John T. 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

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--2

Matthew 9:10-26 contains three stories involving Jesus. In this section of Matthew, there are several verses dealing with "disciples."

1. Jesus calls Matthew to be his disciple. Matthew 9:10-13:
    And as he [Jesus] sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners
                          came and were sitting with him AND HIS DISCIPLES.
    When the Pharisees saw this, they said to HIS DISCIPLES,
     "Why does YOUR TEACHER eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
     But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician,
                              but those who are sick.
     Go and LEARN what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
     For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
     a. Verse 10 emphasizes that a disciple interacts with his teacher. Jesus and his disciples were sitting together in the house of Matthew to share a meal. Thus, there is a very close fellowship between a teacher and his/her disciple. The disciple LEARNS from his teacher by association and example.
     b. In verses 11-13, the Pharisees accused Jesus' disciples that Jesus was sinning by eating a meal with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus overheard their accusation and responded with a metaphor. Jesus is like a physician and tax collectors and sinners are sick [spiritually]. Therefore, the role of a physician is to be with the sick, not to stay away from the sick. All of us are sick spiritually, and therefore we need the great physician Jesus for healing. Following his example, his disciples must be near the spiritually sick and attempt to let Jesus heal them through our lives. As the great physician, Jesus shows mercy on the spiritual sick, and he calls sinners for healing and not the righteous. Obviously, "the righteous" do not really exist, but only pretend they are righteous. All of us need Jesus' healing.

2. A Question about Fasting. Matthew 9:14-17:
    Then THE DISCIPLES OF JOHN came to him [Jesus], saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees
                       fast often, but YOUR [Jesus'] DISCIPLES do not fast?"
     And Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom
                       is with them, can they?
     The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and they they will fast.
     No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak,
                      and a worse tear is made.
     Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled,
                      and the skins are destroyed;
     the new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.
     a. In verse 14, we find that John the Baptist had disciples of his own. At that time, they practiced fasting as a symbol of mourning. They asked Jesus why Jesus' DISCIPLES do not fast.
     b. Jesus gave three examples in response. Verses 15-17.
         1. Jesus is like a bridegroom, and it is inappropriate for the guests of the wedding to mourn. When the bridegroom goes away, then it will be appropriate for them to mourn. This is why right now Jesus' disciples do not mourn. They will mourn later when Jesus is crucified on the cross.
         2. One does not put an unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, because when one washes the cloak, it will tear. In the same way, Jesus' disciples must follow the example and teaching of Jesus and not adopt the teaching of the Pharisees.
         3. One does not put new wine in old wineskins, because of he does the wineskins will burst. In the same way, Jesus' disciples must follow the example and teaching of Jesus, not that of the Pharisees.

3. Jesus heals the daughter of the leader of the synagogue and the woman suffering from hemorrhages. Matthew 9:18-26.
    While he [Jesus] was saying all these things to them,
     suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying,
     "My daughter has just die; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live."
     And Jesus got up and followed him, WITH HIS DISCIPLES.
     Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years
           came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak,
     for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well."
     Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well."
     And instantly the woman was made well.
     When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and crowd making a commotion,
     he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him.
     But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
      And the report of this spread throughout that district.
     a. When the leader of the synagogue approached Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead, Jesus went with him along with his disciples. When Jesus raised the leader's daughter from the dead and his disciples saw firsthand how Jesus deals with people in distress and need. Disciples learn by being with Jesus and following his example.
     b. Jesus' disciples were also with Jesus when he healed the woman suffering from hemorrhages, and they learned firsthand how Jesus supports and helps and encourages needy people.

These passages emphasize that true disciples are followers of Jesus, who learn from his examples as he deals with various types of people.

Share YOUR experiences and contributions and insights and thoughts and shortcomings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Heart Knows, Discerns, Understands--IX

Three Hebrew verbs are connected with the "heart" in the sense of "know, understand, discern, be intelligent" and the like.

1. The Hebrew verb bin means "to discern, be intelligent, have understanding."
     In response to Solomon's prayer in his dream at Gibeon, Yahweh says: "I will give you a wise and understanding HEART [NRSV mind]." 1 Kings 3:12.
     Proverbs 15:14 says: The HEART [NRSV mind] of one who has understanding seeks knowledge,
                                             but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
The same language and idea appears in Proverbs 8:5; 18:15; Daniel 10:12.

2. The Hebrew verb yada` means "to know."
     Moses said to his sinful people in the Plains of Moab in Deuteronomy 29:4: "But to this day the Lord has not given you a HEART [NRSV mind] TO UNDERSTAND, or eyes to see, or ears to hear."
     Proverbs 14:10 says: The HEART KNOWS [is well aware of] its own bitterness,
                                             and no stranger shares its joy.
     Ecclesiastes 8:5 says: Whoever obeys a command will meet no harm,
                                              and the wise HEART [NRSV mind] will know the time and way.
     In Jeremiah 24:7, Yahweh gives Jeremiah this assurance: "I will give them [God's people] a HEART to KNOW that I am the Lord."
     The same idea also appears in Ecclesiastes 1:17; 7:22, 25; 8:16. The point is that according to the Bible the HEART has the God-given capacity of KNOWING and UNDERSTANDING ideas and situations in life.

3. The Hebrew verb halak means "to walk, go, come." In 2 Kings 5:26, when Gehazi got some of Naaman's possessions wrongfully, Elisha said: "Did I not go with you in HEART [NRSV spirit] when someone left his chariot to meet you?" To "go in heart" means to perceive or understand.

Biblical speakers and writers emphasize that the HEART is subject to the person. God, the Creator of he HEART, can hide it from wisdom or imbibe it with wisdom, but ONLY in harmony with the will of the person. The "heart" is capable of perceiving abstract facts and personalities. The "heart" is WISE by mastering a particular craft or by mastering an individual.
   Proverbs 12:23 says: One who is clever conceals knowledge,
                                             but the HEART [NRSV mind] of a fool broadcast folly.
   Proverbs 22:15 says: Folly is bound up in the HEART of a boy,
                                             but the rod of discipline drives it far away.

Share YOUR insights and concepts and experiences and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, September 23, 2016

Sinners approach God in Worship--Psalm 38

The composer of Psalm 38 has been stricken with severe illness (verses 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 17). His disease is probably some form of leprosy because verse 5 refers to foul and festering wounds, verse 7 speaks of the lack of soundness in the flesh, and verse 6 says the psalmist is utterly bowed down and prostrate. The reason for this severe sickness is that he is a great sinner--verses 2, 3, 5, 18. His enemies use his severe illness as a proof that he is a great sinner against God, and they eagerly anticipate his death (verses 12, 16, 19-20). Even his own friends, companions, and kinsmen wonder whether his affliction does not prove his alienation from God, and thus stand aloof from him (verse 11). The composer prays fervently that God will stop chastening him (verse 1), preventing his enemies from rejoicing over his desperate situation (verse 16), and stand by him to help him in his terrible circumstances (verses 15, 21-22). Psalm 38 falls into three parts:

1. The psalmist prays fervently that God will not abandon him. Introduction and Conclusion. 38:1, 21-22.
    a. The psalmist uses FOUR negative verbs in his plea to God: Do not rebuke me; do not discipline me; do not forsake me; do not be far from me. These verbs assume that God is a loving father who disciplines his children when they do wrong.
     b. The Psalmist uses ONE positive verb in this plea: Make haste to help me. God is the only dependable help in every situation of life.

2. The Composer describes the severity of his Illness. 38:2-14.
    a. As a result of God's "anger" and "wrath" (verse 1), God's "arrows" have sunk into the body of the psalmist and God's "hand" has come down on him. 38:2.
    b. The psalmist explains that there is no soundness in his flesh (see also verse 7) and no health in his bones because of his sin. His iniquities have gone over him; they weigh down on him like a heavy burden too heavy for him. 38:3-4.
    c. The psalmist's wounds grow foul and fester; he is utterly bowed down and prostrate and does around mourning; he is utterly spent and crushed. 38:5-8.
    d. The poet's longing cries out to God; his sighing is wide open; his heart throbs; his strength fails; the light of his eyes is gone. 38:9-10.
    e. The composer's friends and companions stand aloof from his affliction; his neighbors stay away off from him. At the same time, his enemies plan a way to destroy him. He is like the deaf and the mute. Thus, he has nothing more to say. 38:11-14.

3. The Psalmist gives God FOUR reasons to deliver him from his severe illness. 38:15-20.
    a. In spite of all his tremendous problems, the psalmist declares that he will "wait" for the Lord, anticipating his answer. Thus, the first reason the composer gives for Yahweh to deliver him is that he depends on God. 38:15.
    b.  The second reason the writer gives for Yahweh to deliver him is that his enemies and his severe illness make his condition unbearable, and he is ready to fall if God does not intervene and deliver him. 38:16-17.
    c. The third reason the psalmist gives for Yahweh to deliver him is that now he confesses his sins and is sorry for his foolishness. 38:18.
    d. The fourth reason the composer gives for Yahweh to deliver him is that while he is trying to follow after good, his enemies render him evil for good and have hated him wrongfully. 38:19-20.

When severe difficulties in life arise, the only appropriate response is to turn to God for help.

Share YOUR reversals and disappointments and defeats and victories and positive thoughts with others.

Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Biblical Teaching of Disciples--I

Over the past two hundred years, many people have written articles and books about the meaning of disciples and the activities of disciples. It is a big mistake to read one or two books or articles about this topic and adopt the position of the writer. Everyone has the responsibility of weighing each idea and of determining whether or not each person is serious about attempting to determine the meaning and function of disciples according to the Bible. In the next several blogs, I will be presenting all the texts in the New Testament dealing with disciples. I want each one to know that after I present each text, my view may be correct or incorrect. PLEASE think and study for yourself.

1. The nouns "disciple" and "disciples" and the verb "to make disciples" occur ONLY in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. There is no reference at all to the term "disciple" in the rest of the New Testament. This is just a fact. Consult a concordance and YOU will realize this is true.

2. The Greek verb "to make disciple" is matheteuo. The noun "disciple" [disciples] is mathetes in the masculine and matheteria in the feminine. Thus, obviously disciples are male and female.

3. One must determine the meaning and function of a "disciple" by examining each text, not by looking up this word in a dictionary. Context is very important.

4. I will move through the order of the New Testament, realizing that the order may not be in chronological order. For example, Mark was written before Matthew and Luke, and John is late in the first century A. D. The date of Acts is debated, but Acts probably comes from about 70 A. D.

5. Matthew 5:1: "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up to the mountain; and after he sat down, HIS DISCIPLES came to him."
    a. This verse introduces the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount immediately calls to mind Yahweh sending the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20. There are obviously many parallels between Exodus through Deuteronomy and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus apparently followed that Old Testament pattern.
   b. Just before this event, Jesus called Peter and Andrew, who were fishermen, to leave their occupation and "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." They immediately abandoned their nets and followed Jesus.  Then Jesus called James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were fishermen, and told them to follow him, and they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Jesus.
   c. This context shows that a "disciple" is a "follower." Peter, Andrew, James, and John left everything else to "follow" Jesus. It seems that the "disciples" of Jesus in Matthew 5:1 are these four men, but it is possible that other people were included. A "follower" is NOT a LEADER!!! Many biblical texts draw a sharp distinction between a follower and a leader. God our Father is the only true LEADER through Jesus Christ our Lord, not any other human being or group of human beings.

6. Matthew 8:18-27:
    "Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.
     A scribe then approached and said, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.'
     And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
     but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.'
     ANOTHER OF HIS DISCIPLES said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'
     But Jesus said to him, 'Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'
     And when he got into the boat, HIS DISCIPLES followed him.
     A windstorm rose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves;
                                         but he was asleep.
     And HIS DISCIPLES came to him [that is the Greek; the NRSV simply translates: and they went]
     and woke him up, saying, 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!'
     And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, you of little faith?'
     Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a dead calm.
     They were amazed, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'
     a. The first event in this account relates a dialogue between an unnamed [anonymous] scribe and Jesus. Verse 21 makes it very clear that this scribe was a DISCIPLE of Jesus. So, obviously, by this time Jesus had quite a few disciples, not just The Twelve.
     b. This disciple called Jesus "Teacher," a term for Jesus in Matthew 9:11; 10:24, 25; 12:38; 17:24; 19:16; 22:16, 24, 36; 26:18 [parallel texts also appear in Mark, Luke, and John]. This clearly indicates that a DISCIPLE is a LEARNER, a PUPIL, a STUDENT OF JESUS. This is VERY DIFFERENT from being a student or learner or pupil under a teacher in high school or a university. What is VERY IMPORTANT here is that JESUS ALONE is the appropriate teacher. In this context, the background is Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
     d. Another unnamed [anonymous] DISCIPLE of Jesus said that he needed to leave Jesus and bury his father who had recently died. But Jesus told him to FOLLOW JESUS and let the dead bury their own dead. This emphasizes the great truth that each person must make serious decisions about priorities. JESUS must always be FIRST in every aspect of life above all other people, attractions, and distractions.
    e. The second event relates an occasion on which Jesus got into a boat on the Sea of Galilee and HIS DISCIPLES followed him, and a great storm arose on the sea. Jesus' disciples became very much afraid, but Jesus rebuked them for not trusting in God his Father in difficult situations. God our Father is in control of all situations through Jesus Christ our Lord no matter how threatening a situation might be.
    f. Summarizing, this passage emphasizes that a DISCIPLE is a FOLLOWER of Jesus, which includes being a student, a pupil, a learner of Jesus. Obviously, everyone must constantly go back to the Bible, to God's teaching, to Jesus' teaching if we ever REALLY desire to be a disciple. Jesus is our only dependable TEACHER. Other teachers may be honest and influential and highly respected by the crowds, but they are all human beings may be wrong or incomplete. JESUS ALONE is the only dependable teacher for TRUE DISCIPLES of God through Jesus Christ. It is a huge mistake to emphasize that one might or should be a LEADER. God our Father through Jesus Christ is our only dependable LEADER. It is sufficient to be followers, not leaders.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights and experiences and beliefs and biases with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Heart Thinks and Learns--VIII

Gaining information and using that information discreetly and wisely are the ultimate goals of the pursuits of the heart. The Hebrew Bible uses FIVE verbs used with "heart" to suggest the idea of studying, thinking, and learning.

1 and 2. The Hebrew verb darash means "to examine, question," and the Hebrew verb tur means "to seek out, spy out, explore mentally." The author of Ecclesiastes says in 1:13, "I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven." The NRSV translates the Hebrew noun leb as "mind" rather than "heart" because modern English thinking distinguishes between mental and emotional activity. The Bible does not make this distinction. The human heart examines and explores all which happens in life. The same idea appears in Ecclesiastes 2:3: "I searched with my heart [NRSV mind] how to cheer my body," and in Ecclesiastes 7:25: "I turned my heart [NRSV mind] to search out and to seek wisdom and the sum of things." To "search" means to investigate the roots of a matter, and to "explore" means to investigate a subject on all sides. So, "search" and "explore" are clearly synonyms.

3.  The Hebrew verb bur means "to explore in order to explain." One brings to consciousness a thought or an idea or an event. Proverbs 15:14 says:
       The heart [NRSV mind] of one who has understanding seeks knowledge,
              but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
Here, when the heart "seeks," the heart brings out into clearness what is being considered. Thus, the heart studies by inductive and deductive methods so that the heart is comprehensive.

4. The Hebrew verbs bo' means "to enter." Psalm 90:12 says:
            So teach us to count our days
                 that we may gain a wise heart.
Proverbs 2:10 says:
            For wisdom will come into your heart,
                 and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Unfortunately, modern English thought assumes that teaching, wisdom, and knowledge are mental, intellectual activities, but biblically this is a spiritual, emotional activity.

5. The Hebrew verb qanah means " to get, acquire." Proverbs 15:32 says:
          Those who ignore instruction despise themselves,
                 but those who heed admonition gain heart [NRSV understanding].
The Hebrew noun leb, "heart," is sometimes equivalent to understanding. But understanding is much more than a mental exercise.
     Proverbs 18:15 says:
           An intelligent heart [NRSV mind] acquires knowledge,
                 and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
These texts emphasize that biblically the "heart" is a "studying, learning" organ. Wisdom may enter into the heart, a person can acquire a heart which possesses wisdom, and the heart is equivalent to understanding spiritually.

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

John Willis

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Heart Considers--VII

Several passages in scripture connect the heart with "considering" a person, a thing, a situation, etc. Here are some examples.

1. Moses says to the people of Israel in his speech in Moab: "Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you." Here the verb "know" clearly means "consider."
2. The composer of Psalm 66 says in verse 18 [Heb. verse 19]:
       If I had cherished [considered, entertained] iniquity in my heart,
            the Lord would not have listened.
The heart has the capacity to consider a situation.
3. The author of Ecclesiastes says in Ecclesiastes 7:2:
      It is better to go to the house of mourning
           than to go to the house of feasting;
      for this is the end of everyone,
           and the living will lay it to heart.
To lay to heart in this context means to consider very seriously.
4. The prophetic poet in Isaiah 46:8-9 says:
      Remember this and consider;
           recall it to heart [NRSV mind], you transgressors,
      remember the former things of old;
           for I am God, and there is no other;
           I am God, and there is no one like me.
The expression "recall to heart [mind]" clearly means to consider seriously.
5. Hosea is deeply concerned that his people Israel do not take their sins seriously. He says in Hosea 7:2:
        They do not say in their hearts
              that I remember all their wickedness.
         Now their deeds surround them,
              they are before my face.
The NRSV translates "say in their hearts" as "consider."
These and several other biblical texts us the term heart as a mental and spiritual capacity which we call "consider." The heart considers a person, a thing, a situation for reflection, spiritual growth, and daily action.

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

John Willis

The Deceitfulness of Riches--Psalm 37

Psalm 37 is an acrostic in which every other line begins with the next succeeding letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There are three exceptions in verses 8, 20, and 28b. The composer of Psalm 37 is an old man (verses 25, 35-36), who is attempting to teach a younger person. The second person pronouns "you," "your," "yours," are singular throughout Psalm 37. This old man is trying to persuade this younger person to trust in Yahweh in a time when it appears that the wicked are succeeding and the righteous are failing. At this juncture in time, the wicked controlled or possessed the land. Apparently, the major issue confronting this writer is the family inheritance handed from from generation to generation. The wicked in this context are rich Jews who are constantly engaged in land grabbing. As a result, the poor suffer in various ways including the rich taking away their property by force. This calls to mind Ahab and Jezebel arranging the murder of Naboth and seizing his vineyard so it would be their own (1 Kings 21:7, 12, 14, 25, 32-33, 40). Psalm 37 naturally falls into four parts.

1. This old psalmist encourages his young student to trust in the Lord rather than bemoaning the apparent prosperity of the wicked and the poverty of the righteous. 37:1-11.
    a. Three times, the psalmist says: "Do not fret"--verses 1, 7, 8. It is very easy for a person who is suffering to bemoan the successes of the wicked. The psalmist encourages his audience to not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will fade and wither like the grass. 37:1-2.
    b. A person's decision comes from the heart. The psalmist encourages his hearers to trust in Yahweh and do good, to delight in Yahweh. 37:3-4.
    c. The psalmist admonishes his audience to commit their way to Yahweh and trust in him, because then Yahweh will act and cause justice to prevail. 37:5-6.
    d. The poet tells his hearers to be still before Yahweh, wait patiently for him, and not fret over the apparent successes of the wicked, and refrain from anger and wrath, because Yahweh will cut off the wicked. 37:7-9.
    e. The wicked will be no more, but the meek shall inherit the land and enjoy abundant prosperity. 37:10-11.

2. The psalmist declares that the wicked cannot prevail. 37:12-20.
     a. When the wicked plot against the righteous, Yahweh responds by "laughing" at the wicked. This is the laugh of unbelief. There is no way that the wicked can prevail against Yahweh and his faithful people. 37:12-13.
     b. The wicked draw their swords to destroy the poor and needy, but Yahweh will cause their swords to enter their heart and their bows will be broken. 37:14-15.
     c. A little with the righteous is better than the abundance of many wicked people. Yahweh will break the arms of the wicked, but uphold the righteous. 37:16-17.
     d. Yahweh "knows" [which means favors, blesses, supports in this verse] the blameless and will not allow them be put to shame. By way of contrast, Yahweh destroys the wicked like grass which withers and smoke quickly vanishes. 37:18-20.

3. The poet assures his audience that Yahweh will enable the righteous to prevail. 37:21-31.
    This writer gives FOUR reasons why the righteous will ultimately succeed.
     a. When Yahweh blesses the righteous, they do not horde their blessings [wealth, possessions, health, etc.] but share them with the destitute. 37:21-22.
     b. The righteous trust in Yahweh during all circumstances, good or bad. The righteous may stumble, but Yahweh will hold them up by the hand. 37:23-24.
     c. The long life of the composer of this psalm declares that his experiences show that, though times and situations may be very difficult, Yahweh never deprives the righteous of the necessities of life. 37:25-26. Verse 25 is very striking and memorable:
        I have been young, and now am old,
                yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
                or their children begging bread.
    d.  Since the righteous always fight for and support justice, Yahweh will sustain them in all situations. 37:27-31.

4. The psalmist concludes by summarizing that in the end the wicked will be cut off, and the righteous will prevail. 37:32-40.
     a. The wicked constantly seek ways to kill the righteous, to completely obliterate the righteous from the earth. But Yahweh will never abandon the righteous and allow the wicked to win an unrighteous verdict in court cases. Thus, the righteous must "wait for [trust in] the Lord and follow his way" and then the Lord will destroy the wicked. 37:32-34.
     b. The wicked oppress the weak and innocent, but Yahweh soon removes them from the earth. The blameless will success, while the transgressors will be destroyed. 37:35-38.
     c. Yahweh is our only hope. He is our salvation, our refuge, and our rescue throughout life. Therefore, the only wise course in life is to trust in him. 37:39-40.

Psalm 37 is a powerful psalm of assurance. There is always a battle between the righteous and the wicked. Often, it appears that the wicked prevail, but ultimately Yahweh destroys the wicked and blesses the righteous who faithfully trust in and follow him.

Share YOUR experiences and thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Yahweh's Steadfast Love demolishes Wicked Plots--Psalm 36

The composer of Psalm 36 vividly contrasts the wicked plans or plots of the wicked against Yahweh's steadfast love. This psalm falls into three brief pericopes or paragraphs.

1. The Poet describes the attitude and actions of the wicked. 36:1-4.
    a. This composer emphasizes that sin deeply affects the human heart. Transgression [as a personification] SPEAKS to the wicked DEEP in their hearts. Consequently, they do not FEAR [that is, respect, honor, hold in the highest regard, stand in awe of] Yahweh. 36:1.
    b. Wicked people FLATTER themselves and refuse to accept the iniquities which they commit. They dismiss the truth that Yahweh finds out and hates wicked attitudes and actions. This calls to mind the description of the wicked in Psalm 5:9 [Heb. 5:10]:
        "For there is no truth in their mouths;
               their HEARTS are destruction;
          their throats are open graves;
               they FLATTER with their tongues."
"Flatter" means to "shower praise or attentions upon, to gratify the recipient's vanity or to ingratitate oneself, to raise the unfounded hope or belief, as 'he flatters himself that he will win.'" 36:2
    c. The words of the wicked are mischief and deceit, and thus has ceased to act wisely and do good. 36:3.
    d. The wicked PLOT mischief to hurt other people, setting them on a path that is not good and refuse to reject evil. 36:4.

2. In bold contrast to the wicked, the psalmist turns to praise Yahweh's steadfast love. 36:5-9.
    a. The poet declares that Yahweh's steadfast love extends to the heavens, and his faithfulness extends to the clouds. 36:5.
    b. Yahweh's righteousness is like the highest mountains, and his judgments are like the great deep [the deepest ocean]. Yahweh delivers human beings and animals. 36:6.
    c. Yahweh's steadfast love is PRECIOUS [of the very highest value]; thus all people on earth must take refuge in the shadow of his wings. Here the psalmist compares Yahweh with a mother bird who spreads out her wings and gathers in all her little chicks. 36:7.
    d. Yahweh's faithful people FEAST on the abundance of Yahweh's house. Yahweh gives them drink from the river of Yahweh's delights. This RIVER is a symbol of Yahweh's great resources. Yahweh is the spiritual fountain of life, and in Yahweh's light, we see light. 36:8-9.

3. Finally, the psalmist addresses Yahweh directly, asking him that his steadfast love will continue. 36:10-12.
    a. The psalmist beseeches Yahweh to continue his steadfast love to THOSE WHO KNOW HIM," that is, those who maintain an intimately, daily, personal relationship with God, and to continue Yahweh's salvation to the upright in heart. 36:10.
    b. The poet implores Yahweh not to let the ARROGANT prevail or the hand of the WICKED drive him away. 36:11.
    c. Yahweh will demolish the wicked, who will lie prostrate on the ground unable to rise again. 36:12.

Always trust in Yahweh's steadfast love. Share YOUR insights and experiences with other. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis 

Monday, September 05, 2016

The Heart Thinks--VI

One understandings the meaning of the word "heart" in the Bible by paying careful attention to verbs connected with the heart. Several verbs connect the "heart" with the mental capacity of thinking. In such texts, the "heart" means the "mind."

1. Psalm 37:31: "The law of their God is in their hearts." Isaiah 63:4: "The day of vengeance was in my heart." Jeremiah 23:26: "How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back--those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart?" The context of each of these passages clearly uses the word "heart" in the sense of the mental capacity of thinking.

2. When Samuel first met Saul in 1 Samuel 9:19, he said: "I am the seer; go up before me to the shrine, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you ALL THAT IS ON YOUR MIND [Hebrew, heart]." In the description of King Hezekiah of Judah in
2 Chronicles 32:27-33, the narrator writes in verse 31: "So also in the matter of the envoys of the officials of Babylon, who had been sent to him [Hezekiah] to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and know ALL THAT WAS IN HIS HEART." [Here, the heart means the thinking, the mind]. Psalm 84:5 [Heb. 84:6] says:
        Happy are those whose strength is in you,
               in whose HEART [thinking] are the highways to Babylon.
All these texts use the noun "heart" in the sense of thinking.

3. Referring to Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra 7:27 says: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who put such a thing as this into the HEART of the king to glorify the house [temple] of the Lord in Jerusalem." God PUT the idea to glorify the Jerusalem temple into the HEART or thinking of Artaxerxes. Nehemiah says to his audience in Nehemiah 7:5: "Then my God put into my mind [Hebrew heart] to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled in genealogy." In these texts, the verb "put" connects the "heart" with the idea of thinking, the thinking of the mind.

4. Several texts connect the "heart" with saying or speaking. For example, the composer of Ecclesiastes says in Ecclesiastes 1:16: "I said to myself," literally in Hebrew, "I communed with my own heart," that is, "thinking." Deuteronomy 15:9 says: "Beware careful that you do not entertain a mean thought [Hebrew, "beware that there be not a mean thought in your heart"]." Deuteronomy 6:6 says: "Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart," that is, thinking.

5. Biblically speaking, the "heart" is the receptacle and the dispenser of words. Thinking goes into and out of the heart.
     a. In Job 22:22, Eliphaz advises Job:
                 Receive instruction from his [God's] mouth,
                        and lay up his words in your heart.
God gives his words to human beings for them to receive in the heart, thinking, mind.
     b. God's people make this confession in Isaiah 59:12-13:
                 For our transgressions before you are many,
                         and our sins testify against us.
                 Our transgressions indeed are with us,
                         and we know our iniquities,
                 transgressing, and denying the Lord,
                         and turning away from following our God,
                 talking oppression and revolt,
                         conceiving lying words and UTTERING THEM FROM THE HEART.
Here, the heart is the dispenser of lying WORDS.

Thus, several passages in the Bible use the word "heart" in the sense of thinking, and thinking is a capacity of the mind. Hence, the heart in these texts means the mind.

Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis