Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Prophecy Against Moab (Jeremiah 48)

The following quote is taken from

"You Have To Kill - "Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood."  (Jeremiah 48:10 NAB)

You can read the entire chapter here:

            It is important to note that this verse is not a blanket command, given to any and every person in any given situation.  This was a very specific directive given to a very specific group of people: the Babylonian army, whom God allowed to conquer Moab.  Verses such as these must be considered within the passage they appear in, and should not be taken out of context.
            Why was judgment pronounced on Moab?  The Moabites were an ancient nation who were descendants of Lot (Abraham's nephew) and one of his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).  They were often hostile towards Israel; their king, Balak, hired a man named Balaam to curse Israel because the Moabites felt threatened by them, but God caused Balaam to bless Israel instead (Numbers 22-24).  Shortly after this, the Moabite women enticed the Israelite men into sex and worship of false idols, causing a plague that killed 24,000 people (Numbers 25:1-9).
            Even so, God prevented the Israelites from going to war against Moab later on, because he had given the land of Ar to the descendants of Lot as their possession (Deuteronomy 2:9).  But because of their hostility against Israel, Moabites and Ammonites were not permitted to enter the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:3-6).    
            The hostility continued - King Eglon of Moab oppressed Israel for 18 years during the time of the judges (Judges 3:12-30).  Moab battled against Israel during the time of King Joram, and their king, Mesha, sacrificed his own son on the city wall (2 Kings 3).  Moabites raided Israel every spring during the time of the kings (2 Kings 13:20).  In short, Moab and Israel were enemies, constantly at war.
            The reason for Moab's destruction was because they had "defied the Lord" (Jeremiah 48:42).  "We have heard of Moab’s pride - how great is her arrogance! - of her insolence, her pride, her conceit and the haughtiness of her heart" (Jeremiah 48:29, NIV).  Even so, God said that in days to come, he would have mercy and restore the fortunes of Moab (Jeremiah 48:47).  If anyone repents and turns to God, he shows mercy (Jeremiah 18:8).

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Resurrection of Jesus - Fact or Myth?

            This Easter Sunday, I wanted to briefly address a question that often comes up: Did Jesus really exist, and did he really rise from the dead, or is the whole story a myth?
            I will most likely discuss the proof of Jesus' life, death and resurrection in detail in a later blog post, but I wanted to briefly summarize proof we have that the story is true.  First, we have a wealth of texts that verify Jesus' existence.  We have the four Gospels, written by eyewitnesses and their companions, which all tell the story of Jesus, his life and teachings, and his death and resurrection.  The letters of early church fathers (such as Papias, Polycarp and a document known as the Didache), written between 95-150 CE, quoted extensively from all four of the Gospels and said that they contained the words of Jesus.  We also have an early fragment of John's Gospel (known as Papyrus P52), dated roughly to the first half of the second century CE.  The four Gospels were in circulation and being quoted by 100 CE, which means that they were written within 70 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus (which occurred circa 30 CE).  In addition, we have the letters of Paul, Peter and James, who all were martyred prior to 67 CE.  All of these letters testified to the existence of Jesus and his death and resurrection, and all were written within 40 years of the events.
            Besides the Biblical texts, we have extra-Biblical documents that testify that a man named Jesus lived and was executed during the governorship of Pontius Pilate (whose existence has been confirmed by archaeological evidence; see my earlier blog on The Pilate Stone).  Tacitus, a first-century Roman historian, mentioned "Christus" being executed during the reign of Tiberius, and Emperor Nero's persecution of Christians [1].  Suetonius, another Roman historian, mentioned the same events [2].  Josephus, a Jewish historian, mentioned Jesus, James and John the Baptist in Antiquities [3].  The Babylonian Talmud mentioned a man named "Yeshu" who was accused of sorcery and apostasy, and hanged on the eve of Passover [4].  There are quite a few other examples, but these are among the most prominent.
            As for evidence of the resurrection, we have several clues that point to the fact that Jesus actually, bodily rose from the dead.  Witnesses saw his body laid in the tomb, a seal was placed over the entrance and guards were present (Matthew 27:57-66).  After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and many others, including 500 people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  The empty tomb was explained away by the religious officials, who conspired with the guards to say that the disciples stole the body while the guards were asleep (Matthew 28:11-15).  This theory is very faulty, however - how would the disciples have been able to break the seal and remove the body without waking the guards?  Why would all of the disciples have suffered torture and gone to their violent deaths proclaiming a risen Jesus if they had just stolen his dead body and hidden it?  Why would they die for a lie?  Had that been the case, at some point the truth of their deception would have been exposed. 
            The empty tomb attests to the resurrection of Jesus.  To end the spread of Christianity, all that the religious leaders and Romans would have had to do was produce Jesus' body and present it publicly as proof that he did not rise from the dead.  They could not, however, because the body was gone.
            One of my favorite parts of Scripture is the original ending of the gospel of Mark, just after the women who went to the tomb found it empty and an angel told them that Jesus had risen: "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid" (Mark 16:8, NIV).  The gospel ends very abruptly, with women running away from an empty tomb.  It is almost as if the author was posing a question to the reader: "The tomb is empty.  Now, what do you think happened?"

[1] Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (written circa 116 CE)
[2] Suetonius, Life of Nero 16.2
[3] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Books 18 and 20 (written circa 93-94 CE)
[4] Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a

Saturday, March 23, 2013

War Against The Amalekites (Deuteronomy 25:17-19; 1 Samuel 15)

The following quote is taken from

"Mass Murder - "This is what the Lord of  hosts has to say: 'I will punish what Amalek did to Israel when he barred his way as he was coming up from Egypt.  Go, now, attack Amalek, and deal with him and all that he has under the ban.  Do not spare him, but kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and asses."   (1 Samuel 15:2-3 NAB)

To get a better sense of what is going on in this passage, it would be helpful to read what the Amalekites did to the Israelites earlier on in their history.  You can read the story here:

            The Hebrew word used in 1 Samuel 15:3 is charam, meaning "the complete consecration of things or people to the Lord, either by destroying them or by giving them as an offering" [1].  Only God could decide when this type of devotion occurred, and it was always in response to a grievous sin that the person or people had committed against the Lord.
            For example, when the Israelites were travelling out of Egypt, the Amalekites attacked the weakest and most vulnerable people among them:Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19, NIV). 
            In response to the Amalekites murdering the weakest of the Israelites who had fallen behind the others (the text seems to indicate that these included the elderly, the sick, and those with young children, although this is not specified), God determined that the Amalekites would be destroyed (1 Samuel 15).  He was, in essence, sentencing them to death for their crime.
            There was another reason that God ordered the elimination of the Amalekites; they were a nation hostile to Israel, who were constantly at war against them, seeking their destruction.  Because Saul did not carry out God's command to destroy them, they continued their raids against Israelites, at one point burning towns and carrying off women and children as plunder before being stopped by David (1 Samuel 30).  Centuries later, Haman, a descendant of an Amalekite king named Agag, plotted to wipe out all of the Jewish people living in Persia (Book of Esther).  God knew that the Amalekites were determined to completely destroy the Israelites, which is why he issued the command for them to be killed.
            As in previous passages, the command to kill the women and children is a difficult issue.  We must remember that the children would have grown up following the same customs and practices as their parents; they would have been taught to hate Israel and seek their destruction, and would have been lost for eternity.  God took their lives in childhood to prevent this from occurring.

[1] Footnote in the Holy Bible, New Living Translation (NLT).  This term (charam) occurs in the following verses: Exodus 22:20; Leviticus 27:21, 28-29; Numbers 18:14; 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:6; 7:2, 26; 13:15-17; 20:17; Joshua 2:10; 6:17-21; 7:1, 11-15; 8:26; 10:1, 28, 35, 37, 39-40; 11:11-12, 20-21; 22:20; 1 Samuel 15:3, 8-9, 15, 18-21.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)

The following quote is taken from

"Peter Kills Two People -  There was also a man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property.  He brought part of the money to the apostles, but he claimed it was the full amount.  His wife had agreed to this deception.  Then Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart?  You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself.  The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished.  And after selling it, the money was yours to give away.  How could you do a thing like this?  You weren't lying to us but to God."  As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died.  Everyone who heard about it was terrified.  Then some young men wrapped him in a sheet and took him out and buried him.  About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, "Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?"  "Yes," she replied, "that was the price."  And Peter said, "How could the two of you even think of doing a thing like this – conspiring together to test the Spirit of the Lord?  Just outside that door are the young men who buried your husband, and they will carry you out, too."  Instantly, she fell to the floor and died.  When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear gripped the entire church and all others who heard what had happened."   (Acts 5:1-11 NLT)

You can read the full story of what happened here:

            To quickly summarize, these events took place not long after Jesus' death and resurrection, at the very beginning of the church.  The first believers freely shared all of their possessions with each other, and some sold possessions and property to give to those who were needy.  We are given the example of a man named Joseph (aka Barnabus), a Levite from Cyprus, who sold a field that he owned and gave all the money from the sale to the apostles, for distribution among the poor (Acts 4:32-37).
            Unfortunately, an instance of hypocrisy occurred not long after - the incident with Ananias and Sapphira.  We must keep in mind here that no one in the church was forced or coerced into giving; people did it of their own free will (Acts 5:4).  Ananias and Sapphira saw that others were selling property and giving the money to the apostles, and this caused them to participate, not because they wanted to help, but because they wanted to display their righteous acts before others, to receive prestige and honor for themselves.  God does not reward good works when they are only done for show (Matthew 6:1-4).
            Also, the two of them conspired to lie about the price that they received for the land (Acts 5:1-2).  They showed great contempt for God by doing this - they assumed that he would not see or know what they were doing, and they disrespected him and the apostles who represented him.  Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, saw through the lie and said, "Didn’t it (the land) belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God” (Acts 5:4, NIV).  Ananias and Sapphira paid for their lie with their lives.
            Why did God take their lives for this lie?  It served as a powerful warning to the early church, and to all of the believers that would come after.  It exposed Ananias and Sapphira as unbelievers in the midst of the church, who were trying to exploit the church for personal gain, and had no fear of God.  It proved that Peter, one of the early leaders of the church, was filled with the Holy Spirit, because he saw through their lie and exposed it immediately (it should be noted that Peter did not take their lives; God did).  It was a warning that God is a holy and just God, who hates sin and does not tolerate those who show him contempt (Proverbs 6:16-19; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).  God sees our hearts, and will reward us based on our motives (1 Corinthians 4:5). 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Story of Samson (Judges 13-16)

The following quote is taken from

"More of Samson's Murders - (The Lord saves Samson from standing trial for 30 murders and arson by allowing him to kill 1000 more men.)  When he reached Lehi, and the Philistines came shouting to meet him, the spirit of the Lord came upon him: the ropes around his arms become as flax that is consumed by fire and the bonds melted away from his hands.  Near him was the fresh jawbone of an ass; he reached out, grasped it, and with it killed a thousand men."  (Judges 15:14-15 NAB)

You can read the full story of Samson in Judges chapters 13-16:

            Samson's story is found in the book of Judges, which describes the time period after Israel settled in Canaan but before they had a king.  First of all, we need to examine this passage in a historical context.  It is important to note that the Bible does not always approve everything that it records.  Just because there is an act of violence recorded in the Bible does not mean that God approves of that act of violence.  Some parts of the Bible, particularly the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), are books of history.  The book of Judges is one such book, describing the nation of Israel during the period of the judges (circa 1380-1050 BCE).  The book of Judges is not part of the Law (Torah) given to the Israelites, and does not contain instructions on how to live a life that pleases God (such as Paul's letters in the New Testament).  It is a book of history.
            Samson's birth was foretold to his parents by the angel of the Lord, who said that the child would be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from birth.  This meant that he was forbidden from drinking alcohol, no razor could ever be used on his head, and he must not go near a dead body (Numbers 6:1-8). 
            When Samson grew up, he became a stubborn, willful, lustful and violent man, rebellious against God's commands.  First, he killed a lion with his bare hands and later ate honey from the lion's carcass, in violation of the command against going near a dead body (Judges 14:5-9).    Next, he married a Philistine woman (Judges 14:1-3, 10-20), in violation of God's command for Israelites not to marry people of other nations (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).  During the wedding feast, he gave his 30 Philistine companions a riddle to solve, and when they couldn't solve it, they went to Samson's wife and threatened to kill her and her family if she didn't find out the answer for them.  She found out the answer and they told it to Samson, who was so enraged that he went to a neighboring area and killed 30 Philistines to make good on his wager - 30 linen garments and sets of clothes for the companions who had solved the riddle.  Then he stormed home, without his wife.
            Later when he went back for his wife, the woman's father informed him that she had been given to another man.  In response, Samson burned Philistine crops, and when the Philistines found out, they murdered Samson's wife and father-in-law by burning them to death.  This led to more bloodshed when Samson killed many of them shortly afterwards, and then killed 1,000 more who pursued him.
            Samson's wild rebellion continued - he slept with a prostitute (Judges 16:1-3), in violation of the Law (Leviticus 19:29).  Finally, he fell in love with a woman named Delilah who later betrayed him to the Philistines; he revealed to her that his hair could not be cut because of the Nazirite vow, and while he slept, they cut his hair.  The Lord left him, and the Philistines gouged out his eyes and took him to prison (Judges 16:4-22).
            At the Philistine temple, while Samson was forced to perform at one of their festivals, he prayed that God might give him strength one more time to avenge the loss of his eyes, and God granted his request - Samson pushed the pillars that supported the temple, and the entire structure came crashing down, killing Samson and thousands of Philistines (Judges 16:23-31). 
           There are a few things that we must consider when reading this passage.  First, the Philistines were a nation that was hostile to the Israelites, oppressing them for 40 years (Judges 13:1).  They murdered Samson's wife and father-in law by burning them to death (Judges 15:6).  God had determined that he would use Samson to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5, 14:4). 
            Samson's sad story is an example of a time that God used a person to accomplish his purposes, even though that person rebelled against his commands.  Samson was a selfish, stubborn man who cared only about his pride and his passions, and this eventually brought about his capture and death; his sins did not go unpunished.  However, God still used him to free Israel from Philistine oppression.  God can bring good out of any circumstances, even sin and death.  "Great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds.  Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; you reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve" (Jeremiah 32:18-19, NIV).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rewards and Punishments (Leviticus 26)

The following quote is taken from

"God Will Kill the Children of Sinners - "If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.  I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted."  (Leviticus 26:21-22 NLT)

These verses are part of a longer passage concerning God's covenant with the nation of Israel.  You can read the entire chapter here:

            Leviticus is a book of laws set down for the Israelites to follow, made after the covenant established between God and the Israelites after he had set them free from slavery in Egypt.  To understand what's going on in this passage, it would help to explain what a covenant is, and what it entails.
   defines "covenant" as "an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified" [1].  In the case of the covenant between God and the Israelites, he freed them from slavery and promised them rewards, protection, and a land of their own, in exchange for their faithfulness to him and their obedience to his commands.  In light of the Israelites' former life in Egypt, where they were oppressed with hard labor (Exodus 1:11-14), and where the Pharaoh ordered their infant sons to be killed (Exodus 1:22), an agreement with God in exchange for freedom was an infinitely better arrangement.
            In the beginning of Leviticus 26, God detailed the rewards that he would give the Israelites for obedience: rain, plentiful crops, peace, protection, fertility and his presence among them (Leviticus 26:3-13).  If they did not keep their end of the bargain, he would not grant them the rewards; indeed, they would be punished for breaking the covenant that enabled them to live a life of freedom from oppression.
            Unfortunately, this meant that hostility towards God and disobedience to his commandments would result in his removal of protection; they would be overtaken by other nations, and wild animals.  One question often raised is this: if each person is punished for their own sins, and children are not punished for their parents' sins (Ezekiel 18:20), then why would their children be killed by wild animals?  What we need to consider here is that if a family or nation practiced sins such as idolatry that were forbidden by the covenant and taught their children to do the same, their children would most likely follow the practices of their parents and be ensnared by the same sin, generation after generation. 
            Conditions would not stay this way, however, if the people repented and turned back to God.  When people turn away from their sins and turn to God, he responds graciously to them.  “'But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham...I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them.  I am the LORD their God" (Leviticus 26:40-42, 44, NIV).
            Today, we have a new covenant, one that God promised not only for Israel and Judah, but for people of all nations (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  This is the new covenant of faith in Jesus Christ for the atonement of sins, making us right with God.  "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'" (Luke 22:19-20, NIV; see also Hebrews chapter 8).

[1] "Covenant",