October 31, 2006

Jnh 2:2-9 / Hos 5-7 / Reformation Day

Today we return to the seasonal canticle for this month, Jonah 2:2-9. My previous post on it is here, and today I add a few thoughts about what the statements in verses 8 and 9 say together. I was speaking with a friend on Monday about the crux theologorum, what is sometimes translated as the “burden of the theologians”: the question of why some are saved and others are not. Jonah’s prayer boldly confesses in verse 9 that “salvation comes from the Lord” (NIV), while he also recognizes in verse 8 that those who ultimately do not place their faith in the Lord “forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (NIV; “mercy” KJV, ASV; “faithfulness” NASB). Regardless of the translation, the idea is the same: anyone who is saved is saved solely by God’s doing; anyone who is lost is lost by their own doing. The answer does not have the nice logical consistency our fallen reason might like, but the answer is the Biblical answer, as we see in these verses from Jonah. Dr. Luther and his colleagues kept to this correct path, without falling into either the ditch of synergism that says one saved by one’s own doing or the ditch of double-predestination that says one is lost because of God’s doing. Thus, this reflection on the seasonal canticle even is edifying for Reformation Day today!

By the outline we are using, Hosea 5-7 continues the discussion of the unfaithful nation and its faithful God. In chapter 5 the Lord speaks through Hosea not only against the priests or spiritual leaders, as was primarily the case in chapter 4, but also against the people of Israel and their political leaders. Chapter 6 initially calls for the people to repent and return to the once-wrathful Lord for healing, but as chapter 6 continues on into chapter 7 we hear how the people would not repent and so were sentenced. Although the northern kingdom is the primary addressee in these chapters, we notice in such verses as 5:5, 10, 12, 13, and 14 that the southern kingdom is not entirely innocent and so will not escape punishment. The punishment for the Israelites then, as for us today, is intended to lead to repentance. In 6:2, the “after two days” and “on the third day” (which are essentially the same) indicate a short time of wrath before the people “rise”, but I don’t think any Christian can hear of a reviving or rising “on the third day” and not think of Christ’s resurrection, which paves the way for our bodies to rise also. Repentance cannot be only in the motions but needs to come from the heart and be followed by acts of love (6:4, 6; and confer 5:6 and see Jesus’ use of this idea in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7). The political intrigues of Israel are likened unto baking bread in the early verses of chapter 7, and the nation’s alternately seeking help from Egypt and Assyria is given a different figure of speech, that of birds flocking together. The people go through the motions of worshipping God but they do not seek blessings from Him, which was then as it is now the highest form of worshipping God.

As I mentioned earlier, today is Reformation Day. I am delivering a Reformation-oriented lecture today quite similar to this one to an undergraduate Germanic Studies class at The University of Texas at Austin, and I am preaching this evening in our circuit’s Reformation Vespers service at 7:00 at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Manheim, Texas. You are of course invited to come to the service. I hope that you will at least join us in praying as follows:

O Lord God, Heavenly Father, pour out, we beseech Thee, Thy Holy Spirit upon Thy faithful people, keep them steadfast in Thy grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptations, defend them against all enemies of Thy Word, and bestow upon Christ’s Church Militant Thy saving peace; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, p.84.)

God bless you and His Church this Reformation Day and always!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 30, 2006

Ps 121 / Hos 1-4 / Folo

Psalm 121 is appointed for us to read again today. My previous comments are here, and I add some in what follows. Verses 3-4 tell us not only that God keeps us safe but also that He is always attentively watching over us. There’s no real difference between “slumber” and “sleep”; the expressions are completely parallel in the verse, stating that God does neither (Isaiah 5:27 says the same of an invading army). We who fully believe in God and His ceaseless watchfulness may not think much of this statement, but to people living in an environment with pagan gods such a statement was dramatic. You might recall how in 1 Kings 18:27 Elijah accused Baal of, among other things, sleeping. Similarly, believers might be thinking God is asleep as He waits for the proper time to act or acts in a way different from what they want (see, for example, Psalm 44:23), or they might simply be using the expression as a figure of speech for His springing into action (as in Psalm 78:65-66).

Hosea 1-4 being appointed for reading today brings us to first of the twelve so-called “minor” prophetic books, sometimes referred to as “The Book of the Twelve”. With 2 days in October and 2 days in November, we will spend a total of 4 days reading Hosea, followed by 14 more days in November reading the other eleven books. As usual there are some introductory comments in the background information for the two months (October online here and as PDF here; November online here and as a PDF here), and back in August I also made a few relevant comments anticipating this reading. The sequence of the twelve and their placement in the larger sequence of the Old Testament has varied among the traditional Jewish canon, the first Greek translation of the Old Testament, and later Christian manuscripts of the Bible. Like the traditional Jewish canon, we have them in what was thought to be their chronological order from when Assyria was in power, when its power was declining, and after the people returned from exile. (Other than Zephaniah, from Nahum on the books appear to be in chronological order.) The expression “minor prophets” has nothing to do with their importance but everything to do with the length of the books that bear their names, especially in comparison to the longer “major prophets” Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—also called the “latter” prophets in contrast to the “former prophets” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). The “minor prophets” may have had shorter ministries, simply recorded less, or neither; we don’t really know (compare about Hosea below). The twelve individual books being referred to as one collective “Book of the Twelve” comes from their apparently being found on one scroll about the same size as the “latter” prophets, already some two centuries before the time of Christ.

Among the prophets in The Book of the Twelve, Hosea is unique for being thought to have been born and active in the northern kingdom before its destruction by the Assyrians, although the book itself may have been finished in Judah after Samaria’s fall. Hosea perhaps served as a prophet for 27 years or more. Hosea was married to the prostitute Gomer, who bore their three children that were given symbolic names. You can find people who take the marriage of which we read today as merely a parable with no literal sense at all, but the text of the book gives no indication the marriage was not literal. Of course, taking the marriage literally is not ruling out the symbolic and allegorical meaning the text gives the marriage. While God’s laws exclude prostitutes from the assembly and call for them to be stoned and while a marriage to a prostitute could have hampered Hosea’s work as a prophet, God is free to do as He apparently did in this case and suspend His laws to make the central point that God redeems and receives back adulterous turned repentant Israel. (There is debate whether Hosea knew of Gomer’s “tendencies” when he first married her, although the text at face value seems to say he did know.) The book of Hosea has a style somewhat unique among the Old Testament books, perhaps due to its mournful content, and the book also is said to have some of the worst textual problems of those in the Old Testament, although the main message of the book is not in dispute. Various Bible scholars outline the book differently, for example, one finding three sections corresponding to phases of Israel’s history during Hosea’s time as a prophet, while another finds two major sections—the first dealing with the unfaithful wife and the faithful husband and the second dealing with the unfaithful nation and the faithful God. Neither of those two breakdowns lines up with the breakdown on our reading schedule. For the sake of convenience, we will follow the second I described, knowing that the choice does not significantly impact our understanding of the book’s contents, which are more integrated than the outline would suggest.

By that breakdown, Hosea 1-4 then principally takes us through the literal details of Hosea and Gomer’s relationship (chapters 1-3) and begins the greater application to Israel and its Lord (chapter 4). The names of Hosea’s and Gomer’s children are meaningful: Jezreel (“God sows”, Lo-ruhamah (“not pitied”), and Lo-Ammi (“not my people”). Already in chapter 1’s prophecy against Israel we see the hope that God holds out for the reunification of the kingdom but more importantly for the people’s redemption. (The negative names are effectively reversed: God will have pity and bring Israel again to be His people.) In chapter 2, what appears to be the Lord’s speech, note well the emphasis on the words “husband” and “master” in verse 16. The Hebrew word baaliy could mean “master” (or “lord” or “husband”) but was also the name of the false god Baal. God is prophesying through Hosea that in the future the people would be so faithful to the Lord, as to never again use that word to refer to the Lord as the people's husband, instead using the Hebrew word iysh for “husband”. (There is some evidence such a change in word usage began after the northern kingdom fell.) The separation between God and His people will end with reconciliation and “another” marriage, even as Hosea is to receive back unfaithful Gomer as directed by the Lord in chapter 3. I almost missed the Messianic reference at the end of 3:5; more than just the return from exile is in view when such clear references to the Messiah are made. Somewhat continuing the “case” begun in chapter 2, chapter 4 gives the Lord’s charge against Israel, including Hosea’s indictment of the unfaithful priests and prophets. Hosea says the unfaithful spiritual leaders are responsible for the moral decline of the people. To a great extent the same is true today: if pastors had properly taught the sheep in their care, then our church body would be in less of a predicament than it is in. Lord, have mercy!

Just one Biblog folo today. After reading Daniel 11’s prophetic overview of at that time future history, a reader emailed with the suggestion of reviewing this link I had posted some time back to an animated map of the region showing the various powers that have controlled it.

I hope you find the lengthier background today helpful and not overkill. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 29, 2006

Da 10-12 / Folos / Tidbits

(These comments on Psalm 120 may be helpful as you read it.)

Today’s reading of Daniel 10-12 takes us through the end of the book. One commentator acceptably gives the content of these chapters the heading, “Daniel’s vision of God’s direction of the future”. Right away in 10:1 notice the passage of time between the vision of chapter 9 and the vision of these chapters, and one commentator suggests Daniel was fasting because exiles had returned but the work of rebuilding the Temple had halted. Chapter 10 focuses mostly on Daniel’s reaction to this latest vision, an appearance by an angel in linen, who is usually identified as the archangel Gabriel (which identification makes more sense than identifying him with a preincarnate Christ). Gabriel’s statement in 10:13 seems to refer to the Persian kingdom’s patron evil angel resisting Gabriel, who was then aided by Michael, presumably the archangel Michael (see Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7), the patron or guardian angel for Israel (the Hebrew word for “prince”, sar in both uses in v. 13 is the same; confer also v.20’s “prince of Greece”). In verse 16 they are joined by “one who looked like a man”, who is presumably a “regular” angel (see also the two in 12:5 and verses following).

Chapter 11 expounds the Book of Truth (in 12:1 perhaps more a “book of life”) and thus gives more of the prophecy itself; its opening verses (11:1-4) speak both about the future kings of Persia, including the Xerxes of Esther who would unsuccessfully attempt to conquer Greece, and about Alexander the Great, whose kingdom would be divided four ways. The prophecy also includes words about the leaders of Egypt and Syria in the wake of that four-way division, the Ptolemies and Seleucids, respectively (11:5-35). Although I’m not going to go into the details about the fulfillment, suffice it to say that so much can these prophetic-turned-historical events be identified that many Bible “scholars” conclude this account was written after the fact. (There is a great deal of irony, I think, in the “scholars” specifically identifying figurative prophecies but denying that prophecies specifically fulfilled could have been predictive.) The end of chapter 11 (vv.36-45) has the antichrist in view, whose attempt to destroy God’s kingdom is typified by the events of the preceding verses. Jesus’ own teaching of the end in such places as Matthew 24 and its parallels similarly blends prophecy of nearer events with that of more-distant events. (I would be remiss if I did not at least mention that the Lutheran Church faithful to The Book of Concord confesses the office of the pope as the greatest manifestation of the antichrist to date.) Remember, too, that we live in the latter days (Hebrews 1:2).

Although chapter 12 tells of the near triumph of evil by the end of time, the prophecy gives great comfort of the bodily resurrection of the dead both to life eternal and to everlasting shame and contempt. Inquiry into precisely when the end will come is quashed, as Daniel and two others stand on the banks of a river recalling the Nile and the Exodus from Egypt: the faithful are to go about their business. Daniel himself is to preserve and protect the prophecy so that those seeking wisdom (that is, faith) can find it, and Daniel’s own body will likewise rest until rewarded at the resurrection (his soul, of course, will immediately be with the Lord). Note well that while the wicked continue to be wicked there will also be wise who understand and are justified by faith in Jesus Christ, their Redeemer. Again there is the encouragement to go our way, being faithful unto death and then receiving the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

Biblog folos number two today. First, our continued reading and discussion of Daniel prompted a reader to email the following comment.

I have been reading and enjoying the explanations of Daniel. This has been another book that I did not look at often because it seemed too difficult. I am glad to begin to understand it better, especially as it is referred to in the NT and because one has to recognize the “milliennialist” stories. Thanks!

I, too, am thankful and praise God that the Holy Spirit continues to bless our reading and discussion of His Word. As one commentator pointed out, Daniel especially is one of those books that faithful Lutherans often neglect to their own disadvantage.

Second, remember how the Berlin opera cancelled a modified performance of Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” for fear of Muslim backlash? The opera is back on according to this piece a reader sent. On the director’s suggestion that organized religion corrupts the human spirit, the reader commented as follows.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-opera28oct28,0,4836202.story?track=tottext

You don’t have to be Muslim to object to this idea. It seems to me that the guy who feels the need to “cut off heads” even symbolically is the one who is warped! We can defend his “right” to talk, but he won’t defend ours.

There’s that, and there’s the whole wrong idea that the human spirit is by nature uncorrupted and that it is organized religion that does the corrupting, instead of the other way around: the corrupt human spirit corrupting organized religion!

Tidbits today begin with a man once ruled criminally insane this past week trying to kill everyone in an Oregon church. ... Some young girls in a California Christian dance troupe won a legal victory this past week over their exclusion from a community holiday festival a year ago because of their Christian message. ... Christian teenagers are reportedly just as likely to steal their music as other teens. ... Wal-Mart is defiant in the face of a Tennessee congregation’s boycott over the retailer’s support of the homosexual agenda. ... A controversial camp that was likened to Islamic fundamentalism is changing locations after recent attention. ... The Archbishop of Canterbury this past week spoke in defense of Muslim women wearing veils, and then he met with the outgoing and controversial incoming head of the U.S. Episcopal church. ... And, the Episcopal priestess quoted in this story needs to get her facts straight: at least Bach was a church musician! (Shame on USA Today for not recognizing the error.)

God bless your day, and may you let God make it holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:07 AM

October 28, 2006

Da 7-9 / Folos

(As you read Psalm 119:169-176 today, this post may be of help.)

Daniel 7-9 begins the half of the book that principally deals with Daniel’s visions, although they are set in historic narratives. Today we hear of his dream of four beasts (chapter 7), of his vision of a ram and a goat (chapter 8), and of his prayer and vision of the 70 “sevens” (chapter 9). Right away notice that the vision of chapter 7 is dated during the reign of Belshazzar, so before the historical events narrated in chapters 5 and 6. The vision of chapter 7 is generally taken to be roughly equivalent with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2: the lion corresponds with the Babylonian empire, the bear with the Persian, the leopard with the Greek, and the last beast with the Roman. Similarly in the vision of chapter 8, also dated during Belshazzar’s reign, the ram corresponds with the Persian empire (its Median and Persian components being unequal horns) and the goat with the Greek, or Macedonian, empire (especially Alexander the Great whose kingdom is divided into four after his death). While we should not get too concerned with every detail of these apocalyptic visions (all the horns, periods of time, etc.), some details are significant. (We especially must be wary of any sort of millennialistic interpretation.) In chapter 7, the vision of the Son of Man in verses 13-14, what one commentator says is part “one of the key chapters of the entire Scriptures”, is highly important for Jesus’ use of the phrase to describe Himself, and see Matthew 26:63-65 (Mk 14:61-64 is parallel) for how the high priest reacted when Jesus referred to this very prophecy. Note both how authority is given to the Son of Man (such as that to forgive sins, which authority was highlighted in this past Sunday’s sermon) and how He is worshipped. Finally in chapter 8, note that verse 26 may refer to the very recording of the visions given to Daniel that produced the book we are reading!

Chapter 9’s prayer and revelation are dated to the first year of Darius, son of Xerxes, although one source says Darius had a son named Xerxes (either way, this is a different Xerxes from the book of Esther). In the first part of chapter 9, Daniel understands from the recorded prophecies of Jeremiah (already regarded as Scripture!) that the exile will last 70 years. As a result, his Vespers prayer repents of the people’s sins, confessing that they deserved the exile, and asks for God in His mercy to remember and deliver Jerusalem (there is no self-justification or works-righteousness in 9:18). In the second part of chapter 9, the messenger Gabriel reveals things to Daniel (Verse 21 is the only verse in the Bible that can give any suggestion angels fly, but the interpretation is contested, such as whether the word means “swift flight” or “weariness” and to whom it applies, Gabriel or Daniel, respectively.) As with the previous visions, the interpretation of the revelation in chapter 9 is highly contentious (just compare a few translations!), and, while its precise details need not consume too much of our time or energy (note that no interpretation is given in the text), several things are again noteworthy. Daniel is symbolically told that the Messiah (the Christ, the Anointed One) would be sacrificed for sin and the faithful justified. The expression “abomination that causes desolation” in 9:27 (NIV; confer 11:31; 12:11) is notable for the similar expression used by our Lord in Matthew 24:15 (Mark 13:14 is parallel, confer Luke 21:20). Even these visions of kingdoms being destroyed and time ending bring comfort to the faithful, for they are full of prophecies about God’s eternal kingdom to which God grants entrance by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Who sacrificed Himself for us.

We catch up on some Biblog folos today. First, back when we read Ezekiel 44:22 I commented that all of God’s people are to be holy as He is holy, and a reader rightly emailed the comment that “none of us can do it … by our own efforts”.

Second, after reading Daniel 5:25-28 yesterday, a reader emailed about a “Eureka!” moment, having learned correctly from the NIV text note that the Aramaic UPARSIN has a conjunction prefixed to it and therefore means “and parsin”. In connection with that “writing on the wall” and my links to contemporary uses of the expression, a reader asked if the group Rush was “‘more than average’ literate for a band”, and I guess I would have to answer yes, as the piece linked yesterday makes clear.

Third, Thursday a tidbit linked to Jonathan Alter’s comments about Michael J. Fox’s television commercial supporting stem-cell research, and a reader commented as follows.

Adult stem cells have achieved results as [Alter describes], but are brushed off. Embryonic cells have achieved disaster, but are hailed as “having potential”. Fetal cord cells (the moral option for infant cells) aren’t even mentioned. Doesn’t it make you wonder why?

A vast conspiracy seeking as much as possible to devalue human life? Or, simply our adversary the devil seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8)? On the same matter of Missouri’s stem-cell and cloning dispute, the Synodical President has sent a “Memo to the Church” (never mind the Church Fathers sent epistles, but just looking at the format tells me someone in St. Louis still doesn’t know the difference between a memo and a letter).

Fourth and finally, the Synod’s news of talks with the ELCA linked Thursday included a comment from the Synodical President regarding the new Lutheran Service Book and how its electronic version allows congregations to customize services, which prompted a reader to make the following comment.

Right. The electronic version has the songs that were objected to in the print version, and it’s handy for the “do it yourself” bulletin congregations that invent what liturgy they have.

Some songs that were objected to, such as one by Twila Paris, made it into the printed version of the new hymnal (LSB #550), which one pastor (I think jokingly) said he’d challenge through Doctrinal Review and maybe get the whole hymnal recalled. Another pastor who knows more about the new hymnal than I do said there was quite a number of good orthodox hymns that didn’t make it into the print version that are on the list of those included only in the electronic version, which is called “Lutheran Service Builder”. Moreover, the presenter at our orientation emphasized that the “Builder” will only help congregations put “genuine” liturgical elements into their bulletins. His point may be correct, but that only means congregations have to go to greater lengths in order to put other elements in—the “Builder” will not keep them from ultimately doing so.

There are two new Questions and Answers here, and, with thanks to those who asked them, I remind you all that everyone's questions are welcome. God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 27, 2006

Da 4-6

(Psalm 119:161-168 is appointed again today; the previous post is here.)

Daniel 4-6 concludes the section of the book that gives what are regarded as the historical narratives: Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a big tree (chapter 4), Belshazzar’s and Babylon’s downfall (chapter 5), and Daniel’s deliverance (chapter 6). Be sure as you read today to keep Daniel’s Babylonian name “Belteshazzar” (which may mean “Bel, protect his life”) distinct from the person named “Belshazzar” (which may mean “Bel, protect the king”). In chapter 4, we are told via what appears to be a letter how Nebuchadnezzar was given a dream calling him to confess God but instead took sinful pride in himself and was consequently humbled, although he did repent and confess the one true God and, somewhat like Constantine centuries later, called his people also to do so. The tree’s representing an empire is not an unusual Biblical figure of speech (we have seen in in Ezekiel 17 and 31, and we will see it in Matthew 13). The “angel” in 4:13, 17, and 23 is not the usual “angel” but “a watcher, a holy one” (whom this hymn includes in all the company of heaven).

Chapter 5 tells of an event that took place after Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was over. Belshazzar was apparently not a physical son of Nebuchadnezzar but a son and viceroy of Nabonidus (see 5:7 where Daniel could be “third highest” after those two); thus Belshazzar was more likely Nebuchadnezzar’s successor in some sense (the Aramaic term can mean “grandson”, “descendant” or “successor”). Yes, if you were wondering, this chapter in Daniel is from where we get the expression “the writing is on the wall”, meaning a sign has been given that something bad is going to happen. (Simon and Garfunkel made a reference to the verse in “Sounds of Silence”, which Rush later adapted in “Spirit of Radio”—see #75 here, and, yes, I added it to Wikipedia.) We should note well how Belshazzar’s disobedience and pride, desecration of God’s sacred things, and idolatry brought about the consequences he suffered. With that, Babylon’s time is over, and the second kingdom of which we read yesterday in chapter 2 comes into prominence.

As we read in chapter 6, Daniel continued to outshine others, and his jealous “colleagues” used his religion against him as the “wise men” had done against Daniel’s three friends in chapter 3. You may recall from Esther 1:19 “the laws of the Medes and Persians” that we read of again in Daniel 6:12. Daniel was not free from sin and did not “earn” deliverance, but God found him innocent of the charges against him and saved Him by His mercy that found Daniel righteous by faith (6:22). Note that 6:28 may be giving two names for the same ruler, or Darius could have been the governor Cyrus put in charge of Babylon (or, as one source suggests, his successor after the death of two of Cyrus’s sons). What miraculous “conversions” of both Nebuchadnezzar and Darius God brought about, and how excellently they are contrasted with the rebellious idolatry of Belshazzar. The same Almighty and living God that saved Daniel saves us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ Who lived, died, and rose again so we could be free from our sins and have life eternal with Him!

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:28 AM

October 26, 2006

Da 1-3 / Tidbits

(I’ve slightly enhanced my previous comments on Psalm 119:153-160.)

With the appointment of Daniel 1-3 for reading today we begin our four days with the next book in canonical order. As usual, there are some general comments on the book in the background information for this month’s readings (online here and as a PDF here). The book of Daniel (and not the short-lived TV show by that name!) is sometimes grouped with the latter or major prophets (namely Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and Daniel is sometimes grouped with the “writings” (such as Psalms, Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah—although even some of these are sometimes put in other groupings). You may recall from our discussion of chronology in connection with Ezekiel that this Daniel went to Babylon in the so-called “first aspect” of the exile (on the “other” Daniel, referred to in Ezekiel, see here). We believe, as our Lord believed (see Matthew 24:15), that Daniel wrote the book (notably with some parts in Hebrew and others in Aramaic), perhaps completing it by 530 B.C. Others, who reject out of hand any predictive prophecy, think the book was written after potential fulfillments took place. The book has some first-person statements and other third-person ones, but such is not a reason to reject the unity of the book. The Greek translation of Daniel is in some places considerably different than the usually authoritative received text, and apocryphal additions are in some cases now known as independent works. The book as we have it contains a good bit of historical material as well as “visionary” material, and sometimes the book is broken down into those two parts. A different outline of the book breaks it down into a prologue, visions of the nations of the world and the Kingdom of God, and visions of a time to come and the Son of Man. One following that outline does not want to fall into the trap of thinking of different dispensations as millennialists do but rather think in terms of the “now” and “not yet” of what is usually called inaugurated and realized eschatology (for example, we already now have eternal life as our possession even though we have not yet fully realized its benefits). There is unity to all the various stages of revelation and its history that might be distinguished; the unity comes as we view time from the perspective of eternity. Everything worldly may come and go, but God’s Kingdom remains forever.

Turning more specifically to today’s reading of Daniel 1-3, we begin with some history about how Daniel and his three friends came to where they were (chapter 1), hear of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a large statue (chapter 2), and finally learn of Nebuchadnezzar’s making a large image of himself and decreeing that it be worshipped. In chapter 1, be sure to note God’s providence in favorably disposing the official over the four men to honor their request, in blessing their food and beverage in such a way that they looked healthier than the others, in granting them wisdom and understanding, etc. In chapter 2, we can almost sympathize with the king’s “wise men” who wanted to have the king tell them the dream in order for them to interpret it. (The king may have forgotten it, or, as verse 9 suggests, he may be withholding the details of the dream to make sure that those providing the interpretation have special insight.) Verse 11 is striking for its statement that gods do not live among people; my study Bible says something about them not being easily accessible, but I think more is in view (see John 1:14 and consider the whole Old Testament reality of God dwelling with His people). Daniel’s psalm-like praise in 2:20-23 says some interesting things along the same lines as Romans 13. Note how Daniel in telling and interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’ dream gives all glory to God, Who revealed both the dream and its meaning to Daniel. The traditional understanding of the statue and its four kingdoms relates them to the Babylonian, Persian, Greek (or Macedonian), and Roman empires, with the kingdom that will never be destroyed being that of Jesus Christ, in a sense established during the Romans’ rule. There may well be irony in the first world power that destroyed Israel’s theocracy having to learn from a prophet that it and successive world powers would be overthrown by the Kingdom of God. (We do not use this or other visions to try to predict the day of our Lord’s return by imagining it pointing to Communism or any such other “contemporary” event, although we can note in the successively inferior materials that things do not get better as the end nears.) In reading chapter 3, I was intrigued that the “wise men” did not attack Daniel; perhaps he was so high up that they feared recriminations, although they had to know that the other three were his friends. (One also then wonders where Daniel was in all of this.) The “fourth” man in the fiery furnace Nebuchadnezzar identifies as an angel, and it could have been like other “angels” the pre-incarnate Christ, the true Son of God (verse 25). Finally, observe in verses 16-18 that the three survivors make clear going in that what was important was not their deliverance from earthly death by such a trial but their ultimate faithfulness to God. That thought alone is worth our personal reflection.

Tidbits today are mostly reader submitted, although I added a few. A second man is accusing the same Roman Catholic priest of abuse whom former Congressman Mark Foley accused. ... A reader sent this link anticipating a ruling yesterday in New Jersey’s gay marriage case and this link to news of the decision (see here for some pro-family spin), and the same reader mentioned two somewhat-related pieces in The Daily Texan (see here and here). ... A reader sent word of how Missouri's Amendment 2 could impact the nation and urged people to pray it doesn’t pass, and ads related to the matter are causing controversy in their own right. ... This link also came via email from a reader, and I might point out that the title of Harris’ latest book seems to be a take off of a writing of Martin Luther’s. ... Email brought word of the latest talks between the LCMS and ELCA, as if there had been no new differences since 1978 and as if the purpose of the talks was to bring the two bodies together. (One might also note how the LCMS president is selling the new Lutheran Service Book.) ... If you want to know what real unity in doctrine is all about, you might read yesterday's Memorial Moment (some give the etymology of the word "catholic" as "according to the whole" in Greek). ... And, they’re calling the latest trend “Christmas creep”.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 25, 2006

Ps 119:145-152 / Eze 46-48

Psalm 119:145-152 was the appointed Psalm for Matins this past Sunday, the 19th Sunday after Trinity. If you were present and following closely the King James Version in The Lutheran Hymnal you might have noticed that I changed “prevented” in verse 147 and “prevent” in verse 148 to the more literal translation of the Latin root of praevenire and so “went before” and “came before”, respectively. The senses of “prevent” meant in these verses are among the 10 rare, archaic, or obsolete definitions of the word (which has a total of 13 definitions, according the online Oxford English Dictionary). The ASV uses “anticipated” for both, the NIV “rise before” and “stay open”, and the NASB “rise before” and “anticipate”. The NKJV uses “rise before” and “are awake”. No matter which of these translations are used, the point of the psalm verses are the same: faith’s devotion to prayer and meditation on God’s Word. (My previous comments on this psalm stanza are here.)

Reading Ezekiel 46-48 today finishes the present subsection, major section, and the book. The vision of the Messiah’s kingdom in terms of the old kingdom and its comforting Israel by God's prophesying through Ezekiel today tells of the prince’s duties (chapter 46), of life-giving water (47:1-12), and of the land’s allotment (47:13-48:35). My comments at the end of yesterday’s post anticipated a little bit the content of chapter 46. The east inner court gate is to be used but only by the prince and only on Sabbaths and New Moon festivals (46:1), and even then the prince is only to proceed as far as the gatepost (46:2). The people worship on the outer-court side of the east-gate entrance to the inner court. The entering and exiting of the people in 46:9-10 refers to their going in and out of the outer court (apparently designated for crowd control), and the prince is not to use that court’s permanently closed east gate (44:2). The different kitchens for the priests (46:19-20) and for the Levites (46:21-24) are in keeping with the distinction between them that we read in chapter 44. Chapter 47 begins by telling how from the altar and the temple flowed healing, life-giving water that gradually increased in depth. This water was so powerful that it brought life to the Dead Sea. Not only is there re-creation implied in this vision but also the restoration of Paradise. (Confer the life-giving water in the vision St. John had as told in Revelation 22:1-5 and the words of our Lord in John 7:37-38, on which see here.) The boundaries and perfect division of the land that follows in chapters 47 and 48, as with the temple, are not actual boundaries for some literal land of Israel that our country should be trying to bring about. Rather, the description symbolizes the perfect rest of heaven. (Remember the “strangers” and “aliens” in 47:22-23 are not directly equivalent to today’s illegal immigrants.) The description of the city gates in 48:30-34 is similar to that in Revelation 21:12-14. The importance and prominence of the Lord’s Presence in the city gives it its very name, in Hebrew, Yahweh-Shammah, what may be a wordplay on the Hebrew pronunciation of “Jerusalem”, Yerushalayim. What was said of Zion in this prophecy of Ezekiel can be said of wherever God's people gather around His truly preached Word and rightly administered Sacraments: The Lord is there.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 24, 2006

Eze 43-45

(As you read Psalm 119:137-144 this previous post may be of some help.)

Ezekiel 43-45 continues the subsection we began yesterday, comforting Israel with a vision of the Messiah’s kingdom in terms of the old kingdom. Today we hear how Ezekiel saw God’s glory return to the temple (chapter 43), and we read of descriptions of the priesthood (chapter 44) and of the allotment of the land and directions to princes (chapter 45). The return of the Lord’s glory to the temple is what chapters 40-42 were building up to, and this vision, in keeping with God’s promises about a restoration, “reverses” that vision Ezekiel saw earlier in chapter 10 about the glory leaving the temple. Such a glorious vision and “perfect” temple in the minds of the exiles helps us appreciate why so many were disappointed with the temple that was built when the exiles returned to Jerusalem. Remember that this temple and the sacrifices described are symbolic—we do not expect to ever see such a temple nor do we think that the sacrificial system needs to resume. (See Revelation 21, especially verse 22, for another vision of the heavenly Jerusalem and its lack of a temple.) The holiness of the priests described in such verses as 44:22 is not supposed to be one level of holiness with the holiness of the people being another, lower level. Rather, every one of God’s people is to be holy, as He is holy. The distinctions between the holy and common are not to be lost. Yet, ordinary people in their ordinary lives cannot avoid some defilement, so priests do have some extra stipulations of ritual purity (for example, 24:25-27). I wonder how many pastors today would be content to let the Lord be their portion (or, maybe their willingness would depend on the unwavering and adequate support of the people in the various forms discussed). The mention of a “prince” in contrast to a “king” is significant, for God Himself is to be the people’s king. The prince has some civic duties in the theocracy, but he cannot take for himself the other political and priestly roles the kings before the exile took. Ultimately, of course, we find the roles or prophet, priest, and king combining in the person of Jesus Christ.

Thanks go to our webmaster for pursuing the issues we were having with the web host and seeing that they were finally resolved. I pray that the site is finally and permanently back to normal function. Please let us know if you experience any difficulties. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 23, 2006

Eze 40-42

(The previous post on Psalm 119:129-136 is here.)

Ezekiel 40-42 continues the subsection of prophecies consoling Israel by taking us into that section’s final subsection, which gives the vision of the Messiah’s kingdom in terms of the nation’s former religious and civic life. Chapters 40-42 describe the “New Year’s Day” vision (some 13 years after the fall of Jerusalem) that Ezekiel was shown of a symmetrical temple complex’s outside and inside. As you read this vision, recall its counterpart earlier in the book, chapters 8-11, in which Ezekiel was given a tour of the doomed city. I would not worry about the dimensions and the precise layout of the complex. Still, I can tell you that the older “long cubit” (40:5, NIV) Ezekiel used was about 21 inches, whereas the newer “cubit” was about 18 inches. My study Bible has a handy diagram, although it takes some small liberties in its rendering. The diagram rightly points out that this temple was never actually built, as were the temples of Solomon, Zerubbabel, and Herod. This temple shown to Ezekiel is eschatological (of the end of time) and apocalyptic (highly symbolic); the “high mountain” of 40:2, for example, is hardly the mountain on which Jerusalem was actually built. We do not expect this temple Ezekiel describes ever to be built, although there are some who call themselves Christians who do; they miss the clear teaching of the New Testament that Christ’s sacrifice is all we need, for His sacrifice completely fulfills and therefore ends the Old Testament sacrificial system. Although not all the temple furnishings of this temple are described (that this temple lacked some of the same furnishings as the others I think is less likely), but we should note the table mentioned in 41:22 that was likely for the bread of the Presence, which bread points forward to the Sacrament of the Altar, through which we feast with and on our Lord, Whose sacrifice won for us the forgiveness of sins. In some cases the ancient liturgy invited believers to that Sacrament with the words, “The holy things for the holy ones”. In that vein, the final verse of today’s reading, 42:20 (and confer 22:26 and 44:23), is striking for its statement about separating the holy from the common. Although we are in the world but not of the world, since we find throughout the Bible all sorts of references to this same separation of the holy from the common, we should implement and reflect it where we can, remembering that the only way we are holy at all is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

A Biblog reader asked me Sunday morning at church what happened to that day’s post, and I said it was there, but one just couldn’t see it (both of which were true). Our technical difficulties continue and are now at the point where I can post without the post showing up. The web host is aware of the problems that we and other clients are having and is working on a permanent solution. In the meantime, I am happy to email the Biblog post to anyone requesting it. Thank you for your patience, and remember one of the Greek words for patience translates more literally as “long-suffering”. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 22, 2006

Eze 37-39 / Folos / Tidbits

(Here is the previous post on Psalm 119:121-128.))

Ezekiel 37-39 takes us through two more subsections of the larger section in Ezekiel on the prophecy of consolation for Israel. First, chapter 37 gives a vision of the restoration of the kingdom, both its resurrection (37:1-14) and its reunification (37:15-28). Second, chapters 28-29 tell of the defeat of all forces hostile to the Messiah’s kingdom. In chapter 37’s vision of the dry bones it helps to know that the same Hebrew word can mean “breath” or “wind” or “spirit” (one reason the reading is sometimes used for Pentecost). Don’t let verse 10 make you think these bones belonged only to dead soldiers or any dead individual in particular; they represent the exiled community that seemed to be beyond hope, as expressed in verse 11. (Of course, the vision of the resurrection of the dry bones also points forward to our resurrection from the dead at our Lord’s second coming.) Chapter 37’s vision of the restoration of the unified kingdom involves Ezekiel’s last symbolic action. Like the two sticks joined together we can think of the “one holy Christian and Apostolic Church”. We know 37:24 is speaking of the Messiah, the Christ, because Jesus is the next descendant of David to have the throne and only He surpasses God’s purposes for the kingdom more fully than David and Solomon. In that same vein, the Messiah’s kingdom of Israel is no longer threatened by foes, but only after a major coalition of her enemies form and is defeated, as described in chapters 38-39. Various attempts are made to identify Gog and his land of Magog (which may just mean “place of Gog”), but there is a sense in which the name may just be standing in for the kingdom of the Antichrist working in this world. The Lord Himself defeats this enemy on the great last day in the “battle of Armageddon”, although from God’s perspective that battle is over, having been waged on the cross. How does Jesus put it? The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). And, note that the feast of victory includes the Lord’s portions of the sacrifice: flesh and blood. To what could that refer?

I have two quick Biblog folos today. Regarding yesterday's mention about football teams beating their opponents by more than 50 points, a reader emailed that the team could have put in the third string. One coach did that still got in trouble for winning by more than 50 but eventually was cleared on appeal. (I was going to say they shouldn’t keep score at all, but then I remembered some schools are already doing that, too.) And, regarding the tidbit yesterday about NBC’s decision to edit out Madonna’s “crucifixion” from her concert to be aired on Thanksgiving Eve, a reader points out that there’s still a month for the other side to try to get the network to change its mind.

Tidbits today begin with the Republican “faithful” said to be losing “faith” in their candidates. ... A U.S. Supreme Court justice said the U.S. Constitution says nothing about issues like abortion so the justices shouldn’t decide such matters. ... The State of New York’s highest court says Roman Catholic agencies must give their employees birth control healthcare coverage even though the agencies think it is a sin. ... Here’s more analysis that legalized gay marriage would change other aspects of religious practice, and, speaking of which, a man in Virginia was allegedly fired for putting support of traditional marriage on his truck window even when the truck was parked outside his company’s lot. ... A teaching assistant in Britain lost her lawsuit claiming religious discrimination when she was fired for wearing the Muslim veil. ... A reader sent this link about worries over unexploded bombs in southern Lebanon, while Israel is trying to get more Bible-belt Christians to come as tourists. ... And, here’s another reason not to give fruitcakes at the holidays?

God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy for you by the right use of His Word in all its forms!.

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 21, 2006

Eze 34-36 / Folos / Tidbits

(Psalm 119:113-120 is appointed again today; my brief previous comments are here.)

With Ezekiel 34-36 today we continue reading the section of prophecies consoling Israel. Today we read the subsections telling of the Lord as the Good Shepherd (chapter 34), speaking against Edom (chapter 35), consoling the mountains of Israel (36:1-15), and summarizing Ezekiel’s message (36:16-38, what a different commentator sees more as the sanctification of Israel). Perhaps with some connection to Ezekiel’s faithful prophecy at the end of chapter 33, chapter 34 begins by telling how the prophets, priests, and kings and their officials were not doing their jobs as leaders, shepherds, of the people, God’s flock. They were entitled to eat curds, clothe themselves with wool, and slaughter the choicest animals, but they were also to care for the flock. The shepherds were not the only problem; the sleek, strong, and goats used power and influence to oppress the weak and rams. The Lord says He will restore the flock, separate the sheep from the goats (confer Matthew 25:31-33), and put in place a Good Shepherd like unto David, the literal shepherd boy turned figurative shepherd-king. Jesus and the New Testament writers draw on the shepherd imagery such as that found in this chapter (and Jeremiah 23); see, for example, Mark 6:34 and John 10. Jesus is the perfect prophet, priest and king. While this prophecy brings comfort to the poor little lambs of Israel, it at the same time brings judgment on the unfaithful shepherds whom God calls to account and on the sleek, strong, and goats.

More judgment is discussed in chapter 35, this time against Edom and the mountain that represents it, Mount Seir. Remember that these descendants of Esau were pretty much a constant enemy of Israel, Esau’s brother Jacob and his descendants. This prophecy against Edom comforts Israel by making it clear that Edom will not threaten Israel again. From Mount Seir to Israel’s mountains, the first half of chapter 36 in effect reverses the curses and desolation prophesied in chapter 6. Again we hear prophecy of punishment to the nations (36:1-7) and of restoration for Israel (36:8-15). In the second half of chapter 36, which summarizes all of God’s prophecy about Israel through Ezekiel, be sure to note the sacramental aspects of 36:25-27, recalling other Old Testament cleansing rituals (and think of Jeremiah 31’s New Covenant). Where “flesh” often represents weakness and frailty or fallen human nature opposing God, in verse 26 it stands for a teachable heart in contrast to the sin-hardened hearts of stone. Any idea of the people’s own merit in God’s restoration and forgiveness is ruled out by statements such as 36:32 (and 36:22); God acts for the sake of His Name, which in His mercy and grace He puts upon us in Baptism, forgiving us for Jesus’s sake.

We have three Biblog folos today. My comments yesterday on the section of Psalm 119 known as Nun suggested that the psalmist, if he were not ready to give his life for his soul, could do something to get his life out of peril. A reader emailed to ask if, as the reader supposed, David was the author of the psalm, what more he could have done to safe his life from Saul. First, I don’t think David was the author of this psalm (see the post for the first section of Psalm 119). But, second, if David were the author under the circumstances the emailer supposes and David were not willing to sacrificially deny his own life to be faithful to the Lord, in order to more or less end the peril he could have killed Saul, gone over to the other side, completely fled the country, and the like. Now, of course, in being unfaithful to the Lord he would have put his soul in peril, but that’s the kind of consequence to which a short-sighted view leads.

In connection with the reading Friday of Ezekiel 33 and Ezekiel’s role as a watchman, my original post referred to chapter 18 as discussing the role of the watchman, and a reader emailed asking where in chapter 18 the watchman was discussed. Admittedly my original comment could have been clearer, for, as the reader pointed out, the watchman is not mentioned in chapter 18. What is mentioned there and what I was referring to was the role of the watchman to not only warn the people of impending danger but also to teach them that God holds each person responsible for his or her own sin.

In response to the tidbit linked Friday about the end of certain games at a Massachusetts elementary school during recess a reader emailed the following comment:

Unorganized doesn’t have to mean unsupervised! Don’t teachers have playground duty in Massachussetts? Someone can “get hurt” when games are organized, too.

There’s something about New England, as I think it was either Connecticut or Massachusetts that recently said football teams that beat their opponents by more than 50 points would get in trouble. When are children supposed to learn that winning and losing and picking themselves up after getting knocked down are a part of life in this world?

I have some diverse tidbits today. Roman Catholic church officials say they have opened an investigation into the priest who reportedly has admitted fondling former congressman Mark Foley when he was a boy. ... Parents are getting a new tool to protect their children from certain television shows, but not everyone thinks it’s all that it’s cracked up to be (read down in this piece). ... Madonna reportedly won’t be getting “crucified” on NBC the night before Thanksgiving, perhaps thanks to threats of a boycott by Christian groups. ... Here’s surely an unintended side-effect of the immigration crackdown. ... Former President Clinton seems to want religion out of politics. ... Something apparently got lost in translation Wednesday when Russia’s president tried to make a joke with Israel’s visiting prime minister. ... And a Canadian woman is trying to poke a little fun at Muslims in the name of social change.

Thanks to all of you for bearing with the technical "demons" the Daily Lectionary pages seem to be having these days. We are working to "exorcise" them in a variety of different ways, and your continued patience is appreciated. God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 20, 2006

Ps 119:105-112 / Eze 31-33 / Tidbits

Of Psalm 119:105-112, the section known as Nun, verse 105 is probably the best known verse, but today I direct your attention to a different verse. (My previous comments on the section are here.) Verse 109 struck me as I read it in the KJV, and the NIV was different enough that I really took a closer look. The KJV and ASV read, “My soul is continually in my hand”, and the NIV reads, “Though I constantly take my life in my hands”. (The NASB also uses “life” instead of “soul” for nephesh, for which life may be a better translation in this verse, but it otherwise reads more like the KJV and ASV.) There isn’t a verb in the Hebrew of this part of the verse, so the simple “is” is better than adding “I take”. Although there are verses in the Bible that refer to someone taking their life into their hands (Judges 12:3; 1 Samuel 19:5; 28:21; Job 13:14), the Hebrew verb suwm is used in such places. One’s life being in one’s hand (or, equivalently, one “having” his or her life in his or her hands) expresses awareness that one’s life is in peril, and taking one’s life into one’s hand is being ready to give one’s life. While I do not think today's psalm text makes this statement about being ready to give one’s life, the sentiment is not necessarily out of place in the psalm. And, presumably if the psalmist was not ready to give his life for his soul, he could do whatever it would take to get it out of peril. Yet, the psalmist remembers God’s teaching, His towrah. For us, that towrah includes such statements of our Lord as those found in Mark 8:35 and Matthew 10:28.

Reading Ezekiel 31-33 today we first finish the subsection of the prophecies against Egypt (chapters 31-32)—and thus the section of the prophecies against the nations—and then we read the subsections on the Watchman (33:1-20) and Jerusalem’s fall (33:21-33)—and thus begin the section of the prophecies consoling Israel. Chapter 31 is another “cedar” allegory, only this time the cedar is Assyria and the point is to show prideful Egypt how the mighty can fall. (Remember Israel was the cedar in Ezekiel 17:22-24, and Babylon will be in Daniel 4.) Lebanon is not a literal location in this allegory as much as it is the place from where the best cedars come.) Chapter 32 begins with a lament for Pharaoh as a rotting sea monster’s carcass (32:1-16), which includes seven clauses describing a kind of darkness usually associated the Day of the Lord. Chapter 32 ends with Egypt consigned to the same pit as the other uncircumcised (32:17-32). The reference to the princes of the north in 32:30 is not to the former leaders of the northern kingdom of Israel but apparently to Aram, made up of many individual states with their own leaders. In 32:31, Pharaoh is hardly “consoled” for his hordes; he simply realizes he ended up no better or worse than the other rulers of the world.

As you read chapter 33:1-20, remember the earlier discussion of watchmen in chapters 3 and 18, which latter chapter details the watchman's teaching that each person is responsible for his or her own sin. Do not understand 33:2 as suggesting ministry comes from the ground up instead of heaven down; what it means is that just as a literal watchman is selected by the people and accountable to them, so in the same way the figurative watchman is selected by God and accountable to Him. Not only is the watchman accountable to God for warning people of oncoming dangers, but the people are, of course, also accountable to God for themselves. As the people are now at least recognizing their own sin (33:10), God reminds them He wants them to live (what was asked rhetorically in 18:23 is now stated affirmatively) and calls again for them to repent. Word of the fall of Jerusalem reaches the exiles in 33:21-33, approximately five months after the temple was destroyed (no live CNN via satellite or internet news reports then). The arrival of the news coincides with the loosing of Ezekiel’s tongue; no longer does Ezekiel speak primarily of judgment but of salvation, no longer primarily law but Gospel. There are still words of judgment and law against those still in Judah hoping in vain to possess the land and against the exiles. The Lord tells Ezekiel that, while the exiles are interested in hearing him prophesy, they want to know only how to turn a profit under the circumstances and not what God had in store for them. No more than God was a “sugar daddy” to the exiles in Babylon is He a “sugar daddy” for us or anyone else today. What God offers to us—far more valuable than earthly profit—is eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son and our Lord.

Tidbits today begin with the U.S. government supporting this way to use stem-cells that doesn’t involve killing a human being. ... As the November election nears, some 130 South Dakota doctors endorse that state’s abortion ban. ... The day after the page-pursuing former-congressman from Florida gave the name of a Roman Catholic priest to prosecutors a priest says he had a relationship with the man when he was young and took actions that some might call inappropriate: fondling but not rape, according to this report. Officials for the archdiocese, meanwhile, want the victim to give them the alleged abuser’s name. ... U.S. Roman Catholic bishops next month will vote on new guidelines for ministry to those inclined to homosexuality. ... The increasingly liberal Presbyterian church’s struggles over homosexuality reportedly have hurt its finances. (Sound familiar?) ... Just when you thought the Mt. Soledad debacle was over, arguments were made this week in two different court cases over the cross. ... And a reader sent this link about “world court” concerns that a German ban on home-schooling may be enforced in the United States, but who will save school as we know it from us?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 19, 2006

Eze 28-30 / Folo / Tidbits

(Psalm 119:97-104 is appointed to read again today, and the previous post on it is here.)

We continue to hear the prophecies of judgment against the nations, reading Ezekiel 28-30 today. We finish that against Tyre (28:1-19), hear that against Sidon (28:20-24), are comforted with promises to Israel (28:25-26), and begin those against Egypt (29-30). Again, the prophecies themselves are relatively clear, so I will make a few comments and let you ask about anything you like. Chapter 28 warns Tyre’s leader of his death and then laments him. On the "Daniel" referred to in Ezekiel 28:3, see my October 14th comment on Ezekiel 14:14. The comparison between the king of Tyre and Adam has to do with both at one time being in somewhat analogous positions of glory and beauty from which both fell into sin. (Note that Ezekiel uses both the creation account from Genesis and other traditions or mythologies that may have been known in Tyre.) We are used to Tyre and Sidon being mentioned together, so there is no surprise that the one comes after the other in these prophecies; in fact, this is said to be the only time Tyre is mentioned apart from Sidon, and even that claim is debatable in Ezekiel 28, for the dependant city is affected by the fall of Tyre. Be sure to appreciate the few comforting words to Israel that we find in 28:25-26, and reflect on God’s promises to us to gather us from the world to days of true rest, security, and prosperity. Turning to Egypt, we note its arrogance and reliance on the Nile and other bodies of water. The fish that stick to its scales are apparently Egypt’s territories or otherwise attached mercenaries. Where Tyre and Sidon had been irritating neighbors, Egypt had been an unreliable ally to Israel. God promises Egypt at least a figurative 40 years of desolation, after which its people will also be returned and the kingdom restored, but not to a point of supremacy over Israel. In Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Egypt is the dawning of a new day for Israel (29:21), even if the ultimate fulfillment of the Messianic promises were still a long ways off. As laments have been part of Ezekiel’s other prophecies, so, too, against Egypt; chapter 30’s lament is said to be the latest-dated one in Ezekiel, and so it is out of order chronologically but not topically.

The Biblog folo today is in response to a recent tidbit about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s conservative faux pas at the appointment of a gay ambassador. One email wondered, “if the Administration does think Christians are a bunch of useful ‘nuts’, as has also been reported.” Rice's faux pas is helping fuel calls for a “pink purge” as detailed in a piece for which another email included this link. And finally, another email characterized the choices facing voters this way: “Heads, we win a façade of ‘moral’ government with the Republicans; tails we lose our illusions with the Democrats.”

Some diverse tidbits today. A British 15-year-old is convicted of killing an 11-year-old boy for rebuffing his sexual advances, while in the United States the FBI’s latest report on hate crimes says violence against people for their sexual orientation is a small percentage not only of all crimes but also of hate crimes. ... A Reuters videographer will remain in jail pending trial for inciting protests earlier this month in Israel. ... A Pennsylvania school’s field trip took kids to Planned Parenthood to teach them about activism, but they apparently only got one side of the story. ... Southern Baptists are struggling with speaking in tongues, and now officials for a seminary in that church body essentially say the Holy Spirit can’t speak in tongues on their campus. ... A reader sent this piece that has some insights into Islam, highlighting how some in the West are trying to “convert” them (near the end of the piece). ... Married couples now reportedly make up less than half the households in the United States, but family activists are focusing their spin on the increase in the overall number of such households. ... And, is it just me, or does the Democrats’ new buzzword to attract religious voters not smack of communism?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 18, 2006

Ps 119:89-96 / Eze 25-27 / Folo / Tidbits

Reading Psalm 119:89-96 again today, I was struck both by verse 92 and verse 93. (My previous comments on Lamedh, today’s section of the psalm, are here.) In verse 92 the psalmist says he survived his affliction only by delighting in the torah, which you may recall can be the more broad sense of “law” that is equivalent to the broad sense of “Gospel” and includes the narrow sense of “Gospel”. (The NIV and NASB more clearly than the KJV and ASV express this verse as a contrary to fact past conditional statement: the psalmist did delight in the torah, and so he did not perish.) In general, if a verse is making “the law” the subject of a verb that doesn’t seem to be something we would normally think “the law” would do, there is a good chance, as in verse 92, that “the law” in the narrow sense is not really the subject of the verb. (You see the danger of English translations!) Striking in a similar way is verse 93 where “the precepts” of the Lord are said to “quicken” (KJV, ASV; “preserve” NIV; “revive” NASB). (Remember our discussion a few days ago on Zayin.) The piqqudim, "precepts", are the responsibilities God places on His people, which hardly save us except by Christ’s fulfilling them or by their first killing us so that the Gospel can then bring us back to life. We must always let Scripture interpret Scripture, but, as a brother pastor pointed out to me, we do not want to completely sanitize what is to some extent legitimate tension in the text. Certainly, as with all the Psalms, Christ can speak these words, even of the law in the narrow sense. And, to the extent that we are in Christ, we can, too.

Ezekiel 25-27 begins the major section of Ezekiel containing the prophecies of judgment against the nations; in the section there are seven prophecies, and the seventh has seven parts (remember seven is a number of completeness). Ezekiel may have been silent towards Israel’s exiles during the siege of Jerusalem, but God nevertheless spoke through him to the other nations. Today we read the prophecies against Ammon (25:1-7), Moab (25:8-11), Edom (25:12-14), Philistia (25:15-17), and Tyre and eventually also Sidon (26:1-28:19, although we only read through chapter 27 today). In general these prophecies are similar to Jeremiah’s so-called “Gentile oracles” (Jeremiah 46-51), and such prophecies of God through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel put the nations on notice not only that Israel’s God will judge and punish Israel but also that they will not escape His judgment. Perhaps more importantly, both Israel and the nations are reminded that nothing will stop God from also carrying out His plan of salvation through His chosen people—a plan which includes the other nations if they come to faith in Him. Note how the judgment against the nations in one sense is the beginning of the vindication of God’s chosen people.

I think the prophecies are pretty straightforward, so I will comment only on a few things, and you can ask about any others. In 25:4, the expression “people of the East” likely refers to the Babylonians (confer 26:7). Note 25:8 and how when Israel got her wish to be like all the other nations she stopped being an effective witness to them about her unique God. In comparison to the prophecies against the other nations, that against Tyre is particularly long, though not as long as that against Egypt. A possible reason for the lengthy prophecy against Tyre may be its heavy involvement in the same conspiracies as those in which Jerusalem was involved and its hoping to profit from Jerusalem’s downfall. Tyre was located on an island and served as the capital of Phoenicia, what is Lebanon today. The water imagery, such as 26:3, is thus especially appropriate, figuratively because of the literal threat. Although Nebuchadnezzar apparently did not completely destroy Tyre, Alexander did years later. The glory of Tyre as lamented in chapter 27 must have been pretty spectacular (until you get to the turning point in the middle of 27:26). We today do not wish our enemies harm, but we can rightfully pray for relief and God’s ultimate vindication of His people who are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

There is just one Biblog folo today. In yesterday’s post I suggested that “No thanks to gay couples” the U.S. population hit 300-million. A reader emailed this link and asked if I was “sure about that”. Well, the article makes clear that each of the “mommies” had donated sperm from their “family friend”, making the two “siblings” at best half-brother and half-sister through a “non-existent” father. The gay couple did not procreate, and so far (!) such couples cannot. I stand by my statement: these are two unwed women living together with their respective illegitimate child by a man who apparently doesn’t care enough about his own offspring to be a true dad. As for the the impact on children raised by such gay "couples", perhaps the most telling line in the whole story came from the son, who thinks a God-pleasing family would be “weird”.

Tidbits today begin with new United Nations recommendations on legalized abortions that are said to violate the U.N. Charter’s right to life. ... Conservatives in Massachusetts this past Sunday rallied against gay marriage. ... A reader sent this link to a piece about the U.S. Supreme Court indirectly allowing the denial of public benefits to groups like the Boy Scouts that “discriminate” on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. ... More than three-dozen Muslim leaders and scholars sent an open letter to the pope (and they notably cite the same version of Nostra Aetate that I have). ... The pope this past Sunday made four new "saints". ... The widow of the man who shot-up an Amish schoolhouse got their message loud and clear. ... And most Americans say they want a good night’s sleep more than anything else on a recent survey’s list; three notches down was attending church services. I’ll just point out that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive!

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 17, 2006

Ps 119:81-88 / Eze 22-24 / Folos / Tidbits

I had to smile when I read these previous comments on Psalm 119:81-88, because I had jotted down a note in my Bible about the wineskin of verse 83 (ASV, NIV, NASB; “bottle” KJV), but I did not comment on the verse in the post. One explanation is that the psalmist is like a wineskin “afflicted” by smudging and shriveling from a fire’s smoke and heat because he either is continually exposed to his persecutors or bears the marks of his affliction. (Wineskins or jars with wine might be placed over smoke to mellow the wine faster than it would mellow by age, or such skins or jars that were empty might be placed up high until needed for use.) Another commentator, whose thoughts were provided to me by a “research assistant”, reads the text differently to put the smoke in the eyes of the psalmist, making him weep (pointing out both similar imagery in Proverbs 10:26 and the weakness of the eyes in the preceding line of the psalm). While I’m generally not in favor of altering the reading of the text unless absolutely necessary, I will agree with that commentator’s pointing out the lack of a very satisfactory explanation of the figure of speech. Regardless of what to make of the wineskin, the verse makes the point that the psalmist does not forget the Lord’s statutes (KJV, ASV, NASB; “decrees” NIV). The new life God creates in us through Holy Baptism holds to the God’s Word despite afflictions and tries to obey His Commandments.

Ezekiel 22-24 finishes both the subsection of prophecy explaining Divine judgment that we have been reading for the last three days, and it finishes the larger section of prophecy of judgment against Israel that we have been reading since the beginning of this prophetic book. Chapter 22 describes Jerusalem as a city of blood to be destroyed by fire, chapter 23 tells of two adulterous sisters named Oholah and Oholibah, and chapter 24 narrates both the final fire that destroys Jerusalem (24:1-14) and the death of Ezekiel’s wife and the destruction of the temple (24:15-27). Chapter 22 describes how Jerusalem had become so corrupt that there was nothing good left in her (at any level—prophets, priests, princes, or people); the city was like metals that even when heated to extreme temperatures are found to have no silver in them. The fire needed for that purification is thus obviously connected to the figure of speech but also to the literal burning of Jerusalem that will take place. One of the most sexually explicit chapters in the Bible, chapter 23’s allegory likens the two sisters Oholah (which means “her own tent”) and Oholibah (which means “My tent is in her”) to Samaria and Jerusalem, which themselves can also represent, respectively, the northern and southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah. (The “tent” is likely a reference to the place of worship, the tent--like “Tabernacle” and then the Temple, which indicates that Israel had problems from the moment of its separation but Judah’s offenses were worse for the Presence of God in her midst.) Both were defiled by their prostitution (again both figurative idolatry of other gods and literal promiscuity at temple shrines), although Judah was worse (note what is described as greater perversion: arousal by pictures, as with pornography today). The very objects of Oholibah’s lust become the Lord’s instruments of wrath and way of correcting her behavior. The “cup of wrath” imagery from 23:31-34 is probably familiar to you by now. Judah not only did not learn from Israel’s punishment but sinned in worse ways and so shares the punishment as a result. Chapter 24 begins with the picture of besieged Jerusalem as a rusty pot that will not be purified even when empty and essentially set ablaze. The destruction of the city and its Temple would not be mourned by the exiles, and Ezekiel’s not mourning the death of his wife was to communicate that to them.

Biblog folos number two today. First, regarding the reading of Ezekiel 16, a reader emailed of anticipating the corresponding comments and learning whether the Amorite father and Hittite mother of 16:3 and 45 were to be related to Abaham and Sarah, a problem lessened, the reader said, by limiting the focus of chapter 16 to Jerusalem instead of all of Israel. (The Amorites and Hittites were Canaanites in that they lived in the land before Israel; where the Amorites were Semitic, the Hittites were not.) The text of chapter 16 is itself directed to Jerusalem (verse 3), but whether “Jerusalem” means the city alone or shorthand for all of Judah is not immediately clear. The references to bringing the idolatry from the high places into the city certainly favor understanding the referent of “Jerusalem” to be the city. However, one commentator points out that when the Bible is speaking strictly of the city of Jerusalem’s origin the Bible refers to it as a Jebusite city. In that same vein is the fact that neither the city nor its structures had wandered—the people had. So, a different understanding may be necessary. As Jesus in John 8:44 speaks of the Jews as the devil’s children, Ezekiel can be taken to say that Israel’s unfaithfulness had made it a spiritual descendant of the Canaanites, among whom the Amorites and Hittites were leaders of ungodliness. Or, we might do as does one of my generally quite reliable sources that I consult.

The references in vs. 3 and 45 to Jerusalem’s “Amorite” [sic., “father”] and Hittite “mother” have excited inordinate debate; the details, however, are surely not to be pressed, but indicate only Israel’s “mongrel” status before God apart from election; she has no claim on God by virtue of race.

While I am sure that muddies the waters, my usual painting in broad strokes may have made them disproportionately pure.

Second, the link in Sunday’s post about the Roman Catholic church returning to the Tridentine Latin Mass and my comment about its understandability prompted an email with a question and a comment. The reader’s question asked why, “if the Latin mass was never ‘prohibited’”, John Paul II was said to “allow it back” and even after that priests still had to get permission to use it. Well, I am certainly no expert in canon law, but I would imagine there is some sort of explanation to be found in the levels and weighting of recommendations and the dictates within the Roman Catholic church. Thinking of our own church body, the reader’s comment suggested that “drum and guitar” people would probably say the liturgy of The Lutheran Hymnal is as unintelligible as the Latin Mass. Well, I think there’s a difference between understanding a language and understanding both the meaning of words in a language and their use in a specific context. I understand some Latin, but I might have the same kind of trouble with the Roman Catholic Latin Mass that the “drum and guitar” people, who presumably understand English, might have with the Lutheran liturgy of TLH. The Divine Service is primarily for the Baptized and initiated into the faith. I’d at least like to think that maybe the “drum and guitar” people have never properly been catechized on and about the liturgy. I’ll never forget how a classmate my first year in seminary, who was a “drum and guitar” person when he came in, did a 180-degree turn once he properly learned about the liturgy.

Tidbits today begin with this reader-submitted link to the hushing up of even Jewish criticism of Israel in this country, despite the speaker’s credentials. ... Secretary of State Rice reportedly opened her mouth and inserted her foot at the appointment of a gay ambassador. ... Family activists are offering a “reality-check” on commercials against anti-gay-marriage amendments. ... No thanks to gay couples, if it hasn’t already, the United States population is expected to hit 300-million today or some time in the next two weeks (here and here). (Do you think the world has been “populated” yet as God directed in Genesis 1:28 and 9:1? Already back at the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholic officials said it had and so priests could be commanded not to marry since the command to fill the earth had been met.) ... With an eye on dropping numbers, the ELCA is apparently concerned about shedding its Lutheran identity. (What Lutheran identity? The ELCA stopped being Lutheran long before the LCMS officially recognized that fact.) ... Two Christian-themed movies did okay at the box office this past weekend. ... And I came across this interesting looking book in a catalog I was browsing when I couldn’t sleep Saturday night (there’s a typo on the web page near the end of the book’s description that isn’t in the catalog).

Along with emails from some of you using the pages and our own experiences, our webmaster and I are aware of some problems with the server and are endeavoring to get those resolved. Please continue to let me know when you experience problems, and you might also use the “webmaster” link on the “Contact Us” page of the main Grace site. There’s a new Q&A here, and, as always, thanks go to those providing research assistance, questions, comments, and links! God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 16, 2006

Eze 19-21

(The previous comments on Psalm 119:73-80 are here.)

Ezekiel 19-21 today keeps us in the same section and subsection we’ve been in for the last two days now. Chapter 19 gives us what is sometimes called a twofold lament for Israel’s princes, chapter 20 tells of hardened Israel’s repeated rebellion, and chapter 21 describes Babylon as the Lord’s sword. Chapter 19 is at least one lament, if not two, that contains allegory that is in some ways similar to that in chapter 17, but, unlike chapter 17, there is no interpretation of it given. The chapter opens with an allegorized lament in verses 1-9. The “lioness” or mother to the kings may be Israel, Judah, or Jerusalem. The first “cub” is likely Jehoahaz, and the second cub lamented refers to either Jehoiachin’s capitivity in Babylon or what would soon be Zedekiah’s. Verses 10-14 may well be a second lament revisiting the image of Judah as a flourishing vine now forcibly uprooted.

At the beginning of chapter 20, perhaps in light of what we read in 14:1-11, after raising a question over whether God is going to speak through Ezekiel to the elders of Israel (the answer to which question is more or less suspended until later in the chapter), a three-fold account of Israel’s rebellion is given, breaking down, by one view, as follows: vv.5-9 in Egypt, vv.10-17 the first generation in the desert, and vv.18-26 the second generation in the desert. I’m not sure that Israelites later than the second desert-generation aren’t intended in the third account, perhaps better to think of the most immediate forefathers of those exiled. Regardless, each of these three accounts itself seems to have four parts: God’s revealing Himself, Israel rebelling, God at least conceiving wrath, and God reconsidering. The point of the chapter seems to be in verses 30-31, as God asks whether the current generation is going to be any different. Almost as if fast-forwarding to His reconsideration of wrath, the Lord promises to restore the current exiles (note the shepherd imagery in 20:37). God makes it clear to Ezekiel that the prophecy is directed against Judah and Jerusalem (20:45-48), but the Elders apparently did not take the prophecy seriously (20:49).

So, God makes His judgment against Israel even more clear in chapter 21 with descriptions of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar as the Lord’s sword. (In the Hebrew text of the book, what is the equivalent of the chapter division apparently comes after 20:44.) The sword described is not one that will be of benefit to Judah but is instead against her. Jerusalem and her leaders, in rebellion against Babylon, will think the sign given Nebuchadnezzar to attack Jerusalem is false (21:18-23). Verses 24 and following seem to build in a sharp crescendo, with the Bible’s theme of the great reversal prominent and a triple statement of all being brought to ruin. The turban and crown in verse 26 could both signify the royal office, or the turban may as elsewhere refer to priestly dress. Either way, the Messiah to Whom the scepter rightly belongs (Genesis 49:10) is referenced in verse 27. Apparently even though Nebuchadnezzar first takes the fork of the road going to Jerusalem (21:20), he will come back and also destroy the Ammonites (21:28-32). After we, to whom God has also revealed Himself, reflect on our own guilt and repeated rebellion and sinfulness, we also should be sure to let God comfort us with His sure and certain promises to us of “reconsidering” His wrath against us for the sake of Jesus Christ, through Whose blood we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14).

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 15, 2006

Ps 119:65-72 / Eze 16-18 / Folo / Tidbits

As you read Psalm 119:65-72 again, you can find the previous post on it here. Today I add two comments. First, in verse 66 I was struck by the idea of “believing” the commandments. We would normally hear about believing “God’s Word” or “obeying” the commandments. What does “believing the commandments” mean? Looking at the rest of the verse helps; the psalmist seeking wisdom wants to learn good judgment (KJV, ASV, NIV; “discernment” NASB) and knowledge, and the commands of God are a reliable basis for that distinguishing between good and evil (our corrupted consciences are not always so reliable). The Hebrew verb aman translated “believe” in this verse can have the sense of “standing firm in” or “being certain about”. So, the psalmist appeals to God to teach him good judgment for which confirming the validity of the commandments is a prerequisite. My second comment today has to do with verse 67. Did you notice how the psalmist admits straying from God before God afflicted him and thereby brought him into a right relationship with God? Here again at first I would expect the “word” in this verse to have more the sense of Gospel than law, and, while imrah can refer to the broader Torah, the verb shamar means “keep”, “guard”, “observe”, or “give heed” and therefore seems to direct us more to the law aspect of the Torah. Straying from God, we hear both the law, which shows us our sin, and the Gospel, which both leads us to trust God to forgive our sin for Jesus’ sake and transforms us so that we can begin to keep the commands of the law.

Ezekiel 16-18 today continues both the major section dealing with prophecies of judgment against Israel and the subsection of prophecies explaining Divine judgment. Today we hear essentially three prophecies: Jerusalem described as a wayward orphan (16:1-43) and compared to other cities (16:44-63), Jerusalem’s kings allegorized (17:1-21) and a related prophecy of a new tree (17:22-24), and the lesson of three generations (chapter 18). I’ll warn you up front that this reading today is longish and at times a little lurid, but it isn’t all that difficult. Chapter 16 begins telling of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish origins and how God more or less adopted the orphan city, helped it mature, and entered into a “marital” relationship with it (v.8’s spreading the corner of the garment over her nakedness). But, the blessings God gave Jerusalem she used to attract other gods, being adulterous figuratively and literally. At first prostituting herself at the high places, she later brought her idolatrous prostitution into the city itself. One commentator summarizes the description well, saying Jerusalem is described “as a brazen whore, even a nymphomaniac, who insatiably pays for her own customers!” After quite a bit of that description and condemnation we get a hint of relief in 16:42 and a lengthier treatment of God’s promise of restoration in 16:53-63.

Chapter 17 allegorizes Nebuchadnezzar, the eagle (or vulture) of verse 3, who took the best of Israel, the cedar, and planted it in Bablyon, the land of merchants (vv.3-4, 12). Nebuchadnezzar, the same eagle, also made Zedekiah king in Judah, the planting of the seed in fertile soil, so that he produced a spreading vine with branches under it but leaves turned toward him (v.5-6, 13-14). Then Zedekiah, the low vine, was interested in allying himself against Babylon with an Egyptian pharaoh, the other eagle (or vulture), and the vine sends its roots towards him and turns its branches toward him for no real reason (vv.7-8, 15). God’s point through this allegory, or parable, Ezekiel spoke is that Zedekiah, the vine, will be destroyed for breaking his treaty with Babylon and thereby being unfaithful to the Lord, in whose Name he probably swore an oath. Extending some imagery from that allegory and parable, however, the Lord gives a beautiful picture of the Messiah as a top of a cedar (perhaps that which grew from the planting in Babylon) planted back in Jerusalem, where it thrives (perhaps as it did after Cyrus's order). The great tree that is a blessing to all creation has parallels in Ezekiel 31 and Daniel 4, and perhaps also Genesis 2:9; 3:22, 24; and Revelation 22:2. (At our seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, we used Ezekiel 17:22-24 in the dedication of the Christmas tree each year.)

Chapter 18 brings up the people’s “proverb” that we discussed before when it came up in Jeremiah 31:29. The people’s “proverb” mocked God’s justice (see how God defends His justice in vv.25-29). Through Ezekiel, however, the Lord deals at greater length with just how original sin impacts people and how each person dies for his or her own sin. The righteousness described in verses 5-9 (and similarly again in vv.15-17) is that brought about by faith in Christ—the works demonstrate faith’s existence. That faith is a part of repentance, described in verses 21-23 and 30-32. The message of verses 23 and 32 is regarded by some as the most important in the whole book, and whenever we hear someone criticize God for judging or damning people these verses should be quick to come from our lips. Repentance was the key for the people of Ezekiel’s time, and repentance also is the key for us. We should live every day in sorrow over our sin and with faith in Christ for the forgiveness of that sin. Daily we thereby return to our Baptisms and the sure and certain hope of eternal life we know God gave us there.

The Biblog folo today has to do with a question about whether the U.S. Episcopal church was following suit with Unitarian and European practices. I said yesterday that I didn't know. A reader thought the original piece mentioned such, but that piece seems to have disappeared from beliefnet.com's site. Here's what may be a more stable piece, and it does mention the Unitarian and European practices.

Tidbits today begin with so-called “moderate” Muslims in Canada fearing death threats from their more conservative counterparts. ... Here’s a first: an Illinois Episcopal congregation wants new oversight because its bishop is too conservative. ... College professors may be more religious than previously thought, according to this survey, but they’re still less religious than the average person. ... The fight over gay marriage is said to be threatening freedom of speech for all of us. ... British Airways is facing a variety of forms of backlash for telling a Christian employee she couldn’t wear a cross that could be seen. ... The pope is expected soon to allow Roman Catholics wider use of the Latin form of their liturgy dating back to just after the Lutheran Reformation (while anything’s probably better than a “pizza mass”, I’d say the language of the people is still important). ... And reportedly there are two big “outreach” events in Texas this weekend.

God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy by rightly using His Word also in its sacramental forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 14, 2006

Eze 13-15 / Folos / Tidbits

(As you read Psalm 119:57-64 again these comments may again be of help.)

With Ezekiel 13-15 today we begin a new subsection of the section of prophecy of judgment against Israel; the new subsection contains prophecy explaining the divine judgment. Chapter 13 condemns false prophets and magic charms; chapter 14 both gives the condemnation of the exiles’ idolatry (14:1-11) and the inescapability of the judgment (14:12-23); and chapter 15 gives the image of Jerusalem as a burnt branch of a vine. Chapter 13’s condemnation of false prophets follows closely out of chapter 12’s discussion of the seeming delay in God’s fulfilling the prophecy of the true prophets. In condemning the false prophets, the Lord through Ezekiel says that they have not done the work of a faithful prophet (building up the wall and revealing its true state in order to protect the people) and that their visions and divinations were false (we don’t know whether the false prophets had received actual visions from evil powers or just made up the visions). The false prophets received a three-fold exclusion from Israel, but the real sentence, for them and the women who practiced occult magic and lured others into such practices, was death. (One commentator explains the references to the veils in 13:18 and 21 as being figures of speech for their concealing the word of God with their prophesying and for their dulling the perception of their hearers with lies tailored to what the hearers want to hear, as also in 2 Timothy 4:3.)

In chapter 14, verse 6 is notable for being one of three calls to repent in Ezekiel (see also 18:30 and 33:11), and verses 9-11 emphasize again the accountability of the prophet who contradicts—and the person who leads him to contradict—what the Lord has revealed (verse 9 apparently has the sense of “a different” or “another” prophecy other than what the Lord gave [14:7]). The situation, according to 14:12-23, is so dire that only Noah, Daniel, and Job themselves would be delivered, that is, everyone and everything else would perish. We might think of Abraham’s “negotiating” with God over Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of his nephew Lot and family (Genesis 18:16-33), and we might think of God telling Jeremiah even Moses and Samuel would not be able to effectively intercede for Judah (Jeremiah 15:1-4). Noah (Genesis 6-9) and Job (the book of Job) hopefully you know, but the Daniel mentioned in Ezekiel 14:14 may not be the Daniel of the book that bears his name, who was a contemporary of Ezekiel and whose righteousness probably had not yet become so well known as to be proverbial. There is historical evidence of a similarly named Dan’el, described as a “righteous judge of widows and orphans”. Whoever the Daniel mentioned by Ezekiel was, he shared with Noah and Job righteousness by faith and deliverance from disaster.

Chapter 15’s description of Jerusalem as a useless vine may be a little more difficult to understand than one might think. You probably know that Israel was frequently described as a vine (Psalm 80:8-13; compare Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 20:9-19 and confer John 15:1-17), but since she had stopped producing fruit she was totally useless. (Most of the figures of speech for Israel as a vine, from the first in Deuteronomy 32:32-33, are said to be negative.) Other wood that doesn’t produce fruit at least can be used for other things, but not so is the vine and much less after it is damaged. Those in Jerusalem were “charred”—for example, they had survived the first siege, after which Ezekiel and the others were taken into exile—but still were not useful—they had not repented and changed—so would be consumed by fire for their unfaithfulness. The nation’s status as the elect of God, His chosen branch, would not be enough to save them any more than the presence of a righteous man in their midst (perhaps Jeremiah?).

Two Biblog folos follow. First, the reading of Ezekiel 11 and my corresponding comment about “bones” sent a reader unsuccessfully searching multiple translations for a reference to bones. The “bones” admittedly are not mentioned in the text but are implied by the figure of speech. If the city is the caldron protecting the occupants from the fire, the faithless leaders of Jerusalem think of themselves as the meat or flesh, the best part or choice portions of that which was put in the pot, which will be safely protected until perfectly boiled at old age. Under their use of the figure of speech, the exiles were the less-choice parts of that which was put in the pot, such as the bones or carcass that is pulled out after the meat has come off. (I’m thinking of turkey soup we usually make after Thanksgiving, the day of the UT-A&M game, and how we remove the bones and shred the meat.) Through Ezekiel the Lord uses the figure of speech a little differently, saying that the people the faithless leaders have treated unjustly are the choice part and that the leaders are the less-choice part that will be removed from the pot—it will not protect them.

Second, the tidbit posted yesterday about potential changes in Massachusetts’ Episcopal church’s handling of marriage prompted several emails. In one, a reader said the Episcopal church is apparently “downgrading marriage like the Unitarians” and that “everyone can go to a JP!” Another email suggested the Episcopalians were suggesting, “Marriage, European style”. I don’t know about the Unitarians or the Europeans, but I do know that there is evidence that before church weddings became the norm people married themselves without any sort of other involvement, church or state (like what we see in the Bible). There is some wisdom in the Episcopal church’s idea, though not for the reason it gives. If the government says people of the same sex can “marry”, then let the government handle all marriage (something Luther suggested anyway), and let the Church bless those marriages it can bless. Otherwise, pastors will be put in the position of being licensed by the government to “marry” and refusing to “marry” those who the government says are entitled to be married.

Tidbits today begin with a Turkish teenager sentenced to jail time for killing a Roman Catholic priest earlier this year, possibly in connection with the controversy over cartoons of Mohammed. ... A ruling by a European court in favor of the Salvation Army’s involvement in Russia is being called a good thing—I guess if you are in favor of international courts. ... The Michagan State Board of Education this week backed the teaching of evolution and not intelligent design in science classes. ... Emails brought two embryonic stem cell links: this one about a U.S. scientist campaigning against such research in Australia and this one emphasizing Ryan T. Anderson’s comments (scroll down to them) about the truth finally getting out. ... Thinking of Ezekiel’s visions and the visions of false prophets, a reader sent this link to reflections on news of (false) visions in the Pentecostal church. ... In the last piece of his interview publicizing his new movie, Mel Gibson says advance criticism of his movie “The Passion of the Christ” played a role in his July drunken tirade, and Newseek’s reviewer calls the interview “creepy”. ... And, as you probably are a reader of God’s Word, the law in this Memorial Moment may apply less to you, but the Gospel is always welcome.

God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by the right use of His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 13, 2006

Ps 119:49-56 / Eze 10-12 / UFOs in the Bible / Folos / Tidbits

As we reread Psalm 119:49-56 today, you might find these previous comments helpful. And, let me direct your attention more closely to verse 50. What a wonderful verse to remember and repeat back to God in all times that we are afflicted. The KJV and ASV have “This is my comfort in my affliction; For Thy word hath quickened me,” which is good if you know what “quickened” means. The NIV has “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life,” which is also good in that it narrows the meaning of imrah to God’s Gospel promises. However, the NIV also lessens what may be very edifying meaning of chayah, that of saving or reviving. (Apart from God, there was no “life” to preserve!) So, of the four, I like the NASB in this case the best: “This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me.” God’s law kills us, and His Gospel brings us back to life. Even as we suffer under affliction, on account of our sins we deserve to be dead, so truly by God’s mercy alone we are not utterly destroyed (Lamentations 3:22!). Even as we suffer and eventually die physically, God will again quicken us, revive us, at the great Last Day. “This is my comfort in my affliction: that Your Word has revived me!”

Today with Ezekiel 10-12 we continue the major section on prophecies of judgment against Israel, finishing the subsection containing the vision of the corrupted Temple (chapters 10-11) and reading completely the subsection containing symbolic acts portraying Jerusalem’s exile (chapter 12). Chapter 10 tells how God’s glory left Jerusalem, and chapter 11 concludes the vision with judgment on Israel’s leaders and the promise of the exiles’ return. In chapter 12, verses 1-16 relate to the exile’s baggage, verses 17-20 to anxious eating, and verses 21-28 to the nearness of judgment. The description of the vision in chapter 10 is similar to that in chapter 1, as Ezekiel even says (v.15), although the four living creatures in this case are notably called “cherubim” (which is a plural Hebrew form, so no “s” needed for more than one). The fire that destroyed Jerusalem symbolically coming from God certainly identifies Him as the ultimate agent of the city’s destruction. Even though the glory of God’s Presence left the Temple where He was enthroned between representations of cherubim, He continued to be enthroned between actual cherubim. (Note well the window above the altar in our church building.) The metaphor of the meat and the pot in 11:1-5 shifts, which makes it a little hard to follow at first. The faithless leaders of Jerusalem think that they are the better part of the city and that the exiles are discarded bones, but the Lord through Ezekiel says that the innocent people the faithless leaders killed are the meat and that the faithless leaders are the bones. The Lord’s prophecy through Ezekiel apparently brings about the death of Pelatiah (v.13), and Ezekiel again speaks up (see the similar objection in 9:8), concerned that the Lord will destroy every last Israelite. The Lord comforts Ezekiel, identifying the exiles as the true house of Israel and promising that they will return from exile and restore the land. The description of the transformation God will work in them (11:19-20) is notable (confer Exodus 6:7), recalling somewhat the discussion of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 and anticipating Ezekiel 36.

A few things in chapter 12 are worthy of note and reflection. I remarked earlier how 12:2 recalls statements of our Lord in the Gospel accounts. In 12:10 and 12 the “prince” is Zedekiah (by which understanding the “king” is Jehoiachin, who is in exile with them); Zedekiah’s eyes were put out, so he truly did not “see” Babylon. Those who expected instant fulfillment of the prophecies of judgment, among whom may have been the false prophets, had taken to mocking the true prophets with a “proverb” that the Lord addressed by speeding the fulfillment. As in Biblical times, so also in our times, some regard the prophecy of the end of the world as a vision that failed, but the Lord patiently waits for people to repent. See 2 Peter 3:9 and what it says about how we should be living as a result. Thanks be to God that even as we fail to live in that way there is forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ so that in Him we can be ready for the Day of the Lord whenever it might come.

Was Ezekiel 1 an example of UFOs in the Bible? I heard from someone who yesterday saw this show on The History Channel. Various theophanies, appearances of God, and other miraculous events were said potentially to have been caused by UFOs, such as the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. Some sort of church officials were interviewed in the show, including one the viewer thought might be Roman Catholic. One statement made, I am told, was, “The religious community has not completely closed the book on the possibility of extra-terrestrial [life].” In a sense that statement is true, of course, God could have created life on other planets and not revealed that to us, but at least we would acknowledge that they were created and by the same God. Another claim was that theories of extra-terrestrials are based on faith, just as Christianity is. While that is true to an extent, there is a great deal of archaeological and other historical evidence that anchors the Bible in historical fact, unlike UFOs. When it comes to extra-terrestrial life, I am reminded of an episode of “The X-Files” where F.B.I. Special Agent Fox Mulder is despondent even as he is about to get the convincing proof he needs that UFOs and alien life do exist; his partner Special Agent Dana Scully points out to him that, if he gets the proof, he won’t need to believe anymore. When it comes to Christianity, I am reminded of Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV).

There are two Biblog folos today. First, in response to a folo yesterday where I commented that the numbers in Ezekiel 4:5-6 seem to relate to the northern kingdom’s earlier apostasy, another email from a reader prompted by comment via email back that the dates do not work out as easily as we might like: Israel had not been divided from Judah and apostate for 390 years, nor was Judah unfaithful for only 40. What I was trying to indicate in the original post, but apparently didn’t make as clear I had hoped, was that commentators go to some great lengths to try to make sense of these numbers. The reader’s last email back to me on this topic commented well as follows.

If I just stick to “things were so bad that major reprisals were required to wake people up to the fact” the puzzling details can be “passed by” as Luther said. There is no doubt about the destruction and the exile!

Amen! (And if you want a very cool visualization of the contests over the territory, check out this link a reader sent.)

In response to this Q&A posted yesterday about Ezekiel 4:10-11, a reader asked for a clarification and made a comment. The clarification is that both the 11-12 ounces of bread and the less-than a pint of water were a per-day ration distributed over the course of the day. The comment pertained to hiking and climbing Boy Scouts having one gallon of water per day, and then going for pints of orange juice and Blue Bell as soon as they came off the trail.

Tidbits today begin with an Iowa Roman Catholic diocese getting a new bishop days after becoming the latest to declare bankruptcy in the wake of a clergy sex scandal. ... A reader sent word of a legal defense fund for the wife of a reportedly faithful Lutheran pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). Arrested last week on suspicion of attempting to murder her two youngest children, the wife pleaded not guilty this week to lesser charges. (There are some interesting comments on the end of that news article!) Donations to the Kristen Lawson Legal Defense Fund can be sent to the church address on this page. ... That Amish schoolhouse where five girls were killed is nothing but a memory now. ... Episcopal clergy in Massachusetts are reportedly considering getting out of the civil marriage business altogether. ... Not that I want to get too much into politics, an argument can be made that the following items could ultimately impact our Freedom of Religion. A reader sent this link to a piece alleging President Bush is destroying the Bill of Rights, and another reader sent a piece by a University of Texas at Austin Law School professor that calls for a Constitutional Convention, but I could only find this link that requires a subscription to see the whole piece. ... As more of Mel Gibson’s interview promoting his new airs, he is heard calling his DUI arrest a blessing in that it made him get sober. ... And, the movie “One Night with the King”, which is said to be based on the book of Esther that we read recently, premieres today and 908 theatres nationwide and appears to be showing at four theatres in the Austin area. Thumbs up or down? You decide and let us know!

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 12, 2006

Eze 7-9 / Folos / Tidbits

(Our rereading of Psalm 119:41-48 is somewhat timely as our annual observance of Reformation Day nears; comments on the section know as “Waw” are here.)

With Ezekiel 7-9 we continue reading the book’s section on prophecy of judgment against Israel. First we finish the subsection that is said to deal with an explanation of Divine judgment, with chapter 7’s treatment of “the end”, and then we begin the next subsection that is said to give Ezekiel’s vision of the corrupted Temple, with chapter 8 telling of the four abominations and chapter 9 the destruction of the city. You can almost hear the seething wrath of the Lord in chapter 7, as He through Ezekiel describes the end of His patience waiting for the idolatrous people to repent and the resulting judgment that will bring about an end to many of them and all that they have come to know. I was reminded of Psalm 130:3, how we are unable to stand if God keeps a record of our sin, but that psalm’s fourth verse also reminds us that when we believe in God He forgives us for Jesus sake. One thing to note in chapter 7 is how 7:15 is similar to Jeremiah 14:18 (and Lamentations 1:20, to a lesser extent), with those who flee to outside the city being killed by the sword and those who remain in the city dying from plague and famine. You can see why those who submitted to the Babylonians at God’s command and were carried away into exile were the ones to survive.

The first verse of chapter 8 indicates that the exiles had a certain degree of freedom, that Ezekiel had a degree of respect from the exiles, and perhaps that synagogue worship practices had begun by this time. In 8:2’s vision of the Divine Messenger there are some similarities to the vision of the Divine in 1:26 and verses following. Where God the Father was likely represented in the earlier vision, in this case some identify the Messenger as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, our Lord Jesus before His incarnation. In the part of Ezekiel’s vision described in chapter 8 he is shown four different cases of people worshipping idols at the Temple itself: what may have been a statue of Asherah in the Temple court (8:5-6), various animal idols in a secret Temple chamber (8:7-13), the Babylonian fertility god Tammuz (or Adonis) by a Temple gate (8:14-15), and the sun god on the Temple steps (8:16-18). Chapter 9 describes the killing of the idolaters and the sparing of the repentant faithful who bore on their forehead the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, tau, a mark that originally resembled an X and today would be at least symbolically equivalent to the sign of the cross upon the forehead (the mark may have more than a symbolical equivalency, as there is what is known as a “Tau cross”). (Note the record the man clothed in linen carries, that we might think of as The Book of Life.) That sign of the cross is normally put upon the Baptized to mark them as redeemed by Christ the Crucified, and, when we make it upon ourselves in our daily devotions and in the weekly Divine Service, we remember our Baptisms and God’s making us His children in Baptism and thereby delivering us from sin, death, and the power of the devil by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

We have quite a few Biblog folos today. The explanation in Tuesday’s post of the four living creatures as God’s attendants prompted a reader to comment: “These ‘creatures’ have always been a puzzle! To think of them as God’s attendants helps!” What to do with them beyond that leads me to Dr. Luther’s advice in connection with the Daily Lectionary: “Where one does not understand it, pass that by and glorify God.”

A reader’s email made me think that perhaps my comments in yesterday’s post regarding Ezekiel 4:5-6 and all the commentators’ speculation obscured what is generally accepted: that the different lengths of time for the northern and southern kingdoms seem to relate somehow to the northern kingdom’s earlier apostasy.

The mention of Rowan Williams in yesterday’s tidbit about Church of England complaints over “preferential treatment” of Muslims prompted several emails; one consisted of this link, about making the coronation of Prince Charles more inclusive (to which idea Williams objects), and asked if it was “British civil religion”. Another email on that topic said the following.

If Charles wants to be “Defender of faith” instead of “Defender of the Faith” he will have a problem with most of the coronation, which is saturated with Christian symbols. Unless they don’t really mean anything any more.

Well, the bread and wine in the Church of England are just symbols—I don’t know if that tells one anything. Another email sent this link to news that Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury (the Anglican’s top spiritual and bureaucratic leader), also is in an order of Druid priests, which religion the reader suggested was “a more ‘indigenous’ religion in the British Isles than Islam”.

The mention yesterday of the pope’s “footnote” to his controversial Regensburg remarks prompted a reader to make this comment via email.

I really wonder if Islam wouldn’t have more respect for the pope if he stood his ground. They will never apologize for what they believe, and they must be wondering what he believes, if he is so mealy mouthed about it! It might accomplish just as much if someone identifiably Christian said, “Look, this is Christianity. Get over it!” But whatever was said would have to be Christian—teaching about the Triune God—not just agnostics waving red flags in front of the Islamic bull, so that real Christians die for it!

Well, I’m inclined to agree that the pope’s after-the-fact sensitivity is not helping clarify for what he stands, even though he has not altered the substance of what he said. I think genuine Muslims know exactly what Christianity stands for, and that is why real Christians are dying.

The tidbit in yesterday’s post regarding comments by the president of the Mormons prompted a reader to email the following comment.

I understood the Mormon to be urging more education for the men, to keep up with the women. Although the bias against an educated girl doesn’t need a Mormon to articulate it!

Indeed, the Mormon president did urge the men to take advantage of the education opportunities afforded them, but his use of the “unequally yoked” passage (2 Corinthians 6:14) would seem to be him suggesting that people of different educational levels shouldn’t marry.

The tidbit in yesterday’s post regarding music “evolving” to help men attract women prompted several emails. One made the following comment.

And/or vice versa? Some beats are provocative. I daresay the music in the “groves and high places” was not the same as that for the Psalms in the temple! (I wonder fans of “contemporary” music sometimes aren't confused into thinking it can be.) Bach isn’t usually thought of as providing that kind of “inspiration”, although it may have worked for Bach!

Of course there have been female composers who could have been trying to attract men, but I think in general we are going to reject the evolutionary hypothesis, even on this “micro” view of music. And, yes, people who think that music used in worship of false gods can be used in worship of the true God are confused. Another email regarding this tidbit commented as follows.

Chuck Colson is being dramatic, or silly. J.S. Bach at no time had twenty children. That many may have been born (although I thought it was nineteen), but quite a few of them died young.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica online entry about Bach says with his two wives he fathered 20 children, 10 of whom survived to maturity.

Tidbits today begin with the U.S. Supreme Court indirectly affirming marriage as the union of a man and a woman but declining to hear an abortion case. ... A reader sent this link with the latest legal development in a fight to keep Christmas in the public square, commenting that when there was an attempt to stop the annual Christmas concert the reader’s children were in a New Jersey town “leaned back”. ... President Bush is being accused of “using” Christians, and an Islamic video game reportedly targets the President. ... There wasn't any violence, but this abortion protest certainly is unique! ... Another patient said to be in a “persistent vegetative state” is said to have awakened (good thing he was not killed before he could). ... A reader sent this link to a review of a book of the real journals and letters of a Christian woman who died from cancer. The reader highlighted the reference to the Tim McGraw song (you can find the lyrics here). ... And, you thought Austin traffic was bad? Check out this video link a reader sent in.

There are two new Q&A posted, beginning with this one. And, as usual, thanks go to those who sent in questions, comments, and links. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 11, 2006

Eze 4-6 / Tidbits

(There are brief comments on Psalm 119:33-40 here.)

Today’s reading of Ezekiel 4-6 takes us through the next subsection of prophecy of judgment against Israel, which subsection deals with symbolic acts portraying the siege of Jerusalem (chapters 4-5), and today’s reading also takes us into the subsection after that one, which is said to deal with an explanation of Divine judgment, in this case particularly the mountains of Israel (chapter 6). In the symbolic siege of Jerusalem represented by the clay tablet or brick (4:1-3), Ezekiel’s involvement (4:3) is said to represent the Lord’s being behind the siege. Another aspect of the enactment pertains to the siege’s length (4:4-8). The 390 years symbolized in 4:5 may be the period from Solomon’s own unfaithfulness to Jerusalem’s fall (although not everyone agrees on that symbolism or on what period the years take in), and the 40 years in 4:6 may be the length of Manasseh’s reign before he repented (although an alternate interpretation has the “40” in 4:6 being a symbolic number for the 70 literal years of the exile). Another possible interpretation is that the total 430 years relates to the past bondage in Egypt and following desert wanderings as a type for the future exile of a different length. Regardless, Ezekiel is representing the sin of the people, not “bearing” it in any vicarious, mediatory, or atoning sort of way. Note that Ezekiel’s left and right sides would put him to the north and south, respectively, of the symbolic city, thereby representing the northern and southern kingdoms. Other aspects of the siege’s enactment depict its horrors (4:9-17) and the three fates of the captives (chapter 5). In chapter 5’s symbolic action and accompanying prophecy we come upon several expressions and themes that will frequently recur in Ezekiel: 5:8’s “I Myself am against you” (NIV); 5:13’s “spent My wrath upon” (NIV, NASB; “accomplished my fury” KJV; “accomplished my wrath” ASV); and 5:13’s “they will know that I the Lord have spoken” (NIV). The last one reminds us that God’s Word is accompanied by corresponding action, not just in His words of judgment and condemnation but also in His words of judgment and pardon, mercy and grace. His Words of forgiveness by faith in Jesus Christ are accompanied by actions in the sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, for example, forms of His Word that we perceive in ways other than just our ears. Chapter 6 relates God’s judgment against the mountains and other places where His people practiced their idolatry. At the beginning of the chapter the prophecy is addressed to the mountains themselves (note in 6:4 how the people are referred to as the “mountains’ people”), but in verse 8 the speech seems to change and be directed to the people, if only for that verse, and it is precisely at that verse where God’s mercy and grace are evident in the promise to spare a remnant.

Permit me just a word about something that is sometimes regarded as strange: that Ezekiel in some cases could be taken as directing prophecy to people who aren’t present for it. Of course, we have seen this before, for example, Jeremiah’s so-called “Gentile oracles” were directed to the nations around Judah when there may have been no real way for the words of those prophecies to get to the leaders or people of those nations. As for the exiles in Babylon, there was communication between them and those still in Judah, as we saw in Jeremiah, and so word of Ezekiel’s prophecy could make its way back to Judah. In that way, Ezekiel’s purpose was similar to Jeremiah: tell those in Jerusalem that there was no future for them there. Ezekiel also no doubt was addressing any hopes among the exiles that soon they would return to Judah and Jerusalem or find them as they left them whenever they did return. Thus, Ezekiel, like other prophets, also including Jeremiah, who continued to prophecy to the Northern Kingdom even after its fall, has in view all of Israel, exiled or not.

Tidbits today are heavy on public figures commenting on religious matters. The flap intensifies over a British official’s comments about Muslim women wearing a veil, while the Church of England criticizes what it calls the government’s “preferential treatment” of Muslims. ... The pope adds a footnote to his controversial remarks at Regensburg, but I still don’t think he’s said he disagrees with the essence of the medieval emperor’s comment. ... Current analysis faults President Bush’s rhetoric and its follow-up for tensions in the world, and a reader sent this older piece comparing President Bush’s language with that of the false prophets in the Old Testament. ... In an interview promoting his new movie, Mel Gibson apologized again for anti-Semitic remarks he made in July when drunk. ... Want to bet that Martin Luther King, Jr., isn’t included in the terms of the agreement that settled this dispute? ... How far can the transgender-agenda go? A reader sent word that gender-neutral bathrooms in public places and college residence halls are just the tip of the iceberg (read here and here). ... The president of the Mormons basically told men not to marry better-educated women, and do you believe music “evolved” so men could attract women?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 10, 2006

Eze 1-3 / Folo / Tidbits

(Here are some helpful comments on Psalm 119:25-32, Daleth.)

Ezekiel 1-3 brings us to the next new book in canonical order, which we will be reading for the next sixteen days, and also returns us to the “latter” or “major” prophets. As usual, you can find some introductory comments on the book in the background information for this month’s reading (online here or as a PDF here). Mentioned previously in connection with Jeremiah, remember the larger shifting of power that affected Israel and Judah at the time, variously involving Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and eventually Persia. Such shifting of power and loyalties had resulted in the exile to Babylon of about 10,000 Jews, including Ezekiel, as early as 597 B.C., a decade or so before the siege that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. (Many of the prophecies through Ezekiel can be given precise dates, and the prophecies are given to us in more or less chronological order.) After that exile and in Babylon God called Ezekiel, who was from a priestly family, to be a prophet; he served at least 20 years. Unlike Jeremiah, Ezekiel had a wife and family of his own; like Jeremiah, however, Ezekiel often makes symbolic actions to accompany God’s prophecy through him. So you should note especially that, while Ezekiel is a contemporary of Jeremiah, Ezekiel is prophesying in Babylon (neither specifically mentions the other). Dr. Luther says Ezekiel prophesies harder and more than Jeremiah about Jerusalem’s destruction, crushing hopes of an early return to the land and city, but Ezekiel also faithfully promises that the people eventually will return to Judah and Jerusalem. Ezekiel prophesies of God’s directing all things in heaven and on earth and of God revealing Himself, especially as the Messiah. Not only does Ezekiel speak of Jesus as the true Shepherd (chapter 34), but he also speaks of Him as a tender sprig that becomes a stately cedar (17:22-24), which imagery is similar to other prophets’ description of Jesus as the Branch. Ezekiel’s overarching theme is “Israel as the holy people of the holy temple”. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel gives God’s prophecy of judgment against the people of Israel (both those in Judah and in Babylon), of judgment against the nations, and of consolation to Israel—the three major sections of the book that we will see, which also exhibit a law-Gospel understanding. There is also a striking balance in the book’s prophecy of the destruction of the Temple and its restoration, of God’s wrath and His comfort, of Ezekiel’s being a watchman of judgment and the new age, and of rebuke to the mountains and their consolation. (I will also warn you up front that parts of Ezekiel are replete with apocalyptic imagery not unlike that which is found later in Revelation.)

So, Ezekiel 1-3 begins the major section of prophecy of judgment against Israel by giving us the full subsection of Ezekiel’s first vision. Ezekiel is overwhelmed with the Divine Presence (chapter 1), God equips and commissions him (2:1-3:15), we hear the first reference to him as a watchman (3:16-21), and God gives further stipulations (3:22-27). In chapter 1, the “thirtieth year” is most likely a reference to Ezekiel’s age, the age at which a person could enter the Levitical priesthood. Verses 2-3 clarify the date and notably refer to the events in the third person. The four living creatures, sometimes called cherubim, are attendants to God’s throne and represent God’s ordained ruler of creation (man), the strongest of the wild beasts (the lion), the most powerful domestic animal (the ox), and the mightiest of the birds (the eagle). (The four symbols are also used to represent the four evangelists and their Gospel accounts, as with the statues on our altar at Grace.) Various other interpretations are given, such as the wheels representing God’s omnipresence and the eyes representing His seeing all, but perhaps the wheels simply form a platform for the throne of God they accompany. (Remember that four is a number of completeness, as in the four directions of Genesis 13:14 and the four quarters of the earth in Isaiah 11:12.) The presence of God’s “glory” is not limited to the Temple, and perhaps here strikingly has left the Temple. Note in chapter 2 that God’s addressing Ezekiel as “son of man” is different from the use of that expression in Daniel 7:3 and 8:17 and in the New Testament’s reference to Jesus. In addressing Ezekiel that way God is emphasizing Ezekiel’s humanity, his being a mere mortal creature. God calls this “son of man” to speak His words to the rebellious people of Israel, and He puts those words into Ezekiel’s mouth on a scroll so saturated with words that they were on both sides of it. Ezekiel eats the words, as chapter 3 describes, and they tasted sweet, even though they spoke of bitter things. The Lord is well aware of how the Israelites will react and respond to His message through Ezekiel, but their lack of a favorable response does not relieve Ezekiel of the responsibility of proclaiming the Lord’s words. The watchman’s responsibility is clear: he is accountable for the souls under his care (he is a “pastor”, one who cares for souls [in German Seelsorger]); if he wants to save himself (that is, be justified), he must proclaim God’s word without fail. At least initially, God made it so that Ezekiel could only speak when he had direct words from the Lord (something that pastors today might benefit from?). God’s expectation in 3:27 of some hearing and others not reminds me of Jesus’ words (see also Ezekiel 12:2 and such passages as Matthew 11:15); the expression definitely has roots in the Old Testament (for example, Deuteronomy 29:4). Thanks be to God that He has opened our ears to hear His Word (Psalm 10:17) and speaks to us the Good News of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!

There is one Biblog folo today. In yesterday’s post I asked the not-completely rhetorical question about why straight employees would be attracted to companies that offer gay benefits. As a reader pointed out, the piece that prompted my question itself said top-level straight executives apparently use the benefits as an indicator of “corporate culture”. Perhaps some straight people would see such an indicator as positive; I would see gay benefits as a negative indicator, as when every General Electric employee, including me, had to take sensitivity training, and I knew it was time to find another job. Indeed, the reader commented as follows.

The average guy who works for the company and disagrees has to keep his mouth shut or find another job, with no assurance that he won’t run into the same policy.

(I would hope any church that "employs" me would not be offering such a policy.) The reader also offered insight into corporate support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) causes.

So, Wal-Mart donates money to GLBT organizations, while refusing space to the Salvation Army “kettle” solicitation. Salvation Army folk don’t make big bucks, and neither do most of the rest of us (even if we would boycott, which most people won’t).

There may be some truth to that. However, since the GLBT people are usually DINKs (double income, no kids) I would think they are not likely to be big Wal-Mart shoppers, although admittedly the original point here pertains to employees.

There is a perfect number of tidbits. Christians are said increasingly to be targets in Iraq; elsewhere, the church in China may be under duress, but I am again wondering why a true Christian would want to flee persecution when the Bible’s message is to endure it. ... While the pope calls for traditional family values, two Rhode Island lesbians “marry” in Massachusetts. ... Parents in Virginia are trying to un-adopt a “troubled” boy. ... In Britain there’s a campaign to do away with schizophrenia. ... A reader sent this link to video clips of interviews called “The Atheism Tapes”, interviews that apparently went into a BBC documentary of several years ago called “Brief History of Disbelief”. ... The Vatican has unveiled an archaeological discovery made three years ago. ... And, a reader sent this link about the Amish outpouring of love making an impact at the funeral Saturday for the man who shot their children.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 09, 2006

Ps 119:17-24 / La 3-5 / Tidbits

Today we reread Psalm 119:17-24, the part of the Psalm known by the Hebrew letter Gimel, which begins its lines. In addition to these previous comments, I direct your attention to verse 18. The psalmist calls on God to reveal wonderful things, such as His redeeming acts, out of His torah, His total teaching, not just “law” but also “Gospel”. Remember that the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps us in the true faith. Jesus’s miracles giving literal sight and hearing to the literally blind and deaf are to some extent inseparable from the miracle of faith in those who are spiritually blind and deaf. Thanks be to God Who creates saving faith in Jesus Christ, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.

Lamentations 3-5 takes us through the final three Laments and therefore finishes the book. The third lament gives Judah’s complaint but also the basis for her consolation (chapter 3). The fourth lament contrasts Zion’s past and present (chapter 4), and the fifth lament is Judah’s repentant appeal for God’s forgiveness (chapter 5). In chapter 3, the author begins by speaking for himself and the exiled community. Do not let 3:8 trouble you (confer 3:44); God always hears prayers offered to Him in faith in Christ, but, when God does not immediately answer those prayers the way we want Him to, it seems that God is not listening at all. In verse 15 (also confer verse 19), the “bitterness” (KJV, ASV, NASB; “bitter herbs” NIV) brings to mind food eaten during the Passover meal that was rich in symbolism (see Exodus 12:8), and the “gall” (NIV; “wormwood” KJV, ASV, NASB) similarly symbolizes bitterness, although we might also think more literally of the sour wine they gave Jesus to drink on the cross (Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 20:29). Remember that 3:21-26 is the high point of the book, at least parts of which are used twice in our Divine Service lectionary. In 3:22 “mercy” (KJV) is a better rendering of the Hebrew checed, I think, than “lovingkindness” (ASV, NASB) or “love” (NIV). These verses are the basis for this popular spiritual song, a version of which is in Hymnal Supplement ’98 and is also in the newer Lutheran Service Book. Such words of Gospel, though, ought never be used apart from their context of the law of God’s righteous wrath and thereby, as one commentator puts it, “sentimentalized or universalized into ‘another Gospel’” (Galatians 1:6-9). Repentance and patience under affliction are the right attitudes as we wait for the Lord’s deliverance. We understand from 3:33 not that God can’t control things but that the affliction or grief we suffer we bring on ourselves by our disobedience and need for discipline in order to benefit spiritually (the distinction between God’s antecedent will and His consequent will). Lamentations 3:38 also reminds me of Job 2:10. As I read 3:58 I thought of what must have been mixed emotions for Jeremiah as the prophecy God spoke through him came through, showing him to be the faithful prophet he was but also bringing such grief.

In 4:6, we notice that Sodom, which essentially was destroyed in an instant, is said to have been better off than Judah, which suffered under a long siege. The desperation of the siege is well-described in the verses that follow. Jerusalem was thought to be an impregnable fortress, but the sin of the people in the city brought the Lord to destroy it. Reading 4:21-22 we see that the author has neither forgotten the Lord’s judgment against the other nations nor God’s promise to restore Zion. The repentance of at least the author of Lamentations is clear in chapter 5. The carefree dancing has turned to the mourning of repentance (verse 15), and, while the author asks why God waits so long to remember His people and raises the possibility that God has utterly rejected them (perhaps recognizing that God would be justified in doing so), the author knows with certainty that the Lord has not utterly rejected them because such rejection would make the nations despise His Name. Similarly we know that no matter how bad things get for us, upon whom His Name was placed in Holy Baptism, He cannot utterly forsake us; we can only forsake Him. (Several commentators point out that when Jews read Lamentations 5 the Synagogue rubrics called for verse 22 to precede verse 21 so that the reading would end on a more-positive note; this was so much the case that some manuscripts of the book have these verses reversed.)

Tidbits today begin with high emotions in South Dakota as the vote on a landmark abortion referendum nears. ... Here’s one case for why Christians should be sure to vote in upcoming elections, and elsewhere a well-known Christian political action group got a new director. ... While a Kansas senator is holding up the nomination of a Michigan judge who presided over a lesbian “commitment ceremony”, I’m also asking why exactly straight employees are reportedly attracted to companies that offer gay benefits? ... A reader sent this link to a story about how the events of this past week will be covered in an Amish newspaper (be sure to read to the end, which is notable for its emphasis on forgiveness and faith). ... I think Jesus also said something similar to this about not believing people who claim to know when the end is coming. ... With all our “talk” of butter sculptures earlier in the summer, a reader sent this link to an image of one at the Texas State Fair (I wanted to say that I didn’t think that statue would “like it hot”, but that was a different movie; the scene shown is from “The Seven Year Itch”). ... And, a reader sent this link wondering if this was why students skipped classes on Friday (I’m just glad the Horns won where it counts).

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 08, 2006

Ps 119:9-16 / La 1-2

Today as we reread Psalm 119:9-16, known as "Beth", you can read my previous comments here, and I add a few comments in what follows. First, the “young man” in verse 9 does not limit the application of this section of the psalm to literal “young men”, anymore than it does to the “young” or to “men”. Rather, in the manner of the wisdom literature the psalm section thinks of its content as instruction in wisdom and the hearer as a pupil. Recalling that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we also know that—young and old, male and female—we are all womb to tomb learners when it comes to matters of the faith. Second, while the psalmist in verse 9 says the wisdom pupils can try to keep their way free from moral taint, we also know that due to the corruption of original sin we cannot begin to please God without faith and that, even with the Holy Spirit active in us, our lives will continue to be sinful this side of eternity. Praise God that there is forgiveness for that sin by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!

The appointed reading of Lamentations 1-2 takes us into a new book, the next in canonical order but taking us from the prophetic books back to one of the so-called “writings”. As usual, you can find some introductory comments on the book in the background information for this month’s readings (online here and as a PDF here). Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is traditionally held to be the author of the book, with some textual evidence of the tradition and in part because of 2 Chronicles 35:25, though the book before us does not contain the laments mentioned there. (Other verses that connect Jeremiah with Laments are Jeremiah 7:29; 8:21; 9:1, 10, and 20.) Laments are not uncommon in Old Testament books, although this book is the only book made up entirely of laments. The events the book is lamenting took place in 586 B.C., and the book was likely recorded shortly thereafter. Although the verses are not all of equal length from one lament to the next, all but one of the five poems of grief in Lamentations are twenty-two verses long (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, which is not surprising given that the first four are alphabetic acrostics of varying types, where at least successive verses of the poem begin with successive letters of the alphabet). The third and middle lament, the one that isn’t twenty-two verses long, is instead three times as long and thus the centerpiece and highlight of the book with its words of hope (but we won’t get to it until tomorrow). The book has liturgical use in our time by Jews commemorating various falls of Jerusalem, by Roman Catholics during the last three days of Holy Week, and even by Lutherans like us (our historic one-year series of readings uses Lamentations 3:18-26 on Jubilate, the Third Sunday after Easter, and Lamentations 3:22-25 on the Day of National Thanksgiving). As we read, we want to be ready not only for the weeping, but also for cries to God to vindicate Judah over her enemies, even though the lamenter knows that God was behind the Babylonians’ actions and that Judah and Jerusalem deserved His retribution on account of their rebellion. Eventually the book ends where we should live every day: in repentance (the end of repentance in Lamentations, however, also will have to wait until tomorrow).

Reading Lamentations 1-2 today thus takes us through the first lament, which describes Jerusalem’s misery and desolation (chapter 1) and the second lament, which describes the Lord’s anger against His people but also recognizes Him as their only hope (chapter 2). Prose words fail to express the impact of the poetry. For the most part I think both laments are relatively easy to follow and understand; I will make a few comments, and, as always, you are welcome to ask about anything. In general, remember how important the land, the city, and especially the Temple were as Israel’s inheritance. And, to some extent recognize the laments as sorrowful confession of sin. More specifically, note how the author not only personifies things like the roads to Zion (1:4) and Jerusalem itself (1:9), but he speaks on her behalf (1:12 and verses following). His statement in 2:9 about God communicating with his people through prophets obviously does not exclude Jeremiah. Similarly in 2:14, the false prophets are in view. The call to pray in 2:19 is answered with a prayer in 2:20-22. And, we do already, as in 2:10, see some hints of the repentance in which we all should live every day.

Since I'm Filling in for Pr. Harris at Trinity, Austin, I miss being at Grace today (this Bible Study I'm teaching there is familiar if you read this Biblog regularly). God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy by rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 07, 2006

Jer 51-52 / Tidbits

(Psalm 119:1-8, Aleph, is appointed today; my previous comments on it are here.)

Jeremiah 51-52 wraps up our reading of the book of Jeremiah, but we are not yet finished with him (we’ll begin reading his “other” book, Lamentations, tomorrow). Chapter 51 concludes the oracle against Babylon, and thus the section of the book dealing with God’s judgment against the nations, and chapter 52 is an historical appendix. Chapter 51 begins with the Lord speaking in general (verses 1-5) and then directly to the people of Judah (verses 6-8). All the people exiled in Babylon speak in verse 9, and the people of Judah speak in verse 10, perhaps all the way through verse 14. In verses 15-19 Jeremiah appears to be repeating words from 10:12-16 that emphasize God’s power and righteous judgment. Verses 20-23 seem to be addressed to Babylon (although not every commentator agrees), as are verses 25-26, but verse 24 is addressed to Judah. Verses 27-37 summon the nations to fight against Babylon and carry out God’s vengeance against her for atrocities committed against God’s people. The kingdoms mentioned in 51:27 are allies of the Medes (see also 28). In verse 38-49 the fall of Babylon, its people and idols, brings joy to the rest of the world (and beyond, in 51:48), even as the Babylonians rejoiced in “their” conquest of the other nations. Verses 50-58 wrap up Babylon’s offense and punishment, and verses 59-64 tell how Jeremiah’s prophecy was delivered to Babylon and proclaimed there literally and symbolically. You might wonder about the vengeance and wrath God shows to Babylon (for example, 51:24 and 56): the Babylonians never were the chosen people and refused to believe even as God worked through them; they themselves deserved God’s righteous wrath, even as they carried it out on Judah and the other nations, for they were idolatrous and prideful, thinking their accomplishments were their own doings and not the Lord’s. Chapter 52 is generally parallel to parts of 2 Kings 24-25 (and also to 2 Chronicles 36:11-13). Note that “Jeremiah” mentioned in 52:1 is not the prophet of whom we have been reading. As sad as the destruction of Jerusalem and its glorious Temple is, the book offers a glimmer of hope for God’s people, as Jehoiachin is released and treated well by the Babylonians. We do well to remember that, like God’s people of old and the nations around them, we, too, deserve God’s righteous wrath on account of our sin, but there is likewise hope for us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sin.

I have one Biblog folo today. Reacting to the reading this past Wednesday of Jeremiah 42:7, which tells how Johanan and the other Jews had to wait ten days before the Lord through Jeremiah answered their question about whether they should flee to Egypt, a reader emailed the following comment.

I bet this was frustrating to hang around waiting for God’s direction and answers. You would think that God would have had immediate answers for them. But, it didn’t matter anyway, since the people didn’t believe Jeremiah, even though they swore they would. Their experience seems much like ours today, as we are frustrated when our prayers seem to go unanswered or take longer to be answered than we would like them to take, or when we don’t like the answer that God gives us.

Of course, there is no passage of time for God, but He knows that we often need to learn patience and so may well wait to give us the answer to our prayers in order to teach us patience. The reader is right in identifying their reaction with ours, for we often disregard the answer God gives us when we inquire of His will through His Word. Thank God that for Jesus’ sake He forgives us for our frustration and disobedience.

Tidbits today begin with the gay marriage movement yesterday being dealt at least a temporary defeat in California. ... A former gay man who runs a Christian program for those wanting to give up the gay lifestyle says he’s not surprised by the Mark Foley scandal. ... How would you react if your child’s school observed “Gay history month”? ... Harvard may soon require its graduates to take a religion course such as “reason and faith”. ... According to this link a reader sent, the Amish are getting praise for their handling of the school shooting in Pennsylvania. ... A Baptist congregation in Memphis got a vivid reminder that a church is more than bricks and mortar. ... And, there was a beautiful Harvest Moon last night. While my parents took some friends for a moonlit cruise on the lake where they live, I watched the moon rise while swimming laps in the pool. If you want to know more about the Harvest Moon, a reader sent this informative link.

Thanks to those who sent links and questions; there are two new ones with answers beginning here. God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 06, 2006

Jer 48-50

(You can find my previous post on Psalm 118, which is appointed again today, here.)

Reading Jeremiah 48-50 today, we continue to hear God’s judgment against the nations that He pronounced through Jeremiah: against Moab in chapter 48, against Ammon in 49:1-6, against Edom in 49:7-22, against Damascus in 49:23-27, against Kedar and Hazor (Arabia) in 49:28-33, against Elam in 49:34-39, and against Babylon in chapters 50-51 (although today we only read through chapter 50). Chapter 48 is similar in many ways to the judgment against Egypt and Philistia that we read yesterday. Many of the names that you come across in chapter 48 are names of Moabite towns. Noting that Chemosh in 48:7, 13, and 46 is the god of Moab is important, for the Gentile nations are being judged by God and punished by His rod Nebuchadnezzar for the same reason Israel was exiled: disobedience, especially in the form of idolatry. In 48:26, the Lord speaks through Jeremiah as if to the Babylonian invaders, but then He resumes speaking to Moab in 48:27. In 48:31-33 Jeremiah speaks, and the Lord resumes speaking in 48:34. The phrase in 48:43 “terror and pit and snare” (NIV, NASB; “fear” KJV, ASV) is striking in the Hebrew for its alliteration and assonance: pahad wapahat wapah. Finally, notice in chapter 48 the promise of restoration given to Moab in the Messianic era when at least some of its people would believe and therefore be a part of God’s kingdom.

The various judgments against the nations noted above essentially follow the now established pattern in chapters 49-50. Ammon, for example, in its pride boasted for its conquests over Israel, but it, too, will go into exile with its false god, Molech, although there is also hope held out to them in chapter 49. Although some of the same imagery is repeated, chapter 50 is a bit different, however, for where Babylon was the victor over all the nations the Lord wanted to discipline in the immediately preceding chapters, Babylon itself and her false gods Bel and Marduk, are defeated in chapters 50-51 by a nation from the north (50:3, 9, and 41), probably Persia and its allies. Just as Assyria that carried away Israel into exile was punished for its pride, so Babylon that carried Judah away into exile will be punished for its pride. The prophecy in 50:19-20 for God’s chosen people is wonderfully comforting, speaking of forgiveness and pleasing pastures. Similarly comforting is 50:34, God’s fighting for His people as their Redeemer. While it is easy for us to join God in judging the pagan Gentile nations of the Old Testament time and today, we must not do so in such a prideful manner that we forget that we ourselves are guilty, sometimes of the same sins of pride, disobedience, idolatry. Yet, as with the people of Israel, we have a Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and when we believe in Him we also find forgiveness and pleasing pasture.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 05, 2006

Jer 44-47 / Tidbits

(Psalm 117 is appointed again today, and you can find my previous post on it here.)

Today’s reading, Jeremiah 44-47, finishes up the major section on the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath with subsections on the prophecy against those in Egypt (chapter 44) and a promise to Baruch (chapter 45). Today’s reading also begins the next major section on the judgment against the nations with subsections on judgment against Egypt (chapter 46) and judgment against Philistia (chapter 47). Chapter 44 is said to be Jeremiah’s chronologically last prophecy or sermon. Jeremiah on God’s behalf warns the Jews in Egypt against idolatry—not just the Jews that were mentioned in chapter 43 as coming into Egypt but probably also others who had been deported or migrated there. The Jews apparently were adopting the worship practices of the land in which they were living, including the “queen of heaven”, Asherah (or Ishtar, the fertility goddess). Judah and Jerusalem had been destroyed on account of idolatry, and now God promises to destroy them for the same reason. The people openly reject Jeremiah’s message saying that they vowed to worship Asherah and that when they were worshiping her they were better off. Jeremiah, with tongue in cheek, tells them to go ahead and keep their oaths regarding false worship (44:25), but he says the Lord has taken an oath to destroy nearly all of them. Chapter 45’s encouragement of Baruch is out of place chronologically (it belongs more with chapter 36), but here it serves as an appendix of sorts to the major section we just finished and a transition to the chronologically out-of-place prophecies of the next major section.

The prophecies that announce judgment against the nations (sometimes called “the Gentile oracles”) appropriately enough begin with Egypt and end with Babylon, appropriate since those were the two nations trying to control Judah during Jeremiah’s prophetic work. In between those two, they generally move west to east. In the case of Egypt, you might have noticed that the pharaoh named in 46:2 is different from that in 44:30, but realize also that, while both prophecies are about destruction, in 44:30 it is Neco and his army are destroyed on the battle field, but in 46:2 Hophra is killed and a war of destruction is waged in Egypt itself. Notice in the midst of the prophecy against Egypt how not only Egypt (46:26) but also Israel (46:27-28) is comforted, the latter with words similar to those found in the book of consolation (30:10-11). In chapter 47’s prophecy against the Philistines take note of the signs of mourning, such as shaving heads, silence, and cutting. The names of places that continue to be trouble spots in the Middle East are also thought provoking.

There's a complete number of tidbits today. Ms. Magazine was apparently so gung-ho on showing how proud some women were of their abortions that they are said to have ignored those who regretted them, and the United Nations, meanwhile, is reportedly pressuring other countries to make abortion a “human right” (by that thinking, of course, the human baby being aborted doesn’t have any rights, at least not one to life), but a Vatican official is trying to convince the United Nations that abortion is not “reproductive health”. ... The U.S. Supreme Court apparently doesn’t have a problem if school children are made to “become Muslims”, but schools can ban Santa and reindeer because they make people think of the real Christmas. ... Two Turks hijacked a plane Tuesday over the pope’s recent comments about Islam and his scheduled visit to Turkey. ... U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are asking McDonald’s to provide better working conditions for Florida tomato growers. ... The 7-year-old son of an illegal immigrant who has taken refuge in a Chicago church is lobbying for his mom in Washington, D.C. ... An Atlanta, Georgia, neighborhood familiar with library controversies is asked to ban Harry Potter. ... And, when it comes to satire, apparently everything is fair game except Mohammed.

The latest Q&A is here. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 04, 2006

Ps 116 / Jer 41-43 / Tidbits

Today Psalm 116 is appointed to be read again, and my previous overview of the psalm is here. Regarding verse 15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” I remember singing a setting of this psalm years ago when I was in the choir of the congregation I belonged to in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. At that time, the verse struck me as odd: how is a death ever “precious”? Then I was clearly victim to our culture’s emphasis on this life as the be-all and end-all and death as a bad thing. Much more recently, when communicating with various people after Kurt Marquart’s departure from this world, I myself used this verse. For, when believers “die” and depart this world they are receiving the final and full fulfillment of all God’s promises to them; they are not dead, moreover, but alive with the Lord, and what could be more precious than that?

Today Jeremiah 41-43 continues the section on the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath by first finishing the account of Gedaliah’s assassination (41:1-15) and then telling of Jeremiah’s forced migration to Egypt (41:16-43:13). (It is worth noting that if it were not for Jeremiah 40-42, we would know very little about the aftermath of Jerusalem’s fall.) In reading the first part of chapter 41, we note that, while Ishmael son of Nethaniah may have been acting out of family loyalty to Zedekiah, Ishmael still lied in his oath to Gedaliah, rebelled against the Lord, and acted on other selfish motives. Note that, although the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, sacrifices were apparently still being made there, at least for a time, as 41:5 suggests. As we continue chapter 41 and go through chapter 43, we realize that Jeremiah may have been in the group with Gedaliah at the time of Ishmael’s attack and thus taken captive but then recovered by Johanan and the others as “survivors from Mizpah” (41:16 NIV; another view is that Jeremiah was living in Bethlehem and that they stop there, 41:17, to seek God’s word from Jeremiah). Note the use of the word “remnant” on Johanon’s lips in 42:2 and elsewhere; the real “remnant” was the group of exiles in Babylon (remember Jeremiah’s earlier prophecy!). Even though they were not responsible for Gedaliah’s death, Johanan feared that Nebuchadnezzar’s response to the assassination would bring violence on them, and so they wanted to go to Egypt. Although they sought the Lord’s direction through Jeremiah, they ignored the Lord’s telling them to stay and failed to believe both the promises He made in connection with their remaining and the threats He made in connection with their fleeing. (How often are we and other people today guilty of similar disobedience and disbelief?) Especially in 43:8-13 we see how the flight to Egypt will bring destruction to Egypt itself, which prophecy includes Jeremiah’s final symbolic action. Reading 43:13, you may remember Heliopolis (NASB; “Beth-shemesh” (KJV, ASV; “temple of the sun” NIV) from much earlier reading and Q&A, a connection that will be more apparent as we continue with chapter 44 tomorrow.

Tidbits today begin with the former Florida Representative embroiled in the page controversy now saying that he is gay and that he was molested by a clergyman as a teen. ... A reader sent this link about Ms. Magazine’s long-awaited cover story on women who had abortions, translating one woman’s comments, “I’ll kill to get what I want.” ... Rising medical costs are said to be making more elderly patients think about killing themselves if it were legal. ... Mel Gibson was reportedly off the wagon in Austin. ... “Facing the Giants” is said to have had a “respectable” box office take last weekend. ... The Amish community that suffered the latest school shooting is emphasizing forgiveness. ... And, here’s one reason to reinstate the old practice of wedding banns weeks before the ceremony.

I’ve already gotten some positive feedback on the recently implemented changes in the main Biblog page’s layout, appreciating the relocated links. Thanks to those who send feedback, links, and questions; yours are always welcome, too. And, speaking of questions, here’s the latest with an answer. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:28 AM

October 03, 2006

Ps 115 / Jer 38-40 / Tidbits / Biblog changes

I had to smile as I read the first verse of Psalm 115, as it was a favorite text of a former district president in my former district. He preached on that text at the 25th anniversary of one of the congregations I was serving, and then on another occasion I heard him preach on the same text essentially the same sermon. The verse does express a timeless truth that certainly can be broadly applied. All things worth giving glory for—most especially our eternal salvation from sin, death and the power of the devil due to faith in Jesus Christ—are due to God’s mercy (KJV; “lovingkindness” ASV, NASB; “love”) and faithfulness (NIV, NASB margin; “truth’s” KJV, ASV, NASB), and so we should give the glory to Him. (You can find my other comments on Psalm 115 here.)

Today’s reading of Jeremiah 38-40 finishes the section of the sufferings and persecutions of the prophet by finishing its subsection on Jeremiah’s imprisonment (chapter 38), and today’s reading also begins the next section, which is on the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath, by taking us through the subsection on the fall itself (chapter 39) and by beginning the subsection on Gedaliah’s rise to power and assassination (chapter 40). Chapter 38 tells how Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern in an attempt to silence the message he was proclaiming on the Lord’s behalf, and it tells how Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian eunuch sometimes called “the Good Samaritan of the Old Testament”, intervened with the king on Jeremiah’s behalf and delivered him from the cistern, though not his imprisonment at first. (For his faithfulness to the Lord and his prophet Jeremiah, Ebed-Melech is “rewarded” in 39:15-18.) The king again sought Jeremiah’s counsel and heard the call to repent but ignored it, which was the “last straw” as we have it, for the fall of Jerusalem comes in chapter 39. In the opening verses of chapter 39 do not miss the fact that the Babylonian’s siege of Jerusalem lasted about one and one half years. Jeremiah was either freed once as described in 39:14 and then recaptured in the confusion of the exile and freed a second time as described in 40:1-6, or these verses in chapter 40 simply provide more detail about the release summarized in chapter 39. Either way, Jeremiah was offered a “pension” in Babylon as a “friend” of the conquerors but chose to stay in Judah with Gedaliah, who was serving as the Babylonians' regent. As we stop reading at the end of chapter 40 today, we will have to wait until tomorrow to see how the conspiracy against Gedaliah plays out.

I have a handful of tidbits today. A U.S. congressional committee apparently did something about military prayers last week, but what they did depends on what you read: compare this and this. ... Here’s one politically correct action the U.S. Supreme Court apparently took yesterday on Yom Kippur. ... Family activists say voter support is needed to protect traditional marriage from the courts. ... Pro-life advocates Sunday stretched out across America in an annual life chain. ... And, one survey says Christianity is on the rise in the United States.

You may have noticed some Biblog changes, for which we thank our tireless webmaster. We rearranged the items that appear on the left side of the main Biblog page, and we limited the number of posts that appear on the main page to one, although we expanded the number of posts that appear in the "Recent Entries" listing. The first change is to put the items you are more likely to use closer to the top, and the second change is intended to help you print the most recent post, while still having easy direct access to the last week's worth. (Remember that you can still print one or more posts from the archives by first selecting what you want to print, right clicking, choosing print, and then opting to print only the selection). As we prepare to enter our second year of this online Daily Lectionary in December, we anticipate making other changes. Please let us know what you like or don't like, and thus what you might like to stay the same or be changed. We value your input!

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:38 AM

October 02, 2006

Ps 114 / Jer 35-37 / First Monday / Folos

In addition to my previous comments on Psalm 114, which we read again today, note how verses 7-8 are referring back to the Lord’s gracious provision of life-giving and sustaining water from a rock (see the events of Exodus 17:6 and, forty years later, Numbers 20:11). By Divine Inspiration, St. Paul says that rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, but especially verse 4). Though not baptized in the Red Sea or Jordan River, we who believe today likewise are baptized, by which sacrament our hearts of stone are turned into new hearts that treasure God’s teaching (Ezekiel 11:19-20). So Baptized, we eat the spiritual same food as the Israelites of old, which we are given in the Sacrament of the Altar. That “spiritual food” is also real food, with which we are blessed in both body and soul by the forgiveness of our sins. As with the children of Israel in the desert, so with us: our food for the way makes it possible for us to endure the sufferings that come as we follow the path to the Promised Land.

Today at least with Jeremiah 35-37 we finish the section of warnings and exhortations to Judah and move into the section of the sufferings and persecutions of the prophet. Chapter 35 wraps up the historical appendix subsection of the warnings and exhortations section. The section about Jeremiah’s sufferings and persecutions begins with a subsection telling of the burning of Jeremiah’s scroll (chapter 36), and continues with the account of Jeremiah’s imprisonment (chapters 37-38, although today we only read through chapter 37). Where chapter 34 and chapter 37 deal with Zedekiah, chapters 35 and 36 are a “flashback” of sorts to the reign of Jehoiakim. Don’t be confused by the other person named Jeremiah in 35:3 (remember the prophet Jeremiah, by God’s command and as a living prophecy, doesn’t have children and isn’t married). This historical appendix about the faithfulness of the Recabites serves to contrast the unfaithfulness of the rest of Judah. There is no prohibition here against alcohol, but loyalty to a vow the family had taken, which vow was similar to that of the Nazirites’ temporary vow (see Numbers 6:2-3). Jewish tradition, incidentally, says that later after the return from exile the Recabites were given special responsibility at the rebuilt temple.

One thing to notice right away in chapter 36 is how the prophecies were written down to be preserved and reread to the people as we are hearing them today. Baruch served as Jeremiah’s scribe and his mouthpiece. (The mention of “ink” in 36:18 is its only Old Testament mention.) The officials whom Micaiah tells about the scroll seem to be genuinely concerned and not trying to get Baruch and Jeremiah in trouble, but King Jehoiakim would not take their counsel, burned the scroll, and, after Jeremiah reproduced it at God’s command, received a prophecy of treatment similar to that of the first scroll: his dead body being thrown out for throwing the scroll into the fire. Chapter 37 seems to follow on chapter 26, with Jehoiakim’s body having been treated as prophesied and his son Jehoiachin’s reign having ended after only three months. Zedekiah was no more faithful than his two predecessors, however, despite his appeal to Jeremiah (it is as if Zedekiah thinks a righteous man praying is enough without the king and the people themselves repenting). Jeremiah was initially imprisoned in a dungeon on suspicion that he would leave and surrender to the Babylonians, as the Lord through Jeremiah was telling people to do, but later, after appealing to the king while the king sought a more optimistic prophecy from him, Jeremiah was moved to the courtyard of the guard, if only for a time. Though the cross was still in the future, Jeremiah was living under it, even as we who are faithful today will follow our Lord and Savior through the suffering and persecution of this world to the glory of the next.

Today is the first Monday of October. "Why is that important?" you ask? The day marks beginning of the fall term for the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”, by its news industry acronym, similar to the President’s acronym “POTUS” known to former “West Wing” fans). Although, due to today being Yom Kippur and two judges being Jewish, no cases will actually be argued today, cases related to religious matters that may come up this term include one dealing with a partial-birth abortion ban (see here and here) and another abortion-related case that at least at first glace appears to be a different case. The American Life League is observing today as “Pro-Life Memorial Day” and says we all should remember the 47 million babies murdered by surgical abortions alone since 1973. (That 47 million is close to the combined populations of Texas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, and Wisconsin.)

We have two Biblog folos today. First, a folo yesterday, in connection with at least the initial German censorship of a revised version of Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo”, that commented on the failure to defend free speech of religious people prompted a reader to email the following comment about how “People should not be subjecting the innocent to risk for their whims.”

I believe we had a Supreme Court Justice who said that “free speech” did not extend to shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. These days, the “crowded theater” is the world, and, while Danish cartoonists and German atheist opera directors may shout, “FIRE!” with no danger to themselves, damage is done. Churches are burned; villagers in Indonesia and Africa are killed for being Christian [e.g., here]; and hatreds are inflamed. One cannot even justify the “artistic license” as an improvement to the opera! To be consistent, the Director should add his own severed head to the collection, as representative of atheism and its persecution of others.

Time was when I knew that later-overturned Schenk v. United States First Amendment case better, but I do remember that the justice’s comment had to do with falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. I guess I’m just a First Amendment guy, from freedom of the press to freedom of religion. Yes, there are limits to free speech as the analogy relates, but the Danish cartoons and the German opera are not the same as falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. They are expressions of speech that should be protected, even if it means arresting those who would perpetrate violence on the speakers. I’m inclined to agree with the Sunday comment; if we self-censor out of fear, then, to use another famous U.S. Supreme Court phrase but out of context, we’ve started down a slippery slope of acquiescing to those who do not even have to threaten violence to deny us of our right to communicate any disagreement with them at all.

Today’s second Biblog folo comes in response to a Tidbit posted yesterday about alleged changes in the definition of a “family”. The following comment suggests the “changes” may not be only recent.

In the sixties, some states felt that illegitimate children were stigmatized by the absence of a father on their birth certificates. The solution in one state: no parents named at all. A child’s birth certificate had the child’s name, birth particulars and residence address. I have been told that more recently an adult child armed with one of these certificates and other valid ID, may secure all the particulars from the County Registrar’s office. My children were registered at school and received passports using their baptismal certificates as ID, because baptismal certificates had parents’ names on them!

I know of at least one “birth” certificate from the 1960s where the adoptive parents are listed as the parents, and, under that state's law, that certificate and a valid ID won't get you the "real" particulars.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

October 01, 2006

Jnh 2:2-9 / Jer 32-34 / Folos / Tidbits

October’s seasonal canticle is Jonah 2:2-9, and there are very general comments about it in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here). Although we do not read the book of Jonah until November, you may know the basic story. Jonah was a prophet in Israel at the time of King Jeroboam II, who essentially restored that northern kingdom’s borders with Assyria, which is where Jonah was sent to preach when he tried to escape and ended up in the belly of a big fish, from where he prayed the psalm-like prayer we have before us. Various Psalms come to my mind reading Jonah’s prayer and confession of faith, such as Psalm 130. Jonah in verse 2 figuratively likens his close call with death in the sea to the “grave” (NIV; “hell” KJV; “Sheol” ASV, NASB), but his experience in the belly of the great fish itself is not to be taken only figuratively. Despite Jonah’s recognizing that God was the ultimate agent Who tossed him into the sea, Jonah saw the swallowing by the fish to be a form of deliverance and trusted in God to further deliver him. Note that the “Temple” in verse 4 is likely the Temple in Jerusalem, while the “Temple” mentioned in verse 7 is God’s heavenly Temple. Jonah’s confession that salvation is of (or comes from) the Lord (or Jehovah) should be our confession, too, for with faith in Jesus Christ, Who spent three days in the grave as Jonah spent three days in the big fish, we find the forgiveness of our sins, and therefore eternal life and salvation.

As we near the end of Jeremiah’s section on warnings and exhortations to Judah, Jeremiah 32-34 first finishes the subsection promising restoration and the New Covenant (chapters 32-33), and then today’s reading begins the section’s final subsection, which is an historical appendix (chapters 34-35, although today we only read chapter 34). Chapter 32 tells of Jeremiah’s redeeming a field for his extended family, a literal and also symbolic action foretelling that, despite the upheaval of the exile, normalcy would again come to God’s land and His people. The way the account is given, King Zedekiah inquires of Jeremiah the reason for his negative prophecy, and Jeremiah responds with the story of the Lord telling him to buy the field, his buying it, giving the deed to Baruch for safekeeping, praying to the Lord, and the Lord responding. Jeremiah’s purchase of the field was in keeping with the law of redemption as laid out in places such as Leviticus 25:23-25, the observance of which we have previously read in places such as Ruth 2:20 and 4:3. Clay jars such as that of 32:14 were good methods of preserving documents; documents found in the last century at Elephantine and Qumran were nearly intact after more than 2,000 years. While Jeremiah nevertheless obeyed God, his prayer may be taken as somewhat doubting God’s ability to fulfill His promise of restoration in the face of the fulfillment of the destruction of Jerusalem, since God’s reply (see Genesis 18:14 for similar words) emphasizes His omnipotence. Note well that in 32:36 God is speaking to all the people of Judah, as if they were thinking that the exile would be the end of the matter, and not to Jeremiah, as if Jeremiah’s prophecy was wrong. The expression in 32:44 that is translated “restore their fortunes” (NIV, NASB; “cause their captivity to return” KJV, ASV) is similar to that for “bring them back from captivity”, as it is rendered at 29:14 (KJV, ASV, NIV, NASB—see also 33:11, 26).

Chapter 33 reiterates God’s promise to restore the people, concluding Jeremiah’s so-called “book of consolation”. Verses 1-13 continue accounts related to Jeremiah’s confinement in the courtyard of the guard, where he stayed until the fall of Jerusalem, and verses 14-26 summarize other statements from Jeremiah and others. Note the specific reversal of earlier prophecies of doom (for example, compare 33:11 with 7:34; 16:9; and 25:10). Remember that 33:15-16 is essentially repeated from 23:5-6; “Branch” is a Messianic title, and “The Lord our Righteousness” emphasizes His making possible our standing before God. That Messianic King, Jesus, is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to David, recalled in 33:17, and of God’s promise of a perpetual priesthood, as recalled in 33:18. (There is debate whether Jesus’s line might include Aaronic or levitical blood.) As for the greater number of kings and priests mentioned in 33:22, we recall that believers co-reign with Christ and are also His priests toward God.

Chapter 34 begins the historical appendix to the major section we have been reading. Verses 1-7 contain warnings to Zedekiah, and verses 8-22 declare freedom for slaves; at least the first was given roughly a year later than what we just read in chapter 33, and the second is thought to have been contemporary with what’s described in 37:4-12. The freedom from the slaves may have been an attempt at obedience to Mosaic law in order to gain God’s favor, or it may have been an attempt to make the slaves more willing to defend Jerusalem. Either way, once the Babylonian’s siege was temporarily suspended, those freed were re-enslaved. The Lord is not without His own irony and wordplay, as you can see in 34:17. The reference in 34:18 to cutting the calf in two and walking between its pieces was part of the formation of covenants, taking an oath that the same cutting in two should be done to anyone who broke the covenant.

There are four Biblog folos today. First, the reading yesterday of Jeremiah 31:22 and my comments about it prompted a reader to email the New Living Translation’s rendering of that verse.

How long will you wander, my wayward daughter? For the Lord will cause something new and different to happen—Israel will embrace her God.

That paraphrase of the verse helpfully expresses its meaning, but I would be remiss to not point out that the NLT is misnamed: it is not a translation but a paraphrase. The verse just cited is a good example of how it departs from the actual words of the text.

Second, Friday’s tidbit and Saturday’s folo about German censorship of a contemporary staging of Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” over potential Muslim violence continues to prompt discussion. A reader presently in Germany emailed the following comment.

As far as I can see, what’s significant about the “Idomeneo” affair is that the opera director cancelled it before threats had even been made. She decided all by herself to self-censor. It looks now like the production will be returned to the stage as soon as a police security plan can be set up, since virtually every German public voice criticized this decision, and not even the opera employees—who were supposed to be the ones being protected—stood up to defend the director's decision. In general, I’ve been a bit disturbed by the failure of the free speech crowd (in cases like this) to defend the free speech of religious people. Yes, the pope’s Regensburg marks were probably insensitive by some standards, but we live in the west and he has the right to make them, and that right must be defended. Otherwise, as practitioners of self-censure, we are bowing to the forces of Islam before they even make a concrete threat. I’m sure most Muslims in Berlin didn’t even know about the production.

The information in Germany may be more accurate or detailed. While what I’ve seen reports that the director of the opera house said police had warned her of what might happen if the show went on, there is no indication that police had received any threats. (I know it’s early, but I’m already thinking Mohammed should be Time magazine’s Man of the Year. I emailed Time, but the email was bounced back because the mail box was full.)

Third, to my comment yesterday about Christians “ranting and raging” about Madonna’s mock crucifixion, a reader replied: “We should protest ‘madonna’s’ crass moneymaking! Nobody is likely to blow anything or anybody up, though!” Indeed, here is how some people are responding, and here is how you can.

Finally, on a less-controversial entertainment note, I heard from two people who apparently live more in the Bible-belt than we do and thus found “Facing the Giants”, which I mentioned on Friday was opening, at two theatres near to them. Their review of the movie was that it was pretty good, with a very positive Christian message. They added that while it did not quite have Hollywood’s production standards it also lacked other things that we have come to expect with Hollywood movies, such as language and sex.

Speaking of sex, tidbits today begin with “adult stores” reportedly going mainstream and coming soon to a mall near you! ... California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last week “terminated” two measures opponents said called for “sexual indoctrination”. ... Changes in what’s considered marriage is apparently making changes in who’s considered family. ... According to this, some think Christians shouldn’t be able to pray in school, while others think Muslims should. (I guess time will tell if the ACLU will be consistent.) ... A Roman Catholic teacher in Britain quit after she was told she’s too Catholic. ... Roman Catholic Cardinal O’Malley’s blog is getting praise from “blog specialists” (I didn’t even know there was such a thing). ... And, for all you living-room Scrabble players out there: don’t miss the U.S. Scrabble Open today, Sunday, October 1, at 4:00 p.m. CDT (mentioned by Scrabble journalist Stephen Fatsis last Friday at the end of his weekly NPR bit).

Thanks to all who are sending comments, links, and questions--especially as we enter our final two months of our first read through the Bible together. God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy by rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM