Rightly Dividing

For my fellow co-workers in Arab and Muslim contexts, we need to discuss this…

In the article below (see link), the author makes reference to how one of the early Islamic commentators quoted directly from the Gospels (of an Arabic Bible) yet never once contextualized any of the terminologies of the Bible to islamicize them (see his second paragraph in this article).

Precision and accuracy are required in biblical interpretation, beyond all other enterprises, because the interpreter (and the missionary) is handling God’s Word. If/when we use translations and stories that islamicize Biblical names, concepts and terminologies, are we not making the Word of God a dhimmi to the Quran, hadiths and Islam in general?

We believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” But are we “rightly handling the word of truth” if we intentionally use Islam-specific terminology to teach the Truth?

Allah (of the Quran) is not akbar/greater (الله من القرآن مش أكبر).

Jesus/YHWH is akbar/greater than all other gods (يسوع المسيح أكبر).

https://biblia-arabica.com/the-transmission-of-the-arabic-bible-in-islamic-contexts-vatican-bav-ms-copt-9-in-al-biqaʿis-tafsir/

Baby and the Bathwater

BabyBathwater

We have been in the States now for the first two months of our home service and have witnessed firsthand the same rejection of God here in our beloved homeland that we see among people in other countries where we have served. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we are presently in the same country we left in 2010.

It has been said that new believers—in countries where they have given up everything to follow Christ—cannot believe that every American would not be a Christian. General prosperity, “democracy” and freedom of speech and religion tend to be seen as “Christian” qualities.

Certainly, our Judeo-Christian value system has allowed these positive attributes to thrive. But, as a nation, we no longer operate with the same set of moral values we once did. Christian leaders in the west are grasping at straws to figure out how to slow our collective downhill slide. But some seem to be overreacting in their efforts to make the Gospel message clear and more acceptable.

For instance, there is a popular American preacher/author who says that the church needs to discard the bulk of God’s word and just proclaim the words of Jesus and teach from the books of the New Testament. The author’s reasoning is that most people were drawn to Jesus because of his message of repentance and living a changed life by accepting him as Messiah and Savior; therefore we don’t need really need to get bogged down in teaching the “Old” Testament.

He must be reading from a different Bible than I read, because it seems to me that the Gospel writers point out that most people rejected Jesus—even after seeing all of the signs, wonders and miracles that proved that he was the Messiah, sent by Father God himself.

Getting rid of three-quarters of the bureaucrats in the UN might not do any real harm to that “august body,” but cutting out the same amount of God’s word causes violence to the Gospel message and the communication that God has given us to understand the world, our place in it, and His offer of redemption through the blood of Jesus.

This kind of thinking—instead of showing wisdom and ingenuity—shows a certain amount of apathy toward God Himself, since one cannot separate God’s words from his character. It is akin to telling engineering students that 9th grade algebra is all the math that they will ever need in their professional lives. No need to study calculus and upper level mathematics—why overtask oneself?

The author (and those who espouse these types of views) who preaches and teaches these things in his sermons and in his writing seems to be missing the point of the Bible as a whole: All of history revolves around the God who created the universe and all that is in it, including you and me. We don’t automatically get to cut out the tough parts of Scripture, which we are too lazy to study, in order to really understand what God is teaching us. What ever happened to, “Make every effort to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth.”

The Bible—in its entirety—provides us with a wonderful metanarrative for those who are willing to explore it. God used approximately 40 different people over a period of 1,500 years to record what He wanted for the world to know in order to explain why we are here on this planet. It’s not just a book of facts, figures and difficult names to pronounce. Unfortunately, those of us who are teachers haven’t done a very good job in living this out or explaining it to our family members, friends and the rest of the world. As humans, we tend to make it all about “me.” But in fact, the reality is that everything is about our Creator.

Instead of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, I will double down and say that we should be spending more time studying the difficult parts of Scripture which are challenging and troublesome to our 21st century minds and hearts.

It is there where God will meet us in unexpected and profound ways.

“Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” — Ephesians 5:15-17

Prophecy in Pictures

Today’s students of eschatology nearly unanimously agree that we are living in the “last days,” to use the Biblical term. We can all agree that the world seems to be careening down a path of no return. What is not fully agreed upon in the eschatology community are the specific meanings and possible connections of current world events related to as-yet-unfulfilled Biblical prophecies.

Living most of the time in Israel, we fall somewhere in the middle between those who see prophecy being fulfilled in nearly every world event and those who don’t see any real connection of world events compared with Biblical prophetic language.

But there are some things that have been happening recently which portray alliances and geopolitical wranglings in ways that are eerily similar to those written about in the Bible. From our view in the Front Row Seat, we’ve decided to publish those connections which we find of interest—those which might not be “prophetic” at this moment, but which tend to give us real life examples of how events might be unfolding. Here are a couple of pictures for this week:

Prophecy in Pictures – 101: Ezekiel 38-39

PutinErdoganRouhani

These three gentlemen have met together more than once in the recent past, and none of them ever seem to be up to any good. This picture brings to mind the passage from Ezekiel 38 and 39, which reads in part, “And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out…Persia…with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all his hordes; Beth-togarmah from the uttermost parts of the north with all his hordes—many peoples are with you.”

Now you might be asking why I didn’t include “Gog, of the land of Magog” from “the uttermost parts of the north” in my reference, since many believe those terms represents Russia in some way. It is possible that these names mean modern day “Russia” but that has not yet been proven to my satisfaction. However, we do know that Russia has close relationships with two other actors mentioned in this same passage: Sudan (biblical Cush) and Libya (biblical Put). So, Russia could definitely be involved in this alliance.

Easily proven are two of the remaining “big names” in the photo: Turkey and Iran. The ancient name Beth-togarmah represents an area today we know as Turkey and adjacent areas around the Black Sea. Tubal and Meshech are well attested in Greek and Assyrian records as also located in the area of modern day Turkey.

“Persia” in this list is much easier, since we all know that Iran was known as “Persia” until 1935.

So, is this a fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39? I don’t think so, but if it happens in our lifetime, we can take a look at this picture and say, “Remember when…?”

Prophecy in Pictures – 102: 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4

KushnerPeaceSecurity

This photo was taken about a week ago. Although Jared Kushner is in the photo, he’s not what I want to draw your attention (although he has been involved in this Middle East Peace process since Trump became president.)

Instead, take a look at the logo of the conference: Peace and Security in the Middle East.

When I first saw this, my mind went immediately to the term “peace and safety,” which I used to see in many English translations of the Bible. I thought, “Wow, that’s really close to that verse in Thessalonians!” Then, I opened up my ESV (our preferred translation these days), and it read:

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,‘ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4

Just as Neville Chamberlain prematurely exclaimed, “peace for our time,” after meeting with Hitler in 1938, I can imagine delegations from all over the world exclaiming “peace and security!” some day in the not-so-distant-future when a “peace agreement” is negotiated between Israel and other nations in the Middle East.

I don’t believe this conference in Warsaw is what Paul is referring to, but if you see this declaration happen in the near future, “…you know that he is near, at the very gates.” – Matthew 24:33

Stay tuned for more from the Front Row Seat!

Too Easy

applepay

Last month we had the opportunity to travel in Northern Europe, in clean countries full of awesome cheeses, pastries and cured pork products—things that we really miss living in Israel. For those of you who travel a bit, you won’t be surprised to read that we did not use cash even once. In fact, in one country we visited, we never even used a debit or credit card. Instead, we used our phones to pay for all of that yummy goodness. And everything else.

It was great…and a little bit scary. Besides having money fly out of our bank account faster than we could say presto, it felt a little weird to have such ease in paying for everything. But I loved the convenience.

Then a couple of days ago, an article came out in which the writer said,

“It is the most totalitarian form of blacklisting: not just to be prevented from speaking on a university campus, or to be kicked off social media, but to be shut out of the entire financial system. That is the terrifying new threat to freedom that western societies must now contend with.” — Link to full article Blacklisting.

Interestingly, or more accurately, frighteningly, another writer wrote about this subject matter, but fleshed it out to its logical end:

“He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast—that is, his name or his number.” — The apostle John in Revelation 13:16–17.

1984 has already arrived, and it’s worse than Orwell imagined. China has a new “social credit system,” and corporations are deciding who gets to participate in their commerce systems. We’ve gotten so used to all of these new user-friendly systems that we complain when Netflix or Hulu buffer for more than a second or two. And, unless one is rather dull or not paying attention, it is nearly impossible not to see the direction in which these awesome technologies are leading us all.

Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve,” because he noticed that human knowledge doubled every century. But he couldn’t anticipate how quickly things would change, and by the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. At the time of this writing, average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. And, according to IBM, the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. A recent Dell report states that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. And technology is what makes all of this possible.

I’m certain that there will be those who read this short post and accuse me of making a mountain out of a molehill or fear mongering. But I can assure you, what John wrote nearly 2,000 years ago will happen, and it did not already happen in A.D. 70. It seems plausible, if not reasonable, based upon what we know today, that those two verses could easily happen within the next few decades, if not faster.

“Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” — Luke 21:36

Tremors

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 3.37.05 PM

There was a magnitude 6.3 earthquake on the Iran/Iraq border a few days ago, which was felt all the way in Israel as well. It’s a not-so-gentle reminder that what happens in other parts of the Middle East will eventually affect those of us in Israel as well. One person recently termed the changes that are happening in this region as a “tectonic shift” in the geopolitical realm, especially where it concerns Israel and the surrounding Arab countries.

News sources in America rarely seem to report on anything other than President Trump or some sort of tangential matter having to do with his administration. However, much of the most exciting and meaningful news is happening behind the scenes in this part of the world. It gets reported here, but none of the news outlets which deliver the news here make the connections between the historic “tectonic shifts” and what scripture says will occur. This is not to say that we are seeing biblical prophecy being fulfilled before our very eyes, but recent events show how prophecy could be fulfilled in ways which were impossible just a few years ago.

For instance, a conference held in Rome, which just ended this past weekend, showed that leaders of Middle Eastern Arab countries were no longer consumed with wiping Israel off of the map; instead, Arab representatives were meeting with Israeli officials to discuss Israeli medicine, technology and water desalinization, in all of which the Israelis are experts. One official from Oman called on the Arab world to “come to terms with the reality that Israel is a fact of life in the region.” The leader of Chad made that country’s first official visit to Israel early this week as well. It would appear that the Arab ummah is setting the stage for a sweeping and comprehensive peace between Israel and the rest of the Arab world. The seemingly good news doesn’t end there.

A few days ago an agreement was secured for the world’s longest underwater pipeline, which will deliver Israeli natural gas to Cyprus, Greece and Italy, thereby circumventing Russia as the main supplier of natural gas to Europe. This will strengthen an already-strong Israeli economy and put Israel among the top energy exporters in the world. Not only that, but there has been extensive diplomatic and intelligence cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel, especially as they pursue mutual interests against their common enemy Iran. It seems like everything is going great!

But these positive developments won’t fix the problems which are coming down the road.

Russia still holds Israel responsible for the downing of a Russian military plane in September (which everyone—even the Russians—agree that the reckless Syrian military caused), and is itching to teach Israel a lesson. Iran still wants Israel annihilated, with Iran’s president Rouhani calling Israel a “cancerous tumor.” One paper here wrote that “Iran’s leaders frequently condemn Israel and predict its demise, but Rouhani, a relative moderate, rarely employs such rhetoric.” I guess they’re still a little sore over losing all of those top secret nuclear bomb plans, which the Mossad absconded from under the Iranian’s noses back in the spring. On top of these serious issues, both Iran and Russia have placed troops on the Israeli/Syrian border just a few miles from our home. Just a week ago 151 countries voted that Israel must give the Golan Heights back to Syria, a nation that has killed nearly a million people in its long civil war, resulting in millions more being scattered around the world. Only the United States and Israel cast their votes against this resolution.

All of the things (other than Russia’s military plane and Iran’s top secret files) I have written above happened in just the past week! How is it possible that the part of the world—the Arab Middle East—that has sought Israel’s demise since the very first day of her inception is now turning to her for help in various ways, while other parts of the world—thought to be more enlightened—are turning against Israel even while they consume her energy and technology (just try to find a cell phone without Israeli technology—it’s impossible)? Ezekiel gives us a glimpse of a scenario just like this.

Ezekiel 38 tells us: “Thus says the Lord God: On that day, thoughts will come into your mind, and you will devise an evil scheme and say, ‘I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,’ to seize spoil and carry off plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places that are now inhabited, and the people who were gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell at the center of the earth. Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all its leaders will say to you, ‘Have you come to seize spoil? Have you assembled your hosts to carry off plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to seize great spoil?’”

I’m not going to debate who Gog is representing in the verses preceding our reference above, but Persia (Iran) is specifically mentioned as being a part of this evil coalition which is coming to “seize spoil.” Sheba and Dedan are biblical areas in and around Saudi Arabia, yet Ezekiel says not only are they not part of the invading force, but instead make a protest directed at Israel’s invaders. Tarshish can represent the far western portion of the Mediterranean, but can more specifically mean Cyprus and Greece. The route that Ezekiel’s invading horde will use must pass directly through Syria and continue through the Golan Heights.

Think about it this way: A number of countries (including Iran) invade Israel for the plunder. What could that “spoil” possibly be? Maybe one of the big items is the energy that Israel is piping to Europe via—get this—Tarshish, i.e. Cyprus and Greece.

If this new pipeline to Europe happens—and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t—Russia will be soon cut out of the energy loop. Why is this a problem? Because much of Russia’s income is derived directly from energy sales to Europe. Did you ever read Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy? The scenario I’m describing here is just the updated version of that thrilling (and scary) novel.

Why would Russia (along with the other nations mentioned in Ezekiel 38) be upset about this, besides the decrease in revenue? Actually, previous wars have started over much less. For instance, think of the war that America fought with Japan in WW2. Do you know how it all got started? The United States imposed an oil embargo on Japan in the summer of 1941 to stop its assault in Asia and to curb Japanese actions, such as their atrocities in Nanking, China. Basically, Japan declared war on America for disrupting its energy supply.

CNN Business reported in June 2018 that “Sixty-seven percent of Russia’s tax revenues comes from energy exports… Russia needs this trade even more that the European Union…” and “A number of EU countries, particularly those closest to Russia, are still almost completely dependent on Moscow for their gas.” What happens when this co-dependent relationship goes down the drain, to Israel’s and Europe’s advantage? Do you think that Russia will just take it on the chin? Look what they are doing in the Ukraine right now.

As much as Trump takes up the headlines in America, we as believers should be paying attention to events happening elsewhere. Let’s not be those who are caught unaware. Jesus said it best, “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

 

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

suntzu.png

Golda Meir, the fourth prime minister of Israel, is famously quoted as saying, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” We see the truth of this statement playing out in real life, time and time again here in Israel.

For instance, a couple of days ago, Gaza fired 460 rockets into southern Israel over a 24-hour period—I had to silence my phone for nearly a full day because of the sheer number of Red Alert notifications. The Iron Dome system was activated to intercept approximately 100 of those incoming missiles. You might be asking why the Iron Dome system was only used on 25% of the rockets when 460 were launched. The reason is that the Iron Dome system is designed to shoot down only those missiles which are calculated to hit populated areas, meaning those that will hit “open ground” are allowed to get through the “dome.”

As good as the Iron Dome system is (the best in the world), it does not have a 100% success rate, so a number of Gazan rockets were able to penetrate the shield and landed on Israeli homes and apartment buildings. Amazingly, only one person was killed by the incoming missiles; ironically, this victim was a West Bank Palestinian man who was working in Ashkelon at the time.

Although hundreds-of-thousands of Israelis were huddled in their bomb shelters for a good bit of that 24-hour period (including friends of ours who live in that area), the flare-ups and wars with Gaza do not present an existential threat to Israel. This is not to minimize the tremendous stress and shock that one experiences when sirens sound, alerting you that rockets are being shot into your neighborhood—we can personally attest to that stress. Gaza just doesn’t have the power or resources to destroy Israel. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other true threats.

Whenever you see a major flare-up like the one we just saw in Gaza, you can be certain that a bigger problem is building from some other direction. Sun Tzu, writing in The Art of War says, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

So if deception is a basic truth of warfare, then you can be certain that what we see in the physical world is just a mirror of the things happening in the spiritual world, and that the noise that we hear happening in one place is really just a distraction to make us unaware of the bigger problem. The same thing is happening in Gaza. They aren’t able to destroy the Jewish state, but they still are a constant thorn in Israel’s side. This type of back-and-forth low-level warfare and national stress—and most certainly some rather substantial wars, as well, with Iran/Hezbollah/etc—will eventually set the stage for an agreement that appears to give this Land some long-deserved peace.

But that “peace” will be a deception. Some individual or entity will appear to give Israel a guarantee of peace and safety for a period, but is instead setting it up for destruction. The Hamas charter states that Gaza’s basic goal is to destroy the State of Israel. Of course, Israel would rather have peace, but how does one make permanent peace with an entity bent on its annihilation? Golda Meir makes a great point in her quote, and there is much truth in her statement. However, the agreement that will eventually be signed will enforce a type of peace and stability—without any real changes in the hearts of those who surround them—such as the Gazans.

Just as Sun Tzu warned, however, this reinforced covenant that Israel willingly makes will actually be another deception. So although there are wars and rumors of wars happening all the time here in the Land, keep your eyes focused on what is happening in other realms, both spiritual and physical. The enemy of our souls, Satan, is the father of lies. It is his natural language, and so we must all stay alert to his schemes, both in our personal lives as well as the world around us. We cannot allow the latest political scandal or our favorite sports team’s win/loss record to draw our attention away from more important eternal things. Because it won’t matter who won the last game—or who is elected president—when these things happen.

Reverse Engineering God’s Will

Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 4.04.54 PM

There is a common misconception among the many Christians who make a pilgrimage to Israel. It’s easy to understand why this happens, since Israel is the place where the majority of the events in the Bible occurred (and where many will occur in the future). The erroneous thinking goes something like this: “Israel is the land of the Bible; Israel as a nation rose from the dead (miraculously), and Jews from around the diaspora are returning; many Jews believe in the God of the Bible; therefore, they must know the Bible very well.”

This seems like a reasonable set of assumptions, and the first ones are true. But the last two—well, let’s just say “some” Jews believe in the God of the Bible, but most don’t really know the Bible very well at all, at least in the way that Christians think. Let me explain.

There was a story this morning in Ha’aretz, one of a number of news outlets here in Israel, about what exactly religious Jewish Israelis study in “yeshiva,” which is sort of like the Jewish equivalent of the Christian seminary. Except yeshiva students often begin their studies at a much younger age (think young teens). And they are MUCH more serious about their studies than the average Christian seminary student.

The sub-headline of the article reads, “Ultra-orthodox yeshiva study isn’t about parsing the bible or even studying Oral Law, but an attempt to peer into God’s mind.

Now, the first thing that might come into your mind is, “Huh? They don’t study the Bible?” You read the whole headline, but that was probably what stuck out. “But how can that be,” you’re asking yourself? “Don’t they live in Israel, and speak Hebrew, and know all of the places where the Old Testament happened?” The answer is “Yes” to all of these questions, but for reasons I won’t get into here, “Studying the Bible” as Christians understand the concept, is not really a thing here—unless one is a “Messianic Jew,” i.e. a Jew who believes that Jesus (Yeshua) is the promised Messiah—but that’s a different subject.

Yes, yeshiva students can read the Old Testament—what Jews call the Tanach—in the original Hebrew. And they’ve likely memorized by rote the whole Torah—what Christians call the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). But, if you ask Jewish yeshiva students what they think about Isaiah 53, they will tell you what the Jewish commentaries say about the passage, but they won’t talk directly about the passage. They might say something like this, “Rabbi so-and-so says such-and-such in XYZ-commentary.” It would be highly unusual (near 0% probability) for a yeshiva student to give their own opinion. They are taught only to study others’ opinions, not to come up with their own.

Now, I’m not putting down yeshiva students or the rabbis who put together the Talmud from the Mishnah (the oral Torah) and the Gemara (rabbinical commentary on the Mishnah). These texts have been carefully put together for the past two-thousand years by very smart and learned rabbis, who spent their whole lives trying to figure out how to obey what God said in the Old Testament/Tanach. But studying the Bible, as we understand it, is not really the point of the yeshiva. Instead, it’s about understanding what others say about the Bible. As Meg says, “It’s 2,000 years of playing the ‘telephone game’ with the Bible, with unfortunate results.”

Interestingly, I think that Christians have their own versions of this type of thinking. “Surely not!” you say. Yet, answer this question for me: “How many hours do you spend reading books ABOUT the Bible versus actually reading the Bible?” Do you see what I’m getting at? I’m just as guilty.

We love to read the latest books by the hottest Christian authors, but we labor over reading through the Bible once a year. Basically, we want for others to reverse engineer God’s will for our lives, and then write it out in simple language. “Please, someone just tell me what God wants, and I’ll try to do it.” We want a quick fix to life’s problems, without doing the real work ourselves. These books are many times ironically called, “self-help,” when in reality we—ourselves—rarely are the ones who are helping.

If God’s Word is “living and active” then why do we prefer to read what someone else says about His Word? What they write might be true—and even helpful and insightful—but I doubt that it’s “living and active.” Maybe the reason we do this is because God’s Word is, as the verse continues, “sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Sometimes I think that we read what other people say about the Bible because those books rarely convict us like the Bible does.

Next time you go to church, try this: 1) Listen to the sermon; then 2) Like a good Berean, go home and read the passages (and the surrounding verses) from the lesson. Do you see what I’m talking about? Your minister did a lot of work putting that sermon together. But the Holy Spirit within you might speak to you through those same verses in ways that the lesson might not have.

I’m sure that your pastor will love the fact that you went home and actually studied further what he presented. And in doing so, you might even hear that “still, small voice” of God answer a question or two that you have had.