January 30, 2014

Legal Tender II: Leaping Leptons and Divisive Denarii

[Continued from previous post]

Matthew 20 brings us to the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

Matthew 20:1-8 ~“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ So the last shall be first, and the first last.”

The Denarius is mentioned here is an entire day’s wage. It was a Roman currency. It was a medium-sized silver coin. The word denarius is derived from the Latin deni which means "containing ten", as its value was 10 asses/donkeys.

In this parable, the same amount is given to the people who worked all day and those that only worked an hour (and everyone in-between). Why? Because it’s a parable from the Lord that’s why! It is a parable about the Kingdom! It is God’s kingdom and it is God’s prerogative to do as He wishes. Both with His parable and those in His creation. God has made the rules simple to obey. Obey and be blessed. Disobey and be curses. Simple. God sets the terms of the agreement and He goes out and gets those He wants and He gives them the pre-arranged reward/recompense.

Just like the stipulations for getting paid in this man’s (God’s) vineyard. God wishes that none be lost in condemnation. All will receive just recompense for coming to the faith and belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This means the believer that becomes a believer as a youth and perseveres in the faith throughout their lives…and it is also for those that have a true deathbed conversion. It is not necessarily about how and where you convert to Christ in faith….it is that you convert at all. The Bible is clear…we are to enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

Of course man’s sin enters into the parable in the form of envy. The human envy in this story (or envy in any situation) rubs right up against God and His attributes that delights in doing good. To envy is to imply that someone in this situation has been given more than they deserve. God has set the terms. It is not for man to question or second-guess God’s motives and purposes and envy is indirectly doing this. Envy in this situation puts a believer in direct violation of the two greatest commandments also.

Secondly, I mention the widow’s mite was properly understood as a Greek lepton which means small or thin. I actually have some of these in my coin collection.

Mark 12:42 ~ “A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.”

They are quite small, about the size of a modern US dime.  They were considered fractional currency, therefore they were of minimal value which is part of the point of the incident in the Temple with Jesus and the widow. It tells us right within the verse that two λεπτὰ/ lepta were worth one κοδράντης / kodrantes (quadrans) a bronze coin. As can be seen by its prefix “quad”, it was a quarter of an “as” or more properly “ἀσσαρίων/ assarion”. Based on variables in economy, effects of inflation or deflation and debasement of content in the coins…this is probable. In the New Testament a coin equal to one half the Greek Attic chalcus worth about 3/8 of a cent. This is why the translation is the way it is in English. It is the closest monetary conversion.

So leptons were a common low value currency that had been in circulation for a long time. They would be common among the poor and as such they could be used in the Temple as opposed to other currency. Why? The other forms of currency had pagan images. The lepton did not contain images of pagan deities which would’ve been construed or understood as idolatry.

The entire point of the passage is clearly interpreted by Jesus explanation of it right in the text.

Mark 12:43-44 ~ “Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

The widow had no support and probably no other source of revenue to stay alive. This widow by putting the last of her money in the offering bin was essentially casting her fate into God’s hands in faith. If God did not provide for her…she was as good as dead. Widows supporting themselves and not being supported by other family members were usually ostracized from society and died a slow quiet death out of the view of society. They were treated like yesterday’s garbage. The forfeiture of her money would then be construed as fiscal suicide. She was taking an enormous leap of faith by giving all she had. She was “all in”…all or nothing.
The test of liberality is not what is given, but what is left." ~William Kelly
The other people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. As Jesus said, it was of their surplus. They were hedging their bets to play it safe. These people had already figured out would it would take to live comfortably and still had much left over. These were the rich and the “middle-class”. We see the same in middle-class evangelical America. Giving of surplus. Many of us, like those in this story are giving of our surplus. This should tell us something. These people (like many of us) are not giving before they got paid, they are giving after they balanced their books and had paid their bills so to speak. They knew what they could give from their “savings” and did so. There was no risk. They were going home to a comfortable “stash”. The widow was giving of what she really didn’t have. One lone person gives with profound risk in faith that God will provide. The others give with no risk and no faith having relied on themselves.

We could learn a lot from this about faith. I will leave it to the reader to mull this over themselves.

Lastly, I was going to close this post with the traitor Judas and the thirty pieces of silver that he betrayed the Son of God for but it does not fit the main context and premise of my post. The passage that refers to the pieces does not specifically state a named coinage or currency. It merely states 30 pieces of silver. By implication it can be taken as coins but what type are never clearly stated in the text. Due to this linguistic fact I will not be including it in this post.

January 26, 2014

Legal Tender I: Dedicated Darics and Swimming Shekels

Persian Daric 

(4th Century B.C.)
Currency or money is mentioned throughout the Bible as would be expected of a historical document that documents historical events. Currency is anything that is used in any circumstances, as a medium of exchange.

Specifically the money that I will refer to in this post is a medium that can be exchanged for goods and services that has a specific name. In other words the basis for American currency and money is the dollar, cent, etc. For this post the use of "currency" will be considered synonymous with the concept of money or coinage even though in reality they are not the same thing. It is generally a system of money or monetary units in use in a geographic location (nation) or perceived area (internet).

Currency of money is the lubricant or lifeblood that allows a practical application of economy at the street level. Money being representative often takes on different meanings to different people and the Bible at times shows this fact. The idea of currency can even be spiritual or spiritualized at times because money's value that is instilled in it...is really a faith and trust in what backs it or gives it it's exchange value.

The first and only mention of a coin by name that I was able to find in the entire Old Testament was in Ezra.

Ezra 2:69 ~ “According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver and 100 priestly garments.

The first thing we should do is differentiate the types of exchange going on here. (1) Although garments are mediums of exchange, they are not really money in the sense I am aiming at for this post. They are more a form of barter. Barter is a system of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services whereas money acts as an intermediary unit in an exchange or represents something else in value. (2) The same applies to the 5000 minas. Minas are not specific units of currency but rather bulk weights or a measure of a parcel of a material. As grain is often measured in bushels, large amounts of silver bullion or block are measured in minas. So 5000 minas would’ve been the modern equivalent of 3 tons of silver. (3) When we arrive at the darics, we see a named coin. The Daric was a Persian unit of currency. It should not be surprising that returning exiles from Babylonian exile would offer what was probably in their purses or money bags. Why? Because the Babylonians were subsequently conquered by Persia. This passage tells us that 61,000 darics of gold were dedicated or given for Temple use.

All these exchanges were freewill offerings to the Lord When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. They were to go towards the rebuilding of the house of God on its old site. People were investing in something...sight unseen and this was an act of faith that the Lord would allow it to happen. Please keep in mind that these people had just came back from exile. Each gave in accordance to their ability…just as we should today. A tithe or church offering is a freewill offering and an investment in God’s kingdom in advance. It is not a requirement, it is an issue of conscience. Although not required, it most certainly shows where one’s priorities are spiritually.

It should be mentioned that a parallel passage in Nehemiah 7 is often cited as a contradiction in totals but it needs to be understood that because Nehemiah goes into more explicit details of the offerings, does not negate the statements made in Ezra. Nehemiah merely detailed in finer nuance for different purposes from Ezra. Nehemiah mentions separately the contributions of the governor, heads of houses and others. Nehemiah also mentions offerings in kinds rather than exact monetary terms (hence the reason for my citing of Ezra instead of Nehemiah). Just like the issue of Solomon and his horses and chariots...because something is not mentioned does not mean it didn’t exist, it means that the purposes for writing different books varied. Nehemiah was a personal account and he was directly responsible for the rebuilding of the temple. It is not surprising that we would see a more explicit outline or list of usable resources as opposed to Ezra who was a scribe. During the time of Ezra’s writing the exiles were wavering in their faith and determination and the book of Ezra takes on a more theological purpose. Nehemiah is more about people who had a resoluteness and it was about getting the task of the temple rebuilt.

The coins and currency mentioned in the New Testament were issued by three governments: Greek, Roman, and Jewish (Maccabaean). As I review them I will mention them by name as they are stated in the Greek text to help with differentiation and clarity.

When we move on to the New Testament we see a specific coin mentioned in Matthew 10:29 and Luke 12:6. The coin is called a ἀσσαρίων/ assarion or as the NIV properly footnotes…a cent or penny. The smallest copper coin.

Matthew 10:29 ~ “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

Luke 12:6 ~ Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God.

The clear implication from this text is that even though these birds are equated to currency that is of such little value in human eyes (therefore making the birds of little value), God still deems them important enough to be kept in flight. If he values such small innocuous creatures like sparrows, how much more would God care for man if man is made in God’s image? We see God’s providential care here. The fact that He exercises a compassionate providence over the least significant is an assurance that He does so over the most valuable --man.

Moving on to Matthew 17 we meet up with one well-placed coin in a well-placed fish.

Matthew 17:27 ~ However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

We see Jesus’ obedience to the earthly authorities even though He is the Son of God. When Jesus and the disciples came to Capernaum, the people who collected a two drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” To which Peter’s response is yes. The two drachma tax which is the equivalent to two denarii or two days’ wages, paid as a temple tax. One for Jesus and one for Peter.

Christ, obeying the lex terrae, pays the tribute due being the Son of God. No harm no foul. A tribute was due to magistrates for public service, they were being paid to do a job. Not all were crooked and as such some workers would’ve been worthy of their wages…but that is not the true issue here. Jesus is living out Romans 13 long before Paul writes it.  Jesus is not so much appeasing the authorities here as he is simply keeping the economy and market-system functioning in proper behavior. By doing this he acts as everyman. Jesus does not exempt His disciples nor Himself from the civil or civic duties.

Being the Son of God, Jesus was under no obligation to do so but being free to do as He pleased being God…He chose to pay the tribute. Why? If for no other reason to serve as a perfect example of what a Christian should do and what they should be. Here we see a great example of what Hebrews 2 and Philippians 2 says of the humbleness of Christ and purposes of Christ within the will of the Father. For doing this Jesus would be exalted by the Father. So too shall we if we persevere to the end because we will be coheirs in Christ. In God’s economy, down is up and lowering is to be raised. Jesus voluntarily made himself low and poor so that we could be raised and made rich in righteousness and holiness.

[Continued in Part II]

January 22, 2014

Mega Thanatos IV: David's Census - The Brutal Cost of Sin

In 2 Samuel 24:15-16 the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel…

2 Samuel 24:15-16 ~ “So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite….”

What caused the Lord to send a plague that wipes out 70,000 men? In a word: Disobedience. Another word: Census. Three more words: Lack of faith. At the same time we see a repentant king and a king willing to put aside his will and ambition and allow God’s to supplant it and replace it. In this narrative we see that the true King is God and David is but a human prince of a small nation.

The real question that needs to be asked is: Why does God incite David (v.1) to conduct a census that shows distrust for God. It seems to make little sense and appears a bit contradictory. The answer is in verse 1 also. God’s anger burned against Israel. Why? Well, first the easy answer is that the reason the census is sin is that it shows a shift from faith in God to a faith in worldly military might. Instead of behaving like a man of God, David’s behavior is more akin to the Ancient Near Eastern kings. We see and hear echoes of Nebuchadnezzar and other later kings that will also be set in their places by a sovereign and omnipotent God.

As for why the inciting would take place we need to cross-reference a parallel passage to 2 Samuel 24 in 1 Chronicles 21:1.

1 Chronicles 21:1 ~ “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

We see what appears to be a contradiction in the Biblical texts. In 2 Samuel it says God incites David. In 1 Chronicles it says Satan did it. Contradiction? Hardly. It is the act committed by the volitional will of a being(s) with freewill and the act is allowed by God. Not only is it allowed, God can draw out of it a good end just as he does with the evil in the actions of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20). It is not only plausible but it is probable that God worked through the impetus of Satan or more specifically, He allowed Satan to do his dirty work by not prohibiting it or preventing it. A sovereign God controls everything…including Satan. As Martin Luther once said:
For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel...thus is the Devil ever God's ape. ~ Table Talk (1569)
That being said, the evil or sinful acts should never be attributed to God for He is holy. Secondly, we should see (1) the census takes nearly ten months and by the end of that time period David is pierced to the heart with regret or conscience-stricken (v.10). Of course it is too late by then and he is given three possible outcomes in terms of punishment. He chooses to put Himself at the mercies of God which seems the wisest of his options. God’s mercy looks like 70,000 dead. Surprisingly, the profound theological point does not seem to be the thousands of deaths but rather the recognition of the king’s error and a desire to repent. Here, in David’s behavior we see a prototype of a true believer who has “sinned greatly” yet sincerely wishes to repent and make amends. Unfortunately, our sins have penalties that are attached to them and just saying we’re sorry and going on our merry way is not always God’s protocol. Although we will be forgiven and be allowed to live, punishment very well might ensue in this life. To assume we won’t get punished in this life because we’ve been forgiven and then go on sinning is nothing more than being unrepentant and a horrible abuse of grace.

It is the old story of punishment that I used to get from my dad. When he knew that I knew I did wrong…he would make me chose between my punishments. Was I to be spanked with his belt, a horse switch or a stick? If I chose the stick and came back with a twig, he would chose the switch and the belt and I lost coming and going. It was a matter of picking my own poison. No matter what...it became an issue of double-jeopardy. The lesson to learn? Don’t do something stupid that requires chastisement and you might actually escape the double-jeopardy altogether.

Why did David chose the mercies of God? Because David is a man of God, he had learned over his lifetime to trust God in bad situations. Even though all the outcomes look dire and will end poorly, he knows deep down in his heart that God will chose the one that is of the most eternal benefit for all believers involved. We can learn a hearty lesson from this in our sufferings and trials which I have learned recently.

Sometimes there just will not be an easy way out of a situation and we will have to live with that fact. The good news is that no matter how bad it gets for the believer, God works all things to the good of those whom God loves. As much as people love hearing this at times…it never says that the good would come in this life nor would it be in the forms we expected. Nor does it say that we would first need to suffer through a fire to get to the good. God doesn’t promise a pleasant journey, only a pleasant destination for those who will believe.

We need to learn to trust God even when He looks like His face is set against us. Sometimes the lessons we need to learn will need to be extremely painful and costly so that it drives home the lesson that needs to be learned. In David’s case it cost 70,000 lives. 

One sin equaled 70,000 deaths and that total was considered mercy and forbearance by God. 

One Sin = 70,000 dead. Let that slowly sink in people....

Conversely in a mirror image, the inverse of this ratio shows the power of Jesus' death on the Cross and Resurrection. His one death atoned for ALL the sins of the world! Now that is power and forgiveness! 

1 Death of Jesus the Messiah = Forgiveness to those who believe in that death.

David's lesson was a lesson for all the people in the kingdom and those around it. As a matter of fact it is a sharp and pointed lesson for us now due to the magnitude of the death toll. No matter how you cut it, even one untimely death is too much but 70 thousand boggles the mind. Sin is astronomically costly in human life and should shock people to their senses. It should make us sit up and pay attention to the wrath, power and sovereignty of God. A wrath and eternal punishment that will befall all who do not seek repentance and believe the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

Our consciences should not be assaulted because of the death toll but rather the atrocious and costly nature of the sin against God that caused them. God is not punishing David without cause. David even admits he has sinned horribly. Sin is awful and most will never realize just how bad it is until they're suffering in eternal torment for it. They will live lives in godless denial and will reap the punishment of sin. Sin that would haunt this very same king until his own death right within his own family. Sin...sin that will cause the death of every person who ever lives. Sin...sin that will even cost the life of the Savior Jesus Christ who would later come to atone for it. 

The cost of sin is too high because of the very fact that it invokes the wrath of God.

January 19, 2014

Love Allows Things to Go Wrong

I find the prosperity preachers a contemptible lot because they preach a god that will not save a person from their suffering. Only one that will give them everything they want, when they want it. When things really hit the fan the god these hucksters teach will be more useless than a dirty diaper. Why? Because the god they teach doesn’t exist. Christians have a God of suffering and a God that is acquainted with sorrow. He suffered for the exact fact they He would endure what was travail common to men. He did this so when humans were in their worst shape possible and at their wit’s end in woe…they would be assured that there was a God in Heaven at the right hand of the Father that would act on our behalf and would know how we felt. An advocate that would be able to reach us in our suffering because He had already been there. A God that died and rose again in perfect accord with Scripture. As a matter of fact, the God the "health and wealth" preachers preach about is a god that is next to worthless. He will be of no support when the world turns black and there is little or no hope.

So where is God in all of the crisis and all of the chaos?

He’s usually nearer than He has ever been but we cannot see it through either the suffering or our sin. We should not expect that he will intervene to relieve us from every possible trial. The inverse is probably true. We should expect that he will allow us to go through the trials and tribulations to help us build character and speed along out sanctification.

So the question will often arise: How does suffering improve us when it feels like it is tearing us to pieces? Therein lies the first misconception. That we should equate how we feel in terms of pleasure and easy sailing to an improved spiritual status in life. Our feelings are God-given but tainted by the Fall. We need to understand that our perception of what is improvement when attached to feelings is often temporal and fleeting. What once excited us and gave us pleasure will fade away. What teaches us to persevere will be of lasting value. Why? Because what we gain and what we learn in our dark days and trials will endure through the good days along with the tempest seas of life. How? Read on my dear friend…

Suffering forces us to depend solely on God. God is all powerful. He is immutable and unchanging. He is perfect and holy. If our perseverance is founded an rooted in Him it will stand firm in the face of the most severe adversity. True to His character, the unchanging nature we have rooted our strength and will not waver in the stiffest gale nor drown in the cauldron of a roiling sea.  When we trust solely in the Lord God Almighty we can know that strength is not of ourselves. We will not be tempted to say, “My power and my strength built this and what I have that is good…is my own doing!” This is just not true as it is the work of God, the sovereign God of the Bible. This is why we struggle and are broken. Most will never reach this point until death because they are never really humbled, never really broken and contrite.

We must be still under His rod and be truly humble. Straining against the sharp spines and hooks only causes more pain. Yet straining against the sharp and painful barbs teaches us to moderate our effort to best effect. It teaches us to avoid obvious pitfalls and failures. It shows us limitations and guides us.

In addition, being Christ-like sometimes requires that one cleans up after others that make a mess or catastrophe of things. Sometimes being Christ-like requires that one allows others to go their own way in error and make messes of things. They will unknowingly often be causing their own suffering and you will know they are doing this but it is through the suffering of their own error that they learn the most poignant lesson. It is often the sweat and toiling of a failed effort that teaches us the most profound and life-altering things in our short life. For a man that is dull of wits, it sometimes takes a harsh crack upside the head to get him to pay attention.

Many will make a mess of things because they thought they knew better acting in their sin. They end up destroying everything they touch because of their sin. You will then come along in support of them to clean up after them because they were too bold or foolish to listen to calmer minds that knew the trouble they would get themselves into. We see this a lot in the mature believers versus the immature believers. We see this in the parent child relationship.

A true mature Christian that is like Christ (God) will allow these mistakes as a learning process and still be willing to come along after to clean up. God is patient and long-suffering. We need to be also...otherwise we become a hammer that all the nails that frame the Kingdom wish to avoid. It teaches the person observing the errant brother to be patient and full of grace. In this way the mature Christian acts more akin to God in their behavior. It is also in this way that God comes near through others in the Body of Christ. How? Because the body of Christ is indwelt of God and is therefore Kingdom by its very nature. 

When we let people make their own decisions in freewill even when they are sinful decisions, we allow the error to teach the lesson. We cannot completely control someone and call it love. A person must be free to make their own mistakes. Can we correct them and rebuke when necessary? Of course we can but to try and control them is to try and remove the freewill God gave them that even He will not revoke. Why? Because if God makes you obey His commands and makes you love Him...it really is not obedience or love…is it? It is coercion and despotic.

People must be let go to back their own choices even if they are sin. A real brother will be there to help when the other brother falls. A really mature believer will tolerate the brazen foolishness in an expectation that the person will change. They will do the clean-up and patiently endure more in grace hoping that God’s grace will eventually affect them and they will end up seeing the error of their ways. This is the difference between a Christian that matures and one the merely gets older but does not mature. We see this in Christ’s actions with people like Peter and the other apostles. We see this in the relationship Jesus had with Nicodemus. It is the grace that makes the change.

Should the error be ignored totally and allowed to occur over and over? No. We should rebuke and inform why it is error but we cannot force our belief on anyone. It is through our Christ-like behaviors in grace that we win them to the correct behavior. It is through our introductions to the truth of Scriptures that the change becomes permanent.

Many people (including myself) need to realize that at times they do not have answers to issues and acknowledge this fact instead of trying to bulldoze through an issue on sheer willpower and stubbornness trying to fix every problem that arises. As my wife has told me often. “I don’t want you to fix it, I just want to know you are listening.” Sometimes people just need to talk and they need you as a sounding board.

I find that too many times too many people “know too much” and are unwilling to humble themselves in grace. Altercations and conflicts then result and things that could’ve been easily resolved or end sooner in terms or suffering become intensified. Issues that should’ve been about obedience and learning then become about winning arguments or convincing one’s self that they were right rather than learning from the suffering and resolving problems. The things like hidden sin that God was trying to show us through our trials.  As a believer we must accept that, no matter how bad a situation appears…it is temporary and it has been allowed in our lives by a sovereign God. He might not give us the ability to get away from the suffering but will give us the strength to get through the suffering.

It is better to not fight it and try to get to the root of the problem through prayer and honest examination of one’s life. God usually will not force things on us unless we are really thick-headed…so learn where possible and look to Him when prolonged travail appears inevitable. Being Christian is about suffering and endurance. It is not about happy thoughts and paradise on earth. It is not about you best life now or “name it and claim it”. Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount and minced no words. These are not recommendations for the Christian life…they are expectations. They are not a how-to guide to a life…they are how to grade or examine it. The Beatitudes are what you should’ve already been. If a righteous man is a blessed man than these statements assume you will be meek, poor in spirit, mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, etc. At the end we see the statement that surmises them all…Blessed are those that are persecuted for being Christian (righteous) because why? Because in the end, the final reward is heaven which will make all suffering pale by comparison. I pray this comforts any in suffering right now.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Think about it for a second people. What if God made everything easy for you? What if He never allowed people to suffer? People would never be able to appreciate the good because they would have no bad to measure it by. Life would become a uniform monotonous hell. There is just something about toiling in effort to achieve something that makes a person appreciate it more. There is something right within the toiling and effort itself that makes one realize what it is to be alive...what it is to be human. 

Pain and suffering in this life is inevitable. How we learn from it and deal with it is not. It is unique to each and every person the experiences it. The best basis with which to deal with it is found within the pages of Scripture and in prayer to God.

January 18, 2014

Mega Thanatos III: Gideon's Revenge & Ahab’s Human Meatgrinder

Judges 8:10 ~ Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen.

We read in Judges that Gideon and his men killed one hundred and twenty thousand Midianites. As we have asked before, we have to ask again. Why such a large death toll? Zebah and Zalmunna were (2) two kings/commanders of the Midianites that had managed to escape previous destruction at the hands of Gideon and his men. It appears Gideon had caught up with them in Karkor. It seems as if Gideon came upon them with surprise and they were routed. The kings were subsequently captured. At the time of the rout we read that the remaining 15,000 that are attacked at Karkor are actually a remnant of a force of about 135,000. That means 120,000 were summarily killed. Although it is not explicitly stated, the remainder are probably killed here. The truth is that if Gideon does not wipe out the remaining 15,000, he has left the charge to him incomplete. He only would've done a partial job. If God is anything, He is thorough and He expects the same of His people. When Christ came to die for our sins he completed the job and then said, "It is finished." What do we suppose would've happened if Jesus pulled up just short of the Cross or Resurrection? There would be no salvation for anyone. Getting the job done is what God is all about.

Unlike the previous chapter Gideon's blood vengeance seems to replace national deliverance as a motive for his actions with the Midianites when he subsequently deals with his "allies" that wouldn't help his men. A once doubting and fearful person has not become a brutalizing aggressor. In this passage Gideon seems to deal ruthlessly with his own Trans-Jordanian countrymen who reject his request for supplies of an exhausted group of men. So why does the one who had accomplish so much for God in the previous chapter of Judges turn certifiably homicidal in chapter 8 with his allies?

I believe here we see the definitive need for a divine Savior. A divine king. A divine liberator or vindicator. In Gideon we see a flawed man and the flawed equivalent of all the positions mentioned above. The sword that had belonged to the Lord and Gideon (Judges 7:18-20) is now tainted because of the human hand that holds it. The writer of Judges paints of picture of a horribly flawed human deliverer that is the virtual antithesis of a divine/human deliverer, judge and king which the era of the judges and kings would inaugurate. In stark contrast to the patience and grace of God, we see a brutal, harsh and graceless man killing tens of thousands in a vengeful rampage. We as readers must be careful to distinguish the difference between the national interests that Gideon is used for by God and the personal vendettas that often distract Gideon away from his duty as a judge.

We will later read in 1 Kings 20:29 that the children of Israel slew 100,000 Syrian footmen in a single day…and a wall would fall upon the remaining 27,000.

1 Kings 20:26-30 ~ “In the spring, Ben-Haded mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

So why did so many men die at the hands of Ahab who was such an evil king? Ben-Haded and Ahab face off in Israel and there can be only one winner. Ahab is informed by an unknown prophet that if he would call on select officers of provincial commanders to lead the attack, God would give him the victory. In one of the few instances of Ahab actually obeying the command or statutes of God, Ahab gains the upper hand here. The Arameans suffer heavy causalities and Ben-Haded barely escapes with his life. Ben-Haded then replaces lost commanders and re-engages Ahab the following spring. He and his army face near total annihilation to the tune of 100,000 troops in a single day. The remaining 27,000 appear to be crushed by the falling walls of Aphek.

Although Ahab initially obeys the prophet of God and gains the victory, Ben-Haded’s counselors come to him seeking leniency and Ahab grants it based on his own self-trust thereby going against the will of God. Ahab makes a treaty with Ben-Haded which flies in the face of God. Ahab was condemned for forming a treaty with God’s enemy. The irony is that we are condemned when we too make a treaty with God’s enemy and accept it into our lives and live with it. That enemy is sin. It is by holding on to our sins and refusing to relinquish them...that we end up doing the very same thing that Ahab did. The good news is that Jesus takes our condemnation onto Himself in our stead.

As we will see with many incidents involving Ahab, his obedience to God ebbs and flows like a shifting tide (just like ours). Most often Ahab will stand against God /God’s will and he will pay dearly for this oscillation at the end of his life (just like us). Ahab represents a man that pretends to be something he is not and he dies the same way. He pretends to be a believer but only obeys God when it suits him. He pretends to be king but in reality he is second behind the whims and desire of Jezebel. When he dies he is pretending to be a common soldier instead of the king that he was supposed to be. Just like the rest of his life…he should’ve been a king but instead he was only a pretender.

So why the decimation of Ben-Haded’s troops? Ben-Haded is Aramean and is the king of Aram, Damascus. In reality we do not see a victory by Ahab’s military might...we see a military victory because of the might of God’s intervention. It is the prophet of God steering the king behind the scenes that effects the outcome of the battle that wipes-out Ben-Haded’s army. There are in reality two battles against the Arameans. One is a siege against Samaria itself and then a battle of Aphek where walls come down in the end crushing what amounts to the population of substantial town. In the first the Arameans are soundly defeated. In the second they remaining forces are decimated. The truth is that the Arameans were in constant hostilities with Israel. These constant merciless incursions by the Arameans would have justified the cost of life but there is more here. Two battles give Ahab two chances to see the omnipotence and sovereignty of God yet Ahab persists in is apostate and rebellious ways. Ahab’s eventual victories come at his submission to the will of God but he he receives judgment for the opposite. Not only is judgment visited on the pagan Arameans, it will also be visited upon an apostate Ahab.

We see God’s unconditional love to His people too. There is nothing in this passage to make us believe that God’s mercies upon Israel are warranted. If anything, both Gideon's secondary behavior and Ahab’s misdeeds dictate against this. Yet God’s faithfulness to His people persists. God is long-suffering with His disobedient followers and still watches over them and protects them from the contamination of other pagan cultures even when His own people may be just as guilty at times. How often do we see the sins of the Church outpace that of society-at-large in things like divorce, adultery, immorality...yet God is still faithful? The mercy and forbearance of God is riddled throughout this narrative (and our lives) more than any other divine attribute. To overlook this is to miss the theological point of this narrative all together.

If modern man learns anything from this we need to learn that we have much to be thankful for…not the least of which is God’s patience, mercy and faithfulness to His word. It behooves us to repent and seek His forgiveness. To not do so is to tempt the judgment of God just as Ahab did or worse...to incur the judgment as the Arameans received. We are under enough wrath without provoking God, why look a gift horse in the mouth?

January 13, 2014

Mega Thanatos II: 185,000 Dead & The United States of Assyria

Another mass death is mentioned in 2 Kings 19. It is the story of Sennacherib and King Hezekiah.

2 Kings 19:35 ~ “That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!

What we are seeing here is a humiliating defeat for the Assyrians. God had promised that he would deliver His remnant from their enemies and that is what we see here. God’s people would then be able to take root and prosper again. This is Sennacherib’s Waterloo. The numbers against them and possibility of victory for Jerusalem looked insurmountable. As we learn all throughout Scripture, what seems impossible to man is not only possible to God…it is probable. In one night the Angel of the Lord destroys 185,000 Assyrian lives. Sennacherib’s forces are decimated. He literally packs up what’s left of his troops and goes home. All of his pagan gods could not save one of his 185,000 men. All the power he boasted of previous to this night was all for not.

What got him to this point? Earlier in 2 Kings we would see Sennacherib march down the Plain of Sharon crushing all resistance in 701 B.C. According to Sennacherib when referring to Hezekiah, “He did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his cities…drove out 200,150 people…and took livestock beyond counting…” While laying siege to Lachish he also laid siege to Jerusalem. Although he boasted of locking Hezekiah up inside the walls of his city like a “bird in a cage”…yet he admitted to his failure to take the city of Jerusalem. It should’ve been and open and shut case.

As is always the case, God's actions enter real history.

This particular events is actually indirectly documented in other sources other than the Bible. In this case Sennacherib's Prizm and the siege of Jerusalem. As we know from the Bible, having initially ignored the prophets and imprudently refusing to pay Assyrian tribute, Hezekiah repents and Micah boldly predicted Jerusalem’s miraculous survival by divine means. We see in 2 Kings 19:35 that: “That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” The siege army is struck with an unknown catastrophe. To call it a plague is to miss the language of the passage. It is literally a divine deliverance and the vehicle of deliverance is not stated in the text anywhere. The Assyrian enemy is obliterated on Jerusalem’s doorstep. The Lord was true to His word delivered by Isaiah:

“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David." 2 Kings 19:32-34

So why were the Assyrians decimated? First, we must recognize God does all things for the glory of His own name. How did this bring Him glory? Jerusalem were God’s people. Stiff-necked and rebellious but His people none-the-less. A remnant within this city would be His true holy people. Assyrians on the other hand were pagan. Not just any pagans mind you. They were brutally inhumane and cruel not only to enemies but even their own people. Assyria was a brutal regime known for diplomatic misdealing, extreme heavy-handed tactics and torture such as flaying people alive, dismembering and impaling them. It was not uncommon for the recently conquered to be led away as prisoners by forcefully piercing rings through a prisoners lips and attaching them daisy-chain style like wild animals on hooks.

They systematically slaughtered people without regards to age or sex. These are the types of things that would be visited back on the Assyrians and Sennacherib himself. It is morbidly ironic that such a mighty and brutal military leader would meet his untimely end through similar deceptive means like those the Assyrians would use on their enemies. He would die through an assassination. By the very measure Assyria metered out to others, so to the punishment would be metered out to them.

What was even worse was Assyria’s negative spiritual influence on those they subjugated or “enslaved”.  Nations were literally spiritually prostituted by Assyrian control and by her “witchcraft” (Nahum). Assyria had spread their idolatrous ways through bad influence to those they conquered and enslaved. So not only did they physically and politically enslave and torture people through military means, more importantly…they also spiritually enslaved people through their spiritual decadence and idolatry.

This would quickly become intolerable to God. So these 185,000 dead would essentially be a warning shot over the bow of the empire. When Assyria eventually fell 185,000 troops would pale by comparison. Sennacherib and the siege of Jerusalem were not a homicidal God Killing innocent soldiers, it was God measuring out judgment on inhumane and brutal men that had spread their spiritual contamination far and wide. God was exterminating this army like an infestation in the Promised Land. A land that had been overrun with disease infested spiritual cockroaches.

What we should realize is if God would do this to the Assyrians, there is little preventing Him from eradicating similar spiritual contagion from spreading and infecting nations now. We must consider this when we think about the morally debased garbage the United States markets domestically and abroad that has negative spiritual effects on people like movies, books, porn and immoral lifestyles. God will not remain silent forever without passing judgment on a reprobate nation like ours. If people claim we are more advanced, civilized or humane than the Assyrians, then these people are blind to the methods of abortion that we use on nearly 1.5 million unborn children every year that are murdered in this country. America is ten times more inhumane than Assyria ever was, we are just more covert and efficient about how we implement our barbarism. As a matter of fact, all the outward signs of a nation under judgment are currently manifested by the US and we should take note and repent. Sadly, I don’t see us doing this and we are going the way of Assyria in our sin. We are literally becoming the United States of Assyria at a spiritual level. Just like the time of the prophets...judgment is due us now.

January 11, 2014

Mega Thanatos I: Half A Million Dead In Israel

Because I am insanely busy in life, I will begin to take a more streamline tactic with some of my posts. I will be presenting them in small bite-sized portions. This will allow two productive things to take place. (1) It will allow me to stretch out my source material and (2) It will allow me to go deeper on each individual point to draw out subtleties that would otherwise be missed when doing broader overviews. Hopefully this will draw more interest so people won't have to read a book when they come to the web site. So what topic will start this new approach? 

Mass deaths. Hence the title of this series Mega Thanatos. Mega/μέγας meaning great or large and thanatos/ θάνατος meaing death. Great or large death.

Mass deaths are not unknown to the Bible and some of them that entailed genocide are often used fraudulently to denounce the "supposed barbarity" of religion. It seems at time, enemies of the Judeo-Christian religions (anti-theists) take a special glee using this ad hominem attack on Christianity and Judaism. Thereby they manage to actually group it in with actual barbaric religions like Islam. Of course this mis-characterization is always unfair. Sadly, the Old Testament accounts of mass death are nearly always ripped from their proper context to make the One True God and His people look like mean vile ogres and villains. I’m here to tell you it isn’t true and I will show a few cases why in the next few posts. 

When it comes to these mass deaths it is not the numbers of dead that are necessarily the point but rather the severity of the carnage that is important. We should focus in on the transgressions that would solicit these wholesale eradications and see them for the horrid sins that preceded them. None of these deaths were by accident. They were intended by God as punishment due for the transgressions of those killed. There is no such thing as indiscriminate killing by God. If God is indeed sovereign, he knows these deaths took place and allowed them. Does this mean that mass death and slaughter in modern times are under the same theological principles? Logic would seem to dictate yes, God does indeed know they have taken place and has allowed them also. We must be careful not to draw false conclusions comparing the two. On the other hand, knowing God is sovereign and omnipotent should at least give pause to modern believers and non-believers to think and ask themselves the question: If God does allow it, why did He?

As for the biblical sources...let us begin. 

Many mass deaths arose in the period of the united and divided kingdoms of Samaria/Israel and Judah or the times of the Kings and prophets.

2 Chronicles 13:17 ~ “Abijah and his people struck them with great force, so there fell slain of Israel 500,000 chosen men.”

In the 9th century B.C. this death toll is staggering. Come to think of it, it is staggering in any age. It will not be until modern mechanized warfare (US Civil War, WWI and WWII) that we will see the likes of these death tolls in such a short time-frame again. The question obviously arises. Why so many dead if all men are created in the image of God and wishes none to be lost? For this answer we must look to the surrounding history and context.

When Abijah became king he continued the war and battles that his father Rehoboam (King of Judah in the south) fought with Jeroboam (King of Israel/Samaria in the north). In the battle above Abijah told Jeroboam that he was going to defeat him in battle because of his sins. It is here that we see God sovereignly using Abijah to punish Jeroboam. Abijah further informs Jeroboam that his apostasy and rebellion was initiated by worthless rogues and explains that it was wrong to remove God’s priests and place pagan practice in His place. You see the northern kingdom had set up high places and continued to worship false gods that had been permitted by their leadership. He then told Jeroboam that he should walk away from the battle because God was on Judah’s side. Jeroboam not only lost half a million men, he ended up losing the battle and lost some strategic cities in the process.

Those that actively snub God to chase other gods can only spell doom for themselves and that is why 500,000 die here. It is similar to what we will see in modern draconian communist states that also abandon God. Atrocious and sickening death tolls always result in the absence of God who restrains the evil of the world by His very presence in people’s live. People devoid of God are given over to horrendous evil and sins. Those that reside within these types of nations that are guilty of godlessness often fall under the judgment of these nations as a whole.

January 8, 2014

Highlanders: Mountain Men and the Bible

If one reads the Bible they will find that mountaintops are popular places for God to carry out events. Mountains seem to play a prominent role in either the lives of God’s people or in Gods interaction with His people.  I will try to mention them all but will only go into detail with a few of the episodes that I have not formerly written about. There is the fact that Noah’s ark came to rest on Mt Ararat (Genesis 8:4). We see Abraham about to offer up Isaac as sacrifice to God on Mt Moriah which will one day be the location of the Temple (i.e.: Temple Mount) and will later be the place of Christ’s Crucifixion at Calvary (Genesis 22:2). The importance of the convergence of all these episodes at the same location cannot be overstated. It is God showing people through foreshadowing how things will be. It shows that He is behind them all. It is not coincidence that all these magnanimous events are located on the same real estate.

We then have the supernatural occurrence of the Angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in the burning bush on Mt Horeb.

Exodus 3:2 ~ “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.

This is Moses direct call from God. Compared to the rest of his life up to this point it is abrupt and profound. We are shown Moses during his active pastoral stage in his life. We will now see God take on the very same role with his people. As we will see in the lives of many others in the Bible we will see the work of God parallel the very ones He shepherds. It of course is no accident that it will be on Mt. Horeb the “Mountain of God”. Moses, first driven from Egypt will  be driven from Midian deeper into the desert wilderness. There he and the people of God will be stripped bare down to the only thing they will need to survive: God. Moses and the people will be forced to rely and trust on God’s supernatural provision.

Moses will have another mountaintop experience even grander than the first when he receives the Ten Commandments atop Mount Sinai. In this narrative we sort of see why it is always Moses and a mountain top experience in verse 23.

Exodus 19:20-23 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.” Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”

Verse 23 tells us it is for separation between God (holy, righteous) and man (unholy, unrighteous). We saw the very same thing in Moses’ burning bush experience in Exodus 3 when the Lord speaks out from the bush and tells Moses (v.5), “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 

It is the same separation we will see in the Tabernacle between the outer courts and the Holy of Holies. As with Exodus 3’s requirement to remove Moses’ sandals we will see similar requires of the priesthood’s attire. It is a requirement so that humans and the human mind will draw a distinction between the mundane and ordinary and the super-mundane, the sacred and the holy. The attire requirements are not necessarily for God…they are for the people so that they maintain a reverential awe and respect for God. It is this very separation that will become annulled by the arrival of God’s Son Jesus. It is the separation that will be negated when the rending of the Temple veil takes place at the time of Jesus’ death.

Deuteronomy 34: 1-4 ~ “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

As it is fitting for the Bible’s “Mountain Man” who spend much time with God (some of it supernaturally), Moses will later leave this earth in an enigmatic manner at his death. As Moses had routinely met with God before the Tabernacle is built on a mountain as the go-between for God with His people, he will depart this earth one final time in a similar location. It is befitting that he will leave the earth altogether and end his ministry from the same geographic/geological feature that his ministry began. It has been mentioned before but bears repeating. Moses was in good health when he dies going to Nebo/Pisgah. It is as if he offers up the remainder of his life to God. Regardless, there is an air of mystery around Moses’ death. As with all of the mountain top experiences with God (including the forthcoming Transfiguration) there is a mysterious nature to them.

Interestingly, the Scripture also tells us that when Moses died, “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone”. There is a good probability that God took Moses home and may have taken Moses before his time. The words stated Moses’ “freshness, vigor or natural force” had not fled him or vanished away from Moses. Moses wasn’t dying nor does this sound like a dying man.

The Scripture does say Moses "died" at 120 years old and is buried in an unmarked grave by none other than God Himself. The word died here is וימת the best I can translated to mean "to kill; be killed" or "to die prematurely; before one's time". It is as if God intervened to cut it short and end it. Obviously sin was the mitigating factor as is the case in all human death but the active Agency/Agent that "removed" him from earthly existence was God. This is common to all deaths as God is the one who numbers our days in this life.

All indicators point to God "taking" Moses in death before his time and it appears he departed in fellowship with God because the last thing we see Moses "doing" is listening to God speaking the promises of the Promised Land that He made to the Patriarchs. This monologue from God to Moses is ironic because Moses is essentially going to the heavenly version of the earthly place that was promised.

He goes up to see the earthly Promised Land but ends up in the heavenly Promised Land. It is ironic that the reason Moses will not enter the earthly Promised Land is because of his sin but because of his repentance he will garner something much greater. How great is unstated as it is on the other side of the veil of death.

In the New Testament we will see Jesus deliver His Sermon on the Mount on a “mountain” so to speak or at least a steep hillside. We will also see the initiation of Jesus ministry take place on a mountain (similar to Moses). His ministry will begin by being driven into the desert wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. One of the places Satan will take Jesus to tempt Him is an exceedingly high mountain top to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the world thereby offering them to Jesus. Of course they are not Satan’s to offer and he is soundly rebuked by the Son of God (Matthew 4:8-10).

The last mountain top experience I will detail is the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). It is here we see another mysterious episode take place in salvation history. Much is speculated of the Transfiguration’s importance but we know a few things for sure. Jesus is in the center of between Elijah and Moses. Elijah who was also quite familiar with mountains will be indelibly associated with Mt Carmel and the inept Prophets of Baal. Elijah himself being the Old Testament representation of the Prophet who foretold of Jesus’ coming and Moses who was a representation of the Law…of which Jesus would abrogate and fulfill.

Jesus, Elijah and Moses were talking. So what were they talking about? They were talking about the "departure" which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). It was a "departure" that included not only the Crucifixion on Calvary (Mt Moriah) but it was also a discussion about the Resurrection and ascension. So where did Jesus ascend from into Heaven? Acts 1:12 tells us that after Jesus’ ascension, “…the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives.” It seems that Jesus in his resurrection body had led the apostles/disciples over the summit of the “mountain” and onto the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives to Bethany (Luke 24:50).

At the Transfiguration Jesus’ true nature and brilliance is manifested in its glory. Just as the Angel of the Lord had exhibited glory in the Burning Bush and other Mosaic occurrences in mountain top experiences. All of this narrative including the Moses’ experiences, the disciples and even the Abrahamic Mt. Moriah narrative point invariably to the Cross.

Peter, James and John, his three most intimate disciples of His “inner circle” bear witness to the Transfiguration. The Scriptures tell us that, “His face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as the light." What we saw was Jesus’ glory break through to this realm just as it had at other times in Bible narrative. The eternal shines through to the temporal at this moment. It shows Jesus’ true identity as both human and divine. The junction point between God and man…in Christ who is both fully God and fully man. As God had done many times in the past, He did it on a mountain.

God really seemed to like “Mountain Men”. I suppose it was so God would have such a high vantage point from which to display His glory. Not only physically but also through His chosen whom He had set apart, sanctified and made a lot like Himself.

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