Monday, February 22, 2010


Hebrews 11-13

In chapter 11, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews again makes it clear that he is speaking from the Hebrew tradition by listing, and extolling the virtues of, many of the Hebrew heroes of faith. He describes faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" and notes that "this is what the ancients were commended for." He then lists many of those "ancients" and the faith that they displayed, from Abel, to Noah, to Abraham, down to Rahab and David and Samuel "and the prophets." "These were all commended for their faith...only together with us would they be made perfect."

Hebrews 12 starts by talking about discipline. It can be hard to endure discipline, the author says, but it means that "GOD is treating you as sons." Fathers discipline sons for their own good, and GOD disciplines us "that we may share in his holiness." It isn't pleasant while it happens, but it pays dividends in the long run. He exhorts the readers to "make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy," cautioning them against sexual immorality and against godlessness "like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights." And he compares Mount Sinai ("a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire") to Mount Zion ("the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God"). And tells again how Jesus is "the mediator of a new covenant."

Chapter 13 contains several more exhortations, including, but not limited to, calls for the readers to love one another, not to forget "to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it," to remember those in prison and being mistreated, to honor marriage, eschew adultery and not to be "carried away by all kinds of strange teachings." There are request to pray for "us," the author and others. There's a benediction, news that "our brother Timothy has been released" and greetings from "those from Italy."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Obviously, the title of the book is appropriate to its contents. Whoever wrote it, it is clearly aimed at Christians of a Hebrew background. The appeals to Hebrew scripture would probably not be meaningful to gentiles, and certainly the list of heroes of the faith are all heroes of the Jewish faith.
  • The closing exhortation includes a couple of things that make a Pauline attribution easily understandable. Aside for the fact that Paul was, himself, an observant Jew and so knowledgeable and well-positioned to make the arguments include, the closing includes a note that "our brother Timothy has been released." Certainly, had Paul written this letter, that would be an unsurprising comment.
  • There's just wonderful imagery in the first three verses of chapter 12, with the "great cloud of witnesses," "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us," "let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." Wonderful, rich, timeless exhortation.

Psalms 19

In evangelical circles, at least, God's revelation to us takes two chief forms. One of these is "special revelation," in which God directly acts in human affairs. The Bible comes to us through special revelation, as GOD spoke to Abraham and Moses and David, GOD sent Jesus to earth and guided the writers who created the gospels.

The other kind of revelation is general revelation, which is GOD's nature revealed for all to see in the nature of his creation. Psalm 19 is a psalm of general revelation. The psalmist looks out at the world around him and sees that
the heavens declare the glory of GOD; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they display knowledge.
We cannot know GOD's intent for our lives, how to worship him, how Jesus died for our sins, without the special revelation of the scriptures. But we can, through general revelation, know a great deal about GOD. When we look at the beautiful and spectacular universe he has created. The psalmist moves from general revelation to specific later in the prayer ("the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple") but primarily, this psalm is a wonderful example of the extent of GOD's general revelation.

As a musical bonus, here's a setting of parts of the 19th Psalm by Beethoven, performed in 2005 by the Park Street Church Sanctuary Choir. The recording isn't very good, but it's a great piece.

Psalm 19
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard. [a]

4 Their voice [b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.

11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

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