Stripping away the non-essential

This past week in ministry has demonstrated how fragile life can be. A good friend faces monumental changes in ministry due to physical problems. The physical devastation is matched by the hidden, yet just as serious emotional and mental struggles. Platitudes fail to provide an adequate response for us as Christians. At times like this, we are drawn back to the Scriptures, not with the latest technique or fad informing our search, but a broken body, a broken heart, a broken spirit. We have questions that we may not think appropriate to even raise… no, not the usual “why?” but “God, where are you??!!!” and stronger ones.

Last Sunday’s OT reading was Lamentations 3:22-33. How much more fitting can this be?! In the midst of Jeremiah’s lament, he comes to the center of the chapter and the book with some great words:

3:20 Surely my soul remembers

And is bowed down within me.

3:21 This I recall to my mind,

Therefore I have hope.

3:22 The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,

For His compassions never fail.

3:23 They are new every morning;

Great is Your faithfulness. (NAS95)

To grasp how much this represents a statement of faith, we have to go to the beginning of the chapter and realize that Jeremiah’s ultimate “enemy” is God himself!

3:2 He has driven me and made me walk

In darkness and not in light.

3:3 Surely against me He has turned His hand

Repeatedly all the day.

3:8 Even when I cry out and call for help,

He shuts out my prayer.

Thus, Jeremiah’s struggles with the king, the false prophets, the soldiers who were ordered to imprison him several times, pale in comparison to his struggle with God. Even his prayers seem blocked from God (3:8). No wonder his soul is bowed down within him (3:20)!

God hears Jeremiah’s pleas. His Son, Jesus who faced this same experience. He is abandoned by his friends, ridiculed and beaten by his enemies, and hung on a cross. There he cries out: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” In that very act, God is not far away At all. When this truly righteous person is abandoned, there God is solving the dilemma of all people who feel abandoned.

Sometimes our enemies might be people, other times ourselves, and sometimes the effects of sin in this world in the form of diseases. When we experience such, we are not into comparing with others. We cringe when someone states, “At least it isn’t _____.” (fill in the blank as you see fit). At this point the one enduring the anguish does not care. He or she needs to know that God cares, even if for a time it seems that God is silent, hidden, and that he has forgotten the person.

My next posts will be reviews of two books dealing with this very topic, one from a pastoral perspective and one from a person who suffered personally. Two years ago I wrote a book review of Pastoral Care under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering by Pastor Richard C. Eyer. This past Friday I received a book from Tyndale for reviewing, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie.

When we strip away the non-essential, we gain a perspective about God, about life, about ourselves that doesn’t match the world, but begins to move us closer to God’s  perspective. It is not an easy journey, it is filled with pitfalls, and it will leave us struggling with failure, sadness, anger. But Jesus knows exactly that path and he walked it for us and now with us.

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Woe is me! … Send me!

Isaiah 6:1-8. Have you noticed the dramatic turn-around in this call of Isaiah? It is also a dramatic call for us.

We are surrounded by “reality TV,” which looks nothing like real life. News and entertainment often are indistinguishable. We have a “god” of our own imagination. Isaiah’s words slap us in the face, waking us up from our own created world, to the real world. The real world is filled with sin and its effects. But Isaiah opens our eyes to the real God too. We may reduce God to our buddy, who is confusing at times, even a laptop god who acts as a comfort blanket. Or we push him away then wonder why he is indifferent to us. So, our ultimate question is: “Who is this God?”

God appears in his holiness (majesty). The angels sing the refrain of praise, far beyond anything we can imagine. Isaiah is being called by this holy God to speak to an unholy people. Isaiah’s reaction (like the people in Exodus 19) is to take stock of the people (sinful) and himself (sinful). “Woe is me!” strips away any pretense that Isaiah is “better” than his hearers. Before this holy God, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

God obviously was aware of Isaiah’s sinful state, but God also knows that the solution rests with him (God) not with any human effort. God approaches Isaiah through the angel who touches Isaiah’s lips with the burning coal and then proclaims: “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” As a cleansed person, now Isaiah is transformed from the woe-filled sinner to the forgiven sinner, a prophet ready for God’s work. Only that will sustain him as he faces a nation of people who refuse to listen to him.

How critical it is for us to be reminded of this truth about the forgiving God who restores the sinner! Each Sunday in worship as we confess our sins, we join Isaiah saying “Woe is me!” But even better, God’s words come to us “I forgive you your sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. Those life-giving words bring us back from the sinful reality of this world to the restored reality of life with God. So simple, so profound! Send me, Lord!

“All people” in Joel 2:28

Interesting discussion in Bible class this morning about the end times (more specifically, “in the last days”). I directed the class to Acts 2:16ff for the New Testament perspective on that phrase, relating to Joel’s prophecy.

But I went back this afternoon and was studying the Joel passage checking to see how the NET translated the passage. What struck me was the translation of 2:28 “After all of this
I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people” rather than the more traditional “on all people”. The footnote reflects a Calvinist thought, so now I am looking at other translations to see how they handle it.

The “Day” and time

How easily time slips by! In the two months since my last post time and energy demands have increased greatly. There seems to be a break in the demands, so I hope to get back to the series on technical terms in original language texts and correspondingly in translations. However, given the time demands, I may shorten the studies considerably.

I remember as a young child that a day was a long time, and a year? That was beyond imagination for how long that was. Now, a day disappears before I can turn around, or so it seems. In reality, as a six year old, a year was 1/6 of my life. But now, a year is… well, about 1/60 of my life.

In light of the eschatological focus of the “Day of the Lord” (previous post) I have begun to observe the truth of how “soon” Jesus’ return will be. This has personal application as well. According to the Psalmist our time on earth is “fleeting”. Thus, I come face-to-face with my legacy as a person of God. How will I spend my “time”? Will it be meeting deadlines that others impose? Will it be ordered by my God? Will I have time to do all I want… or better, need to do?

So, I am taking time to sort out time and my use of, or waste, of time. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but that shouldn’t be surprising since I am still a sinner. At the same time, I am beginning to see God’s use of my time, and what happens when I dedicate my time, all of my time, to him. It is okay to say “no” to demands on my time, if the time really belongs to the Lord.

So, I am having the “time of my life”, as I wait for the “day of my life” in Jesus.

Technical Terms – 2 (Day of the LORD – DOL)

Several studies have examined the DOL, each with their own particular contribution. In his seminal work, Ladislav Cerny observed that the DOL study must eventually encompass both the origin and content of the DOL [Ladislav Cerny, The Day of Yahweh and Some Relevant Problems (Prague: Nakladem Filosoficke Fakulty University Karlovy, 1948), vii.]. Since 1948 the major focus of scholarly endeavors has been on the origin of the DOL. While Mowinckel dominated the scene with his contention that the DOL grew out of the cultic festival celebration, Gerhard von Rad broke new ground with his claim that the DOL emerged from the holy war tradition [Gerhard von Rad, “The Origin of the Concept of the Day of Yahweh,” Journal of Semitic Studies 4 (April 1959), 97–108]. A. Joseph Everson summarized the main proposals for the origin of the concept in his article in 1974. In addition to these, he noted F. Charles Fensham’s theory that the covenant tradition (treaty-curses) formed the basis of the DOL. Meir Weiss advocated the theophany motif. Despite the value of these studies, they fell short, as evidenced by Everson’s critique. “All of these origin studies of the tradition are confronted, however, by the problematic fact that specific locution of the Day of Yahweh are found only in the writings of the classical prophets and in the book of Lamentations [A. Joseph Everson, “The Days of Yahweh,” Journal of Biblical Literature 93 (September 1974), 330].

Conscious of Everson’s critique, most scholars since then have concentrated their studies on the prophetic writings, most often limiting themselves to those passages that specifically contain the exact phrase, DOL (16 total). Those passages are: Isaiah 13:6; 13:9; Ezekiel 13:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:11; 3:4; 4:14; Amos 5:18 (2 x); 5:20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7; 1:14 (2x); and Malachi 3:23 [Chapter and verse citations are according to the Hebrew text, BHS]. Yet as Cerny, Everson, and Yair Hoffmann concede that there are many other phrases which are very close in form and must be included [Yair Hoffmann, “The Day of the Lord as a Concept and Term in the Prophetic Literature,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 93 (1981), 37–9].

Appropriately, then, expressions such as “the day of Yahweh’s wrath,” “the day of Midian,” and “the day of battle” fit within this study. The most frequent phrase, “in that day” (בַיּוֹמ ההוּא), which occurs ~200 times in the prophets alone, expands the field of study dramatically. I disagree with those who follow P. A. Munch, [The Expression Bajjom Hahu: Is It a Terminus Technicus? (Oslo, 1936)] who claimed that it was essentially a connective. The plural of the phrase, “in those/these days.” also falls within the scope of such an investigation. Even terms such as “time” (עֵת) and “year” (שָׁנָה) apply toward the development of the DOL concept. Everson, followed by Hoffmann and others, claims that “it is methodologically more difficult and dangerous to include such references in the basic field of evidence” [Everson, 331. Hoffmann, 39]. While I agree that it is more difficult to expand the field, I contend that it is methodologically dangerous to not include these other references.

Thus, if the DOL is both a technical term and a broad concept, a prophet may develop his understanding of the concept by using related expressions, especially “in that day.” Another prophet may express the concept, describing events associated with the DOL without specifically mentioning the DOL (i.e. Micah). In both cases the prophets would be concerned with the DOL. This approach seems more consonant with the DOL origin and would more accurately reflect the prophetic understanding of the DOL. Critical for further study (another major paper) is the study of DOL must take into account the given time period. For instance, Hosea and Micah, normally forgotten in DOL studies, offer additional textual territory for study and development. The combined study of these eighth century prophets should then be the basis on which to study later prophets, particularly Zephaniah and Joel.

Translations of Yom Yahweh in the Later Prophets

Isaiah 13:6
Isaiah 13:9
Ezekiel 13:5
Joel 1:15
Joel 2:1
Joel 2:11
Joel 3:4 (2:31 Eng)
Joel 4:14 (3:14 Eng)
Amos 5:18
Amos 5:18
Amos 5:20
Obadiah 15
Zephaniah 1:7
Zephaniah 1:14
Zephaniah 1:14
Malachi 3:23 (4:5 Eng)

The following translations consistently used “day of the LORD” as the translation for Yom Yahweh in all 16 passages:

NKJV, NAS95, ESV, NRSV, HCSB, TNK, NIV, TNIV, GW, so also REB and NLT2 except these omit any translation at Zeph. 1:14 [2nd])

Interestingly, HCSB used “day of the LORD” in Isa. 13:6, 9, and Ezek. 13:5, and in all other occurrences used the capital letter D to highlight it: “Day of the LORD”. This suggests that the translators wanted to insure that the readers understood the phrase as a technical term (of some type).

NET varied its translation of Yom Yahweh, by using the possessive form “the LORD’s day” occasionally (Isa. 13:6, 9, Amos 5:18 [2nd], Amos 5:20; Zeph. 1:14 [both].

CEV showed the greatest variation, and no seeming consistency. Thus, “day of the LORD” is used only at Joel 2:1, Joel 4:14, and Zeph. 1:14 [2nd]. Otherwise, it translated the phrase as:

“day” – Isa. 13:6, Joel 2:11, Joel 3:4, Amos 5:18 [1st], 5:20, Obad 15, Zeph. 1:14 [2nd], and Mal. 3:23
“time” – Isa. 13:9, Amos 5:18 [2nd], and Zeph. 1:7
“soon” – Joel 1:15
untranslated – Isa. 13:9

Conclusion:

Such a survey suggests that Yom Yahweh had indeed become a technical term in the prophetic literature in the original languages. The evidence above also shows that English translations consider it a technical term by not varying its formula “day of the LORD”, except for CEV.

Jonah and Missions

It might be surprising to some people that Jonah is really a mission book. Many years ago at seminary a returning missionary/Bible translator spoke about his work in the mission field. He then noted that when new converts wanted a book of the Bible translated, often the first one mentioned was Jonah. Let’s pursue that a little more and see if we can discover the reason.

In Jonah 1:1-2 God commissions Jonah with these words: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” Interestingly the LXX uses κηρυξον (“preach”), which the ESV follows, “preach against”. Such wording implies a very strong Law proclamation.

But Jonah has other ideas: But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. At the command to go to Nineveh, Jonah heads in the opposite direction; while there is doubt about the exact location of Tarshish, it is generally agreed to be in the western part of the Mediterranean Sea, most likely Spain. In other words, Jonah tries to flee as far from Israel/Judah as he can go.

It might be easy for us to criticize Jonah, but let’s remember the situation in which he finds himself. Nineveh represented the hated and feared enemy of God’s people. They would soon swoop down and conquer the northern 10 tribes (Israel), killing many, dragging many into captivity. Consider today if God told me to go the Al Qaeda headquarters and preach against it. What would my reaction be? Probably the same as Jonah’s.

But God does not let Jonah get away. For God’s prophet to speak God’s Word, he will first have to undergo the same as the people of Nineveh. God has to “preach against” Jonah. He does so by sending the storm, then allowing the sailors to throw Jonah overboard, and finally a great fish swallows Jonah. The Law is spoken in its harshest measures. Only an intervention by God can save Jonah – and that is what happens.

Jonah recognizes in the bottom of his despair – in the bottom of the fish – that apart from God’s steadfast love/covenant love (חסד) there is no hope. Ironically Jonah adds the phrase “those who pray to idols” forsake that very hope. Thus, Jonah is setting himself up against the Ninevites (who have the idols – chapter 3). That is, it is “good, right, and salutary” that Jonah, an Israelite would be shown grace, extended God’s steadfast love, and receive hope in the midst of no hope.

What Jonah forgot was something that happened early in the kingship of Israel, several hundred years before his time. Notice this critical passage: 1 Samuel 15:23, Samuel speaks to Saul: For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” Jonah fell into the same trap; he could not see that his rebellion was in the same category as the idolatry of Nineveh. Therefore, all are under the same condemnation, whether Jew or Greek (Romans 3:9-10).

Nevertheless, God’s grace rescues Jonah, leads him to renewed faith in God.

Sometimes we as forgiven, restored Christians might think that God will change his mind about what he wants us to do. “I have been forgiven, but surely God won’t ask me to do something that I have already refused.” But not so with God. In fact, 3:1-2 we find a repeat of 1:1-2, God’s commission to preach against Nineveh. This time Jonah responds in obedience (result of faith); he goes to Nineveh and preaches against the people. Only an intervention by God can save Nineveh – and that is what happens.

The results are stunning! The people hear the judgment against them and their city, they recognize their sin, and repent in sackcloth. Even the king publicly proclaims the changed hearts, in the desire that “God may relent and turn from his fierce anger” (3:9).

Given Jonah’s prior experience of terror under the Law and the refreshing new life in the Gospel, we might expect that Jonah would rejoice at such a response. Alas, Jonah does not. Rather, he is quite put out! “It is exceedingly evil” was how Jonah considered this new situation. Because Jonah was an Israelite, he knew the promises of God to God’s people. But the Ninevites? No way! They are people who cling to their idols (Psalm 115:1-6), and in Jonah’s mind meant that meant there were two classes of people: God’s people and “them”. The people of Nineveh were part of “them” and therefore could – should not! – receive the same “steadfast love/covenant love (חסד)” that is the heritage of Israel. God shows the same compassion to the “nations” (epitomized by Nineveh) as he does to Israel. The law of God and the grace of God are not hindered by barriers set up even by the strongest of nations.

So the pattern is:

Part 1: God commissions Jonah to speak against Nineveh

  • Jonah refuses
  • God speaks against Jonah
  • Jonah repents and lives
  • Jonah rejoices in prayer
  • God’s first mission complete

    Part 2: God commissions Jonah to speak against Nineveh

  • Jonah obeys
  • God through Jonah speaks against Nineveh
  • The people of Nineveh repent and live
  • Jonah sinks into despair
  • God’s heart of compassion demonstrated and second mission complete

    Now through the lens of Jonah, let’s glance ahead to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus sends the disciples to “make disciples” of all nations (note also the “preach” aspects in Luke, Mark, harking back to the LXX use of the same word in Jonah’s context). In the past “nations” (Hebrew: GoYiM) would have meant “them” of Jonah’s experience, now the “nations” include Israel itself as part of the “nations” (Acts 1:8, “beginning in Jerusalem”). Everyone and every nation is the missionary target of the Good News.

    Further, notice the promise in 28:20 “for I am with you always.” Jonah thought he could avoid the mission assignment by fleeing, not from Nineveh, but from God’s presence. It didn’t work; God was with him. So also, those who think that the Great Commission can be shuffled off to someone else forget that Jesus “is with them always”. No matter where they go, when they go, how far they go, Jesus is there, and the commission is in effect. Jonah becomes a precursor of both Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 12:39-41) and the Jesus’ Commission to the disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

    Jonah truly is a missionary book – for all of us!

    Samson and “what is right”

    In Sunday morning Bible class the last two weeks Samson (Judges 13-16) was mentioned in the context of missions (and diversity). I am not teaching this particular class. However, I found a significant theme related to the entire book of Judges.

    The repeated cycle of blessings, judgments, restorations, in the book of Judges is well summarized in Judges 21:25 “every man did that which was right in his own sight.” As we read through the book, the problems arise when “every man did what was right in his own sight”, in a sense repeating the three-fold problem of Genesis 3:6 (And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes to look upon and beautiful to contemplate).

    Samson becomes a miniature view of that cycle, but with some interesting twists in terms of God’s judgment. In Judges 14:3b we read: And Sampson said to his father, “Take her for me, for she is right in my eyes,” which is repeated in 14:7. Now in between those two verses, Samson is empowered by the Spirit of Yahweh to kill the lion. As an Israelite he was not to touch a dead animal (Leviticus 11:39-40), but if he did he was to offer sacrifices for his uncleanness. Also, note that Samson does not tell his parents about his encounter, and therefore leads them to be unknowingly unclean (Judges 14:6). On top of that, as a Nazarite Samson was not to have contact with a dead animal, which likewise causes even his parents or siblings to be unclean (Numbers 6:6-8). Samson compounds his problems when later he kills the Philistines (Judges 14:19), again empowered by the Spirit of Yahweh. However, when the Nazarite has contact with a dead person he is to shave his head (Numbers 6:9). Samson does neither (offer sacrifice nor shave his head).

    And yet God accomplishes his cleansing purposes with Samson, but through the Philistines. While the Philistine woman “was right in his eyes”, the Philistines gouged his eyes out (Judges 16:21). And his hair was indeed shaved, by trickery (Judges 16:19), seemingly in retaliation of his own arrogance and his ability to deceive (Judges 14:12, 14, 18, 15:16).

    And finally, after he suffers these humiliations, he is now where God can work his greatest work through him, that is, to bring judgment upon the Philistines themselves for their role in conquering some of the tribes of Israel.

    So the structure of Samson’s episode is:

    A: right in his own eyes
    B: uncleanness not taken care of by head shaved
    B’: uncleanness resolved by head shaved
    A’: right in the eyes of God

    Other ideas can be gleaned, but this was an key insight for me today.