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07 December 2018

The star coming out of Jacob.

Christians list it among the verses predicting Jesus. It really doesn’t.

Numbers 24.17.

The Hebrews of the Exodus weren’t the only Hebrews in the middle east. There were other Hebrew nations, who probably spoke Hebrew same as the descendants of Israel whom Moses led. Namely:

  • The ISHMAELITES, descended from Abraham’s oldest son Ishmael.
  • The MIDIANITES, descended from Abraham’s sixth son Midian. (What, you didn’t know Abraham had more sons than just Isaac and Ishmael? Ge 25.1-2 Lots of people don’t. See what happens when you skip parts of the bible?)
  • The MOABITES and AMMONITES, descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot.
  • The EDOMITES, descended from Israel’s brother Esau.
  • Plus Abraham’s son fourth son Yoqšan is the grandfather of “Ašurím and Letuším and Lehummím,” Ge 25.3 names which have a plural -im ending, which therefore means they’re not individuals but tribes.

Israel’s family went to Egypt to dodge a famine, but Ishmael, Lot, Esau, Midian, and Yoqšan’s families had stayed in the area and become their own nations. Over time some of those nations assimilated with Israel and became today’s Jews; the rest became today’s Arabs.

I bring them up ’cause Moab’s king, Baláq ben Chippór, was terrified the Israelis might ruin his nation. So he hired a mercenary prophet named Balám ben Beór to curse them, because word had it Balám’s blessings and curses stuck. But Balám wouldn’t curse Israel, ’cause the LORD got to him first and ordered him not to. Instead all Balám prophesied were blessings. Like this one.

Numbers 24.15-19 KWL
15 Balám lifted up this declaration and said, “The whisper of Balám, Beor’s son.
The whisper of the noble whose eyes are open.
16 The whisper of the hearer of God’s words, who knows the Highest’s plans,
sees the Almighty’s vision, falling in a trance with eyes uncovered.
17 I’m not seeing him just now; I’m not beholding him near just now:
A star proceeds from Jacob. A scepter rises from Israel.
It shatters Moab’s sides. It tears down all Šet’s children.
18 Edom becomes occupied. Seir is occupied by its enemies. Israel does mightily well.
19 One from Jacob reigns, and destroys the city’s survivors.”

Sounds more like a curse on Moab/Šet and Edom/Seir. (Those are different names for the same nations, just like Jacob/Israel.)

Through Balám, the LORD was clearly telling Baláq his nightmare would come true: Israel would eventually smite them. And smite Edom.

The star and scepter Balám spoke of are the ancient symbols (and still the present-day symbols) of a king. But bear in mind Israel had no king. The closest thing they had to a king was a head priest—and a thousand years later the head priests did become kings, but that’s leapfrogging a few centuries of the first monarchy—namely Saul, David and his descendants, and Jeroboam and the various Ephraimite dynasties. Saul’s kingdom was three centuries away, and till then Israel was randomly led by prophets, priests, and libertarian anarchy. No sign of any star and scepter for a long time.

So yeah, it’s a prophecy of a future king of Israel. Which, to be honest, isn’t that miraculous a thing to foretell. Nations need leadership, and in those pre-democracy days it meant one guy would find a reason to declare himself king, eliminate his competition, rule, and leave his throne to a competent son… or an incompetent one who’d quickly be overthrown. Predicting a king was sorta commonsense.

The miraculous part was stating this king would smite Edom and Moab, and win. Which David eventually did, 300 years later. Hence this is considered a messianic prophecy, ’cause David was God’s mašiakh/“messiah,” his anointed king.

And if it’s about one messiah, Christians tend to figure it’s also a prophecy about our Messiah, Jesus the Nazarene.

06 December 2018

You must be born again.

What “born again” means to pagans and Christians.

BORN AGAIN |bɔrn ə'ɡɛn| verb: Become Christian.
2. Convert to a stronger faith in, and a more personal relationship with, Christ Jesus.
3. Become a zealous [or overzealous] Christian.
4. noun: A Christian who underwent one of the above experiences.

Certain Christians insist you’re not a real Christian unless you’ve been “born again.”

These same Christians look at me funny whenever I talk about Christians who weren’t born again: “There’s no such thing,” they say. Actually there are: Some of us grew up Christian. From as far back as we can remember, we were raised to believe in Jesus and follow him, so we did. We went straight from childhood faith (where you trust Jesus because you’re told to) to personal faith (where you individually choose to trust Jesus) without any abrupt born-again experience at all. It was seamless… well, if there is a seam, Jesus knows where it is, but we don’t.

For me there was a born-again experience; I was a little kid, but I nonetheless chose to trust and follow Jesus. I’m aware there was a time before that when I didn’t. (I’m also aware there were times after that when I didn’t, but that’s because I’m a sinner, not because I’m not Christian.) But my experience, believe it or don’t, is actually atypical. Most Christians have never had a come-to-Jesus moment where they abruptly switched from paganism to Christendom. More often they phase into Christianity. They gradually believe. Or, like those who grew up Christian, they always believed.

So why do these born-again Christians make such a big deal about becoming born again?

Bluntly, bad theology. These folks were taught if we lack a born-again experience, we aren’t actually Christian. They were taught the way we know we’re Christian isn’t by the fact we produce good fruit, like Jesus taught; it’s by the fact we said the sinner’s prayer and were born again. They point to praying the sinner’s prayer as proof of salvation. It’s not. Not even close. Anybody can pray a version of the sinner’s prayer, and be pretty sure we it at the time, but if we’ve no relationship with Jesus thereafter, we didn’t mean it. Sad to say, there are a lot of fruitless Christianists who think they’re born again, but their works show they’re not.

If you’re fruitless, whether you’ve said a sinner’s prayer or not, you do need to be born again, and I recommend you get right on that. Repent, turn to Jesus, get forgiven, receive the Holy Spirit, start following him, and produce good fruit. Till then, it doesn’t matter what you imagine you remember of a born-again experience. If it didn’t turn you into a Christ-follower, it didn’t take. Do it again.

And if you are a Christ-follower already, you don’t need another born-again experience. You’re good.

Everybody got that?

05 December 2018

The prophet like Moses.

Yeah, Moses meant any prophet. But this passage especially applies to Jesus.

Deuteronomy 18.15-19.

In the 15th century BC, God saved the Hebrews.

Their ancestors had moved to Egypt to ride out a famine, and settled in a land called Goshen. (Which we nowadays call the Sinai Peninsula, even though Sinai’s actually on the other side of the Dead Sea, in Arabia. Ga 4.25 If the maps in your bible say otherwise, the mapmakers oughta actually read their bibles.) But some years later the Egyptians decided to press the Hebrews into slavery, and that was their situation when Moses was born… and 80 years later when the LORD sent Moses to lead ’em out of slavery. Ten plagues later, Moses led the Hebrews across the Dead Sea into Arabia, and the LORD drowned the Egyptian army behind them. And that is what Jews today celebrate every Passover.

Moses tried to lead the Hebrews to a land the LORD originally promised to Abraham; they called it Canaan, Israelis call it Israel, Palestinians call it Palestine, and we call it whatever the folks we side with most call it. The Hebrews balked, so the LORD had that generation die off in Arabia. Forty years later, a dying 120-year-old Moses addressed the next generation who was now ready to invade Canaan, and reminded them what the LORD had taught their people in the Arabian desert. We call that address Deuteronomy, from the Greek for “second Law.”

In Deuteronomy Moses told the Hebrews to follow the LORD—who, contrary to popular pagan belief, does not speak through “signs” or fortune-telling or astrology. He speaks through prophets. Like Moses.

Deuteronomy 18.9-22 KWL
9 “When you enter the land which your LORD God gives you,
don’t even try to learn to do the revolting things these nations do.
10 Like one who passes their son or daughter through fire:
Such a person mustn’t be found among you!
Nor anyone ‘reading the cards,’ anyone ‘reading the stars,’ augury, spells,
11 good-luck charms, consulting the spirits, talking to the dead.
12 For anyone doing these things is revolting to the LORD.
These revulsions are why your LORD God is driving them away from your faces.
13 You must become flawless with your LORD God.
14 For these nations you drive out: They listen to those ‘reading the stars’ and ‘reading the cards.’
As for you, your LORD God doesn’t allow you to do so.
15 Your LORD God raises up for you, from within you, from your family, a prophet.
You must listen to them!
16 It’s like you asked of your LORD God at Khorév, on the assembly day,
saying, ‘I don’t want to hear my LORD God’s voice any more!
I don’t want to see this great fire any further! I don’t want to die!’
17 The LORD told me, ‘What they say is fine.
18 I’m raising up prophets for them, from among their family, like you.
I put my words in their mouth. They speak to the people everything I command them.
19 When anyone won’t listen to my words, which my prophet speaks in my name,
I myself demand accountability from them.
20 However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name
what I’ve not ordered them to speak, or what was spoken in the name of other gods:
This prophet dies.
21 When you say in your heart, “How do we identify a word not spoken by the LORD?”:
22 When the prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and it’s not my word:
It’s not something the LORD’s spoken; it won’t come to anything.
The prophet spoke it in pride. Don’t fear them.’ ”

Yeah, you probably know Jews and Christians who dabble in astrology, fortune-telling, good-luck charms, spiritualists, spells, and all that crap anyway. They shouldn’t be. God doesn’t talk through any of that. He uses prophets. Prophets wrote bible, so he uses bible. And that’s it. He doesn’t need to communicate any other way.

04 December 2018

Praying the psalms.

Psalms is one of the oldest prayer books in the world, y’know.

The psalms—yep, the very same psalms we find in the book of Psalms, as well as various random psalms we find elsewhere in the bible—are sacred songs to and about God, used to worship him. A lot of ’em are addressed directly to God. As such, they’re prayers.

Hence Jews, Christians, and Muslims have used ’em as rote prayers for millennia. In fact, Christians who’d ordinarily never pray a rote prayer (for fear they’re praying something God didn’t inspire) have few qualms about praying the psalms. ’Cause they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, so they’re solid. Memorizing a psalm is as good as memorizing any other passage in the bible. And useful, ’cause now you can recite that psalm to God, praise him with it, and pray it to him.

Likewise, because they’re bible, they’ll help us understand God better, and show us we can pray the very same things we find in the psalms. Including all the stuff Christians balk at: “Are you sure you can pray such things?” Yes you can. If it’s in the psalms, you can pray it. You can ask God anything. You can tell God anything. Seriously, anything.

Really, those people who feel they’re limited in what they can pray, get that idea because they haven’t read the psalms, or don’t think of psalms as praise and prayer. They imagine ’em as nice poetry (or odd poetry, since they don’t rhyme), but don’t realize they have any practical purpose beyond the occasional proof text. If you’re one of those people, and feel you don’t appreciate psalms to that degree, break yourself of that. Read the psalms. Memorize a few. And if you’re gonna pray the scriptures, start with Psalms.

(And once you memorize some of the shorter psalms, you can brag how you’ve “memorized entire chapters of the bible.” ’Cause technically you have.)

03 December 2018

The TXAB Advent Calendar.

When the Christmas season well and truly begins.

The word advent comes from the Latin advenire/“come to [someplace].” Who’s coming to someplace? Jesus. Coming to earth. Either the first time around, around the year 7 BC, which is what we celebrate with Christmas; or the second time around, in the future, to take possession of his kingdom.

Four Sundays before Christmas is Advent Sunday—the start of the advent season, the Christmas season, and the Christian year. And if you’re counting down from today, the text below will update automatically, through the power of Javascript. Here are the number of days till (or of) Christmas:

Javascript isn’t working this Christmas!

Many Evangelicals only know about advent from commercial advent calendars, which count down from 1 December instead of the ever-changing date of Advent Sunday. Each “day” on these calendars usually contain a treat; I prefer chocolate, and I know a growing number of alcoholics others who prefer wine. Manufacturers don’t wanna keep changing the product every year, so you’re kinda stuck with 25-day advent calendars, even though some years there are 28 days in advent. Plus 28 treats!—so we’re getting shafted. But that’s what happens when we let Mammonists determine the Christmas season.

Of course, commercializing the tradition is an irritating way to remember it, ’cause the point of advent is to be the antidote for rampant materialism. We’re to focus on Jesus. Not social custom. Not gift-giving. Not all the stuff we’re expected to do every single year. Jesus. We claim he’s the reason for the season; now it’s time to take that saying seriously, instead of using it as an excuse to browbeat clerks into telling us “Merry Christmas” like we prefer.

Part of getting ready for Jesus’s second advent is to stop being this sort of argumentative, frenzied, self-focused consumers, and start behaving like he’s coming back. ’Cause he is. Maybe not for the whole world just yet; he’s still trying to save everybody. But at some point you’re gonna die. (As will I. As will everyone.) So he’s coming for you personally. Are you ready?

Luke 12.35-48 KWL
35 “Be people whose toolbelts are on, whose lamps are burning.
36 You should be like people waiting for their own master when he returns from weddings:
He arrives, knocks, and they can quickly unlock the door for him.
37 These slaves are awesome. The returning master will find them alert.
Amen, I promise you the master will put on a towel and have them recline to eat,
and he’ll come in to serve them.
38 Even at the second hour after sunrise, even at the third, he can come and find them ready.
These slaves are awesome.
39 (You should know: If the homeowner knew what time the burglar came,
he’d never permit him to break into his house.)
40 You be ready: The Son of Man comes at the time you don’t expect.”
41 Simon Peter said, “Master, are you saying this parable for us or for everyone?”
42 Master Jesus said, It’s to whoever’s a faithful, wise butler.
The master puts the butler over his waiters, giving them their trays at the right times.
43 This slave is awesome when the master, coming to the butler, will find them doing this job.
44 I tell you the truth: The master will put the butler in charge of everything.
45 But when this slave says in their mind, ‘My master delays in coming,’
and might start beating the boys and girls, or eating, drinking, and getting drunk,
46 that slave’s master will come on a day they don’t expect, at a time they don’t know,
and will cut them down to size, and assign them a position with the unreliable slaves.
47 That slave who knew their master’s will, and didn’t prepare, nor do his will: They’ll get skinned.
48 The one who didn’t know, who did what deserved a smack: They’ll get skinned a little.
To everyone who’s given much, much is sought from them.
To those with much set before them, more will be asked back.”

Do you know what our master expects of you? ’Cause he’s coming when we won’t expect.