Bible Connections

The stories this past week of the passover and the exodus are perhaps the most well-connected passages of the Bible. The New Testament depends on them as the background for our faith.

In case you’ve any doubt about the inter-connected and inter-related nature of scripture, I found these two sites to be particularly helpful and just plain cool: Bible Visualizations.

Chris Harrison’s Site with Bible Visualizations shows a really neat interconnected network of cross references in the Bible. His work is based on statistics gleaned from the KJV, and was the source for some of what we discuss tonight.

PastorBlog has two other visualizations, both based on word occurence. One is a word tree, showing you each usage of a word in a text, and another is a spatial diagram showing the occurence of a biblical word across the entire canon.

Enjoy!

God and His Glory

Side Note: I’m republishing this week’s bulletin article here. I wrote it after reflecting on what we’re currently reading in Exodus. Over and over, God’s mighty works are brought down to man for one purpose: to glorify God! That’s why the text said he hardened Pharaoh’s heart. That’s why he delivered the Israelites the way he did. His covenant making and covenant keeping was for one purpose: to reveal the glory of God. This article takes a brief look at how we reveal his glory. I hope you enjoy…

In our worship in song (and in the Psalms, too), we often use phrases like “glorify God” or “magnify the Lord.” What do we really mean when we use these phrases?

Am I capable of adding glory to God, the all-glorious one? What can I do as creation from dust to make bigger the name of Jehovah? Of course not! There’s nothing!

These phrases don’t mean that we add glory or honor or praise, but instead, we ascribe (write to his account) the glory that he already has. In other words, we give God his due and get out of the way! We make clear what anyone who knows anything about God should know: he is all-glorious and all-marvelous!

When Mary learned that she was to bring the world the Savior, she burst out into a song we call the Magnificat because of its opening line: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Luke 2:47).

How do we magnify and glorify God? We live joyful lives that proclaim his changing power everywhere we go. Our message is his message. Our service to others is really his service—and service to him. We become complete, fulfilled in his purpose. Like his creation in Genesis, as his new creation, we do what we’re made for, and he can say, “It is very good!” (See Matthew 5:16-20).

See, God designed us for that purpose: to let his glory be known everywhere. If we live for his purpose, we’ll never be found defeated. God will always work through us for good!

God Notices

As God is higher, deeper, greater, wider….everything-er….than we can imagine, we tend to picture him at a distance. This is natural, but it’s not always healthy.

Moses’ story in Exodus serves to show both the nearness and greatness of God. God is able to manipulate the Pharaoh’s heart and the circumstances that surround him to effect the greatest deliverance story of history, yet he’s still close enough to “hear their groaning” and “remember his covenant.” (Exodus 2:23-25)

He makes it clear to his people that “I have indeed seen…I have heard…and I am concerned! So, I have come down to rescue them…and to bring them…into the good and spacious land…” (Exodus 3:7-9).

That’s pretty close, if you ask me :)

Judah: The Rest of the Story

I was pretty hard on Judah and his actions when I contrasted him against Joseph a couple of days ago. I had completely forgotten about his return to the spotlight in the middle of Joseph’s brothers’ crisis.

Judah evidently left his family and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Evidently, his parenting left something to be desired, and his own character was marred by repeated self-centered decision making.

We don’t know what time frame has passed (at least a couple of years in prison, plus 7 years of good and a year or two into the famine, I’d assume), but when Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt looking to buy food, Judah is evidently back with the family, along with his remaining living son. (The text doesn’t mention whether or not Tamar made the journey, but I think she did.)

After Reuben stands up to Jacob/Israel and says that they must take Benjamin, and he’d be responsible, Judah does the same thing. In fact he is willing to accept the blame, personally.

When they get to Egypt and things go south, who speaks up? Judah.

But, then again…whose idea was it to send Joseph into slavery? That was Judah, too.

It sounds to me that Judah may have learned his lesson after all the problems his decisions created. Then again, maybe not. Very rare is the man who actually learns from his mistakes, and almost non-existent is the one who learns from the mistakes of others.

Genuine and Counterfeit

In reading the story of Joseph and his divine gift to interpret the dreams of those around him, I always wonder about the other interpreters. Pharaoh had wise men, no doubt, who hadn’t been able to interpret his dream. Moses was given the sign of his staff turning to a snake, his hand becoming leprous/cleansed, and others. God brought plagues down on the Egyptians, a few of which, their magicians were able to imitate. Daniel’s story has the same ingredients: he miraculously interprets a dream no one else had been able to yet. The prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel had a reasonable expectation to win their altar-burning contest against Jehovah, or certainly they wouldn’t have entered it in the first place, right?

We could talk about plenty of others. How did the wise men at Jesus’ birth know to look for a star? I can’t recall a prophecy about it. How did Saul expect the witch at Endor to give him a chance to commune with Samuel again?

I’ve always assumed these folks are phonies. Maybe they had illusions or tricks to deceive the crowds. Maybe God allowed them the ability to do some things — after all, he didn’t record for us his dealings with people other than Israel. Somehow, I’m pretty sure he didn’t ignore them…

Either way, imagine being these magicians or sorcerers when you finally encounter the real deal. I remember seeing in a movie somewhere along the line that there’s nothing a trickster dreads more than the genuine article. Your whole life you’ve been able to trick people, or pull off something by a power you can’t really explain, and suddenly, the real power is revealed across from you.

I wonder how many foreign sorcerers joined God’s side after seeing the real deal through the years?

I wonder, how many more people would align themselves with God if they saw genuine faith instead of snake-oil salesmen today (2 Timothy 1:5).

Week 3 Files

Here are our resources from Week 3. We had snow, so our small groups were extra-small. :-) We split into three groups. Each group answered all of the questions from the PDF. We gathered back together to go over our thoughts from the application questions. The PowerPoint this week didn’t have any notes attatched, so I’m not preparing a handout of it.

By the way, all scriptures are generally taken from the English Standard Version. It’s my translation of choice these days, and the folks at Good News Publishers are gracious enough to allow pretty generous access to their text.

Judah & Joseph

The stories of Judah and Joseph are interwoven in a way that may be designed to highlight the contrast between these two men. Joseph’s story is in Genesis 37 and Genesis 38-50. Judah’s story is right in the middle at Genesis 38.

Judah left his brothers and hung out with Hirah the Adullamite, evidently a land where there were Canaanites living. This seems to either be a bad move on Judah’s part or is indicative of his nature of less-than-faithfulness. Remember Abraham was insistent that his servant not take Isaac away from his territory, and choosing a wife from the wrong peoples was an act of resentment for others.

So, in this land far away from family and faith (a pilgrimage not unlike the college departure that so many make), Judah falls in love with Shua’s daughter. They have two sons: Er and Onan.

I think Judah’s parenting skills may have been a bit on the weak side, because Er was evidently so evil that God put him to death (Genesis 38:6) before he’ d even had a chance to conceive a child with his wife Tamar to carry on the family. In the custom/law that was Levirite marriage, the next youngest brother (Onan) would take Tamar as his wife, care for her, and continue the family lineage in the oldest son’s honor. (Judah spoke of this as his “duty to her” in Genesis 38:7).

Onan knew this child wouldn’t be his, but it would be his responsibility. His late brother’s name would get the recognition, but he would have to pay the price. So, he was “generous enough” to go in and sleep with Tamar, but not “generous enough to actually be a father. (Sounds like something off a Judge Judy or Jerry Springer episode, doesn’t it?)

“What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also.”

Most folks focus on this story as the Lord punishing a sexual sin, but I think the context indicates that’s not really the case. I think the Lord’s displeasure was directed more at Onan’s unwillingness to show true love and dedication in fulfilling his duty to his dead brother and a widow AND his willingness to enjoy no-strings-attached gratification instead than just his sexual activity.

Judah himself (the father who originated this plan) doesn’t really want to demand responsibility and accountability from his sons either. He encourages Tamar just to live in his house as a widow and forget about the whole husband thing. He promised Shelah, the next son, “someday” “when he grows up.” In reality, he was making a promise like the sign you see in a restaurant, “Free Drinks Tomorrow!” He had no intention of honoring his word, because he was thinking already that his next son might die too. Maybe he would have been better off if he’d thought about the fact that his son’s wickedness was the problem, not being the husband of Tamar.

Some time later, after Judah’s wife dies and he’s done grieving, and takes a good old fashioned road trip to visit his friend, Hirah the Adullamite. After all, he’s the guy that Judah moved away from his brothers to see in the first place!

Tamar, now quite a bit older and still single and unloved got wind of the road trip, and decided to get some revenge. She was no dummy. She noticed that Shelah was now old enough to marry, but he hadn’t been given as her husband. She took off her widow’s clothes (I wonder what those were like?) and put on a veil (that evidently looked much different than widow’s clothes) and sat by the road, giving the appearance of a roadside prostitute.

Who would be her first customer? None other but her draft-dodging double father-in-law, Judah! She’s smart again, asking for deposit before rendering her services.

After Judah leaves, he sent the price for her services by his friend Hirah, so that he could get his deposit back. Hirah reports back that nobody knew of a shrine prostitute in those parts, so they could say they had tried, never mind worrying about paying that goat anyway. (Incidentally, Judah’s sin is compounded by the fact they thought she was a temple prostitute. He engaged in physical idolatry!)

Three months later, when Tamar turns up pregnant after supposedly living as a widow under Judah’s care, Judah is indignant and calls for her execution as an adulteress. (Hypocrisy, anyone?)

On her way out, she announces to the crowd that she’s pregnant by the owner of a seal a cord, and a staff: the clearest identifiers in the ancient world of Judah, their rightful owner. Judah hadn’t reported them missing. He had no other alibi. Her story was true, and there’s nothing he could do about it. Judah finally sheepishly admits, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.”

How different would this story have been if Judah would have just done the right thing? Judah didn’t seem to learn this lesson. The text indicates (Genesis 38:26) that he didn’t sleep with her again, but it doesn’t indicate at all that he made good on his promise to give Shelah to her!

If Judah had done the right thing and remained with his brothers, he never would have met Hirah, or Shua’s daughter. If he’d done the right thing, I’m going to presume that his children would have turned out more pleasing to God — and more willing to do the right thing and care for others. If Judah had done the right thing, he never would have been put to public shame by sleeping with his daughter-in-law.

Joseph, on the other hand, has every opportunity to do wrong, but he seeks out the chances to do right. He gives a bad report of his brothers. He tells what God has shown him in dreams (even though nobody likes it!). He does his best in Potiphar’s house, resists Potiphar’s wife, does his best in prison, and even helps his captors out and ultimately preserves his whole race…all because God used him when he did the right thing.

Maybe it’s a bit simplistic, but how much better would we be if we just did the right thing? (James 4:17)

How Old Was Isaac?

In Wednesday night’s class, in review, the question was asked: “How old was Isaac when Abraham nearly sacrified him?”

I don’t expect to come up with a firm answer to this question, because I didn’t see any reference points in the text that would help direct me towards an absolute answer. Here’s what I’ve found…please leave a comment on this message if you have any ideas…
The Sacrifice of Isaac: 1590 painting by Empoli.

  • Isaac had been weaned. He was old enough to take off on a journey with his father and carry enough firewood to roast himself. His reasoning had developed enough to deduce the realization that there was wood and knife, but no sacrificial lamb. In my mind, that’d rule out anything below 8-10ish?
  • One author estimates Abaham’s age at ~125 here, putting Isaac at ~25. The histories of Josephus agree with this aging in “The Antiquities of the Jews” Book 1, Chapter 13, Paragraphs 3-4 In fact, Josephus recods a traditional rendeing of what Abraham said when Isaac questioned him further:

    As soon as the altar was prepared, and Abraham had laid on the wood, and all things were entirely ready, he said to his son, “O son, I poured out a vast number of prayers that I might have thee for my son; when thou wast come into the world, there was nothing that could contribute to thy support for which I was not greatly solicitous, nor any thing wherein I thought myself happier than to see thee grown up to man’s estate, and that I might leave thee at my death the successor to my dominion; but since it was by God’s will that I became thy father, and it is now his will that I relinquish thee, bear this consecration to God with a generous mind; for I resign thee up to God who has thought fit now to require this testimony of honor to himself, on account of the favors he hath conferred on me, in being to me a supporter and defender. Accordingly thou, my son, wilt now die, not in any common way of going out of the world, but sent to God, the Father of all men, beforehand, by thy own father, in the nature of a sacrifice. I suppose he thinks thee worthy to get clear of this world neither by disease, neither by war, nor by any other severe way, by which death usually comes upon men, but so that he will receive thy soul with prayers and holy offices of religion, and will place thee near to himself, and thou wilt there be to me a succorer and supporter in my old age; on which account I principally brought thee up, and thou wilt thereby procure me God for my Comforter instead of thyself.”

    4. Now Isaac was of such a generous disposition as became the son of such a father, and was pleased with this discourse; and said, “That he was not worthy to be born at first, if he should reject the determination of God and of his father, and should not resign himself up readily to both their pleasures; since it would have been unjust if he had not obeyed, even if his father alone had so resolved.” So he went immediately to the altar to be sacrificed.

    I don’t know if this story is entirely accurate, but it sure gives pause for thought!

  • Another blogger cites Talmud writings in support of age 37.

    Though the text does not state Isaac age at the sacrifice, Jewish tradition (ie: Talmudic scholars) teach that Isaac was 37 years old.

    Wikipedia suggests this is because the next recorded story (Genesis 22-23) is the death of Sarah, at 127. She was 90 at his birth, so the oldest he could have been would be 37. The Talmud adds a bit of (likely exaggerated) detail to the story as well: dialogue between Abraham and Isaac on this journey:

    “By the life of God, my father, I know no evil, I am conscious of no regret. Blessed be the Lord who has desired me this day.”

Talk about trust! Yikes!

This is the exact opposite of the story of the young man Jesus met (Matthew 19:22). He asked what to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus said he’d done well so far in his keeping of the commandments, even from his childhood, but he lacked one thing: sell all he had, and give it to the poor.

Jesus wants every bit of me. I’m truly blessed when I learn to give him what he asks. See Hebrews 11:17-19.