Should Christians Call Themselves “Blessed”?

Is God free to bless whomever He wants? Or is He only allowed to bless those who live in “poor” nations? Who gets to decide? Us, or God? Does God decide who He is going to bless or are we the ones in charge who decide who He can bless and who He can’t?

Over the past year or so I have read several articles that have been posted on FaceBook that had as their topic the idea that Christians should not called themselves blessed. Actually, when you read the articles, you find that they narrow that down a bit and say that Western Christians, or more precisely, Christians living in the US, should not call themselves blessed by God. Their reasoning is that it makes Christians living in other parts of the world feel like they are not “good” Christians because they do not have the same income level that those who live in the US. And, they reason, God is not a “Cosmic Vending Machine” handing out blessings to some and not to others. That means that American Christians are not blessed more than those in other parts of the world. While all that might sound “holy”, what that leaves us with is this: That pure chance – a random throw of the dice – gave them a lot more and better stuff, or at least the opportunity to acquire more and better stuff than everyone else has. And that is supposed to make people feel better? Personally, I think that just makes things worse!

But is this a Biblical view point? Yes, I agree, God is not a cosmic vending machine. He does not hand out blessings if you live in the right part of the world, or if you “have enough faith”, or pray hard enough, or “send in enough money” to whatever TV (or other) evangelist that promises God’s financial “blessings” if you do so. Nor does He give material blessings to those who articulate the correct phrases. However, that does not mean that God does not promise to bless His people in material ways for faithfully following Him. The Bible is full of such promises. But, we should not expect a life of ease if we are truly following Jesus. As He warned His disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. . . . Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! . . . Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:16-18, 21-25, 34-39 NIV) And nowhere in the New Testament do any of the writers give any indication that later generations of Jesus’ follower’s are to expect anything better.

 

I don’t know about you but that does not sound like a life of ease and prosperity to me! So, what about all the promises of material blessings? What are we supposed to do with them? I mean, how many sermons have you heard on this passage? “‘You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 3:9-11) Granted, most will leave out verse 9, but still, God does promise a blessing for those who are faithful in giving Him a full tithe of their income. And every sermon I have ever heard on these verses is always accompanied by multiple examples of people who report that God is faithful and He does fulfill this promise.

So what are we to do with all these articles that advise us, particularly those of us who live in the US, to not claim to be blessed by God? After reading them, one of the things that they all seem to have in common, is an underlying tone of guilt. Guilt for being born in the US. Guilt for having a nice house. Guilt for having a good paying job. Guilt for having a car, maybe even several cars. Guilt for growing up in a Christian home. Lots and lots of guilt.

Let me ask you, Did you decide where you were going to be born? Did you decide what skills or natural abilities you were going to be born with? Did you decide who your parents were going to be? Did you decide what sort of a home they were going to raise you in? I don’t know about you, but I know I had absolutely no control over any of that! So, if you and I did not have control over these things, who did? Maybe God? And if He decided all that, then why should we feel guilty for something He decided to give us? Maybe, just maybe, He had a reason for doing so.

In all this talk about “blessings” one thing I should mention is while the New Testament does talk about blessings, they are more in the line of one person pronouncing a “blessing” or benediction on another. The one exception I could find is in reference to spiritual blessings, which again are really God pronouncing a blessing on us. As Paul says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3) When the New Testament talks about what the Old Testament calls blessings it is God giving us “good things” or “gifts” rather than the Old Testament concept of His giving us blessings. Paul even devotes several “chapters” of one of his letters to a discussion of the spiritual gifts that God gives EVERY believer. (See 1 Corinthians 12 and onward.) Does that mean that God no longer blesses us? Well, I’m not one to split hairs in this regard. Call them gifts, or call them blessings, I believe they amount to the same thing, something that God gives us for absolutely no reason other than He wants to. And yes, the New Testament talks about both spiritual gifts and material gifts from God.

James, one of Jesus’ brothers, had this to say about blessings, or gifts from God, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:16-17) “EVERY good and perfect gift” is from God. So that means that ANY good thing that happens in my life is from God. Or, it is a blessing from God, take your pick in how you want to say it.

A big problem I have with those who want to deny that the good things we have are from God is this, If they are not from God – where do they think they came from? To me it sounds like they are trying to say “All this is not from God, therefore I earned it, I deserve it, it is all mine.” I am not saying that is what they believe, I am just saying that is what it sounds like. And heading down that road leads to something Jesus talked about. “And he told them a parable saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said. “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.'” (Luke 12:16-21 ESV) Not a good idea is it?

So what ARE we to do with our gifts from God? Jesus also had this to say, ” . . . give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) God does not expect us to hold on to what He gives us, He expects us to bless others just as we have been blessed. However, if I believe I have not been “blessed” then there is no reason for me to feel the need to bless others, after all, it is just what I have earned by my own hard work. And therein lies the problem, and maybe the source of the feelings of guilt.

This whole issue revolves around the Anti-“Prosperity Gospel” movement – the fight against the belief that “If I have enough faith, or I pray hard enough, or whatever, God will give me material blessings.” God does not HAVE to give us anything. He CHOOSES to give us things, He also promises to give us things we ask for in prayer, however, He also adds a caveat – what we ask for must be in accordance with His will. And what He has told us His will is has been revealed to us in the Bible. Jesus told us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV) We are to desire things that can only be stored up in heaven, not here on earth, so material wealth is NOT something we can pray for and be within God’s will. Jesus also told us why, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) If our heart is set on having material wealth it CANNOT be set on the things of God. According to Jesus there is no middle ground on this, either our heart is set on God or it is set on the things of this earth. So a desire for earthly wealth is NOT within God’s will.

I have heard some claim that God will give us material blessings or gifts to see what we will do with them. And I will admit there is some truth in this, however, just before he tells us every good thing we have is from God, James also tells us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15) So, if we do have material wealth, it is not because God is testing us to see if we will sin. If we sin and start lusting after earthly wealth it is because of our own sinful desires. If we have material wealth it is for a completely different reason.

We don’t have the “Year of Release” or “jubilee” that God gave the Children of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, but we can learn some things about what God expects His people to do with the material blessings He gives them from the instructions God gave them at that time. Here is what God said through Moses, “And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.” (Deuteronomy 14:27-15:6)

The first thing I find interesting is that God told them to use 1/3 of all their tithes to care for the poor – including foreigners (immigrants) – that lived among them. Interestingly, each town was to care for their own poor and needy. And this was to include the Levites – those who “worked for God”. And second, every seventh year they were to cancel all debts owed them by their fellow Israelites. And if they faithfully followed all of God’s instructions – including these – then, God promised, there would be no poor among them! He would so bless His people materially that there would be no one in need of anything! Amazing! Does that mean everyone would be rich? No, it doesn’t say that, what God promised, was that He would provide enough for everyone – some might not have enough, but others would have more than they needed so they could help out those who didn’t have enough, and in that way no one would be in need. The community – the nation – would have more than enough, not each individual.

Moses goes on with God’s instructions. “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,’ so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) See, He does not promise there would never be anyone poor. But, did you notice why there would be poor in the land? It seems God wanted His people to take care of them! Those that God had blessed with material blessings were to use those blessings to bless those in need around them. Some might claim it was God’s way of testing them to see if they would obey Him, but I think it was more God giving them the opportunity to join Him in His work of restitution, reconciliation, and redemption. Of being a light to the nations around them, showing them how God wanted things to be done. How He wanted people to treat each other. God was giving Israel a chance to join Him in helping Him take care of people.

So, if God set this sort of a system up as His ideal way of doing things several thousand years ago, do you think He has changed His mind today? Maybe He blesses some people more than others just so they can participate in His work of blessing people! Maybe there is a good reason for people to feel a bit guilty for all the “good” things they have when they look around at those in the world who don’t have it so good. Could it be that we are holding on too tight? Maybe, just maybe, God is telling us, “Let go, use what I’m giving you to help others. You really don’t need everything I’m giving you, so pass it on!

Jesus once had this encounter with a very wealthy individual. “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”‘ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'” (Mark 10:17-25) Jesus didn’t tell everyone He met to sell all they owned and give it away, but He does call everyone to use what He has blessed them with to help others. He could see the hold this man’s possessions had on him and He knew that hold had to be broken, so He told him he needed to let go of everything.

I find it interesting that some manuscripts record Jesus as saying, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!” This reminds me of what we read earlier that Jesus said about riches, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) Our heart should be so full of God that there is no room for the things of this earth. If it is, then we will have no problem letting go.

The answer isn’t to deny you are being blessed by God – the Bible says you are. The answer is to quit holding on so tight to what you have, let go of it, pass it on to someone who really needs it! God has given us both spiritual gifts (salvation for example) and material gifts, if we will not let go of the material gifts to help others, what makes us think we will be any more willing to “let go” of the spiritual ones, i.e., tell others the “good news” of salvation? James asks, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16) If we don’t care about someone’s physical needs that we can see, do we really care about their spiritual needs that we cannot see? Jesus ties these together. As we just read, “Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.” And He also said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:43-45) What is your heart full of, the things of God, or the things of earth? How you handle what God has given you reflects where your heart is, where your heart is determine what your heart is full of, and what your heart is full of will determine what you have to say to others about God. Do you hold on to what God has given you with an open hand or a closed fist? How you hold your blessings will affect how you witness to others about the Gospel.

Do You Want to Feed 5000 People?

How many times have you heard the story of Jesus “Feeding the Five Thousand”? If you are like me, you can’t remember how many times you have read the story, let alone heard it told. But something happened when I read it this time, I noticed something that has escaped me all those other times, and it seems it might have escaped most everyone else’s as well because I cannot recall anyone ever mentioning it when telling the story. I noticed the context in which the story happened.

This is how Mark records it: “Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. . . . They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (Mark 6: 6b-7, & 12-13 NIV)

And while they are out doing all that, there is an interlude in which Mark records that King Herod hears about it and comes to conclusion that Jesus must be John the Baptist come back to life. And then Mark tells of how Herod had ended up having John beheaded.

Then Mark returns to the narrative about the disciples and what they had been doing. “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:30-34)

And that is the setting for the “Feeding of the Five Thousand”. The disciples have been given the authority and power to perform miracles of their own, and have just returned from a trip where they had done so successfully – without Jesus being around to make sure they knew what to do and how to do it. They had been sent out in pairs so they were pretty much on their own. And they had performed miraculous healings and driven out demons! And when they get back, they are all excited to tell Jesus everything they did. But it is so hectic that they can’t even get time to eat, so Jesus takes them across the lake to a remote area, but the people see where they are going and get there first. Now they are out in the middle of now where with a huge crowd and this happens: “By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. ‘This is a remote place,’ they said, ‘and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.'” (Mark 6:35-37a)

They had just returned from a trip where they had proven to themselves they had the power and authority to perform miracles, so why not? Jesus was telling them “You can do it, go ahead, you don’t need Me.” But they forgot everything that had just happened. This was different after all, just look at all those people!

“They said to him, ‘That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?'” Sound familiar? Have you ever responded to trouble that way? Notice what Jesus did next. “‘How many loaves do you have?’ he asked. ‘Go and see.’ When they found out, they said, ‘Five—and two fish.’ Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. (Mark 6:37b-43)

Notice Jesus didn’t ask them how much money they had, He asked them how much food they had. He didn’t increase their monetary resources so they could buy the needed food supplies, He used what food they already had. The point He was making with the disciples was, “You don’t need more money, You need God’s power and I gave you access to that power so you can so this, you didn’t need Me to do it! Quit thinking of earthly things and remember the power I gave you! I gave you authority – use it!” But they didn’t get it, in fact, Jesus reran the test not too long after this with a 20 % smaller crowd (4000 men), and more resources, 7 loaves of bread instead of just 5 and “several” fish rather than 2, and they responded in the exact same way! They looked to earthly resources rather than the power of God they had been granted the authority to use. (See Mark 8:1-21 for the full story.)

After the second event Jesus had this to say to His disciples, “‘Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘Seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?'” (Mark 8:17b-21) The power available to them, as demonstrated by Jesus, didn’t care how many resources were available, nor did it care what the demand was – it over did the need in both cases, the first time by 12 small wicker baskets stuffed clear full (one for each disciple by the way), and the second time by “only” 7 baskets – although this time they were reed lunch hampers. I’m not sure how the two compare in size – but it was definitely more than needed in either case. My opinion is that the reed basket would be larger as reeds are a coarser weaving material than wicker, and would therefore be used to make a larger container. So there is a real good chance that they ended up with about the same amount of leftovers each time – enough to feed them all for a couple of days.

One thing that is interesting is that this admonition comes right after Jesus warns them about the “leaven of the Pharisees”, and the disciples confuse the spiritual leavening influence of the teachings of the Pharisees with physical bread. The Pharisees had demanded that Jesus give them a “sign from heaven” – after He had just fed 4000 men with just 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish. What more could they possibly need? And what Jesus was warning His disciples about was this refusal to accept the truth in spite of all the evidence needed to believe. And the Pharisees had all the “Scriptural” teachings they needed to back up their position, at least that is what they believed. But in spite of all that Scriptural knowledge, they refused to accept what the Scriptures pointed to – the Messiah right in front of them.

Do we do the same thing today? God has given the Church the authority to do various things through the Gifts of the Spirit – that use the same power Jesus gave His disciples. Do we use them or do we look to “how many day’s wages” it will take? The Bible tells us we have the authority, the early Church demonstrated that power in use, but do we believe it? Or do we “yes, but” it out of existence? Are WE swallowing the “leavening of the Pharisees” without even a hesitation?

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'” (Matthew 28:18)

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.'” (John 14:6-14) Greater works than Jesus did? Really? Where are they? Or is the leavening of the Pharisees more tasty? Are you a follower of Jesus? If so, then the Holy Spirit is living in you and He has brought certain Gifts from God with Him. Those Gifts use that power that Jesus showed His disciples – they are to be used to do those “greater works” than Jesus did. Greater works of love and compassion. Greater works of building His Church. Are you using them? That same power the disciples could have used that day is also yours to use today. Will you?

The Cross in the Wilderness – Part 2

In Part 1 We discovered the first cross in the wilderness, now we can search for the second one. This one will take a bit more study simply because there is so much more to see with it. However, we don’t have to go very far to start our search for it. It is right at the heart of the cross we just found.

I’ve mentioned the Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting many times already, and that is where we are going to look next. Moses describes it for us like this:

“So the tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month in the second year. When Moses set up the tabernacle, he put the bases in place, erected the frames, inserted the crossbars and set up the posts. Then he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering over the tent, as the Lord commanded him. He took the tablets of the covenant law and placed them in the ark, attached the poles to the ark and put the atonement cover over it. Then he brought the ark into the tabernacle and hung the shielding curtain and shielded the ark of the covenant law, as the Lord commanded him. Moses placed the table in the tent of meeting on the north side of the tabernacle outside the curtain and set out the bread on it before the Lord, as the Lord commanded him. He placed the lampstand in the tent of meeting opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle and set up the lamps before the Lord, as the Lord commanded him. Moses placed the gold altar in the tent of meeting in front of the curtain and burned fragrant incense on it, as the Lord commanded him. Then he put up the curtain at the entrance to the tabernacle. He set the altar of burnt offering near the entrance to the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, and offered on it burnt offerings and grain offerings, as the Lord commanded him. He placed the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing, and Moses and Aaron and his sons used it to wash their hands and feet. They washed whenever they entered the tent of meeting or approached the altar, as the Lord commanded Moses. Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work.” (Exodus 40:17-33 NIV)

Tabernacle and Courtyard

Figure 1. Tabernacle and Courtyard Layout

We will start our search with the Courtyard. It was 100 cubits by 50 cubits and was oriented east to west. It was made of linen curtains 5 cubits high and held up with posts mounted in bronze bases by silver hooks on silver bands. There was a post every 5 cubits all around the Courtyard. There was an entrance 20 cubits wide in the center of the east end. (See Exodus 27:9-15, 17-19 & 38:9-17) The cloth used in making not only the curtains for the courtyard, but the entrance curtains for the courtyard and the Tabernacle, the Shielding Curtain, and the first covering over the Tabernacle was linen. It was much finer than the linen of today. “Finely twisted linen” was so fine that the high quality fabrics made from it could not be distinguished from silk without a magnifying glass. Also, it was not the drab beige we see today either, but a very pure white.

 

A side note about the cubit mentioned here. It could be the common cubit which was about 18 inches long. This is the cubit that was used in trade. You bought and sold things, including land, using this cubit. But, Moses grew up in the royal household as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter and was educated in the royal university. Therefore he would have been very familiar with the royal Egyptian cubit of 20.6 inches. Historically, it is this cubit that was most commonly used, even outside of Egypt, for building, therefore, it is the one a lot of historians believe Moses would have used. However, I have found several references to one more cubit that shows up in the archeological records of ancient Israel and it is 25.43 inches long (1 meter). It is believed by some to have been handed down from Noah as the measurement given him by God. But there are many who disagree – for some reason they seem to think that nothing originated with anyone Hebrew – everything they knew and used was borrowed from other cultures. So how could they have a measurement that no one else in history ever used? I do not know why this prejudice exists among Biblical scholars, but I have encountered it many times. Personally, I believe more things originated with the Hebrews that were copied by others than the other way around.

So, which cubit would Moses have used? The short, common one, the royal one, or the even longer one? I’m inclined to think he would have at least used the royal cubit, but in reality, I believed he used the one meter cubit, after all, he was building a place to meet with the God of the universe. And God did say that He was going to “dwell with His people there”. So don’t you think Moses would have at least used the royal cubit for the sovereign God of the universe? If he did, that would mean everything would be a bit over 11% larger than we normally think of them. However, Moses recorded that God had told him, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:9) And he recorded 4 more times when God reminded him that he was to follow the patterns he had been shown. (Exodus 25:40; 26:30; 27:8; 31:11) And 4 times he records that things were made exactly as commanded (Exodus 39:32; 39:42,39:43; Numbers 8:4) As a woodworker, all the patterns I use include the dimensions I am to use in building the object in the pattern. So it is entirely possible that God included the length of the cubit he was to use as part of the patterns He gave Moses.

Therefore, if the “long” cubit was used in building the Tabernacle and all its furnishings as I believe, then they would have been over 41% bigger! So that means the Tent of Meeting would have been almost 25 1/2 feet by over 63 1/2 feet and a little over 21 feet tall, rather than the 15 – 22 1/2 feet by 45 feet and 15 feet tall normally claimed. (See Appendix A for a discussion on the true dimensions of the Tabernacle.) And the courtyard would be almost 212 feet by almost 106 feet instead of 150 feet by 75 feet with the curtains over 10 1/2 feet tall rather than 7 1/2 feet. And the same goes for everything else.

Now, back to our tour. There was only one entrance to the courtyard, and as stated earlier, it was on the east end. It had linen curtains hanging in it. This is how it was made, “The curtain for the entrance to the courtyard was of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen–the work of an embroiderer. It was twenty cubits long and, and like the curtains of the courtyard, five cubits high, with four posts and four bronze bases. Their hooks and bands were silver and their tops were overlaid with silver.” (Exodus 38:18-19 See also Exodus 27:16) How many times have you seen illustrations of these curtains neatly held open in nice pretty drapes? If you are like me, I am having a hard time thinking of a time when I have seen a depiction of them in any other way. However, reading through the account of Moses setting up the Tent of Meeting, I can find no mention of these curtains or the ones on the Tent itself being held open. I believe that they were both closed and you had to push them aside to enter. You entered through the curtains, not through an open gateway.

Now, did you notice the colors of these curtains? Blue, purple, scarlet, and white, the colors of royalty, but they had other meanings as well – deeper meanings as we will see. Some people think that the colors were embroidered on a white background because they “were the work of an embroiderer”, however, the term used is of a professional who worked with colors – one who mixed colors – either by weaving, dying, or by embroidery. So he could have been a weaver, a dyer, or an embroiderer, or someone who could do it all. I believe they were woven in stripes of blue, purple, scarlet and white. One of the biggest reasons is two of the curtains we will see later do have embroidery on them, and it would be hard to see it if it was on top of a background already covered by random patterns of colors. Because the colors are always listed in the same order, I think that is the order they were woven in – blue, purple, scarlet, and white. I don’t know why that particular order, nor are we told how wide each color is – although a set of curtains we will see later are made of panels 4 cubits wide that have all four colors in them. Therefore you would have each color appearing in sequence and it would repeat in whatever multiple of 4 you want to use in each 4 cubit panel. That means each color strip could be 1 cubit wide, 1/2 cubit wide, or 1/4 cubit wide, etc. However, once you get below 1/8th of a cubit for each stripe, you will not be able to see the stripes at much of a distance, the colors will all blend together. All of the curtains have almost the exact wording used in their instructions so it is reasonable to assume that they are all made alike with the color stripes of the same width. In fact, all of the curtains could have been made using those same 4 cubit panels. The Courtyard entrance curtain would have needed 5 panels 5 cubits long. The Tabernacle entrance would have needed 3 panels 10 cubits long although there might have been 4 panels, and the Shielding Curtain would have had 3 panels 10 cubits long.

I don’t see a significance to their width or their sequence other than purple can be made by combining the colors on either side of it, but the colors themselves are significant. To enter the courtyard you had to go through these curtains – you entered through an area of blue, purple, scarlet, and white stripes in an otherwise pristine white wall – why? Isaiah 53:4-5 tells us, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” When Jesus was beaten before He was crucified, His wounds would have been stripes of bloody red, and blue and purple bruises, interspersed with the white of His skin and bones. And these wounds are represented by the colors of the curtains in the entryway. And the purity of the white curtains of the Courtyard remind us that Jesus was pure, He was innocent – it was our guilt He was punished for, it was our sins He died for, He was sinless. The curtains of the Courtyard completely surround the Tabernacle and everything else involved in the religious observances that occurred here, so just as the curtains contain it all, what everything inside represents is contained in Jesus and His ministry in some way or another as we will see.

One thing I find interesting is that the entrance to the courtyard, the entrance to the Tent itself, and the entrance to the Most Holy Place inside the Tabernacle (also known as “The Veil”) are ALL through the same type of curtains (although the Veil also had cherubim embroidered on it). And there is one other “curtain” that was made of the same materials, the one that covered the entire Tabernacle, the one that made the “ceiling”. (Compare Exodus 38:18, 36:37, 36:35, and 36:8-13 respectively.) Hebrews 10:19-20 says, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is His flesh, . . ” (NASB Revised) The Shielding Curtain (or the Veil) represents Jesus’ broken body and shed blood, and since all three entrances are virtually identical, we can say that all three are representative of Jesus’ broken body, and therefore access to each area is “through Jesus”. And when you are in the Tabernacle itself you are completely covered by the broken body of Jesus as well. So let us enter the Courtyard through the veil of Jesus’ broken body.

The first thing we encounter after we enter the Courtyard is the Altar of Burnt Offering. It

Altar of Burnt Offering

Figure 2. Altar of Burnt Offering

was made of wood overlaid with bronze. It was 5 cubits square and 3 cubits tall. It had a horn at each corner and a bronze grating inside halfway up. It was carried with wooden poles overlaid in bronze that were mounted in bronze rings on opposite sides of the altar. All of the utensils needed for the sacrificial offerings and to maintain the fire were also made of bronze. (See Exodus 27:1-8 & 38:1-7) This is where the lambs were offered for all the sacrifices. This is where everyone came to confess their sins over the head of their sacrificial lamb before it was “offered up in smoke”. So what does this tell us of Jesus? The disciple John records this comment made by John the Baptist, “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.'” (John 1:29) The author of the letter to the Hebrews seconds this, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10 & 14) It is here, at the Altar of Burnt Offering, that our sins are symbolically transferred to Jesus. It is also where those sins are symbolically burned out of existence when that “lamb” is sacrificed.

 

Basin

Figure 3. The Basin

As we move on from the altar, the next thing we find is the Basin, or as some translations label it, the Laver. This is all we are told about its construction, “They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” (Exodus 38:8 NIV) (See also Exodus 30:17-18) It might seem like it did not hold much significance, but God told Moses, “Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.” (Exodus 30:19-21) If washing in its water would keep you from dying, then it would seem it was very important. So it was important, but what does it tells us about Jesus? Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) And he told the church in Corinth, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) And the Apostle John wrote, “Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes–who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'” (Revelation7:13-14)

 

The basin reminds us of our need of cleansing and that only Jesus can provide what is needed. The apostle John says, ” . . . but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. . . . If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7 & 9 NASB Revised) The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22) Here he takes us all the way from the Basin, into the Holy Place, through the Veil, and into the Most Holy Place – all the way into the presence of God! In his “Revelation of Jesus Christ”, as part of the opening salutation, the Apostle John says, ” . . . And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, . . . ” (Revelation 1:5 KJV) So the Basin, or Laver, reminds us that it is by the blood of Jesus that we are cleansed from our sins.

Tabernacle

Figure 4. The Tabernacle

 

Now we come to the Tent of Meeting itself. Unlike most tents of the day as it was built with both solid walls like a normal house and fabric and leather coverings like a normal tent. We will look at the coverings first.

The first covering of the Tabernacle was of 2 curtains 28 cubits by 20 cubits that were joined together by 50 gold clasps and had loops of blue material along the ends. Each curtain was made from 5 panels that were 4 cubits wide and 28 cubits long which were literally “united” into one curtain. These two curtains were then clasp together to form one larger covering for the Tabernacle. Once joined they made a covering that was 28 cubits x 40 cubits long. They were made of “finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim woven into them by expert hands.” (Exodus 36:8 NIV) [Could also mean embroidered – literally says “the work of a thoughtful worker” It doesn’t say how it was done.] When it was placed on the Tabernacle, it would hang down equally on each side and on the west end. Obviously a much smaller overhang would be over the entrance curtain. (See Exodus 26:1-6 & 36:8-13) As we have already seen, the blue, purple, scarlet and white stripes of this “curtain” are representative of Jesus’ broken body, but also includes cherubim. In the Bible cherubim are always in the presence of God, so these cherubim embroidered on the curtain remind us of Jesus’ divinity, and that just as these cherubim were part of the curtain, Jesus’ divinity was inherently part of Him.

The second covering, God called it a “tent over the tabernacle” (Exodus 26:7 NASB Revised), was again made of 2 curtains only this time one was wider than the other. The smaller one was 30 cubits by 20 cubits and the larger one was 30 cubits by 24 cubits. They were made of goat hair and were joined together by bronze clasps so they made a covering that was 30 cubits by 44 cubits. Unless it was dyed, and there are no instructions to do so, this covering would have been a mottled, beige, tan, brown, and black – although there are some who claim it would have been made entirely of black goat hair. Either way it would have been just like every other tent in the camp. This covering is 2 cubits longer than the first so would hang down 1 cubit further on each side and on the west end. The rest would hang down over the entrance, however, the final panel on this side (the extra one) is folded in half so it will not hang down quite so far, but it will still cover the first covering. (See Exodus 26:9)

Over this was a covering of red dyed ram skins and then another of the hides of sea cows (NIV) neither of which are given any dimensions. The ram skins would at least completely cover all previous layers and most likely go clear to the ground on the north and south sides and the west end. The blood red covering reminds us that the blood of Jesus covers us and as God said, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11 NIV) It is a reminder that the blood of Jesus was shed in atonement for our sins.

Then comes the leather outer cover. It would definitely go clear to the ground on the north and south sides and the west end and would hang down far enough to cover all the other coverings over the entrance and provide enough protection from the elements for the entryway. It could be so low that, as with most tents of the day, the average person would need to duck to go under the edge of the tent as they entered, probably about 2 1/2 cubits or so above the ground. However, if it only hung down an additional cubit over the entrance like all the previous layers, it would be 5 cubits from the ground – the same level as the top of the Courtyard curtains. This leather covering would make the outside of the Tabernacle a nondescript brownish gray color that, over time, would weather to a shade which would blend into the desert background very well, and from ground level outside the courtyard, absolutely nothing of the entrance to the Tabernacle could be seen. (See Exodus 26:7-13 & 36:14-19) That reminds me of what Isaiah had to say about the coming Messiah, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2b) Like the Messiah to come, there was nothing external to the Tent of Meeting that would indicate its significance or the beauty inside, there really was nothing about it that would attract your attention and make you want to “check it out.” In fact, the only bit of color that could be seen would be the blue, purple, scarlet and white stripes of what little of the entrance curtains that would be peeking out from under the leather covering at the front of the Tent of Meeting but until you entered the courtyard, you could not even see that.

The solid walls of the “tent” were made of wood panels that were overlaid with gold and enclosed a space that was 30 cubits by 12 cubits. (See Appendix A for a discussion on the true dimensions of the Tabernacle.) Each panel was 10 cubits by 1 1/2 cubits. They each had 2 posts in the bottom that were placed in silver bases to hold them upright. Each of the silver bases weighed 75 pounds. The panels were joined together by some sort of couplings and held in place by 3 sets of 5 gold covered wooden poles. As a wood worker, I would interpret Exodus 26:28 (“The middle bar in the center of the boards shall pass through from end to end.” NASB) to indicate that one pole was inserted in a mortise that ran side to side through the middle of each panel and locked them all in place. Then 3 of the poles were inserted into rings on the outside of the panels. As they were inserted in the rings, they were also inserted into the loops along the edges of the first three coverings of the Tent to hold them down – the outer, leather, covering would be staked to the ground. The last pole in each set would be mounted outside the tent as well, near the top of the panels, so that it would help keep the coverings from chafing in the winds on the panels of the walls. (It is also possible that only the first two coverings were so mounted and that two of the poles were used to keep the coverings from chafing – the text does not mention how the ram skin covering was fastened down, it could be fastened like the first two or it could be staked like the outer cover.) (See Exodus 26:15-29 & 36:20-34) But none of this can be seen from the outside as it is completely hidden underneath all of the coverings. The Tabernacle is divided into two rooms by a curtain, the outer room is called the Holy Place and the inner room is the Most Holy Place.

It is this room, the Most Holy Place, that everyone is arguing about. No one seems to be able to agree on how big it was, and the size of this room will affect the size of the rest of the Tabernacle. But we are not concerned with its size right now, we are just getting an over view of the Tabernacle itself. (See Appendix A for a discussion on the true dimensions of the Tabernacle.)

Now, back to our tour, the next stop is the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and as we have already seen, it is through the blue, purple, scarlet and white striped curtains representing the broken body of Jesus. It is death for anyone but the priests to enter the Tabernacle, and the only reason we can go beyond this point is because Jesus has opened the way for us with His broken body and the cleansing of His blood.

The first area we enter is called The Holy Place. It has gold covered walls, and facing us is a curtain of blue, purple, scarlet and white like the two we have already come through, however, it also has cherubim embroidered on it so it is a little different than the others. And the “ceiling” is identical – blue, purple, scarlet and white with the cherubim

Altar of Incense

Figure 5. The Altar of Incense

embroidered on it. And directly in front of us is the Altar of Incense. It was made of wood and was completely covered in gold. It was 1 cubit square and 2 cubits tall and had a horn on each corner. It had two wood poles covered in gold that were used to carry it and they were held in place by 2 gold rings on each side. (See Exodus 30:1-5 & 37:25-28) God gave some very specific instructions about both this altar and the use of the incense that was burned on it and in the censers that Aaron and his sons used. “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come.” (Exodus 30:7-8) “He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die.” (Leviticus 16:12-13) One of the things the smoke did was create a veil between the High Priest and the Ark – representative of Jesus our mediator who stands between us and a holy and righteous God, a God who is present everywhere, and in whose presence nothing evil can exist. (See Isaiah 33:10-16)

 

However, that is not all it represents. David wrote this in one of his psalms, “I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” (Psalms 141:1-2) The Apostle John wrote, “He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (Revelation 5:7-8) And later he added, “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” (Revelation 8:3-4) And Paul tells us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes fur us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Romans 8:26-27) So the smoke of the burning incense represents not only the prayers of those who claim Jesus as Lord and Master of their lives, but also the work of the Holy Spirit in “correcting” those prayers into what they should be.

Behind the Altar of Incense is the Shielding Curtain, or Veil, as it is more commonly known. As I pointed out above, it is different from the entrance curtain. Here are the instructions God gave for it and the entrance curtains so you can see the differences, “They made the curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker. They made four posts of acacia wood for it and overlaid them with gold. They made gold hooks for them and cast their four silver bases. For the entrance to the tent they made a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen—the work of an embroiderer;  and they made five posts with hooks for them. They overlaid the tops of the posts and their bands with gold and made their five bases of bronze.” (Exodus 36:35-38) (See also Exodus 26:31-33 & 36-37)

“The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.” (Leviticus 16:2) So this veil was very important. It was a barrier between God and sinful man. As Isaiah wrote, “‘Now will I arise,’ says the Lord. ‘Now will I be exalted; now will I be lifted up. You conceive chaff, you give birth to straw; your breath is a fire that consumes you. The peoples will be burned to ashes; like cut thornbushes they will be set ablaze. You who are far away, hear what I have done; you who are near, acknowledge my power!’ The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: ‘Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?’ Those who walk righteously and speak what is right, who reject gain from extortion and keep their hands from accepting bribes, who stop their ears against plots of murder and shut their eyes against contemplating evil—” (Isaiah 33:10-15) Yes, the righteous can stand in God’s presence, but, as Solomon pointed out, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

This is the “veil” that the writer of Hebrews was referring to when he wrote, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22) He clearly identifies the veil as Jesus. So what can it tell us about Him?

This curtain is held up by 4 posts rather than 5 like the entrance curtain so there would be three expanses of curtains showing instead of the 4 at the entrance to the Tent. As we have seen, it represents Jesus our “shielding curtain”, and the three sections remind us of His threefold mission – He shields us from the punishment we deserve, He stands in our place before God, and His perfect life stands between us and judgment. Also, as the cherubim only appear in the presence of God, the cherubim embroidered on this curtain remind us of Jesus’ divinity.

When we pass though the Shielding Curtain we enter the Most Holy Place. This is where

Ark of the Covenant

Figure 6. The Ark of The Covenant Law

God manifested His presence in a very special way. The room is square with three gold walls, the forth being the Veil we just came through, and the ceiling is a continuation of the curtain we saw in the Holy Place – blue, purple, scarlet and white with cherubim embroidered on it. There was only one thing in this area – The Ark of the Covenant. It was made of wood covered in gold. It was 2 1/2 cubits long, 1 1/2 cubits wide and 1 1/2 cubits high. It had two gold covered wooden poles fastened to it by two gold rings each that were used to carry it. And it had a solid gold covering that had a solid gold cherub at each end. The cherubim faced each other, but were looking down towards the cover, and had their wings uplifted to overshadow both them and the cover. So Raiders of the Lost Ark got it wrong. (See Exodus 25:10-22 & 37:1-9) What can we learn of Jesus from the Ark? “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.'” (Leviticus 16:2) After the Ark was built And Moses was putting the Tabernacle together, “He took the tablets of the covenant law and placed them in the ark, attached the poles to the ark and put the atonement cover over it. Then he brought the ark into the tabernacle and hung the shielding curtain and shielded the ark of the covenant law, as the Lord commanded him.” (Exodus 40:20-21) And later we find out, “When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.” (Numbers 7:89)

 

The Sh’khinah – The manifest presence of God – appeared between the wings of the cherubim, above the atonement cover or Mercy Seat, as it is commonly called today. God had Moses put the Tablets of Stone, on which were written the Law of the Covenant, inside the Ark. So The Atonement Cover was between the Presence of God and the Law – representing Jesus, the manifestation of God’s mercy.

So we’ve come on our tour from the camp into the presence of God, but that has been in a straight line, not a cross. For that we need to go back into the Holy Place because we did skip two things while we were there. When we go back in, we see on the right (against the

Lampstand

Figure 7. Lampstand

southern wall) an interesting light fixture, the Lampstand. It was made of solid gold and with the lamps and the utensils needed to care for them weighed 75 pounds. It had 7 branches and each branch had a lamp on it, for a total of 7 lamps. (Although I have seen one translation/interpretation that gives you 7 branches each with 7 cups and 7 lamps giving you 49 lamps with 1 additional cup and lamp on the top of the main “trunk” for a total of 50 lamps.) And it was decorated with an almond motif. (See Exodus 25:31-39 & 37:17-24) So what does this tell us of Jesus? “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” (John 8:12) He also said, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5) But He is not “in the world” any more so now what? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His listeners, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15) As Jesus pointed out, a light does no good unless it is out where people can use its radiance to see by. So as we take Jesus, the Light of the World, out into the world, we form the first arm of the cross.

 

The second item we missed is on the opposite wall. There we find the Table that held the Bread of the Presence. It was made of wood and was overlaid with gold. It was 2 cubits long, 1 cubit wide and 1 1/2 cubits high. It had 2 gold covered wooden poles fastened to it by

Table

Figure 8. The Table of the Bread of the Presence

2 gold rings each that were used to carry it. (See Exodus 25:23-29 & 37:10-16) God instructed Moses, “Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times.” (Exodus 25:30) And what does this table and the bread say about Jesus? Jesus Himself claimed to be the Bread of Life. “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'” (John 6:35) And a bit later in the same conversation, He said, “But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:50-51) Jesus is the Bread of Life Who came down to earth out of the presence of God bringing life for a hungry and dying world. And as we take Jesus the Bread of Life into that same hungry and dying world we form the second arm of the cross.

 

Tabernacle Cross

Figure 9. The Tabernacle With Cross

A cross hidden in the Tent of Meeting! No wonder Jesus said that Moses wrote about Him! Not only do all the objects in the Tent, but the curtains around the Tent, the objects in the courtyard, and the Tent itself all proclaim Jesus.

 

And there we have the second Cross in the Wilderness! One that reminds us that as we journey into the presence of God, we must also take Jesus out into the world. He came into this world to die on a cross, and we must take Him into a dying world so that they might live.

 

Appendix A

It is the size of the Most Holy Place, that everyone is arguing about. No one seems to be able to agree on how big it was, and the size of this room will affect the size rest of the Tabernacle. There is much discussion among the “experts” as to how big it was. Well actually, only about how wide it was. The Bible is very clear that the Tabernacle was 30 cubits long and no one has any argument over that, it is the description how the west end of the Tabernacle was to be constructed that is the issue, and how you interpret what the Bible says determines how wide entire structure was.

There are 6 normal panels and two corner panels, and the argument is over what is meant by the description of the 2 corner panels. The panels are normally 10 cubits tall and 1 1/2 cubits wide so with just the 6 normal panels you have 9 cubits. That means those who claim a 10 cubit width have a problem – how do you get two more panels of a size large enough to have 2 bases made of 75 pounds (1 talent) of silver each under them (See Exodus 38:27) on either end of the 6 panels and only use 1/2 a cubit per panel? And then there are those who think the Tabernacle was 15 cubits wide. They get this from a literal reading of Exodus 26:23-24, that in some translations says that the two corner panels were doubled which would make them 3 cubits wide each – so the 9 cubits of the normal panels plus the 6 cubits of the “doubled” panels gives you 15 cubits. But not all translations agree on what the correct English word is to use to translate the Hebrew word used here.

Here is what the NIV translators wrote, “Make six frames for the far end of the tabernacle, and make two frames for the corners at the far end. At these two corners they must be double from the bottom to the top, and fitted into a single ring: both shall be like that. So there will be eight frames and sixteen silver bases–two under each frame.” (Exodus 26:22-25) It is the words translated “double” and “ring” that are what is causing all the confusion. So, to try and clear up the confusion, I checked things out in the Lexicons I have available to me. It turns out that the Hebrew word translated double can also mean twin or twinned, coupled, or joined. And the word translated ring, can also refer to a signet used to stamp in sealing wax, the seal, or mark, in the wax that a signet makes, or a signet ring, and eventually it came to refer to just a regular ring as well. Looking at this as a wood worker, it makes much more sense to say that the two corner panels were designed in such a way that they could be joined to the side panels as well as the normal joinery that would join them to the adjacent end panels, and that these special joints were to “seal” them to the side panels. So these two panels had normal joinery in one edge that would connect them to the other panels in the end of the Tabernacle, but they also had a special type of joinery along the edge of one face that would be used to connect them to the end panels in the side walls.

So, if they were any larger than any of the other panels at all, it would only be by the thickness of the panels. That means that the interior dimensions of the Tabernacle would be the 30 cubits in length everyone agrees on by 12 cubits in width for the west end panels. And this would give us something interesting – if the Veil, or Shielding Curtain, was placed 12 cubits from the end wall, you would have 3 gold walls of 12 cubits each. Why would that be significant? The Bible gives three different lists for the tribes of Israel – the first is the list of the sons of Jacob – the “real” tribes; the second is the list of the tribes of the Exodus where the tribes of Levi – those claimed by God as His tribe – and Joseph are not listed but are replaced by Ephraim and Manasseh – Joseph’s promised double portion; and the third is in Revelation. In this list Ephraim is missing, but Levi returns and Dan is also gone, replaced by Joseph, which is very significant, but that is a whole different study of its own!

And one other thing, if the Most Holy place is 12 cubits square, then something interesting occurs with the first covering – well actually the first two coverings. The first one is made of 2 identical “curtains” that are 20 cubits wide and 28 cubits long and are joined together by 50 gold clasps right down the middle. Fully assembled it is 28 cubits by 40 cubits. If you center the 28 cubit length over the width of the Tent you will obviously have the same overhang on each side. So 28 cubits – 12 cubits = 16 cubits which would leave 8 cubits to hang down on each side of the Tabernacle. Now take that same overhang of 8 cubits from the 20 cubit width of 1/2 of the covering to use as the overhang on the west end of the Tabernacle and that leaves 12 cubits to go from the end of the Tabernacle to the place where the two halves of the covering are joined – and that is exactly where the Veil is located. Interesting isn’t it? And that leaves the 20 cubits of the other half of the curtain to cover the remaining 18 cubits of the Holy Place giving 2 cubits of overhang above the entrance. Now let’s add the next cover, the goat’s hair one. It is 30 cubits by 44 cubits which means it is 2 cubits longer so it would hang down 1 cubit further on each side and position it with the same 1 extra cubit of coverage on the west end. This covering was not joined in the middle, but had one part 20 cubits wide and the other 24 cubits wide. The extra panel on the wider side was to be folded in half and would be located over the entrance to the Tabernacle. So if we take 9 cubits from the 44 cubits of the cover, that leaves 35 cubits to cover the Tabernacle. As the tabernacle is only 30 cubits long, that means there would be 5 cubits hanging down over the entrance, but as we just saw, the last 4 cubit panel was folded in half so only 3 cubits actually hang down – and that means it hangs down exactly 1 cubit further than the first covering over the entrance as well as the sides and west end – something that cannot happen if the Tabernacle is any other width than 12 cubits!

And with each of the three successive inner layers being one cubit longer, you can easily position the rings for the gold covered poles so that you can tie them down. This would leave on set of poles to mount higher up on the walls to hold all the coverings away from the gold covered panels to keep them from chafing in the wind. The outer, leather cover, out be staked down, just like all the other tents.

The Cross in the Wilderness – Part 1

Have you ever seen the TV show “Expedition Unknown”? The host, a guy with a degree in archaeology, named Josh Gates, investigates the “greatest legends in history”. On one of the shows he investigates the legend of the “lost cross” of Jesus Christ. In one of the scenes of the show, he interviews an “expert” in Roman crucifixion who made the claim that due to the lack of “archaeological evidence” Jesus could not have been crucified on a “T” shaped cross, it had to have been an “X” shaped one. His reasons were: 1. Nails in the hands and feet of the victim would not support the body on a cross; 2.There is no archeological evidence for this being done; 3. It would be too difficult to raise a “T” shaped cross; and 4. Even nails in the wrists and ankles would not work – they might support a body, but the person would pass out from the pain and suffocate before they regained consciousness. And “the Romans were about torture and would not want the person to pass out and therefore not suffer while they died”. He went on to claim that the “only evidence in existence” of a Roman crucifixion, was a single heal bone (which he had) with a spike driven through it from the inside to the outside of the heal. That meant that the outside of the victim’s foot was placed against the wood of the cross and the nail was then driven through it. He concluded from all this that the Romans had to have used “X” shaped crosses.

There are several problems with his reasoning. Contrary to his claims, there are other skeletal remains from the Roman era showing nail scars in the bones of the hands and feet – and especially the ankles and wrists. Several years ago, there was another show on TV called “The Naked Archeologist”, where a guy (Simcha Jacobovici) investigated “ancient mysteries”, only this time he was a Canadian Jew investigating things from the Bible. As a self described “investigative archeologist”, he investigated the truth of the Biblical stories. And his investigations were not just things from the Hebrew Scriptures – like the Exodus – he also investigated things from the New Testament – like the crucifixion. On one of his shows he did investigate the crucifixion and was shown several sets of bones, both wrist bones and ankle bones, that had nail scares in them indicating the person had been crucified. The archaeologist who showed him these bones also told him that he had seen bones from the hands and feet with what looked like nail scars in them as well. He also talked to scholars who specialized in the written history of the time of Jesus, and they showed him several accounts of crucifixions that described what was done. They described the use of “T” shaped crosses, nails driven in the wrists and ankles, (and / or hands and feet – and even the genitals, knees and elbows) and ropes being used to tie the victim to the cross. (And by the way, these ropes would leave absolutely no “archeological evidence” for anyone to find because the evidence of their use would be in the soft tissues of the arms and legs of the body not the bones.) The ropes were used to support the body, not the nails, the nails were just used to supply the torture. Whether it is true or not I don’t know as I have not seen the historical evidence for it, but some have claimed that large “washers” were put on the nails before they were driven into the victim to keep the nail heads from being pulled through the victim’s flesh by their own weight, so the claim that nails “would not support the victim’s weight” would be irrelevant. The Romans had enough ingenuity to figure out what they needed to do to achieve the results they wanted. Just look at all the weeks of work they went through just to build a ramp so they could attack a few hundred rebels at Masada, not to mention all the roads, aqueducts, the Coliseum and other buildings and temples the built, some of which are still standing today.

And, these texts he was shown, described the feet being placed in several different positions, including being twisted sideways before being nailed in place. And as for which style of cross would be easier to raise, if you were making a permanent installation, an “X” type might work, but I think you would have a hard time putting someone on it. I don’t see how raising an “X” shaped cross would be easier than digging a single hole and using ropes, poles, and a bunch of Roman soldiers (which Roman seemed to have an unlimited supply of) to raise a “T” shaped cross into place. And once it is up, just drive some rocks or wedges in around its base to hold it in place. For the “X” shape, you would need to dig two trenches and while the beams might not need to be as long, it would still be about as heavy if not heavier because both “arms” would be the same length. And then, do you notch the beams so they lay flat, or do you just lay one on top of the other and nail them in place? If you are going to notch them, 90 degree notches are smaller and much easier to make than angled ones. But that is a lot of work to go to just to torture someone to death. Leaving them un-notched would cause much more pain, but would also leave the two arms out of alignment with each other when you go to dig the holes to put them in. And then, once upright, you have two holes to fill in to keep it in place. So all in all, I think it would require a lot more work for it than for the “traditional” cross.

However, that is not my real reason for the “T” shaped cross. My reason is the “Cross in the Wilderness”. The one that showed up several thousand years before Rome ever crucified its first victim, in fact long before Rome even existed. And that is what we are going to look at today. So what cross am I talking about? Well, actually there were two crosses in the wilderness. So where were they? I admit, they really are a bit hard to see, so I would not be surprised at all if you have never noticed them. But, if we look closely I think we will be able to see them.

Tent

Figure 1. Typical Desert Tent

In Numbers chapter 2 there is a list of the tribes of Israel that gives how many men were able to serve in the army from each tribe and where they were to camp and what order they were march in when they were moving from camp to camp while on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. It starts out, “Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.” (Numbers 2:1-2 NASB Revised) It then goes on to indicate exactly where each tribe was to camp and how many camps there were in each tribe, and who their leader was. Numbers 2:3-9 starts the list with Judah camping on the east side of the tent of meeting, and says that there were 74,600 warriors. Next is Issachar with 54,400 men; and then Zebulon with 57,400 giving a total number of warriors and their camps of 186,400. Then Numbers 2:10-16 lists those camping on the south side. First was the tribe of Reuben with 46,500 men. Then Simeon with 59,300, and then Gad with 45,650. That made a total of 151,450 warriors and their camps. Numbers 2:17 says the Levites were in the middle, and Numbers 2:18-24 lists those who were to camp on the west side. First was Ephraim with 40,500, followed by Manasseh with 32,200. Then Benjamin with 35,400. This gave them a total of 108,100 warriors and their camps. Finally, Numbers 2:25-31 lists Dan with 62,700 men. Asher had 41,500 men, and last was Naphtali with 53,400 fighting men. Their camp had a total of 157,600 warriors in it. Verse 32 gives the total of 603,550 warriors in the entire camp, but verse 33 says that the Levites were not numbered in this count.

 

Have you ever wondered why this was ever included in the Bible? I mean, who really cares who camped where and how many were in each camp? What relevance could it possibly have to anything? When you are reading through this part of the Bible, do you read it all, or are you like me and just skim through it as fast as you can to get to the “good” parts? Numbers 1:48 & 52-54 says, “For the Lord had spoken to Moses saying, . . . ‘The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.’ Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all which the Lord had commanded Moses, so they did.” They camped exactly where God told them to camp, so it must mean something don’t you think? And, then Moses wrote it all down for us to read, why? Paul tells us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so the man of God maybe adequately equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) So God must have had some reason to have Moses include it, but what is it? I believe Jesus gives us the reason. He once told a bunch of Jews who were wanting to stone Him for blasphemy, “You search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify of Me: and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have eternal life.” And a bit later in the conversation He said, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. If you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:39-40 & 45-47) So, who wrote what we just read in Numbers? Moses! And who does Jesus tell us Moses wrote about? Jesus! So, somehow, all these lists and numbers are supposed to tell us something about Jesus, but what?

encampment - error

Figure 2. Common Encampment Layout

I think we need to take a closer look at all those numbers and lists and see what they might tell us about Jesus. First, a question: Have you ever seen a drawing or painting of the camp of the Israelites in the wilderness? I bet it looked just like all the ones I’ve seen. The Tabernacle surrounded by all the tents of the people in a huge square. In Figure 2, there is one glaring problem, where are the Levites? But is that really the way they set up camp? Exactly where were the

encampment - error1

Figure 3. Drawing Showing Problem Areas

various tribes told to camp? Numbers 2:3 on the east side; Numbers 2:10 on the south side; Numbers 2:18 on the west side; and Numbers 2:25 on the north side. Now that brings up a question: Are those camped in the corners of that big square – the shaded areas of Figure 3 – north or east of the Tabernacle? North or west? South or east? Or south or west? So, how do those areas fulfill the requirement to camp to the east, north, west, or south? They don’t seem to do they? So just maybe they didn’t really camp there after all. Maybe they really did camp north, south, east, and west. Here, in Figure 4, is one version of what that might look like, but there are several problems with it. First, the

Encampment - wrong

Figure 4. Encampment Solution With 3 Problems

Levites are missing, and second, the wording of the text implies to me that the order of encampment worked outward from the Tabernacle, i.e., the leader’s tribe was nearest and each successive tribe followed as you moved outward. Not to mention the encampment was much, much larger than this!

 

Now, what about all those numbers? What significance could they possibly have? Well, let’s take a look at them. Numbers 2:9 says the camp of Judah totaled 186,400 and they were camped on the east side (verse 3). Numbers 2:16 says Reuben had 151,450 and camped on the south side (verse 10). Numbers 2:24 says Ephraim contained 108,100 and camped on the west side (verse 18). And finally the camp of Dan had 157,600 (Numbers 2:31) and camped on the north side of the Tent of Meeting (verse 25).

Oh, we can’t forget the tribe uncounted tribe – Levi. Numbers1:53 tells us that unlike the others tribes they did indeed camp “around” the Tabernacle, that their camps were to create a barrier or veil between the Tent of Meeting and the rest of the camp. Numbers 3 tells which of the families of the tribe of Levi camped where around the Tent of Meeting, and what their duties were in taking care of it and everything associated with it. However, when they were counted, neither households or warriors were counted, but every male a month old or older was counted, so we have no idea how many camps there were, but we can get relative numbers. Numbers 3:22-23 tells us 7,500 Gershonites camped “westward”. Numbers 3:28-29 says 8,600 Kohathites were camped “southward”. Numbers 3:34-35 indicates 6,200 Merarites camped “northward”. And Numbers 3:38 says only Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons camped on the east side of the Tent of Meeting. As I said earlier, we have no idea how many camps there actually were, or how the number in each family group listed would compare with the actual number of camps.

In Numbers 4 we find another listing for the tribe of Levi, this time giving the number of men between the ages of 30 and 50 who would do the actual work of caring for the Tabernacle and all its equipment. Numbers 4:36 says that of the 8,600 Kohathites camped “southward”, only 2,700 were eligible for duty. According to Numbers 4:40 only 2,630 of the 7,500 Gershonites camped “westward” could serve, and Numbers 4:44 lists 3,200 out of the 6,200 Merarites camped “northward” were eligible to care for their part of the Tabernacle.

Now did you notice something different about here the Levites were to camp? Rather than camping north, south, or west, they were to camp “northward”, “southward”, and “westward” of the Tent of Meeting, with Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons filling in on the east side. This means they completely surrounded the Tabernacle otherwise they would not have been able to create the barrier around it that God required of them.

Also, after entering the Promised Land, all the land within 2000 cubits of every Levite city belonged to the Levites so it is believed by most scholars that the same applied here, that all the land within 2000 cubits of the Most Holy Place (or more precisely, the Ark of the Covenant) “belonged” to the Levites. And it is this square that the rest of the camp is located off of. This makes a lot of sense, can you imagine how long the east side of the camp would be if it was only the 12 cubits north to south of the Tabernacle? That would give you two rows of tents facing each other, and with 186,400 camps, that means there would be 93,200 tents in each row! If each tent took up about 20 cubits then the rows would be 1,864,000 cubits long, or 2,796,00 feet (529.5 miles)! Even using the 50 cubits of the court yard would still give you about 7 rows of tents 527,759.6 cubits long or 791,631.9 feet (149.9 miles). However, using the 2000 cubit square would allow around 282 rows which would make it 13,193.9 cubits long or 19,790.8 feet (3.75 miles). And before someone complains about my math, there are different cubits, the Holy things – including the Levitical area – used the “long” cubit of 25.43 inches while the common, 18 inch cubit, was used to buy and sell things and the royal cubit of 20.6 inches was used in construction. So the 2000 cubit area for the Levites would actually be 2825.6 common cubits or 4238 feet 4 inches square.

One other thing I should mention, Numbers 10:3 indicates that the entire camp was to assemble “before Moses at the door of the Tent of Meeting” at various times, and Exodus 38:13-14 tells us that the gateway to the courtyard around the Tent of Meeting was on the east side. So now we know why only Moses, Aaron, and his sons camped there. There needed to be a clear area for the camp to assemble in, and as indicated in Numbers 3:38, their camps were to be part of the barrier between the Tabernacle and the rest of the camp. With only their 5 camps (7 before Nadab and Abihu were put to death by God for burning “strange” fire) on the east side, this would provide the space required. With the area provided by the 2000 cubit square, there would be enough space for every male counted for any reason in the census to have 6 additional family members without using any of the area west of the east end of the courtyard

Now here is where it gets interesting, if we have the rest of the tribes camp directly east, north, west, and south of the Tabernacle, then the numbers in each “camp” create something interesting. Did you notice that Dan and Reuben had very similar numbers in their camps – 157,600 vs, 151,600? And Judah with 186,400 had many more than Ephraim did with only 108,100? And each of these pairs of camps are opposite each other? So, what would the camp look like if we take all that into account?

Encampment Cross

Figure 5. Cross Encampment

Interesting isn’t? That is why I believe in the traditional T shaped cross. A cross, hidden in a bunch of numbers and instructions on where each tribe was supposed to camp! And like me, I bet you normally just rushed through all that thinking it didn’t have any relevance to us today.

 

So why is this so important? Because it is meant to draw our attention to an even more important cross. But to see that cross we will need to go to The Cross in the Wilderness – Part 2

Giving, Again?

Giving. We hear a lot about it. It seems like everyone is looking for “donations”. It is not just churches any more. It is getting so it feels like every time I go to the mailbox there is another letter asking for money for one “worthy” project or another. And then there are all the “TV evangelists” telling us, “If you want to be ‘prosperous’ send us lots of money and God will bless you.” By which they mean He will make you rich. Even Jesus told one rich man to sell every thing he owned and give the money to the poor. And the Bible is full of instructions on caring for the poor and needy. So it seems like giving is something we should be doing. But how should we look at giving? Is it really a way to get on God’s “good side”? A way to “earn points” with God? Or is it something else entirely?

A few months ago I turned on the radio just in time to hear part of a song by the Gaither Vocal Band called “Give it Away”. The bit of the song I heard talked about giving away whatever God gives us rather than keeping it for ourselves. And that got me to thinking about what Jesus had to say about how we should treat others. Luke recorded it this way, “Treat other people as you would like them to treat you. What credit is it to you if you love only those who love you? Why, even sinners love those who love them. What credit is it to you if you do good only to those who do good to you? Even sinners do that. What credit is it to you if you lend only to those who you expect will pay you back? Even sinners lend to each other, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing back! Your reward will be great, and you will be children of Ha‘Elyon [the Most High]; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Show compassion, just as your Father shows compassion. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive gifts — the full measure, compacted, shaken together and overflowing, will be put right in your lap. For the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure back to you!” (Luke 6:31-38 The Complete Jewish Bible)

So are all those TV preachers correct? Will we get rich if we send them our money? After all Jesus does tell us to give and He will bless us. Yes He did say that, however, He said we are to show compassion as part of our giving. Do you really think sending your money to someone who lives in a million dollar mansion is “showing compassion”? Or do you think that just maybe Jesus meant we should be helping those who really need our help? After all, He did say to help those who can not repay you in any way. (He did not say to send your money to those who are too selfish to repay you!) And when we help them we should be just as generous as God is with us. In fact, Jesus said He will use whatever measure we chose to bless others to bless us. If we choose to use a small measure and to use it grudgingly, then that is how we will be blessed – not much at all. However, if we give with a large measure and fill it so full that it runs over into the other person’s lap, then that is how God will bless us. But don’t expect to be able to stop giving and have those blessings continue so you can be rich. As soon as you stop blessing others so you can start filling your own barns, God will stop blessing you and let you get by on your own. God does not believe in the popular “give to get” principle that is taught in so many churches today.

Jesus had this to say about those who want to keep what they get for themselves, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16b-21 NASB Revised) I do need to point out that Jesus did not condemn the man for “storing up” for the future, but that he did so selfishly. He had no desire at all to help anyone but himself with what he had been given. So, yes, we can put aside money for the future, but not to the exclusion of helping others now. We are also to be “rich toward God” at the same time, and we do this by helping those in need that God puts in our lives.

I have noticed something interesting in all this, when I am freely using what God gives me to bless others, God’s measure always seems to be bigger than mine. I have a very hard time keeping up with Him. But that allows me to help more people! And the more people I help, the more God gives me to help them with.

However, I have also learned that something else can happen as well. God may choose to test you to see just what it is you are relying on – Him or His blessings. And He does this by stopping those blessings completely. Sources of income may go away, you might lose a job, you might be faced with huge medical bills, or car repair bills, or need to buy a different car. You might even have to move to a different part of the country. And you will not have enough money for any of this. And God is asking you, “Is it my money you are after or is it Me you are seeking? Are you willing to put yourself completely in My hands and rely totally on Me and let me deal with all this or do you just want me to give you some more money so you can take care of it yourself?”

It is when we let go completely and say, “OK God, it’s all yours, I choose not deal with this on my own. It is Yours to do with as You see fit and I will accept what ever you choose” that the most fantastic things happen. Money will come in just in time to pay that bill, the car that is not supposed to run will keep going in spite of the broken parts, the most amazing “coincidences” will happen, you will never have enough money to “make it to the next payday”, but you will anyway as long as you are honoring God with what He gives you. I am not saying we just sit back and do nothing, but I am saying that we only do what God gives us to do. And that is the hardest part. It is all too easy to jump in and start saying, “I can do it now” when God is not ready for us. But then on the other hand, we better not refuse to move when God says, “OK, it is time now.” And that can be a hard-line to walk at times. Many people seem to think they can just “sit back and let God do it all” when God wants to work through us, to guide us, and direct us as we do what He wants us to do. But on the other hand, it is just as easy to want to get in there and take care of it ourselves because, who better than us knows what needs to be done, right? But don’t you think an omniscient God might know even more about the situation than you do?

And we also have a tendency to plan for the worst case scenario. I’m not saying we shouldn’t consider what could go wrong and plan for it, but all to often that is where we stop planning. We never even think about what we would do if God gave us way more than we need.

I read a story a while ago about the team that is working on the Hope Radio station that is being built near the Hospital of Hope in Mango, Togo, West Africa. I will let them tell the story in their own words:

“For more than three years a team of ABWE missionaries [Association of Baptists for World Evangelism] has been preparing for Hope Radio, and when it came time for construction, they planned several months of focused, fervent prayer for the fund-raising. Just a few days after they began praying, a local businessman got in contact with Evan Drake the father of Hope Radio missionary Adam Drake. The businessman said he’d like to contribute and asked how much the radio project needed. Evan told him that $25,000 would give them enough to construct the first building on the site, and he appeared to be seriously considering the large mount. Evan was encouraged by the way God seemed to be providing so abundantly just a few days into the prayer campaign.

“Then, a couple of days later, the businessman came back with a check and a sheet detailing the building costs for the entire project. The man had circled every number on the sheet, added all the costs together, then tacked on several thousand dollars to cover miscellaneous expenses, and handed over a check for ten times more than what was originally asked for.”

Pretty nice answer to prayer isn’t it? Or is it? Yes, they were praying for God to fund the project, but when God answered and sent the man He had chosen to provide the funding, it turns out that in reality they were only expecting, at best, $25,000 from him, enough for just the first phase of the project. An indication of this is the man asked, “How much do you need?” and they answered with what it would cost for the first building. But did you notice who God sent them? It seems that this businessman either knew something about building radio stations or knew people who did, because when he came back with his donation, he had gone through their plans and apparently found some things that they might have overlooked. Why else add extra money to their planned budget? And he had written them a check, not for a small part of the first phase of construction, not for a large part of it, not even for all of the first phase, but for the entire project! When they first met this man, they were hoping for, at best, $25,000, but God gave them more money than they thought they would need for the entire job. They thought they had planned for everything, they thought they were dreaming big by hoping God would lead this man to give them enough to build the first building, but He sent them a man who either knew more about these kinds of jobs and what they would really cost than they did, or he knew who to ask to find out what he needed to know, AND God gave him a such heart for the radio project that he was willing to fund it completely himself. Even though they were supposed to be praying for God to fund the entire project, it turns out their “dreaming big” was only enough to build the first building. God’s “dream big” plan for them was more than they thought they would need for the whole job!

As the Apostle Paul said, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think [imagine – NIV], according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NASB Revised)

God CAN do what we ask, He can even do MORE than we can think or imagine! (And I have a real good imagination!) How often do we sell God short because we are just planning for the short fall, when we should also be planning for the excess?

Another thing to think about, do you really think God needs your money? In fact do you think He really wants your money? Or is it something else He is truly after? King Saul tried to use the excuse that the reason he had not done as God had commanded and killed all the livestock of the Amalekites, was that “the people forced me to do it so we could make sacrifices to God.” (See 1 Samuel 15) In other words “We didn’t do what God told us to do so we could give God gifts.” This is what God had the Prophet Samuel tell him, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

God isn’t looking for our money, do you really think the God of all the Universe really needs our money? He is really looking to see if we will do what He wants us to do. It reminds me of a Christian music group from England back in the 90’s. The name of the group was “Six Pence None the Wiser”. The reason they had chosen that name is they felt that everything we have is given to us by God and we think we are doing Him a great service by giving Him part of it back in our tithes, offerings, and service. We are acting like little kids who go to their dad and ask for “six pence” so they can buy him a gift, and think they have done something great for him, being “none the wiser” that they used his money to buy him the gift, so really didn’t give him anything at all.

It doesn’t matter how much or how little we have, whatever we have we were given by God. And when God gives us things, He expects us to bless others just as He has blessed us. We should never look at what we have as something we are due, but as what God has given us stewardship of. It is what He has put us in control of, and He expects us to put it to good use. We are to use it to help others. And we should not be asking, “What is the minimum I can get away with giving.” But, “God, what do you want me to do with this? Who do you want me to help with what you have given me?” As Jesus said, “Give, and you will receive gifts — the full measure, compacted, shaken together and overflowing, will be put right in your lap. For the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure back to you!” Not for you to keep in your clenched fist, but for you to hold out to others that God will lead you to.

Has God blessed you? How often do you stop by the coffee shop and spend a couple of dollars? Two or three times a week? Once a day? More? There are countries in this world where people live on less than $3 a day. Gives you a different view of what the “poverty level” really is doesn’t? What are you doing with whatever He has given you? Are you using it to bless those around you? Or are you holding on to it with a clenched fist? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth or rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) Where is your heart? Where is your treasure?

Palms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation , but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; . . .” (Ephesians 5:18 – 19 NASB Revised)

I have read these verses many times over the years and have often wondered why Paul used the words he chose. I mean, just what is the difference between a hymn and a spiritual song? And what, exactly, is a psalm? Is it another word for a song? Is it a poem? A prayer? What?

So I decided to find out what the words meant. Not what we might think they mean now, but what they meant to Paul and those in Ephesus who heard his letter read. And it turns out that their meanings are much different than the way they are used in churches today and therefore what I have always thought the words meant.

So what did I find? Well, the Greek words are very interesting. Because most translations try to use a single word (what is known as a “word for word translation”) we have lost some interesting nuances that English just can’t convey with a single word. To say the same things in English can sometimes take a whole sentence. So let’s look at each word in turn, and I will end with my best attempt at putting it all together so we can see what the Ephesians might have understood Paul to have written in his letter to them.

The first word I looked up was “speaking” and it means “uttering intelligible sounds, talking, speaking”. So whatever it is we are to do, it must be understandable to those who are listening to us. That is rather straight forward so let’s move on to the next word.

Paul says to speak or talk to each other (he actually said “themselves” or as we would say in English “yourselves”) first using psalms. So we need to know what he means. Are we supposed to be able to make up poems on the spot to use to talk to each other in church? I don’t know about you but if that is what he meant than I guess I won’t be talking to anyone in church any more! I can’t make up a poem even if I’m given days – or even weeks – to work on it, so there is no way in the world I would be able to carry on a conversation using poetry. So I checked the lexicon to see what Paul was saying. And that is where I got my first surprise. Here is basically what a psalm is: “The striking or twanging of a chord from a musical instrument, or to pluck or hit the strings of a musical instrument to play a chord.” So a psalm is actually instrumental music. It could be just instruments playing a song, or it could be the music played as background to a poem or other “reading”, but it actually refers to the instrumental part of the music not the vocal part.

So how do we get a whole book of the Bible that is called “The Psalms”? I believe it is because these prayers and poems were written specifically to be either sung or read to musical accompaniment. If you read the “headings” of many of the Psalms (what some translations call verse 1 and others almost ignore) you will find that the specific music that is to be played while the Psalm is being read or sung is indicated. It is too bad that those songs have been lost, it would be interesting to hear the “Psalms” the way they were originally intended to be heard.

And then there are hymns. Today we tend to think they are “old” songs, ones that are “traditional” and by that we usually mean ones that are always played on an organ, only people over 70 know all the words to them, and are written using language that hasn’t been in daily use for 300 years. However, that is not what the word meant when Paul used it. A hymn is a “praise song to gods, heroes, or conquerors”. There can be a “religious” nature to the piece of music, but that is not required for it to be a hymn. I’ve always been led to believe that hymns by their very nature are always religious, but it turns out they can be secular as well! However, as used here by Paul, it is definately “religious” and would therefore mean a praise song to Yahweh.

Finally we get to “spiritual songs”. This one turns out to be rather easy. The word translated as “songs” is the generic word for songs, any song – religious or not. Classical symphony music or drinking songs. It doesn’t matter, it covers them all. So it is the word translated as “spiritual” that designates just what kind of songs Paul is talking about. And that word literally means “of the spirit”. Paul is referring to songs “of the spirit (or Spirit)” or “spiritual”. It turns out that these two words, at least, can be translated into English easily after all. However, we need to remember that Paul is not telling us what style of music to use, rather he is telling us what the nature of music should be. He is not saying it can only be classical music, or it can only be praise songs. He is not saying what kind of instruments may or may not be used. Nor is he saying how old or new the songs must be. What he is saying, however, is that they must be songs whose content is clearly in line with Biblical truth and are therefore “spiritual” or “Spirit led” (or “Spirit inspired”) songs.

Psalms – instrumental music; hymns – may or may not be “religious” in nature; songs – generic songs, only spiritual because that is how Paul designated them. Not quite what you were expecting either? Doesn’t seem to make a super “spiritual” list after all does it? But it is the list Paul used, and that is what the Greek words really mean. So those are the types of songs we are to be using to speak to each other, and Paul gives them ALL spiritual meaning, even instrumental music.

Then after telling us we should be speaking to each other in psalms, hymns, etc., he goes on to say we are to also be “singing and making melody” with our hearts to the Lord. So just what does he want us to do? Well, the word translated as “singing” happens to mean just that, singing. However, making melody is a bit harder to express completely in English and it also turns out to be a surprise. Making melody means: “To pluck or twang the strings of a musical instrument. To play a musical instrument.” Interesting isn’t? Instrumental music is just as valid as vocal music when used to praise God! That is a bit different than what many in the church claim today isn’t it? I have even heard people claim it is impossible to worship God with an instrumental song – that if it has no words it can not praise God. And yet, here is Paul, telling us to play musical instruments “with our heart[s], to the Lord!” So it seems that the Apostle Paul believed it is possible to praise God with instrumental music.

One reason I have often heard for “outlawing” instrumental music in church (instrumental accompaniment is just fine as are piano and organ pieces) is that it is “just the musician showing off.” My question is, “What exactly is the difference between a singer doing a solo and an instrumentalist doing one?” Yes, the singer is (usually) using words but I have heard lot of vocalist who do a whole lot of “showing off” vocally. So how is that OK while a musician worshiping God by giving Him an offering of their instrumental music is wrong? And why is it OK to play piano or organ solos, no matter how much embellishment there is (showing off when anyother instrumentalist does it)? Personally, I think I will go with what Paul says, sing or play, as long as it is “of the Spirit” and “to God”. Once you start doing it for yourself I don’t care what you are doing, it is wrong – even if the WORDS are in praise or worship of God.

And we are are to do all this with our “heart” whatever that means. To the Greeks, the word means: Literally – “The heart, the organ that pumps blood throughout the body. Metaphorically – the center of the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental being.” So Paul wants all of this to come from inside us, from the very core of our being, and to be done with “everything we are”. In other words, this can not be done half heartedly, or with the attitude that “close is good enough, God sees what is in our hearts”. It must be done to the absolute best of our ability, we are to give it “everything we’ve got”. When we become Christians, we are to go “all in”, we are to give God everything, and Paul says that when we “sing and make melody” it to is to be “all in” also. We are to give everything we are to God in our music as well!

And something else, did you remember that these songs, no matter what kind, style, or method of presentation, are to be used to “speak to one another”? “Well,” I hear someone say, “that settles it, you have to use words so that means no instrumental songs after all!” Not so fast. Music, even (especially) instrumental music, can and does communicate emotionally. Can you listen to a “fugue” without feeling just a bit “down” or sad? Doesn’t surprise me, originally they were written as funeral processionals. Can you listen to the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” – even without the words being sung – and not smile, or at least feel like smiling? Or even dancing? That doesn’t surprise me either, the style of music used really is a dance – a sailor’s jig. So, yes, even instrumental music can be used to “speak” to someone else, to convey a message on an emotional level or even a spiritual level rather than an intellectual one.

And he wants us to do this to the “Lord”. The word “lord” is an interesting one. It means: “He to whom a person or thing belongs, master, owner, ruler, sovereign.” So for a believer that would be either Yeshua (Jesus) or Yahweh (God). And Paul reminds us that whether we are singing or playing, our music ultimately, is not for the people listening, but for God – the One we have surrendered our lives to.

No, I haven’t forgotten verse 18. It is much easier to understand so I started with verse 19. There are only three words that are hard to translate from Greek to English. The first is the word “drunk”. I was really surprised to find out that what Paul actually said was, “don’t drink to become drunk or intoxicated” with wine. So Paul isn’t against drinking, but he is against getting drunk, especially doing so intentionally. The reason he gives is that doing so leads to “reckless and extravagant expenditure, chiefly for the gratification of one’s sensual desires. It denotes a dissolute and profligate course of life.” All that in one word! Try saying that with just one English word! That is the word the translators chose to use “dissipation ” for. It doesn’t quite cover it completely does it? Instead of that we are to be filled with the Spirit.

What isn’t very obvious in English is this is a command. Paul is commanding his listeners to be filled with the Spirit. And there is one other thing to note. He is also telling them to be completely filled – literally filled to the full. It is only when we are “filled to the full” by the Holy Spirit, that we can sing songs and play our instruments without any vestiges of selfish indulgence being involved. If we are not filled by the Holy Spirit when we perform, then we will become proud when people complement us rather than giving God the glory for whatever happened. Our music will be for us rather than for God.

Oh, one other thing – why do I use “and also” when the translators use a single word – usually “and, also, or even, etc.”? (“And” in the NASB above.) The Greek word has both an additive component and a copulative or joining together meaning. So, the additive meaning – and; along with its copulative meaning – also. I don’t know a single English word that has that meaning so I use “and also” together in an attempt to better convey the complete meaning. I know it doesn’t sound like much of a difference, and it isn’t really, but it does change the meaning of the word just enough that “and” is not quite right, nor are any of the other choices – by themselves. You need to put a couple of words together to get the full meaning of the Greek word. I guess other ways you could say it is: It is this “plus also” that or this “plus with” that. But they seem a bit unwieldy don’t they? So – this “and also” that. In this case Paul is adding and including each of these instructions to and with what he has just finished telling his listeners to do. (Paul’s letters were read to the entire church rather than being read by each individual.) These are not just another line item on a list, but an integral part of a way of life Paul is telling his readers to live. They can not be taken one at a time, but must be taken as a whole. (Sorry, the rest of the instructions will have to wait for another time. Or, better yet, study them for yourself!)

And now to put it all together:

“And also, don’t drink to be intoxicated on wine, by which is reckless and extravagant expenditures on the gratification of selfish desires, but you must be completely filled by the Spirit, speaking to each other with instrumental music, and also praise songs to Yaweh, and also spiritual songs, singing and also playing your musical instruments with all your being to Yeshua who is your Sovereign.”

The Substitution

Introduction: This is a bit of a departure for me. My writing is normally of an expository nature, and this is definitely not. It is, however, a bit of an exposition on a name, one whose meaning is overlooked in the telling of a much bigger story – that of the crucifixion. But the meaning of this name has some very profound implications to that bigger story that we totally miss because we do not know what that meaning is. And that is what this story is all about.

For those who are not familiar with Hebrew terms, I have included a glossary of the names and words I have used at the end of the story. I have also added a few comments about the background for the story as well. I hope you enjoy my exploration of the life of this overlooked man and his unusual name.

 The Story

This English language of yours is a really strange language. You only have five letters that are vowels but you have so many different sounds for each one of those letters! How is anyone supposed to know how to pronounce anything you write? And then there is your strange insistence on changing people’s names – at least those whose names are not “English” names. Why do you do it? Why do you not let people keep their own names? It is all so confusing!

Take my father’s name for instance, you pronounce his name as if it were DAY-vid, rather than the way it should be pronounced, daw-VEED. And then there is my name, why you insist on spelling it with a “J” is something I do not understand. Especially since there is no equivalent to the letter “J” in Hebrew, in fact we do not have that sound at all in any form. I can understand why you spell it with two S’s, that is because of the Greek influence on those in the Diaspora. For some reason the Greeks insist on adding the last “S” simply because my name ends in a vowel, however I do not know why they have the first one. You see, there are no S’s in my name at all. I do have an “SH” sound in my name, but unlike in English it is not two letters, but a single letter.

What? You do not know how to spell my name? Why not? It is not that hard to sp. . . Oh, yes, that is right I have not told you my name have I? So how could you know what I am talking about! I am sorry! So, . . . my name. . . . I was named Yeshua Ben-David at birth, although you might know me better by a, . . . a title – I guess you could call it – that my followers gave me. I was known for years as Bar-Abba. (I know, I know, you think my name should be Jesus, and my title should be “Barabbas”. But I am Hebrew not Greek, and I am from Eretz-Yisra’el not from somewhere in the Diaspora, so my name and title would be in Hebrew not Greek would they not?) I do not know if you know it or not, but Bar-Abba actually means “Son of the Father” in your language. The reason I was given that name is a bit complicated and actually goes clear back to the events surrounding my birth.

You see, I was born in Beit-Lechem, the City of David. I was born the year everyone was required to return to their ancestral home town to be registered in Rome’s worldwide census. As with everyone in Y’hudah and Eretz-Yisra’el, and well, . . . even the people of the Diaspora, my parents had to return to my father’s tribal hometown in Yisra’el to be registered. It did not matter that my mother, Rachel, was pregnant, nor did it matter that we lived less than half a day’s travel away in Yerushalayim, and my father could have made the trip to Beit-Lechem and back in a single day and still had time to do whatever he needed to do as often as needed. No, our entire family had to go for the entire time it took to be registered. And with as many people who were there, the registration process took weeks.

Well, you guessed it, they had to go just before I was due to be born, and so I was born in Beit-Lechem rather than at home in Yerushalayim. Due to the registration process, and because of my birth and the regulations my parents needed to obey as observant Y’hudim, we lived in Beit-Lechem for sometime after I was born. Actually, we were there for several months.

I do not know how long we would have stayed there if it were not for a message my parents received from my mother’s sister back in Yerushalayim. She worked and lived in Herod’s household, actually she was a handmaiden to Herod’s wife, so she got to overhear a lot of things that went on in Court. And what she had to say scared my parents to death. She warned them that some Goyim from the East had visited the Court and had caused quite a disturbance.

It seems they had informed Herod that according to some prophecies they had in their keeping, it was time for the “King of the Y’hudim” to be born. So they had come to honor Him as was proper. The problem was, Herod did not have a new child, nor was his wife pregnant, and he already had an heir, so if what these Magi said was true, then somewhere a child had been born who could challenge the Herodean dynasty’s claim to the throne.

Herod pretended to go along with the Magi in wanting to honor this new king, so he questioned them about their prophecies. When he found out that they were from their chief Magi from over 500 years earlier, a man they said was a Hebrew named Dani’el, Herod told them that he would search the records the Y’hudim Torah-teachers and Rabbis kept to see if he could find any information that Dani’el might have given to the people returning to Y’hudah that might help them find the new king. And they would also see if any of the other prophets had recorded anything that would help. As the search might take several days, he told them they could rest from their journey in the guest quarters.

After they left for their quarters, Herod called for the head cohanim and the leading Torah-teachers and Rabbis. After he had given them an account of what had happened, he asked them where this “king” was supposed to be born. Although they knew what the prophecies foretold, they told Herod they needed to do some research “just to make sure”.

After making Herod wait for two days, they returned and informed him that the prophecies proclaimed that the coming prince would be born in Beit-Lechem as the prophet Mikhah foretold:

“And you, Beit-Lechem in the land of Y’hudah, are by no means the least among the rulers of Y’hudah; for from you will come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Yisra’el.”

Herod thanked them and after he gave them a very generous “donation” to keep them quiet and sent them back to their duties, he called for the Magi. He informed them that they would be able to find the new king in Beit-Lechem. He asked them to find out exactly where this new “king” was and then come back to Yerushalayim and tell him so he could go and honor him as well.

The Magi agreed, and set out. What he did not tell them, and what my aunt was warning my parents about was that Herod had no intention of honoring this new king. What he really had planned was to send several squads of soldiers to Beit-Lechem and the surrounding area to kill any new born males they could find, and just to be on the safe side, because of some of the things the Magi had told him, he decided have them kill all males under the age of two. And to make sure no one knew of this new “king” he gave orders to kill the Magi as soon as they left Yerushalayim to return to their home country. And to prevent a war, they were to make it look like Bedouin raiders had attacked and looted their caravan and killed everyone in it.

Fortunately for me, my aunt overheard Herod telling his wife about his plans, and she was able to send a warning in time for my parents to pack a few things together and leave town. My father was afraid Herod’s men might learn about them having lived there and that they had left recently, and did not want to risk them finding us in Yerushalayim, or anywhere else in Y’hudah, so we left the country completely. He thought that the safest place for us to be was Egypt, because Herod and the Roman governor of Egypt were not on friendly terms, so that is where he took us.

And so I survived the slaughter of all the male babies in Beit-Lechem. My parents always taught me that Yahweh had protected me, and that was the only reason I was alive when so many others were not. Because of His protection my mother was not the “Rachel” foretold by the prophet Yirmeyahu:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and lamenting loudly. It was Rachel sobbing for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they were no longer alive.”

Later in life, when my followers learned of these events in my life, they too agreed with this belief and gave me the sobriquet “Bar-Abba” because they believed that Yahweh must consider me his “son” to have protected me like that. So they called me “Son of the Father”.

Well, back to Egypt. We lived there for several years – in fact we did not return to Eretz-Yisra’el until my aunt sent word that Herod had died and his son was ruling Y’hudah. And as far as she could tell, he was not interested in anything about the Magi and their news about a newborn king so she thought it was now safe to return to Yerushalayim.

My father however, did not agree, so when we returned we did not even try to find a place to live in Y’hudah, but went all the way to the Galil to live outside a town known as Natzeret. He thought that it was far enough from Yerushalayim that Archelaus would not find us even if he ever did want to do anything about the Magi’s announcement of a rival king, and learned that his father had not killed all the newborn males when he slaughtered all those babies. By living just outside of the city we would also be out of the regular notice of the Romans who occupied it and therefore should be fairly safe. However we would still be close enough for me to study under the Torah-teachers at the synagogue until it was time for me to go Yerushalayim to study under Gamli-el.

When I grew up and it came time for me to leave home to continue my studies, I went to live with relatives in Yerushalayim. It was while I was there, that I learned what my destiny was to be. You see, I never did get to study under Gamli-el as his school was full and besides that he was focused on teaching his star talmid, one from the Diaspora, although a Y’hudim he was also a Roman citizen named Paul, or as he was known in Eretz-Yisra’el, Sha’ul, from a city in Cilicia called Tarsus. Maybe if I had been able to join Gamli’el as one of his talmidim my life might have turned out differently. And in some ways that would have been a good thing, but in others, I am not so sure, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The Torah-teacher I did studied under was a very nationalistic Rabbi. And it was from him that I learned that it was my calling to restore Y’hudah and drive the Romans out. Oh I learned the Ta’nakh just like a normal talmid, but I also learned that Eretz-Yisra’el must be purified before Yahweh could once again bless us. And it was under his teaching that I came to understand that, due to the events surrounding my birth and my miraculous deliverance, I was anointed by Yahweh to be the one to free Y’hudah and bring about the purification of Eretz-Yisra’el.

As with so many in Eretz-Yisra’el I did take time from my studies to go and listen to an itinerant Rabbi that was creating quite a bit of controversy. He had a way of talking about the things of the Torah that was very different than my Rabbi, or any other Rabbi I had heard for that matter. He never seemed to think he needed to quote any other Rabbi in the history of our people as authority for what he had to say. He taught as if he inherently had all the authority he needed for his new message.

I did enjoy listening to him, and I did have some interesting discussions with the other talmidim of the various Rabbis about what he had to say, but he did not seem all that interested in getting rid of the Romans, and the rest of what he had to say did not agree with the teachings of my Rabbi. I did have several long talks with one of the talmid of another Rabbi, Gamli’el, that Sha’ul I mentioned earlier. He was much better versed in the Ta’nakh than I, and even with all he knew we could not reconcile these new teachings with what our Rabbis were teaching us. And so I decided to just concentrate on my studies and forget about the new teachings of this Rabbi Yeshua.

So after finishing my studies I set about fulfilling my destiny. It did not take long to gather a group of likeminded men to help drive out the defilers. We started small, mostly just harassment type operations against outlaying Roman outposts. We thought that as we attacked more and more of their outposts the Romans would have to send more and more men to staff them and of course send larger supply caravans to provision them, which we could also attack. And that would require larger escorts which would mean even more men involved. Our aim was to make it so expensive in men and materials to maintain all the small garrisons that Rome had placed all over Eretz-Yisra’el that they would eventually abandon them and move all the troops into the cities. Once they had moved them all into the cities the Y’hudim would finally get fed up with their oppressive presence and they would join us in driving them out.

The problem was, it did not working very fast, well actually it really did not work much at all. We did manage to get a couple of the garrisons closed, but not as many as we thought we would be able too. So over time the things we were willing to do escalated. Our attacks got larger and more violent, and still the Romans insisted on staying. Finally I decided we needed to change our tactics. Instead of focusing on the Romans in the countryside we needed to attack them where they were in larger groups and where they felt safest – the cities. And what better city to start with than Yerushalayim?

And that is what lead to my downfall. I lead an uprising right in Yerushalayim itself. It started off fairly well, we managed to get quite a large following together, and we started our offensive. But then things went horribly wrong. I and two of my followers killed several Roman sympathizers. Oh, we had not set out to kill anyone, it just sort of happened when thing got out of hand during our attack, and before we knew it, three people lay dead at our feet.

It would not have been a huge problem except the Romans caught us almost immediately. And with all the witnesses, they knew exactly who was responsible. Even so, because we had not killed any Romans all they would have done normally would have been to flog us or at worst scourge us. However, rather than flogging or even scourging and releasing us, the governor, Pilate, decided that we needed to be used to warn others to not resist Rome’s rule. So he ordered us to be crucified.

To make matters worse he decreed that we be crucified just before the Feast of Unleavened Bread while everyone was in Yerushalayim for the celebration. There were even thousands of Y’hudim from all over the Diaspora so we were going to be a good “bad” example, at least in his eyes.

And so I came to my last morning. It was the Preparation Day before the High Shabbat, the first Shabbat of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Pesach Lambs would be sacrificed that afternoon, but I would not be sacrificing a lamb this time, no, I would not be celebrating the Pesach this year – or any year – ever again. I did not understand it, I was Bar-Abba, mashiach of Yahweh. How could I end up here? What happened? Had I offended Yahweh somehow? Was He discarding me for not doing what He wanted me to do? In desperation I cried out, Elohi, oh, Elohi, where are you? Why have you abandoned me? But all I heard in answer, was a deafening silence.

The questions would not stop. I had thought that my old Rabbi might visit and I would be able to ask him, but he never came. Did he try and the Romans refuse to let him in? Or did he not even bother? Had he too abandoned me? No one came, none of my former talmidim friends, none of my relatives, not a single one of my followers – no one. I was totally abandoned.

Well, the time came, or at least the soldiers did, and rather than taking me to the yard as I expected, they took me outside the Praetorium to the Gabta. Why there? I had already faced judgment once and my sentence had been decreed, there was no need to judge me again was there? I was so caught up in my own internal struggles that it took me a bit to notice the mob . . . and the other prisoner. He looked bad. He had bruises everywhere. He had been so badly beaten that you could not even tell who he was. I was amazed he still had the strength to stand up!

But my attention was jerked away from him by what happened next. Pilate motioned to my guards and they dragged me over to stand by the other prisoner. Pilate’s next words took my breath away. Motioning to the two of us, he called out to the mob before him, “Who do you want me to release to you, Yeshua, Bar-Abba? Or Yeshua of Natzeret, who you call the king of the Y’hudim?” But I was Yeshua from Natzeret, what was he talking about? Then it came to me who this other man was, he was the Rabbi Yeshua, everyone was so excited about, the one they called Mashiach. I had never known he was from Natzeret just as I was. And we had the same name too! This was really, really, strange.

But what happened next was even harder to believe. A voice I instantly recognized bellowed MY name! It was my old Rabbi! And his voice was immediately joined by hundreds of others shouting my name. But why me? They knew what I had done. They knew I had killed some of our own people – even if they were collaborators. The other Yeshua had done nothing wrong, but instead of calling for him to be released, the man who had healed so many of our sick and infirm, they called for me. I had heard he had freed people from demon possession and had even raised three people from the dead! And they wanted me released to them? Pilate asked them what they wanted him to do with the other Yeshua, and they yelled, “Crucify him, Crucify him!” Had they gone mad? It seemed even Pilate thought so because he asked, “Why, what crime has he committed that is worthy of death?”

But rather than give him an answer, they just kept shouting, “Crucify him” over and over and over. And the more Pilate tried to set him free and hold me the louder and more threatening the mob got, until he finally had had enough. He called for a basin of water and after ceremoniously washing his hands declared, “I wash my hands of this man’s blood!” And the mob’s response chilled my bones, “His blood will be on us and on our children!”

And then reluctantly Pilate turned to my guards and motioned for them to set me free. How could this be? I had committed murder and I was going free? Even Pilate said the other Yeshua was innocent and did not deserve to die, but he was going to be crucified anyway? I stood there frozen, expecting them to suddenly grab me and put me back in chains, but it did not happen, instead one of the guards gave me a shove and in disgust told me to get out of his sight.

I stumbled down the steps and blindly made my way through the still chanting mob. But as I came to the side gate that lead to the interior of the Praetorium, I stopped in my tracks. This Yeshua had been chosen to die in my place. I was guilty and deserved to die, not him, but the people had insisted he be substituted for me. There was no way I could walk away from this, I was going to have to follow this to the very end. So I moved off to one side and waited to see what would happen next.

It was not long before they came, and in shock I saw that Yeshua had been placed between my two men – he was quite literally taking my place! But maybe it was just a coincidence and things would change once they got to Gulgolta. It was then I noticed that even though he had already been beaten at least once, they had scourged him, badly. It looked like they had almost killed him it was so bad. I had thought he was weak from the beatings he had received before, but now it was even worse. He was so weak from his wounds that he could just barely stand and there was no way he could carry his cross as the Romans demanded of criminals. So one of the guards grabbed a man from the crowd and forced him to carry it for him.

Once they finally got to the execution grounds, they did indeed put him in my place in the middle. You see, I had been the leader of the insurrection and was considered the worst offender and therefore was to be crucified in the middle of my men. That was the place where they put the worst criminals, and for some perverse reason, that was where they put Yeshua, the only innocent man there.

The soldiers had the man who was carrying his cross drop it between my two men. And then something weird happened. It was while they were driving the spikes through his hands and feet, that Yeshua cried out, “Abba, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing!” I looked around to see who he was calling to, and wondering who it could be that it would matter if they forgave the solders or not, but there was no one around that looked like they might be his father. When I looked back at him to see if I could tell who he was looking at, I saw something strange – he was looking up, at the sky. Why would he do that? What did it mean? Or did it mean nothing and was just a coincidence? Had I missed who he was looking at and now he was just laying back and “accidentally” looking up?

Although it did make me wonder, there had been stories I had heard where people claimed he had said things many times that had really made the head cohanim, the leading Torah-teachers, and our other leaders furious. It was reported that he had called Yahweh his father. Was he asking Yahweh to forgive these men? Was he once again calling Yahweh his father? Was he claiming to be Bar-Abba? The question kept me rooted to the spot. Somehow I had to find out the answer. And so I stayed through it all – all the ridicule, all the derision, all the abuse.

Even my two men joined the mob in ridiculing him – at least for awhile. I noticed after a while that one of them, Ya’akov, fell silent. And then something odd happened, he turned to Yeshua, and rather than more abuse he said something really strange. When my other man renewed his insults, Ya’akov rebuked him by saying, “Have you no fear of Yahweh? You are getting the same punishment as he is. Ours is only fair; we are getting what we deserve for what we did. But this man did nothing wrong.” And then he ask, “Yeshua, remember me when you come as king!” What? How could this be? All that was going to happen was they both were going to die. Come as king? How could that possibly happen?

But then Yeshua said something equally strange, “Yes! I promise that you will be with me today in Gan-Eden!” How could that be? A murderer going to Gan-Eden? Impossible! But from the look on Ya’akov’s face he believed it would truly happen. He no longer looked as if he were a condemned murderer, but rather as if he too was now an innocent man! How could this be? What was going on?

The mob continued to insult Yeshua, but I no longer heard them. I had too much to think about. I have no idea how much time had passed, but I was jerked from my thoughts by something Yeshua called out. I heard my own words being uttered by the man hanging above me on the cross. “Elohi, Elohi, Why have you deserted me?” But the anguish in his voice was unbelievable, it was as if his very nephesh were being ripped apart. His pain was so intense, so deep, so desperate, it sounded as if his very heart was breaking, and it was enough to break my own heart.

When the end came, it came quite unexpectedly. Normally it could take a long time for a crucified person to die, it could even take days. But in less than six hours, it happened. Yeshua, cried out, “IT . . . IS . . . FINISHED!” . . . “Abba, into your hands I commit my ruach!” An then his head fell to his chest and he was dead! It was as if he had just decided to die and did! To this day, people say he died from being scourged and crucified, but I do not believe them. It seemed to me like HE decided to die long before the crucifixion could have killed him.

But as strange and unexpected as that was, that was not what held my attention. What caught my attention was his obvious reference to Yahweh as his Abba. This man who had just died in my place, had my name – Yeshua. Not only that, but it seemed HE was the true Bar-Abba. And Bar-Abba had just died! The man with my name, the man who had taken my place, had died in my place as well. Well, if Yeshua Bar-Abba was dead, who was I?

The question haunted me as I finally left Gulgolta. Who was I? Was I still Yeshua Bar-Abba? How could I be, when another man had taken my place and died instead of me? Yeshua Bar-Abba was dead, why insist that I was still him? And so I became . . . who? Who was I?

So I became . . . no one, or any one. I became the man with no name. I left Yerushalayim and headed north. I had no destination in mind, I just wanted to get away from . . . from what? I had no idea. I just knew I had to go. I moved from town to town never able to settle down. I worked at whatever job I could get for as long as it took to get the money I needed to live on, but I never stayed long, I could not, something kept pushing me on.

After several years, I finally ended up in a town called Tarsus. I have no idea how I got there or why I stopped there but for some reason I no longer felt the urge to move on. It did not take long to find a good job and a place to live and so I settled down. I stayed to myself, I no longer went to synagogue, and avoided any of the Y’hudim, even in the market place. I did not really feel like my old training held anything of value anymore, but I had nothing to replace it with. I don’t think I stopped believing in Yahweh, but I do know that I did not believe as I used to. But then, I did not have anything else to believe in either so I guess you could say I did not believe in much of anything anymore. And this is how I lived until once again something strange happened.

One day, when I went to market, I heard a voice that sounded faintly familiar. I could not remember where I had heard it before or who it belonged to. I decided to listen for a while to see if I could figure out who the speaker was. Were they a danger to me or not? Oh I could have just stepped around the corner and looked, but something held me back. What confused me was what this voice was saying and maybe it was the subject matter that was keeping me from remembering who the voice belonged to. He was telling someone about how a Rabbi named Yeshua had fulfilled Ta’nakh prophecies and after having been crucified he had risen from the dead! What? Yeshua was alive? How could that be? It was impossible was it not? But then I remembered the stories of how he himself had raised people from the dead, so maybe it was not so impossible after all!

I could not stand it anymore, I just had to see who the speaker was so I moved on around the corner and found a tent maker’s stall. And then I found out why I was having such a hard time placing the speaker, he was the last person I would have ever expected to be giving this particular talk! And would you believe it? It was Sha’ul! Except, I found out later, he was now using his Latin name – Paul.

As I stood there staring in astonishment he glanced up and saw me. He stopped in mid sentence and jumped up, ran over to me, and gave me a bone crushing hug. “Yeshua,” he cried, “it is wonderful to see you! What are you doing here? And what is this? You are not dressed like a Y’hudim. What happened?”

I told him it was a long story. So he motioned me to come in and sit and tell him while he finished what he was working on. And so I told him what had happened that fateful day so long ago, and how I had come to believe that Yeshua Bar-Abba had truly died that day. When I said this, Sha’ul, or Paul, got this strange smile on his face, as if he knew something I did not, something really important. I expected him to stop me and tell me what it was, but he just motioned for me to go on. I told him of my decision to no longer use the name I shared with the man who the people had demanded be substituted for me – and again there was that strange smile. I quickly finished my story of wondering north, of slowly becoming less and less of a Y’hudim as I went until I finally stopped here for no reason I could find.

At that Paul burst out laughing. Seeing my puzzled look, he told me that the reason I was here was that Yahweh had brought me here so I could hear the message he had given Paul to preach to everyone everywhere. “And what message is that?” I asked.

Paul, it seems, had had an encounter with a very much alive Yeshua, quite some time after the crucifixion! And it had clearly had a life changing affect on him, and on his theology. He told me that the Yeshua that had been crucified really was the Mashiach of Yahweh! And he could show it from the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the K’tuvim! And then he proceeded to do so! This was NOT the Paul I remembered from our talks back in Yerushalayim all those years ago. He was a changed man.

And then Paul told me that Yeshua had come to die in my place to pay the penalty for my sins, to be the perfect sacrifice, so that I could be saved by faith in him. “You see,” said Paul, “we have all sinned against Yahweh’s Law, and fall short of what He requires of us. And the lambs we offered year after year could never pay for that failure. If they could we would only have had to offer one sacrifice and it would be done. But when Yeshua came as the perfect lamb of Yahweh and offered himself, he substituted his life for ours, his death for ours. He paid the price of our disobedience. And because he was without sin, death could not hold him and he rose again, just as the prophecies foretold – and just as he himself said he would. He died that day as the Pesach Lamb and if you accept the sprinkling of his blood on the ‘door posts’ of your heart, death will pesach [pass over] you and you can have eternal life with him.” I sat there stunned. The man who had died in my place on the cross, had also died in my place before Yahweh? He really had been my substitute? It wasn’t just something the mob did?

Yeshua, died in my place! He really took my place! Yeshua, the true Bar-Abba, had died in the place of Yeshua, who had thought he was Bar-Abba, but was only a pretender, and a murderer at that! He saved me from dying that day so long ago, but he could also save me from dying forever? At that moment something inside me changed. I knew the man I had been was truly dead now, he really had died on that cross all those years ago. Now a new man was born, born to live a new life. My years of nothingness were over.

I decided that I had to follow this Yeshua, so I joined Paul and the rest of the followers of The Way. I was baptized in the name of Yahweh, Yeshua, and The Ruach HaKodesh. And I became a new man. I never again used the name Yeshua as my own, how could I? He had died on a cross years ago.

So who am I? It does not matter – I am no one, I am any one. What matters is who is in control of my life. Am I, or is Yahweh? I have decided that he is. I have accepted the very real substitution of the life of one Yeshua for the life of another Yeshua. And through faith in THAT Yeshua and all he has done for me I know I have been forgiven for ALL my sins, even the murder that was supposed to get me crucified. And so now I live for him. No, I am not perfect, but he forgives and each time moves me closer to who he wants me to be, as long as I leave control of my life in his hands. And I know that there is NOTHING I can do to earn anything he has done for me. AND there is NOTHING I can do to pay him back for what he has done. The substitution, it turns out was not on the terms of the mob. The substitution is on HIS terms and those terms are: Me as I am for him, the guilty for the innocent. Nothing more, nothing less. ALL of me for ALL of him.

Who are you? Are you Yeshua Bar-Abba going to crucifixion? Or has Yeshua taken your place on the cross?

Who is in control of your life? Are you or have you given complete control to Yahweh?

This is an all or nothing proposition, there can be no half measures. It is either all of you on the cross or it is all of him. It is either you in control or it is him. The choice is yours.

The answers to these questions have eternal consequences. Answer carefully and wisely.

 

Author’s Comments

A bit of explanation is most likely in order. This is a work of fiction – it is a product of my imagination. Although it was written with and after a lot of prayer for guidance. It is based on several facts. First, the man we know as Barabbas was a real historical person. Second, his Hebrew name really was Bar-Abba. (Barabbas was the Greek version of his name.) What we know about him is what is written in the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, and that is about it. The insurrection he and the other two men were being crucified for was not important enough to be mentioned in the histories of the day. We do not know what his real name was, although there is some indications as to what it might have been. Bar-Abba is not really a name, but more of a title or what we would call a nickname than a given name. However, one of the early church fathers of the third century, Origen, believed that his name really was Yeshua (Hebrew) or Yesous (Greek). It is a known fact that during the early first century, the name Yeshua was a very common Hebrew name – sort of like John or Bill is today. He believed that in spite of the fact that there were literally thousands of men that had this name, the scribes who were responsible for transcribing the Scripture manuscripts in the second century had decided that the name “Yeshua” was too holy for a man like Bar-Abba to have and so they had deleted it from the manuscripts they copied. Jesus had, on numerous occasions proclaimed Himself the Son of God, or claimed that God was His Father. Therefore, Origen believed that the choice that was made that day by the mob was between Yeshua, the messiah, the Anointed One (of Yahweh), the Son of Yahweh (God), and Yeshua, who had been given the title, the Son of the Father (Yahweh). Or to put it another way, they were choosing which “son” of Yahweh (God) they wanted, the true Son of the Father or the substitute, the human imitation.

My having Bar-Abba meet Paul in Tarsus is based on Acts 9. After his conversion in Damascus, Paul’s preaching there made enough enemies among the Jews that they tried to kill him, so the other disciples helped him escape the city. He returned to Jerusalem along with another believer named Barnabas. However, the believers were deathly afraid of Paul because of his former persecution of the church there and they refused to have anything to do with him. But Barnabas spoke up on his behalf, and told them of his conversion and how he had been preaching and bringing people to faith in Jesus. Because of this Paul was able to join the believers in Jerusalem. But once again, due to his preaching, he made enemies among the Hellenistic Jews (Jews from the Diaspora). They too tried to kill him, but when the other believers learned of it, they sent him home to Tarsus. And so, it was there, years after the crucifixion, that I had Bar-Abba meet Paul and learn the reality of the substitution that happened that day on the cross.

 

The Glossary

Abba – Father, although it is a term that implies a relationship that is more intimate than our “daddy”.

Archelaus – The son of Herod the Great.

Bar-Abba – Literally the son of the father. It could be a reference to a Rabbi, but was most often thought of as a reference to Yahweh.

Barabbas – The Greek version of Bar-Abba.

Bedouins – Groups of nomadic herdsmen that wondered the arid regions in and around the land of Israel.

Beit-Lechem – The town of Bethlehem.

Ben-David – Literally the son of David.

Cilicia – A province of Rome in Asia minor- to the north of the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.

Cohanim – We call them priests.

Dani’el – We know him as Daniel. A Hebrew who was born around 600 years before Jesus was born and who had been captured and taken to a foreign country (Babylon) when Jerusalem was conquered. Due to special abilities given to him by God, he was able to rise to a position very high in the government, and became the leader of the Magi until he died. While he was their leader he had multiple visions foretelling future world events, one of which was of a prince who would come to Israel. And so, 30 years before this prince was to start his “reign”, and because of a sign God sent them, the descendants of those Magi of Daniel’s time came looking for the new born king.

Diaspora – The scattered Jews, i.e., those who lived outside of Israel.

Egypt – The same area as modern Egypt, but it was a Roman province at the time Jesus was born.

Elohi – Literally My God. The words “My God, My God, why have you deserted (or abandoned) me?”, that Jesus said on the cross are a direct quote of Psalms 22:1. Eli, the “God” part of “My God”, is one of the titles used of God (Yahweh) and means “mighty one”.

Eretz-Yisra’el – Literally the Land of Israel.

Feast of Unleavened Bread – One of the yearly feasts commanded by God. This one commemorated the Exodus from Egypt and the fact that for the first 7 days of the Exodus they were unable to take the time to let their bread raise before baking and eating it because even though he had agreed to let them go Pharaoh had once again changed his mind and was pursuing them with the Egyptian army in an effort to recapture them.

Flogging, scourging, and crucifixion – Roman forms of punishment. Flogging was done with a whip, often made from rhino hide due to its strength which allowed it to be braided from very narrow strips of hide making the whip very thin. In use it would leave knife-like wounds. A good “flogger” could place the wounds such that they would be almost parallel and evenly spaced down the victim’s back and legs. The wounds would usually cut clear to the bone. Scourging was done with a multi stranded whip that had pieces of lead, chunks of bone, and broken pottery fixed in the strands. It would literally tear chunks of flesh from the victim. If not used carefully, it was not unusual for victims to die while being scourged. Crucifixion was done by hanging the victim on a wooden stake, with or without a cross bar. Sometimes the hands and feet were spiked to the wood, sometimes they were just roped in place. The victim normally died of either thirst or suffocation when they became so weak they could no longer hold themselves up long enough to get a breath of air. Either way it normally took several days for them to die. If the Romans gave them something to drink, it could take as long as a week or so. As part of the Roman punishment, the criminal was forced to carry his cross from the place of judgment to the place of execution. This public spectacle of Rome’s power was intended to instill fear in the minds of the populace and reduce the chances of others disobeying Roman law. Also, The worst offender was placed in the middle of those being crucified so those passing by would know the crimes Rome considered the worst offences. As part of the display, their crimes were recorded and posted above the heads of the criminals.

Gabta – The judgment seat. A alternative place outside the governor’s palace where the governor sat in judgment. Pilate met the Jewish leaders there when they brought Jesus to him because he knew they would not enter the palace due to the need to remain ceremonially pure for the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that started that afternoon and evening. If they became defiled by entering the palace, they could not become ceremonially pure until after sundown that evening and would therefore not be able to take part in sacrificing the Passover Lamb for their households. This would prevent them from being able to eat the Passover Meal or take part in any other part of the celebration including officiating at the public parts of the festival.

Galil – The area of the land of Israel we call Galilee.

Gamli’el – One of the, if not the, leading Rabbis of the early first century in Israel. We know him as Gamaliel.

Gan-Eden – Literally The Garden of Eden. The Jewish name for Paradise – the place the righteous went when they died.

Goyim – Literally, anyone who is not a Jew. May or may not be used derogatorily.

Gulgolta – Literally The Place of the Skull. We know it as Golgotha. A place outside of Jerusalem, along the main road into the city where the Romans crucified criminals, or at least those they called criminals.

Herod – Herod the Great, the king who ruled Judea (part of the divided land of Israel) when Jesus was born.

High Shabbat – A special Sabbath, not the normal weekly Sabbath. A Feast Day, a day of sacred assembly.

Jesus – An Old English corruption of the Latin version of the Greek version of the Hebrew name Yeshua.

K’tuvim – Literally The Writings, the third of the three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Magi – Men versed in the arts of reading “signs” so they could “see” the future. They were also very good at reading people and political patterns and the like, which made them very good advisors to the rulers of their kingdom.

Mashiach – Literally anointed one. The term was used to refer to anyone who had been anointed for anything, king, prophet, whatever. Many people were anointed as it was a common part of the Jewish religious life. However, there was only one who was thought of as THE MASHIACH, and that was the one who was to deliver, or restore Israel.

Mikhah – The prophet we call Micah who wrote the “Old Testament” book that bears his name.

Natzeret – The town of Nazareth.

Nephesh – Hebrew for what we call the soul. To the Jewish way of thinking it actually refers to the entirety of the being. It is not something peculiar to humans, as any mammal has it (see Genesis 1 – days 5 and 6 – you will need to use a Hebrew interlinear Bible – or a website like blueletterbible.com or a similar software program that shows the Hebrew words).

Nevi’im – Literally The Prophets, the second of the three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Paul – A Jew of the Diaspora, from a city in Cilicia called Tarsus. A Roman citizen, which would make him suspect in the eyes of many in Israel. This might have contributed to his “zeal for the things of the law”. Paul was his Latin name and Sha’ul was his Hebrew name. While he was in Israel studying under Gamaliel and until his conversion and subsequent mission to the Gentiles, he used the name Sha’ul, or as we know him, Saul.

Pesach – Literally to pass over. The Passover Meal commemorating the time when God passed over the Israelites but killed all the firstborn of Egypt.

Pesach Lamb – The Passover Lamb. The lamb that was sacrificed and whose blood was sprinkled on the door posts of each Jewish home in memory of the night that God “passed over” them and killed all the first born of Egypt (this was the last judgment before Pharaoh finally let Israel leave Egypt on the Exodus). This lamb was also part of the Passover Meal.

Pilate – The Roman governor at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Praetorium – The Roman governor’s palace.

Preparation Day – The day before a Shabbat or Sabbath. The day to prepare for the coming holy day. As any feast day was a Sabbath and they could fall on any day of the week including Saturday, a preparation day could also be on any day of the week, not just on Friday. If the feast fell on a Sunday, there would be no preparation day on Saturday as that was already a Sabbath. Therefore the weekly preparation day on Friday would have to suffice for both Sabbaths.

Rabbi – Literally great one, but usually used to mean teacher.

Ramah – An “Old Testament” name for Bethlehem.

Ruach – Hebrew for what we call the spirit. To the Jewish way of thinking it came from God and it was what made you who you are and it was also what made you alive. It also returned to God at death for safekeeping until the resurrection. It plus your body made you a nephesh. It is the addition of the ruach that made man different from the animals.

Shabbat – Sabbath. Any day of “sacred assembly” was considered a Sabbath. It can refer to the normal weekly Sabbath or it could be a feast or festival day, which are also Sabbaths. The feast days did not follow a weekly cycle and could therefore fall on any day of the week. This means there could be more than one Sabbath in a week.

Sha’ul – A Jew of the Diaspora, from a city in Cilicia called Tarsus. A Roman citizen, which would make him suspect in the eyes of many in Israel. This might have contributed to his “zeal for the things of the law”. Paul was his Latin name and Sha’ul was his Hebrew name. While he was in Israel studying under Gamaliel and until his conversion and subsequent mission to the Gentiles, he used the name Sha’ul, or as we know him, Saul.

Synagogue – The place of meeting for the Jewish people in each town or city. If the city were large enough there could be many synagogues in it. It was also where young men went for their Torah training. This training would be conducted by a scribe, or if one were rich enough and went to a synagogue that could afford to support one, a Rabbi.

Talmid – Disciple.

Talmidim – Disciples.

Ta’nakh – The Hebrew Scriptures. They were made up of three sections the Torah (The Law – sometimes called the Pentateuch), the Nevi’im (the Prophets), and the K’tuvim (the Writings). The word Ta’nakh or Tanakh was formed by using the first letter of each word. Sometimes they used just the Law, sometimes the Law and the Prophets, sometimes the Law and the Writings, when talking about all of the Scriptures – what we now refer to as the Old Testament.

Tarsus – A city in the Roman province of Cilicia. It was the home town of the man who became the apostle we know as Paul. It was most likely a Roman city as Paul was born there as a Roman citizen and his family did not have to buy their citizenship as so many did.

The Ruach HaKodesh – The third person of the Trinity whom we call The Holy Spirit, also known as The Spirit of God, or sometimes simply, The Spirit.

The Way – The original name for the church – those we now call Christians.

Torah – Literally The Law, sometimes called the Pentateuch, the first of the three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Torah-teachers – We call them scribes.

Ya’akov – Jacob, a Hebrew name.

Yahweh – The constructed name used by the Jewish people in place of the name God gave Moses as His personal name. They believed that His name was too holy for any human to say so they removed all the vowels from it. But just the four consonants made it impossible to say, so they arbitrarily chose the vowels from one of the titles of God and added them in place of the real vowels giving them a word that was not “holy” so sinful man could say it.

Yerushalayim – The city of Jerusalem.

Yeshua – A very common name in Israel in the first century. It means He (Yahweh) saves. It is the given name of the man we know as Jesus. The name “Jesus” is an Old English corruption of the Latin version of the Greek version of the Hebrew name Yeshua.

Y’hudah – The kingdom of Judea. It can also be the name Judah, although I do not have anyone by that name in my story.

Y’hudim – Specifically, the people of Judea, but generally, the Jews.

Yirmeyahu – The prophet we all Jeremiah.

Yisra’el – Israel. Either the land, the nation, the people, or the man of that name – the “father” of the people. In my story I use it to refer to the nation, which includes both the land and the people.

The Problem of Pain – The End?

So how do we wrap it all up? What conclusions can we come to about the pain and evil, or bad things, that come into our lives?

One thing we can know for sure is that God is NOT the source of those bad things. He knows all things, so He knows what is going to happen in your life. That means NOTHING catches Him by surprise. He knows when someone is going to do something that will hurt you. He knows when some piece of equipment is going to fail and hurt you – maybe even kill you.

God is responsible for creating EVERY life on this planet, So why does He give life to those He KNOWS will die in the womb or be born with birth defects?

If God is all powerful, as the Bible claims, why doesn’t He keep people from molesting and abusing children, raping women, and murdering people?

If God is so pro-marriage, then why does He allow men (and women) to cheat on their spouses and run off and marry someone else even when their first spouse prayed incessantly for reconciliation?

So the question is, If He knows all that then WHY DOESN’T HE STOP IT?

Well, let me ask you a question, Do you have a family? Spouse? Parents? Siblings? Children? Do you have any really close friends? Do you love them? Do THEY love you? How do you know? Do they REALLY love you or are they just programmed to make it look like they do? The ONLY way you can know for sure is if they are free NOT to love you. Then and ONLY then can you know that the love they show is real. And the big problem with that is, if they are free not to love you then they are also free to hurt you. And the same holds true for you, the only way you or anyone else can know if you love someone else is if you are free to not love them, which means YOU are free to hurt THEM as well.

God wants us to REALLY love each other and He wants us to love Him as well. But the only way we can be free to actually love anyone is if we are free to not love them, so God gave us the freedom of choice. We are free to choose to either follow Him and do things His way or we can go our own way and do things our way – it is our choice. And in creating this kind of world, God made it possible for us to truly love each other and Him.

But with that choice comes consequences. As we have seen in The Problem of Pain – Part 4, when Adam and Eve chose to go their own way and eat from the forbidden tree, things didn’t turn out the way they wanted them too. They got the knowledge of good and evil they were looking for, but it didn’t come in the way they expected. It came through experiential knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge. And experiencing evil turned out to be no fun at all. In fact, in just a few years it would lead to one of their sons killing his brother. Doesn’t sound very “fair” for Abel the son that died does it? But that gives us something to think about – evil is never “fair” to the victims.

Look back to our discussion of Job. We always focus on him, and that is what the writer of the book wants us to do, but we never really stop to think about what happened to everyone else in the story. Job and his wife lost their 10 children. All ten children AND their families and servants – dead not very “fair” was it? Most of the male servants Job had working for him got killed – as we saw there were well over 700 men that died that day leaving all those families devastated – how “fair” was that? AND NO ONE KNEW WHY IT HAPPENED – not even Job. Even after it was all over, Job never knew it was all due to an argument between God and the “adversary” (Satan). Yes, God set limits on what Satan cold do to Job, but that did not help anyone else.

And then we read about something that happened to Daniel. As a young man, Daniel had been one of the captives who had been taken to Babylon to serve the Babylonian king. And talk about being treated unfairly, Daniel was a true follower of God, but when God passed judgment on Jerusalem, Daniel suffered right along with everyone else. However, while in “captivity” Daniel rises to a position of power – he actually becomes an adviser to the king and head of a class of men we latter read about in the Gospel story and call the Magi!

Daniel had a vision (one of several), but this one he apparently could not understand, so he “mourned” about it for 21 days. (The story is recorded in Daniel chapter 10.) As you read the story you find that Daniel’s “mourning” was actually praying for understanding of the vision. And then Daniel has this happen, “On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. (Daniel 10:4-9)

That must have been some “man”! The very sight of him caused Daniel, a man who was used to serving kings and emperors, to faint! The Hebrew word used for “man” here, is the word for a warrior who is in the peak of his martial powers. This “warrior” who appears to Daniel is so fearsome that Daniel, who just a few years earlier had told a KING – who had the might of an empire at his command – that he wasn’t going to obey him and quit worshiping God, faints dead away! And his very presence is so imposing that even the men who couldn’t “see the vision” fled in terror! And some of these men were most likely Daniel’s bodyguards – elite warriors in their own right, men charged with fighting to the death to protect Daniel, and they are so terrified that they forget all that and take off running!

And what does this “man” have to say to Daniel? “A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, ‘Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.’ And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.'” (Daniel 10:10-14)

Now this is interesting. This “man”, this being, tells Daniel that just as soon as he started praying, God dispatched him with an answer. However, another being, obviously in opposition to what God wanted to happen, kept him from getting to Daniel for 21 days! Here is this being who is so formidable that people who can’t even see him flee from his presence and he is kept from reaching Daniel for 21 days, and he only makes it then because another being comes and helps him out!

We have already seen that, as in the case of Job, evil things can happen to us due solely to the spiritual warfare between God and Satan. And now we find out that this battle includes forces on both God’s and Satan’s side and that Satan’s forces can even affect the answers to our prayers! And these are forces we have no way of seeing, nor can we see their actions, all we have are the results of those actions.

So with all that going on, maybe we are asking the wrong questions. Take for instance a child born with a birth defect. we can ask why it has a birth defect, but to really understand that we would need to know the genetic history of all its ancestors, and all the defects that they had and how all those defects interacted and what the results of those interactions were. Do you think that is something we can know? So on to the next question, Why DID God allow that child to be born? Well, He created a world in which a natural result of a man and woman having a sexual relationship could result in a pregnancy. Those two people freely chose to enter into that relationship, and they knew the possible consequences of what they were doing when they did it. So, after having given them the freedom to choose that relationship should God then stop the natural results of that relationship even if they are not the best possible results? Isn’t that what the argument with Satan over Job was all about? Satan claimed God was blocking all the bad things from happening to Job so of course Job would choose God, let a few bad things happen and Job would have nothing to do with God.

And each and every one of us is faced with that same dilemma. There are things we cannot know because we are limited in our capacity to understand. If a butterfly in Brazil had flapped its wings a microsecond latter, would that snow storm have formed when it did and would that patch of ice been there for that other driver to hit and lose control of their car and hitting yours and killing your family? Is that something we can ever know? Then there are things we cannot know because they are beyond our observable “universe” if you will. We cannot see the spiritual forces all around us. We cannot know what they are doing or how those actions affect us. We don’t even know what the results of our own actions are going to be, let alone how the actions of others around us are going to affect us, so how can we hope to know what affects those unseen spiritual forces will have on us?

God created a world where certain good things are possible – the love of a man and woman for instance. But in creating that kind of a world, He also created a world in which there are resultant consequences of those good things – a baby in this case. However, by choosing to create that kind of world He also made possible bad choices. He made it possible for a man and woman to hate each other, or for a man to rape a woman, or for that beautiful baby to be born with problems because of bad choices the parents, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, . . . may have made. And the baby and the parents get left “holding the bag” for something that may have happened hundreds of years ago.

I know that is not very comforting, but that is reality. Telling someone “God did it” may appear to sound good, but is in the end about as hurtful and counterproductive as you can get – as well as being un-Biblical. Jesus told is disciples that “if you have seen Me you have seen the Father.” (c.f. John 14:9) The writer of Hebrew says that Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being. (c.f. Hebrews 1:3) And John describes Jesus as the “word” (logos in Greek), the physical manifestation of the very thoughts of God. (c.f. John 1:1-5&14) So God and Jesus are just alike, they think alike, love alike, AND act alike. And Jesus’ most telling act of love was taking on the responsibility for every evil action ever committed and paying the penalty for them on the cross. THAT is God’s response to evil – it is not bringing more evil into your life to “teach you a lesson” or “make you a better person”, or those evil events being part of His “master plan”. His “master plan” was for us to live in the Garden of Eden, but Adam and Eve made that impossible, however God had an alternate “Master Plan” – Jesus dying on a godforsaken cross in my place, and for the bad choices you have made.

So what about “God knows the end from the beginning”? I will say this, God’s knowledge is perfect. That means He knows me perfectly. He knows how I will make every decision I will ever be faced with. And no, that does not mean I am forced to make those decisions that way, it just means He knows me so well that He knows what I will choose to do when faced with that choice. My knowledge of my wife is not perfect, but I know her well enough to know that if you give her a choice between a bag of potato chips and a bag of nacho corn chips from a particular manufacturer, which one she will choose. (Did I give it away?) Does that mean she has to make that choice just because I “know” what she will choose? Of course not, in fact she has surprised me – maybe twice in twenty years or so. So if my “knowledge” of her choice beforehand doesn’t “force” her decision, why do we think that God’s knowledge – which is perfect and therefore would not have been “surprised” like me – of that same decision does?

If you are uncomfortable with God’s perfect knowledge knowing you so well that He can foresee how you decide every time you make a decision, then maybe you can look at it this way. We are the finite beings not God, so why do we insist on limiting God’s ability to foresee all possible permutations of every decision as if He is as limited as we are? God’s knowledge is perfect, so His ability to see all possible results of a decision is also perfect. So rather than knowing what you are going to decide, He knows that if you choose A all of this will follow, but if you choose B then all of that will follow, and because of His unlimited abilities, He can know all of that for everyone who has ever lived, is living, and will ever live. Either way will get you to the same place. I personally think the first is “easier”, but the second would work just as well, but I think is actually harder come to grips with intellectually.

So God knows everything that is going to happen to you and has already worked out a plan on what He wants to do to “work it out” for your good. Not because He is going to bring all those events into your life, but because He can foresee them. And His response to them, shown to us by what Jesus did on the cross, it is to redeem them. That is what God is ALWAYS about in this world, redeeming it.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things?

“If God is for us, who can be against us?

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?

“It is God who justifies.

“Who then is the one who condemns?

“No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:31-34)

Jesus gave the following warning about attributing evil actions to the Holy Spirit, “And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? . . .  Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’  He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.'” (Mark 3:22-23 & 28-30) Jesus is warning them, “I am using the power of the Holy Spirit to do what I do, and you are saying it is by the power of Satan. Beware – that is something that can never be forgiven.” Maybe we need to listen to His warning when we do the same thing with God?

Jesus said that He came to seek and save the lost. That means that God is working in this world to seek and save the lost. If that is what He is about, how do you think He views our actions when we tell people He is working to save that the One who died for them is the One who just killed their baby just to teach them a lesson? Or we tell a mother who was just diagnosed with terminal cancer, “God wants your little girl to grow up motherless as part of His ‘Perfect Plan'”? Adam and Eve destroyed His Perfect Plan in Eden, and He has been working to redeem it ever since. Maybe it is time we quit blaming Him because we can’t figure things out. Maybe it is time we give up asking unanswerable questions. Maybe it is time we acknowledge our limited ability to understand the cosmos and all the events that lead up to any one thing happening at particular time and leave it up to Someone Who can.

Maybe the question we SHOULD be asking is, “God I know you are working to redeem these evil events, what can I do to help? How can I help this mother and her daughter? How can I comfort those parents who just lost their baby? What do you want me to do to help Joe and Sally deal with their baby’s birth defects? Or Bill deal with the death of his father?” And even more importantly “How do I do it without doing more damage than good? How do I do it the way YOU want me too?”

The Problem of Pain – Part 3b

I had thought I was through with this part of our discussion of pain but an issue came up the other night that I haven’t said anything about. I was at a concert and the lead singer was talking about having been broken by God so that God could remake him into the person He wanted him to be. The group then sang a song about God being a potter and how wonderful it was that when we messed up and destroyed our “vessel” He didn’t throw way the clay but just started over and remade us into something new. And that reminded me of an old hymn whose first verse is about God being the potter and I am the clay and praying that God would mold me and make me after His will. Both are nice songs, but are they Biblically accurate?

After the concert my wife and I were talking about it and I was wondering about the accuracy of the theology of the song. My wife reminded me that God does discipline us and test us. And after thinking about it for a while, I realized she is right, in Proverbs 3:11-12 (NIV) it says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” And in Hebrews we read, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11) In fact the writer of Hebrews says, “If you are not disciplined (and everyone is disciplined), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” (Hebrews 12:8) So the Bible clearly teaches that God, as our Father, will discipline us.

And we also find that God will test us, not as a punishment, but to purify us like a jeweler refines silver or gold. “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver.” (Psalms 66:10) The apostle Paul also talks about our works being tested by fire. “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than that already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

So it seems we can expect discipline and “fiery testing” from God. But my question is this, does God cause the events He uses to discipline and test us or does He just “step back” and let us suffer the consequences of our own bad choices? We know, from our study of Job and what happened to him, that some bad things that happen are due solely to the war going on between God and Satan. So does God use some of those events? We have also seen that, in this broken and fallen world, things don’t always work the way they should and bad things happen – people get hurt when things fail, babies are born with birth defects, people – even babies die, people accidentally or intentionally hurt other people, even kill them. Does God use these events? Does God really need to actually cause events to discipline and test us when we are faced with so many problems that will happen without Him doing anything? Why can’t He just use those events?

We have already seen that God shapes and controls the bad things that happen to us (see the Problem of Pain – Part 1). And Paul tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) So it is clear that in the “normal” “day to day” bad things God is working in those events to turn them into times that will ultimately be for our good. Does that mean that those are testing times? Or are they different? Is He using those events to discipline us or are they just routine bad things that He is working out to our ultimate good? Remember the verse says in ALL things. So if He disciplines us for our good, and He is working for our good in ALL things, then isn’t it possible that He is using things that occur “naturally” – i.e., things other people do to us, things we do to ourselves, things that are due to the fallen and broken nature of this world, things that are due to the war he is fighting with Satan (the Adversary)?

James seems to think that our discipline or testing happens as a normal course of life, that the trials and testing are just normal events in the life of a Christian. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) Notice James doesn’t say “if”, but “when” these things happen. So he doesn’t seem to think that these are special events that may be brought into our lives if God thinks it is needed, but just the normal things that will happen, things that we should expect to happen, and that these “normal” events are used to develop our characters.

This theme is also presented by Peter. “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

So, does God really need to add to the pain of our daily lives to build our character? Or does He work “in all things” as Paul tells us to build our character? If He is already working for our good in the day to day bad things that happen, why would He need to cause extra bad things to happen just so He can work even more good in our lives in order to build up our character and faith as Peter and James says He is doing by His discipline?

And then there are Jesus’ comments to consider. In the “Sermon on the Mount” He had this to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) Jesus says that God sends good things on everyone alike – no matter if they are good or bad – all are treated the same.

Luke records the same thing, but words it just a bit differently. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32-36)

So if God is merciful to the ungrateful and the wicked, why would He then be unmerciful to those who are His children? Why would He cause them more pain than they are already experiencing as a normal consequence of life on this planet? The only time I can find in the Bible of God causing “bad” things to happen to people are His acts of judgment and He works right up to the last minute trying to get them to repent so He doesn’t have to do even that. As the prophet Ezekiel tells us,  “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:30-32) God is telling Israel, “Quit doing what you are doing! I don’t want to send judgment on you. Please repent and turn back to me so you can live!” Does that sound like a God who makes bad things happen to people just to “teach them a lesson”?

In this fallen and broken, war torn world, that is in rebellion against God, enough bad things happen all the time due to free agents making free choices to do their own thing with no regard to the damage they might cause others that there is no need for God to add to the pain and misery with evil acts of His own.

And that brings up another question. How can a God who is perfect and perfectly good, commit acts of evil and remain good? If you or I did those same things, we would be rightly condemned for them, so why do so many say is it OK for God to do them? I’ve heard the argument that God doesn’t really commit them Himself, He uses “bad” people to do them for Him. But how is that any better? These same people tell me that God’s will is ALWAYS done, i.e., what God wants to happen WILL happen even if you or I don’t want to do it – we WILL do it. What those people refuse to acknowledge is that means we really don’t have free will after all, we can only act as God wills. So, the “bad” person God “gets” to do His evil acts (read “forces to do”) is then sent to hell for doing what God made him do! WE are responsible for our actions of doing exactly what God wanted us to do, but God is not?

But then James tells us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:13-17) God does not tempt anyone to sin, we do it to ourselves. Every good and perfect thing that comes to us is from God, James says, so how can God, who never changes, after sending us good gifts, turn around and send us evil “gifts”?

I will close with a repeat of the response I got when I was praying about this very issue several months ago now (you can also read about it in The Problem of Pain – Part 1). “Do you think this world is a basically good world that has bad things happen it, or do you think it is a broken and fallen world that I make good things happen in? Do you think, when I promised Israel I would bring a sword among them if they refused to follow Me that I forced the surrounding nations to attack Israel against their will or did I just quit protecting Israel and allowed the surrounding nations to do what they wanted to do all along?”

The Problem of Pain – Part 4

The problem of pain – the REAL problem of pain, at least as we see it – is when the innocent, or at least those we believe are innocent suffer. When children are abused, women are raped, drunk drivers cross the centerline and hit a car head on killing an entire family. Things like this offend our sense of justice. But what really upsets us the most is when WE suffer, when WE get hurt, when something bad happens to US. However, there are problems with our view of things. One is, whose rules do we judge by? As I look around, I see those rules we call “justice” getting more and more lenient. I mean, since when is being too rich an excuse for murder? Too rich to know right from wrong? Really? – since when? And why should having a particular skin color make it OK for you to do something that someone else, whose skin color happens to be different than yours, would be fined or face jail time for doing? And why is it OK for something bad to happen to other people, but it’s not OK when it happens to you? Why should you be exempt?

And that is where our problem with pain starts. Why do we think it is unjust for bad things to happen to the innocent? And by the way, just who is really innocent? And more importantly, in our world where everyone is a victim and no one is responsible for their actions, WHO IS REALLY GUILTY? Who DESERVES bad things to happen to them?

This is what the Bible has to say about who the really good people are, those who are really innocent; “You [God] come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. (Isaiah 64:5-7 NIV) The Hebrew word translated as “unclean” means – unclean, impure, defiled, or polluted. And as we see so often, things have been cleaned up for us in the English translation – the Hebrew for “filthy rags” is actually “used menstrual cloths”. Not a very nice picture of how good our best efforts are is it? But, you say, that is talking about really bad people, I’m not like that – I’m a pretty good person.

The Bible describes King David as a “man after God’s own heart” which sounds to me like he would be a “pretty good person” doesn’t it to you? (See Acts 13:22) But in spite of that this is what David had to say about how “good” he really was, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.” (Psalms 51:5-6) David says he was even conceived a sinner, and that God wants us to be faithful to Him even in the womb! How is that even possible? It is beginning to sound rather hopeless isn’t it?

And a man calling himself “The Preacher” wrote, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) A bit depressing isn’t it? Doesn’t look good for us being all that “good” does it?

And if that wasn’t enough, this is how Paul summed it up; “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’ ‘Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.’ ‘The poison of vipers is on their lips.’ ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.'” (Romans 3:10-18) And if that isn’t clear enough, a bit latter he adds, ” . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, . . . ” Romans 3:23)

Not a very pretty picture is it? No one, not even a baby is truly innocent. Why? How could that possibly be true? I mean aren’t we all good people who occasionally do bad things?

For that we need to go back, way back, all the way back to where it all started, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

The Bible tells us that after God finished creating (literally cutting out, paring down, shaping this world (the same word we discussed in Isaiah 45:7 – see The Problem of Pain – Part 1), He made this comment, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31a) So what God made was “exceedingly, greatly, fully good, pleasant, pleasing to the senses, and wholesome” according to the Hebrew words translated as “very good”. So could we say it was perfect? I think so, it was exceedingly good in every way, so there was nothing wrong with the world He had created, but there was this one . . . Well, we’ll will get to that later.

Then God made Adam and He even made a special place for him to live, “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:8-9) In the middle of this exceedingly good world, God plants two special trees, one is the tree of life and the other He says is the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Why would something like that need to be there? Why would anyone living in an exceedingly good world want to know what evil was? What would even make them want to know? I don’t know about you, but if I was living in paradise, I can’t think of anything that would make me want to know what its opposite would be like.

Well, it seems there was a problem and it actually started in heaven. Jesus once told His disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18) So for some reason there was a problem with someone named Satan in heaven. In Revelation we are told it was so bad it actually started a war. “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” (Revelation 12:7-9) So what was it all about? What happened that was so bad it started a war?

The prophet Ezekiel writes this, “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.  Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; . . . ‘”‘” (Ezekiel 28:11-17a) Now the prophet records that God told him to write this about the king of Tyre, but he was a human and could never be considered a cherub – a heavenly being. Nor could he be considered to be perfect. And besides that the only humans in the Garden of Eden were Adam and Eve. No human was ever recorded as being in heaven on the holy mount of God. And the king of Tyre was born to a mother and father not specially created by God, so clearly, he was just a “stand-in” for someone else – someone who was thrown to the earth. Sound familiar? Sound like God is really talking about Satan?

So Satan got proud of how beautiful he was and that pride corrupted his wisdom and that caused his problems. But what exactly did he do? So he was proud of how beautiful he was, so what. Is that really so bad? There is a clue in the odd phrase “Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence . . . “. The word translated widespread means greatness, magnitude, abundance, largeness, etc. And the word translated trade means trade, traffic, merchandise, etc. in other words, your job or business. So he was filled with pride because of how important his job was and how beautiful he was and for some reason he became violent about it.

We are given another clue about what happened by another prophet. This time it is the prophet Isaiah and the “stand-in” is the king of Babylon. He records this, “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'” (Isaiah 14:12-14) Again we see things that can’t apply to any human, so we need to look to someone else – once again someone who was “cast down to the earth”. And now we can see why there was war, Satan wanted to “raise his thrown above the stars of God . . . to make [himself] like the Most High”. Satan wanted to take over God’s thrown! He wanted to be like God! So he used the importance of his position to start a rebellion, and apparently he managed to convince a third of the angels to go along with him (see Revelation 12:4).

Now we need to get some things clear. Satan is NOT God’s equal. They are not two opposing gods fighting it out. As Ezekiel records, God created Satan. He made him beautiful. He gave him the job he had. But that turned out to be less than Satan thought someone of his beauty and importance deserved. He thought he deserved more and decided the only way to get it was to take it by force. But God’s forces were stronger than Satan’s and Satan was thrown out of heaven and “cast down” to this earth.

But there is something else interesting here. Ezekiel also records that according to what God told him, Satan was ” . . . in Eden, the garden of God . . . ” apparently before he started his rebellion as God is still describing how perfect and “blameless in his ways” he was when He makes that comment. (See Ezekiel 28:13&15) But after he rebelled things changed. Because of his rebellion he sinned and violence and evil (wickedness) were found in him and he was cast down to this earth. And therein lies the “but” in the “exceedingly good world”. Exactly when he was cast down is not clear, but the Bible says he was perfect when he was in Eden BEFORE wickedness was found in him. And at that time he still had access to the “holy mount of God” in his position as a guardian cherub. However, at some latter point he rebelled and was cast down to the earth and now we see the reason for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – Satan’s presence after his rebellion brought evil into God’s exceedingly good world.

Now that we know what the problem in God’s good world was, let’s go back to Adam. We left him in an apparently perfect creation, in a special garden God made just for him, but it had an unusual tree in it. One God called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Now we can see why it was needed. He had a choice to make, did he want to know only God’s way or did he want to know what evil was? Did he too want to rebel against what God ask of him?

Now God had told Adam about the tree, in fact He had given him very specific instructions about it. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.'” Genesis 2:16-17) The only restriction was “don’t eat from it.” That was all. In fact, that was the ONLY restriction God placed on ANYTHING. God gave Adam all of ONE rule he had to follow, that was it! However, it did have a pretty big penalty for not following it. If he were to eat from the tree, the result would be death. The Hebrew is interesting here, it says if he ate from it he would “die die”. In Hebrew, if you want to make something more definite – to increase its absoluteness or magnitude you repeated the word. To say that someone was running as fast as they could, you would say they “ran ran”. So, when God said that Adam would “die die” if he ate from the tree, He was saying that Adam would die absolutely and irrevocably.

However, each word is expressed slightly differently and this has caused much discussion among the “experts” as to what it “really” means. The first die is what usually causes the most discussion. It can be rendered two ways. one indicates a process, i.e., “you will start dying”, and the other indicates the absolute results, “you will die absolutely”, but gives no actual time of when that might happen. The second “die” can also be rendered several ways, but it is a lot more subtle. It can indicate a process that has started but is not finished, is starting and will continued until finished, or will start sometime in the future, but once started will continued until completed. Or it could simply refer to the absoluteness of the action.

However it is rendered. God says that “in the day you eat” or “at the time you eat” it will happen, whatever it is. So that seems to argue for the process starting at that point in time and continuing until finished at a later date. So, he wouldn’t drop dead on the spot, but would start to die and the process would be continuous and could not be stopped.

Now, back to our story. At this point Eve had not yet been created, so it apparently fell to Adam to pass on God’s instructions about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil once she was created. However, it is also possible that God Himself told Eve about the tree. Either way, the story goes on with Adam naming all the animals, but in the process he doesn’t find a “suitable helper” for himself so God puts him to sleep and takes a part of him (literally part of his side) and creates Eve from it and brings her to him.

In between the creation of Eve and the rest of the story there seems to be an orphan comment in the Biblical narrative. “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25) It doesn’t make much sense where it is as it has nothing to do with the verses before or after it, but it takes on great significance a bit latter.

Now sometime later, how long we do not know, but it was long enough that Satan has now started his rebellion, lost the war in heaven and been cast down to the earth, the story continues.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”‘” (Genesis3:1-2) Now hold on, when did God say that? All He told Adam was “don’t eat from it.” Where did the “don’t touch it” come from? Is that something Eve added or did Adam add it? Remember, as far as we are told, God never told Eve anything about the tree, that seems to have been Adam’s job. Either way somewhere along the line someone added to what God had said. And it is never a good idea to add anything to what God says. And what about this talking serpent? Did snakes really talk back then? I don’t know, but from Eve’s reaction, she doesn’t seem to think it unusual. But I don’t think it was a normal snake. As we saw earlier, one of the things Satan is called is “that old serpent . . . who leads the whole earth astray”, (see Revelation 12:9) so that seems to be who Eve is really talking to.

Back to the story, “‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:3-7)

Now we see why that “orphan” comment was there. Before they ate from the forbidden tree, they were naked and didn’t care, after they ate, they were naked but now they knew it. Something had changed. Shame of their nakedness appeared and they felt the need to hide themselves. Yes, their eyes had been opened, but what they saw was no longer the beauty of another human being created by God, but the shameful nakedness of someone like them self – someone with something to hide. And they also learned something else, they could not be like God. They could not know good and evil like God does, they could only know it by experience, by doing something wrong.

And now we come to the real problem of pain, the only way we can know what evil is, is to experience it, to live it. God is perfect and His knowledge is unlimited so only He could know what evil is without experiencing it. As created beings with a limited capacity for knowledge there are some things we can only know through our actions – by doing – and the difference between good and evil is one of them.

We have seen that Satan is at war with God and accuses God of playing favorites. We have seen that Satan accuses us before God. Just as we saw in the case of Job. (See the Problem of Pain – Part 3) We have seen that Satan is out to deceive the whole world – to get people to believe that his way is better than God’s way. We have also seen that we are free to do whatever we want, we can go against what God wants us to do, we can “do our own thing” whatever that might be, and Satan is more than willing to lead us down that path. And therein lies the problem of pain. Our own way can hurt people. We can abuse people, rape them, and even kill them. Hitler had the Holocaust, Stalin killed nearly 4 times that many. Then there were the killing fields of Cambodia. Child abuse, incest, rape, drug addiction, alcoholism. The list goes on and on. Doesn’t sound very fair to the victims does it?

So let me ask you this, do you like your knowledge of evil? All this pain we experience is all because two people wanted to know what evil was. And the worst of it is, the question still hasn’t been fully answered. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24 things are going to get worse, much worse. “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.'” (Matthew 24:21-22) So as bad as the Holocaust was, as bad as Stalin was, as bad a Pol Pot was, as bad as any period in history you care to name was, there is going to be a time when it will get worse! It will get so bad, that if God doesn’t step in and stop it, no one will live through it!

I believe things will continue to get worse until EVERYONE has either decided that they like doing their own thing and don’t care how much pain they cause others, and have absolutely no desire to change, or that, thanks to the saving Grace of God, they absolutely abhor evil in all its manifestations, from the “little white lie” on up and want to be remade into the image of Jesus. And when those who claim to be followers of Jesus finally realize that all sin is exactly the same no matter how “innocent”; that all sin actually leads to death; when they finally see sin as God does, then and only then will God be able to say, “The questions have been answered, all accusations have been resolved.” Until then the pain will continue – and even get worse.

So, does evil abhor you? or are you entertained by it? That is a question that really haunts me when I think of the movies and TV I watch and the books I read. Is God changing me? Yes, but sometimes I wish I didn’t get in the way so much so He could do it faster. How about you? Are you entertained by evil or revolted by it? It is easy to point the finger at movies like Friday the 13th or Elm Street or any of the Zombie movies, but what if they turn them into a comedy like Scary Movie? Or what about all those sitcoms? Rosanne? Two and a Half Men? All those are easy for me to point fingers at, I don’t like them. But what about NCIS, or Castle, or Leverage? Now it is getting a bit personal, and a lot harder to accept and deal with isn’t it?

Do we really HATE evil? Do we REALLY want it to end? Or do we just pay lip service to the idea of it ending? Do we really continue to flirt with it? Say “It isn’t REALLY that bad. It’s not like I’m steeling or killing or abusing anyone, I’m just . . . ” And therein lies the problem, “I’m just . . . ” “What I’m doing is OK. I know I shouldn’t be doing it, but it is not THAT bad so it is OK.” God doesn’t see it that way. To Him all sin is the same. Any sin separates us from Him. It doesn’t matter how small. After all, all Adam and Eve did was eat a piece of fruit – how bad can that be? The only problem was, they had been told not to eat THAT piece of fruit. That was the ONLY restriction they had! There were no other rules for them to obey, just that one! DO NOT EAT ANY FRUIT FROM THIS PARTICULAR TREE! That was it. So God considers even the little things to be just as important as what we think are the big things.

The biggest problem of pain is that it doesn’t hurt enough yet. We are still willing to put up with it so we can continue to do our own thing. To go our own way, even as followers of Jesus. How long before we have had enough? How long will it take before it hurts too much? How long before we realize that our acceptance of the way things are is causing others untold pain? That those “innocent” people are suffering because we are not fed up enough with the evil in our own lives to do anything about it? The biggest problem is – there is nothing we CAN do about it! WE CAN NOT CHANGE OURSELVES! If left to ourselves, we will continue just as we are, enjoying the pleasures of this world. It is only when we turn our lives TOTALY over to the sovereignty of God can things start to change. When He is the Lord of my life, then He will change me to be like Jesus, a little bit at a time, but more and more each day – as long as I let Him. I can hinder the process – I can fight it all the way to the grave even. And that is the sad part. Paul says you will still make it to heaven, but it will be like just making it through the flames. (See 1 Corinthians 3:10-15) So is that good enough for you? Are you going to fight God all the way to the end, just so you can still hang on to that little bit of “Doing My Own Thing”? There is a danger in doing that – if you do, have you truly given your life over to God? The Apostle John tells us that in the end people will leave the body of Christ, not because they have lost their salvation, but because they never truly had it in the first place. In fact, even though they were in the church, John says that they are actually “antichrist”, that is – against, instead of, or in place of – Christ. In other words, they actually oppose everything Jesus stands for and strive to set themselves up in His place as the sovereign of their lives. (See 1 John 2:18-19) And Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Notice Jesus never says they didn’t do all those “good” things they claim to have done in His name. He just says He “never knew them” – they were never part of God’s family. So there will be people in the church who act like Christians, talk like Christians, and even work like Christians, that we will praise for their wonderful service for God, but who have never truly given control of their lives over to God. And there will be people in the church who we will wonder, “How in the world can they call themselves a Christian and live and act like that” who will make it to heaven, who Jesus calls brother or sister.

So, back to my question, Do you want to hold on to what seems to be that last little bit of self determination, that last little bit of “I’m in control”? It could very well mean that you are still in complete control, that you really haven’t let God have anything yet. That you are perfectly fine with the pain in your life and how much pain you are causing others, and you truly have no desire to change.

Or are you tired of all the pain? Does the evil around you sicken you? Are you ready for it to end? Then let go of the control of your life – turn it ALL over to God. Surrender the thrown to Him and let Him be in control. Sure you will still try to run things at times. And, yes, you will still make mistakes, but as long as you keep turning back to Him, and asking Him to take over those parts that you keep trying to run, He will change you. He will make you to be more and more like Jesus. Paul likens the process to a crucifixion, and that was not a quick death, it was a long and painful struggle. And so is our transformation into the likeness of Jesus.

God’s desire is for us to be healed, to be free of all our pain and suffering, but until all of Satan’s accusations have been answered, and all of the questions about the nature of evil have been answered for everyone, He will still be forced to work within our freedom of choice and allow us and those around us to do whatever it is we want to do, as long as we do not cross those ultimate boundaries He has set in place.

So what are you going to do about it? Do you want the pain to continue or do you want it to end? Are you going to continue to be entertained by evil or are you going to turn control of your life over to Jesus and let Him teach you to hate evil as He does and let Him use you to fight it wherever it may appear – even if it is fun – even if it is in your life?