Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 12, 2023

Strength from Forgiveness (Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12–17)

Click above to listen to message.

Sermon preached at Mt. View Presbyterian Church, September 11, 2022. Edited for publication.

There is no price we can pay or effort we can make to compel God to give us mercy or grace.

I think most of us are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba. One evening (we don’t know how late, but the text says David had gotten out bed), David was out on the roof of his palace looking over the city when he saw at a nearby neighbor’s house the beautiful Bathsheba bathing (2 Sam 11:2–5). In that moment, David forgot he was otherwise known as a man after God’s own heart. The key word there is “forgot.” David should have known better. Bathsheba was not some exhibitionist bathing for all of Jerusalem to see. She had in that culture that valued purity and faithfulness a reasonable expectation of privacy. Most likely there were civic codes that prevented you from building your home in such a way as to risk violating your neighbor’s privacy. For example, in some Mediterranean cultures, they had rules that you couldn’t have a window in your house that allowed you to see directly into your neighbor’s house or back yard, especially if such a window was on the second floor. The palace may have been large enough to be exempted from such rules, but the principle existed nonetheless.

Add to this that shame of nakedness in that day would not have been on the one who was naked outside, especially if she had a right to privacy, but the shame would have been on the one who looked upon the nakedness. That is why Noah’s sons had to back into the tent to cover their naked, drunk father after the flood. David should have known immediately to avert his gaze and go somewhere else where such a view was not possible. It may be that David was on the roof of his palace, perhaps trying to get a view of the distant battle or the campfires of the troops or just to take in the cooler air. It would not have been a normal place for him to hang out. David had several opportunities to do the right thing in this situation, but the more he looked, the more he wanted Bathsheba. He could have done nothing at that point except walk away, but he didn’t. Instead, he sent someone to bring Bathsheba to him. He lay with her and got her pregnant.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, he tried to manipulate the situation by first giving Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, a break from the battle in the hopes he would lay with Bathsheba and some might not question the paternity of the baby. But Uriah showed more integrity than David, so David sent him back to the battle with instructions to his commander, Joab, to manipulate the battle in such a way that Uriah would surely perish, and he did.

Of course, we know that David’s sin was exposed by the prophet Nathan, and we see David’s repentant, godly response in Psalm 51.

Read Psalm 51:1–10

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. [1]

So David is busted. Found out. Exposed. It was pointless for him to deny it. And he didn’t live in a culture where such behavior, especially in the political class, would be ignored and swept under the rug. He had to face his maker. And he chose the best path, the only path, really, to put him on the road to restoration. God was giving his anointed a chance to come clean through the prophet Nathan’s intervention, and David accepted. He pleaded with God for mercy and owned up to his mistake.

This word for “mercy” here, (חָנַן ḥā·nǎn), is almost always used in the context of someone speaking, more so than in a running narrative that tells a story. The New International Version tends to translate it based on the perspective of the speaker. In the current passage, and for about one-third of the total occurrences of the word in the OT, if the speaker knows they’ve done wrong and they ask for ḥānǎn, the translators use the word “mercy.” On the other hand, if the speaker has acted justly and feels threatened by the enemy, or is referencing the goodness of God generally, the translators usually use “gracious” or “generous” for the word. That sense of the word represents about half the total occurrences of the word. These two primary meanings represent a modern distinction that some have made between “mercy” and “grace.” “Mercy” is not getting what you deserve, while “grace” is getting what you don’t deserve or didn’t earn. In both cases, it is a gift of God. And in both cases, there is no price we can pay or effort we can make to compel God to give us mercy or grace. We can ask for it, we can search for it, but the “price” for such a gift can only be paid by God, which he ultimately did through Jesus on the cross.

This is where the other key word in Psalm 51:1 comes in, a Hebrew word you’ve most likely heard before if you been in church or Bible studies for any length of time: חֶסֶד (ḥě·sěḏ), God’s “unfailing love.” Of the 245 times this word is used in the OT, well over three-fourths of the occurrences refer to God’s enduring, unfailing love and kindness. And nearly half of the uses of the word are found in the Psalms, including in the praise Psalm 136, where “His love (ḥěsěḏ) endures forever” is a repeated refrain at the end of each of its 26 verses.

As one Bible dictionary puts it, ḥěsěḏ is not a “disposition,” that is, it’s not just a feeling or a certain way of thinking. It is in the end a helpful act of God rooted in his covenant relationship to us, or when applied to us mortals, our helpful acts of love toward family and friends. It is an overflow of his righteousness, mercy, and shalom peace. As a covenant responsibility, David expects to and has a certain level of assurance that he will be forgiven. This is the same assurance we have when we come to Jesus: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As I said above, there’s nothing we can do to earn this, but we can and should respond to it with a ḥěsěḏ of our own. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Not only is this ḥěsěḏ toward God, but toward our family and friends as well.

In vv. 5–6, David gives us a contrast between the way we are and the way God wants us to be. I want to use the English Standard Version translation of these two verses here because I think they’re a little less interpretive of the Hebrew text, and come much closer to what David was trying to convey:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.[2]

On the one hand, David realizes he is a sinner in need of God’s grace. But on the other hand, David knows that only God can transform his inner being into the godly character he desires. God knew David was a sinner in need of his grace, and that David might fall short of the ḥěsěḏ standard miserably at times, but he still chooses him anyway to lead his people. Verse 5 is similar to Paul’s essay in Romans 7 about doing what he doesn’t want to do and recognizing that sin still may try to get a stranglehold on him. But by sending the prophet to David, God is giving David a chance to come clean, to repent, and he does. God doesn’t ostracize or “cancel” his anointed because of one or two or five or ten mistakes. God’s ḥěsěḏ requires our willingness to be taught and to seek his truth to transform our inner being. God is forever the God of the next chance. God’s gift and his calling on our lives are without repentance, “irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). So no matter how many times you think you’ve failed or fallen short, know that he has called you for a purpose, and that he is guiding you and strengthening you in his ḥěsěḏ love to bring about his will.

Verses 10–12 give us a glimpse of how we get God’s truth in our inward being and his wisdom in our “secret” heart. After forgiving us and cleansing us, David recognizes that he must immerse himself in the presence of God to experience the restoration and renewal that awaits him. This is not a passive process: David goes on in the psalm to commit himself to teaching others about God’s ways and singing the praises of God aloud.

Verse 12, then, ties into our Gospel reading this morning from Luke 15: Both the shepherd and the woman have lost something of value. In the case of the shepherd, he leaves behind everything of value he does have, that is, the flock, to find the one sheep that is missing. This is what God does for us to bring us back to him.

In the case of the woman, she must clean her whole household to find the missing coin. David asked God to “cleanse” him with hyssop and remove from him all that would keep him from experiencing God to the fullest. Notice that he didn’t pledge to clean up his own life. God doesn’t need to wait for us to do that on our own. He meets us where we are and works with us from that point forward to bring restoration.

For both the shepherd and woman, there is rejoicing for finding what was lost and restoring it to its rightful place. Jesus draws the parallels there with both stories to the heavens rejoicing when one sinner repents. When we know God is with us, we can feel assured of our salvation, our calling, and the power of his ḥěsěḏ love.

Before I wrap up this morning, I want to bring in a passage that shows how this transformation from sin to victory worked itself out in Paul’s life. Let’s look at 1 Timothy 1:12–17:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.[3]

We only need to look at verse 13 to see how far Paul was from the Christian faith. First of all, he calls himself a blasphemer, which by itself would have been enough to get him stoned to death in Israel. But in context here, he’s probably referring to his initial denial of Christ as Lord and his approval of the stoning of Stephen, because the Jews thought Stephen had blasphemed in his final, fatal message. Paul was a persecutor. He thought this new Jesus movement was so dangerous to traditional Judaism that the followers had to be jailed or snuffed out, violently if necessary. He even admits to acting ignorantly and in unbelief, and that he was the worst of all sinners.

Yet with all that, God still chose to use Paul to be the main messenger of the faith in the northern Mediterranean region. He humbly gives thanks and praise for all that God has done for him and is doing through him. His life would be the ultimate testimony of the transforming power of God’s grace and salvation.

I want to focus for a moment here on verse 12, because I believe that parallels what David’s desire was in his psalm of repentance: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength.” I guess you could say Paul was “fortunate” enough to have a direct revelation from Jesus to set his life in the right direction. Granted, that was probably a pretty scary situation for him, as it would be for any of us, I imagine. But the attempt to turn a violent and desperate man from his ways required corresponding radical action of God to set him straight. That seems to have been enough, at least initially, to have “strengthened” Paul, because we see very soon after his conversion in Acts 9:22 that Luke tells us, “Saul (Paul) grew more and more powerful (or strengthened) and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” He relates his own story here so that in 2 Timothy 2:1, he can also encourage Timothy to be strong in God’s grace as well. Having the examples of men and women of faith, both in the Bible and in our own lives, will help us stay grounded in the faith and give us strength and endurance for our Christian walk. The author of Hebrews said it well:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.[4]

My friends, do not lose heart. Every day, lift up the Lord Jesus in your life through word and deed, and give God the praise and glory he deserves.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.[5]

[1] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] The New International Version. 2011. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

May 23, 2022

A Nation of Praise: Psalm 67

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Hebrew,Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 11:25 pm
Listen to “A Nation of Praise: Psalm 67”

Preface and Introduction

I want to give this preface to my message this morning: The Book of Psalms was the hymnal for the Jews. It’s not completely clear when the collection as we have it today was complete, but we do know that long before the great Psalm writer David ever was born, God’s chosen nation was already starting to write and sing some of these hymns. So fair warning this morning, since the psalms were sung, you might catch me breaking out into song during my sermon. I may not be able to help myself!

The Songs of Moses and the Israelites

The Old Testament gives us many stories of the deeds of great men and women of faith, along with the praise that accompanied those deeds and in many cases told their stories. The first such example of this, at least in a big way, is the song of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15 after the Israelites passed through the Red Sea and God drowned the Egyptian army. Here are the first few lines of that song:

“I will sing to the Lord,

for he is highly exalted.

Both horse and driver

he has hurled into the sea. (sing it with the “Yeehaw” at the end)

“The Lord is my strength and my defense;

he has become my salvation.

He is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The Lord is a warrior;

the Lord is his name.

There’s a short song of praise in Numbers 21, where the Lord provides water for the Israelites: “Spring up, O well!”

Deuteronomy has another long song of Moses just before his death.

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.

Oh, praise the greatness of our God!

He is the Rock, his works are perfect,

and all his ways are just.

A faithful God who does no wrong,

upright and just is he.

David, toward the end of his life and after had won victory over all his enemies, including Saul, sang a 50-verse song of praise in 2 Samuel 22, which was included with the Psalms in Psalm 18:

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

3     my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield and the horn of my salvation.

He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—

from violent people you save me.

“I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,

and have been saved from my enemies.

The Praise of Jehoshaphat

Now all these songs of praise were sung after the fact, after the events for which they tell the story. But in 2 Chronicles 20, we have the story of Jehoshaphat, who decided his army should be led by a choir! We pick up the story of the impending battle in vs. 20:

“Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” 21 After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Give thanks to the Lord,

for his love endures forever.”

22 As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.

Did you hear that? Judah put prayer and praise first in their battle plan, and they won the war without ever having to engage a single enemy with weapons of war. Now we probably don’t have the whole song here, because the writer speaks of “prais[ing] him for the splendor of his holiness.” What we probably have here is the most likely the first line of the song, in which case, we could make an educated guess that the rest of the song may be found in Psalm 136:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods.

His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords:

His love endures forever.

We see what can happen when a nation comes together in their faith in God: Mighty battles can be won, and the nation’s enemies turn and fight amongst themselves or are attacked by third parties to their own destruction. And not only that, it took Judah three whole days to plunder the resources of the dead armies in the desert. And although we have no record of the words of their praise after they finished plundering the Ammonites and Moabites, we still know that they did gather in “The Valley of Berakah”, or “The Valley of Praise,” then returned to the temple joyfully with the music of harps, lyres, and trumpets. Not sure how they managed the harps on the battlefield!

Psalm 67

So, when Psalm 67 came up on the Lectionary calendar for today, I knew I had to preach on it. It was the first psalm, in its entirety, that I’d ever written music for. I don’t remember whether it was in college or after I got to seminary, but I do remember after really reading it for the first time, and not just speed reading through it, that I actually felt inspired to put it to music. Let’s listen to it again, and I’ll offer up my own rendition of the chorus verses (3 & 5):

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm. A song.

May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face shine on us—

so that your ways may be known on earth,

your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, God;

may all the peoples praise you.

May the nations be glad and sing for joy,

for you rule the peoples with equity

and guide the nations of the earth.

May the peoples praise you, God;

may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;

God, our God, blesses us.

May God bless us still,

so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Now I always liked to add a little pep to the song if it was appropriate, and since this was about everyone praising God, I thought the chorus should sound something like this (New American Standard Version):

Let the peoples praise thee, O God, Let all the peoples praise thee!

Let the peoples praise thee, O God, Let all the peoples praise thee!

Psalm 67 is a carefully structured psalm that really does lend itself to being put to music, especially in the modern era, as music theory has developed to this point. Verses 1 & 2 are the first stanza or musical “verse” of the song. Verse 3 is the chorus; verse 4 is the bridge and the only verse in the psalm that has three lines as formatted; followed by the chorus repeated in verse 5. Verses 6 & 7 are the second stanza or musical verse of the song.

The other interesting thing to note about the structure of the psalm is that it’s a chiasm. What’s that, you ask? A chiasm is fancy term describing a particular structure of a section or written text, large or small, in which the elements or themes as presented in the first part of the text section are repeated in reverse order in the last section of the text. So here we have a stanza, chorus, bridge, chorus, stanza. The reason this is important to know is that in a chiasm, usually the middle element (in this case, the bridge) is the main idea of the passage, if it’s long enough to warrant that. We’ll get to that part in a moment.

Let’s break down this passage. The first verse sounds very much like what we know as the Priestly Blessing from Numbers 6:24–26:

24 “ ‘ “The Lord bless you

and keep you;

25 the Lord make his face shine on you

and be gracious to you;

26 the Lord turn his face toward you

and give you peace.” ’

Now this passage really brings back some memories of Mt. View when I was a kid. If you attended this church when I was a kid 45+ years ago, you know why. The choir used to exit down the aisle and line up in the walkway at the back of the sanctuary and sing this to end the service and dismiss us. (Sing it)

The Lord bless you and keep you,

The Lord lift his countenance upon you

And give you peace.

Now as when I was a kid, even though by that point in the service I was probably wanting to get home, I do remember having a bit of fascination with that musical benediction. Our choir back then did it quite well. Beautiful four-part harmony, a little bit of antiphony and overlapping melodies to mimic the voices congregation as they greeted each other on the way out of the sanctuary, and the descant over the “amen” chorus at the end as if an angel of God were signaling God’s pleasure with the saints gathered.

Verse 2 is the reason why he makes his face shine upon us: so we can share the good news with the world! If I’m not mistaken, I’d say that sounds very much like being the light of the world and letting the whole world see and glorify God. We are God’s representatives here on earth, and we’re called as a holy, set apart, people to live such lives that the world cannot refute or call us into question for what we believe. When the world sees us living united in our faith, that sends a positive to message to the world that the peoples and nations have no option but to praise God. And what is praise? Praise is nothing more than an expression of worthiness toward the one who is the object of praise.

As I indicated above, vs. 4 is the “bridge” verse, or perhaps better, the hinge pin that the Psalm is centered on. From vv. 2–4, we have three different words used for the “nations” or “people.” In vs. 2, the psalmist uses the word (גּ֝וֹיִ֗ם) goyim for “nations.” Typically this might be translated specifically as “gentiles,” referring perhaps to more of a religious feature: those who don’t worship God regardless of their nationality. “Peoples” (עַם ʿǎm) in vv. 3, 4, and 5 probably has to do more with local family units or tribes within a nation than a whole nation.

“Nations” in verse 4 (לְאֹם leʾōm) refers more to the general population as a whole without referring to ethnicity, race, or religious affiliation. This would simply indicate that God’s word is for everyone; no one is excluded!

If we recall Jehoshaphat’s strategy, he praised God with a choir at the head of the army. In our world today, which is becoming increasingly hostile toward Christianity and Christian values, we can use praise as a weapon to keep all things aligned for God. Our hope as Christians is that speaking and living out God’s word will bring all nations to repentance and to follow their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We hope that all things will work together for good for those who love God. And we hope that we can convince the world to live in true peace and love.

In the last two verses, we see a promise of God, that we will not have need because we will have a good harvest to maintain our health and strength. As the light of God’s face brightens our lives, so the blessing of God in our lives will convince even more to acknowledge the healthy sense of fear we should have when coming before the God of the universe.


Every time we share the good news of Jesus and God’s greatness, we have the promise of Isaiah 55:10–11:

10 As the rain and the snow

come down from heaven,

and do not return to it

without watering the earth

and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Sometimes we may look at the world and see the moral fabric deteriorating around us. The words of the psalmist seem truer every day (14:1):

The fool says in his heart,

“There is no God.”

They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;

there is no one who does good.

We are the light of the world. We are the city on a hill. We are the salt of the earth. We are God’s hands and feet to take his message of hope and love to the world. Let’s go forth, singing his praises and proclaiming his blessings to those around us.

April 10, 2022

The Day of the Donkey: Holy Week Events From the Perspective of the Prophesied Donkey

Press play to hear the message. I had forgotten to record this the day of the message, so I recorded it at home. My apologies for the cat chiming in.

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Author’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shaw, my preaching professor at Lincoln Christian Seminary in late 1980s, had assigned as one of our textbooks Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor. He did this so that we as preachers would not just preach exegetical, point-by-point sermons all the time, but to learn how tell stories as well. Every once in a while, I will break from my normal preaching (and writing) style and do just that, tell a story. My message this morning (April 10, 2022) at Mt. View Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Nebraska, was a retelling of the triumphal entry and the events of Holy Week from the perspective of the donkey who carried Jesus into Jerusalem on what we now know as Palm Sunday. I hope you enjoy.

My name is Ḥamor (חֲמוֹר). A silly, almost embarrassing name, really. I mean, why couldn’t my parents just name me Hammer, like the great Judas “the Hammer” Maccabeus. That sounds so much cooler than “Ḥamor.” That guy knew how to take it to the enemy and gain Jewish independence 200 years ago. But I digress.

I said my name is almost embarrassing. In fact, it really is quite embarrassing unless you know the history of my ancestors and how they’ve played an important role in the spiritual history of my people. Wait, what? You say you don’t know what the name Ḥamor means? Ohhh, that’s right, most of you probably don’t speak Hebrew, do you. Well, this is embarrassing then, because in your language, my name really doesn’t have a good reputation at all. In the language of the Romans, Latin, I’m known as Equus asinus (AH see noose). The Greeks would call me ὄνος (onos). That came over into the King James Version of the Bible as, well, uh—this is so embarrassing—(whisper) “ass.” Whew, there, I said it. Let me say it again (with confidence): “I am an ass.” Feels good to get that out. Yes, I say it proudly: I am a donkey! Go ahead, get it out of your system. Laugh if you want, “heehaw” and all that. I’m used to it. But be careful: I’m not just any donkey. I am THE donkey. Yep, I’m the one the prophets talked about as far back as the time of Jacob and his sons in Egypt. I’m the one the Messiah rode into Jerusalem last week.

Now you may think I’m just a dumb…donkey, a beast of burden to carry your stuff around and pull your plows. But what you don’t know is that, just like every Hebrew mother thought her son would be the Messiah, every donkey mom thought her little colt would be the one who’d fulfill the donkey prophecies in what you call the Old Testament. What? You’re not familiar with those prophecies? Well, we donkeys are taught them from the time we’re born. I guess if you’re not a donkey, it might be hard to appreciate the stories about donkeys. But it really is a fascinating story, and I hope by the end, you’ll have a new appreciation of donkeys, and maybe you’ll stop using that other word as a bad word, because I’m proud of our history and heritage.

Before we get too far into those stories, let me give you a little history of donkeys, especially as they relate to this part of the world. We donkeys have a bit of a mixed reputation throughout history. Let me start with the bad news first: some Christian traditions later on will associate us with absurdity, obstinacy, and slothfulness, and at some point, a red donkey becomes the symbol of Satan. I really don’t know how we got connected with that evil accuser, but I do admit that we can sometimes be a bit stubborn and slow starters. Plato called us “perverse” for whatever reason, and another Roman writer said we were the meanest of all animals. Not sure where he got that one from. Maybe he was thinking of our half-breed cousins, the mules.

But the good news is, there were plenty of cultures that had very high opinions of donkeys, so much so that they were always included in royal ceremonies. The Ugarits have artwork showing their gods riding donkeys, while the Muslims would call some of their heroes “donkey-riders.” One ancient Christian tale (Vita Sanctae Pelagiae Meretricis) even suggests that a woman riding on a donkey represents the height of beauty. Generally speaking, if someone with a lot of power and clout was riding a donkey, it usually meant that they were coming in peace.[1]

As far as the Bible itself goes, however, we seem to get a pretty fair shake. It all started with Jacob when, on his deathbed, he was blessing all his children, and pronounced this regarding Judah (Genesis 49:8‒12):

      8 “Judah, your brothers will praise you;

         your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;

         your father’s sons will bow down to you.

      9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah;

         you return from the prey, my son.

         Like a lion he crouches and lies down,

         like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?

      10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,

         nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

         until he to whom it belongs shall come

         and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

      11 He will tether his donkey to a vine,

         his colt to the choicest branch;

         he will wash his garments in wine,

         his robes in the blood of grapes.

      12 His eyes will be darker than wine,

         his teeth whiter than milk.

All the Hebrews knew that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah based on this prophecy. And all the donkeys knew that this ruler, the Lion of Judah, would eventually choose one of us for the most important mission in history. It seems like God is saying that he’s already got a plan to put all the players in place for when this ruler comes, even though the Hebrews had never had a king to this point. But one thing we’ve never been able to figure out about that prophecy is the bit about washing his garments in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes. Seems like they’d come out sticky and disgusting if we did that. One day we’ll know, though, I guess, right?

It’s not really a prophecy, but there is that story about Balaam in Numbers when he got a little too eager to help Moab out against the Hebrews. Keep in mind that Balaam probably wasn’t a Hebrew, but just a pagan prophet for hire. When the mama donkey (אָתוֹן, ʾāṯôn) he was riding (yes, she was female!) saw the angel of the Lord trying to stop him three times, she stopped and got a beating each time from Balaam. When mama donkey had finally had enough of that, she became a mama bear and chewed Balaam’s…, I mean scolded Balaam for his misplaced eagerness. Wouldn’t you have loved to see Balaam’s face when that mama bear voice started reading the riot act to him? He must have been white as a ghost. Mama donkey saved our reputation that day. She’s definitely one of our heroes.

Then there was that time that David had his son Solomon ride David’s own mule (פִּרְדָּה, pirdā(h); in case you don’t know, a mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey) to name him as successor to his throne. That must have been quite a day of celebration, pomp, and circumstance. I wish I could have been there.

But the ultimate prophecy that impacts us donkeys is the one in Zechariah 9. All of us have to learn this one.

      9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!

         Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!

         See, your king comes to you,

         righteous and victorious,

         lowly and riding on a donkey,

         on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

      10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim

         and the warhorses from Jerusalem,

         and the battle bow will be broken.

         He will proclaim peace to the nations.

         His rule will extend from sea to sea

         and from the River to the ends of the earth.

      11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,

         I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

      12 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;

         even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

      13 I will bend Judah as I bend my bow

         and fill it with Ephraim.

         I will rouse your sons, Zion,

         against your sons, Greece,

         and make you like a warrior’s sword.

Oh, how I love this prophecy, especially now, because I’m realizing I’m living in the midst of it. Verse 13 refers to Judas Maccabeus, you know, the Hammer guy I mentioned at the beginning of my story. He and his followers were able to overcome the Greek Seleucids and bring independence to Judah for a long time. It was from them that the Herod dynasty arose in Judah. They were okay at first, as most new rulers are, but they’re just sniveling little Roman puppets now. Nobody likes them. In fact, one of them tried to have the Messiah killed after he was born, and another one had John the Baptist beheaded. They’re just puppet kings; they’re not real kings, and they’re certainly not on the Messiah’s side. But, that was exactly the situation God needed to send the Messiah.

I’m pretty sure the current Herodian wouldn’t have ridden into town on a donkey. He’s too full of himself to go near us donkeys. But about a week ago, we started to hear the buzz around Jerusalem: Jesus and his disciples were on their way. He’d already earned quite a reputation with his miracles and his teaching, and it was obvious he was doing something right because the religious rulers were having a really hard time accepting him. Our donkey spy network, if you want to call it that, had been hearing troubling conversations, even to the point of the religious rulers wanting to crucify the Messiah. We were scared and excited at the same time.

We had been noticing that the crowds coming to Jerusalem for Passover were a lot bigger than in recent years, so my person thought we ought to get a jump on the day last Sunday, even though my hometown of Bethphage was only a few miles away. My mom and I were tied up outside, waiting to get loaded up and leave, when these two guys who looked like they’d been traveling forever came up, scratched my nose, and started to untie me. Now you’d think my mom would have started braying and kicking up a storm when that happened, but instead, she gave them both a gentle nuzzle. My person came out and asked, “Why are you untying the colt?” The older of the two just smiled and said, “The Lord needs it.” That was good enough for my person. Mom gave me a knowing look and kind of nudged me, as if to say, “It’s okay. Go with them. It’s time.”

So they led me a little way toward Jerusalem, and who do think was at their camp waiting for me? It was Jesus!!! There were so many people around, I was a little scared, but I realized this must be the time that Zechariah and Jacob had talked about in their prophecies. People put their cloaks on me and on the road ahead of me, waved palm branches, and Jesus himself sat on me! What an honor! A whole crowd of people were so happy to see him and were shouting all kinds of praises to him. But I saw a couple grumpy Pharisees trying to get Jesus to quiet the crowd. Yeah, right. Good luck with that, Pharisees. I imagine Rome was getting pretty nervous as well.

Even though the crowd was cheering, as we got closer to Jerusalem, Jesus started crying and pronounced a sad, scary prophecy about the city. That kind of took me by surprise. Why was he so sad and so gloomy about Jerusalem when most everyone else seemed so excited and joyful?

Well, it didn’t take too long to find out. Our huge parade went into the city, and the first place we went, as you might imagine, was the Temple. I couldn’t go in, but Jesus was really upset at those who were taking advantage of the poor who were coming in for the Passover and overturned their tables and chased them out of the Temple courts. Something about making his father’s house a den of robbers. That just seemed like quite a turn of events at that point, and it seems to have set the stage for what happened the rest of the week.

Now I did stay in Jerusalem after that Temple incident, but I didn’t go everywhere Jesus went. However, I had begun to hear stories of Jesus confronting the Pharisees, prophesying against the Temple, and other stuff like that. When I did see Jesus, he was resolute, like a man on a mission who could not be deterred. On Thursday night, a few of the disciples loaded me up with some Passover food and we headed to a house in town. The meal was upstairs, so I had to stay outside. It was a quiet night because it was the Passover meal, so I was able to hear bits and pieces of the conversation coming through the windows. Something about washing their feet, body and blood, and even a betrayer. It wasn’t long after that conversation that I saw Judas running out of the house and headed toward the Temple.

After that is when things get a little confusing. Jesus and the rest of the disciples sang a hymn and came down from the meal. We all went to the Garden of Gethsemane, but by that time we were all getting pretty tired and the sun had set. I lay down there to try to sleep, and I heard Jesus say something to Peter and John about staying awake. All of the sudden, everyone started shouting, because Judas had come to the garden with soldiers. They were arresting Jesus!!! Things got really confusing then. I heard a couple swords drawn, someone got hurt but Jesus healed him, and then all the disciples scattered, forgetting about me.

I managed to follow Jesus back to Jerusalem without being too obvious and was just able to slip through the city gate before they closed it again. I heard someone say they were going to the high priest’s house. We got there, and there was quite a crowd for that late at night. I heard a lot of shouting and arguing coming from the house, and eventually Jesus came out, still tied up. It was weird. Right when he came out, a rooster crowed, and I could see Jesus was looking straight at Peter, who was in the crowd. Peter looked sad, but the crowd surged at that point, and I lost sight of him.

It’s hard for me to describe what happened the next day, because it was so gruesome and ugly and I’m still pretty shaken by it. The pharisees turned Jesus over to the Romans, who whipped him, then he was brought to Pilate, who wanted to release him. But the Pharisees were stirring up the crowd, shouting “Crucify him!” I couldn’t bear it anymore. I just wanted to go home. Here, I thought I was the donkey of the prophecies, yet the “king” was going to be crucified instead. As I was exiting the city, I saw three poles on a hill nearby. It looked like there were already several Roman soldiers there and a crowd gathering. Then I heard behind me a mob approaching. I went down the road a little bit where I could get off to the side and still watch the hill. In the midst of the mob, I saw Jesus, whipped, bleeding, struggling to carry the horizontal beam of the cross. Oh, wait, maybe that’s what the prophecy meant about his garments washed in wine. Eww (shudder). It couldn’t be. I watched the rest of that scene unfold in utter disbelief. I watched as they hung Jesus from the cross between two other criminals. I could see that Jesus was shouting something as best he could, but I couldn’t make it out. I saw a soldier poke him in the side. Then the sky went dark. Yeah, that seems to fit the way this day is going.

As I was watching all this, I remembered that along with the donkey prophecies, my parents had taught me an Isaiah passage as well: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed.” How could all that pain and suffering bring healing? Then I made the connection: I realized I have a cross on my back; most donkeys do. Could it be that God made us beasts of burden with a cross on our backs because one of us would one day bear the one who would be burdened with the sin of mankind on a cross? As much as I wanted to go home, my eyes and my soul were captivated by the horror of what I was seeing. I had to get closer. I watched as they took his limp body down from the cross. I could see the general direction they were headed, so I tried to get to where they seemed to be headed. I’m glad I did. When I got to the place where they would bury him, I watched as they took his body, wrapped in linen cloths, into the tomb, rolled the stone in front of it, and put the Roman seal on it. And then I saw two people I recognized: Mary and John. I went up and nudged them gently, and they recognized me. But it was getting close to sundown, and they had to get home before the Sabbath started. They tried to get me to come, but I put on my stubbornness and wouldn’t budge. I wanted to stay near the tomb.

As much as I wanted to go home, my eyes and my soul were captivated by the horror of what I was seeing. I had to get closer. I watched as they took his limp body down from the cross.

That Sabbath yesterday was the worst day of my young life. I was still in shock. I couldn’t even move, let alone eat. I just hid out in some nearby trees and kept guard as best I could. I dozed off and on all day (just like the Roman guards!), until I finally realized I had slept through most of the night. Just before daybreak on the morning after the Sabbath, I felt the ground shake and heard the Roman guards yelling as they ran away. Then I saw them at the tomb, two angels rolling the stone away! I saw Jesus come to the opening of the tomb. He looked straight at me, winked, and disappeared. Could I be dreaming?

Just then Jesus’s mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene came running up to the tomb, only to find the stone rolled away. I hadn’t been dreaming! I wanted to approach them, but before they noticed me, the angels appeared to them and told them what had happened. It was true then, Jesus was alive! The women never saw me, but turned and ran back toward Jerusalem, presumably to tell the rest of the disciples.

After the women ran off, one of the angels looked at me and said, “Well done, faithful Ḥamor. You may return home.” I had done my part that the prophets had predicted so long ago. I was indeed THE donkey that gave the king a ride into Jerusalem, and now I knew just what kind of king he would be. I headed home to tell my mom, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

[1] Ryken, Leland, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, and Daniel G. Reid. 2000. In Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, electronic ed., 215. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

January 2, 2022

2021 Reflection and Summary

I wanted to take a moment and thank the readers of Sunday Morning Greek Blog (SMGB) for tripling the number of views from 2019 to 2021! I went from 2,856 views in 2019 to 9,130 views (across 130 countries) in 2021. The theme of my blog has always been “Dig deeper, read smarter, draw closer.” I hope that whichever one of those goals brought you to my site will continue to be something I am able to meet for you. And, if you ever have a request or a question about a biblical topic, I would be happy to research it for you. I’m always excited to dig deeper into God’s Word to help others understand it better.

Having said that, the blog was also a blessing to me as well this year. As 2021 kicked off and more churches started to resume in-person services, I was called to preach at a couple smaller churches that lost pastors during the pandemic through attrition (thankfully not to COVID). One is the (now) inner-city church I grew up in and which some of my family still attend, and the other is a rural country church in Iowa. For me, the blog turned out to be (way-in-advance) sermon prep! This blog was helpful in that I still have been working my full-time day job, so it was nice not to have to a lot of new research for sermons. What sermons I did write this past year wound up as new blog posts.

Top 5 Posts

My top post for 2021 surprised me, because it was a little more academically technical than my typical posts, but it must have struck a chord with some. I had written “Indignant Jesus: The Variant Reading of Mark 1:41” in January 2019 in part because I wanted to know for myself why the NIV translators had changed the translation from “compassion” to “indignant” The other reason is that I wanted to provide an example of how translators use internal and external clues to determine the quality or genuineness of a textual variant. I figured with all the NIV readers out there, many of them would be curious about an “indignant Jesus,” so I wanted to provide what I hope was an explanation of the thought process in layman’s terms.

“Indignant Jesus” had 86 views that year. In 2020, it saw a 360% increase to 310 views. In 2021, it nearly had another 360% increase to 1,106 views! That was over 12% of total blog post views for 2021. Judging from the access peaks, I’d say it wound up on a few recommended reading lists for college syllabi. If you happen to know who used it on a syllabus, I’d love to thank them. I don’t want any royalties; I’d just like to know what they found redeeming about it, or even if they thought it needed some work.

The second most popular post was “Seer” in the Old Testament. This has been a perennial favorite, having been the number one article for at least 6 years through 2018, again, most likely because it appeared on someone’s college syllabus. Obviously, it’s not a Greek word study, but a Hebrew word study, and it was one I had sent out in an e-mail thread long before blogs were a thing. I never expected much from it on the blog, primarily because I had been looking for something different to post and pulled that one out of the archives. I’m both surprised and pleased that it continues to generate great interest.

My third most popular post (just 23 views behind #2) was 2020’s top post: “Take Heart!” That had slowly been growing in popularity, but it really caught hold in 2020, most likely due to the pandemic. I got one comment from a reader who said they had shared it with several health care workers at the time. They of all people had and continue to have a need for encouragement and endurance in the face of COVID and (if I may) the current lack of gratitude and sympathy from those at the highest levels of government for those hardworking heroes.

Number 4 is one that has steadily grown in popularity, but really began to take off in 2019, having three times the views in 2017. “Falling Away” tackles the difficult section of Hebrews 6 that at first glance seems to address the concept of losing your salvation. But a closer look at the text, grammar, and sentence structure (yes, there’s a classic sentence diagram attached; also an epilog post) shows the passage has quite a different meaning that isn’t so harsh theologically. Monthly views jumped dramatically in beginning in mid 2020, which makes me think the article also wound up on someone’s syllabus. I recently had a lively exchange with one reader who was asking for some clarification on a couple points, which also helped me sharpen my thinking and conclusions on the passage.

The fifth one was a total shocker to me. “Speaking in Tongues” averaged 49 views per year in the first 10 years it was online. In 2021, the post had 691 views, averaging over 57 views per month! Again, I’m not sure what sparked the sudden interest, but as with the other posts, the only thing I can think of is someone put it on their syllabus or perhaps cited it in a widely read paper.

Looking Forward

For 2022, I anticipate preaching about once every month, so I’ll continue to post sermon texts to the blog. I’d also like to break into the podcast sphere and start posting some videos or audios that can generate some ad revenue for me. I’m not really set up for that yet, and I’ll have to seek out some technical help most likely, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be a difficult learning curve.

I also have a blog called “Sustainable America,” which is my outlet for the intersection of politics, ethics, and faith in my life. That has never really taken off, although it has seen some modest growth. I’ve had just over 100 views the last two years, and 2020’s views (106) were a little more than double 2019’s views. Although it hasn’t really had many views, I do find it personally therapeutic as an outlet for what I’m thinking and feeling on such subjects. The founding fathers didn’t put “separation of Church and State” in the Constitution because they understood instinctively people’s politics derive from their religious and moral convictions (or lack thereof). The purpose of Sustainable America, however, is to analyze cultural and political issues and apply Scripture to them, while SMGB is all about analyzing the biblical text and discerning how it should affect and inform our lives all around, not just in the political or cultural spheres.

My most-viewed post on Sustainable America was “Why I’d Rather Not Work from Home Full Time.” After having spent much of my early career either working from home or working in a ministry setting where I was the only staff member, I found it quite enjoyable to transition to working in an office setting with lots of interesting people around. When the pandemic hit, all of that was defenestrated. I do miss working around other people. Somewhere along the way, I lost my introversion.

As such, one final goal for me for 2022 is to get back into the adjunct professor space, or full-time college instruction nearby, if someone wants to take a chance on my M.Div. degree with OT & NT concentrations. I found it ironic that, in 2020, the third-party supplier through whom I had been teaching Biblical Studies courses at St. Louis Christian College was bought out, and the acquiring company dropped the online adjunct service at a time when everything was moving online. Teaching Biblical Studies is really my first love, but it’s been tough landing positions without a Ph.D.

I wish you, my readers and blog followers, a happy and prosperous new year. Thank you for continuing to read, interact with, and spread the word about Sunday Morning Greek Blog!

Scott Stocking

My opinions are my own.

March 31, 2012

When Iron Sharpens Iron, Sparks Fly (Proverbs 27:17)

One of my favorite sections of Proverbs is 27:14–21. Here it is from the newest version of the NIV:

14 If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning,

it will be taken as a curse.

15 A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping

of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;

16 restraining her is like restraining the wind

or grasping oil with the hand.

17 As iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens another.

18 The one who guards a fig tree will eat its fruit,

and whoever protects their master will be honored.

19 As water reflects the face,

so one’s life reflects the heart.

20 Death and Destruction are never satisfied,

and neither are human eyes.

21 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,

but people are tested by their praise.

Good Morning?

I’ve always been a morning person. I get up daily by 5:30 to get my Bible study in and get ready for work. But many years ago, when I came across Proverbs 27:14, I was in utter disbelief that such a verse would be in the Bible. Morning people are a curse to their neighbors! Now admittedly, I’m dealing with this a little tongue-in-cheek. I think most of us know what this verse is really talking about. You know the type, the one who sees you dragging into work before the coffee or other caffeinated beverage kicks in and decides to have a little fun at your expense. “Hi, Scott! Beautiful morning, isn’t it? Just breathe in that fresh morning air!” You want to turn around and smack the guy silly, right? Now of course, I’m not advocating that.

Keep in mind that Proverbs is not a book of commands, but a book of pithy generalities about life. They are statements that ring true to us about the way things are, but they were never intended to be transformed into commands. If you’re obnoxious early in the morning, some people just aren’t going to like that. In fact, the next two verses seem to have a similar theme: being obnoxious doesn’t win you any friends.

Good Wife?

The imagery Solomon applies to quarrelsome wives is even more striking. If you’ve ever had a leaky roof, you know exactly what he’s talking about. About a year ago, the same week I was moving out of my mom’s basement and into my own place, their upstairs toilet started leaking pretty bad into what had been my bedroom. It was a mess, to say the least, and a pain to keep up with. And trying to reason with a quarrelsome wife? Forget about it! Not only is it difficult to hold oil in your hand, but it’s also hard to get off unless you use some hot water and soap. Your hands feel slimy until you can get the oil off of them.

Good Men?

This brings me to Proverbs 27:17, a verse that is at the heart of nearly every men’s ministry message and program that’s ever been published. But as I’m prone to do, I’m about to shatter that long-held belief that the verse refers to positive male camaraderie. A look at the Hebrew of the verse and a little common sense about metallurgy will help make the point.

Have you ever watched someone forge a sword? First of all, you have to get the metal hot enough to melt into the basic shape of the sword. Then once the sword has its basic shape, it’s repeatedly subjected to the hot fire and hammered on an anvil to refine its shape and give it its edge. Once it has the length and temper it needs to be a good sword, the smith gives it its sharp edge by grinding and polishing. It is at that step of the process that we see the true nature of Proverbs 27:17.

When iron strikes iron, or even when iron sharpens iron, sparks fly. The Hebrew word for “sharpen” (חָדַד, ḥā∙ḏǎḏ) here is only used six times in the Old Testament: twice in Proverbs 27:17, three times in Ezekiel 21:9–11, and once in Habakkuk 1:8. Solomon’s use of the word in Proverbs 27:17 seems rather innocuous if we fail to look past the popular modern interpretation, but it is the second half of the verse that really got me thinking that this might not be the comfortable camaraderie often portrayed: “one man sharpens the face of a friend.” Now I ask you, does that sound like mutual encouragement? Does that sound like a slap on the back? NO! The passages in Ezekiel speak of the sword being sharpened for the slayer going out to slaughter. Habakkuk uses it to describe the fierceness of horsemen going out to battle. It sounds more like two guys battling each other just to stay ahead. It sounds like they might be getting on each other’s nerves. Granted, that could be for the better, but I think the context may suggest otherwise.

You still don’t believe me? An obnoxious morning person? A quarrelsome wife? She’s compared to oil, wind, a dripping faucet. But two men going at it? Iron on iron. Sparks are flying, baby. No holds barred. Hear the clank of hammer and steel on the anvil. Feel the crushing pain of missing the anvil and striking your thumb, times ten! And what about the verses that come after? Guarding, protecting: sounds like dangerous guy stuff. Death and Destruction never being satisfied: ’nuff said. Crucibles: subjected to the heat of purifying fire.

I think verse 19 is the crux verse here: “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” I’ve been reading John Eldredge lately (Wild at Heart; Beautiful Outlaw), so I’m kind of pumped on guy stuff right now. I’m rediscovering what he calls the deep heart of a man: “a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” I’ve been asking myself what my life shows about my heart. Has it shown that I’m a warrior or a wimp? I’ve certainly picked my fights like William Wallace. They didn’t involve guns or swords, however. But they did often attack issues of the heart, especially greed and corruption. Those can be just as ugly as any battle scene from Braveheart. The trouble was, my “beauty” at the time didn’t want anything to do with my battle. That struck at the core of my manhood, and I’ve been climbing back ever since.

Guys, what does your life reflect about your heart? Are you the man’s man that Eldredge talks about in Wild at Heart? Or have you become a restrained Mr. Incredible, forced to keep your super powers in check behind an office desk because society is afraid of the inherent threat you pose to their comfort? If you haven’t read anything by John Eldredge, I would encourage you to get hold of a copy of Wild at Heart. The principles in there have taken me to a new level of manhood in my life, but I can still see that I have a long way to go. And if you’re in Omaha, beginning April 21, 2012, at StoneBridge Christian Church, 8:00 a.m., our men’s group will begin a nine-week series on Beautiful Outlaw.


Scott Stocking

StoneBridge Christian Church is located at 15801 Butler Street, between Fort and Maple.

February 5, 2012

Does the Structure of Exodus 21:1–27 Tell the Patriarchs’ Story?

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Exodus,Hebrew,Old Testament,Theology, Biblical — Scott Stocking @ 8:40 am

I really enjoyed my Old Testament exegesis classes in seminary with Dr. Gary Hall, who is retiring from Lincoln Christian Seminary this year. Each week, we had a passage to dissect, and we always followed the same pattern. The systematic method he taught us has stuck with me all these years, which is one reason why I love teaching hermeneutics. It has also opened up new depths of understanding to difficult passages, and has helped me discover the eternal principles behind the earthly stories of those who have gone before me.

Exodus 21 Assigned

One such passage that sold me on the value of discerning structure in the Bible is Exodus 21:1–27. I believe we had actually been assigned Exodus 21:12–27, which is set off in the TNIV with the heading “Personal Injuries.” However, when I looked at the passage in the Hebrew Bible that week, I noticed that vv. 1–27 were a complete paragraph. Dr. Hall had taught us to pay attention to such structural clues, so I took it upon myself to expand the assigned passage and see what I could discover from that. I was amazed at what I found, but I was even more amazed when I took into account the literary and historical context of the passage.

Here is the structure of the passage:

1 Introduction

    2–11 Hebrew Slaves

        12–14 Striking a man/conditionality

             15 Physically attacking Father/Mother

                16 Kidnapping

             17 Verbally attacking Father/Mother

        18–25 Striking a man or a pregnant woman

        [18–19 Striking a man]

    [20–21 Striking a Slave]

        [22–25 Striking a pregnant woman]

    26–27 Hebrew Slaves

Exodus 21 Considered

If you’ve read my posts regularly or if you’ve ever taken a class that talks about the structure of a biblical passage, you will instantly recognize this as a chiasm, a passage that presents ideas in one order and repeats them in reverse order. The key point about a chiasm is that whatever is at the center of the chiasm is the focus. So when I discovered this structure, I thought a couple things were unusual:

  1. Why were the two nearly identical laws about parents not together? and
  2. Why was “kidnapping” inserted between the two commands, especially when kidnapping isn’t mentioned in the Ten Commandments?

I need to answer both those questions together, because there is a connection. I do remember when I was looking at this passage in some English texts that one English version (I thought it was my RSV confirmation Bible, but I can’t locate it now to confirm) actually had the chutzpah to flip verses 16 and 17 around, because the translators thought as I did at first glance that they belonged together. The answer to my second question came when I looked at the Hebrew: the word “kidnap” is translated from the Hebrew phrase וְגֹנֵ֨ב אִ֧ישׁ
(wə·ḡō·nēḇ ʾîš, \wuh-goh-nayv eesh\), which literally means “the one stealing a man.” Aha! Stealing: now that is something in the Ten Commandments. Now I’m getting somewhere.

גָּנַב is the same word translated “steal” in the Ten Commandments. “Stealing” a man meant not only removing that man from his covenant community, but also taking away the life he had planned for himself. גָּנַב is often used of stealing things and people. It’s presence here, especially in the center of the structure (see above), indicates the seriousness of the crime of kidnapping. It is on a par with striking or cursing your parents, and the abuse and murder of slaves. All crimes listed here could be punishable by death, especially with the presence of the lex talionis at the end of this passage.

So now I was at least part way to an answer. Kidnapping was the ultimate form of mistreatment of another person. That is why it was at the center of the passage.

Exodus 21 in Context

But there was a larger question to answer. I had only dealt with the central elements, but what about the rest of the paragraph? I asked myself, “What do treatment of slaves, mistreatment of parents, and kidnapping have in common?” The answer stuck out like a sore thumb. Joseph. Joseph’s brothers kidnapped him. Strike one. They sold him into slavery. Strike two. They lied to their father Israel, which would be equivalent to a curse, about what happened to Joseph. Strike three. So the first story out of the gate after hearing the Ten Commandments is like a slap in the face to all of Israel. “You did it to Joseph, which is how you wound up in slavery in Egypt in the first place. Go and sin no more. Even though God intended it for good (Genesis 50:20), don’t let that be an excuse to try it again.”


I hope you can see how important structure and context is in determining the meaning and significance of a passage. Moses brilliantly structured Exodus 21 (or God did so for Moses) not only to communicate his statutes, but to place those in the historical context of God’s people.


Scott Stocking

January 29, 2012

“I Am” Statement of Yahweh (Exodus 3–6, esp. Exodus 3:14)

Filed under: "I Am" Statements,Exodus,Hebrew,John Gospel of,Old Testament — Scott Stocking @ 8:33 am

As I was reading through the early chapters of Exodus last week, I was not only reminded of the “I Am” statements of Jesus in John’s gospel, but I gained some new insight into the overall application of those statements. I want to share that with you in this post.

Face to Face at the Bush

Exodus 3 is the story of Moses’s first encounter with God at the burning bush in Midian. This is also the chapter where we have the story of God revealing his personal name to Moses: יְהוָ֖ה “Yahweh” (English texts set in small caps: LORD). But the text leading up to that revelation is a story that deserves the *facepalm* of all *facepalms*! God has been preparing Moses to confront Pharaoh and deliver the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. You’d have to admit, that’s a pretty big task in those days, considering most kings and their subjects wouldn’t give a second thought about having you beheaded or drawn and quartered for merely approaching the king without invitation let alone confronting the king.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Moses approaches the burning bush when Yahweh calls out to him. He removes his sandals, because he’s on holy ground. Yahweh proceeds to identify himself and his purposes for calling Moses, while Moses does his own reverent version of a facepalm (Exodus 3:6b). Listen to what Yahweh says to Moses in Exodus 3:6–10 (NIV) and see if you detect a pattern:

I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.

I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.

I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and

I am concerned about their suffering. So

I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land…

And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and

I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.

So now, go.

I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.

Yahweh makes seven(!) “I” statements here about who he is and what he will do, and he affirms that he has the power to do all this through Moses. I suppose God could have done it without all the pomp and circumstance of the plagues, but then how would anyone ever know what God thinks of kings who exalt themselves to positions of deity? But here’s the facepalm moment: after God affirms that he’s going to do all this through Moses, what does Moses say?

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11).


Evidently Moses didn’t have Verizon, because he obviously didn’t hear God the first time. The creator of the universe is speaking to Moses, giving him more information about himself than he’s ever given to any other patriarch (except perhaps Abraham), and Moses is worried about himself! Duh, Moses, it’s not about you; God just confirmed that!

Saving Face

Of course, it’s easy for us 3500 years later to look back on this story and be a little critical of Moses. The story does show his human side, and I wonder how many of us would have be willing to saddle up and head out without questioning God further on the matter. God isn’t afraid of having a conversation with us, and he’s big enough to deal with our questions and fears. He’s ever so patient with us as we muddle through life trying to figure out his will and purpose for us. But he also offers reassurance to us in the form of a promise that is repeated time and again in both the Old and New Testaments. He offered that promise to the patriarchs before Moses, and he offers it again to Moses in 3:12: “I will be with you.”

This is where the Hebrew gets very interesting, and most English translations relegate the significant issue to a footnote. The Hebrew word for “I will be” is the standard “to be” verb: הָיָה (hāyāh), but since Hebrew, like Greek, alters the spelling of its verbs based on the person and number of the verb, the form that is used in 3:12 is אֶהְיֶה (first person singular ʾehyeh; notice the letters are the same, except for the aleph א added to the front of the word). This is the exact same form that most English translations render “I AM WHO I AM” in 3:14 when God reveals his name! To their credit, most English translations have a footnote on v. 14 saying that this could be “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE,” but in my opinion, that should be the translation in the main text. The form יְהוָ֖ה “Yahweh” that is used regularly throughout the Hebrew Old Testament is probably related to the third person singular form of the verb.

Hebrew verbs don’t have tense in the same way that English verbs do. Hebrew verbs either represent completed action (perfects) or incomplete action (imperfects). The verb form Yahweh uses for his name is imperfect (ironic, I know, but that’s the grammar). What I hear Yahweh saying to Moses here is that he will do whatever it takes, he will be whatever he needs to be, to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. That is a father showing ultimate love for his children: even if it comes to destroying every last trace of the Egyptian people and culture, God will deliver his people.

Facing Up

Once was not enough, though. God has to go back through the I statements again in Exodus 6, but the Israelites were too oppressed to hear it or believe it. So God’s mighty plagues were not just to break Pharaoh’s stubborn heart, but also to show Israel that he meant business about delivering them from the Egyptians. This is emphasized in the latter plagues that have no effect on the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived.

So what does all this have to do with the “I am” statements of Jesus? What occurred to me is that Jesus was doing for his audience what Yahweh did for Moses and the Israelites. His “I am” statements affirm that he is the savior and that he can and will do whatever it takes to deliver people from sin and Satan, even to the point of dying on a cross. Jesus stood up to the religious oppressors of his day and proclaimed the good news of God’s deliverance and love for his creation.

Many of us Christ followers I’m sure have done our own facepalms when friends or family just don’t comprehend the good news. Well, you’re in good company. Be patient and keep at it, because you might have to witness a lot of pain and suffering before the deliverance finally happens. And Christ offers the same assurance to us as Yahweh did to Moses: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 TNIV).


Scott Stocking

Please check out my friend Eric Weiss’s post on this topic:

January 26, 2012

“Seer” in Old Testament: A Hebrew Word Study

Filed under: 1 Chronicles,1 Samuel,2 Chronicles,Hebrew,Old Testament,Prophet — Scott Stocking @ 10:12 pm

I’m digging into my archives from way back, when for a short time I sent out an e-mail called “Word of the Week” and when I contributed to the forum. I hope you enjoy!

The concept of the seer in the Old Testament (OT) may be connected to the priest who wore the Urim and Thummim. I don’t know if all of the individuals called seers were keepers of the Urim and Thummim, but if any were priests (e.g., Zadok, 2 Sam 15:27), they probably did. Seventeen of the twenty-eight occurrences of “seer” appear in 1–2 Chronicles, which one should expect, since Chronicles is the priestly account of the kings of Judah.


The NIV translates two Hebrew words as “seer” in OT, רֹאֶה (rōʾěh) and חֹזֶה (ḥō∙zěh). The first word is a participle (i.e., a verb used as a noun) form of the verb “to see” in Hebrew. OT authors used the word twenty-six times. The NIV translates רֹאֶה twelve times as “seer” and twelve times generically as anyone who “saw” something in the natural way. You will find the other two occurrences in parallel passages (2 Kings 25:19, Jeremiah 52:25), where the NIV translates them as “men of the king’s council,” which might be a little closer to “seer” in the religious sense. The word is used of Samuel eight times. In fact, the first time the word is used of Samuel (1 Samuel 9:9), the author makes a point of bridging the gap between the era of the seer and the rise of the “prophet.”

The Septuagint (LXX) in seven of those eight occurrences translates this as βλέπων, “one who sees.” This word by itself has no technical significance in Greek as far as I know relating to special prophetic function. The other occurrence connected with Samuel is translated προφήτης “prophet” in the LXX (1 Chronicles 26:28). Two other mentions of רֹאֶה refer to Hanani, an advisor to one of Judah’s kings. The LXX calls him προφήτης.


The second word (חֹזֶה) is found sixteen times in the OT, and with the exception of Isaiah 30:10, where the NIV translates it “prophets” in parallel with רֹאֶה, it is translated as “seer(s).” This is the main word used to describe those who were either in the employ of a king, or advised kings. (Hanani above is the only exception, but his(?) son Jehu is called a חֹזֶה in 2 Chronicles 19:2.) Ten of the sixteen times, it either refers to the “king’s seer” or to someone who advised a king (whether the king wanted him to or not; similar to the roles played by the men in 2 Kings 25:19). I include Amos in this count (Amos 7:12). The LXX uses ὁρῶν (“one who sees,” probably with emphasis on content of what is seen rather than the act of seeing) eleven times. βλέπων is used once (in 1 Chronicles 29:29; רֹאֶה Samuel and חֹזֶה Gad are mentioned together here; both are called βλέπων in the LXX).

There is also an interesting connection with חֹזֶה in that in a few instances, the seers were connected with music or poetry. In 1 Chronicles 25:5, the LXX identifies Heman as an ἀνακρουομένῳ “one who sings praise” or “one who prophesies with music.” He is one of the men chosen “for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals” (1 Chronicles 25:1; see also Judges 5:11). Asaph (one of the more prominent coauthors of the Psalms) is also mentioned as a seer (1 Chronicles 29:30).

Finally, Isaiah 30:10 (in addition to 1 Chronicles 29:29) mentions חֹזֶה and רֹאֶה apparently synonymously. רֹאֶה and חֹזֶה are most often translated προφήτης in the LXX and “seer” in the NIV, but חֹזֶה is occasionally translated ὁρῶν in LXX, especially of David’s seer Gad.

The Role of the Seer

The role of the seer is very easy to discern in the OT. He spoke the word of God to the people or to kings. The title was prominent up through the beginning of the kingdom era, but the title gradually shifted to prophet (נָּבִיא), especially when Isaiah came on the scene. The seer was probably a little more politically connected than the prophet, but neither were strangers to the palace. And neither had a message that was any more popular with the people or the kings: they rarely minced words. Samuel was the hinge pin of history between the seer and prophet, as he ushered out the age of the judges and ushered in the age of the kings.


I suppose I could say my last two posts are a bit of a hinge pin as well. This blog originally started as my musings on reading through the Greek NT. But I can’t forget my Hebrew “roots” in seminary. Now that I’m reading through the OT again, I know I will have much to say on that. But for those of who are worried that my long blog title might extend to Sunday Morning Biblical Languages Blog, don’t worry. I like it just the way it is.

Peace & Shalom!

Scott Stocking

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