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Propitiation: What It Means, and Simpler Translation Possibilities

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post that brought up the subject of propitiation, but at that time, I didn’t write anything about the meaning of the word propitiation because it wasn’t necessary to do so in order to make the point of that particular post. Propitiation is a good word, but it’s not one that’s used in everyday language, is it? I’d be willing to bet that if you did street interviews asking random people to define propitiation, you’d go a long time before you found someone who could define it properly.
So what does it mean? It’s a word that’s used in some versions of the Bible in the translation of a family of Greek words: hilasmos and other words related to it. It may be that you use a translation that doesn’t used the word propitiation at all, since many versions make other translational choices. Still, it’s a good thing to understand what it means, at the very least in order to understand this facet of what Christ’s death accomplished for us.
Propitiation and the Greek words it translates have to do with turning away or appeasing anger. It has everything to do with dealing with anger or wrath, and in the New Testament, it’s God’s wrath that is being turned away or propitiated. Propitiation is a personal word. Let me quote Leon Morris:

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Recipe Round Up: Volunteer or Comment

recipe%20round%20up.JPGThis is the place for asking questions, making comments, or giving recommendation for the Recipe Round Up

Thinking of volunteering to host an upcoming round up? This is the place for that, too.  For details on which months are still available for hosting, go here.


By Faith Moses

This is the thirteenth post in a series from Hebrews 11. You’ll find all the posts done so far in this series listed here.

After writing of the faith of Moses’ parents, the author of Hebrews turns his focus to  the faith of Moses himself. Skipping right over the rest of the story of Moses as a baby—how he was put in the basket by his mother, only to be found by Pharoah’s daughter, who raised him as her son—starts his commentary on Moses’ faith with Moses as a grown man.

By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s anger, for he persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the one who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. (Hebrews 11:24-28 NET)

When Moses was grown, he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” As Pharoah’s daughter’s son, Moses had everything that most people want and more. Egypt was a super power, and as a member of the royal family, he would have both wealth and position guaranteed to him. But he gave it all up in order to “be ill-treated with the people of God.” Like Joseph before him, he identified himself with God’s people, and for Moses that meant giving up much.

Our text calls what he gave up “sin’s fleeting pleasure.” This doesn’t mean that Moses was particularly debauched while he was in Pharoah’s family, but rather, that had he continued to identify with the royal family instead of the people of Israel, it would have been disobedient to what God asked of him. He would have continued living a life of wealth and power, two pleasures that are temporal rather than eternal. But Moses looked beyond temporal pleasures to things of eternal value, and chose to place himself with the people of God rather than the royal family of Egypt.

Moses considered “abuse suffered for Christ” to be of more value than “the treasures of Egypt”. There are a couple of explanations for what it might mean that Moses suffered abuse for Christ. Christ had not been born yet, so in what way could Moses have suffered abuse for him? Some people think it simply means that Moses suffered the same sort of abuse that Christ suffered. Others point out that Moses suffered for God’s people, and any suffering for God’s people is suffering for Christ, who has always been united with God’s people. One of the purposes of book of Hebrews is to call believers to remain standing with Christ and with God’s people in the face of suffering and persecution, and Moses, then, would serve as an example of someone who has persevered in that.

Moses knew what the treasures of Egypt were, because they had been his, but he gave them up for the reward from God that goes to his people. Literally, the text says that “he was looking away to” the reward. He understood the true value of God’s reward, so he understood that it was worth more than any material wealth or any status in the earthly realm, and this reward from God was what he focused on instead of the things he’d had in Egypt.

Then the text tells us that “by faith he left Egypt.” Some may disagree, but I would take this leaving Egypt to be Moses’s first exit when he went to stay in Midian, since the writer seems to put this leaving chronologically before the Passover. There ia a small problem in that the text says that Moses left Egypt “without fearing the king’s anger,” while we are told in the Exodus account of Moses’ life that “Moses was afraid (Exodus 2:14).” This fear, however, was not the motivating factor behind his leaving Egypt according our author. Rather, Moses “persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible.” His stay in Midian, then, was one of faithful waiting for God’s intervention on behalf of his own people.

Next, the text moves to the Passover as an example of Moses’s faith. Thus far, none of the plagues had worked to cause Pharoah to let the Israelites go, but Moses remained faithful. He urged the people to keep the Passover, and sprinkle blood on their doorposts so that their firstborn sons would be spared this last plague. And his perseverance in faith was not in vain, for this time Pharoah let the Israelite people leave Egypt.

Moses was one of the people of old who was sure of the invisible. He trusted in the invisible workings of an invisible God, so he was commended by God, and the author of Hebrews includes him in his list of people of faith.


By Faith Moses' Parents

This is the eleventh post in a series from Hebrews 11. You’ll find all the posts done so far in this series listed here.

After he shows us the faith of the patriarchs, the author of Hebrews moves on to Moses, beginning with the faith of Moses’ parents.

By faith, when Moses was born, his parents hid him for three months, because they saw the child was beautiful and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. (Hebrews 11:23 NET)
Do you remember the circumstances surrounding the birth of Moses? The king of Egypt had become afraid of the potential power of the Israelite people and had ordered that all Israelite sons born be thrown into the river (Exodus 1:22). When Moses was born, instead of obeying the king’s command, his parents hid him for three months (Exodus 2:1-2). When you read the Exodus account, you’ll notice it’s his mother who is singled out—she saw that he was a fine child, so she hid him—but the writer of Hebrews attributes this to both parents. It may be that it was primarily his mother who kept little Moses hidden, but it would have required nothing less than consent from her husband. Moses could not have been concealed in the house without his father knowing and approving of it.

Why did Moses’ parents decide to disobey the king’s edict and hide him? Because they saw he was a beautiful child. Those are mysterious words and I’m not sure exactly all that they mean, but at the very least, they saw that this little one had value. Perhaps they had some inkling of God”s special purpose for him.

We can assume that there were severe consequences for anyone who defied the edict of the king, but because of their faith Moses’ parents were not afraid of them. They trusted God in the face of possible punishment and did what they believed was right, preserving the life of their young son. And for this they are included in the list of faithful people of old. They are two people we can look to as examples of faith that perseveres through difficulties.

By Faith Jacob

This is the tenth post in a series from Hebrews 11. You’ll find all the posts done so far in this series listed here.

Next up in our Hebrews 11 list of the Old Testament faithful is Jacob. Here’s what we read:

By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshiped as he leaned on his staff. (Hebrews 11:21 NET)

You’ll find the story of Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons in Genesis 48. If you read through the chapter you’ll see a couple of odd things. First of all, Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons, who were really his grandsons, as if they were his own sons.

Now, as for your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, they will be mine. Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine just as Reuben and Simeon are. Any children that you father after them will be yours; they will be listed under the names of their brothers in their inheritance. (Genesis 48:5,6 NET)

And then he purposefully gives the youngest son the firstborn blessing, crossing his hands as he put them on their heads, so that Ephriam, the youngest, has Jacob’s right hand, and Manasseh, the oldest, his left. When Joseph tries to correct things, Jacob insists on doing things this way because he knows that the “younger brother will be even greater and his descendants will become a multitude of nations (Genesis 48: 19).”

This blessing by Jacob, with it’s unexpected features, shows Jacob’s acknowledgment that God fulfills his promises and works his purposes in his own way, and not necessarily according to what people think it ought to be done. And like Abraham and Isaac before him, here at the end of his life Jacob remains confident in the future fulfillment of the promises of God to him.

The writer gives us one more example of Jacob’s faith. At the end of his life, he “worshiped as he leaned on his staff.” If you go back to Genesis looking for the account of this act of worship, you might have trouble finding it. It’s there, right at the end of Genesis 47, but your translation probably says something like this: “…Israel bowed down at the head of his bed.” The quote found here in Hebrews follows the text of the Septuagint, which at this point is different than the Masoretic Hebrew text we use for our Old Testament. Remember that ancient Hebrew was written with no vowels, and those who translated it into the Greek of the Septuagint supplied a set of vowels to come up with the Hebrew word for “staff”, while the text our Old Testament is based on uses a different set of vowels to make the same set of letters read “bed”.  Either way, the point is the same: Jacob worshiped God at the end of his life, right after he asked Joseph to make sure that his body was buried back in Canaan with his fathers. And that act of worship was evidence of Jacob’s faith.