Tag Archives: scripture

For Now We See Through A Bible Darkly

John MacArthurWhen Jesus came, everything changed, everything changed.… He didn’t just want to clean up the people’s attitudes as they gave their sacrifices, He obliterated the sacrificial system because He brought an end to Judaism with all its ceremonies, all its rituals, all its sacrifices, all of its external trappings, the Temple, the Holy of Holies, all of it.

-Pastor John MacArthur
“Understanding the Sabbath,” September 20, 2009, posted on the Grace to You blog.
As quoted in Lois Tverberg’s blog post Test Your “Jesus Theories” in the Book of Acts

One of the folks who commented on a recent blog post of mine mentioned that Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots blogger Judah Himango had written a particularly illuminating article recently, based on Tverberg’s November 2013 commentary. I finished reading Judah’s write-up, suitably impressed, and clicked the link to his source material.

I really thought I was done with John MacArthur after my final series of reviews on First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) book Gifts of the Spirit. But seeing that Tverberg had quoted MacArthur on her blog, I had to find the original sermon and see the quote in context.

It didn’t make me happy.

As you can probably tell from the above-quoted paragraph, in one fell swoop, MacArthur kills the Torah, the Temple, and Judaism (if not the Jewish people) and summarily replaces them with Gentile Christianity in a lecture I could characterize as one of the more noteworthy flowers in the garden of supersessionism.

I was still going to resist writing about all of this. After all, Judah covered the issues brought up by Tverberg’s blog and expanded on them in a way that would make anything else I had to say on the subject redundant. And I’m sure most cessationists and anyone else who thinks John MacArthur is “the cat’s meow” probably believes by now that I have nothing better to do with my time than to endlessly bash MacArthur, using my blog as a blunt instrument.

I wouldn’t have even put my fingers on the keyboard over all of this if I hadn’t read the following:

In 1982:

“The Bible clearly teaches, starting in the tenth chapter of Genesis and going all the way through, that God has put differences among people on the earth to keep the earth divided.”

– Bob Jones III, defending Bob Jones University’s policy banning interracial dating/marriage. The policy was changed in 2000.

In 1823:

“The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”

– Rev. Richard Furman, first president of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention.

In the 16th Century:

“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. This fool…wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.”

– Martin Luther in “Table Talk” on a heliocentric solar system.

Rachel Held EvansI took these quotes (there are plenty more where they came from) from an article called “The Bible was ‘clear’ …” by Rachel Held Evans.

Here’s part of the commentary summarizing these quotes of various religious, social, political, and scientific opinions, all based on scripture (emph. below is Evans’):

Of course, for every Christian who appealed to Scripture to oppose abolition, integration, women’s suffrage, and the acceptance of a heliocentric solar system, there were Christians who appealed to Scripture to support those things too.

But these quotes should serve as a humbling reminder that rhetorical claims to the Bible’s clarity on a subject do not automatically make it so. One need not discount the inspiration and authority of Scripture to hold one’s interpretations of Scripture with an open hand.

We like to characterize the people in the quotes above as having used Scripture to their own advantage. But I find it both frightening and humbling to note that, often, the way we make the distinction between those who loved Scripture and those who used Scripture is hindsight.

So maybe let’s use that phrase—“the Bible is clear”— a bit more sparingly.

Now let’s compare that to how MacArthur summed up his 2009 sermon on “Understanding the Sabbath”:

Father, we thank You for a wonderful day. We thank You for the consistency of Your truth. We thank You for the Word which opens up our understanding to all things. We’re so unendingly thrilled at the glorious truth of Scripture that comes clear and unmistakable to us. (emph. mine)

I know that MacArthur is big proponent of sola scriptura and the sufficiency of the Bible and, based on that, he believes that any and all conclusions at which he arrives must be air tight and iron clad because after all, it’s not him, it’s what scripture says, right?

But as Rachel Held Evans so aptly illustrated, lots and lots of people have depended on sola scriptura and the sufficiency of the Bible over the long centuries of Church history, and in many cases (such as the “fact” that the Bible supports everything in the heavens orbiting Earth), they were wrong. They were also doing what so many of us in the body of faith do today: use the Bible to support whatever theological, social, political, scientific, or other important ax we have to grind, and after we sharpen the ax, we use it to chop down whoever or whatever we stand in opposition against.

Coffee and BibleNo, I’m not saying that we can’t rely on the Bible, but I am saying that given a good enough reason, we can all go off half-cocked and make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. To be fair, most of us are unconscious to our own process and as such, we actually believe we are being unbiased, unprejudicial, non-bigoted, and completely objective.

More’s the pity.

It’s one thing to constantly investigate yourself and your opinions to verify and re-verify that what you believe isn’t too heavily colored by whatever filters you happen to be wearing over your eyes (and we all wear some), and it’s another thing to be so sure that you aren’t wearing any filters at all, that any of your opinions, because they’re “based on the Bible” must be the truth because “the Bible is clear” on the subject.

Usually, “the Bible is clear” when we “discover” it says something that exactly maps to some long-held belief that provides us comfort and confirms our own identity and convictions. We don’t like it when the Bible contradicts us and says something clearly that we don’t want to be true. Maybe that’s the real litmus test of Biblical interpretation, when we let what the Bible says show us what we need to believe rather than the other way around.

Lancaster’s Galatians: Sermon Four, Wind and Sail

wind-sky-spirit-ruachAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…

2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

Is given by inspiration of God – All this is expressed in the original by one word – Θεόπνευστος Theopneustos. This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, God-inspired – from Θεός Theos, “God,” and πνέω pneō, “to breathe, to breathe out.” The idea of “breathing upon, or breathing into the soul,” is that which the word naturally conveys. Thus, God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life Genesis 2:7, and thus the Saviour breathed on his disciples, and said, “receive ye the Holy Ghost;” John 20:22. The idea seems to have been, that the life was in the breath, and that an intelligent spirit was communicated with the breath. The expression was used among the Greeks, and a similar one was employed by the Romans. Plutarch ed. R. 9:p. 583. 9. τοὺς ὀνείρους τοὺς θεοπνεύστους tous oneirous tous theopneustous. Phocylid. 121. τῆς δὲ θεοπνεύστου σοφίης λόγος ἐστὶν ἄριστος tēs de theopnoustou sophiēs logos estin aristos.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible for
2 Timothy 3:16

You may be wondering how this connects to my ongoing discussion with Pastor Randy about D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians. The answer is, “not much.” Frankly, we started our discussion last night with trying to clarify his thoughts on Divine Election (Pastor has a paper he wants to loan me that describes all of the various positions), but then moved to how we can understand the Bible (Pastor has some reservations relative to how Lancaster derives certain conclusions in his book from the Galatians text). We addressed Sermon Four of the book eventually, but it didn’t occupy the significant portion of our time together, nor was it the most compelling topic upon which we touched.

Going back to “God-breathed,” Pastor said that the Greek word used has the implication of wind filling a sail and pushing the boat along (Correction, according to Pastor Randy’s comment below, “the phrase about ‘the wind filling a sail’ has to do with the II Peter 1:21 passage and the meaning of men being ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’.” See the following quote). He told me he believes that as God gave His inspiration to the human writers of the Bible, the authors did not say anything, at least as originally given in their manuscripts, that contradicted what God intended.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)

People, that is, prophets and those people who have written the Word of God we have in our Bible, did not hear something from God and then interpret what it meant through their own intellect and emotions. God used their personalities, their vocabulary, their style of writing, their perceptions to craft His message, but the message was and is His message, not the prophets’, and the message “carried them along” as it was first given and recorded in the original documents, and the message was and is exactly what God meant to say and meant to carry us along as well.

But then we have a problem.

We don’t have the original documents…any of them.

Also, Bible reading and translation is an enormously complex task.

According to Pastor Randy, and I agree with him, we have to start with what the text literally says. We also have to apply the immediate context of the scripture, not taking it out and making it stand on its own. Beyond that, we have to consider the history, the culture, and the circumstances in which the scripture was written. On top of that, we have to connect the scripture to the larger context of the entire Bible, including other times when similar circumstances were mentioned and similar or identical wording was used. If, for instance, in describing the two greatest commandments (see Matthew 22:37-40), Jesus references Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, in understanding the Matthew 22 passage, we must also take into consideration the context, history, culture, and circumstances in which Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 take place, including the author and his personality, vocabulary, style of writing, and personal experiences. We cannot separate what Jesus was trying to say from what Moses was trying to say, however Jesus and all that was in play when he was talking may modify the original meaning, giving it a somewhat different shape, color, and texture.

paul-editedOh, and let’s not forget the intended audience. Moses may not have been aware that what he was writing was ultimately intended for the entire world, but we realize that God has a greater scope. Jesus may well have understood that his words would eventually be consumed by all of humanity across time, but his immediate audience, like Moses’ was the Jewish people or more specifically in Jesus’ case, the Pharisee he was addressing at that particular moment.

We must take all that into consideration when reading the Bible and seriously attempting to understand its message.

And we must constantly remind ourselves that it is all God-breathed.

Pastor Randy and I spent most of our time together exploring how to understand the Bible, with the promises and pitfalls built into such an effort. We discussed how we don’t necessarily have to “reinvent the wheel,” since many people have read and observed the literal meaning of the text from a variety of perspectives, and it would be irresponsible of us to disregard their work and rely only on our own. Pastor described how he approaches understanding texts looking at those who came before him. He reads a variety of expert analyses and takes into consideration what the scholars they did and didn’t take into consideration.

For instance, a particular writer may have a good grasp of the original language but not sufficiently address the history involved, or another writer may have a good handle on the historical context, but not the cultural context. Pastor said he looks at the various scholarly opinions in that manner and ultimately settles on which one he…wait for it…

…which one he likes best.


Pastor Randy is a literalist, an educator, a scholar, a linguist, and is very serious about pursuing as accurate an understanding of the Bible as he can achieve, but after much discussion we agreed that even under the best of circumstances and intentions, there will always be this little, fuzzy, grey, area in the middle of our understanding where we fill in the blanks with our own personalities.

Geordi La Forge (played by Levar Burton): I don’t know, Data, my gut tells me we ought to be listening to what this guy’s trying to tell us.
Data (played by Brent Spiner): Your gut?
Geordi: It’s just a… a feeling, you know, an instinct. Intuition.
Data: But those qualities would interfere with rational judgment, would they not?
Geordi: You’re right, sometimes they do.
Data: Then… why not rely strictly on the facts?
Geordi: Because you just can’t rely on the plain and simple facts. Sometimes they lie.

-from the Star Trek: the Next Generation Episode
The Defector (original air date 30 Dec. 1989)

In the scene from which I just quoted, Data concludes that in any meaningful analysis, the observer must fill in whatever blanks there are in the facts and other available information with their personality. In Data’s case, he was in a bind because effectively, he had no personality. All he had were the facts. By the way, it turns out Geordi’s “gut” was wrong. The defector in question had been fed disinformation by his superiors to mislead the Enterprise and ultimately to provoke a war. Fortunately, Picard’s “gut” proved to be more accurate and the ruse was exposed.

All this doesn’t mean that we can never understand the Bible or that we should always equivocate on its meaning, but we should be a little less than one-hundred percent certain that we always know what everything in the Bible means all of the time.

It also means that when we realize we’ve made a mistake based on subsequent study and analysis, we should admit it.

Pastor Randy says that’s one thing he admires about Boaz Michael, President and Founder of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). When Boaz and the organization came to the conclusion, several years ago, that they had made a significant error in understanding what the Bible said in relation to Jewish and Gentile covenant responsibilities to God, after much prayer and soul-searching, he announced that FFOZ was making a major shift in its theological and doctrinal position. Boaz knew it would cost FFOZ much of its income and might even result in the organization collapsing completely. Thank Hashem that the latter did not occur, but many sacrifices had to be made. Sadly, to this day, Boaz and his group continue to be severely criticized and harangued by their detractors as a consequence.

That’s the price of integrity and following God where He calls you to go. That’s also part of the ongoing struggle of understanding God through His Word and maturing as people of Spirit and of faith.

ancient-sail-boatI tried to get Pastor Randy to say that you can have a room full of people with equal intelligence, equal qualifications, all people of good character, and they could still disagree with each other on what parts of the Bible mean, but he wouldn’t go for it. He said that we’re all human and we’re all capable, not just of making mistakes, but of following our own human desires. We all can and do sin.

Does that mean there is only one right person (or close-knit group of people) who understands the Bible correctly and it is because he or she is the best person morally and ethically that their understanding is right? Does that mean all of this person’s critics are liars and haters who purposely want to bring the “right” person down in order to elevate their own agendas?

I don’t think it’s that simple. I think that you can gather a group of people together who are of good will and intent who will disagree. Sure, some of the people in that room will be liars and haters, but they should be easily spotted by their lack of integrity and good character (their fruits) in how they treat others and how they walk with God. Even the best of us can allow our personal, pet theories and biases affect our judgment. We all want to be right and to be admired and respected.

But at the end of the day, the best of us (and I’m hardly saying I’m among the best) will put all that aside, suck it up, and make the hard call, even if it costs them, because that’s just what God’s true servants do. Once we realize that the evidence is solid about some piece of scripture, even if it’s not what we want it to mean, we’ll go forward and accept it and embrace it, because that’s part of who we are if we are disciples of our Master. We’ll also continue to study, to learn, and to mature, because God continually breathes in us.

For a ninety minute conversation, last night’s talk with Pastor Randy inspired a lot in me that I could write about…and maybe I will, but I won’t try to cram it all into a single “meditation” today.

But I do want to be a sail. And I do want to be available to the wind. And I do want to let my sail conform to the wind, to the shape it causes me to manifest, to the direction it drives me, toward the destination to which it guides me.

I don’t know yet what distant and alien shore God has planned for my future, but I can feel His hand on me. Do I have the integrity and courage to let Him take me where He wants me to go? I hope so. I pray to possess those qualities that I may serve Him…even in something as “simple” as reading the Bible.

Pastor will be out of the country for the rest of April so naturally, we won’t be meeting each Wednesday evening for the next several weeks. We’ll revisit Lancaster’s Galatians next month and reformulate our study plan for the book…I promise.

In the meantime, I’ll try to continue writing in the spirit of what my Pastor, and ultimately God, provokes in my mind and heart, and move forward with integrity and purpose. Unfurling my sail and setting my course for uncharted seas as the wind sends me forth.

Missing Author

empty-bibleWho wrote the Torah? Most people you ask — depending on your circle of friends — will answer, “A group of very wise men got together and wrote it.” For the past 3,300 years the Jewish people have lived with the consciousness that the Almighty dictated the Torah to Moses who wrote it down word for word, letter by letter. Every Torah-educated Orthodox Jew believes that. Are they fools, fantasizers, misguided religious fanatics?

It will surprise some people to know that for the past 3,300 the Jewish people have taught their children the evidence for the belief that there is a God and that He dictated the Torah to Moses. Actually, I am sure that for the first hundred or two hundred years after the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai the authorship of the Torah was not even a question. For generations all a Jewish child had to do was to ask his father if he was at Mt. Sinai or if his father or grandfather was there. Even Moses himself tells all generations to “Go and ask … has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking … as you have heard and survived?” (Deuteronomy 4:32-35).

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vaeira

This post may trouble some readers. It really shouldn’t. Religious leaders in some circles have sought to suppress the overwhelming evidence that something like the Documentary Hypothesis is true. Attacks against this idea usually claim that those who believe this theory simply disbelieve God. Such attacks also tend to refer to Julius Wellhausen and his views, which actually do not represent what is essential about the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis (DH) has many forms and is better known as JEDP. In my opinion, the best developed understanding of the DH is found in Richard Friedman’s work, including the very readable Who Wrote the Bible? (which was a bestseller).

-Derek Leman
“Exodus 6:2-3 and the Documentary Hypothesis”
Messianic Jewish Musings

I haven’t revisited this topic in a long time and even after I read Derek’s blog post, I was determined not to regurgitate it again from the murky depths so that it could come back up into the cold light of day. Then I read Rabbi Packouz and I was reminded that there is a fair distance between the stories we tell ourselves about the Bible and the story that the Bible tells us about itself (I know these gentlemen are specifically discussing the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, but I’m choosing to expand the discussion to the Bible as a whole).

I don’t mean the story the Bible tells in the actual text, but the history and evolution of the creation of the Bible as we have it today. I’m no scholar, but even I’ve read enough to realize that the Bible has lots and lots of warts, bruises, wrinkles, and other imperfections. No reliable and trustworthy Bible scholar would suggest that God literally dictated the Bible word-for-word to its various human authors.

So where is God in the Bible? No I don’t mean where is God mentioned, but is there anything of God in the actual composition of the Bible? Or is the Bible just the stories we tell ourselves about it? Frankly, we have told ourselves some pretty interesting stories about the Bible.

One way to establish and support an acceptance of Talmudic interpretation and judgment relative to Torah for post-Second Temple Judaism is to project the values and even the “reality” of Talmud (and later, Kabbalah) not only forward in time but backward. Peering at the Patriarchs through this lens, we can indeed “see” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob studying Torah and Talmud in the study house of Shem when by historical knowledge and a plain reading of the Torah, such events seem very unlikely to have actually taken place.

-from my blog post:
The Rabbinization of Abraham

study-in-the-darkI periodically wrestle with this issue. Back on my previous blog, I wrote such articles as Reading the Bible in the Dark, The Bible is a Mystery Novel, and Who to Believe. I manage to “tame” the questions and conundrums by reading the Bible as if it were a series of Chassidic, or in my case, Messianic Tales. Maybe that’s the only way to make sense of the Bible, and especially the Gospels.

He read the Gospels in German. Then he obtained a Hebrew version and reread them. Though he was in the midst of a Gentile, Christian city where Jesus was worshiped in churches and honored in every home, Feivel felt the Gospels belonged more to him and the Chasidic world than they did to the Gentiles who revered them. He found the Gospels to be thoroughly Jewish and conceptually similar to Chasidic Judaism. He wondered how Gentile Christians could hope to comprehend Yeshua (Jesus) and His words without the benefit of a classical Jewish education or experience with the esoteric works of the Chasidim.

Taken from Jorge Quinonez:
“Paul Philip Levertoff: Pioneering Hebrew-Christian Scholar and Leader”
Mishkan 37 (2002): 21-34
as quoted from Love and the Messianic Age

But this presents a problem. During last Sunday’s sermon, Pastor said (I don’t have my notes with me, so what I’m about to write isn’t an entirely accurate quote) that the only way to show an unbeliever how to encounter God and come to faith in the Father through Jesus Christ is by reading and using scripture.

Um…whoa. Waitaminute.

Given everything I’ve said above, plus Derek’s commentary, plus just a boatload of Biblical scholars , scripture is not and cannot be the literally dictated words of the God of Heaven as whispered into the little, shell-like ears of the prophets and other writers of the books of the Bible.

In fact, I’m hard-pressed to tell you what the Bible is and who actually wrote it. Even portions of the New Testament weren’t in all likelihood, written by the people whose names are attached to them. Not all of the epistles written by Paul? Probably not. Did the Apostle John who (supposedly) wrote the Gospel of John also write Revelation?

Once you stop taking the Bible for granted, a lot of new territory opens up in front of you…in front of me.

In defense of the Bible (the Torah actually), Rabbi Packouz has this to say:

Perhaps the most powerful example is Shmitah (the Sabbatical year for the land). Modern agriculture science has taught us the value of letting the land rest and replenish itself. A sensible law would be to divide the Land of Israel into 7 regions and each year let one region lie fallow while people eat from the crops of the other 6 regions. However, that’s not the law of the Torah! The Torah writes, “For six years you may plant your fields … but the seventh year is the Sabbath of the land in which you may not plant your fields nor prune your vineyards (Leviticus 25:36).

The WHOLE land is to rest all at the same time! What happens to an agrarian society that stops farming for one year? Starvation! And how long does a religion last that advocates letting the whole land rest in the 7th year? My guess … about 6 years!

Perhaps they could avoid starvation by buying food from surrounding countries? A good idea and a reasonable idea … but the Torah has other plans. The Almighty says, “I have commanded My blessing to you in the sixth year and you will have produce for three years” (Leviticus 25:20-22).

Either one has to be God to have the “audacity” to make a law for the whole land to rest and then to promise a bounty crop 3 times as large as usual in the sixth year — or a stark raving mad lunatic!

Yet, the Jewish people neither starved nor abandoned the Torah! 3,300 years later a sizable portion of our people still adhere to the laws of Torah and still trust in the promises of the Almighty!

How could any human being promise in writing something that requires powers totally beyond his control?

And furthermore, why would anyone be willing to risk his own credibility and the legitimacy of his religion, when it would be easier to present a more rational solution and avoid the credibility issues.

Going to GodCan we accept that somewhere in the pages of the Bible we might actually be able to encounter the Divine? If so, where and how (apart from Shmitah)? If we can’t take the Bible as literally, page-by-page, the Word of God, then what do we consider it? If God is in there somewhere, then is it an intellectual and scholarly race to discover the secret location of the well of God’s Spirit?

Derek Leman seems to think that it’s possible to have a very questioning view of the Bible and yet still have faith:

People get from their religious background the idea that “Moses wrote all” or “Moses wrote almost all” of the Torah. For example, people will say “Moses wrote Genesis.”

This is complicated by things like Yeshua referring to “Moses and the prophets.” People take this to mean that Yeshua, who they suppose was omniscient during his earthly sojourn (but he was not) affirmed that Moses wrote all of Gen-Deut. He did not. His references to Moses actually writing all concern commandments, not narratives. With Moses as the originator of the commandments (or original vessel through whom they were revealed), all the five books are called “of Moses” but this need not mean authorship.

Anyway, because some of the earliest people to doubt Moses as the final author of Torah were skeptics, it is common for people to think anyone with a more complicated view than “Moses wrote it” are doing so because of a small faith or a lack of faith or a dislike of faith.

But I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation of how other people do it. I only have how I do it and my “method” requires usually suspending disbelief for the sake of faith. I have encountered God before, so in an extraordinarily subjective way, I know He is real, He is alive, and He is God. I’m not going through the crisis of faith I had when I first faced this particular realization, but I do allow myself to periodically become aware of just how fragile a knowledge of God is if based solely on the Bible. On the other hand (and I’ve alluded to this already), basing knowledge of God solely on our experiences with the Holy Spirit can be just as hazardous, because most human beings have very little ability to tell the difference between an emotional experience and a spiritual one (barring the occasional saint or tzaddik).

I may not be able to take everything I read in the Bible and everything that Christianity and Judaism says about those events as actual, factual events (though some of them probably are), but I can still take what I read and what I study and try to apply them so that I can learn to live a better life.

The Patriarch Abraham was tested (by God) ten times and withstood them all. This proves Abraham’s great love for God.

-Ethics of the Fathers 5:3

Abraham was tested with ten trials of progressively increasing severity, ultimately culminating in the test of sacrificing his beloved son Isaac if God so willed.

Abraham successfully passed all the tests. Still, while he did demonstrate his intense loyalty and devotion to God, how did it prove his love for God?

In yesterday’s message we learned that God does not challenge people beyond their capacities. It follows, then, that as they advance in spiritual growth and strength, they actually render themselves vulnerable to trials of greater intensity. In the course of his many trials, Abraham detected this pattern. He could have logically decided to avoid any further spiritual progression, because it might subject him to even greater ordeals than those he had already sustained.

Abraham decided otherwise. He desired so much to come closer to God that he was willing to pay any price. Thus, when he was put to the ultimate task – to sacrifice Isaac – Abraham was not taken aback. He had fully anticipated such an eventuality.

We are not of the mettle of Abraham, and we pray every day, “Do not put us to test.” While we indeed wish to advance spiritually, we ask to be spared the distress of trial. Yet, should we experience adversity in life, we would do well to realize that this may be a testimony to our spiritual strength.

looking-upToday I shall…

try to advance myself spiritually. Although I pray to be spared from distress, I will try not to recoil if adversity does occur.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 26”

Thomas Gray once penned the famous words, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise” (in the poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” 1742). I suppose many “Bible-believing Christians” feel very blissful as long as they don’t consider the rather troubling questions I’m bringing up this morning. On the other hand, once the “bliss bubble” is popped, then we can only face the painful trial of reality, if not the wisdom, of whatever we have left.

Chances are, Abraham never faced the ten challenges, at least as we see chronicled in Pirkei Avot (but not the Bible). Chances are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never studied Torah in the academies of Shem and Eber as we learn from the Talmud. Maybe the only place we really encounter God is in our prayers. Or maybe we encounter God everyday, as long as we continue to seek Him.

According to Gedaliah Nigal’s book The Hasidic Tale, some of the goals of the hasidic story are to “rouse its hearers into action for the service of God” and to win “adherents, among them some outstanding individuals, to hasidim.” In relation to this, I’ve said:

The “Chasidim” of Jesus also made sure the stories of their Master were passed on from generation to generation, eventually being recorded and passed on to the future…to us.

Paul Philip Levertoff thought that the teachings of Jesus read like a collection of Chasdic tales. Perhaps as Gentile Christians reading tales of the Chasidim, we can also find a connection to the Messiah, the Prophet, and the greatest Tzadik, whose own death atoned for not just a few, but for all.

Having gone through all this again, I feel reassured.