Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Jumping Ship

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. (Hebrews 3:1-6, ESV)

Jesus is superior to angels, who, indeed, had a role in establishing the Law for Israel and who should therefore be obeyed as the Law expresses. Moses also had a supreme role in the establishment of the Law and you can just hear the families and friends of this congregation who remain in Judaism challenging this congregation with a failure to honor Moses by honoring Jesus.  But if Moses is considered God’s chief servant who faithfully oversaw His house (Israel and the Tabernacle), then Jesus is the Son who built the house and is faithful over it as God’s Son, not servant.

Jesus is the apostle and high priest of our confession of faith, over our confessional utterance of belief.  He is both the one sent from God (‘apostle’ means sent one) with authority to represent God, and he is high priest of our confession, the one whose intercession on our behalf and sacrifice on our behalf has made our confession a saving one.  He has made us holy brothers and sisters and given us a heavenly calling in contrast with the current Judaistic earthly focus on a ritual that the author of Hebrews will later show has been displaced.  Why would anyone leave the one calling for the former?

Moses was indeed faithful in all God’s house and God defended him as such in Numbers 12 against Miriam and Aaron’s jealousy for his power.  But Jesus is faithful over God’s house and we are that house, as Israel was, only if we retain our confession, our confidence and trust in the hope Jesus offers.

Why would you leave or grow weary of a calling that comes from such an exalted Jesus for a former life that was characterized by poverty of spirit, hopelessness, purposelessness, addiction to earthly things and absent divine direction?  You had confidence in Christ and his calling, you even boasted about it because it is the greatest.  If you don’t  hold fast to it what excuse will you give on judgment day?

Backsliders jump from the lifeboat into the Titanic.


Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Justice for All

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.

“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.

“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:1-9, ESV)

The commandment against bearing false witness is expanded here. Spreading a false report is a way of violating this command and is not loving your neighbor. Joining with others to bear false witness with malicious intent is evil and a perversion of justice. Though usually it is the poor or weak person who is so exploited, you also cannot side with a poor person if he is in the wrong. You must bear true witness at all times.

Love your enemy. If he is in a dire situation you must help him. This is the positive aspect of the command against murder. As Jesus elaborates, if you have hatred in your heart you are guilty. Rather, seek the life in every respect of all people, including your enemies.

The poor deserve justice just like everyone else and those who pervert it will face God’s wrath. Bribes are wrong and subvert justice. The spread of bribery in some countries is a blight on the people and the nation.

The Law comes back to taking care to treat well the sojourner or foreigner. And the reason again is the sympathy Israel should have since they too were sojourners in Egypt. Love of our fellow man, of our neighbor, extends to every human being on God’s earth. Prejudice and racism are abhorent to Him and should be to us.

The World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index® is the world’s leading source for original, independent data on the rule of law.  The 2016 edition expands coverage to 113 countries and jurisdictions (from 102 in 2015), relying on more than 110,000 household and expert surveys to measure how the rule of law is experienced and perceived in practical, everyday situations by the general public worldwide. Performance is measured using 44 indicators across eight primary rule of law factors, each of which is scored and ranked globally and against regional and income peers: Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice.

The WJP Rule of Law Index is the most comprehensive index of its kind and the only to rely solely on primary data. The Index’s scores are built from the assessments of local residents (1,000 respondents per country) and local legal experts, ensuring that the findings reflect the conditions experienced by the population, including marginalized sectors of society.

WJP Rule of Law Index 2016 Regional Highlights:

  • When compared globally, countries in the Western Europe and North America continue to top the WJP Rule of Law Index, followed by countries in the East Asia & Pacific region. On average, the South Asia region obtained the lowest scores.

  • Western Europe and North America (defined as EU + EFTA + North America) accounts for 8 of the top 10 places in the rankings, with Denmark remaining the highest-ranked country in rule of law followed by Norway. Romania was the biggest mover in the region’s rankings (calculated by comparing countries against the original 2015 WJP Rule of Law Index country set, excluding 11 new countries added this year), rising 4 positions to 32nd out of 113 countries worldwide over 2015 rankings. Meanwhile, France and Hungary each lost 3 positions, to 21st and 49th respectively.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa’s top performer is South Africa, surpassing Ghana and Botswana in this year’s rankings and into 43rd place globally. Nigeria and Burkina Faso were the biggest movers among the 18 countries indexed in the region, climbing 11 and 10 spots respectively. In contrast, Botswana lost 6 positions while Kenya and Ethiopia each lost 5 places.

  • East Asia and Pacific is the second-ranked region in rule of law, behind Western Europe and North America. New Zealand and Singapore are the top performers in the 2016 rankings, ranking 8th and 9th respectively out of 113 countries worldwide. The biggest mover was Vietnam, rising 7 positions to 67th globally. The biggest decliner was the Philippines, dropping 9 positions to 70th. Malaysia and Republic of Korea also recorded significant declines.

  • Eastern Europe and Central Asia’s leader is Georgia, ranking 34th out of 113 countries worldwide, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, FYR. Apart from Albania, Turkey, and Russia, most countries in this region remained largely unchanged since 2015. Albania dropped 9 positions to 72nd globally; Turkey fell 8 positions to 99th; and Russia moved down 6 positions to 92nd.

  • Latin America and the Caribbean’s top performer is Uruguay at 20th out of 113 countries, followed by Costa Rica and Chile. Argentina was the biggest mover, jumping 12 spots up to the 51st position worldwide. Meanwhile, El Salvador lost 8 positions, while Venezuela is the weakest performer among all the 113 indexed countries.

  • Middle East and North Africa’s top performer among the 7 countries indexed in this region is the United Arab Emirates, at 33rd overall. Iran climbed 13 positions to 86th, while Egypt dropped the same number of positions to 110th out of 113 countries worldwide.

  • South Asia’s top performer is Nepal, coming in at 63rd position globally. With the exception of Nepal, which dropped 5 positions in 2016, the performance of most countries in this region remained in line with last year.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Taking Law into Our Own Hands

“Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.

“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.

“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.

“When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

“When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.

“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:12-32, ESV)

How shall the law concerning murder be implemented and interpreted for the community? God gives several cases that will help judges determine how to impose justice in this regard:

– Committing murder should result in the death penalty. However, a distinction is made between premeditated murder and what we call manslaughter. In the case of manslaughter (God let the deceased fall into the hands of the killer) immediate imposition of the death penalty shall wait until there can be a hearing in a city designated by God to where the killer may flee and await justice. If it is obvious that it was premeditated, death may be instant.

– Killing one’s parents, even cursing them, results in the death penalty. Patricide and matricide is most despicable.

– Kidnapping is a capital offense. This should have shown Israel that not just actual murder but murderous intent was conceived of in this commandment, as Jesus clearly explains in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5).

– If murderous intent does not result in the death of the victim, the death penalty is not imposed but the one who injured must take care of and compensate the one injured.

– Killing one’s slave is also a capital offense. Severe injury to one’s slave purchases their freedom from the violent master.

– If a woman is struck during a conflict and delivers prematurely, yet the baby lives, there shall be compensation made as the judges determine, but if the baby dies then the life of the one who caused it is forfeited. The baby in the womb bears the same rights as the one born.

– If an animal kills a human the animal must be put to death, but if the owner of the animal knows that his animal is prone to such dangerous actions and does nothing to prevent this happening, the owner’s life is forfeit (he is guilty of murder). If in mercy the owner is allowed to redeem his life with money he will pay whatever the judge imposes on him. In the case of a slave being killed, the owner of the animal must pay the price of the slave to compensate his or her owner and the animal must be killed.

We see, then, the justification for jurisprudence, the consideration of motives and guilt, as means of making sure that the law is applied correctly and justice is done in a society. God cares about this very much.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Slavery

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (Exodus 21:1-11, ESV)

Slavery has always been a harsh reality in our fallen world. Though Yahweh does not abolish slavery in this social context He does regulate it for Hebrews in a way totally contrary to the norms of their culture. Recognizing that some would get into debt they could not pay and resort to selling themselves to another to cover their debt, Yahweh regulates how this is to work among Israelites.

An Israelite can only be held as a slave for six years unless he makes a voluntary choice after that time to be a slave forever. If he doesn’t, he is to be released with no more debt to his owner, he and his family. However, if his master provided him a wife during his slavery from among other slaves he owned, the man cannot take his wife with him out of slavery.

If a man cannot pay a bride price for his daughter but a man wants her as his slave so he can marry her as a secondary tier wife (concubine), the woman is protected. If the owner divorces her he cannot sell her to a foreigner but she must come under the law of manumission after six years as before stated. He is breaking faith with her (failing to keep his covenant vows of marriage) and cannot mistreat her. If someone buys a woman as a wife for his son, she must be treated as a daughter. And if she is one among other wives he must nevertheless continue to provide for her in every way or else she is free to leave with no debt.

Though we might say these laws perpetuate slavery, the real implication here is that Yahweh will determine how we conduct our lives and His concern of love for those who fall into this dilemma bodes the prospect that slavery may one day be abolished. It has been abolished in nations whose populace is majority Christian (though not without a great degree of conflict), but still remains an issue in too many countries. In our own country the laws contained here in the Law of Moses should have taught us how to treat slaves and did eventually lead us away from slavery out of love for fellow humans.  It is to our shame that some among us argued for the maintenance of slavery and the regarding of those enslaved as sub-human.  The slavery we practiced in no way reflected the law of Moses.  There was no provision for release from slavery after 6 years though, in fact, many slaves became followers of Jesus and thus brothers and sisters.

John Woolman was born at Northampton, N. J., in 1720, and died at York, England, in 1772. He was the child of Quaker parents, and from his youth was a zealous member of the Society of Friends. His “Journal,” published posthumously in 1774, sufficiently describes his way of life and the spirit in which he did his work; but his extreme humility prevents him from making clear the importance of the part he played in the movement against slaveholding among the Quakers.

My mind is often led to consider the purity of the Divine Being and the justice of his judgments, and herein my soul is covered with awe.  Many slaves on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High! Such is the purity and certainty of His judgments that He cannot be partial in our favor.  In infinite love and goodness He has opened our understandings from one time to another concerning our duty towards this people, and it is not a time for delay.  Should we now be sensible of what He requires of us, and through a respect to the private interest of some persons or through a regard to some friendships which do not stand on an immutable foundation, neglect to do our duty in firmness and constancy, still waiting for some extraordinary means to bring about their deliverance, it may be that by terrible things in righteousness God may answer us in this matter.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Stealing

“When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.

“When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.

“If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.

“If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

“If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.

“If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, an oath by the LORD shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn.

“If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee.” (Exodus 21:33-22:15, ESV)

These cases refer in general to the application of the law against stealing. Some “stealing” is unintentional (neglect for someone’s property) and other stealing is deliberate.

  1. A situation you cause that leads to the death of another’s animal (destruction of his property) means you pay the price of the property and you get to keep the property (the animal, etc.)
  2. If your animal kills another animal you sell your animal and share the income with the owner of the dead animal. If you were negligent, knowing your animal’s propensity to be violent, you pay the owner of the dead animal for his animal and you keep the dead animal.
  3. If you steal something you must make restitution for it in accord with its value (4 or 5 times what it is worth).
  4. A thief struck and killed while breaking in during the night is not considered murder (you couldn’t determine his intent and it may have been murderous). But if you kill him during daylight you are guilty of bloodshed (presumably, you know his intent is theft not violent harm and theft is not punishable by death).
  5. Taking someone’s property by allowing an animal to graze it or starting a fire requires restitution.
  6. Giving your property to someone for safekeeping or borrowing property that then gets stolen or damaged requires restitution, but if theft was really the cause the thief must make restitution.

Ownership of property and loving your neighbor by not envying it or stealing it, or if taken, making restitution for it, is God’s requirement of His people. We must value our neighbors and what they own and be sensitive to their loss of what they own.  Are you driving safely through your neighborhood?  Are you taking care for those who come on your property?  If you wrong your neighbor’s property are you more than making up for its loss?  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: True Worship

And the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’ (Exodus 20:22-26, ESV)

Moses has just given the ten commands from God, the bare bones requirements, if you will, to remain in covenant with Yahweh.  But immediately questions are going to come up. How much work is too much work on the Sabbath?  What if I kill someone accidentally, is that still murder?  And other questions are going to concern the way the community is to respond when someone breaks one of the commands.  Should the person be killed, fined, required to make sacrifice, shunned, etc.?  So what follows are examples of how these commands are to be implemented.

An application of the 1st and 2nd commandments is made here in this passage. Yahweh is to be worshiped without images and He is the only one to be worshiped, and so the altar is to be made of earth or stone and the stone must not be carved. Pagan altars were often carved stone and on the stone were images of their gods. Israel is to be different from pagan nations insomuch as she knows the true God. She must not profane the worship of God and the use of carved stones like the other nations use is deemed a step toward false worship.

An additional application is that the altar must not be one which is so tall that steps are required to reach its top and do sacrifice. It is hard to understand how the long robes that might be worn would allow for one’s nakedness to be exposed while ascending the steps but it too may be a pagan practice Yahweh is forbidding that involved some form of nakedness. Sexual activity was often a part of pagan worship. The sensual can often replace the worshipful as we seek feel-good experiences rather than God Himself.  We might need to ask ourselves during worship whether we are most excited for God or for the form of the worship we are engaged in or how others are seeing us as we worship.

Our worship must be about honoring God in the way He describes rather than our own concoctions of worship.  It is the temptation of all humans to decide for ourselves how to worship God, that is, what we think makes sense.  But God wants us to see that our rebellious hearts are very prone to distorting true worship.  In Jesus’ words, “beware the leaven of the Pharisees.”

While I was serving in Paraguay, a Maka Indian named Rafael came to sit on my porch. I was eating and went out to see what he wanted. He responded, “Ham, henek met.” Again I asked what I could do for him, but the answer was the same. I understood what he was saying but not its significance: “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.”  I later shared the incident with a local veteran missionary. He explained that it was Rafael’s way of honoring me. He really didn’t want anything; he just wanted to sit on my porch. He found satisfaction and pleasure just being near me.  “What brings you here, my child?” the Lord asks.  “Ham, henek met.”  Doesn’t that reveal the heart of true worship?  (Stuart Sacks, Villanova, Pennsylvania)

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Tenth Command

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV)

There is something distinctively different about the tenth commandment which sets it apart from all the rest. And this distinction gives a key to the interpretation of all the rest. Whereas the other commands focus on visible behavior (do not steal, murder, work on the Sabbath, etc.) this one focuses on the invisible behavior of the heart.

Coveting (craving something that belongs to another) is not something you can see until it erupts into visible sin like stealing or adultery. By dealing with an attitude in this commandment, God is indicating that attitude is an important factor in every one of the commandments. That’s why, for example, Jesus interprets the commandments in his sermon on the mount from their attitudinal perspectives (Matthew 5). There is murderous anger and adultery of the heart.

Though someone might claim to have kept all the other commandments (someone, that is, who hasn’t spent any time thinking about the commands or his own life), no one can claim he has not violated number ten. In fact, when Paul describes his attempt to live under the Law of Moses, he specifically points out the command not to covet as his undoing (Romans 7:7,8). This is the undoing for every “Pharisee” because it sets a standard that no one can keep perfectly and it reveals the utter depravity of the human heart.

Coveting is the wrongful desire to have something which does not belong to you. It is the expression of a basic dissatisfaction in life with what God has given you. Coveting tends toward obsession. What we crave becomes so much a part of our thoughts that we can think of nothing else but ways to bring our lusts to fruition. Coveting brings home the sobering reality that we cannot change ourselves. We are slaves to our desires unless God comes in and does surgery on our hearts.

Once God’s life has been implanted in our lives we can begin the process of subjecting our cravings to His authority. Instrumental in this process is the renewing of our minds by the Word of God. You do not stop thinking about something by concentrating on overcoming it. You must concentrate on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable (Philippians 4:8). God has given us words for meditation that counteract every one of our improper desires. As we study God’s Word, relying on Him in prayer for empowerment, we find new self-control in the thought realm. Many times confessing our thoughts to a trusted brother or sister in Christ steals its power. We learn to stop the trails our minds want to wander down, and put ourselves on healthier paths that God has laid out for us.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”   “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” — C. S. Lewis