Feb 1, 2021
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Thanks for joining me today for “A Little Walk with God.” I’m your host Richard Agee.
In the lectionary this week, I came across some strange verses that we usually jump over, disregard, assume an inadequate translation, or mumble through them without thinking much about them. But over the last several months, I’ve been spending a lot of time studying what the Ancient Israelites believed and how Jesus’ contemporaries thought about their world as we passed from BCE to AD and the birth of the church.
Let me share some of that scripture with you, and then we will focus on what might cause some of you to think me a bit crazy. The lectionary comes from 1 Corinthians chapter 8, where Paul gives instructions to the church about being careful not to cause weak Christians to stumble because of their superior knowledge about God and the true nature of idols. He shares the verses specifically about food sacrificed to idols, but some verses in the middle of his discourse, we usually skip over. The passage to explore today includes verses one through 7. In the Good News Translations, they read like this:
It is true, of course, that “all of us have knowledge,” as they say. Such knowledge, however, puffs a person up with pride; but love builds up. Those who think they know something really don’t know as they ought to know. But the person who loves God is known by him.
So then, about eating the food offered to idols: we know that an idol stands for something that does not really exist; we know that there is only the one God. Even if there are so-called “gods,” whether in heaven or on earth, and even though there are many of these “gods” and “lords,” yet there is for us only one God, the Father, who is the Creator of all things and for whom we live; and there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom we live.
7 But not everyone knows this truth. (1 Corinthians 8:1b-7a GNT)
Rome considered Christians and Jews atheists in Paul’s day because they worshiped only one God. The rest of the world recognized and worshiped a multitude of deities, including the emperor. Most nations believed the gods placed their king on the throne and talked to him, giving him the laws of the land. At the time, most countries thought kings who took faithful care of their kingdom could become deities themselves after death. Some, like the Roman Emperor, declared himself a son of the gods. But serving and worshiping a single god just didn’t make sense in the culture of the day.
But each god’s temple supposedly stood as the place where their god would reside on earth. The Jewish Temple did the same. The difference between them is no idol or representation of God, Most High – Jehovah – appeared in the Jews’ Temple. Nothing could represent the Creator of all other beings, including all the other gods.
Reading the Old Testament carefully, you’ll find ample evidence the Ancient Israelites did not discount other gods, nor did Jehovah. He only demanded their sole allegiance to him. In fact, you can read the very first commandment with that culture in mind as God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Why didn’t he say there is only one God, and I’m it? There is an interesting passage in Deuteronomy 32 that explains the Ancient Israelites understanding of at least some of the other gods. It is Moses’ discourse to the Israelites before his death, inspired by God and reads:
“Think of the past, of the time long ago;
ask your parents to tell you what happened,
ask the old people to tell of the past.
The Most High assigned nations their lands;
he determined where peoples should live.
He assigned to each nation a heavenly being,
but Jacob’s descendants he chose for himself. (Deuteronomy 32:7-9 GNT)
When you couple these verses associated with Noah’s sons in Genesis ten and count the nations that grew from their lineage, seventy nations, each with its own language, are named. Chapter eleven explains why those seventy nations spoke different languages. God scattered them by confusing their languages at the Tower of Babel, and each tribe went its way – seventy ways. The story continues through the folklore and Moses shares that God assigned those seventy known nations land with a heavenly being to watch over it. But Jacob’s descendants, Israel, the chosen people, he kept for himself.
Who are these heavenly beings? I think the gods the other nations worshiped. God’s celestial beings, sent to watch over those nations, became greedy and supposed themselves on the level of God, Most High. These are the rebels, thrown to the earth, and we, in our god-like “knowledge” obtained in the garden, worshiped them. That is the explanation from the Ancient Israelites through Paul’s day and into the Dark Ages.
They believed God used a council of heavenly beings, not angels, but beings like himself, but beings he created, god-like, but not God, Most High, to act as his council. Perhaps the seraphim and cherubim who guard his throne fit that category. Perhaps they are more god-like beings than angelic beings. The first, the seraphim, are usually described as fiery creatures giving light and burning away all impurity around the throne—the second, the cherubim, act as faithful guards. A cherub guards the entrance to Eden. A cherub stood in the path of Barack. Cherubim are not the chubby-cheeked valentine picture representations but mighty warriors around God’s throne.
Why do they think God used a council? Scripture implies it. “Let us make man in our image.” When Ahab was king, God asked, “How shall we deal with Ahab, when he wanted to attack Edom? Isaiah heard him ask the group, “Who will we send?” Many other examples in the Old Testament show God talking to someone around his throne. I don’t believe he would discuss within the Trinity because the Trinity is him. He would be talking to himself. I think God was talking to his trusted council around the throne. He still performed the creative acts. He made the decisions, but I believe in the heavenly realm, God uses his council and other celestial beings to carry out his desires in that plane of reality just as he uses us to carry out his plans in this one.
God, Most High, Yahweh, Jehovah, created all things visible to us and in realms not visible to us. I think he destined humanity to take charge of this realm; we failed. Jesus came to renew us so that we can pick up the pieces and carry out the work God gave us in the beginning. The earth and heaven will ultimately be restored to their original glory, where God and humanity will walk together in the cool of the day. We will hold dominion over his visible creation and care for it through the loving actions he taught us as he walked among us.
We will respect our roles as stewards instead of owners of the things around us. But we will be pleased with that role because we will understand who God is and who we are with respect to his position in the created universe. I think at that time, the curtain between the earthly and heavenly realms will be drawn back, and we will understand how God has protected and cared for us in ways we never knew before. God will reveal himself to us in the same way he reveals himself to his heavenly beings now.
Let me end discussing a word Paul uses to describe Christians who think themselves strong. Knowledge. The strong Christians in Corinth believed they had knowledge. What is knowledge? The dictionary defines knowledge as:
1) facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject: a thirst for knowledge | her considerable knowledge of antiques.
2) awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation: the program had been developed without his knowledge | he denied all knowledge of the overnight incidents.
Today we deal with way too much opinion and very little actual knowledge. What I’ve talked about today, I’ll admit, is very much my opinion, but based on a great deal of reading, study, and thought. Do I have certain understanding that all I’ve said is true? No, only if I could travel in time, instead of reading many renowned authors’ scholarly works, could I increase the certainty of my opinion. Scripture always holds an undeniable mystery about it.
However, our knowledge of those around us holds that same mystery. As you talk with those with whom you come in contact in the next few days, don’t assume you know how they feel, what they think, or even what they mean by their words. Their mind is a mystery to you as much as yours is to them. We often talk at each other instead of with each other and assume far too much of our knowledge and understanding. If I can’t explain myself to someone many times, how can I assume I know how they think or feel? Knowledge in any area of life - facts, information, and skills gained through personal experience doesn’t come easy. When applied to communicating with another person, the subtleties of each person’s different experiences make my experiences, facts, and knowledge suspect regarding their understanding.
How do we overcome the communication problem that divides us in so many areas? We follow the two commands Jesus said wraps all the others together. We love God, and we love others. Become knowledgeable in the exercise of love by learning about Jesus and his behavior. Act like him. Talk like him. Love like him. Then, your knowledge of loving like God will help you show Christ to those around you.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn’t, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked GNT are taken from the Good News Translation®: Scriptures taken from the Good News Translation® (Today’s English Version, Second Edition) Copyright © 1992 American Bible Society. All rights reserved.