Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Christian

God: Fill the earth and subdue it

July-17_WhenGodSaid 400pxThe earth is in trouble. Forests are disappearing. Rates of extinction for animals and plants are 1,000 times greater than before the industrial revolution. Every minute a garbage truck’s worth of plastic slips into the world’s oceans. By 2050 the amount of plastic by weight floating at various depths will equal the total amount of all fish (World Economic Forum report).

Recently, scientists have started calling our age the Anthropocene era – the first point in history in which humans have become the major environmental influence on the planet. Sadly, so much of our impact on the world is destructive of other forms of life.

Are we pleasing God? When God told us in Genesis – back in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, that we were to: Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.  … did God want us to care for creatures other than ourselves? Did He want us to care for plants and ecosystems? Or should we just focus on increasing the human population?

The answer to these questions is found in the same chapter of Genesis. As God looked at each part of His creation He declared it to be good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and very good (Gen. 1:31). Which means creation is not just good because it helps humans survive and thrive. It is also good in and of itself – having both instrumental and intrinsic goodness. And because we humans have been given the task of ruling creation it’s our responsibility to safeguard this intrinsic goodness. Which is terribly difficult. But then, making hard decisions is the lot of all rulers. As we balance competing interests, sacrifices will be inevitable.

Some may say that, since God promises ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ when Jesus returns, we shouldn’t be too bothered about this world. After all, isn’t it going to pass away? Yet that would be ignoring both God’s command and basic common sense. You see, since we have no timetable for Jesus’s return we must plan for both the short and long term. Indeed, our wait for Jesus could be a long time. Are we really happy to leave a toxic and treeless planet for our children’s children?

If you’ve only just realized the extent of your responsibility to God’s creation then please take action where you can. It’s your duty.

Bible Verse: Genesis 1:28 Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to be a wise ruler of your creation every day as I wait for Jesus to return.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, July 2017


Hallel: An anthem of praise and thanksgiving

National anthem 5 400pxA national anthem is a song that celebrates a nation’s history, struggles and traditions. It’s a patriotic song that’s sung at important events. The book of Psalms was the Israelites song book. They would have memorized these songs and sung them regularly. The Hallel psalms (113-118) were sung at their three main festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt. 16:1-17). They seem to be equivalent to a national anthem in ancient Israel.

The Lord’s Supper was instituted at the last supper when Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on the night before He was crucified. The Biblical account finishes, “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26NIV). The hymn they sang (chanted) was probably one of the Jewish Hallel (praise) psalms (Ps. 113-118). Apparently, Psalms 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal and Psalms 115-118 after the meal. So, the final song may have been Psalms 115-118 or Psalm 118. The Hebrew verb halal (Strongs #1984) means to praise, celebrate, glory or boast. And Hallelujah (hallel-Yah) means to praise Yahweh (the Hebrew word for God).

The Hallel psalms show that God’s people can look back and ahead with thanksgiving and praise. This pattern of songs of praise and thanksgiving can be traced back to the exodus (Ex. 15:1-21). After the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, the Israelites sang a “song to the Lord” about what God had just done (defeated their enemy) and what He was about to do (the conquest of Canaan).

Here’s a summary of the Hallel psalms.

Psalm 113

The theme is to praise God because He is great and gracious. To be gracious is to be kind and generous. He is great because He is matchless and omniscient (all knowing). He is gracious because he helped the needy then and He helps us in our spiritual need. So the Jews praised God because of His attributes and His actions. This psalm begins and ends with “Praise the Lord” (or hallelujah in Hebrew). We can also praise God for who He is and what He does. He is still great and His kindness is shown in the salvation He offers us through the sacrifice of Jesus. If you are needy, call upon the great God to be gracious to you.

Psalm 114

The theme is to respect God’s awesome power in the Exodus. His power was shown in crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan River. And in the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai that caused the Israelites to tremble in fear (Ex. 19:16-18). And providing water from a rock. These miracles were a demonstration of God’s power. We can also respect God’s awesome power shown in the miraculous resurrection of Jesus.

Before the meal

At the beginning of the annual Passover celebration, the Jews chanted psalms 113-114. This reminded them that their God was great and gracious and that this was demonstrated in the exodus. Like the Jews recalled psalms 113 -114 before the Passover meal, we can praise God when we recall God’s greatness and kindness shown in the salvation He offers us through the sacrifice of Jesus, and His awesome power shown in the miraculous resurrection of Jesus.

So, let’s praise the Lord – “Now and for evermore” and “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets” (Ps. 113:2-3). That means continually and everywhere! That’s what the Jews did in the Hallel and what Christians did in the early church (Acts 2:46-47).

Psalm 115

The theme is to praise the Lord for His love and faithfulness. The absence of miracles caused foreigners to question the existence of Israel’s God. But Israel’s invisible God is greater than their idols. God is trustworthy and will reward the Israelites. It looks ahead saying that God will bless those who trust in Him. And it ends with “Praise the Lord”. We can also praise the Lord for His love shown through the sacrifice of Jesus. Let’s glorify God in all we say and do (1 Cor. 10:31). And not use Him like an idol to get what we want. Are we willing to trust God in difficult circumstances?

Psalm 116

The theme is to praise God for deliverance from death. When in a dangerous situation, God heard the psalmist’s cry for help and he was rescued. His grateful response is to obey and serve the Lord. It ends with “Praise the Lord”. The Jews applied this psalm to their exodus from slavery in Egypt. We can also praise the Lord and obey and serve Him for our deliverance from spiritual death through Jesus and for the resultant spiritual blessings.

Psalm 117

The theme is for the Gentiles to praise God for His great love toward Israel. God’s love for Israel affects their destiny. It ends with “Praise the Lord”. Indeed, today God’s salvation is available to people of all nations. We can also praise God for His great love for us in the salvation He offers us through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Psalm 118  

The theme is to thank God for deliverance from enemies. He answered their call for help. The psalm begins and ends with thanksgiving, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever” (v.1, 29). The Israelites give thanks for deliverance and victory over their enemies (v.5-21). They repeat “God has become my salvation (or deliverer)” (v. 14, 21). They are reminded of the exodus (Ex. 15:2). God rescued them from their enemies. And they respond with rejoicing (v.22-27).

They sing, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22). This probably referred to the king who was now exalted instead of being rejected. It’s a metaphor that describes his changed circumstances. He was like a stone which was discarded by the builders as useless, but now he is important to God like the cornerstone of a building. Imagine Jesus singing “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” on the night before He was rejected and crucified. The Bible applies this verse to Jesus (Mt. 21:42; 23:39; Acts 4:11-12; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pt. 2:7). We can also apply it to Jesus. Let’s exalt Him in a world that rejects Him.

They also sing, “This is the day the Lord has brought about, we will be happy and rejoice in it” (v.24NET). They were rejoicing on the day of their victory and deliverance. Imagine Jesus singing “This is the day the Lord has brought about, we will be happy and rejoice in it” on the night before He was crucified. He brought about a great victory and deliverance for us that we can be happy and rejoice in.

They also sing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (v.26). This probably refers to the one who with God’s help has defeated the enemies. The crowds shouted these words during Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey (Mt. 21:9; Mk. 11:9; Lk. 19:38; Jn. 12:13). Imagine Jesus singing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” four days after the crowds had shouted it to Him and knowing what was about to happen! We can also apply it to Jesus. He indeed was sent by God the Father.

Psalm 118 ends with praise and thanksgiving, “You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you” (v. 28). And everyone joins in, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”. God delivered the Jews physically, while Jesus delivers us spiritually. Let’s praise and thank God for delivering us from the penalty and power of sin.

This psalm may also be sung at the second coming of Christ by those who believe in Him during the tribulation. In this case it celebrates God’s final victory over evil.

After the meal

Like the Jews recalled psalms 115 -118 after the Passover meal, we can praise the Lord for His love in delivering us from spiritual death (which is the penalty of our sin) through the sacrifice of Jesus. That was a great victory for which we should be grateful, thankful, and joyful. It also means to respond by obeying and serving the Lord. It’s a change from slavery to service.

An anthem of praise

In the Hallel we see that God raises the needy (113), delivers the oppressed (114), is superior to idols (115); receives personal praise (116), national praise (118) and will receive global praise (117). Praise is mentioned nine times and thanks is mentioned six times. And four of the six psalms finish with “Praise the Lord”. So the theme of the Jewish “national anthem” is praise and thanksgiving.

In the Hallel the Jews looked back with gratitude to God’s past acts of salvation (the exodus and the giving of the Torah) and ahead with confidence to God’s future blessings. We can also look back and look ahead. Back to Christ’s death and resurrection, which is God’s greatest act of salvation. And ahead to the finalization of our salvation when we leave this earth to meet the Lord in the air. And to when Christ returns as the powerful Messiah to establish His kingdom on earth. That’s why we can look back and ahead with thanksgiving and praise. What’s your anthem? Is it characterized by praise and thanksgiving?

Written, July 2017


Does God have a sense of humor?

According to the Macquarie dictionary a sense of humor is appreciating what’s amusing, funny or comical. A joke is an amusing or ridiculous circumstance. Laughter is usually normal and healthy, but there are times when it is not. For example, it can mask and trivialize sin (Jas. 4:9).

Of all God’s creatures, human beings alone possess a sense of humor. As they are also made in the image and likeness of God, I suggest that God is capable of humor as well (Gen. 1:26). But of course God doesn’t share all our attributes (such as sinfulness).

Solomon said that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4NIV). For example, we laugh at the things that children do. I wonder whether God (as our Father) laughs at some of the things that we do?

Creation

laughing_kookaburra 1 400pxGod created some funny creatures. For example, the distinctive call of the laughing kookaburra. And it looks like God was having fun when he designed the Australian platypus and bilby. The first English scientists to see a specimen of a duck-billed platypus thought it was a hoax because it had a bill and webbed feet like a duck, which is a bird. They thought the bill of a duck had been attached to the body of an otter, beaver or mole! The bilby is called a “rabbit-eared bandicoot” because it has ears like a rabbit. And its back legs look like those of a kangaroo, but it gallops like a horse!

Recently I went to the zoo with a grandson. We saw lots of God’s creatures. I’m sure God had fun designing all the animals in the web of life. From bacteria to whales. Will they walk, fly or swim? Adding a long neck or stripes. Which would be companions, predators and prey? They are so diverse, but integrated.

Funny incidents in the Bible

platypus 1 400pxThere are some funny incidents in the Bible. As “all-Scripture is God-breathed”, it means that God has caused these to be recorded (2 Tim. 3:16). At Babel the builders constructed a tower “that reaches to the heavens”. Ironically God had to “come down” to see the tower they were building (Gen. 11:4-5)! So it wasn’t very high according to God! Such delusions of grandeur would have made God laugh.

Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachael. She was veiled during the wedding and unrecognized in the darkness of the wedding night and the Bible says, “When morning came, there was Leah!” (Gen. 29:25). What a surprise! Did Jacob drink too much wine at the wedding?

God used a talking donkey to warn and rebuke Balaam for planning to curse Israel (Num. 22:21-35)! And he used a fish to get Jonah to Nineveh!

When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant they added it to their gods by placing it in the temple beside the god Dagon. But next day Dagon was flat on the ground before the ark. So they put Dagon upright once again. But the following day the idol was flat on the ground once again with his head and hands broken off (1 Sam. 5:1-5)! It was obvious who was the stronger God.

When Saul was pursuing David, he went into a cave to relieve himself. It happened that David and his followers were also in the cave and David crept up and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24:1-4). Saul looked ridiculously vulnerable!

After being told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathaniel says “Can anything good come from there?”. Then Jesus says that Nathaniel was without deceit! And accepts him as a disciple!

The disciples took a metaphor literally. When Jesus said to them, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”, they said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread” (Mt. 16:5-12)! They were dumb!

Funny sayings in the Old Testament

Bilby 1 400pxWhen describing a stork, the book of Job says “God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense” (Job 39:17). That’s not very flattering!

God used irony and sarcasm when He answered Job. Where were you when I created the earth? Surely you’re old enough to answer my questions about the creation (Job 38:4, 21)? Of course the answer is no! Job wasn’t there in the beginning, but God was.

Jehoram, was an evil king of Judah who lead the nation into idolatry. The Bible says that “He passed away, to no one’s regret”, didn’t have a funeral fire and wasn’t buried in the tombs of the kings (1 Chr. 21:19-20). That’s a colorful way of saying what people thought about Jehoram.

Some of Solomon’s proverbs are funny:
– “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (11:22)
– “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (21:9). And “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm” (27:15).
– “The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!”” (22:13). That sounds like a good excuse to stay home!

God mocks idols. They had mouths, but can’t speak. Eyes, but can’t see. Ears but can’t hear. And mouths, but can’t breathe. They seem to be useless and dead! And then He adds the punch line: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 135:15-18)! Idols are a fraud and worthless (Jer. 10:14-15). They were just a dead stone or block of wood (Isa. 44:9-20; Hab. 2:18-10).

God can use wordplay in serious situations. For example, the Lord showed Jeremiah the branch of an almond tree and said “I am watching” (Jer. 1:11). The Hebrew word for almond (saqed) sounds like the word for watching (soqed).

Funny sayings in the New Testament

Jesus used some funny illustrations:
– He said to the hypocrites, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3). This hyperbole is hilarious!
– After He spoke with a rich man, Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:24). This is another exaggeration.
– He said the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders were “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Mt.23:27).
– He said to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Mt. 23:24). They were leading people into danger like blind guides (Lk. 6:39). And by concentrating on minor matters (like gnats), they missed dealing with major matters (like camels). Jesus also used a pun here as the Aramaic word for gnat is galma and for camel is gamla.
– He also mentions lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket, building a house on sand, and a father giving their child stones instead of bread. All of which are ridiculous.
– And He makes a Samaritan behave better than a priest and Levite (Lk. 10:30-35).
The common people would have laughed at these comical images.

Jesus also used puns like saying “on this rock I will build my church” when he was speaking to Peter (whose Greek name meant detached stone) (Mt. 16:18).

When describing Abraham, the writer of Hebrews says, “from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12). That’s a colourful way of saying that he was very old when Isaac was conceived.

There are probably lots of other incidents and sayings in the Bible that would have been shocking or amusing in the culture of the time, but are lost on us today. For example, there is wordplay in the names of people and places in the Old Testament.

God laughs

The Bible says that God laughs when nations rebel against Him (Ps. 2:4; 59:8). He scoffs at them. God also laughs when the wicked plot against the righteous (Ps. 37:12-13). They don’t realize it’s impossible to defeat the omnipotent God. It’s ludicrous because of the great difference in power.

We may say that God has the last laugh. It may be delayed; and evil may appear to have prevailed. But in the end, God will be victorious.

God is happy and joyful

When the Jews are delivered from their enemies in the future, the Bible says that God “will take great delight in you … will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). This is similar to Paul saying that God is happy (“makariou” is translated as “blessed”) (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15). This is lasting joy and not just a transient emotion.

Jesus used wordplay

Large crowds of people followed Jesus to hear Him speak and see Him do miracles. Obviously He was a skilled orator. And He would have seen the humor in life – that which is ludicrous or incongruous. He used exaggeration, irony, sarcasm, and satire to help communicate His message. It may have been like street theater with subtle wit and wordplay, but with a serious message.

Jesus also welcomed children and children usually see the funny side of life (Mt. 19:13-14; Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17).

Lessons for us

Humor is cultural and situational and doesn’t always translate into other languages. For this reason, much of the humor in the Bible is probably lost to us today. But we have seen that there is evidence that God has a sense of humor. This is consistent with a God who is personal and who sustains the world.

Coarse jokes are ungodly (Eph. 5:4). And some comedy relates to sinful behavior. This is not part of God’s character. It has been said that:

God is serious because sin is serious. God finds nothing funny about the state of the world. How could a God so holy and righteous be funny in a world where sin is still present? Jesus was a serious person because He was on a serious mission. Our eternal life was a serious issue to Him. Leaving His glory in heaven to come into the world was no fun. The death on the cross was no fun at all. He didn’t come to put people down, but to lift them up.

This is true, but it is clear that God is joyful and Jesus used wordplay. God is serious and He has a sense of humor. He has both attributes, not just one or the other. So, let’s have a balanced view of God.

The joy of the Christian life can be expressed in humor. While worldly humor glorifies sin, puts down others, ridicules righteousness, and hurts the soul – Godly humor encourages others, honors the Lord, and restores the soul. And humor helps us get through life by providing relief from the seriousness of life. So, let’s balance the seriousness and humor of life. And, like Jesus, let’s use appropriate humor to promote our communication with other people.

Summary

Although we are usually unaware of it, God is capable of good humor and there is evidence of this in the Bible and in creation. And the carrying out His plan of salvation and His coming exaltation bring Him much joy. Do we share in this joy?

Written, June 2017


Does archaeology support the Bible?

Archaeology collage 1300pxOld houses are being demolished in my suburb to make way for new ones. If we came back in 50 year’s time, what evidence will there be of how people lived in the old houses? Very little. But there would be more evidence if we excavated a rubbish dump. If the time gap was longer, like thousands of years, not much would be left to discover and it would be harder to work out the purpose and age of what was found.

In antiquity, instead of demolishing an old city, people would just build a new one on top of it. So the city grew higher with time until it became a hill called a tell. A tell is a mound of ruins and debris that is mainly comprised of mud bricks, which disintegrate rapidly. Excavating a tell can reveal buried buildings, pottery and other relics, located at different depths depending on their date of use. Archaeologists excavate tell sites to interpret the architecture, purpose, and date of occupation.

In this post we are looking at whether archaeology supports the Bible or not. The word archaeology comes from two Greek words meaning “ancient” and “knowledge”. So it means the study of ancient things. Archaeology is a historical science that studies ancient cultures through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts, inscriptions, monuments and other physical remains. It’s like forensic science because it studies the past.

This topic is important because archaeology can impact our attitude towards the Bible. For example, a statement by an archaeologist that “the Israelites were never in Egypt or the Sinai desert”, can cause us to doubt the reliability of the Bible. But we will see that the Bible is more reliable than archaeology.

History and the Bible

Source of faith 400pxWhat is the foundation of the Christian faith? Is it Jesus Christ? Is it His death and resurrection? Is it because we needed a Savior because of the sin of Adam and Eve? These are historical people and historical events. So you could say Christianity is based on history. But it’s not just any history, it’s biblical history. Only the Bible gives the history and its meaning that’s essential to becoming a Christian. Paul says that Christian faith comes through accepting “the word about Christ”, which is the good news in the Bible (Rom. 10:17NIV). The source of Christian faith is shown in this schematic diagram. When we hear the good news in the Bible about Jesus and the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need to accept it, we can come to trust in what Jesus has done for us.

But the Bible is often under attack. And disciplines such as history, archaeology, geology and biology are often used to attack the Bible. Today we are focusing on archaeology. We will begin by looking at examples from two ancient cities.

Hezekiah’s tunnel

The first example is in Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah at about 700BC. What does the Bible say happened?

“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to wage war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him. They gathered a large group of people who blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?” they said” (2 Chr. 32:1-4).
“It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channelled the water down to the west side of the City of David” (2 Chr. 32:30).
“As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool (of Siloam) and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?” (2 Ki. 20:20).

Jerusalem’s water supply was vulnerable to enemy attack since it was outside the main city wall. And Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was invading Judah. So king Hezekiah, who reigned 715BC to 686BC, built a tunnel to bring water from the spring to a new pool. If these events really happened as described in the Bible, what would we expect an archaeologist to find? Maybe a tunnel through the rock from a water source outside the city to a pool inside the city.

Hezekiahs tunnel 3 400pxWhat did they find? In 1880 a tunnel was discovered from Gihon Spring in Kidron Valley to bring water into the city. It is about 530 meters (1750 feet) long. Being cut into solid rock and 40 m (131 feet) underground, it’s one of the greatest engineering feats of the ancient world. Tourists can walk through the tunnel and it still carries water from Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, 2,700 years after it was built. The other archaeological evidence of King Hezekiah includes many bullae (impressed clay pieces that were used to secure the strings tied around rolled-up documents) of his royal seal and Sennacherib boasting that he trapped Hezekiah in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage” (Sennacherib Prism). But Sennacherib doesn’t mention taking Jerusalem because the Bible says that God intervened (2 Ki. 19:35-36; 2 Chr. 32:20-21a; Isa. 37:36-37). So archaeology can support the Bible.

Sultan’s Hill

The second example is in the city of Jericho at about 1400BC. It was an oasis north of the Dead Sea called the city of palms (Dt. 34:3; Jud. 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chr. 28:15).

What does the Bible say happened? When Joshua lead the Israelites into Canaan, Jericho was the first city they conquered. After circling Jericho 13 times over seven days, “When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in (“up” is a better translation), and they took the city … Then they burned the whole city and everything in it” (Josh. 6:20, 24).
“At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: ‘Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates’” (Josh. 6:26). This curse was fulfilled when Heil rebuilt the city walls in about 850BC (1 Ki. 16:34). So the city went about 550 years without a wall.

If these events really happened as described in the Bible, what would we expect an archaeologist to find? Evidence of: toppled walls, destruction by fire, a new people with a new culture coming into the land, a gap in occupation, and then the city being rebuilt.

Jericho - anciernt 2 400pxWhat did they find at Tel es-Sultan (Sultan’s hill)?
– Carl Watzinger found the remains of two walls which he dated 1950-1550BC, and said that “in the time of Joshua, Jericho was a heap of ruins, on which stood perhaps a few isolated huts”.
– Kathleen Kenyon found many walls, some of which she thought may have been destroyed by earthquakes. The last of the walls was put together in a hurry, indicating that the settlement had been destroyed by nomadic invaders. She thought all these walls predated Joshua – they were in the middle Bronze age, not the Late Bronze age. After this there was little activity in Jericho until the 7th century BC. She did not find substantial evidence for renewed occupation in the Late Bronze Age at the time of Joshua and the biblical story of the battle of Jericho. Kenyon thought that there was no city and no wall at that time. She dated the demise of the city 150 years before the Israelites came into the land. Although Jericho was heavily fortified, it had been burned.

So in this case, archaeology and radiocarbon dating does not support the Bible. Instead it seems to contradict the Bible. How do we resolve this situation?

Interpretation of the evidence

At Jericho everything seems to fit in with the Bible except for the timing. When archaeologists excavate a tell they find items like broken pottery that require interpretation. These items don’t have labels to give their purpose and age. These depend on the assumptions or presuppositions used by the archaeologist.

What are the presuppositions of a secular archaeologist? These are beliefs about how the evidence is interpreted. And they depend on one’s worldview.

The Darwinian evolutionary theory in biology is often used to explain the process of cultural change with time. For example, cultural development is divided into three stages: Stone age, Bronze age, and Iron age. And the Stone age is usually divided into geological periods: Palaeolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic. It is assumed that humanity developed gradually, both physically and intellectually, over millions of years. This timescale usually extends backwards past the creation of the universe according to the Bible! Whereas according to the Bible, the timescale should only go back the flood in about 2400BC. For example, Down suggested the following dates for Israel:
– Stone age – 2300 to 2100 BC
– Bronze age – 2100 to 540 BC
– Iron age – 540 to 300 BC
However, Anderson and Edwards quote the “generally acceptable” (secular) timing of:
– Stone age – creation to 3300 BC
– Bronze age – 3300 to 1200 BC
– Iron age – 1200 to 600 BC

Radiocarbon dating is often used without acknowledging the unreliability of this method (see Appendix A).

Naturalism is the belief that nature (or physical processes) is all that exists. It rules out the unseen, the spiritual and the divine. It also rules out the historical record in the Bible. They are biased against the Bible. The naturalist attempts to use logic and reason to support their position, but logic is not part of nature! Where in the physical world do the laws of logic come from? They can’t be explained by evolutionary processes. So the naturalist is inconsistent!

So a historical (forensic) science is a worldview discipline. Also, disciplines that depend on it like archaeology rely on one’s worldview. It’s findings largely depend on one’s worldview. We need to have the right worldview to get the right answer. If we reject the best account of ancient history in the Bible, our interpretation of archaeological evidence could be wrong, like that at Jericho. But when Bryant Wood made a better assessment of the pottery found at Jericho, he found that they were dated about 1400BC, which was consistent with the Bible (see Appendix B). He also realised when Israel destroyed Jericho, mud brick walls that were on top of a stone retaining wall fell to the ground to form a ramp so they could climb up into the city.

More archaeological findings

Here’s some more archaeological findings that are related to the Bible.

Merneptah Monument – About 1200BC

In 1898 a victory monument of Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II was found in the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes. According to the traditional chronology, he reigned about 1200BC (but if Down can give a tentative date of 700BC, it shows that these dates are not robust). It has ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs engraved on granite rock. The monument documents his military victories such as over peoples and city-states in Canaan, including the Israelites. It says “Israel is laid waste; its seed is not”. This is claimed to be the earliest archaeological evidence of the Israelites.

Archaeologists have also dated the gates of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer in Israel to the 10th century BC and the Bible says that Solomon had these constructed (1 Ki. 9:15-17).

Obelisk of Shalmaneser III – 840BC

In 1846 a black limestone obelisk that commemorates the deeds of King Shalmaneser III of Assyria (reigned 858-824 BC) was found at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) in Iraq. It lists tribute paid by foreign kings, including Jehu the king of Israel. It has a relief of Jehu paying tribute to Shalmanaser, which is the only contemporary depiction of anyone mentioned in the Bible. It says, “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears”.

Tel Dan monument – About 840BC

This broken monument (inscribed stone) was discovered in 1993-94 during excavations of Tel Dan in northern Israel. It is written on basalt in an Aramaic dialect. In it the king of Aram boasts of his military victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David” (Judah). This is the earliest mention of David outside the Hebrew Bible. The king of Aram was probably Hazael because Elisha appointed Hazael to be king (2 Ki. 8:7-15) in order to punish Israel for their sins (2 Ki. 9:14-16; 10:32; 12:17-18; 13:3, 22). The monument seems to have been set up by Hazael, king of Aram to commemorate his victory over Joram (king of Israel) and Ahaziah (king of Judah) at Ramoth-Gilead in 841 BC (2 Ki. 8:28–29; 9:15-28; 2 Chron. 22:1-9).

Assyrian Lachish Reliefs – About 690BC

Lachish, the second largest city in Israel, was destroyed by siege by the Assyrians in 701BC. In 1847 a huge relief of the battle was found in the ruins of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh. It was a waiting room for people getting ready to see the king. The relief covered all the four limestone walls and was 2.4 m (8 foot) tall and 24 m (80 foot) long. It demonstrated the power of the king and the fate of those who resist his rule. This indicates that Israel was a powerful country at this time and that he didn’t destroy Jerusalem (otherwise that would have been illustrated). The Bible says that Sennacherib “attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them”, including laying siege to Lachish (2 Ki. 18:13; 2 Chr. 32:9; Isa. 36:1).

Keetef Hinnom amulet – About 600BC

In 1979 two tiny silver scrolls were fund in a burial chamber on the old road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. An amulet is an ornament or small piece of jewellery used to protect its owner from danger or harm. When they were unrolled, it was evident that they were inscribed with a priestly blessing from Numbers written in ancient Hebrew (Num. 6:24-26):
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace”.

This is the oldest copy of any portion of scripture (at least 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls). It also shows that the Pentateuch was written earlier than is claimed by some critics.

House of God inscription – About 600BC

In ancient times notes were often written on pottery because it was more common than papyrus. Such a message was found at Tel Arad (near the Dead Sea) that mentions “the house of God (YHWH)” in ancient Hebrew script. It is written in ink by a professional scribe. It seems to be a letter sent from Jerusalem to the commander of the Arad. It is an early reference to the temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed in 586BC.

Cyrus cylinder – 530BC

A clay cylinder was found in the ruins of Babylon in Iraq in 1879. It is inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform script with an account made by Cyrus king of Persia (559-530 BC). It records his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, as mentioned in scripture. Cyrus allowed various captives to return to their homelands (as recorded on the cylinder), which is consistent with the end of the Jewish exile in Babylon (2 Chr. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11). Isaiah mentions Cyrus 150 years before his birth (Isa. 44:28) and predicted the release of the Jews after the exile and their rebuilding of Jerusalem (Isa. 13:1, 17-19; 44:26 – 45:3).

Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) – 250BC to AD70

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection 980 Hebrew documents found in the Qumran limestone caves between in 1947 and 2017. Most of the texts are written on parchment. About 40% were copies from the Old Testament. Before the discovery of the DSS, the oldest Hebrew-language manuscripts of the Bible were Masoretic texts dating to the 10th century AD, such as the Aleppo Codex. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back over one thousand years. The DSS have demonstrated that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted during this interval. This indicates that the Old Testament we have today is a very accurate copy of the original text (autograph) of Old Testament. By the way, the earliest copies of the Greek Septuagint Old Testament are dated about AD 350.

Pilate inscription – AD 36

In 1961 a block of limestone was discovered in Caesarea with the inscription “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea”. Pilate was the prefect (governor) of the Roman-controlled province of Judaea from 26–36 AD. After AD 6 Caesarea replaced Jerusalem as the administrative capital and military headquarters of the province. The civil trial of Jesus was before Pilate and Herod Antipas (Mt. 27:11-26; Mk. 15:6-12; Lk. 23:6-15) and Pilate made the decision, “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate … had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified” (Mk. 15:15). This inscription confirms the existence of a central character in the crucifixion of Christ.

Yehohanan crucifixion – AD 7 to70

In 1968 the remains of a crucified man were found in a stone ossuary (casket for bones) outside Jerusalem. According to the Hebrew inscription, his name was Yehohanan. A 11.5 cm (4.5 inches) iron nail pierced a heel bone. Iron was rare in Roman times so they would always remove the nails to use them again. However, in this case they could not remove this nail because it was bent so much at the tip. His feet had been nailed separately to the sides of the pole of the cross. The lack of traumatic injury to the arms and hands indicates that his hands were probably tied rather than nailed to the crossbar of the cross. The bones give clear evidence of first century AD Roman crucifixion. And this find proves that a victim of crucifixion (like Jesus) could receive a proper Jewish burial.

Ephesian theatre – AD 54

The theatre at Ephesus (in Turkey) was constructed in the 3rd century BC and enlarged to a seating capacity of 25,000 in the Roman period. Besides drama and gladiatorial combats, political and religious events were carried out in it as well. The Bible records conflict between Christians and the followers of Artemis in AD 54 when Paul’s safety was threatened. Luke records this riot as follows, “Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.” (Acts 19:29-31).

These archaeological findings do support the Bible.

Lessons for us

We have seen that some archaeology supports the Bible and some doesn’t. Like in Jericho, many alleged conflicts are due to disagreements about chronology (timing). This is because archaeological findings can be strongly influenced by the worldview of the archaeologist. The findings are based on evidence that must be interpreted. Every archaeologist has a worldview and every person has a worldview. What about us? Is our worldview trustworthy? Does it include God’s revelation in the Bible? Is our worldview true or false?

As all knowledge about the past is fragmentary, all history (and archaeology) is fragmentary. How much do you know about your great-grandparents? You can’t read their life story on Facebook! We probably know more about Moses, who lived 3,500 years ago! So history and archaeology are limited by the amount of evidence available. Very little evidence remains from ancient history. This limits the scope of history. Only a small fraction of historical artefacts that once existed have survived to the present. This limits the scope of archaeology because conclusions can only be made from the evidence that is available. However, like fossils, artefacts are more likely to be preserved if they remain buried in the ground.

Archaeology is also limited by the small extent of excavations made to date. Only a fraction of ancient sites have been surveyed, excavated, and the results published.

In archaeological investigations, the absence of evidence doesn’t prove anything. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Archaeology needs to draw conclusions from what it finds, not what it doesn’t find. For example, in 1961 Khrushchev spread atheist propaganda that the Soviet cosmonaut “Gagarin flew into space and didn’t see God”. Does that prove God doesn’t exist? No, because God is invisible! And if someone excavates the ground near a house in my suburb in 50-years’ time and sees no evidence of any previous houses, it doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. And the same applies to archaeological statements like, “the Israelites were never in Egypt”. I’m not surprised if there is no evidence of this after 3,500 years.

A lot of archaeological evidence doesn’t overlap with the Bible because it’s from a different place or a different time period. Only a fraction of what is discovered and published relates to the Bible. So we should be careful in trying to correlate biblical accounts and archaeological data.

Archaeology can’t prove the Bible. And it can’t disprove the Bible. And archaeology is unable to address the Bible’s theological claims. But archaeology can confirm and support some of the biblical record. For example, it confirms the predicted demise of ancient Babylon, Nineveh and Tyre (Jer. 51:37; Ezek. 26:4, 12; Zeph. 2:13-15). It also helps us understand aspects of the ancient world. As shown in the previous section, many archaeological discoveries are consistent with biblical history. However, those with a different world view have challenged some of these interpretations. This shows that archaeological discoveries can be open to more than one interpretation.

The Bible stands alone and needs no affirmative evidence to verify its truth. The Bible was written by eyewitnesses, and eyewitnesses trump archaeology in confirming ancient events. History trumps science when dealing with the past. The Bible is reliable and trustworthy (2 Pt. 1:19). But do we “pay attention to it”? Because the Bible is more reliable than archaeology, it’s best to use the Bible to understand archaeology rather than vice versa.

Archaeology can supply some information about the past, but it is limited and requires interpretation. The Bible also supplies some information about the past, but it provides its own interpretation. The Bible provides sufficient information for us to know what was important about the past, but it doesn’t answer all our questions.

Finally, we are looking at this topic because history and faith are connected. For example, we can’t separate the historical nature of Christ’s death and resurrection from the spiritual forgiveness of sin. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (Jn. 3:12).

Our attitude towards the Bible

Source of faith 400pxGoing back to the diagram about the source of Christian faith. When we hear the good news in the Bible about Jesus and the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need to accept it, we can come to trust in what Jesus has done for us.

The Bible teaches that we are separated from God because we have rebelled against Him. And so we deserve to be punished. But God has acted to address this serious situation. He sent Jesus to take our punishment. Jesus’ followers, the apostles, taught people how to get right with God and this is written down in the Bible (1 Cor. 2:10-13). God also sent the Holy Spirit to help us get right with God. He does this in two ways:
– Convicting us of our sinful situation (Jn. 10:8-9), and
– Helping us understand the true meaning of the historical events recorded in the Bible (1 Cor. 2:14-16). For example, Paul preached about the meaning of Genesis history (Acts 17:24-26), Israel’s history and Jesus’ history (Acts 13:16-41).

These are the first steps towards becoming a follower of Jesus. And they are both based on the Bible. If we don’t make this step, it’s like not getting to first base in baseball. If we think the Bible is unreliable, then we stay in our sinful situation. If we don’t trust the Bible, we remain separated from God and face His punishment. So our attitude towards the Bible can be a barrier to belief. We have seen that archaeology can provide some support for the reliability of the Bible. Are we willing to read the Bible with an open mind? And are we willing to reject the views of those who reject the Bible? Are we willing to get right with God?

If we are already following Jesus, is the Bible really our authority? Or do we trust in what we read and hear from the internet, movies, videos and TV? Do we critique these with a biblical worldview? We can use “If …, then …” statements like:
– If the Bible is true, then that is true and good, or
– If the Bible is true, then that is false and rubbish.
Otherwise, it’s like swallowing polluted water without filtering it. We need to keep our biblical glasses and filters on our eyes, ears and minds. And don’t just accept what is preached by the ungodly world.

Summary

The answer to the question, “Does archaeology support the Bible?” is yes and no! We have seen that archaeology can support the Bible. But because archaeology relies so much on the worldview of the archaeologist, it can also contradict the Bible. This is because archaeological discoveries can be open to more than one interpretation. And archaeology is limited because its discoveries only relate to very few parts of history. For these reasons, the Bible is more reliable than archaeology. So, let’s test archaeological claims before accepting them, while trusting the Bible and its history because it can lead to salvation.

Appendix A: Radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon dating uses the fact that an isotope of carbon (14C) is radioactive and decays at a known rate (it has a half-life of 5,730 years, which means that it is undetectable after about 50,000 years). In the carbon cycle, carbon atoms move between the atmosphere, plants and animals and the rest of the environment. If we assume that the 14C/12C ratio is the same across the environment and across the last 50,000 years, then when a plant or animal dies, it will contain carbon with this ratio of isotopes. If it is assumed that 14C decays at a fixed rate after a plant or animal dies, then an elapsed time can be calculated from the difference between the 14C/12C ratio in the sample compared to that in the atmosphere. This also assumes that 14C isn’t added to or removed selectively from the dead plant or animal. The elapsed time gives the “raw” age of the sample. It is claimed that the assumption that 14C/12C in the environment is fixed across all time periods (in the past 50,000 years) is removed by calibration with the international radiocarbon calibration curve (which is used to convert the raw age to a calendar age). This curve is based on the raw ages and calendar ages obtained from trees and corals. The trees are dated by counting the rings and assuming that each ring represent a calendar year (an annual cycle of seasons). The corals are dated by other radioactive dating methods (such as thorium/uranium). So the dates on this curve are inferred and not verified against historical records.

For the following reasons, this radiocarbon dating method is an example of historical science that is based on a secular (unbiblical) worldview (viewpoint):
– Radiocarbon dating is only done for samples which are believed to be younger than 50,000 years (on the secular timescale). If a sample (believed to be older than 50,000 years) is tested and gives an age less than 50,000 years, the result is said to have been influenced by contamination (by more recent carbon).
– If a sample (believed to be less than 50,000 years) is tested and gives an unexpected age, the result is said to have been influenced by contamination (by foreign carbon).
– The tree ring record has been extrapolated well past verified historical records (see below).
– Because the assumed dates of tree rings are determined from their 14C/12C ratio, and these assumed dates are used to determine the international radiocarbon calibration curve, the method of radiocarbon dating uses circular reasoning. It uses radiocarbon dating to calibrate radiocarbon dating!
– Because the assumed dates of corals are determined by radioactive dating, and these assumed dates are used to determine the international radiocarbon calibration curve, the method of radiocarbon dating uses circular reasoning. It uses radioactive dating to calibrate radiocarbon dating!

Historically verifiable dates

As history trumps science when dealing with the past, radiocarbon dates should be verified against historical records. The Bible has historical records back to the creation of the earth. The oldest of these that have been verified independently by archaeology are dated in the 9th century BC:
– Omri king of Israel (880BC) is mentioned on the Moabite Stone (Mesha Monument), which is dated about 850BC.
– Jehu king of Israel is mentioned on the Obelisk of Shalmaneser, which is dated 840BC.
This means that the radiocarbon dating method hasn’t been verified against historical data past 3,000 years ago. Yet the international radiocarbon calibration curve extends to 50,000 years ago! This is an extrapolation of more than an order of magnitude!

Also, the global flood (~ 2,400BC), which buried plant and animal life, would have upset the earth’s environment. What impact did this have on the carbon cycle and the rate of 14C decay? This is unknown, but is likely to have been significant. It throws significant doubt on the international radiocarbon calibration curve which assumes uniformity in the carbon cycle across the last 50,000 years.

So, although the concentrations of carbon isotopes can be measured with great precision, the radiocarbon dating method has many assumptions which result in significant uncertainties. I believe that the uncertainty in the determination of dates 3,500 years ago by the radiocarbon method would be greater than 5%, which is the difference between the historical and carbon dating predictions of the fall of Jericho (see Appendix B). Therefore, there is no significant difference between these historical and radiocarbon dates.

Appendix B: Archaeological assessment of Tel Es-Sultan

There are two views on the date of the major destruction of ancient city of Jericho in the second millennium BC:
– Kathleen Kenyon claims it was about 1550BC.
– Bryant Wood claims it was about 1400BC.

There is evidence that there were two walls around Jericho:
– An outer stone revetment (retaining) wall (about 4.6 m or 15 feet high) upon which there was a mudbrick parapet wall (vertical extension), and
– An inner mudbrick wall which served as Jericho’s city wall proper.
There was a sloping earth embankment (rampart) between the inner and outer walls. A photo and drawing of an excavation on the northern end of the tell shows the revetment wall, the mudbrick parapet wall (a height of 2.4 m or 8 feet had been preserved) and the remains of mudbrick houses on top of the rampart between the inner and outer walls (Watzinger, 1911).

Kenyon based her opinion almost exclusively on the absence of pottery imported from Cyprus and common to the Late Bronze I period (1550-1400 BC). This is a major deficiency in her methodology. As noted above, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And she paid little attention to the pottery that was excavated, although the primary method of dating should be a thorough analysis of the local (not imported) pottery. The presence or absence of imported pottery can be used as a supporting argument, but it should not be the sole basis for determining a date.

Wood also claims that “Kenyon dug in a poor quarter of the city where they found only humble domestic dwellings. She based her dating on the fact that she failed to find expensive, imported pottery in a small excavation area in an impoverished part of a city located far from major trade routes!”

Wood based his opinion on four lines of evidence: the ceramic data; stratigraphical considerations; scarab evidence, and a radiocarbon date. However, because of the uncertainty associated with radioactive dating, this method is unable to discriminate between the different dates proposed by Kenyon and Wood (see Appendix A). Wood’s major finding were:
– The pottery excavated by Kenyon are from the Late Bronze I period and not the Middle Bronze Age.
– Kenyon’s dating requires the city to go through 20 different architectural phases (with evidence that some of these phases lasted for long periods of time) in approximately 100 years of time!
– The cemetery outside Jericho yielded a continuous series of Egyptian scarabs from the 18th through the early-14th centuries BC (Garstang, 1936) contradicting Kenyon’s claim that the city was abandoned after 1550 BC. Scarabs are small Egyptian amulets shaped like a beetle with an inscription.

Bienkowski wrote an article disputing Wood’s conclusions. But a review of the evidence relevant to the date of the destruction of Jericho by Wood revealed that Bienkowski’s objections do not stand up to critical assessment.

It has been pointed out that scarabs tend to be handed down as heirlooms. But this means that scarabs only set an upper limit for the date and the actual date may be lower than indicated than the scarab. This doesn’t invalidate Wood’s dating, but it makes Kenyon’s dating less likely. However, Woods also states that “It is extremely difficult to correlate the tomb groups with the tell strata”.

For the above reasons, I think that Wood’s dating is more robust than Kenyon’s. The only other probable conclusion is that secular history and archaeology is unable to differentiate between the two dates because of the significant uncertainty in their determination of these dates.

Was this destruction of Jericho at the hands of the Israelites? The correlation between the archaeological evidence and the Biblical narrative is substantial:
– The city was strongly fortified (Josh. 2:5,7,15; 6:5,20).
– The attack occurred just after harvest time in the spring (Josh. 2:6; 3:15; 5:10).
– The inhabitants had no opportunity to flee with their foodstuffs (Josh. 6:1).
– The siege was short (Josh. 6:15).
– The mudbrick walls collapsed, possibly due to an earthquake (Josh. 6:20).
– The city was not plundered as the grain harvested was ignored by the conquering army (Josh. 6:17-18).
– The city was burned (Joshua 6:24).

References

Anderson C and Edwards B (2014) “Evidence for the Bible”, Day One Publications.

Down D (2010) “The archaeology book”, Master Books.

Lisle J (2013) “The ultimate proof of creation – Presuppositional apologetics”, YouTube.

Wood B (2008) Did the Israelites conquer Jericho? A new look at the archaeological evidence. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx#Article

Wood B (2012) “Dating Jericho’s destruction: Bienkowshi is wrong on all counts” http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2012/03/28/Dating-Jerichos-Destruction-Bienkowski-is-Wrong-on-All-Counts.aspx

Written, June 2017

 

 


Apply daily to look good on the inside

June-17_ApplyDaily 400pxWhen it’s high in the sky the sun’s beauty is fierce. Though, as it sets, your gaze can be full and frank. From a rooftop late in the afternoon, something more beautiful and more terrifying held the gaze of King David. Most men experience turmoil at the sight of a beautiful, naked woman. A primal, instinctual urge turns interest automatically into desire. Only a forceful act of the will can turn the gaze. But David kept looking. On an adjacent rooftop a woman bathed. The teller of David’s story tells us, ‘She was very beautiful’. Yet, although Bathsheba was married, David took her anyway. Then, when she became pregnant and the sin couldn’t be concealed, David organized for the murder of her husband, Uriah.

When you read the fuller version of this Bible story you’ll notice many lessons. Chiefly, that God sees who we really are. And He’s angry when we behave badly. With David, God’s anger burned. He cursed his household with evil, further adultery and the death of the child conceived with Bathsheba, promising that, ‘the sword shall never depart from your house’.

David and Bathsheba’s story also has lessons for us about beauty. Firstly, contrary to popular complaint, beauty is no modern obsession – it’s always been a thing… because every society believes that good-looking people have more worth. Secondly, beautiful people get ahead in life. Bathsheba’s husband was not an Israelite. Yet her beauty overshadowed this stigma. David simply couldn’t resist her. Later, their son, Solomon, reigned as King at the highest point in Israel’s history. Thirdly, we learn that outward beauty is no guarantee of anything nice on the inside. The Bible tells us that David was also good looking. Specifically, ‘he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome’. But God made it clear that this wasn’t the reason he chose him. He said, ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’.

Well, as we’ve seen, David’s heart became a corrupt mess. Later in the Bible (Psalm 51) he pleaded with God for help to make him beautiful on the inside. He cried, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me.’

So now, a disturbing question remains, ‘What does God see when He turns His fierce gaze upon me?’ Deep down we know the answer. Yet when we read the Bible we discover that God is willing to help. He’s willing to forgive and to come into our hearts so that we might become beautiful to Him.

Bible Verse: Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me”.

Prayer: Dear God, please forgive those things that I’ve thought, said and done that are ugly. Please help me to be beautiful on the inside.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017


How to be contented

Contentment 2 400px

In September 2016 severe storms sparked a state-wide blackout in South Australia leaving 1.67 million residents without electrical power. Supply was lost to the entire South Australian region of the National Electricity Market. As a result of the blackout the zinc smelter was shut down for several weeks. We all know about the importance of electrical power, but what about the power to be contented?

In this blogpost we look at what Paul says about being contented in Philippians 4:11-13, which finishes with the well-known verse, “I can do all this (things ESV) through Him who gives me strength” (4:13NIV). This passage shows us how to be contented in both prosperity and adversity.

Context

Paul wrote this letter while he was under house arrest in Rome (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). It was written to the first church established in Europe in Macedonia (now Greece). The Philippians had heard that he was in prison, so they sent him a gift of money. Epaphroditus took the gift to Paul and stayed to help him. While there, he became very ill. When he was ready to go back to the church in Philippi, Paul sent this letter with him to thank the Philippians for their gift, to encourage them in the Christian faith, and to warn them about false teachers. Paul said that because of his imprisonment, the good news about Jesus was being preached more. And he wanted them to be united, humble, committed to living for Jesus Christ, and not to grumble.

Contentment

Towards the end of the letter Paul says “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (4:11-13).

Before the passage, Paul “rejoiced greatly in the Lord” after he received the gift of money from them (4:10). He thanked God as the ultimate source of the gift. God had motivated the Philippians to give. The principle is that everything we possess is ultimately from God. God provides our financial support. God provides our employment. He repeats this thought after the passage, “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus”. So, let’s base our joy and contentment on God and not our circumstances.

Paul was content whatever his circumstances. This means in all financial situations. He gives three examples of the extremes:
– “in need”, versus “to have plenty”,
– “well fed”, versus “hungry”, and
– “living in plenty”, versus living in “want”.
He says that he had experienced these extremes of being needy and being well off.

And then Paul says, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength”. What is “all this”? It’s being content in all the circumstances of life. He had learned to be content no matter what his circumstances were. Paul was writing from prison. So, he’s saying that he was content in prison! The Roman jail did not provide food, money, clothes or blankets. How many prisoners are content in prison? Are we content when we are needy? Or when we are hungry?

The principle is that circumstances do not need to determine our state of mind. We can be content knowing that our situation is God’s will for us. He is in control of all that happens to us. Our security is in God’s plan for us, not in money. In fact, prosperity can be a source of discontent because the more we have, the more we want. In times of plenty we can forget about God and trust in our own resources. For example, the Rolling Stones sang a song called, “I can get no satisfaction”. So, wealth doesn’t bring contentment.

Contentment doesn’t come automatically or naturally. Paul says, “I have learned to be content” and “I have learned the secret of being content”. As he was well educated, he probably grew up in luxury, but he probably wasn’t contented then. Now he was needy, but contented. Through the tough times, Paul learnt to be content. Paul learnt this lesson from God. He leant it through Scripture and his experiences in life.

Contentment is an attitude that is free from anxiety. It’s putting things in proper priority. Paul said, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8).

Contentment is the opposite of greed. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”(Heb. 13:5).

Inner power

Then Paul says how he can do this, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (4:13NIV).
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (ESV, HCSB).
“I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me” (NET).
He has an extra source of power to strengthen him.

Does this mean that there was nothing that Paul couldn’t do? The Greek word translated “all things” (pas Strongs #3956) occurs twice in the previous verse – “in any and every situation (circumstance)”. That’s why the NIV translates it as “I can do all this” instead of “I can do all things”. Verse 13 explains the power behind his contentment. The “all things” means being content in both prosperity and adversity. So it doesn’t mean that a Christian can do anything.

We know that the Holy Spirit helps believers because Paul said, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26) and he prayed that God “may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16). And the reason for such divine power is “so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Col. 1:11). And Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he addressed the religious leaders after they had arrested him for preaching (Acts 4:8). And Jesus said that the Holy Spirit lives within every believer. So my translation of verse 13 is “I can do all this through the Holy Spirit who gives me strength”. God’s power through the Holy Spirit is essential for Christian living and Christian ministry.

And Paul also said that he dealt with physical problems and difficult situations with the divine power of God the Father and Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:9-10; 13:4). So, a Christian has power from all members of the trinity.

Lessons for us

Paul said that he was content when he had plenty. So should we. Paul also said that he was content when he was hungry and cold (like in jail). So he was also content in hardships. So should we.

Real contentment comes from God and not from our circumstances such as material possessions or physical comfort. Our circumstances will vary but God does not vary. With Christ at the center of our lives and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be calm and confident in difficult circumstances.

Are we happy when things are good and miserable when things are bad? Don’t be a slave of your circumstances. Let’s learn how to be contented in prosperity and adversity, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Appendix

The Textus Receptus for Philippians 4:13 says “… through Christ who strengthens me” (NKJV). Although this appears in many New Testament manuscripts, textural scholars believe that this is a modification of the original text.

Written, May 2017


Come and join us

Lisa Pearce from Open Doors says that, “If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they’re unlikely to live to see another day”. The question to ask yourself is, ‘Why join a group experiencing 80% of the religious persecution in the world today? Especially when, in North Africa, the Middle East and many parts of Asia, Christians are vanishing. It seems a lost and futile cause.’

… but not according to Jesus – or His followers. Jesus said to all who’d follow Him, “you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9). Thankfully, He also promised that nothing would overcome His church (Matthew 16:18). So, trusting in these comforting words, Christians await persecution with confidence, praying, that when it comes, they’ll be ready to stand strong and bear witness to their Lord. They know, from the promises of scripture and the lessons of history, that nothing strengthens faith like persecution unto death.

So why does God allow such persecution? Because when a lost world sees Christians preferring to die than dishonor their Lord – they see faith that’s real. And when Christians love their enemies – the world sees a miracle. Esther from Eritrea says, “As Christians we’re required to love our enemies even though it is very difficult to do that when they make you suffer, or when they harm or kill your loved ones!”

Sadly, not all Christians listen to Jesus’s commands. In every age there are people behaving badly in the name of Jesus. Even now, in the Central African Republic, “Christian” militias persecute and murder Muslims. But the unreported truth is that religious persecution is utterly one sided. The vast majority of persecution between the world’s two largest religions is from Muslims towards Christians. So, if the secular media has given you an impression that all religious people just fight and kill each other then please reconsider.

The US Center for the Study of Global Christianity (and other sources) estimates that 100,000 Christians are martyred annually – roughly 11 per hour, or 1 every 5 minutes. You can read or download a moving and tragic article about their methodology at:
https://tinyurl.com/k7822xo

The following articles are exceptions to the media silence:
https://tinyurl.com/n6keu5t                    https://tinyurl.com/mq49qa9
https://tinyurl.com/msa3wma                https://tinyurl.com/qxsg2u4

You can help persecuted Christians by supporting the Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.

Finally, dear friend, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Jesus’s words in Matthew 10:28). Do not be deterred by reports of persecution but come and join us as we worship Jesus

Bible Verse: Matthew 24:9 “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers”.

Prayer: Dear God please give hearts of lions to your people everywhere that they might stand firm for you.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, May 2017