Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Two Hebrew words for love

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:56 pm on Thursday, August 30, 2007

While preparing for a bible study on Hosea 6-7 I found it difficult to interpret the word”mercy” in Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (NIV). The same word is translated “steadfast love” in ESV, “loyalty” in NASB, “goodness” in ASV, “faithfulness” (NET). So, which is it?

The Hebrew has two main words for love, “ahab” and “hesed”. Love in ahab sense is the closest to the English meaning and is usually refer to the love between people (husband and wide, parent and child, friends) or of people toward God. More rarely, it may also refer to the love of God toward people. Hesed is best translated as kindness but not in the modern English sense. It assumes a hierarchy, where the one at the higher position is giving the hesed. Hence, the word is very often used in the sense of God’s love or kindness toward people and people’s mercy or kindness toward others. It is never used to mean love of people toward God.

This last statement is very important for interpreting Hosea. For example, when looking at Hosea 4:1 “There is no faithfulness, no love (hesed), no acknowledgment of God in the land.”, a first impression one gets is that love here refers to people’s love for God. Yet this is impossible since the word “hesed” is used. Similarly, in Hosea 6:4, “Your love (hesed) is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.” the mentioned love is not of people toward God but kindness and mercy of people toward each other.

I was delighted to see that Anchor Bible Dictionary, one of the best scholarly bible dictionaries in existence today, confirmed my observations (made purely on the basis of using a concordance). However, they provide a few additional insights by pointing out that Hosea might have intentionally played on the potential double meaning of hesed. To show love, mercy and kindness to others is one of the primary way we can show our love for God. It is as if God says to the Israelites in Hosea 4:1, You don’t love me because you do not show love and kindness toward other people.

The Gospel according to Jason Bourne

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:02 pm on Tuesday, August 28, 2007

As another example of what it means to stay relevant to the culture and be able to interpret the world in the context of the gospel, I was delighted to see this article about a hidden gospel message in the “Bourne” trilogy (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum). You can read the whole thing, but here I provide a short excerpt:

The Bourne Identity asks the existential question (“Who am I?”). The second film, The Bourne Supremacy was moral – “What did I do wrong?” The third installment, The Bourne Ultimatum, is redemptive, it addresses “How can I escape what I am?”

For thousands of years, the gospel was a “four-chapter” story.
(1) Creation – addressing the existential question “Who am I?” and how life ought to be,
(2) the Fall – addressing “What did I do wrong?” to make the world the way it is today,
(3) Redemption – addressing “How can I escape what I am?” and make things better and
(4) the Restoration – “Where will I end up?” (For those of us who have seen Bourne Ultimatum, we were left wondering, “Where will Jason Bourne end up?”)

If your friends won’t try the Bible, take them to see Bourne again. The series takes us right back to the Bible.

Expiation and propitiation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:37 am on Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One of the main pillars of the Christian faith is the belief that due Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross the problem of sin has been resolved and we are free from God’s eternal anger. But how exactly? Expiation and propitiation are the two “loaded” theological terms are used to describe what happened.

In the modern English, to expiate something means to do something to indicate that you are sorry for what you have done. To propitiate somebody who is angry means to do something pleasing to him/her, in order to stop the anger. In the New Testament, the two words are used interchangeably to translate the same Greek word and, in most modern translations, are often substituted by the word “atonement”, as in Romans 3:25 (NIV)

25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.

However, it is important to see subtle nuances in these two words. Expiation is the belief that sin is canceled out by being covered over by Christ’s death. It is as if the cover makes the sin invisible to God. Propitiation is the belief that Christ’s sacrifice covers our sin as a shield, so that the anger directed at our sin strikes the sacrifice instead. God still sees sin and is angry with it, but his anger never reaches us.

While there is a great debate about which term is more appropriate, recently “expiation” has been favored because it removes the need to talk about God’s anger, which appears archaic to many non-believers who prefer to think of God as a God of love. Yet for those unhindered by fleeting cultural settings it should be clear that our God is both absolutely loving and absolutely just, he would not let the sin unpunished – he cannot be blind to sin. Somebody has to pay for our sins, it cannot just disappear. Jesus has not just hidden our sins from God, he took them upon himself.

Summary of Study: Hosea 4 & 5

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:47 am on Monday, August 27, 2007
Main points

1. In Hosea 4 & 5, Hosea continues to accuse the people of Israel of their sin of idolatry. In addition to the group of common people, God is also raging with anger against the priests and rulers of Israel.

2. As mentioned in the passage, the 3 groups are guilty of the following:

People:
a. Don’t have mercy
b. Don’t have faithfulness or truthfulness,
c. Don’t have knowledge of God
d. Lying
e. Cursing
f. Murder
g. Stealing
h. Adultery (Physical)
i. Stubbornness

Priests:
a. Reject knowledge
b. Ignore law
c. Sin
d. Disgrace
e. Feed on the sins of the people
f. Prostitution
g. Drinking

Rulers:
a. Being a trap to common people
b. Border conflicts

As a result, the new curses laid on these people are:
a. All the beasts will die
b. Priest will stumble
c. Rejection of the priests and their children
d. Priests will never be satisfied
e. Uprooting
f. God’s withdrawal from his people
g. God will be like rot and moth and lion to Israel

3. The overall feeling that the passage gives is that God is very angry. Much more so, than he was in Hosea 2. Anger asserts itself in attitudes of indignation and acts of aggression, both expressing a sense of outrage and a wish that appropriate punitive hurt overtake the wrongdoer. That is exactly what God seems to want to do.

Does God have the right to be angry in this way?

God is often described as in the Bible as being angry. Sometimes it appears as a deliberate anger, as in Hosea 2, sometimes as a quick-tempered anger as in Hosea 4-5. Yet God’s anger is not automatic or predictable, nor is God ever “out of control.” This kind of anger is not arbitrary or disfigured, as human anger often is. While God shows quick-tempered emotion toward sin, God is slow to anger, which means he is slow to act on his anger. There is probably tens of years that have passed between promises in Hosea 4-5 and actual judgment. And what God has finally done is much less than what he “felt” he will do, as apparent from the ending part of Hosea 11.

Application

1. What can we learn about human anger from God’s anger from these passages?

First of all, we should not assume that we should do everything God does – we are not him. Anger threatens human self-control, prudence, and good judgment. Anger is mentioned in the many lists of sins in the New Testament. Human anger often leads to sin, and hence we should be slow to anger (e.g. slow to act on our anger).

James 1:19-20 (NIV)

Yet the best place for us to learn about anger is from Jesus, because he was God and without sin (and hence has perfect anger) and also a man, so was bound to behave like one. Indications of anger on Jesus’ part appear in Mark 3:1–5 (at the Pharisees’ ill-will and indifference to suffering), 10:14 (at the disciples’ arrogance towards children), 11:15–17 (at the desecration of the temple; cf. John 2:13–17), 12:24–27 (at the Sadducees’ complacent errors about resurrection); Matthew 16:23 (at Peter’s rejecting of his prediction of the cross), 23:13–36 (at the Pharisees’ sham religiosity); and John 11:33–38 (at the repellent legacy of sin, namely death).These passages must be held to show that anger at what dishonors God, so far from being sinful, may be just the reverse – a truth already modeled in the Psalms and prophets (Ps. 139:21–22; Jer. 15:17).

2. Should we, as Christians, be afraid of God’s anger?

God’s anger toward sin has been eternally satisfied or deflected (NT uses the word “propitiation“) by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We, Christians, are no longer in the hands of angry God:

1 John 4:10 (NIV)

Romans 5:9 (NIV)

God can still be angry when Christians sin, but this is an anger that leads to discipline, not the eternal damnation.

Google Sky

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:11 pm on Friday, August 24, 2007

I have tried Google Sky for the first time yesterday. It is a part of Google Earth software that Google allows downloading for free. I must say this is the first time in my life I realized how small we truly are. Of course I knew it in my head but yesterday was first time I actually experienced it. Just choose one of those places designated as “Hubble Showcase”, zoom in as much as you can, wait for 100% to be downloaded and zoom out. How are you feeling?

Here are just a few images I would like to share (click on the image to view a larger picture):




BibleMap

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:03 pm on Thursday, August 23, 2007

I have just discovered this new website, www.biblemap.org, which allows you to see the actual locations of the biblical places mentioned in a biblical passage on the modern map of Israel (from the Google Earth). Saves you a lot of time.

For example, I realized that all locations mentioned in Hosea 5, e.g. Gibeah, Mizpah, Ramah, are all tightly clustered in a small area in West Bank, see the image below.

Don’t waste your life – Gospel according to Steve Jobs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:31 am on Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I came across this video on Desiring God blog and felt compelled to share it with the readers of my blog. This is Steve Jobs’ (Apple CEO) 2005 Stanford commencement address. Here is a quote from Desiring God:

Although his (Steve Jobs’) conclusions about how to not waste life fall short, it is interesting that Mr. Jobs tells his listeners to 1) trust in Providence, 2) see purpose in their suffering, and 3) reflect every day on the reality of death.

Why go to church?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:38 am on Wednesday, August 22, 2007

One of our bible study group member asked me this question. Isn’t it all about personal relationship with God? Didn’t Jesus say the following in John 4:21-24?

21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

I shall do my own research on this topic soon, but for now here is what Tim Keller got say on this topic:

Free e-books by John Piper

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:46 am on Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Do you like to read John Piper but don’t want to spend too much money buying his numerous books? I just found out that www.desiringgod.org allows you to download most of his books (about 30!) absolutely free, in pdf format. Some of the books have even been translated into Russian and Chinese!

Just follow this link.

Faith and Works

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:03 pm on Sunday, August 19, 2007

The relationship between faith and good works is one of the most complicated concepts in Christianity. Yet, it is also extremely important, as it is one of the main things that distinguishes Christianity from other religions. We can summarize it as follows:

We are saved by faith (in the saving work of Jesus Christ) alone, not by works. Yet, good works always accompany the true understanding of the faith. Moreover, true faith is what causes these good works to appear in the first place. The opposite is also true, every truly good work has its source in faith.

Here are two important implications:

1) If you have a problem with obedience, this does not mean you are not trying hard enough. Since every good work (e.g. obedience) comes from faith, lack of obedience is the signal that there is something wrong with your faith (e.g. you misunderstand or don’t really believe it).

2) Reality is such that while a lack of good works is clear sign of the absence of true understanding of the faith, the presence of good works is not a proof of faith. This is caused by discrepancy between just good works (not caused by faith) and truly good works (caused by faith). A lot of wisdom is necessary to separate the two, something that most of us lack. It’s equivalent to seeing the true intentions of the heart rather than just the superficial actions.

John Piper pointed out a good Biblical example of this in one of his seminars, the famous story of Solomon dividing the child between two women in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Both women seem to care much about the child, yet only of them did it out of true belief that she was the mother. The other one was lying.

Making a parallel with our topic, both women had “good works” on the surface. But king Solomon showed great wisdom by giving the women a test that made their true faith come out.

Jesus also provides several good examples of this when he accuses Pharisees of superficial obedience to the law but lacking true love for God. Jesus detected the problem by noticing the lack of some important good works (justice, love, mercy) while meticulously doing less important things (Matthew 23:23). Truly good works that stem from faith always show up together.

Conclusions:

1) When you have hard time to obey, look for what’s missing in your faith
2) Don’t feel safe because you obey by serving in the church, attending a bible study, reading the Bible every morning. Chances are, your obedience might not be caused by faith but is a way to get friends, earn recognition, or feel good about yourself. Use your weaker traits to analyze your “performance”.

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