Personal Apologetic: The Dispersion Of National Israel

By human standards, the existence of the Jewish people today remains a mystery. No other ancient people has survived for thousands of years, retaining their national identity through much hostility.

We have much evidence that Israel was a nation thousands of years ago. Archaeologists have made many discoveries from the time of the kings, and they are still doing so. The most prominent of those remains is the temple mount in Jerusalem, but other remains exist, and the historical records of other ancient nations mention the existence of national Israel/Judah 1. Israel’s existence as an ancient nation is not seriously disputed.

The history of ancient Israel was generally not one of peace. There were internal conflicts, one of which led to the kingdom being divided, ten tribes (variously known as ‘Israel’, ‘Ephriam’, or ‘Samaria’) versus two (‘Judah’). There were wars and battles, with their neighbors as well as themselves. Eventually, Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and later Judah by the Babylonians. From the captivity on, Israel/Judah remained a people without their own nation for thousands of years. But unlike every other ancient people, they retained their national identity when scattered. All of this was prophesied in many places throughout the Bible. One of the first of those places is in the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy reads like the last will and testament of Moses. After leaving Egypt, the people of Israel traveled in the wilderness for 40 years. They were about to enter the Promised Land, but Moses was not allowed to enter. So before being taken away from them, he reviewed the history of their deliverance from slavery and travel through the desert. He reviewed the Law and he pronounced blessings on them. And within this review he gave a list of blessings and cursings: blessings if Israel would obey God, and cursings if they would not.

The blessings and cursings are given in Deuteronomy 28. Interestingly, most of this chapter (54 verses) is devoted to the cursings. God told Moses beforehand the people would not obey Him (Deuteronomy 31:16-18), therefore the cursings were elaborated on. Because Israel did not obey, the cursings can be understood as a prophetic description of the history of Israel covering a period of thousands of years.

The cursings start out bad, and get worse and worse. The repeated defeats before their enemies in the book of Judges was foretold. The later ecologic disasters and disease were predicted. The cannibalism of 2 Kings 6:24-29 and Lamentations 4:10 were prophesied here. The prophetic cursings also tell of the dispersion of the people of Israel, which began with the Assyrian captivity of Samaria (Israel) (722 B.C.) and the Babylonian captivity of Judah (597 B.C.), and was fully realized during Roman times.

It shall happen that as Yahweh rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so Yahweh will rejoice over you to cause you to perish, and to destroy you; and you shall be plucked from off the land where you go in to possess it. Yahweh will scatter you among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, which you have not known, you nor your fathers, even wood and stone. Among these nations you shall find no ease, and there shall be no rest for the sole of your foot: but Yahweh will give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and pining of soul…

- Deuteronomy 28:63-65 (WEB)

This ‘scattering’ happened with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D, where more than a million Jews died, and almost 100,000 shipped to Egypt as slaves:

Yahweh will bring you into Egypt again with ships, by the way of which I said to you, You shall see it no more again: and there you shall sell yourselves to your enemies for bondservants and for bondmaids, and no man shall buy you.

- Deuteronomy 28:68 (WEB)

The historians of the time say there was such a glut of slaves that people didn’t buy them.

“…as for the rest of the multitude that were above seventeen years old, he put them into bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines.”

- Josephus, De Bello Jud. l. 6. c. 9. sect. 2.

“There were many to be sold, but there were few buyers; for the Romans despised the Jews for service, nor were there Jews left to redeem their own.”;

- Hegesippus, De excidio Urb. Hieros. l. 5. c. 47. p. 645.

All of the curses in this chapter came about… even down to the last one.

Most scholars assume the book of Deuteronomy was written in the 6 to 8 B.C. time period, because it records prophecies about the time of the captivities. If they could, they would probably say the book was written hundreds of years later to account for what the Romans did to them. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls contains portions of Deuteronomy dated before these events happened. These portions also include that last prophecy about the Jews returning to Egypt as slaves.

This chapter of Deuteronomy is only one prophecy of many in the Old Testament that refers to what would happen to Israel when Israel did not follow the commands of God. But no matter how bad things got, Israel would never be totally destroyed. There would always be a remnant so that eventually the people could be restored as a nation again. This is implied in the Deuteronomy prophecy, where the Hebrew people would live with no rest from fear in lands not their own, but other biblical writers say much the same thing:

My God will cast them away, because they did not listen to him; and they will be wanderers among the nations.

- Hosea 9:17 (WEB)

A third part of you shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of you; and a third part shall fall by the sword around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds, and will draw out a sword after them.

- Ezekiel 5:13 (WEB)

Israel would retain their national identity, but because of their sins, they would not exist as a nation until the last days. In the meantime, they would be scattered around the world, living in fear, suffering persecution, but never being totally destroyed. Their scattered but continued existence would be a witness to the world of the existence and sovereignty of God.

Thus says Yahweh, who gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who stirs up the sea, so that its waves roar; Yahweh of Armies is his name: If these ordinances depart from before me, says Yahweh, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever.

-Jeremiah 31:35-36 (WEB)

Don’t you be afraid, O Jacob 2 my servant, says Yahweh; for I am with you: for I will make a full end of all the nations where I have driven you; but I will not make a full end of you, but I will correct you in measure, and will in no way leave you unpunished.

- Jeremiah 46:28 (WEB)

Are you not like the children of the Ethiopians to me, children of Israel?” says Yahweh. “Haven’t I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord Yahweh are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the surface of the earth; except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says Yahweh. “For, behold, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet not the least kernel will fall on the earth. All the sinners of my people will die by the sword, who say, ‘Evil won’t overtake nor meet us.’

- Amos 9:7-10 (WEB)

Now, you could take the existence of the Jews today as chance occurrence. After all, remnants of other ethnic people exist around the world. But…

* How many of those ethnic groups have held on to their ancient identity over thousand of years? Yes, there are some.

* How many of those people had prophecies made that they would destroyed as a nation and scattered throughout the world, but still retain their national identity?

* How many of those people were prophesied to suffer much while they were scattered throughout the word? History records much of the sufferings of the Jews, including multiple genocide attempts.

* How many of those people were prophesied to go through all this, yet never to be completely destroyed?

* How many of those people had their prophecies fulfilled?

Yes, you could still believe it was all fulfilled by chance… but it would be a very slim chance! And the chances rapidly shrink the more you research history and the scriptures.

In case this doesn’t convince you, in the next post I’ll be looking at the biggest examples of prophecy fulfilled in our lifetime: the return of Israel as a nation.

Notes:

  1. For example, the Prism of Sennacherib mentions King Hezekiah and contains an account of the siege of Jerusalem that agrees with 2 Kings 18:13-19:37. Other extra-biblical references to Israel’s kings are listed at http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/3415420/biblical-characters-existence-confirmed-by-archaeology .
  2. I.e. Israel, Genesis 32:28

A Personal Apologetic: Introduction to Biblical Prophecy

Some of the strongest evidence for the existence of God and the inspiration of the Bible comes from prophecy fulfillment. In the next couple of posts, I’m going to give what I believe to be the the biggest examples of verifiable modern-day prophecy fulfillment. But first, I want to show what sets biblical prophecy apart from the predictive statements of other sources. My purpose in this post is not to prove prophecy is real, but to lay the groundwork for the following posts in understanding what biblical prophecy is about.

Most people think prophecy is primarily about the prediction of future events. The predictive element is seen in many religions and belief systems, from Chinese Chen to Nostradamus, to the claims of other modern day seers and prophets (such as those of the Watchtower organization). Prophecy, however, is more accurately defined as one or more messages that have been communicated supernaturally through a prophet, whether those messages include predictive statements or not. In other words, a prophet claims to be merely a spokesman for the supernatural source of his message.

Biblical prophecies also include predictive elements, but those elements are not given merely to inform us what the future holds. Most prophecy in the Bible is in the form of promises from God about what He will do or cause to happen in the near or distant future. In other words, it is not so much God telling us what will happen in the future, but what He will do in the future. The events prophesied are usually so far-fetched or impossible that their fulfillment would be seen by witnesses as acts of God, not just chance. 1

That prophecy fulfillment is about the evident working of God can be seen in a phrase associated with many prophecies. It generally takes the form, “…then you will know that I am YHWH (Jehovah).2 This phrase implies the fulfillment of the prophecy is not so much about the predicted event, but about the existence, character, and nature of God. So if you happen to witness a biblical prophecy fulfillment, you should take it to heart that God exists and is actively involved in events here on earth.

Because biblical prophecy is about God revealing Himself, the predicted events need to be understood by their plain common-sense meanings, so that the fulfillment, when it happens, is obvious and can be eye-witnessed by anyone. 3 There have been attempts among some cults and some branches of the Christian church to interpret biblical prophecies figuratively, symbolically, or ‘spiritually’. For example, Jehovah Witnesses claim Jesus returned in 1914, but the return was invisible. Such interpretation ignores the plain meaning of the biblical text (Revelation 1:7), and waters the prophecy down, making its fulfillment non-provable and open to interpretation. Prophetic fulfillments recorded in the Bible were always literal, so even the non-believing witnesses would be able to recognize the fulfillment 4. We need to expect any prophetic fulfillments today to follow the same pattern: the fulfillment must follow the plain-sense understanding of the prophecy.

As I said, this post is only a quick overview of what biblical prophecy is about. I haven’t yet attempted to prove the accuracy of any prophecy. I also haven’t tried to address the claims of skeptics, which can be summarized as follows:

• The prophecy was written vaguely, making the fulfillment open to interpretation.

• The prophecy was written after the event happened (‘vaticinium ex eventu‘).

• The fulfillment was coincidental, the result of random chance.

• The prophecy was purposely fulfilled to make the Bible seem true.

• The Bible writers lied about the fulfillment.

These sound like strong arguments, but are only baseless accusations made by those who are unwilling to investigate the evidence. Such claims require blind faith on the part of the doubter. In the following posts, I will address these allegations as I cover two closely related areas of biblical prophecy fulfillment of which we have public knowledge.

Notes:

  1. Some examples of unlikely or impossible prophecies are in 2 Kings 3:16-25, Isaiah 4:17, and Luke 24:7 (Daniel 9:26, Isaiah 53:8,10).
  2. A few examples are in Exodus 6:7-8, 14:4, 1 Samuel 17:47, 1 Kings 20:28, Ezekiel 25:5, 38:16.
  3. Symbolism may be involved in a prophecy, but the meaning of the symbols always points to an event that is witnessable when it happens. For example, Daniel chapter 8 contains a prophecy of the Greek empire, symbolized by a goat with a big horn, which is replaced with four smaller horns. Daniel 8:21-22 explains the horns symbolize the kings of the Greek empire. While the symbol itself (the goat) was not fulfilled, the meaning of the symbol was fulfilled literally, first in Alexander the Great, then in the divided kingdom ruled by Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus and Seleucus.
  4. A couple of examples: 2 Kings 7:1-2, 16-20, and 1 Kings 21:19, 22:37-38. The only exceptions have to do with prophecies that explicitly state the fulfillment is not on earth, i.e. Luke 22:69, Acts 7:55, and Colossians 3:1.

More Mazes For Sale

Sample mug mazeI just added my most recently drawn mazes to my Zazzle store. You can now get them on T-shirts and mugs.

In case you don’t know, I’ve had a couple of maze posters available on Zazzle.com for quite some time. At one point, at least one of them appeared first when searching for the keyword ‘mazes’. Click here to go the the store.

New Maze: “Three”

I just finished my second multi-maze. This one has three openings. By picking any one opening as a start and any other as a finish, you have six combinations of openings. In other words, this is six mazes in one! Each solution is relatively easy since I had to squeeze six different paths in the space of one maze.

I plan my next multi-maze to be the Starry Night maze I mentioned back in January. This one will have four openings: a 12-in-one maze!

New Maze: “Two”

Here’s another new maze. This one is a bit harder than the previous, and it’s the first of it’s kind. Instead of a normal start and finish, there are two openings labeled ’1′ and ’2. First, find your way from ’1′ to ’2′, then find your way from ’2′ back to ’1′. Because of the bridges and arrows, you can’t take the same route back through the maze. So, it’s two different mazes in one!

New Maze: “One”

I just added a new maze to my maze page. It’s small so it would fit in my company’s newsletter. This is the first new maze on this site since 1996, and it’s the first in a series. I just finished drawing the second (a harder one), and I’ll be posting it after I color it.

As with all my mazes, there are bridges that allow paths to go over or under one another without intersecting, and one-way paths where you cannot go against the arrows.

What Doesn’t Produce Righteousness

…for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God.

- James 1:20

It’s a familiar verse… one that is easy, in hindsight, to apply to the rash actions of a believer who has let his temper fly with disastrous results. Those who have a temper problem may acknowledge the truth of this verse when everything is going according to plan. But awareness of such truth seems to flee when they need it the most.

Those of us who do not have a problem blowing up may think we are safe here. Yet, we can take the word ‘anger’ out, replace it with another word, and the verse will address our weaknesses also.

…the love of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

…the apathy of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

…the work of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

…the wisdom of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

The truth is, nothing that is of us will produce the righteousness of God. God has to make us righteous – both positionally and practically.

But of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.”

- 1 Corinthians 1:30-31

A Personal Apologetic: Corrupt Beings

The world of nature we live in is amazingly complex and well-tuned, from the macroscopic (general cycle of life) level, down to the microscopic level. Virtually all of life works to keep the system in balance and flourishing. In one part of the cycle, bees pollinate flowers so plants can produce fruit. Animals eat the fruit, and in doing so scatter the seeds so the plants can reproduce elsewhere. All of the participants in the cycle benefit. It appears simple when you look at the overall picture, but it is mind-bogglingly complex when you examine the role individual creatures play to keep the cycle going. 1

When we add man into the equation, however, nature tends to get out of balance. We pollute the air, the ground, and the water supply, we deforest, we eliminate some species and transport other invasive species, we wage wars, and so on. If evolution has so fine-tuned the workings of nature over billions of years, why are we, the supposed apex of evolution, so destructive to ourselves and the world around us?

For all the natural problems we cause, they are merely symptoms of a more severe moral condition. While we have a moral sense, corrupted as it is, we can’t even live up to our own ideas of right and wrong. This manifests itself through everything from breaking the speed limit, not wearing our seatbelts, and cheating on our taxes, to bribery and political scandals in the highest levels of government, to terrorism, torture, sexual slavery, murder… you name it. Animals are not moral creatures, yet overall, they behave better than we do!

Yes, we humans aren’t perfect. But most of us prefer not to get into the specifics (especially when it becomes personal). When we admit to failings, we usually refer to the occasional ‘minor’ moral infraction (such as telling a lie or stealing a pencil from the office), or something non-moral (such as breaking one’s diet). We believe most people, even hardened criminals, are essentially good deep down inside, and that the good just needs opportunity to express itself.

But this view of ourselves is just self-deception. Read today’s newspaper. It’s full of reports of crime across all levels of society. Criminals come both educated and uneducated, rich and poor, religious and non-religious, black and white, from the highest government offices down to the homeless living on the street. And the newspapers only cover a tiny fraction of our illegal or immoral activities.

Materialists explain our moral nature as just one more thing that came about through evolution. If we favor what is good and beneficial, it would certainly be advantageous to our species and increase our chances of survival. But why is it so difficult to do what is good and beneficial? Everything else that supposedly evolved about nature and ourselves is finely tuned. Why does it take more self-control to do the right thing than to do the wrong thing… even when we agree the right thing is beneficial?

I don’t see how evolution can explain our corrupt nature, because doing wrong always has a detrimental effect on our species. For all the progress we have made over the decades and centuries in terms of education, science, technology, medicine, infrastructure, and the like, mankind is still going down the proverbial toilet.

The Bible, on the other hand, doesn’t try to gloss over who we are. It is full of accounts of people like us today who were greedy, selfish, deceptive, violent, sexually immoral, robbers, murderers, etc. The Bible describes our nature as “sinful”, meaning we’re unwilling and unable to live in a way that is in harmony with God intent and the rest of creation. When I examine myself, I find my nature exactly matches what the Bible says about me. One of the four founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital (now the university) also recognized the same thing:

“Perhaps one of my strongest reasons for believing the Bible is that it reveals to me, as no other book in the world could do, that which appeals to me as a physician, a diagnosis of my spiritual condition. It shows me clearly what I am by nature—one lost in sin and alienated from the life that is in God. I find in it a consistent and wonderful revelation, from Genesis to Revelation, of the character of God, a God far removed from any of my natural imaginings.”

- Howard A. Kelly, M.D.

Notes:

  1. Take a look at the life cycle of the lancet fluke (Dicrocoelium dendriticum) for example.

“Have this mind in you…”

“Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”

- Philippians 2:5

This phrase begins the best known hymn of the early church, a hymn of praise to Jesus who humbled Himself to the level of a slave, and died a slave’s death, to reconcile us to God. But we tend to overlook this command for all the good doctrine about our Savior that follows it. And when we consider obeying it, we think only in generalities.

Next time you spend time in the gospels reading about Jesus, frequently recall this phrase: “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Every time you see Jesus heal the sick, instruct His disciples, speak of the kingdom of God, deal with those who oppose Him, etc., ask yourself why He did what He did or said what He said, then ask the Holy Spirit to transform your mind to think the same way. Discover the mind of Christ, then have the same mind in you.

A Personal Apologetic: Morality and Justice

{Again, I have a two part argument. This first part is about man’s moral inclination and a general desire for justice. I don’t consider it as strong an argument as that from consciousness, but I feel it is strong enough to include here. The second part will be about the difference between what man believes morally and how he acts.}

Man is a moral being. Regardless of a belief in the existence of God, everyone believes some things are right and other things are wrong. We might have significant differences of opinion on these things, but we do have opinions.

If God does not exist, there are no absolute moral standards. Each of us can then define right and wrong however we please. What is moral to you may be immoral to me, or vice versa, and each of our opinions would be equally as valid.

Unfortunately, society tends to self-destruct if everyone acts on his own personal mores. If I intend to kill you, believing it is my right, but you believe it’s wrong for me to kill you, there is no absolute standard you can appeal to that says you’re right and I’m wrong. Your belief that I am wrong has no more weight than my belief that I am right. (Lest you think this is an extreme example, it is exactly the case with those who promote genocide or abortion today.) It’s pointless for one side to convince the other to do the right thing if the right thing is purely man’s opinion.

To prevent the breakdown of society, each nation has a government that enacts laws and subjects its citizens to those laws. Everyone operates under the same moral code. This sounds like a good solution in theory, but it raises some questions in my mind.

Where does a government get its authority from? Generally, authority is passed down from a higher to a lower. In the United States, the federal government gives authority for individual states to rule, and states give authority to town and city governments. But where did our federal government get its authority from? Our founding fathers believed it came from God 1. However, if there is no God, authority can only come through consensus of the people or rebellion against a previous government.

Concensus might appear to be good grounds for authority, however every sizeable nation is going to have citizens who oppose the rule of their government. (Subjective morality implies there will be differences of opinion on moral matters.) What makes such opposition wrong if right and wrong are subjective? If man can make up his own mind on moral and ethical issues, then the actions of rebels are no more wrong than the actions of those who obey their nation’s laws.

With no God, eventually even consensus fails, and authority can only be obtained or retained by force. The stronger party gets to make up the rules: might makes right. With subjective morality, we eventually end up with oppressive governments like China and North Korea.

Even if every citizen supports their government and obeys its laws, this world consists of more than one nation, each having their own set of laws. One nation has one law, another has an opposite law, and who’s to say which one is right? What is good in one culture is seen as evil in another, and vice versa. If the majority of nations say slavery is good, what right would the minority have to condemn the majority? If there is no authority higher than man, then one person, as well as one nation, has no right to condemn another for slavery, murder, genocide, or any other moral or ethical issue. Whatever man says is right at the moment becomes right… at least until he changes his mind.

So far, I’ve only mentioned a few problems I see with subjective morality. None of these require the existence of God to somehow make everything right. We could be living in a world with unsolvable moral dilemmas. Neither do these problems disprove the existence of God. It only says man chooses to ignore Him if He exists. However, my argument really doesn’t center on such dilemmas.

The big question in my mind is if man is a product of chance, not having been purposely created by God, why should he have any sense of right and wrong at all? Why do virtually all people agree on certain moral issues? And why is it, when we see what we believe is wrong, we want to see justice done: we want it made right?

What does it matter if somebody steals something from you? Why do you get upset? Surely, there is more to it than just because, “It’s mine!” When people are wronged, they naturally want to see justice done, not just have things restored to normal. (Spend some time in a room with several young children and one toy and see how their sense of justice expresses itself!) This is our normal way of thinking, and if we don’t think this way now, it’s only because we had to unlearn it in the past.

True, different cultures have superficially different ideas of what is right and wrong. Not too long ago, betrayal and murder even of friends was considered normal in one culture in Papua New Guinea 2. Killing a friend was a sign of coming of age. However, even this culture knew murder is wrong. If you were to ask the person being murdered if it was morally right, I’m sure you would get an enthusiastic “Of course not!” for an answer. He certainly didn’t think the “right thing” was being done to him. And deep down inside, the one doing the killing believes the same, for he would also think it wrong if the tables were turned and someone tried to murder him. Whether we’re talking about murder, theft, adultery, or whatever, the victim almost always has a truer sense of right and wrong than the perpetrator.

This sense of fairness can be changed or perverted, but not eliminated.

The materialist believes our universe came about by chance, not by the will of God or for His purpose. So what does it matter to a materialist that other people believe in God and want to share their beliefs with others? If the universe is purposeless, what does it matter if everyone becomes a Christian, a Muslim, or whatever. Everybody dies in in the end. If you’re happier believing a lie, what’s the problem? And yet, it angers an atheist to see a Christian promote his ‘dogma’. In an age of moral relativism where an increasing number of people insist there is no absolute right and wrong, what gives them to right to judge Christians?

The Bible, on the other hand, portrays men as moral creatures, created in the likeness of God. Since God is righteous, we were made to reflect His righteousness. (Right and wrong are not really a matter of opinion.) Our likeness to our Creator has since been corrupted, and our sense of right and wrong has been perverted through our disobedience to God. But we are still moral beings: we still have a sense of right and wrong. And we prefer the right, desiring wrong-doers to come to justice. Even in secular books and movies, we want to see the good guy win. This desire is evidence we were created by God. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Although we do not always see justice fulfilled in this life, there will eventually come a time when justice will happen and all wrong will be punished. Everyone will eventually appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the results of what they have done here on earth.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

- 2 Corinthians 5:10

Notes:

  1. Notice in the Declaration of Independence how they appealed to God in justifying their secession from England: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights … appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…”
  2. Peace Child, Don Richardson