Saturday, June 29, 2013

Teens in the Bible - the Shulamite Maiden in a Sexually Charged Situation

Chapter 24 – the Shulamite Maiden in a Sexually Charged Situation

Have you read the original erotica book called Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) in the Bible? The heroine or “beloved” of the story is a young Shulamite maiden. We never learn her name though we find out plenty about her skin, her breasts, her cheeks, her face, her voice, and so on. Her words, however, tell us a lot about her character in this sexually charged situation.

I want to focus on what she says throughout the exchange between her, her lover, and her friends. If your Bible doesn't subtitle the sections so you can easily tell who’s speaking, find a translation that does. The maiden says, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” That is good advice to teens, isn't it? She repeats this in chapter 2, verse 7, and chapter 3, verse 5, and again in chapter 8, verse 4. When something is repeated three times in the Bible you better pay attention – it’s important. She is not denying her love for her suitor because she says in chapter 5, “Tell him I am faint with love”, but rather she is advocating restraint. In other words: Love is good. Lust is bad.

I also think she is taking control of the whole situation and saying that her virginity is hers to give. Read this section from chapter 8 and notice the subtleties in meaning:

I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment. Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon; he let out his vineyard to tenants. Each was to bring for its fruit a thousand shekels of silver. But my own vineyard is mine to give.

Next Saturday the jeering youths

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Today is Brought to You by the Hebrew Letter YOD

The 10th Hebrew letter, yod, is based on the word yad which means hand. The symbol of the hand represents power, might, ability and authority. Interestingly enough this letter is the smallest of all the Hebrew letters. It looks like an apostrophe. All the other letters have this little yod as part of their construction. Yod is the first letter in the names given to represent the Jewish people as well as the name of the sacred Jewish city.  It is also the first letter of Jesus’ name.
And the first letter of God’s Holy Name. This name is often called the Tetragrammaton and you may see it written in our alphabet as YHVH (pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah). It is considered by Orthodox Jews too sacred and holy to be pronounced and so when they are reading scripture they will substitute another name for God such as HaShem or Adonai. I’d like to point out something that made me gasp as I was learning these Hebrew letters, their individual symbolic meanings, and analyzing God’s name. The symbolic meanings behind these individual letters in YHVH are HAND, BEHOLD, NAIL, BEHOLD. Right there in God’s Holy Name have been clues to Jesus’ crucifixion!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Teens in the Bible - the Boy with Fishes and Loaves

Chapter 23 - Boy with fishes and loaves

After Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded Jesus tried to slip away across the Sea of Galilee to grieve. But a great crowd of people followed him, as usual, because they had seen all the miracles he performed. Jesus tested one of the disciples, Philip, by asking him where they would buy bread for all these people to eat. Philip, though he had witnessed all the previous miracles, seemed stumped and fixated on the great amount of money it would take to buy bread for such a crowd (around $4000 in today's money).

Another of the disciples, Andrew, spoke up and presented a boy who had five small barley loaves and two small fish. I think Andrew had tremendous faith and was the optimist to Philip’s pessimist. But let’s look at the boy, probably a young teen, who has his lunch with him – just a snack to a growing boy. This kid was neither stingy nor secretive. He openly and willingly shared what little he had. I’ll bet he was more like Andrew than Philip and expected a miracle. Faith – that’s what he had. Simple faith. And generosity. And you know what? That faith was rewarded. Jesus blessed the five loaves and two small fish and had his disciples pass out the overflowing abundance of bread and fish that resulted from this miracle.

I wonder what happened to the boy. Somehow I doubt that he took any credit at all for his part in this phenomenon. After all, we never found out his name.

Next Saturday the Shulamite maiden

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Psalm 126 - A Song of Great Joy

When the Lord brought back the Israelites to their land the people were so overjoyed that they felt as if it were all a dream. They laughed, they sang, they praised the Lord. They praised Him for not just this homecoming, but for all the great things He had done for them. They remembered and they were grateful.

And they were hopeful and expectant. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord,” they sang, “like streams in the Negev.” The Negev was the southern desert and to have streams flowing through it would certainly be a blessing.

Here’s the whole psalm. Count the number of times the word “joy” is used.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Teens in the Bible – Salome, this teen was a seductive puppet

Chapter 22 teen Salome

Have you noticed how seductive (slutty?) teenage girls dress nowadays? I once asked a student of mine where she got the low-top, sexy outfit she was wearing (just before I sent her to the principal) and she said her mother bought it for her as a present [I groaned inside]. This reminded me of the story of the beheading of John the Baptist. You can find the details in Mark 6. Herod had married his brother’s wife  Herodias who had a daughter named Salome. Herodias made her daughter dance in front of all the high officials, military commanders, and influential men who attended Herod’s birthday banquet. Usually only prostitutes danced at these orgies. This was like asking Obama’s daughter to do a pole dance at a bachelor party.

We are supposed to obey our parents, but Salome’s obedience went too far. After she pleased Herod and his guests with her seductive dance he promised to give her anything she wanted. Salome slipped away and asked her mom what to ask for. Herodias said, “The head of John the Baptist” because John had spoken out against their immoral marriage.

I could almost forgive Salome for following mommy dearest’s request except that when she returned to Herod she said, “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Did you notice how she embellished it? First she added “right now” to her answer which tells me that she had inherited an impatient blood-thirsty gene from mommy. Second she added “on a platter”. How gruesome is that?

Next Saturday the boy with the fishes and loaves

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Psalm 125 - Peace Be Upon Israel

Psalm 125 – Peace Be Upon Israel

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,    which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

Mount Zion is the mount upon which King David fortified the holy city of Jerusalem. Sometimes Zion and Jerusalem are used interchangeably. The mountain is used symbolically as something that cannot be moved and hence those who truly trust in God cannot be moved or shaken.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,    so the Lord surrounds his people    both now and forevermore.

This is most comforting. We have an unmovable, unshakable Lord who surrounds us. Notice he is ever with us. Now. And forever.

The scepter of the wicked will not remain    over the land allotted to the righteous,for then the righteous might use    their hands to do evil.

“The scepter of the wicked” conjures thoughts of evil and persecution and invasion. The way it is used here it also refers to great influence, meaning that the Lord will not allow that influence to incite his righteous followers into doing evil permanently.

Lord, do good to those who are good,    to those who are upright in heart.But those who turn to crooked ways    the Lord will banish with the evildoers.Peace be on Israel. 
These last two verses are a prayer. We know there is no one who is good except the Lord, but the psalmist is asking that the Lord do good to those who would try to be good – those who are “upright in heart” or trying to follow the straight and narrow. Verse 5 is a fact: God will banish evildoers – those who aren't on the straight path. And finally “Peace be on Israel.” Now there’s a prayer we should be praying daily.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Teens in the Bible - Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Chapter 21 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – servants of the Most High God

How well do you know the Ten Commandments? Do they mean anything to you today? In the book of Daniel, chapter 3, we get an amazing look at three young men who took the second commandment so seriously that they did not waver even in the face of a gruesomely painful death. I’m talking about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. (When I was a child I memorized these names in this way: Shad-rack, Me-shack, and to bed we go.) These three young men were pals of Daniel, brought into slavery/servitude/exile with him. They were handsome and smart and spent three years being trained for the King Nebuchadnezzar’s service. They did not, however, succumb to any pagan indoctrination.

What is the second commandment? Answer: “You shall have no other gods before me.” King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold and commanded all the people to fall down and worship the image. The horrific consequence for those who did not worship this “god” was to be immediately thrown into a blazing furnace – the kind of furnace that they smelted metal in.

Our three guys held true to their beliefs. When they refused to worship the golden image the King was furious. He gave them a second chance, but reminded them of the fatal punishment. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied that their God, Jehovah, was able to save them. They added that even if God did not choose to save them, there was no way they would worship the King’s gods or golden images. Wow, way to sass your elders, boys. The king was so ticked off that he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. The strongest soldiers were to throw them into the blazing furnace. The furnace was so very hot that the soldiers died from the heat and our three boys, still tied up, fell into the furnace.

Would you go to that extreme? Would you face certain death rather than break trust with God? I hope so.
King Nebuchadnezzar got the shock of his life as he looked into the flames and saw the three men walking around in the fire! And there was a fourth man! And he looked like, in the King’s words, “a son of the gods”. The king was shaken, in fact he was more than shaken, he was instantly converted. He shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” And they did.

Next Saturday teen Salome


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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Psalm 124 - Being on God's Side

Psalm 124
A song of ascents. Of David.
1 If the Lord had not been on our side—
    let Israel say—
2 if the Lord had not been on our side
    when people attacked us,
3 they would have swallowed us alive
    when their anger flared against us;
4 the flood would have engulfed us,
    the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters
    would have swept us away.
6 Praise be to the Lord,
    who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird
    from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
    and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
New International Version (NIV) 
This is another Psalm of Ascent and it proclaims the fact that the Lord had been on Israel’s side. I love how it starts with a negative if/then supposition: if the Lord had not been on their side then a terrible devastation would have overcome them. What specifically? These verses give a pretty good picture of the Exodus. You know the story, especially the part about the parting of the Red Sea that is here depicted. If God had not been on their side then “the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away”.

It is good to have God on your side. But hold on a minute; think about this: do you believe God is always on your side? Or is it more likely that sometimes He will be on your opponent’s side? If you always want God on your side then here’s the solution: Be on God’s side.

Though the psalmist declares that the Lord is on their side I think we can also conclude that because the Israelites followed God’s instructions for how to be delivered from their captors that they were on God’s side. What do you think? Are you following God's word?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Teens in the Bible - Jehoiachin

Chapter 20 teen Jehoiachin

Jehoiachin? Ever heard of this king in the Bible? His father was Jehoiakim. Okay, that doesn't help. Biblical names and events scurry across the pages of 1st and 2nd Kings and Chronicles so quickly it’s terribly difficult to keep track.

Jehoiachin was just a teen when he became king. He doesn't get too many verses in the Bible so we have to pay close attention. I think that Jehoiachin’s story gives us a lesson that we can throw a number of clich├ęs at: “like father, like son”, “the apple doesn't fall far from the tree”, “you reap what you sow”, and so on. 

Jehoiachin’s father “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and the Lord sent raiders against him to destroy Judah.
When Jehoiachin became king at the tender age of eighteen the Bible tells us that he only reigned for three months. Why? Because “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father had done.”  He was taken prisoner by the Babylonians who also removed all the treasures from the temple and the palace and then carried ten thousand people off into exile.

Our teen king spent 37 years in captivity before he was finally beheaded. All because he followed in his father’s evil footsteps. Lesson: don’t do what is evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Next Saturday 3 teens: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego