Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Understanding the Bible

Alice C. Linsley

The Bible is really a library. It contains 66 different books. Many of the books had different writers. Some of the writers wrote a great deal. For example, Paul of Tarsus wrote about two-thirds of the material in the New Testament. He was a brilliant man who knew the Hebrew religion of his ancestors (Horim/Horites) and also Greek philosophy. The town where Paul grew up was called Tarsus and there was a famous philosophy academy there.

Most of Paul’s writings are letters written to different churches that were spread around the ancient Near East. He also wrote a very important letter to the Christians in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. That book is called Romans. This letter to the Romans has influenced many writers throughout history, including Augustine of Hippo in North Africa. He became a bishop in the early church and is considered a saint.

In the letter to the Christian at Rome, Paul explains that God loves us and we can’t earn God’s love. We can only receive it as a gift and allow God’s love to change our hearts and minds so that we can love others with pure hearts. Paul also explains how Jesus is God’s Lamb sacrificed to cover the sin of the whole world and that is why we do not need to sacrifice animals anymore. Finally, Paul tells the Roman Christians to be strong in their Christian faith because they were going to go through a hard time; that they would suffer. Some died for their faith. Others were put in prison. Some ran away from their homes and never returned. Wherever these Christians went, they told other people about Jesus, God’s gift to the world.

Paul traveled around to many different places telling people about Jesus. Some of his traveling companions were Barnabas and a young man named Mark. In some towns the people welcomed them and they stayed for a while and made good friends with people who wanted to love and serve the Lord Jesus. In other towns, they were badly treated. Once they were put in jail, but God delivered them through an earthquake. They also prayed for sick and injured people and they were healed in Jesus’ name. You can read about their amazing adventures in the book called Acts of the Apostles, of simply Acts.

One of the most important narratives of the Bible concerns a sent-away son named Abraham. When his father died, Abraham's older brother Nahor took charge of their father's kingdom in Mesopotamia. Abraham went where God told him to go and after a time, with God's help, he too became a great ruler in the region of Edom. His first wife was named Sarah and his second wife was named Keturah. Abraham is related to the Horite rulers who are listed in Genesis 36.

Another sent-away son was Moses. He also became a great ruler over his Hebrew (Habiru) people. The Hebrew were a caste of ruler-priests called Horites. Like Abraham, he had two wives. This was the custom for Horite men who became rulers. Moses's Kushite wife was his half-sister, as was Sarah to Abraham. The prophet Samuel's father was a ruler-priest with two wives. His name was Elkanah and his wives' names were Penninah and Hannah. Samuel's family was also Horite.

Most to the heroes in the Bible were sent-away sons to whom God delivered a kingdom. This is one of the patterns by which we recognize Jesus, God's son, who comes into the world to save the lost and to receive an eternal kingdom.

Two Related Divisions

The Bible has two main divisions: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament has material that was translated from ancient languages including Elamite, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic. Aramaic is the language that Jesus spoke. All of these languages are related to even older ("proto") languages that were spoken along the Nile River, Lake Chad, and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia. In ancient times, people lived near the great water systems like lakes and rivers.

These water systems often overflowed from extended periods of rains (monsoons). This caused local and often extensive flooding. Some of the floods were so catastrophic that they are recorded in the Bible. Noah's flood is an example.

In addition to flood stories, the Old Testament has creation stories, lists of great kingdom builders, histories of kings and great battles, love stories, law books, poetry, and accounts of great prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos. Prophets were important people because God sent them to their rulers which a message that the rulers needed to hear. Sometimes the rulers didn’t like what they were told by the prophets and killed them. Sometimes, the rulers listened and did what the prophet said and saved their whole kingdom. That is what happened in the story of Jonah. Even the animals were saved from destruction.

There were men prophets and also women prophets, like Deborah and Huldah. These women were so important that all the people respected them. People came to Deborah when they had serious disputes or arguments to settle. In the book of Judges, chapter 4, verses 4-6, you can read, about how Deborah handled these cases while sitting under a palm tree (called a tamar). Her tree was between the towns of Ramah and Bethel. Huldah was so wise that the king sent his advisers to her for advice. The king trusted her more than his own advisers.

One of the most important prophets of the Bible was Samuel. His father was a ruler-priest in the town of Ramah, not far from where Deborah had lived between the towns of Ramah and Bethel. God told Samuel to anoint the first two kings of Israel: Saul and David. Samuel always did exactly what God asked him to do even though he had no control over how things would work out. He had great trust that God always does what is best, and even turns bad things into good things in the end.

Prophets were important people, and so were priests. There were twenty-four groups or “divisions” of priests who lived in different town spread all over the land of Canaan. They served the people where they lived and they also took turns serving at the temple in Jerusalem. The priests helped the people when they felt guilty because they had done bad things. In ancient times, priests did their work at great stone temples that were built on hills near the great rivers. The priests received gifts of food, wine, oil and sheep, goats and cows from the people who came to the temple to worship God. Sometimes the priests would sacrifice an animal and the blood of the animal was a spiritual covering for the person who did bad things and wanted God to forgive them.

The animals were valuable and nobody likes to kill an animal, so this was done when there was a serious need for forgiveness. Sadly, some priests saw this system as a way to make money and they encouraged the people to brings lots of animals, even for things that were not very serious. This did not please God the Creator and he sent some prophets to tell the priest who controlled the temples and water shrines to stop being so corrupt. Really, we can ask God for forgiveness any time and we don’t need to take the life of animal. But for the really deep problems, we need God’s help, for sure. That help is always there for us, if we ask for it.

In the New Testament, there are letters written to the many new churches that were started by Jesus’ followers. Most of the letters were written by Paul of Tarsus, but there are also letters written by men he knew, including Peter, James and John. These men were born and raised near a big lake. The lake still exists and is so big it is called the “Sea” of Galilee. Peter had a brother named Andrew and they were both fisherman. James and John were fisherman also and their father’s name was Zebedee. Jesus first met Peter, James and John while they were repairing their fishing nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The New Testament also contains four books about the life of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four books are called the “Gospels” and they have many of the same stories, but each book is written from a different perspective.

Matthew is a name that appears often in Jesus’ family and the writer of this book may have been one of Jesus’ relatives. Matthew wrote about how Jesus was not only a fully human man, but also the Son of God, being fully divine.

Mark’s book reveals the influence of ancient Egyptian beliefs about the appearance of a Righteous Ruler who would die and rise to life again and lead his followers to eternal life (immortality). Mark believed that Jesus is the long-expected Righteous Ruler.

Luke was a medical doctor who was highly educated. His account of Jesus was originally written in very high quality Greek. Some of Luke’s story came from Jesus’ mother. Her name is Mary and she is honored by Christians around the world. Sometimes she is called “the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ our God.” Luke must have asked her many questions about her son because some of his stories about Jesus had to have come from his mother.

Matthew, Mark and Luke are histories about Jesus’ life. John’s Gospel is different. John wrote about Jesus’ life, but not as a history book. Instead, John explains who Jesus is. Many people think that the first Bible book a person should read is John’s Gospel because it helps us understand about Jesus. John explains that Jesus is the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners and that he came as a gift from God, because God loved the world he made and especially human beings. John understands that Jesus is the “Seed” born to the Woman (Genesis 3:15) who crushes the head of the serpent who hates God. That serpent is a symbol of the evil that is in the world that makes people attack Jesus and his followers. Jesus defeats the evil serpent by dying and rising to life again. He tramples down death by his death and promises eternal life to all who believe in Him. This is called the Resurrection and Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.

You can read about Jesus’ ancestors in the Old Testament. One of the best books to read is the beautiful love story named for the main female character, Ruth. Ruth was the mother of Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David who became the greatest King in the history of Jesus’ people. He and his ancestors are described as having a reddish brown skin tone and lots of hair. This gives us an idea of how Jesus might have looked.

King David’s father was a ruler-priest who had many sheep. The priests kept sheep for food and also to sacrifice when there was a serious offense committed against God and God’s people. David was the youngest of Jesse’s sons and he often was put in charge of taking care of the sheep. He became a strong young man who was able to defend his sheep from lions and bears. His weapons were a staff and a slingshot. When David was still a young man, he killed a mighty warrior with a single stone that he hurled from his slingshot. You can read about that in I Samuel, chapter 17. The warrior was named Goliath of Gath and he cursed the true God and made fun of David and his people. Goliath’s people, called “Philistines” were trying to take the land away from David’s king whose name was Saul. When Saul died, David became the king.

David’s hometown was Bethlehem, which is where Jesus was born, because Jesus’ mother was the daughter of a ruler-priest of Bethlehem name Joachim (also spelled Yoachim). Bethlehem was the home of the eighteenth division of ruler-priests who were Jesus’ ancestors. This priestly division was called ha·pi·TSETS (Happizzez), a name of Egyptian origin. (Hapi was the ancient Egyptian word for the Nile River.) In 1962 archaeologists discovered a small piece of a list of the twenty-four priestly divisions in the ruins of a synagogue at Caesarea, near Galilee. This old marble fragment had the names of the places where four of the divisions resided, including Nazareth, the residence of Happizzez.

The famous Ark of the Covenant was guarded by the priests of Bethlehem until David was able to move it to "the city of David," a 12-acre ridge south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (II Samuel, chapter 5, verse 9). This had been a holy place for people in that area since 3200 years before Jesus.

Jesus’ mother Mary was married to a man named Joseph. He was from Nazareth, near the Sea of Galilee. Nazareth was the home of another division of ruler-priests. They raised sheep and were skilled in stone work, mining, and wood work (carpentry). Jesus worked as a carpenter in Joseph’s workshop in Nazareth. Jesus’ closest followers or disciples were from Galilee also. Jesus returned there to meet with them after His resurrection. At Jesus’ “Last Supper” with his disciples, he informed them: "After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 26, verse 32)

How to Use the Bible

The Bible is as useful as any good library. You can read for fun, to increase your knowledge of the ancient world, or to help you understand God better. You can read it when you are sad or discouraged and it will lift your spirits. If something really bad happens, you can read it for comfort and hope.

Here is a list of readings for different occasions and situations.

When discouraged

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 42:16 And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

When sad or broken-hearted

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

When confused

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

Psalm 34:17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

When joyful and excited

Psalm 5:11-12 Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.

Psalm 47:1 Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

Psalm 63:5-7 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

Psalm 96:11-13 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Isaiah 12:6 “… Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

1 Peter 1:6-9 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

When worried or anxious

John 14:27 Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

I Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He [God] cares for you.

Psalm 18:2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.


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