February 27, 2014

XOXOXO's Part III: From Suffering to Glory, Disgrace to Embrace

In Genesis 45 we see Joseph kiss all his brothers and wept when they were reunited

Genesis 45:13-15 ~ “Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.” Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.

In Genesis 48 we see Israel (Jacob) kissed, embraced, and blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph's sons.

Genesis 48:9-10 ~ “When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?” “They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.

The first thing that jumps out like a sore thumb in both of these episodes is that they are reuniting’s of long lost family members and reconciliations. In being reconciliations they are obviously shadows in the Old Testament of Jesus reconciling believers to God by dying for our sins. But as I’ve learned to do with all types and shadows in the Old Testament…I look deeper than what surfaces at first glance. They are reunited after what seems impossible amounts of time have passed and insurmountable circumstances. Behind all of the comings-and-goings in these stories we see that they are actually part of a well-orchestrated plan with God at the helm of the ship steering the constant chains of cause and effect. What appeared to be impossibilities end up being probabilities and all the “nevers” become “forevers”.

We see in the story of Joseph and his brothers that there is little explanation. There is instead forgiveness, grace and love from Joseph to his brothers that is quickly reciprocated. The sin had been removed from the picture and this had allowed room for healing and therefore love. Grudges do no one any good and more often do the most damage to the one holding the grudge than the receiver(s) of said grudge.

It is a reconciliation that is only possible because pain and suffering was first allowed by God. We see the same in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. We see the same in our lives when we are allowed to suffer in our lives only to be taught valuable lessons that move us forward to our heavenly home. Glory comes after suffering and sanctification. God’s exaltation or lifting up for us comes after our struggles in not only life but also in death. Holiness comes after we submit ourselves under obedience to God.

We see the same with Jacob. A man that has essentially suffered the supposed death of his beloved son years ago.

The death of his son.

This might perhaps be the greatest suffering a parent could endure…the loss of a son. It makes one take a pause and reflect on the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Do we not realize how badly it grieves God that it took the perfect obedience of His Son AND His death to overturn volitional acts by man so that they could again have life that was permanent…eternal.

In Joseph’s story we see a man’s family reject him almost to the last person except his father. In Jesus’ Gospel’s we see a God man’s family reject Him nearly to the last person…except His Father. When Joseph comes back into the picture after a sort of death, all recognize him eventually and it is Joseph who holds the power. When Jesus comes back into the picture He has conquered death and clearly holds the power over death. Many in His family still do not recognize Him but when He comes for the final time…all will recognize Him and every knee will bend before Him.

When Israel finally dies and is buried, Joseph’s brothers fear the worst in Genesis 50 and believe Joseph will eventually seek revenge. Instead we see a reassurance from the one in power. We see from Joseph a profound statement that will echo throughout eternity about the character of God.

Genesis 50:20-21 ~ “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Instead of revenge we see grace. Instead of punishment, we see grace. Echoes of eternity. Instead of weeping tears of sorrow and pain, we see tears of joy. Tears of long lost love rejoined. A righting of wrongs. Things made perfect once again. No more pain. The way it should’ve been before the Fall of man in sin.

Now we see why forgiveness and reconciliation are so closely related to holiness and Godliness. In the end we see the story of Joseph as not only a story of restoration and reconciliation but also godly grace and love between sinful but redeemed people.

February 22, 2014

XOXOXO's Part II: Withering Under Pressure

Naomi kissed Orpah and Ruth, her daughters-in-law, as she left them to return to her own country. Ruth then embraces or clings to Naomi while Orpah walks away (basically forever). We see a vivid imagery of a faithful and not so faithful believer. The major dividing factor between the two is a faith in God and a lack of it.

Ruth 1:9 ~ “May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud”

Ruth 1:14 “And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”

The focal point in this passage is a single word: דָּ֥בְקָה /dabaq or clung. Orpah kissed her mother but Ruth, her daughter-in-law clung to her. The word דָּ֥בְקָה is indeed the exact same term used by Genesis 2:24 to describe the how man will leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife or specifically how Adam was to cling or cleave to Eve. It is a word that does show the unique closeness that can be experience in a marriage relationship (Wolf 522). Interestingly, the word order in the Hebrew places Ruth ahead of דָּ֥בְקָה /dabaq therefore it emphasizes the contrast between the response of Orpah and Ruth. The purpose of the writer of Ruth was to show the two women who were initially viewed as equals to be actually quite different spiritually and theologically.

Orpah goes with a natural course of obeying Naomi’s wishes but Ruth picks the harder spiritual and emotional course but one that is more loyal to Naomi (Block 638).

This is a relationship of closeness founded in faith and loyalty (similar to David and Jonathan). There is a familial relationship taking place here. It is indeed possible to have a very close familial relationship similar to that of a husband and wife in other relationships in a family. It does not follow that the relationship needs to also contain aspects of sexuality or eros like that of Adam and Eve. She is clinging physically to Naomi but spiritually and in the context of Scripture, she is clinging in faith to God Himself through her actions to another person.

Ruth 1:15-18 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Ruth immediately responds to Naomi in a theological manner in verses 15-18. She states that Orpah has gone back to her people and “her gods.” Ruth then followed her initial statement with an immediate statement that she wouldn’t leave Naomi nor would she leave Naomi’s God. This passage is a profound theological statement from Ruth about her faith in Naomi’s God (the God of the Bible) and how that ties into her relation to Naomi (Block 639).

Orpah’s name means youthful/immature. Her actions paint her as an immature believer. There is no devotion, conviction or positive emotion…just emotions and actions and what amounts to abandonment. Ruth on the other hand cleaves in devotion to Naomi. Jesus made a similar comparison in his Parable of the Soils or Sower.

Mark 4:2-8 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

The same analogy can be made today. There are many within the Church that have plenty of emotion and exuberance but inside they’re spiritually dead and don't even realize it. They have negligently equated emotive behavior to true spirituality. Once the hard parts of life hit they abandon the faith at the first sign of trouble and head for the hills. The others? They stare steadfastly at the trial they will need to face and resolve to follow through with it even if it means injury or death to self. As a matter of fact, issues of faith nearly always lead to a necessity of death to self. A believers understanding of this Christian fact (death to self/take up our cross daily) usually only strengthens our steadfastness and perseverance to see the difficult trials through to their end. Why? It is because a believer understands that the struggles and suffering in life are builders of character and they aid in sanctifying us...helping us to our final destination anyway. 

So in the end there is a clear distinction between acting the part / talking the talk and the flip side which is walking the walk. True believers are tried by fire and survive. The rest just wilt under the heat and run. We must face down our fears and trials with Jesus Christ and persevere until the end.

Hebrews 3:12-14 ~ Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

February 19, 2014

Country Bumpkins IV: Beasts and Burdens

This will be my last post for this short series about people in the Bible that live in an agrarian or farming culture. It will be about a blameless and upright man named Job and events surrounding his life. He lived in the land of Uz. The land of Uz was most likely in one of two areas. The first area is that of modern-day southwestern Jordan and southern Israel near Petra. It is a mostly arid and desert area. The other possible location (and more likely) for Uz is in modern Bashan east of The Sea Of Galilee and south of Damascus (near southern Syria). This is a semi-arid but fertile area within the Fertile Crescent. The reason this second location is more likely is because of the following verse in Job.

Job 1:13-15 ~  One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

We read that the oxen were plowing and donkeys were grazing. We also read that semi-arid desert-like land needed to be workable and capable of producing scratch or vegetation enough to support asses. What we also have in view here are beasts of burden in a story about a righteous man suffering through unimaginable burdens. 

If the oxen were plowing it was the planting season in a semi-arid environment so it had to have been the Fall season when the first rains had fallen and softened a hard packed semi-arid soil so that it could be plowed. It is during this time that the marauding Sabeans who were desert pirates attack and take the livestock. This would put Job and his family in a case of double-jeopardy (had most survived). One, the land is not plowed nor planted which is a death sentence at the harvest season for a people dependent on the land. Second, there would be no livestock either, therefore no meat or alternative means of sustenance. Doing this to a Bronze Age.

Of course this would just be the beginning of Job’s woes which would continue to escalate until the arrival of God to set everyone straight. What we get to surmise from the backstory is that Job and his family are people of the earth probably used to back-wrenching labor. People that were hardened and toughened by their labors. People that would not wilt or wane at the first sign of trouble. Job was the kind of person that believed in a God that was sovereign and he knew that God was in control. By reading the book of Job, especially the introduction with the incident between God and Satan, we the readers learn the same thing. Knowing this, Job knew he could be assured that he would see his losses redeemed for him by God in the end and ultimately there would be salvation. We too should understand this .

The thing that should be noted about this whole episode is that it is not God that finds fault in Job but rather Satan. Satan, the accuser of the brethren. What we really must realize then is this. If God finds no fault in Job but Satan does, Satan is railing against God. Satan doesn’t attack us because of us, he does it to act as an affront to God. Satan is attacking God here more than a man. Even now Satan stands in God’s presence and performs a repeat of Eden’s, “Did God really say….?” Instead this time Satan tempts God by saying, “The only reason Job fears You is because you pay him to do it. You protect him and as long as he prospers he worships You!” (v.9-12). 

This is the same accuser that reappears in Zechariah 3 accusing the High Priest Joshua even more aggressively than he accuses Job. God this time goes as far as to rebuke the Accuser, implying that the relationship between the two is (or has become) adversarial. I believe that the temptation of Jesus narrative in Matthew 4 intentionally echoes the language of Zechariah 3, as the Greek version of the earlier passage translates "Joshua" as "Jesus" and uses the same word for the Accuser that Matthew uses for the devil. So I believe that "the satan" introduced in Job is the same Satan we see as the main enemy in the New Testament. They are indeed...one and the same nefarious creature. This therefore thoroughly explains the victorious view of Jesus Christ's atonement as far back as Job. Satan the prosecutor in God's court...and sin gave him claim on humanity at least temporarily. A claim that is voided by the atonement. 

The other thing that should be noted is that God has to allow Satan to have an effect in a believer’s life. As such God will often work through Satan’s actions to enact His will. This does not mean that God is the author of the evil but it does mean that He is still sovereign over it. He might not be the initiator or creator of evil but He may not intervene to prevent it nor curtail it as it will inevitably lead to positive effects in the believer’s life. Sometimes the tragedies or trappingslife need to be looked passed to see their true purpose in God’s plan and will. We must never ever forget that God the Father did not even spare His Son Jesus the scourging and agony of the Cross on the way to His death and triumphant Resurrection. It required the Jesus go through the suffering to reach the glorification and be exalted by the Father. In God’s justice and economy suffering often mitigates holiness and should not be bypassed.

As I have always said when writing of Job, he has the exact proper and humble response to the tragedies that befall him. He falls prostrate to the ground in humble submission to God and worships God.

Job 1:20 ~ “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.

There really should be no other response from a suffering believer. Of course he mourns his loss but he also worships and honors God which is proper. In the most painful loss to date in my life (the death of my father), I fell to my knees at the burial site and worshiped and praised Jesus out loud over the six foot hole prepared for my father’s body. We’re all going where my father went so the proper thing to do is to give glory to the one that has control over the eternal destiny of your soul. 

By laying ourselves prostrate in these periods of mourning instead of bashing God over our loss we are submitting to His will and abasing ourselves by accepting God’s actions or actions He permitted in our lives. Just as Jesus submitted to the will of the Father and allowed Himself to be crucified. Yes it is okay to ask God to remove the burden, pain or suffering but we should never definitively expect that He will. He is under no obligation to do so. If anything we are dead in our sins and trespasses and deserve death. It is only through God's mercy and grace that we even get a second chance. We should count ourselves lucky and be thankful...just as Job did. In doing this we remove the accusation of Satan and nullify his loudmouthed drivel and effectively shut his claptrap. In so doing we also bring glory to God, just as Jesus did with His obedience to the Father also.

February 17, 2014

SoulJournaler © Copyright Policy

I have noticed an increase of my material being “borrowed” and not credited or worse, I am being misrepresented or taken completely out of context. Because of this I needed to implement a copyright policy for my intellectual property. I will eventually post this permanently on the side banner area. I hate to do this but there are unethical people even within the church that are willing to misrepresent other people’s positions in either self-aggrandizement or to malign others to make themselves look good. All the while these people defame the name of our Lord Jesus Christ calling or labeling themselves “Christians”. Sadly they are simultaneously murdering people’s character through decontextualization or just plain old-fashion libel.

As Paul once alluded to in Philippians 1, I do not mind so much that people take my stuff and try to pass it off as their own without citation, I care the they persecute the saints.

Philippians 1:15-18 ~ It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

What I do care about is that the mischaracterizations of me or what I wrote beings shame to the name of Jesus or inhibits the unadulterated spread of the Good News/Gospel.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

As such I have reverted all content to copyrighted status effective immediately. You will now need to either adhere to the following stipulations or request permission directly from me in writing in the comments section of a post. Below are the stipulations for use backed by the legal recourse available to me through Blogger.
(1) Content is provide free except were reader feels obliged to donate to my ministry.
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(7) Make the word “here” link to the specific URL where the content lives. 
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(9) Alterations that change meaning will result in cease-and-desist and request to remove my content from your site. 
(10) You may not edit or alter content in any way without first consulting with Andrew Pierson. 
(11) You may request permission directly from me in writing in comments section of post 
(12) You may not charge for the material even to recoup your own person costs. “Freely you have received; freely give.” ~ Matthew 10:8
Peace and Grace to All in Christ, Andrew Pierson

February 14, 2014

XOXOXO's Part I: An Embrace of Grace & A Hairy Kiss

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I present to you the mushiest and affectionate series of posts that I will probably ever type for the brethren other than a love letter to my beloved wife Sharon. The focus of the post will be hugs and kisses (or XOXO’s). 

Hugs and Kisses are the imagery conjured when we think of affection and love. They are outward signs of compassion and endearment. Just as we perceive them today, so too they would’ve been perceived in the times narrated in the Bible. As such we see many instances of embraces and smooches all over the Good Book.

All of them portray an underlying sentiment or emotion. Some but not all portray a truth but rather act as deceptions but some actions are as genuine as the emotions they represent. I will primarily focus on the book of Genesis, Exodus, some history books and one incident from the New Testament that most readers will probably predict long before I get to it because of its heinous deception and betrayal that it heralds.

When we enter into the time of the Patriarchs we are literally bombarded with family affections. It almost seems that there are a disproportionate about of hugs and kisses in the Ancient Near East. It is probable that we see these actions disproportionately because at this time in human civilization and in the place of biblical narration, the hug and the kiss were a common social greeting. There are other things going on though. I also suggest we see a lot of kissy-face and hugs because to some extent, we are dealing with one great extended family called humanity. We are all under on heard in the Church-Jesus. God is the Father of us all and we are called to love Him and one another as much as we love life itself...so kisses and hugs should not seem out of the ordinary in a family.

On to our text.

Genesis 27:27 ~ “So he [Jacob] went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.”

There is deception written all over this incident. The bestowal of the kiss is in pure affection for an eldest son (which Jacob was not) from Isaac. The recipient Jacob is acting in duplicity and is taking his brother’s patriarchal blessing which is not a material inheritance or birthright …a common misconception. To say that Jacob steals Esau’s birthright is an injustice to Jacob as Esau had essentially forfeited it for a bowl of stew and it just isn’t true either. Jacob’s deception to his father with his conniving mother’s assistance is just as deplorable as Esau’s forsaking of his birthright in chapter 25. Jacob is not the only one to blame...all are complicit in this narrative except Isaac.

What we do see in this passage is God’s approval as it is allowed to take place. In so doing we see that it accurately propagates Jacob’s destiny as the lineage of the Christ as opposed to Esau. Through Jacob we will see the promises of Abraham continued as it is repeated many times as a reminder. Like God's blessing to Abraham, the blessing is irrevocable...true to the nature of an immutable and unchanging God and His promises. So we see a continuity between Abraham and Jacob: The continuity comes in the form of grace and blessing in covenant. Abraham’s blessing comes directly from God to Abraham and his decedents. In Jacob we see the faithfulness of God and the promised passing on of blessing to later generations even though the route to the end result (Jesus) does not follow the most probable assumed (by humans) path. The path to Christ will take further unorthodox avenues to produce the Messiah including a detour through a kinsman redeemer (Boaz and Ruth) and even through two probable prostitutes (Tamar, Rahab). It is almost as if God purposely takes unsightly and demeaning detours of lineage to make a point that Paul will later draw out in 1 Corinthians. It is only because of God that humans were able to continue a lineage that would produce a Messiah. It’s nothing that we do as believers.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ~ Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord

Here again we see God working through the sins of humans. God was not the impetus of the deception but God allowed it and turns it into a positive of salvation. It is Jacob who will father Judah. Judah being the tribe that will give rise to Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5).

Genesis 33:1-4 ~ “Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. 

Having betrayed his brother, one would thing that Esau will seek revenge and kill his brother Jacob. Jacob apparently fears the same outcome. In the end, we see that this is not the final outcome between Esau and Jacob. When we move to Genesis 33 we see a paradoxical turnaround. Even after the foreboding visions and visitations of angels, we see a classic biblical paradox. When man thinks things will go a certain way based on our human experience, because of God’s involvement…they go just the opposite way. Instead of a murder akin to Cain and Abel…we see a reconciliation. We see a classic biblical case of grace and forgiveness from the one that was wronged. Strangely, we see God’s attributes that will be later shown in Christ’s death on the cross manifested in Esau who is essentially the image of the one outside of God’s blessing.

In Jacob we see guilt manifest.  In Esau we see forgiveness manifest. Scripture never tells us that Esau is not saved so it can be implied that both were saved. In two brothers (not unlike Cain and Abel) we see that people guaranteed of salvation can be both guilty of sin and repentant and also forgiving and willing to reconcile. Jacob (and we as readers to some extent) expects that there will be a heavy bargaining or cost for past sins but through God’s grace and actions, there is no need of such appeasement. Esau approaches his brother Jacob like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son…with open arms and no hard feelings. Just like us when we repent of our sins and turn to Jesus. 

One comes in repentance knowing the error of his ways and the other comes with grace and forgiveness willing to embrace and forget the past sins. To Esau the past was buried as far as the east is from the west. Jacob goes to great extent to protect his own well-being not trusting in God. He shows a lack of faith that God would have his best interest in mind and all Jacobs efforts are in vain as God has already balanced the scales when it comes to Esau.

February 12, 2014

Country Bumpkins III: Giving It All Away or Taking It All Away

Giving It All Away

We see in 1 Kings that one of the greatest Old Testament prophets was a farmer. We see Elisha get his call to ministry as he is plowing a field.

1 Kings 19:19-21~“So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him,“Go back again, for what have I done to you?” So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.”

Where Elijah as a human deemed this acceptable since he himself was only a man, Jesus as God with a better understanding of what the Kingdom is deems the request to tie up loose ends too much and says so. To follow Jesus requires one to virtually sever one's self from the world (flesh) immediately. To be fair to Elisha he does eventually slaughter his oxen and burn his plow and dives wholesale into his prophetic ministry…it is not before saying goodbye to family. In Luke we see Jesus hold us tighter to the spiritual flame…

Luke 9:59-62 ~ “And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

A person literally needs to die to self to serve God properly. The person must sever his new self from the old self. There can be no compromise with the world at the risk of losing everything you might have gained in Christ. There are few in a congregation that reach this truest point. There are many pastors leading churches that have not reached this point either and it shows. Total divestiture of one's desires to take someone else's.

When addressing this as a form of symbolic action we must realize that a farmer plowing a field must devote all of his attention to keeping his animals walking forward and keeping the furrow in a straight line. Otherwise the rows will zig-zag all over the place crossing over one another. If a farmer turns around all bets are off. In Jesus' discipleship there is no "multi-tasking". He knows that any additional tasks one takes on are a distraction to the main task of planting seeds in fertile soil or literally preaching the Kingdom...preaching the Gospel.

We are called to complete devotion and all the requirements of this demand. We can give Jesus nothing less than everything we have to give. To give less of our attention puts us at risk of falling victim to our own sinfulness and temptation. We are to make ourselves living sacrifices (Romans 12). Here Jesus speaks of the one that is willing to look back, the one that still has one foot in the past in their old life - mind you it is a sinful life. Meanwhile, because they are not paying attention they could potentially be messing up their future life too. You cannot live in the past and in the present or future at the same time. It causes a conflict of interest.

Yes, the demands are to be a disciple are great but the reward...greater still. You can ask any farmer, it is easier to keep the planted row straight and under control than it is to try and straighten a furrow after it has been plowed. To straighten it requires one must retread the same piece of earth over to get it right and double the workload. No one likes to do double the work. It is easier to do the job right the first time. Jesus understood this and it is why He ups the ante even in light of the fact that He draws on the story of Elisha to make His point. It is exactly because he draws on the story of Elisha's call that we need to take heed to what Jesus points out. In upping the ante He shows the true intent of Scripture just as He did with murder and adultery in the Sermon on the Mount.

Taking It All Away

In our second narrative in 1 Kings 21 we see Naboth’s vineyard adjacent to Ahab’s palace. It appears that it was so closely situated and conveniently that it was sinfully coveted by Ahab.

1 Kings 21:1-2 ~ “Now it came about after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden because it is close beside my house, and I will give you a better vineyard than it in its place; if you like, I will give you the price of it in money.”

The sinful and covetous Ahab is prodded by his evil wife Jezebel. When he does not react, she takes the reins into her own hands. Any nasty characteristics in Ahab are now amplified by his horrendous wife. Ahab subsequently goes into a steep apostate decline. Ahab would’ve bought the land according to the text but the witch Jezebel has no such scruples. Where Naboth as the common man refuses to sell based in a code of honor to his forefathers. The leader/king of the land and his wife act in a dishonorable way that brings shame to the throne and to a nation in general which is also in decline.

In Naboth we see a man of conviction, in Ahab we see a man of misgiving and hesitation. Naboth responds as a gentrified man and Ahab responds like a petulant immature child. Jezebel finds Ahab’s character in this as repulsive as a modern reader and sets out to divest Naboth of his land. The skank Jezebel assumes Ahab’s royal role and concocts an evil scheme to wrench the land free of Naboth’s honor-bound grip. Naboth ends up stoned and the King gains ownership of land through blood-guilt. It is at this point in Ahab’s reign that he turns decisively homicidal, oppressive and worst of all: Decidedly apostate. In this story Naboth has everything taken from him but maintains his integrity. In taking everything that doesn't belong to them Ahab and Jezebel loose any integrity the might have had (which was very little to begin with).

In Ahab (aided by Jezebel’s wicked pagan influence), we see what becomes of a man removed of God or who removes God from his life. We see gradual erosion of ethical, moral and biblical foundation until virtually none remains. We see Romans 1. It is during his reign that we will see one of the greatest, if not the greatest prophet come on the biblical scene: Elijah and later Elisha. This of course would not be surprising because prophets were heralds or callers, calling people back to the Law and the God of the Bible once they started going adrift. You have to know you were seriously apostate when the man that became the gauge of an Old Testament prophet is raised up by God while you are the reigning king. Yet in their sin and transgressions Ahab and Jezebel were blind.

February 7, 2014

Country Bumpkin II: The Breadwinner

By the time of Judges 6 the Israelites had done evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years the Lord gave them over to the hands of the Midianites and they were oppressive in their harasssment of Israel. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country and ruined the Israelite crops all the way to Gaza and killed all their sheep, cattle and donkeys. The Midianites so beleaguered the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help. In response to the pleas God sent a prophet to inform them of their transgressions and right on the prophets heels came Gideon the reluctant judge.

Before Gideon is associated to the 300, he is first associated to the land in which he lives. We see some background that is vital to understanding Gideon and his actions in Judges 6:11…

Judges 6:11 ~ The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.

We see Gideon threshing wheat. At the time of this encounter with God's appointed envoy, we see that he is beating out grain in a wine press. Without modern technology grain needed to have the heads beat with a flail and then discard the straw. It was then tossed into the air allowing the wind to blow away the much lighter straw and paper-like chaff while the heavier useful kernels would fall straight down. To do this during the Midianite incursions would been dangerous because throwing the wheat into the air would’ve been like waving a flag to attract the Midianites. So instead Gideon beats the grain in a wine press. It is in this enclosed environment that the Angel of the Lord arrives. It is here Gideon is given his divine task as a judge.

Because of their own sin, Israel had been tormented by their neighbors. No one including God comes in to help the beleaguered Israel right away. In a simple bucolic labor of threshing God eventually shows himself to the common man. There is an intervention by God with a common farmer...that changes the direction of a nation that changes the fate of the world. The Angel of the Lord would momentarily dwell with man in a wine press.

Here we see a shadow of the same methodology that God will again use in the arrival of His son. He enters real time to everyday people (Mary and Joseph) of the land that at first glance seem insignificant but with God involved, they are used to great effect. The angels later appear to the common blue collar shepherds in their fields performing their agrarian labors and it is in this way God reveals His Son to the world. God chose the weak things of the world both times to reveal His greatness. Why? Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 1:25-29…to shame the wise. Because even the foolishness and most absurd things of God are vastly wiser than the smartest men.

Of course Gideon’s reaction is negative and unproductive. But as stated above, God can even work through the recalcitrance of people or in the case of Gideon…his lack of faith. It is exactly because Gideon was not a man of strong faith that this story rings so much louder in the ears and minds of believers. God tells Gideon that He is with him and Gideon’s response is essentially, “So what?” How many times do we do this daily let alone over the period of our lives? Gideon’s questions and doubts about God become exclamation points of faith for him and us. Even now this should encourage even those of weak faith.

Matthew 8:26 ~ "And He [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

The entire story of Ruth and Boaz rotates around the harvest and gleaning of a field. To be specific, it is a barley field.

Ruth 1:22-2:3 ~ “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

The time and place of Naomi and Ruth’s arrival is no accident. They are arriving in Bethlehem (the house of bread), at the height of the barley harvest or the exact right time for the grain to be cut, dried, beaten and sifted to eventually be made into, among other things...bread. Similar circumstances would surround the death of Christ. He would be cut by a scourging and beaten within an inch of His life...then crucified, die and be raised again in a different form that would give life...just like bread. A Bread of Life. We would hear a similar analogy directly from the Lord Himself....

John 6:35 ~ Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

John 12:24 ~ "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

All these episodes in the Book of Ruth will take place in the family lineage that will almost die out but didn’t due to a kinsman redeemer outlined in the Law of God. It is the lineage that will lead to Christ who is the Bread of Life that will be born in this very same city, the house of bread: Bethlehem. 

The Bread of Life born in the House of Bread. This story as stated previous refers to a kinsman redeemer Boaz who shadows the ultimate kinsman redeemer Jesus Christ. It is by Boaz being a kinsman redeemer that the lineage of Christ is saved. It is by our adoption into His [God's] family that we will be saved for eternity. Is all of this coincidence?


It looks exactly like a carefully orchestrated plan because it is. A sovereign plan. At this time of harvest Ruth and Naomi would’ve been able to lay up gleanings from the fields in the event Ruth would not have found a suitor in Boaz. Through practical and pragmatic planning that is agriculturally based, we see God assure the lineage of the Messiah bears fruit…just like the fields and womb of Ruth whom we see spoken of in this historical narrative.

What is even more providential and amazing about Naomi and Ruth's pilgrimage is the impetus that would instigate Naomi to go to Bethlehem. It isn't surprising that they would leave for food since widowed women and unmarried women might be at risk of starving. What makes the pilgrimage all the more amazing and ironic t is the type of food that prompts the travel.

Ruth 1:6 ~ Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food.

The word for food here isn't really the word food in the Greek Septuagint or in the Hebrew Bible. The word is ἄρτους / ἄρτος or  לָֽחֶם in Hebrew. The translation of these words? 


It therefore should not be surprising to us as readers that bread would be used to represent the body of Christ in the symbolic gesture that is communion of the Lord's Supper as He was the Bread of Life born in the house of bread from a lineage that is steeped in the imagery of bread-making and divine sustenance.  All of this back-story bolsters the imagery of Jesus almost to perfection. In reality, Jesus is our eternal breadwinner. He is the One who earned us our place in the Father’s presence. In this way all believers are all His dependents. He is the Head of Household in the House of Bread. It is what He sacrificed at the Cross that paid the wages of sin. It was His body, represented by the bread of communion that was broken for our sins but rose again the third day. The same God that saved Naomi and Ruth is the same one that saved us by raising His Son who is The Bread of Life.

February 4, 2014

Country Bumpkins I: People of the Land, People of God

Raking Hay

Joe Jones
The bible is filled with people that live in an agrarian or farming culture. People with simple (not simple-minded) straight-forward focus and work ethic. People that appreciate the reward of a hard days labor and understand there is a unique appreciation instilled having toiled in effort for what one attains. Even some of the laws of Moses pertain to farming. Many of the feasts in the Pentateuch revolved around the harvest and the agrarian culture. Many of the parables and principles given in the Bible are steeped in pastoral and agrarian language: Vines, trees, seed, wheat, first fruits, harvest, etc. So it is not odd that we should find mention of farmers or people that worked the land all throughout the Bible. For the purposes of this post, farming will be defined as a specialized labor or effort that engages in agriculture, raising living animals or plant life for food or raw materials. It can also refer to One who creates the aforementioned items too (God).

The term farmer usually applies to someone who does some combination of raising field crops, orchards, vineyards and one that raises poultry, beef of other livestock. The farmer themselves might actually be the owner of the farmed land or it could be a laborer on land owned by others.

Right from the beginning of God's Creation we see farming as God is not only the original Creator but He is also the original Farmer. 

Genesis 1:28-30 ~ And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” 

It is right in the very context of the Creation that we see the first farming and the first farmer Himself: God. We also see him give dominion to man to essentially do the same.

Genesis 2:8-9 ~ “…and the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.

It is immediately after the Fall that we see man need to exert exceptional effort to get the ground to yield what God had allowed initially without effort. In reference to the Fall and its effects…

Genesis 3:17-19 ~ “…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It is ironic that these passages elaborating on the curse and what it has done to the Creation come immediately after the Protoevangelium or the first mention of the promised Messiah that would come from humanity.

Genesis 3:15 ~ And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The Protoevangelium was essentially the first mention of the Gospel or God’s statement to Adam and Eve (humanity) about the future relationship between the serpent (Devil) and man. Because the serpent had caused the Fall of man, a member of the human race would be the serpents undoing.

Farther on after the Fall in Genesis we see that Cain and Abel were farmers.

Genesis 4:2 ~ “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.”

We know of Abel’s eventual fate and Cain’s horrible sin but their livelihood or trades are often quickly glanced over in pursuit of the more theological aspects of their sin. What we usually fail to see is that Cain was a tiller of the ground and Abel was a keeper of flocks or a herder that kept livestock (in pain you shall eat of it). Having been driven from Eden, the promised curse upon the ground comes to full fruition on the next generation. Cain and Abel are working the very cursed Creation that their parent’s sin had initiated. The parents clearly influenced the children’s chosen path in life in terms of their life’s employment. It is implied from reading the text that Adam probably would've had to have become a farmer after the expulsion from Eden or he and Eve would've starved. Neither Cain nor Abel sat idly around doing nothing but labored and worked which was an emulation of their earthly father and their Father in Heaven. In participating in this trade Cain and Abel work together with God to produce a viable good that is helpful to everyone. Ironically, they partially reverse an effect of the curse of the Fall. How? By raising the grain and livestock as it is both the work of God and human.

We also see that even in light of the Fall, man is still fruitful and still multiplying. This of course is allowed because of God’s mercy and grace. In light of this, “the boys” presented offerings to God. Although sin has put them outside of Eden, grace and mercy has kept them alive to still gain blessing from God. Sadly, we will see the difference in the true and false worshiper when it comes time for these two men to make their offerings to God…but that is another topic for another post.

When we reach the post- antediluvian period (post-flood) we see Noah shifts from shipbuilding to become a farmer.

Genesis 9:20 ~ “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.”

I guess what is interesting in this verse is that it tells us that Noah was already a “man of the soil”. Just as Adam and his sons had to find purpose and enterprise in their labor, so too the new head of the new race would need to follow suit. It also means that Noah must have been a husbandman or farmer before he was a mechanic or carpenter (the ark). He must have been able to provide sustenance for both himself and his family while building the ark. It is not like they had a diner down the street to stop in for a meal. In all these episodes we see the man or God appointed spiritual leader of the family providing for his family and doing so in obedience to God.

What I see in the passage of Noah planting a vineyard and getting drunk is a painful repeat of Genesis 1-3. We see the new head of the race (Noah) carrying within him the sin of his forefather (Adam). Noah having planted a vineyard reaps God’s blessing in its output, not unlike Adam and Eve reaping the blessing of God having planted Eden. But just like the stumble of Eve and then Adam in the Garden…so too we see the stumble of Noah in his passed-out drunkenness and the impropriety of his son. We see the imputed sin of Adam that is not eradicable without the eradication of all humanity. The sin and evil is within all humanity (Romans 3). Hence the need for all men to repent and turn to Christ.

So the next time you hear someone say, “I’m a farmer like my father was before me.” It might very well have a deeper and double meaning. For God Himself has within His infinite attributes that of a laborer, a worker, a farmer and a herder. He is a God that creates and raises things. He is a grower and a vine-dresser of vineyards/orchards. He is the first fruits of the Resurrection. He is the God of the harvest. He is the Good Shepherd and a tender of a flock.

Luke 10:2“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Sorry folks, I take pride in being labeled a backwoods Bible-thumping hick and a country bumpkin. I consider it a badge of honor and it appears that I am in good company when I read the Bible.
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