Father’s Blessing

fathers blessing 1

Q. Why is the blessing of the father so important in OT days? Is there relevance for today?

A. A father’s blessings was important for several reasons:

1. They were usually given before the father’s death, and served as a “last will and testament” governing inheritances:
Gen 27:4, 7, 10 so that my soul may bless you before I die. … and bless you in the presence of the LORD before my death. … so that he may bless you before his death.

The firstborn receives a double portion as his right:
Deut 21:17 But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.
But sometimes the firstborn lose their birthright because of folly or sin:
Gen 25:33-34 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
• 1 Chron 5:1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.

2. The blessings contain the father’s observation of the sons’ character, and provide commendation or caution of their conduct to encourage or warn them as the father departs:
Gen 49:28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him. (Read Gen 49)

3. They expressed the father’s wish (“may”) but, at least in the case of the patriarchs, were prophetic and fulfilled, possibly due to their covenant relationship with the Lord:
Gen 27:28-29 Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, And an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, And may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, And blessed be those who bless you.
• Gen 27:33 Yes, and he shall be blessed. …

Isaac’s words indicate that Jacob will be blessed despite his deceit, because the blessing was not conditional.

I believe nowadays the written will has replaced the verbal will, and that our wish for our children are not prophetic in the same way as the patriarchs’ were. However, the second reason, that of appreciation or advice, is still valid. Frequently a child’s success in life is integrally tied to his acceptance and approval by the father, the lack of which often leads to his struggling to win what he did not have. In that sense I feel the blessing, even though it may be informal, is still relevant today.

Dealing with Idols

ivory statue 1

Q. Many years ago my uncle gave me an ivory-head statue. I was told it had been prayed over in a Buddhist ceremony (開光). It is more than 50 years old, about 1 ft. x 10 in. diameter. Since it is very difficult to destroy ivory, it has been kept in my closet. Is it proper for me to donate it to the museum, or should I just bury it in my back yard? I have other carvings too which I have taken as art pieces. This particular one gives me a creepy feeling. It is just a piece of very dead ivory. Am I being superstitious? Some have suggested that even colored candles, a sword with a dragon head, Chinese dragon statues are satanic doorways.

A. Your problem has bothered many people who came out of an idol-worship background. First, let me give you the biblical teaching on the subject:

Acts 15:20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. (Also 15:29)
• Acts 21:25 But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.
• 1 Co 8:4, 7 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. … However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
• 1 Co 10:19-20 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.

At first it seemed Paul was contradicting himself in 1 Co 8 and 10, but he did not. There is only one God (1 Co 8:6; Eph 4:6; 1 Tim 2:5). All idols are only “so-called gods” (1 Co 8:5); they are not really lesser gods at all. However, not all people have this knowledge (1 Co 8:7), and demons take advantage of man’s ignorance and superstition by impersonating as gods behind the idols to deceive people. So what is sacrificed or dedicated to idols are in fact directed to demons (1 Co 10:20), not gods as the pagan worshippers thought.

That’s the knowledge part of the teaching. The other part has to do with love. Paul knew that idols are nothing. He knew that we are neither the worse if we do not eat [food sacrificed to idols], nor the better if we do eat. (1 Co 8:8) But he cautioned us to take care that this liberty does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Co 8:9) His bottom-line is “if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (1 Co 8:13) His love for his weaker brother overrides his freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, though he has perfect right to do so. This is consistent with the teaching in Acts 15 and 21.

How does that apply to your case? As you yourself pointed out, the statue is just a piece of dead ivory. Monks have prayed over it and devoted it to Buddha, and demons may or may not have associated themselves to it. We just don’t know for sure. Since your conscience bothers you, for your conscience’s sake I urge you to get rid of the statue. Do not give it away to friends or relatives, even if they are unbelievers, as it would become a stumbling block to them. I don’t think donating it to a museum to be admired is a good idea either.

In the OT idols are uniformly cut down, smashed and broken e.g. Ezk 6:6; Micah 1:7. Since ivory is difficult to destroy, you can do what Dr. Sun Yat-Sen did when he was young – he broke off the arm of an idol to demonstrate that it can’t even protect itself. First pray for God’s protection from any harm to you or your family for doing the right thing. Then break any weak part of the statue as a symbol of God’s power over evil. Lastly bury the broken pieces on land or in a lake where others can’t use it again. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, ask your pastor to help you. Most Chinese pastors have experience removing and destroying idols from home, though mostly porcelain and not ivory ones. Hope this helps.

God Omniscient?

omniscience 2

Q. God already knows how many righteous men were in Sodom and Gomorrah. Why did He have to come down and check?

A. The omniscience of God is well established in Scripture e.g.
Ps 147:5 Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.
• Heb 4:13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
• 1 Jn 3:20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

God is all-knowing or omniscient.

Yet that had not stopped skeptics from attacking the Bible and discrediting God. Gen 18:21 is one example:
I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.
They claimed “Didn’t God know? How can He be omniscient if He didn’t?” So how are we to understand this verse?

First of all, while we subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible generally, we also acknowledge that the Bible uses figures of speech. One such figurative use is anthropomorphism, the attribution of human forms or attributes to non-human entities, including deities and inanimate objects. God is a Spirit and omnipresent, so He does not literally go “down” from heaven. He does not have human eyes to see as we do; He just knows. When the text says “see if they have done … if not, I will know”, it implies:

1. God will examine the facts of the case before He judges. He is not seeking information that He didn’t already have, but is demonstrating that He ascertains the accused’s guilt before sentencing. The Judge of all the earth deals justly (Gen 18:25):
Gen 11:5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.

2. God’s “going down to see” is not a fact-finding mission for Himself, but for Abraham’s benefit. He had chosen him so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice (Gen 18:19). Doing righteousness includes making intercession on behalf of others. God already knew there were less than 10 righteous men in Sodom, but Abraham did not. By “going down to see” He is giving Abraham an opportunity to petition, and to teach him how wicked Sodom really was.

God is omniscient, but atheists don’t know Him and resort to foolish arguments. Pray for them as Abraham did.

Burial Place?

garden tomb 2

Q. Is it significant to get buried in your homeland? Does it matter where you get buried e.g. Joseph? The bible also make mention of where Abraham buried Sarah etc.

A. I believe it is significant only for Jews in OT times. Joseph himself explained why he made his brothers swear to bury his bones in Canaan:
Gen 50:25 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.”

God promised the Jewish people the land of Canaan on oath to their patriarchs e.g.
Abraham:
Gen 12:7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” …
• Gen 15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, …

Isaac:
Gen 26:3-4 Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;
Jacob:
Gen 28:13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.
• Gen 35:12 “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”

They were therefore very particular about being buried in their homeland.

Though many Gentile nations also share this desire to be buried in their native land, God had not promised to give any of them a land for them and their descendants. So I feel this desire to be only sentimental. Even for the Jews, the old covenant had been superseded by the new one. According to tradition, all of the apostles except John were martyred. None of them were buried in their homeland. In fact, according to Hebrews:
Heb 11:9-10, 16 By faith he (Abraham) lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. … But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
The better country is a heavenly one, so I don’t feel being buried in your homeland is significant for Christians. Being raised with Him is.

The Martian

Martian 3

I watched “The Martian” on streaming TV before the New Year countdown. My wife thought it was boring and left 20 minutes into the movie. I thought it was interesting and thought-provoking. The story is a simple “Robinson Crusoe” type with one astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) left for dead on Mars when his crew encountered a sand storm and had to abort the mission to escape. However, he survived but had no means of communicating with his team nor NASA. With limited water and food supply and four years before the next mission to Mars, he had to find means to survive until his rescue, if they come for him at all. The story appealed to me. Here’s why:

1. A positive outlook on life in the face of overwhelming challenges. Let me quote from Watney’s monologue, “If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the hab (his Mars habitat station) breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. … At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

I wish we Christians would learn from this attitude. Often when we encounter difficulties, we lament why is this happening to us as if God had short-changed our entitlement. We failed to learn from Paul or Peter, who knew He is testing and training us so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies (2 Co 4:10):
2 Co 4:8-9 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
• 1 Pet 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;

The one big difference is that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (2 Co 4:7). And the sooner we learn this the more the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Co 4:11).

Martian Quote

2. A positive view of man made in God’s image despite our fallen state. Again let me quote, “Every human being has a basic instinct: to help each other out. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception.

I am not naive enough to ignore the total depravity of man – there are people who just don’t care – but God’s image, while marred because of sin, is not completely effaced in man. That’s why Gen 9:6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man” still applies. That’s why we are called to “love your enemies” (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27, 35), even those who hate and persecute us.

Martian 4

3. There is a cause bigger than yourself. Watney entrusted this message to his commander to convey to his parents if he couldn’t make it back to earth alive, “Tell them I am dying for something bigger myself, that I love doing.”

Some people would die for money, others glory and fame, or power, or pleasure. But none of these things really matter from the perspective of eternity:
Phil 3:7-8 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,

What are you living and dying for? That’s a good question to ponder as you begin 2016. I hope we all make our lives worthy. Altogether a good movie for the human spirit. I recommend it.