Tough Questions Answered

A Christian Apologetics Blog
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  • What Is the Documentary Hypothesis?

    Posted By on April 24, 2015

    While Jews and Christians have traditionally believed that Moses was the primary author of the Pentateuch, some biblical scholars today reject that belief.  Instead, these scholars believe that the Pentateuch was written over several centuries by several different authors and not finally compiled into its final form until just a few hundred years before Jesus was born.

    Daniel I. Block, in the Apologetics Study Bibleprovides more detail. Block writes that biblical scholars in the mid-nineteenth century began to question the traditional authorship of Moses.

    The questioning began early with doubts whether Moses recorded his own death and burial (Dt 34), knew of a place in northern Israel called Dan (Gn 14: 14; cp. Jos 19: 47; Jdg 18: 28-29), or referred to the conquest of Canaan as having occurred in the past (Dt 2: 12). Thus scholars developed an alternative explanation for the origin of the Pentateuch known as the Documentary Hypothesis.

    According to the classical form of the theory, the Pentateuch is the product of a long and complex literary evolution, specifically incorporating at least four major literary strands composed independently over several centuries and not combined in the present form until the time of Ezra (fifth century B.C.). These sources are identified as J, E, D, and P.

    J represents a ninth century B.C. (c. 850) document that originated in Judah, distinguished by its preference for the name Yahweh (Jehovah, hence the “J”). The E source preferred the divine title Elohim, and theoretically was composed in Israel in the eighth century B.C. The D stands for Deuteronomy, supposedly written around 621 B.C. to lend support to Josiah’s reforms. The priestly document, P, supposedly was composed c. 500 B.C. by priests seeking to preserve their own version of Israel’s history.

    According to the theory, these sources were compiled and combined in the middle of the fifth century B.C. Nehemiah 8 recounts the moment when Ezra publicly read the Pentateuch as a unit for the first time. . . .

    Variations of the Documentary Hypothesis prevailed for more than a century. However, due to advances in literary studies, today the state of pentateuchal scholarship is confused, with new theories or radical modifications appearing often.

    There are significant problems with the Documentary Hypothesis and its off-shoots, as noted by many conservative scholars. Those will be addressed in a subsequent post. For now, it is important to know that this basic theory of the composition of the Pentateuch is still very influential among many biblical scholars.

    Commentary on Numbers 13-14 (Israel Refuses to Enter Canaan)

    Posted By on April 22, 2015

    Since leaving Mount Sinai, the Israelites have traveled a few months toward the land of Canaan, or the Promised Land. They’ve arrived at the southern border of the Promised Land and are camped there. Verses 1-3 of chapter 13 indicate that God commands Moses to send out 12 representatives of each tribe of Israel to explore the land before the whole of Israel makes its way into the land.

    We learn in Deut 1, however, that it was the people themselves that requested an exploratory party be sent out, so it seems that God acquiesced to this request rather than initiating it. The very fact that they did not trust God enough to enter the land, sight unseen, is testament to a potential lack of faith.

    Verses 4-16 carefully list each of the twelve explorers that Moses sent out. Take note of Caleb son of Jephunneh and Hoshea (Joshua) son of Nun, for their roles will become critical as the narrative unfolds.

    In verses 17-20, Moses gives the explorers careful instructions. They are to travel deep into the land and collect information on the condition of the land for agriculture, the strength of the people living there, and the fortification of their cities. They are also to bring back fruit from the land.

    We see, in verses 21-25, that they did exactly as Moses commanded. Their journey lasted about 40 days and they likely covered 350 to 500 miles.

    The explorers finally return and give their report. They describe the land as very rich for agriculture, but they report that the people are large and powerful, and that the cities are heavily fortified. Caleb, hearing the negativity from the other explorers, steps in and urges the leaders of Israel to go up and take possession of the land, regardless of the strength of the people living there. With God on their side, victory is assured!

    The other explorers dissent from Caleb and claim that the people are too strong for Israel, that the Israelites will be devoured by the land. They scare the Israelites by saying that “we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

    At the end of chapter 13 of Numbers, the Israelites are at a critical juncture. Will they listen to the negative reports of the 10 explorers, or will they trust God to drive out the Canaanites so that they can settle in the land that God promised them? The question is answered immediately in chapter 14.

    Verses 1-4, in chapter 14, describe the outright rebellion of the people against God and against his appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron. They lament, once again, that God brought them out of Egypt. They are convinced that they will be killed in Canaan and their children taken as plunder.

    R. Dennis Cole comments on the reaction of the Israelites:

    The very people who had seen first hand the marvelous and miraculous demonstration of God’s omnipotence against one of the most powerful nations of the second millennium B.C. now longed to return to a world of bondage rather than believe a word of blessing. The sinful human tendency, even among Christians, to lapse back into the addictive ways of sin and despair after having seen the outward demonstration of God’s working on their behalf was evidenced in this setting.

    Often in a state of rebellion against God, one loses the benefit of spiritual mooring, whereby wisdom and discernment become elusive and proper decision making is made extremely difficult. Worry and fear dominate one’s thought patterns. The Israelites had thus renounced and rejected God’s beneficence, by now suggesting that a return to Egypt would be a good thing rather than marching into a land that even the cynical scouts deemed as good.

    Moses and Aaron fall down before God in submission and in an effort to assuage His anger. Caleb and Joshua try once again to plead with the leaders of Israel to stay the course and take the land, reminding the people of Israel repeatedly that God is with them! The Israelites will have none of it.

    As they get ready to stone to death their God-appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron, along with Caleb and Joshua, God unmistakably appears over the tabernacle to intervene. He says to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

    Moses then intercedes for Israel, noting that God is “slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.” He reminds God that He has already pardoned the Israelites many times since they left Egypt. But, Moses also knows that God cannot let this rebellion go unpunished. Moses has a profound understanding of God’s nature, which is a balance of mercy and justice. God is not either merciful or just, He is both.

    So how will God both show mercy to Israel and yet give them justice after their lack of faith in Him? In verses 20-38, we see the consequences for three different groups of people. For the ten explorers who incited the rebellion with their report, God punished them with a lethal plague. For those adults over the age of twenty at the time of the rebellion, they would never enter the Promised Land; they would die by natural causes in the wilderness over the next 38 years. For the children under twenty years of age, they would be forced to live a nomadic life in the wilderness for 38 years while the adults in their midst died off. Only then could they enter the Promised Land.

    In a final sad epilogue (verses 39-45), some of the Israelites determine to ignore God’s sentence on them, and instead take an army to attack the Amalekites and Canaanites, an effort to start taking possession of the Promised Land, the very thing they had just refused to do. Moses warns them that God will not be with them, and, sure enough, they are soundly defeated.

    R. Dennis Cole concludes:

    Sometimes the consequences of sin and rebellion are irreversible, and one must endure the experience of God’s judgment before a new course of action brings blessing. Sometimes those consequences endure for a lifetime, but even in those settings we must continue in faith so that our lives reflect redemption rather than further reproach.

    Why Are You Publishing All of These Commentary Posts?

    Posted By on April 20, 2015

    Over the past several months, you may have noticed that I have been publishing a number of commentaries on the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. In many cases, I have also published apologetic-specific posts that apply directly to issues found in the passages that are discussed in the commentary posts. What is going on?

    Well, my wife and I have been teaching youth at our church for several years and we have noticed a glaring problem. The youth (6th through 12th graders) are, for the most part, clueless about the Old Testament. Even their knowledge about the New Testament isn’t particularly strong (of course there are exceptions, but I’m talking about the typical student). During their childhood, they have been exposed to numerous passages in the Bible, along with application of those passages to their lives, but in a completely piecemeal and disjointed fashion.

    The problem with their education is that it has not enabled them to see the biblical narrative in its entirety. They get bits and pieces, but they don’t know how it all ties together. I wrote a three-part blog post on this topic last June, so I won’t rehearse the same argument here.

    It’s fine to complain, but what are we going to do about it? Last summer, our youth pastor agreed to let my wife and I write a Sunday Small Group (SSG) curriculum to fix this problem. The goal of the curriculum is to write 2 years of lessons (about 100 lessons in total) that cover the entirety of the Bible. The lessons will be chronological, starting in Genesis and finishing in Revelation.

    Obviously, in 100 lessons, you cannot cover every chapter and verse of the Bible, so we have chosen to cover the books and chapters which form the spine of the biblical narrative. We will be emphasizing the historical passages of the Bible. At the end of 2 years, the youth should have a firm grasp of the entire sweep of the biblical story. They should be familiar with the major historical events and actors.

    Each lesson consists of “Historical Background,” “Passages to Read,” “Key Takeaways,” “Theological Themes,” “Apologetic Issues,” “Application/Discussion Questions,” and “Links to More Information.” I am writing the first five sections and my wife writes the “Application/Discussion Questions” section. So far we have 32 complete lessons, although several more are in various forms of completion.

    So, what I have been posting on the blog are the “Theological Themes” (commentaries) and “Apologetic Issues” sections of the lessons we’ve written. I have not been publishing the other sections because they are really targeted at a youth audience and have more to do with application.

    Not to brag on my wife too much, but her sections are pure gold because she takes all of the stuff I’ve written, combined with her own thoughts and research on the passages, and morphs it into contemporary stories, illustrations, and discussions that the youth can easily understand. Her “Application/Discussion Questions” section is the heart of the lesson, and my sections form the background material for the teachers.

    So there you have it. Now you know what we’re up to. I expect to continue publishing blog posts that contain the “Theological Themes” and “Apologetic Issues” for the next year and a half. When it’s all done, the commentary and apologetics posts will map out a chronological survey of the entire Bible. Only 65 more lessons to go…..

     

    Why Don’t We Know the Exact Route of the Exodus?

    Posted By on April 17, 2015

    The Bible describes the place-names and geography of the route that Israel took from Egypt to the plains of Moab, across from the city of Jericho, during the 40 years in the wilderness. So why is it that archaeologists and biblical scholars cannot agree on the exact route that was taken?

    Gordon Wenham, in his commentary Numbers, summarizes the problems that scholars face. Even though we have plenty of place-names in the Bible,

    place-names survive only if there is a continuity of settlement at the places concerned. Even then there may be changes of name for social, political or religious reasons (e.g. 32:38; Gen. 28:19; Judg. 18:29). And if a name has survived from biblical times to the present, it can often have become attached to a different place.

    Old Testament Jericho is now called Tell es-Sultan: the name Jericho survives in the Arab town (er-Riḥa), not far from the ancient mound. But in the case of Arad and Heshbon (Num. 21:1, 26) there are no remains of the conquest period at the modern sites bearing these names, and it looks as though the biblical sites must have been elsewhere.

    In the wilderness the problems are compounded. The inhabitants have been fewer and more mobile and there is very little assurance of the biblical names having been preserved at all, let alone always attached to the correct site. And there is always the suspicion that when a biblical-sounding name is found, it may not rest on ancient tradition but have been coined by a local trying to help a pilgrim searching for the holy sites.

    The fact that we have these problems does not stop scholars from looking for new archaeological evidence and from proposing new theories about the exodus route. But, in the end we must concede that we may never know where the “Israelites crossed the Red Sea, received the law, or ate the manna.”

    Wenham puts this in perspective for us when he explains that

    from a theological point of view, this uncertainty is of no greater moment than that surrounding the site of Calvary or the ascension. That these things happened is vital: to know where they occurred may provide food for thought, but is not of the essence of our faith.

    Commentary on Numbers 9-10 (The Israelites Leave Sinai)

    Posted By on April 15, 2015

    As we pick up in chapter 9 of Numbers, Moses reminds the reader of the presence of God in the cloud above the tabernacle. On the first day the tabernacle was completed (first day of the second year of the exodus, or 1445 BC), the cloud covered it (recall Exodus 40:34). Verses 15-23 in chapter 9 explain what the cloud meant for the Israelites.

    We first learn, in verses 15-16, that from dusk to dawn the cloud would have the appearance of fire so that the people of Israel could always see God’s presence, even during the night.

    Verses 17-23 have an almost poetic quality, as if the author is exalting the presence and direction of God in the life of Israel.  The presence of the cloud is equated with the command of God to stay where they are or to move their camp.

    The system is simple: if the cloud covers the tabernacle, the Israelites are to stay encamped where they are. This could be the case for a single day, weeks, or even months. When the cloud lifted up into the sky, it was a signal to Israel to get the camp ready for movement. The people would then pack up the tabernacle, gather their belongings, decamp in an orderly and prescribed fashion, tribe by tribe, and follow the cloud (God), wherever He led.

    As we skip ahead to the twentieth day of the second month of the second year (chapter 10, verses 11-36), the cloud lifts up and God signals to Israel that it is time to leave Mount Sinai, where they spent the last 11 months. The excitement must have been incredible, as in a short time Israel would reach the borders of the Promised Land of Canaan.

    In verses 14-28, Moses is careful to describe the exact order of decampment. The tribes move off in groups of three, as prescribed in chapter 2 of Numbers. The tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun went first. After they departed, the tabernacle was taken down by the Levite clans of Gershon and Merari. They would then load the curtains and poles of the tabernacle on oxcarts and set out behind Judah’s tribe-group.

    Next the tribes of Reuben, Simeon and Gad set out. They were followed by the Levite clan of Kohath, who carried the holy things of the tabernacle (i.e., the table for the bread, the lampstand, the incense altar, the altar of burnt offering, and the ark). In verse 33, however, we read that the ark was moved to the front of the procession. Notice that the Gershonites and Merarites were to arrive before the Kohathites so that the tabernacle could be assembled before the holy things arrived (except the ark).

    The third group of tribes to leave was Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin, and the final group consisted of Dan, Asher and Naphtali.

    R. Dennis Cole, in Numbers: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), explains the meaning of the order of departure:

    The order and symmetry of the beginning of the journey from the mountain of God, the place where the nation has been constituted, to the Promised Land, where the fulfillment of that nationhood was to be confirmed, echo the essential themes of . . . unity and harmony, purity and faithfulness. The people of God move out in harmonious accord, faithful to the Lord’s leading through the cloud pillar and the ark of the covenant, the symbols of his presence with them in a miracle of nature and in the focal point of the relationship between God and his people.

    When the people of God follow his instructions, there is orderliness, unity, and harmony. The faith of the Israelites is on display for future generations to emulate.

    Verses 29-32 describe Moses asking his brother-in-law, Hobab, to travel with them to the Promised Land. Why was Moses so interested in having Hobab come along? Probably because Hobab was familiar with the terrain they would be covering, and he could help Moses find water and better navigate the terrain God was leading the nation through.

    In verses 33-34, we learn that this initial part of the journey to the Promised Land would be a “three-day journey.” Rather than understanding the journey as actually taking three days, it should be understood as a measure of distance. Fifteen miles per day was the average distance an army could travel, so it is best to interpret the journey as covering about 45 miles. It may have taken more than 3 actual days for Israel to cover that distance.

    Finally, in verses 35-36, Moses repeats two phrases, one when Israel departs their camp, and one when Israel arrives at a new destination. When they depart, Moses exclaims, “Rise up, O LORD! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.” When they come to rest, he exclaims, “Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel.”

    The faith and confidence that Moses has in the God of Israel stands in sharp contrast to events that will soon occur. Things are about to go downhill.

    Will Extinct Animals Live on the New Earth?

    Posted By on April 13, 2015

    Now this is an interesting question. Randy Alcorn says “yes” in his book Heaven, and here is how he explains his answer:

    I think it’s a question based on a rational conclusion. Were dinosaurs part of God’s original creation of a perfect animal world? Certainly. Will the restoration of Earth and the redemption of God’s creation be complete enough to bring back extinct animals? Will extinct animals be included in the “all things” Christ will make new? I see every reason to think so and no persuasive argument against it.

    Resurrection is the key concept he builds from to draw his conclusion.

    I think we should fully expect that extinct animals and plants will be brought back to life. By resurrecting his original creation, God will show the totality of his victory over sin and death. It’s apparent that the Curse that fell on the earth resulted in some species dying out. But God promises, “No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22: 3). And because it seems that the Curse will not merely be nullified but reversed, it seems likely that God might restore extinct animals and plants on the New Earth.

    Animals are created for God’s glory. What could speak more of his awesome power than a tyrannosaurus? When talking to Job, God pointed out his greatness revealed in the giant land and sea creatures behemoth and leviathan (Job 40– 41). Why shouldn’t all people have the opportunity to enjoy these great wonders of God on the New Earth? Imagine Jurassic Park with all of the awesome majesty of those huge creatures but none of their violence and hostility. Imagine riding a brontosaurus— or flying on the back of a pterodactyl. Unless God made a mistake when he created them— and clearly he didn’t— why wouldn’t he include them when he makes “everything new”?

    Commentary on Leviticus 23 (The Feasts of Israel)

    Posted By on April 10, 2015

    In chapter 23 of Leviticus, God summons the Israelites to worship and to celebrate seven annual feasts he has appointed. Walter Kaiser and Duane Garrett, in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture,  explain that “during these holy convocations the priests presented sacrifices and other offerings, while the common people rested from their daily labor, sometimes fasting and sometimes feasting, and celebrated the seasonal blessings of God and the great redemptive moments in the lives of his people.”

    Verse 5 kicks off the calendar of feasts with the Passover celebration. Kaiser and Garrett write:

    Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar (our late March to early April). According to Exodus 12:26–27, when subsequent generations inquired about the meaning of the Passover, they were to be told that it commemorated the manner in which the Lord had spared the Israelites the night he struck down the Egyptians’ firstborn sons (Ex 12:29–30 ).

    Verses 6-8 describe the second feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Kaiser and Garrett explain the significance of this festival:

    The Feast of Unleavened Bread immediately followed the Passover (Ex 12:15–20) and lasted for one week. In the context of the exodus, eating bread without yeast signified hasty preparation and a readiness to depart. Yeast, which was studiously avoided during this feast, became a symbol of the pervasive influence of evil (cf. Mk 8:15 ; 1 Co 5:7–8 ).

    Verses 9-14 describe the third spring festival, the Offering of Firstfruits.

    The Offering of Firstfruits took place at the beginning of the barley harvest and signified Israel’s gratitude to and dependence upon God. It occurred seven weeks before [the next festival of] Pentecost, but there was also an offering of firstfruits associated with the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost . . . in celebration of the wheat harvest (Num 28:26–31).

    Verses 15-22 describe the fourth spring festival, the Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost.

    The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, occurring seven weeks after Passover, was a day of sacred assembly in which no work was allowed. Its primary focus was an expression of gratitude to God for the wheat harvest.

    Verses 23-25 describe the first fall festival, the Feast of Trumpets.

    The Feast of Trumpets, celebrated on the first day of the seventh Hebrew month, marked the end of the agricultural year. The seventh month was important because it also included two major holy days— the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths. The blasting of trumpets announced the commencement of this special month.

    The Israelites associated the sound of trumpets with the theophany (visible manifestation of God) on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16–19). Priests had also sounded trumpets prior to the destruction of Jericho (Jos 6:16), and trumpets were regularly used in Israel as a military signal (2 Sam 2:28). Thus, the blast of trumpets at the onset of the seventh month added to the solemnity of this sacred season.

    Verses 26-32 describe the second fall festival, the Day of Atonement. Recall that the Day of Atonement was carefully examined in chapter 16 of Leviticus.

    The Day of Atonement focused exclusively on atonement for the sins of the people. This ceremony took place on the tenth day of the seventh month. The high priest made atonement first for himself and his family and finally for all the people. Coming at the end of the agricultural year, this feast symbolized a final reckoning before God.

    The seventh and final festival of the year is described in verses 33-44, The Feast of Tabernacles.

    The Feast of Booths (also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkoth) took place five days after the Day of Atonement (Num 29:12–40). The people “camped out” in small huts during this time in order to recall their temporary living quarters prior to taking the land of Canaan. This joyous week was a time of final celebration and thanksgiving for the year’s harvest (Deut 16:14–15 ). As the seventh and last annual feast, the Feast of Booths also represented the Sabbath principle.

    The significance of these festivals is commonly missed by evangelical Christians. Consider the words of Gordon Wenham in The Book of Leviticus (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament):

    Three of the principal OT feasts were taken over directly by the Christian Church: passover = Good Friday, unleavened bread = Easter, weeks = Pentecost. The three most significant events in Christ’s redemptive ministry coincided with these festivals. That they no longer always coincide today is because of various modifications to the calendar introduced since the first century.

    The linkages between the feasts and Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are unmistakable. Wenham explains,

    The last supper seems to have been a passover meal (cf. Matt. 26:17), and John implies that our Lord was the true passover lamb whose bones were not to be broken (John 19:36 quoting Exod. 12:46; cf. John 19:14). Easter Sunday was probably the day the first sheaf was offered as a dedication offering. It is this ceremony of offering the firstfruits which led Paul to speak of Christ in his resurrection as the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:23). Elsewhere he uses another aspect of the festival of unleavened bread as an incentive for holiness: as all yeast had to be cleared out of the home in preparation for the feast of unleavened bread, so sin must be put out of the Christian community.

    When did the Holy Spirit come to the church? On the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. It occurred the 50th day after Easter. Wenham continues:

    Recognition of the OT background to these Christian festivals could perhaps give greater depth to Christian worship. When we celebrate Good Friday we should think not only of Christ’s death on the cross for us, but of the first exodus from Egypt which anticipated our deliverance from the slavery of sin. At Easter we recall Christ’s resurrection and see in it a pledge of our own resurrection at the last day, just as the firstfruits of harvest guarantee a full crop later on (1 Cor. 15:20,23). At . . . Pentecost we praise God for the gift of the Spirit and all our spiritual blessings; the OT reminds us to praise God for our material benefits as well.

    Does God Have a Good Purpose for All Evil?

    Posted By on April 8, 2015

    Many Christians and non-Christians, alike, struggle with why God would allow so much seemingly senseless evil in the world. When a child is buried in the waters of a tsunami, how can there possibly be any good purpose for that? Can’t an all-powerful God do better?

    I used to ask these questions myself, but over the years I’ve learned that even though my heart wants to impugn the character of God, my mind tells me that I’m just wrong. Why am I wrong?

    The whole argument stands or falls on whether I can prove that God knowingly allows some evil that has no good purpose. But that is impossible. Norman Geisler explains, in his book If God, Why Evil?: A New Way to Think About the Question, why this argument fails:

    Not only can no mortal assert with confidence that there can be no good purpose for some suffering (because we do not know it), but we can affirm with certainty that God does know the good purpose for all suffering and other evils. Why? Because God is omniscient, and an all-knowing mind knows everything.

    Further, God is omnibenevolent, and an all-good God has a good purpose for everything He does or permits. Hence we know for sure that there is a good purpose for all suffering – including the apparently unjust or innocent kinds – even if we do not know it.

    We, as finite human beings, cannot possibly hope to ever know the purpose for all instances of evil and suffering we see, but God, as infinitely knowing, can and does.

    Let’s summarize this reasoning:

    1. That we don’t know a good purpose for evil does not mean there is none.

    2. An all-good God knows a good purpose for everything (including evil).

    a. Some evil seems to us to have no good purpose.

    b. But an all-good God has a good purpose for everything.

    c. So even evil that seems to have no good purpose does have a good purpose.

    3. Therefore, there is a good purpose for all suffering, even that which we cannot now explain.

    We can be mad at God for allowing certain kinds of evil, but in the end we just don’t have the information He does. When we take our 4-year old to the doctor to receive vaccination shots, she is convinced that there is no good purpose for the suffering she is feeling when that needle enters her skin. But, as her mother knows, there is a good purpose for that needle. The child simply must trust her mother, and we must trust God.

    Will Everyone Be Equal in Heaven?

    Posted By on April 6, 2015

    We live in an age and place (21st century western civilization) where equality is near the top of the list of principles that we hold dear. Because equality is so important to us, many of us just assume that equality must be equally important to God. If it’s important to God, then surely Heaven is a place where everyone is equal, right?

    Not exactly. As with any question, we need to be careful in defining our terms. Equality can mean a lot of different things, so let’s take a look at equality in Heaven. As usual, our guide is Randy Alcorn and his book Heaven. Alcorn writes:

    All people are equal in worth, but they differ in gifting and performance. God is the creator of diversity, and diversity means “inequality” of gifting (1 Corinthians 12: 14-20). Because God promises to reward people differently according to their differing levels of faithfulness in this life, we should not expect equality of possessions and positions in Heaven.

    Let’s stop there. The Bible is clear that believers will receive different rewards in Heaven based upon their faithfulness and service to God while on earth. So, we know that everyone will not be equal in rewards. Alcorn continues:

    If everyone were equal in Heaven in all respects, it would mean we’d have no role models, no heroes, no one to look up to, no thrill of hearing wise words from someone we deeply admire. I’m not equal to Hudson Taylor, Susanna Wesley, George Mueller, or C. S. Lewis. I want to follow their examples, but I don’t need to be their equals. There’s no reason to believe we’ll all be equally tall or strong or that we’ll have the same gifts, talents, or intellectual capacities.

    Would you really want Heaven to be a place where everyone had the same talents and gifts as everyone else?

    If we all had the same gifts, they wouldn’t be special. If you can do some things better than I can, and I than you, then we’ll have something to offer each other. We live in a culture that worships equality, but we err when we reduce equality to sameness. It’s illogical to assume everyone in Heaven will be able to compose a concerto with equal skill or be able to throw a ball as far as everyone else.

    In a perfect world, Adam was bigger and stronger than Eve, and Eve had beauty, sensitivities, and abilities Adam didn’t. In other words, diversity— not conformity— characterizes a perfect world.

    Alcorn poses the question: how can we all be happy in Heaven if some people have greater talents and rewards than others? He provides an answer from theologian Jonathan Edwards:

    The saints are like so many vessels of different sizes cast into a sea of happiness where every vessel is full: this is eternal life, for a man ever to have his capacity filled. But after all ’tis left to God’s sovereign pleasure, ’tis his prerogative to determine the largeness of the vessel.

    Alcorn explains:

    A pint jar and a quart jar can both be full, but the larger jar contains more. Likewise, in Heaven all of us will be full of joy, but some may have a larger capacity for joy, having been stretched through their dependence on God in this life. John Bunyan said it well: “He who is most in the bosom of God, and who so acts for him here, he is the man who will be best able to enjoy most of God in the kingdom of heaven.”

    Commentary on Leviticus 18-20 (Laws and Punishments)

    Posted By on April 3, 2015

    Chapters 18-20 of Leviticus give moral instruction to the Israelites that separate them from the surrounding cultures. Chapter 18 deals primarily with the institution of marriage and sets strict boundaries around sexual intercourse. Chapter 19 gives positive instruction to the people about how to treat each other in their everyday lives. Chapter 20 spells out the maximum punishments that were to be given for the most serious offenses (mostly from chapter 18).

    Beginning in chapter 18, verses 1-6, we read the overall purpose for the following chapters. The Israelites are prohibited from following the practices of the Egyptians (from where they came) and the Canaanites (where they are going).

    Why? Because “I am the LORD your God.” Three times God reminds them in these verses that He is the “LORD your God.” In fact, in chapters 18-20, the phrase “I am the LORD your God,” or something close to it, is repeated almost 50 times! This phrase would communicate at least three things to the Israelites, according to Gordon Wenham.

    First, “it looks back to the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt.” It is a reminder that he brought them out of Egypt.

    Second, “Israel, as the people of God, was expected to imitate God, to be holy. ‘For I am the Lord your God, and you must sanctify yourselves and be holy, because I am holy’ (Lev. 11:44).”

    Third, “this phrase often provides the motive for observing a particular law. Under the covenant the people of God were expected to keep the law, not merely as a formal duty but as a loving response to God’s grace in redemption.”

    Verse 6 states the main thrust of chapter 18, to prohibit marriage, and therefore sexual intercourse, between close relatives. Verses 6-18 spell out the incest prohibitions in detail. Wenham explains the basic principles underlying the rules in verses 6–18: “a man may not marry any woman who is a close blood relation, or any woman who has become a close relative through a previous marriage to one of the man’s close blood relations. All the relationships prohibited here can be seen to be out-workings of these two basic principles.”

    So why are so many verses dedicated to incest in chapter 18? Mark Rooker explains:

    “But the issue of incest in Israel was more problematic than in other cultures. This was due to two separate but related factors. First, the Israelites were not allowed to intermarry with foreigners, particularly the Canaanites. This obviously greatly reduced the number of possible marriage candidates. Second, the lands that a family or clan inherited were to remain inside the family or clan, necessitating that marriages take place between relatives. These two restrictions made incest laws indispensable. Sexual energies had to be subordinated to God’s will.”

    Verses 19-23 identify other pagan customs that were to be avoided by Israel. These included sex during menstruation, adultery, child prostitution/sacrifice, homosexual acts, and bestiality.

    Verses 24-30 record the curses that will fall upon the nation if they follow the pagan practices outlined in the previous verses. God warns Israel that he will drive them out of the land, just as he is driving out the Canaanites for the sins they have committed. The picture given is that of the land literally vomiting out its inhabitants for their sins. Several hundred years later, the Israelites would indeed be exiled from Canaan for their sins.

    In chapter 19, God tells the people how to treat each other in their daily lives. Chapter 19 repeats almost all of the Ten Commandments, expanding upon them. Remember that the Ten Commandments are the foundational moral principles for Israel, and that all of the laws and rules coming after the Commandments are details meant to help the Israelites apply them to their lives.

    Verses 9-18 are illustrative of the kinds of behaviors God desires from his people. These actions are what will make the people of Israel holy, just as God is holy. God expects the Israelites to: 1) leave food for the poor who have no land, 2) not steal from each other, 3) not lie to each other, 4) not defraud or rob each other, 5) not hold back earned wages, 6) not take advantage of the disabled, 7) not show partiality in legal matters, 8) not slander each other, 9) not endanger each other’s lives, 10) confront each other about sins, 11) not seek revenge against each other.

    The final culmination of all these instructions is in verse 18: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark Rooker writes:

    “This statement, ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ forms a climax to this first major section, and it was regarded by some as the central principle of the Law. The significance of the verse is also highlighted by the fact that Jesus and Paul both cited this verse as a summary of the duties one has to his fellow man (Matt 22:39–40, Rom 13:9).”

    “Love your neighbor as yourself” is also repeated in several other New Testament passages, showing how important Lev 19:18 is to the New Testament writers: Matt 19:19; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Gal 5:14; and Jas 2:8.

    Finally, in chapter 20, God describes the punishments for the most serious sins listed in previous chapters. Keep in mind that God has already commanded the people to not commit these sins, so chapter 20 answers the question: “what do we do with people who commit these sins?”

    Most, but not all, of the punishments in chapter 20 either call for the offender to be put to death by the community (stoning being the most prevalent method), or by God “cutting them off.” In the cases where God promised to “cut them off,” this was understood to be a death sentence to be executed by God himself. The community would not, in this case, execute the offender, but leave matters in God’s hands.

    What kinds of sins deserved the death penalty? Those crimes that were committed against religion and against the family unit. God considers these sins to be the most serious. Verses 2-6 cover religious sins and verses 9-21 cover sins against the family.

    In verses 1-5, we see the first religious offense deserving of the death penalty. “Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him.” So what does giving children to Molech mean?

    There are two practices from Israel’s neighbors that are likely prohibited here. First, some parents would dedicate their daughters, at birth, to become a temple prostitute for the god Molech. Second, some parents would offer their children to be sacrificed to Molech. Generally, the children would be killed, and then burned in the “arms” of a Molech statue.

    In verse 3, God explains that his name is profaned when his people worship Molech by offering their children. To the outside world, God would be no different from any of the other false pagan gods worshipped in the ancient near east.

    In verses 4-5, we see that God will also place a death sentence on any people who know that child sacrifice to Molech is occurring, but who don’t report it. Thus God makes the entire community responsible for rooting out this particular form of evil.

    The remainder of chapter 20 lists many other sins that are punishable by death. By calling out these particular sins, God is clearly communicating how seriously he takes these offenses to be.

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