Posts Tagged Israel

Torah and Social Justice: Anchoring Prophetic Rhetoric

The Prophet Isaiah, RaphaelI have recently been discussing the ways in which our anti-poverty and “social justice” efforts need to be properly guided, noting that our execution of God’s will is not as simple as robbing the rich or cherry-picking our favorite warm-and-fuzzy verses. At its root, helping others is about sacrifice, and — as I continue to emphasize — sacrifice is fruitless without obedience.

But obedience to what/whom, and with what as a foundation?

In my last post, I argued that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a big piece of the puzzle, and at First Things, Peter Leithart adds to this approach by reminding us that it also has something to do with the Word itself. What is the long-view of Biblical truth in application, and what else should be taken into account when considering our mandate to help the widow and the orphan?

Calling out folks like Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, Leithart begins by examining the Biblical bases to which they refer, explaining that much of their rhetoric is based in nothing more than rhetoric. Yes, Israel’s prophets condemned the exploiters of their day, but what was the substance behind their fervor? What was the back story, the underlying foundation, and the overarching goal? Was there anything grounding that rhetoric?

As Leithart explains:

For the prophets, care of the poor is a matter of righteousness or justice, not mercy. Yahweh Himself maintains “justice for the poor” (Psalm 140:12), and rulers (Isaiah 10:2) and people (Ezekiel 22:29) are expected to do the same. Filled with the Spirit, the Messianic Branch will judge the poor with righteousness and act for the afflicted (Isaiah 11:4).

Protection and defense of the poor is embedded in Israel’s defining exodus story: Because Yahweh delivered His people from bondage, Israel is to be a liberating people. And this demand is imprinted on the Mosaic law. From an exhaustive survey of the Old Testament laws on wealth and poverty, David L. Baker concludes that, in comparison with other ancient Near Eastern codes, “Old Testament law is more concerned to ensure that widows and orphans are not abused, nor exploited in law courts or in financial dealings.” As Jesus said, the weighty things of Torah are justice, mercy, and truth (Matthew 23:23).

Leithart then moves ahead with the modern-day application:

That connection with the institutions and practices of Torah is fundamental to grasping what the Bible tells us about justice and poverty—fundamental, and neglected. Unless prophetic rhetoric is anchored in Torah, it Read the rest of this entry »

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The Redemptive Road Trip: Church Is Not a Gas Station

As mentioned previously, I have been reading David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

In the first part of the book, VanDrunen explains the story of the two kingdoms, starting with the first Adam, and ending with the last. In the second part, he explains how we as humans are to participate in both kingdoms, relying heavily on the term “sojourner” to characterize our role on this earth.

In the third and final part, VanDrunen discusses what he believes to be the overarching purpose for earthbound Christians: the church. If we are only sojourners on this earth, how are we to treat the church in the larger earthly context? (Or is the church the larger earthly context?) It is is this point that I want to explore for a bit.

VanDrunen begins by summarizing two popular analogies for going to church that I’m sure you’ve all heard:

One popular analogy is that going to church is like stopping at a gas station. Church is a place where we stop to fill up our tanks after a tiring and stressful week and thus get recharged for the week ahead. Another analogy compares going to church to a huddle in a football game. Church is the gathering of all the team’s players so that they can regroup, encourage each other, and prepare for separating again and facing the opponent through the coming week.

VanDrunen quickly moves on to explain why he thinks such analogies are “radically insufficient and misleading.” Here are the two primary deficiencies as VanDrunen sees them:

Deficiency #1: Church is not a human-centered event.

Perhaps most obviously, these analogies portray going to church as a human-centered event. Going to church is not primarily about me or even about Read the rest of this entry »

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Agents of Faith: Pursuing the Pillar of Fire

Moses Crossing the Red Sea, Pillar of Fire, RaphaelIn times of uncertainty, we tend to look for the quickest path to security. We want solutions that are neat and tidy, direction that is clear and comfortable, and a future that is pretty and predictable. No one wants to be unsure about tomorrow, and no one likes to be exposed.

When it comes to looking for security in God, we are no different. Not only do we want a tangible sign that God is real, but we want a flashy display of his guidance, outlining exactly what to do and how to do it. We want to know which job will be profitable, which relationship will endure, and which parenting strategy will empower our children to the fullest.

In many ways, God has already given us the answers to these questions, and he has done so in a direct and persuasive way — through his Word. Not only does the Word take the form of written guidance for our daily lives, but it also became flesh in order to deliver us from sin and send us the Holy Spirit (aka “the helper”). In this sense, the answers are largely available. What more could we want?

The problem is that God does not answer such questions on our terms. If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked the following question at least once in your life:

If God is real, why doesn’t he just come down from heaven, tell me the Bible is true, and give me his phone number in case I have any questions?

The answer lies in the reality that God created us to be agents of faith, which is necessary for us to be agents of love. God yearns for relationship with us, and real relationship requires faith in the sense that real relationship requires trust.

The struggle of faith — of believing in God and doing what he says— is part of Read the rest of this entry »

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City of Man: Defining the Future of the Religious Right

City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New EraIt’s hard to deny that the religious right has been on the wane. Need some proof?

Once-prominent religious leaders like Pat Robertson are now viewed as fringe radicals by many conservative elites and “ordinary people” alike. Social issues like gay marriage and abortion have been largely dismissed as secondary by tea partiers and Republican politicians. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican voters preferred the irreligious “pragmatism” of John McCain to the Bible-belt fervor of Mike Huckabee.

As author Brett McCracken recently said in an interview with yours truly, aligning oneself with the religious right has become increasingly “unhip.”

But some don’t see such a change as an overall indictment of the movement itself. For Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, authors of the new book, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, such a change is “less a value judgment than a fact of life.” Despite some fundamental flaws in the religious right’s approach, Gerson and Wehner see the energetic movement of yore as a highly positive, right-time-right-place kind of thing.

But the times they are a-changin’.

We are in a moment of transition, say Gerson and Wehner. The same Christians who aligned themselves with the Religious Right now find little use or relevance in its tactics or execution. Strict conservative political theology has been by and large replaced by universalist political activism. Social conservatism has been subtly supplanted by a blurry, left-leaning social justice. The cutting, careless words of Pat Robertson has been overshadowed by the moderate tone of Rick Warren.

But although the political scene is changing (and necessarily so), Gerson and Wehner see more confusion in the shift than they do clarity. For them, this is a prime opportunity for conservatives (and everyone else) to reexamine the proper relationship between religion and politics. Now, they argue, is not only a time for adaptation, but also for introspection.

The aim, therefore, is to crystalize a proper Christian approach to politics — one that takes full account of theological fundamentals, proper Read the rest of this entry »

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A People Apart: Fertility and Suicide in Israel

Which Countries Are the Happiest? by David P. Goldman

Source: David P. Goldman / First Things

The Gallup World Poll recently posted results to their worldwide happiness survey, in which they rank countries according to overall life satisfaction. You can see the results over at the Forbes website.

The most intriguing commentary I’ve seen on the numbers comes from David P. Goldman over at First Things, who points out some of the more curious rankings:

Finland ranks second in happiness on the Gallup survey, although it has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, at 29 per 100,000 of population, putting it in fourteenth place. Denmark’s alcohol consumption puts in the top 10 at 11.7 liters of pure alcohol equivalent per capital per year; perhaps what makes Danes happy is that they like to drink and, given the country’s generous welfare state, have ample leisure to do so.

But what is most interesting is Goldman’s perspective regarding countries that “love life” versus those that “love death.”

As Goldman explains:

Some years ago I constructed an alternative measure, based on objective variables rather than subject responses to pollsters. I plotted the fertility rate vs. the suicide rate, surmising that people who like having children and don’t like killing themselves must be happy.

As you can see in the graph within Goldman’s post, Israel comes out with the highest Read the rest of this entry »

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Supported by Jehovah: Why We Named Our Son Josiah

Josiah Daniel Sunde

Our beautiful boy: Josiah Daniel SundeI’ve only been a parent for a short time, but I've already been asked the following question several times:“What does it feel like to bring a child into today’s society? The economy is crumbling, culture is deteriorating, and the End Times are upon us. Doesn’t it concern you to know that you're bringing your child into such terrible a world?”Let’s ignore for the moment that modern society is pretty great on a number of levels, because the question isn’t really about modern society but about the way we perceive humanity and its role in this world.Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of evil in the world — indeed there always has been — but if spreading the Gospel is the solution to the world’s woes, don’t we need people to do that?After all, since the beginning of time, God ordained humans to steward and rule over His creation. Doesn’t this mean that our children can provide immense value to a dark world? I understand that we should be concerned for our children’s safety and well-being, but raising Godly people is one of the greatest ways we can maximize both earthly and heavenly potential.It was within this context that we decided to name our son Josiah.You may be thinking that name selection is a pretty frivolous way to go about changing the world, but this was an initial step toward instilling a proper foundation in our child. One day he will probably wonder why we named him Josiah, and we wanted to have an answer that would go beyond matters of mere aesthetics and social mobility. We wanted to have an answer that he could identify with and apply to his relationship with God and the world around him.Plus, throughout the Bible God shows us time and time again how our names can largely impact our identities. God changed Abram’s name (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) to signify their covenant. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel to identify Jacob’s conversion from “supplanter” to “having power with God.” He changed Simon’s name (“God has heard”) to Peter (“rock”) to remind him of his responsibility to build the Church.I am not saying that parents can replace God’s authoritative power, but we are supposed to help our children find their identities, which includes helping them find God.King Josiah rediscovers the Torah.

For those who don’t know, Josiah was the 19th king of Judah, and was unique among the other kings in the extent to which He restored God’s law in the land. On the surface this may seem like a simple story, but Josiah did not begin his reign in the best of circumstances.

Josiah’s grandfather, King Manassah, had reversed all of the spiritual gains made by his father King Hezekiah. Manassah was absorbed in idolatry and witchcraft, and eventually sacrificed his own son on an altar of fire. After Manassah’s death, his son Amon (Josiah’s father) reigned in a similar fashion — building temples to Baal, worshipping idols, and continuing to “forsake the Lord” as 2 Kings describes it. After reigning for only two years, Amon was assassinated by his own servants, leaving his son Josiah to assume the kingship at only eight years of age.

In short, the Kingdom of Judah had backslidden into 57 years of spiritual adultery. When Josiah became king, he was immediately confronted with a choice that most children aren’t faced with — he could continue to perpetuate the status quo of idolatry and human sacrifice (i.e. the easy route), or he could abandon everything he knew and return to worship of the one true God — Jehovah.

For reasons related to his fear of the Lord, Josiah chose the latter. By the age of eighteen, Josiah had commissioned the priests to restore the temple to its proper place, after which he rediscovered the Book of the Law (either the Torah or the Book of Deuteronomy). Upon hearing his secretary read it out loud, Josiah was dismayed by the implications.

2 Kings 22:11 describes the incident in detail:

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.

In other words, Josiah immediately had faith in the Word of God, and by applying it to the culture around him he realized how disobedient and profane God’s people had become. Remember that in this moment Josiah is hearing God’s Word for the first time and he simply believes it right away. Given how countercultural such stringent laws would be at that time, the audacity and immediacy of his faith is incredibly inspiring to me.

It reminds me of what Abraham talks about in Jesus’ parable of Lazureus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). When the rich man is burning in Hades, he begs Abraham to let him go back to earth and warn his family against continuing their wrongdoing. Abraham responds by saying they need no more warning than what they already have at their disposal.

“They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham says. “Let them listen to them.”

Josiah didn’t have the privilege of a Christian (or Jewish) upbringing. He wasn’t the recipient of “proper parenting.” He wasn’t taught to memorize Bible verses or tithe from his paycheck. He didn’t go to youth group every Sunday or attend summer camp revival services.

After all, his father was a pagan.

But when Josiah was confronted with God’s word, he simply knew it to be true. From a young age, he sought and pursued God despite his cultural disposition and “natural inclinations.” He recognized evil and realized that living righteously required faith in God and a holistic rejection of the world as he knew it.

After this realization, Josiah took many actions to reverse the wrongs of his forefathers. He restored the Temple, re-instituted the Law, destroyed the “high places” of idol worship and prostitution, and presided over the first Passover since the days of Samuel.

We can all talk the talk and say we love the Lord, but when Josiah heard God’s voice, he took immediate and extreme action. He really believed that God was true to His word.

This is what the Lord had to say to Josiah:

Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.

The Hebrew translation of Josiah is “Jehovah will support,” and from the above passage it is evident God was indeed backing Josiah’s decisions. Covenants are two-way deals, and Josiah was supported by Jehovah because he made the choice to enter into relationship with God, even when the earthly systems of his day were going the opposite way.

That is what I want for my son. I don’t want him to have the fatherless childhood Josiah had, and I will try my best to protect him from the rampant idolatry of this world. But my prayer for him is that he discovers an earnest and sincere devotion for the one true God — one that perseveres the wickedness that will inevitably surround him. My son may have been born into a culture of corruption and deceit, but it can’t be any worse than the one King Josiah was confronted with.

As my wife and I continue to shepherd him toward adulthood, we will continue to pray and trust that our son will meet God intimately and realize the value that Jehovah can bring to a fallen world.

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The Kingdom of God: Building vs. Preserving

There’s a great video on kingdom building over at The Resurgence. The video features an interview with Dr. Michael Horton, a theology professor at Westminister Seminary California.




Horton is asked when humans first attempted to build God’s kingdom on this earth, and Horton’s answer is that we’ve been trying since the beginning of time. As an example, he points to the Tower of Babel. As Horton sees it, striving toward earthly kingdoms is simply part of our nature.

It’s part of our native fallenness, he says. We want to be the builders.

Horton then discusses Acts 1, where Jesus (after His resurrection) appeared to His disciples over a period of 40 days. Luke writes that during this period Jesus spoke to the disciples regarding “the things concerning the kingdom of God” and then urged them to not leave Jerusalem but to simply “wait for the gift my Father promised.” Here Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit (which would fall on the Day of Pentecost shortly after).

There was no scheme to overtake the Romans. There was no book on how to construct a new economic system. There was no blueprint for how the Church should use multimedia and drama skits to Read the rest of this entry »

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