Category Archives: Bible Commentary

Bible Commentary: Who Was the Queen of Sheba?

 

The Queen of Sheba, according to the biblical narrative, was a woman of great wealth, beauty and power. Sheba, believed to be either in Ethiopia or Yemen by most biblical scholars, was a well-established city, and although there is little evidence outside the Bible as to the nature of the monarchy and how it was established, it is clear that the Queen of Sheba ruled alone and was not enamored with the religions in her own land.

The Queen of Sheba traveled to Jerusalem as she had “heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the LORD, [and] came to test Solomon with hard questions” (1 Kings 10:1). As God had granted Solomon the gift of wisdom (1 Kings 3:5–12), “nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her” (1 Kings 10:3). After a meal together, the Queen of Sheba declares how impressed she is with Solomon’s answers, hospitality, and the reputation that preceded him. The story ends with an exchange of resources and Queen Sheba returning “with her retinue to her own country” (1 Kings 10:13).

Sources outside the Bible suggest that the Queen of Sheba conceived a child in secret with King Solomon, while some Bible commentators have suggested that the nameless woman in the Song of Solomon is the Queen of Sheba (with the man being King Solomon). Both are speculative and while interesting, cannot be declared factual. Whether she has any relation to the “Sheba” mentioned in Genesis 10:7 and 28, or if she was the ancestor of “Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (Acts 8:27), is again, open to speculation.

The Queen of Sheba is mentioned again in the New Testament, by an alternative title, the Queen of the South (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31). Jesus refers to her, reaffirming her historical personage, as a means to illustrate the point that, despite being originally pagan in belief and Gentile in race, the Queen of Sheba recognized the truth and reality of God, unlike the religious leaders who opposed Jesus. As such, they would be condemned for their ignorant and defiant nature.

Two lessons can be learned from the story of the Queen of Sheba. First, like King Solomon, believers are to show evidence of God’s favour in their lives, whatever their role, profession or environment. Second, the reputation of believers should precede them by their godly words and actions, for we are “Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Bible Commentary: What Should We Learn from the Account of Daniel in the Lion’s Den?

 

The story of Daniel in the lions’ den, recorded in Daniel 6, is one of the most beloved in all Scripture. Briefly, the story involves Daniel, a prophet of the true and living God, who defies King Darius’s decree that the people should pray only to the king for 30 days. Daniel, an otherwise law-abiding man, continues to pray to Jehovah as he has always done. Evil men, who instigated the decree in the first place in order to entrap Daniel, of whom they were jealous because of his good reputation, report him to Darius, who is forced to put Daniel into a den of lions where he would be torn to pieces. Darius, who is greatly distressed about having to punish him, says to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you” (Daniel 6:16). God does indeed rescue Daniel, sending His angel to shut the mouths of the lions so they do not harm him. Daniel is removed from the lions’ den the next day, much to the relief of the king.

One of the chief lessons we learn from this narrative is gleaned from the confession of King Darius himself: “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (Daniel 6:26). For only by faith in such a God could any man have “shut the mouths of lions” (Hebrews 11:33). As with Daniel, the faithful Christian must understand that God is sovereign and omnipotent and His will permeates and supersedes every aspect of life. It is God’s will that takes precedence over everything and everyone. The psalmist tells us, “As for God, His way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30). If God’s ways are “perfect,” then we can trust that whatever He does—and whatever He allows—is also perfect. This may not seem possible to us, but our minds are not God’s mind. It is true that we can’t expect to understand His mind perfectly, as He reminds us in Isaiah 55:8–9. Nevertheless, our responsibility to God is to obey Him, to trust Him, and to submit to His will and believe that whatever He ordains will be for our benefit and His glory (Romans 8:28). In Daniel’s case, “no wound was found on him, because he had trusted his God” (Daniel 6:23). Joseph, too, understood that sometimes evil men plan things for evil, but God means them for good (Genesis 50:20).

There is more to learn from this remarkable story that makes it relevant to our postmodern culture. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:13–20 to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him” (1 Peter 2:13–14). Daniel not only followed this principle, he exceeded it by distinguishing himself as one with “exceptional qualities” (Daniel 6:2–3). Taking this lesson further, we read that submission to our political authorities “is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk as foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). Daniel’s faithfulness, his outstanding work ethic, and integrity made it next to impossible for his adversaries to find “grounds for charges against him” (Daniel 6:4). Instead, they found that “he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” The world now, as it did then, judges us not by our faith but by our conduct (James 2:18). How many today could stand such a scrutiny as did Daniel on this occasion?

The story ends badly for Daniel’s accusers, just as it will for those who accuse and persecute Christians today. King Darius, on the other hand, recognized the power of the God of Daniel, turned to Him in faith, and commanded the people of his kingdom to worship Him (Daniel 6:25–27). Through the witness of Daniel, his faith, and the faithfulness and power of God, an entire nation came to know and reverence the Lord. “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.”[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Bible Commentary: What Are the Major Prophets and Minor Prophets?

 

The terms “Major Prophets” and “Minor Prophets” are simply a way to divide the Old Testament prophetic books. The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The Minor Prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The Major Prophets are described as “major” because their books are longer and the content is considered more important. The Minor Prophets are described as “minor” because their books are shorter (although Hosea and Zechariah are almost as long as Daniel) and the content is considered less important. That does not mean the Minor Prophets are any less inspired than the Major Prophets. It is simply a matter of God choosing to reveal more to the Major Prophets than He did to the Minor Prophets.

Both the Major and Minor Prophets are usually among the least popular books of the Bible for Christians to read. This is understandable with the often unusual prophetic language and the seemingly constant warnings and condemnations recorded in the prophecies. Still, there is much valuable content to be studied in the Major and Minor Prophets. We read of Christ’s birth in Isaiah and Micah. We learn of Christ’s atoning sacrifice in Isaiah. We read of Christ’s return in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. We learn of God’s holiness, wrath, grace, and mercy in all of the Major and Minor Prophets. For that, they are most worthy of our attention and study.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Bible Commentary: What Is the Baptism of/by/with Fire?

 

John the Baptist came preaching repentance and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea, and he was sent as a herald to announce the arrival of Jesus, the Son of God (Matthew 3:1–12). He announced, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

After Jesus had risen from the dead, He instructed His apostles to “… wait for the Promise of the Father which you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4–5). This promise was first fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4), and the baptism of the Spirit joins every believer to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). But what about the baptism with fire?

Some interpret the baptism of fire as referring to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven. “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:2–3). It is important to note that these were tongues as of fire, not literal fire.

Some believe that the baptism with fire refers to the Holy Spirit’s office as the energizer of the believer’s service, and the purifier of evil within, because of the exhortation “Do not quench the Spirit” found in 1 Thessalonians 5:19. The command to the believer is to not put out the Spirit’s fire by suppressing His ministry.

A third and more likely interpretation is that the baptism of fire refers to judgment. In all four Gospel passages mentioned above, Mark and John speak of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but only Matthew and Luke mention the baptism with fire. The immediate context of Matthew and Luke is judgment (Matthew 3:7–12; Luke 3:7–17). The context of Mark and John is not (Mark 1:1–8; John 1:29–34). We know that the Lord Jesus is coming in flaming fire to judge those who do not know God (2 Thessalonians 1:3–10; John 5:21–23; Revelation 20:11–15), but praise be to God that He will save all that will come and put their trust in Him (John 3:16)![1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Bible Commentary: What Does It Mean that Jesus Is the Author and Perfecter of Our Faith (Hebrews 12:2)?

 

Jesus is described as the author and perfecter, or finisher, of our faith in Hebrews 12:2. An author is an originator or creator, as of a theory or plan. The Greek word translated “author” in Hebrews 12:2 can also mean “captain,” “chief leader” or “prince.” Acts 3:15 uses the same word: “And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses” (KJV), while the NIV and ESV use the word “author” instead of “prince.” From this we can deduce that Christ is the originator of our faith in that He begins it, as well as the captain and prince or our faith. This indicates that Jesus controls our faith, steers it as a captain steers a ship, and presides over it and cares for it as a monarch presides over and cares for his people.

The Greek word translated “perfecter” in Hebrews 12:2 appears only this one time in the New Testament. It means literally “completer” or “finisher” and speaks of bringing something to its conclusion. Putting the two words together, we see that Jesus, as God, both creates and sustains our faith. We know that saving faith is a gift from God, not something we come up with on our own (Ephesians 2:8–9), and that gift comes from Christ, its creator. He is also the sustainer of our faith, meaning that true saving faith cannot be lost, taken away or given away. This is a source of great comfort to believers, especially in times of doubt and spiritual struggles. Christ has created our faith and He will watch over it, care for it, and sustain it.

It is important for us to understand that God in Christ is not only the creator and sustainer of our saving faith, but He is also the sustainer of our daily walk and the finisher of our spiritual journey. For if God in Christ is not the author of our new life, and if Christ is not the finisher and perfecter of our faith through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling power, then we are neither born again nor are we a true follower of Christ. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Philippians 1:6; Ephesians 1:13–14).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Bible Commentary: Was Matthias or Paul God’s Choice to Replace Judas as the 12th Apostle?

 

With Judas having betrayed Christ and then committing suicide, the 11 remaining disciples decided to replace Judas with a new 12th apostle (Acts 1:16–20). The requirements were that the man had to have been with them the entire time of Jesus’ ministry, and to have been a witness of the resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:21–22). The 11 disciples proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (possibly the same person as Barnabas), and Matthias (Acts 1:23). The 11 disciples then prayed for the Lord’s direction (Acts 1:24–25), and then cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias (Acts 1:26).

But, was this the Lord’s choice? Some propose that Paul, not Matthias, was God’s choice for the 12th apostle. They argue that Jesus had told the apostles to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) and that casting lots is not how the disciples should have made the decision. They also point out that Matthias is never again mentioned in the New Testament, while Paul obviously became very prominent in the early Christian church. So, are they correct that Paul, not Matthias, was God’s choice to be Judas’ replacement as the 12th apostle?

The New Testament nowhere condones or condemns the way the apostles made the decision in Acts 1. Casting lots was a biblically allowed method of making a decision (Proverbs 16:33). And, while Matthias is never again mentioned in the New Testament, the same can be said for most of the other 11 apostles. Church history records that Matthias died as a martyr for Christ, as did all of the other apostles, except John. Yes, Paul was definitely more prominent than Matthias, but Paul was more prominent than any of the 12 apostles, except for perhaps Peter and John. Also, Paul would not have been qualified based on the apostles’ criteria (Acts 1:21–22). So, a conclusive biblical case cannot be made for the 11 apostles’ choice of Matthias being invalid.

Further, God is sovereign. If it was not His sovereign will for Matthias to be chosen, Matthias would not have been chosen. It could be argued that while it was God’s sovereign will (what He ordained) for Matthias to be chosen, it was God’s perfect will (what He desired) for the apostles to wait for Paul. But, this would be pure speculation, as again, the Bible nowhere condemns Matthias being chosen for the 12th apostle.

So, what name will be written on the 12th foundation in the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:14)? The Bible does not explicitly say, but it likely will be Matthias. Ultimately, though, we will have to wait to find out.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Bible Commentary: Who Were the Sons of Korah in the Old Testament?

 

The story of the sons of Korah in the Old Testament is truly a tale of two fathers and two destinies. The story begins with the Israelites of Moses’ time as they journeyed through the wilderness just after leaving Egypt. In Numbers Chapter 3, God set aside the Levites, out of the tribes of Israel, for full time service to Him. They were ordained to take care of the tabernacle and all of its implements, as well as the Ark of the Covenant. Only the descendants of Moses and Aaron, however, were allowed to serve as priests.

The three sons of Levi were Gershon, Merari and Kohath. The Gershonites were responsible for the care of the tabernacle and tent, its coverings, the curtain at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the curtains of the courtyard, the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, and the ropes—and everything related to their use. The Merarites were appointed to take care of the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts, bases, all its equipment, and everything related to their use, as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs and ropes. The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. They were responsible for the care of the ark, the table, the lamp stand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use. They were under the direct supervision of Eleazar, son of Aaron.

Unlike the Gershonites and the Merarites, who were allowed to transport the items under their care on carts, the Kohathites had to carry their items, the holy things of the Tabernacle, on their shoulders. They had the hot, arduous burden of transporting these items from place to place as the camp moved, but they were not allowed to actually touch the items or they would die. The priests had to wrap the sacred objects in special coverings before they were transported (Numbers 4:15). Many of the Kohathites began to disdain this task and to covet the role of the priests.

Korah was the grandson of Kohath, and he began to run with another group of Reubenite malcontents, namely, Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth. In pride, they roused a group of 250 men together to challenge the rights of Moses and Aaron to the priesthood (Numbers 16). Moses summoned the rebellious men to stand before God and burn incense. God warned Moses to let the assembly know to get away from Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, their households and the other rebels. Then a remarkable and terrifying event happened.

“Then Moses said, ‘This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.’ As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, ‘The earth is going to swallow us too!’ And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense” (Numbers 16:28–35).

Although this clearly marked the end of Korah, we discover that Korah’s sons, perhaps too young to understand their father’s uprising or maybe too cognizant of God’s authority to join in the revolt, were spared (Numbers 26:9–11). God judged those who turned against Him in active rebellion and purified His people, but He still had a purpose and plan for even the line of Korah. After seven successive generations, the prophet Samuel arose from the line of Korah, the genealogy of which is recorded in 1 Chronicles 6:31–38, 1 Chronicles 6:38, and 1 Samuel 1:1, 20. The Korahites became doorkeepers and custodians for the tabernacle (1 Chronicles 9:19–21, 1 Chronicles 2.) One group of Korahites (1 Chronicles 12:6) joined King David in various military exploits and won the reputation of being expert warriors. However, the most remarkable thing to note about the sons of Korah is that during the time of King David, they became the great leaders in choral and orchestral music in the Tabernacle and the Temple. Heman the Korahite had a place of great importance as a singer, along with Asaph (Gershonite) and Ethan or Jeduthan (Merarite). These individuals played an important role in the thanksgiving services and pageantry when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem. David formed an elaborate organization for song, instrumental music, and prophesying through these men.

Of all of the Psalms, about 25 are attributed to the sons of Korah. These beautiful Psalms express a spirit of great gratitude and humility to an awesome, mighty God. They express a longing for God and deep devotion. These poetic songs include Psalms 42–49, 50, 62, and 72–85. Psalms 42:1 contains the beautiful line, “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” Psalm 84:1 states, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O God.” Psalm 46:1–3 conveys the powerful message, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

One wonders if the poet who penned these lyrics was remembering his ignoble beginnings, his distant ancestor who perished in an earthquake for his pride and rebellion. Perhaps it was that reflection that prompted the following words of the Psalms: “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth’ ” (Psalm 46:10). For each of us, our own songs of renewed purpose and redemption should flow out of a heart of humility as we remember the fallen state from which He raised us and the redemption that we experience through His grace. This was certainly the case for the sons of Korah.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.