Exodus: Zipporah and her Sisters’ Ironic Declaration

The note card read, “Zipporah”.  “I don’t know who that is!” yelled one of the youth group students at our Church.  We were playing a Bible guessing-game.  Everyone had a notecard (either on your forehead or back, so you can’t see it) with the name of a Bible character written on it.  The goal of the game was to find someone who could recognize the name of your Bible character and was also able to describe the character to you so that you were able to guess which Bible character you were.  All in all, the students and leaders dominated this game, but there were a few names that were pretty tough to guess.  “Zipporah” was one of those names.

Zipporah can be found in the book of Exodus.  She’s the daughter of a Midianite Priest (Jethro/Reuel) and becomes Moses’ wife.  Zipporah is a relatively minor character when it comes to the actual space she gets in the Exodus story, but she plays a crucial role in two scenes.  One of these scenes is the topic of this blog post: Exodus 2:15-22.  Admittedly, as the title of the blog post suggests, this scene involves Zipporah and her sisters, but Zipporah is the only one named.

To set the stage and context of Exodus 2:15-22, we have to remember that Moses himself has just experienced a type of Exodus.  He has escaped Egypt because Pharaoh was trying to kill him for coming to the rescue of a Hebrew slave.  Moses flees and settles in the Midian Wilderness when he comes to a well and witnesses several Shepherds taking advantage of Zipporah and her sisters who are also at the well trying to water their flock.  We aren’t told the extent of the incident between the Shepherds and the women, but the language used of Moses’ efforts is strong (yasha-“saved” and natsal-“delivered”).  So, I think it is safe to assume that the Shepherds physically assaulted the women in some sense, forcing them to flee the well without water.  Enter Moses.  We already know that Moses has a strong sense of justice and we aren’t told what he does, but he is able to save the women from the shepherds and then waters the women’s flock.  The next scene, the women return home and their father asks why they returned so quickly.  Their answer is why I wrote this blog.

Zipporah and her sisters declare in verse 19, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock.”  Their statement is full of irony and in a sense is a microcosm of the first half of the book of Exodus.  Now, we have to remember that to the women, Moses looks like and probably talks like an Egyptian…so that’s what they call him.  However, if you’ve read the previous chapter (or know the story at all) you know that he’s actually a Hebrew.  Additionally, if you’ve read Part 1 of Exodus (it’s called Genesis) you know that Hebrews came into Egypt as…shepherds (Gen. 46:31-34).  Lastly, if you read just a couple verses down (Ex. 3:1) you’ll find out that Moses becomes a…shepherd.  As we all know, the rest of Exodus is about YHWH using Moses to deliver (same word-natsal) the Hebrews from the hand of the Egyptians.  So the rest of the story is literally the opposite of their declaration, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds.”  It’s going to be the same guy delivering (Moses), but it’s actually a shepherd delivering shepherds from the hands of the Egyptians (see Ex. 18:9-10 for Jethro’s similar statements).  Also, notice the rest of Zipporah and her sisters’ statement, “He even drew the water for us and watered the flock.”  I think I remember a story or two about Moses providing water for the flock of Israel.  Don’t you love the artistry of Scripture and sovereignty of our God?!  In a seemingly unimportant declaration, Zipporah and her sisters have ironically foreshadowed the book of Exodus.  So, if you’re ever playing a Bible guessing-game and Zipporah comes up…hopefully, you’ll remember that she and her sisters summarized the book of Exodus in one ironic sentence.

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Exodus: Moses a.k.a the New Noah

The more I’ve read the Bible, the more I’ve come to realize and appreciate its artistry.  I mean the writers are beautifully creative and carried along by the Spirit of God so it’s hardly surprising.  Yet, I’m often gleefully surprised by the depth of God’s Word.  The Book of Exodus has no shortage of artistic depth and in this post, we’ll be looking at an important allusion early on in the book that tells us a lot about who Moses is and what he will do.

The first time we read of Moses, it’s not looking too good.  Pharaoh has just decreed that all the Hebrew baby boys should be killed by tossing them into the Nile (Ex. 1:22).  Moses is a boy…a baby boy…a Hebrew baby boy.  Not good.  His mom hides him for three months and when she can no longer hide him, she quickly devises a plan and trusts in God.  This is when the literary artistry really picks up.

“But when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.” Exodus 2:3

First, notice the irony.  She actually obeys Pharaoh’s evil decree and puts her Hebrew baby boy in the Nile.  What faith!  And guess what, God is able to defeat Pharaoh at his own game using Pharaoh’s own evil plan.  God brings good out of evil.

This particular blog is about the allusion to Noah in the passage we just read.  You might be scratching your head, but stick with me.  First, let’s recall the big picture of the story: Moses is saved by floating in an object on the water.  That certainly sounds familiar.  But what is Moses in?  This is where the connections become more obvious.  He’s in an ark!  The translation in most English Bibles is “basket” which the Hebrew word “tevah” can mean (it probably was some sort of basket/chest thing).  However, “tevah” is used 28 times in the Bible and 26 of those times it refers to Noah’s ark. The other two usages are in this passage.  So, the author of Exodus is describing this object that Moses is floating in as an “ark”.  (A side note reminder: in the Hebrew Scriptures Genesis and Exodus are part of the same book: the Torah.)  What is Moses’ ark covered in?  Tar and pitch.  Sound familiar?  Noah’s ark was similarly covered (see Gen. 6:14).  So, Moses is floating along on the water in a pitch covered ark in which he will ultimately be saved.   The author of the Torah is shouting out, “This baby Moses is a New Noah!”

So, what does this mean?  Why is the author making this connection between Moses and Noah?  Well, let’s think about who Noah was and what he did.  Noah was set apart by God to bring judgment on evil and salvation to God’s people.  This salvation was not for kicks and giggles.  Noah was set apart to lead the beginning of a New Creation–a new people, living in a new land, through whom God would spread His salvation.  Likewise, Moses will function as a leader who is set apart by God to bring judgment on evil and salvation to God’s people.  This salvation isn’t for kicks and giggles either.  Moses is to lead the beginning of a New Creation–a new people (Israel), on their way to a new land (they too will pass through water to get there), through whom God will spread His salvation.  God’s Word is pretty awesome.  The author of Exodus uses allusion to tell us about who Moses is and what he will do before he even does it.  Moses is a New Noah.

Exodus: Pharaoh Plans His Own Demise

A constant claim of the Bible is God’s sovereignty.  He is the true King, the only true God, whose plan of redemption will not be stopped.  The book of Exodus details a battle of sorts between a false king and false gods (Pharaoh and his gods) vs the true King and the true God (YHWH).  At the beginning of the story, Pharaoh has a problem: The Hebrews are growing (Abrahamic covenant) and he sees them as a threat.  First, he increases the labor of the Hebrews.  Then, he orders the midwives to kill the baby boys, but they courageously don’t comply (see here for more detail).  So in order to deal with his problem, Pharaoh takes matters into his own hands: He orders that all of the Hebrew baby boys be thrown into the Nile.  The seed of the serpent is trying to kill the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15).  This is when the sovereign God, through the faith of a young Levite woman, saves the day.

What I want to draw attention to is this: Pharaoh’s evil plan to destroy the Israelites will actually lead to the Israelites’ salvation and Pharaoh’s own destruction.

Pharaoh’s plan forces Moses’ mom to hide her son and then ultimately place him in the Nile.  Notice that this was literally Pharaoh’s decree…Moses was indeed thrown into the Nile!  Pharaoh’s plan is underway, but will Pharaoh’s plan succeed?  What happens next?  Moses just happens to float up to Pharaoh’s own daughter who just happens to be in the Nile at that exact same time (cough…God’s sovereignty…cough).  Pharaoh’s own daughter has compassion on Moses and brings the Hebrew boy into Pharaoh’s own household and raises him there.  Are you seeing this?!  God uses Pharaoh’s own plan of destruction to bring salvation.  God uses Pharaoh’s plan to save and raise up (in Pharaoh’s own household!) the very one Pharaoh was trying to destroy.  And this one—Moses—would lead Israel, the people Pharaoh wanted to destroy, not to destruction but to victory and freedom.  The false king thought he was planning the demise of Israel, but in reality, the true King—YHWH—was in control.  Pharaoh was planning his own demise.

Exodus: Two Women Defeat Pharaoh

God often uses women to thwart the plans of evil.  We see it all over the Bible and I’ve seen it plenty of times in my own life.  In the early chapters of the book of Exodus, God uses women (Shiphrah, Puah, Jochabed, Miriam, Pharaoh’s daughter) to defeat the most powerful man in the world—Pharaoh—and his evil plans.  It is striking that there is no lead male protagonist in the story until Moses grows up and the only reason he is able to grow up and bring salvation to Israel is because of the women who saved him.  Indeed, women saving Moses and helping bring about God’s redemption is a theme of Exodus.   Even later in his life, Moses is again saved by a woman—his wife Zipporah—in Exodus 4:21-26.  Nevertheless, this blog post will focus on only two of these lesser-known women in particular: Shiphrah and Puah.

The book of Exodus begins with a genealogy and the detailing of Israel’s population explosion (fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant).  Israel’s multiplication causes Pharaoh to first, increase their labor and then, much more drastically, kill all of Israel’s newborn sons.  His plan is to use the Hebrew midwives, who the narrator goes out of the way to name: Shiphrah and Puah (If Moses is the author then he himself is sure to honor the women who saved him and others).   Pharaoh tells Shiphrah and Puah to kill all the Hebrew baby boys during the childbirth process.  This evil plan cannot be detached from the storyline of the Bible thus far.  The purpose of Pharaoh’s plan is not simply to destroy Israel (which is evil enough) but to destroy the world–God’s world–that God is going to redeem.  We already know from Genesis that it is through Israel and through one of her sons that God has promised to save the world.  So, by taking out Israel, specifically the “sons” of Israel, Pharaoh has teamed up with the serpent of old. (Pharaoh would have had a certain animal set prominently in the middle of his headdress/crown: a serpent.)  Far from being a random act of violence, this goes back to Genesis 3:15, ” And I will put hostility between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall strike you on the head, And you shall strike him on the heel.”  The seed battle of Genesis continues on into Exodus.  Who does God use to thwart the evil plan of Pharaoh and by extension the evil entity behind Pharaoh?  Who does God use to save “the seed of the woman”?  Women.  Two women.

The two midwives—Shiphrah and Puah—refuse to obey the unnamed evil King and his plan.  It seems Pharaoh is left unnamed for two reasons: (1) the named women (Shiphrah and Puah) are elevated with honor over the unnamed King and (2) Pharaoh is not simply one man, but representative of all anti-God powers, and ultimately representative of the entity of evil: Satan.  These women fear God, not Pharaoh (Ex. 1:21).  So, they stand up to this evil and don’t comply—thwarting Pharaoh’s plan of destruction.  Subsequently, God gives Shiphrah and Puah—women who refused to kill Hebrew children—their own children (Ex. 1:21).

The story of Exodus is kicked off when God uses two women that the world would have seen as insignificant and powerless to defeat the most powerful man in the world and by extension, defeat the evil entity that Pharaoh is representative of.  This, in turn, sets up a series of events that will ultimately lead to the salvation of Israel.  We’ll see this play out in upcoming blog posts.

Exodus: Abram’s Exodus Foreshadows Israel’s

Most people know the story of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.  Whether you learned it in Sunday School, or by watching Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in the classic The Ten Commandments, or by watching the animated movie Prince of Egpyt (also a classic), you know the basic structure of the story: Jacob and his sons go to Egypt to survive a famine (thanks to God’s providence in sending Joseph ahead), the Israelites are eventually enslaved by Pharaoh, God raises up Moses to save them, Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go, God sends 10 plagues, Israel is delivered, and as they leave the Egyptians give them a bunch of riches for the road.  There is so much more going on in the story than this generalized overview, but the pattern is important.  It recalls an earlier episode in Genesis that involves the man from which the nation of Israel came: Abra(ha)m.  Abram and Sarai have an Exodus experience of their own, one that should sound strangely familiar.

Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. “Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.” Gen. 12:10-20

Notice the pattern: Abram and Sarai go to Egpyt because of a famine, Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s household as part of his harem (a slave), God sends plagues on Pharaoh and his household, the plagues cause Pharaoh to send Abram and Sarai on their own exodus, and then Abram and Sarai leave with riches from Egpyt.  Just as Abram and Sarai were delivered by God from Egypt so their descendants, Israel, will be delivered by God from Egpyt.  Also, we cannot miss what Abram and Sarai’s “exodus” is sandwiched between–two promises that they and their descendants will receive the Promised Land (Gen. 12:1-3[note]1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.[/note] and Gen. 13:14-17[note]14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward;15 for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.16 “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered.17 “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”[/note]). In the book of Exodus, God is fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant in a way that is reminiscent of the deliverance He brought the man he covenanted with, Abram.  Abram has become a Nation and this Nation’s experience matches her father’s.  God shows himself time and time again to be a God that delivers His people.  A God that brings Exodus.

5 Helpful Books on Jesus’ Parables

Jesus is the greatest teacher to walk the earth.  He taught through many means, but one of His favorites was storytelling.  These were not tales meant simply to entertain, but extended analogies (παραβολή “parable”) meant to reveal, to teach, to persuade, and to provoke change.  Ultimately, He spoke in parables to reveal the kingdom to those who would have Him and conceal the kingdom from those who would not (Matthew 13).  There are many resources that help the student of Scripture better grasp and study Jesus’ parables.  In Fall 2016 my wife and I took a “Parables of Christ” class at DTS and we each used several books for our studies.  Here is a list of a few I found to be very helpful.

Stories with Intent by Klyne Snodgrass

51Oww+C3KjL._AC_US218_ The best book I have come across on Christ’s parables also happens to be the most comprehensive (600 pages). Snodgrass’ Stories with Intent is a must buy for anyone studying the parables.  The introduction to parables is relatively short compared to other works (only 50 pages), but that only means the bulk of the book is dedicated to the study of the actual parables.  Each parable is studied meticulously in the following format: a brief intro the parable, parable type (similitude, interrogative, narrative, etc.), issues requiring attention (a list of questions that must be answered to understand the parable), helpful primary source material (Biblical text, early Jewish writings, Greco-Roman writings, etc.), textual features worthy of attention, cultural information, explanation of the parable, decisions on the issues, and adapting the parable.  He also includes a “for further reading” section at the end of each parable.  If you are looking for one book on Jesus’ parables, buy this one.

Interpreting the Parables by Craig Blomberg

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This is another must buy for those interested in studying the parables.  Blomberg’s book is not as comprehensive as Snodgrass’ on the actual parables themselves, but he is much more comprehensive in introducing the study of parables.  Blomberg spends nearly 200 pages (!) introducing parables and the different hermeneutical issues that one runs into when interpreting the parables.  The book is 450 pages, so he still spends approx. 250 pages discussing the individual parables, giving superb insight.  Blomberg excels at explaining the interpretive framework he uses when studying Jesus’ parables.  He teaches that for the most part, “each parable makes one main point per main character–usually two or three in each case–and these main characters are the most likely elements within the parable to stand for something other than themselves, thus giving the parable its allegorical nature.”[note]Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 190.[/note]  Between Snodgrass and Blomberg, Christ’s parables are covered in detail.

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

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This is a must buy (Do you see a pattern here?)!  This isn’t a must buy solely for the study of Jesus’ parables, but because of the comprehensive study of Jesus Himself.  This book isn’t a book on the parables, but a book on Jesus.  For the purpose of this page, I’ll focus on the “parable” section of the book (but know that there’s much more).  Bailey has long been known as a skilled interpreter of parables because of his other books on them, specifically on the Prodigal Son.  However, in this book, Bailey discusses 13 different parables (the Prodigal Son not being one of them) in great detail.  Bailey’s focus is geared more toward understanding the ancient cultural context of the parable and the actions of characters in the story within the cultural context the story is set.  He says this eloquently, “Simply stated, our task is to stand at the back of the audience around Jesus and listen to what he is saying to them. Only through that discipline can we discover what he is saying to any age, including our own. Authentic simplicity can be found the other side of complexity. The theological and ethical House of the Parables of Jesus awaits.  May all enter with great expectations!”[note]Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2008), 283.[/note] Buy this book and enjoy it.

The Parables of Jesus by J. Dwight Pentecost

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This book, by a longtime professor at DTS, is short and very useful.  Pentecost gives a brief 10-page introduction to parables and their interpretation and then moves on to discussing each parable.  Every parable is discussed in a tripartite way (a) The Setting (b) The Problem (c) The Solution.  This format is great for showing the broad sense of each parable.  I would recommend this book for the laymen or student of the Scriptures who is not wanting a detailed study of the parables, but an overview interpretation of each parable Christ told.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

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This book is not on the “parables” but on a “parable”: the Prodigal Son.  Keller would be quick to correct me and say that the parable should rather be called “The Two Lost Sons” (the title of Chapter Two).  This book was one of the first I’ve read by Keller, and it’s outstanding (like pretty much everything Keller writes).  The whole book is an exposition of Luke 15:11-32 and it is such an engaging, easy read that you might finish in one sitting (it’s only 133 pages and small pages at that). Keller shows that Jesus’ most famous parable stars the elder brother just as much as the younger brother and he brings out the implications of this throughout the book.  I recommend this book to any and every Christian.  Buy it, read it, and delight in Christ.

12 Quotes of Christmas and God Incarnate

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So then He united man with God, and established a community of union between God and man; since we could not in any other way participate in incorruption, save by His coming among us…So the Word was made flesh, that, through that very flesh which sin had ruled and dominated, it should lose its force and be no longer in us. And therefore our Lord took that same original formation as (His) entry into flesh, so that He might draw near and contend on behalf of the fathers, and conquer by Adam that which by Adam had stricken us down. – St. Irenaeus of Lyons

[God’s] temporal plan ennobled each sex, both male and female. By possessing a male nature and being born of a woman He further showed by this plan that God has concern not only for the sex He represented but also for the one through which he took upon himself our nature. – Augustine

It was his to swallow up death: who but Life could do so? It was his to conquer sin: who could do so save Righteousness itself? It was his to put to flight the powers of the air and the world: who could do so but the mighty power superior to both? But who possesses life and righteousness, and the dominion and government of heaven, but God alone? Therefore, God, in his infinite mercy, having determined to redeem us, became himself our Redeemer in the person of his only begotten Son. – John Calvin

No human mind can ever grasp the significance of the occurrence and consequence of the incarnation. That a Person of the Godhead should become one of the human family–the sphere of His own creation–with a view to remaining in that form, though glorified, and throughout eternity must continue an insoluble mystery to the creatures of this world. – Lewis Sperry Chafer

We see Him among the thousands of Galilee, anointed of God with the Holy Ghost and power, going about doing good: with no pride of birth, though He was a king; with no pride of intellect, though omniscience dwelt within Him; with no pride of power, though all power in heaven and earth was in His hands; or of station, though the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily; or of superior goodness or holiness: but in lowliness of mind esteeming every one better than Himself, healing the sick, casting out devils, feeding the hungry, and everywhere breaking to men the bread of life. We see Him everywhere offering to men His life for the salvation of their souls: and when, at last, the forces of evil gathered thick around Him, walking, alike without display and without dismay, the path of suffering appointed for Him, and giving His life at Calvary that through His death the world might live. – B.B. Warfield

So that is the outline of the official story – the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull – this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero… now may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational. – Dorothy Sayers

The great exhibition of the enduring covenant love of God in the OT took place at Sinai, the same setting where the Tabernacle became the dwelling for God’s glory.  So now the supreme exhibition of God’s love is the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, the new Tabernacle of divine glory. – Raymond Brown

Therefore even when we begin with his incarnation, and with his birth at Bethlehem, we are beginning right away with the atonement, for his birth, as the beginning of his incarnate person, is one end of the atoning work, with the resurrection and ascension as the other end. – T.F. Torrance

The all-glorious Creator-Covenant Lord assumed a full and sinless human nature, such that the eternal Son became a man in order to restore humanity to its vice-regent glory and to inaugurate the new creation, over which the new humanity will rule in righteousness in the age to come.  In this way and by these glorious means, our Lord Jesus Christ becomes our great prophet, priest, and king, the head of the new creation, the Lord of glory, who is worthy of all our worship, adoration, and praise. – Stephen Wellum

The worship of Jesus by the Maji [in Matt. 2] and the quotation from Micah 5:2 (Matt. 2:5-6) reinforce the view that here is a king who transcends the merely human.  Jesus is fully human but not merely human.  – Graham Cole

The Messiah came, not to a purified and enlightened world spiritually prepared for his arrival, but rather to a humanity no nearer to its original goodness than on the day Cain murdered his brother Abel.  Indeed, the barbarity of crucifixion reveals precisely that diagnosis.  From beginning to end, the Holy Scriptures testify that the predicament of fallen humanity is so serious, so grave, so irremediable from within, that nothing short of divine intervention can rectify it. – Fleming Rutledge

The meaning of Christmas is that God is invading the territory held by the Prince of Darkness.  The definitive closure of this cosmic invasion, the V-Day to its D-Day, will be the final Day of God. – Fleming Rutledge

 

 

 

6 Books that Will Change the Way You Read the Bible (for the better)

I used to read the Bible like God was tweeting @ me.  A random verse here, a verse there. I had a couple favorite passages (usually pulled out of context) I would go to over and over when I was feeling down as if I was reading a therapeutic book written by some psychologist.  If I ever did read a chunk of text like the story of Abraham or Joseph or one of Jesus’ miracles I would immediately jump to some individualistic-applicational interpretation of the text that had nothing to do with the actual story I was reading.  I’m not sure where you are on the spectrum of reading the Bible.  Maybe you’re still on twitter with God, maybe you’re reading large portions of the Bible but lost as to how it all fits together?  I’m here to tell you that it fits together.  From Genesis to Revelation the Biblical story, God’s story, fits.  These books will help you see the Biblical narrative for what it is: One Story, not thousands of random verses.  Read and enjoy God’s Word afresh!

6. The Servant King by T. Desmond Alexander

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This is a tremendously helpful book by a distinguished biblical scholar.  The Servant King is only 168 pages, but Alexander covers the whole Bible, scanning for the “Portrait of the Messiah” (the book’s subtitle).  It is a quick and easy read, full of helpful information.  You will grow in your understanding of Christ and and grow in your love for Christ as you see Him throughout the Biblical Story.  Alexander provides his own bird’s eye view of the book, “The purpose of this study has been to trace the development of the portrait of the Messiah through the Bible. While the specific designation Messiah is not used at the start, we noted how Genesis focuses attention on the coming of a divinely promised monarch. Beginning with the Lord God’s promise to Eve concerning the defeat of the ‘seed of the serpent’, the Genesis narrative highlights a unique line of ‘seed’ which is traced firstly through Seth to Noah and then from Noah to Abraham. Against the background of humanity’s existence under God’s judgment, Abraham receives the promise that through this ‘seed’ all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”[note] T. D. Alexander, The Servant King: the Bible’s Portrait of the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Regent College Publishing, 2003), 165.[/note]  And we’re off!  Following this “seed” through the rest of the Biblical Story.  I highly recommend this short, but fantastic overview of the Anointed One.

5. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright

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The four Gospels are about Jesus.  Often times though, we read our own modern problems into the narrative.  We select what parts of the Gospels we read haphazardly, choosing this story or that story because it seems to communicate advice to our present life circumstance while ignoring the bulk of the other stuff.  I’m not saying that we can’t glean practical advice from the Gospels, what I am saying is that they are not self-help books.  This is not why they were written, therefore, that’s not how we should read them.  All of the Gospels are stories, so we need to read them as stories.  Prolific author and renowned biblical scholar, N.T. Wright, helps us mightily in this regard.  To properly read and understand the four Gospels, Wright makes use of a handy analogy.  He says to imagine buying a new quadrophonic surround sound speaker system.  There are four speakers, one in each corner of the room, but the sound is uneven and distorted, so now you have to adjust the volume of each speaker to make sure the sound comes through beautifully clear and organized.  Likewise, Wright argues that there are four strands or “speakers” that must all be simultaneously turned up and tuned together to be able to hear the beautifully clear and organized story of the Gospels.  The four “speakers” he discusses are: (1) The Story of Israel, (2) The Story of Jesus as the Story of Israel’s God, (3) The Launching of God’s Renewed People, and (4) The Clash of the Kingdoms.  Unfortunately, many of us read with only one speaker blaring and the rest are completely turned off (or maybe all of them are completely turned off).  By turning all of the speakers on and adjusting the volume to bring them into unison, Wright believes the four Gospels sing this major tune: “The story of how God became king–in and through Jesus both in his public career and in his death.”[note]N. T. Wright, How God Became King: the Forgotten Story of the Gospels, Reprint ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2016), 175.[/note]  We can always be nit-picky here, but I think he’s generally right (HA!).  I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in the Gospels and what they say about Jesus.  Christians, non-Christians, and skeptics alike will better understand the story of the Gospels and hopefully enjoy the music they produce.

4. From Paradise to the Promise Land by T. Desmond Alexander

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T. Desmond Alexander (a favorite scholar/writer of mine if you can’t tell) has written a superb introduction to the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).  Do you struggle reading through parts of Genesis (maybe), or Exodus (maybe), or Leviticus (definitely), or Numbers (yes & insert Christian pick-up line), or Deuteronomy (Idk even know how to spell that, let alone read it)?  Then this book is for you (so basically it’s for everyone).  Part 1 of the book deals exclusively with textual criticism of the Pentateuch, especially form and source criticism.  Don’t be turned off by the first part of the book if you have no interest in textual criticism (most don’t), it’s only ~100 pages so simply skip over it and move onto the bulk of the book: Part 2 “The Main Themes of the Pentateuch”.  Although I should mention, the last chapter of Part 1 is worth reading for anybody, whether interested in textual criticism or not.  Part 2 is exactly like it sounds.  Alexander makes his way though the main themes of the Pentateuch.  These themes include: Royal lineage in Genesis, the blessing of the nations, paradise lost, who is the Lord?, covenant,  passover, tabernacle, clean and unclean foods, holiness, and much more.  Alexander overviews the Pentateuch in the first chapter of Part 2, concluding the chapter with this statement, “Although the Pentateuch is a very distinctive history of the world from its creation to the arrival of the Israelites on the borders of Canaan, it is much more than a history of what has taken place. The divine promises of blessing and nationhood, which are so important to the development of the plot, remain unfulfilled by the end of Deuteronomy.  As a result, the Pentateuch is oriented towards the future.  What will become of these promises?  To answer this we must look beyond the concluding chapters of Deuteronomy.  As it stands, the Pentateuch is an unfinished story.”[note] T. Desmond Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land: an Introduction to the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 100.[/note]  The Pentateuch is the story that begins THE STORY, and reading this book will help you see both.  Delight in finally coming to enjoy the Pentateuch and not cringing over hearing the word “Leviticus” or knowing more about Numbers than that cheesy (but funny) pick-up line.  Read this book!

3.  God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham Cole

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What a title, right?  Graham Cole says this of the title, “[The title] attempts to capture this important biblical perspective on what God intends for His broken creation.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 22.[/note]  Cole, a respected theologian, sets out to write a Biblical theology on atonement (quite the task), and he hits a biblical-theological-doxological home run.  The first three chapters tell the story of the world’s problem, while the next three chapters tell the story of God’s solution.  These six chapters are an outstanding and edifying overview of the Biblical storyline.  Chapter 7 “explores how the peace/shalom that comes through the cross works itself out at the personal, corporate and cosmic levels.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 30.[/note]  Chapter 8 deals with how we are to live in light of what God’s done in Christ and chapter 9 discusses the purpose for it all: God’s glory.  Cole concludes with this grand statement, “The triune God’s reconciling project will see God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule living God’s way enjoying shalom in God’s holy and loving presence to God’s glory.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 230.[/note]  This is one of my favorite books because I came away having learned A LOT (about the Biblical narrative and about atonement), but also having worshiped God A LOT.  Cole communicates deep biblical-theological truths in ways that produce doxological(worshipful) hearts.  I pray that reading this book will help you understand what God has done in Christ, but also that this understanding will lead to worship.

2. Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster

41awPvFXR6L._AC_US218_.jpgRarely do I find a book that I know I will reread and continue to reread for the rest of my life, Dominion and Dynasty is one of those books.  The subtitle of the book describes the book well, “A theology of the Hebrew Bible.”  Dempster sees the Old Testament, specifically the Tanak (the Hebrew Bible is called the ‘Tanak’ because it is made up of three parts: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim) as one unified Story.  The Tanak is structured differently than our Old Testament.  They both contain the same books, but they are in a different order.  Dempster argues that following the order of the Tanak: Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) shows purposeful structure, composition, and narrative plot.  By the way, Jesus seems to affirm the Tanak order as the Scripture He used in Luke 11:51-52 and Luke 24:44-47.  Dempster begins the book with a short discussion on hermeneutics (fancy word for interpreting a text) and argues for what he calls a “literary” approach to reading the Tanak (the introductory chapters 1 and 2 should not be overlooked).  Then, Dempster works through the Story from Genesis to Chronicles (the last book in the Hebrew Bible) and shows how the unified themes of “Dominion and Dynasty” develop throughout the Narrative.  The following quote will give you a taste of the entire book: “This represents the story of the Tanakh, a story that leaves Israel still in a type of exile, waiting for someone from David’s house to come and build a house to bring about the restoration of all things. To be sure, it consists of many texts, but these find their part in a larger Text. The many stories together constitute a single Story.  And this Story is about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic Dynasty. In short, it is about the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is unfinished.”[note]Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: a Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2003), 231.[/note] Overall, this book is fantastic and will revolutionize how you read the Old Testament.  I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially Pastors and Teachers of the Word.  This will inform and transform your reading of the Hebrew Bible.  Read and see the Story about Dominion and Dynasty, Geography and Genealogy, God’s Kingdom and God’s King.

1. From Eden to the New Jerusalem by T. Desmond Alexander

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If you purchase one book on Biblical Theology, this is the one.  If you purchase one book on this list, this is the one.  I’ll go so far as to say that the next book you purchase that has anything do with the Bible should be this one.  It’s that good.  T. Desmond Alexander is a great scholar and an excellent author, and his book From Eden to the New Jerusalem will absolutely transform how you see and read the Bible.  Essentially, Alexander traces several themes throughout the Biblical Narrative, drawing these themes from Revelation 21-22.  These themes include: God’s dwelling place (tracing the “temple” from Eden to the New Jerusalem), God’s throne (dealing with the reign of God and the reign of Satan), evil and its (his) destruction, the slaughter of the Lamb (following redemption through the Biblical Story), the tree of life, and living as the people of God.  A quote from the conclusion of the book previews its material, “The coming of Jesus Christ is vital for the ultimate restoration of the earth as God’s abode. Bringing to fulfillment a series of interlocking expectations that link to the royal line of David, Jesus Christ, as the perfect man, overcomes Satan through his death, resurrection and ascension. As a result of his sacrificial death upon the cross, Christ brings about a new exodus that delivers people from Satan’s control, and bestows on them a holy and royal status. By repenting of their sin and acknowledging Christ’s kingship, human beings are enabled by the Holy Spirit to become citizens of the kingdom of God.”[note]T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: an Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2009), 191[/note]  All I can say is that you need to find this book, buy this book, read this book, and grow in your love for The Book.

 

Your Netflix Binge-Watching Skills Can Help Your Bible-Reading Skills

Let’s face it.  We all binge-watch shows on Netflix.  There’s much to say about the topic of binge-watching, but this isn’t the blog for that.  I just want to make one observation about binge-watching shows: the binge-watcher is able to follow the storyline of the show very closely.  That makes sense right?  If you’re binge-watching a crime show, you’re able to closely follow the plot, the developments, pick up on clues, put together evidence, and make better conclusions about who did the crime because you just watched a whole season of the show in one day.

Let’s bring this even closer to home for myself and others who love the show The Office.  Let’s say that instead of binge-watching this show (which is so easy to do because the episodes are only 20 min., it’s awesome, and hilarious, and Jim and Pam)…so instead of binge-watching you just watch random episodes.  **Spoiler Alert!!**  So, if you randomly start watching The Office at say Season 3 Episode 25 which is “The Job” and happens to be the episode where Jim finally asks out Pam and Pam finally says yes…you have no background for their relationship.  You have missed out on arguably the most important plot development of the show.  Next, let’s say after watching this one episode you skip ahead to Season 6 Episode 5 when Jim and Pam get married.  Again, you’re completely missing out on the development of their relationship, their first kiss, their struggles, the proposal, etc. (not to mention all of the other character development and storylines).  You have basically ruined a fantastic T.V. show.  Now, to all of you reading this blog (and myself writing it), this is ridiculous!  No one does that. No one watches random episodes with hopes to understand the plot of the story. That’s just not how you watch a show.  So…why do we read the Bible that way?  Even more particular, why do we read the Gospels that way or Paul’s letters that way?

Now don’t take my metaphor as sacrilege.  Obviously, the Bible, God’s inspired Word, is different than The Office.  BUT, they both tell a story.  I’m not saying that we must only read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (though it would be extremely beneficial), but we do need to realize (1) the Bible is a story (2) large chunks of the Bible are narrative and (3) as a reader you have to know what part of the story you’re in.  So, instead of reading a verse here or a verse there set aside some time to binge-read the Bible!  You’ll be amazed at what you’ll begin to see and what you’ll piece together when you do this.

Maybe start with the Gospel of Mark (it’s short) or one of Paul’s shorter letters.  You can start out slow! Don’t even read all of it in one sitting; read half one day and half the next.  The connections you’ll make will astound you.  The Gospel writers each wrote a story about Jesus, so it’s meant to be read that way!  The writers of Epistles (fancy word for letters) wrote them from beginning to end, so it’s meant to be read that way! Look, the Spirit can absolutely encourage and teach you when you are reading random verses (happens to me all the time)…but, that’s not how the Spirit inspired the Biblical authors to write.  The Biblical authors wrote songs, stories, letters, laments, and prophetic books that are meant to be read from beginning to end.  Just like a T.V. show.  So my challenge to you is try it out!  Binge-read the Bible a couple of times and see how the Spirit teaches you.  I pray you will be greatly encouraged and that Christ will be exalted!

Jesus: The Cosmic Carpenter

I would imagine that most of the population (whether Christian or not) when asked about Jesus’ occupation would answer that he was a carpenter (thanks Indiana Jones).  This is not wrong, but is in need of some nuance.  Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, is called a τέκτων (pronounced “tech-tone”) in Matthew 13:55[note]Is not this the carpenter’s (τέκτων) son? Is not His mothercalledMary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?[/note] and Jesus is called a τέκτων himself in Mark 6:3, “‘Is not this the carpenter (τέκτων), the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sistershere with us?’ And they tookoffense at Him.”  It was normal for sons to follow their fathers in trade/occupation in this cultural context, so it makes sense that both Joseph and Jesus are referred to as a τέκτων.  The nuance needed here is that “carpenter” is probably too specific of a designation for the work of a τέκτων.  A τέκτων would have undoubtedly been able to work with wood, but also with stone and even metal.  Therefore, a τέκτων is “one who constructs” or succinctly, a “builder”.[note]Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, pg. 995.[/note]

Jesus worked as a “builder” on earth about two-thousand years ago.  He probably built tools, furniture, homes, and other buildings.  So yes, Jesus was a builder during His earthly ministry, but what about before?  And what about after?  It’s remarkable (and awesomely ironic) that Jesus was a τέκτων, because the Son of God was building long before his career in Nazareth: “All things came into being through Him[Christ]” [note]John 1:3[/note] and “For by Him[Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” [note]Colossians 1:16[/note]  Jesus is the τέκτων of the universe.

Jesus built stuff in Nazareth, Jesus built (and maintains) the universe, and Jesus also takes part in building His Church: “I [Jesus] alsosay to you that you are Peter, and upon thisrock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”[note]Matthew 16:18[/note] and “In whom[Christ] the wholebuilding, being fittedtogether, is growing into a holytemple in the Lord, in whom you also are being builttogether into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”[note]Ephesians 2:21-22[/note]  If you have faith in Christ, then you are built into the ever-growing home of God.  Jesus is the τέκτων of the Church.

So we return to the question posed by the villagers in Mark 6:3 who are offended by Jesus’ actions and words, “Is not this the carpenter?”  The answer is yes.  Actually…more than you even know.  He’s the Cosmic Carpenter.

(The idea for this blog was sparked by S.M. Baugh’s comment on Ephesians 2:14-15 in his brilliant commentary.  Baugh, S. M. Ephesians: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Ed. Wayne H. House, Hall W. Harris III, and Andrew W. Pitts. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. 191.)