Thursday, May 30, 2013

No Room In the Family Plot?

When you read Genesis closely you see Joseph and Jacob were buried in two different locations. Personally I usually skim over the names without giving much thought to it at all. But, come to find out Joseph was buried in a different location than his father and grandfathers.

Jacob got to be buried in the family plot, so to speak. His first wife was there, as were his parents and grandparents. Hmm. He requested it and it was done. So, why didn't Joseph? After all, he was the one who saved the entire family and subsequently an entire nation from extinction.

Jacob was buried twenty miles south of Jerusalem and Joseph was buried thirty miles north of Jerusalem. Jacob was buried in Hebron; Joseph in Shechem. Both places oddly enough sit on the same road known as the ridge route. I didn't realize that road traveled south of Jerusalem until I read A Visual Guide to Bible Events.

Here's the background that got my attention: Jacob was buried on the land that was the first piece of property bought by Abraham. Joseph was buried not only on the second place to be purchased by the family (his father Jacob), but it was also the place where God promised to give the land to Abraham's descendants. So there was significance to where Joseph's bones were laid to rest.

Still that's a long way to go to bury four hundred year old bones. Ever wonder how they did that without the bones breaking while the people made a run for it from Pharaoh's army, or while fighting off all the kings in their way, or while traveling to get to the final resting spot?

Again another detail that I've skimmed over. Joseph was embalmed. This is most unusual for the Hebrews. The Egyptians, however, would bury bodies in a substance commonly found in Egypt called natron, which was made up of sodium carbonate and baking soda, in order to preserve bodies for the afterlife. If I had looked closer before now I wouldn't have wondered how they transported bones that were almost four hundred years old.

It's a marvel how even back then that a man's request could be fulfilled four hundred years later. God made a way even if there seemed to be no way.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Heart = Mind?

How is it possible? The heart means the mind too? To me, separating the emotions of the heart and the knowledge of the mind makes sense. They're two different things, right? Not according to Lois Tverberg in Listening to the Language of the Bible. In Hebrew it means the same thing.

Okay, so, in some ways I can see it. I mean after all when the heart is happy our thoughts follow the same pathway. When our minds are not heavily burdened with stress and the troubles of life we can laugh easier, and have a lighter feeling in our walk. When we force our minds to focus on something lighthearted or even make ourselves smile there is a change in our emotional baseline.

Lois explained that physical things are often used to explain abstract things. So the word "heart", something all mankind understood, becomes the image not just for the emotions of the heart but also for the mind and thoughts. And to help all of us non-Hebrews, when the scriptures were written in Greek, the writers included the word "mind" to help us understand what Jesus meant. (Matthew 22)

Lois pointed out we focus far more on our worship time and prayer time than our Bible study time. But in biblical days, the actual studying of the scriptures was the greatest form of worship. Acts 17 and 1 Timothy 4 talk about people pouring over the scriptures daily. And of course there were the pharisees.

But some of those leaders in the temple listened to Jesus. So I have to believe, they weren't just trying to be know-it-all's, walking encyclopedias so to speak. These people were worshiping God in the most complete way they knew. . .spending time to focus their thoughts and the fullness of their knowledge on God Most High.

Now that's something I did not know.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What's A High Place?

Several times in the Bible there is mention of the high places. (i.e. 1,2 Samuel; 1,2  Kings; Ezekiel 20) Where are those high places? According to the April newsletter from Jewish Jewels it was the various mountains throughout the country of Israel. Many good things happened on some of those mountain tops. The ten commandments. The beatitudes. Jesus ascension. The list goes on.
I would say these good things represent what we think of as mountain top experiences. You know, when something fantastic happens, or you have a quality time in God's presence. The fact that so many church camps and retreat centers are located on hill tops or in the mountains helps to lend itself to giving you such an experience.

But the Bible also mentions the high places with a negative connotation. As odd as it may be, from time to time the Hebrews, including the leadership, would offer sacrifices to idols or foreign gods on these high places. When that happened, the country slowly began to change and stray from its loyalty to God. You're probably thinking we don't do that; we don't offer sacrifices to idols. Let alone do it on hilltops or mountains. And looking at it from the surface you might be right.

However, years ago I attended a Bible conference that taught we still have high places, no matter where we live. You see, as the Word of God spread throughout the world, steeples and bell towers were erected to call the people to worship. Those were our high places as they were the highest point in the area.

Then over the years the steeples gave way to the financial institutions of America. First bank buildings became several stories high then other money-making firms took over. The more we made money the taller our buildings became. Oh they may not be tall trees or high hills as is mentioned in the Bible, but they are our high places. Ouch. And it's what we do in those high places that matters.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Whose Idea is Hardship Anyway?

A loving God giving hardship to good people? No way. But when I think about the patriarch Joseph, I think, yes way. That's one story I've always had trouble with.

Imagine a large family who's suppose to be the shining light of God's promise, but the 'world' surrounding them seems to be having a greater pull. (After all, Judah had sex with a woman he thought was a temple prostitute in Genesis 38.) And, the one child in this large family who has an open heart for God to receive dreams from him is tricked by his own brothers, stripped of his clothes, sold to strangers who cart him off to a foreign country then sell him as a slave.

But wait, it gets even better. He does his job so well he's promoted. Then in the blink of an eye is accused of a wrong-doing and is sent to prison for over two years. But, he's innocent.

And this was God's plan? Yes, most definitely yes. If this young man had not been taken into slavery and thrown into prison, he and his family may have dwindled and not grown large enough to become the great nation God promised. Not to mention they might have forgotten who their God was and abandoned the whole reason they were sent to the promise land in the first place.

As for me, because it took place so long ago it's easy to forget that so much bad happened to someone so good. Granted he wasn't perfect and he made mistakes, but in light of everyone else around him, he was a good and Godly man. I wonder how many times he asked himself and God, "Why me? What did I do wrong?" Did he thank God for his hardships? Did he think that one day he'd be out of prison and good-times would return? Remembering how the bad in Joseph's life created a way for so much good does make it easier to thank God in all things. (Ephesians 5)