The Gospel Ring (1)

It’s been quite some time since my last post. Perhaps I should apologise but it wouldn’t be entirely sincere. I’ve been enjoying myself far too much to even begin to be sorry.

The fun started when I forgot a significant item of information I wanted for my next book. I could remember reading somewhere that John the apostle identifies himself as the author of the fourth gospel by using a unique placement. His signoff as ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ mirrors the testimony of John the Baptist at the beginning. This bookending identifies the writer as John.

Well, being unable to remember where I’d read this, I tried googling it. No joy. I remembered the technical name for this mirror technique was chiasmus and tried that as well. Lots of different examples of mirror episodes in John’s gospel turned up but not the particular matter I wanted. After quite a bit of searching, I began to realise that the lists of chiastic scenes were rarely the same. So I created my own list by putting together the ones I’d found. And that’s when I noticed something fascinating: the names almost always match.

It’s not just the testimony of John the apostle mirroring that of John the Baptist.

It’s a scene involving Mary the mother of Jesus mirroring one with Mary Magdalene.

It’s a scene with Nicodemus matching another with the same Nicodemus.

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The Breastplate of Righteousness 3

Just over eighty years ago, on Saturday 5 August 1933, our local newspaper ‘THE COURIER-MAIL’ printed this fascinating article equating the rose of Sharon with the narcissus tazetta. Although many websites identify this particular narcissus as the Biblical rose of Sharon mentioned in both Song of Songs and Isaiah, I have not found any other document which explains why the two are linked. This article also mentions marriage customs involving the narcissus which I have not seen recorded in any other place. Thank you, Dr Goddard!

The Rose of Sharon
An Ancient Legend about the Narcissus and its Symbolism in Christianity

AMONG the ruins of Geba, where murmuring waters flow from Mount Ebal to the sea, the excavation of an ancient city of Israel has begun. Here it was that tradition has placed the vineyard of Naboth. Here it was that Elijah stood as “a fury slinging flame” and hurled his anathemas at King Ahab and his proud consort.

Among the first treasures brought to light is a fragment of a slab on which is cut the flower of a narcissus, and under it the words in ancient Hebrew: “The bulb of Sharon.” There is no indication as to what this stone stood for, as the upper part is missing and could not be traced. Probably it has been ground to powder, as Geba was destroyed to form the foundation of a Roman city.

But there is a wealth of story and probably biblical commentary in this bit of ancient stone. In the “Song of Solomon” in the Old Testament we read of the “rose of Sharon” and “the lily of the valleys.” The ancient Hebrew word for “bulb” is the same as that for “rose,” and it was not till the artificial introduction of vowel points that the two words could be distinguished. This fragment recovered at Geba strongly suggests that this passage should read as follows:

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I had a great idea. At least it seemed like one at the time.

It’s possible to identify seven hidden references to wildflowers in the Paul’s description of the armour of God in Ephesians 6. It might be tricky to translate the ancient names into modern botanical terms but we can be reasonably sure of the majority.

‘What if,’ I thought, ‘an anointing oil were created from the extracts of these flowers?’ An armorial oil, as it were, which uses the floral symbols of divine armour. I liked the idea immediately because oils generally mix together and that would also convey the idea of covenantal oneness.

The hunter-gatherer instinct in me kicked in and I began to scour the internet to see whether this was a viable idea. A web search was definitely an easier proposition than heading out into the fields and woodlands, looking for rare and hidden herbs that might be peeping out from the grass. Woods and fields in suburban south-east Queensland are in short supply anyway.

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In her compelling book Permission to Speak Freely, Anne Jackson says this: ‘The Pharisees knew the Messiah was coming. They knew people needed a Saviour. They just didn’t believe they were the ones needed saving. This quote from The Prodigal God has been haunting me: “Pharisees only repent of their sins but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness too.”’

Now this was the only statement that, in an otherwise superb book, took me completely aback. I sincerely hope that, in context, the quote from The Prodigal God comes across differently. I’d be disturbed to find righteousness and self-righteousness had effectively collapsed into each other and that, for many of us, there is no longer any functional difference between them.

Christians repenting of righteousness suggests a deep core illness in the modern mindset. When we start to equate righteousness and self-righteousness, the spiritual zeitgeist has gone too far: it has started to deify Mercy. We’ve actually started to make a god out of Grace.

This is just as bad as deifying Righteousness—and that’s what the Pharisees’ problem really was: they had elevated Righteousness to the Godhead and seen that as the totality of His being. Depending on the century, the prevailing culture, our own personal inclination, we are apt to do this with other attributes of God’s nature: honour, integrity, truth, love, peace, order.

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Ever had that moment when the scales fall off your eyes? When the veil falls away and it strikes you the situation is not what you think it is?

I had such a moment recently when I was digging (yet again!) in Ephesians 6. As I noted in The Story of a Cover, there’s an allusion to the rose of Sharon in the armour of God. Actually, upon further investigation, it transpired there are—surprise, surprise!—seven flowers.

What’s an entire layer of subtle references to Israel’s flora doing in the Armour of God? Good question. But it’s not the only layer:

  1. Surface layer: the accoutrements of Roman armour—helmet, breastplate, belt, sword, shield, shoes—plus an extra bit of protection in prayers and hymns.
  2. Sub-surface layer 1: the elements of a threshold—pillars, lintel, gates, threshold stone, mezuzah, seals, door. These do not correspond in a one-to-one fashion to the Roman armour, but are based on puns. For instance, the word for ‘darts’ (as in fiery darts of the Evil One) comes from belos, threshold while the word for ‘shield’ doubles as a word for door. With a single exception, these are Greek puns and I have no doubt the average reader would have spotted them immediately.

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Tissue Territory

I got a lovely email today. I’d sent a sample copy of God’s Panoply to the director of a resource centre in the hope I’d get permission to put some advertising at an upcoming conference. He read the first chapters of the book just prior to this event. Here’s what he wrote:

I was in Townsville last weekend with Sandra and Peter at the Healing Shame seminar.  On the Saturday the Holy Spirit led Sandra to invite women to repent for their mistreatment of men and this was responded too with a couple of ladies taking the pulpit and repenting and asking for forgiveness.  Men were given the opportunity to respond and 4 did. I was one of them.

I had only had opportunity to read your book on the Wednesday before I flew to Townsville on the Thursday afternoon. I devoured the first chapter and loved it. As I approached the pulpit on Saturday, your book in hand, I explained you had just not long ago published it and sent it to me. I felt the need to repent, as a minister of the Gospel, for the suffering placed on women from the pulpit through the misuse and misinterpretation of scripture and read a few portions of the book about the real meaning of being the head and the heart Paul was writing from when talking about submission and the true meaning of lifting one another up and being a covenant defender.

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The Story of a Cover

I’d been looking for the ideal cover for my latest book, God’s Panoply—The Armour of God and the Kiss of Heaven, for over a year. I’d narrowed my options slowly, wanting to make sure my choice and God’s choice coincided.

Eventually I decided that the soft focus stock photograph of a mounted knight in armour that I’d been looking at for three months was the one. Imagine my horror when the day I got around to buying it (always a good option when trying to persuade my publisher) it had disappeared from the Dreamstime website. Not to worry. I’m sure I’d seen it on istockphoto, though a little more expensive. It was gone from there too!

Wait! There were other stock photo sites where I’d seen the same shot. All gone!

I was in shock. I’d been praying about the perfect cover for a year—and I felt like I’d been robbed. I looked at my secondary choices. None of them were anywhere near as good.

So I had a long anguished chat with God. Not long after, He directed me to a picture that, I have to say, was not my idea of panoply. It was a daffodil—nothing like armour. However the more I looked at pictures of shields and bucklers, swords and banners, the more I felt the Holy Spirit pulling me back to the daffodil. ‘But it doesn’t mean anything!’ I wailed. ‘At least the rose on God’s Poetry symbolises the essence of names. The whole rose-by-any-other-name question raised by Shakespeare as to whether a name has any effect on anyone.’

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Stuff, Vessel, Witness

It took me about five lessons to realise Hebrew language studies were not for me. The lecturer finally asked a question I could answer. It had to do with the first seven words of Genesis:

bereshit bara Elokim et hashamaim v’et haarets

He asked what the fourth word signified.

At last! Something I actually knew. I stuck up my hand.

The two-letter combination alef-tav in Genesis 1:1 is invariably untranslated. It occurs often throughout Scripture without any remark but nevertheless it has a profound meaning. The word is comprised of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, alef, and the last, tav. It’s the equivalent to the Greek combination of alpha and omega.

However, in Hebrew it’s more than ‘the first and the last’: alef-tav encompasses all 20 letters between these two and every combination of letter. In other words: every word that has ever existed or could possibly exist.

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God is in the Question

My mum swears I was born asking, ‘Why?’

I think she exaggerates. I don’t even remember asking ‘Why?’ until I was eleven years old and was under pressure to expand a review I’d written of Anne of Green Gables. Instead of the usual paragraph, the teacher wanted an entire page on why I’d liked it. I did some soul-searching and then asked myself, ‘So, Anne, why exactly do you like it?’

That’s influenced my reviewing ever since. If you check out my reviews at Goodreads, you’ll find I often write a lot, simply to try to articulate my liking (or disliking) for a book.

Nonetheless, my mother says it started earlier. I was relentless in my quest for answers as a toddler and would not be put off by half-hearted replies. Somewhere along the line, I learned that if you ask God seriously and are patient enough, He takes you seriously in turn and always gives answers.

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Seventeens in Scripture (17)

This is the last of this series.

Appropriately, it’s the seventeenth.

So I just thought I’d mention a couple of my favourite multiples of 17 in Scripture, along with some other random significant seventeens I haven’t looked at very closely.

(1)         Currently the top of my favourites among the seventeens is the 1717 references to ‘land’ across the Old and New Testaments. Now 101 in medieval times appears to have been a metaphor for the Music of the Spheres, the sustaining song of the angel host. It looks to me like Paul uses it that way to book-end Ephesians as well. As it happens ‘land’ and ‘song’ evoke the Australian aboriginal concept of connection to the land and songlines in the landscape. So pardon me if I sum up 1717 as a mathematical metaphor for ‘the songlines of the Lord’.

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Seventeens in Scripture (16)

Besides those 17 references to God as ‘Father’ embedded in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew also made 17 references to Jesus as ‘the Christ‘ in his gospel. Unsurprisingly, the seventh reference is Simon’s confession of Peter as ‘the Christ’, an occasion that results in his being given the name ‘Peter’.

  1. Matthew 1:1 NKJV — The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham
  2. Matthew 1:16 NKJV — And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
  3. Matthew 1:17 NKJV — So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
  4. Matthew 1:18 NKJV — Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Matthew 2:4 NKJV— And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

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Seventeens in Scripture (15)

The moment I heard a sermon in which it was mentioned that there are 16 references to joy in Philippians, I knew there was one missing. So I went looking for it. There are indeed 16 references based on chara, but there is one based on kauchaomai (#13), which happens to be positioned to divide the remainder of mathematical structure in a 3:1 ratio.

Also noting from yesterday’s post that joy and crown are related concepts in Hebrew, it should be no surprise to find them together in Philippians 4:1

  1. Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joyPhilippians 1:4
  2. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and rejoicingPhilippians 1:18
  3. …I therein do rejoice, yea, and will… Philippians 1:18
  4. rejoice. Philippians 1:18
  5. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith…  Philippians 1:25
  6. That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. Philippians 1:26
  7. Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Philippians 2:2
  8. Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. Philippians 2:16
  9. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice with you all.. Philippians 2:17
  10. For the same cause also do ye rejoice with me. Philippians 2:18
  11. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Philippians 2:28
  12. Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Philippians 3:1
  13. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Philippians 3:3
  14. Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. Philippians 4:1
  15. Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say… Philippians 4:4
  16. Rejoice. Philippians 4:4
  17. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Philippians 4:10


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