Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Israel

The church as the most important family

There are serious consequences of losing a sense of family within the church. . . We assume that the nuclear family can meet this need, and yet some of the loneliest, most isolated people in our communities are married with children, often so frenetically busy with child rearing and/or caring for aging parents that they have lost touch with old friends and no longer know how to make new ones.

The church is not a collection of families. The church is family. We are not “family friendly” ; we are family. We learn the skills within the church to be godly sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, and the reverse is also true. . .

God wanted to make Israel distinct, not just morally but also through the signs of the covenant and through the prohibition against their intermarrying with the nations around them. In order to bless the nations, Israel could not be absorbed into the other nations and cease to exist.

The Storm-Tossed Family, by Russell Moore, pages 60 & 61; © Russell Moore, 2018, published by B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee.

Barbarians at the gate

What remains to be seen is whether Donald Trump and his friends are the barbarians or the best defense against a barbarian takeover. I would suggest we take a long walk and wait a while to see. Let’s say about 100 years.

By that time historians should have a clearer view of what has happened. For sure, we shouldn’t count on it that the people who told us a Trump victory was unthinkable and impossible will now be able to explain what his victory will mean.

For a little perspective, let’s consider the situation of Israel several thousand years ago. First Alexander the Great conquered all the countries around the Mediterranean and into the Middle East. His empire then split into three empires competing for supremacy and Israel was trampled underfoot by armies coming from all directions. Eventually, the Romans brought the whole Mediterranean area under their control and set up an Edomite puppet as king of Judea.

The result was that the Greek language became the lingua franca of the whole area, the Roman road system and the rule of Roman law enhanced trade and travel over the whole area, and the sceptre had decisively departed from Judah.

This was the fulness of the times, the stage was set for the coming of the Messiah and for His gospel to spread with amazing speed throughout that whole area. Do you think any of the pious Jews who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah saw any of those barbarian invasions as part of the necessary preparation for His advent?

Let’s not be too quick to believe we understand what God thinks of the current political landscape.

Freedom of religion

From the time that mankind began to form separate nation states it was the custom of each to have its own gods and for each to believe that their gods were superior to the gods of other nations. Thus, if any individual or family in a nation would choose to worship another god, that was treason and was usually punished by death. When one nation conquered another, that was taken as evidence of the superiority of its gods and the conquered people were required to abandon their old gods and worship the gods of those who had conquered them.

In theory, Israel and Judah were no different in this than other nations, except that their God commanded them not to make any visual representations of Him. But it was difficult for people to grasp how Yahweh, the unseen God, could be more powerful than a god that they could see. For hundreds of years they often succumbed to the desire make themselves gods that they could see, to the point of offering hideous sacrifices to these gods, even their own children.

Finally Yahweh allowed Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to conquer Judah and remove many of the people to Babylon. At first he took this as evidence that his god was greater than Yahweh. Then strange things began to happen; Nebuchadnezzar had a succession of vivid dreams, with dramatic consequences.

After the first dream was revealed and interpreted by Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s response was: “Of a truth that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of lords.” After the dramatic results following the second dream, the king said: “Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall ne made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

Thus Yahweh intervened in the affairs of a pagan nation to establish freedom of religion for His people. But He still wasn’t finished with the king of Babylon: after a third dream and a period of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar went beyond acknowledging Yahweh as the God of Daniel and his friends and said:”I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought towards me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”

Most of the Jewish captives in Babylon eventually returned to their homeland. They rebuilt the temple and seemed to have no more desire for visible gods. But they were never again a fully independent nation. There were pockets of Jews who stayed in Babylon, Egypt and other nations and were granted freedom of worship.

Christianity was never intended to be a religion confined to a single nation. The faith first spread among the people of the Jewish diaspora, but soon went far beyond them to include Gentiles of all description. The Christians were never a rival to the political power of nations, yet there was often persecution as nations struggled to maintain the primacy of their national gods.

It was not a step forward when Christianity was made the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire: it was a return to the bad old days. People who would not worship in the prescribed form in the prescribed places became enemies of the state. This included Christians who believed that state Christianity was no Christianity at all, plus Jews and later Muslims.

Someone who is forced to worship a state sponsored religion is not a true believer. Freedom of religion must include the freedom to change your religion. None of us want to see one of our own forsake our religion for something else. But forcing him to stay does not make him a believer. And if their is no freedom to leave, is there truly freedom for someone else to choose to unite with us?

This freedom is the cornerstone of all other freedoms, but it is under threat today from within and without.  Many people in our society feel pressured to acquiesce to the beliefs that are seen to be politically correct. Universities were supposed to be places for the free exchange of ideas; today it seems there is only one right way to think on most campuses.

Islam has never had a theology of freedom of religion. The fierce conflicts that are happening in Islamic nations are largely attempts by different Islamic factions to eliminate other factions that they deem heretical. We are inviting refugees from these horrors to come and settle in our country. Most of them simply want to escape the violence and live in peace. Yet it’s still not likely that the majority really get the concept of freedom of religion. It needs to be impressed upon them that Canada is a land of freedom in all ways, and that we will not look kindly on those who deem it necessary to kill someone who leaves their faith. Can Islam really adapt to living in such freedom?

Thine be the glory

Numbers 14:11-12 — And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

These people had seen the plagues by which God punished and tormented the Egyptians, had been miraculously led through the Red Sea, eaten the manna which appeared each morning, seen the glory of God on Mount Sinai and been led by the visible presence of God in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. And still they could not believe that God was able to lead them into the promised land. No wonder He was ready to disinherit them.

The promise to make of Moses an greater and mightier nation than the Israelites must have seemed almost irresistable. Yet Moses’ immediate reaction was to refuse it and to intercede for Israel.

Numbers 14:13-16 — Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)  and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.

Notice that Moses’ concern for the glory of the LORD completely overshadowed and obliterated any temptation he might have had to accept the glory that God proposed to him.

Can we do any less today? If we want to be known as men and women of God, our sole concern must be His glory. In chapter 20, God tells Moses to speak to the rock and it would give water for the people. But Moses became impatient with the people: “and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also” (verses 10-11). God still provided the water, but for this one act, where Moses spoke as though he was the one providing the water, God would not let him enter the promised land.

We are treading on dangerous ground when we begin to feel that we deserve some of the glory for the good that we do. God alone must receive all the glory.

Foreign to Familiar

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The Delta flight was leaving on time. Three of us were strapped in, one next to the other, each finding it easy to make small talk. As the plane lifted off, so did our burdens of office work. We were off to Glorietta, New Mexico, for a week-long conference, and our minds were filled with thoughts of mountains and crisp air and a break from the Atlanta downtown routine.

“So, Sarah,” my aisle-seat colleague said in that chatty manner of a tourist on vacation, “tell me what it was like growing up in Israel.”

Of all conversation openers, this was my least favourite. I’d been hearing it ever since moving to the States to begin my university studies. But, being in the middle seat, I couldn’t escape.

My desire was to respond, “No, you first. Tell me what it was like growing up in a ranch-style house in suburbia.” What was there to say? And who cares anyway?

But I did answer . . . well, sort of. “It was great,” was the extent of my glib answer.

“No, I mean it, really,” she insisted. “What is the culture like over there?”

By the window sat Aida from Lebanon. She’d been in the States eight years and was much more of an expert on Middle Eastern culture than I was. But at the moment Aida seemed to be fascinated by the window. So I took up the challenge.

“Well, I grew up in a variety of cultures. The Jewish and Arab cultures are vastly different.”

“How so?” she asked.

“In the Jewish culture you say what you think. It’s direct, and you know where you stand with people.”

I glanced at her to see if she was still with me. She was, so I continued.

“The Arab culture, on the other hand, is much more indirect. It’s all about friendliness and politeness. If offered a cup of coffee, I say ‘No, thank you.’

“The host offers it again, and I decline again, with something like: ‘No, no, don’t bother yourself.’ He might offer a third time, and I’d reply, ‘No, I really don’t want any coffee, believe me.’

“Then my host serves the coffee, and I drink it.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said, incredulously.

“No, really,” I assured her. “You’re supposed to refuse the first few times. It’s the polite thing to do.”

“Then what if you really don’t want the coffee?” she asked.

“Well, there are idioms that you can use to say that you wouldn’t for any reason refuse their kind hospitality, and at some point in the future you’ll gladly join them in coffee, but at the moment you really can’t drink it.”

Now Aida got into the conversation. “Incredible! I didn’t know that!” she said, as our heads turned her way.

“Aida,” I replied, “what do you mean that you didn’t know that? You’re Lebanese, for heaven’s sake.”

“Yes,” she said, “but I mean that I didn’t know this was not normal. I’ve been in the United States eight years already, and did not know it was done differently here. That explains so much.

“I’ve been lonely since moving here, and now I know why. When people in the office would ask me if I wanted to go to lunch, I would say ‘no’ to be polite, fully expecting them to ask me again. When they didn’t and left without me, I thought they didn’t want me along and had asked only out of politeness. In my culture, it would have been too forward to say ‘yes’ the first time.

“For this reason, I’ve had few American friends. After all these years, now I know why.”

I sat there stunned. Pondering the sadness of her story, I said to myself, “No one should have to suffer like that simply because they don’t understand the culture of another.”

For the Aidas around the world, I have written this book.

Sarah A Lanier


This is the preface to Foreign to Familiar, which I referred to in a previous post. © 2000 by Sarah A Lanier. Used with permission.

The English book is published by McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. ISBN 1-58158-022-3

Editions in Arabic, French, German, Korean, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish are available from the writer at the following address:

Sarah A Lanier
P.O. Box 874Clarkesville GA  30523
USA

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

There are two ways of reading the Bible. One way is to see it as a repository of morally edifying stories. One can label that the pietistic approach or the moralistic, therapeutic deism approach.

The other approach is to see the Bible as a history of how God revealed, step by step, the redemption story. This was the approach taken by the Anabaptists of years ago. We, who claim to be their spiritual descendants, have been heavily influenced by Bible story books and other influences coming from modern evangelical Christianity and have come close to swallowing the pietistic interpretation. We have lost something important in the process.

Take for example the story of Joseph as it unfolds from Genesis chapter 37 on. Joseph is a perfect fit for the modern idea of a hero — poor mistreated boy makes good beyond his dreams and then is gracious to those who mistreated him. Most people see nothing more than that in these chapters.

There is, however, another story woven into those chapters in such a way that we almost miss it. In fact, most often we do miss it. That is the story of Judah.

Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, the one who should have been the head of all the tribes of Israel. Well, he tried — sort of. When his brothers wanted to kill Joseph, he suggested they put him in a pit instead. It seems that he intended to rescue him later, but didn’t really have a plan. Later when Joseph demanded that Benjamin be brought to him in Egypt, Reuben offered his two sons to his father as surety for Benjamin. Jacob did not appear to be impressed.

Judah was the fourth son of Jacob, certainly not predestined to have the preeminence, and there is not much in his earlier life to suggest that he might one day become the leader. It was Judah’s suggestion to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. Perhaps he was trying to save Joseph’s life, but he certainly never expected to see him again.

It isn’t until chapter 43 that we see a different Judah. Obtaining grain from Egypt was now a matter of life and death, and Jacob had rejected Reuben’s offer of his sons as surety for Benjamin. Then Judah steps up before his father and says: “ Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever.”

Evidently Jacob saw in Judah a depth of sincerity and commitment that convinced him that he could trust him to keep his word. In the following chapter, Judah stands before the man who was the lord of Egypt and recounts the commitment he made to his father: “ For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.”

By this willingness of Judah to sacrifice himself for the welfare, not only of Benjamin but of the whole family, the heart of Joseph was broken and he revealed himself to his brothers. And by this act of self-sacrifice Judah became the leader of the children of Israel.

Years later, when Jacob blessed his sons, his blessing of Judah foretold his role in the whole future history of the children of Israel. “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.”

Note that in Egypt the brothers bowed down to Joseph, but Jacob foretold that in the future they would bow down to Judah. The kings of Israel, after Saul, were of the tribe of Judah. Our Saviour came from the lineage of Judah as reckoned according to the flesh.

There are important lessons in the life of Joseph. But the truest image of the story of redemption is not found in the man who lived in palaces, dressed in costly array and whose authority was felt in every corner of Egypt. It is found in the man who, when it became a matter of life and death for his brethren, offered himself as a ransom.

The fulness of times

Solomon’s reign was the golden era of Israel.  All the promises of God were fulfilled in the natural sense.  The son of David built the glorious temple and God showed His acceptance by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices.  Solomon’s reign was a reign of peace over all the territory promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  News of the wisdom and wealth of Solomon spread everywhere.

Israel never again regained the glory it had known in Solomon’s time.  The kingdom was divided, there followed good kings and bad kings, the people often tended to idolatry.  Through it all there remained a belief that this land had been given them by God and the temple remained the spiritual focal point of the people of God.

Finally the accumulation of disobedience and sin was too much and God permitted the people to be taken into captivity and the temple to be destroyed.  The prophets had foretold this devastation, but they also told of a time of restoration.  Often these promises included the Gentiles in God’s plan.

The people returned from Babylon, rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple.  According to the Babylonian Talmud, the new temple lacked five things found in Solomon’s temple: the Ark of the Covenant; the sacred fire sent from God to consume the sacrifices; the Shekinah or pillar of smoke and fire showing God’s presence; the spirit of holiness (or prophecy); the Urim and Thummin by which God had made known His will.  Yet the temptation to worship the gods of the heathen was gone and the true worship of God was restored.

Zerubbabel was the first governor after the return from Babylon.  He was of the lineage of David, but could not be king because Judah was now a vassal state of Persia.  The lineage of David’s descendants was faithfully recorded in expectation of the day when a son of David would again sit on the throne.  Shortly after the return, the canon of Old Testament Scripture was completed with the inclusion of the histories recorded by Ezra and the prophecies of the last prophets.

The destruction of the temple had left a void in the worship system of the Jewish people.  Synagogues appeared during or shortly after the Babylonian exile and have continued ever since.  There is no command in the OT for weekly worship, nor instruction on how to organize or conduct such meetings.  Synagogue is a Greek word that does not appear in the Old Testament, except in Psalm 74:8 of the AV where it is used to translate a Hebrew word.  The synagogue was a place for weekly meetings on the Sabbath day when the Scriptures were read and expounded.

Other events happened on the world stage that caused great distress to the Jewish people.  Alexander the Great conquered a territory extending from Greece and Macedonia south to Egypt and eastward to northern India and Afghanistan.  He established many new cities in the conquered territories, all named Alexandria.  Kandahar, Afghanistan was one of those cities and appears to retain some trace of his name.  Trade throughout the empire was stimulated and Greek became the common language of trade.  Upon Alexander’s death, his empire was divided in three and ongoing wars between the competing empires often involved battles for control of Judah.

During this time, Jewish leaders saw the need for a Bible in the Greek language and 70 scholars gathered in Alexandria, Egypt to make this translation.  This is called the translation of the seventy, or Septuagint, and is the Bible quoted by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

The next great empire to rise was Rome.  Julius Caesar conquered southern Europe, including Greece, and extended the empire as far south as Egypt.  The Greek language remained the international language of commerce throughout the Roman Empire.  Rome added something new that enhanced trade and travel — a well-developed road system connecting all parts of the empire and rigorous law enforcement that made trade and travel much safer than ever before.

Now the “fulness of times” had come.  The stage was set for the appearance of the Messiah, the true Son of David who would establish an eternal spiritual kingdom that would never end.  This was not the Messiah the Jewish leadership was looking for, yet the evidence was all there in the OT prophecies for those who could see.  Now was the time for the fulfilment of the salvation of which the OT sacrifices had only been a symbol and for the blood of the spotless Lamb of God to sprinkle the heavenly mercy seat.

When this was done and the earthly temple and kingdom had again been taken out of the way, the good news of salvation could be carried to people throughout the Roman Empire.  A common language existed, there was a translation of the  Old Testament Scriptures  in that language and a protected road system to facilitate travel.  A system of weekly meetings for reading and expounding the Scriptures in the synagogues became the familiar model for worship services of the early church.

So many events, which had seemed to be meaningless tragedies at the time, are now seen as the hand of God preparing the way for the coming of His Son into the world, the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the church.

The tabernacle of David

There was only a river between the Israelites and the Promised Land.  But that river was in full flood mode, filling the whole valley and spreading beyond the banks.  Joshua told the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant to march straight into the water and told the people to follow.  It wasn’t until the priest’s feet touched the water that a path opened through the flood and that great mass of people crossed over on dry land.  It was clear to all that God was leading, His Shekinah presence visible as a cloudy pillar above the mercy seat on the Ark.

A few days later, the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant were again on the march, walking around the fortified and walled city of Jericho, the people following silently behind.  We know the story, once around the city for six days, seven times the seventh day, and the walls collapsed inwards.  Once again it was evident that God was leading.

On both of these occasions, the people sanctified themselves before God led them in such miraculous fashion.  Several generations later, the people were manifestly unsanctified, yet thought that if they took the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines God would surely give them the victory.  This was a lapse into pagan thinking, that somehow they could manipulate their God into doing what they wanted.

It didn’t work.  The Israelites were defeated and the Ark captured by the Philistines.  Now the presence of God above the mercy seat was manifested: the statue representing the god of the Philistines toppled, breaking in pieces and wherever the Ark went the Philistine people suffered plagues.  The Ark was returned to Israel in a manner clearly showing God was in control.  His power was shown again in the deaths of the Israelites who presumed to open the Ark and look inside.

The Ark was removed from the tabernacle of Moses to be taken into battle against the Philistines and it never returned.  Eli, the high priest died upon hearing of the capture of the Ark and his place as spiritual leader was taken by Samuel, who was not of Levitical or priestly lineage.  All the time of Samuel’s ministry and through the reign of David, the Ark remained separated from the tabernacle of Moses.

When David captured Mount Zion and made it his home, he installed the Ark in a new tabernacle he built on Mount Zion.  King David put on priestly robes and offered sacrifices to sanctify the new tabernacle.  No other sacrifices were ever offered at the tabernacle of David.  In their place, a form of worship was established that included songs, prayers and preaching (this is the true meaning of the word rendered “record” in the AV).  Meanwhile, the high priest continued offering the daily sacrifices before the tabernacle of Moses located at Gibeah, a tabernacle that did not contain the Ark and the mercy seat.

Solomon built the temple on Mount Moriah, brought the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies and established the priests in their functions.  It is notable in Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple that he included all mankind in the promise of salvation: “For they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm” (1 Kings 8:42).

It is also notable that when the walls of Jerusalem were built, Mount Zion was outside those walls.  Yet the memory of David’s tabernacle upon Mount Zion, where God dwelt above the mercy seat among His people without the sacrifices and rituals of the law, thrilled the heart of the prophets.  “Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken” (Isaiah 33:20).  “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this” (Amos 9:11-12).

Many years later, the followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem, in the shadow of the temple, to consider whether Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and follow all the laws given to Israel.  James, the brother of our Lord, recalled those prophecies and saw their fulfilment in the salvation of the Gentiles and came to this conclusion: “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.  And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, after this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.  Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.  Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God” (Acts 15: 14-19).

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