Sunday, January 28, 2007

Aaron's Sons, Pt. 2

“Note then the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22)

I’m sure you remember the story of Aaron’s two sons that disobeyed God in Leviticus 10, but in case you don’t, here’s the story:

“Moses spoke to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his surviving sons: “Take the grain offering that is left of the LORD’s food offerings, and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy. You shall eat it in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due, from the LORD’s food offerings, for so I am commanded. But the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed you shall eat in a clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you, for they are given as your due and your sons’ due from the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the people of Israel. The thigh that is contributed and the breast that is waved they shall bring with the food offerings of the fat pieces to wave for a wave offering before the LORD, and it shall be yours and your sons’ with you as a due forever, as the LORD has commanded.”
  Now Moses diligently inquired about the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it was burned up! And he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the surviving sons of Aaron, saying, “Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD? Behold, its blood was not brought into the inner part of the sanctuary. You certainly ought to have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded.” And Aaron said to Moses, “Behold, today they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD, and yet such things as these have happened to me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the LORD have approved?” And when Moses heard that, he approved.”
(Lev 10:12-20)

I’m sorry… were you thinking of the other two sons? That’s understandable, since, for some reason, we often hear the story of Nadab and Abihu and rarely hear the story of Eleazar and Ithamar. Yet their story is every bit as much a part of the Bible’s teachings as is the story of Nadab and Abihu. In some ways more, since they are mentioned in the Bible more often than their two infamous brothers.

These two, along with their father, Aaron, disobeyed a direct command from God. One that Moses took special pains to make sure that they were aware of. They did so because of grief, even though God had warned them against mourning their brothers’ deaths. Moses had to be in a bit of a panic; if God also killed these men, the priesthood would be wiped out in one fell swoop. But they weren’t killed. They explained the motive behind their disobedience and seemingly received forgiveness for it.

How can we explain this? Is God a capricious God, punishing some sins and forgiving others? Did He just “have it in” for Nadab and Abihu? I think the obvious explanation is: God looks on the heart. Or, as Dr. Glenn Pemberton put it when discussing this story: “The good news is God looks at the heart. The bad news is God looks at the heart.”

(How much easier it would be if we could just “go through the motions.” Unfortunately for us, God wants us to worship Him from the heart.)

Do you remember how God describes himself in Exodus 34? “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”” (Ex 34:6-7) Leviticus 10 is a beautiful illustration of this. Our God is a forgiving God, slow to anger, steadfast in love. But He will punish the guilty.

Next week I want to look at Nadab and Abihu one more time. Although we might like to make that story say certain things, the story shows a great contrast between how God deals with the truly rebellious and how He deals with those whose motives are not those of rebellion against Him.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Aaron's Sons

Here’s an interesting exercise. Choose your favorite Internet search engine. Put in the words “Nadab” and “Abihu” or put “Nadab and Abihu” as a phrase. Run the search. In the ones I’ve done over the past few years, the majority of the sites that have come up have been sites with articles by members of the church of Christ. I just did one on and had to go down to the 15th position before I found an article by someone from another religious fellowship (there were a few sites with just the biblical text).

Here go some reflections:

(1) Aaron had four sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Two of these are mentioned much more often in the Bible than are their brothers. They are, of course, Eleazar and Ithamar.

(2) In fact, following the passage in Leviticus 10 that records the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the two who died are never mentioned by name in a passage that does not include their brothers.

(3) The New Testament does not contain the names of Nadab and Abihu.

(4) Nowhere in the Bible are Nadab and Abihu held up as an example to be avoided. There are warnings to not be like Cain, not like Esau, not like Balaam, not like many other people… and not one specific reference to Nadab and Abihu. (Leviticus 16 is the closest I can find)

So why do we as a fellowship refer to these men so often? You can search the Internet on many other biblical stories, and we won’t dominate the rankings as we do with Aaron’s two oldest sons. (Try searching on “Eleazar and Ithamar,” for example) Why the fascination with this story?

Personally, I’ve resolved to follow the biblical example. I try my hardest not to mention Nadab and Abihu without mentioning Eleazar and Ithamar. Next week I want to look at the story of all four of them from Leviticus 10; I think that if we talk about two of them without talking about the others, we get an unbalanced view of God.

Still, I’d like to hear some opinions. Why our fascination with these two men?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sophomore English, Central High School. Above grade level, I might add. I sat near the back on the right, with “the guys.” Not the nerds (they were at the front). The guys. Football players, basketball players, swimmers… We weren’t the coolest at school, but we were on the fringe.

And we liked Encyclopedia Brown. Every week our teacher gave us some sort of Weekly Reader, and it always had a case from the files of Encyclopedia Brown. We would read them carefully, trying to see who could pick up the hidden clues that would lead us to the right answer. It was never obvious; you had to piece together different sets of facts to solve the case. Sometimes we got it, sometimes we didn’t, but it was always fun. My feeling was that the author wrote in a way to make them difficult, but not impossible, to understand.

Did the author of Encyclopedia Brown write the New Testament? Is it intended to be some sort of mystery that must be pieced together, uniting half a verse here with the Greek definition of a word from here in order to come up with what isn’t obvious? My belief is that it isn’t and that it can’t be. Partly for some of the reasons I’ve discussed in my last several posts. If people didn’t have their own personal copy of the Bible, if they depended on hearing the Word rather than reading it, then the message could not be based on nuances, inferences and word studies.

Look at the Old Testament Law. God goes to great lengths to explain exactly what He wants. More than 600 commands, explicitly stated. Some would argue that God replaced this inferior law with a superior one, one which is not always directly stated but is sometimes taught through “necessary inference” and “approved examples.” In other words, God went from being a God who spoke clearly to one who spoke in the genre of Encyclopedia Brown. “You missed the fact that John 13 says the Last Supper wasn’t on the Passover, therefore we shouldn’t use unleavened bread. And Paul says we all eat of one loaf, so we can’t use those individual matzah crackers anyway. And that grape juice had better be non-alcoholic because the Greek word actually means…” Folks, I just don’t buy it.

I believe that God speaks clearly. If something is truly necessary, it will be specified in the New Testament. I don’t have to piece verses together. I don’t have to fill in the gaps nor connect the dots. If the New Testaments plainly teaches something, I will teach it. If God has bound something, I will teach it as bound.

I still enjoy Encyclopedia Brown stories (I was pleasantly surprised just now to find out they’re still being published). But that’s now how I’m going to read God’s Word.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Is 55:11 KJV)

This verse is sometimes used to say that giving people a Bible is enough, for it is God’s Word and God’s Word will not return void. Personally, I don’t think that’s what this verse is saying. I think that “my word” here refers to God uttering a decree; when God says something it will happen.

Still I have long held to the belief that anyone can and should be able to understand the Bible on their own and, through that understanding, learn the truth and become a Christian. While still believing in the power of God’s Word, I have some doubts about that exact process. Here’s why:

(1) As I’ve been discussing recently, God’s Word was not originally delivered in book form, not originally distributed to the masses in book form as it is today. Therefore, that cannot have been God’s original plan. It could be a way for people to come to the truth, but it’s certainly not intended to be the most important way. In fact, this whole idea didn’t spring up until the last few centuries, when printed Bibles were readily available.

(2) The Bible never makes the claim that everyone can just read it and understand it. As troubling as that sounds, it’s true. Faith in biblical times was not built around people sitting at home reading God’s Word. They had to come together to do it. And they didn’t have trouble with the idea that someone would need to explain it. Look at Nehemiah 8, when Ezra stood and read the Book of the Law to the people following their return from exile. Notice that the Levites were explaining the meaning as Ezra read: “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
  And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” (Nehemiah 8:7-9 ESV)
Look also at the eunuch’s words in Acts 8: “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:30-31 ESV) Philip didn’t reprimand him saying: “Of course you can understand. Anyone can.” He taught him.

(3) I cannot think of even one example in the Bible where evangelism is done by giving someone a Bible. Again, look at Philip and the eunuch. The eunuch had the Bible in his hand, yet Philip was sent to teach him. I believe in the Bible and the power of the Bible. I just don’t see where God says, “Hand out these books and people will become Christians.”

God works through people and through relationships. He always sent a prophet. He didn’t just hand Moses a book. Jesus wrote no book. People need God’s Word, but “Bible-only” evangelism isn’t God’s way.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Out With the Concordance

We’ve been looking at the idea that the Bible was written to be heard and that it wasn’t written originally in the book form that we have now.

As always, such comments deserve a resounding “So what?”. I see several implications, one of which is the need to trash our concordances. Well, OK, that may be a bit strong. But I’ve found that the misuse of the concordance can be a great hindrance to effective Bible study. We piece together verses and phrases from here and there, creating entirely new “biblical passages.”

Let me give you an example. When studying the subject of elders in the church, many take 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and create a list of “requirements for elders.” The problem is, the resulting list isn’t what is in Timothy nor what is in Titus. It is a new hybrid, one which the Holy Spirit didn’t create. It’s probable that Timothy didn’t have a copy of Titus and Titus didn’t have a copy of 1 Timothy. So, if the only way to have the full list of requirements is to combine the two passages, neither of them had the list. Or at best, one of them had an incomplete list. The truth of the matter is, if God had meant those passages to be used together, He would have given them to us that way! We need to learn to respect the integrity of the biblical books, and read each of them as the early readers would have read them.

Now in this example the lists are very similar. The one in Timothy contains “should not be a recent convert,” because the church in Ephesus had been established decades before. The one in Titus doesn’t have that requirement because Titus was working in more of a mission setting. The list in Titus contains a warning about love of money because that was a common problem in Crete, according to historians. The lists are different because the needs are different. If there had been one list for all congregations, Timothy and Titus would have received the same list, and we would have it as well. As is, when we cut and paste the two together, we create something which God did not! When it comes to Bible study, that’s a dangerous practice.

When we study a passage, we must seek to study it as the early listeners would have, not as modern readers who have 66 books rolled into one.