Category Archives: Bible

A Mizpah Mistake?

I remember years ago there were these paired necklaces. The two pairs together made a whole coin, called a Mizpah coin. On the coin were two hearts with beautiful text from the Bible, along the lines of “The LORD keep watch between me and thee while we are absent one from another.” The coin was then cut in two in a jagged way, and each part hung on a chain. It was either a couples thing or a BFF thing depending on how you looked at it.

I was young and naive. I always thought it was such a beautiful expression of care and concern. So much so, that I whispered it in my husband’s ear as they were wheeling him away for a medical procedure. And even as I was doing it, I had this queasy feeling like I was wrong, like it was the wrong thing to say or the wrong situation.

So, while I was eating lunch, I did the Christian equivalent of Bible google. It was not a pleasant situation that I found. The words we as a culture always thought to be so loving and caring were actually part of a threat from a father-in-law to a son-in-law. Let me explain.

The words come from a story in the life of Jacob, later renamed by God to Israel. Jacob’s life spans many years and many chapters in the book of Genesis. Jacob was a right rascal. He’d deceived his father into giving him the inheritance even though the custom was that the firstborn was to receive it; Jacob was second born, a twin who delivered by grabbing Esau’s ankle and following Esau out.

Esau was naturally disturbed, well more like in a murderous rage. So Jacob went on the run and found his way to working for Laban. Laban had two daughters. Jacob did not like the look of Leah, but loved Rachel. Laban agreed to let Jacob marry Rachel.

Jacob was not getting a good and kind father-in-law; instead he was getting a lesson in the wrongness of deception. By the point in our story that the quote is said, Laban has:

  • Tricked Jacob into working seven years to earn Rachel
  • Tricked Jacob into marrying Leah
  • Tricked Jacob into working another seven years for Rachel
  • Changed how much Jacob could earn while he worked for Laban (10 times no less)

So Jacob lied to Laban and took off with all his wives, kids, and earthly goods. Evidently, deception was a family affair because Rachel stole some idols from her father. Laban caught up with everyone and accused Jacob of the idol theft. Jacob, as a follower of God, would have detested idols, so he said Laban could search his caravan, seize the idols if found, and kill the thief. Obviously, Jacob trusted Rachel too much, but Rachel wasn’t done. She sat on the idols and refused to move, deceptively stating it was “that time of the month.” (All of us modern peeps know not to mess with PMS, right?)

With the idols not found, Laban blesses them all, and he and Jacob build a pile of stones as an altar, closing with the following quote before he literally kisses them all goodbye and leaves:

And Laban said, “This pile is a witness between me and you today.” That is why its name is Gal-ed, or Mizpah, for he said, “Let Adonai keep watch between you and me when we are out of one another’s sight. If you mistreat my daughters, and if you take wives besides my daughters, though no one is with us, look! God is the witness between you and me.”

Laban said further to Jacob, “Behold, this pile, and this pillar which I’ve set up between you and me: this pile serves as a witness, that I won’t pass by this pillar to go to you, and that you won’t pass by this pile and this pillar to go to me—with evil intent. May the God of Abraham and the gods of Nahor, the gods of their father, judge between us.”

Jacob also made an oath by the fear of his father Isaac.

–Genesis 31:48-53, Tree of Life Version

So what is the Mizpah Mistake?

First, when you take a Scripture verse out of context, no matter how beautiful, you miss the point of the lesson to be learned and you settle for less than God’s best that the Scripture is designed to give you in life.

Second, it’s the point missed from the entire passage. Sometimes, relationships are so broken, and the people in the relationships are so broken, that we just have to let go. Not only let go, but let go the right way:

  1. Talk it out
  2. Agree to disagree
  3. Set the boundaries
  4. Go your own way.

Hounding My Mind

I’ve shared before how this is the time of year when I seem to review my life, almost torturing myself with the people who aren’t in it and the places I can’t go any more.

I’m thinking of Miriam again. It was a fall day like this one when she quipped at some odd comment I’d made, “The Lord will win. His Holy Spirit is the hound of heaven you know.”

I was taken aback. It was such an irreverent, sacrilegious thought, comparing the Lord to a dog. I was not yet out of the denominational pew of my birth, so it was even more horrifying.

But maybe it was an attempt to challenge me to become more Biblically literate. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be until years later that I would grow enough to know how to search the Bible, then devolve into chuckling and laughter.

Hound of heaven is nowhere, nowhere in the Bible. Even hound is a hard word to find. I found it in the NIV, twice (or the search engine on my favorite online Bible site found it twice). It was nowhere in the KJV, which was what Miriam quoted all the time.

I was both miffed that she pulled it and even more intrigued. At first, I thought she just created it, but the prideful, educated side of me scoffed. So I googled hound of heaven.

There is actually a poem by a Francis Thomson called “The Hound of Heaven.” I won’t republish it here; its 180+ lines  are far too many for a mobile app generation. You can visit the full text if you’d like.

The point of the poem is so encouraging. Although God is indeed a just God who will allow souls to choose Hell, He is also an infinitely loving God whose graces and mercies are new every morning and never fail.

Like hounds were used to chase foxes tirelessly, relentlessly, passionately, steadfastly, He loves every sinner and will tirelessly, relentlessly, passionately, steadfastly arrange the circumstances of the sinner’s life so that the sinner has every opportunity up until the last breath to choose Christ.

Impure in His Presence?

I’ve written in the past about how I love worship and how God inhabits the praises of His people. I also love worship because I always believed that nothing impure could stand in the presence of God and if I could just get over my shame and guilt I’d be a little cleaner because of time with Him.

While it’s true that time with Him in His Word and prayer does improve righteousness, attitude, and wisdom, I was trying to find the Scriptural basis for the notion that nothing impure could stand in the presence of God.

After a few searches, I started feeling queasy. In Job, we see Satan goes right up to the throne of God (Job 1:6, Job 2:1) with the other angels (presumably those still following God).

Satan also approaches Jesus, who never sinned, while Jesus was fasting in the wilderness. Matthew 4:1-11 contains all the details. In effect, Satan was permitted to test Jesus three times over food, power, and proper targets for worship. Jesus of course passed.

Impure spirits were regularly in the presence of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark 1:25, an impure spirit challenges Jesus and tries to reveal His identity before the proper time. In Mark 3:11, the impure spirits are constantly bowing and trying to identify Jesus before the proper time.

Mark 5:1-20 describes another time impure spirits were before Jesus. A seriously disturbed man lived in a graveyard. When Jesus was passing by, he began to yell… or the demon began to yell. It tried to identify Jesus and accuse Him of coming too soon to torture him and his evil buddies. They knew His power–they begged Him first not to send them away and then to send them into some pigs. He obliged. They killed the pigs, irritating the farmer and related merchants.

Now Isaiah and Revelation do have some interesting passages. They do talk about the impure not being fit to follow the Lord and be in the presence of the Lord.

Isaiah 35:8 (NIV) — And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.

Revelation 21:27 (NIV) — Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

As much as it would make life easier if these verses were immediately true in our here and now, both Isaiah and Revelation are prophetic books about a future that has not yet come to pass.

So, what I said is true in the future, but it’s not really true in the here and now. In the here and now, the impure can be in the Presence of Holy God. They are either infinitely rebellious or quivering, shaking, and uncomfortable.

And maybe sometimes they’re a lot like me, or am I a lot like them? The difference is that I can and have chosen Christ and I have His righteousness covering me. At some point, I will not be rebellious, quivering, uncomfortable. I will be perfected and changed in the twinkling of an eye, forever whole and praising the One I love.

Gifts — Protestant versus Catholic

If you ask a Christian about what the gifts are, you get a different answer depending on the denominational pew.

Protestants faithfully point to 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and list word (message) of wisdom, word (message) of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing (discerning) spirits, speaking in tongues, and tongues interpretation. Later, in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30, they add apostleship, teaching, and helps and again list prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, and tongues interpretation.

Catholics on the other hand start to talk about gifts instilled in them at Baptism and further sealed at Confirmation:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Counsel (Right Judgment)
  • Knowledge
  • Fortitude (Courage)
  • Piety (Reverence)
  • Fear of the Lord (awe and wonder in His presence)

Because of the Socratic method and something called the old Baltimore Catechism, most could answer the question but not give a Scripture reference.

I would like to suggest (thanks to a lesson by an associate pastor on something completely different) is that these gifts are Biblical and do exist… in Isaiah 11:1-5. I would suggest that you review this passage in several versions of the Bible; for my purposes, I’ve used NIV, KJV, CJB, and ICB. For argument’s sake, I’ve avoided Catholic versions like Douay-Rheims.

Wisdom: This is referenced in Isaiah 11:2a, “The Spirit gives him wisdom….” (ICB)

Understanding: Again, this is in Isaiah 11:2a, “The Spirit gives him..understanding….” (ICB)

Counsel (Right Judgment): Two different parts of this passage reference counsel or right judgment. The first is Isaiah 11:2b, “The Spirit of Adonai will rest on him, the Spirit of… counsel… .” (CJB) Also, if you accept right judgment as a form of counsel, Isaiah 11:3b-4a states: “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” (NIV)

Knowledge:  Isaiah 11:2c in all versions references spirit of knowledge.

Fortitude (Courage): Fortitude and courage are not directly referenced. However, the word might at the end of Isaiah 11:3c in NIV and KJV could refer to a strength derived from fortitude or courage. The CJB and ICB both use power, which again could refer to a quality derived due to fortitude or courage.

Piety (Reverence): Again, this is not directly referenced. Three versions of Isaiah 11:3 however talk about qualities that could be argued to derive from piety or reverence. In the NIV, the phrase is “delighting in the fear of the Lord.” CJB talks about being “inspired by fearing Adonai.” ICB talks about having gladness from obeying the Lord.

Fear of the Lord (awe and wonder in His Presence): This is mentioned in Isaiah 11:2c in all versions except ICB.

Five out of seven directly referenced isn’t bad. That’s 70%, and it’s a higher accuracy than most meteorologists… or so I’m told. 🙂

Anger Management

A lot has been written about the importance of managing anger. Scientific studies have shown that angry people get sick easier and die younger. Blah-blah-blah-blahblah…

Because this is one of my struggles, I can quote you beautiful verses to combat anger spiritually.

  • Ephesians 4:6 — Be angry without sinning. Don’t go to bed angry. (Names of God)
  • Colossians 3:8 —  But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (New International Version)
  • James 1:19-21 — My dear brothers, always be willing to listen and slow to speak. Do not become angry easily. Anger will not help you live a good life as God wants. (International Children’s Bible)

But here’s the problem that never gets completely addressed: When does anger the emotion cross the line into anger the sin? What actions can I take to analyze and determine a proper expression of anger?

Jesus himself got very angry at times.

Example 1: The Woe “Monologue” (Matthew 23:1-36)

There was no love lost between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day (scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees). Although He loved them, He hated the way they acted. They chose to not live to the standards they held others to. So for 30+ verses, Jesus gives them the lecture of their lives. Although He said that you couldn’t call your brother a fool without risking hell, He called these leaders hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, snakes, and broods of vipers.

Example 2: The fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21)

Jesus and His disciples were headed to Jerusalem. They walked by a fig tree that had no fruit because it wasn’t the right time of year. Jesus cursed the tree and told it to never give fruit again. When He and His disciples returned the next day, it had withered. Jesus in later verses uses it as an example of what the faith filled spoken word can do.

But I need to take a step back. I need to reverently ask a tough question. If the tree was seemingly fertile but it was the wrong time of year, why blame the tree and take away its ability to bear fruit? It seems almost too human to me to blame the tree for not having what’s needed at the wrong time of year.

Now you can search the expository writings. It is argued the tree stood in the place of hypocrites, those who teach good things but never do them.

Would this mean a real person who angers us should be ignored but we can go tear apart a pillow or destroy a room? Yes, that’s a little facetious…

The point is: Jesus got angry about actions but then expressed them in a different context, away from those who had angered Him.

Example 3: Cleansing the Temple (John 2:13-17)

Close to the Passover, Jesus and His disciples went to the Temple in Jerusalem. At some point in history, the Jewish leaders decided to collect a temple tax, buy and sell the sacrificial animals, and in general turn the holiest place in the Jewish world into a flea market. Jesus becomes highly incensed (and not with frankincense and myrrh), makes a whip for himself, and creates havoc to end the sacrilege.

Here, Jesus is directly confronting the marketplace invading the sacred space. The anger is over wrong motive and place. But he makes this shock and awe statement with a whip and two-year-old tantrum (no sacrilege intended). He physically expresses the anger in the place where the actions inciting His anger occurred.

Yes, I still have the same questions as when I began this mini-study. Yes, I’m still confused. But if you’re just as confused as I am, have no fear. Jesus is still a True and Just God. He still loves us even when we don’t understand, even when we succumb to the same sin for the “7 x 70th” time. He sees us with love, and when we accept His sacrifice, His Father sees us through the prism of Christ’s righteousness.

Shame on the New York Times

Everyone who knows me knows that if you like homogeneity in your Facebook friends list, you just shouldn’t connect to me. I have a Muslim charity and Israeli new sites in my feed; I still maintain contact with my college friend who became a preacher as well as the high school friends who are wiccan or viking neo-pagan leaders. I have heterosexuals and homosexuals and just about every kind of sexual being in my list.

So it’s not unusual for me to read pieces from different viewpoints. Like this article in the Op Ed section of the New York Times (last accessed 8/14/2016, should my piece stir them to remove it *snorts* or should it be a very special kind of bait-and-switch hack *snorts again*). The title of the article is “Is God Transgender?” and was written by Mark Sameth.

The argument was based on the idea that the feminine pronoun was used instead of the masculine. And I was irritated for I knew some of the very references and I knew that whatever version was referenced it probably was in error or the editor was an incredibly lousy theological editor.

For my source, I used BibleGateway. I pulled up four or five different English translations or versions, and I compared them side by side.

First, Mr. Sameth claims Genesis 3:12 that Eve is referred to as “he.” Going to my source, the New International, New King James, Orthodox Jewish Bible, and Complete Jewish Bible all use “she.” The dissenting version, the Names of God, takes a very Bill Clinton approach and calls Eve, “that woman, the one you gave me.”

Next, in Genesis 9:21, the author states that Noah retired to her tent. Now, this isn’t the daughter named Noah that I referred to in an earlier post. This is the man Noah who built the ark and got the animals to safety. And… *trumpet fanfare* all five sources say “his tent.”

In reading Genesis 24:16, Mr. Sameth claims that Rebekah is referred to as a “young man.” In this case, I must remove the Orthodox Jewish Bible because it uses distinctly Jewish words and vocabulary, probably to express that translation will not be good if possible at all. All four other versions refer to Rebekah as a beautiful or attractive virgin who had never been with a man. Perhaps the author of the Times piece just misread this passage; we’re all human and make mistakes.

For Genesis 1:27, the author claims that Adam is referred to with the plural them. Again, I must remove the Orthodox Jewish Bible. However, all four other versions use mankind, humans, man, humankind. I suspect the New King James used the more global version of the word man, that is, it refers to all humans by having just the one stand for them.

*pulls knife out of heart* Esther is one of my favorite stories. To see how Mr. Sameth treated Mordecai is absolutely deplorable. My four sources–New International Version, Names of God, New King James, and Complete Jewish Bible–all use not nursing words, but words of adoption, rearing, or parenting. The Orthodox Jewish Bible uses the word bat,  which is the word for daughter.

As for the Isaiah 49:23 reference, it is kings who are serving as foster fathers; the queens do the nursing. Now, perhaps Mr. Sameth was using the modern definition of queen; I can give him that. However, that use of queen is pejorative and very beneath the argument he was trying to build.

I appreciate that this is a multi-cultural world. Not everyone will agree with me. More than likely, I will be in the minority. Yet I am open minded enough to at least hear you out and try to see things your way even if I don’t agree.

However, if you expect me to seriously consider your position, you really need to do your homework and have your facts straight. If I already disagree with something, I’m not likely to change my mind if you don’t check the facts.

An Old Pattern with the LORD’s Justice Applied

Now Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons but only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. (Joshua 17:2-4)

I’m a firm believer that literature, as a form of art, contains patterns for life that get repeated time and time again. The Bible for most Christians is at very least a well-loved and highly-regarded form of literature.

Feminists often argue that the Bible is misogynistic, shackling, and demeaning. I would disagree–I would argue instead that the way the Bible is interpreted and applied can be misogynistic, shackling, and demeaning depending on who’s in power.

That said, there is a story in the Old Testament that argues for the love of a Father for both genders.

Zelophehad was an Old Testament man about the time of the Exodus. He is mentioned in the following passages:

  • Numbers 27:1-11
  • Numbers 36
  • Joshua 17:3-6
  • Numbers 26:33 (just a passing mention for the desert equivalent of a census, not pertinent to this post)
  • 1 Chronicles 7:15b (just another passing mention for the desert equivalent of a census, again not pertinent to this post)

Numbers 27:1 begins the tale of Zelophehad. We don’t know much about him, other than he died in the desert as a result of his own disobedience and he did not take part in any rebellious acts. He had no sons. In those days, this was a tragedy, but it wasn’t the worst tragedy since he did have children in the form of five daughters.

It is interesting that only three daughters have feminine names: Mahlah (Hebrew form of Arabic for powerful, narrow, tender), Milkah (queen), and Tirzah (delight). The other two have masculine names–Noah (rest, peace, comfort) and Hoglah (his festival or dance).

With no information on the father, we don’t know much. It is most interesting that two of the daughters have masculine names. It makes me wonder if after several daughters he so devoutly wished for a son that he started giving masculine names as a deep petition, a verbal expression of a strong desire to express his masculinity through masculine offspring.

At any rate, with no sons, he would have no property. Without property, his memory would be forgotten. It would be like he never existed. His daughters had other plans. They argued that they should receive their father’s portion of the inheritance. It was a risky and courageous move–women had well-defined roles and stepping outside those roles could result in community censure or even death.

Moses did not know what to do. So he went to the LORD with their request. In a move most feminists don’t seem to know exists in the Bible, the LORD stated their request was right (and just, although He didn’t say that). Further, in verses 8-11 He gave Moses the exact words to use to present the ruling to the people, who more than likely weren’t pleased to have a little less land to share.

Numbers 36 shows just how land hungry the Israelites really were. They challenged the LORD’s ruling, arguing that their tribe would lose land to the other tribes if the daughters ever married (verses 1-4).

Moses starts to give the LORD’s ruling in verse 5 with the end in verse 9. I can almost see Moses shaking his head and the LORD sighing deeply in between 4 and 5, but I digress. The LORD says that the daughters have to marry within their tribe if they marry. He also extends the ruling to cover any daughter who inherits from her father. Verses 10-12 indicate that the daughters of Zelophehad obeyed the LORD.

I suspect Joshua 17:1-6 happened between Numbers 36:1-9 and Numbers 36:10-12. In Joshua 17:1-2 the land for the tribe of Manasseh is being subdivided. In Joshua 17:3, we see poor sonless Zelophehad’s five daughters still without their land after the death of Moses. They proceed to petition Joshua, Eleazar the chief priest, and other leaders in verse 4 for the land the LORD had commanded Moses to be given them. Joshua consented.

It almost seems like an effort to prevent women from their due. But again, the LORD intervenes through Joshua to give the women what is legally and rightfully theirs. Admittedly, it was in their father’s name, but given the perversity of the Israelites, the LORD probably knew that had it been given to a woman in the name of a woman, the Israelites His people would have bolted; they just weren’t ready for the kind of equality we have today.

Makes me wonder: how many other stories of true equality are buried deep in unexpected places in the Bible?