Category Archives: Miscellaneous Bible Questions

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is Hyssop? What Was Hyssop Used for in the Bible?

 

Since people in the biblical era did not have access to the products we do today, they often relied on naturally occurring resources such as plants, animal byproducts, and minerals for cleaning, cooking, food, medicine, and more. Hyssop, an herb in the mint family with cleansing, medicinal, and flavoring properties, was prolific in the Middle East and was used in a variety of ways.

The Bible mentions hyssop several times, mostly in the Old Testament. In Leviticus, God commanded His people to use hyssop in the ceremonial cleansing of people and houses. In one example, God tells the priests to use hyssop together with cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and the blood of a clean bird to sprinkle a person recently healed from a skin disease (likely leprosy). This act would ceremonially cleanse the formerly diseased person and allow him to reenter the camp (Leviticus 14:1–7). The same method was used to purify a house that had previously contained mold (Leviticus 14:33–53).

Hyssop is also used symbolically in the Bible. When the Israelites marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood in order for the angel of death to pass over them, God instructed them to use a bunch of hyssop as a “paintbrush” (Exodus 12:22). This was probably because hyssop was sturdy and could withstand the brushing, but it also likely signified that God was marking His people as “pure” and not targets of the judgment God was about to deal out to the Egyptians.

David also mentions hyssop in Psalm 51:7: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” David does not refer to physical cleansing—rather, he is asking God to cleanse him spiritually as he confesses his sin.

Hyssop also appears at Jesus’ crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers offered Jesus a drink of wine vinegar on a sponge at the end of a stalk of hyssop (John 19:28–30). This was, in fact, Jesus’ last act before He declared His work on earth finished and gave up His spirit. While the hyssop stalk may have been used for purely practical purposes (i.e., it was long enough to reach to Jesus’ mouth as He hung on the cross), it is interesting that that particular plant was chosen. It is possible that God meant this as a picture of purification, as Jesus bought our forgiveness with His sacrifice. Just as in the Old Testament blood and hyssop purified a defiled person, so Jesus’ shed blood purifies us from the defilement of our sin.[1]

 

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

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Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Is ‘Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Workshop’ a Biblical Statement?

 

Though the statement is not found verbatim in the Bible, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” has its roots in Scripture. The apostle Paul notes that those who waste their time in idleness or in a non-productive manner are easily led into sin: “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). By not using their time productively, these people were tempted to meddle in other people’s business and stand in the way of their progress. “They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Timothy 5:13). These idlers and busybodies were wasting time that could have been used to help others. In essence, their lack of activity was leading them into sin.

Idleness is not the same as rest. The Bible advises people to rest, and taking breaks from work is good. By “idle” we mean “lazy” or “doing nothing when you should be doing something.” Idleness often stems from not having a specific goal or purpose in mind. With no goal, one can be easily distracted. The book of Proverbs warns us that sloppy or careless work is akin to malicious destruction: “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys” (Proverbs 18:9).

We live in a sinful world, and a person who doesn’t have something particular to do will invariably be tempted to do something sinful. If we have nothing to do, the devil is all too eager to find things to occupy our time.

Paul and his fellow missionaries set an example of diligence for the church. “You yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you.… On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8). Idleness was not a part of Paul’s lifestyle, and we can’t afford to countenance it in our lives, either.

Yes, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” The Lord knew that He needed to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), and so should we. Jesus told us to pray for “workers” to be sent into the harvest field, not idlers (Luke 10:2). There is work to be done for the Kingdom, and we must not be distracted by the things of the world.[1]

 

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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Are the Biblical Qualifications for Apostleship?

 

An apostle (“one sent on a mission”) is one whom God has sent on an errand or with a message. An apostle is accountable to his Sender and carries the authority of his Sender.

Jesus Christ Himself wears Apostle as one of His descriptive titles (Hebrews 3:1). He was sent to earth by the Heavenly Father with God’s authoritative message, which He faithfully delivered (John 17:1–5).

While Jesus was here on earth, He personally selected from His many followers twelve men and gave them special responsibility to receive and spread His message after He returned to heaven (John 17:6–20; Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:14–15; Mark 6:40). These chosen and sent ones were His apostles. During the time Jesus was training them, He did not explain the criteria that He used to choose them. It would be interesting to study the common traits of those twelve men and what might have been Jesus’ qualifications.

One of the twelve was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to His enemies. In agony of conscience, Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). Thus, when Jesus returned to heaven, He left behind only eleven apostles.

Some days later, the remaining apostles were praying with Jesus’ mother, His brothers, and other believers. The group totaled about 120 (Acts 1:12–26). Simon Peter addressed the group and told them that Psalm 69:25 predicted Judas’ desertion and Psalm 109:8 predicted that the defector’s place among the apostles should be filled.

Peter proposed choosing a new apostle and set the qualifications. Anyone under consideration needed to have been with Jesus during the whole three years that Jesus was among them. That is, he needed to be an eye-witness of Jesus’ baptism when the Heavenly Father validated Jesus’ person and work. He needed to have heard Jesus’ life-changing teachings and been present to see His healings and other miracles. He needed to have witnessed Jesus sacrifice Himself on the cross and to have seen Jesus walk, talk, and eat among the disciples again after His resurrection. These were the pivotal facts of Jesus’ life, the heart of the message they were to teach, and personal witnesses were required to verify the truth of the good news.

The prayer group nominated two who met these qualifications, Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. Then the disciples asked God to guide them to know which one was to fill the post. Using a method of determining God’s will that was common at that time, they cast lots, thus giving God freedom to make His choice clear. The lot fell to Matthias, and he became the twelfth apostle.

On repeated occasions, these men gave witness of their personal observations of Jesus, using such words as, “We are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen” (Acts 10:39–40).

Months later, Saul, one of the Pharisees, was trying to stamp out the new “cult” of Christianity by killing and jailing some of Jesus’ followers. While Saul was on one of his deadly errands to Damascus, the living Jesus personally appeared to him. This undeniable encounter with the resurrected Lord revolutionized Saul’s life. In a vision to another believer in Damascus, Jesus said that He had chosen Saul “as My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15; cf. 22:14–15). Following his conversion, Paul spent some time in Arabia, where he was taught by Christ (Galatians 1:12–17). The other apostles recognized that Jesus Himself had appointed their former enemy to be one of them. As Saul went into Gentile territories, he changed his name to the Greek “Paul,” and Jesus sent many messages through him to His churches and to unbelievers. It was this apostle, Paul, who wrote over half of the books of the New Testament.

In two of his Epistles, Paul identifies the office of apostle as the first that Jesus appointed to serve His churches (1 Corinthians 12:27–30; Ephesians 4:11). Clearly, the work of the apostle was to lay the foundation of the Church in a sense secondary only to that of Christ Himself (Ephesians 2:19–20), thus requiring eye-witness authority behind their preaching. After the apostles laid the foundation, the Church could be built.

While Paul never claimed to be included among the original twelve, he, the others, and all believers have recognized that Jesus appointed him as His special apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 26:16–18). There are others in the early church referred to as “apostles” (Acts 14:4, 14; Romans 16:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:6), but only in the sense that they were appointed, authorized, and sent by churches on special errands. These individuals bore the title in a limited sense and did not possess all the qualifications of apostleship that the original twelve and Paul did.

No biblical evidence exists to indicate that these thirteen apostles were replaced when they died. See Acts 12:1–2, for example. Jesus appointed the apostles to do the founding work of the Church, and foundations only need to be laid once. After the apostles’ deaths, other offices, not requiring an eye-witness relationship with Jesus, would carry on the work.[1]

 

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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Was It Unfair for God to Allow Job to Suffer over What Was Basically an Argument between God and Satan?

 

A surface reading of the book of Job usually evokes a reaction such as “Why is God making a ‘bet’ with the devil? God is being unfair to Job!” If we are honest and not just trying to defend God, He seems at first like some kind of cosmic ogre. God not only wagered Satan over the outcome of Job’s trials, but He actually provoked the bet (Job 1–2). To make matters worse, Job never finds out why he was afflicted in the first place. This is very disturbing for those who hope to see God as just, gracious and loving and not just “playing” with us as if we were pawns on a chessboard. So, in a way, the story of Job puts God on trial. To really understand what is going on in Job, we need to evaluate how this “trial” is litigated in the book’s argument.

On the surface, when God finally “testifies” in Job 38–42, the way He “grills” Job may seem to suggest that God is “against” Job rather than “for” him. The God-speeches are notable for their deep sarcasm, as if God were simply highlighting Job’s cluelessness (Job 38–39). However, a deeper look reveals a more redemptive dynamic in this trial: first, Job’s friend Elihu actually serves under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, both as Job’s advocate before God and God’s advocate before Job (Job 32–37); second, we find that God indeed did express His love to Job, both in His speeches (Job 38–41) and in finally vindicating Job. God confirms that Job had spoken “what was right” about Him, whereas his first three friends had not (42:7).

As Job and his friends debate God’s fairness, it becomes apparent that all of them basically believe in the doctrine of “retribution theology”—every act receives just punishment or reward in this present life, so we should be able to tell who is righteous or wicked by whether they are visibly blessed or cursed on earth. This is a false doctrine, but Job thought it should be true and went on the offensive, charging God with injustice and calling for a trial (Job 29–31). Surprisingly, God condescends and agrees to be put on trial. The speeches in Job 38–41 actually consist of God’s testimony in His own defense. In the “trial” we see that Job has no legal standing to convict God. Job cannot demonstrate how God runs the universe, so he cannot present any evidence of injustice (chapters 38–39). Also, God establishes His absolute right to act as He sees fit. As proof, He points to two creatures—behemoth and leviathan—that mankind has no control over whatsoever and that answer only to God.

Even before God shows up, Elihu makes the same points and argues that God is deeply redemptive in His dealings with man in spite of man’s notorious tendency toward self-destruction (32–37). Since God validates Elihu’s points (38–41), the adversarial tone in God’s answer to Job makes even more sense: throughout Job’s dialogue with his friends (4–27) and in his formal complaint to God (29–31), Job had assumed that God was unaware of what happened to him or that He was deliberately persecuting him or that Job had inadvertently sinned and God was not willing to tell him what the problem was. Job thought he was being punished entirely out of proportion to any conceivable offense he may have committed. In fact, Job questions God incessantly throughout the dialogue. His protest climaxes in a direct indictment of God on the charge of injustice (29–31).

So what did Job “get right” (42:7)? The upshot of the trial is that Job finally sees that God’s governance of the universe is much more wonderful than he could have imagined, and he openly concedes this (42:2–5); so this is what Job spoke about God that was “right” (42:7). Now, it is absolutely crucial to note the sequence of events at this point: it is only when Job obeys God and intercedes on behalf of his three friends—who had now become his enemies—that God actually blesses Job with a twofold inheritance (42:8–17). This “reward” was not at all some kind of “consolation prize” for Job’s unfair treatment; rather, it was the inheritance God promises to all who serve faithfully as redemptive agents of the Creator (cf. Daniel 12:3). Job obeyed God and was rewarded for his obedience.

In the end, God’s wager with Satan actually achieved an incredible coup: He harnessed evil and turned it to good (cf. Genesis 50:20), and He transformed Job into the most effective servant of all, one who took on God’s own redemptive character and loved his enemies. And this, in fact, is our take-home lesson from Job.[1]

 

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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Was It Unfair for God to Allow Job to Suffer over What Was Basically an Argument between God and Satan?

 

A surface reading of the book of Job usually evokes a reaction such as “Why is God making a ‘bet’ with the devil? God is being unfair to Job!” If we are honest and not just trying to defend God, He seems at first like some kind of cosmic ogre. God not only wagered Satan over the outcome of Job’s trials, but He actually provoked the bet (Job 1–2). To make matters worse, Job never finds out why he was afflicted in the first place. This is very disturbing for those who hope to see God as just, gracious and loving and not just “playing” with us as if we were pawns on a chessboard. So, in a way, the story of Job puts God on trial. To really understand what is going on in Job, we need to evaluate how this “trial” is litigated in the book’s argument.

On the surface, when God finally “testifies” in Job 38–42, the way He “grills” Job may seem to suggest that God is “against” Job rather than “for” him. The God-speeches are notable for their deep sarcasm, as if God were simply highlighting Job’s cluelessness (Job 38–39). However, a deeper look reveals a more redemptive dynamic in this trial: first, Job’s friend Elihu actually serves under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, both as Job’s advocate before God and God’s advocate before Job (Job 32–37); second, we find that God indeed did express His love to Job, both in His speeches (Job 38–41) and in finally vindicating Job. God confirms that Job had spoken “what was right” about Him, whereas his first three friends had not (42:7).

As Job and his friends debate God’s fairness, it becomes apparent that all of them basically believe in the doctrine of “retribution theology”—every act receives just punishment or reward in this present life, so we should be able to tell who is righteous or wicked by whether they are visibly blessed or cursed on earth. This is a false doctrine, but Job thought it should be true and went on the offensive, charging God with injustice and calling for a trial (Job 29–31). Surprisingly, God condescends and agrees to be put on trial. The speeches in Job 38–41 actually consist of God’s testimony in His own defense. In the “trial” we see that Job has no legal standing to convict God. Job cannot demonstrate how God runs the universe, so he cannot present any evidence of injustice (chapters 38–39). Also, God establishes His absolute right to act as He sees fit. As proof, He points to two creatures—behemoth and leviathan—that mankind has no control over whatsoever and that answer only to God.

Even before God shows up, Elihu makes the same points and argues that God is deeply redemptive in His dealings with man in spite of man’s notorious tendency toward self-destruction (32–37). Since God validates Elihu’s points (38–41), the adversarial tone in God’s answer to Job makes even more sense: throughout Job’s dialogue with his friends (4–27) and in his formal complaint to God (29–31), Job had assumed that God was unaware of what happened to him or that He was deliberately persecuting him or that Job had inadvertently sinned and God was not willing to tell him what the problem was. Job thought he was being punished entirely out of proportion to any conceivable offense he may have committed. In fact, Job questions God incessantly throughout the dialogue. His protest climaxes in a direct indictment of God on the charge of injustice (29–31).

So what did Job “get right” (42:7)? The upshot of the trial is that Job finally sees that God’s governance of the universe is much more wonderful than he could have imagined, and he openly concedes this (42:2–5); so this is what Job spoke about God that was “right” (42:7). Now, it is absolutely crucial to note the sequence of events at this point: it is only when Job obeys God and intercedes on behalf of his three friends—who had now become his enemies—that God actually blesses Job with a twofold inheritance (42:8–17). This “reward” was not at all some kind of “consolation prize” for Job’s unfair treatment; rather, it was the inheritance God promises to all who serve faithfully as redemptive agents of the Creator (cf. Daniel 12:3). Job obeyed God and was rewarded for his obedience.

In the end, God’s wager with Satan actually achieved an incredible coup: He harnessed evil and turned it to good (cf. Genesis 50:20), and He transformed Job into the most effective servant of all, one who took on God’s own redemptive character and loved his enemies. And this, in fact, is our take-home lesson from Job.[1]

 

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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Who Is S. Michael Houdmann?

 

S. Michael Houdmann is the Founder, President, and CEO of Got Questions Ministries, the parent ministry for GotQuestions.org. We rarely receive questions about S. Michael Houdmann, and that is a good thing. He does not want GotQuestions.org to be about him. He does not want people to accept or reject the answers given at GotQuestions.org because of name recognition. Rather, his hope is that people will accept or reject GotQuestions.org answers because they have read them, compared them with the Word of God, and prayed about them—and determined them to be true and biblical.

The following are the questions S. Michael Houdmann is most frequently asked.

What gave you the idea to start GotQuestions.org?

Ultimately, it was God’s idea. I had graduated from Bible College and Seminary and did not feel a clear calling from God into any of the traditional forms of ministry. So, my wife and I began praying, asking to give me a ministry that was a unique fit for me. We can’t remember whether God first gave the idea to me or my wife, but we felt the Lord leading us to create a Christian website where people could come and ask any question they have about the Bible. That was the beginning of GotQuestions.org.

When did you start GotQuestions.org?

God first gave us the idea in December of 2001. We tried a few other options before finally deciding to purchase the GotQuestions.org domain name in February of 2002.

What were things like in the beginning?

I would describe the beginning as “in way over our heads.” In the very beginning, I had no idea GotQuestions.org would ever be anything more than a hobby. I thought it would be something I did in addition to whatever other full-time ministry God called me to. God obviously had much bigger plans in mind for GotQuestions.org than I did.

What do you like best about being the CEO of GotQuestions.org?

I thank God every day that I get to serve Him doing something I absolutely love and enjoy. If I were to write a job description of my dream ministry, it would describe precisely what I am doing, except for perhaps less administrative work. I have always loved technology. I have always been able to express myself better in writing than in speaking. So, a ministry that allows me to write, edit, develop, research, and publish content is a perfect fit for me.

What do you like least about being the CEO of GotQuestions.org?

The Haters. There are some incredibly rude and demeaning people out there who will say nasty and hateful things about us. As much as I know such things are to be expected (Matthew 10:22; John 15:18), it still hurts sometimes. Whenever I am having a particularly tough day, a visit to our testimonials page always lifts my spirits—http://www.gotquestions.org/testimonials.html.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I came to faith in Christ in my late teens. An uncle who was a pastor came and visited our family for a week or so. While he was staying with us, he shared the Gospel with me and patiently answered all of the questions I asked him. While I am not 100% certain I came to faith in Christ at that time, he definitely planted seeds in my life. Several months later, after I had begun attending the youth group of a nearby church, the youth pastor clearly explained the Gospel. That night, I got down on my knees and received Jesus Christ as my Savior, by grace alone, through faith alone. From that moment I knew I had definitely received Jesus Christ as my Savior.

What is your education?

I received a Bachelors of Arts in Biblical Studies from Calvary Bible College and a Masters of Arts in Christian Theology from Calvary Theological Seminary. During college and seminary, I did not feel a clear calling from God into any of the traditional forms of ministry. So, the degree programs I chose were somewhat general. Looking back, they were the perfect programs to prepare me for answering questions at GotQuestions.org. They provided me with a strong foundation in understanding the Bible and Christian theology, and in knowing how to teach it to others.

Is the GotQuestions.org logo, the head-scratch guy, you?

No, it is not, But I get asked this question often enough that, on the next redesign of the site, we might just use the back of my head instead.

How can we pray for you?

What a great question! Thank you! Please pray that I would always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Pray that God would always give me the wisdom and discernment I need. Pray that I would be a good steward of the ministry He has entrusted to me. Pray that I would remain humble and would always give God the glory for what He accomplishes through GotQuestions.org.[1]

 

 

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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is the Definition of a Theocracy?

 

A theocracy is a form of government that is led by God or by a person or persons who claim to rule by divine authority. The word theocracy is a compound word using theos (Greek for “God”) and -cracy (“rule, strength or government”). The nation of Israel was to have been a theocracy, but they rejected God’s rule over them, and God gave them human kings instead (1 Samuel 8:4–9). God selected Saul to be the first king of Israel, and he was replaced by David. David ruled by divine authority and, in spite of his failure and sin, was accepted by God. David was promised that God would set up his “Seed” after him and that David’s house would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:12–16). The Seed (or Son) of David refers to the Messiah, who is the LORD Jesus Christ (Mark 10:47).

We have seen the rise and fall of several so-called theocracies throughout history. One example is the Holy Roman Empire, which comprised German-speaking peoples and Northern Italy during the Middle Ages. The Holy Roman Empire began in AD 800 with the papal crowning of Charlemagne as emperor. The rulers of the Holy Roman Empire saw themselves as overseeing a theocracy in that the power of the government was melded to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

There will not be a true theocracy upon the earth until the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ. During the Millennium, the Son of David will rule from Jerusalem in a just and righteous way (Psalm 72:1–11; Isaiah 11; Revelation 20:4–6). At that time, “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).[1]

 

 

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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Who Were the Assyrians in the Bible?

 

The Assyrians were the inhabitants of a country that became a mighty empire dominating the biblical Middle East from the ninth to the seventh century BC. They conquered an area that comprises what is now Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. In the seventh century BC, Assyria occupied and controlled the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The capital of Assyria was Nineveh, one of the greatest cities of ancient times. Excavations in Mesopotamia have confirmed the Bible’s description that it took three days’ journey to go around this city (Jonah 3:3). The Assyrians were a fierce and cruel nation who showed little mercy to those they conquered (2 Kings 19:17).

The Assyrians were a thorn in the side of Israel. Beginning in 733 BC under King Tilgath-pileser, Assyria took the Northern Kingdom’s land and carried the inhabitants into exile (2 Kings 15:29). Later, beginning in 721 BC, the Assyrian king Shalmaneser besieged Israel’s capital, Samaria, and it fell three years later (2 Kings 18:9–12). This event fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that God would use Assyria as the “rod of His anger” (Isaiah 10:5–19); that is, the Assyrian Empire was implementing God’s judgment against the idolatrous Israelites. The sovereign God takes full credit as the source of Assyria’s authority (compare Isaiah 7:18; 8:7; 9:11; and Daniel 4:17). Secular history records that in 703 BC Assyria under King Sennacherib suppressed a major Chaldean challenge.

Given the Assyrian threat against Israel, it is understandable that the prophet Jonah did not want to travel to Nineveh (Jonah 1:1–3). When he eventually arrived in the Assyrian capital, Jonah preached God’s impending judgment. After hearing Jonah’s message, the king of Assyria and the entire city of Nineveh repented, and God turned His anger away for a time (Jonah 3:10). The grace of God was extended even to the Assyrians.

In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, in 701 BC, the Assyrians under Sennacherib took 46 of Judah’s fortified cities (Isaiah 36:1). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem—the Assyrian king engraved upon his stele that he had the king of Judah caught like a caged bird in his own country.

However, even though Sennacherib’s army occupied Judah up to the very doorstep of Jerusalem, and even though Sennacherib’s emissary Rabshakeh boasted against God and Hezekiah (Isaiah 36:4–21), Assyria was rebuffed. Hezekiah prayed, and God promised that the Assyrians would never set foot inside the city (Isaiah 37:33). God slew 185,000 Assyrian forces in one night (Isaiah 37:36), and Sennacherib returned to Nineveh where he was slain by his own sons as he worshiped his god Nisroch (Isaiah 37:38).

In 612 BC, Nineveh was besieged by an alliance of the Medes, Babylonians and Scythians, and the city was so completely destroyed that even its location was forgotten until British archeologist Sir Austen Layard began uncovering it in the nineteenth century. Thus, as the Babylonian Empire ascended, Assyria dropped off the pages of history.[1]

 

 

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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Is the Story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel?

 

The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel comprises one of the larger sections of Genesis and includes much information relevant to the history of the Jewish people. Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, fled to his mother’s brother Laban. At the time, Jacob feared his twin brother, Esau, would kill him (Genesis 27:41–46).

Laban offered Jacob a place to stay. Jacob soon fell in love with Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, and agreed to work for Laban seven years in exchange for marriage to her (Genesis 29:16–20).

Laban agreed, but after seven years, he deceived Jacob and gave Rachel’s older sister, Leah, to him as a wife instead. Jacob protested, but Laban argued that it wasn’t the custom to give the younger daughter in marriage first. Laban then said Jacob could have Rachel in exchange for another seven years of work (Genesis 29:21–30). In an ironic twist, the deceiver Jacob had been deceived and had two wives in exchange for fourteen years of work.

Jacob showed favoritism to Rachael and loved her more than Leah. God compensated for the lack of love Leah received by enabling her to have children and closing Rachel’s womb for a time (Genesis 29:31). There developed an intense rivalry between the two wives. In fact, at one time the wives bartered over the right to sleep with Jacob. Genesis 30:16 says, “When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he lay with her that night.” In the end, Jacob fathered twelve sons and some daughters. Leah bore him six sons; Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, bore him two; Rachel bore him two; and Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, bore him another two (Genesis 35:23–29).

After twenty years with Laban, Jacob, now very wealthy, moved his family back to his father’s land. As they were leaving Laban’s house, Rachel stole her father’s teraphim (Genesis 31). Jacob knew that he would have to face Esau again. He still feared Esau’s anger, and he sent gifts to satisfy him before he arrived. The night before Jacob crossed the Jordan, he “wrestled with God” and was given the name Israel, confirming that he was the one who would receive the promises granted to Abraham.

Rachel died giving birth to her second child, Benjamin. Even Benjamin’s name, meaning “son of my right hand,” indicates the importance Jacob placed on his youngest son because of his love for Rachel. Rachel “was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:19–20). Leah was buried in the same tomb as Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 49:30–32). Jacob and his son Joseph would also later be buried in this tomb (Genesis 50).

The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel is filled with much difficulty, yet God used these people greatly to impact history. Their twelve sons were the leaders of the twelve tribes that became the nation of Israel. Through their family, Jesus Christ would be born from the tribe of Judah to offer salvation to all (John 3:16; Luke 2:10).[1]

 

 

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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Was Solomon’s Temple, the First Temple? How Many Temples Were There?

 

The crowning achievement of King Solomon’s reign was the erection of a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem. His father, King David, had wanted to build a great Temple for God a generation earlier, as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Ten Commandments. However, God had forbidden him from doing so. “You will not build a house for My name for you are a man of battles and have shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3). Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David (2 Chronicles 3:1). This new, stationary Temple would replace the portable tabernacle constructed during the wilderness wandering.

If Solomon reigned from 970 to 930 BC, then he began building the temple in 966 BC. A very interesting fact concerning the building of the temple was there was no noise of the construction. The material was prepared before it was brought to the building site. The house, while it was being built, was built of stone prepared at the quarry, and there was neither hammer nor axe nor any iron tool heard in the house while it was being built (1 Kings 6:7). The Bible’s description of Solomon’s Temple suggests that the inside ceiling was 180 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 50 feet high. The highest point on the Temple that King Solomon built was actually 120 cubits tall (about 20 stories or about 207 feet). 1 Kings 6:1–38 and chapters 7–8 describe the construction and dedication of the Temple under Solomon.

Until the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years later, in 586 BC, sacrifice was the predominant mode of divine service there. Seventy years later, a second Temple was completed on the same site, and sacrifices again resumed. The book of Ezra chronicles the building of the second Temple. During the first century, Herod greatly enlarged and expanded this Temple, which became known as Herod’s Temple. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, during the siege of Jerusalem. Only a small portion of it remains to this day, known as “The Wailing Wall.”[1]


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: Is Sleep Paralysis the Result of Spiritual Attack?

 

Sleep paralysis can be a very scary thing. In it, you know you’re asleep, you try to wake up, but you can’t. It’s often accompanied by an irrational feeling of utter terror, and sometimes images of figures in black cloaks. Many cultures have developed supernatural explanations for sleep paralysis. In China, it’s called mèng yǎn, “ghost pressing on body.” In some Muslim countries, it’s associated with an evil djinn. In Africa, it’s called “the witch riding your back.”

However, there is an entirely physiological explanation for the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. As we fall asleep, our minds may enter a hypnagogic state. It’s what happens when the sleeper’s still-aware mind is faced with dream images. As some people wake up, they experience a hypnopompic state, which is the dreaming mind faced with stimuli from the real world. In both cases, the dreams can seem very real, taking on a vivid hallucinatory feeling. Often these images are of black smudges, which the confused mind interprets as human figures, sometimes called “shadow people.” The hallucinations can also take the form of sounds like a loud bang or a child’s cry. These episodes frequently begin with a falling feeling followed by a “hypnic jerk” where the body’s muscles violently contract.

One of the scarier experiences with sleep paralysis is the inclusion of lucid dreaming and false awakening. The sleeper recognizes they’re asleep and tries to wake up. They open their eyes in relief, but soon realize they’re still asleep. This can go on for some time, sometimes resulting in an actual awareness of their real surroundings—the pressure of the covers, the light of the room beyond their eyelids—but still the inability to fully waken. That awareness can slip away again, returning the sleeper to the hallucinations.

Muscle paralysis in sleep is a necessary thing. People who act out their dreams on a regular basis are prone to accidental injury—even jumping out of windows. Knowing that you’re asleep and paralyzed, however, can be frightening. You tell yourself to open your eyes, just to get caught in another false awakening. One theory is that sleep paralysis affects the larger parts of the body more completely. You can try to wake up by wiggling your toes or fingers. It’s also possible to pray in your sleep. This will often give comfort that lets you fall back into unconsciousness. You may be able to avoid sleep paralysis by getting sufficient rest and avoiding drugs and alcohol.

In probably the vast majority of cases, sleep paralysis is just a quirk in a person’s REM cycle, not a spiritual attack. At the same time, there is no denying that demons can and do attack us. It seems plausible, then, that demons can and do attack us while we sleep. In the Gospels, several instances of demonic attack involved clear physical symptoms. So, it is possible that a demonic attack could result in symptoms resembling sleep paralysis. Whatever the case, we have a God who watches over us, whether we are awake or asleep (1 John 4:4).

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8[1]

 


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

Miscellaneous Bible Questions: What Are the Christian Themes in “The Lord of the Rings”?

 

“The Lord of the Rings” series is extremely popular, well-written, and fascinating to millions of readers. With the creation of the movies, the series has reached millions more worldwide. Because the author, J.R.R. Tolkien, professed to be a Christian, many assume “The Lord of the Rings” is Christian-themed or is in some way an allegorical presentation of Christianity.

Typically, when a book or movie is said to contain Christian themes, it centers on a hero who imitates Christ in some behavior or decision. For example, Christ’s death provided atonement for sin, and in this way He redeemed men to Himself. Therefore, a hero in a book or movie who provides atonement for others through self-sacrifice is said to be a “Christ-type” hero. A good example of this would be in the book “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. One character goes to death in the place of another and delivers the famous line “Tis a far, far better thing I do than ever I have done before.” In this hero, Dickens is pointing out a Christian theme—that to be like Christ is the best thing a human can achieve.

Many stories contain Christian ideals or morals, but because many morality tales can be compared to other “moral” religions, a story that is said to be specifically “Christian-themed” must center on a Christ-type hero. Christianity is the only religion that proclaims man to be entirely lost without God’s intervention, and no other religion contains a god who sacrifices his own life for men to redeem them from their lost state. These truths are specific to Christianity.

Now, back to Lord of the Rings. Is there a Christ-type hero in Lord of the Rings? If there is a hero who comes close, it is Samwise. He is indeed a very inspiring character. His selflessness, his devotion to his master, and his strength in resisting evil are all qualities that are seen in true, mature believers in Christ. So, Sam portrays a true Christian. But he is not a Christ-type hero. In the end, he cannot save Frodo from himself. There is a vague sense of Providence that seems to guide Frodo, and an “evil power” that is present. The elves present an atmosphere of spirituality, and Tolkien creates a sort of religion or religious system with the “gods” of Middle Earth, such as Elbereth, Gilthoniel, etc., whom the characters pray to and draw on for strength. All of these things are simply a literary device Tolkien uses to draw the reader in and make Middle Earth seem a real and believable place.

But the Christ-type hero is not present in Lord of the Rings. Even the wizard Gandalf is a guide and teacher, but his character is presented more along the lines of a guru than a Savior. Some might look to Gandalf’s “fall” in the mountains of Moria and consequent glorified return as pointing to Christ’s resurrection, and it is possible that Tolkien had the resurrection in mind while writing that part of the story. The difference between Christ’s resurrection and Gandalf’s is that Gandalf is not in control of what happens to him. The reader gets the impression that Gandalf is almost as surprised to be back in Middle Earth (and not dead) as the other characters are surprised to see him there. Also, his death and return do not affect the salvation of anybody else. In the end, he is always a helper, not a savior. Many religions, especially Eastern Mysticism, contain this sort of “spirit-guide” or guru who “strays out of thought and time.” Therefore, Gandalf is not a specifically Christian character in any sense.

Tolkien’s association with the Catholic Church is most likely the source of his desire to include religion in his fantasy world and to make his good characters exhibit Christian morals and ideals. It is also important to remember that Catholicism tends to lean too heavily on the character and righteousness of men as an important element of their salvation. In that way, Tolkien’s story reflects his beliefs, and it could be said that Lord of the Rings supports Catholic themes rather than Christian themes: man’s responsibility or duty, the importance of resisting temptation (the ring), the presence of a variety of heavenly intercessors between creature and Creator, etc.

But there is one specifically Christian element that does not appear, and that is the redemption of evil men. According to the Bible, evil lives in the heart of man, but God redeems us, through Christ, from certain consumption by our evil nature (Romans 3:9–12, 5:7–9, 7:21–25; Ephesians 1:7). According to these verses, if Tolkien’s intent was to accurately and biblically reflect Christianity in Lord of the Rings, he would have included a Christ-type hero who brings about the salvation (or turning from the evil side to the good side) of some of the evil characters. But this never occurs in Lord of the Rings. Sauron, Saruman, the Orcs, Wormtongue—none are redeemed or changed. None. Good characters remain good; evil characters remain evil. But this is not the case in real life. All humans are evil, according to Romans 3:9–12. All are in need of redemption. The only picture of a kind of redemption occurs in Theoden’s hall, but it is not truly a redemption because Theoden is simply a good king imprisoned by an evil spell cast by Saruman, not an evil king that repents and changes his ways.

Even more ominously un-Christian is the fate of Frodo. He fails in his quest and proves himself stained by evil, yet conspicuously absent is his absolution. No hobbit, man, or elf gives him relief from his obvious suffering in the years after his failure. He declines in health and eventually is taken away with the elves, but is never offered forgiveness or true restoration. If Lord of the Rings was Christian-themed, Frodo would have returned to the Shire, having found peace through forgiveness, and the lifting of his burden from a compassionate Christ-type hero. But instead, he carries his own burden of guilt and sadness and separation from the “good” people, until he is taken over the sea. And even then, we are not assured that he is truly forgiven and forgetful of his sins. This is very different from the Bible’s description of heaven as a place where every tear is wiped away (Revelation 7:17b). Redemption and the changed life it imparts is the essence of Christianity and, as such, it cannot truly be said that Lord of the Rings is a Christian-themed series.[1]


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