Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

The Gifts of the Magi


The Bible is filled with prophetic imagery. The gifts the Magi (Wise men, or Three Kings) bring to the baby Jesus is no different. Each of the gifts plays a role in Temple service and all are related to the Arc of the Covenant, where God speaks to man.

The Gifts of the Magi: 
Gold– the covering of the ark of the covenant, the frame of the tabernacle, the lampstands and the interior of the Temple.
Tabernacle: frames overlaid with gold and gold rings and hooks to hold the crossbars. Ex 36:34 Ex 26: 29, 37
Covered the interior of the Temple- the holy place and the holy of holies. 1 Kings 6: 21
Lampstands of pure gold. 1 Kings 7: 49
The Arc of the Covenant was overlaid with gold. Ex 37: 2-4 2 Chron 3: 10
Gold nails 2 Chron 3: 9
Frankincense: part of the incense which was waved behind the curtain of the holy of holies. Ex 30:34
Sprinkled on the grain offerings Lev 2: 1-2, 15- 16, 6: 15, 24: 7, Neh 13: 9, 1 Chron 9: 29
Myrrh: used to anoint the arc of the covenant and the tent of meeting, the tabernacle and all the accessories. Ex: 30: 23-27


Image 11

                             Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5: 1-15)
The pool of Bethesda is located outside of the wall around the Temple, just beyond the sheep gate. This area was not considered to be part of Jerusalem proper by the Jewish people, but was part of the expansion of Jerusalem by Herod which puts the pool inside the ‘third wall’ of Jerusalem. This is where the Fortress of Antonia, built by the Romans to guard Jerusalem also resides. Both are very close to the Temple, but ‘technically,’ likely so as not to upset the Jewish people, they are ‘outside’ the walls.

Archeological evidence has discovered that the pool has indications that it is not a Jewish place, but a healing temple to the god, Asclepius, whose symbol is a rod with a snake wrapped around it. (The Roman equivalent is Serapis and there is evidence that the pool morphed into a temple to Serapis after the destruction of Jerusalem when the Romans rebuilt the city.

There is also evidence that verses 3-4 that speak about an angel of the Lord stirring the waters of the pool are a scribal addition to explain why the man was there as they are not found in earlier texts. Likely the explanation began as a messenger, or worker of the god stirred the water, which became an angel as the term angel literally means ‘messenger.’

Temples to Asclepius are common during this time as they are places of healing and medicine. They always have pools for emersion. This pool has two levels. It is believed that the priests of Asclepius would open the gates of the upper section to place water into the lower section which would ‘stir’ the water. The fresh water was believed to bring healing.

Further evidence that this pool is not Jewish, but pagan is that the priests do not use it as this time for water. In the past this pool was likely used to wash the sheep before the entered Jerusalem, hence the name ‘sheep gate.’ During Jesus’ time the priests gathered water for the Temple from the Pool of Siloam. This pool is within the older boundaries of Jerusalem, but it is further from the Temple and is downhill, meaning the priests must walk uphill with the water to the Temple. Why would they do this if there was water closer? The Pool of Siloam is also fed by Hezekiah’s underground tunnel system to ensure Jerusalem better withstands a siege- FYI.

The pool also has a Greek name, ‘Bethesda.’ The original Hebrew name is not known, but may be a word that is similar and means ‘house (bet) of mercy.’

Having Jesus heal a Jewish man who is seeking help at a pagan shrine is a perfect example of the shepherd gathering up the lost sheep. Jesus then tells the man to pick up his mat and walk- indicating that he should leave this place. Unfortunately the man runs into the religious leaders of the time who decide not to rejoice over an idolatrous man returning to the Temple, or even to rejoice over his healing, but instead they decide to nit pick over the fact that he is carrying something on the Sabbath. (I wish I could say that we do not behave this way in the church today, but…. ) Jesus then finds the man and warns him not to return to his sin, or worse will happen in his life. The question has always been, ‘What was the man’s sin?’ If the pool at Bethesda was indeed a pagan temple, then his sin is idolatry, and he is not to go back to the pool for help, but to look to Jesus/ God. This would also explain the timing of this statement, as it is after the man speaks to the priests and they give him a less than friendly reception. Jesus is telling the man not to leave God, just because His supposed people are acting like imbeciles at the moment. (So we have two teachings here: Do not nit pick like the Pharisees and run newly saved people out of the church, but also don’t be so thin skinned that you allow the ‘Pharisees’ to turn you away from God- or you will suffer more than before!)

It is recorded in the Talmud that various Jewish rabbis were asked why there were healings occurring at the temples of idols. Rabbi Akiva answers that God sets the time for an illness to be over and sometimes one is at a pagan temple at this time. Rabbi Nehemiah answers that Moses’ rod brought both the plagues in Egypt as well as water from the rock, therefore God sometimes uses the same instrument for both punishment and blessing. My answer is different. I believe that God has mercy on us even when we are in sin, and sometimes gives is blessings, and the desires of our hearts even when we are far from Him and do not deserve it. Jesus follows this example and, like His Father, answers the lame man’s deepest request even when the man is going about requesting it in all the wrong ways. The man is a lost sheep, who is injured and desperately needs the shepherd to bind his wounds before he is able to come home.

(Another fun Jewish story associated with this is about a Rabbi who goes to a Roman bathhouse dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite to bathe. When asked why he does this he refers to the ashes of the red heifer, which make the priest unclean, but cleanses an unclean man. He reminds the people that the statue has no power over him and that the pool existed before the statue. He finishes by stating that the pool is there and I am dirty! -summing up that there is a simple, practical reason for using the pool.)

A Rabbi’s Prayer

This Ukrainian Rabbi’s prayer, based on Exodus 34, made me smile…
“Lord of the universe, I want to propose a deal. We have many sins. You have much forgiveness. Let us exchange our sins for your forgiveness. And if You should say that this is not a fair exchange, then my reply is: If we had no sins, what would you do with all Your forgiveness?”
-Rabbi Levi Yitzack of Berditchev


Photo by Matija Barrett

AKA: Why We Need a Savior
When King Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9) he asked God to give him the ability to determine the difference between good and bad. (He assumed he would choose the good…. Ooops!) Ironically the knowledge of good and evil is what enticed Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the garden. (At that point Adam and Eve only knew that one thing was bad- eating the forbidden fruit- and they choose to do it…) That knowledge led to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. While Solomon wanted the knowledge so he would not be deceived, and would assumedly choose good for him and the people he ruled, what we see is that when given a clear choice, without deception, humans, as a rule, are likely to choose to do what is bad at least some of the time….


Image 11
Background: Jeremiah is the son of Hilkiah, the priest credited with finding the book of law in the Temple during the reign of King Josiah in Judah. (2 Chron 34: 14) This time in history is interesting. The kingdom of Judah has degenerated. The Temple is a mess, and the book of law has been lost to even the priests. The king, Josiah, commits himself to follow God’s laws and the people seemingly obey him, but as soon as he is dead, they return to their ungodly ways indicating that there was not a change of heart and their commitment to following God was likely one of convenience, self-serving etc since there was pressure from their king to do so.

Huldah, the prophetess, informs the people that God is going to judge them, but, for the sake of the godly king Josiah and his obedience, the judgement is to be delayed until after his reign. Jeremiah unfortunately (for him) outlives Josiah.
Jeremiah is from the tribe of Benjamin, where his father, a priest, is living. Benjamin is a part of Judah, but is a tiny part as previously Benjamin had some issues with sin and the tribe was almost wiped out by the other tribes of Israel. Jeremiah is a Levite, not a Benjaminite, as he is from a line of priests. Every tribe was to set aside land within their tribe for the Levites (the priests), who were not to have their own tribal lands, so that the word of God could be taught to all.
His name means ‘loftiness of the Lord,’ or ‘exalting the Lord.’ (It is a common practice in this culture to name your child something that can double as a prayer, or praise, to God so that every time you call your child, you also say a prayer. This is why there are so many Mary’s in the New Testament, as its root, Mara, means bitterness and weeping, and the Jewish people of this time were trying to draw God’s attention onto their suffering so the Lord would save them from Roman persecution.)
Jeremiah performed no recorded miracles during his ministry.
The message: The message of Jeremiah is clear- turn back to God by following His laws or go into captivity (and past a certain point turning back to God will only lessen your captivity, not eliminate it). So what does this mean for us today? That our actions matter. They speak of our heart and how strong our commitment to God really is. We have a choice- follow God’s laws or be oppressed by others who are ungodly. Unfortunately, like Jeremiah, we are part of a group, and when the group messes up, sometimes the godly go along for the ride into captivity as well. (This is why we have a duty to be an influential and respected member of our society.) Fortunately, the book of Jeremiah also teaches us how to behave in captivity. We are to work in the best interests of those around us and prosper where God plants us. Oppression is not an excuse to misbehave or give up, as much as we would like it to be.
God begins with a legal complaint. He is the Lord, and in this society that means He has sovereignty over the people of Israel. What you need to understand, that we often miss since we do not make these types of contracts in modern times, is that the Israelites have entered into a Lord/vassal style relationship with God twice. The first was at Mount Sinai, when the law was given to Moses. Moses brought two tablets up the mountain so there would be two copies, one for the Lord and one for His subjects. Both were kept in the ark as God was to be there with His people. At that time God had freed the people from slavery and performed many miracles. In addition to the ten commandments, the oral law was also given to Moses as it is recorded in Leviticus. The second ‘contract’ is contained in the book of Deuteronomy. Ancient contracts of this type were written as narratives. In Deuteronomy, God reviews everything He has done for Israel. God’s laws are also reviewed as well as the blessings and curses for obeying, or disobeying. The covenant is renewed before the Israelites go into the promised land. This is why Joshua says, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ While the covenant is for the nation, it is also a choice each individual must make, and we will see individual as well as national punishments in scripture for disobedience to the law.
To void this contract, the people must be able to prove that the Lord has not fulfilled His obligations to His people. So God points out that He took care of Israel in the wilderness, in a land where people do not live due to harsh conditions, proving His ability to provide and protect His people and then led them into a land where food was plentiful and life was good, and instead of being grateful they left Him for other gods, who are not even gods. God points out that even the pagans do not change gods, despite the fact that they do nothing even close to what God has done for the Israelites.
So how does this speak to us today?
On a personal level we may ask ourselves (based on God’s complaints regarding the Israelites): Are we grateful to God when life is good? Do we grumble and complain over minor inconveniences? Are we embarrassed to speak about God? Do we pretend to believe as our neighbors do, or incorporate behaviors we know to be ungodly into our lives so that we avoid controversy with our neighbors? Are we as in love with God as we were when we first believed, or for those who were saved young, when we really began to understand the power of our relationship with God and what it truly meant? Going through the first chapter of Jeremiah (as well as many other places in scripture where God lists evidence that one is not with Him) and seeing how God’s complaints apply to your life is a humbling, but necessary thing to do. But, God does warn us in these passages that people like to ignore their sins and believe they have done nothing wrong, so if you read through this section and find no fault in yourself, pray and then read through it again just to be sure…. I recently read a book, fiction and not by a Christian author, that included a scene where people were lined up to enter Hell. A woman in the line was getting out of line and complaining loudly that she was in the wrong line. The demon assured her that this was not the case. She explained that she ‘believed’ and therefore should be in heaven. The demon explained that she was a mean, nasty person and was right where she belonged. This commentary regarding how this author saw Christianity made me sad. Unfortunately, it is too often true and one must ask themselves when their works do not line up with what God has called us to do, do we truly believe?
Theologian Andreas Bodenstein Von Karlstadt translates Jeremiah a little differently and has God stating ‘those who kept my commandments and knew me and did not ask for me’ in referring to the priesthood where as others speak of ‘those who handle the law and did not know me.’ Karlstadt’s translation talks of those, like the pharisees, who follow God’s law, but have not a real relationship with God. Karlstadt speaks of being a theologian and realizing that he loves exploring God’s Word, but rarely speaks to God. He asks, ‘How can one handle and keep God’s law when one does not know God or ask for Him?’ Just something to think about.

Image 3

Photo by Matija Barrett

There are many confusing secondary characters in the Bible. They are confusing because they do things that we would assume would be ‘right,’ but are subsequently shown to be wrong. Joab is one of these characters. He makes a lot of decisions that seem to be ‘right.’ His reasoning is, unfortunately, reasoning some use today to teach children to be ‘good people.’ Unfortunately we will see that many of his actions are not looked upon as ‘good’ in the end….
Joab was the son of Zeruiah, who had three sons, Abishai, Joab and Asahel. Abishai was the brother who went with David when David snuck into Saul’s camp while everyone was sleeping. Abishai wished to kill Saul, believing God had delivered him into their hands. David counseled him not to kill the Lord’s anointed and stole Saul’s spear and water jog instead. (1 Samuel 26).
We first hear of Joab’s exploits shortly after David is anointed king of Hebron. Joab is the captain of David’s army. Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, is king over the rest of Israel and Abner is the captain of his army. Abner and Joab meet with their men by pool and propose they allow the younger men to engage in a wrestling match- 12 vs 12. It turns bloody, a battle ensues and Abner’s army is defeated. (While it would seem good for the two sides to engage in a ‘fun’ wrestling match, not realizing how much hatred existed in the young mens’ hearts made a fun activity, seemingly meant to build better relationships, into a battle that would lead to even more hatred. Wisdom must be used when reconciling two parties. What works when both sides are slightly miffed, may not work when there is still much animosity present. Not everyone is ready to ‘just be friends.’)
After the battle is over, Abner retreats. Joab’s brother, Asahel, is fast, but young, and follows Abner on foot. Abner warns Asahel to turn away. He is afraid of Joab’s reaction and knows Asahel is not a match for him. Asahel refuses and Abner kills him, worsening the relationship between Abner and Joab. (2 Sam 2) (Joab does not ask the details, but assumes Abner behaved badly. If he had asked, and listened with an open mind, he may have understood that Abner tried to avoid killing Asahel.)
Later, when Abner decides to support David, Joab arranges to meet with him without David’s knowledge and, with the help of his brother Abishai, kills Abner. Joab believes he is doing David a favor, protecting him, as he does not believe Abner to be a man of his word. (2 Sam 3:25) David curses Joab and his family, and mourns Abner. (What Joab saw as ‘protecting’ his friend, David saw as harming an innocent man. Teaching people to ‘have their friend’s backs’ often does not allow for a former non-friend to repent and change his position.)
Abner was said to have died a ‘fool’s death,’ as he trusted someone he should not have. (2 Sam 3:33) (Teaching children to be trusting, even when the situation is clearly treacherous, is teaching them to behave foolishly and sets them up to be hurt. While we cannot avoid all hurts in life, wisdom can be used to be on guard against some situations. To behave like Abner, and assume a man who has previously shown you hatred to be trustworthy, is foolish.)
Joab wins many battles for David. In the midst of one he is commanded to arrange for Uriah the Hittite to be killed in order to cover up David’s affair with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Joab complies, and other men die with Uriah as well. (2 Sam 11) (Obeying unjust commands is not good, and not only did the intended man die, but so did other innocent men. ‘Covering’ for your friends can lead to feeling like you must do bad things.)
Joab then acts as a middle man between David and his son Absalom. (2 Sam 14) Joab has a widow woman try to convince David to reconcile with his son through a story. This has limited results and Absalom is allowed to return to Jerusalem, though David ignores him. Absalom tries to get Joab to speak with David again on his behalf, but has to resort to burning Joab’s field to get his attention. Joab again goes to David. The reunion seems promising in the beginning, but does not last and Absalom schemes to take over the kingdom. (We teach that bringing two sides together to reconcile is good, but family affairs are complicated and full of emotion. While Joab tries, his heart is not in it and his attempts are half-hearted. Not being aware of where both sides are currently at emotionally, and not being there to fully support an obviously volatile situation are recipes for disaster. Too many times we simplify what is needed in a situation and fail to teach our children that hard work and commitment to a situation are needed to gain true results.)
Absalom then takes over the kingdom and David, with Joab, flees. A war ensues, and Absalom is found hanging by his hair from a tree. Absalom had been riding on a mule, indicating that he had come in peace, assumedly to meet with his father, David. Additionally, David had stated that people were to deal gently with Absalom. Joab, likely believing he knows better than David and wishing to protect David, kills Absalom. (Remember, Joab had previously tried to help Absalom in his attempts to reconcile with David. He has not previously shown signs of being Absalom’s enemy before Absalom takes over.) (2 Sam 18) Due to this, and other times Joab kills without David’s consent, David instructs Solomon to make sure Joab does not die in peace. (Thinking you know better than those in authority and delivering ‘justice’ outside of the proper channels is not right.)
David later decides to call a census. Joab wisely counsels him not to, as it goes against God’s will. David insists, and Joab follows his orders. Israel is punished with a plague. (Giving in and doing something that you know is not right is still not right even if the person over you orders you to do so…) (2 Sam 24)
Joab then decides to support Adonijah as a successor to David instead of Solomon. Solomon uses this opportunity to end Joab’s life as he was instructed to by David. (Although Adonijah was the supposed heir through birth order, David had appointed Solomon. Believing man-made rules, or customary ways of doing things should be followed, without praying to seek God’s will is a mistake.) (1 Kings 2)


Image 10
(Based on my reading of The Queen You Though You Knew by Rabbi David Fohrman)

The book of Esther not only forwards the role of Esther as a queen, but also shows us a view of how the Jews view marriage at this time.
Mordecai comes to Esther to ask her to speak to the king. He tells her that if she keeps silent at this time salvation will come to the Jews from somewhere else, but she and her father’s house will be destroyed. (Esther 4:14)

What does Mordecai mean by this?

The first clue is that Mordecai uses a phrase from Numbers 4:14 hacharesh tacharishi. These are both words that mean to be silent. They are found in the verse in Numbers where it explains that a Jewish husband may annul his wife’s vow, if he does so on the same day he hears of it. But Esther is not a husband, but a wife. By using this term Mordecai shows that the Jewish people understood this command to work in reciprocity, where the wife could also dissuade her husband of something foolish, if she did so immediately. If she did not, she was tacitly agreeing to the commitment. This notion is further affirmed in the naming of the feast ‘Purim.’ The name Purim is the plural for pur, and means lots. Scripture tells us that the day is named thus because Haman used lots to decide the date that the Jews were to be killed. But scripture also tell us that the name also refers to the actions Esther took to save the Jews. We see the same double entendre in the naming of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, or Yom Kippurim (plural). Kip means like and Pur means to annul. Esther’s actions annulled her husband’s vow. (Yom Kippur is also the day the scapegoat is chosen by lot to be cast out for the sins of the people.)

So why would Esther’s father’s line be destroyed?

Esther is being given a choice. She is the only remaining person from her father’s household. She can either have a Persian marriage, where the woman has no value, or she can follow God and have a Jewish marriage, where the woman interacts with and advises her husband. If she chooses a Persian marriage, her children will be raised with Persian values and her father’s line will no longer be Jewish. This also shows us that while many of the laws regarding lineage follow the path of the male, the female is also important and considered part of the father’s legacy. Further, we see numerous examples in the Old Testament showing that having a Jewish wife determines whether, or not, your children will be godly. (Read the lists of the kings of Judah and see the pattern.) Today the Jewish line is followed through the mother, not the father, indicating that the mother plays a vital role in the beliefs of the child.

Further, the book of Esther shows that by remaining silent you are tacitly condoning, or allowing evil to occur and are as guilty as if you did the task yourself. This is a theme throughout scripture. We see it in the warnings of the prophets, as well as in Paul claiming to be a murderer of Christians when he held the coats of those who threw the stones. By allowing evil to go unchecked, when we could have stopped it (especially if, like Paul, we egged it on) we are just as guilty as those who did the deed.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: