The Clan Jetties formed by Chinese immigrants on the waterfront of Georgetown Penang. This visit is on a cloudy rainy season afternoon.
The story of Balaam is a fascinating one. What you might think of first with Balaam is that he was the prophet whose donkey spoke to him. It was incredible and there is nothing else quite like it in the Bible.
Balaam is significant in Old Testament history and for the New Testament church. There are seven books of the Bible that mention Balaam. There are four Old Testament books and three New Testament books. Except what we have here in this account in Numbers and a reference in 2 Peter 2:15 the other five books that mention Balaam don’t even bring up the talking Donkey. There is something more important going on than the talking donkey aspect of this story. We need to understand the reckless path Balaam walked.
The New Testament helps us understand that Balaam is a person that needs to be remembered. His life and death are significant for the church. At the closing days of Exodus wondering forty years in the wilderness Moses days are drawing to a close. Moses has just finished mourning the death of his brother Aaron. Now only Moses, Joshua and Caleb were adults when Israel accepted the minority report resulting in forty years of wilderness wondering.
Before Joshua takes command Moses leads Israel to victories east of the Jordan. They had just defeated the Amorites when they had refused to let Israel pass through their land. The Israelites traveled to Moab, The King of Moab, Balak and his people are terrified.
Balak sent for Balaam the prophet because he was a religious man. Balak knew who Balaam blessed was blessed and who Balaam cursed was cursed. (Numbers 22:6) Balaam was from Haran where Abraham was called from and from where Isaac got his wife. The knowledge of the true God would have been possible in this place.
We need to determine if Balaam was a true prophet of Jehovah God. He is in line with God as we will see from his prophesies. There was even a prophesy Balaam makes about the coming Messiah. Reading Numbers chapter 23 and 24 Balaam seems to be solid. He appears to be a man of conviction. If there were only these two chapters I could expect to read Balaam’s name in Hebrews 11 chapter of faith.
The other books that speak of Balaam tell something different. He was closer to an Old Testament Judas than to a hero of the faith. In 22:8 He sounds so noble when he says rather than receive money he needs to seek an answer from the Lord. Rather than receive the money he seeks an answer from the Lord.”
But in Numbers 22:12 God said do not go and do not put a curse on Israel they are blessed. Balaam sent them back. The Lord has refused to let me go he said. It sounds great, but something is wrong. He said no but he must have been looking straight at the money they were offering him with glazed over eyes.
Balak sent more princes and more money (vs 16 &17). His talk again was also so good in Numbers 22:18 saying, “Even for a place filled with silver or gold I could do nothing beyond the command of the Lord my God.” He is not for sale for any price. But………stay here let me ask the Lord again. We begin to see the cracks in his armor.
When God has spoken clearly then it is not spiritual to ask God about it. In vs 20 God said go ahead, the permissive will of God. There are people in a clearly sinful relationship who claim they have asked God about it. There is a lustful self-deception in Balaam. His fame, prestige and wealth could be greatly enhanced. God has given him a gift but not to serve himself with it. God is not pleased. In verse 22:22 He is angry at Balaam. He sent an angel to oppose him. This is the most famous part of God dealing with Balaam, the talking donkey.
The donkey is considered dumb and the most stubborn animal. This donkey is more sensitive than Balaam. We need to be careful we don’t want something so bad we deceive ourselves to think it is right. The angel of the Lord (Vs 23) stands with a drawn sword.
First Balaam’s donkey turns into a field. Then the donkey pressed against a wall and crushed Balaam’s leg. Third the donkey lay down under Balaam.
Here is the dialogue between Balaam and the donkey:
28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam,
“What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said.
Then Balaam’s eyes were opened. The angel of the Lord asks Balaam why he has beaten his donkey. The angel of the Lord tells Balaam he is on a reckless path. (vs 32) In verse 35 Balaam gets his new instructions to go with the men but to speak only what the angel of the Lord tells him.
For two chapters Numbers 23 & 24 Balaam seems to be really doing a prophets duty of speaking truth even when unpopular. He is speaking only what God says. He even says I must speak only what God puts in my heart (Num 22:38) If Balaam could have stuck by those words we might find him listed in Hebrews chapter 11.
Numbers Chapters 23 & 24
Balaam is on a high mountain where he can look down and see Israel encamped. Each time Balaam speaks a word from the Lord then King Balak gets madder each time. Balaam even speaks a messianic prophecy. (Num 24:17-19). It is not now and not near. A scepter will rise out of Israel.
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth. 18 Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. 19 A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city.”
A star will come out of Jacob. This is the only Messianic prophecy associating a star with the Messiah. The wise men saw his star Matthew 2:2. These wise men probably were from the same area as Balaam. This star identified the Messiah.
Then Balaam gets up and returns home (24:25) apparently victorious and apparently doing only what he said speaking only what God told him. He seems to be unmoved by all the gold and silver of the palace. But it didn’t turn out that way.
Chapter 25 has a different setting. This time not on the mountain with God refusing to let him speak a curse but instead a blessing. This time Balaam is in the valley. Israel is committing sexual immorality with Moabite women and worshipping Baal. God’s anger burned with 24,000 dying in a plague.
We have to look at other scripture to find out what happened when Balaam came back. In the Judgement against Moab Balaam died by the Israelite sword. (Num 31:8). And what was Balaam doing there? (Num 31:16) Balaam was giving Moab the advice on how to seduce Israel and draw them into self-destruction.
So now when we read of Balaam in Deuteronomy 23:3-5, Joshua 13:22, Micah 6:5, Nehemiah 13:2, Jude 1:11, 2 Peter 2:15 and Revelation 2:14 we can keep this background in mind. We remember the error of this prophet who took the reckless path and caused great ruin to Israel.
In Revelation 2:14 Balaam is a warning to the church. An insider causing the destruction. Beware of someone on the reckless path causing the church to compromise from within. Balaam represents those who know the truth, speak for God, then follow the reckless path for worldly pleasures. It is the ultimate sell-out.
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I am almost two weeks in Penang now. I bought a bicycle and rode a few of the most popular rides around Penang.
This was from this morning’s ride Gurney Plaza to the Fruit farm. I could smell the Durian as I rode through the Durian estates.
This was the ride route this morning.
Last Saturday I rode (and pushed my bike) up Penang Hill.
Great view from Penang Hill
I wanted to get a back view of the Dalat School on an weekday bike ride.
Made a couple visits to Staights Quay to eat when I wasn’t riding.
Don’t you like the old western cowboy movies when you knew who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. You can pick them out easily in those old movies because the good guy wears the white hat and the bad guy wears the black hat.
This letter makes it obvious who the good guy is and who is the bad guy. Diotrephes wore a black hat and Demetrius wore a white hat. You can easily pick up who is the good guy and who was the bad guy.
The apostle John has written much about believing in Jesus. John told us he wrote his Gospel that you might believe. In his letter 1 John is about assurance of salvation for those who have believed. Now in the letter we know as 3 John he is writing about the believer’s testimony in the church.
John was old when he wrote this letter. It is addressed to Gaius his trusted ministry partner or mentee. John is writing Gaius about a troublemaker in the church. John is not just writing Gaius about this situation. John is himself embroiled in this church controversy.
Can you picture a contrast of testimonies in your mind? A situation where there was a believer with a good testimony and one with a bad testimony. John outlines two church members and mentions their testimonies that are a complete contrast.
We have to deal with all kinds of people in life. Even in the church there are those who do what is evil (that is how john put it) and those who do what is good. Do you want your church to be a New Testament church? Well we have a New Testament church right here in this letter 3rd John. But this NT church had a self-seeking, gossiping manipulator in the center of activities. It is a reminder that the New Testament churches had plenty of problems. Much of the New Testament are letters dealing with the problems.
Poor Gaius found himself in a very difficult situation. But probably there is an important reason this letter is given to us in the Bible. I suspect it is because we will often find ourselves in this kind of situation.
John 13:34-35 John says people will know you are disciples that you love one another. That does not mean we should be getting friendly with self-seeking malicious gossips like Diotrephes. John has such an issue with this trouble maker. He is not telling Gaius to love him but watch out for him.
The background seems to be that John had sent some itinerant speaker to the church and Diotrephes who loves to be first (vs 9-11) Will have nothing to do with John or the brothers John was sending to the church. Diotrephes was gossiping maliciously about John. This guy Diotrephes stops anyone who welcomes who John send and puts them out of the church. Yep, Diotrephes is the bad guy.
The good guy is Demetrius. He has a wonderful testimony. He is well spoken of by everyone, and by the truth and by John.
Now Gaius has to navigate the clash of testimonies. John guides Gaius in this. Do not imitate was it evil but what is good. Gaius may have some tough choices in navigating the relationships in the church, but they are clear. Gaius needs to stand with Demetrius and stand up to Diotrephes.
One application that comes from this brief letter is watch your testimony. By all means be the Demetrius that is well spoken of. Do not become the self-seeking malicious gossip. Gaius was sure on the right path and John could say that others were speaking of Gaius as a man of love and hospitality.
Another application is to be very careful in your relationships. Stand with the believers who are well-spoken of in the fellowship. This is going to take discernment because you won’t find people wearing white hats and black hats, but this letter can help us navigate the road to our fruitful relationships.
Confidence in Christ 1 John 5:11-13
John is the apostle we know as the “beloved disciple” who was close to Jesus for his three years of public ministry. He was right there with Jesus up to His death on the cross, his burial and resurrection. When John was told the tomb was empty he raced as fast as he could to the tomb to see for himself that the stone was rolled away and the grave clothes were folded and laid aside. John later met the resurrected Jesus. John saw it first-hand and he wrote his gospel that we might believe in Jesus.
That is why John wrote his Gospel to help people believe in Jesus. He wrote for his readers to put their faith in Christ. John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
If there was ever a fork in the road of your life this is it. Which road will you take? One direction is eternal life the other direction is not. John writes his gospel because he wants us on the right path of eternal life. To believe in Jesus Christ is eternal life.
John had a related but different purpose in writing the letter of 1 John. John explicitly tells us why he wrote his gospel and why he wrote this letter of 1 John. In fact John the beloved disciple of Jesus says he wrote the Gospel of John so that believers in Christ might have confidence in their eternal life found in Jesus. John states his purpose explicitly in 1 John 5: 13: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
In the gospel witnessing program Evangelism Explosion there is a question they are well known for asking about assurance of salvation. Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?
Look at this passage and see that John wants us of to have confidence to answer this question. He wants us to know we have eternal life.
1 John 5:11-15
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
John’s letter is important because the vast majority of people do not have this assurance of salvation. If you ask someone if they know they will go to heaven when they die the common answer they give is, “well I hope so”.
Why is it that believers in Jesus can have this confidence that they will go to heaven when they die and others are not sure, only hopping so? John clarifies this that it is not our good works. It is not that our good outweighs our bad on a judgement scale.
It is because when we believe in Jesus our sins our paid by His death on the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life. The Bible says all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and that God is Holy and even one sin will keep us out of heaven just as one sin caused Adam and Eve to be banished from the Garden of Eden.
The sin in our life that separates us from God does not have to be a heinous crime that would send us to prison. It could be making a promise and breaking that promise. It can be a matter that others may think is minor but God is Holy and there is no fellowship with righteousness and unrighteousness.
That is why Jesus came. That is what the prophets wrote about in a coming Messiah. That is why when Jesus was born in Bethlehem the angels announced good news of exceeding great joy a savior is born for all mankind. Jesus was the only one who lived a sinless life. He never made a promise and broke that promise. Jesus was righteous and he died the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God that we might have eternal life.
John wants us to know we have eternal life when we believe in Jesus. There is no need to believe in Jesus and hope that we have eternal life. John wrote this that you may know you have eternal life.
How do you feel when you start out on a trip without a confirmed air tickets reservations? I remember changing my plans at a meeting and leaving early. I went to the ticket agent and they said they could get me on my next flight, but to reach my final destination there were two more flights. I was on standby for both of them. My trip was full of anxiety because during my flight I never knew if I would get on my next journey and if not what was going to happen.
But I feel confident when I have a confirmed ticket. My next flight I already reserved for my family is confirmed. On the invoice it says no need to reconfirm, this flight is already confirmed. Of course this is an airline and there is limited assurance, but still there is an assurance.
We have complete confidence in the Bible. John wrote this that we may know we have eternal life. There is not a “well I hope so” eternal life. If we are in Christ we have a confidence. We know if we were to die tonight we will be in heaven with God. Our confidence is in Jesus Christ. His death on the cross counts for us when we believe in him.
I was doing a role play about how to share with a new believer he has eternal life. I asked for a volunteer in the group to role play a person who did not have assurance. The volunteer really did not have assurance. He believed in Christ but did not know he could be sure of eternal life. I showed him this verse and he started to cry. I did not realize until then he was not just role playing. He did not know he could have assurance. Vs 13 brought him to tears, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
The blood of Jesus purifies us from sin. He who has the Son has the life. It is the right road to follow. Believing in Jesus is the road to life. It is not always the easiest road to walk. It is even referred to as the narrow road. The road of life is narrow and the road of destruction is a broad road. John’s epistle here is for the people who already have chosen the road of life.
Bill Bright’s last book is titled The Journey Home and is about his trusting Christ despite his terminal illness, Pulmonary fibrosis. He said how does he handle the news of this gripping disease? He meets it with the good news of life in Jesus Christ, the Lord of all and all time. As for death he promised that anyone believing in Jesus would never die eternally although the flesh would wither and pass away.
He called the experience of terminal illness “heading home.” His confidence came from knowing that we have eternal life right now. John writes in his Gospel so you will believe. He writes for those who believe to know they have eternal life.
For those who have truly believed in Jesus there is reason to be sure of your eternal life. This is something unique in Christ. There are many religions, but do they know they have eternal life after death? The common answer is only, “I hope so.” But John is talking about faith in Jesus Christ. This is more than hoping the good outweighs the bad. He has been clear that Jesus died on the cross for our sins the just for the unjust. Our standing is in Jesus Christ and His righteousness.
To understand Lamentations 3:22-27 we should at least try to grasp the despair of Jeremiah when he wrote this. The greatest artists have given us a visual picture of what the Lament of Jeremiah must have looked like. Michelangelo painted Jeremiah in his anguish on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
For me Rembrandt’s painting of Jeremiah helps to best put Lamentations 3:22-27 in perspective. If you can just look at the painting for a moment click here
In this painting you see very clearly the anguish on Jeremiah’s face. But faded in the background is the burning Jerusalem city and the suffering King Zedekiah. Read these seven verses (Jeremiah 39:1-7) about the unthinkable events at the fall of Jerusalem.
If you looked at that paining of Jeremiah’s face and read the events in Jeremiah chapter 39 then I think you have the context of Lamentations 3:22-27. If I just say there is hope in the darkness then I have not really told you about the whole picture. The faith, hope and love of God is there for sure, but you have to really sift through pages of Jeremiah’s lament to find this buried in the middle of the book.
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. 27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.
People comment on these verses, the most well-known verses of Lamentations as if Jeremiah is all victorious and joyful with God’s love. They say Jeremiah did not let the circumstances get him down. Jeremiah was down and he was depressed. To only see the faith, hope and compassion of God glosses over the rest of the book of Lamentations. Jeremiah was down but he did not lose sight of the great love and faithfulness of God.
These verses are about acknowledging the love of God in direst of times. If it were not for the love of God Jeremiah would be consumed. He was beaten and thrown in prison for faithfully speaking the truth. (Jeremiah 37: 16). In this horrible prison situation Jeremiah watched the unfolding of the royal line to the throne cut. The promise of the righteous king of the line of David has just been dashed to pieces. Jeremiah had nothing else to hold on to but the love and faithfulness of God. Every morning the love and compassion of God is renewed even in the worst unbearable situation.
It is amazing that all the difficulties did not blind Jeremiah to the great faithfulness of God. He trusted in God and for the salvation of the Lord. Even John the Baptist had to ask for reassurance that Jesus really was the Christ when John faced the pressure of being in prison. That Jeremiah can keep his perspective in God in the circumstances he experienced is amazing.
There was something else good happening as a result of the great faithfulness of God, but Jeremiah would not have been aware of it. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been recently carried off to Babylon along with Daniel. Jeremiah wrote “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young” (verse 27). These young men were bearing the yoke and standing for God. The four of them resolved not to defile themselves come what may. Jeremiah could see a lot of things from his prison cell writing this book but he could not see that. But still he knew God is faithful.
The picture at the top of this study is of Jeremiah’s Grotto. I took the picture when I went to visit the place of the skull, Golgotha the site of Jesus crucifixion. Almost in passing the guide said do you see that building to the right. He said, that is Jeremiah’s Grotto where Jeremiah was held in a prison cell and wrote the book of Lamentations when the city was in siege.
There are all kinds of thoughts that flood through my mind of Jeremiah looking at Golgotha, Calvary the place Jesus would be crucified when he wrote this lamentation. OK I am very aware that we cannot be sure of the exact locations of so many of the Bible sites including exactly where Jeremiah was in prison when he wrote lamentations.
But even though it is not sure this was the spot I am going to hang on to this one. It is just too cool if Jeremiah who wrote brilliant prophesies about the coming Messiah had a prison cell with a Calvary view. Even if he could not really see the place of the skull from his cell we do know for sure he had a prophet’s view of Calvary in his heart while he was in the cell. Jeremiah had the vision of the messianic hope.
The purported sight of Jeremiah’s prison cell is also thought to be the site where Stephen was martyred. It would be another very cool parallel, but that is a Faith, Hope, Love and ….Anguish study for another time.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. New every morning. Great is thy faithfulness Oh Lord. Great is thy faithfulness. *
*Lyrics of Lamentations 3:22-23 The Steadfast Love of the Lord by Dave Hunt
The Righteous Branch Jeremiah 23:5-6
What do you think of when you see a tree stump? Well, for one thing you probably think that tree has seen better days. The glory days for that tree that is now just a stump lie in the past not the future. You would probably not look at that stump and think that great and wonderful days of fruitful seed bearing lie ahead. After all the tree is dead and gone and all that remains now is a stump.
The Old Testament prophets used the imagery of a stump as a prophetic promise. Isaiah spoke of the coming messiah with imagery of a stump in Isaiah 11: 1.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
A similar imagery of the righteous branch with the same basic message of the coming messiah is found here in Jeremiah 23:5-6
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. 6 “In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.’
Jeremiah is the prophetic voice of the Lord in 600 BC calling the Lords people to righteousness. Judah the Southern kingdom is in a disastrous mess politically and spiritually. Their leaders have failed them. Jeremiah was the prophet during the last five kings of Judah that came in quick succession: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. There was a revival during the reign of Josiah but that was short-lived.
The last and final king of Judah was Zedekiah. Ironically Zedekiah’s name meant ‘The LORD is my Righteousness.’ He ruled unjustly and was unrighteous and did not live up to his name. Jeremiah 23:1-4 speaks of these leaders like shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep.
Jeremiah prophesied that unrighteous Babylon would defeat Judah the Southern Kingdom and it would be the conquest of the Lord’s people. It was the unthinkable for Judah that God would use pagan Babylon to punish them for their disobedience.
When the Babylonians seized and eventually conquered Jerusalem they exiled King Zedekiah and killed his descendents. The royal line was cut down. It really was like a magnificent tree with nothing left but a stump.
But the message of hope is there because from the stump that is cut off a righteous branch will come. The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.
There was a violent overthrow of Judah and the fall of Zedekiah. It was the end of the line for the Kings of Israel. The royal lineage has been cut down like a tree with only a stump remaining. But a prophecy for what seems only like a dead stump. A shoot will grow from the stump said Isaiah. A righteous branch will be raised up Jeremiah proclaims. Jeremiah speaks the word of the Lord. It is the hope of the Lord’s people, a messiah will come. A righteous ruler. A shepherd that does not scatter the sheep but instead tends them.
This is the name of the coming one, “LORD Our Righteousness”, in Hebrew ‘Jehovah-tsidkenu.’ The coming messiah King from the line of David will be everything their leaders had not. The messiah will be called our righteousness. The meaning is a ‘Right standing” with God.
It took 600 years but the branch came. In the fullness of time a baby was born and a shoot sprang out of what appears to be a dead stump. The righteous branch is Jesus. He is our righteousness. He is the Christ the righteous king foretold by Jeremiah. Through faith in Jesus Christ you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us our righteousness. (1 Corinthians 1:30) Jesus is the righteous one. Our righteousness is in Him. ‘The LORD our Righteousness!’
A lot of what Jeremiah foretold comes clear from Romans 3. Read Romans 3:21-26 with the context of Jeremiah’s prophesy of the Righteous Branch who will be called our righteousness.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
All have sinned. No one is righteous. We are all a spiritual dead stump. Our standing before God is only possible in The Lord our righteousness. The death burial and resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah.
For 600 years that kingly line was cut and there was only a stump. The Israelites returned from captivity and rebuilt their temple, but it remained a stump until Jesus the Christ came and died on the cross.
The good news of exceeding great joy for all the people is Jesus Christ is Lord our Righteousness and he came to save sinners. While we were still sinners Christ dies for us righteous for the unrighteousness. Jesus takes our punishment and becomes the LORD Our Righteousness, (‘Jehovah-tsidkenu). Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)
This prophecy is for Israel and Judah. The messiah a king from the line of David will come and reign wisely and do what is just and right. This is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who came not to establish an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom. But it is also importantly a prophecy for every sinner who needs a savior. And from Romans 3:23 we read that is everybody. No one is righteous, no not one. We all need the Lord our Righteousness. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus the LORD Our Righteousness.
Meaning of the word “day” (yôm Hebrew: יוֹם) in the Bible creation story
In the creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:25 yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) is used sixteen times. In fifteen instances the singular form of yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) is used and in one instance the plural form םיםי is used. The term yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) appears about 2,000 times in the Old Testament.
The meanings and usages of yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) are varied. Some examples of usages are: by day, day time, heat of the day, festival day, in this day, at this time, now, two days, dual, some days, some time, for a while, the time period of life, 24-hour day, a birth-day, a plural sense for years. (Brown 1979, 341-342)
Although yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) appears in the creation account only a small percentage of its total usage in the Old Testament, it represents three different meanings.
Period of Light as Opposed to Darkness
The word yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) is used as “daylight” in the creation story in Genesis 1:5, “And God called the light ‘Day.’” “The marked periods of this daytime were morning, noon and night as with us (Psalm 55:17). The early hours sometimes called “the cool of the day” (Gen 3:18). After the exile the day or daytime was divided into twelve hours and the night into twelve hours. (Orr 1915, 798)
Period of Time: Aeon
An example of yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) used in the creation story meaning “a period of time” is also found. “This is the account of the heavens and earth when they were created, in a day that Yahweh God made the heavens and earth. “ (Gen 2:4) Since the heavens and earth were made on the second day and the earth on the third we may conclude that yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) in this usage is referring to a period of time without meaning specific days. (Scholes 1981, 40)
Some feel the usage of yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) in this meaning is limited to the singular form. “In over 700 times the plural of yôm is used and always has a 24-hour days in view.” (McDowell 1983, 103) There are others who feel the meaning as “period of time” extends to the plural form. The plural is sometimes used in the sense of ‘time of,’ as in the “days of Abraham” (Gen 26:18) (Tenney 1975, 45)
One explanation for the different usage of the word from a twenty-four hour day is determined by the article. The pointing of Genesis 2:4 בְּיוֹם does not take the article. “The creation week is not specific as a single day by this phrase; rather without the article ‘the’ is means ‘at the time’ (Ryrie 1978, 9)
A 24-hour day or one revolution of the earth on its axis.
We find the use of yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) in the creation story used as a “day 24 hours” in Genesis 1:5. (Holladay 1988, 130) “And there was evening and there was morning one day.” (Genesis 1:5) If the writer had had aeons in his mind, he would hardly have missed the opportunity of stating how many millenniums each embraced.” (Skinner 1910, 21)
In this usage as in Genesis 2:5 we see yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) without an article. According to Gleason Archer this would justify concluding the meaning as an aeon of time. “In Hebrew prose of this genre, the definite article was generally used where the noun was intended to be definite; only in poetic style could it be omitted. The same is true with the rest of the six days; t a sequential pattern, rather than to strictly delimited units of time.” (Archer 1982, 61)
Although it is true that there is no article, and many translations are mistaken including it, we must look also at the numerical adjective. “Everywhere in the Pentateuch the word day, when used (as here) with a numerical adjective, means a solar day (now calibrated as 24 hours).” (Ryrie 1978, 7)
The same principle of a numerical adjective denoting a 24 hour day is true for Exodus 20:10. “For is six days (שֵׁשֶׁת-יָמִים) He made Yahweh the heavens and earth, the sea and all which is in them.” “God had evidently, even previous to the fourth day, established a rhythmic alternation of light and darkness, and there is no ground for the assumption that the days so measured were of longer duration than later days.” (Berkhoff 1941, 153)
Some early church fathers did not regard these days as 24 hour days, but felt they merely constituted a symbolic framework. Their expressed opinion was that the whole work of creation was fashioned in a moment’s time. (Berkhof 1941, 152) This would explain why John Calvin spends much of his treatment of the phrase “one day” refuting the error that the world was made in a moment. (Calvin 1948 78)
The key principle then for this usage is not the article, but the numerical adjective. When interpreting yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) in the creation story and in other passages we must keep in mind the distinction of usages. “This common word has caused some trouble to plain readers because they have not noticed that the word is used in several different senses in the English Bible” (Orr 1915, 797)
Of the 16 usages of yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) in the creation story the most frequent is a “24 hour day”. This meaning occurs nine times. (Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; 2:2a, 2b, 3) The second most common usage is “light as opposed to darkness.” In this way it is used four times. (Gen 1:5, 14, 16, 18) The meaning Aeon is used three times. (Gen 1:14, 2:4, 18)
We should not place in the meaning aeon in the instances where the text calls for a 24-hour day. Although the New Testament says, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years,” (2 Peter 3:8) it does not warrant the usage as “aeon” with a numerical adjective. O course no one would ever conclude from 1 Peter 3:8 that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for 3,000 years.
We want to use the same consistency when we distinguish the meaning of yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) when interpreting the creation story. We should give due attention to the different meanings when yôm (Hebrew: יוֹם) is used.
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I was riding my bicycle in Calcutta this morning and saw these Open Bill Storks in the Rajarhat area.