Thursday, December 04, 2014

 

Just add water? New Scientist article supports Rare Earth hypothesis


An article in the 1st November 2014 edition of New Scientist entitled 'Just add water?' bears the introduction: 'Many worlds harbour oceans - but that alone won't make them as life-friendly as Earth, say planetary scientists Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams.' In the article itself Zalasiewicz and Williams state: 'The more we learn about how Earth acquired and retained its water, the more it seems the situation was incredibly fortuitous. And as we discover how water is stored elsewhere in our solar system, our planet is starting to seem like an outlier. Even in a water-filled cosmos, Earth might still be one of a kind amid water worlds far weirder - and more hostile to life - than our own.' The article also states that 'its already clear that our solar system is not standard' and that 'all the indications are that Earth's long-lived, stable surface oceans are the exception, rather than the rule.' Zalasiewicz and Williams think this makes Earth a 'lucky cosmic jewel', but they don't even consider the competing explanatory hypothesis provided by intelligent design.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

 

Noah's Flood


Genesis 6-9 tells the story of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood. While some Christians interpret the text to mean that the flood covered the whole globe and try to explain the evidence of rocks and fossils in terms of this global flood, others don’t think the text requires a global flood, but one covering the region known to Noah. This reading of the text fits with the majority scientific opinion that ‘The scientific and historical evidence does not support a global flood, but is consistent with a catastrophic regional flood.’[i]



Christian writer Timothy Keller says:

‘I believe Noah’s flood happened, but that it was a regional flood, not a worldwide flood. On the one hand, those who insist on it being a worldwide flood seem to ignore too much the scientific evidence that there was no such thing. On the other hand, those who insist that it was a legend seem to ignore too much the trustworthiness of the Scripture… we should remember that the Bible often speaks of the “known world” as the “whole world” — compare Gen. 41:56,57; Acts 2:5,9-11; Col.1:23.’[ii]






While flood stories abound in ancient cultures from many parts of the world, this doesn’t prove that there was a global flood. Instead, different parts of the world may have suffered floods at various times in ancient history and may have recorded these events, or based stories upon them, from within the perspective of their own religious worldview.

The ancient Greeks and Romans had a story about Deucalion and Pyhrra, who saved their children and some animals in a giant box-shaped craft (such a craft would have been unstable in water; this contrasts with Noah’s ‘floating boxcar’, which would have been stable).

The recently discovered Babylonian ‘Ark Tablet’ was written during the Old Babylonian period, broadly 1900–1700 B.C. In this version a man called Atra-hasıs is instructed by the god Enki to ‘Draw out the boat that you will make on a circular plan.’ Atra-hasis’ Ark is effectively a 230 ft wide reed coracle. However, just as in the Noah story, so in this Babylonian version, the animals are said to enter the Ark ‘two by two’.[iii]

A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review highlights the existence of several different Babylonian accounts of the flood story:

‘In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the god Enki tasks Utnapishtim to save the world from the flood… Later discoveries revealed that the account was an abridged and modified version of the Akkadian Atrahasis epic, a similar flood myth that was copied and adapted for centuries in the ancient Near East…’[iv]

According to archaeologist James F. Hoffmeier:

‘Given the fact that there were several different traditions from Mesopotamia, and that they have so many points in common with the Biblical story, it might be logical to conclude that all the stories recall a common event that was retold to reflect different social, cultural and theological contexts.’[v]


Noah’s story is related in ‘phenomenological’ terms, that is, from the limited viewpoint of the human observer. Roger Forster and Paul Marston note that: ‘to translate “the whole eretz” as “the whole earth” is really misleading to the modern reader, for we think of “earth” in terms of a “Globe”. To translate it “the whole land”, would much better convey the kind of concept in the mind of the writer – and often it does not even imply the whole of the then known world.’[vi] Moreover: ‘the term tebel, which translates to the whole expanse of the Earth, or the Earth as a whole, is not used in Genesis 6:17, nor in subsequent verses in Genesis… If the intent of this passage was to indicate the entire expanse of the Earth, tebel would have been the more appropriate word choice.’[vii] Indeed: ‘Although the geological record contains ample evidence of widespread, devestating local flooding, most geologists claim to see no evidence of a universal flood.’[viii] As Davies A. Young asks:

‘Given the frequency with which the Bible uses universal language to describe local events of great significance, such as the famine or the plagues in Egypt, is it unreasonable to suppose that the flood account uses hyperbolic language to describe an event that devastated or disrupted Mesopotamian civilization — that is to say, the whole world of the Semites?’[ix]







Davies A. Young concludes that ‘there may very well have been a catastrophic deluge in the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys that severely disrupted the civilization of that area — a civilization that represented the world to the biblical writer — and it may be that this is what the biblical story is all about.’[x]

Noah’s ark has not been found (no wooden structure would survive so long unless buried in glacial ice). Forster and Marston comment: ‘As for the various claims that the ark has been “found” on some or the other mountain… we remain very sceptical. Some are manifestly natural outcrops, others are not the shape described in Genesis, and none is convincing.’[xi] 

cf. Noah’s Ark Search @ www.noahsarksearch.com/

On the basis that a biblical ‘cubit’ was probably about 18 inches, Noah’s Ark is described as being around 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Dutch carpenter Johan Huibers spent three years building what he thinks is a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark:



Michael Lahanas discusses some examples of giant ancient wooden ships in his article, ‘Giant Hellenistic Warships’ www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/GiantShips.htm

A recent article in The Telegraph (April 3rd, 2014) reported that scientists at the University of Leicester:


'have discovered that Noah's Ark could have carried 70,000 animals without sinking if built from the dimensions listed in the Bible. A group of master's students from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Leicester University studied the exact dimensions of the Ark, set out in Genesis 6:13-22. According to the Bible, God instructed Noah to build a boat which was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high... The students averaged out the Egyptian and hebrew cubit measurement to come up with 48.2 cm, making the Ark around 144 meters long... Using the dimensions, the Archimedes principle of bouyancy and approximate animal weights they were astonished to find out that the Ark would have floated.' cf. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10740451/Noahs-Ark-would-have-floated...even-with-70000-animals.html

That said, the ancient use of numbers in the Old Testament is often more symbolic/numerological than literal, and this may be the case with the dimensions of the Ark.


Recommended Resources

Noah Weiner, ‘The Animals Went in Two by Two, According to Babylonian Ark Tablet’ www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/hebrew-bible/the-animals-went-in-two-by-two-according-to-babylonian-ark-tablet/
Lorence G. Collins, ‘Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth’ http://ncse.com/rncse/29/5/yes-noahs-flood-may-have-happened-not-over-whole-earth
Answers in Genesis (global flood advocates) – Flood FAQ’s www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers#/topic/flood
Answers in Genesis (global flood advocates) – Noah’s Ark FAQ’s www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers/topic/noahs-ark
Listen: Unbelievable?, ‘Does the rock and fossil evidence point to Noah’s Flood or Evolution?’ www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={6DB9D833-41FD-4433-8549-853D56C3C8FB}
Irving Finkel, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood (Hodder, 2014)
Roger Forster & Paul Marston, Reason, Science & Faith (Monarch, 1999)
William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event That Changed History (Touchstone, 2000)
Valentina Yanko-Hombach, Allan S. Gilbert, Nicolae Panin and Pavel M. Dolukhanov, The Black Sea Flood Question: Changes in Coastline, Climate and Human Settlement (Springer, 2007)
Ian Wilson, Before the Flood (St. Martin’s Press, 2004)
Ian Wilson, The Bible Is History (Weindenfeld & Nicolson,1999)
Davies A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995)




[ii] Timothy Keller, Genesis: What Were We Put in the World to Do? (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2006), p. 81)
[v] James F. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008), p. 38.
[vi] Roger Forster and Paul Marston, Reason, Science & Faith (Monarch, 1999), p. 297.
[viii] The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman, 2007), note for 6:17, p. 16.
[ix] Davies A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 312.
[x] Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 252.
[xi] Forster & Marston, ibid, p. 440.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

 

Evidence for the Exodus


Both Egyptian chronology and the chronology of the Exodus are matters of ongoing scholarly dispute. Most scholars date the Exodus to c. 1208 BC, under Ramesses II (the ‘late date’ view). However, many scholars argue for dating the Exodus to c. 1446 BC (the ‘early date’ view - in which case the pharaoh of the Exodus was Amenhotep II) and a few argue for an even earlier date of c. 1525 BC. Archaeologist James K. Hoffmeir comments: ‘Until some firm archaeological or textual evidence emerges to support one of these theories, or an alternative, scholars will continue to disagree about the dating. An accepted time range for the exodus, then, is 1250-1447 BC, sometime during the New kingdom period.’ - The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008), p. 50.

Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen points out that it is unreasonable to expect much by way of archaeological confirmation of the Exodus story: ‘The mud hovels of brickfield slaves and humble cultivators have long since gone back to their mud origins, never to be seen again. Even stone structures (such as temples) hardly survive… practically no written records of any extent have been retrieved from Delta sites… A tiny fraction of reports from the East delta occur in papyri recovered from the desert near Memphis. Otherwise, the entirety of Egypt’s administrative records at all periods in the Delta is lost… and monumental texts are also nearly nil. And, as pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would never have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else.’  - On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 245.

Archaeology does demonstrate that, consistent with the Biblical story of Exodus: 1) Semitic people lived in Egypt in the 19th century BC, and that 2) the nation of Israel existed in the land of Canaan by 1208 BC:

Joseph’s Canal:

A canal running into lake Quarun has a traditional name that links it with the pre-Exodus story of Joseph in Egypt: ‘between 1850 and 1650 B.C. a canal was built to keep the branches of the Nile permanently open, enabling water to fill Lake Quaran and keep the land fertile. This canal was so effective that it still successfully functions today. There is no record of who built the canal, but for thousands of years it has only been known by one name. In Arabic it's the Bahr Yusef. This translates into English as The Waterway of Joseph.’ – BBC Religions, www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/history/joseph.shtml

Tomb of Rekh-mi-re (15th century BC): ‘A wall painting in an Egyptian tomb in the Valley of the Nobles at Thebes shows foreign slaves making mud bricks, recalling the enslaved Israelites’ forced brickmaking (Exodus 1:14:5:7).’ – cf. www.gci.org/bible/digging cf. Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 247.

The Soleb Hieroglyph: ‘Among ancient Egyptian designations for types of foreign peoples in the New Kingdom Period (1550–1070 BC), the term Shasu occurs fairly frequently. It is generally accepted that the term Shasu means nomads or Bedouin people, referring primarily to the nomadic peoples of Syria-Palestine. There are two hieroglyphic references in New Kingdom Period texts to an area called “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh.” Except for the Old Testament, these are the oldest references found in any ancient texts to the God Yahweh… The term Shasu is almost exclusively used in New Kingdom texts for semi-nomadic peoples living in parts of Lebanon, Syria, Sinai, Canaan, and Transjordan, and for people groups clearly identified as Semitic herders… The New Kingdom inscriptions which refer to “the Land of the Shasu of Yahweh” are found in two topographical lists. The lists are found inscribed on the walls of temples, one at Soleb and the second at Amarah-West. Soleb, a temple dedicated to the god Amon-Re, was built by the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III around 1400 BC… Amarah-West, which is also located in Sudan, is a construction of Ramses II in the 13th century. The section of the Amarah-West topographical list which contains the reference to “the land of the Shasu of Yahweh,” is not original with Ramses II, and was almost certainly copied from the earlier list at Soleb. Egyptologists in general do not question the appearance of the name Yahweh in these two ancient lists.  For example, Donald Redford writes of the reference to Yahweh at Soleb: For half a century it has been generally admitted that we have here the tetragrammaton, the name of the Israelite god "Yahweh;" and if this be the case, as it undoubtedly is, the passage constitutes the most precious indication of the whereabouts during the late 15th century BC of an enclave revering this god.’ - cf. www.assistnews.net/Stories/2010/s10010053.htm

Israel Stele (13th century BC): ‘The name Israel is inscribed in hieroglyphs on a stone slab found in 1896 at Thebes. It is the only mention of Israel in all Egyptian records discovered so far, and the oldest evidence outside the Bible for Israel’s existence. Israel is listed as one of the peoples in western Asia during the reign of Ramses II’s son, Merneptah (c.1213-1203 B.C.), offering evidence that the Israelites were already settled in Canaan (the Promised Land) by that time.’ – cf. www.gci.org/bible/digging

External Evidence

Many details of the Exodus account ring true when compared to extra-biblical sources.

For example, ‘from the Louvre Roll it is evident that special religious holidays were granted to the workers, and work rosters from the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medineh report men being off work to “offer to their god.” This latter point seems to indicate that Moses’ request for the Israelites to have time off to worship Yahweh was not unprecedented and may have been standard procedure (Exod. 5:1).’ – James K. Hoffmier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 115.

Again, we know that ‘Egyptians regularly practices snake charming that allowed them to put snakes into a kind of catalepsy, whereby they would remain as stiff as a rod until wakened. This trick is still practised in Egypt today.’ – NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan, 2005), p. 96.


Internal Evidence

There is also internal evidence to take into consideration. The basic story of the Exodus seems to pass both the historical criteria of multiple testimony and the criteria of embarrassment. As Kenneth A. Kitchen argues: ‘the phenomenon of an exodus-deliverance recurs all over the biblical corpus… If there never was an escape from Egyptian servitude by any of Israel’s ancestors, why on earth invent such a tale about such humiliating origins? Nobody else in Near Eastern antiquity descended to that kind of tale of community beginnings.’ – Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 245.

The Miracles of Exodus

In his book The Miracles of Exodus (Continuum, 2003), Professor Colin J. Humphreys argues that ‘we have a natural scientific explanation for all ten plagues, which follow a logical, connected sequence… that is highly consistent with the biblical account.’ – p. 143.

Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen observes that ‘the impact of various plagues can be understood as devaluing or denying Egyptian beliefs.’ – Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003), p. 253.

For example: ‘A massive unruly and destructive Nile flood, red in hue, bringing death, was the opposite of Hapi (deity of that flood), who was normally bringer of new life by its waters… Frogs were a symbol of abundance (…personified as Heqat), but here again they brought death… the deep darkness eclipsed the supreme sun god, Re or Amen-Re. Pharoah was traditionally entitled “Son of Re,” and his patron was made invisible… Death of so many throughout the land… would probably seem to Egyptians to have negated the power of the gods completely, and the king’s personal and official key role of ensuring their favour.’ – On the Reliability of the Old Testament, p. 253.

How the wind drove back the waters…

‘A new computer modeling study by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research… and the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) shows how the movement of wind as described in the book of Exodus could have parted the waters… a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea. With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in… Other researchers have focused on a phenomenon known as "wind setdown," in which a particularly strong and persistent wind can lower water levels in one area while piling up water downwind. Wind setdowns… have been widely documented, including an event in the Nile delta in the 19th century when a powerful wind pushed away about five feet of water and exposed dry land.’ – ScienceDaily.Com, 2010 www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100921143930.htm


Recommended Resources

Video:
‘Internal Evidence for the Historicity of Exodus’ http://youtu.be/hiw5t276QxM
‘The Exodus from Egypt, a Lecture with Dr James Hoffmeier’ http://youtu.be/m2vhrK6Wczs
Lecture - Dr James Hoffmeier – Egyptologist’ http://youtu.be/GBWWO8dCeY0
‘Lecture Q&A - Dr James Hoffmeier – Egyptologist’ http://youtu.be/u3HUJbZsf-w
(DVD) True U, Truth Project – 02 – Is The Bible Reliable? Building the historical case (Tyndale/Focus on the Family, 2011)
Papers:
Gary Byers, ‘The Beni Hasan Asiatics and the Biblical Patriarchs’ www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/09/09/The-Beni-Hasan-Asiatics-and-the-Biblical-Patriarchs.aspx
ScienceDaily, ‘Parting the waters: Computer modeling applies physics to Red Sea escape route’ www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100921143930.htm
Rabbi Ken, ‘Archaeology and the Exodus’ www.aish.com/print/?contentID=48938472&section=/ci/sam
Archaeologist Allan Millard, ‘How Reliable Is Exodus?’ http://fontes.lstc.edu/%7Erklein/Documents/how_reliable_is_exodus.htm
Who Was Moses? (2003) http://youtu.be/IwnrjU67Dag
Books
NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan, 2005)
Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology & The Old Testament (Baker Academic, 1998)
James K. Hoffmier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Lion, 2008)
James K. Hoffmier, Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2005)
James K. Hoffmier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1996)
Colin J. Humphreys, The Miracles of Exodus (Continuum, 2003)
Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003)

 

Sermon - Psalm 70

This is my Remembrance Sunday sermon from the 8 am service at Highfield Church, Southampton. Audio of the sermon is available here.


Psalm 70 (New Revised Standard Version)



To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering.

1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
2 Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
    who desire to hurt me.
3 Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’
    turn back because of their shame.
4 Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, ‘God is great!’
5 But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!


Psalm 70 claims to record a Psalm ‘of David’, King David that is. A decade or so ago scholars could truthfully claim that they didn’t know of any evidence for a historical King David outside the Bible. Given how little survives from the 10th century B.C, such a state of affairs really wasn’t surprising. Nevertheless, those with a bias against trusting the Biblical evidence in the absence of external corroboration made much of this absence – thereby ignoring British Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen’s famous maxim that ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’.

However, several artefacts have since been discovered that confirm the historicity of King David. For example:

1) The Tel Dan Stele - an inscribed monument erected by an Aramaic King in ancient Syria sometime before 800 B.C that makes reference to ‘Jehoram son of Ahab, King of Israel’ and ‘Ahaziahu son of Jehoram, king of the House of David’. Both Kings are biblically attested (2 Kings 9-10) and the language of the ‘House of David’ parallels biblical language about the Davidic Kingdom. (cf. www.bible-history.com/archaeology/israel/tel-dan-stele.html)

Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology WingDSCN5105.JPG
The Tel Dan Stele

2) The Mesha Stele - a Moabite monument found in 1868 that, it was later noticed, probably mentions ‘the house [of Da]vid.’ (cf. www.bible-history.com/resource/ff_mesha.htm)

P1120870 Louvre stèle de Mésha AO5066 rwk.JPG
The Mesha Stele
  
3) The Shoshenq Relief is a carving from the temple of Amun in Thebes that describes Pharaoh Shoshenq’s raid into Palestine in 925 B.C. In a list of places Shosenq says he captured a phrase appears that Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen translates as ‘heights of David’. (cf. http://theophilogue.com/2009/04/24/extrabiblical-evidence-for-king-david/)

It is also interesting to note that ‘From the viewpoint of… textual preservation, Psalm 70 is one of the finest.’ (Harper Collins Bible Commentary, revised edition, p. 420.) Hence, there’s good reason to believe, when we read Psalm 70, that we are reading song-lyrics written by King David nearly three thousand years ago. Moreover, given what the Bible tells us of David’s adventurous life, it’s easy to see that in Psalm 70 David is writing out of personal experience.

Despite the obvious urgency of his situation, whatever that was, note how David asks God to be pleased to deliver him, rather than trying to demand or command God to deliver him. David rightly assumes that God may or may not deliver him.

It’s so very easy for us to lay expectations upon God that are rooted in our personal preferences rather than being rooted in the promises of God. We might wish it otherwise, but the promises of God concern our ultimate safety and fulfilment rather than our worldly comfort. Indeed, Jesus promises his disciples that: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33, NIV.) Those who build their lives upon the rock of Christ have a firm foundation to see them through the flood-waters, not a talisman to help them avoid the flood-waters (cf. Matthew 7:24). Indeed, Jesus himself asked if he could forego his own cup off suffering and was told that he could not.

David’s attitude in Psalm 70 puts me in mind of Daniel’s three friends: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Their lives are threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when they won’t bow down to the golden idol he has set up. They declare: ‘If we are thrown into the flaming furnace, our God is able to deliver us; and he will deliver us out of your hand, Your Majesty. But if he doesn’t, please understand, sir, that even then we will never under any circumstance serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have erected.’ (Daniel 3:16-18, TLB.) Their confidence in God expresses itself in a confidence that God ‘is able to deliver’ them and, indeed, that on this particular occasion God ‘will deliver’ them; but their confidence in God does not depend upon God delivering them. If God does not rescue them, they will still worship God and no one else simply because of who God is.

This attitude towards God, of worshipping Him simply because He is God, is exhibited by David in Psalm 70 when he writes:

Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’

For David, rejoicing and being glad in God simply for being who He is comes before praising God for doing what He does, even though focusing upon God’s actions would be understandable under the pressure David feels bearing down upon him from those who ‘seek his life [literally, who seek his ‘soul’]’ and who ‘desire to hurt’ him.

It would be understandable, wouldn’t it, if David called upon God to give ‘an eye for an eye’, to take the lives of who seek his life, to hurt those who want to hurt him. But he does not.

Indeed, while David calls upon God to humiliate his enemies, he asks that his enemies thereby be brought to a turning point in their own lives:

Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
    who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
    turn back because of their shame.


The third clause here doesn’t seem to mean that David’s enemies should ‘turn back’ from harming him ‘because of their shame’ as the previous phrases describe their shame as resulting from their public failure to harm David. Rather, David’s prayer appears to be that the shame that will result from publically failing to harm him might lead his enemies to ‘turn back’ to God, such that they can be included in the rejoicing of verse 4. Indeed, the American Standard Version renders verse 3 as ‘Let them be turned back by reason of their shame.’ This is how focusing upon God and God’s nature first and foremost, despite his troubled circumstances, leads David to treat even his oppressors. As Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:43-48:

There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (TLB)




Monday, September 22, 2014

 

Sermon - Matthew 9:9-13 (The Calling of Matthew)


An audio of this sermon is available here.


Matthew 9:9-13 (Holman Christian Standard Bible):

9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” So he got up and followed Him.
10 While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


File:The Calling of Saint Matthew.jpg
Calling the Apostle Matthew. Artist A.N. Mironov.


Matthew’s gospel was probably published in the late 50’s or early 60’s of the first century AD, within thirty years of Jesus’ crucifixion in AD 33. Atheist Richard Dawkins claims that ‘Nobody knows who the four evangelists were, but they almost certainly never met Jesus.’[1] Concerning the New Testament gospels, Dawkins is sure that ‘not one of them’ was written ‘by an eyewitness.’[2] However, according to New Testament scholar Craig L. Blomberg: ‘a good case can still be made for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors of the Gospels that have traditionally been attributed to them’.[3]

For example, despite being one of the twelve apostles, Matthew - ‘Levi son of Alphaeus’ (cf. Mark 2:13-17) - was hardly a leading figure, and he’d been a tax collector, which meant he’d collaborated with the pagan forces of the occupying Romans and had probably lined his own pockets in the process. By contrast, ‘the later second-through fifth-century apocryphal Gospels . . . are all (falsely) ascribed to highly reputable, influential early Christians to try to make them appear as authoritative and credible as possible.’[4]

New Testament scholar Timothy Paul Jones agrees the evidence suggests the source behind Matthew’s gospel was indeed ‘a tax collector named Matthew. . .’[5] Jones goes on to note that: ‘Tax collectors carried pinakes, hinged wooden tablets with beeswax coating on each panel. Tax collectors etched notes in the wax using styluses; these notes could be translated later and rewritten on papyrus.’[6] So, when Matthew’s gospel reports Jesus calling Matthew, when it describes Jesus ‘reclining at [Matthew’s] table’ with other ‘tax collectors and sinners’, and when it recounts Jesus’ sarcastic response to the disapproving Pharisees, we‘ve reason to believe we are in touch with an eye-witness report.

What does Matthew’s report tell us about Jesus’ diagnosis of the human condition? And what does it tell us about Jesus’ self-understanding?

Jesus diagnoses humanity as suffering from a ruptured relationship with God. The presenting symptoms of this rupture are plain to the judgmental, pointing fingers of the Pharisees, displayed for all to see in the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ to whom Jesus daringly extends table fellowship. And the Pharisees are right. Matthew and his tax collecting friends had no pretension to being ‘holier than thou’. The ‘sinners’ reclining at the table with Jesus really were sinners. Indeed, the term translated as ‘sinners’ means people who openly impugn or neglect the Law, and as Matthew 21:31-32 indicates, that probably included prostitutes.

Yet the sinful neediness of these ‘tax collectors and sinners’ led them to accept the counter-cultural invitation to dinner with Rabbi Jesus. When we look deeper into Jesus’ habit of extending table-fellowship to social outcasts, we see that Jesus was foreshadowing the heavenly banquet at which he will dine in a radically inclusive fashion with followers from all the people-groups of the world. Blomberg explains:

one could speak of these meals as enacted prophecy or symbolic of the kingdom’s surprising inclusions. . . no one is saved apart from repentance and faith in Jesus. But precisely to enhance the possibilities of genuine repentance for those alienated by standard Jewish separationism, Jesus ‘mixes it up’ with the notorious and the riff-raff of his world. Scarcely fearing that he will be morally or ritually defiled by them, in many instances he winds up leading them to God and to true ceremonial and spiritual wholeness.[7]

The Pharisees don’t like Jesus’ inclusive approach to ‘sinners’, and that’s where they go wrong. The Pharisees do have pretensions of being ‘holier than thou’, pretensions that speak of the sinful pride at the heart of the ruptured relationship between man and God. That pride presents differently in the Pharisees than in the ‘tax collectors and sinners’, but there is it, hollowing out their ‘holier than thou’ religion. And so Jesus tells the Pharisees to reflect upon a quotation from the 8th century B.C. prophet Hosea, an appropriate source in the situation given that Hosea was commanded by God to marry a prostitute and to forgive her adultery. Here is Hosea 6:4-6 (NIV):

“What can I do with you, Ephraim?
    What can I do with you, Judah?
Your love is like the morning mist,
    like the early dew that disappears.
Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,
    I killed you with the words of my mouth—
    then my judgments go forth like the sun.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Jesus wanted the Pharisees to see that going through the religious motions without the sort of loving acknowledgement of God that flows through your life as mercy or love for others – avails nothing. In other words, the Pharisees need to agree with G.K. Chesterton’s famous letter to the Times:

Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What's Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.

For as Jesus says in Matthew 5:3-7:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

So, Jesus diagnoses the heart of the human problem as a problem of sinful pride that blocks relationship with God. His application of this diagnosis to religious people as well as to ‘tax collectors and sinners’ should drive us all to those opening words from the ‘Sermon on the mount’ in Matthew 5.

But what of Jesus’ self-understanding? Jesus clearly casts himself in the role of God. Jesus extends table fellowship to sinners as a parable of God’s kingdom in which he takes the role of host. Having described himself as ‘a doctor’ for ‘the sick’ who has ‘come to call . . . sinners’ into God’s kingdom, Jesus references Hosea (whose very name means ‘He saves’). Consider Hosea 6:1-3 (NIV):

Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
    let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
    he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Thus the Son who would die and rise ‘on the third day’ announces he has come to ‘call sinners’ into his kingdom. Amen.




[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam), p. 122.
[2] Richard Dawkins, The Magic of Reality: How we know what’s really true (London: Bantam, 2011), p. 262.
[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (Leicester: Apollos, 1997), p. 365.
[4] Craig L. Blomberg, Making Sense of the New Testament, p. 24.
[5] Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2007), p. 119.
[6] Timothy Paul Jones in Why Trust the Bible? (Torrance, California: Rose, 2008), p. 72.
[7] cf. Craig L. Blomberg, ‘Jesus, Sinners and Table Fellowship’ www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/bbr19a03.pdf

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