Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reflections on Exodus 7

    Exodus 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD said: I am going to let your brother Aaron speak for you. He will tell your message to the king, just as a prophet speaks my message to the people.
  2. Tell Aaron everything I say to you, and he will order the king to let my people leave his country.
  3. But I will make the king so stubborn that he won't listen to you. He won't listen even when I do many terrible things to him and his nation. Then I will bring a final punishment on Egypt, and the king will let Israel's families and tribes go.
  4. (SEE 7:3)
  5. When this happens, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.
  6. Moses and Aaron obeyed the LORD
  7. and spoke to the king. At the time, Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron was eighty-three.
  8. The LORD said, "Moses, when the king asks you and Aaron to perform a miracle, command Aaron to throw his walking stick down in front of the king, and it will turn into a snake."
  9. (SEE 7:8)
  10. Moses and Aaron went to the king and his officials and did exactly as the LORD had commanded--Aaron threw the stick down, and it turned into a snake.
  11. Then the king called in the wise men and the magicians, who used their secret powers to do the same thing--
  12. they threw down sticks that turned into snakes. But Aaron's snake swallowed theirs.
  13. The king behaved just as the LORD had said and stubbornly refused to listen.
  14. The LORD said to Moses: The Egyptian king stubbornly refuses to change his mind and let the people go.
  15. Tomorrow morning take the stick that turned into a snake, then wait beside the Nile River for the king.
  16. Tell him, "The LORD God of the Hebrews sent me to order you to release his people, so they can worship him in the desert. But until now, you have paid no attention.
  17. "The LORD is going to do something to show you that he really is the LORD. I will strike the Nile with this stick, and the water will turn into blood.
  18. The fish will die, the river will stink, and none of you Egyptians will be able to drink the water."
  19. Moses, then command Aaron to hold his stick over the water. And when he does, every drop of water in Egypt will turn into blood, including rivers, canals, ponds, and even the water in buckets and jars.
  20. Moses and Aaron obeyed the LORD. Aaron held out his stick, then struck the Nile, as the king and his officials watched. The river turned into blood,
  21. the fish died, and the water smelled so bad that none of the Egyptians could drink it. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.
  22. But the Egyptian magicians used their secret powers to do the same thing. The king did just as the LORD had said--he stubbornly refused to listen.
  23. Then he went back to his palace and never gave it a second thought.
  24. The Egyptians had to dig holes along the banks of the Nile for drinking water, because water from the river was unfit to drink.
  25. Seven days after the LORD had struck the Nile,

    Moses was demoralized following his first audience with Pharaoh. Besides Pharoah's refusal to let the Israelites go into the wilderness to worship their God, he increased the oppression against the Israelites and then they turned against Moses. God sent Moses back to talk to the Israelite elders but they refused to listen to him. Moses must have been ready to quit in failure, but all was going according to God's plan, and through these rejections He would eventually be glorified through multiple demonstrations of His power.

    Moses may have been through with this whole venture but God was not. Dealing more sternly with Moses, God commanded him to go back to Pharaoh. In God's instructions to Moses He told him to "declare" to Pharaoh that he was to "let the Israelites go from his land." (7:2) But God also made it clear that "I will harden Pharaoh's heart and multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen to you, but I will put My hand on Egypt and bring out the ranks of My people the Israelites, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment." (7:3-4) Did this give Moses confidence to continue his assignment? That seems to be the case for he no longer objected to doing it.

    The remainder of chapter 7 gives the account of the first two signs that God performed for Pharoah. With the first sign Aaron threw down his staff and it became a serpent. But Pharaoh was unimpressed, calling his magicians who were able to do the same thing. However, Aaron's staff (serpent) swallowed their staffs (serpents) showing God's superiority over the power behind their magic which was likely Satan. As God had foretold, "Pharaoh's heart hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said." (7:13) Each of the signs God performed through Moses and Aaron were aimed at discrediting the gods of the Egyptians. Though this first sign did not discredit a specific belief or god of the Egyptians, it did, as noted, show God's superiority over the powers of the Egyptian magicians.

    Following this initial sign God sent Moses and Aaron back to Pharoah to begin the ten signs known as the Ten Plagues. God told them to be waiting for Pharaoh when he took his walk in the morning out to the banks of the Nile River. They were to take with them the staff they had used in their previous visit that had become a snake. They were obedient. Their messages to Pharaoh were becoming more demanding and more explicit about the God who was making the demand. He was the "God of the Hebrews" and Pharaoh was to "Let My People go." (7:16) Before Pharaoh even responded to the demand, God performed His sign before Pharaoh. Through Aaron He said, "Here is how you will know that I am the LORD. Watch. I will strike the water in the Nile with the staff in my hand, and it will turn to blood. The fish in the Nile will die, the river will stink, and the Egyptians will be unable to drink water from it." (7:17-18)

    Aaron did as he was told and in the sight of Pharaoh and his officials raised his staff and struck the waters of the Nile. Immediately the waters of the Nile turned to blood killing the fish and raising a huge stink. The Egyptians were unable to drink the water. However, Pharaoh's magicians did the same thing "by their occult practices." (7:22) Since the Nile was already blood they evidently used another water source. Again, Pharaoh's heart was hardened and "he would not listen to them." (7:22) A reader's initial thoughts in reading this account might be that God was in a battle to prove Himself superior and at this point running neck and neck with the magicians. That was not the case at all. God was doing battle alright but He was in control from beginning to end. He knew the capabilities of the magicians and intentionally drew them out to show Himself to be more powerful than any of the gods or occult pratices of the Egyptians.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reflections on Exodus 6

    Exodus 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD God told Moses: Soon you will see what I will do to the king. Because of my mighty power, he will let my people go, and he will even chase them out of his country.
  2. My name is the LORD.
  3. But when I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I came as God All-Powerful and did not use my name.
  4. I made an agreement and promised them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners.
  5. Now I have seen how the people of Israel are suffering because of the Egyptians, and I will keep my promise.
  6. Here is my message for Israel: "I am the LORD! And with my mighty power I will punish the Egyptians and free you from slavery.
  7. I will accept you as my people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I was the one who rescued you from the Egyptians.
  8. I will bring you into the land that I solemnly promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and it will be yours. I am the LORD!"
  9. When Moses told this to the Israelites, they were too discouraged and mistreated to believe him.
  10. Then the LORD told Moses
  11. to demand that the king of Egypt let the Israelites leave.
  12. But Moses replied, "I'm not a powerful speaker. If the Israelites won't listen to me, why should the king of Egypt?"
  13. But the LORD sent Aaron and Moses with a message for the Israelites and for the king, he also ordered Aaron and Moses to free the people from Egypt.
  14. The following men were the heads of their ancestral clans: The sons of Reuben, Jacob's oldest son, were Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.
  15. The sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman.
  16. Levi lived to be one hundred thirty-seven, his sons were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
  17. Gershon's sons were Libni and Shimei.
  18. Kohath lived to be one hundred thirty-three, his sons were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel.
  19. Merari's sons were Mahli and Mushi. All of the above were from the Levi tribe.
  20. Amram lived to be one hundred thirty-seven. He married his father's sister Jochebed, and they had two sons, Aaron and Moses.
  21. Izhar's sons were Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri.
  22. Uzziel's sons were Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri.
  23. Aaron married Elisheba. She was the daughter of Amminadab and the sister of Nahshon, they had four sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
  24. Korah's sons were Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph.
  25. Aaron's son Eleazar married one of Putiel's daughters, and their son was Phinehas. This ends the list of those who were the heads of clans in the Levi tribe.
  26. The LORD had commanded Aaron and Moses to lead every family and tribe of Israel out of Egypt,
  27. and so they ordered the king of Egypt to set the people of Israel free.
  28. When the LORD spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt,
  29. he said, "I am the LORD. Tell the king of Egypt everything I say to you."
  30. But Moses answered, "You know I am a very poor speaker, and the king will never listen to me."

    Moses was regrouping after his first failure with Pharoah. But was it a failure? Certainly Moses felt it was since Pharoah both rejected his request for the people to journey into the wilderness and increased the Israelite work load. But Pharoah's rejection of the request was part of God's plan so it cannot be considered a failure. Moses was not convinced, though, and was not ready to keep pushing forward.

    Sometimes to be able to move forward we have to look back. Not to dwell there wishing we could go back, but to find our reason and assurance for going forward. This was what God did with Moses and the Israelites. First, He reminded Moses of who He was: "I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty." (6:2b-3) He was the God of Moses' revered ancestors, but He was now revealing Himself in a new way. To the ancestors God had not revealed Himself as Yahweh, the Promise-Keeper, but as "el Å¡adday," the One who provides or sustains. Now God's people were to know Him as the Promise-Keeper - the One who remembers "My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land they lived in as foreigners." (6:4)

    Then God told Moses to tell the Israelites "I am Yahweh, and I will deliver you from the forced labor of the Egyptians and free you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment." (6:6) Moses did this, but they "did not listen to him because of their broken spirit and hard labor." (6:9) Moses had been rejected not only by Pharoah but by His own people. Neither of these surprised God. He planned to glorify Himself through these rejections. Even though the Israelites wouldn't listen to Moses and didn't want any part of this scheme, God told Moses to go back to Pharoah and tell him "to let the Israelites go from his land." (6:11) This time Moses was not to ask for a three-day journey into the wilderness to worship their God, but was to tell Pharoah to let the Israelites go from his land. It was a demand rather than a request, and was to be permanent rather than temporary.

    Moses' response to God's instructions to go to Pharoah was a replay of the scene at the burning bush: "If the Israelites will not listen to me, then how will Pharaoh listen to me, since I am such a poor speaker?" (6:12) Moses was still focused on his weakness rather than God's strength. God would have to shift Moses' attention from himself to the One who was sending him which He does in chapter 7.

    Following Moses' hesitancy at God's instructions to go back to Pharoah, God spoke to Moses and Aaron together. This time it says that He commanded them "concerning both the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt." God was taking a more forceful approach with Moses to get him moving. At this point the narrative was interrupted with a brief geneology. The intent was to identify who this Moses and Aaron were. "It was this Aaron and Moses whom the LORD told, 'Bring the Israelites out of the land of Egypt according to their divisions.'" (6:26) The geneology tracks only the family of Levy, son of Jacob.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Reflections on Exodus 5

    Exodus 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Moses and Aaron went to the king of Egypt and told him, "The LORD God says, 'Let my people go into the desert, so they can honor me with a celebration there.' "
  2. "Who is this LORD and why should I obey him?" the king replied. "I refuse to let you and your people go!"
  3. They answered, "The LORD God of the Hebrews, has appeared to us. Please let us walk three days into the desert where we can offer sacrifices to him. If you don't, he may strike us down with terrible troubles or with war."
  4. The king said, "Moses and Aaron, why are you keeping these people from working? Look how many you are keeping from doing their work. Now everyone get back to work!"
  5. (SEE 5:4)
  6. That same day the king gave orders to his slave bosses and to the men directly in charge of the Israelite slaves. He told them:
  7. Don't give the slaves any more straw to put in their bricks. Force them to find their own straw wherever they can,
  8. but they must make the same number of bricks as before. They are lazy, or else they would not beg me to let them go and sacrifice to their God.
  9. Make them work so hard that they won't have time to listen to these lies.
  10. The slave bosses and the men in charge of the slaves went out and told them, "The king says he will not give you any more straw.
  11. Go and find your own straw wherever you can, but you must still make as many bricks as before."
  12. The slaves went all over Egypt, looking for straw.
  13. But the slave bosses were hard on them and kept saying, "Each day you have to make as many bricks as you did when you were given straw."
  14. The bosses beat the men in charge of the slaves and said, "Why didn't you force the slaves to make as many bricks yesterday and today as they did before?"
  15. Finally, the men in charge of the slaves went to the king and said, "Why are you treating us like this?
  16. No one brings us any straw, but we are still ordered to make the same number of bricks. We are beaten with whips, and your own people are to blame."
  17. The king replied, "You are lazy--nothing but lazy! That's why you keep asking me to let you go and sacrifice to your LORD.
  18. Get back to work! You won't be given straw, but you must still make the same number of bricks."
  19. The men knew they were in deep trouble when they were ordered to make the same number of bricks each day.
  20. After they left the king, they went to see Moses and Aaron, who had been waiting for them.
  21. Then the men said, "We hope the LORD will punish both of you for making the king and his officials hate us. Now they even have an excuse to kill us."
  22. Moses left them and prayed, "Our LORD, why have you brought so much trouble on your people? Is that why you sent me here?
  23. Ever since you told me to speak to the king, he has caused nothing but trouble for these people. And you haven't done a thing to help."

    Moses, in the accounts of this chapter, began the second part of what God told him to do. The first part was to go to the Israelite elders and tell them that God had noticed their misery and was about to fulfill His promise to "bring you up from the misery of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites--a land flowing with milk and honey." (3:17) This he had done as recorded in chapter 4. The second part, which is recorded in this chapter, was to take the elders with him and go to the "king of Egypt and say to him: The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Now please let us go on a three-day trip into the wilderness so that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God." (3:18)

    As God predicted, Pharoah flatly refused to grant Moses' request to let the Israelites make a three-day trip into the wilderness. The part God did not tell Moses and he did not anticipate was that his request would prompt Pharoah to increase his oppression of the Israelites. Pharoah expressed no concern for the people or respect for their God. Only concern that their work would suffer. He accused them of being slackers allowing them time to think about making this trip. Therefore he would increase their work load by forcing them to find their own straw for making bricks, a task that had been given the Egyptians, without decreasing their quota of bricks to be made. Finding the straw was evidently no easy task for we are told "the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw." (5:12) It seems there was no ready source for straw.

    Moses and the Israelites were now faced with a crises of faith. They had done what God told them and it resulted in an inceased work load - increased oppression. Is this the way it should be? Do what God tells you and things get worse instead of better? God told Moses that for Pharoah to let them go would require Him to "stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles that I will perform in it. After that, he will let you go." (5:20) But what Moses did not anticipate was the worsening of the work conditions due to his request.

    If God is to do with us what He wants, and even what we want, requires that we allow Him complete freedom to do so without us messing things up. This requires full dependence on Him. And for us to depend fully on God requires full trust on our part. Moses' request to Pharoah set in motion circumstances that could not be reversed. There was no going back to life as it was, as bad as it was. They had little choice but to depend on God and continue what was started. As a result they would experience God's mighty works on their behalf.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Reflections on Exodus 4

    Exodus 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Moses asked the LORD, "Suppose everyone refuses to listen to my message, and no one believes that you really appeared to me?"
  2. The LORD answered, "What's that in your hand?" "A walking stick," Moses replied.
  3. "Throw it down!" the LORD commanded. So Moses threw the stick on the ground. It immediately turned into a snake, and Moses jumped back.
  4. "Pick it up by the tail!" the LORD told him. And when Moses did this, the snake turned back into a walking stick.
  5. "Do this," the LORD said, "and the Israelites will believe that you have seen me, the God who was worshiped by their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
  6. Next, the LORD commanded Moses, "Put your hand inside your shirt." Moses obeyed, and when he took it out, his hand had turned white as snow--like someone with leprosy.
  7. "Put your hand back inside your shirt," the LORD told him. Moses did so, and when he took it out again, it was as healthy as the rest of his body.
  8. Then the LORD said, "If no one believes either of these miracles, take some water from the Nile River and pour it on the ground. The water will immediately turn into blood."
  9. (SEE 4:8)
  10. Moses replied, "I have never been a good speaker. I wasn't one before you spoke to me, and I'm not one now. I am slow at speaking, and I can never think of what to say."
  11. But the LORD answered, "Who makes people able to speak or makes them deaf or unable to speak? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Don't you know that I am the one who does these things?
  12. Now go! When you speak, I will be with you and give you the words to say."
  13. Moses begged, "LORD, please send someone else to do it."
  14. The LORD became irritated with Moses and said: What about your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know he is a good speaker. He is already on his way here to visit you, and he will be happy to see you again.
  15. Aaron will speak to the people for you, and you will be like me, telling Aaron what to say. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will tell each of you what to do.
  16. (SEE 4:15)
  17. Now take this walking stick and use it to perform miracles.
  18. Moses went to his father-in-law Jethro and asked, "Please let me return to Egypt to see if any of my people are still alive." "All right," Jethro replied. "I hope all goes well."
  19. But even before this, the LORD had told Moses, "Leave the land of Midian and return to Egypt. Everyone who wanted to kill you is dead."
  20. So Moses put his wife and sons on donkeys and headed for Egypt, holding the walking stick that had the power of God.
  21. On the way the LORD said to Moses: When you get to Egypt, go to the king and work the miracles I have shown you. But I will make him so stubborn that he will refuse to let my people go.
  22. Then tell him that I have said, "Israel is my first-born son,
  23. and I commanded you to release him, so he could worship me. But you refused, and now I will kill your first-born son."
  24. One night while Moses was in camp, the LORD was about to kill him.
  25. But Zipporah circumcised her son with a flint knife. She touched his legs with the skin she had cut off and said, "My dear son, this blood will protect you."
  26. So the LORD did not harm Moses. Then Zipporah said, "Yes, my dear, you are safe because of this circumcision."
  27. The LORD sent Aaron to meet Moses in the desert. So Aaron met Moses at Mount Sinai and greeted him with a kiss.
  28. Moses told Aaron what God had sent him to say, he also told him about the miracles God had given him the power to perform.
  29. Later they brought together the leaders of Israel,
  30. and Aaron told them what the LORD had sent Moses to say. Then Moses worked the miracles for the people,
  31. and everyone believed. They bowed down and worshiped the LORD because they knew that he had seen their suffering and was going to help them.

    God told Moses, recorded in the previous chapter, what he was to do and the outcome. Moses voiced a couple of objections to his assignment. "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh" (3:11) was his first objection. God assured him that He would be with him. Then Moses said, "If I go to the Israelites and say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what should I tell them?" (3:13) God told him to reply that "I AM WHO I AM" is His name. Moses was not satisfied, though. In chapter 4 several more objections are recorded, objecting to the point that God became angry with Moses.

    First Moses was concerned the Israelite elders would ask him the name of the god who spoke to him. Then he was concerned they wouldn't believe him. In response to this concern God demonstrated two signs and described a third that He would give Moses to use to convince them. The first was the turning of Moses' rod into a snake and then back to a rod. Next He made Moses' hand diseased and then restored it. The third sign God only described to Moses. If the elders did not believe because of the first two signs they would because of the third. With this sign Moses would take water from the Nile, pour it out on the ground and it would become blood. This would be the most convincing of the three signs. Each of the signs had significance to the Egyptians. Snakes symbolized power and life to them. The disease to his hand was a prevalent disease of the day and considered incurable. And the Nile was regarded by the Egyptians to be the source of life and productivity. Having power over the Nile through Moses' demonstration would prove God had given him the ability to overcome the Egyptians.

    These three signs, however, were not enough to allay Moses' fears. Next he objected that he was "slow and hesitant in speech." God assured him that He, who had made his mouth, could help him speak and teach him what to say. But Moses was still not convinced. Finally, he said, "Please, Lord, send someone else." (4:13) I suspect that this request gets to the bottom of the issue. Moses' fears, though probably real, were not the real issue. Rather it was the willingness of his heart that was the root issue. He did not want to step out from his comfortable life to take on such a daunting task - even if God did make him successful. Oh, how I can identify with that! How much of our objections to God are just a smokescreen to what the real issue is. Our hearts are simply unwilling!

    Moses' insistent hesitancy to do what God was telling him to do finally raised God's ire - He became angry with Moses. But in this we also see God's persistent patience. He didn't give up on Moses or strike him down. He made another provision instead, sending Moses' brother Aaron to be the spokesperson. We also see that God knew full well that Moses would object as he did and had already dispatched Aaron to meet him. I am inclined to believe, however, that although Aaron could "speak well," this was not why God used him for this purpose. God would help Aaron speak just as He planned to do with Moses. God's first choice was to have Moses do the speaking even though he was not "eloquent" of speach. It is always in God's power and not our own abilities that we effectively serve Him. Sometimes the ability gets in the way.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reflections on Exodus 3

    Exodus 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. One day, Moses was taking care of the sheep and goats of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, and Moses decided to lead them across the desert to Sinai, the holy mountain.
  2. There an angel of the LORD appeared to him from a burning bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but it was not burning up.
  3. "This is strange!" he said to himself. "I'll go over and see why the bush isn't burning up."
  4. When the LORD saw Moses coming near the bush, he called him by name, and Moses answered, "Here I am."
  5. God replied, "Don't come any closer. Take off your sandals--the ground where you are standing is holy.
  6. I am the God who was worshiped by your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Moses was afraid to look at God, and so he hid his face.
  7. The LORD said: I have seen how my people are suffering as slaves in Egypt, and I have heard them beg for my help because of the way they are being mistreated. I feel sorry for them,
  8. and I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians. I will bring my people out of Egypt into a country where there is good land, rich with milk and honey. I will give them the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.
  9. My people have begged for my help, and I have seen how cruel the Egyptians are to them.
  10. Now go to the king! I am sending you to lead my people out of his country.
  11. But Moses said, "Who am I to go to the king and lead your people out of Egypt?"
  12. God replied, "I will be with you. And you will know that I am the one who sent you, when you worship me on this mountain after you have led my people out of Egypt."
  13. Moses answered, "I will tell the people of Israel that the God their ancestors worshiped has sent me to them. But what should I say, if they ask me your name?"
  14. God said to Moses: I am the eternal God. So tell them that the LORD, whose name is "I Am," has sent you. This is my name forever, and it is the name that people must use from now on.
  15. (SEE 3:14)
  16. Call together the leaders of Israel and tell them that the God who was worshiped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to you. Tell them I have seen how terribly they are being treated in Egypt,
  17. and I promise to lead them out of their troubles. I will give them a land rich with milk and honey, where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.
  18. The leaders of Israel will listen to you. Then you must take them to the king of Egypt and say, "The LORD God of the Hebrews has appeared to us. Let us walk three days into the desert, where we can offer a sacrifice to him."
  19. But I know that the king of Egypt won't let you go unless something forces him to.
  20. So I will use my mighty power to perform all kinds of miracles and strike down the Egyptians. Then the king will send you away.
  21. After I punish the Egyptians, they will be so afraid of you that they will give you anything you want. You are my people, and I will let you take many things with you when you leave the land of Egypt.
  22. Every Israelite woman will go to her Egyptian neighbors or to any Egyptian woman living in her house. She will ask them for gold and silver jewelry and for their finest clothes. The Egyptians will give them to you, and you will put these fine things on your sons and daughters. You will carry all this away when you leave Egypt.

    God is faithful to keep His promises, though always on His timetable and not ours. In the encounter between Moses and God at the burning bush, recorded in chapter 3, God told Moses, "I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings." (3:7) God did not say the people had cried out to Him. Did these descendants of Abraham even remember or know of Abraham's God and of His promise to give them a land "flowing with milk and honey?" Moses may have had good reason to doubt that the people would accept him with his message from "The God of your fathers." Was Moses' concern that they might ask him of this God, "What is His name," as a challenge of whether God had truly sent him or because they didn't know this God? God's reply to Moses suggests it was the first concern, that they would challenge that God had sent him. He told Moses to tell them, "Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you." (3:15)

    In verses 16-22 God outlined His plan to Moses. Moses' assignment from God was simply to be a messenger. First Moses was to go and assemble the "elders of Israel" and tell them God had appeared to Him. God told him they would listen to him. As fearful as any of us may be to do what God instructs us to do, we, like Moses, are simply messengers. The outcome is always up to God. Once Moses had assembled the elders of Israel and relayed God's message, he was to take the elders with him to the king of Egypt. The request they were to take to the king was not one of full disclosure. It was not a request to move away from Egypt, but a request to go on a three-day journey into the wilderness to "sacrifice to the LORD our God." (3:18) There was, however, no mention of a return to Egypt.

    Though the thought might be scary to Moses of going to the elders of Israel who didn't know him and then to the king of Egypt who might have him killed or imprisoned for bringing this request, it was a fairly simple task. Again, the outcome was up to God. And God told him the outcome in advance. The elders would listen to him and the king would not grant the request. He would have to be forced to let the Hebrew people go, but God would do the forcing. Once God stretched out His hand and struck "Egypt with all My miracles that I will perform in it," the king would let the people go. (3:20) As a result of God's work, the people of Egypt would be favorably disposed toward the Israelites and give them "silver and gold jewelry, and clothing" as they left. In effect, the Israelites would plunder the Egyptians.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reflections on Exodus 2

    Exodus 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. A man from the Levi tribe married a woman from the same tribe,
  2. and she later had a baby boy. He was a beautiful child, and she kept him inside for three months.
  3. But when she could no longer keep him hidden, she made a basket out of reeds and covered it with tar. She put him in the basket and placed it in the tall grass along the edge of the Nile River.
  4. The baby's older sister stood off at a distance to see what would happen to him.
  5. About that time one of the king's daughters came down to take a bath in the river, while her servant women walked along the river bank. She saw the basket in the tall grass and sent one of the young women to pull it out of the water.
  6. When the king's daughter opened the basket, she saw the baby and felt sorry for him because he was crying. She said, "This must be one of the Hebrew babies."
  7. At once the baby's older sister came up and asked, "Do you want me to get a Hebrew woman to take care of the baby for you?"
  8. "Yes," the king's daughter answered. So the girl brought the baby's mother,
  9. and the king's daughter told her, "Take care of this child, and I will pay you." The baby's mother carried him home and took care of him.
  10. And when he was old enough, she took him to the king's daughter, who adopted him. She named him Moses because she said, "I pulled him out of the water."
  11. After Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were hard at work, and he saw an Egyptian beating one of them.
  12. Moses looked around to see if anyone was watching, then he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.
  13. When Moses went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting. So he went to the man who had started the fight and asked, "Why are you beating up one of your own people?"
  14. The man answered, "Who put you in charge of us and made you our judge? Are you planning to kill me, just as you killed that Egyptian?" This frightened Moses because he was sure that people must have found out what had happened.
  15. When the king heard what Moses had done, the king wanted to kill him. But Moses escaped and went to the land of Midian. One day, Moses was sitting there by a well,
  16. when the seven daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian, came up to water their father's sheep and goats.
  17. Some shepherds tried to chase them away, but Moses came to their rescue and watered their animals.
  18. When Jethro's daughters returned home, their father asked, "Why have you come back so early today?"
  19. They answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds, and he even watered our sheep and goats."
  20. "Where is he?" Jethro asked. "Why did you leave him out there? Invite him to eat with us."
  21. Moses agreed to stay on with Jethro, who later let his daughter Zipporah marry Moses.
  22. And when she had a son, Moses said, "I will name him Gershom, since I am a foreigner in this country."
  23. After the death of the king of Egypt, the Israelites still complained because they were forced to be slaves. They cried out for help,
  24. and God heard their loud cries. He did not forget the promise he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
  25. and because he knew what was happening to his people, he felt sorry for them.

    These first two chapters of Exodus show God's hand in His preparation to remove them from Egypt and lead them to the land He promised to Abraham. One can hardly read this narrative without recognizing how God orchestrated and used every circumstance for His purpose and for the benefit of His people. Everything in these first two chapters was been directed by God and was an intended part in delivering the Hebrew people from Egypt. As reflected on in the first chapter, the oppressive labor placed on the Hebrews played a part. In this chapter we see how the terrible infanticide instituted by the Pharoah even played a part.

    God's orchestration of circumstances requires willing players, though. In these circumstances, as already noted in chapter one, the Hebrew midwives were willing players in God's plan when they refused to kill the Hebrew baby boys as ordered by Pharoah. Moses' mother was also a willing player, initially hiding her baby boy and then placing him in a reed basket and floating him in the Nile river. Though we are not told in scripture, one wonders if the outcome was the very one she intended. She undoubtedly knew that Pharoah's daughter regularly bathed in the particular location where she placed the basket on the river. And stationing her daughter to "see what would happen to him" (2:4) was also a shrewd move, placing her on hand to make the suggestion to Pharoah's daughter that she get a Hebrew woman to serve as a nurse for the baby.

    What irony that Moses' own mother was hired by Pharoah's daughter to care for him in her own home for the early years of his life. There was further irony in that Pharoah housed and trained the future deliverer of the Hebrew people. Pharoah and his daughter were not knowledgeable players in this drama, but they were willing nevertheless. Moses, as a young man, was also a willing player, choosing to identify with his own Hebrew people against his adopted Egyptian people. This he did at the risk of losing a position of ease and prestige and of finding himself in the same oppresive situation as his Hebrew kinsmen. Moses' escape to Midian was no insignificant circumstance nor was his meeting of the daughters of the priest of Midian at the well. Neither was Moses' choice to water the flock of the priest's daughters insignificant.

    Recognizing the significance of every situation in this narrative one must consider that nothing in life is insignificant or unrelated to God's purposes and plans. Over and over we are drawn back to the apostle Paul's statement to the Romans: "We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) God uses all things in our lives, but we must be cooperative. We must love Him and accept His call to join Him in His purpose.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reflections on Exodus 1

    Exodus 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When Jacob went to Egypt, his son Joseph was already there. So Jacob took his eleven other sons and their families. They were: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Altogether, Jacob had seventy children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who went with him.
  2. (SEE 1:1)
  3. (SEE 1:1)
  4. (SEE 1:1)
  5. (SEE 1:1)
  6. After Joseph, his brothers, and everyone else in that generation had died,
  7. the people of Israel became so numerous that the whole region of Goshen was full of them.
  8. Many years later a new king came to power. He did not know what Joseph had done for Egypt,
  9. and he told the Egyptians: There are too many of those Israelites in our country, and they are becoming more powerful than we are.
  10. If we don't outsmart them, their families will keep growing larger. And if our country goes to war, they could easily fight on the side of our enemies and escape from Egypt.
  11. The Egyptians put slave bosses in charge of the people of Israel and tried to wear them down with hard work. Those bosses forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses, where the king could store his supplies.
  12. But even though the Israelites were mistreated, their families grew larger, and they took over more land. Because of this, the Egyptians hated them worse than before
  13. and made them work so hard
  14. that their lives were miserable. The Egyptians were cruel to the people of Israel and forced them to make bricks and to mix mortar and to work in the fields.
  15. Finally, the king called in Shiphrah and Puah, the two women who helped the Hebrew mothers when they gave birth.
  16. He told them, "If a Hebrew woman gives birth to a girl, let the child live. If the baby is a boy, kill him!"
  17. But the two women were faithful to God and did not kill the boys, even though the king had told them to.
  18. The king called them in again and asked, "Why are you letting those baby boys live?"
  19. They answered, "Hebrew women have their babies much quicker than Egyptian women. By the time we arrive, their babies are already born."
  20. God was good to the two women because they truly respected him, and he blessed them with children of their own. The Hebrews kept increasing
  21. (SEE 1:20)
  22. until finally, the king gave a command to everyone in the nation, "As soon as a Hebrew boy is born, throw him into the Nile River! But you can let the girls live."

    Jacob entered Egypt with 70 descendants at the time Joseph was a ruler in the country and Pharoah invited them to live in Goshen. It is understood that the number 70 includes only the male descendants which would make the total Hebrew population to be somewhere over 200 people. By the time period to which this portion of Exodus refers, some 100 years later, the Hebrew population likely numbered around 2 million.

    The time was approaching for Jacob's descendants to leave Egypt for a land of their own that God had promised to them. God was setting the stage, through their circumstances, for the exodus to occur. As the number of Hebrews increased the Egyptians grew increasingly fearful of them. The policy the Egyptians adopted guaranteed the breeding of discontent among the Hebrews, though that was not the intent. They thought they could control the Hebrews through oppression. From an historical perspective it is not difficult to recognize the fallacy of such a policy. Had the oppressive measures not been invoked the Hebrews might never have considered leaving Egypt. Their lives had been good up to this point. Though the new rulers feared the Hebrews might turn against them in time of war, they actually had as much reason to defend Egypt as did the Egytians. It was their home.

    We have to recognize, though, that God had a hand in these developing circumstances. As flawed as the new Pharoah's policy may appear to us, God had a plan for these Hebrew people that did not include living in Egypt forever. And Pharoah's policy of oppression served to stir up the Hebrews to want to escape these conditions. It was the Hebrew midwives who first showed courage in the face of this oppression, refusing to kill the baby boys who were born to the Hebrew women. And God rewarded their courage. First, He rewarded them by protecting them from Pharoah's wrath. Pharoah believed their story explaining their inability to kill the baby boys. God also rewarded the midwives by giving them families.

    Verse 21 says, "Since the midwives feared God, He gave them families." Their fear was rightly placed. By fearing God they need not fear Pharoah. When our fear is misplaced, so, too, is our trust misplaced.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reflections on Hebrews 13

    Hebrews 13 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Keep being concerned about each other as the Lord's followers should.
  2. Be sure to welcome strangers into your home. By doing this, some people have welcomed angels as guests, without even knowing it.
  3. Remember the Lord's people who are in jail and be concerned for them. Don't forget those who are suffering, but imagine that you are there with them.
  4. Have respect for marriage. Always be faithful to your partner, because God will punish anyone who is immoral or unfaithful in marriage.
  5. Don't fall in love with money. Be satisfied with what you have. The Lord has promised that he will not leave us or desert us.
  6. That should make you feel like saying, "The Lord helps me! Why should I be afraid of what people can do to me?"
  7. Don't forget about your leaders who taught you God's message. Remember what kind of lives they lived and try to have faith like theirs.
  8. Jesus Christ never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
  9. Don't be fooled by any kind of strange teachings. It is better to receive strength from God's undeserved kindness than to depend on certain foods. After all, these foods don't really help the people who eat them.
  10. But we have an altar where even the priests who serve in the place of worship have no right to eat.
  11. After the high priest offers the blood of animals as a sin offering, the bodies of those animals are burned outside the camp.
  12. Jesus himself suffered outside the city gate, so that his blood would make people holy.
  13. That's why we should go outside the camp to Jesus and share in his disgrace.
  14. On this earth we don't have a city that lasts forever, but we are waiting for such a city.
  15. Our sacrifice is to keep offering praise to God in the name of Jesus.
  16. But don't forget to help others and to share your possessions with them. This too is like offering a sacrifice that pleases God.
  17. Obey your leaders and do what they say. They are watching over you, and they must answer to God. So don't make them sad as they do their work. Make them happy. Otherwise, they won't be able to help you at all.
  18. Pray for us. Our consciences are clear, and we always try to live right.
  19. I especially want you to pray that I can visit you again soon.
  20. God gives peace, and he raised our Lord Jesus Christ from death. Now Jesus is like a Great Shepherd whose blood was used to make God's eternal agreement with his flock.
  21. I pray that God will make you ready to obey him and that you will always be eager to do right. May Jesus help you do what pleases God. To Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever! Amen.
  22. My friends, I have written only a short letter to encourage you, and I beg you to pay close attention to what I have said.
  23. By now you surely must know that our friend Timothy is out of jail. If he gets here in time, I will bring him with me when I come to visit you.
  24. Please give my greetings to your leaders and to the rest of the Lord's people. His followers from Italy send you their greetings.
  25. I pray that God will be kind to all of you.

    This last chapter of Hebrews brings the letter to a close with several bullet-point instructions. Whereas to this point the letter has contained lengthy discussions about Christ's priesthood, the replacement of Christ's death for the old sacrificial system, the old and new covenants, and the dangers of apostasy, the writer now gives several rapid-fire points of instruction:

    • Let brotherly love continue. 
    • Don't neglect to show hospitality
    • Remember the prisoners
    • Remember the mistreated
    • Marriage must be respected by all . . . the marriage bed kept undefiled
    • Your life should be free from the love of money
    • Remember your leaders who have spoken God's word to you
    • Don't be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings
    • Through Him (Christ) let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise
    • Don't neglect to do good and to share
    • Obey your leaders and submit to them

    The writer of this letter, along with its first readers, are both unknown. Tradition supposes the Apostle Paul to be the writer. Though his authorship has not been proved or disproved, the closing verses of the letter, seen in this chapter, do seem to have his mark on them. The first readers are assumed to be chiefly Jewish in background giving the letter its title, "To the Hebrews."

    In the midst of the rapid-fire instructions are a couple of significant teachings. Concerning the instruction to be "free from the love of money," the writer reminds them of the assurance Jesus gave His followers: "I will never leave you or forsake you." He concludes from this that "we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (13:5-6)

    Related to the instruction "Don't be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings," he adds, "for it is good for the heart to be established by grace and not by foods." (13:9) In particular he compares God's grace bestowed on us freely through faith in Jesus Christ to rituals of eating prescribed foods for purification. Eating of foods will not establish us, he says. "Those involved in them have not benefited." (13:9) It is only by Jesus' blood that we are established. This comparison of grace through the blood of Jesus might be made with any other ritual that attempts to make us right with God. There is no other way that will do that. The most common way that people attempt today is good works. But again, there is no other way. Only through our acceptance by faith in Jesus Christ are we made right with God.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reflections on Hebrews 12

    Hebrews 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us! So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won't let go. And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us.
  2. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God's throne!
  3. So keep your mind on Jesus, who put up with many insults from sinners. Then you won't get discouraged and give up.
  4. None of you have yet been hurt in your battle against sin.
  5. But you have forgotten that the Scriptures say to God's children, "When the Lord punishes you, don't make light of it, and when he corrects you, don't be discouraged.
  6. The Lord corrects the people he loves and disciplines those he calls his own."
  7. Be patient when you are being corrected! This is how God treats his children. Don't all parents correct their children?
  8. God corrects all of his children, and if he doesn't correct you, then you don't really belong to him.
  9. Our earthly fathers correct us, and we still respect them. Isn't it even better to be given true life by letting our spiritual Father correct us?
  10. Our human fathers correct us for a short time, and they do it as they think best. But God corrects us for our own good, because he wants us to be holy, as he is.
  11. It is never fun to be corrected. In fact, at the time it is always painful. But if we learn to obey by being corrected, we will do right and live at peace.
  12. Now stand up straight! Stop your knees from shaking
  13. and walk a straight path. Then lame people will be healed, instead of getting worse.
  14. Try to live at peace with everyone! Live a clean life. If you don't, you will never see the Lord.
  15. Make sure that no one misses out on God's wonderful kindness. Don't let anyone become bitter and cause trouble for the rest of you.
  16. Watch out for immoral and ungodly people like Esau, who sold his future blessing for only one meal.
  17. You know how he later wanted it back. But there was nothing he could do to change things, even though he begged his father and cried.
  18. You have not come to a place like Mount Sinai that can be seen and touched. There is no flaming fire or dark cloud or storm
  19. or trumpet sound. The people of Israel heard a voice speak. But they begged it to stop,
  20. because they could not obey its commands. They were even told to kill any animal that touched the mountain.
  21. The sight was so frightening that Moses said he shook with fear.
  22. You have now come to Mount Zion and to the heavenly Jerusalem. This is the city of the living God, where thousands and thousands of angels have come to celebrate.
  23. Here you will find all of God's dearest children, whose names are written in heaven. And you will find God himself, who judges everyone. Here also are the spirits of those good people who have been made perfect.
  24. And Jesus is here! He is the one who makes God's new agreement with us, and his sprinkled blood says much better things than the blood of Abel.
  25. Make sure that you obey the one who speaks to you. The people did not escape, when they refused to obey the one who spoke to them at Mount Sinai. Do you think you can possibly escape, if you refuse to obey the one who speaks to you from heaven?
  26. When God spoke the first time, his voice shook only the earth. This time he has promised to shake the earth once again, and heaven too.
  27. The words "once again" mean that these created things will someday be shaken and removed. Then what cannot be shaken will last.
  28. We should be grateful that we were given a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And in this kingdom we please God by worshiping him and by showing him great honor and respect.
  29. Our God is like a destructive fire!

    Another call to faithfulness is given in chapter 12 as follow up to the inspirational examples of Old Testament heroes of faith. The writer has his readers to envision these heroes of faith as a "large cloud of witnesses" that surround them, watching their faithfulness. We are all challenged to do our best in front of an audience, and this is the challenge he gives them and us. Do your very best before this large audience, he was telling them, to "lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us." (12:1) He then likens our life of faith to a race which we are running in view of this large audience of Old Testament heroes of faith.

    Although the audience is filled with those who have successfully run the race before us, it is not their examples on which we are to keep our eyes. The supreme example of faith was not mentioned in chapter 11 but is now placed before us as the example on which we should keep our eyes. This example is Jesus who is both the source and the perfecter of our faith. It is His example for which we are to strive. When we are tempted to drop out of the race we should "consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won't grow weary and lose heart." (12:3) And if the readers thought they had it bad, none of them had yet "resisted (sin) to the point of shedding your blood." (12:4)

    Having touched on the hardships Jesus endured, the writer now turns fuller attention to that topic, wanting them to think of hardships in their lives positively, as occasions that mark them as God's children. It is not the hardships they bring on themselves he is asking them to consider, but hardships they endure because of their faith. Hardships related to our faith can be seen as God's discipline. And if we are disciplined it is a sign that we are God's sons (children). We should remember that "the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives." (12:6) Therefore, we should endure hardship "as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons." (12:7) It is not discipline but lack of discipline that should concern us. For if we are not disciplined "then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (12:8) Though discipline is not enjoyable at the time, "it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (12:11)

    With this encouragement to accept God's discipline he then tells them to "strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but healed instead." (12:12-13)  They need to strengthen themselves to overcome their weaknesses and straighten their path so they don't stumble. He is speaking, of course, of spiritual strength and the course of their lives. This they can do by pursuing peace and holiness. If they should give up on these things and on the pursuit of God's reward the writer suggests they will be like Esau who "sold his birthright in exchange for one meal." (12:16)

    The final section in this discussion is a warning concerning the seriousness of their choice in this matter of faith. Faithfulness to the old covenant was serious enough, he said, giving a description of the awesomeness of Moses' experience on Mount Sinai. The experience was terrifying to Moses who said, "I am terrified and trembling." (12:21) But, he says, "you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel." (12:22-24) In other words, Moses' experience was nothing compared to what they wee dealing with in relation to the new covenant. Therefore, he says, "See that you do not reject the One who speaks; for if they did not escape when they rejected Him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven." (12:25)

Reflections on Hebrews 11

    Hebrews 11 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.
  2. It was their faith that made our ancestors pleasing to God.
  3. Because of our faith, we know that the world was made at God's command. We also know that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen.
  4. Because Abel had faith, he offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. God was pleased with him and his gift, and even though Abel is now dead, his faith still speaks for him.
  5. Enoch had faith and did not die. He pleased God, and God took him up to heaven. That's why his body was never found.
  6. But without faith no one can please God. We must believe that God is real and that he rewards everyone who searches for him.
  7. Because Noah had faith, he was warned about something that had not yet happened. He obeyed and built a boat that saved him and his family. In this way the people of the world were judged, and Noah was given the blessings that come to everyone who pleases God.
  8. Abraham had faith and obeyed God. He was told to go to the land that God had said would be his, and he left for a country he had never seen.
  9. Because Abraham had faith, he lived as a stranger in the promised land. He lived there in a tent, and so did Isaac and Jacob, who were later given the same promise.
  10. Abraham did this, because he was waiting for the eternal city that God had planned and built.
  11. Even when Sarah was too old to have children, she had faith that God would do what he had promised, and she had a son.
  12. Her husband Abraham was almost dead, but he became the ancestor of many people. In fact, there are as many of them as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand along the beach.
  13. Every one of those people died. But they still had faith, even though they had not received what they had been promised. They were glad just to see these things from far away, and they agreed that they were only strangers and foreigners on this earth.
  14. When people talk this way, it is clear that they are looking for a place to call their own.
  15. If they had been talking about the land where they had once lived, they could have gone back at any time.
  16. But they were looking forward to a better home in heaven. That's why God wasn't ashamed for them to call him their God. He even built a city for them.
  17. Abraham had been promised that Isaac, his only son, would continue his family. But when Abraham was tested, he had faith and was willing to sacrifice Isaac,
  18. (SEE 11:17)
  19. because he was sure that God could raise people to life. This was just like getting Isaac back from death.
  20. Isaac had faith, and he promised blessings to Jacob and Esau.
  21. Later, when Jacob was about to die, he leaned on his walking stick and worshiped. Then because of his faith he blessed each of Joseph's sons.
  22. And right before Joseph died, he had faith that God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. So he told them to take his bones with them.
  23. Because Moses' parents had faith, they kept him hidden until he was three months old. They saw that he was a beautiful child, and they were not afraid to disobey the king's orders.
  24. Then after Moses grew up, his faith made him refuse to be called Pharaoh's grandson.
  25. He chose to be mistreated with God's people instead of having the good time that sin could bring for a little while.
  26. Moses knew that the treasures of Egypt were not as wonderful as what he would receive from suffering for the Messiah, and he looked forward to his reward.
  27. Because of his faith, Moses left Egypt. Moses had seen the invisible God and wasn't afraid of the king's anger.
  28. His faith also made him celebrate Passover. He sprinkled the blood of animals on the doorposts, so that the first-born sons of the people of Israel would not be killed by the destroying angel.
  29. Because of their faith, the people walked through the Red Sea on dry land. But when the Egyptians tried to do it, they were drowned.
  30. God's people had faith, and when they had walked around the city of Jericho for seven days, its walls fell down.
  31. Rahab had been a prostitute, but she had faith and welcomed the spies. So she wasn't killed with the people who disobeyed.
  32. What else can I say? There isn't enough time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.
  33. Their faith helped them conquer kingdoms, and because they did right, God made promises to them. They closed the jaws of lions
  34. and put out raging fires and escaped from the swords of their enemies. Although they were weak, they were given the strength and power to chase foreign armies away.
  35. Some women received their loved ones back from death. Many of these people were tortured, but they refused to be released. They were sure that they would get a better reward when the dead are raised to life.
  36. Others were made fun of and beaten with whips, and some were chained in jail.
  37. Still others were stoned to death or sawed in two or killed with swords. Some had nothing but sheep skins or goat skins to wear. They were poor, mistreated, and tortured.
  38. The world did not deserve these good people, who had to wander in deserts and on mountains and had to live in caves and holes in the ground.
  39. All of them pleased God because of their faith! But still they died without being given what had been promised.
  40. This was because God had something better in store for us. And he did not want them to reach the goal of their faith without us.

    In this 11th chapter, the writer illustrates the benefits and the possibility of faith in all types of circumstances for his readers, some of whom were tempted to apostacize. Besides showing, through the examples of people of faith throughout history, the possibility of remaining faithful in spite of difficult circumstances and not ever seeing in this lifetime the outcome of their faith, he also showed that the reward of faith is not necessarily immediate gratification.

    The writer begins this chapter of faith with the role of sight in faith. Faith, he says, is not a result of what we can see, but rather, what we can see is a result of faith. The reality of what we cannot see is made known through faith. This is why he says it is the "proof of what is not seen." (11:1) It is also by faith that we understand what is unknowable in any other way, and that is creation. It is not through science that we understand creation, but only through faith. Some consider science and faith to be incompatible. But how can one master a discipline that studies a subject without understanding the One who made it? Excluding the Creator from the study removes the possibility of understanding.

    The first set of examples used by the writer demonstrate the role of faith in pleasing God. Using Abel, Enoch, and Noah as examples he makes the point that "without faith it is impossible to please God." (11:6) Abel's sacrifice was accepted by God because it was offered in faith. Enoch did not experience death because his faith pleased God. And Noah was delivered from the flood because his faith led him to do what God told him.

    The next set of faith examples demonstrates persisent faith even when the reality of the thing hoped for does not happen for years or even in their lifetime. Those in this set of examples included Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob. They all acted as if God's promises were a sure thing even though they would never see their fulfillment. This is because their sights were on a greater reward - "the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (11:10) Rather than grasping for gratification fulfillment in their lifetime they saw themselves as "foreigners and temporary residents on the earth." They could forego a temporary blessing in exchange for an eternal blessing. The writer's point in these examples was that these heroes of faith aspired "to a better land--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." (11:16) His message to his readers and to us is that our faith should not rise and fall based on circumstances in this life, but it should be based on the reward God has prepared for us in heaven. This hope has no bases in the circumstances of life but remains a constant hope despite circumstances. The more difficult our circumstances the greater our desire for that ultimate reward.

    The theme of the second set of examples carries into the third set and becomes more focused on this concept of foregoing short-lived pleasure in the present in exchange for an eternal pleasure in heaven. The heroes of faith in this set include: Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab the prostitute. In this set the writer shifts from a faith that anticipates the fulfillment of a promise beyond the individual's lifetime to a faith that endures the displeasures of the world and doing without material goods in exchange for a "greater wealth" in heaven. Moses is the central person of faith in these examples. He could have enjoyed prestige and wealth as the "son of Pharaoh's daughter," but instead chose to "suffer with the people of God," thus giving up "the short-lived pleasure of sin" for a "greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt." (11:24, 25, 26) What was true for Moses could also be true for the first readers of Hebrews and for us.

    In the last set of faith examples the list includes a wide range of individuals who had a wide range of faith experiences. By faith, these individuals "conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead raised to life again. Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated." (11:34-37) There are too many examples to pass them off as isolated situations. What was possible for all these people is possible for any of us. The key is faith. And the key to that faith is a single-minded focus on God and the life He has waiting for us beyond this life, which makes everything in this life pale by comparison.

    The type of faith demonstrated in all these examples is summed up in this: "All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us." (11:39-40) Their faith, out of which came the Messiah, provided something better for us in that we have the Messiah. And our faith in the Messiah completes their faith.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reflections on Hebrews 10

    Hebrews 10 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The Law of Moses is like a shadow of the good things to come. This shadow isn't the good things themselves, because it cannot free people from sin by the sacrifices that are offered year after year.
  2. If there were worshipers who already have their sins washed away and their consciences made clear, there would not be any need to go on offering sacrifices.
  3. But the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. It only reminds people of their sins from one year to the next.
  4. (SEE 10:3)
  5. When Christ came into the world, he said to God, "Sacrifices and offerings are not what you want, but you have given me my body.
  6. No, you are not pleased with animal sacrifices and offerings for sin."
  7. Then Christ said, "And so, my God, I have come to do what you want, as the Scriptures say."
  8. The Law teaches that offerings and sacrifices must be made because of sin. But why did Christ mention these things and say that God did not want them?
  9. Well, it was to do away with offerings and sacrifices and to replace them. That is what he meant by saying to God, "I have come to do what you want."
  10. So we are made holy because Christ obeyed God and offered himself once for all.
  11. The priests do their work each day, and they keep on offering sacrifices that can never take away sins.
  12. But Christ offered himself as a sacrifice that is good forever. Now he is sitting at God's right side,
  13. and he will stay there until his enemies are put under his power.
  14. By his one sacrifice he has forever set free from sin the people he brings to God.
  15. The Holy Spirit also speaks of this by telling us that the Lord said,
  16. "When the time comes, I will make an agreement with them. I will write my laws on their minds and hearts.
  17. Then I will forget about their sins and no longer remember their evil deeds."
  18. When sins are forgiven, there is no more need to offer sacrifices.
  19. My friends, the blood of Jesus gives us courage to enter the most holy place
  20. by a new way that leads to life! And this way takes us through the curtain that is Christ himself.
  21. We have a great high priest who is in charge of God's house.
  22. So let's come near God with pure hearts and a confidence that comes from having faith. Let's keep our hearts pure, our consciences free from evil, and our bodies washed with clean water.
  23. We must hold tightly to the hope that we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us.
  24. We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things.
  25. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord's coming is getting closer.
  26. No sacrifices can be made for people who decide to sin after they find out about the truth.
  27. They are God's enemies, and all they can look forward to is a terrible judgment and a furious fire.
  28. If two or more witnesses accused someone of breaking the Law of Moses, that person could be put to death.
  29. But it is much worse to dishonor God's Son and to disgrace the blood of the promise that made us holy. And it is just as bad to insult the Holy Spirit, who shows us mercy.
  30. We know that God has said he will punish and take revenge. We also know that the Scriptures say the Lord will judge his people.
  31. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
  32. Don't forget all the hard times you went through when you first received the light.
  33. Sometimes you were abused and mistreated in public, and at other times you shared in the sufferings of others.
  34. You were kind to people in jail. And you gladly let your possessions be taken away, because you knew you had something better, something that would last forever.
  35. Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards.
  36. Learn to be patient, so that you will please God and be given what he has promised.
  37. As the Scriptures say, "God is coming soon! It won't be very long.
  38. The people God accepts will live because of their faith. But he isn't pleased with anyone who turns back."
  39. We are not like those people who turn back and get destroyed. We will keep on having faith until we are saved.

    Building on the foundation he has already laid concerning the superiority of Christ's priesthood and of the new covenant of which He is the minister, the writer now stresses the confidence the believer can have in the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice to remove all guilt of sin, making us acceptable to God. Once our sins have been covered with Christ's sacrifice, God says of them, "I will never again remember their sins and their lawless acts." (10:17)

    The superiority of Christ's sacrifice is compared to the inferiority of the old sacrificial system. Since it was not possible for "the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (10:4) These sacrifices were offered over and over and over since the sin never went away. It was a continual reminder of the presence of sin. The job of the priests in this system was never finished. They could never sit down as if their jobs had been completed. In contrast, Christ's sacrifice was all that this was not. With the coming of Christ the first covenant was taken away because the sacrifice of Christ's body sanctifies those who believe in Him. That is, they are made holy with the forgiveness of sin. Christ's offering of His body did this "once and for all." (10:10) In that one act, His work was finished. There was no need for further sacrifice and He could then sit "down at the right hand of God." (10:12) In a definitive statement the writer says: "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified." (10:14)

    Because of the definite nature of Christ's sacrificial provision for our sin, we can "enter the sanctuary" with boldness. That is, we can approach God with confidence. This being the case, we should draw near to God and hold firm to the hope we have in Him "without wavering." (10:23) With this confidence for ourselves our next concern is to help others also have this confidence. We should "be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works." This includes faithfulness to the Christian meetings so that we can encourage each other. This is all the more important as "you see the day drawing near." (10:25) That is, the day of Christ's return.

    The writer then returns to the issue of apostasy, an issue he spoke to in an earlier chapter. The issue is this: if one rejects Christ's sacrifice, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins." (10:26) There is nothing else to fall back on. We gain forgiveness of sin and as a result confidence before God through acceptance of Christ's sacrifice and through nothing else. It is that way or no way. Furthermore, to tentatively accept Christ's sacrifice and then reject it is blasphemous for in so doing we have "trampled on the Son of God," and have "insulted the Spirit of grace." (10:29)

    This issue of apostasy was evidently a real concern the writer had on behalf of some of his intended readers and he encouraged them to "Remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened." (10:32) When they were first enlightened about Christ's sacrifice they had endured their struggles and had sympathized with others who struggled because they had confidence in what Christ did. Now, he tells them, "don't throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." (10:35) Reminding them that "we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and obtain life." (10:39)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reflections on Hebrews 9

    Hebrews 09 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The first promise that was made included rules for worship and a tent for worship here on earth.
  2. The first part of the tent was called the holy place, and a lampstand, a table, and the sacred loaves of bread were kept there.
  3. Behind the curtain was the most holy place.
  4. The gold altar that was used for burning incense was in this holy place. The gold-covered sacred chest was also there, and inside it were three things. First, there was a gold jar filled with manna. Then there was Aaron's walking stick that sprouted. Finally, there were the flat stones with the Ten Commandments written on them.
  5. On top of the chest were the glorious creatures with wings opened out above the place of mercy. Now isn't the time to go into detail about these things.
  6. But this is how everything was when the priests went each day into the first part of the tent to do their duties.
  7. However, only the high priest could go into the second part of the tent, and he went in only once a year. Each time he carried blood to offer for his sins and for any sins that the people had committed without meaning to.
  8. All of this is the Holy Spirit's way of saying that no one could enter the most holy place while the tent was still the place of worship.
  9. This also has a meaning for today. It shows that we cannot make our consciences clear by offering gifts and sacrifices.
  10. These rules are merely about such things as eating and drinking and ceremonies for washing ourselves. And rules about physical things will last only until the time comes to change them for something better.
  11. Christ came as the high priest of the good things that are now here. He also went into a much better tent that wasn't made by humans and that doesn't belong to this world.
  12. Then Christ went once for all into the most holy place and freed us from sin forever. He did this by offering his own blood instead of the blood of goats and bulls.
  13. According to the Law of Moses, those people who become unclean are not fit to worship God. Yet they will be considered clean, if they are sprinkled with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a sacrificed calf.
  14. But Christ was sinless, and he offered himself as an eternal and spiritual sacrifice to God. That's why his blood is much more powerful and makes our consciences clear. Now we can serve the living God and no longer do things that lead to death.
  15. Christ died to rescue those who had sinned and broken the old agreement. Now he brings his chosen ones a new agreement with its guarantee of God's eternal blessings!
  16. In fact, making an agreement of this kind is like writing a will. This is because the one who makes the will must die before it is of any use.
  17. In other words, a will doesn't go into effect as long as the one who made it is still alive.
  18. Blood was also used to put the first agreement into effect.
  19. Moses told the people all that the Law said they must do. Then he used red wool and a hyssop plant to sprinkle the people and the book of the Law with the blood of bulls and goats and with water.
  20. He told the people, "With this blood God makes his agreement with you."
  21. Moses also sprinkled blood on the tent and on everything else that was used in worship.
  22. The Law says that almost everything must be sprinkled with blood, and no sins can be forgiven unless blood is offered.
  23. These things are only copies of what is in heaven, and so they had to be made holy by these ceremonies. But the real things in heaven must be made holy by something better.
  24. This is why Christ did not go into a tent that had been made by humans and was only a copy of the real one. Instead, he went into heaven and is now there with God to help us.
  25. Christ did not have to offer himself many times. He wasn't like a high priest who goes into the most holy place each year to offer the blood of an animal.
  26. If he had offered himself every year, he would have suffered many times since the creation of the world. But instead, near the end of time he offered himself once and for all, so that he could be a sacrifice that does away with sin.
  27. We die only once, and then we are judged.
  28. So Christ died only once to take away the sins of many people. But when he comes again, it will not be to take away sin. He will come to save everyone who is waiting for him.

    A comparison is made between the old and new covenants. The old covenant, as the writer explains, was not only a copy of the new covenant but through it the "Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the holy of holies had not yet been disclosed." (9:8) The arrangement of the old tabernacle with its holy of holies into which the high priest entered alone once a year with blood to atone for his own sin and the sins of the people was intended to convey the idea that the true way to God did not lie in this arrangement. It was "a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper's conscience." (9:9) These were merely "physical regulations . . . imposed until the time of restoration." (9:10)

    When the Messiah came, He became high priest in a "greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands." When He entered the holy of holies He needed do so only once, but the one-time sacrifice He offered covered for all people eternally. While the sacrifices of animals did nothing to cleanse the conscience of the worshiper, Christ's sacrifice of Himself does. His sacrifice clears our conscience of the need to do something, such as dead works, to appease for our sin. Instead we are freed to "serve the living God." (9:14)

    The writer goes on to explain the need for Christ's death. In doing so, he compares the covenant to a will. A will does not take affect until the one who made the will has died. In the same way, the new covenant didn't take affect until Christ offered up His own death. Furthermore, he points out that even the first covenant was "inaugurated with blood." (9:18) Blood representing death. When Moses read the newly written law to the people, which was the first covenant, he then "took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll itself and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded for you." (9:19-20)

    This was all a copy of "things in the heavens" which had to be purified with the sacrifices of animals. But the heavenly things were purified "with better sacrifices than these." (9:23) They were purified with the sacrifice of the Messiah Himself. His was not a sacrifice that had to be offered repeatedly but only once for all. Otherwise He would have had to suffer and die many times. Instead, "He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself." Having done this He "will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him." (9:28)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reflections on Hebrews 8

    Hebrews 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. What I mean is that we have a high priest who sits at the right side of God's great throne in heaven.
  2. He also serves as the priest in the most holy place inside the real tent there in heaven. This tent of worship was set up by the Lord, not by humans.
  3. Since all priests must offer gifts and sacrifices, Christ also needed to have something to offer.
  4. If he were here on earth, he would not be a priest at all, because here the Law appoints other priests to offer sacrifices.
  5. But the tent where they serve is just a copy and a shadow of the real one in heaven. Before Moses made the tent, he was told, "Be sure to make it exactly like the pattern you were shown on the mountain!"
  6. Now Christ has been appointed to serve as a priest in a much better way, and he has given us much assurance of a better agreement.
  7. If the first agreement with God had been all right, there would not have been any need for another one.
  8. But the Lord found fault with it and said, "I tell you the time will come, when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and the people of Judah.
  9. It won't be like the agreement that I made with their ancestors, when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. They broke their agreement with me, and I stopped caring about them!
  10. "But now I tell the people of Israel this is my new agreement: 'The time will come when I, the Lord, will write my laws on their minds and hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
  11. Not one of them will have to teach another to know me, their Lord.' "All of them will know me, no matter who they are.
  12. I will treat them with kindness, even though they are wicked. I will forget their sins."
  13. When the Lord talks about a new agreement, he means that the first one is out of date. And anything that is old and useless will soon disappear.

    The topic of Christ as our High Priest continues into chapter 8, and the writer prepares to make a transition from the superiority of Christ's priesthood to the superiority of the new covenant He ushered in to replace the old covenant. The main point concerning Christ's priesthood he says is this: "we have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle, which the Lord set up, and not man." (8:1-2) We see further significance of this point in verse 5 where the writer says, regarding the earthly tabernacle and priests: "These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things." (8:5) Christ's priesthood is superior because it is in the heavenly tabernacle of which the earthly tabernacle was just a copy. Plus, Christ sits at the right hand of God's throne in heaven whereas the earthly priests entered a room, the Holy of Holies, in the earthly tabernacle to come into the presence of God. The point, then, is that Christ's priesthood is the real one of which the earthly priests only copied.

    Then comes the transition in verse 6: "But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant." As Jesus' ministry is superior, so is the covenant He mediates. The first covenant, which God made with "the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" had failed because they did not continue in it. Its inferiority was in its external nature. By comparison, the new covenant was, and is, written on the minds and hearts of the people. It will be of an internal nature and the people will be motivated internally to keep the covenant. With the new covenant it will not be necessary for the priests to teach the people or for each person to teach others, "because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them." (8:11)

    In the last verse of the chapter the writer points out that by speaking of a new covenant the implication is that the previous covenant is "old and aging" and "about to disappear." (8:13) The disappearance of the old covenant and the role of the earthly priests took place with the destruction of the temple sometime after the writing of Hebrews.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reflections on Hebrews 7

    Hebrews 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Melchizedek was both king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He was the one who went out and gave Abraham his blessing, when Abraham returned from killing the kings.
  2. Then Abraham gave him a tenth of everything he had. The meaning of the name Melchizedek is "King of Justice." But since Salem means "peace," he is also "King of Peace."
  3. We are not told that he had a father or mother or ancestors or beginning or end. He is like the Son of God and will be a priest forever.
  4. Notice how great Melchizedek is! Our famous ancestor Abraham gave him a tenth of what he had taken from his enemies.
  5. The Law teaches that even Abraham's descendants must give a tenth of what they possess. And they are to give this to their own relatives, who are the descendants of Levi and are priests.
  6. Although Melchizedek wasn't a descendant of Levi, Abraham gave him a tenth of what he had. Then Melchizedek blessed Abraham, who had been given God's promise.
  7. Everyone agrees that a person who gives a blessing is greater than the one who receives the blessing.
  8. Priests are given a tenth of what people earn. But all priests die, except Melchizedek, and the Scriptures teach that he is alive.
  9. Levi's descendants are now the ones who receive a tenth from people. We could even say that when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth, Levi also gave him a tenth.
  10. This is because Levi was born later into the family of Abraham, who gave a tenth to Melchizedek.
  11. Even though the Law of Moses says that the priests must be descendants of Levi, those priests cannot make anyone perfect. So there needs to be a priest like Melchizedek, rather than one from the priestly family of Aaron.
  12. And when the rules for selecting a priest are changed, the Law must also be changed.
  13. The person we are talking about is our Lord, who came from a tribe that had never had anyone to serve as a priest at the altar.
  14. Everyone knows he came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never said that priests would come from that tribe.
  15. All of this becomes clearer, when someone who is like Melchizedek is appointed to be a priest.
  16. That person wasn't appointed because of his ancestors, but because his life can never end.
  17. The Scriptures say about him, "You are a priest forever, just like Melchizedek."
  18. In this way a weak and useless command was put aside,
  19. because the Law cannot make anything perfect. At the same time, we are given a much better hope, and it can bring us close to God.
  20. God himself made a promise when this priest was appointed. But he did not make a promise like this when the other priests were appointed. The promise he made is, "I, the Lord, promise that you will be a priest forever! And I will never change my mind!"
  21. (SEE 7:20)
  22. This means that Jesus guarantees us a better agreement with God.
  23. There have been a lot of other priests, and all of them have died.
  24. But Jesus will never die, and so he will be a priest forever!
  25. He is forever able to save the people he leads to God, because he always lives to speak to God for them.
  26. Jesus is the high priest we need. He is holy and innocent and faultless, and not at all like us sinners. Jesus is honored above all beings in heaven,
  27. and he is better than any other high priest. Jesus doesn't need to offer sacrifices each day for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He offered a sacrifice once for all, when he gave himself.
  28. The Law appoints priests who have weaknesses. But God's promise, which came later than the Law, appoints his Son. And he is the perfect high priest forever.

    In the previous chapters the writer began telling of Christ's priestly role but then paused to mention the immaturity of his readers and their likely inability to understand what he was about to tell them. However, he concluded that they needed to move to topics of a weightier nature than those to which they had limited themselves and so he now has launched fully into his discussion of Christ's role as High Priest.

    The arguments of chapter seven are aimed at Christ's superiority over the Levitical priests to serve as our High Priest. Also, with the replacement of the Levitical order comes a change of law as the writer points out in verse 12: "For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well." The argument for Christ's superiority as priest includes first of all His being in the same order as Melchizedek which order is not based on a law but on an unending life. Furthermore, Melchizedek was superior to Abraham and therefore to his levitical descendants. Evidence of his superiority to Abraham is Abraham's paying a tithe to Melchizedek and Melchizedek's blessing of Abraham, in which case the superior one always blesses the inferior one.

    A question is then raised as to why there was a need to replace the Levitical priesthood if perfection came through it? The response was that the Levitical order was based on a law that "perfected nothing." (7:19) It was "weak and unprofitable." (7:18) Thus, the former law and the priesthood which was based on it was ineffective and in need of replacement. The priests under this system had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before offering sacrifices for the sins of the people, and then these priest were subject to death so they were always changing. By contrast, Christ was without sin and therefore could offer Himself as a sacrifice one time, not over and over, and in atonement for everyone who accepts it. Furthermore, Christ never dies and is "always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them." (7:25)

    Yet another argument for superiority is that Christ's priesthood is based on an oath and not on a law. The oath being superior. On this point he says, "The Lord has sworn, and He will not change His mind, You are a priest forever." (7:21) He concludes, then, that "Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant." (7:22)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reflections on Hebrews 6

    Hebrews 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. We must try to become mature and start thinking about more than just the basic things we were taught about Christ. We shouldn't need to keep talking about why we ought to turn from deeds that bring death and why we ought to have faith in God.
  2. And we shouldn't need to keep teaching about baptisms or about the laying on of hands or about people being raised from death and the future judgment.
  3. Let's grow up, if God is willing.
  4. But what about people who turn away after they have already seen the light and have received the gift from heaven and have shared in the Holy Spirit? What about those who turn away after they have received the good message of God and the powers of the future world? There is no way to bring them back. What they are doing is the same as nailing the Son of God to a cross and insulting him in public!
  5. (SEE 6:4)
  6. (SEE 6:4)
  7. A field is useful to farmers, if there is enough rain to make good crops grow. In fact, God will bless that field.
  8. But land that produces only thornbushes is worthless. It is likely to fall under God's curse, and in the end it will be set on fire.
  9. My friends, we are talking this way. But we are sure that you are doing those really good things that people do when they are being saved.
  10. God is always fair. He will remember how you helped his people in the past and how you are still helping them. You belong to God, and he won't forget the love you have shown his people.
  11. We wish that each of you would always be eager to show how strong and lasting your hope really is.
  12. Then you would never be lazy. You would be following the example of those who had faith and were patient until God kept his promise to them.
  13. No one is greater than God. So he made a promise in his own name when he said to Abraham,
  14. "I, the Lord, will bless you with many descendants!"
  15. Then after Abraham had been very patient, he was given what God had promised.
  16. When anyone wants to settle an argument, they make a vow by using the name of someone or something greater than themselves.
  17. So when God wanted to prove for certain that his promise to his people could not be broken, he made a vow.
  18. God cannot tell lies! And so his promises and vows are two things that can never be changed. We have run to God for safety. Now his promises should greatly encourage us to take hold of the hope that is right in front of us.
  19. This hope is like a firm and steady anchor for our souls. In fact, hope reaches behind the curtain and into the most holy place.
  20. Jesus has gone there ahead of us, and he is our high priest forever, just like Melchizedek.

    Following the writer's reprimand in the last verse of chapter 5 about the readers' inability to handle "solid food," he now states in 6:1 his intent to give them solid food anyway: "leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity." He says, "we will do this if God permits," (6:3) acknowledging God's involvement in gaining spiritual understanding. From there he issues a warning against turning away from their faith. To do so would be as if they were "recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt." (6:6) When the readers first trusted Christ, their profession of faith acknowledged that Christ had been crucified unjustly but that the outcome had been the forgiveness of man's sin. If they were to now reject this faith and apostacize, they would be stepping back across the line and agreeing with Jesus' enemies who put Him on the cross.

    A debated issue for centuries concerning this passage is whether it speak of losing one's salvation. I am among those who reject this thought since I believe it to be inconsistent with New Testament teaching.  Passages such as John 6:39-40 teach that salvation is God's work and He is able to keep it secure: "This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." I come away with the conclusion that those to whom the writer refers had initially agreed mentally with the concept of Christ's death for the sins of mankind but never made a heart commitment. Thus, without the power of the Holy Spirit in them to teach them and convict them of sin and keep them strong spiritually they later crossed back over the line in their mental agreement. But nothing changed in either direction regarding their eternal destiny. One problem with this conclusion is that the writer seems to assume that his readers had made more than a mental agreement concerning the tenants of the Christian faith. But it is possible he suspected there might be those among the readers who were agreeing outwardly but had not yet made a heart commitment.

    Whichever conclusion one draws concerning the salvation of one who apostacizes, the writer is very clear about the fact that having apostacized one cannot or will not return. Having dabbled with Christianity and then rejected it they render themselves incapable of going back in their thinking. They have made a very conscious choice which is impossible for them to reverse. One who has never made a choice to accept Christ may drift along toying with the idea, fooling themselves that they are not consciously rejecting Christ, they just are not accepting Him. But choosing to believe that Christ's death is an atonement for our sins and then rejecting it is a very conscious act.

    Following his warning about apostacizing, the writer goes on to give encouraging words to his readers speaking of his confidence that they do not number among those who would apostacize. Going further, he assures them that as they remain faithful "God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you showed for His name when you served the saints." (6:10) It was unlikely that a Christian of this time period could avoid persecution. In the face of persecution or any other difficulty the writer is assuring them that their faithfulness is not in vain.

    Having encouraged the readers the writer then challenges them "to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope." (6:11) Their model for this diligence is Abraham who waited patiently to obtain the promise God made to him. Furthermore, the promise made to Abraham was also for his heirs. We who accept Christ are partakers of that promise, and we need to be patient, as was Abraham, for the fulfillment of the promise. With these words, the writer returns to the subject of Jesus as a High Priest: "We have this hope--like a sure and firm anchor of the soul--that enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because He has become a 'high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.'" (6:19-20)