Making Oaths

This week for Bible Study (we are using Bible Road Trip if you are interested) we are reading the second part of Judges. If you are unfamiliar with Judges, it focuses on the cycle of falling away from God that plagued the Israelites after entering the Promised Land.

The people would follow God and remember all He had done for them. And then they would fall into sin with their neighbors, worshiping their Gods and just leading generally sinful lives. God would remove his protective hand from them and let them fall into captivity or become subjugated by one of the warring neighbors. Finally they would cry out to God, and most likely make plenty of promises to always stay faithful to God if He would only deliver them. God would raise up a judge who would lead them out of their subjugation. Inevitably they would follow God for a time but then fall into sinful ways and idolatry, and the cycle would continue.

Today we read about Jephthah – God raised him up to save the Israelites from the Ammonites. When Jephthah asked God to give the Ammonites into his hand in battle, he made an oath to God to offer up as a burnt sacrifice the first thing that greeted him when he returned after the battle. As it happened, it was his daughter, his only child, that came through the gate to greet him when he returned. He was sorely distressed but after giving her two months to mourn, he carried through with his oath.

“And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.””

‭‭Judges‬ ‭11:30-35‬ ‭NIV‬‬

However, we also read that in the book of Leviticus, the idea of thoughtless oaths had already been addressed. If a person made a thoughtless or careless oath – one they forgot to fulfill or could or should not fulfill (as in Jephthah’s case) – whether with good or bad intentions – that person had sinned, and once they realize their sin needed to confess to the priest and make a sin offering. Jephthah was guilty of making a sinful oath, and rather than carry through with the oath, he ought to have confessed it as a sin and made atonement.

“or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.”

‭‭Leviticus‬ ‭5:4-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus expands on many topics, includin the making of oaths. He says the people had been instructed long ago to not break their vows, but to fulfill any vows to God they had made. But Jesus told the people not to swear oaths at all, because what could a person truly swear by? Simply make your Yes mean Yes and your No mean No.

““Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:33-37‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This is something that is still so relevant in our lives today. How many of us swear, or promise to do things, and either make these promises casually with no real intention of following through, or promise something so unrealistic or unlikely that following through can’t or won’t happen? We make things much worse for ourselves when we compound our problems with thoughtless promises.

Not following through with an action is bad enough, but we make it so much worse when we swear or promise to do something and it doesn’t happen. Think about the damage to relationships that comes from making promises or vows. Thoughtless promises made to people are harmful enough, but how much worse is it when we make vows and promises to God that we don’t fulfill? Jesus made it clear – don’t make promises or oaths. Just keep it simple with a Yes or a No – and let your Yes mean Yes and your No mean No. If you say you are going to do it, do it. Don’t make it complicated with a promise or an oath, just do what you say you are going to do.

Icons of the True

from Walking on Water, Ch. 2 p. 23-24

An icon is a symbol, rather than a sign. A sign may point the way to something, such as: Athens – 10 kilometers. But the sign is not Athens, even when we reach the city limits and read Athens. A symbol, however, unlike a sign, contains within some quality of what it represents. An icon of the Annunciation, for instance, does more than point to the angel and the girl; it contains, for us, some of Mary’s acceptance and obedience, and so affects our own ability to accept, to obey.

Francis of Assisi says that “in pictures of God and the blessed Virgin painted on wood, God and the blessed Virgin are held in mind, yet the wood and the painting ascribe nothing to themselves, because they are just wood and paint; so the servant of God is a kind of painting, that is, a creature of God in which God is honoured for the sake of his benefits. But he ought to ascribe nothing to himself, just like the wood or the painting, but should render honour and glory to God alone.”

What an interesting way to consider symbols versus signs. A symbol carries with it some quality of what it represents, and does not merely point the way to something. When we behold a symbol, an icon, we hold that which is represented by the symbol in mind. We don’t consider the materials that are used in the symbol, all honor goes to the symbol that is portrayed, rather than the materials the icon is comprised of.

Likewise, we as servants of God, are like icons – God is honored through us. We should not credit to ourselves honor and glory, but rather should render all honor and glory to God. In this way, we are merely the wood and paint, representing God, and to God goes all the honor.

Writing in Books

I am currently reading Turn the Page: Read Right to Lead Right. This is a quick read, and contains some excellent suggestions on getting more out of your reading experience.

One of the thing leadership education promotes is writing in your books. This helps to move you from passive reading to active reading, because by taking notes, commenting in the margins, even making simple notes like “Wow!” or “!” you are interacting with the book. There are wonderful suggestions for what you could be writing in the books you read:

  • significant passages underlined or highlighted
  • references to other relevant books
  • arguments against the author’s point
  • paraphrases
  • an outline of the book (in the back of the book)
  • new vocabulary

I admit struggling with the idea of writing in my books. Throughout college and graduate school, I would highlight but was very specific in the color and type of highlighters that I would use, and then I was only marking up textbooks. Taking this particular suggestion to heart is pushing me out of my comfort zone a little but I do see the value in marking up books as you read them. For valued books in your personal library that will be revisited time and again, you will be able to see the impact the author had on you during previous reads.

For some self encouragement in enacting this, I set up a pencil box with RSVP pens in a multitude of colors, sharpened pencils, a full set of highlighters, and various sizes of post-it notes. Now when I sit down for my personal reading time, I pull out my books and my pencil box, prepared to actively read and annotate.

For books that aren’t mine (borrowed from friends or library) I take notes on post-its. I can then either transcribe my notes into Evernote or snap pictures of the post-it notes directly into Evernote.

For reading ebooks, annotations can be made in a separate journal (I have composition notebooks for reading journals) but the Kindle app does allow for notes and highlights to be added to the book. This is really simple. In the text, you simply tap and hold down your finger on the part of the text you wish to highlight or annotate. A small menu box appears with various highlighter colors to select. You can drag the corner of the highlighter box on the text to include however much text you wish to highlight. You also have the option to copy the text which can be pasted elsewhere. You can also directly record notes, which then can be accessed either by directly tapping on the icon that remains in the text or by pulling up “My Notebook” at the top of the screen (this page includes notes and bookmarks). I also discovered something new today – you can log into your Amazon kindle site. From here you can see all of your notes and highlights in your Kindle books. It is easy enough to use Evernote Web Clipper to clip a snapshot of the notes and highlights page. Disclaimer: As far as I can tell, PDFs you are reading in your Kindle app will not show up on the Kindle amazon site, so any notes you record in those documents will not show up.

I can already notice a difference in the depth of my reading now that I am making an effort to annotate what I am reading. This is definitely one technique I recommend to enhance your reading!

The Black Thing

Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything. Euripedes

Reassuring words from Mrs. Who, who speaks in quotes.

I find myself going back to this part, over and over. Mrs. Whatsit is explaining that Charles Wallace knows and understands how serious things are, what is at stake – far more than just the life of his and Meg’s father. But Mrs. Who, who speaks primarily in quotes because it is easier than finding her own words, reassures the group by quoting Euripedes.

Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything.

Nothing is hopeless. While we still breathe, and strive for things, nothing is hopeless. But far from just hoping things work out, or that we manage to survive, or the bare minimum happens, we should ‘hope for everything.’

Hopelessness is like the Black Thing, so dark that it blocks out even the stars. How can we function when we cannot even see? Hopelessness is paralyzing.

Our hoping, our striving, is what can make the difference. If we hope for everything, we have optimism and a sense of purpose and are aiming high. It’s this hope that pushes us forward, pushes us through the hard stuff.

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I am reading A Wrinkle in Time for the first time in decades. When I was young and reading it for the first time, I was reading it to just “read the story.” Now, however, I read books looking for lessons, regardless of whether the author intended a particular message to be gleaned.

Exodus 30

Exodus 30:15

The rich are not to give more than half a shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.

The atonement offering expected from all Israelites was half a shekel and was to be the same for both rich and poor.

Rich and poor have no bearing on the value of a man to God. One is not more worth (or less) of atonement. God counts us all equally worthy. We should be mindful of that even today.

I am thankful that God sees us equally and does not judge our value the same way we judge ourselves and others.

Exodus 27

Exodus 27:8

8 It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain.

This is not the first time “just as you were shown on the mountain” is used in describing the Tabernacle plans. I don’t think Moses stood on the mountain and took down notes on the design of the Tabernacle, just hearing the voice of God. I picture God showing Moses a clear vision of the Tabernacle, so that Moses could fully visualize and experience the Tabernacle that God had planned. Only then could he return to the people with a clear image of it in his mind. I imagine him overseeing the work of the embroiderers, saying “No, No, it needs to be ‘just so.”

God can give us a clear vision of what he has in store for us. He can let us see it clearly, visualize it, experience it so that we know to plan, down to the ’embroidery’ details.

My prayer is that God gives me a Tabernacle vision too, so that I have a clear image of what he wants for me and what he has in store for me.

Exodus 23

Exodus 23:4-5

4 If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

We are called to help our enemies in a proactive way. If there was someone who despised me, and I happened to witness their ox or donkey wander off (or some modern equivalent of troubles), I could easily do nothing. It’s not like I let them escape or personally caused this trouble to happen. I am under no obligation to help them with their troubles. I could rest easy knowing that I didn’t do anything wrong by not assisting since it had nothing to do with me.But God calls us to do something, even for people who are our enemy.

We are to be proactive in helping them. While it would be simple enough to just “not do anything” if their ox or donkey wandered off, we are called to bring their animal back to them. If we see their donkey fall down under its load, we could easily just keep on walking since it’s not our fault, but instead God calls us to stop and help our enemy with it.

This is difficult!

In reading Russ Reznik’s essay Messianic Jewish Ethics in Introduction to Messianic Judaism, he writes “the divine image is obviously not a physical resemblance, but neither is it an abstract spiritual resemblance. Rather, it entails representing God through active engagement with the creation.

This understanding of the image of God gives rise to the Jewish idea that God does ethics before we do, that our ethical behavior is not just a matter of obedience, or even of pleasing God, but of reflecting God and his nature, fulfilling the assignment to bear the divine image.”

It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if God treated us like we treated our enemies. Even when we despise God, God loves us and blesses us. We are called to proactively bless our enemy, not just passively “not” harm them. We aren’t called to do this so much for obedience, but rather as a reflection of the divine image of God. God does ethics first.

Introduction to Messianic Judaism

I am slowly working through a collection of essays, edited by David Rudolph and Joel Willitts, entitled Introduction to Messianic Judaism. This is an excellent read, especially in light of the growth of the Messianic Jewish community and the interest of “gentiles” in the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith.

This book covers a lot of material: Messianic Jews in antiquity and the modern era, the “nuts and bolts” so to speak of Messianic worship style, synagogues, ethics, role of and relationship with women, and the relationship of Messianic Judaism and Israel. The relationship of Messianic Jews and the wider Jewish community, as well as with the Christian church, is also discussed.

There is a lot to chew in this book. I keep my Bible within reach, as well as my computer for clarification of unfamiliar concepts or words. Each chapter has suggestions for additional reading. and I find myself following rabbit trails as I read.

I’ve made it through the first half of the book, and rather than go through all the previous chapters, I am going to look through some of my notes and post some of the more significant points that I wrote down. As I work through the second half, I’ll continue to post quotes and thoughts on the current reading.