Bible Q&A – Answers

“The entirety of Your word is truth.” Psalm 119:160a

There are so many questions that people might have about the Bible that are left unanswered. Here we seek to answer them citing Scripture and showing reasoning where applicable. Before we begin, there are some things to consider that we will state plainly here:

  1. The Bible is the authoritative, inerrant, plenary Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Psalm 119:160).
  2. There are some things that are matters of faith, and others that are matters of opinion (Romans 14).
  3. Matters of faith are clearly taught in the Bible, and the fate of our souls depends upon these matters.
  4. Matters of opinion are less clear, and we have freedom to believe them or not without fear for our souls.
  5. Some of the questions that are answered below are matters of faith, and we strive to be very clear on those issues.
  6. When it comes to matters of opinion, further reasoning is required.
  7. When quoting and linking passages of Scripture, we will be using the New King James Version unless otherwise stated.
  8. This page is to archive and supplement our articles in the Rutherford Weekly.
  9. Some of these answers might anger you — we simply ask that you pursue truth with an open mind and consider all of what the Bible has to say.
  10. The order of the contents below does not reflect the order in which the questions will be answered.

Table of Contents:

What is the significance of the number of fish caught in John 21?
God is love, but what about judgment?
Where is the spirit after death before the resurrection?
Do our loved ones come back to visit us as angels?
What about heaven?
Why did Jesus wait until the end of the Last Supper to wash the
     disciples’ feet?
What is God’s name?
What did God do before Creation?
Did God command genocide? If so, why?
Why are there mosquitoes?
Why are some healed and others not?
What about the mistreatment of animals?
What about separation and divorce?
What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
If we were born in Christ’s image, why aren’t we invisible?
What about “once saved always saved”?
What about Freemasonry?
What about communism?
What about denominations?

 

What is the significance of the number of fish caught in John 21?     table of contents

There are some things in Scripture that are just not stated, and this is among them. By way of summary, let us look at the passage. This takes place right after the resurrection of our Lord, and the disciples decide to go fishing on a boat in the Sea of Galilee. They fish all night and catch nothing. Jesus arrives at the beach and tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. They comply and catch so many fish that they need help hauling all of them to shore.

“Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish,
one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.”
~John 21:11 NKJV

So why 153 fish? What significance does this number hold? Various theologians and thinkers have tried to come up with a symbolic, numerological answer to this question, from Augustine to Jerome, and even some modern scholars. But really, the most likely explanation is that this is evidence that what we read in John 21 is an eye-witness account. This lends further credence to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus and the validity of the Gospel of John. It shows that our faith is rooted in evidence, showing that Jesus is who the Bible says He is: the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world (Matthew 16:16; John 1:29; 20:31).

Additional: Augustine of Hippo, subject to the trend of his time of treating everything in Scripture as allegory, decided that, since 153 was the 17th triangular number (the sum of the first 17 integers), then it represented divine grace (7) and law (10). Seven represented the number of the fruits of the Spirit, and ten represented the Ten Commandments. Jerome believed it was the number of species of fish in the Sea of Galilee. Other scholars think it foreshadowed that they would be great “fishers of men,” along with several other increasingly unlikely interpretations. Generally speaking, however, the simplest answer is the more likely one — that it is evidence of John’s eye-witness account.

 

God is love, but what about judgment?     table of contents

This is a great question! It should be noted that it is impossible to talk about His love properly without also talking about judgment.

God is, without a doubt, love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
1 John 4:7-8 NKJV

There are two clarification questions we must ask now that we have established that God is love: How should we define love? In what way(s) does He show His love toward us?

Before we answer these, there are a few other traits God possesses that we should also establish.

God is faithful. This means that God keeps His promises (1 Corinthians 1:9).

God is holy. Holiness is not something we understand very well today. It is a state of being pure, free of sin, righteous. It is a separation for a specific purpose. God partially defines it when He said this to the Israelites, “And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).

God also demands to be treated as holy, which means He gets to decide what the standards of holiness are. He has this right because He is the Creator of us all (Genesis 1:1). He gets to set those standards—they are not up to us. Since God is righteous (Psalm 36:6), it would be unfair for Him to expect us to meet these standards without letting us know what they are. Thankfully, He has given us the Bible wherein these standards are written (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

These things explain the nature of God, things about Himself that He cannot change. I am grateful He has given us His Scriptures to tell us how to please Him.

God is just. If a judge were to try a case and set free a clearly guilty man, would you ever trust that judge to bring you justice? Did he show any love toward the plaintiff? No and no. While the judge uses the civil law code to bring people to justice, our Lord uses His standards of holiness codified in His Word. Jesus tells us that it will be His words that will judge us on the last day (John 12:48).

The problem is, since we are all guilty of not meeting His standards, we are all deserving of death, we are all deserving of judgment (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). Next time, we will see how all of God’s perfect traits work together through His Son Jesus.

Part 2

Whenever someone tells me they have good news and bad news, I usually want to hear the bad news first so the bad doesn’t seem so bad when I hear the good. In order to understand God’s love—the good news—we must first understand God’s judgment—the bad news.

In our last article, we established several characteristics concerning the nature of God: loving, faithful, holy, and just. His holiness and justice demand judgment upon those who do not meet God’s standard of righteousness. This is the bad news. Why? Because no one meets these strict standards. The inspired writer makes this very plain in the letter to the Romans.

“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).

If this were the end of the story, it would mean there is no hope for any of us. We are all deserving of the terrible fate of eternal torment in hell where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Most people think that they are good, but the Bible tells a different story. If we can set aside our pride for a moment, we can see that we really aren’t as good as we think we are. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

This is not something God delights in or relishes. In fact, He wants everyone to be saved. “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4; cf. Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9).

So what is that truth He wants us to know? Jesus. This is how we ought to define love, and this is how God shows His love toward us, through His Son. How does God’s perfect justice work together with His perfect love? Through Jesus. It was His sacrifice on the cross on which He took on all the sins of the whole world. On Him God’s perfect justice was carried out. Sending Him showed God’s perfect love toward us, allowing Jesus’ perfect, sinless blood to be shed for each one of us. All we have to do is take full advantage of this sacrifice. And God gives us our entire lives to repent and make things right with Him. Please contact us to find out how!

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice – NIV] for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10 NKJV

 

Where is the spirit after death before the resurrection?     table of contents

Before we begin answering this question, we must establish some definitions and a brief timeline of things to come.

Death is defined as the separation of spirit and body (James 2:26).

Man is a threefold creature, with body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23).

In the Bible, sometimes the words “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably since they are so closely related (Heb. 4:12), but for the purposes of this article, we will define spirit as that which brings life, and the soul as the immortal component of our being. At death, both components leave the body.

That being said, we will assume the one who asked this question is referring to one’s soul, since the spirit always returns to God (Eccl. 12:7).

The resurrection will occur at the Last Day, the Day of Judgment (John 5:28-29; 11:24). This is when our raised and glorified bodies will be reunited with our souls (1 Cor. 15:35-58). Peter writes that “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). So where are we delivered or reserved until Judgment Day?

The main answer to this question can be found in Luke 16:19-31. In this passage Jesus describes two men: one rich and one poor. The rich man is not named, but the poor man is called Lazarus.

“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Luke 16:22-23

Since those who are in torments can peer into the other realm, this is likely not Heaven or Hell, but a holding place called Hades where we will be prior to the resurrection and Final Judgment. Hades, called Sheol in the Old Testament (cf. Acts 2:27; Psa. 16:10), is the place of the dead and consists of two sections divided by a deep chasm that cannot be crossed. Jesus has a way of expressing spiritual things in ways we can understand physically, so what this actually looks like, I cannot say. Regardless, Abraham’s bosom, as the father of the faithful (Rom 4:16), is where we want to be.

While Jesus was on the cross, He promised the thief on the cross next to Him that, “today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paradise, then, is another name for where Lazarus and other righteous people go.

After the resurrection and the Last Day, our final home will be either in Heaven or in Hell. Before you die, you must choose where you want to go. Let us know which you choose. If you choose Heaven, we can help you get there! Please choose wisely.

Where do we go when we die?

Special thanks to World Video Bible School for this graphic.

 
 

Do our loved ones come back to visit us as angels?     table of contents

When I was in my 20s, my mother passed away from cancer. Not long after her death, I had several dreams that she was speaking to me, comforting me. They allowed me to better cope with her passing. How I wish that she had really visited me and talked with me! But the Bible gives us several clues that inform us that she could not or would not visit me after death.
 
Some of those clues are in the Old Testament. One of King David’s sons died not long after he was born, and David said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). If his son could visit him, likely David would not have made this remark.
 
After the prophet Samuel died, King Saul desired to speak with him. So, contrary to God’s Law, he consulted a medium to conduct a séance to speak with Samuel’s spirit. It is clear by the medium’s surprise that Samuel’s return was a unique event for which God was responsible. Regardless, when Samuel returned, he said, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1 Sam. 28:15). This leaves the clue that those who are in Paradise have no real desire to return, but would be disturbed if they did.
 
The New Testament, however, offers the best answer to this question. As Luke records Jesus’ words in Luke 16:19-31, this passage gives us a few more clues that can help us best answer the above question.
 
If you recall, an unrighteous rich man died and ended up in Torments while a poor man named Lazarus also died but went to Abraham’s bosom, also called Paradise. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers of this place, but Abraham refused, saying “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). The rich man said his brothers would be convinced if someone rose from the dead. Abraham said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The clue we have here is that those in Torments cannot return, and that it would be useless for those in Paradise to return.
 
Additional: So do the righteous even become angels when they die? The only clue in Scripture that might suggest that they do is in Acts 12 when the disciples supposed that Peter had been killed. Peter had miraculously escaped from prison and arrived at the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother. Initially no one believed the girl who answered the door and said she was beside herself, that she had seen his angel (Acts 12:15). This, however, only expresses the belief at the time, not the reality of things.
 
As comforting as the thought of our loved ones visiting us is, it is not a concept we have any evidence for in Scriptures. In fact, all the evidence strongly suggests that they do not.
 
 

What about Heaven?     table of contents

There is so much that can be said on the topic of Heaven. What is it going to be like? Who will be there? How can I get there? Entire books have been written about the splendor and glory of Heaven, so there is no way this topic can be done justice with the space available. Whatever the case, here are a few thoughts on this grand topic.
 
One of the most commonly read passages at funerals include the comforting words of Jesus quoted below:
 
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  John 14:2-3 NKJV
 
Jesus describes Heaven as His Father’s house. Paul wrote that “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord” and the corollary “to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6, 8). Heaven is where God lives, and for the Christian, this is where we will be after we leave this earth.
 
Jesus also describes this house as having many mansions. Other translations suggest that there are many rooms rather than mansions. Whatever the case, I will be happy to secure my place there.
 
Jesus then tells us that He is leaving to prepare a place for us there. He left when He ascended into Heaven after His crucifixion and resurrection (Acts 1:9). While He is speaking to His Apostles in this passage, we can also take comfort in these words for the promises of Heaven are found elsewhere (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:6, 8; 1 Pet. 1:3-5).
 
Such a home, however, is reserved for Jesus’ friends. Jesus later said,
 
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” John 15:13-14
 
The condition we are given so that we can be counted among His friends is to do as He commands. The Apostles certainly qualified, and I pray you do, too (Heb. 5:9). This leads us to the oft-quoted phrase: “Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people.”
 
Our preparation is best depicted in Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. These virgins are all about to participate in a great wedding. Five were wise and had prepared their lamps ahead of time. The other five were foolish and ran out of oil for their lamps. While they went to get some, the bridegroom came. These virgins were too late and missed out on the wedding. The lesson is that we must be prepared for eternity in death or in Christ’s second coming, whichever comes first (James 4:14; 1 Thess. 5:1-11).
 
Jesus lets us know that He will return and gather those who are prepared, bringing them to Heaven to be with Him (Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:24). If you want to be prepared so that you will be in that number, please contact us and we will show you how from the Scriptures!
 
 

Why did Jesus wait until the end of the Last Supper to wash the disciples’ feet?     table of contents

Of the four gospel accounts, John is the only one that records Jesus’ washing His disciples’ feet, and the only one that does not record the Last Supper. Let us consider that passage now.
 
“And supper being ended, … Jesus, … rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” John 13:2-5 NKJV
 
This seems rather odd for several reasons. In terms of the question above, why would they wash after they ate? Does this mean they had dirty feet the whole time while they were eating their supper?
 
First, we note that there were only thirteen people present during this supper: Jesus and His twelve disciples. There was no one there who was considered lowly enough to wash feet, so they simply went without.
 
The answer to why He chose that moment can be found in Luke’s account of the Last Supper. The verse quoted below occurs right after the supper.
 
“Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And [Jesus] said to them, ‘ … he who is greater among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.’” Luke 22:24-26 NKJV
 
This suggests that the reason for Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet was to use this as an object lesson concerning service. In fact, later in John 13, Jesus, in explaining what He had done, said, “A servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (John 13:16). This is similar to the message recorded in Luke 22:26, so the two events are related.
 
When we connect John 13:2-17 and Luke 22:24-30, it seems evident that Jesus waited until after the supper to wash His disciples’ feet because of the dispute about greatness that had arisen among them. He simply wanted to show them how one can truly be great—through service.
 
 

What is God’s name?     table of contents

Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.‘”
Exodus 3:13-14 NKJV
 
That answers the question, doesn’t it? Yes, but it requires some explanation. The next verse sheds a little more light.
 
Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’”
Exodus 3:15 NKJV
 
The KJV and NKJV, and perhaps some others, rarely ever use the name of God in the Old Testament, but replace it with words in small capitals such as LORD in the passage above or GOD in many places in Ezekiel (e.g. Eze. 2:4) and others.
 
One thing to note is that Hebrew, the original language of most of the Old Testament, does not have vowels. In the 6th – 10th centuries, the Masoretic scribes famously added vowel markings in the Hebrew Bible so that pronunciations would be standardized, particularly for those whose first language is not Hebrew. They did not, however, add any vowel markings to the name of God out of deep respect and honor. The name was not said for fear of violating the command not to use His name in vain (Exodus 20:7). So all we have is what’s called the tetragrammaton. These are four Hebrew letters that, when transliterated, are YHWH. All we can do is guess as to the correct pronunciation. Many people today call Him Yahweh.
 
The Hebrew Y often turns into a J in English, and the Hebrew W can also be pronounced like a V, depending on dialect. So we could express this as JHVH. In order to make it pronounceable, some have mixed in vowels from the Hebrew words for “God” (elohim), and “Lord,” (adonai), making the pronunciation Jehovah. Since we are all ignorant as to the true pronunciation, either way is fine.
 
In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, this can be expressed as ego eimi, or “I AM.” Jesus identified Himself in no uncertain terms as the I AM.
 
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
John 8:58 NKJV
 
Next time, we will see how this Jesus can seemingly be called by another name, and yet still be Yahweh, the great I AM.
 
Part 2
Last time, we discovered the name of God is YHWH, often pronounced as Yahweh or Jehovah. In English, that can be expressed as I AM, as we saw in Exodus 3:13-15. In New Testament times, this name was not spoken out of great respect for God. It would have been unusual for Jesus to use His name YHWH, let alone refer to Himself as the I AM.
 
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
John 8:58 NKJV
 
In fact, it was so unusual, that it was considered blasphemous, as we can see the reaction of those around Him: “Then they took up stones to throw at Him” (John 8:59a). The penalty for blasphemy was death. Thankfully, He managed to escape.
 
Some might object and say this is a common phrase in Greek, so Jesus could have just meant simply, “I am.” In context, however, that does not make sense. He would have mixed two tenses in a way that would be incomprehensible. He is stating that He was in existence long before Abraham was about 2000 years prior, yet His physical body was only just over 30 years old! He was stating that He is YHWH!
 
So yes, Jesus is the I AM, from everlasting to everlasting (Psa. 90:2). But how can His name be Jesus and YHWH? Some might point to Psalm 83:18, which says, “That they may know that You, whose name alone is the LORD [YHWH], are the Most High over all the earth.”
 
In a prophecy concerning Jesus, Isaiah wrote, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). This was fulfilled in Jesus (Matt. 1:23-25). In fact, Matthew translates Immanuel as, “God with us,” and later says that Joseph “called His name Jesus.” Jesus is in fact an English transliteration of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name for Joshua. This name means “YHWH Saves.” What an appropriate name for Him! While Immanuel is not a name as we think of it, it certainly describes Him: God is with us!
 
Additional: Since Immanuel is not so much a name as we think of it but a description, we see this in other places as well. Isaiah, foretelling of the the church Jesus would build (cf. Matt. 16:18), said that we “shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name,” and later, “You shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah” (Isa. 62:2, 4). The new name by which we are literally called is not Hephzibah or Beulah, but Christian (Acts 11:26). These words merely give a description of the Christian. Hephzibah means “My Delight is in Her” and describes how God delights in those who follow Him. Beulah means “Married” and describes how the land, i.e. the church, is His bride.
 
Now that we have established that Jesus is indeed YHWH, we must also emphasize Peter’s words after having healed a lame man:
 
“Let it be known to you all … that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. … Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10, 12 NKJV
 
We can only be saved in Christ. Recall, “whoever calls on the name of the LORD [YHWH] shall be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; cf. Acts 22:16). This same LORD that we call on is the same Jesus in whom is salvation, for salvation is only in Christ (2 Tim. 2:10). We can only get into Christ by faith through baptism (Gal. 3:26-27).
 
 

What did God do before Creation?     table of contents

The very first verse in the Bible tells us that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). After this, for six days God worked to create this world and all that is in it. Since this all happened in the beginning, we note that God had to have created time for there to be a beginning. Therefore the notion that there was even a “before” shows how difficult it is for us to think outside of linear time. There is no such thing as before the beginning.
 
Time did not exist before the Creation as we understand it. God was not sitting there in heaven twiddling His thumbs when He decided to create everything. There are some things we read about, however, that were accomplished “before the foundation of the world.”
 
In Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was betrayed, He said:
 
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
John 17:24 NKJV
 
Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, saying:
 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, … having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV
 
Peter used this phrase as well, saying:
 
[Christ] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.
1 Peter 1:20 NKJV
 
So what God did before Creation was 1) love Christ, 2) choose us in Him, and 3) plan for Christ’s coming. All of these things are related. We do know that He revealed the “manifold wisdom of God … according to the eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11). It was God’s purpose and has always been God’s purpose to send His Son to earth to die for our sins. God planned our redemption in Christ before He ever said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). This implies He planned to create us, too, and knew we would need a Savior. God loved His Son, and He wanted to show His love for His Creation, too.
 
What this does not teach is that we were all individually chosen for salvation or destruction, but that all who are in Christ were collectively chosen for salvation before time began. Recall, “He chose us in Him.” For us to be in Him, we must be part of His body, His church (Eph. 1:22-23). Salvation can only be found there (Acts 2:38, 41, 47).
 
 

Did God command genocide? If so, why?     table of contents

This question was originally worded differently, but it was presented as a logical fallacy known as a loaded question. A loaded question is one that contains unjustified assumptions, for example: When did you stop beating your wife? The original question suggested that God currently allows and approves of genocide. He does not. So the question is reworded to make it more appropriate.
 
There are some instances in the Old Testament, however, that could be described as genocide that were commanded by God, though it was not always carried out. First we will look at some of those commands, why they were issued, and what that means for us today.
 
A few months ago, we discussed the idea of judgment. While God does judge us individually, He also judges groups of people such as cities or nations. We first see an example of His judgment on a massive scale in the Flood of Noah (Gen. 6). Later we see His judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). These particular judgments were carried out by God Himself, but He also uses people such as the Israelites to carry out His judgment upon others.
 
Additional: The Israelites, for example, were judged by God through the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon. Before that, they were judged through the nations around them for their idolatry. And before that, the Israelites were commanded to carry out God’s judgments upon the wicked peoples who dwelt in Canaan.
 
In Leviticus 20, we read about many of the terrible sins God wanted the Israelites to keep away from. In the process, we read that the Canaanites were guilty of all these things God forbade (Lev. 20:22-23). They were guilty of infanticide and idolatry (Lev. 20:1-5), witchcraft and prostitution (Lev. 20:6-7), cursing parents (Lev. 20:8-9), adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality (Lev. 20:10-21). Not only this, but He had given them 400 years to repent! (Gen. 15:13-16).
 
So the Lord gives the Israelites commands for how to deal with these Canaanites.
 
“But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them … just as the LORD your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 20:16-18 NKJV
 
In this passage, we also note the reason for this destruction. These evil people would influence the people of God to do evil. If they fell for such evil, it would endanger God’s plan to redeem mankind through One born as an Israelite—Jesus. Additional: In fact, we do see that they eventually did fall for such evil, but God was able to bring His plans to fruition through it all!
 
It does not take long to see that they did not carry out the commands as completely as the LORD desired (Judges 12), though there were some instances that they did (Josh. 6:21; 10:40). They had on-going issues with all of these peoples for over 400 years, up until the time of King Solomon who made them slaves (2 Chron. 8:7-8).
 
Additional: Furthermore, there are many who look to similar ancient Near Eastern war texts and point out similar figures of speech. When they would use language that suggests to us total destruction, it was meant as hyperbole similar to a sports headline saying that one team “totally annihilated” another. In truth, we see another instance of apparent genocide commanded to King Saul against the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:1-3). We see that Saul apparently carried out this directive, except for a few animals and their king (1 Sam. 15:7-9). Yet we see later that there were still Amalekites around causing trouble (1 Sam. 30:1-3). This is not a contradiction, but an example of the hyperbolic wartime narrative.
 
Additional: Another question one might ask in relation to this is concerning the civilians such as women and children. It should be noted that whenever the women are mentioned, they are described as just as immoral as the men and just as worthy of judgment (e.g. Num. 25). As for the children, consider that they would be considered orphans by this point, and the amount of orphans would have been a huge drain on the Israelites’ resources. At the same time, there is some evidence that God will take the innocent as punishment for the wickedness of their parents (2 Sam. 12:13-23), or because He sees some good in them and does not want them to be corrupted (1 Kings 14:12-13). Do keep in mind, however, that due to the hyperbolic nature of these war texts, we cannot be sure how complete the destruction was even concerning women and children.
 
So what does this mean for us today? Should we engage in such genocidal warfare? No. The Israelites had direct commands from God to destroy certain peoples; we do not. On top of that, in prophesying about the Christian age (today), Isaiah wrote, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:4). While there is certainly warfare and genocide that have occurred since Christ, none of it has been commanded by God. We are to learn peace from the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). That does not necessary mean we ought to be pacifists, but that’s a topic for another day.
 
Additional: What we learn from these accounts is the severity of sin, and that we will not be spared on the Last Day if we are found in sin. Such evil and wickedness must be totally eradicated from our lives! This can only be done through Christ.
 
 

Why are there mosquitoes?     table of contents

For a greater discussion on this go here.
 
At first I thought this was a silly question, but it actually lends to a more serious and deeper question: If God loves us, why would He create something that hurts us?
 
First, I must point out that mosquitoes are not mentioned in our English Bibles. That said, there is some linguistic evidence that the flies involved in the fourth plague of Egypt were actually mosquitoes since the sucking of blood is indicated (Exo. 8:20-24). This was judgment from God for not allowing the Israelites to go free.
 
That is not to say that every time you are bitten by a mosquito God is judging you, but there is a purpose to our suffering. I could point out all the benefits that mosquitoes bring to our ecosystem, but God could have easily created a creature that did all those things without the aggravation and the carrying of diseases. In fact, He very likely did until sin and suffering entered into the world (Gen. 3). The truth is, there is a greater reason for suffering.
 
An acquaintance and faithful gospel preacher, Don Blackwell, sheds some light on his own experiences on suffering in the embedded video below. Earlier this year, he had an accident that robbed him of the use of his legs. He makes the following points concerning the benefits of suffering:
  1. Suffering teaches us that we need to pray (2 Cor. 12:7-8).
  2. Suffering takes away the love of this world (John 14:1-3; 1 John 2:15).
  3. Suffering allows Christians’ light to shine (Matt. 5:16).
  4. Suffering helps you find a proper perspective on this physical world (Matt. 19:23-24).
  5. Suffering brings out the best in people (John 13:35).
  6. Suffering humbles us (1 Pet. 5:6-7; James 4:6, 10).
  7. Suffering helps us to sympathize with others (Rom. 12:15).
  8. Suffering purifies us (2 Cor. 13:5; Psa. 119:67, 71).

Much can be said about each of these individual points. We often do not pray unless we are in need, and prayer helps us get closer to God. Sometimes we get too attached to the pleasures of this world, both sinful and benign. When we help others who suffer, that shows the love of Christ to them which can motivate them to seek Him. Pride is a dangerous yet common thing to possess, and suffering can help us be humble realizing who is really in control, that is God.

The Bible has much to say on suffering, far more than can be presented here. But I will leave you with the following thought.

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.    Romans 5:3-4 NKJV
For we were saved in this hope …    Romans 8:24a NKJV

So tribulation and suffering come to help build a hope that saves!

 

Why are some healed and others not?     table of contents

When we are suffering from illness and disease, and we see others being healed, it is heartbreaking when we are not. The topic this week is closely related to the topic that we covered last time on suffering. I encourage you to read the previous entry about the benefits of suffering (cf. Romans 5:3-4; 8:24).
 
One of the sayings of an old teacher of mine was, “You never get out of this world alive.” This saying is true. The question is not if we will pass from this life, but when and how—assuming the Lord does not return first. All the prayers in the world will not countermand this natural reality. They may delay it, they may ease it, but in the end, it will happen because it is God’s will. I pray that you have prepared your soul for that inevitability. So for some, they are not healed because it is their time.
 
It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.  Hebrews 9:27 NKJV
 
Even Jesus, when He walked this earth, did not heal everyone. When He went to His hometown of Nazareth, the people there were interested in His peforming miracles as He did elsewhere. Jesus’ response angered the Nazarenes.
 
“But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, … but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
 
Jesus alludes to two prophets of the Old Testament who did not help everyone in Israel, either. This shows that we should trust and accept the decisions of our Lord concerning who is healed and who is not, even if we are among those not healed.
 
No one knew that better than the Apostle Paul. The Holy Spirit allowed him to heal many people (cf. Acts 19:11-12), but he himself was not afforded this luxury.
 
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
 
What exactly Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, it is not stated. Whatever it was, Paul was afflicted by it and prayed that it be removed. The purpose, at least for Paul, was to humble him. For us, whatever the purpose, let us take comfort that His grace is enough for us if, indeed, we have access to that grace. Remember, we are “saved by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8). What comfort and strength His grace affords us if we have obeyed the gospel by believing and being baptized! (Mark 16:16; Gal. 3:26-27).
 
 

What about the mistreatment of animals?     table of contents

First, we should define what it means to mistreat animals. Slaughtering them for the purposes of food or sacrifice is not mistreatment (e.g. Gen. 9:2-3; Lev. 1), neither is killing them for defense of person or property (e.g. Judges 14:5-6; 1 Sam. 17:34-36). Causing them to suffer needlessly, however, would qualify as mistreatment.
 
In the beginning, God gave mankind dominion over the earth, including the animals that it contains (Gen. 1:26-28). In the Flood, God wanted to preserve every kind of animal by placing them on the ark (Gen. 6:19-21).
 
There are several principles that we note in the Old Testament concerning how animals are to be treated. One of the laws stated, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” (Deut. 25:4). Treading grain is a process by which the grain is separated into the wheat and the worthless chaff. Oxen were used to aid in this process. If they were muzzled, they could not eat anything they were treading and would not benefit from their labor. This showed a concern for their welfare.
 
Below is another law concerning the animal of a neighbor.
 
You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him. You shall do the same with his donkey … You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down along the road, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him lift them up again.
 
While this is dealing with animals as property belonging to another, it is interesting to note how well these animals were to be treated when in trouble (cf. Exodus 23:4-5).
 
Consider also the treatment of birds a few verses later (Deut. 22:6-7). The law here stated that when one encountered a bird’s nest, that he should not take the mother with her young or her eggs. This preserved the mother to lay again.
 
Additional: There were also some additional laws that covered damages done by someone’s animals. If an ox, for instance, were to gore someone and kill them, it was to be stoned to death. If the ox showed no earlier signs of aggression, then its owner was not to be held responsible. If, however, it did, and the owner knew about it and did nothing about it, then he either has to pay whatever the family of the deceased required or be killed with his animal (Exo. 21:28-32).
 
Additional: Other laws are concerning what happens if you dig a pit and an animal falls into it (Exo. 21:33-34), if your ox gores another animal (Exo. 21:35-36), if your animal grazes in someone else’s field (Exo. 22:5), or if you were to kill another man’s animal (Lev. 24:18).
 
King Solomon points something out about how one treats his animals as well.
 
A righteous man regards the life of his animal,
But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
Proverbs 12:10 NKJV
 
Cruelty to animals, particularly one’s own, was discouraged. It also revealed much about the person. It revealed that the one who mistreated his animals was lacking in righteousness.
 
While we are not bound by these Old Testament laws (cf. Gal. 3:24-25), they do show us certain principles on how animals are to be treated. Always keep in mind, however, of how much more value we are as human beings to our heavenly Father (Matt. 6:26; cf. 1 Cor. 9:9).
 
 

What about separation and divorce?     table of contents

Jesus Himself was asked about the question of divorce. It is certainly important to consider what He has to say.

The Pharisees also came to [Jesus], testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces His wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
Matthew 19:3-12 NKJV

To answer this question, Jesus goes all the way back to the very beginning (Gen. 1:27; 2:24). This was God’s original intent for marriage, though through time it had been corrupted with polygamy and divorce (and now same-sex marriage).

There were two main schools of thought in Jesus’ time on marriage. One school believed that marriage could only be dissolved if fornication were involved. Another held that one could divorce over trivial matters, both citing Moses’ words (Deut. 24:1). Jesus then correctly interprets what Moses meant, agreeing with the first school. It was only due to their own stubbornness that God permitted something He did not approve of. Under Jesus, we are called to a higher standard.

In the passage quoted above, Matthew 19:9 is emphasized to show the key to this discussion. In our society, often the form that sexual immorality takes is adultery. The disciples recognized how hard this was, but this is the standard to which we are called. We are not to divorce for any cause except fornication—marriage is for life!

The prophet Malachi records, “For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence” (Mal. 2:16). Next time, we will consider separation and what the Apostle Paul wrote on this issue.

Part 2

Last time, the two main texts we looked at were Matthew 19:3-12 and Malachi 2:16. We noted that God hates divorce and that marriage was originally meant to last a lifetime. There was only one exception to the rule: fornication. We will see later that, while one may be free to divorce, he may not remarry unless it was for fornication.

The Apostle Paul also wrote on this issue and even touched on the idea of separation. Let us consider his inspired words.

Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband …. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
1 Corinthians 7:3, 5 NKJV

Here we note that separations were permitted “with consent for a time.” The purpose here was for pious devotion, not a really legal separation due to marriage difficulties. However, marriage difficulties might be helped by such devotion, hence a separation. But it was only to be “for a time,” where a short period of time is implied. It should not last for too long, otherwise the couple might be tempted to commit adultery.

There are three classes of people who can get married. Jesus mentioned those who divorce for sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9). Paul refers to the other two here.

But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry.
1 Corinthians 7:8-9a NKJV

Here he mentions the unmarried, that is those who have never been married, and widows. Then Paul focuses his attention on those who are married.

Now to the married, I command, yet not I but the the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. … But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.
1 Corinthians 7:10-13, 15 NKJV

In the first part, Paul is reiterating what Jesus said in Matthew 19. If a spouse is to divorce you for something other than fornication, you are to remain unmarried unless you can be reconciled. Then the Holy Spirit through Paul adds to the Lord’s words concerning the case of an unbelieving spouse. He encourages them to stay married, but if the unbeliever departs, let him or her go. When Paul says you are not under bondage, however, he is not saying you are free to remarry—Jesus’ words still apply. He is saying you are not bound to your spouse’s potential ultimatum to leave Christ.

Additional: All of this may seem extreme, but it simply emphasizes the importance of marriage and that we should not take such decisions lightly. They have lifelong consequences. Marriage is a commitment for life, a responsibility that must not be shirked. The first marriage commitment you made is still valid while you both live, assuming fornication is not involved. A second commitment does not invalidate the first; the first invalidates the second. Again, this may seem harsh in this day and age, but I turn your attention to the Jews who were in marriages they were not supposed to be in (Ezra 10:2-4, 44). While the situations are not exactly the same, it lets us know that some of the excuses we make for not obeying the Lord in this matter are not good enough.

Heaven is worth sacrificing some temporary happiness we might have in our short time on this Earth.