KORAH’S SONS

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. [Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV) A Psalm of the Sons of Korah”]

monarch butterflyWhen researching their genealogy, most people hope to lay claim to ancestors who were nobility, war heroes, statesmen, historical figures or people who performed note-worthy deeds. Nevertheless, every tree has a few bad apples and we all probably have a few scoundrels in our line. For those seeking infamous rather than famous ancestors, several web sites provide access to court records, outlaw and criminal biographies, and lists of prisoners, convicts, executions, “pirates and buccaneers,” and inmates of asylums.

With the “sons of Korah” having written at least eleven of the psalms, the question of genealogy arises because we wonder about Korah’s identity. In Scripture, “son” has the broad meaning of descendants and Korah was the bad apple on their family tree. A Levite from the Kohathite clan, Korah’s story is found in Numbers 16. The Kohathites had the honor of transporting the most sacred objects of the tabernacle. Korah, however, wanted to serve as a priest—something that only could be done by Aaron and his family. Whether jealous of Aaron or resentful that the holy items had to be carried on his shoulders rather than transported on an ox cart, Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Along with two malcontents from the tribe of Reuben, he challenged their leadership. As a result, the rebel leaders were swallowed by a sinkhole, 250 of their followers were consumed by fire, and 14,700 people died in a plague. Korah’s three sons, however, were spared and, seven generations later, the prophet Samuel came from his line.

Scripture tells us that Korah’s descendants (Korahites) joined David in various military exploits and, when he was king, they led the choral and orchestral music in the tabernacle. Three of those sons are named: Heman the Ezrahite (grandson of Samuel), Asaph, and Ethan (or Jeduthan). Along with being David’s chief musicians, all three men served as “seers” or prophets. Once the Temple was built, the “sons of Korah” became doorkeepers and custodians for the tabernacle.

For those of us with rotten apples on our family tree, unless we publicize their sordid history, it’s our secret. Korah’s descendants, however, had no secrets; their ancestor’s rebellion was a significant part of their nation’s history. I wonder if, when they wrote of the earth giving way in Psalm 46, they remembered the story of their rebellious ancestor sinking into an abyss. Korah had been given a special ministry by God but didn’t appreciate it. Covetously, he wanted more and people died because of him. His “sons,” however, never allowed the infamy of their ancestor to keep them from faithfully serving both God and their king as doorkeepers and musicians and using their God-given gifts to magnify the Lord.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  [Psalm 84:10-11 (ESV) A Psalm of the Sons of Korah]

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THE HALLEL

Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever. Everywhere—from east to west—praise the name of the Lord. [Psalm 113:1-3 (NLT)

Southern MockingbirdSeveral years ago, our mountain church hosted a concert sponsored by the small Jewish congregation in town. I vividly remember the end of the program as Jews and Gentiles sang Hava Nagila, joined hands, and danced the hora around our large sanctuary. Impressed by the performer’s energy, passion, and love of God, I purchased one of his recordings. Yesterday, after sorting through some old books and CDs, I listened to it for the first time in over 10 years. The music was composed and performed by a man who still performs today but the Hebrew words he sang were those of the Hallel and over 2,000 years old.

Hallel means “praise” and the Hallel is a liturgical prayer found in Jewish prayer books today that consists of all or parts of Psalms 113 through 118. Considered the cornerstone of Jewish liturgy, it testifies to the glorious miracles performed by God. Except for the solemn days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the jubilant Hallel is said or sung on all major Jewish holidays.

The author or authors of the six psalms of the Hallel are unknown but the psalms share a common theme: the events surrounding the exodus, God’s covenant with Israel, and the people’s obligation of praise and thanksgiving for God’s loving-kindness and sovereignty over Israel and all nations.

It opens with the simple song of praise found in Psalm 113 which begins and ends with “Hallelu yah” meaning “Praise the Lord.” Psalm 114 follows with a poetic description of the exodus and all of nature reacting in dance to God’s great work. Psalm 115 is an appeal for God’s assistance, not for Israel’s sake, but to bring honor and glory to God’s name among the pagan nations. The next psalm is one of gratitude by someone who, in a time of trouble, called upon God and was saved. Ending with a commitment to serve the Lord, it is followed by the shortest of all the psalms with a call for all nations to praise the Lord. The final psalm, 118, begins with thanksgiving followed by recounting God’s salvation in troubled times. It echoes the words Moses and the people sang after crossing the Red Sea: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.” [Exodus 15:2] This last psalm ends as it began—with thanksgiving.

Until now, I don’t think I appreciated the psalms as what they are: an ancient hymnbook. Reciting or singing the Hallel was a well-established part of the Jewish Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkoth celebrations by the first century. When I’ve sung or spoken the psalms in unison at church, I didn’t think about Jesus singing or saying those very same words (in Hebrew, of course). That Jews continue to sing the same hymns of praise sung by Jesus and the disciples when they worshiped—the same songs they sang together during the seder on the night He was betrayed—is mind boggling. That we still have those beautiful words of praise and thanksgiving, words we can say or sing any time, is a blessing. Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord, all you nations. Praise him, all you people of the earth. For his unfailing love for us is powerful; the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. Praise the Lord! [Psalm 117]

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GIVE PEACE A CHANCE

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. [Proverbs 15:1 (NLT)]

mourning doveIn 2 Samuel 20, we find the story of the “wise woman from Able.” Even though David and his men had suppressed Absalom’s revolt, hostility remained between the people of Judah (David’s tribe) and the ten northern tribes of Israel. When a “troublemaker” named Sheba led the men of Israel in rebellion, Joab and an army of Judeans pursued him. After Sheba’s men found refuge in the town of Abel, Joab’s forces raised a siege ramp against the ramparts of the city and began to batter its walls. Knowing the city and all of its inhabitants would be destroyed once the walls were breached, a “wise woman” came to the wall and asked to speak with Joab. After reminding him that her city was famous for the wisdom of its inhabitants, she assured him of their loyalty and inquired what it was he wanted. Telling her that all he wanted was Sheba, the woman struck a bargain with him and traded the life of Sheba for the safety of the city. After she convinced the town to turn over the rebel leader, his dismembered head was thrown over the city wall, Joab and his army withdrew, and the city was safe.

Like many Old Testament accounts, this story is gruesome, but that shouldn’t keep us from its lesson. With famine, disease, destruction, and death threatening the besieged city, Able’s men wouldn’t stand idly by while their walls were under attack and some of Joab’s troops surely would fall before they conquered the city. When it comes to war, while one side eventually may lay claim to victory, no one ever wins. Instead of coming to the city wall armed with weapons as did Joab, the wise woman of Able came armed with reason. Simply by saying, “Let’s talk!” she discovered what he wanted, determined a solution, and saved lives on both sides of that wall.

It was this nameless woman who defused the situation but that’s what Joab should have done. When God gave the Israelites all those laws in Deuteronomy, He gave them some about warfare and, before attacking a city, they were to offer the inhabitants terms for peace. [20:10] Joab, however, immediately launched an attack (but we know from the rest of Joab’s story that he was a man of treachery and not of God). Wisdom, however, comes from the Lord and the wise woman of Able knew God and His word!

Unlike Joab, we’re not likely to be chasing a rebel army and, unlike this unnamed woman, we probably won’t need to save an entire city from death and destruction, but consider what might happen if we always sought peace before conflict? What if, the next time we’re in a disagreement or dispute, we were more interested in resolution than victory? Instead of trying to change someone else’s mind, what if we opened ours? What if we discussed rather than disparaged and negotiated rather than litigated? Instead of insisting we’re right, what if we tried to reconcile our differences? What would happen if we said, “Let’s talk!” and then really listened? What if we asked, “What can I do to make this right?” and then did it?

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NLT)]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

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DIAMOND MINING

Some of his [Paul’s] comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. [2 Peter 3:16 (NLT)]

butterfly weed“You have to drill through mud and water to get oil; you have to sift through sand and silt to get gold; you have to chop and hack through stone to get diamonds. So why do so many people feel that the treasure of ideas should come to them with little or no effort?” asked Sydney J. Harris. Even though he wasn’t referring to the Bible, the journalist’s words made me think of the way we often approach Scripture; complaining that it’s too hard to understand, we simply don’t study it!

If we’ll put forth effort to perfect our golf or tennis swing, train for a marathon, master chess or bridge, plant a garden, or become a gourmet cook, I wonder why we think understanding Scripture should be effortless. It’s only natural that words penned by 40 (or more) people, between 1400 BC to 90 AD, in a wide variety of genres, in another language, and shaped by different cultures and traditions, require some work to comprehend. Scripture’s words were God breathed by the One who created words and thoughts! He is greater than any novelist or journalist so we should expect His words and ideas to be more difficult to understand than theirs! But, because of the effort required to understand them, many of us don’t bother and stick to a few favorite stories, verses and Psalms.

During this sheltering in place, our church conducted an online Bible study and, after thirteen weeks of video lectures given by Biblical scholar N. T. Wright, we finally completed our study of Philippians. In some sessions, Professor Wright walked us through as few as five verses, but the way he shed light on Paul’s circumstances, the Philippians’ society and environment, the political situation of the time, the original Greek meaning of many of the words, the way Paul’s words in Philippians related to his other letters, and what the Apostle’s words meant to us, was immensely rewarding. It was like taking a beautiful old piece of heavily tarnished silver and polishing it. Before this study, I appreciated Philippians the way I might the tarnished silver piece. After studying the epistle in depth, however, the profoundness of Paul’s words were uncovered the same way silver’s true beauty is revealed when it’s polished! Polishing silver, however, takes “elbow grease” and comprehending Scripture takes effort, as well.

Admittedly, understanding Bible passages and spiritual concepts can be challenging but that shouldn’t discourage or surprise us. Even the Apostle Peter admitted the difficulty of comprehending Paul’s words! Nevertheless, the Apostle knew the importance of trying to understand Scripture to avoid being misled. Peter was concerned about teachers who claimed that Christ’s followers could still live immoral lives. Today’s false teachers may be spouting other nonsense but, without our making the effort to study Scripture, we won’t recognize their errors.

Since each Bible study on Philippians lasted about 45 minutes, we spent around 585 minutes on four chapters. That sounds like a lot of time until we consider the 52 billion-plus minutes of The Office that were streamed by Netflix users in 2018 or the 437 billion minutes spent watching NFL and college football’s regular seasons that same year.

For the last several years, I’ve devoted a part of every day to studying Scripture. I still can’t quote chapter and verse, but my life is fuller and more purposeful because of its words. It’s worth the effort because, like mining for diamonds, each time I dig deep into God’s word, another beautiful gem appears.

The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. [Harper Lee]

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

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ELOHIM (The Trinity – Part 2)

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” [Mark 12:29-30 (NIV)]

Tower Falls - Grand Canyon

Although words like divinity, omniscience, incarnation, and omnipresent are fundamental to our understanding of God, they never appear in Scripture; their concepts, however, do. Like them, the word “trinity” never appears in the Bible but its concept is found throughout God’s Word.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, we find the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith and it was this commandment that Jesus cited as the most important commandment of all. Although His words made it clear there is only one God, from the first words of Genesis to those in Revelation, we find a plurality to that one God. In Hebrew, the singular form of God is El, but when Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” the word translated as “God” is Elohim, the plural form of God. Yet, wherever we find the plural Elohim referring to God, the verb used is singular, clearly implying only one God!

In Genesis 1:26, we have God (Elohim) speaking in the plural, “Let us make man in our own image” and, in 3:22, He says that man “has become like one of us.” God isn’t speaking to the angels because they are nothing like us nor is God using a royal “we” since there are no other examples of its use in Scripture. In fact, the earliest evidence of royalty referring to self as “we” is not found until the 4th century!

The personages of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are found in both the Old and New Testaments. In Genesis 14:18, we have the Father when El, the singular form of God, refers to “God Most High.” In Isaiah 7:14, we have the Son in “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.” In Job 33:4 and 37:10, we find the Holy Spirit as the ”Spirit of God” and “Breath of God.” In the New Testament, we have all three personages present when Jesus was baptized, God publicly proclaimed Him as His Son, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon Him. [Matthew 3:16-17] We then have Jesus putting all three persons together when He gave the disciples the Great Commission.

Last Sunday, Christians celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers. While Pentecost, like Christmas and Easter, celebrates an event, this coming Sunday we will celebrate a vital part of Christian doctrine: the Holy Trinity. Just as the Trinity was there in the Old Testament when Elohim decided to make man, the Trinity was there when Elohim chose to save man in the New! Thank you God!

When I know it is the Word of God that declares the Trinity, that God has said so, I do not inquire how it can be true; I am content with the simple Word of God, let it harmonize with reason as it may. And every Christian should adopt the same course with respect to all the articles of our faith. [Martin Luther]

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)]

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ANALOGIES (The Trinity-Part 1)

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” [Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV)]

apache plumeI don’t think there is a way we can fully understand the Trinity—how one God can exist as three distinct and complete persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it comes down to finding analogies that come close. A common one is that God can be experienced in three forms just as water can be experienced as a liquid, solid or vapor. Like every analogy, though, it isn’t quite right. At Jesus’ baptism, God appeared in all three personages at the same time but water can’t do that! As imperfect as they are, however, analogies help us better understand the mystery of the Trinity.

It was hearing a chef on the Food Network use the term “holy trinity” that brought to mind another analogy. Rather than talking theology, the chef was making a mirepoix—a mixture of onions, celery, and carrots. Just as these three distinct vegetables combine into a flavor foundation for stocks and stews, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons who combine into one being and form the foundation of our Christian faith. In spite of a chef’s mirepoix being called a “holy trinity,” however, the analogy doesn’t capture the concept fully. In a mirepoix, once the vegetables are combined and sautéed, they are no longer distinct—not so with the Holy Trinity. Even when combined in the Godhead, all three persons of the Trinity retain their individuality.

Rather than a mirepoix, perhaps the chef’s cookbook makes a better analogy. Having length, width and thickness, it is three-dimensional. Its length is not its width, its thickness not its length, and its width not its thickness and, while they all differ, none is more important than the other. Each is a separate and distinct measurement and yet they connect into one book and, if we remove any one of the dimensions, we no longer have the book. The Godhead, like a cookbook, has three unique dimensions that combine to make up the entirety without changing the original dimensions.

God, however, is neither dimension nor thing; He is a being. Analogies will always fail us because they are limited by human comprehension. Nevertheless, being pretty much incomprehensible doesn’t mean the Trinity isn’t real. It just means that understanding an unlimited God is too immense for our finite minds. If we could fully understand the essence of God, He wouldn’t be God!

The point isn’t to understand it all; it is simply to know and be known by God. While I have but a vague understanding of the Trinity, I believe in it because I have experienced all three persons! I pray to God the Father, have knowledge of Him through His Son Jesus Christ, and have His Spirit living within me. Thank you, God!

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. [Athanasian Creed]

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [2 Corinthians 13:14 (NIV)]

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. [John 14:26 (NIV)]

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