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

The Mystery of the End of the World . . . SOLVED!

The Mystery of the End of the World . . . SOLVED!

Okay, not really. Not at all, actually. But as I’ve read through Matthew I came to Chapter 24, the scary beginning of the Olivet Discourse, and it has a lot to say about the end of the world as we know it. It’s the chapter where the disciples ask Jesus, after he tells them about the temple being destroyed, “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

This chapter confuses me to no end and always has. I’ve never really understood it, and after re-reading it many times over the years and several more times this past week, I still don’t. 

It starts off easily enough. Jesus warns them not to be deceived. “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4-5) Since we are living in the age of news being replaced by propaganda, I would say we are living in a time of great deception.

At the same time, however, there have been false Christs throughout history. Some notable ones in my own lifetime were Jim Jones of the Jonestown Kool-Aid drinking cult, David Koresh of Waco, Texas, and Reverend Sun Myung Moon of Korea. Things didn’t go well for the followers of Jones or Koresh. I’m not sure whatever happened with the Moonies, but if they thought he was Jesus they would have been pretty disappointed when he died in 2012 and never came back.

So I’m not sure how that warning is specifically a sign for the last days when we’ve had crackpots like these guys throughout history.

Next Jesus says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars . . . nation will rise against nation . . . there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginnings of birth pains.” (24:6-8).

These are also things that have gone on since the beginning of history. The Old Testament is full of wars and nation against nation. Did Christians in Italy think the end was coming when Pompeii was obliterated by Vesuvius in AD 79? Because if any event ever looked like the apocalypse, that had to be it. Pompeii’s destruction happened just nine years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Meanwhile Christians were being fed to the lions and used as human torches in Nero’s courtyard. Surely many believers then must have been certain they were in the end of days. (The Christians in Thessalonika seemed to think so.) And here we are, two thousand years later, still wondering after every big earthquake or skirmish in the Middle East if this is finally it.

Jesus then goes on to warn his disciples that “you will be persecuted and put to death…and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” Is he talking to the Church here, or to the Jews, or to both? Jewish people have been relentlessly persecuted since they were first a people. Christians have also been persecuted throughout the centuries, and in many parts of the world are brutally persecuted today. We are seeing the early stages of it here in America.

Then Jesus says, “At that time men will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands to the end will be saved.” (24:10-13).  That sounds like the world today. Deception, wickedness, coldness—that’s the world around us, all right. But I remember that several false or twisted versions of Christianity came into being in the 19th century, namely Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and Seventh Day Adventists. That’s a lot of twisted theology to come out in a fairly short span of time. Bible readers in those days must have wondered if they were in the last days. 

All this raises a big question: Why did Jesus bring up these things as signs of the end when they have been going on forever? I think I do have the answer for that — I have heard Bible teachers say that because Jesus described this as the beginning of birth pains, then just like real birth pains these events will increase in frequency and intensity as we get closer to the end. But where are we on that timeline? Are we “ooh, honey, I think I just had a contraction” or are we “GET THIS M***** F***** OUT OF ME!!!!!” or somewhere in the middle?

Things do seem to be increasing in frequency and intensity today. The global COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in world history in how it shut down nearly every country on the entire planet, at least for awhile, making us all prisoners and destroying countless livelihoods. COVID has greatly aided the push for a one-world socialist government, monetary system, and tracking of every person in the world. We are seeing violent earthquakes, severe weather, and famines on what seems to be an increasing scale. I was astonished last year to learn of massive armies of locusts plaguing parts of the world like something straight out of Exodus. Weird stuff is going on in the Middle East, with Israel making peace agreements with Muslim countries on the one hand, and Iran allegedly being extremely close to a nuclear bomb on the other.

Ugh! Wake me up when this is all over!

I just don’t think we can use any of those things as a measuring stick to figure out when Jesus is coming back. It’s all just too vague. One day we may look back in hindsight and say, “Ah, okay, now I get it! It all makes perfect sense.” But that day isn’t today.

But Jesus is just getting warmed up. Next he gets really specific, warning about the desecration of the temple as spoken of through the prophet Daniel, and telling people when that day comes they need to drop whatever they are doing and run, run, run for their lives. Some people think this happened in AD 70 but I don’t think so. The temple in AD 70 wasn’t desecrated by the abomination that causes desolation. It caught on fire, and all the gold covering the walls and ceilings melted down. The Romans dismantled the temple, stone by stone, to get every last speck of gold they could, little imagining they were fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that no stone would stand upon another.

So that means that Jesus must be talking about the desecration of a future temple. Here he seems to be talking about the events of the Great Tribulation, or the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7). Then he gives one more warning about not being deceived by false prophets and false Christs. “See, I have told you ahead of time!” (24:25). 

Okay, so that’s another thing I do know for sure: Jesus bothered to warn us about not being deceived more than once, so he wants us to pay attention and not be deceived! That’s not as easy as it sounds in today’s environment, where lies are literally everywhere and we don’t know who we can trust. But if we are diligent and know what is in God’s word, then the lies will be obvious and not able to deceive us.

Next, Jesus describes His Second Coming and how the whole earth will see him coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (24:31)

…From one end of THE HEAVENS to the other?

He then goes on to say, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (24:32-34).

This is more straightforward than some other passages, at least partly. If the fig tree represents Israel, as most scholars agree on, then it blossomed in 1948 when the modern state of Israel was born. Which would mean that today we are standing right at the edge of the Great Apocalyptic Sh** Show. That is, IF a “generation” literally means one generation. Assuming our lifespan is about 80 years, then Jesus better move fast or this “generation” is going to die out in the next decade or so. However, my NIV notes say that “generation” may mean “race,” as in the human race. In which case we are back to not knowing for sure.

Finally — this is the part that really confuses me — Jesus goes on to talk about what SURE SOUNDS like the rapture, “No one knows the day or the hour,” “one will be taken and the other left,” except it also seems to be a continuation of what he was just talking about, which was the tribulation and second coming, not the rapture. I’ve heard several teachers, mostly Calvary Chapel pastors, insisting that Chapter 24 is all for the Jews and not for the church. I have heard other teachers say that is nonsense.

If “no one knows the day or the hour” is referring to his second coming instead of the rapture, how can that statement be true? We might not know today but people in that time will know the EXACT day that Jesus is coming back. Daniel 9:27 talks about the desecration of the temple, and that it takes place in the middle of the final seven years. That means from that awful day, there will be exactly 1,260 days (based on a Jewish 360-day calendar) until the return of Christ. 1,260 days of hell on earth and horrors that make all of Stephen King’s novels look like Blueberries for Sal by comparison.

Getting stressed! Time for a calming nature break. Breathe . . . Just breathe . . .

So I find all of this very confusing. However, I do know one more thing for certain: Whatever happens is going to happen, whenever it happens, and however it happens. We may indeed be very close to the end. It sure feels that way right now. But God may give this wicked world a reprieve like he did with Nineveh so long ago. We don’t know for sure. 

Maybe someone reading this understands this chapter perfectly. Please comment with your thoughts if you do! I doubt that I will until I’m looking back at it from the other side of eternity. That’s okay by me. I think the main point to take from it is actually in Chapter 25, where Jesus tells us to be ready at all times. Whenever he does come, we want to be good and faithful servants, ready and excited to be with Him forever.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Learn about Jesus from Bible study and spending time with Him in prayer.

Live a godly life and share the gospel with everyone that you can.

As the apostle John said, “And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28).

——————————

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

(Just like) Starting Over

(Just like) Starting Over

The last time I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover it took me three years. I spent six months just going through the Book of Psalms. Thought I was going to die slogging my way through Leviticus – Deuteronomy. Got more than my fill of bloodshed, perverts, and idiots reading through Judges. Ruth was like an oasis in the desert. Fell in love with Isaiah. Couldn’t keep the minor prophets straight. Devoured the gospels, so hungry to see Jesus in person again after just getting hints of him in the OT. Still a little afraid of Paul. Not as freaked as I used to be by Revelation because we’ve seen so much of the imagery already in the Old Testament.

This year I’ve decided to burn through the whole Bible again, cover to cover, in just 12 months. I’m using the Bible-in-a-year guide from a calendar I got for Christmas. It has you read so many OT and NT passages each day. I’m cheating, though; I’m ahead of it in the Old Testament and way behind in the New Testament.

What really hit home with me after reading the entire Bible — I’d only ever read books and/or passages here and there before, never the whole thing — is how it really is a story. It has all the elements of great literature: Introduction / Crisis / Building Action / Climax / Falling Action / Resolution. Themes. Foreshadowing. Character development – of a nation, not just individuals. And a happy ending. The happiest of all happy endings. 

Assuming that not one word of scripture is wasted, and assuming that everything points toward Christ, some passages make me scratch my head. For example, at the very end of Genesis, we have a detailed chapter about Jacob blessing the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. 

Jacob tells Joseph, “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.” (Gen 48:5)

Then Jacob is going to bless the two boys and a big deal is made of the fact that Jacob is going to bless Ephraim, the younger, over Manasseh, the older. Joseph tries to get Jacob to switch but Jacob is adamant. I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” (Gen 48:19)

Chapter 48 deals almost entirely with Ephraim and Manasseh. So it is important and we need to remember this episode. I missed this significance the first time through. I still can’t quite understand why the 12 tribes of Israel are reckoned with Joseph being the two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh instead of just being called the Tribe of Joseph. I haven’t done any serious study in this before but there must be volumes written about it. Maybe I’ll dig into it more later. Maybe just reading through the book, something will leap out at me and make more sense to me this time. Scripture interprets scripture, as they say.

Now on to Exodus. I wonder how disappointed I’ll be when I get to heaven and discover that Moses doesn’t actually look like Charlton Heston. 

Starting off 2021 with the best news in the whole world!

John 3:3. Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

While I was reading John Chapter 3 this fall, I kept going back to the verse where Jesus tells Nicodemus the Pharisee, “you must be born again.” Nicodemus was perplexed by these words. Even as a believer I had to ask myself what exactly was Jesus saying here? I’ve been exploring that for awhile now. So, finally, here is a brief recap and summary.

God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the ground.”  – Genesis 1:26

God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. – Genesis 2:7

God said to the first man and woman, “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.” – Genesis 2:16-17

About 5 minutes later, Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command and ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6). In that instant they became separated from God (spiritual death). They hid from God when he called them (Genesis 3:8). They tried to cover their sin by their own works, by the flimsy fig leaf coverings (Genesis 3:7). They tried to cast blame away from themselves. Eve accused the snake, and Adam had the audacity to accuse not only Eve but God himself for making her! (Genesis 3:12-13). 

It did not take long for the first man and woman to make a royal mess out of everything. But right there, in the very beginning, God had already laid out the plan for redemption. He said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  Notice God left Adam out of this scenario. He mentions Eve’s seed, not Adam’s. So the one who will crush the serpent will not follow the human line of being sired by a human father. Eve’s seed that crushes the serpent will have a different father. 

We inherit our sin nature from Adam. We are born spiritually separated from God (spiritually dead) just as Adam and Eve were after the fall. We are born with a sin nature because of that separation from God. We can’t stop sinning, we do it every day of our lives in thought, word, or deed, and we can’t possibly atone for it by our own power because we keep digging our own grave a little deeper every day.

However — before God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden, he made clothes for them out of animal skins (Genesis 3:21).  What does this mean? It means that God took innocent animal life, shed its blood and its life, to cover the sin and shame of man. God is showing us in the very beginning his plan for salvation through sacrifice. He is pointing us toward the cross of Calvary. All the laws for sacrifice in the Books of Moses are pointing toward the cross. 

Christ is the only way to get out of the prison of sin, death, and hell. There’s no point even trying to discuss any other religions or philosophies because they all, in some way or another, are about achieving salvation, nirvana, enlightenment, whatever, through our own works, by our own power. But that’s not possible. Just look where trying to fix things on our own power has got us. Look at the sick world we are living in today! We are not evolving into a higher species, we are not enlightened. We are getting worse every day and there’s no safe spaces left on the planet, if there ever were any in the first place. 

Jesus Christ came into this world born of a woman, the Virgin Mary, and sired not from Adam’s seed but by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:35). We may never fully understand how that happened, but somehow the second person of the Godhead came to earth as a human being. Fully God, because he IS God, and fully human because he is the son of Mary. He didn’t have any sin because he wasn’t born of man’s seed but rather by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22.

So what happened on the cross? Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. He could do that because He was God and only God is big enough to handle the job. Remember Psalm 49 one more time: 

No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—that he should live on forever and not see decay. (v 7-9)

and then:

But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. (v 15)

Jesus redeemed our life from the grave! He came to do what we could never do for ourselves. And he did it. On the cross his blood was poured out as the sacrifice that would wash away our sins. He could carry the weight of our sin because He is God. He could die because he is human. Christ’s blood covers our sin. So if we call on Christ as our savior then when God looks at us he sees not our sin, but the righteousness of Christ. 

We were dead in sin, but in Jesus we have NEW LIFE. We are a new creature. We are born again! In the beginning, Adam died spiritually instantly and then awhile later his body died as well. When we give our lives to Christ, our spirits are made alive again instantly because in that instant we are restored to a right relationship with God. And then one day our bodies, which are decaying now, will be made alive again forevermore. Jesus could die because he was human. The grave could not hold him because the wages of sin is death (as we saw with Adam and Eve) but Jesus never sinned. And now because He paid the price we could never afford to, we are free from bondage to sin and death. We are alive with Christ. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection and we will be like him.

Paul sums it up in 1 Corinthians 15:20-26: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

So when Jesus was talking with Nicodemus that night and said, “you must be born again,” he was talking of the new birth of our dead spirits and the eventual resurrection of our dead bodies into eternal ones that will be like his — eternal, incorruptible, free from all stain. The broken relationship with God has been restored in Christ. Jesus endured the agonizing pain, humiliation and suffering of the cross because he wants us to be restored to him. God himself loves us so fully and completely that he holds nothing back from us. He gave everything he had to give in order to save us — he gave us Himself. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

If you confess with your mouth that 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

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

The entire Bible, all 66 books of the Old and New covenants, are about how we got separated from God and what God has done to set things to rights. All I’ve put here is just a smattering of everything the Bible has to say. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to pick up the Bible and read it from cover to cover and hear the whole story for yourself. Don’t rely on anybody else to tell you what it says.

We are living in scary times. But don’t be afraid! Jesus has won the victory over sin and death. What can any man or group or government do to us? If we are His, then we have a glorious, joyous, happy and free eternity in our future.

If you haven’t yet given your life to Christ, don’t delay! None of us are guaranteed that we will live out the rest of today, let alone see tomorrow. Don’t leave this planet without making your decision for Christ. We are already in hell. He is our only way out. The Lord Jesus Christ loves you more than you could ever imagine and He gave you Everything. He gave you Himself. All you have to do is accept Him.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” – Jeremiah 31:3

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1