The Scriptures Are a Shut and Open Case

An open and shut case is a court case, legal matter, or problem that is easy to decide or solve because the facts are clearly known or plainly obvious to all.

But, the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, are not an open and shut case. The truth within them is not clearly known and plainly obvious to all. There are problems and questions in the Old Testament that are not easy to solve or answer.

So, instead of being an open and shut case, the scriptures are a shut and open case. In a fascinating way, the gospel of Luke reveals just this to us. But, Luke’s gospel also reveals the one who can solve and answer the difficult problems and questions of the Bible for us – Jesus.

Take Zechariah.

An angel of the Lord came to Zechariah and told him that he would have a son that would be great before the Lord and turn the hearts of the children of Israel to God. But, Zechariah doubted the word of the angel. So, the angel told Zechariah, “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place.” (Luke 1.20) In other words, Zechariah’s mouth was shut. But, when everything that the angel told Zechariah would happen happened, “immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed.” (Luke 1.64)

What had been shut was now open.

Take Mary.

She was a virgin. Her womb was shut. But, after Mary gave birth to Jesus, their time for purification came. So, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. Luke 2.23 says they did this because “as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.'”

Take the heavens.

They were closed. But, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.” (Luke 3.21) The heavens could not have been opened at Jesus’ baptism if they were not closed before it.

Take the door.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who goes to a friend at midnight asking for three loaves. The friend tells the man not to bother him because the door is shut. But, Jesus is that door. “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11.9-10)

Luke repeatedly tells us of things that were previously shut that have now been opened. This is an important theme throughout Luke’s gospel as each shutting and opening foreshadows the final opening of what was shut in Luke’s gospel.

So, take the scriptures.

They were shut to everyone. No one understood their true meaning.

Even the disciples did not understand the scriptures. Because of this, Jesus said the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were slow of heart to believe all the prophets, meaning the scriptures, had spoke. So, Jesus taught them from Moses and all the prophets about himself, how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and enter into his glory.

Jesus simply teaching these two disciples where he was in all the scriptures did not reveal the true meaning of the scriptures to these two. The answers to they had were still hard to come by. The case was still shut and not open.

But, Jesus broke bread and gave it to them.

In other words, these two disciples experientially shared in the suffering of Jesus. They symbolically received the broken body of Jesus and ate it.

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” (Luke 24.31-32)

After doing this for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus did it for the other disciples as well.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” (Luke 24.44-47)

Over and over, Luke shows what was shut is now open.

By the end of Luke’s gospel, the shut and open case of the scriptures has been solved.

The difficult problem of understanding the truth of scripture was solved as the disciples shared in the suffering of the Christ.

Jesus solved the shut and open case of the scriptures for us.

Jesus opens that which has been shut.

Jesus, and only the suffering of Jesus, can open our minds to understand the truth of scripture.

Does God Hate You?

If I had to guess, then I would guess that a lot of people in the world believe God hates them.

Strangely, I feel more confident in saying that a significant number of Christians believe that God hates them. They hear it preached regularly. You sinned. God hates sin. So, God hates you. But, in order to spare you from his hatred, God put your sin on Jesus. Instead of hating you, God transferred his hate to Jesus. Instead of killing you, God killed Jesus. Therefore, Jesus died the death that you deserved when you were hated by God.

God must have really hated you if he killed his own perfect, sinless son instead of you.

I could, and others have, come up many verses from the Old Testament that allude to the fact that God has a lot of hate.

Deuteronomy 1.27 says, “And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.”

Deuteronomy 9.28 says, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.”

Psalm 11.5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

But, this morning I read Proverbs 10.12. It says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” As I thought about this verse, I saw it as a picture of those who hated Jesus and crucified him and a picture of God, who was in Jesus on the cross, who loved us so much he covered all our offenses.

We are the ones that are filled with hate, not God. Our hatred stirs up, arouses, and awakens strife, controversy, contention. The ultimate end of this hatred is murder. The ultimate murder was our crucifixion of Jesus. This was the fulfillment of all hatred.

God does not hate. It only seems that way because we project our hate onto God.

Instead of hating, God loves. In fact, God is love. God’s love covered our hate that was fully revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus. Our hatred not only led to strife but offenses. The Hebrew word for offenses could also be translated, and perhaps better so, rebellion. God’s love covered every bit of our rebellion against him. Indeed, we were all at one time enemies in our minds against God. Note that God never saw as us his enemies, as people to be hated.

When we read the New Testament, it is hard to find anything that even alludes to God hating. Although, Jesus repeatedly says that he is hated by the world and that world will kill him because it hated him.

Do you know what the actual meaning of hate is?

Hate is an intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.

So hate comes from fear, anger, or a sense of injury.

That sounds like our thoughts, feelings, and emotions toward God and others. We fear God. We are angry at God. We feel injured by God because we don’t have everything we want. So, we hate God.

The Bible never says that God is hate. But, it does say that God is love. God can only do what he is. You know…that whole I Am that I Am thing. The Bible goes on to say that there is no fear in love. And, if there is no fear, then there can be no hate in love either. Instead of fear being in love, perfect love casts out fear. For me, that is very much like love covering all of our rebellion.

I also see Jesus in Proverbs 10.12.

Love covers all offenses. The Hebrew word for covers is also used for putting on a veil or other articles of clothing. Love is put on atop, over, or above (there’s actually an untranslated Hebrew word that means something like that) all our offenses. Love is put on atop or above our hatred, covering it up.

Colossians 3.8-14 says, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Here we have the taking off the garment of hatred – anger, wrath, malice – and the putting on of the garment of love. In this way, there are no more groups that hate another – Jew and Gentile, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free. Instead, Christ is all and in all. Hatred is replace with love because God, and Christ, is love.

We are to forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven us.

When did Jesus, and God, do this?

On the cross.

When our hatred was fully stirred up to the ultimate strife – murder.

When love covered all of our rebellion.

And, because God has always been as he was on the cross, he never hated you.

Do You Live by God’s Mouth or God’s Finger?

We can receive from God in two ways – his finger or his mouth. The Bible actually makes a big deal about this. Although, it doesn’t come right out and say it.

The question is, are you living by God’s mouth or his finger?

Exodus 20-23 contain the ten commandments and other laws God gave to Israel while they were wandering through wilderness. Exodus 20.1 says, “And God spoke all these words, saying…”

Who did God speak the words of Exodus 20-23 to?

I think the answer is Moses…alone.

“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood afar off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God to us, lest we die.'” (Exodus 20.18-19)

The people didn’t want to hear from God directly because they were afraid of him. Because they were afraid of God, they stayed far away from him. Instead, they told Moses to hear what God wanted to say and report back to them so they could listen.

So, Exodus 24.2 says, “Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

And, Exodus 24.12 says, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”

How did Israel get the ten commandments and the rest of the law?

Exodus 31.18 says, “And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”

God spoke to Moses. God wrote those laws and commandments on tablets of stone with his own finger. Moses took the tablets of stone to Israel.

When Jesus was in the wilderness, he was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. “But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘” (Matthew 4.4)

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8.3. something that was written. But, Jesus quoted what was written to show that man does not live by what was written. In other words, man does not live by what comes from God’s finger. In yet other words, man does live by a book. Rather, man lives by every word that comes from God’s mouth. In other words, man lives by God’s voice. In yet other words, man lives by the word of God that is living and active. (Hebrews 4.12)

Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, his version or interpretation of God’s law, very soon after he said that man lives by every word that comes out of God’s mouth. But, Jesus didn’t go up a mountain by himself to hear from God and write down what God said to give to the people. Matthew 5.1 says, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” Jesus went up a mountain like Moses, but he had a crowd gathered around him. While it does seem that he spoke to just his disciples because the verse says they came to him, we see something different at the end of this sermon. Matthew 7.28, says, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.” The crowds heard what Jesus said. So, unlike Moses, Jesus was not alone with God when he received and gave his interpretation of the law.

It is very important to note Matthew 5.2, which says, “And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying…”

Jesus opened his mouth.

The people received these new instructions from Jesus’ mouth, God’s mouth, directly.

The people did not receive these new instructions written down by God’s finger.

Further, in John 10.4, Jesus said, “When he brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Jesus’ people know his voice and they follow it.

What is the significance of the distinction between following what was written down by God’s finger and following what was spoken by God’s mouth, his voice?

The laws and commandments that came from God’s finger were written in stone. They were set in stone, meaning they were fixed and unchangeable. They could be known only one. There was no room for interpretation. They were to be taken literally.

Further, there was no requirement of intimacy to receive what was written down by God’s finger. The people were afar off, standing far away from God, when Moses received what God wrote down. Therefore, what was written by God’s finger implied a great distance between God and the people.

In contrast, a voice is living. A voice has easily detectable tones and differences. A voice can provide shades of meaning. A voice can mold the teaching to the situation so that it can be followed. To hear one’s voice you must be close enough to hear it in the present moment. Therefore, a voice implies a greater level of intimacy than what is written.

In the new covenant, God says he will write his laws on our hearts and minds. But, this means that God has given us his Spirit. And, the Spirit speaks to us so that we can hear the voice of Jesus moment by moment instead of living by a book of God’s writings from thousands of years ago. Remember Jesus said exactly that in Matthew 4.4.

All of this is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3.3-6, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

You can try to live by what is written in book. But, you will be living by God’s finger. You will be living at a distance from God, which means you won’t have the deepest intimacy with God.

Or, you can live by God’s voice, which means you are receiving directly from God’s mouth. This requires us to listen moment by moment. We have to be very intimate and very present with God. To live by God’s mouth requires a continual trusting of God in each and every situation.

Of course, Jesus always says it best. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5.39-40)

What Work Is Forbidden on the Sabbath?

In my last post, we saw that the man supposedly killed by God for picking up sticks on the Sabbath was actually a picture of Jesus. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus, that is God, heals rather than kills on the Sabbath. Jesus, that is God, gathers his people rather than casting them out on the Sabbath. Instead, it was Moses, Aaron, and the congregation that stoned the man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. While there was no specific law against gathering sticks on the Sabbath, Numbers 15.32-36 indicates that Moses, Aaron, and the congregation came to a mutual decision that the man should be killed.

How did they determine that the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath should be killed?

They based their decision on what Moses thought he heard from God.

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”(Exodus 32.12-17)

Moses, Aaron, and the congregation deemed that gathering sticks on the Sabbath was doing work. Working on the Sabbath profaned the Sabbath as the Sabbath was to be a day of solemn rest. The Sabbath was a day of solemn rest because the Lord made the heaven and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. By working on six days and resting on the seventh day, Israel would be imaging, emulating, mirroring God. If one’s life did not image God, then their soul should be cut off from the people and they should die.

But, is this what God really instructed Moses and Israel to do?

Did God really say to Moses that anyone who gathered sticks on the Sabbath was profaning the Sabbath by working on it and should be put to death?

Or, did Moses misunderstand God?

Does Jesus help us understand God, work, and the Sabbath differently?

In John 5.1-17, Jesus comes across a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Every day the man would lie by the pool at the Sheep Gate so that when the water was stirred he could get in the pool and be healed. But, you had to be the first one in the pool, and someone always beat him into the pool. Even though it was the Sabbath, Jesus told the man to get up, take his bed with him, and walk. At once the man was healed, but carrying his bed on the Sabbath was against the law. This man was profaning the Sabbath by doing work. Further, Jesus was profaning the Sabbath healing the man. Verses 16-17 say, “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Jesus is clearly saying that the Father works on the Sabbath. “He is working until now.” Therefore, because the Father is working on the Sabbath, Jesus says, “I am working.”

What is going on here?

Exodus 32.12-17 is clearly referring back to the creation accounts in Genesis 1-3. Verse 17 says, “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh he rested and was refreshed.” Genesis 2.1-2 says, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” The two passages are quite similar.

But, there is something very interesting about the seventh day of creation that you might not have noticed.

It never ended.

Each of the first six days of creation had a clear ending.

  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1.5)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1.8)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1.13)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.” (Genesis 1.19)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.” (Genesis 1.23)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1.31)

But, in Genesis 2.1-3, this phrase is not stated regarding the seventh day. In other words, for God the seventh day, the day of solemn rest, the Sabbath, has continued forever without end. So, Jesus said that even though it is the Sabbath, and always has been the Sabbath for God, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” because I am the image of my Father.

Hold on.

Genesis 2.1-3 says “on the seventh day God finished his work…he rested on the seventh day from all his work…God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

So, which is it?

Did God stop working or not?

In Genesis 2.1-3, the Hebrew word for work is melakah. This word does mean work. But, it can also mean possessions, or what is owned by the expenditure of work. The idea behind melakah seems to be that when you work to create something you own what you have created. God worked to create for six days. At the end of six days, God rested from the kind of work that creates. There was nothing left for God to create and own. All of it had been made. And, God owed all of it. But, God did not stop working altogether.

Exodus 32.14-15 says, “Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath shall be put to death.” Three times the word work is used and three times it is the word melakah. Therefore, the work that is forbidden on the Sabbath is the work of creating to take ownership of what is created.

Why?

Because God had created and owned everything on the first six days of creation. As the seventh day of creation never ended, there was nothing left to work to create and own. God had created the earth, all the land, and given it to man. Man was merely a steward of what God had created. Man did not own the land himself. Therefore, for man to work to own the land on the Sabbath would profane the Sabbath, or profane the work God had already done in creation and rested from.

When man was created he was living in the seventh day, the day of rest that never ended. Yet, man was given work to do. Genesis 2.15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Wait a minute.

How did God put the man in the garden “to work it” when God had rested from his work?

The Hebrew word for work in Genesis 2.15 is not the same as in Genesis 2.1-3. Here the Hebrew word for work is bod, which primarily means to serve. Also, the Hebrew word for keep is samar, which also means to watch over or guard. In other words, man was to serve and keep, guard, or watch over what God had created as his own possession. Again, man was a steward not an owner.

Some food for thought. These two Hebrew words, bod and samar, are regularly used of the priests serving in the Tabernacle. The priests, by the way, worked on the Sabbath as sacrifices still had to be offered. And, Jesus tabernacled among us (John 1.14) and was always working as God’s servant.

In a restatement of the 10 commandments, Deuteronomy 5.12 says, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The word observe is the Hebrew word samar. Also, Exodus 32.12-17 says, “you shall keep my Sabbaths…you shall keep the Sabbath…the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath.” Each time the word keep is the word samar.

Therefore, on the seventh day, the Sabbath, Adam was to serve and keep, guard, or watch over the garden. Similarly, Israel was to keep the Sabbath in the same way as Adam. There was still work to be done, just not the kind of work that would take ownership of what the work produced.

Exodus 32.12-17 says “everyone who profanes it shall be put to death” and “whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.” The phrase “shall be put to death” is the same phrase that we find in Genesis 2.16-17 after Adam was given the command to bod and samar the garden of Eden in Genesis 2.15. Genesis 2.16-17 says, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

So, Adam was to work and keep the garden. As long as Adam did that, he could eat from everything in God’s garden, including the tree of life, which meant he could benefit from what God created and owned. But, if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life, then Adam would surely die. In other words, Adam was to work and keep the garden to extend it throughout the earth. And, he would do this as long as he did not try to own anything himself. In this way, Adam would spread life throughout the earth. But, if Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge good and evil, if Adam stepped outside his role as steward so as to make his own judgments and own what was not his, then he would surely die.

Perhaps, this is why in the beginning of Solomon’s book on wisdom, which is Jesus, who is the tree of life, Proverbs 1.18-19 says, “But these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” To be greedy for unjust gain is to work to own that which is not rightfully yours. As we have seen, that is what is meant by working to create on the Sabbath, which profanes the Sabbath. Men that try to possess land that is not theirs through violence are working to own that which is not theirs. It results in death.

Further, we see an allusion from the life of Jesus back to the command God gave Adam to work and keep the garden to spread life throughout the earth and the command to keep the Sabbath. However, if Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then he would surely die.

“On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ And after looking around at them all he said to them, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

Jesus’s work of healing on the Sabbath was an one of working, or serving, and keeping the garden of God by restoring or extending its life. Because the man’s hand was withered, he was not able to fulfill the command God gave to Adam. Therefore, the man was not able to image God, which meant that he could not express God’s life. Knowing that the scribes and Pharisees believed it was wrong to heal, to work, on the Sabbath, Jesus asked if he could do good or give save life on the Sabbath. He was asking not if he could work to create so as to own the fruits of his labor but if he could work and keep the life that God had created and owned. Jesus was seeking to liberate the life that God had created. To not do this kind of work on the Sabbath, to not extend God’s kingdom and the life it brings, would be to do harm and to destroy life, to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So, through the lens of Jesus, I think we can see that not all work was forbidden on the Sabbath. Working to own the produce of our work was forbidden. But, if that work was the kind of work that saved life, restored life, and extended God’s kingdom then that work was not only allowed but actually commanded by God to be performed. This is the kind of work that God still performed on the Sabbath according to Jesus. Therefore, it was the kind of work Jesus did on the Sabbath since he only did what he saw his Father doing. In this way Jesus imaged God. As we enter back into that day of rest, the day of rest without end, meaning every day is a day of rest, this is the same kind of work that we are to do. And, we are to do everything as if we are doing it for the Lord. In other words, everything should we do should be an act of serving and keeping God’s garden. It’s all work on the Sabbath. Then we to will image God and be his sons.

Did God Kill a Man for Gathering Sticks on the Sabbath?

Did God kill a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath?

Isn’t it obvious that the answer is yes?

Numbers 15.32-36 tells us that while Israel was wandering in the wilderness, the people found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. So, they brought this man to Moses and Aaron and the entire congregation. Because it wasn’t clear if the man had violated the Sabbath, they kept him in custody. Verse 35 says, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.'”

So, there you have it. Right there in black and white it says that God told Moses to have the man killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Typically then, Christians go on to assume that the fact that God would kill a man for merely picking up sticks on the Sabbath shows how seriously God takes the Sabbath. Therefore, God killed this man to show everyone that they must keep the Sabbath or else.

Because the Sabbath was supposedly so important to God that he would kill a man for gathering sticks on it, Christians are still arguing about Sabbath keeping today. Some denominations shun and look down upon those that work on the Sabbath. Other denominations believe that you will go to hell forever for not keeping the Sabbath. And, Christians regularly argue whether they should keep Saturday or Sunday as the Sabbath. While Christians may not see God literally killing people for breaking the Sabbath today, the belief that God has and will do so is still going strong today.

But, are we really to believe that God is so petty that he would kill a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath?

You can only answer yes to the question “Did God kill a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath?” because the Holy Spirit has not brought light and life to this passage of scripture for you. In fact, when the Holy Spirit breathes life into this particular passage of scripture and others – that is, when the Holy Spirit inspires Numbers 15.32-36 – we come to see that God has not, does not, and never will kill anyone for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

In fact, this story is not about just any man being killed for gathering stick son the Sabbath. The man gathering sticks in this story is a picture of Jesus. Jesus was the one killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. And, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself when Jesus was crucified. (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Therefore, in an ironic twist, it wasn’t God that killed a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. It was man that killed God for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

Wait. What?

How did I get there?

Well, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to inspire or bring to life Numbers 15.32-36.

How might the Holy Spirit do that?

The Hebrew word for sticks is es. This word is used quite a bit in the Old Testament, but there is one particularly interesting portion of scripture regarding the word es.

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, take a stick [es] and write on it, “For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him”; then take another stick [es] and write on it, “For Joseph (the stick [es] of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.” And join them one to another into one stick [es], that they may become one in your hand. And when your people say to you, “Will you not tell us what you mean by these?” say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick [es] of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick [es] of Judah, and make them one stick [es], that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks [es] on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer two divided kingdoms.'” (Ezekiel 37.15-22)

So, here we have the Hebrew word for stick, es, used as a picture or symbol of the tribes and people of Israel. These sticks, or tribes of Israel, would be gathered together and made into one nation and would have one king over them.

Clearly, Ezekiel is prophesying about Jesus as the son of man that would gather the tribes of Israel, or sticks, and make them one nation with himself as their one king.

Going back to Numbers 15.32-36 and with the inspiration of the Spirit, we can see that the man found gathering sticks while Israel was in the wilderness is a picture of none other than Jesus. Scripture does indeed picture Israel as in the wilderness, in exile, when Jesus comes. Jesus indeed was gathering sticks, gathering the tribes, to make one nation with himself as the king.

When Jesus was found to be gathering people, or sticks, particularly on the Sabbath by healing and forgiving sins, this enraged the leaders of Israel. In Mark 3.1-6, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Verse 6 says, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

Eventually, Jesus was brought to the chief priests and elders and put into custody until it could be decided what to do with him. While they couldn’t stone Jesus, they decided to have him crucified, which indeed took place outside of the city, or outside of the camp.

John 11.49-53 ties all of Jesus’ story right back to Numbers 15.32-36 and Ezekiel 37.15-22.

“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”

Jesus is the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath that was stoned outside the camp. Caiaphas played the part of Moses and Aaron, who was the chief of Israel. While Caiaphas did not know what he was saying, neither did Moses. God did not tell Moses, Aaron, and the congregation to kill a man for gathering sticks. Nor did God kill his own. The New Testament is very clear on this. Man killed Jesus, not God. Moses, Aaron, and the congregation killed the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath, not God.

Therefore, when we read the scripture through the inspiration of the Spirit, letting Jesus interpret it for us (Luke 24), then we see Moses and Aaron and the congregation decided themselves to kill the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Their view of God was veiled. They did not see God clearly. They were blinded by the God of this world. (2 Corinthians 3.12-16, 4.3-4)

Thankfully, Jesus and the Holy Spirit help us to see clearly today.

Are Christians to Defend Themselves and Others?

Jesus was non-violent.

Can we honestly read the New Testament and come to any other conclusion?

Obviously, I can’t.

The cross was the ultimate representation of Jesus’ non-violence. The cross was also the fullest and most complete embodiment of God’s essence – love. Remember, God was in Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Jesus willingly was crucified instead of doing violence, as was expected by everyone else, including the Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and his own disciples. He chose love – “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” – over any semblance of violence. (John 15.13)

Christians are to follow Jesus.

Jesus says we should take up our own cross.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew 16.24-25)

Jesus says we should love one another as he loved us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13.34)

Therefore, Christians should be non-violent like Jesus.

In my experience, I have found that many Christians will philosophically believe this and quote the scriptures above as well as others. Yet, when the discussion turns to living this out in their actual lives, they don’t really believe it and they don’t think it is possible.

Typically, when I profess that Jesus was non-violent (Isaiah 53.9 says “he had done no violence”) and we should do the same, I am almost immediately confronted with questions about self-defense. And, if I say that we should not use violence in self-defense, then I am confronted with the seemingly ultimate question, “What if a rapist broke into your home and attacked your wife?” For, isn’t it clear that everyone would use violence in that situation?

But, what does scripture reveal about Jesus?

And, what does scripture reveal about the followers of Jesus?

He and they never resorted to violence in any situation, even in self-dense.

Have you noticed that?

In every situation where we could expect some sort of violent reaction or self-defense, Jesus and his followers responded without violence and without defending themselves. They did not do nothing, but they responded in a way that did not involved violence or self-defense to express God’s love. And, keep in mind, that God’s love is most fully displayed by one laying down their life, literally in death if necessary, for another.

Here are just a few examples to prove the point.

In Matthew 2, the life of the baby Jesus was threatened by Herod and his edict to kill all the male children. Did God send someone to kill Herod? Did anyone rise up to do any violence to protect Jesus? No. Instead, God sent an angel to Joseph and told him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus.

In Mark 3.1-7, Jesus entered a synagogue and healed a man. This enraged the Pharisees because Jesus healed on the sabbath. The Pharisees went and conspired how to destroy Jesus. “Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.”

In Luke 22.47-53, Judas came with a great crowd with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. The crowd laid hands on Jesus and seized him. Then, one of the disciples took out a sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus said, “No more of this,” and he healed the ear of the servant. In Matthew’s account, Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Jesus neither defended himself nor needed anyone else to defend him. Also in Matthew’s account, Jesus asked if they didn’t realize that he could appeal to his Father and at once have 12 legions of angels to defend him. But, he didn’t do that.

In both Matthew 27.11-14 and Mark 14.53-65, Jesus was on trial. Yet, he said nothing in his defense. He did not answer a single accusation.

In John 8.53-9.11, Jesus defended the woman caught in the act of adultery without any violence.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested for preaching Jesus. They were threatened by the authorities to never teach about Jesus again. But, just read their words to the other disciples in response.

“‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4.29-31)

The disciples very lives were being threatened. Yet, they prayed that they would speak about Jesus with boldness. As they spoke, God will heal and do signs and wonders. Jesus had been crucified unjustly. That’s what the disciples were speaking about. It’s what Christians are to be speaking about today. How could they, and we, use violence to defend ourselves when Jesus never did.

The apostles were brought before the chief priest and the council again for preaching about Jesus. They were threatened again. They were beaten and told never to preach about Jesus again. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5.41-42).

They were teaching that the Christ was the one who was crucified, the one who willingly laid down his to life to show God’s love and forgiveness. How could any of them use violence to defend themselves and preach that message with any integrity at all?

Stephen was doing great signs and wonders when men from the synagogue argued with him. They seized him and brought him before the council. Stephen goes on a long speech about Jesus. This enraged the council and they had Stephen stoned to death. Yet, there is no account of any follower of Jesus defending Stephen. There is no record of anyone using any form of violence to stop his arrest or execution. Surely, some of the other apostles and disciples were present at his arrest. Surely, some of them tried to hear and see what was going on at his trial. But, we have no record of them doing any violence to stop it.

Saul approved of his execution. “But, Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8.3) Here is the very example that gets thrown out by Christians in their arguments against being non-violent. Here, Saul, a great persecutor of Christians, is coming into their very homes and dragging off men and women to prison. Yet, we don’t have a single recorded instance of self-defense. There’s no statement of Christians protecting their families or their property.

Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why?

Paul, the converted Saul, went from barging into people’s homes to drag them off to prison to becoming one of those Christians that never defended himself. He was beaten and flogged. He was left for dead outside a city. He was lowered in basket over the city wall to flee his persecutors. Instead of defending himself at trial, he preached the gospel. Ultimately, he was beheaded for his following Jesus.

But, after his conversion, Paul never did any violence. Instead, he said talked about rejoicing and participating in suffering.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1.24)

“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10)

Paul routinely and repeatedly cited his sufferings and his willingness to undergo those sufferings as evidence for the veracity of the gospel that he preached. In other words, Paul’s words about Jesus would have had no power if he had remained the violent Saul. Paul could not have spoken truthfully about Jesus if he used violence to defend himself. Paul’s message of a Christ who died for you out of love to forgive you would have carried no weight. For, how would Paul be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2.20-21)

Just as it was for Paul, so it is for Christians today. If we want to preach Jesus Christ, Christ crucified, then we have to lay down every violent tendency and every need and reason for self-defense. For, it is the willingness to suffer, to even die, for the ones you are preaching Jesus to that lends power to the gospel.

In my opinion, there is why the American church is seemingly so weak. We have lost the understanding of the power of suffering. American Christians negate suffering at every turn. Instead, American Christians seek to defend our families, our property, our rights, our country, and on and on. And, we kill you if necessary.

Yes, this sounds foolish, but “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1.25)

Therefore, if Christians today truly want to preach the message of the apostles, the early church, and Paul, we need to lay down all violence and self-defense (even in words). We need to be willing to lose our lives. This is to follow Jesus and pick up our cross daily. This is to have the same mind as Jesus (Philippians 2.1-11).

Am I Supposed to Love Someone Enough to Tell Them the Truth?

“I love them enough to tell them the truth.”

I put these words in quotes because they were spoken by Anita Bryant in a television interview in the 1970s. I had never heard of Ms. Bryant until I saw a clip of her interview in a movie. Ms. Bryant was a Christian political activist known for opposing gay rights.

The “them” that Ms. Bryant loved enough to tell the truth to were homosexuals. The truth she was willing to tell them was that Jesus loved homosexuals, but if they did not repent from sinning, from being homosexual, they were going to hell. Presumably, Ms. Bryant found it tough to say these words, but she loved homosexuals enough to tell homosexuals this truth.

However, I have learned that this statement – “I love them enough to tell them the truth” – is, in reality, the whitewashing of an inner hatred by the one who says them. These words reveal the inner hatred of the speaker because the speaker is willing to cast the hearer into hell if the hearer does not obey whatever law, rule, principle, or moral standard the speaker believes the hearer is violating. The speaker couches these words in love, but in reality the words are accusatory and designed to cast out from the speaker’s presence or community the individual they deem offensive, abominable, repulsive, or reprehensible.

So, after hearing Ms. Bryant say these words, I was not surprised to learn that she also loved homosexuals enough to tell them they were “human garbage.”

But, Anita Bryant is not the only, and likely not the first, Christian to use these words. I have heard quite a few Christians say, “I love them enough to tell them the truth.” And, I have heard these words applied to all sorts of people, not just homosexuals. I have even seen these words directed at people that someone  has never met but simply disagreed with in an online discussion. And, while most Christians may not be so bold as tell others they are “human garbage,” the message is received nonetheless.

After hearing Ms. Bryant say these words, I asked myself if they were true.

As a Christian, am I supposed to love someone enough to tell them the truth?

Having thought about it, my answer is no.

A resounding no, actually.

As a Christian, I am not supposed to love someone enough to tell them truth.

I am not supposed to love someone to tell them the supposedly difficult words that if they do not stop sinning then they are going to die and spend eternity in hell.

First, that is not the truth that Christians are to preach. Christians preach the gospel, which is Jesus, the word of God, was born a man, suffered, was crucified, died, and rose from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is about changing our minds about who God is not who we are. When our mind is changed about who God is, then we know and receive his complete and total forgiveness for being God’s enemy even though God did nothing but love us. That’s good news, gospel.

Second, scripture shows that Jesus placed far more emphasis on loving someone enough to show them the truth. Jesus spent three and a half years telling people the truth about what God is like. But, Jesus showed them the truth on the cross in a far greater way than the truth could ever be told. In fact, Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was so powerful that “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!'” (Mark 15.39) Do not gloss over what Mark is telling us. A Roman centurion, the enemy of the Jews,  who Jesus never told the truth to, saw this innocent man unjustly suffering and dying and was recorded as the first to say that Jesus was the son of God.

Luke 24.44-47 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'”

The Christ should suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

That is the truth.

The scripture told the truth.

And, the truth was missed.

Jesus showed the truth.

And, the truth was received.

So, as a Christian, if I am not supposed to love someone enough to tell them the truth, then what I am supposed to do?

I am to love someone, anyone, everyone, enough to show them the truth.

How do I show someone the truth?

The same way Jesus did.

Suffer.

Die.

“God is love.” (1 John 4.8)

Love is not just merely an action God does. God is love. God’s very being, his very essence, is love.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4.9-10)

The love of God was manifest. God’s love was made to appear. It was shown.

How?

Because Jesus was sent so that we might live through him. This is the repentance spoken of in Luke 24.47. Seeing Jesus’ suffering and death changes our minds about God so that we can truly live in him. We repent so that we can live through Jesus.

Because Jesus was sent to be the propitiation for our sins. This is the forgiveness of sins spoken of in Luke 24.47. Seeing Jesus’ suffering and death, that was caused by our own hands, yet hearing him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” causes us to be propitiated, which means within ourselves we have regained the favor or goodwill that God has always had toward us.

This is the love that Jesus showed, not told, us on the cross. Therefore, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12.32)

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4.11-12)

If you know that God showed you his love in Christ’s suffering and death, then you should show that love in the same way.

Why?

Because no one has ever seen God. But, if you show love, by suffering and dying as Christ did, then God will abide in you. If God abides in you, then others will see God in you through your love.

Therefore Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13.34-35)

You show God’s love not tell it.

You show God’s love by suffering and dying.

This is why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”(Luke 9.23)

Contemplate 1 Corinthians 13, which is considered by some the greatest statement about love. Notice how the chapter starts.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy going or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13.1)

You can speak in any and every earthly and heavenly language, but if there is not love, if there is not suffering and dying with and for another, then you are just noise, an irritating, grating, annoying, ear-piercing noise.

In reality, this is the very definition of “I love them enough to tell them the truth.” When you say those words, you are heard as a noisy going or a clanging cymbal.

Paul continued, “And If I have prophetic powers…but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13.2)

Prophetic power is a God-given ability to reveal the will of God in heaven by speaking so that things on the earth are changed and conformed to the will of God. But, if that prophetic power, that speaking, is without love, you are nothing.

Then Paul defined love.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13.4-8)

It does not come across well in English, but, in the Greek, all the things that love “is” are actually verbs. Paul is not describing what love is but what love does.

Love doesn’t tell.

Love shows.

And, love shows by suffering and dying with and for another.

Paul stated this clearly in Philippians 2.1-11. We are to be “of the same mind, having the same love” as Jesus. We are to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” This same mind, this same love is “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

As Christians, the love of Christ controls us. Christ’s love controls us when we suffer and die for others just as he did. We show the truth – that God is love – when we enter into another’s suffering. We suffer with them. We bear their burden with them. This is the message and ministry of reconciliation that Christians have been given. But, we don’t count their trespasses against them. In other words, we don’t “love them enough to tell them the truth.” (2 Corinthians 5.11-21)

In Romans 12.9-21, Paul paraphrased the sermon on the mount. “Let love be genuine.” Love should be sincere, without hypocrisy. You can’t tell someone you love them but threaten them with eternal torment in hell if they don’t stop sinning. That type of telling is not love-based but fear-based. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18) Paul then wrote that genuine love is shown by living out all that Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. He concluded with “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Enemies are not converted by loving them enough to tell them the truth.

Enemies are converted by showing them love, entering their suffering, meeting their needs. If they are thirsty, then give them a drink. If they are hungry, then feed them. If they are homeless, then house them. If they are broken, then comfort them.

Therefore, the real question, the real test, for a Christian is this – do I love you enough to show you, through my own suffering and death, literal death if necessary, the truth that God loves you?

Why Was Jacob’s Name Changed to Israel and What Is Its Significance?

Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Perhaps you are familiar with the story. But, in case you are not, I will tell it to you.

God appeared to Jacob as he came from Paddan-aram and blessed him. God said that his name was Jacob, but Jacob should not be his name any longer. From now on, his name should be Israel. God told Jacob that his own name was God Almighty (El Shaddai). God Almighty then commanded Jacob to be fruitful and multiply. He told Jacob that a nation and a company of nations as well as kings would come from him. God Almighty was going to give Jacob and his offspring the land that he gave to Abraham and Isaac. So, Jacob set up a pillar of stone and poured a drink offering and oil on the pillar of stone. Jacob called the place Bethel.

Is that the story you were expecting to hear?

Probably not.

You were probably expecting to me to tell you how Jacob sent his family across the Jabbok stream, but Jacob stayed alone on the other side of the stream. During the night, he wrestled with a man until day broke. The man was not able to prevail against Jacob so he put Jacob’s hip out of joint. The man asked Jacob to let him go, but Jacob said he wouldn’t let the man go until he blessed him. The man asked Jacob his name. When the man was told it was Jacob, the man said that he would no longer be called Jacob but Israel, since he had striven with God and men and prevailed. Jacob asked the man his name, but the man did not tell Jacob. The man merely asked Jacob why he wanted to know. So, Jacob called the place Peniel because he had seen God face to face and lived. The sun came up on Jacob as he passed Penuel. Therefore, the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh on the hip socket.

If you are familiar with the story of Jacob’s name being changed to Israel, then that is most likely the story you are familiar with. But, this story is completely different in every way than the first one I told. The first account in this post is from Genesis 35.9-15. The second account, the more familiar one, is from Genesis 32.22-32.

What is going on here?

Why are there two completely different accounts about the changing of Jacob’s name to Israel in the Bible?

Both accounts are from the book of Genesis. In fact, these accounts are just a few pages apart in the modern Bible.

Did Moses forget what he wrote in the first one when he wrote the second one?

Or, did Moses not write either account?

After reading Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliot Friedman at the end of last year, I have come to believe that Moses did not actually write either account. In fact, Moses most likely did not write any of the first five books of the Bible, at least in the form that we have them.

In Who Wrote the Bible?, Friedman persuasively shows that there were actually four writers of the first five books of the Bible. This is commonly known as the JEPD theory. The letters JEPD stand for the “identity” of the four writers. Based on a combination of textual, linguistic, historical, and archaeological data, scholars have been able to identify four (at least) separate writers of the first five books of the Bible as well as which particular parts of those five books they wrote. I will summarize the identity of the four writers according to Friedman below.

The J stands for Jehovah. This writer only referred to God as Yahweh, or Jehovah, and therefore the letter “J” is used to identify him. This writer was someone particularly concerned with the kingdom of Judah. He focused on the patriarchs, the Abrahamic covenant, and the family of David.

The E stands for Elohim. This writer always referred to God as Elohim. That is, until Moses saw God in the burning bush and God told him that his name was I Am That I Am, or Yahweh. This writer was likely a Levite priest from Shiloh and a descendant of Moses. Unlike the J writer, the E writer emphasized the Mosaic covenant.

The P stands for Priest. Like the E writer, this writer likely was a priest too. However, the P writer most likely descended from Aaron and lived in Jerusalem. The P writer most likely wrote after the J and E writers. The P writer follows the same stories in the same order but retells the stories in a different way to emphasize the Aaronic priesthood in Jerusalem. In fact, the P writer distinguishes between the priests, who were from Aaron, and the Levites.

The D stands for Deuteronomist. The D writer wove the writings of J, E, and P together and wrote the entire book of Deuteronomy. That’s all I will say about the D writer because the D writer does not factor all that much in to Jacob’s name change for the purposes of this post.

In Who Wrote the Bible?, Friedman shows that each of these writers retold the history of Israel from a specific perspective. And, that retelling was crafted in a way to add credibility, weight, gravitas, to the kingdom – the northern or southern, Israel or Judah – they were from or their class of the priesthood.

So, about those two completely different stories of Jacob’s name being changed to Israel…

The account in Genesis 32.22-32, the more familiar account of Jacob wrestling with an unidentified man, was written by the E writer. The less well-known, certainly the less talked about, account in Genesis 35.9-15 was written by the P writer. We know this because of how the stories were told.

The P writer only has priests as the intermediary between God and man. The P writer never mentions angels. He never uses anthropomorphisms, dreams, or talking animals to reveal God. The accounts of the P writer tend to be shorter and more matter of fact. For the P writer, God is more cosmic and distant. This is exactly how the story of Jacob’s name change is told in Genesis 35.9-15.

Yet, the account in Genesis 32.22-32 has a mysterious, unidentified man wrestle with Jacob. Jacob believed this person to be God in some way. The E writer anthropomorphized God in his retelling of the story. God is more personal for the E writer in that Jacob believed he wrestled God in hand-to-hand combat and Jacob declared that he saw God face to face.

But, why two different accounts retold in two different ways?

What was the significance of these stories to these two writers?

Ultimately, these stories were about how Jacob/Israel received not just a blessing from God but the blessing of God. Therefore, the E and P writers were trying to lay claim to the blessing God gave Abraham for their kingdom/priesthood. You know…the blessing where God told Abraham that “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12.2), “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.3), and “to your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12.7).

Remember, the E writer wrote from the perspective of the northern kingdom, Israel, and the Levites that descended from Moses. But, the P writer wrote from the perspective of the southern kingdom, Judah, and the descendants of Aaron. Hence, the P writer was more focused on Jerusalem, which was ultimately the capital of the southern kingdom, Judah.

Interestingly, the J writer records nothing about Jacob’s name being changed to Israel. But, that doesn’t mean the J writer had nothing to say about how Jacob got the blessing. The J writer told how Jacob got the blessing when Jacob tricked or deceived (some would say stole) Esau out of his birthright (Genesis 25.29-34 and 27.1-45).

Why would the J writer recount Jacob instead of Esau receiving the blessing given originally to Abraham this way?

Why would the J writer portray Jacob in a negative light?

Remember, the J writer wrote from the perspective of the kingdom of Judah and the family of David. Judah sat between Israel and Edom, the kingdom that came from Esau. Israel was to the north while Edom was to the south of Judah. At one time, David had conquered Edom and effectively made it part of the kingdom of Judah. But, Jacob was more associated with the northern kingdom of Israel. John 4.4-6 says, “And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there.” This is why the Samaritan woman (Samaria being synonymous with the northern kingdom of Israel) at the well said to Jesus, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” (John 4.11-12)

In a subtle way, the J writer was saying that the northern kingdom, Israel, which was closely associated with Jacob, could only lay claim to Abraham’s blessing from God because Jacob tricked Esau and deceived Isaac into giving it to him. But, Judah, the kingdom of David, could lay claim to that blessing because David defeated Edom, the kingdom of Esau. Further, David had conquered lands in the northern kingdom too. Therefore, David, and consequently Judah, had a much more legitimate claim to the blessing of Abraham.

However, the E writer was laying claim to the blessing for the northern kingdom, Israel. In the E writer’s account of Jacob’s name change to Israel, Jacob says to the unidentified man, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” (Genesis 32.26) Jacob believed he received that blessing because wrestled and prevailed against this unidentified man. Even though Jacob never gets the man’s name, he calls the name of the place Peniel. “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32.30) Peniel, or Penuel, was in the northern kingdom, almost due east of Shechem. It was in the tribe of Gad, which meant it was on the east side of Jordan. So, the city that the E writer mentions as important was in the northern kingdom.

But, interestingly, it was not a city of religious importance in the northern kingdom. It was not Dan or Bethel, which were the cities Jeroboam set up as religious centers of worship. Nor did the writer mention Shiloh, which was in the northern kingdom and one of the resting places for the tabernacle. Nor was it one of the three cities that Samuel went to on his circuit of judging. Remember, the E writer is writing from the perspective of a Levite priest descended from Moses in the northern kingdom of Israel. This priest likely favored the northern kingdom politically but not religiously. Politically, because the northern kingdom did not have the place of centralized worship (Jerusalem) that the Aaronic priesthood had control over in Judah. Not religiously, because Jeroboam had set up his own priesthood passing over the Levites. Hence, the E writer associated a city that was in the northern kingdom but not a city of worship in that kingdom to the Jacob’s name change.

The E writer’s account also alludes to Moses because Jacob says he saw God face to face. There is only one other person in the first five books of the Bible that saw God face to face and that was Moses. But, unlike Jacob, Moses got the name of God when he encountered God. Therefore, Moses had more importance than Jacob. So, we can see the elements of the E writer’s story of Jacob’s name change to Israel fit with a Levite in the line of Moses in the northern kingdom trying to lay claim to Abraham’s blessing from God.

The elements of the story in the P account try to lay claim to that blessing too. The P writer does it more blatantly though. In his account, Jacob doesn’t ask for a blessing in a subtle allusion to Abraham’s blessing by God. In the P account, God tells Jacob, “Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” (Genesis 35.11) This story is very much about who really has the blessing God gave Abraham. In fact, God gave Jacob the same commission he gave to Adam and the patriarchs.

For the P writer, who has claim to that blessing has to do with worship, which is why the P writer’s account has “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he [God] had spoke with him, a pillar of stone. He [Jacob] poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it.” (Genesis 35.14) Jacob called the place Bethel. Yes, Bethel was one of the places Jeroboam put a center of worship in the northern kingdom. But, it was on the border of the kingdom of Israel and Judah. Technically, Bethel was in Benjamin. And, at one point had been conquered by David. Plus, when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, it did not capture Bethel, which became a part of Judah. Hence, the P writer could be seen as laying claim to Bethel for the kingdom of Judah.

Further, in the P writer’s account, Jacob does get the name of God. God identifies himself to Jacob as God Almighty, or El Shaddai. Psalm 91 speaks of the shadow of Shaddai. This shadow was under the wings of the cherubim in the most holy place of the temple. Psalm 91 was written by David, which would please the P writer since David was from Judah. Further, only a priest from the line of Aaron was allowed to enter the most holy place because the high priest always came from the descendants of Aaron. Therefore, the P writer is emphasizing that Jerusalem, Judah, and the Aaronic priesthood have the best claim to the God’s blessing of Abraham because Jerusalem was the place of centralized worship. That is perhaps why the name El Shaddai is mentioned in this account of Jacob’s name change to Israel as an attempt by a priest of Aaron in Jerusalem to lay claim to the the blessing of Abraham.

There is so much more that could be said about the different accounts of how Jacob became the heir of the blessing of Abraham and his name change to Israel. Clearly, it is not what appears to us on the surface thousands of years later. And, we haven’t even spoken of the wrestling (the Hebrew word is used only in this story) between Jacob and the unidentified man or the strange saying about not eating the sinew from the hip because Jacob’s hip was put of socket in the wrestling match.

But, does any of the underlying political and theological intrigue that motivated these writers even matter to us today?

What significance does any of this have for us?

Is it even important to us what this may have meant to the original writers and hearers?

Does the “plain” meaning, if there even is one, matter to us today?

Or, is there an inspired meaning to Jacob’s name change to Israel, a meaning beyond what the original writers intended, that is just as important today as ever?

Ultimately, what matters to us is that Jesus is true Israel – not a certain ethnic group of people or certain small plot of land in the Middle East.

Isaiah 49.3, 5-6 says, “And he said to me, You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’…And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him – for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength – he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Luke applies this passage to Jesus in Luke 2.29-32. Jesus is the true Israel. Jesus – not some faction of the nation, kingdom, priests, or people of earthly Israel – is the one to whom the promises of Abraham belong.

Paul explicitly says this in Galatians 3.16 – “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offpsrings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”

Or, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1.20, “For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”

Remember those blessings..the blessing where God told Abraham that “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12.2), “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12.3), and “to your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12.7).

They belong to Jesus. Those that find their identity in Jesus, true Israel (Romans 10 and 11), are the great nation God made of Jesus.

They speak of all peoples, nations, tribes, and languages belonging to Jesus and being blessed by him.

They refer to Jesus receiving all the land on the entire earth as his.

Jacob’s name change to Israel is not important so that a country almost 3,000 years later called Israel can lay claim to the blessing God gave Abraham.

The name change is important and has its meaning in Jesus and Jesus alone.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection

(This post is Part 5, and the last, of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction,  Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy SpiritPart 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper, and Part 4 – Seeing Jesus.)

We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

In Parts 1 through 4, I shared about some of the suffering I went through – loneliness, my wife’s battle with cancer, and my wife’s death. But, this post is about the fruit, the new life, that was produced from all of that suffering. This is about how I met Samatha, my wife of the last five plus years. If you haven’t read Part 1, then you will want to because the two stories have some interesting similarities.

A few weeks after Dawn passed away I went to Asia for three weeks. The first week was a mission trip to the Philippines that Dawn and Trey, our son, were supposed to go on with me (Trey still ended up going with me). Then, the last two weeks were for work in other parts of Asia.

I had two opportunities to speak on the mission trip. The first was at a conference of more than 1,000 youth and the second was at the church that hosts the youth conference we attended. I had prepared messages for these opportunities. But, on the flight over, the Holy Spirit told me to put away those messages and speak about everything that Dawn and I had been through. The last week of Dawn’s life, Part 4, of this series, was what I spent the most time talking about.

Imagine being in front of more than 1,000 people and sharing all the suffering your wife and you went through together just weeks after she died. It was tough but a real blessing.

Towards the end of part 4, I mentioned that we needed to focus on what God will do – his love for us – and not on all the many things that God could do for us. Focusing on what God will do – his love for us – instead of the things God could do but hasn’t keeps us from becoming bitter and angry. If we don’t become bitter and angry about what God hasn’t done for us, then we open ourselves to untold blessings form God. Even though it was just weeks since my wife had died, this was the thrust of my talk.

For me, the root of this belief was Romans 8.28, which says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” More than a decade earlier, this was the first scripture that ever became more than words on a page to me, the first scripture I understood by the Spirit. Not coincidentally, it was during a very dark time in my marriage to Dawn. But, it was a scripture that we (and many other Christians have as well) clung to over the years. In fact, the scripture is quoted on Dawn’s tombstone.

At the end of this three week trip to Asia, I was in Taiwan with two co-workers and our sales representative. It was late in the day before we were going to fly home. We were driving from Taichung to Taipei, which was a several hour drive. I was exhausted and ready to go home.

I was riding in the back of the van with no on paying attention to me. I began to think about Dawn. I started crying. My parents had stayed with Trey and me from the week before Dawn died to the time I was coming home from this trip. But, I knew they were leaving when I got home. It was going to be just Trey and me in the house. The realization that Dawn was dead and I was going to be without another adult in the house was finally sinking in.

Dale, the pastor of church, went to Ghana for two weeks to preach at a funeral just as I was arriving home from Taiwan. We were very close and I had just become an elder at the church at the beginning of the year. Dale told me that even though he wouldn’t have electricity where he was going in Ghana he wanted me to write him while he was gone. Then, we he got to back to the airport in Ghana he could read my emails.

I wrote Dale twice while he was gone. Both times I told him that things were more difficult than I thought they would be. I told him how much I missed Dawn, how I needed to focus on being a parent, and how I didn’t have time to be an elder at the church right now. I cried throughout the writing of both of those emails.

When Dale got to the airport in Ghana he read those emails. He wrote me back and said he had been praying for me and wanted to come see me when he got home. Seemingly, Dale came to my house immediately after he landed in Cincinnati. It was less than two months since Dawn had died.

Dale and I went to the basement of my house to talk. For 10 minutes or so, Dale just kept telling me what a great marriage Dawn and I had, how we touched so many people, how I had handled everything so well, and on and on. I was thinking this can’t be what he came to talk to me about.

So, I told Dale that we were friends. He was the only person in the room with me when Dawn died. That’s how close we were. Whatever he had to say wasn’t going to offend me.

I’m paraphrasing, but Dale said, “You know how I tell people to not go around saying, ‘God told me to tell you…’ right? You know how I warn people against that, right? Well…I was praying for you. And, I felt like the Holy Spirit told me to tell you that it was time to start dreaming about your next wife.”

On the one hand that was not what I was expecting to hear. It was less than two months since Dawn died.

But, on the other hand, unbeknownst to Dale, I had already started doing that. Dawn, had battled cancer for six years. And, since the beginning of the year she would pass away, I knew the end of her life was close. So, I had mentally prepared myself for this possibility. While Dale was in Africa, I actually started to fill out a profile on eHarmony. But, I stopped about half way through. I thought to myself, “What if someone I know sees me on here less than two months after my wife died? They will think I’m a huge jerk.” So, as soon as I heard these words from Dale, I knew I needed to do this. But, I didn’t say anything to Dale. I just kept listening to what he had to say.

Dale continued, “You need to make a list of whatever you want in your next wife. I don’t care what it is. Just make a list and write it down. Then I think you should get on eHarmony. Meeting someone from church, your son’s school, or your office is not a good idea. God works so fast for you. Everything in your life happens just like that.” When Dale said that, he snapped his fingers.

So, the next day, I got up and made a list of everything I wanted in my next wife. The list had 31 things on it. There were serious things, such as she had to be a strong Christian woman and love my son like her own son. There were five such things that I starred because I could not compromise on them. But, then there were some not so serious things. For example, I wrote down the type of diet or food that my next wife should eat. At the time, I was eating a paleo/primal diet. So, I wanted my next wife to eat that way too. At the time, the diet was no where near as popular as it is now. I actually laughed when I wrote that down because I assumed that would never happen.

After I made my list, I got on eHarmony again. Filling out the profile seemed like it took hours. I felt like I was being psychoanalyzed. But, that same night I got my first set of matches. At the time, eHarmony gave you matches in groups of six, probably so you would actually take the time to look through them and not just go by looks. But, the woman in the very first match was beautiful. I thought to myself that I have no shot at her, but I will read her profile anyway.

Her profile was fascinating. She had a list of her favorite books. One particular book caught my attention. Even though I had not read that book, I had just read some others on the same subject.

Now, eHarmony has a system of “guided communication.” When you find a match you are interested in, you can send them a pre-written message. Then, they can send you a pre-written message back. Then, you can send them some pre-written questions. And, they can send you some pre-written answers. I thought this was a complete waste of time. So, I just emailed this woman.

Her name was unusual – Samatha with no “n.” So, I made sure I spelled it right. The email was pretty short. I simply asked her about why this book was one of her favorites because I was intrigued by that. And, I recommended another book on the same subject that I thought she might find interesting.

I sent that email on Saturday night, just one day after Dale told me to start dreaming about my next wife and the same day I made my list. Sunday afternoon I was sitting in a chair in the room that Dawn had died in, thinking about my life. I hadn’t heard anything back from Samatha yet. I said to myself, “This is such a waste of time. I’m never going to meet anyone this way. Why am I bothering with this?” It hadn’t even been 24 hours since I sent the email to the first interesting match I had and I was ready to throw in the towel on the whole process.

When I went in to work on Monday, I had an email from Samatha. The very first thing in the email was a thank you for spelling her name correctly, which is often overlooked. Score! Then, Samatha gave an in-depth reply about why she liked the book so much. She discussed several quotes from the book, too. I thought, “How did she pull quotes from the book like that so fast?”

By the time I finished reading the email, I knew I was going to marry her (just like the first time I met Dawn).

We continued to email each other for the next few days. The emails got very personal very fast. By the fourth day, we decided to shut down our eHarmony accounts and focus on this relationship. Also, we traded phone numbers so we could call each other.

So, just a few days after we met on eHarmony, I called Samatha. We talked on the phone for hours. In fact, we were on the phone until almost 3 a.m., which was really late for me to be up. I told Samatha that I had to go to bed because I needed to get up for work the next day. So, the phone call just sort of ended, awkwardly.

I called Samatha again the next day. Right away I asked her if she thought last night’s phone call had ended awkwardly too. She said yes. I told her that was because I wanted to tell her “I love you,” but I was afraid that would scare her away. She said she felt the same way but was not ready to say it.

So, we kept calling each other for the next six weeks or so. During that time we made plans to finally meet each other in person. Samatha lived about a four drive from me, but she was visiting some friends who were about half way between us. So, she would come down to visit me for a couple of days after she saw her friends.

I can remember the moment I saw her when I picked her up from the hotel. Beautiful! Just like the picture. We went to get sushi. Then, we went to see a play (I had season tickets to the theater).

During those couple of days we met in person for the first time, we actually went shopping for engagement rings. I mentioned in Part 1 that I had no clues about the rules of dating when I met Dawn. Not much had changed in 15 years.

The first person I told about this new relationship was my cousin Melissa. We work together in our family business. At the time, our offices were right next to each other. It was about three months after Dawn died. When I told her about Samatha and that we were likely to get married, Melissa said that she was not surprised. In fact, she had told the rest of my family the week before Dawn died that I would either get married in six months or I would never get married again.

Eventually, Samatha and I got married. It was six months and 12 days since Dawn had died.

Remember, when Dale said God did things for me quickly, in the snap of a finger?

Yeah, pretty much. Samatha was the very first person I was matched with on eHarmony. We shut off our accounts four days later. We went shopping for wedding rings six weeks after we met online. We were married six months after Dawn died.

But, about that list of 31 things?

Over the first few months that I knew Sam, I would go back to the list and check off the things she had that matched what I wrote down. Right away I could tell she had a lot of them. During some emails back and forth, it came out that she even ate the type of food I wrote down. Eventually, I crossed off everything on my list.

Do you know the odds of that?

Zero!

God is amazing!

So, how did this experience with the life of Jesus – his working in my life – open the Bible for me?

What presuppositions needed to change so I could see God clearly in the Bible?

Suffering.

Death.

Suffering and death are everywhere. I, along with many other Christians, viewed God as the cause of them. But, it wasn’t until 2017 that I truly understood that God doesn’t cause suffering and death. Instead, Jesus suffered and died himself. Most of all, he suffered and died at the hands of his own creation.

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things…?” (Luke 24.26)

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer…” (Luke 24.46)

But, that was not the full picture. Jesus did not suffer and die and the story ended.

Luke 24.46 says that the “Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory.”

Luke 24.46 says “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

I began to understand that God does not cause suffering and death. Rather, God enters into suffering and death only to enter his glory, to rise from the dead, to be resurrected, to change minds, and to forgive sins.

I had been through a lot of suffering and death. But, Jesus entered that suffering and death. But, Jesus brought new life out of it because of his love. By focusing upon Jesus’ love and not becoming bitter and angry, I was able to receive the resurrection, the new life, that Jesus wanted to bless me with.

Truly, when Samatha and I met and got married, it felt like a completely new life to me. I really have no way to explain what that feels like. One life was over – not just Dawn’s, but mine. And, a new life had begun.

I know have a better understanding of Philippians 3.10-11, which says, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I mat attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Now, I see this everywhere in the Bible. God did not cause suffering and death. Rather, the stories, the accounts, are witnesses to Jesus’ own suffering and death from which he was resurrected so that he could change our minds about God and our sins could be forgiven. Acts 18.5 says that “Paul was occupied with the word.” Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection was the word Paul was occupied with.

And, it is this same word that I have become occupied with. Once you have seen it, you cannot unsee it. And, once you have seen it, it becomes the thing that you see in scripture.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24.44-48)

The scriptures has been opened to me. They have been revealed in my experiences with the life of Jesus. I am a witness to these things.

Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible: Part 4 – Seeing Jesus

(This post is Part 4 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction,  Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord AppearedPart 3 – A Low Whisper, and Part 5 – Knowing His Resurrection.)

We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.

In Part 1, I shared how Dawn, my first wife, miraculously came into my life. I challenged God to prove his existence by causing me to meet my wife for my birthday. He answered the challenge. I experienced the life of Jesus for the first time and the Bible was, quite literally, opened to me.

Today, I am going to share how Dawn departed from my life in an even more miraculous fashion. The days leading up to her death were filled with many miracles (at least I consider the events as such). I experienced the life of Jesus like never before. And, from that moment on, I have seen Jesus in the Bible in ways that I would not have fathomed prior to this experience.

Dawn died March 17, 2012.

For six years she had battled cancer. She was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2006.

During her battle, Dawn had a double mastectomy and brain surgery to remove a golf ball sized brain tumor. By the way, she was out of bed less than 24 hours after the brain surgery, and we went home straight from the ICU less than 36 hours after the brain surgery. The nurses said they had never seen anything like it. If Dawn was anything, she was tough and able to endure suffering.

Dawn had years of weekly chemotherapy treatments. It became a part of our life so much that I would lose track of her appointments. One weekend, we took our son to the local bike trail to ride. We rode about 10 miles. At one point I asked Dawn why her and Trey were lagging behind. She reminded me that she had chemotherapy the day before.

Dawn also had lots of radiation. The first round was on her lung for the quarter-sized spot of cancer that never seemed to get any smaller. The second round was on her brain after the tumor was removed. Cancer patients will often joke about “chemo brain” – how chemotherapy causes you to forget things. Imagine what happens after years of chemotherapy and radiation on your brain. Dawn was a very intelligent woman, but despite what the chemotherapy and radiation did to her mind, she never stopped smiling. She never stopped thanking and praising God.

In January 2012, I noticed that Dawn was leaning to the left a lot. It reminded me of the first time she had a brain tumor because she lost the peripheral vision in her left eye. As a result, she would push the food off the left side of her plate without even knowing it. I asked Dawn if she should get a brain scan. But, she was pretty adamant that she didn’t need one.

It didn’t take me long to realize why Dawn didn’t want a brain scan. She knew she had another brain tumor. And, she knew that there wasn’t really anything the doctors could do. Dawn knew her time was drawing to a close. I knew it too.

Eventually, Dawn’s symptoms got to the point where she had to go to the doctor. They did a brain scan, and, as we expected, she had a brain tumor. The radiologist said he would not recommend radiation. Because it would be the second time Dawn had radiation on her brain, the radiologist said her quality of life would drop significantly if she had brain radiation again. It might even result in her living in a vegetative state. But, the radiologist said he would do the radiation if we demanded he do it.

Just a short while later, we met with Dawn’s oncologist. We knew what the conversation was going to be. The doctor said that it was perhaps time to stop all treatments. Prior to the meeting, Dawn and I had already decided this was the route to go.

That meeting with the oncologist was just nine days before Dawn died. On the way home from the meeting, I knew I would have to tell Trey, our son, that night what was happening. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was telling my 11-year-old son that his mom was going to die.

What do you say?

I sat Trey down on his bed. I told him what was happening. I could hardly get the words out. I cried a lot. Trey told me he had learned a scripture at school that week that he thought was appropriate. He quoted to me 2 Peter 3.9, which says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

It may not seem like much, but for me that was a miracle. My son was consoling me, reminding me that God fulfills his promises.

Six days before Dawn died we went to church together for the last time. Dawn’s sister, Lisa, and her family came up from Nashville to Cincinnati to go with us. And, so did a few of Dawn’s best friends of more than 25 years. None of them came because we knew Dawn was going to die in the next week. In fact, they had planned on coming weeks, if not months, prior.

Dawn, her sister Lisa, and two friends from church (Alisa and her daughter DeLisa) sang my favorite song that Sunday – Thank You by Walter Hawkins. Thankfully, John, the associate pastor of the church, managed to capture the moment on his cell phone. Click here to see the video. 

Dawn is the one seated on the stool. She is smiling throughout the video , but she smiled like that all the time. And, I mean all the time. And, to think she could smile and praise God like that after six years of suffering and just six days before she died.

The lyrics of the song were very appropriate.

Tragedies are common place
All kinds of diseases, people are slipping away
Economies down, people can’t get enough pay
But as for me, all I can say is
Thank you Lord for all You’ve done for me, yeah

Folks without homes, living out in the streets
And the drug habits some say, they just can’t beat
Muggers and robbers, no place seems to be safe
But You’ll be my protection every step of the way
And I want to say
Thank you Lord for all You’ve done for me, yeah

It could have been me (thank you)
Outdoors (thank you)
No food (thank you)
No clothes (thank you)
Or left alone (thank you)
Without a friend (thank you)
Or just another number (thank you)
With a tragic end (thank you)
But you didn’t see fit to let none of these things be (thank you)
‘Cause everyday

In addition to battling cancer, Dawn grew up in the projects and on welfare. She had experienced or seen everything in the lyrics of this song.

At the end of the video, Dawn says thank you to the church for everything they had done for our family. It was like she was saying goodbye to everyone. It is so surreal for me to watch it.

For me, it was a miracle to spend that last Sunday together at church in that way with Dawn.

Four days before Dawn died, she was in bed taking a nap. I went to check on her, and it was obvious something was wrong. She was talking incoherently. She was asking me to put her in the middle of the bed even though she already was. Dawn was asking me to put her left arm next to her even though it already was.

Because I couldn’t calm Dawn down, I called 911. They said there really wasn’t anything they could do, but they could come and take her to the hospital. Even though Dawn told me she didn’t want to go to the hospital anymore (we had just spent 12 of the last 30 days in the hospital), I felt like I had no other choice.

So, the ambulance came to take Dawn to the hospital. Dale, the pastor of our church, met me in the emergency room. As soon as he saw Dawn, he asked me to step outside the room to talk with him for a minute. Dale told me that he had seen this many times before – Dawn was transitioning out of this life. He told me that there was no way to know how long it would be, but I needed to prepare myself that this was it. Also, Dale told me that Dawn was a godly woman and because of that I was going to see things other people don’t get to see. Boy, was he right.

We went back in the room. A little bit later, John, the associate pastor, met us in the room. As we stood there talking, Dawn started smiling like never before. She always had a big smile, but this was different. It looked like the corners of her mouth were back to her ears, almost like someone had put hooks in the corners of her mouth to pull them back. And, Dawn’s eyes were wide open. Her face was radiant.

With that smile and eyes wide open, Dawn turned to the three of us and said, “I see heaven. I see God. And, he is right here with me.”

Dale, John, and I just looked at each other. Another miracle.

The hospital couldn’t really do anything for Dawn, so they sent us home the next day. I had called Dawn’s family and friends and told them to come back up to Cincinnati because this was it.

That night, three days before Dawn died, Shaterial, Dawn’s best friend, said she would stay up that night with Dawn to watch her since I had been up all night the night before at the hospital.

When I came down the next morning, Shaterial said I wouldn’t believe what happened last night. She told me that Dawn saw and talked with her mom, who had died three years prior. Shaterial said that Dawn asked her who all the people were in the room. But, only Shaterial and Dawn were up in the middle of the night. Shaterial told Dawn that there was no one else in room, but Dawn insisted there was.

You might say that Dawn was hallucinating, but Shaterial and I were convinced that Dawn saw her mom and that angels were in the room with them. Shaterial told me what a blessing it was for her to experience that with Dawn. Another miracle.

The next night, two days before Dawn died, I stayed up all night with her. When we came home from the hospital, we had a hospital bed put in the study off the living room. Dawn was sleeping there while I laid on the couch to keep an eye on her.

It was late at night when I noticed Dawn put her leg out of the bed. I went and put her leg back in the bed. This happened several times until I realized Dawn needed to use the bathroom. So, I helped her out of the bed. The bathroom was only about 15 feet away. But, halfway there Dawn said she was too tired to go any further. We were right next to the couch I was sleeping on, and she asked if she could just lay down there.

With Dawn on the couch where I was sleeping, I just knelt on the floor next to her. I held Dawn’s hand and silently prayed for her. Dawn fell back asleep. Then, out of nowhere, Dawn asked me a question.

“Do you want to see Jesus with me?”

Without missing a beat, I said yes.

And, for what seemed like 30 minutes or so, I saw Jesus.

Now, I did not see his physical form, the shape of a man. But, I saw his presence. There was this glow in the room right next to Dawn. There was no doubt that Jesus was in the room with us.

I saw Jesus.

Dawn did everything for Trey as a mother. And, I traveled a lot. I had been dealing with lots of fear about being a single parent. I had no idea how I could do that.

And, then Jesus spoke to me.

The first thing Jesus said was, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18) Instantly, all my fear of being a single parent was gone. I never thought about the difficulties of being a single parent again.

Then, Jesus told me about how he “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3.20) He said that I think about that scripture in earthly, physical terms.

I could imagine Dawn being perfectly, physically healed. What’s more than that?

I could imagine being the richest person in the world. What’s more than that?

All of us can imagine quite a few grandiose things. What’s more than all the things we can imagine?

But, Jesus told me that scripture isn’t about any earthly or material thing. He said the one thing that I could not imagine more of was his love. No matter how great and how awesome I imagined his love to be, Jesus’ love for me would always be far more, exceedingly, abundantly more than all I could ever ask or think.

Finally, Jesus told me that I had been praying for a miracle in Dawn’s healing. But, Jesus said the real miracle I was, or should be, praying for was his love. His love was what mattered more than anything else. Another miracle.

“Do you want to see Jesus with me?” were the last words Dawn ever spoke to me. But, they weren’t the last words she ever spoke. She saved those for our son, Trey. One day before she died, Trey came to give his mom a kiss good night. Dawn hadn’t spoke in almost 24 hours. But, after Trey kissed her good night, she said “I love you” to her son. Those were the last words Dawn ever spoke.  Another miracle.

Trey was an excellent piano player. Dawn believed he had talent and really pushed him. He played in a piano competition the morning of the day his mom died. That evening my dad gathered everyone, all of Dawn’s family and friends, around the piano to hear Trey play. He played a piece from the competition and a song he was learning for the mission trip we would go on in about a month.

The piano was in the room next to Dawn. Dale and I were in the room with Dawn, listening to Trey play. Just a few minutes after Trey finished playing those two songs, Dawn died. The last thing Dawn ever heard was her son playing the piano. Another miracle.

The last week of Dawn’s life was filled with so many experiences with the life of Jesus, so many things that I can’t explain, so many things that Jesus seemingly orchestrated so that I would know his love for me. And, at the center of them all was seeing Jesus.

How did this experience with the life of Jesus open the Bible for me?

What presuppositions had I been bringing to the Bible that were changed by this experience?

Prior to this experience I believed God to be 100 percent completely sovereign over everything that happened. I read the events ascribed to God in the Old Testament and took what the Bible said at face value. God must have done all those horrible and wicked things. So, I believed that God would allow sickness, even cancer, despite the damage it did to our family and the difficulties my son would face because of his mom’s untimely death.

Basically, my view of God was undifferentiated. God might do good some times, but he allowed evil at other times. God might love some times, but he hated with a vengeance at other times. God might give life to some, but he would bring death to others.

This was how everyone around me read the Bible. And, I went right along with it. I didn’t know any other way.

Until I saw Jesus.

Until Jesus spoke to me about his love. Nothing else.

This experience with Jesus more than anything else has changed the way I read the Bible.

I had been in the presence of Jesus’ exceedingly abundant love.

There is no way that love would give someone cancer.

There is no way that love would take a mom from her son.

There is no way that love would leave a man a widower before he was 40.

Sure those things happened, but God was not the cause of them.

As I continued to read the Bible, read theology books, and listen to sermons, everything began to shift in my mind. Everything was now being filtered through the lens of Jesus and his love. Now, everything I read and heard was filtered through the following statements.

  • God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
  • God is love and in him there is no fear at all.
  • God is life and in him there is no death at all.

Further, I began to realize that I needed to focus not on what God can do but on what God will do.

I want God to do all sorts of things for me. And, he can do them. The possibilities of what God can do for me are limitless. But, when I focus on what God can do, then I lose sight of God and being transformed and conformed to his image. I found that focusing on what God can do and, consequently, what he has not done for me would make me bitter and angry. For example, why did God heal someone else and not my wife?

Instead, I just needed to focus on what God will do. In other words, I need only focus on who God is in my life – light, love, and life. Jesus said it as he is the way and the truth and the life. He also said it as he is the resurrection and the life.

Seeing Jesus has completely transformed the way I read the Bible.