The Pagan Path

Those who wonder are not lost; they are trying to awaken! 'The Sleeper must awaken!'

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Harmless as Doves

When Jesus sent the seventy ( or 72 ) disciples out through the 'cities of Israel', He told them to be 'wise as serpents and harmless as doves'.

We've already looked at why Christ might have told those first-century disciples to be 'wise as serpents', but why did he tell them to be 'harmless as doves'?

When I first thought of doing this paper; I immediately looked for usages of the word 'dove' throughout all of Scripture, but particularly the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew 'yownah' and the Greek 'peristera', both meaning literally, 'dove or pigeon', are used solely throughout the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. The first usage of 'yownah', of course, that we find in the Hebrew Scriptures; is in the 8th chapter of Genesis, where Noah employs a dove to see if the earth, or land, had dried up enough to embark from the ark. Next we see, throughout the books of Leviticus and Numbers, that doves, or pigeons, were often used as sacrificial offerings to the Lord; but it is in the Psalms and onwards, throughout the Prophets, I think; where we really begin to notice that there is a bit more, typologically and symbolically speaking; behind the mere usage of the word 'yownah'. When David uses this word in his Psalms; he almost seems to have a vision of salvation in mind, when he envisions himself with 'wings like a dove', that he might escape and find rest. In his 68th Psalm, and throughout his son's Song of Songs, we see that the word 'yownah' is used in more of a sense of perfection ( through God's salvation ), and as 'the apple of my eye', in a sense of intimacy and love. One is almost reminded too; of Leah's 'delicate eyes', in Genesis 29:17.
Once we get into the Prophets; the usage seems to change, yet again, into more of a mournful aspect. Isaiah likens his mournful prayers for his people to the cries of a dove, while Jeremiah and Ezekiel 'see' those who have escaped righteous and earned tribulations, yet mourning from their 'holes in the rocks' for the 'woes' that have come upon them. The so-called Minor Prophets use 'yownah' as more of a silly, useless sort of creature, 'who cannot discern between their right hand and their left'.

As we come to look at the Greek Scriptures, also known as the New Testament; we see the word 'peristera' used pretty much solely in the famous passages where the Holy Spirit of God descended upon the Son of Man, and where this Son of Man, Jesus Christ drove out those who sold doves ( and other things ) as sacrificial items, in the temple. Luke also records the sacrifice that Jesus' 'natural' parents offered for Him.

So, what did Jesus mean, that they were to be 'harmless as doves'?

I think that Jesus was telling them, as I said in my last article 'Wise as Serpents'; to be zealous for His 'law', as the Pharisees were ( outwardly ) for the Law ( of Moses), but to be kind and loving in their presentation of the Gospel, with which He was sending them.

In his epistle to the church at Philippi; Paul uses the Greek 'akeriaios', the same word used in Matthew's gospel, to describe how the disciples of Christ must present themselves to the 'world'; as 'unmixed and pure', as regarding the conscience, 'without a mixture of evil, free from guile, innocent, simple'. In the epistle to the Hebrews; the author uses the word 'akokos', which is almost indistinguishable in meaning from 'akerios', but with a more active tense, I think; to describe the 'attitude' of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in His function as our high priest.

Now; Jesus spoke these words primarily, I think, for the sake of His first-century disciples; so in that sense, they are fulfilled, but I think too, that as 21st century disciples of Jesus Christ: these words apply to us today, as Christians, just not with the same sense of urgency which Jesus meant for His original disciples.

As I listened this morning, to another sermon ( Nov. 18 ) by a friend of mine; I was 'struck' by the fact that when Jesus tells His listeners in Matthew 5 that 'The meek shall inherit the earth'; He was not saying that 'pushovers' shall inherit the earth, but rather that those who trust in God's strength and Righteousness, rather than their own ( think of the popular phrases 'every knee shall bow', and 'throw your crowns at the feet of Jesus' ), not to pacifistically 'turn the other cheek' in a 'woodenly' literal, physical sense, but to realize that these things are happening to us for our good and that our heavenly Father has 'ordained' these circumstances for our instruction and discipline.

Although the Greek '
pra├┐s', translated 'meek', and the Greek 'akeraios', translated 'harmless', have different meanings, the concept of a simple trust in God for strength, instead of oneself, I think, is at the basis of both words.

So, I believe that when Jesus told His followers to be 'harmless as doves', I think that He meant that, not that they were to be 'pacifistic' ( in the sense that Jesus' words are often thought of ), but in the sense that they were to 'turn the other cheek' , and do as Jesus did, who 'did not revile in turn', but when He was persecuted, even to the death, prayed for His persecutors.

in the name of Christ;
and for His Kingdom,
Charles Shank

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wise as Serpents

In the Gospel of Matthew; Jesus commanded His disciples to be 'wise as serpents, and harmless as doves'.

I use an interesting hermeneutic ( besides the grammatico/historical): I call it 'word association'. In other words: when I read a certain 'hard to understand' word or phrase in a certain passage of Scripture: I first think, 'Now where have I seen ( or heard ) that before?' This could also be called 'interpreting Scripture with Scripture'.

Naturally then, when one uses such an hermeneutic; the first thing that should pop into your head would be 'where else in Scripture is such language used?' The first thought that comes to mind, of course, is the 'serpent' in the Garden, way back in Genesis, where the 'serpent' is said to be 'more cunning than any beast of the field'.

The word 'serpent' is used in more than forty cases in the Hebrew Scriptures, several of which I will cite here.

I find it interesting that in all but six cases in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word 'serpent' is translated from the Hebrew 'nachash; four times from the Hebrew 'saraph', and twice from the Hebrew 'tannyin'. I find it especially interesting that the word 'saraph', used in Numbers 1:8,9 and in Isaiah 14:29 ( in reference to the king of Babylon ) and Isaiah 30:6 ( in reference to the strength of Egypt ), has a secondary meaning of 'seraphim'. According to this lexicon, the 'seraphim' were 'majestic beings..........................attendant upon God'. According to the book of Numbers,the Levitical priesthood were to 'attend' to the needs of the congregation of Israel, and to the duties of the house of God, ie., human 'seraphim'!

Getting back to the topic at hand: the Greek word 'phronimos'; translated 'wise' in Matthew 10:16, has nearly the same secondary meaning as the Hebrew 'aruwm'; the word translated 'cunning' in the Hebrew Scriptures: 'prudent, ie., mindful of one's interests'. Jesus told His disciples ( listeners ) that 'unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven'. I think that, traditionally, this has been understood ( rightly ) as referring to their ( outward ) zeal for obeying the commandments of God, and not that they were truly righteous before God; for, as I've often quoted, 'all our righteousness are as filthy rags'.

I must note here that; in the manner of clarification: Jesus said that our righteousness must 'exceed' that of the Pharisees. How can our righteousness 'exceed' that of the Pharisees ( who practiced obedience to the letter of the Law most religiously ), unless it be that righteousness that comes from Christ alone?

Some interesting, and most telling, I think, usages of the word 'nachash', translated 'serpent'; are in Jacob's death-bed oration concerning his sons, the children of Israel: of Dan; he said, 'Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse heels, so that it's rider shall fall backward'. Interesting too, is the previous verse: 'Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel'. I think this in some small way is what Jesus was speaking of when He told His disciples, concerning the Pharisees, "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, they will both fall into a ditch', and, in Matthew 23:13 and Luke 11:52, when He pronounced the woes, or judgments, against the Scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers for shutting up 'the kingdom of heaven', and taking away 'the key of knowledge', thus not allowing, and even hindering those who would 'enter in'.

David, in his 58th and 140th Psalms; compares the wicked man to a serpent, saying that 'their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf cobra that stops it's ear', and "they sharpen their tongue like a serpent; the poison of asps is under their tongue'. In the book of Ecclesiastes; Solomon likens a babbler, or fool, to a serpent. In that most famous passage in Isaiah 65; Isaiah reaffirms that 'dust shall be the serpents food', thus bringing numerous images to mind; not only the most woodenly literal interpretation ( true enough ) of the snake slithering around in the actual dust ( although I think that one would be hard-pressed to prove that they actually ate it! ), but that dust on the head was an internationally known symbol for morning, and most importantly; our Lord God's own admonition to the fallen Adam: 'For dust you are, and to dust you shall return'! Showing, yet again, that He uses the wicked even, for His own purposes: Jeremiah records concerning the judgment of Egypt; that their punishment comes 'like a serpent'. In one of many examples of the 'biblical parallelism' that the Scriptures contain; Amos likens God's sovereignty in 'using' even the wicked to perform His work, to commanding the 'serpent' to bite those who oppose Him and His people.

In the Greek Scriptures ( aka, New Testament ); the Pharisees were often referred to as serpents, or vipers. We are all familiar, I think, with John's response to those Pharisees and other Jews who came to his baptism at the Jordan: 'Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?' In the Gospel according to Matthew; Jesus calls the Pharisees vipers in His oration to them after they accuse Him of having demonic power. Later on, just prior to His famous 'Olivet Discourse'; Jesus even calls them serpents, and the offspring ( children ) of vipers! In Luke's Gospel; when Jesus received the report from the seventy that He had sent out, that 'even the demons are subject to us in your name'; He replied that 'I give you authority to trample on serpents and scorpions' and, 'over all the power of the enemy'.

As I've stated before; even though I believe that these statements, many of them anyway, have their basis in physicality; I think that in the 'greater spiritual reality' that I often speak of, they are significant and symbolic of events that transpired in, or prior to, the first century anno domini.

So: the next logical question ( which I will strive to answer ) is; 'If the Pharisees, the wicked, foolish people ( babblers ), etc. were symbolized by serpents; why then, did Jesus command his disciples to be 'wise as serpents'?

As I wrote above, the Greek word 'phronimos', translated 'wise', in this enigmatic passage, means to be intelligent, knowledgeable, and prudent, which the Pharisees certainly were, at least outwardly. So when Jesus said these word to His disciples; I think He was reminding them that, even though the pharasitical Jews were correct in their outward observance, although greatly lacking in the inward zeal; that they should follow their outward ( though not inward ) example, in shrewdness, and discretion.

Most importantly, I think; in understanding Jesus words here, then: is to understand the Old Covenant ( Scriptural ) context in which He spoke. By no means am I implying that these words do not apply to the disciples of Christ in this 21st century; only that it is difficult, to say the least, to understand the 'why?' of this passage unless it is understood in the context in which it was spoken and by 'comparing Scripture with Scripture.

By the Grace of Christ,
no longer an 'enemy',
Charles Shank