East and West Meet at the Tower of Babel

I have been listening to the BEMA podcast. I highly recommend it. As summarized one the website, “‘BEMA’ (or bimah) is a Hebrew word that refers to the elevated platform in the center of first-century synagogues where the people of God read the Text.”

The early Christians knew their Scripture. They built their lives around it. They devoted themselves to it, and to prayer, and the apostles reaching, and to fellowship and shared meals. (Acts 2:42

The BEMA podcast attempts to approach Scripture the way easterners would have, the way the early Christians in the Middle East would have approached it. My Jewish professor in college told us one day that Jews were not westerners; they were easterners, and they thought differently than westerners.

Christianity quickly became westernized, but it’s origins are eastern. We would do well to gain some new perspective from a more eastern way of thinking. I encourage you to listen to the first couple of episodes of the podcast linked in the opening paragraph if you want an introduction to an eastern perspective of the Bible.

Reading the first 11 chapters of Genesis from an eastern, Hebraic perspective, opens up new insights. Not the least of which is the genre of literature these chapters represent. They are poetry. They are chiasms with intricate organization and emphasis that is found in the structure of the chiasms.

The Tower of Babel story is one of the chiastic passages in Genesis. The story actually begins in the Hebrew with the last verse of Chapter 10 (as it is organized in English Bibles), and it goes like this (ESV):

These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Hebrew has no vowels, only consonants. There are vowel signs over the consonants that denote where breaths should be taken for anyone reading Hebrew out loud. 

The consonants in this chiasm are repetitive: N, B, L, H; then H, L, B, N in reverse. There is a front half and a back half. The middle of the story is 11:4, which I have emphasized by bolding it.

The verse in the middle of the chiasm is where the emphasis lies: the peoples’ concern about being scattered over the face of the earth. They didn’t want to be scattered.

Why not? That’s the question we should be prompted to ask.

I am not sure I can do any justice to the layers of meaning and the questions that arise in these verses in a short blog post. I can only scratch the surface, but here goes….

Continue reading “East and West Meet at the Tower of Babel”

When It Gets Hard, to Whom Shall We Go?

I had gone back to medicating myself and chasing weekends. I was lost in a spiritual wilderness.

The passage from the Gospel of John reproduced below was the subject of a sermon recently where I attend church. It is also the catalyst for one of the most important turning points in my life.

Jesus had just finished telling the crowd, “I am the bread of life….” (John 6:48); “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51); and, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (John 6: 54)

The Romans called the early Christians cannibals because of words like these and “the Lord’s Supper” that Christians observed ritually when they met. The crowd didn’t understand what he was saying either. The apostles also didn’t understand, as is evident by the following interchange in John 6:

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Emphasis added)

These words Jesus spoke were allegorical of course. In the sermon on this passage the pastor developed the principal that we feed on what we follow.

Paul says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) “Garbage in, garbage out”, as “they” say. It’s biblical, and it’s common wisdom, but this passage is about much more than an adage for life.

Continue reading “When It Gets Hard, to Whom Shall We Go?”

What Does It Mean to Be Transformed By the Renewal of Your Mind?

Broad is the way and wide is the path that leads to destruction.

I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller this morning. Before I get into what Keller said, though, allow me to share the verse I was meditating on before I listened to Keller. and some thoughts I down to write this article. The verse is:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 ESV

As I meditated on this verse this morning, I was first struck by the the command, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This is something Paul was telling the Romans to do.

As I went on in my meditation, I became aware that the patterns of this world and the renewal of our minds happens from agents outside of us. We either allow ourselves to be conformed to the patterns of this world, or we allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.

We have a choice to make, but the choice is in the allowing, in the submitting either to the patterns of this world or to the renewing of our minds. It is something that happens to us that we participate in.

The HELPS Word study (on biblehub.com) of the Greek word, sysxēmatízō, explains that “be conformed to the patterns of the world” means to be identified with those patterns and to assume a similar outward expression by following the same patterns. This may happen consciously or unconsciously.

Paul is urging us to be conscious, to be willful and intentional, in resisting conformance to the patterns of the world and to submitting ourselves to the transformation (metamorphóō ) caused by the renewal of our minds.

The transformation Paul means is a metamorphosis. The Greek word means literally metá “change after being with” and morphóō “changing form in keeping with inner reality”. Like the caterpillar that changes into a butterfly, this is something that happens to us (within us), but only if we submit to it.

We will be influenced one way or the other. We will conform to the patterns of this world unless we take a stand against them. We will not be transformed by the renewal of our minds unless we choose to submit ourselves to God’s renewal process.

Although my first thoughts focused on the fact that this is something that we do and do not do, that fact is that we are acted on by outside agents either way. Yes, we take participate in our own condition, but our participation is merely a matter of what we choose to submit ourselves to.

Continue reading “What Does It Mean to Be Transformed By the Renewal of Your Mind?”

Exchanging Death for the Gift of Life

From dust to dust is our natural end, but God offers us life.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 ESV

We have earned death. The “wages” we receive is what we have earned, God desires to give us the gift of life. He desires to exchange what we have earned for the gift of life.

We are from the dust, and to the dust we return. That is our natural lot in life. Death is our natural end, but God desires to give us life.

This is not unfair. Death is all we can expect as finite creatures. We cannot expect more, but God offers life. He offers us His life. 

We did not create the world. We are not the captains of our own destiny. We are aliens in this place. From dust to dust we is our natural condition.

Yet, God inexplicably and unbelievingly offers us His life.

How do we know this? We know it because of Jesus. Jesus sad no greater love has anyone for another than to lay down his life for that person. (John 15:13) Then Jesus laid down his life. He laid down his life for us.

We know we can trust God because He became one of us. He emptied Himself of His power, glory, and privilege to experience the life we have.  (Phil. 2:7-8 ESV) He didn’t have to do it. He did it willingly for us.

Then, he rose from the dead. He showed us that death has no hold on him. His life, the life that triumphs over death, is what He offers us.

It is not an automatic thing, though. We have to want it. We have to receive it. We have to accept it.

Some of us would rather accept only what we have earned. He came to the people with whom He long established a relationship, through whom He would reveal Himself to the world, but many did not receive Him. (1 John 1:11)

He chose to give us a choice. That choice He came to offer in person to the first century Hebrews with whom He cultivated a relationship over the centuries. Now He offers that choice to everyone, even us.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (john 1:12-13)

Certainty in Uncertain Times is the Theme of the Top Article from this Blog in 2021

The most read article in 2021 for this blog has prophetic and apocalyptic undertones.

Each year since I started this blog in 2012, I have reviewed the most read blog posts of the year. Certain posts on timeless themes, like “It is Well with my Soul: The Story” (from 2014), are perennial contenders. Not this year, though. That article doesn’t even make the top ten.

While some timeless “favorites” (recognizing this is a relative term here) tend to make the list each year, 2021 is marked by the emergence of relatively new writings and a new theme. We might call that theme the signs of the times. At least, we might say that writings which reflect the current times have emerged on top.

That statement is certainly true of the article that is by far the most read article on this blog this year: Who Were the Sons of Issachar? And What Might They Mean for Us Today?

This article was written in September of 2020. At that time we were careening toward a contentious presidential election. Though it was written with only three months to the end of the year, it became the most read article of 2020 (beating out It is Well with My Soul), and it is the most read article in 2021 by far.

In fact, the Sons of Issachar article has quickly become the most read article in the life of my blog, beating out the 2014 article, It is Well with My Soul, three times over. That it grew out of my own angst leading up to the presidential election is certainly a sign of the times. We have had much angst in the last two years!

I have never highlighted a single article in my annual summary of past years. This year is different. I will get to the summary, but I will tell the back story and reflect on the significance of the Sons of Issachar article, which seems to have hit home with people, first.

Continue reading “Certainty in Uncertain Times is the Theme of the Top Article from this Blog in 2021”