Friday, 30 March 2012

Why did John preach ‘in the wilderness’?

Matthew  3.1    In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
The answer is in 4 points:

Point 1.
John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness  in order to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 40.3-5:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the Glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

These verses are the beginning of the great Messianic prophecies of Isaiah chapters 40 to 66, all of which are written in Hebrew poetry.  One of the characteristics of Hebrew poetry is that it is written in Parallelisms. Parallelisms are most commonly found in the book of Psalms and Proverbs, but they are found throughout the whole of the Bible.
A Parallelism is the expression of one idea in two or more different ways. For example in Psalm 119.105 we read:
Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path 
This is an example of a simple Parallelism and can be written:
Your Word is;
a   a lamp to my feet
b  a light for my path

The words ‘lamp’ and ‘light’ are paralleled as well as the words ‘my feet’ and ‘my path’. 
The thought in the first line (a) of the couplet is repeated in the following line (b).

Most English Bible translations print the parallelism in Isaiah 40.3 with the inverted commas in the wrong place, as I have done above: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the Way of the LORD..

The verse is a Parallelism, and should read:
The voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness prepare the Way of the LORD;…

The beautiful Parallelisms of verses 3 to 5 are set out as follows:

A The voice of one crying.

a  In the wilderness prepare the Way of the LORD;
b  Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

a  Every valley shall be exalted
b  and every mountain and hill brought low;

a  The crooked places shall be made straight
b  and the rough places smooth;

a  The Glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
b  and all flesh shall see it together;

B  For the Mouth of the LORD has spoken.’

Point 2.
The Hebrew word that is translated ‘wilderness’ does not mean the barren and desolate place that we imagine. The following Hebrew words are derived from the Hebrew root dbr, and all have a meaning of ‘order’:

Dabar      Word: An arrangement or placement of something creating
                 Speak:   A careful arrangement of words or commands.
                 Speech:  An arrangement of words.
Dabir        Sanctuary:  A place of order. 
Deborah   Bee:  A colony of ordered insects. 
Midbar      Wilderness: A place of order, a sanctuary. 

Therefore, the ‘wilderness’ is ‘a place of order’.   God led the Children of Israel through the wilderness in order for them to ‘order’ their relationship with Him, to learn about Him, and how to relate to Him:
Deuteronomy 29:5  I have led you forty years in the wilderness (a place of order in which to ‘order’ your relationship with God) Your clothes have not worn out, nor your sandals

The wilderness, a place of order, is very different from the ‘waste’ place  and the ‘desolate’ place described by Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 44:6  ‘My fury and My anger were poured out in the cities of Judah and in Jerusalem; they are wasted (chorbah)  and desolate (shamem)

‘wasted’, chorbah,  means a dry wasteland, also a place that has been laid waste and made desolate.
‘desolate’, shamem, means desolate, as when a wind blows over the land and pulls the moisture out of the ground drying it up, making it a place of ruin or desert.

Point 3.  
When Jesus was led by the Spirit (not the devil) into the wilderness (a place of order), God’s purpose was for Him to  ‘order’ His relationship with God the Father.
When we read the Temptation of Jesus in Luke 4, it is easy to assume that the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness.   The text reveals that the devil tempted Jesus three times, in three different places:
1    ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’
2   Taking Him up on a high mountain
He brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the Temple
       The location of ‘the pinnacle of the Temple’  is clear

Where might be the locations of the other two temptations?  Since the ‘wilderness’ was a place of order, in contrast to Jerusalem, the place of confusion, with all the noise, people, animals, commerce, and activity, where better for the devil to tempt Him:

1   ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’
Where was ‘this stone’? ‘This stone’ that the devil suggested that Jesus should command ‘to become bread’ might have been one of the stones used to build the Temple in Jerusalem

2   Taking Him up on a high mountain
Where was the ‘high mountain’? The ‘high mountain’ might have been the Mount of Olives which is 210 feet, 70 metres, higher than the Temple Mount.

So, perhaps the text reveals that the Temptation of Jesus was not ‘in the wilderness’, the place of order, but in Jerusalem, the place of confusion.

Point 4.
Why did John preach ‘in the wilderness’ and not in Jerusalem where the crowds were? 
Because he was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy…and giving those who listened to him the opportunity to ‘order’ their relationship with God before the imminent appearance of Jesus, Messiah, and God made manifest.

At the conclusion of our study there might be a lesson for us:
When the LORD leads us into the ‘wilderness’, we should not be disappointed, frustrated, or depressed.
Rather, we should welcome the opportunity to ‘order’ our relationship with Him in a place of ‘order’, set apart from the place of confusion.  
Then, when He leads us out of the ‘wilderness’, we are better prepared to resist temptation, and to walk as He wants us to walk.

Friday, 23 March 2012

What is God's view on divorce?

There is a famous, and much used, verse in Malachi 2.16 that has been used for centuries to condemn all marriages that end in divorce…..and in many cases, to forbid divorce even when a marriage has irretrievably broken down:
God … says that He hates divorce, (shalach) for it covers one’s garment with violence…                 
The text of Malachi 2.16 seems to equate ‘violence’ with ‘divorce’. But the translation is incorrect. The Hebrew word translated ‘divorce’, shalach, means abandoning/sending away, it does NOT mean ‘divorce’. 

The problem is the ‘violence’ of emotional and physical abandonment without a divorce that would allow the rejected wife to rebuild her life.

Jesus comments in Matthew 5.31-32 & 19.3-8:
Matthew 5.31-32:
Whoever 1. divorces (abandons/sends away) his wife, let him give her a certificate of 2.divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever 3.divorces (abandons/sends away) his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is 4.divorced (abandoned/sent away) commits adultery’.

Matthew 19.3-8:
The Pharisees, testing Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to 5. divorce (abandon/send away) his wife for just any reason?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’ They said, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of 6. divorce, and to put her away?’ He said, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to 7. divorce (abandon/send away) your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.’

There are 7 translations using ‘divorce’ in the 2 Matthew passages. 
Nos. 2 and 6 are correctly translated ‘divorce’.
Nos. 1,3,4,5,7 are wrongly translated ‘divorce’.

The correct translation of nos. 1,3,4,5,7 should be ‘abandon/send away’. 

There are 2 different Hebrew words translated ‘divorce’ in the Matthew passages:

1. k’riythuth means a cutting of the matrimonial bond.  The word   k’riythuth is only used 7 times in the Bible, and in each case it is used as part of the phrase ‘a certificate (writing) of divorce’ ; sepher k’riythuth. Here are the 7 references:

Deuteronomy 24:1  When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
Deuteronomy 24:3  if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
Isaiah 50:1  Where is the certificate of your mother’s divorce, whom I have put away?
Jeremiah 3:8  Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce;
Matthew 5:31  Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’
Matthew 19:7  They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’
Mark 10:4  They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.’

2.   shalach means to send away. This word is used 790 times in the Old Testament.  There is a good example in Genesis 3:
Genesis 3:23 The LORD God sent him out  of the garden of Eden

When the Matthew passages are read with the correct translation, it is plain to see that Jesus was clearly differentiating between ‘divorce’ and ‘sending away, abandonment’. A correct translation might have saved centuries of misunderstanding and hurt.

The marriage relationship between a man and a woman that is publicly declared as a commitment to be united as ‘one flesh’ can break down for many reasons.  God provides divorce, formalised by a certificate, to give both the man and the woman:
1.      Public recognition that the marriage relationship is over, and
2.  The opportunity for either, or both, to start another marriage relationship with someone else.

God does NOT hate divorce, but He does hate the abandonment of the wife without divorce, which condemns her to a life with no opportunity for a marriage relationship in which she can be united as ‘one flesh’, in love, mutual acceptance, commitment, and purpose, with her husband.

Monday, 19 March 2012

‘Good morning’…. ‘G’day’….‘Have a good day’

‘Good morning’…. ‘G’day’….‘Have a good day’: 

What are we wishing for someone when we greet them with ‘Good morning’…. ‘G’day’….‘Have a good day’?

The Hebrew word for ‘good’ is ‘tov’, and in the Ancient Hebrew alphabet, or Aleph Bet, ‘tov’  was written with 2 characters. The ‘t’ was a pictograph that looked like an enclosed basket, and the ‘v’ was a pictograph of the floor plan of a nomadic tent.

These 2 pictographs were designed to mean ‘surround the house’, or ‘a house is surrounded’….because  a ‘good’ house is surrounded by grace, beauty, love, health and prosperity. 

A ‘good’ house is something that is functional.  It is something that functions properly, as it is intended to.

In Genesis 1, the word ‘good’ is used 7 times when at the end of each day:
God saw everything He had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31, +1.4, 1.10, 1.12, 1.18, 1.21, 1.25 

Each day was ‘good’ because it functioned properly, in the way that God intended.  Well, since God had made it, it would function properly!!

In Exodus 18, when Moses’ father in law visited, he noticed that Moses was being worn out solving all and every major and minor dispute among the people:
Jethro said to Moses, ‘The thing that you do is not good.’   Exodus 18:17

Jethro has been called the first management consultant because he analysed the problem and concluded that Moses was not functioning efficiently, and he recommended that Moses delegate tasks to others:

Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, ….
You shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, … and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you.
If you do this thing, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.’
So Moses heeded the voice of his father–in–law and did all that he had said.

As a result of Jethro’s sound advice, Moses functioned more efficiently…and the thing that he did was good

At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to believers:
You are the salt of the earth; if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned?  It is then good for nothing
Matthew 5:13

If salt loses its flavour, it does not function properly in food, and it does not provide the taste that is intended.

So, what are we wishing for someone when we greet them with ‘Good morning’…. ‘G’day’….‘Have a good day’?

The answer might be that we are hoping that they will have a functional day, behave in a functional way, and bring happiness and peace to those that they meet…

Good morning to you all this Monday morning!!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Leper or Jar maker? Which was Simon?

There are lots of odd and difficult passages in the Gospels. Many of them can be understood from the Jewish culture of the first century, some from a poor and inaccurate translation from the Aramaic Gospels into Greek, and some from reference to explanatory passages in the Tanach (Old Testament).

To begin with, let us look at Simon the Leper:
Matthew 26:6-7 & Mark 14.3-4: Leper or Jar maker? Which was Simon?

Matthew 26:6-7:
While Jesus was in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume.
Mark 14:3-4:
Being in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted?

One detail should leap out at even the casual Bible student from these parallel passages. We have a leper living in a suburb of Jerusalem in the midst of the population. Such a situation is clearly impossible, because the person who has such an infectious disease must:
  • Wear torn clothes
  • Let his hair be unkempt
  • Cover the lower part of his face, and
  • Cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ because as long as he has the infection he remains unclean.
  • He must live alone;
  • He must live ‘outside the camp.’
As Leviticus 13:45-46 stipulates:
The leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his beard, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
In addition, Lepers cannot:
  • Own property.
  • Live in or near Jerusalem, except in a leper colony.
  • Employ servants.
  • Have feasts that Jews will legally be able to attend.
Lepers are never called ‘lepers’ again once they are healed. They are always pronounced ‘clean’ by the priests and re-enter society upon recovery:
The priest who makes him clean shall present the man who is to be made clean, and those things, before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Leviticus14:11.

Consider the ramifications to this man’s personal life if he did as some scholars suggest. To keep being referred to as Simon the Leper would:
  • Drive away business from him
  • Create confusion when other Israelites from outside of his town came to visit, and
  • It would be considered a legal slander to refer to one so cleansed as still possessing that impurity.
The answer to the problem of Matthew 26.6 and Mark 14.3 is that the Aramaic for both ‘jar maker’ and ‘leper’ is written grba. However, when they are spoken, the two words have different inflections that reveal their different meanings. garba means ‘leper’, and with an extra a, garaba means ‘jar maker’. It seems probable that the Greek translating scribe looked at the Aramaic and made the wrong choice.

The correct translation of Matthew 26:6 and Mark 14.3 is: Simon the Jar maker.

There is a possible irony in these verses. Perhaps 'Simon the Jar maker' had made the ‘alabaster jar’ that the woman broke and poured the oil of spikenard on His head.
If so, was Simon also one of those ‘who were indignant’ at her action?
Would he have been so ‘indignant’ if he had known that the ‘alabaster jar’ that he had made was used to anoint the King of Kings?
Perhaps not!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

How can a camel go through the eye of a needle?

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24 = Mark 10:25

Scholars have been aware of the difficulty of this verse for many years. They have suggested the ‘eye of the needle’ may be a place name, or more specifically, one of Jerusalem’s gates that allowed a camel to pass through, but only without its burden. However, there is no evidence at all that a proper place name was intended either in Aramaic or in Greek, and furthermore there is no record of any gate in Jerusalem called the Needle Gate.

Therefore, if the phrase ‘eye of the needle’ is literal, then it means no rich people can be saved; which must have been bad news for the wealthy followers of Jesus including Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus:

The potential condemnation of Joseph of Arimathea seems particularly ironic since he had given his tomb for the burial of Jesus after His Crucifixion:

Matthew 27.57-60 When evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.

Fortunately, the Aramaic gives a much clearer image, for while gamla does mean ‘camel’, gamala, with an extra a, means ‘heavy rope’, but both words in the actual text would appear exactly the same way as G-M-L-A.

In order to understand why ‘heavy rope’ is the right translation, we need to look at the situation that precipitated the comment about the ‘heavy rope’ in the first place:

(Jesus said) ‘If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give them to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come; follow me.’
Matthew 19:21 = Mark 10:21

Can a heavy rope pass through such a small opening as the eye of a needle? The answer is yes, but only if it is undone one small strand at a time. The rope ‘unravelling’ represented the rich man ‘unravelling his dependence on his fortune’.

Sadly, and tragically, the mistranslation of this verse has led to centuries of misunderstanding about what Jesus taught….and it has led to decisions about what to do with one’s wealth that have been wrong decisions.

The misunderstanding of this verse contributed to the idea of the poverty of monasticism, partly to secure one’s salvation. How tragic. The issue was and is not to get rid of one’s wealth…but to get rid of one’s dependence on wealth. They are two very different ideas.

It is easier for a heavy rope to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24 = Mark 10:25