old.

A. I’m afraid there’s not much I can do to help you address the violent aspects of the usage of animal sacrifices; this was simply the world that they lived in, and, frankly, our entire world lived in until a couple of generations ago.  Today, we are mostly spared from the sight of animal slaughter, but it is a reality in our continued survival, vegetarian and vegan company excluded.  Let’s stick to this passage for the moment, and I will address the reasons for the sacrifice system when that comes up in Leviticus.  There are particular circumstances going on in Gen 15 that I want to make sure we understand.

This ceremony that takes place between Abram and God in this passage is unique as it comes to sacrifices.  The animals are not sacrificed to cover sin, but rather to confirm a covenant.  As I understand it, in the ancient Middle East, a king would hold a covenant ceremony with a servant or vassal who agreed to serve the king (God of course is the King, and Abram the vassal).  The king and servant would conduct a ceremony in which animals were sawed in half (violent, I know, but it was the ritual) and the participating parties would walk between the two halves (as God does in verse 17 with the movement of the torch) to symbolize the establishment of the covenant relationship.  The sawed animals represented the punishment is either party broke the covenant, though not in a literal way.  The parties basically said, “may I be sawed in half like these animals if I violate this sacred relationship.”

God is using this ceremony to formalize the relationship between Himself and Abram in a way that Abram (and the subsequent readers) would clearly understand.  Though it seems foreign and violent to us, it would have been an especially significant experience to Abram and the ancient Jews who read these words.

I will try to keep addressing the sacrifice system as it comes up, but frankly, the Bible does not shy away from the violence (of many sorts) that takes place on its pages.

O. (15:13-16): The Lord tells of the Israelites saga.  There’s so much back-and-forth references in the Bible that it’s foolproof.  I am surprised that people still try to dispute it!

Q. (16:12): If the Lord or anyone told me that I was going to have a child wilder than a donkey, I would be a little upset.  And, God tells Hagar to go back to live with Sarai who was treating her poorly.  Hagar does not seem to be troubled with any of this.  God said that he had heard her cries, so maybe she was a believer and trusted God?

A. While it seems harsh (a common theme so far I guess), the story of Hagar is actually one of my favorites from the OT.  God made His promises to Abraham and Sarah, and a slave like Hagar could be excused for thinking that her actions (and her child) did not matter to God.  But she is wrong!  God sees her, as she points out, and cares greatly for her needs, as well as the needs of her son.  We will see more of this story in a few chapters, because it happens again.

Q. (17:12-14): Circumcision is something I totally don’t understand.  It is such a violent act for a newborn boy.  And, if it’s the mark of the everlasting covenant, no one can visibly see it unless they are naked.  So, what is the purpose?  Is this still one of God’s requirements today?

A. Regarding the current requirement of circumcision: yes, pious Jews will tell you that circumcising a male child on the eighth day is one of their most sacred duties as a new parent: the circumcision is the ritual for a child becoming “part of the family”.  And just FYI, it is part of pious Muslim ritual as well, and called “Khitan”.  Some Christians choose to participate, but there is disagreement about the requirement.  Christians who argue that we are no longer under the Law because of Jesus may still choose to do so in order to honor God.

Circumcision was (and frankly still is) a unique way of marking a person as a follower of God — and it would have been completely unique in the ancient world.  This gets at a larger theme of the first five books of the OT: that God is requiring that His chosen people act in various ways to show that they are set apart from the world (and other tribes) around them.  I won’t try to defend the violence of the act (like a broken record, I guess that would be the title for our Day 5 discussion), but there are Jews, Muslims, and Christians who to this day see circumcision as bringing their children into covenant relationship with God — something that can literally have eternal consequences.