It is only on rare occasions in the history of Israel that its monarchy was not a debacle. Certainly the initial period was less than ideal: although Saul was physically impressive (he was tall and handsome) and capable as a military leader, he ignored God, disobeyed his commands, and ended up being an unmitigated disaster as the leader of God’s people. (more…)
The people of Israel in the first century had been living under foreign occupation for over 500 years. The glory days of King David and Solomon had long since passed, and they were longing for a better time. They had every reason to expect a better day would arrive, for the great prophet Isaiah predicted a time of grace when the Spirit-anointed Messiah would come, bringing freedom to his people: (more…)
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (more…)
Are Christians free from the law? This age-old question has often been answered in two wrong ways. The error on one side is often described as ‘legalism’—the idea that Christians are bound by some or even most of the Old Testament law. This might mean that Saturday should be our Sabbath (on which no work is done), or that circumcision or other Old-Testament-style rituals are necessary to salvation, or that certain foods or forms of clothing are out for Christians. (more…)
For most of us, our names have particular significance and meaning, but aren’t all that descriptive. For example, my namesake is the prophet Samuel of the Old Testament, but my parents didn’t call me Sam because of any special divine intervention. My daughter is named after one of our very good friends, but we’re actually not 100% sure what her name means—to us, it’s just her name. (more…)
One of my favourite classes at university was medical ethics. As is often the case, it was because of the lecturer. He would introduce us to a medical case that raised an ethical issue (e.g. euthanasia), and he would ask us: “What would you have done? Why?” Then he would argue with us. He would debunk our arguments and destabilize our presuppositions, and he always seemed to win in the end. At one level, the experience was satisfying. He wanted us to become thoughtful clinicians who could appreciate the complexity of medical ethics. But at another level, it was dissatisfying. There was no anchor for our ethics. We were cast adrift upon a sea of endless questioning. (more…)
“For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.”
I must have been around 11 years old when one of the rabbis at the synagogue I attended taught us something I previously had been unaware of. He told us that being forgiven by God was very important. He was quite serious: 20 years later I still remember his sombre tone as he exhorted us to make amends for any wrongs we might have on our conscience. (more…)
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
As I write this, I have just returned from visiting an elderly member of my congregation in hospital. She was doing okay, but she’s not getting any younger, nor getting any healthier. In fact, she is preparing not just for death but also for suffering. However, these are preparations she feels confident to make because (as she pointed out to me) Jesus, time and time again, warns his disciples of the persecution and suffering that is likely to accompany their confession of him. The apostles continue that theme—in word and deed!—and Peter, in his first letter, gives it great and careful attention. (more…)
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
In one of the most spectacular examples of passing the buck in the history of humanity, Aaron explained Israel’s sinfulness in worshipping a golden calf just a month after making a covenant with God like this:
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king… ”
At first glance the beginning of Matthew’s biography of Jesus doesn’t exactly set the heart racing—but that is true of all genealogies when you don’t recognize the names. I know a little bit about my family tree, and for the most part it is deadly boring. But it’s much more interesting if you know, for example, that my great grand-uncle was Gregory Blaxland, one of the first Europeans to cross the Great Dividing Range west of Sydney. (more…)
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
Many moments that change the world are self-evidently important because of their very scale, uniqueness, or impact: the moon landing; the 9/11 attacks; Nelson Mandela’s release; the dropping of atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Genesis 12 recounts for us a life-altering, world-changing, history-shaping moment, but if you were there at the time you’d be forgiven for missing it. Quietly, God made a promise to Abram. If you were with Abram at the time, near Ur of Mesopotamia, this promise might not have seemed like much, yet it underlies and shapes the plot of the whole Bible—the story of God’s people—from here on. (more…)
It’s an uphill battle for anyone in Mark’s Gospel to see Jesus for who he is. Although Mark tells us in his first line who Jesus is: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, prophets point to his coming (Mark 1:2-3; 7-8), God calls him “my beloved Son” (1:11), and even demons recognize “the Holy One of God” (1:24)—the people watching ask, “What is this?” (1:27). (more…)
The story of Solomon is a literary tragedy worthy of the greatest of poets. As the son of David he comes to the throne of Israel in fulfilment of the promise of Yahweh to his father: that he would never lack one of his offspring to rule the kingdom of Israel (2 Sam 7:12, cf. 1 Kgs 3:6). Shortly after he consolidates the kingdom, Yahweh appears to him in a dream and offers him whatever he desires (1 Kgs 3:4-15), and Solomon requests an “understanding mind” so that he might rule rightly, and discern between good and evil (3:9). (more…)
The word ‘Torah’ (which is what the Jews call the first five books of the Bible) means ‘instruction, regulation or law’. It occurs throughout key passages in Leviticus (e.g. Lev 6:14, 25; 7:1, 7, 11, 37). Leviticus follows Exodus 40, where Moses sets up the tabernacle according to God’s instructions (Exod 24:15-25:9ff). The book is set when the Israelites are camped at Mount Sinai on their way to the Promised Land.
The opening verse of Micah indicates the prophet’s origin (“of Moresheth”), time of prophesying (during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah—about 750-700 BC) as well as the object of his prophecy: the people of Samaria (northern Israel) and Jerusalem (the capital of Judah in southern Israel). Less obviously, it also presents us with Micah’s main theme: his name means “Who is like Yahweh?”, a question that is paraphrased in 7:18: “Who is a God like you?”. While there are many great themes in Micah, such as judgement, hope and justice, the main theme is that Yahweh, Israel’s covenant God, is Lord.