Friday, November 27, 2015

The Structure of Genesis

The word Genesis has become synonymous with beginnings. In Hebrew this book is called “Bereshith” meaning "in the beginning" because that’s how this book starts. It is generally believed that it was written by Moses, inspired by God, of course. The major themes of Genesis are beginnings and the self-revelation of God.  This is the book you read to find the stories of the creation, the fall and redemption of man, the story of Cain and Abel and then Cain and Seth, the great flood, the tower of Babel and the call of Abram (Abraham). There is the story of Lot and Sodom & Gomorrah, the lives of Isaac, Jacob and Esau and, finally, the story of Joseph
In Genesis we find that God makes several covenants with man: the Edenic Covenant (1:28), the Adamic Covenant (3:14), the Noahic Covenant (9:1), and the Abrahamic Covenant (15:18).
The first book of the Bible coordinates amazingly with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet: aleph. Verse 1 of Genesis says: “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth.” The name Elohim starts with aleph, in fact many of God’s names start with this letter : El (God, Mighty One), El Shaddai (God Almighty), El Olam (God Everlasting), El Elyon (God Most High). Also many facets of God’s nature begin with this letter as well: love, light, truth, faith, Sovereign Lord. These are all Hebrew words that start with aleph.
Bear with me as I get a little deep here: When you write the three letters in Hebrew that spell “aleph” you get 3 different words - eleph which mean “ox” or “thousand”, alaph which means “teach”, “learn” or “tame”, and aluph which means “prince”, “chief”, “leader”, “master”, “ruler”, “guide” and “teacher”. The first one, eleph, may seem weird at first if you’re trying to relate the letters to Biblical symbolism. What has an ox to do with anything Biblical? Well, I'm going to tell you: An ox signified strength. It was the chief domesticated animal of the time and had to be “tamed”. That brings us to the second word, alaph, which means “tame” (as well as "teach" and "learn"). The last word, aluph (prince, leader, etc.), appears in Genesis 52 times, that’s 64% (!!!) of all the times it appears in the entire Bible. I think Genesis is showing us very clearly who our leader, master and guide is: God.
There are many words that begin with aleph besides God’s names, such as “one”, “love”, “light”, “truth” and “faith”. This are such important words to our beliefs that I suggest you pause a moment and think about why they would all begin with this first Hebrew letter.

Now think of the Ten Commandments (you can find the in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5). What’s the first one? No other gods before me! God is Number 1, the One and Only, the Eternal Omnipotent God. His first initial is the first Hebrew letter. Throughout Genesis we get a good picture of God as our Father: He keeps reaching out to man, provides new covenants, never gives up on us and blesses us. He is the Sovereign Ruler over all of His creation. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Crossing the Scriptures

Let’s look at the New Testament. These 27 books can be divided as 5 NT History books (the 4 Gospels about Christ and the Acts of the Apostles) and 22 Epistles (letters written by Paul, James, Peter, John and Jude).
Why are there 4 Gospel accounts and is there a reason for their differences? Four witnesses give us a deeper understanding of the events as well as individual perspectives. Different viewpoints would be expected. I especially liked learning how parallel accounts reveal specific key links to the alphabetic verses. For example: Matthew matches up to the 18th Hebrew letter (tzaddi) which is the root for righteous or righteousness. Compare Matthew 5:6 (Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled) to Luke 6:21 (Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled). In 6 other comparisons between Matthew and Luke you find the same thing (Mt. 5:10 – Luke 6:22, Mt. 6:33 – Luke 12:31, Mt. 10:40 – Luke 9:48, Mt. 13:17 – Luke 10:24, Mt. 23:35 – Luke 11:50, and Mt. 23:29 – Luke 11:47). The Gospel of Mark matches up to the 19th Hebrew letter (quph) which starts the word for swift. In comparing Mark’s accounts of the casting out of the demon, five thousand fed, healings at Gennesaret, the boy healed of being deaf and mute and the question asked of Jesus of how to inherit eternal life with the accounts in Matthew and Luke of the same events, Mark’s accounts always include running. Luke’s accounts include wisdom: Mt. 10:19, Mark 13:11 and Luke 21:12 all quote Jesus telling the disciples not to worry about what to say, but only Luke mentions wisdom. Luke also emphasizes friends: compare the same stories in Matthew about the Centurion’s servant, the lost sheep, the warning of hellfire and being hated for Christ’s sake – in every instance Luke inserts the word friends. (There are other examples with the word see in Luke, and by the way, “friends” and “see” start with the same Hebrew letter, the 20th letter, resh) If God designed the Bible then I expect to find the theme continuing in the book of John, i.e. the 21st Hebrew letter (shin) better be pretty prevalent. Guess what? It is. To send (shalach), peace (shalom), name (shem), hear / obey (shama) and keep / watch (shamar) are overly abundant and the really amazing thing is that the New Testament was written in Greek, but the Hebrew pattern remains. (This is a sampling of the unique perspectives in this Bible study book: Crossing the Scriptures.)
The 22 epistles are, to me, like discovering important personal documents. (What if you found your great-grandparents’ love letters to one another? Wouldn’t you be interested?) Before you read one of these short books I recommend that you first find out what was happening in the author’s life and in the church that he’s writing to. Of course these letters are meant for us today, too, but understanding first century culture and customs will clarify things. Go online and read Bible scholar commentaries. I have found that each verse can be like a treasure chest that as soon as you open it (begin to study it) it overflows with treasure. Most Bibles have footnotes and commentaries that should never be overlooked.
Jesus lived. He died for our sins then rose from the dead to conquer death and live eternally. Every time I look at someone I must remember that Jesus died for that person, too. That tends to change my outlook quite a bit. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Structure of the Old Testament

'The Old Testament is made up of 39 books that can be categorized as follows:
5 books of the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
12 books of Old Testament History (Joshua through Esther)
5 books of Wisdom (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs)
5 books of Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel)
12 books of Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi)
Throughout these books God’s plan unfolds. First we have the covenants He made with Adam and Noah and Abraham. We watch the Israelites follow God, turn to idols, turn back to God, fall away again, over and over. The miracles and love are abundant and yet they keep being “adulterous” so to speak. From the perspective of the Jews there are two kinds of people: Jews and Gentiles. And I think that this is also God’s perspective. It’s like you have two children, your firstborn and your second born. The Jews are God’s firstborn, but the Gentiles are in the family, too, and the promises and inheritance are for the Gentiles as well.
The first 5 books give us the history of man from Adam on and the formation of Israel as God’s chosen people (and yes, Adam and Eve were real, not myths, and the Jews recounted their genealogies and named names all the way back to them). These books tell us of all of the laws for living and how to make offerings to God, peace offerings, sin offerings, grain offerings, etc. We find the 10 commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy. God does get angry with man when he disobeys and there are consequences. He is a firm and fair parent.
The 12 books of Old Testament History record the events after the Jews entered the Promised Land. We find the rise and fall of David’s kingdom, the Babylonian exile and the return.
The 5 books of Wisdom are meditative and prayerful and poetic. There are several chapters in Psalms, Proverbs and Lamentations that were written as acrostics, that is, each verse (or series of verses) begins with the next consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 letters so it’s easy to see the pattern when a chapter has 22 (or 66) verses. Of course the Bible wasn’t written with the verse numbers, but you can see the poetry of verses in the original. Smack dab in the middle of the Bible you will find Psalm 119, the longest chapter of the Bible. There are 176 verses (8 x 22) so the first 8 verses each start with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the next 8 with the second letter and so on. Some people think these are hidden codes. I think they are not hidden at all, but quite obvious. God in his infinite intelligence has woven his word together in an intricate pattern that is fascinating and awesome. (For further amazement and inspiration see my book Crossing the Scriptures.)
The 5 books of the Major Prophets are filled with prophecies, naturally. Isaiah is like a mini-bible in that it has 66 chapters divided in the same way as the Bible: 39 chapters of idolatry and disobedience, then 27 chapters of hope and redemption. The New Testament quotes Isaiah more than any other prophet, most likely because it has the greatest OT revelations of Christ (read chapters 40 and 53 especially). Lamentations is not prophetical, but it is the eyewitness account of the destruction of the Temple by Jeremiah who prophesied that it would happen and that they would be exiled 70 years (exactly right on).
The 12 books of the Minor Prophets continue the old, old story: prophets say repent but people turn away and God judges, people return to worship for a time, they receive blessings then fall off again, time for another prophet . . .

There are hundreds of prophecies throughout that tell of a coming Messiah. Most of the Scriptural requirements for what he will do and what will happen during His reign can be found in Isaiah. Hundreds of prophecies were fulfilled with Jesus’ first coming and the rest will be fulfilled at His second coming. Some prophecies are so precise that they are impossible to ignore.


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Friday, November 6, 2015

Is God Vengeful or Loving?

Ink, Red, Splatter, Abstract, Paint, Splash, Spray
I’ve heard many people say that the Old Testament is just a lot of bloodshed and that the picture of God that it presents is one of a vengeful tyrannical God. Many people think that the New Testament is a mixture of fact and fantasy. I believe that the whole Bible is the inspired Word of God. Everything in it is true. I think that some translations are better than others. I think that one must study the book the way you would study any other subject and always refer back to the original text. (Exactly why I decided to learn Hebrew.) God is not tyrannical and vengeful but rather loving and just.

As far as the Old Testament being blood and vengeance–I, too, was often repelled and confused by the stories and histories of the Israelites. I’ve read the Bible cover to cover a few times and I’ve read all of the books many times over out of order. Finally I had an “aha” moment when it all fell into place quite simply. The Old Testament is 39 books that tell of mankind vacillating between worshiping and obeying God and then turning away from Him and being idolatrous and immoral. Man’s behavior requires judgment. The New Testament is 27 books declaring a message of hope: Christ has taken on our punishment (death) and paid for our sins. If we accept that he has done this, then hooray, we get out of the punishment, but if we don’t accept it then we’re on our own and the judgment is eternal separation from God, i.e. hell.