Featured Post

Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Let's just say that America is Manasseh

Herbert Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God taught that Americans with Western European ancestry were the modern descendants of the Israelitish tribe of Manasseh. According to Armstrong, this explained the material wealth and success of the United States of America - that the people of the U.S. were the co-heirs of the promises made to Abraham (the people of Great Britain being the descendants of Ephraim). Unfortunately for America, as far as Mr. Armstrong was concerned, this also meant that most of the ancient prophetic warnings of the Old Testament for the people of Israel were actually applicable to the United States! Indeed, Mr. Armstrong saw it as the mission of him and his church to preach a message of warning to the American people about the terrible punishment which Almighty God was about to unleash upon them because of their national sins. And, in Mr. Armstrong's estimation, things like abortion, homosexuality, and the "breakdown" of the family were among the most important of those sins.

Now, although this teaching about identifying the United States as one of the so-called "lost ten tribes of Israel" has been thoroughly discredited here and elsewhere, very little attention has been paid to the implications which this teaching had on Armstrong's interpretations of all of those prophetic warnings about America's sins. Nevertheless, this was at the heart of the Worldwide Church of God's message to America and the world. Indeed, Herbert Armstrong considered this identification of the United States and Great Britain as Manasseh and Ephraim to be the "KEY" to understanding Biblical prophecy! Moreover, all one has to do is review past issues of the now defunct Plain Truth magazine to see that he attributed all of America's and Britain's then current problems to the beginning of the prophesied time of "Jacob's trouble" - the beginning of God's punishment for our national sins. Of course, if the initial identification of America and Britain as Israel is wrong, that means that the related understanding of the applicability of those prophecies to the modern citizens of those nations must also be wrong.

However, for the sake of argument, let's just say that America is Manasseh - and all of those warnings about our national sins do apply to us! Wouldn't it be incumbent upon us to explore what kinds of sins provoked God's wrath? In other words, what do those ancient prophecies reveal about Israel's sins? Were the issues that Mr. Armstrong identified (abortion, homosexuality, disintegration of the nuclear family) synonymous with what those ancient prophets revealed about the nature of Israel's sins? And, if we can clearly demonstrate that Israel's sins were fundamentally different in nature from America's "sins," shouldn't that conclusively demonstrate that the Divine wrath and punishment described in those ancient prophecies CANNOT apply to the United States?

First, from the Torah and through the period of the kingdoms and writings of the prophets, it should be noted that Israel's sins were based ENTIRELY on the premise that the people had violated the terms of God's COVENANT with them. More particularly, Scripture informs us of a widespread problem with idolatry and adopting the religious rituals of both the folks which they had displaced in the Promised Land and the nations which surrounded them. This, of course, was a direct violation of the first two of the Ten Commandments, and God's instruction not to learn and adopt the religious traditions of other peoples. In similar fashion, Scripture informs us that the Israelites failed to take care of the poor among them and administer justice in a fair and impartial manner (once again, as demanded in the Torah). In addition to these fundamental problems, Scripture also informs us that the Torah laws, rituals, and other observances which they did continue to keep became perfunctory and meaningless to them. In other words, they were just going through the motions of observing the tenets of God's covenant with them. Under the terms of the Old Covenant, Israel was symbolically married to God, and their violation of the terms of that marriage contract also made them guilty of spiritual adultery! As a consequence, we are told that God gave Israel a "certificate of divorce" and allowed them to be conquered and carried into captivity by their enemies.

Now, one could certainly make the case that the United States has made an idol out of their wealth, military might, and their system of governance. It is also apparent that a reasonable person could conclude that America hasn't taken proper care of the poor and disadvantaged in their midst. Likewise, America clearly does not have a spotless record when it comes to the fair and impartial administration of justice. And it is certainly true that the United States has largely ignored the laws, rituals, and other observances outlined in the Torah. However, if the Old Covenant has been abrogated by God, if God truly divorced Israel, it is hard to see by what logic the United States could be said to be worthy of receiving the punishments designated for violating that covenant! This notion is made even more absurd by the fact that the New Testament is very clear that Jesus Christ has instituted a New Covenant with better terms and promises than those which were part of the Old Covenant with Israel! Hence, it seems inconsistent and illogical that God would condemn and punish Israel again for violating a covenant which has already been abrogated and superseded! Moreover, the national sins which Armstrong and other Fundamentalist Christians have underscored (homosexuality, abortion, the dissolution of the family) are clearly different from the ones which Scripture ascribed to ancient Israel!

Finally, even if we could somehow make the case that America's sins are the moral equivalent of those of ancient Israel, we would still have to explain why those sins should be regarded in the same universal fashion that Israel's sins were obviously regarded by God. After all, even in San Francisco and New Orleans, the overwhelming majority of the citizens of those cities are heterosexual! Moreover, most Fundamentalist Christians (and the majority of folks in other religious traditions) have NEVER condoned or sought an abortion! Likewise, whatever the reality relative to the "breakdown" of the traditional family, once again, the vast majority of Americans still hold up those notions as the ideal. In other words, if God promised Abraham that he would spare the universally wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if he found just ten righteous people within them, then how can we justify God destroying the United States for the sins of a minority? Isn't the principle that universal sin brings universal punishment/destruction? In the instance of the flood wasn't the wickedness of humankind said to be so universal in nature that "every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually"? Doesn't Scripture make very plain that ALL of the people of Israel were guilty of spiritual adultery?

Hence, even if we allow that the United States is modern Israel, it is clear that the covenant, sins, and relative culpability of their citizens are NOT comparable to those of the people of ancient Israel! To be clear, this shoe doesn't fit from whatever angle we choose to try to make it fit! In other words, those prophecies of the Old Testament CANNOT and DO NOT apply to the United States of America, and anyone who claims that they do is justly condemned as a FALSE prophet!


Sunday, June 26, 2022

God and Moral Responsibility

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy informs us that "Moral responsibility is about human action and its intentions and consequences (Fisher 1999, Eshleman 2016). Generally speaking a person or a group of people is morally responsible when their voluntary actions have morally significant outcomes that would make it appropriate to blame or praise them." However, the question of moral responsibility is not as simple and straightforward as suggested by this definition. For instance, there is a serious and ongoing debate among philosophers about whether or not it is even possible to assign moral responsibility to a group.

In their article on Collective ResponsibilityStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy frames the debate in these terms: "Since this notion of collective responsibility makes groups, as distinct from their individual members, out to be moral agents, it has undergone a great deal of scrutiny in recent years by methodological and normative individualists alike. Methodological individualists challenge the very possibility of associating moral agency with groups, as distinct from their individual members, and normative individualists argue that collective responsibility violates principles of both individual responsibility and fairness. In response to these challenges, proponents of collective responsibility set out to show that collective responsibility, as well as group intentions, collective action, and group blameworthiness, are metaphysically possible and can be ascribed to agents fairly in at least some, if not all, cases."

In the 21st Century, we tend to divide ourselves into "Individualist" or "Collectivist" Cultures. In her article What is a Collectivist Culture?, Kendra Cherry observed that "Collectivism stresses the importance of the community, while individualism is focused on the rights and concerns of each person. Where unity and selflessness or altruism are valued traits in collectivist cultures, independence and personal identity are promoted in individualistic cultures." Within this framework, collectivism is generally viewed as prevailing in many Asian and African nations - while individualism is viewed as being the norm in Western Europe and the United States. Of course, even as lay people, most of us will recognize that these designations are not as well-defined and exclusive as they might appear at first glance. Even so, there is no denying that these designations are helpful in understanding why a concept like collective responsibility might not be readily accepted in a culture that glories in "rugged individualism." 

Nevertheless, even as the debate rages among philosophers over whether or not moral responsibility should always be regarded as an individual enterprise, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures assign BOTH individual and collective responsibility for human actions and their consequences. In other words, the Bible is clearly of two minds on this subject! Don't think so? Let's take just a moment to review the Scriptural perspective on individual vs. collective responsibility.

First, it should be noted that the concept of individual responsibility/accountability is an early and constant theme in the Bible. From the record of the choices made by Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis, to the moral failures of Moses in the wilderness, and the many moral failings of Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of the Israelites, the record of individual moral failure in the writings known as the Old Testament is extensive. We also find a clear and unequivocal statement of personal responsibility in the writings of the prophet Ezekiel: "The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness." (Ezekiel 18:20) Likewise, in the book of Isaiah, we read that the prophet was instructed to inform wicked individuals that they would be punished for their behavior. (Isaiah 3:11)

In the New Testament, we have the record of Christ instructing a wealthy young man to keep the commandments, give his wealth to the poor, and follow him. (Matthew 19:16-21) Likewise, in the Gospel of John, we read that Christ told the woman taken in adultery to "go and sin no more." (John 8:11) Moreover, we know that the essence of Christ's message was that individuals repent and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:15) Paul wrote to the saints of Thessalonica that anyone who wasn't willing to work shouldn't eat. (II Thessalonians 3:10) He also told Timothy that men should take responsibility for their own households. (I Timothy 5:8) Finally, in the book of Revelation, we are also informed that the one who overcomes will be rewarded. (Revelation 2:7, 17, and 3:21)

Nevertheless, the notion of collective responsibility also finds early and continuous support throughout the Bible. In the book of Genesis alone, we have the stories of the flood, the tower of Babel, and the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moreover, in connection with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, we have the framing of one of the strongest arguments against collective responsibility - the question of innocents among the guilty whole. In the eighteenth chapter of Genesis, we read that Abraham approached the Lord and said "Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Verses 23-25)

The notion of collective responsibility is also apparent as the Israelites gathered at the base of Mount Sinai to form a covenant with their God. (Exodus 19-20) In these passages, individual sins in the form of disobedience to any of the ten commandments is shown to have the potential of becoming a collective sin when viewed from the perspective of the national covenant. Indeed, later, when Israel has violated the terms of the covenant, Scripture informs us that they have committed adultery against their husband (God)! (see Jeremiah 2 and 3) As a consequence, God decided to divorce Israel and punish them as a nation.

In the New Testament, Christ established a collective in the guise of an ekklesia or church. Likewise, we read that Peter invited a great assembly on the day of Pentecost to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38) - both demands requiring individual action! Paul also wrote to the saints at Rome that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) In his letter to the saints of Ephesus, Paul instructed husbands to love their wives "just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:25-27) Moreover, throughout the New Testament, Christ is portrayed as both a personal Savior and the Savior of the whole world. (I John 2:2, et al) Finally, just as the book of Revelation reveals that the one who overcomes will be rewarded, it also reveals that an individual entity named Satan has deceived the whole world. (Revelation 12:9)

Hence, we see that from a Scriptural perspective, BOTH individual and collective moral responsibility are seen as valid concepts. Indeed, very often they are portrayed in those writings as being complimentary and/or dependent upon each other! A beautiful example of this interplay between personal and collective responsibility is found in the parables of the Ten Virgins and the Sheep and the Goats (see Matthew 25) In both of those parables, the fate of the group and the individual is inextricably linked to the behavior of the individual.

So, what does all of this mean for a country of rugged individualists? It means that we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss notions of collective responsibility for our national sins (e.g. stealing land from Native Americans, slavery and racism, environmental destruction, and imperialism). It also means that we shouldn't be so quick to blame an entire group of people for the sins of a few. It should also make us all more cognizant of the fact that our individual actions can have a profound impact on others of our species and the wider world around us. Finally, we may want to be more open to the possibility that collective action is sometimes very  moral and necessary (e.g. wearing a mask, getting a vaccine, etc.) In other words, we definitely have lessons to learn from these concepts of individual and collective responsibility!

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Battle Between Good and Evil

In times past, the battle between good and evil was usually framed in spiritual or philosophical terms. In the Judeo-Christian world, the battle was often characterized as a contest between God and Satan or as something that was manifested in individual moral behavior (sinful or righteous). Sure, kings and queens, emperors and tyrants, presidents and dictators, have always cloaked their wars and programs in the garb of holiness and/or righteousness; but most of them and their subjects understood that these claims were very often self-serving and had little or nothing to do with Jesus Christ or the religion he founded. In fact, this open marriage between the political and religious realms came to be fairly universally regarded in a negative light - especially after the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. Indeed, the recognition that the blending of the two realms had had a deleterious impact on both was the primary motivation for enshrining a separation between church and state in the Constitution of the United States.

Unfortunately, over the last fifty years, the political realm in the United States has been characterized by both Republicans and Democrats as a battle between good and evil. Although both parties have always claimed to be motivated by their Judeo-Christian values, we now have the spectacle of both sides claiming that anyone who does not accept their political perspective is EVIL! Republicans cite their positions against abortion, immigration, homosexual and transgender rights, socialism, and critical race theory as evidence of their righteousness and condemn Democrats as evil for opposing them on those issues. Likewise, Democrats cite their support for the poor and oppressed, immigrants, political refugees, gun control, and racial tolerance as evidence of their righteousness and condemn Republicans for opposing them on those issues. Think that I'm making too much of this? Consider some of the language which both sides have employed in their battles over policy!

In his article Democrats Truly Are Evil, Derek Hunter wrote: "I really despise these people. That Democrats are desperate for anything to distract from their failures that they’re willing to lie, cheat and steal is nothing new, but the extent to which they’re taking it is simply vile. They are now blaming anyone who isn’t them for the murder of 10 people in Buffalo, essentially declaring half the country to be violent criminals. That’s evil, but still easier than defending Joe Biden’s record as President." He went on to observe that "There is nothing about the current Democrat Party that isn’t predicated on lies, jealousy and hatred – all stirred up by them." As he began to conclude his hate-filled article, Derek stated that "These people were all going to hell already for a lot of reasons, now it’s like they’re trying to upgrade their tickets on the express train there to first class."

Think that the other side isn't doing the exact same thing? Please consider the language which L. Michael Hager employed in his The Politics of Good Vs. Evil. He wrote: "Unlike former years, the election of 2020 is not just about Republican versus Democrat, the economy versus public health or fiscal conservative versus liberal and progressive. It’s not about policy differences where reasonable minds may differ.  Rather, this year’s election is a contest of values.  It pits American citizens against an administration that daily practices human disregard and cruelty." Speaking of the Trump presidency, he went on to observe that "For the past three and a half years, we the people have stood face-to-face with unmitigated evil." Hager concluded: "What have the Trump years taught us?  That the President serves only himself and that he lacks basic integrity. We’ve seen Trump’s cruel policies and corrupt political associations as manifestations of evil."

Of course, if these folks were confronted about their statements, they would simply assert that they hadn't said anything that wasn't true! In other words, both of these men really believe that they are God's soldiers in a righteous Holy War against Satan and his minions! The policies and politicians of the other side aren't simply wrong or misguided - they are evil and Satanic!

To be clear, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures teach us that humankind rejected God's definition of good and evil and decided to instead formulate their own definition of morality (Genesis 2 and 3). The Judeo-Christian Scriptures also reveal that one of God's angels rebelled against God, became Satan the Devil, and introduced sin and evil into the world. Those same writings portray this individual as an "adversary" and "accuser" of humankind. To be sure, there are many places in Scripture where battles are referenced between the angels who remained loyal to God and those who followed Satan in his rebellion. However, as far as any contest is concerned, Satan is portrayed in the writings which we refer to as the New Testament as someone who has already been defeated and is awaiting an inevitable punishment. Thus, as far as Christians operating under the terms of the New Covenant, the battle between good and evil is pictured as an individual and internal one. As Paul framed it: "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Romans 7:19) Even so, Paul also made clear to the saints of Corinth that God's saints already have won the victory in that battle through Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15:57)

To be sure, the battle within the political realm can be passionate and interesting (and it can even touch on issues of right and wrong), but it is a DISTRACTION from the real battle between good and evil on which all REAL Christians must be focused! If we truly believe that God's will should prevail on this earth, then we should be praying "Thy Kingdom Come" - just as Christ instructed us to do (Matthew 6:10) - AND we should be preaching THAT message to the unconverted world around us! (Matthew 28:18-20)

Monday, June 20, 2022

He who endures to the end shall be saved!

Unfortunately, this statement by Jesus has been used by some to prove that Christians are obligated to do certain things in order to be saved - that our salvation is somehow dependent on the things that we do (or fail to do). For them, this verse of Scripture demonstrates that salvation is not simply a matter of accepting and believing in what Christ has done for us - it is absolute proof that we have a part or role to play in our own salvation! They also see this passage as absolute proof that salvation is something that can be lost or withdrawn. What about all of that? Does this statement by Christ somehow modify, overturn, or contradict other seemingly clear Biblical statements about salvation through Jesus Christ?

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus said: "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." (3:16-17) This clear statement by Christ underscores one of the foundational teachings of the Christian Church - that salvation is through Jesus Christ, and that anyone who would receive this gift must believe that Christ is his/her Savior. And, as one would expect of a teaching so fundamental to the religion, it is supported by many other passages of the Bible. The same gospel account also informs us that Christ once said that HE was the ONLY way to God the Father. (John 14:6) In the Gospel of Luke, we are told that Jesus said that he came to this earth "to seek and save those who are lost." (Luke 19:10)

It is also clear that Christ's apostles taught the same thing about salvation. We read in Paul's epistle to the saints at Ephesus that "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Paul told the Christians at Rome that his message about faith was "If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved." (Romans 10:9-10) Likewise, in the same letter, he wrote that "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23) Paul wrote to Titus that "When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life." (Titus 3:4-7) In the book of Acts, we are told that Peter preached that "Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, 'The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:11-12)

So, in the light of all of these clear passages about salvation through Jesus Christ, how can Christ's statement about enduring to the end be interpreted to mean that Christians have a role to play in their own salvation? The short answer is: IT CAN'T! Salvation is either a free gift that we receive because of what Christ did for us, or it isn't! Now, it is clear that humans are required to repent of their sins when they accept Christ's sacrifice for their sins (Acts 2:38), and that our acceptance/belief in the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice will result in us walking in newness of life and exhibiting the fruits of God's Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:24 and Galatians 5:22-25). Even so, it is not the doing of those things that earns us salvation (For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands - Romans 3:20) - rather, the doing of those things is a clear indication that we have accepted salvation through Jesus Christ! Conversely, anyone who continues to live a life of habitual sin clearly hasn't accepted Christ as his/her Savior!

What was Christ talking about when he made that statement about enduring to the end? His disciples had just asked him about the destruction of the temple and the circumstances surrounding his return to this earth and the end of the age. (Matthew 24:3) Hence, his remark about enduring to the end must be interpreted within the context of his answers to those questions! In other words, Christ remarks here refer specifically to the events which his disciples had asked him about - not necessarily about salvation in the broader spiritual sense! Moreover, even if we ignore the context and insist that Christ is talking about salvation generally, we cannot escape the fact that the original Greek word translated into English as "endure" is better described as maintaining something (see Strong's Concordance) - that is faith in Christ as our Savior! In other words, the person must continue to believe that they have received salvation through Jesus Christ! Paul told Timothy that he had maintained his faith and finished his race (II Timothy 4:7). In other words, he had endured to the end of his life. Hence, we see that Jesus was speaking about maintaining faith in him, NOT about continuing to be obedient to a list of dos and don'ts or about holding on to a package of doctrinal beliefs!

In conclusion, it is clear that Scripture teaches that Christians must believe in the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice for the remission of their sins and the accomplishment of their salvation. In other words, their salvation is NOT dependent on them or ANYTHING that they do or don't do! The people of Christ's day wondered what good works that they could do to gain God's favor, and he told them: "This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:29) As for our receipt of that salvation, we have already received that guarantee through the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13-14) The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote: "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 'For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." (Hebrews 10:36-39) Who has done the will of God? THE ONE WHO BELIEVES (and maintains that belief until he/she draws their last breath)!

Friday, June 17, 2022

Another False Dilemma: Faith vs Reason

Too many Atheists and Christians believe that faith is incompatible with reason. This belief blinds both sides to how faith and reason actually relate to each other and consequently distorts their understanding of them as concepts. In short, they view faith as being the antithesis of reason - opposites of each other. Of course, Christians believe that faith is superior to reason, and atheists believe that reason is superior to faith (and never the twain shall meet). From this perspective, faith is defined as a belief in something that cannot be sensed by humans (without evidence), and reason is defined as arriving at a conclusion about something by employing logical thinking (relying on evidence).

However, other folks who have considered these issues have offered alternative definitions for faith and reason which demonstrate that the contest between them is an illusion! In the article Are Faith and Reason Compatible? by Greg Koukl (At "Stand to Reason, Clear-Thinking Christianity"), reason is defined as the process of evaluating whether or not there is "adequate justification for a belief." Likewise, the same article defines faith as having three components: 1) the object - the "something or someone you have faith in," 2) the content - the "details about what it means to put your faith in that thing," and 3) the trust or commitment that demonstrates your faith. The article went on to observe: "If you define what reason is, and you define what faith is, you realize that there’s no conflict. Reason assesses, faith trusts. Reason assesses whether or not something or someone is trustworthy, and then faith believes that certain things are true in light of the reasons. Not blind faith, but a reasonable step of trust."

The folks over at Capturing Christianity liked the logic behind Greg Koukl's definitions (which Greg admitted are really David Horner's definitions). In their article On the Conflict Between Faith and Reason, they point out that the way that many Christians and atheists define faith contradicts principles laid out in Scripture. We read: "As Greg Koukl points out, if this definition were correct, then faith increases as knowledge decreases. And so, giving a fact-based defense of Christianity would be misguided. It would produce the opposite of faith. However, Peter commands believers in 1 Peter 3:15 to always be 'prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason of the hope that is in you.' Moreover, Paul, author of 2/3 of the books in the New Testament, gave similar commands in 2 Cor 10:5, 2 Tim 4:2, Phil 1:16, and Eph 5:11. So it turns out this definition is scripturally absurd, it leads to contradiction." The article went on to point out that Paul wrote to the saints of Corinth that "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." (I Corinthians 15:17, 19) In other words, "according to Paul, we need more than hopes and dreams for our faith to be worth anything."

Moreover, this is consistent with the famous definition of faith found in the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews (11:1). Indeed, we read there that the anonymous author of the epistle looked at faith as a kind of "evidence." This, in turn, is followed by many tangible examples of the power and reality of faith exercised by biblical personalities down through the ages. Paul wrote to the Romans that "the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." (Romans 1:20) In other words, faith is supported by real/tangible evidence! Indeed, in the Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus once pointed to the works which he had done as a justification for belief in him! (John 14:11) Scripture also informs us that David considered/thought about the moon and stars in connection with his faith in God and his plans for humankind (Psalms 8:3-5) Hence, from a Scriptural perspective, we see that evidence compliments faith, and that reason is portrayed as being consistent with that faith!

Nevertheless, those Christians who insist on faithism/fideism are fond of pointing out that "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Proverbs 14:12) Well, there you have it! Human reasoning is flawed and inconsistent with faith! Really? What are the Proverbs? Weren't they designed to impart wisdom and instruction in righteousness? (Proverbs 1:1-10) Hence, isn't the proverb quoted above clearly dealing with human reasoning about morality - right and wrong? In other words, isn't making this statement a blanket condemnation of all human reasoning twisting/perverting its clear intent and meaning? What about God's invitation for us to reason together with him? (Isaiah 1:18) What about Peter's instruction to be prepared to give an answer which was already referenced above? (I Peter 3:15) What about that instruction to meditate on God's laws? (Joshua 1:8) If the other guys are right, what is there to think about? What did Paul mean when he told the saints at Thessalonica to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good"? Why were the Bereans more noble than other folks? (Acts 17:11) So, we see that thinking/reasoning is NOT inconsistent with faith. In fact, it supports it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

An Altar Call for the Membership of the Armstrong Churches of God

Since 2010, the blog Banned by HWA has provided a forum for former Worldwide Church of God members (and current and former members of its MANY descendants), and the evidence of COMPLETE prophetic failure which has been presented there has been COMPREHENSIVE, STAGGERING, and OVERWHELMING! Most recently, a series of posts by Marc Cebrian have pointed out the utter failure of David Pack’s forays into the prophetic realm. Likewise, for the last eight years, this blog has occasionally commented on the prophetic failures of the Worldwide COG, Philadelphia COG, and the COG International. Let’s face it, the verdict is in on the prophetic messages of men like Herbert W Armstrong, Gerald Flurry, and David Pack. In short, their collective interpretations of Biblical prophecy and their predictions about the future have ALL come to naught! In the face of so much evidence that these men are NOT God’s prophets, the question naturally arises: Why hasn’t the membership of these organizations abandoned those FALSE prophets and returned to the Lord?

In times past, when the Israelites turned their backs on God, Moses stood before them and demanded, “Who is on the Lord's side? let him come unto me.” (Exodus 32:26) In similar fashion, the Prophet Elijah (the REAL one) once confronted the Israelites about their divided allegiances. He said: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” (I Kings 18:21) It is interesting to note that both of these prophets demanded that God’s people be loyal to him, and that they not give any credence to false prophets or gods. In this connection, it is also interesting to note that Moses once predicted that “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

In the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews, we read that: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) And how has Jesus spoken unto us? The book of Revelation informs us that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit (or essence) of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). It is also interesting to note that Christ echoed the words of Moses and Elijah when he said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me!” (John 14:6) And, in another place, he is reported to have said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” (John 7:37) Hence, in a sense, Christ is delivering to us the same choice that the prophets of long ago delivered to the Israelites. How long will you waver between following the Lord and following these false prophets? Will you come to Christ or will you linger with the evil doers? It seems to me that the day of decision has arrived, and it is time for the membership of the ACOGs to come home to Jesus. What do you think?

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Christian's Duty to Help Those Who Are in Need

I am always dumbfounded when I hear about someone who professes to be a Christian and rejects the notion that he/she has any obligation to help those who are in need. That consternation is founded in the fact that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are crystal clear in asserting that God expects his people to help the suffering and disadvantaged among them. In other words, there is absolutely NO room for an alternate interpretation or view of what Scripture teaches on this subject!

Indeed, even under the terms of the Old Covenant, God's expectations in this regard were made VERY PLAIN. In the Torah, we read that the Israelites were instructed that: "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth...Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) Likewise, in the book of Proverbs, we read: "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again." (Proverbs 19:17)

In the New Testament, this duty to those who are in need is made even more explicit! In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ told a story that makes plain that the folks who will make it into his kingdom are the ones who help those who are in need. We read there that Jesus said: "But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46, NLT)

In the same Gospel, we also have an account of a wealthy young man who asked Jesus what he should do to receive eternal life (Matthew 19:16). Christ reportedly instructed the young man to keep the commandments (verses 17-19). “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” (Verse 20) Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions." (Verses 21-22) Clearly, for Jesus, helping the poor represented the most moral behavior for any human who truly desired to be with God!

Moreover, this attitude of helping those who were in need was perpetuated by Christ's apostles. In his letter to the saints of Philippi, Paul wrote: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." (Philippians 2:3-4) In his account of the Jerusalem Council, Paul told the Galatians that the Jerusalem apostles had asked him and his coworkers to remember the poor, and he made a point of also telling them that he was fully on board with doing just that (Galatians 2:10). Likewise, in the epistle of James, we read that "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27) Finally, in the first epistle of John, we read: "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?" (I John 3:16-17) Clearly, the notion of helping and serving those in need was perpetuated by the Church which Jesus founded, and the people whom he had appointed to lead it.

Unfortunately, I have heard that there are those within the Armstrong Church of God movement who would turn something that Paul wrote to the saints of Thessalonica into a quote from Vladimir Lenin. The Communist icon is once reported to have said: "He who does not work shall not eat." According to my source, one ACOG minister claimed that Paul said: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) However, while Paul certainly did make that statement, this individual had clearly taken his remarks out of context and had consequently twisted his meaning. In contrast to Lenin's statement, Paul wrote: "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: 'Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.' Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living." (II Thessalonians 3:6-12) So, we see that Paul's remarks in this instance were directed at individuals who refused to work and were using their idleness to work mischief in the lives of others. In other words, when we read Paul's remarks in context, there is absolutely NO indication that he meant to suggest that folks who were unable to work (or unemployed through no fault of their own) should be excluded from receiving help from the Church!

We are told in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus did NOT come to this earth to be served "but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) In that same Gospel account, we are told that Christ once said: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” In other words, Jesus came to minister to those who were in need, NOT to make wealthy or self-righteous people feel better about themselves! Christ told his followers: "I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35) Hence, it seems very clear to this blogger that this is the kind of behavior which Christ expects to find his followers engaged in when he returns, and anyone who would contradict this conclusion could fairly be characterized as acting in the capacity of an anti-Christ! What do you think?

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Gun Idolatry in the United States

Last week, I was reclining on an exam table while a Nurse Practitioner and her assistant were sewing up an incision on my chest. "Have you heard anything about that school shooting in Texas?" she asked. I replied that I had, and she asked if I had heard what the news media was reporting about the latest body count (I assumed she hadn't had an opportunity to listen to any radio or television - the clinic had been very busy that day). "They are reporting that nineteen children and two adults are dead," I answered. "What do you think about that?" she asked. "I think it's awful," I replied. "Why is she soliciting my opinion about this sad event?" I wondered. "Yeah," she agreed, "I just don't understand why these things keep happening."

"Well, I think that some folks should never be allowed to hold a gun in their hands," I blurted out. "I don't think gun control is the answer!" she exclaimed. Now, I was getting nervous (she was after all currently sewing up my chest!) "I support Second Amendment rights - I served honorably in the U.S. Army, and I own a gun," I volunteered. "I cannot, however, understand why we don't have universal background checks, and why we haven't band assault weapons." "I love shooting my AR-15!" the assistant interjected. "Yeah, I don't believe guns are the problem," the NP declared. "I think it's violent video games, social media, the absence of fathers, and a decline in family values," she added. I thought about pointing out that other more secular Western democracies have access to the same social media and video games and don't seem to have these problems with gun violence; but she was still working with those stitches, and silence seemed like the better option.

As I left the office that day, I was struck by how much those two ladies loved their guns. In fact, their love for their guns and determination to not have ANY restrictions placed on their right to own them had somehow trumped their ability as mothers to sympathize with those mothers in Uvalde who had lost their children. They were clearly more concerned with the possibility that the government might "take away" their guns than they were with the possibility that a mass shooting might snuff out the lives of their loved ones! "What inspires such devotion to an inanimate object that has the potential to inflict so much harm in the wrong hands?" I wondered. We require training and a license to own and drive a car, but many of us appear to believe that such a requirement is unthinkable when it comes to a gun. Sure, most of us can understand the impulse to protect oneself and family or to hunt, but why does the average citizen need a weapon of war (designed to kill humans)? Sure, most of us understand that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to keep and bear arms to U.S. citizens (although the fact that the language links this to a well-regulated militia is often ignored), but what does God think about weapons? Moreover, what does God make of the argument that the right to bear arms is meant to keep our government from imposing a tyranny on its citizens?

First, we should note that firearms had not been invented yet when the Judeo-Christian Scriptures were written. In those days, spears and swords were the weapons of choice (they liked slingshots and bows and arrows too). In this connection, it is interesting to note that two of the Old Testament prophets predicted a time when people would "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks." (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3) It should also be noted that humans are prohibited from killing each other by one of the "Ten Commandments" (Exodus 20:13). We also know that Jesus Christ told his disciples: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39) Likewise, when Peter drew his sword to prevent Jesus from being arrested, we read that Christ told him: "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (Matthew 26:52 and John 18:11)

Conservative commentator David French recently posted an article "Against Gun Idolatry" (June 5, 2022. In the piece, he argues that the greatest threat to the gun culture in America is not from liberal Democrats, that it is from a discernible shift in the attitude of many gun owners toward their weapons. He wrote: "The threat is gun idolatry, a form of gun fetish that’s fundamentally aggressive, grotesquely irresponsible, and potentially destabilizing to American democracy...What is a gun fetish? It’s a concept that’s tough to define, but easy to observe. When a leading candidate for Senate runs on a platform that’s 'pro-God, pro-Gun, and pro-Trump,' then guns (and Trump) are elevated far above their proper place in American life. The same goes for popular t-shirts and signs that declare a person 'pro-life, pro-God, and pro-gun.'” Of Course, this brings to mind another one of the "Ten Commandments," you remember - the one that states: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me!" (Exodus 20:3)

Moreover, we have already mentioned the reasonableness of arguments by gun owners involving self-defense and hunting; but some of the other arguments advanced by them are frankly disturbing (especially when they are advanced by folks who claim to be Christians). In short, the notion that armed citizens would confront and resist government tyranny is NOT a very Christian notion! In this connection, it is interesting to note that both Paul and Peter enjoined Christians to "be subject unto the higher powers" (Romans 13:1), and that they must submit themselves "to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." (I Peter 2:13) In the article already referenced, French characterized the shift in public opinion in these terms: "It’s now common to see men and women armed to the teeth, open-carrying during anti-lockdown protests and even outside public officials’ homes. This is when the gun is used to menace and intimidate. It’s displayed not as a matter of defense but rather as an open act of defiance. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable. It’s meant to make them feel unsafe. This transition from defense to defiance can destabilize our democracy." I would say that open defiance or actions of an offensive nature (as compared to those of a defensive nature) also clearly contradict the scriptures quoted above.

In terms of this world, the consequences of this obsession with guns is already clear in places like Sandy Hook and Uvalde. In terms of the Kingdom of God, I would personally be very uncomfortable with defending a morality of "pro-God, pro-Gun, and pro-Trump." Yeah, I'm thinking that that one is NOT going to be well-received at God's throne! What do you think?


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Seeing Jesus in the Torah

There are a great many folks who do NOT see Jesus in the Torah. Atheists claim that Christians are torturing the Hebrew Scriptures to make them mean things that the original authors never intended for them to mean. Likewise, most adherents of the Jewish faith do NOT believe that Jesus of Nazareth represents the fulfillment of THEIR Law and Prophets - they share the atheist's perspective that Christians are injecting Jesus into THEIR Scriptures. Indeed, many Christians do not see Jesus in the Old Testament! Outside of a few favorite stories for children's Sunday school and the occasional Psalm or proverb, they stick to the New Testament. Some Christians believe that Jesus abolished the Law, while others believe that he incorporated most of its provisions into the terms of the New Covenant. So, why is it that some folks see Jesus in the Torah and other folks just don't see it?

For those of us who DO see Jesus in the Torah, the answer to that question is relatively straightforward and simple. We believe that the Holy Spirit enables us to see what others cannot see. In other words, without the guidance of God's Spirit, you will NOT see Jesus in the Torah! From the Christian's perspective, this is all about faith. You either have it, or you don't! You are either a believer, or you aren't! As the old saying goes, a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still! A person simply will not see, what they are unwilling to see! Moreover, the argument that the Christian is reading into those Scriptures something that the original authors never intended is NOT persuasive to him/her, because the founders of their religion saw them there first.

Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders of his own day that "You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!" (John 5:39) Indeed, throughout his earthly ministry, the gospels record that Jesus fulfilled this or that scripture! At the end of his ministry, just before he ascended into heaven, the Gospel of Luke informs us that Christ told his disciples that "When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled." (24:44) This is immediately followed by the statement: "Then he <Jesus> opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." (Verse 45) In other words, Jesus imparted to them this ability to see him in those writings! And, near the conclusion of the book of Acts, we read: "So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening. Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. And after they had argued back and forth among themselves, they left with this final word from Paul: 'The Holy Spirit was right when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet, 'Go and say to this people: When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’" (Acts 28:23-27)

In his second epistle to the saints at Corinth, Paul explained this phenomenon of only some folks being able to see Jesus in the Torah. He wrote: "The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so the people of Israel would not see the glory, even though it was destined to fade away. But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." (II Corinthians 3:7-16)

Finally, the old argument between those who say that Christ abolished the Law of Moses and those who say that most of its provisions are still binding on New Covenant Christians is misguided and confusing. The truth is that Christ FULFILLED the Law of Moses for us and transformed its provisions into two great spiritual principles for Christians (Love for God and neighbor). Paul told the saints at Rome that "Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit." (Romans 7:6) He went on to say that "The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit." (Romans 8:3-4)

Likewise, Paul wrote to the saints of Galatia on this wise: "But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, 'Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.' So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, 'It is through faith that a righteous person has life. This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, 'It is through obeying the law that a person has life." (Galatians 3:10-12) Later, in the same epistle, Paul reiterated the point he was trying to make. He wrote: "I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace." (Galatians 5:3-4) He continued: "For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Verses 13-14) Paul concluded his explanation to the Galatians of the Christian's obligation to the Law in this way: "So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses." (Verses 16-18) And this was followed by Paul contrasting those who follow their sinful nature with those who produce the fruits of having God's Holy Spirit (verses 19-24). In other words, under the terms of the New Covenant, Christians will exhibit the fruits of the Law of Love - the Law of Moses as fulfilled/magnified/transformed by Jesus Christ!

Friday, June 3, 2022

Jesus in the Torah: Deuteronomy

In a way, the book of Deuteronomy is a reiteration, summation, and renewal of God's covenant with Israel. In the post on Exodus, we explored how Christ perfectly observed he Law, and how he summarized it into two great principles (love for God and neighbor). We did NOT, however, discuss how Christ magnified the Law (which constitutes yet another important aspect of how Christ filled the Law to the full). Moreover, all of the ways that Christ magnified the Law demonstrated the truth of his assertion that LOVE was/is the foundation of the Law. As it relates to this book, we will also explore in more depth how Christ personified certain aspects of the Law. In other words, how those elements symbolically pointed to Jesus.

In the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read: "Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." (4:1-2) With regard to this warning against adding to (or subtracting from) God's commands, it is interesting to note what Christ had to say to the Pharisees about their various traditions. The Jewish religious leaders had observed that Christ's disciples didn't follow some of their traditions regarding ceremonial handwashing, and Jesus reprimanded them for their hypocrisy (Mark 7:1-6). Then, he went on to say: "Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." (Verses 7-9)

In the fifth chapter of the book, the "Ten Commandments" are reiterated (verses 5-21). The prophet Isaiah once predicted that God would someday "magnify the law and make it honorable." (Isaiah 42:21) In this connection, it is interesting to note what the Gospel of Matthew has to say about Christ's teachings about some of the "Ten Commandments." As part of his famous Sermon on the Mount, we are informed that Christ said: "Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (5:21-22) Here, Christ has clearly expanded the meaning of the commandment which prohibits murder.

And this amplification of the Law did not end there. A little later, as part of the same message, he said: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Verses 27-28) For Jesus, it was no longer simply a matter of not engaging in intercourse with someone other than your wife! According to Christ, even thinking about having sexual relations with a  woman that wasn't your wife now constituted a breach of the commandment!

Moreover, this magnification of the Law wasn't just confined to the "Ten Commandments," Jesus went on to do the same thing with other provisions of the Torah. He continued: "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. (Verses 33-35) He also said: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Verses 38-39) In yet another instance, Jesus said that divorce was inconsistent with the commandment against adultery (verses 31-32). Christ went on to say: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you..." (Verses 43-44)

In terms of what is outlined in Deuteronomy regarding divorce and remarriage, we read there that: "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife." (Deuteronomy 24:1-2) In the Gospel of Matthew, we find that Christ was also asked specifically about this teaching by the Pharisees. We read there: "The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." (19:3-9) Interestingly, Christ revealed in his answer to the Pharisees that the Torah teaching on divorce was NOT consistent with God's original intent regarding marriage!

A little later in the same gospel account, we read how the Pharisees chastised Christ's disciples for eating some grain as they walked through a field on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2). Then, after reminding them that David and his men had eaten the shewbread that was reserved for the priests (verses 3-4), we read that Christ told them that "if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day." (Verses 7-8) Later still, in the synagogue, they asked him "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?" (Verse 10) Jesus responded: "What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days." (Verses 11-12) Thus, we see that Christ magnified the meaning of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, by making clear that it was lawful to heal and do good to others on that day. (See also John 7:22-23)

Moreover, in terms of the Sabbath, we should also note that Christ expanded and transformed the meaning of this rest for Christians. In the epistle to the Hebrews, we read: "For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his." (4:4-10) In other words, by accepting Christ as our Savior, Christians have entered into a Sabbath rest - a rest from our own sinful works, and we are now expected to imitate the good works that Christ performed on the Sabbath (Ephesians 2:1-10).

In all of these instances, Christ magnified the Law and made it honorable. Clearly, Christ intended for his followers to understand the spiritual significance and intent of the Torah. As Paul told the saints at Rome, Christians are expected to "serve in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." (Romans 7:6)

In the last post, we talked about the parallels between the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days and the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years. However, in connection with that event, we should also note that Christ quoted a different passage from the book of Deuteronomy in response to each of the three temptations that Satan hurled at him! Again, in the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God [Deuteronomy 8:3]. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God [Deuteronomy 6:16]. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve [Deuteronomy 6:13]." (Matthew 4:3-10)

Likewise, when someone asked Christ which was the greatest commandment in the Law, the Gospel of Matthew informs us that he quoted a passage from Deuteronomy (Matthew 22:35-37) In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read: "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." (Verse 5) The second, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:39) was taken from the book of Leviticus. Christ said: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Verse 40)

In the post on Christ in the book of Leviticus, we also discussed how all of the festivals pointed to Jesus. The book of Deuteronomy, however, prescribes only one place of worship for the Israelites after they settled in the Promised Land (chapters 12 and 16). We read: "But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord." (12:10-11) It is made plain in the sixteenth chapter of the book that this "Law of the Central Sanctuary" also applied to the Lord's festivals. We read there: "Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles." (Verse 16) This, of course, stands in stark contrast to Christ's statement that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)

Even so, Christ's teachings about helping the disadvantaged among his people was clearly anticipated in the book of Deuteronomy. We read there: "If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother." (15:7) In this connection, it is interesting to note that in the Gospel of Matthew, we are informed that Christ compared himself to a shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats when all of the nations of the earth are gathered before him someday (Matthew 25:31-46). In the process of sorting, Christ noted that by providing for someone in need that his followers had symbolically provided for his own needs (verse 40). Indeed, we find that the first epistle of John echoed this sentiment: "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (3:17)

Now, in several of the previous posts in this series, we have already mentioned what many Christians consider to be the most explicit reference to Christ in the Torah. In the eighteenth chapter of the book, we read: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him." (Verses 18-19) This promise that God would one day raise up to them a prophet like Moses from among their own people is considered by many to be the greatest Messianic prophecy in the Pentateuch, and it underscores the thesis of these posts - the presence of Jesus in the Torah!

In the thirtieth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, we find a prophecy about the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham and his descendants. We read there: "And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." (Verses 1-6)

In this connection, it is interesting to recall a prophecy written in the book of Jeremiah. We read there: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (31:31-33) Now, this "new covenant" prophecy is regarded by Christians as a reference to the covenant mediated by Jesus of Nazareth. In the light of the passage referenced above from the thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy, something that Paul wrote to the saints at Rome takes on new significance. He wrote: "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Romans 2:28-29)

Finally, we have now clearly demonstrated that Christians see Jesus in all five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). For Christians, the fact that the Torah points to Jesus of Nazareth is foundational/elemental to their faith! In short, we see this as one of the primary ways that Christ has FULFILLED or FILLED TO THE FULL the Law! Like the early Christians who had no other Bible, we also see that it is possible to preach Christ from what we now refer to as the "Old Testament." Now, it is also true that most Jews don't see him in their Scriptures and clearly believe that Christians are "reading him into" those writings (twisting and perverting their meaning to accommodate their Savior). Nevertheless, for Christians, the presence of the Holy Spirit in them clearly points to Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets! Moreover, for most Christians, it is clear that Christ's Law of Love continues to be binding on his followers - not as a requirement for salvation (that is his free gift), but as an expression of our love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ (and as representative of our new life in him)!

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Jesus in the Torah: Numbers

The book of Numbers is so named because it records that the children of Israel were numbered (counted) on two different occasions (chapters 1 and 26). In this connection, it is interesting to note that God told Abraham that he would "multiply" his seed, and that they would someday be "as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore." (Genesis 22:17) This multiplication of his seed was, of course, to be accomplished by Jesus Christ - who would make his followers "children of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7, 29), and who John predicted would one day be found presiding over "a great multitude, which no man could number." (Revelation 7:9)

The book is also the story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14:33-34 and 32:13). In this connection, it is interesting to note that the synoptic gospels record that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness for forty days and nights (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13). Moreover, in this regard, it is also interesting to note that - just as the book of Numbers is organized into three great subplots (the preparation of the Israelites to inherit the Promised Land, their failure to do so and subsequent punishment for that failure, and the preparation of a new generation of Israelites to replace the one which had failed), the gospels of Matthew and Luke inform us that Christ had to suffer three different temptations at the hands of Satan! And, as we shall see in the final post in this series, those gospels inform us that Christ quoted from the book of Deuteronomy in answer to all three of Satan's temptations.

Finally, with regard to the forgoing allusions to scriptural numerology, we would be remiss not to point out that God chose twelve men (one to represent each of the tribes of Israel) to spy out the Promised Land before the children of Israel actually entered and took possession of it (Numbers 13). In similar fashion, the gospels inform us that Christ chose twelve men to be his disciples (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:14-19, Luke 6:12-16, and John 6:70) and sent them out to preach to the Israelites in Judea (Matthew 10:5-42). For Christians, these numerical parallels are clearly intentional/deliberate. In other words, these are NOT accidental/coincidental!

Now, we have already discussed how the New Testament book of Hebrews portrays Christ in the role of our high priest and compared/contrasted him with both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. Obviously, those observation would also apply to what the book of Numbers has to say about the Aaronic priesthood. Moreover, when the responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood are outlined in the eighteenth chapter of the book, we are again reminded of the superiority of Christ acting alone in the role of high priest (not needing the assistance/help of others and not requiring the blood of animals to perform his duties).

Many Christians also see Jesus in the rituals surrounding the red heifer outlined in the nineteenth chapter of Numbers. Like the red heifer, Christ was without spot or blemish (I Peter 1:19). It should also be noted that Eleazar was instructed to sacrifice the red heifer outside of the camp of Israel (verse 3). In this connection, it is interesting to note that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews observed that: "We <Christians> have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach." (13:10-13) Finally, just as Christ's sacrifice saves Christians from death (Romans 6:23), the ashes of the red heifer were used to cleanse the Israelites from being contaminated by death (Numbers 19:11-19).

In the twenty-first chapter of Numbers, we are told that "the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died." (Verse 6) According to the narrative, this was part of God's punishment of the people for their rebellion against him and Moses (verse 5). This was followed by the people's repentance and some peculiar instructions by God to remedy the problem of the deadly snake bites (verses 7-8). Then, we read: "And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." (Verse 9) Interestingly, in the Gospel of John, we are informed that Christ connected himself with this story. We read there that Jesus said: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life." (3:14-15) Hence, just as the Israelites were saved from death by looking up at the serpent on a pole, Christians are saved from death by the appearance of Christ hanging on the cross!

There is also an interesting account of a prophet by the name of Balaam that is found in three chapters of the book of Numbers (22-24). And, although he is repeatedly asked by Balak to curse the children of Israel, we are told that God caused Balaam to instead pronounce blessings on his people. Then, in the twenty-fourth chapter, we read what many Christians consider to be a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In this connection, the critical prophecy is seen as Balaam's statement that "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth...Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city." (24:17-19) Moreover, even if we insist that this passage refers to David, most Christians will remind their critics that David was a figure of Jesus Christ!

Finally, the review and summary of the offerings in chapters twenty-eight and twenty-nine of this book reminds us once again of the superiority of Christ's offering of himself - one time for all times. Hence, like the three books which precede it, Christians see many references to Jesus in the book of Numbers. For them, Christ's symbolic fulfillment of the narratives, laws, and rituals contained in these books of the Torah is clear, extensive, and much more important/significant than any scientific or historical errors that we might be able to find in them!