“I Heard the Sound of Harpists Playing their Harps”

December 13, 2017

The Apostle John wrote, “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps” (Revelation 14:2). I heard this harpist playing her harp in Jerusalem, at the Damascus gate this past April.

Harpist in Jerusalem, Joppa Gate. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The context of Revelation 14 is that of the Lamb standing victoriously on Mount Zion with His people, those “having His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (v.1). What joy belongs to those described in the text! — “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (v.4).

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Nahal Ze’elim, and Job’s Word Picture

November 25, 2017

When Job was suffering so horribly, his “friend” Eliphaz “helped” by saying, “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it” (Job 4:8). I.e., You’ve brought this on yourself. Job responded to this and similar criticism, “My brothers have acted deceitfully like a wadi, Like the torrents of wadis which vanish” (6:15).

The wadi Ze’elim, near Masada, Israel. Ordinary this would be dry. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our photo shows Nahal Ze’elim, near Masada, Israel. This area is ordinarily dry. To our back this stream empties into the Dead Sea. A wadi such as this will carry water for a while, then vanish. This is the word picture Job uses to describe Eliphaz. Job was looking for “kindness from his friend” (6:14) but looked in vain! Like a thirsty man looking for water, but finding the stream had disappeared. A vivid illustration!

Ze’elim sign. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

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Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi . . . More Background for Esther

September 20, 2017

The restored treasury of the Athenians at Delphi:

The Athenian Treasury was a votive building in the form of a reduced scale temple, designed to hold the multitude of Athenian offerings to the Delphi oracle. The building was constructed entirely of Parian marble and had a Doric frieze decorated with 30 metopes. It is a distyle in antis building with a porch before the entrance to the cella, measuring 10 x 6 meters.

The metopes depicted mythological themes of Theseus, Heracles, and Amazons in high relief. It is believed that two Athenian sculptors carved the metopes, each representing a distinct style or generation: one from the Archaic period, and one from the Severe style of classical art (the transition from Archaic to High Classical art). The walls of the treasury were inscribed with various texts, among which are the hymns to Apollo which included melody notation (see below).

Several dates for its construction have been suggested (with Pausanias mentioning that it was built after the battle of Marathon), but it is widely accepted that its was created sometime between 510 and 480 BCE, a period framed by the founding of the Athenian democracy and the defining battle of Marathon. (http://ancient-greece.org/museum/muse-delphi-athenians.html)

Delphi of course is “home of the famous oracle of Delphi, known as the Pythia, and the Temple of Apollo, where the oracle presided” (Fant, Clyde E.; Reddish, Mitchell G.. A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, Kindle Locations 1180-1181).

Our photo here shows the treasury at left center:

Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Regarding the famous battle of Marathon, 490 BC, where the greatly outnumbered Greeks repelled and defeated the Persians, EyeWitnessHistory.com has the following info:

The battle of Marathon is one of history’s most famous military engagements. It is also one of the earliest recorded battles. Their victory over the Persian invaders gave the fledgling Greek city states confidence in their ability to defend themselves and belief in their continued existence. The battle is therefore considered a defining moment in the development of European culture.

In September of 490 BC a Persian armada of 600 ships disgorged an invasion force of approximately 20,000 infantry and cavalry on Greek soil just north of Athens. Their mission was to crush the Greek states in retaliation for their support of their Ionian cousins who had revolted against Persian rule.

Undaunted by the numerical superiority of the invaders, Athens mobilized 10,000 hoplite warriors to defend their territory. The two armies met on the Plain of Marathon twenty-six miles north of Athens. The flat battlefield surrounded by hills and sea was ideal for the Persian cavalry. Surveying the advantage that the terrain and size of their force gave to the Persians, the Greek generals hesitated.

One of the Greek generals – Miltiades – made a passionate plea for boldness and convinced his fellow generals to attack the Persians. Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians. Then – in an act that his enemy believed to be complete madness – he ordered his Greek warriors to attack the Persian line at a dead run. In the ensuing melee, the middle of the Greek line weakened and gave way, but the flanks were able to engulf and slaughter the trapped Persians. An estimated 6,400 Persians were slaughtered while only 192 Greeks were killed.

The remaining Persians escaped on their ships and made an attempt to attack what they thought was an undefended Athens. However, the Greek warriors made a forced march back to Athens and arrived in time to thwart the Persians. (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pfmarathon.htm)

In our title I suggested that these events give further background to the biblical book of Esther. In our post here we showed how in 480 BC, ten years after the Battle of Marathon, the Persian King Xerxes was building his forces to again attempt to subjugate Greece. The fact that Persia was still “smarting” after her humiliating defeat by Greece helps us to see the purpose and even urgency behind those opening verses of Esther (1:1-9), where Xerxes is meeting with officials from his 127 provinces, which ranged from India to Ethiopia.

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Jesus Walked through Bethphage

April 27, 2017

In the Final Week of Jesus’ ministry, Bethany and Bethphage (cities located on the slope of the Mount of Olives) are mentioned. It was from here that Jesus arranged for the donkey on which He would ride triumphantly into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1ff.). That final week would find Jesus walking back and forth from Bethany to Jerusalem.

Fig close up at Bethphage. Photo © Leon Mauldin.

An interesting event happened in this area at this time:

And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. (Matt. 21:17-19).

Unlike our photo above, that fig tree in our text received a curse because though it had a pretense of leaves, it was barren; there was no fruit. This was a great object lesson for Jesus’ disciples.

Here is a view of the terrain at Bethphage, with Bethany behind, and the Mount of Olives continuing to rise ahead.

Bethphage. Jesus passed through this area during His Final Week of ministry. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I was glad to have the opportunity to visit Bethphage yesterday. There are also several ancient tombs located there.

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Crossing the Kidron

February 6, 2017

John 14-16 records Jesus’ Final Discourse with the disciples prior to the events of Gethsemane. At John 14:31 we read, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.” The discourse continues and then John 17 records Jesus’ high-priestly prayer. Then John 18:1 states, “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.”

In his classic A Harmony of the Gospels, A.T. Robertson notes on John 14:31, “Apparently they leave the Upper Room” and entitles the section continuing in John 15 and 16, “The Discourse on the Way to Gethsemane,” with the subtitle, “Possibly on the Street.”

Kidron Valley. Jerusalem/temple mount on left and in distance. Jesus crossed the Kidron going from Jerusalem to the Mt. of Olives. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Kidron Valley. Jerusalem/temple mount on left and in distance. Jesus crossed the Kidron going from Jerusalem to the Mt. of Olives. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

It is possible that Jesus and His disciples rose up immediately at John 14:31, and that the continued discourse and prayer of chapters 15-17 occurred en route from the Upper Room on the way to Gethsemane. Others suggest that the short time required for Jesus’ teaching of chapters 15-16 and the prayer of chapter 17 can better fit within that Upper Room setting. That would not be unlike our saying, I [we] need to be going now, and yet a few more minutes of conversation take place before the actual departure.

J.W. McGarvey observes, “Some think that Jesus then left the room, and that the next three chapters of John’s Gospel contain matters spoken on the way to Gethsemane. But it is likely that the words of these chapters were spoken in the upper room after they had risen from the table and prepared to depart, and that John 18:1 marks the leaving of the upper room as well as the crossing of the Kidron”(The Four-Fold Gospel.667).

Lenski goes into a bit more detail in his remarks:

Nevertheless … arise, let us be going hence” ends the Passover feast. No destination is indicated, yet the disciples know that Jesus intends to meet “the world’s ruler” and thus once more do the Father’s ἐντολή. The asyndeton ἐγείρεσθε ἄγωμεν is idiomatic, as is also the combination of the present imperative with the hortative present subjunctive. The action of arising from the couches on which the company had dined is merely preliminary to the action of leaving the place and going elsewhere. Those who regard “Arise,” etc., as a separate sentence incline to the opinion that Jesus left the upper room at this point, spoke the next three chapters somewhere on the way to the Kidron, crossed this at 18:1, and then went on to Gethsemane. When we note that the bidding to arise and to leave is only the conclusion of a longer sentence, that 15:1, etc., indicates no change of place, and that ἐξῆλθεν in 18:1 reads as though Jesus did not leave the upper room until that moment, we are led to conclude that after the company arose from their couches they lingered in the upper room until Jesus finished speaking the next three chapters. This delay consumed only a short time. We cannot think that the next three chapters were spoken while the company was in motion, and John nowhere indicates that they halted at some spot along the way (Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel.1023–1024).

William Hendriksen notes:

Why not assign to these words their most natural meaning, and interpret them as actually amounting to a command that the disciples get up from their couches, coupled with an exhortation meaning, “And let us go away from here, that is, from this Upper Room; hence, from this house”? That still would not imply that the little company now immediately rushes out of the house! How often does it not happen even among us Westerners that between the exhortation, “Now let us be going,” and the actual departure there is a period of ten minutes? During that ten minutes a great deal can be said. Now, the following must be borne in mind:
a. In this very context Jesus clearly implies that there are still certain things which he wishes to say to the disciples (14:30).
b. Speaking calmly and deliberately, without any attempt to rush himself, Jesus may have uttered the contents of chapters 15, 16, and 17 within a period of ten minutes! When a company has been together for several hours, what is ten minutes? . . .

Accordingly, we shall proceed upon the assumption that the contents of chapters 14–17 comprise a unit, and that all of this was spoken that night in the Upper Room (Exposition of the Gospel According to John, Vol. 2.290–291).

In 2012 I posted an aerial photo of the Kidron here.


The Threshing Sledge

January 24, 2017

I am currently enjoying teaching 1 Chronicles in our Bible class in our local congregation. The record of David’s ill-advised census and its terrible consequences is found in 1 Chron. 21. An angel and a prophet were used by God to instruct David: “Now the angel of the LORD had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (v.18, ESV). David purchased the threshing floor at the “full price” from Ornan, “And David built there an altar to the LORD and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering” (v.26, ESV).

Ornan had made this offer: “See, I give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for the wood and the wheat for a grain offering; I give it all,” but David insisted that he pay “the full price” (v.24); David would not offer to the Lord “that which costs me nothing.”

Note that reference is made to the “threshing sledges for the wood.” The threshing sledge was pulled across the grain to separate the kernel from the chaff. In Aphrodisias, Turkey, I had the opportunity to photograph several threshing sledges.  This helps us to visualize what David used for wood for the burnt offerings in our Chronicles text.

Threshing Sledge at Aphrodisias, Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Threshing Sledge at Aphrodisias, Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Though the text is challenging, it seems that its placement in Chronicles is to show the usage God made of the event. The property David purchased for offering for atonement for sin would become the site for Solomon’s building the temple! “Then David said, ‘Here shall be the house of the LORD God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel'” (22:1).

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Visiting the Dead Sea in Israel

November 15, 2016

A few days ago our group was able to see the Dead Sea, among other sites to the south of Jerusalem. The Dead Sea is:

a large lake in southern Israel at the lowest point on earth. In the Old Testament it is called the Salt Sea (Gen. 14:3; Josh. 3:16); the Sea of the Arabah (Deut. 3:17); and the Eastern Sea (Ezek. 47:18; Joel 2:20). Josephus, the Jewish historian, referred to this buoyant body as Lake Asphaltitis. The Arabic name is Bahr Lut, meaning, “Sea of Lot.” But from the second Christian century onward, Dead Sea has been the most common name for this unusual body of water.

The topography of the Middle East is dominated by a geologic fault that extends from Syria south through Palestine, all the way to Nyasa Lake in east-central Africa. The Dead Sea is located at the southern end of the Jordan valley at the deepest depression of this geologic fault. With a water level approximately 390 meters (1,300 feet) below sea level, the surface of the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. At the deepest point of the sea, on the northeast corner at the foot of the Moab mountains, the bottom is 390 meters (1,300 feet) deeper still. (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary).

Dead Sea at Sunset. Looking east to the mountains of Moab. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Dead Sea at Sunset. Looking east to the mountains of Moab. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

 

The Dead Sea is actually a lake into which the river Jordan flows, but once entering the Sea there is no outlet. Because of its high mineral content (25 percent), and the fact that the water is ten times saltier than the ocean, the Dead Sea does not support marine life. These unusual geographical facts became the basis of a thought-provoking song by Lula Zahn (words are now public domain) that makes spiritual application. It has been my experience that this is not the easiest song (musically speaking) for congregational use, but it’s worth the effort to try!

“There is a Sea”

by Lula Klingman Zahn

There is a sea which day by day
Receives the rippling rills
And streams that spring from wells of God
Or fall from cedared hills
But what it thus receives it gives
With glad unsparing hand
A stream more wide, with deeper tide
Flows on to lower land

There is a sea which day by day
Receives a fuller tide
But all its store it keeps, nor gives
To shore nor sea beside
It’s Jordan stream, now turned to brine
Lies heavy as molten lead
It’s dreadful name doth e’er proclaim
That sea is waste and dead

Which shall it be for you and me
Who God’s good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone
Or take to give again?
For He who once was rich indeed
Laid all His glory down
That by His grace, our ransomed race
Should share His wealth and crown

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