God as Divine Warrior

When you hear people talk about salvation it is often in that some day, over there type discussion. It is true that salvation has components that have not yet taken place (Rom 13:11). But it is also true that in the here and now God is fighting for us. In both testaments the word salvation has the connotation of deliverance…there is a problem, a tension, a struggle that we are in that we need rescued from. We need help from the outside by one more powerful than ourselves. In the Bible salvation and deliverance are thought of in terms of present day physical circumstances (enemies surrounding me and trying to take my life) as well as spiritual circumstances (our need for deliverance from sin and death).

One of the metaphors for God in scripture is God as the divine warrior. He is the one who is fighting on our behalf to bring deliverance, rescue, and salvation from the perils we face in life. When Moses and God’s people crossed the Red Sea and pharaoh and his army were crushed in the sea they sang a song of victory because they had been delivered from the Egyptians and slavery. They sang,

“I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea.

2 The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

3 The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.

4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea. [a]

5 The deep waters have covered them;
they sank to the depths like a stone.

6 “Your right hand, O LORD,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, O LORD,
shattered the enemy

7 In the greatness of your majesty
you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
it consumed them like stubble.”
– Exodus 15:1-7

God’s power and might are emphasized here. He is a great warrior coming to battle on their behalf. He has the power and authority to overcome any who oppose him (even sin and death – 1 Cor 15:24-28, 50-58). There are many other places God and his angels are depicted as warriors. Just before the Hebrews went were to fight against Jericho he encounters the “commander of the army of the Lord” (Joshua 5:13-15) who stood before him with a sword drawn in his hand. We see this in the term “Lord of hosts” in the Hebrew Old Testament. God has hosts of powerful angels at his disposal to do his bidding and to lead into battle to fight on our behalf and bring reconciliation to the world through the defeat of evil, sin and death. We see it when David fought Goliath and his reference to God as “the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Sam 17:45). The whole point is, it is God who wins the victories for us in both the physical and spiritual realm. Obviously God doesn’t need a sword, shield or bow to fight against sin and death or any of the struggles we are facing but the point is the same. He is powerful. He is interested in our finding success and victory through Him and His power and ultimately we will gain the victory only because God was on our side fighting for us.

Psalm 124

1 If the LORD had not been on our side—
let Israel say-

2 if the LORD had not been on our side
when men attacked us,

3 when their anger flared against us,
they would have swallowed us alive;

4 the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,

5 the raging waters
would have swept us away.

6 Praise be to the LORD,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.

7 We have escaped like a bird
out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.

8 Our help is in the name of the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

We find this in the New Testament as well. In the ministry of Jesus we find him bringing salvation and deliverance to a number of circumstances. What is interesting is that several translations leave out this connection because Christianity has so traditionally been so focused on salvation being about getting to heaven that we have missed the point that salvation is just as much about God working in the here and now to make things right. Translations like the NIV often use words like “heal” where the underlying meaning has a lot to do with being rescued. For instance, in Luke 8:48 he tells the woman who had been bleeding for years that her faith has “healed her.” That same verb can be translated “save” or “to bring salvation to.” In other words, Jesus is saying there is more happening here than just her body feeling better. He is saying that he is bringing restoration to her and making her more in line with how God intended for her to be.

It is important for us as Christians to realize that God is ready and able to work in our lives in a significant way. When God answers our prayers for healing we should realize there is more going on there than just I was feeling bad and now I feel good. God is working on our behalf, fighting for us in ways that we cannot comprehend. Even more so when it comes to sin and forgiveness. Somehow we are more amazed at an illness healed than a sin forgiven. We get more awestruck by cancer that has vanished than we do a lost person who is found. Both are significant and both should continue to amaze us because in both instances we realize that it only happens because God is fighting for us in a way just as significant as the way he fought against the Egyptians or Jericho or Goliath. The point is the same. Victory only comes through his name (Acts 4:12).

If we ever have a doubt about the power and authority of God let us remind ourselves that those who had first hand experiences and conversations with him often depicted him as a mighty warrior with all power and authority.


What Can We Learn from False gods of the Bible?

There are some things that are just not up for debate when it comes to deciding what to believe as Christians. One of those things is that there is only one God.There are not household gods, city gods, and gods for different parts of nature and culture. There is only one God (Deut 6:4). There are many things we can disagree on and have different opinions about. But as Christians this is something we must all agree on. The moment you say there are multiple “gods” running around and Jehovah God is just one amongst many you lose the very essence of Christianity because you put God in competition for authority with others and scripture makes it clear that is not the case.

You probably learned in school about ancient mythology and the gods of the Greeks. There were different gods with different areas of responsibility. You have the god of war and the goddess of wisdom. The same was true of other ancient cultures including many cultures that surrounded and were concomitant with the ancient Hebrews. The Egyptians, Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Persians, and many others celebrated and worshiped multiple gods. For instance, you remember when Cyrus became king of Persia and he sent the Jews back to Israel and reversed their exile/captivity. He wasn’t just being a nice guy. His belief was that if he could let all these nations the now conquered Babylonians had dispersed all over the place go back home and worship their gods on their own soil that his kingdom would prosper and that the gods would show him favor.

The importance of studying contemporary culture:
We see this reflected in scripture in many places. In fact, having a cursory understanding of how the surrounding cultures viewed their “gods” can have a dramatic impact on how we read and understand scripture. Like any document we study, it is important to try to understand their culture so that we can try to hear things like they heard them. When we do that, many texts we have read many times will sound different to us and meanings we never noticed before will jump out at us because we are hearing the text with an understanding of their own background.

How did cultures develop the idea of multiple gods?
It all comes down to power/control and survival. Strip away all your ideas of science and scripture and stand in a time 6000 years ago where man is doing what man has always tried to do – understand and make sense of the world around him. The number one concern is survival. The number one means of survival is food. The factors that make having food abundant include factors out of our control (sun, rain, etc). Logically, if man is dependent on food for survival and the food/crops are dependent on sun and rain for survival then wouldn’t it make sense that the rain and sun might also depend on something greater than themselves?

The ancients believed that if you could name a power you might find a way to control or manipulate that power for your own good. This is what idolatry comes down to. We often think people made idols because they wanted something to worship. But it is more than that. They make idols are representations of beings they believe live above and apart from us in an effort to give that god glory and praise in hopes that the god might show them favor. So idol worship is a selfish act of manipulation and control rather than worshiping something out of love, respect, and adoration. There is no commitment when it comes to worshiping and idol. If it doesn’t answer, find yourself another god who might and make an idol of him to try to manipulate and control. We see hints of that in Mark 9:38 where the disciples complain that they found a man casting out demons in Jesus name and they wanted to stop him. There is an example of this in Acts 19 with the sons of Sceva where the attempt fails. Ancient culture believed there was power and authority in a name.

So what did they do? They named gods for the areas they believed could be manipulated for their own good (sun, rain, sea, fertility, etc). We read about some of these in the Old Testament. Baal was the god of the storm/rain/lightning and fertility. Asherah was goddess of the sea. We find examples of how they used the gods to explain the cycles of nature. The Canaanites explained the seasons by saying that Baal (god of fertility and the storm) would get together with Anat (goddess of war) and they would make sweet lovin which would result in springtime. A short while later Mot, god of death, would come and slay Baal in a great cosmic battle. With the ceasing of rains and fertility came winter time. Anat was none to please so she came and retrieved Baal’s body, putting him back together. Then they could make love again and bring on the spring time the following year.

gods like us:
What is interesting in this example is you notice when man makes up gods they sound a lot like man. They are killing each other having incestuous relationships and on and on the list could go of evil cruelties they doled out against each other in an effort to gain dominance and superiority. These are gods made in the image of mankind.

It is quite unlike what we find in scripture. In scripture, the one true God is holy and other than us. He does not vie for power. He does not have competition for authority. We are made in his image and not the other way around. In fact, the creation story is a direct attack on the gods of the land and a competing narrative for how this world began that shows Jehovah God being greater than the powers of the universe. For instance, the Canaanites believed in Yam, the god of the sea (which is also the Hebrew word for sea). They believed he was a god of chaos, just as the sea is an unpredictable place. When you read in Genesis 1 that God created the heavens and the earth and that by just his words alone his brought control over the seas and put them in their place. This is a direct attack against pagan idolatry and polytheism. God is in charge of the heavens, not El and not Baal. God has power over the sea not Yam or Asherah.

Not only that but Jehovah God is interested in us. He is not distant and unconcerned or uncommitted. He has exerted himself into our situation in order to bring salvation and reconciliation to his creation. He is not self-absorbed or self-interested. He cares for us! That is quite unlike the “gods” of the world.

Reading the Bible with this in mind:
Creation –
There are several places in scripture where this impacts our reading. The creation account was already mentioned.

Exodus – A second place we see this is in the Exodus. There is a little verse tucked into Exodus 12:12 where we learn that the plagues of Egypt were done in judgment of the Egyptian gods. It is an easy verse to pass right over but it sheds light on what was happening with the plagues in Exodus 7. God was putting the “gods” of Egypt in their place. Think about it for a moment. What Egyptian gods can you name? Probably Re, god of the sun. How do the plagues address him? The plague of darkness is a slap in his face and shows his authority and power to be zero. The Egyptians had a god for the Nile, a god for the frogs and even Pharaoh himself was believed to be a god. God put them all in their place and showed his own control over them. Nahum Sarna even points out that Heqt, the frog god, also had connections with fertility/childbirth. So it could be a double slap in the face for killing the Hebrew baby boys (Exploring Exodus, 79).

It would then make sense that when God gives them the 10 commandments in Exodus 20 that he would start with establishing himself as supreme.

“And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…”

God is showing himself to have supreme authority even over the “gods” they saw the Egyptians worship for the last 400 years. And remember, the Egyptians were successful people. They would appear to be blessed by the gods with all they were able to accomplish. Yet, God establishes himself among his people as superior and of greater authority than anything they saw in Egypt.

Conquest – A third place we see this influence is in the conquest of the Promised Land. We often have trouble with the book of Joshua because of the killing of innocent women and children. It is a difficult thing to explain away. Deuteronomy does give us some insight as does this discussion on foreign gods and the mindset that comes along with them. God didn’t want his people to fall into idolatry and the mindset that they could manipulate and control the forces of the universe to get what they want. Deuteronomy 12 gives us some insight. God tells them to destroy all their places of worship to false gods when they get in the land. God goes on to forbid them from worshipping him in the same ways as the pagans worshiped their gods (Deut 12:29-31):

“The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”

Why would this be tempting? Some have postulated it was because of their leap from shepherding to farming. If you remember when the spies came back they told of the great bounty of the land. A shepherd might have a tough time tending grapes! So what do you do? Ask the locals how they did it. What do they tell you? Do this and that and make sure to worship Baal to get his blessing on your field. Just that easily the people fall into worshiping false gods.

Psalms – We see direct attacks on Canaanite gods in the psalms. In some cases we see God given the titles that the Canaanites had given to Baal like “rider on the clouds” (Psalm 104). See Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament, 77)

Isaiah – There was a comment on the blog over a year ago where someone said the NIV was from the anti-Christ because it called Jesus and the devil the same thing – “morning star.” This was in reference to Isa 14:12 where the Latin Vulgate translated the word Helel as “Lucifer.” We think Satan when we hear that term but literally it just means “light bearer.”  The KJV translated it “Lucifer” and the NIV “morning star.” This commenter pointed out that in Rev 22:16 Jesus is called the morning star and so they believed the NIV put Jesus on level with the devil when that is not what is happening at all. Instead, Isaiah is calling out the King of Babylon for comparing himself to God (Isa 14:14).

Here is where Greek mythology helps us understand what Isaiah was getting at – “The Hebrew word helel means “shining one”; this and other features of the poetry led a number of scholars to suggest that the mythological background of the petry was to be found in the Greek myth of Phaethon. Phaethon, in the Greek story, was the “shining” son of Helios, who attempted to drive his father’s golden chariot but was unable to control the massive power of its horses. The parallel is contructive, for like Phaethon, the Babylonian king attempted to assert powers that were too great for him; his inadequacy would result in his doom,” (Craigie, 86).

The result, like Phaethon, would be a fall from great heights (Isa 14:12-17),

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!

13 You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. [c]

14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”

15 But you are brought down to the grave,
to the depths of the pit.

16 Those who see you stare at you,
they ponder your fate:
“Is this the man who shook the earth
and made kingdoms tremble,

17 the man who made the world a desert,
who overthrew its cities
and would not let his captives go home?”

When you read it in context, this is obviously talking about the king of Babylon and not any ploy on the part of the NIV translators to parallel Jesus with the devil! The parallels are clear with ancient mythology and that allows us to make the same connections Isaiah was making when he wrote this. Here and in many other examples we could cite, we see just how important it is to know the stories they knew in order to make the same comparisons they were making and not make false conclusions about scripture and even Bible translations. It is important that we are informed about these things.

When we look at the “gods” of the surrounding cultures and see how they compared the one, true God to His “competetors” you can’t help but see that there was no comparison. It helps us see just how dissimilar the real God is from anything made up by mankind. That builds my faith and helps me appreciate how just and involved God is in the affairs of the world he created. It gives me a renewed appreciation for God’s interest in His creation and his active role in bringing redemption and reconciliation to a broken and  hurting world.

Psalm 119 – An Appreciation for God’s Word

Psalm 119 is one of the most interesting psalms in the book of Psalms. Not only do modern translations retain the Hebrew letters to give us a heads up that this is a Hebrew acrostic, the contents of the psalm are fascinating and very worthwhile for us to glean something beneficial from. When you read this psalm, his hunger for God’s Word is unmistakable. He is intensely zealous to read it, digest it, and let its nutrients drive his body to action for the good of God’s people. He makes the connection that knowledge of God and God’s Word should result in obedience. That is a concept that some today seem to have forgotten or have become less worried about. There is also an unmistakable connection between God’s Word and blessing.

Now for your homework. Take out a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle of it. On the left side write the heading “Benefits of God’s Word” and on the right side write “Action items.” Once you are ready read the psalm and as you go make a list of these two things under each heading with verse numbers for later reference. So, how does God’s word benefit or bless those who study it (e.g. they are blessed – 119:1, leads to pure ways – 119:9, etc) and what are we expected to do with God’s Word (e.g. hide it in our hearts – 119:11, have it on our lips – 119:13, etc). Feel free to comment here with your lists.

Overcoming the Christian Misperceptions of What Blessings are All About

One of the problems we face as we think about blessings is that Christian teaching and preaching have typically viewed the blessing as being about the receipt of material or spiritual benefit. As Kent Richards points out in his article on blessing in Anchor Bible Dictionary, “The primary factor of blessing is the statement of relationship between parties.” This has some pretty serious implications. What does it mean to ask God to bless us as Christians if the primary benefit of how God blesses us is the relationship itself? How can a rich country feel it is more blessed than a poorer country when the blessing is in the relationship and not material possessions? The same with neighborhoods and urban centers where the rich and poor live side by side.

It is extremely important as Christians that we get off the health and wealth bandwagon and realize that our relationship with God is THE primary blessing of the Christian life. All else is secondary.

Another thing that is important to realize is that when the relationship becomes the main focus of the blessing, not only does God bless us but we bless Him. Have a look at Psalm 103 and 104. In the NIV you see the word “Praise” being used over and over again but in the Hebrew it is the word for bless and literally reads, “Bless the Lord, my soul.” Ultimately the book of psalms is a book of praise but it must be understood that it is praise that comes forth out of one being in proper relationship with God and understanding what the blessing is all about. It is not that we have much to offer God but it does seem that God is blessed by the relationship he has with us because scripture is clear over and over again that God has a great desire for his people. Isn’t that something that by being in relationship with God you can actually bless him back and that he benefits from the relationship as well. How can I say that? I cannot say that if we keep on with the material view of blessing. I can say that if we view blessing for what it was meant to be – relational.

Blessing is not in the receiving. Blessing is in the being…being in relationship with God just as He designed us to be.

Growing Closer to God in All Seasons of Life

The 23rd Psalm is probably the most often quoted passage in the Bible. Our youth minister Joel and I were reflecting on how to teach teens about spirituality. It occurred to me that spirituality is more than just a series of consecutive mountaintop experiences. David writes about times like that with his shepherd but he also talks about time in the valley of darkness. To me this psalm is about the totality of a relationship with the shepherd. It is a relationship of mountains and valleys, of lush and safe pastures as well as dangerous ones where the rod and staff bring comfort.

We often dumb spirituality down to isolated components like praying and reading scripture. That basically results in our spiritual “how to” manuals that say the key to spirituality is to pray more and read your Bible more. What that approach ignores is that time with God is more than a list of practices. It is life with the shepherd in all seasons of life and in a variety of places, some of which are more exciting and some more dangerous than others. We often associate the mountains as time of spiritual renewal and vitality and the valleys as times of spiritual weakness but that isn’t necessarily so. The one who understands and experiences a rich walk with his creator is one who knows that the valleys have just as high a spiritual high as the mountain tops. It may well be that the valleys of life bring us closer to our creator than the green pastures.

Is God Like the IRS?

Tax time is just around the corner. We have been getting all those forms in the mail and I have just started crunching the numbers (thanks to Turbo Tax!). Turbo Tax certainly makes things a lot easier because I used to do it all by hand. Either way there is this feeling as you decipher through the tax codes, forms, pubs, and all the rest that the IRS is out there to trip you up. Surely that is not really the case but that can certainly be the feeling you get from trying to understand how to do your taxes based on the best available information out there. I wonder if some people have a similar view of God. I am sure there are many people out there who think God is like the IRS. Maybe there is even a trinitarian take on this – One writes the code (the ideal way things should be filled out = how life should be lived), the second receives the data and reviews it to see whose life didn’t line up with the code. The third does an audit of our lives (judgment day) to see just how bad the penalties are.

That would be a pretty good take on a legalistic and angry God who wants nothing more than to see us as sinners and punish us accordingly. Unfortunately many have that kind of view of God. Fortunately it isn’t the truth…It is not what the Bible has told us about who God really is and how he really acts. That misconstrued legalistic kind of God is the Gospel minus the grace. That is the cross minus the empty tomb and resurrection. That is a church who knows how to exert authority and dole out church discipline but remains clueless on how to love unconditionally.

Is God like the IRS? Is he just waiting for us to slip up so he can punish us? Of course not! Hear these words from someone who knew God very well:

Psalm 86

A prayer of David.

1 Hear, O LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy. 2 Guard my life, for I am devoted to you.
You are my God; save your servant
who trusts in you.

3 Have mercy on me, O Lord,
for I call to you all day long.

4 Bring joy to your servant,
for to you, O Lord,
I lift up my soul.

5 You are forgiving and good, O Lord,
abounding in love to all who call to you.

6 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
listen to my cry for mercy.

7 In the day of my trouble I will call to you,
for you will answer me.

8 Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;
no deeds can compare with yours.

9 All the nations you have made
will come and worship before you, O Lord;
they will bring glory to your name.

10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
you alone are God.

11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.

12 I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.

13 For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.

14 The arrogant are attacking me, O God;
a band of ruthless men seeks my life—
men without regard for you.

15 But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;
grant your strength to your servant
and save the son of your maidservant.

17 Give me a sign of your goodness,
that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
for you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

Sound like an angry tax man to you?

Ugarit and the Old Testament

I have recently finished a book called Ugarit and the Old Testament by Peter Craigie. He tells the story of the discovery and translation of thousands of tablets of a culture contemporary with much of the early Old testament. What is so important about this archaeological discovery? The texts they have unearthed at Ugarit are in a cognate of Hebrew that has many words that parallel and potentially shed light on several biblical texts as well as the culture of the surrounding region.

The written texts are important not only for the study of Ugarit’s life and history; they are also vital for the comparative study of the world of Ugarit and the Old Testament world. Their value is increased by the relative lack of similar textual evidence from the southern geographical region of Paelstine in which the Hebrews settled early in the biblical period. From the historical period of the Old Testament, very few ancient texts have been recovered by archaeologists. Complete Hebrew inscriptions from the early biblical period number less than twenty and none of them are long…The few surviving Hebrew inscriptions, together with two Moabite inscriptions, constitute the principal epigraphic evidence of a relatively early date that is relevant to the study of the Old Testament. But, with the exception of the biblical text itself, nothing has survived from the early period that could be called literature in the proper sense.” (Craigie, 44).

The excavation of the tell at Ugarit (also known as Ras Shamra) contained many religious, mercantile, and political archives that shed light on the meaning of the Old Testament. It would be similar to a society that knew of the United States and was growing in its knowledge of English and then discovered several thousand Latin texts – the language is not identical but some words are nearly verbatim. The difference being Latin is not nearly as contemporary with modern day English as Ugarit’s language was with biblical Hebrew.

What effect has this had on biblical interpretation? It has impacted our view of several of the songs or poems of the Old Testament. Ugarit’s poetry employed some of the same tools like parallelism that the Hebrew Bible contains. The narrative and religious texts of Ugarit have helped us understand the stories of the false gods mentioned in the Old Testament like Baal who was the god of the storm and rider on the clouds (which have biblical parallels now seen as an attack on the false gods of the surrounding nations). The ancient god Yam was god of the sea and represented the primeval forces of chaos. In the Genesis account we see God himself creating the sea and having authority over it and subdues it. Craigie points to about a dozen other biblical texts that are illuminated by a study of the texts from Ugarit. If any of this has piqued your interest you can look here for where to find this book.

See this wikipedia article for more information and further links on the literature from Ugarit.

How Archaeology Helps Us Understand Scripture

Archaeology plays a major role in how we understand the Bible. It is more than Indiana Jones style trips to far away lands in search of lost treasures or the holy grail. In a practical way, archaeology illuminates scripture as we come to understand the culture and language of the time in more precise ways. Imagine if you lived 2000 years from now and the only thing you had to understand America was a DVD of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Once you learned English based on the best available evidence, you could come up with some pretty strange things that American’s must have been like. From the vantage point of the year 4007 something from 1776 and 1986 may seem relatively contemporary. But from our vantage point we can tell that culturally they are extremely different. Archaeology opens a window to the past that helps us understand their language and customs better as we get closer and closer back in time to those who have gone before us and recorded the history of God’s interactions with His people that was couched in a language that would otherwise be far removed from our understanding.

Archaeology and Translation:

Language and culture change over time. It has only been in the last 300 years or so that we have understood the differences between Classical/Attic Greek and Hellenistic/Koine Greek, which has some implications for the accuracy of our older translations. Additionally, the number of words we have parallels for in extra-bibilical literature also increases our understanding of the biblical text. In 1886 Thayer listed 767 Greek words that were distinct to the New Testament. Today there are less than 50. Do you think that has a profound effect on our understanding of how to translate particular passages? Absolutely. How do we come across these words in extra-biblical literature? Archaeology. For the 50 or so we have left in Greek (more in Hebrew) it makes it difficult to understand what these terms mean when you only have them in one passage. With only a few data points our knowledge of the words in scripture are often not as concrete until we get more and more pieces of the puzzle – land deeds, wills, legal documents, personal letters, etc in biblically contemporary Hebrew and Greek all help us fine tune our understanding of scripture. When you read a modern translation you benefit from those who have looked at these pieces of the puzzle and have put the fruit of their labor into the translation process to give us accurate translations.

God has not handed down an inspired dictionary or lexicon of the Greek or Hebrew languages. We don’t have anyone who was frozen in the year 600 B.C. or 55 A.D. and has recently been thawed out to tell us how things were or what the words meant. There is much to be discovered and that comes through the reconstructive process of archaeology and lexicography. Imagine if you lived 2000 years from now and the only way you could understand what the word “cool” meant was from Ferris Beuller? That would severely limit your understanding of that word and its nuances. Could it be a term about temperature, about popularity or both? But imagine how much your comprehension would improve if you then discovered a Webster’s dictionary and a complete set of Encyclopdia Britannica. Likewise, advances in archaeology give us a greater number of instances and usages of biblical language that give us a richer understanding of the biblical text.

How does this play out practically in scripture? Here are just a few small examples.

Cultural practices:

In Deuteronomy 14:1ff the Hebrews are told not to cut themselves. Why? “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.” In Canaanite religion the story was told how the God El would cut himself in mourning Baal’s death. The point God is making is that his people are not to look like a bunch of pagans. Notice that matches with the rational God gives them in this verse yet the story of the surrounding culture is not present in the Bible. It is only found in the extra-biblical account about Baal and Canaanite religion. That is one example of how reading the literature of the surrounding cultures gives insight into how scripture was heard and understood in their day.


Exodus 15:2, Psalm 118:14, and Isaiah 12:2 all contain a term that has traditionally been translated “song.”

Exo 15:2 – “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”

Psalm 118:14 – “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

Isa 12:2 – “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

The translation of that word has recently been changed to “defense” rather than “song” based on some South Arabic (a cognate of Hebrew) inscriptions that may give some insight into how this term was used by surrounding peoples. The interesting thing here is that in each of these contexts both song and defense seem to fit

Exo 15:1 – “I will sing…the Lord is my strength and my _________.”

Psalm 118 – psalms are associated with song and the surrounding context of this verse is one of battle, so again either translation could fit the context.

Isa 12:1 – “I will praise you, Lord…the Lord is my strength and my ________.”Again, song or defense would fit the context of Isa 12 as well.

We may not all be archaeologists or lexicographers, but it is still important to realize the role these discoveries play in our understanding of scripture. We benefit from them indirectly as we read our Bibles today and all of the work that went on behind the scenes to bring about an accurate translation. Without a doubt archaeology helps us understand the language and culture of scripture.

Rediscovering God – Hearing it Again for the First Time

Philip Yancey wrote, “Strangely, rediscovery may strike a deeper chord than discovery.” (What’s So Amazing About Grace, 52). There are fewer books in the Bible that is more true of than the Psalms. Written over half a century and read now for three thousand years the psalms are valuable in the process of rediscovering God. Much of the Old Testament is narrative or story. The psalms are different. The psalms don’t narrate the story. The psalms reflect on the story.

When we read the narratives of the Old Testament there is a process of discovery at work as we receive glimpses of who God is and how he relates to his people. When we read the psalms we are reading the thoughts of those who are both familiar with the story that existed up to that point yet they were also active participants in the further unfolding of God’s story with his people in their own day. For instance, David could reflect on the events of the Exodus experience as he did in Psalm 80:8. He could also rediscover much about God’s dealings with himself and his own parallels with the exodus experience as he does later on in Psalm 80 (80:19). As the authors of psalms put their thoughts to the parchment their reflections on God’s interaction with their life in the present in light of the stories of the past provide a moment of introspection that results in a rediscovery of God that, as Yancey said, is often deeper and more profound than the initial discovery. It is one thing to remember the history of your people (for example the Exodus). It is quite another to relate that experience to what is happening in your own life.

God’s dealings with his people includes his dealings with you and his dealings with me. It doesn’t stop in Egypt or at the Jordan. It has an impact on us today as well. There is much to discover about the Bible but for the mature Christian much of the richness of scripture comes through rediscovering what we have already known. The core of the Gospel is really pretty simple but it is certainly not mundane or “ordinary”. Let us hear what many of us have heard every week for our entire lives as if we are hearing it for the first time. Let us hear what we have heard so many times in light of our present situation (whether good or bad) and learn something new about God, because we have never before been where we are today in life and that changes how the same scriptures and the same stories impact us. Let us rediscover God.

Proverbs 31:10-31

This is an acrostic poem where the 22 verses start with each of the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet which may signify an attempt at a complete A-Z description of the ideal wife.

A few things to consider (to read Proverbs 31, click here).

What stands out the most in this proverb is her diligence. She is busy providing for her family and breaks down cultural walls as she engages in many of the activities reserved for the males (buying fields and engaging in commerce). This is what we typically hear about in Mother’s Day sermons.

What is slightly more subtle but even more significant is her wisdom. You cannot conclude the ultimate book of wisdom in the Old Testament without mentioning wisdom in a significant way. This is primarily seen in two verses. The first is 31:26 – “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” This verse has two of the most significant words in the Hebrew Old Testament. The first is “hesed” which is at the heart and soul of covenant loyalty. Hesed has overtones of covenant loyalty, faithfulness, and loving kindness. The second word is paired with hesed and it is Torah (law) which we tend to think goes totally against kindness as it imposses restrictions on people. For the Hebrews, these two were inextricably linked. The NIV translates this phrase “faithful instruction” but it could be translated many ways – “the law of loving kindness” or “instruction of loving kindness” are two possibilities.

The second place wisdom appears is in 31:30 – “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman/wife who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” What makes her most beautiful and noble is her respect for God. Out of that loyalty flows the rest of her noble character that makes her as beautiful as she is. That is the ultimate form of wisdom in a wife. The ultimate manifestation of wisdom for the husband is the selection of a wise wife who brings the family honor, is diligent, but most importantly has wisdom rooted in God.

Often we use this chapter to praise women for their diligence but miss the greater point. Women who love and respect God and speak the law of God’s loving kindness to others are worthy of even greater praise.