Lighting and Large Families

Last year, after several storms of biblical proportions in my area, we went through a long string of days without electricity. Lacking camping equipment, I had to make do with candles in my house. I was astounded by how dark nighttime really is. Electricity has bamboozled those of us who have grown up in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries into believing that evenings aren’t all that different from daytime hours. But the darkness is truly impenetrable once the sun sets. There is a kind of pitch black to which your eyes don’t grow accustomed. Candles can’t stand up to the all-consuming power of it. You need a lot of candles to light the room enough to be able to read, even a little, for example.

 

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Of course, in biblical times they did not have candles. They weren’t invented yet. They had lamps, usually made of pottery, with a linen wick, which burned olive or other oil. If they could afford it, they let one lamp burn through the night.

But you can imagine the heavy darkness that blanketed their world come sunset. A few lamps hardly made a dent. That’s probably why they often had such large families. Everyone looked attractive in that lighting, which is why when you want a romantic atmosphere, you dim the lights and light candles. Besides, there wasn’t much else to do. There were no reruns of Matlock, and Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t written Sherlock Holmes yet. People went to bed early and woke up early, either with the rising of the sun, or just before (another reason I am glad I wasn’t born then.)

To avoid fires, they placed these lamps on lampstands if they could afford one. The common folk simply over-turned a bushel and used that as a lampstand. That’s why Jesus said people don’t light a lamp and put it under a bushel; that lamp gives light to all in the house. (Matthew 5: 14 -16) It would have struck the people living in biblical times as an absurd picture to put your lamp under your bushel basket. In the same way, Jesus says that His followers are the light of the world, and they must burn bright like a lamp that lightens the community around them.

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Animals in Biblical Times

Although Jesus never had a pet that we know of, He does talk a fair bit about animals. For example, He says that not a single sparrow is forgotten before God (Luke 12:6). There are almost 100 animals named in the Bible, although we can’t identify some of these creatures with certainty due to linguistic challenges. The animals that most often occupy the average person’s world today–dogs and cats–don’t hold a very important place in the Bible. A few animals in the Bible are worthy of special mention:

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Eagle

Because of its great wingspan, an eagle is able to soar higher than most birds, flying above storms and dangerous weather patterns. In addition, if you watch an eagle fly, you will notice very little flapping as it spreads its wings; this helps the eagle conserve energy. The faithful are promised that if they wait upon the Lord, they shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31). Like the eagle, if you wait upon the Lord, you’ll be able to mount so high that you will bypass many storms, and while mid the flights of life, you won’t grow weary easily. On the other hand, if you rely solely on your own strength, you might find yourself more like the Dodo bird, unable to fly and on your way to extinction.

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Lion

There are two famous lions in the Bible. There is the one we should be wary of—our adversary the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8)—and the one we should turn to, the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5), who is Jesus. The good news is that compared to the Lion of Judah, the roaring lion is just a little mewling cat.

 

Foxes

Foxes aren’t looked upon kindly in the Bible. They are little and wily and often destructive. In the Song of Solomon, we are told to catch the foxes, “the little foxes that spoil the vineyards.” (Song of Solomon 2: 15). Foxes ruin vines and destroy the fruit. In spite of their small size, they can cause a lot of damage. Do you have little foxes in your life? Things that seem inconsequential, but could be ruining your marriage, your finances, your character, or your relationship with God?

 

Sheep

One of the animals that gets a lot of attention in the Bible is sheep. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd and David calls the Lord his shepherd. This makes you and me sheep, which isn’t a bad deal when you consider the shepherd’s role as protector and provider. The sheep don’t get to lie around and be lazy. They have to be willing to be led to green pastures, something not easy to find in the plains of Israel. But if the sheep cooperate, a wise and good shepherd can lead them where they know no want and the waters are still.

 

Balaam’s Donkey

Upon occasion, Biblical animals appear to be smarter than the humans. This is a trend that seems to continue in our world today when you consider the behavior of some people. Balaam’s donkey was such an animal. Balaam was a prophet during the time of conquest. When Israel encamped the plains of Moab, the King of Moab, Balak, sent for Balaam, expressly to have him curse Israel (Numbers 22). The Lord told Balaam not to go, but eventually, Balaam gave in and went. On the way, God sent His angel to prevent Balaam from going. Balaam’s donkey saw the angel and tried to avoid him, knowing that the life of her master was in danger. Three times he did this and Balaam, who wasn’t as wise as his donkey and missed the presence of the angel, hit his donkey in frustration. Finally, the donkey opened her mouth with God’s help and said, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” and she pointed out the angel to Balaam. After that, Balaam straightened out his act and instead of cursing Israel, he blessed them four times.

This means if you are too stupid to listen to God, He can make even a donkey speak up to sort you out. Whenever I have to speak publicly, I find comfort in the fact that God opened the mouth of Balaam’s donkey. If a donkey can speak sense with God’s help, then so can you and I.

 

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Foot Washing

Nowadays when you visit someone’s home, you don’t expect anyone to wash your feet. Frankly, it would be rather awkward if someone offered, and might be cause for a 911 call. In the time of Jesus, however, foot washing was an expected part of hospitality. The reason for this may not be instantly recognizable to those of us living in developed countries. But it was a real necessity back then.

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Here is a modern day glimpse into why foot washing was such a big deal in Jesus’ day:

The town I live in used to be rural, with lots of farmland and fruit orchards. Some of that land is still cultivated, and you can enjoy fresh fruit and produce from town. We also have a few horse farms and our residents like riding. Once the weather turns pleasant, horseback riders are a common sight in the country roads. They often leave a steamy, rather pungent gift behind them, and you have to be careful where you step.

In the glaring absence of Fords, Subarus, and Toyotas during Jesus’s day, what they had a lot of was oxen, horses, donkeys, camels, and asses. In addition, flocks of sheep were moved from country paddocks into the city for sale. Not to put too fine a point on it, there was a lot of poop on the road. Carts would unintentionally spread the goods around to make sure the walking citizenry didn’t miss their chance at stepping on some aromatic treasure.

Even if you had just left one of the roman baths, all clean and shining with perfumed oils, by the time you arrived home, your sandaled feet would be already filthy. Because your feet weren’t merely dirty with the dust of the road, cleaning them was considered a truly nasty job, relegated to slaves.

You can imagine how incredible it was when Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist and knelt down to wash His disciples’ feet. He was choosing to wash the dirtiest part of them, the most disgusting, off putting, smelly part of them. The astonishing thing is that He hasn’t stopped doing that. He is still looking for our smelliest, dirtiest bits; He is still kneeling down before you and me and washing away, until He calls us clean.

 

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Biblical Marriage

Marriages were often arranged in biblical times. Even Adam’s marriage was arranged by his Father, although he was given considerably less choice in the matter than the rest of us, since there was only the one woman to pick from. On the other hand, this reduced the chances of his getting it wrong. So although they got kicked out of Eden, at least Adam and Eve didn’t end up divorcing, which is good as God had not gotten round to creating divorce lawyers yet. Of course, they probably thought about it once the kids started acting out, murdering each other and naughty things like that.

Romance and personal desire were not the most important factors in choosing your spouse back in the days of the Bible. That did not mean that love and passion were completely unheard of. If you don’t believe me, read Proverbs 5:18-19.

Back then, people were concerned with things like family connections and increasing wealth and land through marriage. It may sound mercenary, but really it was a matter of survival. Parents arranged marriages quite early, so that men and women would often be married in their teenage years. Although polygamous marriages were common in the Old Testament era among those wealthy enough to support more than one wife (think Jacob, David, Solomon), by the time of the early church, it was already frowned upon.

Parents had a big role in securing a spouse for their children. The father of a young single man would look around for a suitable girl, and finding one, would go to her parents’ house to ask for her hand. A lot of financial haggling couched in subtle diplomatic language later, and the betrothal would take place after settling on a bride price. Although the betrothal was an airtight legal document, much more serious than our present day engagements, the marriage was not consummated until the wedding day.

 

When the betrothal was sealed, the prospective bridegroom would tell his bride: I go to prepare a place for you, which is exactly what Jesus told His disciples before being crucified. The bridegroom would spend several months to a year preparing a nice little addition to his Dad’s house, where he and his wife would live. Then he would return, often in the middle of the night to surprise his bride and fetch her home. And that is what Jesus will do for His bride, the church.

As a single woman, I find the old custom of arranged marriages both horrifying and strangely appealing. The thought of the kind of men my father might drag to my door is truly chilling. On the other hand, all the pressure would be off. So, maybe, not as bad as it sounds.

 

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Coco Chanel and Biblical fashion

Have you ever woken up in the morning and wondered what you were going to wear? The average woman in biblical times would not have had that problem. Her wardrobe was simply too limited. She might have a change of clothes or two. But that was about it. Coco Chanel and Prada would have wept daily.

 

Design by Coco Chanel

Design by Coco Chanel

Because fabric is destroyed easily through the ravages of time, we don’t have a lot of archaeological evidence that would give us exact fashion descriptions from this period. As it so happens, all the copies of Vogue from the Biblical era have also been eradicated (probably by angry husbands with high credit card bills), which leaves us with basic information and a few educated guesses.

 

If you were not rich, you wore a tunic, usually wool and long, if you could afford the extra fabric. (Men also wore tunics, but theirs would be shorter.) This was a simple, shapeless garment without darts or tucks, cut straight on the sides, or sometimes woven as a whole, like Jesus’s garment for which the Roman soldiers gambled.

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Some women would have had embroidery on their garments, and the wealthier people would have been able to dress up their clothes with accessories such as earrings, armbands, and necklaces. In my visits to different museums around the world, I’ve seen a number of gems and precious metals favored by the people of biblical times, among them carnelian, gold, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. Many other gemstones are named in the Bible, as well.

At the height of summer, the temperature in parts of Israel can rise to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine wearing a big wool garment all the way to the floor, without even the comfort of deodorant. On the other hand, you were never expected to wear pantyhose, which must have been an act of grace from God, because as far as I am concerned, those things are an instrument of the devil.

 

When the weather turned colder, over the tunic you would wear a mantle, though not everyone could afford one. With a bigger budget, you could afford linen for the summer. And for the very rich, there was silk. Both men and women would wear a sash or belt—leather for the financially challenged, and linen or wool for everyone else. The sash worked like pockets, and you could tuck things inside.

 

Women generally wore a light veil that covered their hair, although they could remove it inside the house, and sometimes outdoors as well. The weather in the Middle East can be rough on the skin, and the veil helped protect your face.

 

We are a bit fuzzy when it comes to undergarments. They might have worn simple loincloths, or something along the lines of a short slip. The truth is that the Israelites weren’t in the habit of drawing pictures of women in their skivvies. We find our concepts from Egyptian drawings and Assyrian art. One thing for certain, Victoria’s Secret would have gone bust in the times of the Bible, which is not so tragic.

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Food in Biblical Times

What was the world of the Bible like? What did people eat? How did they travel? What did they wear?

My new series of blog posts are a humorous, somewhat accurate portrayal of that world. Much remains unknown about the lives of the people in the Old and New Testaments; we simply don’t know all the answers.

Here, we will focus on what we do know, and extrapolate on what we don’t. Join me as we explore one of the most fascinating periods of history.

Unless you were seriously wealthy, you would have found it a challenge to be overweight in Old Testament times. You couldn’t simply walk to Aldi’s or Trader Joe’s and buy a nice package of lettuce, already washed and cut up, or purchase deboned, skinless, and plucked chicken, conveniently ready for your recipe. You had to work hard for your food.

In the average household, women fetched the water, although there is evidence that men sometimes did this as well (Ruth 2:9). But it wasn’t common. Walking to the well could take a long time, depending on where your house was. Then you had to lug the water back, carried in a clay jar, either on top of your head, or held against your hip. This was no mean feat as the jar might grow quite heavy. Girls started doing this from a young age, which probably meant that by the time they turned twelve, they could whoop my sorry behind with one flick of their well-muscled arms.

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Your run of the mill person in the biblical era didn’t consume much meat. Depending on where they lived, they might eat fish. But for the most part, unless you were wealthy, you ate beans, lentils, wheat, and barley. Women used herbs and spices such as salt not only to add flavor to the food, but also to preserve it in the absence of refrigeration. There is evidence that women grew their own gardens, augmenting their diet by their own crops. Mint, dill, rosemary, cucumbers (Isaiah 1:8), and gourds (2Kings 4:39) might be cultivated. Capers grew wild as did onions. Capers couldn’t be eaten raw, and had to be pickled. For rich and poor alike, olive oil served as an essential part of the diet. A noted omission is chocolate, which did not exist in the Middle East until well after the discovery of the Americas. This might explain the bad mood Jezebel was in most of her life.

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Nuts such as almonds and pistachios are mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 43:11). Pomegranates, grapes, and apples (Song of Solomon 2:3) were among the fruits that were consumed fresh. In addition, dried fruits including figs, dates and raisins were popular, and honey was used as a sweetener as well as for medicinal purposes. In a world where making a fire was a big production, cooking took a long time. You had to grind the flour in hand mills, an undertaking not for your average wimp. If your family was large, you and your female companion could use a two-handed mill, which was bigger and more efficient. But if you were the only woman of the house, you better be good at prayer, or else have a second career as a sumo wrestler.

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The rich had servants, as they are wont to do regardless of the century, and only felt inconvenienced at mealtimes due to the flies that had no respect for their victims’ status. All in all, I prefer our ease when it comes to food, even though it means I have to go on a diet once in a while. Someone hand me the chocolate, please.

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‘Harvest of Gold’ Chapter 3

I am thrilled to announce the upcoming release of Harvest of Gold, book 2 in my biblical fiction Harvest series about Sarah, a brilliant scribe and cousin to prophet Nehemiah.

Harvest of Gold releases July 1, 2013. Click here to learn more about the book, read early reviews, and pre-order your copy.

I’m publishing the first three chapters of the book on my website in serial form. Click the links to read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. I invite you to download and print Chapter 3, share it on your social networks, or embed the whole thing on your own blog.

Harvest of Gold Chapter 3

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‘Harvest of Gold’ Chapter 2

I am thrilled to announce the upcoming release of Harvest of Gold, book 2 in my biblical fiction Harvest series about Sarah, a brilliant scribe and cousin to prophet Nehemiah.

Harvest of Gold releases July 1, 2013. Click here to learn more about the book, read early reviews, and pre-order your copy.

I’m publishing the first three chapters of the book on my website in serial form. Click here to read Chapter 1. Come back next week and visit my Serialized Novel page for Chapter 3.

I invite you to download and print this chapter, share it on your social networks, or embed the whole thing on your own blog.

Harvest of Gold Chapter 2

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Feast of Truth

Our culture is profoundly individualistic. That means that we look within to find meaning. We look within to find direction. We look within to find purpose. This is not the worldview of the Bible. And by the way, it wasn’t the worldview of most of the rest of this earth until about three hundred years ago. It’s a new phenomenon that we take for granted as truth. The culture of the Bible is quite reversed from this individualistic perspective. It presents us with a theocracy—a universe whose center, focus, source, and direction comes from God. Not from you.

You were created to dwell in the substantial reality of Christ in you and with you. Of Christ being over you, guiding you, leading you, feeding you. Your true self is the one that abides in Christ. Without the vine of Christ, there is no real you, but a fiction, a shell, a dying self. To the degree that you dwell in Christ, abide in Christ, to that degree you are your true self, to that degree you are dwelling in the truth about yourself, about others, and about God.

There is a feast before you. A feast of truth. A feast that satisfies. It’s the feast of God. Eat your fill, my friends.

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‘Harvest of Gold’ Chapter 1

I am thrilled to announce the upcoming release of Harvest of Gold, book 2 in my biblical fiction Harvest series about Sarah, a brilliant scribe and cousin to prophet Nehemiah.

Harvest of Gold releases July 1, 2013. Click here to learn more about the book, read early reviews, and pre-order your copy.

Directly below, you’ll get a sneak peek at Chapter 1. Come back next week and visit my Serialized Novel page for more free chapters.

I invite you to download and print this chapter, share it on your social networks, or embed the whole thing on your own blog.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think of Chapter 1!

Harvest of Gold Chapter 1

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