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Q&A on September Readings

Note: The questions alone (with a link to their answers) are listed above the line in the opposite order that they were received, which means the most recent questions are at the top of the page. Below the line, questions and answers are given in the readings' order of the verses that prompted the question.

Q: After reading the previous comments on Jeremiah 19, I looked again at Leviticus and at the picture with the current post on the chapters. I can see breaking a piece of pottery like one of those amphora if a lizard or some such was in and out of it. You couldn’t know what else was in it. But, they seem to have broken a lot of pottery, whereas other things could be washed and be OK. Was most of the pottery unglazed, so that it could soak up whatever was put into it and so be polluted past further use? Answer

Q: In your comments on Proverbs 8-10, you referred to echoes of the Nicene Creed in chapter 8 and to an early-church controversy about Christ based on verses from the chapter. When I read through the chapter, it seemed to me the verses were about Christ. Who else was born “before the world”? What was the early church’s issue? Answer

Q: I’ve always wondered why “bread cast upon the water...” (Ecclesiastes 11:1) wouldn’t turn up moldy, if the fish or ducks didn’t get it, but those are the hazards of a farm upbringing. Answer

Q: Still thinking about Acts 18:18 and the question about Paul’s hair and the Hasidic Jews, I have a question about Jeremiah 9:26. What’s the connection between those “who clip their hair by their foreheads” (the reading in the margin of the NIV) and those “in distant places” (the reading in the text of the NIV)? Answer

Q: As you anticipated, I am somewhat surprised at Jeremiah’s prayers to God to punish his enemies, such as those in Jeremiah 18:21-23. (I am sure there are many other places in the Bible that this is the case also.) It doesn’t seem right that one (especially Jeremiah, a prophet of God) should pray for bad things to happen to someone, even if they are his enemies! Answer

Q: As I read Jeremiah 14:13-15, I wondered, if the false prophets were prophesying in God’s name, how were the people to know if the prophets were true or not? God did speak through prophets, and yet there were prophets that said they were speaking in God’s name, but weren’t. How were they supposed to know which ones were true and which were false? Answer

Q: In numerous places in Jeremiah, like Jeremiah 14:11, it says, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.” Based on this verse, people today might think they should not pray for those that have fallen away. Shouldn’t we always continue to pray for those that have fallen away or those that worship false Gods? I understand why God said it at that time, but I am just wondering how, or if, it applies today. Answer

Q: On Jeremiah 10:23 my study Bible comment, “Only the Lord can direct people’s steps (see Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 16:9).” How does this passage, the comment, and the cross‑referenced passages relate to human “free will”? Can you expound on the difference between God directing our steps and human “free will”? Answer

Q: We may have discussed this in the past, but the notes in my study Bible at Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 say that man cannot change what God determines and that God has made the one (bad times) as well as the other (good times). If we don’t influence God’s decisions on what happens or doesn’t happen, why then do we pray to God for rain, a particular outcome, or to heal someone, when God has already determined what is going to be? Seems we should only be praying for strength in our faith and to be able to handle whatever He gives us. Answer

Q: The wisdom books such as Proverbs are full of references to “fools”. In Matthew 5:21-22, Christ termed it highly dangerous to call someone a “fool”. Are there two different words, or is it a matter of calling someone names who isn’t a fool, versus describing someone who is? Answer

Q: The KJV of Proverbs 5:16 is very confusing: “Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.” Several other translations have a question mark at the end of this statement, which certainly helps one understand your comment (about making one’s spouse promiscuous) and the verse! Answer

Q: In Job 42:13-15, are there meanings to the daughters’ names (Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-Happuch) and significance to the fact that they are the only women named in the book? Answer


Q: In Job 42:13-15, are there meanings to the daughters’ names (Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-Happuch) and significance to the fact that they are the only women named in the book?
A: The name “Jemimah” is said to mean “dove”, Keziah “cinnamon”, and Keren-Happuch “container of antimony”, which was supposedly a highly-prized eyeshadow that is reportedly toxic. The first is thought to have had beautiful “dove” eyes, the second the aroma of “cinnamon”, and the third all the more beautiful because of the use of the makeup. (Although I didn’t find anyone who traces the following back to the Bible, I’ll just provide this link to the first thing that came to my mind with the name “Jemimah” and mention that in British English a “jemimah” is apparently the Brits' equivalent of elastic-sided Congress boots, whatever those are.) The three daughters’ beauty is highlighted, as is their receiving an inheritance along with their brothers, which was not required by any law. Their beauty seems to be the reason that they are named, and their mother’s moral deficiency is perhaps the reason why she is not named. Of course, the central characters of Job’s friends were three in number and named, so the author could conceivably be trying to provide some sort of balance by naming the second set of three daughters. (Modern readers might appreciate that in that sense women are given “equal standing” with the men, but they don’t have to probe much deeper to see that by that understanding the men are being featured for their wisdom and the women for their beauty.) You might have noticed that everything was doubled for Job, including his children, but that the doubling of the children includes in its count the ones who had gone before but nevertheless are not really gone. Back to Top

Q: The KJV of Proverbs 5:16 is very confusing: “Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.” Several other translations have a question mark at the end of this statement, which certainly helps one understand your comment (about making one’s spouse promiscuous) and the verse!
A: Many people might be surprised to know that punctuation as we think of it simply did not exist in early manuscripts of the books of the Bible. Today, editions of the Old Testament’s Hebrew and New Testament’s Greek do have punctuation, as do translations such as the King James Version (KJV), obviously, but the punctuation, like the translations themselves, is not inspired and therefore inerrant, the way the original “autographs” of the books are. In this case, the KJV was not the only translation of those I checked that put the words in question in the form of a statement, but the other one that did, the New English Bible from 1971, added the word “not” to indicate a negative command. As you indicate, most other translations, including the New King James Version, make this verse a rhetorical question expecting the answer “no”. (There appears to be a textual variant in Greek edition of this verse that may account for some of the variation.) Looking at the broader context of Proverbs 5:15-20, we see that in verse 15, Solomon, the teacher of wisdom, advises his son/pupil to quench his or her thirst (that is, have sexual relations) only from his or her own sources of water (that is, with his or her own spouse). Verse 16 may well be warning that if one spouse is fooling around the other might well, too, and I think verse 16 can also be taken to reflect the fact that both the husband and the wife in a one-flesh union created by God are “shared” and thus adulterated in any act of adultery by either spouse. The very next verse (v.17) says that the fountains (KJV; “springs” ASV, NIV, NASB) and rivers (KJV; “streams” ASV, NIV, NASB) of verse 16 are not to be shared with strangers, so ordering them to be dispersed in the streets does not seem to make sense. At best I think the KJV is, as you say, confusing, although one commentator understands verse 16 as a positive command discouraging spouses from limiting their sexual relations with each other, as is discouraged by 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, but there’s no grammatical indication of any sort of contrast between verse 16 and verse 17 in Proverbs 5. Back to Top

Q: The wisdom books such as Proverbs are full of references to “fools”. In Matthew 5:21-22, Christ termed it highly dangerous to call someone a “fool”. Are there two different words, or is it a matter of calling someone names who isn’t a fool, versus describing someone who is?
A: You will see that there are different words in play, but I think you are right that the short answer is the difference is between the Old Testament describing fools and a Christian insulting a fellow believer as a “Fool!”. The Hebrew word used in the wisdom literature for “fool” (or “foolish”, ASV), such as in Proverbs 1:7, where it is said “fools despise wisdom and instruction”, is eviyl. The word can refer to someone who despises wisdom, who mocks when guilty, who is quarrelsome, or who is licentious. The basic idea is that the person is lacking morally, what we would in this context think of as an unbeliever. Incidentally, there are several other Hebrew words that might be translated “fool” with differing degrees of intensity relative to eviyl: the strongest les, the stronger kaciyl (for example, Psalm 94:8), and the weaker nabal, which you might remember from the story of the man by that name in 1 Samuel 25. The degrees of difference are not absolute, however, and nabal is also widely used in the wisdom literature with some of the same meaning as eviyl and kaciyl. In the case of Matthew 5:22, the Greek word used in Jesus’ statement is moros, from which we get our English word “moron” (which I can remember being called and calling others growing up, true to its 20th century use). This particular Greek word is used, but rarely, in the Greek version of the Old Testament, though it is used there at least one time “for all of the important Hebrew words for ‘fool’.” Although most of the time the Greek word used to render the “fool” of the Old Testament wisdom literature is aphron (more literally, “without phren”, that is “without wisdom”, as in Luke 11:40), the more significant New Testament term for the theological concept of folly is moros. Jesus’ use of this word in Matthew 5:22 is much debated by Bible commentators, but suffice it to say here that Jesus is equating anger and insults, whether “Raca” (perhaps “empty-head”) or “Fool”, with murder and saying that the judgment, whether before the Sanhedrin or in the fire of hell, is also the same. Good thing there is forgiveness by grace through faith in Jesus Christ for such sins of the tongue, as for all our sins, when we repent! Back to Top

Q: In your comments on Proverbs 8-10, you referred to echoes of the Nicene Creed in chapter 8 and to an early-church controversy about Christ based on verses from the chapter. When I read through the chapter, it seemed to me the verses were about Christ. Who else was born “before the world”? What was the early church’s issue?
A: Your natural inclination to hear the chapter as referring to Christ relates to the early-church controversy. Remember that Wisdom personified is speaking, and in chapter 8 she is claiming her right to be heard by virtue of her origin with God before all creatures. (Also remember that the only reason Wisdom personified is given feminine gender is because the grammatical gender of the Hebrew word is feminine.) In verse 22, however, Wisdom can be understood describing herself as created, which, if Wisdom and the Person of Christ are identified, could be taken as making the Person of Christ created instead of begotten from eternity. (A particular group of false teachers in the early church in fact said that Christ was not true God but was a creature.) Although one commentator on Proverbs says the author of Proverbs declares Wisdom to be eternal by attributing to her an existence before the creation of the world, the same commentator nevertheless is sure to distinguish that Wisdom is not God but has existence in the Person of Christ. So, since Wisdom exists in the Person of Christ, we can hear Wisdom’s words coming out of Christ’s mouth, as long as we do not strictly-speaking identify Wisdom and Christ. Back to Top

Q: I’ve always wondered why “bread cast upon the water...” (Ecclesiastes 11:1) wouldn’t turn up moldy, if the fish or ducks didn’t get it, but those are the hazards of a farm upbringing.
A: I was not raised on a farm, but I’ve fed enough fish and ducks in my life to know that, if they didn’t immediately get the bread cast upon the water, the bread quickly disintegrated in the water. Although there are perhaps significant differences between our bread and the bread of the Old Testament that relate to what might happen to it in water, certainly 11:1 does not mean that after many days after casting bread upon the water we will find the same literal bread. One interpretation, that of early Judaism, suggests that what we have given will come back to us in some other way. For example, our righteousness and generosity are rewarded in other ways. (On this interpretation, confer Deuteronomy 24:19 and the idea of leaving food for those in need while harvesting, which is exactly what Boaz did for the likes of Ruth and Naomi.) Another interpretation is that the teacher of Ecclesiastes 11:1 is telling people to be adventurous, like those who accept the risks of seaborne trade and reap its benefits. Bread in Ecclesiastes 11:1 is the means of making a living or gain, and it may need to be done via commerce with foreign countries, which expects a profit only after a long period of waiting. In other words, do not always play it safe (Proverbs 11:24, and perhaps Jesus’s own parable in Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27). Perhaps the meaning has to do with not trying to concentrate on immediate results or even results at all. Ecclesiastes 11:6 seems to be saying the same thing, with verses 3-5 providing the lead up to that maxim, and the whole making me think of Jesus’s parable in Mark 4:26-29. Sadly, I think our church body has lost the faith that God creates faith in Jesus Christ unto the forgiveness of sins when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. There seems to be too great of an emphasis on immediate and measurable results without an appreciation for casting bread upon the water. Back to Top

Q: We may have discussed this in the past, but the notes in my study Bible at Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 say that man cannot change what God determines and that God has made the one (bad times) as well as the other (good times). If we don’t influence God’s decisions on what happens or doesn’t happen, why then do we pray to God for rain, a particular outcome, or to heal someone, when God has already determined what is going to be? Seems we should only be praying for strength in our faith and to be able to handle whatever He gives us.
A: Your question is profound and touches on several different important aspects of the Christian faith. Let’s start with Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 and the notes in your study Bible. The teacher of Ecclesiastes says a couple of things in 7:13-14 (and to some extent also in 1:15), but I’m not sure the verses bear out your study Bible’s claim “that man cannot change what God determines”, although I would agree with its statement that God makes both bad times as well as good. Verse 13 essentially says God is God and human beings are human beings, so we cannot ourselves undo what He has done, although presumably God, possibly under our influence, can take action and then end it, as you might recall He did with the plague on the Israelites in 2 Samuel 24:15-16. I think we can similarly come up with Biblical examples that show prayers of faithful people do influence God’s decisions on what happens or doesn’t happen, such as 2 Kings 20:1-11. Moreover, there are certainly parables from the lips of our Lord Jesus that can be taken to suggest prayers do influence God, such as Luke 11:5-10. Another important thing to remember is that God is outside of time, where we are not. As a result, our ability to understand His foreknowledge and predestination is severely limited. If we pray and God appears to us to “change” His mind, is He “changing” His mind or simply doing what He was going to do all along, perhaps even knowing that we would ask for that particular outcome? I don’t think we can answer that question (see how Paul “answered” similar probing questions in Romans 11:33-36). We pray, as Dr. Luther details in the Large Catechism, both because God commanded it and because God promised that our prayer will surely be answered. A further encouragement Dr. Luther gives is our Lord’s putting into our mouths the very prayer we are to pray, and that most superior prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, prays for both spiritual and physical blessings, according to God’s will. Finally, remember that all our prayers should be according to God’s will. In the case of His hidden will and physical blessings, that’s hard: we don’t know, to use your specific examples, when or how much rain He wants for us to have, nor do we know whether a particular illness is to lead to someone’s eternal glory (the ultimate healing!). In the case of His revealed will and spiritual blessings, however, praying according to God’s will is easy: we know, to again use your examples, that He wants us to have more faith and to be able to spiritually handle whatever He gives us. Back to Top

Q: Still thinking about Acts 18:18 and the question about Paul’s hair and the Hasidic Jews, I have a question about Jeremiah 9:26. What’s the connection between those “who clip their hair by their foreheads” (the reading in the margin of the NIV) and those “in distant places” (the reading in the text of the NIV)?
A: There’s an Hebrew phrase in Jeremiah 9:26 that is somewhat difficult to translate literally in this context, although the sense is seemingly easy to get. The KJV text refers to those who are in “the utmost corners”, and the KJV margin reads “cut of into corners” or “having the corners of their hair polled” (“polled” has an archaic meaning of hair cut short or off). The NKJV text reads “who are in the farthest corners”. The ASV text reads “have the corners of their hair cut off”, identifying “of their hair” as words added into the text. The NASB text reads “who clip the hair on their temples”. Beck’s AAT reads “who clip their hair at the temples and cut their beards”. The ESV text reads “who cut the corners of their hair”. The NEB text reads “who haunt the fringes of the desert”. The CEV text reads simply “the tribes of the desert”, and a footnote indicates it is “one possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.” One commentator explains that the tribes of Arabian Desert apparently had a custom of cutting their hair off at the temples and the forehead, but the law prohibited the Israelites from using this custom (Leviticus 19:27). The Israelite’s using this custom helped show that, despite their being physically circumcised, they were, in fact, spiritually uncircumcised (or uncircumcised in heart), like the other nations that were physically and spiritually uncircumcised (there is little evidence the other nations mentioned practiced circumcision). Thus Israel was on equal footing with the heathen nations, had no room to glory in God’s sight, and was liable to God’s judgment. The external rite of circumcision was not enough to save the Israelites, anymore than Baptism without faith is enough to save people today. The Old Testament ceremonial law about this hair cutting no longer applies to us, but we break all sorts of stipulations of God’s law that do still apply. Thank God there is forgiveness for every sin by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Back to Top

Q: On Jeremiah 10:23 my study Bible comment, “Only the Lord can direct people’s steps (see Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 16:9).” How does this passage, the comment, and the cross-referenced passages relate to human “free will”? Can you expound on the difference between God directing our steps and human “free will”?
A: My study Bible makes a similar comment on Jeremiah 10:23, which passage and comment really do very little to address the question of human “free will”, but we recognize that Jeremiah’s statement is only touching on that topic at a small point. Jeremiah seems to be saying that ultimately in some matters people cannot refuse the Lord’s direction, such as, in the given context, when He executes His wrath and judgment. When a person’s time in this life is up, they cannot like some disobedient child say, “No, I’m staying longer”, nor can unbelievers refuse their assignment to the torment of hell for eternity. Psalm 37:23 seems to speak of believers following the ways the Lord’s Commandments lay out for them, and Proverbs 16:9 refers to people making their own plans but the Lord ultimately deciding how they will go. I am reminded both of Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16-21 and of James 4:13-17, both of which speak of the need for Christians to recognize God’s sovereign control over the bigger-picture things but not in such a way that everything else is fatalistically decided. Remember also that things are not now as God intended. God created the man and the woman in the garden with free will (the first of four “states” relative to which free will might be discussed), but their sin so corrupted them and the rest of us that now by nature and apart from the Holy Spirit we are no longer free in spiritual matters. So, when it comes to doing good or evil apart from God we can only do evil, although we do have freedom in other non-spiritual matters, for example to go to college or not, to do what people would regard as a good deed or not, or to buy Coke or Pepsi, if that’s not too trivial of an example. (Our Lutheran Confessions speak of this type of free will as that which reason understands or nature is capable of; you might look at AC & Ap XVIII and SD & Ep II, as they avoid well the two extremes of giving too much credit to the human will and of denying it any freedom in any matter.) The Holy Spirit offers new spiritual life through the Word and Sacraments, but those means of grace are resistible, so we might say that in the moment of hearing God’s gracious invitation people are converted and then immediately fall away or that they are given life but then immediately commit spiritual suicide. We must always believe, teach, and confess that God gets all the credit when anyone is saved, while when many are lost they must receive all the blame. Back to Top

Q: In numerous places in Jeremiah, like Jeremiah 14:11, it says, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.” Based on this verse, people today might think they should not pray for those that have fallen away. Shouldn’t we always continue to pray for those that have fallen away or those that worship false Gods? I understand why God said it at that time, but I am just wondering how, or if, it applies today.
A: God gave Jeremiah a very specific command not to pray for the people whom God had already decided to punish (even though God also kept calling them to repent and in some cases thereby to avoid the punishment that was coming). Interpreting God’s command to Jeremiah (or His similar statement to Moses in Exodus 32:10) as you suggest someone might interpret it indeed would be wrong. God’s command to Jeremiah does not apply to us today, and we should pray for those who have fallen away, all of whom in one sense or another thus also worship false gods. We should pray for them as long as they are alive and might still repent. However, we generally say that once someone has died their eternity has been decided and we should no longer pray for them. Back to Top

Q: As I read Jeremiah 14:13-15, I wondered, if the false prophets were prophesying in God’s name, how were the people to know if the prophets were true or not? God did speak through prophets, and yet there were prophets that said they were speaking in God’s name, but weren’t. How were they supposed to know which ones were true and which were false?
A: As we’ve been reading through the Bible we have seen examples of this very problem in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and to some extent we continue to wrestle with this problem in our time today. Already in the Old Testament, sometimes prophets were given the authority to perform miraculous signs that would show the people that they spoke as God’s representatives, and other times people had to wait and see which prophet’s prophecy came to pass. Neither of those methods was foolproof, however, as you might recall pharaoh’s magicians with their secret arts performed some of the same miraculous signs that Moses did, and some prophecies took a long time to be fulfilled. As God’s Word was written down and came to have its own authority, it took on a role as a standard against which a prophet’s words could be judged to see if those words were consistent with what was known to be God’s Word. In the New Testament, we recall Jesus’ and the apostles’ miracles that gave authority to their words, and we can also think of prophecies the truth of which was only evident after they were fulfilled. Especially in the time covered by the New Testament writings we notice a decrease in the need for the signs to testify to the authority of the spoken word as the authority of the written Word increased. In our time today, we continue to have miraculous signs such as Baptism, Absolution, and the Supper, and we also have a very authoritative Word with which, by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we are able to judge which words are spoken by the successors to the prophets and which are spoken by those who falsely claim that status. And in our time, as in both Old and New Testament Biblical times, the truth of any prophet’s statements will ultimately only be revealed and obvious to all when the Lord returns and faith has turned to sight. Back to Top

Q: As you anticipated, I am somewhat surprised at Jeremiah’s prayers to God to punish his enemies, such as those in Jeremiah 18:21-23. (I am sure there are many other places in the Bible that this is the case also.) It doesn’t seem right that one (especially Jeremiah, a prophet of God) should pray for bad things to happen to someone, even if they are his enemies!
A: As just one example, the psalms are full of prayers, like those we find in Jeremiah, for God to execute His judgment and righteous wrath and reveal just who is on His side and who is not. I imagine Jeremiah was a little confused how to pray, since God told him not to intercede for the people. I think we all can identify with Jeremiah reacting to his enemies’ oppression by wanting God to deliver him, even if in the process wrath was poured out on them. While to the extent that Jeremiah is sinful there may be a little bit of wanting vengeance on his enemies, but I do not think Jeremiah is completely praying that something bad happen to his enemies but instead is zealous for God’s truth and wants people to know what is true and what is not. Remember that while we tend to think of punishment as bad, the goal of God’s discipline is good: repentance and faith. Back to Top

Q: After reading the previous comments on Jeremiah 19, I looked again at Leviticus and at the picture with the current post on the chapters. I can see breaking a piece of pottery like one of those amphora if a lizard or some such was in and out of it. You couldn’t know what else was in it. But, they seem to have broken a lot of pottery, whereas other things could be washed and be OK. Was most of the pottery unglazed, so that it could soak up whatever was put into it and so be polluted past further use?
A: The kind of “jar” referred to in Jeremiah 19:1 is said to be a vessel with a narrow neck, so the picture may have been relatively accurate. The Bible refers to drying and firing the potter’s product (Psalm 22:15), and it also refers to glazing it (Proverbs 26:23 [decorations on the outside?]). Without specifying glazed or unglazed, at least one commentator refers to the product as porous, so I’m not sure how much absorption glaze may have blocked. The absorption seems to have worked both ways: fat of holy things and uncleanness of unclean things, resulting in breakage, that commentator says, “when contacted by either holiness or uncleanness” (I think he means to refer to Leviticus 6:28; 15:12; and Numbers 19:15). By the way, I don’t think I previously commented or even noticed the contrast between the moist and pliable clay in Jeremiah 18 and the hard and unsuitable clay in chapter 19. Of course, in chapter 18 the clay is raw as a vessel is being made, and in chapter 19 the clay is dried and fired as the vessel is finished. From God's perspective and the meaning of the prophetic action, the vessel in chapter 19 cannot be reformed, like the people left in Judah and Jerusalem, it is unsuitable for use and can only be destroyed.
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