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A Witness that Yahweh is God: Joshua 22

   This is the third post in a multi-post series on the 7 Memorials found in the Book of Joshua. See part 1 and  part 2 . Have you ever seen a monument built not as a reminder for the people who built it, but as a reminder for someone else ? Some of the tribes of Israel decided to build an altar as a witness to God and to the other tribes of Israel in Joshua 22. It was a memorial to hold another group accountable. Yet, a major misunderstanding arose between the two groups of tribes, almost inciting a war based on accusations that the other was wrong about the worship of God. Joshua 22 is difficult to understand because of many cultural nuances lost to us today. The passage is not presented in the actual historical order, but is presented in the progression of thought. It is highly ironic in that each group desires faithfulness to God but perceives the other as theologically erroneous. The text does not critique one or the other but presents a simple lesson–we should not put barriers i

Achan's Sin at Achor: Joshua 7

This is the second post in a multi-post series on the 7 Memorials found in the Book of Joshua. See part 1  and part 3 . Could you imagine having a place named after you? Wouldn’t it be a great honor? When we think of a place being named after someone, we typically think of a person who was worth remembering in a positive way.  But what if a place was named after you as a warning, a cautionary message not to repeat your mistakes? Wouldn’t that be humiliating for your legacy? That’s exactly what happened to a man called “Achan”. His personal sin brought God’s anger against all of Israel and a whole valley was named after him. But what about his sin was worth remembering? After having crossed the River Jordan and defeating the city of Jericho, Israel was beginning to inherit God’s promised land, piece-by-piece. When they attack nearby Ai and its small militia, Israel is shockingly defeated. Israel experiences the same fear that Jericho (Joshua 2:11) and the Canaanites (5:1)  have experie

12 Stones at the Jordan River – A Miracle to Remember (Joshua 3-4)

 This is the first post in a multi-post series on the 7 Memorials found in the Book of Joshua. See part 2 . The two spies had just returned from scouting out the city of Jericho with promising news–according to Rahab, who secretly professed faith in Yahweh, the people of Jericho were deeply afraid (their “hearts melted”) because of Israel (Joshua 2:9-11). With confidence from this report and at God’s direction, it was now time for Israel to move into their promised land.  But to do this, they would have to cross the Jordan River. In a miracle reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea, the Lord stops the flow of the Jordan River and allows the Israelites to cross it on dry ground. When the team of priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the river’s overflowing waters, the river dried and the Israelites crossed the river about a half-mile away (2,000 cubits) from the Ark. The power of this narrative is not simply the miracle of stopping water demonstrating God’s power. The

A Tricky Heart: Jeremiah 17:9-10

 Our (western) culture loves to talk about the heart. We repeat the saying “follow your heart” and use the heart as a symbol of romantic love. While the heart pervades society as an image of bliss and goodness, the Bible paints a much bleaker picture of the heart, “The heart is more deceitful than anything and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, Yahweh, search the heart and examine the mind [lit: kidneys] And give to each person according to their ways, according to the fruit of their deeds.”  This infamous saying from Jeremiah 17:9-10 is found in an oracle of Jeremiah speaking the words of Yahweh. The context of the Book of Jeremiah makes it likely this verse is referring to the idolatrous syncretism the Judahites practiced—while they worshiped the idols of Ba’al and Asherah (17:1-2), they believed that this was compatible with worshiping Yahweh. Consulting several commentaries confirmed my hunch, Jeremiah 17:1-10 is a collection of wise sayings and not necessarily a cohesi

A Prayer about Praying: 1 Kings 8:23-52

Have you ever waited for a dream you longed to come true? It may’ve been something you prayed about for years or worked hard on for decades. When the day finally comes (if God blesses it), how would you react? Solomon experienced something similar—his father David had a dream about building a temple for the Lord before he was even born. When Solomon took on and completed his father’s dream at great expense, he was overwhelmingly grateful to God. Only God enabled him to build the temple and only God could make the building worthy of his name. So Solomon prays a dedication prayer in 1 Kings 8:22-53 (2 Chr 6:14-40), surrounded by several other prayers and even God’s direct response to Solomon. While Solomon is dedicating the temple, his prayer is really about affirming and asking God to be faithful to prayer requests—its a prayer about praying. A Call to Hear Past Promises Kept Currently “Yahweh, God of Israel, there is not a god like you in the heavens from above and upon the earth from

Psalm 103: Limitless Mercy for Fragile Humans

 Psalm 103 (and its twin 104) contain the famous call to “bless Yahweh, O my soul.” It clearly presents a theology of God’s grace and mercy, well before the Christ came to atone for our sin. The descriptive imagery surrounding God’s limitless mercy and the fragility of the human condition act as the backdrop for the famous self-directed call to worship God. They present a powerful case for why we should keep God’s love for us always on our hearts.   Bless the Blesser Psalm 103 begins and ends with a self-invocation to “bless Yahweh my soul”, one of the most famous lines from this psalm. This establishes from the beginning that the poem is chiefly about God. As the psalmist rouses himself (and the congregation reading the psalm) to bless Yahweh twice, he also “commands” himself not to forget God’s benefits. God is to be blessed because he blesses. Then the psalm turns to a list of ways that God benefits his people: forgiveness of sin, healing diseases, protection from destruction, besto

Daniel's Powerful Prayer: Daniel 9

 Daniel prayed one of the most powerful prayers in the whole Bible. This prayer was so meaningful that he not only received an immediate response from God, God sent an angel with a vision ! Daniel’s deep concern for his people, the realization of their sin, and reverence for God’s reputation incited him to utter the heartfelt prayer we find in Daniel 9.  “ While I was speaking, praying, confessing my sin and that of my people Israel, and presenting my petition before Yahweh my God concerning his holy mountain, while I was still praying , Gabriel . . . came to me. . . 'at the beginning of your petitions, an answer went out, and I have come to tell you for you are highly precious. So consider the message and understand the vision.' ” – 9:20-23 We see in Daniel’s prayer an almost paradoxical situation—he prays that God would fulfill a promise for his own sake, almost as if Daniel was unsure if his people’s sin would invalidate God’s promise. In this prayer we find humble confes

The Twelve Curses: Deuteronomy 27:15-26

 Everyone has heard of the Ten Commandments but have you ever heard of the “Twelve Curses?” Throughout the Bible, we see lists of the good we ought to do (like the fruit of the spirit, the beatitudes, various blessings, etc.) and sins that God abhors (woes against the Pharisees, seven abominations, etc). In the closing portions of Deuteronomy, we find a list of twelve curses that have many similarities to the Ten Commandments. These specific curses were given to the Israelites alongside a lengthy description of punishments for breaking God’s law. While they function similarly to the Ten Commandments, they serve as an indictment against sinful behavior; warning what will happen if wrong is committed.  This curse tablet was discovered on Mount Ebal, the same mountain where the Israelites pronounced curses. Its discovery was announced in 2023, with research findings published in May of 2023. The Curses Idolatry “Cursed is the man who makes a carved idol or molten image—an abomination to Y

His Bride and His Body for Himself: Ephesians 5:21–33

 One of the most famous and powerful descriptions of the church is as the bride of Christ. This popular image comes from Ephesians 5 and is alluded to throughout Scripture (a fascinating book on this topic is God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery ). In this section of Ephesians, beginning in verse 21 (or verse 15, or perhaps verse 1, or even 4:25), Paul writes on submission in human relationships — while there are distinct individuals in every relationship described (marriage, slavery, families), they are to love the other person as if they were the same person. Here he talks about the relationship between husband and his wife, but he is primarily talking about Jesus and the church, “This mystery [marriage] is great, however, I speak to Christ and to the church.” – Ephesians 5:32 Head of His Body   “ …Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ…”  – 23-24a ESV  Here the image of a “head” is not th

The Church's Collective Purpose: Oneness with Jesus, Ephesians 4:11-16

What is the purpose of our lives, together as the entire church? Yes, we are to “love God and people” (Matt 22:37-39) and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), but these are commands for Christians, not purpose statements. These are the actions by which we live out our purpose on earth but are not the same as our eternal purpose in itself (directly). The end goal of all Christians is to be “one with God”, or to have “union with Christ.” This is a major motif throughout Paul’s writing and is made the “clearest” in Ephesians. While reading the whole of Ephesians is the best way to grasp God’s vision of “oneness” with him, Ephesians 4:11-16 is one of the clearest passages on this as applied to the church, "[Jesus gave] [church leaders] towards the fitness of the saints for the work of ministry for the building of the body of Christ, until we all may arrive at unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God, into mature manhood [and] to the measure of the statu

Do Some Have Better Spiritual Gifts?

Does it ever feel like people you know are more “spiritual” than you are? Like they have more opportunities to influence people for God’s kingdom than you do? Do you ever struggle with the comparison game: “if I had more charisma, I could lead more people to Christ,” or, “why can they understand the Bible so easily and I can’t”, or even “they must be a better Christian than I am, look at all their talents they can serve the church with!” The struggle in comparing ourselves to others is a legitimate one that everyone faces—even the people who appear the “most talented” or “most spiritual” can struggle with this. Does God really bestow better spiritual gifts to some and not others?  The answer is both yes and no. Differing Gifts “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think ; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith . For just as we have many members in one bo