I was absolutely elated yesterday to get my copy of the newly published “Letters and Papers from Prison” (Vol. 8 in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works).  This is the volume wherein Bonhoeffer (I believe) has been most misunderstood and misrepresented (though some would certainly disagree with my conclusions).  His notion of “religionless Christianity” deserves a careful consideration and not a knee-jerk reaction as is so often the case.  I would encourage anyone interested in (the later…more controversial) Bonhoeffer to find a copy and read it thoroughly.

Here are the links to the pdf files of the Introduction, the Prologue, the First Chapter, and the Table of Contents.  Happy reading!  🙂

Why I Love the Hebrew Bible

In my first semester at Bible college I had to take a course on Old Testament Survey. I was expecting it to be boring and obscure. Up till that point I mostly thought the Old Testament was in the Bible to just provide some interesting stories for Sunday School until we got to “the more important stuff” in the New Testament. However, my professor for this class demonstrated from the very beginning his deep passionate enthrallment with the Hebrew Bible (in case you didn’t realize the “Hebrew Bible” is another way of referring to the Old Testament :-). His hair would begin combed neatly and by the end of class it would be completely disheveled because of his excited lectures and discussions…and his hands and sleeves would be covered in chalk from all his writing. He made the Old Testament come alive for me.

The next semester was my first real introduction to the Hebrew language (which was nothing more than learning the alphabet, some discussion of tenses and sentence structure, and how to use basic research resources for it). One of the things that most strikes me as I remember the professor who taught this class was when he wept while reading the apocryphal “Prayer of Manasseh” (which is not a part of the Protestant canon of the Old Testament, but is in the Catholic canon and still belongs to the overall genre of Old Testament studies). His passion for original languages was contagious and I had never seen anyone weep while reading from the scriptures (sorry…I don’t actually think of the “Prayer” as Scripture in the same sense–note the little “s”–, but it certainly is a wonderful piece of literature based upon other recognized Scriptures).

Then somewhat later in college I took an Intro to Hebrew with a brilliant professor of the Hebrew Bible (who had rather “interesting” ways of teaching…to say the least). More than anything else I took away from that class an appreciation biblical Hebrew culture (and a little modern Jewish culture mixed in). Playing dreidel (here’s a very brief description) for Hanukkah as we discussed the history of the game and various other aspects of Hebrew culture. FWIW…I won LOTS of candy that night. 🙂

Now nearing the end of my graduate studies where I’m trying to focus on Hebrew Bible (and hopefully some day earn a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible)…I’ve had opportunity to study with some very gifted Hebrew scholars who have continued to impress their love for the Book (but more importantly their love for the God of the Book) upon me.

I am truly grateful for the amazing men and women who have shared their passion with me over the years.  Most of them will never know the impact they have made in my life.  It has enriched my love for the LORD beyond measure and I only pray that I continue to pass on that same passionate love through my preaching, teaching and living.  I look forward to as many days as the LORD may give me to draw deeply from the depths of this wonderful life-changing Book.

 ברוך השם

Ezekiel 17-18 – Taking Responsibility

17:1-2 – What do “allegory” (Heb. hida “riddle”) and “parable” (Heb.  mashal “proverb”) suggest for reading what follows?
17:3-4 – What effect should the description of the great eagle have on us?  Lebanon is (and was) known for its cedars (Judges 9:15; 1 Kings 5:20; 7:2).  The top of the cedar is carried off to “a land of merchants” and “a city of traders”…where is that?
17:5-6 – The first eagle becomes a gardener who plants and meticulously cares for the seedling and suddenly the seedling is a vine that flourishes because of its care.
17:7-8 – A second (lesser) eagle appears who remains inactive throughout the account (see Block NICOT 531 for a comparison of details).  The vine, rather than flourishing in its cared for environment, seeks the nourishment of the second eagle.
17:9-10 – What answers are expected by the LORD’s many questions?  On the withering east wind see Jonah 4:8.
17:11-18 – Whereas the parable was originally addressed to the “house of Israel” the interpretation makes clear that they are the “rebellious house”.  The interpretation is that the first eagle was King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; Lebanon was Jerusalem (see 1 Kings 7:2-12 the “house of cedars of Lebanon”); the “land” and “city” were Babylon.  The first exiles with King Jehoiakin of Judah (597 BC) were the top of the cedar.  The remaining portion of Israel was the vine which had every opportunity to flourish as a vassal state of Babylon.  The second eagle was Egypt.  King Zedekiah of Judah rebelled against Babylon and sought the aid of Egypt after Jehoiachin had been carried off to Babylon.  Why does the LORD promise judgment?  Zedekiah broke the covenant made with Nebuchadnezzar (see 2 Chron. 36:13), but more importantly he (and the people) broke covenant with the LORD.  If the King of Babylon would not tolerate a broken covenant how much less would the LORD, maker of heaven and earth, not tolerate it?
17:19-21 – Who would carry out the judgment?  What assurance does the LORD give that this will be done? (17:21, 24)
17:22-24 – A return to the treetop for another sprig.  What will the LORD do in light of these verses?  Who will know this is the work of the LORD and who will benefit from it?  Who or what does this refer to?
18:1-2 – Another proverb (cf. Jer. 31:29-30), but this one is quoted by the people.  What does it mean?  It appears to refer to an impersonal natural retribution (i.e., fatalism) rather than to the personal judgment of the LORD.
18:3-4 – How is the response of the LORD to this proverb related to what He has declared in Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 24:16 and Jeremiah 31:29-34? 
18:5-18 – The righteous grandfather, sinful father, and righteous son (this might refer to Kings Josiah, Jehoiachim and Jehoiachin).  What distinguishes each?  What are the actions that are named as to be done and to be avoided?  What relation does verses 9 and 17 have to what precedes and follows in these similar lists?  Is there any sense of “fate” in what the LORD will do?  What sorts of things constitute doing what is “just and right” and “sins”?  (Lev. 19:15; 20:10, 18; 25:14; Deut. 4:1, 19; 15:7; 23:19; 24:12-17)  In what ways are the actions related specifically to the LORD and to the community?  In what way is the notion of “faith” to be described in this passage?
18:19-24 – Who dies for their sins?  How does this relate to the death of Christ for the world?  According to this passage, does the LORD maintain records of the previous life when one turns from righteousness or wickedness?  How does the LORD feel about the punishment of the wicked?
18:25-32 – Is the LORD unjust?  What is the judgment for righteousness and wickedness?  Does this passage make righteousness possible?  What is necessary for righteousness here?  In what way can Israel (or we) “get a new heart and a new spirit” for themselves according to this passage?  How is this related to what the LORD had already said in Ezekiel 11:19?

Does the Historicity of Adam Really Matter?

I just read a great article by Michael Reeves at Reformation21 titled “Adam and Eve”. He discusses (rather cogently I might say, but don’t take my word for it) why the historicity of Adam would seem to matter (it impacts the doctrines of Christ, the Trinity, and sin, among other practical biblical concerns). I’d be interested to hear others thoughts interacting with the article (whether positively or negatively–but that means the article should be read if you are thinking to comment on it ;-)…

Ezekiel 15-16 – R-rated Jerusalem: Useless and Unfaithful

15:1-8 – What use are the clippings of vines? How is Jerusalem like a clipping of a vine? (cf. Ps. 80:8-19) What do the references to fire have to do with Jerusalem? (cf. Eze. 5:2, 4; Rev. 17:16) What does the LORD promise Jerusalem? What does it mean for the LORD to set his “face against” something or someone? Again, what was the stated point of the judgment? (Eze. 15:7) What charge did the LORD make against Jerusalem? The charge of unfaithfulness (and thereby uselessness)! (cf. John 15:1-2, 6)

16:1-5 – The LORD will “confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices”. Take note of the “detestable practices” mentioned throughout the chapter. What does it mean to be from the Canaanites and to have it said that “your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite”? (see Deut. 7:1-5) How was Jerusalem treated by her parents once born? How did the LORD treat her? The significance of this is noted as an adoptive function whereby the LORD makes claims upon Jerusalem. How should have the LORD’s treatment impacted her in light of abandonment by her parents?

16:6-7 – What was the LORD’s response to Jerusalem? Why does He say “Live!” and what happens once He does? What are the possible dangers of Jerusalem’s infantile and then matured (“your breasts were formed and your (pubic) hair grew”) nakedness?

16:8 – Why does the text say the LORD waited until Jerusalem was “old enough for love”? What does it mean for the LORD to “spread the corner of his garment over her”? (cf. Ruth 3:9; Num. 15:37-41; Deut. 22:12; and possibly Matt. 9:20-22) What type of covenant is referred to here? What does it mean for the nature of their relationship?

16:9-14 – What does the LORD claim to have done for Jerusalem? Verse nine possibly refers not to the acts of cleansing just after birth (16:4), but to some form of wedding bath (though otherwise unattested) following virginal bleeding (cf. Deut. 22:13-21). Note that the materials—for adornment and food—were those used for the tabernacle. What does all of this mean? What were the immediate results? (16:13-14)

16:15-19 – Using beauty and fame to whore? What was Jerusalem accused of doing? Also, what might be the connection between the many fine things given by the LORD and their use in prostitution? Who is Jerusalem engaged in prostitution with?

16:22-22 – Whose children were sacrificed to idols? What role should remembering beginnings play? “In her intoxication with her newfound beauty and her insatiable lusts, she suffered from a severe case of amnesia. Instead of remembering her desperate beginnings or celebrating the goodness of Yahweh in rescuing her, she trampled underfoot the grace of God” (Block NICOT 491).

16:23-29 – The “mound” and “lofty shrine”? How did Jerusalem degrade her “beauty”? She literally “spread her legs (Heb. pasaq raglayim) to every passerby” and engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians with the “enlarged flesh” (Heb. gidle basar; and see Block NICOT 466-7 for greater detail). Who all did she whore herself to and what was the result?

16:30-34 – What might this passage teach us about any notion of the freedom of the will? In what way was Jerusalem unlike a prostitute?

16:35-42 – What was the punishment and who would carry it out? What would satisfy the anger of the LORD? How does this account fit into one of God as faithfully merciful? (compare Hosea 2:2-3)

16:43-48 – What were the “other detestable practices” to which lewdness was added? In what way is the proverb true that is cited here? Who did the LORD declare to be the family of Jerusalem and why? (cf. John 8:39-47) Samaria as “older” (Heb. gedola) sister and Sodom as “younger” (Heb. qetanna) sister refers to size and not age (Duguid NIVAC 213; Block NICOT 507fn256). Jerusalem was “more depraved” than Sodom?

16:49-52 – What were the sins of Sodom according to Ezekiel? (cf. Gen. 18:16-19:30; esp. 18:20 and 19:30) What kinds of things did Samaria do (which aren’t listed until chapter 23) and how did this compare to Jerusalem? How wicked would one have to be to make Sodom and Samaria “appear righteous”?

16:53-58 – Was there any hope for redemption? Whose “fortunes” would be restored and what does it mean? Why must the punishment be public?

16:59-63 – Did Jerusalem deserve punishment? What role does the covenant play in judgment and mercy? (cf. Jer. 31:31-34) Who will atone for Jerusalem? What does it mean for the LORD to “remember” His covenant and to what “eternal covenant” does this refer? Once again, what is the stated purpose of all of judgment?

Ezekiel 14 – When Righteousness Saves

14:1-5 – “Some of the elders”. This group represents the rest of the elders who seek the LORD outwardly but are inwardly idolaters. What does it mean when the LORD says He will answer such persons Himself? In what way is this not what the seekers desire? (see 14:8) “Answer Himself” refers to the fact that He will not answer their inquiry, but will instead answer their idolatry (see Block NICOT 427). Note that the LORD is not about having a people unless He also has their hearts.

14:6 – What does repentance entail in this context? Turning and renouncing.

14:7-8 – Who is included as outwardly belonging to the LORD and therefore needing to hold only to Him in adoration and worship? How might persons be separated from the LORD? Compare Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:38-39 and consider how these two teachings might belong together. What is the LORD’s judgment of the inward idolater who only outwardly seeks Him?

14:9-11 – What does it mean for a prophet to be “enticed to utter a prophecy”? (cf. Num. 22-25; 31:16; Deut. 23:4-5; 1 Kings 22:19-23; Jer. 20:7, 10) Who actually entices the prophets to lie? What is the result? Who bears the guilt? (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9-12) Why would the LORD do such a thing? He does this so that His people will truly be His people: a people without sin and with God.

14:12-20 – What does it mean for another country to be “unfaithful” to the LORD? Why are Noah, Daniel and Job named as paragons of virtue? They are mentioned because they stood faithfully in the midst of much ridicule, rejection and wickedness (Gen. 6:9; Job 1:8; Dan. 1:8). Ezekiel is using them as ideal examples of those whose righteousness would not be sufficient to save anyone but themselves in the Day of Judgment. Dan Block (NICOT 449fn49) believes the “children” refers not to their children, but to children in general who would be thought worthy of being spared. The name “Danel” (which is noted as being the original spelling in Ezekiel – see also 28:3) is sometimes thought to refer to a Near Eastern legend of one Danel who was faithful to carry out justice despite his suffering (see Aqhat), but this seems unlikely. While Noah and Job were ancient examples, Daniel would be a contemporary one (and the Danel of the Aqhat legend was not considered faithful to the LORD, but to various other deities of the Ugaritic pantheon). It is more probable that this is simply a variant spelling of Daniel who was a contemporary of Ezekiel (Block NICOT 447-9; contra Duguid NIVAC 193-4). Daniel had been taken into exile in about 604BC and would have been in Babylon for over 15 years by this point and risen to some considerable level of notoriety among the exiles.

14:21-23 – Note the “four dreadful judgments” – sword (Lev. 26:25), famine (Lev. 26:26), wild beasts (Lev. 26:22) and plague (Lev. 26:25). (cf. Jer. 15:2-3; Rev. 6:8) Why do the animals suffer punishment as well? (cf. Jonah 4:11; and Yael Shemesh’s “‘And Many Beasts’ (Jonah 4:11): The Function and Status of Animals in the Book of Jonah,” JHS, Vol.10 Art.6, 2010). In the midst of judgment there is hope in “some survivors” not because they were more resilient or more righteous than the rest, but because the LORD wanted to show the exiles (who were perceived to have been the wicked and thus exiled already) that those left in Jerusalem and Judah were idolatrous and wicked. This was to demonstrate both the justice and mercy of the LORD.

Jesus and the Old Testament

There was a wonderful and concise blog post over on the Desiring God Blog that I rather enjoyed (you can read it here). It’s about the fact that there was never anyone who knew the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) better than Jesus. (I especially thought the quote at the end was noteworthy…and quite funny). How well do you know and care for the Old Testament?

10 Reasons I Shouldn't Embrace Jesus (but still do)

1) Jesus is too Jewish.
2) Jesus doesn’t play well with others.
3) Jesus loves people that I don’t want to and believes they are worth my loving.
4) Jesus commands things I don’t want to do.
5) Jesus never answers questions according to how they are asked.
6) Jesus seems to think (as a first century man in an obscure insignificant kingdom) that he lays claim to everything that is, ever was and ever will be.
7) Jesus believes that he alone is the way to God.
8) Jesus believes he has a peculiarly intimate relationship with God that the rest of us don’t have.
9) Jesus believes he is returning to the earth some day to carry out judgment of the righteous and wicked.
10) Jesus makes me uncomfortable and unsettled.

(Please read the forgoing as recognizing both my sarcasm and also the difficulty of actually believing on one who so thoroughly challenges all my presuppositions and sensibilities. All that being said…the reason I actually embrace Jesus is only because he embraces me).

Ezekiel 12-13 – Blind and Deaf Leaders

12:1-2 – The key to the following prophecies in Ezekiel is found in these two verses. “They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people” (see Isaiah 6:9; 43:8; Jeremiah 5:12; and the same thing stated concerning idols in Psalm 115:57). According to this passage, why can’t Israel see or hear?

12:3-7 – A living sermon “as they watch” – pack an exile bag in the daylight, dig a hole in the wall in the evening, and carry out the belongings with covered face at dawn. What does it all mean? Did they understand what Ezekiel was doing? What might an exile’s bag contain? How is Ezekiel a “sign to the house of Israel”? How does this relate to verse 2? Note that Ezekiel did exactly as he was commanded.

12:8-14 – In the morning Ezekiel is to explain the living sermon of the previous day. Who is the “prince in Jerusalem”? Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:18-25:7; 2 Chronicles 36:11-14; Jeremiah 52:1-11) is the “prince” as a semi-derogatory title (rather than “king”). He was the last king of Judah and was rebellious against the LORD and Nebuchadnezzar. He fled Jerusalem when it fell to the Babylonians, but was captured and given a trial where he was punished by slaughtering his sons in front of him and then gouging out his eyes. There is a possible slight allusion to the blinding of Zedekiah by the references to not seeing the land again. The “prince” (as ruler of the people) is also indicative of the people of Judah left in Jerusalem. Who carried out the judgment of the “prince”?

12:15-16 – “They will know that I am the LORD” once the LORD scattered and dispersed Israel among the nations and preserved the remnant for Himself.

12:17-20 – Why did Ezekiel have to eat with trembling and drink with shuddering? What does this signify? Why would Israel eat and drink in fear? Note that violence against others leads to a final violent judgment of the perpetrators.

12:21-28 – Three issues concerning prophecy: 1) All prophecy should not be rejected, 2) it must not be falsely given, and 3) it must be done with the certainty that it is the word of the LORD. The way of removing false prophecy from Israel was to remove the false prophets themselves from Israel. “Flattering (or slippery) divinations” were manipulative and not simply an attempt to discern the will of the LORD (see Block NICOT 390 and 390fn31-32). Is the LORD slow in keeping his promises? (see 2 Peter 3:3-10)

13:1-9 – What does it mean for the LORD to say there were some who “prophecy out of their own imagination”? Does this still go on today? How is this contrasted with the word of the LORD? In what ways are false prophets “like jackals among ruins” (cf. Nehemiah 4:3; Lamentations 5:18)? They don’t repair the breaks in the walls or defend against the enemy, but instead they live only for themselves and prey on the weak and use the breaks for their own advantage. Is “divination” always wrong? What would be the difference between divining the will of God and lying divination? Is there a difference? Does using the LORD’s name give absolute assurance that what we say or pray will be done? What does it mean to not belong to the council of God’s people or not be “listed in the records of the house of Israel”? “The records of the house of Israel” seems to refer to the official records of those who would survive to return to Israel (Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64; see also the books which the LORD keeps in Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Revelation 3:5; 20:12; 21:27). Ezekiel was sent to Israel so they would “know that a prophet had bee among them” (Eze.2:5). Where the LORD declares that His “hand will be against them” there is an allusion to inspiration in order to subtly express that “those who never felt the reality of the divine hand in inspiration will now feel it in judgment” (Duguid NIVAC 173fn11).

13:10-16 – What does it mean to be white-washed flimsy walls? The flimsy wall will be exposed and destroyed and the white-wash shown to have been worse than worthless since it was used to simply cover up what should have been repaired as if everything was alright. How is this related to those who were prophesying “peace”? (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:3)

13:17-23 – Who are “the daughters of your people”? They were false prophetesses who used magic to control and manipulate. Magic charms were worn on their wrists and (magic?) veils on their heads (or around their necks). These seem to refer to something like a phylactery that functioned as a talisman or charm. Why did they practice their magic? What does the LORD accuse them of doing? They “disheartened the righteous” and “encouraged the wicked”. The false prophet/esses had ensnared the LORD’s people, but the LORD would deliver “his people” and ensure and destroy the false prophet/esses.