Give to the truly needy. Not the greedy.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 December

I read a number of blogs. Some because I like the writers; some because I like the subjects the writers bring up.

In one of those blogs, for the past two weeks, the authors temporarily quit writing articles about Christ Jesus and how to argue with others about how to view him follow him better. Instead they’ve been writing ’bout why their ministry is so meaningful.

They do this every December. That’s because they’ve set up a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, and can take donations. Since it’s the end of the year, and maybe you’ve not given as much tax-deductible charity as you might’ve liked, perhaps you could donate to them. Plus someone’s offered them a matching grant: For every dollar you donate, the grant throws in another. They’d love to get their mitts on as big a pile of cash as they can. So they’re a-begging.

Plus—I kid you not—they’d love to install an espresso machine in their coffee bar. It’d be so valuable! ’Cause whenever people stop by their offices, and wanna talk theology with them, they can now make ’em an espresso. So now their loud debates can be fueled by even more caffeine.

Out of curiosity I took a peek at their offices through Google Street View. They’re not in any visible location. They’ve got an office in a strip-mall church. (Not knocking such churches; I’ve been a member of a few. Worship wherever you can.) No doubt the church is subsidizing their activities—hopefully not instead of evangelism or community good works. In any event it doesn’t look like they’d get any foot traffic. Looks like their espresso machine is gonna be far more valuable to staffers and buddies who hang out at their offices. Got my doubts about the visitors.

But still.

Is their ministry meaningful? Sure; it’s why I read their blog. But aren’t there thousands of Christian blogs and ministries on the internet which do precisely the same thing? And don’t spend half December begging for matching-fund espresso machine money? And if their new espresso machine accidentally blew up and killed them, wouldn’t those thousands of blogs and ministries make up for their absence just fine?

Now on the other hand: Which ministries don’t have anyone to immediately step in if they were to disappear? Which ministries serve a real, dire need in God’s kingdom?

You see where I’m going with this. There are charities out there which support the truly needy. Their blog ain’t one of them. My blog ain’t one of them. Arguably no blog is one of them. Don’t give to us!

St. Thomas, and healthy skepticism.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December

Thomas wanted his doubts addressed. So Jesus addressed them.

21 December is the feast day of the apostle Thomas. His name Tomás is produced by taking the Aramaic word taóm/“twin” and adding the Greek noun-suffix -as to it. John pointed out he was also called Dídymos/“twice,” so likely he was an identical twin. There’s an old tradition he looked just like Jesus, and that’s why they called him a twin, but since Jesus was likely old enough to be his dad, I think they’d have nicknamed him “junior” instead of “twin.” No doubt Thomas had a twin brother, though we know nothing about him.

What we do know is Thomas was one of the Twelve, namely the one who wouldn’t believe Jesus was alive till he saw him for himself.

John 20.24-25 KWL
24 Thomas, one of the Twelve, called Twin, wasn’t with the others when Jesus came.
25 The other students told Thomas, “We saw the Master!”
He told them, “Unless I see the nail-marks on his hands and put my finger on the nail-scars
and put my hand on the scar on his side, I can’t believe it.”

And we give him crap for this.

We call him “Doubting Thomas.” Forgetting none of the Twelve believed the women whom Jesus first appeared to. Lk 24.11 Simon Peter did bother to check out the sepulcher for himself, and John informs us he followed behind, but all of them thought the women were nuts. And when Jesus did show up to talk to them, at first they thought he was a ghost. Lk 24.37

Thomas just happened to be the only guy not in the room when Jesus first appeared, and like the others, couldn’t believe until he saw Jesus with his own eyes.

So Jesus accommodated him.

John 20.26-29 KWL
26 Eight days later the students, Thomas included, were indoors again.
Though the door was closed, Jesus came, stood in the middle of them, and said, “Peace to you.”
27 Then he told Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.
Put your hand on my side. Don‘t be an unbeliever. Believe!“
28 In reply, Thomas said, “My Master and my God!”
29 Jesus told him, “This you believe because you saw me?
How awesome for those who don‘t see me, yet believe.”

Jesus wants us to trust him wholeheartedly. Sometimes that’s hard for us to do. I get that. So does he. But he’s willing to work with us if we’re willing to make the effort, and not just close our minds to what he’s trying to teach us. Thomas, y’notice, didn’t abandon his fellow students just because they were sure Jesus was alive, and Thomas wasn’t so sure. Eight days later, there he was, the only doubter in a roomful of believers, holding out because you don’t just psyche yourself into believing things; that’s how people get led astray. You take your doubts to God—who might be the one making you doubt! You investigate. You look for evidence. You patiently wait. Thomas did all that, and his wait was rewarded.

So don’t give Thomas crap. Commend his patience. Jesus gave him the truth he sought. He’ll do that for you too, y’know.

Rachel weeping for her children.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Jeremiah 31.15-17.

A pet peeve of mine is by Noël Regney and Shayne Baker’s historically inaccurate Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” In it, when Jesus gets born, a night wind tells a little lamb of the nativity. The lamb tells a shepherd boy, who then tells a mighty king, who then tells the people everywhere. In real life, the mighty king responded a bit more like this:

Said the king to the soldiers at his gate:
“Massacre the toddlers!
Everyone below two years old:
Massacre the toddlers!
Slay all, slay all, leave my rivals dead
Put your spears through this child's head
Put your spears through this child's head

Not at all heartwarming, but that’s Herod bar Antipater for ya.

Matthew 2.16-18 KWL
16 Then Herod, seeing he was made a fool of by the Zoroastrians, was enraged.
Sending agents, he destroyed all the children in Bethlehem and the whole area around it,
from two years old and under, according to the time he exacted from the Zoroastrians.
17 Thus was the word of the prophet Jeremiah fulfilled, saying,
18 “A voice was heard in Ramáh: Weeping and great lament.
‘Rachel’ weeps for her children and doesn’t want comfort: They’re gone.” Jr 31.15

We don‘t find this massacre recorded anywhere but in Matthew, but Herod committed much greater atrocities, so the other histories focus more on those. In any event the bit I wish to zero in on today would be how Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s word about “Rachel’ weeping for her children.

Christians incorrectly presume Jeremiah was prophesying about Jesus. Nope; not even close. It’s not what fulfillment means either: Matthew didn’t mean Jeremiah’s prophecy had come to pass by Herod slaughtering the children. Only that Jeremiah’s words describing a previous historical event, likewise describe this historical event. Arguably describe it better than they did the previous event. History repeated itself.

To the ancients, history repeating itself was a sign of order instead of chaos. A hint God is in control of history. Which is why Matthew and the other apostles fished through the Old Testament for examples of how Jesus’s situation was just like other situations in the bible. Coincidence? They thought not.

I know: Certain Christians are really fond of the idea Jeremiah foretold Jesus. And he did! But not with this passage. This passage is about Nabú-kudúrri-usúr 2 (KJV “Nebuchadnezzar”) demolishing Ramáh, a town in a whole other tribe.

Two types of worship music.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 December

And no, I don’t mean gospel and contemporary Christian music. Yeesh.

There are two types of worship songs we tend to see in churches.

And yeah, some Evangelicals are gonna assume I mean traditional worship (i.e. hymns and old-timey gospel songs) and contemporary worship (i.e. spanning from the worship choruses of the 1970s, to the Christian pop songs of today). I don’t. I consider those styles of songs; the only real difference is in presentation. You could put a backbeat on a hymn and turn it into a pop song; you can put a pop song in a hymnal and sing it with that very same cadence.

Type refers to the purpose and content of the song, and generally there are two of ’em.

INSTRUCTIVE describes the songs written to deliberately teach an idea—to put it to music, and get it into Christians’ heads. They teach us about amazing grace, about what a friend we have in Jesus, about how great God art, and that he’s holy holy holy. They tend to have a lot of verses, various complicated words… and no I’m not only talking about hymns, though a lot of ’em totally fit the description. And a lot fit the other:

MEDITATIVE describes the deliberately simple songs. They have few verses, or lots of repetition; their ideas are basic Christianity, like how there’s wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb, or on Christ the solid rock we stand, or God’s a good good Father. Their purpose is to give us something we already know by rote, and we can sing ’em and not ponder the words… and instead meditate on God and his greatness, and pray to him while our lips go on autopilot. Yep, exactly like when we pray in tongues.

Humans are creatures of extremes. Christians included. Some of us love one type and hate the other. But we don’t always know why we have this preference, and think it has something to do with the style.

So they claim they “love hymns” because hymns are so detailed and deep. (Yeah, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” isn’t. Plenty of others likewise aren’t.) But you can swap the instruments used to perform it—instead of keyboards, electric guitar and drums—and they’ll still like the song… although that guitar solo was absolutely gratuitous. Pop song or not, they seek depth. They want the content of their songs to make ’em think. They wanna be “spiritually fed”—by which they mean learn something. If there’s nothing to learn in the music, they consider it time wasted.

Others, who “love contemporary worship,” might love hymns too… but y’notice they only sing the first verse, over and over and over, and ignore all the other verses. (Which drives the fans of instructional music bonkers.) Sometimes they only sing the chorus and ignore all the verses. Sometimes they make a pop version of the song which eliminates all but their favorite hooks. Again, they’re not singing to learn. They want something repetitive and familiar, which they can use to help ’em focus their prayers, and solely concentrate on Jesus. That, they consider worship; not so much the music, although they love music. Interrupt that meditative time, and they consider it time wasted.

Some of us do a little of one, and a little of the other. And some of us don’t like music at all. Or don’t get what we’re trying to do with it, and consider it dead religion and time wholly wasted. These would be the people who find various excuses to show up for church services in the middle of the very last song: They’re only here for the good parts. Like the sermon, holy communion, getting prayer, or interacting with fellow Christians after the service. Phooey on music.

Me, I’m one of those little-of-one, little-of-the-other types. But my church? Full-on going for meditative music.

Not allowed to rot.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 December

Psalm 16.10.

Previously I referred to King David ben Jesse as “the prophet David.” Somebody actually tried to correct me for saying so. I remind you a prophet is someone who hears God and shares what he hears: By that metric David’s obviously a prophet. Considering all the Spirit-inspired psalms he wrote, David’s got more actual prophecy in the bible than Elijah and Elisha combined.

Jesus recognized David as a prophet, Lk 20.41-44 and taught his students to do likewise. Ac 2.30 This is why the apostles had no problem using David for proof texts when they taught about Jesus. One verse they particularly liked to use was David’s line, lo-tittén khacídkha li-reót šakhát/“You don’t give [over] your beloved to see rottenness.” Or in better English, “You don’t allow your beloved to rot.” Ps 16.10 Both Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus quoted it in Acts—Peter in chapter 2, Paul in 13.

Acts 2.22-28 KWL
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene is a man endorsed by God to you
by power, wondrous things, and miracles which God did through him in your midst,
just as you know personally.
23 This Jesus, by the decided counsel and foreknowledge of God,
was given into lawless Roman hands, crucified, and killed.
24 But God raised Jesus up, loosing death’s pains.
For it’s impossible for Jesus to be held by death.
25 For David spoke of him: ‘I foresee the Master before me, throughout all.
Because he’s at my right hand, lest I might be shaken.
26 For this reason my heart rejoices and my tongue exults. Again: My flesh will dwell in hope,
27 because you won’t abandon my soul to the afterlife, nor allow your Righteous One to rot.
28 You make the road of life known to me. You’ll fill me with joy with your face.’ ” Ps 16.8-11
Acts 13.34-37 KWL
34 “Because God raised Jesus from the dead, no longer to go back to rotting,
he said this: ‘I’ll give you the righteous, faithful David.’ Is 55.3
35 Because David also said in another place,
‘You won’t allow your Righteous One to rot.’ “ Ps 16.10

When Jesus died, he was only dead two days before the Father raised him the third day. His corpse wasn’t in the sepulcher long enough for decay to happen. So Jesus’s situation sounds exactly like this line from David’s psalm. To the apostles and their listeners, Jesus absolutely fulfilled it. Better than David himself.

Acts 2.29-30 KWL
29 “Men—brothers—if I may boldly speak to you about the patriarch David:
He died, was entombed, and his monument is among us to this day.
30 Thus, as a prophet, knowing God swore an oath to him—
one from the fruit of David’s loins is to sit on his throne—
31 he who foresaw, spoke about Messiah’s resurrection:
He’s neither left behind in the afterlife, nor did his body rot.
32 God raised this Jesus. All us apostles are his witnesses.”
Acts 13.36-37 KWL
36 “After serving God’s will to his own generation, David ‘slept,’ was gathered to his ancestors,
and rotted— 37 and Jesus, whom God raised, didn’t rot.”

Now. Because your average Christian nowadays doesn’t understand how fulfillment works in the bible, they immediately assume David’s psalm is a specific prophecy about Jesus. It’s actually not, as you can tell when you actually read the psalm.

The heir to David’s throne.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 December

2 Samuel 7.1-17.

In the 11th century BC the tribes of Israel grew tired of being led by head priests and judges. The previous head priest, Eli, had let his corrupt sons run amok; the current judge, Samuel, likewise had easily-bribed sons unfit to assume their father’s job. Clearly there are some serious problems with hereditary leadership, but the Hebrews stupidly didn’t recognize this (and therefore request democratically elected leaders with fixed terms—not that we elect our best people either). The descendants of Israel demanded Samuel procure them a king. Nevermind the LORD God being their king; Is 33.22, 43.15 they wanted a human king, like all the other nations had. 1Sa 8.5 So Israel got a king.

Kings suck, and Israel’s first two kings were typical rubbish. Like most politicians, Saul preferred pleasing the crowds to following God. His son Ishbaal was really just his uncle’s puppet. But the third king, the prophet David, was a standout: He was far from perfect, but he was bananas for the LORD, tried to follow him wholeheartedly, and the LORD figured this was a king he could work with. Not for nothing does the rest of the Old Testament compare every single king with David.

David conquered the Jebusite town of Jerusalem and made it his capital. He built himself a nice cedar palace in it. (Bit of a status symbol in a land where most houses were made of brick or stone.) Then one day he got to musing:

2 Samuel 7.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when King David sat in his house,
at a time the LORD gave him rest from all his enemies around.
2 King David told the prophet Nathan, “Please look: I sit in a cedar house.
And yet the God-box sits in the middle of sheets.”
3 Nathan told King David, “Whatever’s in your mind, go and do!—for the LORD’s with you.”

The arún ha-Elohím/“box of God,” which we more often call the Ark of the Covenant, was the gold box which contained the Ten Commandments, among other artifacts, representing the LORD’s formal relationship with Israel. He instructed Moses how to build the tent to keep it in, and the head priests had kept it in this tent ever since. And David felt it weird that he got a house, but the God-box got a tent. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? It’s just common sense.

But that night the LORD set Nathan straight: He never asked for a house.

2 Samuel 7.4-7 KWL
4 But this happened that night: The LORD’s word came to Nathan to say,
5 “Go tell my slave David the LORD says this:
You? You build a house for me to sit in?
6 From the day I brought Israel’s descendants from Egypt to this very day,
I’ve not sat in a house; I walk. In tent, in tabernacle.
7 In everywhere I walked with all Israel’s descendants, did I speak a word to one of Israel’s tribes?
When I instructed my people Israel’s pastor, did I say, ‘Why don’t you build me a cedar house?’ ”

See, that’s the downside of temples. Church buildings too. We too often think of them as our God-boxes. That’s where God is… and that’s where God stays. But I’m not discussing the validity of temples today; there’s a declaration the LORD makes in this prophecy which Christians love to apply to Jesus. It’s right here:

2 Samuel 7.8-17 KWL
8 “Now, tell my slave David the LORD of War says this:
I myself took you from the ranch, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel.
9 I’m with you everywhere you go. I cut off all your enemies before your face.
I make you a name as great as the greatest names who live in the land.
10 I set a place for my people Israel, and plant a tabernacle under them.
They aren’t disturbed further. Iniquity’s children humiliate them, as they did at first, no more.
11 Like the days I commissioned judges over my people Israel,
I give you rest from all your enemies.
Now the LORD tells you he, the LORD, makes you that house.
12 When your days are complete and you rest with your ancestors,
I raise your seed after you, one who comes forth from your innards.
I establish his kingdom.
13 He builds a house for my name.
I establish the throne of his kingdom for eons.
14 I become a father to him, and he becomes a son to me.
When he commits evil, I correct him with mortal canes, with Adam’s descendants’ whips.
15 My love isn’t taken from him,
like I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your face.
16 Your house and kingdom are guaranteed, before your face, for eons.
Your throne becomes established for eons.”
17 Nathan spoke all these words, all this vision, to David.

Now. This is obviously a prophecy about Solomon, the son of David who built the first temple of YHWH in Jerusalem, who hadn’t been born yet. It also applies to David and Solomon’s descendants: The rest of the house of David, which ruled Jerusalem till the Babylonians invaded—and briefly ruled Jerusalem again when the Persians made David’s direct descendant Zerubbabel governor of Jerusalem.

But by Jesus’s day, David’s house wasn’t in charge anymore. The Maccabees, a family of head priests, stepped into the power vacuum after they overthrew the Seleucids; they evolved into the Hasmoneans; then Herod overthrew them; then the Caesars overthrew the Herods. The Davids hadn’t been in charge for centuries. But according to Nathan’s prophecy, the Davids would be in charge ad-olám/“for time,” which most folks interpret as “for all time,” i.e. forever. So… if God promised David the throne forever, at some point one of the house of David had to retake the throne, right?

And as both Jesus’s genealogies clearly state, Jesus is from the house of David. The gospel of Matthew even begins,

Matthew 1.1 KJV
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

God made sure his Son had a biological claim to the throne. And since Jesus literally rules forever, in so doing, David’s house also literally rules forever. Looks like the LORD wasn’t just being hyperbolic.

Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 December

Matthew 2.23.

From the third century BC onward, Judeans began to move to the land where northern Israel’s tribes used to live before the Assyrians deported them. Namely in the galíl/“circle” of northern gentile cities—or as 1 Maccabees called it, “the Galilee of the gentiles.” 1Mc 5.15 They wanted to reclaim that land for Israel.

Nazareth was one of the towns they founded. So are all the other towns whose names you don’t find in the Old Testament. Likely Joseph and Mary’s grandparents were among the first settlers of that village. It wasn’t that old a settlement. Didn’t exist in Old Testament times. Wasn’t a town any prophet could point to, and say “That’s where Messiah is gonna grow up.” Though Micah did identify Messiah’s birthplace.

However, Christians are pretty sure one of the prophets did identify Jesus’s hometown, ’cause it says so in the bible!

Matthew 2.22-23 KWL
22 Hearing Archelaus Herod was made Judea’s king after his father Antipater Herod, Joseph feared to go there.
After negotiating in a dream, he went back to a part of the Galilee.
23 Joseph came to settle in a city called Nazareth.
This may fulfill the saying through the prophet: “He’ll be called ‘Nazarene.’ ”

And that is how Jesus became Jesus the Nazarene: His parents moved back to Nazareth and raised him there, far away from the murderous Herods. (Well, till Antipas Herod got made king of the Galilee, but that’s not for another year or so.)

Okay, so the prophet declared Jesus “will be called ‘Nazarene’ ” Great! Which prophet?

Here’s where Christians get stymied. This is not a quote of any bible verse we know about. Certain bibles like to put the addresses of Old Testament quotes in the footnotes, but you’ll notice many bibles don’t even bother. ’Cause it’s not found in the scriptures. At all. Not even in the books the Orthodox and Catholics include in their Old Testaments. It’s nowhere.

Some Christians are gonna insist it is so in the bible—it’s gotta be!—and stretch various Old Testament verses like crazy in order to make them fit. Probably the most popular stretch is to point to when the prophets talked about Messiah being an offshoot (KJV “branch”). This, they claim, really meant Nazareth—because nechér/“offshoot” sounds a little like Nadzarét/“Nazareth.” Some of ’em claim “offshoot” is what the town’s name means in the first place: As a Judean settlement, it’s meant to be an offshoot of that province.

The verse they like to point to most is in Isaiah, where it speaks of Messiah, the offshoot/descendant of Jesse ben Ovéd, father of the great King David.

Isaiah 11.1-5 KWL
1 A sprout goes out from Jesse’s stem; an offshoot of his roots produces fruit.
2 The LORD’s Spirit rests on him, a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge,
a Spirit of firmness and strength, a Spirit of cleverness and respect for the LORD.
3 He enlarges people’s respect for the LORD.
He doesn’t judge by how his eyes see them, or correct by how his ears hear them.
4 He righteously judges the poor. He plainly corrects the land’s meek.
He smites the land with his mouth’s scepter. He kills the wicked with his lips’ breath.
5 Rightness belts his waist. Steadiness belts his loins.

This prophecy can of course describe David himself… but seeing as Isaiah lived four centuries later, it’s not David. Nor the king of Jerusalem at the time, Hezekiah ben Ahaz. It’s a future king, a future messiah; it’s Jesus of course.

But as I said, it takes a really big stretch of vocabulary to claim this reference to a nechér means Messiah is gonna be called a Nazarene. Not that Christians don’t try to stretch it just that far.

“Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

by K.W. Leslie, 10 December

Hosea 11.1.

When we fulfill scripture, we’re doing as it says. When Jesus says “Love one another,” Jn 13.34 and we do it, we’re fulfilling it.

I know: When people usually talk about fulfillment, we assume it means someone’s doing as predicted. When Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, we assume this means the scriptures prophesied specifically about Jesus, and Jesus did as the prophesies foretold. Sometimes that’s absolutely true. But sometimes it’s really not, and this confuses Christians all the time.

Confused me too, when I was a kid and first learned about taking the scriptures in context. Because I actually read the Old Testament, and read those passages in context… and wondered, “How on earth is that a prophecy about Jesus?” Well, turns out it wasn’t. The author wasn’t writing about Jesus at all. Nor was the Holy Spirit secretly dropping clues about stuff Jesus would eventually do.

Yet Jesus did fulfill these scriptures. Because he did as the scriptures say. True, the scriptures weren’t saying it about him. Yet Jesus did those things too—and in a greater way than the original situation. A fully-filled way, if you wanna be corny about it: A fulfilled way.

Or in some cases a less full way. Take this passage from Hosea, which is about the LORD’s difficult relationship with rebellious Israel.

Hosea 11.1-8 KWL
1 “For I love Israel. I called my son from Egypt.
2 But the Baals called to them, so they turned their faces from me.
They sacrificed to Baals and burned incense to idols.
3 I taught Efraim to walk—and he took hold of the Baals’ arms.
The Ephraimites don’t even know I cured them!
4 I dragged them from their slave chains with ropes of love.
To them I became like those who take the bit from their mouths, loose them, and feed them.
5 Israel won’t return to Egypt’s territory: Assyria is the king of those who refuse to repent.
6 Assyria’s sword wounds Israel’s cities, destroys his limbs, and eats up his plans.
7 My people insist on quitting me. They call upon the One God, but I can’t exalt them.
8 How can I give to you, Efraim? Can I reward you, Israel?
Must I give you what I did Admah? Must I place you where I placed the Chevohites?
My heart is overthrown within me: My compassion is all hot.”

The LORD freed Israel, whom here he calls “my son,” Ho 11.1 and freed him from Egypt and raised him… and Israel/Ephraim instead worshiped the nasty Baals and shattered their relationship with God into pieces. Much of Hosea is about this very topic, although sometimes it compares Israel to an adulterous wife, and here to a rebellious son.

And yet Matthew decided to quote Hosea in speaking of the LORD’s absolutely-not-rebellious-at-all Son:

Matthew 2.13-15 KWL
13 As the Zoroastrians returned, look: The Lord’s angel appeared to Joseph in a dream,
saying, “Get up. Take the child and his mother. Go to Egypt. Be there as long as I tell you.
Herod is about to look for the child, to destroy him.“
14 Getting up, Joseph took the child and his mother that night,
and escaped to Egypt, 15 and was there till Herod’s death.
Thus might the Lord’s word through his prophet be fulfilled,
saying, “I called my son out of Egypt.” Ho 11.1

Um… when the LORD said that bit in Hosea, he wasn’t talking about Jesus. It says right there in verse 1, “When Israel was a child…” Not Jesus; Israel. Not the good son who never, ever rebelled against his Father; the nation which arguably did nothing but rebel.

So is Matthew quoting Hosea out of context? Nah. Because Jesus didn’t accomplish the prophecy; he only fulfilled it. He did the same thing. He was in Egypt, same as Israel was once in Egypt, though as a political refugee not a slave. And at the right time, Jesus’s heavenly Father had Jesus’s adoptive father take their Son back to the promised land.

The star coming out of Jacob.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

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.

You must be born again.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

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?