Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Daily Bible Reading - May 9, 2018

Today's Reading:

Acts 19:1-20

Judges 10:1-11:33

Job 39

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Thoughts and Commentary on Today's Reading:

In Judges 11, we have one of the most tragic stories in the Bible. It is the story of Jephthah and his rash vow. In the Biblical account, Jephthah asks God for military victory and in return vows to offer to God the first thing (or person) which comes out of his house when he returns home. The first thing to come out of his house was his daughter - who was also his only child. 

This story powerfully demonstrates how serious God takes our vows. Vows are not to broken. Because vows are not to be broken, we are not to say them lightly. Truly getting a more serious view of our promises is the moral of the whole story. But we still need to address the fate of Jephthah's daughter. Jephthah had to pay his vow to God. But many believe this meant that Jephthah offered his daughter to God as a human sacrifice! But the idea of offering one's daughter as a human sacrifice is totally out of character with the Torah commands about what God finds pleasing. In fact, the shedding of innocent blood is prohibited!

How then can we account for the cryptic summation which states that Jephthah paid his vow to God? How could God want or allow such a thing?

The whole idea that our righteous and loving God would give His servant Jephthah military victory knowing He was going to take Jephthah's daughter as a sacrifice in payment is barbaric - and unfitting to the Character of God, portrayed in the rest of Scripture. 

God certainly could have warned the girl, "Don't go out to meet your father today!" The fact that He didn't casts terrible blame upon His Character, making Him appear bloodthirsty, like some pagan deity! I believe we must address this story lest the loving the righteous Character of God be misconstrued.

In actuality, there is evidence in the text to show that Jephthah's daughter wasn't slain. Rather, she was dedicated to Yahweh's service, for life. In this service, she would remain 
forever a virgin, never marrying and denying herself the joy of motherhood. This was a death of her girl-hood dreams. We know for the Bible says she mourned her virginity for two months! Additionally, Jephthah's family lineage would die out when she finally died (of old age). For she was Jephthah's only child and heir. Thus, there was a great deal of sacrifice which went into presenting Jephthah's daughter to Yahweh. But it wasn't a literal human sacrifice!

To show this, we need to look at the original Hebrew rendering of this Scriptural account. There are vital nuances of detail present in the original Hebrew text, which are lost in the translation. To do this effectively, I will quote from Professor Rabbi Jonathan Magonet, as follows:

Did Jephthah Actually
 Kill his Daughter?

The story of Jephthah’s daughter is famous as an example of child sacrifice, yet certain clues in the biblical text imply she may have suffered a very different fate.

The Case against Jephthah

If Jephthah were to be arrested for the killing of his daughter, the prosecutor would have some evidence, though largely circumstantial.  First there is his infamous and rash vow to God, that if God granted him victory over the Ammonites then the one who came out from the door of his house to greet him on his return would belong to the Lord and he would offer that person, or possibly animal, up as a burnt offering (Judges 11:30-31).  Indeed Jephthah wins the victory, but the first to greet him with timbrels and dancing on his return is his daughter. 

The final comment of the biblical text on the subject is the laconic statement that Jephthah fulfilled his vow, though the text gives no details of her death. 

In his defense, Jephthah might point out that it was actually his daughter who insisted that he fulfill his vow to God (Judges 11:36) perhaps mitigating to some extent his responsibility.  Her death might even be regarded as an act of martyrdom, not unlike Samson’s willingness to die for the sake of his God and his people. 

Moving Beyond Summaries:
The Narrator’s Point of View

The problem with this, or any other brief summary of the story, is that it leaves out so much of the material that the biblical narrator has considered important to present.  Such details need to be taken seriously.

The Story in Context
The story begins at the end of the previous chapter of the book of Judges.  (It is always important to remember that chapter numbers were first inserted into Bible in the thirteenth century, and do not reflect a Jewish division of the text.) In Judges 10:17, we learn that the Ammonites are besieging Gilead.  In response, the leaders of Gilead decide that ‘the man who begins to wage war against the Ammonites will become the head (rosh) of all the inhabitants of Gilead’ (10:18).

Jephthah is introduced in chapter 9 as a גבור חיל, “an able warrior,” in biblical terms a high accolade.  Jephthah’s misfortune is to be the son of a prostitute.  His father, Gilead, had a number of sons from his wife  and when these boys grew up they drove Jephthah away so that he would not inherit from his father.  Jephthah was forced to flee and settled in the “land of Tov.”  There gathered around him other similarly displaced men, the biblical term being, רקים, literally ‘empty’, presumably landless or otherwise without a place in society.

Jephthah becomes the Leader of Gilead
When the incursions of the Ammonites become more pressing, the elders of Gilead invite Jephthah, who has presumably developed a reputation as a warrior, to come back from the land of Tov and fight on their behalf.  In the negotiation that follows, something of Jephthah’s anger at his previous treatment, but also his personal ambitions are revealed (Judges 11:6-10).

Elders: Come, please, and be our katzin, commander, and we will fight the Ammonites.

Jephthah: Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house, why come to me now that you are in trouble?

Elders: Therefore now we have turned to you that you may come with us and fight the Ammonites, and be our head (rosh) over all the inhabitants of Gilead.

Jephthah:  If you are bringing me back to wage war against the Ammonites, and if the Lord deliver them before me, I will be your rosh.

Elders: The Lord will be the witness between us if we do not do as you say.

Presumably, Jephthah knew the earlier decision of the leaders of Gilead to make the one who begins to fight against the Ammonites the “head (ראש)” of all the inhabitants of Gilead. Thus, when they offer Jephthah the role of קצין, a mere military figure, he refuses and the elders recognize that he is holding out for the higher rank of ראש and are quick to offer it. 
Presumably, the title ראש would represent his complete rehabilitation as a leading figure of the society, despite his origins. This would explain what was personally at stake for him in this transaction and hence his subsequent attempt to guarantee success through his vow to God.

How Clear is Jephthah’s Vow?

The vow is unique in the biblical record because of its puzzling specificity.  To vow to make a sacrifice as a thanksgiving offering was a biblical convention with the appropriate cultic apparatus available for fulfilling it. In this case, however, who knows who or what might come out to greet him? As the rabbis pointed out, if an animal, it might be unclean, and therefore, unacceptable as an offering.[5]

Nevertheless, some ambiguity inheres in the actual wording of the vow. 

יא:ל וַיִּדַּ֨ר יִפְתָּ֥ח נֶ֛דֶר לַי-הֹוָ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אִם נָת֥וֹן תִּתֵּ֛ן אֶת בְּנֵ֥י עַמּ֖וֹן בְּיָדִֽי: יא:לא וְהָיָ֣ה הַיּוֹצֵ֗א אֲשֶׁ֨ר יֵצֵ֜א מִדַּלְתֵ֤י בֵיתִי֙ לִקְרָאתִ֔י בְּשׁוּבִ֥י בְשָׁל֖וֹם מִבְּנֵ֣י עַמּ֑וֹן וְהָיָה֙ לַֽי-הֹוָ֔ה וְהַעֲלִיתִ֖הוּ עוֹלָֽה:
11:30 And Jephthah made the following vow to Yhwh: “If You deliver the Ammonites into my hands, 11:31 then whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return from the Ammonites shall be Yhwh’s and shall be offered by me as a burnt offering.”

The vow consists of two parts: firstly, that the

  • One who comes out shall belong to the Lord,
  • Jephthah would offer him/her/it up as a burnt offering. 

The flexibility of the vav conjunctive linking the two statements would allow it to be read here as ‘and’, so that ‘belonging to the Lord’ meant the burnt offering mentioned immediately after.  But the ‘vav’ could also be read as ‘or’, so that whatever or whoever came out would be dedicated to God, and, only should it prove appropriate, would be sacrificed.  This latter suggestion runs the risk of sounding like apologetics, designed to give Jephthah a certain amount of leeway, but the ambiguity is present in the text.

Jephthah’s Daughter’s Request
Jephthah’s daughter is the one who goes out to meet him and he must fulfill his vow through her. She accepts her fate but makes an unexpected request of her father before the vow was to be fulfilled.

She said to her father:  ‘Do this for me, release me for two months and I will go and ‘go down’ upon the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my women companions. (Judges 11:37)

Jephthah agrees, and she and her women companions go and weep for her virginity on the mountains. 

Why Jephthah may not
have Sacrificed his Daughter

Jephthah’s daughter returns two months later to her father and “he fulfilled his vow.”  Does that mean he sacrificed her? Two elements in the story push me to think that he did not.

1) The Yearly Ritual of Lamenting Jephthah’s Daughter

The following verses note that “this was a statute in Israel” (11:39), and presumably the nature of this statute is to be found in the following sentence, that every year the daughters of Israel would go לְתַנּוֹת לְבַת יִפְתָּח הַגִּלְעָדִי four days a year (11:40).  Here too there are ambiguities and all translations are speculative.

Most scholars assume that it refers to some kind of ritual lamentation for her fate, translating the preposition ‘lamed’ before ‘the daughter of Jephthah’ as “about.” However, it could mean “to,” i.e., that they are speaking to her and commiserating with her, implying that she is still alive. If this is true, then “fulfilling his vow” and “sacrificing his daughter” are not coterminous.  

Along the same lines, the duration of this ritual is expressed as ‘miyyamim yamimah’ (11:40), which, when associated with a ‘statute’, can mean ‘in perpetuity’ (Exodus 13:10).  But it is also used of Hannah’s annual visit to Shiloh, which would limit it to a regular occurrence during the lifetime of a particular individual (1 Samuel 1:3; 2:19).

If this is the intent of the verse, that Israelite women made a pilgrimage to her every year, it explains why this apparently institutionalized practice of lamenting Jephthah’s daughter as an annual rite is never mentioned anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible. This suggests that the ritual was only institutionalized as long as she was alive; in other words, it belongs to the narratives concerning Jephthah recorded here, but we have no knowledge as to whether it became part of Israel’s holiday or ritual cycles.

2) The Extreme Emphasis on Virginity?

Immediately following the statement about Jephthah fulfilling his vow, we are told that his daughter “did not know a man.” If she is dead, then this information is hardly relevant, so presumably it belongs to some broader issue in the narrative. 

This perception is strengthened by the extreme emphasis on virginity.

  1. She asks that she and her friends be allowed to cry for her virginity (not her death) for two months.
  2. The request is granted and she and her friends do in fact cry for her virginity (not her death) for two months.
  3. When the vow is fulfilled we are told she never knew a man (a strange thing to say after recording the sacrifice of a virgin).    

Why is the emphasis on her remaining a virgin and not on her death? I believe that this suggests that she wasn’t actually killed, and that she remained a virgin for the rest of her life.

Jephthah’s Only Child

What is the meaning of this episode? Why the emphasis on her virginity, what happened to her at the end, and what is the lesson in it all?

The Tragedy of the Vow from Jephthah’s Perspective
Jephthah’s horrified reaction serves to confirm just how much he had at stake in the successful outcome of the battle. His first words, the emphatic repetition of the verb כרע, ‘to bow’, ‘bend the knee’, ‘you have surely brought me down’, do not seem particularly concerned about the possible fate of his daughter.  Rather it is his own hopes that have been brought low, and perhaps this echos his desire to become the ראש, for that ‘head’ too is now literally bowed. 

Jephthah next casts the blame onto his daughter, describing her as his ‘troubler’ or ‘disturber’ (עכרי), just as King Ahab and Elijah will later mutually accuse one another (I Kings 18:17-18).  But since the victory ensures that he will become ראש, what else might her appearance have ‘disturbed’, beyond the fatherly love that he might be expected to have for her?

One clue would seem to lie in the earlier remark when the text first introduced her.  She was Jephthah’s only (child), ‘apart from her he had neither a son nor daughter’ (Judg 11:34).  To lose her would mean the end of any long-term family or dynastic intentions that Jephthah might have.

Born to a woman who was outside the family framework, he would now be unable to pass on his rehabilitated status to another generation.  The effect of his vow, however it might be carried out, would rob him of his future.   

The Tragedy of the Vow from Jephthah’s Daughter’s Perspective
The material about the journey to the mountains with her companions to weep for her virginity, and statute that it evoked, suggest the possibility that she truly saw herself as dedicated to God according to the opening words of the vow, and as a consequence accepted a different fate from that of other women, namely a life of seclusion. 

She sacrificed the most important priority affecting women in the Biblical world, the necessity of having children.

Perhaps this should be connected as an extreme variant on the tradition of the Nazarite as reflected in Numbers 6:1-21, where a man or woman may take a vow of abstinence for a limited period.  Once a year she would receive a visit in her isolation from her companions who would ‘call out’ to her.   


Jephthah is a tragic figure. His problematic origins make the restoring of his status in society crucial to him. Yet, his story ends with no chance of his handing his improved status on to his progeny, since his own vow forces his daughter into permanent celibacy as a woman consecrated to the Lord.

Her story is double-edged. She is clearly troubled by giving up her future as a mother. She cries about it for two months, as do her friends, and all the women of Israel do so for four days every year until she dies. Nevertheless, Jephthah’s daughter is also the symbol of what may have been a unique experiment in women’s spirituality, ‘belonging to the Lord’ as expressed in the opening words of Jephthah’s vow. Moreover, when her father seems ambivalent about whether to go through with the vow, it is she who takes responsibility for her faith and pushes him to do what he swore. As such, perhaps she is not only a woman to be pitied, but one to be admired as well.

Daily Bible Reading - May 8, 2018

Today's Reading:

Acts 18

Judges 9

Job 38

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Thoughts and Commentary on Today's Reading:

We have, at last, reached my favorite part of the Book of Job - the part where God speaks! Job chapter 38 is a veritable gold mine of key points demonstrating the almighty power and wonder of God.

For today, I would like to focus upon some verses from Job 38 which are on the subject of the stars and constellations, all of which are known as the Mazzaroth. This is not to be mistaken for astrology (Deuteronomy 18:9-14Deuteronomy 4:14-19)! In fact, astrology is the devil's counterfeit - his attempt to silence to the true Message of God, found in the original star and constellation names and shapes. But the devil can't have the stars! He didn't create them! And he didn't have the right to give them different names than those given by God Himself. God reveals to Job that it is He - the Creator of the universe - who controls the heavenly bodies, establishing the "ordinances of heaven":

Job 38: 31-33 "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?"
This morning, I would like to share with you some of the Creator's wonders, demonstrated in the Mazzaroth. The following is from my Mazzaroth Messages DVD series - part 1. Did you know that God is preaching in the heavens? God uses the heavenly bodies to teach mankind about His glory. The stars are speaking in a way which transcends all language and cultural barriers. And the heavens do declare the glory of God (Psalm 136:1-9):
Psalm 19:1-3  "...The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard."  
To understand God's heavenly sky-speech, we need to ask and answer several key questions:

 What is the purpose of the heavenly lights?

 When did the stars appear?

 When did the constellations appear?

 Who designed the shapes and messages of the constellations?

 When and by whom did the stars and constellations receive their names?

Let's go one-by-one through these questions and Scripturally answer them.

1) What is the purpose of the heavenly lights?

Obviously, the heavenly lights are beautiful. They certainly show the creative power of God through their dazzling, celestial displays. But there is much more to the message than just breathtaking beauty.

In Genesis 1:14-15, we find several reasons for which God created the heavenly lights:
Genesis 1:14-15  "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so."  
 There are seven reasons why God created the heavenly bodies:

1) They divide the day from the night - the sun lights the day, and the moon and stars shine at night.

2) The heavenly bodies were created as signs - this means that God uses them for prophetic purposes. In Scripture we find that the sun is turned to darkness, the moon to "blood" (a lunar eclipse is called a "blood moon"), and the stars fall as prophetic signs of the end of the world (Joel 2:30-31). These are a few examples of how God uses the heavenly bodies as prophetic signs. 

3) The sun, moon, and stars were created to herald God's "seasons". The word "seasons" is the same word which is translated as "feasts" in Leviticus chapter 23. God uses the heavenly lights to determining the timing of His holy Days.

4) The heavenly lights determine the length of a day.

5) The heavenly lights determine the length of a year. They also show when a year begins and when it ends.... which is a whole huge subject that I won't get into now. But if you're interested, you can follow this link.

6) The heavenly lights were created to light the heavens.

7) The heavenly lights were created to give light upon the earth.

The heavenly lights were obviously made for much more than just beauty. The Psalmist tells us plainly, that they are speaking about God's righteousness.

 By looking up the word "righteousness", we find that the heavens are declaring what God deems "right". They are also portraying what is moral or legal - which is a suggestion that the heavenly bodies have something to reveal about the Law of God.

Before we can touch on any of that, we need to start of with some basics of biblical astronomy. First, God created the heavens upon a visual "cord", which is the "tabernacle" (house or dwelling place) of the sun. In other words, God made the sun to stay in a part of the heavens, which is visually marked out in a straight line. Here are the verses which teach this:

Astronomy calls the Bible's "tabernacle for the sun" the ecliptic path (the red line in the following image).

The ecliptic path is the line the sun appears to visually pass through as the earth moves around the sun in one year. During its visual pass through the sky (the sun doesn't actually move, it is the earth which is moving), the sun appears in 12 constellations, which are known as the "cardinal constellations". These 12 constellations in their shapes and original star names portray the gospel message, and are the same messages which are represented in the tribal ensigns (banners) of the 12 tribes of Israel! And this is just some of the prophetic message God is proclaiming in the stars. 

That brings us to our second question from the list above. The answer may seem obvious, but bear with me...

2) When did the stars appear?

First, we know that God created the starry host by His Word and by His Breath, as it says in Psalm 33:6. Also, in Genesis, in the account of Creation, we can find that God created the heavenly bodies - including the sun, moon, and stars - on the fourth day of the Creation Week:

3) When did the constellations appear? Who shaped them, named them, and gave them their meanings?

While it is fairly obvious that God created the heavenly bodies on the fourth day of Creation, according to the Bible, the answer to this third question is not so obvious. The constellations were formed after the Fall of mankind, into sin. The stars tell the Plan of Redemption - and God did not predestine man to Fall. He was not telling Adam every night in the sky that he would soon mess up! Rather, there is historical evidence to show that the redemptive message of the stars was given after Adam and Eve fell...  in the time of Enoch.

Scripture is also clear that God Himself named the stars and it was He Who formed the constellation shapes and assigned their meanings.

God was very specific in His heavenly revelations. The stars, as well as the Bible, foretell the coming Day of God's Wrath. This is one reason why the wicked are "without excuse" on the Day of Judgment. God has amply forewarned all. And if a regular person like me can find the original star names, than certainly the great theologians and scientists of this earth can find them!

History records that there were 48 constellations in the original set, which were given and named by God. Ptolemy listed 48, and the Persians-a few hundred years later-also list 48. 

Ancient writers agree that there were twelve in the region of sky where the sun and planets all appear to move. Those twelve were originally called the Mazzaroth, as we saw in the book of Job today. The Egyptians and Persians both recorded that each of these twelve "cardinal constellations" had three associated constellations called "decans," bringing the total of original constellations to 48. 

Whereas little work has been done on understanding the Egyptian set, we have a list of all 48 constellations from the Persians, including how they are divided into decans.
Albumazar, in about AD 850, constructed the Persian list of 48 original constellations.

From these, as is amply explained in my DVD series Mazzaroth Messages, the heavens do declare the glory of God.

In conclusion today, I leave you with the powerful words of God to Job:

Daily Bible Reading - May 7, 2018

Today's Reading:

Acts 17:16-34

Judges 7-8

Job 37

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Thoughts and Commentary on Today's Reading:

I love the descriptions of God's power, found in the Book of Job! Don't you? Consider a few of the explanations of God's creative might, demonstrated in some of the wonders He has made:
Job 37:5-6, 14-18 "God thundereth marvellously with His Voice; great things doeth He, which we cannot comprehend. For He saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth; likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of His strength. Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God. Dost thou know when God disposed them, and caused the light of His cloud to shine? Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge? How thy garments are warm, when he quieteth the earth by the south wind? Hast thou with Him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?"
For today, I will let Dwight Moody expound upon some of creative treasures which reveal the power of God. I chose this particular video because it shows God's power in the sky and in the snow, both of which are mentioned in Job. See the "treasures" of God in the snow! Watch it on Youtube.