Sunday, February 17, 2013

Outline of the Book of Numbers

The book of Numbers is so called because of the two numberings of the Israelites that took place at the beginning and end of their wanderings in the wilderness. The book covers a time period of approximately forty years, beginning at Sinai and ending with the final approach of the people to the Promised Land. In it we see a number of key events: rebellion by the people, a bad report brought by the spies, the exchange between Balak and Balaam, etc. There are also some hidden gems that speak to us of Christ; in particular, keep an eye out for the bronze snake (c.f. John 3:14-15) and the city of refuge (Ps. 91:2).

Chapters 1-4: The first census
The book of Numbers opens with the first census, taken by Moses while the Israelites were still camped at Sinai. Most people skip over this section, as it lists names and numbers of the various tribes and clans of the nation. But when you read it, think about the humble beginnings of the nation: from a family of just 70 people, God caused them to multiply so that each tribe could fill a sports stadium. We also see the divisions of the Levites and the number of people there. The three Levitical families were responsible for carrying different parts of the tabernacle, which we read about here. God had very specific rules for how they were to carry out their duties, and from this we can learn how we should act in respect of Him and His holiness.

Chapters 5-6: Laws concerning adultery and the Nazirite
In chapters 5 and 6 we see God giving Moses a couple of extra instructions, concerning the test for an unfaithful wife and the Nazirite vow. There are several people in the Bible who were Nazirites or took this kind of vow, including Samson (Judg. 13:7), Samuel (1 Sam. 1:11), and Paul (Acts 18:18 and Acts 21:24). Taking a Nazirite vow was an act of dedication to God, and could be for a fixed period of time or for life.

Chapters 7-8: Dedication of the Tabernacle and the Levites
Numbers 7 gives a list of all the offerings brought by the leader of each tribe over the twelve days that the tabernacle was dedicated. All the offerings are the same, and we see the dedication of the people in bringing them to God.
In chapter 8 we see the dedication of the Levites, whom God took in substitution for the firstborn of the nation, after the events of Ex. 32, where the Levites were the only tribe to take a stand for God’s righteousness.

Chapters 9-10: Moving on from Sinai
In chapters 9 and 10 the Israelites celebrate the Passover feast, and then break camp as the pillar of cloud lifts from the tabernacle and leads them on through the wilderness. This passage is quite descriptive of how they were led by the cloud, and demonstrates to us how we too should be obedient in following God’s leading in our lives. We also see the instructions God gave Moses to make two silver trumpets for summoning the people.

Chapters 11-12: Rebellion from the people
Just as everything seems to have been set in order, with the people united in dedicating the tabernacle and following the pillar of cloud, we see problems. We read how some people started complaining about the conditions and the food. So Moses goes to the Lord about it, and God provides quail for the people – but at a cost: those who complained, died of a plague before they could finish eating it. After this we see Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ brother and sister, wanting their share of the leadership. Miriam is struck with leprosy, but Moses prays for her healing. Rebellion arises out of self-will – when we think that what we want is better and more important than what God wants. We can ask ourselves, would we have been satisfied with the manna God was miraculously providing, or would we have been joining those demanding to have other food?

Chapters 13-14: The spies explore the land of Canaan and incite the people to rebel
After these events, God instructs Moses to select a man from each tribe to go into the land of Canaan and explore it. They do so, and come back with some of the fruit – but also with a bad report about there being giants in the land. Although Joshua and Caleb pointed out that God would be on their side and give them victory, the people listened to the ten other spies and started talking about going back to Egypt. God is angry and threatens to strike them all down, but Moses intercedes. Instead, God declares that the nation would wander in the wilderness for forty years, until the whole generation of adults who complained had died.

Chapter 15: Offerings to be made in the land
In chapter 15 God describes some of the offerings that were to be made when the people did eventually enter the land. We can look at these as part of His promise that they would indeed be victorious.

Chapters 16-18: The rebellion of Korah and reiteration of God’s selection of Aaron
In chapter 16 we see the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abihu, who were Levites but not priests. They were dissatisfied with the role they had been given and challenged Moses. So Moses called them to come to the Tent of Meeting, and God destroyed them by having the earth open up and swallow them alive. The others who had joined them were also destroyed by fire from the Lord. The people continued grumbling after this, and God sent a plague. Finally, God tells Moses to call all the leaders together to put their staffs in front of the presence of the Lord. God caused Aaron’s staff to bud, as a sign of His selection of Aaron as priest. Although God doesn’t necessarily deal with our rebellion in the same way today, we would be wise to take note of how such attitudes displease Him. We must learn to be satisfied with what He has given us to do, and not strive or complain because He hasn’t given us the ministry He may have given to someone else, even though we may feel that we are more qualified or experienced.
In chapter 18 God reiterates and gives additional instructions concerning the role and portion of the Levites within the nation. Understanding these aspects is important for understanding the events of the rest of the Old Testament, and how the Levites were to relate to the rest of the nation.

Chapter 19: Laws concerning the preparation of the water of cleansing
In Numbers 19 we see laws concerning how the water of cleansing was to be prepared and applied. This outward cleansing is symbolic of the inward cleansing of sin that each of us needs to receive from God. It is interesting to note that in the offering of the sacrifice, the priest becomes ceremonially unclean until evening – just as Jesus descended into Hades, being ‘unclean’ because He was bearing our sin at the time.

Chapters 20-21: Passing through Edom, Arad and Moab
In chapters 20-21 we see the Israelites nearing the end of their wanderings, and travelling through the regions of Edom, Arad, and Moab, approaching the Jordan from the south-east. In these two chapters we also see two major events which have great consequence and significance. The first is Moses striking the rock for the second time. (The first was in Ex. 17.) This was an act that caused God to put him in the penalty box, so that he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. This may seem a rather extreme move by God, but He had told Moses to speak to the rock, not to strike it. By striking it in anger, Moses firstly misrepresented God to the people, and secondly, broke God’s intended prophetic symbolism of the rock being Christ. At Christ’s first coming, He was struck and living water poured out. At His second coming, He will not be struck, but will be implored to provide salvation.
The second event worth noting is that of the erection of the bronze serpent. This was in response to a plague of snakes that God sent among the people. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole, so that everyone who looked at it would live. This is curious, because it seems to violate the second commandment not to make anything in a form of an animal or other created thing. Indeed, the children of Israel did fall into the trap of worshipping this bronze snake (see 1 Kin. 18:4). Bronze is a symbol of judgement; the snake is a symbol of sin. So the bronze snake lifted up on a pole represents sin being judged – a picture that Jesus uses of Himself, John 3:14-15.
Finally we see the defeat of Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan. God had forbidden the Israelites to attack the Edomites or Moabites because of the blood relationship between their ancestors (Edom, or Esau, being the brother of Jacob, and Moab being the son of Lot, Abraham’s nephew). But there was no such relationship between the Israelites and Amorites, so they were free to conquer them.

Chapters 22-25: Balaam and Balak
In Num. 22-25 we are introduced to Balak, king of Moab, and Balaam, a prophet. Balak is concerned about the million-plus people wanting to pass through his land, so he summons Balaam and offers him money if he will curse the people. Initially Balaam declines, but when Balak insists, he goes. On the way we have the amusing story of how angels came and stood in his way, which he did not see but his donkey did. After the donkey avoided the angels three times, with Balaam beating her each time, God caused the donkey to speak (2 Pet. 2:15-16).
When Balaam arrives, Balak takes him to various mountains to see the people in the hope that Balaam will curse them. But as Balaam starts to speak, God puts words of blessing in his mouth. Four times this happens, and Balak sends him away – but not without one final piece of advice from Balaam, which we only discover through other passages of Scripture (Rev. 2:14). Balaam knew that God would bless Israel if they were obedient to Him. He reasoned, therefore, that if they could be enticed to sin, God would curse them. So he counselled Balak to have the young women of Moab tempt the men of Israel into sin. You can read about what happened in Num. 25.

Chapters 26-27: The second census
Numbers 26-27 gives the second census of the Israelites, just prior to entering the Promised Land. While this seems a list of dry numbers, we see the effect of the events of Num. 25 on the tribe of Simeon in particular, reducing their population to just over 22,000 men.
In ch. 27 we meet the daughters of Zelophehad. They came to Moses to enquire about how property might be distributed to them when the nation entered the land, since the Law had only made provision for property to be passed down through the males of a family. Zelophehad had five daughters and no sons, and the daughers feared that they would be left with nothing. God makes provision for them here, and they take it up in Num. 36.

Chapters 28-30: Laws concerning offerings and vows
In chapters 28-29 we are given additional details concerning the offerings that were to be made at the appointed times: the daily offerings, Sabbath offerings, new moon offerings, and offerings associated with each of the national feasts. These complement Lev. 23.
In chapter 30 God gives Moses commandments concerning the making and breaking of vows.

Chapters 31-32: Defeating Midian, land east of the Jordan
In ch. 31 God instructs Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites for how they had led the nation into sin (Num. 25). He sent the army into battle, and God gave them victory and great spoil. He protected their army so that no-one was missing, and the people gave an offering to God out of the spoil in gratitude.
In ch. 32 we see another potential problem arising, and one that would have ramifications throughout Israel’s history: the tribes of Reuben and Gad asked Moses’ permission to claim land on the east side of the Jordan river and not cross into the Promised Land. They asked this because they had large flocks and herds, but Moses was displeased, thinking they were shirking their responsibility and rebelling against the Lord. He warned them of how their forefathers’ rebellion against the Lord and rejection of the Promised Land at Kadesh Barnea had led to the whole nation being forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years. But the Reubenites and Gadites insisted this was not their intention. They agreed to cross into the Promised Land and help their fellow Israelites drive out the inhabitants of the land. Historically, however, these tribes were always the first to be attacked and taken into captivity by the Assyrians and later the Babylonians. God gave them their request, but one cannot help but think they would have received an even greater blessing had they entered the land.

Chapter 33: The stages in Israel’s journey
Numbers 33 gives a list of the stages in Israel’s journey. Some of these place names are familiar to us, and others are not. This demonstrates to us how God had faithfully led them all the way from Egypt to Canaan, although they had not always obeyed Him faithfully.

Chapters 34-36: Instructions for the land, including appointing cities of refuge
The final chapters of Numbers contain instructions concerning the overall boundaries of the land and how it was going to be assigned to the different tribes. We also see God’s commands concerning the cities of refuge: how they were to be appointed, and how they were to operate. The Levites were not to receive any tribal land as an inheritance, for their inheritance was to be God Himself (Deut. 10:9). However they were to be assigned cities throughout the land, so that they could teach the people God’s ways. Six of these cities – three on each side of the Jordan – were to be cities of refuge for someone guilty of manslaughter to flee so they could be safe from the next of kin, who took on the role of the avenger of blood. This is a beautiful picture of our security in Christ. The final chapter sees the implementation of the law made for Zelophehad’s daughters in ch. 27.

The book of Numbers thus leads us up to the point where Israel was about to enter the land. At this time, Moses took the opportunity to reiterate to the people the law of God in a number of sermons, which comprise the book of Deuteronomy.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Outline of the Book of Leviticus

The book of Leviticus is so-called because it describes the roles of the priests and Levites, among other laws that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. Many Christians tend to skim over the book, or neglect to read it altogether because they see it as irrelevant. Practically, it is, since we now come into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and not through keeping laws and offering sacrifices. But the book can teach us a lot about Jesus, if we will let it. Each of the different types of offerings reveal aspects about Him to us. Each of the feasts is prophetic of Him in some way. It is worth repeating Col. 2:17 – “These are a shadow of the things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

Chapters 1-7: The offerings
The book of Leviticus starts off with God’s instructions to Moses concerning the various types of offerings that were to be made in different situations. They are not all the same and the differences point to different aspects about Jesus Christ. This is not the place to go into detail, but I will give a summary.
Ch. 1 – the burnt offering. Used to symbolise one’s dedication to God. The entire animal was burned on the altar.
Ch. 2 – the grain offering. Often accompanied other offerings. Part of the offering was burned, the rest was given to the priests.
Ch. 3 – the fellowship offering. Used when someone wished to fellowship with God. Part of the offering was burned, part was given to the priests, and the rest was given to the person to eat.
Ch. 4-5:13 – the sin offering, broken down by priests, leaders, and common people. A penalty for unintentionally sinning with regards to the civil laws God had given the Israelites.
Ch. 5:14-6:7 – the guilt offering. A penalty for unintentionally sinning with regards to the ceremonial laws God had given.
In ch. 6:8-7 each of the offerings are repeated, this time dictating how the offering is to be presented by the priests. If nothing else, this section shows us that God is serious about how His people are to worship Him.

Chapters 8-10: Events concerning Aaron and his sons
In ch. 8-10 we have the only narrative section of the book. Three events are recorded: the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests, where Moses made sacrifices and anointed Aaron (ch. 8), the beginning of Aaron’s ministry as high priest, where he was making sacrifices for himself and for the people (ch. 9), and the death of Aaron’s two eldest sons for offering ‘unauthorised fire’ before the Lord (ch. 10).

Chapters 11-15: Laws concerning purification
The next section of the book concerns the general topic of purification. This includes the laws concerning which animals were clean and unclean (ch. 11), purification rites after a woman gave birth (ch. 12), instructions concerning skin diseases (including leprosy) and mildew, and the purification rites associated with them (ch. 13-14), instructions concerning bodily discharges and the purification rites (ch. 15). The instructions concerning ceremonial cleansing from leprosy are interesting to consider, since leprosy was incurable at the time. These laws were written but never acted upon, until the day Jesus cleansed a leper and told him, “See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them” (Mark 1:44). Leprosy is a picture of sin, from which we have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.

Chapter 16: The priest’s role on the Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is one of the seven annual feasts of Israel, but is arguably the most important. There are a number of aspects about the Day of Atonement that speak to us of our own atonement by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. On the Day of Atonement we see the offering of one goat and the bearing of sins on the scapegoat. The Day of Atonement was the day when the high priest atoned for the sin of the people and the nation committed over the past year. It was also the only day when he was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. These things speak to us of how Christ carried our sins upon Himself, though He was innocent, how He made a sacrifice to cleanse us from our sins once and for all, and how He entered into the presence of God (Heb. 9:12).

Chapters 17-19: Laws concerning forbidden things
In Lev. 17-19 we see a number of laws concerning things that were forbidden: eating blood (Lev. 17), forbidden sexual relations (Lev. 18), and various laws that were intended to distinguish the people of Israel from the other nations around them (Lev. 19). Although many of these are written as ‘Thou shalt not...’, we can see God’s intent behind them: to obey these laws out of our respect for God and our respect for our fellow man (the second commandment, see Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 22:35-40).

Chapter 20: Punishments
Lev. 20 gives punishments for certain sins, which for many of them was death. This is a reminder to us of Rom. 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Chapters 21-22: Laws concerning priests
In chapters 21-22 we return to laws specifically for the priests: how they were to live and conduct themselves. The Levites had been set apart for God after the events of Ex. 32. Because they had been set apart as an example to the people, and had a special role to teach the Israelites the things of God, there were additional laws that they were expected to keep, additional responsibilities, and additional blessings for obedience. This is the same for us as Christians: there are certain things that although we have liberty in Christ to engage in them, for the good of those we are setting an example for, we must set them aside. Lev. 22 specifically addresses regulations concerning the animals brought for sacrfiice. They must be without spot and without blemish – that is, without birth defects and without injuries. This is a picture of Jesus: He did not inherit Adam’s sin nature from birth, and He did not commit any sin Himself. Thus He was an acceptable sacrifice to God on our behalf.

Chapter 23: The feasts of Israel
In chapter 23 we are introduced to the seven annual feasts of Israel as directed by God: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Feast of Weeks (also called Shavout, or Pentecost in the New Testament), Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles. Each of these are a remembrance of some event in Israel’s history, and each is prophetic of an event in the future. (This will be the subject of another post.)

Chapter 24: The shewbread, and a blasphemer
In the first part of chapter 24 God gives rules concerning the shewbread that was to be placed on the table in the tabernacle. In the second part we see God’s stipulations concerning a man who blasphemed God with a curse in the hearing of the people. Here we also see the introduction of the ‘eye for an eye’ law – which was not intended to be the requirement, but rather the maximum allowable penalty. In other words, the punishment had to fit the crime.

Chapter 25: The Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee
In chapter 25 God gives instructions concerning the Sabbath year. Just as the people were to work for six days and then rest on the Sabbath day, the land was to be worked for six years and then allowed to lie fallow for the Sabbath year. God would ensure that the harvest in the sixth year was more than enough for the people to live during the Sabbath year. However, the people failed to keep this law, and God cites it as the reason why they were taken into captivity (see 2 Chr. 36:21).
In addition to the Sabbath year, every 50th year (the year after every seventh Sabbath year) was to be a Year of Jubilee. During this time all debts were to be cancelled, all slaves were to be set free, and all land was to be returned to its original owner. This speaks to us prophetically of the time when Christ will return to establish His kingdom and put everything right – as Peter calls it, “the times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21).

Chapter 26: Rewards for obedience and punishments for disobedience
As the book of Leviticus draws to a close, God reminds the people why they should keep His laws. He promises them rewards for obedience, and punishments for disobedience. Knowing the sinful tendencies of mankind, the section on punishments is longer and more detailed than the section on rewards. This chapter reminds us that the Mosaic covenant was conditional. In Christ, we are now under the new covenant, but there are still rewards to be gained in heaven for acting in obedience with the right motives.

Chapter 27: Laws concerning redemption
The final chapter of the book concerns laws about redemption. When we read them, it may seem like a list of instructions for an accountant. These redemption laws concern the redemption of those things that were dedicated to God in a vow. God makes the provision for a person to change their mind, for instance, if they were caught up in the hype of the moment. God will not force anyone to keep a vow that was made rashly, although it is better not to make a vow at all than to go back on your word.

I hope this overview is helpful to you as you read the book of Leviticus. It is one of those books that can seem dry at times, especially if you have arrived at it after the flowing narrative of Genesis and Exodus. But if you are willing to dig a little deeper, and to ask, ‘What is this teaching me about Jesus?’ then it can become a great treasure trove of insight.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Outline of the Book of Exodus

The book of Exodus is so-called because it describes the exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. In the book we see some of the great miracles that God performed on behalf of His people, which are mentioned throughout the rest of the Bible: the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of manna and water from the rock, and the continual rebellion by the children of Israel. We are introduced to Moses, who is a key figure throughout the Bible. We see the giving of the law and the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, and God’s instructions concerning the tabernacle. The first part of the book is narrative and quite easy to read; the second part starts to catalogue some of the laws given by God to the nation of Israel. While many of these may seem irrelevant to us, we can find great treasure in them if we remember Col. 2:17 – “These are a shadow of the things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

Chapter 1: Slavery in Egypt
Following on from the end of Genesis, where Joseph the son of Jacob (Israel) had been second-in-command under Pharaoh, several generations passed and the family of Jacob, who had gone down into Egypt as seventy people, multiplied into hundreds of thousands. Then a new king arose in Egypt, who did not know the history of these people. Feeling threatened by them, he made them slaves.

Chapter 2: The birth of Moses
God saw the suffering of His people, and appointed Moses to be their leader. In Exodus 2 we see the circumstances surrounding Moses’ birth: how Pharaoh had decreed that all baby boys born to the Hebrews were to be killed, how Moses’ mother put him in a basket in the reeds by the Nile river, how Pharaoh’s daughter found him and adopted him as her own son. Moses is a remarkable figure. He grew up in the palace of Pharaoh, no doubt receiving an excellent education in that society. He became a prominent official, and when he was older, he tried to go to the rescue of one of his fellow Hebrews, but was shunned by them. Fearing for his life, he fled to the desert of Midian, where he lived with Reuel and his daughters for several years.

Chapters 3-4: The calling of Moses
In chapter 3 we see God calling Moses to be Israel’s leader. We have the famous incident of the burning bush that was not consumed. Incidentally, this is a picture of grace: a thorn bush (a symbol of the curse, or sin) being burned (in judgement) but not being destroyed. Here we also see God pronounce His name as ‘I AM’ (Ex. 3:14).
Moses knows he is talking with God, but he begins to make excuses about why he isn’t the man for the job. ‘What if they don’t listen to me?’ he says. God gives him the power to work miracles as proof of his commission. Finally Moses says, ‘O Lord, please send someone else. I am slow of speech and tongue.’ You can feel God getting exasperated with this man, and suggests that Moses’ brother Aaron would go with him to be his spokesman.

Chapters 5-6: Moses returns to Egypt
In chapter 5, Moses returns to Egypt and he and Aaron go to speak with Pharaoh about releasing the Israelites. But Pharaoh refuses, and makes their work even harder: up to this point, they had been given straw with which to make bricks. But now, he ordered that they gather their own straw as well. The people rightly complain, and again God has to encourage Moses to keep going with what He has called him to do.
In the second part of chapter 6, we are given the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. We discover they are from the tribe of Levi, from the line of Kohath. This will become important later when Aaron is made high priest of the nation and the Levites as a tribe are set aside to serve God.

Chapters 7-11: The ten plagues
Once Moses returns from Midian to Egypt, God brought ten plagues of judgement upon Egypt. This is remembered throughout the rest of the Bible and certain plagues are referred to individually (e.g. Ps. 78:44-51, Rev. 11:6). No two plagues are alike, although they do follow patterns and progressions: involving Moses’ rod, Aaron’s rod, Moses warning Pharoah or not, the plague affecting all the people or just the Egyptians, etc. After each plague we read how Pharaoh hardened his heart (and for the later stages, how God hardened his heart even further). The ten plagues culminate in the death of the firstborn, which God had told Moses would happen before He sent any of the plagues (Ex. 4:21-23). It is interesting to note that each of the plagues affects a certain thing that was considered a god or divine in Egyptian society at the time.

Chapters 12-13: The Passover
In chapter 12 God gives Moses specific instructions concerning the Passover: the last meal the Israelites were to have in Egypt. This would go on to become an important remembrance for the Israelites through all generations even to today with the Passover feast, but it also has significance for us as Christians, as the Passover lamb is symbolic of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 5:7). The Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a lamb, cook and eat it, and smear its blood on the doorframes of their houses. If they did this, God promised that the angel of death would pass over their houses. That night, the angel of death slew every firstborn male in every house that did not have blood on the doorframes. This was the tenth plague, after which Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and commanded them to leave Egypt.

Chapters 14-15: Crossing the Red Sea
Crossing the Red Sea was one of God’s greatest miracles, remembered throughout the Old Testament. The Israelites had left Egypt and were being led by the pillar of cloud and fire. The Egyptian army pursued them. God parted the Red Sea and enabled the Israelites to cross over, while the cloud kept the Egyptians from reaching them. Once the Israelites had crossed, the cloud lifted and the Egyptians started to pursue them. God instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and it flowed back in so that the Egyptians were destroyed. So began the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness.

Chapters 16-18: The start of the journey
It took two years for the Israelites to reach Mount Sinai. A few events from during that time are recorded in chapters 16-18, namely how the people complained about food and God gave them manna and quail to eat, how the people coplained about water and God opened the rock for water to flow out, how the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites (an event that would be remembered in Deut. 25:17-19), and how Moses’ father-in-law came to visit him and gave him advice on how to lead the people.

Chapters 19-24: The giving of the law at Mount Sinai
In Exodus 19 we see Moses and the children of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai. This would be a turning point in the nation’s history, for it was here that God gave them the Law as His covenant with them through Moses (hence, the Mosaic covenant). This was not an unconditional covenant like that made with Abraham, which depended solely on God’s faithfulness. The blessings promised by God to the Israelites under the Mosaic covenant were conditional upon them keeping His Law.
The giving of the Law starts with the well-known Ten Commandments (Ex. 20). Other civil laws follow, concerning servants, recompense for injuries and damage to property, social responsibilities, justice, the Sabbath and festivals. In Ex. 24 God confirms the covenant by having Moses read the Law to the people and sprinkle them with sacrificial blood. When we read through these laws, the words of Jesus come to mind about the two greatest commandments that sum up all the others: firstly, to love God supremely, and secondly, to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Chapters 25-31: Instructions about the tabernacle
After this we see Moses return to the top of Mount Sinai, where God gives him instructions concerning the tabernacle and the items to be placed within it. There is a lot of detail given in these chapters concerning the measurements and the materials for these items. But rather than skimming over it (or neglecting to read it altogether), there are things we can learn and notice. The author of Hebrews alerts us to this: “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’” (Heb. 8:5). Apparently, God didn’t just tell Moses what to make, but He showed him. These items reflect items that are in heaven, in God’s throne room. And each item relates to Jesus Christ: the altar of sacrifice (Christ our sacrifice), the bronze laver for washing (Christ who cleanses us), the table of shewbread (Christ the bread of life, John 6:48), the menorah/lampstand (Christ the light of the world, John 9:5), the golden altar of incense (Christ our intercessor), the ark of the covenant (Christ who kept the Law perfectly), the mercy seat (Christ who atones for us).
God also gives Moses instructions about the priestly garments and the consecration ceremony for the priests, namely Aaron and his sons. He also tells Moses about Bezalel and Oholiab, two men He had given skill to make everything that was required.

Chapters 32-34: The golden calf, etc.
Following the glorious topic of the sanctuary to be built for God, Moses comes down the mountain to find the Israelites falling into their worst sin yet: worshipping a golden calf idol. Moses was filled with righteous anger and breaks the two tablets of stone that God had given him, with the Ten Commandments written on them. After atonement had been made for the people, God instructs Moses to bring new tablets to the mountain to replace the ones that were broken. In this section we also read about how Moses’ face would glow after he had been with the Lord, and his desire to see God’s glory.

Chapters 35-40: Constructing the tabernacle
The final chapters of the book of Exodus (ch. 35-40) are quite similar to ch. 25-31. There, we saw God giving instructions to Moses concerning the construction of the tabernacle; here, we see the work carried out and completed. It was all done exactly as God prescribed, and when it was completed and set up, the glory of God came and dwelt there. The tabernacle layout was incorporated into the temple later on in Israel’s history, once they came into the Promised Land and Jerusalem was established as the capital under David and Solomon.

Exodus is a book of struggle and accomplishment, of failure and mercy, of promise and hope for the future. At the start of the book, Israel was in Egypt as an extended family; at the end of the book, they are a nation being led to their homeland. We are introduced to the key figures of Moses, Aaron, and Joshua. We see God’s miraculous hand, the giving of the Law and the establishment of the priesthood. Throughout the book we see events and symbols pointing to Jesus Christ. If you find it hard going when you are reading, just try putting Jesus in the centre of it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Outline of the Book of Genesis

The word Genesis means ‘beginning’, and the book of Genesis is the beginning of the Bible. It’s quite narrative in style for the most part, easy to read, and full of action. Genesis covers one of the longest periods of history of any book of the Bible: from the Creation up to the death of Joseph, the grandson of Abraham. It sets the scene for many key doctrines and many key people who will feature throughout the rest of the Bible.

Chapters 1-2: The Creation
Genesis 1 gives us the account of what God created on the six days of Creation: light on day one; water and sky on day two; land and vegetation on day three; the sun, moon and stars on day four; sea creatures and birds on day five; land animals and man on day six. Notice how often God declares ‘It was good’ (including twice on the third day, Tuesday – leading to this day being called ‘the day of double blessing’ and the tradition of Jewish weddings often being conducted on Tuesdays). God was pleased with His creation – not because of what it meant to Him, but because it was good for man. Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation, formed in the image of God and created to be in fellowship with Him. Genesis 2 gives us more detail about the creation of man and woman, and the instructions He gave man with respect to the trees of the Garden of Eden, which will appear again in chapter 3.

Chapter 3: The Fall
In the third chapter of the book, we come to the Fall of Man. Satan, manifested as a serpent, tempts Eve into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – something that God had forbidden them from doing. Adam knowingly joins Eve in eating the fruit, and both of them experience separation from God for the first time because of their sin. Their fellowship with God was now broken, and a curse was now upon them. In uttering the curses upon the serpent, Adam, and Eve, we also see the first prophecy of a coming Messiah: “He will crush your [the serpent’s] head, and you will strike His heel” (Gen. 3:15).

Chapter 4-5: Pre-Flood
In chapter 4 we are introduced to the first generation of Adam and Eve’s descendants, namely their first two sons, Cain and Abel. Here we see an interesting thing introduced with little elaboration: namely, sacrificial offerings. Somehow (we aren’t told), Cain’s offering of grain was rejected, while Abel’s offering of a lamb was accepted. This led to Cain killing his brother out of jealousy, for which he was cursed by God and given a special mark of protection as he went out into the world as a nomad. We are then given a brief genealogy of Cain’s lineage – bearing in mind that at this early stage of the human race, there were no genetic mutations to speak of and so Cain was able to marry a sister or niece, as were the other people mentioned.
Similarly, chapter 5 contains a brief genealogy outlining the lineage from Adam to Noah, the next key figure in the book. There was a population explosion at that time, with many people living in excess of 900 years. One interesting figure we see mentioned briefly is Enoch, who, along with Elijah, was taken up into heaven without seeing death. In the latter stages of the New Testament, Jude refers to a quotation of Enoch’s prophecy concerning the second coming of Christ to judge the world. It would seem that the people living at this time still had a close connection with God.

Chapter 6-9: The Flood
The Flood of Noah was a cataclysmic event that changed the world dramatically from how it was created, to how we see it today. Before the Flood, the ‘firmament’ (the ‘expanse’ separating the waters above the earth from the waters on the earth, Gen. 1:7) maintained a temperate climate all over the world. It is thought that this acted as a protective atmospheric layer promoting the extreme longevity. The earth’s climate was completely different at the Creation; for instance, there was no rain, but the earth was watered by mist (Gen. 2:5-6). There are many thoughts as to why God brought the Flood to destroy everything on earth except for Noah and the people and animals with him in the ark. Firstly, we know that the earth was corrupt and society had largely turned away from God (Gen. 6:11-12). But we also see reference made to the ‘sons of God’ (a term used elsewhere in the Old Testament of angelic beings) marrying the ‘daughters of men’ and having children by them, an act which led to the Nephilim coming on the scene. Later, when the nation Israel first explored the land of Canaan, another group of Nephilim are seen, and described as gargantuan people (Num. 13:32-33). Therefore, another reason for the Flood may have been a cleansing of the gene pool of mankind from the influence of these Nephilim, whatever they were.
God instructs Noah to build an ark, and then He brings two of each kind of animal (and seven of every ‘clean’ animal) to be preserved through the Flood. After the Flood the world is greatly changed, and God makes a covenant with Noah, promising to never destroy the world by a flood again, and giving the sign of the rainbow as a reminder of this promise. He also establishes capital punishment as the penalty for murder, and instructs Noah and his family to multiple and fill the earth, as He had instructed Adam in the beginning.

Chapter 10-11: Post-Flood
Genesis 10 gives us a list of names of the descendants of the three sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth). It is often called the table of nations, as the major people groups are mentioned. It is worth reading through these lists, as many of the names occur throughout the rest of the Bible.
In the first part of Genesis 11 we see the account of the Tower of Babel, which led to the development of different languages as God sought to bring confusion among the people building the tower, since it was an act of idolatry and rebellion against Him.
In the second part of Genesis 11 we have a continuation of the genealogy begun in ch. 5; this time, following the line from Shem the son of Noah down to Abram. Notice how the lifespans of each generation is dramatically shortened after the Flood compared to those before the Flood.

Chapter 12-23: Abram (Abraham)
In the latter stages of Genesis 11 we are introduced to Abram, a son of Terah, who lived in a city called Ur in the land of Chaldea. From this point on the narrative of the book becomes much more focused, particularly on four generations of men: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Abraham is called the father of faith (Rom. 4:16). God called him to relocate from Ur to a land he would be shown. Abram obeyed, and when he reached the land of Canaan God made a covenant with him to give him the land. In fact, God made two distinct covenants with him: one concerning the land, and one concerning his descendants (Gen. 13:14-17, Gen. 15:4-5). These covenants become God’s basis for dealing with the children of Israel: they are unconditional promises, which God recalls time and time again in the Scriptures.
Along the way, we see other episodes in the life of Abram: the events surrounding his nephew, Lot (Gen. 13-14, 18-19), the events surrounding his concubine Hagar, and Ishmael, the son she bore to Abram (Gen. 16), the institution of circumcision by God as a sign of His covenant to make Abram the father of many nations, which came with a name change for Abram to become Abraham (Gen. 17), Abraham’s lapse in faith in his attempt to deceive Abimelech (Gen. 20), leading up to the birth of Isaac as the son God had promised (Gen. 21) and the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah (Gen. 23).
In Genesis 22 we see the well-known account of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. This event is deeply prophetic; if we don’t understand this it can warp our view of God. God does not condone human sacrifice, but here He was calling on Abraham to act out a prophecy. It is a prophecy of how another Father would have His only Son (see Gen. 22:2, noting that Isaac was not Abraham’s ‘only’ son) die on the same mountain. Abraham seems to know this, and acts in faith (see Gen. 22:8, Gen. 22:14, Heb. 11:17-19).

Chapter 24-27: Isaac
Only a few chapters are written about Isaac. Unlike his father Abraham and his son Jacob, Isaac apparently did not leave the land of Canaan in his lifetime. In Genesis 24 we see Abraham sending his chief servant back to his own family in the town of Nahor to find a suitable wife for Isaac. This leads to Isaac marrying Rebekah. To her was born twin sons, Jacob and Esau, accompanied by a prophecy that the two would be in conflict their whole lives (Gen. 25:23). In ch. 26 we see Isaac repeating the mistake of his father by trying to deceive a foreign king about the identity of his wife. And like his father, we also see God reaffirming the covenant He made (Gen. 26:24).
Genesis 27 contains the well-known account of how Isaac called his son Esau to go and hunt game so that he might prepare a meal and Isaac would pronounce his blessing upon him. Rebekah overhears and encourages Jacob to deceive his father and receive the blessing in Esau’s place. This is the second time Jacob had taken away from Esau the privilege of the firstborn: first it was the birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), now it was the father’s blessing. Yet God’s hand was upon this, for He had prophesied to Rebekah that ‘the older will serve the younger’ (Gen. 25:23), and the author of Hebrews noted that Isaac blessed Jacob by faith (Heb. 11:20).

Chapter 27-36: Jacob
After the incident with deceiving his father for his blessing, Jacob flees to get away from his brother Esau. He travels to Paddan Aram, and spent time with his uncle Laban. Along the way God appears to him in a dream and reaffirms the covenant He made with his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham, to give him the land of Canaan and to make him into a great nation (Gen. 28:13-15).
In Paddan Aram, Jacob meets his match in the deception stakes: he agrees to work for Laban for seven years in order to marry his daughter Rachel, but on the wedding day Laban gives him his older daughter Leah instead. Jacob works another seven years for Rachel, and a further six years for flocks and herds of his own (Gen. 31:41). During this time, his two wives and their two maidservants, who became Jacob’s concubines, bore twelve sons to him, who would go on to become the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. After twenty years with Laban, God tells Jacob to return to the land of Canaan (Gen. 31:3). When he is nearly there, he receives word that his brother Esau is coming. Thinking he is coming to attack him out of revenge for stealing his blessing, Jacob panics and prays to God. He makes preparation to protect his wives and children, but during the night an ‘angel of the Lord’ (who is apparently Jesus, before His incarnation – see Gen. 32:30) wrestles with him and wrenches his hip. He also pronounces a new name upon Jacob: Israel (Gen. 32:28). Instead of the deceiver (Jacob), he is now a prince with God (Israel). Jacob returns to Bethel, where his wife Rachel dies giving birth to his youngest son Benjamin (Gen. 35). In Genesis 36 we have a genealogy of Esau’s descendants. They would go on to become the nation of Edom, who feature throughout Israel’s history – as do the Ammonites and Moabites, who descended from Lot (Gen. 19:36-38). The blood relationship between these nations features prominently when Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt back into the land (Deut. 2:2-9) and in Bible prophecy (e.g. Dan. 11:41).

Chapter 37-50: Joseph
Joseph was the eldest son of Jacob’s favourite wife Rachel, and after her death giving birth to his brother Benjamin, Jacob showed favouritism towards him thta sparked jealousy among his brothers. One day the opportunity arose and they sold him as a slave while they were out keeping their father’s sheep (Gen. 37). But God’s hand was upon Joseph’s life, and he ended up as the head servant in the house of Potiphar, an Egyptian official. While he was there, he was falsely accused of rape and thrown in prison (Gen. 39). While in prison, Joseph had opportunity to interpret the dreams of a baker and cupbearer who were servants of Pharaoh (Gen. 40). This led to Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s own dreams, which concerned a seven-year famine that was imminent. Pharaoh was impressed and made Joseph his deputy (Gen. 41). In the course of time Joseph’s family back in Canaan were also affected by the famine, and Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to buy food, since under Joseph’s guidance they had been stockpiling grain in preparation. What happens next would make a great movie. Joseph gives them the grain, but warns them that next time they must bring their younger brother. He is testing them to know whether their attitude has changed towards the son whom their father favoured more than them. In ch. 44, when Joseph threatens to take Benjamin away, Judah offers himself in Benjamin’s place, so that his father’s heart would not be broken. At this, Joseph reveals himself to them as their long-lost brother. He instructs them to bring his father back to Egypt, where they would be provided for (Gen. 46-47). Joseph has two sons, who are adopted by Jacob as his own (Gen. 48). This is why in the rest of the Bible, when the ‘twelve tribes’ of Israel are mentioned, sometimes they include Levi and Joseph, and other times Levi is omitted (being the priestly tribe and forbidden to engage in warfare) and the two sons of Joseph are substituted instead. The book finishes with Jacob blessing each of his twelve sons, prophetically; and dying in Egypt.

There are many parallels between the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus. Indeed, the whole book of Genesis has many parallels with other aspects of the Bible: what begins in Genesis is completed in Revelation; the prophetic roleplay of Abraham in Gen. 22, and the life of Joseph are worthy of study in greater detail. Notice God’s unconditional grace given to people in the book of Genesis: although they failed from time to time, God reaffirms His promises to them. And He does the same with us.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Getting to know the Bible, part 2

Why is it important?
The Bible is the Christian’s handbook for life. It shows us God’s dealing throughout history, beginning with a particular focus on the nation of Israel from the time of Abraham onwards, culminating in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. We read about Jesus’ life and sacrificial death, the moment where history changed forever, as man’s sin could finally be forgiven. We see the working of the Holy Spirit in the early church, and how the message of the Gospel went out into all the world. We have the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude giving us practical instruction on how to live the Christian life. We have the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets and John the apostle, describing the events that will yet unfold in the last days when God will bring final judgement upon the world for sin, and establish His eternal kingdom.
The Bible is the primary means by which God reveals His character to us. If we don’t know the Bible very well, it follows that we are unlikely to know God very well. The Bible gives us hope and comfort in a world of turmoil. The better we know it, the stronger our anchor will be in difficult times.

Is it still relevant?
The short answer is ‘yes’. But what about the laws about sacrifices, feasts, uncleanness, and so forth? While these are not relevant to Christians on a practical level, these passages of Scripture are worth reading because they demonstrate aspects of Christ to us. “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). And what about the genealogies? If the genealogies show us nothing else, they show us that God keeps track of who we are and where we have come from. It shows us that God is interested in each of us as individuals.

Why should we read it over and over?
Reading the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian, nor does failing to read the Bible mean that you cease being a Christian. However, reading the Bible does make you a strong Christian, and that’s why it’s important to read it over and over, as often as possible. People estimate that only 10-30% of Christians have actually read the whole Bible.
The Bible is God’s primary means of communicating with us. It isn’t just words on a page – with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it brings life to your spirit. This is why when atheists read the Bible, they can’t see past the blood and violence of the Old Testament, and come away saying it’s full of contradictions and fairy tales.
When George W. Bush mentioned that he reads the Bible every day, a comedian responded, ‘He’s 56 years old – finish the book!’ Indeed, many Christians think that once they’ve read the Bible through once, that’s enough. But reading it over and over is very, very beneficial to you. It’s as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12, even though we know these things and are firmly established in the truth, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of them again. Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit would bring His words to our remembrance (John 14:26). You can’t be reminded of something you’ve never heard or read in the first place. So if you haven’t read through the whole Bible, my challenge to you is to start doing this. There are plenty of tools out there to help you, including here. And, if you’re in the 10-30% who have already read through the Bible, I hope you are continuing to read it, over and over. This is the way it becomes embedded in your heart, so that you will be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And each time you read it, the Holy Spirit will reveal something new to you that you haven’t seen before.

What should I do if I find reading it gets boring?
Usually I find that if the Bible seems boring, it’s because I’m not reading it under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without that, it just becomes words on a page. But with the Holy Spirit guiding you, even the lists of genealogies that most people skip over, can yield treasures.
Before you start reading, pray. One of my favourite verses is Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.” Ask God to speak to you through what you are about to read. Ask Him to help you concentrate. Then read it, absorb it, let it seep into your spirit. If there are any verses that jump off the page at you, pray. Thank God for revealing Himself to you through His Word, and commit to applying it to your life, starting today. Or if there is a passage that you don’t understand, pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to explain it to you. The explanation may not come immediately, but it will come. It can be really helpful to keep a notebook or journal to demonstrate to yourself – not to anyone else (unless you choose to) – how God has been speaking to you through His Word.
Whatever you do, if reading the Bible gets boring, don’t stop. That would be like a runner giving up and sitting down instead of pushing through to the finish line. One way to keep going with your daily Bible reading is to be reading multiple books at a time. For example, daily readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament. Sure, there may be passages that you don’t get much out of, like the genealogies. But it would be a mistake to not read them at all.

How do I put it into practice?
Putting the Bible into practice is very important. Jesus told a story of two men who built houses: one on the rock (representing a person who put His words into practice) and one on the sand (representing a person who didn’t). Although both houses looked the same on the outside, when the storm came, the house on the rock survived while the house on the sand was destroyed (Matt. 7:24-27). It was the foundation the houses were built upon, that made all the difference. For the Christian, that foundation must be Jesus Christ and the Word of God (1 Cor. 3:11). God hasn’t just given us His Word for us to read, or to know, or to memorise – but to do. God’s commands are not difficult – Jesus said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29) – but it requires discipline on our part to obey Him.
We also need to be careful not to fall into the same trap that the Pharisees did, and think that the Christian life is solely a matter of keeping rules. While Jesus and Paul do give some instructions on what we should and shouldn’t be doing, the best way to put God’s Word into practice is not only doing these specific things, but examining the principles behind them. At the end of the day, Jesus said that all rules can be condensed into two: Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and loving your neighbour as yourself. ‘Love’ in this context is putting the other person and their needs and comfort ahead of your own. So, keeping God’s commands are not only a matter of what we do, but our attitude as well.
Yes, we will all fail – some of us on a very regular basis. But this is where we can turn to God for forgiveness, and ask Him to strengthen us for next time. The important thing is to keep going – keep reading God’s Word, keep pressing on in the Lord, keep allowing the Holy Spirit to mould you into the image of Christ. It’s a lifelong process; we will never be perfect on this side of eternity. But one day we will be completed; we will see the Lord face to face and be in His presence forever.

I hope these tips are helpful to you. In the coming weeks we’ll start looking at some overviews of each of the books of the Bible, with some hints on what to expect and hidden treasures to look out for as you read.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Getting to know the Bible (Part 1)

What is it?
The Bible is the Christian’s handbook for life. Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The Bible is comprised of the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament consists of 39 books which span the period from the Creation up to the last prophets who ministered before the birth of Christ. These books can be broken down further into groups:
- the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). These are the first five books of the Bible, also called the five books of Moses, also called the Torah by Jews (with the rest of the Old Testament being called the Tanach). These books were written by Moses and cover the period from the Creation up to God giving the children of Israel the Law through Moses, just prior to the Israelites entering the Promised Land.
- history books (Joshua to Esther). These cover the history of Israel from the time when the Israelites entered the Promised Land under Joshua, through the period of the kings and the exile of both the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria and the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon, up to the time of Esther during the Persian Empire.
- poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs/Song of Solomon). These books are written in Hebrew poetical form – the ‘rhyming’ of ideas or thoughts.
- major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel). The ‘major’ prophets are so-called because the books are generally longer than the ‘minor’ prophets. They contain prophecies, where God foretells in advance future events. Some of these have been fulfilled, but others are yet to be fulfilled.
- minor prophets (Hosea to Malachi). These are each shorter in length than the ‘major’ prophets, but are no less important. The first nine (Hosea to Zephaniah) ministered prior to the Babylonian captivity, while the final three (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) are ‘post-exile’, ministering after the Jews returned to the land from captivity.

The New Testament consists of 27 books, usually grouped as follows:
- the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). These describe the life and ministry of Jesus Christ from different viewpoints. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because they are written in a narrative style, describing events and sermons, while John’s Gospel has a different structure as he sought to describe who Jesus was.
- the book of Acts, describing the history of the early church after Jesus ascended to heaven. This is the only ‘history’ book of the New Testament.
- the epistles (Romans to Jude). These are grouped by author: firstly, the epistles written by Paul (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, possibly Hebrews although this is controversial), James the brother of Jesus, Peter, John, and Jude the brother of Jesus. These are letters written to various churches and individuals, describing how we should live the Christian life.
- the book of Revelation, which is prophetic and concerns the last days when God’s judgement is executed upon the world and Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom.

How was it written?
The original text of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with some parts in Aramaic (Ezra 4:8-6:18, Dan. 2-7). It was assembled in the days of Ezra (550 BC); this was called the Vorlage. In 285-270 BC the Vorlage was translated by seventy scribes into Greek, the language used by the people at that time; this was called the Septuagint version. In the New Testament, quotes from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint translation. In 90 AD the Jews were upset that Christians were using ‘their’ Bible, and so the Masoretic text was produced in Hebrew. The oldest manuscript fragments of the Masoretic text date back to the tenth century. The Dead Sea scrolls, found in Qumram in 1947, date from the first century AD and agree with the Septuagint and Vorlage.

The original text of the New Testament was written in common Greek. The earliest fragments we have date to the first century; the earliest complete New Testaments are the Codex Vaticanus (325 AD) and Codex Siniaticus (350 AD). Around the time that Constantine made Christianity legal, a standardised New Testament was produced, called Textus Receptus (‘received text’).
In 400 AD Latin surpassed Greek as the common language of the world, and the Septuagint, New Testament, and available Hebrew manuscripts were translated into Latin. This is the Vulgate translation. The first English translation was produced by John Wycliffe in 1537.

Who wrote it?
The Holy Spirit inspired certain people to write the Bible. That is, He impressed upon their hearts the exact words to write – using their own personalities and writing styles as He did so. In the Old Testament these writers included Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, Ezra, and the prophets. In the New Testament these included Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James and Jude. Subsequent translations do not have the same kind of inspiration as the original manuscripts. The divine authorship of the Bible is demonstrated in that even though there are so many different authors, who wrote over a period spanning many centuries, the message of the Bible is completely consistent throughout. There are no errors in the original manuscripts and no contradictions (any apparent contradictions can be explained).

What is the canon?
The word ‘kanon’ in Greek means ‘reed’ or ‘measurement’, in other words a yardstick. The canon of Scripture is the collection of books that are inspired by God. The canon was not determined by the church, but by God, who caused people to recognise through the Holy Spirit that the books that now make up our Bible were inspired. Three criteria are generally used:
(1) Prophetic authorship: proven to be written by a prophet, apostle, or someone associated with them.
(2) Witness of the Holy Spirit
(3) Acceptance by the early church.
The canon of Scripture as we currently have it – the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 of the new – is complete. There are no other writings on par with these in terms of being inspired by God.

The Apocrypha (‘hidden’) books appear in some Bibles. They were written between 300 BC – 70 AD; some are included in the Septuagint. They are not considered to be inspired as is the rest of the canon of Scripture.

Chuck Missler, ‘How we got our Bible’
Blue Letter Bible, FAQ: The Canon

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Statement of faith

I have been meaning to do this for a while, since there’s a lot of material out in the internet supposedly about Christianity, and anybody can write anything they like online, but it may not be Scriptural. I can’t expect others to read what I’ve written, without stating the beliefs that I hold as foundations of my faith. I have divded these into two categories: the essentials, which for me are non-negotiable if you are to call yourself a Christian, and the less-essentials, which I would be willing to ‘agree to disagree’ on. (Each section will probably become a separate posting over the course of time.)

The essentials (non-negotiable)

I believe there is one God, who exists as three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Deut. 6:4, John 20:17, Rom. 9:5, Acts 5:3-4). All three are God, and all three are distinct from each other. God is eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present. He is not constrained by time or distance.

I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and God the Son (Mark 1:1, John 1:1). He has always existed (being God eternal), and became fully human, born of the virgin Mary (Isa. 7:14, Luke 1:34-35). He suffered and died on the cross for our sins, descended into hell, rose again after three days, and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (1 Cor. 15:3-4, Eph. 4:9, Mark 16:19).

I believe salvation is available to all through faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a free gift of God, obtained by grace, not works (Eph. 2:8-9). All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God – none of us are good enough to enter heaven by good works or keeping rules (Rom. 3:23). We are saved through faith in Jesus Christ: that He died on the cross in our place, taking the punishment that our sins deserve, and was resurrected from the dead, and was accepted by the Father as a substitute in our place so that our sins can now be forgiven. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved (John 14:6, Acts 4:12).

I believe the Bible is the Word of God and is without error in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). There are no other writings on par with the 66 books we have as the Old and New Testament canon.

The less-essentials

I believe God created the world in six lieteral 24-hour days, exactly as recorded in the book of Genesis. I believe in a ‘young earth’. I reject the suggestion that God used Darwinian macro-evolutionary processes to create the world, and I reject the idea that the days of creation could refer to longer time periods.

I believe in heaven as the eternal dwelling-place of God and the destiny of all believers in Christ. I believe in hell as a place of eternal torment made for the devil and his angels and the unfortunate destiny of all who reject Christ as their Saviour (Matt. 25:41).

I believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ to execute God’s final judgement on the unbelieving world and to establish His literal, physical kingdom on the earth.

I believe in the Church as the unified body of Christ, consisting of all true believers, all over the world, all through time from Pentecost to the Rapture. It is this definition of the Church which Jesus said He would build, upon the confession of faith that Peter made in Jesus as the promised Messiah (Matt. 16:18).

I believe in the rapture of the Church: that all true believers will one day be taken to heaven in an instant without dying (1 Thess. 4:17). I believe this happens prior to the seven years of Tribulation.

I believe in angels as ministering spirits helping those on earth who believe (Heb. 1:14), and serving and giving worship to God in heaven (Rev. 5:11-12). I believe in demons as evil spirits under the control of Satan. These are real beings, not concepts or euphemisms.

I believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a separate event from conversion, given so that believers may have power for ministering to others, as Jesus promised (Acts 1:8). I believe the gifts of the Spirit are still active today, not limited to: healings, miracles, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy (in a specific sense, not on par with Scripture), words of wisdom, words of knowledge, etc. (1 Cor. 12:7-11, 1 Cor. 12:28, Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Pet. 4:10-11).

I do not believe water baptism is essential for salvation. While it is a powerful statement of a person’s faith, and something that all Christians should do, our salvation does not depend on being baptised in water.

I do not believe the communion elements (bread and wine) are transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. While we are commanded by Jesus to take communion together in remembrance of His death until He comes, the elements are merely symbols and remain so as we eat them.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Time for change

This blog has been going for three years now, with the initial aim of taking one Bible verse a day and explaining it. These verses have been taken from my personal daily reading schedule. Lately, I’ve found that I’ve been drawn into a rut. My Bible reading has become less and less about God speaking to me personally through the Bible and instead it has become more about finding verses to discuss here. So after prayer, I’ve realised that it’s time for a change.

A few things have happened in the last couple of months that have bothered me. Firstly was a conversation I had with someone from church who admitted that she had never read through the Bible. I’m hoping to talk with her again to ask why, and perhaps you have some comment on this. What has prevented you from reading the whole Bible, or certain books? I’m aware that ploughing through the genealogies of Chronicles doesn’t appeal to most people (if anyone), and that people struggle to understand the symbolism and relevance of prophecy. But a lot of other books are completely readable, yet people don’t. Why not?

Secondly, I visited a church while I was in Adelaide, Australia, recently. It was the kind of church not unlike one that I belonged to about 10-15 years ago. Yet the abundance of spiritual fluff and the lack of meat in the teaching left me feeling very, very sad. The people were lapping it up like water, but there was no substance in it and I wondered how this kind of superficial faith would help them when they encountered real struggles and trials in their Christian walk. I seem to have been very blessed with the Bible teachers I have encountered, who know the meaning of proper exposition and Scriptural context.

I know that God has blessed me with an ability to teach and to write, and I want to use it for His glory. I know that I am not called as an evangelist, but I do feel a very strong call to disciple people, and particularly to see them develop a love for and an understanding of the Word of God. After all, the Bible is the primary means that God uses to teach us things about Himself today.

So instead of short, daily entries, this blog will be changing to more in-depth entries which will be posted weekly. At the moment I’m thinking of discussing key Christian doctrines that people often struggle with, and also providing overview pieces on different books and sections of the Bible to help people understand what they are about as they read them. But this is largely me guessing what people are struggling with and what keeps them from reading the Bible. So I would greatly value your input. If there’s a particular passage of Scripture, or an entire book, that you have given up reading because it doesn’t make sense to you, please let me know what it is (and the reason, if you’re able to), and I’ll make the effort to tackle it. If you’d prefer your comment was kept private, please indicate so and I won’t publish it. Thanks!

Monday, December 31, 2012

The greatest love of all

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13
If we were to try to describe God’s love, we need look no further than Jesus dying on the cross for the sin of the world (Rom. 5:8). Jesus was the ultimate example of someone who put others’ needs first before His own. And this is the kind of love that we should be showing to one another – and not just to other believers, but to everybody.
On two occasions recently, I had the opportunity to dramatically inconvenience myself in order to help someone else. In one case it was accommodating a family of five in my two-bedroom home for a weekend. In the other it was trading places with a colleague who couldn’t get a seat on a flight but had been placed on standby for the following morning, while I had a seat on a flight leaving that night. In both cases I had a decision to make, and in both cases God worked things out so that the inconvenience didn’t happen (the family stayed elsewhere, and when we enquired about swapping the flights, a seat was available for my colleague to travel that night also).
But even thinking about this, I am challenged: would I have done the same thing for someone I didn’t know? Or for somebody I knew, but didn’t like? Yet Jesus died for those who hated Him, for those who would reject His offer, for thse who wouldn’t believe, as well as those who would. Not everybody appreciated what He did, but He did it anyway. Are we willing to show this kind of love to other people?

Sunday, December 30, 2012


“He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:2
John 15 contains the well-known ‘vine and branches’ discourse. Jesus states that He is the vine, we are the branches. We need to be connected to the vine to produce fruit. God wants us to be fruitful – to demonstrate His qualities in our lives. Here we see the way God treats us in two opposite scenarios: one where we are not bearing any fruit, and one where we are.
If we are not bearing fruit, we will be ‘cut off’. This does not mean we will lose our salvation – after all, we are still attached to the vine. Rather, God has ways of disciplining us, cutting off the pleasures of sin that we are following after instead of following the Lord whole-heartedly. He does this in order to teach us how we should be living in Christ. He will cut off those areas of our lives that are unproductive.
On the other hand, branches that are producing fruit are pruned. The Greek word here means ‘cleaned’. After the fruit has been produced, the branches are pruned back so that in the next season they may grow back stronger and able to produce even more fruit than the first year. If this pruning did not take place, the branch would become hard and woody, and eventually become less productive. Pruning can be painful. For instance, if you’ve always been quite active in ministry in your church, it can be painful to have to take a back seat for a while. But this is God’s way of pruning, so that you can have more time to seek Him and have the sap of the Holy Spirit run deeper through your life, so that when your next season of ministry comes around, you will be even more fruitful in it. This has happened to me a number of times. There is the initial excitement of getting involved, but after a few years ministry becomes a chore. The pruning is painful, but we need to learn to see it as a time of preparation for the next thing God has for us. Don’t despise it; recognise it as God’s way of producing more fruit in your life in the long-term.