Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Duplicated Bible Chapters—follow-up

Biblegems #172
Question: A Bible Gems reader asked this question from Bible Gems #105, Duplicated Bible Chapters:  “There are duplications where the authors were more than a hundred years apart. Since they couldn't be eye witnesses what does it mean??”

The original question had to do specifically with the duplication of entire chapters of Scripture, so I am assuming the follow-up question still has duplicated Bible chapters in view. Here are some examples of duplicated Bible chapters, or large chapter portions:
         Psalms 14 & Psalm 53
         2 Kings 19 & Isaiah 37
         2 Kings 18:13-20:11 & Isaiah 36:1-38:8
2 Kings 24:18-25:30 & Jeremiah 52
Psalm 40:13-17 & Psalm 70
Psalm 57:7-11 & Psalm 60:5-12 & Psalm 108

As was mentioned in Duplicated Bible Chapters, part 1, Kings and Chronicles contain material common to both books. These, along with 1 & 2 Samuel, are books that cover hundreds of years of Israelite history. And even though 1 & 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible, as were the books of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles, they were not each written by one human author. Rather, they contain the records of kings, scribes, prophets and court officials.

These records were then compiled by men led by the Holy Spirit to show the spiritual meaning behind historical events.
         2Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

The books of Samuel reveal what happens when God’s people trust their own judgment instead of God’s in the choice of a leader. Kings and Chronicles, each through a unique perspective, show how God blesses godly and obedient nations and their leaders, punishing the disobedient, as He exercises ultimate control over the flow of history to His predetermined conclusion.

It should be no surprise that the human authors of these books would draw on some of the same reliable historical records, even duplicating them, especially when reporting events taking place long past. Such duplication demonstrates that the author is not making things up as he goes along.

A good example of this is where the prophet Jeremiah describes how the reign of king Zedekiah was the primary cause behind the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 587-586 B.C. (Jeremiah 52). In fact, Jeremiah himself had even described this once before (Jeremiah 39:1-14), like a preacher re-using information from a previous sermon. This same material is found twice more in the Bible (2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21).

The book of Kings was completed very near the same time as Jeremiah. Chronicles, however, was completed much later, perhaps around 400 B.C.—almost two hundred years later. The author of Chronicles (Ezra?) was not an eyewitness of the events leading to Jerusalem’s destruction. But he did have the reliable accounts of Jeremiah (an eyewitness) and the complimentary record in the book of Kings to draw upon as his sources. This shows how committed he was to giving an accurate account.

You can trust the Bible to be historically accurate. God is not afraid of being proved wrong. God’s revelation to humanity through the inspired Word is based in the real world of historically and scientifically verifiable events.

         Ps. 119:89  Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bread On The Waters

Biblegems #171
Question: What is the meaning of this verse: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” (Eccl. 11:1)? All I picture is soggy bread!

The phrase “cast your bread upon the waters” is clearly a figure of speech in Hebrew that was readily understood by the people of Solomon’s time when this was written.  Like most figures of speech, it has its origins in a practice that was once very common.

There was a farming practice in ancient Egypt where rice would be sown on the wet banks of the Nile River following the flooding season. The watery ground created natural rice paddies, carrying the seed into the rich, moist soil as the waters receded. “After many days” the rice would grow, reach maturity and be harvested for food.

This practice of sowing seed on the waters seems to have been carried over into the farming practices of Israel along the shores of flooding rivers. The Israelite farmer would take some of the corn that could be ground into flour for bread for the family and instead use it as seed. He would scatter it on the flooding shores of the river during planting season, knowing the seed would take root along the river banks as the water receded and become a harvest of fresh corn “after many days.” Isaiah refers to this custom as a foreshadowing of the abundant harvests God’s people will enjoy during the millennial kingdom:
         Is. 32:20how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

Jewish interpreters have traditionally understood this verse as teaching the wisdom of doing good to others even to the point of personal sacrifice, knowing that good deeds will eventually be rewarded. This makes sense in light of the sacrifice the farmer had to make in taking corn that could be used immediately for making bread to feed the family and ‘casting it upon the waters’ in hopes of a later harvest.

This is also very consistent with biblical teaching as a whole. As Paul would later write:
         Gal. 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

“Cast your bread upon the waters” therefore refers to “bread-corn” and has to do with using some of that as seed to ensure a future harvest. Ecclesiastes 11:1 is about hope for good in the future based upon our preparations for it here and now (see Ecc. 11:6). It is about sacrificing immediate gain for the prospect of a richer harvest to come. And that is a biblical principle that applies to every area of life. It is about giving—not for the sake of receiving, but with the understanding that the one who gives also receives. As Jesus said:

         Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Sealed" On The Forehead

Biblegems #170
Question: The “seal” put on foreheads in Revelation 7:3: What is it, who puts it on, who gets it, and when does it happen?

Revelation 7:3 (NIV) reads: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”

The one giving this instruction is an angel who has with him “the seal of the living God” (Rev. 7:2). He addresses a group of four other angels who have been given control over earth’s winds. God's command to these 5 angels is clear and specific: They are not to begin pouring out His Wrath (i.e., the Trumpets and Bowls [cf. Rev. 8:7-11; 15:7-17:24]) until they put a seal on the forehead of God's servants.

What is the seal? It is the name of the Lamb of God, and of God the Father, written upon the forehead. It signifies that those who are sealed are protected from the wrath of God that is about to be poured out upon the Antichrist and upon the whole earth (Rev. 9:4; 14:1; 16:2). To describe it as being upon their foreheads may be symbolic. However, it may also mean that those who stand for Jesus and against the Antichrist in that day intentionally write the name of Jesus upon their foreheads in direct opposition to those who wear the mark of the Beast (Rev. 13:16). Either way, they are eternally identified as belonging to Jesus, the Lamb of God (Rev. 20:4; 22:4).

So who are these who are given this seal in the End Times? They are Jews, the 12 tribes of Israel represented by the 144,000 (Rev. 7:4-8), who are also followers of Jesus, the Lamb of God:
         Rev. 14:1 Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.
They are Redeemed Jews:
Rev. 14:3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.

These Jews are sexually pure followers of Jesus. The reign of the Antichrist is identified with an XXX rated culture (Rev. 17:1-2, 5), a culture in which maintaining sexual purity will be extremely difficult.
          Rev. 14:4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.

These Jewish believers are the “firstfruits” of the Lamb (14:4), the advance wave of a vast number of other Jews who will become believers in Jesus when the Messiah is revealed from heaven at His coming in glory (Rev. 1:7). They are “sealed” after the sixth seal of the scroll is opened (i.e., after the Great Tribulation) and just before the Day of the Lord, the outpouring of God’s Wrath (Rev. 8:5-18:24) and the appearing of Jesus Christ in the sky (Rev. 19:12-21).

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Of Jots And Tittles

Biblegems #169
Question: In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus said, “one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law,” yet in Mark He declared all foods clean, which apparently changes the Law of Moses about clean and unclean foods. I’m confused.

Here is Jesus’ teaching about not changing the Law:
Matt. 5:18 (KJV) For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

And here is Jesus’ teaching about clean and unclean foods:
Mark 7:14-15, 19 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’’” …For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)

The point of Law in question comes from Leviticus. Here is a good example:
         Lev. 11:26 Every animal that has a split hoof not completely divided or that does not chew the cud is unclean for you; whoever touches [the carcass of] any of them will be unclean.

The “jot” is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The “tittle” refers to the little marks on one letter to distinguish it from a similar letter—like the crossing of the letter “t” or the little tail on the letter “Q”. Without these marks the “t” could look like an “I” or the “Q” like an “O”. So in effect, Jesus was saying the Law of God given in the Bible is unchangeable in even the smallest degree.

Did He contradict Himself in Mark 7:19?

No. Jesus taught His followers to understand that the purpose and intent of God’s Law in this matter was to train His people to distinguish between clean and unclean in every area of life. It wasn’t about what was ritually clean or unclean; it was about the heart. God wants a people with clean hearts.

In Mark 7:19 Jesus aims us toward God’s purpose, His will in the written Law. One can fulfill the letter of the Law by staying away from spiritually unclean food yet at the same time have an impure heart. Food neither makes a person clean or unclean in God’s eyes.

The Law demonstrates that no one is able to live the way God wants us to all the time:
         Rom. 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Jesus came to set us free from the Law. He accomplished this by 1) obeying the Law perfectly as a representative of the human race, (2) by substituting Himself for us in facing death as the consequence for sin, and (3) by giving us the power through His Spirit to keep the Law that is now written upon our hearts:
         Gal. 3:24-25 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.