Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

“Do not steal.
“Do not deceive or cheat one another.
“Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the LORD.
“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.
“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the LORD.
“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.
“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.
“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the LORD.
“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
“You must obey all my decrees.
“Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread. (Leviticus 19:11-19)

There is more to righteousness than simply behaving well toward others. Outward actions, for good or ill, have their origins in what people are thinking, what their desires might be, how they are feeling at any given moment. Bad decisions can grow from exhaustion, headache, or stress. Hate festers a long time before it results in outward violence. Evil is sometimes not an action, but the failure to act. The mixing of things that shouldn’t be mixed symbolizes the importance of not mixing evil with good, or hatred with love. Some things should not be compromised.

It was common in Hebrew writing to have a summary statement followed by explanations or expansions upon that summary statement. And so the summary statement in this passage—of “do not steal”—is followed by explanations of what might constitute stealing: “defrauding your neighbor,” making hired day workers wait for their pay, gossip—which robs people of their reputations—and stealing the life of your neighbor through inaction when you could have saved it.

The context of the phrase upon which all the law hangs—to love your neighbor as yourself—was when you were least likely to feel affection for your neighbor: when he has wronged you and you want justice. God makes it clear that loving your neighbor is not always easy.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment

Careful Eating

God spoke to Moses and Aaron: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, Of all the animals on Earth, these are the animals that you may eat:

“You may eat any animal that has a split hoof, divided in two, and that chews the cud, but not an animal that only chews the cud or only has a split hoof. For instance, the camel chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof, so it’s unclean. The rock badger chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof and so it’s unclean. The rabbit chews the cud but doesn’t have a split hoof so is unclean. The pig has a split hoof, divided in two, but doesn’t chew the cud and so is unclean. You may not eat their meat nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

“Among the creatures that live in the water of the seas and streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. But anything that doesn’t have fins and scales, whether in seas or streams, whether small creatures in the shallows or huge creatures in the deeps, you are to detest. Yes, detest them. Don’t eat their meat; detest their carcasses. Anything living in the water that doesn’t have fins and scales is detestable to you.” (Leviticus 11:1-12)

You are what you eat. God loved his people, and so his purpose in giving them the dietary restrictions was not to make their lives less fulfilled or more difficult than they otherwise might be. Yet, when we get to the New Testament, those dietary restrictions were not imposed on the non-Jewish people who were coming to Jesus. So if there were some health benefits or protections associated with the food restrictions and if that had been their purpose, then freeing the Gentiles from the restrictions might be taken to mean that God didn’t love Gentiles as much as he loved the Jewish people. So health probably has nothing to do with it.

Why then were the Israelites allowed to eat some animals but not others? Why such detailed specifics and lists regarding so many different sorts of creatures? God’s purpose was relational. The two major sections of the Pentateuch that elaborate the dietary restrictions are introduced or concluded with the statement that Israel was to be a “holy people of God” and that they were to “be holy because God was holy.” They were not to render themselves unclean by what they ate.

Just as the prophets of God had to act out their prophetic messages—as when Hosea married a prostitute, Ezekiel cooked bad bread over cow dung, or Isaiah ran about naked—so the people of Israel illustrated to themselves and to their neighbors their relationship with God. God had told them that every aspect of their lives should be in the presence of God: when they got up, when they went to sleep, when they walked along the road and went about their day, God was always to be with them. Even in what they ate, they couldn’t get away from God’s presence in their lives. There was never supposed to be a moment when they didn’t feel God’s presence. After Pentecost, however, God began living inside his people. The external reminders of God were therefore no longer necessary. God is always with us now.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment

Payback

“If someone steals an ox or a lamb and slaughters or sells it, the thief must pay five cattle in place of the ox and four sheep in place of the lamb. If the thief is caught while breaking in and is hit hard and dies, there is no bloodguilt. But if it happens after daybreak, there is bloodguilt.

“A thief must make full restitution for what is stolen. The thief who is unable to pay is to be sold for his thieving. If caught red-handed with the stolen goods, and the ox or donkey or lamb is still alive, the thief pays double.

“If someone grazes livestock in a field or vineyard but lets them loose so they graze in someone else’s field, restitution must be made from the best of the owner’s field or vineyard.

“If fire breaks out and spreads to the brush so that the sheaves of grain or the standing grain or even the whole field is burned up, whoever started the fire must pay for the damages. (Exodus 22:1-6)

Payback hurts. Better not to owe it. When Nathan the prophet first confronted David for his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, he told him a story about a man stealing a pet sheep from his neighbor and slaughtering it. David reacted angrily and pronounced that the man must pay back “four sheep” for the one stolen.

The only place God gave the penalty for a stolen sheep was here, in this single passage. Clearly David knew the Bible well—though it did not necessarily prevent him from sinning. Christians have the law written on their hearts and usually know the Bible pretty well. And yet we are daily guilty of any number of sins.

God made restitution the method for dealing with any sort of theft, whether intentional or accidental, as in the “theft” caused by letting one’s animals get loose to steal grain from someone else’s field, or allowing a fire get away and burn up the property of a neighbor. The principal envisioned was the practical outworking of the golden rule, to do to others as you’d have them do to you: if someone caused a loss, you’d wish that they’d restore it to you. The law, in all its varied detail, merely serves as a commentary explaining in specific circumstances how to love your neighbor as yourself.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment

Commandments

And God spoke all these words, saying:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:1-12)

[insight]
Doing what’s right is all about love. The ten commandments can be broken down into two halves: those that refer to God and those that refer to human relations. Both Jesus and Paul point out that these ten commandments—and for that matter, all the rules and regulations of the Bible—can be summarized by two commandments: to love God and to love people.

And what you do has consequences. The iniquity of fathers passing on to children was not magical, any more than the mercy to thousands was magical. No one is an island. The effect of an individual’s actions, for good or ill, had influence beyond them. The poor choices of a father would obviously affect his children, and just as obviously, the repercussions would roll on to later generations, making life either harder or easier for those that followed.

The purpose of the commandments was not to keep people from having a good time. In fact, they were designed specifically to maximize the good times for everyone. Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath, but rather, the Sabbath was made for man: that is, it was beneficial to take time off and not to work all the time. Both for basic happiness and health, as well as for improved productivity, taking time off was good. And it was an innovation. Before the Ten Commandments, people did not take a day off every week. Instead, they worked constantly, getting only the rare holiday. And that it was extended to slaves and even animals was truly remarkable. God really does love us. He’d like to see us love as well. The Ten Commandments serve as an illustration of how to put love into practice.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment

One Way to Terraform a World

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Science, Space, Technology | Leave a comment

Influences

King Solomon loved many foreign women in addition to Pharaoh’s daughter: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women from the nations that the Lord had told the Israelites about, “Do not intermarry with them, and they must not intermarry with you, because they will turn you away ⌊from Me⌋ to their gods.” Solomon was deeply attached to these women and loved ⌊them⌋. He had 700 wives who were princesses and 300 concubines, and they turned his heart away ⌊from the Lord⌋.

When Solomon was old, his wives seduced him ⌊to follow⌋ other gods. His heart was not completely with the Lord his God, as his father David’s heart had been. Solomon followed Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, and unlike his father David, he did not completely follow the Lord.

At that time, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh, the detestable idol of Moab, and for Milcom, the detestable idol of the Ammonites on the hill across from Jerusalem. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who were burning incense and offering sacrifices to their gods. (1 Kings 11:1-8)

Those we love and care about can lead us astray faster than anyone. God knows what peer pressure does to us. We want to be loved, we want to be accepted, we want to do what we can to make those we’re with happy. The fear of losing those we love combines with our desire to make them happy and can lead us to make the wrong choices. It is easy to be more influenced by those we are with—those we can see and touch—than by someone as abstract to us as God usually is. Even a child who loves his parents can be led to make foolish choices when they aren’t around and the right choice would result in social ostracism from the friends they are with, or the child fears that it might. Human beings are social creatures, and we fear losing that connection with those around us.

Solomon’s relationships with many women were more complicated than most. Not only was the social dynamic at work: he genuinely cared for these women—but there was politics at play as well. Marriages with foreign women, the daughters or sisters of neighboring rulers, solidified treaty obligations and guaranteed peace and trade. If he didn’t keep these women happy, not only might he lose their affections, he might also lose a lot of money and prestige—and he might face war.

God understood the problems relationships could cause. That’s why he warned Solomon and the Israelites in general against involving themselves in romantic relationships with non-Israelites who did not accept the exclusive worship of God. Those we are with influence us—for good or bad. How real God is to us makes a big difference in our behavior.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment

Love Contract

“‘This is what the Lord of Hosts says: I took you from the pasture and from following the sheep to be ruler over My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. I will make a name for you like that of the greatest in the land. I will establish a place for My people Israel and plant them, so that they may live there and not be disturbed again. Evildoers will not afflict them as they have done ever since the day I ordered judges to be over My people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you: The Lord Himself will make a house for you. When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me. When he does wrong, I will discipline him with a human rod and with blows from others. But My faithful love will never leave him as I removed it from Saul; I removed him from your way. Your house and kingdom will endure before Me forever, and your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 8b-16)

God took his servant to the woodshed. He didn’t throw him out with the trash. God’s relationship with David was different than the relationship he had with Saul. The relationship he had with Saul was like those he would later have with the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel: they were dependent upon performance and the contract was a limited, short term and temporary affair with no guarantees that it would ever be renewed. Sort of like the contract you make with your cell phone company: in exchange for a new phone, you agree to remain a customer for the next two years, but if you decide to leave early, then you just pay a penalty. But God’s relationship with David was like a parent’s with his child: the relationship could not be undone.

But there were still expectations. A failure to live up to those expectations would never, could never end the relationship—but it could result in uncomfortable consequences. The people might rebel. Invaders might attack. Nevertheless, no matter how bad it ever got, the house and kingdom of David would endure forever. How so? David surely thought it was a physical kingdom, with one of his descendants forever sitting on a physical throne. God understood—and later clarified in the New Testament—that his Son reigned on high in the hearts of men. The kingdom God promised David lives on in the hearts and minds of his people, or wherever two or three are gathered in his name.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment

Love

I will tell of the LORD’s unfailing love.
I will praise the LORD for all he has done..
I will rejoice in his great goodness to Israel,.
which he has granted according to his mercy and love..
He said, “They are my very own people..
Surely they will not betray me again.”.
And he became their Savior..
In all their suffering he also suffered,.
and he personally rescued them..
In his love and mercy he redeemed them..
He lifted them up and carried them.
through all the years..
But they rebelled against him.
and grieved his Holy Spirit..
So he became their enemy.
and fought against them..
Then they remembered those days of old.
when Moses led his people out of Egypt..
They cried out, “Where is the one who brought Israel through the sea,.
with Moses as their shepherd?.
Where is the one who sent his Holy Spirit.
to be among his people?” (Isaiah 63:7-1)

Surely they won’t betray again. This time they can be trusted. God is love. According to Paul’s definition of love, “love always trusts” and “always hopes.” That was reflected in what God said to his people: surely this time. Peter asked how often he should forgive when his brother asked for forgiveness. Jesus’ answer was: endlessly, because that’s how it is with God. He endlessly forgives, he endlessly hopes, he endlessly wills to extend mercy.

Love seems unreasonable. The abused child, the beaten wife, the kicked dog, willingly return to the one who hurt them, hoping against hope that this time will be different. How foolish, how dangerous it appears to those of us outside watching it. But that’s just what love is like—what real love will tolerate. God’s love is real love: he gave himself when we were his enemies. He forgives repeat offenders. He paid all our debts and didn’t take away our credit card even as we try to rack up more—and he has forgiven it all—in perpetuity and forever. We can’t max out God’s credit card. That bill is always paid in full.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment

Seek God

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)

We’re always guilty of something. Every inclination of human beings is evil all the time and was God’s primary motivation for destroying the human race in the flood. The Psalmist agrees that all human beings have become corrupt and there is no one who does good, not even one. If you’re human, you fall into but one category: sinner.

The comfort for we sinful humans is that God’s thoughts, his ways are nothing like ours. We love those who love us. It is easy for us to be nice to those nice to us. But how many people are nice to those who repay evil for good, who cause them pain, who harm them? How easy is it for us to forgive? But God’s ways and his thoughts are not ours. While we were still sinners, still his enemies and still actively working against him, at that very moment, at our very worst, that’s when Jesus died for us, demonstrating just how much he loves us, and just how different God’s thoughts are from ours. Altruism is rare. Generally we love only those who love us back. We get something out of our relationships or we wouldn’t maintain them. That’s how we think. It isn’t how God thinks. He loves regardless of the reaction; he isn’t in it for what he can get out of it. Instead, he is concerned only with what is best for us: what we can get out of it. We are guilty, but Jesus took our guilt and applied it to himself. So we don’t have to feel guilty any more. Instead, we can feel relieved and grateful. God wants to make our thoughts like his.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment

God is Not Always Just

“For this is like the days of Noah to Me:
when I swore that the waters of Noah
would never flood the earth again,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
or rebuke you.
Though the mountains move
and the hills shake,
My love will not be removed from you
and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,”
says your compassionate Lord.
“Poor Jerusalem, storm-tossed, and not comforted,
I will set your stones in black mortar,
and lay your foundations in sapphires.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of sparkling stones,
and all your walls of precious stones.

Then all your children will be taught by the Lord,
their prosperity will be great,
and you will be established
on ⌊a foundation of⌋ righteousness.
You will be far from oppression,
you will certainly not be afraid;
you will be far from terror,
it will certainly not come near you. (Isaiah 54:9-14)

God is not always just. Sometimes, instead, he is merciful. God promised that he would never send a flood again to destroy the world. This, despite the fact that the world’s behavior didn’t change: it remained just as wicked as before. Likewise, God promised that he wouldn’t be angry with Israel ever again. What he did to them this time, he’d never do to them again. The punishment required by the covenant, their exile to Babylon, he wouldn’t ever repeat. “Though the mountains move” and “the hills shake” God’s covenant of peace would not be shaken. It didn’t matter how they acted now; they were his and so everything would be fine.

This was an illustration of God’s grace—of what has happened as a consequence of Jesus’ death on the cross. We are at peace with God. His wrath, his punishment, his anger for our sins was all poured out on Jesus. So there’s nothing left to pour out on us. Whatever bad thing we do, however we act, God already punished us for it when he punished his Son instead of us. It isn’t fair, but that’s how it is. So it doesn’t matter what we do. The covenant of peace stands, because the punishment has already fallen. The fine has been paid. The jail term served. Grace, by its very nature, like mercy, is unfair and unjust. But that’s how much God loves us.

Send to Kindle
Posted in Bible, Religion, Theology | Leave a comment