Who can understand the Bible?

bible5.gifIt ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.Mark Twain

The Bible can be challenging to understand.  66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,173 verses, ~40 authors over a 1,500 year period, etc.  But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t accessible.  As Twain noted, some things are very clear.  The parts that aren’t as clear take a little more work to understand. 

The letters in the New Testament were written to real people.  They didn’t have to get a priest to figure out what the author meant.  It wasn’t like the Ephesians got their letter and said, “I have no idea what he is talking about!”

Of course, there are many cultural things and a lot of background information that can help us understand the Bible better.  It is a large book so it can be overwhelming at times.  Solid teaching and preaching are important, but you can learn much on your own as well.  Here are some Bible study tips

One of the easiest things to do is focus on what you do understand and not just what you don’t understand.  Make a list of questions and seek answers later if you like, but don’t let that stop you from reading.

I always liked this passage in Acts 8, and especially v. 31 where the Ethiopian says what so many of us think: How can we understand the Bible unless someone explains it to us?  God made sure the Gospel got to someone who truly wanted to hear it.  Who knows what impact the Ethiopian man had when he returned home with the Good News?  Are we doing our part of spreading the Gospel and taking what we know to lost people?

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

I like to use that passage to encourage people to take Bible studies.  In many areas of life we take classes and lessons to get better at something – golf, computers, math, etc.  But when it comes to the Bible many people think they need to know about it before going to a class.  They are embarrassed to admit that they are Christians and don’t know the Bible well.  But today is always a great day to start studying it.

P.S. Beware of churches or denominations that insist that you can’t understand the Bible without them giving their official interpretation of it to you.  Some churches actually discourage people from reading it on their own. 

Isaiah 51-52

is51.jpgGreetings!  These chapters begin some prophecies of the Messiah and lead into chapter 53, which is full of prophecies about Jesus.

Everlasting Salvation for Zion

51     “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness

and who seek the Lord:

Look to the rock from which you were cut

and to the quarry from which you were hewn;

2 look to Abraham, your father,

and to Sarah, who gave you birth.

When I called him he was but one,

and I blessed him and made him many.

Do you ever feel alone as a Christian?  Remember that God has countless authentic Christians throughout the world. 

3 The Lord will surely comfort Zion

and will look with compassion on all her ruins;

he will make her deserts like Eden,

her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.

Joy and gladness will be found in her,

thanksgiving and the sound of singing.

4 “Listen to me, my people;

hear me, my nation:

The law will go out from me;

my justice will become a light to the nations.

5 My righteousness draws near speedily,

my salvation is on the way,

and my arm will bring justice to the nations.

The islands will look to me

and wait in hope for my arm.

6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,

look at the earth beneath;

the heavens will vanish like smoke,

the earth will wear out like a garment

and its inhabitants die like flies.

But my salvation will last forever,

my righteousness will never fail.

7 “Hear me, you who know what is right,

you people who have my law in your hearts:

Do not fear the reproach of men

or be terrified by their insults.

8 For the moth will eat them up like a garment;

the worm will devour them like wool.

But my righteousness will last forever,

my salvation through all generations.”

9 Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength,

O arm of the Lord;

awake, as in days gone by,

as in generations of old.

Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces,

who pierced that monster through?

10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,

the waters of the great deep,

who made a road in the depths of the sea

so that the redeemed might cross over?

Rahab is a nickname for Egypt.

11 The ransomed of the Lord will return.

They will enter Zion with singing;

everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them,

and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you.

Who are you that you fear mortal men,

the sons of men, who are but grass,

13 that you forget the Lord your Maker,

who stretched out the heavens

and laid the foundations of the earth,

that you live in constant terror every day

because of the wrath of the oppressor,

who is bent on destruction?

For where is the wrath of the oppressor?

14 The cowering prisoners will soon be set free;

they will not die in their dungeon,

nor will they lack bread.

15 For I am the Lord your God,

who churns up the sea so that its waves roar—

the Lord Almighty is his name.

16 I have put my words in your mouth

and covered you with the shadow of my hand—

I who set the heavens in place,

who laid the foundations of the earth,

and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

When God points out that the Israelites should fear God and not mortals it reminds me of Matthew 10:28: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

It is such a simple but reassuring truth: Why should we fear men when God is ultimately in control?  Faith is acting as if what you believe is really true.

The Cup of the Lord’s Wrath

17 Awake, awake!

Rise up, O Jerusalem,

you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord

the cup of his wrath,

you who have drained to its dregs

the goblet that makes men stagger.

18 Of all the sons she bore

there was none to guide her;

of all the sons she reared

there was none to take her by the hand.

19 These double calamities have come upon you—

who can comfort you?—

ruin and destruction, famine and sword—

who can console you?

20 Your sons have fainted;

they lie at the head of every street,

like antelope caught in a net.

They are filled with the wrath of the Lord

and the rebuke of your God.

21 Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,

made drunk, but not with wine.

22 This is what your Sovereign Lord says,

your God, who defends his people:

“See, I have taken out of your hand

the cup that made you stagger;

from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,

you will never drink again.

23 I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,

who said to you,

‘Fall prostrate that we may walk over you.’

And you made your back like the ground,

like a street to be walked over.”

52     Awake, awake, O Zion,

clothe yourself with strength.

Put on your garments of splendor,

O Jerusalem, the holy city.

The uncircumcised and defiled

will not enter you again.

2 Shake off your dust;

rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem.

Free yourself from the chains on your neck,

O captive Daughter of Zion.

3 For this is what the Lord says:

“You were sold for nothing,

and without money you will be redeemed.”

4 For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“At first my people went down to Egypt to live;

lately, Assyria has oppressed them.

5 “And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord.

“For my people have been taken away for nothing,

and those who rule them mock,”

declares the Lord.

“And all day long

my name is constantly blasphemed.

6 Therefore my people will know my name;

therefore in that day they will know

that it is I who foretold it.

Yes, it is I.”

7 How beautiful on the mountains

are the feet of those who bring good news,

who proclaim peace,

who bring good tidings,

who proclaim salvation,

who say to Zion,

“Your God reigns!”

Paul quotes v. 7 in Romans 10:15.  We have the good news, but we often treat it like it is bad news.  But for those who need and want to hear it, it is beautiful.

8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;

together they shout for joy.

When the Lord returns to Zion,

they will see it with their own eyes.

9 Burst into songs of joy together,

you ruins of Jerusalem,

for the Lord has comforted his people,

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

10 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm

in the sight of all the nations,

and all the ends of the earth will see

the salvation of our God.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there!

Touch no unclean thing!

Come out from it and be pure,

you who carry the vessels of the Lord.

12 But you will not leave in haste

or go in flight;

for the Lord will go before you,

the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

The next section contains some interesting and even shocking predictions about the Messiah.  Rather than being revered by all, He will be rejected by many.

The Suffering and Glory of the Servant

13 See, my servant will act wisely;

he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—

his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man

and his form marred beyond human likeness—

15 so will he sprinkle many nations,

and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

For what they were not told, they will see,

and what they have not heard, they will understand.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

The danger of liberal seminaries

warning.gifSeminary also introduced me to the historical study of Jesus and Christian origins. I learned from my professors and the readings they assigned that Jesus almost certainly was not born of a virgin, did not think of himself as the Son of God, and did not see his purpose as dying for the sins of the world… I also found the claim that Jesus and Christianity were the only way of salvation to be troublesome.Marcus Borg 

Borg is one of those folks who identifies himself a Christian yet believes the opposite of virtually every essential of the faith.  More on Borg here.

Speaking of theologically liberal foolishness, here’s another outrage at an apostate congregation in Canada.  When putting Jesus Christ is Risen Today – Hallelujah in their Easter hymnal they replaced the words Jesus Christ with Glorious Hope.

Vosper says that the world has outgrown Jesus Christ and the church is finished unless it gives up God, Jesus, and pretty much the entire Bible, except possibly for the Sermon on the Mount.

Hmmmm . . . only believing the Sermon on the Mount . . . sound familiar?  It is so beautifully ironic that the Sermon on the Mount closes with strong warnings against false teachers like this “pastor.”  Apparently she hasn’t read that far or is so blind that she can’t see it. 

How does someone like this graduate from seminary?  And why would they want to go in the first place?

So they have stooped to being embarrassed about the name of Jesus.  That’s liberal theology for you – intellectually bankrupt to the end. 

The UCC in the U.S. is another example of rampant apostacy.  One of their best known pastors recently graduated from seminary and regularly preaches from Gnostic gospels and disses the real Gospels.  They seem proud and in-your-face with their heresies.  It is no surprise that they are so supportive of Obama, what with his pro-partial-birth-abortion views, children are a punishment view, denial that Jesus is the only way to salvation, Rev. Wright, etc.  

I respect their religious freedom and am glad they can believe whatever they like.  We even have a name for people who hold views like Borg, the UCC pastor and the Canadian pastor: Non-Christians.  I just wish they’d be more honest and call themselves New Agers or whatever it is they really believe.

If seminaries and mainstream denominations hadn’t been taken over by liberal theologians these people wouldn’t have been ordained.

Isaiah 49-50


This section opens with another reminder that God gave his grace to the Israelites so they could be a light to all nations.  It was part of his plan from the beginning.  As a former pastor of mine would say, they were “blessed to be a blessing.”  I think the same way of us today as Christians.  We have been blessed with so many things that we can share with others – time, talent, treasure and the good news of the Gospel.

The Servant of the Lord

49     Listen to me, you islands;

hear this, you distant nations:

Before I was born the Lord called me;

from my birth he has made mention of my name.

2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,

in the shadow of his hand he hid me;

he made me into a polished arrow

and concealed me in his quiver.

3 He said to me, “You are my servant,

Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

4 But I said, “I have labored to no purpose;

I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.

Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,

and my reward is with my God.”

5 And now the Lord says—

he who formed me in the womb to be his servant

to bring Jacob back to him

and gather Israel to himself,

for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord

and my God has been my strength—

6 he says:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

to restore the tribes of Jacob

and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

7 This is what the Lord says—

the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—

to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,

to the servant of rulers:

“Kings will see you and rise up,

princes will see and bow down,

because of the Lord, who is faithful,

the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Restoration of Israel

8 This is what the Lord says:

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,

and in the day of salvation I will help you;

I will keep you and will make you

to be a covenant for the people,

to restore the land

and to reassign its desolate inheritances,

9 to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’

and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’

“They will feed beside the roads

and find pasture on every barren hill.

10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,

nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them.

He who has compassion on them will guide them

and lead them beside springs of water.

11 I will turn all my mountains into roads,

and my highways will be raised up.

12 See, they will come from afar—

some from the north, some from the west,

some from the region of Aswan.”

13 Shout for joy, O heavens;

rejoice, O earth;

burst into song, O mountains!

For the Lord comforts his people

and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,

the Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast

and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget,

I will not forget you!

16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

your walls are ever before me.

17 Your sons hasten back,

and those who laid you waste depart from you.

18 Lift up your eyes and look around;

all your sons gather and come to you.

As surely as I live,” declares the Lord,

“you will wear them all as ornaments;

you will put them on, like a bride.

19 “Though you were ruined and made desolate

and your land laid waste,

now you will be too small for your people,

and those who devoured you will be far away.

20 The children born during your bereavement

will yet say in your hearing,

‘This place is too small for us;

give us more space to live in.’

21 Then you will say in your heart,

‘Who bore me these?

I was bereaved and barren;

I was exiled and rejected.

Who brought these up?

I was left all alone,

but these—where have they come from?’”

22 This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I will beckon to the Gentiles,

I will lift up my banner to the peoples;

they will bring your sons in their arms

and carry your daughters on their shoulders.

23 Kings will be your foster fathers,

and their queens your nursing mothers.

They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;

they will lick the dust at your feet.

Then you will know that I am the Lord;

those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”

24 Can plunder be taken from warriors,

or captives rescued from the fierce?

25 But this is what the Lord says:

“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors,

and plunder retrieved from the fierce;

I will contend with those who contend with you,

and your children I will save.

26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh;

they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine.

Then all mankind will know

that I, the Lord, am your Savior,

your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”

In chapter 50, God starts by pointing out the problem of the Israelites turning away to other nations for protection instead of turning to him.

Israel’s Sin and the Servant’s Obedience

50     This is what the Lord says:

“Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce

with which I sent her away?

Or to which of my creditors

did I sell you?

Because of your sins you were sold;

because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.

2 When I came, why was there no one?

When I called, why was there no one to answer?

Was my arm too short to ransom you?

Do I lack the strength to rescue you?

By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea,

I turn rivers into a desert;

their fish rot for lack of water

and die of thirst.

3 I clothe the sky with darkness

and make sackcloth its covering.”

4 The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue,

to know the word that sustains the weary.

He wakens me morning by morning,

wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

5 The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears,

and I have not been rebellious;

I have not drawn back.

6 I offered my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;

I did not hide my face

from mocking and spitting.

7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,

I will not be disgraced.

Therefore have I set my face like flint,

and I know I will not be put to shame.

8 He who vindicates me is near.

Who then will bring charges against me?

Let us face each other!

Who is my accuser?

Let him confront me!

9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.

Who is he that will condemn me?

They will all wear out like a garment;

the moths will eat them up.

10 Who among you fears the Lord

and obeys the word of his servant?

Let him who walks in the dark,

who has no light,

trust in the name of the Lord

and rely on his God.

11 But now, all you who light fires

and provide yourselves with flaming torches,

go, walk in the light of your fires

and of the torches you have set ablaze.

This is what you shall receive from my hand:

You will lie down in torment.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Weekly roundup


Five minimal facts on the resurrection – I like how they are facts that most non-Christian scholars agree with as well.

  1. Jesus was killed by crucifixion
  2. The disciples believed that Jesus rose and appeared to them
  3. The conversion of the church persecutor: Saul of Tarsus (aka the Apostle Paul)
  4. The conversion of the skeptic James
  5. Jesus’ tomb was empty 

A bunch of reasons that Obama would make a horrible President.   Here’s one more: He thinks you are stupid (“Really, I would have left Wright’s church if he hadn’t retired . . .”).  Sure. 

Mikhail Gorbachev a Christian? – Update: Oops, apparently not.  I saw another link where he said he wasn’t.  Oh well, it is between him and God.

An open letter to the religious right – interesting perspectives.  A couple choice quotes:

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was purportedly asked if God was on his side.

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side,” said the President, “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Ironically, though Lincoln is often praised for this remark, it contains three of the most controversial ideas in American politics: that God should be invoked in the political sphere; that God’s existence matters, much less that he is always right; and that since He takes sides on certain issues, some people will be divinely justified while others will be in opposition not only to their political opponents but to the very Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

If you find these ideas absurd and repugnant, you are most likely a secularist. If you find them to be embarrassing truths, then you may be on the religious left. If you find them so obvious that they hardly need stating, then you are probably a member of the so-called “religious right.”

I embrace them whole-heartedly, which makes me a certified member of the religious right. Although I’ve often been uncomfortable with that term, I find it fits me more and more, as if I’m growing into it. So be it.

Whenever you hear someone say that the religious right is attempting to install a theocracy, simply say “You’re an idiot” and move on. We’ve wasted too much time on this nonsense already. It’s a desperate attempt to create a term that has the affect of “racist” or “sexist” so that when its applied, it automatically paints an opponent as beyond the pale of political discourse. Really, anyone who says that-no matter how much they may try to nuance the word-is an idiot.

In the 1950’s, William F. Buckley, Jr. and National Review led the move to anathematize the John Birch Society from the ranks of respectable conservatism. Today, we religious conservatives need to follow that precedent by purging the most odious hangers-on from our company. I propose that we start with the obnoxious, hate-spewing Ann Coulter.

What would a world without evil look like?  Short answer, in my view: It would look like Heaven.

I liked his respond to Bertrand Russell’s challenge on what to say when at the bed of a dying child.  Evil may seem difficult to explain in a Christian worldview, but it is even more difficult in a materialistic worldview.

See www.str.org

Orators or heralds?

herald.jpgHeart of Flesh had a great summary of a conference on Reformed theology.  I especially liked the distinction one of the speakers made about motives in preaching:

He compared the Greek orator to the Roman herald. The Greek Orator was crafty in speech and was the celebrity in his time. His success was measured by how many crowds he drew and convinced. He often used manipulation and content was not the main priority. Sound familiar? Lawson masterfully connected this to much of modern preaching.

On the other hand, the herald was much different. His job was to take Caesar’s decree and faithfully proclaim it wherever he was sent.  His success was not measured by how he “wooed” the crowd, but success depended on faithfulness to Caesar’s decree. This analogy really stuck in my brain. Its an excellent portrayal of how we should and shouldn’t preach.

If we speak (or write) we should be heralds, not orators – always thinking about whether the message is faithful to the Lord’s decrees.

I know that at least several regular readers are pastors who are in the herald category, and I praise and thank God for that!  But all Christians are ambassadors for Christ, so we should strive to be heralds as well.  The goal is obedience, not popularity.

2 Cor. 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

N.T. Wright had a great quote that I’ll paraphrase here: “Wherever the Apostle Paul went there were riots.  Wherever I go they serve tea.” 

We don’t want to add to the offense of the Gospel, of course, but if the message never offends anyone then you can be sure it isn’t a balanced representation of the Bible.

Isaiah 47-48


The fall of Babylon was predicted 150 years ahead of time.  It hadn’t even emerged as the strongest force on earth yet.  God used Babylon to punish his people, then used the Medo-Persian empire to destroy Babylon and set free his people.

Nebuchadnezzar’s ups and downs are chronicled in more detail in the Book of Daniel. 

The Fall of Babylon

47     “Go down, sit in the dust,

Virgin Daughter of Babylon;

sit on the ground without a throne,

Daughter of the Babylonians.

No more will you be called

tender or delicate.

2 Take millstones and grind flour;

take off your veil.

Lift up your skirts, bare your legs,

and wade through the streams.

3 Your nakedness will be exposed

and your shame uncovered.

I will take vengeance;

I will spare no one.”

4 Our Redeemer—the Lord Almighty is his name—

is the Holy One of Israel.

5 “Sit in silence, go into darkness,

Daughter of the Babylonians;

no more will you be called

queen of kingdoms.

6 I was angry with my people

and desecrated my inheritance;

I gave them into your hand,

and you showed them no mercy.

Even on the aged

you laid a very heavy yoke.

7 You said, ‘I will continue forever—

the eternal queen!’

But you did not consider these things

or reflect on what might happen.

8 “Now then, listen, you wanton creature,

lounging in your security

and saying to yourself,

‘I am, and there is none besides me.

I will never be a widow

or suffer the loss of children.’

9 Both of these will overtake you

in a moment, on a single day:

loss of children and widowhood.

They will come upon you in full measure,

in spite of your many sorceries

and all your potent spells.

10 You have trusted in your wickedness

and have said, ‘No one sees me.’

Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you

when you say to yourself,

‘I am, and there is none besides me.’

11 Disaster will come upon you,

and you will not know how to conjure it away.

A calamity will fall upon you

that you cannot ward off with a ransom;

a catastrophe you cannot foresee

will suddenly come upon you.

12 “Keep on, then, with your magic spells

and with your many sorceries,

which you have labored at since childhood.

Perhaps you will succeed,

perhaps you will cause terror.

13 All the counsel you have received has only worn you out!

Let your astrologers come forward,

those stargazers who make predictions month by month,

let them save you from what is coming upon you.

14 Surely they are like stubble;

the fire will burn them up.

They cannot even save themselves

from the power of the flame.

Here are no coals to warm anyone;

here is no fire to sit by.

15 That is all they can do for you—

these you have labored with

and trafficked with since childhood.

Each of them goes on in his error;

there is not one that can save you.

Stubborn Israel

48     “Listen to this, O house of Jacob,

you who are called by the name of Israel

and come from the line of Judah,

you who take oaths in the name of the Lord

and invoke the God of Israel—

but not in truth or righteousness—

2 you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city

and rely on the God of Israel—

the Lord Almighty is his name:

3 I foretold the former things long ago,

my mouth announced them and I made them known;

then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.

4 For I knew how stubborn you were;

the sinews of your neck were iron,

your forehead was bronze.

5 Therefore I told you these things long ago;

before they happened I announced them to you

so that you could not say,

‘My idols did them;

my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’

6 You have heard these things; look at them all.

Will you not admit them?

“From now on I will tell you of new things,

of hidden things unknown to you.

7 They are created now, and not long ago;

you have not heard of them before today.

So you cannot say,

‘Yes, I knew of them.’

8 You have neither heard nor understood;

from of old your ear has not been open.

Well do I know how treacherous you are;

you were called a rebel from birth.

9 For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath;

for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you,

so as not to cut you off.

God didn’t have to save Israel, He did it because He wanted to.  We have done nothing deserving of salvation; it is purely by God’s grace that He saves us.

10 See, I have refined you, though not as silver;

I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.

11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.

How can I let myself be defamed?

I will not yield my glory to another.

Israel Freed

12 “Listen to me, O Jacob,

Israel, whom I have called:

I am he;

I am the first and I am the last.

13 My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,

and my right hand spread out the heavens;

when I summon them,

they all stand up together.

Verse 13 is important to show how Jesus is God.  The New Testament shows how Jesus is the creator (Colossians 1, John 1), and this passage shows that God is the creator. 

14 “Come together, all of you, and listen:

Which of the idols has foretold these things?

The Lord’s chosen ally

will carry out his purpose against Babylon;

his arm will be against the Babylonians.

Choosing Cyrus, a pagan King, as God’s ally must have shocked the Israelites. 

15 I, even I, have spoken;

yes, I have called him.

I will bring him,

and he will succeed in his mission.

16 “Come near me and listen to this:

“From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret;

at the time it happens, I am there.”

And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me,

with his Spirit.

17 This is what the Lord says—

your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

“I am the Lord your God,

who teaches you what is best for you,

who directs you in the way you should go.

18 If only you had paid attention to my commands,

your peace would have been like a river,

your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

19 Your descendants would have been like the sand,

your children like its numberless grains;

their name would never be cut off

nor destroyed from before me.”

20 Leave Babylon,

flee from the Babylonians!

Announce this with shouts of joy

and proclaim it.

Send it out to the ends of the earth;

say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.”

21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;

he made water flow for them from the rock;

he split the rock

and water gushed out.

22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

God shows ahead of time that while punishment is coming, so is ultimate deliverance and redemption.  Praise God for that!

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

vegetables.jpgOur associate pastor had the following on a list of questions for our Acts Bible study (I’m not sure what the point was . . . we never got around to answering this one):

If you could share a meal with any four historical figures (besides Jesus), who would you choose?

I assume he excluded Jesus because He is busy (more likely because everyone would pick that “churchy” answer).

My first reaction was this: I’d invite the young Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung, and Pol Pot.  And I would poison them.

Seriously, I’d invite the Apostle Paul, my birth mother (I’m adopted), a comedian (for some laughs . . . maybe Steve Martin – I just read his stand-up autobiography) and Paul McCartney for some music.  It would be fun watching Paul (the Apostle) share the Gospel with the others.

Who would you invite?

6 words

six.jpgSome former co-workers did an exercise where they tried to tell about their life in a six word sentence. 

Background: Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story, using only six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

Here are two versions for me.  The first isn’t a sentence, so technically it didn’t qualify.

1. Faith, family, friends, firm, fitness, fun

2. Updated: Lost, now found; blessed, to bless.

What are yours?  Can you tell a life memoir in six words?

Stars, sand and how to read the Bible

universe.jpgA recent commenter on my other blog viewed Genesis 15:5 as evidence that the Bible has errors.  The context is God promising Abraham that despite his advanced age he would have many offspring.

Genesis 15:5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Here is what the commenter wrote:

There God promises Abraham to make his offspring as numerous as the stars. Referring to the visible stars only would not make any sense as we can see only a few thousands. But it cannot refer to the actually existing stars either, because there are about 200 billion in our Milky Way alone. 200 billion people could not possibly live on Earth, let alone Jews!

And I am not even talking about the stars in all the other galaxies. This is only one example. The bible abounds with errors great and small.

I think his interpretation of that verse would make a literalist fundy blush. 

First, since we always want to read things in context here are some other verses referring to the promises of Abraham’s offspring:

Genesis 22:17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies . . .

Genesis 32:12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

God mentions Abraham’s offspring as being as numerous as the stars, then the stars and the sand, then the sand.  

So the question is, “What’s the point of these passages?”  Was God trying to make a precise statement of exactly how many offspring Abraham would have?  Was He saying that the number of stars is exactly equal to the number of grains of sand? 

Or is it possible that He was saying that not only would Abraham have one child – a highly unlikely scenario by itself – but that Abraham would have many, many descendants – physically and spiritually?

More importantly, go back in history and see how many stars people used to think existed, and how the Bible was far ahead of its time. As the commenter noted, we can only observe thousands of stars, and several thousand years ago they could view less than that.

But God knew that there were far more than that. Again, the point of the passage was the promise to Abraham, not a science lesson. But the fact remains that the earliest Bible writings asserted that there were far more stars than people thought – as many as there are grains of sand on the beach.

I think an unbiased person would see that the passage was obviously a promise that Abraham would have a great number of descendants and that there are far more stars than we can see – in fact, so many that counting them would be like counting grains of sand. And that is a claim that was thousands of years ahead of its time. Why not give the Bible a little credit for knowing that there are countless stars?