Beer and Wine: The Bible’s Counsel

I’ve been asked about the „strong drinks” in the Bible, especially the strange text in Deuteronomy 14:26. I did a research, forwarded the answer, and yet I found this article, very explanatory and authoritative. A study of the biblical passages dealing with alcohol, author William H. Shea. Reprinted from Signs of the Times, November 1988. Published on Biblical Research Institute’s website.

Doesn’t the Bible refer in a number of places to wine and strong drink? Don’t we quite often find people drinking alcohol in the Bible? Can’t we assume, then, that Scripture generally does not condemn drinking alcoholic beverages?

It’s true that we often find people drinking alcohol in the Bible and that Scripture speaks of alcoholic beverages, but we need to be careful not to read too much into a superficial look at such texts. When our English Old Testaments refer to alcohol, they generally use the words wine or strong drink. So any examination of the Old Testament’s attitude toward alcohol must take into account the different Hebrew words translated into these two English terms.

The term strong drink presents no major translation problems because only one Hebrew word, shekar, lies behind it. But even so, the translation strong drink is more general than it ought to be. Modern readers may well think of strong drink as distilled liquor. But that is not what the Bible means by the term shekar. Since the process of distilling alcohol did not develop until around A.D. 500, the strongest alcoholic beverage people could make in Bible times contained only 14 percent alcohol by volume, approximately the maximum produced by natural fermentation. This fact tells us that the scriptural term strong drink certainly gives us no license to drink what we know today as hard liquor.

If distilled alcohol is not what the Bible means by shekar, what does it mean?

Here is where ancient languages related to Hebrew can be helpful. Documents written in cuneiform script on clay tablets tell us that the Babylonians had an alcoholic beverage they called shikaru. (Notice how similar this Babylonian word is to the Hebrew shekar. It is actually the same word in two related Semitic languages.) Some of these clay tablets tell how shikaru was made so we can easily determine what beverage they are describing. From grain, the Babylonians made a mash which was allowed to ferment. In other words, these tablets that speak about making shikaru are talking about making beer! Since the Bible texts that use the word shekar are referring to the same drink, they are talking about beer as well.

This is something extremely relevant to our modern society. Here are Bible texts talking about beerthe beverage that is so widely advertized on American TV and that is so widely consumed by the American public.

And what view does the Bible take of this beverage? A very dim and negative view indeed. Of 21 Old Testament texts that mention shekar (beer), 19 strongly condemn it. The other two texts present special cases (we’ll discuss one of these later). The New Testament mentions this same beverage only once and prohibits its use by John the Baptist as he grew up.

To give something of the picture these 19 Old Testament texts convey, let’s look at what some of them say about shekar: Leviticus 10:9 prohibits its use by a priest in ministry; Numbers 6:2, 3 forbids Nazarites from drinking it; in Judges 13:3, 4 an angel warns Samson’s mother-to-be not to drink it during her pregnancy; in Deuteronomy 29:5, 6 God tells the Israelites that He did not provide this drink for them in their wilderness wanderings.

There is also the interesting story of Hannah. She went to the tabernacle at Shiloh and prayed so earnestly about the fact that she was childless that the priest accused her of being drunk with shekar. This she denied. See 1 Samuel 1:15.

The prophets of Judah in the eighth century B.C. were especially vigorous in their condemnation of strong drink, or beer. Isaiah mentions it eight times, and each reference is strongly negative. He pronounces a woe upon those who drink it (Isa 5:11) and notes that it would not bring mirth when God cursed the land (Isa 24:9). He points out that beer causes staggering (Isa 29:9) and that false priests and prophets were two groups who especially staggered from its effects (Isa 28:7). The prophet Micah noted that the people wanted precisely this kind of leaderone who would approve of its use (Mic 2:11). Proverbs 20:1 speaks of rage and brawling as two of its side effects.

Thus we see an almost universal condemnation of beer in the Old Testament. But what about Deuteronomy 14:22-28? This text doesn’t seem to fit the pattern; it seems to indicate that Israelites could actually pay part of their tithe in beer! Some have seen in this a modern license for beer-drinking.

First, we should carefully note that Deuteronomy 14 is dealing with a special use under special circumstances. The chapter takes up the subject of the tithe in verses 22 and 23. In a later section, it speaks about what might be called „delayed tithe.” It is here that beer occurs as part of the „delayed tithe.”

What is all this talking about?

Deuteronomy 14 identifies the tithe as certain foods and drinks that the Israelite was to take to the sanctuary located centrally in the nation. When the tithe was paid regularly and on time, the products offered were to include newborn lambs and calves, freshly pressed oil, new unfermented wine or grape juice (tirosh), and grain. All these were fresh products that came from the harvest of the new agricultural year.

But what was the Israelite to do if for some reason he couldn’t get to the sanctuary with these fresh products? He was to make a substitution, and it is this substitution that verses 24-26 describe.

Verse 24 presents the problem: that of an Israelite who was not able to get to the sanctuary on time. Verse 25 presents the intermediate solution: he was to convert his tithe into silver and retain the money until he was able to go to the sanctuary. Verse 26 gives the final step in presenting the delayed tithe. When he arrived at the sanctuary, the Israelite was to purchase some of the same agricultural products he should have brought earlier and eat the tithe meal before the Lord.

But the products he purchased for the tithe meal must be mature to show symbolically that the tithe presentation was late. Thus he did not present a lamb; he purchased a mature sheep for presentation. He did not present a calf, but a mature ox. Instead of fresh grape juice (tirosh) he presented yayin, wine that had fermented with the passing of time. And he did not present grain; he presented beer that had been made from grain. In each case, the delayed tithe meal consisted of things chosen to correspond to and show the development of the agricultural product which should have been presented originally. Although not readily apparent, this actually involved an interest penalty since the ox would cost more than a calf and the sheep more than a lamb.

Under these special circumstances, the symbolic substitution of beer for the earlier grain when presenting „delayed tithe” can by no means be taken as a license for unrestricted recreational use of beereither then or now. Especially when beer is elsewhere condemned in the Old Testament.

When we turn to the subject of wine in the Scriptures, we find two main words-tirosh which usually refers to grape juice in its unfermented state, the way it comes from the press as a new agricultural product, and yayin, a word with less clear meanings.

In 30 of the 38 references to tirosh in the Old Testament it is paired with grain and oil, or oil alone, as products of the harvest used for tithe and taxes, etc. Three texts (Mic 6:15; Isa 62:8; 65:8) refer to tirosh as the product of the grape; four texts (Prov 3:10; Joel 2:24; Mic 6:15; and Hos 9:2) speak of tirosh as produced by pressing. Only one text (Hos 4:11) suggests that tiroshmay produce intoxicationand this text may actually be referring to early fermentation or to the practice of mixing new and old (fermented) wine.

Thus tirosh appears to refer almost exclusively to unfermented wine or grape juice. But yayin, the other main word that the Bible uses for wine, clearly means fermented wine in most cases.

The Old Testament uses the word yayin some 140 times. Before dealing with specific texts, let’s get a general overview of its use in the Bible. By my count, the Bible presents yayin in a negative light 60 times; in about 60 more cases it simply mentions it without making any value judgment, and in only 17 references does it possibly say something positive about it. Thus yayin, fermented wine, is spoken of negatively much more often that it is positively.

On the negative side, first of all, are the stories in which fermented wine produces bad results. Not many (if any) historical narratives in the Old Testament mention a beneficial outcome from the use of wine, but several end disastrously: the drunkenness of Noah (Gen 9:21); Lot (Gen 19:32-35); Nabal (1 Sam 25:36, 37); Amnon (2 Sam 13:28); Belshazzar (Dan 5:1-3); and Ahasuerus (Esth 1:1-10), for example.

Isaiah (51:21); Jeremiah (23:9); Hosea (4:11; 7:5); Joel (1:5); and Habbakuk (2:15) are among the Bible prophets who point out the ill effects, both physical and moral, which intoxicating wine produces.

Proverbs 23:29-35 describes wine’s immediate physical effects (red eyes and blurred vision), its immediate social effects (strife and wounds), as well as the long-term results (woe and sorrow). Elsewhere, the book of Proverbs refers to wine as producing poverty (21:17) and violence (4:17). Isaiah adds that it deceives the mind (28:7), inflames a person, and leads to forgetfulness of God (5:11, 12).

Those texts which point to certain useful functions of wine should not be overlooked, but they should be placed in perspective. Three texts (Ps 104:15; Eccl 9:7; 10:19) mention that wine can make the heart glad and bring cheer. This indicates an awareness of the immediate physiological effects of alcohol, but these texts need to be placed along side the many other Bible statements mentioning its nonbeneficial long-term results.

Ecclesiastes 9:7 and 10:19 might superficially appear to give approval for indulging in alcohol. In a bit of ancient philosophy, Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, „Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already approved what you do.” RSV. It is a description of the author’s search for those things that bring meaning in life. This text is pointing out that man should be content with certain common duties of lifeincluding eating and drinking, even wine. However, the book ends with the author’s finding a greater good to provide meaning in lifethat man should fear God and keep His commandments. See chapter 12:13. All the other experiences in which the author tries to find meaning fade in significance beside this.

At least seven other Bible texts which appear to speak favorably of yayin do so merely by means of comparison; they are not speaking directly about wine itself. For example, the Song of Solomon uses a comparison with wine four times (1:2, 4; 4:10; and 7:9) to bring out the beloved’s beauty. Hosea 14:7 uses the fragrance of wine from Lebanon as a comparison. Proverbs 9:5, 6 uses wine figuratively in talking about the „banquet of life” that wisdom provides. Amos 9:14 and Zechariah 10:7 use the merriment that wine creates as a figure of how God’s people will rejoice at the time of His final victory.

Wine was also used as a drink offering in the temple service, just as we have seen that beer was used in the presentation of delayed tithe. These drink offerings were poured out beside the altar; they were not drunk by the priests.

Thus most of the texts which mention wine favorably actually use it figuratively in comparisons. A few speak of its immediate physiological effects. But by far the majority describe its detrimental resultssuch as wicked acts committed in connection with drinking wine. Isaiah, for example, associates wine with the taking of bribes. See Isaiah 5:22, 23. Amos combines wine with profaning sacred things. See Amos 2:8.

In summary, the writers of the Old Testament raise four indictments against drinking wine. First, they recognize its immediate adverse physical effectsredness of the eyes, blurring of vision, staggering, and drunkenness in general. Second, they recognize its long-term moral effectsvarious kinds of immoral and unethical behavior along with the social results of such actions. Third, they identify particular instances of such behavior and connect them with specific persons. Fourth, because of its effects, they prohibit certain classes and specific individuals from drinking any wine.

In contrast to this large negative picture, about the only positive images the Bible gives of alcohol are three texts that note alcohol can produce a state of levity (certainly a valid physiological observation). The Bible writers also occasionally use wine to draw some favorable comparisons in figures of speech. (Yet they also use wine to symbolize some unfavorable comparisons as well. See the „wine of wrath” in Psalm 75:8 and Jeremiah 25:15).

How then should we personally relate to alcohol in view of the overall picture given in the Old Testament? If one takes the whole picture into account and evaluates all the evidence, the most reasonable conclusion is that the only safe course is complete abstinence from alcohol in any form.

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What happened with the (first) mountain in Daniel 2?

I need some clarity on some things regarding the dream and its interpretation in Daniel 2.

Is the prophecy symbolic or literal? If it’s literal, yes, we have historically records to prove that these kingdoms actually existed. As the v. 45 says „the dream is certain, and the interpretation is sure”. However, if its symbolic then it’s fair to say that the mountain where the stone came from, must have a meaning, because in v. 35 it says that „the stone grew and became a great mountain and it filled the whole earth”. So, what happened to the first mountain where the stone was cut off from? Would it be fair to say it disappeared? Maybe the prophecy is both symbolic and literal…

What’s your views on that?

Thank you.

 

Thank you for the question(s). First, let me review the dream and its basic features, so that we can somehow see if it is symbolic or literal.

As we will see below, the dream is symbolic, and its interpretation has very concrete application. Let me start with the interpretation… While Daniel thanks the Lord for giving him the interpretation, he says that God “changes times and seasons, he removes kings and sets up kings” (v. 21). The vision is then about kings! Are they literal? Of course.

When Daniel is presented before the king, he tells Nebuchadnezzar that God has shown the king “what will be in the latter days” (v. 28). The worries the king had had were also about… “what would be after this” (v. 29), that is after his reign. Inevitably, the king meditated and maybe worried about the next king or even the kingdom to follow his reign.

Now, the dream is built around an image. This is of course a symbol. No one makes a statue of 4 different metals and with its feet of… clay! Whatever was symbolic in the dream, now turns to some historical application. I say “some” because, of course, we do not take everything. For example, there is nothing about the “neck”. There is nothing about the “two” arms or the “two” legs, although it says about arms and legs. While some people interpret even the “ten” toes, the prophecy itself does not say anything about their number (we presume the statue had ten).

When Daniel interprets inflexibly that “you [Nebuchadnezzar] are the head of gold” (v. 38), then we understand that such an application was for them in a “here and now” setting. Accordingly, the rest of the prophecy and its interpretation has to do with following kingdoms, in the future but nonetheless real. In chapter 5 we learn who followed the Babylonians – the Medo-Persians. In chapter 8:21 we learn about the kingdom of Greece, who conquered the Medo-Persia (the same is pointed out also in 10:20). To follow up, who conquered Greece? By the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Romans were the rulers of the world including Jerusalem (Luke 2:1, 3:1 or Luke 21:20, John 11:48).

Whatever would be the toes and the feet, they are not in the Bible, as the history of the Bible covers only as much as the first century of Christianity. We believe that these kingdoms, of whom Daniel says they will be divided, strong and weak, mixed in marriages, but not hold together, are those kingdoms found in the history of Europe after the fall of Rome (476 AD).

The last of the kingdoms is a stone. We believe is the reign of Jesus Christ, His kingdom, as about it we learn that it is “a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people” (v. 44). Even more, “it shall stand forever” (v. 44).

This stone is not metals (gold, silver, bronze, iron); it is not clay; this is not a mixture of metal and clay. It is stone, a completely different substance. Such a stone is taken from… stone. Cut out from a larger one, a mountain.


So, now your question is what happened to that mountain?

We don’t know. It is as simple as that.

And probably it does not have a special significance. This should not surprise or disappoint you. Remember what Daniel said about another set of visions? Read Daniel 7:1 and learn that after it all, “he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter”. Maybe even here, the “sum of the matter” did not include some details. For example, as I said before about the lack of information/interpretation of neck, two arms, two legs, let me add: it does not say anything about the clothes the statue might have had, if the arms were crossed (as some depict them) or along the body (as in some statues), if the person carried any weapon or insignia, if there were any shoes on the feet, how big was the stone, or why on the final destruction the order things is different (the “clay” is placed out of the normal order, v. 35 and v. 45).

Bear with me – the Bible does not say about what happened with the (first) mountain. About the second mountain, we are clearly told: “the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (v. 35). But only during the delivery of the interpretation, we learn that the stone was cut in the first place from a mountain (v. 45).

We do not know if that mountain was of this world or not. We presume it to be so. If it is so, then that first mountain was covered by the second. If not… then… we don’t know.

It is not to us to tell it what happened with it. The Bible says about the stone that it “was cut out by no human hand” (v. 34). The point is that it looks like having a divine origin, or at least not a human origin.. It is not the result of human efforts. May we suggest that while hitting the statue, it looks like coming from heaven? Exactly as Jesus’ kingdom. See John 18:36 – “Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.””

Do we make void the law through faith?

“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law?” (Romans 3:31, KJV)

In our theological training we were encouraged to come with our own translation/reading. For me that would be: The law, then, is nullified through the faith? No way! Instead, the law is confirmed.

As usual in Paul’s writing, he uses a lot the dialogue, either with an imaginary interlocutor or with his readers. In this case, he just goes ahead of himself, trying to meet his reader’s first idea.

We all come with prejudices when reading the Bible text, and what we know, what we were taught comes to our mind more rapidly than a disposition to get a brand new reading for an insight or a fresh idea. For us, “making void the law” would mean to take away the law and live without a law by which our deeds would be sanctioned. The Christians would call it live by grace, not by law.

As for some Christians this is the Gospel – the Good News -, for the Jews the idea was all the way despicable and even frightful since doing away with God’s law was the opening way to law’s curse – the Bad News. For some SDAs (me included), the faith Paul spoke here as the reinforcement of the (same) law as it was understood by Jews was the unfortunate way we got it and preached to others. May I regretfully say that the Jews were bad without Jesus. While we, as Christians and Adventists, having Jesus, are worse when we emphasize the law without Christ…

For Paul, instead, it is a remembrance of his own history – and we can read it in between the lines. We know how he persecuted the Christians due to his perceiving that they were blaspheming the truth of God, law being included. Later he became one of them, unfortunately not rightly understood by his fellow Jews – read for example the cry against him „Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law…” (Acts 21:28).

The immediate thought following Paul’s reasoning of v. 21-30, introduced by „then” (as a conclusion) is that faith nullifies the law. So, being one step ahead, Paul already has thought about it. He dares to ask it before someone else does. Thus he not only shows he is not taken by surprise, but, again, courageously addresses what would be his opponents’ most impressive and logical argument.

The answer he gives in the first place is not the explanation, but just meeting the question. As he answers „no way” is obvious that, if anyone understood it as a positive assertion, it’s all the way wrong. His first answer ranges (may be translated) from „not at all” or „far from it”, to „no way” and „impossible”, to „God forbid” (or even „sorry, but you didn’t get it”).

The sequence of question and answer seems logical, although we are disturbed by the negative answer. And then comes the real question: how is that possible? How is it possible to be considered righteous without the law? How can we establish, confirm, stand by the law when we go by faith? Are they not fighting with each other, are they not something like “either or”?

The answer comes by the next paragraphs, when, quoting not the law, but instead the history of his people and the psalms, Paul finds and extracts the same meaning. Checking with their most appreciated ancestor’s experience, Abraham, Paul demonstrates he was considered righteous without (that is before) having a law. As for the Psalmist, he praises as blessed the one forgiven by God without the law, without having some kind of deeds to boast about.

The whole dilemma resides in the meaning of the law. The law was given to show you God’s character, to teach you how to live according to His will, to show you how you are. In other words the law was given to show you who God is and who you are, fortunately both in the same time. So, the law was given to bring you to your knees and admit your shortcomings, no matter the request.

Accordingly, a real confirming of the law would be done by two avenues: you either keep the law, all of it (and only Jesus did that), or you come to God with your faults, saying that you cannot do it, and thus you give God credit for His Jesus solution, for His plan of salvation . As Paul demonstrated that we are all sinners, coming short of God’s glory, and thus being under the law’s curse, then Jesus is the only solution, and faith is the only avenue to get righteous.

Understood as presented, Paul’s assumption that we confirm the law (no doubt, at this point the Jews would either cry for blasphemy or check for stones) is indeed more insightful than ever. A faith manifested as desired by God would mean to ask God for his forgiveness, as man admits he is not able to meet His standards. And that is the right moment when God can say „yes, you do keep the law”, or „yes, you understand my character” and so, „yes, you are declared righteous”.

The faith we are asked to express is the way God wants us to come to Him, without the law, to fulfill the law. This is both mind boggling and eye-opener. How is it possible to be considered righteous without the law? How can we establish, confirm, stand by the law when we go by faith? By coming to God as we really are, we discover God as He really is.

Leadership principles in the life of Boaz

As part three of a series, this post will present the leadership principles in the life of Boaz. Different from Ezra and Barnabas, who led groups, peoples, churches, Boaz will be presented as a leader who wins one person, Ruth.

 

1. Being part of God’s bigger plan

Boaz is introduced as „a relative” of Naomi’s husband (Ruth 2:1). While the first chapter of the book of Ruth ended with the death of all the males in Naomi’s family – something like „all hope is gone” -, this second chapter is like a call to back up a little and see that all is not lost. God had a plan with a relative set aside in advance, someone unknown to the reader so far, a character in the background who was to come to spotlight soon.

As we shall see later, he became the grand-grandfather of David, as such an ancestor of the Messiah! From a different angle, as presented in the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5), God prepared the way ahead in the way Boaz came to life on earth. When his own father, Salmon, married Rahab, and as Boaz grew up in such a family, most probably he learned also to show the spirit of the Gospel, in winning Gentiles to the Lord.

2. A divine double confirmation

When Ruth decided to go to the field to glean, the Bible says: „she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz” (Ruth 2:3). How come that it just „happened”? Not only that is happened, but she immediately found favor in Boaz’s workers. It was known that gleaning in other’s field, although permitted and regulated by the law of God (Leviticus 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:19-21), could have ended in being assaulted (Ruth 2:22 and Ruth 2:9).

Naomi saw there more than just a good work opportunity. When she heard about whose field was, she exclaimed: „May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead […] the man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” (Ruth 2:20). Somehow the reader is lead to see that such a happening is God’s divine appointment.

3. Personal devotion

We do not know much about his personal devotion from actual Bible texts. However, we can get hints as we observe his speech, actions, attitudes. When he came to visit his field workers, he greeted them with „The Lord be with you”. Interesting enough, his workers responded on the same manner „The Lord bless you” (Ruth 2:4). Somehow this shows first that he was a religious man, a believer, and second that he created that environment around him (in his business, as is the case) where the leadership had also spiritual dimensions, where God was the one leading both the owner of the business and the employed workers.

Also, when he spoke with Ruth for the first time, he encouraged her on the spiritual path she had taken: „The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).

4. Leading by example

 Boaz represented the character of the Christian gentleman. Like Abraham, he commanded his household after him to keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment. He showed courtesy to all his servants, and as he passed among his workmen in the field, he said unto the reapers, “The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee.” Here is a lesson for both masters and servants, for employers and the employed. The servants are strengthened in their hearts to do righteously, to be faithful to masters who manifest respectful kindness and courtesy towards them. Christians should be the most courteous people in the world. (Ellen G. White, Home Missionary, December 1, 1894, Art. A, par. 1).

5. Multiple tasks/gifts

Boaz is praised as „a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:1). Between the line we can read also that he was a rich man who could buy fields, he had many workers, he was following through the whole process of getting the crops (from sowing to harvesting), he was involved into the work by visiting, evaluating, checking the perspectives etc.

As Naomi rightly observed, he was a task-oriented person. When Boaz decided to redeem Ruth, Naomi comforted her saying: „the man will not rest but will settle the matter today” (Ruth 3:18).

6. Vision

Boaz first heard about Ruth’s story, as it was „fully told” to him (Ruth 2:11). Then he spotted her right away from all his workers (Ruth 2:5). Later on he showed her favor in a progressively manner:

  • (a) permiting her to glean on his fields for the full season,
  • (b) charging the men not to touch her,
  • (c) letting her glean even among the sheaves,
  • (d) and more, asking others to pull out bundles for her
  • (e) in the end giving her much more of the grains harvested

What it seems a benevolence shown unto a poor relative seems to be also part of a bigger test having its peak towards the end of the harvests. When Ruth called to be redeemed, Boaz exclaimed: „May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first [2:11] in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10).

Boaz decided to act as the redeemer. The „worthy man” (2:1) has found the right match, as „all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11).

His vision evolved from helping a poor to marrying a virtuos woman. His story evolved from somebody who gave a hand of help to somebody who received a wife, an offspring. On the resurrection day he will discover with amazement he had a place in the genealogy of Messiah!

7. Working with leaders

Boaz had many workers, young women, young men, and they were organized into the work – there was at least one „servant”, a „young man”, „in charge of the reapers” (Ruth 2:5-6).

Boaz was accustomed with the laws of the Lord and he worked his way through getting the full aproval of the leaders. He was ready to come „in the presence of the elders” (Ruth 4:4), and thus he called „ten men of the elders of the city” (Ruth 4:2, 4:11).

Boaz knew also the character of another leader in the story, and that is Naomi. Whoever got so close to Naomi could be trusted as a godly person (Ruth 2:11, 3:10).

8. Dealing with crises

The first crisis came on the night when Boaz discovered a woman near him in the threshing floor. „At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet” (Ruth 3:8). He was aware that such a situation could easily turn into temptation, wrong interpretation, risk of ruining a reputation etc. „Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor” (Ruth 3:14). He discovered that such an act from Ruth was not for temptation, but for redeeming. He called the name of the Lord and then dealt with the situation in such a way that both parties won without losing anything.

A second crisis was faced when to redeem Ruth, as there was a redeemer nearer than Boaz, who had priority into the process. Boaz presented the case in such a way that he offered the best to his competition, and yet kept his best shots towards the end. The truth and the perspective unfolded in two stages, as all it was to be done not only as a land purchase, a secular business, but involved also a spiritual dimension – following the levirate law to marry the widow of the deceased former owner of the land to be purchased (Ruth 4:5, Deuteronomy 25:5-10, see also a similar story in Genesis 38:8).

9. Getting followers and support

Boaz turned into a leader of his city as „all the people who were at the gate and the elders” wished him a blessed future into his relationship with Ruth (Ruth 4:11-12) and charged him to „act worthily” and „be renowned” into the larger community of faith.

Boaz became the grand-grandfather of David (Ruth 4:17) and that placed him also on the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Winning one poor woman, a Moabite, a stranger, a widow, his name will stand forever in the leadership of the redeemed.

Leadership principles in the life of Barnabas

1. Being part of God’s bigger plan

Barnabas, by his former name of Joseph, was a Levite. Accordingly, he was already called along with his tribe, in the old covenant, to serve God in leading people in worship (Acts 4:36).

He was both a real Jew and a real man of diaspora, coming from Cyprus, exactly the type of person needed by God for the work among the Gentiles.

2. A divine double confirmation

He was confirmed by the group of the apostles who saw in him a real Christian. They renamed him “Barnabas” – “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). It is a proof that he was involved into a ministry of bringing hope, comfort, encouragement to others. Probably to the apostles also… As into preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the apostles gave him “the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9).

3. Personal devotion

Barnabas is presented by Luke as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). He is also described as one leader of a small leading group involved into “worshiping the Lord and fasting” (Acts 13:2). He was a Levite (Acts 4:36) and most probably he had a certain lifestyle, but was also a teacher (Acts 13:1), which probably meant a good deal of knowledge into the Lord’s teaching.

4. Vision

Although he entered the Biblical scene as a giver to the cause and a comforter to the flock, he remained known as the first official leader sent by the church in Jerusalem to the growing church outside of Israel and Samaria. He was sent by the apostles to check the amazing growth of the Gospel preaching into territories like Cyprus, Phoenicia, Antioch, where “a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). When sent there, he immediately sensed the need for workers. His vision was to have equipped laborers working into new territories. His best man for this was Paul (Acts 11:25-26). And the rest is history. Christian history.

5. Multiple tasks/gifts

Barnabas was spiritually gifted (Acts 11:24):

  • he served as a leader of the second line of the Christian church – following the priory line of apostles, he was a prophet and a teacher (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28),
  • he was active in encouraging (Acts 4:36-37),
  • he gave away fortunes for God’s cause (Acts 4:36-37),
  • he recognized the authority of the apostles (Acts 4:36-37),
  • he was trusted for carrying funds (Acts 11:30),
  • he was trusted as leader to carry important questions to the apostles and also to convey the answers with crucial decisions for the whole church (Acts 15:2 and 22),
  • he was a leader looking for leaders (Acts 9:27),
  • he was a teacher to the people (Acts 11:25-27).

No wonder that following his and Paul’s ministry in Antioch that was the place where the followers of Jesus were for the first time named as Christians (Acts 11:26). As such, he was a founding father of the Christian Church.

6. Working with leaders

Barnabas was the one who had eyes for Saul/Paul. He recognized the leadership potential in Paul and introduced him to the apostles and then took him for a joint venture in evangelism in Antioch (Acts 9:27; 11:25-27).

He also dealt with people who were growing, even despite their failures. He gained John Mark (Acts 13:5, Acts 15:37-39, Colossians 4:10) who ended up being one of the four Evangelists.

7. Dealing with crisis

Barnabas is presented in the Bible amidst different crisis. He was sometimes successful as in the multiple episodes of debates with the enemies of the faith – be they Jews (Acts 13:50-51), semi-Christians (Acts 15:2), or pagans (Acts 14:14-18). In all he was turning people’s attention to God, as in Lystra: “we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God” (Acts 14:15).

He did not give in to temptation when he was called and worshiped as “Zeus” (Acts 14:12).

In the same time, he was ready to fight Paul up to the level of “a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other” (Acts 15:39).

Yet he failed when under a certain amount of peer pressure. And this happened exactly in Antioch, where he was a leader of the local church. Paul writes that “even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:13)

8. Leading by example

His first example of leading was an act of giving money to the emerging Church and also recognizing the apostleship of the inner group of the 12 apostles (Acts 4:36-37). Although a worker in the second line of command (following the apostles), he was always on the frontline of evangelism (Acts 13:2).

9. Giving the message straight

When preaching to the new converts, “he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23). When preaching to the stubborn Jews, along with Paul “they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went” (Acts 13:51). When facing the creeping of heresy into the emerging church, by some semi-Christians (Judaizers), he and Paul “had no small dissension and debate with them” (Acts 15:2).

10. Getting followers, opposition and support

Barnabas is followed by different other future leaders: Paul (Acts 9:27), John Mark (Acts 15:34). His best help into work was apostle Paul, whom he just helped be put on the spotlight. His best fruit, as into growing and leaving a legacy was Mark, the Evangelist (they were also cousins).

Barnaba may be seen as a Christian pioneer, a skillful strategist, an emerging leader in the shadow of the great apostles. In the same time he leaves a wonderful legacy – first among the new named Christians, main character of the Acts, while half of the books of the NT are written by the two people he worked with the closest.

„You are gods!”

“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?”
(John 10:34)

 

Questions: Who are these “gods”? Are there more “gods”? How do you explain this Bible text?

 

The context of Jesus’ words – John 10

Reading the whole passage of John 10:22-39, we discover that Jesus was being pressed to give a clear-cut answer to the question – “Are you the Messiah?” (v. 24). So, we have to keep in mind that such a context was a highly explosive one as the Messiah was the fulfillment of the Jewish aspirations and expectations (Matthew 11:3), the One sent by God as His representative. Accordingly, one either was the Messiah, or was just claiming such a title, by blasphemy.

Evidently, Jesus was fully aware He is the Messiah, as He confirmed that to others – for example to the Samaritan woman (John 4:25-26); to the group of the twelve apostles (Matthew 16:16-17); later on, to the council of the high priests and elders (and this claim led Him directly to death, Mark 14:61-64). In the same time, Jesus knew that such a claim from Him, without the proper context, will have a side effect – unbelief and continuous hardening of the heart (see also the high tensions in Luke 22:66-71). This was already obvious many times before (John 10:25-26). They did not believe him because of the prejudices they had against Him, that is against His way of showing how Messiah would really look and act like (the same can be seen in Peter’s reaction when Jesus spoke about a suffering Messiah, Matthew 16:20-23).

Jesus then pushes the discussion by saying “I and the Father are one” (v. 30). In His mind, that meant that His plans and the plans of His Father are one, that He is following the directions of His Father (see also John 5:19). However, taking it as an assertion, the Jews were ready to stone Him (John 10:31). Questioned by Jesus about their intentions, they justified their anger by indicating a blasphemy in Jesus’ sayings (v. 33). The main accusation was clear – “You, being a man, make yourself God”.

Here Jesus confronts them on their field of expertise – the Scriptures. Quoting a verse in Psalms, He points out that the Scriptures spoke like He did, calling some humans “gods”. Let’s get there and see the passage for ourselves – Psalm 82 (please take your Bible and read it).

 

The context of Jesus’ quote – Psalm 82

Psalm 82 presents a heavenly setting, a “divine council” where God sits in the midst of some “gods” (v. 1).

However, these so-called “gods” are being judged by God (v. 1-2) and even accused for showing partiality to the wicked (v. 2). Furthermore, they are being urged to do justice, to rescue, to deliver the ones oppressed (vs. 3-4). The conclusion is that such judges have no knowledge and are walking in the darkness (v. 5).

Then, God speaks to them as in a review: He commends them for being “gods”, for being “sons of the Most High” (v. 6). Yet, due to their faulty judgment, He says, they are going to die like “men” and fall like any human “prince” (v. 7).

In the end, the psalmist speaks again, as he puts all his trust in God, who is going to rightly judge the whole earth (v. 8).

As this was the psalm Jesus quoted, let us see what’s about this expression “you are gods”.

 

What does it mean – “you are gods”?

In Jesus’ own words, He explains that “He” (God) named these persons as “gods”, as they were the ones to whom “the word of God came” (John 10:34). It is evident that God sees His representatives on earth as “gods”, as “sons of the Most High”, as they are to judge and make justice according to His will.

The word for “gods” is “elohim”, which is used also in Exodus 7:1, where God makes Moses “a god” for Pharaoh. In other words, by receiving his message from the God of heavens, and now presenting it to the ruler of the nation, Moses acts to Pharaoh like a god speaking to a human. Moses is a man, no doubt about it. But he acts like a god to the ruler of the nation.

The same perspective as in Psalm 82 is to be found in Psalm 58, where in verse 1 the psalmist calls the judges/rulers also “gods”. As the psalm continues it is evidently that these “gods” are not ruling the way God wants – see the solution in verse 11, where in the end God is the one who judges on earth.

Again, the same setting is to be seen in Isaiah 3:13-15, where these corrupt judges are confirmed to be “elders and princes of the people”.

It becomes clear that these “gods” are not true to their calling. In the same time, some true “gods” would be the ones that follow their heaven commissioned task, that is fulfilling the will of the Father, the Most High, the Lord God of hosts.

 

Jesus as a Son of God

There is no question that Jesus really fulfilled such a task from His Father, as it is evident in texts like Luke 4:18-21, when preaching in Nazareth, or the one in Matthew 11:2-6, with a message to John the Baptist. While the rulers of this earth, be they kings, judges, priests, are not ruling according to God’s will, Jesus was one that did, as He was the one “consecrated” by the Father and thus “sent into the world” (John 10:36). He plainly told them: “I have shown you many good works from the Father” (John 10:32).

He admits having said that “I am the Son of God” (v. 36). There is absolutely no question about it. He did it. He believed it. He was indeed!

In the same time, He urges them to review what they perceived as an assertion and even blasphemy, to judge it objectively and see if He was doing or not “the works of My Father”. Evidently, He was a “god”, was a “son of the Most High”, because He was consecrated, sent into the world and here He fulfilled His Father’s will up to the end (see John 17:4 and Luke 22:42).

The passage moves toward an abrupt ending with Jesus affirming again His special and close relation to the Father, by using a language that in their uncircumcised ears was like another blasphemy: “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38). The story ends with Jews ready again to arrest Him…

 

Conclusions

We can step on sure grounds saying that Jesus acted like a real Son of God, He was right in presenting Himself as a Son of God. The accusers could not understand because they were not His sheep (John 10:26) – not listening, not discerning His voice, not knowing Him nor His Father.

The passage does not speak about humans becoming divine, about men becoming gods. However, in representing and reflecting God’s character on earth, humans are seen and appointed by God the Most High as “gods” (Exodus 7:1). Remember Matthew 5:9? (please open your Bible and read it).

If God’s word is spoken to you, then you become a “god” to our fellow men, with such a heavenly task of showing the character of the Father, doing His will, making justice the way He would. On the contrary, be you a “god”, if you are corrupt and departing from the plans of the One that called you, then you are surely to end like any mortal, falling to the ground (Psalms 82:6-7).


„We should be called the children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that is did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him.” (1 John 3:1-2)

Hardening of the heart

As I was asked in the church by a teenager regarding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, I challenged him and myself to read all the chapters in Exodus over this issue (Exodus 3-12). The task was to see for ourselves who hardens the heart of people: is it God or the people themselves – in our case Pharaoh (and his officials)? Or maybe the heart goes hard by itself…

The story in a nutshell

Let us first see the context – Israel in the Egyptian bondage. The Lord God is interested to get His people out of Egypt.

“The Lord said: 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 into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey […].” (Exodus 3:7-8)

Accordingly, God sends His messenger, Moses to the king of Egypt, with the solemn request to let the people go into the wilderness for several days to bring sacrifices to God: “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

Yet God knows ahead of time what would be Pharaoh’s reaction to their plea and the whole process (Exodus 3:19-21):

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people.”

In one sentence, “Pharaoh will not let Israel go unless…”

The intrigue

Towards this end of the chapter we get the first trigger of our discussion, when God warns Moses: “But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 3:21).

Aha, one might say, do you see? God is the one that does it! He hardens the hearts of people. Solved issue, yet disappointing…

But wait a little bit, we might also reply, as God continues: “Then say to Pharaoh: This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.” (Exodus 3:22-23)

We cannot skip this important part “you refused to let him go”. If we read indeed only the verse 21, where it says it so clear “I will harden his heart” it looks like all is settled. God hardens the heart of the man. Quick conclusions: the man should not be held accountable, God is guilty for all, He is putting up a game just to show his power. In short – all is a theatrical play. But is it so?

By the way (we might say): brother Moses, if you knew this was all a play, why did you refrain from rebuking God for hardening the heart of Pharaoh? (You know, Moses himself is the one who wrote Exodus. Thus, it would be absurd to just think that all is a play and that he fooled himself in front of the king).

Let us have before our eyes this couple: (1) what God does, and (2) what man does. This couple will come time and again into the story. God says he hardens the heart, yet the story presents the human person as a stubborn being, in a continual refusal even amidst all the proofs to give up.

First appeal to Pharaoh

Let’s read the first dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh.

“Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said: This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’  Pharaoh said: ‘Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.’” (Exodus 5:1-2)

As we can see it, Pharaoh is already setting up himself on opposite side by unmistaken words “I do not know the Lord”. This is the platform we are building on – a man in power who does not acknowledge a greater power that tries to convince him of anything.

God Promises Deliverance

After this first encounter, God tells Moses again the full plan:

  1. there will be miracles performed,
  2. there will be a stubborn opposition manifested (that is why miracles follow one after another,
  3. in the end a wonderful deliverance, after the last miracle who is a knock-out punch.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” (Exodus 6:1). ”But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (Exodus 7:3-5)

The first miracle and the first 5 plagues

Indeed, after the first snake-staff miracle “yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them…” (Exodus 7:13)

  1. The Plague of Blood:

“Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go” (Exodus 7:14); “Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said. Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart.” (Exodus 7:22-23)

  1. The Plague of Frogs:

“But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen…” (Exodus 8:15)

  1. The Plague of Gnats:

“the magicians said to Pharaoh: This is the finger of God. But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen (Exodus 8:19).

  1. The Plague of Flies:

“But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.” (Exodus 8:32).

  1. The Plague on Livestock:

“Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.” (Exodus 9:7)

Although there are some minor signs of repentance from Pharaoh, the moment he feels relieved from the plague he comes back to his stubbornness. By now in more than half of the wonders (1 miracle and 5 plagues) we are clearly told about Pharaoh himself that “he hardened his heart” – unyielding, becoming hard, not listening etc.

The last 5 plagues

Only in plague #6 we do come back to the intriguing idea:

  1. The Plague of Boils:

“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen.” (Exodus 9:12)

Although there is no explanation, again, for this way of putting it (“God hardens the heart of man”), we are told about God’s efforts and power to save right away. God does not need to go this painful way…

God warns Pharaoh: “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:15-16). Verse 17 tells it all over again: “You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go” .

Following the 7th plague we see some greater signs of repentance (there were before some). “Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. ‘This time I have sinned,’ he said to them. ‘The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to the Lord, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.’” (Exodus 9:27-28). However, Moses is not to allow himself to be fooled, and that is why he boldly tells Pharaoh: ”But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God.” (Exodus 9:30) (see #8)

  1. The Plague of Hail:

“When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.” (Exodus 9:34-35)

Again, his “heart was hard”. As we are approaching more dangerous plagues for the Egyptians, the warning are also given in much louder terms:

“Then the Lord said to Moses: Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials” (Exodus 10:1); “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? (Exodus 10:3)

We see again the double image: it looks like God hardens the heart and yet it is obvious a continual refusal from the recipients of the warning.

After the plague, as before, “Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.’” (Exodus 10:16-17).

  1. The Plague of Locusts:

“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.” (Exodus 10:20)

  1. The Plague of Darkness:

“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.” (Exodus 10:27)

  1. The Plague on the death of the Firstborn:

“I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. (Exodus 11:1). See also verse 3: ”The Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.”

In the 11th chapter we have again a review of all the story, of all the steps involved: “The Lord had said to Moses: ‘Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.’  Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.” (Exodus 11:9-10). As one can see, it is the same couple: a refusal to listen, a hardening that takes place.

The Exodus

Finally, the order is given: “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested.  Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me. The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:31-32, 36).

In the next chapter there is a strong emphasis on the idea that “The Lord brought them with his mighty hand” – it is found 4 times (verses 3, 9, 14 and 16), but not without pointing out that ”Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go” (verse 15).

The last step – crossing the Sea

Even after all the destruction brought over Egypt, Pharaoh and his officials did not repent. God said: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them” (all the way into the wilderness). (Exodus 14:4). And again in verse 5: “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them…” While in verse 8: “The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly.” It is the same pattern, although it might be in a different order of words or people involved: hardening, changing his mind, hardening…

Finally, when the Israelites were crossing the sea, the same image comes all over. The hardening of the Egyptians makes them go all the way into the sea, towards their own death. “Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:15-18)

 

Summary

When we pray “Our Father” we do say “and lead us not into temptation” (see Matthew 6) we are quite sure that God would not look to get us into temptation, as it is plainly said: “When tempted, no one should say ’God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:13-14).

But, as said in many other places, when God allows something to happen, the Bible sometimes said that God did it. As in the case of Job: Satan hurted the man of God, and yet in the discussion it seems that God is the one responsible.

So, who hardens the heart of man? We answer: man does. Let us be clear, God does not do anything wrong.

God would like to give us hearts of flesh, not hearts of stone. “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). And again: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).