July Essays


July Overview: God's Amazing Faithfulness

We are now at the mid-way point of reading through the Bible. We should be seeing God's faithfulness over the long history of His people as we read this ancient epic of God's salvation, both in the Old Testament and New.

A great testimony to God's faithfulness are the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Back on Mt. Sinai, God told His people that if they broke their covenant with Him that He would send them out of the promised land. We would expect that this would destroy them as a nation. But, God also promised that if they repented, He would bring them back and restore them to Himself in their land. He said that He never would abandon His covenant with them. So in Ezra and Nehemiah, we read about how after the Judeans have been in captivity for 70 years, they are released to go back to their land and rebuild their country. They have many struggles, but the very fact that they returned testifies to God's faithfulness to His covenant with them.

Two other books we will be reading are Esther and Job. Esther is the story of God's faithfulness to protect His people when they were still in captivity. Even though they were in exile, God did not stop watching over them. The story is an excellent testimony of how God works through "coincidences" to accomplish His will. The next time you don't believe that God is at work even now, even when nothing seems to be happening, read Esther again. In Job, we ask the question, is God still faithful when He lets people suffer? If we put ourselves in place of Job as we read that book, we will grapple with him with mankind's most difficult question. It's amazing that even though Job accuses God of wrong-doing, in the end, God defends even Job's anger with Him, saying that "Job has spoken truthfully"! So God is empathetic and faithful through suffering, and even our accusations can be justified in His sight.

Finally, we return once again to read the story of Jesus in Luke, God's greatest act of faithfulness to us. Luke is a joy to read. Luke often highlights Jesus' prayer life and the work of the Holy Spirit, and shows Jesus' concern for women and the poor. For those who like to delve deeper, they will find that while Luke is written in excellent Greek, Luke does an excellent job of preserving Jesus' Semitic wordplays and idioms that reflect His Jewish culture. We can learn much about the life and thoughts of Jesus this month.

We will have many opportunities to see God's faithfulness in action in the next few weeks. We just need to be faithful to keep reading.



Week 27: 2 Chron. 31 - 36, Ezra 1 - 8, Luke 1 - 4, Psalm 75 - 77

The Good Samaritans

     Jesus had a rabbinic method of teaching that often alluded to the Hebrew scriptures. He would insert phrases and even single words from a story in His Bible, from which the audience could hear a greater meaning. For instance, the saying "This house is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves" alludes to both Isaiah 56 and and Jeremiah 7. By knowing the prophecies in those passages, His audience would have heard a deeper message than from His words alone. (For further explanation and more examples, see the articles Hearing Jesus' "Hidden" Messages and Jesus' Habit of Hinting from earlier this year). Without a good knowledge of the Old Testament, we completely miss these. His own audience was quite biblically literate, and easily would have recognized them.

This last week we read a passage in 2 Chronicles that may be the background for another of Jesus' allusions. In 2 Chronicles 28, a scene takes place when the kingdom of Israel is divided into the northern 10 tribes of Israel and the southern 2 tribes of Judah. Ahaz, the king of Judah, led the nation into terrible idolatry, worshipping Baal and sacrificing children to idols. Because of this, the Lord let Judah be attacked and defeated by Israel. This is the first time that Israel actually took prisoners of the tribes of Judah. They were on the verge of leading 200,000 of them away as their slaves, but a prophet reminds them that God let them defeat Judah as a punishment for idolatry, and they were guilty for worshipping idols too. He tells them that if they took their own brothers captive, it would compound their guilt before the Lord. So some of the leaders of the tribes repent of their sin and set the Judeans free. It says,

Then the men who were designated by name arose, took the captives, and they clothed all their naked ones from the spoil; and they gave them clothes and sandals, fed them and gave them drink, anointed them with oil, led all their feeble ones on donkeys, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brothers; then they returned to Samaria. (2 Chron. 28:15)

We rarely read of a story of such compassion between nations at war, where one binds the wounds of the other and gently restores them to freedom. By anointing them with oil and putting them on donkeys, it even hints that they are treating them like royalty - because this was the way the coronation of a king was performed (see 1 Kings 1:38-39). This was a remarkable moment of grace between the tribes of Israel.

It is fascinating to see the parallels between this passage and Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan that we will soon read in Luke. The parable begins,

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own donkey, and brought him to an inn and took care of him... (Luke 10:30 - 34)

There are many nuances from Jesus' culture that give light on this parable that won't be discussed here. But one thing that may be significant is that the character of the Samaritan appears to be based on the story from 2 Chronicles. Several parallels give that impression. Jesus mentions the town Jericho, one of the few times He ever mentions specific places in parables. The victim is stripped naked, like some of the Judeans were, and the Samaritan anoints the man and puts him on a donkey and carries him to Jericho, like was done with the Judeans.

The Samaritans in Jesus' time were despised by the Jews, and they despised the Jews themselves. They were descendants from the Israelites of the north after the Assyrians had defeated Israel and repopulated the country with a mixture of Israelites and foreign peoples (2 Kings 17:24). They had a version of the Torah and worshipped God with their own traditions, declaring Shechem as the place where God's true temple dwelt (John 4). Because they called themselves worshippers of the one true God, but used unacceptable forms of worship, they were especially despised by the Jews. During Nehemiah's time, they even tried to interfere with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. They also had a history of attacking Jews who were traveling to the Temple for festivals. This makes the irony of the Samaritan as the one who helps the wounded man especially powerful.

Jesus was using this hatred between Jews and Samaritans in His time to make the answer to the question "Who is my neighbor?" especially clear. It is interesting to speculate about why Jesus makes the despised Samaritan act so much like the Samaritans in the 2 Chronicles passage. Typically when a rabbi alluded to a passage of scripture, he expected his audience to see the larger context and bring it into the story he was telling. Jesus surprises His audience who expects a "good guy" to come to the rescue of the wounded man. Instead He brings in one of their worst enemies into his story! But, more than that, He reminds them that at one time, these same men from Samaria did one of the most merciful things ever done in their history. They had recognized their sin against the Judeans, and realized that their enemies were not only their neighbors, but even their brothers! Given that Jesus' audience would have been very familiar with history, with the 2 Chronicles passage and the Levitical laws, it is unlikely that they would have missed his message that "our neighbor" is anyone who we can help -- even if that means our hated enemy; and furthermore Jesus' stretching "loving our neighbor as ourselves" into "loving our enemies".

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An excellent source of other information about the parable of the Good Samaritan in its rabbinic context is the book called "The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation" by Dr. Brad Young. Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1-56563-244-3.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.

 


Week 28: Ezra 9 - 10, Nehemiah 1 - 12, Luke 5 - 9, Psalm 78

The King Who Forgave Debt

This week in Luke 7 we will be reading the story about the sinful woman who pours perfume on Jesus' feet. The scripture says:

And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” (Luke 7:37 - 43)

In Jesus' parable, He likens the person who is a sinner to one who is a debtor. He also does this in the parable of the unmerciful servant, when the servant has a debt to the king that he can never repay (Matt 18:23 - 35) The king commanded that he be sold, as well as his wife and children, to repay the debt he owed. When he pleaded with the king, the king forgave him the debt, until he had another man imprisoned for not repaying a smaller debt to him. When the king heard about it, he had him imprisoned until he repaid all that he owed, an amount so great that he could never hope to repay it in his lifetime.

Jesus frequently uses the image of debt as a way to describe being guilty of sin. It doesn't seem entirely analogous to us, because borrowing money or possessions isn't sinful. But in Hebrew, a simple language that tends to assign several meanings to each word, there is an overlap between the concept of sin and debt. One of the words in Hebrew, hayav, that means 'debtor', also is used to describe a person who is guilty of sin. In some sense there is an overlap conceptually, because both require some restoration to another - either of the money borrowed or reparations to the victim of the sin. When Jesus taught his disciples the Lord's prayer, He was most likely using the word hayav that describes a sinner/debtor when he said "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors".

This concept of forgiveness of sin as analogous to debt also appears to be a key to understanding Luke 4, when Jesus stands up and reads the following passage from Isaiah in the synagogue:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because He has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

This passage is from Isaiah 61, and it is talking about proclaiming a year of Jubilee, a "year of the Lord's favor". During the year of Jubilee, all debts would be forgiven, and the land that a family in Israel had to sell in a time of famine could be reclaimed by them. The Jubilee was for one main purpose - to provide for the poor who had gone into debt or lost their land, so that they would be able to start over again. The poor who had been sold into slavery or imprisoned in debtor's prisons would be released from bondage to return to their families and have a new beginning in life. All of the lines of the Isaiah passage describe the release the poor and those imprisoned by debt from their bondage. Even the line "the recovery of sight for the blind", actually is probably referring to the release from the utter darkness of the debtor's prisons.

It appears doubtful that Israel ever observed a year of Jubilee, which was supposed to happen every 49 years. But there is evidence from other Middle Eastern countries that Jubilee years were proclaimed in ancient times when a new king came into power. It would be a way to ensure support from the masses when a king would declare all debts void and set free all those in bondage to debt. It is interesting that the prophets and rabbis thought of this association of a year of Jubilee with the coming of the Messiah. The primary image of the Messiah was that he would be a king like David, so just as the new kings of other countries declared a Jubilee when they came into power, the Messianic king would as well.

Throughout Jesus' ministry He uses images from the year of Jubilee, but He takes the image of the poor person set free from debt, and uses debt as a metaphor of sin. The poor who are set free in the Messianic kingdom are the poor in spirit, those who know they are in debt to God because of their sin. So the "good news of the kingdom of God" is that the Messianic King has come, and has declared complete forgiveness of debt (sin) for those who will repent, and enter His kingdom. It is good news to the poor rather than to the rich who don't see that they need to be forgiven. Those who have been forgiven the most, like the sinful woman, love the most, in return.

So we see in Jesus' use of the picture of the Jubilee the greatest picture of God's grace through Christ. Those in prison are those who are under a crushing debt they could never repay. We see in Jesus, the new king setting prisoners free of debt that they owe because of their sin. Through Jesus' work on the cross, those who become a part of His Kingdom receive a forgiveness of a debt that they cannot pay themselves, and a chance to start over with a new life.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.



Week 29: Nehemiah 13, Esther , Job 1 - 4, Luke 10 - 14, Psalm 79 - 80

Esther: The Rest of the Story

This week we will be reading the book of Esther, the story of how Esther and Mordecai save the Jewish people from being annihilated. They were living in Persia in about 500 BC because of the exile of the Jews from Israel. In the story, an advisor to the king, Haman, is angered by the fact that Mordecai will not bow down to him, so he convinces the king to issue an edict calling for the destruction of the entire Jewish people. Esther saves the Jews from annihilation by pleading to the king and exposing Haman's plot.

The story of Esther is interesting because it is actually the culmination of a much longer epic that stretches over 1300 years in the life of Israel. A key to the story is the identity of Haman, who is described as an "Agagite". Agag was the king of the Amalekites in Saul's time, so Haman is an Amalekite.

While we hear about so many "ite" groups in the Old Testament that they all seem to be the same, the Amalekites have the distinction of being thought of by Jews as Israel's worst enemy of all time. They are the descendants of Amalek, who was Esau's grandson. The Jews have a legend about Amalek: when Esau was old, he called in his grandson and said: "I tried to kill Jacob but was unable. Now I am entrusting you and your descendents with the important mission of annihilating Jacob's descendents -- the Jewish people. Carry out this deed for me. Be relentless and do not show mercy." (This isn't biblical, but it shows their attitude toward the Amalekites.)

The Amalekites were the first nation that ever attacked Israel, and they did this almost immediately after Israel had left Egypt, when they first entered the wilderness (Exodus 17). Being the first to attack, they became symbolic of all of the nations that want to destroy Israel. The Amalekites also chose a particularly cowardly way to attack by coming from the rear and killing the elderly and weaker Israelites that were straggling behind. As a result, God was furious with the Amalekites, and singled them out for divine judgement:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and named it The LORD is My Banner; and he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”(Ex. 17:14-16)

The words seem contradictory - that God will be continually at war with Amalek, and yet He will blot them out. How can both be true? But oddly they are. The Amalekites continually plagued the Israelites throughout their history. When Israel first tried to enter the promised land but lost faith in God, the Amalekites were there to attack them. Later, Saul was given the command to destroy them and leave nothing alive, even children or animals. But he disobeyed God and keeps some of the best animals for himself, and lets King Agag live. The prophet Samuel executed King Agag himself. But according to Jewish thought, a demonic hatred of Israel was associated with that nation, and by letting anything of theirs escape, Saul allowed this spirit of destruction to come back to terrorize Israel again.

In the story of Esther there are several motifs that hint that finally the Amalekites are back to try once again to destroy Israel. Often when the text speaks of Haman as an enemy of the Jews, it specifically emphasizes his nationality as an "Agagite", a descent of the Amalekite king:

Then the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. Esth. 3:10

For Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and destroy them. Esth. 9:24

There are more parallels between this story and that of Saul that hint that this is the completion of Saul's unfinished work. Mordecai and Esther are from the tribe of Benjamin, as was Saul. And, while Saul kept some of the booty for himself, the book of Esther points out repeatedly that the Jews take none of the plunder after they are allowed to kill Haman and his descendants. By not committing Saul's sin, they finally have victory.

This story actually has been a help to me to understand some of the difficult commands of God. God's harsh command to Saul to destroy every living thing of the Amalekites was because this was a nation bent on the destruction of Israel. Israel was nearly annihilated in Esther's time because of Saul's disobedience. Sometimes God's commands are incomprehensible and even seem wrong to us, but if we had God's perspective, we would see His logic.

An interesting side note - in Jewish thought, even though the Amalekites are no more, the demonic spirit of Amalek has lived on throughout history in anti-Semitism and the attempts of other nations to annihilate the Jews. Hitler was considered to be a spiritual "descendent" of Haman. God has been continually at war with the spirit of Amalek from generation to generation, and only in the final judgement will this spirit of hatred be blotted out.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.

 


Week 30: Job 5 - 19 , Luke 15 - 19, Psalm 81 - 84

Jesus' Rabbinic Teaching Style

This week in Luke we will continue reading the teachings of Jesus. We have tended to lose sight of His Jewish teaching methods over the centuries as the church has moved its Jewish beginnings to being almost entirely Gentile. Partly this is intentional, from a desire to stress Jesus' deity instead of His human context, and partly from an unfortunate desire to divorce Jesus from His Jewish culture. Several years ago a group of Christian and Jewish scholars started studying Jesus from a different angle. They saw that the more they fit Jesus' teachings into their first century rabbinic context, the more they could make sense out of texts that have made translators scratch their heads for centuries. They were in agreement that while Jesus was a Jewish rabbi like many others, He did do miracles and did claim to be Messiah and even God Himself. In fact, the more they have studied his use of Jewish teaching methods, the stronger they have seen His claims get! They have shown us that Jesus used many rabbinic teaching methods. Let's look at some of them:


The Parable

Over a thousand parables are on record from other Jewish rabbis from Jesus' time and before. Jesus didn't invent the form of teaching, but was a master at using it for His purposes. A parable was a way to explain a theological truth in terms of concrete images. Jesus' Hebrew culture used physical images to express abstractions; for instance, "God's outstretched arm" meant God's power, "to be stiff-necked" is to be stubborn, etc. The parable was an extension of the cultural habit of explaining truth in physical pictures. A parable usually had one main point that it was meant to explain, and some elements were common motifs in many parables. For instance, a king was often the subject of the parable, and the king was almost always symbolic of God. Parables were the main way Jews communicated their theology of God. For instance, one rabbinic parable says,

When a sheep strays from the pasture, who seeks whom? Does the sheep seek the shepherd, or the shepherd seek the sheep? Obviously, the shepherd seeks the sheep. In the same way, the Holy One, blessed be He, looks for the lost.

We can hear a similarity between this parable and Jesus' parable about the shepherd leaving the 99 to look for the one lost sheep. Both parables may be from a common tradition of thinking of God as a shepherd, from Ezekiel 34 which likens God to a shepherd that looks for His lost sheep. It is interesting that even other rabbis had the understanding that God pursues the lost Himself, and doesn't stand at a distance while they find their way home.


Kal V'homer

Another method of teaching that Jesus used was called "Kal v'homer", meaning "light and heavy". It was of teaching a larger truth by comparing it to a similar, but smaller situation. Often the phrase "how much more" would be part of the saying. Jesus used this when he taught about worry:

“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith! (Luke 12:27 - 28)

We also see it in parables where He doesn't necessarily use the phrase "how much more":

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. (Luke 18: 1 - 8)

Here we see an unjust judge finally grants justice to a widow who keeps bothering him. Jesus concludes, if an unjust judge will help a widow who keeps coming to him, how much more will God answer the prayers of those who keep praying! Parables often have a life application for the listener, and this one is pray and not give up, as Luke explains.


Fencing the Torah


One of the things rabbis were supposed to do, besides raise up many disciples was to "build a fence around the Torah". That meant to teach people how to observe God's laws in the Torah by teaching them to stop before they get to the point of breaking one. Jesus did that in the Sermon on the Mount when he said,

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Matt 5:21)

In this verse Jesus is making a fence around the command "Do not murder" by giving the stricter command "Do not even remain angry at your brother". He does the same with adultery by saying that a person should not look lustfully on a woman either. One rabbi said "Sin starts out as weak as a spider-web, but then becomes as strong as an iron chain." That is the point of the fencing - if you don't want to fall to sin, it is best to avoid the temptation at the earliest point.


Alluding to the Scriptures

Another method Jesus uses, which has been discussed before in this commentary is His habit of alluding, or hinting to His scriptures. He would use a word or phrase that was unique or very unusual from the Old Testament as a way of alluding to all of that passage. This was common in His time. In Medieval times this technique was called Remez. Even though Jesus wouldn't have used that term, He often filled His sayings with references to the scriptures that would have been obvious to His biblically literate audience. In a recent article about the Good Samaritan, it was noted that Jesus was probably alluding to a scene in 2 Chronicles 28 when He told his parable. He would have expected His audience to remember the earlier story in order to interpret the later story.

Sometimes this would be on an even higher level, when the rabbi would hint to not just one scripture but two that shared a common word, and tie the two together in order to preach a message. Jesus did this when he said "My house is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it (my house) a den of thieves". He is quoting both Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7 and tying them together because they both contained the word "beiti" (my house). He is contrasting God's greatest vision for the temple (Isaiah 56 describes all the nations of the world worshipping there) with the worst possible abuse of it (it being used as a refuge for thieves and murderers, as in Jeremiah 7).


Physical examples in teaching

Along with stories that used images to teach, rabbis would frequently use situations to go along with their teaching. We know that Jesus washed His disciples feet. Another distinguished rabbi, Gamaliel, got up and served his disciples at a banquet one time. When they asked him why he did such a humble deed he said,

Is Rabbi Gamaliel a lowly servant? He serves like a household servant, but there is one greater than Him who serves. Consider Abraham who served his visitors . But there is one even greater than Abraham who serves. Consider the Holy One, blessed be He, who provides food for all his creation!

Abraham was the most revered of all of their ancestors, and Gamaliel reminds them of when God and two angels came to his tent in Genesis 18, that he prepared a meal and served it to them. Then he hints that God Himself serves when He gives us our food. God Himself is a model of serving others rather than wanting to be served. We can hear a little bit of a "Kal v'homer" saying, if one as great as God serves his lowly creation, certainly we can serve each other.

Jesus also uses visual lessons many times, for instance, when He called a child and had him stand there as He taught.

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. (Matt 18:2 - 5)

He uses the child as a concrete example to show the humility that his followers must have, and the importance of not leading the innocent astray. Jesus may have used another example in this teaching as well - Capernaum was the center of production of millstones, and was right on the Sea of Galilee, and was where Jesus did much of His teaching. Jesus continues...

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matt 18:6)

When Jesus said this, He may have had His hand on an 800-pound basalt millstone as He gestured to His neck, and then to the Sea of Galilee!


Conclusion

Jesus used a method of teaching that is quite foreign to our culture, so it is easy to assume that His style was foreign to His first listeners too. We see instead that God was preparing a culture for His own coming, giving them a love for the scriptures and powerful techniques to teach the truth about Him. Jesus used these methods to proclaim truth in an an uncommonly brilliant way. Certainly He was a master teacher.


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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

 


Week 31: 2 Job 20 - 34, Luke 20 - 24, Psalm 85 - 87

The Stone the Builders Rejected

This week in Luke, we reach the point where Jesus comes head to head with His opponents in their final clash before His crucifixion. Tension has been building up to this point, and reaches the maximum in these final days. Jesus has been hinting throughout His ministry that He is the Messiah, the Davidic King who was to come.

In these last few chapters of Luke, references to passages about the coming of the Messiah are very important. Jesus says some of the most powerful things about His mission using many allusions from the Old Testament. His audience understood and reacted accordingly, either in adoration or in hatred. We can get some powerful insights by looking at the messianic passages that Jesus referred to, and see what they said about Him.

When Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, Jesus made His most obvious claim to being this Messianic King, fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9 that says:

"Rejoice, daughter of Zion, shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey" (Zech. 9:9)

Another key place that we see a king riding into Jerusalem is Psalm 118, which describes a Messianic King who conquers all His enemies and then enters the gates of Jerusalem. The people wave boughs in a procession up to the temple and exclaim, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" This is exactly what happens in the Triumphal Entry in Luke 19. The people see Jesus as the King who has come to defeat His enemies and they honor him as the one proclaimed in Psalm 118.

In this last week, Jesus has now "thrown down the gauntlet", boldly declaring Himself as the Messiah, denouncing the temple's corruption and predicting that it would be destroyed. The Sadducean chief priests in Jesus' day were deeply corrupt, stealing from priests and killing those who opposed them. Jesus is directly standing up against them and they want to kill Him too. They also want to kill him because they saw Him as a threat to their relationship with the Romans. They worry that Jesus will start an uprising against the Roman government or against them since He has declared He is King.

In a fascinating use of scripture, Jesus makes use of several prophecies to tell the temple authorities exactly who He is and what would happen because of Him. He quotes Psalm 118, which He recently had fulfilled in the Triumphal Entry, when it says,

"The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone …" (Psalm 118:22)

There is a wordplay involved in saying that the stone has become the cornerstone. The word pinah, cornerstone, (or corner) in Hebrew is also used to describe one who is a leader. Several places in the Old Testament, "cornerstone" is used poetically to describe leaders (Judges 20:2, Isaiah 19:13). In Psalm 118, the "stone the builders rejected that has become the chief cornerstone" is a description of the triumphant King who God has given the victory against His enemies. Not only is He a cornerstone, a King, He is the chief cornerstone, the King of kings!

Jesus makes a very bold claim when He expands upon His claim of being the cornerstone. He says,

"Everyone who stumbles on the stone will be broken, and he on whom it falls will be crushed." (Luke 20:18)

At face value this says that no one wins who comes up against the stone. But, more importantly, Jesus appears to be combining two powerful statements from the Hebrew scriptures to say a greater thing. In Isaiah 8 it says,

The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy… and He will be a sanctuary, but for both houses of Israel, He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.   Isaiah 8:13-14

This passage appears to be the background of the first part of Jesus' statement - "Everyone who stumbles on the stone will be broken". It speaks about judgment on Israel where the Lord is either their sanctuary or the stone that makes them stumble. It depends on whether they chose to believe in Him or not.

The second half of his statement appears to come from Daniel 2. King Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of a statue of a gold head, silver chest, bronze legs and iron and clay feet. He saw a rock cut out, not by human hands, that struck the statue on its feet and crushed them. The statue fell to pieces but the rock became a huge mountain that filled the whole earth. Daniel explains to the king that the parts of the statue represent kingdoms, beginning with his own. The feet of iron and clay represent the Roman empire of Jesus' time. Daniel 2:44 says,

"The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever."

This is a reference to the coming Messianic kingdom. The rock cut not by human hands is a reminiscent of the covenant tablets that God cut for Moses, or the uncut stone they used to construct altars to God. It hints that the rock is a king sent by God, unlike all of the other kings. It appears to be the reference of the second half of Jesus' saying - "he on whom it falls will be crushed".

If Jesus is tying these two sayings together by the fact that they talk about a stone, He could be pointing out that He is the Stone of Isaiah 8 - either a savior or a stumbling block to Israel, the people to whom He came. It depends on whether they choose to believe in Him. But then He says, by alluding to Daniel 2, that ultimately, whatever their reaction, His kingdom will be established over all the earth. Not only will he triumph over the chief priests who will kill Him, His kingdom will even triumph over the Romans, and be a kingdom without end.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

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