The culture of the Ancient Near East (ANE), including the early Hebrews, was very different from ours today. As a 21st century Westerner, it is nearly impossible to put myself into the mindset of an ANE’er. Our worlds are just too different. But if we are properly going to understand this first chapter of Genesis, it is essential that we at least attempt to do so.
The Bible is a large and intricate book, with major and minor characters, epic and concise stories. No words are wasted in Scripture, and there are lessons that pack a punch in even its lesser-turned-to pages. Here are three unexpected Bible stories pastors can lean into today that teach invaluable lessons.
To judge means: to separate, to pick out, select, choose. By implication, it means to condemn, punish—avenge, conclude. It also carries the idea of having discernment. The passage where Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1) goes on to show us how to have discernment. Love is the proper motivation for not judging and for using good judgment.
Loneliness wants to rob you of your peace. Admitting your loneliness allows the Lord to enter into the picture. When you cry out to God like the Psalmists, you let Him in. Then you're are able to face the reality of loneliness without fear, and move forward in faith.
Who is included in the 144,000? Much debate and discord has resulted from the study of exactly who the 144,000 in Revelation are. Christians agree the 144,000 does not denote the total of souls throughout history who will be ultimately be saved from the wrath of eternal damnation. Generally, Christians either interpret this verse as literally 144,000 people, or they believe it is a definite number to symbolize an indefinite number of people.
Theology is studying God. Christian theology is knowing God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Theology is “the queen of the sciences.” This was not only the opinion of the great Middle Ages scholar, Thomas Aquinas but was held as truth all the way through the 20th century.
We don’t maintain or sustain any part of God’s promise to Himself. As believers who are forever in Christ, the “But what if I . . .?” questions don’t have to plague us. We are not even in the equation!
Though we continue to be a people that rebel against God and struggle with sin, salvation in Christ secures our eternal place in heaven. Jesus will return to earth to complete the restoration of God’s people and creation. Until then, our purpose is to tell people about Jesus verbally and visually by the way we live our lives.
When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, he made it very simple for us when he said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” Then he added, “The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
The phrase “die to self” may be popular Christian jargon, but it does not appear in the Bible. The closest thing we find is where Paul writes, “our old self was crucified” (Romans 6:6). Note that “was crucified” is in the past tense, expressing the idea that a death has already taken place. Therefore, do we believers need to “die to self” if our old self has already died? The answer is a resounding “No!”
I hear this quite a bit from Christians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is a popular Scripture taken from Philippians 4:13. I would argue that this verse is only powerful in our life if we have a decent understanding of who we are in Christ. It’s in having a clear identity in Christ that gives us strength to overcome the hard things in life.
Christ’s work not only prompts a response, it demands one. But how? Do I work to earn his favor? Do I seek to prove that I’m worth the sacrifice? No, scripture isn't seeking legalism or self-righteousness. It encourages a response marked by fellowship, confidence, and community. And there’s no better place to read about it than Hebrews 10.