THE MISSING DAY (Part 2)

And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. [Joshua 10:13 (RSV)]

button bushMy initial interest in The Book of Jashar arose from Joshua 10 when, while in the midst of heated battle, Joshua prayed that the day would be prolonged. Scripture reports that both the sun and moon stayed in place until victory was won by the Israelites and that the account is found in The Book of Jashar.

In Joshua’s miracle, time stood still. In 2 Kings 20, instead of time stopping, time appeared to go backwards when the shadow on King Hezekiah’s sundial went back “ten steps.” Without an explanation of how God accomplished these miracles, people often assume He stopped the earth in one and briefly reversed its rotation in the other. But, if the earth suddenly stopped spinning, the atmosphere, oceans, and anything not nailed down would keep spinning. Their momentum would cause a 1000 miles-per-hour wind. There would be earthquakes and tsunamis and anything not attached to bedrock would be swept away. If the earth suddenly went backwards, the result would be equally disastrous. Scripture, however, only tells us the sun and moon stayed in the sky and the shadow on the sundial retreated; it never explains how.

For centuries people have pondered these two miracles and questioned the accuracy of their reports. Why people find them more unbelievable than the ten plagues inflicted on Egypt, the parting of both the Red Sea and the river Jordan, manna from heaven, the virgin birth, various miraculous healings, raising the dead, or any other of the more than 120 miracles we find in Scripture is beyond me. Perhaps it’s because these two miracles seem to defy physics and all we know about the way our planet works. Let us remember that the one who spoke the universe into existence can certainly do things in a way we can’t understand or explain.

Nevertheless, there is a persistent urban legend that says astronomers have found a missing day, dating back to Joshua’s time, in the astronomical calendar. This tale started in the late 1800s and has been updated periodically to reflect new science and technology. The latest version is that NASA, while making calculations for a space launch, found a missing 23 hours and 20 minutes. A Christian explained that it must be Joshua’s 48-hour day. He clarified that it wasn’t a full 24 hours because of Hezekiah’s sundial episode when time went backwards and then forward again, adding 40 minutes to its day. While scientists can calculate the past or future positions of heavenly objects with precision, there is no way they can know if time from over 3,000 years ago is missing! To detect missing time, they would need an accurate earth-based clock with which to compare their astronomical observations. Such clocks, however, didn’t exist in the era of sundials and there are no precisely-timed astronomical observations from Joshua’s time.

Scientific proof of these events is impossible and, while Biblical scholars have various explanations for them, they are only speculating. I prefer the easiest answer of them all: God can accomplish His will in ways that defy natural explanations. As the writer of the laws of nature, He can both enforce and alter those laws at His will. What happened was impossible; nevertheless, it happened. Rather than concentrating on the how, let us remember the who!

Ah Lord God! It is thou who hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for thee. [Jeremiah 32:17 (RSV)]

Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” [Mark 10:27 (RSV)]

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FAKE NEWS (Part 1)

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. [Proverbs 30:5-6 (NIV)]

gray catbirdBoth 2 Samuel 1 and Joshua 10 mention stories that could be found in The Book of Jashar (sometimes translated as Book of the Upright One or Book of the Just Ones). Biblical scholars speculate The Book of Jashar was a collection of Hebrew poems and songs praising Israel’s heroes and victorious battles. Scripture tells us it existed at one time but we’ll never know what was in it because it vanished more than 2,000 years ago.

Although The Book of Jashar can’t be found in our Bibles, nearly a dozen versions can be found on Amazon and elsewhere. Saying they’re the lost book referenced in Scripture and written by Jashar, “son of Caleb,” they claim to cover Hebrew history from creation through Joshua’s day. In spite of their claims, these books are works of fiction and none date further back than the 1600s. Confusing the issue, there is a genuine collection of Jewish legends called Sefer ha Yashar (or The Book of Righteousness) Written in the 1100s and first printed in Italy in 1544, it doesn’t claim to be history or written by Jashar. Nevertheless, this Hebrew title can be found as part of some of the fictional works purporting to be Jashar’s!

I enjoy reading fiction; my problem is with fiction that claims to be truth, most especially with fiction claiming to be on a par with the Bible! When reading reviews of the Jashar books on Amazon, it was disturbing to see that many people—people who should know better—believed this fiction was God’s truth. One woman (identifying herself as a Christian) wrote how wonderful it was to read the same words Jesus read in the Temple. She also asserted that The Book of Jasher was removed from our Bibles 200 years ago. Jashar never was in our Bibles and Jesus couldn’t have read those words because the book was lost by His time!

Another reviewer, thrilled to have a “deeper understanding of the people of the Bible,” was delighted to learn the reason Esau was so weary the day he sold his birthright was that he’d just killed Nimrod. Another reader cited the book’s explanation that it was God’s anger at man for having made an herbal concoction used as birth control that brought about the flood. Creative writing but not Biblical truth!

Fiction masquerading as truth can be found in fake gospels, as well. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 alleged sayings of Jesus, some of which are contrary to the rest of Scripture. Alleging a physical relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Philip also explains that the world is imperfect because God made a mistake and “fell short of attaining his desire.” The Gospel of Barnabas has Jesus predicting the Prophet Muhammad and claims that Judas was mistakenly crucified in Jesus’s place. Judas is rehabilitated in the Gospel of Judas which asserts that Jesus taught one message to eleven of the disciples but a special one to Judas. According to it, Judas served our Lord honorably because Jesus asked Judas to “betray” Him. Written in the second to fourth centuries, these “gospels” have no connection with any of the disciples, no historical support, and show no understanding of 1st century Judaism. They are nonsense!

Let us be cautious and discerning in our use of extra-biblical writings. While these works of fiction make interesting reading, we must never mistake them for God’s word. Unlike them, the 66 books of the accepted canon are not myths, legends, or filled with contradictions and errors. In Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, Dr. Tebring calls the Bible “a product of man.” Tebring had it wrong. The Da Vinci Code, The Book of Jashar, and the various “missing” gospels are all products of man. The Bible, however, is God-breathed and merely transcribed by man! Let us never confuse the two.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV)]

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)]

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SCHEDULED

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. [Mark 1:35 (NLT)]

clock

I like the calendar app on our smartphones and its ability to remember recurring events: just put in an occasion and tell it to repeat every day, week, month, or year for as long as you want. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, yoga class, tennis lessons, Bible study—there’s no reason to miss any of those recurring events and my man no longer has any excuse for forgetting my birthday or our anniversary! Our devices notify us of the day’s events and, with just a quick glance, we’re reminded of something we need to do, somewhere to go, or someone we should remember that day.

Attentive as we are about scheduling book club, haircuts, birthday cards or the dentist, are any of us as diligent about scheduling God into our lives? Do we schedule a recurring daily appointment with Him or is He just allotted one hour Sunday mornings? The most important appointment of the day (one that should be repeated each and every day with no end date) is the one we have with God.

Scheduling an appointment, however, doesn’t always mean it is kept. Things come up, plans change and appointments are broken. Since some professionals like doctors, lawyers, and personal trainers often charge when we don’t show for a session, we’re usually careful about keeping their appointments. God, however, doesn’t charge a fee if we skip our time with him. Perhaps, since He’s never too busy for us, we take Him for granted and frequently get too busy for Him! If we don’t have time to pray and read Scripture, we are far busier than God ever intended us to be.

Moreover, for what the lawyer, physician, or trainer charges per hour, we’re usually attentive to whatever it is they have to say to us. Are we as attentive when we meet with God? I start the day reading the day’s Bible verses and meditations in my in-box but my attention can get diverted to emails from the kids, humor from a friend, or a sale from my favorite retailer. While reading Scripture, I can get side-tracked, as well. I start researching one thing and, several links later, find myself totally immersed in another thing! It’s not so much that I’ve wasted the time—it’s that God is no longer at the front and center of our appointment and something or someone else has taken my attention. Pretty soon, breakfast and the day’s activities call; prayer and meditation get put off until a more convenient time. I promise to get back to God later, but that rarely happens. Even though I’ll spend time later in the day writing devotions, that’s doing a task for Him, rather than spending time with Him and the two are not the same.

Originally, I started this devotion with the point being to schedule and keep a daily appointment with God. Now, I realize I’m wrong. In actuality, God shouldn’t have to be scheduled; He should be there in the forefront 24/7/365. Rather than making time with God fit into our calendar and plans, it’s all of the other things demanding our attention that we must arrange to fit into His agenda and timetable.

We usually spend our money on what is most important to us—on what do we spend our time?

The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God; keep it, or every other battle will become bigger. [Ravi Zacharias]

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. [1 Chronicles 16:8-11 (NLT)]

Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. [Psalm 86:11 (NLT)]

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IT’S A MYSTERY

[A Maskil of Asaph.] O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? [Psalm 74:1 (ESV)]

[A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.] Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me. [Psalm 56:1 (ESV)]

[To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.] Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! [Psalm 81:1 (ESV)]

ibisDepending on the Bible translation used, there are five strange words we might encounter when reading the Psalms: maskil, miktam, shigionoth, gittith and selah. Maskil is seen in the titles of thirteen psalms and once in a psalm’s text (47:7). Believed to be derived from the Hebrew word sakal, meaning to be prudent, understand or ponder, maskil may indicate a psalm of wisdom with instructions for godliness. It’s sometimes translated as a “contemplative poem,” “instruction,” or “skillful psalm.” It also could refer to the skillful construction of the psalm (like a sonnet with its 14 lines and fixed rhyme scheme). The Amplified Bible covers both bases by calling a maskil  “a skillful song, or a didactic or reflective poem.” Since the maskil psalms don’t share a common theme or a unique form, maskil could just be a musical term relating to its performance and its exact meaning remains a mystery in the Psalter.

The six miktam psalms are another mystery. Miktam may be from the Hebrew word katham, meaning to carve, engrave, or inscribe indelibly. Some scholars believe these psalms were valued so much that they were engraved upon tablets. Other scholars believe miktam is from the Hebrew word kethem, meaning “fine or stamped gold” and indicate the psalm was “as precious as stamped gold.” Along that line, the Amplified Bible calls the miktam psalms “a record of memorable thoughts.” While the designation may indicate the importance of the psalm, like maskil, miktam could just be a musical term. We don’t know.

Found only in the title of Psalm 7 and in Habakkuk 3:1, shigionoth usually is translated as prayer. Because its root word could be shagah, meaning reeling or going astray, it’s thought to indicate a wild passionate song with rapid changes of rhythm. In Psalm 7, the Amplified Bible translates shigionoth as an “ode of David…in a wild, irregular, enthusiastic strain.”

Three psalms have the strange heading of gittith. Associating it with the city of Gath where a harp was made, scholars assume the heading meant it was accompanied by a Gittite harp or sung to a Gittite tune. Gittith also could refer to a wine press, indicating the psalms were sung during wine production. As with maskil, miktam, and shigionoth, its exact meaning remains a mystery.

Because those enigmatic terms typically are found only in a psalm’s title, their ambiguity doesn’t affect our appreciation of the psalm; selah, however, is different. Found within the text of 39 psalms and Habakkuk 3, selah bears notice. It may be from the Hebrew word salal, meaning lift up or exalt, which could be an indication for the choir to lift their voices higher and louder in praise. Many scholars, however, believe selah comes from the Hebrew salah, meaning “to pause” and signifies a pause in the music or recitation. Perhaps, selah means both: to praise and to pause.

Thinking of selah as less important than a quarter rest on a music score, I used to skip by it. Like a musical rest, however, selah, shouldn’t be ignored. While we don’t know its exact meaning, the Psalmists thought selah important enough to place it 71 times in Psalms and it should cause us to stop and reflect on the psalm’s previous words. Whenever selah occurs in the Amplified Bible, these words follow: “pause, and calmly think of that!” Regardless of the Bible translation we use, that’s wise advice!

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah [Psalm 32:5 (ESV)]

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SAVORING THE PSALMS

Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created. Your regulations remain true to this day, for everything serves your plans. [Psalm 119:89-91 (NLT)]

spreading dogbane

Because she enjoyed saying the psalms in unison during church, my friend wanted to read the entire book of Psalms. Viewing it as a project, she read at least five psalms a day. But, rather than savoring them individually as she might a Mother’s Day card from her son, she sped through them as she would a novel and what should have been a pleasure was a disappointment.

The unique beauty of a diamond ring isn’t discernible until it’s taken out of the display case, placed on black velvet, and viewed from all angles through a jeweler’s loupe. To truly appreciate the gem, however, it helps to know something about diamonds; it’s the same with the Psalms. Because they’re poetry, they’re best viewed and appreciated one at a time. While we don’t need to know the 4 C’s of gemology, knowing something about the psalms’ poetic structure helps us understand and appreciate these ancient songs of worship.

Written and collected from the time of Moses (1440 BC) to the Israelites’ return from their Babylonian captivity in 450 BC, the psalms express the full range of human emotion from the greatest joy to the deepest despair. Their passion goes from brutal and graphic appeals for an enemy’s destruction to jubilant cries of praise and thanksgiving (sometimes in the same psalm). Like all poetry, the psalms employ a number of literary devices to pack the biggest amount of thought into as few words as possible. Their use of meter, acrostics, metaphor and simile, hyperbole, emotional rather than logical connections, and something called parallelism mean that the reader has to read them thoughtfully to unpack their complete meaning.

To stay true to their original content, poetic aspects like compression and meter are lost in translation. For example, Psalm 23’s “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” is only four words in Hebrew and “He makes me lie down in green pastures,” is only three! Also lost in translation is the beauty of the acrostic psalms in which the initial letter of each line or phrase was in alphabetic order. Psalm 119, for example, is made up of 22 sections, starting with aleph and ending with tav, with the rest of the Hebrew alphabet in-between. The acrostic may have signified that the subject had been covered completely (“from A to Z”) or could have served as a mnemonic device for memorizing the psalm.

One thing we don’t lose in translation is rhyme; even in Hebrew, the psalms never rhymed. Rather than rhyme, they used something called parallelism. Rather than words sounding alike, two or more thoughts sounded alike as the psalmist repeated the same thought or phrase one or more times. In many cases, the identical thought was clearly repeated, as in Psalm 18:4: “The ropes of death entangled me; the floods of destruction swept over me.” Sometimes, the parallel lines contrasted with or opposed one another, as in Psalm 18:27: “You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud.” Successive lines often built on and developed the first line, as in Psalm 1:1: “Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join with mockers.” Unlike rhyme or meter, parallelism translates into any language which makes the beauty of the psalms universal. I don’t think that happened by accident. Regardless of who penned them, like the rest of Scripture, the Psalms clearly were God-breathed and meant for all people in all times.

The psalms are more than poetry; they are beautifully written prayers and should be read slowly and reverently. I’ve suggested that my friend start over by reading only one psalm each day and thinking of Psalms as she might a box of deliciously rich gourmet chocolate. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” By consuming just one psalm (or one chocolate) at a time, the whole complexity and richness of each one will get the attention it deserves.

How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. [Psalm 119:103 (NLT)]

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THE LAW – WHAT ABOUT THE TEN?

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. [Matthew 5:18-19 (NLT)]

Moses Fountain - Bern, SwitzerlandUnlike some laws, the Ten Commandments actually were set in stone; nevertheless, in a 2010 article in Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens posited that they were just a work in progress and badly needed a rewrite. Hitchens, who called himself an anti-theist rather than an atheist, had no use for the first three commandments. Getting out his hammer and chisel, he proposed getting rid of them altogether, revising others and adding a few more. While I didn’t agree with Hitchens’ misleading arguments, they caused me to consider the relevance of these laws that were given to an ancient nomadic tribe some 3,500 years ago.

That we seem to live in what often appears to be a godless society doesn’t mean we should throw out the first commandment. Granted, most of us don’t worship Baal, erect Ashtoreth poles or sacrifice children to Molech, but we do seem to worship the false gods of fame, wealth, beauty and self. As for the second, while we’re probably not creating graven images to worship, we do imbue inanimate objects like crystals, good luck charms, fancy cars, mega-mansions, and big bankrolls with divine power. As for taking the Lord’s name in vain—just because profanity and blasphemy have become commonplace in movies, television, and the music industry doesn’t mean it’s time to dispense with that commandment. God’s last name is not Dammit!

Hitchens had no complaint about having a day free from work but the atheist wasn’t about to dedicate it to the Lord. Even believers have difficulty with that one; if we truly kept the Sabbath holy, we’d have to reserve seats at our churches instead of tee times at the golf course. As for the fifth commandment, disrespect for one’s parents and elders seems to be increasing while the authority parents have over their children is decreasing. Unwritten but understood is that parents should be worthy of that respect. Sadly, some parents seem quite willing to abandon or abuse their responsibilities altogether.

When it comes to murder, the nightly news makes it clear that killing others has become the way many settle scores, win arguments, prove manhood, or retaliate for being cut off in traffic. Between the body count and the words and actions of contempt, malice and hatred expressed daily, it appears we desperately need that commandment. As for bearing false witness, just hearing a few political ads tells me that certainly hasn’t gone out of style over the centuries. Nor, it seems, has adultery! The tabloids keep us up to date on all of the adulterous adventures of the rich and famous and I wonder how many young people could define words like virtue, monogamy, or chastity.

As for stealing—that continues to be done both overtly and covertly. People are mugged, banks robbed, and identities stolen; there’s insider trading, currency manipulation, bribery and corporate espionage. We steal when people are paid “under the table,” disability is collected by an able-bodied person or income taxes are evaded. As for coveting, one look at the amount of credit card debt in this nation tells me we’re filled with desire for what isn’t ours. Consumerism and conspicuous consumption are just newer words for that old offense of covetousness. While we may not covet our neighbor’s donkey, ox or spouse, we seem to want everything else he has! It’s not the Ten Commandments that need to be re-chiseled—it’s us!

Granted, Hitchens did suggest adding a commandment about turning off your cell phone, which probably is a good idea but, by the end of his article, I only felt sorry for this godless man. Rather than rewrite the Ten Commandments into something a little more like The Ten Suggestions for a Satisfactory and Rewarding Life, we might want to re-read the original ones and evaluate our lives in their light. Granted, Jesus summarized the original ten into two simple rules, but those ten commands remain excellent and relevant guidelines for Christian behavior today.

Applying those ancient laws in the 21st century may require a broader interpretation but I seriously doubt they need rewriting or deletion. That many people deliberately misinterpret or ignore them is no reason to abandon them either. That drivers frequently disobey red lights, coast through stop signs, or exceed the speed limit doesn’t mean we should dispense with traffic laws. The problem isn’t with the law; it’s with the people!

If you love me, obey my commandments. [John 14:15 (NLT)]

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