Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

A&tCL IV – the Rest of the Pentateuch

January 16, 2018

This post is part of a series of posts on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post, which deals with wine/alcohol as mentioned in Genesis.  I am systematically examining every verse in Scripture that addresses wine in one way or another as a means of understanding more clearly how Scripture addresses the role of wine and alcohol as part of the life of God’s people. 

Exodus only mentions wine once – 29:40.  Contextually, this chapter continues God’s details to his people for how they will worship him, and specifically this verse is part of the detail of the daily offering that will be burned by the priests on the altar.  Yayin is the Hebrew word used here, and I think that overall, the verse demonstrates again that wine is part of the lives of God’s people and so it is part of a daily offering to God.

Leviticus contains two mentions of wine, both using the Hebrew yayinLeviticus 10 is an interesting passage.  It describes the death of Aaron’s two sons, who were serving as priests and took it upon themselves to make an incense offering to God that was not required.  This seems to be a liturgical issue, where they are doing something not prescribed by God for worship.  Scripture is silent on their motivations for doing this.  While we meet Nadab and Abihu in Exodus, no comment is made about them until this incident.  Based on 10:9, perhaps God was judging them for serving in an intoxicated state.  Perhaps even with good intentions, while intoxicated they took it upon themselves to innovate in a matter of worship and were punished for it.  That’s speculation, but it would help explain why God sees it necessary to warn against drinking before entering his presence.

Note that the prohibition is not a general one, but specific.  They are not to drink either wine or other strong drink – so here is a Hebrew word with a broader semantic domain than wine – shekar (7941), which is loosely translated as any strong (alcoholic) drink.  It also has semantic links with another Hebrew word for drunkenness (shakar).  Shekar appears 23 times in the Old Testament.

Leviticus 23 is another passage dealing with appropriate sacrifices and includes wine (yayin).

Numbers has several mentions of wine.  Numbers 6:3, 20  are part of the details of the Nazirite vow, and in addition to yayin also mention shekar.  The Nazirite vow is a formal dedication of a person to a particular vow or promise, and entails an outwards manifestation of that vow in how they look (they don’t cut their hair) as well as what they do (no contact with anything that comes from the grape fine as well as other cultic requirements).  By inference, it would seem that wine is once again a typical part of people’s regular lives, and so the Nazirite vows remove the person from that day-to-day routine until the completion of their vow.

Numbers 15:5, 7 & 10 as well as Numbers 28:14 all have to do with sacrifices, and all utilize yayin.

Numbers 18:12 utilizes tirosh.  The section has to do with what the priests and their families are entitled  to from the sacrifices of God’s people, including the best of the offered oil and wine.  God’s priests are not prohibited from God’s blessing to his creation in wine.

Finally, the last book of the Books of Moses, Deuteronomy, has multiple mentions of wine utilizing yayin, tirosh, and for the first time (and only time in the Old Testament) enab.

Enab appears in Deuteronomy 32:14, which is an extended song that Moses composes, summarizing God’s history with his people thus far.  The use of enab here may be entirely poetic.  It is part of a section summarizing the great and lavish care that God provided to his people, and I don’t see any contextual reason to treat this as anything other than a synonym for yayin or tirosh.  In other words, there is no contextual reason to think that God provided his people, as summarized by Moses, with something other than wine as we know it and is referenced elsewhere.  I don’t think Moses is claiming that God only provided his people with non-alcoholic wine.

Yayin is used in Deuteronomy 14:26, 28:39, 29:6, and 32:33 and 38.  Deuteronomy 14 is interesting because here God’s people are clearly told that they can enjoy both wine and strong drink (shekar).  Once they enter the Promised Land and take possession of it and begin to live off the land, they are to set aside a portion of their annual produce in order to take it and feast on it where God directs them to – mostly likely wherever the Ark of the Covenant is currently located.  This includes grain (bread), oil, meat, and wine.  If they live far away from the designated location, they are allowed to sell what they have set aside for money, and to take that money with them to the designated place and there purchase these things to enjoy.  In other words, God is commanding his people to relax and enjoy what God has provided as a means of thanking God for what He has provided.  He specifically wants them to eat and drink in his presence and by doing so to give thanks to him for what He has provided!

Deuteronomy 28:39 is part of a section outlining the curses that God will visit upon his people if they forget their covenant and abandon his directives.  Part of that curse is that their vineyards will be devoured by worms resulting in a lack of wine.

Deuteronomy 29:6 is a summation of the experience of God’s people with God since He brought them out of Egypt.  Their condition is one of being wanderers, unable to produce anything and reliant completely on the providence of God.  He has fed them with manna and quail and water because they have not been able to grow grain, cultivate herds, or plant vineyards.  As such, they have not had wine or strong drink, but God has still watched over them and provided for them, just as their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out despite their long sojourn in the wilderness and their inability to easily produce new ones.

Deuteronomy 32:33 & 38 is from Moses’ song mentioned earlier, and is prophetically describing how God’s people will wander from him and how they will suffer.  How they will take his blessings and turn from the one who gives them.  It is a prophetic indictment against apostasy, and is not concerned specifically with wine beyond it being shorthand for part of God’s blessings to his people.

Tirosh is used in Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14, 12:17, 14:23, 18:4, 28:51 and 33:28.  Deuteronomy 7:13 and 11: 14 are both references to how God will bless his people.  Deuteronomy 12:17 is linked with chapter 14 (and therefore 14:23) in reference to the proper use of the tithe that they are to be setting aside through the year.  Deuteronomy 18:4 is a directive to God’s people on what they are to provide for the priests through their tithes.  Deuteronomy 28:51 is a description of God’s curses to his people if (when!) they abandon his covenant, and this includes destruction of their vineyards and wine in addition to other staples of life.  Finally, Deuteronomy 33:28 is part of Moses’ final blessing on God’s people, tribe by tribe.  Specifically is part of the final, more general blessing over all of God’s people.

So the first specific Biblical warning against alcohol occurs in the context of God’s priests who are attending to their duties.   They are not to show up for service in the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) intoxicated or having recently imbibed any alcoholic drink.  That certainly sounds like wise advice!  Overall the Books of Moses are very consistent in their use of either yayin or tirosh when referencing wine, demonstrating no clear difference in meaning between these two words.

Advertisements

YFA – January 14, 2018

January 14, 2018

A Weekly Devotional Resource

 

  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Sermon and Worship
  • Monday – Old Testament – Jonah 3:1-5
    • What happened with Jonah the first time God spoke with him?
    • Do you think Jonah is eager to carry out his task?
  • Tuesday – Epistle – 1 Corinthians 7:29-35
    • What is Paul’s primary rationale for his advice (v.29)?
    • What is a secondary hope for Paul (v.32)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – Mark 1:14-20
    • What do you think Jesus means by the kingdom of God is at hand?
    • Why does repentance precede the call to discipleship?
  • Thursday Psalm 62
    • How do you interpret the second half of verse 4?
    • Is it hard to trust God at all times (v.8)?
  • Friday – Small Catechism – The Seventh Commandment
    • Have you been tempted to steal recently?
    • Instead of stealing from our neighbor, what should we be doing instead?
  • Saturday – (LSB #732) All Depends on Our Possessing
    • Is God’s involvement in our lives distant or close (v.2)?
    • Do you ever doubt God’s wisdom (v.5)?

 

 

Reading Ramblings – January 21, 2018

January 14, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 21, 2018

Texts: Jonah 3:1-5; Psalm 62; 1 Corinthians 7:29-35; Mark 1:14-20

Context: Continuing in ordinary time we move somewhat chronologically through Jesus’ early ministry. Last week’s reading saw the calling of some of the initial disciples while still in the area of the Jordan River, closer to Jerusalem before Jesus headed back to Galilee. In other words, when Jesus issues his call to Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John, it wasn’t the first time that they had met. Likely they had determined that Jesus would summon them after they all returned home (Jesus to Nazareth, the others from Bethsaida – John 1:44) and had made final preparations for Jesus to begin his public ministry. This doesn’t make their response in faith any less than Jonah’s response to God’s call to him a second time after his experience trying to flee his duties. Away from the fervor of a mountaintop spiritual experience (perhaps the revival-style euphoria surrounding John the Baptist) or a moment of obviously divine deliverance (Jonah and the great fish), we are prone to return to our daily routines, gradually losing the power of that particular moment of epiphany to stir us towards any meaningful change. God continues to call to us in all manner of circumstances, and our response in faith is as important in the ordinary and mundane situations as it is in extraordinary ones.

Jonah 3:1-5 – Jonah once again receives God’s instructions to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Recently saved from drowning by a great fish, Jonah presumably understands that resisting the Lord’s instructions is not going to work, and so Jonah obeys. The odds of his message being well-received were slim. Nineveh was part of the Assyrian empire and not in any way influenced by or beholden to Israelite theology. It was a large city, further making the odds of a total response unlikely. Yet for reasons not explained, Nineveh does respond. The Lord’s Word accomplishes his purpose with the Ninevites – much to Jonah’s eventual chagrin. Throughout these brief verses we are reminded never to shortchange the power of God’s Call. What may sound just like words to you and I is accompanied by the Holy Spirit of God, and is always for the benefit of the hearer, regardless of their expectations to the contrary.

Psalm 62 – A psalm of quiet trust and confidence in God. Twice the psalmist speaks of waiting in silence for God’s response (vs. 1 & 5). Why is this? Because the speaker has already heard God speak to her before (v.11). God himself has told the psalmist of God’s ultimate power and authority, against which the machinations of human beings come to nothing, just as their lives must ultimately pass away. God alone can save, and God alone is the source of things which, unlike riches, last. Therefore it is not wise or good to seek gain by dishonest means or to put our trust even in honest gains (v.10). Rather God is to be our source and strength, something that those who respond to God’s call must always keep foremost in their minds and hearts.

1 Corinthians 7:29-35 – For reasons well beyond me, I don’t know why we skip the first section of 1 Corinthians 7, as it makes the rest of the chapter so much more clear. Paul is responding to a question posed to him by the Corinthians – should men and women abstain from sexual relations? Paul’s answer is practical. Marriage exists for a variety of reasons including sexual relations, and so if a man (or woman) desires that physicality with someone, they should get married (because marriage is the only Biblical appropriate realm for sexual relations to occur). Moreover, married people should act like married people within the sexual realm as well, rather than abstaining from sexual relations because one or the other partner thinks this is somehow necessary or God-pleasing. Paul is clear – if you are called to the vocation of marriage, then you are responsible to your partner and it is unfair to arbitrarily dictate terms to the relationship that were not likely part of the original agreement. Paul then goes on to indicate that his personal opinion is that, in light of Christ’s imminent return, it makes sense to not get married if you aren’t already. But he’s clear this isn’t a divine mandate but personal opinion. Our reading picks up with his elaboration on his rationale. Time is short, and we need to focus. Paul’s advice to the married here needs to be kept in the appropriate context of 7:1-5. Rather, these things should not form the center of our world. They cannot be our main focus because our main focus is the return of our Lord. Whether one is single or married is less the concern than how one is single or married, fulfilling the obligations of their vocation but also not forgetting who and what they wait for.

Mark 1:14-20 – Having been baptized and returned to Galilee, Jesus begins his public ministry. Mark indicates that Jesus begins his ministry after John the Baptist’s arrest, so there really isn’t an overlap between their two public ministries. Jesus now summons some of the disciples He first met down near the Jordan around John the Baptist. Already committed to becoming his disciples, they immediately drop what they’re doing and are ready to follow him immediately. At the very least Andrew was already considered a follower of John the Baptist (John 1:35-42), and appears to have experienced a spiritual awakening of some sort in order to be so ready to follow Jesus. Jesus’ message is simple – repent because the kingdom of God is at hand, and believe the good news that He is spreading. His message is similar to John the Baptist’s (Mark 1:4) but goes further. Repentance is necessary, but so is receiving the good news (gospel). The essence of the gospel is Jesus himself. The time is fulfilled – God’s plan of salvation is continuing according to his divine and perfect knowledge and timing. The time of anticipation and waiting is over. Now is the time for believing. In following Jesus the disciples – albeit imperfectly – are putting their faith in him as the bearer of good news and as the good news itself, something they will only understand in full after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, you and I are to heed the call to follow in whatever form that looks like. It includes fulfilling your vocation of being a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, neighbor, employer or employee. But it means doing so first and foremost as a follower of Jesus, one who has received the good news He embodies.

A&tCL III – Wine in Genesis

January 10, 2018

This post is part of a series of posts on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post, and is continued in this post which concludes an examination of the references to wine in the Pentateuch.  I am systematically examining every verse in Scripture that addresses wine  in order to better understand how Scripture addresses the role of alcohol as part of the life of God’s people. 

The first time wine is mentioned in the Bible is immediately after the Flood narrative.  Once the Flood is over and the ark has landed and disgorged the inhabitants, we are told that Noah plants a vineyard and then becomes drunk on the fruits of this vineyard.

Genesis 9 gives us this account, and the word wine appears specifically in verses 21 & 24.  In both cases it is the Hebrew word yayin, the most common Hebrew word translated as wine from the Old Testament.  While we don’t hear about wine prior to the Flood, the fact that this is part of Noah’s farming venture tells me that viticulture existed prior to the Flood.

While wine is part of this story, theologically it is not the main point.  We see that Noah drinks to excess which sets in motion a series of other events that are more directly in focus – he is naked, his son sees this, his son is disrespectful about this, and judgment ensues.  Excessive wine sets these events in motion, but I think it would be erroneous to judge this passage simply as a condemnation of wine.  Coming just after the Flood, it is the first incidence of sin we see after humanity is wiped out.  The main point is that, as God notes in 8:21, sin is still part of human nature after the Fall.  The Flood did not eliminate sin (and I would argue strongly that this was not its intent and should not be interpreted as such!).  Sin is therefore revealed to us in Noah and his son, because of drunkenness and all the problems which can result from it.

I think it a reasonable conclusion to say that this passage condemns drunkenness.  This is certainly a theme throughout Scripture and is not out of place here.  But nowhere in this passage is wine cursed or  blamed.  Some might argue that had it not been for the wine, this situation would have been avoided.  Fair enough, but if the overall point of the passage is to reveal that sin has not been eradicated, that it exists even in the most righteous of men, then again wine is the means by which this truth is revealed but is not the main point of the episode.  Wine is the means by which the sin in the heart already is revealed and made obvious to others.

Wine (yayin) is mentioned again in Genesis 14:18.  It is one of the gifts that Melchizedek gives to Abram in recognition for his service in defeating his ally’s enemies.  We are first told that the King of Sodom goes out to meet Abram, and then we are introduced to the King of Salem, Melchizedek, who is also a priest of God most high.  Theologians are quick to pick up on the sacramental elements involved in this scenario – a priest of God who offers wine and bread!  Holy Communion!  It’s hard to avoid this connection, but there are no overt Sacramental tones in this scenario.  Wine is part of the story but it would be wrong to insist that it was only a sacramental element rather than part of a larger feast.  I don’t think we can rightly claim, based on this text alone, that Abram just had a sip of wine (like at Communion).

Wine (yayin) is next present in Genesis 19 and the disturbing after-story to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Once again wine is the means by which sin occurs, this time an active, premeditated sinful action by Lot’s daughters.  Lot drinks too much, which is the condition by which sin is perpetrated.  Certainly this passage once again shows the dangers of drunkenness and losing control of one’s faculties.  But once again it seems a stretch to see this passage as specifically a condemnation of alcohol.  Rather it reveals the sinfulness of Lot’s family.  Despite the graciousness of God in sparing Lot and his family, and despite the fact that there is a small town nearby (Genesis 19:17-22), Lot’s daughters presume that only a sinful course of action will ensure their family survival.

Genesis 27 is interesting in regard to wine – not so much for the role wine plays as for the fact that it is the first time that more than one Hebrew word is used for wine in a single passage.  Yayin is used in verse 25, while tirosh is used in verses 28 & 37.  There doesn’t appear to be any differentiation of usage between these verses.  Verses 28 & 37 are in reference to Isaac’s blessing to Jacob, and verse 25 refers to what Jacob served Isaac to eat.  There certainly isn’t any negative treatment of alcohol here.  It might be argued that Jacob gets his father drunk first, in order to ensure that his ruse (stealing his older brother’s blessing) goes off without a hitch, but there’s no indication in this scene that this is the case.  Jacob makes his dad his favorite food and drink.  There’s no direct indication that he’s trying to get his dad drunk.   Moreover, Isaac includes wine as part of the blessing intended for his eldest son.  It’s a symbol of goodness, not in any way portrayed negatively.  At the very least, wine and the grapes to produce it are an expected part of life and moreover a sign of a good life.

There appears to be no linguistic difference between yayin and tirosh in this passage based on context alone.  If someone wants to argue that tirosh is intended here as non-alcoholic, unfermented grape juice, I don’t think the text supports that interpretation.  Why would Moses use two interchangeable words instead of consistently using one?  I could easily argue that this is the sign of a good writer (inspired or otherwise) – they vary their vocabulary to avoid repetition.

The last mention of wine in Genesis is in Chapter 49 as part of Jacob’s final blessings to his sons.  Verses 11 & 12 both reference wine and both utilize yayin.  I don’t see any negative connotations with wine in these verses.  In verse 12 it’s used as means of physical comparison.  It’s interesting that both of these verses have to do with Jacob’s son Judah, and are considered messianic in nature because of their discussion of the scepter, a symbol of authority and rule.   Verse 11 has been the source of much speculation and theorizing as to proper interpretation, and I’m not going to go into a study of it here.  Again, the major point is that wine is not being used in a negative way in and of itself.

That summarizes all of the occurrences I found of wine in the book of Genesis.  It shows at the very least that wine has been a part of human life from a very early time, and was considered a symbol of  prosperity and divine blessing.  It also demonstrates the dangers of drunkenness in terms of reducing our ability to control ourselves and our awareness of what is going on both around us and actually to us (and by extension, what we do to others).  This is consistent with my understanding of Scripture’s treatment of alcohol as a whole so far – a blessing from God that should not be abused.

 

 

A&tCL II – Hebrew I

January 8, 2018

This post is part of a series of posts on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post, and is continued in this post.  I am systematically examining every verse in Scripture that mentions wine to better understand how Scripture addresses the role of alcohol in the life of God’s people.

Of the roughly 19 different Hebrew words which are associated with our English word wine in one respect or another, 11 of them appear in the Old Testament at least once and sometimes many, many times.  By using and studying this common reference to one kind of alcoholic drink,  I believe we can determine what the Bible’s teaching is on alcoholic drinks in general.  If fermented/alcoholic wine is only condemned in the Bible, by extension I would apply this prohibition to any alcoholic beverage.  If wine is not permitted, then I presume tequila, bourbon, gin, and every other type of alcoholic beverage should be avoided by God’s people.

I’ll review each of the Hebrew words used in the Old Testament that are translated in one or more English Bible translations as wine.  I won’t include the Hebrew characters here.  If you know Hebrew, you’ll probably complain about my crappy cut-and-paste skills, and you’d be right.  If you don’t know Hebrew, it won’t matter to you anyways.  I’ll use the English transliteration of the Hebrew word and include Strong’s reference number so you can look it up for yourself if you prefer.  Again, my primary resources will be the BDAG and Strong’s Concordance.

In addition to providing the definition, I’ll provide verses that utilize the word.  My primary purpose is to determine the contexts for usage, primarily whether or not there is an indication one way or the other as to whether the Hebrew word likely refers to non-alcoholic (non-fermented) grape juice/freshly pressed grapes, or refers to fermented, alcoholic wine.   Then it will be a matter of seeing whether one type or the other is always intended/referred to in the Hebrew in either a positive (it’s good or OK to enjoy) or negative (you should never drink this) sort of way.

Yayin (3196) – This is the most common Hebrew word translated as wine in English translations, occurring 140 times in the Old Testament.  Essentially means wine or fermented beverage.  When Noah ties one on after surviving over a year on a boat with his immediate family and every kind of animal on earth?  It’s this Hebrew word.  It’s also used in verses about what sorts of offerings should be brought to God, such as Exodus 29:40.  Wine is obviously a part of people’s lives, and rather than prohibiting this, they are instructed to include it as part of their offering to God and his priests.  It is also used in warnings, such as God’s instructions to Aaron and his successors not to drink wine before serving on duty at the Tent of Meeting/Tabernacle (Leviticus 10:9).  It is sometimes used as a synonym for God’s judgment on the wicked, as in Psalm 75:8.  Yet he also uses the metaphor of wine positively in Isaiah 55:1 as He invites his people to pursue those things that are good and valuable and lasting.  In other places, such as Haggai 2:12, it is simply mentioned as part of daily life and routine, no different or more or less significant than oil or stew or food.

Tirosh (8492) – This is the second most common Hebrew word translated as wine in the Old Testament, with 38 occurrences.  It is commonly translated as new wine or fresh wine, in distinction at some level with yayin and the typical understanding of fermented wine.  Many people presume that it means unfermented and therefore essentially non-alcoholic grape juice.  When Isaac blesses Jacob in Genesis 27:28, tirosh is the word used.  This particular passage is interesting in that the word translated as wine changes from yayin (25) to tirosh (28 & 37).  There doesn’t appear to be any particular differentiation in meaning and usage in these verses, and it could therefore just represent a literary choice on the part of the author (Moses) to vary the language and avoid unpleasant repetition.  As God specifies both the duties and the benefits of the Levites in Numbers 18, He lists the best of the wine as one of the blessings they are to enjoy (from the offerings of the people) and uses tirosh.   Isaiah 24:7 is interesting because it uses tirosh, but the context seems to justify interpreting it to mean fermented grape juice rather than newly pressed and therefore non-fermented, non-alcoholic (or practically so) juice.  In fact there are multiple places where both yayin and tirosh are used either within the same verse or in very close proximity within the same chapter, and without obvious differences between their meaning.  For example in Zechariah 9, yayin is used in verse 15 in association with a strong vigor, but tirosh is used in verse 17 in a way that we might be tempted to read as gentler.  Is there a definite difference between the  two Hebrew words?  The best answer seems to be sometimes, but not necessarily always.

Chemer / Chamar (2561/2562) – These words appear only in Ezra and Daniel, with chamar being an Aramaic form of the word.  In Ezra 6:9 and 7:22 it appears in a list of other commodities without any further comment or elaboration.  In Daniel 5, it is used several times in the context of a judgment scene against King Belshazzar, but wine isn’t itself the focus of judgment.  Daniel also utilizes yayin in chapters 1 and 10.  In Daniel 1 wine is avoided by Daniel and his companions, but the point isn’t specifically the wine itself but rather foods that are acceptable to Daniel and his companions as per their Hebrew dietary restrictions.  Wine is not something they are forbidden to have, but the emphasis in this chapter is on their rejection of the traditions of the Babylonians as a means for demonstrating (or allowing for) God’s power.

Asis (6071) – Another word that seems to mean freshly pressed or trodden out grape juice.  It is used only by Isaiah, Joel and Amos – once in each book.  Amos also uses yayin, Joel uses asis along with yayin and tirosh, and  Isaiah makes use of all three plus several others (mentioned below).  Amos 9:13 is translated as sweet wine, as is Joel 3:18 and Isaiah 49:26.  Some people make a distinction between asis and tirosh, claiming that asis is not necessarily unfermented but tirosh definitely is unfermented.  I’m going to try and find someone who is good at Hebrew to give me some additional perspective as it’s a distinction that is lost to me as I look at these verses.  I wonder if it is a distinction driven by doctrine more than the language itself?

Chomets (2558) – This is generally understood to be more like vinegar or a condiment of some sort, but the English Standard Version (and at least a couple of other translations) translates it as wine in Ruth 2:14 and Psalm 69:21.   In both cases I don’t think this is a word that needs to be taken into consideration for my purposes in this study.

Mamsak (4469) – This only appears in Proverbs 23:30 and Isaiah 65:11, and is defined as a mixture of wine and spices and perhaps water.  The Isaiah passage is also in the context of a drink offering, but one offered not to God but to false gods.

Mamtaq (4477) – Something sweet.  It appears only in Nehemiah 8:10, where the decision to translate it as wine appears to be a matter of interpretation.

Shemer (8105) – Occurs only in Isaiah 25:6 and denotes very good, aged (and therefore I assume fermented) wine.

Sobe (5435) – Occurs in Isaiah 1:22 and seems to just refer to wine.  The derivation of the word has something to do with being absorbed or ‘sucked up’, and may also connote excess.

Mezeg (4197) – Only in Song of Solomon 7:2, and variously translated as wine, mixed wine, or alcohol.

Enab (6025) – Deuteronomy 32:14 and elsewhere.  Sometimes translated as wine but also more typically as grape or raisin.

So those are the words that I came up with (or variations in form of these words).  Next step is to examine the context and see whether Scripture is uniformly condemning of the use of wine or whether it (as I assume) talks about wine both as a good gift of God’s creation as well as a potential source of misuse.

 

YFA – January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
Based on:
  • Series B of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary (LC-MS version)
  • Luther’s Small Catechism
  • Traditional Christian Hymns
  • Sunday– Reflect Upon Today’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament Lesson – 1 Samuel 3:1-10
    • What do God’s people do in the absence of ongoing visions (v.1)?
    • Why might Eli have perceived that it was the Lord speaking (v.8)?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
    • How do verses 12 & 13 contradict prevailing cultural norms today?
    • How do you seek to live out verses 19-20 in your life?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 1:43-51
    • Look up the location of Bethsaida using Google or a Bible Atlas.
    • How does Philip’s response to Nathanael’s question encourage you to witness to others (v.46)?
  • Thursday – Psalm – Psalm 139:1-10
    • Are verses 1-6 comforting or disturbing?  Why?
    • Are verses 7-10 comforting or disturbing?  Why?
  • Friday – Small Catechism – The Sixth Commandment
    • What are other ways that adultery is sometimes translated in this verse?
    • Do these verses only apply to married people?  Why or why not?
  • Saturday – (LSB #832) Jesus Shall Reign
    • Does the hymnist have any doubt about the certainty of Jesus’ reign?
    • Is verse 5 only appropriate when Jesus returns in glory, or here and now?

 

 

Reading Ramblings – January 14, 2018

January 7, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 14, 2017

Texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-10; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Context: We leave the festival seasons of Christmas behind, and while the Sundays are referred to in some circles in relation to Epiphany, we technically begin the first period of Ordinary Time in the new liturgical year that started at the beginning of December. This means that the readings for the next four weeks are not chosen specifically for thematic reasons, but rather follow the general life of Christ. Being Year B in the 3-year lectionary cycle of the Revised Common Lectional (RCL) – LC-MS edition, the Gospel readings for much of the year will come from Mark. And as with Ordinary Time Sundays, the Gospel, Old Testament, and Psalm readings will likely be related in some way but the Epistle reading will not, but rather will just work fairly methodically through the New Testament Epistles. All of which will change for Transfiguration Sunday (February 11) which is considered a special feast or festival Sunday, and then Lent begins that following Wednesday (February 14), which will lead to the Easter season , then Pentecost Sunday and Holy Trinity Sunday before finally leaving the feasts and festival seasons behind and re-entering Ordinary Time on June 3.

What does all this matter to the typical person in the pew? Probably not much. Depending on your particular faith tradition and local worship practices, you may notice changes in the colors on the altar and other places in the worship space. Hopefully you will recognize that the nature and focus of the Biblical readings changes from season to season of the liturgical year. Just recognize that historically speaking, a lot of thought has been given to what the Church does at different times of the year in order to help instruct worshipers in the Biblical narrative and link that narrative to their lives both here and now as well as for eternity.

1 Samuel 3:1-10 – The assigned readings leave it optional to finish out the chapter but I’m electing not to as the focus between the first and second half of the chapter is very different. Eli is a faithful priest of God at Shiloh (sometimes rendered Silo). Shiloh was the center of Israelite administration and worship from the time of Joshua up until just prior to Solomon’s constructing the Temple and was the location of the Ark of the Covenant during the same time. Unfortunately, Eli’s sons are not faithful, and so God must raise up a new priest to replace Eli since his sons will not inherit his position (1 Samuel 3:12-20). Samuel is God’s miraculous answer to the prayer of Hannah detailed in 1 Samuel 1-2. We can see miraculous workings of God in Hannah’s pregnancy as well as Mary’s with Jesus, though Hannah’s conception is accomplished by the usual method rather than immaculately by the Holy Spirit. Each mother offers a song of praise to God for the miracle He works in their life, and each of their sons is destined for greatness in the service of God.

Psalm 139:1-10 – A devotion to God, both an invitation as well as an acknowledgment that invitation to God is hardly necessary. Who could be without the presence of God, and what location in all of creation could rightly be said to be beyond God’s presence? We are comforted with the ever-presence of our God. We live our lives in the grace and gifts of God who created all things. Certainly this should be comfort and inspiration and exhortation to God’s people, to call on God and expect that He hears and will answer, He knows and is already at work. What comfort in the midst of loss and struggle or temptation! We never face these things alone. God is not unaware of our predicaments but intimately knowledgeable. Nowhere that our lives might take us will ever take us from the presence of the God who created and redeemed us and promises to sanctify us through the power of his Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – As we see the holy life of Jesus played out through his birth and the start of his ministry, the idea that we could pollute ourselves, who are joined to him in his life and death, should be particularly abhorrent. And while all sin is equal before God, the pervasive temptation of humanity to sexual sin is perhaps the most graphic and visceral form of sinfulness. It offers a concrete visualization of how our sin affects the larger body of Christ as well as our own individual bodies. The argument Paul refutes is one that is not unfamiliar to us today. We are physical and sexual entities and free sexual expression is both healthy and desirable so long as everyone involved is OK with it. Wrong, Paul says. Because we are more than just physical bodies, we are spiritual persons as well and our spirits have been united in baptism and faith with the holy and perfect Son of God who offered himself to death and burial in our place. Moreover, sexuality is part of the essence of marriage, and as such is powerful. It binds us to people in far more serious ways than if we were simply scratching an itch or picking up a quick bite to eat because we’re hungry.

John 1:43-51 – Mark’s account of Jesus calling his disciples is very brief (1:16-20), so we utilize John’s slightly more detailed account. The reality of this account rings so clearly after so many years. This is no hyper-spiritualized depiction of the disciples. Nathanael’s question reveals a scorn humor bred by familiarity and undoubtedly reflective of how people closer to Jerusalem viewed the rednecks in Galilee. Yet Nathanael is gifted by God the Holy Spirit with an acute insight into the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. How? At least in part based on the witnesses. Who are the witnesses?

  • Holy Scripture – Nathanael must compare what he experiences to the Word of God
  • John the Baptist – who points his disciples first to Jesus as the Lamb of God
  • Philip – also witnessed to by Scripture and probably John the Baptist, now witnessing to Nathanael
  • Jesus – who personally demonstrates a knowledge of Nathanael that Nathanael can only explain in light of the the other witnesses

Epiphany is a season celebrating revelation and the readings bear this out. God reveals himself to Samuel, and then through Samuel to Eli despite the fact that God has not spoken in this way with his people for a long time. In breaking his silence, God inaugurates a new time of ministry for his people. Likewise God speaks to and through John the Baptist after centuries of prophetic silence, and John reveals Jesus, the Lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world. Jesus reveals himself to Nathanael and the others, who in turn will spend the rest of their lives in faithful witness to what they have seen and heard and what the Holy Spirit has guided them towards. We today carry on this legacy and privilege. We bear witness not only to what we have heard from others and read in the Bible, but also how these truths have borne themselves out in our lives. We bear witness to a hope anchored in an empty tomb revealed not only in history, but also in the ongoing lives of God’s people.

A&tCL I

January 4, 2018

This is the first of what will likely be many entries, all introduced by this entry and focused on the topic of Alcohol and the Christian Life, which I will treat both individually and corporately as The Church.  I’ll use the same title for each one (A&tCL), incremented numerically so it should be easy for you to search and find the related posts.  Or you can read the next post here.

I’ve just finished combing through the entire Old Testament for references to wine as translated by 12 different English Bibles.  There are roughly different 20 Hebrew words in some way associated with wine or wine making, of which 11 seem to be pertinent to the drink itself (as opposed to machinery like a wine press, which I’m not addressing in this study) and occur in some form in the Old Testament.  There are at least 183 verses in the Old Testament that mention wine in some way.  Depending on which translation you’re using, there are roughly between 23,000 and 27,000 verses in the Old Testament.

Nearly every book of the Old Testament mentions wine.  Only the following books don’t:

  • Joshua
  • 1 Kings
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Nahum
  • Malachi

The first mention of wine is with Noah in Genesis 9.  So my first take-away is that wine is a prevalent part of Israelite/Hebrew/Jewish life, and by extension, human life.  It pre-dates the flood because Noah knows how to plant a vineyard and harvest and ferment grapes, which means he knew how to do that (likely) prior to the Flood.  The fact that it is mentioned throughout the Old Testament and spans roughly a millenia of divinely-inspired writing means that wine was a consistent part and presence of life for God’s people and therefore, by extension, just about all people.  This isn’t a judgment yet on whether that presence was good or bad, simply an acknowledgment that in some way or another it was present and being acknowledged in God’s inspired Word.

I’m using wine as the basis for this study because it is far and away (other than water) the most frequently mentioned beverage in the Bible and I believe that it is a good metric to use in determining what the Bible has to say about alcohol consumption in general.

The next stage is to examine each of the 11 Hebrew words that I’ve culled from the Old Testament books.  The goal is to understand any important differences or nuances between the words that might affect usage or reveal intent in choosing certain words for certain purposes.   Could it be that fermented/alcoholic wine is forbidden while non-alcoholic grape juice is not?  This kind of comparison of the words will hopefully enable me to pick up on this if it is the case.  I’ll be looking for patterns in the choice of words used by authors in similar situations.

I do this with no small amount of dread and trepidation.  I was required to learn Hebrew in Seminary (along with Koine Greek).  But I am by no means a Greek or Hebrew scholar.  In a decade of official ministry I can count on one hand the number of times where my knowledge of these languages has been inadequate or crucial to any particular ministerial or evangelical act or conversation, yet I carry a guilt that daily (or even annual!) study of these languages is not part of my ministry.  For the Hebrew study portion of this project, I’m referring to The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDAG) as my starting point.  I haven’t touched this book in over a decade.  It still smells and look new (if dusty).  I don’t pretend that my level of work is going to be very impressive, but I trust it will be good enough for my purpose.  I welcome (and will seek out to the best of my ability) wiser minds to weigh in on these words and their usage if it seems prudent or helpful.

I have two other resources sitting on my desk at the moment as well:

  • Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon – this appears to provide a more succinct definition of words, but doesn’t link to Strong’s Concordance numbers, which is the referent that e-Sword uses, so I likely won’t use this resource as much.  I inherited this from a retired pastor and it was the lexicon used by my seminary years prior to my time there.  I am gratified to see that his copy looks pretty new as well, despite being several decades older than mine!
  • A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament – again, very brief and not linked to Strong’s Concordance so it will be harder for me to use this because my Hebrew is so bad to begin with.  I picked this up at seminary as a companion to the BDAG and is in equally pristine condition.

Strong’s Concordance is shorthand for The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  First published in 1890 by James Strong, this has become the go-to open source for Biblical word study.  It is an index of every single word that appears in the King James Bible.  This means that it’s usefulness is limited, but it is a helpful starting place for me to get a handle on the Hebrew without having to reteach myself the language completely.  It functions as a link between my word search and the resources listed above.  It is integrated into e-Sword and I have a hard copy of it as well.

For what it’s worth, there are plenty of books I’m sure on this topic (though a brief survey of our denominational publishing house  was pretty disappointing).  But in order to try and ensure minimal theological bias (or at least a known theological bias compared to an unknown one!), I’m taking on this task.

All right.  Time to hit the book(s)!

 

Alcohol & the Christian Life

January 3, 2018

Last week I was called an alcoholic by someone who has never met me or spoken to me.  Based on circumstances of their life experiences with addiction (first and second-hand) and the fact that I drink alcohol and also serve alcohol to other people from time to time, and based on their interpretation of Scripture, they concluded that I’m likely an alcoholic and that I’m leading others (including my children) into alcoholism.

Today – at my request – I sat down and spoke with that person, as well as her daughter and mother.  I was informed initially that they agreed to the meeting only to share their perspectives and experiences with me so I would understand where they were coming from.  Fair enough.  I arrived prepared to listen to their personal experiences.  However when I arrived, I was informed that their purpose had changed, and that their intent was to convince me that alcohol is evil and an inappropriate thing to either enjoy responsibly personally or to offer responsibly to another person as part of hospitality and generosity.  Especially for a pastor, and especially if a congregation was supporting this activity in some way.   And then to demand that I agree to certain things and that the congregation I serve agree to certain things.

All of this not because anything bad has ever happened at Sunday Happy Hour.  Not because anyone who has ever visited has complained about the presence of alcohol  or the way in which I serve it.  Not because of any actual problem at all.  Simply because some of these folks are convinced alcohol is inherently evil, and some of the folks are convinced that a pastor and a church should never utilize alcohol in any sort of public ministry (other than Holy Communion, I assume) because of our larger alcohol culture.

It hasn’t been a fun week.  Hopefully your end off 2017 and start of 2018 was more enjoyable!

My denomination prides itself on refraining as much as possible from saying things definitively that Scripture itself is not definitive about, just as we strive very hard not to ignore anything that Scripture is definitive about.  We are imperfect in this to be sure.  But if you hold that all of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) then you have to at least try.  So in dealing with the accusations and demands that have been made, my main concern is to go to Scripture and see what it has to say.  I don’t really care if a Happy Hour ministry is unconventional.  There are lots of unconventional approaches to ministry – ask any missionary.  Some mission approaches have elements of risk to them, but that’s not my primary concern at this point either.  Risk is not in itself sinful.  My primary concern is whether involving alcohol in a Christian function is sinful.  And to figure that out, I go not to personal experiences or popular practices or Twitter or Facebook but to the Bible to see what the Bible has to say.

And certainly on the issue of alcohol, Scripture has a lot to say.  Hundreds of verses that refer to wine in one way or another.  And we have to pay attention to all of it rather than just cherry-pick the few verses that support our position.  That’s how I’m attempting to deal with the things I’ve been called to my face as well as in other discussions that I’m not privy to.  I go to Scripture to make sure that I understand what it is saying to the best of my ability, so I can provide my congregation and family both corporately and individually with good theological guidance.  Any of you who wish to weigh in on this topic here are free to do so (including the folks directly involved with this who are likely still reading).  As long as you’re respectful, I want to hear what you have to say and I’ll post it in the comments section of the appropriate post so others can see and hear what you have to say and weigh in as well.

To start my study on this topic, I’m utilizing a basic multi-translation Bible tool called e-Sword.  I’ve been using it for years instead of paying big bucks for the more professional programs that I wouldn’t use very often.  E-Sword is available either as a downloadable program or an app (both free!).  I  think it’s a very good baseline tool for casual interaction with the original languages as well as multiple English translations.

I’m using a public domain derivation source for the Hebrew (Old Testament) verses, and the Textus Receptus and Westcott-Hort translations of the Greek New Testament in addition to the Septuagint (Old and New Testaments in Greek).  While these may not be the best translations, I trust that for basic word study purposes they’re serviceable.  If any of my colleagues out there have anything pertinent to share as a warning about these translations, feel free to let me know.

To start with I’m doing a basic search across multiple (12) recent and historic English translations for every occurrence of the word wine in Scripture.  I’m then going through every single verse individually to see what the original language word is that is being translated as wine.  Since different English translations sometimes translate differently (duh!), I’m getting an interesting cross-section of Hebrew words that are sometimes –  but not always – translated as wine by some, but not all, English translations.  I’m only through Isaiah but there are so far eleven different Hebrew words that are sometimes translated as wine and/or strong drink.  Some of them have only been used once or twice, but there are two that far and away have the most occurrences.  It will be interesting to see how many different Greek words are used in the New Testament!

Once I’ve done that, I’ll research each of the words, trying to determine important differentiations or nuances that govern their usage and occurrence.  That will help me when I attempt to clarify the use of the word within not just the single verse but the overall pericope or section of Scripture.  Sometimes the context is a warning.  Other times it’s a celebration.  Other times it’s a divine promise.  I want to be able to clearly lay out all the different contexts that wine and/or strong drink is referred to in Scripture.

Then it shouldn’t be too difficult to group these contexts into more general categories.  Does Scripture clearly and unambiguously prohibit wine and drink from God’s people?  If it doesn’t (which is my assumption and understanding going into this study), then what should God’s people draw from Scriptural discussions of alcohol?  If it does unambiguously prohibit God’s people from alcohol, I’ll have some major thinking to do about why my particular polity and a good chunk (if not majority) of Christian scholarship through the centuries has ignored or avoided talking about this.

Then the discussion becomes one regarding the role of God’s corporate people – The Church – with alcohol.  Is alcohol something that should be condoned in the lives of God’s people grudgingly or reluctantly, but strictly forbidden in the corporate Church?  All of which drives towards the ultimate question – is it sinful for a Church to sponsor or engage in a ministry where alcohol is served to people, even if it is being done in a prudent and careful manner?

As part of these discussions, there has also been an argument made that alcohol itself – the fermented byproducts of fruit and other organic materials – is inherently sinful in and of itself.  It isn’t part of God’s goodness in creation, but rather something the Devil has injected into the mix.  Again, what does the Bible say on this topic and how do we determine practice based on what Scripture says?

The issue of alcohol is a complicated one because, as I’ve often noted on this blog, it can be so destructive in people’s lives.  My working presumption is that rather than just avoiding the topic and practice completely, the Church can and perhaps even should model what responsible alcohol consumption looks like.  If our culture dominates the discussion about alcohol and dominates it with an insistence that it should be enjoyed to excess more often than not (legal disclaimers aside), is there a place for the Church to say not simply no, but rather not so much?   Again, my working practice has been to say yes, and Sunday Happy Hour is a place where this has and does happen.

There are certainly Christians who insist that alcohol cannot be partaken without sin, or that the odds of sin are so great that it should just be prohibited.  Some of their Biblical arguments towards this end rely on arguments that wine in Scripture isn’t wine like we think of today (fermented and alcoholic), but rather grape juice – negligibly fermented, essentially non-alcoholic freshly squeezed grape juice.  Just in my preliminary foray into the word study it’s clear that the Hebrew is able to make this distinction (but more often than not does not – or doesn’t appear to use it purposefully).  Do their arguments have linguistic merit?  Or is it an attempt to justify their theological conclusions and doctrines by reinterpreting Scripture to their liking?  Is that what I’m doing just because I enjoy cocktails?

Time will tell, but I’ll keep all of you informed as I move along the process.

 

 

Reading Ramblings – Epiphany – January 6, 2018

December 31, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Epiphany Sunday – January 6, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-15; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Context: Epiphany is like the second half of Christmas. Whereas Christmas celebrates and emphasizes that God became human, Epiphany celebrates and emphasizes that the person Jesus of Nazareth is also the divine eternal Son of God. The celebration dates from at least the fourth century, where observances are recorded in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Isaiah 60:1-6 – A restoration of Israel’s glory and preeminence is prophesied here, bound up with the Lord’s appearance. This appearance seems specific to God’s people – causing a light to be witnessed by the other nations and prompting their journey to God’s people. Curiosity is no doubt a motivation, but perhaps ultimately it is recognition of God’s presence with and among his people, so that other nations and leaders come to bow down and worship. In the process, they bring with them God’s dispersed peoples from near and far. This all corresponds with a restoration of God’s people’s wealth and prestige in the world. The coming of the Son of God among the people of God has established this reality in part already, and it will be fulfilled completely in the day of his glorious return.

Psalm 72:1-11 – This coronation psalm was likely used at the installation of a new king. It begins as a prayer for God to bless the king with gifts necessary for the well-being of the king’s subjects – God’s people. Justice and righteousness are the foremost requests (vs.1-4) because when these are in place, the people can prosper under God’s blessings (v.3). The kings enemies should be put in fear of him (v.5), but to his friends and loyal subjects his reign and power should be gentle and soft (v.6). As he receives the Lord’s blessings, a long reign is a desirable thing (v.7). Verses 8-11 elaborate on the breadth of the king’s rule, indicating peace from troublesome neighbors and within Israel’s borders. Verses 12-15 elaborate further on why the king should be honored so – namely because he does not simply dispense justice to the wealthy and privileged, but uses his power and position to protect the vulnerable and marginalized. It’s obviously a wonderful list of attributes for any ruler, but certainly one that we will never witness fully and completely outside of the reign of the King of Kings, the God-man Jesus.

Ephesians 3:1-12 – Paul’s evangelistic ministry is to take the good news of Jesus the Christ to those unfamiliar with the prophecies concerning him, those who don’t know that they should be waiting for him. Some of this is also new – the Hebrews received the Word of God in prophesy and promise, but it wasn’t fully revealed until the Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. This was a surprise to God’s people, but it also needs to be explained to the non-Jews because part of the unexpected nature of Jesus is that He comes for the non-Jews as well as the Jews! God himself has enabled and equipped Paul for this specialized ministry. The amazing thing is that this isn’t just good news for humanity, but it is a witness of God’s power and wisdom to spiritual entities. In other words, God’s plan of salvation is intended not simply to reconcile a fallen humanity but to speak of his greatness to the spiritual powers. Does this mean angels? One would expect that angels would be well aware of this already as they serve God! Could it be that the witness is to those spiritual entities who have set themselves in opposition to God, namely Lucifer and his followers? The possibilities are fascinating but Paul does not give us more insight here.

Matthew 2:1-12 – The visit of the magi is a traditional emphasis (along with Jesus’ baptism) for Epiphany. We can certainly see how this episode in the early life of Jesus fits in well with the prophetic nature of the reading from Isaiah 60 as well as the psalm for the day. Here, foreigners come from afar in search of the fulfillment of prophecy. Who they are is never fully disclosed. The Biblical etymology of magi in the Bible can infer magicians, but this is not the more common, non-Biblical association. Long-standing tradition dating back to Herodotus is that these were priests from Persia, though there is no explanation for this assertion. In any event, there is no suggestion from extra-Biblical sources that these might have been literal kings, and the early Church Fathers did not assert this either. The Biblical text does not specify a number, but early on the tradition of three developed in association with the three named gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), but in the Eastern church the tradition is of 12 magi. In the West, their names are allegedly Balthasar, Melchior, and and Gaspar, but again there is no historical basis for this tradition.

The tradition of the magi visiting the Holy Family in the manger is likely erroneous. Given that Herod slays all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger (Matthew 2:16),it is possible that the magi arrived much later. Some favor the idea that they visit the Holy Family in Bethlehem but not at the manger, and prior to the angel’s warning to Joseph to flee to Egypt.

It seems clear that they were unusual visitors at the very least, and a curious interjection into the Gospels and birth narrative. Similar to Melchizedek in Genesis 14, to me the magi represent the reminder that while God has worked through his own chosen people, it is not as though nobody else in the world is aware of what God has promised through his Scriptures. The Holy Spirit works in his own way to accomplish the plans of God, and the foreign visitors are a reminder that the Holy Spirit is in no wise limited as to who or where or when He works – something we would do well to remember also!

Jesus is the baby in the manger but also the King of Kings, worthy of rich offerings such as what the magi offer. While partially prophetic fulfillment, they are a reminder to us of who it is we proclaim to be Lord, and what the proper posture is before our Lord and Savior.

When we were still under the papacy, they used to tell this story. Once a time the devil attended Mass in a church where it was customary in either the Lord’s Prayer or in the Creed to sing: “Et homo factus est,” that is, “Gods’ Son became a human being.” While they were singing this, the people just remained standing and did not kneel down. The devil was so incensed, that he slammed his fist into one man’s mouth saying, “You boorish bum, aren’t you ashamed to just stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy? If God had become OUR brother, as he did YOUR brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.”

~ Martin Luther – Fourth Sermon for Holy Christmas Day, 1534 ~