Author: Bible Traveler

A debate over pierced ears?

I already know that this is going to be a massively popular post. Nothing like the topic of slavery to get everybody jumping up and down and shouting hallelujah.

Deuteronomy 15:12-17:

If a fellow Hebrew, a man or woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your wine press. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.

But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your maidservant.

What do I see in this passage?

  1. No Hebrew could hold another Hebrew as a servant or slave AGAINST THEIR WILL. Servanthood was a business agreement the two parties entered into, with specific expectations and responsibilities on both sides.
  2. After six years the servant was released from the contract, and the Master was expected to send him or her off with adequate payment for their services.
  3. A servant might decide he or she was better off in the Master’s house than on their own, and ask to be a servant for the rest of their life.
  4. In that case, the Master would put the servant’s earlobe against the door and pierce it with an awl, thus sealing a binding contract. From that moment on, the servant belonged to the Master for the rest of his or her life. 
  5. The scar in the earlobe was the tangible proof that this vow had been made. The vow could not be broken, just as the ear could not be un-scarred.  If the servant changed his mind later and said, “I don’t want this anymore; I’m leaving,” it wouldn’t matter. The deed had already been done and walking away was no longer an option. He was owned by the Master. He might end up being a worthless, unproductive, resentful slave, but he was a slave nonetheless, and it was a choice he had made of his own free will.

Paul’s writings in the New Testament cover the topic of eternal salvation in detail but this little passage in Deuteronomy (also in Exodus 21:5-6) keeps nagging at me. How is the servant in these passages any different from a person who surrenders his life to Christ? If we give our lives to Christ we are redeemed from the power of sin and death (hallelujah!) but we are also submitting our will to Christ. We are  no longer the master of our own lives, but He is.

Ephesians 1:13:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In Deuteronomy, we see that the servant became the possession of his Master by his own free will, and the deal was sealed by the awl piercing his earlobe.

In Ephesians, we see that Christians become the possession of God by accepting the salvation of Jesus of our own free will, and the deal is sealed by the Holy Spirit.

If, as Christians, we are the possession of God, then the option is no longer ours to say, “I’m sick of this, I’m out of here.” The deed is done. We belong to him whether we eagerly serve him or run away.

“Heart like an awl” by goldsmith Cheryl Burchell. The symbol of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The only question that remains, then, is if a person actually gave their life to Christ in the first place. Who are any of us to judge that? The mark of the Holy Spirit isn’t as easily visible as a scar in the earlobe. Ultimately, that is something personal between a person and God. But the Bible says that we can know a person by the fruits they produce.

I remember hearing stories about two celebrities from times past, both dead now. One experimented with all kinds of spiritual avenues, and claimed that he “tried Christianity” for awhile but it was a phase that didn’t stick. The other one was vocally anti-Christian for a long time then apparently had a change of heart. He didn’t want to go to Hell and knew he deserved it. He repented and gave his life to Christ and for awhile had great joy, producing creative offerings for the Lord. But the people around him hated what he’d done and did everything in their power to drag him down. As a celebrity he was pretty isolated from the rest of society. He didn’t have a mentor or a fellow body of believers to help strengthen and grow his newfound faith. His joy in Christ eventually withered and he is reported to have said he had a “lucky escape” from that lifestyle. However, in his last few years of life he wasn’t the same person he was before his conversion; not as angry, bitter, or unforgiving as he had been before.

If those stories are even true (who knows with stories of famous people), then both of those men have had their day to defend their lives before the Lord. I doubt either of them heard, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” But one of them treated Christianity as nothing more than the latest pop psychology fad, while the other actually gave himself to the Lord. One of them was free to walk away, and did. The other one had the figurative scar in his ear to prove he wasn’t free to walk away even when he claimed he was done. Which man do you think is happy now with the choice that he made?

None of us, I think, relish the idea of being a slave to anyone. But that is how we were made—remember, we are creatures, not gods. Like Bob Dylan so eloquently put it, “You gotta serve somebody.” We are either a slave to sin (and, therefore, death), or a slave to Christ (and, therefore, eternal life). There is no other option, no other path, no other way. Slavery to Christ is actually freedom from sin, evil, death, pain, worry, fear, sadness, and despair. Jesus is The Great Paradox.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

…If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. …Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. – Romans 10:9-13

God’s Arithmetic

Palm Sunday, 2021

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

(Matthew 21:1-11)

…Yet just a few days later they were shouting “Crucify him!” ??

I always wondered about this. Did the crowds of people really think he was the Messiah, or were they just swept up in the hype of the moment? 

They should have known he was the Messiah. The book of Daniel, Chapter 9, is very specific. It states that the time from when the issue is decreed to rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One comes, will be 483 years (69 “sevens”). I’ve heard a few people over the years go over this, including the late Chuck Missler, and Jack Hibbs (senior pastor of Calvary Chapel, Chino Hills, California) just talked about it this morning. They think they know the exact date the issue to rebuild Jerusalem was decreed — March 14, 445 B.C.  Fast forward 483 years (reckoned by the 360-day Babylonian calendar, accounting for leap years) and you arrive at April 6, 32 A.D., as the exact date that Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I’m far too stupid and lazy to try to do the math myself, but even a rough calculation of 483 years from what we know from history as the time Jerusalem was rebuilt takes us into the lifetime of Jesus.

The Pharisees should have known this. They spent their entire lives poring over every minutia of the Bible, and most of them probably had large portions of scripture entirely committed to memory. Yet they treated Jesus as an interloper at best, and a blasphemer at worst. While supposedly waiting for the Messiah, they completely missed him when he showed up. 

I don’t know how literate the average Jewish people of that day were. I think few people would have had the opportunity to study the actual scrolls for themselves, since books were an expensive commodity in those days, but if they at least heard the scriptures read then they would have learned them fairly well. How many people, then, understood Daniel and knew that they were living in the very time when the Messiah was supposed to come? There must have been some people who did the math, but it sure looks like most people blew it.

It makes me wonder how many people will completely blow it at the second coming of Christ. We know from scripture that the antichrist is someone who will affirm some kind of covenant with Israel for seven years. In the middle of that seven years he desecrates the temple in Jerusalem, declares himself to be God, and from that day there will be exactly 1,260 days (three and a half years) until Christ returns as King of King and Lord of Lords. (Daniel 9:27, Daniel 12:11-12, Revelation 12:14).

So as soon as people see the desecration of the temple, they should know to the very day how long until Jesus comes back. But instead of trusting in Him and waiting for Him, they go running around like idiots for three and a half years, getting the mark of the beast (i.e., selling their souls to Satan), and crying for the rocks and mountains to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of God instead of crying out to God to forgive them (Revelation 6:15-17).

Many people blew it with the first coming of Christ, and many will blow it with the second — to their eternal misery and torment. Nobody needs to go through the great tribulation, nobody has to try to remember to do the math and remember the day Jesus comes back. If we belong to Christ then we will be saved out of the wrath to come.

And it’s so easy to get saved!  Romans 10:9-13:  If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. …For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Jesus is calling out to you today. Answer him, call on his name and be saved! Then read the Bible, pray, get into a good Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church and start growing in your faith. Growing up in Christ is the journey of a lifetime but getting saved is so easy and you can do it right this very minute. Don’t be like the Pharisee in this cartoon. Don’t be too cool, too smart, or too busy for God and then miss out on the best thing that could possibly ever happen to you.  

Jesus loves you, and he wants you. Yes, YOU.

Yet to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  – John 1:12

BELIEVE + RECEIVE = BECOME

A blog full o’ bull

It’s hard to say what my favorite book of the Bible is, but it’s easy to say the least: Leviticus. A whole lotta rules and regulations, and even worse, detailed instructions on how to slaughter animals. Instructions that I find gruesome and very hard to stomach. It raises two questions: 1) What about the poor Levite priest who didn’t have the constitution for slitting throats, wringing off heads, cutting up animals, touching blood, etc.? and  2) When they finally build the third temple in Jerusalem, how will they get anything done without PETA and every other animal right’s group fighting them tooth and nail? Silly questions, I suppose, but you have to wonder.

I’ve made it through this book once before so I can do it again. Just remember that everything in the Bible points to Christ and maybe it will make more sense. Right?

The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.”  (Lev 1:1-2)

Okay, what do I see here? I can gather two things: 1) WHEN you bring an offering, not IF you bring an offering. People were expected to do it, then, although nothing written in stone as to how often. (?) That raises another question — why? Maybe that will be more clear later on. 2) Bring an animal from the herd or flock. That means no wild animals, but something that belongs to you. Your sacrifice is going to cost you something. We saw this already in Exodus 12 where the Israelites were to take a lamb into their home and care for it for four days before slaughtering it for the Passover. That sacrifice obviously cost them emotionally; it would be like slaughtering a puppy. 

He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He is to slaughter the young bull before the LORD, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and sprinkle it against the altar… (Lev 1:3-4)

So the person bringing the sacrifice has to slaughter the animal himself, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Then the priests get to work, sprinkling blood on the altar. It sounds to me like the person offering still has work to do once the animal is dead. It has the priests sprinkle the blood, then He (the offerer?) skins the animal and cuts it into pieces. Then the priests arrange the fire and place the meat on the fire. Then He (the offerer?) washes the inner parts and legs with water, then the priest burns all of it on the altar. 

It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. (Lev 1:9)

I know I’m missing a lot here, but I do get that the laying of hands on the animal represents our sin being transferred to an innocent being whose death will atone for our sins. That’s pretty easy symbolism of Christ and his work on the cross.

“An aroma pleasing to the LORD.” Well, what smells better than a steak on the grill? I can’t think of anything. But I don’t think this is referring to God enjoying a good barbecue. Ephesians 5:2 says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” So Paul is saying here that what was pleasing to God was the love Jesus had, a love that died for others. God wants us to be like Jesus and to reflect His amazing, all-encompassing, self-sacrificing love.

I imagine that if I was alive in Jesus’ day and had seen the sacrifices going on in the temple, and had made some of them myself, then I would better understand the implications of Jesus’ death on the cross, not only from a legal standpoint but also from a human one. I don’t know how anybody can see the light go out of the eyes of a dying creature and not be moved by it. How much more an animal of my own, that is dying because of MY wickedness. And how much more so the Son of God, paying the ultimate price for me.

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. …For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.   – Romans 10:9-13

Arranged marriages and other problems.

Typical oppressed kid about to be married off against their will.

My Bible in a year plan is going great so far. I’m current with the New Testament readings, and only a book and a half behind in the Old Testament. I struggle with the first five books, although when I actually sit down and read them I always find something interesting.

Today I read Exodus chapter 21. This is the chapter right after God hands down the Ten Commandments. Now he’s getting down to specific situations. Chapter 21 deals with servants (and goring bulls but this isn’t about that part). 

This passage has bothered me before, and started to trip me up again, then I had a big light bulb over the head moment as I realized, like I’ve done so many times, that I’ve been seeing things inside out and backwards for years. Here’s what went through my head.

I read: “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year he shall go free, without paying anything.” (Exodus 21:2)

THEN . . . 

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (Exodus 21:7-11)

!!! EGREGIOUS !!!

I was outraged by this “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do” rubbish.  Why the double standard? Why can’t a woman go free? Is God sexist, treating women like chattel the way most macho cultures throughout history have done? 

Typical oppressed woman, circa 1973

…But…

…Oh, wait, hold on a sec…

I did some Googling and found this issue addressed again later: “If a fellow Hebrew, a man or woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.” (Deuteronomy 15:12-15)

Then I remembered what I’ve heard Bible teachers say over and over again: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT!  

First context: Exodus 21:7-11 seems to be referring to women purchased as wives or concubines, not regular servants. Deuteronomy 15:12-15 seems to be referring to women who were indeed regular servants. How they are to be dealt with is different in each scenario.

Second context: What do I know about the world of Moses’ time? These were times where women had few rights, especially among the poor. I grew up in America in the 20th century, where women have the right to vote, to receive equal pay for equal work, and the opportunity to forge their own way in the world. It’s pretty rare in world history. In many parts of the world today, and definitely in the world that Moses knew, women were little more than chattel. If a servant girl was just cut loose because a man didn’t like her, what were her chances of survival? Well, how would a young woman today like to be air dropped into a Taliban or ISIS camp? She’d almost certainly be raped, then either killed or kept as a slave or forced into marriage. She would have little chance of survival, let alone freedom, if left on her own. 

Typical oppressed peasant, circa 1273

God wasn’t treating women like they were inferior. He knew the times, he knew the culture, and he was protecting them. A man couldn’t use a woman and then just dump her. He couldn’t just get rid of her if he decided he didn’t like her. If something went wrong she A) had the right to be redeemed – protecting her reputation, her social standing, as well as her material needs. B) If she was purchased for a son, she had the rights of a DAUGHTER.  C) If he wouldn’t provide her with food, clothing, and conjugal rights, then he had to let her go free without payment (that is, without her having to purchase her freedom). D) If things didn’t go well between her and her master, it doesn’t sound like she had to tough out the entire six years first like men had to do. 

In fact, when you really look at it, the women are given more rights and protection than the men. If she’s a household servant then she is treated just like a man. If she is taken as a wife or concubine, then she can’t be misused and tossed aside. She has rights, and if they are violated she is free to leave.

Of course that raises a big question: What if she doesn’t want to be sold as a wife or concubine in the first place? Well, just like in cultures with arranged marriages today, she may not have had much say in that matter. Is that the way God wanted it to be for women? I don’t think so. But knowing the sinful, fallen world we live in, he shows his love in how tenderly he cares for everyone. Slaves as well as queens. 

Remember Hagar, the Egyptian maid and mother of Ishmael, whom Sarah coerced Abraham into casting out (Genesis 21). The Bible doesn’t say they were sent with any great provisions. Enough food and water for a couple days, maybe? But God heard her cry, comforted her, and not only saved her and Ishmael but made him into a great nation that has been a thorn in the side of Israel to this very day. 

I’m sure I missed a lot in this passage. Everything in scripture ultimately points to Christ, and a little more digging would bring that to light (such as the Redeemer reference). But for today I am very happy to see a troubling passage in a new light, and to gain a little more understanding of the caring and father-providing-for-his-children love that God has for all of us.

I really, really liked Terry Jones. Funny, adorable, writer of fairy tales, lover of history and literature, and so much more.

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. …Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:9-13