For the last few weeks we have been looking at the last chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews. And this week is the last week that the Epistle text will be from that work (13:1-17). Much could be said about the epistle’s title of a ‘word of exhortation (13:22)’, especially since that epistle contains a number of exhortations. So which ones are secondary?
I think, though, that the Book of Proverbs may be even more interesting than the Epistle to the Hebrews; and that book is only read from a very small number of times throughout the three-year series. And this Sunday is one of those times (25:2-10).
I remember, when I was young, my pastor led the congregation through that book in a bible class; it took a long time. And I thought it was worth it. I would highly recommend this book, especially for the younger generation.
At first glance, it seems to have no structure. I hope to dispel that myth.
Although I would like to look at the first verses of the book—which are often an indication as to the structure of the entire work—I would like to focus on an aspect which I think is extremely interesting.
The vast majority of the notes in the Concordia Self-Study Bible were not written by Lutherans, so I am usually very attentive for that note that has a cross at its beginning. The following note is one by a non-Lutheran, and I am very glad that I came upon it (page 959):
10:1 The proverbs of Solomon. The title of a collection of individual proverbs that extends through 22:16. The numerical values of the consonants in the Hebrew word for “Solomon” total 375—the exact number of verses in 10:1-22:16; 375 of Solomon’s proverbs were selected from a much larger number (cf. 1 Kings 4:32).
I guess that my only problem with that statement is that I have a hard time believing that these are ‘individual’ proverbs. I am seeing a contemporary problem with that word. Is there anyone or anything who/which is not connected to someone or something else? Besides, I am seeing a pattern within these proverbs.
Although a Hebrew literary structure may mean a lot of things (and this is one of the reasons that there is such great depth to the structure of the Gospel according to Matthew), one of the first things that comes to my mind is the importance of a middle point. When dealing with the number of 375, the middle point is essentially 187-188. And that is a middle point where the four previous proverbs/verses all have the name LORD (Yahweh) in them, and the four proverbs/verses which follow also have the same thing (15:33-16:7). And that extensive consistency is not found elsewhere within the work. The LORD is the turning point, and he is an appropriate one.
I also do not think it is a coincidence that the word ‘king’ comes up frequently after that middle point. It appears in chapter 16 in verses 10, 12, 13, 14, and 15. And the word ‘king’ comes up frequently also within our text (verses 2, 3, 5, and 6). Perhaps the writer/editor had this proverb in mind: ‘My son, fear the LORD and the king…(24:21).’
The importance of a king is unknown to most of Western culture (and we are certainly losing the importance of the LORD within our modern culture), and the idea that words can also equal numbers is also unknown. We have letters for words and numbers for amounts, and, at least in our part of Western culture, those two groups are usually quite unrelated. But what would we do if we did not have numbers to tell us some amounts? That would make for an interesting language. And we might learn something more about the language of the bible.
Recently we have been looking the Epistle to the Hebrews. And the culmination that the Epistle text for this Sunday gives (12:4-24, with the option of also including verses 25-29) has essentially two possible ending points for the reader or listener. The writer has downplayed the importance of the ark of the covenant, along with Mount Sinai—where that ark and tabernacle/temple was started—and he puts forward the importance of Mount Zion and, of course, Jesus. In short, the text says that you have not come to Mount Sinai (although that mountain was not named in the text—almost as if it were too holy to be spoken); you have come to Mount Zion.
I think it is helpful that the writer lays out those two options, since both are significantly different. And that idea of a division, with only two possibilities, is certainly frequent in scripture, and it will also be true for what will happen at the end of time—heaven or hell.
With that in mind, I hope you will not mind a slightly different direction with this week’s ‘journey’. That idea of a division or two possibilities is also frequent in writings which are outside of scripture.
I do not think it to be a bad thing that Christians are introduced to writings that may be of a similar time period to the writings of the New Testament, but those writings do not appear in the typical Bible. In the Old Testament, there are the books of the Apocrypha. But, in the New Testament, while there are others, there is the document called ‘The Didache’ (pronounced ‘did-ah-KAY’). It is the Greek word for ‘teaching’.
For much the same reason that confirmation students benefit by learning what the other churches are teaching, the Christian will also benefit by learning at least a little about the other books that were written about the same time as the New Testament. The New Testament was written within a context, and not only the context of the Old Testament, but the context of other Jewish-Christian writings. And ‘The Didache’ is one of the most well-known of those.
As Holmes, the editor, states in his introduction to the text [In his book, The Apostolic Fathers], ‘A remarkably wide range of dates, extending from before AD 50 to the third century or later, has been proposed for this document (page 337).’ Later he gives more detail: ‘’The Didache’ may have been put into its present form as late as 150, though a date considerably closer to the end of the first century seems more probable. The materials from which it was composed reflect the state of the church at an even earlier time (page 337).’
This document very much emphasizes the division, the two ways. In fact, the first verse of the text goes this way: ‘There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways (1.1).’
Sometimes the question is asked, ‘Why was this document not included in the New Testament?’ Sometimes the people of ancient times are looked upon as ignorant or, worse yet, biased!
This document certainly contains words that may be connected to the Old Testament, and there are things which may be connected to the New Testament. But there are significant differences between these texts and scripture.
You may be able to see these differences by the use of some titles within this document. A teacher of mine used to ask, ‘Who is doing the verbs?’ In other words, who is the focus? And the titles of the main persons working within the text can help show the focus.
The secondary title of the work is ‘The Teaching of the Lord…’, but, after that, the next time the word ‘Lord’ is used is all the way in chapter four.
My child, remember night and day the one who preaches God’s word to you, and honor him as though he were the Lord. For wherever the Lord’s nature [the essential aspect of being Lord; see BDAG, page 579] is preached, there the Lord is. Moreover, you shall seek out daily the presence [literally, ‘face’] of the saints, so that you may find support in their words (4.1-2; the word ‘face’ is used two more times after this and is translated as ‘partiality’ and ‘reputation’; sections 3 & 10 respectively).’
Much later in the work, about the same amount from the end of the document (chapter 11), there is a surprisingly similar connection to the quote above, with a person who teaches to be connected to the Lord.
So, if anyone should come and teach you all these things that have just been mentioned above, welcome him. But if the teacher himself goes astray and teaches a different teaching that undermines all this, do not listen to him. However, if his teaching contributes to righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, welcome him as you would the Lord. Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule [literally, ‘dogma’] of the gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord (11.1-4).
Instead of putting forward the face and presence of the risen Lord Jesus and what he says and does—and this, in the New Testament, is often done by using the present tense (and usually called the ‘historical present’)—in the above document the connection to the Lord is one that the reader or listener is to make to the Lord’s preacher, teacher, or apostle. In The Didache, the face of the saints is the face that you are to seek out. Perhaps this, more than anything else, shows the secondary—yet still important—nature of this document.
It is still a very good read.
he Epistle text for this Sunday helps us continue our journey into the Epistle to the Hebrews. Last week I made the point that Noah’s ark was an important one—it was the fourth or middle one of a list of seven people or groups who walked by faith (verses 1-16; we, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Abraham—with a different aspect, and Sarah).
Perhaps you knew that there were other arks in the bible. Arguably the most famous one, even more famous than Noah’s ark, is the so-called ‘ark of the covenant’. You might want to think of it as the footstool for God. If God is sitting on his throne, depending on the size of the throne, he might want to have his feet on something so that they are not just hanging down off his fancy chair. A footstool is really just a fancy box.
An ark is a very special box. In Hebrews 11:22, there is a reference to Joseph giving instructions concerning his bones, and the text at the end of Genesis (50:26) says that he was put into a ‘coffin’, but the word is ‘ark’ and is the exact same one in Hebrew as with the ark of the covenant. And so, in Hebrews 11:23, immediately following the words regarding Joseph, there is a note regarding Moses when he was a baby. And the same word in Hebrew for Noah’s ark is also used for the ‘basket’ that Moses was in when his mother put him into the Nile River (See Exodus 2:3 and the footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible, page 98).
I do not think that all these oblique references to an ark are a coincidence. The epistle to the Hebrews previously talked about the very famous ark of the covenant, but then the writer abruptly stops focusing on it (Hebrews 9:1-10). There are more important things to talk about—Jesus being one of them.
I hope I do not lose many of you, but I think it is a significant thing when, in verse 28, the text says that ‘By faith he [Moses] kept the Passover....' The verb ‘kept’ is an important one, even though it is hard to tell with this translation. A better translation of the verb would have been ‘has kept’. The verb is in the perfect tense, and it usually means some sort of ramifications for the present. (For those who are interested in more detail, see the book by Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 582.)
Most of the verbs in this chapter are in the past, but this one has ramifications for the present. And Jesus certainly changed the extremely ancient and important festival of the Passover into something so incredibly significant for today with his death and resurrection—not to mention his institution of the Lord’s Supper.
Perhaps I am making too much of this, but Moses with his Passover is the fourth person mentioned from the end to have done something by faith. As the fourth person of this distinguished line of people who lived by faith was Noah, the fourth from the end was the one who HAS kept the Passover—and has made that festival important for today. (The last three are the ‘they who went through the Red Sea’, those who were involved in the fall of the walls of Jericho, and Rahab—verses 29-31.)
This entire group of people, in chapter 12:1, is called a ‘cloud of witnesses’; this is not to be confused with a ‘crowd of witnesses’. The ‘cloud’ is a reference to the glory that stayed with the ark of the covenant. (If you want to see a significant contrast, please read Exodus 40:34-38, the last few verses of Exodus, and compare that with Exodus 24:15-18, a section approximately in the middle of the book.) The cloud stayed with the people, and through the scriptures, that cloud described in Hebrews 11 stays with us.
I can understand why the Jews wanted to emphasize not only the ark but also the temple. Both of those things were eventually lost, more specifically, were removed from the sight of the Jews. That was okay. It is also okay that God does not choose to be so obvious. That tends to scare people away.
God has chosen to use his words. And that tends to draw us closer.
Usually, I look at the gospel text for the week. For the last few Sundays, I have looked at the Old Testament text. This might surprise you that for the next three Sundays, I will be looking at the epistle texts. During this particular time of the three-year series, the epistle looks at the last part of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
I think the Epistle to the Hebrews is a fascinating work. It is like a gospel account in that it focuses on Jesus. It is also like an epistle—and obviously so, because of its title. It is also like the Old Testament, and that should also be obvious. If you increase your understanding of the Epistle to the Hebrews, you essentially increase your understanding of the entire scriptures.
Since this epistle does not have a regular epistle-like format, there is the chance for the literary style of the text to come through much more clearly. The introduction (1:1-4) has a structure which is reflected in the rest of the work. There is first the mention of a ‘Son’, and then there is the mention of him making ‘purification for sins’. As in the layout of the tabernacle or temple, there was, near the entrance, the place for making a sacrifice, and then, farther along, where that special blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled—the ‘holy of holies’ or the ‘most holy place’, and this is also the progression of the writer. The epistle has that special structure in a literary way, a way that shows how important it was that God and man came together in Jesus—and also how important it was to have Jesus’ death on the cross (and the curtain of the temple torn in two, from top to bottom).
What was, for a time, so special in this very special place of the tabernacle or temple was the so-called ‘ark of the covenant’. It also has other names, but I would like to focus on the title of ‘ark’. After all, it seems that the writer wants to focus on various arks in Hebrews 11.
This chapter is called ‘the faith chapter’, and that is an appropriate title. It seems like at the start of every paragraph (although that structure of paragraphs is not in the original text), the text says, ‘By faith…’ and then it gives an example of someone who lived by faith. Near the end of the text for this Sunday (verse 16), there are some summary points. But I thought it was interesting that the following people are mentioned along the way:
Verse 3: By faith we…. Verse 4: By faith Abel…. Verse 5: By faith Enoch….
Verse 7: By faith Noah….
Verse 8: By faith Abraham…. Verse 9: By faith he (Abraham)…. Verse 11: By faith Sarah….
In this case, the ark is at the center (of seven different kinds of faith, no less). We will see next week where an ark comes up again.
For the last two weeks, the Old Testament text has been from Genesis, and the two texts were nearly one right after the other. In another week, the text will AGAIN be from Genesis. But this present week is special. This is the week when the Old Testament text is from the book of Ecclesiastes. Now how different is that?
It is actually not so different.
Here is a text from the beginning of the book of Genesis, the second creation account, the one which focuses on the creation of man and woman:
When NO bush of the field was yet in the land and NO small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had NOT caused it to rain on the land, and there was NO man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground--then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food… (Genesis 2:5-9a).
I emphasized the negatives in the first half of the text because some of them are clearly in the text—and they do not appear in the second half of the text, after the turning point of the mist and the watering of the whole face of the ground. There are also implied negatives in this first half of the text. Adam works in a garden before the Fall into sin, but he works in a field after the Fall. And it also only rains after the Fall, during the Flood. The first part is certainly negative. And water is an important part of the turning point.
The first verses of Ecclesiastes have a similar structure. The text for this Sunday is from Ecclesiastes 1:2, then verses 12-14, and then 2:18-26. The following text is between the first two sections of the appointed reading (1:3-11):
What does man [adam] gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All the streams run to the sea, but the sea is NOT full; to the place when the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man CANNOT utter it; the eye is NOT satisfied with seeing, NOR the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is NOTHING new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us. There is NO remembrance of former things [’first men’ or ‘men of old’], NOR will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
Hopefully the similarities are noticeable. The main difference is that the negatives in the Genesis account are at the beginning, where, in the second text, they are at the end. Perhaps the intention of this structural difference is to take us back to the beginning, to help us to remember our history. The content certainly supports that message. And it seems that some people today could very much benefit from that advice.
Another difference is that the structure around the turning point does not seem so neatly arranged. To help a little with this difficulty, I added a few words in brackets above. The first word in brackets is the Hebrew word for man, and this is obviously where Adam got his name. The second set of brackets has a couple possible translations of the phrase ‘former things’, both of which might make a person think of Adam.
In both cases though, the water is in the middle.
Water is obviously an important thing. Our bodies are approximately sixty percent water. Water is a majority of who we are.
It is not surprising, then, that Jesus chose to be around water for a significant period of his life. He also chose some fishermen to follow him. And he also talked about being ‘living water’. And after his followers were around him for a while, he also talked about people drinking his blood. And then, at his death, blood and water poured out of him.
How is that for being at the center of things?
By the way, if you would like to look at the vast majority of the introduction to the gospel account I used to summarize the life of Jesus above, but in basically the same format I have been using, here it is below (and I again added some brackets to be helpful):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was NOT any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has NOT overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was NOT the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did NOT know him. He came to his own, and his own people did NOT receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, NOT of blood NOR of the will of the flesh NOR of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh [approximately sixty percent water] and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”’) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:1-17).