Micah 5:3 – Mary or Israel?

Micah_prophetIs the prophet Micah referring to Mary (Jesus’ mother in the incarnation), or to Israel? Here is the text (Micah 5:1-4):

1 Now you are walled about with a wall;
siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike upon the cheek
the ruler of Israel.

2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
      when she who is in travail has brought forth;
then the rest of his brethren shall return
to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.

A very brief survey of the text

Micah has circled back from encouragement to dire warnings. The time will come when Jerusalem will be surrounded, besieged, and its king abused. The bit about the “king” is likely a prophetic prediction of Zedekiah’s fate (2 Kings 25:1-7), although Christ could be in view, too. The perpetrators are the Babylonians.

But, in contrast to this gloomy future, the time will come when God will raise up a true king for Himself. This king will come from the little town of Bethlehem, a small city in Judah. The Jews understood this was a Messianic prophesy (see Matthew 2:1-6). This ruler will “come forth from me,” meaning He will be uniquely sent from God. This man’s origin is from the distant past, from ancient days. Whoever He is, He isn’t an ordinary ruler.

Therefore, God will give the Israelites up until this time comes. He’ll abandon them to their enemies, to suffer the covenant curses He warned them about in the wilderness (see Deuteronomy 28-29).

Who is it?

So . . . who is the woman who is in travail, who will bring forth this ruler? Is it a prophesy of Mary, the favored Jewish girl whom God chose to bear His incarnate Son? Or, is Micah referring to Israel as a woman who “brings forth” Jesus?

Musings from General Grant

grantUlysses Grant graduated from West Point with the same generation of officers who later held senior command positions in both the Union and Confederate armies. Here he reminisces on how their shared experiences in the Mexican War better prepared him to know his future foes:

My experience in the Mexican war was of great advantage to me afterwards. Besides the many practical lessons it taught, the war brought nearly all the officers of the regular army together so as to make them personally acquainted. It also brought them in contact with volunteers, many of whom served in the war of the rebellion afterwards.

Then, in my particular case, I had been at West Point at about the right time to meet most of the graduates who were of a suitable age at the breaking out of the rebellion to be trusted with large commands. Graduating in 1843, I was at the military academy from one to four years with all cadets who graduated between 1840 and 1846—seven classes. These classes embraced more than fifty officers who afterwards became generals on one side or the other in the rebellion, many of them holding high commands.

All the older officers, who became conspicuous in the rebellion, I had also served with and known in Mexico: Lee, J. E. Johnston, A. S. Johnston, Holmes, Hebert and a number of others on the Confederate side; McCall, Mansfield, Phil. Kearney and others on the National side. The acquaintance thus formed was of immense service to me in the war of the rebellion—I mean what I learned of the characters of those to whom I was afterwards opposed.

I do not pretend to say that all movements, or even many of them, were made with special reference to the characteristics of the commander against whom they were directed. But my appreciation of my enemies was certainly affected by this knowledge. The natural disposition of most people is to clothe a commander of a large army whom they do not know, with almost superhuman abilities. A large part of the National army, for instance, and most of the press of the country, clothed General Lee with just such qualities, but I had known him personally, and knew that he was mortal; and it was just as well that I felt this.

Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, 2 vols. (Kindle ed.),  KL 1744 – 1757

Is Inerrancy a Necessary Doctrine?

inerrancyIn the book, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, Kevin Vanhoozer (responding to Michael Bird’s essay), wrote:

Why should the rest of the world care about North American evangelicalism’s doctrinal obsession with inerrancy? First, it may be only a matter of time, given globalization and patterns of higher education, until the rest of the world is faced with similar challenges to biblical authority posed by biblical criticism, naturalistic scientism, and skeptical historicism. If you can find McDonald’s or Starbucks in Taiwan and Timbuktu, can Richard Dawkins or Bart Ehrman be far behind?

Indeed!

James Merrick and Stephen Garrett (ed.), Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013; Kindle ed.), KL 3189-3192).

Musings from General Grant

grantUlysses Grant reported to his first assignment at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis in April 1843. Years later, he wrote:

It did seem to me, in my early army days, that too many of the older officers, when they came to command posts, made it a study to think what orders they could publish to annoy their subordinates and render them uncomfortable. I noticed, however, a few years later, when the Mexican war broke out, that most of this class of officers discovered they were possessed of disabilities which entirely incapacitated them for active field service. They had the moral courage to proclaim it, too. They were right; but they did not always give their disease the right name.

Some things never change.

Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, 2 vols. (Kindle ed.),  KL 387-391.

Fleeing from the Lurking Evil

shadow
The Shadow knows . . .

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows . . .are here

Well, he’s not the only one. God knows. And, you know it, too – because you know yourself. That’s why the Bible tells Christians to flee from the worldly lusts that war against your souls.

Why?

Because we’re good at lying to ourselves. We’re good at making up stupid, idiotic and ridiculous excuses for our own actions. We know we have a problem, but we do nothing about it. We content ourselves with some impotent, feeble prayer for “strength,” but we’re not serious. How do we know this? Because we don’t take any concrete action that proves we’re serious. We’re often all talk.

If we were honest with ourselves, we’d identify sins we struggle with, and take steps to protect ourselves . . . from ourselves. We’d flee from the worldly lusts that are battling against our very souls. If you’re a Christian, you know what your problems are, and I bet you have some good ideas about some defensive measures you can take to protect yourself from temptation.

You know it. The Shadow knows it. God knows it. The Apostle Peter knows it.

The Apostle Peter wanted Christians to live holy lives. He begged them to do it, in the letter he wrote (1 Peter 2:11-12). He told them to always keep far away from worldly lusts. He said these lusts are warring against our souls. He said we had to do this because we’re foreigners and temporary residents here.

There’s a lot here, and it has nothing to do with the fake cultural “Christianity” that’s so common today. It has to do with real life, and your mission in that life every single day – if you’re a Christian.

There are a whole bunch of questions that spring to mind:

  1. Why does Peter beg them to do this?
  2. How should you “keep far away” from these lusts in your life, whatever they are?
  3. What has changed in your life after salvation with regards to sin’s power and hold over you? What can you do now, that you couldn’t do before you became a follower of Christ?
  4. What does Peter mean when he writes that these worldly lusts are “warring against your souls?” What impact could these lusts have on your individual mission, as a holy priest for God?
  5. What does being a “foreigner and temporary resident” have to do with anything?

This past Sunday, we covered some of this and had a good discussion. The audio is below. The teaching notes for the passage are here. All audio and teaching notes for the 1 & 2 Peter series so far are here. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or to comment below.

Living With Fearful Reverence (1 Peter 1:17-21)

The Apostle Peter has a lot of practical advice for real life. But, he doesn’t issue commands and then stop. He tells you why:

  • Why should a Christian try his best to be holy, because God is holy?
  • Why should you prepare your minds for action, by being sober-minded?
  • Why should you not conform yourself to the wicked lusts you had during your earlier ignorance, before you were a Christian?

We talked a bit about that last week, but here Peter gives us one all-important reason – gratitude. Peter could have answered in so many different ways. He could have emphasized judgment and wrath. He could have stressed God’s holiness. He could have warned about certain punishment. He didn’t, even though all those answers would have been right.

Instead, Peter focuses on loving obedience that flows from your gratitude and thankfulness to God because of what Christ has done. This is at the heart of what it means to “live with fearful reverence.” Listen to today’s Sunday School lesson for more:

The PDF notes are available here. As always, the entire 1 & 2 Peter teaching series is available here. Unless I note otherwise, assume the English translation in my notes (and in the Scripture graphics, below) is mine.

peter

Some Thoughts on the NET Bible

net-bibleAbout six months ago, I stopped using the KJV for my personal devotions. I’ve preached from the King James for several years, but the time had come when I felt its shortcomings outweighed its strengths. I’d used the NET Bible for several years for comparison purposes. Among “normal” Christians, this translation is not well known.

The NET Bible was produced by a team of scholars centered around Dallas Theological Seminary. The translation’s purpose was “to answer the global need for a Bible translation that can be distributed without cost on the internet and be freely used in ministry.”[1] The finished version was released in September, 2001. The editors explained their translation ended up “somewhere between the two extremes”[2] of formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.

I’ve used this Bible for six months. I’ve done my private devotions with this translation. I’ve preached from this translation. I’ve compared it to my own rough translation of the entire book of Philippians from Koine Greek. I really like the way the editors and translators handled the New Testament. A lot. I think it is a stunning achievement.

Notes on the NET

But, I am sometimes uncomfortable with the way the NET Old Testament translates poetry. In many cases, I believe it destroys the poetic structure of the text. It is dangerous to make sweeping statements about translation choices, so I’ll provide two concrete examples:

Jeremiah 5:5 (NET)

Jeremiah 5:5 (RSV)

I will go to the leaders and speak with them. Surely they know what the LORD demands. Surely they know what their God requires of them.” Yet all of them, too, have rejected his authority and refuse to submit to him. I will go to the great, and will speak to them; for they know the way of the LORD, the law of their God.” But they all alike had broken the yoke, they had burst the bonds.

Notice the RSV translates what the text actually says. The yoke has been broken. The bonds have been burst. Now, look at the NET. The translation eliminates the imagery and bluntly tells you what the imagery means. Yes, it is true God’s authority has been rejected and they refuse to submit. But, consider the picture of a yoke being put on the Israelites, to guide them and govern them. Consider the allusion of the bonds which tie us to our sovereign God. Poetry is special because of the imagery it creates in your head, the picture the words paint to make the point. The NET has destroyed that here.

Jeremiah 4:4 (NET)

Jeremiah 4:4 (RSV)

Just as ritual circumcision cuts away the foreskin as an external symbol of dedicated covenant commitment, you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the LORD and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. If you do not, my anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you that no one will be able to extinguish. That will happen because of the evil you have done. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your doings.

The NET, in its zeal to make things clear for the reader, has butchered this command. You can see how much longer it is than the RSV. It abandons the command “circumcise yourselves to the Lord,” which is a phrase rich in Biblical allusions (cf. Jer 9:26; Deut 10:16, 30:6; Rom 2:28-29; Col 2:11, etc.). Instead, the translators sought to explain what it means.

The reader cannot ponder what it means to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart,” because the command has been taken from him. Interestingly, the NET translates this allusion in Rom 2:28-29. However, because the allusion is not translated here in our passage, the English reader might not ever connect the dots in his mind.

Now, to be fair, the NET Bible is infamous for its footnotes. It has over 60,000 of them. In every single place I’m aware of where the translators drop poetic imagery, they have a footnote which tells you all about it. Every single time. Good for them. I’m still not comfortable with it.

There are other examples, but the point is made. I think the NET Bible sometimes does a poor job with poetry. Its desire to help the reader understand the text is commendable. However, in carrying out this mission the translation sometimes destroys allusions and poetic imagery which I think ought to be retained, even at the expense of temporarily puzzling the reader.

What Now?

I’ve decided to check out another translation, and settled on the RSV. This never was a popular translation with fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals. I read one particularly hysterical contemporary review which made me chuckle. I’ve heard this was a very literary, very polished and very good translation. I’ve read Leland Ryken confess he was a “closet” RSV admirer for many, many years.

I recently rescued an old hardback RSV from the booksale cart at my local library. It cost me $0.25. Not a bad deal. I opened my RSV and took a stroll through Jeremiah 4-8, which I had just read in the NET. I was impressed. This looks to be a very literary and very polished translation. It is written in deliberately stately, slightly formal prose. It is certainly not colloquial, but it also isn’t antiquated (e.g. “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” KJV, Lk 2:49).

I have high hopes for the RSV. I think I’ll try it out for a few months. I know the ESV was a revision of the RSV, which itself was a revision of the ASV, which was based on the English Revised Version, which was a revision of the KJV. Whew, what a mouthful! So, I suspect I may eventually end up with the ESV as my standard translation. I want to settle on something and use it forever.

Regardless, though, I’m really looking forward to the RSV. I like its slightly formal, stately and majestic prose. It reads very well, and sounds dignified without being archaic. It should be fun.

Notes

[1] NET Bible, “Preface to the Reader’s Edition,” 5.

[2] NET Bible, “Principles of Translation,” 1425.