Thursday, December 26, 2019

Merry Christmas! 2019

Dr. and Mrs. Paul Manuel
Christmas 2019

Dear Family and Friends,

          Many changes in life are temporary; they come and go. Other changes in life are permanent; they represent a ‘new normal,’ the introduction of fresh conditions that fundamentally alter a situation. Sometimes these changes are surprising even when they come with plenty of warning. Jesus’ birth was an event that introduced a ‘new normal,’ negative for those who were not paying attention or looking forward to his advent, like the king and some religious leaders, but positive for those who were paying attention and looking forward to his advent, like the magi and some shepherds:

Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. (Matt 2:2)
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:11-12)

Jesus’ advent also came with several pre-indicators for those really paying attention:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isa 11:1)
To us a child is born…. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6)
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isa 53:5)

So, what ‘new normal’ does Jesus’ advent represent? We often link his birth with his death, and rightly so, but his coming does not provide a new means of atonement. Pardon for sin had been available “from the creation of the world” (Rev 13:8). The ‘new normal’ of Jesus’ advent is, in part, the fundamental change it makes possible for God’s people to understand God’s plan and their role in it: that “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:14). Do you ever think of the holiday this way? Because of Jesus’ advent
you are “being made holy.”

          With all the focus the holiday usually places on the preparations you make to meet with other people, consider also how you are preparing to meet with God and how you will represent Him this season. If Jesus came in part to make you holy, does that show in your various encounters with others, whether shopping, driving, or entertaining? Christmas is not merely about your remembering Jesus, it is about your representing him, as well. Are you paying attention and watching for those opportunities?

          May you experience a joyous holiday as you grasp the holiness of this ‘new normal,’ both this season and this new year. Merry Christmas!

Linda and Pastor

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Chosen (Deut 7:6-14)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

We elect officials to solve problems, but sometimes a solution comes from combining problems.
Bill was lamenting to Fred, "Everyone concentrates on the problems we're having in this country lately: illegal immigration, hurricane recovery, wild animals attacking humans in Florida. Not me. I concentrate on solutions to problems, and the result is a win-win situation:
  • Dig a moat the length of the Mexican border.
  • Use the dirt to raise the levies in New Orleans.
  • Put the Florida alligators in the moat.
We elect officials to solve problems. One official who is particularly good at solving problems is God. The problem He is facing after Israel's exodus from Egypt is how to integrate this newly formed people group into a large and diverse community of nations, especially when Israel is the only member state that recognizes Him as God. The solution He chooses is to make Israel the preferred recipient of His blessing and guidance.

Before Israel enters the Promised Land, Moses gives the people a pep talk, emphasizing their unusual relationship with the one who recently freed them from slavery in Egypt. God has chosen them to represent Him among the nations. How does the Lord make this selection? Why does Israel stand out among other people groups of the world? What are God's Unique Election Criteria?

I. God uniquely values His people, Israel (Deut 7:6).
Deut 7:6 You are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
Moses describes four ways in verse six that God ascribes worth to the Israelites. The first way God ascribes worth to them is that...
A. He sanctifies them beyond others: "You are holy" (v. 6).
Elsewhere, Moses tells how sinful the Canaanites are and warns the Israelites not to emulate them:
You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. (Lev 20:23)
The Israelites are to maintain a difference in their behavior that distinguishes them from these current residents of Canaan. The LORD expects the Israelites to maintain a certain degree of sanctity, and...
1. He uses Himself the exemplar of that state: "Be holy, because I am holy" (Lev 11:44,45; 19:21; 20:26).2
2. He uses Himself the facilitator of that state: "I am the LORD, who makes you holy" (Exod 31:13; Lev 20:7).
The second way God ascribes worth to the Israelites is that...
B. He distinguishes them from others: "You [belong] to the LORD." (v.6).
Although God made all peoples, only the Israelites have an exclusive relationship with Him. The LORD indicates their special status by what He and Moses say about it.
1. God confirms it saying, "You are my...people" (Exod 22:3 1; Deut 28:9). 
2. Moses affirms it saying, "You are a people [belonging] to the LORD your God (Deut 14:2, 21; 26:19; 28:9).

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Hiram (1 Kings 5:1-12)

Hiram—A family friend (1 Kings 5:1-12)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

People are often oblivious to matters they do not think should concern them, a tendency that others may notice.
Karl listened from the other room as his wife patiently said to their five-year-old daughter, "Please pick up your toys." After a few minutes, she again said, "Please pick up your toys." Finally, and with some exasperation in her voice, his wife asked, "Why aren't you picking up your things?" Karl rolled his eyes when he heard their daughter's answer, "I'm playing house and I'm the I don't know where anything goes."
People are often oblivious to matters they do not think should concern them. That is not so with Solomon who is very concerned with a matter he inherits from his father— the task of building a temple.

When Solomon succeeds David on the throne of Israel he has an ambitious construction agenda, the most grandiose item being to replace the portable and temporary tabernacle with a stationary and permanent temple. David cannot take on this project because his administration is too involved in foreign military ventures. By the time Solomon comes to power, however, the kingdom is at peace, and the new king can focus on domestic matters, including building projects he wants to complete, such as the temple. Solomon says,
Because of the wars waged against my father David from all sides, he could not build a temple for the Name of the LORD his God until the LORD put his enemies under his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side, and there is no adversary or disaster. I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God, as the LORD told my father David. (1 Kgs 5:3-5)
Solomon accomplishes this project with considerable help from one of David's Companions, Hiram—A family friend. Hiram helps David build a "palace" (2 Sam 5:11) and will now help Solomon build a temple.

David does not have many friends among his Ancient Near Eastern neighbors. Most consider him their enemy. The reason for this is, in part, the adversarial role God's commandments require:
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city....put to the sword all the men in it.... This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. In the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them.... Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God. (Deut 20:10-18)
Tyre is north of Israel, outside the sphere of God's primary concern for pagan influence, and Hiram, the ruler of Tyre, is on good terms with his neighbor to the south. So, when the Israeli government changes with Solomon's ascension to the throne, Hiram sends the new administration his good wishes.

I. Hiram congratulates Solomon upon his coronation (1 Kings 5:1).
1 Kgs 5:1 When Hiram king of Tyre heard that Solomon had been anointed king to succeed his father David, he sent his envoys to Solomon, because he had always been on friendly terms with David.
It is customary on such an occasion to send representatives with gifts, and these representatives may be diplomats wanting to secure for Hiram the same formal relationship he had with David.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Ittai (2 Sam 15:19-22)

Ittai—An unconditional friend (2 Sam 15:19-22)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

There may be a sense of comradery for those who find themselves in the same situation even if they have little else in common.
John's cell phone quit working just as he tried to let his wife know he was caught in traffic and would be late for their anniversary dinner. As he waited for the long line of cars ahead of him to move, John composed a message on his laptop computer, asking other motorists to call her, printed the message on his portable printer, and taped it to the rear window. When John finally arrived home, his wife greeted him with a big kiss. "I know you love me," she said.... "At least 70 people called and told me so."
There may be a sense of comradery for those who find themselves in the same situation even if they have little else in common. David is significantly different from a particular officer under his command, but the two men still forge a friendship, despite that one is a Jew and the other is a gentile. Among David's Companions is Ittai—An unconditional friend.

There is a common ethnicity that binds together the descendants of Abraham. Yet more important than their common ancestry is their common deity and His revelation to them:
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? (Deut 4:7)
No other nation...know[s] his laws. (Ps 147:20)
Gentiles, though they lack a common ethnicity, can still acknowledge this deity, and they do. Through contact with Jews, many gentiles become aware of Israel's God. More importantly, through contact with Jews, some gentiles adopt Israel's God for their own, as He makes the opportunity available to them. Some gentiles in that latter category are easy to identify because the biblical description of them is sufficiently detailed. Other gentiles in that latter category are difficult to identify because the biblical description of them is less detailed. Still, the biblical author may provide sufficient intimation to point the reader in that direction, as is the case with one of David's Companions, Ittai—An unconditional friend, who appears briefly in the biblical text with just enough detail to suggest that he is one of those gentiles who adopts Israel's God.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Abiathar (1 Sam 22:18-23)

Abiathar—A protected friend (1 Sam 22:18-23)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

Do you ever feel trapped between a rock and a hard place? The situation is embarrassing, but you have nowhere to turn.
One evening Jackie and her teenage daughter Kim were out shopping when Kim decided to make a purchase. She greeted the cashier with only a "Hi," then proceeded to dig nervously in her wallet. She was having obvious trouble counting out the correct bills and change. But rather than help, the cashier simply stood and watched while Kim fumbled and mumbled her way to the correct amount. Finally, the transaction was complete. As Jackie and Kim were walking to the car, Kim turned to her mother and said, "That was my math tutor."
Do you ever feel trapped between a rock and a hard place? That is how Abiathar the high priest may have felt, trapped between David, the commander of Israel, and Saul, the king of Israel.

Among David's Companions is the priest Abiathar—A protected friend, whose relationship with David forms out of his concern for the cleric's safety when David learns that King Saul is trying to kill him. The king thinks Abiathar has "conspired" (22:13) with David against him. Abiathar does help David but not for some nefarious purpose. David visits the priest at Nob, having had to leave the court suddenly with no time to pack adequate supplies:
David asked [Abiathar] "Don't you have a spear or a sword here? I haven't brought my sword or any other weapon, because the king's business was urgent [giving Abiathar 'plausible deniability']." The priest replied, "The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one." David said, "There is none like it; give it to me." (1 Sam 21:8-9)
Doeg, a minor functionary in the king's court ("Saul's head shepherd" I Sam 21:7), informs Saul of this encounter: "I saw the son of Nob. [The high priest] gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine." (1 Sam 22:9-10) The report fuels Saul's paranoia and leads to his turning against the religious community at Nob. Later, Doeg becomes the king's executioner, and as an Edomite, he has "no qualms about killing Israelite priests [willing] to do what Saul's Israelite officials refused to do" (Youngblood 1992:736).

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Jonathan (1 Sam 20:1-43)

Jonathan—An instant friend  (1 Sam 20:1-43)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

Social media have revolutionized how we interact with other people and sometimes determine if we interact with other people.
The modern phenomenon of Facebook enables you to maintain contact with a vast number of individuals called "friends" who can remain apprised of your most exciting activities by reading or viewing what you post on the networking site. Should you become displeased with someone, for whatever reason, you can "unfriend"—an awkward new word now found in some modern dictionaries—you can "unfriend" that person, removing his or her name from your list of favored individuals who have access to your Facebook account and have the privilege of seeing whatever gems you post there.
Geico insurance company pokes fun at the phenomenon in a commercial that features three older women, two of whom do not quite grasp the Facebook technology. One woman brags about how easy it is to post pictures, as she refers to several photos she has taped to an actual wall. When a second woman expresses some displeasure at one of the pictures, the first woman thinks she can keep her from looking at all the pictures simply by saying out loud, "I 'unfriend' you," whereupon the third woman, obviously tech-savvy, says, "That's not how any of this works."
Social media have revolutionized how we interact with other people and sometimes determine if we interact with other people. Back in days of yore, when David lived (c. 1000 B.C.), long before social media, people talked with each other face-to-face, and people made friends face-to-face. Among David's Companions is Jonathan—An instant friend, with whom a relationship forms almost immediately, upon first meeting.

Despite the fact that David is one of the most prominent figures in sacred writ, the biblical author says very little about him before his confrontation with Goliath, giving only a brief description of his entry into the king's employ:
David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse [David's father], saying, "Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him." ...But David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father's sheep at Bethlehem. (1 Sam 16:21-22, 15)
David entered the court of King Saul where he became fast friends with Jonathan, the monarch's son.
Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. (1 Sam 18:1-3)
A friendship forms between the two boys almost immediately. The characterization of their relationship as one of "love" (v. 3) is not sexual but political, as the repeated description of it as a "covenant" (18:3; 20:8, 16; 22:8; 23:18) also evinces.

Despite their comradery, though, David and Jonathan appear together in the biblical text only twice more before parting ways, separated at last by Jonathan's untimely death at the hands of "the Philistines" (1 Sam 31:2). Both times they are together the conversation is about Saul's animosity toward David, which seems to follow the public's declaration after Goliath's defeat: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands" (1 Sam 18:7).

Saul is determined to kill David, but he does not succeed, despite his having several opportunities to do so. David, on the other hand, is determined not to kill Saul, despite his having at least one opportunity to do so. David says, "The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD's anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD." (1 Sam 24:6) David patiently bides his time, confident that God will bring him to the throne when the moment is right according to His plan.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

What to pray (2 Chr 20:1-13)

WHAT TO PRAY (2 Chr 20:1-13)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

Sometimes you face a difficult situation and know that you should pray but do not know how. In an act of desperation, you might compose a limerick like this student writes the night before an exam.
As I sit me down to study,
I pray the Lord I won't go nutty.
If I should fail to learn this junk,
I pray the Lord I will not flunk.
But if I do, don't mourn at all,
Just lay my bones in the study hail.
And tell the prof I did my best,
Then pile my books upon my chest.
Now I lay me down to rest,
And pray I'll pass tomorrow's test.
If I should die before I wake,
That's one less test I'll have to take.
Sometimes you face a difficult situation and know that you should pray but do not know how. King Jehoshaphat faces a difficult situation, and he may wonder What to Pray. He does not compose a limerick, though, but voices something that is effective in resolving his difficult situation.

After the Northern Kingdom of Israel falls to Assyria, and King Jehoshaphat rules the remaining Israelites in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, a federation of local governments decides to exploit Judah's weakness and invade the land. As these hostiles position troops at the border ready to attack, the Jewish monarch knows he is outmatched and appears before his people to enlist their aid in asking God for help.

I. The nation faces a coalition of enemy forces (2 Chr 20:1-4).
2 Chr 20:1 The Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, "A vast army2 is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar" (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.
A. The enemy readies to pounce.
When Assyria invaded the Northern Kingdom of Israel, enemy troops spared the Southern Kingdom of Judah, leaving that nation intact as a buffer with the Egyptian empire further south. Now that Assyrian troops are no longer in country, Judah faces a coalition of Moabites and Ammonites together again as they were when Israel was in the wilderness on its way to the Promised Land. At that time, God had instructed Moses to avoid them and not to engage with them militarily:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

So you want a king? (1 Sam 8:1-22)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

When you pray it is important to word your petitions carefully so there is no confusion about what you are requesting.
A young boy and his grandmother were walking along the sea shore when a huge wave appeared out of nowhere, sweeping the child out to sea. The horrified woman fell to her knees, raised her eyes heavenward, and begged the Lord to return her beloved grandson. Lo and behold, another wave reared up and deposited the stunned child on the sand before her, wet but unharmed. The grandmother looked the boy over carefully. He was fine. But still she stared up toward the heavens. "When we came here," she snapped indignantly... "he had a hat!"
When you pray it is important to word your petitions carefully so there is no confusion about what you are requesting.

God's people spent the first few hundred years after their exodus from Egypt trying to establish a presence in Canaan. They eliminated many of their opponents, as God instructed, yet not all, and they recently encountered an additional challenge to the conquest. While the Israelites have been moving into the land from the west, the Philistines have been moving into the land from the east and now occupy a significant portion of the coastal plain. To this point, the judges provided good leadership, but the latest judge, Samuel—more specifically, his sons—may not be up to the challenge. It is time for a change, a radical change in the leadership of God's people.' So there would be no question about what they want, the people subscribe to this adage: Be Careful What You Ask.

I. The people desire a king (1 Sam 8:1-18).
1 Sam 8:1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. 4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have."
To this point in the history of Israel, God is the nation's leader, a position He demonstrates most clearly by bringing the people out of Egypt and into Canaan. He operates through human agents, like Moses and the judges, but His use of the miraculous leaves no doubt that He is the one working. Unfortunately, while God designed the system, the system has broken down, because human agents are fallible. The latest examples, Samuel's sons, are very fallible, a situation that has caused some concern among the people, as well as some consideration of an alternative solution.
A. Their request is understandable.
1. The priests are dishonest.
Samuel's sons are corrupt, guilty of abusing their religious authority. They are dishonest, take bribes, and pervert justice (v. 3), all in violation of God's explicit commands; and these activities disqualify them for service in the tabernacle of the Lord. But the priests' dishonesty is part of another problem.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A demonstration of commitment (Acts 21:17-36)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Sometimes when you try to fix something, you only end up making it worse than it was.
Steve is in charge of water and sewer billing for a small city. Some customers complain that the postcard-sized bills look too much like junk mail and that they occasionally throw them away by mistake. So the billing department decides to use a full-sized letter and announces the new format a month ahead. To Steve's surprise, complaints start to come in over the proposed change. When he reviews the original announcement, he understands the reason. It reads... "Coming soon! New Larger Bills!"
Sometimes when you try to fix something, you only end up making it worse than it was. The apostle Paul tries to fix something on a visit to Jerusalem but only manages to make it worse.

Paul's ministry, especially his outreach to gentiles, has not endeared him to some in the Jewish community, despite the general acceptance of God-fearers in the synagogue. The false rumors about how he supposedly denigrates the law to make his teaching more appealing to non-Jews is particularly hard for this Pharisee to bear and is something he must address before it becomes too widespread and too difficult to correct.

Paul does not know it yet, but when he enters the temple to fulfill a Nazirite vow it will be his last public appearance. His return to Jerusalem is "A Window of Opportunity" to make the case that he is not a traitor to his people.

I. The elders receive the itinerant missionary (Acts 21:17-26).
Acts 21:17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity." 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Putting God's priorities first (Num 25)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

It is appropriate to honor those who are above you or older than you, at least listen to them:
An elderly man strode into his doctor's office and said, "Doc, my druggist said to tell you to change my prescription and to check the prescription you've been giving Mrs. Smith." "Oh, he did, did he?" the doctor shot back. "Since when does a druggist second guess a doctor's orders?" The old man replied, "Since he found out I've been on birth control pills for the last two months."
It is appropriate to honor those who are above you, as Phinehas does in being "Zealous for God's Honor."

As Israel makes its way from Egypt to the Promised Land, the nation encounters several obstacles. Some obstacles are direct, like that from the Amorites, who attempt to stop Israel's passage by using its army. Other obstacles are indirect, like that from the Moabites, who attempt to slow Israel's passage by using prophetic intervention through Balaam. Still other obstacles are even more insidious, like that from the Midianites, who attempt to subvert Israel's progress altogether by inviting the people to a seemingly innocuous celebration.

People in general want more out of life than what they currently have, and they look for what they lack in various places outside themselves, often resorting to some form of religion. God satisfies that need for all people who look to Him. Unfortunately, some people look elsewhere, even to gods of their own making, a practice that achieves some popularity even among God's people, those who should know better. Worshiping idols rarely stops with paying homage to them. Released from the moral constraints that come with worshiping the true God, idol worshipers are free to indulge themselves in any way they please, which they do.

I. Idolatry is rampant in Israelite society (Num 25:1-5).
A. The people adopts foreign influences.
Num 25:1 While Israel was staying in Shictim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD'S anger burned against them.
Adam and Eve receive no prohibition against idolatry, neither does Noah or the Patriarchs. In fact, idols are a common part of early households for generations:
When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father's household gods. (Gen 31:19)

Monday, December 3, 2018

The oracles of Balaam (Num 22-24)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

People often treat prayer like reciting a grocery list, and with good reason. After all, Paul says, "In everything, by prayer and petition... present your requests to God" (Phil 4:6).
A pajama-clad tot called out to his family: "I'm going upstairs to say my prayers now. Does anybody want anything?"
People often treat prayer like reciting a grocery list, but prayer should never simply be an enumeration of requests. In fact, God may direct you to focus your interaction with Him in a direction different from what you initially intend, as He does when instructing the prophet Balaam about "God's Protection Plan for Israel."

After Israel leaves its exile in Egypt, God's people travel through areas where other people groups have settled. These other people groups are not necessarily welcoming to large numbers of strangers traipsing through their territory, especially as the motive of these transients may not be clear. Are they just on their way to somewhere else, or are they looking for new places to conquer? Because of this uncertainty, the Israelites do not always receive a warm reception as they make their way to the Promised Land.
  • When the Israelites came to the city-state of Arad, forces from that region attacked, but Israel "completely destroyed them and their towns" (Num 21:3).
  • When the Israelites came to Sihon, the Amorite king rejected their offer to pass through his country without taxing its resources: Moses assured the king, "We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well" (Num 21:22b). Instead, the king "mustered his entire army and marched...against Israel.... Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land." (Num 21:23-24)
  • When the Israelites came to Bashan, that king "and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle.... [But] they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land. (Num 21:33, 35)
Another people the Israelites encounter is the Moabites, descendants of Lot, Abraham's nephew. The Moabites have settled east of the Jordan River and have a king named Balak, who is not thrilled when the Israelites reach his border.

I. Balak's plan is to seek Israel's destruction.

While others have resisted by force Israel's trek to Canaan and have invariably suffered as a result, this monarch attempts to avoid a confrontation and deals differently with this foreign invader, although his ultimate goal of eliminating the threat is the same as that of Israel's previous enemy encounters.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Merry Christmas! 2018

Dr and Mrs Paul Manuel
5351 Church View Road
Loysburg, PA  16659

Dear Family and Friends,

Technology can be eminently frustrating or it can be eminently satisfying. For me, technology has been the former lately, when the letters on my computer keyboard began behaving erratically, sometimes responding and other times not. I often found myself pounding the keyboard in an effort to produce a single character. Fortunately, between my poor typing skills and my laborious thought process, my frustration was limited, as even under optimum conditions what I compose sometimes takes a while to form on a page.

Thankfully, God has no such limitations. Whatever He wishes to appear does so immediately, without delay. When He commanded angels to announce the birth of His son, there was no lag in their coming: "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared" (Luke 2:13).

When Luke used the word 'suddenly,' it was only sudden from man's perspective, not from God's perspective. People were not expecting anything important to happen. For the shepherds, "keeping watch over their flocks" (Luke 2:8), Jesus' birth was a happy occasion, a joyous event that warranted their immediate attention "So, they hurried off and found the baby lying in a manger" (Luke 2:16).

This holiday has become so familiar to us that we sometimes view it as a burden, something to get through. Yet these days should also be a happy occasion because of what God did so many years ago.

God does not rely on technology to get things done. God does not rely on anything outside Himself. Unlike man He is independent, and God's independence will be evident in Jesus' second advent as it was in his first advent. We may think that any sudden action by God is well past by now. Yet, He does have more to come, "So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matt 24:44).

We may become impatient or frustrated when technology fails to provide the instant gratification we expect. There is no impatience or frustration with God. Whatever He plans runs smoothly and on schedule. That was the case with Jesus' first advent—"When the time had fully come, God sent his son" (Gal 4:4)—and it will be the case with Jesus' second advent, which will include some of the same characters:
Immediately after the distress of those days...the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky...and he will send his angels [to] gather his elect...from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matt 24:29-31)
We wish you a very Merry Christmas as well as a happy and healthy New Year, free from the frustration of failing technology. May our great God satisfy you with many blessings as you serve Him.

Merry Christmas!

Pastor Paul and Linda
For a pdf see here.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)

Infamous Couples in the Bible
ANANIAS & SAPPHIRA (Acts 5:1-11)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Marriage involves countless decisions large and small, especially about things to buy or sell.
After many years of wedded bliss, Dorothy's original wedding ring had become worn and thin, so she asked her husband to buy her a new ring as her anniversary present. But this time she asked him to buy her one with a bigger diamond. They went to the jewelry store to pick one out. As they waited for the clerk, Dorothy said to her husband, "My eyes aren't as good as they used to be, so I'd really like diamonds I can see." Having overheard their conversation, a customer standing nearby remarked, "Sir, it would be cheaper...if you bought her better glasses."
Marriage involves countless decisions large and small, especially about things to buy or sell. "Ananius & Sapphira" decided to sell some property, but the distribution of the proceeds is problematic.

The early church (believing Jews and God-fearers) is a reform movement within Judaism that carries with it some of the practices of the temple, including a concern for the poor. One way the temple shows this concern is through the freewill offering. Other major offerings are obligatory and mainly support (feed) the priesthood. The freewill offering is optional and has a broader application (funneled through the temple treasury), and its varied substance is more easily convertible to meet different needs, including support for the poor. The early church exhibited a similar concern and took steps to alleviate those suffering in its midst. That effort is not always successful, though, as with one of the Infamous Couples in the Bible.

The gospel appeals to people from various socio-economic backgrounds, from the very poor to the very wealthy. James refers to this mix in his letter:
My brothers...don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (Jms 2:1-4)
The church in Jerusalem attempts to remedy this disparity by redistributing some of what people have. One couple that decides to participate, "Ananius & Sapphira," attempts to make its own rules, with disastrous results.

I. The couple tries to deceive the Lord, who responds accordingly (Acts 5:1-10).
A. Ananias could present a whole offering but gives only part (vv. 1-6).
1. He keeps some for himself.
Acts 5:1 A man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
To help care for the poor in the early church, members combine their resources and dole them out as needed:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
In keeping with this practice, one couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sell a piece of property they own, presumably intending to donate the proceeds to the needy in the congregation. Theirs is a selfless and generous act that is much like a free-will offering in the temple: giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you (Deut 16:10).
Like a freewill offering in the temple, a church offering is purely voluntary and variable in its value.

If one wishes to keep something he has (previously) dedicated to God as a freewill offering (e.g., through a vow), he may redeem it by paying its value plus a 20% surcharge:
If the man who dedicates his house redeems it, he must add a fifth to its value, or the house and the substitute become holy (i.e., subject to sacrifice). If the man who dedicates a field wishes to redeem it, he must add a fifth to its value, and the field will again become his.... If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. (Lev 27:15, 19,31)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Ahab & Jezebel (1 Kgs 21:1-29)

Infamous Couples in the Bible
AHAB & JEZEBEL (1 Kgs 21:1-29)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Religious differences between a husband and wife can make a marriage stressful.
A young lady came home and told her mother that her boyfriend had proposed, but she turned him down because she discovered he was an atheist, and did not believe in heaven or hell. "Marry him anyway, dear," the mother said. "Between the two of us, we'll show him how wrong he is."
Religious differences between a husband and wife can make a marriage stressful. That is not really a problem for "Ahab & Jezebel." He has forsaken the Lord, and she is an idolater. Together they are one of the Infamous Couples in the Bible.

After the death of Solomon, his empire divides into the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Southern Kingdom is politically stable because its kings (which are morally mixed) come from the same (Davidic) family line. The Northern Kingdom is politically unstable because its kings (which are all morally evil) come from different (non-Davidic) family lines. One of those bad northern monarchs is King Ahab, and his pagan wife is Queen Jezebel.

I. A dispute in Israel causes corruption at the royal court.
A. Ahab wants to buy Naboth's vineyard (1 Kgs 21:1-2).
1 Kgs 21:1 There was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. 2 Ahab said to Naboth, "Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth."
Ahab seems to make a reasonable offer to Naboth for his vineyard, either a trade for other property or an outright purchase. The king wants this particular piece because it lies adjacent to the royal palace, property he currently owns. It is a matter of convenience not a matter of necessity.
B. Naboth refuses to sell his vineyard (1 Kgs 21:3-4).
1 Kgs 21:3 But Naboth replied, "The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers." 4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, "I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers." He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.
This vineyard is part of Naboth' s ancestral land that God gave to his family in perpetuity and is not subject to sale or transfer:
The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants (Lev 25:23).
No inheritance in Israel is to pass from tribe to tribe, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal land inherited from his forefathers (Num 36:7).
This is an illegal request by the king, who should know better, but he is in a sulk.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Samson & Delilah (Judg 16:4-31)

Infamous Couples in the Bible
SAMSON & DELILAH (Judg 16:4-31)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

There is a saying that "practice makes perfect," but repetition does not always yield a favorable result.
Jean decided to trim her household budget, so, instead of having a dress dry-cleaned, she washed it by hand. Proud of her savings, she boasted to her husband, "Just think, we are five dollars richer because I washed this dress by hand." "Good," he replied.... "Wash it again!"
Repetition does not always yield a favorable result. There is also a saying that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Delilah asks Samson the same question over again expecting a different answer, not because she is insane but because she hopes to cajole him into revealing the secret of his great strength.

It has been about 400 years since Israel's exodus from Egypt (1450 BCE). A series of judges is currently ruling the people, one of whom is Samson (1118-1078 BCE). Israel's primary enemy is a group of foreign invaders called Philistines, who migrate into the area from the west sailing across the Mediterranean Sea. They settle along the coastal plain and are a constant thorn in Israel's side, raiding settlements and destroying crops. They remain unopposed until a deliverer arises, a Nazirite who is also a man of great physical strength, and he single-handedly challenges their reign of terror. After some high-profile victories, Samson falls for a local prostitute named Delilah, who is in the employ of the Philistine rulers. She is the Mata Hari of her day, who attempts to seduce Samson, neutralize his advantage, and turn him over to the Philistine leaders. As a pair, "Samson & Delilah" is one of the Infamous Couples in the Bible and serves as a bad example of how a relationship should function.

I. Delilah researches Samson's strength.
Judg 16:4 [SamsonI fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. 5 The rulers of the [five Philistine cities] went to her and said, "See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver."
Delilah is not an Israelite, so she has no loyalty to God's people. She is an independent contractor, solely committed to advancing her own interests, which at the moment coincide with those of her Philistine employers: Find the source of Samson's great strength. The coalition is promising her a tidy sum for this information—55 hundred shekels of silver, about $90,000 in today's market, not a bad wage for a night's work. Still, "the risk was considerable, therefore the bribe had to outweigh the personal danger involved" (Cundall 1967:176). As it turns out, the job is a little more difficult than it first appears.