BSF Study Questions Matthew Lesson 15, Day 2: Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29

Summary of passages:  Matthew 14:1-12:  Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead and that is why he can perform miracles.  Herod had John arrested previously because John was telling the people his marriage wasn’t lawful since he had married his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Herod wanted to kill John but was afraid of repercussions from the people.

On Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for them and Herod was so pleased that he swore an oath she could have whatever she wished for at that moment.  Her mother told her to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  Herod was trapped and had to do it since he swore in oath in front of his dinner guests.

Hence, John the Baptist was beheaded and his head brought in on a platter, which Herodias received from her daughter.  John’s disciples came, buried him, and brought the news to Jesus.

Mark 6:14-29:  When Herod heard about Jesus, some were saying Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead or Elijah or a prophet.  Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected for he had him bound and thrown in prison for speaking out against his marriage to his brother Phillip’s wife, Herodias.  She nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him but she couldn’t figure out how since Herod liked John and protected him.

On Herod’s birthday he had a big party where Herodias’ daughter danced so well that Herod promised to give her whatever she asked for up to half his kingdom.  She asked her mother what to ask for and her mother said, “The head of John the Baptist.”  Herod’s hands were tied so despite his distress he granted her wish.  John was beheaded, given to Herodias’ daughter and his body buried.

Questions:

3a)  This is a hard question since all we have to go off of is this one example in the Bible. Obviously, not good.  She made her daughter commit murder (against the Ten Commandments) and a blatant disregard for God’s chosen people.  Of course, they were Roman so they did not believe in God so we shouldn’t expect much from them.  She used her daughter and made her just as much of a sinner as herself.  Thus, she had no regard for her daughter’s moral or spiritual upbringing.  We could also postulate and she made her daughter dance provocatively for the men. We are not told why a princess who normally wouldn’t degrade herself in such a way did.

b)  She nursed a grudge against John for his disapproval of her marriage and wanted to kill him. She committed murder in her heart before the actual deed.  And she carried a grudge when she should have forgiven.

4a)  Herod had an open mind and heart towards John.  He liked to listen to what John was saying.  He was a seeker, wanting to find out more about this King who was coming.  He protected John because he could see he was a holy and righteous man.  He also feared repercussions if he did kill John as well so it was political and spiritual.

b)  Herod feared man more than he feared God (Matthew 14:9; Mark 6:26).  He cared more about his reputation and what others would think of him than he did of doing what was right and what God would think of his actions.  In the end, he followed man’s laws instead of God’s.

c)  This is difficult to answer as we are not a Roman leader in first century AD.  Obviously, as Christians, we say no.  Herod shouldn’t have killed John the Baptist for several reasons.  One, it was murder (against God’s laws).  Two, it was the morally wrong thing to do with no valid reason except the whim of a girl for John was not guilty of any crime and had no trial.  Three, there could have been riots from the people over John’s death.  So there were many reasons not to kill John.

Yet on a personal level, Herod did have John killed.  As a ruler, especially a Roman ruler, your word was your power.  If you said you were going to do something, you kept your word. Otherwise, you were considered unworthy to rule.  Here, Herod was trapped.  He had sworn an oath and in those times he had to keep it or face losing his position.  There were too many witnesses to go back on your word.  Herod was tricked, trapped, and outwitted.  He had no choice 2000 years ago.

Note:  Some scholars say this shows Herod feared his wife as well to honor her wishes and that she held political power as well.

d)  Jesus was performing all these miracles that the people had never before seen.  They were looking for an earthly explanation for these miracles and the superstitious people were saying how Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah or another prophet.  Herod was confused and John the Baptist had been the most powerful man he had known in terms of miracles so the assumption made sense in those times.

Herod could also have been overwhelmed by guilt of killing John (I think this one unlikely). Some scholars say John the Baptist and Jesus did in fact resemble one another.  This would make more sense since they were in fact related.

5a)  As a fox (a Jewish expression at the time for a worthless or insignificant person).

b)  Jesus gave no answer to Herod.  He said not one word.

c)  Personal Question.  My answer:  That Herod was not worth Jesus’ time.  Jesus knew nothing he would say to Herod would make any difference in his life so Jesus just didn’t bother.  He knew Herod for what he was:  a worthless soul, heartless, one who would not change.

6)  Personal Question.  My answer:  Truthfully, I don’t see a progress of sin.  In my opinion, both Herod and Herodias were evil from the start.  Their sins do not surprise me.

Note:  We don’t see a progress of sin with Herodias since this is the only place in the Bible she is mentioned so this question should not apply to her.

As we learn in Matthew, Herod was a Roman tetrarch, a ruler.  One did not become a Roman ruler by being kind to others.  Roman rulers were ruthless, greedy, power-hungry men who did everything to obtain and keep their power.  Their crimes were many and unspeakable.  They killed hundreds and thousands of people just because they could.  They were heartless and brutal. Their crimes nor their sins should not shock us.

Conclusions:  Herod and Herodias’ sin does not affect me personally nor does it warn me for I am not comparing myself to them.  They were pagans, unbelievers and as a Christian I am held to a higher standard than them so comparing our lives is a fruitless endeavor.  I think the intent of question 6 was good but the specificity was not.

The message we should take away is to be wary of putting man’s laws above God’s.  To be wary of pleasing man instead of God.  To not give in to peer pressure.  To do what is right in God’s eyes and not man’s always.  God first, man a dismal last.

I liked Jesus’ example of not even deigning to address Herod.  We should have the same reaction to others who criticize our beliefs or challenge our lives or methods if we are following Jesus. Sometimes, the effort is futile and if we can recognize that in our own lives, we will save ourselves a lot of grief–especially with family members.

End Notes:  We must remember the times.  In the first century AD, murder was rampant.  The Roman Empire ruled the entire known world at the time.  They were brutal and ruthless.  No one challenged the Empire without risk to life as we see with John the Baptist.  To the ordinary people of the time, murder and death were all around them.  They would not have been shocked by a head on a platter as we would be today.  Nor would the request have seemed odd at the time.  These were pagan people who worshipped pagan gods.  They did as they (or the devil) pleased.  Jesus came at this time to be the light in such a dark world.  And he continues to shine today.

Herod:  This Herod is Herod the tetrarch, also known as Herod Agrippa (or even Herod Antipas).  He was one of Herod the Great’s sons who wasn’t murdered by his crazy dad.  When his dad died, he ruled Galilee.  Hence, we see him in Luke because he was handed over to Herod by Pilate because Jesus was from Galilee so Pilate wanted him to deal with Jesus.  Pilate did not want to kill Jesus and tried everything he could to get out of it including trying to have Herod deal with him (Luke 23:6-7).  [This is explained beautifully in Killing Jesus by the way.]

Tetrarch is a Greek word meaning “ruler of a fourth part” but it came to be used more commonly for a ruler below the Roman Emperor.  Herod actually asked the Roman Emperor Caligula (crazy himself) for the title of king and was refused.

Herod’s brother, Archaleus, ruled the south and his other brother Philip, ruled the north.

Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate when Jesus refused to perform a miracle.

Background on John:  As you may remember, John did speak out against Herod’s marriage (Luke 3:19-20).  Herod divorced his first wife, a princess of a neighboring kingdom, to take his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias.  The father of Herod’s first wife would later take revenge and attack Herod and defeat him in battle.  Later, Herod’s other brother, Agrippa, accused him of treason against Rome so he was banished to Gaul.  In Gaul, he and his wife, Herodias, committed suicide–a fitting end.

Background on Herodias:  She was Herod the Great’s grandaughter.  Hence, she married her uncle when she married Philip and they had Salome together according to the historian Josephus.

Is Salome the “daughter of Herodias” in this passage?  This is a popular belief but since no name is given to the girl in this passage, this belief is wrong despite modern labeling as such.  It is believed Herodias had a daughter with Philip named Salome but there is no Biblical proof this Salome was the dancer.  She could have been but we do not know.

We can assume the daughter of Herodias is dirty dancing here–enough to appeal to the men’s sexuality and obtain a promise for whatever she wishes for.

Herodias had this planned.  She knew her husband and the situation.  She used her daughter.  She demanded it to be done immediately in front of all the guests so Herod couldn’t go back on his word privately.  She was pure evil, plain and simple.

You cannot hold someone to an oath when the request is nefarious.  The oath is then null and void.  Yet, to save face, Herod caved.  The question for us is then:  will we?

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BSF Study Questions Genesis Lesson 15, Day 2: Genesis 16:1-6

Summary of passage:  Since Sarai had had no children, she told Abram to sleep with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, so she could have a family through her (as was the custom the child would be considered Sarai’s).  Abram agreed and after 10 years of living in Canaan after Egypt Hagar conceived.

Hagar began to despise Sarai (perhaps resentment or now she wants to usurp Sarai’s position since she is carrying an heir or pain that the child will not be considered hers) and Sarai (like woman do) blamed her husband.  Sarai says let God be the judge.

Abram tells Sarai that she can do what she wants with Hagar since Hagar is her servant. Sarai, acting out of her anger and not God’s love, mistreated her and Sarai fled.

Questions:

3a)  Since she herself couldn’t have children she offered her maidservant, Hagar, to stand in her place and give Abram the promised children from God.

b)  Genesis 15:4:  “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”

c)  Their faith was in they believed Abram would have a legitimate heir from his body but their unbelief came in believing Sarai would be the mother.  Based on both Sarai’s and Abram’s actions, neither believed Sarai could have a child.

4a)  Immediate:  the dissension, anger, contention, and mistrust that arose between Sarai and Hagar so much so that Hagar fled.

Long-term:  Hagar’s son, Ishmael, would be the father of the Arabs–those that surround Israel today and are the founders of Islam (Genesis 16:15).  After Isaac was born, the true son of Sarai, Sarai became jealous of Ishmael and drove both Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:8-20).  Ishmael’s daughter would marry Abram’s grandson, Esau (Genesis 36:3).

Today:  Ishmael is the father of all Arabs so the entire conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere stems from this one sin where Abram and Sarai tried to help God out, resulting in “sibling rivalry” between Jews and Arabs all throughout history and to this day.

b)  In the same way as Sarai and Abram did and Jacob did when he stole Esau’s blessing and Moses did when he murdered the Egyptian.  We come up with human solutions that are often sinful (taking another woman outside of the covenant of marriage even though it may be accepted by society) that we think will yield God’s promised results.  And they never do.

Faith is all that is required.  And patience for God to work.  If we remember God doesn’t need our help, we’d all be better off.

c)  Personal Question.  My answer:  This is a hard one because I cannot see the long-term effects of my choices it seems.  I do know I am very impatient and very opinionated and most of the time I speak before I should when I get angry when it would have been better if I had said nothing at all.  Or I act hastily and then regret my decision.  This is seen in the little things of my life.

Conclusions:  Do you think Sarai wondered if she were good enough to have a son?  She obviously had low self-esteem or not enough faith (probably both) in order to offer up her maidservant to her husband.  Yet it shows the love she must have had for Abram; she loved him enough in order to give him a promised child not through her.  How many of us women would do that today?

This mistake I think we all make:  we get impatient and don’t trust God enough to set things right (or we have a mistaken idea of what ‘right’ is).  In this instance though, it was a grave mistake.  A child is a human being and messing around with God’s HUGE promise of creating nations had ramifications that changed history and last until this day.

Personal sin always affects those around you (and others not so close) and invades your relationships.  The profound consequences of the sin here of Abram and Sarai should be a lesson for us all.

End Note:  Apparently, back then Hagar would actually have sat on Sarai’s lap as Abram inseminated her to symbolically show that the child would be Sarai’s upon its birth and that Sarai was only the surrogate mother.  No wonder Hagar was upset!

I was appalled when Sarai blamed Abram for her “suffering” in verse 5.  It was her idea, not Abram’s!  He was probably only trying to appease her!  Which was true:  Abram did appease Sarai–the problem was he shouldn’t have.

As the man and head of the family, Abram should not have agreed to Sarai’s plan so in some sense she does have a right to blame him.  He should have been “logical” when Sarai was “too emotional” to think straight.  (Sound familiar?)  He should have had the faith to wait on God when she didn’t.

Same goes for allowing Sarai to mistreat Hagar (verse 6).  I totally disagree with this.  As the head, Abram should have dealt with Hagar since Sarai was blinded by emotion. Again, Abram deferred to his wife, which only caused more conflict and strife.

BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 15, Day 2: 1 Thessalonians 1 with Acts 17:1-10

Summary of passages:  1 Thessalonians 1:  Paul writes to the church in Thessalonians (a church he founded), telling them he thanks God for them and prays for them, remembering how their work is produced by faith, their labor prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope in Jesus.

God has chosen them as evinced by the power of the Holy Spirit and their deep conviction.  They welcomed the message with joy despite suffering.  The Thessalonians then became a model for Macedonia and Achaia and everywhere.  It is known how the Thessalonians turned from idols to the One, True God and how they wait for his Son to return from heaven–the one who was raised from the dead–and who will rescue all from the coming wrath.

Acts 17:1-10:  Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica, explaining and proving Christ had to suffer and was raised from the dead.  Some of the Jews as well as Greeks were persuaded and joined Paul.  The the Jews were jealous of Paul’s success so they rounded up a mob and rioted in the city.  They searched for Paul and Silas but did not find them.  Instead, they dragged Jason (whom Paul was staying with) and others before city officials, saying they have defied Caesar by declaring a new king called Jesus.  The officials were not happy but they released Jason and the others on bond.

Thus, Paul and Silas had to flee to Berea, where they preached in the Jewish synagogue.

Questions:

3)  Chapter 1, Verse 10; Chapter 2:19, Chapter 3:13, Chapter 4:14-17, Chapter 5:2, 23

4)  Lord Jesus Christ (verse 3) and faith in God (verse 8)

5)  Personal Question.  My answer:  1 Thessalonians 1:3  because it reminds me of what my goals should be:  work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope in Lord Jesus Christ

Conclusions:  Easy day of looking up verses.  Good lesson on showing appreciation and lifting up people with words.  Paul uses God’s truths to encourage and sustain:  a lesson we all need to learn from.  “Thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers”, “work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by Jesus”, “He has chosen you”.

I think we can get so caught up in the hum-drum that we forget who we are working for:  God.  That we are doing God’s work no matter if it’s just a bank teller (a job I once held) or a grocery clerk.  That even when we’re pumping gas we can be God’s servant.

We forget how powerful God’s words are and how a simple “I will pray for you” can lift a stranger’s or a relative’s spirits.

How saying “I thank God for you” could be life-giving words to an unbeliever, someone who’s depressed, or is lacking direction in life.  I know there were times in my life where I was that desperate and those words could have impacted me dramatically.

Simple.  Effective.  Powerful.  Life-changing.

I think if I heard more, “He has chosen you,” from others I’d get a lot more accomplished, wouldn’t you?

End Note:  Once again, my favorite map, showing Thessalonica, Macedonia, and Achaia:

http://www.apostlepaulthefilm.com/paul/journey_02.htm

BSF Study Questions Isaiah Lesson 15, Day 2 Isaiah 36 & 2 Kings 18:1-16

Summary of passages:  Isaiah 36: The Field Commander of Assyria is planting fear in the hearts and minds of the people of Judah.  Assyria has conquered all the fortified cities of Judah and is now targeting Jerusalem and King Hezekiah.  The commander of Assyria’s forces stops at an Aqueduct and speaks to Hezekiah’s representatives:  Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah.  The commander says Egypt will not save them and neither will God.  Didn’t Hezekiah remove all of the altars to worship God?  Make a bargain with Assyria because it was God himself who told me to march against you and destroy Judah.  He yells at the people:  Do not listen to your king, Hezekiah.  Do not listen when he says to trust in the Lord.  Make peace with the King of Assyria and you will live in a land of bread and vineyards.  Then, the commander tries to discredit God by saying, “Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?  How can the Lord deliver Jerusalem?”  Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah report to Hezekiah the commander’s words.

2 Kings 18:1-16  Hezekiah is the King of Judah.  He reigned 29 years.  He did right in the eyes of the Lord.  He smashed the false altars to pagan gods and trusted in the Lord.  He kept the commandments and the Lord was with him.  During Hezekiah’s reign, Assyria took Samaria (capital of Israel) and deported the people to Assyria.  The Lord allowed this because Israel had not obeyed God’s commandments.  Ten years later Sennacherib, King of Assyria, sets his sights on Judah.  Hezekiah is afraid so he offers Assyria a ransom.  Assryia agrees and Hezekiah stripped the gold and silver from the temple of the Lord to pay Assyria.

Questions:

3a) Hezekiah becomes king.  He smashes pagan altars.  He trusts in the Lord and keeps His commandments.  God is with him in whatever he undertook.  Hezekiah defeated the Philistines.  Then Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, lays siege to Samaria (capital of Israel) and captures it and deports the people.  Later, Sennacherib, King of Assyria, attacks all the fortified cities of Judah and captures them, leaving Hezekiah afraid.

b) Isaiah predicts Babylon will capture Jerusalem, not Assyria (Isaiah 13-14).  Later, in 2 Kings 19, after this episode on the wall, we learn Jerusalem will be delivered from Assyria.

4a) He is trying to persuade Hezekiah to make a bargain by questioning how tiny Judah can possibly defeat powerful Assyria.  He says Egypt will not help and Hezekiah removed all the pagan altars so those gods won’t help.  Even the Lord himself told Assyria to attack them.  He is telling them they have no hope and no reliance on anyone to save them so they must save themselves by striking a bargain.

b) The officials did not want the people on the wall (commoners) to hear or understand what the commander was saying.  Most spoke and understood only Hebrew.  Aramaic only became common only after the Babylonian and Persian empires.

c) He hoped to turn the people against Hezekiah (hence he refused to stop speaking Hebrew) by striking fear into their souls and forcing Hezekiah to make “peace” with Assyria

5) Verses 14-15  The Lord will not deliver them or Jerusalem

Verse 16  The people will be better off (eat and drink better) if they make peace

Verse 18  Other gods did not deliver other nations we’ve conquered so why would your God?

6a) Simple:  Trust God for their deliverance or subject themselves to Assyria’s rule.

b) Personal Question.  My answer:  The need to have more and do more and material wealth–to put my trust in other things like a job or other people instead of total reliance on God to lead, to provide, to trust He knows more about my life than I do.

Conclusions:  My cup of tea–history.  It’s hard for me to understand how such a Godly man as Hezekiah would be so scared he’d strip the Lord’s temple.  And God proved his reliance by aiding in the Philistines defeat and prospering Judah when all around them Assyria was in destruction mode.  He must have been deathly afraid to do such an about-face.

Yet, Hezekiah is human as we all are.  We all do stupid things, especially under duress.  So I can see it but it’s hard to put myself in his shoes.

I found it interesting the Aramaic and Hebrew question.  When you’re reading something in English, it’s easy to picture everyone speaking English.  I never stop to think, “These people are speaking different languages.”  Aramaic was probably Jesus’s mother tongue (being raised around Galilee) but he probably spoke Hebrew and Greek as well and maybe even Latin.  Being such a uni-language society, we forget most people in the world (both then and now) spoke more than one language to differing degrees and if they were educated, they were taught Greek and Latin and their native language.  They had to:  they were constantly being conquered or threatened.  It was a matter of survival as well as a difference in education and world view.

End Note:  Hamath, Arpad, and Sepharvaim are all towns conquered by Assyria.  Sepharvaim was believed to be on the Euphrates in traditional Babylonia.  Arpad was in Syria.  Hamath was above Israel.  Here are the best maps I could find:

Hamath:  http://bibleatlas.org/regional/hamath.htm

Sepharvaim:  http://bibleatlas.org/regional/sepharvaim.htm

Arpad:  http://bibleatlas.org/regional/arpad.htm