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“And God spoke all these words, saying
‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you
out of the land of Egypt . . . ‘”
These majestic words open the Tables of the Law, received by Moses amid thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai. In Jewish tradition the first commandment is: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” In the Catholic and Protestant traditions the first commandment is: “I am the LORD your God . . . you shall have no other gods before me.” The division followed here is the one generally used by Protestants. The substance is the same, and the gist is love: love of God in the first four commandments, love of man in the rest, each complementing the other, as they do throughout Bible tradition.
I am the LORD your God . . . you shall have no other gods before me. “To have other gods is idolatry, and that is the blanket sin. It is the term that covers all evil. Every kind of sin that man can commit boils down to idolatry because he is putting something before God Who is the only presence and the only power.”
Emmet Fox, The Ten Commandments:
The Master Key to Life (1953)
You shall not make for yourself a graven image. “Why have you forsaken heaven to pay honor to earth? For what else is gold, or silver, or steel, or iron, or bronze, or ivory, or precious stones? Are they not earth, and made from earth? . . . Why then, vain and foolish men – once again I will ask the question – did you blaspheme highest heaven and drag down piety to the ground by fashioning for yourselves gods of earth? . . . Your statue is gold, it is wood; it is stone; or if in thought you trace it to its origin, it is earth, which has received form at the artist’s hands. But my practice is to walk upon earth, not to worship it. For I hold it sin ever to entrust the hopes of the soul to soulless things.”
Clement of Alexandra (3rd century)
Exhortation to the Greeks
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. “O dear God, this commandment reminds me . . . how You have poured Your holy Name into my soul and mind. Yes, out of Your Name has it sprung, and You have given me authority to rule over all things with Your Name so that out of my mouth by Your power it is to flow forth and rule all things. Yes, I was to form and fashion holy figures and images with my mouth and expression . . . You have given Your Word with Your holy Name into my soul and mind so that I, as a form and image of Your will, am to express Your wondrous works also. What You, O great God, have formed bodily and creaturely through Your Word, I was to form spiritually for Your praise and fashion it within Your wisdom, and not to form in my mouth a strange image contrary to Your creation and order.”
The Way to Christ 1624
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. “God has commanded us to abstain from work and to rest on the Sabbath for two reasons. First, by doing so we affirm the true belief in the creation of the universe. This belief leads us immediately and unequivocally to a belief in God’s existence. Second, the Sabbath reminds us of God’s mercies over us. After all, He freed us from the slavery and oppression of Egypt and gave us a day of rest. The Sabbath is, therefore, a double blessing for us. It implants correct notions in our minds and it promotes our physical welfare.”
Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed
Honor your father and your mother. “Some Commandments prescribe good acts, whereas others forbid evil acts. And we should realize that it is within our power to avoid evil, but we cannot do good to everyone. So St. Augustine tells us that we should love all, although we are not obliged to do good to all. But among those to whom we are obliged to do good are those in any way united to us. . . . Now, there are no closer relatives to us than our father and mother. ‘We ought to love God first,’ states St. Ambrose, ‘then our father and mother.’ . . .Moreover, because in our childhood we receive food from our parents, in their old age we should support them. . . . For the humiliation of those who act otherwise, Cassiodorus tells how young storks whose parents have lost their feathers by the onslaught of old age and cannot find suitable food, make the parent storks comfortable with their own feathers, bringing them food for their tired bodies. ‘And so by this affectionate exchange the young ones repay their parents for what they received when young.’”
Sermon on the Ten Commandments
You shall not kill. “Some scholars have translated the verb as ‘you shall not murder.’ That is, what is banned is not all forms of killing (such as the death penalty for certain crimes, or involvement in war), but the unnecessary taking of life out of anger or greed. . . . Jesus extended the sixth commandment to include feelings of anger, verbal abuse of another person, or derogatory name-calling (Matthew 5:21-26).”
Victor P. Hamilton
Handbook on the Pentateuch (1982)
You shall not commit adultery. “Adultery is the smashing of a rare and mystical thing, a unity, a oneness between two people who have become one because of something which God made them to be capable of having together, which had the original purpose of making two people one. . . . You are not to be unfaithful to God; and as you come together as couples you are not to be unfaithful to each other.”
Edith Schaeffer (1982)
Lifelines: The Ten Commandments for Today
You shall not steal. “Stealing is a double sin. It is a sin against God, for it accuses him of not giving adequately, and it is a sin against love, for it is a denial of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. At the same time, it is very often a condemnation of the one stolen from, for he has not met the need of another from his abundance. We need to balance this command with, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18).”
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbor’s good name . . . This forbids speaking falsely on any matter, lying, equivocating . . . slandering, back-biting, and tale-bearing, aggravating what is done amiss, and making it worse than it is, and any way endeavoring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbor’s. All these, however they may be called, are among the violations of this commandment. They are an abuse of our own gift of speech; abuse of the confidence of those we address; and generally, one way or another, are injurious to our neighbors, therefore are condemned in the word of God. Words cannot express how much this commandment is every day transgressed in almost all companies and amongst persons of all characters.”
Matthew Henry and Thomas Scott
Commentary on the Holy Bible (1710)
You shall not covet. “There is one attitude . . . that destroys the inner connection of the community even when it does not transform itself into actual action; and which indeed, precisely on account of its passive or semi passive persistence, may become a consuming disease of a special kind in the body politic. This is the attitude of envy. The prohibition of ‘covetousness’ . . . is to be understood as a prohibition of envy. The point here is not merely a feeling of the heart but an attitude of one man to another that leads to a decomposition of the very tissues of society.”
Martin Buber, “The Words on the Tablets”
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Many readers of the Bible treat its genealogical lists as despised regions, and wonder why they form part of a divine revelation such as the Bible is. At first glance, there seems to be no point or profit in the bare enumeration of the names of men who died thousands of years ago.
Yet because the Bible is the inspired Word of God, even these uninteresting lists of names were written for our learning, and if properly studied they yield remarkable results. Many of these names describe nations, as well as men, and have therefore a priceless historical value.
Consulting them, we find they often show the course taken by men in their settlement over the earth. Ancient Hebrew names, which at first sight might appear unattractive, and are passed over as unworthy of serious thought, have something about them which compels our prayerful consideration. In many cases Bible names are fragments of ancient history, revelations of divine purposes, expressions of hopes and prophecies of the future.
Every Jew kept a record of his lineage and was proud if he could claim royal or priestly descent. Joseph, for example, could boast of himself as “a son of David.” The genealogical lists of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Matthew, and Luke, containing the majority of named men, prove how meticulous the Jews were in the preservation of their pedigree. It was common in almost every Jewish family to transcribe a family tree.
Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived in the time of our Lord tells us that he could trace his ancestry back to the Maccabeans, or priest-rulers, from public registers. He also states that wherever Jews settled such registers were kept of births and marriages of the priesthood, and that registers went back some two thousand years. That the Israelites were most interested in the preservation of their pedigree can be proven by 1 Corinthians 9:1. The forfeit of those tribes who had lost their pedigree is seen in Ezra 2:59 and Nehemiah 7:63.
Truth taught by names is another important aspect to observe. The significance of names opens up a field of pleasant and profitable investigation to all true lovers of Scripture. While many of the names may not have been designed to be typical, they are certainly suggestive of spiritual truth, as can be seen in the names Jacob gave his sons.
In ancient Israel the name of a person was supposed to indicate some characteristic of that person, or be linked to circumstances, however trivial or monotonous, connected with his birth. names and nature as well as names and facts, were made to correspond, as can be found in the name Moses gave his son (Exodus 2:22), and the naming of Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21).
Names denote natural or personal qualities
A classic illustration of this is Abigail’s plea to David for her worthless husband: “ . . .as his name is, so is he?: Nabal is his name and folly is with him” (1 Samuel 25:25). Nabal means “fool.” In effect then, Abigail said, “Pay no attention to my husband. He’s a fool by name, and a fool by nature.”
Names point to an occupation
there are many instances of these occupational names: Archippus, “governor of horses”; Asa, “physician”; Carmi, “vine-dresser.”
Names bear a symbolic or prophetic feature
An instance of this is seen in the name Shear-jashub, “a remnant shall return” (Isaiah 7:3). Maher-shalal-hash-baz, one of the longest names in the Bible, means “Haste ye, haste ye, to the spoil” (Isaiah 8:1).
Names are fixed immediately after birth
In the choice of a name for a child, the mother usually exercised such a privilege (Genesis 19:37; 29:32). Sometimes, however, the father chose the name (Genesis 4:26; 16:15). Occasionally other interested persons came forward with a name (Ruth 4:17; Luke 1:57-63). John the Baptist and Christ had names divinely given before their birth (Luke 1:13; Matthew 1:21).
Names are bestowed indifferently on men and women
Now and again a man and a woman bear the same name, for example, Abihail (Esther 2:15; 1 Chronicles 2:29). Then persons and places have the same name. Did you know that Eden is the name of a man as well as the garden where Adam first lived, and that Bethlehem is the name of a person as well as the town where Jesus was born?
Names are connected with family relationships
A few names are taken from relatives (Luke 1:59). Ahab means “father’s brother”; Ahban, “brother is son”; Ahiam, “maternal uncle.” Ab means “father,” so we have many names beginning with these letters, such as Abimelech (“whose father is king”).
Names carry a religious relationship or significance
Sometimes a name expressed some hope or aspiration on the part of parents, as in John, meaning, “gracious gift of God.” Other names (such as Samuel, meaning “God hath heard”) were conceived in the spirit of prayer because they expressed religious expectation on behalf of the child. This name marks the fact that the child was born in answer to prayer.
Ancient peoples fashioned names out of the names of their gods, proved in Pan-Bel-adagal, meaning “I look to Bel,” and in other heathen names in which gods are invoked. This also characterizes many Hebrew names into which the idea of God enters freely. The divine name El, meaning “God,” is incorporated within many proper names of persons, as in Israel or Eliakim. The same is true of names containing Jah, or Jeho, as in Jahaziah and Jehoiakim. Other names extol divine sovereignty, as in Adonijah, meaning, “Jehovah is Lord.”
Names are changed by God’s direct intervention
Many names were not only given by god but changed by His direction: Abram to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah; Jacob to Israel; Oshea to Joshua.
Names deemed important had an acute consciousness of meaning
This fact is borne out in such names as Reuben, “see, a son”; Judah, “praise”; Joseph, “he adds.” At times, given names reflect the characteristics of the parents, which the children inherited. Weak, indecisive parents were likely to coin weak, indecisive names for their children who manifested character in keeping with their names.
Names are from the vegetable world
We have many instances of names of this order: Adam, “red earth”; Eliah, “oak”; Asnah, “bramble”; Shamar, “thorn.”
Names are associated with natural objects in the world
Geshem, “rain”; Barak, “lightning”; Boanerges, “sons of thunder”; Adoni-Bezek, “lightning of the Lord.”
Names are taken from the animal creation
Caleb, “dog”; Dan, “lion’s whelp”; Shaphan, “rock-badger”; Achbor, “mouse”; Parosh, “flea.”
Names, separate or double, of the same person are frequent
Some examples are: “Saul who is called Paul,” “Simon Barjonas,” “Simon Zelotes,” “Judas Iscarot.” Alongside of these double names we have those men who carry a distinguished and honorable surname.
By “surname” is meant an additional name – a name to be distinguished from the “Christian” name, the name over and above, a sur- or super-name. As surnames, as we presently knew them, were unknown among the Hebrews, the word is used in the Bible simply means the bestowal of a flattering or honorable title. Foreigners, envious of the privileges of the Jews, were eager to surname themselves by the name of Israel, that is, be enrolled as members of the Jewish nation (Isaiah 44:5). God surnamed Cyrus, meaning, that He gave him the honored title of “my shepherd,” thereby appointing him to be His instrument for the restoration of His people (Isaiah 44:28).
In the New Testament the custom of bestowing this kind of surname was becoming more widespread, for example, Simon surnamed Peter (Acts 10:5, 32); James and John surnamed Boanerges (Mark 3:17); Judas surnamed Iscariot (Luke 22:3).
Then we have names to which labels are attached indicating work or worth such as Elijah the Tishbite, Nehemiah the king’s cupbearer, John the Baptist, James the Lord’s brother and Luke the beloved physician.
When some of these persons experienced a changed life, why permit them to carry an appendage so suggestive of the old, worthless life? If Mary Magdalene was no longer demon-possessed, why continue to write of her, “out of whom went seven devils”? It may be that the wearers of some of these labels carried them so as not to forget the past. They were not to forget the pit from whence they had been digged (Isaiah 51:1). Perhaps they were retained that those who bore them might maintain a fitting humility.
The Treasure of a Name
How true it was when Solomon declared that “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1). A name is not only a person’s most prominent feature to others, but his greatest treasure. The old Roman proverb states, “without a name a man is nothing.” Because “a good name is better than precious ointment” (Ecclesiastes 7:1), all who bear good names should pray for grace to live in harmony with them.
The Abiding Influence of Bible Names
Do we realize the tremendous influence of the Bible on our surnames and Christian names? It is reckoned that more than half the people of the civilized world have names originating from the Bible’s vast collection.
With the publication of the Genevan Bible in 1560, the adoption of Bible names became popular. The common people, now interested in Biblical characters, had a long list of names from which to choose, and baptismal registers became records of Bible names. Elsdon c. Smith tells us that about the only Old Testament names used with any frequency before the Protestant reformation were Adam, Elias, Samson, David, Solomon, Daniel, Joseph and Benjamin. After the reformation the type of name changed. Because of the Puritan hatred of roman Catholicism saints’ names were avoided. Names like Elijah, Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Nathaniel became popular. English names not in the Bible were rejected as pagan. Even the longest name in the Bible, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, was often used.
Today many of our most frequently used Christian names and surnames are traceable directly to the Bible, particularly to the New Testament. Over a century ago Old Testament names were more prominent. Now John for a boy and Mary for a girl hold the lead.
Lot’s Daughters: (Genesis 19)
As they hid in a cave somewhere in the wilderness near the Dead Sea, Lot and his daughters were the only survivors of God’s rampage through the streets of sinful, sinful Sodom. Suspecting that they were the last people left on earth, and unwilling to die alone and childless, Lot’s crafty lot got their father drunk and then had their way with him, making the the previously righteous figure his own son-in-law and his two sons’ father also grandfather and uncle at the same time.
While this probably made Lot family reunions a tad more interesting, sadly the details are lost in the mists of time. As for the kids, though, they did pretty all right for themselves. Lot’s sons grew up to be the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites, two very powerful tribes of the highland region east of the Jordan River.
Jacob’s Women: (Genesis 29-30)
The story of Jacob, grandson of Abraham starts off when Jacob had to flee to his uncle’s place after royally screwing his brother Esau in an inheritance swindle. Safe in the warmth of his uncle’s home, he fell in love with his cousin Rachel, and married her, but not before his uncle Laban duped him into marrying Rachel’s sister Leah as well. For the privilege of all this cousin-marrying, Jacob had to work 14 years.
More chaos ensued when Rachel, the beloved wife, was barren while her sister, Leah, (to whom Jacob was presumably relatively indifferent) produced kids with alarming regularity. Not to be outdone, Rachel gave her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a concubine, taking the kids produced as her own. Leah upped the ante by giving the probably exhausted Jacob her servant, Zilpah. All told the competitive five-some produced 13 children, 12 of which became the ancestors of Isrealite tribes and the last of whom had the poor taste to be born a girl.
Dinah’s Brothers Get Overprotective: (Genesis 34)
Dinah was the only daughter of the extraordinarily fertile Jacob. One day while her family was camped outside the town of Shechem, Dinah went to get some water and had a run-in with a local prince. Whether she ran off with him willingly or was raped by him is unclear, but her 11 older brothers (the 12th, Joseph, was by this time in Egypt) had a rather dim view of such goings-on.
After convincing the prince’s buddies that circumcision was a great idea, Dinah’s older brothers slaughtered the lot of them while they were recuperating from their ordeal. Dinah’s ultimate fate has gone unrecorded.
Tamar Tricks Judah: (Genesis 38)
Another of Jacob’s kids, Judah, married off his oldest son, Er, to a woman named Tamar. Er, who was “wicked in the eyes of the Lord,” ended up dying young. The custom of the time (codified into law later in the Bible) was that the next oldest brother should “go in unto his widow, and the child from that union would carry on the line of the dead man. Judah’s second son, Onan, wasn’t exactly up to the challenge, however. Unwilling to fulfill his obligation to his brother, Onan instead “spilled his seed on the ground” (hence “onanism,” or masterbation.
For the sin of refusing his brotherly obligation, Onan too met an untimely end. So, what was a proud parent (albeit an embarrassed one at this point) to do? Unwilling to risk his youngest son’s life, Judah sent tamar home to her folks. But Tamar one-upped Jacob. Disguising herself as a prostitute, she tricked her father-in-law into performing the neglected duty himself. In fact she bore him two sons, one of whom, Perez, was an ancestor of King David.
Bathsheba Nonchalantly goes Skinny-dipping in Plain Sight of the Royal Palace: (2 Samuel 11)
One day King David glanced out his window and just happened to see a beautiful, completely naked woman taking a bath on a rooftop. She had no idea that David was going to be watching, but he was immediately smitten. Just one problem: the woman, Bathsheba, was already married to a Hittite mercenary named Uriah. In one of David’s less than stellar moments, he conspired to have Uriah moved too close to enemy lines and, with her husband out of the way, rushed to the altar with Bathsheba. Good thing too, as it was just in time for her first son by him to be born.
In an episode that is part tragic, part comic, and all shocking, the prophet Nathan exposed the adulterous union before the court. And though David and Bathsheba’s first son died, their story takes an upswing as David and Bathsheba’s second son eventually became King Solomon.