Salt and Light — Matthew 5:13-16

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story appears in Matthew 5:13-16
  2. Salt
    1. Salt occupied the same place in ancient cooking as it does today.
    2. To say that you were eating the salt of a man meant that you were taking pay from him or had been hired by him.
    3. In the ancient world, salt was very valuable: the Greeks thought it contained something almost divine, and the Romans sometimes paid their soldiers with salt.
    4. Ancient Israelites also understood that salt could be used as a food preservative.
    5. Newborns were rubbed with salt (see Ezekiel 16:4). This may have been done for health reasons or religious reasons, to protect against demons.
    6. Salt was very important in ritual.
    7. Salt is the most necessary of the condiments and therefore rabbis likened the Torah to it; for, as the world couldn’t do without salt, neither could it do without the Torah.
    8. Blood cannot be thoroughly extracted from meat unless the meat is well salted.
    9. Good salt is small and broken into many pieces.
    10. To be effective, salt must be in contact with something.
    11. If salt loses is savoriness, there is no way to make it savory again.
    12. Salt is a common image that Jesus uses, for ex: Mark 9:50, Luke 14:34
  3. Light
    1. Ephesians 5:8 says all Christians are light in the Lord.
    2. We’re told to shine as lights in Philippians 2:15.
    3. In John 8:12, (Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’) We are invited to share in Jesus’ light.
    4. Light is conspicuous and you can’t hide a city on a hill.
    5. Matthew 5:15 indicates the light is to be shared.
    6. Jesus is referring not to a light snuffed out, but one made ineffective.
  4. Matthew has high standards for discipleship.
    1. Karoline Lewis says, “There is an expectation for a certain excellence in faith, a requested resilience in belief, a mandate for decidedly determined disciples that very well might trouble the faint in heart.”
    2. Amy Oden says, “We are the tastiness that adds salt to lives around us. We are light that makes plain the justice way of the kingdom of God. Jesus says we must be tasty and lit up in order to make a difference for God in the world. Neither salt nor light exists for themselves. They only fulfill their purpose when used, poured out.”
  5. Questions for Reflection
    1. What does it mean to be salt and light?
    2. Is there a difference between being salt or being light?
    3. In what ways is St. Mark’s salt? In what ways is St. Mark’s light?
    4. In what ways are you salt? In what ways are you light?
    5. Does whether we’re salt or light change at times?
    6. How might God be speaking to you through this story? What response is God asking from you?

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant – Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story appears in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10
  2. Capernaum
    1. Capernaum was built along the edge of the Galilean see and was home to about 1500
    2. Capernaum was a small town located on the trade route between Palestine and Damascus.
    3. The town was also a Roman tax collection station
    4. Jesus made Capernaum his home during his ministry (4:13)
  3. What was a Centurion
    1. In ancient Rome the “centurion” meant “captain of 100; the Roman centurion was captain over 100 foot soldiers in a legion.
    2. A Centurion began as a soldier in the army and worked his way up the ranks. After being noticed by the general for their skill and courage in battle, they were made officers. Centurions had a middling role in the hierarchy of the Roman army.
    3. Roman Army
      1. Consisted of three types of soldiers
        1. The Praetorian Guard (Caesar’s bodyguard)
        2. The Legionaries (infantry soldiers and officers made up of citizens, including centurions)
        3. The Auxiliaries (non-citizen troops).
      2. Centurions were the backbone of the Roman army.
        1. They were the veteran soldiers who commanded 100 men each, within a legion of 6,000. There were thus 60 centuries in a legion, each under the command of a centurion.
        2. The centurion received pay that amounted to more than 20 times the ordinary soldiers pay, about 5,000 denarii per year. (The common soldier received around 200-300 denarii per year.)
      3. During the time of Jesus the headquarters of the Roman army in Judea was located at Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast.
      4. Centurions show up frequently in the Gospels and in Acts (eg., Luke 7:2, 23-47; Acts 10:1) and are often shown positively.
    4. Roman Medicine
      1. Doctors were attached to the Roman Army.
      2. Heavily influenced by Greek medicine.
      3. There were specialists, most of whom traveled.
      4. Still, neither Greeks nor Romans had official medical training or qualifications and there was no orthodox medical approach.
      5. Methods and materials were down to the individual practitioner who gained the confidence of his patients through the accuracy of his diagnosis and prognosis case by case.
      6. The Roman medical specialists followed on from their Greek predecessors, documented that earlier tradition for the good of posterity and made advances, notably in surgery and anatomical knowledge.
      7. There were still many knowledge gaps and more than a few erroneous beliefs but Roman physicians and medical scholars had made such a push forward that their approach would remain the dominant one for another millennium.
    5. The Centurion Jesus Meets
      1. A Gentile.
      2. Presumably Roman (Not all members of the Roman army were Roman.)
      3. Sends Jewish Elders to show Jesus that he has a good relationship with Jews.
      4. At this point in the Gospel, Jesus hadn’t sent his disciples out much, so not sure how the Centurion would have heard of him.
      5. Unusually, Jesus is cast in the unlikely role of responder and not initiator in this passage.
      6. We have no reason to believe that the Centurion becomes a follower of Jesus after his slave is healed. Maybe he becomes a disciple, maybe not. Neither Jesus nor Luke seems particularly interested. Instead, Jesus praises his astounding faith and Luke records it.
      7. In Luke’s account, Jesus and the Centurion never meet face to face.
      8. It is possible that the Centurion’s slave was a Jew, but there’s no way to know for sure.
      9. Because Roman occupiers were seen as bad by the Jews, this is a story of Jesus loving his enemy.
      10. Note that it is the Centurion’s faith, not the slave’s faith that brings about healing.
    6. Questions for Reflection
      1. Which of the two accounts resonates more with you, Matthew’s or Luke’s? Why?
      2. With good medical help available, why do you think the Centurion turned to Jesus?
      3. Do you think the Centurion would’ve asked for Jesus’ help had it been one of his soldiers who was sick instead of one of his slaves?
      4. Was the Centurion being humble when he kept Jesus away from his house or was there fear that he might be seen?
      5. Does anyone surprise you in this story? If so, how?
      6. In Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus says that he has only come to help the lost sheep of Israel (although he does heal a Gentile in this story). Why would Jesus agree to heal a Gentile’s slave when he didn’t come for Gentiles?
      7. How might God be speaking to you through this story? What response is God asking from you?

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

 

 

 

 

The Wise Men and Their Gifts – Matthew 2:1-12

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story appears in Matthew 2:1-12
  2. Number of Wise Men
    1. Tradition holds that there were three wise men because Jesus was given three gifts. In truth, there could have been many more.
    2. Tradition also holds that the three wise men were named Caspar (sometimes Gaspar), Melchior, and Balthasar.
  3. Magi
    1. They were educated men.
    2. According to bibleinfo.com, “They were of noble birth, educated, wealthy, and influential. They were philosophers, the counselors of rulers, learned in all the wisdom of the ancient East.”
    3. The Wise Men were from the East, most likely Persia or modern-day Iran, which means they would have traveled 800-900 miles to see Jesus.
  4. Matthew 2:11 says that the Wise Men visited Jesus in a house, so it had to be considerable time from when Jesus was born in the stable.
  5. Gifts
    1. Gold
      1. Represented Jesus’ kingship.
      2. Tradition holds that Melchior offered this gift. Melchior is often shown with long white hair, a white beard, and a gold cloak. He’s thought to be a king of Persia.
  • Gold was known since the earliest biblical times. (Genesis 2:11)
  1. Was first used as ornamentation (Genesis 24:22). Coined money came much later comparatively.
  2. Though gold was abundant (1 Chronicles 22:14, Daniel 3:1), its value didn’t depreciate because the consumption by the wealthy was so great.
  1. Frankincense
    1. A symbol of Jesus’ priestly role, frankincense is sometimes used in church services.
    2. Tradition holds that Gaspar offered this gift. Gaspar is often shown with brown hair and beard (sometimes no beard), wearing a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He’s thought to be a king of India.
  • Frankincense is also known to help relieve arthritis.
  1. Comes from the Boswellia genustrees. Boswellia trees grow in African and Arabian regions, including Yemen, Oman, Somalia and Ethiopia. The milky white sap is extracted from the tree bark, allowed to harden into a gum resin for several days, and then scraped off in tear-shaped droplets.
  2. The highest-quality frankincense is clear and silvery, but with a slight green tinge. Brown-yellow varieties are the cheapest and most readily available.
  3. Frankincense is traditionally burned as incense, and was charred and ground into a powder to produce the heavy kohl eyeliner used by Egyptian women.
  • Frankincense oil has a woody, earthy, spicy and slightly fruity aroma, which is calming and relaxing.
  1. Myrrh
    1. A prefiguring of Jesus death and embalming.
    2. Tradition holds that Balthazar offered this gift. Balthazar has black skin and a black beard (sometimes he’s shown beardless) and wears a purple coat. He is the king of Tarse and Egpyt. Like frankincense, myrrh comes from the Burseraceae plant family.
  • Myrrh oil comes from a dried resin extracted from the Commiphora myrrha tree, which is native to Northern Africa and the Middle East, particularly Somalia, Ethiopia, Arabia, and Yemen
  1. The word “myrrh” comes from “murr,” which means “bitter” in Arabic, probably referring to the resin’s bitter taste.
  2. To extract myrrh, the bark of the tree is cut, and a yellow sap comes out. This sap dries into reddish-brown, walnut-sized lumps, with a unique sweet and smoky aroma, that are then used to make myrrh oil. Myrrh oil has a golden yellow or brownish color, and a rich, smoky and balsamic aroma
  3. Myrrh was very popular among ancient cultures. The Chinese valued it as a medicine, while Egyptians used it for embalming their pharaohs4 as well as for their sun-worshipping rituals. In fact, myrrh was mentioned in Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest Egyptian medical texts, dating back to 1550 BC.5 Even the Greek soldiers made use of this resin, bringing it with them to battle to stop their wounds from bleeding
  1. Questions for Reflection
    1. Much of this information may already be familiar to you. What is the importance of revisiting an old story?
    2. How do you make an old story fresh? How do you look at it through a new lens?
    3. How do you think Mary responded in receiving these gifts?
    4. Do you think there were more than three wise men? Does the actual number matter? Why or why not?
    5. How might God be speaking to you through this story? What response is God asking from you?

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

 

 

 

Judah and Tamar – Genesis 38

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story appears in Genesis 38
    1. It is an interruption in the Joseph story.
    2. Genesis 37:26-27 shows Judah is shown to be one of the good brothers toward Joseph.
  2. According to Levirate marriage laws in Deuteronomy 25:5-10:
    1. When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
    2. But if the man has no desire to marry his brother’s widow, then his brother’s widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’
    3. Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, ‘I have no desire to marry her’, then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, ‘This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ Throughout Israel his family shall be known as ‘the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.’
    4. This type of marriage was common in practice before it was written as the Law of God.
  3. Never occurs to Judah that the problem may lie with his sons, not Tamar, because he is not privy to the reason conception fails to occur with Onan.
  4. Tamar could be fairly certain that randy sheepherders wouldn’t turn her down.
  5. Judah’s past behavior showed him to have loose sexual morality.
  6. Temple Prostitution
    1. In Canaanite and Phoenician temples dedicated to Ashteroth worship, “consecrated maidens” were employed.
    2. Sacred prostitution was not a part of the Israelite religion
    3. When Judah asks for a qedeshah¸ (literally “consecrated woman”; the term for a temple prostitute), he is most likely being facetious.
  7. The Seal, Cord, and Staff
    1. Not entirely uncommon for a sheep herder to offer a marker of sorts for later payment.
    2. The seal was the ancient cylinder seal used in the making of contracts. Its modern day counterpart would be a MasterCard. The seal was a cylinder with the unique design of its owner carved in it. When a contract was made, hot wax was put on the document and the seal was rolled over it, leaving the impression of the owner of the seal.”
    3. Judah’s seal was one of a kind, as were those of others. He would therefore immediately recognize it as his own. The same was true of the staff.”
  8. Judah Attempts to Repay the Prostitute
    1. Judah tries to send a kid but can’t find the temple prostitute
    2. Discovers that there is no temple prostitute. Now Judah risks becoming a laughingstock, so he lets time go by and figures he ahs lost his seal.
    3. His indignation at Tamar seems a little out of place given his own behavior.
      1. Stoning would have been the expected punishment. (Deuteronomy 22:20-24)
      2. Burning is allowed in extreme circumstances. See Leviticus 20:14 and Leviticus 21:9 (When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.)
  1. Tamar’s Children
    1. One child’s hand came out first and a crimson thread was tied around it to mark him as first born, but then he pulled back his hand and Perez, meaning “breach” was born first.
    2. Second born was Zerah, which means “red light of dawn.”
    3. Later Ruth is told that she will have children through the line of Perez.
    4. And in Matthew’s genealogy, Christ comes through Judah. We also see the same in Luke’s genealogy.
  2. Questions for Reflection
    1. This story is a big interruption in the saga of Joseph and his brothers. Why do you think the story appears now?
    2. Did Tamar do the right thing?
    3. According to Jewish Virtual Library harlotry was a shameful profession, and to treat an Israelite girl like a prostitute was considered a grave offense (Genesis 34:31). Why is Judah not looked down upon when he sleeps with Tamar believing her to be a prostitute?
    4. Bob Deffenbaugh says that this story is primarily about divine providence, writing, “God is at work bringing about His purposes through men who are actively pursuing sin.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
    5. Is it significant that Jesus family tree contains scandal? Why or why not?
    6. How might God be speaking to you through this story? What response is God asking from you?

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

Moses, Miriam, and Aaron – Numbers 12

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story appears in Numbers 12
  2. Hazeroth
    1. Fenced enclosures that are like a hedge and almost impenetrable.
    2. This was the third encampment of the Israelites and is thought to be located about 40 miles northeast of Sinai.
  3. Moses’ Wife
    1. Miriam and Aaron are upset because Moses married a Cushite woman.
    2. Cushites were Ethiopian.
    3. The Bible only mentions one wife of Moses, specifically, and that is Zipporah.
    4. Zipporah’s father was a Midianite, and they lived east of Palestine.
    5. Ideas about who the Cushite wife is:
      1. Some think that Zipporah had died and Moses remarried.
      2. Some think that Moses took another wife.
  • Some say that Zipporah’s father, Jethro, was born in Ethiopia and had moved to Midian.
  1. Some say that perhaps Zipporah had a dark complexion and Miriam and Aaron used Cushite as a derogatory term.
  1. Regardless of who she was, it’s interesting that Miriam and Aaron were criticizing her for something over which she had no control.
  2. It appears that Miriam and Aaron were probably actually jealous of Moses’ power and influence.
  1. Did God speak through Miriam and Aaron?
    1. He spoke through Aaron in Exodus 4:30 and Exodus 12:1
    2. He spoke through Miriam in Exodus 15:21.
    3. But clearly not at the same level as Moses.
  2. Leprosy
    1. Leprosy is mentioned 68 times in the Bible – 55 times in the Old Testament and 13 times in the New Testament
    2. Thought to be an outward sign of a person’s inward sin.
    3. Why was Miriam afflicted when Aaron was not?
      1. Some suggest that Miriam was the instigator because her name came first.
      2. Possibly because the person of the High Priest was sacred, and had he been incapacitated all Israel would have suffered in their representative;
  • Possibly because the sin, as it shows traces of a peculiarly feminine jealousy, was primarily the sin of Miriam
  1. Partly because, in her punishment, Aaron suffered a sympathetic shame, as is apparent from his, impassioned appeal to Moses in her behalf.
  2. Note that Miriam’s leprosy lasts seven days. (Seven is a number of completion.)
  1. Spitting in the Face
    1. The Jews, in common with all people in the East, seem to have had an intense abhorrence of spitting, and for a parent to express his displeasure by doing so on the person of one of his children, or even on the ground in his presence, separated that child as unclean from society for seven days.
    2. Spitting in the face was a sign of the deepest contempt.
      1. Job 30:10: They abhor me, they keep aloof from me;/they do not hesitate to spit at the sight of me.
      2. Isaiah 50:6: I gave my back to those who struck me,/ and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;/I did not hide my face/ from insult and spitting.
  • Mark 14:65: Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.

 

  1. Questions for Reflection
    1. Does this story remind you of your own sibling relationships or others you have witnessed?
    2. Is suffering ever a result of sin? Does God cause people to suffer?
    3. Moses’ humility is mentioned more than once. Why is it so important?
    4. Is it fair that only Miriam is stricken with leprosy? Why do you think that God chose only to strike Miriam?
    5. Do you agree that Miriam and Aaron’s complaint is more feminine in nature? Why or why not?
    6. Is God fair in His judgment? Why or why not?
    7. How might God be speaking to you through this story? What response is God asking from you?

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – Daniel 3

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story appears in Daniel 3
    1. Daniel 3:1-7: Nebuchadnezzar places a 90 ft. high by 9 ft wide gold statue on the plain of Dura in Babylon. He decrees that everyone must worship this statue. Any who do not will be fed to the furnace fires. The furnace was a huge chamber used to smelt minerals or bake bricks for construction.
    2. Daniel 3:8-12: Some Chaldeans come forth and tell Nebuchadnezzar that three Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to fall down and worship the statue.
    3. Daniel 3:13-18: Nebuchadnezzar gives Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego another chance to worship the statue. The three men say that God will save them from the fire or He won’t, but either way they can’t worship Nebuchadnezzar’s God.
    4. Daniel 3:19-23: Nebuchadnezzar is furious. He has the furnace heated seven times hotter than normal and assigns his strongest men to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the flame. The flames are so high and hot, that they kill the men who throw the trio into the fire, but not Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
    5. Daniel 3:24-25: Nebuchadnezzar’s counselors tell him that not only are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego not being consumed by the flames, but there also appears to be a fourth man in the flames with them. This fourth man, they say, appears to be a god.
    6. Daniel 3:26-29: Nebuchadnezzar tells Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out of the flames. Their clothes are not burned, their hair is not singed, and they don’t smell of fire. Nebuchadnezzar is very impressed that they wouldn’t worship any god but their own God. He calls their God blessed and makes a decree that no one can blaspheme against their God.
    7. Daniel 3:30: Nebuchadnezzar promotes Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
  2. Where was Babylon?
    1. Babylon is the most famous city from ancient Mesopotamia whose ruins lie in modern-day Iraq 59 miles (94 kilometres) southwest of Baghdad.
    2. After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, a Chaldean named Nabopolassar took the throne of Babylon and, through careful alliances, created the Neo-Babylonian Empire. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-561 BCE), renovated the city so that it covered 900 hectares (2,200 acres) of land and boasted some the most beautiful and impressive structures in all of Mesopotamia. Every ancient writer to make mention of the city of Babylon, outside of those responsible for the stories in the Bible, does so with a tone of awe and reverence.
    3. It was under Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are said to have been constructed
    4. This period in which the Hanging Gardens were allegedly built was also the time of the Babylonian Exile of the Jews
  3. Babylonian Exile of the Jews
    1. The Chaldeans, following standard Mesopotamian practice, deported the Jews after they had conquered Jerusalem in 597 BC. Somewhere around 10,000 people were forced to relocate to the city of Babylon, the capital of the Chaldean empire. In 586 BC, Judah itself ceased to be an independent kingdom, and the earlier deportees found themselves without a homeland, without a state, and without a nation.
    2. Nebuchadnezzar only deported the most prominent citizens of Judah: professionals, priests, craftsmen, and the wealthy. The “people of the land” were allowed to stay. So Jewish history, then, has two poles during the exile: the Jew in Babylon and the Jews who remain in Judah.
    3. But the Jews in Babylon also creatively remade themselves and their world view. In particular, they blamed the disaster of the Exile on their own impurity. They had betrayed Yahweh and allowed the Mosaic laws and cultic practices to become corrupt; the Babylonian Exile was proof of Yahweh’s displeasure. During this period, Jewish leaders no longer spoke about a theology of judgment, but a theology of salvation. In texts such as Ezekiel and Isaiah, there is talk that the Israelites would be gathered together once more, their society and religion purified, and the unified Davidic kingdom be re-established. So this period is marked by a resurgence in Jewish tradition, as the exiles looked back to their Mosaic origins in an effort to revive their original religion. It is most likely that the Torah took its final shape during this period or shortly afterward, and that it became the central text of the Jewish faith at this time as well.
  4. Who Was Nebuchadnezzar II?
    1. Born in Babylon in 630 BC. Died in Babylon in c 561 BC
    2. Reigned as King of Babylon 605-c561BC
    3. Oldest son and successor of Nabopolassar, founder of the Chaldean empire
    4. In 607/606, as crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar commanded an army with his father in the mountains north of Assyria, subsequently leading independent operations after Nabopolassar’s return to Babylon. After a Babylonian reverse at the hands of Egypt in 606/605, he served as commander in chief in his father’s place and by brilliant generalship shattered the Egyptian army at Carchemish and Hamath, thereby securing control of all Syria. After his father’s death on Aug. 16, 605, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon and ascended the throne within three weeks. This rapid consolidation of his accession and the fact that he could return to Syria shortly afterward reflected his strong grip on the empire.
    5. On expeditions in Syria and Palestine from June to December of 604, Nebuchadnezzar received the submission of local states, including Judah, and captured the city of Ashkelon.
    6. Under his reign, Babylon became the most powerful city-state in the region and Nebuchadnezzar II himself the greatest warrior-king and ruler in the known world.
    7. Nebuchadnezzar II was most certainly responsible for the so-called Babylonian Exile of the Jews
    8. In addition to being a brilliant tactician and strategist, Nebuchadnezzar was also prominent in international diplomacy, as shown in his sending an ambassador (probably Nabonidus, a successor) to mediate between the Medes and Lydians in Asia Minor.
    9. Nebuchadnezzar II defeated the Egyptians and the Assyrians at Carchemish, subdued Palestine and Syria and controlled all the trade routes across Mesopotamia.
    10. Nebuchadnezzar’s main activity, other than as military commander, was the rebuilding of Babylon. This he did not only for his own glorification but also in honor of the gods. He claimed to be “the one who set in the mouth of the people reverence for the great gods” and disparaged predecessors who had built palaces elsewhere than at.
    11. Despite the fateful part he played in Judah’s history, Nebuchadnezzar is seen in Jewish tradition in a predominantly favorable light. It was claimed that he gave orders for the protection of Jeremiah, who regarded him as God’s appointed instrument whom it was impiety to disobey, and the prophet Ezekiel expressed a similar view at the attack on Tyre. A corresponding attitude to Nebuchadnezzar, as God’s instrument against wrongdoers, occurs in the Apocrypha in 1 Esdras and, as protector to be prayed for, in Baruch. In Daniel (Old Testament) and in Bel and the Dragon (Apocrypha), Nebuchadnezzar appears as a man, initially deceived by bad advisers, who welcomes the situation in which truth is triumphant and God is vindicated.
    12. He died about 561 and was succeeded by his son Awil-Marduk.
  5. Looking at the Story
    1. According to Professor Norman Cohn, the book of Daniel was written around 164 BC by several authors. The Life Application Study Bible, in contrast, says the book was written about 536 BC by one author.
    2. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego all had their names changed in captivity: Daniel/Belteshazzar; Hananiah/Shadrach; Mishael/Meshach; and, Azariah/Abednego.
    3. Satraps were governors over major divisions of the empire serving as the chief representatives of the king. Prefects were the governors over conquered cities, Governors were civil administrators over provinces.
    4. No one agrees on who the fourth man was. Some say an angel. Some say a preincarnate Christ. But definitely supernatural.
    5. Johnny Cash sings a song about this story that you might enjoy. Click here to see the performance.
  6. Questions for Reflection
    1. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no certainty that God would save them. They had only the courage of their convictions. What would you have said to Nebuchadnezzar?
    2. Has there ever been a time when you’ve been thrown into the furnace? What was the result?
    3. Do you feel that your Christianity makes you stand out or apart in some way? If so, how?
    4. Has there ever been a time when you felt that you had to deny your faith?
    5. How might God be speaking to you through this story? What response is God asking from you?

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

Elisha and the Shunammite Woman – 2 Kings 4:8-37

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story appears in 2 Kings 4:8-37
  2. Who were the Shunammites?
    1. Shunammites lived in the city of Shunem located about 3 miles (5 km) north of Jezreel, near Mt. Gilboa.
    2. When the land was divided in the days of Joshua, Shunem was given to the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:17-23)
    3. It is just a few miles from the towns of Jezreel to the south, En-Dor to the east, and Megiddo to the west.
    4. It remains unclear if the original inhabitants were destroyed or whether there was a mixing of Israelites and Caananites in that area.
    5. Shunem means “uneven,” so perhaps got its name because it was situated on a hillside overlooking the Jezreel valley.
    6. Some commentators have suggested that the bride in the Song of Solmon may have been from Shunem.
  3. Who Was Elisha?
    1. Elisha was the faithful disciple of the prophet Elijah, and his successor.
    2. He had followed his master from the moment they met, when Elisha was a young man, plowing his father’s field near the ancient town of Abel-mecholah in northern Israel.
    3. Elisha saw his master disappear in a fiery chariot, going up to heaven, without dying first. At that moment Elisha cried: “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel…!” and rent his clothes. He knew then that he was to carry on the great work of Elijah, to spread the knowledge of G‑d, to bring relief and blessing to his people, and teach them to be kind and charitable.
  4. Looking at the Story
    1. The story occurs during the reign of Jehoram (or Joram), second son of Ahab and Jezebel, roughly 850 BC. From all indications, Jehoram gave lip service to God, allowing Elisha freedom to preach and travel, while granting similar freedom to pagan religions.
    2. Remember that in ancient Israel, children were seen as the greatest blessing. Procreation is a commandment and one of the main purposes of marriage.
      1. Barrenness was a curse and a punishment because God was responsible for opening or closing the womb.
      2. Like Sarah, the elderly Shunammite woman is afraid she is being deceived. (2 Kings 4:16)
    3. The woman is not just wealthy, she’s also a person of good character and influence in her community.
    4. In Jewish tradition, the Shunammite’s son grows up to be the prophet Habakkuk.
    5. Why does Elisha send Gehazi ahead of him with instructions to lay the staff on the dead child?
      1. One commentator suggests that because he was young, Gehazi could cover the distance to Shunem quickly; and it was imperative that a representative of God arrive there as soon as possible.
      2. Very likely Gehazi’s task was preparatory and symbolic of the impending arrival of Elisha himself.
    6. Significance of the number seven
      1. The number seven is a number of completeness, divine perfection or something that is finished, as in the creation week in Genesis.
      2. Other occurrences of seven:
        1. No animal can be sacrificed until it was seven days old. (Exodus 22:30)
        2. Seven pairs of clean animals were received onto the ark. (Genesis 7:2)
        3. There are seven I AM’s in the Gospel of John
        4. Jesus mentions seven judgments on the unrepentant in Matthew 23:1-36
        5. Joshua and Israel marched around Jericho seven times while seven priests blew seven trumpets before the walls came crashing down. (Joshua 6:3-4)
        6. Elisha told the military commander Naaman to bathe in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:10).
      3. Many occurrences of things happening at noon in the bible, most notably, Jesus died on the cross at noon (Mark 15:33).
      4. The woman is surprisingly silent about her son’s death, even telling her husband that all is well. Hebrews often responded to an inquiry about their health with shalom, meaning “all is well.”
      5. The Shunammite woman’s donkey ride to Mount Carmel was about 15 miles.
      6. Interesting that the healing was done very privately.
    7. What Can We Learn from the Shunammite Woman?
      1. We all need to learn to live by faith. Economic security and good standing in the community don’t insulate us from trials.
      2. It is good to give witness to your faith, as she and her husband did by providing Elisha a place to stay.
      3. Throughout the story, her faith grew.
      4. To truly live by faith means we must learn to be vulnerable and to trust God with all our fears and anxieties and unknowns.
    8. Questions for Reflection
      1. What other stories or biblical people come to mind when you hear the story of the Shunnamite woman?
      2. Why does the Shunammite woman tell her husband all is well after their son has died? And why does she say it again to Gehazi?
      3. What parallels, if any, do you see between the Shunnamite’s son and Christ? Do these parallels deepen your understanding of the Easter story?
      4. How might God be speaking to you through this story? What response is God asking from you?

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

Saul and the Witch of Endor – 1 Samuel 28

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story appears in 1 Samuel 28
  2. Commands against engaging with the occult
    1. Leviticus 19:31 (Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.)
    2. Leviticus 20:27 (A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them.)
    3. Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you.)
    4. Exodus 22:18 (You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.)
  3. Witchcraft in Ancient Israel
    1. Throughout much of Jewish history, witchcraft has been seen as a vice that almost all women will indulge in.
    2. In 1 Enoch, it says that witchcraft was taught by fallen angels to their mortal wives.
    3. In general, witches in biblical and rabbinic literature are thought to be engaged mostly in malevolent activities.
    4. Unclear whether necromancy was considered witchcraft or something separate.
    5. Acknowledged in Isaiah 8:19 (Now if people say to you, ‘Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living,)
    6. Also acknowledged in 2 Kings 21:6 (He made his son pass through fire; he practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.)
  4. Saul, the first king of Israel, was desperate and defied his own laws against the occult.
  5. Why was Saul desperate?
    1. Although his rule started out well, he soon began to have troubles. He disobeyed God’s law when he offered burnt and peace offerings before a battle, a responsibility given only to priests (1 Samuel 13:7-14). His punishment for this action was that his descendants would not rule Israel.
    2. Saul later disobeyed God and lied to Samuel when, instead of killing all the Amalekites and destroying all their possessions, he kept the evil Amalekite king alive and tried to take the best of the animals for himself (1 Samuel 15:1-26).
    3. The spirit of the Lord which was upon Saul was soon taken from him and he began to be troubled by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14).
    4. King David’s rise in popularity (1 Samuel 18:7) leads Saul to fits of rage and revenge against him.
    5. Sometime later, his friend and mentor Samuel dies (1 Samuel 28:3).
    6. King Saul unsuccessfully tried to consult God regarding his upcoming battle with the Philistines through the accepted means of the Urim and Thummim, as well as the prophets (1 Samuel 28:6).
  6. Three legitimate ways of receiving oracles.
    1. Urim and Thummin, a priestly device for obtaining oracles. On the high priest’s ephod (an apron-like garment) lay a breastpiece– a pouch inlaid with 12 precious stones engraved with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel – that held the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:15–30; Leviticus 8:8). By means of the Urim, the priest inquired of Yahweh on behalf of the ruler (Numbers 27:21)
      1. There is no biblical information on the appearance of the Urim, the material out of which they were made
      2. It appears that they were a kind of lot, possibly marked stones or sticks that would give yes/no answers.
    2. Dreams
    3. Prophets
    4. Saul tried all three and failed.
  7. Saul’s meeting with the witch
    1. Takes place in the city of Endor, which is in the Northern part of the land God gave to the Israelite tribe of Isaachar. It was a city, however, assigned to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 17:11).
    2. Accompanied by two servants, Saul goes in disguise and lies to the witch about his identity.
    3. The witch is reluctant because of Saul’s prohibition on using occult practices.
    4. The witch practices necromancy, the practice of communicating with the dead in order to predict the future.
    5. When the spirit appears, the witch recognizes Saul but Saul has to tell her that the spirit is Samuel.
    6. When Samuel finally speaks he tells the king what he already knows, that God has judged him for his disobedience and has given the kingdom to another.
    7. Samuel also tells Saul that he and his sons will be joining Samuel in Sheol the next day when Israel will lose the battle against the Philistines.
    8. The witch feels so bad for Saul that she insists he stay for a meal. Saul doesn’t want to but his servants press him to stay. The witch kills her fatted calf and fixes him a good meal. After the meal Saul and his servants depart.
    9. Samuel’s prophecy comes true and Saul and his sons are killed in the battle against the Philistines.
  8. Questions for Reflection
    1. Do you believe in psychics and mediums? If so have you ever visited one?
    2. If a medium has a gift, whom is the gift from?
    3. Is Saul better off for speaking with Samuel? Why or why not?
    4. What did Saul lose or gain by seeking out a medium?
    5. Why do you think the Bible is so adamantly against engaging with the occult?
    6. Is it wrong – a sin – for Christians to engage in the occult?
    7. How might God be speaking to you through this story? What response is God asking from you?

 

 

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

Jesus Cleanses the Temple — John 2:13-22

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Story
    1. Story appears in all four Gospels
      1. John 2:13-22 – one important difference is that in John, this event happens right after the wedding in Cana.
      2. Matthew 21:12-13
      3. Mark 11:15-19
      4. Luke 19:45-46
  1. Echoes what is said in
    1. Isaiah 56:7 (these I will bring to my holy mountain, /and make them joyful in my house of prayer; /their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices/will be accepted on my altar; /for my house shall be called a house of prayer/for all peoples.)
    2. Jeremiah 7:11 (Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.)
    3. Psalm 69:9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; / the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
  1. The Temple
    1. In 19BC, Herod the Great doubled the size of the Temple Mount. This was the third temple and was known as “Herod’s Temple.” Construction lasted 46 years, so it was mostly complete when Jesus went there.
    2. This is the same Temple that Jesus would have visited with his parents every year. (Luke 2:41-52)
    3. The outer part of the mount was called the Court of Gentiles.
    4. It is clear that this building served as sacred marketplace. The trade was legitimate and necessary for pilgrims.
    5. According to Bible Odyssey, during the high holidays, such as Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, certain priests took advantage of their status by setting up stalls inside the Court of the Gentiles. It would appear that, on this occasion, the market had spilled over from the Royal Stoa into the holy area. When Jesus, in parallel passages of three Gospels, declares, “My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers,” he would have been referring to the profane activities that took place inside the sacred square precinct.
    6. As for Jesus’ accusation that the merchants had made it “a den of robbers,” there is abundant confirmation in the historical sources of the extortionate prices charged to those who bought sacrificial animals or who needed to change their money to pay the temple tribute.  On one occasion, Rabbi, son of Gamaliel, caused a reduction of 99% in the price of a pair of doves, as recorded in Mishnah Kerithoth 7.
  2. Moneychangers in the Temple
    1. Money changing was very common because there was a proliferation of currencies in ancient Rome.
    2. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, not only did these foreign coins have to be changed but also ordinary deposits were often handed over to the Temple authorities for safe deposit in the Temple treasury. Thus Jerusalem became a sort of central bourse and exchange mart, and the Temple vaults served as “safe deposits” in which every type of coin was represented.
    3. Money changers fulfilled three major functions: (a) foreign exchange, (b) the changing of large denominations into small ones, and vice versa, and (c) banking. The fee for this service varied from 4% to 8%.
    4. Money changers used to set up their “tables” in the outer court of the Temple for the convenience of the numerous worshipers, especially those from foreign countries.
    5. Only Jewish coins were allowed to be offered in the temple, and every worshipper—women, slaves, and minors excepted—had to pay the annual temple tribute of half a shekel.
  1. The Dove Sellers
    1. During Passover, every male Jew aged 12 and up was required to bring a lamb to sacrifice. The sellers of oxen, sheep and doves would often convince them that they had better animals to sacrifice thereby cheating them out of money unnecessarily.
    2. Those who attempted to bring their own sacrificial animals may very well have had them “rejected” by the temple priests, and thereby were forced to purchase “approved” animals at much higher prices.
    3. Cattle and sheep dealers would be tempted to charge exorbitant prices for such animals. They would exploit the worshipers. And those who sold pigeons would do likewise, charging, perhaps, $4 for a pair of doves worth a nickel.
    4. Though sheep were the preferred sacrifice, Leviticus 5:7 makes a provision allowing the poor to offer two doves instead.
    5. By singling out the dove sellers, Jesus is making a statement about exploitation of the poor.
  1. The Pivotal Event
    1. Humane Religion says that this is the pivotal event of Holy Week, because this set in motion Jesus’ arrest and all that followed.
    2. Jerusalem would’ve been overrun with tourists.
    3. Jesus’ actions here would be akin to someone stopping shopping on Black Friday.
  2. Jesus’ Authority
    1. Gilberto Ruiz says that by disrupting the well-established and accepted economic practices of the temple, Jesus publicly reveals he is more than a pilgrim visiting the temple. What grants Jesus such authority? Jesus’ calling the temple a marketplace is not the most surprising thing he says in John 2:16, since commerce was a well-known aspect of the temple’s identity. What stands out is his identifying the temple as “my Father’s house.” This provides the clue for understanding the source of Jesus’ authority. He is Son of the God who dwells in that temple, and as such he has the authority to disrupt the temple’s usual activities.
    2. Sarah Henrich says that in John, Jesus explains the temple cleansing in prophetic terms.
      1. Zechariah 14:20-21 (On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And the cooking-pots in the house of the Lord shall be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar; and every cooking-pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and use them to boil the flesh of the sacrifice. And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.)
      2. Psalm 69:9 (It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; / the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
    3. Questions for Reflection.
      1. Some commentators say that Jesus planned this demonstration. Others suggest that it was spontaneous because Jesus was consumed with zeal. What do you think?
      2. Do you see this as the pivotal moment of Holy Week? If so, why? If not, what event do you believe is the pivotal moment?
      3. What is Jesus saying about economics? How does that translate to today?
      4. How does this story speak to your own life? What response to this story might God be asking from you?

 

 

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged:

The Parable of the Good Shepherd — John 10:1-18

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. Sheep Behavior/Personality
    1. Sheep facts according to Sheep 201:
      1. Sheep are best known for their strong flocking (herding) and following instinct. They will run from what frightens them and band together in large groups for protection. This is the only protection they have from predators. There is safety in numbers. It is harder for a predator to pick a sheep out of a group than to go after a few strays.
      2. Sheep have a strong instinct to follow the sheep in front of them. When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good “decision.” For example, sheep will follow each other to slaughter. If one sheep jumps over a cliff, the others are likely to follow. Even from birth, lambs are conditioned to follow the older members of the flock. This instinct is “hard-wired” into sheep. It’s not something they “think” about. Ewes encourage their lambs to follow. The dominant members of the flock usually lead, followed by the submissive ones. If there is a ram in the flock, he usually leads.
      3. Sheep are a very social animal. In a grazing situation, they need to see other sheep. In fact, ensuring that sheep always have visual contact with other sheep will prevent excess stress when moving or handling them. According to animal behaviorists, a group of five sheep is usually necessary for sheep to display their normal flocking behavior.
      4. A sheep will become highly agitated if it is separated from the rest of the flock. In addition to serving as a protection mechanism against predators, this flocking and following instinct enables humans to care for large numbers of sheep. It makes sheep easier to move or drive and enables a guardian dog to provide protection for a large flock. Domestication and thousands of generations of human contact has further strengthened this trait in sheep. Domestication has also favored the non-aggressive, docile nature of sheep, making it easier for people, especially women and children, to care for sheep. Sheep were one of the earliest animals to be domesticated, and they have been thoroughly domesticated. It is doubtful they could survive in the wild, if a predator risk existed.
      5. Sheep are a prey animal. When they are faced with danger, their natural instinct is to flee not fight. Domesticated sheep have come to rely on man for protection from predators.
      6. Sheep tracks are never straight. The winding of trails allows sheep to observe their backside first with one eye, then the other. Sheep can spot dogs or other perceived forms of danger from 1,200 to 1,500 yards away.
      7. Sheep depend heavily upon their vision. Behavior scientists speculate that the placement and structure of the sheep’s eyes are due to nature’s designation of sheep as a prey animal. Sheep have a very large pupil that is somewhat rectangular in shape. The eyeball is placed more to the side of the head, which gives sheep a much wider field of vision. With only slight head movement, sheep are able to scan their surroundings. Their field of vision ranges from 191 to 306 degrees, depending upon the amount of wool on their face. On the other hand, sheep have poor depth perception, especially if they are moving with their heads up. This is why they will often stop to examine something more closely. Sheep have difficulty picking out small details, such as an open space created by a partially opened gate. They tend to avoid shadows and sharp contrasts between light and dark. They are reluctant to go where they can’t see.Sheep have excellent hearing. They can amplify and pinpoint sound with their ears. In fact, sound arrives at each ear at a different time. Sheep are frightened by sudden loud noises, such as yelling or barking. In response to loud noises and other unnatural sounds, sheep become nervous and more difficult to handle. This is due to the release of stress-related hormones. To minimize stress, the handler should speak in a quiet, calm voice.
      8. A sheep or lamb that is isolated from the rest of the flock is likely showing early signs of illness (unless it is lost). Even the last sheep through the gate should be suspected of not feeling well, especially if it is usually one of the first.
      9. Sheep have an amazing tolerance for pain. They do not show pain, because if they do, they will be more vulnerable to predators who look for those who are weak or injured.
      10. Healthy sheep are eager to eat. They are almost always hungry and will overeat, if allowed. Sheep bleat in anticipation of being fed and will rapidly approach the feeding area. Lack of appetite is probably the most common symptom exhibited by a sick sheep. At the same time, food is an excellent motivator. Next to a good herding dog, a bucket of grain is usually the best way to gather and move sheep. Grain feeding tends to make sheep friendlier and less intimidated by people.
      11. John 10:27 says “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” It is known that animals can instantly recognize the voice of a familiar trusted person. Sheep have excellent memories for faces. They remember their handler. They also remember people who inflict abuse upon them.
  1. Predators
    1. Predation accounts for a significant portion of sheep and lamb losses in the United States.
    2. In most situations, predator control begins with a good fence. A fence is the first line of defense against intruders. However, predators can penetrate a fence by digging under, jumping between the wires, crawling through holes in the mesh, or jumping over the top of the fence.
    3. Predators attack mostly at night. Penning sheep at night in lots near buildings and near humans will deter many predators. If the yard is well-lit, the risk is further reduced.
  1. Sheep intelligence
    1. Long thought to be stupid animals, growing body of evidence suggests they are not as stupid as previously thought.
    2. A study of sheep psychology has found sheep can remember the faces of more than 50 other sheep for up to two years. They can even recognize a familiar human face. One study suggests they may be nearly as good as people at distinguishing faces in a crowd. Researchers say, “Sheep form individual friendships with one another, which may last for a few weeks. It’s possible they may think about a face even when it’s not there.” The researchers also found female sheep had a definite opinion about what made a ram’s face attractive.
    3. If you make a sheep mad, chances are they won’t forget it. They can even remember an event or a face for over two years. They have a strong bias for their own breed of sheep. They don’t like to be with sheep of other breeds, families, or of large age differences. Fighting amongst sheep is prevented or at least lowered in frequency when the gender of the sheep are mixed. In other words, they don’t like being secluded from the opposite sex.
    4. Using a maze similar to those used to study rats, researchers have concluded that sheep have excellent spatial memory and are able to learn and improve their performance. And they can retain this information for a six-week period. The maze uses the strong flocking instinct of sheep to motivate them to find their way through. The time it initially takes an animal to rejoin its flock indicates smartness, while subsequent improvement in times over consecutive days of testing measures learning and memory.
    5. Scientists at the University of Cambridge discovered that sheep have brain power to equal rodents, monkeys, and in some tests, humans. They discovered the sheep “intelligence” while focusing on Huntington’s disease. The scientists put sheep through a set of challenges often given to humans suffering from Huntington’s. The sheep showed that they had advanced learning capabilities, as they were able to navigate the challenges in the same way as humans and primates.
    6. Sheep can actually lend a much more useful application when it comes to diseases that specifically affect the brain, like Huntington’s Disease. This is because their basal ganglia and cerebral cortex (both in the back and base of the brain) is very similar to the human brain.
    7. New research is suggesting that sick sheep could actually be smart enough to cure themselves. Australian researchers believe that sick sheep may actually seek out plants that make them feel better. There has been previous evidence to suggest that animals can detect what nutrients they are deficient in and can develop knowledge about which foods are beneficial or toxic.
    8. According to Professor Jenny Morton, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University says, “So we can probably classify sheep as being a bit like a slow monkey in terms of intelligence. . . . Sheep can perform executive cognitive tasks that have never been shown to exist in any other large animals apart from monkeys.
  1. Providing shelter
    1. The selection of sites for shelters is important so the behaviour of the sheep must be considered and the shelters placed where the sheep naturally prefer. Sheep tend to graze into the wind on treeless plains, in hot weather, but on cold wet days they huddle in the down-wind corner of the paddock, so shelters can be put there. They also tend to camp on hilltops in cold weather, so shelters could be placed on ridge tops. Least-used shelters are typically near roads, human activity and paddock ends.
    2. Under most conditions, sheep tend to spend more of their time closer to trees than would be expected by chance. This effect is intensified in paddocks with trees planted at low density.
    3. Camping behaviour. Certain breeds of sheep have definite ‘bedding habits’, known as camping. Choice of campsite is important and often the sites chosen for day camps differ from night camps. Sheep have clearly defined tracks leading from the water points to day campsites. Because sheep camp, a large proportion of feces is dropped at the campsite and so plant nutrients are transferred from the pasture to the campsite. The distribution of plants is also influenced and there can be a build-up of internal parasite eggs at the campsite. In the management of pastures it may be necessary to fence off campsites at times and force the sheep to move to other areas.
  1. History of Shepherding in Ancient Israel
    1. Typical day for a shepherd:
      1. According to Bible Study Tools, the duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very onerous. “In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs.
      2. “At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief.
    2. The Jews of Bible times were first shepherds and then farmers, but they never abandoned entirely their shepherd life.
      1. The large number of sheep in the land can be understood when it is realized that Job had fourteen thousand sheep (Job 42:12), and that King Solomon at the Temple’s dedication, sacrificed one hundred and twenty thousand sheep (I Kings 8:63).
      2. Fat-tailed sheep were the variety mostly in use. When the sheep is butchered, this fatty tail is quite valuable. People will buy the tail, or part of it, and use it for frying. (See Exodus 29:22 and Leviticus 3:9.)
      3. The shepherd is always on the lookout for members of his flock that need personal attention.
      4. Very little changed in the work of the shepherd or the way the job was carried out between the time of David and about 1925.
      5. Caring for the sheep in special times of need: The love of the shepherd for his sheep is best seen when times of special need call forth unusual acts of care for members of the flock.
        1. Crossing a stream of water. The shepherd leads the way into the water and across the stream. Those favored sheep who always keep hard by the shepherd, plunge boldly into the water, and are soon across. Others of the flock enter the stream with hesitation and alarm. Not being close to their guide, they may miss the fording place and be carried down the river a distance, but will probably be able to clamber ashore. The little lambs may be driven into the water by the dogs, and they are heard to bleat pitifully as they leap and plunge. Some manage to get across, but if one is swept away, then the shepherd leaps quickly into the stream and rescues it, carrying it in his bosom to the shore. When they all arrive over the stream, the lambs will gambol about with joy, and the sheep will gather around their shepherd as if to express their thankfulness to him.
        2. Pouring olive oil from a ram’s horn onto a sheep’s head. W. Phillip Keller explains that various insects and parasites caused great irritation around eyes and nasal passages, particularly during the summer. Shepherds would anoint the sheep with olive oil to protect them from irritation. “What an incredible transformation this would make among the sheep. Once the oil had been applied to the sheep’s head there was an immediate change in behaviour. Gone was the aggravation, gone the frenzy, gone the irritability and the restlessness. Instead, the sheep would start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment.” This echoes Psalm 23:5: You prepare a table before me / in the presence of my enemies; / you anoint my head with oil; / my cup overflows.
  • Protecting the sheep. The faithful shepherd must be willing to risk his life for the sake of the flock, and perhaps give his life for them. Jesus not only risked his life for us, He actually gave Himself on our behalf. He said: “‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’” (John 10:11)
  1. It is very important that sheep should not be allowed to stray away from the flock, because when by themselves they are utterly helpless. In such a condition, they become bewildered, for they have no sense at all of locality. And if they do stray away, they must be brought back.
    1. The Psalmist prayed the prayer: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant, / for I do not forget your commandments.” (Psalm 119:176).
    2. The prophet Isaiah compared man’s waywardness to that of sheep: “All we like sheep have gone astray; / we have all turned to our own way, /
      and the Lord has laid on him / the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6).
  2. Gathering scattered sheep.
    1. The shepherd knows how to gather sheep that have been scattered. Especially is this necessary when the sheep must be led back to the fold, or when they are to be guided to another pasture. It is accomplished by his standing in the center of his scattered sheep, and giving them the call which serves as the notes of a bugle do to an army of men. Pebbles are sent by means of his slingshot in the direction of and beyond members of the flock that fail to heed the call, in order to get their attention and then bring them back. He does not commence to lead them away until he knows they are all there.
    2. Ezekiel predicts that the Lord as Shepherd of Israel will one day gather His people that have been scattered, and will bring them back to their own land of Israel. “As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. “ (Ezekiel 34:12-13).
  3. Intimate knowledge of the sheep.
    1. The shepherd is deeply interested in every single one of his flock. Some of them may be given pet names because of incidents connected with them. They are usually counted each evening as they enter the fold, but sometimes the shepherd dispenses with the counting, for he is able to feel the absence of anyone of his sheep. With one sheep gone, something is felt to be missing from the appearance of the entire flock. One shepherd in the Lebanon district was asked if he always counted his sheep each evening. He replied in the negative, and then was asked how then he knew if all his sheep were present. This was his reply: “Master, if you were to put a cloth over my eyes, and bring me any sheep and only let me put hands on its face, I could tell in a moment if it was mine or not.”
    2. Compare this to Jesus’ assertion that “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,” (John 10:14).
  4. Leading sheep.
    1. The Eastern shepherd always leads his sheep, often going before them. “When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4). This does not mean that the shepherd is always in front of his sheep. Although he may be usually in that position when traveling, he often walks by their side, and sometimes follows behind, especially if the flock is headed for the fold in the evening. From the rear he can gather any stragglers, and protect such from a sly attack from a wild animal. If the flock is a large one, the shepherd will be in front, and a heifer will follow behind.
    2. The grain fields are seldom fenced or hedged in Bible lands, and sometimes only a narrow path runs between the pasture and these fields. The sheep are forbidden to eat in the fields where crops are growing. Thus in guiding the sheep along such a path, the shepherd must not allow any of the animals to get into the forbidden area, because if he does, he must pay damages to the owner of the grain. One Syrian shepherd has been known to guide a flock of one hundred fifty sheep without any help, along such a narrow path for quite a distance, without letting a single sheep go where he was not allowed to go.
  • When it becomes necessary to separate several flocks of sheep, one shepherd after another will stand up and call out: “Tahhoo! Tahhoo!” or a similar call of his own choosing. The sheep lift up their heads, and after a general scramble, each one begins following its own shepherd. They are thoroughly familiar with their own shepherd’s tone of voice. Strangers have often used the same call, but their attempts to get the sheep to follow them always fail. The words of JESUS are indeed true to Eastern shepherd life when he said: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:4-5)
  1. Naming Sheep
    1. Jesus said concerning the shepherd of his day: “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3).
    2. Today, not uncommon for eastern shepherd delights to give names to many, if not all, of his sheep.
  2. Playing with sheep
    1. The shepherd is so constantly with his sheep that sometimes his life with them becomes monotonous. Therefore he will occasionally play with them. He does this by pretending to run away from his sheep, and they will soon overtake him, and completely surround him, gamboling with great delight. Sometimes GOD’s people think He forsakes them when trouble comes their way. They say: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, / my Lord has forgotten me.’” (Isaiah 49:14). But actually their divine Shepherd says to them: “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
  3. Permanent sheepfolds
    1. More permanent sheepfolds. Such shelters are usually built by the shepherd in a valley, or else on the sunny side of a hill where there is protection from cold winds. This fold is a low building with arches in front of it, and a wall forming an outdoor enclosure, joining the building. When the weather is mild, the sheep and goats are allowed to be in the enclosure during the night, but if the weather is stormy, or the evenings are cold, then the flock is shut up in the interior part of the fold, with its protection of roof and walls. The walls of the enclosure are about three feet wide at the bottom, and become narrower at the top. They are from four to six feet high. Large stones are used in constructing the outsides of the wall, and they are also placed on the top, and then the center is filled with smaller pieces of stone, of which there is much in the land. Sharp, thorn bushes are put on the top of this wall to protect the sheep from wild animals or robbers. There is a gate guarded by a watchman.
    2. Jesus made reference to the familiar sheepfold of Israel when He spoke those memorable words of His: ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:1-3)
  4. Protecting sheep from robbers.
    1. The sheep need to be guarded against robbers not only when they are in the open country, but also when they are in the fold. The bandits of Israel are not apt to pick locks, but some of them may manage to climb up over the wall, and get into the fold, where they cut the throats of as many of the animals as possible and then sling them over the wall to others of their band, and all of them attempt to escape without being caught.
    2. JESUS described just such operations: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). The shepherd must be on guard constantly for such an emergency, and must be ready for quick action to protect his rights in the flock.
  5. Shepherds in the Bible
    1. Shepherding related to the land. According to Chabad.org, Sheepherding is a vocation that involves transportable beings, not fixed and stationary land. Thus, the shepherd retains a sense of transience and impermanence that farmers do not, due to their commitment to the land they nurture. The farmer’s fate is linked to a permanent patch of earth; that’s where his energy and destiny is invested. Sheepherding for our forefathers and mothers, then, was not just a matter of practice but of principle, motivated by the fear of becoming tied to, and emotionally involved, with a land not their own.
    2. First human conflict between two people in the Bible – Cain and Abel — was because God preferred the gift of the shepherd over the gift of the farmer.
    3. Many important biblical people were shepherds, including Abraham, Isaac, Rachel, Jacob, and King David.
    4. In 1 Samuel 17:32-37, David tells Saul that he is unafraid to fight Goliath because he has successfully protected his father’s sheep from lions and bears.
    5. Hirelings or watchmen are hired by shepherds to tend the flock when they cannot be there or need extra help. The Bible warns that watchmen are not as interested in the overall welfare of the flock as the shepherd.
      1. Isaiah 56:10-11: Israel’s sentinels are blind, / they are all without knowledge; / they are all silent dogs / that cannot bark; / dreaming, lying down, / loving to slumber. / The dogs have a mighty appetite; / they never have enough. / The shepherds also have no understanding; / they have all turned to their own way, / to their own gain, one and all.
      2. Ezekiel 34:8-10: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.
      3. Zechariah 11:15-17: Then the Lord said to me: Take once more the implements of a worthless shepherd. For I am now raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs. Oh, my worthless shepherd, / who deserts the flock! / May the sword strike his arm / and his right eye! / Let his arm be completely withered, / his right eye utterly blinded!
      4. John 10:12: The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
      5. Mentions of shepherds in the Bible in addition to parable in John 10:1-18
        1. Genesis 49:24: Yet his bow remained taut, / and his arms were made agile / by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, / by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
        2. Numbers 27:17: who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.’
        3. 1 Kings 22:17 and 2 Chronicles 18:16: Then Micaiah said, ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd; and the Lord said, “These have no master; let each one go home in peace.”
        4. Jeremiah 3:15: I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
        5. Jeremiah 10:21: For the shepherds are stupid, / and do not inquire of the Lord; / therefore they have not prospered, / and all their flock is scattered.
        6. Jeremiah 12:10: Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard, / they have trampled down my portion, / they have made my pleasant portion /a desolate wilderness.
        7. Jeremiah 17:16: But I have not run away from being a shepherd in your service, / nor have I desired the fatal day. / You know what came from my lips; / it was before your face.
        8. Jeremiah 25:34-35: Wail, you shepherds, and cry out; / roll in ashes, you lords of the flock, / for the days of your slaughter have come—and your dispersions, / and you shall fall like a choice vessel. / Flight shall fail the shepherds, / and there shall be no escape for the lords of the flock.
        9. Isaiah 31:4: For thus the Lord said to me, / As a lion or a young lion growls over its prey, / and—when a band of shepherds is called out against it— / is not terrified by their shouting /or daunted at their noise, / so the Lord of hosts will come down / to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill.
        10. Isaiah 40:11: He will feed his flock like a shepherd; / he will gather the lambs in his arms, / and carry them in his bosom, / and gently lead the mother sheep.
        11. Isaiah 44:28: who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, / and he shall carry out all my purpose’; / and who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be rebuilt’, / and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’
        12. Psalm 23:1: A Psalm of David. / The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
        13. Psalm 80:1: To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm. / Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, / you who lead Joseph like a flock! / You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
        14. Ezekiel 34:5: So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.
        15. Nahum 3:18: Your shepherds are asleep, / O king of Assyria; / your nobles slumber. / Your people are scattered on the mountains / with no one to gather them.
        16. Luke 2:8: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
        17. Hebrews 13:20: Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,
        18. 1 Peter 2:25: For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
  1. Mentions of Sheep in the Bible
    1. Christ is represented as the Lamb of God
      1. Isaiah 53:7: He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, / yet he did not open his mouth; / like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, /and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, / so he did not open his mouth.
      2. John 1:29: The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
      3. Revelation 5:6: Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
  1. Jesus warns that his disciples will be like sheep amongst wolves
    1. Matthew 10:16: ’See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
    2. Luke 10:3: Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
  2. Jesus invokes Zechariah 13:7 (‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, / against the man who is my associate,’ / says the Lord of hosts. / Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; / I will turn my hand against the little ones) in speaking of Himself at the Last Supper, warning of Peter’s denial of him in Matthew 26:31 (Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, /”I will strike the shepherd, / and the sheep of the flock will be scattered”) and again in Mark 14:27 (And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written, / “I will strike the shepherd, / and the sheep will be scattered.”)
  3. God’s people are the like the sheep of his pasture
    1. Psalm 79:14: Then we your people, the flock of your pasture, / will give thanks to you forever; / from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
    2. Psalm 95:7: For he is our God, / and we are the people of his pasture, /and the sheep of his hand. / O that today you would listen to his voice!
    3. Psalm 100:3: Know that the Lord is God. / It is he that made us, and we are his; / we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
  1. Sin causes us to become like lost sheep.
    1. Isaiah 53:6: All we like sheep have gone astray; / we have all turned to our own way, / and the Lord has laid on him / the iniquity of us all.
    2. Jeremiah 50:6: My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains; from mountain to hill they have gone, they have forgotten their fold.
    3. Ezekiel 34:6: My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
    4. Luke 15:3-7: So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
  1. Questions for Reflection.
    1. How does understanding sheep intelligence, personality, and behavior help you understand this parable? Does it change your previous understanding of this parable? If so, how?
    2. How does understanding the role of the shepherd and the shepherd’s deep connection to his/her sheep help you understand this parable? Does it change your previous understanding of this parable? If so, how?
    3. Has there been a time in your life when you have felt like Jesus saved you from “robbers” or “wolves” in whatever form that might have taken in your experience? If so, did that change your understanding of how God works in your own life?
    4. Have you ever felt like you are lost and are waiting for the Good Shepherd to find you? What is it like to be in that dark, fearful place? How do you maintain faith that the Good Shepherd is not only looking for you, but will find you and bring you back to the flock?
    5. Have you ever felt very lost and then felt like you were found? What did that experience feel like? How did it change you?
    6. How does this story speak to your own life? What response to this story might God be asking from you?

 

 

Information gathered from and gratefully acknowledged: