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Texts That Perplex

By Elie Nessim, Printer Friendly Version



From time to time Bible readers encounter Bible verses that are puzzling or seemingly inconsistent with other verses. Here are some trickier 'Texts that Perplex' and our own insights and viewpoints on them.
ECCLESIASTES 9:1

People know neither love nor hatred by anything that is before them.

The sense of this passage is, that people do not draw the right conclusions from their circumstances.  The word before does not refer to time past, but to location, such as the term: before their eyes.  For example, Haman the Agagite wrongly concluded that Queen Esther thought very highly of him when she invited him only, along with the King, to her banquet (Esther 5: 12).  Yet he found to his cost that she hated his murderous plan to exterminate her people, and used the occasion to expose him.  On the other hand, Joseph languished in slavery and in prison for thirteen years, with one hope after another dashed to the ground: he may well have concluded under those circumstances, that GOD did not love him, yet he would have been wrong.  He later said to his brothers, ‘GOD meant it for good....to save many people alive’ (Genesis 50: 20).  The cross of Messiah is the supreme example: the LORD’s adversaries concluded that GOD did not love Him, to allow Him to die such a cruel death.  The truth was quite the contrary: it was for our salvation (John 3: 16).  We might also cite the cries of Job and of Jacob in their anguish, yet both lived to experience the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  What our text is warning against is the tendency to be deceived by outward appearances and to reassure GOD’s children that He is looking after them: ‘the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of GOD’ (our verse).

1 TIMOTHY 1: 8-9 - How to use the Law?

But we know that the Law is good; if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the Law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners...

The Law is in view in its preceptive and its penal power, much like a two-edged sword.  In its preceptive power, it holds up for our consideration the standard by which sinners will be judged.  It thus provides counsel for the good, and pronounces condemnation on the evil.  (Hosea 14: 9).  Our text speaks of the legitimate, righteous use of the Law, versus the illegitimate and unrighteous abuse of it.

We use it lawfully when:

  1. We use it to distinguish right from wrong (Romans 7: 7, 12). 
  2. We learn from it to love GOD and man (Romans 13: 8-10). 
  3. We use it as a mirror in which Messiah is seen. (Galatians 3:24).

We use it unlawfully when:

  1. We seek justification by the works of the Law (Romans 3: 24). 
  2. We use it to serve man-made traditions (Matthew 15: 3-6). 
  3. We lower its spiritual standards to man’s (Matthew 5: 20-21). 

Why the Law is not made for a righteous man?

  1. Righteousness is by grace not works (Galatians 3:21).
  2. There is no condemnation to those in Messiah YESHUA (Romans 8:1-4).
  3. The righteous man establishes the Law by his faith, not by his works (Romans 3: 31).

Why the Law is made for the lawless and disobedient?

  1. To expose sin (1 John 3: 4). 
  2. To restrain sin (Galatians 3: 23). 
  3. To reveal the need of a Saviour from sin (Romans 7: 24-25).

GENESIS 27: 45

Why should I be bereaved also of you both in one day?

Rebecca had been told that Esau was plotting to kill Jacob after Isaac’s death.  She sent for Jacob and urged him to flee to her brother Laban until Esau’s anger abated, and until he had forgotten that Jacob had deceived Isaac into bestowing the blessing on himself.  Then, she went on, I will send and bring you from there.  Why should I be bereaved also of you both in one day?  She was referring to the laws of blood revenge mentioned again in the Law of Moses, which allowed a near kinsman to avenge the murder of his relative by hunting down and executing the murderer.  In this case, if Esau had succeeded in murdering Jacob, his own life would have been forfeited and Rebecca would have had no sons left. 

The same situation comes up again in 2 Samuel 14: 6-7, where the widow says to David, So they would extinguish my ember that is left, and leave to my husband neither name or remnant on the earth.  It was to prevent this evil that Rebecca urged Jacob to leave home for a while.  Needless to say, it never happened, thanks to the mercy of GOD; but it is also true that the danger would never have arisen if she and Jacob had let GOD sort out the problem of the blessing.

JOHN 13: 38 - How many times did Peter deny Yeshua?

JESUS answered him, ‘Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake?  Verily, verily, I say unto thee, the cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice’.

The LORD’s prediction of Peter’s denial is recorded in all four gospels, with some variation in the wording.   This has led to misunderstanding, and some critics have even concluded that the Scripture contradicts itself.

We do not need to subscribe to this counsel of despair, especially as it is clear from the Gospels themselves that the cock-crowing refers to two things: 1 - the call of the cockerel, which is just before dawn, and 2, that time of the morning which we refer to as the pre-dawn.  For the latter, see the way the LORD describes the pre-dawn as the cock-crowing, in Mark 13: 35 - Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning.  For the former, all four Gospels mention that the cock crew after Peter had denied the LORD three times; Mark’s Gospel has the added detail that it crowed the second time after Peter’s threefold denial.  This in no way contradicts the other three accounts.

To paraphrase the LORD’s words: ‘The morning will not have dawned, before you will have denied me three times’.  It was after Peter’s fall that the cockerel crowed the second time, and that the dawn broke on a repentant disciple.

EZEKIEL 18 - Can a True Believer Be Lost?

EZEKIEL 18 has puzzled many readers who are certain that salvation is by grace alone, through faith in the atoning work of YESHUA the Messiah, Who was their Divinely appointed Substitute.  Yet in this chapter GOD seems to be saying that it is by works; similarly, in Ezekiel 33: 7-20 the emphasis seems to be that the saved person who falls into sin can be lost.  What the true picture is, has already been hinted at in our heading; in the first instance, in Ezekiel 18, the LORD is underlining the necessity of good works as a tangible proof of godliness.  True repentance (verses 21-22) will be known by its fruits, and conversely, false repentance (verse 24) will sooner or later be manifest: the sow that was washed, and the dog that was sick, revert true to form (see 2 Peter 2: 20-21).

In the second instance, in Ezekiel 33: 7-20, we see this even more clearly in verse 13 - the one who presumes on his own righteousness is the self-righteous pharisee who counts on his own merits outweighing his demerits.  There is no evangelical righteousness here; by his actions he has shown that he depends on an outward works - righteousness, such as Paul renounced in Philippians 3: 8-11. 

On the other hand, the wicked man who demonstrates his repentance by a life of renewed obedience (Ezekiel 33: 14-16) will obtain mercy.  The tree is known by its fruit; as the LORD YESHUA Himself says, And why call ye me LORD, LORD, and do not the things which I say?  (Luke 6: 46).  We are saved by faith alone: but faith without works is a dead faith (James 2: 26).

ACTS 10: 34-35 - Is There Any Works in Salvation?

And Peter opening his mouth said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that GOD is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that fears Him and works righteousness is acceptable to Him’.

The question that arises on reading these words is: Was Peter teaching another way of salvation, a salvation by works?  The questioner might at least partly have assumed that Peter was being influenced by the legalism of his day’s Judaism: but in the light of what he says following this utterance, that cannot possibly be an answer.  Note the order of his words: ‘In every nation’ includes the whosoever.  ‘He that fears Him’ implies true faith in GOD.  ‘And works righteousness’refers to the fruits of that true faith.  ‘Is acceptable to Him’ means that such is a saved soul.

We have the two main principles of godliness underlined by Peter, and in due order; that is, faith and obedience.  These two principles are stressed throughout the Scripture, and in the context they refer to Cornelius.  James, in his letter, underlines the need of good works to validate faith; not as a cause, but as a consequence of true saving faith.  So it is here: Cornelius truly feared GOD, and demonstrated it by a godly life.  That day Peter learned that Gentiles could be saved as well as Jews and on exactly the same basis.

LUKE 18: 18-19 - Did Yeshua Deny His Deity?

And a certain ruler asked him saying, ‘Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  And JESUS said unto him,  ‘Why callest thou me good?  None is good, save One, that is, GOD.

The LORD’s response to this anxious questioner has given many readers the impression that He was disavowing all claims to Deity: that is, He seems to be denying His Divine nature.  In reply, we need to remember the He was both GOD and man.  His Deity and humanity were inseparably united in His Person, as prophesied in Isaiah 7:14: The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel. 

His inquirer saw only a man before him, and the LORD had to remind him that there is no mere human that is truly good.  Genesis 6:5: And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.The only One who deserved the title of ‘Good Master’ was the Messiah, of Whom GOD says in Isaiah 53:11: My righteous servant,and who Himself says in the prophetic Psalm 16: O My soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, ‘Thou art my LORD: my goodness extendeth not to thee’.

ACTS 9:3-7; 22:6-9; 26:13-14 - What Is the Voice Of God?

9:3-7: And suddenly there shined round about him a light from Heaven, and he fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ ... And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 22: 6-9: Suddenly there shone from Heaven a great light round about me.  And I heard a voice saying unto me, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ .... and they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of Him that spoke to me. 26: 13-14: I saw in the way a light from Heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.  And ... I heard a voice speaking unto me and saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?

These three records of Saul’s testimony differ in one important detail: did the men hear the LORD’s voice, or did they not?  The answer is in the use of the word ‘hear’.  They all heard the sound of a voice, but they failed to distinguish the words; to them it may have sounded like the voice of GOD when he answered the LORD JESUS in John 12: 28-29: Father, glorify Thy Name.  Then came there a voice from Heaven saying, ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again’.  The people therefore, that stood by and heard it, said that  ‘it thundered’: others said, ‘An angel spake to him’.  Only the LORD JESUS heard the actual words, and in Saul’s case, only Saul heard the LORD’s words.  The rest only heard a sound.

PROVERBS 26:4-5 - How to answer a fool?

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

These two Proverbs stand together in Scripture without in the least contradicting or cancelling one another, but we must confess that we were at some time or another quite perplexed how to reconcile them.  The clue is found in the second half of each verse, as follows: Do not answer a fool in such a way that you are guilty of descending to his level of folly.  Great harm is done when the reprover used the language, demeanor and intemperate actions of a foolish person.  The lion in Isaiah 31:4 does not abase himself for the noise of the shepherds called forth against him, stupidity is best answered with silence.

On the other hand, when an answer is demanded or required, the reprover should choose his words carefully so as to expose the folly of the fool, yet without casting pearls before swine or giving cause for reproach.  The LORD refused to give a sign to those surfeited with signs; in response to their challenge of His identity in John 12: 31-36 He warned them to heed the light they had, or it would be taken away.  He then withdrew from them and their endless quibblings.

The key word in both Proverbs is ‘lest’, indicating the evils we must avoid when dealing with the willfully ignorant and recalcitrant person.

WHY "THUS SAYS THE LORD" DOES NOT APPEAR IN THE BRIT CHADASAH (NEW TESTAMENT)?

The prophets in the Tanakh routinely declared Thus says the LORD but these words are not repeated in the Brit Chadasha. Why? There are a couple of reasons:

  1. The same sense is expressed in other words such as:
    • Acts 20:35 - Remember the words of the LORD YESHUA
    • Acts 13:26 - To you is the word of this salvation sent.
    • 1 Corinthians 14:37 - If any man think himself a prophet...let him acknowledge ... that I write ... the commandments of the LORD.
    • 2 Corinthians 13:3 - Ye seek a proof of Messiah speaking in me.
    • 1 Thessalonians 4:15 - This we say unto you by the word of the LORD.
    • Hebrews 2:3 - First ... spoken by the LORD, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him.

  2. The revelation of Yeshua altered how God used prophesy.
    • The key verse is Hebrews 1:1-2 - GOD ... spake in time past by the prophets ... in these last days spoken ... by His Son.
    • The Tanakh announces the promise, the Brit Chadasha, the fulfilment.
    • Luke 16:16 - The law and the prophets were until John.
    • Acts 13:32-33 - The promise which was made...GOD hath fulfilled.  (See also Romans 1: 1-2; 16: 25-26).
    • In other words, the era of the prophets has given place to the era of the kingdom.  However, even after Messiah’s resurrection, the gift of prophecy remained in the form of predictions.  See the examples of:
      • Agabus in Acts 11:27-28and 21:10-11,
      • certain disciples of Tyre in Acts 21:4, and
      • Phillip’s four daughters in Acts 21: 8-9.

LUKE 22: 36 - What should you take with you? Then said He unto them, ‘But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.

The context of this statement is at a time of impending danger and need.  The LORD had, up to then, been present with them to provide for them and to shield them from harm; now in the Upper Room, with His death imminent, He warned them that they would have to learn how to fend for themselves.  After His resurrection and ascension He promised to send them another Comforter, the Holy Spirit; but that did not exclude their need to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  They obviously misunderstood Him, because when they produced two swords, He said, ‘It is enough’, meaning, ‘Enough of that!’  What then did the LORD mean?  The answer is that His sense was not fleshly but spiritual: He often spoke in this vein, as when He sad, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  (John 2: 19).  Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.  (Mark 8: 15).  And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. (Matthew 5: 29). Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life.  (John 6: 53).  In short, He warned them to take every precaution against danger, to provide in advance for need.

I CORINTHIANS 14:22 - What are tongues?

Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

In the immediate context, the reference to tongues applies to the disobedient and unbelieving: the quotation from Isaiah 28: 11-12 takes in those who refuse to hear GOD’s plain-spoken Word in their own language.  To such, GOD speaks in riddles and in a language that they cannot understand, in order to bring judgment upon them.  This very method was meant to be a solemn warning to them, and to give them the opportunity to repent of their willful deafness to GOD’s voice.  In this sense, tongues were an unfavourable sign.

On the contrary, prophesying (or preaching) is meant for those with ears to hear, whether seekers or believers; in the context of a church-gathering, therefore, tongues were not to be used unless accompanied by an interpretation.  In such a case tongues were not a sign, but served the saints; however, the use of the gift was to be limited to give room for prophecy (preaching).  It was better for all to prophesy than for all to speak with tongues, but at the same time, the gift of tongues was not to be rigidly excluded.  It is also clear from Scripture that it was a recognizable though unknown language, not gibberish.

To sum up: tongues were a sign against the disobedient, but served those who were willing to obey.

I KINGS 2:8-9 - Did David break his promise to Shimei?

And see, you have with you Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a malicious curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim.  But he came down to meet me at the Jordan, and I swore to him by the LORD, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword’.  Now therefore, do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man and know what you ought to do to him: but bring his gray hair down to the grave with blood. 

David has been unfairly charged with reneging on his promise to the one who cursed him: a cursory reading of our text seems to confirm this, but it is a mistaken conclusion.  The answer lies in the fact that there is a difference between private justice and public justice; we may and (often) must forgo our claims against those that offend us, but we must not keep silent where public justice is violated.  Our LORD Himself proceeded on this principle, when He protested at being struck on the cheek (John 18: 23), although He taught and practised turning the other cheek (Matthew 5: 39).  So did the Apostle Paul, at Philippi (see Acts 16: 37).  The charge that David gave to his son Solomon followed the same principle: he renounced all personal revenge against Shimei, but he still upheld the Law which forbade cursing the ruler of the people (Exodus 22: 28).  The law of justice is not made void by the law of charity: a magistrate may forgive personal abuse, but he still has to charge the offender with contempt of court.  Similarly, a private individual may forgive the one who has wronged him while at the same time he seeks redress at the Law against the wrong.

JUDGES 11:30-31

...and Jephthath vowed a vow unto the LORD and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

We are no doubt familiar with the account of Jephthah’s daughter first meeting him on his return from his victory over the Ammonites.  The big question is: Did he sacrifice her on the altar?  Or is there an alternative explanation?  The answer is, that there is.  The word ‘and in his vow ’... and I will offer it...’ is translated ‘or’, as in Exodus 20: 10, 17, and 21: 16; Leviticus 21: 14 and 22: 23 - 24; Proverbs 29: 9, Job 31: 13, 16, 26, etc.  Jephthath meant that it should surely be the LORD’s, or that it would be sacrificed; there was an option, since he could only sacrifice what GOD approved of.  If it was his dog, his donkey, his cat, pet rabbit, camel or horse, he might donate it, but he could never sacrifice it; much less his daughter!  In Leviticus 27 and other passages, monetary compensation was accepted; in the case of a donkey, a lamb was substituted.  The reasonable assumption is that Jephthath’s daughter was given to the service of the LORD... for the rest of her life, and that it was this act of self-sacrifice that the daughters of Israel celebrated.

2 CHRONICLES 34:28 and 35:23-4 - Did God break His promise to Josiah?

Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same.

And the archers shot at King Josiah...and they brought him to Jerusalem and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers.

There are never lacking those who criticize GOD’s Word, and point out seeming contradictions like the one we are quoting.  What became of GOD’s promise to Josiah about coming to his grave in peace?  The obvious answer is that every promise has a condition to it, like GOD’s promise after Noah’s flood that seed-time and harvest would not cease; that did not absolve the farmer from sowing or from harvesting!  In this case, the answer lies in chapter 35: 22: Josiah...hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of GOD...   Disobedience carries a penalty with it, presumption is swiftly recompensed.  GOD’s children find that He is not mocked: we reap what we sow.

And yet - the promise in essence was honoured: Josiah came to his grave before GOD removed His peace from His people and sent the enemy to destroy them and their country because of their sin.  So that we can say, the death of Josiah, though premature, was a chastisement and not his doom.  A similar case is found in 1 Corinthians 11: 30 - 32, where many disobedient and disorderly believers died prematurely and yet were spared from condemnation.

MATTHEW 15:26

But He answered and said, it is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to the dogs.

We need to avoid the hasty conclusion that the LORD YESHUA referred to the Gentiles in those words.  He was reminding the woman that He had been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and that it was necessary for them to be first partakers of His blessings.  In any family, the children were fed before the household pets; and in this case, the word for ‘dog’ meant no more.  He did not hint that her turn would come, but her case was so urgent that she reminded Him that even the household pets benefitted from any excess that dropped prematurely from the meal-table.  And so the LORD granted her request.  The question remains: Why did He allude to her as a dog, albeit a household one?  Perhaps the answer is in her pedigree: she was a Canaanite, the people whom Noah cursed in his prophecy in Genesis 9: 25 and whom the LORD had commanded Israel to destroy on entering the Promised Land.  They were a wicked, dissolute nation.  Yet, even for her, as for Rahab, there was mercy and blessing because of her faith in the Son of David.

2 KINGS 8:26 and 2 Chronicles 22:2 - How long did Ahaziah reign?

Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign: and he reigned one year in Jerusalem.

Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem.

These apparently conflicting statements have puzzled many; especially when we find that his father Jehoram began to reign at thirty two years old, and reigned eight years.  Was Ahaziah born two years before his father?  What is the solution?  The short answer is that Ahaziah’s age is given in the account in 2 Kings, and the total length of his dynasty is recorded in 2 Chronicles.  The literal translation is: ‘Ahaziah was the son of ...’, which has a double reference: to his age, and to his dynasty.  In this case it was the latter, as with Saul the king of Israel (See 2 Samuel 13: 1 - ‘Saul was the son of one year in his reign’).  In the case of Ahaziah, the dynasty of Omri included the reigns of Omri (6 years), Ahab (22 years), Ahaziah (2 years), Jehoram (12 years, including 4 years co-regency with Jehoshaphat), all of which add up to 42 years.  See 2 Chronicles 16: 2 for a similar reference to the length of the reign of Asa, dating from the separation of Israel from Judah.  Briefly then, Ahaziah came to the throne at the age of twenty-two, in the forty-second year of the dynasty of Omri.

LUKE 9:60

Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of GOD.

This statement or command of our LORD has generated much unwise criticism, as though He was indifferent to human concerns.  But we must remember that the LORD YESHUA, who uttered these words, wept at the grave of Lazarus and brought joy to countless homes by raising their dead.  The few examples in the gospels are by no means an exhaustive list (see John 21:25).  Here are some reasons for His peremptory command:

  1. He saw behind the disciple’s words a tendency to defer responsibility: words, not deeds.
  2. He knew that Jewish mourning customs could take a whole year.
  3. He saw sinners in danger of perishing without the Gospel, and no assurance that they would live to see another day.
  4. He knew only too well the danger of delay, in this case up to a year.
  5. He also knew how few the labourers were, and how great the harvest was.  There were many who could conduct funerals, but only too few who could proclaim the Word of Life.
  6. He underlined the sacred priority of serving GOD early, and that this priority took precedence over the closest earthly ties.
  7. In Leviticus 21:10-12, the High Priests in Israel were forbidden what was permitted to the people: they could not interrupt their sacred service in order to pay the last honours to their own parents, ‘for the crown of the anointing oil of his GOD is upon him’.  Whom GOD chooses for His service He anoints with His Holy Spirit, and YESHUA the Son of GOD said that when it came to a question of priorities there was to be no contest: He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  (Matthew 10: 37).
  8. The ‘dead’ He refers to in our text are the unregenerate; while they may legitimately spend time in honouring their dead, the regenerate sometimes have a higher and more urgent responsibility, and that is to reach those who are in danger of dying in their sins unless they hear the Gospel.

MATTHEW 5:39 - Should one defend himself?

But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The principle in our LORD’s bidding is non-retaliation: but it does not rule out peaceful protest, especially when justice is violated.  For the sake of our fellow-man, the Believer may and must speak up for that which is right.  Thus we find the LORD YESHUA solemnly protested at His trial when the one who struck Him violated court procedure by doing so (John 18: 22-23).  Similarly with Paul, when the high priest ordered the same treatment (Acts 23: 2 - 3).   These examples show us that we are not expected to invite or encourage the abuse of basic human freedoms, because that inevitably leads to the breakdown of law and order.  What then did our LORD intend us to understand by this precept?  As we said before, it concerns the waiving of our personal rights, and doing the very opposite of what our fallen human nature demands.  It means that we seek to overcome evil with good (Romans 12: 19 - 21), that we pass by real injuries and that we continue to treat the offender with the care and attention he needs.  It is equally clear that GOD will deal with the offender, either in mercy or in judgment.  This is shown in our LORD’s example, who committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously  (1 Peter 2: 23).

ECCLESIASTES 2:24 - Is anything wrong with 'eating and drinking'?

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.  This also I saw, that it was from the hand of GOD.

We are accustomed to view such a statement negatively, in light of the text of 1 Corinthians 15: 32 - If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?  let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.  This latter text points out the futility of suffering for Messiah, if the claim were true that He had not secured our salvation by His resurrection (verses 19: 20).  Hence follows the rebuke in verses 33 - 34.  A closer look reveals that eating and drinking are legitimate blessings, for which we thank GOD daily.  The sin consists in living only for that purpose, reducing ourselves to the level of animals.  It helps to take in all the similar statements on the matter that are found in Ecclesiastes, and then it becomes clear that when used for a higher end, that of living to GOD, these are blessings indeed (See for example chapter 10: 17).  When we continue into the New Testament, we find the identical exhortation in 1 Corinthians 10: 31 - Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of GOD.  As always, it is the heart that matters: where the heart is right toward GOD, so is the whole life.

MATTHEW 5:42: - Should one always give to those who ask?

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Our LORD’s precept has often been misunderstood by those who desire most to obey it, with their consequent disappointment and consternation when things go terribly wrong.  Just what did He mean: do we have to submit to every demand, whether it is reasonable or not?  Where do we draw the line?  The best way to address the problem is by comparing Scripture with Scripture.  Obviously, the command does not apply to undeserving cases.  2 Thess. 3: 10: This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  Sometimes it means giving something else.  Acts 3:6: Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.  Even GOD does not give indiscriminately.  James 4:3: Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.  We ought not to encourage idleness, sinful living, etc. by our unwise generosity.  The principle is neatly summed up in Proverbs 22: 16: He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.  In other words, we ought to help those who are in real need; but we are equally obliged NOT to do so for those who have no need.

PSALM 22:16 - A Messianic Prophesy?

They pierced my hands and my feet.

Hebrew students and those who are involved in Jewish outreach know that this is a much-disputed text, and that it is translated differently in different versions (such as the New English Bible, or the Jewish Publication Society’s translation).  The Hebrew text had the vowel-points supplied to read (ka-aree), which literally means ‘like a lion’.  This makes nonsense of the verse which then reads: ‘Like a lion my hands and my feet’.  Some seek to supply what they perceive is the missing phrase and translate it: ‘Like a lion (they tear) my hands and my feet’, but there is a simpler solution, and that is to modify the vowels to read (ka-aray), which literally means ‘the ones piercing’.  The vowel-pointing is not in the original text; it was supplied in the fifth century to preserve the correct pronunciation of the Hebrew text, but being of human origin it was liable to be imperfect.  In the case of our text, there may have been other reasons for using the vowel-points found in the Hebrew.  But apart from grammatical considerations, there are more weighty considerations; for example, recently deciphered Dead Sea Scrolls speak of a pierced Messiah.  When Jewish scholars translated this Psalm into Greek about 200 B.C. they translated it exactly as we have it.  When we look at related Scriptures, we find that they also speak of the Pierced One - Isaiah 53: 5, Zechariah 12:10 and 13:6, Psalm 69:26 - in other words, the Messiah was pierced for our sins according to the Scriptures, and we know that YESHUA (JESUS) is that promised One.

PSALM 139:22 - Is it right to hate?

I hate them with perfect hatred.

This text seems to clash with what the LORD YESHUA taught.  Matthew 5:44: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.  But of course there is no such thing as one Scripture contradicting another.  The fault lies wholly in our lack of understanding.  Our Saviour is bidding us to maintain the right attitude, which means that we forsake all thoughts of personal revenge.  He does not encroach on our right to the process of law if necessary.  So it was with David, who forbore to avenge himself on Shimei (2 Samuel 19:23), but still sought for the broken law to be honoured (1 Kings 2:9).  GOD does likewise - see Psalm 99:8.

In this instance, David is taking sides with GOD; he loves what GOD loves, and hates what GOD hates.  The GOD who bade us love our neighbour as ourselves also means us to hate in our neighbour what we hate in ourselves.  If we were to behave like those described in Psalm 139: 19-21, we should loathe ourselves; in fact, GOD says to Israel that she will do so one day (Ezekiel 36: 31).  The hatred is that of choice, and is judicial as well as emotional; and at the same time it does not exclude love to the offender, which expresses itself in prayer for them as well as practical goodness toward them.

GENESIS 28:20-22 - Is Jacob's prayer godly?

And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If GOD will be with me ... keep me ... give me bread ... and raiment ... then shall the LORD be my GOD.

Jacob is the most misunderstood, maligned and misrepresented man of GOD in the Bible - even more than Jonah!  This in spite of GOD’s Word where he is called a perfect man (Genesis 25: 27).  He is in the same class as Noah, Abraham, Job and David.  Surely this should give us pause when we come to interpret what Jacob meant in our text.

His detractors vilify what they term his mercenary disposition, his habit of driving bargains, etc.  What does the context say?  It is the LORD Who is making a covenant with Jacob, and Jacob is agreeing to the terms (see verses 12-15).  In this he is only doing what the LORD YESHUA taught in the Disciples’ Prayer, to seek GOD for the supply of our earthly and spiritual needs (Matthew 6: 9-13).  But what of the ‘IF’ in Jacob’s prayer?  Doesn’t it mean he is laying conditions before he will call the LORD his GOD?  The answer to that is: GOD was his GOD already, as well as the LORD GOD of his fathers.  What he is saying is that JEHOVAH, the Covenant-keeping GOD of his fathers, will prove by fulfillment of His promises to Jacob that He is also the GOD of Jacob (compare Hebrews 11: 16). 

The word ‘if’ has several meanings.  It can be also ‘since’ or ‘seeing that’.  One more question: Why did he not presently call GOD his GOD?  To which we reply: It was usual with GOD to be known to His people as the GOD of their fathers (Genesis 24: 27; 26: 24; 28: 13; 46: 3; 48: 15; 49: 24; Exodus 3: 16; Acts 24: 14).  Eventually He became known as the GOD of Jacob, when He had amply demonstrated the fact and when Jacob had fully experienced His faithfulness.

Matthew 28: 19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.    

This parting command of the LORD YESHUA means that all believers are to be baptized in the Name of the Triune GOD.  The phrase ‘In the Name’ means that this is done by the authority of the Three Persons of the Godhead, and that in so doing, we openly profess that we are in a covenant relationship to all Three.  The problem that some Bible students have lies in the fact that this seems to be the only text that connects baptism with the Triune GOD: all other references seem to refer to baptism in the Name of the LORD YESHUA only.  The answer is quite simple - in the great works of Creation, Providence and Redemption, all Three Persons of the Godhead are clearly involved, although only One of them may be mentioned at any one time.  So it is here: to be baptized in the Name of the LORD YESHUA necessarily involves the Father and the Holy Spirit, as our text makes abundantly clear. 

But there is perhaps a further reason why in some texts only the LORD YESHUA is mentioned, and that is because by baptism we symbolically declare our union with Him in a unique way - we have become ‘members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones’.  (Ephesians 5: 30).  That cannot be said of the Father or of the Holy Spirit.  It is the LORD YESHUA who is the Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride; and as we read in Ephesians 5: 31-32, we are united to Him in a way prefigured by the marriage union of husband and wife.  Last and not least, our baptism in His Name symbolizes the fact that we have been baptized into Him, into His death, and into His risen life.  (Romans 6: 3-11).

JUDGES 6:14

Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel.

The angel of the LORD had greeted Gideon and said to him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour (verse 12).  Gideon’s response was not one of outright unbelief, but of puzzlement: especially the first half of the greeting.  He well knew that the condition for that was obedience, and that Israel were in dire distress because the LORD had forsaken them.  He could say with the Psalmist, We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet; neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.  (Psalm 74:19).  Implied in Gideon’s question in verse 13 is the awareness that Israel would be invincible against their enemies if the LORD was with them; in other words, the nation’s strength was in the LORD their GOD.  He also implied in his question that if the LORD was with him, he would also be with His own people; this was in keeping with GOD’s promise to Moses’ prayer so long ago, that was an ongoing Divine pledge (see Exodus 33: 16-17). 

For this statement of his faith, albeit couched in negative terms, the LORD looked on him with approval and told him that this was the secret of his strength.  And so it is with us!  When we depend totally on Him, His strength is made perfect in our weakness.  But Gideon was not finished, because he did not see himself as a mighty man of valour.  To this objection (verse 15), the LORD’s assuring reply was: Surely I will be with thee.  Gideon and all those of like precious faith need to be aware at all times that GOD alone is our sufficiency in all situations; He alone is the Source to Whom we must go.  If GOD be for us, who can be against us?  (Romans 8: 31).

GENESIS 4:7

Unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

GOD spoke these words to Cain, after rejecting his offering from the fruit of the ground and accepting his younger brother’s sacrifice.  Cain was in a rage because he felt slighted and jealous; GOD’s response to him was:  If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.  And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 

GOD graciously pointed out to Cain that the way to approach Him was by sacrifice, not by the works of his hands.  Abel had done this in the obedience of faith, and was accepted - not to the exclusion of Cain, nor as taking precedence over him.  Cain had to do the same as Abel, and then he would be accepted; to do otherwise was to sin: Sin lieth at the door.

The next statement refers to Abel, since the pronouns are masculine: Unto thee shall be his desire and thou shalt rule over him. It cannot refer to sin, which is in the feminine gender, and would imply that sin’s dominion over us can be broken by our own offerings.  The natural sense is that Cain’s authority as the firstborn son was not abrogated.  Abel still had to render loving submission to his older brother, who in the natural cause of events would succeed his father as the head of the family.  An almost identical verse is found in Genesis 3: 16, where GOD commanded Eve to defer to her husband’s authority and leadership.  In neither case does the Word of GOD infer that the one was inferior to the other: it was a matter of order within the family, to preserve the authority structure required by GOD for the well-being of society.

Judges 5:24 - Why is Jael So Highly Praised?

Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.

In the triumph song of Barak and Deborah after the defeat of the enemy, Jael is singled out for honourable mention, although it seems as if she betrayed Sisera, her husband’s friend, after he accepted her offer of hospitality.  She killed Sisera while he slept in her tent.  Since it is unthinkable that GOD’s Word sanctions treachery, the reason for her actions must have been honourable, and such is the case.  In the culture of that era, the tents had two compartments: the front section which was open to visitors and family, and the rear (curtained) section for the women.  Apart from the husband, no man entered the women’s tent without compromising his integrity and their’s. 

An example of this is in Genesis 18: 9, where Abraham had to inform the visiting angels that Sarah was behind them, in the women’s section; this seclusion was proper when visitors were being entertained.  This is what made Laban’s behaviour so outrageous, when he barged into the women’s tent while searching for his idols (Genesis 31: 33).  To revert to our text, Sisera violated all the ethics of his day by abusing Jael’s hospitality and compromising her integrity; a jealous husband would ask no questions; her life was at stake!  Her only recourse to clear herself was to kill the man who had intruded into her married quarters - and in so doing she unwittingly fulfilled GOD’s purposes against Sisera.  It was for this that Jael was blessed.

1 SAMUEL 10:11-12 - Was Saul a prophet?

Is Saul also among the prophets?... But who is their father?

Two questions that puzzle many - what do they mean?  The first refers to Saul, and the second to the band of prophets that he met.  The first query arises from the people’s perplexity - how did it come about that one who had never been renowned for godliness was suddenly found among GOD’s servants?   Is it possible for the leopard to change his spots?  The question became proverbial whenever and wherever the people witnessed spiritual inconsistency.  We could apply the same proverb to anyone who suddenly dons religion without a true and lasting change of heart, as in Saul’s case.  The whole thing proved to be temporary.

But that leads us to the second question, which was by way of caution; note the contrast in the word: ‘Son of Kish’, and ‘their father’, implying that they were different from each other.  Saul was the son of Kish, a merely human member of the tribe; the prophets had a Heavenly Father, implied in their common sonship.  The caution was to distinguish and to discriminate between false and true: in modern language, one bad apple does not make all the apples bad that are found with it.  Beware of tarring everyone with the same brush; beware of saying, ‘They’re all the same!’  One hypocrite in the church does not mean that all are hyprocrites.

REVELATIONS 2:9 AND 3:9 - The Synagogue of Satan

Twice in the Scriptures, in these two verses, we find the term: ‘Synagogue of Satan’ , which gives rise to the charge that the New Testament is anti-Semitic.  What does the statement really mean?  Is the charge a valid one? Before explaining the term, let us be fair and mention that the same language occurs in Isaiah 57: 3-5 and 65: 2-7, etc.  But who would dare indict the Old Testament?  The charge is therefore patently ridiculous.

Let us see what the passage means by ‘them which say that they are Jews and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan’.  First of all, it is absurd to state that this refers to all Jews, much less to Jewish synagogues.  At the time of writing most believers were Jewish, and many of their synagogues were being used for the Gospel.  The reference is to a particular category of people, in this case to false teachers, or Judaizers.  These people were infiltrating the infant church with their teaching of faith-plus-works, much like some so-called ‘Christian’ faiths today.  They occur in Acts 15; 2 Corinthians 11: 12-14; Galatians 1:8; Philippians 3: 2-3; Titus 1: 10-11, etc.  They taught justification by works of the Law, and posed as the only real Jews, making out that all others were frauds.  It is to these people that the Prophets and the New Testament refer; these and these alone are the ones the LORD is referring to because their teaching ran cross to all that Moses, the Prophets, and the Messiah Himself taught, viz.: Salvation is only to be had through faith in an innocent Sin-bearer and Substitute, appointed and sent by GOD to die for mankind.

ECCLESIASTES 7:28

One man among a thousand have I found; but one woman among all those have I not found. 

Much needless distress and anger, not to mention cheap jests, have arisen because of a misunderstanding of this text.  An important basic rule is to look at the context, which begins as early as verse 25 and continues to Chapter 8:5.  The narrower reference is to the seducer and the seduced in verse 26; in particular the seductress, and the men that are snared by her wiles.  On counting up the examples known to him the preacher found that very few escaped from her - in fact, one among a thousand of her victims.  But among ‘all those’ (v. 28), referring to the women whose hearts were snares and nets, not one among a thousand left their sin.  In other words, the mercy of GOD will reach out and rescue the victim rather than the predator; her judgment is greater because her guilt is greater; ‘snares and nets’ and ‘bands’ describe the premeditated act of wickedness.




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