Jacob wrestling with God

Q. In Genesis 32 Jacob wrestled with a man and asked him to bless him, and he changed his name from Jacob to Israel. Who is he? What does it mean?

A. Skeptics laugh at the Bible claiming it is full of contradictions e.g.
V 24-25 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.
• V 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

They say Jacob obviously wrestled with a man according to v 24, for how else can God not prevail against him. But in fact they do not understand and presupposed many wrong ideas.

First let’s observe what the passage said:
V 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
• V 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Jacob obviously knew that his opponent was someone higher than him, for he asked Him to bless him, buy probably did not know His identity until His self-disclosure in v 28, after which he realized that He was God. But didn’t the Bible say no one has seen God? Yes, in:
Jn 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
• Jn 6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.

No one has seen God the Father at any time. Who Jacob saw was God the Son, the only begotten God, the One who is from the Father, the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, and He allowed Jacob to prevail against Him in order to bless him. There is no contradiction. Skeptics do not know God, and presumed the Bible to be wrong, when actually they are the ones who are in error.

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Conflicting Translations?

Q. Why is the NIV translation of Hosea 11:12 entirely the opposite of King James or Chinese translation?
• (NIV) Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One.
• (KJV) Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints.

A. Heb 11:12 is a difficult verse to translate because of textual problems. My favorite NASB has:
(NASB) Ephraim surrounds Me with lies And the house of Israel with deceit; Judah is also unruly against God, Even against the Holy One who is faithful.
Yet the ESV which many people like has:
(ESV) Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One.
Which is correct? I will try to explain this as simply as possible as most readers have not studied Hebrew grammar.

The problem hinges on one word in the Hebrew רוּד (ruwd), which precise meaning is lost according to lexicographers. They agree that the root is related to rule, but whether it is translated positively (rule with) or negatively (unruly against) is subject to debate.

Let me quote from Strong’s Definitions: ruwd – a primitive root;
• to tramp about, i.e. ramble (free or disconsolate)
• have the dominion, be lord, mourn, rule.
As you can see, Strong’s carry both opposite meanings.

There is a related issue. For translations who opt for the negative meaning, they assumed the adjective “faithful” qualifies God the Holy One. However, for those who opt for the positive meaning, they associate “faithful” with Judah to be consistent. There are reputable scholars on both sides, and I don’t think I can settle the debate, only offer my opinion.

I believe we have to look at the broad and immediate context of Judah during the time of Hosea. Hosea prophesied to Israel in her final days, about 753-722 BC. During this time 6 kings (Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, and Hoshea) reigned in Israel, all bad. At the same time, the kings in Judah were Uzziah, Jotham, both did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and Ahaz, who did evil. The good kings tried to steer Judah back to God, while the bad king led Judah to idolatry. So Judah during Hosea’s time was a mix of good and bad. It is therefore understandable that those translators who assumed Judah to be reforming took the positive perspective for 11:12, while those whose presupposition was that Judah was turning away from God opted for the negative interpretation.

For me, the immediate context is instructive. The text immediately following 11:12 is 12:1-2
(NASB) Ephraim feeds on wind, And pursues the east wind continually; He multiplies lies and violence. Moreover, he makes a covenant with Assyria, And oil is carried to Egypt. The LORD also has a dispute with Judah, And will punish Jacob according to his ways; He will repay him according to his deeds.
• (KJV) Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt. The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him.

Notice that whether you use NASB or KJV, whether you prefer the negative or positive for 11:12, the meaning for 12:2 is clear – the LORD has a dispute or controversy with Judah. My thinking is that if the LORD has a dispute with Judah in 12:2, it is unlikely that He calls Judah faithful just 2 verses earlier. So logically the negative meaning makes more sense in 11:12. I therefore take the position that the NIV and NASB are correct, not the KJV or ESV this time.

Answer a Fool?

Proverbs 26 4-5 b

Q. Prov 26:4 tells us do not answer a fool. V 5 then tells us to answer a fool. Isn’t this a contradiction? You can’t speak from both sides of your mouth!

A. No, it is not a contradiction, but a paradox. This passage tells us to be wise by responding as the situation dictates.

* Prov 26:4-5 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.

In general, don’t waste time arguing with a fool, or you’ll descend to his level arguing back and forth in a silly squabble. Ignore him.

However, if it becomes necessary that you do have to answer him, use his own arguments back on him. Let him have a taste of his own medicine, so he’ll know how stupid he really is. Otherwise he’ll think he’s so smart.

Proverbs 26 4-5 c

So it depends on the situation, not a hard-and-fast black-and-white.

The Incarnation a Contradiction?

hypostatic union 6

Q. I don’t understand you Christians. You say Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. Isn’t that a contradiction? 100% God leaves 0% man. 100% man means 0% God. You can’t have 200% of a single person. Don’t you mean 50-50, or some other combination adding up to 100%? You can’t have it both ways!

A. I’ve heard the accusation that the Incarnation is a contradiction in other forms. For example, as God Christ is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent etc. As man, Christ is not omnipotent, not omniscient, not omnipresent etc. You can’t be both at the same time. Isn’t this a contradiction? You can’t have your cake and eat it too!

No, this is not a contradiction. When we say Jesus is fully God, we mean He has all the fullness of Deity:
* Col 1:19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,
* Col 2:9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,

Although fullness means 100%, it is not additive. For example, I am 100% my father’s son, and 100% my children’s father, but that does not mean I am 200% of a father-son hybrid. You cannot sum them.

Secondly, according to the law of non-contradiction, in order for there to be a real contradiction, something needs to be both true and not true at the same time in the same respects. Otherwise you only have an apparent contradiction or paradox, not a true one.

hypostatic union 7

The Incarnation states that Jesus the Son of God took on human flesh i.e. became man. He thus has two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. His divine nature has infinite power, knowledge, and is not limited in space and time. His human nature, however, is finite and has limited power, knowledge, and subject to limitations of space and time. So He is at the same time God in His divine nature, and human (not God) in His human nature. There is no contradiction as we are referring to two different natures. It would only be a contradiction if He is both God and not-God at the same time within His divine nature, or both man and not-man at the same time within His human nature, but that’s not what the doctrine states, hence no contradiction.

The Trinity a Contradiction?

trinity 10

Q. You Christians believe in three Gods: the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet you say there is only one God. You are contradicting yourself and totally confusing! How can anyone believe you?

A. Christians believe in one God who exists in three persons, not three Gods. There is no contradiction. The answer involves classical logic, the law of non-contradiction, which states that something cannot be both true and not true at the same time when dealing with the same context.

Those who say that the Trinity is a contradiction misunderstand what the doctrine actually said. They think that it said:
* God is one being and God is three beings, or
* God is one person and God is three persons
at the same time and in the same respect, in which case it would indeed be a contradiction. However, that’s not what the doctrine states.

trinity 6

The doctrine actually says that God is one being in three persons. Being is the essence or nature. It is who you are. God’s essence is that He is deity, that which makes Him God. Persons means independent individuals, distinct from each other. The Bible teaches that there are three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are distinct from but equal to each other. Rightly understood, the doctrine of the Trinity states that there is one God, one essence, and this one essence exists in three Persons. God is one in one sense (being), and three in another sense (persons). It does not state that God is one and God is three in the same sense at the same time. There is no violation of the law of non-contradiction once you define everything clearly.

Visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers on the Children (2 of 2)

Num 14 18 b

(Continued from yesterday)

I believe this is only an apparent contradiction, since the Bible is God’s word and He does not contradict Himself. The difficulty is in the phrase “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations“, which on the surface does not seem fair. What exactly does it mean?

First, let’s tackle the issue from the perspective of “cause“. Notice from the first set of verses the following:
• The LORD is abundant in loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin i.e. He is compassionate and willing to forgive.
• He will by no means clear the guilty and leave them unpunished i.e. He is just and will always punish the guilty.
• Thousands is contrasted with to the third and fourth generations i.e. His loving kindness far exceeds His severity.

Ezekiel 18 20 c

Then note from the second set of passages that:
• The person who sins will die. Each and everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. There are no exceptions.
• Fathers and sons shall not be put to death for each other’s iniquity. Each bears his own responsibility. There will be no miscarriage of justice.

The logical deduction then, for both sets of proposition to be true, is that when the Lord visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children, those children themselves are NOT innocent but guilty. Of what? Of the sin they learned from their fathers. What sin? Ex 20:5, 34:7 and Deut 5:9 are all in the context of the 10 commandments, in particular dealing with idolatry.

These fathers hate God (Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9). In what sense?
Disrespectful and ungratefulEven though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks (Rom 1:21).
IdolatrousThey exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures (Rom 1:23). They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25).
Ignored GodThey did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer (Rom 1:28).
In so doing they become haters of God (Rom 1:30).

Not only did the fathers do this themselves, by their example they taught their children to do the same (Rom 1:32). The children are therefore guilty of the same sin and deserve the punishment. They are the “cause” of their punishment. God had not treated them unfairly by punishing an innocent “next generation”. Beware of what you are teaching your children. It need not be explicit instructions. They learn far more from your actions and attitudes than from your words.

Secondly, let’s look at the issue from the “effect” angle. Some children suffer the consequences of their parent’s guilt through no fault of their own. For example, parents with AIDS give birth to HIV-positive children. Drug addicts give birth to babies who may be addicted to the drug. They did not ask for it, they did nothing to deserve it, but they are affected nonetheless.

The iniquity of the fathers is visited on the children, who in this case could not exercise free-will to avoid it. Is that fair? Of course it’s not fair, but that’s what sin does. Sin robs and destroys, and through the hereditary principle infect the next generation. But our God is a gracious and merciful God. Even such sad cases could be redeemed through the compassionate action of people who care, or the suffering cut short in infant mortality. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (Jas 1:27). I hope we can all do our part.

Visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers on the Children (1 of 2)

Num 14 18 a

Q. Isn’t this a contradiction in the Bible:
• Num 14:18 The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’
• Ezk 18:20 The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
How do you reconcile the two passages?

A. This does present itself as a dilemma. On the one hand, what Num 14:18 teaches is repeated three times in the Pentateuch:

Ex 20:5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
• Ex 34:7 who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
• Deut 5:9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,

The concept, though not the exact wording, is also in:
Lev 26:39 So those of you who may be left will rot away because of their iniquity in the lands of your enemies; and also because of the iniquities of their forefathers they will rot away with them.

Ezekiel 18 20 a

On the other hand, the idea in Ezk 18:20 is taught in just as many passages:

Deut 24:16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.
• 2 Kings 14:6 But the sons of the slayers he did not put to death, according to what is written in the book of the Law of Moses, as the LORD commanded, saying, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the sons, nor the sons be put to death for the fathers; but each shall be put to death for his own sin.”
• 2 Chron 25:4 However, he did not put their children to death, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, which the LORD commanded, saying, “Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons be put to death for fathers, but each shall be put to death for his own sin.”
• Jer 31:30 But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.

Do they really contradict each other?

(To be continued)