Tuesday, September 28

God and Government: The Separation of Church and State (Part One)

When you take a look at the news, a recurring topic seems to be the religious involvement in government, and the government involvement in religion. We see and hear about cases in which it has been taken to far, we hear of law, or doctrine, and in this two-part series, I plan to take a look at this very topic, with special thanks to Ann E. Weiss, who authored God and Government. (Photo Credit to: Wetheminority.com)

Now, understand that this series revolves, for the most part, around the United States of America, though the history also involves countries such as Germany. (Martin Luther) What is one of the most common mistakes among the American people? The separation of church and state. The issue? The Constitution never actually says that there must be a separation.

There was a case in Ocean Grove, New Jersey - any and all non-religious activity on Sundays were not permitted under law, until the 1980s when a drunk driver appealed to the court to change these laws that had been established in the 1800's. Breaking religious laws in the United States is not credited as a criminal act, and there is no public law that forces anyone to donate to religious causes and organizations.

People can worship as they want, if they chose to worship of course, but because we have the freedom of religion, they do not have to. The legal system and religion has close-knit ties. For example, the court of the 1960's put a swift end to the daily reading of passages in the Bible and reciting of Christian prayers in public schools across the nation. However, if we are to look at history, we need to understand that a belief in a supreme being, a God, is the cornerstone of the American government and life.

When we look at the Pledge of Allegiance, we see the words, "one nation under God." Meetings of state legislatures, meetings of Congress, and municipal bodies are all, generally, opened in prayer, asking for God's blessing. The American currency has the words "In God We Trust" written on it. We sing national songs such as "God Bless America," "My Country 'Tis of Thee," "America the Beautiful," and many others. You also find that prayers are common at Graduation ceremonies, be it public or private schools.

Also, when someone is taken to court, they are told to swear to tell the truth - on the Holy Bible. We find that most business across the United States tend to observe the Christian Sabbath, and allow their employees to have a day of rest. Does the church affect the production and sale of things? Certainly. In some cities and townships, you cannot sell liquor legally within a specific distance of a church.

Now, onto the historic portion. In the 1600's, Anglicanism was the dominant religion. If anyone was non-Anglican, that person could be fined or even imprisoned. In the year 1608, separatists from Nottingham sailed across the English Channel to Amsterdam, later moving to Leiden. They found freedom there. However, as time passed, their children were taught the Dutch ways, which the separatists opposed. During the summer of 1620, they returned home.

In September of 1620, these same separatists left England to establish a colony in the New World. These people are commonly known as the "pilgrims." The pilgrims came to the New World because they wanted their own church, their own state, labeling Christianity a pagan religion. The Puritans, who settled in Boston in the 1630's, had similar views and ways.

Going back further, in 311 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine announced that Christians could now live in peace, after many years of persecuting, and proceeded to make Christianity the religion of Rome. Centuries later, in May of 1787, representatives from the states gathered in Philadelphia to write the American Constitution. Of the 55 delegates who attended, when a national church was proposed, the majority opposed the idea.

By that year in history, America was a land of many faiths: there were around 4 Million Protestants, 25,000 Catholics, 10,000 Jewish, and the list goes on. The belief of the time was that "all men are born with a natural right to the freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience is a God-given right and cannot be taken away by any law of man." Does the Declaration of Independence actually refer to God?

Verily I tell you, it does. The document calls him "God," the "Creator," the "Supreme Judge of the World," and the "divine providence." When we look at the Constitution, we do not see God, religion, or the Bible mentioned except, "In the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven." The majority of the delegates made it a point to omit God from the Constitution. Nine states ratified the Constitution, and it went into effect on March 4, 1789.

George Washington was sworn in as President, and the members of the first congress too their seats right away. They began working on amending the Constitution by adding what is known as the "Bill of Rights." The Bill of Rights was passed on September 25, 1789. What is all the fuss about? The First Amendment. What is the text of the First Amendment?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (Bill of Rights, 1st Amendment)

Although the 1st Amendment says that Congress cannot establish one particular religion or prohibit the practice of another religion, it does not prevent Congress from passing all type of laws that can effect religion. Consider for a moment: the First Amendment only applies to the federal government, it does not make a mention of state and local governments and their relationship with religion.

States themselves are free to establish official religions, demand a religious test for office, and can even limit civil rights of what we call "dissenters." Moving ahead to the 1800's, religious discrimination was wide and dominant in the southern states. For example: New Hampshire Catholics were not allowed to vote until 1851. New Jersey did not extend the full civil rights to people who were non-Protestants until the year 1844.

It was only after the 14th Amendment that the First became legally binding upon the United States, including the South. It proclaims that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." (Bill of Rights, 14th Amendment, Section I)

With all this said, thus ends this entry of "The Truth." While this is not the usual type of entry, it is still a controversial topic, and will continue to be covered in the next entry of this series on God and Government. I trust that this has helped you in some way, whether it was informative, useful, or in some other manner. If you have something to add, feel free to comment below, email vexx801@yahoo.com, with any questions/comments/concerns/add-ons, or visit the facebook page. God bless, dear reader, and take care.  Troy Hillman

Next entry: "God and Government: The Separation of Church and State (Part Two)"

Sunday, September 26

Does God Hear All The Prayers of Humanity?

Many people have often asked, "How is it possible for God to be able to hear, whether he chooses to answer or not, billions of people around the world at the same time, while running the universe as well?" Recently, I read a work by one of the intellectual and theological giants of the twentieth century, Clive Staples Lewis. Commonly known as the Anglican author C.S. Lewis, he known for such works as The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters, and the work I read, Mere Christianity. In one of the last few chapters, he covered this very topic. In this brief entry, I would like to reflect a bit on what Lewis shared.  (Photo credit to: St. Johns)

Let us picture for a moment, someone writing a book. In this book are "Martha" and "Clark". Clark is sitting in his living room reading the newspaper, when Martha calls his phone, which proceeds to ring. Clark gets up to answer the phone, but just before he hears what she is calling about, the author stop writing, get up, and think for several hours about what to write next. For the author, time passes. But for the characters in the book, Clark and Martha, time does not pass while the author thinks, because in the book, the next moment, Martha explains what she is calling about - but for the author, who is writing this story, time passes, because he is deliberating over what to write next.

That said, let us now assume God is now the author. In fact, we are told in Hebrews 12:2 to fix "our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." Now, we are in the story - time moves for us, but not the same as it does for him. Lewis noted, "God is not hurried along in the time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel. He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you are the only being He had created. When Christ died, he died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world."

I trust that makes sense. God portrayed as the author, and as the author, time moves differently for him than for us, so that he could take months, years, hours spent in eternity on each and every prayer. So can God really hear all of our prayers at any given moment, run the universe, and maintain order at the same time? With this logic, by all means. In the sacred Scriptures, God promises, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). God can take all the time that he needs to answer our prayers, because he is not bound by time.

Another analogy that comes to mind can be derived from Disney's Tron (1982). In the  film, we are shown a video game in an arcade. The creator of this arcade game, Kevin Flynn, goes into his office late one night and somehow enters into the game. In other words, the Creator enters into his Creation (which also has Incarnational connotations). But since Flynn exists as a being outside of the game, while he was creating the game, he determined the laws by which the game would operate, including the mechanics of time. Therefore, he could take a break from his creation - and days, months or years could pass - but time may remain the same within the game. As such, if we apply this analogy (however imperfect) to the topic at hand, we may say that if God's creation (man) reached out to him through prayer, he would have all of the time he needed to hear our prayers, since he exists outside of his creation.

Now, to be fair, this is a rather simple analogy seeking to answer a more complex question. But on a practical level, whether you are a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, or what have you, prayer is a common element to each major religious tradition. The Christian tradition would posit that we are all made in the imago dei (image of God), whether that refers to physical appearance or cognitive functions, and Christians are called to "love thy neighbor." With this understanding as a foundation, each human person has inherent dignity, value, and meaning. Therefore, we my infer via such analogies that a divine being could hear all of the prayers of humanity, regardless of who we are, where we are, or the method by which we pray.

Troy Hillman

Thursday, September 23

"What Is Truth?"

What is truth? When Pontius Pilate said these words, he summed up the question in the collective thoughts of humanity. What is truth, what is it classified as, and who determines truth? In this entry, I plan to take a look at "truth." If you call your blog "The Truth," it would only be right to have an entry on truth, also, determining truth seems to be a difficult thing for people to do in this day and age. (Photo created using Wordle.net)

The antonym of truth is "falsehood." But what are the dictionary definitions of "truth?" Take a look: "conformity with fact or reality; a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like: mathematical truths; the state or character of being true; an obvious or accepted fact; truism; platitude; honesty; integrity; truthfulness." Notice, "fact or reality... an obvious or accepted fact... honesty, integrity..." So, if there is an obvious fact, and you attempt to point it out to people, but they refuse to accept it based on their personal worldview and presuppositions, does that change the truth of something? No, it merely means that those people are rejecting truth, believing it to be falsehood, based on their worldview and presuppositions.

We find Pilate's infamous quote in John 18:37-38, "'You are a king then!' said Pilate. Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.' 'What is truth?' retorted Pilate." Historians know Jesus to be an actual person. They call him "Historical Jesus," but they still know he existed. The point there? This man named Jesus was making very bold claims, saying earlier on that he was God himself, that he was the Son of God, and that if anyone listened to him and followed him, they would be following the side of truth. From an objective standpoint, skeptics are prone to say, "But if he was not God, then he would be a liar." Was Jesus truly God?

We as Christians know and believe that he is the Son of God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8) When Jesus was speaking to a crowd, he said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). So if truth is merely an obvious fact, having to do with honesty and integrity, Who determines Truth? Do I? Do you? Does the government? How much of what we are taught in schools is actually fact, and not theory, which may be false? In today's society, we have to find truth, and live by it.

What is truth? A truthful fact would be that at the time of the writing, I am on my computer. The truth is, Barack Obama is the current President of the United States. The truth is, we have gone to the Moon and come back alive. The truth is, as much as I would enjoy writing this blog each and every day, my schedule does not always allow for that possibility, and some days, no new entries are published.  The truth is, I drink more water than I probably should. The titular name of the blog, "The Truth," was derived from Jesus. Jesus actually had a lot to say on the subject of truth, and some skeptics like to point and say, "Oh, that may be true, but Jesus always contradicted himself." No he didn't. He merely clarified in certain points, and people like to take that out of context. Then skeptics say, "If Jesus was all-knowing, why did he not teach the Jews about the Laws of Physics, or Mathematical Equations, or things like that?"

The truth? If someone from 2,000 years into the future came to you, who would be living in a house made of clay, and you had little tech, and showed you a laptop and how to work it, how would they be able to figure it out? You would not, logically, because you are at Point A, and this person is at Point C. You need to get to Point B before you can reach Point C. I made a point of mentioning this based on something individuals have approached me about. I will cover that topic more in-depth in a coming entry.

As stated, Jesus had a lot to say on the subject of truth, going so far as to even say that He IS truth. So Who is truth? "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) That claim in itself is a truly bold claim. He has already claimed to be the Son of God, God Himself, and now he is claiming that unless someone accepts him as Savior and asks for forgiveness of sins, they cannot be saved. (Talked about in separate verses) He is saying that he is the only truth.

Who determines truth? Well, let us see what we, as fellow man, are told: "There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth; what things are truthbearers capable of being true or false; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective, relative, objective, or absolute." Truth, to one person, may be determined by their presuppositions and their worldview. Take for example, a Creationist, and an Evolutionist. They both are shown the same evidence, a Dinosaur fossil. The Evolutionist, based on his presuppositions and worldviews, says, "This fossil must be 65 Million Years Old, and it must have been fossilized over time," whereas the Creationist will say, "This is probably a fossil from the Great Flood." Both the Evolutionist and the Creationist, based on his presuppositions and worldview, will believe his claim is truthful. Which is truth? Well, who determines truth? What is truth? Will we ever know? Do we ourselves decide truth? Not entirely. If we did, the world would be what we have made of it: organized chaos. So does God decide truth? According to Christians, yes. But according to Secularists, they decide truth. That is where things become chaotic.

Please understand something. St. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." To Christians, God decides Truth, because he created Truth. But to Secularists, they decide truth. Now for an individual to decide truth, we get into logic and the Law of Nature, where, if we are merely evolved species, we should not care about truth, we should have no moral objectives, since we have nothing that designed morals. However, since God designed our morals, we have the capability, through honesty and integrity, to attempt to determine truth. To quote CARM, a Christian Apologetics ministry, "If there is such a thing as truth, then we should be able to find it.  If truth cannot be known, then it probably doesn't exist. But, it does exist... we know it is true that you are reading this."

Troy Hillman

Monday, September 20

Who Are the 144,000?

In today's world, he wear people such as Jehovah's Witnesses claiming to be the 144,000 talked about in the book of Revelation. We hear various communities claiming to exclusively be the 144,000. But what does Scripture actually tell us about these mysterious people? Are the Jehovah's Witnesses actually the prophesied 144,000, or is there something else to this? Let's find out. (Photo credit to EddieHolmes.com)

Most of us have had Jehovah's Witnesses come door to door teaching that they are the chosen 144,000 Witnesses of Revelation. Typically, the teach that others cannot be saved aside from their group, and that they are the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation. Let's look at the text itself.

Revelation 7:3-4 says, "'Do not harm the land or sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.' Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel." Before I go any further, I want to point two things out. One, Jehovah's Witnesses has reached over 144,000 in number of members. Two, most members are not "from all the tribes of Israel."

They are not Jewish. How can we know for sure this is what it means? Look at the next passage, "From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000." (Revelation 7:5-8)

Now, there is more. Revelation 14:1-5. "Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their fore heads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders." "No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes, They were purchased from among the human race and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless."

What conclusion can we draw? We see from Revelation 7:4 that the 144,000 are Jews, all virgins. Within the narrative, these witnesses are converted after the period of tribulation begins. If someone tells you that they are a part of the 144,000, remember that the 144,000 would be Jews from each tribe, and frankly, no group claiming to be the 144,000 is all-Jewish.

Troy Hillman

Tuesday, September 14

Jonah's Redemption

The Book of Jonah is one of the shorter books found in the Bible. Jonah is classified as a minor prophet, not based on importance, but based on the short size of the book. After several entries of Creation Science, Apologetics, and History, I believe it best to take some time to revert back to Biblical Theology, for this entry at least. (Photo credit to Bible Hero Posters)

While yes, Jonah is history, like everything else found in God's Word, there's a lesson to be learned, and that is what we will be taking a look at today. So let us take a look at the account of Jonah. It occurred around 785 BC. This four-chapter book details the journey of Jonah the prophet, son of Amittai, (Jonah 1:1) from Gath Hepher. (2nd Kings 14:25) God said to Jonah, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." (Jonah 1:2)

Jonah is told by God to deliver a message to the city: Turn from your ways or you will be destroyed. That may sound harsh, but the sins that they were committing in this city broke all of God's Commandments time... after time... and time again. Jonah probably would have obliged, had he not heard the name of the city.

The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, known for their violent nature, and Jonah wanted to be as far away from Nineveh as possible. So what did he do? "He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for [Tarshish.] After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." (Jonah 1:3)

Jonah went below deck to catch up on some sleep. Then things started happening. "Then the Lord had sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent arose that the ship threatened to break up." (Jonah 1:4) The crew of the ship came to the conclusion, after lightening the ship by tossing cargo over, that one their gods must be angry with one of them. Waking Jonah, they cast lots, which fell on Jonah.

Jonah admitted that he was running away from the true God, and terrified, they asked him what to do. He replied, "Pick me up and throw me into the seam and it will become calm. I know it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." (Jonah 1:12) The men chose to try to reach land, but they could not, because the sea grew more harsh, and so they did as Jonah said, and they threw him overboard.

The sea grew calm, and God sent a "huge fish" (Matthew 12:40) for Jonah. "Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." (Jonah 1:17) There is some discrepancy as to what exactly this fish was, as the Bible does not say, it only says it was a "huge fish."

Jesus mentions Jonah in Matthew 12:40, and the word ketos is not restricted in its meaning to whale or a cetacean. "It may denote any sea-monster, either a whale or shark, a seal, or a tunny of enormous size." Now, we find that white sharks do exist in the Mediterranean, as well as the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and are often about thirty feet in length. Though sharks usually first bite its prey, it has been known to swallow whole. There are recorded cases in which bodies of men, one clad in armor, and even a full horse, are found. Also, naturalists have recorded that sharks do have a habit of throwing up whole and live prey they had swallowed, though again, the prevailent idea is that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.

Regardless, Jonah was in the belly for three days and three nights, during which he had no food or drink, but prayed fervently, asking God for forgiveness, for a second chance. So three days after he had been swallowed, "the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land," the same land where Nineveh was located. (Jonah 2:10) God again told Jonah, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I gave you." (Jonah 3:2) This time, Jonah obeyed.

Since the city was so large, it took Jonah three full days to get through it. He proclaimed that Nineveh had 40 days and the city would be overthrown. When the news reached the King, he proclaimed a fast, and "when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened." (Jonah 3:10) But this seemed wrong to Jonah, and he was angry.

God asked him, "Is it right for you to be angry?" Jonah's reply is not recorded. Jonah went out of the city and sat down, making a shelter because he wanted to see what God would do to the city. "Then the Lord God provided a gourd and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the gourd." (Jonah 4:6) But the next day, God sent a worm, which ate the gourd, and when the Sun rose, it was "scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head. He wanted to die, and said, 'It would be better for me to die than to live.'" (Jonah 4:8)

God again asked if it was right for Jonah to be angry about the gourd, and this time, he did reply. "It is, and I'm so angry I wish I were dead." Do you know what God said after that? "You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hands from their left - and also many animals?" (Jonah 4:10-11)

That is the end of the book. We are never told what became of Jonah, whether he lived or died, whether he asked for forgiveness or continued in arrogance. However, from a character standpoint, I can see Jonah doing the same thing Job did many years before. "I'm sorry God." In essence, God had said, "You care more about your plant than about the souls of these people."

What is the lesson here? Think of the account this way: God asked Jonah to do something, and he refused, running away. God sent a storm, and when Jonah was thrown from the boat, a huge fish swallowed him up. Jonah asked fro forgiveness, and was forgiven, was redeemed, and he was given one, though he, like so many of us, cared more about his needs, more about himself than about the lives - the very souls - of others.

In essence, this is the life of a Christian. How? God has asked us to come to him, to be saved by his Son, and many people turn away from Him due to unbelief or other reasons. But God offers EVERYONE a Second Chance, even in our foolishness - God offers redemption for the lost. That is the "moral of the story," so to speak. Even if you are already Christian, we all could use forgiveness, redemption, every now and again.

From what we can tell, Jonah finally learned from his mistakes. As people, we can learn from our mistakes and use that experience to improve our lives, or we can choose to ignore what we learned and continue on. Which do you chose? Jonah was a hero of faith in the sense that he was redeemed, just as we can be redeemed in Chirst. The account of Jonah and the fish has been popularized by the media in recent years, despite its length.

Do you need redemption? Do you need forgiveness? Jesus offers that. Freely. All he asks us to do is that if we believe that he died and rose again, and if we repent of our sins and ask God for forgiveness, we will be saved. What if you do not think you are in need of forgiveness? If that is the case, take a look at a recent entry titled "The Ten Commandments - Have We Followed Them All?" Thank you for taking the time to read this entry, and as always, feel free to contact me at vexx801@yahoo.com Take care, and God Bless! Troy Hillman

Saturday, September 11

Finding Hope in Christ - 9/11

For those readers who are not American, this entry may not mean the same thing to you, but we can all take something away from it: we can find hope in Christ. I know the statistics, that those who read this are all over the world, and I have no way of knowing what each person thinks about this event, but I feel that I should share this. Nine Years ago to the day, on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City, and the attacks lasted from 8:46-10:28 am. Around 2,977 people, along with 19 hijackers were killed, and more than 6,000 were injured.

People from all over the world, families - cousins, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, the like, have been affected by this event. Today, I thought it important share one man's story about finding Hope in Christ. The man in this video is Christian (of the Mormon branch). Take a look.

On a personal note, 9/11 affected me at a young age. I was in elementary school when it happened. My teacher had put in a science video for us to watch, and we were about to watch it - when we turned on the TV, and it happened to be on a news channel. What we saw... the teacher was in shock and unable to play the video. The teachers were out in the hall, scrambling from room to room, trying to keep the students calm. For a child of my age to be sitting in a room and school and watching someone jump out of a 100+ story building that is in flames changes a child's view on life.

Have I found hope in Jesus Christ? Long ago, and my hope, faith, and trust continues to grow with each passing day. I hope you have found the same peace in life.

Troy Hillman

Thursday, September 9

What is the "Holy Temple?"

Have you ever heard of King Solomon, hailed as the "wisest man" to ever live? How about King Herod, and what he did to and for the Temple? Or perhaps the Babylonian invasion in 586 BC? Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. If you are a regular reader, you may have read a recent entry about the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was, in essence, God's throne on Earth. In that entry, Solomon's Temple was briefly mentioned. If you have ever seen movies about the birth of Christ, you may have seen what they refer to as Herod's Temple. Why so many Temples? Well, that is exactly what I plan to discuss. (Picture credit to Israel Museum)

After Moses had passed, Joshua led the Israelites to Canaan. They had taken the Ark of the Covenant with them. Several centuries passed, and the second king of Israel, King David, came to power after the death of King Saul. God had given the building plans for a temple to King David - but told him that he would not be the one to build it, even though he had purchased a threshing-floor for the site. Before King David died, he passed along the blueprints to his son and successor, King Solomon. Solomon went to work on the Temple - he brought in many people to help build it and get everything aligned with what God had given them, design-wise. So the Israelites worked for seven years, (1st Kings 6:38) and completed work on Solomon's Temple. The Ark of the Covenant, the lamp stands, and the other objects used by the Israelites were put into the Temple, which was a larger "replacement" of sorts for the Tabernacle. It was completed around 832 BC.
(Click to Enlarge)

The precise located of the original Solomon's Temple is as of yet still unknown - it is believed to have been on the Temple Mount, where the Golden Dome, a Muslim structure, currently is. However, we are told that the Temple was built on Mount Moriah, which is traditionally believed to be the same location where, centuries before, Abraham was told to sacrifice his son Isaac - but God spared him, providing for both Isaac and Abraham. Solomon's Temple was destroyed in 586 BC, when the Babylonians lay siege to Jerusalem, destroying most of the city along with it. After the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, many people began rebuilding the Temple - which became the Second Temple. Ezra and Nehemiah were both prominent figures, as they helped build the walls of Jerusalem and direct people in the ways of the Lord.

To avoid confusion, I will mention here that there were two Herods. Herod the Great ruled from 37-4 BC, and is the Herod who attempted to kill the baby Jesus. Herod Antipas ruled part of Palestine from 4-39 BC, which was during Jesus ministry. That said, Herod the Great was the one to enhance the Second Temple, essentially creating a "Third Temple," or, "Herod's Temple," though it was not a rebuilding, but enhancement. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and it was at this time when the Jews were banned from Jerusalem. The State of Israel returned on May 14, 1948. To this day, the Temple has not yet been rebuilt. So why do we hear all this talk of a Fourth Temple? For two reasons: 1) Because several attempts have been made to destroy the Muslim Structures at Temple Mount, to be replaced by the Temple, (1982, 1984, 1990, 1996) and 2) Because it is mentioned several times in relation to the eschaton. Ezekiel 40-47 gives plans for a Temple that are, as of yet, unused. Why? It is because this Temple has not yet been built. This is one of the reasons the Holy Land continues to be fought over, and many fundamentalists hold that the building of a third temple would usher in the end of days.

Nevertheless, we can bear in mind that God dwells everywhere, as Christ echoed in his discourse with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Our bodies are the "temples" of God, and the world around us is infused with God's sacramental grace. As such, we need to continue to care for and live in harmony with God's "cosmic temple."

Troy Hillman

Thursday, September 2

Book Overview: 1st Samuel

The Book of 1st Samuel. Calling it "The Book of 1st Samuel" sounds odd, since it has "1st" in the title. I contemplated for some time whether or not I should put all of the books that are separated into parts (1st/2nd Samuel, 1st/2nd Kings... 1st/2nd/3rd John, etc) into one overview, or separate. However, each Book was separated for a reason, and they will stay that way - so whether the title sounds odd or not, this is the way in which we will proceed. (Photo credit to: Bible Hero Posters)

1st Samuel tells of the final Judge, Samuel, who was also a prophet. It tells of the first two Kings - Saul and David, how they came to be anointed as Kings, and the events surrounding their lives. The infamous stories of David and Goliath, God's Call of Samuel, Samuel's Spirit and Saul, as well as many others are found in this book.

This is the ninth Book Overview in a series of 66 Books. These overviews, as previously stated, do not interfere with the regular lessons, but these are written so that it may provide readers with details about the book, things that they may have missed, and will hopefully peak your interest so that you will read the book, the entire Bible, in fact, as God wants us to do. Now, onto the Book of 1st Samuel.

Title: Books of Samuel [1st Samuel] (English), Sefer Sh'muel ספר שמואל (Hebrew) The two books of Samuel were originally written in Hebrew, as one collective work. However, the books were split into two separate works, since by different authors.

Authorship: Traditionally, the authors of these two Books of Samuel are said to be Samuel, Gad, and Nathan. Samuel is believed to have written the first 24 chapters of 1st Samuel. Whereas Gad, who was the companion of David (1 Samuel 22:5), is believed to have continued the history from that point, and Nathan is believed to have completed the Books of Samuel, and was probably the one who arranged the two books in the form that we now have. (1 Chronicles 29:29).

Written: Sometime between 1043 BC - when Saul was crowned King, and just before 1004 BC - when David captured Jerusalem. So, between 1043-1004 BC.

Summary: "1st Samuel records the last days of the judges of Israel, the first days of the period of kings for Israel, and how Israel rejected God's leadership in favor of human leadership. 1st Samuel shows the stubbornness and evilness of the human heart, and how we should rely on God for true leadership."

Overview: 1st Samuel 1-7 gives the account of Samuel, who is the last of the Judges, and how he prepares and makes way for the coming of the kings.
1st Samuel 8-31 goes on to tell of King Saul, the first King of Israel, and of David, the boy who later becomes King.

The story of the events surrounding the birth of the prophet Samuel and his mother Hannah can be found in 1st Samuel 1-3. 1st Samuel 16-17 tell of David, how he was chosen by God, and how he killed the Giant, Goliath.

1st Samuel 31 ends the book with the death of King Saul, which was prophesied to occur by Samuel the day before, by his the spirit of Samuel.

Points: The Ark of the Covenant makes a return appearance in 1st Samuel 4. The Philistines steal the ark, which never returns to Shiloh. The Ark plagues the Philistines (1st Samuel 5) who proceed to hand it back over to Israel, after holding it for seven months.

A point about the calling up of Samuel. He was called up "out of the earth." In ancient Hebrew cosmology, similar in many ways to Sumerian, Greco-Roman and Egyptian understandings of the afterlife, upon death one would descend into the underworld. This is merely one example of this ancient understanding of the afterlife, seen all throughout Scripture. It was along these lines (the fact that individuals such as Abraham or Samuel were in the underworld) that the later Apostle's Creed said of Jesus, "He descended into Hell" to bring them up.

Saul chased David all over, for he was jealous of David. After he had killed Goliath, he became a leader, as well as a Psalmist who played for King Saul. The people would sing, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands," which greatly angered Saul. He made several attempts to kill David, all unsuccessful, as David would succeed Saul as King.

Saul often went into battle without consulting the Lord. He often did whatever he wanted without consulting the Lord. Since he was unfaithful, and rebuked God, when it came time for Saul to ask for God's Advice, God was silent. So Saul had gone to see the medium, so that Samuel could help him. Samuel was brought up - but not by the witch of Endor.

With careful study of the text of 1st Samuel 28, we can deduce that the reason the medium was shocked to see Samuel and realized that she was with Saul, who had disguised himself, was because God intervened, allowing Saul to speak with the real Samuel. Samuel then told Saul that he would die the next day. "The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me." (1st Samuel 28:19)

Samuel's terrifying prophecy was fulfilled the following day. Saul had asked his armor-bearer to kill him, "But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it." His sons died directly after. After this, the Philistines publicly displayed Saul's body in their temple... But David, taking up mantle, defeated the Amalekites.

On the west of Jordan, near Jericho, there once stood Gilgal. The only thing that marks the location today is a mass of stones by a large, immense tree. It was first the camping site of the Israelites in Canaan, as well as Joshua's Headquarters, and had become an important city by the time of Samuel. It was on the eastern limit of the circuit when he was a Judge of Israel. After Saul had been chosen and proclaimed as King at Mizpeh, Samuel said, "Come and let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there." (1st Samuel 11:14-15) The people who were there re-assembled at Gilgal, and rejoiced.

In the time of David, the "hollow of a sling" was a military weapon as well as a Shepherd's defense against beasts such as wolves, as well as used for recalling sheep that strayed by dropping the stones in front of them. The pad  which holds the projectile being netted or woven into a concave shape was called "the hollow." (1st Samuel 17:40) Goliath was defeated with one stone - only with God did David accomplish this task.

Even while David was being chased by Saul, he had many opportunities to kill him. David spared his life on each occasion, but proved that he could have killed him - in 1st Samuel 24, David cut off the corner of a sleeping Saul's robe, and then came out of the cave and called to Saul, telling him and showing him that he spared him, and that he meant him no harm. David again spares Saul's life in 1st Samuel 26. Here, Saul was asleep, and had the spear in the ground next to him. David could have taken the chance there and then, but chose to take the spear, and then called out, showing Saul that he had the spear, and could have killed him, but did not.

Jonathan, who was the son of Saul, developed a brother-like kinship with David. They were best friends, and confided in each other often. On one occasion, when David believed Saul wanted to kill him, as "an evil spirit... came on Saul... [and] tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall." David asked Jonathan if he would go to his father at the New Moon feast the following Day and tell him, "David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan." David said to Jonathan that if Saul responded warmly, then he was safe, but if he responded in anger, then he was in danger. The following day, Saul's temper flared up, and he told Jonathan that he intended to kill David. (1st Samuel 19:9-20:33) The legendary friendship of David and Jonathan lasted until Jonathan's death, the same day as his faith Saul.

1st Samuel marks the first book where a King of Israel from the Davidic line where Jesus descended from first appears. David comes onto the scene in 1st Samuel 16. God tells Samuel that he has turned his face from Saul, and that he has chosen one of the sons of Jesse in Bethlehem. Samuel believed the new king to be several different sons of Jesse.

First Eliab, Abinadab, then Shammah. Then Jesse had seven other sons pass by Samuel. Each time, the Lord had not chosen that one. Finally, Samuel inquired if there was another. "There is still the youngest. He is tending the sheep." When Samuel saw David, God said, "Rise and anoint him; this is the one." Thus, the royal line of King David began.

I hope that you have enjoyed this Book Overview, and have gained some insight into this book of the Bible - enough to make you want to read the rest for yourself. We can learn much from this book - from the faithfulness of Samuel's mother, Hannah, to answering our call from God (Samuel), to gaining insight into the Royal Line of Jesus' Ancestors (Jesse, David), along with a myriad of other things.

1st Samuel is packed full of battles, adventure, history, and a great narrative that keeps you reading. For the entire text, I would recommend either a NIV or KJV Bible. What happens once David is crowned King? The answer lies in the next Book Overview for 2nd Samuel.

Next Book Overview: Book of 2nd Samuel
Previous Book Overview: Book of Ruth