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Articles of Biblical truth for today’s world

MEDITATION ON GOD’S WORD

Joshua 1:8  This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success

Psalm 1:1-2  Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;  2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night

Most of us probably assume that “meditate” means something like, “get in a quiet place and think about the Word.” But is that precisely what the Hebrew word translated “meditate” means? Please consider the following:

  • The Hebrew word translated as “meditate” (הגה) can also be translated: coo, growl, mutter, muse, imagine, read in an undertone, speak, proclaim.

 

  • “Meditation may be characterized as deep, reflective thought, often occurring in a repetitive or enduring fashion. This is linked with adverbial phrases such as “day and night” (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2) . . . It seems that the righteous meditate not only for the purpose of encouragement, but also that their life may actually conform to the object of such meditation.” The “most articulate use of the vb. הָגָה may be translated as declare, mutter, or utter” as in Psalm 35:28 “My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long” (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 1007–1008).

 

  • Positive use of this word relates to meditating upon the Word of God, which “goes on day and night (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2). Perhaps the Scripture was read half out loud in the process of meditation” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 205).

 

  • There is a parallelism in Joshua 1:8 between “not depart from your mouth” and “meditate on it.” “Not depart” is the negative command. “Meditate on it” is the same command restated as a positive command.

 

  • The Holman Christian Standard Version translates Joshua 1:8 as, “This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite, it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.” The CSB translators understand הגה to mean “recite.”

 

  • Is it possible that “meditating” on God’s Word includes both reflecting on God’s Word and talking about Scripture?

CAN IT BE THAT SIMPLE?

“All the residents of Aaia heard the word of the Lord” because of Paul (Acts 19:10).  Yet, many disciples in Asia had never seen him (Col. 2:1).  The most sensible explanation for that is that those churches were planted and nurtured by others who had learned from Paul and took the teaching to the people back home.  Colossians tells us as much (1:7; 4:12-13).

Acts 19:9-10 report that, when he left the synagogue, Paul “took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.  This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”

A different manuscript tradition for v. 9, reflected in an ESV footnote, adds that his daily reasoning was done “from the fifth hour to the tenth.”  That leads us to look again at verses 9-10.  Whether or not he did it five hours a day, Paul taught in the hall of Tyrannus every day for two years.  The result was that all Asia heard the word.

Obviously, he would have taught about the faith, but what specifics of the faith?  Might the fact that he “took the disciples with him” suggest something, especially when noticed in conjunction with texts like Colossians 1:28-29?  It certainly looks as if Paul was interested in teaching more than “first principles” and “the plan of salvation.”  The Tyrannus Hall lectures were valuable disciple instruction time (see Luke 1:4; Acts 2:42; 18:25; 21:21; Gal. 6:6; et. al.).

That would explain how Epaphras could, in a relatively short time, become conversant enough with the teaching to be an effective church planter.  Conversely, that we do not generally see teaching programs comparable to what Paul did today doubtless contributes to the struggle of many churches to replicate the positive growth we see in the first century.  We can’t teach what we don’t know.

Michael Weed once perceptively observed that, “While Sunday schools and Bible classes provide an unending array of discussion groups, sharing sessions, and ‘meaningful experiences,’ biblical illiteracy and ignorance of basic Christian beliefs are reaching epidemic proportion among youth and adults” (“Why Johnny Can’t Pray,” Christian Studies [1992]: 11).

Weed’s words remain pertinent.  The problem is one of both quantity and quality: when we don’t study often, or deeply, we know little of substance to share.  It really is that simple.

David Anguish

The Meaning of “moed” and Genesis 1:14

Genesis 1:14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons (מוֹעֵד) and for days and years

It is most probable that in Gn 1:14 (P), where מ׳ || אֹתֹת, the reference is to the sacred seasons as fixed by the moon’s appearance; and so also עשׂה ירח למ׳ he made the moon for sacred seasons ψ 104:19 (Brown, Driver, Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, 417).

מוֹעֵד (ca. 200 times), מוֹעֲדוֹ/דֶֽךָ, מוֹעֲדֵי, מוֹעֲדָי/דֶֽיכֶם: —1 place for meeting, assembly point; 2. meeting, assembly; 3. agreed time, appointed time; 4. festival, time of festivity (Koehler, Baumgartner, Richardson, et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000, 557–558).

מוֹעֵד (môʿēd), nom. appointed time, (time of) feast, (#4595a); meeting place, assembly, tent of meeting (#4595b); < יָעַד (yāʿad), appoint, designate (#3585).

OT 1. Usage. The nom. מוֹעֵד occurs 223× in the OT, most frequently in Num (65×); Lev (49×); Exod (38×); and 2 Chron (4×). The nom. is used 149× in Exod 25–Num 31, where a pronounced priestly influence can be detected (TWAT 4:744).

Noncultic use of מוֹעֵד. The nom. מוֹעֵד in the OT refers to a determined place or time and can vary from the birth of a child (Gen 17:21) to the migration of a bird (Jer 8:7). A meeting between Jonathan and David can, for example, be referred to in this way (1 Sam 20:35). Koch is of the opinion that the nonreligious use of this term is concentrated in preexilic times (TWAT 4:746).

Cultic use of מוֹעֵד. A religious festival can also be called a מוֹעֵד (Lev 23:2, 4, 44; Isa 1:14; Ezek 36:38; 44:24; 45:17; Hos 2:9 [11]), but מוֹעֵד refers to more than only the pilgrimage festivals. In the OT a “feast” in the general sense of the word referred to “all set times of communal observance” (IDB 2:260). Some of the more important religious feasts in the OT are: the Festival of the New Moon (Num 28:11), the Sabbath (Exod 20:8–11; 31:12–17), the New Year (Feast of Trumpets, Lev 23:23–25; Num 29:7–11), the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:23–26, 32), and the Year of Jubilee (25:8–55; 27:17–24). For the use of מוֹעֵד as Tent of Meeting (#4595b).

Theological considerations on festivals. The biblical accounts of the feasts of Israel are recorded in different festive calendars (חַג [#2504]); much more research will have to be done on how different festival traditions (from the northern kingdom and Judah) were combined in the final text of the OT (Goldstein & Cooper, 19–31).

(a) Two theological elements can be traced in all of them: the grateful and joyous commemoration of the redemptive acts of God, and care for the poor and the needy (ISBE 2:295; Wilms, 42–45). According to Cox (21), “The festival breaks through the routine and opens man to the past, it widens his experience and reduces his provincialism.” Religious feasts were the reenactment of God’s salvific events in the past (esp. the Exodus). They had a distinct educational value in nurturing succeeding generations in the faith. The feast became the recurring reminder that God can also determine the present circumstances of everyday reality (Otto, 44).

(b) The feasts were instituted not only to maintain community between God and Israel, but also to reestablish community among Israelites themselves by taking care of the widows and orphans (Vriezen, 284, 320). Deuteronomy in particular is concerned with the needs of the poor, which were to be addressed in the creation of solidarity among all Israel during the commemoration of a feast (Deut 16:11, 14; cf. Albertz, 91).

(c) The increase in the importance of the temple and priesthood in Jerusalem (esp. with the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah) led to a concentration on the outward performance of festivals, sacrifices, and fasting (Isa 1:14–15; 58:3–5; Amos 5:21; Eichrodt, 1:47). Modern theological interpretation of the OT festivals should be aware of the ongoing danger of degrading religious feasts to a level of superficial adherence.

(VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997, 871–872).

Occurrences of מוֹעֵד (môʿēd) in the Hebrew Bible: Gen. 1:14; 17:21; 18:14; 21:2; Exod. 9:5; 13:10; 23:15; 27:21; 28:43; 29:4, 10f, 30, 32, 42, 44; 30:16, 18, 20, 26, 36; 31:7; 33:7; 34:18; 35:21; 38:8, 30; 39:32, 40; 40:2, 6f, 12, 22, 24, 26, 29f, 32, 34f; Lev. 1:1, 3, 5; 3:2, 8, 13; 4:4f, 7, 14, 16, 18; 6:9, 19, 23; 8:3f, 31, 33, 35; 9:5, 23; 10:7, 9; 12:6; 14:11, 23; 15:14, 29; 16:7, 16f, 20, 23, 33; 17:4ff, 9; 19:21; 23:2, 4, 37, 44; 24:3; Num. 1:1; 2:2, 17; 3:7f, 25, 38; 4:3f, 15, 23, 25, 28, 30f, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 47; 6:10, 13, 18; 7:5, 89; 8:9, 15, 19, 22, 24, 26; 9:2f, 7, 13; 10:3, 10; 11:16; 12:4; 14:10; 15:3; 16:2, 18f; 17:7f, 15, 19; 18:4, 6, 21ff, 31; 19:4; 20:6; 25:6; 27:2; 28:2; 29:39; 31:54; Deut. 16:6; 31:10, 14; Josh. 8:14; 18:1; 19:51; Judg. 20:38; 1 Sam. 2:22; 9:24; 13:8, 11; 20:35; 2 Sam. 20:5; 24:15; 1 Kgs. 8:4; 2 Kgs. 4:16f; 1 Chr. 6:17; 9:21; 23:31f; 2 Chr .1:3, 6, 13; 2:3; 5:5; 8:13; 30:22; 31:3; Ezra 3:5; Neh. 10:34; Job 30:23; Pss. 74:4, 8; 75:3; 102:14; 104:19; Isa. 1:14; 14:13, 31; 33:20; Jer. 8:7; 46:17; Lam. 1:4, 15; 2:6f, 22; Ezek. 36:38; 44:24; 45:17; 46:9, 11; Dan. 8:19; 11:27, 29, 35; 12:7; Hos. 2:11, 13; 9:5; 12:10; Hab. 2:3; Zeph. 3:18; Zech. 8:19

WHAT DOES CHRIST LOOK FOR IN HIS CHURCH?

At the end of each of the prophetic oracles to the seven churches of Asia has the call to be “overcomers” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). The people of God are called to be overcomers, conquerors, or victors (“nike,” νικάω). “This military metaphor assumes that the faithful in each congregation are engaged in a struggle to remain faithful” (Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, 57).

The saints win the victory by faithful endurance in following the Lamb wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4). But what does “faithful endurance” look like? What is involved in persevering in faithfulness to God? To answer these questions in the context of Revelation, one can look for what Jesus is pleased with and exhorts His people to do as He walks among His people?

The church at Ephesus: deeds (works, toil), endurance, intolerance of false teaching and evil (Rev. 2:2-3).

The church at Smyrna: suffering, being slandering on account of Christ, faithfulness until death (Rev. 2:9, 10).

The church at Pergamum: holding fast Christ’s name, not denying the faith and faithful witness, and repentance (Rev. 2:13, 16).

The church at Thyatira: deeds, love, faith, service, perseverance, and not holding to Satanic teaching (Rev. 2:19, 24-25).

The church at Sardis: purity (Rev. 3:4).

The church at Philadelphia: deeds, obedience, not denying Christ’s name, and perseverance (Rev. 3:8, 10, 11).

What is Jesus looking for in His church? People who say “no” to evil. People who say “yes” to the God and His ways. People who are doing kingdom deeds. People who “conquer” their opponents by remaining faithful to the point of death. People who change their ways when they go wrong. People who wake up to the way in which their levels of commitment have been eroded by comfort, compromise or accommodation. People who endure. Jesus is looking for people with godly spiritual character.

Reviving A Dead Congregation

We seem to be living in a time and place where people seem to be mesmerized by numbers. The bigger the better, the more the merrier. If the numbers are not large, then it is not valuable. This seems to be how many think about many things, including religion.

A striking feature of most of the documents written to churches in the New Testament is the lack of reference to “numbers” (the size of congregations). I realize that the Gospel accounts will note the number of followers of Christ at different times during His ministry and that Luke tracks the numerical growth of the first few years of Christianity (especially in Jerusalem and Judea). However, when one moves to the rest of the NT, the information concerning the size of congregations becomes virtually non-existent.

While having big numbers is great, it seems that Jesus is looking for something more important than the size of a congregation. Michael Gorman writes, “Christ desires a church characterized by the fullness of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, faithfulness and fearlessness, devotion to Jesus but not to the state, and a preference for the poor rather than the rich” (Reading Revelation Responsibly, 100).

The “letters to the seven churches of Asia” (Revelation 2 and 3) press the reader (hearers) to consider one’s situation in relationship to Jesus. This is about “perspective.” The oracles to the seven churches encourage the congregations to see themselves as God sees them. This is especially clear when Jesus tells the church at Sardis, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1).

Jesus fires off five imperatives (“commands”) to the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:2–3. The imperatives are: wake up, strengthen, remember, obey, and repent. These five imperatives exhort the church to activate spiritual vigilance. Even though this church is in trouble there is still hope.

These imperatives provide a framework for a congregational restart. It involves (1) remembrance, (2) repentance, and (3) renewal through appropriating past values and strengthening present life. Failure to either be resolute or repent will result in spiritual death.

Theological Themes In Revelation

Slightly edited from Michael Gorman’s excellent book, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation, 75-76.

The Throne: The Reign of God and the Lamb. God the creator reigns! Jesus the Redeemer, the slaughtered Lamb, is Lord! The reign of the eternal God, the beginning, and the end is not merely future or past but present, and it is manifested in—of all things—the slaughtered Lamb.

The Reality of Evil and of Empire. Evil is real. Empire is now—not merely future or past but present. Empire, by nature, makes seductive blasphemous and immoral claims and engages in corollary practices that bring disorder to both vertical (people-God) and horizontal (people-people) human relations, promising life but delivering death—both physical and spiritual.

The Temptation to Idolatry and Immorality. The Christian church is easily seduced by empire’s idolatry and immorality because these claims and practices are often invested with religious meaning and authority; they become a civil religion. For that reason, immorality is ultimately idolatry: the idolatry of violence, oppression, greed, lust, and the like.

The Call to Covenant Faithfulness and Resistance. In the midst of empire and civil religion, whatever its forms, the church is called to resistance as the inevitable corollary of covenant faithfulness to God, a call that requires prophetic spiritual discernment and may result in various kinds of suffering.

Worship and an Alternative Vision. The spiritual discernment required of the church requires an alternative vision of God and of reality. Revelation provides this vision of “uncivil” worship and vision, centered on the throne of the eternal holy God and the faithful slaughtered Lamb, and on the coming new creation.

Faithful Witness: The Pattern of Christ. Christian resistance to empire and idolatry conforms to the pattern of Jesus Christ and of his apostles, saints, prophets (like John), and martyrs: faithful, true, courageous, just, and nonviolent. It is not passive but active, consisting of the formation of communities and individuals who pledge allegiance to God alone, who live in nonviolent love toward friends and enemies alike, who leave vengeance to God, and who, by God’s Spirit, create mini-cultures of life as alternatives to empire’s culture of death. The will of God is for all to follow the Lamb and participate in the saving life of God-with-us forever.

The Threat Of Cultural Accommodation

All seven of the churches of Christ that are addressed in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation were subject to currents that threatened to undermine their commitments to Christ. The most prominent threat came in the form of accommodation to culture. The cultural norm and expectation were to do things like eating food sacrificed to the gods and demonstrating support of the political and social status quo. These activities were being advocated and practiced by some within these congregations by various individuals and groups.

The advocates of accommodative practices are given symbolic names by the glorified Christ as He addressed the churches: the Nicolaitans at Ephesus (2:6), the followers of Balaam and the Nicolaitans at Pergamum (2:14–15), and Jezebel and her followers at Thyatira (2:20–25). Hicks notes that “Balaam is a well-known symbol of syncretism, assimilation, and compromise as he attempted to subvert the faith of Israel (Numbers 22-24).” The leaders in these movements are referred to as pseudo-apostles and pseudo-prophets (2:2, 20).

The consistent message to these congregations by Christ is “do not compromise with secular and false religious forces.” The church is called on to be counter-cultural, yet there is a strong tendency for congregations tend to take on the character of their community to fit in. Faith communities have often compromised their faith by making concessions to culture, often embracing materialism and tolerating sexual and moral perversion. This raises several questions. To what extent can Christians conform to society? What cultural customs can Christians adopt for the sake of economic survival, commercial gain, or sociability? How can we be counter-cultural and still be relevant? How do God’s people live in the world and yet remain distinct from the world?

The seven churches of Asia demonstrate the struggle the saints have in determining “where the lines between culture and Christianity” are. This continues to be a struggle for the saints today. However, it seems that the question has moved from “where are the lines” to “are there lines”?

Jesus’ divine message at the end of the first and century and His message today is for the people of God to refocus our faith and resist worldly compromise.

TROUBLE BECAUSE OF CHRIST

One of the threats that the disciples of Jesus faced in the book of Revelation is that of “trouble” (thlipsis – affliction, distress, oppression, hardship, tribulation). John states that he shares in this trouble, which would include his banishment to Patmos for preaching God’s word (Rev. 1:9). The Christians at Smyrna had already suffered some distress (Rev. 2:9), but more is coming (Rev. 2:10). For the saints at Smyrna, their “trouble” included economic discrimination and slander (Rev. 2:9) and it is going to escalate into some being imprisoned and possibly death (Rev. 2:10).

In the larger framework of Revelation “trouble” comes in several forms. There is “unofficial” or non-governmental oppression, which includes: harassment for being identified as a Christian (Rev. 2:3, 9; 3:8-9); economic and/or social deprivation (Rev. 2:9); and slander (Rev. 2:9). There also seems to be “official” or governmental oppression in form of imprisonment (Rev. 2:10); economic (Rev. 13:17); and violent death (2:10; 11:7; 17:6). John attributes the ultimate source of “affliction” to Satan (2:9, 13, 24; 3:9; 12:3-4, 12-17), whether the trouble comes through social or political channels.

I understand the above “troubles” to refer to the late first century and the context of the Roman empire (that is the context in which John originally wrote) and not to some future “tribulation” (I have deliberately not used the word “tribulation” above because of the various problematic connotations the word carries in our time). This does not mean that there is no application of this material for the people of God today. Like all the New Testament, none of it was originally written “to” us, but it is written “for” us to learn from and apply to lives.

The call to “faithful until one dies” (Rev. 2:10) is as relevant for the people of God today as it was when John wrote it nearly two thousand years ago. This is a call to remain faithful all of one’s life following conversion. This is also a call to be faithful even if (when) life gets turbulent because of following Jesus. Following Jesus still can still have social and economic repercussions. In some situations, it means that faithfulness might lead to death itself like it did for Jesus.

Christianity requires perseverance, but we persevere in Jesus. In Jesus, our life is not trouble free, but we can endure whatever trouble, opposition, suffering, affliction, hardship, or distress comes to us because of Jesus, through our relationship with Jesus and the church. We know this is true because Jesus is the one “who was dead and has come life” (Rev. 2:8).