The Gospels Are About Christ not Jesus

In my previous post, Is There a Distinction between Jesus and the Christ?, I showed how “Jesus” is found far more often in the gospels than “Christ.” Further, when “Jesus” is used alone without “Christ” in the New Testament, the vast majority of the time this occurs in the gospels.

Yet, the gospels are about Christ, not Jesus.

Wait a minute. The gospels are not about Jesus?

Admittedly, perhaps I am overstating the case, but, yes, the gospels are not about Jesus. They are about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ, or Jesus who became Christ.

How so?

Well, let’s look at the introduction to each of the gospels.

Matthew 1.1 says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Oops…that’s not right.

It really says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

As Matthew works through the genealogy of Jesus Christ, he concludes it in Matthew 1.16 by saying, “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”

Then in verse 17, Matthew summarizes the genealogy, saying, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” Not the deportation to Babylon to Jesus, but the deportation to Babylon to the Christ.

Finally, in verse 18, Matthew writes, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way.”

Throughout the introduction to the gospel of Matthew the emphasis is on the Christ, or Jesus Christ, not Jesus. Although Herod inquires where the Christ was to be born in Matthew 2.4, the early emphasis on Christ in Matthew is all the more striking when we recognize that the word “Christ” does not appear again in Matthew’s gospel until 11.2. There are two more uses of Christ in chapter 16. Then, the gospel closes with a flurry of uses of Christ in chapters 22 through 26.

By emphasizing Christ at the beginning and end of his gospel, Matthew is signaling that he is not writing about Jesus, the son of Mary, or Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus, a carpenter’s son, or Jesus, a great teacher, or Jesus, a prophet, or Jesus, a king, or Jesus, a healer, or any other way we want to describe Jesus. Yes, Jesus was all of those things, and Matthew wrote about many of them. However, Matthew’s gospel is about Jesus the Christ.

The gospel of Mark primarily presents Jesus as a servant. Yet, the very first words of the gospel in Mark 1.1 state, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Like Matthew, Mark’s gospel uses “Christ” in its introduction but doesn’t use the term again until two isolated uses in chapters eight and nine. However, like Matthew, the gospel of Mark closes with a flurry of uses of Christ in chapters 12 through 15. Again, in ancient writings, this sort of bracketing in a story provides important insight into the true subject matter of what is written. This bracketing reveals what is really important, what is being stressed In the case of Mark, the true subject matter of the entire gospel is Christ.

Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not use the term “Christ” in the opening sentence of his gospel. Instead, Luke gives a lengthy sort of preamble to the birth of Christ. So, in Luke 2.10-11, when the angel of the Lord announces the Christ’s birth to the shepherds, he says, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Who did Luke say was born?

Not Jesus.

But, the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Just before the child Jesus was brought into the temple for purification, “it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had the Lord’s Christ.” Luke emphasizes that Simeon was not going to see Jesus, a mere child like any other, but the Christ.

Just like Matthew and Mark, after the introduction and birth of Jesus Christ, Luke uses the term “Christ” quite sparingly with just three mentions in chapters three, four, and nine. However, Luke closes his gospel with seven uses  of “Christ” in chapters 20 through 24. Once again we see the bracketing of the entire story of Jesus with the term “Christ” to emphasize exactly who Luke is writing about – the Christ, or Jesus Christ, and not Jesus.

The beginning of John’s gospel, the famous prologue, is one of my favorite portions of the Bible. John begins by telling us about the Word. Everything was made by the Word. In the Word was life. The Word was the true light of all men. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word was the son of God, full of grace and truth.

Who was this Word?

Not Jesus.

Rather, the Word is Jesus Christ.

The conclusion of the prologue, John 1.17, says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

We received grace and truth through Jesus Christ, and it was the Word that became flesh that was full of grace and truth. Therefore, Jesus Christ and the Word are one and the same.

Unlike the first three gospels, the gospel of John uses the term “Christ” throughout. Instead of introducing the gospel of the Christ, telling the story of Jesus, and closing with the recognition of the Christ, John’s gospel is about the Christ all the way through. I plan to cover why John’s gospel is unlike the others in this respect in a future post.

So, even though “Jesus” is far more prevalent in the gospels than “Christ,” even “Jesus” takes up the bulk of the story of the gospels, the construction of the gospels tells us they are not simply about Jesus. Instead, God’s good news, God’s gospel, is the Christ.

The gospels are about the Christ not Jesus.

Is There a Distinction between Jesus and the Christ?

Jesus Christ has been on my heart and in my mind a lot lately.

You might be saying to yourself, “Of course he is. You are a Christian. And, you write a blog about seeing Jesus Christ in the Bible.”

But, that is not what I mean.

Christians are very accustomed to saying “Jesus Christ” without truly thinking about what they are saying. As the cliche goes, Christ is not the last name of Jesus. At the very least, Christ is the title, the office, of Jesus. In reality, Christ is something much more than that.

Therefore, when I say that Jesus Christ, or, more clearly, Jesus the Christ, has been on my heart and mind a lot lately, I mean to say I have been meditating quite a bit on the difference Jesus and the Christ. In meditating on the distinction between Jesus and the Christ, I have come to understand that this distinction is important and significantly affects how we worship and trust God in our daily lives.

So, in this post and the ones following (I don’t know how many), I’m going to write about my meditations on the distinction between Jesus and the Christ.

I take lots of long walks, and these meditations started on those long walks with the simple question “Do the New Testament writers use the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ with different frequencies?” Based on the many times I have read through the Bible the last 10 years, I suspected the answer was yes, but I did not know for sure. And, if the answer was yes, then what does the different usage of “Jesus” and “Christ” by the New Testament writers mean for me and you?

Not only was my suspicion correct that the New Testament writers use “Jesus” and “Christ” in different frequencies, there is a staggering difference in the usage of the two words between the four gospels and Acts (hereafter “gospels”) and the rest of the New Testament (hereafter “the letters”).

Based on my best effort to count the uses in Greek, the word “Jesus” appears 909 times in the New Testament. Of these, “Jesus” is used 632 times in the gospels and 277 times in the letters. Therefore, 70% of the uses of “Jesus” are in the gospels while just 30% of the uses of “Jesus” are in the letters.

The word “Christ” appears 529 times in the New Testament. Of these, “Christ” is used just 79 times in the gospels. But, in the letters, “Christ” is used a whopping 450 times. Therefore, only 15% of the uses of “Christ” are in the gospels while an overwhelming 85% of the uses of “Christ” are in the letters.

Notice how the gospels and the letters make use of “Jesus” and “Christ” in almost exactly the opposite proportions. The gospels are very much focused on Jesus while the letters are very much focused on Christ.

Of course, the words “Jesus” and “Christ” often appear together in the New Testament as either Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. So, the above analysis becomes more interesting when we consider how often “Jesus” appears on its own in the gospels and the letters.

OF the 909 times, “Jesus” is used in the New Testament it is used alone, that is, without Christ, 693 times. “Jesus” alone is primarily found in the gospels. In fact, 88% of the uses of “Jesus” without Christ occur in the gospels. So, in the letters we find “Jesus” alone just 12% of the time.

These numbers are virtually flipped if we consider the use of “Christ” alone. Of the 529 times “Christ” is used, it is used on its own 313 times. Just 19% of the uses of “Christ” without “Jesus” are found in the gospels while the other 81% are found in the letters.

Instead of looking at the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” across the New Testament, we could look at the use of the two words within the gospels and within the letters.

In the gospels, “Jesus” is used 632 times. Of these 632 uses, “Jesus” is used without “Christ” 612 times, which means that 97% of the time in the gospels the “Jesus” is used without the “Christ.” That means the phrase “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus” makes up just 3% of the uses of the word “Jesus” in the gospels. However, in the letters, “Jesus” is used 277 times. But, “Jesus” is found alone just 81 times, or a mere 29%. In the letters, if we find “Jesus” we are far more likely to find “Christ” attached.

While the gospels are dominated by “Jesus,” eight out of the 22 books of the letters never use the word “Jesus.” A number of those do mention “Christ” either, but it is noticeable that “Jesus” disappears from many writings outside the gospels.

It’s not the case that the gospels were written first therefore they focus more on Jesus while the understanding of Christ developed later and therefore the letters contain more of Christ and less of Jesus. In fact, most of the letters were written before the gospels.

So, the gospels are about a particular man, Jesus, that the disciples lived three years with. But, the gospels rarely mention Christ even though by the time they were written the gospel writers would have had plenty of time to reflect on “Christ.” It would have been possible for them to mention Jesus as the Christ, or Jesus Christ, for more frequently like the letters.

The letters, even though they were written before the gospels, make far more mention of Christ of Jesus Christ than the gospels. Seemingly, the gospels are no longer about this particular man, Jesus, that the disciples lived with for three years. Rather, the letters are about someone the same as Jesus but distinct from Jesus.

What happened to cause such distinction in the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” within the books of the New Testament?

The simple answer is the eventual identification of Jesus as the Christ, which Peter makes before the crucifixion. In Luke 24, Jesus specifically says that it was necessary for the Christ, not Jesus, to suffer and rise from the dead to enter his glory.

And, the distinction in use between “Jesus” and “Christ” begs the question “Why?”

What happened to Jesus for him to be known as the Christ and why it matters to us will be the subjects of future posts.

Do You Believe the Bible Is the Word of God?

Do you the believe the Bible is “the word of God?”

I don’t.

I believe holding the Bible as “the word of God” is a very subtle form of idolatry. because we are putting a book before the actual Word of God, Jesus Christ. Anything we put before God, before Jesus, becomes an idol. And, idolatry is not worship in spirit and in truth.

Let me show you what I mean.

“In the beginning was THE BIBLE, and the THE BIBLE was with God, and THE BIBLE was God.” – John 1:1

Is that what it is says?

No.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. HE (a person) was in the beginning with God.”

So, the Word of God is a he, a person.

“And THE BIBLE continued to increase.” – Acts 6:7

“But THE BIBLE increased and multiplied.” – Acts 12:24

“And THE BIBLE was spreading throughout the whole region.” – Acts 13:49

“So THE BIBLE continued to increase and prevail mightily.” – Acts 18:20

Is that what any of these scriptures say?

No.

They all the say the “word of God” or the “word of the Lord.” Clearly, the Bible is not what Luke has in mind. Jesus Christ, the word of God, continued to increase, multiply, spread and prevail. I only picked the most obvious scriptures in Acts to show you this. Once you have seen the most obvious ones, it’s easier to see all the others refer to Jesus too.

“But it is not as though THE BIBLE has failed.” – Romans 9:6

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through THE BIBLE.” Romans 10:17

Is that what Paul means in these verses?

No.

It’s the word of God, the word of Christ, Jesus Christ, that has not failed and through whom faith comes by hearing.

“Of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make THE BIBLE fully known.” – Colossians 1:25

Is the Bible what Paul came to make known?

No.

Paul came to preach Jesus Christ, the word of God, and him crucified. He said that was all he wanted to know among us.

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received THE BIBLE, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what is really is, THE BIBLE, which is at work in you believers.” – 1 Thessalonions 1:13

Is Paul saying these people received the Bible and the Bible is at work in them?

No.

Ironically, the Bible is the word of men, although inspired by God. So, of course Paul wasn’t constantly in thanks that people had received the Bible. The Bible didn’t even exist at that time, nor could many even afford a copy of the scriptures or read them. They received the word of God, Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is at work in them.

“But the THE BIBLE is not bound.” – 2 Timothy 2:9

Is the Bible bound?

Why, yes it is.

The end of Revelation says that we should add nothing to or take anything away from the book. No one is adding to the Bible anymore. It is bound. But, the word of God, Jesus Christ, is not bound. We saw in Acts that he is increasing, spreading, multiplying, prevailing. And the gospel of John says that if every act of Jesus were to be recorded all the books in the world could not contain them.

“For THE BIBLE is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from HIS (a person) sight.” – Hebrews 4:12-13

Is the Bible living and active?

No.

The word of God, Jesus Christ, is living and active. He divides soul from spirit within us. No creature is hidden from HIS sight. The Bible is not looking into the heart of every creature.

“By faith we understand that the universe was made by THE BIBLE, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” – Hebrew 11:3

Did the Bible make the universe?

No.

Is the Bible invisible?

No.

The Bible did not make the universe. Yes, the Bible is visible. Therefore, it could not have been the invisible thing that made the things that are seen.

The word of God, Jesus Christ, made the universe. Read John 1 and Colossians 1.

“Since you have been born again, not of persihable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding BIBLE.” – 1 Peter 1:23

Are you born again by the Bible?

No.

Is the Bible the imperishable seed that was planted in the ground to bring new life?

No.

The word of God, Jesus Christ, is the grain of wheat, the imperishable seed, planted in the ground that sprang up to new life. (John 12:24) Jesus Christ is the living and abiding word of God.

“And the earth was formed out of water and through the water by THE BIBLE.” – 2 Peter 3:5

Did the Bible form the earth?

No.

The word of God, Jesus Christ, formed the earth. He made everything.

These are just the most obvious places where the word of God is clearly not the Bible. The word of God is Jesus Christ, a person. But, once you have seen the obvious places, you will be able to see Jesus as “the word” in all the other places too.

When you see that in the New Testament, then you should do a study in the Old Testament on “the word of the Lord.” You will notice that many of the uses of that phrase refer to a person.

The Bible calls itself not the word of God but the scriptures. And, so does Jesus.

Jesus said in John 5:39-40, “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.”

Like the Jews Jesus was speaking to, you can search the scriptures all you want to find life. But, you won’t find life in the scriptures. The scriptures, the Bible, is simply a witness to Jesus, the true word of God, true life. We have to go to him for life. In fact, we can’t even understand the scriptures without his life, the Holy Spirit, in us and teaching us. The Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance everything that Jesus said. The Holy Spirit takes the dead letters and brings them to life (2 Corinthians 3).

Throughout scripture, God states that he wants people to listen to his voice, his word, Jesus Christ. He never stated that he wanted people to listen to a written book.

I posted the above on Facebook more than one year ago. The following is my reply to a comment on my Facebook post. The comment stated that there was a difference between “the word of God incarnate” and “the word of God written.”

Let’s assume that trusted theologians for centuries have made the distinction between “the word of God incarnate” and “the word of God written.” Assuming that, I would respectfully disagree with them.

For the obvious reason that no one knew the word of God was Jesus until he came, I can only compare what the New Testament says about, as you say, “the word of God incarnate” and the “word of God written.”

I already showed in my post that the New Testament says the “word of God” is a person, Jesus Christ. Also, I said in my post that God has always desired a people that would listen to his voice. It is a voice that speaks or proclaims a word. Voices are listened to and heard, hence Jesus’ statement that those who knew him would know his voice.

The exact phrase “word of God” appears 44 times in the Bible.

Of those, 9 times the “word of God” was heard (Luke 5:1, 5:21, 11:28, John 8:47, Acts 13:5), received (Acts 8:14, 11:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:13), or accepted (1 Thessalonians 2:13). I included received and accepted because the vast majority of anyone at that time would have received or accepted whatever the word of God is by hearing as they could not read.

Of those, 8 times the “word of God” was taught (Acts 18:11), proclaimed (Acts 13:5, Acts 17:13), preached (Acts 6:2), spoken (Acts 4:31, Acts 13:46, Hebrews 13:7) or uttered (John 3:34).

Therefore, if just over one-third of the uses of the exact phrase “word of God” are used in the context of hearing or speaking. then God wants us to hear his voice.

So, what about the “word of God written?”

Is that even a thing?

Well, what does the Bible say about itself?

Over and over, the Bible refers to what is written as the scriptures. The word scripture(s) is used 51 times.

Of those, 3 times the scripture is specifically referred to as being read. Not one time is the “word of God” referred to as being read.

Of those, 27 times the scripture is mentioned in the context of being fulfilled or believed. Therefore, more than half the uses of “scripture,” what is written, are to show that the true “word of God,” Jesus, fulfilled what had been written. In this way, what was written, the scripture, is a shadow of the reality, the true word of God, Jesus Christ. The scriptures are no more the word of God than any of the other Old Testament types and shadows – Joseph, Joshua, the offerings, the tabernacle, etc. – are the word of God in some other form. Just like all the types and shadows in the Old Testament, the scriptures are a witness to Jesus Christ, the word of God.

Of those, 8 times the scriptures are mentioned in the context of searching/examining or reasoning/showing/encouraging. The scriptures were used, not to prove that they were the word of God, but to prove that Jesus Christ indeed is the word of God.

Of those, 3 times Jesus is said to interpret or open the scriptures. Jesus took what was written and translated it into the actual word of God for the disciples. He showed them where he, the word of God, was (and wasn’t) in the scriptures.

The scriptures, the Bible, never call themselves the word of God

Muddling the word of God, Jesus Christ, with the scriptures, the Bible, the written word, is actually what calls the whole thing into question and has people confused.

In some manner, Jesus Christ did pit himself against the scriptures, what was written. In the sermon on mount, he repeatedly said, “You have heard it said…but I say to you.” Also, look through the gospels and you will see that Jesus never called the Law “his law” or “his Father’s law.” He almost always said “your law” or “their law.”

You mention Moses and the prophets speaking the “word of God.” Yes, they did. But, they had a veiled view of God. They did not see him clearly. Therefore, they could not write about him clearly. This is why Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 about God raising up another prophet, Jesus Christ, that Israel would listen to (not read, and isn’t interesting that we don’t have a single thing written from the most important person in the world).

But, Jesus himself said that John the Baptist was the greatest man of the old covenant, but even he was the least in the kingdom of God.

Why?

Because he was not born again, filled, by the Holy Spirit the way we are. This is important because 2 Timothy 3:16 says that scripture is God-breathed. But, do you know what else is God-breathed? Every person is filled with the Holy Spirit, God-breathed as it were. Each human being is as inspired as the scriptures. Therefore, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3 that we are living letters as opposed to the dead letters of the old covenant scriptures that can only point to life when read by the Spirit within us.

Something that is God-breathed contains the Spirit, but it is clearly not the Spirit. Just as the Bible witnesses to, or contains, Jesus, but it is not the Word of God. Without this understanding we get a lot of twisted ideas about God and Jesus.

As for making the book less “sacred,” or less important, you know me better than that. Writing about the Bible every day for an entire year, as I have on this blog, cannot be considered making the book less sacred or less important.

But, we need a right understanding of what it is and what it isn’t. We need to put the Bible and Jesus Christ in their rightful places.

Are You Following a Man-Made System or Jesus?

We have a choice to make. We can follow a man-made system. Or, we can follow Jesus.

How do we know whether we are following a man-made system or Jesus?

Simply consider how you are being watered.

Consider Deuteronomy 11.10-12.

“For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

In these verses, we can see Egypt as a symbol of life following a man-made system and Canaan as a symbol of life following Jesus.

In many ways, the land of Egypt was like the land of Canaan. In both places, dirt, water, seed, and sun combined to produce fruit. Similarly, following a man-made system can look very much like following Jesus.

But, there is one critical difference between Egypt and Canaan – how they are watered.

The fields of Egypt were in very flat land. Therefore, they were watered in one of two ways. The first was the annual flooding of the Nile River. Once a year, the Nile would overflow its banks and water the fields of Egypt. But, for the remainder of the year, the fields were watered by a system of canals. The Egyptians had to dig out and maintain these canals. Further, the water was “pumped” through the canals by foot pedals. The Hebrew of Deuteronomy 11.10 literally says, “where you sowed your seed and water it with your feet.”

The fruit of the fields of Egypt was dependent on a man-made system to get water. But, this was not the case with the land of Canaan.

In Canaan, “the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” The produce of Canaan was not reliant upon a single annual flood from a great river. Instead, God watched over the land throughout the year and provided rain as necessary. Instead of being flat like Egypt, Canaan was full of hills and valleys to direct the water where it needed to go. Further, Deuteronomy 8.7 says, “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills.”

Unlike Egypt’s fields that were dependent on a man-made system of canals, Israel’s fields on “the rain from heaven,” or the Spirit who is given by Jesus.

In John 4.10, 13-14, Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Notice the similarities in Jesus’ language to the passages in Deuteronomy. Jesus’ words from his conversation with the woman at the well are the reality of how we are to be watered just as the fields of Canaan were to be watered.

We learn more about this living water in John 7.37-39, which says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

What is the living water that flows out of our hearts?

The Spirit.

Where does the Spirit come from?

Heaven.

Jesus gives the spirit as rain from heaven to water our life.

Notice that in order to receive this water you must go to Jesus. Jesus says, “Let him come to me and drink.” But, those following a man-made system do not go to Jesus.

Where do those following a man-made system go?

“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)

Those following a man-made system depend on scripture only. They don’t actually go to Jesus to receive the Spirit, living water, the rain from heaven. This scripture-only dependence treats scripture like the land of Egypt – flat. Everything in the scripture becomes equally important. But, this flat reading of scripture requires a man-made system of canals and foot-powered pumps to force water, or life, through them.

However, those following Jesus understand that scripture is full of mountains and valleys. Some portions of scripture are closer to God than others. Some portions of scripture more fully reveal God than others. Therefore, some portions of scripture are more important than others.

So, while Egypt and Canaan have many similar features, their source of water, and therefore life, are completely different. One is man-made. The other comes from heaven. Only the Spirit can show us the difference.

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.

Jesus Served and Guarded Sheep for a Wife

TODAY’S READING: HOSEA 10-14

“Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep.” – Hosea 12:12

Jesus is Israel.

Or, Israel is a type  and foreshadowing of Jesus.

In scripture, we see that the lives of Jesus and Israel mirror each other. The New Testament authors even reveal this in passages that on the surface seemingly have nothing to do with Jesus. Therefore, the New Testament authors were taught by Jesus (Luke 24) and led by the Spirit to see Jesus everywhere in the Old Testament. They did so even if it meant ripping a passage out of its context.

A classic example of this is Hosea 11:1-2, which says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.”

In context, this passage is clearly about the nation of Israel. God brought the nation of Israel, Jacob/Israel’s descendants,  out of Egypt. And, it was the nation of Israel that, even though they were called by God to be a light to the world, went away and sacrificed to false gods and idols.

But, Matthew said that this passage was about Jesus. Matthew 2:14-15 says, “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'” So, Matthew identifies Jesus as the fulfillment of everything Israel was.

Why is it significant that Jesus was called out of Egypt?

Any Israelite would have thought of Egypt as their place of slavery. So, we could think of Jesus as a slave that was called out of his slavery by his Father.

Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” So, Jesus became like one of us, like a slave, although not a slave to sin as we were, so that he could deliver us from our slavery to the fear of death.

So, Philippians 2:5-8 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant [literally, slave], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus left his Father, left heaven, left his nature as God, to become a slave. He made himself such a slave that he became obedient to the point of death even as we are held in slavery to the fear of death.

This brings us to Hosea 12:12, which says, “Jacob fled to the land of Aram; there Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he guarded sheep.” While this passage says that Jacob fled, the original telling of the story is different. Genesis 28:5 says, “Thus Isaac sent Jacob away.” Isaac, the father, sent Jacob, the son. Just like the Father sent Jesus, his son.

In Hosea, we read that Jacob fled to Aram. Aram means high or elevated. Perhaps we could think of Aram as symbolizing a place of pride or a high place, which typically was a place of false worship.

But, when Isaac sent Jacob away, Jacob went to Paddan-aram. Paddan-aram might mean the plain of Aram. But, it might also mean elevated ransom or place where height is rescued.

So, we can see Jesus in this in that he left his Father to come to a place of pride and false worship. But, he came to be the elevated ransom, the one who when he was lifted up would draw all people to the Father. In his  being lifted up, Jesus would rescue us from our height, our pride, and our high place of false worship.

Hosea says that Israel served and guarded sheep for a wife. The Hebrew words used for served and guarded are quite interesting. They are the exact same words used in Genesis 2:15, which says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work [serve] it and keep [guard] it.

Having told the man he was to serve and guard the garden, Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'” Why was the man to serve and guard the garden? For God was going to give him a wife to help him.

God indeed gives the man a wife that was from his side, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. So, Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

However, this story is not about Adam and Eve. Paul tells us that it is about Jesus and the church, his bride. Ephesians 5:31-32 says, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Jesus left his father. He came to the earth to serve and guard what he was given, the sheep, the Father’s people, so that he too could have a wife from his side, a wife that was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. And, Jesus would be one with his bride.

The Septuagint translation provides an interesting look into Hosea 12:12. It says, “And Jacob withdrew to the plain of Aram, and Israel was slave to a woman, and by a woman he was guarded.”

My suspicion is that the translation of the Greek is not quite correct here. The English words to and by are the same Greek word. And, that Greek word can also be translated for. Therefore, I believe we could read the verse as “Israel slaved for a woman, and for a woman he guarded.”

The Greek word for slaved in this verse is edouleusen, which comes from the root word douleuo. This is the same word used in Philippians 2:7 when it says that Jesus to “the form of a slave [doulos].”

In Matthew 20:25-27, Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you, But whoever would be great among us must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.”

Jesus is first. In fact, Colossians 1:18 says, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Jesus is preeminent, first, in all things. But, that meant he had to be a slave. So, Jesus slaved for us, his sheep, his wife.

Indeed, in Matthew 20:28, Jesus said, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There is Jesus in Paddan-aram. The Father sent Jesus to be the elevated ransom for us.

Then, there is the Greek word for guarded.

In John 17:12, Jesus said, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me.” Who were those given to Jesus? John 10 tells us that those given to Jesus are his sheep.

Jesus continued in John 17:12, “I have guarded them.” Jesus used the same Greek word for guarded that we read in Hosea 12:12 in the Septuagint. And, he used in the context of shepherding the sheep he was given.

So, even though there is nothing in the immediate context of Hosea 12:12 that reveals the passage to be about Jesus, the Spirit interprets the scripture for us to see that Jesus is Israel who served and guarded, worked and kept, slaved and guarded, his sheep to be his wife.

A Deeper Look at Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Babylon

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 50

“Declare among the nations and proclaim, set up a banner and proclaim, conceal it not, and say: ‘Babylon is taken, Bel is put to shame, Merodach is dismayed. Her images are put to shame, her idols are dismayed.'” – Jeremiah 50:2

Later, in verse 38, Jeremiah says that Babylon “is a land of images, and they are mad over idols.”

Babylon is an interesting city in the Bible.

It’s first mentioned in Genesis 10:10 as the beginning of the kingdom of Nimrod. Babel, or Babylon, literally means gate of the deity. We could think of its religion, idols, and images as the way mankind thought they could reach God.

Genesis 11:9 says, “Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of the earth.” Because of this, Babylon has come to mean mixture or confusion. But, the name is also here associated with the idea of departing as God dispersed the people over the face of the earth when he confused their languages.

The Hebrew word translated Babylon is used 261 times in the Old Testament. I find this interesting because 261 is 9 times 29. One of the meanings of the number 9 is visitation. The number 9 is also associated with the Holy Spirit and judgment.  The number 29 symbolizes departure as many times in the Bible when a person’s name is used it is associated with departure.

So, even in the first mentions of Babylon, which was originally the city of Babel, we the meanings of 9 and 29. God went down to visit the people of Babel. He judged their activities, confusing their languages and causing them to depart the plain of Shinar.

Revelation, which is chock full of symbolism, including the number of times words are used, uses the name Babylon six times. Six is the number of man. Therefore, we could also think of Babylon as the ultimate city of man. We would be in the ultimate city of man when the Holy Spirit (9) has departed (29).

What’s more interesting is that the only other way to multiply two numbers together and get 261 is 3 x 87. The number 3 symbolizes divine perfection.

What about the number 87?

Interestingly, two of the Hebrew words for idol have a numerical value of 87.

Further, Isaiah 9:6 says “For to us a child is born, to us a son if given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Here one of Jesus’ names is Everlasting Father, which has a numerical value of 87.

And, speaking of his servant, Jesus, God says, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.” (Isaiah 43:10-11) “I am the Lord,” our savior, has a numerical value of 87.

Jesus is the image of God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the divinely perfect image (idol) of God that saves us from our slavery to the idols of Babylon.

Revelation 18:4 bids us to come out, or depart, Babylon. It is by beholding Jesus Christ crucified, the divinely perfect image of God, that we are able to depart Babylon and its false idols and images. Speaking of Jesus’ death on the cross, Colossians 2:15 says, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities [the idols and images of Babylon] and put them to an open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Another interesting fact about Babylon is that 169 out of 261 uses of the word in the Old Testament occur in the book of Jeremiah. This is more than five times the number of uses in the book with the second most uses of Babylon.

Why is 169 an interesting number?

The number 169 is 13 x 13. That is the only way to multiply two numbers together and get 169. The number symbolizes rebellion and depravity. It is often associated with Satan in the Bible. In the Bible, squaring a number often intensifies its meaning. Revelation 18:2 says, “She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt of every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.” Indeed, Babylon is the dwelling place of everything that leads us away from God. It is truly the city of intensified rebellion and depravity.

I mentioned that the forerunner to Babylon was Babel, which is where God confused the languages of the people.

Jeremiah 50:2 says, “Babylon is taken.” The Hebrew word for taken is used 120 times in the Bible.

Coincidence?

In Acts 2, God reversed his visitation to Babylon that resulted in a judgment that caused the people to depart the plain of Shinar when the Holy Spirit visited the 120 disciples in the upper room. Those 120 disciples received from the Holy Spirit tongues of fire that allowed them to speak the languages of the Jews gathered from around the world. These 120 disciples were the first ones sent out to regather the Jews from every nation. In effect, God was regathering those that had their languages mixed at Babel by the 120 disciples that declared the great things God had done. Indeed, Babylon was taken.

In John 21, Jesus stood on the shore and asked the disciples if they had caught any fish. They said no. So, Jesus told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. Verses 10-11 say, “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full or large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.”

Jesus told his disciples they would be fishers of men. The number 153 symbolizes the disciples’ catch of men from all the Gentile nations. Notice that even though the disciples would catch many men the net would not break. None would be lost.

So, we have 120 representing the regathering of the Jews as the Holy Spirit spoke through the disciples with tongues of fire reversing the midex languages of Babel. And, we have Jesus’ disciples, fishers of men, catching 153 fish representing the salvation of the Gentile nations that were in bondage to Babylon and its idols and images.

Add together 120 and 153 and we get 273.

How many times is the word Babylon used throughout the entire Bible?

273.

Coincidence?

I think not. And, this is likely connected to one mention of the number 273 in the Bible.

Numbers 3:42-47 says, “So Moses listed all the firstborn among the people of Israel, as the Lord commanded him. And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as listed were 22,273. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekels per head.”

The Levites were the priests of Israel. Every believe today is priest and part of God’s royal priesthood. Instead of taking the firstborn males of Israel, God would take the Levites, of which were there 22,000 (Numbers 3:39). The number of firstborn over and above the number of priests, 273, would be redeemed with five shekels of silver. Five is the number of grace. Silver is the metal of redemption. So, the extra 273 firstborn males, symbolizing all the Jews that the 120 would regather and the 153 Gentile nations from which none would be lost, are redeemed by the grace of Jesus as he works through his royal priesthood, the believers, the church.

Are all the confluences of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Babylon just coincides?

I would argue they are not. Rather, these connections are the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through the scriptures.

Indeed, Babylon has fallen at the hands of the image of God, Jesus Christ.

In That Day, Here I Am

TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 50-52

“‘Now therefore what have I here,’ declares the Lord, ‘seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,’ declares the Lord, ‘and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore, in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” – Isaiah 52:5-6

Here again we come to the phrase “that day” in Isaiah. I have written about “that day” in That Day Sin Was Taken Away, That Day: The Preservation and Inheritance of Life, A Signal for the Peoples, and Egypt, Assyria, and Israel in That Day.

I mention this “that day” in Isaiah 52:6 because it stands apart. It is the only time Isaiah uses “that day” in the second half of the book, from chapters 40 to 66, which are of a different character than the first half and speak more directly to what the new creation that Jesus ushers in “that day.”

According to Isaiah, in “that day,” which I believe specifically refers to the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, God’s people will know his name, they will know that it is he who speaks, and they will know that it is God who speaks says, “Here I Am.”

When Moses was called by the Lord to lead Israel out of Egypt, he asked God what was his name in case Israel asked Moses this same question. Exodus 3:14 says, “God said to Moses, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you.”‘”

It was actually the angel of the Lord that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. This appearance of the angel of the Lord, who declares, “I Am Who I Am,” is actually a picture of Jesus. See my post Jesus: I Am the Burning Bush.

Now, the Hebrew for “I Am” in Exodus 3:14 is not the same as the Hebrew for “I Am” in Isaiah 52:6. However, it seems to me that we should see the linkage between these two. Especially when we consider I Am in the light of John’s gospel, which is the gospel that reveals Jesus as the son of God.

John makes use of “I Am” in regards to Jesus repeatedly. The most direct and bold use is in John 8. In this chapter, the Jews ask Jesus if he is greater than their father Abraham. Jesus’ final reply to that question, in John 8:58, is, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus declared right then and there that he was “I Am,” the God who met Moses in the burning bush. And, the Jews knew that this was exactly what Jesus meant for they immediately picked up stones to stone him to death for blaspheming the name of God.

So, Jesus declares boldly, “I Am.” He has come to witness to who the Father is and he declares that he is the same as, one with, the Father by taking his name “I Am.”

And, throughout the John’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly declares the name of God so that Israel will know that he is speaking, “Here I Am.”

  • I Am the bread of life – John 6:48
  • I Am the light of the world – John 8:12
  • I Am the door – John 10:7
  • I Am the good shepherd – John 10:11
  • I Am the resurrection and the life – John 11:25
  • I Am the way, the truth, and the life – John 14:6
  • I Am the true vine – John 15:1

John’s gospel features these seven I am statements, seven being the number of spiritual perfection, to reveal Jesus as the son of God, the I Am.

But, there are a number of instances, six to be exact, in John’s gospel where, the English translation, Jesus says, “I am he.” But, in everyone of these instances, the word “he” is not found in the original Greek and has been added in English, supposedly to aid in our understanding. But, by adding “he,” the translators have taken away the force of what Jesus is saying.

Notice how the following passages read without the “he” that is not in the Greek. I will bold the I Am that doesn’t have the “he” in the Greek.

“‘I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I Am you will die in your sins.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.’ They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.’ As he was saying these things, many believed in Him.” – John 8:24-30

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes places, that when it does take place you may believe that I Am. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” – John 13:18-20

“So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I Am.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I Am,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I Am.’ So, if you seek me, let these men go.'” – John 18:3-8

Without the “he,” Jesus’ statements become much more forceful and powerful. And, all of these I Am statements fulfill the scripture, “Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

Seeing Jesus in Hezekiah and Sennacherib’s Conflict

TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 35-37

On the surface, Isaiah 36 and 37 contain a story of a historical conflict between Hezekiah, the king of Israel, and Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. But, underneath the surface, Jesus can be seen in the deeper meaning.

Isaiah 36:1 says that this conflict took place in the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign. The number 14 symbolizes deliverance and salvation throughout scripture. Israel was delivered from Egypt on the Passover, which took place on the 14th of the day month. In Acts 27:27, it was on the 14th night after the storm arose that sailors of the ship Paul was on suspected they were nearing land. And, it was on the 14th day of the month, on the Passover, that Jesus was crucified, which set us free from our bondage to Satan and the powers and idols of this world.

Depending on the source, Sennacherib means bramble of destruction or the moon god Sin has increased the brothers. Bramble is a thorny bush. In Judges 9, bramble is the tree that desires to rule over the other trees.

Sennacherib sent the Rabshakeh to deliver a message to Hezekiah. Rabshakeh means chief cupbearer. Since the Rabshakeh was coming on behalf of Sennacherib, he was bearing the cup of destruction.

Hezekiah means Yahweh strengthens or the strength of the Lord. Here Hezekiah is a picture of Jesus. Jesus was strengthened by the Father. And, Christ crucified is the strength or power of God.

The Rabshakeh told the people of Jerusalem to not listen to Hezekiah. He said that Hezekiah would not be able to deliver them. Instead, the people of Jerusalem should make peace with Sennacherib, who is a picture of Satan. If they make peace with Sennacherib, they will have their “own” vine, their “own” fig tree, water from their “own” cistern, and your “own” land.

There is very reminiscent of how Satan deceived Eve. Satan told her if she ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that she would be like God. But, she would have to disobey God, turn her back on God, to do so. This is just what Sennacherib is doing here. Through Rabshakeh, he told the people of Jerusalem to not trust in Hezekiah, Jesus, for deliverance. God could not really provide for them. But, he would give them everything they desired.

At one point during the conflict, the Lord told Hezekiah through Isaiah that Sennacherib would fall by the sword in his own land. In other words, it would be by his own power that Sennacherib would be destroyed.

Also, Hezekiah went up the house of the Lord to pray. The conclusion of his prayer was, “So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”

The end of Hezekiah’s prayer reminds us the end of Jesus’ prayer the night before he died. In John 17:18, 20-23, Jesus said, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Just like Hezekiah, Jesus is praying that the whole world, all the kingdoms of the earth, would know God the Father alone is the Lord.

In this story, we also see a picture of Jesus drinking a cup of destruction for this is what Sennacherib to Hezekiah through the Rabshakeh. Jesus committed to drinking this cup in the garden so that we would not have to drink it. But, ultimately, the cup of destruction could not destroy Jesus.

Once already in the story the Lord said Sennacherib would by fall the sword in his own land, or by his own power. But, twice more something similar is said. Isaiah said that the Lord has spoken concerning Sennacherib, “I will turn you back on the way by which you came.” And, “By the way that he came, by the same he shall return.” That the enemy will destroyed by his own weapon or be turned back by the way he came is a recurring theme throughout the scripture.

This is exactly what Jesus did to Satan on the cross. Jesus did not destroy Satan with a sword or with strength or with power. Instead, Jesus defeated Satan with his own weapon. Jesus sent Satan back by the way that he came.

How did Satan come?

By death. He was a murderer from the beginning.

So, how did Jesus defeat Satan by the way that he came?

Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

Jesus defeated Satan, the one who had the power of death, through his own death. Jesus used Satan’s own weapon against him. No force or violence was required.

In the story under consideration, this was symbolized in that “the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians.”

Why 185,000?

The number 185 is never mentioned in scripture. But, it is interesting that the number 185 has only two divisors – 5 and 37. These are the only two numbers that you can multiply together to get 185.

Most know that the number five symbolizes grace. But, not many know what the number 37 means. A close study of scripture will reveal the number 37 is found all over scripture. But, I will give just one example for know. Using one type of gematria (the ordinal type where the letters have a number based on their place in the alphabet), the value of the Hebrew word for wisdom is 37. All throughout scripture we can see that the number 37 symbolizes wisdom or truth.

So, what could this number 185,000 represent?

That the angel of the Lord struck the Assyrian camp with grace and truth. John 1:16-17 says, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

If we look by the Spirit, then Jesus is all over the conflict between Hezekiah and Sennacherib.

Judge with Love

TODAY’S READING: 2 CHRONICLES 17-20

When Solomon dedicated the temple, the priests sang in unison, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” The phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever” makes it first return since Solomon under the king Jehoshaphat.

In addition to Jehoshaphat having the priests sing “give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever,” Jehoshaphat also walked in all the ways of David. Jehoshaphat was one of the good kings of Judah. Because of that, we can see Jesus in Jehoshaphat in several places in these chapters.

The name Jehoshaphat means Yahweh has judged or the Lord judges. Indeed, Jesus is the judge of every man.

But, there are some interesting clues about how Jehoshaphat judged.

One of the first things we read about Jehoshaphat took place in the third year of his reign. Of course, the number three often symbolizes the period between death and life. Therefore, the number three can symbolize the resurrection. So, what we read Jehoshaphat doing in the third year of his reign will likely have a connection to Jesus.

In the third of his reign, Jehoshaphat sent his officials through Judah to teach. Interestingly, in 2 Chronicles 17, we read that Jehoshaphat sent out 16 men to teach.

Almost everyone, given how often it is used in weddings, knows that 1 Corinthians 13 is about love.

Do you know many characteristics Paul lists about love in 1 Corinthians 13? 16!

  1. Love is patient.
  2. Love is kind.
  3. Love does not envy.
  4. Love does not boast.
  5. Love is not arrogant.
  6. Love is not rude.
  7. Love does not insist on its own way.
  8. Love is not irritable.
  9. Love is not resentful.
  10. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing.
  11. Love rejoices with the truth.
  12. Love bears all things.
  13. Love believes all things.
  14. Love hopes all things.
  15. Love endures all things.
  16. Love never ends.

Agape (the noun not the verb) is the Greek word for God’s love. It is used 18 times in 1 John. But, the 16th time the noun love is used John writes, “But perfect love casts out fear.”

So, we are seeing a connection between the number 16 and the word love. But, not just any love, perfect love.

Therefore, Jehoshaphat is a picture of the Lord who judges with love. Look at the following verses and notice how they are sound similar to the way Jesus judges.

2 Chronicles 19:5-7 says, “He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, ‘Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.”

The Lord was with Jehoshaphat in judging. Similarly, Jesus only judged as he heard from the Father.

2 Chronicles 19:9-10 says, “And he charged them: ‘Thus shall you do in the fear of the Lord, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart: whenever a case comes to you from your brothers who live in their cities, concerning bloodshed, law or commandment, statutes or rules, then you shall warn them, that they may not incur guilt before the Lord and wrath may not come upon you and your brothers. Thus you shall do, and you will not incur guilt.”

Jehoshaphat told the judges simply to warn. This is how Jesus judges. He warns us not do certain things because they will bring wrath. But, as we see in the passage above, the wrath is not God’s. Rather, the people bring wrath upon themselves when they break the law. It’s out of love that Jesus warns people not to sin. This is exactly what God did in the garden with Adam and Eve. He warned them out of love not to sin. But, he did pronounce a judgment of wrath upon them.

These are just a few of the ways that we Jesus in Jehoshaphat.