Friday, July 22, 2011

Aeneas: Walking Witness

Where did Aeneas live? Lydda (Acts 9:33)

Aeneas was a paralytic from Lydda healed by Peter (Acts 9:32-35). Though miraculous, Peter’s healing of Aeneas is overshadowed by the momentous conversion of Paul that precedes it (Acts 9:1-31) and the resurrection of Dorcas that follows it (Acts 9:36-43). In fact, Aeneas’ tale is skipped over in the Revised Common Lectionary, the system of appointed readings in many Christian denominations. As such, Aeneas’ story is relatively obscure.

When Peter traveled through the coastal town of Lydda, he encountered a man named Aeneas who had been incapacitated for eight years (Acts 9:33). In the name of Jesus, Peter healed Aeneas and the paralytic could instantly walk (Acts 9:34). The demonstrable change in Aeneas was enough to convert “all who lived” in the Mediterranean coastal cities of Lydda and Sharon (Acts 9:35). Aeneas was a walking witness to the power of Christ.

Little is known of Aeneas, including the exact diagnosis of his condition. The Greek word used is paraluo (Acts 9:33). This verb is used only five times in the New Testament, four falling in Luke-Acts (Luke 5:18, 24; Acts 8:7, 9:33; Hebrews 12:12). The word is always presented in the passive voice and literally means “to loose from the side”. As such, the term suggests that Aeneas was paralyzed as the result of a disease and not an accident. Some have suggested that he suffered from polio as there is evidence that poliomyelitis had been plaguing the Middle East since at least 1000 BCE. It can be certain that Aeneas was suffering from a chronic condition that was likely progressively deteriorating and presumed to be permanent.

Have you struggled with any problem for as long as eight years? What is the longest you have endured a particular trial? Did you lose hope?

The healing of Aeneas mirrors Jesus’ healing of a paralyzed man in Luke 5:18-26. One glaring commonality is that both Jesus and Peter relieved the formerly ill men of their stretchers (Luke 5:24, Acts 9:34). Their mats were no longer necessary, signs of past lives.

Is there anything you need to put in your past to more effectively follow Christ?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

David's Stones

How many smooth stones did David pick up when he prepared to fight Goliath? Five (I Samuel 17:40)

David’s triumph over the Philistine giant Goliath is one of the most famous Bible stories and the quintessential picture of the victorious underdog (I Samuel 17). The soldier Goliath brings a litany of armory to battle (I Samuel 17:5-7) while the shepherd David carries a humble arsenal.
“He [David] took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine.” - I Samuel 17:40, NASB
After testing king Saul’s armor (I Samuel 17:38-39), David adopts a less is more approach and goes with what he knows as battle is not a time for experimentation. He carries only the tools of his trade - a staff, perhaps a decoy to falsely suggest that it would be used to cudgel a sword, and a sling (I Samuel 17:40).

David is very selective in picking his ammo. He waits until reaching a brook to draw the smooth polished rocks that lay in its valley. Smooth stones make superior slingshot pellets as they produce more predictable trajectories and are less apt to get caught on the cradle.

The Bible specifies that David chose five smooth stones (I Samuel 17:40). This proved an excess of four as David needed only one to fell the Philistine giant (I Samuel 17:49).

Why do you think David selected five stones?

No reason is given in Scripture for the spare rocks though many theories have been postulated. The simplest is that of the pragmatist. David could not have carried many stones and the extras provided a contingency plan in the event he missed. Likewise, carrying more than five would be pointless as had he missed five times, he would have already been defeated. Proponents of this explanation laud David for being responsible and not limiting God to a single result. This does not seem to fit the text as lacking confidence is not part of this story (I Samuel 17:26, 32-37). In the terms of today’s youth, David had to have some serious stones to undertake this mission in the first place.

Others speculate that David was preparing for retribution from Goliath’s four brothers. This is based upon II Samuel 21:15-22 and a parallel passage in I Chronicles 20:5. Though the Bible does not specifically state that Goliath had four brothers, he had at least one (II Samuel 21:19). This conjecture also does not fit the context because even if Goliath did have four brothers, it is doubtful that David would have known. David is depicted as shocked by Goliath’s challenge and is seen asking questions about the situation (I Samuel 17:26, 29).

A more likely supposition is that David planned complete obliteration of the enemy. The Philistines controlled five strongholds each led by a lord (Joshua 13:3; I Samuel 6:16, 17, 18). Goliath was the representative of Gath (I Samuel 17:4, 23), one of their five cities.

There are also many metaphorical interpretations. Five appears in Biblical expressions relating to being hopelessly outnumbered (Leviticus 26:8; I Corinthians 14:19). Biblical numerologists cite five as the number of the Bible and suggest that David’s selection represents his using the very word of God to defeat Goliath. In charismatic circles it has been said that five represents the “five fold ministry” of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.

None of these hypotheses is wholly satisfying (especially the metaphorical). What is clear is that regardless of how many stones David took into battle, he would have appeared defenseless and overmatched in this contest. David takes a radical alternative and chooses not to play the game by Goliath’s rules. David was the proverbial man taking a knife to a gun fight.

What can Christians use today in handling the challenges they face? What do you take into battle with you?

David takes only five smooth stones and faith to battle a giant. They were enough.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An Open Letter to Gaius?

Which book is written to Gaius? III John

III John is addressed to a believer named Gaius (III John 1:1). Before being canonized, III John was simply a letter encouraging Gaius in a dispute with a man named Diotrephes (III John 1:9-11). It also served as a cover letter for Demetrius, whom the author was sending to support Gaius (III John 1:12).

It has been assumed that Gaius was a member of one of the churches in the region of Asia Minor. In the epistle, he is described as an “elder” and “beloved” (III John 1:1). Little else can be said of him with any certainty. Gaius was a common Roman name and appears in four books of the New Testament (Acts 19:29, 20:4; Romans 16:23; I Corinthians 1:14; III John 1:1). Whether or not III John’s Gaius correlates to any of the others is unknown.

III John is one of eight New Testament books addressed to individuals.(Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1, Philemon 1:1, I Timothy 1:2; II Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; II John 1:1; III John 1:1).

Do you think these personal letters were intended for public consumption? Why? Why not? What information should be made public?

Christians have the eight New Testament books addressed to individuals because their addressees treated them as open letters. With social networking becoming the norm, much of our information is now public. Correspondence is instantaneous and can be circulated on a grand scale with the click of a button. Like the New Testament, the internet has proven to be a good place to preserve writing.

A 2010 study by Consumer Reports surveyed 2000 households in regards to social media use. Their research showed that 52% (yes, more than half) of the people on social networking sites are posting some form of personal information online that falls under the umbrella of risky social media behavior.

What are you posting online? How do you decide what you post online? Is the lasting effect your writing may have a factor?

Is any of your online writing intended to glorify God? Should it?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Queen of Sheba: Fit For a King

Who was the first person in the Bible to arrive by a train? The Queen of Sheba (I Kings 10:2, KJV)

At the height of Solomon’s empire, the Queen of Sheba makes a state visit to Israel (I Kings 10:1-13). She arrives in style. The King James Version (KJV) says she entered “with a very great train” (I Kings 10:2, KJV).
And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. (I Kings 10:2, KJV)
Train is not meant in the modern sense as the steam powered vehicles presently associated with the term were not invented until 1804, long after the KJV was first published in 1611.

The word the KJV renders “train” is chayil, meaning “strength, might, efficiency, wealth, army”. “Retinue” is the most common translation (ESV, HCSB, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, RSV) of this word in this text. Other readings are “caravan” (NIV), “group of attendants” (NLT), “several of her officials” (CEV), and the aforementioned “train” (ASV, KJV).

The Queen of Sheba brought an entourage. This is still done in modern state visits where a ceremonial welcome is customary.

Why does the Queen of Sheba bring attendants? Why is there so much pageantry associated with state visits, then and now?

There is a practical reason behind bringing a staff on state visits. In addition to strengthening diplomatic relationships with other countries, another purpose of state visits is to improve bilateral economic relations. Delegations from trade organizations often travel with the visiting head of state in hopes of networking with industry leaders in the visited nation.

The retinue is also evidence of the Queen’s identity and status. She approaches Solomon as a fellow monarch, not a subject. Like the Hebrew chayil indicates, the queen approached the king from a position of “strength”.

She did not travel lightly. In addition to her entourage, she also brought “camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones” (I Kings 10:2, NASB). The Queen of Sheba knew how to make an entrance and a first impression.

How would you prepare to meet a king? What was you bring him? How would you approach him?

“The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. “ - Jesus, Matthew 12:42 (NASB)

Given Matthew 12:42, a better question might be, how are you preparing to meet a king?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Leah: Beauty is in the Eyes...

Which of Jacob’s wives had eye trouble? Leah (Genesis 29:17)

When Jacob is sent to Paddan-Aram to procure a wife from his mother’s family (Genesis 28:2), he finds his uncle Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29:16-17). The text introduces the sisters together and provides rare physical descriptions. Rachel, the younger sister, is described straightforwardly as “beautiful of form and face” (Genesis 29:17, NASB). In contrast, elder sister Leah is said to possess “weak” eyes (Genesis 29:17, NASB). With these physical portraits, the reader is presented with the same first impression as Jacob.

If someone were to define your physical appearance for posterity with only one phrase, what would it be? What would you want it to be? Who do you compare yourself to physically? Beauties like Rachel?

Leah’s description is ambiguous. The Hebrew word, rak, means “tender, soft, delicate, weak”. The Septuagint (Greek New Testament) utlilizes the word astheneís meaning “sick, ill, feeble, weak, poorly”. This adjective does not fit neatly with the noun eyes and the meaning of rak may have changed over the centuries. Popular translations are “weak” (ESV, NASB, NIV, RSV), “tender eyed” (ASV, DARBY, KJV, YLT), and “delicate” (HCSB, NKJV). The CEV and NLT interpret that Leah’s eyes “didn’t sparkle” (CEV, NLT).

The translation “weak eyes” has been prevalent since H.F.W. Gesenius (1786-1842) incorporated it into his foundational Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament. “Weak” eyes also fits the context as Jacob has just cheated a a man with weak eyes (Genesis 27:1) and he will be deceived later in the chapter for failing to see which woman he married (Genesis 29:22-25).

The designation has traditionally been interpreted as disparaging with the implication that Laban might have had a hard time marrying off his eldest daughter. In this reading, weak eyes is like a modern person describing someone as having a“nice personality”. Gerhard Von Rad (1901-1971) states that fiery eyes were considered the epitome of beauty in this culture and that the verse indicates that Leah’s eyes lacked luster and as such detracted from her beauty. 1 The Jewish historian Josephus (37-100) puts it bluntly - “she was of no comely countenance (Antiquities, I, xix, 7).”

Given the uncertain intent, some modern interpreters and translators have taken this clause to be complimentary, a case of synthetic instead of antithetical parallelism. This reading may have some merit as nowhere else in Scripture is rak used in a demeaning manner or with reference to a defect. The Message reads that Leah had “nice eyes” (MSG) and the NRSV translates that her eyes were “lovely” (NRSV). Some have claimed that the expression denotes “delicateness of upbringing”2 Could the era of political correctness be influencing translators?

One thing is certain - Jacob had eyes only for Rachel (Genesis 29:18).

Do you interpret Leah’s description as a compliment or an insult? How important is physical appearance? How important should it be?

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7, NASB)

1Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Old Testament Library). (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 291.

2Harold G. Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 230.