Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spirituality

Introduction to the New Testament -2

Acts of the Apostles – This is the second half of Luke’s history, the first part being the Gospel which bears his name. Again we see a meticulous historian at work, telling the history of the beginning of the church in chronological order and anchoring it all to places and people in the secular world. If we pay attention as we read, it should cause us to question some popular notions that we may have assumed to be true.

For instance, it is commonly assumed that the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost happened in the upper room. How big a room must this have been to hold 120 men and women? Acts 1:15 says that was the number of the disciples at that time. We find in verses 12 & 13 that this upper room served as the bedroom for the eleven apostles; do we really think they would have crammed 120 people of both sexes into this space?

Luke tells us in the last verse of his gospel that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God and repeats that statement in Acts 2:46. The courtyard of the temple was huge, with room for many thousands of people. There were shelters here, such as the one called Solomon’s porch, and pools of water for ritual purification. It makes more sense to believe that all the action of Acts 2 took place here. Other people would have been drawn to these somewhat rustic people who suddenly began speaking in languages they had not previously known. It would not have seemed unusual to dip water from one of the pools to baptize 3,000 people by pouring. Any attempt to immerse them in one of those pools would no doubt have caused an uproar.

The Book of Acts shows the apostle Peter taking the lead in opening the door to membership in the beginning church, first of all to Jews on the day of Pentecost and not long after to Gentiles when he went to the home of Cornelius. Peter also took the lead in excluding unfaithful members from the church, namely Ananias and Saphira, God bearing witness to the truth of Peter’s decision by causing the immediate death of both.

This must not be taken to indicate that Peter was the head of the church. When the apostles and leaders of the church gathered at Jerusalem to discuss what should be required of Gentile converts, as recorded in chapter 15, it was James who rendered the final decision. This was James the son of Joseph and Mary and brother of our Lord. James, the brother of John had been slain by Herod before this time.

A large part of the book is taken up in recounting the conversion of Saul and his subsequent career as Paul the apostle. His mission journeys did much to expand the frontiers of the church throughout Asia and Europe. Luke appears to have accompanied him during much of this time.

We read in the book of Acts and elsewhere of disagreements between Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter, Paul and John Mark. There is no evidence in these accounts that the disagreements are evidence of sin on the part of the individuals involved, or that they caused a breech of fellowship between them. All were dedicated to the cause of Christ and the spreading of the gospel.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, the older generation had scraped and scrabbled to survive the depression and they wanted their children to have a better life. The key to that was to get a good education so you could be someone who could make a living without working hard. Maybe that wasn’t what they intended to say, but that was what we heard. That gave rise to the question so often posed to us: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The question implied that there was no dignity in hard work; we should to be something better than our parents had been. That meant that our parents didn’t have what it would take to guide us into being the people we should be. We would need to turn to professional help.

Some time after high school, I had a visit with a guidance counsellor. He gave me a massive aptitude test to take home. The test comprised at least 200 multiple-choice questions. The questions were on card stock, with holes punched beside each of the four answers. You used a pencil to make a circle on the answer paper below and then use the key to interpret your responses.

I did the test once, and the result showed a strong interest and aptitude for accounting. I mused on that, realizing that this choice had been in the back of my mind as I did the test. I wondered what would happen if I did the test again, thinking of how I might answer the questions if I was interested in becoming an engineer.

I created a handwritten set of answer sheets, photocopiers didn’t exist back then, and went through the test again. Lo-and-behold the answer key told me I had a definite aptitude for engineering and should pursue a career in that field. I sat back and mused on the disparate results, concluding that if it was so easy to play games with the test, it wasn’t worth very much.

Some years later I became intrigued with Mensa. They limit membership to people with IQ’s in the top 2% of the population, with the grandiose notion that people with high IQ’s have what it takes to make the world a better place. I requested a preliminary test. It came in the mail; I completed it and mailed it back. Soon there came an invitation to do a full IQ test. Thus I arrived one morning at the University of Regina and found my way to a classroom where a dozen others were waiting to do the same test.

I believe there was a three-hour time limit and after we did the test, we all went home. A few weeks later a letter  came in the mail telling me I had scored 151, placing me in the top 1% of the population. Enclosed was a membership application and a request to write a brief profile. I filled them out, wrote a cheque for the membership dues.

In due time I received a booklet with the profiles of all Canadian members of Mensa. I discovered that most of these people supposed themselves to be much too intelligent to believe in God. Yet, they were ready to believe in all kinds of occult manifestations, mystical experiences, extraterrestrials and other nebulous and irrational spiritual theories. I lost interest right there. I didn’t have the self-confidence that would allow me to dismiss God.

Still, I took another IQ test a year or two later and came up with a score of 155. So what do those test scores reveal about me? Probably just that I am good at doing that kind of test. I don’t know if there is any practical application beyond that.

So here I am, 60 years past the age of 17, thinking maybe now I’m grown up enough to say I want to be a writer.

African Americans and the Bible

The January – February issue of Christianity Today carried an article entitled Black Bible Reading Endures. I would like to share some of the statistics and a couple of quotes from that article.

Twice as many African Americans as other Americans to say that Bible reading is crucial to their daily routine. They are twice as likely as white Americans to say that the Bible should be interpreted literally.

56% of African Americans believe the Bible is more important to the moral fabric of the country than the constitution. All other ethnic groups believe the constitution is more important.

What Bible do they read? 42% of black Americans read the King James Version, much higher than any other group.

These statistics, drawn from a couple of different sources, paint a picture of a large segment of the black population of the USA who are more dependent upon the Bible than other Americans.

Earon James, a black pastor, says “Traditional black preaching embraces the great narrative of Scripture, African American believers have historically not had the luxury of holding biblical propositions divorced from actual practice.”

Lisa Fields, founder of the Jude 3 Project, an online apologetics ministry for black Christians, says “In my experience, African American believers want the straight, unadulterated Word.  Often in evangelical circles, Bible study consists of lots of stories, with the Bible sprinkled in . . . but we don’t need apologies because something God has said sounds hard. Just give us the Word, there’s much grace to go with it.”

My thoughts: The King James version was carefully prepared to be read aloud so that all could understand, whether they could read or not. This version still has the strongest appeal to people who have historically not had access to much schooling. The simple words and powerful phrasing of this Bible touch the heart as well as the mind and are much easier to remember than other translations.

The appeal of the KJV seems to last for several generations among the descendents of such people The translations of recent years seem to be designed for effete Christians who want the hard parts taken out, as much as can be done without causing too much of a stir.

Introduction to the Old Testament – conclusion

The Writings
Psalms – The hymn book of Israel and the source of many hymns of the church. Half of them were written by David and reveal his love for God and for the people of God. Some are raw with emotion, some are prophetic. If you look at the headings you will find that the family of Asaph wrote 12 and the sons of Kore wrote 11. Moses wrote Psalm 90 and Solomon Psalms 72 and 127. In addition, the Septuagint attributes Psalm 137 to Jeremiah, 119 to Ezra, and Psalms 120 to 134 to Hezekiah. These attributions in the Septuagint may not be entirely reliable.

Proverbs – Most of these were written by Solomon, his great wisdom coupled with experience and distilled into short and powerful lessons. Chapter 30 was written by Agur, of whom nothing is known. Chapter 31 is the instruction given to king Lemuel by his mother. No one by that name is known to history. Lemuel means dedicated to God and Jewish commentators considered it to be another name for Solomon, which would make Bathsheba the source of this counsel.

Job – Often called the oldest book in the Bible, in the sense that this story was being told before the Exodus and the time when Moses compiled the Talmud. The names and places given in the book identify it as coming from an area near Edom. The most probable explanation is that Moses heard this story while he was a Midianite shepherd and was divinely inspired to put it into writing for the edification of God’s people. The book reveals the greatness of God, the limits of Satan’ influence and the reward of faithfulness during affliction. It is notable that Job’s affliction was not fully relieved until he prayed for his friends who had falsely accused him.

Daniel – Begins with history, revealing God’s care for His people during their years of captivity in His dealings with King Nebuchadnezzar and in placing Daniel and his three friends in positions of great authority in the heathen kingdom. The prophecies of the latter part of the book reveal the kingdoms that would arise and fall before Messiah would come and gave a precise time for the coming of Messiah.

Chronicles is a recap of the whole history of Israel, revealing God’s guiding hand throughout. The genealogies are important in that they show that this is real history of real people and allow the tracing of God’s promise of a Messiah through the descendants of David. Chronicles does not condemn Solomon and reveals the repentance of Manasseh, the most wicked king Judah ever had. The author is Ezra, and the final verses of 2 Chronicles are the first verses of Ezra.

Ezra was the son of the high priest slain by Nebuchadnezzar and the spiritual leader of those who returned after the exile in Babylon. He oversaw the rebuilding of the temple. He appears also to have been the head of the Great Synagogue which established the canon of the Old Testametn Scriptures.

Nehemiah – this book is believed to have been compiled by Ezra from Nehemiah’s personal records. Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem by Artaxerxes to be governor. He oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

Song of Songs – written by Solomon. On the surface it appears to be an erotic love poem with scarcely a passing reference to God. Yet it was regarded by Jewish rabbis as a most holy book, an allegory of the love relationship between God and His chosen people.

Ruth – portrays the love relationship between the aged Naomi, an Israelite and her Moabite daughter-in-law. This account is an antidote to ideas of ethnic purity. Ruth married Boaz, the son of Salmon and Rahab the Canaanite harlot. The great-great-grandmother of Salmon was Tamar, also a Canaanite. All three of these women are named in the genealogy of Jesus. The book was probably written by Samuel, as it carries the Messianic line only as far as David.

Lamentations – written by Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This book has a unique structure which is not evident in translation. In Hebrew chapters 1, 2 and 4 follow the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet, each verse beginning with a succeeding letter. In chapter 3 there are 22 groups of three verses each, following the same pattern. Chapter 5 has 22 verses, but does not follow the alphabetic pattern.

Ecclesiastes – appears to be the final work of Solomon, towards the end of his life. It speaks of the emptiness of all the things he did to prove his greatness, yet gives clear teaching of our duty to God. Chapter 7 verse 28 says that he did not find one woman in a thousand. The message here is not anti-woman, but appears to be a confession of his own failure. He had taken 1,000 wives, and not found one that was a true help meet for him.

Esther – probably written by Mordecai, the ending may have been supplied by Ezra. Gives a glimpse into the internal workings of the Persian court and supplies the history of the providential deliverance of the Jews in the Persian empire from a plot to destroy them. Haman was an Agagite, possibly a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag slain by Samuel, which explains his hated of Jews. The events depicted here are the basis of the Jewish feast of Purim.

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.

Introduction to the Old Testament, continued

The following twelve are often referred to as the Minor Prophets. Though their messages are shorter, there is nothing insignificant about them.

Hoseah was a prophet in Israel, contemporary with Isaiah. His 40 year ministry was a last call to Israel to return to the Lord before judgment fell upon them, much as Jeremiah’s ministry to Judah 140 years later. Hoseah’s wife became a prostitute and he redeemed her from those who had enslaved her. He uses this a parallel to Israel’s spiritual prostitution and how God wanted to redeem them. He refers to Israel as Ephraim 37 times: “I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled” (chapter 6:10).

Joel – the time of his prophecy would most likely be in the early years of King Joash. Wiked Queen Athalia had been slain and Joash was guided by the faithful priest Jehoiada. Joel’s prophecy is first a call to repentance and restoration, followed by a prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord.

Amos did not claim to be a prophet, rather a farmer from Judah whom God sent to Israel with a one-time message. He dates his message as being durin the reign of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel, and two years before the earthquake. Did he perhaps predict the earthquake? Chapter 9 verse 5 could give that impression. His message to Israel was of the impending judgment of God.

Obadiah was a contemporary of Elijah and Elisha in Israel, during the time of Jehoram, one of the wicked kings of Judah. Elijah wrote a warning letter to Jehoram around this time. Obadiah appears to have written after Jerusalem had been pillaged by Edom, and announces the final destruction of Edom.

Jonah was from Israel, which was oppressed by Assyria, thus he had no desire to see Assyria spared. The book was probably written by Jonah himself, though he does not depict himself in a favourable light. God’s mercy to Nineveh is a message that He has compassion on all mankind.

Micah – a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah warns of the coming wrath of God on those who were outwardly religious, but do not live justly. He names Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah will be born.

Nahum may have been born in Israel and fled to Jerusalem when Assyria overthrew the northern kingdom and led the people into captivity. This would place his prophecy in the latter part of the reign of Hezekiah when Judah was threatened by Assyria. He foretold the end of the Assyrian empire and the destruction of Nineveh. The repentance that was occasioned by Jonah’s prophecy evidently did not carry on to succeeding generations.

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah. God was about to use Babylon to judge Judah and Jerusalem for their idolatry. “The just shall live by his faith” chapter 2 verse 4.

Zephaniah was the great-great grandson of Hezekiah and prophesied during the reign of King Josiah who would have been a distant cousin, He calls the nation to abandon idolatry and return to the Lord. He warns of coming judgment, but promises “ I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD” chapter 3 verse 12.

Haggai – Prophesied after the return from the Babyloniam captivity and urged the rebuilding of the temple. Tradition says he was born in Babylon and studied under Ezekiel.

Zehariah – a priest who was a contemporary of Haggai, with a similar message, urging the rebuilding of the temple a restoration of holiness. Many messianic prophecies in the latter part:“for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH” (ch 3, v 8); “behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (ch. 9, v. 9); “and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (ch. 12, v. 10); etc.

Malachi – the final prophet before 400 years of silence. One last call to faithfulness and a prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be preceded by “Elijah.”

Introduction to the books of the Old Testament

The Torah, all five books written by Moses
Genesis – Describes the Creation, its beauty and goodness, and then its corruption when our first parents fell for the deception of the serpent. The first promise of a Saviour is in the third chapter where it is said that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. The call of Abraham, his (almost) sacrifice of his son, a type of what God would do. Jacob’s prophecy that “Shiloh” would come through the line of Judah.

Exodus – The descendents of Jacob are slaves in Egypt and God calls an eighty-year-old man who had never properly learned the Hebrew language to be God’s messenger to lead them out of captivity.

Leviticus – A very detailed description of what loving God and loving our neighbour should look like.

Numbers – A record of God’s longsuffering with His people during the 40 years in the wilderness when they tested Him is so many ways.

Deuteronomy – Almost all the adult males who came out of Egypt have died in the wilderness and there is a new generation. Moses recapitulates God’s dealings with His people and His plan for them in preparation for entering the Promised Land.

The Former Prophets
Joshua – Probably mostly written by Joshua himself. Moses, representative of the law, could not enter the Promised Land. Joshua is the same name as Jesus, and means salvation of the Lord. He led the people across Jordan and then led them in the conquest of the land, with many miraculous interventions by God, and then divided the land among the tribes. “There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass” (Joshua 21.45).

Judges – Written by Samuel. Before the New Testament era the Holy Spirit was given to only a few people. This book is a record of the ups and downs of the spiritual and material prosperity of God’s people, largely dependent on what kind of leadership they had

1 Samuel – Written by Samuel. God raised up a spiritual leader who was not of the Levitical priesthood. During his ministry the Ark of the Covenant was not in the Tabernacle of Moses. Samuel ignored the tabernacle, established places of sacrifices throughout the land and appears to have made them a one year circuit. His ministry brought spiritual unity and stability to Israel.

2 Samuel – Most likely written by Nathan and Gad, David’s seers. The story of King David, a man after God’s own heart. He was as much a spiritual leader as a political leader, with the heart of a shepherd.

1 Kings – The work of Jeremiah, possibly written by his secretary, Baruch. The glory of Solomon’s kingdom, which was the earthly fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. The division of the kingdom after his death and the apostasy of the northern kingdom. The ministry of Elijah to the apostate northern kingdom to point them back to God.

2 Kings – Also written by Jeremiah, probably aided by Baruch. The continuing history of the divided kingdoms. Many godly kings in Judah, the southern kingdom, and others who fell into idolatry so that the land became polluted with idols. Continuing apostasy in Israel, the northern kingdom, with some partial revivals. The ministry of Elisha in Israel; the people finally taken into captivity. The last six verses of 2 Kings are identical to the last six verses of Jeremiah.

The Latter Prophets
Isaiah – written by Isaiah. His ministry lasted for 60 years, covering the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Asa, Hezekiah and into the reign of Manasseh. Filled with prophecies of judgement for the unfaithful and wicked and the promise of the Messiah, the suffering servant.

Jeremiah – written by Jeremiah. His ministry began during the revival during the reign of King Josiah and continued through the time of spiritual collapse until the captivity. He was then carried away to Egypt by rebellious Jews and continued to prophesy there for a few more years. The theme of his book is a last minute warning of God’s impeding judgement.

Ezekiel – Written in Babylon by Ezekiel. The people of God now had no king, no country, no temple to continue their system of worship. Ezekiel was a priest and others came to him looking for spiritual direction. Synagogue is a Greek word meaning congregation or assembly; there is no instruction ever given for the organization of such a worship system, but this is probably how it began. Ezekiel pays little attention to the political situation, but speaks of hope for a spiritual restoration, when the Lord Himself will be the shepherd of His people (chapter 34).

-to be continued

Read the Bible

A strange thing is happening among Bible believing Christians today: they are afraid to read the Bible. True, there are a lot of conflicting ideas out there about what the Bible says, and they can’t all be true. But that in itself should move us to read the Bible itself to see what it really does say.

Don’t expect to understand everything you read in the Bible the first time you read it, or ever for that matter. The Bible is so deep and rich in meaning than no matter how much we read and study, there will still be more to discover. Don’t let that frighten you. The wonder of the book is that it is plain enough for a child to understand all that is needed to know God and find salvation, yet deep enough to confound the proud who profess to have discovered a system of interpretation that explains it all.

There is no such system. All the supposed keys to interpreting the Bible conflict with each other, and with the Bible itself. The Bible interprets itself. The more you read, the more you will understand it. There is a unity in the message and the symbolism that runs throughout the whole.

The Bible will often speak to you directly, seemingly miraculously, in words that exactly fit the longing of your heart, the great question you are facing, or brings a healing balm when you are most troubled. Don’t try to make that happen, don’t try to manipulate every passage of Scripture to provide a personal spiritual message for today.

The Bible reveals itself on different levels. There are messages that provide a flash of light on your pathway just when you most need it. There is also the glow that embraces you as you gain a new insight into who God is and how His purpose is the same today as it was in the account you are reading from thousands of years ago. Step by step we grow in understanding God in every level of our being; we become more like Him, more the person He always intended for us to be.

Read the Bible every day. Read the whole Bible. Read it as a story. Read it for understanding yourself and the world around you. You won’t be conscious of remembering most of the words you read. But they become part of you and resurface at moments that will surprise and perhaps even shock you.

It is the Word of God after all, a supernatural message from our Creator. Don’t miss out on what it can do for you.

What the Bible is all about

The Bible is not a story about good people versus bad people. It is a story of people that were created to be good and rather chose to be bad from the very beginning. From that point on it is a story of people who have been rescued from evil and those who still need to be rescued.

God created our first parents with the power to choose to obey Him or to choose to obey the temptation offered by the serpent. He knew the risk He was taking, but He never wanted us to be puppets, obeying Him only because we had no choice.

Satan and his dark angels have been at war with God since a time before the physical world was created. The first chapter of the book of Job shows the subtle way in which Satan works and God’s willingness to allow our devotion to Him to be tested. The end of the book shows how God bestows blessings upon us when we steadfastly resist everything that Satan uses to make us mistrust and deny God.

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The Old Testament is the history of God calling people to come apart from the wickedness of the world and follow Him. It is also a demonstration of how people were unable to maintain a life of faith. Step by step God was teaching how the things in which the ungodly trust will always lead to disaster. It was a lesson that usually didn’t stick from one generation to the next. The prophet Jeremiah described it well: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

There arose among the Jewish people a group who believed they had full understanding of the Word of God and of how God wanted people to live. They were considered to be experts in being faithful servants of God. They were called Pharisees, a name that denoted that they were separate from the ungodly and unbelieving.

When we come to the New Testament we see Satan and his forces using every weapon at their disposal to win mankind to their side. What does God offer to draw us to His side? A man who bled and died on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago.

Doesn’t sound like much of a contest does it? But that man was Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. His death on the cross laid bare the evil intentions of the forces of darkness. When Jesus spoke from the cross and said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He won a victory over Satan. Forgiveness is not in Satan’s vocabulary, not something he comprehends. Rather than moving God to obliterate mankind for ever, Jesus’ death on the cross made forgiveness available to us all.

Jesus did not stay dead, He rose to life the third day and lives today. The distinctive mark of New Testament followers of God is that the Holy Spirit is now given to every believer, not only to a few prophets and spiritual leaders. We can now have the power of God within us to identify and defeat the ruses of Satan.

The Pharisees knew the Word of God and endeavoured to be obedient in the minutest details. It would seem that they should have been the first to recognize Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. But their status as experts blinded them to the truth. Jesus told them: “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).

It is still that way. Experts find it very difficult to be a Christian. They are too busy looking at how other people are doing everything wrong. Those who admit that they have been dishonest and immoral find they are welcome to come to Jesus. God wants sons and daughters who will trust Him in every aspect of their life. He wants to be obedient so He can lead us in a safe way and in the end bring us to be with Him in heaven.

The great lesson of the Bible is not just that through the blood of Jesus we can be forgiven, come away from the evil that is in the world and one day have a home in heaven. The part that we tend to miss, because we so much want to be experts, is that this is only possible on God’s terms, which we can only know by holding to His hand every step of the way.

Two kingdoms, two churches

Reuben was the firstborn of Jacob and should have been in every way the leader of the tribes of Israel. He was a man who meant well, but seemed more apt to follow his carnal lusts than his good intentions. His father described him as “unstable as water.” The double portion of his father’s inheritance which by right was Reuben’s, went instead to Joseph, his second youngest brother. The headship of the tribes went to Judah and the spiritual leadership to Levi. Reuben was a loser on all counts.

Before he died Jacob prophesied that Judah should be the ruler of the tribes of Israel, “until Shiloh comes” which we understand to mean the Messiah. He also foretold that Simeon and Levi would not inherit with their brethren. Many years later, when Joshua divided the land, he allotted to Simeon lands that were within the boundaries of the inheritance of Judah. The Levites by this time had become the priests and they were given cities scattered through all the tribes. They were able to have gardens and goats for milk, but the bilk of their livelihood would come from the tithes given to the tabernacle, and later the temple.

Later yet, David, of the tribe of Judah, became king and God promised an everlasting throne for his sons. The kingdom of God of the Old Testament was both a political kingdom and a spiritual kingdom. This kingdom reached its highest point during the reign of Solomon. He reigned over all the land that had been promised to Israel and his reign was peaceful and glorious. He built the temple, the place which was God’s earthly habitation, to which all the peoples of the earth could come to worship and be blessed.

This glorious kingdom of the son of David was just a foretaste of what God had planned for His people. Such an earthly kingdom could not last among people who were for the most part only natural descendents of Abraham and not spiritual descendents. God foretold that the kingdom would be split in two after the death of Solomon.

The division of the kingdom was God’s plan. His perfect will would have been for all the tribes of Israel to continue to worship at Jerusalem, even though they were divided in their earthly citizenship. But Jeroboam, the first king of the breakaway kingdom feared that such an arrangement would undermine his political authority. He built a new temple at Bethel and another one in the north on his kingdom and appointed a new priesthood. It was for this division of the church of God that Jeroboam is forever after referred to as “Jeroboam the son of Neat who made Israel to sin.”

Thereupon all the Levites living among the northern tribes moved south to the kingdom of Judah. People often speak of the “ten lost tribes.” That does not add up. The southern kingdom now included Judah, Simeon, Benjamin and Levi, leaving nine tribes in the north (counting Joseph as two tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh).

Immediately, God began sending missionaries to the northern kingdom. The entire ministry of both Elijah and Elisha was to the people of the apostate northern kingdom of Israel. The ministry of Hosea and Amos was also exclusively to the people of Israel. We read of the schools of the prophets, some are explicitly linked to Elisha, probably they all were under his leadership. Thus men were continually being trained and sent out to preach the Word of God to the people in this apostate setting.

What were the results of this great mission effort? Even after Jezebel had made the worship in the temple at Bethel openly idolatrous, God told Elijah that there were still 7,000 people, “even in Israel” who had not bowed down to Baal. Seven is a complete number, a symbolic number, it could well mean many thousands.

It is recorded in 2 Chronicles 11 that after Jeroboam set up new temples in Israel people from all the tribes came to Jerusalem to sacrifice unto God and they strengthened the kingdom of Rehoboam. Chapter 15 tells that during the reign of Asa there were some from Ephraim and Manasseh who came to Jerusalem to worship and renew their covenant with God. Much later, both Hezekiah and Josiah sent invitations to the tribes of Israel to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

It would seem that by the time of the Babylonian captivity the kingdom of Judah included a godly remnant from all the tribes. We tend to assume that all those from the northern tribes had vanished by the time of Jesus. We read much about the Levites, Joseph and Mary were of the tribe of Judah, Paul of the tribe of Benjamin, but where were the others? Just when we think we have it all figured out, we discover that the Bible has dropped a little hint that our assumptions may not be true. Luke 2:36 tells us that Anna the prophetess was of the tribe of Asher. If there was one person who could be identified as coming from one of the formerly apostate tribes might there not have been many more?

The New Testament speaks of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Who were they? It is evident that God’s heart yearned after those who were of the natural seed of Abraham, but were separated from the true worship of God. Before the captivity that meant all those from the northern kingdom where the only form of worship available was in the apostate temples. Yet even in such a situation there were many whose heart was still attached to God and not turned away to idolatry. By Jesus’ time it would seem that all those in Judea and Galilee were considered lost sheep, since the worship in the temple at Jerusalem had descended into mere form and pharisaism.

Who are the lost sheep today? Wouldn’t they be those who are the true spiritual children of Abraham, born-again children of God, alone in their faith or worshipping in a setting where some are true Christians, others are not, and most are unable to tell the difference? There are some who do see. Years ago a minster told me he thought there were seven or eight real Christians in his congregation. Someone told me recently of a minister who thought that perhaps 20% of his congregation were born-again. There are many kinds of mission fields, is this one that we are missing?

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