She Who Must Not Be Named

Why does Matthew not like her? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The women in the genealogy of Jesus so far have been named, but when we come to verse 6, we meet an exception. We are told that David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.

Oh we’ve read that story several times! We all know that that woman is Bathsheba!

Do we?

It is my contention that Matthew did not think highly of Bathsheba. In fact, it could be the Old Testament writers didn’t either. The name Bathsheba could be a placeholder in fact. It literally means “Daughter of an oath.” What oath? We don’t know. This could be a name given to avoid giving her real name. She had to be addressed in some way. In fact, the entire account in 2 Samuel 11-12 is meant to be a shameful one. Let’s go back and look at it.

The writer starts off that saying it was spring when kings go off to war, since battle in the snowy conditions was much more difficult. Yet immediately, we see that David is not going to war. David sends out all the king’s men, but he himself stays behind in Jerusalem. The writer wants you to know that David is not where he is supposed to be. A king is meant to act likea king and David is not doing that. Will this lead to any sort of disaster on his part?

As the king is on the roof, he sees a woman bathing and notes how beautiful she is. This is Bathsheba. There were numerous places where a woman could have bathed and not been seen, and yet this woman chose to bathe near the king’s palace, where there would be several men who could see her. Matthew and the author of 2 Samuel likely see this the same way as not an innocent action. This is the case of someone trying to gain reputation using her body. Of course, in our modern world, we no longer have any idea what it would be like for a woman to use her body to try to get something and certainly not in the public eye.

David sends people to find out about her. Note this might sound private, but it is not. Privacy was not the norm in the ancient world. The right to privacy that we claim would make no sense to them. This would be the word that would be spreading all around the palace. Everyone would know “David wants to know about Bathsheba.” Word comes to him and he sends for her and Bathsheba dutifully comes to the king and does not have any problem with sleeping with him. (Strange that a woman who was concerned about monthly uncleanness would not mind that little weightier matter in the law about adultery)

David’s had his fun however. All is taken care of. Right?

Well, until word comes that the woman is pregnant. Note that this would have been a number of months later at least and no one has confronted David on this. David knows that this will lead to his shame if it is found that he committed adultery. What does he do? He orders Uriah to be brought back to the palace to see David with the hopes that he can entice Uriah to sleep with his own wife so everyone will think the baby belongs to Uriah. Note that Uriah is a gentile as well, a Hittite, and he is going to be acting more honorably to the God of Israel than the king is, something even more shameful to David.

The first night of his visit, Uriah refuses to go home to Bathsheba. What does he say to David when David asks why he didn’t?

““The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!””

Ouch! We can miss all that is said in here and see it as just a statement of facts, but Uriah has essentially slammed the king. Let’s look at the points.

First, the ark of Israel and Judah are staying in tents. That’s right. That which was to represent the manifest presence of God to the people is in a tent. Where is the king? He’s in a palace! The king should be out there with the ark and he is not. Why does the king get better treatment than the ark of God does?

Second, Joab is referred to as the commander of Uriah and not David. This is saying that Joab is playing the role of a real king going out and leading the people into battle. Why is David not being the king? In fact, these are camped in the open country. They are placing themselves in a position of danger. Why is the king not doing the same thing?

Therefore, Uriah will not enjoy the pleasures of home and at this point, it is quite likely that he knows all about what David has done and that David is trying to cover his own tail. Uriah is not going to do it. David tries again even getting Uriah drunk, and yet Uriah is more righteous when he’s drunk than David is when he’s sober.

David now has to try something else. He sends Uriah back with his own death warrant. At this point, David is endangering the army of Israel in a raid, all to cover his own sin. We say Uriah died, and rightly we do, but let’s be clear that the text tells us that some of the other men in the army died. There were other casualties to this action besides Uriah. In fact, David doesn’t really care about this. All that matters to him at the time is that Uriah is dead. David can take Bathsheba and no one will be the wiser.

David is fine with what has happened because no one exposes him. In the ancient world, there was not an internal conscience of guilt. Instead, your actions were shown to be right or wrong based on what others told you. That is why David is completely caught off-guard when Nathan confronts him on the matter and only then does he repent. Let’s be clear. This is something important about David that makes him a righteous man. When he’s called out, he does repent.

We know that the child born first to David and Bathsheba died, and that later there was a son born to them whom God loved and that one was named Solomon. As we see later in chapter 12, Joab continues attacking the city that they had been at war against and sends words to David to muster the troops for the final confrontation or else he will take over the city and name it after himself. In other words, Joab also wants David to act like a king as well.

Matthew refuses to name Bathsheba in his account. It is quite likely that he did this to remove honor from her. He sees her as one who vaunted herself to get into the royal family. Bathsheba must not be named and if a theory like this is correct (Which more can be found about this in “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes”) then the writer of 2 Samuel had a similar position.

What can we get out of this for Christmas?

Most of us can look back at stupid decisions we’ve made in our lives. Note that God took no doubt a wicked act, what happened between David and Bathsheba, and stil used it in his plan of redemption. We know that God redeems us as sinners, but we do not realize often times that He also redeems our actions. Anything that we do, He will use towards His good. We should not see this as a license to sin, but we should not on the other hand view our sins as the end of everything. We can never ruin God’s plans by them and He has already taken them into account and will use them for good.

And let’s keep in mind that that good was once the birth of the Messiah.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Is Tamar There?

What is Tamar doing in the genealogy of Christ? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Tonight, I’d like to start looking at Christmas information and start with the genealogies of Christ. After all, around this time of year, Christians are asked a lot of questions about what we believe. The first place to start would be what we usually turn to at the beginning, and that is the book of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. It starts off with a genealogy. What we’ll be looking at is a few of the unusual names in there.

First, why do these genealogies exist to begin with? I have a mother-in-law who enjoys doing genealogies and a cousin who does. Shortly after our wedding, my cousin gave me the Peters family genealogy. In there, I found information on myself and my parents of course, but then I was surprised to also find my wife was already included along with her family and her birthday. My cousin had really done his homework.

Genealogies were extremely important to Jews. You had to establish your pedigree in the ancient world. When Nathaniel says “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” he is speaking a common sentiment. When the Jews have a hatred of the Samaritans, they are also going along with this. Your origins story was extremely important, and this would have to be the most important story of all Matthew was writing. What were the origins of the Son of God?

As we go through the list, we find some names we don’t expect. The first one is Tamar. What is unusual about her?

To begin with, women were not usually in genealogies. This was about men. Matthew has a number of women in his which sets it out as unusual. This had to be a purposeful addition and since a writer would only want to include the most important information in a writing, there had to be some purposeful meaning behind what was said. Matthew wants us to know that Tamar is included in the lineage and not just Judah.

Establishing that Jesus is from the tribe of Judah is important since this is where the Messiah was to come from, but establishing Tamar was not. After all, we have no mention in this genealogy of Sarah, Rebekkah, or Leah, the respective wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Jacob did have Rachel and two concubines, but Judah was born through Leah.) The first mention we have of a woman is Tamar.

Note that I said woman and not wife. Tamar was not a wife. In fact, she was the daughter-in-law of Judah. The story is found in Genesis 38. Tamar was the wife of Judah’s son and that son was wicked so God put him to death. History kept repeating and Tamar was doubtful she would get a child then since Judah was hesitant to give his youngest son to her. So what did Tamar do? She disguised herself as a prostitute and waited for Judah to come by. Judah falls for the ruse and in that encounter, Tamar gets pregnant. She gives birth to Perez and Zerah. Perez is the one through whom Jesus comes.

In some cases in history, genealogies are given flavor to make the person look good, such as saying that one is descended from the gods. Part of the authenticity of the account of Matthew is that it includes such a shameful event. Every Jew would recognize it immediately, yet Matthew includes it. Why? Because it would not be denied for one point. The way the Christians dealt with a number of scandals was to admit them. We will look more at this in our look at the virgin birth so put it in the back of your mind for now.

Not only that, that a person of shame is used in the account can show the way of God in using that which is shameful regularly to fulfill His purposes. Many people wonder how God could use them, and the genealogy can indicate to us that anyone can be used. Also, not only can we be used, but our sinful actions can be. We should not seek to sin, but when we do, it cannot overturn the purposes of God. By biblical standards, the action between Judah and Tamar was wicked, but the child does not bear the blame. The child was still used to bring about righteousness for all people.

We today should be thankful to see these people in the genealogy of Christ and it can remind us of how the accounts are authentic due to the criteria of embarrassment that Tamar brings.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Presenting Jesus as Real

Is Jesus truly as real as the air we breathe? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

To begin with, this post is not about making an apologetics case. That does not mean that this post is useless with apologetics. On the contrary, I think it is of utmost importance for how we do apologetics today and also how we do evangelism. It is a concern that the methods we have that are so successful may not be as successful as we think.

I was thinking this today outside of a church responsible for a large local revival. If I met the pastor, I might ask how many conversions took place. I am sure I would get a sizable number. How many disciples then? Ah. That might be a more difficult question. How many times was Jesus really presented as a historical reality who walked among us? That could be a bit ambiguous.

Of course Jesus is presented that way! We open up our Bibles and there he is!

Indeed, there he is, but do we not pause to consider that the early church did not have a gospel save the Old Testament and the Old Testament does not include in it the life and death of Jesus. One can point to prophecies, but there is no explicit message as there is in the New Testament.

To say we open up our Bibles is excellent if you’re talking to people who already know the Bible is from God. It is not for those who do not. When asked by many why they should believe the Bible, it is quite likely that the answer that one will get is “faith.”

By what reason should one not believe the Book of Mormon? By what reason should one not believe the Koran? If these are not by faith, the great danger is that there will simply be an appeal to emotion. The sad problem is that the Mormon will quite easily also point to an emotion and say by what basis do you accept your emotion as being from God and not His?

This can also happen with miracle claims as well and we must admit that. It can often be assumed that the Christian rejects all virgin births and all resurrections, except for in the case of Jesus. There is absent any notion that Jesus’s are the ones that actually do have a historical case for them.

Let us be upfront about miracles then. There is no reason to reject miracles from other religions prima facie. Let us be open-minded with them as we want others to be with ours. We do not want to accept all claims blindly, but it is just as bad to reject all claims blindly.

So what are we to do?

In Season 3 of Smallville, Clark Kent finds out that his father Jor-El might actually have visited Earth at one time and even passed through Smallville. Clark tells his father Jonathan that up until now Jor-El had been a distant and powerful friend, but what if he really had come down here? Maybe he was more like Clark than Clark realized.

To be sure, Jesus did become fully human, but let us not think that God is like us. He is not. We are to be like Him instead. I am not like the image that I see in the mirror. The image that I see in the mirror is like me. That being said, what of the distant and powerful friend?

That is often how Jesus can be presented. Jesus is at a distance and He’s powerful, but what is it that He is doing in life? Too often, it is presented as if Jesus is there to fix a lot of your problems. Financial struggles? Jesus can help you. Struggle with alcoholism? Try Jesus. Problematic children at home? Jesus can help you be a good parent. Marriage problems? Jesus can help you be a good spouse.

I am not disagreeing with any of these in reality. I do think that if you truly follow Jesus, it should affect your lifestyle in various ways. My concern is that this reduces Jesus to simply the latest self-help cure. Do we have any evidence that this is what Jesus was like for the first century Christians?

Doubtful. To be a Christian then was to sign your own death warrant. How many would sign a death warrant just because the children were a problem when the cult just down the street could help me with that as well and as a special bonus, you get to participate in these great orgies rather than having to live the strict moral code the Christians followed. Oh yes. Let’s not forget that also the emperor didn’t care if you joined that group so your life could be safe.

So what does it mean if we present Jesus that way and instead get the answer back that “Medication does that for me” or “I happen to be seeing a really good therapist and he’s helped me immensely” or “Have you not read the latest self-help book?”

Now once again, I am not against any of the above mentioned, but I am against presenting Jesus as if He’s just the better product amongst competition. It’s not as if we want to make an infomercial saying “Try Jesus. We guarantee full satisfaction or your money back!”

When it comes to presenting Him, are we presenting Him as real? We can often ask people how they know the reality of Jesus and we are presented with an emotional response. The Mormons will also give the exact same answer for how they know that Joseph Smith is a prophet.

This puts us in a danger. What if your sole basis for knowing that Jesus is real is a feeling? You are a sitting duck then for the Mormon. When you have that contrary feeling from the Mormons, will you suddenly switch to Joseph Smith? Will he be a better product?

What also when you hear atheistic and liberal professors go against your most cherished beliefs that you hold on that basis? Will you go on believing but with a cognitive dissonance that thinks you have to jettison reality in order to be a Christian, or will you just abandon the faith? In either case, you will be useless for the Kingdom if not even a detriment.

The other danger is that basing it on a feeling will instead produce a chasing not after Jesus, not after holiness, but rather after a feeling. When you feel X, then the world is right, but there could be all manner of reasons for not feeling X at a point in time. Perhaps you have a cold or you had a bad night’s sleep or you ate the wrong thing or had an argument with your spouse.

This is how addictions are made and with an addiction, one does not seek the object of the addiction but rather one seeks the feeling that comes from the object. The person does not want drugs for drugs but drugs for a high. The person does not want sex out of love for the other, but rather out of seeking a strong experience and really good sensations.

Using the last example, how many people would like their marriage to be based on a feeling? Most would say that if they did that, they would have to get a new spouse every two to three years. What woman would like to know that her husband likes having her around for sexual joy, but other than that, oh well?

Now am I totally opposed to feelings in all of this? Absolutely not! Some of you out there are very emotionally oriented and praise God for it. I have no problem. Some of you like myself are more rationally oriented. Let us make sure that neither looks down on the other. We need both types. I am against a blind emotionalism. I am also against a cold intellectualism.

What I am saying is that the emotional person needs to have an emotion that is rooted in truth. A rational person needs to have an argument that produces a difference in the world. That gets us to the point then of presenting Jesus as real.

If we claim that Jesus is as real to us as the air that we breathe, we need to live that out. Jesus cannot be just the end of a syllogism or a study of historical research. He also cannot be the quick fix in our lives alone. Jesus can be the one who helps us with our problems and also the result of a historical study, but He is surely much more than that.

Jesus made the claim that He is the king of all creation. All of eternity depends on Him. If He is risen, then life has meaning. If He is not, then let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Jesus did not come down here to do miracles alone as if He was showing off His divinity. Each miracle He did had a greater purpose than just helping the person in need.

Jesus also did not come solely to forgive us of our sins. He came for that, but He did not come for just that. He came to bring life to a world that was dying. That would include the forgiveness of sins, but it would also include the transformation of lives and then that of society.

Yet for us, the transformation seems to be what we can get through self-help, therapy, or medication and the goods that He gives us are really happy feelings whenever we think about Him. Would the such have been said for another king at the time, such as Caesar? “Try Caesar as king! You’ll like him and you’ll be a better parent too!”

It is when we realize that Jesus is King, Lord, and Judge, that we come to realize how it is that we must live. History is not about us and our feelings and pitiful little desires. It is all about Him. He is really the central focus of the universe. All roads do truly end at Jesus. Some end with Him as friend. Others end with Him as foe. All end with Him as Judge giving the ultimate verdict.

Perhaps when we realize that, we will be partaking in a Kingdom agenda and with that will come again what came in the first century and onward, the transformation of society. Perhaps when we put Jesus on the throne again and take ourselves off we will come to see the good He can do. Perhaps when we realize that the way of Christ is better than our way will we start living our lives accordingly. We will realize Jesus is not distant. He is ever-present and at any time can take us out of the picture if He so desires. He does not need us for anything. We need Him for everything.

It is my sincere hope that when we do all of this, we will then get to the apologetic of backing our evangelism with the case for Jesus as the Risen King and why we believe such. When we do such, could it be that then we will have our revolution that we need to stop a world in moral decline?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Scripture and the Words of Christ

How did the early church view the Words of Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Last night I was reading Ken Bailey’s latest book “Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes.” It’s a fascinating look at 1 Corinthians and I urge everyone to read it. What I was reading was about 1 Corinthians 9 and something was said that was one of those things we know already, but we don’t really think about until it hits us right between the eyes..

Last night, I wrote about the Jewishness of Jesus and how startling He was to His contemporaries. Later as I read, I was reading Bailey’s thoughts on 1 Corinthians 9 and in there he stated that the words of Jesus were being seen immediately on par with the words of Scripture.

That is something we think about and is fairly obvious to us in some ways. If Jesus was truly God in the flesh and Scripture is that which God says, then it would follow that whatever Jesus said would be Scripture. What is amazing is that this was such a quick recognition. It wasn’t the case that we had to wait until Nicea and then people started looking back and thinking “You know, all those things Jesus said, I’m starting to think maybe he was even YHWH in the flesh!”

The idea of Jesus being YHWH was not a development that came with paganism. It came right out of a Jewish milleu. Paul is being entirely consistent with his Jewish tradition. Note also that Bailey points out that in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul does not really say he became a Gentile. Instead, he says that he became like one not under the Law, save the law of Christ. Why? Paul can’t become a Gentile because he is a Jew and that is something that will never change.

Now of course Paul can stop following Jewish customs, although he will follow them if it will help someone come to the gospel. Today there are people who can abandon Judaism altogether and become atheists, but yet they still realize that even while atheists, they are still Jews. Some of them even still follow the rules of kosher eating as atheists.

The point is that Jesus was given this high place immediately. The last of the prophets before John the Baptist that had come was Malachi and that was about 400 years before Christ. The Heavens had been silent. It is my belief that God was wanting people to think about the time He had been silent for 400 years before sending Moses. Now, He was to send the prophet like Moses but greater than Moses. The people would be truly free from slavery.

Everything from Malachi and earlier that we have in the Old Testament was seen as authoritative Scripture and that would not be taken lightly. Notice what the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus says about the Old Testament in “Against Apion”.

For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them

And yet, immediately the words of Christ are given such a position and we can often take them so lightly. We have heard the gospel stories so much that often times we do not have the amazement of them that we know that we should have. Let us not lose sight of this. The words of Jesus are the words of God Himself and if we take God seriously, we must take Jesus seriously. Perhaps if we do not take Jesus seriously, we should question if we are doing the same for God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Jesus The Jew

Does it matter that Jesus was a Jew? Let’s talk about it today at Deeper Waters.

For those who don’t know, I’ve taken a new job on the night shift and since I work by myself or with one another, I have found that I can listen to the radio or to podcasts. I have been playing much of N.T. Wright who frequently speaks about the relation of Jesus to Second Temple Judaism. What makes this interesting for me is that a lady I work back there with who doesn’t mind hearing this is Jewish and not Messianic.

This is something that gets me pondering as I hear this. What does it mean to say that Jesus is Jewish? How does an understanding of Judaism at the time help us with understanding the New Testament? Do we really need to bother with all that stuff in the Old Testament to understand the New?

To begin with, imagine reading the gospels without knowing what comes prior. How confusing it would be! Matthew opens up with a genealogy that assumes you know about the persons of the Old Testament. Mark opens up with Scriptural fulfillment and Scripture quoted. Luke starts with talking about the priestly system. John has a wonderful prologue where within Jesus is seen as greater than Moses.

All of this assumes an understanding of the Old Testament. What about Jesus in particular? What we want to do is consider Jesus in light of his relationship to YHWH. Jesus shows up with the claim to be YHWH in the flesh and begins doing numerous miracles to back this claim. What on Earth is supposed to be done with this man?

Well we could shut him up as insane and if we found someone making similar claims today that would be our first thought. The Jews could not do that however because this man showed all signs of being in his right mind. He was doing numerous miracles which does not come along with insanity.

Maybe we can best him in debate! Yet at every turn, Jesus humiliates his opponents. With lines like “Have you not read?” he displays their ignorance in that which they ought to be experts on. His mind is fully rational and despite all attempts to show otherwise, those who seek to best him end up being bested themselves.

These claims however simply cannot be true. It cannot be true that a man like this is YHWH in the flesh! He does not keep the law! He works with sinners! He is lowly and disgraceful. He attends all these parties where tax collectors and prostitutes are present and he tells people to work on the Sabbath.

Within a Greek system, the idea of a man being a god and doing miracles would be unusual, but would be tolerable. Paul and Barnabas were mistook for Zeus and Hermes. Jesus is not in this system however. Jesus is in a system loyal to YHWH and while there could be openness to multiple persons being in YHWH, it wasn’t set in stone and to think YHWH would become flesh?!

Then Jesus also claims that he is the long awaited Messiah. I can think about what that means to a Jew today, but what about back then? The first thought would have been about freedom from Rome. Surely the Messiah will come to set us free. The Messiah can overcome the Roman Empire. We will enter the Davidic Kingdom once more when Messiah comes.

Messiah did not come at the head of an army. He did not come with much pomp and grandeur. There is nothing in Jesus that ever suggests that He is a military genius. He simply travels around with a bunch of ragtag followers, most of whom were going nowhere in society to begin with.

This is the Messiah?

Yes he was. What does it mean when we think about that today? I listen to Wright and I wonder what a Jewish mind is thinking when they hear about Jesus who is Lord and Savior and being worshiped as God. It is no scandal for us to do that, but let us never lose sight of the fact that it sure sounds scandalous. For the Jew listening, it likely is.

This gets us to the crucifixion. With the claims that Jesus made and how he showed no signs of insanity, I can only conclude one of two things is true. Either what Jesus said was false and the crucifixion was the most righteous act of all that put to death the most wicked man who ever lived, or what Jesus said was true, and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all putting to death the most righteous man who ever lived.

There is no middle ground.

Now as it was then, Jesus is someone that people have to respond to and something has to be said about Him. Perhaps some of the Christ myth idea is reactionary to this, but also failing to account the awesomeness of this figure thinking that anyone could just make him up. If you’ll believe that, you will believe anything else. Ultimately, this is the case. What will the person who denies all of Jesus and His claims believe? It is not that they will believe nothing. The problem is that they will believe anything else.

It should not be a surprise that even our calendar system is based on this man and as He refused to stay dead 2000 years ago, so He refuses to stay dead today. Jesus was the true revolutionary of all time. It is not the case that Jesus turned the world upside down however. The reality is He turned it right-side up and we would hardly today recognize a world where Jesus never existed.

If we are to appreciate Jesus more however, I urge us also to not just think about Him as man and God, important and essential as both of those are, but let us think about him as a Jew in a Jewish system and may we never look at Him the same way again.

In Christ,
Nick Peters