Sunday, August 18, 2019

Faith and Mountains: God's Work

Recently I had the chance to visit Mt. Rainier in the State of Washington, which is one of the largest mountains in the United States. Mt. Rainier was literally the biggest thing I have ever seen in my entire life. It could be seen from long distances away and towered far above everything in its vicinity. The mountain was as tall, wide and thick as the eye could see. The mountain was not only untouchable, but impenetrable and immovable. The qualities of mountains make them ideal symbols for the obstacles of life- oftentimes immovable and towering far above anything else in life. The Bible uses mountains as a symbol for the seemingly mountainous assignments God gives us and of life’s greatest struggles.

 This post will focus on the work that God wants us to do and how we can accomplish this with his help. See this post for the mountains of struggles in our life.

 The people of Judah had finally returned from a long exile in faraway lands. Under the care of the Israelite governor, Zerubbabel, Persia has allowed Judah to return home and administer their own province, Judea. One of the most important assignments for Zerubbabel is to rebuild the temple that was destroyed by Babylon during the invasion of Jerusalem (589 BC). The prophet Zechariah has a vision concerning Zerubbabel’s mountainous task of rebuilding the temple. In this vision, an angel shows Zechariah a lamp stand, with oil being poured into each of the lips; surrounded by two olive trees.
A lamp-stand similar to the one Zechariah would have seen in his vision.  
Zechariah does not understand what these mean so he asks the angel:
“ ‘What are these, my lord?’, ‘Do you not know what these are?’, ‘No, my lord’ " - Zech 4:4-5 ESV
So the angel tells Zechariah exactly what God is trying to teach him through the imagery of the lampstand and trees:
"This is the word of Yahweh to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says Yahweh of Hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of 'Grace, grace to it!" ...The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it... For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice and [see] the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel"- Zech 4:6-10a
For Zerubbabel, rebuilding the temple was a mountainous assignment- let alone rebuilding it to match the splendor of the original. Not only would a new temple require logistical and material resources, but the temple was to be a symbol of the national pride of Israel- the splendor and glory of God himself. Zerrubabel only had limited resources that had to be spread across numerous amounts of construction projects needed to just barely restore Israel to minimal glory, he didn’t have the resources Solomon had when building his temple. God wanted Zerrubabel to rebuild this temple, but the assignment was a mountain- towering far above everything else and seemingly impossible to perform. Through the symbolism of a lampstand (representing God’s power and presence- Zech 4:10), God’s message to Zerubbabel was clear:
“Not by might, nor by power, but my spirit ...What are you o great mountain? Before [you] it shall become a plain”- Zech 4:6-7
It was not through well planned budgeting and skillfully negotiated supply contracts that this next temple would be built. In fact, upon completion of the temple there would be great rejoicing (Zech 4:7b, 9-10). Somehow, through God’s power the second temple, though not as majestic would not only be completed, but as great as (if not greater than) the first temple. Yes, Zerubbabel still had to plan money and spend countless hours to ensure the temple was built; but he knew God was fully able to allow the goals’ completion. The key is that it was not Zerrubabel’s work that completed the temple, but by God’s provision Zerubbabel was able to complete the task God had given him.

 Is there a mountain in your life God wants you to overcome? What is that one thing God wants you to do that seems so difficult and so impossible? By depending fully on God’s power, you can have mountain moving faith, where the seemingly impossible becomes possible. If you just wait for God to move the mountain for you, are you really having faith? Go, do what God has told you to do and he will move the mountain for you. Maybe it won’t meet your expectations, but God will make it for his glory, even if it is “a day of small things”.
“...if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there', and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”- Jesus (Matt 17:20)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Word for Word: Episode 53

יֹ֥ום הַשִּׁשִּֽׁי
The sixth day
The sixth day was for the "world" of mankind. The animals were there as companions and the plants were for food. The deep waters of the sea were a mystery left for modern explorers to uncover.
The word שִּׁשִּֽׁי (shishshiy sixth) comes from the cardinal number שֵׁשׁ (shesh six), which in turn comes from the verb שׂוּשׂ (süs) which means "to rejoice". It seems that since the hand has five fingers, one of the most primitive numbers indicated abundance. This aligns with the message of the last creation day.
The words new to the reader follow:
[behemah] בְּהֵמָה , livestock, cattle.
[adam] אָדָ֛ם , man, mankind, Adam
[tselem] צֶלֶם , image, likeness
[dem·üth] דְּמוּת , likeness, similitude; from דָּמָה , to be like, similar
[zä·kär] זָכָר , male; from the verb זָכַר (zä·kar), to remember
[nĕqebah] נְקֵבָה , female; from נָקַב (naqab), to designate, appoint
[kabash] כָּבַשׁ ,to subject, subdue
['oklah] אָכְלָה , food; from אָכַל ('akal), to eat, consume
[m@`od] מְאֹד , mighty, mightily, greatly, very
[shishshiyשִׁשִּׁ sixth, from שֵׁש (shesh), six

Saturday, July 6, 2019

In One Sitting: Hosea

Recently I decided to do something special- read certain books of the Bible "In One Sitting" and write blogposts about them, sharing what someone can glean when they take a book of the Bible as a whole, rather than segmented like we normally do. Modern chapters, verses and headings are mean't to act as reference aids, but we use them as artificial dividers in the text, where they often don't belong. This wasn't a concept that was brand new to me, but in order to read some books with the focus and dedication they need, I needed to set aside a special and concentrated time to read and meditate.
This past weekend I did the Book of Hosea- which took me a little less than an hour to read in one sitting. Here are my thoughts on the book, after reading it all at once- no interruption. Comment below your own thoughts- I would encourage you to do for the Book of Hosea, or even another book- we may feature your thoughts by allowing you to guest blog. See what God will do. You can do this by ignoring chapters in your Bible, or even use a reader's Bible, which strips away everything but the biblical text.  

The Message

People of faith can turn to other things, material goods, people, experiences or even sin outright- thinking that will it satisfy their desires. When people commit "spiritual adultery", God will allow them to remain in sin for a time to suffer their own consequences. God desires to bring them back into a faith relationship with him, but allows them to undergo a period of testing so that they may realize the fleeting nature of their sin and have a genuine heart transformation towards satisfaction in God. Then God fully accepts them back, the relationship with God is even closer and people realize only God can truly provide sustenance. 

In the Book of Hosea, God lays out all of the sins Israel and Judah. Both of these nations have committed spiritual adultery, both by relying on the power of foreign alliances with Assyria and Egypt as protection and reassurance, not the provision of Yahweh. Additionally, Israel prostituted itself to worship of the Ba'als and their idols. After allowing the Israelites (both nations) to remain under exile in the future, a remnant will return to their homeland and back to the relationship with God they once had.
God demonstrates the current relationship trajectory with his people and his future plans to restore the relationship through the prophet Hosea. Not only does Hosea reveal the charges against Israel, God asks him to depict Israel's relationship with him through his own life. Hosea is asked to marry and then remain faithful to an adulterous woman. She has several (likely illegitimate) children, all with symbolic names to describe what will happen to Israel and how Israel will be restored. Then after her adultery, Hosea repurchases his wife, remaining separate from her from a time until she is ready to come back to him with a dedicated heart. This narrative from Hosea's life is not actually the main point of Hosea, like its often made out to be; while a very real event from Hosea's life, it is primarily symbolic and teaches spiritual truths. This was common occurrence in the life of a prophet- not only would they preach God's word, he would alter their lives to symbolically portray Israel's fate (like in the lives of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc) . 

What Stuck Out

Distance For A Time

"...You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so I will also be to you. For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return ..... they shall come to fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days"- Hos 3:3-5
One of the major themes of Hosea is God's redemption through separation and distancing himself. Yes, you read me correctly. Hosea makes it clear that one way God brings people back to himself is allowing them to dwell in their sin for a time. Paul follows this model when he tells Corinthian believers to allow an incestuous man to be "handed to Satan" (1 Cor 5:5). When God tells Hosea to reunite with Gomer after infidelity, Hosea is not "united" with her (whether that be domestically, sexually or both) for some time until she becomes fully dedicated to him. In the same way, God sends Israel into exile for some time and brings them back after they become fully dedicated to him.

Wisdom of Righteousness

Another theme I noticed, reading Hoses as one cohesive book is the wisdom of right living. 
"Whoever is wise, let them understand these things, whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of Yahweh are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them"- Hos 14:9
The book ends with the above quote, indicating that this is a major theme of Hosea. Many places throughout the book's poetry references how most people are too foolish to realize the worthlessness of their sin. Therefore, those who recognize that sin is unsatisfying are in the minority and are very wise. Only the wise will understand that God provides true satisfaction. Most people in the world do not know God, so by the standard of the text, most people are "fools". Most people without God may be "fine" without him, but only those who know him get a blessing that most will not get in this life.

Other Reflections

While I have a greater understanding of Hosea reading it altogether, I also experienced the inverse effect- I realized just how little I understand the book, even after reading it all at once. So much of the book is repeating the same message over and over again in poetic language in a format that the original readers would have understood. Much of the book talks about specific cities and refers to things that "happened" at those places. Many of the referenced events are lost to us or at best a guess. Therefore, so much of the content is difficult for us to understand and may not be possible for us to understand with our available information. One can only pray for those on the front-lines of biblical research and for God's revelation of the intricacies of Hosea.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Word for Word: Episode 52

וְהִנֵּה־טֹ֖וב מְאֹ֑ד

And behold--Very good

Having surveyed everything on earth, the Creator was satisfied with the work He had done. The inspired penman emphatically (הִנֵּה hinneh "behold") states that things went extremely well (מְאֹ֑ד m@`od "exceedingly" + טֹ֖וב towb "good").

The word הִנֵּה (behold) first appeared in verse 29. It is from the root  הֵן (hen) which appears in combination with prepositions or the article as the third person plural "they, those". Different vowel sounds changes hennah to hinneh, that is, from "those" to "those!".

Much has been written about "very good", but the word translated "very" (מְאֹ֑ד) has its roots in the word אוּד ('ood), a rake or poker for maximizing the heat of embers. With this in mind, m'a°d (my attempt at transliteration) runs the gambit of meanings, from "very" (137×) to "mightily" (2×). The idea carries with it strength or force.

The conclusion of the matter is that everything God made pleased Him greatly. Everything was working the way it was supposed to. Living beings had the gift of breath and nutrition from living plants, inside a protective atmosphere that received abundant energy from the sun.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Word for Word: Episode 51

לָכֶ֥ם יִֽהְיֶ֖ה לְאָכְלָֽה
To you it shall be for food
As the description of the sixth day concludes, God's providence is in the forefront. The word אָכְלָה (ok·lä') is the general word for food. It from the word אָכַל (ä·kal) which means "to eat, devour, burn up, feed".
The work is the third day is shown to be essential for the survival of the animate creatures of the fifth and sixth days. There were three classes of plants: the sprouts, the seed bearers and the fruit trees. The latter two are designated for humanity, while the first is for the the animals.
In common terms, this can be understood as seeds (grain, nuts and berries) and fruits (including vegetables) were for people, while grass and greens were for animals.