Thursday, February 9, 2017

BULRUSHES: Bible Plant Series

BULRUSHES: Bible Plant Series
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Read post

It is hard for me to imagine that a simple sheet of paper was, at once, a technological and anthropological breakthrough. Paper and the Bible are inseparable. Its in words written and copied and passed down that we begin to learn of the heart of God and His heart for ‘Adam’s helpless race.’ Let’s take a journey in the biblical history of paper.

 The ancient Egyptians began experimenting with using plant-based materials for more than just medicine, food, and food that their food ate. Bulrushes are water plants commonly found along the Nile River. They are a tall reed that has a fan shape at its highest point. You probably vaguely remember a social studies class that called them papyrus. Papyrus is the name of the plant and (points for originality here) the product made from that plant commonly used as paper. The ancient Egyptians developed a technique of cutting thin strips of stalk, layering them, and pressing out the water. When dry, they would use these sheets of plants to write upon. Up until this point, writing was only done by chiseling symbols on stone. The Egyptians found this advanced technological way to communicate that was far cheaper, more sustainable (because it grew back) and much easier to transport. Even though the process was cheaper, it was still very expensive, so a lot of papyrus was used and reused and used again. Much like we might use newspaper to wrap a present or make papier-mâché volcanoes for a science project due the next day.

In Exodus, we find the story of Moses. It was a dark time for the Hebrew people in Egypt. Pharaoh had decreed that all of the babies were to be drowned to help control the population size. I cannot imagine. Neither could Moses’s mother. She obeyed the decree up to a certain point. She put her baby in the Nile like thousands of other mothers, but she built a boat around him. A basket that floated. The same Hebrew word used for the word “basket or boat” here is the same word used for ark. So Noah and Moses’s mother built an ark.

Exodus 2:3
But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river's bank.

What must it have been like for Moses’s mother to send him floating down the river in a paper boat never to see him again? The scene of him disappearing behind papyrus stalks in the next river bend must have been crushing. Miriam, Moses’s sister, was tasked, most likely self-appointed, with following and keeping him safe. No doubt she was worried about the crocodiles and hippos commonly found in the Nile. He floated past them and right into the viewpoint of an even more dangerous enemy- the daughter of pharaoh, predator of Hebrew babies. Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing with her servants in the Nile when she heard a baby.

Miriam must have been paralyzed in fear and then to hear her say she knew it was a Hebrew baby. Would she have someone drown him right there?

Instead she looked on him lovingly…

 “And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2:6

Miriam saw her chance. She had this moment where she could heal her mother’s broken heart.

 “Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?”
 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother.  Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.” Exodus 2:7-10

Moses grew up as a child to Pharaoh’s daughter. He was taught to read and write. He was probably the most educated Hebrew of his day. It would be through Moses that God would write his commandments. So lets break this down:

Moses was saved by paper (papyrus, bulrushes) He was taught to write on that papyrus unlike hardly any of his Hebrew brothers. God spoke to Moses extensively about His law as evidenced in a whopping 613 commandments! Moses kept record of all of them by writing them on papyrus.

Papyrologists are the people that study papyrus. They study things like the paper structure itself, where it was found, how the letters are formed, and if there is printing on the front and back. Papyrus can refer to two types of presentation- one is in the form of a scroll and the other is in the form of a codex. The scroll was a very long piece of papyrus that was only written on one side and had to be simultaneously scrolled and unscrolled to find certain text.

 It was a very long piece of text that was virtually impossible to read and skip to a new section. Codex was a form of smaller pieces of papyrus bound on one side, written on both sides with an ability to flip back and forth easily. It was one of the greatest revolutions in writing, besides the printing press, and we still use the form of codex in printed books today.

Codex was invented in the time of Jesus. Christianity was an early adopter of the codex, finding it ideal for simultaneously being able to read the words and works of Jesus alongside the letters of Paul, as well as the Old Testament. It allowed the scripture to be indexed and referenced with a Table of Contents. It was popular because it was an innovative way of reading. The Bible was probably spread more in the early days because of the curiosity of “scroll-users” never before having held a codex.

According to Claire Clivas, readers are in an unusual place in modern day by being able to simultaneously harness the power of the unlimited scroll and the organization of a codex. We literally “scroll” through webpages, which if printed on uninterrupted banner paper would rival the longest papyrus scroll at 65 feet. Yet, we can also click links that skip to specific places in the mile long text. 

(You have probably even scrolled down the page to get to this point in reading this blog. Worlds colliding!!)

What I find fascinating is God’s timing. Moses came right when paper was being used more commonly. Jesus came right when the codex was being invented.

Scrolls (with writing on only one side) were used into the 6th century AD. Codex (writing on both sides) became more common in the 3rd century AD, but the church started using it as early as the 1st century AD. In fact, the New Testament text is known for this. Earliest fragments of papyri that are printed on both sides are predominately found to be copies of the New Testament.

The New Testament was one of the first documents that was commonly written on both sides of the page, but it is not the first words to be written on both sides. God, Himself, is the one who engraved the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets:

“And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets.” Exodus 32:15-16

(Some rabbis believe that God carved the commandments all the way through. When Moses held them up the light would have been able to pass through. This is also why when Moses saw the Golden Calf and dropped them they broke so easily. They had holes in them. How symbolic, the Israelites had already broken the covenant before they saw the stone tablet. Broken covenant= broken tablets. Moses interceded for the people and thankfully, God made a 2nd set of tablets and a fresh covenant.)

Moses the vessel in whom God poured His law to save the children of Israel was saved on/by paper (papyrus, bulrsuhes). Jesus, the vessel on whom God poured His grace to save the world, was distributed on/by paper. We have been saved by this distribution. We have been saved by paper.

So the New Testament was being copied in the most advanced technology of the day. So keep tweeting your scriptures! God is not afraid of the development of technology.  I believe He is willing to use anything as long as one more heart might be reached. I never want to limit Him to what I know, what I have been taught (or really what I am comfortable with). He blows my boundaries out of the water in simply being who He is. His ways are higher.

The ark of Noah was built around those whom it would save and deliver. The ark of Moses was built by his mother to save the one whom would deliver the Israelites from the oppression of Pharoah.  The ark of the covenant was built around the tablets carved by the finger of God that established His everlasting covenant basically saying, “I will be Your God, if you will be my people.” And Jesus, well… He got out of the boat and walked on the water and says “Come”.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

BRIER: Bible Plant Series

BRIER: Bible Plant Series
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Read post

Many have heard the tale of Gideon and his army of 300. Gideon believed God was so specific in choosing the 300, the ones that cut down the armies of Midian from 135,000 to 15,000, that he believed they were to complete the task of wiping this enemy off the face of the earth. You see, at some point, when it was obvious the Midianites were going to lose, their two kings fled home with 15,000 men. Gideon desiring Israel to be free from her enemies decided to pursue them and finish the job.

What does this have to do with briers you ask? 

Well, after the wildly creative first battle, the men lay down their hammers and torches and picked up swords. They started the chase. There was only one problem, they were exhausted and hungry. 

The scripture explodes with this small phrase:
And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them.

Faint, yet pursuing

I loved what Matthew Henry said here:
They were faint, and yet pursuing, much fatigued with what they had done, and yet eager to do more against the enemies of their country. Our spiritual warfare must thus be prosecuted with what strength we have, though we have but little; it is many a time the true Christian’s case, fainting and yet pursuing. 

Continuing our story, the 300 were faint. Gideon stopped in the city of Succoth, one of the cities they were trying to save from the Midianites, and humbly asked for bread for he and his men.  Men of the city ridiculed Gideon and basically called him a liar and a weenie. 

Judges 8:6-7

And the leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna (the kings of Midian) now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?”
So Gideon said, “For this cause, when the Lord has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers!”

Gideon looked at them and paraphrasing here: "I don't have time to deal with you right now, but when I come back with proof, as in two kings, I'm gonna whip you!"

God shows us the heart of the Father here. He gives the men a warning and then time to repent. If they had changed their attitude, and sent bread to the army, Gideon would have forgiven them, but alas... 

Maybe the men of Succoth thought Gideon said "Breyers" the ice cream not "briers" the thorny whipping bush. 

Gideon kept his promise. After defeating the two kings and the 15,000-man army, he turned back toward the city of Succoth. Along the way he and his men caught & interrogated a young man of the city that gave the names of every leader and where they lived. Whoa! Gideon, does not mess around!

Gideon gathers the leaders and presents the two kings to them. The ones they said he couldn't defeat. He kept that half of the promise and he kept the second half as well. The Bible says that he "taught" them. 

Judges 8:16
And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth.

Many sources believe, the men of the city were not whipped with the briers.... they were rolled in them. Ouch!

It seems that the difference between thorns and briers is the thorns are more spaced out and individual spines. Briers are dense spiky clusters. Think of the purplish thistles we see here in North American fields.

Israeli briers are no joke. Its scientific name is Echinops viscosus. Even its common name sounds grumpy: Viscous globe-thistle. I think it sounds like an medieval put down: "you, villainous viscous globe-thistle!!!"

They look like plants that may have inspired some of the illustrations of Dr. Seuss. 

The are characterized by the spiky blue globe flower head set atop of a tall spiny stalk, but on top of all that they are sticky. So these sharp things are sticky. Briers that do not just brush off, you have to be intentional in getting rid of them. Exhausting! 

I think most times we find ourselves in the camp of the 300: fainting, yet pursuing. But there are those unfortunate times where our snotty responses escape. If we would take the time, we could spare ourselves a vicious beating if we would forgive and make amends immediately. Make your words sweet or you may have to roll in them.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

BARLEY: Bible Plant Series

BARLEY: Bible Plant Series
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Read post

Barley was one of the earliest domesticated crops in the world. Making it one of the most prevalent because it is still used today. It has and always can be found in soups and in breads, but throughout the ages barley has had some very interesting occupations. It was food for people and animals, it was even exchanged as currency, but today we're going to talk about a lesser known use of barley: measurement.

In ancient times, the length of a kernel of barley was used as a standardized measurement. "Cut me four barley lengths of string!" One barley kernel equated to about 1/3 of an inch. In fact, this was carried over into the middle ages in Ireland and Britain. The "barleycorn" was used as a standardized measurement for shoe sizes. Some still use it today! 

Barley was also used to measure dates. The Jewish calendar is based around harvests. Barley was the first crop to ripen. Wheat usually followed 2 to 4 weeks afterward. 

So barley measured length and time, but let's get to the scriptural application.

There is no greater book in the Bible that gives tribute to barley than the book of Ruth. Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Naomi's hometown just in time for the barley harvest. I love how this book testifies to the glory that is God's timing. It just so happens that one of Naomi's relatives, Boaz, owned a barley field. It set into motion almost to perfection the law of the concept of kinsman redeemer. It was believed in Jewish culture that if the lineage of a man's name were to be wiped out due to his death without a child that the closest living relative would redeem his name by marrying the widow. Naomi knew of all of this, but almost didn't dare to hope. She knew her relative would be kind to her. But as you read the story, you see his generosity exceeded what was required of him. When Naomi noticed the favor he showed Ruth, she instructed her in precise steps to secure a future for them both. 

Ruth did everything Naomi asked of her. I love Boaz's response at finding Ruth at his feet. Even though he had been the one that was too generous letting her glean, he says to her that she is the too generous one that would look upon him as a companion. Beautiful! 

He is so pleasantly surprised, but then he remembers there is one relative that is closer. He must see what his response is first. He tells Ruth to wait there. So she lays back down at his feet. Do you think he slept that night? 

In the morning, he is about to send Ruth back to Naomi when asked her to bring her shawl over. He filled it with 6 ephahs of barley.

There is some debate of how much this was. If you go by the standard weight of an ephah, Boaz would have laid 200lbs of barley on Ruth. There's no way girlfriend could have lugged that back to town on her own. It is much more likely that it was 50lbs of barley which is still quite the load, but manageable. 

You have to love Naomi's response:

"When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Is that you, my daughter?”
Then she told her all that the man had done for her. And she said, “These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, ‘Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ”
Then she said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.” Ruth 3:16-18

I would like to present to you that not only was barley used to measure length and time, but also affection.

You can almost hear Naomi laughing out loud while she says, "the man will not rest" till he knows if you are to be his.

The size of the gift that Boaz bestowed upon Ruth made it obvious to Naomi that if it was within his power Boaz was going to redeem Ruth and Naomi. Their lives might even change by the end of the day. Proving, I feel, that love can be measured in barley as well.

God, Himself, even prescribed the giving of barley as a sign of affection. In Leviticus Chapter 2, great detail is given to the definition of the Grain Offering. This was quite different from the animal sacrifice to cover sin.  First off, burnt sacrifice was totally consumed by the fire, the grain offering was only partially given to the flame. The rest was for the priests to feed their families. Typically made of wheat or barley, the offering could be the grain itself or in little unleavened cakes. This was an offering of thanksgiving for God's mercy and His provision. The purpose of the grain offering was not atonement, but worship.

How lovely that Boaz's gift was one of worship/adoration!

Fast forward to a certain scene in Galilee. A whole lot of people forgot their lunch except for one little guy. This boy hands his whole meal over to the disciples. Is he really the only one who planned ahead? Little boys are tactical when it comes to knowing how long they will be out playing and how this usually needs to involve a snack. The stomach speaks! But he lovingly gave his barley loaves and fish to Jesus. His grain offering. His act of worship. And here Jesus, God in man, returned to the people a blessed multiplied offering of worship, adoration and provision.

This brings me to my final point. It would not surprise me if many in the crowd that knew of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 might wonder, "if Jesus is in charge, will we have to work for food?" This would drastically change the economy of the world. Free food? At least twice more in the scripture, barley is also used to measure the state of the economy.

First, there is this crazy story in 2 Kings 7:1: 

Then Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord: ‘Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’ ”

You see, the city was under siege by the Syrians. Prices on food had gone way way up! People thought they were going to die. The Lord told Elisha things were about to change. 

Sure enough, two lepers decided they were probably going to die either way so they went to the Syrian camp. It was empty. What!? The Syrians got spooked and left everything. Everything! So the city plundered the encampment and prices changed over night! The economy was measured in the price of barley. 

In Revelation, we see a similar prediction of the earth's economy:

When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” Revelation 6:5-6

Matthew Henry's commentary suggests that the famine will not only be of literal bread, but of spiritual bread. 

"But He (Jesus) answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4

Barley! You are jam packed! We find barley to measure length, time, love, worship & the state of the economy. I can barley take it all in!! 

Monday, January 16, 2017

BALM: Bible Plant Series

BALM: Bible Plant Series
Monday, January 16, 2017
Read post

I was fascinated to find balm on the list of plants. I had always assumed that it simply meant salve or lotion, but, no, there is a plant that it is referring to. And to be perfectly honest, several plants have fallen under this name, but I am trying to get to the one that is actually mentioned in the story of Joseph. We are all familiar with Jacob’s favorite son and how the other brothers had had enough! They threw Joseph in a pit and were deciding how to kill him, but in the meantime:

“…they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. 26 So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.”

So the traders were bringing balm… from where? Gilead. (…sound familiar?) As far as I can tell, Gilead is always describing the same region. It is describing the area on both sides of the Jordan River extending above the Sea of Galilee then to the Southern most point of the Dead Sea.   Looking at the current map, this includes parts of Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. How true are the words of Jeremiah:

“Is there no balm in Gilead,
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no recovery
For the health of the daughter of my people?” Jeremiah 8:22

 I grew up hearing my mother sing “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead that can heal the sin-sick soul. ” Of course, little ears hear and interpret… Wait? There is a bomb?! In Gilead!? No! We have to warn Gilead! Who and what is Gilead!  And how does a bomb heal?

Just to be clear we are talking about the word balm not bomb. But it is a little eerie.

The song “There is a Balm in Gilead” is a traditional United States African American Spiritual. There are parts of the song that have ‘wandering verses’ that you can sometimes find in other songs. Basically mashups or medleys used in revival services.

No matter what version of the song, the truth of them all is that we have found a balm in Gilead and His name is Jesus! Traditional balm was used for cuts, burns and arthritis but we have a balm that not only heals us on the outside, He has made a way to cleanse and forgive us on the inside. That is what makes us whole!

Joseph’s story is often referred to as a messianic one. The comparison of Joseph’s story to the story of Jesus is startling. Here are men favored of the Father. Sold for 20 (or 30) pieces of silver. One was thought to be dead, one actually was. But they both came back from the dead and delivered their people from destruction. Joseph’s legacy lasted for only a couple of hundred years. Jesus’s will last forever.

When Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites, he became another product on their shelves. Imagine their little store front shelf: a container of myrrh, a jar of the balm from Gilead… oh, and this scrawny guy with no clothes sitting there hugging his knees on the shelf. That coat of many colors was torn to shreds. It represented the favor of the Father. It is a tale as old as time that people want to shred the favor of God resting on you. But you know what? Joseph became a balm to the people of Gilead when they had to leave to Gilead and live under Joseph’s protection in Egypt. And then Jesus, he laid down his life, and became the balm from Gilead to the whole world.

Are you willing to lay down your life and allow God to use you as a balm?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

ANISE: Bible Plants Series

ANISE: Bible Plants Series
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Read post

Anise plays an unusual part in the Scripture. Most often in modern times we see its familiar star shape in potpourris because it adds visual interest, but in Biblical times anise was used to treat indigestion and other internal needs. The Romans would make cakes with anise in them for the end of a gluttonous feast to reduce the consequences of taking in a lot of rich food.

One of the most surprising uses for anise, of which our scripture reference alludes to, is that it was used as currency. People would pay in anise for goods and services rendered. My loving husband chimed in here: “Aha! Money does grow on trees!” Well, it did in Jesus’s day and He had something to say about it.

Jesus speaks of anise smack dab in the middle of his accusation and sentencing of the Pharisees. You remember the “Woe to the scribes and Pharisees” part of Matthew 23, well lets look at verse 23:
  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23)

They paid their tithes with anise! That’s bananas! Well, it’s actually anise! That’s anise!

Why would this be something that Jesus commented on? It’s pretty specific.

Matthew Henry elaborates in his commentary that Jesus was saying that the Pharisees paid their normal tithe, but on top of it they paid with these herbs and seeds. It wasn’t that they did this that bothered Jesus, it was their motive behind it. They did it to be seen. They did it to show off. “Look we tithe of everything we have even our plants tithe.” They did it to influence the priests and defraud the congregation. Why was it fraud? Because it basically cost them nothing to pluck it from their gardens and deposit it at the Temple.

When King David faced a similar dilemma in 1 Chronicles 21:24, we see him basically saying I will not offer God anything that costs me nothing.

Jesus wanted the scribes and Pharisees to continue keeping the law, but he did not want them to forsake the things that were most important to God. Like, “justice and mercy and faith.” The entire letter of the law is important to God, but some parts are weightier than others. These are the parts that deal with our internal beliefs, our self-denial, and our posture before God.

The Pharisees were walking by people that were hurting and hungry everyday to deliver their tithes. Then they were condemning the people for not following the law like they did. Jesus always called out the hypocrites.

Jesus referred to the “weightier matters of the law” from Micah 6:8:

“He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”

To obey is better than sacrifice. Mercy is also preferred before sacrifice.

“God will be honored in His truths as well as His laws.” – Matthew Henry

I want to examine my own heart and life and ask, “Have any of my ‘sacrifices’, my offerings to God, become anise? Are there things that I am offering that cost me nothing but I am using them to get me out of a true sacrifice? Have you any anise?