It's All About The Benjamins - The tribe of Benjamin can get overlooked by students of the Bible. It became the smallest of tribes, down to 600 men at one point. But Benjamin played a key role in ancient Israel by saving the tribe of Judah from destruction, and a key role in the New Testament church, a little known fact is that all the Apostles were Benjamites. Historians trace Benjamin to the modern countries of Iceland and Norway. Read the surprising history of Israel's smallest tribe.
Wrestling With Strangers - I've been puzzling over the story of Jacob wrestling with God for a while. At first, Jacob did not know it was God he was wrestling with. So questions occur to me. How exactly does one start a wrestling match with a stranger? Who started it? If this were a fight for survival with a stranger, why would Jacob choose wrestling as the best form of combat? These questions prevented me from seeing the more important point of the story.
Church of God Legacy - The Church that Jesus started began small, one can wonder if it had any impact on the world throughout history. In this blog, I show that this Church was instrumental in writing the New Testament, preserving the text of the New Testament, and translating it into the languages of the people. The major translations of the Middle Ages were all based on earlier Church of God translations. And the publication of the Bible has shaped Western Civilization.
I'm Tired, Boss - In the movie The Green Mile, John Coffey is tired of living because people are being "ugly to each other". He wants rest that he thinks only comes in the grave. We all desire rest. Where will it come from?
Feast Of Trumpets: Memorial Of What? - The Feast of Trumpets has the shortest description of all the Holy Days listed in Leviticus 23. The only thing it tells us to do that sets it apart from the other Holy Days is blow trumpets as a memorial. Which begs the question, “memorial of what?”
Five Spiritual Senses? - "Spiritual blindness" is a common phrase. Spiritual blindness is even referred to in Amazing Grace, a very well known hymn, "I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see". Does the analogy extend to other senses? Many argue that there are five spiritual senses corresponding to the five physical senses. In this article, I explore the idea of "Five Spiritual Senses".
Filthy Rags - The Bible is interconnected in surprising ways. It is humbling to see connections after years of study that were there all along. In this post, I show how four stories in Genesis are related to each other, and in my mind to a passage in Isaiah.
How Can The Law Set You Free? - The Apostle James called it the Law of Liberty, or Law of Freedom. It seems contradictory, freedom implies choice, law implies restricting choice. Well, which is it? Is it true? How does the law give freedom?
Bethlehem - Sometimes we can miss so much of a Bible story if we don’t understand the historical and cultural context in which it was written. It’s impossible to shed our own culture completely, but the story of Bethlehem shows how important it is to understand the life and times of Jesus Christ. The proper context is not visible unless we understand the point of view of the shepherds in the field, and that society’s culture.
Unmasked - Every culture has a tradition of wearing masks. Why do people wear masks? What is their origin? And meaning? What does a mask hide? What does it reveal? Let's take a look at the origins and meaning of masks.
Joshua's Left Foot - Both Moses and Joshua were told to remove their sandals because where they stood was holy. But the instructions are slightly different for each. Rabbi Hayyim Angel has a theory why the instructions are different and what that might mean. Let's take a look.
Esther Pays An Old Debt - I always thought of the Purim story as a Jewish girl who rescued the Jewish nation. But, Rabbi David Fohrman points out that Esther and Mordecai were not Jews ethnically. They were descended from Benjamin. He also says that the story of Esther is linked to the story of Joseph in Egypt. Let's see how and why that's important.
Truth Changes Everything - Why do people not heed the truth? What happened to being a lover of the truth? Because truth would require people to change. Here I ramble a bit on how hard it can be to act on learning a new truth.
Rhythm And Rhyme - The Old Testament is at least one third poetry, but Hebrew poetry isn't like English poetry, so until the 18th century, Western scholars did not even recognize the OT was filled with poetry. The key to appreciating biblical poetry is parallelism. In this article, I examine parallelism in Biblical poetry, and a deeper look at the parallelism in Psalm 67, the Menorah Psalm.
Hearing The Voice Of God - 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. How God does talk to people? In a thundering voice? Or a low whisper? Or through His Word, our thoughts, and our lives?
Work Versus Work - There are two Hebrew words translated as work, avodah and melacha, both used in the Sabbath commandment. "Six days shall you avodah, and do all your melacha." - Exodus 20:8. I thought it would be easy and helpful to understand the difference between the two words for work. Not as easy as I thought.
Total Solar Eclipse: Apocalypse? - Aug 21, 2017, people in the United States (and only the United States) will be able to see a total solar eclipse, coast to coast. Is this just an ordinary astronomical event? Or is it a sign from God Himself? Big deal or no?
The Story About Dinah Is Not About Dinah - No words of Dinah are recorded. No thoughts or feelings of Dinah are recorded. Indeed, she is silent throughout the story. This maelstrom of deceit and violence and plunder and anger swirls around Dinah, but it appears no one ever thought to ask her how she felt, or what she thought. So I submit that the story about Dinah is not about Dinah.
Day Of Coverings - In English, we call Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement. The Bible doesn't even call the day Yom Kippur, it calls it Yom HaKippurim or Yom Kippurim, plural not singular kippur. One meaning then of Yom HaKippurim is Day Of (The) Coverings. Why multiple coverings? And what do they mean?
The Ark of Moses - Tevah is the Hebrew word for both Noah's ark and Moses' ark. What can we learn by comparing and contrasting the two uses of tevah? How are Noah and Moses alike? different? And what theme connects the two?
Why Write A Blog - In particular, why do I write this blog? I was prompted to ask myself this question after watching a TED talk called "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek. I was poised over my keyboard and ready to answer that with a fairly short statement, and I thought "why do other people write blogs?" ... An autobiographical look at why I write.
Here Comes The Groom - Many Jewish wedding customs from betrothal to the marriage supper foreshadow events in the Bible, past, present, and future. Many events and sayings in the Bible make more sense when viewed through the lens of a wedding. Here are a few such elements.
Unleavened Beer? - People who keep the days of Unleavened Bread often ask "what about beer?" knowing that bread and beer are both made with yeast. There is much more than answering "it's not the days of unleavened beer". Let's see if we can sort out fact from tradition.
The Life Is In the Bloood - In 1898, Henry Clay Trumbull wrote "The Blood Covenant" documenting rituals and beliefs about blood from cultures around the world. He also showed the Biblical significance of a blood covenant. As Wayne Nelson of Faithwriters said "The importance of understanding the Blood Covenant is found in the fact that the basis of Christianity is rooted in a Blood Covenant." This article is a synopsis of the blood covenants of the Bible, with Abraham, ancient Israel, and the New Covenant as well.
What's In A Name? - The Gospel can be summarized in a few sentences. But the name of the players reveals a deeper message. Many believe there are no random names in the Bible, that everyone is named according to who they are or who they will become. Looking at the names in the Gospel account reveals a deeper meaning.
The Cross At Auschwitz - On the grounds of Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, the Catholic Church erected a 26 foot tall cross in 1984 to commemorate Pope John Paul II's visit to Auschwitz five years earlier. Jewish people took offense at this as it was primarily Jews that died there, upwards of 1.5 million Jews died there. Gabriel Wilensky argues that "Absent Christianity, no Holocaust would have taken place." That is a very strong statement to make, so let's review the history and the logic.
A Tale Of Two Siblings - The story of Cain and Abel foreshadows a ceremony at the Tabernacle thousands of years later. Consider this, the righteous one was killed, the guilty one was sent away. This is exactly what happens during Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement in English. Two goats were selected, one goat sacrificed for the Lord (who was treated more "humanely" than Abel), and one goat to be removed, Azazel in Hebrew often translated scapegoat in English. The Azazel goat bore the guilt of the nation of Israel.
A Tale Of Two Seas - The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are both fed by the Jordan River, separated by only 63 miles, yet these two "seas" couldn't be more different. Galilee, is full of life, including 35 species of fish. The Dead Sea is just that, dead. It is so salty (35%) that nothing plant or animal lives in it. One analogy likens water to the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit flows through us like the Jordan flows through the Sea of Galilee, life is produced in abundance. In other words, Jesus must flow through us, producing fruit like love, joy peace, etc. When one keeps the Spirit for themselves, perhaps through selfishness, greed, or fear, it becomes stagnant, not producing fruit.
Form Follows Function, Function Follows Form - Do you ever wonder why churches look the way they do? Ever think about the elements they have in common? A church wouldn't be a church without a pulpit, would it? It's located on the chancel. Here's the key thing - the chancel and especially the pulpit are reserved for the clergy. The choir and the organist also have their assigned places on the chancel. In many churches there is a dividing screen between nave and chancel.
A Harvest Of Muslims - When I look at the situation in the Middle East, I see chaos and warfare. But it seems that when God looks at the Middle East, He sees "the fields are ripe for harvest". What kind of harvest? A harvest of souls as it were. Tens of millions of Muslims are leaving Islam and converting to Christianity, often at great risk to themselves. And they're doing this in the middle of a war zone.
The More I Learn About Islam, the More I Hate It - Islam has been in the news a lot lately, with Syrian refugees pouring into Europe, the vast majority of these refugees being Muslim males. Many Europeans are uncomfortable with the influx, for several reasons: financial, crime, integration, terrorist Trojan horses. Rapes and other violence from the refugees has skyrocketed, so some cities and countries want to ship them back. Those who welcome them in argue that "Islam is a religion of peace", and cite humanitarian grounds. What is the truth about Islam?
Is Leaven Sin? - Many churches who observe the Days of Unleavened Bread teach that leaven symbolizes sin. They base this on Jesus' words "beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" in Matthew 16:6. The message was initially lost on the audience (the 12 disciples) because they thought He was talking about bread. Let's see how Jesus Himself interpreted leaven. In verse 12 of Matthew 16, Matthew says they (the disciples) understood Jesus was talking about the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Well, which is it? Does leaven represent sin or does it represent doctrine?
I Am A Worm - Gospel In A Grub - "I am a worm, and not a man." - Ps 22:6. When I read that, I always pictured an earthworm. But, Jesus was not thinking of earthworms in Psalm 22. Digging deeper we learn that there are two words for worm in Hebrew, one meaning maggot (rimmah), and the other meaning crimson worm (tola'at shani). The word in Psalm 22:6 is tola'at shani. What is the symbolism of the crimson worm?
Paradise Pi - A Slice Of Heaven - Most Bible believers recognize that the Scriptures are deeper than the words on the surface, that is, the text has layers of meaning. Christian commentaries however seldom dig past the surface meaning of the words written. Not that they're wrong (well, sometimes they are), but that they usually don't dig deeper into the text. The Jews teach that every passage has four levels, from simple to hint to insight to secret. Let's look closer at these four levels of meaning - P'shat, Remez, D'rash, and Sod; or Simple, Hint, Insight, Mystery.
DIY Salvation - In a TV show I watched recently, a man undertook a Native American ritual of self inflicted pain to "set things right in the universe". He suffered severe pain and deprivation to make amends for wrongs he had done, after which his daughter was healed. Of course, that's TV. But the notion of self inflicted pain for spiritual gain is not confined to Native Americans, it is in many religions. Does this "Do It Yourself Atonement" work? Can I make it right with the universe by inflicting pain on myself? Can I do acts of charity to balance out the score?
The French Connection - The day of the Shemitah came and went. Skeptics feel justified in their skepticism, that life goes on just as it did before. Or in Bible language "For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." Maybe one needs to look in the right place for events associated with the Shemitah, which according to Jonathan Cahn was Sept 13, 2015. While the focus of the Shemitah warnings were given to America, perhaps we should also look at Israel.
Was Jesus Angry at the Leper? - In Mark 1:41, we read a story of Jesus healing a leper, simple enough on the surface, but with a puzzling aspect. 40 And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." 41 Becoming angry, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed." One translation says "Jesus was indignant". Was Jesus angry at the leper? If so, why?
Ten Little Known Facts About the Ten Commandments - The Ten Commandments are famous. Many Christians will know them by heart, at least the short form of each. Non Christians will even know some of them, or at least be aware they exist. Jewish people certainly know them. But how well do we know them? Can you recite them in their short form? In their long form? Is there more to them than just memorizing the list? See how many of these "little known facts" about the Ten Commandments you already knew.
Incensed - In the tabernacle of ancient Israel, incense, often referred to as fragrant incense, was burned twice daily for God's enjoyment,. Since we are made in the image of God, let us assume that smells that please us also please Him and vice versa. What does incense have to do with the birth of Christ?
The Unpublished Bible - There are lots of Bible translations published these days. According to Wikipedia, the Bible has been translated fully into 531 languages and paritally into 2883. And of course, the Old Testament is readily available in Hebrew, the New Testament available in Greek. But one combination does not exist. What if you want the OT Hebrew and the NT Greek in one volume? Granted most people wouldn't be interested, perhaps only Biblical scholars, but as far as I know, this particular combination is not published. And it would require NO translation, how easy is that?
Into the Holy Of Holies - The Holy of Holies was a cube shaped room in the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and later in the Temples in Jerusalem. It was the inner room of the Holy Place. To get into it, one would have to enter the Tabernacle courtyard, pass the bronze altar, the bronze laver, enter the holy place, pass the showbread and lampstand and altar of incense, enter a special curtain on one side and walk to the other side to finally enter the Holy of Holies. It was a big deal. But only the High Priest (Cohen Ha Gadol) could make that trip, and he could only make it once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). But there is another way in.
Shemitah -- She WHAT? - The Shemitah, known in English as the land sabbath occurs every seven years. What has that got to do with the world today? More than I ever thought possible. Can a little known law given to ancient Israel affect world events now? Let's look at Shemitah years of the last century to see that the Shemitah is still in effect.
A Tale Of Two Sighs - There are many kinds of sighs, a contented sigh say at the end of a productive day, an anguished sigh of frustration when your computer crashes again. and many more shades of sighing. You can read about some of the science of sighing at Scientific American blog. But I know what you're thinking, "what's that got to do with Noah's flood?"
Mmmm... Fat - I had always thought that the Bible forbade eating fat, so I trimmed my steaks, but I also believed "marbled fat is OK". Was this only kidding myself? What about sausages or hamburger? Even if the package says 90% lean, the other 10% is still fat (assuming that's bad of course). The problem is that fat is tasty, lots of flavors like spices are soluble in fat, making it even tastier. Is fat OK?
Ethiopian? Eunuch? - The deacon Phillip, often called Phillip the evangelist, apparently didn’t suffer from ill chosen words like me. When the deacon Phillip met the Ethiopian eunuch, described in Acts, it culminatied in the baptism of the Ethiopian. From the view of the 21st century, we perhaps don’t see how remarkable this story is. From the view of a 1st century Jew, it has some puzzling features. Ordinarily Jews would not associate with Gentiles, though he appeared to be what the Bible refers to as "God fearing", perhaps a Jewish proselyte. Eunuchs would not be allowed in the Temple, yet he was returning from worshiping in Jerusalem. We take Bibles for granted, but he was reading a scroll of Isaiah, at a time when scrolls were rare and precious, the equivalent of new car today. Most striking is that the Ethiopian eunuch would be the first Gentile convert to Christianity -- before the Apostle Peter met Cornelius. Peter was more reluctant than Phillip, he explained to Cornelius that it was against Jewish law to visit a Gentile.
What Is Truth? - We fall in love with our own ideas. People often merely reinforce their existing beliefs, in other words “our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept”. Researchers found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. But not all ideas are right even though we strongly believe our own ideas are.
26- Let me introduce you to my friend 26, a very interesting number. I picked 26 because God’s name is associated with it. His name is not associated with more popular numbers like seven or 12, but 26. Why 26? Proverbs 25:2 says It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. Can we search out this matter?
The Koran Points to Jesus Christ - I am not an expert on Islam or the Koran. I have not read the Koran. Until very recently, I had not read any of the Koran. Now I can say I have read a few verses. So why would I say that the Koran points to Jesus? Because it's not my idea, I got it from a former imam (Muslim priest) whose Western name is Mario Joseph.
Audition For Battle - Imagine this. You’re the king, but three armies are bearing down on you. You can’t withstand one of them, much less three. What do you do? Surrender? Call your generals? Fight to the last man? Hide? Or maybe like Jehosaphat of ancient Israel, you audition a choir. That’s right, audition a choir.
Four Faces of the Gospel - The four Gospels parallel the four “living beings” of Revelation 4, and also parallel ancient Israel. The four living beings have four different faces - lion, ox, man, and eagle. The banners or flags that ancient Israel camped by had the same four faces. These same faces are also associated with the four Gospel messages.
Camping Foreshadows the Gospel - The story of the Exodus, ancient Israel leaving Egypt for the Promised Land, is rich with symbolism, perhaps more than any other event in the Bible. Consider some parallels between Exodus and the life of a believer. Egypt pictures slavery or bondage to sin. Pharaoh pictures the evil one, the one we were enslaved to. Crossing the Red Sea pictures deliverance from that bondage. Wandering for 40 years in the wilderness pictures a lifetime of testing, training, and proving. They didn't really wander in the wilderness – God led them the whole time by a pillar of fire or pillar of smoke. Crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land is a second deliverance, this time by Joshua. The Promised Land was their reward. But they lived in tents, camping, for forty years.
Hamas in the Bible - HAMAS, the Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization, is actually an acronym, chosen to spell the Arabic word “hamas”, meaning zeal or enthusiasm. But it is also a Hebrew word hamas, meaning violence. Hamas suggests immoral, cruel violence.
The Gospel In Six - What if I told you that God managed to pack the gospel into one word of six letters? Yes we have to go back to Hebrew to see it. But it is the very first word in the Bible. In English, the Bible starts “In the beginning”, in Hebrew it starts “beresheet”. The word Beresheet has also come to mean the first book of Moses, what we call Genesis in English. Since Hebrew is written without vowels, this gives different ways to parse a word like beresheet. We will consider three ways.
The Scroll of Esther - Esther is the origin story for the Jewish Festival of Purim, which occurs the 14th of Adar on the Hebrew calendar, sometime in March on the Roman calendar. In the story, Haman is bent on exterminating the Jews, and Esther, who had become queen, and her uncle Mordecai play key roles in saving them, and in a twist of fate, Haman gets hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. Then Esther asks that the sons of Haman also be hanged, even though it seems they were already dead. The Torah scroll of Esther has some unusual characteristics, large letters and small. What is the meaning of them?
Sycamore of Ground Zero - On September 11, 2001, a steel beam falling from the north tower of the World Trade Center would have damaged a small church named St. Paul's Chapel if it had not struck a Sycamore tree. Instead, this Sycamore tree was cut off and gave its life to protect the Chapel. St. Paul's Chapel, across the street from the World Trade Center site on Church Street soon became a de facto dormitory and relief center for rescue workers in the days after 9/11. What's so special about St. Paul's Chapel? Was this coincidence? Or can we see God's hand at work? Does God care about church buildings?
How To Comfort- In 2011, I spent three weeks in the hospital after a stroke in which I was paralyzed on my right side. I have regained much movement, but still have a limp and right sided weakness. I think I learned some things about comforting that I thought I would share with you. This is all based on my experience, not research. These are just my observations. You can observe a lot just by watching… Let me start on the lighter side with some of my pet peeves…
The Horns of Moses - In Rome, in the church of San Pietro , there is a famous statue of Moses, done by the famous sculptor Michelangelo (Buonarroti). It depicts Moses with horns -- discreet horns, but horns nonetheless. According to Wikipedia, "This was the normal medieval Western depiction of Moses". Why is he depicted with horns? What was Michelangelo thinking?