Wednesday, March 14, 2018


In the West, masks are mostly worn for protection, think of dust masks, ski masks, or surgical masks. But sometimes masks are worn to hide the identity of the wearer. Consider this definition of mask  from Encyclopedia Britannica [1].

Mask, a form of disguise or concealment usually worn over or in front of the face to hide the identity of a person and by its own features to establish another being. This essential characteristic of hiding and revealing personalities or moods is common to all masks.
Masks generally are worn with a costume, often so extensive that it entirely covers the body and obscures the wearer’s recognizable features. Fundamentally the costume completes the new identity represented by the mask.

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Origin Of Masks

Where did this practice of wearing masks come from? It appears that the origin of masks is in religious rites and ceremonies. Again from Encyclopedia Britannica [1].

African Tribal Masks
Many masks are primarily associated with ceremonies that have religious and social significance or are concerned with funerary customs, fertility rites, or the curing of sickness.

The mask, therefore, most often functions as a means of contact with various spirit powers, thereby protecting against the unknown forces of the universe by prevailing upon their potential beneficence in all matters relative to life.

In certain cultures, masks are worn to get in touch with the spirit world. This has been the case around the world, with Africa being the most well known, because African masks are sold as collectible art in the West. In order to contact the spirit world, the mask maker and the mask wearer must follow careful rules. The mask wearer is considered to be in direct association with the mask's spirit force, and can lose his own identity, assuming the identity of the mask, possibly undergoing a psychic change, even a trance. Some masks do represent evil spirits. Masks are worn in many religious ceremonies often in an attempt to "impersonate a supernatural power" - Masks: Reflections of Culture and Religion [2]. So in religious ceremonies involving masks, the mask and the wearer either represents a good spirit or an evil spirit.

Identity Masks

In the West, identity masks are only used at Halloween, Mardi Gras, or costume parties. The mask allows the wearer anonymity to release inhibitions. In other words, the mask wearer feels free to behave as they really want to, to do things under the cloak of anonymity. I'm pretty sure this doesn't bring out the virtue in people. Their real self is unmasked while wearing a mask. “A mask is not to disguise who you are but to show who you really are.” - Chloe Thurlow [3].

Of course, masks do not have to be physical. Many cultures have the mask of alcohol or other drugs, which lower inhibitions, that is unmasking the real self. Many people use a mask of anger to hide fear, weakness, shame, or embarassment - Psychology In Everyday Life [4]. Humor can also be used a a mask - Masking Depression With Humor [5]. In religion, tradition can be a mask - Behind the Mask of Religious Traditions [6]. Masks can work two ways, hiding the real self or revealing the real self, or perhaps who the wearer wants to be.

Masks and the Theater

Masks became a device of the theater in almost all cultures.

The mask as a device for theatre first emerged in Western civilization from the religious practices of ancient Greece.

Heavily coiffured and of a size to enlarge the actor’s presence, the Greek mask seems to have been designed to throw the voice by means of a built-in megaphone device and, by exaggeration of the features, to make clear at a distance the precise nature of the character. Moreover, their use made it possible for the Greek actors—who were limited by convention to three speakers for each tragedy—to impersonate a number of different characters during the play simply by changing masks and costumes.  Encyclopedia Britannica [1]

What were those Greek actors called? Hypokrites, from which we get the English word hypocrite.

Tragedy And Comedy Masks
The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player.” The Greek word itself is a compound noun: it’s made up of two Greek words that literally translate as “an interpreter from underneath.” That bizarre compound makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

It took a surprisingly long time for hypocrite to gain its more general meaning that we use today: “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”  - Merriam Webster [7]

Masks and the Bible 

Does the Bible have anything to say about masks? Indirectly. It does talk about hypocrites. In Matthew 23 alone, Jesus addresses the scribes and Pharisees seven times as hypocrites, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, ..." - Matt 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,29. This is the Greek word hypokritai, the same word as the stage players of Greek theater. The scribes and Pharisees put on masks to appear righteous, not physical masks like other religions, but still a persona, Latin for "false face" - Masks: Reflections of Culture and Religion [2]. "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." - Matt 23:28.

Putting on a mask to portray or become an evil spirit is simply bad.
Putting on a mask to appear righteous is also bad.

Portraying an evil spirit allows the evil side of a person to come out and be revealed.

Pretending righteousness allows a person to hide their evil side. This is the warning of  Matt 7:15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits." Sounds like a mask, a whole costume if you will. And this warning in 2Cor 11:14 "No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." But remember, you will know them by their fruits, don't just listen to their words - 4 Ways to Identify a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing [8].

Are masks mentioned in the Old Testament? Possibly. In the story of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32), the people don't know what happened to Moses, they panic, and want a replacement for Moses, a replacement that isn't human and can serve as an intermediary between the people and God Himself. They had their chance to see and hear God directly at Mount Sinai, but they chose to have an intermediary instead.
Exod 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god [elohim] who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.

Aaron fashions a golden calf. Rabbi David Fohrman [9] argues that "egel maseka" in Hebrew could be translated as molten calf or calf mask. The people wanted an intermediary that could survive a face to face encounter with God, like Moses did. The calf mask was a shield to protect them. Only it doesn't work that way, the mask is a perversion of the relationship with God, which must actually be face to face. The irony is that Moses ends up being the one who has to wear a veil (masveh) when talking to the people. Moses face shone after forty days on the mountain with God, and when he came down, the people were afraid of him, so he wore a veil, not because he wanted to hide his identity. It's not clear to me how long Moses wore the veil, perhaps for the entire 40 years Israel wandered in the desert.

[paragraph added Mar 21, 2018]

I missed an important connection between masks and the commandment that says - "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" - Exodus 20:7. A reader commented that this verse is really talking about hypocrisy, that is taking God's name in vain is more than using swear words. He paraphrased it like this "You shall not just act like you are one of God's people; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that bears his name in vain." Taking or bearing God's name has to be sincere, not a mask worn for the praise of men.

Masks and the Christian

Anyone who desires to live a moral life, anyone who calls on the name of the Lord, ie. a Christian, is at risk for hypocrisy. I have to think that no one actively seeks out evil deliberately and consciously, but that evil is a result of "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes" - Prov 21:2. That is to say, everyone decides for themselves what is right and wrong. But Christians have given up that right to decide for themselves. The problem is our own weaknesses and habits. Everyone sins, and falls into hypocrisy, "a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” Do we put the mask on and pretend the sin didn't happen, or do we approach God face to face (because He knows anyway), and repent, that is, turn away from our sin, and bring forth fruit in keeping with our repentance?

God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another. - William Shakespeare, Hamlet



Sunday, March 4, 2018

Joshua's Left Foot

Do you notice the subtle difference between these two verses?

Exo 3:5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Joshua 5:15 And the Prince of Jehovah's host said unto Joshua, 'Cast off thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place on which thou art standing is holy;' and Joshua did so;

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It's perhaps easier to draw parallels than differences. Moses was Joshua's mentor, and Joshua was groomed for decades to take over for Moses. And look, they both receive the same instruction about removing their sandals because they are standing in a holy place, a sure sign that God approves of Moses choice of Joshua. But both instructions aren't quite the same. Rabbi Hayyim Angel [1] points out that Moses was told to remove both sandals, but Joshua was told to remove one. I looked it up in the Hebrew, it really is plural in Exodus and singular in Joshua - QBible [2]. Many translations do show the plural in Joshua 5:15. It could be a simple matter of linguistic variation, and there is certainly scholarly debate over it, or maybe it means something. Let's dig further into Rabbi Angel's observation and his theory over the possible meaning of one shoe or two.

Starting with the symbolism of the shoe, it was most likely a sandal in ancient Biblical times. Sandals picture involvement with the physical world. Think how they protect our feet from the dirt and abrasions of walking in the physical world. And on the other hand, Levicital priests were NOT to wear sandals while serving in the Tabernacle or Temple Wikipedia(High_Priest_Of_Israel) [3] . In other words, barefoot is equated to the spiritual world. Some say that the shoe is to the foot as the body is to the soul, that is a soul fits into a body to navigate the physical realm similar to the way a foot slips into a shoe to navigate the path - Jews And Shoes [4]. Maybe. Maybe not.

So why would Joshua have one foot in the physical and one foot in the spiritual? Moses clearly had both feet in the spiritual realm. The people of Israel clearly had both feet in the physical realm. But Joshua wasn't really like Moses. The Babylonian Jewish Commentary describes Moses and Joshua like this "The elders of that generation said: The countenance of Moses was like that of the sun; the countenance of Joshua was like that of the moon." - Bava Batrah [5]. That is to say Joshua's glory was inferior to Moses.

Rabbi Angel cites a few examples to show the gap between Moses and Joshua. The most telling was the testimony of the twelve spies. After spying out the land of Canaan, ten spies gave a bad report, that the people of the land were giants, and they felt like grasshoppers in comparison. Caleb spoke up and insisted that Israel could take the land, but Joshua was silent. THE NEXT DAY, Joshua spoke up, echoing the fears of the people, but ultimately the faith and confidence of Moses.

6 Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

Rabbi Angel argues that Joshua's ability to feel the people's fears coupled with the faith of Moses actually make him a good leader, a man of the people, if you will. Maybe the first day Joshua did feel intimidated by the Amalekites, and intimidated by the ten other spies (looking at the physical), but in the end he argues from faith, "the Lord is with us" (looking at the spiritual).

Moses appears strong and confident from the start, but Joshua had to be told to be strong and courageous. He was told that twice by Moses - Deut 31:7, 23. He was told that three times by God Himself  - Josh 1:6, 7, 9. And he was even told that by the people he was leading - Josh 1:18. It seems he was in touch with the fears of the people.

Joshua reminds me of someone. Someone with almost exactly the same name. Someone who was divine, yet human. Someone who had a foot in this world and a foot in the spiritual world. Yes, I'm talking about Jesus. Joshua's given name was Hoshea (Salvation), but Moses changed it to Jehoshua (YHVH aka Yah is Salvation), contracted to Joshua - Hans Bodlaender [6]. Jesus' Hebrew name is also Jehoshua or Yashua or Yeshua.  It's the same name. Joshua is to Moses as Jesus is to God the Father, remember the sun/moon analogy above. And to be clear, Jesus was in touch with the people without the doubts that Joshua had. With one foot in this world, Jesus can relate to the human condition, which makes Him the ideal High Priest, "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." - Heb 4:15. Jesus often referred to Himself as "Son of Man". Normally the expression that someone has one foot in the world and one foot in heaven/church is a negative, implying the person can't make up their mind. In the cases of Joshua and Jesus, I'm arguing that it is a good thing, that they can relate to both worlds. There are other parallels between Joshua and Jesus, see The Two Joshuas [7].

Is it true that Joshua only removed one sandal? If Hebrew scholars disagree on it, I'm not going to be able to settle the argument one way or another. If he did remove one sandal, it would have been his right sandal, in the Bible right is associated with spiritual, left with physical - In Two Worlds [8]. But if Joshua were told to remove a sandal because the place was holy, logically he would have to remove both unless he was at the edge of the holy area or he stood like a stork, both of which seem unlikely. However, the parallels between Joshua and Jesus ARE real, whether Joshua had his left sandal on or not.




Sunday, February 18, 2018

Esther Pays An Old Debt

Esther crowned as Queen
I always thought of the Purim story as a Jewish girl who rescued the Jewish nation. One reason that Esther became queen of Persia was apparently to save the Jewish people from destruction by Haman the Agagite. "And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” - Esther 4:14. And to this day, Jews celebrate the day known as Purim.

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But, Rabbi David Fohrman AlephBeta [] points out that Esther and Mordecai were not Jews ethnically. They were descended from Benjamin. It's right there in the text, I just never noticed. "Now there was at the citadel in Susa a Jew whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite" - Esther 2:5. Well wait, it says Mordecai was a Jew, then it says he was a Benjamite. Which is it? Both actually. The kingdom of Judah, also known as the southern kingdom, was actually three tribes that banded together, Judah, Levi, and Benjamin, Judah being the most prominent and the royal line. The word Jew comes from the name Judah (Yehudi) and meant either an ethnic Judahite OR a resident of the kingdom of Judah. Verse 6 shows Mordecai was taken from Jerusalem into captivity, so he was a resident of Judah and could be called a Jew.

Big deal, so he and Hadasseh (Esther) were Benjamites. So what? There is language used in this story which draws us back to the story of Joseph in Egypt. Esther's story echoes Joseph's story when his brothers sold him to Midianites, and eventually Egypt. Note that this was Judah's idea.

Joseph sold by his brothers
Genesis 37:26  Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? “Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him.
Esther 7:4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king.

Both passages talk about someone being sold for slavery versus sold for destruction. The words "sell" and "sold" are spelled the same in both verses (nmkrnu, Hebrew Torah scrolls are written without vowels).

But that story is about Joseph, not Benjamin. And Esther's rescue of the Jews is not over. When Esther appeared before the king, she succeeded in eliminating Haman, but Haman's decree to kill all the Jews was still in effect, and Esther had to approach the king a second time to ask for the decree to be rescinded. Again, it went well.

Esther pleads for the Jews
Esther 8:3 Then Esther spoke again to the king, fell at his feet, wept and implored him to avert the evil scheme of Haman the Agagite and his plot which he had devised against the Jews. 4 The king extended the golden scepter to Esther. So Esther arose and stood before the king. 5 Then she said, “If it pleases the king and if I have found favor before him and the matter seems proper to the king and I am pleasing in his sight, let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the king’s provinces. 6 “For how can I endure to see the calamity which will befall my people, and how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?”

Esther's plea echoes Judah's plea centuries before in Egypt, when he pleaded to trade places with Benjamin. Joseph tricked his brothers into bringing Benjamin to Egypt. Joseph was powerful in Egypt when his brothers came to buy food, but they did not recognize him. When the brothers were going home, Joseph planted his goblet in Benjamin's pack so Benjamin would look guilty of theft. Judah steps up and offers to trade himself as a slave in Benjamin's place. He could have gone back to his father Jacob and said there was nothing he could do, after all, the goblet was in Benjamin's pack. But in spite of Leah and her children (including Judah) being second class citizens in Jacob's eyes (note in the passage below that Jacob only refers to the two sons of Rachel), Judah's plea was based on how much sorrow it would cause his father to lose both sons of Rachel.

Judah pleads for Benjamin
Genesis 44:27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn in pieces,” and I have not seen him since. 29 ‘If you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’ 30 “Now, therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, 31 when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. 32 “For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 “Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 “For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would overtake my father?” 

Let me narrow in on Gen 44:34 and Ester 8:6.

Gen 44:34 Lest I see the evil that will come on my father
Esther 8:6 For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people?

In Hebrew, the phrase "evil that will come on my father/people" differs by one letter.

Gen 44:34 ra asher yim'tza et-aviy (father)
Esther 8:6 ra asher yim'tza et-amiy (people)
Esther used the exact same words as Judah. She must have known her history. Judah offered himself to save Benjamin. Esther, a Benjaminite, offered herself to save Judah, ie. the ethnic Jews in Persia. The family breach that started when the sons of Leah sold Joseph into slavery was restored by Hadasseh (Esther). And both stories have a happy ending for the sons of Jacob.

Judah saved Benjamin

Benjamin saved Judah

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Truth Changes Everything

A friend and I were talking about how difficult it can be to persuade someone of something, even when we are armed with facts, and yes - the truth. Often it is very difficult to convince someone of the simple truth. But in religious discussions, it seems almost impossible to change someone's mind.

Doctrinal Confusion

In the collective Churches of God, I have seen three major doctrinal controversies keep coming up that never seem to go away - Sacred Names, Calendar, and Nature of God. I bring these up as concrete examples of doctrines that cause controversy, but not change. This may be more of a personal rant, so if this doesn't apply to you, skip to #Christmas.

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Sacred Names - This is the idea that we must use the correct name for God, and also Jesus Christ. In the Bible, God's name is written YHVH, with vowel markings (not inspired) that make it read as either Yahweh, even though there is no "W" sound in Hebrew; or Jehovah, even though there is no "J" sound in Hebrew, or Yehovah; or Yahava, or possibly some other variants. Actual Hebrew scholars don't agree on the pronunciation, but many people are certain they know how, that they have truth on their side. How does a small town boy like me tell who is right when the scholars don't agree? Further it's not clear to me why we need to use the Hebrew pronunciation for these two names. Most names are changed as they pass from language to language (Johann, Juan, John, Yochanan). At the other end of the spectrum are the those who won't speak His name even if they did know it.

Nature of God - Most Churches teach that God is a Trinity, Most Churches of God teach that God is a Binity (yes that's a word), but some teach that God is a Unity, meaning God the Father is the only God, not Jesus in case that wasn't clear. Each camp has its Bible verses as proof, but ignore the other camps' proof texts. I have an opinion formed by reading the Bible and the arguments from all camps, but the truth is the actual nature of God is not up to debate, He is what He is regardless of our arguments. Who am I to resolve the debate?

Calendar - Besides the well known Hebrew calendar, published and freely available, there are at least four competing camps that claim the Hebrew calendar is wrong, but theirs is right, and their calendar is based on nothing but the Bible. The problem I have is that if they all based their calendars on the Bible, shouldn't they all come to the same conclusion? They don't. I've read more than I care to about calendars, and I am not expert enough to tell if one of these represents truth.

All of the people who argue such things are very sure of themselves, or as I like to say "often wrong, but never in doubt". Sometimes I think that love thy neighbor has been replaced with love thy calendar.

It occurs to me that the demons know the truth of each of these controversial doctrines. It appears they were created before the earth (the angels shouted for joy when earth was created - Job 38:7), so they saw  their Creator face to face at least once. As far as we know, no new angels are being created. And we understand demons to be fallen angels. The point is that they know God's nature from experience; they know perfectly well His name; and they know how the calendar is counted. But the truth doesn't do them any good. As the Bible says, the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19) - they are not atheists.

Now let me introduce two other teachings - Christmas and the identity of Israel.

#Christmas - It seems every year, someone publishes articles showing that "Christmas" was being kept long before Jesus' birth. They show that He couldn't have been born in December. My intent is not to prove it all over again, but to point out that these articles don't change anyone's behavior. The truth about Christmas is out there. People don't deny it, but they keep on celebrating Christmas.

Israel - As far as I know, all the churches of God teach that Israel and Jews are different. The word "Jew" is derived from the Hebrew name Judah, who was the fourth son of Jacob. Jacob's other name was ISRAEL. So all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews. A person could descend from one of the other eleven sons, and still be an Israelite, but not a Jew. I have read articles that say Abraham was the first Jew. Abraham was the great grandfather of Judah. If Abraham were a Jew, then descendants of Abraham's son Ishmael would be Jews, as well as the sons of Abraham's second wife Keturah (all twelve of them). I have read that Moses (who was a Levite not a Jew) led the Jews out of Egypt - yes, and eleven other tribes as well. The point is not to prove this exhaustively from Biblical sources, but to assert that it is simple enough to understand.

The identity of Israel is the key to understanding lots of prophecy. Prophecies like "possessing the gates of your enemies" can't be applied to Judah (the modern nation of Israel), but certainly can apply to the USA and British Commonwealth aka BC (Panama Canal, Suez Canal, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Falklands). Prophecies like Israel was promised to become "a nation and a multitude of nations". Again, this doesn't fit Judah the nation of Israel, but does fit the US and BC. Prophecies like "I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah" show they are different peoples. My point is that it is simple, but also important to understand.

You Would Have To Change

So why do people not heed the truth? What happened to being a lover of the truth? Because people would have to change. Consider the average Christmas keeper. If he believed it was wrong, what could he do? Search out the real holy days from the Bible, find a church that kept them, and join them? That is disruptive to a family. Accepting and acting on the truth about Christmas will change relationships with family and friends. I speak from experience, though I never anticipated the changes at the time. I embraced the truth about Christmas and God's actual holy days (see Leviticus 23), not realizing the changes that would happen to nearly all my relationships.

Consider a Jew who believes that Israel means Jew. Accepting that one belief that Israel does not equal Jew will put him at odds with his fellow Jews. Where would he go?

Credibility And Authority

Authority figures have better success at persuading people, assuming you like your authority figure that is. The words of an unknown carry little weight, even if speaking truth. In time, the unknown may establish credibility, but until then will have little impact. In other words, why would you believe me in any of these teachings? How does anyone gain authority/credibility? In corporations, through promotions.  In science or academia, by publishing.  In sports, by scoring lots of points.  In business, by making lots of money.  In government, by getting elected.  In preaching, by speaking the truth. (Miracles would help establish credibility.)  How does one know when they are hearing the truth? I've pointed out three examples where I can't tell.  At some level, we evaluate everyone, authority or not, we all choose to believe certain sources over others. I choose to trust Hebrew scholars over self appointed scholars.  I choose to trust authors/teachers/preachers whose work I've evaluated before, that is they made sense to me before.  You evaluate me based on what I've written before, and what you're reading now.  I evaluate teaching according to the Bible, to logic, and to experience.  The Bereans "searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so" Acts 17:11, that's a good place to start. Another scripture to help evaluate people is this, "By their fruits shall you know them" - Matt 7:16, that is to say their life should match their words.

People pay attention to every word from the President, Prime Minister, or Pope, but does that guarantee they speak truth? Famous people use their fame as an ersatz authority - think of sports figures or actors, why would you expect wisdom from their lips? They simply have access to a microphone. Think about how powerful it is when an authority figure speaks the truth. And sadly, how destructive it is when an authority figure speaks falsely, knowingly or not.

The people who hold doctrines concerning the nature of God, or calendars may be speaking the truth, but they have no authority or credibility in my life. But if I believed one of them, it would disrupt my life. I would have to leave my current church of 40 years, and go somewhere else. Some friendships would survive, most wouldn't. I have a vested interest in NOT believing them. And it is the same for the Christmas keeper, and the Jew=Israel crowd. Accepting those truths would change everything for them. That's why it's so hard to persuade people.

So should we not try at all? We absolutely should try, the Church was instructed to "preach the gospel, feed the flock". It is one of the big reasons we are here, we are supposed to share the truth we have received. I just never recognized how hard it is to accept some truths until I looked at possibly changing my own long standing beliefs. If I were to act on a new teaching, it would change everything. And I haven't been so persuaded.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Rhythm And Rhyme

I thought to read some of the Psalms in Hebrew, a very slow process for me but with enough online tools, it is possible. I was hoping to gain insight by reading in the original Hebrew. After struggling for a while, I said to my wife "it's not written in iambic pentameter, ya know". She observed that I was showing off by throwing big words around, and asked me what that meant. Busted. I had to look it up. Wikipedia(Iambic_Pentameter) [1] to the rescue.

William Shakespeare

A standard line of iambic pentameter is five iambic feet in a row:
     da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
A straightforward example of this rhythm can be heard in the opening line of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 12:
When I do count the clock that tells the time 

I have been unable to find out "why ten syllables?"

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I already knew Hebrew poetry wasn't like English poetry, but I thought there would be some rhythm and some rhyme. Not so much.
Hebrew poetry is destitute of meter in the strict sense, and also of rhyme, though this last occurs in some isolated cases. No wonder then that western scholars, missing these marks of the poetry which they knew best, failed for so long to note the poetry which the Old Testament contains. Hebrew Poetry [2]

According to Introduction to Hebrew Poetry [3],  the Old Testament is one third poetry, and according to Poetry in the Hebrew Bible [4] by Jeff A. Benner, the Old Testament is 75% poetry. Benner argues that even Genesis 1 is poetic in structure. So it is surprising that until the 18th century, Western scholars did not even recognize the OT was filled with poetry - Hebrew Poetry [2] - except for the fact there is no rhythm or rhyme...

Oddly, the New Testament contains very little poetry.
Poetry in the New Testament: Very little poetry is found in the New Testament, except poetry quoted from the Old Testament or hymns which were included in the worship services of the early church. The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10; Luke 6:20-26) have a definite poetic form. The Gospel of Luke contains several long poems: Zacharias' prophecy, known as the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79); the song of Mary, known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); the song of the heavenly host, known as the Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14); and the blessing of Simeon, known as the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32). Poetry In The Bible [5]

Well, what is Hebrew poetry then, and what kind of poetry is it?
Rhythm, rhyme, repetitive sounds and wordplays are not easily reproduced in a translation. However, the key to appreciating biblical poetry, and indeed most of the ancient Near Eastern poetry, is none of these. It is parallelism. The Key to Biblical Poetry [6]
I guess that's good news for people reading the Bible in a translation, which is most of us, because those poetic elements we expect  (rhythm, rhyme, repetitive sounds and wordplays) for the most part aren't there anyway, so in a sense, less is lost in translation. Those things do exist in Bible poetry, but aren't as important or as common as parallelism.


Parallelism is the expression of one idea in two or more different ways. "The content of one line is repeated, contrasted, or advanced by the content of the next - a type of sense rhythm characterized by thought arrangement rather than by word arrangement or rhyme" - Poetry Of The Bible [5]. It is also called rhyming thoughts. Let's consider an example.
Psalm 8:4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
       and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Basically, it says the same thing twice. I picked this verse because the Hebrew actually does some wordplay here, and I need to justify all my efforts. David uses two different words for "man" (enosh and adam), and two similar words for "mindful" (tizkrenu) and "visit"  (tifqdenu). The symmetry is easy to see in a fixed width font.
Mah enosh ki tizkrenu (to remember or mark)
uven adam ki tifqdenu (to visit, oversee, care for)

This is an example of synonymous parallelism, where line two repeats the thought of line one. In antithetical parallelism, line two states the same idea in opposite terms so no matter which way you read it, you end up with the same thought.
Psalm 1:6: "The LORD knows the way of the righteous,
                    But the way of the ungodly shall perish"
One more type of parallelism that I'll cover here is the chiasm, but parallelism doesn't stop there, you can read more about poetic structures of Hebrew at  references 2, 3, 4, or 6.

The Menorah Psalm

One way the Bible organizes both prose and poetry is by means of parallelism called the chiasm. This means a sequence of ideas is presented, then repeated in reverse order, like a mirror image - What Is A Chiasm? [7]. It doesn't mean the verses are repeated word for word, but the ideas or simply words are repeated. A chiasm draws one's attention to the middle verse. It is the way a Menorah is made, one side balances the other. Psalm 67 is an example of this, and is called the Menorah Psalm. The psalm has an introduction plus seven verses. Verses 2 and 8 are related, verses 3 and 7 too, verses 4 and 6 are identical, and verse 5 forms the center of the chiasm like the central stalk of a Menorah. Verse 5 is a mini chiasm of three phrases, the first and third referring to the nations, which narrows our attention to the very middle phrase (in bold). Note the highlighted words.
Psalm 67:2-8
2. God be gracious to us, and bless us; and let  His face shine upon us. Selah.
    3. That your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
        4. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
              5. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy; 
                      for you shall judge the peoples righteously,
                  and govern the nations on earth. Selah.
        6. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
    7. The earth has yielded her produce; and God, our own God, shall bless us.
8. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him.

Psalm 67
"The Menorah Psalm"

Not counting the intro, Psalm 67 has 49 words (in Hebrew), arranged in a symmetrical pattern, looking at verses 2-8, taken in order, that's 7, 6, 6, 11, 6, 6, 7. This is structure you can only see in the Hebrew. Because it has 49 words, "it has often been used in conjunction with the counting of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot" - The Menorah Psalm [8]. In this article, Christopher P. Benton makes the argument that the Priestly Benediction of Numbers 6:24-26 and Psalm 67 are also parallel passages.

Dr. Benton writes:
There are clearly some connections between the language of the Priestly Benediction and the Menorah Psalm. For instance, one cannot fail to notice the similarity between the first and second verses of the Priestly Benediction where it says, “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you,” and verse 2 of Psalm 67 where we read, “God be gracious to us, and bless us; and let His face shine upon us.” Clearly Psalm 67 continues a theme begun in Numbers 6.
Thus, a picture is starting to emerge of the Priestly Benediction and the Menorah Psalm as complementary parts of a single whole with the Priestly Benediction invoking God’s mercy and the Menorah Psalm addressing God’s justice. - The Menorah Psalm [8]

Here is the text of the Priestly Benediction, also called the Aaronic Benediction.
Numbers 6
24 The LORD bless you, and keep you;
25 The LORD make His face shine on you,
    And be gracious to you;
26 The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
    And give you peace. 

But the Menorah Psalm stands on its own. Like I said above, one's attention is drawn to the middle of a chiasm. The outer verses all speak of bounty and blessings and praise but the middle verse upon which all that depends speaks of righteous judgment and governing the nations. Like the branches of a menorah depend on the central stalk, blessings depend on justice.

Why A Menorah?

The Menorah in the Tabernacle
burned oil, not candles

Indeed, why a menorah, a chiasm? One answer is that God creates things in balance, and that balance is pictured in the menorah (which was the means of light in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle). God often reveals understanding in His word by juxtaposing ideas in a chiasm, giving light to the reader. Dr. Denton says that balance is mentioned in Eccl 7:14 "In the day of prosperity be happy, But in the day of adversity consider-- God has made the one as well as the other, So that man will not discover anything that will be after him". A word for word translation of the middle of this verse (highlighted portion) from Hebrew says "this against this made God". The rest of the verse talks of balancing prosperity against adversity, that is "this against this", but the principle is broader, it's how the world was made.



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Spin The Bible Wheel

In surfing the net, I discovered this, the Bible Wheel, developed by Richard Amiel McGough - [1]. It displays the books of the Bible in a two dimensional way, not simply as a linear list of books. The unifying feature of the Bible Wheel is mapping the books to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As you might guess, the source of most of my info is [1].

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

It starts with the standard Protestant Bible, which has 66 books, 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. The Catholic Bible has 73 books, all the same books as the Protestant Bible plus seven more called the Apocrypha - GotQuestions [2]. And the Hebrew Bible is different in yet other ways, more on that later. The 66 books are arranged in three concentric circles (more like a spiral really) of 22 books each, again, one for each Hebrew letter. It's way more interesting visually than three columns of a spreadsheet. What I find fascinating is internal structures of the Bible revealed. In a book written over the course of 1500 years by about 40 men - BibleQ [3], here are some coincidences revealed by the Bible Wheel.

  • That it works at all. It's convenient that 66 books makes three complete laps of the 22 letter alphabet.
  • The 5-12-5 pattern. Cycle one consists of the Torah (5 books), OT History (12 books), and Wisdom (5 books), total 22 books. Cycle two consists of Major Prophets (5 books), Minor Prophets (12 books), NT History, aka Gospels and Acts (5 books), total 22 books.
  • There are 22 Epistles in the New Testament if one counts Revelation as an Epistle. In English, epistle means letter.
  • Lots of three's. OT history is divided into 9 pre-exile books and 3 post-exile books. The Minor prophets are divided into 9 pre-exile and 3 post-exile. These post-exile books line up on the same "spokes" as the 3 Epistles to the scattered - James, 1 & 2 Peter.  
  • More three's. The 3 Synoptic Gospels line up on the same spokes as the 3 Epistles of John. McGough points out other patterns of three.
  • Five/Four patterns.  The Major Prophets are symmetric with the New Testament History books. They both consist of Five Books composed by Four Writers. McGough points out other 5/4 patterns.
  • McGough shows other patterns among the books as well.

The categories listed, like Major Prophets or Wisdom Books are not an invention of McGough. In fact the divisions are quite old, in use for over a thousand years.
Our Bible consists of sixty-six component parts. These are divided into two distinctive major collections, the Old and New Testaments. But each of these two Testaments, the one consisting of thirty-nine books, the other of twenty-seven, is found to be arranged in certain clearly homogenous groups; and in this connection careful investigation reveals the presence of a marvelous Divine design running through the whole. ... This presence of plan and design does not only pertain to the Bible in this general sense; it runs through all the different book-groups considered separately; and the more we follow it through in detail, so the more wonderful it becomes, until all possibility of its being mere coincidence is eliminated by over-whelming abundance of evidence that this is indeed the word of the living God - Baxter's Explore the Book [4]
Both Baxter and Scroggie followed the ancient Christian tradition that lists the sixty-six books under the three general categories (genres) of History, Prophecy, and Writings, the latter containing the subcategories of Wisdom (Didactic) Literature and Epistles (Letters). This tradition probably arose in Judaism, before Christianity was born, with the publication of the Septuagint (ca. 200 BC) which follows this categorical system -  Bible Wheel (chapter 2) [5].

Here's how the Bible Wheel looks with book names, showing the symmetry of the Old Testament.

Old Testament Symmetry

The Bible Wheel book then discusses other symmetries observable in the wheel. He also discusses the different ways the number seven shows up. I'll skip that discussion here, and jump to McGough's chapters on the design of the spokes. He ties the books on each spoke together, asserting they have a common theme. For example, Spoke one is the triplet (Genesis, Isaiah, Romans) which all speak of beginnings. "A quick review of Romans reveals it to be an intricate theological tapestry woven primarily with threads drawn from Genesis and Isaiah." - (chapter 5) [6]. Spoke 22 is (Song of Solomon, Acts, Revelation). In Song of Solomon, an earthly king receives his bride, In Acts, Jesus' bride the church is born on Pentecost, in Revelation, He receives His bride the church. He spends quite a bit of time "proving" this for Spokes 1 and 22, but not for the rest. If it is true that each Spoke has a theme, one could mine lots of interesting connections among the books.

There are a number of passages in the OT known as acrostics, which means each verse starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. McGough uses these acrostic passages to assert that the Hebrew letters and the books on that spoke share a deeper meaning. It is true that each Hebrew letter is named after something, aleph is ox, bet is house, gimel is camel, dalet is door, etc. Some teach that Hebrew words are word pictures based on the meanings of the letters. I'm not ready to accept that the three books on every spoke are related, much less related to the meaning of a specific Hebrew letter. That will take more study.

I was fascinated with the Bible Wheel when I first saw it, and remain so even after reading that McGough has debunked his own work, 15 years worth of work at that. I had some misgivings about the premise, but McGough has rejected it completely (though he leaves the website up), and turned against Christianity as well. I still find it a remarkable demonstration of God's hand in writing the Bible, and I hope to use it to mine the text of the Bible for interesting connections.

My biggest objection is that looking at the text as the 66 books of the Protestant Bible is not the only way to view it. The Hebrew Bible, approximately the same as the Old Testament, has always been mapped one to one with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, only there are 24 books mapped to a 24 letter alphabet, not 22. Two of the 22 letter alphabet have two pronunciations (P/F and S/SH), thus some count 24 letters - The Hebrew Alphabet [7]. The order and numbering of the Hebrew Bible is different from the order of the Protestant or Catholic Bibles. It is illustrated in a chart at Jewish and Christian Bibles [8].

The order of the New Testament has been altered as well. No books have been inserted or lost, but the order was changed.

This original order was rearranged by the Catholic Church in the Latin Vulgate version, in which Paul’s epistles were given first place -- ahead of the Judahite epistles which were relegated to second place. This gave the book of Romans a more prominent place in the New Testament as part of Rome’s bid for religious power. As a result, the Catholic Church effectively displaced and replaced the Judahites by displacing the "Jewish epistles" and replacing them with Paul’s epistles beginning with “Romans.”
Up until the 4th century A.D. all of the Church Fathers who list the New Testament books do so by placing the Judahite epistles FIRST, followed by Paul’s epistles - The Original Manuscript Order of the New Testament [9].
Restoring the order and numbering of the books would mess up McGough's Bible Wheel. Maybe it would reveal new insights - I tried putting the books in original order, no patterns appeared to me. And remember Hebrew reads right to left, Greek reads left to right, so the Protestant order only works in a translation, see The Unpublished Bible [10]. A Hebrew/Greek Bible would lend itself to a circular form, with no beginning and no end. Still, I can't deny the remarkable parallels among different sections of the Bible (in Protestant order), especially when considering it was written by 40-some authors over 1500 years.

Changing the order and numbering of the books calls into question the meaning of each spoke. There are certainly some parallels there which McGough shows for spokes 1 and 22, but he doesn't show the rest. Tying the spokes to letters in Hebrew? I guess I need more proof.

McGough's debunks the wheel saying he had confirmation bias, "the tendency to seek or interpret evidence favorable to already existing beliefs, and to ignore or reinterpret evidence unfavorable to already existing beliefs". Also called cherry picking, choosing data that supports your argument, and ignoring data that doesn't.

But the connections ARE real. When the Bible is viewed as 66 books in that order, certain parallels are revealed. It's a fairly large baby to throw out with the bathwater. I still like the Bible Wheel for what it reveals. Perhaps McGough tried to take the analogies too far. And even though he claims to have debunked it, for the time being, the website [1] is still up. Enjoy it while you can, there is a lot of info there, I only hit some of the highlights.



Thursday, November 30, 2017

Hearing The Voice Of God

Amos 8:11 gives this interesting prophecy "Behold, days are coming," declares the Lord GOD, "When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the LORD."

In ancient times when copies of scripture were rare, it wouldn't be hard to imagine a scenario where copies went from rare to non-existent.  In today's world, there are billions of physical Bibles (more than 3.9 billion according to [1]), and online versions abound. So a famine of the word can't mean burning all the Bibles.  It could mean that preachers aren't allowed to preach the scriptures, calling verses against sin hate speech - Canada Supreme Court Rules [2], but it could mean something deeper, that no one hears from God anymore.  That is, He stops communicating directly with anyone right now.

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

Which brings up the question "how God does talk to people?" We might imagine something spectacular, like the thundering voice on Mount Sinai when He gave the Ten Commandments.  But that's the only time He ever did that.  Elijah experienced God's voice as a still small voice - 1Kings 19:12.  Some translations say low whisper, some say gentle blowing. I don't think I want to hear God like thunder, listening for a low whisper sounds better to me.

But can we expect to hear God's voice, even as a whisper? Let's review the ways we already know that God speaks to us.

You Can Read God's Mind
Listen to His written word, the Bible. Rather than wanting a direct revelation from God in the form of an audible voice, we should listen to what He has already said.  The Bible contains much instruction, maybe the answer to your question is already written down.  Sometimes the Bible can be hard to understand, and we may need a guide - Acts 8:31.  Most churches have articles published on a wide range of topics, a good source to listen to.  If not, an Internet search will yield articles on all kinds of Bible  topics - beware you might get more than one viewpoint. (Doing a search for "hearing the voice of God" yielded over 30 books on the subject. If I had known that earlier, I wouldn't have written this article.) Listen to your elders, the ministry placed in the church as helpers of your joy.  For that matter, listen to friends and family, children too.  Sometimes even your enemies speak the truth.  Sometimes God speaks to us by circumstances in our lives - the consequences of our own actions give us feedback on those actions, good or bad.  Sometimes, things just work out. Sometimes it feels like we got a tap on the shoulder.

I'm not saying God doesn't speak to people today in an audible voice or even in dreams or visions, but there are more ordinary ways to receive a "word" from God. I don't think I've ever heard an audible voice from God, maybe a "loud thought" now and then.  I've asked other church members about this, and while some people admit to witnessing or experiencing miracles, very few ever admit to hearing an audible voice.  It's more like this: what you put into your mind comes back in your thoughts.  If you study a subject, say math, a new language, or music, you will begin to think about it even when you're not studying it at the moment.  For instance, when learning a language, a point will come when you find yourself thinking in that language.  When practicing music, the piece will just come to mind.  I've had songs in my head for days, even weeks, while I'm learning them.  If the music doesn't come to mind, you're not practicing enough.  Likewise with the Bible, if you read/study it enough, you will begin to think with it. The Bible is called God's word, it is His voice. If you fill your head with the Bible, you will think with the Bible.  If you fill your head with video games, what do you expect? I think it is the same with dreams, if you are immersed in a subject, it is likely you will dream about it.

Inspiration Or?

When trying to solve a problem, say math, you may spend a lot of time thinking about the problem, often in a flash of insight, the answer becomes clear.  This isn't necessarily God giving you inspiration, though it could be, it's how the mind works - immerse yourself in the problem, incubate, and often the answer comes suddenly.  "One of the first modern descriptions of creativity is in Graham Wallace's 1926 book 'The Art of Thought', where he explained the above stages as 'preparation, incubation, illumination and verification'." - Creating Minds [3]. Likewise with the Bible, whether you're seeking a solution to a life problem, or seeking understanding of a scripture, or a doctrine, or a prophecy, the method is basically the same, immersion and incubation.  But it is also easy to deceive oneself at this stage.  If we approach a question with a preconceived answer, God will let us keep our preconceived answer - it depends on the "idols in our hearts" Ezekiel 14:1-11.  People will convince themselves that God is blessing their actions simply because they "prayed about it".

When we have insights to something like math problems, or computer problems, we still have to verify those insights, that is, finish working the problem.  Sometimes, ideas are wrong.  But with religion, people seem willing to take the first "insight" that comes to them without verifying it.  Is it REALLY from God? Or your own imagination? Or the enemy? Satan is described as the "prince of the power of the air" Eph 2:2.  That doesn't mean power over radio waves, though the analogy with radio waves may help us understand how he works.  It seems to me it means he has the power to broadcast thoughts to us, our brains being like the receiver.  Some will accept those thoughts more readily than others.  But inspiration from God will not contradict the Bible, yet many churches' doctrines do, and many people's insights do too.  And I'm starting to believe the notion that there must be at least two witnesses if it is really from God.  Maybe you'll get an idea, then corroboration comes, a second witness if you will.  As a second witness, perhaps you randomly read a relevant Bible verse, or the same topic comes up in conversation, or circumstances just seem to work out.  Again, there is the danger of seeing an answer because you want to. "Still, a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest" - The Boxer, lyrics by Paul Simon. Here's how Amy E. Brucker [4] described incubation results (I don't endorse all that she says).

  • You may suddenly see things you didn’t see before.
  • Related blog posts, videos, and articles may appear as if by magic.
  • You might overhear conversations about your topic.
  • Or “hear” answers in your head while day dreaming.
  • And of course, you’re likely to have sleeping dreams about your theme, too.
  • it seems clear that total immersion in a topic will elicit helpful dreams.

Why Would You Want To Hear God's Voice?

Daniel had a vision, and fasted for 21 days for understanding.
“Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words - Daniel 10:12.
Asking for wisdom is actually scriptural.
James 1:5 But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

On a more mundane level, sometimes we want answers to questions the Bible doesn't address, like shall I take this job offer? Shall I marry this person?  We may desire comfort, or a sign that God loves us - believers have doubts sometimes. I have felt forsaken, I know the Bible says "I will never leave you or forsake you" - Deut 31:6, Heb 13:5, but I felt it anyway. He did not speak to me audibly however.

This sums up why one would want to hear God's voice.

John 10:27-28 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Do You REALLY Want To Hear God's Voice?

Ancient Israel decided they didn't want to hear God's voice - Exodus 20:19. They told Moses to talk to God, then tell them what He said. The pattern was established at Sinai, and continues till now - people don't really want to hear God speak.

The thing is that if God actually speaks to you audibly, He probably has a job for you. One place I'm reading about people hearing God's voice, or having dreams and visions is in the Muslim world, people being called to Christ. But they are not being called to come to America where it is safe, they are often sent to witness to other Muslims at great personal risk - A Harvest Of Muslims [5]. Also see "DREAMS AND VISIONS: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?" [6] by Tom Doyle. 

What about modern day prophets? Do they hear God's voice? Maybe. Apply this test "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." - Isaiah 8:20. The problem is that we want our leaders to follow God, but don't trust them if they say "God spoke to me and said..."

To whom more is given, more is expected, so if you hear His voice audibly, be prepared to listen, He has a message, and possibly a job, for you.

Amos predicted a famine of the Word, possibly meaning that no one hears the voice of God anymore. It may be no one is listening anymore.

John 8:47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”