Confess Religiosity

When the people of Israel eventually came into the land of promise, and once they changed the focus of their religious behavior to that which would conform to their own desires, it was then that they created in their minds gods who would condone their wayward behavior. This is indeed the most frightening aspect of the warning of Deuteronomy 13 against the Israelites. They eventually turned from God and His moral authority to gods they imagined after their own misguided moral desires, just as millions today have done throughout the world.

The sad thing about this present-day apostasy is that religious people around the world who call themselves after Christ have so little knowledge of the Bible that they do not realized where they are. In fact, they vex those who are trying to lead their lives according to the authority of the word of God. If the definition of “evil” in Deuteronomy 13 is taken into the context of Genesis 6:5, then we can assume that the world today is indeed in perilous times. In those days of Noah, “Every imagination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” Because of a worldwide lack of knowledge of the moral authority of God, we are in the same predicament as Noah.

We must understand the “evil” of Genesis 6:5 in the context of the time when Noah was preparing the ark for the deliverance of his family from the total destruction of the population of the world at that time. Peter revealed that the condition of the world at that time was “evil.” He revealed that Jesus in the spirit went and preached to those of that generation through Noah, “who once were disobedient when the longsuffering of God waited patiently in the days of Noah” (1 Pt 3:20). God “did not spare the old world, but saved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others” (2 Pt 2:5).

The early Christians were warned by Jesus that the same moral and religious conditions that existed during the days of Noah would prevail when God would again bring judgment into the world, specifically in reference to the destruction of national Israel: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will be the coming of the Son of man” (Mt 24:37). One might concluded that Jesus was here speaking of His final coming, but the “coming” in the context is better understood in the historical context of those of Jesus’ generation who would not pass away until all those things about which He spoke came to pass (Mk 9:1).

When we understand the work of God in judgment of those of this world, the same principle of judgment is true in reference to the “evil” that would prevail at the time when He would come in His final judgment. So Jesus reminded His generation, “For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Mt 24:38). Noah’s generation was carrying on with a normal life, being totally unaware and unbelieving concerning the impending destruction that was coming upon them. “And they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away. So also will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt 24:39).

According to Genesis 6:5, the generation that suffered the judgment of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was an “evil” generation. Those Jews were fervently religious, but they were evil. They had rejected and crucified the Son of God. It was a religious generation, but it was “religiously evil” So we must not assume that an evil generation is a generation of thieves and reprobates. Normal life is carried on by evil generations. They find comfort in their “evil” religion because their religion conforms to their narcissistic desires.

Noah’s generation was not as that which was portrayed by the movie Noah, staring Russel Crowe. This movie that was released in 1914 portrayed Noah’s generation to be composed of a vile and murderous people. But Jesus’ description of that generation in Matthew 24 does not conform to what was portrayed in the movie. And we will believe Jesus over the producers of the movie.

Those of Noah’s generation were as those of the generation of Israel to whom Deuteronomy 13 was addressed. They were ordinary people who had given up on the God of heaven and created gods that would agree with their own religious and moral behavior. Their faith became subjective to their own desires, and thus, their religion was defined as “evil.” That was an “evil” generation.

In contrast to those of his generation who had no respect for the authority of God’s moral standards of faith and behavior, “Noah, being warned of God of things not yet seen, moved with fear” (Hb 11:7). Noah respected the mandates of the word of God. When people stop fearing the word of God, they are defined in the Bible as “evil.” These are those who will vex (mock) those who are preachers of the word of God (2 Pt 2:7,8). Subjective religionists will always mock those who have an objective faith this is based on the word of God.

[Next in series: August 12]

Difficult Paradigm Shifts

Regardless of all the changes the the newly freed children of Israel had to endure in their lives in order to move into a new paradigm of freedom and independence, there was one change that seemed almost impossible to make. In fact, it was so impossible that God had to take out an entire generation of Israelites in order to bring into the land of promise a new generation. The first generation of Israelites, who had been infected with the virus of Egyptian religiosity, had to be buried in the desert before the new nation of believers could be allowed into the land of promise.

The children of Israel would have to change from a spoken oral tradition of moral authority of many gods to a revealed word-based authority of commandments and statutes from only one God. They would even have to move from the word that came through their fathers and prophets, to the word of God that was revealed and finalized by being written on stone tablets or parchment.

Since the beginning of time, God’s moral standards of belief and behavior had been delivered orally to mankind. “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (Hb 1:1). But at the foot of Mount Sinai, the gods of Egypt, as well as the inspired spoken word of the fathers and prophets, would give way to the final authority of the written word of a God who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. After Sinai, He would later direct Moses under the influence of the Holy Spirit to inscribe the entire Law (Gn, Ex, Lv, Nm, Dt).

While the children of Israel were in Egypt, God had previously and orally spoken through Abraham, and then Isaac, and then Jacob. The people lived by the spoken word of these fathers, who were also prophets. We do not know if there were prophets among them while they were in Egyptian captivity. All their beliefs and behavior throughout their history had come to them orally through the fathers and prophets, but not in the form of written documents. Because of this, the people were prone to create some of their own beliefs and codes of behavior. Most of the civilizations at the time inscribed in stone or on monuments their legal codes of behavior. But not the Israelites. All their instructions came to them orally, as was the giving of all of God’s instructions from the beginning of time. But this was to change in the giving of the written Law that would come through Moses.

Before the Israelites arrived in Egypt, they had already been following some of the behavioral codes of the nations. For example, in the Code of Hammurabi, that dates back to the time of Abraham around 2,000 B.C., this Babylonian stone inscription listed some of the laws that were eventually included in the law that God wrote for the people through Moses. We would assume, therefore, that these social and civil laws originally came from God through the fathers, but we cannot confirm this. The Code of Hammurabi was a secular inscription of civil and moral laws that were inscribed by a Babylonian king.

The Israelites were undoubtedly living by some of the civil laws of the Code of Hammurabi while they were in Egypt. However, this does not assume that their obedience to such laws proves that the civil laws of the Code of Hammurabi were inspired by God. For example, the “eye for an eye” law of Hammurabi later became one of the laws of the Sinai Law (Ex 21:23-25; Dt 19:21). We would not assume, however, that the Code of Hammurabi was inspired by God because some of its laws were incorporated into the Sinai Law. The origin of the “eye for an eye” law may have orally been spoken through the ancient fathers and prophets, and subsequently included in the Code of Hammurabi. But it was definitely considered an inspired written law when it became a part of the Sinai Law.

Abraham had no written codes to hand down to his descendants. However, the Egyptians among whom the Israelites lived had written commandments of belief and conduct. The temples and tombs of Egypt were covered with the Egyptian hieroglyphics of codes and commandments. But the Israelites had no written documents that they used as authority for their beliefs and behavior. For this reason, they were prone to harvest beliefs and moral behavior from the people among whom they dwelt. This was particularly true in reference to their four centuries in Egypt.

But this paradigm would shift. They too would be given written instructions, first on stone, and then as inscribed documents from the hand of Moses. When God shifted from the fathers and prophets among them who had given instructions for millennia, to written commandments, this would mean that the Israelites could no longer adopt beliefs and moral standards from the people among whom they would reside. For example, the very first commandment of the written ten commandments clearly reveals the problem that the Israelites faced while in Egypt. This problem would plague them throughout their stay in the land of promise. This major problem was inferred when God inscribed on stone, “You will have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3).

God knew that the Israelites would always want to created in their minds “gods” who would dictate their moral and civil standards. Because they were a stubborn and stiffnecked people, God knew that throughout their history they would want to adopt the religious beliefs and behavior of the people around them, and then create gods who would confirm to their religious desires. The people were prone to creating gods after the culture in which they lived in Egypt. His curse would follow them for the next one thousand years. When they came into Palestine, and disobeyed God by not dispersing from the land all the idolatrous people within the land, they would eventually start believing the Baal prophets of the Canaanites who lived among them. This apostasy would reach its zenith during the great times of King Solomon, who would marry the women of the nations around Israel, which women would lead him and Israel astray after Baal gods.

Because the Israelites were a stubborn and stiffnecked people, they eventually, throughout their history, found it impossible to make the paradigm shift from a faith that was based on moral tradition and the voice of the fathers and prophets, to a written document that would be the only foundation of their faith. Because they had always accepted some of the moral standards of the nations in which they lived, or that surrounded them while they resided in Palestine, their faith would digress into a religiosity that was foreign to the written law of God.

While in Egyptian captivity for four centuries, the authority of their faith was influenced by the gods of the Egyptians. When they came into the land of promise, their faith eventually found its authority again in the gods of the nations around them. The same happens today when people allow the religious beliefs of those among whom they must dwell to influence their faith. We often find it too easy to shift from the written moral beliefs and standards of the word of God to accepting the moral beliefs and standards of the majority among whom we live. We find it difficult to stand alone on the authority of the written word of God, while refusing to conform to the religious authority of the majority.

[Next in series: August 9]

Cultural Paradigm Shift

In order to understand where the recipients of the Deuteronomy 13 directives were socially, culturally and religiously, we must go back in their history almost four centuries. We must go back to a land in which they were “taken care of” by a very polytheistic society that initially invited Jacob and his family into the land of Goshen (Gn 45:10). Until that time in Egypt there had been a succession of pharaohs that extended back several centuries before the arrival of Jacob and his sons. In fact, when Jacob arrived in Egypt, there were monuments throughout Egypt, many of which were at least one thousand years old. There were pyramids and temples that were intimidating to this small clan of shepherds from Palestine. We can only imagine how awesome the structures of Egypt appeared to these shepherds who had come from a land where they experienced no such massive monuments or temples.

Nevertheless, at the time when Jacob’s clan arrived in Egypt, the Nile Delta of Egypt was the ideal environment in which shepherds could graze their sheep and goats in the fertile region of Goshen, a place of rivers and grasslands. What could be more peaceful than to reside in such a social and political environment under the protection of such an awe-inspiring nation. We are convinced that Jacob and his sons were truly grateful for the kind gesture that was shown them by the pharaoh of Egypt.

But from the very beginning of their arrival, there were challenges for these monotheistic shepherds from the pastures of Palestine. As guests in the land of Egypt, the Israelites had to accommodate the polytheistic religiosity of their host. Egypt was a society that believed in many gods whom they assumed had allowed them to become such a great and powerful society at the time. The Egyptians had history, and a culture that dated back centuries.

The Egyptians had invested heavily in their military, having some of the greatest war chariots of the ancient world. Archaeological evidence reveals that they had compound bows that would send arrows further in distance than any contemporary bows of the neighboring nations. The Egyptian military was unmatched by other nations at the time Israel resided in Egypt. It was the perfect environment, therefore, for God to grow a nation in order to preserve the promises that He had made to Abraham (Gn 12:1-3).

But then problems came for the innocent shepherd culture. After being in the Egyptian social and cultural environment for almost four centuries, something began to happen to the foundational beliefs of the people. Not only did the descendants of the shepherds begin to accommodate the polytheism of their host nation, they also started to adopt—at least condone—the polytheism of their host. Israel’s gratitude for their protection led them to be very tolerant of the fact that the Egyptians were atheists in reference to believing in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But since they were economically at the mercy of the economically powerful Egyptians, they thought they had to compromise their faith in reference to their being only one God. They were cautious about speaking against the gods of the Egyptians. So God determined that it was time for them to leave the comforts of their host.

The monotheism of Israel was contrary to Egypt’s polytheism. Nevertheless, Israel remained tolerant, so tolerant that in some ways they learned to bear with all those who believed in other gods. They led themselves to believe that if one were simply a good person, believed in the human rights of the individual, then they as monotheistic believers could cohabit with such good polytheists. But in the eyes of God, His people were starting to conform too much to the religiosity of their host.

Faith, or religion, should never be an obstacle to one’s association with other people, even with those who believed in other gods. Regardless of how many gods in which their host nation believed, and as long as they were tolerant of their beliefs, then the Israelites could reside peacefully in the land. But the Israelites’ toleration went too far. They began to accept some of the Egyptian gods, or at least believe that there were other gods to whom they should reverence out of respect for the Egyptians. This compromise in belief did not reveal itself until they were in a time of desperation at the foot of Mount Sinai. It was then that they cried out to Aaron,Make us gods that will go before us (Ex 32:1). This plea to Aaron after they had been set free from Egypt reveals that at least this generation of freed Israelites had been infected with the virus of Egyptian polytheism.

But then politics also entered into the picture while the people were still in Egypt. Because the Israelites were pacifists, and Egypt protected them with their military strength, they became comfortable in their state of security. They did not need their own military to guard their security. They subsequently began to multiply to the point that their host nation of Egypt became worried that they would eventually outnumber them in the land. Israelite “votes” began to grow to the extent that the host nation believed that the Israelites would take over their land. In fact, the chronicler of the times wrote of the Israelites, “The children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty. And the land was filled with them” (Ex 1:7). In fact, according to archaeological records, the Israelites became so great in numbers that historically they possibly seceded from Egypt as a whole, having gained self-controlled of the northeastern region of Goshen. At least this is what seems to appear in some Egyptian historical records of the time.

Therefore, our biblical account must be understood in view of this mass growth in the population of the Israelites in Egypt. The pharaoh at the time of the massive growth was greatly concerned that the Israelites would eventually take over all Egypt. If this happened, then God’s promise to Abraham, that He would give to his descendants the land of Palestine, would possibly never be fulfilled (Gn 12:7). Therefore, God had to raise up a pharaoh, who through slavery, would to generate a thirst for freedom on the part of the Israelites (See Rm 9:14-18).

Nevertheless, change for the Israelites came when the legacy of Joseph faded in the minds of the Egyptians. So after more than three centuries of the arrival of Jacob’s clan in Egypt, “there rose up a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Ex 1:8). Because the Israelites had increased so extensively in the land, this new pharaoh complained to his fellow Egyptians, “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we” (Ex 1:9). Therefore, the southern part of Egypt rose up to retake control of the Goshen region, subjugating the Israelites to slavery. “They set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens” (Ex 1:11).

Once God had toughened His people through slavery, it was time for Him to raise up Moses and send him to Sinai for forty years of training in wilderness living. He then brought Moses back to deliver a people who had been hardened by years of slavery, but influenced by the polytheism of the Egyptians. The influence of four hundreds years of polytheistic religionists had to come to an end. The people were thus made to cry out for freedom in order that they not make Egypt their permanent homeland. A promise had to be fulfilled that was made about five centuries before to Abraham (Gn 12:7).

In their slavery, the Israelites became hardened and stubborn. In order to retain their identity, they were changed into a stubborn people who resisted their taskmasters. In their stubbornness, however, they preserved themselves as a unique people who did not succumb completely to the culture of the Egyptians. They maintained their identity as the children of Israel (Jacob). As slaves, however, the children of Israel learned to be a people who were “taken care of” as slaves, but unique in their identity as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Though they developed a bondage mentality in Egypt, at least they could eat, for their taskmasters gave them the right to grow their own food. During times of drought, they could receive grain from the southern lands of Egypt. Therefore, in reference to their food supply, they had no worries. Though they were in slavery, they had no worry about their next table of food.

But when God sent Moses to fetch His people out of Egyptian captivity, this all changed. It changed so rapidly in their lives that the Israelites went through a shock of acculturation in the wilderness, even though they had been delivered from the bondage of Egypt.

Deliverance entailed a tremendous social paradigm shift. They went from the security of a society wherein all decisions were made for them by their taskmasters whom they could see, to a society where decisions were mandated through written commandments from a God whom they could not see. In the wilderness they had to wake up every morning and make decisions as to what they should do for the day. They went from depending on food from the harvest of their own crops in a secure land, to food (manna) they would receive only when they awoke every morning. They went from the security of what happened every day, to the insecurity of a whole new world in a wilderness about which they knew nothing. They went from grasslands to desert; from rivers to water springs from the ground; from trusting in the power of a host country to being a people who had to depend only on themselves and one God who would protect them. They even went from a military that protected them to building their own military.

It was an almost impossible social paradigm shift that was very difficult for them to bear. In fact, in the months that followed their crossing of the Red Sea they struggled to accept the new wilderness paradigm into which they had been delivered. It was not easy. In fact, their attitudes could be summed up in the following statement that was made on several occasions in the wilderness: “Now when the people complained [or, murmured] …” (Nm 11:1; see Ex 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Nm 14:2; 16:41).

[Next in series: August 6]

Sobering Examples

The Holy Spirit calls on all Christians to study their Old Testaments in order to remember the error of God’s people throughout the history of Israel: “For whatever things were written [in the Old Testament] before were written for our learning, so that we through patience and encouragement of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rm 15:4). “Now these things happened to them [Israel] as an example, and they were written [in the Old Testament] for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Co 10:11).

This brings us to one of the most sobering chapters of the entire Bible. It is sobering because the people of God at a particular time in history fell away to that about which God warned them in Deuteronomy 13. This chapter was a direct mandate from God that was issued before the children of Israel entered into the land of promise. Every time we read this chapter, our hearts are moved just this side of being terrified of what God forewarned His people in reference to their eventual turn away from Him to the charismatic leaders of the Baal prophets. So much of what God said in this chapter applies so well to the religious world today in which we live.

In order to understand the context of what God revealed to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy 13, we must clearly understand that the apostasy about which the people were forewarned was not about them becoming a nonreligious people. On the contrary, the warning referred to an eventual paradigm shift in their religiosity. They would remain religious, but the focus of their religiosity would be shifted from God and His commandments to obedience of the religious rites, rituals and ceremonies they would create for themselves after their own desires.

Because they would eventually forget the word of God (Hs 4:6), they would create their own religiosity. Once they had established their own religious rites, ritual and ceremonies, especially their own immoral behavior in reference to the practice of their religion, they would then “hire” priests and prophets to promote their religion. The priests and prophets of their religiosity would then impose on them their religion in order to maintain their supported positions as priests and prophets.

In all this the people would forsake the word of God. Because the people would eventually become ignorant of what their “Bibles” said, they would shift from the authority of God’s word to their own religious authorities. They would move from God to the gods that they would create after their own imagination.

Moses and Aaron had been warned forty years before Deuteronomy was written of Israel’s lean toward creating idolatrous religiosity. The Israelites were a stubborn and stiffnecked people who wanted to do their own thing (See Ex 32:9; 33:3,5). A few months after being delivered from the polygamist religious culture of their Egyptian captors, and while at the foot of Mount Sinai, the people revealed that they were at that time prone to “evil.”

This “evil” was defined by what Aaron said to Moses after Moses came down from Mount Sinai with two stone tablets of God’s commandments in his arms. Aaron justified himself for building the golden calf by saying that the people demanded of him, “Make us gods that will go before us” (Ex 32:23). In other words, the people wanted gods who would do what they wanted them to do, that is, they wanted to be the authority of their own faith. And so, Aaron made the golden calf that was a symbol of self-imposed religiosity. This was “evil,” and this is a description of most of the religious world today. We seek a faith that is based on the validation of the word of God, therefore, when we struggle with our faith, we study our Bibles. We do not seek a “miracle.” We do not need a faith that must be constantly and empirically validated by touching the nail holes in the hands of Jesus or the wound in His side (See Jn 20:24-29).

“Evil” religion is narcissistic, which explains the religiosity of the people who were at the foot of Mount Sinai. They wanted gods who would be subject to their desires instead of them being subjected to the authority of a God they could not see. In this way, evil religion is always subjective since it is the product of those who seek to be their own authority. Religion is always empirical because the adherents always, if not weekly, validate their faith by some “miracle” or speaking in tongues. Contrary to narcissistic and empirical religion that is subjective, faith in the authority of the word of God is always objective. Objective faith is always expressed in the words that Eli instructed young Samuel, “Speak Lord, Your servant hears” (1 Sm 3:9). The objective believer seeks to hear from the word of God. The subjective religionists seeks to see and experience.

When one seeks to be religious according to his own subjective feelings, or some “miracle” he subjectively perceives, then he is simply following after evil religion. His faith is based on his own humanity. But if one objectively seeks out the word of God and reads, then he or she has a faith that is based on the word of God (Is 34:16). The word of God becomes the objective foundation of his or her faith (Rm 10:17). Subsequently, this person is seeking to worship and serve God according to God’s word. These are the folks for whom God is seeking throughout the world today to worship Him (Jn 4:23).

So in the Sinai Peninsula God asked Moses, “How long will I bear with this evil assembly who murmur against Me?” (Nm 14:27). Those who came out of Egyptian captivity were still infected with the virus of Egyptian religiosity. And for this reason, they had to be quarantined in the wilderness for forty years until they were disinfected. They had to be quarantined in the wilderness until the first freed generation of people, who was idolatry-infested, had died in the wilderness. God did not want the initial idolatry-contaminated generation to enter into the purity of the land of promise. So God said, “In this wilderness they will be consumed and there they will die” (Nm 14:35).

The people did evil by seeking to make idol gods who would go before them. Forty years after the Sinai incident, when they were about to enter into the land of promise as a new generation that had been born in the wilderness, Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. In the book God forewarned the Israelites that they would likewise be doing evil if they decided in the land to infect themselves again with their own religions they would create after their own desires (Dt 4:25). And thus in the context of Deuteronomy 13, we understand how God used the word “evil.” “Evil” would be turning away from the moral standards of the God who brought them out of Egyptian captivity. “Evil” would be creating a religious faith after their own desires, and gods whom they supposed would go before them.

Since their eventual shift away from the moral authority of the word of God would lead to them establishing their own moral standards, then only evil behavior would result. In other words, if one wants to live in adultery, then he or she must change must either change or discard the dictionary that defines adultery. If one wants to live as a homosexual, then one must discard the dictionary (the Bible) that states what homosexuality is and that homosexuality is evil. The same would also apply to “evils” as thief, murder, drunkenness, fornication and such works of the flesh that the Holy Spirit noted in Galatians 5:19,20. Therefore, any apostasy from the authority of the word of God results in that which the word of God defines as evil.

The apostasy to evil in Israel would be led by those who would no longer be teachers of the authority of the law of God, but teachers of their own religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that would permit evil behavior to exist among the people. It is this “evil” in the context of Deuteronomy 13 that God commanded through Moses, “Put away the evil from you” (Dt 17:12).

This is the same mandate that the Holy Spirit gave to some Corinthians who were making friends with the evil idolatrous religiosity of unbelievers in Corinth, which unbelievers were promoting fornication as worship to their gods: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness. And what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Co 6:14). If this were true with Israel, and with the early Christians in Corinth, then certainly it is true with us today.

Christians must be cautious about fellowshipping the “evil” that is represented by the religions of the world in which we live. Since religion is a denial of the moral authority of the word of God, then the beliefs and behavior of all religion must be questioned and compared with the word God. The Word of God must be our standard of judgment of the faith of all men because many religionists deny, or at least have twisted, that which the word of God defines as evil. This is exactly what happen in the apostasy of Israel. They had morally digressed to the point of reversing evil and good: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). If one does not think this is true today, then think of all those religionists who are members of churches that condone abortion (murder). Think about all those prophets who stand up before the people and are afraid to preach against homosexuality.

And now today, the present pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to put “evil religiosity” away from ourselves and reconnect again with God through His word. It is a time of restoration wherein we can step outside the cathedrals and temples wherein religious rites, rituals, ceremonies and supposed miracles were meritoriously performed that defined our religiosity. This is an opportunity to read again the Holy Spirit-inspired dictionary in the quietness of our own homes in order to check our moral behavior and beliefs.

We have also discovered that our rituals of worship do not define our worship, nor do they make our worship meritoriously acceptable before a God. The people of God now have the opportunity to step inside their closets, and worship in prayer on their knees. This is indeed a time to feel the refreshing winds of a word-based relationship with the Father, which relationship we have often cluttered with the performance of our own religiosity. We are now laid bear before our Creator, being stripped naked of all our presumptuous and meritorious performances that we assumed would sanctify us before God.

[Next in series: August 4]

Introduction

There is a great open door that has been made possible by the Covid-19 pandemic. Members of religious groups around the world are now home, and in some ways, detached from their Sunday-morning rituals that were conducted by the local pastor or priest of their choice. Other than the limited attachment with their favorite preacher through live-streaming, members of religious groups have now been moved into an opportunity to dust off their Bibles and start reading again for themselves the Divine instructions of the word of God.

We know that it is God’s customary plan to allow Satan to work against himself. The most dramatic case of this work on the part of God was when He allowed Satan to stir up a mob to have His Son crucified. Since we conclude that God has allowed Satan to bring the dark cloud of the present pandemic upon the face of the world, God will use this opportunity to sift from the earth those who truly love His word. We must assume, therefore, that God is using us as His harvesters to reap fruit from the fields. We must be attentive to Jesus’ encouragement with which He challenged His disciples, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already for harvest” (Jn 4:35).

We see the pandemic, therefore, to be a fantastic opportunity to encourage home Bible study. The pandemic may be one of God’s ways to give people one last chance to be reminded of His road map unto eternal glory. It is at least an opportunity for all of us to reconnect through prayer and Bible study with the one true and living God. After following so many other professionals who have monopolized, and limited, our knowledge of the Bible, it is now time to take the time to learn directly for ourselves His true destiny for us through a personal study of His word.

We have simply discovered that we no longer need those dreamers and man-made traditions that have been shouted from pulpits and podiums around the world. We no longer need all the prophets of doom. We have discovered that in our humble homes we can learn again the song, “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the world keep silence before Him.” So now, both preachers and people have been confined in lockdown silence in order to search their hearts for the purpose of building a true relationship with the Father through His word. This is indeed the days of opportunity to again walk by faith.

[Next in series: August 1]

Faith Is The Victory

THANKS FOR PARTNERING: The early morning hours are inspirational to me. In the crispness of a new morning, and during or after prayer, a thought will begin to generate. Albert Einstein said the best part of the day was the morning, and I would certainly concur with his conclusion. From the time an inspirational thought settles in my mind, I start thinking. It seems that one inspirational thought inspires sequential chapters that eventually expands into an e-book, one of which is being made available to you with this notice. After writing the initial thoughts that have now grown into a chapter, subsequent chapters seem to find their birth in that original thought. Over several weeks, “chaptorial” sequences are added before or after the original thought. When the original thoughts have grown near unto 75 or 100 pages, it is then that you have the results of the attached advertised e-book.
I must thank all those who have partnered with me throughout the years in sharing the e-books around the world that have often been inspired by an initial morning concept. I have printed thousands, if not shipping containers of hard copy books over the years. But in this modern age, printing of books in hard copies is very limiting in reference to distribution. Not only is doing such outrageously expensive both in printing and distribution, but in these days of computers and smartphones, it is somewhat senseless. For example, in my Biblical Research Library there are over one hundred books. Some person in a village of middle India or Africa can take a “memory stick” to a computer cafe in town, and download the entire library in less than an hour. After paying the hourly fee for online time, he or she can then walk out of the computer cafe with more Bible material than one could receive in a four-year Bible degree from a university. He can then, and many do, share with friends the books that are on the memory stick. If hard copies are desired, for a nominal fee one can print out the particular book he or she so desires. This is the world in which we live. Therefore, I and my supporters made a decision years ago to stop limiting the literature and research ministry by printing and distributing hard copies.
Once an e-book is completed, it is distributed throughout the world through three mediums: (1) Before the e-book is published as an e-book, most of the contents of the chapters have been shared online through my blog site. There are readers from about 100 countries around the world who are regular readers of these blogs. (2) Once the materials have been shared on the blog site, an e-book is eventually composed, and then sent to proof readers. PDF copies are then emailed around the world. Those who receive the PDF copies are encouraged to share the e-books they receive with their friends on their email list. (3) Facebook announcements are made through posting, sharing and messenging on my Facebook page or personal site. Through this medium I ask friends and recipients on Facebook to also share the e-books with their friends. Through all the mediums of distribution, several thousand e-books go forth into all the world in a matter of weeks.
I am very grateful to all those around the world who have been so generous and faithful in sharing all the e-books that I have written. Because of the Internet, this is the century of the writing ministry. Most teachers are not gifted writers—I give it a good try—but through live-streaming they are reaching thousands online. The advantage of writing Bible e-materials, however, is that millions have the opportunity throughout the years to download and research the morning thoughts of some author somewhere in the world. So if you want to begin your partnership with us in this ministry, you can download the book, FAITH IS THE VICTORY, by clicking below and sharing with your friends. (HINT: If you have sourced our website previously, be sure to “Refresh” the Library page so your computer will indicate the latest editions to all the e-books.)

http://www.africainternational.org/files/Book99.pdf

Purpose of Miracles

God does nothing without a purpose. He does not unleash His great and powerful hand to entertain man. The miraculous healings of the Bible were not circus acts. J. W. McGarvey once wrote, “A miracle wrought by a man is an exercise of Divine power entrusted to the man for some Divine purpose.”20:354 There was purpose behind the miracles of the Bible. Therefore, when the purpose was fulfilled, the miracles were no longer needed because the Holy Spirit, through the inspiration of the Bible, provided a foundation upon which our faith is built.

  1. Miracles were a stamp of God’s approval. Many of the miracles found in the Old Testament made known that God was the only true and living God and that His messengers were sent from Him, not Satan. Elisha, the successor of Elijah, was proven to be the messenger of God by the miracles he worked (2 Kg 2). Moses had the witness of God with him when he showed God’s power over the tricks of the magicians of Egypt (Ex 7:8-13). When these miracles had fulfilled their purpose, there was no need that they continue. God did not have to prove continually to Pharaoh after the Israelites were released, that He was the only God.
  2. Miracles proved the sonship of Jesus. Miracles authenticated Jesus as the Son of God. John wrote, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn 20:30,31). Jesus’ miracles produced faith in the minds of the beholders. “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him” (Jn 2:11). Nicodemus proclaimed, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2; see 4:48).

“But I have a greater witness than John’s,” Jesus stated, “for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (Jn 5:36; see 6:14; 10:27,37,38; 11:15; 14:11). When John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus responded, “Go tell John the things which you hear and see. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Mt 11:2-6; see Lk 7:20-22).

The works of Jesus proved that He was the Son of God and that He had the authority to forgive sins (Mt 9:6; see Mk 2:9-12; Lk 5:26). Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost and preached, “Men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know” (At 2:22).

If there were to be such a thing as a “Son of God,” it is reasonable to believe that this “Son of God” should have command over the environment that He created. The working of miracles to prove His authenticity would be necessary in order that gullible men not follow after every so-called, self-made “miracle” performer that ventured upon the stage of history. And certainly, history has proven God right in making miracles the proof of His messengers. Has anyone, anywhere in the history of the world, worked such works as God’s messengers in the Bible? Many have claimed to do so in these modern times. But they are found to be frauds in view of the definition of the true confirming miracles that are listed in the Bible.

  1. Miracles proved that the early Christians were from God. Miracles that were worked by the hands of the first century messengers of Christ testified to their commission from God to preach the truth of the gospel. Mark recorded, “And these signs will follow those who believe; In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover … And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. “Amen” (Mk 16:17,18,20).

The Hebrew writer also wrote, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hb 2:3,4). The witness of miracles was necessary in the first century to authenticate the messengers and the message. Once the testimony of this miraculous witness was recorded, then there needed to be no more confirming miracles. If one would believe the message today, then he or she must search through the recorded testimony of miracles that confirmed the message in the first century.

In our courts today we produce witnesses to verify a fact or evidence. The reliability and character of the witnesses plays a vital role as to the truthfulness of the witnesses’ testimony. Witnesses are questioned extensively and put to the test by the lawyers. After their reliability is substantiated, and their testimony is placed on record, then the witnesses are no longer needed. The jury does not take the witnesses to the jury chambers in order to make their decision. They take the record of the trial which contains the testimony of each witness.

So it is with the word of God. Who can find a flaw in the record of the miracles that the inspired writers have recorded for us today? Are not Paul, Peter and John reliable witnesses? Who can find fault or flaw in the life of Jesus of Nazareth? Miracles proved the trustworthiness of the witnesses. The Word of God has been confirmed by miracles. The facts have been established. The living witnesses are no longer needed. We have the record of their testimony with which to make our decision concerning the claim that Jesus is the Son of God.

Therefore, confirming miracles must be defined in relation to their occurrence in the Bible. Any other source used in their definition would produce both an unjust and false definition. This is especially true in reference to those who profess to perform confirming miracles today. One of the problems that Christians face today is that the unbelieving world scorns the miracle-performing false prophets of today. In fact, these performers do a great disservice to validating the Bible to be the word of God, and thus the foundation of our faith. The unbelievers use the performances of the miracle worker today in order to define the miracles of the Bible. Since the unbeliever concludes that the miracle performances of today are not valid miracles, then he assumes that all the miracles of the Bible are of the same nature. The fake miracle workers today, therefore, take Christianity backwards in reference to convincing unbelievers, and not forward.

Miracles were not happenings of unknown natural laws, nor were they in contradiction to natural laws. They were the manifestations of the working hand of God by the setting aside of natural laws. This manner in which God worked in past times lies outside the scientific method of investigation. Therefore, scientists cannot on a scientific basis deny the past occurrence of miracles.

Miracles of the Bible were facts, but not repeatable facts to be examined today by the scientific method. This does not say that God could not make Himself known today in the same manner as He did at various times in the past. It does say, however, that He has chosen not to do so in order that our faith be based on the recorded fact of what is recorded in the Bible. We have recorded in the pages of the Bible those evidences that are necessary to satisfy to those who are hungering and thirsting after truth. God now wants us to focus on His word, not miracles that He could work today. Because we have the written word, which the early disciples did not have, we must focus on the recorded testimony of those who personally experience the direct work of God in the lives of His people.

If we would seek for more confirming miracles than what is provided in the Bible, then we are asking for more that what God promised. We are minimizing the Bible as the foundation of our faith. We are revealing our lack of faith in the Bible as the foundation upon which we should establish our faith. It is an axiomatic truth that those religionists who know little of the Bible seek to call on God to work a miracle in their lives in order that they might believe. This was the problem of Thomas after the resurrection of Jesus. He said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25). This is the situation with many religionists today. They will not truly believe unless they personally experience some miraculous manifestation for God. Jesus would say to such people the same thing that He said to Thomas after He appeared again to the apostles, “Because you [Thomas] have seen Me, you have believed. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (Jn 20:29). We do not want Jesus to stand before us miraculously today, because if He did, He would steal away our “blessedness.” We are more blessed than the apostles of Jesus because we have not experienced a confirming miracle, and yet we believe. If a true miracle were worked in our presence, then our blessedness would be stolen away.

It is true that God continues to work today in the lives of His people. But He does not work to produce faith through confirming miracles. We may call His work a “miracle,” but we must understand that there is a difference between a confirming miracle, and the purpose thereof, and God’s ordinary outreach to work all things together for good for those who love Him. In working in this manner in our lives, He confirms the faith that we already have. He does not work in a manner that we have faith. Because we walk by this faith we already have, we believe that He is working in our lives, and thus, we are blessed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1968).
  2. George Park Fisher, Manual of Christian Evidences (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903).
  3. Gus Nichols, “Jesus as a Miracle Worker,” Spiritual Sword (Memphis, TN: Getwell church of Christ, 1970), Vol. 1, No. 3.
  4. Darrel Conley, The Gospel Versus Occultism (Shreveport, LA: Lambert Book House, 1975).
  5. Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Christian Faith (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1964).
  6. Vernon C. Grounds, “Miracles,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Everett F. Harrison, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1966).
  7. “Miracle,” Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary (Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1971).
  8. Alfred Grant Walton, This I can Believe (New York, NY: Harper S. Brothers, 1935).
  9. Albert N. Wells, The Christian Message in a Scientific Age (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1962).
  10. R. Hooykass, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974).
  11. William M. Taylor, The Gospel Miracles in Their Relationship to Christ and Christianity.
  12. F. Bettex, Science and Christianity (New York, NY: The Abingdon Press, 1901).
  13. James O. Boswell, “Miracles,” Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Merril C. Tenney, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1968).
  14. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1971).
  15. Peter Eckler, Searching For Truth (New York, NY: Peter Eckler Publisher, 1902).
  16. Manford G. Gutzke, Plain Talk of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1974).
  17. Stanley Sayers, For This Cause (Austin, TX: R. B. Sweet Co., Inc., 1957).
  18. John G. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (New York, NY: Macmillian, 1923).
  19. E. V. Zollars, The King of Kings (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing Co., 1911).
  20. John William McGarcey, Short Essays in Biblical Criticism (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Co., 1956).

[End of series]

Historicity of Miracles

To substantiate further the fact of miracles one must also consider how and under what circumstances they occurred.

  1. Miracles occurred before unbelievers. Miracles occurred many times before the eyes of those who did not believe. They were not “done in a corner” and hidden from the unbelievers (At 26:26). God’s power was no obscure or hidden thing when He poured down fire on Mount Carmel in answer to Elijah’s prayer (1 Kg 18:30-40). The raising of Lazarus by Jesus caused many to believe, but there were also many unbelievers who witnessed the event (Jn 11:45,46). The miracles of the apostles were “manifested to all that dwell in Jerusalem” and the unbelievers could not deny them (At 4:16). The validity of no miracle of Jesus depended on its concealment from the unbeliever’s eye.

There are those who would now make the objection that the witness of unbelievers is evidence that the miraculous events were questionable. In other words, if unbelievers actually experienced true miracles, then why did not all who experienced miracles become believers?

We would answer the preceding objection by saying that one must never underestimate the amount of prejudice that was against Jesus and the other disciples. The enemies of Jesus hated Him because He stood against their positions of power among the Jews. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, therefore, devised and carried out a plot to kill Jesus. These were religious leaders who schemed this plot. They schemed murder, and then, had to relinquish to the rule of Roman law. They thus moved the multitudes to cry out for the crucifixion of Jesus.

The extremity of their prejudice against Jesus blinded them to the fact of the miracles that Jesus and the disciples worked. In fact, they confessed that miracles actually occurred, but they just would not accept those who worked the miracles (See At 4:14-16). The power of unbelief that is based on prejudice is stronger than the empirical evidence of a miraculous event.

  1. Miracles were recorded without any denials either by unbelievers or believers. In the gospel records there is not one denial of the miracles worked by Jesus. Many could and would have denied the fact of miracles if they were only performances of magic and fraud. But the absence of denial leads us to believe in their authenticity. Judas Iscariot walked with Jesus for over three years. He could have denied the miracles before the Pharisees, but he did not. The other disciples also experienced the miracles of Jesus. During their ministries they underwent severe persecution. Would it not be reasonable to believe that in the heat of persecution at least one of the apostles would have denied the authenticity of the miraculous works of Jesus? On the contrary, we hear them stating in times of persecution, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (At 4:19,20).

Those who believed in the miracles wrote the inspired records of the gospel event. If the miracles were deceptions, it would be reasonable to believe that these writers would have contradicted themselves when they recorded the facts surrounding the miraculous events? The fact that there is no contradiction in the recorded accounts is evidence that both miracle and inspiration are true.

The very existence of Christianity is based upon miracles. In other words, Christianity would not exist if it had not first been proved by miracles (See Mk 16:17-20; Hb 2:3,4). We would assume, therefore, that there would be countless contemporary records of secular history that would record denials of these miracles by the enemies of Christianity. Those records do not exist. We have contemporary records that misinterpret and misunderstand Christianity. In this confusion there is the denial of the supernatural. However, no unbeliever who was familiar with the facts ever denied the validity of the miraculous.

  1. Miracles had the testimony of reliable witnesses. The apostles had everything in this world to lose because of their testimony that Jesus was the Christ. Why would they give their lives for one who had deceived the world? Could they also have been deceived? They had been with Jesus for over three years. Would they have suffered so great a persecution for One they had known to have performed only tricks and not real miracles?

The point is that the lives of the apostles that were affected by Jesus cannot be answered without the historicity of Jesus’ miracles. There is no logical reason why they would be so transformed and bold if they had not actually experienced the work of God in the life of Jesus and in their own lives. If they did not actually experience the work of God, then the New Testament is a record of lunacy and lies. It is a record of several lunatics who schemed together in order to preach a message that would bring upon them persecution and death. We would of necessity have to affirm, therefore, that their courage stemmed from the “brotherhood pack” to not forsake the message upon which all of them agreed to preach. However, when one reads the New Testament, is this the impression he or she receives when reading passages that exhort honesty and integrity?

In this context, consider the early death of James at the hand of Herod in Acts 12. Why would God allow such to happen to a Christ-sent apostle in the early establishment of the church. The answer lies in the purpose for which the documents of Luke and Acts were written (See Book 4 in the Biblical Research Library). God allowed James to be killed in order to strengthen for us the testimony of the apostles He preserved.

We have no inspired records of the martyrs of any of the other Christ-sent apostles. How would we know that they were willing to go to death for what they believed if we did not have at least a record of one who did? If there was no record of at least one martyred apostle, then we might conclude that they all went off into obscurity. But the fact that James was willing to die for his faith reaffirms the strength of the tesimony of the living apostles. Because they had actually experienced the miraculous work of God in their lives, they were willing to die for their faith. Therefore, we appreciate the Holy Spirit providing for us a testimony through the death of James, that James and the apostles truly believed that God had miraculously revealed that Jesus was the Christ and Son of God (Mt 16:13-19; see Jn 20:30,31).

  1. Miracles have the testimony of those who were healed. In substantiating the fact of miracles we also have the testimony of those who were healed. Jesus brought sight to a man who had been born blind (Jn 9). This man was brought before the Pharisees and questioned concerning his healing. Though he was pressured and threatened by the Pharisees, neither he nor his parents would deny that he had been healed (Jn 9:25). In other words, he could not have denied that which actually happened.

Thousands of people were healed in the first century. Would it not be reasonable to believe that if deceiving performances were used in these “healings” that at least one of those who was healed would confess that he was not really healed? The fact that there are no denials or confessions of fraud is proof that the healings were real.

[Next in series: July 27]

Denial of Miracles

If one admits the existence of God he must admit the reality of miracles. This is only logical. If one admits to the existence of the supernatural, then he has at the same time left room for miracles. After all, what worth is there in God if He cannot work above the natural laws of this world. A denial of the miracles of the Bible, therefore, is a confession that one is an atheist.


The denial of miracles, therefore, is actually a denial of the supernatural. It is a denial of God. If God is a God that cannot reveal Himself to man, then what kind of a supernatural being is He? Does He have any power? Is He a weak and omnipotent being? If we take away the manifestation of His presence, have we not taken Him away? Several years ago Bettex correctly wrote,

He who allows his belief in miracles to be reasoned away, or even shaken, by professedly scientific arguments, is, to say the least of it, sadly lacking in perspicacity, and would do well to test his conception of an Almighty God, and find out what he really does believe. God is miracle, and he who does not believe in miracles does not believe in God, even though he believes that he believes in him; that is to say, he is mentally too weak to grasp both.12:144

Too often there are those who want a Baal god and not an Elijah God. They want a crippled god who is deaf and dumb and has no power to blast forth fire to disprove the vanities of unbelievers. But the Bible knows no such impotent god. If we deny miracles, we might as well deny God. What possible good would there be in a powerless God? What good was Baal to the Baal prophets?

The consequences of denying miracles are great and many. If we deny miracles, we must deny the authenticity of the Bible. “The New Testament without the miracles,” wrote John Machen, “would be far easier to believe. But the trouble is, would it be worth believing?”18:103 If we deny the miracles of the Bible, we deny the sudden growth of the early church. Such a phenomenal growth would not have been possible without the intervening work of God. If we deny miracles, we deny the phenomenal change in the lives of the apostles and the sudden reality of Christianity. E. V. Zollers said that “it is useless to talk of throwing miracles overboard and still holding on to Christianity. As a system it is founded on miracles. If its miracles are genuine, its claim is fully substantiated; if false, its claim is utterly discredited and its foundations are swept away.”19:1-5

[Next in series: July 25]

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