What were the Urim and Thummim?

In Exodus 28 the Bible tells about a pair objects carried by the high priest of Israel. These mysterious things were called the Urim and the Thummim. The high priest of Israel wore a breastplate that held twelve stones, each one representing a tribe of Israel. Also in the breastplate were the Urim and Thummim. God gave direction to Israel through the Urim and Thummim, but the Bible gives no specifics about what they were or how they were used.

Some ancient Jewish records suggest they glowed (like the Sankara stones in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Others have suggested they were stones with Hebrew letters that spelled out words. No one knows for sure. Some think they were stones, others sticks and others jewels. No one knows what they were made of. The Bible mentions their use a couple times but only in general terms. The most likely possibility is that they were used like lots to determine yes or no answers or to decide between two choices.

Regardless of how they were used, the Urim and Thummim revealed to the leaders of Israel the the will of God. In 1 Samuel 28:6 we are told that God did not answer Saul’s prayer for direction about an army of Philistines. God did not answer, “by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.” The only specific instruction about the use of these devices is found in Numbers 27:20. When Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites he was to go before the high priest. The Lord would give direction to Joshua through the Urim and Thummim. “And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the LORD: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.” (Numbers 27:21)

One other passage seems to show how the Urim and Thummim were used. In 1 Samuel 23 David is accompanied by a priest while he flees from Saul. David sought the Lord’s direction and, possibly through the Urim and Thummim, learned whether he should attack the Philistines, if Saul would come after him, and if the people of Keilah would betray him. God gave guidance to David through the ministry of the priest and the Urim and Thummim.

After 1 Samuel there is no other reference to the Urim being used. From the last years of Saul’s reign to the end of the Babylonian captivity the Bible makes no mention of the Urim and Thummim. Ezra and Nehemiah contain brief references to these things as part of the return of the high priest of Israel. After that the Bible is completely silent. The increased ministry of the prophets during the days of the kings appears to have ended Israel’s dependence on the Urim and Thummim to find the will of God. With the close of the Old Testament period God no longer reveals His will through the Urim and Thummim.


What are “idols of the heart?”

Idolatry is common around the world and has been for almost all of recorded history. Most civilizations have a long history of extensive idol worship. In America and most western cultures very few people bow to idols, make offerings to statues or worship carved images. However, the absence of outward trappings of idolatry does not mean Americans do not worship idols. Theologians have long warned of a hidden idolatry, the worship of “idols of the heart”. John Calvin said, “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

An idol is something that a person devote himself to or trusts in for ultimate satisfaction, security or salvation. An idol is anything that is loved more than God. Tim Keller says, “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

The phrase “idols of the heart” comes from Ezekiel 14. In the third verse God says that certain elders of Israel had “set up idols in their heart.” Though they were maintaining the outward practices of true worship, in their heart they were worshiping false gods. In the next verse God warns, “Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart . . . I the Lord will will answer him . . . according to the multitude of his idols.” God evaluates idolatry based upon the attitudes of the heart, not just the actions of the individual. God views heart idolatry to be as severe a sin as external idolatry.

A person can maintain all the external features of faithful worship of God while harboring in his heart a pantheon of false gods. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) The greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:30) Loving something more than God not only breaks the great commandment, it is idolatry. In Deuteronomy 11 God promised Israel He would bless them if they remembered His command to “to love your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.” He then warned them of judgment if they “turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them.” Breaking the great commandment breaks the first commandment. To love something more than God is to worship idols.

First John ends with the command, “Little children keep yourself from idols.” The first commandment forbids idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Idolatry is so significant that Scripture repeatedly warns that those who practice idolatry without repentance show themselves not to be the children of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Idolatry goes much deeper than bowing before carved statues of false gods. Idolatry is found in a heart that loves and desires something more than God.

What does it mean to “evangelize”?

Evangelism is an important part of Christianity. A large portion of Christianity is known as “evangelical.” Some preachers are called “evangelists.” Many Christians have been told it is important for them to “evangelize.” What does this mean?

To evangelize is to tell someone good news. A messenger that brought a report of victory in battle brought the evangelion, the “good news.” In the Greek world, an evangelion was a message from the gods. In the Roman world the announcement of the birth of an emperor was good news. Any good news was an evangelion. To evangelize is to tell the evangalion.

The first mention of the good news- usually translated “gospel”- in the New Testament is found in the Gospels. John the Baptist and Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the gospel to all the communities of Israel. After Jesus’ death and resurrection He sent His disciples to go into the entire world and “preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

The good news was prophesied in Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;” Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 in His hometown of Nazareth to announce that He was the prophesied Messiah.

The good news as described in the Bible is not just a message, it is a person. The good news is Jesus. The content of the message of Jesus is defined by the Bible and contains several objective, historical features. The good news is the truth of Jesus’ deity, death on the cross and resurrection. The gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”

To evangelize is to tell others the truth of Jesus. He is good news indeed. To evangelize is to tell others the gospel. This is why Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” This is why Paul quoted Isaiah when he wrote to the Romans, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15)

Is the story of Jonah true?

The story of Jonah and the whale is one of the most iconic tales in the Old Testament. The story has a flair of the dramatic. The prophet of God refuses to preach a message of mercy. A terrible storm turns calm when the prophet is thrown into the sea. A huge sea creature swallows the prophet and spits him up again, alive, three days later. In the end, the reader discovers the hero is really the villain. The book of Jonah is incredible, but is it true?

None deny the remarkable nature of the book of Jonah. It stands out among the prophets. The text itself presents the story as if it is a factual account. Nothing in the book of Jonah indicates it is a fable. The only reason to suppose the story of Jonah is not true is because of the miraculous events it contains. However, any God who can part the Red Sea, can feed an entire nation with a daily supply of manna for forty years, can keep three men from burning to death in a furnace and can cause a city to collapse when some priests blow their trumpets can certainly keep a man alive in a large ocean creature for three days, can direct that creature to the shoreline and can cause the creature to regurgitate the disagreeable prophet at the proper time. Jonah is full of miracles, but the presence of the miraculous is not proof of fiction.

Most importantly, Jesus treated the story of Jonah as if it was true. When the scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus that He was the promised Messiah He told them the only sign they would see was “the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:39) Jesus then said he would spend three days in the tomb like Jonah was three days in the whale. Jesus warned the skeptics by pointing to the repentance of Nineveh. The Ninevites will condemn the scribes and Pharisees because they believed the preaching of Jonah, but the religious leaders refused to listen to the One greater than Jonah. In that conversation Jesus treats the story of Jonah as if it contained actual history. He does not respond to the tale of Jonah as if it was just a Jewish fable designed to teach a lesson on obedience or compassion. Jesus represents Jonah as historical truth that pictures the greater historical truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Does it matter if Jonah is true or not? As with all the miraculous events of the Bible, it matters a great deal if the events actually occurred or if they were fictions created by the prophets to teach deeper spiritual truths. It matters because the rest of the Bible responds to the miracles as if they were real events. If the Bible cannot be trusted to distinguish between moral fable and genuine history, how can it be trusted to distinguish between theological truth and religious error? The stories of the Bible matter. If the Bible is not reliable in matters of history, how can it be reliable on matters of salvation?

What is Arminianism?

The competing position with Calivinism is Arminianism. They are not polar opposites. They in fact share significant agreements about hte plan of God to save, the inability of man to save himself, the need of grace and the sufficiency of the death of Jesus. However, Arminianism elevates the importance of the will of man in the process of salvation. Arminianism does not have a cool acronym like Calvinism, though some have put together a similar flower based outline around the word DAISY and others have made one with the word GRACE. I prefer my own acronym, GRITS:

Grace of God can be rejected
Redemption was purchased for all, but is applied only to those who believe
Intention of God to save only by Christ those who believe
Total necessity of Divine grace
Salvation can be lost

Central to Arminianism is the idea that God’s saving grace can be rejected, or believed, by the individual. God’s grace is not irresistible but the person has a legitimate opportunity to believe or refuse the gospel. This idea finds support in passages like Acts 7:51, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost:”

Redemption was purchased for all men by Jesus’ death on the cross. This is universal atonement that does not imply universal salvation. The Divine plan was for Jesus to make a sacrifice on the cross for the sin of the whole world, but would only bring salvation to those who believe. This idea finds support in passages like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The intention of God regarding salvation- Divine election- was not an election of individuals to salvation. God’s election was to save those who believe by Jesus. Some modern Arminians believe God’s election was based upon his foreknowledge of those who would believe. God elected to save those whom He knew would respond in faith to the message of the gospel. This idea finds support in passages like John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Though man is able to respond to the gospel message, he can only do so because of the working of the grace of God. God’s prevenient, or preceding, grace makes it possible for sinful man to believe the gospel. Man is corrupted by sin and cannot save Himself. Apart from the grace of God none would chose to receive Jesus. This idea finds support in passages like Romans 3:11, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”

Salvation can be lost by those who turn away from the grace of God that they had previously received. God gives sufficient grace for the Christian to grow and remain faithful to the Lord. God sustains His children, but the Christian can reject the grace of God. Those who turn away from the grace of God lose their salvation. This idea finds support in passages like Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism is the popular term for a particular body of teaching about salvation. Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation. The five major points of Calvinism flow out of this emphasis on God’s absolute rule over all things. Calvinism is often taught using the acronym TULIP:
Total depravity of man
Unconditional election to salvation
Limited atonement by Jesus
Irresistible grace of God
Perseverance of the saints

Total depravity is the doctrine that all have been entirely corrupted by sin. Though none are as bad as they could be, none are good in the eyes of God. None are all able to bring about their own salvation. This finds support in verses like Romans 3:10, “There is none good, no, not one” and Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Unconditional election teaches that God predetermined who would be saved. Because God is sovereign over salvation He chose, based upon His grace alone, to save certain individuals. His election is of the specific individuals He would bring to salvation. This finds support in verses like Ephesians 1:4, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”

The phrase limited atonement is not liked by many Calvinists. Some prefer to idenitfy this doctrine as particular redemption, or definite atonement. Limited atonement teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross, while sufficient to purchase salvation for all humanity, was designed and intended to purchase the salvation of the election. Jesus’ death on the cross secured the salvation of those God graciously elected to save. That is why one Calvinist author calls this doctrine, “Mission accomplished.” This finds support in verses like John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Irresistible grace teaches that those God elected to save will inevitably be saved. This does not mean God will save people whether or not they want to be saved or that He will save apart from the preaching of the gospel. Those God chose to save and Jesus died to save will be inexorably drawn to God. They will not, in the end, refuse His call to salvation. They cannot refuse to believe because God works in their hearts in such a way that they will desire salvation. This finds support in verses like John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

Perseverance of the saints teaches that those whom God has elected, atoned and saved will persevere in faith until the end. Salvation, once received, can never be lost because God will continue the work of their salvation. Just as the elect could not resist the grace of God that brings to salvation, they cannot turn away from the salvation that God has given them. This finds support in verses like Philippians 1:6, ” Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

Does it matter how old the earth is?

A person’s belief of the age of the earth reflects a belief system. Priority is given to either the claims of science or the claims of the Bible. The age of the earth matters for the Christian because of what the Bible says about the origin of the earth, of humanity and of suffering. If the Bible is not historically accurate about the age of the earth then it’s reliability regarding the sin of man is suspect.

The inclusion of a long period of time before the creation week recorded in Genesis 1 does great damage to the literal reading of Genesis 1-3. An earth populated with animals for millions of years before the creation week presents significant theological problems concerning death, decay and destruction. If the fossil record is the record of an ancient earth that existed before Adam and Eve, then death and disease were common before the events recorded in Genesis 3. If death existed before sin, then death is not the punishment of sin. If suffering existed before the creation of man, then suffering is not a consequence of sin.

If the earth is millions or billions of years old, there is much in earth’s history that is not revealed in the Bible. While the Bible never attempts to present a full history of all mankind- it does not contain the history of China, Greenland or South America the Bible does present a history of the origin of the world, the formation of humans and the spread of sin. If the Bible leaves out huge gulfs of time, there is abundant space to question the reliability of the Bible for understanding the nature of humanity. If the historical record of the Bible has major gaps, then that calls into question the BIble as a valid historical record. This matters because sin, salvation and the promises of God are connected to a historical context. Jesus is a historical figure whose history is traced from person to person all the way back to a historical Adam. If the Bible is not reliable as a history book, does it present an accurate historical picture of Jesus?

This question matters because it shapes how a person reads the Bible. If the Bible is a reliable historical record, then great weight will be placed upon its genealogies and historical markers. If the Bible is not to be read literally, or if its history is a series of homilies intended to teach spiritual truths, then the chronological data in the Bible will have little importance in the discussion of the age of the earth. This question matters because the inclusion of millions of years into the history of man undermines the reliability of the Bible when it discusses the origins of sin and suffering. If the Bible cannot be trusted as an accurate historical record of the earliest days of man, can it be trusted when it discusses Abraham and Moses, Israel, Babylon, the Roman Empire, the apostles or Jesus? If the Bible does not present in Genesis an accurate, literal record of the history of the world, when does it begin to do so? If the Bible is not trustworthy to teach of how man sinned, how can it be trustworthy to teach how man is saved?

Does the age of the earth matter?

Creationists insist the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Evolutionists and theistic evolutionists insist the earth is much older, about 4.5 billion years older. The disagreement over the age of the earth is just one part of a much larger debate about the origins of the universe and the formation of humanity. Why do some Christians make such a huge deal about the age of the earth? Does it really matter to Christianity if the earth is a few thousand, a few million or a few billion years old?

Many people are familiar with the basis for believing the earth is very old. Various techniques calculate the age of the earth from the amount of radioactive elements remaining rock. This process measures the difference between how much of a particular element (like Uranium) was originally in the rock and how much is present in that rock today. Because the rate of decay from a radioactive to a stable element is known an estimated age of the rock can be calculated. Calculations have yielded ages of rocks over 4 billion years.

Those who believe the earth is young base that conclusion on the historical information included in the Bible and the work of men like James Ussher. In the 1600’s Ussher, the Archbishop of the Anglican church in Ireland, used the Bible to create a detailed chronology of mankind. He added together the genealogies listed in Scritpure, calculated the length of time from Abraham to Moses and from the Exodus to the Babylonian captivity. He concluded the Biblical data showed that the earth was created 4,004 years before the birth of Jesus. Other Biblical scholars have examined Ussher’s chronology and the Biblical data. Though some have come up with different dates for creation (J.B. Lightfoot concluded the earth was created 3,929 years before Jesus), many have reached the conclusion that the Bible puts the creation of the earth approximately four thousand years before Jesus’ birth.

The question of the age of the earth cannot be answered in isolation from presuppositions and interpretations. None are unbiased observers. The presupposition that elements present in a rock today can be used to determine the age of the earth requires the scientist to presume the earth formed through natural processes without Divine intervention. The supposition of a Creator immediately affects the examiners ability to understand the results. For example, a Creator could have created rock with quantities of radioactive isotopes and stable elements that give the appearance of greater age. The presupposition that a Creator made everything opens the scientist to the possibility that the Creator revealed Himself to man in some way. Thus, a holy text, like the Bible or the Qoran, which claims to be the very words of the Creator gave much importance in considering the origins of the universe. How a person answers the age of the earth reflects a belief system, or at least, it reflects the influence of a belief system. The age of the earth matters because what one believes about the existence of a Creator matters.

To be continued . . .