They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Jezebel: a Name, a Woman, a Spirit

The time is 874 B.C. and the place is in the Northern Kingdom, also called Israel.  Ahab is king.  The Bible writer describes him this way:  “Ahab, son of Omri, did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.  He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.”  — I Kings 16:29-31

Jezebel is not and was not the only woman who has had sway and control over her man, but her influence had devastating consequences, not only for Ahab and his household, but for the whole nation of Israel (Deuteronomy. 7:3-4). This marriage sealed a political alliance between Israel and Phoenicia. However, it did much, much more. Let’s look at what Jezebel brought to the marriage. We know from Scripture that she brought at least 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (I Kings 18:19). Baal was a fertility deity and was worshiped in various ways. Asherah was Baal’s cohort, his mother and also his mistress. Their worshipers engaged in immoral sex a “sympathetic magic” believing that they would have children, good crops and livestock-material wealth. To add to this, in dire circumstances in order to appease Baal, the worshipers would offer their own child as a sacrifice by placing the child into the arms of Baal which was a fiery furnace (II Chronicles 28:1-4). It was not enough that Ahab fell in the sin of Jeroboam and worshiped the golden calves at Dan, but now he fell into the worship of Baal. Baal worship was made front and center in the lives of God’s people. It became an acceptable practice.

What else do we know about Jezebel? This lovely Sidonian princess made it her goal to kill the Lord’s prophets in the land of Israel. Even Elijah fled in fear of his life. Her purpose? Jezebel wanted complete control. If she could silence God’s voice in the land she would maintain power and her agenda could advance. Ahab went along with it; he allowed it to happen. Jezebel manipulated the system to work in her favor. In other words, she lied, plotted, bullied and even murdered to get what she wanted (I Kings 21:23-24). Her story, however, does not end well for her. Elijah’s prophecy (I Kings 21:23-24) came true. She died a gruesome death as did all of her children.

Interestingly, the name “Jezebel” is mentioned in another place in Scripture. In the letter to the church at Thyatira (Revelation 2), God praises the people for their love, faith, service and perseverance, but he had this against them – “You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the food sacrificed to idols. (Revelation 2:20)” Scripture also says that she will be cast on a “bed of suffering” because she was unwilling to repent. And in v.23, “I will strike her children dead.” I don’t think it is a coincidence that John, inspired by God, brings another “Jezebel” to our attention. God’s people knew Scripture and would have made the connection.

It is likely that the “Jezebel” of Thyatira was a member of a trade guild. Potters, dyers, tanners, bakers, metal workers, textile-makers, bronze-smiths, slave-traders, leather-workers, etc. formed guilds in order to advance their trade. Thyatira was known for its trade guilds. Membership was compulsory. Refusal to join made it extremely difficult for the workers to make a living. It was the politically correct thing to do. Each guild was under the patronage of a pagan deity. The meeting place was often dedicated to this deity and was regarded as a sacred place. Feasts dedicated to their deity were well attended. Yes, they ate meat that had been sacrificed to these idols. These feasts, more often than not, turned into an orgy; drunkenness, perverted sexual activity with cult prostitutes, secret rituals, etc. Did the Jezebel of Thyatira take part in the idolatrous feasts that was required by her guild? What stands out in my mind in these Revelation 2 passages is the word “tolerate.” It is obvious that the citizens of Thyatira and the “church” allowed her to bring false teaching into the body of believers. They stood by and did nothing.

I have often wondered if there was an actual woman named Jezebel who lived in Thyatira, or if she was a personification that represented pure evil. Either way, this person was very prominent and persuasive in Thyatira and the church was being misled by her teaching. It appears that they tolerated her and allowed her to have her way in the church. She enticed them with her “so-called” deep secrets of Satan. The warning to the church is loud and clear.

I would like to conclude by looking again in the Book of Kings at the time of King Ahab and Jezebel. During King Ahab’s reign God anointed a man to be king over Israel. His name was Jehu. He was of no relation to Ahab and because of this was an unlikely candidate to reign as King. His mission was to rid Israel of King Ahab’s household and end the dynasty – to avenge the blood of God’s servants shed by Jezebel (II Kings 9). Jehu’s story is not a pretty one. He was no diplomat. He was not nice and he didn’t seem to care who he offended or hurt. Nevertheless, he had God’s anointing for this time in history. At God’s command, he killed King Joram, son of Ahab, then Jezebel, followed by seventy sons of Ahab-just as Elijah prophesied (II Kings 10:1).

Is there something in this story that is relevant for today? Are there parallels for our culture in 2020? I would argue that there is. What is the church’s role? Are there Jezebels today (male or female) who are doing everything in their power and using these same techniques to control? My question, “Are we tolerating the things of this world?” Are we being trained in a politically correct world to be silent? One thing for sure, God is serious about His Word. “He who has ears let him hear.”

A Seat at the Table: A 50th Wedding Anniversary Story

In the fall of 2019, we started planning a 2020 family event to celebrate our fifty years of marriage. We had two main challenges for all our family to be together at one time. The first was to find a place that we could fly or preferably drive to that would be feasible to accommodate eight adults and eight grandchildren. The second and bigger issue, however, was to find a 5-day window that all the families with their hectic schedules could agree to. After many phone sessions and calendar marking, we settled on a large ranch property in the northern part of our state that we could all drive to that could handle our big family group. Unbelievably, they had an open date for a time frame that would not interfere with travel ball, Little League, ballet, and summer camps already on the schedule. When we firmed up the plans and made our deposit in the middle of 2019, there was no way we could have foreseen the havoc that the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 would wreak on the lives of all our families. All the events that had once completely filled the summer schedule of our children’s families were now canceled. No air travel, no baseball, no summer camps, no ballet recitals, nothing was open or available. Also, because of travel concerns, had we chosen anywhere but the place we did, we would have had to cancel the whole celebration. In the midst of the crisis all around us, God had graciously decided in 2019, to orchestrate a place and a window of time in the summer of 2020 that we could all get to and leave all the scary things in the world behind us. After sheltering in place for most of the spring and summer, everyone was more than ready to embark on an adventure. Despite a few complications, the trip was still on!

We had rented a large lodge that had eight bedrooms that would exactly fit our family, which contained our three grown children and their spouses, and eight grandchildren ranging in age from 3-12. Five cars of us pulled into the lodge parking lot and everyone bailed out to survey the accommodations and the beautiful high country surroundings. We quickly made decisions as to which couples and which children would sleep in each bedroom. The view from the lodge was spectacular. A beautiful meadow with a high mountain lake could be seen from the large stone patio out the glass doors. An expansive great room had plenty of seating to accommodate our large group and plenty of tables to play board games. Thankfully, there was no TV or cell phone service to pull our attention away from the rest of the family.

Our favorite room, however, was the large dining room. The staff had put together four big tables to allow all sixteen of us to be seated around one huge table. I quickly counted the chairs, sixteen: exactly what we needed. For four straight days, we ate every breakfast and every dinner together with the whole family. Each day started off with a hearty breakfast of pancakes, waffles, or cinnamon rolls, eggs, bacon, sausage, all more than we could eat. Then we would be off to tackle various excursions, such as fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. The days were full of laughter and a constant buzz of activity. When evening came, we once again would gather together around the table for a marvelous dinner of local fare. During mealtime, we would noisily share the stories of the adventures of the day. We held hands and prayed before every meal and had a ”wave” love hand squeeze around the table after each prayer was finished.

What a wonderful week! It was all we could have ever hoped for and more. We made so many wonderful memories and loved every minute of it. Like our fifty years of marriage, it all went by way too quickly. Soon, it came time for the last evening meal and our final time to soak up the last of the wonderful memories. The table was so important to my wife and me because God gave us the realization that because of our love and commitment to each other over these past fifty years, every one of these sixteen people had a seat at our family table with us. What a blessing we had been given! What a heritage we had! Both our parents had also reached the fifty-year mark in their marriage, so we had some broad shoulders to stand on.

But, the picture of all our family at the table was the crowning moment for this special occasion. Tears flowed from all the adults as I explained to the grandchildren that because” Poppy” and “Gammy” had fallen in love and said, “I do” all those years ago, they were all here today. Our couple of two was now a family of sixteen, all sitting at the same table. My wife and I could plainly see in front of us that our family was the greatest testimony of our love. Through halting words I thanked God for how he had blessed, guided and sustained us through the good times and the difficult ones, to bring us to this place and to show us this wonderful picture of just what family looks like here on earth and also in heaven. If we are his children, we also will have a seat at His table with Him in heaven. What a memorable event and what a mental picture for us to take with us in these last years. God, we can’t thank you enough for the future generations that will come out of our act of love so many years ago. Thank you for showing us the wonderful picture of everyone having a seat at the table.

Deuteronomy 4:9

Before the Rooster Crows

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” –  Luke 22:34

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.”  – Luke 22:60

Read also: Matthew 26:34, 74-75; Mark 14:30, 66-68; Luke 22:34, 60-68; John13:38 and John 18:27

Peter's denialHere is an interesting piece of information that I learned from my rabbi recently while studying the story of the crucifixion. It doesn’t change the story in any way and is a fact that can’t be confirmed with certainty, but it is something fun to think about. However, it does point out again, as we have seen so many times, that we have a hard time understanding some of the sayings of Jesus because we didn’t live in that time period and don’t know the idioms they used or what the original wording might have meant.

All four gospels tell the story of Peter denying Jesus during His arrest and trial. Immediately after the third denial, Peter hears a rooster crow. Was there a rooster in the area where the trial took place in upper Jerusalem that crowed at that moment or was it something else? Or, did we miss something? Let’s take a look.

First of all, according to the Mishna (Baba Kamma vii7) poultry were forbidden in Jerusalem, ”on account of the holy things”, or “on account of the sanctuary”.

“No cocks or hens must be raised in Jerusalem (even by laymen), because of the voluntary offerings (the meat of which may be eaten in any part of the city, and as the habit of the named fowls is to peck with their beaks in the rubbish, they may peck into a dead reptile and then peck in the meat of the offerings). In all other parts of Palestine priests only must not raise them, as they use leave-offerings for their meals, and they must be very careful about cleanliness.”

The fear was because they are such a messy animal, their presence might defile some of the holy items used in the sacrifices that were to be eaten. Could this be possible that it wasn’t a rooster? We’ve all seen and heard the rooster crowing in plays and on the movie programs!

If it wasn’t a rooster, what was it? The answer lies in the division of the night watches during Jesus’ time. The Romans divided each day into three hour blocks and the night blocks were called watches (see also study Bible notes on Matthew 14:25). The first night watch began at 6:00 p.m. and lasted until 9:00 p.m. The second watch ended at midnight, the third at 3:00 a.m., and the 4th at 6:00 a.m. or sunrise. Jesus seems to confirm this when He tells the disciples in an earlier story in Mark 13:35 of these same four divisions:

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. –Mark  13:35

Notice that Jesus call the  3rd watch, “the rooster crows”, and makes a distinction between rooster crowing and dawn.


The Romans used the tuba, the cornu (pictured), and the bucina to sound reveille (cock-crow)

The signal the Roman divisions used to change the guard for each shift was a trumpet call. The Latin word for trumpet call (the language spoken by the soldiers) is “gullicinium”, which means, “cock-crowing”. At the end of the 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. shifts, the guard change was announced by a Roman “cock-crowing” or blowing of a trumpet. What Peter heard probably wasn’t an actual rooster crowing, but the end of the watch trumpet call! Jesus used that same phrase to describe it.

Although this knowledge doesn’t change the intent or outcome of the Peter story, it is just interesting to see that there are often things from the time period that we may not have understood clearly and therefore get missed in the translation.

A Different Perspective on Psalm 23

The Good ShepherdThe 23rd Psalm, often called the Shepherd Psalm, is arguably the most loved and memorized pieces of all the Scriptures; almost everyone can recite most or all of its reassuring lines. As familiar as we are with its words, is it possible that we could have missed an important part of what the psalmist David was trying to say? After the opening verses where David declares the Lord is his shepherd, David then makes another series of statements that we might have misinterpreted.

Psalm 23:3 is usually translated, “He restores my soul.” In our English tradition, we have taken that phrase to mean that God lifted us from our depression, or he helped us recover a sense of joy and purpose or worth. But was this what David was saying? The original Hebrew words which are translated, “He restores my soul”, are “nafshi yeshobeb.” Nafshi is from the word, ”nephesh” (Strong’s 5315) and means, “myself / soul / person / life.” The second word, “yeshobeb” is an intensive form of ”shub” (Strong’s 7725), the great Hebrew word for repentance (to turn back, to return).

Ga 10,22-30 c

Instead of using the cross, early Christian artists most often depicted Jesus carrying an oversized (indicating a burden) sheep on His shoulders.

From the translation of these two Hebrew words, Psalm 23:3 could easily be translated, “He brings me back” or “He causes me to repent”, instead of, “He restores my soul.” This really makes sense when you realize that David might have been reflecting on his personal journey of faith. David could have been saying, as do many other Old Testament Passages, that God came after him and brought him back. It is the picture of a good shepherd who goes after a lost sheep and brings it back to a safe place. Middle Eastern translations of these verses have always said, ”He brings me back”, and even the Wycliffe translation says, “He converted my soul and he put me on the right path.”

Could this be the correct interpretation? The phrase in the 23rd Psalm that immediately follows, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness”, adds credence to this idea. The assumption from the story is that the Psalmist was wandering in the paths of unrighteousness when God rescued him. God found him in his lost condition and on the wrong path and picked him up on his shoulders and carried him back to the right path. The good shepherd caused him to repent and return (shub).

Could the 23rd Psalm be a story of a lost sheep who God rescues and brings back to the right path? Re-read Psalm 23 reprinted below with this idea in mind and see if it doesn’t bring a fresh and deeper meaning to these words that we know so well. Also, this interpretation wonderfully carries the thread of redemption to yet another place in Scripture. God is the good shepherd and always has His eye on His sheep and will do anything to bring them back to His fold. This is another example of how knowing and understanding the Hebrew language and culture adds another and deeper dimension to our English translations.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
– Psalm 23 (KJV)

A Double Portion of the Spirit

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
— 2 Kings 2:9-10

Elisha and ElijahWhile studying the stories about Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings and reading some rabbinic commentaries on their lives, I came across an interesting thought concerning these two great prophets.

In the Jewish mind, the consummate idea of discipleship is found in these two men. According to the biblical account, Elijah came to the village where Elisha lived and found him plowing his field (1 Kings 19:21). Throwing his cloak over Elisha, Elijah recruited him to become his m’sharet or assistant (see also M’sharet-God’s Assistant). Elisha faithfully followed Elijah until the time came for Elijah to pass the mantle of God’s prophet onto Elisha, his successor. In 2 Kings 2:9-10, before Elijah was taken up to heaven, Elisha asked him if he could have a double portion of His Spirit. Elijah answered that he had asked for a difficult thing, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours, otherwise not.”

We know from the next verses that Elisha did see Elijah as he was taken up to heaven and that God authenticated Elisha’s succession to Elijah’s ministry by giving him the same divine powers that had accompanied Elijah’s ministry. But, did Elisha receive a double portion of his spirit?

There are seven miracles attributed to Elijah in 1 and 2 Kings (some scholars count more because they count prophecy as a miracle). When Elisha comes to the end of his life in 2 Kings 13:20, he has had thirteen miracles recorded in scripture (again, more can be counted). The fourteenth miracle of Elisha occurs in a bizarre story after his death, when a dead body touches Elisha’s bones and and the dead body is brought back to life (2 Kings 13:21-22). Elisha did receive a double portion of the spirit of Elijah! Was this a coincidence or did the Hebrew writers pen it that way so that the digging student of the text would pick up the connection? It ‘s a fascinating thought and would be just like God and the Eastern mindset to deposit that nugget in scripture.

Note: If you Google “Miracles of Elijah and Elisha”, you will find the miracles of each man that are recorded in scripture. Depending on what you consider a miracle (prophecy, etc.), you can get up to 16 miracles for Elijah and 32 for Elisha. I read another commentary that had 8 for Elijah and 16 for Elisha, but 7 and 14 was the most common figure. The fact that Elisha’s miracles exactly double Elijah is just a neat way of saying through the text that God gave Elisha a double portion of His spirit.

Two Sons of God?

Caesar Augustus
There were several events that took place in the Roman world right before the time of Jesus that added an interesting twist to the the Bible Ascension story. There was another person on the world stage that was purported to have also ascended to heaven and was sitting at the right hand of God. This is a fascinating story when placed against the backdrop of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Let’s take a brief look at the scenario that played out in Rome just before and during the time of Jesus coming to earth.

Julius Caesar was the first of the Caesar family to be in charge of Rome. Rome began as a republic, which meant that all it leaders were to be in office only for a specified period of time. Julius’s army won a great victory over the Gauls and was celebrated back home as a hero. On arriving back at Rome, Julius marched his troops directly into the city to show the power of his command. This display of military might was forbidden in Rome’s constitution. Because Julius was such a powerful leader, many citizens, along with a large group of influential people began pushing to have Julius made the permanent emperor of Rome. An opposition group, led by Brutus and Cassius, felt this would be the down fall of Rome. You know the story, they assassinated Julius, fled the city, and assembled an army in the East to fight for the republic. Mark Anthony and Octavion, Julius’s son, also gathered and army and went to avenge the death of Julius. The two armies met on the Plain of Drama near the ancient city of Philippi and Brutus and Cassius were defeated and committed suicide. Approximately ten years later, Octavion and Mark Anthony battled each other for the sole ruler of Rome. At the battle of Actium, Anthony and his cohort, Cleopatra, lost to Octavion and were also compelled to commit suicide. Now, Octavion was the sole survivor for the throne. He immediately declared himself the next Caesar and then made a declaration that was even more sinister. Octavion declared that his father Julius was a god and that at his death he had been taken back to heaven to sit at the right hand of Zeus, the supreme god. To prove this, he noted that a bright comet had appeared in the sky during Julius’ funeral procession and that this was a sign that that Julius was being taken back up to heaven to take his immortalized place among the other gods. If Julius was indeed a god and was in fact in heaven seated at the right hand of Zeus, then the logical conclusion was that Octavion was the, ”son of god”! Octavion declared that his father had put him in charge on earth and that he was now also a divine ruler as the son of god. He changed his name to Caesar Augustus, “the exalted or supreme one.” He had statues of himself erected all over Rome with inscriptions on them such as, “Son of God”, “Savior of the World”, “Worshiped Son of the Worshiped God,” and “Son of the Divine Caesar.”

Do you see the problem in Luke? Luke 2:1 says, “In the days of Caesar Augustus, Jesus was born”! On the scene at the same time in history are two men who claim to be the Son of God and both claim to have been give all authority in heaven and earth by their father (Matthew 28:18)! When Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 8:6 that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, He is not just making an idle statement about Jesus. He is directly challenging the authority of Caesar and claiming that Jesus is the one and only King of Kings and Lord of Lords (see 1 Timothy 6:15). Knowing history makes the Text so much richer and make it come alive. Jesus is Lord! Not Caesar!