John T. Willis

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Heart is Large and Empty--XV

1. There are three expression used with the word "heart" in the Bible which emphasize the superior quality of understanding which an individual has.
    a. The Hebrew adjective koah means "strength, power." Job 36:5 says:
        Surely God is mighty and does not despise any;
             he is mighty in strength and HEART [NRSV understanding].
For God to be mighty in heart means he has great superior quality of understanding.
    b. The Hebrew adjective rohab means "breadth, width." 1 Kings 4:29 says:
         God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment , and BREADTH OF HEART [NRSV
                           breadth of understanding]
          as vast as the sand on the seashore.
God gave Solomon great understanding as broad as the sand on the beaches of the world.
    c. Elihu said to Job in Job 34:10, 34:
        Therefore, hear me, you who are A MAN OF HEART [NRSV you who have sense]. A man of heart means a man of understanding.

2. In antithesis to the idea of having great understanding is the idea of lacking understanding. Three phrases used with the "heart" convey the idea of lack of understanding.
    a. The Hebrew adjective haser means "lack, need." Ecclesiastes 10:3 says:
        Even when fools walk on the road, THEY LACK HEART [NRSV sense],
               and show to everyone that they are fools.
    b. A similar phrase is "has no heart" [sense].  Proverbs 6:32 says:
        But he who commits adultery HAS NO HEART [NRSV sense];
                he who does it destroys himself.
A lack of heart means a lack of understanding.
     Very similar ideas also appear in Proverbs 7:7; 9:4, 16; 10:13, 21; 11:12; 12:11; 15:21; 17:18; 24:30. Proverbs 15:21 in particular is significant:
        Folly is a joy to one who HAS NO HEART [NRSV sense],
                but a person of understanding walks straight ahead.
     c. The Hebrew substantive 'ayin means "no, nothing." Proverbs 17:16 says:
         Why should fools have a price in hand
                to buy wisdom, when THEY HAVE NO HEART [NRSV mind] to learn?
         Hosea 7:11 says:
         Ephraim has become like a dove,
                silly and WITHOUT HEART [NRSV sense];
                they call upon Egypt, they go to Assyria.
To have NO HEART is to be without common sense or understanding.

Share YOUR insights and questions and ideas and reversals and concepts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--7

After Jesus' disciples asked Jesus why he spoken to them in parables and he gave his explanation in Matthew 13:10-17, his disciples asked Jesus the meaning of the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat in Matthew 13:36-43:
     Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And HIS DISCIPLES approached him, saying,
      "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field."
      He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
      the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom;
      the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil;
      the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
      Just as the weeds are collectived and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.
      The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all the causes of sin
                                      and all evildoers,
  and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
      Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
       Let anyone who hears listen!
     a. It is interesting that Jesus' disciples had no idea what the parable meant. Jesus had to explain to them its meaning.
     b. Unfortunately, many well-meaning Christians ignore or reject Jesus' message here. The message is: God our Father through Jesus Christ ultimately separates the righteous from the wicked, placing the righteous in the kingdom of God and placing the wicked in the furnace of fire, hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
     c. Would-be disciples must decide whether they accept or reject this message of Jesus, our Teacher and Only True Leader.

Matthew 14:1-12 describes the terrible act of Herod who beheaded John the Baptist. When that happened, THE DISCIPLES of John the Baptist took the body of John the Baptist and buried it. Matthew 14:12.

The next two stories about the disciples of Jesus deal with Jesus feeding the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water.

1. Jesus feeding the five thousand. Matthew 14:13-21.
    Now when Jesus heard this [the beheading of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat
            to a deserted place by him.
    But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
    When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
    When it was evening, THE DISCIPLES came to him and said,
     "This is a deserted place, and the hour is late;
     send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."
     Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
     They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."
     And Jesus said, "Bring them here to me."
     Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
     Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves,
      and gave them to THE DISCIPLES, and THE DISCIPLES gave them to the crowds.
      And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces,
                            twelve baskets full.
      And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
      a. Here the disciples learned a great example from Jesus. Jesus' disciples must learn to trust in God the Father through Jesus Christ when faced with difficult circumstances.
      b. God can do miraculous things before the world. The role of disciples is to follow Jesus' instructions and to share them with the crowds.

2. Jesus Walking on the Water. Matthew 14:22-33.
    Immediately he made THE DISCIPLES get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side,
                 while he dismissed the crowds.
    And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
    When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves,
                  was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
    And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
   But when THE DISCIPLES saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a
    And they cried out in fear.
    But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I, do no be afraid."
    Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
   He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
    But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened,
    and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me."
    Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him,
    saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
    When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
    And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
    a. Here again, Jesus' disciples learned a great lesson. When a terrifying storm faces God's people, one must decide whether to be afraid or to trust in God our Father through Jesus Christ.
    b. Peter sank in the water and was afraid because of his little faith, his doubt. May God's true disciples trust in him under all circumstances.

Share YOUR experiences and troubles and questions and doubts and faith with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, October 03, 2016

A Plea for God to deliver the Defeated--Psalm 44

Psalm 44 was composed shortly after an Israelite or Judean king and his army had been defeated by an enemy army. The enemy had taken spoil from God's people (44:10), carried some of the Israelites into captivity (44:11), and  disgraced the king and his soldiers before the nations (44:13-16). The date of this discouraging event is unknown. One might think of Sennacherib's invasion of Judah during the reign of king Hezekiah in 701 BCE, or Josiah's death at Megiddo at the hands of Egyptian soldiers under Pharaoh-neco in 609 BCE, or some other unknown event recorded in ancient history, but there is not enough information in Psalm 44 to know precisely the historical setting. The speakers in Psalm 44 fluctuate between the first person singular ("I," "my," "me," 44:4, 6, 15) and the first person plural ("we," "us," "our," 44:1, 5, 7-11, 13-14, 17-20, 22-25). This individual is probably one of the kings of Israel or Judah. Psalm 44 falls into FOUR parts.

1. The psalmist declares that Yahweh has delivered his forefathers and his own people from their enemies. 44:1-8.
     a. The psalmist begins by declaring that he and his associates have heard Yahweh's mighty acts in the past because their ancestors told them.  Yahweh drove out the nations in Canaan and gave the Israelites that land. It is obvious that the Israelites did not win the land by their own sword, but only by Yahweh's right arm. 44:1-3.
     b. Because of this, the speaker declares that Yahweh is the only true king, because he commands victories for his people Jacob. While there may be an earthly king, the only real king is Yahweh. 44:4.
     c. The psalmist announces that Yahweh has delivered him and his soldiers. God's people do not win victories by bow of sword, but only by Yahweh,. Yahweh's name is a circumlocution for Yahweh. The poet and his associates boast and give thanks to Yahweh. 44:5-8.

2. Quickly, the composer declares the present situation of a recent loss which the Israelites experienced to their enemies. 44:9-16.
     a. The psalmist complains that Yahweh has rejected his people. Yahweh has not gone out with his armies. Yahweh's enemies have won and gotten spoil from Yahweh's people. Yahweh made his people "like sheep for slaughter" and scattered them among the nations. The same language appears in 44:22. 44:9-12.
     Several biblical texts use the figure of sheep led to a slaughter as a simile for an innocent, trusting  person who follows a course of life destined to lead to his/her destruction. Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 11:19:
           I was like a gentle lamb
                  led to the slaughter.
Isaiah 53:7 describes the suffering servant of Yahweh in this way:
           Like a lamb led to the slaughter,
                   and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
            so he opened his mouth.
This was the scripture which the Ethiopian eunuch was reading when Philip intercepted him on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza and with which Philip began as he preached Jesus unto him in Acts 8:32-35.
      Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 and applies it to Christians typologically in his powerful description of the role they must play in the world in Romans 8:36.
      b. The psalmist continues to complain that Yahweh has made his people a taunt, derision, and scorn of all those around. Yahweh made his people a byword and laughingstock among the nations. Yahweh brought disgrace and shame upon his people. 44:13-16.

3. In spite of the fact that Yahweh has rejected his people, his people have not forgotten Yahweh. 44:17-22.
    a. The composer declares that he and his companions have not forgotten or been false to Yahweh's covenant or departed from Yahweh's way. 44:17-20.
    b. The psalmist realizes that Yahweh knows the secrets of the heart, and he is confident that he has not forgotten Yahweh and gone after other gods. And yet, Yahweh has accounted them as sheep for the slaughter. 44:21-22.

4. The psalmist desperately concludes that Yahweh will come forth and deliver him and his people. 44:23-26.
    a. The psalmist declares that Yahweh acts as if he were asleep. He pleads with Yahweh to Rouse Himself and Awake. 44:23.
    b. Again, he pleads with Yahweh: "Rise up, come to our help," for the sake of his steadfast love.

When it seems that God has forsaken us, we must cling to him, knowing that he will come to our help when he desires.

Share YOUR dark days and reversals and disappointments and concerns and losses with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Heart Conceals and Reveals--XIII

According to the Bible, the heart has the capacity to conceal or reveal the thoughts and feelings of the individual.

1. The heart CONCEALS.
     a. The Hebrew expression kasah beleb means "to hide within the heart."
          The psalmist of Psalm 40 says in verse 10, speaking to Yahweh:
           I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
           I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
           from the great congregation.
Here, to hide within the heart means to keep conceal what Yahweh has done for his people.
      b. The Hebrew expression netar beleb means "to keep in the heart."
           After describing the visions of the four beasts in Daniel 7:1-27, in verse 28 the text says:
           Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me,
           and my face turned pale; BUT I KEPT THE MATTER IN MY HEART [NRSV mind].
For Daniel to keep this matter under consideration in his heart means he hid it and did not share it with other people.

2. The heart reveals.
     Four Hebrew verbs are connected with the heart meaning to reveal.
     a. The Hebrew verb qara' means "to call, proclaim."
         Proverbs 12:23 means:
         One who is clever conceals knowledge,
For the heart to broadcast folly means to openly proclaim or reveal the thoughts of a fool.
     b. The Hebrew verb galah means "to uncover."
          Proverbs 18:2 says:
          A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
               BUT ONLY THAT HIS HEART MAY REVEAL ITSELF [NRSV only in expressing
                                                personal opinion].
In this context, for the heart to reveal itself is to lay open the unfounded views of the fool.
      c. The Hebrew verb dabar means "to speak."
           Describing the condition of a drunkard in Proverbs 23:29-35, the poet says in verse 33:
           Your eyes will see strange things,
When a person is drunk, he/she may say almost anything, because his thoughts and speech are not coherent.
       d. The Hebrew verb yasa' means "to go out."
            The composer of Ecclesiastes says in Ecclesiastes 5:2:
            Never be rash with your mouth, NOR LET YOUR HEART BE QUICK
                            TO UTTER A WORD BEFORE GOD,
            for God is in heaven, and you upon earth;
            therefore let your words be few.
One cannot utter a single word unless it comes from the heart. The heart is the center of everything spiritually.

Share YOUR concerns and problems and anxieties and anticipations and remorses with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--6

It is not absolutely clear WHERE Jesus was in connection with the events described in Matthew 12. He may have been a Capernaum [see Matthew 11:23], but this is uncertain, although at this juncture, Jesus was in someone's house. At any rate, Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people, apparently because of the miracles he had performed and because of his teachings. Matthew 12:46-50 relates this account:
       While he [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds,
        his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.
        Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak
                                                   to you."
    But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are by brothers?"
    "Here are my mother and brothers!
     For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
     a. In this context, Jesus' disciples were a large number of people who were following him, not merely The Twelve.
     b. Obviously, Jesus' disciples are MALE and FEMALE, not merely male. Jesus does not hesitate to refer to his "disciples" as sister and mother.
     c. Here the relationships of mother, brother, and sister are not physical relatives, but spiritual relatives, all rooted in whether a person DOES THE WILL OF GOD THE FATHER. There is a huge difference between knowing and accepting the will of God and actually DOING the will of God. A true disciple of Jesus is a follower of Jesus who does the will of Jesus' Heavenly Father. Thus, God's commandments are central for Christian living.

Matthew 13 contains a series of Jesus' Parables: The Parable of the Sower; the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat; the Parable of the Mustard Seed; the Parable of a Treasure hidden in a field; the Parable of a pearl of great value; and the Parable of a net thrown into the sea to catch fish. First Jesus gives the Parable of the Sower. Then Matthew 13:10-17 says:
      "Why do you speak to them in parables?"
      He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,
                               but to them it has not been given.
      For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance;
      but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
      The reason is speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive,
                               and hearing they do no listen, nor do they understand.'
      With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
              'You will indeed listen, but never understand,
                     and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
               For this people's heart has grown dull,
                     and their ears are hard of hearing,
                     and they have shut their eyes;
                     so that they might look with their eyes,
               and listen with their ears,
        and understand with their heart and turn--
               and I would heal them.' [Quoting Isaiah 6:9-10].
        But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
     Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it,
     and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
     a. Again, the disciples of Jesus intended here are a large group of followers of Jesus, not merely The Twelve. True disciples of Jesus follow Jesus and pay careful attention to his example and his teachings.
     b. Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables to keep the crowds from understanding the meaning of the parables and to reveal the meaning of his true disciples to understand their meaning. Today, true disciples study Jesus' parables very carefully and do what the heavenly Father tells them to do.
     c. The original context of Isaiah 6:9-10 was obviously not addressed to or intended for the crowds around Jesus in the first century AD [CE], but for the Judeans whom Isaiah addressed in the eighth century BC [BCE]. Matthew uses this passage in Isaiah 6:9-10 typologically, not literally. There is a striking parallel between Isaiah's message to his audience and Jesus' message to his audience.

Share YOUR research and understandings and feelings and thoughts and reserves with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Encountering Depression--Psalms 42-43

Originally Psalms 42-43 was one psalm. For some reason, this was divided into two psalms. Several details prove that Psalms 42-43 is one psalm.
      A. Psalms 42 and 44-49 have in their superscriptions: "To the leader: A Maskil of the Korahites," but Psalm 43 has no superscription of any kind.
      B. The same recurring refrain or chorus appears in 42:5, 11; 43:5:
           Why are you cast down, O my soul,
                  and why are you disquieted within me?
            Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
                  my help and my God."
      C. There are striking similarities between 42:9 and and 43:2.
           1. "I say to God, my rock" in 42:9 has approximately the same meaning as "For you are the God in whom I have refuge."
           2. The question "Why have you forgotten me?" in 42:9 is virtually the same as "Why have you cast me off?"
           3. The question "Why must I walk about mournfully
                                        because the enemy oppresses me [because of the oppression of the enemy?]"
 is almost exactly the same in 42:9 and 43:2.
      D. 42:2 and 43:3 reflect the same strong desire to go to Jerusalem and worship God.

Psalm 43:4 indicates that the composer of Psalms 42-43 is a harp player. He was accustomed to lead ceremonial processions only holy days at the Jerusalem temple ("the house of God"--42:4; "your holy hill," "your dwelling"--43:3; "the altar of God"--43:4). But now he has been forced to leave Jerusalem and is hiding from his enemies, or is in captivity to his enemies in northern Palestine near the headwaters of the Jordan River, at the foothills of the peaks of Mount Hermon, near Mount Mizar (42:6). These enemies are not worshippers of the true God, because they keep ridiculing him about the absence of Yahweh. The psalmist has expressed his trust in Yahweh in these difficult circumstances, but Yahweh has done nothing in an obvious way to deliver him, and so his enemies kept heckling him saying, "Where is your God?" (42:3, 10). The composer is deeply depressed by these tauntings as though he had suffered a deadly wound in his body (42:9-10). His enemies are unjust and deceitful (43:1), and yet God had not delivered him. He concludes that Yahweh has forgotten him (42:9), that Yahweh has cast him off (43:2). He yearns for Yahweh to intervene and deliver him (43:1) and to allow him to return to Jerusalem and worship Yahweh at the temple (42:2; 43:3-4). The recurring refrains or choruses in 42:5, 11; 43:5 naturally divide this psalm into three paragraphs.

1. The psalmist is deeply depressed because he feels Yahweh is far away. 42:1-5.
     a. The psalmist compares himself with a deer fleeing from hunters who are determined to track him down and kill him. As he flees, he becomes extremely thirsty, not for water, but for Yahweh's presence and fellowship and protection. Human longing for God is as inborn as the thirst for water (see Psalms 63:1; 143:6). 42:1.
      b. The psalmist thirsts for the living God just as water slakes the parched tongue, Only Yahweh can satisfy his thirst. 42:2.
      c. In his present situation, the tears of the poet are his food day and night while his enemies heckle him, "Where is your God?" 42:3.
      d. The composer thinks back of his work in Jerusalem when he went with the throng of people and led them in procession to the Jerusalem temple with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude of people keeping festival, probably the Feast of Booths. 42:4.
      e. Struggling with his heart, the psalmist says to himself: Why are you cast down? Why are you depressed? Instead hope in Yahweh, because he will again praise him, his help and God. 42:5.

2. The psalmist is discouraged because troubles have rushed into his life like a flood inundating a city. 42:6-11.
     a. Since he is depressed, the psalmist remembers Yahweh while he is in the land of the Jordan and Mount Hermon, Mount Mizar. Now, deep calls to deep at the thunder of Yahweh's cataracts. Yahweh's waves and billows have gone over him, and he is about to drown. 42:6-7.
     b. Yet, during the day Yahweh commands his steadfast love, and during the night Yahweh's song is with the psalmist, a prayer to the God of his life. 42:8.
     c. Although the psalmist knows that Yahweh is his rock, he asks Yahweh, Why have you forgotten me?" Why am I constantly mourning because my enemies oppress me? His enemies are like a deadly wound to bring his life to an end, saying "Where is your God?" As in 42:5, he repeats his inner thoughts, Why am I depressed? Instead hope in Yahweh. 42:9-11.

3. The psalmist feels helpless because his enemies have falsely accused him, but he cannot prove that their accusations are false. 43:1-5.
     a. The psalmist's enemies are ungodly and deceitful. In the court, the accusations of his enemies appear to be convincing. 43:1.
     b. As in 42:9, the psalmist cries out again: Yahweh, why have you cast me off? Why do I have to mourn constantly because of his enemies' oppression? 43:2.
     c. Since the psalmist cannot guide his own path, he beseeches Yahweh to be his light and truth to guide him back to Jerusalem and resume his role as leading the throng of worshippers to the Jerusalem temple where he can give Yahweh thanksgiving for delivering him. 43:3-4.
     d. For the third time, the psalmist repeats his inner thoughts, Why am I depressed? Instead hope in Yahweh. 43:5.

The major problem today facing faculty members and students in universities is depression. Psalms 42-43 helps people to express the feelings of depression in order to embrace their inner feelings.

Share YOUR disturbing feelings and failures and doubts and shortcomings and successes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis 

The Heart Devises--XII

In the Hebrew Bible, there are FOUR verbs connected with the heart meaning "to devise, imagine, meditate."

1. The Hebrew verb bada' means "to devise, invent."
     a. Describing the practices of Jeroboam I to lead North Israel into apostasy, 1 Kings 12:33 says:
    "He [Jeroboam I] went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day
                               of the eighth month,
      in the month HIS HEART [NRSV he alone] HAD DEVISED;
      he appointed a festival for the people of Israel, and went up to the altar to offer incense."
The heart of Jeroboam I DEVISED a new festival not condoned in the Law of Moses. Yahweh specifically commanded his people to celebrate the Feast of Booths on the SEVENTH month and fifteenth day of the month (Leviticus 23:34), not the EIGHTH month and fifteenth day of the month. Jeroboam I deliberately changed God's Law.
      b. When Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem the Arab sent a report to Nehemiah that the Jews were planning to rebel against their superiors, Nehemiah responded in Nehemiah 6:8:
          Then I sent to him [Sanballat] saying,
           "No such things as you say have been done;
To invent out of the heart means to devise.

2. The Hebrew verb harash means "to devise."
     a. Proverbs 6:16-19 describes six, yea seven, things which the Lord hates. Verse 18a says:
One function of the heart is to devise or plan this or that.
     b. Proverbs 12:20 says:
              but those who counsel peace have joy.
One plans evil or conflict in the heart.

3. The Hebrew verb hagah means "to imagine, ponder, devise."
     a. Proverbs 15:28 says:
                but the mouth of the evil pours out evil.
When a problem arises, a righteous person does not respond immediately, but considers seriously or ponders. This is a function of the heart.
     b. Proverbs 24:1-2 says:
         Do not envy the wicked,
               nor desire to be with them;
               and their lips talk of mischief.
Here the meaning of the Hebrew verb hagah is a synonym of the Hebrew verb harash.
     c. Describing the sins of God's people, the author of Isaiah 59:13 says:
          transgressing, and denying the Lord,
               and turning away from following our God,
          talking oppression and revolt,
A function of the heart is to conceive words to be spoken to an audience (see also Isaiah 33:18).  

4. The Hebrew verb hashab means "to think, intend, plan, design."
    a. Psalm 140:1-2 says:
        Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
               protect me from those who are violent,
               and stir up wars continually.
One role of the heart is to PLAN various kinds of things.
    b. Proverbs 16:9 says:
               but the Lord directs the steps.
A function of the heart is to make plans for the future. [See also Proverbs 16:1; Jeremiah 23:20; 30:24].

Share YOUR plans and decisions and purposes and corrections and disciplines with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--5

Matthew 11:1-6 contains this description of Jesus's disciples:
    he went on there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.
    When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word to HIS DISCIPLES,
     and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
     Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see:
     the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,
                 the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
     And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
     a. Verse 1 shows that the role of Jesus is to instruct, and the role of his disciples is to be instructed, to learn.
     b. John the Baptist also had disciples, and he sent his disciples to learn who Jesus really was. Jesus responded by telling them to pay attention to what they saw and heard when they observed the works of Jesus.

Matthew 12:1-8 relates the account of Jesus' disciples plucking heads of grain to eat in the field on the Sabbath day.
    At that time Jesus went through he grainfields on the sabbath;
    HIS DISCIPLES WERE HUNGRY, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
    When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him,
    He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
    He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence,
    which was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests.
    Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath
                                and yet are guiltless?
    I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
    But if you had known what this means, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have
                                condemned the guiltless.
    For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath."
    a. Just as the Pharisees found fault with Jesus, they also found fault with Jesus' disciples. This assumes that disciples are constant in contact with Jesus and follow his sayings and practices.
    b. Religious people have always been quick to watch the activities of other people in the hope of catching them in a fault or a sin. True disciples of Jesus do not go through life trying to find the sins of people around us.

Share YOUR commitments and rehearsals and common sense and understanding and work with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

God delivers the Sick by Grace--Psalm 41

Psalm 41 is a prayer of thanksgiving. The psalmist had been stricken with a severe illness (verses 3, 4, 5, 8) as punishment for a terrible sin which he had committed (verse 4), and his enemies had concluded that he was so ill that he would die very soon (verses 2, 5, 8). But he prayed fervently that Yahweh would deliver him from his sickness because of Yahweh's grace (verses 1-4, 10-11). Psalm 41 naturally falls into three parts.

1. The psalmist begins by praising Yahweh for delivering "the poor." 41:1-3.
     a. Yahweh delivers the poor in the day of trouble. 41:1.
     b. Yahweh protects the poor and keeps them alive, and thus does not give them up to the will of their enemies. 41:2.
     c. Yahweh sustains the poor on their sickbed and heals them of their infirmities. 41:3.

2. The poet relates the troubles from which Yahweh had delivered him. 41:4-9.
     a. The composer begins by beseeching Yahweh: "Be gracious to me." He asks Yahweh to heal him because he confesses that he had sinned against Yahweh. 41:4.
     b. Then the psalmist describes the desires and plans of his enemies. They want the psalmist to die and his name perish. They come to visit the psalmist and utter empty words of consolation while their hearts gather mischief to destroy him and slander him to other people. They whisper together about the poet and imagine the worse for him. They think a deadly thing fastened on him and he will never rise again. 41:5-8.
     c. Even the psalmist's "bosom friend" in whom he trusted and who ate of his bread has lifted up his heel against him. 41:9. Jesus quotes and applies this statement to the betrayal of Judas Iscariot in John 13:18.

3. The psalmist concludes by giving Yahweh thanksgiving for delivering him from his troubles.
    a. The psalmist begins the third part by repeating the first few words of the beginning of the second part of this psalm: "Be gracious to me" (see verse 4). He beseeches Yahweh to raise him up. 41:10.
    b. The psalmist knows that Yahweh "is pleased" with him demonstrated by the fact that his enemies had not triumphed over him. 41:11.
    c. The poet rejoices that Yahweh upheld him because of his integrity and set him in Yahweh's presence forever. 41:12.

Psalm 41:13 is not a part of Psalm 41, but the DOXOLOGY at the end of Book I in the Psalter.

Share YOUR insights and observations and joys and sadnesses and upheavals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Heart Agrees or Consents--XI

There are FOUR Hebrew constructions in the Hebrew Bible which attribute agreeing or consenting to the heart.

1. The adjective 'ehad means "one." 1 Chronicles 12:23-40 describes David's army at Hebron. In verse 38, the composer writes:
      All these, warriors arrayed in battle order, came to Hebron with full intent to make David king
                              over all Israel;
      likewise all the rest of Israel were of ONE HEART [NRSV a single mind] to make David king.
     Alluding to the Great Passover in the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, the composer writes in
2 Chronicles 30:12:
      The hand of God was also on Judah to give them ONE HEART
       to do what the king [Hezekiah] and the officials commanded by the word of the Lord.
To be of one heart means to totally agree or consent.

2. The Hebrew expression shaba` bekal means "to swear with all." When Asa king of Judah trusted in Yahweh when Zerah and the Ethiopians threatened Judah, the composer of 2 Chronicles 15:15 says:
      All Judah rejoiced over the oath; for THEY HAD SWORN WITH ALL THEIR HEART,
      and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them,
      and the Lord gave them rest all around.
To swear with all the heart means to completely agree with an oath or a promise.

3. The Hebrew expression hayah leyahad means "to be for a unitedness." When David was in the stronghold in the wilderness when he fled from Saul, some Benjaminites and some Judahites came to the stronghold to support David. 1 Chronicles 12:17 says:
      David went out to meet them and said to them,
    "If you have come to me in friendship, to help me, THEN MY HEART WILL BE KNIT TO YOU;
      but if you have come to betray me to be my adversaries,
     though my hands have done no wrong, then may the God of our ancestors see and give judgment."
For one's heart to be knit with some else or other people is to agree or consent.

4. The Hebrew verb sabab means "to turn, to return." When the Judeans kept the Passover after they had rebuilt the temple under the guidance of Zerubbabel and Joshua, Ezra 6:22 says:
      With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days;
       for the Lord had made them joyful, and HAD TURNED THE HEART OF THE KING
                     OF ASSYRIA TO THEM,
       so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.
In this context, for the king of Assyria to turn his heart and help the Judeans in rebuilding the temple, means to agree of consent to what the Judeans were doing.

Share YOUR concerns and experiences and successes and failures and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--4

When Jesus sent out The Twelve [Disciples, Apostles] (Matthew 10:1-4), he said:
          "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves;
            so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."
Then Jesus describes how councils, synagogues, governors, kings, Gentiles "and all" who oppose Jesus will arrest and persecute his disciples. Then he says in Matthew 10:24-25:
         "A DISCIPLE is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master.
           It is enough for THE DISCIPLE  to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.
           If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul,
           how much more will they malign those of his household!"
    a. Jesus is the ONLY APPROPRIATE TEACHER and MASTER.  All who are his true followers are his DISCIPLES and SLAVES.
    b. The appropriate attitude and role of a DISCIPLE is to be LIKE his Teacher or Master. Jesus is our great example, and we must strive to follow his example and attempt to be like him. We can NEVER attain that goal, but we must strive to follow him. No true disciple of Jesus is a leader. Jesus is the only acceptable leader; we are his followers, his disciples.

Jesus continued in Matthew 10 by explaining the relationship between Jesus and his disciples in Matthew 10:40-42:
  "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
    Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward;
    and whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive the reward of therighteous;
  and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of A DISCIPLE--   truly I tell you, none of  these will lose their reward."
    a. By welcoming Jesus, we automatically welcome the Heavenly Father.
    b. The role of a disciple of Jesus is to give a cup of cold water to the most helpless who is thirsty.
    c. Thus, a major purpose of a true disciple of Jesus is to help common people in need.

Share YOUR experiences and ideas and attempts and successes and reversals to others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis 

The Heart of True Religion--Psalm 40

Psalm 40:13-17 is almost identical with Psalm 70. The composer of Psalm 40 was poor and needy (40:17). He had been stricken with a serious disease from which he almost died (40:2). Evils and iniquities have overwhelmed him (40:12). His enemies have tried to destroy him (40:14-15). In spite of all this, he trusts in Yahweh, and not in false gods (40:4). He declares that if Yahweh will deliver him, he will tell the great congregation what Yahweh has done for him (40:5, 9-10). Psalm 4 falls into TWO PARAGRAPHS.

1. The Psalmist describes his earlier afflictions, and tells how Yahweh delivered him. 40:1-10.
    a. The psalmist's former experience is that he was very sick and almost died. He compares this with the desolate pit and the miry bog. But he prayed fervently to Yahweh, and Yahweh delivered him, drew him up from the desolate pit, and set him on a firm footing. 40:1-2.
    b. When Yahweh responded positively in this way, he put a new song, a song of praise to God causing many people to see and fear [honor] and put their trust in Yahweh. 40:3.
    c. The content of this new song is: (1) those who trust in the Lord and do not trust in false gods are blessed; (2) no one can compare the wonderful deeds which Yahweh has done. 40:4-5.
    d. The psalmist realizes and declares that offering burnt offerings and sin offerings to Yahweh is not sufficient. One must give oneself wholly to God. The psalmist says, Here I am, I delight to do your will. He gives himself totally to God. 40:6-8.  Hebrews 10:5-9 quotes Psalm 40:6-8, and puts these words into the mouths of Jesus Christ. This New Testament writer uses the Hebrew Bible typologically, not literally. This is a common way in which New Testament composers and speakers use the Hebrew Bible.
    e. The poet proclaims that he has openly told the great congregation what Yahweh has done for him and his comrades. It is unnatural and sinful to refrain from telling others what Yahweh has done for God's people.

2. The Psalmist beseeches Yahweh to deliver him from his present distress. 40:11-17.
     a. The composer confesses that he has committed evils and iniquities. He pleads for God's mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness to keep him safe forever. 40:11-12.
     b. The poet implores Yahweh to deliver and help him from his distress, and to overthrow his enemies who are attempting to snatch away his life and desire his hurt. 40:13-15.
     c. The psalmist concludes by beseeching Yahweh not to delay to deliver him and help him so that all who seek Yahweh may rejoice and be glad in Yahweh, because "Great is the Lord." 40:16-17.

All of us face difficult circumstances in life. Turn to the Lord and trust in him, and he will deliver those in need.

Share YOUR reversals and problems and fears and resolutions and commitments to others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Heart Decides, Determines, Wills--X

The word "heart" is used frequently in the Hebrew Bible with three prepositions expressing the functions of resolving, willing, determining, deciding.

1. The Hebrew preposition be means "in."
     a. According to 1 Chronicles 17:1-2, David said to the prophet Nathan, "I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent." Nathan responded: "Do all that you have in HEART [NRSV mind], for God is with you." In this context, to have something in the heart means to resolve or determine. See also 2 Samuel 7:3.
     b. 2 Kings 10:30 says: "The Lord said to Jehu, 'Because you have done well in carrying out what
                                                     I consider right,
                                            and in accordance with all that was IN MY HEART have dealt with the
                                                      house of Ahab,
                                            your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.'"
In this context, what was "in God's heart" was what he decided or willed to do. The same language appears in 1 Samuel 2:35; Jeremiah 3:15.
     c. When Jonathan discussed with the young man who carried his armor and told him, "nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few," the young man replied in 1 Samuel 14:6-7: "Do all that your HEART [NRSV mind] inclines to. I am with you; as your HEART [NRSV mind] is, so is mine." Here the heart of Jonathan decides what to do next in this situation.
     d. Describing the intention or plan of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, Isaiah 10:7 says:
             But this is not what he intends,
                    nor does he have this in mind,
              but it is IN HIS HEART to destroy,
                    and to cut off nations not a few.
That which is "in the Heart" of Sennacherib is his determination, decision.

2. The Hebrew preposition ke means "according to."
     a. In David's prayer of thanksgiving to Yahweh, he says in 2 Samuel 7:21:
          Because of your promise, and ACCORDING TO YOUR OWN HEART,
          you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant [David] may know it.
That which is "according to God's heart" is God's will or decision. The same idea appears in 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Chronicles 17:19.
     b. In a prayer in behalf of some king of Israel, the psalmist says in Psalm 20:4:
         May he grant you YOUR HEART'S DESIRE,
               and fulfill all your plans.
What is according to the king's heart is his plans, decisions, determinations.

3. The  Hebrew preposition `im means "with."
    a. According to 1 Kings 8:17, Solomon says in the dedication of the Jerusalem temple:
           My father David had it in mind [Hebrew with heart] to build a house for the name of the Lord,
                          the God of Israel.
What David had "in mind" or "with heart" is what he planned, decided, determined.
    b. When Solomon asked for wisdom, God responded in 2 Chronicles 1:11:
           Because this was IN YOUR HEART [Hebrew says "with your heart"],
           and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you,
           and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself
           that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king,
           wisdom and knowledge are granted to you.
What was "in" or "with" the heart of Solomon was what he decided or determined.

4. When Yahweh commanded his people to practice kindness and mercy to one another, and not oppress the widow, orphan, alien, or poor, Zechariah 7:12 says:
      They MADE THEIR HEARTS ADAMANT in order not to hear the law
       and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets.
Here, making the hearts of sinful people adamant means to make a strict decision not to obey God.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights and problems and issues and responses with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--3

After Jesus healed several people, Matthew 9:35-37 says:
     "Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then HE SAID TO HIS DISCIPLES, 'The harvest is plenteous, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'"

1. This paragraph indicates that Jesus' disciples were with him when he taught and cured sick people. They were there with him when the crowds grew and Jesus has compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
     a. One must conclude that a disciple is learning from Jesus' teaching, and is learning from Jesus' curing sick people, and is learning from Jesus' compassion for people who have no shepherd. Jesus' examples of teaching, healing, and having compassion people show disciples how to follow Jesus.
     b. Jesus overtly told his disciples that the harvest is plenteous, and that Jesus wanted laborers to harvest the crops. It is clear that the harvest is people who are inclined to turn from the world to God through Jesus Christ. Hence, the role of disciples is to go into the fields [the world] and harvest the crops [penitent people] by repenting and turning to God.

The very next verse says in Matthew 10:1: "Then Jesus summoned HIS TWELVE DISCIPLES and gave them authority over unclean spirit, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness." The very next line in Matthew 10:2 says: "These are the names of the TWELVE APOSTLES."
1. The twelve disciples are the twelve apostles. An apostle is a person who is SENT to carry out God's mission. Hebrews 3:1 calls Jesus "the APOSTLE and high priest of our confession." 
     a. Here a disciple is one who is sent to carry out God's mission.
     b. Jesus gives his disciples authority to cast out demons and cure every disease. This is clearly not a dictatorial type of authority, but a God-given power to subdue wicked forces and diseases. Jesus' disciples receive God's power through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to carry out God's mission.

Share YOUR experiences and thoughts and reversals and dreams and beliefs with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Heart Remembers--IX

A careful student of the Bible should know that one determines the meaning of a word like "heart" by studying the heart in contact with verbs used with the heart. There are EIGHT Hebrew constructions which attribute memory to the heart.

1. shub 'el--"to turn into." Deuteronomy 30:1: "When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, IF YOU CALL THEM TO HEART [NRSV mind] among all the nations where the Lord you God has driven you, . . . then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes." To "call to heart [mind]" clearly means "to remember." Remember all the things that have happened to you. To remember is to relive or re-enact, not merely recall mentally.
2. sim dabar `al--"set a word upon." When the servants of Achish king of Gath heard the song of the women after David killed Goliath: "Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands," David "TOOK THESE WORDS [Hebrew laid up his words] TO HEART and was very much afraid of King Achish of Gath." David remembered these words and took them seriously.
3. sim 'omer be--"to set a word in." In his third speech to Job, Eliphaz admonished him:
         Receive instruction from his [God's] mouth,
               and LAY UP HIS WORDS IN YOUR HEART.
To receive instruction is equivalent to remember and take seriously.
4. saphan be--"to hide in." The author of Psalm 119 says in verse 11:
          I treasure [hide] your word in my heart,
               so that I might not sin against you.
To treasure or hide words in the heart is to remember, to relive, to re-enact, not merely recall.
5. shamar betok--"to keep in the midst of." Proverbs 4:21 says:
          Do not let them [the words of the writer of Proverbs] escape from your sight;
To keep God's words within the heart means to remember, relive, re-enact.
6. qashar `al, "to bind upon." Proverbs 6:21 says:
          BIND THEM [the teaching of your father and mother] UPON YOUR HEART ALWAYS;
                tie them around your neck.
To bind upon the heart means to remember, to relive, re-enact.
7. qashar be--"to bind in." Proverbs 22:15 says:
          Folly is BOUND UP IN THE HEART of a boy,
                but the rod of discipline drives it far away.
To bind up in the heart means to remember, relive, re-enact.
8. kathab `al--"to write upon." Jeremiah 31:33 says: "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I WILL WRITE IT ON THEIR HEARTS, and I will be their God and they will be my people." To write on the heart is to remember, relive, re-enact.
When Solomon prayed to the Lord, the Lord responded in 1 Kings 9:3:
     "I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me;
       I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever;
Here, the heart remembers the house or temple which Solomon had built under Yahweh's instructions. To remember the house means to relive or re-enact what Solomon had accomplished.

Share YOUR works and efforts and plans and concepts and backlashes with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis
(1 Samuel 21:12).

Desperate Prayer for Forgiveness--Psalm 39

All human beings struggle with serious concerns throughout life. The author of Psalm 39 faced two fundamental problems: (1) God was punishing him because of his sins; (2) he was old and knew that his life would end very soon. Any hearer or reader can detect the inner struggles which this psalmist faced. This psalm falls into two parts.

1. The psalmist must break his silence because his life is brief. 39:1--6.
    a. This poet tells his audience that he had determined not to say anything because if he said anything the wicked would distort his words. He does not want to sin with his tongue. 39:1.
    b. The psalmist tried to be silent and say nothing, but this did not work. So, he had to break the silence and proclaim his thoughts. 39:2-3.
    c. He turns to God for help. He asks God to let him know how fleeting his life is. His days are only a few handbreadths, and his lifetime is as nothing, a mere breath. Everyone on planet earth goes around as a shadow doing whatever they do for nothing. 39:4-6.

2. The psalmist beseeches God to deliver him from his sins. 39:7-13.
     a. The psalmist breaks down and openly declares that God alone is his hope. 39:7.
     b. The composer implores God to deliver him from his transgressions, because he has no intention to open his mouth and try to defend himself. He knows he is guilty. God has punished him, and now the psalmist beseeches him to remove this punishment. 39:8-10.
     c. The poet confesses that God chastise mortals because of their sins, so that all human beings are but a mere breath. 39:11.
     d. The poet implores God to hear his prayer of distress and confession of his sins. He confesses that on planet earth he is a passing guest, an alien.  He begs Yahweh to turn away his gaze of punishing him and let him smile again before he dies. 39:12-13.

Life is very brief, and all of us are sinners. We need to turn to God alone in hope that he will sustain us through life and forgive us of our sins.

Share YOUR experiences and shortcomings and reversals and successes and victories with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis