Who Were the “Minor Prophets”? Part Two: Nahum-Malachi

In our last post, I introduced you to a section of the Bible known as the Minor Prophets, also known as The Twelve.[1] We discussed the difference between the Major and Minor Prophets, while noting the great importance that the Minor Prophets have. The first entry also discussed the Minor Prophets Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Amos, Jonah, and Micah. This post will look into the lives of Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Nahum

Little is known about Nahum outside of the fact that he was an “Elkoshite” (Nahum 1:1).[2] Elkosh is thought by some to be around modern day Mosul, Iraq. However, the more likely identification of Elkosh is in Galilee around the Capernaum area. Even if Nahum was from Capernaum, it is apparent that he lived in Judea at the time of his writing.[3] Nahum writes to Israel during the difficult days of Assyrian oppression. Israel had allowed syncretism to sway them away from the foundations of their trust in God. While God had allowed the Assyrian take over, many Israelis began to wonder if God had completely forsaken them. Does God still love us? Nahum would answer their inquiries. As Barker and Kohlenberger note, “To the suffering remnant, there was little question that God would and did punish his own covenant people,”[4] but through Nahum God would show that He would also bring other nations into judgment also. Judgment would not last forever for God’s people on earth. The people of God would be elevated and robed in righteousness. Due to the fall of Assyria to Babylon, Nahum must be dated some time before 612 B.C.[5]

Habakkuk

Habakkuk is a unique prophet in that he does not speak for God, but rather speaks to God for the people. Habakkuk is dated around the fall of the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the hands of the Babylonians. Jerusalem was overtaken and the people were taken into exile in 586 B.C. Thus, Habakkuk must have prophesied sometime between 626 and 590 B.C. The book of Habakkuk is quite interesting. The prophet asks God, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?…Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2, 4). God answers by saying that He is “raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:6). Habakkuk replies, “Lord, we’re bad, granted; but they’re worse!” God replies that He is going to judge every person and every nation for his/her actions. God says, “The LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). Habakkuk provides an interesting and unique answer to the theodicy issue. That is, why does a loving and powerful God allow evil on the earth? The answer in part is due to free will. The people chose to rebel against God. Yet on the same token, God is in control. Thus, all evil will be ultimately judged by the sovereign power of God Almighty.

Zephaniah

Zephaniah prophesies after the time of the wicked kings Manasseh and Amon. King Josiah would bring reform to the land. However, it was during this time of reform (640-609 B.C.) that Zephaniah would warn the people of impending judgment. Josiah befriended enemy nations for hope of assistance. Josiah would trust in politics over the power of God which would later prove problematic. Zephaniah’s primary focus is on a time called the “Day of the LORD.” Zephaniah used the phrase more than any other prophet. The Day of the LORD would be a time of great judgment. However, God would provide shelter and hope for those who were faithful to Him. Zephaniah looked ahead to a time where God would glorify Israel for the remnant of the faithful. Zephaniah, speaking for God, says, “On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:16-17).

Haggai

The prophet Haggai is a post-exilic prophet (see the section Zechariah for more details on the post-exilic period). The exiles returned to Jerusalem around 538 B.C., thus many commentators feel that Haggai prophesies around 520 B.C.[6] Haggai is the contemporary of Zechariah. Both the prophets appeal to the exiles to take up the task of rebuilding the temple despite the opposition they face by their adversaries. Haggai’s key theme is simply put in the opening chapter, “‘Go up into the mountains and bring down the timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the LORD” (Haggai 1:8).

Zechariah

The book of Zechariah holds tremendous importance to the New Testament Church. Zechariah is second only to Isaiah in being the most quoted Old Testament prophet by the New Testament writers. Jesus quoted Zechariah quite often (e.g. Matthew 26:31). Zechariah is different than most of the prophets in that he lived in what scholars call the post-exilic time. The post-exile refers to a period of time when Persia released the Jews from bondage and allowed them to return to Israel after having been in exile for 70 years. While Babylon was responsible for exiling the Jewish people, Persia had conquered Babylonia and was responsible for their release. Zechariah, serving as a prophetic priest, prophesies as the temple failed to be built 16 years prior. The first attempt had been squelched by Jewish enemies who convinced the Persian authorities that the Jews would become a threat if the temple were to be rebuilt. However, God taught the people through Zechariah that the temple would be finished if they trusted God and continued to do what they were called to do. Four years later, the temple was finished. Zechariah prophesied in Jerusalem from August 29th, 520 B.C. to 480 B.C.[7]  This writer agrees with Barker and Kohlenberger that “Zechariah is probably the most Messianic, apocalyptic, and eschatological of all the OT books.”[8] It is for this reason that one could call Zechariah the Old Testament Book of Revelation. Zechariah sees a time when God’s Messiah would redeem all people who trust in Him. He also seeks to encourage the people by reminding them that God ultimately holds victory over all their enemies. It is quite interesting and appropriate that Zechariah’s name means “Yahweh remembers.”

Malachi

The last of the Minor Prophets also serves as the last book of the Old Testament. It is the book of Malachi. Malachi, which means “My Messenger,” most likely prophesied between 515 through 458 B.C. This would have been between the completion of the temple and the ministry of Ezra in Jerusalem. Israel would face another period of social and moral decline after the temple was completed. Ezra and Nehemiah would help correct this issue. Malachi calls out the people on several issues. The people were guilty of breaking the covenant through blemished sacrifices (Malachi 1:6-14), through a lackluster attention to marriage (Malachi 2:10-16), through injustice (Malachi 2:17-3:5), and by withholding their tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:6-12). It is in Malachi that one learns about the forerunner to the Messiah. Malachi writes, “‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare he way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD” (Malachi 3:1).

The Minor Prophets were fantastic and bold preachers for the Lord. They all met distinct difficulties in getting their message across. All of them faced perilous times. Some may have even been martyred.[9] But through it all, the Minor Prophets remained true to the task that God had called them to accomplish. They trusted more in God Almighty than in the political powers of the day. I think the Minor Prophets poignantly direct our attention to what really matters: faithfulness and trust in God rather than trust in government and manmade traditions.

Look for a future article addressing the main themes of the Minor Prophets coming soon.

Minor Prophets Cartoon.png
From get.Bible. 

 

Sources Cited

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger, III. Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Walton, John H., and Craig S. Keener. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.

 

© September 27, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Because there are 12 Minor Prophets.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[3] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1529, fn 1.1.

[4] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1482.

[5] Just for clarification: 612 B.C. is the date that Babylon conquered Assyria.

[6] Walton and Keener, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, 1548.

[7] This writer holds to the unity of Zechariah as a prophetic work. Some commentators feel that two Zechariahs are responsible for the content of the book. But, this writer feels no reason to accept such a claim as the book holds literary unity.

[8] Barker and Kohlenberger, EBC, 1515.

[9] Jewish tradition holds that Zechariah was killed.

Who Were the “Minor Prophets”? Part One: Hosea-Micah

One of the most misunderstood sections of Scripture is the unit of the Old Testament known as the “Minor Prophets.” When a person speaks about their favorite texts of the Bible, one rarely hears Zechariah, Habakkuk, Amos, or Zephaniah mentioned. It is really a tragedy that such is the case because the twelve books that comprise the section termed the “Minor Prophets” holds significant value for the believer. But one may ask, “Who are the Minor Prophets and what segment of Scripture does one reference”?

The Minor Prophets consist of twelve prophets in the Bible beginning with Hosea and ending with Malachi (which also ends the segment Christians call the “Old Testament”). The minor prophets include: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These books are called “Minor” in contrast to the “Major Prophets” (which include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) due to the size of the writings, and thus do not address the prophets’ importance. The Minor Prophets were every bit as important as the Major ones. Since there are twelve Minor Prophets, many scholars address them simply as “The Twelve.” Some evidence suggests that since the Minor Prophets were significantly smaller than the Major Prophets, some compiled the writings of the Twelve onto one scroll to save space.

Some people have difficulty relating to the Minor Prophets. Part of the problem relates to a lack of knowledge as to who the Minor Prophets were and what their message was about. What was the message of the Minor Prophets and who were these individuals? In a future blog, we will address the message of the Twelve. But for now, let’s look at who these prophets were. It is important to note that by the time of the Minor Prophets that the kingdom of Israel had split into two sections. Rehoboam was king of the United Kingdom of Israel. He had succeeded his father Solomon. In 932 B.C., the Northern section of Israel led by Jeroboam rebelled and pulled away from Rehoboam’s reign due to Rehoboam’s heavy taxation (1 Kings 12:1ff). They established what was called the Northern Kingdom of Israel selecting Jeroboam as their ruler. The Northern Kingdom is sometimes simply called “Israel” during this time period. The Southern Kingdom, the area that was continued to be ruled by Rehoboam, is often called “Judea.” Bethel and Ai served as the border which divided the two kingdoms. Samaria was the capital of Israel and Jerusalem was the capital of Judea.

720px-kingdoms_of_israel_and_judah_map_830-svg[1]

Hosea

Hosea was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Sometimes he mentions Judah, however the main focus of his message is to Israel. Hosea had a long ministry dating from 753 to 715 B.C.[2] Hosea completed his ministry and prophecy before the time that Assyria invaded Israel. Hosea is best known for his message of love and compassion. God told Hosea to marry Gomer, a woman who was quite promiscuous (Hosea 1:2). Gomer’s infidelity against Hosea symbolized the peoples’ infidelity against God due to their idolatry. Hosea continued to love Gomer and eventually took her back. Hosea’s love for Gomer represented the continued love that God held for the rebellious people. Anyone who thinks that the prophets were only “gloom and doom” needs to take a serious look at the message of Hosea.

Joel

Little is known about the prophet Joel outside of the fact that he was the “son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1).[3] Joel prophesied to the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the days of Uzziah, a time “of unparalleled prosperity.”[4] Thus, Joel most likely prophesied sometime around 792-740B.C.). Joel demonstrates that natural disasters can serve as God’s judgment, but primarily demonstrates that God is a “God of grace and mercy (Joel 2:13, 17), of love and patience (2:13), and of justice and righteousness (1:15; 2:23; 3:1-8).”[5] Joel is best known for his prophecy pertaining to God pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-31).

Amos

Amos is quite the interesting prophet. Many prophets were professional prophets who spoke before the king’s court and had paid positions. Amos, however, is not one of those prophets. If there was ever a “country prophet,” Amos was one. Amos was a tenderer of sycamore figs in Tekoa. Tekoa was around 10 miles south of Jerusalem. So, Amos was a Judean prophet preaching to Israel. Amos was a brave and bold man, going so far as to call the elite women of the time the “cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria” (Amos 4:1). A person is brave in any time to say something like that to a woman! Amos is known for his confrontation with Amaziah. Amaziah was a professional prophet who wanted to preach a message that the people would like. Amos was called to preach a message that the people needed to hear. Such a contrast is noted in modern times also. Amos preached his message around 760-750B.C. Amos’ message was one of repentance, calling people back to their first love. Amos condemned actions that demonstrated hatred towards God and towards fellow humanity. Israel was guilty of syncretism (the practice of blending their beliefs with others). Amos called them back to the truth. Amos is a man needed in modern times as much as he was in Israel.

Obadiah

Obadiah is one of those difficult prophets to date, mainly because nothing much is known about him. Obadiah pronounces judgment against Edom. Edom was an area around Mount Seir located southeast of the Dead Sea. Many feel that Obadiah prophesied, although greatly debated, around the destruction that came to Edom by Nebuchadnezzar around 586 B.C. Obadiah shows that God rules from on high. Political and national entities are subject to change, but God is over all. As Barker and Kohlenberger note, “The dual thrust of 1:1 indicates two levels at which human history moves. The Lord is the ultimate mover, but there is also an international political alliance, motivated only by callous self-seeking.”[6]

Jonah

Jonah is perhaps the most popular of the Twelve. Jonah was the son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1) from the area of Gath Hepher in Galilee.[7] Jonah was called by God to preach a message of repentance to Nineveh in Assyria. Assyria was an enemy of Israel. To say that Jonah was hesitant to preach to Nineveh is an understatement. Jonah rebelled against the calling of God, eventually landing in the belly of a “huge fish” (Jonah 1:17). Jonah was spit out of the fish (Jonah 2:10). Jonah, then, travelled to Nineveh and preached a message of repentance. To Jonah’s surprise, Nineveh listened! They were spared, albeit temporarily, from God’s judgment. Jonah presents a message of God’s love for all people. God is willing to forgive even when we are not.[8]

Micah

Micah produced a theologically rich prophecy in the 8th century B.C. Micah notes that he is from Moresheth (Micah 1:1) which was approximately six miles northeast of Lachish, twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem. Micah prophesied sometime before 722 to the end of the 8th century. Micah prophesied primarily against Judah, warning of the threat of judgment. Micah, as noted earlier, is a theologically rich work. Micah emphasizes God’s sovereignty over all nation (Micah 4:11-13), God’s immutability (Micah 7:18-20), on the remnant (Micah 4:11-13), divine redemption, and the messianic kingdom.

In the next article, we will examine the remainder of the Twelve. Be sure to look for the article “Who Were the ‘Minor Prophets’? Part Two: Nahum-Malachi.”

© September 26, 2016. Brian Chilton

Sources Cited

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger, III. Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Wikipedia Commons. Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: FinnWikiNoderivative work: Richardprins (talk) – Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10872389.

[2] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1407.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[4] Barker and Kohlenberger, EBC, 1426.

[5] Ibid., 1427.

[6] Ibid., 1455.

[7] Ibid., 1460.

[8] Scholars debate the historicity of Jonah. Is Jonah an allegory or is it historical? In my opinion, since Jesus referenced Jonah as historical (Matthew 12:38-41), then one should remain open to the historical nature of the book. While it is improbable that a person could survive being consumed by a large fish, it is not impossible. God is master even over the fish, so it is indeed possible that God could have accomplished those things attributed to Him in the book.

Who was the “Angel of the Lord”?

Throughout the Old Testament, one finds an intriguing figure who is known as the Angel of the Lord (Hebrew, “mal’ak YHWH). The Angel of the Lord is not to be confused with an angel of God. There is a difference. The Angel of the Lord is given an extremely high status as he speaks for God. He appears at critical junctures, providing advice and giving stern warnings. But who is this mysterious figure? Is the Angel of the Lord an archangel like Gabriel? Is the Angel of the Lord the same as Michael the archangel? Or is he someone else? In this article, we will examine some of the Old Testament passages involving the Angel of the Lord. These passages provide necessary clues to the Angel’s identity.

Distinct from Yahweh[1] (Zechariah’s Night Visions).

On February 15th, 519 BC, the prophet Zechariah was given eight night visions. Through these night visions, God provided profound truths to the prophet pertaining to salvation, the promise of blessing, and judgment against opposition. The Angel of the Lord holds a profound role in these night visions. In the first night vision, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Yahweh, saying, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years” (Zechariah 1:12)?[2] What is most notable in this passage is that the Angel of the Lord, while of utmost importance, is shown to be distinct from Yahweh. So is the Angel of the Lord simply a messenger of God? Not so fast. Consider Genesis 16:7 and following.

Identified with Yahweh (Genesis 16:7-12).

In Genesis 16, one finds the culmination of a series of problems between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the mother of Isaac and Hagar was the mother of Ishmael. Sarah (then Sarai) had irreconcilable differences with Hagar, an Egyptian servant. Sarah sent Hagar away with her son Ishmael (who was the son of Abraham). Yes, this was an ancient series of Days of our Lives. Nevertheless, Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and promised to take care of her and Ishmael. He also promised to make a great nation from Ishmael’s descendants. After the Angel spoke with her, Hagar replied to the Angel, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). The place was named Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the Living One who sees me.” This is not the only time the Angel of the Lord is identified with God. For instance, the Angel of the Lord says to Joshua the high priest who wore excrement smeared vestments (representing the sin of the people), “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4). The Angel forgave the sins of Joshua and the people, something only God could do. Thus, the Angel of the Lord is divine.

Visible Manifestation of Yahweh (Exodus 3:1-6).

The Angel of the Lord is divine, yet separate from Yahweh Himself, as identified earlier. The Angel of the Lord often appears to humanity as a divine manifestation of God’s presence. For instance, Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush. Exodus notes that “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed…God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!”… “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:2-4, 6). The Angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham offering comfort and a stern warning to Lot to leave the area of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14). So how are we to understand the Angel of the Lord? There is an interesting parallel between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself.

Jesus’ Association with the Angel of the Lord (John 1).

The apostle John, in his gospel, provides an interesting prologue, popular to many. John notes that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John teaches that Jesus was the Word, thus Jesus is shown possess an eternal nature. It is quite interesting that Jesus, defending the resurrection, argued by noting God’s response to Moses, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus’ statement is especially interesting as it is the Word of God, spoken by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is an eternal person, not identical to Yahweh, but identified with, or even as, Yahweh. Jesus is noted to be the same. So what does all this mean as it concerns the Angel of the Lord?

Conclusion

From examining the evidence, the Angel of the Lord cannot be considered an ordinary angel. The Angel of the Lord cannot be accepted as an archangel, either. The Angel of the Lord is a separate entity from Yahweh, yet he is closely identified with Yahweh. The Angel of the Lord is by all intent and purposes a visible manifestation of Yahweh to human beings. Now when one considers that Jesus is acknowledged as an eternal person who is separate from the Heavenly Father, yet closely aligned with the Father and, like the Angel of the Lord, holds a divine essence, it appears that one can hold a necessary link between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself. Therefore, this article holds that the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. The Angel of the Lord is Jesus as He existed before the incarnation. Individuals are mistaken when they hold that Christ is not present in the Old Testament. In fact, the presence of the Messiah may be more evident than one supposes if the Angel of the Lord is identifiable with the pre-incarnate Jesus. Much more could be said about this issue. But for now, suffice it to say, the Angel of the Lord is no ordinary character.

 

© September 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Yahweh is the personal name for God the Father.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Is God’s Jealousy a Negative Attribute?

The Bible attributes several attributes to God. Many of the more popular attributes are God’s love, holiness, and grace. Any serious theologian will know the four core “omni” attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-presence), and omnibenevolence (all-loving). While these attributes are all positive, many critics pinpoint another attribute of God as being greatly problematic: God’s jealousy.

Critics charge that jealousy is a bad trait to hold. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins claims that God breaks “into a monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.”[1] Paul Copan notes that “Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous.”[2] Jealousy is condemned for the human being. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person should not “covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).[3] Thus, jealousy seems to be a negative trait. But wait! Doesn’t the Bible claim that God is jealous? It does.

The Bible states at least 13 times that God is jealous for His people. For instance, Moses notes that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Later in Deuteronomy, God says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21).

What do we make of this? Jealousy seems to be a negative trait. The Bible presents God as jealous. Therefore, it would seem that God holds negative traits. One is left with three options: 1) One could claim that God holds negative attributes meaning that He is not completely perfect; 2) One could claim that the Bible is erred in its presentation of God; 3) One could claim that our understanding of God’s jealousy could be misunderstood.

The first option demerits the Bible’s presentation of God as valid. If God exists, then God must be a maximally great Being. If the God of the Bible is not a maximally great Being, then the God of the Bible is not really the God of the universe at all.

The second option devalues the Bible, the Word of God. The New Testament writers extracted their understanding of God from the Old Testament. Therefore, if the Old Testament is erred in its presentation of God, then that would carry over into the New Testament. This causes a serious problem for the believer. If we cannot accept the presentation of God in the Bible, then can we accept the God of the Bible?

The third option is best. Our understanding of God’s jealousy must be defined. There must be some misunderstanding that we hold as it pertains to the idea of divine jealousy. In fact, the third option is the only real valid option on the table. When one honestly evaluates God’s jealousy, the person comes to the understanding that God’s jealousy is actually rooted in love. Thus, God’s jealousy becomes a positive trait for three reasons.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive as it relates to God’s passion.

God has a passion for His people. Let’s go back to the passage in Deuteronomy. We all know that Scripture is often taken out of context. Placing Deuteronomy 4:24 in context, one will find that Moses was addressing the issue of the peoples’ covenant with God. God had already blessed the people immensely. God brought them out of slavery. God was about to bring them to a special place prepared for them. God was going to build a great nation out of them. However, the people kept cheating on God. God poured out His love to the nation. He was eventually going to bring the Chosen Messiah, the Savior of the world, in their midst. But they kept cheating on God. Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:23, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you.”

The marriage analogy is often used to describe God’s jealous passion for His people. Paul Copan rightly notes that “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage.”[4] God had a passion for His people. While Dawkins may think that God’s jealousy is a negative attribute due to the peoples’ “flirting with other gods,” it should be remembered that idolatry is adultery against God.[5] Thus, God’s jealousy is rooted in His love.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to God’s purpose.

God’s jealousy is also rooted in His purpose. Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy by “God continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[6] Critics may charge, “See! God only concerns Himself with His own glory and elevated role. This means that God is not humble.” But not so fast. Let’s put this in perspective.

Human jealousy is wrong because one covets something that he/she holds no claim in holding. It is wrong for me to covet my neighbor’s car because I hold no claim to the car. In like manner, human pride is bad because it elevates a person’s position higher than what the person possesses. I can think all day that I am the President of the United States. I can walk around like a peacock telling everyone about my successful presidency. The reality is, however, that I am not the President and will most likely never be. But what if someone who holds the office claims to be President? Right now, the President of the United States of America is Barack Obama. Regardless of your thoughts of him and his presidency, let’s ask: is it wrong for Obama to claim to be President? Is it wrong for him to demand respect for his position? Is it wrong for him to do presidential things? No. Why? It is because he is the President. Is it, therefore, wrong for God to call Himself God and to expect to be treated like God? No. Why? It is because He is God. Paul Copan rightly notes, “Is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship.”[7]

Simply put: it is not wrong for God to be jealous over His purpose and glory. Such purpose and glory belongs to God and God alone.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to the human protection.

I am a big brother. My sister is about 7-years-younger than I. Big brothers normally have a protective instinct. I most certainly do. My sister is a loving, free-spirited woman who always sees the good. I, in contrast, see the world the way it really is. My son is much like my sister. I find that my protective juices flow overtime being a parent. Without guidance, it would be easy for my son to take the wrong path as the first shiny, attractive thing gets his attention. As a parent, it is my job to help keep him on the right track. I have a jealous love for my son because I want what’s best for him.

God’s jealousy works in much the same way. God’s jealous love is actually for the benefit, not the detriment, of human protection. God is omniscient. That means that God knows all things. God is also omnisapient, meaning that God possesses all wisdom. Going back to Copan, he notes, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good.

Conclusion

God’s jealousy is not the same as human jealousy. The difference primarily lies in authority. It is wrong for people to be jealous over something that someone else holds because they hold no true claim to such thing. God, in contrast, having the greatest, supreme authority and power is completely justified in being jealous over His people. His jealousy is actually rooted in His love, purpose, and even human protection. Thus, God’s jealousy is not a negative attribute. It is actually a gloriously positive one.

© August 22, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 243.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 35.

[5] See the book of Hosea for a full treatment of this analogy.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 205.

[7] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 28.

[8] Ibid., 40.

5 Tips for Reading Proverbs

At graduation, I had a chance to personally meet many of the wonderful professors at Liberty University that have impacted my life greatly over the course of these past three years. One particular professor caught my attention. He is Dr. Kevin King. King is a fascinating individual. He is a former police officer, who still looks as if he could physically pick up a house. During one of his courses, he had a classic phrase that he often used. “Stinky thinking leads to a smelly life.” When I met him, I told him what a blessing he was and how I have used that phrase many times. He jokingly said, “I can’t remember who I stole that from, but it is so true.” I agreed.

Proverbs help us avoid “stinky thinking.” The Proverbs point us in the direction of right thinking and right living. But, let’s be honest. Sometimes the Book of Proverbs is difficult to understand. Perhaps the problem with the Proverbs is that the reader often misunderstands the writing genre.  In this article I hope to provide you a working definition of a proverb, in addition to 5 tips that have personally helped me to better understand the Proverbs.

The Book of Proverbs is a “marvelous collection of wise sayings and instructions for living a useful and effective life.”[1] Thus, the Book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom. It is meant to impart wisdom to its readers to better their lives. Before we can properly understand the book, we must understand the nature of a proverb. What is a proverb anyhow?

What is a Proverb?

Proverbs are defined and characterized by “short, pithy statements; but the speculative wisdom, such as Ecclesiastes or Job, uses lengthy monologues and dialogues to probe the meaning of life, the problem of good and evil, and the relationship between God and people.”[2] Proverbs can provide an “object lesson based on or using some comparison or analogy.”[3] Duane Garrett notes,

“The most common form of Old Testament wisdom is the proverb. It may be defined as an ethical axiom, that is, a short, artistically constructed ethical observation or teaching. An observational proverb is a saying that describes human behavior without an explicit moral evaluation. A didactic proverb describes human behavior with a clear ethical-didactic purpose, that is, it includes an explicit moral evaluation.”[4]

Thus, a proverb is a means of communicating wisdom through life principles through short, effective means. Or, it is a “colloquial means of getting a point across.”[5] This makes one wonder, “how do we understand the Proverbs?” I have listed 5 tips to help the reader better understand the Book of Proverbs.

5 Tips for Understanding Proverbs

  1. Try to focus on general themes. While many of the proverbs appear random, they are gathered under one general focus. The proverbs are, however, scattered into different sections. For this reason, I have decided to use Max Anders’ topical format in his commentary on Proverbs in the Holman Old Testament Commentary rather than the strict, and more confusing, chapter-by-chapter format found in many other studies.
  2. Don’t overcomplicate the saying. The pithy nature of the proverbs is intended to bring about one generalized truth. Try to focus on the general truth presented.
  3. Understand that the proverbs are general rules and guidelines and do not address the exceptions. The Book of Proverbs lists general principles and truths according to the way life generally operates 95% of the time. Job, Ecclesiastes, and even some of the psalms describe life in the other 5%. Both Job and Ecclesiastes perfectly complements the generalized wisdom found in Proverbs.
  4. As we must always do in Scripture, we must understand the proverbs according to the culture of the time. Max Anders denotes that “There are some proverbs that cannot be understood unless we understand the culturally obsolete thing they are talking about.”[6]
  5. The proverbs are general statements of truth rather than divine promises. The Book of Proverbs notes, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV).[7] Yet, we probably all know of a set of parents who brought up their children in the ways of God only to see one or more of their children stray from the path. Is the proverb wrong? No, because the proverb is not a divine promise, but rather a general statement of fact. More times than not, children who are brought up right will remember their parents wisdom and will not depart from the ways of God.

Conclusion

Wisdom is critical for godly living. It is critical in order to make proper decisions and to live godly, moral lives. When the reader understands some basic hermeneutical information about the operation of a proverb, then the Book of Proverbs is unlocked for the reader. Godly wisdom which has spanned several millennia is then available to the reader. One must understand that God is the source of wisdom. Through God’s word and practical understanding, God offers wisdom to the one who seeks it. Such wisdom is especially found in the marvelous Book of Proverbs.

Copyright, May 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Note: Excerpts from this article were taken from the author’s Bible Study on Proverbs titled: “Proverbs: Pithy Life Lessons.”

Notes

[1] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 938.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 940.

[4] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 29-30.

[5] John H. Walton, et. al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000), 561.

[6] Max Anders, Proverbs, Holman Old Testament Commentary, vol. 13 (Nashville: B&H, 2005), 3.

[7] Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

The Holiness of God (Leviticus 11:44-45)

We have been looking at the attributes of God. One particular attribute that must be discussed as we consider God’s attributes is that of God’s holiness. Holiness means that God is set-apart. In Leviticus 11:44, God says to the people of Israel, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45, ESV). Just how are God’s holiness exhibited and, thereby, known? We find four ways the holiness of God is exhibited.

1. The holiness of God is exhibited through His EXCLUSIVITY (“the LORD;” Ex. 15:11).

 God, speaking through Moses, reminds everyone that “I am the LORD.”[1] The personal name for God is the Hebrew term “יהוה” (Yahweh). This personal name is normally translated by the all-caps term “LORD.” The personal name of God means literally “I am what I am.” Termed another way, it means “the self-existent One.” Moses inquires, “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders” (Exodus 15:11)? The answer is, “no one.”

Norman Geisler defines holiness, theologically, as meaning that God is “totally and utterly set apart from all creation and evil.”[2] When we speak of God’s holiness, we are acknowledging the fact that He is the only one like Himself. He is the only One worthy of praise and worship. God’s holiness means that He is the ultimate in every way. It is for this reason that the angels proclaim, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come” (Rev. 4:8).

I read a story of a minister who visited one of his members. The lady of the house tried to impress the pastor with her spiritual devotion by pointing out the large Bible on the bookshelf. Speaking in a reverential tone, she pointed to the Bible and said that she loved the book because it was the Word of God. Her young son interrupted the conversation and said, “If that’s God’s book we had better send it back to Him because we never read it.”

Often, we try to tell God what we want and how we want Him to work. However, when we understand the great holiness of God, we should simply say, “Here I am Lord, use me.” The exclusivity of God’s holiness ought to leave us in great awe and wonder.

 2. The holiness of God is exhibited through His EXALTATION (“your God;” Ps. 99:9; Isa. 5:16).

God says the He is the personal God of the people. The term “God” is translated from the Hebrew word “Elohim.” Elohim indicates one who is greatly powerful. It was sometimes used of a mighty ruler. Thus, God is not only the self-existent One, He is the exalted ruler. The psalmist writes, “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy hill, for holy is the LORD our God” (Psalm 99:9). Isaiah also notes that “the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness” (Isa. 5:16). God is high and lifted up. God is exalted above every known person and creature.

My graduation from Liberty University was unlike anything I have ever seen. 19,432 graduates were in attendance along with 35,000 guests filling Williams Stadium on Saturday, May 14th, 2016. Throughout the service, people gave thanks to God for getting them to graduation. The group Sounds of Liberty sang the song “Just Say Amen.” People were standing with arms raised to God, exalting him, and giving God the praise that He deserves. In a way, it is a picture of the great exalting praise that will take place in heaven.

The exaltation of God’s holiness demands our worship and praise. We often think our problems are big. But when we give God the exaltation that He deserves, we find that God is much bigger than our problems.

 3. The holiness of God is exhibited through His ETHICAL PURITY (“I am holy;” 2 Cor. 7:1).

God reminds the people that he is holy. In this sense, God’s holiness refers to his ethical purity. Wayne Grudem notes that God’s holiness refers to God being “separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.”[3] God’s holiness means that He is the absolute good.

When Grandpa died, Mom was at the hospital. I told her that she would not drive home as she had been awake for over 36 hours and was emotionally strained. While driving to the hospital, I had to set on the cruise control because I was tempted to drive faster than I should. But how did I know that I was breaking the law driving too fast? I did because I knew the law said that the particular stretch of highway was regulated at 65 miles per hour. I had to first know the law before I could know what it meant to break the law. In a similar sense, we must first know God’s goodness before we can know any aberrations from His goodness. Evil is the lack of good as it stems from the lack of God’s presence in one’s life.

God’s holiness means that He is the absolute good. There is no evil or not badness in God. God is absolutely pure. Because of God’s moral purity, we can trust that He has our best interests in mind. We can trust Him in His edicts and in His decrees. We can trust Him to do what’s right.

When we experience someone’s goodness, we should desire to work harder for such a person. When I worked public work, I had one boss who was very kind and another boss who was very cruel. For the nice boss, I worked extra hard. For the boss who was cruel, I only did what was necessary to do the task. As good as God has been to us, we should desire to work hard for Him. We should desire for this holy God to purify us and make us like Himself.

 4. The holiness of God is exhibited through His ELIMINATION OF SIN (“Consecrate yourselves;” Ps. 78:41; 2 Cor. 7:1).

God tells the people in Leviticus to “consecrate yourselves.” The phrase comes from the term “qadash.” Qadash means that one is set apart, devoted, and dedicated unto the Lord. God was in the process of giving the priests and the people means of setting themselves apart for the service of the Lord. Mark Rooker notes that Leviticus chapter 11 ends with a “final admonition to underscore the importance of distinguishing between the clean and the unclean. The reason the Israelites were to obey the dietary laws was that they were to be holy because they had been redeemed by God (11:45). This call to holiness is the climax of the chapter, for all the preceding contents of the chapter prepare for this final admonition.”[4]

God’s holiness is so that He cannot stand in the presence of sin. God’s holiness indicates that God is absolutely pure and holds no sin whatsoever. God must do something with sin. God will either purify sin or He will eliminate the sinner. God gives all of us the opportunity to receive Christ and to be purified. However, God’s atonement of our sins does not mean that He gives us a pass to continue in sin. Rather, it means that He forgives us our sins and purifies us of our sins. If you have received Christ and have not experienced a change in your life, then you really didn’t receive Him. When God enters a heart, He does not leave it as it is. He rearranges, transforms, and casts off those things which are not holy from our lives. Paul writes, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

The story is told of a rather pompous-looking church leader was endeavoring to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” the man asked. After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.”[5]

Evaluate your life. See if there is anything in your life that is causing you to stumble. If so, give it over to the Lord. We are to purify ourselves because we have been purified by a holy God.

 Conclusion:  I was challenged this past couple of weekends. Weekend before last, I was challenged by Dr. Ed Hindson, dean of the Liberty University School of Divinity. He said, “We have the ability to reach far more people than even the Apostle Paul did. When we stand before the Bema Seat of Christ (i.e., the Judgment Seat of Christ), what will we say when He asks us, ‘What did you do with the resources I gave you?’ We are obligated to reach individuals for Christ with all the resources given to us. This past weekend, we celebrated the legacy of my grandfather, Odell Sisk. Altogether, God was showing me that we have a great ministry to do while on planet Earth. God is a holy God. We are to be a holy people. Will we make an impact for God?

 

© May 20, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman, 1995).

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 566.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 202.

[4] Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, vol. 3A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 180.

[5] Evie Megginson, “A Rather Pompous-looking Deacon…,” SermonCentral.com (March 2001), retrieved May 20, 2016, http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-evie-megginson-humor-holiness-loveofthedisciples-apologeticsgeneral-1977.asp.

How Does God’s Immutability Affect Me?

I have told many before that I am a walking Murphy’s Law. If something is going to happen, it will likely happen to me. A few days ago, I was sick. To make matters worse, my wife was about to leave on a business trip to Orlando. I was so sick that I feared that I might land in the emergency room. I feared that my digestive system was again disturbed. I went to the doctor and they confirmed that I had the flu. I was actually happy that it was the flu rather than my digestive system. My mother-in-law kept my son for me that afternoon and evening. However, my night was about to become bizarre. I took my nausea medicine which makes me woozy. The medicine had just entered my system when our neighbor called and told me that the brake lights were left on. How was that possible? So, I went out in the dark, while woozy, trying to figure out why the lights were on. So, I eventually had to move the truck towards the garage light, take off the battery cables, while becoming increasingly drowsy. Needless to say, my night had changed from strained to downright bizarre. Things often change at dramatic pace. Often, faster than what any of us would like. However, we can find comfort in the attribute of God known as immutability.

 Immutability means that God does not change. Wayne Grudem defines the immutability of God as that “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.”[1] Norman Geisler adds “That God is unchangeable in His nature has solid support in biblical, historical, and philosophical theology. Despite many anthropomorphic expressions, the Bible has clear and repeated references to God’s immutability.”[2]

 In Numbers 23:19, we find Balaam presenting his second of four oracles to Balak. These oracles come after Balaam had the bizarre incident where God spoke through a donkey. The miracle is not so much that God spoke through a donkey, but rather that Balaam spoke back to the donkey! Personally, I have never found a donkey to which I particularly cared to speak. Nevertheless, God used this means to set Balaam straight. Balak wanted Balaam to condemn God’s people. Yet in his second oracle, Balaam responds to Balak’s critique by noting the immutability of God. God does not change. If God chose to bless his people, who was Balaam to say otherwise? So what do we find in Scripture pertaining to the immutability of God? We find four ways that God does not change.

 1. God’s immutable ATTRIBUTES do not change (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 102:26-27).

Beginning with our passage, we read Balaam stating that “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and he will not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)?[3] Also, the psalmist states that “They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Psalm 102:26-27). Both Balaam and the psalmist acknowledge that God’s attributes do not change. Meaning that the attributes that we have discussed and will discuss are unchangeable. God is not one day omnipotent and the next day limited in his power. God remains the same forever.

2. God’s immutable CHARACTER does not change (Hebrews 6:17-18; Hebrews 13:8).

The writer of Hebrews notes that “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18). The writer also notes that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The writer of Hebrews shows us that we can find hope and encouragement in the steadfast character of God.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a woman who told me, “Brian, do you know the thing I appreciate most about you?” Anytime a preacher receives a compliment, the preacher’s ears perk up. I inquired, “No, what?” She said, “I appreciate that you are the same every time I see you. Whether in church or out of church, you are the same.” While I appreciate the kind woman’s compliment, we find that it is truly God who completely remains unchanged in his character. Such is the mark of integrity. God most certainly has integrity.

3. God’s immutable PURPOSES do not change (Ephesians 3:8-13; 1 Peter 1:20).

Paul writes in Ephesians that he was to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9-10). Peter also writes that Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20). Paul and Peter teach us that God’s purposes do not change. The plans of God are set before time began. God doesn’t change his purpose one day to the next. God’s plans are set from eternity past.

4. God’s immutable PROMISES do not change (Titus 1:2; James 1:17).

Paul writes to Titus that “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). James also notes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Paul and James both teach their readers that since God’s character and attributes do not change, therefore God’s promises do not change. Thus, if God promises you something, it is as good as done.

I read a story about a pastor who met with an elderly man at the point of death. Due to his medication, the older gentleman said, “Pastor, I am ready to go. But I wish I could have peace.” The pastor said, “Sir, why do you not have peace?” The gentleman said, “I would have peace if I could simply remember the promises of God.” The wise pastor replied, “Do you think God has forgotten? It doesn’t matter if you remember them. As long as God remembers his promises, he will fulfill them.” The gentleman lying in the hospital bed found peace that night because he realized that God will always fulfill his promises seeing that God is unchanging.

So, how does God’s immutability affect you? Here are five ways.

  1. God will always be faithful, despite the unfaithfulness we experience with others. Nearly all of us have experienced unfaithfulness from time to time. Your experience of unfaithfulness could come from a spouse who discontinued their promised love for you. Your experience of unfaithfulness could have come from a friend who promised to have your back, only to stab you in the very back they proposed to protect. Your unfaithfulness experience could have come from an employer who fired you days before you were set to retire. While we experience unfaithfulness in life, due to his character, God will always be faithful to us.

 

  1. God will always fulfill his promises, in spite of our experiences of worldly lies and manipulations. While some people seek to manipulate you for profit or gain (others just enjoy getting one “over on you”), God will fulfill his promises due to his unchangeable character. Jesus promised that he would never leave you nor forsake you. That is a promise you can take to the bank.

 

  1. God will never change truth, despite society’s promotion of skepticism and doubt. Since God is unchangeable, his truth is unchangeable. Societies have come and societies have gone. But God’s truth still remains. It is said that Voltaire claimed that a hundred years after his death that the Bible would be no more. Ironically, it is said that Voltaire’s home was turned into a Bible translation facility around a hundred years after his death. From his home, a particular Bible society distributed the very Word that Voltaire claimed would be doomed. God’s immutability means that his truth remains forever.

 

  1. God will always be with you, despite the seeming chaos you experience. God’s steadfastness provides order in the midst of our chaos. God will provide order when no one or nothing else can.

 

  1. God will be your rock in an ocean of turbulence, an ever present help in times of trouble. Due to his steadfastness and unchangeable nature, God is an anchor and rock in the midst of the turbulent times in which we live.

Lighthouses_csg007_Kereon,Brittany,France

Turn to God—our unchangeable hope!!!

 

© March 15, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited

 Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 163.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 444.

[3] All quoted Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Did Christianity’s View on Hell Stem from Judaism or Zoroastrianism?

Recently in the Winston-Salem Journal, a columnist named Earl Crow wrote a piece entitled “Concept of hell as eternal punishment is retributive.” Crow argued for a Universalist understanding of hell, being that eventually everyone would be saved and that hell was not a true reality. No one likes the notion of hell save those who have a sadist complex. Let us be forthright in saying that some preachers preach on hell as if they had rather prefer that some people go there. In stark contrast, others, like Crow, are so put off by the notion of hell that they would rather deny its existence. To deny the merit of a place known as hell, Crow argues that the idea of hell is untenable to biblical understandings.

Crow argued his case by proclaiming the following: “Judaism had no doctrine of hell…The Christian concept of an eternal punishment may have been adopted from Zoroastrianism…Can you fathom a God so vindictive that he would relegate some of his children to eternal burning?…The whole idea of hell is retributive while Christ is about redemption…Some scholars note that the addition of hell as everlasting punishment for the wicked was added by St. Jerome…translations can render different interpretations” (Crow 2015). This argue will address the various arguments that Crow presents and will demonstrate that his arguments are unfounded and found lacking.

Crow’s First Argument: Does Judaism (OT) possess a doctrine of hell?

Crow first argues that Judaism did not possess a doctrine of hell. Is he correct? Well yes and no. The Old Testament does not present as complete a doctrine of hell as does the New Testament. The intermediate state of a heaven and hell was not clearly defined in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. The concept of Sheol (Hebrew for the place of the dead) was a place where all deceased individuals lived, both good and bad. Yet, as R. P. Lightner argues, “Jacob, at death, went down into Sheol (Gen. 37:35), but so did the wicked Korah and Dathan (Num. 16:30). Such teaching has led to the view that Sheol had two compartments—an upper and lower level. It is thought that Christ delivered the righteous in the upper level at the time of his resurrection (Eph. 4:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:19)” (Lightner 2001, 548). Lightner’s argument is supported by such statements as “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8).[1] The two compartment view of Sheol is supported by Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.

While the intermediate state of hell is not as explicit as such a doctrine is in the New Testament, the Old Testament is clear that at the resurrection some will experience an eternity of God’s curse. In fact Prophet Isaiah—and note there are good reasons for holding that one writer wrote the book although it may have been edited by redactors—writes a strong message pertaining to the existence of a hell in that after the judgment of God is delivered that “they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24). Note that the phrases “worm shall not die” and “their fire shall not be quenched” denote an eternal state for such individuals. Therefore, the conclusion is simple: the doctrine of hell belongs in Old Testament Judaism every bit as much as it does in the New Testament. Jesus presented a thoroughly Jewish understanding pertaining to God, the afterlife, and the like. The Pharisees and Essenes held to the idea of the afterlife, resurrection, angels, and the like just as much as Jesus.

Crow’s Second Argument: Was the concept of hell borrowed from Zoroastrianism?

The previous section demonstrated that Christianity took its idea of heaven and hell from Judaism and not Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was a Persian dualist religion which was most likely a state religion that Judaism could have encountered during the exile. Could Christianity have accepted tenets of Zoroastrianism in its doctrine? Not likely according to biblical scholar N. T. Wright. N. T. Wright, a New Testament scholar, former professor at Cambridge, and the former Bishop of Durham, notes that people have sought to link Christianity’s message pertaining to the resurrection to Zoroastrianism, just as Crow does for the concept of hell. But, Wright denotes, borrowing from John Day, that “since Daniel, the main biblical exponent of the doctrine, is clearly echoing not only Isaiah but also Hosea, this takes the stream of thought back behind any likely influence from Persia; and that, when Ezekiel speaks of the dead being raised from their graves, this cannot be related to Zoroastrianism, since the Persians exposed, rather than buried, their dead” (Wright 2003, 125). Some could even argue that an explicit reference to resurrection and an implicit reference to the afterlife are mentioned in Job 19:25. Job is thought by many to be the oldest book in the entire Bible.

Crow’s Third Argument: Can you fathom a God of love being vindictive?

While the first two arguments, as well as his fifth argument, deal with historical arguments against the belief in a place called hell, the third and fourth arguments are theological in nature. Crow queries, “Can you fathom a God so vindictive that he would relegate some of his children to eternal burning” (Crow 2015)? Crow even seems to oppose such a concept against the United States Constitution in saying that “Even the United States Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment” (Crow 2015).  I find it a bit odd that Crow would seemingly restrain God by a human document known as the United States Constitution. Before anyone claims, isn’t that what you are doing with the Bible, I would note that evangelical Christians hold that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity—in other words, what God tells us about himself.

With that being said, it is a sad commentary to think that justice and holiness have been attributed to vindictiveness. I would answer such a charge with a question. Say a person has been charged with murdering his entire family. The man took the time to kill his spouse and kill his children. The evidence for such a crime was so strong that the husband killed his family in that the investigation was over almost before it started. The man is found guilty. Would the judge trying the man’s case be viewed as a good judge if the judge simply said, “Well, I love you. I am going to let you go free and kill again”? Of course not!!! God is not only a loving God, but God is also holy and just. If a person is unrepentant (meaning that the person is not sorry for his guilt), then what kind of God would God be if he simply allowed unrepentant sinners into his heaven? God’s heaven prepared for repentant would become hell for everyone if God simply allowed everyone—even those unrepentant—in his heaven. Remember, heaven is God’s to give. Pertaining to God’s children, Jesus says to his condemners, “He who is God hears God’s words. Therefore, you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:47, MEV).[2]

Crow’s Fourth Argument: Can a retributive hell coexist with a redeeming Savior?

This argument is easy to dismantle. Crow writes that “The whole idea of hell is retributive while Christ is about redemption” (Crow 2015). If this is so, then what did Christ come to redeem humanity from? If Christ came to redeem humanity from sin, then what about those who refuse Christ’s forgiveness? John’s Gospel says it best in that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, MEV).

Crow’s Fifth Argument: Was the idea of hell added to the biblical text by St. Jerome?

Crow’s fifth argument is so innately erroneous that it is surprising that it was published. Crow argues that “Some scholars note that the addition of hell as everlasting punishment for the wicked was added by St. Jerome, who in the fourth century was commissioned by Pope Damascus I to create a Latin translation” (Crow 2015). WHAT?!? St. Jerome was born around 347AD. It is true that Jerome did translate the Greek texts of his day into what is known as the Latin Vulgate. However, Jerome translated from previously known biblical Greek texts. The Vulgate was completed around 405AD. Here, one must understand that over 6,000 manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered that have dated to within 3 centuries of the events they record. Perhaps some of the more intriguing finds are complete, or nearly complete, New Testament codices (ancient Greek books). The Codex Sinaiticus dating to 325-330AD, the Codex Alexandrinus dating to around 400AD, and the Codex Vaticanus dating to 300-325AD provide complete documentation for the New Testament with some nearly a century before Jerome’s Vulgate. Do these documents provide the concept of hell? Certainly!!! In fact, most modern translations (e.g. NIV, ESV) use these ancient texts for the basis of their translations. Thus, Crow’s argument is laughably in error.

Crow’s Sixth Argument: Do translations demerit the biblical doctrine of hell?

head on keyboard

At this point, you may hear the sound of my beating head against a keyboard. How is it that translations muffle clear teachings on hell? Revelation 20:15 provides a clear teaching on hell. The ESV reads, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). The NIV reads, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, NIV).[3] Another translation reads, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, NASB).[4] An older translation reads, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, KJV).[5] One of the newest translations on the market reads, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, MEV). So tell me, how can a translation afford one the opportunity to dismiss the biblical teaching on hell?

Conclusion

Hell is not a pleasant topic. In fact, hell is so uncomfortable that many have turned the mere mention of hell into a curse word. Nevertheless, one must face the reality of hell. Many charge God with being unloving for allowing such an existence. However, it has been demonstrated that a holy God must allow for such a place due to the lack of repentance found in the hearts of many. Yet, let us turn this around for a moment. How loving is it for a person to deny the existence of a place that has been so clearly taught in Scripture? How loving is it for one to coerce others to live as if hell were not a reality? Jesus was the most loving and yet the strongest teacher ever to step foot on the planet. Jesus spoke on hell quite a bit. Why did Jesus teach about hell? Jesus did so because he loved people so much that he did not want to see them go there. But understand this: you don’t have to go to hell. Jesus loves you so much that he is willing to take you where you are, regardless of what you have done, and forgive you, change you, and mold you into a much better person while offering you the greatest gift in the entire world: redemption from hell and admittance into heaven. What will be your response to his offer?

Sources Cited

Crow, Earl. “Concept of hell as eternal punishment is retributive.” Winston-Salem Journal (July 18, 2015). Accessed July 26, 2015. http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/everyday-religious-questions-concept-of-hell-as-eternal-punishment-is/article_23d037c2-2cef-11e5-a98a-d70a1e5aab67.html.

Lightner, R. P. “Hell.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

© July 26, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this article comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Scriptures marked MEV come from the Modern English Version (Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014).

[3] Scripture marked NIV comes from The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

[4] Scripture marked NASB comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] Scripture marked KJV comes from The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009).

What Camels Teach Us About the Necessity of Apologetics

camels-444-8 It seems that the modern media seeks to undermine the integrity of the Bible or at least create some form of controversy related to the claims of the Bible. This also goes for segments of scholarship. When it comes to biblical scholarship, there are two varieties: progressive or materialists (researchers more willing to dismiss biblical claims…primarily for political and religious reasons due to the fact that the materialist cannot accept miraculous claims), and evangelical or traditional (those seeking to find truth while willing to accept biblical claims).

 Recently, an article was posted on CNN.com and other news outlets proclaiming that recent evidence has dismissed the Bible’s claims that the patriarch’s owned herds of camels. The book of Genesis states, “And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels” (Genesis 12:15-16, NIV). Note: Abram was given camels while in Egypt. Egypt was known for having camels at a very early time. Drs. Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures recently claimed to have “used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the moment when domesticated camels arrived in the southern Levant, pushing the estimate from the 12th to the 9th century BCE” (AFTAU.org). If true, this would create a problem with the biblical testimony as the text indicates that Abram owned some camels far earlier than the 9th century BC. Abraham must be dated at least in the 14th century BC (Elwell and Beitzel 1988, 450-451).

Evangelical archaeologist Ted Wright of Southern Evangelical Seminary shows that such an interpretation is not necessary. Wright states, …yes – the biblical patriarchs owned camels, but it is not as if they were camel traders or camel herders. Camels played a small part in their lives” (Wright 2014). Wright also quotes Juris Zarins in that, “From 2200-1200 B.C. rock art in Southwest Arabia and possible camel remains from Bir Risisim in the Levant suggest that camels were used for their milk and for transport(Wright 2014). The 2200-1200 BC range fits well within the time of Abraham and the patriarchs.

Other scholars are skeptical, too. Gordon Govier reports, Two recent academic papers written by evangelical scholars—Konrad Martin Heide, a lecturer at Philipps University of Marburg, Germany; and Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University—both refer to earlier depictions of men riding or leading camels, some that date to the early second millenium BC. Among other evidence, Kennedy notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating to the Old Babylonian period (1950-1600 BC)” (Govier 2014, www.christianitytoday.com).

Quite frankly, such reports are not surprising. There is a war within biblical historical studies. Some findings, such as evidence purporting King David’s and King Solomon’s palace have been withheld due to political strains. Not too terribly long ago, Professor Yosef Garfinkel announced the discovery of objects in the ruins of Khirbet Qeiyafa that confirmed the religious practices of Israel during the reign of King David (Gedalyahu 2012, www.israelnationalnews.com). Therefore, such findings should be taken with a grain of salt. When the big picture is seen, the evidence normally authenticates the biblical record.

The camel conundrum shows the necessity of apologetics (defending the faith) in modern Christianity. As Peter instructs, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV). It is important to be able to defend the truth of God’s word. Jesus defended the truthfulness of His ministry. The apostle Paul defended the truth of the gospel. We need to stand firm being able to defend the truth, as well. The mind must be open to the truth before the heart will respond. This is something that even camels might just appreciate.

Blessings,

Pastor Brian

 Bibliography

 Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 450–451.

Gedalyahu, Tzvi Ben. “Evidence of Canaanite Jewish rituals in reign of King David.” IsraelNationalNews.com (February 8, 2012). http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/155579#.Uv7nlPldWa8. (Accessed February 14, 2014).

Govier, Gordon. “The latest challenge to the Bible’s accuracy: Abraham’s anachronistic camels.” Christianity Today.com (February 14, 2014). http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/latest-challenge-bible-accuracy-abraham-anachronistic-camel.html?&visit_source=facebook. (Accessed February 14, 2014).

http://www.aftau.org/site/News2/2024116989?page=NewsArticle&id=19673&news_iv_ctrl=-1 (accessed, February 14, 2014).

Scripture identified as (NIV) comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Scripture identified as (NKJV) comes from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Wright, Ted. “Getting over a hump: Does the lack of camel bones disprove the historicity of the biblical patriarchs?” CrossExamined.org. (February, 2014). http://crossexamined.org/blog/. (Accessed February 14, 2014).

Zarins, Juris. “Camel,” in David Noel Freedman, Editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 1, A-C (New York, London: Anchor Doubleday, 1992), 824-6. In Ted Wright. Wright, Ted. “Getting over a hump: Does the lack of camel bones disprove the historicity of the biblical patriarchs?” CrossExamined.org. (February, 2014). http://crossexamined.org/blog/. (Accessed February 14, 2014).

Essential Doctrines (Part 2): The Doctrine of Human Sin

Sin-City-sin-city-16456561-1280-800  What makes a Christian a Christian? In other words, what are the core fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith? In this writer’s estimation, there are eight primary doctrines that constitute one under the umbrella of Christianity. In the article “Essential Doctrines: The Doctrine of God’s Existence,” it was shown that the acceptance of God’s existence is at the root of the Christian faith. This article builds upon that premise. It must be accepted that God is transcendent (greater than the human and natural world). Also, it must be accepted that God is immanent (personally involved with the human and natural world).

In this article, it will be demonstrated that the fallen nature of humanity (sin) is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. This doctrine holds two separate elements: the understanding of humanity made “imagio dei,” and that humanity has been separated from God by its sinful nature. So, there is good news and bad news entailed within this doctrine.

  

What is the Doctrine?

This doctrine contains two parts: one that humanity is made “imagio dei, and the other that humanity has fallen from God’s standards.

 Humanity Made “Imagio Dei”

Before we get to the bad news, let’s first examine the good news. The good news is that this writer and you the reader have been made “imagio dei” (in the image of God). The Bible states,

 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, NIV).

What does it mean to be made in the “image of God”? This has brought forth great theological debate. The Pulpit Commentary states,

“The early Fathers were of opinion that the words were expressive of separate ideas: image, of the body, which by reason of its beauty, intelligent aspect, and erect stature was an adumbration of God; likeness, of the soul, or the intellectual and moral nature. According to Augustine image had reference to the cognitio veritatis; likeness to amor virtutis. Irenæus, Clement, and Origen saw in the first man nature as originally created, and in the second what that nature might become through personal ethical conflict, or through the influence of grace” (Spence-Jones 1909, 30).

 Another opinion is concerning the “imagio dei” is given by K. A. Matthews,

 “During this latter half of our century the dominant interpretation, though not new (e.g., Chrysostom), has become the “functional” one, that the “image” is humanity’s divinely ordained role to rule over the lower orders (1:26, 28). Often related to this interpretation is the idea of “royal” administration: mankind is God’s “image” representing him on earth as his royal vice-regent. This is connected, either vaguely or closely, with Mesopotamian and Egyptian sacral kingship, where the king was either perceived as divine himself or, once removed, the divinely elected representative of the god(s) before the people” (K. A. Matthews 1996, 166).

In this writer’s opinion, although Matthews would disagree, humanity’s “imagio dei” is the ability for a human being to have a relationship with God. It is the spiritual component that makes one in the image of God. However, other interpretations could be correct in the sense that the “image” could represent mankind’s ability to rule over the earthly sphere.

For the purpose of this article, it is not necessary to identify what the “imagio dei” is as much as that humans possess the “imagio dei.” There are two great insights that come from this knowledge. First, it is important because one realizes that every human being has worth and value. The Bible shows that God loves each and every person and that God shows no partiality. Paul proclaimed, “For God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11, NIV). Paul also writes, “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me” (Galatians 2:6, NASB). Second, the importance of this function and doctrine is found in the problem that exists between God and humanity.

Separation of Humanity from God

Human separation from God involves a classic, and displeasing, theological term called “sin.” Sin is the translated word for hamartia in Greek. Hamartia literally means “missing the mark.” It was a term that was used of an archer who missed the target. A modern illustration could be used of an American football field-goal kicker. Imagine you are watching the Super Bowl, and the field-goal kicker representing your favorite team is about to kick the ball in order for your team to win the championship. He steps forward and kicks the ball. You watch with your breath held and your fingers crossed that the ball will go between the goal posts. However, to your and the kicker’s horror, the ball falls slightly to the right of the targeted goal post. Your team loses the game because the kicker missed the mark. This is the definition of sin.

Sin originated with the first time in human history where humanity missed the mark that God has set for them. Genesis chapter 3 records the first moment of rebellion. Adam and Eve ate a particular fruit from the garden that God had specifically told them not to eat. I do not believe there was magical power in the fruit. As far as the serpent, any esteemed interpreter of the Bible realizes that the serpent is a symbol for Satan. However, sin taints anything holy. The moment sin enters, one cannot any longer be considered untainted by sin. The first sin infiltrated humanity for all time. For this reason, there had to be an action from God’s part to re-declare a human being “holy” or “righteous” (i.e. “without sin”).

 

Why Should a Person Believe the Doctrine?

Two observations can be made in regards to why a person should believe in the doctrines presented.

First, any rational human being realizes that there is something special about humanity. No other animal can do the things that human beings do. Humans have discovered many wondrous things about the universe around them. Humans are able to care for the world in a way that no other creature can. One does not observe polar bears seeking to save the seals. Neither does one find lions campaigning to save the Bengal tigers. The fact that humans have an elevated importance is illustrated in the fact that even atheists like Thomas Nagel in his book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Neo-Darwinist Conception of Nature is almost Certainly False are realizing the great evidence that is mounting for the consciousness (soul) of human beings.  Add this with the mounting evidence of near-death experiences and you have a compelling case for the soul of humanity which lives beyond physical death. In addition, this grants us the notion that all individuals have great worth because of carrying the “imagio dei.”

Second, any rational human being will find that something is wrong with humanity. One does not have to become a deep philosopher to realize that there is something wrong with the human condition. Why is it so easy to do what is wrong and so difficult to do what is right? Why is it that things that are so bad pleases the human senses so well? The answer lies at the conundrum of humanity’s separation from God.  For us to know something is morally good requires for there to exist a good, moral lawgiver. If you leave humanity to their own whims and fancies without restraint, one will find a society that justifies hideous, self-gratifying, self-pleasing, power-driven, consuming, actions that vitiate, berate, deprive, divest and deteriorate others. Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Caligula, Idi Amin, Nero, and many other dictators of the past serve as reminders of how depraved humanity is…and can become.

  

Why is the Doctrine Essential?

Quite simply; before a disease can be cured, the disease must be diagnosed. Heaven forbid, but if the reader should ever come down with a serious illness, the reader would desire to know what the disease is so that the disease can be treated. As a pastor, I have noticed that one of the most frustrating medical issues that one may face is when a person, or the person’s loved one, faces a condition in which the medical authorities have troubles diagnosing. More than one person has stated, “I would feel much better when I knew what it was that I was facing.” Just as an alcoholic must first admit that he/she has a problem before being treated, it is critical that a person understands his/her need for God before he/she can become a Christian. As one will find as this treatment of essential doctrines continues, the slavery to sin finds it solution in Jesus Christ.

Set-Free-Jesus-My-Ransom-web-880x1024

 Bibliography

Mathews, K. A. Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996.

 Scripture identified as (NASB) comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Scripture identified as (NIV) comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Spence-Jones, H. D. M. ed., Genesis, The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909.

Abortion: The American Holocaust

stop-abortion  Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “holocaust” as either “a thorough destruction of life especially with the use of fire” and/or as “a mass slaughter of people” (Merriam-Webster, www.m-w.com). The term holocaust haunts me greatly. It does so because I have had the opportunity to meet two individuals who endured the horrors of a holocaust. I had the esteemed privilege to meet some Jewish individuals who endured the horrors of Auschwitz. My heart broke for them as I heard the ruthless antics of the Nazis led by the madman Adolf Hitler. Also, I met Siv Ashley. Mrs. Ashley survived the ruthless barbarism of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia. As horrific as these stories are, I am met with a question in our own land. Are we guilty of a modern holocaust? This holocaust is not one in which the screams of the victims can be heard. This holocaust is occurring in every state in the United States of America. It is the holocaust of abortion. In order for abortion to be considered a holocaust of sorts, it must be asked if there is a mass killing of life going on with abortion, when does human life begin, at what point is a person considered human, and whose body is at stake when it comes to abortion.

Does Abortion Allow for a Mass Killing of Life?

 I am currently unable to report the number of abortions in 2013. The article will be updated in the event that such data becomes available. However, in 2008, it is reported that 1.21 million abortions were performed in the United States alone (Jones and Kooistra 2011, 41-50). Compare this to the 11 million people who were killed in the Nazi concentration camps, the nearly 4 million who died in the Cambodian genocide, and the 20 million who were slaughtered at the hands of Stalin. The problem with abortion is that the 1.21 million only represents one year. The overall number of deaths by abortion increases every year. Please note that I am not trying to lessen the impact of the concentration camps in Germany, Russia, or Cambodia. The numbers are used only to show the comparison between the number of deaths in these areas and the number of deaths occurring by abortion.

In my mind, a troubling statistic is found in the following: 58% of women who have abortions are in their 20s; 61% already have children; 56% are unmarried and single; 69% are economically disadvantaged; and…here is the kicker…73% report a religious affiliation (Jones and Kavanaugh 2011, 1358-1366). WHAT??? This is not occurring among the non-religious as much as the religious. This must take us in a different direction. We must answer the question about life and the body.

 

When Does Human Life Begin?

 Some will claim that life does not begin until birth. However, the Family Research Council provides the following information:

The cardiovascular system is the first major system to function. At about 22 days after conception the child’s heart begins to circulate his own blood, unique to that of his mother’s, and his heartbeat can be detected on ultrasound ().

At just six weeks, the child’s eyes and eye lids, nose, mouth, and tongue have formed.

Electrical brain activity can be detected at six or seven weeks,(CIFS 2001, 36) and by the end of the eighth week, the child, now known scientifically as a “fetus,” has developed all of his organs and bodily structures (England 1996, 350-358).

By ten weeks after conception the child can make bodily movements (Schwarzwalder, http://www.frc.org/brochure/the-best-pro-life-arguments-for-secular-audiences).

The writers of the Bible accepted the notion that human life begins at conception. God said to Jeremiah, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, God knows a person before the person is born. This gives emphasis to the notion that life begins at conception, but also to the acceptance that all human beings have worth. In the Hebrew law, concessions were made for a woman who lost her child prematurely. In Exodus we read,

“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:22-25).

The main point of the passage is found in the recognition that life begins at conception. Life was valuable even while inside the womb.

 

Who is Human?

Is a human a human only if they are fully developed? What about those who are not physically developed…children are not fully developed as they are not fully grown. Are they less than human? Individuals who suffer from mental illness are not fully developed mentally. Are they less than human? Well, some will argue, the fetus depends upon the mother. Does dependency make one human? In that case, young adults who still live off their parents in their 20s and 30s are not fully human in such an argument. Young adults in college would not be considered fully human since some are dependent upon mom and dad for help. What about the elderly in nursing homes? Are they no longer fully human since they depend upon others? Better yet, is there really any of us who does not depend upon someone another? The bottom line: life begins at conception. Human life has value.

 

Whose Body are We Debating?

 Some will claim, “It’s my body. I can do with it as I please.” While this is true to an extent, the problem with abortion is found in the fact that the issue is not over the woman’s body, it is over the baby’s body. A person has no more right to kill a baby inside the womb than they do a child outside a womb, an elderly person in a nursing home, or a late blooming adult. Biology dictates how life is produced. Biology was established by God. If pregnancy is the issue, then there is a simple method to abstain from the problem…abstinence from sex outside the confines of marriage. It is like a person who claims, “I get so tempted to eat a donut when I go to Krispy Kreme.” There is a good solution to that problem. DON’T GO TO KRISPY KREME!!! The same analogy applies…don’t you think?

Here we must speak of the issue of rape. What about cases where a person is raped? It must be noted that less than 1% of all abortions occur due to rape. Finer provides the following information pertaining to the reasons for abortions:

  • 25% “not ready for a(nother) child/timing is wrong”
  • 23% “can’t afford a baby now”
  • 19% “have completed my childbearing/have other people depending on me/children are grown”
  • 8% “don’t want to be a single mother/am having relationship problems”
  • 7% “don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child/feel too young”
  • 6% “other” (this category had no further explanation)
  • 4% “would interfere with education or career plans”
  • 4% “physical problem with my health”
  • 3% “possible problems affecting the health of the fetus”
  • -0.5% “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion”
  • -0.5% “parents want me to have an abortion”
  • -0.5% “don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant”
  • -0.5% “was a victim of rape” (Finer and et al. 2005, 113-114).

 

Even if rape and health concerns were the reasons why people even thought about abortion, these issues would only count for less than 3.5% of all abortions that occur. The issue of rape-based abortion is steeped with emotion. However, if we are honest, we must ask, did the baby do anything wrong? Was the child guilty of wrongdoing? Would a judge condemn a teenage boy to prison over the bank robbery committed by his father? Of course not. Then why should a young baby be condemned for the heinous crime of his/her father? I am not suggesting that this is an easy issue and obviously this would require much more dialogue than what this article can bring. Yet, the question comes back to the issue, “Whose body are we debating?” In the pro-life opinion, the child is at the center of the debate and not the woman.

 

Conclusion: Does American Abortion Meet the Definition of a Holocaust?

If human life begins at conception, which most people would concede, then a willful taking of such life is murder. There are no two ways about it. Either abortion is murder or it is not. The only way those who promote abortion can wiggle around this fact is to claim that the life in the womb is not human. However, as we have shown, a human is human regardless of dependency, level of development, or the size of such life. The Christian understanding is that all human life holds great value. Statistics have shown that over 1.2 million abortions occur on most given years in America. Therefore, it is in my estimation that our nation is guilty of engaging in a massive holocaust. The only difference is which side of the womb the victims were located when their execution occurred. The perfect solution is not necessarily a political one, but a solution that would find a transformation of society. One that would show each person the value of every life.

 please-stop-abortion-please-stop-chile-kill

Praying that America will wake up,

 

 

Pastor Brian

 

Bibliography

 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

England, Marjorie A. “What Is An Embryo?” in Life Before Birth, Marjorie A. England. London: Mosby-Wolfe, 1996.

Finer, Lawrence B. et al. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives.” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 37, no. 5 (2005): 113-14.

Jones, R. K., and K. Kooistra. Abortion incidence and access to services in the United States, 2008Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2011, 43(1):41–50.

Jones, R. K., and M. L. Kavanaugh. Changes in abortion rates between 2000 and 2008 and lifetime incidence of abortionObstetrics & Gynecology. 2011, 117(6):1358–1366.

Moore, Keith L., T. V. N. Persaud, and Mark G. Torchia, The Developing Human. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2013.

Schwarzwalker, Rob. “The Best Pro-Life Arguments for Secular Audiences. Family Research Council. (Accessed January 6, 2014). http://www.frc.org/brochure/the-best-pro-life-arguments-for-secular-audiences.

The Commission of Inquiry into Foetal Sentience (CARE and The House of Lords). “Human Sentience Before Birth.” (2001): 3, 36.

Some Possible Reasons Why God Allows Disasters to Strike

Some Possible Reasons Why God Allows Disasters to Strike.

Why Does a Loving, Powerful God Allow Suffering and Evil?

Why Does a Loving God Allow Suffering?

A Theological Look at How a Loving, Powerful God can Co-exist with Evil and Suffering in the World

 

By: Pastor Brian Chilton

 Pulitzers

You do not have to look very far to find evil and suffering in the world.  A few weeks ago from the writing of this article, the world was rocked as we learned of the bombings which killed 3 people in Boston, Massachusetts.  One of the victims was a little boy.  Prior to this, we were saddened this past Christmas to learn of the atrocious shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The pages of our newpapers are full with stories of violence, suffering, and evil.  How does one deal with this?

Ergun Caner has given three ways the Christian deals with the issue of suffering and evil.  But, I would add a fourth.  Caner writes, “Solution Number One: God predestined evil” (Caner, Class Notes, Lecture 14).[1]  Adherents to this solution would claim that humans do not have any control over anything and that everything is worked out by God.  Unfortunately, this makes God the author of sin and the Bible makes it clear that there is not evil or sin found in the character of God.  So, this solution has major problems.

Caner gives a second solution, “Solution Number Two: Evil does not exist” (Caner, Class Notes, Lecture 14).  Adherents of this view would claim that evil does not really exist.  Evil is an illusion and is not real.  But any serious minded person can clearly see that evil is indeed a reality.  This solution, too, holds some major problems.

Caner gives a final solution, “Solution Number Three: God created Man who chose evil” (Caner, Class Notes, Lecture 14).  This solution holds the fewest problems.  This solution, like Caner, is the solution I choose.  In other words, God did not create evil and suffering but allowed it as an option for reasons on which we will expound.

In this article, we will examine how a powerful, loving God can co-exist with evil in society and why God would allow this suffering and evil to exist…only temporarily.  We will examine the characteristics of God, the transformation of man, love and freedom, responsibility and freedom, the promise of working things together, and the final judgment.

We need to add one more note before proceeding.  When we speak of suffering and evil, two forms of suffering and evil exist: moral evil and natural evil.  Moral evil is the evil that comes from the hands of fellow human beings, whereas natural evil is the supposed evil that comes from natural disasters and birth defects.  We will deal with moral evil in this article and will address natural evil at a later date.

The Characteristics of God

Jesus children

Many characteristics of God could be mentioned in this article.  For the sake of time and space, we will only speak of two: holiness and love.  First, we must understand that God is a holy God.  In the Harper Bible Dictionary, holiness is defined as, …a term in Hebrew probably meaning separate from the ordinary or profane. Also in Hebrew and in Greek ‘holy’ implies connection with God or the divine. Thus, God is holy and people, things, and actions may be holy by association with God. Holiness may also include the ideas of consecration to God and purity from what is evil or improper.”[2]  In other words, God has not evil in Him.  Quite frankly, even though God is all-powerful, there are some things the Bible tells us that God cannot do.  For instance, the Paul writes to Titus, “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2, NASB).[3]  So, God cannot lie.  God cannot do evil.  He is holy and without sin.

Secondly, God is love.  Perhaps, there is no greater reference to this fact than in John 3:16 and also in 1 John.  John writes in his letter, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).  Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  So, God’s love for all humanity is limitless. This love transforms every person who partakes in His glory.

The Transformation of Humanity

BlackFamily

When a person allows Christ to become the Lord of his or her life, a transformation occurs.  Yes, salvation is a work of God.  Yes, God does the transformation.  But, yes, we have to be willing to allow God to do that work in our lives.  More on that later in the article, but for now, let us simply say that if a transformation has not occurred in an individual then there is a good chance that the individual never received Christ.

Although I consider all Christians who are under the umbrella of classic Christian doctrine to be my brothers and sisters, I am most in line with “Free Will Baptist” theology.  Some have accused Baptists of proclaiming a “do-nothing salvation.”  In other words, all you have to do is say a prayer and do nothing else.  Well, honestly, if that was the way Baptist theology really presented salvation, I would not be one.  We all understand whether you are Arminian or Calvinist, Protestant or Catholic, Pentecostal or Methodist, Baptist or Lutheran, that a transformation must take place in order for one to truly be proclaimed a Christian.  You cannot live like the Devil and proclaim Jesus as your Lord and think that you have a right relationship with God.  It does not work that way.

We are told that the Christian must display the Fruits of the Spirit, or manifestations of God working in the person’s life.  Those fruits are: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).  This does not indicate that the Christian will always be patient or always be kind.  But it does indicate that the overall persona of the Christian should be filled with these attributes as they are attributes of God given to the person.  So, a relationship with Christ brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  If this is the case, then the life that lives without God would produce the antitheses of these things: hate, sorrow, war, impatience, harshness, evil, infidelity, harshness, and personal and familial chaos.  Get the picture?  So, why does God allow evil?  We begin to get a glimpse as we examine the next section.

Love and Freedom

Couple hugging

We get a clear picture of this in the all-star verse of the Bible.  Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).  Notice the “whosoever” word?  For love to be freely received, it must first be freely given.  But for love to be freely given, it must also be freely received.  As David said to his son Solomon, “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9).  Yes, God saves.  Yes, God reveals Himself to us.  Yes, salvation is God’s gift.  But, for love to work, it must be reciprocated.

A great example of this was found 12 years ago from the time of this writing.  I was walking down the beach with my, then, girlfriend.  It was a beautiful night.  The moon lit the waves of the ocean as they crashed against the shore.  A few clouds gave the sky a mystical look this night.  I was extremely nervous because I was going to ask my girlfriend a very important question.  Every time I was getting ready to ask her, something would interrupt me…a dog crossing our paths.  A young child running around.  Finally, the moment of opportunity appeared and I asked this girl a very important question.  “Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me?  Would you like to marry me?”  I gave her the ring which I had purchased for her.  She looked at me in disbelief.  She looked…and looked…and looked…and finally asked, “Are you SURE???”  Well, that was not the response I was looking for, but I answered, “Of course I am sure, or I wouldn’t have asked.”  After contemplating a few more moments…leaving me hanging for what felt like an eternity…she finally responded, “Well, I guess we are going to have a good life together.  Yes, I will marry you.”

The Friday before I write this article, that girl and I will have celebrated 10 years of marriage together.  God has blessed us with a little boy.  I can honestly say that even though our relationship is not perfect, I love her more now than I even did then.  But that would not be possible if we both did not act freely.  I freely chose to ask her to marry me and she freely chose to accept my offer.  Love is never forced.  Forced love is not love…it is rape.  Rape is the antithesis of love.  Love must be freely given and freely received.

The same holds true with our relationship with God.  God saves.  God calls.  God gives us the opportunity to enter into a relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  God does 99.9% of the work.  The only thing we must do is say “Yes.”  We must open the door to God’s invitation.  In many ways, our relationship with God is like a marriage.  God is the groom and we are the bride.

But, this offer only exists if we are given the choice to receive or reject.  In order to allow for perfect relational love, God had to create us with the opportunity that we might just say “No.”  Some will say, “No God.  I do not want You in my life.”  Just as some with some proposals, the asked person will say, “No dear, I do not love you and do not want to spend my life with you.”  The clear cut result of a life lived without God is evil.

Some would say, “Yes, but why doesn’t God stop every evil act from occurring.”  I would say that God could and does from time to time.  But, if God interjected every time an evil act was committed, this would remove the freedom that the human being possesses.  Suffering and evil exists because of the freedom that God has given people.  We cannot blame God for suffering and evil.  We must truly blame ourselves.  This of course gives humans responsibility.

Responsibility and Freedom

Responsibility-large

Human beings must take responsibility for his or her actions.  Many times we blame God for things that we bring on ourselves.  If a person stepped out on a major highway and was hit by a Mack truck, can the person really blame God for such an action?  No, it was the person’s own stupidity.  Would God be obligated to stop the Mack truck causing a massive pile up while taking many innocent lives over one person’s ignorant decision?  I don’t think so.  Really, God is not obliged to us for anything, really.  The fact that God saves any of us shows the grace and mercy of God.  It speaks more of God’s character instead of a person’s.  However, it must be noted that sin and rebellion do in fact hurt people.  The things we do affect far more people than we ever could imagine.  But, despite this, God has given a promise to work all things for good to God’s children.

Working All Things For Good

God-at-work-sign

Paul writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  This promise is not for everyone.  Notice that Paul says that God works all things for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  God has the uncanny way of working out good things through the most horrific of circumstances.  It may be that through the death of a young child who will automatically go to heaven that another child would receive life through an organ transplant.  It may be that the woman who allowed God to strengthen her through the death of her beloved husband displays such a Christ like demeanor that her lifestyle encourages another to come to eternal life in Christ.  God has the ability to work out all things for good if we are His children and allow the Spirit of God to work in our lives without quenching Him.  But, there is yet one more thing that must be remembered in all of this.

Prepare to Meet Your God: Judgment Time IS Coming

judgment

One day, God will bring judgment.  Many ask as the Prophet Habakkuk did, “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear?  I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save” (Habakkuk 1:2).  Will God not bring judgment to those who do such wicked things?  Yes, God indeed will.  When God brings judgment, it is fast, furious, and final.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at Sodom and Gomorrah.  The cities were lush cities in an area much like a tropical paradise.  Look at them now.  They are surrounded by massive amounts of salt in the region now known as the Dead Sea.

God will one day bring judgment.  As Paul writes, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).  Everyone will give an account of their lives to God.  The only salvation we have in this day is through the blood of Christ…the payment for our sins.  But, this does not mean that we will not have to give an account of the things we do.  God will one day make all things right.  So, let’s bring this all together.

Conclusion:

Christ the Redeemer

God is loving and is all-powerful.  The reason why evil and suffering exists is due to the freedom that God gives us to choose His grace or to reject His grace.  This freedom was evident in the Garden of Eden as it is today.  When God calls us and reveals Himself to us, we have the choice to accept God’s grace or to reject God’s grace.  A life that accepts God’s grace is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  A person who rejects God’s grace is filled with hate, sorrow, war, impatience, harshness, evil, infidelity, harshness, and personal and familial chaos.  Love is not forced, so if God grants that we can know Him then He must also grant that we may reject Him.  This is why evil and suffering sometimes occurs…because of rejection of God’s grace and love.

God allows evil and suffering to exist now because God is granting more time for people to receive God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.  More souls are yet to be saved.  This is why God is delaying the time for judgment.  But understand this; the age of grace will not be extended forever.  One day, the age of grace will be replaced by the Day of Judgment.  At that time, every person will have to give an account of his or her life; and the decision that the person made, in acceptance or rejection of the grace that God freely gave, will carry eternal consequences.  Let us end this article with a warning that the Prophet Amos gives us, “Prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12).

 


[1] Note: for easy reference, Bible references and some other references will appear in the MLA format.  For major works, Turabian footnotes will be used.  This will help the reader as he/she reads the article.

[2] Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 400.

[3] All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

Why the Violence in the Old Testament?

Why the Violence in the Old Testament?

By: Pastor Brian Chilton

Catch the audio broadcast that coincides with this issue by clicking here.

ot scroll

The recent epic miniseries The Bible accomplished exactly what Roma Downey, the producer of the mini-series, set for the series to do; get people talking about the Bible.  Many people had various problems with the mini-series.  For instance, the angels at Sodom and Gomorrah probably were not dressed like ninjas.  The sayings of Jesus in the wilderness wanderings stretched what the actual Jesus said.  Nonetheless, the series remained true to the Bible overall.

One of the great surprises to many of our congregants in the mini-series was the violence of the Old Testament times (otherwise called the Hebrew Bible).  One faithful church member said, “I have been going to Sunday school many years.  I never knew that there was so much violence in the Bible!”  So, this brings us to a difficult question.  Why is there so much violence in the Bible?  This question is a difficult one because it is loaded with a variety of other questions.

To answer why there is so much violence in the Old Testament, it must be asked what is really being asked.  Four questions arise from this one.  These four questions will be the basis for our article today and we will bring it all together in our conclusion.  The four questions are: why did God give the Israelites land (question of conquest); why did God allow for violence to be used against opposing nations; was God only behind one nation; and was God angry and ornery in the Old Testament?  First, why did God allow the Israelites to overtake other lands?

Why Did God give the Israelites Land?

israel

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you,

         2          and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.

         3          “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.

         4          “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.

         5          “But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.

         6          “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

         7          “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples,

         8          but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”[1]

 

The text above will be the primary text for this article.  Beginning with verse 6, it would appear that God loves only the Israelite nation and no one else.  But is this true?  Is God a racist?  Well, actually no.  God had a covenant with Israel, but had a love for all nations.  We will examine this in further detail in our third question.  So, why did God give the Israelites land?  God gave the Israelites land in ancient times for several reasons.

First, God gave Israelites the land because they had no land in which to dwell.  They were in the wilderness but the wilderness was not a hospitable place.  They could not grow and develop as a people in the desert.  They needed a place in which they could flourish.  The other people who had inhabited the lands that were given to the Israelites in ancient times were given other lands that were habitable, too.  For all intent and purposes, the people of Israel had been rescued from Egypt but were homeless.  So, why wouldn’t God give the people with which He had formed a covenant land?  Otherwise, it would be like an employer hiring a worker and giving the worker no work place, no materials and resources, and no money.  What kind of employer would that be?

Second, Israel would be the nation that would bring forth God’s word.  God spoke through prophets, priests, kings, and later apostles to bring forth His word to the world.  It was important that the people were established.  Before someone will listen to spiritual things, they must first be satisfied physically.

Lastly, the Messiah of the world would come through this nation: Jesus Christ.  Jesus would be the redeemer of all people.  He would solve the sin problem.  This shows God’s love for all people.  So, remember, there is no partiality with God.  God loves the Arab as much as He loves the Jew…and vice versa.  God loves the Chinese person as much as He loves the American…and vice versa.  God loves dark-skinned people as much as He loves light-skinned people…and vice versa.  As the children’s hymn says, “Red, yellow, black, and white…they are precious in His sight…Jesus loves the little children of the world” (from “Jesus Loves the Little Children”).  If this is so, then why did God allow violence to be used?

Why did God Allow for Violence against Other Nations?

zippety do dah pic

If God loves all people, why did God allow and even order for violence to be used against neighboring tribes and nations?  Well think about it.  Do you really think that the brutal Canaanites would have listened to Joshua and his armies if they walked up to them and said, “We don’t want to fight you, but God told us that this land is ours.  So if you don’t mind, get out and let us live here…please.”  The Canaanites would have cut Joshua into five pieces quicker than you could whistle “Zippety-Do-Dah.”  Violence had to be used because, due to sin, that would be the only measure that would work.  Sometimes God allows things to happen in ways that He really does not desire to bring a good end.  A great example of this principle is found in the cross.  God sometimes used violence by other nations to bring judgment.

Habakkuk is a great little book to read concerning God’s judgment of nations.  Habakkuk asks God, “Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?”[2]  It appeared to Habakkuk that God was allowing evil to take place without doing anything about it.  God answered Habakkuk, “You will be filled with disgrace rather than honor.  Now you yourself drink and expose your own nakedness.  The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter disgrace will come upon your glory.”[3] In other words, God told Habakkuk, “I am bringing judgment by a foreign nation.”  There is much more to Habakkuk’s conversation with God.  For this article, we simply need to show that God sometimes brings judgment by allowing other nations to invade a particular nation which has fallen into evil.  For His people, it may simply be lifting up His hand of protection.  Is this wrong?

Some claim that this is wrong on God’s part, but let me ask it this way: was it wrong for the Allies to conquer Hitler and the Nazis?  Hitler had killed 11 million people, 6 million of which were Jews.  Of course the Allies were justified conquering Hitler for the atrocities which he had committed.  Many of the tribes that were conquered, such as the Canaanites, were evil people who were engaged in child sacrifice, bestiality, licentiousness, and all manners of evil.  Why would a good God allow such a civilization to go on with no repercussion?  The fact that God allowed them to live where they did for as long as He did shows the grace and mercy of God.  As far as idolatry, not only were the other nations wrong in their worship, they had committed themselves to regular human sacrifices which were gruesome and horrific.  You may say, “Well you Christians claim that Jesus gave Himself on the cross.”  Yes, but Jesus went willingly and was God incarnate.  Many of the individuals who were sacrificed in these tribes were innocent children who were forced into being sacrifices.  Some claim that God seemed to love only Israel.  Is this true?

Did God Only Love Israel?

israel flag

God loves all people, but, as the text posted at the first of the article from Deuteronomy shows, God was engaged in a covenant relationship with Israel.  Don’t confuse covenant (an agreement that God has with a person or people) with love.  God’s love for all nations can be seen in God’s willingness to bargain with Abraham for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  If God found 10 righteous people, He promised Abraham that He would not destroy the place.  God had compassion on the people, but the people had become so corrupt that He had to rid the world of the evil therein.  Think of Jonah and the Ninevites.  Nineveh was not a Jewish nation.  Yet, God sent His prophet Jonah to speak a message of repentance to Nineveh so that they would be spared from judgment.  Nineveh listened and repented of their sins.  Yet, another great piece of evidence in Scripture shows that God is not a respecter of persons or nations.

Before Joshua would lead the troops to Jericho, he asked God, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”  The Lord responded, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.”[4]  This was unheard of in ancient times.  Even today, one group will claim, “God is only for us and no one else.”  Another group will claim, “No God is on our side not your!”  God is on no one’s side.  God is God.  He is under no man’s control.  God loved the Gentiles every bit as much as He loved the Israelites.    Remember that Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”[5]  The difference was not love, but covenant.  This plays into the issue of heaven and hell.  God loves every person in hell.  But, a covenant had to be worked out with people to allow them access to heaven.  If a person does not want exist with God, then they choose to live eternally without God…hence “hell.”  A lot of people confuse love and covenant.  Some also confuse justice with anger.  Was God an angry God in the Old Testament?

Was God Angry and Ornery in the Old Testament?

More than once it has been said, “God is ornery and mean in the Old Testament, but is loving and kind in the New Testament.”  Some, like the Gnostics, have postulated that two gods must exist…the vengeful Old Testament God and the loving New Testament God.  However, a closer examination of the Old Testament will reveal that God is the same God in the Old Testament that He is in the New Testament.

First, look at God’s love and compassion in Hosea.  God compares Himself to Hosea who loved his wife Gomer despite her infidelities.  God’s love for Israel remained even though Israel had strayed so far from Him.  As Hosea writes for God, “It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, that you will call Me Ishi (husband) and will no longer call Me Baali (master).”[6] 

Second, look at the chances that God gave people to get things right.  Judgment was a last measure.  God gave the people every chance possible to get things right.  God did not desire to bring judgment but it was necessary for God to bring judgment due to the rebellion and evil in which the people were engaged.  Jeremiah writes for God, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah who have come to worship in the Lord’s house all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. Do not omit a word!  ‘Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.’”[7]  Can you not see the heart of God breaking for the people?  His loving nature wishes to save and love every one of them.  But, his holiness cannot allow the evil of the land to go on.  Would the people listen, repent, and change the path that must come?  God knew the answer, but it did not make the situation any easier.

Conclusion

Is God a moral monster as some New Atheists suggest?  Does the use of violence indicate that God is a violent, malicious Being who wishes to harm all of humanity?  A careful reading of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) actually shows that God is a loving God.  YHWH in the Old Testament is the same Heavenly Father that is mentioned in the New Testament.  God is loving, but God is also holy.  God will not allow evil to remain on earth.  It was necessary for God to give Israel land in order that His word could be produced, His message could be delivered, and ultimately His Messiah could redeem the world.  God allowed and sometimes even ordered violent means to bring judgment against evil nations.  It was just as good for God to do this as it was for the Allies to stop the evil conducted by Hitler and the Nazis.  Most importantly, God loves all people in all times.  It is not His will that any should suffer.  In the end, God will make all things right.  When God judges, God will be just and give a good judgment.  The only thing, however, that will give someone access to God’s heaven is to enter into a covenant relationship with God through His Messiah Jesus Christ.  Human sin brought violence into the human spectrum.  However, God’s actions through Jesus Christ brought peace, love, and joy into the human spectrum.  Violence may be a reality now.  But, violence will be put to bed by the Prince of Peace one glorious day.


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Deuteronomy 7:1–8.

[2] Habakkuk 1:13.

[3] Habakkuk 2:16.

[4] Joshua 5:14.

[5] John 3:16–17.

[6] Hosea 2:16 (parentheses mine).

[7] Jeremiah 26:2–3.