Can You Bring Some Fish?


I am scribbling this in the few minutes before I nip downstairs to start to cooking dinner. I am meant to be revising. My Greek and Hebrew exams are imminent, and every spare moment is spent chanting words or skim-reading textbooks and trying to make sense of my notes. If there weren’t exams looming, it would be quite fun. If nothing else it provides me with the perfect excuse to not do housework (don’t even think about how dirty my kitchen floor is…)

A selection of language textbooks

Anyway, I am currently translating a passage from John’s Gospel, the very last chapter, when the disciples have gone fishing and Jesus appears on the beach. He asks them if they have caught any fish, and when they say no, he tells them to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat. When they do, they catch so many fish they can barely struggle to shore. Jesus is cooking fish over a fire, and he asks them to bring some of the fish they caught, and eat breakfast with him. He then asks Peter whether he loves him.

Modern fishing boats.

Do you remember the story? Here are some of the things that I notice in the Greek version:

Firstly, the story seems to begin when Peter announces that he is going fishing. This is interesting because he used to be a fisherman, before he started to follow Jesus. Since then he has been a disciple for a few years, culminating in a terrible night when he denies knowing Jesus and then Jesus is killed. But after this, Jesus appears again to the disciples (so Peter knows that Jesus is alive) and Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem. So, when Peter decides to go fishing, he seems to be ignoring the command to stay in the city.

Why would he do that? Perhaps he was fed up with waiting. Perhaps he was bored. Perhaps—because he had failed Jesus so spectacularly—he didn’t think the command applied to him. You can decide.

When Jesus greets the fishermen, he calls them children. A greeting of: “Hey kids, have you caught anything?” Why would he call them children? It doesn’t seem to fit with fishermen. Was he teasing them? It’s too hard to guess from the Greek, so you can decide.

‘The disciple who Jesus loved’ (probably John) realises that it’s Jesus and tells Peter, who grabs his clothes, and leaps into the water. He would have been naked, because in those days, nudity was more convenient than lots of laundry and most active work would have been undertaken without clothes. (The gymnasts all performed naked, it wasn’t a big deal.)

When the disciples arrive on the beach, they find Jesus with a charcoal fire, cooking bread and fish. Where did the fire come from? Where did the bread and fish come from? We don’t know. But I think the really interesting bit is that Jesus then tells the disciples to bring some of the fish that they have just caught, and to come and have breakfast. Now, why did he want them to bring their own fish? Did Jesus not manage to bring enough? Seems unlikely. Did Jesus not realise how many disciples were going to be at the breakfast? Seems unlikely. Therefore, Jesus must have planned to not have enough. He planned to need what the disciples were able to offer (which he had helped them to catch in the first place).

What then, are the implications for us today? I think God chooses to need what we can offer. And if we don’t do our bit, then there won’t be enough. Whatever it is that we have to offer, however pathetic it might seem to us, that is what God needs. God then accepts our help. This is huge. I don’t think God pretends, I think he genuinely does need our help in whatever area we happen to have something to offer. Yes, he could do it all himself, just like Jesus could have produced enough fish along with the bread and the fire—but he didn’t.

I also think, that if we are meant to be following Jesus’ example, living like he did, then we too should be accepting help from others. We are meant to be a team, everyone with something to offer. If we want to help others, we need to also think about how they can help us, because then the relationship is equal. That seems to be the example we were given to follow. Mostly, we’re pretty bad at copying it.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find something to offer–and accept–this week.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Do Names Matter?


What’s in a Name?

You might remember that I told you that ancient Hebrew did not have vowels (this seems to have been a thing with ancient languages—not sure why). The vowel signs were written later, a few in the 6th century BC, and then more in about the 9th century AD, when Hebrew was not spoken outside of the religious text and people were worried that everyone would forget how words should properly be pronounced. A group of scholars (the Masoretes) added little symbols below the letters, to show where the vowel sounds should be made.

The personal name of God was considered very special. I have no idea why Christians don’t also consider God’s name to be special, but we don’t tend to limit how/when we use it. If the Queen came to visit, we would refer to her as “Ma’am” or “Your Majesty” and only a person with no respect for the monarchy would talk about “Elizabeth coming to visit,” far less, “I’m going to see Liz.” The Jews give this same respect to God’s name, and they avoid saying it.

Now, here’s the interesting bit. When they added the vowels to the personal name of God, they used the vowels that actually corresponded to one of the titles for God, not his actual name. This reminded people not to read the name, but instead say ‘Adonai’ which is a title. The term for this would translate in English to ‘written-read’ because although something is written you read something different.

If we were to do this with the Queen, we would take the vowels from Majesty: a e and add them to the consonants of her personal name: LaZBeTH. LaZBeTH is not an actual name, people reading it would see the oddly-placed vowels, and remember to read: “Majesty.”

As I said, Christians don’t seem to have this same form of respect for God’s name. (Though to be fair, when God’s name appears in the Bible, it has been translated as LORD all in capitals.) Christians today mostly are not aware of this. In fact, they even have songs that combine both the personal name, and the ‘made-up’ name (Jehovah) and they sing them—sometimes I suspect thoughtlessly—without even being aware that the term ‘Jehovah’ is a sort of non-word created by the Jews to avoid saying God’s personal name. The J at the beginning of Jehovah is because that is how a ‘y’ sound was translated in the original German, and the word first appeared during the time of the Protestant Reformation and simply shows that they didn’t understand much Hebrew. ‘Jehovah’ is not a word.

I wonder what a Jew, listening to Christians being so casual with the name of God, would think about that. I wonder what God thinks about that.

What do you think about that? I’m sure that some people would say that God is more concerned with how we show our respect for him through what we say and do, than how we address him, and perhaps that is correct. But I’m not so sure. As I am learning Hebrew, and listening to my lecturer and various scholars online, I am noticing that most of them avoid using the personal name of God, and when they reached the word יְהוָה they tend to read ‘Adonai.’ I don’t know whether this is a sign of respect to the Jews whose language is being spoken, or to God. Perhaps the two reasons are the same.

Thank you for reading.

Anne E. Thompson
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Words in Despair


What did Jesus say on the cross?

I learnt something interesting recently. I think I am slightly behind the curve, and maybe you knew this already—when Jesus was dying on the cross, he was probably reciting Psalm 22.

I knew that the psalm links to the crucifixion, as it seems to describe exactly how Jesus would be feeling, and some of the actions listed (like gambling to see who would win his clothes) actually happened at the time. I have always thought it was a poem, written about 600 years earlier, to describe how Jesus felt (because God can write things before they happen). But it had never occurred to me that Jesus, in his darkest time, would have recited it.

I learnt about it in a Greek lesson, because the words of Jesus on the cross were recorded by the gospel writers. But here’s the thing: the gospels were written in Greek, and each writer added their own slant. So in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) they want to show how Jesus suffered on the cross and so they recite (but in Greek):

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (See Matthew 27 vs 46)

However, when John wrote his book, he wanted to show how everything about Jesus’ life was planned by God, and the crucifixion was part of that plan, and so he quotes the end of Jesus’ words:

“It is finished.” (See John 19 vs 30)

As I said, John was writing in Greek, and in Greek they are able to write in tense that shows something has happened in the past—but the consequences have not finished, it is on-going. In English we can do this with certain words, so if we say: “I became a vegetarian a year ago” it can be assumed we are still a vegetarian now (but not necessarily, because English doesn’t have the same clever tenses that Greek does).

John used this tense when he wrote the final words of Jesus. It was finished, in the past, but the consequences will continue.

Of course, Jesus wouldn’t have recited the Psalm in Greek, he spoke Hebrew/Aramaic. I don’t know enough Hebrew yet to tell you whether they have the same clever tenses that Koine Greek does, so I only know that he probably recited Psalm 22 when he was on the cross.

Does this knowledge make a difference?

Well, the stuff about the gospel writers using Greek to give an angle on what was said is interesting, but probably doesn’t affect me overly. But the idea that Jesus quoted scripture at his most difficult time makes me think that perhaps this is something I should aspire to do. If Jesus came to give us an example of how to live, maybe when life is hard for me, I should also recite scripture—perhaps it would comfort me and help me to focus on better things than the horrible situation I am coping with. I will probably never suffer anything on the same scale as being crucified, but everyone has dark times, don’t they? We all feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Of course, I can only recite scripture if I have previously learnt it. Which is not something that’s very fashionable these days. Perhaps it should be. I think I will try.

Psalm 22 is very long, so I won’t start with that one. I think it might be a good one to learn next year—perhaps as a discipline for Lent. Do you want to join me? We could learn a few lines every day, and by Easter we will know the whole Psalm. I will divide the Psalm into segments and post them on my blog (I can predate things now, so next year they will arrive in emails to my followers). It will be good for our brains if nothing else!

For now, I will try to learn Psalm 1 (because it’s short). It would be good for me to learn it in Hebrew, as that’s my current challenge—I will let you know how I get on.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find some interesting challenges this week.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Hebrew in a Nutshell



I have now completed the first half-term of Hebrew. I find that learning a new language tends to go through certain stages.
Stage 1: Everything is new and exciting, I know nothing, so there’s no pressure and I enjoy the ‘differentness’ of the language. This is quickly followed about a week later by a feeling of panic as I start to think I will never understand it, and even making the correct sounds is impossible, never mind understanding anything.


Stage 2: A few things begin to be familiar (with Mandarin and Hebrew, this is simply the letters, with other languages I begin to recognise words). I start learning vocabulary, I have a feel for how the language sounds, I feel I am making progress. All is wonderful.


Stage 3: I begin to realise how little I understand, I seem to forget more than I remember, the number of grammar rules is overwhelming, I feel like the stupidest person on the planet (after all, even tiny children can speak what I am struggling to learn). Continuing at this point is sheer determination.


Stage 4: I start to grasp some of the grammar, I notice I am making tiny steps forward, and I know lots more than when I started. I cling on to the belief that I will improve and delight in being able to recognise the occasional word or phrase, and I feel as if I actually understand something of the language whilst also recognising that there is a mountain of grammar rules waiting to be learnt.


Stage 5: I have full understanding of the grammar rules, can read and speak fluently, I have arrived. (I have never actually reached stage 5 in any language so am guessing! There might be more stages between 4 and 5, ask a linguist.)


I am currently between stages 2 and 3 with Hebrew. Here is an overview of what I have learnt so far (potentially with mistakes because I am new at this).

Hebrew is read from right to left:

.siht ekil kool dluow hsilgnE  ni ecnetnes a oS

All the letters are consonants. So “Hello!” would look like: “LLH.” The verbs are written underneath the letter they follow:

LLH
o  e

Hebrew has its own alphabet, so the letters actually look like this:

אבגדהוזחטי

All the words seem to be three letters long, with extra letters added to the front and back to confuse foreigners/add meaning. For example, in English we would write: He wanted to… but in Hebrew they would add letters to mean ‘he’ and ‘to’ onto the root of the other words. To make it more interesting/confusing, I think they sometimes remove letters from the root word as well. The letters that are added seem to change depending on the mood of the author, but I suspect there are further rules that we will learn at some point.

At the moment, my brain approaches Hebrew like a code to be deciphered rather than a language. This causes problems, as although I have learnt certain individual words, I don’t always recognise them in a text, because they are not yet ‘words’ for me, they are symbols which when I see them in isolation, I can give the correct translation to. To try and alter this, I decided to try and learn some modern Hebrew along-side the ancient Hebrew—because they are pretty similar at this level. It is sort of working, as for example I know that the words that sound like: “Tov me-odd” mean ‘very good’ and when I decipher the symbols that sound like ‘me-odd’ I can smile and say ‘very.’

To learn modern Hebrew, I bought a few CDs and a DVD for Husband. He enjoyed the Homeland series on Netflix, and it’s based on an Israeli series, so I bought him a copy of the original. It’s always good to share your interests with your spouse. He was less delighted than you might think, but we are dutifully watching it each evening and when I need to translate passages about spies, terrorism and torture in the Bible, I will have a real advantage.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good week.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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A Story of Trees


It’s nearly 2021—will you be making a new year’s resolution? Is there something that you would like to change about yourself, and how will you plan for a new improved self? I guess we all have dreams and aspirations, and some of them we pursue until we reach them, and others dwindle away into nothing. To be honest, I’m quite glad that some of my dreams evaporated into nothing—especially the ones I had as a teenager—otherwise I’d be in a right mess now!

The trouble with looking ahead and wishing for things that we don’t have, is that sometimes we stop appreciating what we have right now. Maybe, instead of planning to improve things we should sometimes stop and look around at what we already have, and be grateful.

I recently found a story, which sort of links with this idea. I have never noticed it before—add a comment if you recognise where it came from. Or simply sit back with some of your Christmas chocolate, and enjoy a story. . .

Once upon a time the trees got together to choose a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, “Be our king.”

The olive tree answered, “In order to govern you, I would have to stop producing my oil, which is used to honour gods and human beings.”

Then the trees said to the fig tree, “You come and be our king.”

But the fig tree answered, “In order to govern you, I would have to stop producing my good sweet fruit.”

So the trees then said to the grapevine, “You come and be our king.”

But the vine answered, “In order to govern you, I would have to stop producing my wine, and that makes gods and humans happy.”

So then all the trees said to the thorn bush, “You come and be our king.”

The thorn bush answered, “If you really want to make me your king, then come and take shelter in my shade. If you don’t, fire will blaze out of my thorny branches and burn up the cedars of Lebanon.”


Bit of a bizarre story, but I rather like bizarre. Not sure why I have never noticed it before—do you know where it came from?

If you make a resolution for the new year, choose carefully.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Knowing God?



How can we know God? I believe he has given us several pointers: we see him in nature, we hear him in our conscience, and we find him in the Bible. God is bigger than we can imagine, he is truly good, completely dependable and he loves us enough to let us approach him, to ask for forgiveness and to show us the way to walk. We can trust God when all else lets us down.

When I was a child, I was taught that the Bible is God’s word. Fifty-odd years later, I would concur that this is true. But there is more to it than that.

The books of the Bible were first written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). When books are translated, someone has to make decisions about which words to choose. So how can we know whether what we read is what was intended to be said? We don’t have any original copies of the original New Testament, we only have fragments of documents (many found in ancient rubbish dumps in Egypt!) These fragmented copies of manuscripts are not identical, so how to choose which ones are closest to the originals? Do you take the ones we have most of, or the oldest ones?

Originally, Greek was written all in capital letters, with no spaces between words. ITMAYHAVELOOKEDSOMETHINGLIKETHISTOEARLYREADERSWITHANABUNDANCEOFPOSSIBILITIES. Scholars have taken the lines of writing and added spaces—but how do they know where to put them? (A BUN DANCE ON THE TABLE or ABUNDANCE ON THE TABLE?) Sometimes the context is obvious, but not always. Then the words are translated into English. Many have more than one meaning, so which one is the correct one to use? For example, “In the beginning was the . . .” The word used in the gap can mean ‘word’ or ‘reason’ or ‘message’ or ‘matter.’ Different Bible translations have made different choices. I personally favour ‘reason’ because “In the beginning was the reason” sounds very logical to me.

Our understanding has developed over time, as more of those fragmented manuscripts are found. For example, people used to think that the different Greek words for love meant different kinds of love, and when Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves him, he uses different words to mean slightly different types of love. I have heard several sermons preached about just this, the vicar wanting to show that Peter was offering one kind of love to Jesus, and Jesus challenging him to love him more deeply.

They made good sermons—but scholars now know that this is incorrect, and the two words were simply different ways of saying the same thing, with no change of emphasis. The books were written in ‘everyday’ Greek, and as more and more examples of writing from that period are discovered, so our understanding of how words were used has developed.

Then there is the personality of the authors. Mark used the Greek equivalent of slang when he wrote his book. For example, when he writes about putting new wine into old wine skins, he uses the word ‘throws’ so it could read: “No-one chucks new wine into old wineskins!” but our Bibles have made this more formal: no-one puts new wine…

Does all this mean we should not trust the Bible? No! When we read the Bible, we discover the living God, we see the magnificence of his power, we learn that he is truly good, and ever loving. But the Bible is not equal to God—nothing is. The Bible can help to guide us as we try to walk the paths God has set for us, but we should be cautious never to use the Bible as a weapon. We cannot read the Bible and think we understand everything there is to know about God, that somehow God can be contained in the pages of a book. A humble walk with God does not allow us to take phrases and words and apply them as rules for other people.

I find this a sober lesson to learn. I had thought that by learning Greek and Hebrew, I would know for sure what the original authors had written. But I can’t, I can still only learn an uncertain version of what they wrote. We do not know exactly what every word, or every sentence originally meant. I can tell you that after looking at the ancient Greek version I think I might know the meaning of a phrase, but I need to be cautious.

Does this mean that God somehow failed to protect his special message to Christians? I remember as an assertive teenager, defending the accuracy of the Bible, saying that although it had been written centuries before, surely God, who can do all things, would protect the integrity of his special book. And yet, it is clear to my adult self that this is not the case. Even as I read the books in Greek, I cannot be sure I am reading exactly what was written. Christians do not believe that God dictated, word for word, our version of the Bible to the human writers (unlike some other religions, as I think Muslims and Jews do believe their holy books were dictated).

I wonder if perhaps, this was always the intention. God knows how people love to make rules, to be certain of how people should live (usually so they can apply it to other people). Did God, in his great wisdom, allow us only an uncertain view of his revelations, so that whilst the Bible would help us, it was only by looking to him that we truly learn? Is one of the biggest mistakes of the evangelical church today the tendency to hold the Bible as equal with God? Only God is God, and unless we constantly look to him, we will make all sorts of mistakes when understanding what the Bible says.

Perhaps we should not be pointing at words and phrases in the Bible and using them as ‘proof’ of doctrine. (How many times have I heard Jehovah Witnesses and Christians arguing about whether ‘The Word was God’ or ‘The Word was a god’? Are either party sure they should be so certain of their translation?) Is the gift of tongues a personal gift intended for all individuals today, or was it intended only for public use in the past? Does God only accept people after they have asked for forgiveness for their sins, or is anyone who comes to God, whatever their motivation, accepted because Jesus died for all? Were the church leaders who proved that the Bible sanctioned slavery wrong? Are the church leaders who prove that the Bible condemns homosexual relationships right?

We can all examine these issues, weigh them against our beliefs and form an opinion. But beware those who are certain that they always know the answer.

We can only humbly bow before God, and accept that he is God.

Anne E. Thompson
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Stanley Grhyll Waterfall
I hope you have a great week. Take care. Love, Anne x

Who Invented the Alphabet?


Moses and The Phoenicians

Who Invented the First Alphabet?

Have you ever wondered who invented the alphabet? Where did the idea of having symbols to represent sounds come from? In yesterday’s blog about Moses, when I was trying to determine whether he ever actually existed, I mentioned the book: Who Were The Phoenicians? by Ganor. This examines the origins of the phonetic alphabet, and where it began.

About half way through the book, Ganor has thoroughly proved that the ‘Phoenicians’ were the Israelites/Hebrews, and Phoenicia was what the Greeks called Canaan (in the same way that the English call Deutschland ‘Germany.’ He believes that the name came from the Greek word: Phone which meant ‘language’ because they had an alphabet.

In 1905, an archaeologist called Petrie found several inscriptions written in alphabetic script. These were dated around 1500 BC, which is much earlier than it was thought people had an alphabet.

The early Greek alphabet has been linked by scholars to both ancient Hebrew and Egyptian hieroglyphics (not such a surprise if it originated with Hebrew slaves who escaped from Egypt). There are two theories for the names of the letter in the Greek alphabet.

Theory One: The names (Alpha, Beta, Delta, etc) were based on Hebrew words, and the symbols that represent them are icons for the things represented. See chart below, and please excuse errors in the script as I have no idea how they are meant to be written, and was copying them from a book.

(Personally, I don’t think the letters look very like the objects they are meant to represent, and nor does Ganor. I can see that Gamma looks a little like a camel’s hump, but how is Beta a symbol for a house?)

Theory Two: The alphabet letter names came from Hebrew words that sounded like them, and they were copied by the Greeks (who didn’t understand the Hebrew) because they were often chanted, as a mnemonic. It would have to be a mnemonic said often, taught through the generations, and therefore heard by the Greeks. This is the same idea as the mnemonics we use today, to learn things like the order of notes on a music stave: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.

The ancient Hebrew words would have to sound almost exactly like the Greek letter words, because we know they haven’t evolved with time—though it’s possible the endings have changed, with the Greeks adding a final ‘a’ sound because that’s how they speak (like Italians today tend to add ‘a’ to the end of words). Ganor did a thorough search of possible ancient Hebrew words, and came up with only one possibility. He claims that if the mnemonic is to remain close to the names of the Greek alphabet, then there are very few possibilities for Hebrew words. The words he thinks fit, are the words of a saying, which was first used by the Israelites after they left Egypt, and is still used today by Jews who have them written on small scrolls and fastened to their doorposts (called the Mezuzah).

The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk in the field, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be between your eyes. And you shall write them on the posts of your house, and on your gates.

And also: Be careful not to forget the Lord, you shall not go after other gods.

(Rough translation into English.)

The words are lifted from Deuteronomy, and made into an easy-to-remember saying, which perhaps the trading Phoenicians used to chant, and the Greeks gradually learnt the words though not the meaning. I don’t know any ancient Hebrew, so I can’t comment on whether Ganor is manipulating the language to make a point, or whether he has found an incredible link. But it’s interesting, isn’t it? It also sounds plausible. After many years teaching the alphabet to young children, I know that using rhymes and songs are often the best way to teach them even today.

The initial sound of each word was matched to a symbol, these symbols were used to make words. And hey presto! We have writing. Much easier than chipping pictures into rock.

Ganor asks the question, if writing came from the Israelites, who devised it? It either came from uneducated Hebrew slaves, or from a man who had been educated by intellectual Egyptian royalty (Moses). He therefore thinks it was Moses himself who devised the alphabet. He makes the point that splitting the sounds of words, especially consonants, is not something that occurs in normal speech unless you have a stutter. Moses is known (from the Bible and subsequent Jewish writings) to have suffered with a stammer. Breaking words into sounds would therefore be natural for him.  (I have no view on this, I am simply telling you what Ganor has written in his book!)

My own thoughts are that this might be stretching things too far, and there are a lot of assumptions. Firstly, there is no reason (I think) to assume that the Hebrew slaves were illiterate; certainly slaves in other eras have been able to read and write. Secondly, from reading the Bible account of the Exodus, Moses seems to have been completely at full-stretch simply keeping order of the Israelites—would he have had time to invent a new writing system? Though I suppose he might have devised it while he was living in exile before the Exodus. My understanding is the Jews teach that the alphabet originated with Moses, so maybe it did.

Thanks for reading. Use those letters carefully next time you write something, they have an ancient heritage wherever they originated.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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Is the Old Testament Myth and Legend, Or Could It Be Historically Accurate?


Was Moses an Historical Person?

Or was he invented to prove a point?

Sometimes, things seem to make a ‘perfect storm’ don’t they? Lots of unrelated things all come together and provoke an unexpected reaction. This happened recently with the story of the Exodus. I was reading a book by Peter Hessler, an author I enjoyed when I started to learn Mandarin, as he lived in China for a while. He has now written a book about living in Egypt, learning to speak Arabic, and discovering the Egyptian culture. I ordered a copy and started to read. At the same time, I just happened to be reading the book of Exodus in my daily Bible study time, and of course, this is all linked to Egypt. At the same time, the sermons we were watching from Cornerstone Christian Church in NJ (where we used to live) were all about…the Exodus from Egypt! My head was full of all things Egyptian.

I decided I wanted to write a story, through the eyes of Moses’ wife, about Moses the man. Who was he, this misfit who led a rebellion, the go-between for God and his people, the Egyptian-Hebrew hybrid? What kind of person can watch his adopted family suffer plagues—even the death of his nephew—and remain unmoved? Who is able to stand up to rejection from his blood-relatives, and not fear the might of his adopted-family, and can remain true to his God throughout it all? And what would it be like to be married to this man, this single-minded leader of the people?

But before I could write a story, I needed to do some research. What were the customs and life-style of people 3,000 years ago? What did they wear, eat, believe in? I asked people to recommend books, and I started to read. I have now spent several weeks reading, I am still not ready to write my story, but have learned a lot of ‘facts’ and theories about Moses and the time he lived in. I thought I would share my most interesting discoveries with you, because some of them were surprising.

One of the first things I discovered was that there is very little historical evidence from this time—almost no secular data to back-up the Bible account. Something (no one knows what) happened at the end of the Bronze Age, something that destroyed all the complex major cities, and most of the evidence about the lives of the people, so there is almost no evidence to support the account of the Old Testament. For this reason, many scholars believe the account is not factual—they think there never was a nation of slaves, freed through plagues, led away by a man called Moses, to a promised land that was unified under Kings David and Solomon—they say it is all legend and myth, written to explain relationships and understand God, but not historical fact. Could this be true? I watched a very convincing YouTube video, which was based on the book: The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman, and it was absolutely certain that the Old Testament is unverifiable myth and legend.

Undeterred, I kept looking. I wanted to read what the scholars who don’t believe in the authenticity of the Bible had to say (“the wise man learns more from the fool than the fool does from the wise man” and all that!) so I read a whole plethora of books (including The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman). Here’s what I learnt:

Sigmund Freud said that after various studies, he thought Moses was an historical figure, living about thirteenth century BC. However, he took task with his name, saying that although the Jews name him “Mosche” it’s more likely that an Egyptian princess would give him an Egyptian name. Freud refutes that “Mosche” (the Hebrew version of Moses) means “He was drawn out of the water” as per the Biblical account, saying at best it means: the drawer out. (I felt he was splitting hairs here!) He concludes that Moses was probably named Mose, which is an Egyptian word meaning ‘child.’ It was common to use this at the end of Egyptian names, and we know of the Pharaohs Ahmose and Ptahmose and Thutmose, for example. Apparently, the final ‘s’ of ‘Moses’ was added when the Old testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek (so I presume that the Jewish Torah has the original Mosche or Mose). Freud then went on to compare the basket the baby Moses was placed in with the womb, and the River Nile with the mother’s birthing waters, so he lost me at that point.

Akhenaten
c1346 BC

Freud is certain that Moses was Egyptian, and this is how he ‘got the idea’ for a new, monotheistic religion (a religion that says there is only one god). Freud says this idea came from Amenhotop IV, who enforced the worship of a single god: Aten. Freud’s argument is that IF Moses was Egyptian, then his mother would be Queen Hatsepsut (sometimes spelt Hatshepsut), and Thutmose I would be his grandfather. This would make him a rival to the throne of Amenhotep II, as the Pharaoh would be Moses’ nephew. This, says Freud, explains why Moses spoke with such authority, and why the Pharaoh didn’t simply kill him when he started to be annoying. (I hope you’re keeping up with all these names. Very annoying when parents name their children after their relatives!) Hatsepsut was a powerful woman, married to her brother Thutmose II, she is thought to have reigned jointly with Thutmose III for a while, though he is known to have later tried to destroy everything with her name on, erasing her from history.

However, if Moses ‘copied’ the idea of one god from Amenhotep IV (who changed his name to Akhenaton) then the Exodus would have to be after this. The Akhenaton period is 1353 – 1336 BC. I had never heard of Akhenaton, though I had heard of his beautiful wife Nefertiti, and his son (by a different wife) Tutankhamum.

Going back to the name of Mose, this also ties in with the lecture I attended last year at the British Museum. They suggested that Thutmose III was the pharaoh of the plagues. ( Blog link here. ) Like Freud, they also thought Thutmose I, with his powerful powerful daughter, was the Pharaoh during the time Moses was born and it would make sense for her to be the princess who found Moses, and then gave him a name linked to her father (Thut-mose). This would date the Exodus to around 1446 BC.

We know that Thutmose III disappeared mid-reign, and that the next Pharaoh was not his first son (which fits in with all the first-born being killed in the final plague).

Thutmose III
Who was probably the Pharaoh during the Exodus, when all the Israelites left Egypt.

In Exodus (the book) it appears to name a Pharaoh—Raamses—but this is apparently more likely to be referring to a place. The Old Testament often ‘muddles’ people and place names, and one ‘proof’ that it was written much later than the history it is meant to be describing, is that some of the places named did not exist until centuries later.

However, if the books were edited centuries later (but written when they said they were) then it would not be beyond belief that those later scribes added the names of places they knew, to tell their readers where the events took place. For example, if I was editing a book about a journey in 200BC from my house to where London now is, I might add that they walked from here “to London” even though London, as a place, did not exist until 43AD (this would then be ‘audited’ by my family who would insist I changed such an illogical statement, but there is lots in the Bible that tells me those early writers did not suffer living with auditors like I do, and many of their ‘facts’ are a little imprecise!)

Another piece of evidence in the British Museum is the city of Jericho, which the Bible says was destroyed when the Israelite army marched around it. When archaeologists examined the ‘dead zone’ (the layer showing when the walls were destroyed) they found that not the entire wall was destroyed. This supports the Biblical story of a prostitute, Rahab, surviving the destruction—her house was in the wall of the city.  The ‘dead zone’ has the remains of pots, which still had grain in because the people didn’t eat the grain and the invading army did not take the grain as plunder (which was unusual). Archaeologists have also found ancient tombs, which were Egyptian-style in design, but this changed about the time the Israelites would have arrived. The archaeological evidence shows a gradual decrease in Egyptian influence in the whole area, which again ties in with when the Israelites would have arrived back in Canaan.

I read Who Were the Phoenicians? by Nissim R. Ganor. The book was originally written in Hebrew, and I was reading an English translation, so it was quite heavy-going in places (actually, scrap that, it was very heavy-going! It took 195 pages before he had finished ‘proving’ who the Phoenicians were not). Ganor was exploring the Phoenicians, the people who first devised an alphabet (before this, people wrote either Egyptian hieroglyphics, or Chinese script or Mesopotamian cuneiform). It is from the Phoenicians we get our word ‘phonics,’ the idea that symbols can represent sounds.

Tell el-Amarna letters.
They describe the ‘Habiru’ (Hebrews?) attacking cities, and the letters ask Egypt for help.

Ganor refers often to the Tell el-Amarna, which are clay tablets found in Upper Egypt. They were engraved about 1360BC, and were diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and Canaan, written in Akkadian cuneiform (cuneiform just means wedge-shaped carvings). Some of this correspondence talks about invasions of cities by an unstoppable tribe that is taking over the area. They describe kings being killed and buried at the city gate—all of which ties in with the stories of Joshua leading the Israelites into battle. The Tell el-Amarna is perhaps a tiny piece of related evidence, but it is still evidence that supports the Bible view. I don’t think ‘lack of evidence’ necessarily disproves something, and if the only evidence available supports an accepted view, then why try to ‘disprove’ it? The Amarna letters refer to invaders named Habiru, which was very likely to be the Hebrews.

Ganor also states that until recently, people believed that history was only recorded orally until 10BC (which makes it less reliable). However, new engravings have been found that show people had phonetic writing in 1500BC, and therefore it is entirely possible that Moses did write an historical account of the Exodus, as claimed by the Bible. (If you look online, you can read the diaries of Petrie, who was an archaeologist who found evidence of alphabetical writing—in a very unrefined form—from 1500BC, during his 1905 excavations.)

Knowing when the Exodus took place is another problem, even for scholars who believe it happened. The Old Testament says the Israelite slaves lived in Goshen. If this was in the Nile Delta, then the Exodus cannot have been before 1200BC (the period of Raamses II) because there was no substantial building around that time in that area (and they can’t have commuted very far to work!) However, much of the evidence for this is flimsy, an attempt to fit the facts to the Bible account. Some scholars have therefore said the Exodus never took place, others say that actually there were TWO exodus, one during the reign of Raamses, when half the Hebrews left, and another one later—this is because the evidence on the Tell el-Amarna doesn’t fit with the timing of the slaves leaving during the reign of Ramses.

It seems more likely that Goshen was situated in the area of Heliopolis (the ancient city of On) which is now modern-day Cairo. From there, it is three days journey to Yam Suph (Red Sea) and according to Hutchinson (The Exode, 1887) this route from Egypt across the Arabian Desert was probably the route of the Exodus (he bases this on Bedouin tradition, not the Bible—but it fits!) The ancient city of On (modern day Cairo) has several remains from Thutmose III and also Raamses II, though the remains credited to Raamses are always suspect as he would remove other Pharaoh’s symbols and add his own, to gain credit for things others had made.

In Who Were The Phoenicians? Ganor explains in great detail about how the timing of the Exodus with Ramses is erroneous (trust me, a LOT of detail!) Ganor says that it simply cannot have happened then, and shows all the reasons why it must have happened earlier, and all the evidence that supports this. I was convinced. He ‘proves’ the Exodus was about 1446 BC. This then discounts Freud’s clever theory about monotheism starting with Akhenaton (who came later).

In fact, it seems to me more likely to be the other way round. Akhenaton would have heard the stories of the plagues, and known that all the Hebrew slaves had escaped from Egypt, and he probably decided that worshipping the same God as the Hebrews was a good idea. This would also explain why in the el-Amarna it states that he refused to help the Canaanite kings in their wars with the Hebrews. However, as the Hebrews worshipped several gods during their time in Egypt, Akhenaton wouldn’t have known which deity to worship, hence the decision to worship Aten.

I then read The Bible Unearthed* by Finkelstein and Silberman, which is the book that the very convincing YouTube video was based on (the one which says none of the Old Testament is historically factual, and it is all myth and legend). The authors spend a long time discounting the story of the Exodus because it cannot have happened during the time of Raamses. I felt so frustrated with them, and wanted to tell them to read Who Were The Phoenicians? and then start again! All their arguments were based on the Hebrews leaving Egypt during the time of Raamses, and they went into great detail as to how this was impossible archaeologically, and therefore impossible per say. They even talk about the cities mentioned in the Biblical account—the ones conquered by the Israelites when they reached Canaan, saying that although they existed centuries before Ramses, and were rebuilt and powerful again centuries after Ramses, they did not exist at that time, therefore the Exodus never happened because etc etc etc. I wanted to shout at them, and tell them to rethink their basic premise, and that yes, the cities existed before the time of Ramses because that is when the Hebrews left Egypt.

They also discuss a document, written by an Egyptian historian Manetho in the third century BC. He tells the story of the Hyksos, who invaded Egypt and founded a dynasty and who were driven out by a strong Pharaoh. Later archaeologists have found that the Hyksos were from Canaan, and there is a gradual spread of Canaan influence in Egypt, which stopped around the time of Pharaoh Ahmose. Again, if you take the view of both the British Museum, and Ganor, then this ties in with the timing for Ahmose being the Pharaoh who began to oppress the Hebrews. So the evidence used to disprove the Exodus as an historical event yet again supports it.

My understanding of how archaeology works is that someone discovers something, and based on previously known evidence, they make conclusions about it. These conclusions then effect further findings. If those conclusions are proven to be wrong, then they should be adjusted, or the way they effect future findings will continue to be wrong. A simple illustration of this point would be:

Someone unearthed all the possessions of Henry, and they included a stamp collection. Based on previous knowledge, they said that eldest sons are usually named after their father, and as Henry is the eldest son, his father must also be named Henry. They also concluded that Henry had decided to collect stamps. Later, the possessions of another son, Charlie, are also unearthed. Charlie also collected stamps, so they conclude that Charlie copied his elder brother and decided to collect stamps. Perfectly reasonable assumption. But then, they unearth Charlie’s birth certificate. Charlie is an adopted son, and he was older than Henry. The conclusion must now be adjusted: It was Henry who copied Charlie when deciding to collect stamps, because Charlie came first.

The conclusions drawn in The Bible Unearthed are based on misinformation. They have placed the Exodus too late in history, and then concluded that the Israelites never formed a large empire, the Kings David and Solomon are mythical figures, their religion was a copied mish-mash from another race—the Phoenicians. Someone has used these wrong conclusions to make a convincing YouTube video, and people are listening to the well-presented information and assuming it is correct. But it is not. Beware listening to the clever voice that shouts loudest. It might be wrong.

There is more evidence for the Israelites reaching Canaan and conquering cities. The Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus (about 30BC) wrote a history of the area. He describes the Exodus from Egypt in detail, and how the Israelites defeated other nations and destroyed their cities. He doesn’t ever use the term ‘Hebrew’ or ‘Israelite’ but rather calls them ‘Phoenicians.’ You will recognise this name from Ganor’s book: Who Were The Phoenicians?

Ganor also believes the Hebrew slaves became the Israelite nation, and the Greek name for them was the Phoenicians. (He took 195 pages of proof to reach this conclusion! It was not an easy read but we got there eventually.) He also quotes Herodotus, another Greek scholar, who wrote about the three nations from Persia to Egypt: The Syrian Palestinians (who Ganor believes were the Philistines in the Bible) the Phoenicians and the Arabians. Herodotus himself links the Phoenicians with the Israelites; he also says they originally came from the ‘Red Sea’ which from his other writings can be deduced to mean ‘from Egypt.’

Greek writers also describe there later being two types of Phoenicians, those who circumcise and those who don’t—which ties in with the Bible account of the Israelite nation splitting, and the southern kingdom (Judah) remaining true to God and the laws given during the Exodus, and the northern kingdom, which pretty much ignored God, and had lots of different gods and were eventually taken away by the Babylonians.

The book goes on to talk about how the alphabet was formed—which Ganor also thinks started with Moses, but although this was hugely interesting, it doesn’t form part of the argument that Moses existed as an historical figure, so I will leave that for a later blog.

Now, although Ganor has pretty much ‘proved’ that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt in a mass exodus, and crossed the wilderness, and then conquered cities in Canaan and occupied them, all as per the Old Testament, he does not believe in the God part. Ganor believes that Moses wanted to establish a new religion, and therefore came up with the idea of one God. Some of his evidence makes sense. For example, we know from reading the Bible that people worshipped more than one god, because they are frequently told to stop! When Moses kills half the Israelites because they are worshipping the golden calf, he accuses them of ‘returning to the gods of Egypt’ and indeed, until Moses emerges from the mountain with the ten commandments, the people have not been told they should only worship one God.

Ganor, who is a linguistic historian, uses the names of God in the Old Testament as evidence. He says that the frequent mention of planting trees by Abraham and Jacob show that they worshipped trees. Jacob is thought to have worshipped the Asher tree, and the Hebrew word for ‘God’ is ‘El’ hence his name was changed to ‘Asher-El’ which became ‘Isra-El’ or Israel. Later, the Hebrews are known as “sons of Asher El” or “sons of Israel.” Ganor also says that the name ‘Adon’ is from an Egyptian god, and gradually became the basis for the Hebrew word ‘Adonai’. When, after settling in Canaan, the Israelites began to worship a myriad of gods, the god Adon became henotheistic (which means he was sort of the ‘king of gods’—all the other gods worshipped him). The prophets kept trying to re-establish a monotheistic (one God) religion.

There is an interesting link with the Greek god Eshmun sar Kadesh, which was a snake god used in medicine. Artefacts show that the Greeks acquired this god from the Phoenicians. The symbol is still used today in some places, of a snake wrapped around a pole (you see them outside pharmacists). Now, what has a snake got to do with medicine? Well, in the Bible account of the Exodus, when the people were leaving Kadesh (Numbers chapter 33) they were being bitten by snakes, and Moses made a bronze snake on a pole and held it up. When the people looked at it, they were saved from the snake bites and lived. After the Exodus, some of them were continuing to worship this bronze snake, saying it was a god of medicine (it’s like these people were continually looking for new gods to worship!) The Bible doesn’t hide that this was happening, and in 2 Kings chapter 18, there’s the story of a king finally destroying the bronze snake so people would stop worshipping it.

Looking at the Bible, it too makes it clear that the Israelites worshipped lots of gods (though to be honest, I had missed that when I read it—it’s not something that Sunday School teachers tended to point out!) I don’t know what I think about the idea that Abraham and Jacob worshipped tree gods, but there are references to Jacob being told to destroy idols, and he does bury them under a tree, so it might be significant. But the Bible also makes it clear that there is also one true God, and he is God.

My thoughts are that by denying the existence of God, Ganor rather misses the point. He can explain when the Exodus took place, and has provided evidence to support the Old Testament books, but he never addresses how they escaped. Why would Pharaoh let them go? If there is no God, there can not have been the plagues, and so the very fact of how they escaped is never solved. Ganor seems to go to an awful lot of bother to prove that God is created by Moses and perpetuated by the leaders who followed him—it would be more logical to simply acknowledge that God exists.

One fact that interested me was the name God gives when he meets Moses at the burning bush. Moses asks: ‘Who shall I say you are if they ask?’ (which is another proof that the Hebrews had several gods) and God says: “Ehye Asher Ehye” which apparently is ancient Hebrew for: “I will be whoever I will be.” Most Bibles translate this into the English: “I am who I am,” but I think the original translation says something slightly different, and I find that intriguing.

The name of the book of Exodus is also a Greek addition. It was originally called: “These are the names,” in Hebrew, according to David Pawson. I had never heard of David Pawson, he seems to be a Royal Air Force chaplain, who wrote a very fat (and very interesting!) book. It’s worth reading if you are interested in a few factoids around the books of the Bible. I was lent a copy, and liked it so much I ordered one for myself, even though I completely disagree with some of what he writes, mostly it is hugely interesting. One observation he makes is that according to the Bible, the Hebrew slaves were told to make bricks without straw, which would make them very heavy. He says, Archaeologists have found buildings built with bricks made with straw at the bottom, then a layer of bricks made with rubbish (while people scrabbled around trying to find a substitute) and then bricks made with just clay.

Going back to the Phoenicians, there is evidence that they were a trading nation, travelling to Crete and Greece and beyond. Different historians remark on the Hebrew influence in some Greek names and words. It is thought that the Phoenicians reached the peak of their trading empire about 1000BC—which is when the Bible says King Solomon reigned over a strong trading nation.

I don’t know what you believe, and there seems to be no way to prove anything, but personally I choose to believe the Bible account is historically accurate. It is true, the evidence is flimsy, and often circumstantial, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. I think it takes a sort of ‘faith’ to say the books in the Old Testament are not at all historically factual, written by authors centuries afterwards to justify invading the northern kingdoms of Israel. I prefer personally to have ‘faith’ that the Biblical records which claim to be history (some of them are poems or stories, and don’t claim to be otherwise) are factual. We lose some understanding because we don’t read them in ancient Hebrew, but I choose to believe the events actually happened.

***

The whole idea of language and translation and lost meanings is something that worries me. The Bible was not written in English! When archaeologists found the Dead Sea Scrolls, they found a copy of the Old Testament scriptures that predated other copies by about a thousand years. They found four differences, which I believe were the way some names were spelt (so nothing, really). The early scribes were incredibly careful when they copied scripture, they even counted letters, to ensure the correct letter of the entire manuscript was in the centre. For centuries, the Old Testament books were passed from generation to generation, unchanged. But then the New Testament was written, and the scriptures were translated into Greek. Instantly, there would be changes, but both the Greek and Latin versions of the Bible were pretty well standardised. The Bible continued unchanged—until now. Now we seem to have a new version every week! We have the Hip-Hop Bible, and the Youth Bible, the Good News Bible and the English Standard Version Bible. Each one is slightly different, even the ones which are translations from the original Hebrew and Greek.

When I read books like Who Were The Phoenicians it makes me realise how much emphasis we place on certain words and phrases, and how these are changing as new translations appear. In evangelical churches, it sometimes seems that the Bible and God are held in equal authority, and yet the Bible, as we read it, is based on the decisions and understanding of the person who translated it. Should we therefore be taking snippets and deciding whole doctrines? Should individual words and phrases be given great weight when we make our rules and set our beliefs? I believe that God is bigger than the Bible, and that we should take great care when we quote the Bible as ‘evidence’ for what God wants.

The Bible is given so that we can understand God better, it shows us something of his nature, but we will never completely understand God. We are not meant to. Should translations of the Bible be given the importance that they currently are? I wonder whether they should be viewed as a resource, but we should constantly remember that they are only translations. My understanding is that the Jewish religion insists that all children learn some Hebrew, and they read the Torah in Hebrew at their ‘coming of age’ service. I think that the Quran can only be read in the original Arabic because the phrases fit together like a pattern. It seems only Christians are comfortable with most of their teachers only ever reading the Bible in translation. I wonder if they are right.

Books:
The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman

Who Were The Phoenicians? by Nissim R. Ganor

Moses and Monotheism by Sigmund Freud

Unlocking the Bible by David Pawson

The Buried by Peter Hessler

 

You can listen to Fred’s lectures here: https://subsplash.com/cornerstonechristianchur/media/mi/+ft3y8mb

(I usually skip through all the news and songs and just listen to the talk! You want the early August 2020 talks)

Tomorrow, I’ll look at whether it’s likely that Moses invented phonetic writing and the alphabet. (It will be a shorter blog, I promise!)

Anne E. Thompson

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Psalm 23


I was recently asked to preach on this Psalm. It’s one of my favourites, and I thought I would share my notes with you. I hope you find them interesting. Usually when reading the Bible, it would be a mistake to focus too much on individual words unless you’re reading it in the original Hebrew. However, this Psalm is so well known, and the truths are repeated in the rest of scripture, so I think we are safe to dissect the passage and still understand what the author was trying to say:

Psalm 23: 1-6

God’s Shepherding

This Psalm was written by David, who had been a shepherd. The themes would be very relevant for him, because our relationships with God are a personal thing (isn’t that amazing!) One thing I love about this Psalm, is that the author started to write in in the third person, referring to God as ‘The LORD’ and ‘He’. About half way through, this changes, and he starts to talk to God, using ‘You.’ This happens to us, doesn’t it? We start to read the Bible, or think about God, or what he might want, and gradually, hardly noticing, we start to actually talk to him directly.

Verse 1

When I was little I was very confused by this Psalm, as it begins: ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.‘ I understood that God was the shepherd, but not why I wouldn’t want him! Later of course I realised it meant ‘I shall not want for anything else.’

The LORD is my shepherd: LORD denotes Yaweh, “I am” the eternal God (written in capitals). We can never know God  so he kindly gives us analogies we can relate to.

No uncertainty—the LORD is my shepherd (not ‘I hope so’)

Personal, God cares about individuals—the LORD is my shepherd.

Cows know owner (I learnt a lot about cows before writing my farm books). They know owner because listen to his voice. We are like sheep to their shepherd.

Present tense—whatever has gone before doesn’t change what is now. We all have things we regret, but God is interested in the ‘now’ of our lives. WE tend to worry about our past, and be anxious about our future. But the Bible tells us that God will cancel out our past because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and none of us can know what the future holds. It is the ‘now’ that matters. Are you being kind today, being humble, being fair?

Because the LORD is my shepherd, I therefore will not need anything else. I don’t think this can mean physical things, because some Christians are starving, or living in war zones. I think it means that if we have the spiritual side of our lives sorted out, then we can trust that everything else is part of God’s will—if we suffer, or go through pain, then it won’t be for nothing, it will be part of the bigger picture, part of God’s eternal plan. God is enough. Sometimes we need to remember that, to focus on God more, to try and see today in the light of eternity.

My animals expect me to feed them. Do we expect to receive from God? Do we come to church expecting to hear God’s voice?

Verse 2

Spurgeon said the ‘green pastures’ represent Scripture. They are where we rest, they show God’s abundant love for his people—always fresh, abundant, never exhausted. We can read the Bible over and over, and so many times we find something new, it speaks to us in a new way, we understand a little more of God.

He maketh me lie down—God doesn’t want us to be always struggling, striving away at life. He wants us to come to him, give up our worries, rest in his promises. It will be alright, because God is our shepherd.

Still waters are like the Holy Spirit, who sometimes works quietly: a dove, not an eagle. Sometimes/often we don’t notice what God is doing, we don’t see his Spirit working in us or in others. But those waters are there, still waters run deep, afterwards we sometimes look back, and realise that God was at work, things did work out right.

God leads us. We aren’t driven along, we are given someone to follow. (Chickens cannot be ‘driven’ but they will follow if I have food!) Jesus leads us by his example, we can see how to live by looking at how he lived. We see God in other people, and that is an example for us to follow too. It’s much easier to copy than to decide for ourselves (like the chickens wandering all over the garden) so we need to choose carefully who we will copy. WE have to allow ourselves to be led.

Sometimes we want to know the whole route, all at once. But usually God leads us step by step. I need to be asking each day, ‘What does God want of me today?’ Sometimes Christians get in a muddle about this, they agonise over ‘being led’. A little like the joke of the man who needed saving and prayed to God, then ignored the police/firemen/lifeboat that came to rescue him! We ask God to lead us, but he has given us a brain, surrounded us with wise people—following God does not have to be via a thunderbolt!

Verse 3

God ‘restores’ our soul because it needs restoring! We get it wrong, we do/think/believe the wrong thing, over and over. God restores us, again and again. ‘Restores’ is an active verb, God keeps on restoring us.

He restores my soul. Not me, not yoga, not a holiday! God does it, because he is our shepherd—he wants to take care of us. We need to remember to pray, to ask him to restore us, to let him guide us, to accept his forgiveness.

He leads me in paths of righteousness (or ‘right paths’). We should be obedient, follow what we know is right. WE don’t pick and choose which commandments we will follow, we obey all of them. We belong to God, we need to behave accordingly. We MUST be kind, be humble, be just.

Verse 4

We don’t run, or slip or struggle our way through the valley of death, we walk. It is a calm thing. We don’t walk alone, God is with me. We don’t wander aimlessly though the valley of death, we walk through it, death is simply on the way to where we are going.

Corrie Ten Boom told a lovely story about when she was young, and was frightened of dying. Her father reminded her, that when they caught the train, he would give the young Corrie her ticket right at the end of the journey, just before she needed it—the rest of the journey he kept it safe for her. He said that God is the same with death, he doesn’t make us ready until we need to be ready. . . If we’re scared, we’re probably not going to die today! God gives us what we need when we need it. This Psalm reminds us that when the time comes, God will be there.

When I had brain surgery, my walk to the operating room was terrifying, but I felt ‘wrapped in warm cotton-wool’—God was with me in a whole new way, because that’s what I needed at that time.

It is only the shadow of death we walk through, God removed the actual permanent death when Jesus rose. The valley is often a peaceful place—when my Dad died, it was a peaceful, Godly thing, a becoming more soul and less physical.

I will fear no evil, not because evil doesn’t exist, but because God is stronger, and he is there, protecting me. Most of our fears are in our head: the interview, the being alone, the being ill, the missing the bus—these things are rarely as bad in real life as we fear they will be! When we walk with God, we don’t need to fear evil, he has it sorted, we can trust him. God is with me. All the time.

The rod and staff which are used to keep the flock in order: for discipline, they are the things that comfort when things are tough. Knowing that God is in charge, is mightier than anything we will ever face, is to have true comfort when we need it.

Verse 5

‘You prepare a table for me’: one translation has ‘furnish and decorate’ a table—God doesn’t skimp when he does something for us. He treats us as special. We prepare a special table for Christmas, or a party—it shows that something is special. The Psalmist is saying that God treats us as something precious, something worth celebrating.

‘You prepare a table’ implies something normal, not rushed—a meal is eaten slowly, in a calm way. God is preparing something we can enjoy, we don’t need to feel tense about it.

In the presence of my enemies’ for David, his enemies were very real—they wanted to kill him! This verse was literal for him. I don’t really have physical enemies, but I do have fears, anxieties, temptations, and they are very real to me. I think this verse shows that even though those things exist, God still treats me as something precious, and the way God treats me is what I should be focussing on, not the negative things.

‘You anoint my head with oil’ signifies that we are made special. A king was anointed with oil, a priest was anointed with oil, it signified something special, a change. We need to allow God to anoint us, to change us, to make us something special.

‘My cup overflows’ shows that God gives us more than we can even hold! God gives generously. Look at how many acorns an oak produces, how many eggs a chicken lays, how many pips are in an apple: way more than are needed! God gives to us extravagantly.

Verse 6

“Surely goodness” when I was a child I thought ‘surely goodness’ was a special type of goodness! But it means that ‘because of all this, then for sure goodness and mercy will follow me. Certainly these things will be in my life.

We can almost imagine them as two angels, watching our back, all the time. All the days of my life—so, the bad days as well as the good days, those two angels will be there.

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. We live there, not a visit, but living as children who have every right to be there. Forever.

 

I hope you feel encouraged today, whatever your day might hold.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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A Christian is Someone Who Leaves a Washroom Cleaner Than When They Entered


I always struggle a bit in January—do you? I’m not sure if it’s the lack of sunlight, or the residual tiredness after Christmas, or just something weird that happens in my brain; January for me is full of scowls and negative feelings and wanting to cry. It has been even worse this year, partly because I have been hurt by my church and because it’s January, I have been focussing on it more than is healthy. It was something small, not even worth mentioning here (because you will think me silly) but for me, it mattered.

Now, this happens a lot in churches—has it happened to you? The trouble is, churches are just people, and everyone is busy, and trying to prioritise their time, and frankly, we only tend to notice the person playing the music, or operating the sound system, or unlocking the fire door each week, when they mess up. We don’t remember to thank them, but we’re quite quick to give input if we feel they could improve! We also tend to announce what we want to happen, and are sometimes insensitive to what others might want or need.

But I was still hurt. My brain told me not be stupid, it was tiny thing, not important. But the child in me raged and felt bitter, and wanted to leave. I need to be noticed, and I often feel invisible.

The solution to this, for me, is found in a little book tucked away at the back of the Bible: 1 Peter. In chapter 2, Peter talks about how kind God is and it calls us to be like living stones. It says that in God’s eyes we are ‘chosen and precious’. We might not be noticed by our peers, but God sees us. God thinks we’re precious.

The writing goes on to tell us to allow ourselves to be ‘used in building a spiritual temple’. A stone on its own is of little use, but as part of a building it becomes magnificent. I have to let hurts dissipate, I can’t be useful on my own, I need to be part of the larger Christian body. (That’s me told then!)

It talks about offering a sacrifice that’s acceptable to God. But what is that? In the olden days, people offered animal sacrifices, but God doesn’t want that today. In other parts of the Bible, it makes it clear what God does want. He wants us to do what is just, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God. Justice is about being fair and wise. Walking humbly isn’t about banging people over the head with what I believe. And being kind? Well, that’s sort of obvious. We all need people to be kind to us.

Which is why the title is what it is. I think perhaps Christians (me) need to think a little more carefully about how they’re being kind to others. A Christian is the person who holds open a door, who helps with the washing up, who leaves a public toilet cleaner than when they entered. Probably no one will notice, but God will—and he thinks you’re precious.

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