Posts Tagged Christianity
In November, I will be teaching a series called “Singing Theology.” We will be talking quite a bit about music and worship. Over the years, my thinking on this issue has swung back and forth a bit.
On Sunday, our congregation sang people’s favorite hymns. Generally, we worship using music from many different ages. We cherish the great hymns of the faith, but we also include music from our own era as well. There is both depth and breadth to being familiar with all of them.
What was curious to me was the responses. For some people my age and younger, the older hymns must be boring by default. They have no appreciation for the beauty of their melodic lines and the intricacies of their lyrical composition. For others, who are generally much older than me, hymns are “how you worship” and the idea of including anything else is just unthinkable. They might even dismiss all modern music as “choruses” – a word they utter as if having to eat overcooked asparagus.
The message of the Gospel takes many forms, and will take many more before Jesus returns. Some are majestic, others are earthy. But all are glorious when the Gospel is at their core. In fifty years, the people who find hymns “boring” now will be complaining about the modern music of that era. It is a never-ending cycle.
“The Doxology” and “Just As I Am” were once controversial. There were churches who refused to allow the piano as part of their worship, and others who would not accept any song not from the Psalms. We just go around and around on this issue.
1. That God is glorified through Christ.
2. That we worship in spirit and in truth.
3. That our worship is theologically sound.
Everything else is flexible.
Without the integrity of the game, what do you have? A bunch of big, strong, angry men who have reached their breaking point. Jackie MacMullan, ESPN Boston
Last night, the Patriots lost to the Ravens. Make no mistake – the Patriots lost that game. They had a couple crucial errors in pass coverage that allowed the Ravens to be in position to win by a single point.
But the officiating reached a new low, and I hope the replacement referees had body armor and armed guards when they left M&T Bank Stadium last night. At one point, the crowd was actually chanting expletives at the refs. This was not individual fans. It was 70,000 very angry and frustrated (and intoxicated) fans standing from their seats to insult the men in striped shirts.
The players, the coaches and the fans are seething. They have reached a boiling point while the NFL and the real officials continue to try to negotiate a contract. If the NFL does not do something soon, we are going to start seeing players turning on the replacement officials. Remember that these are, as Jackie MacMullan put it, “big, strong, angry men.”
How much is too much? When does restraint in the face of injustice become enabling the injustice? When do we say enough is enough and start turning off our televisions? When we will stop showing up at the games?
I love football. It is a game I have loved to watch for decades. But after last week, I am not sure I will watch it next weekend. Why sacrifice time on a game that is losing its meaning and rhythm because of a contract debate and scab workers who clearly don’t care or understand what they are trying to do?
Who am I kidding? I will continue to watch because I love the game. I will continue to scream at the mess the NFL has become, but I am powerless to change it. My beloved sport is about to slip over a precipice and become a caricature of its former self, and I will probably just take it.
And then, I began to think about the apathy in my own life. What kind of craziness, injustice and abuse do I allow to take place around me while I sit there? How callous have I become that I just take what comes at me without a retort or response?
It is easy to become a mute observer, an enabler to those who would abuse others in the name of restraint.
This is what Jesus accused the Pharisees of in Luke 11:42 –
But woe unto you, Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these you ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
In the name of “not judging”, we often allow sin to go on around us. We enable those who are hurting others for fear of being considered a meddler.
Sometimes, I find myself in this position. Do you?
Maybe it is the fear of being stereotyped as a puritanical jerk who everyone has to be careful around. Maybe it is a longing to be a part of a group, even if that group does things that privately you do not think are appropriate. Maybe it is an underlying insecurity or inability to address the issue.
There are many things we should stay silent about, but there are some we need to raise a protest about. It is not enough for us to maintain personal righteousness. Sometimes we need to call others to follow the way of righteousness as well.
This is an unpopular statement, and yet it is at the core of the the New Testament. The apostles Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John wrote a healthy chunk of the New Testament and the bulk of their encouragement is a call to righteous actions – charity, stewardship, responsibility, edifying communication, decency, order, respect, obedience, submission.
There is a time for restraint and patience. There is also a time to do something to effect change.
I hope the NFL fans will rise up and do something for the love of the game.
I pray the church if Jesus Christ will rise up and do something for the love of the Lord and his love for his people.
The Scriptures contain some very, very strange passages. There are things in the Bible that make even the most committed readers shake their heads in confusion. One of the all-time strangest passages is 1 Kings 22.
Why? Just read it.
Here’s a little context.
Ahab b. Omri became king of Israel in 873 BCE. His predecessor, Omri, was a military commander who had led a coup and then successfully crushed his competition in a brutal civil war. He handed Ahab a successful kingdom, with alliances to a number of strong states around it.
Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of Ishba’al, the king of Tyre, and together they established a variety of Canaanite cults in their capital city of Samaria. By marrying their daughter, Athaliah, to the heir to the southern kingdom of Judah, Jehoram. Together, Ahab and Jezebel ruled Israel and wieleded incredible influence until Ahab died in battle in 852 BCE.
Jezebel and two of her sons held power for a little over a year, but then a military commander named Jehu wiped out all of their children and killed Jezebel, claiming the throne for himself. Athaliah, in Judah, survived until she was ultimately killed in an uprising around 835 BCE.
A Strange Prophecy
1 Kings 22 takes place right before Ahab was killed. In fact, it deals with the prophecy of his death. Ahab formed an allegiance with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, hoping to defeat the rising power to their north, the Arameans.
The plan backfires. Ahab, who has defied YHWH, the Hebrew God, at every turn finds himself at the mercy of a nameless bowman. This could easily be attributed to YHWH no longer protecting Ahab. The problem is that in 1 Kings 22, the prophet Micaiah makes it plain that YHWH intentionally deceived Ahab and Jehoshaphat.
Here’s what Micaiah said:
Now hear therefore the word of YHWH! I saw YHWH sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
And YHWH said, ‘Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before YHWH, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ And YHWH said unto him, ‘Wherewith?’ And he said, ‘I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.’
Now therefore, behold, YHWH hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all of your prophets, and YHWH hath spoken evil concerning you. (1 Kings 22:19-24)
God sends lying spirits? He makes prophets deceive kings? How do we reconcile this with a God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2)?
No matter how you slice it, this is probably the most difficult passage in Scripture. If we take a hyperliteral view of the text, then we have no choose to admit that YHWH deceived someone indirectly to accomplish what amounts to the murder of a king.
What to do?
Most Christians are more than happy to be ignorant of passages like this. They have a sort of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward these kinds of things.
But now you’re looking at it. You’re seeing this passage for perhaps the first time. What do you do?
1. Context, context, context. Any time we are going to make an interpretation, we have to consider the context. What kind of literature is this? What is happening in the narrative? Who is speaking? Who is the audience?
In this case, we are reading a historical record. Kings is not meant to express doctrine. It records events as they occurred, and that means it includes a lot of things as they happened. As we all know, reality does not always fit into theology. The moment does not always appear to fit into the narrative.
2. Consider rhetoric vs. dogma. Throughout Scripture, the prophets say things that don’t conform to theology. They are momentary revelations that are often rhetorical devices. Nathan manipulated David through a story (2 Samuel 12). Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy while his wife lay dying (Ezekiel 24:18). Elisha made iron float (2 Kings 6:6).
This kind of stuff was not meant to be permanent truth. It was momentary revelation. Rhetorical acts and statements do not present doctrine. In fact, it is a terrible idea to form doctrine from these kinds of situations. If a prophet tells a story about something happening in heaven, he isn’t teaching the doctrine of heaven. He is bringing forth a point.
3. God deals differently with kings and nations. This might be hard to grasp, but the way God works with kings and nations is very different from the way he works with individuals. God forbids murder but at times commands war. David, a man after God’s own hearts, was not allowed to build the Temple because of his bloody past (according to 1 Chronicles). Paul tells us to honor those in authority over us while Jesus defied Caesar when Caesar’s law conflicted with God’s.
Of the three things I am listing here, this is the one I am most uncomfortable with. The Scriptures make it clear that God both controls the hearts of the kings and rulers AND that some kings and rulers are evil. God deals with kings and nations in ways that don’t make sense to individuals. That’s all I can say about the topic, really. If I ever figure out a formula or system for understanding it, I will let you know.
So, back to the question. What to do with 1 Kings 22?
First of all, we are reading things as they happened and that means we have to believe that Micaiah actually said this to Ahab and Jehoshaphat. But we are also reading the rhetoric of a prophet and the point is not the parable of YHWH and his spirits but rather the prophecy that Ahab would die. That was true.
It is easy to dwell in the valley of minutiae and argue about why Micaiah put things this way. Perhaps it is the same reason that John used the image of Caesar’s triumph in describing the throne room of God some three thousand years later in the Revelation (Revelation 4). It is a momentary revelation.
Perhaps it was a reflection of Micaiah’s knowledge of Ahab’s own workings. The way Ahab’s servant Zedekiah responds seems to indicate that Micaiah struck a nerve. Perhaps Ahab had held a counsel earlier to draw Jehoshaphat down to battle, and that the counsel had looked and sounded very much like the one Micaiah described.
Maybe God does mislead the leaders of nations to bring about their downfall? After all, he did harden pharaoh’s heart during the ten plagues.
What this text does not teach is that YHWH sits in heaven trying to figure out how to lie to and manipulate the average person. This narrative is not normative, meaning we don’t form doctrine from it. We accept it as true, but we also accept that it is meant to explain Ahab’s downfall – not to establish principles for our lives.
James MacDonald recently posted “Five Things We Do Instead of Preach.” I won’t reiterate the points he made, all of which are valid.
I once had a pastor tell me that he was too busy to prepare sermons, which was why he bought and borrowed series from well-known ministries rather than write his own. Sure, he spent a little time customizing the messages for his congregation but the most important thing was that he was sharing Jesus with people, right?
There’s nothing wrong with using canned messages, but call them what they are. That’s not preaching, and it’s not teaching. It is recycling. You heard something that you thought was good and you’re sharing it with your congregation. As my daughter tells me, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.”
Here’s the thing for me. I was trained to preach, not recycle. I went to Bible college and seminary to learn how to proclaim the Scriptures boldly and plainly. My father was one of the best speakers I have ever heard share the Scriptures, and I learned a lot from his old school ways. Call it what you will, but I like to preach.
There is something deep inside of me that rejoices in unpacking a text, mulling over meanings and nuances, and then bringing that text to light on a Sunday morning. There’s no glitz or fancy videos. I don’t even use Powerpoint for bullet points (largely because I usually only have one point anyway).
A message during our worship gatherings is me and my Bible, the congregation and their Bible, and the Holy Spirit speaking through his word.
Styles vary, and maybe you like Powerpoint and moving backgrounds. Maybe you communicate with your videos and dramas. That’s great. God be praised. But that’s not preaching. That’s media. Those things don’t take the place of God’s man before God’s people, opening up the Scriptures and giving understanding (Nehemiah 8:8).
The Church of 2012 doesn’t need more self-help or missional strategies. It needs the Word of God, preached by God’s man through the Scriptures. (In case you missed that nuance, the Word of God is Jesus Christ.)
Recently, someone showed me a “new worship song”. They were so excited about the way it made them feel closer to God.
The “new worship song” opened with a pretty, melodic piano piece and was then followed by a single phrase – something like “I want to see you” – repeated five or six times before a big build and then a statement of all the ways the singer feels good when they are worshiping.
This is not worship.
Let me put this in context. Let’s say I wrote a love song for my wife and it went like this:
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
You do the dishes.
You scratch my back.
You take care of the stuff that I don’t want to do.
You give me sex whenever I want it.
You make me feel good about myself.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
Maybe my wife is different than yours, but my wife would haul off and slug me. Then she would not talk to me for at least the rest of the evening except to strongly suggest that I sleep on the couch.
Worship is not about repeating myself and commenting on how great it is that God gets to love me. That is narcissism, not worship.
People might say, “But it comes from the heart!” to which I reply, “Then your heart needs some adjustment because this tells me you are self-centered at heart.”
When we read the Psalms, the greatest book of worship songs ever written, we find a constant theme of God’s glory – very little of which involves the worshiper. Sure, the worshiper speaks a bit about himself from time to time, but then he turns it around and worships God in his divinity, transcendence and power. That bit about the worshiper – that’s not worship, it’s just context. The worship is the part about God.
The content of worship needs to be deeper and truer than our own emotional responses. That’s not to say that worship is not an emotional thing, but when all we can think of is our own emotions and responses, then it is actual self-worship and not God-worship.
Let me encourage you to pursue deeper content in your worship – musical or otherwise. Do not content yourself with putting on a Christian appearance for your sentimental journeys. If you need assistance, just pick up a psalm or two. They will feel unnaturally “deep” but they are after all God’s inspired worship.
Myths are powerful things. They are stories that might have some grounding in truth but are usually expanded far beyond their original scope. They drive and control the lives of those who accept them as fact without considering whether they align with reality.
Recently, I sent a link to this article from Jon Nicol about worship myths to the musicians in our congregation. Nicol listed three myths that affect small congregations, but there are lots of myths that float around the church – particularly small congregations – that paralyze us.
How do you break away from these controlling myths?
- Do some research and publicize the results. Don’t be intimidated by statements with no facts to support them. Find out whether these myths have any foundation and whether they even apply to you.
- Dream big together. As a ministry team, spend time dreaming. Make sure you clarify that dreaming is not planning. Dreaming is not bounded by budgets and limitations. It is exactly what it sounds like - dreaming. Jesus’ vision for you is bigger than your plans, and in dreaming, we often realize His vision.
- Write your own story. Myths try to write your story for you. Covenant together to write a story with the resources you have, to accomplish something only you can in only that place.
- Become the vision. Never stop learning. Never stop growing toward the vision God lays before you. Never stop failing forward in your quest to realize what He has set for you.
Ross Parsley was the worship pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. If the congregation’s name sounds familiar, that’s because you probably heard it on the news. In 2007, the senior pastor Ted Haggard resigned because he was outed by a male prostitute he had been paying for sex and crystal meth. The scandal was on national news.
While the scandal was breaking, Ross was in the hospital with his wife Aimee who was giving birth to their fifth child. He drove from the hospital to the church campus where he was named the interim pastor and served in that capacity until the congregation called Brad Boyd to be their new senior pastor.
In 2010, after eleven months of prayer and discussion, Ross left New Life and moved to Austin, Texas, where he and a small group started a new congregation – ONEChapel.
I didn’t know any of this when I requested his book Messy Church for review. I liked the title, and it resonated with a lot of things I have been thinking lately. But the book was far more than I expected, and I mean that in a good way. I actually wound up posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page, and I am thinking about buying copies for all the leaders in our congregation.
Parsley views the church not as a corporation or even as a pool of people but fundamentally as an interconnected, “messy” set of relationships. All these relationships are valuable. Relationships within families are important, of course, but he also emphasizes the need for multigenerational relationships that provide real mentoring, accountability, and encouragement – both for the young and the old.
This is something I have believed in for a long time. I learned how to study the Scriptures from my father and grandfather, who were often less than “kind” to me because they were provoking me to work harder and dig deeper. My dad was always challenging me to go deeper, to think harder. (We used to have “family church” one night a week, and I had to preach. I still remember “preaching” on Jonah at maybe seven or eight years old and being asked, “But what does it mean?”)
So, Parsley’s ideas really resonated with me.
He spends a lot of time talking about the need for the church to be more like a family, focused on relationships and not affinities. He admonishes the young for demanding that their elders be “cool” and then corrects the elder Christians who do not want to engage and involve the young. He also has some choice words for church leaders who abandon the older generations in favor of the “next generation.”
This multigenerational attitude is necessary for the church to succeed and grow. We must have people of all ages, working together. The older I get, the more convinced I am that the excesses of my own generation have deprived us of the beautiful guidance of our elders (not as in church leaders but as in older).
This was a book worth reading, worth discussing. Maybe I will buy it for our leaders. I haven’t decided yet, but if I don’t, I might still encourage them to buy it for themselves.
I read a digital copy of Messy Church as part of the netgalley.com program. I received no compensation from anyone involved with it for this review.
As a pastor, I am a teacher of the Scriptures. I spent most of my work life studying the Scriptures either alone or with a group.
When someone becomes a follower of Christ, the most important purchase they can make is a Bible of their own. This single book is the revelation of Christ, and without it, there is no Christianity.
I tell people this, so naturally they want to get a Bible. But then they get to a Barnes & Noble or a Christian book store and they discover that there are lots of choices when it comes to Bibles.
The Bible is really a collection of ancient texts, ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 years old. They are in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Since most of us are not too familiar with ancient Greek (and even I’m just barely literate in that language), obviously we have to read the Bible in a translation.
There are a lot of translations of the Scriptures, and the translations are not all created equally. In choosing a Bible translation, you need to consider the difference between a “literal” translation and a “dynamic” one.
To understand that difference, you need to know that translation takes a source language and converts it to a receiver language. Often, these languages are very different. For example, Hebrew is an abstract language with a very limited vocabulary. English on the other hand is a concrete language, with definitive meanings for words. English in 2012 CE is far more rigid than Hebrew was in 1000 BCE.
The difference between “literal” and “dynamic” translations is whether one is more concerned with the source language or the receiver language. Literal translations focus on the source language, which means that they often sound a bit stilted and awkward from time to time in the receiver language but they reflect the source better. Dynamic translations on the other hand focus on the receiver language, so they often read better but there is a certain amount of meaning and form that is lost in translation.
As a teacher, I prefer a literal translation. For literal translations, the King James Version (KJV) is still the gold standard. The KJV was the final version of an English translation that began with the work of a genius named William Tyndale; and continued by the English Protestants while in exile during the reign of Bloody Mary in the forms of the translation of Miles Coverdale and the Geneva Bible.
Although it was published 400 years ago, the KJV literally changed the English language. It is the translation I still remember verses in because I grew up with it. It was also the last time that the translation effort could change English to fit the originals rather than having to make the meaning of the originals fit into English. English has become far more rigid in the past couple of centuries.
The drawback to the KJV is that it is 400 years old and the most recent revision was done in 1769, over 200 years ago. That means some of the language forms are hard to decipher for the modern reader, and a lot of the words have changed meaning over the centuries.
Currently, I use the English Standard Version (ESV) which was completed in 2001 and has seen minor revisions in 2007 and 2011. The ESV is one of a number of translations that are considered the children of the KJV. Without getting into the history, there was a pretty terrible “new” translation done in 1881 that was supposed to replace the KJV, and since then scholars have been trying to get the balance of the KJV back but in modern language, with modern scholarship. The result has been no more than six other translations, all of which share a heritage with the KJV (Revised Version, American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Version, New King James Version).
I am not a fan of dynamic translations personally. They are usually easier to read than literal translations but they often fall short of the meaning of the original text. I find myself looking at them and asking, “Why translate it like that?” But they work for some folks. If you’re not too terribly interested in nuance and subtlety, then a dynamic translation like the New International Version (NIV) might be a good choice for you.
But choosing a translation is only part of choosing a Bible. The Christian publishing houses have pumped out hundreds of different kinds of Bibles, with explanatory commentary and notes included in the margins.
I personally got tired of these things, and I have not used a study Bible in probably fifteen years. I prefer just reading the text of Scripture. But different strokes for different folks.
I won’t recommend a study Bible to people, but I often suggest that they take a few minutes to research the editor or compiler of the notes in a study Bible. For example, the study Bible I used as a teenager was a Scofield Study Bible. The notes in the Scofield were usually excellent, but it had a very definite agenda. The author of the notes held to two relatively recent views – the Gap Theory of Genesis and Dispensationalism – that he enforced throughout his text. I was unaware of this, so I took the notes to be completely reliable, which of course led to adopting his views.
There are also some fairly complicated study Bibles. The Thompson Chain Study Bible uses a huge set of five digit numbers to link to study notes, and from there to other notes. I owned one for several years before I figured out how the numbers worked.
If you choose to purchase a study Bible, select one done by a conservative teacher and which clarifies the text rather than adding all kinds of unnecessary commentary. But my recommendation is to just go with a Bible that has a minimum of notes.
Size and Binding
And then, there are all the different bindings and sizes of Bibles. I carry a thinline Bible when I preach, largely because I use no notes or outlines. As one of our congregants put it, I “freestyle”. A thinline Bible is narrow and contains only the text. It is easy to use and light to carry.
In contrast, there are many ENORMOUS Bibles that look like leatherbound dictionaries. These are often stuffed out with marginal notes, indices and study guides. Many pastors use these enormous Bibles and take great pride in the worn out nature of their Bibles. As they often say, “I worn out Bible indicates a believer who isn’t.”
There are often hardcover and paperback Bibles, which are usually far less expensive than leather bound Bibles.
The choose of these things is really up to you. Just make sure you make your translation and study guide chooses BEFORE you make your choice for looks.
Around 5,000 years ago, there were three languages spoken in the Middle East that have no relationship whatsoever to any other known language – present or ancient. These three languages – Sumerian, Elamite and Hattic – are older than the pyramids. They are older than even the Egyptians.
We have no clue where these languages came from or why the people who spoke them spoke them. They are prehistoric languages. They are quite literally the languages men and women were speaking when it first occurred to them to start using symbols in clay to represent their words. They are the languages people were speaking in their respective regions when they came up with the idea of the wheel, and possibly even agriculture and fire.
In many ways, the stories of these languages are the stories of human history in the Middle East. They are worth considering, not only because of their ancient origins but also because of their relatively recent extinctions.
Sumer sits in ancient Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. We don’t know exactly how long the Sumerians lived in the region, but we think they were responsible for the domestication of cattle and sheep, the development of staple crops such as barley and emmer wheat, and the basic structuring of human society into towns. They developed the wheel and struck on the idea of keeping records by pressing a sharpened read into tablets of wet mud to make symbols.
They lived and worked happily in their region until about 4,500 years ago when another group of people, who are known today as the Amorites, swept down from modern day Syria and conquered them. The Amorites set up what is known as the Babylonian kingdom, and their language became the language of trade and government.
In Mesopotamia, they became the Akkadians, and their language became the lingua franca of most of the Middle East. But Akkadian gave birth to a number of other languages, related to it in varying degrees. Eventually, the languages spoken to the west in Palestine would evolve independently into their own language group and give birth to the languages of Canaanite and Hebrew. These would be heavily influenced by Egyptian, which shared a common origin with Akkadian although it developed along completely different lines.
Akkadian took the Sumerian method of writing for its own, using many of the symbols to represent their own words, and Sumerian in turn borrowed a lot from Akkadian as it made its long, slow march toward extinction. But Akkadian was an entirely different language, the first of what are known as Semitic languages.
Within a millennium, Sumerian was all but extinct and although it persisted as something of a classical language until around the time of Christ, it was pretty much gone by about 3,500 years ago.
To the Sumerians’ north in modern day Turkey, there was another language group that called themselves the Hatti. They spoke a wildly different language and contented themselves with basic farming, a semi-nomadic existence and experimenting with metal work.
They did not build cities or even towns at first. In fact, at Çatalhöyük (pronounced however you want to!), archaeologists uncovered one of the strangest living experiments ever known. The town has no streets or paths. It does not even have doors. People entered their homes through holes in the roofs. They buried their dead under their floors. They farmed, but their farms were seven miles from the village. There are no public buildings, so if they had any form of government, it must have met offsite.
For thousands of years, the Hatti seemed to have lived all by themselves in a land that no one was terribly interested in. They spoke their own language, of which we don’t have a single inscription; but it obviously existed through allusions in the writings of their conquerors. They had a very loose form of regional government, more of a “we’ll help you if you help us” arrangement than a government.
Around 4,000 years ago, another people called the Nesa invaded Hattusa (the land of the Hatti). They swept down from the region of the Black Sea, and one by one they conquered the Hatti regions. The Nesa, who spoke Nesili, a language that has loose but definite ties to other languages spoken in the world.
The Nesa, who history calls the Hittites after the people they conquered, were a ruling minority. They kept the Hatti in a feudal state and used them in their armies. In the Bible, the Nesa and Hatti are both called Hethiy (Hittites) because by the time the Bible was written, their culture was already an old one.
No one knows when Hatti died out as a language, but it is likely that by the time of the Assyrian empire, it had already been extinguished.
Of the three, Elamite lasted the longest. It was still being used as a liturgical language in what is today Iran when Alexander the Great’s armies conquered the known world.
In the mountains of western Iran, the people who called themselves the Haltamti managed to perpetuate their culture and language through multiple phases of ruling and being ruled. For a time, they dominated the Sumerians and Akkadians.
Around 2,600 years ago, the Haltamti were subjugated by invading Aryan tribes which called themselves the Parsua, or Persians. The Parsua brought their own language with them, but they adopted much of the Elamite way of life. In time, the two groups became indistinguishable, but Elamite as a language died out.
Why Does This Matter?
These three languages isolate form the core of a world that was then dominated and controlled by people we call “Semitic”, after Noah’s son Shem. The Semitic peoples came from somewhere and over the course of about two thousand years displaced or destroyed the three cultures that existed before them. Archaeology has shown that the Nesa and Amorites were Semitic, as were the Arameans, Chaldeans, Canaanites, Phoenicians, the Edomites, and the Ammonites. Although genetically the Egyptians were distinct from the Semitics, they spoke a Semitic language.
When we study the Bible and read about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Exodus, David and all the other people of the Hebrews, it is easy to forget that what we are reading is the tail end of a huge story. We are reading some of the last migrations of Semitic peoples on a landscape that had already been worn down by the feet of migrations, invasions and assimilations.
By the time Moses and Joshua led the sons of Israel out of Egypt and into Canaan, the Canaanites had been living there for three thousand years or more. The Hebrews and Canaanites, linguistically and archaeologically, were descendants of the same groups that had swept over the Sumerians a millennium before but the distance of time and language had so separated them that would never have known.
After all, a modern Englishman looks and talks nothing like his Saxon, Norman or Dane forebears. Most Scotsmen would recoil if they knew that they share more of a genetic heritage with Germans than with the Celtic people who inhabited his land before the Romans. And the Celts themselves displaced yet another people group, of which we know only in legend. Millennia do a lot to change our perspectives and thoughts.
Before the earliest period of the Hebrew Scriptures, there were others living in the lands we read about. That’s something that is hard to process for people who tend to see the history of the world only in terms of the Biblical narrative. The idea that our story as human beings is really a recent innovation takes some getting used to, but there it is.
It requires some serious rethinking about how we read the Scriptures, and it should call us to ask some really hard questions of ourselves. In no way am I saying that the Bible is not accurate or that it is untrue. But it is worth asking whether our interpretation of it is not based on an incomplete understanding of what it has to say.
Just some things to think about this morning.
Amorites, Ammonites, Jebusites, Edomites, blah-blah-ites. What’s with all these -ites in the Bible?
Sometimes the most confusing thing about reading the Bible is all of the names. Because the early translators used a sort of English shorthand for lots of different idioms, it gets overwhelming and redundant to have all these -ites and not know anything about them.
Here’s a quick list from Genesis 10, known as “The Table of Nations”. It lists seventy people groups who lived in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean basin, and it divides them as descendants of Noah’s three sons.
Japtheth (יפת, “open”)
The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras.
And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah.
And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.
By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. (Genesis 10:2-5)
Let’s start with a couple of misconceptions. The word Gentiles is the Hebrew word goyim and it simply means “nations” or “peoples.” In early Hebrew usage, it means people not from around here. These are people who are distinct from the local conflicts of the Hebrew people. Those conflicts, we will soon see, are about the rivalry between the sons of Ham and the sons of Shem.
The sons of Japheth are the people who lived to the west and north of Israel – in modern Turkey, Armenia and Greece, as well as the islands of the Mediterranean. They lived in the open spaces.
And here, we encounter a Hebrew plural form -im. It appears in Kittim and Dodanim. These words are plurals of the words Kittiy and Dodan. These are foreign words which appear nowhere else in Hebrew except as some kind of geographical identifier.
We believe that Kittiy is the term the Hebrews used for the island of Cyprus. The city of Larnaca, on eastern Cyprus, was known as Kition as early as the 13th century BCE, and the derivation seems to be pretty solid.
Dodan is not as easy to identify. It is possible that the pronunciation was changed from Rodan, in which a likely candidate is the island of Rhodes in the Aegean. In the victory inscription of Ramesses II from the Battle of Karnak in 1275, there is mention of a group of Hittite allies called the Dardanayu. They came from the Aegean, so they might be the same geographic identifier. If so, then the Dodanim would have lived in the Aegean islands.
But the really -ite activity begins with the sons of Ham and Shem.
Ham (חם, “hot”)
And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan.
And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtecha: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city.
And Mizraim begat Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehabim, and Naphtuhim, and Pathrusim, and Casluhim, (out of whom came Philistim,) and Caphtorim.
And Canaan begat Sidon his firstborn, and Heth, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, and the Girgasite, and the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite, and the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite: and afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.
These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations. (Genesis 10:6-20)
Let’s begin with Ham’s four sons, and the -ites get a bit easier to sort out. They are listed in order of distance from Palestine.
- Cush is mostly people in Africa south of the 2nd cataract of the Nile, except for Nimrod. Nimrod establishes cities in what is today Iraq and Syria. More of that in a minute.
- Mizraim is Egypt, in fact everywhere you read the English word Egypt, it is a replacement for the Hebrew word Mizraim.
- Phut appears to be western Africa, the region of Libya
- Canaan is, of course, Canaan or Palestine as it was later known.
It is in the sons of Canaan that we encounter our -ites. A lot of them are relatively unknown to history, but the Hebrew forms are quite interesting, so I am going to list them out and note how they appear in Hebrew. Specifically, these are considered the people who lived in Canaan when the Hebrews arrived. Eventually, most of them seem to have merged with other people groups.
The first two are easy, because they’re not -ites. They are geographical designations for regions.
- Sidon (צידון) – southwestern Lebanon today, the core of what became the Phoenicians.
- Heth or Hat (חת) – the region of Hatti, Syria and western Turkey – the land of the Hittites
- Jebusite (יבוסי, Yebusiy, “of the threshing floor”) – Interestingly, the author does not say Jebus as he did Sidon and Heth. Most people assume that Jebus is the name of a person, but it may also be that these were the people who lived around the threshing floor – what became Jerusalem.
- Amorite (אמרי, Amoriy, “of the speaker” or “of the public place”) – Amor is an old Canaanite word for speaker, so it may be that these were the city dwellers of the Canaanites although the presence of the word Chamath later might indicate that they were people who lived at the assembly places. Israel had a couple of places where people, probably representatives of the various peoples, gathered to hear proclamations. (Both Deuteronomy and Joshua are written around these kinds of places.)
- Girgasite (גרגשׁי, Gergasiy, “of the clay”) – Gerad is the Hebrew word for clay. So this could be a group of people who lived in a region known for its clay, like the region east of the Sea of Galilee or it is a group known for working with clay.
- Hivite (חוי, Chiviy, “of the village”) – if the Amorites are the city dwellers, the Hivites are the villagers, those who lived in the unwalled collectives in the region.
- Arkite (ערקי, “of the sinew” or “of the fleeing”) – we assume an affinity of this name with the word ‘araq but no one is really sure how it works. The root word appears only in Job (30:3, 17). In particular, Job 30:3 seems to indicate something people would do in starvation – perhaps gnawing on the sinew or marrow of bones. But no one knows. The imagery of Job evokes, for me at least, images of the Gadarean demoniac.
- Sinite (סיני, Ciyniy, “of the thorns” or “of the moon goddess”) – the word Ciyn appears several times as a descriptor of a wilderness through which the sons of Israel journeyed. No one knows what it actually means. Some thing it means “thorn” while others equate it to the Canaanite moon goddess who might have been called SIN.
- Arvadite (ארודי, ‘rwadiy “of the loose land”) – this word could best be translated as “nomads” because that is the image it evokes. These are people who are not tied to a location or a practice. They are wanderers.
- Zemarite (צמרי, Tzamardiy, “of the two wools”) – Hebrew has a plural form called the dual, denoting pairings of things. It is used for legs, heavens, eyes, and anything else that comes in pairs. This name is derived from the dual of TZEMER or “wool”. Probably these were shepherds and goatherds, although this might also connect to the materials used to make their clothes. We know from Egyptian descriptions that some Canaanites were known for wearing striped woolen garments.
- Hamathite (חמתי, Chamathiy, “of the fortress”) – people who dwell in fortresses.
So, here is a list of the sons of Canaan, all of which have something to do with the way they lived when the Hebrews arrived. They are not necessarily patronyms at all.
Shem (שׁם, “name”)
This is driven home when we read the list of the descendants of Shem and realize that since Shem actually means “name” we are looking at the names of his descendants rather than descriptions of their lifestyles.
Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born. The children of Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram.
And the children of Aram; Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash.
And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber. And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan. And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah, And Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah, And Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba, And Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were the sons of Joktan.
And their dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest unto Sephar a mount of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. (Genesis 10:21-31)
First of all, it should be noted that Eber may be the source of the word Hebrew and that the genealogy is picked up again in Genesis 11 to tell the connection from Shem to Abraham.
Second, it is worth noting that these are definitely names. There is a distinctly different feel to the way the names are presented. For one thing, it is linear. Both the families of Japheth and Ham only go two or three generations. Here, the genealogy follows the line through one son of Eber, Joktan. In chapter 11, it follows the other son, Peleg.
The division between Peleg and Joktan is the “in his days was the earth divide”, much to the displeasure of creation scientists everywhere who want to make this the continental drift. The line of Shem divides between the two sons of Eber. There is more or less a consensus among scholars that Joktan is representative of the Arab peoples.
Joktan was probably the Hebrew name for the northern Arabian cultures, which are largely nomadic due to the topography of the region. It is generally conjectured among linguists that the Semitic languages began in northern Arabia and spread out from there.
What is interesting about the Semitic peoples is that they are not labeled as -ites generally. They are given the English suffix -ans. So, we have the Assyrians and the Chaldeans and the Babylonians instead of the Assurites, the Chaldites and the Babylonites. This is an intentional distinction, made first in Latin and Greek, and then carried through into English.
Within the line of Shem, we will encounter Abraham and his father Terah. From Abraham’s brother Haran, we get his son Lot. Lot is the progenitor of two of the Hebrews’ closest relatives and rivals, through an incestuous relationship with his daughters:
- Ammonites (עמוני, Ammowniy, “of the tribes”) – the Ammonites are generally called simply AMMONIYM or “the tribes”. They are rarely an organized group.
- Moabites (מֹואָבִי, Moabiy, “of her father”) – likewise, the Moabites have kings from time to time, but they are nomadic peoples.
Both the Ammonites and the Moabites lived in modern Jordan. They were bordered to the south by the Edomites (descendants of Israel’s brother Esau) and the southeast by the Ishmaelites (descendants of Abraham’s illegitimate son with an Egyptian woman). There are also a number of related groups, all of which are various forms of -ites, including people like the Kenites and the Midianites. Do a little digging and you’ll find their relationships to the Hebrews as well.
There is one last group worth mentioning – the Pilistim, or the Philistines. Originally, this term was a designation for people who lived in what is today the Gaza strip. Historically, another group invaded the region during the Bronze Age Collapse and the Hebrews simply referred to them as Pilistim as well although they were clearly a different people.