Genesis 1-3

Why does the ESV Study Bible indent some verses? For example, Genesis 1:27; 2:4; 2:23; 3:14-19  are all indented. They do not all do so because they begin a new pericope. Why then these typographical considerations? I don’t see anything in the preforatory material or in the study notes.

Another ESV-SB question: There are some study notes in green, shaded boxes I understand that some of the shaded boxes introduce a section. However, not all do so. Some (e.g.: Gen 2:4-4:26 study note) are simply shaded to let you know this conforms to the ESV-SB outline printed before each book. This is not helpful; it is distracting. Why highlight (i.e.: shade) something so trivial? Your eye goes right to something that really isn’t very important. This in itself may seem trivial but readability is important. These shaded boxes are annoying. It’s like they’ve riddled the study notes with exclamation points.

On to the text itself… I like how the story changes from God telling Adam not to eat of the tree of good and evil or he will die. When the serpent asks Eve (ironically, the mother of the living) what the threat was, she says it is a tree in the midst of the garden that they shouldn’t eat. Not only that; they shouldn’t touch the tree either or they would die. It’s God whispered something in an elementary-aged child’s ear, who then whispered it into the next kid’s ear, and then next child until the message had gone all the way around the room and morphed into something altogether different.

If that wasn’t enough, the serpent whispers back: It’s all a lie; you won’t die. And the mother of all living believed and we all died because of sin (Rom 8:10). Chop down the tree of life and make it into a casket.

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The Star of Bethlehem - Rossetti

The artwork on the cover of our church bulletin yesterday was “The Star of Bethlehem,” by Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), perhaps my favorite of the Pre-Raphaelites. I meant to put a note in the bulletin as to who painted it but I always forget something.

As much as I love Burne-Jones’ paintings and stained glass, it’s hard to beat the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood founder, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for his overall bent for things beautiful. I enjoy one statement he wrote as much as his paintings: “The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”

Then again, it’s tough to beat Rossetti’s teacher, Ford Maddox Brown. Or Holmon Hunt. Or John Everett Millais. …who were (the four of them) together the founders of that grand artistic movement—though Rossetti was its driving force.

I’ve been re-reading some George Herbert lately, as a result of a discussion with my theology professor, Ron Selleck. I started reading Rossetti a bit this morning. Though his work requires more reading (fine reading though) to get beyond his other fascinations with life, when he gets there, it’s worth it.

The Choice – II.

Watch thou and fear; to-morrow thou shalt die.
Or art thou sure thou shalt have time for death?
Is not the day which God’s word promiseth
To come man knows not when? In yonder sky
Now while we speak, the sun speeds forth: can I
Or thou assure him of his goal? God’s breath
Even at this moment haply quickeneth
The air to a flame; till spirits, always nigh
Though screen’d and hid, shall walk the daylight here.
And dost thou prate of all that man shall do?
Canst thou, who hast but plagues, presume to be
Glad in his gladness that comes after thee?
Will his strength slay thy worm in Hell? Go to:
Cover thy countenance, and watch, and fear.

St. Luke the Painter

Give honour unto Luke Evangelist;
For he it was (the aged legends say)
Who first taught Art to fold her hands and pray.
Scarcely at once she dared to rend the mist
Of devious symbols: but soon having wist
How sky-breadth and field-silence and this day
Are symbols also in some deeper way,
She looked through these to God and was God’s priest.

And if, past noon, her toil began to irk,
And she sought talismans, and turned in vain
To soulless self-reflections of man’s skill,
Yet now, in this the twilight, she might still
Kneel in the latter grass to pray again,
Ere the night cometh and she may not work.

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I Call You Blest, Darlin’

Rays of Light

When the Rymans first moved to North Carolina back in 1990, a woman my wife was speaking with said to her, “I call you blessed, darlin’.” We found it a curious statement but loved the way it sounded. To this day, the word “blessed” has remained a curiosity.

In devotions at the police department this morning, we were discussing Revelation 1:1-8 and what it means to be “blessed.” When I asked for definitions of “blessed,” the results were nondescript—at least in light of how the word was used by Jesus in the Beatitudes and by John in Revelation. In the New Testament, to be blessed suggests tough times: poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, lack of justice, trudging another mile, making peace (where there evidently is none), persecution…exile. These things don’t sound too happy or fortunate, which are typically the definitions of “blessed” offered by folks.

A tertiary (after its former definitions of saintly and venerable and happy…miserable suggestions all) definition in Merriam-Webster hints at a more satisfying suggestion. To be blessed is to be content. One might go so far as to say that to be blessed is to somehow be content in spite of being discouraged, mournful, meek, surrounded by unrighteousness, having to walk another mile when you’re already tired of the journey, trying to reason with angry people, being persecuted…or even being content with God when he is the only company one has (as was John’s situation when he penned The Revelation).

I dug deeper than Webster and briefly thought I was on to something when the Oxford English Dictionary quoted Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene in their exhaustive, multi-page definition of “bless” and “blessed.”

The villaine leauing him vnto his mate
To be captiu’d, and handled as he list,
Himselfe addrest vnto this new debate,
And with his club him all about so blist,
That he which way to turne him scarcely wist:
Sometimes aloft he layd, sometimes alow;
Now here, now there, and oft him neare he mist;
So doubtfully, that hardly one could know
Whether more wary were to giue or ward the blow.< 6.8.13>

As far as Spenser goes, this was a dead end. “Blist” in line four simply means “to wave about” as in furiously raining blows on an enemy. But it had made me think that “bless” may be connected at some point earlier in our language to “bliss.” The OED indeed, bears out this idea a bit. But how would being “blessed” in the aforementioned gospel manner be something that causes bliss or contentment?

The etymology found in the OED takes us toward the truth—”bledsod, bledsed, bletsed, blecced, blesced, blisced, blessed, blest.” (OED. Oxford: 1971, p916) The earliest Old English forms we have are “bloedsian, bledsian, bletsian.” So the earliest English idea of being blessed is based on “bloed” or “blod,” the Old English for “blood.”

Now the spiritual idea of mercy that is inherent (but somehow unexplainable by moderns—even lexicographers) in the word “blessed” becomes clearer. Perhaps one is only made truly content as a result of the awful stuff that happens, as it always does in this life. Real contentment or bliss happens when we are forced by life to wonder if it’s all worth it and then discover or rediscover that there is One who came into this awful world proclaiming that we are important to God, and gave his lifeblood to prove it, becoming a “bloedsian” for a damnable world.

Only through his bloody blessing does one become blest—content with Christ alone when life gives reason to feel not very fortunate at all. When life pounds (blists) me, I may know the bliss and blessing of knowing One who underwent more suffering than I can imagine—and on my account. He calls me blessed, darlin’.

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You’re Invited!

Susan and I pray for you a blessed Christmas and hope you will make time to join us in our home for fellowship and food on Saturday, December 13, 2008. Come any time between 4:00 and 7:00pm or stay the entire time.

Please RSVP by Friday the 12th at 336-226-8240 or email me or leave a comment in this post.

Susan and Mark Ryman
706 North Main Street
Graham, NC  27253

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Chapter and Verse

Chapter and VerseA discussion came up in my Sunday School class yesterday and I thought it might be worth posting here. The conversation was around how sometimes verse shifts don’t make sense. Punctuation and paragraph shifts are another problem altogether and have to do with translators. As a result there are many different ways of starting new paragraphs or even of punctuating sentences. A good example of this is in the familiar Isaiah 40:3 passage where the ASV, NIV, NAS, and ESV state something like:

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare…

Whereas the Geneva, KJV, and state it differently by the use of other punctuation:

A voice cries in the wilderness: “Prepare…

The original manuscripts did not have punctuation. Punctuation was supplied later and is obviously still open to change. Chapters and verses however, were nailed down just after the Reformation as a result of the following.

Stephen Langdon, a Paris professor and later the Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the Bible into chapters for the first time ever in 1205AD in a Latin edition of the Bible. The Jews first used his divisions in 1330 for a Hebrew OT manuscript and in a printed version in 1516 (a year before Martin Luther nailed his theses to the Wittenberg castle door). In the 1400s his divisions were used in Greek versions of the Bible.

A Paris printer of books named Robert Stephanus was the first one to divide those chapters into numbered verses. There were already dividers, a small indicator called a soph passuq, in the Hebrew Bible. But these were symbols, each identical with the next, not numbers that are easily differentiated and therefore referenced. Stephanus used those Hebrew dividers to make numbered verses of the OT and then made his own numbered verses of the NT. He did the latter by horseback as he traveled. You may well imagine that this bumpy ride added to a sometimes poor versification. It would be like an interstate motorist going between text and windshield; his focus would not be the best. Stephanus’ versified NT was first published in Latin in 1551.

Though sometimes jerky, his verse system was used in 1565 in printing the Textus Recepticus, the Greek text of the NT that was the basis for Luther’s German Bible and Tyndale’s English Bible as well as the later KJV and any other Reformation era translations. As a result, Stephanus’ verse structure became permanent, awkward as it sometimes is.

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To Him All Majesty…a Scribe

A Character Study of Ezra

Ezra was a scribe who had been living in captivity in Babylon during the reign of Artaxerxes (Ezra 1:1, 6). He prospered in what he put his mind to and, perhaps as a result of this apparent favor, Artaxerxes would grant all of Ezra’s petitions. He was allowed to go back to Jerusalem with a delegation of Israelites, notably religious types, anyone who wanted to accompany him (Ezra 1:3). Ezra was religious too, particularly in the study of the Law of Moses. Artaxerxes sent with Ezra an offering of gold and silver to the God of Israel. The intention was clear: the Temple in Jerusalem was to be rebuilt and offerings to be made there to Ezra’s God. The king appointed Ezra leader over the entire affair.

If Ezra was the writer of the book that bears his name, he was a dutiful scribe who recorded a good deal of genealogy. This too, was religious in purpose. Painstaking genealogical records would assure them of were to be priests in the rebuilt Temple. Ezra, like King Hezekiah, was a prudent man of faith. Since they were traveling with so much precious metal—basically as much as they could carry—they would undoubtedly be the target of robbers on the long journey. The man of faith appointed a fast and asked God to protect them and the record says he did (Ezra 8:23, 31). The man of prudence divided the silver and gold amongst twelve of the priests, who were given solemn responsibility to keep there trust until they reached the holy city. Perhaps Ezra was just a detail-oriented scribe, or perhaps a man who took what had been entrusted to him very seriously, or perhaps a man who did not totally trust other men, but whatever the cause, he weighed every bit of silver and gold and counted the vessels as he gave them to the twelve priests.

When the delegation arrived in Jerusalem, what should have been a happy day was saddened at the news that the people of Israel, especially their leaders, had intermarried with the foreigners in the land. Ezra, a student of the Law, was appalled and tore his robe and hair and fasted and prayed. The prayer is recorded (Ezra 9:6-15) and in it, Ezra assumes the guilt of the people though he had not married outside of Israel. It is as though all will pay for the sins of some. Even the innocent pay when people do wrong. Ezra notes that though Israel was allowed to return from enslavement, they were still practicing the very things that led them into captivity. Then he cried. Many of the people were then moved to weep too. This was a sign of repentance. Further proof was that they made a covenant to put away their foreign wives and children. They reassured the disgusted scribe, saying that they would promise to put away their foreign families and that they were behind him in his commission to restore the Temple—and it would follow, a faithful people as well.

Ezra calls the priests to take oaths from the people while he went away to mourn the faithless people. A proclamation (evidently from Ezra) was made that the people would be given three days to comply with their oaths or their profit would be forfeit. As the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered three days later, Ezra has taken on a new role. He is no longer simply a scribe, a student of the Law of Moses. He has become a priest (Ezra 10:10). This was his right as he was of the line of Aaron (Ezra 7:1-5). Ezra the priest would not let the people out of the oath but reiterated their sinfulness in taking foreign wives. Upon the close scrutiny to which a scribe is perhaps well-suited, it was found that even many of the priests had taken foreign wives.

Evidently, Ezra had been successful in leading the people back to God. The most dramatic of the scenes of Ezra is when he was asked by the people to bring the Law out to read to the people (Neh 8:1-8). He read it to men and women alike, who sat from early morning until midday listening attentively to the priestly scribe read. Not only did Ezra read but 13 Levites also helped the people understand what was being read. The people wept and worshiped as the heard the words of the Lord. Not only had Ezra rebuilt the temple but the Lord brought revival in his day.

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A Not-so Wise Guy

Wise GuyA Character Study of Solomon

The story of Solomon in 1 Kings begins with his brother Adonijah deciding to be king of Israel (1Kin 1:5). In Eli-like manner, King David never criticizes Adonijah which must have affirmed and intensified his craving for the throne. He had the king’s general, Joab, on his side. To seal his bid for power, he made sacrifices outside the city, perhaps a kind of royal picnic with himself at the head table. His brother Solomon was not invited (1Kin 1:10)—nor of course, were David and the prophet Nathan. In this section of the story, Solomon is shown as a pup, whose mother must look after his affairs. One is reminded of Rebekah looking after helpless Jacob.

David is painted in no warmer light as Bathsheba told him to let the people know their son, Solomon, will be king instead of letting his sons decide. Nonetheless, David quickly devised a plan whereby his other sons are left out of a royal pronouncement inside the city. Solomon was named king and all of his brothers were not invited to the “picnic,” which effectively became their own sacrifice. David’s pronouncement inside the city brought Adonijah back from outside the city to face reality (and David). He seized the horns of the altar, ironically akin to a sacrifice. Because Adonijah now feared Solomon (He must have feared him even earlier since he did not invite him to his king making.) he had Solomon swear his safety and set up the first of supposedly many wise judgments by the new king (the text informs us that he was wise but the examples are few). Solomon’s simple response was that if Adonijah behaves himself all will be well. Adonijah is taken down from the altar horns and knelt before Solomon, to which Solomon told him, in effect, Go home. Your place is not in the palace. Adonijah was no king; the king said so. But Adonijah could not keep away and it cost him his life (1Kin 2:23).

Solomon continued to clean up his father’s poor decisions (e.g.: Joab, another sacrifice on the horns of the altar), acting with wisdom and decisive strength. These judgments, followed through with decisive action, “firmly established” Solomon’s kingdom (1Kin 2:12). Soon, Solomon’s own decisions began to go off course. Instead of marrying within the Faith, he made a political bond with Egypt. Nevertheless, Solomon is said to have loved the Lord—even though he carried on the pagan practices of sacrificing on the high places (1Kin 3:3).

God spoke to him even in such a place at Gibeon, perhaps because Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings there (1Kin 3:4). God told him in a dream to ask for whatever he desired. Again Solomon showed wisdom. Instead of asking to win the lottery or an equally selfish request, Solomon asked to govern the people well, knowing the difference between good and evil (1Kin 3:9). His prayer is seen granted by how he dealt with the two prostitutes (1Kin 3:16-28). Such wisdom was essential for the ruler of all the lands between the Euphrates to the Mediterranean and down to Egypt. The citizens of Judah and Israel were “happy” (1Kin 4:20). Has this been said before or since his reign? At very least, Solomon was a great administrator and a wise judge. The king of Tyre also thought so (1Kin 5:7) and was enlisted to help in the building of the Temple. Yet, in order to pull off this building project he conscripted forced labor. The formerly mentioned happiness of Judah and Israel is not likely to last. Still, he was able to finish a house for the Lord (1Kin 6:14).

Once this concern of his father’s was accomplished, Solomon expanded his power as well as his love for all things shiny and beautiful. A king was commanded to “not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor…acquire for himself excessive silver and gold (Deut 17:16). Yet Solomon surrounded himself with exclusively golden goblets and many wives—many foreign wives, expressly forbidden by God (1Kin 11:2) since they would “turn away [his] heart after their gods.” Over a thousand wives and concubines led him away from an understanding that there was only one God in the land (Deut 6:4). For all his insight into the affairs of others, in the end Solomon had little wisdom left to apply to himself.

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God is Sovereign

A Character Study of Absalom
and Comment on the Upcoming Election

Absalom was David’s fifth son, the first being the child who died after his affair with Bathsheba, the second Solomon by Bathsheba, the third Amnon by Ahinoam, the fourth Chileab by Abigail, and fifth but not last, Absalom by Maacah. The first story of Absalom, who was an exceptionally handsome man (2Sam 14:25), involves his sister Tamar, who was also beautiful. Amnon, David’s first son beyond Bathsheba, raped Tamar (his half-sister). Absalom held his anger for two years but finally killed him because of his violation of Tamar. It might be argued that this also disposed of one heir to the throne—one who preceded Absalom. Though David’s heart mourned Amnon, he loved Absalom and would have forgiven the trespass (2Sam 13:9) yet the murdering son went into self-imposed exile where his heart became harder still. (There is some confusion as to whether Absalom may even have been “banished” {2Sam 14:13}). Joab, David’s nephew-general brought Absalom back from exile, though he was forced to live apart from King David and the court. Presumably, Absalom’s heart was further hardened toward David by this decree. His heart was hardened toward Joab, though bringing him back from exile was by Joab’s own design. Eventually, for Joab’s troubles and because he honored David’s ruling on Absalom, the difficult son burned Joab’s barley field.

Another Absalom story is either difficult to believe or David’s shekel weight was far less than typical. Absalom’s hair grew at a rapid rate and was markedly thick. At the end of each year, evidently because he just couldn’t keep his head up anymore, he had his hair cut off and it weighed over five pounds. (2Sam 14:26 says his hair weighed 200 shekels. A single shekel is 11.33981 grams…times 200 shekels equals 2,267.962 grams. A gram is .0353 ounces…times 2,267.962 grams equals 80.06 ounces or a little over five pounds of hair.) At first glance, this anecdote has no bearing on the Absalom tale. Yet it may go far in explaining what now seems like an ironic ending to Absalom’s life. It is obvious that Absalom was pleased with his appearance and importance. He was a handsome prince and he would charm or coerce his way in the kingdom. Indeed, once brought back into the king’s presence—again by Joab’s doing—Absalom fancied himself king. Every morning he would sit in the gate as an elder or ruler and judge disputes. The text insinuates that this was not by the decree of David but Absalom’s own presumption of his value to the people, since it was the king’s rulings that the people requested (2Sam 15:6).

This kingly pursuit was not enough for the prince. Next he appointed himself the king of Hebron (where Abraham bought a burial plot for Sarah for the price of two years of Absalom’s hair in silver), which put him in direct conflict with his father since Hebron was just to the south and west of Jerusalem. It was also at Hebron where David was anointed king and reigned for his first seven and a half years (2Sam 5:3-5). Absalom is clearly endeavoring to steal his father’s kingdom. It was working too since the people were turning their favor toward Absalom with such fervor that David was now forced to go into exile (2Sam 15:13-14). This cleared the way for Absalom to carry his “kingship” to Jerusalem, and he did, to the extent that he even took his father’s concubines as his own. There was no end to Absalom’s arrogance.

Next he hunted David (reminiscent of David’s early days with Saul, hiding in caves and pits {2Sam 17:9}) with the intent of quelling any question of who was king in Jerusalem. It was during this quest that Absalom was riding under a terebinth tree. One is left to assume the irony that it was his heavy, long, thick hair that was Absalom’s undoing by becoming tangled in the limbs, leaving him easy sport for jilted Joab. There, hanging in a tree, Absalom might have considered Deuteronomy 21:23. If he had, he would have thought of some way to blame his curse on the father who loved him. Absalom’s grand enterprise to overthrow a kingdom ended in shame—his own as well as David’s.

In light of the elections tomorrow, it is interesting to note that Christians ought to vote for the right candidate but all too often, we let our emotions get far out in front of us. We become Democrats and Republicans first and Christians second. To put it another way, we are US citizens first and children in the family of God second. Because I am a Christian and only secondly a citizen of the United States, I am trusting God with the election. He is sovereign. I don’t believe that means God controls who is going to win the elections tomorrow. But it does mean he will have his way, despite who gets into office.

Absalom may have been more popular with the people but God promised that throne to Absalom’s father. Good looks and smooth talking only go so far. But God is sovereign. He will have his way with the United States (even if that means God turns his back on us) no matter who goes to the oval office in January. So vote your conscience and trust in the Lord. And pray for God to heal our land (2Ch 7:14).

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