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Yesterday’s post concerned Melania Trump’s opening her husband’s February 18 rally in Melbourne, Florida with the Lord’s Prayer.

The following day, The_Donald — a welcoming forum for Trump supporters and ex-leftists — featured a long thread about the first lady’s call to prayer.

Most of The_Donald’s readers are Millennials and gamers. They also do not mince words. Sometimes their language is salty. Therefore, it was heartening to read their support of prayer.

Selected comments follow, demonstrating that perhaps the United States is returning to the Lord. And, as others know, where the US goes, the rest of the world often follows. Emphases mine below.

FullMetalSquirrel: Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:13

KrakNup (replied): It’s hard to believe that we can converse and post passages like this without being totally shut down. It’s been too many years since that was so.

GCMythix (further reply): Exactly, it’s amazing how this community is so open to all types of people. This is the first place on the internet I haven’t been completely disregarded for my faith. I’ve been made fun of and discredited just because of my beliefs and I’m so glad that we can come together as a nation. I’m glad atheists and Christians and those from every belief get along so well here🙂 

An atheist chimed in:

Neo8Aeon (excerpted): I’m an atheist, spent much of 2 years ago explaining why atheism is better online and on forums, watched and read Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and others and preached the message of rationality and science over all …

I love science and I’m still an atheist to the core, but I’m not of the anti Christian sect any more. I love what the Christian culture and values did in the America of my childhood. But for a few, highly over-publicized cases, the Christianity I’ve known has always been hate the sin, love the sinner, and we are all sinners, all worth loving.

Right now if the USA again moved toward prayer in schools, toward people who quoted the bible reverently, with malice toward none but charity for all I’d be on board for that. So I’ve become a pro-Christian atheist.

God Bless the USA!

Melania’s popularity went up with the act of prayer:

cequiceracera: I thought she seemed a little nervous, but was so glad she took the stage. I hope we hear more from her in the future!

Perhelion (reply): I think she will get used to it as she takes on more speaking roles as FLOTUS. But again, starting with the Lord’s Prayer won massive points with me. She may as well have walked on water today. That’s how highly I think of her now.

Another reader reminded the Left of America’s origins:

GoneGalt13: Reminder for triggering leftists: our official national motto is IN GOD WE TRUST. Also, for what it’s worth E Pluribus Unum refers to STATES. Out of many states, one country.

Some criticised the first lady’s detractors:

StillTraveling: Everyone on twitter talking about how she had to read it off a card

They are retarded. English is not her first language. I’m sure she prays in her first language; therefore, it is to be expected that she would utilize the written English prayer to help her along.

ZippyTheChicken (reply): when you are not off the cuff like donald its always best to read off a card.. can you imagine if she missed a word the left would say horrible things.

the fact is … she said it.. and I have never heard anyone else in politics say it

FullMetalSquirrel (further reply): It is easy to get a prayer wrong though. I do this all the time in my head and have to start over. So stupid and mean.

I’ve gotta say, they will answer for mocking her for praying and it will be to the Lord himself.

From someone who was at the rally:

FL_MEGA_MAGA: I was there, it was awesome. DEUS VULT!

And from someone who wasn’t:

speaksdinosaur: I found myself doing the Sign of the Cross. Old habits die hard even if you’re not religious.

Amen!

More positive comments followed:

Sleek_Bones: Finally, a president[ial] couple that worships the one and only.

locploc: It was a fantastic surprise. Very heart-warming.

dparks2010: For anyone who missed it – here’s a video which starts with Melania’s intro:

What a gorgeous and classy woman. I’m proud to have her as my First Lady.

ManOfTheInBetween: When was the last time you heard a Presidential family say something like this in public? Whether you believe or not we call all agree that the values of Christianity are valuable and benefited western culture. God Bless the USA!

Indeed.

In closing, some were inspired to seek a broader application in a time of growing unbelief:

FullMetalSquirrel: I am seriously thinking of starting a list of names of people here who say this or that they’re atheists and praying for them once a week at least.

My hope is always that people will find God and to do so in a way that doesn’t involve something painful or heart breaking.

ZippyTheChicken (reply, excerpted): you know I was thinking about that the other night .. the thing is everyone who says they are an atheist has all ready been told the good word and they intentionally reject the idea that God can exist.

Now I understand that they might not believe the bible and every word of it as hard core science .. that might be understandable.. some believers are exacting in their belief of every single word and there could be people that say that can’t actually be true.. well whatever .. let’s get past that …

But to reject God as a possibility? …

If you look at the atom it has very similar properties to a solar system.. there is the nucleus and orbiting planets which could be considered protons and then moons that represent electrons and then there are comets and asteroids that are similar to quarks …

The atom is infinitely small and the universe is infinitely large

you look into an atom and you find a quark.. well that quark can be divided..

you look at our solar system and you understand it is nothing in comparison to the milky way and then the milky way to the universe.

It’s just astounding .. and we believe that God said Let There Be Light….

I have 4 years of organic chemistry and many more of other sciences… I have been educated in engineering and taught it…. I have lectured at a half dozen Ivy League Schools to professors not students and I have known many people who are held up as the most brilliant in our society only to see that they are fricken idiots in some cases.

If someone uses science as a basis to reject God then they are an uneducated idiot.

If they follow the garbage that comes out of the mouth of someone like Bill Nye who was a failed Boeing Engineer that had a kids show on public access cable that was launched into a career because someone had to fill that spot of being the science guy… and he has no real scientific accomplishments of his own worth noting…

I mean its so exasperating and depressing to see someone reject God intentionally and then use Science or anything else as the basis to say God does not exist

Accepting God is not Going to Church
its how you live your life

and Life is short.. 100 years or so at the most we get…
It is a job interview for Eternity

Eternity that is as vast and larger than the universe..

An eternity where you will find peace

God didn’t screw this world up People did

I deeply wish people would understand that God is real and that maybe God would show himself in their lives ..

But God Exists whether we believe or not
He was there before we were born and will be there for eternity

I say just do your best .. and only you know if you are doing your best.

And if you make a mistake or give into temptation .. ask for forgiveness and then try again to do your best.

It is evident that Melania Trump’s public recitation of the Lord’s Prayer last Saturday has inspired many people who normally would not discuss Christianity so openly. It has provoked useful and inspiring conversation.

It is also apparent that the Lord was working through her in that rally. Contrary to what a substantial minority of Americans think, the Lord is also working through her husband in leading the United States — and possibly other places in the world — to a more righteous and just future for all.

The Left are in disarray. I am not the first person to say that they are akin to a vicious animal that finds itself cornered. It will attack for survival. In the end, it will be subdued.

Right now, the president sees the lashing out.

In the end, he will overcome it.

However, that is a perilous task, one that 99% would not be able to accomplish. It demands physical resilience and mental strength.

Donald Trump needs the prayers of the faithful right now. The high echelon of the intelligence community opposes him. One of them said in an interview last week that Trump ‘better watch his mouth’. Some Democrats want the president to undergo a psychological examination. Another faction wants the government — elected by the people — to be declared illegitimate.

These are very dangerous times. The media aid and abet Democrats and the GOP establishment, both of which have much to hide. The media have their sins, too.

Ultimately, Donald Trump’s enemies fear he and his men will expose their heinous sins and crimes not only to Americans but also to the world.

This is why it is so important to pray that God protects Trump, his administration and their families. The truth must come out — and a thorough cleansing must take place.

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President Donald Trump held a rally on Saturday, February 18, 2017, early in the evening at the AeroMod hangar in Melbourne, Florida.

In a welcome move, First Lady Melania Trump introduced the rally with the Lord’s Prayer:

Big Media criticised the first lady for reading the prayer instead of reciting it from memory. What if she is accustomed to praying in Slovenian?

It must be difficult for her right now. She is holed up in Trump Tower most days and doesn’t even take ten-year-old Barron to school anymore because the Secret Service would have to lay on a big motorcade. It is easier on New Yorkers if the Secret Service do the school run every day. The first lady does not wish to be a burden on her fellow citizens.

It must also be heart-wrenching for her to watch or read Big Media every day. Nearly every news item is an attack on her husband. She is no doubt also worried about those in government in Washington DC. Who is supporting him? Who is betraying him?

Therefore, it seems a natural choice that she would begin with the Lord’s Prayer, one that every Christian knows and can be prayed together.

I like the Revd Franklin Graham’s take below (Image credit: The Conservative Treehouse):

https://theconservativetreehouse.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/melania-melbourne-13.jpg?w=476&h=338

After praying, the first lady gave a brief message about her role, which will involve supporting initiatives for women and children:

Those personal attacks come from the Left. Although she is a legal immigrant, they have no time for her.

Now for a few words about the rally. Those who do not understand Trump will wonder what the point is if he is already president. However, Trump enjoys being with the American people and always has done. Last July at the Republican National Convention, Franklin Graham described him as a ‘blue collar billionaire’. That describes him to a T!

Trump’s Deplorables also miss the rallies, so they welcome any occasion to see him speak to them in person.

The queue at the airport in Melbourne began forming early Saturday morning. The Conservative Treehouse (CTH) has a great report with pictures (emphasis in the original):

The crowd began as early as 5am this morning, and the line was building throughout the day.  At approximately 1:00pm the massive line is well over 3 miles long and consists of thousands upon thousands of Trump Supporters.  The event starts at 5:00pm

HOLY CATS !!  The line of people is so long, it is now actually “lapping” around (meaning completely encircling ) the entire airport property boundary.  It’s insane !

Another report from CTH has an RSBN video which features interviews with Trump supporters — and this comment:

There are massive crowds of people in attendance – not quite sure how the airport is going to fit them all in.

Here is a tweet of RSBN’s Margaret Howell (ex-Infowars) interviewing a Deplorable:

Approximately 9,000 people attended, according to Melbourne Police. Of course, this number did not go unnoticed by The Hill:

This rally was set up only a few days ago. Last September’s — before the election — was on Trump’s website for several days in advance. The Hill reports that 15,000 tried to get in to that one, but ‘some’ people were turned away (fire regulations). Remember that Hillary Clinton never attracted more than a few hundred people when she appeared. Her campaign sometimes had to bus people in to attend (e.g. Temple University).

Whatever the case with Trump’s numbers, it does not matter. Nine thousand people is huge. Matt Drudge hit the nail on the head:

The Trumps arrived on Air Force One:

The first lady looked resplendent in red:

CTH has close-up shots of the couple, particularly Melania.

Trump spoke about the media and their fake news. He said that Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln also had problems with press coverage during their time in office. He said that he inherited a ‘real mess’ but that the White House is running ‘so smoothly’. He reassured the audience that a replacement for Obamacare was on its way. He explained how the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the suspension of his Executive Order seeking to stop immigration from seven countries for a 90-day preiod. He also warned about social breakdown that occurred with uncontrolled immigration in Europe. He spoke about his efforts in the past three weeks to create tens of thousands of new jobs for Americans.

The biggest point of the evening came when he introduced top Deplorable Gene Huber, first in line for the rally. He was interviewed by CNN and Fox News afterwards. More about him in another post, as I am waiting to see if Big Media treat him as badly as they did Joe the Plumber in 2008. May God bless Mr Huber and give him strength in the days ahead.

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the King James Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 6:7-15

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

——————————————————————-

I’m using the King James Version today because the prose is more traditional and beautiful than the modern translations of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Sermon on the Mount continues. It encompasses Matthew 5 through Matthew 7.

Luke 11 also features the Lord’s Prayer but in a different context. In Luke’s account, the disciples saw Jesus praying and one of them requested (Luke 11:1):

Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.

The disciple was referring to John the Baptist.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus gave instructions to His audience, the disciples — and us — on how to pray.

He tells us not to use the ‘vain repetitions’ of the pagans (verse 7). Modern translations use the word ‘Gentile’. Essentially, the connotation means non-Jew.

Matthew Henry recalls that the Old Testament recounts pagan prayers:

Baal’s priests were hard at it from morning till almost night with their vain repetitions O Baal, hear us O Baal, hear us and vain petitions they were …

Lip-labour in prayer, though ever so well laboured, if that be all, is but lost labour.

John MacArthur cites the pagans of the ancient world:

in the New Testament it says in Acts 19 that for two hours the multitudes stood in theater and screamed “great is Diana of Ephesians, great is Diana of Ephesians, great is Diana of Ephesians.”  They kept saying it over and over for two solid hours. 

Our Lord tells us we have no need to engage in such lost labour, because God our Father knows our needs (verse 8).

Jesus gives the crowd an ancient Jewish prayer, to which He adds only one new line. Henry explains (emphases mine):

Most of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer had been commonly used by the Jews in their devotions, or words to the same effect: but that clause in the fifth petition, As we forgive our debtors, was perfectly new, and therefore our Saviour here shows for what reason he added it, not with any personal reflection upon the peevishness, litigiousness, and ill nature of the men of that generation, though there was cause enough for it, but only from the necessity and importance of the thing itself. God, in forgiving us, has a peculiar respect to our forgiving those that have injured us and therefore, when we pray for pardon, we must mention our making conscience of that duty, not only to remind ourselves of it, but to bind ourselves to it.

Why did our Lord repeat a prayer the Jews already knew?

So many were the corruptions that had crept into this duty of prayer among the Jews, that Christ saw it needful to give a new directory for prayer, to show his disciples what must ordinarily be the matter and method of their prayer, which he gives in words that may very well be used as a form as the summary or contents of the several particulars of our prayers.

We do not need to rely solely on what Christians call the Lord’s Prayer, however, as Jesus presents it, it is a perfect prayer for the following reasons.

I am giving but brief extracts from Henry’s commentary below, which is an excellent exposition of what is the world’s best known prayer. I recommend reading it in full.

In verse 9, Jesus tells us how to begin. ‘Our’, not ‘my’, Father is said because we are acknowledging that God created not only us as individuals, but all of humanity. We are bound together in this commonality:

Intimating, that we must pray, not only alone and for ourselves, but with and for others for we are members one of another, and are called into fellowship with each other.

The word ‘hallowed’ is part of the prayer because of God’s infinite greatness, holiness and majesty:

We give glory to God it may be taken not as a petition, but as an adoration as that, the Lord be magnified, or glorified, for God’s holiness is the greatness and glory of all his perfections. We must begin our prayers with praising God, and it is very fit he should be first served, and that we should give glory to God, before we expect to receive mercy and grace from him. Let him have praise of his perfections, and then let us have the benefit of them.

We then acknowledge our present, temporal location, which we hope improves through our obedience to God’s will, as well as His heavenly kingdom (verse 10):

that it might be done on earth, in this place of our trial and probation (where our work must be done, or it never will be done), as it is done in heaven, that place of rest and joy. We pray that earth may be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will (this earth, which, through the prevalency of Satan’s will, has become so near akin to hell), and that saints may be made more like the holy angels in their devotion and obedience. We are on earth, blessed be God, not yet under the earth we pray for the living only, not for the dead that have gone down into silence.

We ask for provision of our daily needs — ‘bread’ (verse 11). This is a short yet significant petition because:

Every word here has a lesson in it: (1.) We ask for bread that teaches us sobriety and temperance we ask for bread, not dainties, not superfluities[,] that which is wholesome, though it be not nice. (2.) We ask for our bread that teaches us honesty and industry: we do not ask for the bread out of other people’s mouths, not the bread of deceit (Proverbs 20:17), not the bread of idleness (Proverbs 31:27), but the bread honestly gotten. (3.) We ask for our daily bread which teaches us not to take thought for the morrow (Matthew 6:34), but constantly to depend upon divine Providence, as those that live from hand to mouth. (4.) We beg of God to give it us, not sell it us, nor lend it us, but give it. The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread, (5.) We pray, “Give it to us not to me only, but to others in common with me.” This teaches us charity, and a compassionate concern for the poor and needy. It intimates also, that we ought to pray with our families we and our households eat together, and therefore ought to pray together. (6.) We pray that God would give us this day which teaches us to renew the desire of our souls toward God, as the wants of our bodies are renewed as duly as the day comes, we must pray to our heavenly Father, and reckon we could as well go a day without meat, as without prayer.

We go on to ask for God’s forgiveness and pray that we forgive each other in the same generous, compassionate manner (verse 12):

This is connected with the former and forgive, intimating, that unless our sins be pardoned, we can have no comfort in life, or the supports of it. Our daily bread does but feed us as lambs for the slaughter, if our sins be not pardoned. It intimates, likewise, that we must pray for daily pardon, as duly as we pray for daily bread ...

Note, Those that come to God for the forgiveness of their sins against him, must make conscience of forgiving those who have offended them, else they curse themselves when they say the Lord’s prayer. Our duty is to forgive our debtors as to debts of money, we must not be rigorous and severe in exacting them from those that cannot pay them without ruining themselves and their families but this means debt of injury[;] our debtors are those that trespass against us, that smite us (Matthew 5:39,40), and in strictness of law, might be prosecuted for it we must forbear, and forgive, and forget the affronts put upon us, and the wrongs done us and this is a moral qualification for pardon and peace

We conclude by asking to be delivered from temptation and sin (verse 13):

Negatively: … It is not as if God tempted any to sin but, “Lord, do not let Satan loose upon us chain up that roaring lion, for he is subtle and spiteful Lord, do not leave us to ourselves (Psalm 19:13), for we are very weak, Lord

Positively: … “Lord, deliver us from the evil of the world, the corruption that is in the world through lust[,] from the evil of every condition in the world[,] from the evil of death from the sting of death, which is sin: deliver us from ourselves, from our own evil hearts: deliver us from evil men, that they may not be a snare to us, nor we a prey to them.”

The King James Version concludes with the Doxology, not in many of the modern translations:

… these are encouraging: “Thine is the kingdom thou hast the government of the world, and the protection of the saints, thy willing subjects in it ” God gives and saves like a king. “Thine is the power, to maintain and support that kingdom, and to make good all thine engagements to thy people.” Thine is the glory, as the end of all that which is given to, and done for, the saints, in answer to their prayers for their praise waiteth for him. This is matter of comfort and holy confidence in prayer.

And, let us not forget ‘Amen’:

Lastly, To all this we are taught to affix our Amen, so be it. God’s Amen is a grant his fiat is, it shall be so our Amen is only a summary desire our fiat is, let it be so: it is in the token of our desire and assurance to be heard, that we say Amen. Amen refers to every petition going before, and thus, in compassion to our infirmities, we are taught to knit up the whole in one word, and so to gather up, in the general, what we have lost and let slip in the particulars. It is good to conclude religious duties with some warmth and vigour, that we may go from them with a sweet savour upon our spirits. It was of old the practice of good people to say, Amen, audibly at the end of every prayer, and it is a commendable practice, provided it be done with understanding, as the apostle directs (1 Corinthians 14:16), and uprightly, with life and liveliness, and inward expressions, answerable to that outward expression of desire and confidence.

Our Lord concluded His lesson in prayer with the exhortation to forgive others so that God will show us the same mercy (verse 14), because if we do not forgive others, He will not forgive us (verse 15).

It is worth remembering Matthew 6:6, included in the Lectionary:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

John MacArthur says:

And I believe if you pray in those terms, the end of verse 6 says, “He will reward you.”  He will reward you.  You know, E. L. Moody once said, that he got so many blessings from God that one day he prayed a very short prayer.  This was it, “Stop God, Amen.”  That was it.  Too much, too much.  Maybe that day would come when we might say stop God, because we’re drowning in His blessing if we learn how to pray as Jesus teaches here. 

MacArthur also gives us the origin of the word ‘barbarian’:

when the Greeks spoke the Greek word wanted to speak of one who was not cultured, they used the word barbaros because all of the uncultured people with foreign languages were unintelligible to them and it sounded like all they were say was bar, bar, bar, bar, bar, bar.  And so barbaros became the word for barbarian.

Interesting!

Let us pray the Lord’s Prayer with renewed fervour now that we know more about its petitions!

Next time: Matthew 6:22-23

In yesterday’s post we read Dr Craig S Keener‘s lesson on discovering more about biblical background in Scripture.

Today, continuing with the second part of Chapter 6, Bible Background, he gives us a variety of examples to illustrate his points.  This is a long chapter, and I shall excerpt only a few salient points over the next two days, so, please be sure to read it in full to grasp the full meaning.

I have learned much from Keener’s introduction to hermeneutics in Biblical Interpretation and am certain that you will, too.  Some conscientious pastors — as true shepherds — transfer this knowledge to their congregations from the pulpit every Sunday.

However, many other clergy ignore it for these reasons: ‘it’s too difficult for people to understand’, ‘it’s my (legalistic) way or the highway’ or — quite simply — ‘Scripture is dead except for a few favourite “golden rule” and “social justice” passages’.  Yet, none of this is true, as Keener — and many other orthodox theologians, present and past — ably demonstrate.

The research below and in tomorrow’s post reveals interesting insights into the Christmas story, the Lord’s Prayer and the Crucifixion. For those among us (myself included) who find the parables perplexing, Keener sheds light on their cultural and legal background. Finally, as Keener used this course to teach students in Nigeria, readers will also find fascinating connections to Africa in both the Old and the New Testaments.

Emphases below are mine.

Examples of Background

Here we provide only a few limited samples concerning the use of background …

1. The New Word in John 1:14-18

Modern writers have proposed many valuable aspects of background for the “Word,” but probably the most obvious is what the “Word” was in the Old Testament: God’s word was the law, the Scripture he had given to Israel. John probably wrote his Gospel especially for Jewish Christians. Opponents of these Jewish Christians had probably kicked them out of their synagogues and claimed that they had strayed from God’s Word in the Bible. Far from it, John replies: Jesus is the epitome of all that God taught in Scripture, for Jesus himself is God’s Word and revelation …

Whole book context explains the point here more fully. God’s glory is revealed in various ways in Jesus (2:11; 11:4), but the ultimate expression of God’s glory here is in the cross and the events that follow it (12:23-24). We see God’s heart, and most fully understand what God was like, when we look at the cross where God gave his Son so we could have life.

2. Worship “in the Spirit” in John 4:23-24

Ancient Judaism often focused on the Spirit’s work in inspiring prophecy. The Old Testament speaks of inspired, prophetic worship (e.g., 1 Sam. 10:5), especially in David’s temple (1 Chron. 25:1-6). To “worship God in the Spirit,” then, may involve trusting the Spirit of God to empower us for worship truly worthy of our awesome God. Given the general belief that the prophetic Spirit was no longer active to this extent in Jesus’ day, Jesus’ words would have struck his contemporaries forcefully.

3. God’s message in the Tabernacle

Egyptians built temples differently than Mesopotamians; because the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt used in building projects, they undoubtedly knew what Egyptian temples looked like. They would have known about portable tent-shrines used in Egypt and Midian, as well as about the structure of Egyptian temples (and palaces), with an outer court, inner court, and the innermost shrine, the holiest place. God chose a design with which the Israelites were familiar so they could understand that the tabernacle they carried through the wilderness was a temple.

Some aspects of the tabernacle parallel other temples, and the parallels communicate true theology about God. In the tabernacle, the most expensive materials were used nearest the ark of the covenant: gold was more expensive than copper, and blue dye than red dye. These details reflect an ancient Near Eastern practice: people used the most expensive materials nearest the innermost sanctuary to signify that their god should be approached with awe and reverence. The tabernacle uses standard ancient Near Eastern symbols to communicate its point about God’s holiness

Some features of the tabernacle contrast starkly with their culture. The climax of other ancient Near Eastern and northern African temples was the image of the deity, enthroned on its sacred pedestal in the holiest innermost sanctuary; but there is no image in God’s temple, because he would allow no graven images of himself (Ex 20:4) … God communicated his theology to Israel even in the architecture of the tabernacle, and he did so in cultural terms they could understand. (Some of the modern interpretations of the colors and design of the tabernacle are simply guesses that have become widely circulated. The suggestions we offer here represent instead careful research into the way temples were designed in Moses’ day.)

4. Why Sarah used Hagar’s womb and later expelled her

As an Egyptian, Hagar may have been one of the servants Pharaoh gave to Abraham and Sarah several years earlier (Gen 12:16). (Some of those Egyptians would have been from southern Egypt or Nubia.) In passing, we should note what the presence of Egyptian servants of Abraham implies for the matter of some African elements in Israel’s ancestry. Abraham later passed his entire estate on to Isaac (25:5); when Jacob went down to Egypt with “seventy” people in his immediate family (46:27), this number does not include all the servants who also went with him, who were presumably retained as slaves when the Israelites were later enslaved (Ex 1:11). This means that the later Israelites included much Egyptian blood, in addition to the two half-tribes of Joseph (Gen 41:50).

But returning to the matter of Hagar: in some ancient Near Eastern cultures, if a woman could not bear her husband a son some other way, she might have her servant do it for her. So Sarah, following some assumptions of her culture, had Abraham get Hagar pregnant (16:2-3). In such cases, however, it was understood that the child would be legally the child of Sarah; but Hagar began to boast against Sarah as if she were better than Sarah (16:4).

After Isaac is born, Sarah finds Ishmael mocking him (21:9), and she realizes that Ishmael’s presence threatens the birthright of the son God had promised, Isaac. According to some ancient Near Eastern customs, if Abraham had regarded Ishmael as his son, Ishmael would be treated as his firstborn. The way to prevent this was to free Hagar before Abraham’s death, and send her and Ishmael away without the inheritance (21:10). 

It was Sarah’s initial suggestion that got Hagar in trouble, Hagar’s arrogance that perpetuated it, but in the end, Sarah did act to preserve God’s promise that she had endangered by her previous suggestion to Abraham. With the exception of Jesus, all biblical characters, including Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, were flawed in some ways; but understanding the customs of their day helps us better understand the decisions Sarah made.

5. Matthew 2:1-16

… Magi were a caste of Persian astrologers–that is, they practiced a profession explicitly forbidden in the Old Testament (Deut 18:10; Is 47:13). The term is actually used in Greek translations of the Old Testament to describe Daniel’s enemies who wanted to kill him! One of their jobs as Magi was to promote the honor of the king of Persia, whose official title was “king of kings and lord of lords.” But these Magi come to honor the true king of kings born in Judea. Matthew thus shocks his Jewish-Christian readers by telling them of pagans who came to worship Jesus, implying that we cannot predict beforehand who will respond to our message; we must share it with everyone ...

Most troubling of all, however, are the leading priests and scribes (2:4). These were the Bible professors and leading ministers of their day. They know where the Messiah will be born (2:5-6), but do not join the Magi on their quest … And a generation later, when Jesus could no longer be taken for granted, their successors wanted him dead (Matt 26:3-4). The line between taking Jesus for granted and wanting him out of our way may remain rather thin today as well. Especially when background helps us learn more about the characters in this narrative, it warns us in stark terms not to prejudge who will respond to the gospel–and not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.

6. Keeping God’s Word in Matthew 5:18-19

One could not say, “I am righteous because I do not kill, even though I have sex with someone I am not married to.” Nor could one say, “I am godly because I do not steal, even though I cheat.” All of God’s commandments are his word, and to cast off any is to deny his right to rule over us, hence to reject him. Thus Jesus was saying in a similarly graphic way, “You cannot disregard even the smallest commandment, or God will hold you accountable.”

7. The Kingdom [Lord’s] Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13

… Jesus used some things in his culture, which was already full of biblical knowledge. Jesus here adapts a common synagogue prayer, that went something like this: “Our Father in heaven, exalted and hallowed be your great and glorious name, and may your kingdom come speedily and soon…” Jewish people expected a time when God’s name would be “hallowed,” or shown to be holy, among all peoples. For Jewish people, there was a sense in which God reigns in the present, but when they prayed for the coming of God’s kingdom they were praying for him to rule unchallenged over all the earth and his will to be done on earth just as it is in heaven. Jesus therefore taught his disciples to pray for God’s reign to come soon, when God’s name would be universally honored.

To ask God for “daily bread” recalls how God provided bread each day for Israel in the wilderness; God is still our provider. To ask God to forgive our “debts” would stir a familiar image for many of Jesus’ hearers. Poor peasants had to borrow much money to sow their crops, and Jesus’ contemporaries understood that our sins were debts before God. To ask God not to “lead us into temptation” probably recalls a Jewish synagogue prayer of the day which asked God to preserve people from sinning. If so, the prayer might mean not, “Let us not be tested,” but rather, “Do not let us fail the test” (compare 26:41, 45).

8. Enemy Soldiers Torture and Mock Jesus in Matthew 27:27-34

Roman soldiers were known for abusing and taunting prisoners; one ancient form of mockery was to dress someone as a king. Since soldiers wore red robes, they probably used a faded soldier’s cloak to imitate the purple robe of earlier Greek rulers. People venerating such rulers would kneel before them, as here. Military floggings often used bamboo canes, so the soldiers may have had one available they could use as a mock king’s sceptre …

Spitting on a person was one of the most grievous insults a person could offer, and Jewish people considered the spittle of non-Jews particularly unclean

Normally the condemned person was to carry the horizontal beam (Latin patibulum) of the cross himself, out to the site where the upright stake (Latin palus) awaited him; but Jesus’ back had been too severely scourged beforehand for him to do this (27:26). Such scourgings often left the flesh of the person’s back hanging down in bloody strips, sometimes left his bones showing, and sometimes led to the person’s death from shock and blood loss. Thus the soldiers had to draft Simon of Cyrene to carry the crossbeam. Cyrene, a large city in what is now Libya in North Africa, had a large Jewish community (perhaps one quarter of the city) which no doubt included local converts. Like multitudes of foreign Jews and converts, Simon had come to Jerusalem for the [Passover] feast. Roman soldiers could “impress” any person into service to carry things for them. Despite Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:24, the soldiers had to draft a bystander to do what Jesus’ disciples proved unwilling to do.

Crucifixion was the most shameful and painful form of execution known in the Roman world. Unable to privately excrete his wastes the dying person would excrete them publicly. Sometimes soldiers tied the condemned person to the cross; at other times they nailed them, as with Jesus. The dying man thus could not swat away insects attracted to his bloodied back or other wounds. Crucifixion victims sometimes took three days to finish dying.

The women of Jerusalem prepared a pain-killing potion of drugged wine for condemned men to drink; Jesus refused it (cf. 26:29). The myrrh-mixed wine of Mark 15:23, a delicacy and possibly an external pain reliever, becomes wine mixed with gall in Matthew; cf. Ps. 69:21 and the similarity between the Aramaic word for “myrrh” and Hebrew for “gall.” Even without myrrh, wine itself was a painkiller (Prov 31:6-7). But Jesus refused it. Though we forsook him and fled when he needed us most, he came to bear our pain, and chose to bear it in full measure. Such is God’s love for us all.

9. Adultery and Murder in Mark 6:17-29

Herod Antipas’s affair with his sister-in-law Herodias, whom he had by this time married, was widely known. Indeed, the affair had led him to plan to divorce his first wife, whose father, a king, later went to war with Herod because of this insult and defeated him. John’s denunciation of the affair as unlawful (Lev. 20:21) challenged Herod’s sexual immorality, but Herod Antipas could have perceived it as a political threat, given the political ramifications that later led to a major military defeat. (The ancient Jewish historian Josephus claims that many viewed Herod’s humiliation in the war as divine judgment for him executing John the Baptist.)  …

Although Romans and their agents usually executed lower class persons and slaves by crucifixion or other means, the preferred form of execution for respectable people was beheading. By asking for John’s head on a platter, however, Salome wanted it served up as part of the dinner menu–a ghastly touch of ridicule. Although Antipas’s oath was not legally binding and Jewish sages could release him from it, it would have proved embarrassing to break an oath before dinner guests; even the emperor would not lightly do that. Most people were revolted by leaders who had heads brought to them, but many accounts confirm that powerful tyrants like Antipas had such things done

10. A New King’s Birthday in Luke 2:1-14

… A tax census instigated by the revered emperor Augustus here begins the narrative’s contrast between Caesar’s earthly pomp and Christ’s heavenly glory. Although Egyptian census records show that people had to return to their homes for a tax census, the “home” to which they returned was where they owned property, not simply where they were born (censuses registered persons according to property). Joseph thus must have still held property in Bethlehem. Betrothal provided most of the legal rights of marriage, but intercourse was forbidden; Joseph was courageous to take his pregnant betrothed with him, even if (as is quite possible) she was also a Bethlehemite who had to return to that town. Although tax laws in most of the Empire only required the head of a household to appear, the province of Syria (then including Judea) also taxed women. But Joseph may have simply wished to avoid leaving her alone this late in her pregnancy, especially if the circumstances of her pregnancy had deprived her of other friends.

The “swaddling clothes” were long cloth strips used to keep babies’ limbs straight so they could grow properly. Midwives normally assisted at birth; especially since this was Mary’s first child, it is likely (though not clear from the text) that a midwife would have been found to assist her. Jewish law permitted midwives to travel a long distance even on the Sabbath to assist in delivery.

By the early second century even pagans were widely aware of the tradition that Jesus was born in a cave used as a livestock shelter behind someone’s home. The manger was a feeding trough for animals; sometimes these may have been built into the floor. The traditional “inn” could as easily be translated “home” or “guest room,” and probably means that, since many of Joseph’s scattered family members had returned to the home at once, it was easier for Mary to bear in the vacant cave outside.

Many religious people and especially the social elite in this period generally despised shepherds as a low-class occupation; but God sees differently than people do. Pasturing of flocks at night indicates that this was a warmer season, not winter (when they would graze more in the day); December 25 was later adopted as Christmas only to supercede a pagan Roman festival scheduled at that time.

Pagans spoke of the “good news” of the emperor’s birthday, celebrated throughout the empire; they hailed the emperor as “Savior” and “Lord.” They used choirs in imperial temples to worship the emperor. They praised the current emperor, Augustus, for having inaugurated a worldwide “peace.” But the lowly manger distinguishes the true king from the Roman emperor; Jesus is the true Savior, Lord, bringer of universal peace

Tomorrow: More examples illustrating the importance of Bible background

St Augustine of HippoIn response to a recent comment about a post on John Calvin, two posts will appear shortly on free will and the part St Augustine of Hippo‘s teachings had to play in the development of this doctrine.

Some of us might be unaware, however, of the importance that St Augustine placed on the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father).  I once knew someone who said, ‘Oh, I pray to the universe.  All that mumbo-jumbo, like “Our Father” is all man-made, anyway.  I like to get to the heart of the matter.’

The ‘heart of the matter’ is that Christ Himself gave us the Lord’s Prayer in response to the disciples’ request, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’.  We can find the prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.  In His perfection, Jesus gave the disciples — and us — a prayer which summarises the four Gospels.  That is to say, that all the Scriptures — the Law, the sayings of the Prophets and the Psalms — have their fulfilment in Christ (see Luke 24:44).

In his Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love, St Augustine writes, ‘Everything that pertains to hope is embraced in the Lord’s Prayer’ (Ch. 114).  He notes that Matthew’s Gospel contains seven petitions in the prayer.  Luke’s Gospel contains five. Here is what St Augustine had to say (Ch. 115, 116):

Accordingly, in the Gospel according to Matthew the Lord’s Prayer seems to embrace seven petitions, three of which ask for eternal blessings, and the remaining four for temporal; these latter, however, being necessary antecedents to the attainment of the eternal. For when we say, Hallowed be Your name: Your kingdom come: Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven (which some have interpreted, not unfairly, in body as well as in spirit), we ask for blessings that are to be enjoyed for ever; which are indeed begun in this world, and grow in us as we grow in grace, but in their perfect state, which is to be looked for in another life, shall be a possession for evermore. But when we say, Give us this day our daily bread: and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors: and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, who does not see that we ask for blessings that have reference to the wants of this present life? In that eternal life, where we hope to live for ever, the hallowing of God’s name, and His kingdom, and His will in our spirit and body, shall be brought to perfection, and shall endure to everlasting. But our daily bread is so called because there is here constant need for as much nourishment as the spirit and the flesh demand, whether we understand the expression spiritually, or carnally, or in both senses. It is here too that we need the forgiveness that we ask, for it is here that we commit the sins; here are the temptations which allure or drive us into sin; here, in a word, is the evil from which we desire deliverance: but in that other world there shall be none of these things.

But the Evangelist Luke in his version of the Lord’s Prayer embraces not seven, but five petitions: not, of course, that there is any discrepancy between the two evangelists, but that Luke indicates by his very brevity the mode in which the seven petitions of Matthew are to be understood. For God’s name is hallowed in the spirit; and God’s kingdom shall come in the resurrection of the body. Luke, therefore, intending to show that the third petition is a sort of repetition of the first two, has chosen to indicate that by omitting the third altogether. Then he adds three others: one for daily bread, another for pardon of sin, another for immunity from temptation. And what Matthew puts as the last petition, but deliver us from evil, Luke has omitted, to show us that it is embraced in the previous petition about temptation. Matthew, indeed, himself says, but deliver, not and deliver, as if to show that the petitions are virtually one: do not this, but this; so that every man is to understand that he is delivered from evil in the very fact of his not being led into temptation.

There are many types and techniques of prayer these days.  Some bordering on the mystical, some conversational and some traditional.  Yet, the greatest of these, it would seem, is the Lord’s Prayer.  It is something that all professed Christians know by heart.  (Indeed, it should be one of the first prayers we learn.)  However, I see very little mention of it anymore outside of a recitation during a church or prayer service.  Is this perhaps because clergy and religious take for granted that if we say one prayer a day, it will be the Lord’s Prayer?

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