John T. Willis

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Groundhog Day

Every year, the United States and Canada celebrate Groundhog Day on 2 February. The largest Groundhog Day is celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and features the groundhod Punxsutawney Phil. 40,000 people flock to this site for this celebration. Folklore says that when Phil emerges from his burrow on 2 February, if the day is sunny he will see his shadow and retreat into his burrow and winter weather will continue for six more weeks. If the day is dismal and not sunny, he will not see he shadow and spring will arrive early this year.

There are different explanations for the origin of Groundhog Day. Some experts argue that approximately 1,000 years ago, before human beings adopted the Gregorian calendar when the date of the equinox drifted in the Julian calendar, the spring equinox fell on 16 March, exactly six weeks after 2 February. To resolve conflicts about whether this was correct, an arbiter, the groundhog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle the two traditions about whether this should be according to the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar. A diary entry, dated 5 February 1841, refers to a celebration of Groundhog Day in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Most of us remember the movie Groundhog Day in 1993 with the main actor Bill Murray, who was forced to relive that day over and over again until he can learn to abandon his selfishness and become a better person.

The groundhog is also called woodchuck and land-beaver, a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Groundhogs live all the way from Alaska to Alabama.

The groundhog is 16-26 inches long including the tail, and weighs between 4 to 9 pounds. Groundhogs are well adapted for digging. They have short, powerful limbs and curved, thick claws. They have two coats of fur: a dense grey undercoat and a longer coat of banded guarded hairs that gives the groundhog its distinctive frosted appearance. Groundhogs live between 2 to 6 years.

Groundhogs eat wild grasses, berries, agricultural crops, grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails, and other small animals. They sit up eating nuts, but do not bury them for the future. Groundhogs hibernate in a wooded or brushy area below the frost line. They hibernate from October to March or April. To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before entering hibernation. They emerge from hibernation with some remaining body fat to live on until the warmer spring weather produces abundant plant materials for food.

Groundhogs are accomplished swimmers and excellent tree climbers. They are generally agonistic and territorial among their own species, and may skirmish to establish dominance. When not feeding, "guards" are nearly motionless standing erect on their hind feet watching for danger. When alarmed, they use a high-pitched whistle to warn the rest of the colony. Depending on the circumstances, groundhogs may make low barks or grind their teeth.

Groundhogs usually breed in their second year. The breeding season extends from early March to mid or late April. A mated pair remains in the same den throughout the 31 to 32 day gestation perior. As birth of the young approaches in April or May, the male leaves the den. One litter is produced annually, usually containing 2-6 blind, hairless and helpless young. Young groundhogs are weaned and ready to seek their own dens at 5 to 6 weeks of age.

I hope YOU appreciate groundhogs--and all of God's marvelous creatures. Above all this, I hope and pray YOU are thankful for God and stand in awe of his continuing works.

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

John Willis

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Problem is Haughtiness--Jeremiah 13:15-27

Yahweh through Jeremiah announces that he will soon send the Babylonians to destroy many Judeans and carry many others into Babylonian exile--Jeremiah 13:15-27. This paragraph contains several metaphors and figures to describe Yahweh punishment, and gives THREE explanations WHY Yahweh is about to punish his people.

I. Yahweh reproves Judah for her haughtiness. Jeremiah 13:15-17.
Yahweh through Jeremiah pleads with Judah: "Do not be haughty." Rather, "Give glory to Yahweh." Yahweh is a gentle shepherd and is deeply concerned about his "flock." Jeremiah "weep bitterly" for Judah's "pride." Since Judah is haughty, Yahweh will bring "darkness" on his people and take them into captivity.

II. Yahweh declares he will take Jehoiachin and 10,000 leading citizens into Babylonian exile. Jeremiah 13:18-19.
a. "The king" and "the queen mother" in are Jehoiachin and his mother. For details, see 2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10. Jehoiachin reigned in Jerusalem three months in 598 or 597 BCE, and was taken into exile with 10,000 of the leading citizens of Jerusalem. 13:18.
b. This is the second stage of the Babylonian exile. The first stage was in 605 BCE, when the Babylonians took some of the choice young men into exile, including Daniel--Daniel 1:1-2. The third stage was in 587 or 586 BCE, when Nebuchadrezzar II and the Babylonians destroyed the Jerusalem wall and the Jerusalem temple, leaving only farmers living around the devastated city. 13:19.

III. Yahweh explains that he will destroy Judah because of her hard-heartedness and forsaking Yahweh. Jeremiah 13:20-27.
a. Yahweh announces that a foe is coming "from the north." This is a recurring figure for Babylon--see Jeremiah 1:13-16; 4:5-6; 6:1, 22; 25:8-9. Yahweh's
"beautiful flock" is gone. 13:20.
b. Judah will suffer great pain "like those of a woman in labor." See 4:31. 13:21.
c. The people pretend to be surprised: "Why have these things come upon me?" Yahweh responds and declares that their "iniquity" is great. 13:22.
d. Judah's sin is long-lived and deep-rooted. Just as Ethiopians cannot change their dark skin or a leopard change his spots, SO Judah CANNOT do GOOD BECAUSE she is ACCUSTOMED to doing evil. HABIT is a way of life. Our choices shape who we are. Judah did not rebel against God over night. It was the result of the habit of sin over many years and decades and centuries. SIN was part of her DNA. 13:23.
e. Yahweh declares he will scatter Judah like chaff driven by the wind. 13:24.
f. The reason for their is that they have "forgotten" or forsaken Yahweh and TRUSTED in lies. "Lies" in this context probably means foreign gods. 13:25.
g. Because of Jerusalem's adulteries and shameless prostitutions, Yahweh will bring WOE on his sinful people. 13:26-27.

The picture of God's people is dismal, not because of Yahweh's failure or capriciousness, but because of Judah's habit of sin. We need to learn the importance of this message.

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

John Willis

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


A very severe struck West Texas beginning on the evening of 31 January 2011. For the past two days, we have been stranded in our house. All the schools have closed. Numerous roads are blocked off. Everything has come to a standstill. The news reports that this same set of conditions exists throughout much of the United States. Many cannot travel by plane. Snow is very beautiful. We enjoy watching the snow. It is fun to make a snowman.

The Bible refers to snow in various ways--literally and figuratively. The Hebrew word for snow is sheleg, which occurs 20 times in the Hebrew Bible. The Greek word for snow is chion, which occurs 3 times in the New Testament. Here are a few observations about these passages.

1. The composer of Psalm 148:7-8 summons snow and frost on earth to praise Yahweh:
"Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, SNOW and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!"

Similarly, the author of Psalm 147:15-18 declares that Yahweh gives snow on the earth.
"He [Yahweh] sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
He gives SNOW like wool;
he scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down hail like crumbs--
who can stand before his cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow."

2. Elihu proclaims:
"God thunders wondrously with his voice;
he does great things that we cannot comprehend.
For to the SNOW he says, 'Fall on the earth';
and the shower of rain, his heavy shower of rain,
serves as a sign on everyone's hand,
so that all whom he has made may know it.
Then the animals go into their lairs
and remain in their dens.
From its chamber comes the whirlwind,
and cold from the scattering winds.
By the breath of God ice is given,
and the broad waters are frozen fast.
He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
They turn round and round by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.
Whether for correction, or for his land,
or form love, he causes it to happen." (Job 37:5-13).

Similarly, Yahweh questions Job these embarrassing questions:
"Have you entered the storehouses of the SNOW,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war." (Job 38:22-23).

In these passages, the biblical composers depict Yahweh as a banker, who doles our tons of snow out of his heavenly storehouses to do whatever Yahweh has in mind. Snow is purposeful. Yahweh might send snow to correct or punish sinners, or to give water and nutrition on the land, or stopped or change wars or troubles on earth, or demonstrate his love for humanity.

3. Proverbs 25:13 compares fresh snow with faithful messengers:
"Like the cold of SNOW in the time of harvest
are faithful messengers to those who send them;
they refresh the spirit of their masters."

4. Isaiah 55:10-11 compares snow with the refreshing word of God for humanity.
"For as the rain and the SNOW come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall MY [Yahweh's] WORD be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

5. Exodus 4:6; Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27 portray snow as the skin of a leper.

6. The purity of snow is a symbol of Yahweh's forgiveness of sin. Job 9:30; Psalm
51:7; Isaiah 1:18. The psalmist's prayer of confession in Psalm 51:7 is striking and memorable.
"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than SNOW."

7. Matthew 28:3 says the clothing of the angel at Jesus's tomb after Jesus' resurrection was like snow. Mark 9:3 says that Jesus' clothes were white as snow at this transfiguration. Revelation 1:14 says the head and hair were white as snow.

The other references to snow are: 2 Samuel 23:20; 1 Chronicles 11:22; Job 6:16;
24:19; Proverbs 26:1; 31:21; Jeremiah 18:14; Lamentations 4:7.

I hope YOU enjoy, stand in awe of, and appreciate snow. Snow is one of God's marvelous gifts. As we observe snow, receive blessings from snow, and enjoy snow, let us be thankful to the God of all creation and glorify him.

Share YOUR ideas and dreams with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Swimming Trunks and Wine Jars--Jeremiah 13:1-14

Yahweh through Jeremiah continues to declare that he is about to punish his people because they persistently sin against him. Jeremiah 13:1-14 portrays two symbolic acts of Jeremiah.

I. Jeremiah's "Swimming Trunks"=Linen Loincloth--Jeremiah 13:1-11.
a. Yahweh commands Jeremiah to BUY a linen loincloth, put it on his loins, do not dip it in water, then take it to the Euphrates River, and hide it in the cleft of the rock. Jeremiah does this. Later, Yahweh commands Jeremiah to return and retrieve his loincloth from the cleft of the rock. When Jeremiah does this, the loincloth is "ruined, good for nothing." 13:1-7.
b. Yahweh explains that Yahweh "clings to" the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah JUST AS the loincloth clings to one's loins. Yahweh is the loins, and the loincloth Israel and Judah. Yahweh desires to be very close to his people that they might be for Yahweh "a people, a name, a praise, and a glory."
c. However, Israel and Judah constantly refused to hear Yahweh's words, stubbornly followed their own will and gone after other gods to serve and worship them rather than Yahweh. Hence, they are like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. 13:10.
d. As a result of this, Yahweh declares that he will ruin the PRIDE of Judah and the GREAT PRIDE of Jerusalem. Throughout human history, we all focus on ourselves rather than on God. We follow our own will rather than God's will. 13:8-9.

II. Jeremiah's Wine Jars. Jeremiah 13:12-14.
a. Yahweh tells Jeremiah to tell God's people that every wine jar should be filled with wine. The people immediately respond, saying, We already know this, evidently referring to an annual festival, possibly the Festival of Booths. 13:12.
b. Yahweh responds that he is about to fill all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan [the kings, the priests, the prophets, and the people] with drunkenness. Yahweh will dash them one against another and destroy them. The figure of drunkenness to denote Yahweh's punishment occurs often in scripture. See e. g., Jeremiah 25:15-29; Isaiah 28:1-8.

Yahweh's severe punishment is his last effort to being sinful people to repentance. Out of love, Yahweh must discipline those who insist on rebelling against him. Hebrews 12:4-11.

Share YOUR insights and concepts to others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis