Luke 3:7–17, Then he said to the multitudes. What’s really going on in this exchange between John the Baptist and the religious folks of his day? Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.
The multitudes of Jews had to make the long, hot and arduous journey down through the Judean mountains down to the Jordan River, which was the lowest spot on earth, to hear John the Baptist who was the latest fad preacher to come on the scene. However, when they arrived at his lonely wilderness pulpit, instead of stroking their egos by complimenting them for their religious zeal, he excoriates them and calls them a brood of vipers. John confronts them when he says that if they don’t repent, the fires of YHVH’s judgment will consume them (John 3:7–9). John’s preaching pierces their hearts, and lays them low spiritually, and they ask him what he expects them to do (John 3:10). John then preaches a message of social justice involving giving to the poor, being fair and honest in your business dealings, and if you’re a government worker, treating the citizens you serve with respect (John 3:11–14).
Interestingly, he doesn’t instruct these religious Jews in what many might consider to be the specificities and dos and don’ts of the Torah-law, although it could be reasoned that many of these folks already had a basic understanding of Torah already. Whether they were living up to it or not is another question.
Whatever the case, in our day, most gospel-believing Torah teachers are telling their listeners to punctiliously start observing the 613 commandments of the Torah, and to Continue reading
Matthew 9:10, Sinners. What is behind the Gospel writers’ use of the word sinner (see also Mark 2:16) to designate a class of people along with tax collectors? To the modern reader, this likely begs the question, aren’t all people sinners? This depends on one’s religious point of view. To understand the term sinners as used by the Gospel writers, we must understand the cultural, religious context of the day. According to David Stern in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, this term was used by the Pharisees (who were present at the time this event occurred, see verse 11) to refer to those of low reputation in society including prostitutes and thieves along with the despised, often greedy and mendacious tax collectors (or publicans), whose sins were blatant and obvious.
Furthermore, in Hebraic culture, table fellowship indicated intimate relations among those who shared it. As Keener points out (The IVP Bible Background Commentary NT in his notes on Mark 2:16), the Pharisees were especially scrupulous about their special rules on eating, and they didn’t like eating with who were less scrupulous than them — especially those of low reputation.
In this case, Yeshua responded graciously to his accusers (vv. 12–13) by pointing out to them the Father’s heart of mercy in reaching out to lost sinners. At other times, Yeshua, the spiritual activist, turned the tables on the self righteous and sacrosanct Pharisees when he taught that those who considered themselves righteous were, in reality, often worse off spiritually than those they ridiculed (see the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:10–14). From Yeshua’s example in dealing with the Pharisees, we learn that when we are accused there are times to be gracious and to turn the other cheek, and there are times to push back hard. Wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit will help us to determine which response is appropriate at any given time.
Hosea 14:2–10, Return to YHVH. (See also Joel 2:15–27 and Mic 7:18–22.) This portion of scripture opens with the words “O Israel, Return [Heb. shuv] unto YHVH your Elohim, for you have fallen by your iniquity [Heb. avon meaning “perversity, depravity”].” This passage is part of the Haftorah reading, which is part of the additional scriptures that are read with Parashat Vayelekh or Parashat Ha’azinu on “Shabbat Shuva,” which is the traditional name given to the Shabbat just prior to Yom Kippur. This Shabbat falls during the time called the forty days of Teshuvah, which starts at the beginning of the sixth month (Elul) of the biblical calendar and continues through the first day of the seventh month (called Tishrei on the traditional Jewish calendar), which is the biblical holy day of Yom Teruah (the Day of Shofar Blowing), and ends ten days later at Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which is the most solemn high holy day of the year for Bible believers.
This forty-day period is characterized by the Hebrew word teshuvah (Strong’s H8666 meaning “answer, return”), which derives from the common Hebrew verb shuv (Strong’s H7725) meaning “to turn back, to return, come or go back, restore, refresh, repair, bring back, reverse.” This same word is translated as return in the opening verse of this Haftorah portion (Hos 14:1).
In numerous places in Scripture, YHVH speaking through his prophets urges his backslid people to return to him. Why? Continue reading