Friday, October 7, 2011

Gilgal: Stacking Stones (Joshua 4:20)

Where did Joshua set up the twelve stones which they took out of Jordan? Gilgal (Joshua 4:20)

The first big obstacle the Israelites faced after Joshua assumed command did not come from an opposing army but rather a natural boundary - the Jordan River (Joshua 3:1). God allowed Joshua, like Moses before him (Exodus 13:17-14:29), to successfully traverse a large body of water (Joshua 3:1-17). Once successfully on the other side, God commanded that a representative from each of Israel’s twelve tribes procure a stone from the river to be used as part of a monument to commemorate the milestone (Joshua 4:1-7). The place where the stones were stacked was called Gilgal (Joshua 4:20).

Fittingly, the name “Gilgal” is derived from the Hebrew verb galal, meaning “to roll, roll away, roll down, roll together”. Though this is the most famous incident at a place called Gilgal there are several other Gilgals in the Old Testament and debate as to which Biblical references overlap. The Bible also speaks of a Gilgal near Shechem (Deuteronomy 11:30), a Gilgal near Bethel that served as a prophetic headquarters during the time of Elijah and Elisha (II Kings 2:1, 4:38); a Gilgal in the valley of Lebanon (Joshua 12:23), and a Gilgal that served as a border city for Judah between Jericho and Jerusalem (Joshua 15:17). Joshua is even said to have captured a Gilgal (Joshua 12:7) but whether or not this is the same site where the stones were stacked is subject to debate.

Why do people build monuments? What monuments are near you? Why were they built? Who was involved in the decision to build them?

People naturally celebrate milestones in their lives. The crossing of the Jordan River represented a new era in Israelite history. The nation was finally actively pursuing the Promised Land and the event also legitimized the reign of a new leader, Joshua (Joshua 3:7).

What events do you want to commemorate? Do you venerate your own successes or God’s successes through you?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Noah’s Ark’s Mystery Wood (Genesis 6:14)

Of what kind of wood was the ark made? Gopher wood

In one of the Bible’s most well known stories, God saves Noah and his family from a cataclysmic flood by having Noah construct an ark (Genesis 6-8). As the vessel was the first of its kind, God lays out very specific instructions for the ark detailing the building materials, its dimensions and its cargo. Among the ark’s unique features was being constructed from gopher wood (Genesis 6:14).
Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. (Genesis 6:14 NASB)
This is the only time that gopher wood appears in the Bible and no one is quite sure what it is. Its name does not in any way relate to the burrowing North American rodents of the same name but rather is a transliteration of the Hebrew gopher. Some have speculated that gopher is a borrowed word from another language or the work of a careless scribe who meant to write kopher (covering or pitch). The word is literally meaningless today. As it cannot be identified with any certainty many translations simply leave it untranslated (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NKJV, RSV).

Some translations make a guess. “Cypress wood” is the most common (NIV, NLT, NRSV) though the Message supplies “teakwood”. Cypress was often used by ship builders of the time. Cypress trees are large and strong and as such could potentially withstand the beating the ark would inevitably take. This interpretation was espoused by Adam Clarke (1760-1832) who found similarity in the Greek word for cypress, kuparisson, and the Hebrew word gopher. Unfortunately there is a unique Hebrew word for cypress (b@rowsh) that could have just as easily been used.

Though Cypress is the most common guess amongst translators, it is far from the only hypothesis. Other trees and plants suggested include pine (Cassuto), cedar, fir, ebony (Bockart), wicker (Geddes), juniper (Castellus), acacia (Religious Tract Society), boxwood, and slimed bulrushes (Dawson). Others have speculated that gopher wood is it an extinct tree that ironically did not survive the flood.

What is not in doubt is that, unlike modern ships, the ark was constructed of wood. Something (trees) died so that humanity might live.

If you had to construct an edifice to protect you from a flood, what building materials would you use? Why do you think God selected gopher wood? What do you think it was? Does it matter what kind of wood the ark was built with?

It was critical that the ark’s inhabitants survive the flood as the fate of humanity (and much animal life) literally rested in the ark. Consequently, John H. Walton (b. 1952) and Victor H. Matthews (b. 1951) assume “This is an unknown type of material, although it undoubtedly refers to some sort of coniferous tree thought to possess great strength and durability (Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy, 27).”

Others have seen gopher as a quality of timber or design as opposed to a type of wood. Ideally, a wooden ship is not constructed entirely from a single species. This is seen as modern wooden vessels are more likely to employ a variety of materials. The CEV takes this safe route and translates gopher wood simply as “good lumber”.

The ark was nothing less than the barrier between life death and God selected the wood to ensure that the people would live.

What is your barrier between life and death? Can your insulation withstand life’s pressures?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hey, Which Jude? (Jude 1:1)

How many letters did Jude write? One

The Epistle of Jude is one of the seven catholic (or general or ecumenical) epistles of the New Testament. It is the penultimate (next to last) book in the Bible. It is so closely related to II Peter that commentaries often group the books together.

Jude was composed as an encyclical letter, meaning it was a general letter meant to be circulated to various churches as opposed to being written with a specific church in mind. The book is brief, comprised of only one chapter of 25 relatively short verses. The tract addresses apostasy (Jude 1:3-4).

Have you ever read Jude? Have you ever heard a sermon preached on Jude?

Like ancient form dictated, the letter begins with a salutation:

Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James,
To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: (Jude 1:1 NASB)
Exactly which Jude wrote the epistle, if any, has long been subject to debate. The first documented doubts as to Jude’s authorship are found in the writings of Origen (184-253), though he only recorded the skepticism of others rather than asserting his own.

The debate concerning the author’s identity has continued ever since. The usual suspects are Jude the apostle (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13), Jude the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), both, and neither (someone using the pseudonym “Jude.”). Some have argued that since the author did not identify himself as an apostle and actually distances himself from them in Jude 1:17, he cannot be identified with the Jude who is listed as one of the Twelve. Conversely, others have supposed that an apostle would not have made that claim on his own behalf. (That never stopped Paul...)

Others have supposed that it was written by Jesus’ brother as the notation of being “brother of James” would make Jude also the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19). (The reference to brother James has actually created more confusion than clarity.) Since information on Jude is scarce, it would explain the need to identify himself in reference to his more prominent brother.

Those who believe that the letter is pseudonymous note that the epistle’s references to the apostles, tradition, and opposition to Gnosticism fit a later period.

The one consensus is that Jude was not written by the Jude who betrayed Jesus, Judas Iscariot (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:19, 14:10; Luke 6:16, 22:48; John 6:71, 12:4, 13:2, 18:2, 18:5).

Since the material was deemed worthy to be in the Bible, does it matter to you who wrote Jude? If it was not written by a man named Jude, would you discredit it? Supposing the letter was written by, Jesus’ half-brother, why would the author not include this in his greeting? If you had to write a letter about your sibling, what would it say?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Name Value (Proverbs 22:1)

Complete: “A good name is to be chosen rather than ____________.” Great riches. (Proverbs 22:1)

Proverbs 22:1 begins a new subunit of Proverbs. Like many sections of Proverbs, it begins with a charge to acquire wisdom. One of the byproducts of wisdom is acquiring a good name. Proverbs asserts that no amount of riches can compare to the wisdom of the sages.

A good name is to be more desired than great wealth
Favor is better than silver and gold. (Proverbs 22:1 NASB)
Though not always stated explicitly, the value of a good name underlies many of the sayings in Proverbs (Proverbs 10:7, 11:16, 22, 27, 12:8, 13:15, 18:3, 21:21, 27:21). The word “good” is not actually in the Hebrew text of Proverbs 22:1 but is supplied by the translators to make the meaning clearer. The importance of a good name (or reputation) is a biblical concern (Ecclesiastes 7:1; Sirach 41:11-13). Including becoming a great nation, one of the promises God initially makes to Abraham is that his name will be great (Genesis 12:2). Having a good name was of the upmost importance in the ancient world.

Do you think a good name is as valued today as it was in the time of Abraham? When you think of having a good name, who do you think of? Do you think you carry a good name? Which would you prefer, a good name or great riches?

Most people would like to have both a good name and great riches. This proverb juxtaposes the two. Do you feel the two are mutually exclusive? Can you have a good name and great wealth? Which do you think society promotes? What truly motivates you, a good reputation or a substantial bank account?

Where do you spend most of your time and money? That is likely what you value.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” - Jesus, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:16 NASB

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jesus Wept (John 11:35)

At whose death did Jesus weep? Lazarus

Jesus wept. The Bible features two stories that show Jesus being publicly moved to tears. He weeps with Mary and Martha in Bethany at the passing of their brother Lazarus (John 11:35), whom Jesus would soon famously raise from the dead (John 11:43-44). The word John used for “wept” (dakruo) means “to weep, shed tears”. The second instance where Jesus cried was more demonstrative. When he makes his final approach in Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city (Luke 19:41). The word used in Luke (klaio) means “to mourn, weep, lament”. It is as if a tear trickled down Jesus’ cheek in Bethany while he bawled in Jerusalem.

Though these are the only specific instances in which the Bible records that Jesus wept, Hebrews implies that tears were not uncommon in his life:

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (Hebrews 5:7-8 NASB)
The passage in John is the most well known passage in which Jesus wept, likely because the action constitutes the entire verse: Jesus wept. John 11:35. It is the shortest verse in all of Scripture. The versification emphasizes it. This sentence could have been attached to the verse preceding it or the following verse. But it is not. It stands alone as if to say that there is something profound in the act of Jesus weeping.

What causes you to shed tears? When is the most you have ever cried? Why did Jesus weep at the news of Lazarus’ death when he would raise him moments later?

Perhaps Jesus cried because he saw his friends suffering. Perhaps he wept because his purposes required him to delay going to Bethany (John 11:6). Perhaps he wept for Lazarus, either because of the suffering he had endured or because he would raise him and as such, die again. Whatever the reasons for Jesus’ tears, they indicate that he cared. The fact that Jesus wept means that Jesus cared.

We do not worship an indifferent apathetic God. We worship a God who cares enough to wish to save us. We worship a God who cares enough to send his own son to make that happen (John 3:16). We worship a God who cares enough to weep for us (Luke 19:41; John 11:35).

Do you believe that God cares for you? Really? Why? Why not?

“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are. More often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and to summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.” - Frederick Buechner (b. 1926), Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized, 117