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)