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.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Adam & Eve (Gen 3:1-24)

Infamous Couples in the Bible
ADAM & EVE (Gen 3:1-24)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

There are some activities in the course of life where weight is an important consideration.
When Jim called to make reservations on a small charter plane departing from an equally small airport, he was not surprised at the agent's comment, "The plane is very full with baggage and passengers," and then she asked, "How much do you weigh, sir?" Not thinking clearly Jim answered, "With or without clothes?" "Well," replied the clerk, "how do you intend to travel?"
There are some activities in life where weight is an important consideration but few where clothing is optional. When "Adam & Eve" are in the Garden of Eden, clothing is not optional until they are out of the garden, when it becomes obligatory. They are one of the Infamous Couples in the Bible, two people that pave the way for the rest of us, and not in a good way.

People often have an idyllic and romantic view of mankind's first parents. They live in the most luxurious accommodations in all creation, surrounded by lush foliage and abundant wildlife. They have ample food and water, as well as a productive occupation:
The LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.... A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.... The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Gen 2:8-10, 15)
They want for nothing, and life is good.... So what makes mankind's first parents infamous? Despite their many blessings from God, they choose to disobey Him. He gives them almost complete autonomy and only one restriction:
The LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Gen 2:16-17)
God's instructions could not be simpler or easier to follow. He does not command them to perform a difficult task, one that requires great knowledge or skill. He wants them only to refrain from doing something, which just requires an act of will. Evidently that one volitional act is difficult enough, compounded by contrary input from Satan.

Genesis 3 provides an explanation for the introduction of evil into what God created, an event that mars the 'good' world He made. As Paul notes, "the creation was subjected to frustration, [and] not by its own choice" (Rom 8:20).

I. The main characters set the stage in The Drama of Redemption.
A. The serpent confuses the woman (Gen 3:1-5).
Gen 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." 4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
This is the first indication of a contrary agenda in creation. Until this point, the only will in evidence is God's will. The serpent is a metonym for Satan, as John makes clear in his Revelation when he mentions "the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan" (Rev 20:2). Reference to his rebellion against God comes elsewhere in scripture:
You were in Eden, the garden of God.... You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.... You sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub.... Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth.... (Ezek 28:13-17)

Monday, September 3, 2018

How firm a foundation (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
When you are building a new business, you want to inspire confidence that you can meet the needs of potential customers.
Tom had recently opened a computer repair shop, and he was struggling to get the new venture off the ground, so he really didn't have time to attend a birthday party for his mother-in-law's three-year-old grandson Tyler, but his wife insisted that they both go. Besides, Tyler adored Tom. The party was proceeding smoothly until Tyler brought Tom his new "Strawberry Shortcake" toy computer, that can help with spelling and some other things. Tyler wanted Tom to turn it on for him. Tom opened it up, slid a couple of switches back and forth, but the "Strawberry Shortcake" toy computer would not come on. Tom gave it back to Tyler saying that he couldn't help him. Tyler took the computer and gave it to the mother of a little girl who had the same toy. She opened it up pushed a button, and it came on. Tom asked her what she had touched to turn it on. She replied, "the 'On/Off' button." When Tom said he couldn't figure it out, "And I work on computers for a living." She replied, "I wouldn't tell that to anyone."
When you are building a new business, you want to inspire confidence that you can meet the needs of potential customers. When God builds His new church, He wants to inspire confidence that He can meet the needs of those who are more even than potential tenants.

Because Peter, the author of our passage this morning, is an "apostle to the Jews" (Gal 2:8), his ministry is primarily to the descendants of Abraham, and he addresses his first epistle accordingly: "To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered..." (1 Peter 1:1) Nevertheless, much of what he writes, especially about Jesus, is applicable to all believers, Jews and gentiles. In describing the rabbi, Peter makes three architectural comparisons that are in some ways characteristic of him:
  • Jesus is the living stone (1 Peter 2:4-5).
  • Jesus is the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6).
  • Jesus is the capstone (1 Peter 2:7-8).
Each kind of stone forms a different but integral part of the building. In the course of describing the savior, Peter also describes others, both those who accept Jesus and those who reject him.

I. Jesus is the living stone (1 Peter 2:4-5).
1 Pet 2:4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
When Peter calls Jesus a "living stone" and his followers "living stones," he is probably referring to what comprises the body or central part of a building (given that his other metaphors correspond to the bottom and top parts respectively). Referring to someone as a stone is not necessarily a compliment. After all, a person can be "dumb as a rock" or a "stone cold killer." Yet in the Bible "living stone" is a positive metaphor that denotes usefulness as a spiritual building material. The 'stone' quality makes it stable and dependable; the 'living' quality makes it dynamic, subject to increase and growth:
  • Jesus illustrates the first quality: He "is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8),
  • Believers illustrate both qualities: They are to be "firm in the faith" (1 Pet 5:9) yet ever growing in "grace and knowledge" (2 Pet 3:18). A building of "living stones" is durable, impervious to the ravages of time.
Peter's mention of "holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5) echoes God's use of the term with the nation of Israel, whom He tasked with directing other peoples' attention to Him (Exod 19:6). The apostle John hints that the Lord will one day take some gentiles to minister in His millennial temple:
"I will select some of be priests and Levites," says the LORD (Isa 66:21). 
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God (Rev 5:10).

Sunday, September 2, 2018

"I know that my Redeemer lives..."

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
When you have to be someplace at a particular time, you may want the assurance of a proper start to get you there.
Lisa's youngest child was thrilled when her turn came to enter kindergarten. To make sure she had plenty of time on that first day to get dressed, eat breakfast, and drive to the school, Lisa woke everyone up early, so early it was still dark. As her daughter was getting dressed she came into her room looking troubled. "What's wrong?" Lisa asked, mustering as much cheerfulness as she could at that early hour. "This is your big day!" "You didn't tell me," her daughter blurted back, "that I was going to night school."
When you have to be someplace at a particular time, you may want the assurance of a proper start to get you there. Likewise, when you face the finality of death you may want the assurance, the "Blessed Assurance" of a proper start to get you there.

Job, a contemporary of Abraham (c. 2000 BC), is a wealthy herdsman who has a reputation for being righteous. That reputation attracts Satan's attention who attempts to turn Job away from God. Satan's attack not only knocks Job back on his heels, it causes Job to question his understanding about how God exercises mercy and causes Job to wonder if he is still a recipient of it. The counsel Job receives from those around him is not encouraging: "His wife said to him, 'Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!'" (Job 2:9) Nevertheless, Job's commitment to the Lord does not flag.

Even as Job defends his integrity to those who should be supportive, he twice issues strong assertions of faith. Despite friends' questioning his integrity and the strength of his allegiance to God, Job says: "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him" (Job 13:15). Later, and as they continue to express doubts, Job issues another statement, this one expressing his belief about a future with God:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
This second statement is an early and strong assertion about belief in a life after death in general and about a resurrection from the dead in particular.

Most people in the Ancient Near East have some belief in an afterlife. It is populated by other spirits as well, both benevolent and malevolent. Whether the next life is pleasant or unpleasant often depends on one's status (rich or poor) and one's conduct (good or bad) in this life.

God's people in the Ancient Near East also believe in an afterlife. It is populated by angelic beings, both benevolent and malevolent. Whether the next life is pleasant or unpleasant depends on one's decision for or against God in this life. When a person makes that decision he seals his fate, because "man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Heb 9:27). Job has made that decision which, despite his very unhappy present state, gives him a "Blessed Assurance" about his very happy future state.

I. Job is absolutely certain (Job 19:25).
Job 19:25 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
This is one of few Old Testament passages that gives insight into how an Old Testament saint understands his eternal state. There are many things he does not know, details the New Testament will reveal, like the identity of the messiah. But he knows the essentials, that he needs a savior, and that....
A. He has a living redeemer.
...whatever his name may be. The redeemer's name does not become manifest until much later, as does his resurrected state, yet Job knows that redeemer "is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Heb 7:25). Moreover...

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

That which was lost is found (Luke 15)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
Sometimes what people find has not been lost but merely misplaced or relocated.
While on vacation, a family went to dine at a fancy restaurant. Their two young girls were playing quietly under the table while the parents ate. A nearby couple kept staring at the girls, which annoyed their parents because the kids were not being disruptive. Finally the woman leaned over and said, "You should know that your girls are picking gum off the bottom of the table...and eating it."
Sometimes what people find has not been lost but merely misplaced or relocated. On such occasions the challenge may be distinguishing between "Lost and Found," and moving those from the 'lost' column to the 'found' column. Jesus tells a trio of parables to illustrate God's relentless pursuit of people who become estranged from Him and need to be reassigned.
Jesus does not always get along with religious leaders of the day. There are some of course who agree with him. A group of those positively disposed toward his message, for example, sends a representative to inquire about his ministry:
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council [the Sanhedrin]. He came to Jesus.. .and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." (John 3:1-2)
Nicodemus and his colleagues are open to what Jesus has to say, largely because they cannot ignore the evidence of his power in support of his preaching.
There are others, however, who do not agree with him and who oppose him. While a few may differ with Jesus in matters of doctrine, most who oppose him do so out of envy, because his popularity is exceeding theirs. In response, they attempt to marginalize him, silence him, and finally eliminate him. Their animosity grows gradually, though, fueled by encounters like the one in Luke 15:
Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then Jesus told them [these three] parable[s]. (Luke 15:1-3)
  • The lost sheep
  • The lost silver
  • The lost son
I. A shepherd finds his lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7).
Luke 15:4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
A. He searches for it diligently.
This shepherd is so concerned for the single lost lamb that he leaves the rest of his flock (probably in the care of other shepherds) to search for it. There may also be some urgency if the area is habitat for wild beasts to which the sheep are prey. In any case, when he finds the one that wandered off, he does not attempt to coax it back to the others but wastes no more time away from the herd and carries it back himself.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"Though He slay me..." (Job 13:13-16)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
Different environments pose different challenges to maintaining order and cleanliness.
Keeping Jill's old farmhouse clean was a constant challenge. Muddy boots, socks embedded with straw, dirt blowing through the windows, grandchildren, cats and dogs, even the occasional newborn calf warming up on the porch all contributed to her daily routine of sweeping, shaking, vacuuming, and washing. She thought she was pretty neat and tidy until a friend from the city with no kids and no pets complained about how dirty her house would get. "How bad can it be?" Jill asked. "There are just the two of you living in a new house." "Well," her friend explained, "have you ever noticed how much dust flies into the air...when you pull a tissue out of the box?"
Different environments pose different challenges to maintaining order and cleanliness. Similarly, different arguments, like the one Job advances, require different responses in order to maintain "A Delicate Balance: Not Silence But Confidence."
Job is in a difficult position. He has a reputation of being a righteous man, but he is suffering a debilitating malady that many people attribute to divine judgment for being unrighteous. Despite appearances, however, Job has chosen to maintain his faith. In fact, he makes the bold assertion, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him (Job 13:15a). Indeed, the repeated testimony of God affirms Job's impeccable character:
The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (Job 1:8)
[Again,] the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason." (Job 2:3)
Even Satan admits it:
"Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." (Job 1:9-11)
[Again,] "stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face." (Job 2:5)
In all this, Job's faith remains unshaken:
[Job] fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20b-22)
[Again,] he replied...."Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2: 10b-c)
Nevertheless, through all his trouble, even to the end, Job remains unaware of Satan's involvement in his suffering or of God's instigation.
Although God gives him no incentive to believe one way or another, Job must have had an earlier encounter with God that shaped his faith and prepared him to deal with the challenge he would face later, as the book that bears his name records. In it, the narrator explains the rationale behind Job's faith, the thought process that compels him to adopt his particular viewpoint of trust and that enables him to cope with the problem of theodicy (a vindication of divine goodness despite the existence of evil):
Job 13:13 Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may. 14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands? 15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. 16 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him!
Job does not simply accept his plight and suffer in silence. He knows he is innocent of any great sin that would warrant the punishment he is experiencing, and he argues with God over the injustice of it all.

Monday, August 6, 2018

My life verse

MY LIFE VERSE (Ps 119:173)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
I do not recall precisely what compelled me to choose this particular passage as the verse on which I would base my life. I had recently come from a session with the minister of our church, having told him that I felt God wanted me to do more than just teach Sunday School. He asked me what I thought I should be doing. Since I was enjoying very much my most recent endeavor, I said "teaching." Then he expressed the news I dreaded most: "I think you'll have to go back to school."

I had already dropped out after one failed semester of college. Higher education was for smart people, not for me. Besides, I had a good job, was recently married, and just bought a house within a mile from my parents' home, the church, and both our places of work. The prospect of leaving all that did not thrill me. Moreover, a Bible college seemed to offer the only degree that would enable me to do what I thought I should: prepare for a career teaching Bible in secondary education, and there was no Bible college in our area.

I devoted three days to fasting, prayer, and study, the fruit of which was God's direction, leaving the decision up to me whether to stay or go—"You choose," He seemed to say—and pointed me to this verse.
May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts (Ps 119:173).
So, we packed the house, rented a truck, and moved from Long Island to South Carolina, where I would attend Columbia Bible College, still uncertain about how we would pay for this new adventure or even if I would be successful academically. After all, my previous attempt at college did not go well.

Linda got a job, though not as good as the one she had in New York. Still, she only worked for a year before starting school herself after we calculated that between the generous school policy that allowed the spouse of a full-time student to attend classes free, and our two federal grants, it was more economical for her to be a student than to work.

By my second year I was confident that I could succeed scholastically and already had my sights set on grad school. Eighteen years and five degrees later (a B.A., three M.A.s, and a Ph.D.), it was time to use all that training. Yet I did not enter academia as I thought I would. God had other plans for me. The interim pastorate I took after graduation was only supposed to be for three months, but it lasted three years. After that, I remained in the pulpit and did not enter the classroom.

Did my life verse fit my life? Indeed it did, even though my life did not turn out quite as I planned. It did turn out (and is still turning out) as God planned. While I enjoy teaching, the pastorate has allowed me to do some of that as well as providing the freedom to write about a variety of subjects that interest me rather than only subjects that are necessary for a job. Thanks to a good friend in Wisconsin who created a blog for me, my studies and sermons also have a wider audience than I might have garnered had I published as a teacher alone.

Looking back, I realize that God has always upheld His part of the equation: His hand has always been "ready to help me." Perhaps the most obvious expression of His aid is His placing beside me a wonderfully supportive helpmeet who has made possible whatever success I have achieved, both academically and professionally. My life would be infinitely poorer without Linda. As I look back, I also realize that God's word has always served to guide me in upholding my part of the equation: "for I have chosen Your precepts." The decision to heed His instruction pertains to many matters, from observing the Sabbath to maintaining our marriage, from adopting biblical dietary laws to our serving a particular congregation. In all these ways and more God has provided guidance in the optimum way to go, a way that is both eminently satisfying and eternally rewarding.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Getting what we deserve? (Ps 103:10)

"JUST DESSERTS" (Ps 103:10)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
It is disconcerting for a driver when he sees a patrol car's flashing lights in his rearview mirror, specially when he realizes that those lights are directing him to pull over. His eyes immediately check the speedometer. Can he talk his way out of a ticket?
A fellow was speeding along the highway, feeling quite secure since the rest of the traffic was traveling at the same pace. Passing a speed trap, he was tagged by a radar detector and subsequently pulled over. After the patrolman handed him a ticket, the driver said, "Officer, I may have been speeding, but this just doesn't seem fair. There were lots of cars around me traveling just as fast. Why did I get the ticket?" "Have you ever gone fishing?" the patrolman asked. "Uhhhh, yeah," the driver replied, a bit puzzled. Grinning, the officer continued... "Did you try to catch all the fish?"
It is disconcerting for a driver when he sees a patrol car's flashing lights in his rearview mirror. God does not issue speeding tickets, although you might prefer that He did, especially when you are in line to receive your "Just Desserts."
We assume that God is eminently fair, that unlike man He is not capricious in His dealings with us, and there is considerable Biblical testimony for such a view:
All his ways are just....Upright and just is he. (Deut 32:4)
The leaders of Israel and the king...said, "The LORD is just." (2 Chr 12:6)
The works of his hands are faithful and just.... (Ps 111:7a)
God is just. (2 Thess 1:6)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.... (1 John 1:9)
Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. (Rev 15:3c)
The down side of God's fairness is that He demands accountability from His creatures, those who are volitional beings and should know right from wrong. The Apostle Paul has repeatedly said that people who commit sin (i.e., everyone), who violate the standards of behavior God established, are accountable before Him:
Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.... There is no one righteous, not even one.... For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:9-10, 23)
We will all stand before God's judgment seat.... Each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14: lOc, 12).
We also read that God metes out punishment according to a preordained and calculated metric, and that it is wrong when such equity is absent:
That servant who knows his master's will and...does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. (Luke 12:47-48)
There is something...meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This...I say, is meaningless. (Ecci 8:14)
Nevertheless, God will treat some people more harshly than others for their disobedience:
If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over.... If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over.... If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over.... If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. (Lev 26:18, 21,23-24, 27-28).
While He is indeed not capricious, neither is He rigidly fixated on a strict tit-for-tat policy. He does not throw down lightening bolts from heaven in answer to each transgression. There is a leniency in His response to man despite his sin.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Digging up the Bible: Seals

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
Hezekiah Seal

Isaiah Seal

Dr. Eilat Mazar from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem led an investigation of debris near the southern wall of the temple mount. Sifting through the undisturbed Iron Age remains, archaeologists found two clay seals (bullae sg. bulla) of the type commonly used in antiquity (8th century B.C.) to authenticate documents. Each seal is about a half-inch wide with paleo-Hebrew characters. The first seal bears the name Hezekiah (Hizkiyahu), which means "The LORD has strengthened," and presumably belonged to that Judean king. The second seal bears the name Isaiah (Yeshayahu), which means "The Lord will save," and may have belonged to the Judean prophet. The following word on the second seal is partially broken off with only the letters nv intact, but it could represent the Hebrew word for prophet (navi'). Neither name is common in the biblical text, and neither name appears outside the royal court. Archaeologists discovered both seals only a few feet apart from each other.

The prophet Isaiah ministered during the reigns of several Judean monarchs but primarily during that of Hezekiah, for whom he served as an advisor and who had an outstanding reputation: "Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him." (2 Kgs 18:5) Isaiah offered counsel to the king during some difficult episodes in the nation's history. The two individuals figured prominently in events that the books of 2 Kings and Isaiah both record:
  • The invasion and subsequent withdrawal of Assyrian forces under Sennacherib (2 Kgs 18-19; Isa 36-37; see Digging- Sennacherib's Annals)
  • The reception of emissaries from Babylon (2 Kgs 20; Isa 39)
The prophet also made important predictions for people in his day and beyond:
  • King Hezekiah's illness and healing, and the sun's retreat (2 Kgs 20; Isa 38)
  • The advent and death of the messiah (Isa 9; 52-53)
Significance for Biblical Studies: The two seals, especially if the Isaiah Seal did belong to the prophet, represent confirmation for key biblical figures and lend support to the role they played witnessing and participating in major events from Israel's history.
The pdf for this post is here.