Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pitching the Ark (Genesis 6:14)

How was Noah’s ark made watertight? With pitch, inside and out (Genesis 6:14)

One of the best known Bible stories is that of Noah’s ark (Genesis 6:1-8:19). After informing Noah of the coming apocalypse (Genesis 6:13), God provided him with specific instructions regarding how to construct the ark (Genesis 6:14-16). God actually told Noah about the ark before revealing details that seem more pertinent - that a flood was coming (Genesis 6:17) and that he and his family would be spared, the remnant responsible for repopulating the earth (Genesis 6:18). (No pressure in that assignment...). One of the first instructions Noah received was to coat the massive box he was to build with pitch, inside and out (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)
Most modern translations render the Hebrew word kaphar as “pitch” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), though some paraphrases interpret “tar” (CEV, NLT). Pitch is a black glutinous substance that belongs to the same family as asphalt and bitumen. In fact, the Latin Vulgate translates the word bitumine and the Greek Septuagint uses asphaltos, both obvious cognates.

The source of this pitch has sparked debate. Today, pitch is most commonly the residue produced when coal tar is heated or distilled. Proponents of a young earth assert that the pitch was not derived from oil or coal but rather from gum based resins extracted from pine trees. For centuries pitch was manufactured by distilling or heating wood and Noah had access to a lot of lumber in constructing the massive floating box. (It is from this method of making pitch that North Carolina gets its nickname, the “Tar Heel State”.) Opponents counter that bitumen and other petroleum-based byproducts were plentiful in Noah’s region and that bitumen would have been far easier to procure as it has been found in pools and could have been quickly consolidated into a bucket, not to mention easier to apply. Regardless of its source, the pitch was presumably employed for waterproofing purposes. John H. Walton (b. 1952) explains, “Coating something with pitch was a standard procedure in the ancient world for assuring that the structure would be waterproof (Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, 312).” As such, pitch was a safety measure as God desired to spare the new generation.

The same method was used to protect another prominent Old Testament figure. R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) reminds, “The Hebrew word for ‘ark’ was used in Genesis to refer to Noah’s ship. The only other place that Hebrew word appears in the Old Testament is in Exodus 2:3, 5 when it is translated ‘basket’ — the basket into which Moses’ mother placed him to drift down the Nile. Just as the great pitch-covered ark/basket preserved Noah and his family from a watery death, so the tiny pitch-covered ark/basket preserved Moses (cf. Genesis 6:14 and Exodus 2:3) (Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Preaching the Word), 133).”

The pitch coating was just one of eight details the text provides in recounting the remarkably precise design of the ark (Genesis 6:14-16). Claus Westermann (1909-2000) notes, “The eight pieces of information, one of incomprehensible, are not sufficient to permit a detailed reconstruction, which is often attempted; not even the number of rooms is given. However, we have a general idea of the ark: a huge, rectangular box with a roof divided into rooms. Genesis 6:14-16...[is] not based on any systematic plan of construction as has been proposed...any such would be unusable...The details of the commission to build the ark develop out of the unique function it is meant to fulfil; they are to be understood only in this context. Each particular detail serves to emphasize the uniqueness of the construction (Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Continental Commentary, 418).”

Gerhard Von Rad (1901-1971) explains, “Behind the strange precision in the directions for building the ark, and later in the actual Flood account, behind the precise dates and measurements, there is both certainty of the absolute concreteness and reality of God’s activity and an effort to depict God’s activity, his commands, and movements with as much theological objectivity as possible (Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 127).”

Why do you think God told Noah of the ark before mentioning the flood? Why was the double coating of pitch, both inside and out, advised? Have you ever covered anything in pitch? What safety measures have you taken to waterproof your home?

Many have seen the pitch used in the ark as symbolic of a greater protection. Genesis 6:14 marks the first time the word kaphar is used in Scripture. Its simplest meaning is “to cover”. It is used 102 times in the Old Testament yet this passage represents the only time the King James Version (KJV) translates it “pitch”. In 73 of its 102 uses, the KJV renders the word“atonement”.

John MacArthur (b. 1939) expounds:

“That word (kapher) in Hebrew is exactly the same word translated ‘atonement.’ It can be either...In the ark of safety, the pitch kept the waters of judgment out. And the pitch in the life of believers is the blood of Christ, which secures us from any judgment. The pitch in the ark was what kept the water out, and the blood of Christ seals the believer from the flood of God’s judgment.” (MacArthur, The Keys to Spiritual Growth: Unlocking the Riches of God, 58)
Our eternal atonement was provided by the blood of Jesus which provided a covering for sin. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8 NASB).

Have you accepted God’s loving atonement?

“The beginning of atonement is the sense of its necessity.” - Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

There is No “I” in Heaven (II Corinthians 12:2)

Into what heaven was the man who Paul knew caught up? The third heaven (II Corinthians 12:2)

One of the many obstacles Paul faced in Corinth was responding to braggart preachers who arrived after he had departed (II Corinthians 11:16-18). In confronting these critics, Paul (almost playfully) boasts of his own accomplishments in Christ. After outlining his sufferings (II Corinthians 11:23-33), the apostle shifts to the third person for his most dramatic boast (II Corinthians 12:1-9). He famously writes of an ecstatic experience:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. (II Corinthians 12:2 NASB)
In stating that the incident occurred fourteen years ago, Paul is registering a definitive memorable experience, a happening that occurred nearly a decade before he entered Corinth. Paul may be sharing this episode for the first time as there appears to have been a gag order placed upon such visits (II Corinthians 12:4). The time marker serves as a reminder that this event was unique and not an everyday occurrence even for a spiritual guru like Paul.

Though Paul regularly experienced visions, many involving Jesus (Acts 9:3-6, 9:12, 16:9, 18:9, 22:17), the apostle does not classify this incident as a vision. In fact, he does not classify it at all. Paul asserts that God only knows how it happened conceding only that he was “caught up” (Ezekiel 8:1-3; Wisdom of Solomon 4:10-11; I Enoch 39:3, 52:1). Paul evidently asked the natural question that Talking Heads sang about in “Once in a Lifetime” - “you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”

In refusing to speculate as to whether he was abducted or underwent an out of body experience, Paul resisted the urge to categorize his experience. Some have suggested this ambiguity is a rebuttal of the Greek notion that one’s soul could ascend to God. This discussion fits with the Corinthians’ interest in the body/spirit dichotomy (I Corinthians 15:35-44; II Corinthians 5:6-8).

Craig S. Keener (b. 1960) comments:

Not knowing whether he was in the body or out of it (II Corinthians 12:2-3) might be rhetorical aporia (feigned uncertainty), but Paul has already contrasted being at home in the body with the afterlife of being away from the body and at home with the lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8). Although in some Jewish texts only the souls were caught up to see heaven (I Enoch 71:1-6), sometimes the experience sounds as if it involves the entire body (Ezekiel 2:2, 3:14, 24, 8:3, 11:1, 24; Wisdom of Solomon 4:11; I Enoch 39:3).” (Keener, 1-2 Corinthians (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 238).”
The modern reader must resolve that if the details were important, Paul would have shared them.

Paul further complicates the incident by mentioning “paradise” in the same breath as “third heaven” (II Corinthians 12:4). Paradise is a loan word from Persia and appears only three times in the New Testament (Luke 23:43; II Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7). In the intertestamental literature it had come to mean the realm entered upon death or the dimension where God dwells. As Paul incorporates two distinct terms, some have suggested a two step progression in which the third heaven was merely a step on the stairway to paradise.

This view is unlikely. Jewish literature often equates the third heaven with paradise (II Enoch 8:1; Apocalypse of Moses 37:5, 40:1). The fact that Paul uses the same verb for “caught up” (harpazo) in describing both places also underscores a singular experience (II Corinthians 12:1, 4). Most tellingly, as Paul is discussing the pinnacle of ecstatic phenomenons, there would be no need to reference the third heaven if it were not a watershed event. The very nature of the text screams for a single event.

The passage is also problematic to modern readers as Paul assumes a subtext that is no longer common - the third heaven itself (II Corinthians 12:2). This marks the only time the third heaven appears in Scripture and there was no consensus in Jewish literature as to how meany “heavens” existed.

Craig S. Keener (b. 1960) explains:

“Because the Persian loan word ‘paradise’ meant ‘garden,’ it applied well to the garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8-3:24 LXX; Josephus [37-100]Antiquities 137). Jewish people spoke of paradise as in heaven (T. Ab. 20:14; 3 Baruch 4:6) and expected a new paradise or Eden in the future (4 Ezra 7:36, 8:52; 2 Baruch 51:11). Jewish texts placed paradise, the new Eden, on earth in the coming age, but heaven in at the present. Jewish texts ranged from 3 to 365 in the number of heavens they imagined; the most common numbers were three (Testament of Levi 2-3) and seven. Texts often placed paradise in one of these (in the third in 2 Enoch 8:1; Apocalypse of Moses 37:5, 40:1); the lowest of ‘heavens’ was the lower atmosphere. Paul presumably envisions paradise as in the third of three heavens .” (Keener, 1-2 Corinthians (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 239)
Thomas D. Stegman (b. 1963) concurs:
“Paul declares that he was transported to the third heaven, a place he then identifies as Paradise. He thus intimates that he was temporarily taken up by God to the highest place in heaven, where the divine glory dwells. Given that Paul referred to ‘visions and revelations’ of the Lord Jesus, does he suggest here that he was set in the presence of the glorified Christ? Perhaps, although he does not register what he saw. Instead, he reports that he heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. These ‘unutterable utterances’–surmised by some commentators to be angelic praises or revelations of divine mysteries–were beyond what human language could convey. What is more, even if he were able, the Apostle states, he is not permitted to do so.” (Stegman, Second Corinthians (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture), 268)
Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) describes this cosmology succinctly, “The third heaven probably means ‘right up to the highest heaven,’ the heaven of the Lord’s abode as distinct from the starry heavens (the second heaven) and the earth’s atmosphere (the first heaven [compare I Kings 8:27]) (Gundry, Commentary on Second Corinthians).”

Paul is discussing a single event, rare even for him, that represented the apex of spiritual encounters. The number and terminology are insignificant as whether one names that abode as the third heaven, paradise or something else, Paul was transported into the very presence of God.

Do you have any spiritual experiences too sacred to discuss? Did this episode in Paul’s life occur before, during or after his profound experience on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-9)? How did Paul get to the third heaven? What was the apostle doing when he was transported? How would you explain this incident?

In its simplest form, this passage answers Paul’s bragging detractors and the message is clear - you can’t top this. Paul’s visit to the third heaven means that if the criteria is ecstatic, supernatural experience, Paul wins. Hands down.

Throughout his diatribe, Paul is aware of the foolishness of his own boasting, the same complaint he has against his detractors (II Corinthians 11:16-18, 21, 23, 12:1). He readily admits, “I am speaking as a fool (II Corinthians 11:21 NASB).” Even amidst his own “boasting”, Paul does all he can to deprecate himself. He also uses the passive voice of “caught up” to describe the happening (II Corinthians 12:1, 4), meaning it was done to him not by him. He did nothing.

Thomas D. Stegman (b. 1963) expounds:

“There is a certain playfulness with which Paul recounts his journey to the third heaven: he is not certain how he was taken up, he does not report what he saw, and he cannot repeat what he heard. He thereby suggests that, while this mysterious experience was important to him personally, it did not provide him with information he could use in his ministry. It is certainly not reason to boast about himself. Rather, he implies a critique of the intruding missionaries: ‘If their experience was the same as Paul’s, it contributed nothing to their ministry. If it was something about which they talk, it was less ineffable than his.’” (Stegman, Second Corinthians (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture), 268)
In speaking of visions, Paul also reverts to the third person, refusing the word “I”. (The modern equivalent might be someone who instead of admittedly speaking on their own behalf instead says, “I have this friend....”) For Paul, there is no “I” in heaven as the apostle realizes he did nothing to generate or merit the experience.

Paul recognizes that it is the height of folly to brag of revelations from God. Only an idiot boasts of something so clearly the work of Another.

What was the purpose of Paul’s visit to the third heaven? In what ways, if any, did it benefit him? Do people still visit the third heaven? What is your most dramatic spiritual/supernatural experience? When have you taken credit for God’s handiwork?

“The less you speak of your greatness, the more shall I think of it.” - attributed to William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Jahaziel: You can do it! (II Chronicles 20:17)

Who told Jehoshaphat that his army did not need to fight “in this battle”? Jahaziel (II Chronicles 20:17)

During the reign of Jeshoshaphat, an alliance of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites camped at Engedi and prepared to invade Judah (II Chronicles 20:1-2). Ironically, these same nations had received clemency during the conquest of the Promised Land (Judges 11:15).

Jehoshaphat was left with few options. His army was outmanned against “a great multitude”(II Chronicles 20:2 NASB) and he was also out of time as his enemies had utilized the element of surprise. Engedi was a small site on the western coast of the Dead Sea located within 25 miles of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:62; I Samuel 23:29, 24:1; II Chronicles 20:1; Song of Solomon 1:14; Ezekiel 47:10). It was not a standard attack route as Jerusalem was only accessible using narrow paths up steep cliffs. In taking this unconventional passage, the opposing armies were too close for comfort and the king faced a desperate situation.

In the face of overwhelming odds, Jehoshaphat responded as a model Davidic king should. Recognizing that he was out of options, he proclaimed a national fast (II Chronicles 20:3) and the king prayed on behalf of his subjects (II Chronicles 20:5-12). The people assembled, but instead of preparing for battle, they prayed and fasted (II Chronicles 20:4, 13). It was the only thing left to do.

God responded to Jehoshaphat’s humble prayer with an encouraging prophetic word (II Chronicles 20:14-17). The word of the Lord enveloped Jahaziel and prompted his lone voice to ring out from the multitude (II Chronicles 20:14). Jahaziel functions like the encouraging “Townie” (Rob Schneider, b. 1963) in The Waterboy (1998) who often shouted, “You can do it!” from the crowd.

Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, the Levite of the sons of Asaph; and he said, “Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you.” (II Chronicles 20:14-17 NASB)
This dramatic speech marks Jahaziel’s only appearance in the Bible. Jahaziel was a worship leader, not a prophet (II Chronicles 20:14). Yet in this instance, Jahaziel prophesied as evidenced by the fact that he is introduced by the prophetic-type description “the Spirit of the LORD came upon” (II Chronicles 20:14 NASB) and he adopts the prophetic messenger formula “thus says the LORD to you” (II Chronicles 20:15 NASB). This wording may also indicate spontaneity.

Jahaziel is provided an irregularly long genealogy that emphasizes his pedigree (II Chronicles 20:14). A lineage of five generations links him with Asaph, a worship leader at the time of David (I Chronicles 15:16-17) who is credited with penning twelve psalms (Psalms 50, 73-83). For some interpreters, Jahaziel’s ancestry seems too good to be true.

Sara Japhet (b. 1934) explains:

“The figure of Jahaziel has many artificial features: his name, ‘the one who sees God’, his affiliation with the singers, who are conceived in Chronicles as prophets (I Chronicles 25:1, 2, 3, 5), and his direct descent from Asaph, the assumed head-singer of David’s time, all point to the ‘literary’ nature of this figure.” (Japhet, I & II Chronicles: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 793)
In Jahaziel’s case, a voice quite literally emerged from the choir to speak for the Lord.

When have you been caught dead to rights with prayer left as your only resort? When in your desperation has God supplied a voice of encouragement? Why is such a long lineage ascribed to Jahaziel? Why did God choose to speak in these circumstances through a worship leader as opposed to a military tactician?

H.G.M. Williamson (b. 1947) notes that Jahaziel’s prophecy is modeled as a “salvation oracle” (Williamson, 1 and 2 Chronicles (New Century Bible Commentary, 297-299). His speech is carefully constructed and closely follows the prescribed speech for a priest before battle (Deuteronomy 20:2-4). The prophecy also met Judah’s needs as it responded to each point in Jehoshaphat’s prayer (II Chronicles 12:5-12) by providing reassurance (II Chronicles 20:15, 17), reasons for confidence - namely that the battle is God’s (II Chronicles 20:15, 17) and precise instructions on how to proceed (II Chronicles 20:16, 17).

Among Jahaziel’s words of encouragement is the assertion that the Israelites will win the battle without engaging in combat (II Chronicles 20:17). For them, this fight was to be a spectator sport as their directions amounted to “Don’t do something, just stand there!” This “strategy” reinforced the king’s reliance on God as the battle became God’s (not Jehoshaphat’s) and God promised to defeat the invaders.

Jahaziel’s oracle also subtly alludes to another time when God famously defended Israelites as the speech has many uncanny parallels to Moses’ charge prior to the Exodus (Exodus 14:13-14). Most notably, Israel won an improbably victory while being onlookers - “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today” (Exodus 14:13 NASB).

Judah was to simply assume a defensive position at the Ascent of Ziz and encounter the enemy at the end of the wadi, by the wilderness of Jeruel (II Chronicles 20:16). There, God would fight for them. It is as if God was providing ringside seats for a battle they had bet their lives upon. In this case, doing nothing required a great act of faith.

Gary N. Knoppers (b. 1956) explains:

In other words, the people are to leave the relative safety of Jerusalem, journey into open terrain, and encounter the enemy at a specific location. They are to put themselves in harm’s way, but they are told explicitly not to fight. (Richard S. Hess [b. 1954] and Gordon J. Wenham [b. 1943], “Jerusalem at War in Chronicles”, Zion: City of our God, 70-71).

William Johnstone (b. 1936) expounds:

“The instruction by Jahaziel was not quietism (any more than Jehoshaphat’s prayer was fatalism). It is pure sacramentalism: Israel’s role is totally participatory—it goes fully armed into battle (II Chronicles 20:21); but the battle is the LORD’s. Israel, as the LORD’s host under the LORD’s anointed, is caught up unreservedly and with no volition on its own part into the action of God against the invading hordes of nations. With total openness to God and entire dependence upon him, it is borne irresistibly to victory (compare such sacred battles as Joshua 6 and I Samuel 7).” (Johnstone, 2 Chronicles 10-36: Guilt and Atonement (1 and 2 Chronicles: Volume 2), 101)
As is often the case, when a courageous person stands alone, Jehaziel was soon joined (II Chronicles 20:18). Morale was boosted, the people obeyed God’s edict (II Chronicles 20:20-22) and God fulfilled his promise as the unholy alliance disbanded and the enemy armies killed one another (II Chronicles 20:23-25). Judah did not fight, but instead worshiped.

It is fitting that a worship leader was the one whose voice rang out as the event marked a worship service, not a battle. Tragedy was transformed into worship. Steven Shawn Tuell (b. 1956) quips, “The advance of Jeshoshaphat’s host is more a liturgical procession than a military maneuver (Tuell, First and Second Chronicles (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), 183).”

Simon J. de Vries (b. 1921) concurs writing that God “moves them to a good place of observation; this is like a liturgist moving the worshipers in a procession...This is a model of true worship: to express pure devotion while driving away every demon that assails the faithful (de Vries, 1 and 2 Chronicles (Forms of the Old Testament Literature, Volume XI), 328.”

Roy D. Bell notices that “worship and praise became central to the whole encounter. II Chronicles 20:10 tells us that Jehoshaphat bowed his face to the ground and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down and worshiped before the Lord. The Levites stood and praised the Lord with a loud voice...sometimes our praise is so quiet...that if God were not a supernatural being, He would not be able to hear it. The absence of worship, adoration and praise impoverishes our lives and even our churchgoing (Bell, Biblical Models of Handling Conflict, 61-62.)”

Has God ever reminded you of past successes to comfort you during a present trial? When have you accomplished something just by showing up? Have any of your tragedies been transformed into worship? Is your worship audible?

“Without worship, we go about miserable.” - A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)