Why did the Israelites offer sacrifices?

From the time the tabernacle was built until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Israelites regularly offered animal sacrifices to God. The number of sacrifices made is staggering. Every day two lambs were offered, one in the morning and one in the evening. The Israelites were commanded to bring trespass offerings to the temple anytime someone sinned against God or his neighbor. If a Jew became unclean by touching an unclean thing, by having an unclean disease, by having an unclean sore or by doing one of the many things that made him unclean he was to bring a sacrifice to the Lord to be made clean. The Bible gives no record of how many sacrifices were offered each day, but if even a small fraction of a percentage of the millions of Israelites brought a sacrifice each day, then hundreds or thousands of sacrifices were made every day. On the day of passover, one lamb was sacrificed for every family in Israel. Tens of thousands of sacrifices were made on that one day alone.

To modern sensibilities this seems cruel, or worse. The temple was practically a slaughterhouse. The sacrifices were required by God for a specific and special purpose. The sacrificial system gave a constant reminder of the consequences of sin. Killing animals is disturbing. That is the point. Man was meant to be disturbed by his sin. God required the Jews to make sacrifice to Him because the killing of animals was a continual reminder of the wages of sin. “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.” (Hebrews 10:3)

From the very beginning (Genesis 3:21) the shedding of blood was required to cover sin. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:27) When God gave Adam and Eve the command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He warned them that if they disobeyed they would die. God provided animal sacrifices as a covering for sin.

Though the sacrifices covered sin, they could never take it away. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) The sacrifices of the Old Testament were a foreshadowing, a picture ahead of time, of the sacrifice that would come which would be able to take away sin. Animals sacrifices pointed ahead to the only One who could be a full substitute for sin. The sacrifices were a picture of a promised deliverer who would wash away sin. The sacrifices showed the wages of sin and pointed to the One who would take away sin forever. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14)

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What is the soul?

What makes a person a person? The Bible says a person is a being comprised of several distinct, yet related parts. The greatest command says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37) A person is to love God with all his soul.

Scripture speaks of the soul over 400 times. The first time is in Genesis 2:7. When God breathed the breath of life into ma, man became a living soul. He became a living being. The first mention of the soul reveals that it is the life principle of a person. The soul is that which makes the body alive. When the soul departs, the body dies.

The soul is more than life. Soul is used to describe the personality, desires, intelligence, feelings and natural talents of the person. The Bible does not draw neat distinctions between the various parts of a person. The organs of a man can be easily distinguished and divided from one another. The nature of man is not so easily divided. Man has a heart, a mind, a will, a soul, a spirit, and a body. All these, and others, are interwoven together in such a way that we cannot readily distinguish where the soul leaves off and another part begins. Essentially, the soul is the part of a person that makes him who he is. Charles Ryrie said, “Soul can mean the whole person alive or after death. It can designate the immaterial part of a person with its many feelings and emotions.”

The soul is not discoverable by medical tests. An MRI or CAT scan will not reveal the soul. Nonetheless, the soul is a real part of man. The working of the soul is seen in the self-realization of a person. The ability to identify one’s self as a living being, distinct from others and from God is a result of having a soul. The ability to identify one’s self as something other than the body is evidence that man possesses an immaterial part, a soul.

Though the soul is different from the body, it is not disconnected from the body. The body and soul are directly related to one another. What affects one affects the other. A tired person tends to get angry more easily. A depressed person tends to feel tired. Man is a creature both physical and spiritual. We must not disregard the interaction between the soul and the body.

At death the soul is separated from the body. The soul immediately enters heaven or hell. Consciousness remains(Luke 16:19-31), but the person is not a whole being. This is why the Christian looks forward to the resurrection when the soul and body are reunited.

Man is a living soul who will have an eternal existence somewhere. Those who do not believe Jesus will suffer eternal, conscious torment separated forever from God. Those who trust Christ for salvation will enjoy eternal delight with Him.

Why are there two different versions of the Ten Commandments?

Most Americans are familiar with the Ten Commandments. Even those who have little religious background know the Ten Commandments are a list of rules given by God. The ten commandments can be found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. They are divided into two groups, the first group contains the commands relating towards God and the second group the commands regarding others. Yet, the lists of ten commandments found in the Catholic catechism are different from that taught in most Protestant churches.

Protestants typically divide the ten commandments into four commands about God and six about others. The first four are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” and “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The second table of the law begins with “Honor thy father and mother” and ends with the, “Thou shalt not covet.” Unlike Lutherans and Catholics, the Protestants view the commands against covetousness as one.

Lutherans and Catholics divide the ten commandments into three about God and seven about others. They believe the first three commands are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This first command includes the prohibition against graven images. The second command is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” and the third is “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” The commands regarding others are the same as the Protestant version, except the last two commands are “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods.”

Does this difference matter? Not a whole lot. Protestants, Catholics and Lutherans agree with one another on the content of the ten commandments, just not the division of them. Catholics consider the prohibition against graven images to be part of the first commandment and Protestants view all the commands against covetousness as one. These differences are trivial.

All Christians agree the Ten Commandments were given to Israel and are still important for all people today. They provide a basic standard which shows that all stand guilty before the Holy God. No matter how the commandments are divided, they show the sinfulness of sin and the impossibility of anyone being saved by his own obedience. (Romans 7:13; James 2:10; Romans 3:20)

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.”