Day 351: Hebrews 1-4; Introduction to Hebrews

Today we make a transition out of the Pauline Epistles and into what is known as the “general epistles.”  These books, Hebrews – 2 Peter, and Jude, are books that are written not to a specific church or person, but rather to the general audience of the Church throughout the Roman empire as it continued to grow and address a variety of issues and subjects, which compliment Paul’s writings well.  Paul is not considered to be the author of any of the general epistles either.  Most of the authors’ names show up in the title, with the exception of the book of Hebrews, whose author is anonymous.

The book of Hebrews is the first and longest of the general epistles.  There has a been a great deal of debate throughout the years about the authorship of this book.  Dr. Robert VanVoorst, in his book Reading the New Testament, points out that there have been many suggestions as to who Hebrews was written by.  Some, though this is not generally accepted anymore, suggest that Paul wrote this book.  This has been largely dismissed due to the major grammatical and stylistic differences between the writing in Hebrews and that of the Pauline letters.  VanVoorst writes, “The first author to cite this epistle was Clement of Rome (around 96 C.E.), although he does not say who wrote it… From the Earliest times in church history, whenever Hebrews’ authorship was mentions there has been great dispute about it.  Tertullian (in the second century) was the first to suggest Barnabas as its author.  The Protestant reformer Martin Luther in the sixteenth was the first to suggest Apollos, and this is a common conclusion today.  Adolf von Harnack, the greatest church historian of the nineteenth century, proposed that Priscilla was the author, which if true would make Hebrews the only NT book to be written by a woman.  (This makes an intriguing explanation for Hebrews’ anonymity.)   All in All, the argument about authorship is full of conjectures.”

While the author may not be known, it is very clear that this letter is written to the Church in general, and especially to Jewish converts to Christianity that might have been backsliding into Judaism.  It could also be that Jewish pressure on the Christian Church was on the rise and this was a letter written by one of the leaders of the Church to encourage those who were facing persecution from the Jews.  Many people think this letter was written in the mid 60’s A.D. because of its many references to the Temple which was destroyed when the Romans put down a Jewish revolt in A.D. 70 and destroyed for the final time, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.  However, it isn’t abnormal for those writing after A.D. 70 to write as if the Temple of God is still standing, something common because of the beliefs that the Jewish people held about the house of God and the deeper nature of God’s existence and presence.

Though it is fun to know the context in which the letter is written, it is the content which is significantly more important and to which we turn now and for the next couple of days.  In some ways, Hebrews could be seen as an exposition on the speech that Stephen gave in Acts 7, when he was before the counsel of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Remember how he walked through the story of the people of Israel and God’s faithfulness, how it all led up to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, their Messiah?  Well, we see a great deal reference to the Jewish religious systems here in the book of Hebrews as the writer references God’s work in the past and how it points to Jesus as the Messiah and then continues on into what that means for the believers, the Church, and the world.

You can see this general trend even in the beginning chapters of this book, our reading for today.  The author begins by making the point that God isn’t doing something new here, He has always been speaking through various means.  Whether Abraham, Isaiah, Moses, David, or any of the priests that Israel had, God used them to reveal Himself.  Yet now “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”  It is not as though God is doing something different here, He continues to speak and reveal Himself, the truest revelation of which comes in the form of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Word made Flesh.

We see also that the author is making tons of references to Old Testament Scriptures and again, to Jewish religious systems.  He talks about the high priests, the prophets, Israel’s rejection of God, Joshua, Moses, and Abraham in the first four chapters.  Obviously, whoever was writing this was very acquainted with the Scriptures.  In many ways, one of the messages of the book of Hebrews is the understanding that we can’t fully know or understand Jesus without understanding all that God had been doing in redemptive history to work up to His coming.  As we have said time and time again, the who religious cult of Judaism and the sacrificial rites, the religious structures, the providence of God in their lives, and even the giving of the law all point towards this greater event in the coming of the Messiah.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.



Day 217: Isaiah 65-66; As If It Has Already Been Accomplished

The last chapters of Isaiah continue along the theme of the last days and what the world and life will look like when all things are made right.  The writer, likely a student of Isaiah’s teachings a few generations removed and a returned exile from Babylon, is painting in broad brush strokes an image of “the day of the Lord.”  Yesterday we spoke about some of the different ideas about how that is going to take place.  My conclusion, if you remember, is that our focus should not so much be on the how and the when, but on the hope and assurance of the actual event happening.

This thought process is continued here in these last chapters of Isaiah, which do a great job of drawing the whole book and the themes contained therein together.  The writing here is written in a very particular format, one that the Hebrew people would have recognized.  Isaiah, or rather pseudo-Isaiah, is likely writing about a vision that he has or is receiving from the Lord, a message that is being given to him by God through the Holy Spirit.  For the Hebrew people, such messages and images were considered glimpses into the greater reality of the universe.  Time isn’t necessarily the linear thing that we know it as, not for God anyways, who stands outside of time and sees all things from beginning to end.

What this meant to the Hebrew people and what it means, or at least should mean for us in our present context is that these things are assured.  How assured?  So assured, that the writer is speaking about these future things as if they have already been accomplished.  Indeed these events, as they have been foreseen in a vision from God are so certain, that the Lord can say it as if He actually had done them already.

Talk like this is hard for us to understand.  How is it possible that these things have already been done if they haven’t come to pass yet?  For us, this calls into question things like free will and autonomy.  How can we truly be free if the future is already set.  I cannot say that I have those answers today.  I can say that the Hebrew people would not have been as concerned about this, that the paradox of the Divine interaction with the Created order had things that would simply not be understood and would have to be taken on faith.  I know that this is not something that we, especially in the Western culture, want to hear.  We don’t like to have questions, but prefer to have things explained away.  Yet this isn’t always how God works.  Not all the mysteries of God will be revealed until that day… a day which is so sure to happen it is as sure as the breath I took a moment ago.

And it is in that day that we see the miraculous things that will happen.  Unity… Peace… Restoration… Joy… All the world made right as is should be once again.  We wait in eager expectation for that day, the glorious Day of the Lord.  Amen!  Come Lord Jesus!



Day 160: Psalms 35-37; Wisdom Psalms

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

In this time of open houses and life transitions, this words can have a much larger impact on the hearer than perhaps would normally be the case.  These words come from Psalm 37, a “wisdom Psalm” that speaks very clearly about the benefits of placing our trust in the Lord.  The whole Psalm is filled with these phrases, urging the reader to place their trust in God almighty.  This particular phrase is also found in the book of Proverbs, and actually describes a very particular way to view the world and our place in it.

Psalm 37:5 Commit your way to the Lord Photo Credit: www.baptistmissionarywomen.blogspot.com

Psalm 37:5
Commit your way to the Lord
Photo Credit: www.baptistmissionarywomen.blogspot.com

The word ‘commit’ comes from the Hebrew word גֹּול which is pronounced “goal” which means literally to roll out something.  What are we rolling?  Well the word we use is ‘way’ which comes from the Hebrew word  דַּרְכֶּךָ, pronounced “derekch, which means the path of you.  Where are we rolling it?  עַל־יְהוָה which means ‘on to the Lord.  So literally this phrase reads: ‘roll the path of you on to the Lord.’  This reveals and describes the way in which the Hebrew people viewed the path of their lives.  Remember, several weeks ago we talked about how the Hebrew people “walked backwards into the future?”  Well, this too reveals a style of life in which the people of God are constantly rolling out the path of their life.  As the phrase reads, we are rolling the path of our lives “on to the Lord.”  Where does this place God?

Under us.
Holding up the path of our lives.
Guiding where it is going to go next.
Sustaining us and providing the way for us to go.

The second phrase in this verse reads וּבְטַח עָלָיו וְהוּא יַעֲשֶֽׂה in Hebrew.  Literally translated, this would read ‘and trust on Him and He will do it.‘  This is basically saying the same thing: if we place our trust on the Lord, the one on whom we are rolling out the path of our life, then He will do all the things that were just said!  In many ways, this is a complete response to the Hebrew shema as well!

If we look at this from a life position, it would be us kneeling down, rolling out the path of our life on to the Lord.  We are continually keeping our eyes and our focus on the Lord and trusting in him.  In doing this, we believe that He will show us the way in which we are to roll our lives out.  This kind of reminds me of the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water.  Peter walked on the water as long as he was looking at Jesus and trusting in him, but as soon as he took his eyes off of Jesus he began to sink.  Like Peter, we need to keep our eyes focus on the Lord as we walk through life, making sure that what we are doing is indeed rolling the path of our lives out on to the Lord!

PSALM 35 is a Imprecatory Psalm of Lament written by David.  This is a Psalm of ups and downs, but ultimately shows David’s willingness to trust in the Lord and rejoice in the Lord through all of the hard times.  David prays for vindication from his enemies, but at the same time also rejoices with those that support him.

PSALM 36 is a Psalm of Thanksgiving that also has some didactic qualities.  There is an air of Lament found in this Psalm as well.  But like most of these type of Psalms, there is much to say about the love of God and his great works.

PSALM 37 is a Psalm of Wisdom meaning that it Guides us to the path of righteousness and shows us how to seek God’s will and direction.  Naturally, a Psalm like this also has many didactic qualities as well.  Ultimately this Psalm is imploring the reader and the hearer to commit to the way of the Lord and to reap the benefits, rewards and blessings that come from such a commitment.  This Psalm is also an acrostic, written by David.

Psalm 37:5 Commit Your Way to the Lord Photo Credit: www.dailylifeverse.com

Psalm 37:5
Commit Your Way to the Lord
Photo Credit: www.dailylifeverse.com