Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why I have gotten the O.T. wrong... part V

It has been awhile since my last post... my bad. I shall, however, continue this study on why I have indeed gotten the Old Testament wrong by proceeding on to the Second Commandment. Exodus 20:4-5a says, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them..." (ESV).

When I was a child I became familiar with this commandment. (When I say "familiar" I mean that I had heard of it.) Rather than tell you my eventual interpretation of this verse, let me just paint a picture for you in your mind. Whenever I would see a picture of Jesus in a home or church building I would become uneasy. There you go... my interpretation of the Second Commandment. This is what I thought, and rightfully so, because this is what I had been taught up until the age of twenty-two when a seminary professor named Dr. Gentry set me straight. The King James Version states it like this: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,..." In other words, "DON'T MAKE AN IDOL!" In my mind a picture of Jesus was an idol because it is a false representation of Him, unless of course He really was an attractive, middle-class, white Republican.

My goal is to help put you into the mindset of an Israelite that would be hearing this command for the first time... so here's the deal: In the ANE (Ancient Near East) pagan cultures would make statues, or images, which, through a process, would eventually become gods and be used as a mediator between themselves and that god. Here are some other details: All public worship was around the image; it was awakened, clothed, fed twice a day, and put to bed (The image was seen as a way to meet the needs of the god); and they perceived the image as not simply a representation of the Deity, but as a manifestation of its presence. This is the context that helps us understand what an idol was back then. Now to bring it all together...

A comparison of translations:

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything..." (Ex. 20:4, ESV)

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing..." (KJV)

"You shall not make for yourselves an idol, or any likeness..." (NASB)

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything..." (NIV)

According to the Hebrew the NIV got it right while the others can be used to support the teachings of the early Rabbi's that said you were to make no images of creation at all. Do you see the differences in the translations? The first three should not say or, but of. "Do not make for yourselves an idol of any likeness." To make a long story short, the Second Commandment is saying that no image is to be used as the mediator from deity to people or as a mediator of worship. And we must remember that God has already made His image... man.

So, was I right to feel uneasy at the sight of a picture of Jesus in a church or home? Only if that church or home was making an idol out of it, which they were not. There is nothing inherently wrong with having an image of Jesus, but worshipping that image as the manifested presence of God is definately a sin. Until next time...

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Pause for a Question

I thought that I was going to write this post on the Second Commandment, but that will have to wait until next time. Right now I would like to say something about a question that I have been asking myself recently. The question is this: "What am I doing?" And here's the background. I am in an accountability group with Jesse and Eron and a while back we were talking about George Muller. If you are not familiar with Muller then you need to become so as soon as possible. It will be enough for now to say that he was a great man of prayer and faith. We were on the subject of living by faith and Eron said something along the lines of, "If Kari (his wife) and I decided to sell everything we own and live our entire lives on nothing but the promises of God to meet all of our needs while giving ourselves completely to the furthering of His Kingdom, we would be okay. God would take care of us." Now, the three of us agreed that this does take a special calling to live this way, but there is still an alluring quality about it isn't there? What if Amber and I just quit our jobs and devoted ourselves to full-time ministry and sacrificing our lives and our comforts for Christ? We would be okay. We know this, and yet, I can't help but think that we're not going to do this. Is that bad? I'm not sure right now.

Two more things...

Eron, Blake, and I have the same Hermeneutics class and before class started last Monday Eron was talking about the new Passion DVD and John Piper's sermon. One of Piper's themes was 1 Cor. 15:19 which reads, "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." Why did Paul say this? Because if Christianity turns out not to be true then they gave their lives for nothing. Paul and others at that time (and since then) gave up everything for Christ... EVERYTHING. They risked their lives and even gave their lives because they were convinced that Heaven was better than earth. Therefore, they deserve to be pitied if Christianity is not true. But what about me? What about us? If in this life only we have hoped in Christ would we deserve to be pitied? Ashamedly, I know that I would not. Here in America we have become so comfortable. We have designer clothing, cool music, nice cars, etc... Being a Christian costs us nothing. Therefore, if Christianity turns out not to be true, then we're still good. We don't deserve to be pitied because Christianity was "good" for us here. We have all of the comfort that the world has and more in many cases. I detest American Christianity for this and yet right now I feel like I am its "poster boy". What am I doing?

The other thing is a story I heard once about two female American Christian missionaries that had a chance to speak with a couple of Christian women in India. During their conversation one of the Indians asked the Americans if they had ever lost their job for being a Christian. "No," replied the Americans, "we have never lost our job for being a Christian." "Have you ever had rocks thrown at you because of your faith?" asked the other Indian Christian. "No," replied the Americans, "we have never had rocks thrown at us because of our faith." "Have you ever been burned for being a Christian?" asked the Indian Christian, who had obvious burn marks all over her arms. "Of course not," said the Americans in almost disbelief, "we have never been burned for our faith. You see, in America we have laws that protect us from those types of things." After a short silence one of the Indian Christians asked the Americans, "Then how do you know what it means to be a Christian if it costs you nothing?" What am I doing?

One other thing actually... Eron told me that in Chapel on Tuesday Mohler posed the question, "Do we really believe that Heaven is better than earth?" All of these things have been going through my mind recently (this week actually) and I really feel somewhat burdened by this. You see, there is a family that lives right next to Amber and I (about three feet from our door to be precise) and they are lost. Now, we have bought them a gift basket and given them a New Testament and a couple of tracts, but what if we did more. We could sell our television, surround sound, DVD player, and stereo and give that money to this family to share the gospel with them and to help them see just a little glimmer of the amazing love found in Christ... but we probably won't. I could sell my truck (I have a bike to ride) and use that money to minister to the lost and hurting in this community, to the widows and orphans, to further the advancement of the gospel in world missions... but I probably won't. So what am I doing? Do I really believe that Heaven is better than earth because it sure seems like I am trying to be as comfortable as possible here, in this world that is supposed to be a foreign land to me. This is not supposed to be my home and yet, I feel very much at home. Why? You know what the crazy thing is? I fully understand that doing these things would not only glorify God, but it would be one of the greatest blessings that I would ever receive. It would strengthen my faith and my wife's faith, and I believe it would usher in a sense of nearness to God that I know I will never experience apart from living in this sacrificial way. That's the crazy thing about it... I know this! So what am I doing? It makes me wonder how long I am going to be satisfied with all of my "stuff"; with all of my comfort. I desire to live this way, and yet I don't. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:15, 19, 24-25). It is times like this that I really appreciate the patience of the Lord. Pray for me. You may be living in a way that proves you believe that Heaven really is better than this place. I thank you for that, but pray for all of us who are poster boys and girls for American Christianity. May we grow tired of trying to hold on to all of this sand.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why I have gotten the O.T. wrong... part IV

I spent the weekend trying to clean/rearrange the office in our apartment so blogging wasn't happening. But I now have it down to just a few papers on the floor that I need to go through and vaccuuming, so almost there. I think it's time to begin the Ten Commandments. In the Ancient Near East (ANE) they were also known as the Ten Words. Another thing to note is that the first four deal with our relationship to God and the last six deal with our relationship to each other. One more thing to note is that after each of the first four commandments there is an explanation following it, but not aftert the last six. This is because the last six were nothing new to the ANE Israelites. All six could be found in various other law codes surrounding them and so no explanation was needed... they understood the purpose already. But the first four were new so God provided them with an explanation as to why they were important and what they're purpose was. For example, the First Commandment reads, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (ESV). Here God is saying that the reason the Israelites should have no other gods before Him is because they had nothing to do with the Exodus. It was Yahweh and Him alone that delivered them. Now the question of this commandment is what does the word before mean? This word could also be translated as besides; but the idea that is being presented to the Israelites is spacial. You see, I always thought that the first Commandment was demanding monotheism (that the Israelites were to only believe in one god), but this isn't what it is saying. As I said before, the idea being presented is spacial... "You shall have no other gods before me" means that the Israelites were not to imagine any other gods in the presence of Yahweh. Just like when a convict goes into a courtroom and comes before the judge.

It is thought that the early Israelites were Henotheistic, which means that they believed in many gods, but only worshipped one, and later became monotheistic. Gods in the ANE were seen in a Pantheon, or theistic hierarchy. (Kind of like the President and his cabinet.) And so you had all these gods placed in this hierarchy with each one having there own power and control of certain things. This is why there was a "moon god" and a "sun god" and a "rain god" and so forth; a Pantheon suggests a distribution of power. What God was communicating to the ANE Israelites that were at least familiar with this mindset if not believers in it themselves was that He is omnipotent, or all-powerful. He is saying that He is the only God worthy of worship, not that He is the only god, although He does say this later on (see. Dt. 4:35, 39; Is. 43:10). So, in conclusion, the first Commandment does not say that no other gods exist, but that they are powerless... therefore leaving them with no status worthy of worship. Next we will look at the second Commandment... which I also misunderstood.