Digging Deeper: Jesus Stopped at a Comma

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 8 min.

Did you know that when Jesus read a passage of Isaiah during a synagogue service He stopped his reading at a comma?

This was a most unusual preaching strategy but it was done deliberately. My last Digging Deeper article entitled “Jesus’ Sermon at His Hometown Synagogue” outlined the liturgy and custom of the first-century Jewish synagogue. In it, I explained that Jesus was recognized as a member of His Nazareth synagogue and was invited by custom to read a portion of either the Law or the Prophets. Jesus may have deliberately chosen the scroll of Isaiah for this sermon to His fellow worshipers. However, what He read and pointedly commented upon caused them to rise up and threaten His life.

Luke alone records this incident in Luke 4:16-30. Jesus quoted two passages from Isaiah He was beginning to fulfill: Isaiah 61:1-2 and Isaiah 58:6. Combining two texts with a similar theme was a common practice called a gezerah shava. If you read Isaiah’s original version, you will notice some rewording of the text in Luke’s account. This was common practice throughout our New Testament. God, the Author and Chief Editor of the Bible, is at liberty to revise and rephrase His word as necessary depending on the context in which it is cited.

Jesus First Came as a Prophet

When Jesus proclaimed that the Spirit was upon Him, He meant that he was moved to do some supernatural work. In Luke 4:18 He explained He was anointed by the Spirit, as Luke later explained in Acts 10:38, that authorized Him to preach. The Old Testament ceremony of anointing with oil inaugurated men into the offices of priest, prophet, or king. Jesus first came as the Prophet (Matthew 21:11; John 7:40), today He is our High Priest in heaven, and He will return as our King. He holds all three offices at once.

Jesus explained this anointing enabled Him to preach the gospel to the poor. He was a master preacher and teacher. One matter Luke emphasized about Jesus’ ministry was His concern for those materially poor. They were often at the mercy of unscrupulous officials and businessmen. It was generally thought that their suffering was due to God’s curse and was their fault. By contrast, those who relieved the poor were considered especially righteous since almsgiving was synonymous with righteousness in the minds of many at the time.

Jesus then proclaimed He was sent to heal the brokenhearted – those who were in despair of heart including those who mourn over their sins leading to repentance. He continued His sermon stating He came to preach deliverance to the captives – i.e., the forgiveness of sins and remission of its penalty. Those who are held in Satan’s snare as his captives in body, mind, or spirit Jesus will deliver.

Jesus added that He had come to recover sight to the blind – including those spiritually blind to God’s truth. During His ministry, Jesus healed many who were physically blind. He next declared that He came to set at liberty those who are bruised – i.e., oppressed, broken people. Jesus came to free people from heavy burdens of sin and oppressive rabbinical restrictions.

Jesus knew what it was like to be poor, brokenhearted, and bruised (Isaiah 53:3-5). The phrase “to set at liberty them that are bruised” in Luke 4:18 was Jesus’ insertion of a paraphrase from Isaiah 58:6. He was announcing a time when salvation was available to His audiences. The final phrase of Isaiah 61:2 states that throughout His ministry He came to comfort all that mourn: those who mourn over loss or sin. He still does today!

Stopping at a comma

In Luke 4:19, Jesus quoted only part of Isaiah 61:2. Notice the complete verse: Isaiah 61:2 KJV  “To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.” “The acceptable year of the Lord” sometimes refers to the Jubilee year of Leviticus 26:8-17. However, Jesus applied it to His ministry then. He offered liberation from sin and its consequences. Those who accepted His salvation offer became His disciples.

As He quoted Isaiah 61:2 He stopped at the first comma (in the English Bible) and omitted “the day of vengeance of our God” and the rest of that verse (Luke 4:19). His reason seems to have been that the day of vengeance of our God is reserved for His second coming when He returns as conquering King and administers vengeance (justice) on those who willfully oppose Him.

Many Jews at the time believed that salvation was for them a matter of nationality rather than of submission to God. They considered vengeance and retribution to be reserved for the Gentiles. Some of the Jewish sects believed that Messiah would return as a powerful, conquering prince at the head of a mighty army to vanquish their enemies. When Jesus came instead as a suffering Servant Messiah who died for human sin, they rejected Him because He did not meet their messianic expectations. Their pride, prejudice, and preconceived opinion blinded them to their own spiritual need for repentance. What follows in this story is the result of this attitude.

Scripture fulfilled in a Man from Nazareth

In Luke 4:20 Jesus ended His reading, rolled up the scroll of Isaiah, and handed it back to the chazzan so He could sit down, as was customary, to deliver a sermon about these passages. The eyes of the congregation were fixed upon Him. There was an atmosphere of suspense building as they wondered what He would say next. He proclaimed that these texts were being fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:21). By contrast, they expected these passages to be fulfilled in a coming messianic age. Jesus said this phase of His ministry had already begun and they were being given an offer of repentance and discipleship.

The audience wondered at such gracious words coming from one they had known since He was a boy. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”, they asked (Luke 4:22). “How could He be the Messiah?” Rather than respond favorably to His offer, in Luke 4:23 Jesus predicted they would recite to Him a proverb that questions a person’s power and authority: “Physician, heal thyself.” Instead of responding to His offer, they asked Him to perform a miracle such as those they had probably heard about from His earlier ministry in Judea and Capernaum. By this point, Jesus had already turned water into wine and healed the nobleman’s son. Out of mere curiosity, they wanted to see a miracle but not transform their lives through genuine spiritual responsiveness.

Not accepted at home

Jesus then explained that prophets are seldom fully trusted back home (Luke 4:24). Jesus recited a proverbial expression that placed Him in the long line of prophets who were rejected by their people. What led to their rejecting Him was His noting examples of two Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who performed miracles for Gentiles during an age of Israelite apostasy (Luke 4:25-27).

This was more than they could stand so they arose in wrath (Luke 4:28). Their rage had been building as they sat listening to Him but now it boiled over. They were not slow to see how Jesus applied these Old Testament stories to them. He inferred they were just as apostate as Israelites in the time of Elijah and Elisha. Instead of accepting the message to repent of their sins, they chose to destroy the messenger. Familiarity had bred contempt for one of their own. 

To accept His words meant they would have to accept that God offered salvation to Gentiles whom they looked down upon as “dogs.” They were unwilling to humble their hearts. Their fierce, nationalistic pride and bigotry resented the thought of God’s blessing faith-filled Gentiles in the time of Elijah and Elisha. In effect, Jesus had compared his townsfolk to their unbelieving ancestors. Jesus even gave them another opportunity about a year later but instead they were offended in Him. As a result, He did not work many mighty miracles in his hometown (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:5). At the time, even His siblings did not believe in Him (John 7:5).

In Luke 4:29, these congregants led Him to the brow of a hill overlooking Nazareth, intending to cast Him down headfirst and then stone Him to death for blasphemy. This was contrary to Jewish custom that forbad execution without trial and forbad it being conducted on the Sabbath. Not only that, but Roman law required the governor’s permission before executing one of their own. They were acting like a lynch mob. In Luke 4:30-32, Jesus miraculously passed through their midst and continued His ministry in Capernaum. His time of sacrificial death had not yet come (John 7:30). Many elsewhere became His disciples. Jesus lived this proverbial expression: “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house”  (Matthew 13:57 KJV).

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: Jesus’ Sermon at His Hometown Synagogue

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 7 min.

Did you know that Jesus was considered a member of his hometown synagogue congregation and was thereby invited to preach to them on a Sabbath?

I have never preached a sermon in my hometown, although I have done so in my home state. Paul spent several years preaching in his hometown of Tarsus, in today’s nation of Turkey. If you were invited to speak before your hometown congregation, what would you say to them? You may want to be complimentary and grateful to those who witnessed your life changes in their community. This Digging Deeper will explore the first-century Sabbath liturgy in a narrative only Luke records to better understand what happened when Jesus addressed His local congregation.

The Gospel According to Luke records this experience in Luke 4:16-30. It occurs near the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. This was Jesus’ first visit to the town of Nazareth, where He grew up, since His baptism by John the Baptist. It is important for our understanding of Jesus’ sermon to remember that the Gospels refer to this area as “Galilee of the Gentiles” in the first century. During Pax Romana, the era of “Roman peace”, Galilee was occupied by many non-Jews. Luke records this incident right after reporting Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). However, John’s Gospel inserts His early Judean ministry following His baptism by John the Baptist and His temptation by the Devil. Following that, Luke briefly records Jesus being well-received when He taught in the Galilean synagogues (Luke 4:14-15). Jesus was both a preacher and a teacher, which are different means of communication. Teaching can be more effective than preaching because teachers can turn passive listeners into active participants. Jesus expected a response to His messages from the audience.

The First Century Synagogue

The word synagogue means “assembly.” Perhaps more than any other institution, the synagogue preserved the religion, culture, and special status of the Jewish people. These meeting places originated during the Babylonian captivity of the House of Judah and developed further during the time between the testaments (the Intertestamental Period). These buildings served as places of prayer and worship on the Sabbath. During the week they were transformed into law courts and schools. But on Sabbaths and at festivals they were places of scriptural instruction. Each synagogue was supervised by a board of elders or rulers. One lesser official was called a chazzan, somewhat equivalent to a deacon in Christian churches. The Holy Land offered synagogues not only for native Jews but also for diaspora Jews (those Jews originally from outside the Holy Land). It is estimated there were 480 such synagogues in Jerusalem alone.

In the standard synagogue layout, the main room provided a reading desk upon which scrolls of the Hebrew Bible were unfolded for reading. It was customary to read a portion of the Law and then a portion of the Prophets while standing, out of respect for God’s word. Following that, someone was invited to expound upon the texts for the day, usually based on the reading from the Prophets. Qualified men of the congregation were called upon by the rulers to sit in an assigned seat called “Moses Seat.” I refer you to my recent Digging Deeper article by this same title. Jesus was popularly considered a rabbi, or teacher – John 1:38, 49; 3:2; 6:25. Visiting rabbis were often invited to address the assembly, as was common for the Apostles Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13-16). Not only this, being a male member of this congregation entitled Jesus to be called upon to deliver the sermon for the day.

Order of service

Attendance was required for the Sabbaths and Feast days. The congregation faced the ark (chest or cabinet) housing the scripture scrolls in the front of the room. Men sat on one side of the room and women and children on the other or up in a balcony. Those who sat in the front near the reader’s desk were in the “chief seats,” mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels.  Following an opening prayer, the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5 reports a typical order of service as follows:

  1. Recitation of the shema – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – known as “the creed of the Jews”. Part of this read: Deuteronomy 6:4-5 KJV  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD :  (5)  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
  2. The parashah, or reading of the appointed section of the Law – anyone making the least mistake was immediately replaced by someone else.
  3. The haphtarah, or reading of the Prophets.
  4. The derashah, or “investigation, study” – a homily, discourse, or sermon usually given by a member of the congregation, usually based on the Prophets but also could be from the Law.
  5. The bendiction (blessing) – offered by the priest, if one was present. Otherwise, a prayer was offered to conclude. In some places singing of psalms was introduced into the service (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1980, pp. 57-58).

Luke 4:16 affirms that Sabbath attendance was Jesus’ regular habit. Jesus’ and His apostles and believers always observed the seventh-day Sabbath throughout the New Testament. Following their Master’s example, Christians today regularly attend Sabbath and festival services. Jesus’ example also provides evidence that the seven-day cycle since Creation has not been lost since Christians need only go back to Jesus’ day to verify this. He is the Creator and Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). Time has not been “lost,” as some assert, since the first century. Jews would not have lost the cycle of days since that time either. They have meticulously recorded their weeks, months, and years for millennia to faithfully observe God’s sacred times. 

He stood up to read

After the synagogue service began with prayer and a reading from the Law, Jesus was invited to read the Prophets portion for the day. The scroll he was handed was that of Isaiah. Possibly, He chose that scroll for this occasion. He stood to read it out of respect for God’s word. In the time of Ezra, not only did Ezra stand to read but the audience did as well (Nehemiah 8:5). The words “to read” in Luke 4:16 imply that Jesus read aloud. He preached in other synagogues, but read only here in Nazareth, showing He was considered a member of this synagogue. The lesson for the day was only read in Hebrew, indicating Jesus knew Hebrew as well as Aramaic (the common language of first-century Jews in the Holy Land), and possibly Greek (the common language of the eastern Roman Empire).

The chazzan would take the scrolls from a cabinet (chest) called “the ark,” to hand to the President of the synagogue who then handed it to the reader for the day. Scrolls were animal skins of parchment on which the sacred words were written in ink. These parchments were rolled on two rollers, or spindles, and were unraveled from the right roller to the left. Unlike many modern languages, Hebrew is read from right to left. As Jesus unrolled the scroll, He read a portion from two passages of Isaiah: Isaiah 61:1-2; Isaiah 58:6. This combining of texts was commonly done in that time to join together passages with a similar theme. This was called gezerah shava, a “comparison of equals”, creating a composite text.

What Jesus read at first brought keen interest, then curiosity, then alarm, and finally hostility. What did Jesus say that brought about a mob action that threatened His very life? Watch for a future Digging Deeper in which I will annotate Luke’s summary of Jesus’ message to that congregation. In the meantime, I encourage you to read and study this entire account in Luke 4:16-30.

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: Daughter of Abraham

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 7 min. 48 sec.

Did you know that Jesus illustrated acceptable Sabbath behavior by healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath?

When referring to her, He used a term that appears only once in our entire Bible: “daughter of Abraham.” This was a striking term for its focus on women. “Son of Abraham” appears twice in our New Testament. The Gospel According to Luke alone described this incident. Luke paid special attention to stories involving women as they related to Jesus’ ministry, even more so than the other Gospels. This Digging Deeper will examine this account of the daughter of Abraham, providing a vital lesson concerning acceptable Sabbath behavior.

Our focus verse is: “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16 KJV). So special was this story to Luke that he focused attention on how women were often treated, or mistreated, in first-century Judaism. This anecdote is often referred to as “The Healing of the Crippled Woman” or “A Woman with a Disabling Spirit.” Its context is Luke 13:10-17.

Jesus performs a miracle

This is the only recorded case of Christ’s preaching in a synagogue during the latter part of his ministry. It was customary to invite visiting rabbis, like Jesus, to deliver the sermon after the reading of the Law and the Prophets from the biblical scrolls. Please refer to my recent Digging Deeper article, “What Was Moses’ Seat?” While Jesus was preaching, He noticed a woman bowed over who could not lift up herself. The word in v. 11 for “bowed” in Greek is a medical term (Luke was a physician – Colossians 4:14) indicating curvature of the spine as if she were doubled over from carrying a heavy burden. Upon seeing her, Jesus immediately set her free from her infirmity by laying hands on her to straighten her (vv. 12-13). He would not heal her from a distance, as He did in other cases. The touch of the Master’s hand gave her the encouragement needed to stand up straight. Once she did, she broke out into praise to God (v. 13).

Surprisingly, the ruler of the synagogue, who also should have rejoiced, criticized Jesus’ action because He had healed her on the Sabbath (v. 14). According to rabbinical tradition, emergency cases might be given a minimum of attention on the Sabbath, but not chronic cases such as hers. Perhaps this daughter of Abraham had been attending this particular synagogue for the entire 18 years of her infirmity. As a result, her case would not be classified as urgent. Either no one was able to help her, or perhaps, even tried. Nonetheless, she continued faithfully attending Sabbath services. This crippled woman had hobbled to synagogue every Sabbath for these 18 years! If she had not attended that day, she may never have been healed. Her example is an encouragement to all women that, despite pain and suffering, they go where there will be reassurance, fellowship, and even blessing among other worshipers on God’s day.

An unwelcome response

Notice that in v. 14, this ruler angrily turned to the audience to complain that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath. Perhaps this was his pious attempt to discredit Jesus so he could retain control over this congregation. He considered healing a type of work forbidden on the Sabbath (v. 14). Jesus retorted that the Law permitted properly feeding and watering one’s animals on the Sabbath (v. 15). Then Jesus asked a pointed question in v. 16: should not this poor woman be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath if farmers and ranchers commonly served their livestock on the Sabbath? A.T. Robertson in his Word Pictures in the New Testament explains Jesus’ reason for healing her as a “Triple argument, human being and not an ox or ass, woman, daughter of Abraham (Jewess), besides being old and ill” (e-Sword 12.2).

Verse 17 displays contrasting responses to her healing: the audience rejoiced while Jesus’ adversaries were ashamed. This was a culture of honor and shame. The synagogue ruler had tried to shame Jesus in public but Jesus turned the tables on him by working a breathtaking miracle in front of them all. These critics of her healing were shamed before their congregation, displaying their unreasonable standards of Sabbath observance.

A woman of the covenant

At the beginning of v. 16, Jesus referred to her as a “daughter of Abraham.” This was deliberate because the term “son of Abraham” was used commonly to stress the worth of men as members of the covenant community. However, the title “daughter of Abraham” was virtually unknown because women were not seen as citizens of the nation but rather as members of their family. Jesus used this exalted title to stress that she was a woman in the covenant community – God’s highly favored elect people – since she was a descendent of the great patriarch, Abraham. Attending synagogue, despite her 18 years of suffering, indicates she was not just a Jewess but a believer in the God of Abraham who had made a covenant with her people. She was entitled to the Messiah’s blessing.   

Many Jews regarded women as less important than men. Notice Jesus’ contrasting treatment of women, as explained by The Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary, edited by Joseph S. Exell: “There is great beauty in the behaviour of Christ to women, whether it be the woman of Samaria, whose deep wound He probes so faithfully, yet with so light a touch; or the child of Jairus, to whom He speaks in her own dialect, holding her hand; or the widow of Nain, whom He bids not to weep; or she whose many sins were forgiven her, loving much; or Mary, for whose lavish gift He found so pathetic [touching] an apology—’She hath done it unto My burial’” (e-Sword 12.2).   

A lesson in loosing burdens

The word “loosed” in v. 16 is used for disease only here in our New Testament, evidently because it referred to being bound by the Devil. Jesus argued from the lesser to the greater. How much more important was a human condition of suffering compared to an animal’s. Both should be considered acts of mercy permitted on God’s holy day. Jesus was “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28) and therefore knew how the day should be observed.  Jesus’ critics did not accept Him as the God of the Hebrew Scriptures who created the Sabbath.

A common belief in Jewish culture was that calamity or suffering was the result of some great sin. No sin is connected to her suffering. Instead, Jesus said that Satan had bound this woman. No reason is given why Satan had done so. She was not possessed by the Devil; however, God permitted it as He had permitted Satan’s afflicting the patriarch Job. David Guzik in his Enduring Word Commentary explains this case had a spiritual dynamic: “We are foolish to think that spiritual issues cause all physical problems, but we [are] just as foolish to think spiritual issues can never cause physical problems” (e-Sword 12.2). For Jesus, handicaps were opportunities for God to display his power. Jesus displayed complete mastery during His ministry over demons, sickness, and disease.

What better day could there have been for this miracle than God’s Sabbath? Sabbath observance is not intended as a ritualistic burden, but as a blessing, as Jesus explained: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Some Sabbath-keepers become so legalistic in their observance of the day that they forget the original intent was to provide rest, rejoicing, refreshment, and renewal for humans and animals during this holy time. It should be enjoyed for its created purpose, not as an excuse for gaining more profit or participating in trivial worldly pleasures.

Bob Utley’s You Can Understand the Bible teaches us a valuable lesson from this singular story: “Jesus exposed this man and all who think like him (plural, hypocrites). The rabbis had great compassion in their oral traditions for the human treatment of animals on the Sabbath (cf. Luke 14:5), but were restrictive in their treatment of humans. Jesus illustrates the fallacy of the rabbinical system’s legalism without compassion for people. We must be careful of our rules. They often become more important than people. People are priority with God. Only people are eternal. God made creation for fellowship with people! Our rules often say more about us than about God” (e-Sword 12.2)!

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: What was Moses’ Seat?

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 7 min.

Did you know that Moses was honored with a seat in New Testament Jewish synagogues?

Centuries after Moses died, the seat of Moses was an honored chair in these meeting houses. In the first century, there is evidence from some synagogues of a special decorative seat called the “Seat of Moses” on a raised platform. His seat was filled by men who claimed the exalted position of teaching by Moses’ authority. Jesus referred to this religious office with some sharp statements about the religious leaders who occupied it. Today’s Digging Deeper explores the history behind this exalted position with Jesus’ important caveat.

Our central passage for this study is: “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not” (Matthew 23:1-3 KJV). In this same chapter, Jesus pronounced seven woes upon these men for their abuse of power (Matthew 23:13-36).

The authority of Moses

Moses was the great legislator of the Israelite nation. God inspired him to preach and to inscribe five books (the Torah or Pentateuch) in God’s name. His influence transcended the centuries, for he is named 80 times in our New Testament, having a massive presence among the devout of the land. Moses occupied the office of expounder and chief justice for the application of the law to specific cases of conduct. Exodus 18 describes how his father-in-law convinced him to delegate authority to other judges under his command, thereby sharing his authority but leaving him as the chief justice with God’s final authority. Upon his death, Moses’ authority passed on to his successors who sat in his seat.

The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable explains what sitting in Moses’ seat represented: “According to Old Testament figurative usage a person who sat on a predecessor’s seat was that person’s successor (Exodus 11:5; 12:29; 1 Kings 1:35; 1:46; 2:12; 16:11; 2 Kings 15:12; Psalm 132:12)” (e-Sword 12.2). Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible explains why God permitted them to do so: “They sat there formerly by Divine appointment: they sit there now by Divine permission” (Ibid.). They were not authorized to mandate new law but rather to interpret already provided law for their followers.

The College Press Bible Study Textbook Series describes how his position was transferred upon his death: “Moses’ seat is his cathedra, his ‘Bible Chair’ from which his doctrine is read and expounded. In Malachi’s day it was the priests who had the magisterial responsibility (Malachi 2:7 ff.), a duty as old as the priesthood itself (Leviticus 10:17; Deuteronomy 17:9-13). But with ‘Ezra the priest and scribe’ (Nehemiah 12:26) the function began shifting onto professional scribes (Nehemiah 8:4, 7-9; 8:13, 18; cf. Ezra 7:1-6; 10)” (e-Sword 12.2).

The Transfer of Influence

In the first century, the Levites were to have been Israel’s teachers, but most of them were Sadducees and no longer carried the same authority. Moses’ authority had devolved to the scribes and Pharisees. Study of the Scriptures was of little interest to the indifferent Sadducees. The Pulpit Commentary, edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, explains: “The Sadducees seem to have had no popular influence, and were never recognized as leaders. The Levitical priests never appear in the Gospels as teachers or expositors of the Mosaic system; this function of theirs had devolved upon scribes and lawyers” (e-Sword 12.2).

By Jesus’ day, scribes (doctors of the law or legal experts) were mostly from the Pharisaic party instead of the Sadducean, but not all Pharisees were scribes. Dr. Bob Utley’s You Can Understand the Bible describes the scribes as “…experts in the Written Law (OT) and the Oral Law (Talmud) of Israel and were available to make local practical applications. In effect they replaced the traditional OT functions of the local Levites” (e-Sword 12.2). A Commentary on the Holy Bible, edited by J.R. Dummelow explains their claim to authority: “The scribes (who were ordained with the laying-on of hands) claimed to have received their authority through an unbroken succession from Moses. The ‘sitting’ refers to the judicial power, and the authority to teach, which all scribes or rabbis possessed, and which was centred in the Great Sanhedrin [Jewish supreme court]” (Ibid.).

Sitting to Teach

Moses’ writings were read incrementally in the synagogues every Sabbath day (Acts 15:21). When the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the Prophets were read from the scrolls stored in “the Ark” (cabinet) in synagogues, the reader stood; however, when he expounded the reading afterward he sat. Sitting was the posture of a teacher. Jesus employed this position to teach as well: “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him” (Matthew 5:1 KJV). The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes that “In the Talmud ‘to sit’ is nearly synonymous with ‘to teach'” (e-Sword 12.2).

When Jesus said the scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, He merely acknowledged the fact. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains His remark about these leaders: “Where they went wrong Jesus will point out. But here He must mention them, because, despite their faults, they uphold Moses, as opposed to the paganizing leadership of the Sadducean priesthood” (e-Sword 12.2).

However, Jesus did criticize their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:3-7). The College Press Bible Study Textbook Series clarifies that Jesus’ criticism of these religious leaders was not for their holding such an authoritative position but “…because their party zeal strenuously applied the theologians’ legalistic conclusions to everyday life with a rigor that required everyone to fall in lock-step behind them. In this sense, the Pharisees, too, were Israel’s teachers, even if unofficially” (e-Sword 12.2).

To do what they say

In Matthew 23:3 Jesus does not dispute the importance of Moses’ law, but His implication is clear. He goes on to explain that these teachers did not obey their teachings (Matthew 23:4). As The College Press Bible Study Textbook Series continues ” … whatever comes from Moses is from God and is to be received with full confidence and submission. Merely because Jesus must undercut the unjustified pretensions of the Jewish magisterium does not mean that Moses must go too. So, before beginning His condemnation of the unfaithfulness and sinful conduct of the religious leaders, He calls for sincere reverence for God’s Law” (e-Sword 12.2).

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible provides us two important lessons from this passage:

“1. Many a good place is filled with bad men; it is no new thing for the vilest men to be exalted even to Moses’s seat (Psalm 12:8); and, when it is so, the men are not so much honoured by the seat as the seat is dishonoured by the men. Now they that sat in Moses’s seat were so wretchedly degenerated, that it was time for the great Prophet to arise, like unto Moses, to erect another seat.

2. Good and useful offices and powers are not therefore to be condemned and abolished, because they fall sometimes into the hands of bad men, who abuse them. We must not therefore pull down Moses’s seat, because scribes and Pharisees have got possession of it; rather than so, let both grow together until the harvest, Matthew 13:30″ (e-Sword 12.2).

Respect for high office, especially religious office, is a fundamental teaching of church government. Jesus set the record straight at a time when there was much abuse of this position by the religious teachers. This was not meant to condone their unbiblical behavior but rather to instruct their followers to abide by their correct teachings of God’s word, despite their hypocrisy. God’s mighty word will still change lives, even if delivered by defective servants.

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: Did John Invent Baptism?

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 6 min. 46 sec.

Did you know that John the Baptist did not invent total immersion water baptism?

Early in our four Gospels, we read about a man named John, later called John the Baptist or John the Baptizer. Some may conclude from this title that John first used or even invented the practice. The Gospels name a few of the locations near the Jordan River where he baptized those who came to him for spiritual cleansing. Readers of the New Testament may conclude that water baptism was a new ceremony begun by John. However, as this Digging Deeper will disclose, total immersion water baptism long predates the ministry of John.

Within a couple of months, the Church of God will again observe the annual Passover, so now is the time to concentrate on its deep spiritual meaning.  As an annual recommitment to our baptismal covenant with Christ, we reflect on our momentous, life-transforming decision to accept His sacrifice for our sins and serve Him as loyal disciples. Tracing the history of water baptism will deepen our appreciation for its spiritual significance.

Baptism in the Ancient World

Ablutions and bathing were practiced by many ancient peoples. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes that “From the OT to Greek, Hittite and Egyptian temples, ritual purity and purification were important in the ancient world. Jewish people observed various ceremonial washings, and some groups, such as the Essenes, took these practices to an extreme” (Tecarta Bible App). The Essenes were an ascetic group living near the Dead Sea during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus.

This source continues: “Many ancient cults practiced ceremonial washings, which are also common in the OT and Judaism; some Jewish sects (such as the people who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls) were particularly scrupulous about these washings, but others (such as Sadducees and Pharisees) also shared this emphasis. Whereas most of these washings were often repeated, one kind of immersion (apparently attested even by some first- and second-century Gentile writers) was employed for conversion, namely of Gentiles converting to Judaism (alongside male circumcision)” (Ibid.).

Further describing this practice, the Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, edited by James Hastings, in its article by A.J. Maclean on “Baptism of proselytes” states that “The Jews admitted ‘proselytes of righteousness,’ i.e. full proselytes, with baptism, circumcision, and sacrifice. This custom was very common in Rabbinical times, though Josephus and Philo do not mention it, and some have therefore concluded that it did not exist in the 1st cent.; but Edersheim has clearly proved from ancient evidence that it was then in use (LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Edersheim).] ii. 746, Appendix xii.)” (e-Sword 12.2).

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible describes later Jewish baptisms: “Jewish initiatory baptisms involved immersion; later rabbis in fact required full-body immersions to be performed naked, to guarantee that the entire body was covered. Nevertheless, at an early stage Christians began making other arrangements where conditions were less than ideal (Didache 7.1–3)” (Tecarta Bible App).

Describing the seriousness of Jewish baptism of Gentile converts, Paul H. Wright in the Rose Then and Now Bible Map Atlas states: “A second type of immersion was required of Gentile proselytes converting to Judaism. These underwent a single initiatory rite of baptism to remove the defilement which had adhered to them, as non-Jews, from birth” (Rose Publishing, 2012, p. 164).

Various Baptisms in Biblical History

The following summarizes an article in the Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan, 2010, p. 1328):

Ritual immersion in water was a frequently used religious symbol in ancient Judaism.  It symbolized purification and the removal of sin or was sometimes employed as an initiation rite to represent a change of status or a conversion.

  1. In the OT, priests practiced rites of immersion for maintaining ritual purity – Leviticus 15; Leviticus 16:3-4, Leviticus 16:23-24.
  2. Within Pharisaic Judaism during the NT period, water immersion served as the primary means by which ritual impurity was eliminated – Matthew 15:1-3; John 2:6-7.
  3. In the community at Qumran, baptism became a symbolic act with which one was “made holy by the waters of repentance.”
  4. Certain Jewish groups during the 1st century AD, practiced proselyte baptism, requiring converts, along with circumcision, to receive immersion in a ritualistic bath before full acceptance into the Jewish community.
  5. Before entering the Temple and participating in Holy Day services, purification through ritualistic immersion baths was expected of all Jews – Numbers 9:10-11; John 11:55; Acts 21:20-27.
  6. Several Jewish ritual baths, or miqvaot (singular mikveh), in cities like Jerusalem, Jericho, and other cities have been excavated.  Rabbinical law required them to hold at least 60 gallons of water, deep enough to completely immerse the body.

John’s Baptism

The Rose Then and Now Bible Map Atlas describes how John adapted this custom: “But unlike the Temple Jews, the Essenes–and John–reserved immersion for people who first repented of their sins” (Ibid., p. 163). This is why John’s baptism was described as a “baptism of repentance” by the Gospels of Mark and Luke and the Book of Acts. Unlike some Jewish ritual baptisms, John’s baptism was once for all: “John’s one-time ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ was an initiatory rite aimed at emphasizing the need for living righteously (defined in terms of social, liturgical, acts) in a Kingdom of Heaven [Matthew’s term for the Kingdom of God] that was inclusive of anyone who submitted to its waters, regardless of gender, ethnicity, status or former life” (Ibid., p. 164). It was this particular form of baptism that gave John the distinctive nickname of “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer.”

Today, Christians also request baptism, after they have repented of their sins, to receive forgiveness. Jesus came to John for baptism, not for spiritual cleansing of sin, but to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). John knew his baptism was limited when he told his followers, when Jesus came for baptism, that Jesus’ followers would receive the “baptism of the Spirit” from Jesus as well (Mark 1:8). In the Old Testament, water is often associated with the Spirit (Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-29). Today, Christians receive this baptism of the Spirit with the laying on of hands by the ministry following water baptism. This distinguishes Christian baptism from John’s baptism. Baptism is indeed a symbolic act – there is no magic worked by getting wet. Yet that does not mean it is unimportant. It is a commanded observance that represents being crucified with Christ, buried with Him in baptism, and rising to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-6).

John’s baptism was preparatory to Christian baptism – a stepping stone that focused more attention on Jesus’ Spirit baptism than his own. John knew he prepared the way for the coming of the Lord and that his ministry would diminish as Jesus’ ministry ascended (John 1:15, 26-30; Acts 19:4). Additionally, he recognized his place in God’s preparation for the coming of the Messiah (John 1:23). His baptism of repentance prepared many people for Jesus’ baptism of the Spirit, including some of John’s disciples who left him to follow Jesus instead. It was a vital link in the chain of God’s plan. As we prepare for this year’s Passover service, let us reflect on this baptism history to better appreciate our place in that chain.

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: The Greatest Nation

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 8 min. 41 sec.

Did you know that God intended ancient Israel to be the greatest nation in history?

Some Americans hail themselves as the greatest nation the world has ever seen by chanting: “USA, USA, etc.” or “We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1, etc.” Many nations and civilizations have considered themselves the greatest in history. The United States of America is just the latest to claim exceptionalism. However, by simply reading God’s description of His chosen and accountable people in the Holy Bible, one comes away with a very different conclusion. Achieving their supreme position depended on their adherence to His teachings, called the Torah in the Hebrew Old Testament. This Digging Deeper explores this theme in biblical history to discover that this honored position is to be filled by a most unexpected people.

Rising from slavery

The Book of Exodus chronicles God’s release, rescue, and redemption of the ancient Israelites from bondage to the Pharaoh of Egypt and his court. Ten divine miracles forced the Pharaoh to liberate them to follow God’s pillar of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night to a land of milk and honey. Once there, God provided them productive land that would fill their material needs. He assured them that if they obeyed Him they would prosper generation after generation to the point of world dominance. God intended Israel to become the greatest nation in the history of the world. Notice these scriptures showing the divine blessing prerequisites and how astonished other nations would be at the greatness of these former slave people:

“Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8 KJV)? (emphasis mine throughout)

“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6 KJV).

“Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which I command thee this day, to do them. Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers: And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle. And the LORD will take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee” (Deuteronomy 7:11-15 KJV).

“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:1 KJV).

Strangers welcome!

God did not show favoritism by selecting Israel to be His model nation. Rather, He chose them to be His shining light on a hill to other nations attracting them to His truth as modeled by Israel. If individuals came to Israel for refuge, they were to be welcomed: “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9 KJV). The word stranger appears 131 times in our King James Bible. God has much to say about welcoming foreigners and alien residents if they came as converts to the God of Israel. Israel suffered desperate hearts as strangers in the oppressive land of Egypt, qualifying them to understand and welcome foreign converts to the true faith and promote God’s ways to the ends of the earth.

We see this again in Solomon’s dedicatory prayer for the opening of the first temple: “Moreover concerning the stranger, which is not of thy people Israel, but is come from a far country for thy great name’s sake, and thy mighty hand, and thy stretched out arm; if they come and pray in this house; Then hear thou from the heavens, even from thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for; that all people of the earth may know thy name, and fear thee, as doth thy people Israel, and may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33 KJV). That is why the temple was called “an house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:7 KJV). It was designed to promote repentance by pagan nations who had experienced the bitter fruit of idolatry.

Falling for idolatry…

The Old Testament offers the fascinating story of one such foreigner, the Queen of Sheba, who came to inspect the glory of Solomon’s kingdom (1 Kings 10; 2 Chronicles 9). She returned from her visit astonished by what she saw. Israel’s apex occurred during the reigns of David and Solomon. This was the closest Israel came to qualifying as God’s model nation. Regrettably, not long after her visit, Solomon compromised by accepting his many wives’ gods into his kingdom. These idols turned his heart away from God: “And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father’ (1 Kings 11:3-6 KJV).

Israel declined rapidly during the reign of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, leading to the rebellion of the House of Israel from the House of Judah and the Throne of David. All the kings of the House of Israel turned out bad as well as most of the kings of the House of Judah. Ancient Israel failed in its mission through idolatry: “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:11-13 KJV).

A new great nation

Nonetheless, in the New Testament, God ordained that a new spiritual Israel, His church, would be His model nation now empowered to obey by the Holy Spirit:

Matthew 21:43 KJB Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you [unbelieving Jews], and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

Galatians 6:16 KJV:  “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”

1 Peter 2:9 KJV:  “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

This spiritual Israel is to be that shining light on a hill: Matthew 5:14-16 KJV:  “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  (15)  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  (16)  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Jesus taught that those who are truly great are servants: Matthew 23:11 KJV:  “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Spiritual Israel’s example provides an evangelistic magnet for peoples yearning to breathe free from heathenism. They will show desperate peoples “the way of the LORD.” As they respond to God’s calling, they will then seek the way of eternal life: John 14:6 KJV “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” In this way, Christian ambassadors will serve as “the greatest nation.”

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: Daily Benefits

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 6 min.

Did you know that God showers us with blessings daily?

The year 2020 has been a year unlike any other in the memory of many people and one that most wish to leave behind rapidly. As a new civil year begins, their hopes are for a better year to come. The world has focused on the coronavirus, economic downturn, natural disasters, ethnic conflict, wars, terrorism, political chaos, and many other horrors. Because of this many have been absorbed with life’s travails. For a change of pace, we will learn in this Digging Deeper that, despite all this, God supplies His people daily blessings. An old hymn admonishes us to “name them [blessings] one by one.” Let us remind ourselves of God’s many daily blessings that will help us concentrate on a broad perspective of the Christian life itself.

Our focus verse is: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah” (Psalm 68:19 KJV). This verse challenges us to stop and take a big picture view of life to discover the many ways God is good to us because of His grace – whether it be “common grace” for all humankind (Matthew 5:45) or “particular grace” for His called ones (John 1:16). Yes, we certainly have many more challenges than we did a year ago. Nonetheless, it will benefit us to stop and consider this verse in light of the present alarming and dangerous experience.

Blessings or burdens?

There is a textual matter about this verse to consider first. Henry Morris in his article “Loaded with Blessing” for December 31, 2020 in the Days of Praise daily newsletter explains: “In our text verse, the words ‘with benefits’ have been supplied by the translators. Some might, therefore, conclude that the verse could mean that God is daily loading us with burdens instead of benefits. The context, however, assures us that the emphasis is really on His blessings. For that matter, even a burden can become a blessing if we take it as a gift from God for our spiritual benefit.” In many ways, God bears our burdens – many times without our even realizing it. Let us now consider our focus verse incrementally.

The annotation for our verse in Joseph S. Exell’s The Biblical Illustrator provides material for careful consideration:

“II. What God does for us: He ‘daily loadeth us with benefits.’

1. The nature of God’s gift. ‘Benefits,’ not deserts.

2. Their number. ‘Loadeth.’

3. The frequency of their communication. ‘Daily.’ And these benefits flow to us freely, unsolicited, unimplored, unsought. Seasonably, exactly as we need them. Critics state that it should be read ‘who bears our burdens, or supports us, every day.’ In the wilderness God bare Israel as a man doth bear his son (Deuteronomy 1:31). Or as an eagle bears her young on her wings (Deuteronomy 32:11). The promise is (Isaiah 46:4). We have our cares, and burdens, and anxieties, but God invites us to cast them upon Him (Psalm 55:22) (e-Sword 12.2).”

Don’t Forget His Daily Gifts

We may confidently roll our troubles into His strong arms. We need not bear them alone. Concurrently, our challenge is to not forget His daily benefits: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2 KJV). We live busy lives, thinking often of our current and coming experiences. Our danger is forgetting the many benefits He has already afforded us and those He is providing presently. For one thing, we should daily praise Him for His salvation. Notice this compelling verse: “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 KJV).

Our focus verse instructs us to bless the LORD for these benefits. How do we bless God? We usually think of His blessing us. Exell’s The Biblical Illustrator again provides food for thought on how to accomplish this:

“III. What we should do in return. ‘Blessed be the Lord.’ To bless signifies to extol, exalt, or speak well of a person; and to bless the Lord is to speak good of His name.

1. We should bless the Lord sincerely. Hypocrisy is hateful to God.

2. We should bless the Lord affectionately. Our gratitude should be the effusion of love.

3. We should bless the Lord constantly. ‘I will bless the Lord at all times.’

4. We should bless the Lord practically. To say, ‘We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord,’ while we practically violate His laws, must be abominable in His sight. Let us ‘praise Him not only with our lips but by our lives,’ etc. (e-Sword 12.2).”

How could we ever repay the Almighty for these benefits? Notice: “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me” (Psalm 116:12 KJV)? We can never fully recompense our Father sufficiently for all He does for us. Without a doubt, He intervenes to spare us from accidents and other calamities without our realizing it. We may have suffered defeats, losses, disappointments, and injuries of all sorts this past year. Yet, if we were to count His benefits they would still outnumber these difficulties.

Remembering His Purpose

As we continue to face the global problems brought on by the coronavirus, here is a verse that directs us to never forget to thank the Great God for his daily benefits: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV). Even burdens we are enduring now have a purpose in God’s grand scheme of salvation. God’s people are especially assured of His continuing grace in this well-known verse: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 KJV). God allows even these serious problems to strengthen our faith in His overall superintendence of our salvation. Henry Morris provides a fitting conclusion to help us keep our perspective: “Each day we have the indwelling presence of His Spirit, the illuminating guidance of His Word, the daily provision of all real needs, and the assurance of His love. He has surely loaded us with benefits!” (Days of Praise, December 31, 2020).

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: Abraham the Teacher

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 7 min. 46 sec.

Did you know that the first mention of teaching children God’s ways is in the same chapter of Genesis in which God’s angels came down to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?

The cities of the plain (Genesis 19:29) had become so wicked that God was left with no choice but to execute judgment upon them. However, tucked in the middle of this story is likely the first direct reference to what we today call education – the instruction of students. This Digging Deeper dives into this topic to discover the surprising account behind God’s commendation of his prophet, Abraham (Genesis 20:7).

Our focus verse for this study is: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Genesis 18:19 KJV). This verse occurs in the context of God’s decision to reveal to Abraham His intent to destroy these wicked cities (Genesis 18:17-21). The reason God decided to inform Abraham of His mission was that He knew Abraham would direct his children and household servants in God’s ways and not the ways of the world that lead to such evil. Much of the way cities and cultures develop depends on what their citizens are taught as children.

Teaching the two great commandments

Notice that the content of Abraham’s instruction for his family and servants is equivalent to the two great commandments, to love God supremely and one’s neighbors as oneself, that Jesus expounded in the Book of Matthew: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40 KJV).

Genesis 18:19 describes these two great commandments as “the way of the LORD” and “to do justice and judgment.” John Gill in his Exposition of the Bible defines justice and judgment: ” … to attend to all the laws, statutes, and judgments of God; to do that which is just and right between man and man; not as a justifying righteousness, by which Abraham himself was not justified before God; but to show their regard to the will of God, in gratitude for favours received from him, and to glorify him, as well as for the good of their fellow creatures” (e-Sword 12.2). Paul explains the value of a believer’s example: “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” (Titus 3:8 KJV).

Joseph Benson’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments explains God’s decision to reveal His plan to Abraham: “This is a bright part of Abraham’s character. He not only prayed with his family, but he taught them, as a man of knowledge; nay, he commanded them, as a man in authority, and was prophet and king, as well as priest, in his own house. And he not only took care of his children, but of his household: his servants were catechised [instructed] servants. Masters of families should instruct, and inspect the manners of all under their roof” (e-Sword 12.2). Abraham and his family were exceptions to the people living in this region. They needed to know why God would execute such violent retribution on the cities of the plain. This household was spared because they served the one true God.

Their survival was a means of evangelism in the righteous ways of the LORD, as described by the Cambridge Bible for Colleges and Schools: “The purpose for which God has known and sought out Abraham is here epitomized; (1) that, through the obedience of him and his folk, a true righteousness, according to ‘the way of the Lord,’ may be propagated; (2) that the Divine fulfilment of the promise may be carried out unhindered. Family life is the sphere of chosen service” (e-Sword 12.2). As a household, they were an example of God’s grace who set a sterling example of serving the one true God during an evil era.

The responsibility of parents

Henry Morris in his Defender’s Study Bible comments on Genesis 18:19: “This is the first specific reference in the Bible to the teaching of children, indicating that such instruction is the primary responsibility of the father and should take the form of commandments, centering first on the ways of the Lord, then on justice and judgment to fellow-men” (e-Sword 12.2). Home spiritual education begins with the father as head of the household as supported by his wife. In homes where the father is an unbeliever, the mother should provide this necessary instruction as discreetly as possible in such a difficult circumstance. We will see below an example of just such a mother and grandmother who did.

A supporting statement to Henry Morris’ comment comes from his “Days of Praise” article for December 29, 2020, entitled  True Education: “This is a very important verse comprising the first direct reference in the Bible to what we today would call education, and it is given in connection with God’s approving testimony concerning Abraham. Note that nothing is said concerning degrees or diplomas, the sciences or humanities, school buildings or textbooks.” It makes the case that God’s highest priority of fathers (and supporting mothers) is teaching children love for God and neighbor. This article continues: “Such instruction is the responsibility of the home—not of the government or some educational association. It is to be given in the context of God’s promises and plans (thus in the context of divine revelation) and is to be framed in terms of ‘commands.'”

Examples of Education

The Bible contains many references to teaching, instruction, and learning. One of the major themes of the Book of Proverbs is training those referred to as the simple (i.e., the inexperienced, immature, innocent, guileless, and harmless young people who have not yet developed biblical wisdom) (Proverbs 1:4 KJV). A companion New Testament command to fathers is: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 KJV). Of his protege, Timothy, Paul writes: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15 KJV). Timothy’s father was a Greek (Acts 16:1 KJV) and apparently an unbeliever. Nonetheless, Timothy had been instructed in God’s truth by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5 KJV). Paul continued to develop Timothy’s spiritual education by writing two epistles (1 and 2 Timothy) to him with instructions on how to organize and pastor first-century Churches of God.

During the time of Moses after the Exodus, God incorporated a command to parents to accept this responsibility seriously: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 KJV). Abraham and Timothy’s mother and grandmother understood and fulfilled this responsibility.

Teaching the next generation

Abraham knew his obligation to God about 600 years before the law was codified in the time of Moses. God’s expectation of parents has remained the same throughout human history. The lesson for us today is to examine our response to this duty if we are parents or even grandparents (Deuteronomy 4:9-10 KJV). This is one way God’s truth is propagated from generation to generation. Geness 18:19 is one of the first statements of the law of parental authority. Joshua, Moses’ protege, asserted his family’s loyalty to God this way: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15 KJV).

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: A Hanukkah Confrontation

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading time: 8 min. 19 sec.

Did you know that Jesus was almost stoned (literally) on a Jewish holiday?

The Gospel of John makes the only reference to an added Jewish holiday from the second century BC. This was not one of God’s original festivals and Holy Days but an eight-day special national observance, somewhat comparable to many countries’ national holidays. In 2020, the Jewish people will observe Hanukkah between December 11-18. This Digging Deeper explores the significant backstory to this holiday and Jesus’ presence during its AD 30 observance in Jerusalem.

This article’s focus verses are: John 10:22-23 KJV  “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.  (23)  And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.” Two or three months have transpired since Jesus observed the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem in AD 30 (John 7). What happened on the Feast of the Dedication contributed to His crucifixion a few months later in the spring of AD 31. The rest of John 10 seems to have occurred during this national feast.

History of Hanukkah

To understand what happened in John 10, we need to explore some history of this observance. In the Intertestamental Period (the roughly 400 years between the Books of Malachi and Matthew), Jewish authors composed several books, known as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, that were not considered inspired by God and thus were not included in the Old Testament canon. Two of these books were 1 and 2 Maccabees. These books do, however, provide historical background for this holiday.

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible summarizes from the Books of Maccabees the carnage in Jerusalem as the result of an invasion by a Seleucid king during the Greek period :

The temple and city were taken by Antiochus Epiphanes in the year 167 b.c. He killed 40,000 inhabitants, and sold 40,000 more as slaves. In addition to this, he sacrificed a sow on the altar of burnt-offerings, and a broth being made of this, he sprinkled it all over the temple. The city and temple were recovered three years afterward by Judas Maccabaeus, and the temple was purified with great pomp and solemnity.

(e-Sword 12.2)

Antiochus Epiphanes also erected an image of Zeus in the Temple. After the Jews conquered and cleansed the Temple, the altar was rededicated to the God of Israel with a special observance of 8 days.

Hanukkah Traditions

Today, this Feast of the Dedication is commonly called Hanukkah, but that is only one of several names:

  1. Feast of the dedication (Heb Hanukkah) – Hebrew name
  2. Feast of the renewing or the renovation – Greek name
  3. Feast of lights (lamps) – Josephus
  4. Feast of the Maccabees – Jewish name
  5. Feast of Illumination – Talmudic name

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary informs us how Hanukkah was originally observed: “This feast began on the 25th Chisleu (December) and lasted eight days but did not require attendance at Jerusalem. Assembled in the Temple or in the synagogues or the places where they resided, the Jews sang ‘Hallel,’ carrying palm and other branches; and there was a grand illumination of the Temple and private houses” (Kindle App). 

One may wonder what was the reason for celebrating it for 8 days. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary continues:

The origin of the illumination of the Temple is unknown, although tradition says that when the sacred ‘lampstands’ of the restored Temple were to be lighted only one flagon of oil, sealed with the signet of the high priest, was found to feed the lamps. This was pure oil, but only sufficient for one day—when by a miracle the oil increased, and the flagon remained filled for eight days, in memory of which the Temple and private houses were ordered to be illuminated for the same period. No public mourning or fast was allowed on account of calamity or bereavement.

(Kindle App)

National Observances

Several centuries earlier, another added national observance, called Purim, originated from a successful rebuff of a Persian attempt at genocide of the Jews, as chronicled in Esther 9. Some Jews believed that Numbers 10:10 authorized them to observe these national days besides those mandated by God when it refers to “any day of national thanksgiving.” The cleansing of the Temple in 164 BC was an occasion of special thanksgiving and celebration. However, it was one of other altar dedications in the Holy Scripture:

  1. That of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:2; 2 Chronicles 5:3);
  2. the dedication of the Temple in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:3-19); and
  3. the dedication of the Temple after the Captivity (Ezra 6:16).

In John 7, Jesus observed the Feast of Tabernacles during which the Temple ceremony included special water and light processions. A few months later, He was again in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication, also called the Feast of Lights. Our readers may have already noticed that both of these feasts included special light ceremonies. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary explains: “The similarity between this festival and the ‘feast of Booths’ [Tabernacles] would seem to indicate some intended connection between the two. Without doubt, our Lord attended this festival at Jerusalem (John 10:22). It is still observed by the Jews” (Kindle App). John chapters 8-10 occurred between these two festivals. Notice this significant assertion from Jesus: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5 KJV). He may have deliberately referenced these special light ceremonies as typical of His mission.

Jesus may have alluded to Hanukkah in other ways in John 10. Notice John 10:36: “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” The word sanctified means “set apart, consecrated or dedicated to God.” He was dedicated to God, just as was the Temple altar in the days of the Maccabees. Additionally, notice: John 10:30-31 KJV ” I and my Father are one.  (31)  Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.” Clearly, the Jewish rulers understood Jesus had asserted His divinity so they accused Him of blasphemy (John 10:33). This was not the first time they tried to stone Him between Tabernacles and Dedication: “Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:59 KJV). Stoning to death was the Jewish form of capital punishment. However, in the first century, the Jews had to gain approval from Roman authorities before executing anyone. It may also be significant that the Temple altar that had been defiled but later cleansed by the Maccabeans was composed of stones.

There may be yet another reference to Hanukkah in this account in John. We have already seen that Jesus claimed divinity. The one who defiled the Temple altar was the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes who ruled from 175-164 BC. A Commentary on the Bible by Arthur S. Peake describes him as: ” … an arbitrary and eccentric king, half magnificent and half buffoon. His very name (the god manifest) speaks of Greek religion debased by Eastern king-worship, and there was a further departure from the old Greek ways of thinking when he used persecution to ‘reform this most repulsive people,’ as Tacitus calls the Jews” (Bible Analyzer If Jesus was making a connection to Antiochus Epiphanes’ claim, He drew a sharp contrast since this king was merely a man.

Not the appointed time

John 10:22 does not directly inform us that Jesus observed this national holiday, though this is implied. Nonetheless, Christians have drawn from this verse an example of His approval of observing national holidays. What is certain is that Jesus took advantage of the occasion to advance His kingdom message by referring to His divine identity and association with the Father. He had already begun to predict his coming death as a sacrifice for sins. Things He said and did on that Hanukkah contributed to the vitriol of the Jewish rulers that would culminate in His death the following spring. However, He would not remain dead. Speaking of His coming resurrection, He referenced the Temple when He  ” … said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 KJV). He spoke of the temple of His body that would be resurrected after three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40). However, the Jews would later accuse Him of threatening the Temple (Mark 14:58).

The Jewish rulers were no match for Jesus during this Hanukkah confrontation. He informed them they were not of His sheep (John 10:26-29) and He escaped from their attempt to kill him by fleeing to Perea to continue His ministry before His coming sacrificial death on Passover, AD 31 (John 10:38-42). Hanukkah was not the assigned time for His death – Passover was, as stated in 1 Corinthians 5:7 KJV: ” … For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.”

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: Lessons from the Rechabites

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading Time: 6 min.

Did you know that during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem God instructed Jeremiah to unknowingly direct a neighboring nomadic tribe to disobey an ancestor’s command?

Jeremiah would learn that they had been faithful to that command for about two and a half centuries. God contrasted the obedience of these non-Israelites to the disobedience of the Jews to His commands, which eventually led to this invasion and captivity. These nomads were Rechabites, a branch of the Kenites related to Moses’ father-in-law. This Digging Deeper analyzes Jeremiah 35 illustrating lessons for Christians today.

Before we delve into this chapter, we should consider earlier historical events as backstories. In about 841 BC, King Jehu of Judah vigorously opposed Baalism in the days of wicked King Ahab of Israel because of his “zeal for the LORD” (2 Kings 10:15-16). One of his allies was a man named Jonadab (also called Jehonadab) who was from this Kenite tribe. Smith’s Bible Dictionary reports that Jonadab’s ancestor was Rechab whose house: “…is identified with a section of the Kenites, a Midianitish tribe who came into Canaan with the Israelites, and retained their nomadic habits” (e-Sword 12.2).

Who were the Rechabites?

The Rechabites were only distantly related to the twelve tribes of Israel. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains: “A part of the Kenite tribe joined the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings (Numbers 10:29-32; Judges 1:16; 4:17), becoming identified with the tribe of Judah … Rechab was the ancestor or founder of a family, or order, in Israel known as the Rechabites, who at various times were conspicuous in the religious life of the nation” (e-Sword 12.2).

Wine-drinking was excessive in the Ancient Near East for Canaanite worship and its association with Baalism. During the reign of King Jehu of Judah (841-814 BC), the Rechabites joined him in a vigorous assault on Baalism (2 Kings 10:15-23). Jonadab made a family rule that they would drink no wine, like the Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-21), and that they would not build houses, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyards but dwell in tents as nomads (Jerermiah 35:6-9). Fausset’s Bible Dictionary explains this requirement: “The ascetic rule against wine, houses, sowing, and planting (Jeremiah 35), was a safeguard against the corrupting license of the Phoenician cities and their idolatries (Amos 2:7-8; 6:3-6)” (e-Sword 12.2). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia adds further: “They followed this simple life in order to guard against the enervating tendencies of sensualism, and as a covenant of fidelity to Yahweh, to whom they wholly devoted themselves when they joined themselves to Israel” (Ibid.).

A Faithful Example

The Babylonian captivity of the House of Judah came in three waves, finalizing in 587/6 BC when the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple and carried away thousands of Jews as captives back to the Babylonian empire. Before Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of the cities of Judah, these Rechabites fled to Jerusalem. Jeremiah was commanded by God to set before them pots full of wine with cups in the Temple and then instruct them to drink (Jeremiah 35:1-5). They refused, not out of disrespect for Jeremiah or the Almighty, but in obedience to their ancestor’s by-gone command. For about two and a half centuries these people had obeyed their ancestor, Rechab, and would not dishonor him even at the request of Jeremiah.

God’s word emphasizes that their faithfulness to Jonadab’s decree contrasted to the utter faithlessness of the Jews to His commands (Jerermiah 35:12-17). Because the Jews refused to heed His many prophets, who called them to repent through several centuries, God punished them with captivity as had been prophesied. These Rechabites were more faithful to an ancestor’s command than the Jews were to God’s greater commandments.

The description of these ancient people who were faithful to an ancestor’s command from about two and a half centuries before is included in Holy Scripture to instruct Christians. Notice what the apostle Paul writes: “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11 KJV). Paul’s point is that when we read the Old Testament, Christians are obligated to draw from it lessons for righteous living today. This story provides lessons by comparing the lesser to the greater. Joseph S. Exell’s The Biblical Illustrator contrasts the obedience of the Rechabites with Christians, who disobey Christ, with this admonition:

III. Wherein it shames Christian disobedience.

1. These Rechabites are obedient to their father Jonadab, a mere man who had been dead nearly three hundred years, while Judah is in open and flagrant disobedience to the Most High God.

2. Jonadab commanded but once, and he had instant and constant heed, generation upon generation, for centuries. “But I,” saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel—“I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking. I have also sent unto you,” &c.

3. Obedience to Jonadab was at a cost, and it brought at the best only power to endure and the spirit of independence. It left the Rechabites poor and homeless. Obedience to God was also at a cost, but it gave His people assured possessions, peace of conscience, protection from their enemies, and all the exceeding riches of an eternal inheritance in God’s kingdom of grace and glory. Yet the Rechabites obeyed Jonadab with a beautiful constancy, while Judah hearkened not to the voice of the Lord. (e-Sword 12.2)

Old Lessons Made New

Again from The Biblical Illustrator, here are some positive things we should learn:

I. Wherein it resembles Christian obedience.

1. It was total. They did not consult their preferences or their “affinities.” They did not proceed upon any law of “natural selection.” They did not show punctilious fidelity with reference to one commandment, and great laxity concerning another. This is one essential characteristic of Christian obedience. It is total. If we can make choice of such commands as we feel like obeying and disregard the rest, what are we but masters instead of subjects, dictating terms instead of receiving orders?

2. It was constant. It kept an unbroken path. It bore the stress of storms and tests. And herein it was marked by another essential characteristic of Christian obedience—a beautiful constancy. Enlistment in the Lord’s army is for life, and there is no discharge in that war. (Ibid.)

This little-known aside in the Book of Jeremiah teaches Christians that, by contrast to the price the Rechabites paid for their rigorous faithfulness to Jonadab’s command, we have been mightily blessed by the God of the universe who gave His only begotten Son that we might live forever. Christian “Rechabites” who are committed to His commands will make old lessons new again.

Ken Frank

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.