All Over the Place

By | February 13, 2017

In thinking about for my work this week, it strikes me that I have a lot of variety.

Genesis – I’m lecturing on chapters 9–13 in my Genesis course.

Numbers – this week in Sunday School I’ll be teaching chapter 17.

Job and Ecclesiastes – I’ll be teaching these two books in OT Survey (about 1.5 hours each). I’m also writing a syllabus for a directed studies course on Ecclesiastes.

Ephesians and Philippians – each of these books gets 1.5 hours from me in NT Survey.

Revelation – today I’m preparing the second half of a chapel sermon on Revelation 1–3.

In the “empty spaces,” I’m processing my photos from Turkey and Greece, which has me thinking about Acts, Paul’s travels, and Revelation.

My most pressing burden is to complete a photo project on the Gospels. I probably will do little on this week besides advise and direct some co-workers.

And lest the historical books (Samuel-Kings-Chronicles) feel neglected, I’m signing a contract this week to co-author a textbook on the history of ancient Israel.

Everything has to be prepared, to one degree or another. At the bottom end, Job and Ecclesiastes gets about one hour of prep, and at the top, Numbers will get about 5.

So for those who wonder why I know so little about so much, I now have a better answer.

Two Treacherous Generations and God’s Response

By | January 30, 2017

Yesterday I taught Numbers 14 in which the Israelites rebel against the Lord and lose the kingdom. I want to go beyond Moses’s day now and identify an important parallel that may provide some clarity in thinking about Jesus’s ministry.

To refresh on Numbers 14, the Israelites listened to their leadership (ten spies) in refusing to believe God’s promises and enter Canaan to receive their inheritance. Consequently the Lord sentenced the treacherous generation to death, delaying the kingdom entrance until a faithful generation arose.

When Jesus came, the Israelites listened to their leadership in rejecting Jesus as their king (Matt 27:20). Accordingly the Lord sentenced the treacherous generation to death, delaying the establishment of the kingdom until a future generation arose that would welcome the Messiah (Matt 23:36-39; cf. 21:43; 24:30; 25:34).

With neither the wilderness generation nor with Jesus’s generation did the Lord revoke his promises, annihilate the nation, or transfer the land to the Moabites. But in both cases there was a delay until the old generation had died off and a new generation responded in faith.

In Joshua’s day, the people marched forward across the Jordan, trusting the Lord to do what he promised. In the future, the people will look on him whom they have pierced and repent of their sin (Zech 12:10-13:1; Rom 11:25-32). The Messiah once spurned will be the Messiah embraced.

I would submit, then, that an overlooked verse that supports the so-called “dispensational” view of Israel’s future hope is Numbers 14:18:

The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.

The notion of a kingdom delay that seems so hard for many to accept today is actually a tried and true way that the Lord both keeps his promises but avoids fulfilling them to those who despise him.

Thus the writer of Hebrews explained to his Jewish audience that the promised land/kingdom awaited. From chapter 4:

Since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

It still remains that some will enter that rest.

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall [in the wilderness!] by following their example of obedience.

While we await Jesus’s return, we (and moreso the Jewish people!) are in the wilderness. Those who turn away from Jesus will die in the wilderness without receiving the inheritance. But the hope of entering the rest of the Messiah’s kingdom on earth still stands for those who persevere in faith.

Some years ago I wrote a bit about how the notion of “delay” fits in with the book of Acts and the church (pdf).

Yosemite

By | October 23, 2016

I haven’t done this in a few years, but it’s a little less intimidating to write up a weekend trip than a weeks-long summer vacation. Friends in our Sunday School class invited us to stay at their place near Yosemite last weekend, and we were able to make it an extended three-day trip because Monday was a “reading day” at the college.

We spent Saturday and Sunday visiting Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley, though because it rained all day on Sunday, I left my camera in the car that day. This was our family’s first trip to Yosemite Valley, aside from a visit I made as a child.

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The view from Glacier Point is popular, for good reason. We changed our plans at the last minute to visit on Saturday morning, and that turned out to be a great decision as clouds soon came in and we wouldn’t have had a good view any other time. The big rock in the distance is the famous Half Dome.

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The major impression that I will always have from this trip is the beautiful fall colors. We enjoyed this even when it was raining on Sunday and couldn’t take photos.

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Here we have a beautiful family in a beautiful place. Thank God.

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Before we headed back on Monday, our friend took us out for a drive in his 1915 Model T. He taught all of the kids to drive it.

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Yes, all of the kids. I am still shaking my head over this one. Our six-year-old had to keep his foot on the floor to keep the car in (low) gear and he controlled the gas with his right hand (with a lever similar to today’s turn signal). Because we had 8 people in the Model T, a few had to ride on the running boards, and that proved helpful on a few occasions when Mark was able to guide the steering wheel.

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I was able to drive the car as well, and it wasn’t as easy as I expected it would be after watching my kids drive it. We are very thankful to our friends for making our weekend so special.

On our drives, we listened to an audiobook recommended by another friend in our Sunday School class. We would all recommend Bud, Not Buddy to your family as well. (Amazon lists it as ages 8-12, but I would say it’s 8-88.)

What Am I Doing?

By | October 7, 2016

One thing that I’m not doing is blogging here. I wish I were. I have some interesting ideas from time to time that I would love to get down in writing. But I have a few minutes on a Friday evening and I thought I might provide a snapshot of what’s going on that might interest some of any remaining readers.

Teaching. My primary work is in the classroom. This takes about 43 hours of my week, as I spend significant time preparing and grading for four classes. This semester I am teaching two sections of Old Testament Survey I, with a total of 135 students. While I’ve taught this for the past three years, I feel that there is much to improve and I take a little time each week to tweak the notes and powerpoints. Since most of these students are freshmen, I apply a little extra effort to help them make the transition to college, especially through rejecting weekly papers that are wrinkled, unstapled, or improperly formatted.

I am teaching New Testament Survey I (Gospels and Acts) for the first time in three years and I am loving it. But I did such a poor job the first time around that I am doing a major overhaul of the lectures. My fourth class is an upper-division Bible elective on the Psalms. This is my smallest course with 36 students, but it receives more attention than my other three classes combined. I have especially loved preparing for (and teaching) Psalms 16, 22, and 45. I am looking forward to teaching 69, 72, 80, and 110.

Photo Companion to the Bible. In theory, this receives more time than all other items on this list after teaching. For the last two years, I’ve been working with a terrific team in developing a verse-by-verse photo guide to the Bible. I am very excited about how useful and accessible this will be for Bible teachers and students. I am hoping to release the Gospels in a few months. But I’ve been saying that for a year now. The problem is that we keep creating and discovering new great content. Last week we were refining a possible reconstruction of the sign on the cross, with the help of an expert creator of ancient fonts. This week we’re working on some new coin photos. I think if I had four weeks to do nothing else, I could get version 1.0 out the door.

Turkey/Greece Trip. For many years I picked up groups at the airport in Israel and toured them around, largely unmindful of the work required to organize and prepare these groups in the States. Now I am getting a taste of that as I prepare to lead a TMU group to biblical sites for 17 days in late December and early January. A number of elements have me very excited about the trip. As I am able, I hope to spend some significant time reading and studying about the sites we’ll be visiting. Some of that will count towards my goal of reading 50 books this year.

Sunday School. For two and a half years now, I have co-taught an adult Sunday School class. We began with Genesis 1 and this weekend we are in Numbers 3. We usually study a chapter a week, and I do the preparation whether I teach or not. Though I could gain some precious hours if I didn’t have this commitment, the weekly study is one of the favorite things I do. And now I can truly say that I love Leviticus.

Family. Our family does not hang out every evening for 3-4 hours playing games and watching TV, but we do enjoy both serious and fun times together each week. We’ve been reading through a book series lately, memorizing Psalm 25, and are now preparing for a weekend trip to Yosemite. A few weeks ago I took the boys to the last Dodgers home game with Vin Scully’s farewell. Tomorrow we’ll do some clean-up in the yard.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. I have not been writing a book, playing the piano, watching Cowboys games, or training for a marathon. Perhaps there will be time for those things later. For now I am thankful for some good opportunities to serve others and be blessed through it all.

A Missing Portion of Scripture

By | January 23, 2016

Lately I’ve been reading through the articles at the back of the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. I like “big picture” articles, and I expect a lot from contributors with names like D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, T. D. Alexander, and Moisés Silva. Since some of these writers were also the editors of the Bible, I expect to get a quick sense of the approach of the notes throughout the Bible.

I’ve read articles entitled “The Story of the Bible,” “The Bible and Theology,” “A Biblical-Theological Overview of the Bible,” “Covenant,” “Temple,” “The Kingdom of God,” “The City of God,” and this morning, “The People of God.” They are good, and I would commend them to you. These aren’t articles that “touch on” these subjects, but they are intended to be a concise but definitive word written by scholars who have studied these matters for decades.

The simple point that I want to make here today is the observation of what is missing in these global, whole-Bible surveys about these most important subjects. There is a curious omission throughout these articles of a particular portion of Scripture. You may not see this by doing a reference count, but in terms of the message of these books, it is absent. I wonder if you might guess, particularly if I told you that none of the article writers hold to a dispensational approach. Some of them, in fact, are rather strenuously anti-dispensational. Of all of the contributors to the Bible (100?), only two slipped through who adhere to dispensationalism, one of whom wrote on the very safe book of 2 Kings.

The portion of Scripture that is neglected in these big picture articles is the Prophets. The “Kingdom of God” article, for instance, has one reference to Daniel (2:44) and one chain of references to Isaiah (chapters 2, 9, and 11 in a single parenthetical). There are no references to any other prophetic books. By contrast, there are nine references to Matthew and two to Ephesians. I wouldn’t note this if Job was missing in a discussion on the kingdom, but the most extended discussions in the entire Bible about the kingdom are in Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. And yet they are almost entirely overlooked. This isn’t an issue of references, and I appreciate the strict word limits. The problem is that what these prophets taught at length is ignored because they do not fit the theology of the authors (or editors).

They cannot fairly represent the prophetic books and write that “the coming of the kingdom does not immeidately end all evil” and “God’s kingdom exists wherever people acknowledge him as king.” The article on “People of God” has perhaps a hundred references, but nothing that speaks of the hope of Israel as described in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. The article essentially jumps from the judgment upon Israel to “by choosing 12 apostles, Jesus reconstitutes the people of God . . . no longer identified with a political entity or an ethnic group.” Nothing in the NT says that the nation of Israel has been permanently cast off, but this assumption seems to be justified because “a true Jew is the one who is a Jew ‘inwardly.’”

I say, let the prophets speak. They knew that only Jews of faith were saved. They knew that the Jewish people would reject their Messiah. But they still pressed the point: God would restore his nation to their land under their Messiah forever.

The great loss of the non-dispensational interpretation in its selective use of Scripture is the failure to see the glory that God has promised to bring to himself when he melts the hearts of a stiff-necked nation to worship the King they crucified. This is not an insignificant part of what the Bible is all about and to overlook it is a dishonor to the prophets who spoke and the One they spoke for.

New Taxes and the Bible

By | January 16, 2016

In the debate on Thursday, Marco Rubio expressed concern with Ted Cruz’s proposal for a VAT (value-added tax). The creation of a new tax could ultimately lead to increased taxation, as the old taxes could remain or the new tax rate could be increased. Rubio’s concern is valid, as history shows that governments tend to raise taxes over time.

This history actually goes back a long time. Just after the Israelites came out of Egypt, the Lord required a half-shekel ransom payment for every individual over the age of 20. This was a one-time tax with the revenues to be used in the construction of the tabernacle (Exod 30:11-16). But later on, Jewish religious authorities decided to make this half-shekel payment an annual tax. Its declared purpose was to serve the temple, and Jews from all over the world paid it. When the Romans destroyed the temple in AD 70, the tax didn’t go away, but the funds were re-directed to the treasury of the pagan god Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome. The Jews had to pay this tax for several more centuries.

There is good reason for people to be concerned about the creation of a new tax, however small or infrequent it may be when initiated.

Woe is me

By | October 18, 2015

When Isaiah saw the Holy God of Israel, he cried out, “Woe is me! I am ruined.” The word translated “ruined” is translated elsewhere in Isaiah as “destroyed” (Isa 15:1). It has this same meaning four times in Hosea. Zephaniah speaks of all the merchants who will be “wiped out” (Zeph 1:11). The psalmist speaks of the beasts that “perish” (Ps 49:12, 20). In other words, Isaiah knew that a sinful person like him would be utterly destroyed in the presence of a holy God.

This corresponds with the response of the Israelites when they heard the voice of God at Mount Sinai. They trembled with fear and begged Moses to ask God to speak to him only, for otherwise “we will die” (Exod 20:19; cf. Deut 5:25).

This sense of Isaiah’s response that he would die is not always communicated well in the translations. The venerable King James has “I am undone,” which works but is not a familiar phrase to a modern audience. The NRSV and ESV have “I am lost,” which seems a poor choice. “I am ruined” is a common translation these days (NASB, HCSB, NIV). I like the CEV’s “I am doomed.” But the NET may be the best here: “I am destroyed.” Sadly, however, they blow it on the previous phrase. Whereas the traditional reading is “Woe is me!,” the NET has “Too bad for me!” Yes, it is too bad, but that hardly captures Isaiah’s utter despair.

Summary of Genesis, Part 3

By | May 27, 2015

Here is the third and final part of my attempt to summarize the book. The whole is available in a pdf file here.

Kings: God made man to rule over the earth. God’s intention was to fill the earth with his image-bearers so that his glory would be on display to all of creation. His plans to establish his kingdom on earth were initially thwarted when the human king rebelled against him. God intended to raise up from this rebel a family and a nation that would produce kings (17:6, 16; 35:11). Abraham demonstrated kingly character and success during his life, as did his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Abraham defeated the coalition of Mesopotamian kings (14:15), Isaac was feared by the Philistine king (26:29), and Jacob blessed Pharaoh (47:7). By the close of Genesis, it is revealed that the kingly line would come through the tribe of Judah, a seed of the one willing to give his life for his brothers. That God’s purpose would be fulfilled by a single king is clear from Jacob’s blessing that the scepter would come to one to whom it belongs (49:10). One day Adam’s seed will reverse the curse and rule over the world for the glory of God.

Beginnings: The book of Genesis is appropriately named, for it tells the beginnings of all things under God. This book accounts for the glory of man (made in the image of God), the depravity of man (born to a fallen couple), the hope of man (the defeat of the serpent), and the destiny of man (judgment or life with God on a blessed earth). This book prepares for the nation of Israel with the promises of countless descendants, a land of inheritance, and victory over enemies. The book emphasizes the triumph of God’s grace to repentant sinners and the judgment to those who cross divinely established boundaries, attack his people, and reject his blessing. Those in God’s chosen family are in no less need of his grace, and each elect person demonstrates profound failure that proves that God’s choice is not based on merit. But each one who carries on the promise is ultimately characterized by faith in God and his word. This faith is demonstrated in worship and obedience. The patriarchs thus provide hope for their sinful Israelite descendants who too may enjoy reconciliation with God through faith that keeps the covenant. The book of Genesis prepares the Israelites and the world for the necessity of a substitutionary sacrifice through the death of animals to provide a covering for Adam and Eve, the salvation of Noah’s family who offer animal sacrifices, and the provision of a ram in place of Abraham’s only beloved son. Judah provides the model of a man willing to lay down his life to save his brothers. The Israelites hearing the book of Genesis in Moses’s day know who God is, who they are, and what God’s purposes are for the world. These answers to the ultimate questions of life are still satisfying to the humble, repentant individual today.

In Brief: When God’s creation is marred by man’s rebellion, he chooses a family whose seed will rule over the land and bring great blessing to the world.

Summary of Genesis, Part 2

By | May 25, 2015

Seed: Each creation produces after its own kind. Mankind gives birth to people who are distinct from all other created beings. But with the introduction of sin, man may choose to honor his Creator, thereby acting in the image of God, or man may choose to follow the serpent, thus becoming the serpent’s spiritual seed. God provides hope to Adam and Eve by revealing that one of their seed will crush the serpent. In longing for the fulfillment of this hope, the book of Genesis traces the seed of the righteous line through a series of toledot (family lines). The promised seed will come from Adam, from Seth (not Cain), from Noah, from Shem (not Ham or Japheth), from Abraham, from Isaac (not Ishmael), from Jacob (not Esau), from Judah (not Joseph or his brothers). While the blessing of God promises numerous descendants, only a single individual is expected to crush the head of the serpent (3:15), conquer the land of his enemies (22:17), bless all nations on earth (22:18), and rule over an earth restored to its original blessed state (49:10-12).

Land: God made man from the dust, to live on the land, to work the soil, and to subdue the earth. Man is a physical being whose existence is tied to the land. When man rebels against God, the ground is cursed. When man dies physically, his body returns to the dust. Man was made for the earth and his future hope is on this earth. God did not reject the earth, but plans to redeem the earth through the seed of the woman. Man will one day rule over the earth in complete submission to the Creator. God judged and re-created the land through the flood, thus showing his intention to redeem it so that man may rule over it as his representative. God promised to give one portion of this land (Canaan) to one man and his seed. This land was located in the center of the world so that the seed living in the land would bless all of the families of the world.

Blessing: God loves to bless his creatures. His blessing is particularly given along with a command to multiply and fill the earth (1:22). He blessed Adam when he commanded him to fill the earth, as he did Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaac, and Jacob (1:28; 9:1; 12:2; 17:16, 20; 22:17; 26:3-4; 35:9-12). God’s blessing is intended not for one family only, but for all nations of the world. These peoples would be blessed as they came into contact with God’s chosen family and as they blessed them (12:3; 22:18; 27:29; e.g., Abimelech, Potiphar, Pharaoh). Those who cursed God’s chosen family were effectively cursing God and would themselves be cursed (e.g., Cain, Ham/Canaan, Pharaoh, Abimelech, Laban). God gave the chosen family the ability to pass on the blessing to their seed. Ultimately the greatest blessing would come through a single seed who would crush the serpent, defeat God’s enemies, and bring peace and prosperity to all peoples submitted to God and the seed (3:15; 22:17-18; 49:10-12).

Summary of Genesis, Part 1

By | May 23, 2015

Here are my conclusions after spending the last year of my life in this most amazing first book of the Bible.

The book of Genesis fills 50 chapters and spans thousands of years, and though its stories are familiar to many, summarizing its essential message is more difficult. Genesis is often explained by a series of events (creation, fall, flood, Babel) and people (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), but how do these fit together? What are the primary themes and how do they contribute to the author’s main idea? What is God doing in Genesis and what does he want the readers to understand?

God: God is. God exists before and apart from his creation. He alone has no beginning. He creates, and all that he creates is good. When man rebels, God provides the hope of restoration. God judges and God saves. God chooses Noah and God chooses Abraham. God’s grace triumphs over sin, and God’s purpose stands despite man’s failure.

Creation: God created the sun, the moon, and the stars, but the centerpiece of his creation is earth. God created waters, but his primary interest is in the land. God created animals, but only humans are made in God’s image. God completes his creation in six days, and God is satisfied with his creation. God’s creation is corrupted by man and God places it under a curse for a time. God intends to redeem his creation.

Humans: God created a man and a woman in his image in order that they might represent him on earth and rule over all creation. He blesses them and commands them to fill the earth and subdue it. When they refuse to submit to their Creator, they are separated from him and their mission to fill the earth and subdue it are made more difficult by God’s judgment. Most people follow in the way of the serpent rather than the way of God. God chooses a series of individuals to carry out his purposes.

Sin: What begins as one act in the garden soon fills the earth as mankind repeatedly rebels en masse against their creator. Every person is guilty of sin and faces judgment, but the hope that one can be restored to God is clear from individuals such as Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. As a result of man’s sin, every person dies, the world is destroyed by waters, and languages are confused. God’s judgments are intended to end worldwide rebellion and bring hope to a preserved remnant.