Tag Archives: Jesus

Colossians: Pray and Keep on Praying

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Colossians 1:3-14

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant,[a] who is a faithful minister of Christ on our[b] behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[c] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[d] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

I did not write the lesson on this section in Colossians, but I would love to share some thoughts concerning this passage. I would encourage you to read through the passage above and record your own observations (noting key words, admonitions, tone of voice, connectives, and so on).

The first thing I noticed this time around is Paul’s very friendly and encouraging tone toward the Colossians. It reads quite differently from his letter to the Galatians for example. He also introduces us to a new name, Epaphras. New names immediately pique my interest and result in me following a rabbit trail that takes me hours to get back to my original path. In order not to take you on too many rabbit trails, I’ll simply choose a few ideas from the passage I found interesting (trust me when I say this is very hard to do for me. I’d like to pick apart every. single. verse.).

If we look at this section of the letter very broadly, we would note his common habit of giving thanks and praying for the recipients. It is a beautiful way to start a letter. I find that Paul teaches me about being thankful and how to pray for others simply by the way he writes his letters.

As I mentioned he’s very encouraging toward the Colossian believers, noting their faith and their love (v. 4, 7) which is a result of the hope (v. 5) they have in Christ {hmm…where have I seen those three qualities together before??}. He also comments on the gospel bearing fruit and increasing among them since the day they heard it and understood it (v. 5-6). I find the idea of an inanimate object being able to bear fruit very fascinating. The good news (gospel) which Epaphras spoke to the Colossians continues to produce good things among them.

I would like to look closely at the idea of faith. Webster’s 1828 defines it as “a full and affectionate confidence in the certainty of those things which God has declared and because He has declared them.” Another way to put it is an “affectionate, practical confidence in the testimony of God” or a “firm, cordial belief in the veracity of God, in all the declarations of His word.”

Perhaps it is best to point out that the power of faith depends not on the person who has the faith but on the One in whom the faith is placed. Christ is the object of our faith. Our faith has power because it is on Him, and He does not fail. C.F.D. Moule wrote this:

Regardless, the issue is not just the presence of faith, but a faith that resides in Christ. It gives the thought of reliance going forth to Christ, and reposing on Christ, so as to sink as it were into Him, and find fixture in Him; as the anchor sinks to the floor of the sea, and then into it, that it may be held in it.

To recap, Paul gave thanks for their faith and love because of hope (and this hope does not disappoint because it is also in the person of Christ who has secured glory/heaven for us). One of the ladies I teach with said this, “The validity of faith is not the fervency with which you believe, but the degree to which the object of your faith is true.”

It is in verse 9 when he switches to praying for these people he’s never even met. He asked that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. I couldn’t tell you how this happens, I only know that if he asks for it, it must be something that can happen to any believer. We can know God’s will for our lives. Isn’t that such a comforting thought? I also happen to love that he prays this for them as a father would pray for his own children to know God fully.

Hopefully you had a chance to read my post detailing the background of Colossians. You see, there was a threat of false teaching in Colossae, and those opponents were promising spiritual fullness with things that were not Christ. Paul tells the believers that true spiritual fullness can only be found in Christ alone. Just look at these verses in the letter about fullness or being filled:

1:19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell

1:25 …to make the word of God fully known

2:2 …all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

2:9 For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

2:10 and you have been filled in Him…

4:12 …stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

Christ is sufficient. (more on this later!)

Now on to verses 10-11. Paul had spoken of the gospel which was bearing fruit in the lives of the Colossians and now in verse 10 he tells them to walk in a worthy manner, being pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work…. One of my favorite teachings of Jesus (and which Paul continues) is this idea of the Vine and branches. We abide in the Vine (which is Christ), and He produces fruit in us (fruit of the Spirit for example). I realize this can be a touchy subject since too many people believe they must work really hard to be “good” and accepted by God (or whoever it is they believe they need to work for). I would clarify that it’s not so much that we work for God but that God works in us. {I feel a blog post bubbling to the surface so I had better stop at that.}

In verse 11 Paul tells them their strength comes from God. The words for strengthened and power come from the same word in our English language for dynamiteDunamei means “to make strong, strengthen” and carries the idea of making something strong that is inherently weak. Paul says this power helps us to endure and have patience with joy. Again, this is his prayer for the Colossians and gives me such encouragement knowing this can happen for me as well.

Paul wraps up this section in verses 12-14: we give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in His inheritance, He has delivered us from darkness and transferred us to His Son’s kingdom, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Now those verses are truly packed with some dynamite!

What I learned from this passage is that the words used for delivered and transferred give the idea of military conquest. In Biblical times it was common to take a people who had been defeated, uproot them from their culture and environment, and re-root them somewhere else. That is exactly what God did for us! He broke the bonds of our past life (out of darkness) to assimilate us into a new life with Him (His kingdom of light – see also 1 Pet 2:9). It’s His grace to us, because we don’t deserve a single thing He did in those verses. We have been qualified, delivered, transferred, and redeemed.

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Isaiah 1: The Consuming Fire

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I remember the first time I learned about God as the all-consuming fire. It was when I first heard about Moses (the un-cut version – not the nicey-nice children’s version). Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy groundIt was such a strange and foreign image to my mind – God being a fire. But I was young and have since learned more about this consuming fire.

The next time I remember reading about fire in the Bible was when I read about the Hebrews in Babylon. They would not bow down, so they were thrown into the fire. But then there was a fourth person in the fire! And when the three men came out (yes, they walked right through the blazing inferno), not even a hair was singed on their bodies. Okay, make a mental note: not only is God an all-consuming fire, but He can rescue His faithful followers out of a fire. (You have no idea how much I want to continue talking about this amazing story…but I digress.)

In college my Old Testament professor drove home the image of fire as a metaphor for judgment. For some reason this concept has stuck with me more than all the others. It seems like fire is sprinkled all throughout the Bible: God as the pillar of fire. Elijah at Mount Carmel. Endless sacrifices. The refiner’s fire. The tongues of flame at Pentecost. The fiery pit of hell (and those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head). Aside from these examples, the largest majority of references to fire actually pertain to judgment (whether from God or man). Frankly, I see why fire is used as a metaphor for judgment. The imagery is frightening. I can’t think of a worse way to die either – to be burned alive in a fiery blaze.

It’s with all these pictures in mind that I read through the first chapter of Isaiah. First my eye caught the words “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” (v. 9-10), and I recalled Genesis 19:24:

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (ESV)

Terrifying reminder number one. Surely the Judahites’ ears perked up a little when they heard Isaiah speak the name of those two condemned cities. And then in Isaiah 1:10 he calls them “you leaders of ‘Sodom'” and “people of ‘Gomorrah.'” I’m sorry, did he just refer to us as the leaders of the worst cities ever? Why yes, I think he did.

He goes on to describe their self-centered approach to worship, calling it sinful and false (v. 13).  Now those are fightin’ words, Isaiah. We’re just doing what’s in the Law. We’re following our religion. And how’s that working out for you? God says He wants none of your sacrifices, He’s sick of your offerings, He gets no pleasure from your animal sacrifices, wishes you’d stop bringing your meaningless gifts, is disgusted by your incense offerings, hates your celebrations and festivals, believes all of this is a burden to Him and He cannot stand them (v. 11-14). He even refuses to look when they lift up their hands in prayer because their hands are covered with the blood of the innocent (v. 15). If we’re being honest, maybe Sodom and Gomorrah is a fitting description for them after all.

Following this laundry list of all the things appalling to God, Isaiah (God) tells them “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways.” (v. 16, NLT)

Anytime someone says “get out of my sight,” it’s usually uttered with absolute contempt or disdain. And usually, the person isn’t joking around. It’s a serious matter and requires an immediate response. I suppose you could call it an ultimatum. Do X or else Y will happen to you. Isaiah goes on to tell them what they should do (v. 17) and in verse 18 we read a familiar passage:

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as  white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool. (ESV)

But we often miss v. 19-20, “If you will only obey Me…But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword…” (oh boy, another judgment metaphor). He tells them, I don’t care for all your “religious”, lack-luster, disingenuous worship. I want your obedience. I want to take away your sins, and I want to make you holy. In v.24-26 Isaiah tells the people that God will use judgment or discipline to make this happen. He would even bring renewal through the appointment of godly leaders. Again in v. 27-28 He reminds them to repent (wash yourselves, be clean, give up your evil ways!) and if they don’t, they’ll be destroyed, consumed. And we finally arrive at the image of fire in v. 31:

The strongest among you will disappear like straw;
    their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire.
They and their evil works will burn up together,
    and no one will be able to put out the fire. (NLT)

Their own sins will set them on fire, and no one will be able to put it out. It’s one thing to have a blazing fire that can be contained. It’s a completely other thing to have a devouring fire that can’t be extinguished. That’s complete destruction. That’s an all-consuming fire. And that‘s how God describes Himself on several occasions (Deut 4:24, 9:3, Is 30:27, 33:14, Lam 2:3, Heb 12:29). What do I even make of this?

The passage in Deuteronomy tells us that God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. He refers to Himself as a jealous God several times as well (Ex 20:4-5, Deut 5:9, 6:15, Ez 38:19 and it goes on and on), and it’s almost always coupled with anger (as burning or kindled or smoking – in other words, like a fire). Perhaps we have a hard time with this fiery, jealous anger, because when we respond with jealous anger, it’s sinful. I believe we could have moments of divine jealousy, but I think those are rare. But God does not sin. His jealousy is completely legitimate and founded. His jealousy is the Lover’s jealousy written in Song of Solomon 8:6:

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.

When the Bible speaks of God’s jealousy, it is usually a jealousy for His holy reputation and for those things and people who belong to Him – 1) God is jealous for His name, 2) He is jealous for Jerusalem/Zion, and 3) He is jealous for us (Ez 39:25, Zech 1:14, James 4:5). First, He is unwilling to share His glory (Is 42:8, 48:11). Interestingly God’s glory is known as the shekinah glory, and when He manifests His glory on earth, it appears as a brilliant light that blazes like a fire (Ex 30:44-45; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Ez 1:28; Matt 17:1-8). It is something that no man can behold in its fullness and still live to tell about it (Ex 33:20). Secondly, God is jealous for the place where He has said He would make His name, eyes, and heart dwell (1 Kings 9:3, 11:36; 2 Kings 21:7). This again is connected to His reputation. And finally, like the jealous lover, God is not willing to share His people (who also bear His name) with anyone or anything (Ez 36:22-32). He will defend the holiness of His name wherever He has made His name to dwell. We are caught up in a love that is as fierce as a fire.

This jealousy, though it is a burning desire for His glory, somehow manages to be great news for us. Actually it is our only hope. In the Ezekiel 36 passage, God declares:

23I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

His motivation is for “the holiness of [His] great name,” but we benefit from this jealousy as He makes us holy and gives us His Spirit who makes it possible for us to obey Him. The all-consuming fire came down to earth, but He didn’t devour and destroy. He came to save (John 3:16-17; 1 Tim 1:15). John 1:1-5, 14 tells us of the light that came down:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV)

This is the greatest news! This is the gospel. The people spoken of in Isaiah whose own sin had set them on fire have a God who is greater than their sin. They have a God who is greater than the Law which they were trying so hard to follow (Rom 8:1-4). Come, though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them as snow. Come, I will cleanse you, giving you a new heart and putting My Spirit in youCome, I have set My name on you as seal, and I am the jealous Lover. You are Mine.

Strength and Dignity

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I have a dear friend who posted this meme on Facebook the other day:

strong-woman

I love the message! Don’t you? When you think of a strong person, you imagine someone with great physical strength who can rip apart lions (King David) or wield a donkey’s jawbone in a heated battle (Samson). Strong people are capable of tearing right through their obstacles, right? A sign of strength is how easily you can defeat an opponent or enemy. A person who shows weakness is the one who is meek and bows out of the fight, right? Uh. no. Not in this case.

Why is it that we buy into the lie that in order to be a strong person, we need to make everyone else around us feel weak? A brother or sister in Christ is not an obstacle to tear right through. We do not need to try to defeat one another in an effort to show how strong we are. Likewise we do not show weakness when we are meek and defer to another. On the contrary, this is great strength indeed.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13)

Both Moses (Numbers 12:3) and Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:1) are described as meek or humble. There’s no way anyone would consider either of these men as being weak.

You do not prove your strength by belittling another person. You actually prove that you have weak character for it is in the way you treat another that reveals your heart.

I am grieved by what I hear week after week about the way women treat one another. The comparison game is deadly. It’s more like Russian Roulette than Candy Land. What I’ve seen is a twisted form of religious pompousness rather than a real life relationship with another sister. {Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also seen the real life relationships that genuinely bring encouragement and love to each person.}

Here’s what I mean: convictions for an individual quickly become measuring sticks for spiritual maturity.Well, I’m a stay at home mom, and if you aren’t a stay at home mom, that means you’re not a good Christian” “I homeschool my children because it’s the best way to raise a child, and if you don’t homeschool then you must be a lesser Christian.” “You aren’t married? Why not? You don’t have children? Why not?” I am giving up all I know to be a missionary and if you don’t want to do missions that means you don’t really love Christ or the lost.” 

Do I need to go on? Now I doubt that any thinking person would actually say any of those statements. But attitudes can speak for themselves. None of these convictions ever need to be a badge we wear to reveal how spiritual or devoted to God we are. God forbid.

Another dear friend of mine used to always say “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Why do we compare ourselves at all? If we compare ourselves in order to puff ourselves up, we have failed. If we compare ourselves to heap guilt on ourselves, we have failed. Put your measuring sticks far away, and instead of spending your time scrutinizing yourself or another person, take the time to appreciate another sister or appreciate the gifts and path God has given to you.

You can have your convictions and still value another sister’s obedience to God, even if it looks completely different from your own! And let me not even get started on how utterly arrogant it is to think that you or I have anything to do with our holiness or acceptance before God. We don’t wear badges, we actually receive crowns and even then we acknowledge that those crowns deserve to be at the feet of Jesus.

And we sing,

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Revelation 4:11)

{So technically that passage is referring to the 24 elders, but you get the idea.}

He alone is worthy. And it is God who created us to the Body of Christ who serves one another with special gifts in order to edify the whole Church. Edify, not tear down. Nourish and lift up, not weaken or destroy.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

God prepared good works for each of us before we even knew we belonged to Him in order that we could walk around on His earth as the hands and feet of Jesus. We are His ambassadors with marching orders to reconcile people back to Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). To reconcile! Not to draw people away from Him with our selfish motives.

We don’t need to clamor for His attention, trying to draw His gaze toward us, hoping that He’ll take notice of how great we are. No! We humbly submit to the One who is worthy of all glory and honor and power. We can do this by walking in those good works that He’s prepared for us to do. And some of those good works involve building up our brothers and sisters in Christ.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:25-26)

A woman with strength and dignity is wise and kind. Ironically she also recognizes her own weaknesses and even relishes in them, knowing that when she is weak, [He is] strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

My sweet friend reminded me too that we need to be women full of grace for ourselves and for one another. We’re all going to fall, sometimes in small ways and other times in large ways. Wouldn’t you want someone to come alongside you and help you along rather than be put to shame by a sideways glance or a disappointed shaking of the head?

In case you’ve ever been hurt by a careless statement, consider first to give that person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps that woman did not mean to hurt your feelings nor make you feel like a lesser Christian. Sometimes people say stupid things, and those aren’t necessarily judgments about you. More often than not, that individual hasn’t considered the implications of her words and is simply expressing her (not-so-tactful) opinion or strongly held conviction.

Let us all be careful with our words for it is by those words that we will be judged (Matthew 12:37). Wouldn’t you rather spend your limited time here on earth using your words to build up and encourage? I thought so.

(P.S. I know more women who are getting this right than women who are getting this wrong. Christ has given us a beautiful and perfect example of love for His bride, and He’s called us to this same kind of love for each other. We are the bride of Christ, and the world will know we are His based on our love for each other! So go love!!) John 13:35

David’s Wives: Hearts Devoted to a King {Part 3}

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“The Battle for the Throne – Trusting God’s Promise”

Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, was still very loyal to Saul and set Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, over Israel. They decided to have a showdown to see who would be the king over all of Israel. If you read 2 Sam 2:12-32 it feels much the same as the earlier Israelite battle against the Philistines involving Goliath. They chose 12 men from each side to fight each other, but they all end up killing each other, so they end up having a war on a much larger scale – the men of Abner/Ish-bosheth against the men of Joab/David (which most scholars believe last about 2 years).

And let’s just say that Abner’s men got a pretty bad whooping. It’s so sad though because these men were brothers fighting brothers! Israelite against Israelite. A small civil war.

For 7 years David remained in Hebron, and in 2 Sam 3:1-5 it says there was:

a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker. And sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.”

Even though David was king, he still had to fight for it. There was a long war. But what is repeated over and over is that David never had the bloodguilt of any person on his hands, but that his men fought for him!

During this time, David apparently collected more wives and also started building his legacy. Abigail gave him a son named, Chileab. Or if you’re reading 1 Chron 3:1, his name is Daniel. The name Chileab meant “like his father.” Did she ever wonder if her son would be the one who would reign after David? Did she speak those truths about God over her son just like she spoke truth over David all those years ago? Did she hope that he would be a man after God’s own heart, just like his father, David?

But I can’t help but remember what God had told the Israelites concerning the kings. Deut 17:17a says,

17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away,”

The wife count is now at 7. How many wives is too many? According to the Talmud, the limitation of wives was 18. But um, I think 2 is one too many!

The gathering of wives for kings in ancient times was like the gathering of power. The power of the wives was in the giving of sons. We certainly learned this in the study of the Wives of the Patriarchs. Sons ensured the continuation of the kingdom. But truly, you only needed one son to ensure the reign. Adding to that number would just result in favoritism, jealousy, sibling rivalry, and the lust for the power.

How did Abigail feel about all the extra wives? We’ve talked about how the culture back then is so vastly different from our own, so it is difficult for us to know how she would have felt.

Patriarchal society or not. Human nature is human nature. I can’t imagine there weren’t pangs of envy among the wives. Perhaps even the pitting of their sons against one another. My son is better than your son because

My son looks more like David.

My son is strong like David.

Well, my son can play the harp like David.

Who cares? My son is more kingly than all your sons!

I’d like to think that Abigail was above all of this, because she’s just so loveable! But did her heart ache for more affection from the king? And more importantly did she hope that it would be her son that would be crowned king, even though he was 2nd born?

Abner determines to give his loyalty to David because Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth accuses him of sleeping with one of Saul’s concubines (2 Sam 3:6-11) which would be seen as Abner trying to move in on the throne. In retaliation against Is-bosheth, Abner goes to David and asks him to make a covenant with him and in return he would bring Israel’s heart to David. David’s only term is that he brings his first wife, Michal, back to him. (v. 13) So in v. 15-16 it says,

15 And Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish. 16 But her husband went with her, weeping after her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” And he returned.”

Many scholars believe this was a political move on David’s part to ensure his right to the throne. (Berlin, David’s Wives; Kessler, Sexuality and Polititcs; Levenson, The Political Import of David’s Marriages; White, Michal the Misinterpreted) Still others believed this was to gain the favor of the Saulide party (Brueggeman, p. 226).

Regardless of this, Michal’s second husband appears to have loved her very much, but she is taken from him. How is that heart looking now? The darkness begins to filter into that once very red, very much in love, heart.

Abner keeps his promise to persuade Israel to follow David by reminding them that God had promised David that it would be by David’s hand that he would save the people from the Philistines and all their enemies. (v. 18) His bold move to appeal to God’s will proved he wasn’t appointed as a diplomat and commander for nothing! Unfortunately for Abner, he dies at the hand of Joab, the commander of David’s army because he suspected foul play. And David is faultless. Then Ish-bosheth is murdered by two Israelite men from Saul’s own tribe. (2 Sam 4:5-8) Again, David is faultless.

“A King Arose”

The Third Anointing: 2 Sam 5:3-5 tells us,

So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over IsraelDavid was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.”

The shepherd boy became the shepherd of Israel. (The sheep language comes back with the parable of Bathsheba. Also note that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. – Idea in Brueggeman p. 238)

Abigail’s words come back in full power (1 Sam 25:30-31):

30 And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel31 my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself.”

Just to clarify, the text emphasizes David’s pure rise to the throne by emphasizing that he never murdered anyone to gain the power of the throne. You might say that he trusted that God would make a name for him and that God would build him a house, establishing him a kingdom.

David takes the throne, a blameless man, just as Abigail predicted. And she stands next to him, Abigail the Wise. Behind every great man is a great woman!

It makes me wonder what the relationship between the two of them was like. She came to him, deferring as a servant, but did she find her place of honor as a wife? Did she, like the woman of virtue, continue to speak truth to him, being wise and discerning, doing good to him all the days of her life? Surely she was a priceless gem, one who continued to seek for his good. She was devoted to her King and her husband, the king. Her heart was one full of honor and was truly a heart of gold.

The very first thing the text says he does as king is go out and fight against the enemies (Jebusites) of Israel! Then 2 Sam 5:10 tells us,

10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” All the land would hear of this great king and would bring gifts to him. And verse 12 tells us, “12 And David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.”

This king David brings a fresh hope to the people of Israel. The time of darkness when the judges ruled is now ancient history. With great anticipation the people watched as God’s kingdom was realized in the man, David.

Brueggeman writes, “In Israel’s theological tradition, the kingdom came to embody the approval and will of God. Whereas the ultimate kingdom hoped for by Christians is that the kingdoms of this age will become ‘the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ’ (Rev. 11:15), in ancient Israel the process is reversed. It is hoped that the kingdom of God will become the kingdom of this age and of his messiah (David). It is the passionate desire of Israel that Yahweh’s powerful rule should take real, effective, concrete form, so real and powerful that the nations will notice and take it into account.” (p. 243)

HOWEVER…v. 13 tells us:

“13 And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David.”

If we had red flags in our Bibles, I’m certain there would be one at the tail end of this verse. He keeps taking wives and now concubines.

Michal, Saul’s daughter

David had success after success against the Philistines, and he and all of Israel came celebrating before the Lord, with the ark of the covenant.

The ark had been captured during Eli’s time by the Philistines, and when they returned it, the ark ended up at Kiriath-jearim (a small town at the northern-most tip of Judah) where it sat for 20 years, seemingly forgotten.

David ark

“The ark embodies what is unifying among the tribes and clans of Israel. The ark articulates and embodies for old Israel the holy rule of Yahweh. They [had] forgotten the significance of the ark, which referred to the raw presence of Yahweh, the power of Yahweh, and the covenantal implications of Yahweh’s sovereignty.” (Brueggeman p. 248).

“The coming of the ark signified two things for the king. Looking back, it meant a reengagement with the taproot of Israel’s religious vitality. David here gets back in touch with the most elemental dimensions of Israel’s traditional faith; it is no wonder that the movement of the ark evoked such a stupendous celebration. Looking forward, it brought David royal legitimacy.” (Brueggeman, 249).

It meant that God approved of David’s reign as king, that it was God’s will.

2 Sam 6:14-15:

14 And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.”

This word “dancing” is not used anywhere else in Scripture but seems to describe a whirling dance. I think we can assume he was expressing his joy!

A linen ephod was the robe worn by priests. It was a “sleeveless garment made from gold [with] blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen.” (Dict of Pentateuch) It had a waistband and two shoulder pieces that had onyx stones mounted in gold filigree with the names of the 12 tribes on them. The breastpiece would have been secured onto the ephod and held the Urim and Thummim. “The Urim and Thummim belonged to God (Deut 33:8) and was used for matters of national importance about which Yahweh had not yet made His will clearly known.” (Dict of OT Pentateuch)

It is the same thing David used two of the times he inquired of God. It was the ephod with the Urim and Thummim that one of the priests had brought to David way back when Saul was still chasing him and which he used to seek God’s direction.

  1. When he was with the people of Keilah and wanted to know if they would give David into Saul’s hands. 1 Sam 23:9-13
  2. When he asked if he should pursue the Amalekites who had taken off with his wives. 1 Sam 30:7-8

Here though, David, the king, not a priest, wears the ephod. Maybe the question is why was David wearing a priestly garment?

It is a picture of a truly godly man, one whose desire was to lead the people to worship their God, just as the priests were supposed to do. He doesn’t simply tell them what they ought to do, he shows them what to do – worshipping the Lord with all his might!

In addition, he appears to be in the role of a priest as they are bringing the ark of God to the “city of David” (v. 16). It shows him offering sacrifices to God as they carried the ark along so that God’s anger would not burn against them again after what happened earlier. Then in v. 17 after they arrive, he offered burnt and peace offerings to God.

After he had finished the offerings it says in v. 18b-20a,

he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts 19 and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house. 20 And David returned to bless his household.”

David leads the people in gratefulness to their God who has very visibly (in the ark of God) taken up residence in the “city of David” to be among His people once again.

However Miss Michal was none too keen to observe her husband.

2 Sam 6:16 says,

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.”

David Jerusalem Michal tower

This is the tower at the palace in Jerusalem. You can see how she could have easily watched him from any one of these windows!

As we try to understand her response to David, I want you to notice how she is identified in v. 16 – as the daughter of Saul not the wife of David. Sometimes a description like this speaks volumes. Her loyalty was with her father after those long years spent away from David. The text is silent about her psychological condition – whether or not she felt slighted or abandoned by her husband after all those years. What is most likely is that the writer, identifying her as Saul’s daughter, wanted to show the disdain of the old house of Saul in the midst of the celebration. (Brueggeman, 251).

Interestingly, Michal is only referred to as David’s wife 3 times – in 1 Sam 19:11 when she is saving him from her father, in 25:44 when Saul gives her to another man, and in 2 Sam 3:14 when David requests for “his wife” (but after he’s already referred to her as “Saul’s daughter”).

The word despise in the Hebrew is the word “bazah” (baw-zaw) and it meant to despise, hold in contempt, disdain.

  • As in Gen 25:34 of Esau: “Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
  • 1 Sam 17:42 of Goliath:  “When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, with a handsome appearance.”
  • Isaiah 53:3 prophecy fulfilled in Jesus: “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”

She who had loved David so early on in her life had now come to despise him. The darkness had completely overtaken her heart, and she spews hateful words out of the darkness of her heart. 2 Sam 6:20-23 says,

How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21 And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord.22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”

Is she simply irritated that he doesn’t appear to be acting in the way a king should act – regal? Dignified? Honorable? The text already told us he was wearing a linen ephod, so why is she accusing him of uncovering himself?

When you look up the use of this word “uncover” it has at least 20 different meanings – some of which include being banished, betrayed, carried away into captivity, exiled, to be deported, laid bare, opened, removed, revealed, stripped, uncovered. The connotation seems to be in relation to exile, captivity, humiliation.

Why does Michal believe he acted shamefully? No one else seemed bothered by these events or by his behavior. None of the other wives take issue with his actions.

David doesn’t see anything wrong with his behavior either. He doesn’t address the “uncovering” and neither does the text. This conversation is set up in the form of a chiasm with the claim about God choosing David as the central feature:

Michal:                    honor

maids

shamelessly

David:                                         before Yahweh

                                                          chose me above….above prince over

                                                    before Yahweh

contemptible

maids

honor

“David refutes her judgment by saying he may be contemptible in her eyes, but in the eyes of the maidens (and therefore of political opinion) he is more honored.” (Brueggeman, 252). So the central feature is that God has chosen David “above and above” to be prince “over and over” Israel. This claim dismisses Michal and the entire Saulide claim to the throne. It is God who legitimizes David’s claim to the throne, not Michal or Saul.

This appears to be a heart issue for Michal alone. And the very last verse may be the most telling: v. 23

23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”

She’s again referred to as the “daughter of Saul” but the most poignant message concerns her childlessness. Is the author telling us that she and David essentially had no relationship after this encounter? Or that God did not allow her to have children because of her heart issue? What this meant for Michael is the “she has no future, no claim on Israel, no prospect for life.” (252)

“God’s Covenant with David”

In the next chapter, we learn of God’s covenant with David. 2 Sam 7:8-16 says,

Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people IsraelAnd I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”

David’s wives likely grew up learning about the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. They would have known that God had set the nation of Israel apart. They would have learned about the dark times of the Judges and how the people did evil in the sight of God. There would have been an anticipation among them of hope for a godly king who would lead the people to serve God wholeheartedly. What must it have been like for them to know that it was their David whom God had chosen as the godly king with whom He would establish His covenant forever?

Michal’s heart revealed that she despised him. But Abigail? Was she as delighted in God’s chosen man as God was? Did she dance with the people at the entrance of the ark of God? The presence of God visible for all to see and know?

As for David, he would know that God had chosen him, not because he was an amazing person but simply because God wanted to express His love to him. David wanted to make a house (temple) for God but God said he would make a house (dynasty) for David. God would make David’s name great. God would establish David’s kingdom. God. God. God.

David didn’t need to do anything to make a name for himself. David didn’t need to do anything to make himself a house. He didn’t need to establish his own kingdom. It would be by God’s hand that these things would take place.

12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men,15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

And interestingly God tells David that He would also establish the throne of David’s son (yet to be named). God tells David that He would correct David’s son when he sinned but that His love and presence would never depart from David’s sons as He had done with Saul. God knew that David’s son would commit sins and yet He still promised to correct him and to love him.

This is an oracle of unconditional promise, unlike the conditional character of the Mosaic law. (Brueggeman, 259) Even those “sons” who came after him would be loved unconditionally.

What is more, God tells David his kingdom would be forever. He would not take away the kingdom from his house, even if those who came after stopped following God’s ways. God ensured that He would continue His covenant even if His chosen servants were unfaithful to Him. He promised. And God does not lie. God does not forsake His promises.

“Out of this oracle there emerges the hope held by Israel in every season that there is a coming David who will right wrong and establish a good governance. That coming one may be hidden [to them], may experience resistance…, but nevertheless there is one coming who will make things right.” (Brueggeman 257)

God knew exactly what He was getting Himself into. He knew even before He made Adam and Eve. He knew that just like Abraham and just like Moses, David and his sons after him would not be able to keep the covenant. They would fail. But God would remain faithful to His promise.

How could God possibly make this happen? How could sinful men ever hope to be a part of His plan? We read about king after king, who, no matter how godly they were, would not measure up to God’s standard. Even if God managed to keep a Davidic descendant on the throne, the people would continue to sin, fall away, cry out, repent, return, then continue in this cycle of sin. How could their hope ever be in the race of men?

Even as Israel would fall away after having evil king after evil king, still God would place a Davidic descendant on the throne in Judah. But God had a BIGGER plan.

When God made the covenant with Abraham in the days of old, He promised that even if Abraham broke the covenant, He would ensure Abraham’s side of the deal. He would take it upon Himself to hold up the covenant for both He AND Abraham.

Well God knew that none of us could keep the covenant. Not David, not Solomon, not any king of Judah, not anyone. He would send His Son, a descendant of David, who could hold up the covenant for both God AND for man. Jesus, the exact representation of God, came in the form of man, so that He fulfilled the requirements for both God AND man.

Our hope is in this God-man!

Those hoof beats get louder and louder…

If you read Matthew 1 and Luke 3, you can trace David’s descendants all the way to Christ. Luke 1:31-33 says

31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

How could God promise David a never-ending kingdom? By sending His Son, the eternal God!

We had no hope of ever overcoming the cycle of sin so Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice once and for all that was able to cancel the power and cycle of sin and death. Jesus OVERCAME. He is worthy! And He became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ! This is His reckless, relentless love.

Bathsheba, the Beautiful

2 Sam 8:14 tells us that “the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.” He had success on the battlefields and was a king who administered justice and equity to all his people (v. 15). This chapter and the next 2 chapters serve as a summary of David’s reign, so you can assume that many years pass between these chapters and the sin with Bathsheba.

We read of how great David was all those years, and then we get to chapter 11 and would rather just close our Bibles and go on our merry way, leaving our view of godly David still intact. Everyone is aware of the scandal in the palace. It is all too familiar that I fear we have forgotten to read this narrative with eyes to see the woman at the bath and the man on the roof.

Bathsheba was referred to as “the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (2 Sam 11:3). Her name meant “daughter of an oath.” Both Eliam and Uriah were two of David’s “mighty men” (listed in 2 Sam 23:34, 39). She was someone’s daughter, someone’s wife. And David most certainly would have recognized the men to whom she belonged!

Many scholars believe she was also the granddaughter of Ahithophel, who is said to be the father of Eliam. Ahithophel ends up becoming one of David’s counselors who later betrays him when David’s son, Absalom, tries to overthrow him as king (2 Sam 15-17 and 1 Chron. 27:33).

The text does not tell us whether or not her bathing was right or wrong. It also doesn’t tell us whether or not David walking around on his roof was right or wrong. Here is a picture showing the city of Jerusalem and where David’s palace would have been. During Solomon’s reign the Temple would have taken up the entire top portion of the city (shown in this picture as land).

David's city drawing

The main message is that David saw and then he took. He did what was right in his own eyes rather than averting his eyes. He took what was not his rather than being content with what was his.

I mean, how many wives did David have at this point??! He had the 7 wives, then in 2 Sam 5, he added more wives and also concubines. I’m pretty sure he didn’t need to take any other women for his own pleasure.

In v. 4-5 it says,

So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” (2 Sam 11)

David’s “taking” would have hearkened back to what Samuel had warned the people about their kings. 1 Sam 8:11-19:

He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons…He will take your daughters…He will take the best of your fields…He will take the tenth of your grain…He will take your male servants and female servants…He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”

Kings are “takers”, and David, who had started out as one who received from God’s hands, has now become a king like the kings of other nations – a taker. He had previously had everything gladly given to him by Yahweh and his followers, but here, we see his decline as he takes what was not his.

This is rather uncomfortable to talk about because it shows a side of David that we’d rather not believe of him. This is the part where we find the skeletons in David’s closet! The man after God’s own heart stumbled greatly in this one moment.

Unfortunately we can only guess what Bathsheba was thinking when one of David’s messengers called for her to come to the palace. Imagine the scene from Bathsheba’s perspective.

Who is at my door? Is Uriah home from battle already? The king? He sends for me? What exactly does he want? Why are you taking me to David?

King David, may you live forever, blessed be your kingdom. Did I just hear right? David wants to do what with me? How can I say no to the king? What am I to do? I’m a married woman! Uriah and my father are his loyal servants. This will not look good if word gets out. What will people think of me?

I cannot believe I’m pregnant! How am I going to tell Uriah? I can’t possibly tell him. What will he think of me? Of the king? I have to tell David. He’ll know what to do.

It’s utterly despicable. Then David definitely “takes care” of the problem. Only now, Bathsheba is pregnant but with no husband. She’d be viewed by all as the city whore. How could she be pregnant if her husband died in battle? She couldn’t tell anyone whose child it was. They wouldn’t believe her! David put her in the worst possible position. She had nowhere to go. She should be put to death according to the law.

In fact she might as well have had a big SCARLET LETTER A written on her heart.

Lev 20:10 states

10 “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

And Deut 22:22 says,

22 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.”

Have you ever been marked like Bathsheba? Have you felt like your heart had a big scarlet letter A written over it?

David, thinking he had covered his tracks, sends for Bathsheba to be his wife after the period of her mourning was over for her dead husband. Though David had taken her as his wife, she’s still referred to as Uriah’s wife until v. 24. Though it does not excuse his sin, he does not leave Bathsheba to die an adulterer’s death.

“God’s Presence Does Not Depart”

2 Sam 11:27b says,

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”

God does not give either David or Bathsheba the punishment they deserve. He shows them mercy and sends Nathan to David with the message from God.

Nathan tells David in 12:7-9

“I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much moreWhy have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?”

Fortunately David immediately repents but it was not without consequences v. 10-12 say,

10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.

The fulfillment of this seems immediate because of how the text is laid out in our bibles, but it’s very possible that much time passed in between the statement and the actual fulfillment.

First fulfillment “The sword shall never depart…” –

  1. First, Amnon, the son of David’s wife Ahinoam, committed rape against his half-sister, Tamar. (2 Sam 13)
  2. In response to this egregious sin, Absalom, the son of David’s wife Maacah, kills Amnon to avenge his sister (2 Sam 13).
  3. Then Absalom tried to overthrow David, and thus David had to fight against Absalom and his forces to defend his kingdom (2 Sam 15-19).
  4. Joab later killed Absalom (2 Sam 19).
  5. Adonijah, (Adonai – jah) the son of David’s wife, Haggith, tried to establish himself as king in David’s place, and Solomon eventually had him executed (1 Kings 1 and 2).

Second fulfillment “He shall lie with your wives…” – Absalom laid with his father’s concubines in broad daylight for all to see as he was trying to usurp his father’s throne. (2 Sam 16:20-22

Third fulfillment “The child shall die…” 2 Sam 12:13-14 says,

13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”

The text relates how distraught David is but is silent concerning Bathsheba. This in no way means she was not distraught.  We know she was obviously upset (who wouldn’t be with the loss of a child?), because it says in v. 24-25,

24 “Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him 25 and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.”

Here is where Bathsheba is called David’s wife – after the death of this first child, conceived in sin. Perhaps we can assume God also wipes her heart clean. He put away the Big Scarlet Letter A. She had a heart restored to honor.

And the second son is indeed the son of Promise – Solomon (derived from salom or shalom). And he is loved and treasured by Yahweh. (Brueggeman, 284)

A little known fact about Bathsheba is that she actually had 4 sons with David: 1 Chron. 3:5 says,

5 “These were born to him in Jerusalem: Shimea, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon, four by Bath-shua, the daughter of Ammiel”

(Don’t be alarmed with the different spelling of her name and her father’s name. This is a very common occurrence between the historical books.)

“Solomon, Heir to the Throne – A Promise Fulfilled”

Please note that a long time has elapsed before Solomon is anointed as king.

So far, David’s firstborn and third born sons are dead, thus leaving room for Abigail’s son, Chileab/Daniel, to take the throne. The text is silent, however, about any attempts on his part or Abigail’s part to secure the throne. He either didn’t try to do this or another theory suggests he is no longer alive. That leaves the fourth born, Adonijah (pronounced Adonai-jah)!

However, we already learned that Adonijah, the son of David’s wife, Haggith, tried to take over the throne as well. He is David’s 4th son, born to him at Hebron. He would have been one of the “older” sons based on this information. Bathsheba’s 4 sons and the other 9 sons born at Jerusalem will be classified as “younger” sons.

Adonijah believed he had the right to the throne since his other brothers were dead or otherwise gone/indifferent. Because of his actions, Nathan goes to Bathsheba who then goes to David with this plea in 1 Kings 1:17-21:

17  “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ 18 And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it. 19 He has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited. 20 And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders.”

Bathsheba had every right to be afraid! We have read about what these men do when someone is in the way of their precious plans. But it’s interesting that she said David had sworn to her that Solomon would be king. The text does not reveal this conversation anywhere. We can learn more information if we go to:

1 Chron 22:9-10 where David tells Solomon what God had told him in a previous conversation,

Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. 10 He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.’

Now, David responds immediately, first reassuring Bathsheba that he will do this and has Zadok the priest anoint Solomon as king in 1 Kings 1:39-40

39 There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.”

The text does not specify how old he was when he began to reign nor how old he was when he died. Based on other events, scholars surmise he was between 12-25 years of age.

At the sound of the celebration, Adonijah and his cohorts are terrified. Adonijah tries to beg for mercy by taking hold of the horns on the altar. But he is still not an honorable man and later goes to Bathsheba to request to have David’s nurse as his wife in 1 Kings 2. Because this was seen as an attempt to take the throne from Solomon, Solomon sends Benaiah to execute his brother, Adonijah (v. 22-25).

God often chooses people who are the most unlikely candidates for the position. God chose Solomon to reign in his father’s place, but Solomon was one of the youngest sons born to David. He ousted his older brother Adonijah.

God chooses the foolish things in the world to shame the wise. He chose the son of Bathsheba, the woman taken by adultery, as the heir of the Messianic kingdom. He chose Isaac over Ishmael, He chose Jacob over Esau. God chose Joseph and gave him 2 portions for his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. He chose the unlikely Hebrew, Moses, to be his champion. He chose Rahab, the pagan prostitute, to be included in His people. He chose Deborah, a woman, to be a judge. He chose Samson to stir up trouble with the enemies of God. And He chose David, the youngest in his family to succeed the king He had already rejected.

Some finals thoughts about Bathsheba – she was a woman whose HONOR is restored. She becomes the queen mother. She had a royal, purple heart.

Solomon holds her in such high regard in 1 Kings 2:19

19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right.”

He bows to her and gives her the place of honor, to be seated at his right hand. Then in Song of Solomon 3:11, she is mentioned:

“11 Go out, O daughters of Zion,
and look upon King Solomon,
with the crown with which his mother crowned him
on the day of his wedding,
on the day of the gladness of his heart.”

Many scholars believe she is also the author of Proverbs 31. “the Stone Tanach says that it was “the prophecy with which his mother disciplined him” and states that the author Solomon was also called Lemuel. Strong’s Concordance states that “Lemuel” was the symbolic name for Solomon. New Ungers and Nelson Bible Dictionary says that many of the rabbis agree that Lemuel was Solomon.” (http://www.patriarchywebsite.com/bib-patriarchy/bathsheba-truthful-account.htm)

I kept trying to find a common thread for these women, and that thread was David! There’s also a thread of Honor that runs throughout the narratives in the lives of these women.

What I did see was how Michal had a heart devoted to David until life happened and she allowed a bitter root to creep in to her heart. She lacked a heart devoted to God. Michal speaks to me to guard my heart and be on the lookout for areas of hurt that could give the enemy an opportunity to strike. She was Michal: A Heart that Lost Honor.

For Abigail I saw a woman with a humble strength who knew and spoke truth about God, and though she had plenty of opportunities for bitterness or hate, she chose to trust her God. Her heart was first devoted to God, the King of Heaven. Abigail teaches me to trust my God and speak the truth. She urges me to be brave and wise in how I encounter relationships. She challenges me to be humble and to be a servant. She was Abigail: A Heart Full of Honor.

And Bathsheba is a tough mixture because of the scandal in the palace. But I saw a woman who was loved by the king, and whose child was loved by God. She was given a place of honor not only by her husband and her son, but by God, who places her in the lineage of the Messiah. Bathsheba whispers to me that God is the God who forgives. She encourages me to seek God in the most difficult of circumstances and to know that HE is the one who restores me to places of honor. She was Bathsheba: A Heart Whose Honor is Restored.

More importantly I saw how desperately we need God. That sin cycle would never end. Even the most highly esteemed king in all of Israel’s history fell prey to the allure of sin. It was a slow progression. And the sin with Bathsheba was not the last or only sin he would commit.

We have the joy of knowing there is hope for us because Jesus, the God-man, secured our redemption. He is Risen!

These are David’s wives – Hearts Devoted to a king.

 

You can view the video here:

 

Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 1

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Exodus 2:15-22

What’s in a name? If I were to say certain names, they would conjure up very specific images.

Al Capone – mobster.

Mother Teresa – saint.

J.J. Watt – Texans hero!

Moses – greatest Israelite prophet

Now what about Zipporah?  *crickets*

We don’t know much about her, and what we do know is puzzling.

In the ancient near-East, to give your name to a person was to tell them the essence of who you are. This is why the naming of your children was so important and why God changed Abram’s and Jacob’s names, revealing how He was working in their lives, changing their character and purpose.

So what’s in a name?

Yahweh – God

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Exodus 3:13-15

Talk about a name! I Am! It was so powerful that the Pharisees in Jesus’ time fell down at the very name. In this passage, God identifies Himself with the Patriarchs yet reveals that He is the God who stands alone. He sets Himself apart from all people and all gods. And yet, He invites people into His story and gives them a name and a purpose.

So I asked you, what’s in a name? Zipporah – Midianite, Daughter, Sister, Shepherdess, Wife, Mom, Israelite?

Zipporah actually comes from the Hebrew root word tzipor meaning bird to be exact. The Midrash Shemot Rabbah (1:32) locates the root in Zipporah’s name. When Jethro asks his daughters to invite Moses to dine at his home, she flies off like a bird to bring him back. (Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Traditions)

After Moses had murdered the Egyptian, we read:

15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” Exodus 2:15-22

IDENTITY: Midianite:  (v. 15)

As we form a picture of Zipporah in our minds, the first identity marker we find is Midianite. What did it mean to be a Midianite? Bible footnote (FN) for verse 15: The Midianites were descendants of Abraham by another wife, Keturah, whom he married after Sarah died (Gen 25:1, 2).

We first hear of this people group in Genesis 37:25-36 when Midianite merchants purchased Joseph from his brothers then led him to slavery in Egypt. Later we hear of the Kenites, probably from the Midianite clan to which Reuel belonged, who joined the Israelites, integrating seamlessly into their society (Nu 10:29-33; Judges 1:16; 4:11).

Hamilton’s Commentary also notes that Midian consisted of a confederation of peoples, one of which are the Kenites. Their name meant “smiths” or metalworkers at the mines in the mountains of Sinai/Midian. They may also be a clan of priests, of whom Reuel belonged to.

Finally we hear of the problems Israel has with the Midianites after they settled the Promised Land in Numbers 22:1-7 and after the Midianite women entice the Israelite men into idolatry and sexual immorality in Numbers 25:1-6. God orders Moses to declare war on the Midianites for their sins in causing Israel to sin and all 5 Midian kings are killed (Num 25:16-18; 31:1-18). Later we read of the judges, particularly Gideon, delivering the Israelites from the hand of the Midianites who had been raiding Israel during their harvest seasons (Jdg 6:3-6, 7). (From Archaelogical Study Bible article on Midian p. 92)

map-egypt-midian-900x709x300

The land of Midian was most likely located south of Canaan and southeast of Egypt and east of the Sinai Peninsula. It is best to think of Midian as a region rather than a specific location, however, because of the belief that they were a collection or confederation of people groups. This area is present day Saudi Arabia.

Zipporah Midian land

Google maps photo credit. A view of the terrain of Midian.

IDENTITY: Daughter of Midianite Priest

In order to fully understand Zipporah, we need to think about what it meant to be the Daughter of a priest. We can ask the question: What was Reuel’s job as a priest in Midian and how did this affect Zipporah? (v. 16) The only evidence we find in the Bible about his role as priest is that he performed the sacrifice when meeting up with Moses after the Exodus in chapter 18.

Reuel’s name meant “Friend of God/El” or “God/El is a Friend” (From Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary by Victor Hamilton). This name likely came to him after he expressed his belief in God in Exodus 18, becoming the “friend of God”, although many believe he had always been a worshipper of God/Yahweh.

The Midianite culture was said to be a polytheistic one. Fred Blumenthal writes: “the concept of one universal God was unknown in the world at large. The overriding belief was that gods… were ruling over a distinct locality or a specific nation. Once a god’s adherents no longer lived in his domain, or if his nation no longer could serve him (and according to Egyptian belief, slaves had no god) he had lost his potency. He either disappeared or died.” (in the Jewish Bible Quarterly)

So as we picture Zipporah, you can imagine with me the kinds of sacrifices she had to make, being the daughter of a “religious leader” in her culture. I don’t know if we can truly compare her to that of a present day preacher’s kid, but I can imagine that the people held them in high regard which means they also had high expectations of her and her family. And while we don’t know exactly what their religious practices were, she would likely have been expected to participate in all their religious rites and rituals.

Zipporah Midianite tented shrine

Another reason scholars believe the Midianites were polytheistic is because of what was found from excavations done in the region. Here is a tented shrine found at Timna in northern Midian territory (tent holes in ground for poles; naos or “most holy place” in the middle right against the wall).

Zipporah Midianite gods Zipporah Midianite gods2 Zipporah Midianite gods3

Here are pictures of the Egyptian goddess “Hathor” who was a cow deity found in Midianite territory. It appears as though they often adopted Egyptian gods as their own. The middle picture shows her “cow” ears. The last picture is a defaced Hathor. The archaeologists believe that the Midianites recaptured this Egyptian land and defaced all the Egyptian god and goddess statues.

Zipporah Midianite gods5      Zipporah Midianite gods4

Lastly we have a figurine of the Midianite god-man and a bronze snake. Egyptians worshipped snakes and Midianites appeared to as well.

While it may be possible that, being Abraham’s descendants, they had heard of Yahweh, the Midianites most likely served other gods. This means, Zipporah served other gods under the direction of her father because women worshipped whatever gods their fathers served since this was a patriarchal society.

IDENTITY: Midianite Shepherdess (v. 16)

Next we see Zipporah in the role of Shepherdess. The role of a shepherd went to either servants or women. In other words, it was not the ideal job. No, Zipporah had her choices made for her. Her life of sacrifice would have been forced on her whether she liked it or not.

Being a shepherd couldn’t have been an easy task for them either based on what we know from other stories about shepherds in the Bible.

First of all, Midian has a very arid climate and rocky terrain as you see in this picture:

Zipporah Midian terrain

Secondly there were dangers of wild animals and robbers. For example David had to fight off bears and lions (1 Sam 13)! Not only that, but to water an entire flock took some time and effort (a thirsty camel could drink 30 gallons in just 15 minutes!). This explains why Reuel was surprised to find them back home so early.

Then it sounds like these ladies had to contend with other shepherds that weren’t as chivalrous as this outsider, Moses.

Zipporah well

Modern day site of Well at Midian

So back to the text:

There are so many examples of irony and foreshadowing in Exodus. Consider verse 17. The phrase “drove them away” can be seen as a parallel to Moses being driven away from Egypt by Pharaoh. And the phrase “saved them” as a foreshadowing of God saving Israel from Egypt.

The day this Midianite shepherdess took her flock to the well turned out to be the most life-changing event in all of her life up to that point. Talk about an interruption of the heart! And can’t you just see the sovereignty of God being displayed here.

Out of all the peoples of the earth, God chose the Israelites to be His special possession and for Him to be their God. To be included in this promise was a privilege that only an Israelite could enjoy. Here we see Zipporah, a Midianite shepherdess, becoming part of this grand story. And even though we may become frustrated with how little is written about her encounter with the God of Israel, we can know that it was through His sovereignty and love that He brings this shepherdess into the fold.

IDENTITY: Wife of Moses (v. 21)

The next identity marker for Zipporah is as a Wife. This part of the story actually makes me laugh every time I read it. We read about Moses rescuing these ladies, and they just leave him there at the well! Reuel seems astounded at their lack of hospitality, and wanting to thank the man who helped his daughters, he orders that he be brought to his home, feeds him, and gives him a wife from among his daughters!

Zipporah was the lucky one. This Midianite woman became the wife of the greatest prophet of Israel. And yet we have so little written about her that you get the sense that she is completely overshadowed by her husband and sometimes even by her father.

In fact when you see Reuel mentioned, he’s referred to first as priest and then almost solely as “father-in-law”. This passage establishes the important relationship being between Moses and his father-in-law when it says in v. 21: Moses was content to dwell with the man.

This gives us pause because of our current culture and the importance of the husband-wife relationship stressed in our modern times. George W. Coats writes about this in Moses in Midian:It was common in The marriage tradition, as in Genesis 29 (Jacob/Laban), to emphasize the relationship between the bridegroom and his father-in-law, not the relationship between the bridegroom and his wife. (From Moses in Midian)

We have to keep in mind that their patriarchal society resulted in different customs from our own. Arranged marriages are also something of an anomaly to us since we don’t live that way in our culture. Though it seems like a huge sacrifice to us when we read of a woman being given to a man she hardly knows, it probably seemed as natural to them as performing their daily sacrifices. Oh the irony of what sacrifices would await Zipporah as she lived her life with this man of God.

IDENTITY: Mother (v. 22)

To wrap up our passage we get a nice little bow wound neatly around a baby boy as we see Zipporah in the role of MOTHER. The very last verse rushes right into information about their offspring! In my dictionary of the Pentateuch, I read that the marriage contract was not finalized until the consummation of the marriage took place. So even though this one verse seems out of place or even like it jumped too far ahead in our timeline, I believe it was to show that Moses and Zipporah did indeed become husband and wife legally. Verse 22 tells us they had a son named Gershom which meant sojourner in Hebrew. FN: This name suggests a foreigner who was banished into exile. Because Moses had become a sojourner or stranger in a foreign land.

Because we will read more about her in the role of mother, I won’t go into further detail at this point.

{Stay tuned for Part 2 next week. Exodus 3-4}

It Can Change Your Brain

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Brain bible prayer

I happened to be perusing Facebook one day and noticed that someone had posted a link to an article regarding how certain television shows can change a person’s thinking on certain social issues. The writer, an Indian man, supplied some of the psychological research that has gone into this theory and spoke of his own experience growing up watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in Mumbai, India. One of the working theories is that people will be less prejudiced against people who are different from them (in any way) when they are given the chance to interact with those people. Black and white. Gay and straight. Alien and earthling. Then they can all sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya together.

It made me think of a comedian’s sketch I watched on Last Comic Standing as he joked about how he had no problems doing extreme sports with his white friends. It was his white friends who had trouble kickin’ it with him (to watch the sketch go here and slide to minute 4:45, ending around 5:56).

But I digress.

As I read the article, my first thought was, “oh I’ve watched that show and it was funny!” But I also remember that I stopped watching it because it walked over a few lines that I had drawn in the sand. I’m fairly particular about what I put into my mind, especially when it comes to television shows. [For instance, my husband and I used to watch Criminal Minds, but it got entirely too creepy and made me think a serial killer was going to kidnap me and cut me into tiny pieces. No peace of mind I tell ya. I didn’t need those nightmares!]

Another show we stopped watching early on was House. We liked how the writers showed the tension between opposing beliefs and made you seriously think about these moral issues in a different way than you usually do. However, it too crossed some defining lines of what we believe and on these issues we won’t compromise. Now I must pause and say that my beliefs don’t result in me hating the characters on Criminal Minds or on House. Nor do I look down on anyone who chooses to watch those shows (maybe they are braver than I am and don’t think serial killers are lurking around every corner). No, rather, it was just a choice of what I will not spend my time on. I won’t fill my mind with the opposing beliefs or the images that place fear in my heart. No harm done.  End of discussion.

To be blatantly honest, this article gave me pause. I don’t want TV shows to change my brain. Don’t get me wrong, this article and the research behind it is so fascinating to me. As a student of the psychology department at Oklahoma Baptist University, I remember reading about studies like this and even doing research related to issues of the same nature. I think that having empathy and sympathy for another person is a good thing. The problem I find with this is simply that I believe there is something better out there that can and has been changing my brain.

It’s called the Bible.

Within its pages you will find the Author who is utterly holy and completely full of love and compassion. You will see how Jesus loved the unlovely. How He met the needs of the outcast and sinner. How He reached out to the unclean and the hurting, and He restored them to life. He spoke out against the hypocrite and challenged the spiritual. He taught His closest followers like a father teaching his children. He gave dignity to women and championed their cause. What is more, He took twisted men and women, people full of evil and deceit, and He changed them from the inside out. THIS is what it looks like to have someone change your mind.

It is a bit of a mystery how God’s Word, being alive and active, could change a person, starting with the thoughts and intentions of the heart. When it is my habit to be harsh to my kids in their moment of disobedience, He changes me to be gentle yet firm. Truthful but loving. To look at a person with different beliefs from my own, resulting in different actions from my own, and to love that person with the love of God. It starts with His Word. That’s where TRUE change begins.

Many people will say that reading the Bible produces a bunch of bigoted religious nuts. However His true followers will find themselves anything but religious or bigoted. Because it is Him at work inside of those people, producing strong character and compassionate hearts that speak His truth in love.

It is not enough to have my mind changed by a television show, to produce friendly feelings toward a person of different color or religious background or sexual orientation. That is surface level. His Word sinks in deep and clears out the areas in my heart that might harbor hate or judgment. His Word produces a love that cannot be manufactured or faked.

Finally, in this article, the writer points out one research project showed that people who encountered or observed a less-liked person of a minority group (his example was Omarosa) were more likely to be prejudiced against that minority group. His point was that television doesn’t reinforce a positive view of a minority group unless the minority person portrayed in the show has a favorable personality. MY POINT is that how you live matters greatly!

If you are a believer, you represent Christ. Far too many people don’t take this seriously enough. This is why they laugh at us (see Ann Voskamp’s article on that here). Or rather they mock us. They label us all hypocrites. Religious nuts. Yet I know of thousands who are quietly living out their genuine faith each day, making an impact in people’s lives for the kingdom of God. I personally know many individuals who have chosen not to settle for surface level spirituality and work out their faith in fear and trembling, searching the Scriptures to find the picture of Jesus as they figure out ways to imitate the One they call Savior. No religiosity. Just relationship.

I don’t need a TV show to change my mind. I need Jesus. He informs my beliefs, my views on life. And where my beliefs aren’t in line with His, He changes them so that I more closely resemble my Savior.

Mary of Magdala: A Heart Set Free (Part 2)

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We have taken a look at what we know about Mary. I want to quickly go over…

What people (tradition) believe(s) about Mary that we can’t know for certain:

Part of the problem we have when trying to find Mary Magdalene in the gospels is that her name was MARY! There are so many Mary’s! It’s no wonder we get confused about which one is which. Not only are there several Mary’s, but the gospel writers don’t always give them the same designations, so it’s difficult to determine which Mary each writer is referring to.

For example here are parallel accounts of the verse listing the women at the cross:

  • John 19:25 “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
  • Matthew 27:55-56 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”
  • Mark 15:40-41 “…among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome
  • Luke 23:49 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.”

I really thought I could count on Luke giving us the details that he is so often known for! But he doesn’t even give the names!

Another issue we encounter is that the Greek had NO punctuation and no spaces. This was because paper was precious and costly, so they would not waste even one dot or comma in writing the accounts. They wrote in all capital letters, squeezing everything together to get the most use of their space. So our English translations take the words and make them readable in English, adding commas and end marks. This, however, takes some interpretation, which means that each translation may interpret the punctuation differently. Here are two examples of this:

John 19:25 ESV

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.        = 3 women

(I say there are three women listed because the comma after sister is a comma to set off an appositive. It would be like me talking about my sister, Lesley the wife of Bryan. I’m not talking about two different people. I’m giving you more information about who my sister is, just as John is giving us more information about who Mary’s sister is.)

Now compare the same verse to John 19:25 in the NIV

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.         =4 women

See what I mean? So confusing!! But then you’d think that maybe the scholars would be helpful, right?

If you go to a scholarly sight and type in “Mary Magdalene”, you might be surprised to find how many peer-reviewed, scholarly journals there are today that have NOTHING to do with the biblical Mary of Magdala. You’ll find results for Dan Brown (fiction), the term “prostitute”, and even Mary of Bethany.

The confusion began in the fourth century when some Christian theologians in the Latin West began to identify Mary Magdalene (Lk 8:1-3) with Mary of Bethany (who was the sister of Martha and Lazarus). (From Elizabeth Julian The Mary Mergers)

So as we read Mark 14 when a Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive oil, we should be careful to recognize this Mary as Martha’s sister, and it was in the town of Bethany. In other words, not Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene does not equal Mary, the mother of Jesus OR Mary of Bethany OR Mary, the wife of Clopas. (One obvious reason that we can conclude Mary Magdalene is not the mother of Jesus or the wife of Clopas is simply that those three are often named in the same sentence. So unless they had some multiple personalities going on, we can safely rule out these women.)

And then you have women who are unnamed. Completely anonymous. This is where things get sticky. There are lots of beliefs in tradition concerning the woman caught in adultery and the “sinful” woman who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume and her tears. So here’s the history behind that confusion:

It was in the 6th century, that Pope Gregory began to identify Mary Magdalene as the prostitute whose 7 demons were the 7 cardinal sins. Thus Mary Magdalene is now often the one attributed as the woman in these stories. He made a spurious connection that since Mary Mags had demons cast out of her, those demons must have caused her to do “sinful” things, thus naming her the “sinful” woman mentioned in Luke 7 who washed Jesus’ feet. The other problematic connection is that people believe that the demons drove her to prostitution, thus naming her as the prostitute about to be stoned in John 8.

So I believe that Mary Magdalene is not equal to the sinful woman in Luke 7 or the adulterous woman in John 8. One of the reasons I believe Mary Magdalene was NOT one of these women is that it appears as though the gospel writers are careful to write Mary Magdalene any time she is mentioned. So she would likely not be anonymous.

The only other belief that many teachers held about Mary Mag is that she was intimate with Jesus. (Even Martin Luther in the 16th century believed this!) I can’t even entertain this obviously false belief. Mary was listed among a group of women who helped Jesus in His itinerant ministry. There is no reason to believe that she had some special relationship with Him, least of all an inappropriate one. Mary Mags does not equal Jesus’ wife. Because He didn’t have one!

Though it would be nice to find Mary Mag in more narratives, I hate to break it to you, but she’s just not there! (at least not overtly)   😦   So now you know how to spot Mary Mags. She’s kind of like Where’s Waldo, except I’ll bet she was wearing a toga.

The third area I’d like to address is the social culture in which Mary found herself.

For us women today, it is rather difficult to imagine the conditions for women in 1st century Palestine. All of us are now on the other side of women’s liberation and the feminist movement (for better or worse!). Things that are normal to us today (like women having a platform from which to speak) would have meant social ostracism or worse in Mary’s time. The closest parallel I could think of would be how women in the Middle East are treated today, made to cover every part of themselves, treated as property, dismissed at the slightest infraction of their social laws.

Here are a few examples of the extreme limitations placed on 1st century women.

From Ehrman: “According to the standard stereotype, Jewish women were especially oppressed during the first century, forced to be silent and stay in the home, unable to enter into the public sphere, expected to devote themselves to cooking, cleaning, making and mending clothes, and raising children. Jesus, however, came to liberate women and so accepted them.”

Jewish sayings suggested that:  “So long as a man talks too much with a woman, he (1) brings trouble on himself, (2) wastes time better spent on studying Torah, and (3) ends up an heir of Gehenna.” (Yose ben Yochanan)

“A man could divorce a woman and not have to make payment due to her under the marriage contract if: “she (1) goes out with her hair flowing loose, (2) spins in the marketplace, or (3) talks with just anybody.” !!!!

“Women were first and foremost considered to be the property of a man. They were typically excluded from any formal education, although some rabbis ignored the tradition and taught their daughters in private. Men and women ate separately, as conversations between the sexes were highly discouraged. The presence of women travelling with men was completely unprecedented. Counter to rabbinic tradition, Jesus freely associates with women. Jesus’s ministry clearly transcends the limitations placed on women by the Jewish culture.” (From Ehrman in Priscilla Papers)

Despite the fact that women were generally oppressed by the men in society, they were still actively involved in the society. This may explain why they were often hushed or told to be quiet and why some of them were wealthy! They were thought to have inferior beliefs and to be ignorant on spiritual matters. Part of this was because they were not allowed to be taught the Scriptures like all the Jewish boys were. So of course they were ignorant! No one took the time to teach them. Until Jesus.

Don’t you just love Him? ❤ ❤ 🙂

We’ve gone over what the Scriptures tell us about Mary, what tradition has gotten wrong about her, and what the culture was like for her.

So the question is why was Mary (and the other women) so enthralled with Jesus and His message?

Jesus believed His chief followers were to be men, the 12 disciples. In addition, the Kingdom of God was not set up to be an egalitarian society where everyone had equal say or was on an equal level. He assumed there would be rulers in His kingdom just as there always had been for God’s people. These rulers would be the 12 apostles (and you can find the reference in Matt. 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30). (From Ehrman) So why were these women leaving their homes and following Him, even supporting Him, in His ministry?

Our clue is in what Jesus says about His kingdom. Think about the Sermon on the Mount. Who inherits the Kingdom of heaven? Those who are persecuted. Those who are Poor. (Matt. 5:10; Luke 6:20) Who does it belong to? Children. (Mk 10:14) Who may enter? Prostitutes and Tax Collectors. (Matt 21:31) Jesus ushers in a radical reversal of fortunes.

The message was simply this: “The end was coming soon, and they would in the very near future be exalted to places of prominence in God’s kingdom, where all those who were downtrodden and oppressed would enjoy the pleasures of God’s presence in a world in which there would no longer be any poverty, injustice, or social ostracism.” (Ehrman)

The women were not the only ones who followed Jesus, obviously! There was quite the mixture, in fact, and most of the people were lower class citizens and those who were not involved in the highly “spiritual” Jewish leadership. So in other words, the outcasts, the sinners, and the uneducated. NOT the super spiritual. And so Jesus’ message about God’s kingdom and the Messiah who would be the champion for the down and out was attractive to all of these people! Jesus became the knight in shining armor for Mary and the other women.

They were restricted in their movements and interactions. In the roles they could play in their families, in religious societies, and political worlds. Yes, there were exceptions, but for the most part, a woman with ambition, especially from the lower classes, had nowhere to go. (From Ehrman) The appeal of Jesus was in His teaching of the kingdom of heaven being a place in which God would raise up the humble and vindicate the oppressed.

The second reason why I believe Mary and these women were drawn to Jesus’ message involved how one should live as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. I love how Ehrman describes it:

“Life in the future Kingdom will reflect God’s own values, such as love, justice, and freedom. These values should be reflected in how the followers of Jesus live in the present. In the future kingdom there will be no hatred, and so Jesus’ followers should love one another now. In the future kingdom there will be no loneliness, and so Jesus’ followers should visit the widows and orphans now. In the future kingdom there will be no poverty, and so Jesus’ followers should sell their possessions and give to the poor now. In the future kingdom there will be no hunger, and so Jesus’ followers should feed the hungry now. In the future kingdom there will be no sickness, and so Jesus’ followers should heal the sick now. In the future kingdom there will be no demons, and so Jesus’ followers should cast out demons now. In the future kingdom there will be no war, and so Jesus’ followers should work for peace now. In the future kingdom there will be no injustice, and so Jesus’ followers should fight injustice now.”

For these women to catch sight of their future freedom in God’s kingdom meant hope for them in their present situations. Christ ushered in the kingdom of God when He came, so that it was both present and future. What is more, Jesus would change the climate as His teachings rippled out from the work of His devout followers, making the future kingdom of freedom a present reality.

Karen Thiessen summarizes the revolutionary way Jesus reached out to women:

“John,…portrays women as active, innovative ministers of the Kingdom . . . Jesus affirms them in roles that were unusual and often unacceptable within that culture.  Jesus’s approach to women was in such contrast to that of his culture that we can assume a deliberate modeling of a new way of relating to women. Jesus taught women and allowed them to participate in theological discussions. Jesus allowed women to travel with him and participate fully in his ministry as disciples, ultimately commissioning them as witnesses of his resurrection. Women were acknowledged by Jesus for their examples of servanthood, and Jesus affirmed their place in the kingdom as equal participants. Furthermore, without being demeaning or judgmental, he ministered compassionately to the needs of women. He treated men and women alike with respect to their shortcomings and encouraged them equally in their faith.” [From They Had Followed Him from Galilee: The Female Disciples (Priscilla Papers)]

Again, we have no way of knowing why our Mary of Magdala followed Jesus because she doesn’t tell us!

Being freed from the darkness of demon possession would likely be enough for anyone to want to follow Jesus! Amen?!

While the historical background can give us clues as to how it might have been for Mary, The only thing we can know for certain is that she was an early follower and devout all the way from His early ministry to His resurrection (and thereafter!).

Here are some final thoughts as we wrap up our study: 

Oh to have walked with Jesus! What did Mary Magdalene see?

Though she probably wasn’t with the 12 when Jesus met the woman at the well, did her heart skip a beat when she heard about this woman, knowing that Jesus had also set her heart free?

Did she ask Jesus to tell her the story about the widow of Nain, because its stories like this that never get old?

Or of the story about the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet? Or the one about the woman who touched Him? There were just so many of these stories! All about women!

Was she there for the many times in which Jesus cast out demons? Did it remind her of the 7 tormentors who departed from her body at His command?

Did she look at the Syrophoenician woman with compassion, knowing how it felt to be possessed by demons, and as she cast her gaze to Jesus, did she smile, knowing He was about to perform the very same miracle in their lives that He had done in her’s?

Did she often think to herself I just cannot believe THIS is my life!

Did she witness the multiplying of the bread to feed the multitudes? Did she laugh at the irony of the 12 picking up the “leftovers”, knowing He would supply their needs? Was she aware that He came to give them spiritual food and spiritual life?

Was she listening to the parable of the good Samaritan? Did she feel a kinship with this one, another outcast in the Jewish society? Was she beaming with pride in her Savior as she listened to Him change the social norms, knowing that He gave dignity to all people? Even to her?

Did she immediately become friends with Mary? Or Martha? Was she caught off guard when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, or because maybe she’d seen this happen before, did she simply shake her head in wonder and joy? Did she watch Mary anoint Jesus with oil and think of the sinful woman who had done the same thing?

How many times did she long to hear Him teach on the kingdom of heaven? To hear of the future restoration? To hear Him speak hope into their lives?

What did she think as Jesus entered Jerusalem for His final week? Did she get caught up in all the pomp? Had she remembered that He’d been predicting His own death and was she confused as to how the atmosphere could possibly turn bad for Him? Did it start to make sense as He cleansed the temple? Did she suddenly remember all those times His words inflamed the hatred of the religious leaders who now sought to kill Him?

What about when He broke the bread in the upper room? Was she there? Did she have a flashback to the time He multiplied the bread? Could she have known that Jesus had to die and be raised to usher in the kingdom? That He was the Bread of Life, broken for her? The blood poured out for her?

Did she stare at His lifeless body on the cross, wondering where it all went wrong? Was she too numb to speak? Did she still have hope or did it die on the cross too?

As she took the spices, did the thought occur to her that He might not be there? Did her mind race to find answers when she discovered the tomb was empty? As she sat by the tomb was she able to process any of the events leading up to this point?

 

 

When she heard His voice call her name, did all that His words come flooding back? Did she have a hard time getting the words out because she was too excited? Did she break down in tears when she realized that SHE was the one He appeared to first?

At the tomb, Jesus calls Mary by name and THIS is when she recognizes Him. “My sheep hear my voice. I call to them and they answer Me.”

Nowhere in the gospels is there an explanation of Mary’s healing from the demon possession. The only time she is named is in connection with the women who followed Jesus during His ministry, during and after the crucifixion, and finally at the empty tomb. Isn’t it interesting that the thing that she is remembered for is her devotion to Christ? Not the demon possession?

Jesus gave her dignity. She would not be cast out because of the evil that had once been a part of her. He saw her value and gave her value all at the same time. Her life before Christ was one doomed to wander the streets as a mad woman, an outcast by her people and a prisoner to the demonic.

Jesus saved her, gave her a purpose, and made her a prominent woman in society. By her testimony many would hear of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m not sure what is more profound for her. To be a member of His ministry or to be the one to deliver the most important news for Christianity. He is Messiah! He is Risen! Her life was spent on this One man who changed EVERYTHING.

I love that we ended on the account of Jesus’ resurrection! Jesus deals death its final blow and that enemy is vanquished! How appropriate that we should go out from here, celebrating the good news of Jesus Christ!

It is good news for the heart that follows.

For the heart that thirsts. (The woman at the well ~ John 4)

The heart that mourns. (The widow of Nain ~ Luke 7)

The heart forgiven. (The sinful woman ~ Luke 7)

The heart healed. (The woman who touched Jesus’ cloak ~ Luke 8)

The heart that is desperate. (The Syrophoenician woman ~ Mark 7, Matthew 15)

The heart that learns. (Mary of Bethany ~ Luke 10, John 11-12)

The heart distracted. (Martha of Bethany ~ Luke 10, John 11-12)

And for the heart set free. (Mary of Magdala ~ Luke 8, Mark 15, John 20)

I can imagine you have identified with at least ONE of these women if not all of them at some point in your life. Let us go out to the tune of Mary’s song:

“My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace.”

Mary of Bethany: A Heart that Learns (Part 2)

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Let’s take a look at Mary in her first encounter with Jesus. We meet her in Bethany, a small town 2 miles east of Jerusalem in Judea.

city of bethany

This is a sketch of what Bethany *might* have looked like. Notice how small it is.

If you’re keeping track of Jesus’ timeline, we are in the latter part of His ministry in which He has completed His tours in Galilee and has already headed south toward Jerusalem.

Luke 10:38-42

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.

Normally, the women would be doing exactly what Martha was doing! Martha was plying her trade! She was being hospitable, a GOOD Jewish woman, taking care of her guests.

jesus-mary-martha

And then there was Mary. Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet WITH THE OTHER MEN and listened to His teaching. Remember, women weren’t considered worthy of receiving the Word of God or instruction in the Scriptures! Jesus defends Mary and says she has chosen the good portion. When I read that, the part about the “good portion”, it made me very curious. What does it really mean?

The Greek word is meris and means, well, “portion”! Ha! It can also mean “assigned part”. Remember when the Israelites were going into the Promised Land that God had assigned each tribe a portion in that Land that they could call their own. The word in Luke 10:42 meris is the same word used in Genesis 43:34 about Benjamin’s portions at Joseph’s table:

Portions were taken from Joseph’s table but Bejamin’s portion was five times as many as any of theirs…

And also in Deut. 12:12:

You shall rejoice before the LORD, you and your sons and…the Levite in your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you.

Jesus had assigned her the right to sit among the men and be His disciple. I kinda wonder if His defense of Mary wasn’t just for Martha but also for every MALE ear listening to the exchange, wondering the same thing as Mary sat among themJesus was giving her the opportunity to be a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus. To sit and learn and imitate the Teacher. She could soak in His teaching. Take on His yoke. For the first time in her life, she could learn of God first hand.

The second account we read of Mary with Jesus is of the  death and resurrection of Lazarus:

John 11:1-6

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister MarthaIt was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and LazarusSo, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Wait, shouldn’t that read when He heard that Lazarus was ill, [HE WENT TO THEM RIGHT AWAY]?

My husband Eric likes to play a game when reading Scripture sometimes called “what comes next?” He’ll read part of a passage, usually a Psalm (one that I’m not usually familiar with), and leave off the second half of the verse. He’ll ask me what I think comes next. And most times, I have NO idea. Then he’ll finish the verse, and the train of thought is usually WAY different from what I was thinking it would say. It’s the same for verse 6! You’d think Jesus would go right away to help, seeing that He loved them. But He doesn’t show His love in this way.

And there’s a very specific reason – for the glory of God and the Son of God to be glorified.

We read further about Mary in:

John 11:17-20

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

Martha is the one who rushes out to Jesus while Mary stays behind in the house. (Why did she stay back? Were her feelings hurt? Surely she wasn’t pouting?)

John 11:28-36

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jewswho were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he as deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!

Jesus, after speaking with Martha, had called for Mary. Did you catch that? The Rabbi called for his disciple. She immediately goes and in her utter grief, falls at His feet, the same ones where she had sat listening to His teaching, and it is here that she cries out to Him. We always seem to find Mary. She’s always at His feet. Sitting there. Rushing there. Falling there. Anointing there.

It’s after Mary’s display of grief that we see Jesus’ reaction to their sadness.

Deeply moved.  **not splagnon**

This phrase comes from the word that meant to snort with anger as in the snort of a horse (in war or in a race). For humans it describes outrage, fury, or anger. (From *NIVAC on John) How interesting that Jesus’ response resembles how we feel when someone has been severely wronged, creating in us an indignation or righteous anger. Jesus is angry at death itself and the devastation that it brings. (From *NIVAC)

Death, where is your sting? O yes, I’m coming for you.

Greatly troubled.

This phrase meant to cause inward commotion, to take away His calmness of mind, to disquiet, to make restless, to render distressed, and to perplex the mind by suggesting doubts. There was a twisting in His core, producing in Him a distress that took away His peace of mind. And He is racked with tears and His own grief. It’s not that Jesus was unaware of Lazarus’ death, and being caught off guard, He weeps. On the contrary, He knew what would happen, and it was when He saw Mary’s grief, and the Jews’ grief, that He is moved to tears.

Jesus wept.

See how He loved them!

After Jesus raises Lazarus, we see that Mary is the one associated with the believing Jews based on v. 45.

John 11:45

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.

The final passage of our Mary is the one which John references in the Lazarus story, just one chapter later, about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet in John 12. We didn’t read the Lukan account found in 7:36-50. As we’ve already learned, the story in Luke concerning the “sinful woman” anointing Jesus is not the same account found in Matthew, Mark, and John.

Allow me take a brief moment to explain a few facts and dispel a few myths concerning some of the women in the New Testament.

This is what I like to call Mary does not = _____.

Mary of Bethany is not the “sinful woman” who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. The reasons for this include:

  • Luke’s account is much earlier in his gospel story, indicating that it happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Our account found in the other 3 gospels happens right before His death.
  • The second reason is that the woman in Luke is referred to as a “sinner” and Mary of Bethany seems to have a glowing reputation.
  • Thirdly the message that Jesus gives is completely different in Luke, which is one about forgiveness while Matthew, Mark, and John talk about His burial.

There is no reason NOT to believe that there were 2 instances in which Jesus had His head and/or feet anointed.

Also to note, Mary of Bethany is not Mary Magdalene. Mary of Bethany is from BETHANY. Mary Magdalene is from MAGDALA.

Mary of Bethany is also not the woman caught in adultery in John 8. This woman is anonymous, and Mary is always named as being from Bethany or as Martha’s sister. In other words, NOT ANONYMOUS.

She’s also not Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Mary, the wife of Clopas, or my Aunt Mary. 🙂

Continuing on, we read of Mary anointing her Rabbi’s feet with oil.

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany,where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep itfor the day of my burialFor the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.

We are now as close to the final week of Jesus’ ministry as we can get. Bethany is very close to Jerusalem (Scripture notes it is only about 2 miles away). The Mount of Olives is nestled in between the two cities. The Garden of Gethsemane is also right outside of Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley. We are only days away from the cross.

Mary at Jesus feet

Now, why this anointing? What reasons did they have for anointing a person?

In the Gospels, anointing was associated with healing, the celebration of meals, hospitality, and the burial of Jesus. In the OT the anointing of the head was associated with the consecration of kings and of priests and prophets. The term “messiah” has the literal meaning “anointed one.” So in Mark, when Mary anoints Jesus during the meal, she is portrayed as a prophetic figure, since her act of anointing Jesus’ head alludes to his kingship, which is revealed at His death. She was showing that He is the Messiah, the ANOINTED ONE.

Then also in John, our passage this week, the writer wants to show Mary’s act of anointing Jesus’ feet as her way of identifying Him as the suffering Messiah, preparing Him for His death. (Mt. 26 and Mk 13)

The mention in John of the perfume’s scent spreading through the home is reminiscent of the scent of the sacrifices pleasing to God, thus alluding to the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death. (From Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Perhaps Mary anointed Jesus out of her love for Him because of what He did for her brother.

Mary’s actions stand in stark contrast to Judas. The betrayer! The thief! I’m sure you noticed that John really picks on Judas much more than the other gospel writers. Mary seemed to be the only one who understood that Jesus was going to die AND be raised. That He was the long-awaited Messiah. You may recall that the gospel writers indicate that the 12 did not understand that Jesus was going to die. In fact in Luke 18:31-34 it says that after Jesus predicted His death a 3RD TIME, they,

did not understand any of this. They did not know what He was talking about. (NIV)

 

But Mary? She had learned well. All those moments spent at the feet of Jesus had transformed her view. She had tasted the Word become flesh and it was like the sweetest honey. She had reached out to touch the Scroll of God. The Word of God. She had seen the goodness of God in what He spoke and how He lived, raising her brother from death. Mary anointed Him because that was only fitting for a king about to face His death. Perhaps she knew that even He might raise from the dead, just as He’d raised Lazarus. She understood that true leadership was in service and love to others. Mary modeled this to Jesus as she anointed Him, becoming a servant like her Rabbi.

Interestingly, and not by coincidence, what happens next is the Last Supper, in which Jesus Himself, the Rabbi, washes the feet of His own disciples, wiping them with the towel just as Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. John seemed to indicate that Jesus elevated Mary’s service to Him as He imitated her selfless act of anointing Him. He wanted them to do as He did. To be servants to one another, just as Mary had served Him. She had learned well.

Mary of Bethany could say something about herself that many Jewish women could not say at that time.

I am a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus.

I believe in the Rabbi. He’s not just a Teacher – He is God! He’s the Messiah, the Anointed One! I believe He is the resurrection and the Life, the only way to salvation. I will follow my Rabbi wherever He goes. I will be an exact representation of the Rabbi so that the world may know who He is!

She had expressed her faith in the Messiah as she poured out the oil over His feet, proclaiming that He was indeed the King, promised long ago. The oil permeated the room like a poignant message testifying to the truth of the Gospel. Yes, He was going to die, but even more Yes, He is the Promised Messiah come to give them Life.

What about you? Can you call yourself a disciple of the Rabbi Jesus? Are you covered in the dust of your Rabbi? A reflection of Jesus to the world. Do you realize the blessing it is that you have been called by Jesus Himself to be His representative? To take on His yoke, to bear His teaching?

Mary knew it. And she now speaks to us to live out our faith just as she lived out her’s. To go and make disciples, not to mirror us, but to be a reflection of the Rabbi. To spread His yoke, to pour out the honey, to hold out the scroll. To be covered in the dust of the Rabbi.

[Please note that, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture comes from the ESV translation.]

Below is the live talk at my church:

 

Mary of Bethany: A Heart that Learns

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When you hear the word disciple, what comes to mind? I think of my time spent discipling believers and being discipled. I also think of The Twelve? Or Jesus’ words “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)? Or you might think of yourself as a disciple. Perhaps you even think of discipleship, making disciples, etc.

What would you think if I told you that discipleship in ancient times was a very serious undertaking both for the Teacher and for the Disciple, and it involved more dedication than what we think of (or practice) today? What if discipleship had its roots way back to Socrates and even before his philosophical era? Now, I hope I have you interested (and not bored!). And I also hope you’re wondering what in the world this might have to do with Mary of Bethany. I’m so glad you asked! I would like to take you through a short (ha!) history of discipleship so that you can see why it is so important for understanding our Mary and her interactions with Jesus.

The word disciple in English means follower, adherent, or student of a great master, religious leader or teacher. The Greek word is mathetes and the Hebrew words are talmid and limmud. (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Sanzio_01_Plato_Aristotle  School of Athens by Raphael

One example of a well-known teacher and disciple in the Greek culture would be Plato and Aristotle. Here is a picture of Raphael’s fresco entitled “School of Athens” where you see the two men walking along discussing their philosophies. Aristotle was well-known for his peripatetic teaching (which simply meant, walking along as he taught), and we see this demonstrated in Raphael’s painting. You see all the people gathered in this area, indicating desire for knowledge.

By the time Jesus arrives on the scene, the term mathetes was most commonly used in the sense of adherent, or follower of a great thinker or devotee of a religious master. Within Judaism of the 1st century individuals were known as “disciples” if they were adherents or followers committed to a recognized leader, teacher or movement.

rabbis

Here is a picture of Jewish rabbis most likely immersed in a religious discussion. The best example of a Jewish disciple-teacher relationship would be Paul under Gamaliel studying as a Pharisee. Other examples included the more radical religious groups that tried to raise up zealot-like nationalists. (From Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

Remember what I said about the pious Jews and their thirst for the knowledge of God? Wilkins writes, “Pharisaism was at heart, though tragically miscarried, a movement for righteousness. It was this concern for righteousness that drove the Pharisees to their legalism with such a passion.”

Ray Vander Laan (a Bible teacher who teaches in the Holy Land) has a video on this topic called In the Dust of the Rabbi, and in his definition of talmid he explains that being a disciple is not just someone who wants to know what the rabbi knows, it’s someone who wants to be who the rabbi is.

Now in 1st century Palestine, to become a disciple, the student started very young. Boys attended Torah school when they were ages 6-10. This part of their schooling was called Bet Sefer (or House of the Book). They would have a Rabbi, or teacher, who taught the Torah, or first 5 books of the bible. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

On the first day of class the rabbi would take honey and would cover their slate where they would write. Honey was a sign of God’s favor. You may recall the image of the Promised Land as one “flowing with milk and honey.” As he rubbed the honey all over their slate he would say, “Now class, lick the honey off the slate and off your fingers.” And as they did this the rabbi would say, “May the words of God be sweet to your taste, sweeter than honey to your mouth” (Psalm 119:103). May the words of God be the most pleasurable, the most enjoyable thing you could even comprehend.

In addition to this they ate a honey cake (inscribed with the words  “The Lord God gave me a skilled tongue to know [Isaiah 50:4-5]). And they would also eat a boiled egg (with the words written on it “Mortal feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll and I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey to me [Ezekiel 3:3]). So these Jewish children were raised to cherish the words of God as the most important thing in all of their lives. To savor it. To taste the Word. (From a *Shavuot article by Rabbi Golinkin)

They would learn the Hebrew alphabet (if they hadn’t already learned it in their homes) and would learn to read the Torah in both Hebrew and Aramaic. And they would memorize the first 5 books of the bible by the time they were 10 years old. How many of you can say you’ve memorized a verse in the OT? What about a chapter in the OT? How about the first 5 books? No one has Leviticus memorized? I’m so surprised! Neither have I! That equals out to 187 chapters and more than 5800 verses! (5,853 in NAB) That is some insane dedication!

SCROLL

Another thing the rabbi did in their first year is he would take the scroll (the scroll was what the Scriptures were written on. Remember they didn’t have the Gutenberg press. In fact each scroll contained only a chapter or a short book from the Hebrew Bible. The scrolls were housed in the Temple at Jerusalem. This meant that they would circulate these scrolls so that they could get the full Bible read throughout the land. No one had the full Scriptures except maybe the very wealthy. So these scrolls were precious).  (From the article *Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine by Catherine Hezser)

So the rabbi would take this scroll, unfold it, and hold it up in view of all the students. As it passed the students, they would reach out and touch the scroll, and they would kiss it.

You might say, they grew up in a culture of a LOVE for God’s Word.

According to some sources, there was a second school called Bet Midrash, which translated meant House of Study. Only the best male students would go to this school from age 10-14.

If they weren’t one of the “best” students, they would go home, and they would “ply your trade”. Simply put this means that if you were a girl, you learned to be a wife and mother. If you were a boy, you learned your father’s trade. Peter and Andrew, James and John all learned their father’s trade: fishing.

In Bet Midrash they had quite the task set out before them of memorizing the entire rest of the Scriptures! That is a total of another 1,074 chapters and over 27,500 verses (27,570). Everything else…from Joshua all the way to Malachi! That’s a GRAND TOTAL of 1,261 chapters and over 33,300 verses.

The Rabbi also had a very different way of teaching than what we are used to today. Rather than asking questions and expecting to get answers from their disciples, the rabbi would teach the art of learning by asking questions and having them respond with questions.  (similar to the Socratic Method)

This is why we see Jesus at age 12 in the Temple in Mark 2:46,

they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

At the end of their study, if one was found to be a promising student, he would enter what is known as Bet Rabbi around age 13-14. Here is how it happened:

The student would go and present himself to a well-known respected, rabbi. And he would say, “Rabbi, I want to become your disciple. Please let me in your Bet Midrash.” Then the rabbi would ask him lots of questions, to find out if he was the best of the best. Because each rabbi wanted to teach his thinking, his philosophy, his interpretation of Scripture. Do you know what this was called? It was called his yoke. This rabbi wants to know, when he is questioning this possible disciple, “Is this boy able to become a rabbi himself and to teach and spread my yoke?” Remember in Matthew 11:28 when Jesus told the people:

Come unto Me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

And if the rabbi believed that this student was the best of the best, that he was able to become a rabbi, He would say, “Come, follow me.” Sound familiar? The boy would then leave his family. Leave his village. Leave the local synagogue where he had been studying to follow that rabbi. He would become a talmid, a disciple, a student. This boy would give his life to being exactly like that rabbi and would follow him everywhere.

The Mishnah rabbis would tell their disciples, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” It was because a rabbi would come to the village and these talmidim would be following right behind him. Since the roads were dusty these disciples would get covered with the dust of their rabbi. In fact they wanted to be so much like their rabbi that when he would pick up a piece of straw and put it in his mouth then they would too. If he washed his hands a certain way, they would mimic the way he washed his hands. If he ate his food a certain way, they ate like him. They would learn his gestures, his voice inflections, his teachings. And they would follow this rabbi everywhere. Because the rabbi believed that they could be like him.

So you see the student chose the Rabbi under whom he wished to learn, thus becoming that Rabbi’s disciple. And the goal was to be exactly like your Rabbi.

The rabbis would not seek out anyone to teach the Scriptures. There was a Rabbinic disdain for the masses which resulted in limited disciple circles. There was a saying among the teachers “Like the thighs of a woman, Torah was to be kept covered in public.” And this was because of fear of casting pearls before swine. (From an article in *Neotestamentica p. 245)

But what does Jesus do?

Jesus completely reverses the Rabbi-disciple exchange. Jesus, the Rabbi, calls the disciple rather than waiting for a disciple to come to Him. In fact, He beckons for all to come to Him! It wasn’t just the spiritual elite who could be a disciple. The one who had made it through to the Bet Midrash. He was calling for anyone to come to Him. Remember His words:

Whoever wants to be My disciples… (Mt. 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 14:33)

You did not choose Me, I chose you… (Jn 15:16)

Come to Me, ALL who are weary and burdened…(Mt. 11:28)

He went to Andrew and Peter, James and John, the fishermen, who had already been told they didn’t make the cut as a disciple, who were already plying their trade, and He called them to follow Him. He chose the fisherman and tax collector. And more amazingly, He chose women!

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Ah, yes, here is where our Mary comes in. You noticed in all of the information you heard regarding discipleship, not once was a girl given the chance to learn in Bet Sefer much less go on to Bet Midrash. Remember Jewish men thanked God that they were not “a gentile, an outsider, or a woman.” (From *Neotestamentica p. 244) Not once could she be considered by a Rabbi as a disciple. She was supposed to go home and learn how to be a homemaker. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (!) Jesus chose women to be His disciples as well! To be a learner. An adherent to the Master. One who was called to be exactly like the Rabbi.

[Stay tuned next week for part 2 on Mary of Bethany (I know it was just getting good!)]

 

Grace for WHO?

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Anointing-His-Feet-2 pharisees

As we’ve been studying Jesus’ encounters with different women in the gospels, I can’t help but notice that we miss so much because our culture is worlds apart from their culture. All the legalism of their man-made rules, all the stigma surrounding women in the 1st century, all the no-no’s both in religious and civic life. It makes my head spin just thinking about the issues they faced that I never even have to worry about today.

We learned about the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. She had three strikes against her. 1. She was a woman. 2. She was a Samaritan. 3. She was a sinner! And yet Jesus stops by this well where she had strategically planned to be during the heat of day (when no one else would be there). He asks for a drink and ends up weaving together the most beautiful conversation with this woman to reach her heart. With neither condemnation nor judgment, He gets to the heart of her spiritual thirst. And He pours her a tall glass of Living Water by the end of their exchange.

Then we read about the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. Frankly, I think the story is as much about her as it is about the Pharisee with whom Jesus had been invited to dine. We tend to see this story with our 21st century eyes and stare aghast at Simon, the Pharisee, who seems to be quite judgmental of this woman. “If this man were really a prophet he would know what sort of a woman this was who was touching him,” he says to himself. “Wow, how rude!”, we think to ourselves.

But what does Jesus do? First of all, He let this woman touch Him. Don’t miss the scandal in this! She was a well-known sinner! She was called an “immoral woman” in some translations. We assume this means she was sexually promiscuous. Sinner=Unclean. If an unclean person touches you, in that culture, that means YOU become unclean. And these Jewish people took their ritual cleanliness seriously! They didn’t risk becoming unclean for just any reason, and especially not for a SINNER. Like I said, they had their man-made rules, in addition to the Law, which were far more strict (and not at all necessary!) that they followed to avoid becoming unclean.

Jesus, however, risks being religiously (politically) correct to give this woman His forgiveness. To give her dignity. He saw past her reputation, and although He was the only One who could have judged her, who could have condemned her, He speaks the words she had been dying inside to hear, “You are forgiven. Go in peace.”

We see this extreme demonstration of love and forgiveness for a sinful woman, one who receives grace because that’s how Jesus responds to sin. [That and dying for it.] But we don’t always see the other story playing alongside the woman’s redemption story. When Jesus either hears or perceives Simon’s comment about the woman, He starts in with a parable of a moneylender. There were two debtors. TWO of them. One owed 500 denarii and the other owed 50. TWO of them had debt. The moneylender forgave BOTH of them of their debt because NEITHER of them could pay it off. TWO debtors. Two UNABLE to pay back their debt. [Forgive my obnoxious all caps. Emphasis soon to be made clear…]  Jesus asks the Pharisee who of the two debtors loved the moneylender more. He doesn’t go into why they had piled up so much debt or ask who is more deserving of the forgiveness. Nope. He asks about love.

And why? Why does He make the moral of the story about love? He looks at the woman and speaks to Simon, revealing to him that her act of anointing His feet, in addition to the tears and wiping His dusty toes, is a greater example of love for Him than Simon’s hospitality toward Him. She had been forgiven much, so she loved much. It just makes sense.

But what is even more baffling to me is how Jesus chose to respond to the hypocritical and self-righteous attitude which Simon displayed on that day in his home. Just as Jesus did not condemn the sinful woman, neither does He condemn the Pharisee in his holier-than-thou approach toward the woman. Simon was the debtor! The one who owed 50 denarii. The one with the lesser debt, but still a DEBTOR nonetheless! Simon couldn’t pay his debt any more than the sinful woman could. All of us are sinners. Not one of us can pay the debt we owe to God. Even the most righteous of Pharisees needed the forgiveness of the only Righteous Judge. Yet the Pharisee could not love the way the greater debtor did. But Jesus treated him with dignity and helped him to see that God’s forgiveness is for all people. There is grace for the sinner, and there is grace for the self-righteous Pharisee.

*Sigh*

That Jesus. I love Him.

We are hopelessly lost in our sin whether we owe 50 or 500. Debt is debt. Our inability to pay up means we have need of a forgiving God. May we never forget. And may we see ourselves as the sinful woman because we realize we’ve been forgiven much.