HOW DID IT GET THAT WAY?

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.” [Exodus 7:14 (ESV)]

little blue heronThe whole matter of Pharaoh’s hardened heart and how it got so stubborn is confusing and an issue that has been debated at length by Biblical scholars. How exactly did Pharaoh’s heart get that way? Based on the verses in Exodus where God says He will make Pharaoh’s heart hard [7:3,9:12,10:20,27], some say that God deliberately hardened Pharaoh’s heart to demonstrate His power and glory. Wouldn’t that mean Pharaoh had no free will? If Pharaoh couldn’t submit to Moses’ demands, the plagues hardly seem justified. How could a just God inflict such cruel punishment on all of Egypt when He was the one who made Pharaoh so inflexible?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, citing the verses saying that Pharaoh hardened his own heart [8:15,32], other commentaries say that Pharaoh freely chose to stubbornly deny Moses and watch his people suffer. Saying that the hard heart was all Pharaoh’s doing, however, seems to contradict several other verses. The middle of the road explanations admit that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart but add that Pharaoh already was so arrogant and headstrong that God didn’t change the outcome by further hardening it. The Oxford Jewish Study Bible notes that God “does not stiffen Pharaoh’s heart initially, but only after Pharaoh has done so himself many times.”

After reading several commentaries on Hebrew grammar, I found yet another explanation. Although God-breathed, Scripture was penned by men who used the words, idioms and metaphors of the day. In Hebrew, active verbs often were used idiomatically to mean the action was allowed or predicted; verbs could be both causative and permissive. Saying God hardened Pharaoh’s heart can also mean that God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to harden. Another example of this verb use would be when Jeremiah tells God, “You have utterly deceived this people.” [Jeremiah 4:10] Jeremiah isn’t accusing God of being a liar; he’s saying that God allowed the people to be deceived (two very different things).

Instead of looking to commentaries, I finally looked to Scripture for my answer about Pharaoh’s hardened heart. In James, we find that, while God may test people, He does not tempt them. Temptation comes from Satan and we give into temptation when we’re seduced by our own desires. Pharaoh’s heart was hard because he was an evil, stubborn, and arrogant man. God may have allowed it but it wasn’t God who made him that way. Nevertheless, we could also say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by providing the circumstances that forced him into revealing his true colors. Had God not sent Moses, the plagues would never have happened. In the end, however, the responsibility for those plagues falls squarely on Pharaoh’s shoulders. And, in the end, the responsibility for our sins falls squarely on ours.

It is not God that blinds the eyes of men or hardens their hearts. He sends them light to correct their errors, and to lead them in safe paths; it is by the rejection of this light that the eyes are blinded and the heart hardened. … Every rejection of light hardens the heart and darkens the understanding; and thus men find it more and more difficult to distinguish between right and wrong, and they become bolder in resisting the will of God. [Ellen G. White]

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. [James 1:13-15 (ESV)]

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THE REST OF THE STORY (The Lord’s Prayer – 2)

Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen! [Psalm 41:13 (NLT)]

Praise the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does such wonderful things. Praise his glorious name forever! Let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen! [Psalm 72:18-19 (NLT)]

musk mallowLuke’s version of what is called “The Lord’s Prayer” differs from the version given during the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 6. Both prayers, however, are probably shorter than the prayer most Protestants recite today. Missing is the phrase, “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” Because this phrase was not found in the two earliest Greek manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel, many modern Bible translations do not include it. Although found in later manuscripts, most Biblical scholars believe it to be a later liturgical addition to the original prayer. So, how did we come to pray this prayer in its present form?

That those words were not found in the early manuscripts doesn’t necessarily mean Jesus never said them; after all, the gospels don’t include everything our Lord did or said. Moreover, it was not uncommon for Jews to end their prayers with what was called a doxology: a short, hymn-like verse exalting the glory of God. If the words did not come from Jesus, they probably came from any one of several psalms, 1 Chronicles, or some other Jewish prayer. Jesus never said this was the only prayer to be said nor did He tell His followers to stop saying the prayers they learned in the temple. We know Jesus often visited the temple and scripture specifically tells us that Peter and John visited the temple for 3:00 PM prayers. It’s understandable that this prayer, taught to Jewish disciples by a Jewish Jesus, took on some of its Hebrew heritage and flavor.

The version with which most of us are familiar comes from what is called the Didache. Bearing neither date nor author, it was written as early as 50 to 90 AD. The only complete copy has two titles: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles. While not considered God-breathed or inspired and not part of the Biblical canon, it is still a valuable document. A sort of handbook for the early Christians, it gives us insight into the early church. Along with describing the rituals of Baptism and the Eucharist, it gives instructions to recite what we call the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. This instruction is not unusual and again reflects Christianity’s Jewish heritage; Jewish men were supposed to pray three times a day. So now, as famed broadcaster Paul Harvey would say, “You know the rest of the story.”

Neither pray you as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray you: Our Father, Who are in heaven, hallowed be Your name; Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; For Yours is the power and the glory for ever and ever. Pray this three times in the day. [Didache, 8:3-8:11]

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength. O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! [1 Chronicles 29:11-13 (NLT)]

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DISCREPANCIES

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. [Luke 1:1-4 (NLT)]

tri-colored heron Skeptics often point to contradictions in the Bible when questioning its reliability. For example, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man and casting the demons into swine but there are inconsistencies between their accounts. Mark and Luke say this occurred in the region of the Gerasenes but Matthew calls it the Gadarenes. In this region, however, there were at least three towns with similar names: Gergasa, Gerasa and Gadara. Adding to the confusion, once healed, the demoniac testified throughout what was called the Decapolis or Ten Towns and both Gadara and Gerasa were in this district. The area of the Gerasenes probably included that of the Gadarenes in the way someone living in Hammond, Indiana, also lives in Lake County, on the South Shore, in northeast Indiana, and within the Chicago metropolitan area. The same place can be described many ways.

Harder to reconcile is that Matthew writes about two demoniacs while Mark and Luke just mention one. Yet, where there are two, there is always at least one and Mark and Luke never say there was only one man. That they don’t mention a second doesn’t mean he wasn’t there; he just wasn’t essential to the story the way they told it. A similar inconsistency is found in the accounts of the woman at the tomb Easter morning. John names only Mary Magdalene. The other three gospels all name her but include other women. The “other Mary,” is mentioned in Matthew’s gospel and Mary (the mother of James) and Salome are in Mark’s. Luke says Joanna, Mary (the mother of James), and several other women told the apostles about the empty tomb. None of the writers, however, said that only the women they mentioned were there that day.

Differing accounts aren’t necessarily contradictory. If my husband and I were both to tell you about a wedding we attended, I would tell you it was near Cleveland, he would say Ashtabula, but the invitation would say Geneva-on-the-Lake. I would mention the bride’s gown, the wedding party’s attire, and the flowers but my husband would tell you about the terrific venue, food, and band. When recounting the people there, while our lists would overlap, they wouldn’t be identical. Our accounts would be different but truthful and certainly not incompatible.

While the message in the Bible is God-breathed, it was man-penned and the authors were writing for different audiences at different times. Matthew wrote specifically to the Jews, Mark wrote to the Christians in Rome, Luke wrote for the Gentiles (and specifically to Theophilus, a Gentile convert of high rank), and seekers and new Christians were John’s original audience. Paul was writing for the early church in places like Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus and Philippi. From different backgrounds, they were writing for different people, and emphasized different things. Let us never make the mistake of thinking that different means irreconcilable or false. As for me, I’m not about to throw out the baby with the bathwater over a few discrepancies in Scripture. I just pray for discernment and continue to seek the truth.

This Book (the Bible) had to be written by one of three people: good men, bad men or God. It couldn’t have been written by good men because they said it was inspired by the revelation of God. Good men don’t lie and deceive. It couldn’t have been written by bad men because bad men would not write something that would condemn themselves. It leaves only one conclusion. It was given by divine inspiration of God. [John Wesley]

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. [2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)]

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. [2 Peter 1:20-21 (NLT)]

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CLOSED MINDS

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. [2 Timothy 2:23-25 (NLT)]

killer whaleWhen discussing whales, the 3rd grade science teacher insisted that because of the whale’s small throat it was physically impossible for one to swallow a human. Disagreeing, the little girl told her that Jonah had been swallowed by a whale. When the teacher insisted it was just a silly story, the girl said that when she got to heaven she would ask Jonah. ”Well,” replied the teacher scornfully, “What if Jonah isn’t there? What if he went to hell?” The little girl politely answered, “Then I guess you can ask him!”

Last year, we took a bus tour of the Canadian Rockies and, at times, our tour guide and bus driver must have felt like they were herding cats. Although there were less than forty in our group, I compared us to the two million Israelites of Exodus and them to Moses and Aaron who led those “stiff-necked” people for forty years. When people weren’t ready on time, asked already answered questions, complained about the food, whined about accommodations, didn’t follow directions, wanted special treatment and misplaced their possessions, I appreciated the frustrations the brothers must have had leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. Overhearing my comment, a fellow traveler took me aside. After advising me that he didn’t want to disparage my faith, he added, “But really—two million people? Forty years? How can you possibly believe that? How could they all be fed?” My response was easy: “God provided manna!” Rather than continue the conversation, I smiled and walked away. This man didn’t want to talk miracles or God’s provision and, in spite of his words to the contrary, like the teacher in the joke, he really did want to disparage my faith.

As for that whale, according to several sources, including the Smithsonian, while most species of whales (like the killer whale pictured) couldn’t swallow a human, the exception is the sperm whale. Capable of swallowing a whole giant squid, it could easily swallow a man. In actuality, however, both the girl and the teacher were wrong. The Hebrew Bible says neither whale nor fish but rather dag gadôl  which means a great sea creature. The Greek translation was kêtei megalô, meaning a mega-sized ketos or huge sea serpent. The ketos was a sort of dog-headed sea dragon and several references to it are found in both art and non-Biblical literature from 700 BC through 500 AD. Whether the leviathan mentioned in Job, Psalms, and Isaiah is the same creature as that in Jonah and whether it was fish, reptile, whale, or some extinct form of sea monster, we really don’t know. Just because we don’t know, however, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Would the teacher have been interested in this answer? I think not. Like the man who spoke to me, her mind was already made up.

There always will be non-believers who are more interested in proving we’re wrong than hearing our answers. Wanting to display their cleverness and our naiveté, they ask questions like, “Why aren’t there dinosaurs in the Bible? How did Noah get those animals in the ark? How did the penguins get to the ark from Antarctica?” and, “If God is so all-powerful, why did it take Him six whole days to create the world?” The Bible is filled with a slew of fantastic and extraordinary accounts that defy easy explanation and I’m not sure it’s worth getting into a debate about such things. In most cases, even if we answered these types of questions to the skeptics’ complete satisfaction, it wouldn’t make a difference to them. All we can do is decline to accept their challenge with a simple and gracious answer. Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust from their feet as they left any town that refused to welcome them. Sometimes, we must do the same thing.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. [Ephesians 4:18 (NLT)]

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. [1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)]

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THE HACKER

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. [1 Peter 5:8-9b (NLT)]

red shouldered hawkAfter asking us how we protect our personal safety, the cyber-security specialist asked how we protect ourselves from cyber attacks. One woman proudly told how Microsoft had recently saved her from a hacking attempt. After a message popped up telling her to call them, she gave them remote access to her computer. The necessary patch and technical advice only cost $700 and now her computer was secure. Until the speaker told her, she didn’t know the hack was the $700 she’d spent, access to her credit card, and possible malware now active on her computer. While she never would have allowed a complete stranger into her home, she unwittingly opened the door to a criminal and welcomed him into her life.

Following the seminar, I couldn’t help but think about Satan. Scripture describes him as a serpent, lion, liar, thief, and tempter with adjectives like prowling, cunning and crafty. Those same words describe a hacker rather well. Both Satan and the hacker want to take over our lives and they can do it without our even realizing it’s been done. The weakest link in both cases is the user—us. Outside consultants regularly try to hack into our bank and the good news is that their security software works. Unfortunately, in every test, someone (who clearly knows better) was conned into replying, hyperlinking, or opening an attachment. When Satan comes trolling, how often do we err by ignoring God’s guidelines, not examining the source of the message, going somewhere we shouldn’t, or letting curiosity get the best of us?

Our speaker spoke of maintaining the security of the devices and networks we use. Since new hacking techniques are developed continually, once secured doesn’t mean forever secure; software must be updated to stay current with new threats. Once saved doesn’t mean forever safe, either. We must keep updating our soul’s software with regular prayer, Bible study, and church. Where we use our devices and the sort of data we transmit and receive affects their safety and where we go and what we put into our minds affects our souls. We don’t hang around dangerous neighborhoods but, sometimes, that’s exactly what we do with our computers and phones or our friends and media choices! When the considering the importance of backing up data, I thought of the value of Christian friends who have our backs and both encourage and support us in times of trouble—times when we’re most vulnerable to Satan’s attack.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) was another security feature discussed. Although a website can use 2FA to make sure it is us, we should use 2FA to make sure those great ideas we get have come from God rather than the enemy. A little two-factor authentication in the way of seeing whether those thoughts match up with God’s word and Jesus’s actions could keep us out of a lot of trouble.

Good cyber-security habits include malware protection, virtual private networks, cloud storage, secure routers, password protection, 2FA, and common sense. None of those, however, will protect us if we fail to use them. The same goes for the armor of God. We’ve been given the best protection money can’t buy but God’s armor won’t defend us from the enemy if we don’t put it on!

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT)]

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HEARING THE SHEPHERD

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. [Ezekiel 34:15-16 (RSV)]

lambThroughout the Bible, there are many references to the Lord as our shepherd and mankind as His sheep. Sheep are not the brightest bulbs in the pasture and, considering the state of the world, it seems a fitting comparison! I came upon a true story that illustrates the need sheep have for a shepherd. In 2005, more than 400 sheep in Turkey died when they followed the lead sheep off a cliff and fell 15 meters. The death toll would have been greater except those first 400 cushioned the fall of the next 1,100 sheep that were stupid enough to follow them! Clearly, that herd of sheep needed someone to tell them when to stop. Unfortunately, mankind seems as willing to blindly follow the lead sheep wherever he leads us, only we call it belonging, accepting, keeping up, staying current, maintaining the status quo, or not rocking the boat, making waves or causing trouble.

I happened upon a cartoon by Mike Waters in which a sun-glassed sheep is relaxing in a lounge chair and wearing ear phones connected to the iPod at his side. The TV is on, a computer rests on his lap, the radio is blaring, and he’s got a copy of Sheep Digest in his hands. Hidden under the stack of magazines at his side is a Bible. In the background, a shepherd is calling. The sheep says, “I wonder why I don’t hear from the shepherd anymore!” The words in the caption beneath the comic are from John 10:27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Of course, the sheep need to hear the shepherd to know his voice and nowadays we seem to be listening to everything but our shepherd’s voice (and reading everything but His word)! Worldly distractions, concerns, desires and possessions have drowned out His voice.

In the case of the unfortunate demise of the Turkish sheep, the problem wasn’t that they weren’t listening to the shepherd. The village’s shepherds had briefly abandoned the flock while they enjoyed breakfast. Unlike the Turkish shepherds, our Shepherd never takes a coffee break or goes off duty! He’s more like the shepherd in the cartoon—on the job and calling his flock. Like those suicidal sheep in Turkey, however, we rarely know enough to stop on our own. Fortunately, our Shepherd will step in and lead us. Of course, for that to happen, we have to be listening for His voice.

I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. … My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. [John 10:14-15,27-28 (RSV)]

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