The Bible being unearthed from the Sands of Time

Last week some ancient discoveries were announced.  Standing alone, these discoveries would be of interest only to specialists in ancient archaeology.  But because these discoveries converge with the Bible, they carry broader implications.  Reported from the Times of Israel, the first discovery is summed up nicely in their title:

Straight from the Bible: Tiny First Temple stone weight unearthed in Jerusalem

The article reports on the discovery, under debris of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, of a Hebrew inscribed ‘beka’ stone which was used to measure the Temple Tax – for the First Temple (960 – 586 BCE) .  This was exactly as prescribed ‘straight from the Bible’ in the book of Exodus way back in the time of Moses.

The silver obtained from those of the community who were counted in the census was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels, according to the sanctuary shekel— one beka per person, that is, half a shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel,from everyone who had crossed over to those counted, twenty years old or more,a total of 603,550 men. (Exodus 38:25-26)

This discovered beka stone had mirror image (reverse) Hebrew lettering. It is very rare that lettering this old is discovered.

The second announcement, just a few days later, was the publication of a multi-disciplinary report on the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah.

Evidence of Sodom? Meteor blast cause of biblical destruction, say scientists

This paper used archaeological findings of a deeply burned and scarred surface area of 500 square km adjacent to the Dead Sea to argue that this was caused by a huge meteor blast – and that the biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) was the biblical account of this same event.  The authors of the paper write:

“The physical evidence from Tall el-Hammam and neighboring sites exhibit signs of a highly destructive concussive and thermal event that one might expect from what is described in Genesis 19.”

These two announcements this week are merely the latest in a steady stream of archaeological discoveries and announcements that have been coming out of Israel this year.   Last month a stone column engraved with the word ‘Jerusalem’ in Aramaic and Hebrew, dated to 100 BCE, was unearthed at the city gateA city gate, used by David (1000 BCE) and where Jesus was recorded to have performed miracles was also discovered this summer.

The Bible records events as history.  Its accounts do not begin with ‘Once upon a time … in Never Never Land …’  As Israelis have returned to Israel, and with a deep interest in their ties to the land, they have been digging all over the country – and making findings that corroborate the historicity of the Bible.  There is evidence that there was a city by the Dead Sea that was destroyed by a searing fire from the sky.  The evidence is in the ground.  The absurd idea that Moses did not write the Torah (Pentateuch) looks increasingly tenuous as artefacts are unearthed that can be tied back to those writings.  Of course, what is excavated does not directly show that ‘God did it’.  But the accounts preserved in the Bible broadly match and corroborate what is being dug up from the ground.

But it is not only ancient history that comes to life with these discoveries.  This is what is written in Jeremiah (about 588BC)

“This is what the Lord says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more 11 the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,

“Give thanks to the Lord Almighty,
    for the Lord is good;
    his love endures forever.”

For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the Lord.

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In this place, desolate and without people or animals—in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks. 13 In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them,’ says the Lord. (Jeremiah 33:10-13)

These artefacts, lieing buried in the ground for thousands of years, are a testament to the long desolation of the land – a desolation that was predicted.  Yet the mere fact that these artefacts are now being discovered is a witness to the reviving of the land – also predicted and happening right before our eyes.

Then Jeremiah continues directly from above:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’ (Jeremiah 33:14-16)

 In almost the same breath when he predicts the desolation now being unearthed, Jeremiah foresaw the ‘Branch’ coming from David.  This was the theme begun by Isaiah earlier, continued by Zechariah, predicting that the name of the Branch would be ‘Jesus’.  The time of His coming was foreseen by Daniel.

Funny as it may seem, the manner in which the Bible ties its record to events on the ground and then seamlessly predicts the coming of ‘Christ’, makes it so that even little stones being unearthed today are a witness to Him.  Almost like what He said, “the stones will cry out”.  That’s worth ruminating on as the Christmas season comes upon us.

What are the Ten Commandments? Why were they given?

Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, which describe the birth of the Israelite nation thousands of years ago.  Moses’ mission was to deliver this nation to become a light to surrounding nations.  Moses began by leading the Israelites (or Jews) out of slavery in Egypt with a rescue mission known as Passover – where God liberated the Israelites in a way that pointed to a future deliverance for all mankind.  But Moses’ mission was not only to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, but also to guide them to a new way of living. So fifty days after the Passover that rescued the Israelites, Moses led them to Mt. Sinai (or Mt. Horeb) where they received the Law.

So what commands did Moses get?  Though the complete Law was quite long, Moses first received a set of specific moral commands written by God on tablets of stone, known as the Ten Commandments (or Decalogue). These Ten formed the summary of the Law – the moral prerequisites before all the others – and they are now God’s active power to persuade us to repent.

The Ten Commandments

Here are the Ten Commandments as written by God on stone and then recorded by Moses in the Bible’s book of Exodus.

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  Exodus 20:1-18

The Standard of the Ten Commandments

Today we sometimes we forget that these are commands. They are not suggestions. Nor are they recommendations.  But to what extent are we to obey these commands? The following comes just before the giving of the Ten Commandments

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “… Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. (Exodus19:3,5)

This was given just after the Ten Commandments

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” (Exodus24:7)

Let’s think about this. Sometimes in my school exams, the teacher gave us multiple questions (for example 20) but then required only some of the questions to be answered. We could, for example, choose any 15 questions out of the 20 to answer. Each student would pick the 15 easiest questions for him/her to answer. In this way the teacher made the exam easier.

Many people treat the Ten Commandments in the same way. They think that God, after giving the Ten Commandments, meant, “Attempt any six of your choice from these Ten”.  We think this way because we instinctively imagine God balancing our ‘good deeds’ against our ‘bad deeds’.  If our Good Merits outweigh or cancel our Bad Imperfections then we hope that this is sufficient to earn God’s favor or get a pass to heaven.  For this same reason many of us try to earn religious merit by religious activities like going to church, mosque or temple, praying, fasting and giving money to the poor.  These acts hopefully balance out the times we disobey one of the Ten Commandments.

However, an honest reading of the Ten Commandments shows that this was not how it was given. People are to obey and keep ALL the commands – all the time.  The sheer difficulty of accomplishing this has made many rebel against the Ten Commandments.  The well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens attacked the Ten Commandments for this reason:

 “… then comes the four famous ‘shalt nots’ which flatly prohibit killing, adultery, theft, and false witness.  Finally there is a ban on covetousness, forbidding the desire for ‘thy neighbours’… chattel.  …  Instead of the condemnation of evil actions, there is an oddly phrased condemnation of impure thoughts….  It demands the impossible….  One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions…, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much…. If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts, he should have taken more care to invent a different species”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  P.99-100

Why did God give the Ten Commandments?

But to think either that God accepts a 50% plus effort, or that God made a mistake in demanding the impossible is to misunderstand the purpose of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were given to help us identify our problem.

Let’s illustrate with an example.  Suppose you had a hard fall onto the ground and your arm hurts badly – yet you are not sure of the internal damage.  Is the bone in your arm broken or not?  You are unsure if it will just get better, or if you need a cast on your arm.  So you take an X-ray of your arm and the X-ray image reveals that, yes indeed, the bone in your arm is broken.  Does the X-ray heal your arm?  Is your arm better because of the X-ray?  No, your arm is still broken, but now you know that it is broken, and that you need to put a cast on it to heal.  The X-ray did not solve the problem, but rather it exposed the problem so you would get proper treatment.

The Commands reveal Sin

In the same way the Ten Commandments were given so that a problem deep within us could be revealed – our sin.  Sin literally means ‘missing’ the target that God expects from us in how we treat others, ourselves and God.  The Bible says that

The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

We all have this inner corrupting problem of sin.  This is serious enough that God says of our ‘good deeds’ (which we hope will cancel out our sins) that

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Our righteous merit in religious observances or helping others are only ‘filthy rags’ when weighed against our sins.

But instead of recognizing our problem we tend either to compare ourselves with others (measuring ourselves against the wrong standard), strive harder to obtain religious merit, or give up and just live for pleasure.  Therefore God instituted the Ten Commandments so that:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:20)

If we examine our lives against the standard of the Ten Commandments it is like looking at an X-ray that shows the internal problem.  The Ten Commandments do not ‘fix’ our problem, but reveals the problem clearly so we will accept the remedy that God has provided.  Instead of continuing in self-deception, the Law allows us to see ourselves accurately.

God’s Gift given in repentance

The remedy that God has provided is the gift of forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This Gift of life is simply given to us if we trust or have faith in His work.

know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

As Abraham was justified before God we too can be given righteousness.  But it does require that we repent.  Repentance is often misunderstood, but repent simply means to ‘change our minds’ involving a turning away from sin and a turning towards God and the Gift He offers.  As the Bible explains:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (Acts 3:19)

The promise for you and me is that if we repent, turning to God, that our sins will not be counted against us and we will receive Life.

The Ten Commandments in the Calendar

Along with that first Passover and Abraham’s test which stamp God’s signature on this Plan so we can be assured it is really His, the specific day when the Ten Commandments were given to Moses also point to the coming of the Spirit of God.  The Jewish Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, is timed to the giving of Ten Commandments,  which also coincides with the exact day of Acts 2 Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came.

Giving of Ten Commandments shown in relation to Feast of Weeks and coming of Holy Spirit on Pentecost
Giving of Ten Commandments shown in relation to Feast of Weeks and coming of Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Feast of Weeks, Ten Commandments and Coming of Spirit are all on the same calendar day.

That the day when the Spirit came to indwell repentant people comes on the same day commemorating the giving of the Ten Commandments is God’s answer to Christopher Hitchens’ complaint.  God is taking ‘care to invent a different species’ – one indwelt by His Spirit, so that we will have the ability to live differently.  The precision in their timing is, once again, His Signature written on the canvas of time so we can be assured that both the Law and the Spirit are really from God.

The Precision and Power of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost always occurs on a Sunday.  It celebrates a remarkable day, but it is not only what happened that day but when and why it happened that reveals the hand of God, and a powerful gift for you.

What happened on Pentecost

If you heard of ‘Pentecost’, you probably learned that it was the day when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the followers of Jesus.  This is the day that the Church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born.  The events are recorded in Acts chapter 2 of the Bible.  On that specific day, the Holy Spirit descended on the first 120 followers of Jesus and they started speaking loudly in languages from around the world.  It created such a commotion that thousands who were in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening.  In front of the gathered crowd, Peter spoke the first gospel message and ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’ (Acts 2:41). The number of gospel followers has been growing ever since that Pentecost Sunday.

That day happened exactly 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during these 50 days that Jesus’ disciples became convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. On Pentecost Sunday they went public and history was changed. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, your life has been affected by the events of that Pentecost Sunday.

This understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is not complete.  Many people want a repeat of that Pentecost Sunday through a similar experience.  Since the first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’, today people hope that likewise by ‘waiting’ He will come again in a similar way.  Therefore, many people plead and wait for God to bring about another Pentecost.  To think this way assumes that it was the waiting and praying that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss its precision – because the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.

Pentecost from the Law of Moses

‘Pentecost’ was actually an annual Old Testament festival. Moses (1500 BC) had established several festivals to be celebrated through the year. Passover was the first festival of the Jewish year.  Jesus had been crucified on a Passover day festival. The exact timing of his death to the sacrifices of the Passover lambs was meant as a sign.

The second festival was the feast of Firstfruits, and the Law of Moses stated it was to be celebrated on the ‘day after’ Passover Saturday (= Sunday).   Jesus rose on Sunday, so his resurrection occurred exactly on the Firstfruits Festival.  Since his resurrection happened on ‘Firstfruits’, it was a Promise that our resurrection would follow later (for all those who trust him).  His resurrection is literally a ‘firstfruits’, just as the festival name prophesied.

Precisely 50 days after the ‘Firstfruits’ Sunday the Jews celebrated Pentecost (‘Pente’ for 50.  It was also called Feast of Weeks since it was counted by seven weeks).  Jews had been celebrating Pentecost for 1500 years by the time the Pentecost of Acts 2 happened.  The reason that there were people from all over the world that Pentecost day in Jerusalem to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.  Today Jews still celebrate Pentecost but call it Shavuot.

We read in the Old Testament how Pentecost was to be celebrated:

Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:16-17)

Precision of Pentecost: Evidence of a Mind

There is a precise timing of the Pentecost in Acts 2 since it occurred on the same day of the year as the Old Testament Pentecost (Feast of Weeks).  The crucifixion of Jesus occurring on the Passover, the resurrection of Jesus occurring on FirstFruits, and the Pentecost of Acts 2 occurring on the Jewish Feast of Weeks, points to a Mind coordinating these through history.  With so many days in a year why should the crucifixion of Jesus, his resurrection, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit happen precisely on each day of the three spring Old Testament festivals, except if they were planned?  Precision like this happens only if a mind is behind it.

Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament
Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament

Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?

One might argue that Luke (the author of Acts) made up the events of Acts 2 to ‘happen’ on the Feast of Pentecost. Then he would have been the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But his account does not say that Acts 2 is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost, it does not even mention it. Why would he go to such trouble of creating these dramatic events to ‘happen’ on that day but not help the reader see how it ‘fulfills’ the Feast of Pentecost? In fact, Luke did such a good job of reporting events rather than interpreting them that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fell on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost.  Many people think that Pentecost simply began at Acts 2. Since most people today are not aware of the connection between them, Luke would be in the impossible situation of being a genius to invent the connection but utterly inept in selling it.

Pentecost: A New Power

Instead, Luke points us to a prophecy from the Old Testament book of Joel predicting that one day the Spirit of God would pour out on all peoples.  The Pentecost of Acts 2 fulfilled that.

One reason that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that it provides power to live life differently – better. Life is now a union between God and people. And this union takes place through the indwelling of the Spirit of God – which began on the Pentecost Sunday of Acts 2.  The Good News is that life can now be lived on a different level, in a relationship with God through His Spirit. The Bible puts it like this:

And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:11)

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

The indwelling Spirit of God is another firstfruits, because the Spirit is a foretaste – a guarantee – of completing our transformation into ‘children of God’.

The gospel offers an abundant life not through possessions, pleasure, status, wealth and all the other passing trifles pursued by this world, which Solomon had found to be such an empty bubble, but by the indwelling of the Spirit of God.  If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would be good news.  The Old Testament Pentecost with the celebration of fine bread baked with yeast pictured this coming abundant life.  The precision between the Old and New Pentecosts is perfect evidence that it is God that is the Mind behind these events and this power of an abundant life.