Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another amazing find in Jerusalem

It seems that new archaeological discoveries from Jerusalem are being reported almost weekly. The latest find is rather fascinating. It was humorously identified by the Israeli Antiquities Authority as the original "store credit." And that's probably a good way to describe it!

What they discovered was a clay seal containing two Hebrew words from the time of Herod's temple. The seal appears to have been a type of marker or "proof of purchase" used as part of the temple services. The inscription on the seal, written in Aramaic, reads "pure to the Lord," using the first two letters of the name Yahweh as the abbreviation for "Lord."

The seal illustrates a temple practice mentioned in the Mishnah, which reads in part, "Whoever required libations would go to Yohanan who was in charge of the stamps and give him money and would receive a stamp from him in return. He would then go to Ahiyah who was in charge over the libations, give him the stamp, and receive the libations from him."

In other words, a person would pay for a specific ritual sacrifice at the "cashier's office" and receive a "proof of purchase" token that he or she would then take to the priest to exchange for the actual offering. This seal appears to be the first actual example of the "stamp," or clay impression, that served as the "proof of purchase" token.

The find is significant for two reasons. First, it helps illustrate and visualize the day-to-day workings of the temple. And second, it serves as one more small reminder that a Jewish temple indeed stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. That seems obvious to those of us who believe the Bible. But in the convoluted world of Middle East politics, it helps counteract the propaganda claiming the Jews have no legitimate connection to the city or the Temple Mount.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Declaration of Religious War?

Earlier today Hamas issued a warning that Israel's closure of the Mugrabi Bridge to the Temple Mount is a "declaration of religious war on Muslim Holy Sites." Lest you think this is propaganda from a single extremist terrorist group, it follows an earlier statement by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat who said Israel's plan to replace the current bridge “shows their determination to Judaize Jerusalem and to take over the city’s Muslim holy places."

These statements are false and hypocritical, and those making them know that's the case. They're intended to inflame the Muslim world and put pressure on Israel. We've talked about this gate several times on our program, most recently this past weekend.
Here are the facts for those who don't know the full story.

The Mugrabi Gate is the only gateway unto the Temple Mount that is open to non-Muslims, and it's located next to the Western Wall plaza. In 2004 the ramp up to the gate partially collapsed after a heavy winter rain. Israel constructed a temporary wooden bridge to the site that sits on metal scaffolding. (See the picture above from bibleplaces.com, which provides an excellent visual of the structure!) The bridge was only intended to provide temporary access until a more permanent replacement was designed and built.

In 2007 Israel tried to replace the temporary bridge with a more permanent replacement, but work was halted when charges were made that Israel was damaging the Muslim holy sites. (Note in the picture that the bridge is outside the Western Wall and doesn't get close to any of the Muslim Holy sites!) Israel halted work while the UN investigated. They concluded the charges were false, but asked Israel to once again postpone work on the new bridge. Israel agreed, and the temporary structure remained in use for another four years.

The problem now is that Jerusalem's city engineer has declared the current temporary structure to be unsafe and in danger of collapse. Israel's most recent decision to close the current bridge and replace it with a more permanent structure centers on safety. Like any responsible government, their primary concern is that a bridge used by thousands of tourists every week has been shown to be structurally unsound. Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership appears to care more about scoring political points than they are about the safety of those forced to use a bridge that is structurally unsound. But one can be sure that when the bridge finally does collapse, they will be quick to blame the Jews!

This is another example of the appalling lack of leadership that characterizes both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. My advice to both groups is simple: Stop acting like demagogues and start acting like responsible leaders. The bridge is unsafe and needs to be repaired, and it is outside the Temple Mount area. Get over the fact that Israel is the one fixing it!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Do the dots connect?

Iran's Fars News Agency is claiming that Iran brought down America's top-secret stealth spy drone through the use of a "cyberattack" by Iran's military forces.

Is this Iranian propaganda, or could there be some truth to the claim?

The United States has not officially commented on what happened, but there are some indications that Iran might indeed have used a cyberattack to bring down the drone. First, the pictures of the drone released from Iran show it to be remarkably intact...almost as if it had landed rather than crashed. Second, a report surfaced two months ago that the U.S. was struggling to control a computer virus that was infecting our Predator and Reaper drone fleet. The report only focused on these two specific drones...but one wouldn't expect it to identify other infected drones that are supposedly still top secret!

So could the Iranians have infected our drones with a virus that allowed them to intercept and override our control of this aircraft? It's certainly possible, and it raises two serious questions about the vulnerability of our entire fleet of drones. First, if Iran has the ability to hijack the RQ170, could they also intercept other drones, perhaps hijacking an armed predator and using it to attack our forces in the field? And second, what is the true level of electronic sophistication possessed by Iran? Do they really have the ability to infect and then control some of our most sensitive military hardware? And if they have that ability, who else might possess it?

To me, the larger story isn't the capture of the drone, as serious as that might be. It's determining how Iran was able to accomplish it...and making sure they can't do it again!

Friday, December 2, 2011

So what does happen when we die?

We've received several questions/comments on our toll-free Listener Comment Line (877-611-5282) and at our e-mail address (thelandandthebook@moody.edu) dealing with the issue of what happens when someone dies. Most have centered around Jesus' raising of Lazarus in John 11. Jesus said Lazarus was "asleep" but then goes on to say Lazarus was really dead, indicating that "sleep" was a metaphor for death.

One recent e-mail took exception to the answer I gave on air. The writer said, in part:
Unfortunately, the first and most convincing lie ever told to humans continues to reverberate down through Earth’s chambers, from one generation to another, thousands of years later: Ye shall not surely die. This cunning lie is unknowingly repeated every time folks are convinced that although a love one dies, they really don’t die, rather they continue to live-on in the presence of God forever. While this may be comforting to each of us, it is a deceit of the devil. To believe that one continues to live forever is to give credence to the immortality of the “soul.” Humans are not immortal. We are mortal. See Job 4:17. Romans 6: 12. Romans 8: 11. 2 Corinthians 4: 11. Man does not have immortality. Immortality is granted to man only at the second coming of Christ. See 1 Corinthians 15: 51-53.
So do humans cease to have a conscious existence at death...to enter into some kind of unconscious "soul sleep" or spiritual "suspended animation" that lasts until the second coming of Christ? The writer was sincere, but the verses cited don't teach such a belief. Here's my response to this person...and I hope it's an encouragement to you if you want to know what the Bible says happens to us once we die.
I have to disagree with your line of reasoning. Lazarus did indeed die, which I believe we all agree on since Jesus said that clearly. But he didn't cease to exist at that time. I base that statement on at least four specific passages that describe what happens when someone dies.

The first passage is Luke 16 where Jesus shared the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Though this is a parable, it is still an accurate description by Jesus of what happens to someone at death. Whether the rich man and Lazarus represented real people or were simply "fictitious" names supplied by Jesus as part of the story doesn't matter. A central truth of the parable is the reality of a conscious existence after death. Jesus said that after death righteous Lazarus went to "Abraham's bosom" (v. 22), while the rich man went to "Hades" (v. 23), which is a place of conscious torment. In the parable Jesus taught that both individuals had a conscious existence after death.

The second passage is 2 Corinthians 5:8. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." Paul's clear point in the passage is that the moment someone dies (and is thus "absent from the body") that person is in Christ's presence in heaven. The person isn't experiencing "soul sleep" or some other form of suspended existence; he or she is transported into the presence of Christ…and Christ is in heaven! It would be hard to state this truth any more clearly than Paul does here.

The third passage is Philippians 1:21-24. Paul was facing the possibility of imminent death, and his prayer was that Christ will be exalted whether he lives or dies. He then explained why the choice was so difficult. To remain alive meant continued service for the Lord, though his personal preference was "to depart and be with Christ." In other words, were he to be put to death, Paul would "be with Christ." And again, where is Christ? He's in heaven!

The fourth passage is Revelation 6. This passage describes individuals who will be killed during the future tribulation period. In verses 9-11 we are introduced to a group who are said to be under the altar in heaven. Specifically it says they are the souls of those who have been slain in the tribulation period. That is, they are dead martyrs. But then the passage says they cry out to God and ask that their deaths be avenged. In response, they are given white robes and told they need to wait a little longer until the rest of their brethren who are to be martyred have also been killed. My point here is that these dead martyrs are said to be in heaven and are described as being conscious and able to communicate with God. They are not in some sort of soul sleep or lack of conscious existence.

This list of passages is not exhaustive. I could go on to mention the fact that Moses and Elijah (who were both dead) were able to return to earth to speak with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17) or that Stephen cried out as he was dying "Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit!" in Acts 7. But my point is that numerous passages in the Bible clearly teach the conscious existence of humans after death.

While the Bible uses sleep as a metaphor to describe death, it also goes on to say much about the conscious existence of humans who have died. And their place of existence—in paradise/heaven or in hades/hell—depends on their personal relationship to God while in this life.

But what about your larger concern that the soul is not "immortal." I can partially agree with you that humans are not "eternal" (I prefer this word over "immortal") in the sense that we have not existed from eternity past. We have a specific "starting point" for our existence at conception. But the Bible does teach that we continue to exist after our physical death. And that existence continues throughout eternity, as Revelation 20 makes clear. We will experience eternal life or eternal death…but both are eternal!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Where did Jesus walk on the water?

I received a thoughtful e-mail asking a good question. While I'll answer the question online, this is one where a picture can actually be very helpful. So I thought it might be best to include the answer here.

Question: In mark 6:45-52 is the story of Jesus walking on water and hopping into the boat with the disciples. the passage says that the disciples where in the MIDDLE of the lake. From my understanding of where the disciples started from and where they were going, they should not be in the MIDDLE of the lake. I would like for you to explain to me where I am in error geographically. So far the best I can do is to think that the MIDDLE refers to the disciples being halfway to their destination, but I really do not think that this is a correct interpretation either. This has been bugging me for a while.

Answer: Thanks for the question! I believe the answer can be found by understanding the fluid nature of the Greek word mesos. It can mean "in the middle," but it doesn't have to refer to the exact geographical center of an area. It can also mean "in the midst." According to The Complete Word Study Dictionary, the use of mesos with the preposition en (i.e., en mesos, which is the phrase used in Mark 6:47) usually means "in the midst" or "among." They illustrate this use with the following passages from the Gospels.
Matthew 10:16 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves"
Matthew 14:6 "the daughter of Herodias danced before them" (lit. "in the midst of them")
Matthew 18:2 "called a child to Himself and set him before them" (lit. "in the midst of them")
Matthew 18:20 "where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst"
Mark 9:36 "taking a child, He set him before them (lit. "in the midst of them"), and taking him in His arms, He said to them"
Luke 2:46 "they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers"
Luke 8:7 "And other seed fell among the thorns" (lit. "in the midst of the thorns")
Luke 10:3 "behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves"
Luke 22:27 "But I am among you (lit. "in the midst of you") as the one who serves"
Luke 22:55 "And after they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard"
Luke 24:36 "He Himself stood in their midst"
John 8:3 "brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst"

In these passages I think we can see that the normal understanding of the word is not "exact center" but "in the midst" in the sense of being surrounded by whatever it's in the midst of.

As we look at all the passages that record the incident with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14; Mark 6; and John 6), I think they can be harmonized quite well. The feeding of the 5,000 took place on the NE side of the Sea of Galilee (to the east of Bethsaida), and the disciples were heading toward Capernaum, on the NW side of the lake (John 6:17). Jesus had advised them to take a route along the northern edge of the lake, which would have taken them by Bethsaida. But a strong wind was blowing against them, and it pushed them out into the center part of the lake. I say this for two reasons. First, John 6:19 says they had rowed "25 or 30 stadia." A stadia was 607 feet, so John said they had rowed somewhere between 2.9 and 3.4 miles. (Note that John is providing an approximation, saying the event happened around 3-3.5 miles from the point of origin. Second, Mark 6:53 tells us where they actually ended up. They landed at "Gennesaret." This is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Kinneret, which is the Hebrew name for the Sea, the name of an OT city on the west side of the sea, and the name of the plain just to the south of that city. My point here is that the disciples ended up to the south and west of their original destination.

The photo at the top is a screen shot from Google Earth showing these locations. I've also drawn a line in the sea that is 3 miles long. The disciples were trying to row along the northern shore, but the wind was blowing them out into the lake. Rowing for three miles should have taken them almost to Capernaum, but they had been blown south so they were now "in the midst of the lake"…several miles off shore. After Jesus arrives on the scene, they finally made it to land, either at the site of Kinneret or on the Plain of Gennesaret.

Sorry to go into such detail, but I hope you find this explanation helpful!

Charlie

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Slanted reporting by BBC

There was a time when I thought the BBC--the British Broadcasting Company--was a standard for objective reporting of world news. Sadly, I learned long ago this is not the case. But I'm still surprised when I come across blatant examples of biased reporting coming from the BBC.

As I write this from Israel, I'm shaking my head at the BBC report I just read. The headline reads "New Israeli air strike into Gaza after 'ceasefire.'" The headline suggests that Israel violated its ceasefire with Hamas. The opening summary paragraph also lays blame on Israel for breaking the ceasefire. "One Palestinian was killed in a new Israeli air strike in Gaza, hours after Egypt apparently brokered a ceasefire."

So what's the problem? Well, the reality is that the Israeli air strike targeted a terrorist squad preparing to fire a rocket into Israel. It was the terrorists who were going to break the ceasefire, and Israel responded with the air strike to prevent that attack. The BBC finally says this...twenty paragraphs into a twenty-five paragraph story! And even then they couch it in a way that casts doubt on Israel's motives. "Israel's military said its aircraft 'targeted a terrorist squad... that was preparing to launch long-range rockets'." Come on BBC! Don't you think this might just be a little relevant to the story?!?

Do you want a more accurate account of the event? Try reading the Jerusalem Post article on the same subject. Their headline reads, "IDF strikes Gaza cell attempting to launch rocket at Israel."

The BBC ought to blush with shame at its lack of objectivity on this story!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mobile Sukkah Brigade

This picture, with accompanying article, in Ynetnews caught my attention. While it might look like a convoy of ice cream trucks, it's actually a group off-road trucks leased by the Chabad movement, one of the largest groups within Orthodox Judaism.

Each truck has a portable sukkah mounted in back. The trucks are now traveling throughout Israel to help people celebrate the Feast of Sukkot. (In Leviticus 23 Israel was commanded to live in booths during the seven-day Feast of Sukkot.) On their website, Chabad also provides instructions on how to build a sukkah for those Jews who might not have been observant in the past but who would now like to celebrate the feast.

I was encouraged by the article...though I also felt a need to go out and order a large soft serve chocolate-and-vanilla ice cream!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Who Owns the Promised Land?

This past week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he knows the answer to all the problems in the Middle East. “If the backers of the Zionist regime want to solve the issue...the solution is simple...everyone should go home.” Of course, he was referring to the Jews, and he was saying they are outsiders and intruders in the Middle East, sent from the West to colonize land that truly belongs to the Palestinians.

So are these the ravings of a demagogue that ought simply to be ignored?
I believe it’s important for us to have an answer to his message and not just dismiss it as the rantings of some nut. I say this because many in the Middle East agree with what he is saying. To not give an answer is to let others assume he has made a valid--and unanswerable--point.

The Jewish people weren't sent to the Middle East from Europe following World War II as Ahmadinejad suggests. The Jewish presence in the land goes back thousands of years. And there are other legitimate reasons for supporting the Jewish right to a national homeland. I can think of five.

  1. Let's start with the Bible. The Bible makes it clear that the land is the historic homeland of the Jewish people. God gave the title deed to Abraham's descendants through Isaac, and God never abrogated that promise. I realize some might not accept the Bible, so here are additional reasons that support Israel's right to the land.

  2. Let's begin by assuming legitimacy belongs to those who occupied the land first. The Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Jebusites, and other "ites" were there first...but they have disappeared from history. The Jewish people are the oldest surviving occupants of the land. If it belongs to the oldest surviving owners, then it belongs to the Jews.

  3. Or maybe legitimacy should be granted to the group who lived in the land for the longest period of time. The Jewish people (from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the first and second temple periods...and again since 1948) lived in the land for nearly 1,700 years. The Muslims came out of the Arabian peninsula to conquer the land, and they controlled the land for about 1,400 years. If it belongs to those who have lived their longest, then it belongs to the Jews.

  4. Or maybe we should give the land to those who have been the majority in the land most recently. Currently 70% of all the Jews living in the land are native-born Israelis. This is the land of their birth. In contrast, most Palestinians alive today have never set foot in the land. They were born elsewhere. So if it belongs to the largest group that was actually born there, then it belongs to the Jews.

  5. Or maybe we should just resort to the dictum that "possession is nine-tenth of the law." The one who ends up with the land is the presumed rightful owner. Like Abraham and the cave of Machpelah, the Jewish people gained much of the land they held prior to 1947 by purchasing it. But they gained the remaining land they now possess by fighting a series of defensive wars against armies who set out to destroy them. So if actual possession is a legitimate mark of ownership, then the land belongs to the Jews.

The bottom line is that Ahmadinejad is wrong on all counts. The Jewish people do have a historic right to live in the land, and Israel is as a legitimate nation. And that's why we need to challenge Ahmadinejad's statements.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What Does Islam Teach?

If you are willing to invest about an hour and a half of your time, I would strongly recommend you watch the online video, Islam: What the West Needs to Know. This video uses the Qur'an and other Islamic texts to explain what Islam teaches. Is it a religion of peace? Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Then share the link with others!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Six months ago the Israel Museum and Google teamed up to digitize and publish online the Dead Sea Scrolls. They just released the firstfruits of their labors at a website called, appropriately enough The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls.

The site contains five Dead Sea Scrolls digitized thus far, including the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll. The site is still a work in progress, and thus far only the Isaiah Scroll is searchable by verse in English, but the site is still worth checking out! As it matures and develops, more material will be added...and additional resources for English-only readers will hopefully be provided.

Take the site for a "test ride" in the following way.
  1. Open the Great Isaiah Scroll and click twice on the "zoom in" button (lower right) to magnify the text.
  2. Scroll along the numbers at the bottom of the window (each number represents one stitched-together leather section of the scroll) until you reach number 32.
  3. Navigate to the bottom of the page and look for a handwritten notation at the very bottom (below the text) that looks like a backward "6." This identifies the column where Isaiah 39 ends and Isaiah 40 begins.
  4. Look at the last two lines of that column. On the right side, in the margin between these two lines, is what looks like a horizontal line with the letter "O" resting on it. That mark identifies the specific spot where chapter 39 ends (on the left side of the next-to-last line) and chapter 40 begins (the right side of the very last line).
Apart from not having the vowel points, a first-year Hebrew student could read the last line (from right to left) as saying "Comfort. Comfort my people says your God…."

So why is this significant? It indicates that when this scroll was copied (sometime around 130-100 B.C.) there was no indication that Isaiah 1--39 and 40--66 were thought to be two separate books by multiple authors (a common view among critical scholars today). Had the scribe thought this to be so, it seems most natural that he would have ended the Isaiah 1--39 portion and then begun the new book at the top of the next column. Nothing in the manuscript supports the idea that Isaiah was anything more than a single book at the time this copy was made! (And since this was a copy made from an earlier work, we can logically push the date back even further in time.) In short, this manuscript creates major problems for those who hold to the theory of multiple authors for the Book of Isaiah.

One last suggestion. Click the "zoom out" button for the scroll to return to the original size. And then hover your mouse over the text. Doing so will highlight the individual verses in the scroll. By clicking on the highlighted section you can read a translation of that particular verse. It gives those who can't read Hebrew a sense of what it is like to read from the text.

This site is definitely worth bookmarking...and returning to at frequent intervals!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ahmadinejad's Eschatology

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke this past week before the UN General Assembly. And once again he presented his distorted views of the past, the present, and the future. The press focused on his denial of the Holocaust, his conspiracy theories on the September 11 attacks, and his ugly tirades against Israel and the United States...and the mass exodus of delegates in protest.

But most in the press missed Ahmadinejad's comments about the future...and what he believes the future holds. Over the years he has remained remarkably consistent in his focus on what the future holds...and on his call for all nations to "come to faith" before it's too late.

Here are some of his closing comments from last week's speech as he called on nations to rally together to advance his view of the future...

A future that will be built when humanity initiates to trend [sic] the path of the divine prophets and the righteous under the leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the Ultimate Savior of mankind and the inheritor to all divine messengers and leaders and to the pure generation of our great Prophet.

The creation of a supreme and ideal society with the arrival of a perfect human being who is a true and sincere lover of all human beings, is the guaranteed promise of Allah.

He will come alongside with Jesus Christ to lead the freedom and justice lovers to eradicate tyranny and discrimination, and promote knowledge, peace, justice freedom and love across the world. He will present to every single individual all the beauties of the world and all good things which bring happiness for humankind.

And what can Iran do to help hasten the coming of this Islamic messiah? "Our great nation stands ready to join hands with other nations to march on this beautiful path in harmony and in line with the shared aspirations of mankind."

Two thoughts came to mind as I read his speech. First, to understand Ahmadinejad and Iran one must understand what he truly believes will take place in the future. These statements are not simply platitudes for the Islamic masses. Ahmadinejad believes what he is saying, and the actions he and Iran have taken over the years are designed to hasten the coming of these Islamic end times. What he didn't bother to say directly in his public remarks is that fact that these end times are also supposed to include the destruction of Israel and the Jews. Anyone who minimizes Ahmadinejad's statements simply doesn't realize how seriously he believes in this future.

Second, there is also a sense in which his words are a rebuke to Christians who are afraid to share publicly God's message of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Ahmadinejad is more willing to speak boldly for his own false views than Christians are to share the revealed truth of God's Word. What could God accomplish if we were as bold in sharing our faith as he has shown himself to be in promoting Islam?

Ahmadinejad views the future as a matter of life and death...of choices that will bring with them eternal consequences. And in that sense I agree with him. Unfortunately, we know from the Bible that his view of the future will not lead to eternal life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Understanding the Math

Israel has fared poorly in the United Nations over the years. According to one analysis:
...of 175 total resolutions passed by the [Security] Council, 97 were directed against Israel, as contrasted with 4 against all Arab states combined....In the years 1947 to 1989, the General Assembly passed a total of 690 resolutions (full or partial). Of these, 429 were against the Israeli position while only 56 were against Arab positions. Of the 56 votes not to the Arabs’ liking, 49 concerned the establishment or financing of peace-keeping forces.
While some might quibble with the specific number of resolutions or votes in this analysis, it's hard to argue that the UN seems to vote against Israel far more often than it supports them.

So does this mean Israel is indeed a pariah state, worthy of such condemnation? Or are there other factors at play?

It helps if we understand the math. There are currently 192 countries who are member states of the United Nations.

Israel has one vote; and its strongest ally, the United States, has one vote. Total votes = 2.
The Muslim majority countries each have one vote. Total votes = 48. (If Palestine becomes a recognized country, the total will increase to 49.) The United States and Israel combined represent 1% of the total votes in the General Assembly. The Muslim majority countries represent 25% of the total votes...the single largest voting block of its kind in the UN.

Perhaps that's why so many of the UN's votes seem to favor the Palestinians and condemn the Israelis!

The numbers do get reversed...if one looks at financial contributions to the UN. (Link to the following Wikipedia article, especially footnote 58, for facts to support the following numbers.) The United States is contributing 22% of the UN budget for 2011, while the total for all 48 Muslim majority countries is just 2.9%. In fact, Israel's contribution, at .419%, is larger than the contribution of every Muslim majority country except Saudi Arabia.

Maybe it's time to restructure the UN. I would propose a model similar to the U.S. Congress, with two legislative branches. One would be set up similar to the Senate, with each country getting one vote regardless of its size. But the second would have proportional representation. The current system, which gives the Maldives (with a population of 350,000) equal voting weight as the U.S., makes no sense.

And perhaps the cost to run the entire operation could also be distributed more proportionally.

Right now the math doesn't make sense!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jew or Not Jew?

I saw an article today that disturbed me in the online edition of The Wall Street Journal. The article reported on an app for the iPhone (called "Jew or Not Jew?") that was just banned on France's app store. The application allows someone to identify whether a movie star, politician, key businessperson, journalist, etc. is Jewish.

The developer of the application is himself Jewish, and he is quick to point out he didn't develop the program for any racist or anti-Semitic purpose. On the app site (it's still available at Apple's online app store in the U.S.) he clearly states, "This app is only intended for fun. Nothing more! It does not aim to prove the superiority of any racial group. Remember that for each Jew listed in any one category there are many more equally talented non-Jews! The app simply shows that through hard work many Jews, often from immigrant families, have managed to achieve recognition."

I have no problem with his motives, nor do I have any problem highlighting the achievement of Jews. (Each week we feature an "Amazing Israel" segment on our radio program!) The impact of the Jewish people on the world has been far greater than one would expect from their relatively small population numbers as a percentage of the total world's population. I believe their impact is due, in part, to God's promised blessing on Abraham's descendants and, in part, to their commitment to education and hard work.

What concerns me is the reality that there are many in this world who will see a Jewish conspiracy behind such success. They already argue that the Jews control the media, financial institutions, and even entire governments. My fear is that such conspiracy theorists will use this app to validate their beliefs. This was never the intent of the designer, but it seems like those with anti-Semitic beliefs can use the application to justify their prejudice...and even possibly to identify specific targets for their hatred.

I wish this were not the case, but the sin nature is still alive and well in the human race. We don't need to make it any easier for individuals who might want to identify--and possibly harm--others because of their racial or ethnic background.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Non-Jewish Palestine?

In an article in today's edition of USA Today, the Palestine Liberation Organization ambassador to the United States stated that any future Palestinian state should be "free of Jews." The article then quotes Elliott Abrams who notes this would make the future Palestinian state the first since Nazi Germany to have as its goal a "country that was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews."

The original 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine (Resolution 181) spoke very specifically to the issue of citizenship for those living in the two states. " Palestinians citizens residing in Palestine outside the City of Jerusalem, as well as Arabs and Jews who, not holding holding Palestinian citizenship, reside in Palestine outside the City of Jerusalem shall, upon the recognition of independence, become citizens of the State in which they are resident and enjoy full civil and political rights."

Israel accepted the resolution, the Arabs did not. Israel gave citizenship to those Arabs living within the State of Israel, the Arabs are saying they will not. For the past year the Palestinians have refused to negotiate with Israel, even though they committed in the Oslo Accords to reach a settlement through negotiations. They are demanding the "right of return" to Israel for millions of Palestinians, an influx that would overwhelm the Jewish State...but at the same time they don't want a single Jew to live in their new State of Palestine.

Have the Palestinians ever been serious about a two-state solution? It seems that they are willing to have two states...as long as both end up being Palestinian!

We need to do everything possible to encourage our government to continue standing by Israel...and not to force them into accepting an unworkable two-state solution that is based on false promises of peace.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A "Seven Species" Oil Lamp

During our devotional time on The Land and the Book I've been doing a series on the seven species of plants named by Moses in Deuteronomy 8. And so I was more than a little interested when I received the latest edition of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine had discovered an article on an unusual olive oil lamp. The lamp, carved from stone rather than molded from clay, contains seven spouts plus a handle. And carved on top is a relief of the temple menorah...along with carvings of the seven species of plants mentioned in Deuteronomy 8!

The lamp was discovered several years ago, but it has been surrounded in controversy since that time. It wasn't uncovered in a controlled archaeological dig, and that raised suspicions about its date...and even its authenticity. According to the article, a group of scientists studied the object and have apparently now validated its authenticity. The article suggests the lamp might date back to the time of the Second Temple period, putting it around the time of Jesus. Unfortunately, since specific details on where the object was found are not known, any attempt to date the object more precisely is impossible.

If you would like to read a summary of the BAR article, click here. And then keep listening each weekend as we continue our study of the seven species of the land!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Demonizing of Glenn Beck

Yesterday marked the end of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Courage" campaign in Israel. The level of news coverage was so light that many Americans might not even realize the final rally took place. News editors certainly gave it far less coverage than Kim Kardashian's wedding...an event that, from the level of coverage it received, appears to have been more significant than virtually anything else taking place!

Let me say at the beginning of this post that as an evangelical I have serious disagreements with Glenn Beck's Mormon theology. But having said that, I'm upset with the media's attempts to silence Glenn Beck by ignoring him or, even worse, demonizing him. Character assassination should have no place in any media outlet committed to journalistic integrity.

So what did Glenn Beck say at his "Restoring Courage" rally? If you were to read the article in today's online edition of Haaretz, you would assume the entire event was a cross between a snake-handling tent meeting and an Arian gathering at some beer hall in Germany. The author described the event as a "circus," and compared Glenn Beck to "Joe McCarthy." He went on to call Beck's followers "anti-Semites" and "wachos" who are evidently too stupid to realize their own anti-Semitism...but who were really in Israel promoting a "white, Aryan" agenda. But is this reporter's coverage accurate or true?

I read Glenn Beck's speech online, and I would challenge you to do the same. While I personally would have made some editorial changes in the speech, those changes are relatively minor. On the whole, the speech rises to the level of being quite profound and inspiring--not in the biblical sense of coming from the hand of God but in the sense of crystalizing issues and issuing a compelling call for listeners to respond. After hearing so much drivel from modern-day politicians, this speech rises to the level of some of the great speeches of Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Kennedy.

Read Beck's speech...and then read the Haaretz article. By demonizing Beck the article uses the power of negative stereotypes to delegitimize the messenger rather than focusing on the actual message. Sadly, the technique does work. But it illustrates two fallacies that are far too prevalent in journalism today.

The first fallacy is bias. Everyone has presuppositions, and all news is selective--from the stories chosen to be covered to the amount of time/space allotted for the actual report. Ideally, a reporter needs to be aware of his or her own personal biases and strive to be as objective as possible. Sadly, we are seeing less and less objectivity in reporting...from all sides!

The second fallacy is the increasing use of argumentum ad hominem. More than 40 years ago I was taught this logical fallacy in debate class. It seeks to negate a statement by attacking the character of the person making it. In essence if Satan is the father of lies, all I need to do is convince others you are Satan...and then I don't need to deal with the merits of the arguments you are making--since we can assume they are lies. This is fallacious reasoning, but there has been an alarming increase in "character assassination" in the media. (And I'm referring to attacks being made against people on all sides of the political and religious spectrum...from Barak Obama to Sarah Palin!)

So what can you do? First, pay close attention to the arguments being used by the media in their stories. Do they have an obvious bias? Are they seeking to present both sides of an issue? Are they focusing on what individuals are actually saying...or are they simply attacking the person saying it?

Second, look carefully at any visuals being used in a report. Do those visuals present a positive or negative picture of the person being highlighted in the story? Is the media outlet using the visual images to inject bias into the report?

Third, take time to read original sources. The internet gives you direct access to a wealth of information. If you have questions about a report, go online and try to find the complete text of the speech or the event being reported. Become your own media critic!

Finally, be willing to share your informed thoughts and opinions with others. Write a letter to the editor if you see clear evidence of biased reporting. Let them know that you are paying attention...and that you want accurate, unbiased coverage...without resorting to character assassination. Cite specific examples! And if they refuse to change, vote with your feet and your pocketbook. Change channels...and subscriptions. Media is a business, and you can reward financially those media outlets that are committed to being as accurate and unbiased as possible.

I might not agree with all that Glenn Beck says or does, but I think he deserved more honest coverage--and we deserved more accurate reporting--on the event itself!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Israel's Latest Hero

Benny Belevsky, a 60-year-old bus driver, became Israel's latest hero. Belevsky was driving the Egged bus from Beersheba to Eilat that was attacked by three terrorists on Thursday.

So what makes Belevsky a hero?

Put yourself in his place. What would you do if, in the middle of an otherwise uneventful trip, the windows around you suddenly shattered as bullets zipped past your head? I think an individual's first reaction might be to hit the brakes and duck for cover. And that's likely what the terrorists were hoping would happen. With rifles and antitank missiles at the ready, a stationary bus filled with people would make an excellent target.

But Belevsky didn't react that way. Instead, he accelerated...driving through the hail of gunfire and refusing to stop until he reached the nearest military checkpoint. In an interview with Ynet News, Belevsky explained what happened...and why he responded as he did. "The bullets hit the bus and two of them shattered the window near me, passed just above my head and hit the ceiling. I am experienced enough to know that I should keep driving and that I mustn't stop so that the damage doesn't get worse."

It's the quick reaction of ordinary people like Belevsky that helps make Israel such a remarkable country. Thank you, Benny Belevsky, for responding with such wisdom and courage under fire! You really are one of Israel's many unsung heroes!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hercules Statue in Jezreel Valley

The Israel Antiquities Authority issued a press release today announcing the discovery of a statue of Hercules uncovered during a dig in the Jezreel Valley. The statue dates from the second century A.D. and was evidently part of the decoration of a bathhouse/pool at a Roman villa in the valley.

If you would like to read the full report on the discovery, click on the following link to the Israel Antiquities Authority. And make sure you download the high-resolution photographs of the statue that are also available at the site!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Sword and the Menorah












These three images are from an Associated Press article reporting on today's announcement about the latest archaeological finds in Jerusalem. I'll be talking more about this discovery on Saturday's program, but I thought you might enjoy seeing these pictures now. The one picture shows the drainage tunnel that has now been uncovered in Jerusalem. It ran along the street that extended from the Temple Mount down to the Pool of Siloam. The other pictures show the sketch of the menorah on a piece of stone as well as the remains of a Roman sword, still in its leather scabbard. These were both found in this tunnel. They are the latest in a string of amazing discoveries still being made in Jerusalem!


Friday, August 5, 2011

Overrun by Coneys!

A BBC report on "coneys" makes for good Friday reading! The coney (also called a hyrax, rock badger, or rock rabbit) is described in the Bible as an animal that makes its home in the rocky crags (Prov. 30:26). But it seems the animal is becoming something of a pest in Israel as it moves into villages and tears up gardens.

A study was done to determine why the problem was becoming more severe, and it turned out the real problem is...people! As land is cleared for new homes in Israel, the rocks and boulders are scraped to the side and piled up. This creates additional "rocky crags" for the coneys, who have been taking up residence in their new "homes."

God created the coneys to live in the rocks, and humans have been creating new piles of rocks for the coneys to call home!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Absolutely Absurd!

Why did America come so close to defaulting on its debt? Was it overspending? Was it the prolonged recession? Was it Congressional gridlock?

Not according to the PakTribune. They have concluded it's all the fault of the Jews!

In a blatant, antisemitic rant a recent article in the PakTribune blames the Jews for the problems facing the United States...and the rest of the world. Here's an excerpt from the article--just as it appeared online!
Zionist elements always influenced the political, CIA and military top brass and shaped the U.S. regional and global political, economical, defence and other local nature of policies in the larger interest of Israel.

It is worth mentioning here that these 2% Jews inhabitants are controlling 82% Christians of U.S. They are playing their negative role in media, prominent institutions, Intelligence agencies since followers of Judaism has faith of ruling the world by hook and crock at all cost. It is added here that many Jews pressure groups are operating in America and world over.
Such propaganda would also be laughable were it not for the fact that many who live in Muslim countries believe the statements are true. And it's that false perception that is behind much of Islam's conflict with the West. But isn't this just a case where you have a right to your opinion, and I have a right to mine?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is said to have quipped, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." And whether or not Moynihan is the first to have made that statement, the truth of what he said is crucial to any proper evaluation of the article's assertion that the Jews somehow control the world.

The write of the article may feel as if the Jews are in control of the world, but that is only his opinion. It is not grounded in hard, objective facts. While it might be true that the Jews have had an influence on the world that is disproportionately greater than the size of its population, this doesn't prove there is a secret Jewish conspiracy to control the world. Their focus on study, education, and hard work--coupled with God's promise to bless the descendants of Abraham--are far more compelling reasons for the extent of their influence.

If America is in decline, it's because our country has drifted away from the Judeo-Christian values that once made it strong. These values include hard work, personal responsibility, and moral values grounded in the truth of the Bible. To blame the Jewish people for problems caused by our own irresponsibility and poor choices is absurd.

This writer is entitled to his opinion. But until he is willing to accept the fact that his opinion is wrong--and that each individual (and country) needs to accept responsibility for its own problems and failures--he will be incapable of making the hard choices necessary to move forward.

And that's sad!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Does God Say about Our Current Debt Crisis?

The debate of the hour is focused on America's debt crisis, and all the rhetoric seems to be generating more heat than light. Could the political brinksmanship actually be missing the core issue, which is the fact that America has been consistently spending more than it receives in income? And this pattern of overspending has been present whether those running the White House and Congress have been Republicans or Democrats.

No family could ever survive long-term if it consistently spent more than it took in. Eventually it would max out its credit cards, reach it's debt limit at the bank, and exhaust its savings. The family would need to make drastic changes in its lifestyle to control spending and pay down its debt. So why have we thought our government could consistently spend more than it takes in without experiencing the same consequences?

Maybe it's time to go back to the Bible and remember the principles God gave about debt. Here are some we might want to point out to those in Washington who are now deciding how best to move our country forward.

Psalm 37:21--"The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives." Whatever Congress decides, defaulting on our national debt is not a biblical option. God says those who borrow and don't repay their obligations are "wicked."

Proverbs 22:7--"The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave." By continuing to borrow we are putting our nation in greater debt...which makes us "slaves" to those who loan us the money to temporarily live beyond our means.

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5--"When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay." Much like Psalm 37:21, the principle here is that God expects those who make a vow (or enter into a agreement) to pay what they have committed...and to do so in a timely fashion.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12--"For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread." Individuals (and governments) ought never be in the business of subsidizing the lazy and undisciplined. Fostering an entitlement mentality destroys self-respect and leads to greater disruption. All who are physically able ought to be expected to work rather than living off the hard work of others.

And perhaps the most significant principle comes from Deuteronomy 28. While the passage refers specifically and directly to Israel and the Jewish people, it is still instructive for other nations.

Deuteronomy 28:12--"The LORD will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow." And what is the principle? It's this: Ultimately, the material blessings that allow nations to prosper (so they can lend to others rather than borrowing from others!) come from God...and is poured out on those who honor Him.

So what's the bottom line for our current crisis? First, Congress and the President need to commit to paying all of America's current creditors. We borrowed the money, and we need to pay it back when it is due. Second, we need to commit to working our way out of debt--nationally and individually. Let's stop putting ourselves into financial slavery...and learn to live within our financial means. Third, let's start dismantling our growing programs of national entitlement and heed the words of President John F. Kennedy from his inauguration in 1961. "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

And finally, let's remember that there is a God...and He does expect nations and individuals to live by His standards of right and wrong. At its very core, what we are facing in our country is a moral and spiritual crisis, not a fiscal one. And we need to help those around us understand what God expects from us if we hope to experience His blessing on our country.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Don't always believe what you read

Last Saturday (July 23) an scientist was assassinated in Tehran. Initial reports indicated he was a nuclear engineer who was part of Iran's covert nuclear weapons program...and who was assassinated as part of the ongoing efforts by the West to thwart Iran's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran vigorously denied the individual had any part in their nuclear program. They described him as a master's-level university student who was married with a child. And they pictured his assassination as a case of mistaken identify...and terrorism. This position was reported in many media outlets, and the story largely disappeared from the news.

However, one day after the assassination Debka, an Israeli web site, posted an article refuting Iran's claims and stating the man had indeed been an Iranian scientist who had been helping design a detonator for a nuclear bomb. No mainstream media picked up on the Debka report...until yesterday. An article finally appeared in Haaretz stating that officials have finally admitted the man was a scientist involved in developing high-voltage switches needed to trigger a nuclear warhead.

I see two lessons coming from this story. First, we need to understand there is a serious, though largely covert, war taking place between Iran and the West. The West is doing everything possible--short of active military intervention--to stop the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons. The Stuxnet virus and targeted assassinations of key nuclear scientists are part of these covert operations. And they are likely to continue--and increase--as Iran pushes toward a nuclear threshold.

Second, we need to realize Iran has been using--and will continue to use--every means possible to distort and cover up the real extent of their nuclear program...and any impact the West is having in disrupting it. Iran downplayed the impact of the Stuxnet virus, and they have now tried to deny the involvement of the scientist who was assassinated. This was not a case of mistaken identity. The assassination targeted a specific individual who was evidently developing a key element of the triggering device for a nuclear bomb.

A life-and-death struggle over the future of the Middle East is being waged...though most people aren't even aware of the battle. And the truth won't always be found simply by reading the news headlines!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Bell from a Priest's Robe

In the Book of Exodus God gave specific instructions concerning the garments to be worn by the priests. One detail seems, at first, to be somewhat unusual...decorative bells and pomegranates that were to be fastened to the bottom of the priests' robes.

Here's the specific command from Exodus 28:33-35:
"And you shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe. And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling may be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the LORD, that he may not die."

Archaeologists in Jerusalem may just have discovered one of the bells described in this passage! While excavating a drainage ditch from a street that ran along the western end of the Temple Mount, they uncovered a small golden bell (see above) that had evidently fallen off a priest's garment and rolled into the ditch. The bell had a loop on top to allow that would allow it to be fastened to the hem of the robe.

The bell that was discovered is from the Second Temple period, nearly 1,500 years after God first gave the command to Moses. It's another reminder that the Jewish people in the New Testament era were still being careful to follow the guidelines laid down by God for temple worship.

If you would like to read more about this amazing discovery, click here.

Inside the White House in 1973

The U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian just released historical archives detailing the foreign relations of the United States from 1969 through 1976. Volume XXV of the material highlights the Arab-Israeli Crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The materials makes for a fascinating read! In going through the material, here is an example of the kind of exchanges I found to be of interest.

During a White House Bipartisan Leadership Meeting on November 27 (just after the war, as arrangements were being made for negotiations), President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave their frank assessment of the war...and of current realities in the Middle East. At one point Congressman Stratton from New York asked, "What is the significance now of Resolution 242" [the UN resolution passed in 1967 calling for Israel to return all land captured during the Six Day War]? Kissinger's response seems to indicate that, as far as the circle of leaders gathered at the meeting in the White House was concerned, the resolution was meaningless. He said, "In the family--242 doesn't mean a thing" (p. 1026 of the pdf file, 992 of the document itself).

President Nixon also responded suggesting that any final deal on borders would give Israel at least some of the land that had been captured by them in 1967. Immediately after Kissinger's words, the President added, "It means 1967 for the Arabs and for Israel it means what they have plus ten percent."

Senator Fullbright objected to these two statements and responded, "It is not right to say 242 doesn’t mean anything." The President answered by saying, "It means different things to different people. To us it means what is negotiated."

Later in that same meeting the issue of nuclear weapons came up. Senator Mike Mansfield asked, "Do Egypt and Israel have the capability to make nuclear weapons?" Henry Kissinger's response appears to have been deliberately understated. "Israel has the capability to make small numbers. Not Egypt" (p. 1027 of the pdf file, 993 of the document itself).

If you want to know what was happening inside our government as this crisis unfolded, click on the link above to download the file. It makes for fascinating reading!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Israel's Renewed Fascination with the EU

A survey conducted by Ben Gurion University found that 81% of Israelis would support Israel joining the European Union, and 64% would support the deployment of NATO forces to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a peace treaty with the Palestinians. A recent Jerusalem Post article reported on the survey and quoted one of the researchers who conducted it. "Israelis are really into strengthening and deepening the cooperation between Israel and the EU. Israelis understand the importance of the EU for the future of Israel and they want to strengthen the relations."

What significance, if any, could this information have in God's prophetic program? I see two possible points of connection. First, Israel's growing interest in Europe could be connected, at least in part, to its realization that the United States might not always be the reliable partner and friend it has been for the past 30 years. Israel's fascination with Europe could reflect a growing belief that Europe might prove to be the more reliable economic and political partner in the future. Second, the Bible describes the last days as a time characterized by interaction between the revived Roman Empire and a restored nation of Israel. The period begins as a time of cooperation and peace, though eventually the European ruler will turn against Israel. This is described in some detail in Daniel 9:27 and Revelation 12–13.

Pay close attention to Israel's growing desire for rapprochement with Europe. It could eventually prove to be another piece of God's end-time puzzle clicking into place.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Granddaughter of Caiaphas

This past week Israeli researchers announced an amazing discovery. An ossuary (stone box used to store the bones of someone who had died) that had been dug up by grave robbers and seized by the antiquities authority was determined to be authentic.

But what's so amazing about verifying the authenticity of a stolen stolen bone box?

The authorities spent three years verifying that the box was not a forgery because the inscription on it was so significant. They wanted to make sure the box was authentic before announcing the discovery. The inscription on the box read, "Miriam Daughter of Yeshua Son of Caiaphas, Priests of Ma’aziah from Beth Imri."

Miriam, the name of Moses' sister, was a common Hebrew name. The New Testament name Mary is the Greek form of this name. The Miriam in this inscription is identified as the daughter of Yeshua. That's the Old Testament name Joshua, and Jesus is the Greek form of this name.

We read the New Testament and know that Jesus was the daughter of Mary. Some may have wondered why both names aren't found in the Old Testament. In reality, they are--once one understands what the Hebrew equivalents are--and they were also very common in during the New Testament era. In this particular case Mary is the daughter of Jesus!

But what's most remarkable about the inscription is the fact that it also names Miriam's grandfather, Caiaphas. He was the high priest who presided over the trial of Jesus, and who had Jesus delivered over to Pilate for crucifixion.

In one of those historical oddities, Caiaphas had a son with the same Hebrew name as Jesus. And that son eventually had a daughter whom he gave the same Hebrew name as Mary. Isn't it just like God to allow this particular bone box to be preserved...perhaps, in part, to help us remember once again the historical reality of the events we know from the Bible!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jesus didn't return on May 21. Now what?

In spite of all the hype and hoopla generated by Harold Camping, Jesus was a no-show for the rapture on May 21. The news media have finished laughing and are now turning their attention to other stories. Soon the billboards will come down, and the entire event will be forgotten by most.

But before the story slips from our collective memories, I want to focus on two concerns--and two lessons--we need to learn from this event.

Concern #1: I'm concerned for Camping's followers who believed his prediction...and quit their jobs, maxed out their credit cards, spent their savings, and ultimately put stress on their families. Right now they are struggling with feelings of anger and embarrassment. They bought into the message of a man who seemed so persuasive, so sure of his facts. And now they don't know what to do...or what to believe. If you know some of his followers, please reach out to them. They need your encouragement...and your biblical wisdom.

Concern #2: I'm concerned for believers who were mildly concerned about Camping's prediction. They didn't abandon all to follow him, but they were at least curious. Perhaps they even watched the clock on May 21 to see if Jesus just might indeed return at the predicted hour. But when He didn't, they shrugged their shoulders and quietly congratulated themselves over not getting too excited about the prediction. And any thoughts they might have had about preparing for the rapture all too quickly vanished. Like a vaccination, they have been inoculated against getting too excited about Christ's return. And this can lead to spiritual lethargy and complacency.

So what lessons ought we learn from this non-event?

Lesson #1--Know the Bible: It should have been obvious to all serious Christians that Harold Camping was wrong. His entire system was based on arbitrary numbers and dates that were not grounded in the biblical text. His entire prediction was based on his belief that 5 is the number of atonement, 10 is the number of completion, and 17 is the number of heaven. But if someone took the time to look at his "proof texts" for these spurious numbers, he or she discovered they were based on an fanciful interpretations of passages that didn't actually teach what he claimed. He then arbitrarily multiplied these three numbers...and then squared that total to arrive at the number of days from the crucifixion to his date for the rapture. But what biblical basis did he have for multiplying these numbers, or squaring the result? None whatsoever!

My point here is that the methods used by Harold Camping to reach his conclusion are not the means God uses to communicate truth. The Bible is not a giant cryptogram with hidden messages that required a secret cipher to decode. God created humans with language skills, and God communicated to His creation using those same language skills. To understand the Bible, read it as you would any literary text--in its normal historical, cultural, literary context. Harold Camping kept looking for deeper, hidden messages. And in doing so he missed the clear teaching that God provided in His Word.

So what did Jesus say about His return? Here's what God's Word clearly declares:
Matthew 24:36--"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
Matthew 24:42--"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming."
Matthew 24:44--"For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will."
Revelation 16:15--"Behold, I am coming like a thief." (When is the last time you correctly predicted the day a thief was going to break into your house?)

Here is what the Apostle Paul taught in regard to Jesus' return and end-time events:
1 Thessalonians 5:2--"For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." (Again, the allusion to the day coming like a thief.)

Peter said the same thing in regard to Jesus' return and end-time events:
2 Peter 3:10--"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief."

How could we be sure Harold Camping was wrong? His prediction didn't match the clear teaching of Jesus, Paul, and Peter!

Lesson #2--Jesus is coming: This brings me to my final lesson...and it's one we dare not forget. Jesus didn't come back on May 21, but He is coming back! We don't know the exact day, so we are always to be ready. Jesus was absolutely clear on the reality that He is coming back, and He expects us to live as though His return could happen at any time.

"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will" (Matthew 24:42-44).

The Book of Revelation begins and ends with the same admonition from Jesus:
"Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near" (Revelation 1:3).

"And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book....Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done....He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.'" (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20).

Harold Camping's specific date was wrong because it flowed from his creative imagination, not from the clear teaching of the Bible. But he was right in believing Jesus is coming back. And while Jesus didn't return on May 21, He could perhaps return tomorrow.

Are you ready?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thrown under the bus

I struggle to find words that describe my response to today's speech by President Obama. It looks to me like the United States has just thrown Israel under the bus, harming a longtime ally in an attempt to score points with others in the Middle East.

The United States just reneged on commitments we made in 2004 when we promised Israel we would not force them to return to the 1967 borders--which are not defensible. We might say our commitment to Israel is "unshakeable," but actions speak louder than words. And by our actions we have just put Israel in an untenable position.

It seems as if we have committed our country to a policy of ethnic cleansing, publicly demanding that Israel abandon land that has historically belonged to the Jewish people. For example, from 1948 till 1967 all Jews were forcibly excluded from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and denied access to the Western Wall, the holiest location in Judaism. Is it our official position to demand that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem be judenrein?

We are quick to pressure Israel to make concessions, but similar pressure isn't being applied to the Palestinians. When the Palestinian Authority announced a unity government with Hamas, our response was muted, even though Hamas refuses to abandon it's formal position calling for the destruction of Israel. We continue to fund Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority even though he has refused to negotiate with Israel. We say we are committed to Israel's security, but our statements don't align with our actions.

My concern with America's current foreign policy decisions in the Middle East extend beyond just Israel. We abandoned longtime ally Hosni Mubarak, publicly calling on him to step down within days after demonstrations began. We were quick to throw our support behind the "pro-democracy" demonstrators in Cairo. But we didn't actively support the protestors who demonstrated against rigged elections in Iran. And we still haven't called for the removal of Bashar Assad of Syria, even though he has killed nearly a thousand demonstrators over the past several weeks. Yet we pressured Bahrain to give in to the demands of Shiite protestors even though there is evidence that the unrest in Bahrain is being fomented by Iran. Our actions against the leadership in Egypt and Bahrain have offended and alienated Saudi Arabia, which also feels abandoned by the U.S.

It looks like our current national policy is to distance ourselves from friends in the hope of courting the favor of enemies. This won't work. We will end up with no friends...and more emboldened enemies. What western, secular politicians perceive as tolerance and even-handedness is viewed in the Middle East as weakness and vacillation. America's new policy is a policy of appeasement...and it looks much like an earlier version promoted by Neville Chamberlain just before World War II. And my fear is that the results will be similar.

While I'm concerned for Israel, I believe God will take care of them. I'm more worried about the United States. If we turn against Israel, we will be turning against God. As God said to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, "And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse." I don't want the United States to become a nation cursed by God. But the path we seem to be choosing is not encouraging!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Distortion of History


On Monday The New York Times ran an op/ed piece from Mahmoud Abbas on "The Long Overdue Palestinian State." The article is based on a revisionist view of history that disturbs me. Here is one of the key paragraphs:
It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.
To help put the UN partition vote in perspective, I've included the front page of The New York Times with its original coverage of that UN General Assembly vote. The final vote was 33 in favor of partitioning the land into two states and 13 opposed. The Jewish population in Palestine, though they didn't have an official vote in the UN, had agreed to the proposal. So who opposed it? Well, the Arabs living in Palestine along with 13 voting member of the UN. These were Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen. The article also makes this clear. "The walkout of the Arab delegates was taken as a clear indication that the Palestinian Arabs would have nothing to do with the Assembly's decision."

Look carefully at the list of nations opposed to a two-state solution in 1947. Apart from Greece and Cuba, the remaining 11 countries share one thing in common. They are all Muslim countries, and they include every Arab country from the Middle East that could vote!

Abbas' op/ed piece tries to blame Israel for the failure of a Palestinian state. He implies that Israel was responsible for the war that resulted in the expulsion of the Palestinians. In fact, it was the Arabs who opposed the formation of the State of Israel as part of any two state solution, and it was the Arabs (including the Palestinians) who sought to destroy Israel.

Did the ensuing conflict result in a refugee problem? Yes it did...on both sides. (Remember that hundreds of thousands of Jews were also expelled from Muslim countries following the formation of the State of Israel.) Did the conflict prohibit the formation of a State of Palestine? It did...especially after Egypt and Jordan swallowed up the land that had been allocated to a Palestinian State. Did Israel end up with more land than had been originally allocated to them by the UN? Yes they did...as the result of a war imposed on them by the surrounding countries who sought to deny the Jews the right to have a country they could call their own.

President Abbas, it is the Arabs who are ultimately responsible for the lack of a Palestinian state. Isn't it about time to stop blaming the Jews...and to acknowledge your past failures? It seems like that sort of honesty is an important first step toward any lasting peace.

New "Cuban Missile Crisis"?

For most Americans, the danger posed by Iran seems to be more symbolic than real. Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs represent a system opposed to our values. But, up till now, that threat has been limited to the Middle East. Our soldiers felt Iran's impact in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the average American has never really felt threatened by Iran. That is, until now.

There is a report in today's Jerusalem Post that Iran is secretly building rocket bases in Venezuela. The report is based on a May 13 article in the German newspaper Die Welt titled "Iranische Raketenbasis in Venezuela in Planungsphase" ("Iranian Missile Base in Venezuela in Planning Phase"). The article claims that the Iran and Venezuela completed a secret agreement last October to construct a missile base on the Paraguaná Peninsula in Venezuela (near Aruba) that could house intermediate-range Iranian missiles. The missiles and launch facilities would be hidden in underground silos.

So what's the threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region? Initially the threat would be somewhat limited. Iran's Sajil-2 missile can travel approximately 1,200 miles, which puts Miami within range. More worrisome are recent reports that Iran and North Korea have been exchanging missile technology. North Korea has missiles with a range of 4,000 miles. A missile with that range, launched from Venezuela, could reach any destination in the continental United States.

One last piece of the puzzle. It is likely Iran is still working on developing nuclear weapons. Should they succeed in developing such weapons—and the West seems incapable of stopping them—they would have the ability to place those weapons far closer to the United States than we might ever have imagined.

Those of us old enough remember the Cuban Missile Crisis remember the threat posed by an enemy seeking to place weapons of mass destruction close to our border. Now, imagine a scenario where the person with his finger on the button is not an avowed Soviet atheist, who believes nuclear annihilation means the end of all life. Rather, the person is a radical Muslim who believes a worldwide conflagration must precede the return of the Mahdi.

Maybe we ought to be more concerned about what Iran is doing in the Middle East, and around the world. It's not just Israel who should feel threatened by the actions of their leaders!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Misery loves company

With the average gasoline price in the U.S. hovering near $4 a gallon, most American are feeling the pinch. There are predictions that prices will soon begin to fall, and that would be good news. In the meantime, if there is any comfort to be found in the current price we are paying, perhaps it's the joy we can have that we are not filling up in some other countries of the world.

I just did some checking (and calculating!) to determine the average price being charged for gasoline in some other countries. This is not as easy as it might seem for three reasons. First, the price fluctuates daily. Second, most countries list prices per liter, which must be converted into gallons (A U.S. gallon is 3.7854 liters.) Third, prices in other countries are listed in local currencies, and they fluctuate in value against the dollar on a daily basis. So what follows are the prices for gasoline in selected countries, converted to U.S. gallons and U.S. dollars, as of today.

France -- $10.14 per gallon
Israel -- $8.36 per gallon
U.K. -- $8.29 per gallon
Japan -- $7.15 per gallon
Germany -- $6.29 per gallon

I'm not sure if it makes you feel any better...but when the pump clicks off after putting $50 of gas into your car, just be thankful you weren't filling up overseas. In Israel, the same amount of fuel would have set you back about $105 dollars!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Virtual Museum of Iraq

How would you like to visit ancient Babylon? Okay, so you're not overly excited about traveling to Iraq. But what if you could take a virtual tour there...to see the city as it would have looked in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel?

Sound interesting?

If so, then visit The Virtual Museum of Iraq, a website set up by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This creative site allows you to take a virtual tour of a museum devoted to the history of Iraq.

I suggest you begin by choosing the Babylonian Hall. Once inside that hall, click on name "Babylon" inside the Ishtar Gate. Then select "Video" to take a tour of ancient Babylon as it would have looked at the time of Nebuchadnezzar. After completing your tour of Babylon, browse through some of the other halls in the museum. It will be time well spent!

This is a wonderful example of how a website can enhance our understanding of the past. If you know of other similar projects, send the link to me. I'll post it for others!