Quit the excuses and resist temptation.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 February

James 1.12-15.

The letter of James moves from suffering to the related subject of temptation—’cause when we’re suffering, or even threatened with it, it’s easy to fall into temptation.

But when presented with quick ’n dirty ways out, a bothersome number of Christians shrug, and take the immoral and sinful option. Because it’s easier, and because of cheap grace: They figure God forgives all, so God’ll forgive that too. Sin some more, and there’ll be more grace, which’ll take care of it. Ro 6.1 Resisting temptation is just too hard.

Worse: Some of us will get downright fatalistic about it: “I couldn’t see any other way out.” Never mind the apostles telling us God always provides one; 1Co 10.13 they figured our fallen world is so twisted, they’ll find themselves in no-win scenarios, trapped with a tragic moral choice where there’s nothing but sinful decisions. (Pry a little and you’ll find there were moral options, but they just didn’t care for them.) Blame society. Blame biological urges beyond their control. They might even blame God.

Rubbish, James taught:

James 1.12-15 KWL
12 A man who survives temptation is awesome:
Being tested, he’ll get life’s crown, which God promised those who love him.
13 You who are tempted: Never say, “I’m tempted by God.”
God’s not tempted to do evil: He tempts nobody.
14 Each person is tempted, lured away, baited, by their own desires.
15 Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin; the full-grown sin produces death.

Lots to unpack here.

Starting with the reminder God rewards people who do resist temptation. Some of ’em come in this life; some in the next. 2Ti 4.8, Rv 3.5, 12, 21 His kingdom, fully inaugurated once Jesus returns, is one of those rewards. It’s what we Christians are busy preparing ourselves, and our world, to exist in. Should be, anyway. Crowns, in the first century, meant you won, whether you won a footrace or a battle. If you haven’t personally defeated temptation… well, you may still inherit the kingdom, but you don’t merit any crown.

And possibly won’t inherit the kingdom. Jesus expects those who love him are gonna do as he tells us. Jn 14.15 Those who don’t, who figure Jesus’s instructions are merely nice hypothetical ideals, who deem God’s commands obsolete in the current dispensation, have no evidence, no fruit, of our love for Jesus. We’ve got bad fruit at best; we may not even know Jesus, nor have ever really trusted him to save us. If anything, we inherit outer darkness.

No, I’m not saying fruitlessness sends people to hell. Other way round: People on their way to hell are invariably gonna have rotten fruit, or no fruit. People who never resist temptation, who figure God’s unlimited forgiveness applies even to those who don’t love him at all, are setting themselves up for the worst surprise ever: They won’t receive the kingdom. Ga 5.21 Their whole lifestyle demonstrates otherwise.

As do their usual excuses for this lifestyle:

  • “I can’t be good like that. Nobody can. Total depravity has screwed humanity over. ‘All have sinned,’ and everybody’s just gonna keep right on sinning till Jesus returns and fixes us.”
  • “If God didn’t want me to sin, he should’ve kept that temptation away from me. He knew I’d fall right into it. I can’t help myself.”
  • “We’re not saved by good works anyway!”
  • “I’m not really to blame. The devil is. Society is. Or God—who permitted the devil to run amok, and for society to go astray—is.”

At their core, all these excuses have one thing in common: Determinism, the belief our circumstances are beyond our control, ’cause someone else has rigged the universe so we’ll follow a pre-planned path.

Sometimes prophecy encourages. Sometimes not.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 February

Too often, wannabe prophets insist prophecy and encouragement are one and the same. They’re not.

When Christians teach about prophecy, one of the more popular verses we throw around is this one:

1 Corinthians 14.3 NIV
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

’Cause if prophets are looking for a mission statement, Paul and Sosthenes provided us a convenient one-line description. Prophecy is for the purpose of strengthening, encouraging, and comfort.

Sometimes they tighten it up just a little bit: Which of those three words can encapsulate the other two? So these prophets will see it as their particular mission to strengthen… and less so to encourage or comfort. Others, to comfort… and not so much strengthen and encourage. What I encounter most often are the prophets who wanna encourage. Wanna get Christians all confident and excited about our role in God’s kingdom, and wanna give us nothing but encouraging messages which’ll shove us forward.

Trouble is, there are certain self-proclaimed prophets who claim anyone who encourages Christians—regardless of whether they directly heard from God—is a prophet. It’s ’cause of the cessationists. They don’t believe God talks to anyone anymore; at most he “talks” to them through the words of the bible, and makes us feel really good about what we just read. To them any preacher who teaches on God’s word, who disciples Christians, and who persuades people to give up sin and repent, counts as a prophet. Of course once you redefine “prophet” to mean someone who doesn’t have to hear God, it’s kind of a problem. Not to them, but certainly to everyone else on the planet—who might incorrectly believe prophets only predict the future, but are at least pretty sure prophets gotta hear God.

Anyway, this idea that encouragers are the same as prophets, has trickled into way too many continuationist churches. I’ve visited charismatic churches which no-fooling teach every time we encourage another person, we’re “activating the prophetic.” Supposedly every time we encourage one another, we’ve opened a door for the Holy Spirit to step through, and start giving us revelation and directing our words.

Since God has free will, he’s under no obligation to do any such thing. If he doesn’t care to speak through me—’cause the only reason I’m trying to “activate the prophetic” is so I can show off a little, and God prefers his prophets to be humble—he’s not gonna. Hence all I’ll say are bunch of encouraging-sounding things. They’ll sound nice, but won’t be God. They’ll feel nice, but feelings aren’t God either. At best they’ll be harmless, benign. At worst, they’ll lead people astray, just like they got King Ahab ben Omri killed. 1Ki 22.6, 23

Whereas actual prophecy? Never harmless. Always powerful and mighty and effective, ’cause it’s the word of God. He 4.12 “Benign” is never a word we ought to hear describing God’s prophets. They—we—had better do way more than merely encourage.

God, Job, and the cost of unexamined theodicy.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

Job 1–2.10, 42.10-17

Since we’re gonna talk theodicy, it’d be all kinds of stupid to not begin with Job. Worse, to ignore it… as so often happens.

The entire book, and entire point of the book, is why bad things happen to good people. The problem? Your average person only reads the beginning and ending, and skips all the discussion in the middle. And the middle is the meat of the book.

I intend to bring up Job a lot in the theodicy articles, so brace yourself. I’m gonna dig into it a bit.

Job is part of the ketuvím/“Writings,” the third section of the Old Testament, collected round the 400s BC. Job was written at some point in the 500s, as we can easily deduce from the Late Biblical Hebrew vocabulary (with lots of Aramaic loanwords) and historical context.

The book’s about iyóv/“Job” of Utz, a land located in Edom. Lm 4.21 Job’s friend Eliphaz of Teman Jb 2.1 had a really obvious Edomite name: The same name as Edom/Esau’s oldest son, 1Ch 1.36 and his city had the same name as Eliphaz ben Esau’s oldest son. 1Ch 1.36

Job was a famous guy in Ezekiel’s time, Ek 14.14, 20 so he must’ve existed before, if not around, the early 500s BC, when Ezekiel was written. Clearly Job was known for his morality, so the author of Job borrowed Job’s story to begin the discussion about theodicy: Here’s a moral man, who nonetheless lost all his kids and property. So what does that say about morality, God, the way God governs the universe, and evil?

Your average Christian hasn’t read Job. Well, they read the beginning two chapters, where Job lost all his stuff; and they read the last chapter, wherein God gives him 10 more kids and all his stuff back, and let him live a really long time. Jb 42.10-17 In skipping the middle part, we also mistakenly skip all the discussions between Job and his friends about theodicy… and figure we needn’t bother, ’cause Job was right and they were wrong, like the LORD said. Jb 42.7 Besides we already know why Job was suffering: The first two chapters were a great big spoiler!

In so doing we also miss the point: What Job’s friends said is exactly what people still say about theodicy. Same bad advice. Same platitudes. Same cold comfort. Read Job, and you’ll quickly begin to notice how many other Christians have never read Job.

(I should also point out: In the churches I grew up in, a number of ’em assumed Job is the oldest book in the bible… because they were young-earth creationists. Because Job lived so tremendously long, and because Job refers to creatures with names we can’t translate precisely—like vehemót/“ox” (KJV “behemoth” Jb 40.15), liweyatán/“crocodile” (KJV “leviathan” Jb 41.1), or reym/“antelope” (KJV “unicorn” Jb 39.9) —various YEC enthusiasts have embraced the idea these creatures are dinosaurs, and that Job took place shortly after Noah’s flood, back when humans were still long-lived. Ge 11.10-32 Edomites notwithstanding.)

How to pray the Lord’s Prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 February

Don’t know why you’re not practicing prayer with it.

When Jesus’s students wanted to learn to pray, he taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Wanna know how to pray? Here ya go: Practice with that.

Weirdly enough, in most of the Evangelical churches I’ve been to, when new Christians wanna learn to pray, we don’t always point ’em to the Lord’s Prayer. We point them to our prayer groups.

Why’s this? Well, there’s a weird Evangelical stigma about rote prayer. It’s because a lot of Evangelicals grew up in churches which prayed a lot of pre-written, canned material, and it felt like dead religion to them, and they prefer living religion. So, out went the rote prayers. Their only prayers are spontaneous. Sometimes they won’t even pray biblical rote prayers, like the psalms or Lord’s Prayer.

The down side? The only prayer examples they see aren’t from the bible, but from their fellow Christians. Some of whom don’t even read the bible. All their prayer behavior comes from mimicking other Christians, and after enough decades in an echo chamber of babbling pagan hypocrisy… well, you remember Jesus’s wisecrack about tying a millstone round children’s necks and tossing them in the Mediterranean. Mk 9.42 Better they not pray at all, than pray like some of us hypocrites.

What to do? Well, if our bible studies and prayer groups don’t spend any time talking about how to pray more effectively (meaning like God wants), it’s time to fix those groups. Drop the showing off, ditch the mini-sermons in disguise, quit padding and overcomplicating, and get bold. Talk about what really works, and what really doesn’t. Get honest.

And keep pointing back to the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus taught this rote prayer. He wants us to recite it. Education in Jesus’s day—same as ours—meant memorization. He wanted his students to put this prayer in their brains. (Since the gospels weren’t written down for another three decades after Jesus taught this, obviously his students did as he wanted!) The Lord’s Prayer is the model for how Jesus wants us to pray, and base our own prayers upon. So if we’re gonna learn to pray properly and effectively, we gotta practice with the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s like training wheels. When people first learn to ride a bicycle, and haven’t yet learned to balance the bike upright all the time, a lot of us use training wheels which always hold the bike upright. The Lord’s Prayer isn’t only training wheels. But it definitely does the job of keeping our prayers upright. When in doubt, return to Jesus’s words.

Point to your humility. Not your wealth.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 February

James 1.9-11.

Americans like to believe we’re all equal; that we don’t have classes. We do so. Wealthy people don’t associate with poor people. It makes them uncomfortable.

I’ve been poor; I speak from experience. The wealthy honestly don’t know what to do with the poor. If the wealthy wanna do something, like go out to dinner, go see a movie, go to Paris over the weekend… well, the poor can’t afford to participate, and regretfully decline. Whereupon the wealthy think, “Well, that was rude of me, inviting them to something they can’t afford. Maybe I should foot the bill. …But maybe I shouldn’t, ’cause they’ll feel I’m treating them like a charity case.” (Not if you don’t make a big deal about it.) “They’ll resent my offering to pay for everything.” (Not unless they’re ungrateful jerks.) “I really shouldn’t have to foot the bill for our entire relationship.” (Clearly you’re unfamiliar with dating.) “Maybe it’d be easier all around if I just gradually ease my poor friends out of my life.” (Maybe you’d really just rather hold onto your money, and you’re trying to disguise your guilt as charitability.)

It’s often because of karma. If you’re hospitable to others, you kinda expect to receive something back in return. But if you know you’re getting little in return, ’cause the poor can’t afford much, lots of people figure it’s not worth their time. Even though Jesus taught us to make a point of giving to people who can’t pay us back, Lk 14.12-14 because the Father appreciates and rewards such behavior. But the wealthy often prefer to put their bets on their money, and less so on their Lord.

Wealth’s a constant snare. It’s why the scriptures so often have to warn people to stop fixating on their possessions and focus on God. Like James did so here.

James 1.9-11 KWL
9 Emphasize humility, fellow Christians, when you’re up;
10 wealthy Christians, when you’re down.
11 For wealth will pass away like grassflowers: The sun rose in its heat and dried up the grass.
Its flower fell, its appearance destroyed—likewise the wealthy shrivel up on their life journey.

The wealthy may bellyache and suspect these instructions are some sort class warfare; bash the rich because you envy them and wanna take their property. It’s not that at all. There’s nothing wrong with wealthy people who follow Jesus instead of Mammon. It’s just so many of ’em unwittingly or hypocritically are following Mammon, and the “class warfare” bits of the bible are actually Mammon-warfare. Stop enslaving yourself to money!

Rich American Christians in particular. We’re way more enslaved to money than we’d like to believe. It influences our actions far more than it should. In this bit of James, the focus is on the fact we Christians oughta be humble at all times. For wealthy Christians—who don’t always remember to be humble, ’cause they think their wealth makes them great, or is a gauge of how much God loves them—this is something to remember when they’re down. ’Cause they’re gonna be down. Wealth isn’t dependable. God is.

Baalism: The icky religions we find in ancient Israel.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 February

Why’d the Hebrews keep falling into Baalism? They did it for the nooky.

Baal /bɑ'ʕɑl, commonly mispronounced 'beɪ.(ə)l/ n. The title of various middle eastern gods.
2. Lord, master, sir, husband.
[Baalim /bɑ.ʕɑl.im/ n.pl., Baalism /ba'al.iz.əm/ n.]

The main competitors to the ancient Hebrew worship of the LORD were various middle eastern gods which tended to be called by their word for “master.” In Hebrew and Aramaic that’d be bahál; in Arabic and Ugaritic bahl, Amharic bal, Akkadian Belu, and in English it takes the form “Baal.”

Most people assume “Baal,” like “God,” is a proper name instead of a title. It’s not. Every major god was called “Baal.” There were multiple Baals in the middle east and ancient Canaan, which is why the bible refers to them as bahalím/“Baals” (KJV “Baalim”). Jg 2.11, 1Sa 7.4, 1Ki 18.18, 2Ch 17.3, Jr 2.23, Ho 2.13 Rather than refer to these gods by their proper names, middle easterners respectfully called them “lord,” much as we do with YHWH. They used the word bahál—and the Hebrews used its synonym adón, arguably because everybody else was using Baal.

In fact it may startle you to discover even the LORD was sometimes called Baal. Seriously. After David ben Jesse became king over all the Israeli tribes, he fought Philistia at Baal Perachím, and the reason the place was called that name was ’cause… well, I’ll just quote the bible.

2 Samuel 5.18-21 KWL
18 Philistines came, and occupied the valley of Refahím/“Shadows.”
19 Asking the LORD, David said, “Do I go out against the Philistines? Do you put them in my hand?”
The LORD told David, “Go out: I put, put the Philistines in your hand.”
20 David went to Baal Perachím. There, David struck them down. He said:
“The LORD broke through my enemies before my face, like water breaks through a levee.”
Hence this place’s name is Baal Perachím/“Lord of Breakthrough.”
21 The Philistines left their carved idols there,
and David and his men took them away.

We all know David was no Baalist. He didn’t name the site for any of the Canaanite or Philistine gods; he meant his God, YHWH. But he used the title Baal to refer to him. I know; it’s weird.

It’s why we find Hebrew place names, even people, whose names have some form of “Baal” in them. They didn’t necessarily mean Canaanite gods; they often meant the One God. Like David’s warrior Behalyáh of Benjamin, 1Ch 12.5 whose name literally means “YHWH is Baal.” Like Saul’s son Ešbahál 1Ch 8.33, 9.39, and Jonathan’s son Meriv-bahál. 1Ch 8.34, 9.40 You might know these men better as King Ishbosheth 2Sa 2.8 and Mephibosheth. 2Sa 4.4 It’s believed the bible’s editors pulled the “Baal” from their names and replaced it with bošet/“shame[ful]”—sorta their mini-commentary about that word.

’Cause after a point, God got really tired of people calling him “Baal.”

Hosea 2.16-17 KWL
16 The LORD reveals: “That day will come when you call me ‘my husband’
and not call me ‘my Baal’ anymore.
17 I pluck the Baals’ names from your mother’s mouth.
Don’t recognize me by that name anymore.”

God wanted the very word removed. And for good reason. If the LORD is simply Baal-YHWH to you, just another one of the interchangeable Baals in the world, it’s way too easy to mix up our good, benevolent, patient, loving LORD with some other god who isn’t always good, is kinda selfish, impatient, unloving, and otherwise unlike the One God. Like that horny reprobate Zeus in Greek mythology, a god whom the ancient Greeks called “good” only because they were sucking up to him.

Which brings up the reason the Baals were so popular. When people read the bible and don’t know its history, they often wonder why on earth the Hebrews kept falling into Baalism. What was it about these gods? The LORD can speak; why’d they regularly keep falling for gods which can’t?

Two words: Ritual sex.

Oh that got your attention, didn’t it? But yep, that’s what hooked the Hebrews. Nu 25.1-3 Ancient pagans quickly discovered if they made sexual activity part of their worship practices, they’d hook dedicated followers. It’s precisely why the LORD and his prophets regularly compared Baalism to adultery and prostitution: Jg 8.33, Ho 2.13 That’s literally what it was.

The Johnson amendment, and preaching the wrong kingdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 February

In the United States we have a Constitutional right to freedom of religion. Since tax status has been specifically used in the past to interfere with unpopular religions, the U.S. Code makes churches tax-exempt.

Yeah, here’s where the legalese comes in. (Hey, I wanna be thorough.) Most churches fall under what we call a 501(c)(3) organization, named for that specific subsection of Title 26 of the United States Code. For your convenience, here it is.

Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. 26 USC §501(c)(3)

Basically if you’re a nonprofit church, university, charity, society, or promotional group, you needn’t pay taxes. And people who give you money can deduct their donations from their taxes. Nice, huh? But here’s the catches:

  • All your incoming money shouldn’t be controlled by, or benefit, one individual—like the head pastor. Your church shouldn’t be merely a promotional tool to help your pastor get speaking engagements and sell books and videos. Nor should it spend all its money enriching your pastors, but do little to no ministry.
  • The church shouldn’t spend “a substantial part” of its money (and other laws define how big is “substantial”) on pushing its politics: Promoting causes or lobbying government.
  • The church can’t promote a political candidate or campaign.

And of course churches aren’t permitted to break other laws. None of that “We have freedom in Christ; no government can tell us what to do” malarkey like we find in cults. Either prove the law’s unconstitutional, or follow it like a good American. (And for those of you who are paranoid about Islam: This applies to Muslims too. I know you don’t believe me; I can’t help what you refuse to believe.)

Now, why am I spelling all this out? ’Cause last Thursday during the National Prayer Breakfast, President Donald Trump repeated his intent, which he voiced throughout his presidential campaign, to do away with the “Johnson amendment,” the part of 501(c)(3) which forbids churches from promoting candidates and campaigns. There’s currently a bill in Congress, House Resolution 6195, the “Free Speech Fairness Act,” which’ll overturn it.

The Johnson amendment is named after Lyndon Johnson—who was still a senator when he got it passed in 1954. It applies to every 501(c)(3) nonprofit; not just churches. It wasn’t controversial when it was first passed, because back in the ’50s most pastors recognized politics is a dirty business, and didn’t want to soil themselves in it.

But times have changed, and a lot of ’em nowadays roll around in politics like pigs in poo.

James, and optimistically growing in faith.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 February

James 1.1-8.

James 1.1 KWL
James, slave of God and of Master Christ Jesus.
To the 12 tribes in the diaspora. Hello.

Who was James? This’d be Jesus’s brother Mt 13.55 Jacob bar Joseph. The Hebrew/Aramaic Yahaqóv got turned into Yákovos in Greek, then Iacomus in Latin, then James in Old French, and here we are. He was the bishop of the Jerusalem church till his martyrdom, around the year 66.

Protestants figure James is the son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s mom and adoptive dad.

Roman Catholics, and many Orthodox Christians, don’t care for that idea. They believe Jesus’s mom remained a perpetual virgin; that Mary and Joseph’s “marriage” was more of a guardian/ward deal, so Jesus was her only offspring, and James was either Joseph’s son through a previous marriage, or he was Jesus’s cousin James bar Alphaeus (“the Less,” ’cause he wasn’t Jesus’s other cousin James bar Zebedee) who was one of his Twelve, Mt 10.3 who was only called the Lord’s brother. Ga 1.19

The cousin theory is pretty popular. People even claim the Greek word adelfós/“brother” can also mean cousin. It can now, but nobody was using it that way in the first century. (Actually… nobody was using it that way till Christians started floating the idea Jesus’s siblings Mk 6.3 were really anepsiói/“cousins.”)

Thing is, Paul listed James outside the Twelve, 1Co 15.5-7 ’cause he only came to follow Jesus after his resurrection. Ac 1.14 So he’s not James bar Alphaeus, but James bar Joseph. But regardless of how he’s related to Jesus, Christians agree James is a member of Jesus’s family, and not a minor apostle. After all, he’s got a letter in the New Testament.

He wrote the letter we call James to “the diaspora,” the Jewish communities scattered throughout the Roman Empire and, for that matter, the whole world.

Dispensationalists claim because James was written to Jews, and because it appears to them to teach salvation by works instead of grace, (it absolutely doesn’t; I’ll explain another time) it was written with an Old Testament mindset, and therefore we “New Testament” Christians needn’t follow it any more than the Law. Martin Luther kinda wanted to stick it in the New Testament Apocrypha, if not pull it from the bible entirely, just because he really wasn’t sure how to reconcile sola grazia with James’s talk about good deeds and faith-works.

But James wrote it years after Jesus died for our sins, and wrote it to Jewish Christians—people who followed Jesus, same as he. People saved by God’s grace, same as he. And now that we’re saved by grace, God has some good works for us to do. Ep 2.10 Deleting it from scripture, or skipping it as no longer valid, is more about evading good works than trying to properly understand how the Holy Spirit informed James on the subject.

The apostles’ letters were written to fellow Christians. Unless they’re dealing with individuals and circumstances particular to that specific place, or point in history, they apply to all Christians. Us included. If you wanna weasel out of good works, or embrace cheap grace instead of the real thing, don’t try to disguise it by claiming all the good-works bits of the bible don’t count just because they don’t save.

Fake guilt, and where grace comes in.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 February

If you can’t shake your guilt, it’s because your conscience is defective.

Guilt /gɪlt/ n. The culpability, and moral responsibility, attached to one who committed a deed. (Usually a misdeed.)
2. A feeling one has committed a misdeed; often regretful or remorseful.
3. v. Make someone feel remorse for wrongdoing.
[Guilty /'gɪlt.i/ adj., guiltless /'gɪlt.lɪs/ adj.]

Guilt is healthy. Fake guilt, not so much.

If I do anything, good or bad, I’m guilty of that action. Most of the time we use “guilt” in a negative sense, like when we’re responsible for sins or crimes. But we can be guilty of good deeds, particularly ones we do in secret. Like if I slipped an extra $20 into the waiter’s tip, or turned in a lost backpack to the lost and found, or deleted all the Nickelback from your iPod. Guilty. You’re welcome.

Being guilty of misdeeds—assuming you were raised with a properly-functioning conscience—tends to come with a negative emotional response. We feel bad about ourselves for what we did. Every time I turn the hose on Christmas carolers, I feel really remorseful about it. Not for long, but you get the idea.

But sometimes we don’t have a properly-functioning conscience. So we feel bad for no good reason. That’d be fake guilt.

Fake guilt is what happens when people try to program or reprogram our consciences so we feel bad over imaginary wrongs. Sometimes by convincing us more things are sins than really are, like legalists do. Sometimes by convincing us our very existence is sin: Supposedly total depravity has made us such filthy sinners, God can’t stand us, and the only reason he doesn’t blow up the earth in rage and hate is ’cause Jesus somehow placated him. (Often this idea of us being filthy sinners is their justification for all the abuse they wanna pile on us.)

The product is a feeling of guilt which lasts all the time. See, proper guilt is supposed to get us to repent, stop sinning, turn to God, get forgiven, apologize to others, maybe make restitution, and generally get on with our lives. Actual guilt goes away. Fake guilt lingers. We repent—but still feel guilt. We make restitution—and still feel guilt. We know (or think we know) God forgives all, and God forgives us, and yet we simply can’t shake this terrible feeling we’re royally screwed. It’s like we’re cursed or something.

If the human brain can’t find a connection between one event and another, but really thinks there oughta be a connection, it’ll frequently invent that connection. (Hence conspiracy theories.) Fake guilt does that too. Christians invent reasons why we inexplicably feel guilty: We must’ve committed the unpardonable sin and didn’t know it. Or there’s some weird generational curse we never properly dealt with, and we’ll continue to suffer it till we exorcise it. Or we got far more grace than we deserve (as if any grace is deserved). Or we feel if we receive grace instead of karma, if we don’t experience that eye for eye and tooth for tooth, Mt 5.38 something’s just plain wrong with the universe—and the universe might seek restitution its own way.

Ultimately there’s no good reason for fake guilt. We, or Christ—it’s usually Christ—dealt with it. So it’s done. Gone. Over.

But we can’t put it away. Like I said, it’s ’cause people have defective consciences. It functions like an autoimmune disease, where our own antibodies attack us for no good reason. It gnaws away at our insides, like a chihuahua who climbed into the Thanksgiving turkey.

The 13 tribes of Israel. (Yes, 13. I didn’t miscount.)

by K.W. Leslie, 01 February

The particular Hebrews whom the LORD rescued from Egypt during the Exodus, consisted of the descendants of Jacob ben Isaac—whom a man, probably an angel, renamed Israel after their wrestling match. Ge 32.28 Hence they’re regularly called בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל/benéi Yišraél, “children of Israel” (KJV “sons of Israel”). Ex 1.1

Israel had 12 sons (through four different women), and all the “children of Israel” are descended from the sons. They’re also known as “the 12 tribes of Israel,” each tribe named for each son. In English, the sons are

  • Sons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun. Ge 35.23
  • Sons of Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin. Ge 35.24
  • Sons of Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali. Ge 35.25
  • Sons of Zilpah: Gad, Asher. Ge 35.26

They’re listed in various orders, but Reuben tends to come first, ’cause he was firstborn. However, Israel reassigned the birthright, the patriarchal obligations of the eldest son, to his favorite son Joseph.

As birthright holder, Joseph was responsible for the family after Israel died, and received twice the inheritance of his brothers. Hence he’s represented by two tribes, named for Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim. They’re the tribes of Joseph, and you’ll notice Joseph isn’t called a tribe. (Unless you count that one time in Revelation, Rv 7.8 in which “Joseph” probably stands in for Ephraim, ’cause Manasseh got listed two verses before. Rv 7.6 Anyway.) Manasseh is sometimes called a “half tribe,” Js 13.29 not because Manasseh is half of Joseph, but because half of Manasseh’s land was east of the Jordan river, and half was west. And since Israel put Joseph’s younger son Ephraim first, Ge 48.17-20 precedence passed to that tribe. The Prophets regularly refer to northern Israel as “Ephraim” for this reason. Is 7.9, 11.13, Jr 31.20, Ho 5.3, 7.8, Zc 9.13

So… this actually produces 13 tribes. Which I’ll list alphabetically:

  1. Asher.
  2. Benjamin.
  3. Dan.
  4. Ephraim.
  5. Gad.
  6. Issachar.
  7. Judah.
  8. Levi.
  9. Manasseh.
  10. Naphtali.
  11. Reuben.
  12. Simeon.
  13. Zebulun.

Not 12. Why aren’t they called 13 tribes? Two reasons.

First and foremost: The writers of the bible, and probably God too, really like the number 12. The ancient Sumerians divided the year into 12 months, marked ’em with the zodiac (whatever constellation is highest in the sky at night), and throughout middle eastern culture 12 became the number of completeness, fulfillment, unity, and perfection. Thirteen? Not so much. Not that it’s unlucky; that superstition came from the Romans. But middle easterners liked 12 way better than 13.

And the LORD turned the entire tribe of Levi into a special priestly caste. He gave them “no inheritance”—that is, no land apart from 48 cities. Js 21 Instead of land, Moses explained, the LORD was their inheritance, Js 13.33 meaning whenever people brought food and animals to the LORD, the Levites, in their capacity as the LORD’s priests, got to eat ’em Dt 18.1 and therefore didn’t really need any land for farming and ranching.

So geographically, there are only 12 tribes. Thirteen tracts of land (remember, Manasseh had land on either side of the river—yep, there’s a 13 again), designated for the 12 people-groups descended from Israel. The Levite cities were scattered all over these tribes, and really anybody could live in the cities, not just Levites. (Particularly the larger cities, like Hebron, Shechem, or Ramoth-Gilead.)