Numbers 10:11-28 details the (divinely?) prescribed processional order of the nomadic twelve and a half tribes of Israel. They first assumed this exact processional order upon leaving Mount Sinai, and thereafter did the same whenever they would decamp and follow the pillar of cloud during their forty year meander through wilderness. According to Numbers 10:14, the tribe of Judah was to take up its banner (or standard) first and commence the procession of the entire nation. With its standard hoisted, the tribe of Judah marched at the vanguard, at the head of the hosts of Israel. The other tribes would follow after. The last tribe to leave camp, according to Numbers 10:25, was the tribe of Dan. The tribe of Dan was always to serve as the rearguard, or tail, of the mass procession, carrying their own distinctive banner (or standard).
The Book of Numbers mentions that four of the twelve tribes had a distinctive banner or a standard. The three tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun (which always camped to the east of the tabernacle) were to march following Judah’s standard. Some of the Levitical priests would follow the first three tribes carrying the deconstructed tabernacle. Then the three tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad (which always camped to the south of the tabernacle) were to march following Reuben’s standard. Following those six and a half tribes, the three tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin (which always camped to the west of the tabernacle) were to march, behind Ephraim’s standard. And finally, the three tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali (which always camped to the north of the tabernacle) were to march last, with the tribe of Dan carrying its standard towards the rear of the procession.
Necessarily, a banner or standard has a distinctive insignia or emblem of some sort. In the case of the fledgling nation of Israel, the emblems adopted by each of the twelve tribes likely derived from metaphors their forefather Jacob used while speaking a final blessing over each one of his sons, as recorded in Genesis chapter 49. If so, then the tribe of Judah’s marching standard would have featured a lion (see Jacob’s declaration in Genesis 49:9). Likewise, simple consistency would dictate that the tribe of Dan’s standard feature a serpent (see Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49:17).
A lion went before, a serpent behind.
During their long sojourn through the wilderness the nation of Israel had the figurative head of a lion and figurative tail of a serpent. This, I would suggest, is the biblical background to the symbolism we find in Revelation 9:17-19.
And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.
For this and additional reasons, the army depicted in Revelation 9:17-19 should be understood as the elect people of God, in their sojourn through the centuries between the first and second coming of Christ. Though this might be a different interpretation than you have heard before, the preceding background information can help you understand why I believe it is correct.
In the Book of Revelation, death is often not death.
Regrettably though, even the best interpreters have failed to notice this twist. Instead, they usually just assume that references to death must mean literal, physical death. But the unquestioned assumption that Apocalyptic death must be the equivalent of physical death results in gross distortions and vast misunderstanding of an important section of the text and thus its message. Many readers conclude that the Book of Revelation is disturbingly macabre and not very New Testament-like because of the mass violence, death, and killing depicted therein. That prima facie impression changes dramatically if “all the death and violence” is not read literally, but understood… baptismally. Apocalyptic death should often be read as a baptismal reference in Revelation. And that dramatically changes things.
Yes, baptismal is the best possible word here. The New Testament teaches that when a convert to Christianity submits to baptism that person dies. Oh my! Does the baptized person physically die? Of course not. Typically, ecclesiastical officiants do their utmost to prevent fatal slips or pours that might result in accidental drowning deaths. A high baptism fatality rate would probably discourage most people from participating in the sacrament.
Nonetheless, the New Testament teaches that someone who submits to baptism somehow dies. Obviously, this cannot be understood as physical death. It must be understood as another kind of death, call it metaphorical or symbolic. Egotistical death, perhaps?
My contention is that the author of Revelation takes this non-physical understanding of death and runs with it imaginatively — and quite counter-intuitively. Consequently, much (or at least some) of the violence, killing, and death in Revelation refers not to the automatically assumed horrors of human history, but instead to the triumph of the Cross through evangelism and conversion. In particular, this observation holds true with the Seven Trumpets series, and especially in the incremental, fractional, twelve-thirds of fire, blood, and violence symbolically presented in Revelation chapters eight and nine.
My guess is that many readers/listeners are thoroughly unconvinced by my proposal at this point. One question I anticipate is rather straightforward and simple: “But why? Why would the author of Revelation present evangelism and conversion as violence and death?”
My initial response to that question involves pointing back to the Old Testament — as the Book of Revelation itself so often does. In the Old Testament God is a militant and sometimes violent God. That is an indisputable claim, as anyone who has read the Old Testament knows. The Old Testament God can and does go to war. The Old Testament God can and does shed blood. But then Jesus arrives. At the beginning of the New Testament Jesus comes along and talks a lot about his Father as a loving, patient, merciful, and forgiving God.
So… which is it? Is God jealous, wrathful, militant, and violent? Or is God gracious, kind, compassionate, and forgiving?
My suggestion here is that much of Revelation’s militant and violent imagery serves as a subversive, radical re-interpretation of “the battle plan” — the modus operandi — of the jealous, wrathful, militant God of the Old Testament.
Paradoxically, this is one and the same God, before the incarnation of Christ and after. Yes, this jealous, gracious God is indeed thoroughly intent on the death of all his enemies; but this jealous, gracious God much prefers that his enemies die baptismally through conversion, rather than die physically and spiritually.
With that said, in this post I have not actually carefully examined particular and relevant verses from the Book of Revelation. What I have done instead is provide a suggested approach — that is, a unique hermeneutic — for reading through Revelation. I suggest you re-read Revelation (especially chapters eight, nine, and eleven) with this hermeneutic of divinely-sanctioned non-physical warfare. This suggested hermeneutic regards some Apocalyptic instances of death as conversion. Here baptismal death is God’s preferred means of bringing an end to human self-idolatry and sinful rebellion.
If you do use that approach, you will find certain passages in Revelation make much more sense than before. But other passages (usually later passages) might remain confusing. Your potential confusion is because in the end, especially with the Seven Bowls of Wrath series, God does deal more heavy-handedly with those human opponents who refuse his provision for repentance and conversion.
A “dead man walking” mournfully foretold the forthcoming doom of his onlookers, their children, and the entire city. His prophecy of eventual doom might have come as a surprise to those who overheard it, because it seemed to contradict what another prominent prophet had once promised regarding the Promised Land and the City of Jerusalem. Who was right about the city’s future, then — the Prophet Ezekiel, or the condemned Nazarene, dripping blood and staggering on the way to his gruesome crucifixion?
From someone else, it might have come across as a condemned man’s final vindictive, bitter curse. But his gloomy comments were not directed against his persecutors. He was instead speaking to a group of women who might have included some of his loyal supporters. They were there to observe and weep at his horrifying fate. While being led to his crucifixion, on the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus told those women not to weep for him, but to weep instead for themselves and their children (Luke 23:28-31). Quoting the final sentence of Hosea 10:8, Jesus then informed his sympathizers that when the time of destruction arrived “They [that is, the residents of Jerusalem] will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”
Again, this gloomy, terrifying Via Dolorosa Prophecy seemed to contradict a much rosier civic and national future, as prophesied by the Prophet Ezekiel centuries before. The whole of Ezekiel Chapter 36 describes the wonderful, permanent (see Ezekiel 36:13-15) restoration and exaltation of the exiled House of Israel within their hereditary homeland. And in the first century AD/CE (that is, the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry), the restoration and exaltation promised by Ezekiel appeared to be a likely, imminent possibility, especially since it had already been partially fulfilled. Many of the Jewish people had already returned to their hereditary homeland. Furthermore, when he first began his public ministry, Jesus spoke a lot about the Kingdom of God, and about it being “at hand.” Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God’s imminence only encouraged the thought that the exaltation part of Ezekiel’s wonderful prophecy was about to transpire. But no, the exaltation of the House of Israel was not about to transpire. Instead, Jesus’ Via Dolorosa Prophecy proved grimly accurate.
Rather than being restored and exalted within their hereditary homeland, the opposite occurred. In 70AD/CE, after rebelling against the Romans, the Jewish people were subjected to a crushing, almost absolute defeat. The City of Jerusalem was destroyed. Its marvelous Temple was demolished. And the few Jewish people who remained alive were sent off into exile yet again. The Jewish people would not return from exile en masse to their hereditary homeland until the mid Twentieth Century, after the Nazi’s attempted genocide of them during World War Two.
All of which is to say, Ezekiel Chapter 36 appears to be an aborted prophecy. It was once apparently on its way to fulfillment. But then something cataclysmic occurred. The hopes of the Jewish people were dashed, or, at very least, seriously delayed.
However, I am not suggesting for a moment that Ezekiel’s prophecy was wrong. I believe that it will still be fulfilled. The question I pose to anyone who takes Ezekiel Chapter 36 seriously (as legitimate prophecy) is whether it can be meaningfully fulfilled unless it is fulfilled quite literally, within Israel, the hereditary homeland of the Jewish people. A lot of my fellow Christians seem to believe the prophecy can be (and already has been) fulfilled figuratively and/or spiritually, and that it therefore simply does not apply to the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people. Personally, I have a hard time squaring what Ezekiel prophesies in Chapter 36 with anything but a literal, physical fulfillment.
The implications of how an interpreter understands Ezekiel Chapter 36 (and similar passages, like Zechariah Chapter 12 and the entire Book of Zephaniah) are very significant. This is not to say that I will not argue for a figurative reading of some prophetic material, because I certainly will; and I do. But it is to say that some of these prophetic passages seem to become altogether meaningless unless they are read literally. The interpretive issue, as I see it, is whether the relevant prophetic passages themselves give good reason to take a figurative approach or a literal approach. If a given prophetic passage presents itself as literal, should it not be read as literal? I think so, unless there is an extremely compelling reason not to. In my estimation, Ezekiel Chapter 36 presents itself as altogether literal, and therefore should be read that way. And because we know for certain that it has not been fulfilled yet, we can and should await its literal future fulfillment. Now with that said, I encourage you to go read Ezekiel Chapter 36.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
The Epistle of Ephesians 2:6 reports something spiritual and something actual. Via our spiritual connectedness to Christ, those of us who belong to Christ are actually, currently, spiritually seated in heavenly places. Of course, physically, we remain mere mortals, stuck for the duration of our time here in the mundane and the milieu of Planet Earth. And yet spiritually, we are simultaneously stationed elsewhere. Although we reside here physically, we are also somewhere else altogether. Spiritually, we are seated in the throne room of highest heaven. In Christ, we are a royal priesthood — a privileged priesthood with the high honor of perpetual presence in the throne room of heaven. Consequently, we have constant, open access to the Chief Executive, the One forever seated on Throne of Grace. This is not a delusion, not imaginary, not exaggeration, not hyperbole. This is simply a depiction of our current reality, though veiled and unseen to us now. Once we begin to realize and believe the truth of our simultaneous spiritual station, it will motivate us to make the most of our immediate access to the Throne of Grace. Who would knowingly neglect the potential of such a privileged position?
Is the Lord’s Prayer the Lord’s prayer? Did Jesus himself compose the Lord’s Prayer?
If asked those questions, I would respond, “Well yes, Jesus did compose the Lord’s Prayer, but not from scratch. Instead, he repurposed and rearranged some common, well-known prayers that his Jewish audience had memorized and regularly recited.” I might go on to say, “Moreover, even today those common, well-known prayers are still liturgically and regularly recited by Jewish congregations. Yes indeed, these old, old prayers are routinely recited even today. Practicing Jews refer to these liturgical prayers as the Kaddish, or, if spelled with a Q, the Qaddish— same pronunciation, just spelled differently, with a K or a Q.”
And this is where I stop quoting myself answering a hypothetical question or two.
Now, if my answer to the origin and the originality of the Lord’s Prayer is correct, it has several interesting implications. First, it means we can compare the Lord’s Prayer with the variations of the Kaddish received through Jewish liturgical tradition. Second, it probably means we can extract some useful insights regarding how Jesus’ original Jewish audience heard and understood the Lord’s Prayer — that is, as Jesus’ own edited update to the traditional Kaddish. Third, it means we might apply such insights to our own prayers, on the presumption that you are a praying person.
Hopefully, by writing this post, I am contributing something somewhat original and corrective to ongoing New Testament scholarship on the Lord’s Prayer. If nothing else, though, I hope to make more readers and listeners aware of the almost certain historical and lexical connections between the Lord’s Prayer and the Jewish Kaddish liturgical tradition. After learning of them, it now seems quite surprising to me that the numerous connections between the Jewish and Jesus liturgical prayer traditions are not common knowledge among Christian scholars and preachers. It is time to correct that.
As an example of where the Kaddish-Lord’s Prayer connection goes curiously unmentioned, I will point here to an influential book published as recently as 2018, a book entitled Jesus the Priest, by Dr. Nicholas Perrin, currently the president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois.
In the first chapter of Jesus the Priest, the learned (and thought-provoking) President Perrin delves immediately into the Lord’s Prayer. Perrin does so because he believes that the title Father, which is the opening word of Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2), gives “substantive insight into what made [Jesus] tick” (p. 20). I certainly agree with Dr. Perrin about that.
Yes, Jesus’ very frequent use of the title Father can give us insight into what made him tick. But nonetheless, it comes as a surprise that — with the Lord’s Prayer open before us and in consideration — President Perrin does not discuss the most likely immediate source of the title Father: the Kaddish liturgies, which Jesus’ original Jewish listeners (almost certainly) routinely recited. Jesus’ first listeners would not have missed the connection between the Kaddish’s repetitive use of the title Father and the Lord’s Prayer use of the same.
Here is one relevant sentence from a translation of the Full Kaddish (i.e., the Kadesh Shalem):
May the prayers and supplications of the whole House of Israel be accepted by their Father Who is in Heaven.
Excerpt from The Full Kaddish
Those who are familiar with (the Matthean and King James’ version of) the Lord’s Prayer should immediately hear the very close lexical similarity of “their Father who is in Heaven” and “our Father who art in Heaven.” But the lexical connections by no means end there.
Before I go on to discuss more such connections, I want to point out that Dr. Perrin expends much time, ink, and effort discussing why Jesus starts the Lord’s Prayer (or as he refers to it, by its Latin name, the Pater Noster) with the title Father. Perrin correctly links the title Father to specific scriptural passages, especially Exodus 4:21-23 (see Jesus the Priest, p. 36); but he still misses or intentionally overlooks the most immediate relevant liturgical and lexical connection: the Kaddish. Although Perrin claims that the tribulation of Israel’s Exodus was foremost in Jesus’ thinking when he gave the Lord’s Prayer, it is much more likely that Jesus had the expectations and the requests of the Kaddish more immediately in mind. When he gave the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus wanted to both appropriate the best of Jewish liturgical tradition and recast it at the same time. Jesus was editing the Kaddish and along with it, the many requests and expectations expressed therein. Jesus revised the Kaddish to fit the reality of his messianic arrival and the inauguration of his kingdom. Jesus gave his disciples their own updated Kaddish, one that fit their new situation, since many of requests of the original Kaddish had been answered and fulfilled in the arrival and person of Jesus himself.
With those claims in mind, please recall the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer as you read this translation of the full Kaddish:
May His great name be exalted and sanctified (hallowed) in the world which He created according to His will.
May He establish His Kingdom and may His salvation blossom and may His Anointed [the Moshiach/Messiah] come soon during your lifetime and during your days — and during the lifetimes of all the House of Israel, speedily and soon. And let us say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and for all eternity! Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded, be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, above and beyond all blessings, that are uttered in the world. And let us say, Amen.
[The Half Kaddish ends here; the Full Kaddish continues:] May the prayers and supplications of the whole House of Israel be accepted by their Father Who is in heaven. And let us say, Amen.
[The following section is said only in Kaddish d’Rabbanan, i.e., the Rabbis’ or Scholars’ Kaddish:] For Israel, for the Rabbis and their disciples, for the disciples of their disciples, and for all those who engage in the study of Torah in this (holy) place or in any other place, may there be abundant peace, grace, loving kindness, compassion, long life, ample sustenance and salvation from the Father Who is in heaven (and earth). And let us say, Amen.
[All versions except the Half Kaddish continue:] May there be abundant peace from heaven and good life, satisfaction, help, comfort, refuge, healing, redemption, forgiveness, atonement, relief and salvation for us and for all His people Israel. And let us say, Amen.
May He Who makes peace in His high places grant (in His mercy) peace for us and for all his people Israel. And let us say, Amen.
The Full Kaddish/Kadesh Shalem
To say that Jesus edits and amends the Kaddish liturgies is an accurate claim. He reorders many of the petitions. He omits some of the petitions, most notably the prayer for the Messiah to arrive soon (because Jesus the Messiah had already come). He revises and expands at least one of the petitions. And yet, as for what he retains and includes, he essentially quotes much of the original wording. He cuts and pastes the Kaddish to fit his disciples’ new situation and new community.
Finally, a historically critical note: I anticipate that someone will look into my claims and counter that we cannot be sure that the Kaddish that has been passed down in Jewish tradition is the same as the Kaddish that existed when Jesus gave the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. Well, granted. We cannot be sure we have exactly the same Kaddish. Nonetheless, we almost certainly have an accurate and reliable version of it. Further, in rebuttal of that skeptical argument, I will point out two things: First, the wording between the Kaddish and the Lord’s Prayer is astonishingly close at a number of points. The closeness in wording begs the question of whom is borrowing from who. It is much more likely that Jesus is borrowing from an established Jewish liturgical tradition than vice versa. There would be very little incentive for later Jews to copy and incorporate Christian materials in their liturgies. But Jesus and the writers of the four gospels would not have hesitated to appropriate previously established Jewish liturgical material.
Second, many of the elements of the Kaddish liturgies clearly derive from and depend directly upon the Hebrew Scriptures (that is, the Old Testament). We do know for certain that those scriptures predate Jesus’ earthly ministry and the writing of the New Testament.
Finally, this all makes for a logically tight, historically apt scenerio. In teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus simply drew on what they already had memorized. Jesus just simplified it and adjusted it to fit their new situation and new community.
Shop talk. Get ready for some theological shop talk. I must necessarily get detailed and somewhat technical in this post.
A single word will examined. I want to make a case for translating and interpreting an old Greek word in a very particular way. How this one rather inconspicuous word gets translated does indeed matter. It matters because this one word informs readers of the Book of Revelation as how they should approach and understand the entire book.
The old Greek word is σημαίνω, which may be indecipherable to you. It is pronounced “say-mah-ee-no.” It is a verb. The most generic way to translate this verb into English is the word indicate. And as far as translations go, indicate works well enough. But the word σημαίνω needs to nuanced according to how it is used in a particular sentence, in a particular context. The context I have in mind is the very first verse of Revelation, in which Jesus indicated something.
For those of you who know a bit of New Testament Greek, you will notice that the word σημαίνω has shape-shifted a bit in Revelation 1:1. That is to say, it appears as a cognate in verse one, as ἐσήμανεν (“es-ay-mah-nen”). The reason the word looks a bit different is because the word has shifted into what we would call the past tense. In case you’re interested in grammatical exactness, in Revelation 1:1 the word ἐσήμανεν should be parsed as follows: It is the aorist – indicative – active – third person – singular. And it can be translated as he indicated.
At this point, you might ask, “Okay, the most generic translation of this word from New Testament Greek into English is he indicated; so what? Why should I care?”
Well, there is a problem here, actually. The problem is that John, the writer of the Book of Revelation, uses the word ἐσήμανεν with a slight nuance. And it matters that his slight nuance is recognized. When John uses ἐσήμανεν, he means that something is not stated directly but indirectly. Something is being alluded to or hinted at or even encrypted.
At this point, I imagine a good friend of mine saying, “But why should anyone believe you rather than the learned Bible translators?” A good question, good friend. What my good friend knows is that most Bible translators do not translate ἐσήμανεν with any sense of indirectness or opaqueness.
That’s too bad, though. The translators should have caught the particular nuance in usage in Revelation 1:1. But because their semantic range of reference was too broad, they didn’t. They should have narrowed their focus to just how John uses the word. But for whatever reason, they didn’t. If they had focused just upon John’s usage, they would have noticed that John consistently uses the word σημαίνω and its cognates to convey indirectness, as communication that is not immediately apparent, but which needs to be examined carefully and figured out.
And now my friend is saying, “Okay, prove it.”
Okay, I will. It is not that hard. Just do a selective word study of σημαίνω and its cognates. Look at how John consistently uses the word.
The place to start is The Gospel of John, Chapter 12, verse 33. Here is how the verse is translated in the New International Version: “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” The NIV translators used the words “to show” to translate σημαίνων, which is an obvious cognate of σημαίνω. As far as translations go, it is good enough. But notice what the verse means in context. Jesus had indicated or shown how he was going to die. Jesus had not just said, “I am going to be crucified.” Instead, what Jesus had just said was, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men/people to myself.” Jesus had indicated his manner of death obliquely, indirectly. The observant only caught his oblique allusion/reference after the fact, after his death by crucifixion.
John uses the word σημαίνω indirectly again in John 18:32. As with John 12:33, the word is used in its cognate form: σημαίνων. And as with John 12:33, the word references Jesus’ opaque allusion to his manner of death, that is, by crucifixion. The only significant contextual difference is that the crucifixion is now immediately forthcoming.
John uses the word σημαίνων a third time in John 21:19. This time the allusion is not to Jesus’ forthcoming crucifixion, but to the manner of Peter’s eventual death. But all the same, it is an allusion, and not a direct indication. Jesus does not tell Peter, “Someday you are going to die in a way that you would rather not die.” Instead, Jesus is more subtle and indirect — a bit more opaque and oblique. But he makes his point to Peter all the same.
Therefore, in the Gospel of John, we have not one, not two, but three instances of how John uses the word σημαίνω. Every single time, he uses the word to convey a sense of subtlety and indirectness. Jesus indicates what he wants to indicate opaquely. Only the observant (eventually) catch his drift.
My suggestion, or rather, assertion is that John uses the same word the same way in the Book of Revelation. Jesus did indicate something in Revelation 1:1. He indicated the entire vision — all the content of Revelation — opaquely, indirectly, cryptically. Jesus used allusions and references to say what he wanted conveyed. We do well to keep that in mind as we read and interpret the book.
To summarize, if my assertion is correct, we are told from the very first verse of Revelation that the book’s content is opaque and cryptic by divine design. The implication is that it requires careful observation, frequent reflection, and protracted study.
Is Moses a historical figure, as opposed to merely a literary character? Did Moses really live? If he did actually live, did he really lead the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt? And are all the plagues and miracles recorded in the Book of Exodus true to history? I have an opinion and a position on this constellation of questions. I would affirm that Moses did exist, and that the various wonders recorded in Book of Exodus are factual and reliably historical.
To make my case, my starting point will not be Moses or the Book of Exodus, though, but Peter. Yes, I begin by appealing to Simon Peter, as in Peter bar Jonah, the Galilean fisherman. My first witness will be that particular Peter — the impetuous, thoughtlessly verbose, bumbling, ever earnest disciple of Jesus Christ. In proposition of my Bible-banging position, I present Simon Peter.
And I hope you catch the courtroom analogy here, because I am asserting the importance and reliability of his eyewitnesses testimony. Simon Peter was an eyewitness of Moses, after all. I mean, you know that already; right?
But first, perhaps I need to explain why any of this matters.
It may surprise you to learn that the existence of Moses is even a contested question in academia. But indeed, it is. Some academics say that there is insufficient evidence for a historical Moses. And if Moses is merely fictional, so is the rest of Exodus. Simply stated, there is insufficient external evidence to establish the historicity of the Book of Exodus. Archaeology cannot confirm it. Egyptian monuments and documents cannot confirm it. The Book of Exodus simply cannot be established and proven as history, they assert. So, sad to say, it ought to be considered mostly or entirely fiction.
Well, crap. If the Moses and the Ten Plagues and the Ten Commandments and the entire Book of Exodus aren’t actual history, is anything in the Bible truly trustworthy? Ding, ding: There’s the rub. And that’s the upshot. That’s the implication. This is why it all matters. The best and the brightest — the people with the PhDs — say that you can’t be sure anything in Exodus is trustworthy, kids. And as Exodus goes out the window, the rest of the Bible goes with it. Well, crap.
A lot of hypothetical and real college/university students will merely shrug at this point, because they simply do not know what to conclude. An unsettlingly doubt may well creep into said college student’s mind: “Maybe everything they taught me at church is just a bunch of bunk. After all, the professor seems really smart and knowledgable and has earned a doctorate. I dunno. The professor seems smarter than that pastor… I wonder what sort of dessert the cafeteria has today.”
And as for that particular college/university student, the Bible may have just lost considerable credibility, given just one (somewhat) challenging, critical lecture. Oh, and this can and does routinely happen at religious institutions of higher learning, too. Believe it.
However, a student who has somewhat higher regard for the authority of the Bible may accept the implicit challenge. She or he may set out to prove the historical reality of Moses and the reliability of Exodus. The problem is that the bar is too high. The challenge is too great. The burden of proof is too daunting. Neither Moses nor the Book of Exodus can be indubitably demonstrated as historical (indubitably being the key word). A certain amount of faith must be exercised. But who knows whether the Book of Exodus deserves that much faith? I mean, it is a really, really old document, after all.
But what about Peter? What if Simon Peter can verify the historicity of Moses with eyewitness testimony? What if Peter says it’s all true? Does that make a difference?
It ought to. And he does.
In his Second Epistle Peter says this:
For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets.
2 Peter 1:16-19a New Living Translation
Here Peter is clearly referring to Jesus’ Transfiguration. Realize that in every single account of the Transfiguration recorded in the Gospels (compare Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; and Luke 9:28-36), Jesus appears with two prominent Old Testament prophets. Just guess who the two Old Testament prophets are.
Moses and Elijah.
Peter saw Moses and Elijah alongside a transfigured, glorified Jesus. And Peter later asserted that his experience on that mountain was real and worthy of confidence.
So now an informed “said college student” and you, the blog reader/listener, need to ask yourself whether you think Peter’s testimony is reliable here. If it is, then the Transfiguration really happened. And if the Transfiguration happened, then Moses was presented not just as a historical figure, but even alive post-mortem. That left a profound impression on Simon Peter. That carried some hefty verifying weight with Peter. Likewise, it is probably safe to conclude from all this that the Book of Exodus also stands validated, along with the entire Old Testament.
However, if you don’t consider Peter’s testimony reliable on this point, then you probably don’t give much credence to the much of the New Testament. I say that because the Transfiguration is repeatedly affirmed as a historical event in the New Testament.
Said a bit differently and more generally, in a variety of ways the New Testament affirms the reliability and the historicity of the Book of Exodus, as well as other portions of the Old Testament. Consequently, someone who affirms the reliability of the New Testament must (by virtue of just that) also affirm the reliability of the Old Testament. You cannot have the New without the Old. It just doesn’t work.
If Jesus was a historical figure, so was Moses. If the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke are historically reliable, so is Exodus. Peter testifies to all that.
Although he was stuck in prison for who-knows-how-long, Joseph had not been abandoned. Given his helplessness and the uncertainty of his situation, Joseph was undoubtedly tempted to despair. However, God was there with him — with him and for him. God was somehow with Joseph the entire time; and God blessed Joseph with success and favor, even while he was in the pit of prison. The Book of Genesis repeatedly emphasizes the importance of God being with Joseph there. With God’s blessing on him even through the most difficult time of his life, Joseph won the respect of everyone around him. He even earned the complete and utter trust of the boss, the keeper of the prison, someone we would today call the warden.
One morning while making the rounds and checking on the other inmates, Joseph noticed that something was wrong. Two of the inmates appeared quite upset. Of course, Joseph asked the two what was bothering them. They said that they had had disturbing dreams. He invited them to describe their dreams. It is important to the story to know that these two particular prisoners were not insignificant nobodies, but high royal officials who until recently had had immediate access to the Pharaoh himself.
Pharaoh’s personal cupbearer described his dream first. He had dreamt about three branches on a grape vine. The three branches somehow produced fully ripe grapes way, way, way faster than they normally and naturally would. In his dream, Pharaoh’s cupbearer then squished all the ripe grapes and brought the grape juice to Pharaoh.
Then Joseph interpreted the dream for the cupbearer. The three branches represented three days, Joseph explained. In just three days, the cupbearer would be released from prison, and would be elevated up to his former position. He would soon be released and get his old job back. Having interpreted the dream, Joseph requested that upon his release the cupbearer please mention the injustice of Joseph’s plight to the Pharaoh. But and however, once elevated back to his old position, the cupbearer’s mind was preoccupied on other things. He forgot all about Joseph the Dream Interpreter, for two long years.
Back to the second official’s interpreted dream, though. It was the royal baker’s turn. When he heard that Joseph gave the cupbearer an optimistic interpretation, the royal baker was eager to describe his dream. He had dreamt that he had three baskets of baked goods on top his head, from which the birds were eating. This time, when Joseph interpreted the dream for the royal baker, it was not good news — not at all. The three baskets represented three days. Like the cupbearer, the royal baker would be elevated in just three days. But unlike the cupbearer, the royal baker would not be elevated in a desirable way. In just three days, Pharaoh would elevate the baker’s head (and body) by hanging him and strangling him on a tree. Joseph’s final words to the royal baker were especially horrifying: “And the birds will eat the flesh from you.” Yikes.
As it so happens, that third day was Pharaoh’s own birthday. Pharaoh was celebrated with a big birthday bash. And everything Joseph had predicted happened. Both the royal cupbearer and the royal baker were elevated on the occasion. The royal cupbearer was elevated out of prison back to his former position. But the royal baker was elevated out of prison to a noose. Joseph, however, had to wait in prison for another two years to be elevated, because the cupbearer forgot all about him. The royal cupbearer would only happen to remember Joseph later, when the Pharaoh himself had some perplexing dreams that needed interpretation.
Questions for Consideration
• How do you think did Joseph felt while he was unfairly imprisoned? What doubts probably went occasionally through his mind? What temptations might Joseph have struggled with? What do you think was hardest for Joseph during his time in prison?
• What hopes or dreams might have kept Joseph going while he was in prison?
• What does it mean when Genesis says that God was with Joseph? What might Joseph have experienced that made him aware of God being there with him? Is this point (about God being there for Joseph) meant to give us hope that God will be us when we go through difficult times?
• Why was God there for Joseph in a way that God might not have been for some of the other prisoners?
• Based on the backstory of Joseph’s boyhood, what keeps re-emerging and recurring as a curious (and yet nightly) phenomenon that repeatedly alters the course of his life? What might we, as readers, potentially conclude about this curious, nightly phenomenon? Might God use the same phenomenon in our lives today?
• Which talents or gifts did Joseph demonstrate while in prison?
• Were Joseph’s prison years good or bad for him? How do you think Joseph might have changed as a result of his prison years?
• Why is the word elevate important in this story? Who was elevated, and how? Who had to wait a while longer to be elevated?
• Looking ahead: What eventually got Joseph out of prison? Who gets credit for getting Joseph out of prison?
On the eve of a dread and potentially deadly family reunion with his hairy twin brother (his long-estranged, vowed-to-violent-vengeance twin brother Esau), Jacob the Snatcher arranged for himself to be all alone for what might possibly be his final night on earth. But his time of quiet solitude was not to be. Instead, a mysterious nighttime intruder arrived and upended Jacob’s plans. Jacob found himself in a desperate wrestling match with the mysterious, anonymous intruder. The two wrestled through the night. At daybreak, the mysterious, anonymous intruder finally asked Jacob to let go. But Jacob refused to let his mysterious opponent go — at least not without first receiving a blessing. In response to Jacob’s request (or demand) for a blessing, his very mysterious wrestling opponent inquired, “What is your name?” Jacob told him that his name is Jacob (which means snatcher). The anonymous intruder (who seems to have been none other than God himself) then gave Jacob a few lasting mementos from that nocturnal wrestling bout — an injured hip, and thus a hobbling limp for the rest of his life, and also another name — a new name and identity: Israel, which translated means “Struggles with God.” If you’re interested in reading this story for yourself, you can find it in Genesis 32:22-31.
Envy, Hatred, & Gross Injustice
Years later, as a hobbling, limping older man, Jacob (aka Israel) resided in the Promised Land with his large family. He had twelve sons and one daughter. Of all his children, Jacob’s favorites were the two sons of his late, especially cherished wife Rachel. She had tragically died during the birth of their second son, Benjamin.
As you might be aware, family favoritism can be a very destructive dynamic. And given all the trouble that paternal favoritism had caused between himself and his twin brother Esau, you might think that Jacob the Snatcher would have learned his lesson, and would have known better than to play favorites with his own children — but sorry, no, not so. Jacob played favorites with his children, too. Jacob’s clear favorite was Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn son.
Whether he realized it or not, Jacob’s favoritism was entirely obvious to all twelve of his sons. As mentioned previously, Jacob had a total of thirteen children by multiple mothers. When young Joseph turned seventeen, Jacob gave his most favorite son a gift, a coat or a robe, a coat of many colors. This special, distinctive garment of honor provoked the envy and hatred of Joseph’s older brothers.
Had Joseph been somewhat older and wiser, he might have noticed his brothers’ growing resentment and sullen envy. But Joseph was not older and wiser. He was younger and more naïve. Indeed, Joseph was naïve enough to blab, blab, blab indiscreetly. He even casually recounted two nighttime dreams to his resentful older brothers. The symbolism in his two dreams was very easily decipherable. And an obvious, quite insulting message was altogether apparent to his brothers. In both of his dreams, all of his brothers (and even his parents) symbolically bowed low, low, low before him. Consequently, the obvious, demeaning, infuriating interpretation of Joseph’s dream provoked even more resentment. His older brothers’ hatred festered. They all loathed Daddy’s favorite son, their half-brother Joseph.
Then one day, a rather perfect opportunity for taking revenge presented itself. Joseph had been sent to go check up on them as they tended their herds. Old man Jacob had told Joseph to go observe his brothers, and then return and let him know if they were doing their jobs or not. When Joseph came along to check up on them, his brothers saw him and said, “Here comes that dreamer!” And they eagerly seized upon a perfect chance to do him harm. First they ripped off his despised coat/robe of many colors. Then they threw their obnoxious little half-brother into a nearby pit. After that, they convened an impromptu field committee to decide the precious brat’s fate. Joseph’s life appeared to hang in the balance.
The immediate question was, how much more harm would they do? Some of his brothers wanted to be done with Joseph and his vain dreams, once and for all. They meant to kill him. But their oldest brother, Rueben, who seems to have had a bit of a conscience, convinced them not to kill Joseph. Instead, Rueben suggested they should merely sell him as a slave. Coincidentally and conveniently, a caravan of Midianites happened to be passing near by. So his brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him as a slave to the Midianite traders for twenty shekels of silver. As they did so, they ignored Joseph’s many pleas for compassion.
To cover up what they had done to their younger brother, the ten of them dipped Joseph’s coat/robe of many colors in a goat’s blood. They brought the bloody robe to their father Jacob and said, “Father, we found this out in the field. Is this not Joseph’s robe?” Jacob recognized it as the robe he gave to Joseph. He concluded from the blood that Joseph must have been killed by a wild animal. His heart was broken. Not only had he lost his cherished wife, Rachel, now he had also lost his favorite son, Rachel’s firstborn. He wept and could not be consoled.
Meanwhile, the Midianite traders brought Joseph down to Egypt, where they sold him to an Egyptian official named Potiphar. But although he was far from his home and had to toil as a slave, God was there with Joseph. And God made Joseph successful in everything he did. Potiphar was so pleased with Joseph’s work that he put him in charge of his entire household.
But then something bad happened. Joseph suffered yet another personal setback. Potiphar’s wife took an illicit romantic interest in Joseph. Joseph was young and handsome. She could not help but notice. Sometimes Potiphar’s wife was home alone with Joseph. She suggested that Joseph spend more time with her, somewhat closer. Joseph emphatically said no, to do so would be a big violation of his boss’ trust, and it would be wrong in God’s eyes, too. But she was very, very determined to have her way. On one occasion, when they were alone together, she reached out and grabbed ahold of his clothing. Joseph quickly turned and ran away, leaving some of his clothing dangling there in her hand. Potiphar’s wife then realized that she needed a quick alibi, so she flipped the narrative. She framed Joseph. She accused Joseph of a crime. She said Joseph had tried to do something inappropriate to her, not the other way around. Potiphar believed his wife’s story-spin, and had Joseph arrested and put in prison.
But even inside of that prison, something ~somewhat~ good happened. Genesis says that the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, even there. The Lord gave Joseph favor in the sight of the warden, the keeper of the prison. As before and as always, Joseph stood out from everyone around him. Joseph was a model prison inmate. Eventually, the warden trusted Joseph so much that he let Joseph do his job for him. Nonetheless, Joseph was still in prison. In spite of his criminal record, Joseph knew he was actually an innocent man. He hoped to someday regain his freedom.
In a future episode, we will learn what happened to Joseph, the model prison inmate, who has been attacked by his envious older brothers, sold into slavery, and then framed by his owner’s wife.
The Epistle of Jude, the next-to-last book of New Testament, has only one chapter. Its fourth verse says:
For certain individuals have crept in unnoticed, those who long ago were designated for such condemnation, irreverent sorts, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality/licentiousness and deny our only Sovereign and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jude, quite possibly the brother of Jesus
A lot of commentaries, preachers, and Bible teachers might waste your time by turning your attention away from the immediate relevance of this verse. They will present likely historical scenarios pertaining to how and when this once happened, nearly two thousand years ago. Given my theological training, I would likely find what they say all quite interesting and potentially helpful. It might bore you to tears, though.
As good as all the secondary textual information might be, the most important issue is whether this verse has any immediate relevance today. Does it apply to us here and now? Yes, it most certainly does. What is described in this verse is happening now, and happens frequently.
Certain individuals are creeping into homes, schools, churches, and (especially) social media. But the word creeping can be easily misunderstood. These creeping individuals often do not appear creepy at all. On the contrary, they seem smart, polished, reputable, and likable. What makes them creepy is not their appearance nor their mannerism, but their agenda. They will (probably) not disclose their true intentions. They will not tell you up front that their intention is to make some “helpful and necessary” changes to the curriculum, or the lectionary, or whatever you want to call the informational content — that is, the accepted doctrine.
But Jude tells us very clearly what these creeps are up to. They will pervert the grace of God. They will pervert or swap the grace of God for something else. Instead of the grace of God, they will offer a license to sin. They will give people permission to be self-indulgent in a way that Scripture forbids. They will tell people that (re-defined) grace allows us to live in a manner that God has deemed sinful and deadly. And yes, this is happening now, and happens frequently.
Jude also tells us that they will deny Jesus Christ. Oops, I realize I need to make an immediate correction. More specifically, these creeps will deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. They will not necessarily deny the historical Jesus, but will “knowledgeably” reappraise what the Church has “errantly” said about him. Some will deny that Jesus Christ is the only Master and Lord. No, they will say, there are several other worthy and wise sovereigns, teachers, and gurus. Some creeps will claim that Jesus was merely a noble teacher, who presented a worthy ethic. Other creeps will say that Jesus was actually a political revolutionary, who met a tragic and regrettable end by execution. But in one way or another, the creeps will all say that Jesus’ disciples got it wrong. The creeps will all deny that Jesus is our only Sovereign and Lord. And yes, many such creeps are on the loose right now, making precisely these claims. You are likely to encounter some of them today, most likely on your digital device.
Now that Jude has told you what to look for, you might find it a bit easier to spot a creep.