DIGGING FOR THE TRUTH

Open your ears to my teachings, my people. Turn your ears to the words from my mouth. I will open my mouth to illustrate points. I will explain what has been hidden long ago, things that we have heard and known about, things that our parents have told us. We will not hide them from our children. We will tell the next generation about the Lord’s power and great deeds and the miraculous things he has done. [Psalm 78:1-4 (GW)]

limpkinYesterday, I wrote about archeological support for the story of Balaam; his is but one of many Old Testament stories with evidence provided by archeology. When reading about King Belshazzar giving a feast for 1,000 in his Babylonian palace, it’s easy to think there must have been exaggeration as to the size of his party. Archaeologists, however, have excavated a large hall in Babylon that was 55 feet wide and 165 feet long, a room sufficient to host a gathering of that size. The Bible mentions writing that appeared on the room’s plaster walls and archeologists found that this ancient room had plaster walls!

In 2 Chronicles 12, we read of Judah’s invasion by Egypt’s Pharaoh Shishak during Rehoboam’s fifth year as king. Archeologists have found evidence of their devastating invasion at settlements in both Israel and Judah. Hieroglyphics on the wall of the temple at Karnak describe Egypt’s 926 BC campaign and list 183 conquered cities, 43 of which are known Bible cities. Notably missing from the list of destroyed towns is Jerusalem, the city that Shemaiah prophesized God would not allow to be destroyed. Instead, Rehoboam surrendered and the Egyptians robbed Solomon’s temple of its treasures. When we wonder where all of that plunder went, a pillar in a temple at Bubastis tells of Osorkon I (Shishak’s son) giving away 383 tons of gold and silver to all the gods of Egypt just five year later.

When King Uzziah (who was struck with leprosy) died in 740 BC, 2 Chronicles 26 tells us he was buried in a field that belonged to the kings. His stone burial plaque was discovered on the Mt. of Olives with these words: “Here, the bones of Uzziah, King of Judah, were brought. Do not open.”

The Old Testament tells us of the Babylonians’ defeat of Judah but so do a collection of clay tablets known as the Babylonian Chronicles. These annals record Babylon’s history from 750 to 280 BC and tell of such things as the battle of Carchemish (recorded in Jeremiah 46), Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem (found in 2 Kings 24), and removing King Jehoiachin and replacing him with Zedekiah (recorded in 2 Kings 24). They even include receipts for goods that were issued to the deposed Jehoiachin when he was in Babylonian captivity (mentioned in 2 Chronicles 36).

The cornerstone of our faith is the Bible and archeology should never be the litmus test for its truth. Archeology can’t prove Scripture’s divine inspiration or the exactness of its every word. Because it’s based on what’s been left behind, discovered and deciphered, many pieces are missing in the puzzle. Moreover, since the Bible tells just a portion of the story, some ancient pieces will be found that don’t fit. Although we will never have undisputed historic proof of its truth, archeology can confirm the historicity of many Biblical events, people, civilizations, and places. For me, it is comforting to find that external evidence points to the trustworthiness of the Bible. Of course, since it is God-breathed, we shouldn’t be surprised that secular history dovetails so well with Biblical truth.

Every Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God’s approval.  They equip God’s servants so that they are completely prepared to do good things. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (GW)]

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PROOF POSITIVE

So Balak…sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me.” [Numbers 22:4b-6a (ESV)]

lantanaWhen reading the narratives of the Old Testament, it’s easy to think that some of the stories are more legend than history. Take the story of Balaam: the pagan prophet hired to curse the Israelites who, instead, blessed the Israelites and pronounced disaster on their enemies. Since this took place around 1406 BC, it’s easy to question the story’s accuracy. Balaam’s existence, however, has extra-Biblical non-Israelite back-up. The story of Balaam, “a divine seer,” who pronounced doom to his own people, was written in red and black ink on the plaster wall of a building in the ancient city of Deir Alla in present day Jordan (about 25 miles from where the incident recorded in Numbers 21 took place). Although the building collapsed as the result of an earthquake around 706 BC (an event mentioned in the books of Amos and Zechariah), in 1967, 119 fragments of Balaam’s story were found in the rubble. Probably written about 800 BC, the text begins with the title, “Warnings from the Book of Balaam the son of Beor. He was a seer of the gods.”  Two more times in the first four lines, the prophet is referred to as “the son of Beor” just as he is in the Hebrew Bible. Referencing “the Book of Balaam” indicates that the text was copied from an earlier text and that the original material was older than the writing on the wall. While the Deir Alla story mentions pagan gods, the God whose visit caused the prophet to weep bitterly is referred to as “el Shaddai,” which is how the God of Israel was referenced during this time. With much of the text given to the prophet’s curses, it‘s easy to see why Balak would hire Balaam to curse the Israelites. Although the story on the wall, with its mention of other gods and goddesses, doesn’t exactly match the Numbers’ version, one would expect a pagan people to put their slant on it and, with only a portion of the wall existing, we have only part of the story.

When archeologists wondered why Balaam’s book would be written on the wall of a building in Deir Alla, their answer was found in eleven clay tablets found in the same area. Dating from Balaam’s time, they identify Deir Alla as Pethor (Balaam’s home) and speak of the “smiters of Pethor.” If this “divine seer” lived in what is now Deir Alla, it is not surprising that his story would be preserved in his hometown. Scholars speculate that these tablets were written by Balaam himself.

These archeology findings pose a problem for skeptics who’d prefer to think of the exodus, Israel’s wilderness wanderings, and the conquest of Canaan as things of legend. While archeology doesn’t prove Balaam’s story, it certainly backs it up. Balaam was a real prophet, known for cursing, who lived on the east side of the Jordan, and was revered for centuries after his death. There is no doubt that Balaam existed, which leads us to ask skeptics, “If Balaam was real, what about Balak, Moses, Joshua and the Israelites?”

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. [Proverbs 30:5 (ESV)]

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GOING HOME

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [John 14:1-4 (ESV)]

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” [John 11:25-26 (ESV)]

After a brief stay at hospital, we’d brought Gert, my 102-year old mother-in-law, home to die. Although she was a woman of faith, she seemed frightened of the journey that lay ahead of her and kept calling for her mother and father (who’ve been gone for more than half a century). When I shared this with the Hospice nurse, she asked if I’d told her that it was all right to leave. Since Gert was in a state of semi-consciousness, I questioned whether she would understand but the nurse assured me that hearing is the last sense to go.

That day, as I sat at her side, I read to Gert from the Bible, prayed with her, thanked her, and reminded her of her favorite memories. I knew them well since, not wanting to lose her amazing history when we lost her, I’d asked her about them (and written them down) several years ago. While talking to her that afternoon, I remembered a story Gert told me. Beginning with, “I believe in prayer!” she told of a cold winter day when she’d met some friends at a resort across the lake from her house. On her way home that evening, she took a short cut across the frozen lake (probably something the twelve-year-old had been told not to do). “I heard the ice cracking all around me,” she related, “and, believe me, I honestly thought I was a goner that time!” Sure that she’d fall through the ice and no one would ever find her, the terrified girl recited everything she had ever learned in her Sunday school classes. Having seen the “Star Memory Certificate” she’d received as a girl, I knew that included the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the 23rd Psalm, and all of the books of the Bible.

I reminded her of that cold winter night when she was a child and how her faith had gotten her across the ice and safely home to her mother and father. Telling her I understood the walk was frightening, I reassured her that she wasn’t a goner and we’d all know where to find her. Reading from the book of John, I reminded her that God had prepared a room especially for her and that, across the daunting lake was that room and her home: a home where the lights were on, the fire was lit, and her loved ones were waiting for her with spritz cookies and a warm cup of cocoa. Calmed and almost serene, Gert went to her forever home early that evening.

Gert once told me she loved the 23rd psalm but added that she always skipped “that one line.” Sunday afternoon, when I read that beautiful psalm to her, I included all of its comforting words. I spoke to Gert of that dark valley and God’s reassurance that He is beside her, just as He was that cold night ninety years ago. While I’ve always thought of our Christian faith as comforting to those who mourn, that afternoon reminded me of how comforting it is for those taking their final journey through the dark valley of death. Although neither family nor friends can accompany us on our last walk, we will not be alone and, waiting on the other side, is a beautiful room  prepared especially for us in our eternal home.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. [Psalm 23:4,6 (ESV)]

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HE KNOWS WHAT WILL FIT

Then the Lord asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” [Exodus 4:11-12 (NLT)]

white admiral butterflyWe were window shopping and celebrating our anniversary. Wanting to get me a gift, my husband spotted a dress he liked in the window of a little boutique and insisted we go inside. The owner greeted us, said the dress in the window wouldn’t fit and showed me a different dress. It was so unlike anything I’d ever worn that I immediately said it wouldn’t look right on me—wrong color, wrong style, wrong material, and wrong fit. ”Don’t you tell me what it will look like,” she said indignantly. “I created this dress and know exactly who it will fit. It will be beautiful on you.” Chastened, but still sure it would look terrible, I reluctantly tried it on. The designer, however, was right. As the creator of the dress, she knew what she had in mind when making it and that it would be right for me.

Through the years, we got to know this woman rather well; as a Messianic Jew, I imagine she was familiar with the book of Exodus. Our first exchange was much like that between God and Moses when God spoke out of the burning bush and gave Moses the task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Like me, Moses protested that the job wasn’t a good fit. Who was he to approach Pharaoh? Why would the Israelites listen to or believe him? God responded by giving Moses three miraculous signs to convince them but Moses still objected that the task was not right because he wasn’t eloquent. Like the dress designer, God took that complaint personally and was angry that Moses didn’t seem to trust the One who made Him. As Creator of the man’s mouth in the first place, God knew what it could and couldn’t do. When He promised to empower Moses by putting the words in his mouth, Moses still balked so God provided him with Aaron.

It’s not just trying on dresses and freeing Israelites at which we balk. Whenever we feel one of those God nudges to step out of our comfort zones, our first response is usually something like, ”But God, that’s not the right task for me. I’m not designed for that sort of thing!” Be it sharing our faith or offering to pray with someone, volunteering at the food pantry, greeting at church, teaching Sunday school, writing a blog, visiting a shut-in, planning a fund raiser, organizing a blood drive, starting a Bible study or leading a grief group, we’re sure there is someone better qualified.

Perhaps there is; nevertheless, if God calls us to a task, it’s one He wants us to do and, as our creator, He knows exactly what it is we are capable of doing. Besides, He’ll give us the skills we need. He gave Moses the words and, when God appointed Bezalel and Oholiab to be in charge of building the Ark, the Tabernacle and its furnishings, God filled them with His spirit, wisdom, ability and expertise and gave special skill to all of their craftsmen. He’ll do the same for us! Moreover, just as He provided Moses with the assistance of Aaron, He’ll give us all of the help we need to do His work.

What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, “Stop, you’re doing it wrong!” Does the pot exclaim, “How clumsy can you be”? [Isaiah 45:9 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

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WORRY AND PRIDE

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)]

tropical water lilyWhen the Israelites sent scouts out to Canaan, they were doing due diligence and getting the lay of the land. Let’s remember, Moses had only asked them to scout out the land, not to determine how or whether they should proceed. But, when they returned, ten of the twelve reported the Promised Land was the land of giants who were undefeatable. In spite of Moses’s leadership, the reassurances of Joshua and Caleb, and God’s promises and power, the Israelites pridefully decided they knew more than God and chose fear instead of stepping out in faith.

Right now, while I’m not looking over the Jordan to Canaan, I’m in the land of waiting—between tests and results, between diagnosis and treatment. On the plus side, at least I won’t be here for forty years as were the Israelites! Nevertheless, the land of waiting can turn into a land of fear and worry. Our “what is?” evolves into “what if?” Instead of scouting Canaan, we scour the Internet, sift through contradictory information, imagine assorted scenarios, try to make sense of medical terms, research, and recommendations without benefit of a medical degree, and turn unknown challenges into undefeatable giants.

It occurred to me that, to a great extent, my worry is the result of pride. The Israelites trusted themselves more than God and, apparently, I trust myself and my research more than either my doctors or God. Could I really think that I, whose only medical degree is that of Dr. Mom, am smarter than my doctors? There’s a fine line between understanding a condition and self-diagnosing or treating it, between concern about something and worry over it, and I’ve crossed that line. Having already researched the qualifications of my physicians, I was satisfied with their credentials, so why did I think I should second guess them? I must remember that God didn’t ask the Israelites for their opinion about Canaan; He asked them to trust Him. Not trusting our doctors can be a mistake but not trusting God is a sin!

I’ve been pridefully leaning on my own understanding when I should be leaning on God. He’s the one in control of my tomorrows and whatever they may bring. My prayer is no longer that I become more enlightened and better qualified than my doctors but that God leads me to the right doctors and gives wisdom to them.  We can worry or we can trust God, but we can’t do both! Let us cast our anxiety and cares on Him, our Great Physician.

Do what you can, and then trust God with what you cannot do. [Craig Groeschel]

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]

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WHAT WOULD YOU DO? (Daniel – part 2)

Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. [Isaiah 43:1b-3 (NLT)]

climbing asterOne night King Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream and asked the court’s wise men to interpret it. Whether he couldn’t remember it (as happens with dreams) or, being obstinate, wanted to test the soothsayers and astrologers, we don’t know, but the king expected them to tell him the dream’s meaning without his revealing its content. Indignant at their failure to do so, he ordered the execution of all of Babylon’s counselors (which included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Daniel approached the king and asked for time so that he could discover the dream’s meaning.

That evening the four men pled with God for His mercy and, during the night, the dream’s meaning was revealed to Daniel. After praising God for His revelation, Daniel correctly interpreted the king’s dream. In appreciation, the king praised Daniel’s God, chose Daniel for his court, and appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as administrators over Babylon. While Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that Daniel’s God was the greatest of gods, he never understood that Daniel’s God was the one and only God!

A large statue, only the head of which was gold, had been part of Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream. Perhaps, thinking he could change prophecy’s prediction that his kingdom would come to an end, he erected an enormous statue on a pedestal that was entirely overlaid with gold. When all of the officials were gathered around this ninety foot colossus, it was commanded that everyone, both foreign and Babylonian, was to bow to the image and worship it; those who disobeyed would be thrown into a blazing furnace. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down, the king flew into a rage. Even when they were given a second chance, the men refused to worship the idol.

This was the kind of furnace used to bake bricks or smelt metal. We’re not talking third degree burns here; with a temperature of 1,800 degrees, they’d be cremated! The three, however, had faith in the God they served. This knew the God who kept them healthy and gave them wisdom was both good and powerful. Although confident that He could save them, they also knew that He might not choose to do so. Placing their lives in the hands of God, the three friends stood strong! Although thrown into the furnace, the Angel of the Lord saved them, and the men exited the furnace unharmed.

We only have to look at the fates of most of the disciples to know that angels won’t always save the faithful from incineration or open the doors to their prison cells. The disciples were imprisoned, beheaded, crucified, stoned, and beaten. Sadly, in some places, martyrdom of Christ’s followers continues today. The three men’s statement of faith is one of the strongest we’ll find throughout Scripture. Knowing there was no chance of survival, would we trust God as did they? Could we remain as faithful and strong as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. [Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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