Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why I think Isaiah 53 was about Jesus and not the nation of Israel

The NIV link for the entire Isaiah 53 passage is given here (click it).

2 Schools of thought
There are 2 schools of thought on this, one thinks that Isaiah was talking about the nation Israel, another, Jesus. Many Jewish theologians subscribe to the former, and many modern Christians, the latter. This article is not aimed at creating dispute on the matter; although many Jews did not believe Isaiah 53 was about the Messiah, and so missed Jesus, or are giving Jesus, a miss.

Why I am interested
I will explain my interest in this matter. Firstly, it is important as a Christian of many years to seriously study the Word of God to learn more about God and his ways. In fact, the more I studied the Bible I found that it is important to know the faith heritage. And there are stories in the Bible, of individuals (like Gideon) who knew and understood much of the faith heritage and was honored by God, and there are stories about those (like Jephthah) who did not know enough, did not understand God’s dealings with man, and misapplied the little knowledge they had, and the results were that their actions displeased God.

More specifically, in relation to Isaiah 53, for those who argued that Jesus or the Messiah was portrayed there, they could see “the cross” in the passage. Let me explain: Every Christian should learn to understand the work of the cross, what happened at the cross? What was accomplished at the cross? What did the crucifixion of Jesus mean? What power was there on the cross? Could we claim healing from the work on the cross? If so, was the healing only spiritual? What about physical healing, emotional healing, psychological disorders? Are they all covered? Is salvation sure? What does salvation cover? Is healing part of salvation? Which aspect is sure? Is healing a sure thing? What about peace? Is it also part of the work of the cross? The word of God is important. Jesus Himself used them against Satan who also used them against Jesus in trying to tempt Jesus when He came out of His pre-ministry fasting. Those who see the Messiah in Isaiah 53 see these things in the passage, and they want to understand them, access them, and use them. Then there are those who thought they saw these things in the passage but they were told the passage was not about Jesus, and so, they could not claim them as part of the work of the cross.

There was one discussion I came across, concerning healing, and one party was saying God did mention about healing the land, and that healing did not mean people got healed, and so, by the same token, if Isaiah 53 was not about the Messiah, the healing spoken in Isaiah 53:5 was only for the nation of Israel as a whole or for the land. So, you see, we have to make up our mind, whether or not, Isaiah 53 was about Jesus, before we talk about healing for the individuals, using Isaiah 53:5. In fact, another angle surfaced in that discussion; it was whether healing was only spiritual and did not include physical or psychological ones. Again, we have to make up our mind whether or not, a man was being talked about in the Isaiah passage, or it was all just a metaphor for the nation or the land.

I know from elsewhere, in the Bible, we too, can come to certain conclusions about some aspects of the cross, but Isaiah 53 was so direct, if correctly, Jesus was being portrayed there.

What supports my conclusion?
Now let us look at what I have to support my belief that Isaiah 53 was talking about Jesus.

Thematic flow
I have taken time to study Isaiah 48 right up to Isaiah 53. I believe often times, because we take too small a bite at Scripture passages, we miss the flow and the connectivity of the verses. For those who want to say that the original scriptures did not have chapters, I know that. My conclusion is that there are 2 blocks here. You can have more if you break it down further. But I cannot come to the conclusion that it is one block, i.e. Isaiah 48 to Isaiah 53 is one big block. The thematic flow started in Isaiah 48 stopped at the end of Isaiah 52. I believe, one who takes the time to study Isaiah 48 to Isaiah 53 at one sitting, is capable of coming to the same conclusion. When you spend the time to rewrite the verses in easy to understand English with considerations of the parties (including such things as first person, second person, and so on) involved in the scriptures, you might agree with me Isaiah 53 is quite separate from the preceding texts.

There are those who said that what was being written in Isaiah 53 did not start at verse 1 of Isaiah 53, but from verse 13 of Isaiah 52; you can adopt that if you like. I like to look at the last 3 verses of Isaiah 52 (vv13-15) as capable of referring to both the nation of Israel or Jesus. The only thing is that the proponents of the other school of thought will say that verse 13 specifically used the phrase “my servant” (in the 2nd person) which in Isaiah 49:3, was referring to Israel. Rather, I would leave the last 3 verses of Isaiah 52 alone, and not take it to refer to Jesus, because the “third person” language really started in verse 2 of Isaiah 53, and used consistently throughout Isaiah 53.

One may argue that there is one anomaly to the “third person” language usage in Isaiah 53; and that would be in Isaiah 53:11 where “my righteous servant” was used. According to Jewish theologians, the English translation of the Hebrew text should have rendered the phrase as “my servant” and not “my righteousness servant”. Accordingly they claimed that the translation should read as “with his knowledge my servant will vindicate the righteous before the magnitudes, ….” Instead of “by his knowledge my righteous servant justify many”. In that case, I would say that Isaiah 53:11 could read like this:

11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
with his knowledge my servant will vindicate many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

I merely substituted the word, “by” with “with”, the phrase, “my righteous servant” with “my servant”, and the word, “justify” with “vindicate”. And the meaning of Isaiah 53:11b would be: with the knowledge of Jesus, Israel would exonerate many {many in Israel would be exonerated}, and Jesus would bear their iniquities. Looking at it this way, although, indeed Israel appears in the verse, the third person Jesus (he) still flowed consistently. Even when the word “justify” was not used in the verse, it did not imply there was no justification element in the verse; the fact that it said Jesus would bear their iniquities implied justification. I also honestly believe in the last days, many Israelites would be saved, and Jesus would bear their iniquities. I know Gentile Christians would like to see “Israel” not in the verse, but we must understand that it is also possible for relevance to the targeted audience, “Israel” was inserted intentionally by God. The opening up of the faith to the Gentile was only made known to all in the New Testament Time; even the Apostles, initially did not know it. The Apostle Peter, for example, had to be given a vision before he understood that God had opened up the gospel to the Gentiles.

Psalm 44 – no tenable connection
I do not agree with the author, on the topic of Isaiah 53, on Wikipedia, claiming that Psalm 44 is probably the best defense for reading Isaiah 53 as applicable to the nation of Israel {and therefore, not about Jesus}. There is no tenable connection between this Psalm and Isaiah 53.

Philip and the Ethiopian
In the Book of Acts, we read of an account of Philip and the Ethiopian. God, through an angel, arranged for Philip to meet with the Ethiopian eunuch who was then reading Isaiah 53. The relevant scriptures are given below (Acts 8:26-35):

26Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[d]eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." 30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."{Isaiah 53:7-8}

34The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

The eunuch was reading the passage of Isaiah 53:7-8. Not knowing who was being referred to, he asked Philip who was being referred to in the passage, was it the Prophet Isaiah or someone else. Philip took the opportunity, and starting from that very passage of Scripture, explained the gospel of Jesus to the eunuch. I believe this is a deliberate act of God, to have this account recorded in the New Testament for us; and this tells us that it was the Messiah, Jesus, who was being portrayed in Isaiah 53.

[added 05/01/2011: Even the Apostle John, understood that Isaiah 53 was referring to Jesus, for in the Gospel of John, at John 12:37-38, in revealing the response of the people (principally, the Jews) towards Jesus' ministry and teaching, John made reference to this Isaiah 53, verse 1, saying that, indeed as was written in Isaiah 53:1, only some of the Jews would believe the Messiah, Jesus, when He came walking on this earth.]

[added 10/03/2011: The Apostle Matthew wrote in Matt 8:16-17, that Jesus was healing the sick and delivering people from demon-possessions as part of the fulfilment of Isaiah 53:4. This, of course, pointed to Isaiah 53 was indeed referring to Jesus.]

If you can accept my reasoning here, the next time you read Isaiah 53, claim it as a portrayal of the Messiah, Jesus; see “the cross” in the passage, and claim the power and benefits in that passage.

Anthony Chia - And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. (2 Tim 2:24)

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Judges series - Judges 11

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Jephthah (a not so glorifying judge?)

1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead's wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. "You are not going to get any inheritance in our family," they said, "because you are the son of another woman." 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him. [According to the chronicles, in 1 Ch 7:14, Gilead was the son of Makir who descended from Manasseh. So Jephthah who was the son of Gilead, was a Manasseh, even though his mother was a prostitute. Because of his mother’s status, he was driven away by his half brothers, to the land of Tob, where he acquired some followers. Jephthah, like Gideon who was also a Manasseh, was a mighty warrior.] 4 Sometime later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 "Come," they said, "be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites." 7 Jephthah said to them, "Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?" 8 The elders of Gilead said to him, "Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead." 9 Jephthah answered, "Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?" 10 The elders of Gilead replied, "The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say." 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah. [When the Ammonites made war, the elders of Gilead pleaded with Jephthah to come to their aid, to be their commander, and promised Jephthah, headship over Gilead, if he won over the Ammonites] 12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: "What do you have against us that you have attacked our country?" 13 The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah's messengers, "When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably." 14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, 15 saying: "This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Give us permission to go through your country,' but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh. 18 "Next they traveled through the desert, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border. [The first thing that Jephthah did was to send messengers to the Ammonites king to ask him why the Ammonites would attack the Israelites. The Ammonite king replied and said that when the Israelites came up out of Egypt, they took away the lands of the Ammonites, so now they wanted it back. Jephthah replied and said that, that was not the correct account of what happened. Jephthah said the Israelites then did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. In fact, the Israelites only wanted permissions to pass through the land. I believe Jephthah’s account was correct.

Do you know who were the Moabites and Ammonites? They were the descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Abraham had made a treaty with Lot that they shall not fight over territories. Abraham gave Lot the first right to choose the land he wanted to go, and Abraham said whichever way Lot would take, he would go the other way. Lot decided to stay in the rich plains of Jordan where Sodom and Gomorrah were, and Abraham ended up heading the other way. These were recorded in Genesis 13. In Genesis 18, Abraham pleaded with the Lord for the sparing of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe Abraham was thinking about his nephew, Lot, in his plea to the Lord. In Genesis 19, we read that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. On the account of Abraham’s plea, by right, Lot’s family would have been spared but because Lot’s wife turned back, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot had 2 daughters and future sons-in-laws but because the latter did not believe the coming destruction of the cities, they were destroyed. Lot ended up settling in the mountains with his 2 daughters. In Genesis 19:30-36, we read that the daughters slept with their fathers and each had a son through their father, Lot. The older daughter’s son was called Moab, and became the father of the Moabites. The younger daughter’s son was called Ben-Ammi, and became the father of the Ammonites. These things, I believe, the Israelites then knew, and had honored Abraham’s treaty and his love for his nephew, Lot.] 19 "Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, 'Let us pass through your country to our own place.' 20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21 "Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel's hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, 22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan. [These verses talked about Amorites. The Amorites were not nearly as close to the Israelites as the Moabites and Ammonites, as explained above. The Moabites and Ammonites (through Lot) and Israelites (through Abraham, Israel {aka Jacob}) all came from the same blood line leading back to Shem, son of Noah. The Amorites, on the other hand, were descended from (through Canaan) Ham, son of Noah. Because the Amorites chose to fight the Israelites instead of letting them through, the Lord gave them over to the Israelites.] 23 "Now since the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? 24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess. 25 Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? 26 For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn't you retake them during that time? 27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites." [So, Jephthah reasoned to the Ammonite king that since the Lord God gave the land of the Amorites over to the Israelites, the latter had to accept it. Furthermore, for 300 years that Israel occupied the land, the Ammonites did not come claiming, why now. Jephthah ended with the saying, “Let the Lord decide”. When it became a matter to be decided by the Lord, the necessity of the Israelites honoring Abraham’s good intention would also be decided by the Lord, in the light of this development.] 28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him. [The Ammonite king ignored Jephthah’s explanation, I believe to his own detriment.] 29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD : "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering." [The Lord commissioned with his Spirit coming upon the one he had chosen. I believe it was true then, it is still true now – empowering by the Holy Spirit is so needed in ministry. What was puzzling was whether or not Jephthah’s vow was necessary? Had he not vowed would he still have victory? You will read later, the sad consequence of the vow.] 32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. [Complete victory!] 34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break." [Oh no, his one and only child, his daughter, came out to meet him. His daughter must be offered as burnt offering!] 36 "My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry." 38 "You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite custom 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. [The verses are self-explanatory. What I want to dwell on is that Jephthah fulfilled his vow, just as he had vowed to the Lord. Nothing was said here that it was aborted or that the Lord stopped Jephthah. I think Jephthah really made a big mistake with the vow, not that I have not done stupid thing of a similar, but not the same, nature, before.

One stupid thing I did was this: I prayed for the shifting of my (continual) blessings (maybe a clear word is favor) to another out of love. I have since realized it was a silly thing to do, the consequence of it was so painful, and it did not glorify God. This could even give the devil a foothold in our lives. If someone is lacking in something, wealth, health or whatsoever, NEVER pray the shifting of your own blessings (favor) to the person, or ask that you suffer in place of them, like taking over their sickness or bearing their pain. If we read the Bible thoroughly enough we will realize how important, the blessings (favor) of God were viewed in the Bible. Bless people but not give your blessings (favor) away no matter how much you love another.

If you have $10K, and you want to give it away, give it away but do not give away your blessings (favor). If you want to give away one of your 2 kidneys, give it away, but do not give away your blessings (favor). Giving away your own blessings (favor) does not glorify God. Do you know why? It does not glorify God because you are saying God has too little to give - if it was given to you, He had no more to give to another. It is not like in a musical chair game, where there is always a shortage; someone is going to be left stranded with no chair (no blessings/favor). You do not give up your blessings (favor) like you would give up a chair in a musical chair game. If God has one stream of blessings for you, He can also make another stream of blessings for your loved ones. If your loved one is sick, ask God to heal him/her. Don't ask God to let you be sick so that he/she can be well, or let you take his/her place of sickness or pain. Our God is not so small and with limited resource to give or distribute, that you need to sacrifice yours. I think I am clear, I am not asking you not to be generous, that would be wrong, I am saying give or ask God to give but do not give away the blessings (favor) God intended for you. It is disastrous to be caught without the blessings/favor/protection of God in this fallen world.

Back to Jephthah, some commentators tried to give him the benefit of doubt or did not want to make it sound like a judge appointed by God could be so stupid. God used all kinds of people in the course of dealing with man over the centuries. We cannot say they would not make mistakes or erred. Only Jesus would not have made a mistake, all others could. Even Moses and King David made mistakes, even committed serious sins. We got to be objective, and we are to learn from mistakes made by Biblical characters. They were recorded not without reasons.

While we can sympathize with Jephthah, what he did was wrong. The sympathetic circumstances included these: This land that Jephthah lived on, historically was a place where great evils and abominations were done. We already said earlier on, because of the evils done, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God directly (not through destruction by wars, etc).

Judges 10:6 listed for us, so many gods being worshipped in the midst of the Israelites. Jephthah was living in such a place and such a time. Furthermore, he came from a broken family setting, his mother was a prostitute; his half-brothers disliked him and drove him away. He got into gang-hood and acquired followers. Some of the pagan worship practices involved human sacrifices, including burnt offering of children. The gods, Chemosh, referred to in verse 24 and Moloch/Molech/Milcom were the gods of the Moabites and Ammonites, although verse 24 was said to have implied that Ammonites also worshipped Chemosh (god of Moabites). Some even regarded them as the same god, which could have been, but by the time of King Solomon’s reign, evolved to be worshipped as separate deities, for in the fall of Solomon in this regard, built separate altars for the 2 gods (1 Kings 11:7). This was not unusual as the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites were half-brothers, fathered by Lot with his own 2 daughters, they all stayed at the same land. The point is the worship of Molech/Moloch/Milcom involved l’molech – the passing of children through fire as an offering to the god, and this was specifically forbidden by the Lord (Lev 18:21, 20:2-5). In a separate account, in the subsequent period of time (but I mention it here, as a proof of practice), a Moab King, when was desperately fending off the Israelites, sacrificed his son (his heir) at the city walls.

Jephthah was desperate to win, and in his desperation he made a vow that he shouldn’t have; he probably got influenced by pagan practices, and did not have enough proper guidance from his family concerning things of the Lord. God chose him nevertheless, this we must accept.

The things against him were these: He knew what he was vowing. Firstly, he obviously knew that a person was most likely to come out of the house to meet him, not an animal, a sheep, for example. Secondly, he was referring to a burnt offering sacrifice. Come on, since when did domestic house roaming animals were being used as sacrifices to the Lord. Animals used for sacrifices were good unblemished animals {Comparatively, see what Gideon, also a Manasseh warrior, did, in Judges 6:17-24, my article – Judges series – Judges 6 (on Gideon being called) }.

Jephthah knew every well, the “whatever” was going to a person. That he was not thinking that it was abominable to the Lord to offer a burnt human sacrifice was unacceptable. I do not want to go at length, into how come the Lord did not censure him, or how he managed to make the sacrifice, in view of Lev 20:2-5; maybe he did it secretly, like his original vow which was perhaps given privately. We have to accept that he was used by the Lord for the purpose of fighting off the Ammonites despite hearing his vow. But we know that the prohibition clearly spelled out in Leviticus still stood then, even in the subsequent period (King Josiah torn down the high places built by King Solomon for Chemosh and Molech {2Kings 23:13, 23:10}), yet the Lord allowed this man to win the war. What this reminds me is that when an isolated supernatural good thing is done by a man, it does not mean the man is one whom God is pleased with. There can be hundred and one reasons why God has a certain thing done, supernaturally, and the reason(s) got nothing to do with the man used. The man could just be an instrument to achieve the purpose(s) God wanted to achieve. It can be just a case of “it so happens God uses the man”. It is the repeated use of the man by God that would show something. Don’t go bowled-over each time you see a man performs a supernatural act. Find out whether or not there is consistency for that man. If there is, he is probably a “man of God”, otherwise he could just happen to be at the right place at the right time.

For this article, I would not separately spell out what we could learn from it. The extended commentary of mine above, amply explained the points that I believe, we should learn.]

Anthony Chia – Children sacrifices turns the hearts of fathers against their children and the hearts of the children against their fathers; and was and is detestable by God. Also, know that our God is a big God; He does not need to deprive one so that He can bless another. By all means, pray for God to bless another, but do not pray the shifting of your own blessings to another.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Durian or papaya?

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (Rev 2:4-5)

Many of us may be rather old in our faith, but not necessarily more mature. Do we still bother with listening to, or reading the Word of God? Perhaps, you still go to church services and listen to sermons being preached by your pastors, but do you do that just as a matter of habit? Yes, going to church, to many of us, sometimes, has become so habitual, that we just go to church at the specified time; the reason being that, that is the thing to do for that time slot of the week. I am not saying that it is not the thing to do, going to church services without fail, week in, week out, but are we doing it as a matter of first love, which is the correct attitude exhorted by Jesus, through John, in the Book of Revelation, when He addressed one of the 7 churches in the province of Asia?

For the Ephesians church, Jesus said He had this against them, that they had lost touch with their first love, and no longer did the things they first did. But, you will protest, you probably think in your heart that you have been, and are still doing the things you used to do when you first knew Jesus, your love; you have been and still going to church services. Or in the first place, you might have asked what does Jesus’ words, against the old church, got to do with present day believers? Or, Wasn't the Book of Revelation about the End Time, why did Jesus talk about these 7 churches, in the first place? Isn’t it true that often, in letter writing or communication, what we write or talk about at the front part, after pleasantry, is important stuff; sometimes, even the most important, because it make sense to deal with important stuff first, before we move on, to more peripheral things? What does this indicate to us the importance of the messages Jesus left us with, in this front part of the Book of Revelation?

In the first place, the 7 churches that Jesus addressed were real churches that existed during John’s time. They were in modern day Turkey. The Patmos Island, on which, John received the revelation is still there, sitting in the Aegean Sea, and it is part of the islands of Greece. The churches no longer exist, but I believe Jesus had seen what had been happening to the churches, and He knew the tendencies of believers and the challenges of the churches. These tendencies and challenges would likely to be the same ones that we or the future generations of believers, would face. The Satan then and the Satan now and tomorrow, was, is and will be the same old Satan, the same old tricks, disguised in different shapes and forms. Man, in general, has also been the same. No wonder, the wise Solomon, said in Ecclesiastes (Eccl 1:9) that nothing is new under the sun. Jesus’ intention, I believe, then was to have these warnings, and encouragements, recorded for us, to take note, to walk in, in the faith, whether or not we live to see the End Time. Jesus merely used the 7 churches as illustrations, so that John would receive understanding by Jesus’ choice of examples. Jesus, even in His earthly ministry of some 3 years, liked to use everyday situations to teach or warn people. The Book of Revelation, therefore, minimally, should be looked at in 2 parts, the messages to the seven churches, and the visions of End Time. The former is relevant; in fact, a must for believers to understand well, take to heart, and walk in, and churches should preach them like they would preach the other so-called more relevant texts of the New Testament. This I believe is the correct frame of mind that we should have, when we look at “part 1” of the Book of Revelation.

Back to going to church services; yes, we still go to church but do we really do the first things we did. What do we do when we first fell in love with Jesus in respect to church services? Did you not try to be punctual? How did you worship then? How did you sing then? I remember when I was baptized “donkey years” ago, I worshiped like there was no tomorrow, and I still can visualize that I was, perhaps, wearing a red T-shirt, waving my hands, and clapping them, most joyously; and some foreign visitors were there, and they were filming away with their video camera, it was a sight they had to capture on seeing the passion and excitement of brothers and sisters who had just publicly declared that they would follow Jesus. How do you worship today? Are you just mouthing the words of the songs just because it is the polite thing to do? Or are you thinking about the embarrassment of being seen to be just there and not singing? Or you only sing when it comes to a song you like? Or do you catch yourselves wondering when this singing part will end, because you just want to move on? Do you still embrace your singing of praises and worship as living sacrifices unto the Lord?

The other most important part of the church liturgy is of course, the sermons. Do you still feed on the Word of God passionately? Or at least try to? I suspect many of us, not only do not feast on the Word of God; we do not even try to. If a very important person, maybe your company CEO, the city mayor, or even your Senior Pastor, invites you to a meal, you will at least try to be enthusiastic about the food laid before you, and eat some, regardless the kind of food he provided or ordered, spicy, “sourish”, plain, Malay, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, or even fast-food. Jesus looks on at each weekend service, and what does he see? Are you one of those who are in the category guilty of taking for granted the food Jesus provides?

If your spouse made you curry chicken, appreciate it and eat it. Afterwards, say, “Thank you, dear.” Just like you will not be bothered with who the chef behind the dishes, because your focus should be on the VIP in the example above, you are to focus on Jesus or God, not the speaker. It is the same, when your lover buys some beautiful roses and has it sent over to you, your focus should be on your lover because he or she is your love. Who will think about the gardener? Who will think about whether or not the gardener is a pretty woman or a handsome man before he or she will have the flowers. Or do you not want to accept the roses just because it was delivered by a crappy old man?

How do you listen now, compared with how you did so, when you were first in love with the Lord? Do you let the Word of God goes in, by one ear, and goes out the other? So many of us, no longer make any effort to retain any of the Word of God heard over the pulpit; the moment we leave the door of the sanctuary, we also seem to have let the Word of God out of the door of our heart. This is surely, not the thing we did at first.

We should regularly meditate on the Lord’s chastisement given to the Ephesians brethrens; that we are not to forsake our first love for the Lord, and omit to do the things we first did. The things we first did must be taken to include the attitude thereof. The next illustration is plain enough, not easy to do, but we are still told to do it; what more when it comes to the Lord: When we are in love, before marriage, when we meet to have a meal with “the him” or “the her”, we treat such occasions as a date; but after marriage, the connotation of a date completely disappeared for many of us. Many of us, do not even, occasionally, treat such occasions as a date, not to mention, every meeting-up and meal. This is a bad tendency we have, and was the first kind of issues Jesus addressed in His message to the churches in the Book of Revelation. We still meet, we still have a meal, but the attitude, and heart condition of first love we have not, or had forsaken. With the Lord, we should also not just say, we did this, we did that, but we have to ask ourselves the attitude and the heart condition when we did those things. It is both the omission of the things done, as well as the incorrect attitude and heart condition with which we did things, that we must bear in mind.

It is more important that we do what pleases the Lord than what we think will please the Lord. Let us say, for example, your “the him” or “the her” loved to eat durians, and you did not originally quite fancy that King of fruits. But you, through eating and eating with him/her, have come to acquire the taste and love for the powerfully smelling fruit. If for some strange reason, and it happens, your partner no longer likes to eat durians, but you continue to buy the fruit and want him/her to eat with you, he/she will not be pleased, although you think he/she will be. Strangely, or not so strangely, he/she now likes to eat papaya. What do you do? Go, eat papaya with him/her because that is what he/she likes you to do with him/her. Don’t just because, now that you have grown accustomed to eating durians that you should continue to dictate that the first love thing to do, is to feast on durians. You will be surprised he/she will say to you, “If you love me like you first loved me, eat papaya with me!”

Anthony Chia - Lord, I should not just look at not forsaking my first love for you but also see to it that my love for you will grow more and more. Lord, encourage me in my love for you.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Judges series - Judges 10

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

[Preface: Judges 10 covered a period after Abimelech, who previously had got himself installed as King by the citizens of Shechem. Although he operated from his father’s hometown, Ophrah, he was not really recognized as a legitimate King of the Israelites. The King’s period of the Jews did not start until King Saul was made the first King. After Abimelech, 2 judges were recorded here in Chapter 10, before another judge called Jephthah was raised. This Jephthah, we will read in details, in 2 subsequent chapters. Right now, very briefly, 2 judges would be mentioned, and the rest are the background about Israelites’ going back to the evil ways of forsaking the Lord, and serving other pagans gods; so much so that, God was very angry and He gave the Israelites over to her enemies, before He finally raised up Jephthah.]


1 After the time of Abimelech a man of Issachar, Tola son of Puah, the son of Dodo, rose to save Israel. He lived in Shamir, in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 He led Israel twenty-three years; then he died, and was buried in Shamir. [After Abimelech, Tola, raised as a judge, was from the tribe of Issachar, one of the 12 tribes of Israel. He led Israel for 23 years before he died.]


3 He was followed by Jair of Gilead, who led Israel twenty-two years. 4 He had thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys. They controlled thirty towns in Gilead, which to this day are called Havvoth Jair. 5 When Jair died, he was buried in Kamon. [Gilead is part of the vast land before the crossing of the Jordan river into the Promised Land. From Numbers 32, 3 of the 12 tribes of Israel could have settled here. The 3 were Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Drawing inference from Numbers 32:41, it was likely that Jair was a Manasseh, probably an old name got “resurrected” again by descendants of Manasseh. He led for 22 years.]
6 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, 7 he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, 8 who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. 9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great distress. 10 Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, "We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals." [The classic, history repeated itself scenario with the Israelites of the “Judges” period. Only thing was that it must be very evil, that it was put in full writing in Bible recordings. The more the Israelites forsook God, the more God got displeased, the more He was likely to take away his hands of protection/blessing on the people. It was disastrous to live without the hands of protection/blessing of God. We read here, a number of the 12 Israel tribes were attacked by the enemies. As usual, in desperation, the Israelites cried out to God, telling God that they had sinned, and had forsaken God and had served Baals.]
11 The LORD replied, "When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12 the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!" [This time God was really upset and reminded the Israelites that He had been doing the same, saving them, only to have the Israelites times and times again, turned to pagan gods, and forsook the Lord. God literally said, “Why don’t you go and ask those pagan gods to save you since you have chosen them over me.”]
15 But the Israelites said to the LORD, "We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now." 16 Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel's misery no longer. [The Israelites decided to go into action, got rid of the foreign gods, and began to serve the Lord again. Meanwhile God noted the misery of the Israelites.]
17 When the Ammonites were called to arms and camped in Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah. 18 The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, "Whoever will launch the attack against the Ammonites will be the head of all those living in Gilead." [When the Ammonites wanted to attack Gilead, the people of Gilead, looking for people to counter the Ammonites decided to entice warriors with the Gilead chief position.]

Anthony Chia – Turning away to worship other gods is to God, evil.

For I know that after my death {Moses} you {Israelites} are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made." (Deu 31:29)

But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (Judges 2:19)

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