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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Literally taking the Bible literally

~~When I was in high school, I took a class called “Western Civilization” from a teacher who was a Bahhai.  He was one of the smartest folks I had ever met up unto that point and was an aggressive skeptic of Christianity…well, he was more of an enemy of Christianity.  The class was called “Western Civilization” but was really an “Intro to ‘why Christianity is for idiots’ class”.  That class was brutal hard for me, as my teacher waged an assault against Christianity that had me in a flurry to find answers; answers to questions about everything from creation to eschatology.  That class is what got me into serious thinking about the scriptures and looking for answers beyond my youth pastor (who was more youth than pastor).
Mr. Relevant
Anyway, that flurry of study started me asking questions and finding answers, and I never stopped asking questions or finding answers.  Almost 2 decades later, I’ve learned a whole lot and changed my position on almost every point of theological understanding.  This may come as a shock to some of my readers, but I was once a tongues-speaking, egalitarian, panmillennial, allegorist who thought “conservative” was a synonym for “lobotomy” and thought that the pentateuch was the 5-pointed start associated with Satanism (no joke).  Along my journey from biblical idiocy to, well, less idiocy, I’ve developed a fairly firm set of beliefs about the nature of the Bible and hermeneutics, and I’ve become fairly aggressive about the importance of understanding scripture literally.
Now people love slamming guys like myself who talk about taking the Bible “literally”, but it’s mostly because they simply misunderstand what is meant by “literal”.  Taking scripture literally means, in a nutshell, understanding the words of scripture (a) in their common usage  and (b) in their appropriate circles of context.
A.  Common Usage
In order to understand the scripture, a literal interpretation of scripture will attempt to understand words according to their common usage in speech (as used by the original recipients, not the modern readers) unless they have sufficient reason to seek some other interpretation.  This means several things:
1.  It means that the literal interpreter will recognize and seek to properly understand figures of speech, poetic devices, etc.
The simple way of recognizing a figure of speech is given in the general rule – “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense“.
- An example of this is when Jesus says “I am the gate for the sheep” in John 10:7.  One instinctively recognizes that Jesus is using a metaphor here since it nonsense to think that Jesus is describing himself as a board with hinges.
- Another example of this is when the Pharisees say “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” in John 12:19.  One instinctively recognizes that the Pharisees are using hyperbole here since it is nonsense to think that they’re saying that every human being on planet earth, including them, is following Jesus.
- Another example of this is in Exodus 15:2 when the scripture records “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.”  Here, the plain sense makes perfect sense and there’s no obvious or apparent need to understand words like “day” or “desert” or “water” as part of some spiritual metaphor (or anything else like that).
2. It means that the literal interpreter will also assume that numbers, place names, proper names, etc. carry their common and straightforward meaning unless the context gives sufficient reason to search for an alternate meaning.
- An example of this would be in 1 Kings 20:29 where the scripture records “For seven days they camped opposite each other, and on the seventh day the battle was joined. The Israelites inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day.”  Here, the he plain sense makes perfect sense and there’s no obvious or apparent need to understand the numbers “seven” or “hundred thousand” as part of some spiritual metaphor (or anything else like that).  It’s a simple recount of a battle.
- Another example of this would be in Jeremiah 20:6 where Jeremiah says “And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon.” Here, the he plain sense makes perfect sense and there’s no obvious or apparent need to understand “Babylon” as part of some spiritual metaphor (or anything else like that).  It’s a simple recount of a person being told they’re going into captivity.
- Another example of this would be in Revelation 17:1-5 where the scripture records of the great prostitute who sits on many waters who makes the dwellers of the earth drunk with her sexual immorality, and whose name is “Babylon”.   The plain meaning is that there’s a gigantic prostitute, big enough to sit on multiple continents, who’s named after an ancient city.  This might possibly be a figure of speech unless one is willing to suggest something bizarre…
B.  Appropriate Circles of Context
Secondly, in order to understand the scripture, a literal interpretation of scripture will attempt to understand words according to their usage in their context.  “Context” is another word for “setting” and generally speaking, the context can be summed up in 2 broad categories: context of history (historical) and context of words (grammatical).  When bible scholars talk about the actual act of interpretation, they often may refer to the process as doing “historical-grammatical exegesis”; drawing out the meaning of words/passages as they were understood in their distinctive time and culture, and drawing out the meaning of words/passages as they were understood in the literature in which they appear.
1. Understanding a verse in its context of history will include things like:
- Understanding a passage within the theological context of the intended recipients.  An example of this would be where in Luke 17:21 , when Jesus says “the kingdom of God is in your midst”, people often take that to mean “The kingdom of God is within your heart” (or something along those lines).  Though this is a remotely possible interpretation of the passage, it’s a highly improbable interpretation for many reasons.  One of those reasons is that the Jews had no concept of a non-physical kingdom of God; the whole concept of a “spiritual” kingdom (where Jesus “reigns in your heart” but doesn’t have a physical throne, lands, or anything else tangible) would have been equivalent to the kingdom being imaginary.  One of my favorite examples of this is comes from a friend who makes a parallel the following way; when his wife asks him to do the dishes and he says “I’m spiritually washing the dishes”, his wife understands “spiritually washing the dishes” to be synonymous with “I’m still watching television and I don’t plan on getting up”.  To the Jews, a “spiritual” kingdom would have been synonymous with a “non-existent kingdom”.
dirty-dishes(Sweetie, I know they don’t look done to you, but you need to look with spiritual eyes!)
- Understanding a passage within it’s distinct political and historical context.  An example of this would be Daniel 1:7, where Daniel and his friends receive new names.  If one doesn’t understand that a conquering king re-named his prize captives to show their change in ownership and allegiance (not to the king per say, but to the nations’ pantheon of gods which often included the king), one would likely miss some of what’s going on in Daniel chapter 1.
- Understanding a passage within it’s canonical context.  A prime example of forcing a passage outside its canonical context is in the book The Prayer of Jabez.  In that book, Jabez’s prayer of “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (1 Chron. 4:10) is taken as a prayer for enlarged gospel influence (among other things).  Bruce Wilkinson not only takes the term “territory” to mean something other than what it would have meant to Jabez (“land”), but he also forgets that 1 Chronicles takes place under the Old Covenant, where material blessings were part of the covenant promises.  Jabez actually prays for “more land”, because that’s one of the ways that the surrounding people would tangibly see God’s hand of blessing upon him.
Land, Sky and Mountains
2. Understanding a verse in its context of words will include things like:
- Understanding a passage within the setting of the surrounding subject matter.  An example of this would be Revelation 3:20, which records Christ saying to the church of Laodicea “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  This verse is often used as an evangelistic passage with a line like “Jesus is knocking on the door of you heart, friend…won’t you let him in?”  The problem with that is that the surrounding subject matter is that of a letter of rebuke to a Christian church that was disobedient and sinful due to excessive material blessing.  It is not an invitation to unbelievers to become believers; it’s a call to lazy believers to wake up and get going.  One needs to be skeptical of an interpretation that involves the author making random and bizarre changes in subject matter…
- Understanding a passage within it’s setting of genre.  One could do this by taking a passage from poetic literature and interpreting it in a non-poetic way, like as is regularly done by Denis Lamoureux (of Biologos and the University of Alberta).  One can read here how he builds his highly-stereotyped version of the cosmology of the Ancient Near East, notably using mostly poetic texts as if they were non-poetic.  An example of this would be when Lamoureux writes:
“The earth is flat. The word “earth” appears over 2500 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew: ‘eres) and 250 times in the New Testament (Greek: ge). Never once is this word referred to as spherical or round. Instead, the universe in the Scripture is compared to a tent with the earth as its floor (Ps 19:4, Ps 104:2, Is 40:22)”
It’s worth noting that all 3 texts Lamoureux cites are poetic texts, yet he treats them as non-poetic texts.  All three texts talk about how the heavens are spread out “like a tent”, and yet Lamoureux stretches out the metaphor far beyond it’s intention by making the connection that since tents have flat floors, the Ancient Jews must have thought that the earth was flat too… If one understands that poetic figures of speech are only used to only transmit a single idea in a simple word picture (like the idea of spreading out the heavens in the way that a tent is spread out when it is put up), one could never extrapolate a Jewish belief in a flat earth from any of those passages.
- Understanding the meaning of a word as discovered by it’s usage in a sentence.  A prime example of this would be the constant suggestion that the word “day” in Genesis 1:5b (or 1:8, 13, 19, 23, or 31) could mean something other than a 24 hour period of time.  The usual argument goes something along the lines of “the word ‘day’ can mean a variety of things in the Old Testament, and ‘day’ carries different usages in Genesis 1 & 2, so one cannot be dogmatic about the meaning of ‘day’ in Genesis 1:5b”.  This argument is simply invalid; the meaning of a word is determined by it’s context, not range of possible meanings.  Sure, the word “day” has a wide variety of meanings in the Old Testament, but every time the word appears there aren’t three or four equally possible meanings.  In Judges 5:6, when the scripture records “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath”, there’s no real question as to what “day” means.  “Day” is clearly a synonym for “era”.  Yet, just 1 chapter over in Judges 6:27 Gideon tore down the altar of Ba’al “at night rather than in the day” and again, there’s no real question as to what “day” means.  “Day” clearly is shorthand for saying something like “the period when the sun is up”.  The reason readers don’t wonder whether “day” means the same thing in Judges 5:6 as it does in 6:27 is because the word is clearly used in a different way in the sentence.  In Genesis 1:5b, “day”  couldn’t really be used in another way other than a 24 hour period of time because the setting of the word in the sentence dictates the possible meanings of the word.
- Understanding the pronouns in a passage to isolate the audience of a passage.  An example of this would be one of the most often mis-quoted and mis-applied verses in the scripture; Jeremiah 29:11.  Jeremiah 29:11 (in the oft-cited NIV) says “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  People like to claim this passage as a promise to themselves, but when you trace the pronoun “you” back through the passage, the initial referent is in 29:4 when Jeremiah speaks the word of the Lord “to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon”.  If you’re not currently in exile in Babylon, this passage isn’t written to you.  Jeremiah 29 has universal truths that are applicable to all believers (i.e. God has plans for all people, therefore God has plans for you), but we’re not the original audience nor the “you” of 29:11 and I dare suggest that most people don’t make a nuanced distinction between the promise of the verse and the principle behind the promise.
So the literal meaning of a passage of scripture, the single meaning that the author intended to convey to the original audience, is found in the common usage of words understood in their appropriate circles of context.  I would go so far to suggest that a majority of misunderstandings of scripture by Christians involve either forcing words to mean something outside their common meanings, or forcing words to mean something outside their meaning in their circles of context.
I could write a whole lot more on this, but that should help you understand what I’m getting at.
I’ve also tossed out enough hotly contested passages that I’m sure the comment thread will cause me anguish and pain!
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “A text without a con-text is a pre-text to a proof-text” Unger

It Doesn’t Take Much For People To Start Behaving Like Crazed Lunatics

~~If an ice storm can cause this much panic in our major cities, what will a real crisis look like?  The biggest news story in the United States right now is the "historic ice storm" that is hammering the South.  Travel will be a nightmare, schools and businesses will be closed, and hundreds of thousands of people will lose power.  In fact, it is being projected that some people could be without power for up to a week.  But at the end of the day, the truth is that this ice storm is just an inconvenience.  Yes, the lives of millions of Americans will be disrupted for a few days, but soon the ice will melt and life will be back to normal.  Unfortunately, it doesn't take much for people to start behaving like crazed lunatics.  As you will see below, the winter weather is causing average Americans to ransack grocery stores, fight over food items and even pull guns on one another.  If this is how people will behave during a temporary weather emergency, how will they behave when we are facing a real disaster?
This is a perfect example that shows why it is wise to always have emergency food supplies on hand.  According to CNN, all that is left on the shelves of some grocery stores in Atlanta is "corn and asparagus"...
As the skies turned heavy, Atlantans cleaned stores out of loaves of bread, gallons of milk, bundles of firewood and cans of beans and beer. In some stores, all that was left were the apparently less-popular corn and asparagus.
And according to an Infowars report, some people down in Atlanta were actually getting into fights over basic essentials such as milk and bread...
Atlanta residents ransacked neighborhood grocery stores in frantic preparation for their second major snowstorm of the year, waging fights over food items and leaving destruction and empty shelves in their wake, a stunning precursor to what will ensue once a major crisis impacts the U.S.
After three inches of snow shut the city down two weeks ago, causing major havoc and leaving miles of cars stranded on immobile roadways, the residents of Atlanta took heed and shopped early.
According to people who Tweeted photos of barren store shelves, residents went crazy over essentials like milk, bread, water and eggs, and in some cases “people were fighting. Yes fighting,” alleges one user.
The photo that I have shared below was posted to Twitter by Kris Muir.  It shows what the bread aisle at a Kroger in the Atlanta area looked like as the storm approached...
Bread aisle of a Kroger in the Atlanta area
So what would happen if this was an extended crisis and you had not stored up any emergency supplies for your own family?
That is something to think about.
And just like during the last major winter storm in the South, there are reports of hundreds of vehicles being abandoned on the side of the road in major cities.  For example, just check out what has been happening in Raleigh, North Carolina...
"I live and work in downtown. I was able to get from my office back home. My wife works in Morrisville, about 25 minutes away. She left the office at 12 p.m. and is still on the road. I am coaching her home with Google Maps. It appears that, from WRAL TV, the ramp from Wade Avenue to 440 is blocked by abandoned cars. That is a HUGE ramp (downtown Raleigh to highway)."
We are also seeing quite a few reports of "snow rage" as this cold, snowy winter drags on.  In fact, on Sunday someone actually pulled out a shotgun and threatened to shoot a snow plow driver on Long Island...
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Tuesday, people have found themselves fed up with the hassle of plowing, shoveling and salting. In fact, they have been pushed to the edge, to the point where they have been taking out their frustrations on plow drivers.
Eric Ramirez, a snow plow driver on Long Island, said an irate man went so far as to rack a shotgun Sunday and threaten to shoot him because he was piling snow in front of the man’s Manorhaven home.
And a similar incident involving a pistol was recently reported in Union Township...
The incident happened Monday afternoon along Underwood Street in Union Township.
Police say Eckert became angry when the self-employed driver, John Abraham, accidentally pushed some snow into his yard while cleaning a neighbor’s driveway.
“I went like this to put it in park and there was a gun right here in my face,” Abraham said.
Eckert is then accused of taking a .22-calibur pistol out of his coat, and pressing it against Abraham’s cheek, telling him to remove the snow.
As I write about so frequently, the thin veneer of civilization that we all take for granted is starting to disappear.  A whole host of surveys and opinion polls have shown that Americans are angrier and more frustrated than ever.  Our society has become a ticking time bomb, and it isn't going to take much for it to explode.
When it does explode, most people are going to be depending on the government or someone else to take care of them.  The following is a brief excerpt from a recent article by Mac Slavo...
Despite warnings from FEMA, as well as the prevalence of popular preparedness TV shows, Americans still don’t seem to understand how susceptible we are to a complete destabilization of life as we know it. It boggles the mind that most people seem to think that when disasters strikes they’ll be able to depend on someone else to provide them with assistance.
Fortunately, at least a few people seem to be learning some lessons about the importance of being prepared from these winter storms...
"Last time I was totally unprepared, I was completely blindsided," said Lisa Nadir, of Acworth, who sat in traffic for 13 hours and then spent the night in her car when the storm hit Jan. 28. "I'm going to be prepared from now on for the rest of my life."
What about you?
Are you prepared?
We live at a time when our world is becoming increasingly unstable, and it doesn't take much to imagine a bunch of scenarios in which this nation would be facing a major crisis for an extended period of time...
-A major eruption of Mt. Rainier or the Yellowstone supervolcano
-The "Big One" hits California
-A massive earthquake along the New Madrid fault line
-A highly infectious pandemic that kills tens of millions of Americans
-Hackers bring down the Internet or crash the banking system
-A massive tsunami hits either the east coast or the west coast destroying numerous major cities
-A major war erupts in the Middle East and the United States gets involved
-A crisis involving North Korea sparks a major war in Asia
-A terror attack that specifically targets our power grid
-A terror attack involving a weapon of mass destruction in one of our major cities
-A terror attack or a major natural disaster causes one or more nuclear facilities in the heart of the United States to experience a "Fukushima-like crisis"
-A massive EMP blast that fries our electrical grid and our communications systems
-Last but certainly not least, a massive economic collapse that fundamentally changes life in America on a permanent basis
So what do you think?
Are there additional scenarios that you would add to the list above?
Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below...

Same-sex Marriages and Segregation

I’m sure you’ve heard the argument: A Christian who refuses to support  same-sex marriage is like a business owner in the segregated South who refused to serve black people. If you refuse to use your skill to profit off something that you find sinful, so the argument goes, are you not exactly like those businesses that turned African-Americans away?
Waiting room
Here are two real-life examples: there was a baker in Oregon who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The Oregon Labor Commission found that this was illegal discrimination. The baker was forced to go out of business, or face fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He ended up closing his doors.
Then there was the photographer in New Mexico who was asked to shoot a same-sex wedding. She refused, basically saying because she thought the marriage was sinful, she was not sure her pictures would present the ceremony in the best light, so to speak (she in turn recommended other photographers who could do the wedding). The New Mexico Supreme Court found her guilty of “human rights violations” by discriminating.
By refusing to promote the same-sex weddings, are these businesses discriminating illegally? Well—yes. At least according to the Supreme Court in New Mexico and the Labor Commission in Oregon. But is this morally the same thing as those who discriminated against people on the basis of skin color? Absolutely not. Here are three reasons why: 
First, the businesses were not discriminating against people, but against an act that they found sinful. In other words, these businesses all served homosexual customers for years without refusing. The photographer in New Mexico told the New York Times that she would “gladly serve gays and lesbians” by doing portraits or other work. It was only when she was asked to use her services to promote a certain event that she refused. These owners did not discriminate against a person, but instead simply refused to violate their consciences by promoting a wedding that they found immoral.
Second, and most importantly, the distinction between racial discrimination and same-sex marriage is a moral one. The Scripture condemns racial discrimination (eg. Gen 1:27, John 7:24, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 10:12, 2 Cor 5:16, Gal 3:28, Eph 6:9, James 2:9). The Scripture also condemns homosexual actions (Lev 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:26-28, 1 Cor 6:9-11, 1 Tim 1:10, Heb 13:1-5, Jude 7). So the discriminating owners in the segregated south and the religious business owners in a post-gender America are on two opposite ends of the moral spectrum.  But typical of our culture, we have become completely adept at confusing something that is immoral with something that is moral.
Third, there is the element of human nature and dignity. One of the reasons racial discrimination was so wrong is because it had as its goal the denial of basic human dignity to people based on their ethnicity. But saying that you believe that marriage is between a man and woman is not a denial of the human dignity of either (Gen 1:27, Matthew 19:4-5, Mark 10:6-9, 1 Cor 7:2). Instead, it is an affirmation that the genders were created differently and uniquely by God.
Beyond those reasons, there is the element of speech. Taking pictures at a ceremony or making a cake for a wedding are active forms of positive expression. It is not a coincidence that the first lawsuits of this kind were designed to compel people to make an expression that celebrates something they find sinful. The point is that people who are redefining marriage are not after wedding cakes as much as they are after affirmation–and the legal system is more than willing to compel religious people to speak in favor of gay marriage, or lose their businesses all together. There really is no parallel to that in the segregated South.
The couple suing the baker in Colorado. Photo by the AP (used under fair use).
The couple suing the baker in Colorado. Photo by the AP (linked under fair use).
There is a current case working its way through courts in Colorado with a different baker who was sued for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. He was found guilty and liable by the State Civil Rights Commission. It has been suggested that the best course of action for bakers, photographers, florists and the like is that they accept these jobs, and simply do a sub-par job at them. In other words, take their money and deliver an inadequate product—that will teach them! But has anyone ever heard of someone doing that? The truth is, Christians care more about providing a good product (as we glorify God by how we work) than avoiding lawsuits.
It is definitely time that Christians come to terms with the concept that our legal system is not interested in protecting our freedom to live and work in a way that is in keeping with biblical ethics. More and more people are being forced to choose between finding themselves on the wrong end of legal judgments and violating their basic sense of morality. When you find yourself in that situation, don’t compromise. There is a fate worse than a fine—and it has nothing to do with the hollow judgments of labor boards and human rights commissions.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Biblically Understanding the Prosperity Gospel

In a twitter conversation, a friend mentioned to me that the prosperity gospel is simply ancient pagan fertility religion (namely Ba’al worship) in a modern garb…which got me thinking.  In thinking about the Biblical classification of the Prosperity Gospel, I would have to suggest that it is a system of very old false religion, but not necessarily Ba’al worship.
Now, it’s fairly easy to see that the “gospel” of the prosperity gospel isn’t the biblical gospel, regardless of how some try to soft pedal it.  The “good news” isn’t the death/resurrection/ascension of Christ resulting in restoration with God, it’s the death/resurrection of Christ resulting in the restoration of your credit rating.  It’s also fairly easy to get the whole “Balaam” and materialism connection (2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11), and it’s easy to recognize that those who push the prosperity gospel are false teachers since those who use God as a means to get financial gain are, on the basis of that one characteristic, labelled “false teachers” in the New Testament (1 Tim. 6:3-10; 2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11).  Nobody gets into ministry to get rich, and those who do aren’t actually “in ministry”.
Still, the materialism thing isn’t the only error.  I was thinking about something different…something less overtly pagan. The prosperity gospel isn’t exactly the descendent of ancient fertility religions like Ba’al worship (though it’s really close), mainly because the prosperity gospel doesn’t worship Ba’al, or any other pagan deity by name.  The prosperity teachers worship a god whose name is the same as the God of the Bible; they claim that they worship Yahweh (or Jehovah, or whatever else they call him).  Their system of false religion is masquerading as Biblical Christianity; it’s not, but it loudly and proudly claims to be.  The prosperity gospel is actually an ideological descendant of the worship of the golden calf instituted by Aaron and the worship of the golden calves re-instituted by Jeroboam at Bethel and Dan.  You remember the passage I’m referring to?
Let me refresh your memory:
1.  While Moses was up on the mountain, the people wondered what happened to him and Yahweh.  Aaron likely wasn’t trying to get Israel to change their gods, he was just trying to give them a physical representation of their gods; an icon that they could see while Moses was gone…but things went sour real fast.  The people said “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Ex. 32:4) and then the following day they had a feast unto Yahweh that included burnt offerings, peace offering, food, drink, and what was likely some form of ambiguously described (it involved dancing, but possible more), but certainly wicked celebration (Ex. 32:5-6, 19).  It’s worth noticing that Exodus 32:19 says:
“And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.”
It wasn’t just the idolatry that got Moses hot under the collar; there was something shockingly wicked about the way they were celebrating their new deity as well (but the Bible doesn’t clearly unpack exactly what that was).
Beyond that all, it’s interesting how Aaron somewhere knew that what he was doing was horribly wrong.  This is revealed through the fact that he tried to remove himself from the whole affair by claiming that the people forced him to lead them into idolatry (Ex. 32:22-23) and he even lied about the golden calf, trying to tell Moses that the calf basically made itself (32:24).  God doesn’t let Aaron get away this his change of story though, and assigns him appropriate blame (32:25), then the sons of Levi paid the price for participating in the sin (32:26-29) and God also punished the people directly for their idolatry and wicked worship (32:35).
In short, Israel worshiped a false god whom they called Yahweh, worshiped him in a wicked way, and the leader behind it all tried to play innocent.  Sound familiar?
2.  Jeroboam wasn’t trying to get Israel to change their gods either, he was just trying to give them a physical representation of their gods; icons that they could worship outside of Jerusalem so that the northern tribes wouldn’t be tempted to return to Jerusalem.  Once the kingdom had split Jeroboam knew that if the northern tribes returned to Jerusalem to worship, the people would remember their rebellion against their rightful king and they would want to reunite with the 2 southern tribes (1 Kings 12:27).  So, in a politically driven move to preserve the separation of the north and his own political power, Jeroboam did the following:
 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.  He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings. – 1 Kings 12:28-33
Jeroboam wasn’t trying to make a new religion.  He wanted something that felt like Judaism.  He made counterfeit gods, counterfeit temples, counterfeit priests, counterfeit feasts, and counterfeit sacrifices.  Notice how he described their gods as the ones “who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”?  That’s directly identifying the golden calves with Yahweh.  Not very subtle idolatry, but far more subtle than telling the Israelites to abandon Yahweh and worship a Philistine deity.
False religion peddled in God’s name isn’t quite Ba’al worship per say, but I would argue that God detests it equally, if not more.
Rremember what happened to Israel in the Exodus when Aaron led the swan-dive into idolatry?  Well, Jeroboam got a visit from a true prophet of God in 1 Kings 13.  That prophet condemned Jeroboam right in front of the altar while Jeroboam was in the act of idolatry (13:1-3).  Jeroboam tried to have him seized but Jeroboam’s hand shriveled up when he pointed his finger at the man (13:4).  Then, Jeroboam had a rather quick change of heart after his prophecy came to pass (13:5) and Jeroboam all of a sudden wanted the prophet to pray to Yahweh for him.  The prophet did and Jeroboam’s hand was restored (13:6), but then Jeroboam wanted the prophet to become part of his entourage and the prophet stalwartly refused (13:7-10).  Jeroboam knew full well that he was an idolater, and he knew that Yahweh was the only true God.  He just didn’t care until he needed Yahweh to do something for him, but when Yahweh healed him, Jeroboam didn’t repent (13:33-34).
Finally, remember how in Exodus 32 God struck Israel with a plague after 3,000 Israelites were slain?  Well, Jeroboam’s son Abijah fell sick so Jeroboam sent his wife in disguise to see the prophet Ahijah (the disguise was because his eyesight was bad in his old age and Jeroboam thought he could trick the prophet)…
…but it didn’t work.
The Lord told Ahijah who was at the door and Ahijah gave her a prophecy about her sick son:
“Come in, wife of Jeroboam. Why do you pretend to be another? For I am charged with unbearable news for you.Go, tell Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over my people Israel and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, and yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes, but you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back, therefore behold, I will bring harm upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will burn up the house of Jeroboam, as a man burns up dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat, for the Lord has spoken it. Arise therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die.” – 1 Kings 14:6-12
The Lord doesn’t take idolatry lightly, especially when it’s done in his name.  Remember that “Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites” (1 Kings 11:5) and “Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:7), and yet God said of Jeroboam that “you have done evil above all who were before you” (1 Kings 14:9).
Solomon didn’t have all his male offspring cut off for his blatant idolatry.
Solomon’s children who escaped the sword weren’t eaten by dogs or birds.
I’d dare say that God really doesn’t like people using his name to pedal false religion.
So, if I’m reading those two stories correctly, I’d have to suggest that the prosperity gospel isn’t actually a grandchild of ole’ fashioned Ba’al worship.  It’s false religion done in the name of Yahweh, but the real scary part is that makes it worse.  God really doesn’t like it when people use his name to make it appear that he is condoning something that he actually condemns.  As a matter of fact, he’s made that one of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:7).
I learned something in writing this blog post, and it’s not something that encourages me to take a softer approach to the prosperity gospel.  I’m starting to develop a solid understanding why Peter describes false teachers as “waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved” (2 Peter 2:17).  False teachers claim to be true teachers of Yahweh and promote, in the name of Yahweh, a system of worship that is actually idolatry; they claim to offer people the 1 truth that can save their souls but bring them a counterfeit (and inoculate them against the true gospel in the process).  It’s no wonder that they get the darkest part of hell.
Sobering and frightening words.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “the health & wealth gospel is sick and bankrupt” Unger

The Mirage of Moral Intuition

The refrain: “in those days, everyone did what was right in their own eyes” echoes through the book of Judges. But it also echoes through our culture today. It is a sure sign of our world’s wickedness that it has taken a biblical phrase that expresses a complete surrender to sin, and turned it on its head, as if it were somehow virtuous to try and be a good person by living according to your own standards.
An often-overlooked element of our culture’s sprint toward Sodom is the world view that people are capable judges of morality. In fact, if you were to ask your average American why they think they will go to heaven (assuming for the sake of argument that it exists), you would hear “because I am a good person.”
The follow up question has to immediately be, “why?” to which you will undoubtedly get the response: “because I try to do what is right,” or some variation therein. Maybe “because I always try to be a good person,” or “I help people,” or, “I live and let live.” But if you are really lucky, you may actually even hear them say, “Because I always do what is right in my own eyes.”
This phrase is, of course, drawn from the Bible. Its remarkable and more than a little bit ironic how today’s culture is quite familiar with this biblical statement. In fact, people borrow it liberally, failing to see that in the Bible, a culture is at its lowest when it views people as their source of morality.
The mirage of moral intuition
In the days of the Judges, sin reigned and people rebelled. People began by ignoring God’s truth, then by rebelling against his truth, and finally by trying to kill those spoke his truth. Initially they were fine simply paying lip service to God (weeping when confronted with sin, and other outward signs of piety), then they insisted on actively rebelling against God, and ultimately by trying to kill Gideon for tearing down idols. But that was not the end of their slide.
After the attempted ambush on Gideon, Israel kept her slide—she attacked the Judges God gave, she perverted the worship God commanded, and finally she turned inward and began slaughtering themselves.
At the beginning of the book, women could travel freely and do business in Israel. By the end of the book, the only woman foolish enough to travel was ripped to 12 pieces and scattered to the four corners of the country. In Judges 1, people defended the weakest tribe. By the end of the book, being liberated from God’s morality, they slaughtered that same tribe.
Why do I belabor this? Because only when Israel was at its cannibalistic, sexually immoral, idol-worshiping worst, was the author ready to tell us the problem: “in those days, everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
Today that phrase is borrowed as if it were progressive. Like Israel, our culture too has slaughtered its weakest, enslaved its strongest, and exploited the most vulnerable. And in a sure sign of our collective depravity, we live in a culture that actually thinks “doing what is right in your own eyes” is a virtue.
The truth is, doing what is right in your own eyes is not virtuous—its treacherous. Rejecting God’s authority may be a sign of freedom from government coercion of religion, but it is also a sign of slavery to sin. Rick Holland used to use a phrase that is applicable here: he called it the “mirage of moral intuition.” We live in a world of hallucinating masses, persuaded that when you tilt your head just so, and squint just such, that you can make out clearly the difference between wrong and right.
Perhaps it is due to all the squinting that people fail to see the utter chaos and violence unleashed when you live in a world filled with those doing what is right in their own eyes. Recognizing that every man is a law unto himself is the same as saying there is no law; and that is the fruit of hating the lawgiver.