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Thursday, November 01 2018

This is Mt. Nebo

After touring Madaba, our journey will take us to a ridge that rises in Jordan approximately 2,330ft called “Mount Nebo.”  In Numbers 20, the nation of Israel is contending with Moses and Aaron because they have no water.  It would be ignoring the context not to also see that Moses and Aaron’s sister, Miriam, has recently died and been buried.  Undoubtedly grieving, in combination with the complaining of the people, clearly leaves Moses irritated with their attitudes.  Thus, he carries out an order from God to take “the rod” with his brother Aaron to speak to the rock before the eyewitness of the people, so that it would, “yield its water.”  However, standing before the rock and the people, Moses makes 3 critical errors.  Instead of speaking to the rock, he, 1) lets his anger take control of him and chastises the people; 2) takes partial credit (glory) for what is about to happen (“shall we bring forth water”); 3) and he struck the rock, not once, but twice to bring forth the water.  This act cost Moses his entrance into the Promised Land. 

However, in God’s grace, He does allow Moses to view the land of Canaan from a mountain of the Abarim, which was in the land of Moab opposite Jericho.  It was called then, as it is today, Mt Nebo.  This will also be where he will die.  Scripture states that Moses was buried in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor (Deuteronomy 34:6).  This would be in the valley called Wâdī Ąyun Mûsā.  Scripture also states that no man knows his burial place “to this day.”  Yet in typical custom not to disappoint, tourists and pilgrims that came to the area during the Byzantine era were pointed to a tomb declared to be Moses’ burial site.  As demonstrated throughout the centuries, there is no shortage of traditions and legends for locations in the area concerning Moses and related events.

The contemporary location of Mt Nebo is with the headland called Râs es-Siâghah, which is 6 miles northwest of Madaba in East Jordan .  There are several springs at the foot of the northern slope that supply water to farming regions to the west and to the town of Madaba in the southeast.  The springs are referred to as ‘Ąyun Mûsā, which means “the springs of Moses.”  There is also a wadi to the west and a ruin on the north and the south (see, “This is Petra”) that holds his name as well. 

The Byzantium monastery subsequently settled into the area and built a basilica that hosted a Presbytery, baptistery, chapel, and diakonikon baptistery (a central place where the priests could wash themselves and the holy articles, as well as a storage area for pertinent books and other objects precious to them).  The ruins are in exceptionally good condition despite the Islamic invasions of the 7thC AD. 

Archaeological excavations have borne out that the name of Nebo has been faithfully kept to the mountain and region before the 4thC AD.  Eusebius’ Onomasticon (see, “This is Madaba”) demonstrates that the mountain was already known by the name long before the Byzantium inhabitation. 

  • Biblical References:
    • “Nebo” - Deuteronomy 32:49, 34:1;
    • Moses – Numbers 20:1ff;
Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 12:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 01 2018

This is Mount Carmel

It had been over 3 years since rain had fallen in Israel.  The prophet Elijah had been blamed for it by King Ahab and was labeled “the troubler of Israel.”  But when God sent Elijah back to the king with the message of “rain coming,” little did anyone know of the event that was being orchestrated.  Elijah called for the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to ascend Mount Carmel and meet him there for the most epic showdown between God and the forces of evil since the exodus from Egypt (1 Kings 18).  It came down to 2 altars of sacrifice and 2 distinctly different calls for response.  YHWH answered in an unquestionable way of who the only true and living God could be.  Fire rained down from heaven and consumed not only the sacrifice, but also the wood, the valuable water that had been poured about it, the rocks on which it had been placed and even the dust.  Subsequently, Elijah had all of the false prophets executed at the brook Kishon.

After Elijah was succeeded by Elisha, the prophet was being mocked by some young boys calling him “baldy.”  Elisha then called down a curse from God and two female bears came charging out of the wood-line.  The bears mauled 42 of the boys.  Elisha subsequently left there and went to Mount Carmel (2 Kings 2).

“Carmel” is a common Hebrew noun that means “garden,” “vineyard,” or “orchard.”  It has an annual rainfall of 28 inches along with its fertile slopes, which lends itself to the title.  The harvest of olives, grains and fruits from the grounds are often celebrated along with its renown of legendary wines.  In Scripture, it is equivalent with beauty and splendor and is used for comparison as such (Song of Solomon 7:5; Isaiah 35:2; Jeremiah 50:19).  Locally it is called Jebel Kurmul or Jebel Mar Elyas.  It’s location on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea juts out, forming a cape on the Bay of Acre (modern bay of Haifa).  It stands in stark contrast to the otherwise smooth coastline that extends all the way back to Egypt.  The forest hills of Mount Carmel form the tribal territory boundary of Asher (Joshua 19:26).

The mountain is host to a number of caves called “Kebaran,” that are often credited to the earliest of human inhabitants and are anthropologically referred to as the “cradle of human development.”  Because of the numerous caves, criminals would often hide there throughout history.  Others seeking shelter from enemies would also take refuge there.  

While being directly mentioned in early Egyptian and Mesopotamian writings, it is also indirectly recorded in Pharaoh Pepi’s archives (2350 BC) as the “Nose of the Gazelle’s Head,” which ran down to the sea.  Pharaoh Thutmose III (1481-1425 BC) also speaks of the “Holy Head,” where his troops would land, as well as Ramses II (1303 BC-1213 BC) and Ramses III (1186-1155 BC).  It also appears in the annals of Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (841 BC).

In the Roman period, a temple of Zeus was built on the mountain.  Emperors Trajan and Vespasian offered sacrifices to an idol that was given the name, “Carmel,” who was identified with Zeus.  Tacitus recorded that Emperor Vespasian (reigned 69-79 AD) was given an oracle from the priests of Carmel, stating the Emperor would be the master of the world.  A single stone foot was placed there to commemorate the oracle.    

Throughout the centuries of Christianity, Mount Carmel has been the location of a number of monasteries to the Carmelite Monastic Movement.  Other religious groups were also drawn to the mountain as a sacred location.  Practicing Baha’i (a religion that embraces “all religions”) members placed a Baha’i garden shrine there with tombs of leaders from their past.  Mount Carmel remains an agriculturally rich area that supplies much of the region with produce.

  • Biblical References
    • 1 Kings 18:19, 20, 42; 
    • 2 Kings 2:25; 
    • 2 Kings 4:25; 
    • Song of Solomon 7:5; 
    • Jeremiah 46:18;
Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 12:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 01 2018

This is The Mount of The Beatitudes

In Matthew chapter 5, it states that when Jesus saw the multitudes, “He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.”  Read alone, it captures none of the dramatic nature of the event taking place.  Going back to the end of chapter 4, Jesus is going throughout the land and physically healing what would have otherwise been incurable.  Imagine the crowds that would genuinely gather around someone who could cure anything, right before one’s eyes.  No tricks.  No behind the cloak scenes.  No mystery diseases were declared cured that had not yet been identified in the person.  A withered hand was restored (Mark 3:1ff), seizures stopped, demons cast out, and the paralyzed made ambulatory.  The crowds came from as far east of the Sea of Galilee as they did from the west and the south.  Jesus literally has drawn national attention. 

Here He stops and the crowds gather to listen to what He has to say.  The words given could not have been from any earthly man, because they are the exact opposite of what they would expect to hear.  Blessed are the poor?  Blessed are the mourning?  Blessed are the persecuted?  You have heard it said, but I say unto you?  He was not talking about random subjects, ideas, or conjectures; He was talking about Torah.  To challenge the teachings of the theologically academic leaders of His day was unheard of.  Did He not know what they could do to Him?

The site for the Mount of the Beatitudes is still under some dispute today.  But tradition has held for 1600 years that the location is between Capernaum and Gennesaret.  It is also referred to as Mt. Eremos (Greek = “solitary,” “uninhabited”) and Karn Hattin.  This area has also been known as the “Horns of Hattin” for the two mountains that emerged from an extinct volcano.   At an elevation of just over 500 ft above the surface of the lake (190 ft below sea level), the “mountains” are more actual “hills.”  They overlook the beautiful Plain of Gennesaret, which extends for approximately 4 miles.  A Byzantine church was built on the slopes in 4thC AD.  In 1187 AD, the Crusaders were defeated by the Islamic army of Saladin at the Battle of Hattin.  Saladin erected an Islamic “victory dome” on the mountain, but it was reported as destroyed as early as the 17thC AD.  The current Roman Catholic chapel constructed in the 1930s is visible from Capernaum.  Inside, the stained-glass windows depict the 8 Beatitudes with the 7 Virtues being represented around an altar.  Those in agreement with this being the site of Matthew 5, also attribute it to the region spoken of in Mark 6-7 where many other miracles took place. 

  • Biblical References:
    • Matthew 4:23-8:1
    • Mark 6-7
Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 12:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 01 2018

This is The Mount of Olives

On Day 10 our journey will take us to the Mount of Olives (“Olivet”), which is a portion of the Central Mountain Range.  It consists of a small ridge of three summits that stretch approximately 2 miles long.  This highest peak is just shy of 3,000 ft above sea level.  The mountain is directly east of Jerusalem and adjacent to the Temple Mount.  It has obviously been known throughout the centuries for its olive trees, which are hardy to the heavy limestone-laden surface.  Due to the popularity of the burial sites that are close to the Temple compound, the mountain has largely been deforested.  Most Zionistic millennial dispensations believe that Jesus will return to the Jerusalem Temple and reign for a thousand years.  Thus, being buried adjacent to the Temple gives them an assumed advantage of “being there” when He returns.  Many church buildings memorialize locations in the region, though the actual histories of events at the geographical points are held in question by many scholars. 

The Mount of Olives is mentioned several times throughout the Scriptures in varying circumstances.  David fled Jerusalem from his son, Absalom, who was leading a charge to overthrow him.  Zechariah prophetically spoke of the mountain as where Yahweh would stand and cause enemies to run while His holy ones come forth.  Debatable references also include the names, “The Mount of Offense,” “Mount of Corruption,” “Mount of Sandal,” and “Mount of Evil Counsel.”  These names were used in terms of the idolatrous places of worship, including those that King Solomon built for his foreign wives.  Another possible passage in Ezekiel speaks of where the Holy Spirit came to rest after departing from the Temple.  Jewish tradition held that the Spirit tarried there for three and one-half years awaiting Israel’s repentance.  Direct references to the mountain during the time of Christ are also present and several indirect references exist as well.  Aside from the passion week, the home of Mary and Martha and the events surrounding their home occurred somewhere in proximity to Bethany, which is on the east side of the Mount of Olives.  It is also probable that the raising of Lazarus, the cursing of the fig tree, the teaching of moving a mountain by faith when Christ sent His disciples to go into Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (probably on the west side of Olivet) and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus were all somewhere in proximity to the Mount of Olives.

According to the Talmud, the Jews practiced the burning of the red heifer (Numbers 19:1-10) at the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple East Gate.  Another interesting tradition practiced the announcement of the new moon to the brethren in Babylonia via a series of fire signals.  The Mishnah records that the chain (of signals) would be started at the Mount of Olives.  Jewish tradition also held that the dove sent from the ark by Noah returned with an olive branch from the same mountain.  More on the side of superstition, Jews held that brethren who died on distant shores would be brought back through a series of underground caverns and be resurrected at the Mount of Olives.

When approaching Jerusalem from Galilee, most Jews would travel east and turn south, thus entering the city from the Mount of Olives.  This detour was solely to avoid touching Samaritan soil. 

Many shrines have been built on the Mount of Olives over the centuries.  While most of them declare specific events occurring at the locations, they are hardly verifiable.  Muslims have also placed value on the area and teach that the final judgment will occur in the Kidron Valley, between the Mount of Olives and their Jerusalem shrine, The Dome of The Rock.

  • Biblical References:
    • Mount of Olives
      • 2 Samuel 15:30, 32
      • 1 Kings 11:7-8
      • 2 Kings 23:13
      • Ezekiel 11:23
      • Zechariah 14:4-5
      • Matthew 21:1; 24:3; 26:30
      • Mark 11:1; 13:3; 14:26
      • Luke 19:29, 37; 21:37; 22:39
      • John 8:1
      • Acts 1:12
Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 12:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 01 2018

This is Megiddo

When Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, one of the places and kings conquered was in the land of Megiddo.  The ancient Canaanite city is located southeast of Mount Carmel, adjacent to the Valley of Jezreel.  Scripture records the tribe of Manasseh being allotted this region (Joshua 17:11).  However, they failed at securing the territory, and the Canaanites “persisted in living in the land.”  The Prophetess and Judge Deborah directed Barak, son of Abinoam to lead an army of soldiers against Sison and his troops, who were under the rule of the Canaanite King Jabin (Judges 4).  They were to amass at Mount Tabor and battle at the river Kishon, which is in the valley of Megiddo at the foot of Mount Carmel. 

It would appear that Solomon controlled the area (1 Kings 4:12) and even fortified it as a city of Israel (1 Kings 9:15).  Yet in the following days of the divided kingdom, King Ahaziah (from Judah) went to check on King Joram (from North Israel) who was recovering from wounds of war with the Arameans (2 Kings 9:15, 16).  After agreeing to join forces with one another, they go out to face Jehu, who has just been anointed by God through His prophet Elisha, to be King of Israel.  Jehu kills Joram and pursues the fleeing Ahaziah.  After being seriously wounded, Ahaziah escapes to Megiddo and subsequently dies there.  Good King Josiah also died at Megiddo after Pharaoh Neco (king of Egypt) attacked and killed him there.

The ancient city of Tel Megiddo is also known as Tell el-Mutesellim (Arabic), meaning, “tell of the governor.”  It enjoyed an abundant water supply from two springs and was strategically located along the major highway for the area, Via Maris.  These items, in conjunction with the locality of a fertile valley, made Megiddo a center of business and attention.  The excavation site is a major mound of some 20 levels of identifications that predate the 20thC BC.  The prominence of Egyptian domination in the region is evident in many archaeological discoveries.  Papyrus records during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep discuss grain and beer envoys to various Canaanite cities, including Megiddo.  Eight of the el-Amarna letters were sent from Megiddo, which indicate the level of importance placed on the city.   Maps will also refer to the area as the Plain of Esdraelon (Greek for “Jezreel”) during the Ptolemaic period of occupation.  Farms were established by the Greeks in the premium land for produce, but eventually, the Maccabeans would retake it after the revolution against the Seleucids. 

Some mystery surrounds the name “Megiddo” due to a compound word used in Revelation 16:16, “Har-Magedon” (or “Armageddon”).  Fiction in movies and literature abounds with this in reference to “end-time” events, such as world wars and the destruction of the earth.  Those who use a literalist approach to Revelation seek to identify Har-Magedon as a literal location.  However, to do so is to ignore that Revelation is of apocalyptic genre.  This means if Har-Magedon is literal, then so are Babylon and Euphrates in the apocalyptic sense.  In order to be exegetically faithful to the text, Har-Magedon is representative and illustrative instead of being specifically geographical in future reference.  Old Testament prophecies are often quoted about a final battle in history to be fought in the immediate city of Jerusalem, Mount Zion, and its surrounding mountains.  However, it is approximately a 2-day walk north from Jerusalem to Megiddo.  Arguments of the contrasting parallels between Revelation 19:17-19; 20:8 and Ezekiel 38-39 abound as to what or how Har-Magedon plays into the scene.  But for the sake of brevity, this article will remain focused on the actual etymology of the pronoun. 

Har-Magedon /Armageddon (Hebrew) literally means, “mount of Megiddo.”  This is an anomaly because there is technically no mountain of Megiddo.  However, sometimes things local to a point can borrow from the name.  For example, the river Kishon is called “the waters of Megiddo” in Judges 5:19, 21.  Thus, it is possible (not necessarily probable) that Mount Carmel could have been referred to as Mount Megiddo.  Another remote possibility is in relation to the city being built on a “Tel” or hill.  This is why contemporarily some archaeologists refer to “Tel-Megiddo” as “har-Megiddo.”  There is also the suggestion that Megiddo could come from a root word meaning “to cut, attack or maraud.”  Some LXX traditions translate the word to mean “in the plain to being cut down.” 

With all these things in consideration, these are the simple biblical facts.  Megiddo was the place where: kings were defeated who oppressed God’s people (Jabin and Ahab); false prophets were condemned to death (Elijah at Carmel and Kishon); and misled kings die (Josiah), which caused deep mourning by the nation.  The dualistic events of Ahab (wicked) and Josiah (good) being killed at the same place became a proverb amongst Jews.  The Apostle John’s record of the vision given to him in Revelation with these typological and prophetic associations of these events is most likely why “mount of Megiddo / Armageddon” is illustratively used. 

Megiddo continues to be one of the largest archaeological discoveries in the Middle East and continues to reveal its historical treasures.

  • Biblical references
    • Joshua 12:7-8, 21
    • Joshua 17:11
    • Judges 5:19
    • 1 Kings 4:12
    • 1 Kings 9:15
    • 2 Kings 9:7
    • 2 Kings 23:29
    • 2 Chronicles 35:20-24
    • Zechariah 12:11 (Megiddon)
    • Revelation 16:16
Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 12:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, November 01 2018

This is Masada

The last stand of the Jews during the First War took place at 1300 ft elevation next to the Dead Sea in a fortress that was mostly surrounded by shear cliffs.  It offered a location where the only boundary was in supplies stored in precedence to a siege.  But there is a considerable history of the site leading up to this point. 

The earliest archaeological evidence of occupation at Masada was in the 4th millennium.  The next findings are dated to the First Temple (Solomon) in 10th – 7thc BC, yet there are no indications of architecture until the Hasmonean (Jewish) period.  Historically, it was Herod the Great who recognized the potential of fortifying the location for the protection of his family.  However, Helix (second in command to Cassius, a Roman senator who plotted the death of Julius Caesar) took Masada in 42 BC when Herod had gone to Syria.  Upon his return, Herod recaptured it and placed his family there when he traveled to Rome to accept a formal declaration of his reign as king.  He had been challenged by Antigonus for the region of Judea and Masada held him off until Herod returned.  They had almost yielded because they had run out of water, but a sudden rain refilled their cisterns and saved them from being overtaken.  Herod forced Antigonus to resign from his battle and subsequently, released his family from the fortress. 

Being the accomplished architect that he was, Herod began the improvements on Masada in 2 stages.  Clearly identifying what had nearly happened to his family, he carved out an additional 4 enormous cisterns to the existing 8 that were already there.  While the cisterns were not directly on the mountaintop, they were connected by a series of paths called “the snake pass (named by Josephus).”  This was one of only 2 accessible ways to ascend Masada.  The path is a cruel twist of steep ascents that can take a strong person 50 minutes to climb.  The other path is a siege ramp that was built by the Romans during the First Jewish War.  Josephus mentions a prior path existing there that provided easier access.  However, this was covered over by the siege ramp.  While both paths were used to transport water to the upper cisterns, the one on the NW corner was adeptly named the “water gate.”

In typical Herodian flamboyance, he built the Northern Palace, which had a large bathhouse, storehouses, and 3 natural terraces that were built in 90 ft stages along the northern face of the mountain (see picture).  The lowest terrace had a reception hall with a circle of colonnades.  An additional bathhouse was located there with frescoes.  The large bathhouse included a palaestra (peri-styled courtyard), with a receiving room, a tepid room, a cold room (frigidarium) equipped with a ritual immersion pool, a hot room (caldarium), and a heating system. 

In the second stage, Herod built several other rooms and a grand Western Palace with service wings, guardhouses, storerooms, and other luxury items.  He then further fortified Masada with a 4,600 ft casemate wall that was almost 21.5 ft thick.  The wall encased 70 rooms and had more than 30 towers.  A synagogue was placed on the western wall facing towards Jerusalem.

The most formidable fortification of Masada was its natural location.  Josephus described it as “A rock of no slight circumference and lofty from end to end is abruptly terminated on every side by deep ravines, the precipices rising sheer from an invisible base and being inaccessible to the foot of any living creature, save in two places where the rocks permit no easy ascent.”  It is adjacent to the el-Lisan (cf. “This is The Dead Sea”) and 10 miles south of En-Gedi.  The mountain has deep wadis to the west and the south, which lie between it and the cliffs of the Dead Sea.  The dimensions of the surface are 1900 ft from north to south and 650 ft from east to west.  This gives an approximate total of 20 acres that is flat. 

The First Jewish War began developing prior to 66 AD and it was not simply based on a rebellion against Rome.  Factions of Jews were frustrated with Jewish leadership and were becoming more impoverished than ever.  Differing views were rapidly forming and divisions began to spread.  To say the least, it was completely unorganized and without solidarity in cause or leadership.  These conditions were ripe for anarchy to bloom and rebels began to take front stage.  While the most vocal of the groups were those decrying the idolatrous worship that had been not only tolerated but even incorporated into Judaistic practices.  This gave them some binding as agents of righteousness and perhaps a link to the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks (the cleansing of the temple). 

It is important to note here that the majority of history that is possessed from this period is from the writings of Josephus, who had a disdain for all Zealots and a dedication to Rome.  His views, though valuable in antiquity, can be seen as biased in many ways and must be sifted for truths.

As with all mounting internal conflicts within countries, those who are wealthy and with prestigious positions are prone to seek out peaceful solutions, so as to maintain their comfort and status.  The poor and oppressed have a tendency to seek war when the option is presented to them.  The Zealots clearly emerged as the radicals they had been historically known for amongst the Jews.  Their cause had gained traction and their numbers increased.  Two main factions developed following two different leaders.  The Sicarii (meaning “dagger carrier;” Spanish = “sicario,” meaning “assassin”) were named after their habit of carrying daggers in their cloaks to kill Romans.  They followed a leader named Menachem, a descendant of Judas the Galilean, who was considered to be one of the original zealots.  The other group was led by a priest named Eleazar, son of Ananias.  He had called for the ceasing of offering sacrifices to the Emperor of Rome and led a group of priests and leaders who stood against the corruption of the high priest and other authorities among the Jews.  At one point, they take control of the temple and do not allow the other priests to enter. 

Menachem and the Sicarii joined forces with Eleazar and took control of Herod’s palace and towers and seized the Roman garrison at Masada.  In doing so, weaponry and supplies were greatly increased for the Zealots.  Later, jealousy provoked the ranks of Eleazar, and they killed several of his men in the temple.  Menachem fled to Ophel, where he was captured, tortured, and killed.  Eleazar saw the possible looming conflict with the Sicarii escalating, so he and some of his men fled to Masada. 

As Rome began to entrench itself against the rebellion, their campaign under Vespasian spread from Galilee to Judea.  The pressure from Rome upset the hierarchy in Jerusalem and thousands of refugees poured into the city.  The result was full-fledged anarchy.  Incorporating many of the refugees, a new Zealot party emerged and was galvanized in 67 AD under John of Gischala.  They aggressively began to forcibly take control of the city and punished anyone who resisted.  The people made an attempt to negotiate with the Zealots, which failed.  John believed the attempt was a trick to hand over control to the Romans.  He then called for another group of radicals to come to their aid – the Jews of Idumea. 

Upon their arrival, the Zealots proceeded to slaughter the resisting populace, including the moderate leaders.  They plundered the city and killed the high priest, Ananus, with the rest of the major leaders they could find.  The people began to desert Jerusalem.  The coalition fell apart and a new one formed between the people and the remaining Idumeans, along with another group following Simon bar Giora, to attack John and the Zealots and regain the temple.  This siege took one year to oust the Zealots from the temple.  It was 69 AD and the city was completely divided and at war with itself.  Pillaging and murder became commonplace and there was no central leadership in the city. 

Titus had been dispatched by Emperor Vespasian to quell the rebellion once and for all.  In conjunction with other generals, he closed in on Jerusalem.  The people in the city appointed Simon to lead.  Now, all the Jews who had been at each other’s throats had to join forces against the impending army of Rome.  But it would be too little, too late.  In short, Jerusalem fell.  Even when John and Simon attempted to negotiate, Rome would have nothing of the sort.  The time for talk had long passed.  Following a mass slaughter, fire was set to the city, which entirely burned.  John was sentenced to life imprisonment and Simon was executed after a victory march in Rome.

But there was an item left undone in the rebellion.  The rebels still held three fortresses: Herodium, Machaerus, and Masada.  A new Roman legate named Lucilius Bassus easily takes the first two.  But in 73 AD, Bassus dies and is succeeded by Flavius Silva.  He sets his eyes on the last stronghold, which is Masada.  But clearly, it presents more problems than all the others combined.  Because of the sheer cliffs and position of the fortress, there is only one place a siege ramp can be built and it is on the west side of the mountain.  It takes an embankment over 300 feet tall to get the battering rams up the slope.  Built with large stones and leveled, the battering ram easily breaches the outer walls, only for the Romans to find that the Jews had built an interior wall.  They set fire to the wall, but the wind curled the fire back into their faces.  At first, it seemed as if the Romans would have to retreat.  However, the winds suddenly reversed and covered the inner wall. 

Eleazar could see that all was lost.  He appealed to the people that they should die before becoming slaves.  To him, suicide was the only option.  Josephus writes that many of the people disagreed and refused to join him.  Therefore, he made a second appeal on a more philosophical front.  He told them that to die was to be set free from the bondage of the body and that to watch their families tortured, desecrated, or enslaved was worse than death. 

It is said that the men of the families in Masada each executed his own family.  Then, they chose 10 men by lot and these men killed the other men.  The last survivor was to have killed the other 9 and then have been the only one that committed suicide.  2 women and 5 children were the only survivors by hiding themselves in a cistern.  This historical narrative given by Josephus is said to be problematic on multiple levels.  It is still a matter of debate whether the Jews jumped to their deaths, died as Josephus describes, or were laid waste by the Roman sword.  Nevertheless, 960 Jews had survived a little over 2 years of siege before all dying together on Masada in 74 AD.

Many fragments of Scripture have been discovered at Masada, including Deuteronomy, Psalms, Ezekiel and Leviticus.  Other artifacts and writings of Jewish antiquity were also found.

Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 12:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, June 12 2017

The Biblical Notion of Need

A Compilation of Articles and Responses to the

Problem of Benevolent Acts Within the Church Proper

James A. Sterling, D. Min.

May 24, 2017

Within the Scriptures, a model is clearly established for God’s defining, application and ultimate purpose for need in a broken world.  Cries of pain and grief are common throughout Scripture as the beginning of a process to the understanding of a genuine, personal need.  Yet, this is quite different to the modern concept of simply realizing one’s desires and melding it to an actual need.  Thus, society has entrenched us in the secular idea that want constitutes need.  This has leaked into the assembly of Christ and surfaces ever so frequently in the name of ministry, outreach, and otherwise. 

In the Bible, people who finally realized their separation from His Holiness could only cry out for mercy and pardon.  In doing so, they would decisively turn from the sinful lifestyles and worldviews in which they were participating.  This included, but was not limited to, idol worship and those who continued to willingly participate in wickedness.  Additionally, scriptural references show us that meeting the need of an individual was the prelude to introducing them to their real need: salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The only direction for the truly needy person to turn is toward a radically different life of worship.  This includes a dismantling of the old lifestyle and a creation of a new life. 

Thus, we face a modern dilemma of true needs verses ‘false’ needs, which will also be referenced as ‘wants’.  From whence lies the difference?  Consider if it is a factual statement in that ‘real’ needs first call mankind to humility, faith and prayer, then a ‘false’ need in any cloak will do exactly the opposite.  False needs have no call to faith, no call to prayer, and no desire to consult the Lord.  The desire becomes an unjustified declaration of “I / we want” fallaciously stated as “I / we need.” 

Noted scholar and apologist Oz Guinness has approached the subject of the “abandonment of evangelism for social justice.”[1]  While statements have been made concerning ‘building huge churches’ yet, neglecting the poor,[2] it is acknowledgeable that some of the larger congregations have generously funded programs for seeing to the poor within their communities, as well as overseas projects.  Yet what is most often neglected is the theology regarding seeing to the poor in biblical actuality.  Consider how God used severe need to turn His people’s faces back to Him.  Moreover, it was the same God who used extreme need to push Jacob and his clan towards Egypt as a crucial part of His plan to set the stage for the Exodus to come years later.[3]

However, if one is to be transparently honest with oneself, he must lay out his pre-suppositional baggage on the table.  Even though one may think emotion has had no effect on his responses, having ‘needs’ in one’s past can be memories of a particular nature with powerful consequences when it comes to discernment.  Couple this with an active engagement to benevolence ministry and one may find himself crippled in assessing biblical need with a tainted lens of action based on sympathy invoked strictly by feelings.  There are specific reasons why certain television commercials utilize shocking pictures of extreme suffering in efforts to collect funds.  Emotive responses seldom have been filtered through logical discernment, let alone biblical purposes.

On the other hand, examples given by a person who will be referred to as “Mr. Smith” had been actively involved with and in multiple benevolence programs.  Mr. Smith reported being abused and stolen from while volunteering at distribution locations.  Not only was the church building broken into in the particular area where the distributions would take place, but his truck toolbox was stolen from, ironically after assisting one of the recipients with starting their vehicle.  In one particular situation, a person received 2 full paper sacks of groceries.  After leaving with the goods, the individual returned to the location with the sacks, still full, and slammed them on a table exclaiming in expletive language that he disapproved of the contents therein.  Mr. Smith also reported that at the food and clothing pantries where he served, an estimated 80-90% of persons were monthly (in some cases, bi-monthly) ‘regulars’.  He stated that many would have practiced and polished heart-wrenching stories that would periodically include their children, parading about barefooted, filthy, and crying, so as to get more money, goods, and services.  Mr. Smith confirmed that a portion of these same families were ‘professionals’, working a circuit in a tri-state region, selling and trading much of the items they were accepting.  He stated being most disturbed that they were training their children for the deception and discovering how they networked and communicated with others who did the same.

Thus, working in such benevolence programs is a double-edged sword.  When one witnessed the despairing faces, whether genuine or learned behaviorisms, it pierces the heart through.  In the same notion, it also sets the stage for being abused.  Understanding then that the situation is ripe for subjective management and manipulation, Christians must rightfully turn to the Scriptures looking for directives and answers. 

Thus, the next challenge is before the church.  Debates held within and between denominations over what the Scriptures actually state concerning ‘need’ pendulum from having no concerns to feeding the world.  The problem then is largely misconstrued to being one of whether or not to be benevolent, instead of focusing on the actual direction of the Word of where benevolence ministry energies should be applied. 

Consider if one were to say something along the lines of, “I really hate it when mom and dad are constantly trying to tell me what to do with my life,” and later on a person who had been listening in, later told one’s parents that it was said, “I hate my mother and father.” The person who made in the initial statement would likely be outraged for being misrepresented.  Yet, in subtler (and sometimes not so subtle) ways, the church is commonly attempting to do this very thing with Scripture.  This is the source of many denominational schisms. 

One passage that is commonly quoted as “hard to misinterpret,” is Matthew 25:31-46.  Yet, the typical hermeneutic applied is one that ignores the primary rule of context for understanding any passage.  Broadening the scope of the passage will give perspective to the intent of not only the writer, but the Speaker quoted as well.  In going back to chapter 25:1, the essential ‘title’ of this local context is found.  It is found in the first 5 words, “Then the kingdom of heaven.”  Therefore, the context of this section of Scripture given largely in parabolic form is about the kingdom of heaven.  This is affirmed in the statement given in verse 34, “inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”  To attempt to ignore this is to ensure a fatal hermeneutical error. 

Paragraphs in contemporary translations are subheadings of the contextual theme.  Verse 14 is such a subheading, which illustrates an emphasis to ‘be ready’ and to have a proper attitude of stewardship, which ultimately makes the point that these things are connected to grand context of ‘the kingdom of heaven’.  This is demonstrated in verse 29, which states another emphasis on being faithful with the task at hand, because it concerns a distinct connection to how one will conduct one’s self in the kingdom of heaven.  Confirmation to this contextual observation is in following sentence, verse 30.   It is the particular regard of an ultimate separation of those who will be in (the kingdom of) heaven and those who will not.

Verse 31 and following picks on the continuing theme Jesus is presenting about the kingdom of heaven and then addresses that it will be broader than His listeners think.  Here, Jesus shifts from the parable to a metaphor with simile applied.  This is revealed in the actuality of a coming judgment, for both Gentiles and those of Jewish descent.  The Jews have been primarily raised on the notion that all Gentiles will be ultimately excluded from the kingdom of heaven.[4]  But Jesus says to those ‘on His right’ in verse 34, “inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”  

Verses 35 and following made by Messiah are not referring to the world in need.  Rather, He is referring to Himself, as most translations do justice by capitalizing the pronoun.[5]  Christ is referring to Himself as the ‘stranger’.  Any remote suggestion that this is a reference to the lost of the world is not merely a stretch.  It borders pantheism.[6]  In a classical sense of the reversive, Jesus flips the point back to those listening and addresses them as the ‘righteous’.  So in this sub-point of the context, the ‘nations’ (Gentiles) will consist of some saved people who genuinely came to Christ – and the ‘righteous’ (Jews) will have some that will be rejected, as they rejected Him. 

Again, the context is consistent, because the ‘saved’ are in the kingdom of heaven and all others are not.  Then, even more explicitly, Jesus describes the separation in verses 41-45. 

However, there is one key element in this widely quoted passage that unilaterally defeats an argument for unequivocal form of benevolence to all suffering people.  It is found in the ‘least of these/them’ of the group that Jesus makes reference.  Aside from the context previously stating an exclusive reference to ‘the kingdom of heaven’ in verse 40, Jesus defines the ‘least of these/them’ as ‘brothers of Mine’.  This phrase is repeated in verse 45. 

As the first rule of any sound hermeneutical practice is exegetical context, the second rule to interpretation is to allow Scripture to literally interpret itself.  Thus, the question is demanded, who are these ‘brothers of Mine’ and the ‘least of’ persons?  Within the same gospel account in chapter 10:14-17, and more explicitly, verses 40-42, the answer is derived in that it is those who have received Christ.  Therefore, this passage does not support the notion of non-arbitrary benevolent application to any person or persons exhibiting need, whether slight or severe.  In the facts presented, it is the reverse.  These are not merely nondiscriminatory benevolent acts; rather, they are direct, specific reactions to the disciples of Jesus, His brethren.  In the contemporary context, it is the body of Christ as found in the true church. 

Unfortunately, the western contemporary church has a tendency polarize over basic biblical principles and simply shout at any who disagree with their premise.[7]  Christians can hold deep-seated grudges against those who hold views contrary to their own and sever all ties where they can.  Classical debate has been lost in discussing matters with any form of argument as seen to be hostile.  This is especially prevalent in the benevolent-welfare industry.  If one seeks a biblical definition in regards to the poor and seeing to the needs thereof, judgmental assertions are sure to follow accusing the questioner as one who rejects all forms or caring for the needy.  Yet such extremism is unmerited and should be rejected on the basis that Scripture gives concise direction on the matter.

The prior biblical example given Matthew 25 demonstrated a common and fatal exegetical mistake used in benevolent assessment.  Another passage used is found in John 12:8, which states, "for the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.”[8]  Though commonly used as an overgeneralized inclusion for all people who are in need, this particular passage, in its context, technically does not have anything to do with an expected location where the poor exist, local or otherwise.  Jesus was merely correcting the pseudo-concern Judas Iscariot expressed for the expensive perfume being used by Mary.  Ironically, Judas was claiming that he wanted to use the value of the perfume to give to the poor, while Jesus points to a more important purpose within the moment.  Therefore, this passage technically has nothing to do with the biblical assertion of Christians being obligated to see to the wants and needs of the world, local or otherwise. 

Another argument is also given from the book of Acts as giving examples of how Christians should be responding, as none are to be in need.  This is an obvious reference to Acts 2:45; 4:34, 35.  However, this is not a generic statement for providing for all needs for all people, nor for those living locally.  The context in both passages is strictly within the “congregation of those who believed.”[9]  The primary responsibility of the Christian community is to the ‘kingdom’ of Christ and these particular chapters of Acts leave no doubt as to the contextual address.  The ‘none in need’ are only applicable here to the church proper, as chapter 2 is the incipient congregation of “about 3,000 souls”[10] and chapter 4 is the “congregation of those who believed.”[11]  There is a meeting of needs and removing of social barriers in Acts that is in response to the shear numbers of people responding and the differing cultures of nations[12] coming to Christ as represented by His kingdom.  It is not a generic application of benevolence to the rest of the world outside of the body of Christ. 

Understanding these specifics, what then is the biblical definition of ‘need’?  As stated prior, the modern cry for need seldom depicts an accurate picture of what true need actually encompasses.  Our current system has a tendency to cultivate need into a standard for society as opposed to something of an actuality.  In other words, being needy becomes status quo; or more easily said, being needy becomes normal.  A brief examination of socialistic structures reveals systems, which built themselves on the growing of a needs-based generation.  Ultimately, people would become dependent on something other than God, such as a governing authority, and subsequently surrender their freedom.

However, the ‘need’ that the Bible addresses is far from this.  God's word, when properly applied, takes the needy person from the abnormal and brings them up into the normal.  Albeit there are some exceptions such as physical disabilities, mental disorders, etc., where there will always be some essential need involved, the predominant issue of man’s problem is a heart matter that must ultimately be addressed.  Therefore, the physical deficit is that which points mankind to his spiritual necessity.

Still, an argument persists that in only serving needy Christians, a lost and hungry world is left unreachable.  A common statement is that a person cannot hear the words of Jesus on an empty stomach.[13]  This is either a serious misunderstanding of the Scriptures or a straw-man argument used to pacify consciences.  Insofar as the biblical Word states, one did not necessarily have to be converted in order to receive aid, financial loans,[14] or even general hospitality,[15] which in reverse is fortunate for the family of Jacob.[16]  However, the Law states that there is to be one statute for the nation of Israel, which constitutes the people of God, and the alien who sojourns with them.[17]  The difference between the biblical example as opposed to the contemporary is that Israelites were instructed to draw others to come into the camp of YHWH.  Today, Christians are directed to go out with goods and supplies, even to places and nations that are hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The irony is, even when some countries are in desperate need, their laws against Christianity trump any acceptance of benevolent aid.  In other words, church congregations may bring money, food, medicine, and even laborers to help.  But the gospel of Jesus Christ, either spoken or written, is forbidden and punishable even to death. 

Even so, there appears to be little, if any consideration what God may be doing in the lives of the lost that are faced with dire circumstances.  If God used critical need to obtain the attention of His people who already profess His name, how much more then might He use the same to reach the lost?  Even in terms of the fall of humanity, had Adam and Eve not been driven from the Tree of Life, they would have never known the true need to be saved, thus, needing a savior.  In this desperate circumstance, God points mankind to Himself in Christ Jesus, to “draw all men” to Himself.[18] 

Moreover, believers are also given the account of Job, who, at the permission of God, suffers tremendous loss for what appears to primarily be an example of faithfulness in needful circumstances.  Had Job not experienced such dire need, there would have been no testimony.  If Israel had never been captive in Egypt, there would have been no demonstration of deliverance in the Exodus, which was a foreshadowing of Christ to come and His act of salvation.  If Assyria[19] and Babylon had not been used as tools of discipline and punishment, the Israelites would have continued in their depravity.  If the logic holds true then for the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why is it not considered applicable in the present tense for a world seen experiencing great need and suffering?

In light of YHWH’s acts to draw His errant people to Himself through need, Scripture also demonstrates His mission in drawing the nations likewise.[20]  More pointedly, God states that the nations will specifically “come to” Him.[21]  While in the ancient passages, this entails a specific geographical location encompassed within the borders of Israel, in particular, the temple.  It is there that YHWH determined that He would “meet” man.  Since the advent of Christ Jesus, man comes to know God through the body of Christ, as is known to be the church proper.  If the theology of the nations being drawn to the temple during the ancient period holds true, then the theology of “all men” being drawn to Him is likewise authoritative.  To ignore the historical example of God using need to gain the attention of mankind is at the peril of interfering with His plan and purpose.  While some areas may appear grey in defining the communication of His gospel while seeing to the needs of those who are lost, in all cases the minimum charge for the church is to testify to Jehovah Jireh as source for all provision.  As the nations were to be drawn to the Lord God in His temple, the world is to be drawn to the church.  If the church convinces itself to see to the needs of the suffering in spite of this, hearts may be temporarily pacified, but it becomes a classic co-dependent and enabler of lives separated from God. 

God demonstrates the reverse of a secular attitude towards neediness, as well as the pervasive contemporary form of charity in the western church.  He also sees the great potential in every human being to be all that He has intended for them in the imago Dei.  Biblical need sharpens the focus of man’s need for God more than the need for his stomach.  Thus, as need has always been a tool of the Lord to turn the faces of people towards Him, it is in one’s dire sense of hardship that man ultimately will look to Him for help.  The key element that the church often fails to acknowledge in this case is to wait for the needy to first turn towards God.  If not, it would be similar to forcing baptismal water onto the lost before they come to the question, “What shall we do?”[22]

Moreover, when a needy person is properly ministered to, they not only cease being dependent and a burden to others, but they potentially become co-disciples in kingdom labor.[23]  This is the essence of a truly benevolent heart.  The biblical notion of need must be understood in that it turns man’s attention from self-reliance and resolutely sets his face towards God.  It is in a needful statement that Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty.”  His directive is, “let him come to Me and drink.”[24]

[1] Bob Paulson, “Hostility on the College Campus, A Conversation With Oz Guinness,” Decision Magazine, 27 May 2016, (accessed 10 May 2016).

[2] Jefferson Bethke, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” YouTube, 10 January 2012,! (accessed 25, January 2012).

[3] Genesis 42-45.

[4] Some doctrinal variations of Messianic Jew and Christians of Hebraic roots interpret all application of the word e[qnh (eth-nay – nations / Gentiles) as those who are not of Messiah.  This interpretation will have no effect on the contextual point given regarding ‘the kingdom of heaven’.

[5] Here, it may also be seen, in a post-facto sense, that ‘He’ will ultimately be revealed as the ‘body of Christ’, as found in the Church (cf. Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12).

[6] Pantheism in the sense that all persons, saved or otherwise, would be a part of the constitution of God, as a whole.

[7] James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars (BasicBooks, HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), 52-57.

[8] New American Standard Version Bible

[9] Acts 4:32; New American Standard Version

[10] Acts 2:41-47; ibid

[11] Acts 4:32; ibid

[12] Acts 6:1; ibid

[13] Matthew 4; ibid; Jesus fasted 40 days and nights and affirmed the Word before Satan.

[14] Deuteronomy 23:20, ibid

[15] Hospitality during the Judaistic period could be limited in many circumstances to those who were considered ‘clean’, albeit with certain exceptions and changes of contact (Acts 10).

[16] Genesis 42-47; ibid; Understanding that the written Law, nor the nation of Israel had yet been established, the family of Jacob and Egypt were still considered ‘foreign’ to one another.

[17] Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:14-16; ibid; Note the inclusion of burnt offerings by the alien and sojourner.

[18] John 12:32; ibid

[19] Isaiah 10:5; ibid

[20] Isaiah 11:10-12; 42:6; 49:6, 22; 60:3; 66:18-20, ibid

[21] Micah 4:1ff; Habakkuk 2:5; Zechariah 8:18, 23; Malachi 3:12; ibid

[22] Acts 2:37b; ibid

[23] Ephesians 4:28; ibid; The principle carries in Paul's teaching not to steal and to work ‘in order that’ one may have something to share with him who has need; once again, in the context of the church.  The antecedent is evident in verse 25. 

[24] John 7:37; ibid

Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 09:22 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 21 2016

Psalm 32:5

I acknowledged my sin to You,

And my iniquity I did not hide;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”;

And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.

HEB: חוַעֲוֹ֘נִ֤י (ḥaṭ·ṭā·ṯî) / (chatta’ah) = “missing the mark”

NAS: I acknowledged my sin to You,

HEB: וַעֲוֹ֘נִ֤י (wa·‘ă·wō·nî) / (avon) = to bend, twist or distort (as in God’s word)

NAS: And my iniquity I did not hide;

HEB: פְ֭שָׁעַי (p̄ə·šā·‘ay) / (pasha) = “a willful act of disobedience”

NAS: I will confess my transgressions to the LORD;

HEB: וְעֲוֹ֖ן (‘ă·wōn) / (avon) = *see above

NAS: And You forgave the guilt of my sin.

Sin?  Transgression?  Iniquity?  What’s the difference?  “Sin is sin is sin is sin,” are things we have heard for years.  Yet the question is still demanded from ourselves, given in the text – Why has God chosen to use 3 different words for what many have deemed as the same thing, in just one sentence (a line from the psalmist, in between pauses)?

For the sake of brevity, in what may initially appear as the oversimplification of an argument, let the following be acknowledged as a basis: all acts against the will of God, whether committed in full knowledge or utter ignorance, are to be considered sin.  However, distinction is given for the one who sins in willful disobedience and also the one who wishes to take His will, and ‘twist’ the actual determinative meaning and intent.  As the serpent said to the woman, “indeed, has God said….?”  This would make him (the devil), the original ‘pervert’.

So let us start from the basis of the argument that ‘all acts against the will of God are sin’.  If this is the case, how can a sinful act be held against a person who has no knowledge of the Word of God?  In Romans 1:20, the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, establishes his argument on general revelation.  This is the inescapable testimony to the knowledge of creation that can be obtained by observing what is around you and being able to discern the demand of a created order.  Paul states, “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse;” (emphasis mine).  Thus, ignorance is not an argument for innocence. 

Yet there appears to be an even greater sense of accountability to those who not only know they are willfully disobeying God’s will, but even more so for the ones who would ‘twist’ and ‘bend’ the pureness of the intent.  This, by definition, is ‘perversion’ of the Word.

Understanding these differences, there would be 2 basic classifications of sins: general sin – anything against the will of God, and transgression – sin that knows better.  Iniquity fits under transgression as a sub-point.   

But how did mankind come to an understanding of sin in a more specific way than general revelation?  It was the literal giving of the Law from the hand of God into the hand of man (When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.  Exodus 31:18).  Had sin been understood (by mankind) under general revelation to the extent that God intended, He would have no reason to produce hand-written tablets of stone – not once, but twice, since Moses destroyed the first set in a fit of anger.

However, once mankind has been given the Law, now he is particularly accountable to the will of God.  But make no mistake, just because one is ignorant of the Law does not mean they are dismissed.  As Paul writes in Romans 2:12ff, those who sin against God, with or without the Law, will perish.

So why does God bother with giving us the Law?  As with any relationship, a better understanding of one another is always conducive to a fruitful bond.  Living by God’s word gives us true life, and most importantly, leads us back home to Him.  Yet as we dive deeper and deeper into His Law, we quickly discover that we cannot possibly accomplish the letter (Romans 3:20, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin”).  This is when the intent begins to shine through.  As we see our imperfections under the microscope of the Word and how weak we are in accomplishing even the most basic principles of godly love, we find ourselves in dire straits.  The wages of sin is death.  If we cannot achieve all of the Law, we sin.  Our wage’ then, awaits us on the horizon.  It would seem hopeless, if we are left to save ourselves.  Then, the Word (the Law) literally puts on flesh (John 1:14), intrudes into this brokenness, and pays our ‘wage’ in punishment.  This is where our sin is dealt with.  Sins of ignorance; transgressions in full knowledge; and even iniquities where we attempted to distort the will of God are all satisfied between the genuinely repentant heart and the purely efficient sacrifice of the only perfect One.

Lastly, God distinguishes specifically between sins that are; 1) committed intentionally (with knowledge); 2) unintentionally (ignorantly); and 3) defiantly (“with a high hand,” as in ‘fist clenched towards heaven’).  Passages from Numbers 15 will best represent these differences (emphasis mine).

1) There are numerous passages that deal with sacrifices (burnt offerings / the cross of Jesus Christ) for sins.  These are easily found.  Therefore, only the next 2 will be focused on here.

2)  15:22-29; ‘But when you unwittingly fail and do not observe all these commandments, which the Lord has spoken to Moses, even all that the Lord has commanded you through Moses, from the day when the Lord gave commandment and onward throughout your generations, then it shall be, if it is done unintentionally, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one bull for a burnt offering, as a soothing aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering. Then the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and they will be forgiven; for it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their error.  So all the congregation of the sons of Israel will be forgiven, with the alien who sojourns among them, for it happened to all the people through error.  ‘Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering.  The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven.  You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them.

3)  15:30, 31  But the person who does anything defiantly (‘with a high hand’), whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people.  Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.’”

The ‘defiant’ is particularly disturbing when you understand that it is tangible to the biblical definition of being the ‘unforgivable sin’ (Luke 12:10; Jude 12 (doubly dead); 1 John 5:16; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26, 27)

By clarifying these distinctions, it is easy to see that there is a greater responsibility and accountability for those who understand the Word.  As recorded in James 3:1; Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.  How much greater then for those who attempt to deceive not only themselves, but others also, that God’s Word says something other than His original intent.

                                                                                                Keep the Faith,


Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 10:34 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, July 08 2015
Ray Sasser's

I heard a portion of this article read on an early morning talk radio program several years ago.  I contacted the radio station and ran down the author's contact info.  Ray Sasser is a writer for the Dallas Morning News and has published articles and photographs, mostly associated with the outdoors.  Ray kindly obliged to send me the complete article  - it is my privilege to share it with you now.

Ray Sasser

656 East Morgan

Meridian, Tx. 76665

Too Perfect To Be Random

“The best proof for the creation theory of intelligent design lies in this irrefutable chain of facts—there is a bobwhite quail; there is a dog that points quail and there is a 20-gauge shotgun.  It’s too perfect to be random”…M.F. “Bubba” Wood, lifelong bird hunter.

            It’s so perfect, in fact, that most serious quail hunters would rather go afield without a shotgun than without a dog.  Some veteran bird hunters pay exorbitant hunting lease prices in order to exercise their dogs.  Oh, they may shoot a bird now and then, but they shoot mostly because the dog expects it.

            They’re like a ballet dancer who no longer pirouettes but lavishly supports the arts, giving young dancers a stage to pursue their passion. At the Westminster Dog Show, there’s a sporting breed category that includes pointing dogs, though the dog show pointers and setters are so poofed-up they bear little resemblance to their hard-hunting brethren.  Put a Westminster pointer in a west Texas quail field and it would look as out of place as Paris Hilton working as a Sonic carhop in Paris, Tx.

            One weekend during hunting season, I walked down the center aisle of a kennel loaded with real pointing dogs.  The dogs raised a deafening din as they lunged around their wire enclosures with such enthusiasm that centrifugal force might have held them in place had they known to run straight up the side and across the enclosed top.

            They weren’t clamoring to be fed.  They were aching with every fiber of their being to be taken hunting.  Everything about their body language delivered the same message.  “Put me in coach!  Pick me!  Pick me!  I can find those birds!”

            Bird dogs will endure indignities and hardships to make the A-team.  Turn ‘em upside down on a booting table and they’ll quiver impatiently as you tape rubber boots on their feet to protect them from grass burrs.  Strap a beeper collar around their necks so you can locate them in dense cover and they’ll ignore the intrusive electronic beep, a sound as annoying as the backing-up claxon sound emitted by heavy equipment.

            I’ve seen bird dogs perforated by porcupine quills, bleeding from thorns, swollen from snakebites, hobbled by grass burrs, ripped open by barbed-wire fences, shot by careless hunters, gassed by skunks, mauled by feral hogs and exhausted from running the equivalent of a marathon three days in a row.

            All they asked in return was a dry, relatively warm place to sleep, a meager ration of dog food and enough clean water to slack their thirst.  The very next day, they were anxious to do it all over again.  I have been privileged to follow behind many good pointing dogs.  T. Boone Pickens once had a pointer named Ethel but her name should have been spelled Ethyl, as in high-octane. 

            Ethel had the advantage of finding birds on one of the greatest quail ranches in existence, but so did her kennel mates.  Ethel found more quail than the other dogs and she looked better doing it.  She ran with an elegant gait that made it seem like she was floating over the sandy soil.  Once birds were located, Ethel had an uncanny sense of how to trail them without bumping the covey.  I don’t think I ever saw her bump birds by pushing them too hard.

            When the iconic Pickens was asked by a business reporter when he first realized that he was rich, the lifelong quail hunter’s answer no doubt surprised his interviewer.  “I knew I was rich,” he said, “when I realized that I owned 35 bird dogs.”  

            Any good bird dog can smell quail but the innate ability to work birds well comes from within the dog.  It cannot be taught.  It certainly can’t be passed along by a guy with a whistle and no idea where the birds went in the first place.  If Ethel was the best English pointer I ever saw, then Jack is certainly the best setter.  Jack belongs to quail hunting guide John Cox, or vice versa.  According to Cox, a horseback specialist who treats his horses like dogs, his dogs like children and his hunters like barbarians, Jack was not a prodigy.

            “When Jack was a pup, he couldn’t pass up a porcupine,” recalled Cox, as our horses followed the muscular, rangy setter across the sand hills of the Oklahoma Panhandle.  “I thought the dog was stupid and he’d wind up blinded by porcupine quills.  Then one day Jack had an epiphany.  He pointed five coveys in a row.  Just after that, he came across another porcupine.  He thought about tackling that porcupine but it’s like a light came on in his head and he suddenly knew what he was supposed to do.  He left the porcupine and looked for more quail.  He’s never tangled with another porcupine.”

            That’s Jack over there on the far hill, so far away that he’s a white spot as he works back and forth into the wind.  Cox let’s the dog run that big because the graceful setter is a team player.  Also, because arguing with Jack about where he should be hunting would be the canine equivalent of arguing string theory with Stephen Hawking. Jack slows his ground-gobbling pace and stops in a sort of tentative point, tail wagging, looking across the hill toward our horses.

            “What’s he doing?” I ask, unaccustomed to seeing a tentative point from the champion bird finder.

            “Aw, he’s telling us there’s a covey down the ridge from him,” said Cox.  “He’ll wait for us to get there, then he’ll pin them down.”

            We kicked the horses into a lope and quickly closed the distance to Jack, still wagging and looking over his shoulder.  When we were within 50 yards of the dog, he started forward into the wind, moving cautiously for nearly 100 yards until he froze in a point that left no doubt the quail were right under his nose.

            On numerous occasions, I’ve watched Jack run with various brace mates and the result was always the same. The other dog was on Jack’s team and occasionally pointed a covey.  In other strings, Jack’s partner might have the MVP (most valuable pointer).  But running on Jack’s team is like swimming on Michael Phelps’ team.  There’s no doubt who’s the star of this show.  Jack’s running mate is like Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Chester to Matt Dillon, Scottie Pippen to Michael Jordan.  Jack is so good Cox sometimes wonders if his running mates are demoralized just to be on the ground with a dog they have no chance of beating.

            Here’s another thing you can’t help but wonder after seeing a dog like Jack or Ethel.  Why would a scientist waste time cloning sheep?  Sheep look identical and seem to reproduce just fine, all on their own.  If we’re going to clone anything, for God sakes, people, let’s clone these great bird dogs!  At the very least, let’s set up a loaner program so every quail hunter has a chance to hunt with a great dog.

            I once hunted with a true southern gentleman named Ben Parham.  Ben is a builder in LaGrange, Ga., and speaks with a soft southern drawl.  He grew up hunting birds with his father during a time when wild quail were plentiful in rural Georgia.  Ben recalled a wonderful story that his dad told about growing up in a small Georgia town where it seemed that everybody owned a good bird dog.  There were plenty of quail and the bird dogs of that era got enough work on wild birds that most of the dogs were at least competent.

            On Saturday mornings, Ben’s father told him, a guy who didn’t have a dog could drive down to the town square around 8 a.m.  There would usually be a bird dog or two roaming the square.  At that hour, it was clear that the dog’s owner had to work or had some kind of family business to take care of and wasn’t hunting that day so the dogs just drifted downtown, like migrant workers awaiting a day job.

            It was common practice just to open your car door and load up a likely-looking bird dog.  You’d hunt the loaner dog all day, then bring it back to the square and let it out when the hunt was over.  It was customary to stop and buy the dog a hamburger or some other juicy treat as payment for a job well done.  Most bird dogs are that way.  They’ll hunt for anybody who will take them to a bird field.

            In truth, there are plenty of wonderful hunting breeds. After spending 10 years in the southeast Texas marshes, I have a special affinity for Labrador retrievers, which also happen to be one of the most popular pet breeds in America.  Labs are the linebackers of the hunting dogs but they lack the staying power of a good pointer or a setter.

            Bird dogs are the true athletes among hunting dogs.  As lean as a Kenyan distance runner, they can gallop across enormous chunks of rugged real estate, sifting the breeze for the subtle scent of their quarry.  Ever hold a dead quail under your nose to try and determine what the dog smells?

            I have.  Unless a bird is gut shot, it has no odor that I can detect, yet I’ve seen a dog on a humid day with a gentle breeze to carry scent turn 50 yards downwind from where a single quail flew into cover and unerringly approach the single, becoming ever more cautious as the scent strengthened, “getting birdy”, in bird hunting parlance, until the dog was standing, stiff as a statue, tail erect, body aquiver.

            That, my friend, is what they call a pointing dog.  Walk past that dog’s nose and keep your wits about you.  There’s a very good chance that a quail is about to erupt from the cover, meaning the dog has done his job and now it’s up to you.

            Shoot accurately and the bird dog may even retrieve your prize and fetch it to hand.  Retrieving is a parlor trick that real bird dogs reluctantly learn.  Most pointing dogs are specialists.  It’s their job to find birds and they’re anxious to find more as soon as the bird they’ve pointed has flushed.

            You can force a bird dog to retrieve, just like a football coach can force a pro wide receiver to block.  They’ll do it grudgingly but just well enough to get by and only because you forced them to retrieve or to block.  Serious quail hunters have learned to keep a well-trained retriever at heel for the mop-up work.  They lose fewer dead or crippled birds that way, get into fewer arguments with their wide-ranging specialists.

            The most impressive points come when a dog is covering ground like a cheetah coursing a gazelle and suddenly runs downwind of a covey.  No Italian or German sports car can go from 30 mph to a dead stop as quickly as a bird dog.  They whip around in a contorted, mid-stride point, nose toward the birds, body pointed elsewhere.

            When a seasoned bird dog disappears into a plum thicket and doesn’t come out on the other side, you’d better go looking for him.  You can whistle until you’re blue in the face.  If the dog is on point, he’s in a trance-like state that renders him temporarily deaf.

            How long he’s willing to stand there depends on the dog and it also depends on the birds.  There’s an old joke about a bird hunter who lost his prize pointer.  The next year, while hunting the same cover, he came upon the skeleton of his lost dog, pointing the tightly-bunched skeletons of a quail covey.

            What makes a dog point birds when its predatory instinct must dictate that it chase the birds?  What makes a bird hold tight to cover when threatened by what must seem like a different-colored coyote?   

            You may as well ask why planet Earth is a perfect distance from the sun and rotates on its axis in such a way that spring follows winter.  It’s too perfect to be random.

Posted by: James A. Sterling AT 11:50 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, October 27 2013

You only have I chosen among all the families of the earthAmos 3:2a

            A small, skinny boy stood out in the middle of a parched recreation field with the dry wind whistling through his hair.  He was desperately trying to look calm and unconcerned about the event unfolding before him.  It was nothing new really.  Every week the P.E. class would exit out the side doors and head over to the sports grounds adjacent to the school building.  Every week it would be announced what game would be played.  And every week his stomach would tie up in knots while the team captains would pick their teams from the group of boys.  It seemed like it was the same story being reread - the same song being played over again.  They would get down to the last couple of boys, and once again, he would be left out to stand on the side, while everyone else played.  As the teams would run off to play kickball, baseball and soccer, the field looked like it went on forever.  He was unable to even hear what they were saying to each other when they ran off.  His side of the playground always felt cold.

           But something different happened today.  He thought he heard his name called by one of the captains, but knew that it just could not be.  He had terribly embarrassed himself twice before thinking he had been selected and ran over to the team, only to be laughed at and jeered all the way back to where he stood before.  So he held his place, looking down at his worn shoes.  His name was yelled this time.  “Are you deaf or what?” said the team captain.  In a sense of indescribable excitement, he felt the blood rush through him.  He kept telling himself to play it cool, but the silly ear-to-ear grin plastered across his face could not be hidden.  Today he had been picked.  Today he had been chosen.  And today he would do everything within his power to prove his gratitude to the other boy, who in his mercy, gave him a chance to be a part of the team.

            In the sacred Scriptures, we read that God chose Israel out of the pack of humanity.  In Amos 3:1-2, He refers to them as the “entire family that He brought up from the land of Egypt;” and says, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth.”   Out of all the people in creation, God selected this puny little group of people who had been enslaved for some 400 years (“The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples” Deuteronomy 7:7).  Though they leaped for joy to be brought into the team of God, they soon forgot what it meant to be picked by God.  They began to presume on the fact that they had been chosen and were in a covenant relationship with the Lord.  They had long forgotten the days of feeling like they had been left out and left behind.  As their pride swelled at being the chosen ones, they felt as if they could sin with impunity. 

            To be chosen does not mean one is absolved from accountability or responsibility.  In fact, the elect of God are more liable for their actions than anyone else.  Just as we would expect an elected official to be accountable to the people for their actions, in a much greater sense, the elect of God are accountable for every single deed, from first to last (And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. Matthew 12:36).  It has always been the temptation of man to think once he is saved he can sail on the waves of lukewarmness.  At first, he is zealous for being selected and accepted; however, after a while his salvation is taken for granted.  Instead of being a servant to the King, he becomes a servant unto himself. 

            Let us never forget the thrill of when God pointed at us and said, “I choose you.” 

                                                                                             Keep the Faith.


Posted by: jas AT 07:15 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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