What does “brother” mean?

When Jesus says “brother” – does he mean your actual brother?

Matthew 18:15-17

15 “If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained back your brother. 16 But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.

Remember, we are to forgive people:

Matthew 18:21-22

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.

But does he mean actual blood-relation brother? What does Jesus say about family relations?

Matthew 10:34-36

34 “Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 A man’s foes will be those of his own household.

This refers back to a message in the Hebrew Scriptures –

Micah 7:5-7

Don’t trust in a neighbor.
    Don’t put confidence in a friend.
    With the woman lying in your embrace,
    be careful of the words of your mouth!
For the son dishonors the father,
    the daughter rises up against her mother,
    the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
    a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
But as for me, I will look to Yahweh.
    I will wait for the God of my salvation.
    My God will hear me.

We are to trust in God alone – not our family of origin. If they too are following the word of God, that makes it easier, but we are to still follow God, not people just because they are related to us by blood. What they do matters more than who they are.

Matthew 10:11-15

11 Into whatever city or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you go on. 12 As you enter into the household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 Whoever doesn’t receive you or hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15 Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.

What does Jesus say about brothers?

Matthew 5:21-24

21 “You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgment. Whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ will be in danger of the council. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna. 23 “If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 

It is important to note that “brother” in this passage is the Greek word “adelphos”, meaning fellow disciple.  It doesn’t refer to blood kin at all, but someone who you are in a committed, covenanted relationship with. 

In this passage, Jesus lets us know that actions are thicker than blood:

Matthew 12:46-50

46 While he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, seeking to speak to him. 47 One said to him, “Behold, your mother and your brothers stand outside, seeking to speak to you.” 48 But he answered him who spoke to him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 He stretched out his hand toward his disciples, and said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

So, if your actual brother is evil to you, you are to forgive him, but you are not obligated to endure his abuse. He is not in a committed relationship with you. He made no promises to be kind to you. Actions speak louder than words. If he is abusive, let him know how his actions make you feel. If he changes, great. If not, he has chosen to not be a real “brother” to you. This is his loss, and reflects poorly on him, not you.

(All Bible translations are World English Bible, public domain.)

Jesus does not punish.

I’m not sure why the Christian church has gotten into the sin-punishment business, because that was never what Jesus did. Penance isn’t the plan. He never judged anyone, so neither should Christians.

Jesus comes to save the lost – not berate them or make them feel bad.

Matthew 18:11

11 For the Son of Man came to save that which was lost”

His disciples get angry when a Samaritan town rejects Jesus, and they want to call down the wrath of God to destroy the town. Jesus rebukes them because he is about saving lives, not destroying them.

Luke 9:51-56

51 It came to pass, when the days were near that he should be taken up, he intently set his face to go to Jerusalem 52 and sent messengers before his face. They went and entered into a village of the Samaritans, so as to prepare for him. 53 They didn’t receive him, because he was traveling with his face set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples, James and John, saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from the sky and destroy them, just as Elijah did?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them, “You don’t know of what kind of spirit you are. 56 For the Son of Man didn’t come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” They went to another village. 

Jesus was not sent to judge us at all.

John 3:17

17 For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.

Jesus teaches us what to do if a fellow-believer (what the term “brother” means) has done something harmful to you.  

Matthew 18:15-17

15 “If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained back your brother. 16 But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.

You are to stop associating with him.  There is nothing in there about punishment or penance.  The brother has proven through his actions that he isn’t interested in following the same rules as the group. He has chosen through his actions not to belong. You don’t need to do anything.

Jesus came to be a servant, not to be served.  He has no desire to rule over anyone. This was illustrated in the story of the mother of the sons of Zebedee (James and John, two of his disciples) who wanted them to be specially honored –

Matthew 20:27-28

27 Whoever desires to be first among you shall be your bondservant, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus repeats his mission in the story of Zaccheus –

Luke 19:10

10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Jesus doesn’t judge anyone – even if they don’t believe in what he says.

John 12:47

47 If anyone listens to my sayings, and doesn’t believe, I don’t judge him. For I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

Jesus again refuses to judge.

Luke 12:13-14

13 One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?”

Since Jesus doesn’t judge, neither should Christians.

(All Bible translations are from the World English Bible – public domain)

Who can be a minister?

We don’t have to debate about whether women or people who are gay should be ordained as ministers.  We can look at the words of Jesus and learn the answer to who is a minister.

Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Him with her sons. She knelt down to ask Him for something. 21 “What do you want?” He asked her. “Promise,” she said to Him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and the other on Your left, in Your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able,” they said to Him. 23 He told them, “You will indeed drink My cup. But to sit at My right and left is not Mine to give; instead, it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” 24 When the 10 disciples heard this, they became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”

This thought is continued a few chapters later – 

Matthew 23:8-10 
8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah.

We can assume this instruction extends to all titles that are currently used for ordained ministers. We aren’t supposed to elevate ourselves over other people, and we are not supposed to put other people over us.

Even Jesus insisted on this rule for himself.  He continually pointed to God as the only one above us – not even himself. 

Luke 18:18-19 
18 A ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good but One—God."

So the answer is simple.  NOBODY is supposed to be above anybody else in the Church.  No ordained ministers, no bishops, no popes – NOBODY.  Only God is above us. This is what Jesus teaches us, and as he is the Messiah, that is what matters.

We are all ministers, by virtue of our call to this life.  If we do what God tells us to do, we are Jesus’ family.

Matthew 12:46-50 
46 He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly His mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to Him. 47 Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.”  48 But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

So who is a minister? Those who do good.

Matthew 7:15-20 
15 “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.”

What are some examples of “fruit”?

Galatians 5:22-25 
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.

And you can’t ever go wrong with treating other people the same way you would want to be treated.

That includes – giving food to the hungry, giving a beverage to the thirsty, giving shelter to the homeless, giving clothing to the naked, healing to the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.  (See Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus is far more interested in what we DO more than what we BELIEVE.  It is about right action, instead of right ritual.  It doesn’t matter what day you serve God, because it should be every day. It doesn’t matter what gender or sexual orientation you are, because this call is for everyone.

We are not to create limits. The work is too important, and too big. So who is a minister? Anyone who does the will of God. 

Mark 9:38-40 38 
John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” 39 “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus, “because there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name who can soon afterward speak evil of Me.40 For whoever is not against us is for us.
Matthew 9:37-38 
37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Notice that in all of the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t talk about what people should wear, length of clothing or hair, or what is the right seminary to go to – because these things don’t matter. Jesus called day laborers – simple fishermen and tax collectors, to be his disciples. They weren’t educated. They weren’t first in their class. They were simple people, just like us. He calls us too, right now, as we are.  We are called to be Jesus to a world that is desperate for his healing touch.

Changing God’s mind

There are several instances in the Bible when people intervened in God’s plans. They spoke up about the situation and God changed God’s mind. 

Genesis 18:16-33

(Abraham bargains with God, where God agrees to save Sodom and Gomorrah if there are just 10 righteous people there.)

16 The men got up from there and looked out over Sodom, and Abraham was walking with them to see them off. 17 Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham? 18 Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen[i] him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. This is how the Lord will fulfill to Abraham what He promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious. 21 I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to Me. If not, I will find out.”

22 The men turned from there and went toward Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will You really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will You really sweep it away instead of sparing the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people who are in it? 25 You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

26 The Lord said, “If I find 50 righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham answered, “Since I have ventured to speak to the Lord—even though I am dust and ashes— 28 suppose the 50 righteous lack five. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?”

He replied, “I will not destroy it if I find 45 there.”

29 Then he spoke to Him again, “Suppose 40 are found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it on account of 40.”

30 Then he said, “Let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak further. Suppose 30 are found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find 30 there.”

31 Then he said, “Since I have ventured to speak to the Lord, suppose 20 are found there?”

He replied, “I will not destroy it on account of 20.”

32 Then he said, “Let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak one more time. Suppose 10 are found there?”

He answered, “I will not destroy it on account of 10.” 33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, He departed, and Abraham returned to his place.

Genesis 19:17-22

(Lot convinces the angels of the Lord to let him escape to a different place.)

17 As soon as the angels got them outside, one of them  said, “Run for your lives! Don’t look back and don’t stop anywhere on the plain! Run to the mountains, or you will be swept away!”

18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords—please. 19 Your servant has indeed found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness by saving my life. But I can’t run to the mountains; the disaster will overtake me, and I will die. 20 Look, this town is close enough for me to run to. It is a small place. Please let me go there—it’s only a small place, isn’t it?—so that I can survive.”

21 And he said to him, “All right, I’ll grant your request[i] about this matter too and will not demolish the town you mentioned. 22 Hurry up! Run there, for I cannot do anything until you get there.” Therefore the name of the city is Zoar.

Exodus 4:10-17

(Moses gets the Lord to agree to let Aaron do all the talking with Pharaoh, instead of himself.)

10 But Moses replied to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent—either in the past or recently or since You have been speaking to Your servant—because I am slow and hesitant in speech.”

11 Yahweh said to him, “Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh? 12 Now go! I will help[e] you speak and I will teach you what to say.”

13 Moses said, “Please, Lord, send someone else.”

14 Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses, and He said, “Isn’t Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, he is on his way now to meet you. He will rejoice when he sees you. 15 You will speak with him and tell him what to say. I will help[g] both you and him to speak and will teach you both what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you. He will be your spokesman, and you will serve as God to him. 17 And take this staff in your hand that you will perform the signs with.”

Exodus 32:11-14

(The Lord wants to destroy the Israelites because they were worshipping a golden calf and not the Lord.  Moses convinces the Lord to spare them.)

11 But Moses interceded with the Lord his God: “Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from Your great anger and relent concerning this disaster planned for Your people.13 Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel—You swore to them by Your very self and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord relented concerning the disaster He said He would bring on His people.

Numbers 11:11-17

(The Lord told Moses that he had to lead the people, but it was too much for him, so the Lord gave authority to 70 elders to help him.)

11 So Moses asked the Lord, “Why have You brought such trouble on Your servant? Why are You angry with me, and why do You burden me with all these people? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so You should tell me, ‘Carry them at your breast, as a nursing woman carries a baby,’ to the land that You swore to give their fathers? 13 Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying to me: ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If You are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now. If You are pleased with me, don’t let me see my misery anymore.”

16 The Lord answered Moses, “Bring Me 70 men from Israel known to you as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the tent of meeting and have them stand there with you. 17 Then I will come down and speak with you there. I will take some of the Spirit who is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you bear the burden of the people, so that you do not have to bear it by yourself.

Numbers 14:11-20

(The Lord gets angry because the Israelites are complaining and ungrateful and threatens to kill them all. Moses intervenes, again.)

11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people despise Me? How long will they not trust in Me despite all the signs I have performed among them? 12 I will strike them with a plague and destroy them. Then I will make you into a greater and mightier nation than they are.”

13 But Moses replied to the Lord, “The Egyptians will hear about it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from them. 14 They will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people, how You, Lord, are seen face to face, how Your cloud stands over them, and how You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 If You kill this people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of Your fame will declare, 16 ‘Since the Lord wasn’t able to bring this people into the land He swore to give them, He has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’

17 “So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as You have spoken: 18 The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. 19 Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” 20 The Lord responded, “I have pardoned them as you requested.

Numbers 16:18-24

(Moses prevents God from wiping out the entire community when it was just a few who were rebellious.)

18 Each man took his firepan, placed fire in it, put incense on it, and stood at the entrance to the tent of meeting along with Moses and Aaron. 19 After Korah assembled the whole community against them at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the glory of the Lordappeared to the whole community. 20 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, 21 “Separate yourselves from this community so I may consume them instantly.”

22 But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and said, “God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You vent Your wrath on the whole community?”

23 The Lord replied to Moses, 24 “Tell the community: Get away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”

Numbers 16:41-50

(The Israelites are angry again, the Lord wants to kill all of them again, and Moses and Aaron intervene again.)

41 The next day the entire Israelite community complained about Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the Lord’s people!” 42 When the community assembled against them, Moses and Aaron turned toward the tent of meeting, and suddenly the cloud covered it, and the Lord’s glory appeared.

43 Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord said to Moses, 45 “Get away from this community so that I may consume them instantly.” But they fell facedown.

46 Then Moses told Aaron, “Take your firepan, place fire from the altar in it, and add incense. Go quickly to the community and make atonement for them, because wrath has come from the Lord; the plague has begun.” 47 So Aaron took his firepan as Moses had ordered, ran into the middle of the assembly, and saw that the plague had begun among the people. After he added incense, he made atonement for the people. 48 He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was halted. 49 But those who died from the plague numbered 14,700, in addition to those who died because of the Korah incident. 50 Aaron then returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, since the plague had been halted.

Joshua 10:12-15

(God listens to Joshua and changes how the Sun works.)

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 And the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.

Isn’t this written in the Book of Jashar?

So the sun stopped
in the middle of the sky
and delayed its setting
almost a full day.

14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man, because the Lord fought for Israel.15 Then Joshua and all Israel with him returned to the camp at Gilgal.

Judges 6:11-15

(Gideon is bold and asks for a sign from the Angel of the Lord to prove to him that he is being sent to defeat the enemies.)

11 The Angel of the Lord came, and He sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine vat in order to hide it from the Midianites. 12 Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 Gideon said to Him, “Please Sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, ‘Hasn’t the Lord brought us out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?”

15 He said to Him, “Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”

16 “But I will be with you,” the Lord said to him. “You will strike Midian down as if it were one man.”

17 Then he said to Him, “If I have found favor in Your sight, give me a sign that You are speaking with me. 18 Please do not leave this place until I return to You. Let me bring my gift and set it before You.”

And He said, “I will stay until you return.”

Numbers 27:1-11

(Daughters, who would have been excluded from the inheritance laws, get Moses to ask God to change the laws for them.)

The daughters of Zelophehad approached; Zelophehad was the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh from the clans of Manasseh, the son of Joseph. These were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 2 They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and the entire community at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness, but he was not among Korah’s followers, who gathered together against the Lord. Instead, he died because of his own sin, and he had no sons. 4 Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan? Since he had no son, give us property among our father’s brothers.”

5 Moses brought their case before the Lord, 6 and the Lord answered him, 7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters say is correct. You are to give them hereditary property among their father’s brothers and transfer their father’s inheritance to them. 8 Tell the Israelites: When a man dies without having a son, transfer his inheritance to his daughter. 9 If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 If his father has no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative of his clan, and he will take possession of it. This is to be a statutory ordinance for the Israelites as the Lord commanded Moses.”

Ezekial 4:9-15

(Ezekial gets God to change God’s mind about what kind of fuel to use, because the first kind isn’t kosher.)

9 “Also take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt. Put them in a single container and make them into bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the number of days you lie on your side, 390 days. 10 The food you eat each day will be eight ounces by weight; you will eat it from time to time. 11 You are also to drink water by measure, a sixth of a gallon, which you will drink from time to time. 12 You will eat it as you would a barley cake and bake it over dried human excrement in their sight.” 13 The Lord said, “This is how the Israelites will eat their bread—ceremonially unclean—among the nations where I will banish them.”

14 But I said, “Oh, Lord God, I have never been defiled. From my youth until now I have not eaten anything that died naturally or was mauled by wild beasts. And impure meat has never entered my mouth.”

15 He replied to me, “Look, I will let you use cow dung instead of human excrement, and you can make your bread over that.” 

(All Bible translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

On the Call from God

What does it mean to be called by God? Let us look at two similar examples from the Bible.

Exodus 3:1-12

Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed. So Moses thought: I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

“Here I am,” he answered.

“Do not come closer,” He said. “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then He continued, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The Israelites’ cry for help has come to Me, and I have also seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 Therefore, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 He answered, “I will certainly be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you: when you bring the people out of Egypt, you will all worshipGod at this mountain.”

And then, in a later book we read –

Jeremiah 1:4-10

The word of the Lord came to me:

I chose you before I formed you in the womb;
I set you apart before you were born.
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

But I protested, “Oh no, Lord, God! Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth.”

Then the Lord said to me:

Do not say, “I am only a youth,”
for you will go to everyone I send you to
and speak whatever I tell you.
Do not be afraid of anyone,
for I will be with you to deliver you.
This is the Lord’s declaration.

Then the Lord reached out His hand, touched my mouth, and told me:

I have now filled your mouth with My words.
10 See, I have appointed you today
over nations and kingdoms
to uproot and tear down,
to destroy and demolish,
to build and plant.

Both prophets protested, saying that they weren’t capable of doing what God asks.  But we have to remember that God sees with different eyes.  God knows our strengths better than we do – even ones that are currently hidden.  If God calls you to something, God knows best.  It is important to remember that you will be able to do what God is calling you to do if you do it WITH God, not by yourself.

(Bible translations are from HCSB)

Following immediately

Look at these two different verses, one from the Christian scriptures, and the one it echoes from the Hebrew scriptures.

Luke 9:56-62 (TLV)

56 Then they moved on to another village. 57 As they were traveling on the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 But Yeshua said to him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 He said to another, “Follow Me.” But that one said, “First let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Yeshua said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Then another also said, “I will follow You, Master, but first let me say goodbye to those in my home.” 62 But Yeshua said to him, “No one who has put his hand to the plow and looked back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 

While all of this passage is interesting, this post is concerned with verses 61-62.

Now look at the parallel –

 

1 Kings 19:19-21 (HCSB)

19 Elijah left there and found Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing. Twelve teams of oxen were in front of him, and he was with the twelfth team. Elijah walked by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 Elisha left the oxen, ran to follow Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother, and then I will follow you.” “Go on back,” he replied, “for what have I done to you?” 21 So he turned back from following him, took the team of oxen, and slaughtered them. With the oxen’s wooden yoke and plow, he cooked the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he left, followed Elijah, and served him.

 

In the Hebrew scriptures (1 Kings 19:19-21) the prophet-to-be Elisha is allowed to go back and finish up his business.  Yet in the Christian scriptures (Luke 9:56-62), the unnamed follower-to-be is denied this.

Is it because he wasn’t chosen?  In the case of Elisha, God told Elijah that he was to be selected as his follower, moreover, as his successor.  He is not just a follower, but is going to be an equal to Elijah in status and power.

Yet the follower of Yeshua (The Hebrew name of Jesus) was not chosen.  He chose to follow, instead of being chosen.  There is a difference, and it is important.  He was at risk of turning away, of being distracted from his healthy choice, if he went to his family – his old way of living.  He had to follow immediately or he would be in danger of being distracted from the path that leads to life.

This feels like an echo of the Parable of the Sower.  Here is the Condensed Gospel version of Jesus’ explanation of it –

The parable of the sower explained

Jesus said “Do you not understand this parable? Then how are you going to be able to understand any of them? The seed is the word of God. The sower is the one who shares it with others. The people along the path are those who have heard the message about the kingdom and don’t understand it. Satan has snatched away the words that were sown in their hearts so they would not believe and be saved.”

As for the seed sown on rocky ground, this represents the people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. However, because they are not rooted in their faith, they believe for a little while but stumble when troubles come because of the word.

Regarding the seed sown among thorns, these are the people who hear the word but are distracted and paralyzed by worry and greed, and the word is not able to take root in them and produce any fruit.

But the seed sown on good ground represents the people who hear the word with honest and open hearts. They understand it, welcome it, and through endurance are able to bear much fruit, even up to 100 times what was sown.”

MT 13:18-24, MK 4:13-20, LK 8:11-15

Take a second look.

On the walk to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-31) two disciples meet Jesus on the road. Their eyes were kept from recognizing them (verse 16).

I find verses 28-29 striking –

“They approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther on. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is already gone.” So He went in to stay with them.”

It was only after they encouraged him to stay with them that he revealed who he was. They were rewarded for being patient and hospitable. They were rewarded for being curious.

This reminds me of Moses in Exodus 3:1-4 –

“Now Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. So he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, coming to the mountain of God, Horeb. Then the angel of ADONAI appeared to him in a flame of fire from within a bush. So he looked and saw the bush burning with fire, yet it was not consumed. Moses thought, “I will go now, and see this great sight. Why is the bush not burnt?” When ADONAI saw that he turned to look, He called to him out of the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” So he answered, “Hineni.”

It is from this moment that the deliverance of Israel from slavery began, because it was here that God gave Moses his commission.

In both of these verses, we learn that God rewards us for taking a second look, for being curious. We are rewarded for looking beneath the surface and digging deeper.

(All Bible translations are Tree of Life Version)

As it is written – or not.

Let us look at some words from Paul.

Romans 3:1-21

“Then what is the advantage of being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. First of all, they were entrusted with the sayings of God. 3 So what if some did not trust? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 May it never be! Let God be true even if every man is a liar, as it is written,
“that You may be righteous in Your words
and prevail when You are judged.”
5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? God is not unrighteous to inflict wrath, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? 7 But if by my lie the truth of God abounds to His glory, why am I still judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say, “Let us do evil, so that good may come”—just as we are being slandered and as some claim that we say. Their condemnation is deserved!
9 What then? Are we better than they? No, not at all.For we have already made the case that all—both Jewish and Greek people—are under sin. 10 As it is written,
“There is no one righteous—no, not one.
11 There is no one who understands,
no one who seeks after God.
12 All have turned aside;
together they have become worthless.
There is no one who does good—no, not even one!
13 Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they keep deceiving.
The poison of vipers is under their lips.
14 Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood.
16 Ruin and misery are in their paths,
17 and the way of shalom they have not known.
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the Torah says, it says to those within the Torah, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become accountable to God. 20 For no human, on the basis of Torah observance, will be set right in His sight—for through the Torah comes awareness of sin.”

Let’s look at 10-18 carefully. This “verse” isn’t written like this in one place. This is a hodge-podge. He says “as it is written” – but he’s assembled these various ideas from all over the Bible, and they aren’t quotations, but summaries. He’s rewriting the Bible to suit his own needs.

I am using the references that the Tree of Life version gives to illustrate this point. I am not coming up with these verses on my own.

Ecclesiastes 7:20
Surely there is not a righteous person on earth
who does what is good and doesn’t sin.

Psalm 13:2-3
2 How long, ADONAI? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
3 How long must I have cares in my soul
and daily sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Psalm 5:10
10 For nothing upright is in their mouth.
Inside them is a ruin—their throat an open grave.
They flatter with their tongue.

Psalm 139:4
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, ADONAI, You know all about it.

Isaiah 59:7-8
7 Their feet run after evil.
They rush to shed innocent blood.[a]
Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity.
Violence and ruin are on their highways.
8 They do not know the path of peace,
and there is no justice in their tracks.
They have made their paths crooked.
Whoever walks in them will not experience shalom.

Psalm 35:2
2 Take hold of shield and buckler,
and rise up to my help.

This “verse” doesn’t exist. Paul strung it together, cutting and pasting what he liked into a whole unit of his choosing. My point – be sure to double check everything you read, even (and sometimes especially) in the Bible. Just because someone says something is true, even if that person is an authority, doesn’t make it true.

(All Bible quotations are the Tree of Life Version (TLV))

Jesus builds upon the old

Jesus came to uphold the words of God, not tear them down. His message was fresh but not new. The more you read of the Hebrew Bible, the more you’ll see it echoed in the words of Jesus.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-20
17 “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Here are some illustrations of this –

Consider his words in Luke 14:7-11
7 He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t recline at the best place, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. 9 The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place. 10 “But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is an illustration of Proverbs 25:6-7
6 Don’t brag about yourself before the king,
and don’t stand in the place of the great;
7 for it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here!”
than to demote you in plain view of a noble.

Likewise, Proverbs 25:8-10 continues on, saying –
8 Don’t take a matter to court hastily.
Otherwise, what will you do afterward
if your opponent humiliates you?
9 Make your case with your opponent
without revealing another’s secret;
10 otherwise, the one who hears will disgrace you,
and you’ll never live it down.

These teachings are illustrated in various verses –
Matthew 5-21-26
21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

Matthew 18:15-20
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.18 I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.19 Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven.20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

Jesus expands and illustrates the lessons and teachings from the Scriptures he grew up with, and explains them in relatable ways to people. Instead of just repeating them, he made the teachings meaningful by telling them as stories. But he didn’t make up the original teaching. He built upon the old to create something new.

(all Bible translations are HCSB)

Put God first, and everything falls into place

A friend and I were talking about this verse, and were wondering about how God directs our paths. Her translation said that God “will make our paths straight”, but I feel this translation is more helpful for this lesson. (All translations here are HCSB)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
–Proverbs 3:5-6

I was reminded of this from the prophet Isaiah –

Therefore the Lord is waiting to show you mercy,
and is rising up to show you compassion,
for the Lord is a just God.
All who wait patiently for Him are happy.
For you people will live on Zion in Jerusalem and will never cry again. He will show favor to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears, He will answer you. The Lord will give you meager bread and water during oppression, but your Teacher will not hide Himself any longer. Your eyes will see your Teacher, and whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: “This is the way. Walk in it.”
—Isaiah 30:18-21

God will direct our paths, telling us which way to go. This will make our paths straight, because God is keeping us from straying to the left or the right. This phrase is used often in the book of Joshua. Here is one example –

“Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance. Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
–Joshua 1:6-9

Jesus echoes the most important part to how this works –

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
–Matthew 6:33-34

We must seek God first. When we follow God, we won’t get lost. This is how out paths, and our lives, will be straight.

Don’t make plans and then ask God to bless them. That is doing it in the wrong order.
Follow God, and God will fill you with God’s desires, and direct your way.
Then you will go in the right direction.