Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wedding: "My Beloved" (Song 6:3a)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2001

Where below "Bride" and "Groom" are indicated Pastor Manuel
inserted the names of the individuals being married.

As I was considering which biblical passage would be appropriate to use in this charge to the couple, I wanted something different from what is often part of such occasions—perhaps something from the Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses charges the Israelites about to enter the Promised Land. They were venturing into unknown territory much as Bride and Groom are. What sage counsel might the venerated leader of God's people give these two? After a careful search, I found in chapter 25 a helpful tip for the bride on their future relationship:
Do not muzzle an ox... (Deut 25:4a).
For the groom, Moses final words might be appropriate for this day:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified... (Deut 31:6a)
In the end, though, I decided one text applicable to both would be better, so I chose a passage from Canticles, the Song of Solomon, which is, appropriately, a wedding poem.
For centuries, people have wondered why a book of love poetry would be included in the biblical canon. Some suggested that it is an allegory of God's love for Israel or of Christ's love for the Church. More likely, though, is that it serves as a model of human love in a godly relationship. The poem is a series of lyrics in which the bride and groom express their affection for each other. With that in mind, I recommend to you both but a single line, perhaps the most familiar, from this great composition. The bride speaks these words, yet they could easily have come from the groom's lips as well, for they embody the attributes necessary for success and happiness in marriage:
I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine (Song 6:3a).
There is no secret to what we find here, nothing lost for centuries and rediscovered in modern times. Like other books in the Hebrew wisdom tradition, such as Proverbs, what these words espouse is common sense, and I recommend them to you both as you begin your life together. A successful and happy marriage requires two attributes this verse contains: devotion and appreciation.
  • Devotion: "I am my beloved's."
When the bride in the poem says this, she is not pledging bondage or subservience to her mate (as is clear from the next phrase). Rather, she is expressing her devotion; her desire and her decision to give all that she is and has to him. As I mentioned before, these words could come just as easily from the groom as from the bride, for marriage is the commitment of two people to each other. The traditional vows declare this devotion in phrases such as "forsaking all others for you alone" and "I pledge thee my troth (my fidelity/loyalty)."

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Wedding: "Good to Be Together"

Dr. Paul Manuel—2001

Where below "Bride" and "Groom" are indicated Pastor Manuel
inserted the names of the individuals being married.

As I was preparing my remarks, my wife Linda suggested I use that well-known admonition from the Apostle Paul: "Husbands, obey your wives" ( Col 3:19a). Because the subject of obedience in marriage, however, is such a delicate matter these days, it seemed best to use a more neutral text. I decided, instead, on Gen 2:18, the passage where God first establishes this institution. It is a familiar story and, as with the verse from Paul's letter, one my wife quotes with some frequency.
Although I know the passage well, having heard her use it often, I thought it best to check my recollection with the original. To my astonishment, I discovered that Linda had developed her own midrash, her own enhanced version. The difference is not great, but her rendition casts God's reason for marriage in a revealing light. Having made man from the dust of the earth, God looks at the epitome of His creation, shakes His head and, in her paraphrase, says, "Oy, this is not good. I cannot leave this man alone" ( Gen 2:18). Apparently, Linda's own experience has given her some insight into this event.
While not quite what the King James has, Linda's version may be essentially correct, despite the slight embellishment. Put yourself in God's shoes (metaphorically speaking). For several days, you have been creating some impressive stuff—light, seas, plants, stars, birds. At the end of each day, you look at what you have done and, with understandable satisfaction, say, "This is good." On the sixth day, for your final and greatest act, you make man, but when you examine the finished product, you realize, "Oy, this is not good. There is obviously something missing. This guy is not going to be able to make it in the real world without help." Only after you make woman, can you look with pride on the sixth day's labor and say, "Now this is good!" (Gen 1:31a)
Linda has perceived God's primeval dilemma as well as His wise solution. Through the revelation of personal experience, she has comprehended the tragic truth—one that enables her to read between the lines of scripture—that most men do not fare well left to their own devices.
When God says, "It is not be alone," we can assume the opposite must be true, that "It is good to be together." Bride and Groom, you come to this union later than most couples do and with more experience than most couples have. Nevertheless, as you begin this new stage of your life, let me offer three recommendations. You may already have realized their value, but permit me to repeat them—ways to realize that it is Good to Be Together.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Weddings and funerals

Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

One of the most enjoyable tasks a minister has is conducting a wedding service, because it signals the start of life for two people and the enjoyable prospect that life holds for their future together. In addition to the legal pronouncement accompanying the service ("husband and wife"), the most important part is the charge he issues to them, although they will probably not remember it.

One of the least 'enjoyable' tasks a minister has is conducting a funeral service, because it signals the end of life for a person who may or may not have comported himself well and, therefore, has a potentially uncertain future from a minister's perspective. Thankfully, the determination of that future, whether with God or apart from God, is not a minister's responsibility. Although how that person lived often indicates how he will spend eternity, a minister must direct his remarks, which may include a brief meditation, to the living.

For the redeemed, of course, a funeral, like a wedding, should also be a celebration, as a child of God has entered eternity. In fact, there is no greater joy than the assurance of eternal life in the presence of the eternal God. It is the culmination of all goodness and blessing the Lord has in store for His people, including the certainty of a final resurrection to life.

The relative number of weddings and funerals is some indication of a congregation's health, not its spirituality but its numerical growth potential. A disproportionate number of funerals, for example, points to a church in decline and heading toward possible closure. The German Seventh Day Baptist church in Salemville PA is one such group, a loving assembly of God's people committed to serving Him but, barring some significant change, resigned to slow but eventual obscurity. The church has several factors that do not work in favor of numerical growth: a rural location, a non-traditional day of worship, and few programs, especially for children.

These wedding charges and funeral meditations are devotionals from services I have had the privilege of conducting in the course of ministry. My approach to them, like my approach to sermon preparation, is textual so each message reflects on a particular biblical passage. People will remember little of what I say, but if I can reinforce their recollection of an already familiar biblical passage, then it may come to mind again when a future need arises. Although I originally prepared these for specific occasions, I have removed mention of specific people but left the message itself intact.

Wedding Charges
"My Beloved" (Song 6:3a).
"The Pursuit of Happiness" (Eccl 2:26; 3:12).

Funeral Meditations
"The Decision to Serve the Lord" (Josh 24:15).
    NB: Because this meditation was very personal
    (for my father, its only use), I did not revise it.
"Home at Last" (Ps 23:6b).
"The Measure of a Man" (Ps 37:21, 26).
"God Is the Source" (Ps 90:1-12).
"Bless the Lord" (Ps 103:1-5).
"To Praise the LORD" (Ps 117:1-2).
"A Cheerful Look" (Prov 15:30a).
"Safe in the Arms of Jesus" (Mark 10:14,16).
   NB: This meditation was for the death of an infant.
"Abundant Life" (John 10:7-10).

For a pdf of this post see here.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Choice (Lev 22:20; Deut 12:13-14)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

There are rules that govern many situations, and if you are familiar with them you may not become discouraged when events do not unfold as you think they should.
A man drove by a little league game one day and, being a baseball fan, he decided to stop and watch for a while. He sat on the bleachers behind the fence and asked one of the players on the bench what the score was. "We're behind 24 to nothing," the boy answered with a smile. "Really?" the man said. "You don't look very discouraged." "Why should I be discouraged?" the boy asked with a puzzled look on his face. "We haven't been up to bat yet."
There are rules that govern many situations, including rules about how you make The Choice: Please Yourself or Please Your God.
God made clear from the beginning that He cares about quality. At the end of each day during the creation He assigned His imprimatur: "It was good" (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). That concern for quality is also evident in the expectations He has from His people when He tells them to "be holy," an expectation He links to His own character: "because I am holy" (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:26). This penchant for perfection extends also to the expectations He has for the offerings His people present to Him, and He issues guidelines for that.
I. God's rules dictate what to offer (Lev 22:20).1
...and these rules are not open to negotiation or modification.
A. Man's standards are imperfect.
What they present to Him is unacceptable. Pagans, for example, offer anything, even unclean things that God abhors, like "pig's blood" (Isa 66:3).2 Some pagans offer their own children, a practice God condemns repeatedly.3 Pagans think what someone presents does not matter, but it does matter, especially if the recipient is the Lord, because...
B. God's standards are perfect.
He decides what is acceptable or not.4 God told Moses in Leviticus that He has very exacting standards for whenever people bring an offering: "Do not bring anything with a defect,5 because it will not be accepted on your behalf" (Lev 22:20), and the point of any sacrifice is to present something God will accept.
There are also regulations about what is survivable for the minister. As God tells Aaron, "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die" (10:9). Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu may have violated that regulation by becoming inebriated and offering "unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to His command"6 with the unfortunate result that "fire came out from the presence of the LORD...and they died before the LORD" (10:1-2).7 It is important that God's people not waste His time or jeopardize their own safety by ignoring His rules about what to offer!8

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ventured Capital (Luke 19:11-27)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Marriage is an investment that will pay dividends if nurtured properly, like giving attention to one particular day each year:
"Honey," the wife asked her husband, "did you remember what day this is?" "Yes," he answered, "It's our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary." She inquired further, "And did you get me a gift?" "I did," he replied. "Well, what did you get me?" With obvious satisfaction at his foresight, he said, "I bought you a beautiful plot at the "Green Acres Cemetery." ...That was not the kind of gift she had in mind to mark their anniversary, but it was probably expensive, so she thanked him and left it at that. A year later, she posed the question again, "Honey, did you remember what day this is?" "Yes," he answered, "It's our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary." She inquired further, "And did you get me a gift?" "I did not," he replied. "Why not," she asked, amazed at his apparent insensitivity. "Because," he responded... "you didn't use the gift I got you last year."
Marriage is an investment that will pay dividends if nurtured properly. A relationship with God is also an investment that will pay dividends if nurtured properly, as Jesus describes in a parable: The Ventured Capital.
Although Jesus' reputation in first century Judaism as a renowned teacher won him invitations to some high society functions, he also mingled with less reputable elements.1 One of those less reputable elements was tax collectors.2 For example, Luke records: "Zacchaeus...was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.... Jesus...said to him, "Zacchaeus....I must stay at your house today." So he...welcomed him gladly. (19:2, 5-6) This fraternizing with such a dubious character raised some concern among Jesus' religious colleagues, which he speaks to in part during the meal with this parable of The Ventured Capital.3
I. Jesus addresses the imminence of the kingdom (Luke 19:11-15a).
A. The king begins his journey (vv. 11-12).
  • He accepts the invitation to his coronation.
Luke 19:11 He went on to tell them a parable, because...the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.
When Jesus tells a parable he often depicts himself and his audience in the story, as he does here. The "man of noble birth" represents Jesus (Marshall 1978:702), who will one day assume the position of king over God's realm. He hinted at his messianic identity earlier in the ministry:
  • When he demonstrated authority "to forgive sins" (5:24)
  • When he claimed to be "Lord of the Sabbath" (6:5)
  • When he performed numerous miracles: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised" (7:22)
  • When he exercised power over nature by making a storm "calm" (8:24)
  • When he sent a legion of demons into a herd of "pigs" (8:34)
  • When he fed over "five thousand" (9:13) at one time
  • When he predicted his death and resurrection "to life" (9:22)
  • When he promised to return "in the glory...of the holy angels" (9:26)
It is no wonder he will be called "King of kings" (Rev 17:14; 19:16).

Monday, January 22, 2018

My Brother's Keeper (Gen 4:1-16)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Sibling rivalry is especially common when kids are young, so the challenge is often to find an activity they can do together without fighting.
Soon after the grandparents purchased a new front loading washer and dryer with all the "bells and whistles," their two young and energetic grandsons came for a visit. The boys chased each other through every room in the house for awhile, then it became unusually quiet. The grandparents looked all over until they found them. The boys had taken their little chairs into the laundry room and were sitting in front of the washer and dryer. When the grandparents asked what they were doing they said... "We're watching the laundry channel."
The challenge is often to find an activity normally competing siblings can do together without fighting. That challenge may become greater as they get older unless they learn their mutual responsibility to look out for each other, to be My Brother's Keeper.
The story of Cain and Abel is about two men and about the responsibility one has for the other, about the age-old question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
I. Abel is different than Cain (4:1-5).
A. He has a different occupation (vv. 1-2).
Gen 4:1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
1. Abel was a shepherd. 1
2. Cain was a farmer.
Theirs was not necessarily the first society,2 merely the first recorded society. It was not a hunter-gatherer culture, which relies on foraging to secure food, but an agrarian culture, which relies on farming to secure food. Nothing in the text suggests that one food source or one occupation was better than another.3 Later, the biblical author writes...
  • About the sons of Javan, who were sailors, perhaps traders, and how "from these [men] the maritime peoples spread" (Gen 10:5)
  • About Nimrod, who was "a mighty hunter before the LORD" (Gen 10:9)
 As societies grew and spread so did the occupations that supported them. In this story, though, there were only two.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Messages from Matthew: Pursuing Different Goals at Passover (Matt 26:14-19)

Pursuing Different Goals at Passover (Matt 26:14-19)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017
Sometimes a person who is dissatisfied with his income will want to supplement that income.
Unfortunately the way Andy chose to supplement his income was illegal and got him sent to prison, where he realized that he needed a different occupation. The warden saw that deep down Andy was a good person and made arrangements for him to learn a trade while doing his time. After three years, Andy was recognized as an excellent carpenter, and the warden would often give him a weekend pass to do odd jobs for people in the community. The warden was in the midst of remodeling his kitchen at home and, in fact, had done much of the work himself. All that remained was to cut out and attach the butcher block countertop. For this, the warden would need help, so he called Andy into his office and asked him to complete the job. Alas, Andy declined. "I'd really like to help you, Warden, but I dare not.... Counter fitting is what sent me to prison in the first place."
Sometimes a person who is dissatisfied with his income will want to supplement that income. Judas was dissatisfied with his income, so he decided to supplement it by betraying Jesus. As a result the two men ended up Pursuing Different Goals at Passover.
Judas and Jesus both have goals they want to meet. Judas's goal is selfish: He wants to benefit by profiting off another man's loss. Jesus' goal is selfless: He wants to benefit by having others profit off his loss: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt 20:28).
I. Judas is concerned with profit (vv. 14-16).
Matt 25:14 One of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?" So they counted out for him. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
A. He asked about the possibility of betrayal...
B. He asked about the price for betrayal.
After confirming that the religious elite are interested in arresting Jesus,1 Judas negotiates a price for his betraying the rabbi, "thirty pieces of silver." It is "a basic wage for two or three months" and the minimum price of a slave (Nolland 2005:1060).2 Too late Judas realizes that his decision has unwelcome consequences. Perhaps he did not believe the authorities would follow through with their threat to kill Jesus or he thought the arrest would force Jesus to reveal his messianic identity.3 Either way, Judas regrets his betrayal and returns the silver: "Judas threw the money into the temple and left" (Matt 27:5a). Returning the money does nothing, however, to assuage his conscience,4 because "he went away and hanged himself" (Matt 27:5b).5

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Messages from Matthew: The Prelude to Passover (Matt 26:1-5)

The Prelude to Passover (Matt 26:1-5)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017
A major holiday, like a significant birthday or anniversary, often requires extensive preparation...or surreptitious preparation.
A man rushed to the jewelry counter in the mall, soon after the doors opened and said he needed a pair of diamond earrings. The clerk showed him a wide selection, and the man quickly picked out a pair. When she asked if he wanted the earrings gift-wrapped, he said, "That'd be great. But can you make it quick? I forgot today was my 25th anniversary...and my wife thinks I'm taking out the trash."
As a major holiday approaches, it often requires extensive preparation. For Jews, the most important holiday may be the annual commemoration of Israel's freedom from slavery in Egypt. It is a celebration that people hold in small groups with a meal together, a meal that has grown more elaborate with the passage of time. For Jesus and his disciples the celebration required some preparation, such that The Prelude to Passover involved more than an ordinary gathering.
As Passover nears again, the disciples and Jesus look forward to another observance. They have been together now for over three years, and each year they have gone up to Jerusalem to celebrate. This year should be no different. They are older, of course, and their ministry has grown in popularity, as well as grown in envy among certain religious leaders. Still, their popularity affords them some protection, especially around the holiday. The high priest and certain members of the Sanhedrin are calling for Jesus' arrest, but that may simply be wishful thinking, the kind that often attends thoughts about political opponents. This year's celebration will probably go off without a hitch.
I. The disciples prepare for the holiday (vv. 1-2).
Matt 26:1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things [i.e., the Olivet Discourse], he said to his disciples, 2 "As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."
A. The service is near.
B. The sentence will follow.
Wait, those two events should not go together. Passover, of course, happens every year at this time, and God's people will observe it this year just as they have done in years past. It is a festive occasion, a celebration of Israel's freedom from bondage in Egypt. How does that party relate in any way to Jesus' arrest, which does not sound like a fun time at all? The rabbi must be mistaken. The disciples will just ignore the crucifixion for now and concentrate on the celebration instead.

Jesus has just finished a major instructional session on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, which is a magnificent setting. He taught the disciples about what the future holds for them, including a special appearance he would be making.1 The precise timing of those events was a mystery, but God would sort it all out. For now there was a celebration to make ready. As Jesus gives instructions for the festive occasion, he includes some disturbing news.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Messages from Matthew: Christ's Concern and Yours (Matt 25:31-46)

Christ's Concern and Yours (Matt 25:31-46)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2006
As we see people wasting their lives in dissipation of various kinds, we wish there were some way of bringing them to their senses, of making them realize what the future could hold for them, if they would only repent.
A minister walked into a bar and said to the first man he met, "Do you want to go to heaven?" "Yes, I do," the man replied. "Then leave this bar right now," the minister said. He approached a second man and asked the same question. "Do you want to go to heaven?" "Certainly!" was the man's reply. "Then leave this den of iniquity!" said the minister. Encouraged by his success, he walked up to a third man and asked, "Do you want to go to heaven?" "No, I don't," the man replied. The minister looked him in disbelief. "You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?" "Oh," the man replied, somewhat surprised, "absolutely! ...I thought you were gathering a group to go right now."
While it may not be "right now," there will come a day when we will have to account for the way we have spent our life, whether by advancing God's interests or advancing our own.
When Rev. Van Horn, our Conference president this year, introduced his theme—Making Christ' Mission Our Mission—it raised the question: What was Christ's mission? That is, what did he identify as the reason he came?1 Was it one thing or several things? How much did God intend only for him to do? What, if any of it, did Jesus relegate to his disciples, perhaps to us as well?2
For the answer, I looked primarily at Jesus' words about his mission, at what the gospel writers recorded that give his understanding about why he came and what he was to accomplish. The results did not surprise me. Several times, Jesus says3 that...
  • The Father sent him.
...and several times Jesus says that...
  • The Father told him what he should do and say.4
Those who heeded his instruction would, enjoy a full and productive life, because he said...
John 10: 10b I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus accomplished his appointed task through preaching the gospel, which was his primary activity.5
Luke 4:43 ...I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God [he said] because that is why I was sent.
His ultimate mission, however, was to provide atonement for sin through his vicarious death.6 As he said...
Matt 20:28 [= Mark 10:45]...the Son of Man [came] to give his life as a ransom for many.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Messages from Matthew: The Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13)

The Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

The wedding ceremony is supposed to be the official start to a lifetime of marital bliss...supposed to be.
"How did the wedding go?" asked the minister's wife. "Just fine until I got to the part where I asked the bride if she would obey. She said, 'Do you think I'm nuts?' The groom said, 'I do,' and things went downhill from there."
The wedding ceremony is supposed to be the official start to a lifetime of marital bliss. Wedding ceremonies in the past were probably not as confrontational, but they still may have been complicated, especially if they were big enough, as in Jesus' parable of "The Ten Virgins."1

Jesus is approaching the end of his earthly ministry. He will soon leave his disciples, and he has only a few days to convey final instructions to them, which he does by telling a parable, a true-to-life story about how important it is to be prepared for his return.

The parable is a common figure of speech in the gospels, one Jesus employs frequently, often to teach about the future kingdom of heaven,2 as he does here. To understand a parable, there are three steps that offer a simple and straightforward approach to interpretation:
  1. Determine the setting. Identify the occasion that prompts Jesus to tell this tale.
  2. Divide the story. Separate the main details, those essential to the telling, from the minor details, those optional to the telling.
  3. Discover the significance. Find the one point Jesus wants to convey to his audience.
I. Jesus predicts the messiah's advent = Determine the setting (Matt 24:1-3).
The occasion that prompts Jesus to tell this parable is a conversation he has with the disciples back in chapter 24 about his future return:3
Matt 24:1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"
Jesus' response to the disciples' query is an entire block of instruction about eschatology (final things) that Bible scholars call "The Olivet Discourse," which includes, among other things, this parable of "The Ten Virgins."

Monday, January 15, 2018

Messages from Matthew: Peacemakers (Matt 5:9)

Peacemakers (Matt 5:9)
Dr. Paul Manuel—1999
This weekend we have been discussing the peace only God can bring. Sometimes we think that, having found this peace, we have come to the end of a long and difficult journey, and we can rest at last. While there is, indeed, rest for those who receive God's peace, there is responsibility as well; for in the new journey we begin with God, He wants us to minister to others what we have received. That is, He saved us so that we could serve Him. He wants us who know peace to be agents for peace in the lives of others.
In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, he begins with a series of beatitudes. These are brief, pithy sayings that extol the value of certain actions or attitudes. They begin with the Hebrew phrase which many English translations render, "Blessed is the [one] who..." (so KJV, ASV, RSV, NAS, NIV). This "blessed" is not the same word the biblical writers use when God blesses us or when we bless God. In fact, this word is never used of God. It does, however, refer to those qualities that lead to success in life and is especially common in the Psalms. There, they deal with situations whose advantage is self-evident, and we could translate the Hebrew phrase that way: "O the advantage of the [one] who..."
Ps 1:1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
"O the advantage of the one who does not sin, because he will prosper."
Ps 146:5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.
O the advantage of the one who trusts in God to help him, because God will help him."
The benefits of the beatitudes in Matt 5, however, are not quite so obvious, because the consequences Jesus offers are not what people would normally expect.
  • "O the advantage of the one who is poor because he will inherit a kingdom" (v. 3).
"But, Jesus, if I come from a poor family, how will I inherit anything?"
  • "O the advantage of the one who gets stepped on (meek) because he will succeed in life" (inherit the earth; v. 5).
"But, Jesus, the only way to get ahead—to move up the corporate and social ladder—is by stepping on or over someone else!"
These sayings probably puzzled many in Jesus' audience, and the one in Matt 5:9 no less than the others.
Matt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
What is the advantage of peacemaking, and what does it have to do with sonship?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Messages from Matthew: An Exceptional Epitaph (Matt 1:19)

An Exceptional Epitaph (Matt 1:19)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2000
What would you like to be known for? If you could have any reputation, what would it be? If you had it inscribed on your tombstone, what would it say? Because someone else will probably make that decision, you want to make the choice obvious. There is a bumper sticker, the truth of which I particularly appreciate, that says, "Live so the preacher won't have to lie at your funeral". What would you want me to say about you? Let me suggest An Exceptional Epitaph from scripture.
During the Christmas season, our attention is on the one whose birth we are celebrating, which is only natural. We sing carols about his coming, set up nativity scenes in which he is the central figure, and read again the familiar story of his advent. Next to Jesus, the person who gets the most press is Mary his mother. There is another individual, though, with an important but often overlooked part in the story...Joseph. The gospel writers mention him fifteen times but seem to tell us little about him.i
  • Five times he is identified as a descendant of David.
  • Three times he is described as the husband of Mary.
  • Three times he is simply listed with Mary.
  • Three times he is called the father of Jesus.
  • Three times he receives revelation in a dream.
None of this, however, tells us much about him. Is he just another man that history has neglected, like Whistler's father and Lord Godiva?

Looking more carefully, though, we discover a phrase embedded in a verse from Matthew, easy to miss, that describes Joseph's character.
Matt 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.ii
This is An Exceptional Epitaph. In fact, the biblical authors call only four others righteous men (Abel, Noah, Simeon, and John the Baptist)." Why does Matthew add Joseph to this elite group? In addition to his obvious concern for Mary,"'there are two reasons gospel writers identify.
  • First, Joseph is open to the leading of God—to the special instructions God gives that are for one person's situation.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Digging Up the Bible: Temple Tiles

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Temple Tile Flooring
(c. 70 AD)
The individual tile fragments that make up these larger samples are from the Temple Mount Salvage Operation, sponsored by Bar Ilan University, which looks through dump truck loads of what Muslim workers removed (without proper authorization or supervision) to make way for construction of the underground el-Marwani Mosque (1996-1999). The project counters Muslim attempts to erase evidence of early Jewish presence in the land.
Under the supervision of Israeli archaeologists Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Dvira, volunteers have carefully sifted through mounds of debris and discovered countless 1st century artifacts, from clay bullae (correspondence seals) to Hasmonean and Herodian dynasty coins. Numerous tile fragments have provided a glimpse of the temple flooring, initially a gift from Caesar Augustus to King Herod, who ruled Judea from 37 to 4 B.C. The tiles above are just four of the seven geometric patterns archaeologists have managed to piece together thus far.

The paving for the Temple Mount courtyard and outlying buildings employed a technique known as Opus Sectile (Latin for 'cut work'), whereby materials were trimmed and inlaid to make a picture or pattern. The pieces are similar to those in other Herod building projects, his palaces at Masada, Herodium, and Jericho.
Jesus, the disciples, and Paul were in the temple on numerous occasions and may have walked on these very tiles. Jesus' prediction of the destruction presages what the Romans will do in A.D. 70, several years after the savior makes his final appearance there. Despite the current state of disrepair, Ezekiel says a third temple will take its place in the Messianic Age:
I saw a wall completely surrounding the temple area. (40:5)
I looked and saw the glory of the LORD filling the temple of the LORD, and I fell facedown. (44:4)
Cf. Zech 14:20 The cooking pots in the LORD's house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar.
Significance for Biblical Studies: When Jesus and the disciples were admiring the construction of the temple, they were probably not looking at the tiles on the floor, but rubble of what was once the pavement attests the accuracy of his prediction: "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (Matt 24:2).

For a pdf go here.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Digging Up the Bible: A Congregation of Idols

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Sumerian Congregation of Idols
(Early 3rd millennium BC)
The Iraq expedition of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago discovered these statues in ancient Eshnunna (modern Tel Asmar, 75 miles northeast of Babylon). The figures date from the early 3rd millennium B.C. and represent Sumerian idols around the time of Job. (Sumerians were the largest non-Semitic group in Mesopotamia at this time, although they differed from other groups primarily in language rather than in customs.)

Sumerians worshiped a pantheon of gods (and goddesses), and their representation of them as idols contradicted the LORD's repeated prohibition:
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below (Exod 20:4).
Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. (Lev 19:4)
Do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape. (Deut 4:16)
Nevertheless, they believed it possible to have an intimate communion with a single deity. Thorkild Jacobsen, author of The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion, explains it this way (p. 147):
The religious individual sees himself as standing in close personal relationship to the divine, expecting help and guidance in his personal life and personal affairs, expecting divine anger and punishment for his sins, but also profoundly trusting to divine compassion, forgiveness, and love for him if he sincerely repents. In sum: the individual matters to God, God cares about him.
The Sumerian document, "A Man and His God" from Nippur (c. 2000 B.C.), offers an example of this connection to the divine and parallels the book of Job. Both texts address the issue of suffering (theodicy), a topic that concerned the sages of many cultures. The main character, once prosperous and healthy, suffers with a painful disease and laments his misfortune:
  A Man and His God Job
Friends My companion says not a true word to me.
My friend gives the lie to my righteous word.
A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends.... But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams. (Job 6:14-15)
Intercessor Let not my mother who bore me cease my lament before you. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us. (Job 9:33)
Despair For me the day is black. My days...come to an end without hope. (Job 7:6)
Anguish Tears, lament, anguish, and depression are lodged within me. If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! (Job 6:2)
Disease The malignant-sickness demon bathes in my body. My body is clothed with worms and scabs; my skin is broken and festering. (Job 7:5)
Plea How long will you neglect me? I cry out to you...but you do not answer. (Job 30:20)
Sin [The sages say:] Never has a sinless child been born to its mother. [Eliphaz says:] What born of a woman that he can be righteous? (Job 15:14)
Confession My god, now that you have shown me my sins.... I would confess my sins before you. Tell me what charges you have against me.... though you know that I am not guilty. (Job 10:2,7)
Restoration He turned the man's suffering into joy. The LORD made him prosperous again. (Job 42:10)
Despite their similarities, "A Man and His God" and the Book of Job differ in a way that distinguishes the pagan view from the scriptural view. In Mesopotamian theology, man's sin is the cause of suffering, and the remedy is clear: Man must confess his guilt and repent of his sin, which may sound like a proper response, at least on the surface. But in biblical theology, man's sin may not be the cause of suffering—that was Job's initial and erroneous assumption. The cause is not necessarily singular.
Such contingency demands confidence that even undeserved suffering is not out of the true God's control. So Jesus answers the disciples' query about a man born blind:
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (John 9:2-3)
The pagan view is far too simplistic. While all suffering is the consequence of living in a fallen world, all suffering is not the direct result of a person's sin. Theodicy requires a more comprehensively nuanced treatment of the problem.
Significance for Biblical Studies: A Sumerian Congregation of idols illustrates the stark contrast between worship of the one true God by those who are His people and worship of the many false gods by those who are not His people. Despite any seeming similarities between them, they are not the same, and Israel must recognize the difference. So He commands, "Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves.... I am the LORD your God" (Lev 26:1).
For a pdf go here.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Digging Up the Bible: The Sennacherib Annals

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

The Sennacherib Annals (a.k.a. Taylor Prism) is a baked-clay record of the military campaign by the Assyrian king against Israel, culminating in the siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah (701 B.C.).
The cuneiform (wedge-shaped letters) inscription recounts Sennacherib's two military campaigns into Canaan: the first in the north against the Kingdom of Israel, the second in the south against the Kingdom of Judah. While there are minor differences with the biblical account in certain details, such as the amount of tribute Sennacherib collected, the major difference is in the success of the second campaign.
Sennacherib famously boasts about having Hezekiah shut up in Jerusalem "like a bird in a cage," which is probably true. The battle depicted on the palace walls at Nineveh represents the fall of Lachish, the last fortified Judean city on the way to the capital.
At that point, it is likely the size of Sennacherib's army coupled with the threat of a siege was enough to intimidate Hezekiah' s capitulation without a fight:
Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: "I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me." The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talentsof gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace. At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the LORD, and gave it to the king of Assyria. (2 Kgs 18:14-16)
Nevertheless, Sennacherib's promise to relocate the inhabitants of Jerusalem as he had the inhabitants of Samaria did not materialize:
The people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there. (2 Kgs 17:23)
This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death! (2 Kgs 18:31-32)
Something interrupted Sennacherib's campaign against Judah before the Assyrian king could execute his plan.
The Assyrian record and the biblical record, although they purport to record the same event, diverge radically at the end.
  • According to the foreigner's account, he returned to Nineveh from Jerusalem after his having received tribute and having achieved a great military victory (i.e., the destruction of the capital).
  • According to the Bible's account, he returned to Nineveh from Jerusalem after his having received tribute but having suffered a crushing military loss (i.e., the decimation of his army):
The angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (2 Kgs 19:35-36)
Significance for Biblical Studies: When the sacred account seems to diverge from a secular account, the reader must weigh both but recognize the inherent authority of a record that has God as its author. The biblical account also confirms His protection of His people, "the apple of his eye" (Zech 2:8).

For a pdf go here.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Digging Up the Bible: A Samaritan Priest

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Samaritan Priest
(c. 1892)
Jacob ben Aaron, the Samaritan priest at Nablus (in the photo above), was one in a line of priests who could trace his lineage (according to tradition) to Aaron.
The rift between Jews and Samaritans goes back to the exile, although it was not as great a divide as one might think. Nevertheless, the Samaritans have long been somewhat of a mystery. Who are they, and what do they believe?
According to the Jews: The term "Samaritan" is a combination of the words Samaria and Cuthia, and it describes those whom Sargon, king of Assyria, relocated from Cuthea to Samaria to replace exiled Israelites:
The king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.... [He] brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites.... Then the king of Assyria gave this order: "Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires." (2 Kgs 17:6, 24, 27)
These immigrants intermarried with the Israelites who remained in the land and eventually adopted many of their customs. The Samaritans' current practices adhere strictly to the legal code in the Pentateuch.
According to the Samaritans: They are direct descendants of Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh, and their clergy are the true priests of Israel (so they believe). It is the Jews who have strayed from the faith.
According to current research: Assyrian texts state that Sargon deported about 25,000 people, mostly from the upper classes, and that the general populace remained, augmented by refugees from other conquered nations. Assyria's relocation policy worked to break cultural and national ties to a people's homeland, thereby making conquered groups easier to govern. Through the process, eight of ten northern Israelite tribes almost vanished completely. Ephraim and Manasseh held fast to their traditions but became isolated socially and religiously, developing variations to worship of the true God.
* * * * * * * * * * *
A letter by a Samaritan in 1672 summarizes the five cardinal points of their creed: "My faith is in Thee [LORD]; and in Moses, son of Amram, Thy servant; and in the Holy Law; and in Mount Gerizim; and in the Day of Vengeance and Recompense."
The LORD: Samaritans are as emphatic in their adherence to monotheism as are Jews and in their abhorrence of idolatry (more consistently so even than Jews). Their stress on God's unity and transcendence has led them to emend places in the biblical text where the common (grammatically plural) noun for God (Elohim), has a matching (grammatically plural) verb, which they make a non-matching singular
God made me wander (Gen 20:13).
May God judge (Gen 31:53).
God revealed (Gen 35:7).
They also eschew anthropomorphisms.
Moses: Samaritans claim that God inspired only Moses. They disparage the prophets, holding that Moses was the only prophet until one like him comes in the latter days:
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. (Deut 18:15)
Cf. "This is that Moses who told the Israelites, 'God will send you a prophet like me from your own people." (Acts 7:37)
The Law. Samaritans regard the law as synonymous with the Pentateuch, their only scripture. They accept as binding only the 613 commands God gave Moses and are strictly literal in their observance of them. Even Jews acknowledge that Samaritans are more exacting in their observance.
Mount Gerizim: The first three articles of Samaritan faith do not distinguish them clearly from other Jewish sects, but the fourth is the issue that caused schism. Samaritans believe Mt. Gerizim rather than Mt. Zion (Jerusalem) is the place God chose for His exclusive worship, and they appeal to ancient tradition in support of their claim:
When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. (Deut 11:29)
Cf. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem. (John 4:20)
NB: Hitler, intent upon destroying the Jewish people, supposedly asked some rabbis if Samaritans were Jews, to which the rabbis, wanting to spare the Samaritans, said they were not when they were in fact by then regarded as Jews.
The Day of Vengeance: Samaritan eschatology shows the influence of apocalyptic thought and divides history into four periods.
Period #1: The Age of Adamic Perfection lasted until the fall of Adam and Eve.
Period #2: The Age of Defiance lasted until the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai.
Period #3: The Age of Divine Favor lasted until the time of Eli. Samaritans blame Eli for moving the ark to Shiloh from Gerizim, whence David moved it to Jerusalem, neither of which was its proper home in their eyes.
Period #4: The Age of Vengeance and Recompense will last until the messiah. He will be from the house of Joseph versus Jesse. He will restore the temple to Mt. Gerizim and then he will die. After that Moses will reappear to intercede for the righteous. They will enter the garden of Eden on Mt. Gerezim, and God will cast the wicked into the fire.
Significance for Biblical Studies: The Samaritan Priest heads a community that values the Scriptures above all else. They have preserved their traditions through generations of persecution and isolation. Theirs is an example of devotion to God from which all believers can learn.

For a pdf go here.