Lessons from the book of Genesis
What is the purpose of the book of Genesis in the Bible? Why was it written? And why was it included in the Bible? What are the main lessons in it, both for the original readers and for us today?
When was it written? The book of Genesis was compiled and edited by Moses (Lk. 24:27; Acts 15:1) between 1446 B.C. (the date of the Exodus) and 1406 B.C. (the death of Moses). A likely possibility is during the year that Israel spent encamped in the wilderness at Sinai when Moses probably composed most, if not all, of the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. Such an assumption would place the date of composition of Genesis between 1446 and 1445 B.C. (more…)
What the Bible says about nature
Nature is made up of atoms and molecules that we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. It is essential for living, providing such things as air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and materials to use from farms, mines, forests and factories.
Nature is a part of creation. The definition of some terms used in this article is given in Appendix A. (more…)
Why is it important to know God’s will?
About seven years ago, my wife and I visited England. We arrived at Heathrow airport near London and got a hire car to drive towards the south-west to Cornwall. We drove from the hire car depot out to the main road and onto a roundabout. But I couldn’t recognize the right turnoff, so we kept driving around the roundabout! It was overcast, so I couldn’t tell the direction from the position of the sun in the sky. And then it started to rain. So, we took an exit from the roundabout and stopped and got out a GPS and used it to find the way to go.
Since then, when we travel in a new area, we often follow Google maps. When we use it as a GPS it tells us the way to go, like “take the third exit at the roundabout”. Life is a journey with many junctions where decisions must be made. The decisions we make shape our lives. In some sense, every decision we have made – good and bad – has brought us to where we are today. We can look back on the good and bad choices we have made and can see how God has used them in our lives. Now we want to make good choices that are in line with God’s will.
In this post we are looking at why it’s important to know and understand God’s will. We will see that because God wants our will to comply with His will, nothing is as important to the life of the Christian as the will of God. That’s why God wants us to know His will.
But, what does the term “God’s will” mean? According to the dictionary, in this context, “will” means a wish, desire, choice, intention, or command. It’s what someone wants to happen. And it especially applies to someone with authority or power. For example, “It is the king’s will that the prisoner be spared”. And “A dictator imposes their will on others”.
Meaning of “will” in the Bible
The word “will” carries the idea of purpose and design. Purpose plus design equals the will of God. God has a purpose for our lives. So, “God’s will” means God’s purpose, plan or design.
The New Testament uses two main Greek nouns to describe “will” in the context of “God’s will”. The first, “boule” (Strongs #1012) often means God’s sovereign plan which is predetermined and inflexible and always comes to pass. Peter told the Jews, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan (boule) and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross” (Acts 2:23NIV).
The other Greek word, “thelema” (Strongs #2307) often means God’s desire or wish. It’s God’s preferred will, which doesn’t always come to pass because it relies on human obedience.
The two wills of God
The will of God is used in two main senses in the Bible. These are “God’s sovereign will” and “God’s revealed will”.
God’s sovereign will comes from the fact that God not only created the universe, but He continues to rule over and sustain the universe. He is near, not distant. He’s not a God who created the universe and then took a holiday and left it to run on its own, while He is now remote. Instead, He has ultimate control of all that happens. He has a plan and purpose. God’s sovereign will always comes to pass. It’s hidden, and we only see it in hindsight by looking back after events have occurred, because we don’t know much about what the future holds like God does.
God’s revealed will comes from God’s commands and desires revealed in the Bible. It can be known. Because people have a free will, they can choose to either obey or disobey God’s revealed will. So, God’s revealed will doesn’t always come to pass.
The first aspect of God’s will is God’s sovereign will.
God’s sovereign will
To those who are tempted to worship idols, God said, “I am God, and there is none like me … My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’ … What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isa. 46:8-11). And King Nebuchadnezzar praised God, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:34-35ESV). God plans the future and brings it to pass. God plans and governs everything.
Before Jesus was crucified He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39). And the early Christians prayed, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27-28). It was God’s will that Jesus die. That’s what God decided would happen. So, God has a grand cosmic plan, which is shown in the schematic diagram. It begins with the creation of time and everything else and progresses through the fall, our sinful world to which Christ came as Savior, to the restoration after Jesus returns and to the new heavens and the new earth. And He has a plan or purpose for each of us as well. This goes from our birth to our death and onto eternal life. Paul says, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Nothing can happen to us without God allowing it. In God’s providence He controls all events, all thoughts, and all plans for His own glory.
Paul reveals some of God’s sovereign will in Ephesians chapter 1. In the context of the early Jewish believers he says, that God “makes everything work out according to His plan” (Eph. 1:11NLT). God has a plan (which is His sovereign will) that is well thought out. It’s His purpose (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 3:11). It includes everything, nothing is left out of His plan. Everything that God planned will come to pass (Dan. 4:35; Rom. 11:36). And everything that happens results from God’s will in some way.
But God never does evil and the Bible never blames God for evil or sin (Job. 1:21-22; Rom. 1:12). We have seen that it was the sovereign will of God that Jesus die. But this included the sins of Herod, Pilate, the soldiers, and the Jewish leaders. This part of God’s sovereign will is also called God’s permissive will because it involves an indirect fulfillment of God’s desire. God allows ungodly behavior and uses it to fulfil His plan. At Easter we are reminded of “When God uses evil for good”. God allows the activities of Satan. He allows people to have a free will. And He allows sin and its consequences. These happen because of human choice and God’s allowance (permission). And God allows suffering and can use it for His purposes.
That’s all we will look at about God’s sovereign will. It’s good to understand God’s plan from the old creation in Genesis to the new creation in Revelation because we make our best decisions when we understand God’s ultimate plan for us and the world. This requires an understanding of the Bible.
The other aspect of God’s will is God’s revealed will.
God’s revealed will
God’s revealed will is what God commands us to do in the Bible. It can be obeyed or disobeyed. Here’s a schematic diagram to show how this will comes to us. It was God’s idea, which was revealed to the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles by the Holy Spirit. They taught about it and wrote it down and we now have it in the Bible. We can know and understand it by reading the Bible. And then we have the choice of obeying of disobeying it.
After 11 chapters of doctrine in the letter of Romans, Paul gives the practical applications for Christians. The first two verses say what’s necessary for living the Christian life. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2NLT).
The revealed will of God is what God has revealed about Himself in the Bible. Knowing the will of God takes effort and study. It’s impossible to do the will of God without knowing it. Knowing comes before doing. But if we ignore and disobey God’s revealed will then we will be a worldly Christian with an ungodly secular lifestyle.
Paul says that the revealed will of God is good, pleasing and perfect:
– It’s intrinsically good because it’s like God’s divine nature. In fact, God’s character controls His revealed will. It’s beneficial because knowing and doing the revealed will of God brings spiritual and moral growth. If we apply the Bible in our lives, it changes and empowers us (1 Th. 2:13).
– It’s pleasing to God (1 Th. 2:4). Every Christian will ultimately be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This process begins on earth and is completed in heaven.
– It’s perfect (or complete). It can’t be improved (being the best). And mature believers know and apply the will of God to their lives.
God answers prayers that are in accordance with His will (Jn. 14:13-14; 1 Jn. 5:14-15). The better we know God’s will, the better our prayer life will be and the more He will answer our prayers.
Sometimes God allows things to occur which are not according to His desire. For example, God can allow us to disobey the revealed will of God or choose a sinful course of action. By choosing not to intervene to prevent the act, God is willing that it take place. So, the will of God can permit sin, but it doesn’t cause the sin. And the person is responsible for the sin, and not God. This is called God’s permissive will.
The revealed will of God also includes suffering. The Bible says to expect suffering and that suffering can mould our character (1 Pt. 5:12-17).
What’s God’s primary will for humanity?
God’s primary will for humanity
God created people with a free will to make decisions. But many reject God’s revealed will in the Bible. God’s primary will for humanity is that they turn to Christ and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness (2 Pt. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3-4).
The message to scoffers who doubt that God is going to judge the world in a coming day is that “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). The delay is not because God doesn’t keep His promises, but because he is patient in giving people more time to be saved from this judgement. That’s the major desire of God’s revealed will.
Paul said that a reason to pray for all people is that God, “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Here he uses the title “God our Savior” because God wants everyone to be saved from their sin. There are two parts to this salvation: divine and human. “To be saved” is passive. We can’t save ourselves, but must be saved by God. And to be saved, we must “come to a knowledge of the truth”. God doesn’t save people against their will. He doesn’t populate heaven with rebellious subjects. Then Paul summarizes the gospel message “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave His life to purchase freedom for everyone” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
Although God wants everyone to be saved, yet not everyone will be saved. God wanted the Israelites to travel from Egypt to Canaan, but most of them didn’t get there. Instead they wandered in the wilderness for 38 years where most of them died. They missed out of the promised blessing.
What’s God’s will for believers?
God’s will for believers
Once we’re saved, God has a further will for our lives. Forgiveness of sins is an entree to a life dedicated to the fulfilment of the will of God. God’s will is something for us to do, not just to believe or affirm. Because God loves us, His will for us is in our best interests.
Jesus said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50; Mk .3:35; Lk. 8:21). So, obeying God’s revealed will is evidence of membership in His spiritual family.
Paul says, “do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 1:17). We need to know and understand what the will of the Lord is before we can do it.
Paul prayed for the Colossians, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way” (Col. 1:9-10). God wants us to fill our minds with His will so that we can “live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way”. Isn’t that what we want to do?
John says, “The (sinful) world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). And Peter says, “they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Pt. 4:2). The will of God is opposite to the sinful desires of this world. One is eternal and the other is temporary. God’s will for our lives is the most important standard for Christian living. It’s the true purpose for the life of the believer. It should characterize Christians.
It’s like moving to a new job. We learn all about the business, its goals, vision and mission. We want to be accepted. Similarly, when we become Christians, we should find out God’s will for our lives and do it. We don’t want to displease our Boss.
There are certain things God wants us to do and not do. God’s will includes our growth to be like Christ and to glorify Him in all things. And there are good works for us to do: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
Because God has given us His revealed will, He is interested in our lives. But who do we live for?
Who do we live for?
When defending himself against false teachers Paul reveals the motive for his behavior: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:14-15NIV). The key point is that Paul was driven by Christ’s love – “Christ’s love compels us”. This love was revealed when “one (Jesus) died for all (everyone)”. And the reason He died was so that His followers “should no longer live for themselves but for Him (Jesus) who died for them and was raised again”. We should stop living for ourselves, and start living for Jesus, the Son of God. God wants us to be godly, not selfish. That’s a challenge to us. Who do we live for? Ourselves? Our family? Our church? God? You may say, “all of the above”. But in what priority? Jesus teaches that our top priority should be to follow Him (Mt. 10:37; 13:44-46; Lk. 14:26).
In this chapter of the Bible Paul also gives another motivation for his behavior. In the context of our death and resurrection, he says, “We make it our goal to please Him (Christ) … For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). We will give an account to Jesus about what we have done with our lives. Jesus will judge our lives. And then we will be rewarded accounting to what we have done. This is about rewards, not salvation. We are saved by faith, but we are rewarded according to our obedience to His will. Is our goal to please God? Or is it to please ourselves? Let’s be like Paul who wanted to please Christ.
When the Corinthians disputed about what leader they followed, Paul said “they (each leader) will each be rewarded according to their own labor” (1 Cor. 3:8). Likewise, each believer will be rewarded according to how much they have lived for God compared to how much they lived without considering what God would want them to do. Then he says, “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day (of judgment) will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:13-15). This is a metaphor saying that in future our behavior will be judged by Jesus Christ. As a fire reveals what’s combustible and what’s not combustible, Jesus will reveal what’s done in accordance with His will and what’s not done in accordance with His will. So, there are eternal consequences for how we live our lives.
It’s best to live for God because He created our world and He continues to sustain it. It’s always best to follow the maker’s instructions. Job said, “the life of every living thing is in His (God’s) hand, and the breath of every human being” (Job. 12:10). And Paul said, “Everything was created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16NLT). This includes us. God is the source of our life.
What are the consequences of living outside God’s will?
Consequences of living outside God’s will
The Bible teaches that there are consequences to how we live our lives. The Israelites died in the wilderness. Saul and Solomon lost their kingdoms. When the Galatians were living outside God’s will by following sinful ways Paul listed the consequences. They lost the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23NLT). Instead, they practiced: “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Gal. 5:19-21). So, they lapsed into sinful habits. Those who make their decisions without seeking God’s guidance will be vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.
True love and freedom only exists in the will of God (Jn. 8:32). The freedom outside of God’s ways is only a freedom to do more sin. A sin is anything that isn’t pleasing to God. It may be something we do or say, or an evil thought or selfish motive — but whatever it is, it isn’t God’s will. Sin is anything outside God’s will. It hinders and entangles us (Heb. 12:1). And God hates sin.
God told Adam and Eve not to eat from one particular tree because He wanted to protect them. That’s the beauty of obedience. It protects like a boundary fence. In Australia, schools have boundary fences. It’s safe inside them. And parents teach children not to cross the street when a car is coming. These are protective boundaries.
The Australian cricket captain Steve Smith knows that there are consequences for disobeying the laws of cricket (he has been banned from playing for 12 months). Likewise, there are consequences if we disobey God’s revealed will.
Knowing and doing
But knowing God’s revealed will is not enough. It’s like an App on your smartphone which is no good unless you activate it. The App is comprised of coded instructions. Just having it sitting in your phone and not using it is no better than not having it at all. But when you press the icon the program is activated, and you see the results on the screen. When we obey God’s revealed will it is activated, and we will see the results in our lives and in those around us.
Epaphras prayed that the Colossians “may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12ESV, NET). This means that they understand and apply the principles of Bible to their situations in life. There is nothing better for us than doing “all the will of God”. But the will of God may hurt; it may be an uphill battle.
Do you know that suffering comes by the will of God?
Suffering comes by the will of God
God created humanity with the freedom to make choices. This includes choosing between good and bad, right and wrong. We aren’t robots that only respond to instructions and we aren’t driven only by instinct. Because we can make choices, we will experience the consequences of these choices.
Peter said, “it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Pt. 3:17). It is God’s will to do what is right, even if suffering is the result. And undeserved suffering makes us partners in Christ’s suffering.
Peter also said, “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pt. 4:19). We are to continue trusting the God who made us (as part of the original creation) and who saved us (as part of the new creation) because He is faithful. We should hand over the control of our lives to Him.
Why is it important to know God’s will?
We have seen that the Bible gives at least 13 reasons why it’s important to know God’s will. Knowing and living for God’s will for us:
Shows us the only way to heaven. By faith in Christ.
Shows us how to live.
Gives meaning to our lives. This motivates us and gives us a passion.
Helps us make decisions. How do we spend our time and resources? These are limited. We can’t do everything we want to do. Instead if we know God’s will, we can focus on what’s important.
Develops our character and values. We adopt godly thinking and a godly lifestyle. We “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4). We become more Christ-like. We reap the fruit of the Spirit.
Enables growth towards spiritual maturity.
Prepares us for heaven. When Jesus asks, “What did you do with the life I gave you?”, it will it be obvious if we lived for ourselves or for God’s plan for us. This life is preparation for the next. And we aren’t reincarnated on earth.
Brings assurance and contentment.
Improves our prayer life.
Is evidence of membership in God’s spiritual family.
Protects us from losing the fruit of the Spirit.
Protects us from sinful habits.
Because God wants our will to comply with His will, nothing is as important to the life of the Christian as the will of God. That’s why God wants us to know His will (Acts 22:14), to understand His will (Eph. 5:17), and to do His will (Mt. 7:21).
But whose will is dominant in our lives? Ours or God’s? Let’s make knowing and understanding God’s will for us a way of life. A part of our character. A regular commitment. Then it will guide and influence our mind and conscience and emotions and all the things we do.
Written, April 2018
Also see: How to find God’s will
Something to live for
After his children were taken away and his partner died, Peter told me “I’ve got nothing to live for at the moment”. He was struggling with severe grief and loss and faced defending himself in Court as he sought access to his children. Peter couldn’t sleep at night and was losing weight because he wasn’t eating much. He felt guilty and was battling wanting to die. He also said “You’ve got to find something to live for”.
Stephen Hawking said that his engagement to Jane Wilde “gave me something to live for”. His biographers said that this was a major turning point in his life, which enabled him to break out of his depression and made him determined to live despite his disability. But their relationship ended after 21 years of marriage.
Although it’s good to have reasons to live for (like our children and partners), the Bible says that the two main purposes of life are to know the true God and to serve Him. We are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe and this is only possible through trusting in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.
While our relationships with family and friends can be great reasons to live, they can also break down. As God is the only One who is always reliable, let’s live for Him.
For more on this topic see:
What’s the purpose of life?
What are we here for?
Why Jesus was sent
Written, March 2015
What are we here for?
This question was asked recently by an elderly widower who was blind. He said that religious people say it is to make a better world. Then he added “Things don’t start from nothing – there must be somebody who put it together”.
To know Christ personally
King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. His search for meaning in life is given in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. He found that apart from God, life is meaningless. His conclusion was to “remember your Creator” and “fear God” and obey Him (Eccl. 12:1, 13-14). From this we see that our purpose in life is related to the God who created the universe and to whom we are accountable.
The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, had a close relationship with God. They were told to care and rule over the created earth (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). But this relationship was destroyed when they disobeyed God. As a result, today most people don’t have a close relationship with God.
Paul tried to please God by being religious. After he entered into a close relationship with Jesus Christ, he found that this religious activity was worthless (Phil. 3:4-11). His new goal was: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Phil. 3:10-11NLT). He gave up his previous way of life in order to know Christ personally. Then he looked ahead to living the Christian life and being rewarded when he gets to heaven (Phil. 3:13-14). In the meantime he wanted to live as a citizen of heaven eagerly waiting for Christ to return and change his weak mortal body into an glorious eternal body like His own (Phil. 3:20-21).
What was Jesus here for? In the Bible we see that the One “who put it together” gave Jesus a task to do.
Jesus was sent by God into the world (Jn. 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25). “God sent His Son” to rescue people from their slavery to sin (Gal. 4:4-5). He came “to give His life as a ransom” for us (Mk. 10:45). He was “an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10). This is how God enabled us to have a close relationship with Him today.
Lifesavers rescue those who are drowning. At the beach they watch the surfers and give warnings when there is danger such as sharks, rips or rough waves. Jesus was God’s lifesaver. God sent Him on a rescue mission to save us from God’s eternal judgment. His big rescue plan can give us purpose and meaning – Someone and something to live for.
Have you recognised Jesus as your lifesaver and accepted His help? That’s what you are here for. It’s how Paul commenced his close relationship with Jesus Christ.
But we are here for more than this. In the Bible we see that the One “who put it together” often gave people a task to do. Their goal or mission was to complete this task.
Abram was to travel to a foreign country so the people of the earth could be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). His descendants wrote most of the Bible, which communicates this blessing to humanity. Joseph went to Egypt to save lives in a famine (Gen. 45:5-8). Although he was forced to go there as a slave, he realized that he was sent there by God.
Moses was sent to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex. 3:10). Even though Moses was reluctant and gave excuses why he couldn’t carry out his mission, God enabled him to do it (Ex. 3:11-13; 4:1-16).
God sent the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Haggai to warn Judah of their idolatry and sinfulness (Isa. 6:8; Ezek. 3:4-5; Hag. 1:12). In fact all the prophets were sent by God (Jer. 7:25; 25:4; Zech 7:12). John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah (Mal. 3:1; Mk. 1:2).
Jesus sent the disciples to preach to the Jews (Mt. 10:5-33). Later He sent out 72 people to preach (Lk. 10:1-16). Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus commissioned the disciples to preach to the known world (“all nations”) (Mt. 28:19-20). He promised to always be with them.
There are many commands and models for Christians to follow in the New Testament. For example, they are to do good works as a consequence of their relationship with God (Eph. 2:10).
The car manufacturer Land River has engaged Bear Grylls as an ambassador to promote their products because he embodies the spirit of adventure and survival in the wilderness. In this context his mission is to help sell cars.
Paul said that Christians are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). Our mission is to help people be reconciled to God. Are we obedient (like Paul) or disobedient (like Jonah)?
According to the Bible, we are not here to make a better world. But we are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe. This is prohibited by our rebellious sinful nature. Fortunately God sent Jesus to earth to overcome this barrier so we can be reconciled with God. Have you accepted this gift? For those who have, we are here to live godly lives and help others turn towards God and be reconciled with Him.
Written, December 2014
What’s the purpose of life?
Something to live for
Why Jesus was sent
Visiting Noah’s ark
Did you know that there is a full-sized replica of Noah’s ark in Dordrecht in The Netherlands? This post was inspired by a visit to this replica.
Many nations all over the world have flood stories. Even tribes that never heard of the Bible. The Biblical story in Genesis chapters 6 to 9 of the Bible is the only realistic flood story. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, for instance we find a brawl between gods and a cubic shaped ark, which is the least stable shape. However, the dimensions of Noah’s ark made it almost impossible to capsize. The ratio of 6:1 for length to width appears to be most stable and seaworthy and is still being used for unmotorised vessels.
When God decided to destroy the earth because of humanity’s corruption and violence, He told Noah to build an ark that was “three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high” (Gen. 6:15NIV). The length of a cubit was based on the distance from the elbow to the fingertips, so it varied between different ancient groups of people. Two types of cubit are mentioned in the Old Testament, with the older one being one handbreadth longer than the newer one (2 Chron. 3:3; Ezek. 40:5; 43:13). According to the NIV Study Bible, the old cubit was 7 handbreadths and the new one was 6 handbreadths.
Because it is not known what cubit Noah used, the replica uses a different definition of the cubit for each dimension! They call these the “three most famous cubit sizes” as follows:
• 45 cm (Hebrew) for the length, making 135 m
• 60 cm (Egyptian) for the width, making 30 m
• 70 cm (18th Century) for the height, making 21 m (but they state 23 m)
This means that the replica has a different shape to the original (being wider and higher for the given length). The original would have been about 140 m long, 25 m wide and 15 m high, which is shaped more like the barges that travel past the replica on the Rhine River.
Noah was told to “make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out” (Gen. 6:14NIV). The Hebrew word translated “rooms” also means “nests”. There were to be rooms within the ark, which were pitched both inside and outside. The ark had a very solid construction. It was partitioned into many compartments, which led to extra strength. These rooms had different functions. Some were used to store food and if the rooms were large enough, they could be used as an animal cage. Furthermore, in the case of damaged compartments, the remaining rooms would maintain the buoyancy of the ark.
It is not known what type of wood was used to construct the ark – many translations call it “gopher wood” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew text. Pinewood seems to be the best option – this was used in the 1599 Geneva Bible and many modern translations render the Hebrew term as “cypress” (NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV). The ark was to be covered with pitch, both inside and outside. Pitch can be made from pinewood and is created by putting pinewood waste under a pile of sand and burning it to produce a think liquid pitch. Because of the large amount of resin present, pinewood is soft and flexible. After several years, the wood and resin become hard and strong. If the ark was made out of pinewood, it would have been very strong and durable. The replica ark was built out of 12,000 Scots pine trees from Scandinavia.
Cain’s descendant Jabal “was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah” (Genesis 4:20-22NIV).
The Bible says that Tubal-Cain was a blacksmith and that there were stringed instruments at that time. The strings of a harp are made out of steel and are complicated to forge. Therefore, Tubal-Cain and his descendants must have been good blacksmiths. Tubal-Cain lived about 600 years before Noah. From this we can deduce that Noah probably had steel, hammers and nails for the construction of the ark.
Could all the animals fit in the ark?
Noah was told “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them” (Gen. 6:19-21).
A common criticism of the Biblical account is, “How can millions of species fit on the ark?”. But this fails to recognize that “every kind” does not mean “every species”. Instead, a “kind” is more like a “genus” than a “species”. Noah only needed a pair of every kind of creature, not of every species. For example, one kind of dog and one kind of horse, not many. Since the flood each kind has produced many species (variety within a genus). It is estimated that there were about 8,000 genera at that time, including extinct genera. This means that about 16,000 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians would need to be housed on the ark.
It is estimated that the median size of all animals on the ark would have been that of a small rat, while only about 10% would have been much larger than a sheep. As the animals were to repopulate the world after the flood, they would have been young and not old. The ark had three “decks”. If the smaller 90% of the animals were in two layers on one deck, each pair would have an average of 1 square metre. If the remainder of the animals were on another deck, each pair would have an average of 4 square metre. This indicates the feasibility of housing the animals in two thirds of the ark.
The Bible says that eight people survived the great deluge because they were on the ark. Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. However, there would have been more than eight beds on the ark. What is the reason for that? It took Noah about 120 years to build the ark. During this time he told the people that they could be safe on the ark (2 Peter 2:5). Unfortunately no one accepted the invitation.
Jesus said He is preparing a place for us in heaven, just like Noah prepared a place for the people of his age (Jn.14:2). In Noah’s time the ark was the only way to survive the great deluge. In the same way, Jesus came to earth to save us. Just like in Noah’s time, the Lord has a way to rescue people. Because God loved the world so much, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Jesus died on the cross, to bear our sins and He rose again so we can be saved from the penalty of our sin; eternal death (Jn. 3:16). We are to tell the world of this salvation. Otherwise those places will stay empty (Mt. 28:19)!
Written May 2014
Why was Noah’s family saved while the rest died in the flood?
Flood stories: Fact or fiction?
Noah: Fact or fiction?
Evidence of Noah’s flood
Visiting Noah’s ark
How to experience God’s guidance
There are many choices in life and difficult decisions to make. The Bible tells us how to experience God’s guidance at these times. Proverbs 3:5-6NIV was written by King Solomon to the Israelites about 3,000 years ago and is still true for us today. It says:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
This passage on God’s guidance mentions our part, which is to trust and submit to God; and God’s part, which is to guide us through life.
First it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”. Who do we trust in? It’s dangerous to trust in someone who is unreliable and foolish. Here the Israelites were told to trust in their God who made the universe and who had led them from slavery in Egypt to Solomon’s mighty kingdom. Solomon’s father, King David, said “In You our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them” (Ps. 22:3). So they knew that God had answered their prayers for help and had kept His promise to make them into a great nation. We now know that God also provided a Savior for us in Jesus Christ, so today we can trust the Lord for both our eternal destiny and our daily lives.
How should we trust God? It says with all our heart or wholeheartedly like Caleb – five verses of the Old Testament say he followed the Lord wholeheartedly (Num. 14:24; Dt. 1:36; Josh. 14:6-14).
Second it says, “lean not on your own understanding”. It’s also dangerous to trust in no one except ourselves and act alone when making important decisions. Instead it’s better to consult with others. This applies even more with God because we don’t know what is best for us and others don’t have God’s insight and wisdom. If we make decisions without consulting the Lord, then we don’t allow Him to guide us.
Third it says, “in all your ways submit to Him”. We should not leave God out of our lives, but remember Him, acknowledge Him, seek His will and do it, and serve Him faithfully. This applies “in all your ways”, which is every area of our lives. Every day of the week, not just Sunday!
Summarizing, our part is to trust and submit to God and not rely on ourselves. It’s to be a commitment like marriage.
God’s part is a conditional promise; if the Israelites did their part, God promised to do His part. Likewise; if we do our part, God will do His part.
The promise is given as a metaphor: “He will make your paths straight”. As paths lead to a destination, it means we will have direction and a sense of purpose as we progress towards His goals for us. There’s no doubt about it, “He will make your paths straight”. This promise is repeated in, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans” (Prov. 16:3).
There are many options and paths in life. Have you ever followed a GPS that guided you along a long route rather than the most direct one? This is a promise that God will guide us past the detours, the side tracks and the obstacles on the pathway of life and bring us to our goal and destination. If we don’t trust Him, we add obstacles and side tracks to our daily path, which hinder us from achieving God’s will.
How does God guide us through life? He can use principles in the Bible (Acts 17:11), answered prayer (Jas. 1:5), advice from godly Christians, circumstances coming together, and an inward peace (Phil. 4:6-7, Col. 3:15) along the pathway.
Let’s do our part by trusting and submitting to God, so He can do His by guiding us through life. Let’s realize that we can’t live for the Lord in our own strength.
Written, May 2013
Why Jesus was sent?
Jesus as ambassador, lifesaver and gift
At this time of the year we remember the incarnation when Jesus Christ was born into the world. Scripture teaches that He was sent into the world by God the Father. Let’s look at why Jesus was sent. What was His mission and purpose?
God sent His Son
In the Old Testament times God spoke to mankind through people such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, the judges and the prophets. They were divinely inspired spokesmen for God. We read in Hebrews, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2NIV).
It reminds me of the parable of the wicked tenants where a landowner rented his vineyard to some farmers. When he sent his servants to collect the harvest, they were killed. Then he sent his son to them, but they killed him as well (Mt. 21:33-46). In this parable, the landowner is like God, the servants are like the prophets and the son is like Jesus. First God sent the prophets and then He sent His Son.
Paul wrote, “When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4). Who set the time? God the Father. He is the one who did the sending. It was His idea. At Christmas we remember how, “God sent His son”. Although Mary was His earthly mother, God was His Father. This means that Jesus is the Son of God, which shows that He is divine; a part of the trinity. Jesus is unique in this aspect. Jesus was “born of a woman”, which is the usual way that people enter the world. It shows that Jesus was also a man. What an amazing way for God’s Son to enter the world!
The New Testament gives three reasons why Jesus was sent: to be an ambassador, a lifesaver, and a gift from God.
To be an ambassador
Jesus was sent to be an ambassador. What does an ambassador do? They represent whoever sent them. They are authorised representatives that are usually sent to a foreign country. The prophets were God’s ambassadors, although they represented Him in their own countries. However, their message came from a different country; it was from heaven.
Jesus was God’s ambassador. But He was a different kind of ambassador. How was Jesus’ ambassadorship different? He was sent to be born in a foreign country (earth) as a baby and not as a mature adult. This means that He wasn’t a foreigner. He grew up on earth and didn’t just arrive as an adult. So God sent an ambassador who wasn’t a foreigner. To all appearances He was a normal person like you or I. He lived in Palestine and was not seen as a foreigner. He spoke the same language, wore the same clothes, and had a similar appearance to his fellow countrymen. In this regard, He was like the prophets.
What does the Bible say about Jesus as an ambassador?
Jesus spoke for God
We have already seen in Hebrews that God “has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:2). John wrote, “the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (Jn. 3:34). Jesus said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (Jn. 7:16; 8:26) and “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken … So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (Jn. 12:49-50).
So Jesus was an ambassador whose message came from God the Father. He spoke on God’s behalf.
Jesus acted for God
But Jesus not only spoke for God, He lived for God. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38-39). Also, “my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34) and “I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn. 5:30).
The Lord Jesus is the most complete revelation of God to humanity. He has made God known and said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 1:18; 14:9). Jesus reveals God’s character. He said, “the one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me” (Jn. 12:45). After all, one of His names was Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23).
So Jesus was an ambassador who acted in accordance with God’s will.
Jesus showed God’s kindness and love
In living for God, Jesus showed God’s kindness and love in a new way. After describing one’s sinfulness before salvation, Paul wrote “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Ti. 3:4-7). When did “the kindness and love of God our Savior” appear? It was when Christ arrived on earth. At Christmas we remember this event.
John wrote, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world” (1 Jn. 4:9). And the well known verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
So Jesus was an ambassador who showed God’s kindness and love. We learn more about this in the next illustration.
To be a lifesaver
Jesus was also sent to be a lifesaver. What does a lifesaver do? They rescue those who are drowning. At the beach they watch the surfers and give warnings when there is danger such as sharks, rips or rough waves.
Jesus was God’s lifesaver. God sent Jesus on a rescue mission to save us from the lake of fire. Like a lifesaver rescues those who are drowning, Jesus can rescue us from God’s eternal judgment. His name reflects the fact that He is the most important part of God’s rescue plan. The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” which means “God saves”. Joseph was told that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).
But He was a different kind of lifesaver. How was Jesus’ lifesaving different? First, His was a rescue of our spirit, soul and body; not just a physical one. Second, He took the place of the victim and died in the process. Third, when it is accepted, Christ’s lifesaving is effective forever. We have heard of people who died when saving someone else, but the person who was rescued could drown later. In fact they will eventually die later unless the Lord comes in the meantime and they are believers.
What does the Bible say about Jesus as a lifesaver?
Jesus paid the penalty for our sin
All the world’s problems come from the sinful nature we inherited from Adam and Eve. Humanity’s sinfulness was the target of God’s rescue plan. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). What is the devil’s work? Sin, because “the devil has been sinning from the beginning”. Satan specialises in sinning.
The Bible says that Jesus “appeared so that He might take away our sins” (1 Jn. 3:5). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). “The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:17; 12:47).
God did this by sending Jesus to the earth to die on the cross (Jn. 12:27). God “loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). Then He was buried and rose from the grave and ascended back to heaven. So the baby born in Bethlehem died at Calvary for our sins.
By confessing our sinfulness and accepting that Jesus died as our substitute there is liberation from sin and its consequences: Jesus was sent to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free (Lk. 4:18-21). Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems. He is the greatest lifesaver.
Jesus enables eternal life in heaven
Not only can we be rescued from eternal punishment, but we can be eternally in God’s presence. “God sent His Son … that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4). The change described in this passage is from being slaves to being sons. The Jews were under the bondage of the law and the Gentiles were under the bondage of idolatry. Through Christ’s sacrifice, both can be changed from slaves to heirs as sons of God.
To be a gift
Jesus was also sent to be a gift. God’s salvation is like a gift: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Besides being God’s ambassador and lifesaver, Jesus is God’s gift to us: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Jn. 4:10; Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 9:15). Paul wrote, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Cor. 9:15). So God is the greatest giver and Jesus is the greatest gift.
Have you accepted His gift of salvation or has it been discarded or forgotten? This is important because the next time Jesus is sent to earth it will not be as an ambassador or a lifesaver or a gift but as a judge.
Here’s how to accept God’s gift. We can’t escape hell and get to heaven by good works. When people asked Jesus “What must we do to do the works God requires?” He answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”’ (Jn. 6:28-29). Instead of good works we need to confess our sins and trust in Christ’s work of salvation on our behalf.
Here’s the result of accepting God’s gift: those who accept God’s rescue plan have a new life in Christ which is a spiritual life. “He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9). Without Jesus in our life we are spiritually dead, with Him in our lives we are spiritually alive. He said, “whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” and “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 5:24; 10:10). Anyone alive has physical life, But Jesus is talking about spiritual life here. Believers have been born into a spiritual life; they have changed from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Paul calls it a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
The disciples were an example of those who accepted God’s gift. Jesus prayed, “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (they accepted that He was God’s ambassador). They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me (they accepted that He was God’s lifesaver)” (v.8, 25). He also prayed for unity between Christians so “that the world may believe that You have sent me” (Jn. 17:21, 23). Let’s display the character of God and Christ so that others will see Christ in us as the Father is seen in Christ.
God sends us
Jesus continued to pray for the disciples “As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” and “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn. 17:18; 20:21). As God sent His Son to earth, Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the gospel message. Those of us who trust in Christ are also His disciples and are also sent to be God’s ambassadors to proclaim the gospel message in our part of the world. As Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). In this case the message was to be reconciled to God.
As we give gifts to each other at Christmas let’s remember that God the Father sent His Son as an ambassador so we can learn more about God, as a lifesaver who we can trust in for eternal life and as a gift for us to accept and share with others.
Written, December 2011
What’s the purpose of life?
Recently a woman asked this question. Because of an abusive husband, she was frightened of men and never went outside at night. All her hopes and dreams had vanished. She was alone and couldn’t see any possibility of her situation improving. Also, I learnt that an elderly man had completed suicide. He chose death rather than life. He had no reason to live any longer.
The wisest person who ever lived, Solomon, found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2; 1:14; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfillment and lasting satisfaction are elusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing. Hopes and dreams for this life can be shattered and wiped away. This was the case for these people.
According to the Bible, there are two main purposes of life: to know God, and to serve Him. Paul, a pioneer of the Christian faith, wrote: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things … I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:8,10 NIV). He also wrote: “ For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). He gave up Judaism and all his personal achievements when he trusted Christ as Savior. He wanted to know the Lord personally and live for Him.
The Bible tells us that people are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have no lasting hope, no hope beyond death. This is because they don’t know the only true God, who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But if we truly know God, we have a lasting hope that looks beyond death. Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can look forward to the resurrection of our bodies, life forever with the Lord and God’s kingdom being established on earth.
People put their time and effort into the things that they think are important. Near the end of his life Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He was a devoted servant of God who put all his energy into serving Him and doing His will. He had protected the Christian doctrine which had been committed to him, and he faithfully passed it on to others. God wants us to be faithful in His sight; not merely successful in people’s sight.
Paul was motivated by the fact that his service would be reviewed in heaven: “We make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Fancy being able to please God when we are “away from” the body after death! This is when believers stand before the Lord as He reviews their service. The only thing we can take with us beyond death is our reward for faithfulness to Him.
Can all our hopes, dreams, visions and goals be taken away? If the answer is yes, they are flimsy and not robust. That’s why people give up, get depressed, and think there is no purpose to life. Instead let’s be like Paul and make our most important priority knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him while we can.
Published, April 2012
What are we here for?
Something to live for
Why Jesus was sent
What does the Old Testament say about Christians getting tattoos?
A tattoo is a permanent marking made by inserting ink into the layers of skin to change the pigment for decorative or other reasons. Tattooing is a tradition among indigenous peoples around the world. The symbolism and impact of tattoos varies in different places and cultures. We are looking at this topic because it gives us an example of how we can apply the teaching of Scripture to our daily lives.
God has communicated to us in words that are recorded in the Bible. The Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s dealings with humanity, which is divided into two main parts: the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament (OT) records events up to the birth of Jesus Christ (B.C.) and was written in the Hebrew language to the Jewish nation. It begins with the creation of the universe and the first people Adam and his wife Eve and the fact that they disobeyed God. Because this rebellious pattern has been inherited by us all, we are all under God’s judgement. According to the OT, God chose the Jewish nation to be His special people, but they were unfaithful.
The New Testament (NT) records events after the birth of Jesus Christ (A.D.) and was written in the Greek language to Christians. It describes Jesus as the Son of God who came to pay the punishment for our rebellion by giving up His life. All those who recognise that He died for them and accept His offer of a future eternal life in a world without sadness, sickness, decay or death become His followers who are called Christians. The NT contains principles for living as a Christian.
The Jewish Bible is the OT, while the Christian Bible is the OT plus the NT. So, although the OT was not written to Christians it is the first part of their Bible, which provides the context for the NT.
In order to understand the meaning of any words we need to understand the text or words themselves and the context or how they are used.
The only specific mention of tattoos in the Bible is a command given to the Jews about 3,450 years ago; “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves” (Lev. 19:28NIV). The text is clear; it says don’t get tattoos. If that’s the complete answer to our question, we can stop now and finish early!
If you think that is the answer, then you would also need to obey the following commands which occur in the same chapter:
- “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material”, which would require removing many items from your wardrobe (Lev. 19:19).
- “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard”, which would require the cultivation of bushy sideburns and beards (Lev. 19:27).
- “Observe my Sabbaths”, which would require keeping the Sabbath day as in OT times (Lev. 19:30).
So, in order to understand the context of this verse we will look at when it was written and why it was written.
When was it written?
The book of Leviticus is a series of commands that ends with; “These are the commands the LORD gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the Israelites” (Lev. 27:34). It contains instructions given to the Jews as they travelled from Egypt to Canaan. As they were to be God’s people in that age, He gave them the ten commandments and many other instructions on how to live. The book of Leviticus was an instruction manual for the Jewish priests, who were from the tribe of Levi and so were called “Levites” (Ex. 32:25-29; Num. 8:5-22). That’s why it’s called Leviticus.
As Christians are God’s people today, and as God doesn’t change, the instructions in Leviticus may apply in some way to Christians today. However, as this was over 1,400 years before Christ lived on earth and founded the Christian faith, we would also expect that these instructions may apply in a different way to Christians today compared to how they applied to the Jews, or they may not apply at all.
Why was it written?
In order to understand the reason and circumstances for a verse, we can look at the verses nearby. Two main reasons are given for the instructions in Leviticus 19. The first reason was the requirement to be holy and the second reason was to not follow the wicked customs of the Egyptians and the Canaanites (Lev. 18:1-5, 24-30; 20:22-24, 26). They were commanded to “Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them” and to “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev. 18:30; 19:2).
The Hebrew word translated “holy” (Strongs #6918) is an adjective that describes something or someone as being “pure” or “devoted”. God is holy because He alone is pure and sinless. The Jews were to be holy in the sense that they were to be devoted to God. They were to show this by obeying His commands given in the OT (Ex. 19:5-6).
They were to be a nation that didn’t worship idols or offer child sacrifices or practice sexual immorality like the other nations (Lev. 18; 19:4; 20:1-5). Holiness is the key theme in Leviticus and it was to characterise the Jewish nation.
The Meaning for the Jews
What did “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves” mean when Moses was alive (Lev. 19:28)? A similar verse says, “You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be His treasured possession” (Dt. 14:1-2). Self-inflicted wounds were symbolic of self-sacrifice as an extreme method of arousing a pagan god to action. For example, the 450 prophets of Baal in Elijah’s day slashed themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed (1 Ki. 18:28).
So the tattoos were associated with people cutting their bodies and with pagan gods. As the “tattoo marks” described in Leviticus 19:28 were related to false religious practices, they were prohibited because God did not want the Jews to be identified with idolatry. The principle associated with this command is that God’s people were not to be involved with idolatry and false religious practices, which was backsliding and deserting their Jewish faith.
Examples, Warnings, Encouragement and Hope
How should we interpret the OT today? According to Scripture, Christians are not required to obey Old Testament laws. Because Christ has fulfilled the law by paying the death penalty for everyone’s sin (Mt. 5:17; Rom. 10:4), the Old Testament laws have been set aside and are obsolete (Eph. 2:15; Heb. 7:18; 8:13) and believers are not under the laws received by Moses, but under God’s grace (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 3:23-25).
The following verses throw more light on the purpose of the OT. When Paul wrote about the need for self-discipline and self-control in the Christian life to be rewarded for faithful service, he thought of the examples and warnings from the history of the Jewish people (1 Cor. 10:1-13). “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” and “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (1 Cor. 10:6, 11). Also, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Rom 15:4TNIV).
So, when OT laws are interpreted in terms of their context and the doctrines of the New Testament, useful principles and examples may be derived from these laws (1 Cor. 10:6-11; 2 Tim. 3:15-1). They can also be a source of encouragement and hope (Rom. 15:4; Heb. 11). In this sense, the OT has a message for Christians. A test of the examples, warnings, encouragement and hope we find in the OT is that they must be consistent with the teachings of the NT. It’s like looking through polarised sunglasses, where only light in a particular plane is transmitted. Of course, the OT also contains references to the coming Messiah, which we can see by hindsight (Col. 2:17).
What examples and warnings can we learn for our everyday life from the Jewish prohibition on tattoos?
The Meaning for Christians
As it is not mentioned in the New Testament, the practice of tattooing is not specifically prohibited for Christians today. However, a comment on Revelation 13:16-18 and 19:16 is given in the next article in this series.
We are Christians living in 2009, not Jews travelling from Egypt to Canaan many years ago. Also, believers are under the new covenant, not the old one.
The two main reasons for the instruction in Leviticus were: the requirements to be holy, and not to follow the wicked customs of other nations. The first reason is repeated in the NT: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pt. 1:14-16); which quotes from Leviticus 19:2. Christians are also to be devoted to God and to show this by obeying His commands in the NT.
The second reason is also repeated in the NT. The Bible teaches that true believers display the fruit of the Spirit instead of the acts of the sinful nature and do not sin continually and habitually (Gal. 5:19-23; 1 Jn. 3:4-10).
So the overall reasons for the instruction still apply today. They are universal timeless principles. However, today a tattoo is usually a means of self expression and a personal decoration that is not associated with idolatry.
The meaning of Leviticus 19:28 for Christians is that God’s people are not to be involved with idolatry and false religious practices, which would be backsliding and deserting their faith. In this case, the faith is the Christian faith, not the Jewish faith. This is consistent with the New Testament teaching that believers are to have nothing to do with idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7, 14; 1 Jn. 5:21) and not desert their faith, which is apostasy (Heb. 3:12).
Lessons For Us
What to know
There is a difference between the OT and the NT. Because the verses in the OT were written primarily to Jews and not to Christians, they may have no direct application to us today. As God communicates to us progressively through the Bible, OT verses need to be understood in view of the additional knowledge we have in the NT (Lk. 24:25-27).
What to do
When reading the OT, look for examples, warnings, encouragement and hope that are consistent with the messages given to churches in the NT. In the case of Leviticus 19:28, the questions that could be considered before a Christian gets a tattoo are: Is it consistent or inconsistent with being devoted to God? Is it linked to idolatry? Does it display the fruit of the Spirit or an act of the sinful nature? What is the motivation behind the tattoo?
These are factors we should consider when applying the OT to our daily lives.
Written, August 2009
See the other articles in this series:
– What does the New Testament say about Christians getting tattoos?
– What does the Bible say about Christians getting tattoos?