Did God Command The Israelites To Kill Babies?

Did God Command The Israelites To Kill Babies?

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Quite possibly one of the most difficult passages to read is 1 Samuel 15:3. In this verse God commands the Israelites to kill the Amalekites and He specifically says, “kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” This verse is used by many to discredit the Bible and mock those that believe in a “God that murders babies.” 

At first glance, this verse appears to be morally wrong. Did God really command the Israelites to commit infanticide? If He did, why would we serve a God like that? Why take the time to pursue a relationship with God knowing that He shed innocent blood? Doesn’t Proverbs 6:17 say that God “hates hands that shed innocent blood?” Maybe God’s a hypocrite and there’s a double standard. Maybe God doesn’t really love His creation. Maybe we serve a God that isn’t as pure and holy as He claims to be. Or maybe there’s a reason why God gave this command. 

1 Samuel 15:3 can be better understood if we recognize several important facts. 

The Context. In order to properly handle God’s Word, we can’t just pick a verse and read it at face value. So it is important that we read the context. Verse two shows us that the Amalekites attacked Israel on their journey out of Egypt. In return God promised to one day utterly destroy the nation (Deut. 25:17-19). From the moment the Amalekites chose to fight the nation of Israel, their fate was sealed…but not immediately. Exodus 17:8-16 records the events that took place and God says, “the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” 1 Samuel 15:3 is God keeping His word. 

Biblical and secular history. The Amalekites were recorded as being ruthless and cruel. They would actively search for pregnant women and kill their babies before killing the mother. In raids they would kill women, children, and everything else. They killed for sport and they raided places for fun. They didn’t fight other nations trying to protect themselves or their land, they just enjoyed slaughtering people and taking their stuff. The Amalekites were known for their cruelty, but also their hate for the Israelites. History also reveals that the Amalekites required that any and every living offspring was to avenge any nation or people that attacked them. This is seen with the Israelites in scripture. For 300 years the people of Israel fought with them. “Generation after generation” experienced war with the Amalekites. 300 years God let the murdering of His own chosen people to happen. 

Why did God let them do this for so long? Well, why did God save Rahab? Or tell Noah to warn the sinful people about the flood? Why did God promise not to destroy a city if there were just ten righteous people in it? Why did God send prophet after prophet to warn the Israelites of their sin? Why did God allow His own creation to spit on, mock and crucify His only Son? Because God is a God of mercy and second chances. The Amalekites were given 300 years to repent, but 1 Samuel 15:3 is the result of their lack of repentance. God warned them what would happen, and there had to be punishment for sin. 

But what about the innocent children and babies? Do you think God knew their future and what they would eventually become? God would never destroy a person that wanted to be saved. God wants everyone to come to repentance. 300 years of children and not a single one came to God and asked for repentance. God knows a whole lot more than we do. He has a perfect knowledge of the past, present and future. Since the culture of the Amalekites demanded that their offspring continue to murder and raid, the killing of the Israelites never ceased. If only a select group were killed, the problem would persist in the future as it had in the past. 

God cannot sin, and in His infinite knowledge He gave a command that was without sin. A sinful nation that refused to acknowledge God had to face the consequences. On the judgement day there will be many people who are punished because of their sin. God in His mercy has given us a way to be saved, but it is up to each individual to make the decision that will ultimately lead to either torment or salvation. God is patient and loving, but He is also holy and righteous in His judgment. 

What Can Be More Minimalist Than the Gospel? 

What Can Be More Minimalist Than the Gospel? 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

Minimalism is a term often associated with the arts and humanities. It can also be a term used to describe a lack of decoration or adornment in design. One notes that minimalism features everywhere today, from webpage design to people’s desire to live in tiny houses. Despite sounding like a paradox, I suppose one can make the case that minimalism is the ultimate form of refinement. Even Leonardo DaVinci allegedly proclaimed that simplicity is the art of sophistication.   

Since minimalism appears to be beloved, why is it so difficult to share the simple Gospel to a postmodern world? What could be more straightforward than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Paul distilled it to three topics about Christ, even though each of those topics can fill volumes of their own accord (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.1ff). Yes, the Gospel, at its core, is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our salvation is contingent on symbolically reenacting His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6.3-6). Indeed, the salvation plan is so simple that kids sing a song detailing those steps to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”  

Yet, when it comes to religion, complex human emotion appears to trump Divine simplicity. Ask Naaman. When told how to cure his leprosy, Naaman balked. The prophet told him to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River to cleanse his leprosy. Naaman stormed off. 

“Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’ Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (2 Kings 5.11-12 NASB1995) 

Luckily, Naaman’s wise servants were not turned away by simplicity. They reminded their master he would do any great thing to cure his leprosy. So, why not just wash? (2 Kings 5.13) Similarly, I do not think that telling people to be immersed so that they can wash away sins and call on the Lord’s name (Acts 22.16) is a matter of complexity. It is simple. The stumbling block for those unwilling to obey is typically prejudices and fears. They think another way is better. Perhaps, this other way was taught to them by a dear, departed loved one. They do not want to “condemn” their relative by obeying the Gospel.  

However, obeying the Gospel is not an act of judgment. In rendering obedience, I am demonstrating a good conscience before God (1 Peter 3.21). We allow God to take care of the implications and trust, like Abram, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18.25 NASB1995). No doubt, if that loved one who taught us something differently had the opportunity to be preached the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ, then they would have obeyed too.  

If time permitted, I could expound upon other areas in which human emotion overly complicates the minimalism of God’s Divine plan for items such as worship. Yet, as with the virtue I am extolling, minimalism, it is best to keep this focused and concise. We should not be surprised that God would make the most critical things, like salvation, simple for us all to understand. Minimalism, experts remind us, is user-friendly and accessible. That is why we like it so. And it is also why God, the Master Designer, set up things so that the simplest among us can gain wisdom from it (Psalm 19.7).  

Indeed, what can be more minimalist than the Gospel?  

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Necessary, But Not Essential

Necessary, But Not Essential

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

Has your job been deemed “essential” during our mitigation efforts against COVID-19? If not, you are likely either working from home or are facing a difficult financial situation as we await the reopening of our economy. Noting the choices made by certain people in positions of authority about essential and nonessential workers, however, makes this whole process of determination seem…capricious.

Mike Rowe, a man who made a name for himself doing the “dirty jobs” other people refused to do, stated his opinion was that there was no job that is nonessential. Appearing on a cable news program, he said, “Right now, there is this fascinating conversation going on on your network and all the networks, where we are making a distinction between essential workers and nonessential workers.” Rowe continued, “…there’s something tricky with the language going on here because, with regard to an economy, I don’t think there is any such thing as a nonessential worker.” 1

Rowe did admit that certain positions are greatly needed during a pandemic. Hence, we have greater need for a doctor now than a center fielder for a Major League Baseball team. “I just wanted to make the point that, when we talk about the economy, all work is essential,” Rowe stated. “Maybe it’s a distinction without too much of a difference, but in my mind, there is no such thing right now as a nonessential worker.” 2

Rowe makes a good point. For a healthy economy, every able-bodied person of age, must work. When person “A” earns a paycheck, he spends it in person “B’s” store. Person “B” can then provide for his own family. The property taxes person “B” pays allows person “C’s” child to go to school. In other words, the economy is something in which we all play a role, whether we appreciate our role within it or not. Yet, we see what happens when we purposely shut down a country to mitigate a virus. All the financial gains about which our country boasted for the last few years was wiped out in six weeks!

This isn’t a message about the economy or politics or Mike Rowe. It is rather about the harmful consequences we bring about by rashly judging what’s essential and nonessential without considering the bigger picture. When you have extra time, enter in the words, “baptism” along with “essential” and “necessary,” into your internet search engine of choice. I did. I found one page that proffered “101 Reasons Why Water Baptism is Not Necessary to be Saved.”

Fortunately, we have the book of Acts, also known as the “book of conversions.” Acts has many examples of people who, having heard the proclamation of the Gospel, submitted to baptism. It is a troublesome book for the one seeking to discount the necessity of baptism’s role in salvation. For this reason, such practitioners of a perverted gospel must say, “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith.” In other words, all these people were baptized to show their salvation rather than receive it.

Even if we only had the example of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts, we would have enough reason to prove why baptism is not only necessary but essential. Paul was a man, made miserable by his newly acquired knowledge he was a sinner. He prayed fervently for three days. If one could “pray through” then Paul should have been able to have done so. And yet, when the preacher Ananias arrived, he saw the pathetic state that Paul was in and said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22.16). Did Paul not realize he was saved and needed only to perform a ritual to confirm his salvation? If true, Paul was the most miserable Christian about whom we read in the pages of the New Testament during those three days he prayed and fasted.

We might make a tough judgment call because of a virus and shut down certain sectors of our economy since we believe them less essential during a health crisis. Ultimately, though, we realize even those deemed “nonessential” do play an important part in our economy, as Rowe suggested. We need them if we are going to climb up out of this trillion-dollar deficit hole this crisis has made us fall into.

Likewise, people may capriciously proclaim baptism nonessential. However, one wanting total restoration to the innocence lost in Eden must also know a demon’s faith (James 2.19) is not only insufficient to save but fatal (Mark 16.16).

References

1  Shiver, Phil. “’Dirty Jobs’ Star Mike Rowe: There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Nonessential Worker’.” The Blaze, Blaze Media LLC, 2 Apr. 2020, www.theblaze.com/news/mike-rowe-non-essential-worker.
ibid.

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A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

A Story You Don’t Hear In Vacation Bible School

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Civil war has broken out in the kingdom after Saul’s death. David is a patriot who loves his people so he offers to treat Saul’s followers well after Judah crowns him as king. However, a man named, Abner, takes matters into his own hands and he defies God’s chosen king. He sets up Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, as their new ruler instead. Abner, who was the general of Saul’s army, along with the servants of Ish-bosheth, make their way to the pool of Gibeon. This was a large pool carved out of rock by Saul’s father. Once they arrive they sit down. On the opposite side of the pool, Joab, David’s nephew, and his servants meet them and sit as well. Behind them, two armies stand in formation, ready for war— brother against brother. Abner, perhaps to prevent the death toll that a larger battle would bring, suggests that their servants fight for them. Joab agrees, but this idea quickly leads to a slaughter. Each servant grabs the other by the head, clinching hair in a tight fist, and cuts each other down simultaneously. This short altercation doesn’t provide a victor, so both armies charge each other. It’s a battle that is fought with so much passion, but God grants David’s army with the win. I imagine the Man After God’s Own Heart did not take joy in this victory. The chaos of war has already taken so much from him, including the life of his best friend, Jonathan.

After the battle of Gibeon has ended, David’s nephew, Asahel, takes off after the fleeing Abner. Asahel was known for his speed and agility, with it being likened to that of a gazelle. This speed allowed him to pass the others that were also in pursuit and he finds himself on the heels of Abner in no time. His swiftness will bring him a swift death. While Abner is not as quick, he is older with more experience. Twice Abner asks Asahel to stop this foolish attempt to take his life, but Asahel doesn’t take this advice. This is when Abner thrusts his spear behind him and the butt end of the spear goes through Asahel’s stomach and out the other side, killing the young warrior. 

This is probably an account you never heard in Vacation Bible School, but there is so much we can learn from this event found in 2 Samuel 2:12-24. We notice how deadly pride can be. First, there is the pride of Abner in rejecting David as king, and then there’s the pride of Asahel. He was famous for being quick on his feet, but clearly slow in thought. Preachers and teachers can become well known for their ability to speak and proclaim God’s word. This fame can also be their own spiritual downfall if they begin to think more of themselves than they should. When we post scriptures, baptisms, or other good deeds on social media for our own praise and admiration, God may be the only One that sees your heart. Those are the only eyes that matter since they belong to the One that will be our final Judge.

We also learn from this story that serving a dead king is futile. As Christians we serve the King of Kings, God’s anointed son. Those standing with Him will always win. Those that chose to take matters into their own hands are fighting a losing battle.

When we read about events like this in the Bible it should also make us thankful for the day when we will enjoy a place where there is no heartache, bloodshed, or wickedness. Even David had to endure his share of trials, but now he’s with the God he modeled his heart after— and, we can assume, Jonathan. No matter what struggle we may find ourselves tangled up in, let’s place our focus on that heavenly reunion. 

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photo via Flickr

FURIOUSLY ENRAGED

FURIOUSLY ENRAGED

Neal Pollard

Paul recounted his conversion on several occasions and spoke of his attitude toward  Christianity before embracing it himself.  Of the many ways he described his pre-Christian life, think about what he said in Acts 26:11.  He describes it as being “furiously enraged” at Christians. He ravaged the church (Acts 8:3). He breathed out threats against them (Acts 9:1).  He had the power and desire to punish them (Acts 22:5).  He was a violent aggressor toward Christians (1 Tim. 1:13).   What changed him?

The word of Christ did (Acts 27:14).  Jesus taught that among the conditions of heart is the good and honest one (Luke 8:15). The teaching of Christ can change people’s minds and attitudes.

A changed view of Christ did (Acts 27:15).  Though Scripture does not explicitly tell us his view toward Jesus before his conversion, His vicious reaction to “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 22:4) reveals that he was absolutely opposed to the view of Christ asserted by the disciples, that He is Lord (cf. Acts 2:36).  Yet, on the road to Damascus, encountering Jesus, Paul immediately begins to acknowledge Him as “Lord” (see how Luke emphasizes the Lordship of Christ in Saul’s conversion in the account in Acts 9—1,5,10,11,13,15,17).  A person will have a dramatic attitude adjustment toward Christ who comes to acknowledge and appreciate Him as Lord and Master.

A more profound life’s purpose did it (Acts 27:16-21).  Christ outlines His purpose for Saul—a minister (16), a witness (16), opening people’s eyes (18) as his own were.  Whatever the focus of a person’s life, it is not as meaningful as when Christ is in the center of that focus.

16th-Century Scottish historian, John Knox, wrote, “No one else holds or has held the place in the heart of the world which Jesus holds. Other gods have been as devoutly worshipped; no other man has been so devoutly loved” (Haythum Khalid).  That is true for those who come to take Him as He is presented in the Bible. In the public marketplace where ideas are sold and traded, we will encounter people whose mindset toward Christ and His Way mirrors that of Paul’s before He was converted to Him.  Our task is to live Him in our lives and, if possible, share His Word.  If their heart is good and honest, the Word will change their view of Christ and their view of their life’s purpose.  If that happened so frequently in the unfriendly environment of the Roman Empire of the first-century, it can happen in our current culture!

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Warming Up The Cold Shoulder

Warming Up The Cold Shoulder

Neal Pollard

Occasionally, a Christian who has fallen away and is approached by a concerned elder, preacher, or other Christian will respond by saying the people at church were cold, unfriendly, or unwelcoming.  They complain that they get the “cold shoulder” from the folks in the congregation. Could most of us try harder to reach out to each other, as well as our visitors?  Undoubtedly!  Of course, all of us know that this is a pretty flimsy excuse for forsaking the One who suffered and agonized for each of us in order to make heaven a possibility for us or the One who provides us with such abundant blessings throughout every day.

However, the Bible does seem to show us a pretty clear case of a new Christian who dealt with the collective cold shoulder of the very first congregation of the Lord’s church.  In fact, he also knew that those from his former religion were trying to kill him.  Suffice it to say, he faced some enormous pressures and adversities as the result of his obeying the gospel of Christ.  As he lived out the rest of his life, he suffered a lot just for teaching and preaching Christ, like being stoned, shipwrecked, scourged, slandered, and scrutinized.  People questioned and doubted him.  He did jail time.  But in his early days while still a new convert, he felt the effects of the cold shoulder.  The Bible says, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).   Imagine trying to place membership at a local church and having people avoid you, doubt your conversion, and rebuff your attempts to fellowship them.  That would be devastating.  Would you continue worshipping at a place like that?  Saul did.  How did he warm up the cold shoulder?

First, he had help (Acts 9:27).  Thank God for people like Barnabas, whom the Bible calls “the son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).  He intervened.  He took the new Christian under his wings and brought him more into the fellowship of God’s people.  God always needs and makes use of willing Barnabases who will help those on the outside looking in to “come inside” more fully.

Second, he spent time with the leadership (Acts 9:27b).  Barnabas takes Saul to the apostles.  So far as we know, churches at this time were not yet organized with elders.  The apostles were the first leaders in that first church.  Saul got to know them, and they got to know him.  Luke, in Acts 9:28, simply says Saul “was with them.”  God’s leaders are a crucial part of integrating those feeling the chill of the cold shoulder.

Finally, he proved his worth as a Christian (Acts 9:28-29).  He was active.  He reached out.  He was involved.  For Saul, that meant speaking boldly in Jesus’ name and defending His word.  There is absolutely no proof that Saul ever lamented or complained about how the Jerusalem Christians were treating him.  He just got busy.  What was the effect of that?  The first time Saul has a need, “when the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out toTarsus” (Acts 9:30).  They reached out to him.

Ever think you see a spot of frost or icicle on the shoulder of a brother or sister in Christ?  Consider several things.  First, you may be “reading” him or her wrong.  Second, they may be carrying some huge burdens that effect both their countenance and their demeanor.  Further, even if you are right and are experiencing a Frigidaire moment from the faithful, remember the warmth of God’s love.  It’s His church, part of His eternal plan, to which you have been added.  He will never give you the cold shoulder.  Then, remember Saul.  Even if you don’t have a Barnabas, reach out to your elders.  No matter what, remember that you serve the Lord and for that reason must keep your shoulder warm!