John T. Willis

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Setting the Stage for the Book of Job--Part II

A primary responsibility to understand and interpret the book of Job is to attempt to respect and follow the presentation of the book of Job by this work's redactor=editor=COMPOSER=AUTHOR. This naturally elicits three major considerations.

1. It is well-known that there are several extant ancient Near Eastern works which contain striking similarities to the book of Job, especially: the Sumerian composition: "Man and His God: A Sumerian Variation on the 'Job' Motif;" the Babylonian text: "I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom;" and the Babylonian Theodicy. One English translation of these works may be found in James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd edition, 1969. [Of course, there are several other English translations of these works, so you ought to be able to read them in English and study them easily]. In my opinion, ideas and terms and expressions and metaphors and the like PROBABLY influenced the author of the Book of Job. But, it is pretty clear that the author of the Book of Job did not "take over" and "reproduce" these works so as to produce his own Book of Job. I think these words of Carol A. Newsom in the New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 4 (1996), pages 329 and 333 are generally representative of the current scholarly view on this matter: "Although these texts offer some parallels to the description of suffering one finds in Job, their importance for understanding the literary tradition to which Job belongs has been overrated." "Although it is possible that the author of Job knew and drew upon the Babylonian Theodicy itself, it is more likely that the relationship is indirect."

2. An understanding of the NATURE or GENRE of the Book of Job is very important. There are books in the Old and New Testaments which PRESENT "historical narrative" materials, like 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, Acts. Again, there are books in the Old Testament which PRESENT "prophetic works," like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. These works occasionally have a short "historical narrative" section [for example, Isaiah 36-37], but essentially these works are NOT "historical narrative" materials, but "prophetic works" with oracles of various types. Again, there are books in the New Testament which PRESENT "epistles," like Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, James, etc. These works may very occasionally refer to a "historical" event, but essentially they are not "historical narrative" materials; rather, they are "epistles," letters to various churches.
The Book of Job belongs to a different kind of GENRE or NATURE. The composer=author of the Book of Job PRESENTS this book as a DEBATE between different speakers and thinkers. Carol A. Newsom calls this a DIALOGUE. Such terms [including m own] are semantic. BUT, the Book of Job is NOT a "historical narrative."
The intention of the Book of Job is NOT to report: (1) certain specific biographical individuals like Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, etc.; (2) certain geographical locations like the land of Uz, Teman, Shua, etc.; (3) the DATE of Job's historical time chronologically. These matters are NOT issues in the Book of Job.
Rather, the intention of the composer=author of the Book of Job is to TEACH a great truth to his audience [to us]. This is a DIDACTIC book in the form of a DEBATE, or perhaps a DIALOGUE.

3. The composer=author of the Book of Job PRESENTS his work in a certain way. Following his "line of thought," one may "structure" or "outline" this book in this way theologically. [This is my READ of the Book of Job in OUTLINE].

I. The Story of Job and His Losses. Job 1-3. [NOTE: Many scholars argue that the first section is Job 1-2 BECAUSE chapters 1-2 are in prose, while chapter 3 is in poetry. But in my opinion, Job 3 is an inseparable part of chapters 1-2. See my outline below. As a similar kind of situation, think of 1 Samuel 1-2. 1 Samuel 1:1-28is in prose; 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is in poetry; 2 Samuel 2:11-36 is in prose. Is 1 Samuel 2:1-10 part of the "flow" of the story PRESENTED by the composer=author of 1-2 Samuel or not? In my opinion, 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is a vital part of 1 Samuel 1-2. Similarly, I am convinced that Job 3 is a vital part of Job 1-3).
a. An Introduction to Job. This individual is wealthy, healthy, and wise. Job 1:1-5.
b. Job Loses his WEALTH. Job 1:6-22.
c. Job Loses his HEALTH. Job 2:1-13.
d. Job Loses his WISDOM. Job 3. [Now, this idea in chapter 3 may irritate some of you or differ from this idea, but be patient, and I will try to explain why I think this is the case in a later blog].

II. The Debate between Job and His Three Friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job 4-31.
A. The First Series of the Debate. Job 4-14.
1. Eliphaz--4-5; Job's Response--6-7.
2. Bildad--8; Job's Response--9-10.
3. Zophar--11; Job's Response--12-14.
B. The Second Series of the Debate. Job 15-21.
1. Eliphaz--15; Job's Response--16-17.
2. Bildad--18; Job's Response--19.
3. Zophar--20; Job's Response--21.
C. The Third Series of the Debate. Job 22-31.
1. Eliphaz--22; Job's Response--23-24.
2. Bildad--25; Job's Response--26-31. [NOTE: There is NO SPEECH of Zophar in the Third Series of the Debate. Many scholars propose that one should "reconstruct" Zophar's speech from certain sections of "Job's Response" in chapters 26-31. In my opinion, this is incorrect. Later, I will try to explain WHY I think Zophar did not respond in the third series of the debate].

III. The Speech [Speeches] of Elihu. Job 32-37.
A. The Composer's=Author's Introduction. Job 32:1-5.
B. Elihu's Attitude toward Job. Job 32:6-33:7.
C. Elihu's Arguments. Job 33:8-37:24.

IV. The Two Speeches of God. Job 38:1-42:6.
A. God's First Speech--38:1-40:2; Job's Response--40:3-5.
B. God's Second Speech--40:6-41:34; Job's Response--42:1-6.

V. The Conclusion. God Restores Job to His Former Condition. Job 42:7-17.

I hope this will keep this outline before you. I will be using this throughout this study of the Book of Job.

How do you respond to the thoughts concerning these Introductory Ideas about the Book of Job thus far? We will have more Introductory Ideas later. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


Two summers ago [in 2007], my friend, Dan McVey, and I spent two and a half weeks in Tanzania, visiting and encouraging some of our missionaries: Fieldin Allison and his family, Tim Talley and his family, Travis and his family, and their associates. We are shamed by the people of this country, because many of them know the national language Swahili, English, and their own separate dialects [there are approximately 200 dialects in this region]. The religion of Tanzania is 98% Muslim. Like we Western people inherited some type of Christian background or perhaps Jewish background, peoples in this part of the world inherited Islamic or Muslim traditions and cultures and beliefs. As the world continues to get smaller and smaller, we are going to have to face these different religions and cultures and backgrounds and beliefs, and learn to negotiate, interreact, and appreciate and "sharpen" each other ideas. We are striving to prepare our missionaries to be on the very front of this interaction situation. Of course, our missionaries learned Swahili before they got onto the field, and now they are "sharpening" the language and the culture. This is so imperative. This is very slow work, but very rewarding.

One of our highlights is spending several days on the island of Zanzibar, which is now officially part of Tanzania. Zanzibar is approximately 25 miles in the Indian Ocean east of Tanzania. Initially, we landed at Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania [several million people, very modern]. The capital of Tanzania is Dodoma. We did not have the opportunity to go there. We traveled several hundred miles north, then south of Dar es Salaam, visiting missionaries and many local people. Then, at some point, we got on a "ferry" at Dar es Salaam, and travled in the ocean for approxiately two and a half hours to Zanzibar.

The people of Tanzania and Zanzibar are very cordial, welcoming people. We always felt much at home. As in many African countries, typically the towns and cities are unkept and often filthy, but the restaurants and motels and houses inside are well kept and very nice. We enjoyed walking along the shores of the Indian Ocean, eating fresh fish well cooked with a good meal. We had some great visits. We same some historical sites. This was all good, and helped us learn to understand and appreciate the people, the culture, and the surroundings.

One of our highlights was spending time at the spice farms. Guides showed us the various plants, how they were prepared, and how they were distributed throughout the world. This is a huge exporting region of the world. Some of their well-known products worldwide are cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, and pepper. But there are many other wonderful products as well. They also offer a great variety of coffees and teas. We brought samples of this back home.

As I was growing up as a child, the movie publishers produced a series of "Road" movies with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour. One of these was: "The Road to Zanzibar." At my early age, I imagined that "Zanzibar" was a "far away" "unrealistic" fairy tale land. NOT SO!!! Zanzibar is "on the map." The people there are real. They are a very productive, hard working people. They treated us very well. I hope you will be able to go there some day yourself.

The Bible does not refer to "Zanzibar." BUT, the Bible teaches that God created EVERY HUMAN BEING of every nation in the image of God. The people of Tanzania and Zanzibar are created in the image of God. Therefore, they, like all people, are people of dignity. God loves and cares for them, just like us. I hope some of our students will attain a heart for Tanzania and Zanzibar. They need us, and we need them.

What are YOUR thoughts? Share your ideas with your church, your community, your nation, your friends. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, August 21, 2009

Setting the Stage for the Book of Job--Part 1

Through the centuries, and in modern times, numerous good thinkers, preachers, and scholars have offered their views, opinions, understandings of the Book of Job. I would "guess" that IF a person seriously did a serious research of studies on the book of Job from the earliest time to modern times, it would take that person at least thirty or forty years to do that work. SO, it "blows my mind" to think of the possibilities of interpreting the Book of Job. Only a "fool" like myself would attempt this--but here I go--realizing I have not begun to read all the scholars and thinkers and preachers who have attempted to understand this book. I HAVE read a great deal of books and articles, but I am PAINFULLY aware of the fact that MANY, MANY, MANY other GOOD books and articles are out there for YOU and others to study.

In my feeble attempts, I will work VERY SLOWLY through this book. This will irritate some of you--others will think this is unnecessary. I WILL attempt to avoiding REPEATING my ideas. And yet, the going will be VERY SLOW.

In the first few blogs, I will SET THE STAGE of the Book of Job from my perspective. Several important issues are there. I will do my best to deal with these matters.

Part 1--The Book of Job as a Book

1. Many scholars divide certain parts of the book of Job from other parts of the book. I honor and respect each approach. And I understand why people do this. For example:
a. Job 1-2 and 42:7-17 are in prose, while Job 3:1-42:6 are in poetry [note, however, 32:1-5 is in prose]. So, there is a strong "temptation" or "drive" to separate Job 1-2 and 42:7-17 from the rest of the book.
b. Job 32-37 and 38:1-42:6 contain speeches which "sound different" from the speeches in Job 3-31. So, many scholars separate the speeches of Elihu in Job 32-37 and the speeches of God in Job 38:1-42:6 [and sometimes, the first or second speech of God in isolation] from Job 3-31, and from each other.
2. Many scholars "rearrange" certain chapters in the book of Job different from their present order, especially Job 25-31. Accordingly, various scholars assign various portions of these chapters to different "speakers" in these chapters.

2. As I approach the Book of Job, I have five assumptions. [All human beings approach every literary work with assumptions, whether they realize this or not].
a. I accept the Book of Job AS A WHOLE AS IT STANDS in the Bible as the word of God. Some of you may be disappointed that I do not accept the view that one should divide the Book of Job into "earlier sources" as "later additions" to the "original book."
b. It is my responsibility to try to understand the view of the COMPOSER of the Book of Job. I assume that this composer was God-directed. BUT, even if he was not God-directed, I still believe it is my responsibility to try to understand his view. Now, there is VERY LITTLE in the Book of Job from the composer of the book. It is ONLY Job 1-2; 32:1-5; and 42:7-17, and POSSIBLY connective statements like: "Eliphaz said," "Job said," and the like.
c. I believe by faith that GOD IS CORRECT. A MAJOR VIEW among many thinkers, preachers, and scholars that God is INCORRECT, WRONG, etc. Some insist that JOB is right and GOD is wrong. Sorry, but by faith I believe that GOD IS CORRECT. And surprise, surprise--Job is wrong. This is crucial in accepting God's view in Job 38:1-42:6. Of course, there are a FEW references to God in Job 1-2; 32:1-5; and 42:7-17, and these are important as well.
d. I accept SERIOUSLY the views of ALL the speakers presented in the Book of Job: Job, Job's wife, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu. When one studies the Book of Job carefully, it becomes VERY CLEAR that these different speakers sharply differ from one another. But when I am dealing with Eliphaz, for example, I think it is my responsibility to try to represent Eliphaz's position--even if Eliphaz's position is wrong.
e. I DO believe that one should take into consideration references to the Book of Job elsewhere in the Bible. As far as I can tell, there are TWO of these: Ezekiel 14:12-20 and James 5:7-11. At an appropriate time, I want to deal with these texts.

In following blogs, we will discuss additional introductory matters concerning the Book of Job. Thanks for being patient. Share your ideas as we move along. Let me hear from you.

John Willis

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Why is it imperative for a teacher or preacher or minister or missionary to learn Greek and Hebrew? In some of my blogs, I will demonstrate WHY this is imperative for individuals desire to communicate the message of the Bible correctly and to build up the church. Here is a simple beginning example--the little word YOU.

Let me give a little background of my own experience through the years, then give three biblical examples.

FIRST--ONE of my experiences having to do with Churches of Christ.
In the 1950s, scholars began to translate the Hebrew and Greek into English in addition to the old King James Version in 1611 and the old American Version in 1901. Hence, the Revised Standard Version--then the Jerusalem Bible--the New International Version--the New Revised Standard Version--and now there are several others. For several years, Church of Christ "leaders" [preachers, teachers, etc.] dug in their heels and insisted on maintaining the KJV and the ASV. These new translations are "heresy."
To give one example, several writers declared that it is "unscriptural" to pray to God at church [or elsewhere] to address God as "YOU." The BIBLE [KJV and ASV] use the word "THOU." SO, the person leading a prayer MUST use the word "THOU," not "YOU." The assumption is that a person "honors" God and "worships" God by using the words "thou, thine, and thee." This is obviously VERY LAUGHABLE up front. Here ae two quick examples.
a. In the KJV of Matthew 4:10, Jesus said to SATAN, "Get THEE behind me, Satan." OKAY, that means that one MUST "honor" or "worship" Satan, because Jesus addressed Satan as "THEE," the direct object of the nominative "THOU." Of course, something is very wrong in this kind of thinking.
b. When you listen to a person praying to God using "THOU" and "THINE" and "THEE," you have to laugh out loud. The person has no idea how to use the verbs connected with these words. "THOU"--are? is? am? art? etc. People usually misuse these words.
Now, the reason for all this is that, like all languages, the English language has CHANGED over time. In the seventeeth century, people daily used the terms "thou," etc. But they KNEW what they were saying: "THOU" is SINGULAR; "YOU" is plural. BUT, in 2009, we do not use these words. We use "YOU" for the singular and the plural. And THAT is why a person must learn Greek and Hebrew. Here are three examples.

1. Matthew 5:14-16: "YOU are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let YOUR light shine before others, so that they may see YOUR good works and give glory to YOUR Father in heaven."
WHO is the "YOU" here? By learning Greek, you learn that "YOU" in this text is PLURAL. This does not refer to an individual Christian. NO!!! This refers to the people of God COLLECTIVELY or TOGETHER. If the people of God TOGETHER do not function in unity, they CANNOT be the light of the world. The text makes this very clear.

2. Luke 22:31-34: "'Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift YOU like wheat, but I have prayed for YOU that YOUR faith may not fall; and YOU, when once YOU have turned back, strengthen your brothers.' And he said to him, 'Lord, I am ready to go with YOU to prison and to death.' Jesus said, 'I tell YOU, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until YOU have denied me three times.'"
Who is "YOU" in these lines? By learning Greek, you learn that "YOU" here is singular sometimes and plural sometimes. SO, you have to be very careful. Let's retrace the story.
a. Jesus says to Simon: Satan has demanded to sift YOU [PLURAL--all you disciples] like wheat.
b. But I have prayed for YOU [SINGULAR--Peter] that YOUR [Peter's] faith may not fall, etc. ALL the disciples of Jesus will abandon Jesus when the Jewish authorities arrest Jesus, BUT PETER will be the first of the twelve to return to Jesus, THEN Peter will strengthen his fellow-disciples.
c. In verse 33, Peter replies to Jesus: "Lord, I am ready to go with YOU [SINGULAR--Jesus] to prison and to death."

3. 1 Timothy 6:21--The last line in the epistle of 1 Timothy says: "Grace with with YOU." One might think that this epistle is Paul's letter to Timothy. But when one examines the Greek of 1 Timothy 6:21, the biblical reader learn that YOU here is PLURAL. Paul is addressing the entire church of which Timothy is a member, NOT Timothy individually alone.

The little word YOU is a veritable "mine field" throughout the Bible--Old and New Testaments. One attempting to understanding the Bible needs to be constantly aware of the value of the Greek and Hebrew languages in which the Bible originally arose. We will examine numerous other types of issues along these lines. I hope this will be helpful to everyone. I hope this will inspire you who are beginning your journey into Bible study. Learn the languages. This will also open the cultures and traditions and societies of ancient Near Eastern peoples.

How is YOUR study of the Bible going? We are all on a journey. We are all growing. Let's help one another as we come closer to God and to the church and to the world. Let me hear from you. Share your ideas with others.

John Willis


Before leaving our journey through the book of Exodus, I do not feel good without attempting a sketch of a brief "survey" of the picture of Aaron, Moses' older brother (Exodus 7:7) and older sister Miriam (see Exodus 2:1-10; Numbers 12:1-16).

In the Book of Exodus, in my opinion, Aaron appears in SIX MAJOR sets of events. [YOU might see these in a different way. Help me on this analysis].

1. At the burning bush. Exodus 4:10-31. Moses' fourth and fifth "excuses" NOT to go back to Egypt from Midian were: (4) I am not a good speaker; and (5) Send someone else. In response to this, Yahweh declared that AARON "can speak fluently," SO Moses can speak to Aaron, then Aaron can speak to the Israelites--Exodus 4:14-16. As MOSES' "spokesman" and "mouth," in a previous blog, I tried to emphasize the Moses' then is Aaron's PROPHET--so says Exodus 7:1. As Aaron was Moses' prophet [spokesman, mouth], so a human prophet like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc., is Yahweh's spokesman, mouth.

2. In the stories primarily having to do with the ten plagues in Exodus 5:1-15:21, Aaron plays an important role alongside Moses. Repeatedly, "Moses and Aaron" approach Pharaoh "together" with the request, Let the Israelites go into the wilderness three days to worship Yahweh.

3. In the stories primarily having to do with the four instances of the Israelite "complaining" or "murmuring" between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai in Exodus 15:22-18:27, "Moses and Aaron" work "together" in dealing with these complaints. (Note, for example Exodus 16:2, 9. When the Amalekites attack the Israelites, Aaron and Hur hold up the hands of Moses as Joshua and the Israelites defeat their enemies according to Exodus 17:8-16. Again, Aaron and the elders of Israel eat with Moses and Jethro in a great sacrificial meal according to Exodus 18:12.

4. When Yahweh appeared on Mount Sinai to give the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, Aaron played an important role, according to Exodus 19-24. Note, for example, Exodus 19:24; 24:1, 9, 14.

5. In the depiction of the tabernacle and the priestly vestments and ordination in Exodus 25-31; 35-40, Aaron plays an important role. Aaron and his four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar are the HIGH PRIESTS, descendants of the tribe of Levi, initiate the high priesthood in Israel under the instructions of Moses originating from God. Especially, they are to wear the breastpiece, ephod, robe, Urim and Thummim, etc., all of which play a major role in the following stories about the Israelites.

6. Aaron leads the Israelites in sin at the golden calf as recorded in Exodus 32. Like Moses, Aaron did some great things in God's behalf, but both Moses and Aaron committed great sins, so that ultimately God did not allow either of them to enter into the promised land of Canaan. See especially Numbers 20:1-13, 22-29; Deuteronomy 34.

[I want to thank all of you who patiently followed along this journey through the Book of Exodus. Thanks for your comments. I need all the help I can get. NOW, I am leaving the Book of Exodus behind. I will turn next to a study through the Book of Job. I hope this will be invigorating, challenging, and encouraging].

Let me hear from YOU. Share your thoughts with your friends and those around YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I am so blessed!!! Every day, when I look out my huge window just outside my office, I see three different types of doves. As a "layman," I call them "white wing," "ring-necked," and "mourning." Experts give them the correct terms. Evelyn and I spent three archaeological trips for six weeks each in the summer at a kibbuts at Banias near Dan at the foot of Mount Hermon, and it was wonderful early in the morning and every evening to hear the "soothing" calls or "coos" of the doves when we went out about 5:00 a. m. and went to dinner about 6:00 p. m.

Doves and pigeons belong to the Family Columbidae. The Class is Aves. There are approximately 300 species of doves throughout the world. Some of these species, unfortunately, are very close to extinction. Doves and pigeons built flimsy nests from sticks and other debris in trees, on ledges, or on the ground. They lay one or two eggs; both parents care for the young [squabs]. Doves feed on seeds, fruit and plants. Doves vary in size from less than a pound to almost nine pounds.

The Bible refers to "doves" 43 times, 33 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament, in approximate 15 passages. Here are a few examples.

1. Genesis 8:8-12 [fives times]. After the long rain of the flood in the days of Noah ended, Noah sent a dove to see if the waters had subsided. The dove returned with noting. Seven days later, Noah sent the dove again, and the dove returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf. Noah knew the flood waters were subsiding. Seven days later, Noah sent the dove again, and the dove did not return.

2. Seven passages in the book of Leviticus [nine times] refer to doves and pigeons as sacrificial birds. See for example, Leviticus 1:14; 5:7, 11; etc.

3. The Song of Solomon uses the dove as a comparison with the speaker's lover [six times]. See Song of Solomon 1:15; 2:14; etc.

4. In Hezekiah's disdain because of his illness, he declares: "I moan like a dove" (Isaiah 38:14). Similarly, the Judean exiles proclaim: "like doves we moan mournfully" (Isaiah 59:11).

5. Jeremiah describes the imminent danger of Moab, saying:
"Be like the dove that nests
on the sides of the mouth of the gorge" (Jeremiah 48:28).

6. Hosea warns the people of Ephraim [=Israel]:
"Ephraim has become like a dove,
silly and without sense;
they call upon Egypt, they go to Assyria" (Hosea 7:11).

7. Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32 say that when Jesus was baptized, "he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighted on him."

8. Jesus tells his followers: "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).

Biblical composers=writers=poets use doves for a wide variety of reasons. Doves were a vital part of life in the ancient world. In our modern Western world, it is very easy for us to ignore or not be aware of God's wonderful creatures--like doves.

Do YOU like doves? What are some of YOUR experiences? Share this with your friends, your family, your church, your community, your nation. Let me hear from you.

John Willis

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

God's Self-Identity

The third and final chapter in Exodus 32-34, namely, Exodus 34, is one of the great "pinnacles" of the Book of Exodus and indeed the entire Old Testament and the Bible. This chapter falls into three parts.

1. Yahweh's reveals his own identity. 34:1-9.
a. Yahweh tells Moses to take two tablets of stone, on which Yahweh himself will write the words that were on the former tablets which Moses had broken in pieces when he descended on Mount Sinai earlier, as recorded in Exodus 32:19-20. 34:1-4.
b. Then Yahweh proclaims the name "Yahweh." Then Yahweh reveals his own self-identity:
"The Lord, the Lord [Yahweh, Yahweh],
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children
and upon children's children
to the third and fourth generation."
Moses then worships before Yahweh, and beseeches Yahweh to go with his people even though his people is a stiffnecked people, and to pardon their iniquity and sin, and take them to the land of Canaan. 34:5-9.
*Here are some important thoughts about Yahweh's self-identity.
i. God is a God of mercy and grace and steadfast love, and a God of anger and punishment. The Bible consistently present God as a God of love and anger--New Testament as well as Old Testament. Read carefully Romans 2:1-11; Hebrews 10:11-31. When human beings become hardened in heart, God "gives them up." Romans 1:24-32.
ii. This "song" declaring God's self-identity PERVADES throughout scripture. Note for example Numbers 14:17-19; Nehemiah 9:16-17; Psalms 86:5, 15; 103:8-9; 145:8-9; Joel 2:12-14; Jonah 4:1-2; and very often.
iii. The Bible teaches throughout that God is gracious and merciful and full of steadfast love and faithfulness. See for example, Psalms 32; 51; 130; Isaiah
1:10-20; Hoses 6:4-6; Micah 7:18-20; and very often.
iv. The Old Testament, like the New Testament, teaches consistently that God forgives human beings for sin. See for example, 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalms 32; 51; 130; Jeremiah 32:16-44; Ezekiel 36:16-38; Amos 7:1-6; 9:1-6; and very often.

2. Yahweh makes [actually "renews"] his covenant with the Israelites. Exodus
34:10-28. Yahweh declares that he will bring the Israelites into the land of Canaan, and then commands them to keep his commandments. Here is a summary of major commandments which we have already dealt with in the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant in previous blogs. Note especially that Yahweh declares that he is a "Jealous" God--see especially verse 14. Like a husband expects his wife to be faithful to him alone, Yahweh expects his people to be faithful to him alone.

3. When Moses returns back down from Mount Sinai, his face is shining, and the Israelites are afraid of him. So Moses puts a veil on his face when he comes before the people, but when he speaks to Yahweh privately he takes the veil off. Exodus 34:29-35.

This is an amazing chapter in the Book of Exodus. It contains many very important truths. How does this chapter strike you? What are your thoughts? Share your ideas with your friends and family and church and community. Let me hear from you.

John Willis


On 24 August 2009, approximately 4,700 students will begin studying in various classes across the campus of Abilene Christian University. These students will be doing many wonderful things, but THE MAIN POINT is to PREPARE these students to do what they choose for their lives in the service of God and under God's guidance. I cannot overemphasize the importance of PREPARATION. Here are some introductory thoughts from my perspective.

Joshua 1-2 are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT CHAPTERS IN THE BIBLE for studying and understanding the importance of PREPARATION. The Israelites are camping at Shittim or Baal-peor just east of the Jordan River a little north east of the Dead Sea. God had told them to cross over into the land of Canaan, conquer the Canaanites now living in the land, and become the promised land God had given beginning with Abraham. If this is to happen, God's people must be PROPERLY PREPARED to receive these blessings. One may divide this naturally and conveniently into two parts.
1. God's role in PREPARATION. God assures his people that He will do three things for his people.
a. I will give you the land. This is not your job. This is my job. I will do this. You can count on this. Joshua 1:2, 3, 11, 15; 2:8, 14, 24.
b. I am with you. Joshua 1:5, 9, 17. See also 2:11.
c. I will not fail your or forsake you. Joshua 1:5.
2. The role of the Israelites in PREPARATION. God tells the Israelites to do several things IF they are properly prepared to enter into and take the land of Canaan.
a. Be strong and very courageous. Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, 18. A person's or a people's attitude and determination are very important for PREPARATION.
b. Be careful to act according with all the law that Moses commanded. Meditate on God's word day and night. Joshua 1:7-8. IF a human being wishes to be a SERVANT of God, that person MUST steep himself or herself in God's word, God's message, the Bible.
c. PREPARE the provisions needed for making the journey. Joshua 1:11. Certain "tools" are absolutely necessary to do God's work properly.
d. Cooperate with peers. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh received permission to have their territories east of the Jordan UNDER THE PROVISION they they would "cooperate" with their fellow-tribes to conquer the territories west of the Jordan. Numbers 32. NOW, Joshua summons these tribes to "cooperate" with all Israel to take the land of Canaan. Joshua 1:12-18.
e. Spy out the land. Joshua sends two spies to Jericho to learn the situation of the Canaanites and the "lay of the land" in PREPARATION for the conquest. Joshua 2:1-2.
*Now, study these principles, and here are a few suggestions.

I am not a doctor, but I have several close friends who are doctors. Approximately fifteen months ago, I had open heart surgery, then I had a stroke. I have been undert he care of a cardiologist for approximately eight years. A doctor works on the human body. When I go to a doctor, I expect that person to be PROPERLY PREPARED. Oh, there are a lot of people out there would have good intentions, and care for people, and want to do the right thing. But sorry. I want to go to a person who has been PROPERLY PREPARED.

My field is not medicine or pharmacy or nursing or the like. SO, I would not make any suggestions along these lines. The same is true about education, history, science, art, etc. My field is Religion. If a person expects a well-prepared doctor to work on his or her human body, surely a person expects a well-prepared Christian individual to work on his or her spiritual heart. There are numerous people out there that have good intentions, and care for people, and want to do the right thing, but they have not "taken the time and the effort and the money and the proper thought" to PREPARE for MINISTRY. Now, I am using the word MINISTRY in the biblical sense of service, and thus this is an "umbrella" for pulpit ministry, educational ministry, mission work in the USA and abroad, youth ministry, religious counseling, etc. In this field, there are ABSOLUTE ESSENTIALS for THIS FIELD of service to God. In this blog I will simply list these essentials, and then in later blogs, I will go deeper into details.
1. Two years of Greek and one year of Hebrew--minimum.
2. Knowledge of the Bible. Introductory courses, and some indepth courses--minimum of 15 semester hours.
3. Now, we are ready to "diversify." Here are a few introductory possibilities.
a. Pulpit ministry--At least two years of training in well-planned classes under educated and well-trained teachers. A year of "internship" in a church, learning to work with the staff, a trained preacher, elders, teachers, the church family.
b. Youth ministry--At least two years of training in well-planned classes under educated and well-trained teachers. A year of "internship" in a church.
c. Education ministry--At least two years of training in well-planned classes under educated and well-trained teachers. A year of "internship" in the church.
d. Mission work--in the USA or abroad--At least two years of training in well-planned classes under educated and well-trained teachers. These teachers will equip you to learn the culture and society in which you plan to do your work. They will guide you to learn the language of the culture where you plan to do your work. They will accompany you to go to your place, and become familiar with this new field.

I hope and pray that each of you has a great year. PREPARATION is WHY you are here. Blessings to each and every one of YOU. Let me hear from you. Give me your ideas and responses.

John Willis

Monday, August 17, 2009

Intercessory Prayer

As we continue our journey through the Book of Exodus, we come to the central section of Exodus 32-34, namely Exodus 33. Here are three paragraphs in this narrative section. I hope your will read this chapter carefully. Here are a few comments.

1. Yahweh will not go among his people himself--Exodus 33:1-6.
a. Yahweh tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to leave Mount Horeb=Sinai and go to the promised land of Canaan. Yahweh says he will send "an angel" to lead the people. But Yahweh will not go among his people himself, because the Israelites are "a stiffnecked people." 33:1-3.
b. When the people of Israel hear Yahweh's "harsh words," they take off their "ornaments" from Mount Horeb=Sinai onward all the way to the land of Canaan, to symbolize Yahweh's rejection of their stiffnecked hearts. 33:4-6.
*Observation: HERE, Yahweh commands the Israelites to leaven Mount Horeb=Sinai to go the land of Canaan, BUT they do not leave Mount Horeb=Sinai until Numbers 10:11!

2. Yahweh meets Moses at the "Tent of Meeting" "outside the camp"--Exodus 33:7-11.
a. The biblical composer=narrator=author tells his hearers=readers that Moses regularly met Yahweh in behalf of the Israelites "outside the camp," "far from the camp." The people of Israel "watched" outside the "Tent of Meeting" as Moses and Joshua, Moses' assistant, went into the tent. 33:7-8.
b. Then, Yahweh would descend from heaven and a "pillar of cloud" would cover the tent. "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses FACE TO FACE, AS one speaks to a FRIEND." 33:9-11.
*Observation: Yahweh is a "mysterious" God. No one has ever seen God (John 1:17), NOT EVEN MOSES. The expression "face of face" does not mean that Moses ACTUALLY PHYSICALLY saw God's PHYSICAL FACE. You will see this in a few moments right here in Exodus 33. Yahweh wants to be human beings Yahweh's FRIEND. This seems amazing to us tiny, insignificant human beings. BUT this is God's desire. 2 Chronicles 20:7 and James 2:23 call Abraham a "FRIEND of God." Jesus said in John 15:13-14: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's FRIENDS. You are MY FRIENDS if you do what I command you." A favorite religious song is: "What a FRIEND we have in Jesus."

3. Moses' Intercession for the Israelites--Exodus 33:12-23.
a. Yahweh had just told Moses to instruct the Israelites to guide the Israelites to the land of Canaan (Exodus 33:11-3). NOW, Moses utters an "intercessory prayer" for HIMSELF AND FOR THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. Moses' prayer is twofold: "Show ME your ways," and "Consider too that THIS NATION IS YOUR PEOPLE." 33:12-13.
b. Yahweh responds and assures Moses that Yahweh's ["MY"] presence will go with you. Moses replies: If YOUR PRESENCE does not go, do not carry us up from here. 33:14-16.
c. Yahweh assures Moses that Yahweh will do what Moses asks. Then Moses prays: "Show me YOUR GLORY." Yahweh assures Moses that his "goodness" will pass before him, and will be "gracious" to whom he will be gracious, and will "show mercy" on whom he will shows mercy. BUT--Yahweh declares emphatically that "you [Moses] cannot see my face; for NO ONE shall SEE me and live." Then Yahweh puts Moses in a cleft of the rock, and Yahweh covers Moses with Yahweh's hand until Yahweh passes by, then Yahweh takes away Yahweh's hand, and Moses can see Yahweh's "back," not not his "face." 33:17-23.
*Observations: Intercessory prayer is powerful and very important. Our God is an OPEN GOD. Our God is a REAL PERSONALITY!!! Therefore, God CAN and sometimes DOES "change his mind." Hence, PRAYER. God makes a decision, BUT sometimes a human being begs God to does something different. And sometimes, God "changes his mind." There are some things that God FOREKNOWS. There are other things that God does NOT KNOW IN ADVANCE. HENCE, PRAYER. Hence, intercessory prayer. Moses prays in behalf of himself and the entire people of Israel to stay with God's "presence" through the forty years of wilderness wandering--and God agrees. Praying is a waste of time if God already knows what God is going to do in advance. Life is just too short to spend time praying if God "knows in advance" everything that human beings are going to decide and do. Biblical composers=narrators=authors=speakers urge the people of God to "pray in behalf of others." See, for example, 1 Timothy 2:1-4. I believe in intercessory prayer. What about YOU?

A CAVEAT: Frequently, the Bible "troubles" me. Here is an example in Exodus 32-33. In Exodus 32:11-14, 30-35; 33:1-16, the Bible records THREE "intercessory prayers" of Moses in behalf of the people of Israel. BUT, in Exodus 32:25-29, the biblical narrator reports that Moses commanded "the sons of Levi" to "kill" revelling Israelites, and they killed approximately 3000 people on that day. How can Moses instruct people to kill the people of Israel, and then turn around and beseech Yahweh to forgive and protect this same people? I am simply your friendly reporter and storyteller. I cannot figure all this out. Perhaps, many decades or centuries after my death, someone will solve this "problem." The Bible is full of "difficult problems." Solve this problem for me--for others--for the world.

Let me hear from you. Share your thoughts with others.

John Willis

Sunday, August 16, 2009

God's Forgiveness

We all know that the Bible teaches that God forgives sinful people. AND YET, many of us just cannot bring ourselves to REALLY BELIEVE that God ACTUALLY can and will forgive ME. The Bible emphasizes the REALITY of God's forgiveness in various ways. Here are THREE metaphors which DECLARE that God forgives us sinful people, and God does this so emphatically that God will NEVER bring this back up again. Our sins are GONE FOREVER.

1. Psalm 103:12:
"As far as the east is from the west,
so far he [God] removes our transgressions from us."
How far is the east from the west? Where is the East Pole? Where is the West Pole? This metaphor is astounding. God has removed each sinner from that person's sins as the east from the west. IF a person REALLY accepts God's forgiveness, how could that person EVER feel that that person is still guilty for his or her sins before God?

2. Micah 7:18-19:
"Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread all our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea."
Some of the regions of the oceans are extremely deep. No human being can go into that region. God declares that he casts all our sins into the depths of the sea. How can anyone who REALLY believes the promises of the Bible think that that person is still guilty of his or her sins that God has forgiven?

3. Isaiah 38:17:
"Surely it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness;
but you have held back my life from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins behind your back."
When a person throws something behind his or her back, he or she can no longer see what that person has thrown away. God proclaims that he casts our sins behind his back. NOW, God no longer sees or remembers or acknowledges those sins which has thrown away. How can anyone who REALLY believes that God has ACTUALLY forgiven that person of his or her sins and still think that he or she is guilty of his or her wrongs.

Forgiveness is real. This is a gift of God. We human beings must learn to gladly receive this tremendous, unbelievable gift.

Many of my friends and students and associates are racked with the guilt of sin. This often leads to deep depression. God's promises of forgiveness are there for the receiving of the believer. I hope you will learn to trust in God that he ACTUALLY forgives YOU of YOUR sins. This will liberate YOU, and allow God to do HIS work in YOUR life.

How are you "coping" with your sins and your guilt? Share your burdens with others. Let me know your thoughts. How can I help YOU?

John Willis