The Apocrypha

New information is added to A Bible A Day, seemingly on a weekly basis.

One such example is the initial adding of information about the Apocrypha books. These books are found in some versions of the Bible, but not all.  It is important to have them covered, since some tenets of Christianity deem these writings as holy and inspired. They have been added to allow A Bible A Day to be more inclusive, better representing all who read and revere the Bible.

The first group of Apocrypha books have been included in A Bible A Day. These are Old Testament writings that are not included in the Jewish and Protestant Bibles, but are part of the Roman Catholic Bible and others; they are Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch.


Naaman’s Decision

The Bible includes the story of Naaman, an Aramean army commander, who has leprosy (a contagious skin disease).

His Jewish servant girl suggests that he go and see Elisha, in Israel, to be healed.  Naaman eagerly goes, but feels slighted by Elisha, who doesn’t even bother to greet his powerful visitor, instead sending a servant with the simple message to wash seven times in the river to be healed.

Naaman is not used to being treated that way; he storms off in a huff.  He wanted attention; he expected that a grand and glorious display of power would be given to bring about his healing.  Fortunately, the cooler head of another of his servants prevails, essentially saying, “Don’t be proud; you have nothing to lose.”

Naaman agrees, performing the humble task of washing himself in the river — and is healed!

Sometimes when we ask for God’s help, we expect one thing, but he provides an unexpected response.  What do we do then, stomp off in a huff or dutifully follow instructions?  In Naaman’s case, he had to humble himself before receiving God’s reward; we should not be surprised when we must do the same.

[2 Kings 5]


The Origin of Purim

Our Jewish friends will be celebrating Purim this week.  (For 2009 Purim begins at sunset March 9 and ends at sunset on the 10th, though some apparently celebrate it for two days.)

The origin of Purim is found in the book of Esther, which is a beautiful and moving story:

In a rags to riches manner, Esther was whisked from obscurity to become queen.  From her new position of access and influence, she was able to stop a plot to kill her people, the Jews.  This was done at great personal risk as she could have been summarily executed.  Esther’s bravery shows how one person can make a difference

To commemorate this event, an annual celebration was commanded, which is still celebrated today:

“And Mordecai recorded these things, and he sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of the King Ahasuerus, both near and far, to command them to keep the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and also the fifteenth, yearly,  As the days on which the Jews got rest from their enemies, and as the month which was turned for them from sorrow to gladness and from mourning into a holiday — that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days of sending choice portions to one another and gifts to the poor.”

[Esther 9:20-22]


Is This a Test?

The Bible is chocked full of strange and perplexing tales.

One such story is when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.  What father in his right mind would kill his son?  However, Abraham is intent on obeying God regardless of the cost.  Three days later we find him up on a mountain, with Son Isaac tied up and laying on the alter.  With knife in hand, Abraham raises his arm, ready to plunge the dagger into Isaac.  Just then, God says in effect, “Wait, don’t do it; I was just seeing if you would really obey me.”  Wow, that was close.  Then God provides a ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac.  Abraham proved himself faithful to God, and Isaac was spared.

Fast forward several centuries to Jesus.  Jesus is himself getting ready to die; he is going to be sacrificed.  Surely, he knows the story of Abraham and Isaac; every Jew knows that story.  I suspect he is wondering if his loyalty and obedience to God is being tested just like Abraham, for he says, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

However, God didn’t say, “Hold on, this was just a test of your obedience”; there was no one else to take his place.  It was Jesus’ job and his purpose to die for the wrongs of the world in order to make us right with God.

Jesus obeys; Jesus dies; we live.

[Genesis 22:1-14 and Luke 22:42]


The Writings of Doctor Luke

Paul is the most prolific writer in the New Testament.  Who is second?  That would be Dr. Luke.

Luke wrote an account of Jesus’ life (called “The Gospel According to Luke,” or simply “Luke”) and also chronicled the activities of the early church (called “The Acts of the Apostles” or just “Acts”).  These two accounts encompass over 25% of the New Testament and give us valuable historical information about Jesus and his followers, providing a powerful and compelling two-book combination.

Luke was a doctor and the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament.  As such, his words are that of an outsider and may more readily connect with those on the “outside.”  Luke wrote with simple, yet compelling language.  As a trained professional, Luke was a keen observer and provides many details and facts that are not included in the other three historical accounts of Jesus.

The book of Acts looks at Jesus’ followers’ and their efforts to continue on without him.  They wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised to send to them for guidance, direction, and counsel.  Many people look to Acts for a model for how the church should function.  Noteworthy in Acts is the frequent mention Holy Spirit.  With about 100 references, Acts provides a close and personal insight into the function and mystery of the Holy Spirit.

Both our monthly Bible reading plan and the New Testament reading plan kick off the year with the books of Luke and Acts.  Regardless of your Bible reading intentions for the year, I hope you are off to a good start — and if not, why not start today?


Pouring Out the Drink Offering

During a time of war, there is a curious story of King David.  He mentions that he is thirsty for water from a specific well.  Three of his mighty warriors break through enemy lines, draw water from that well, and return to David with it.  However, instead of drinking it with gratitude, David pours it out on the ground as an offering to God.  [1 Chronicles 11:17-19 and 2 Samuel 23:13-17]

Apparently, he felt that the risk the men took was so great that he was not worthy to taste the water, offering it to God instead.

This action may have parallels to the Old Testament instruction to give a “drink offering” to God.  The drink offering was a libation of wine that was poured over the alter or used with meat offerings as part of the Jewish worship rituals.  Instructions for its use occur over 45 times in the Jewish law, with 19 other references in the Old Testament.

Since Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament worship practices, it is not surprising for there to only be two mentions of drink offerings in the New Testament.  Both were made by Paul, referring to his willingly pouring out his life as a drink-offering to God.  [Philippians 2:17 and 2 Timothy 4:6]

It is important to understand that while the Old Testament believers presented their drink offerings ritualistically out of obligation and compulsion, Paul — being freed from the law by Jesus — willing and gladly presented his own life as a drink-offering to God.  It was his intentional act of sacrifice and service.


Jesus was Jewish

Jesus was a Jew.

That statement catches many Christians (that is, followers of Jesus) off guard.  It is easy to label Jesus, since he is the impetus for Christianity, as a Christian, even though his time spent on earth was as a Jew.

Indeed, he was born a Jew, into a Jewish culture, and had a clear Jewish lineage.  He was raised and educated in Jewish beliefs and traditions.  His ministry was primarily to Jewish people (though he certainly ministered to non-Jews and made it clear that his message was for all people, his focus was the Jews).  Plus, most of his disciples were Jews, as presumably were most of his followers.  In fact, initially Christianity was viewed as a sect of Judaism. [Acts 28:22]

Yes, Jesus was Jewish.

As such, there is much that his followers owe to and can learn from Jewish traditions and beliefs.  This is one important reason to study the Old Testament and to embrace our common ground with our Jewish bothers and sisters.