Making Disciples

Remain in Me

A few years ago, we met together as a team on a retreat outside of our city. A friend came to help guide the team through a series of discussions, several of which were challenging because they were touching on some of the points where we hadn’t yet agreed and confirmed together how we would work together as a team, something I had hoped we would be able to dig into during our time at this retreat.

I don’t precisely remember how we ended up in the topic, but toward the end of the meeting, our friend who was leading the meeting asked how we were doing in prayer as a team. We sort of all looked at each other and described how we found it to be challenging to find a specific time to meet together and to coordinate schedules amongst all of us, but we definitely wanted to do this more. But we knew we weren’t doing very well in this area of our lives and our friend who was leading said something simple along the lines of, “Well, I think we found our next steps for the group.”

He was right, but it was difficult to hear. For myself in particular at that time, I was supposedly leading the team, but in addition, this was supposed to be the core to who we were as a team, people who led others to follow Christ, but we didn’t have a great practice in how we were doing it corporately ourselves. There could be a lot that we could say about why that was, but after removing all of the excuses, the truth was that we weren’t really doing what we would have hoped that the people we were working with would do.

I’m thankful to say that has changed. A small group of us have decided to meet daily during the week for prayer and encouragement, whether in our regular meeting location or out on a prayer walk in public, praying for others on the streets.

I don’t know very many other situations nor other teams very well, but I have a sense that this is a common need amongst many groups. Whether they be ministry teams or just families and friends, we have a need, before all other solutions, to remain connected to Jesus. Not in a flippant, “Yes, of course that is important…” kind of way, but in a “Yes, this is what we are doing to remain in him…” kind of way.

In John 15, we see Jesus having an intimate discussion with his disciples shortly after the Passover dinner. The time was short as Jesus will from this point, within the next few hours, be arrested, beaten, and hung on the cross.

Yet Jesus teaches them that they must remain in him. Here is what he says:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15:1-8

As we think about our lives in Christ as individuals and our role in our work as a ministry team, it is very important that we remember that all things begin with Jesus as the lifeblood in all that we do. There is no replacement for our time and connection with Jesus.

Jesus essentially begins by saying that God the Father desires that we bear fruit. But if we as the branches do not bear fruit, he will cut us off from the vine. Even if we do bear fruit, he desires that we become even more fruitful, so he will prune us, guiding us so that we will become more fruitful.

Next, Jesus says that he has made his disciples clean but as his disciples, we are to remain in him and he will remain in us. If we do this, then we will bear fruit. But if we don’t, we will not be able to bear any fruit at all!

Jesus knew that his disciples would soon no longer be able to see him face-to-face, so how would they remain in him? The answer is that they must do it the same way that we must also do it today. We must spend time with Jesus in prayer, take time to worship him, read the Word of God, and otherwise find ways to spend time with him, asking him what he wants in each situation and listening to what he has to say.

However, experientially, I can say that this doesn’t “just happen”. We get caught up in daily life. We have things that need to be done. Family time, work and all of its pressures, errands, activities, and even time to rest…and before you know it, all of the time is taken and gone, leaving you hoping to do better tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

So, both for us as individuals as well as for us as ministry teams who are making disciples, I believe that we must schedule our time to spend with Jesus, remaining in him through scheduled and intentionally set times. Apart from our times with those we are ministering to and working with, we must read the scriptures, pray, listen, and align ourselves with the will of the Father, using this as a base from which we continue throughout the rest of the day, remaining connected to Jesus as branches connected to the vine, bearing fruit because the life of Jesus flows into us and through us.

So the question I want to ask is this: When is your scheduled time to spend with Jesus? Which days? What time? Individually? As a team?

Jesus explains that, if we remain in him, we can bear fruit. In fact, he says that we can ask anything in his name and it will be done. This happens because we have remained connected to him. His lifeblood runs through us. His words abide within us. We are connected to him so we understand his will and what he wants to happen, and this allows us to ask him to move and work and change things amongst us.

But if we are not connected to him, we can’t do anything. It was true of his disciples at that time, and it is true of us also today.

I know that all of us desire to bear fruit. It is the reason that we are doing what we are doing. It is the reason that we have rearranged and reconfigured our lives to do what we are doing today. Our desire is to bring glory to God and Jesus says that we will bring glory to God when we bear fruit. But the only way to bear fruit is to remain connected to the life that Jesus gives to us. Just as a vine gives life to a branch and allows it to bear fruit, Jesus gives life to us and allows us also to bear fruit in our lives.

Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel and Jesus

At the end of our previous meeting, our friend who believed that the Bible promises us riches if we become a Christian said that blessings in the Old Testament and the New Testament must be different. Surely we are intended to be rich based on the promises of the New Testament because he said that he believes that the scriptures teach this.

I suggested that we take a look at what Jesus taught his disciples about being and giving a blessing to others, so in our next meeting, we read Matthew 10. The idea behind this was to see what Jesus taught his disciples about what they could expect when he sent them out to speak about the kingdom of God and extend a blessing to the homes and villages where they would stay.

In a very similar way that God chose Abraham, blessed him with his presence, and then also told him that he would be a blessing to others, Jesus now chooses his 12 disciples and sends them out to be a blessing to others in the villages in nearby villages.

So, what can we learn from what Jesus instructed his disciples? Here are a few thoughts:

First, Jesus told his disciples not to take any money. They were going to be dependent upon God and the people that they would stay with for any provisions that they would have.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.

Matthew 10:9-10

Next, they should expect to be beaten for their association with Jesus.

Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.

Matthew 10:17

It is also possible that they may be killed.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.

Matthew 10:21

They will be hated and will even be called the devil (Beelzebul). Not just for a brief period, but until Jesus returns!

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

Matthew 10:22-25

And finally, Jesus’s disciples should expect to lose their life if they want to truly follow him.

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:38-39

So what can we learn? I think that it is clear that riches, power, and even good health are not necessarily part of the equation. As we obey with Jesus tells us to do, we can expect that many challenges will come. Not money. Not fame. No, Jesus calls us to serve him by being ambassadors to others for him, and as we do this, the rewards are not the things of this world. Instead, our reward is Jesus and our life with God.

Unfortunately, our Nigerian friend still has many doubts and still believes that blessing others means to be rich. We will continue to study and try to help him see what he can expect as God blesses him and calls him to bless others!

Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel and Abraham

We meet a lot of Nigerians as they have migrated to Europe and enter here into Sicily. Those who believe in Jesus and follow him often have a peculiar take on the scriptures in that they believe that they should follow God so that they can become rich.

So in these cases, we have a situation where many of our Nigerian friends have come to Europe because they have lived in poverty and believe that they can find riches in Europe. I have even heard some of our African friends (not necessarily Nigerians) say, “We thought we could pick money up off of the streets in Europe!”

But of course, they arrive here and find that it is not the case. They don’t find that they have riches. Instead, it is sometimes worse for them living here than it was back in Africa. Instead of handing them jobs, the Europeans may not want them to be there. Or if they do give them a job, it is the worst job and they will pay them the least that they possibly can, often illegally without a job contract, knowing that if this person quits, there are 100 more just like him behind him looking for a job.

So you can imagine the disillusionment that someone who believes that, by believing in Jesus, they should be rich, healthy, and possibly even powerful. How is it possible that someone who has been baptized and reading scripture and trying to follow Jesus isn’t getting rich? Or is sick? Or is sitting in a low position within the society?

The Blessing of Abraham

As we started to think this through with one of our Nigerian friends, we decided to read the blessing of God to Abraham and how his relationship with Abraham began. So we read Genesis 12:1-5 and then all of Genesis 15 and we asked these questions:

What do we learn about God from these passages?

For this question, we saw that God had a plan to bless all of the nations, but he decided to bless them through Abraham.

We also saw that God didn’t complete his plan immediately. Abraham, in fact, even began to get anxious because he knew that God had blessed him but he had no one to be his heir. If he died, he would leave all of his possessions to one of his servants, not to someone from his family line who would be able to continue what he had started. But God promised Abraham that he would fulfill his word just as he had promised from the beginning.

However, as God reveals his covenant with Abraham, we see that he is going to put Abraham’s descendants into slavery and that they would serve others before they would become a nation. This slavery would last a LONG time – 400 years! We can imagine that Abraham might be incredulous at this idea. He might wonder, “what kind of blessing and covenant is this?” But we can understand that God’s blessing does not necessarily mean that they will be rich and powerful. Instead, it likely means that there will trials and trouble, just as we see God prophecy toward the end of Genesis 15.

What do we learn about people through the example of Abraham?

We discussed that people are not necessarily patient, at least in the way that we understand God to be patient. Instead, if we want to see God’s plans come to fruition, we need to be patient and let God do what he will do.

In addition, we said that God decides to use people to work out his plan. We see this in Abraham, but we also see this in his descendants as well as the country where his descendants will be enslaved, and then finally also in the Amorites and the other -ites that Abraham’s descendants will conquer in the future. In each of these, God is working out his plan through these people.

What do we learn about the idea of blessing?

For this question, we centered on the idea that “blessing” is a relationship with God. God blessed Abraham, so Abraham was now in relationship with God. But this blessing would not only be for him. He would also give the blessing to others, and in fact all of the nations on the earth would be blessed through Abraham. We discussed that this was related to the blessing of having Jesus come to the earth through the Israelite people. The Israelites were formed from Abraham having his son Isaac whose son was Jacob whose name God changed to Israel. Through these people, Jesus would come, offering himself as a sacrifice for the sin of all people, making relationship with God possible for everyone! What a great blessing!

Alas, our Nigerian friend explained in the end that this was the Old Testament and he felt like the blessing of the Old Testament and the blessing of the New Testament were different. So we decided to meet again to move forward in the scripture to see Jesus’s perspective and what he told his disciples to expect as they went to bless others. Hang tight and we’ll pick up on that discussion in the next post…


Facebook and the Metaverse

There is an interesting interview with Mark Zuckerberg at The Verge that talks about where Facebook intends to go, tying together some of their initiatives. Zuckerberg says that they are planning to build the “metaverse”, meaning, essentially, a separate world online.

As he describes this new world, it sounds a lot like the movie Ready Player One, which if you haven’t seen it, is worth checking out, in my opinion. Here is the trailer from YouTube:

From my perspective, this will bring a whole set of new questions about the Gospel and, as believers in Christ, our ability to engage others with it online. We are called to be God’s ambassadors, delivering the message of redemption and making disciples of all people from every tongue, tribe, and nation, so I think that this may be a new place where we will be called to carry this message that God has given to us.

Mission of God

From Entry to Multiplication

We recently studied how the Apostle Paul entered into Pisidian Antioch and left with a great result of the local disciples sharing the word of God throughout the region. Here is what we discussed.

First, we read Acts 13:13-52 and then asked five questions, answering the questions separately and then discussing our separate responses between us back in a group setting. Here are the questions that we asked along with my ideas for each of the answers:

Where do Paul and Barnabas go when they entered into Pisidian Antioch? Why do they go there?

Paul and Barnabas enter into the synagogue. There are probably a few reasons that they do this:

  • Paul believes that the Gospel must first go to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles.
  • They know that there will be Jews in the synagogue who are interested in learning more about the things of God.
  • They are wanting to tell the Jews about Jesus and start the process of making disciples. Paul and Barnabas believed that this would be an optimal place to start that process.

What does Paul speak about in the synagogue? Why does he speak about this?

Paul starts his narrative of the Israelite people with the exodus from Egypt and continues to tell the story that the Jews would already know. However, he doesn’t leave them there. Instead, he continues the story with the part that they don’t know by speaking about John the Baptist, who called people to repentance, and Jesus, explaining that he fulfilled the scriptures that the Jews read in the synagogue on every Sabbath day.

By speaking in this way, Paul starts with what the people already know. He tells them the story of the Jews to get them thinking about their own past, but then he tells them the rest of the story and explains that the future has come, even now. Jesus Christ is the Messiah that they have been waiting for. He has been here already and now they must follow him!

How do Paul and Barnabas spend the majority of their time while they are in Pisidian Antioch? How do you know? Why do they do this?

In verse 43, it says this:

When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:43

While the text records what Paul said as he preached in the synagogue, taking up the majority of the space on the page in chapter 13, the majority of the time that Paul and Barnabas spend in Pisidian Antioch is spent in encouragement, and presumably in teaching and discipling the new believers who are now following them.

Paul and Barnabas know that they don’t intend to stay for a long time, so they needed to make disciples who would stay there in that city and continue the work that they started. Of course, they couldn’t have known that they would soon be persecuted and chased from the town as a result of the jealousy of the Jewish leaders, but their strategy has been to enter into the new locations, preach and make disciples, and continue on to the next location, leaving behind disciples that will continue the work of spreading the Gospel.

As a result, to follow through on this strategy, during the rest of the days of the week outside of the time that they are preaching and teaching in the synagogue, Paul and Barnabas are spending their time discipling the new believers.

Where do Paul and Barnabas go after the Jews refuse to believe and send them out of the synagogue? Why do they do this?

Paul tells the Jewish leaders that, because they have not considered themselves worthy of the Gospel, they will now go to the Gentiles.

Paul understands that the Gospel is for everyone. Previously, the Jews were God’s chosen people and believed that God was only the God of the Jews. They didn’t realize that God wanted to use the Jewish people to reach the rest of the world, bringing the nations to him. Paul understands this and so, while he went to the Jews first with the good news of Jesus, he also went to the Gentiles to take the message also to them. By sharing the message that the Gentiles can know God through Jesus Christ, Paul brings God even more glory, unifying these different groups of people under the lordship of Jesus.

What was the positive result of Paul and Barnabas’s work in Pisidian Antioch? How did that happen?

Paul and Barnabas won new believers from amongst the Jews and the Gentiles and then continued to encourage and teach these new believers, leaving behind disciples of Jesus. This resulted in verse 49 which says that the word of the Lord spread through the whole region!

Put it into practice

At the end of our time and then in the following meeting, we focused on two questions that we wanted each person to consider, develop an answer, and respond to:

First, we see that Paul evangelized and then took those disciples and continued to teach and encourage them. How can we develop a strategy to do the same? How can we connect our evangelism to our discipleship efforts?

Second, how can we teach and disciple others to learn to do the same?

Mission of God

The Expansion of the Gospel

In the book of Acts, we can see various examples of the expansion of the Gospel. Some of the examples seem more positive, meaning that the people are being obedient to Jesus’s call to be his witnesses and make disciples among all nations, while others seem to be negative examples, meaning that God will allow persecution and use it to accomplish his purposes.

Recently, we looked at a couple of examples of how God accomplished his plan.

Negative Example

Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Here is what he said:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Jesus tells his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes and then they will be his witnesses there in Jerusalem, then a little further out in Judea, a little further yet in Samaria, and then finally to the ends of the earth. This was Jesus’s plan for his disciples and his intent.

But approximately three years later, we have yet to see the disciples move out much beyond Jerusalem. It seems that they are still there in Jerusalem, working diligently, but not fully fulfilling God’s plan and Jesus’s command to move beyond Jerusalem, out of the city and to the ends of the earth.

It isn’t until chapter 8 that we begin to see this happen. Stephen has been arrested, having been falsely accused of blasphemy at the end of chapter 6, and then in chapter 7, we see him present his defense before the Sanhedrin.

By the time we reach chapter 8, the Jews have stoned and killed Stephen for blasphemy and a great persecution breaks out in Jerusalem. The church is broken up and scattered into the surrounding areas, most notably Judea and Samaria.

From there, we see that some from the church go south and an important official from Ethiopia believes in Jesus and is baptized, while others go north and start a new church in Antioch of Syria where the people would first be called Christians.

So what is happening in this situation? We see that God’s word goes out among the nations, just as Jesus said. Specifically, we see the fulfillment of Jesus’s word that the believers go into Judea and Samaria, but the Gospel will go even further as it moves into Africa as well as to the north into Syria, and ultimately launch discipleship movements amongst peoples of what is now Turkey, Greece, and several Eastern European countries.

In short, God uses the persecution amongst the believers in Jerusalem to disperse them into the places that he told them that he wanted them to go in the first place!

Positive Example

Now let’s look at a positive example. In Acts 13, we see the Apostle Paul go to the regions of Phrygia and Galatia in what is now central Turkey. Paul preaches in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia and makes some disciples, but is persecuted and not allowed to speak in the synagogue again. In the end, Paul is run out of town, but not before he makes a number of disciples who go on to spread the good news of the word of God throughout the region. Here is what it says happened at the end of Paul’s initial time in Antioch Pisidia:

The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.

Acts 13:49

We don’t see that Paul continues to preach in the region, so how does the word of the Lord spread throughout the region? The new disciples are sharing with others! They are telling of what they have heard and have believed.

Now let’s look at who Peter addresses his first letter to as we see him write to the believers later in his life:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia

1 Peter 1:1

This is amazing because the church has not only been telling others in their local city, area, and region, but we see that there are now believers throughout the entire area of what is now Turkey, including Pontus and Bithynia, regions where we don’t know of Paul or any of his leaders ever going. Great news! It appears that the church is continuing to fulfill the Great Commission where they are, expanding and reaching their own “Judea” and their own “Samaria”. In this way, God’s mission and Jesus’s commandment are both being fulfilled.

In the end, we can see that God is accomplishing his mission to reach all nations and fill the earth with his people who will, themselves, carry God’s message and plan for redemption to all people.

Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Biblical History – Part 4

As we continued to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its Biblical history, we next looked into the book of Ezekiel. The Israelites have been in exile as a result of the Babylonians conquering them and taking their leaders into Babylon, dispersing the Israelites outside of Israel. Now Ezekiel prophesies that the Israelites will return to their land:

For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.

Ezekiel 36:24

I’ve only quoted one verse here, but there is quite a bit more here to read, so if you are studying, I would suggest reading through verses 16 through 38 in Ezekiel 36. There is a sense in which Ezekiel is talking about the physical return to the land, and that is the relevant part for this study. But there is an event greater sense in which Ezekiel is talking about how God will cleanse the Israelites from their sins, a sign of which will be a return back from exile, the punishment that they had received for their sinfulness.

So, through Ezekiel, God tells the nation of Israel that he will return them back to their land, the promised land that they have been sent out from. And this is an event that finally comes about in 1948. Want to know how this happened? Watch a retelling of the modern history below, starting just before World War 1.

Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Biblical History – Part 3

Now, the Israelites have moved into the land of Canaan and have been battling the people there, following the plan that God had set out for them. As each of the tribes settle into their land, God remains the King over all of them with a series of “judges”, who are more like leaders to help rescue them militarily from their enemies.

However, there comes a point at which the people go to the prophet Samuel and say that they want a king over them. They want to be like the other nations, the other groups of people that live around them, and have a king to rule them.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day. ”

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

1 Samuel 8

I see a couple of relevant points here. First, the Israelite people have already been in the process of walking away from God. They would leave him and sin as a nation, be punished by God, cry out to him for mercy, and then one of the Judges would lead the people against the enemies that are attacking them in their punishment.

Now, by asking for a king, the Israelites are formalizing their rejection of God as their King. This will continue the downward slide that they have already been on and formally marks the movement of the people away from being a people led by God and instead a people led by humans.

The second part is similar in that, by rejecting God as their king, the Israelites usher in, instead, the political state of Israel, leaving behind the spiritual state of a kingdom that is ruled by God. They want a political solution to their problems when, what they need, is to leave behind their sinful past and move forward under God.

Unfortunately, this is not what happens, and now, instead, the Israelites begin the long slide away from God.

Into Exile

Through a series of kings, starting with Saul, David, and Solomon, and continuing on through a breakup of the kingdom of Israel, we arrive at a point at which God brings more punishment upon the Israelites through the nation of Babylon as a result of the sin of the people. God uses Babylon to come and lay siege to Jerusalem, ultimately destroying the city, toppling the king, and ultimately sending the people into exile.

So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.

By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat. Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled toward the Arabah, but the Babylonian army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured.

He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.

On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem.

2 Kings 25:1-10

So now the Israelites are taken out of the Promised Land and this begins a scattering of the people of Israel. This means, of course, that the people are no longer living as a nation in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, but instead are sent into Babylon and then through successive kingdoms and rulers into other parts of the world as well.

For a little further study, the Bible Project has a great video on the concept of Exile in general, including touching on this exile at the hands of the Babylonians. Check it out here:

Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Biblical History – Part 2

This morning, we continued reading with our kids on the Biblical history behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had them scan through their memory and understanding of history from Isaac to Moses until we arrived at the point that God approaches Moses from the burning bush:

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey —the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Exodus 3:7-10

As God commissions Moses to go and bring his people out of Egypt, he tells him that he will send his people into Canaan, the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

Of course, this means that war is coming. These other people won’t just move out of the land willingly because one people say that God said told them that this was now their land. Nonetheless, this is the plan that God puts before Moses, which is, of course, a continuation of the plan that he had told to Abraham and Isaac which we saw in the previous readings.

Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan River

Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and God takes them through the desert, right up to the point where they need to cross the Jordan River and enter into the land. Moses sends spies into the land, most of whom come back reporting that the people there seem like giants to them while they seem like grasshoppers from their perspective. Hmmm… What to do?

Out of fear that they will be destroyed, Moses flinches and doesn’t trust God to enter into the Promised Land, and as a result, God sends he and the rest of the Israelites wandering through the desert for the next 40 years. Moses is not allowed to enter into the Promised Land.

But Joshua is next in line to take leadership of the people and he has learned the lesson to not fear but instead to move forward. As a result, as we go into the first chapter of the book of Joshua, we see that God commands Joshua to take the people across the Jordan River and Joshua starts preparing immediately:

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them —to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates —all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.’”

But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you after he said, ‘The LORD your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them until the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the LORD your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous! ”

Joshua 1

God explains *again* to Joshua that he will take them into the same land that we saw he had promised previously to Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. He again explains the borders of the land.

As I mention above, war is coming, and Joshua knows it. He goes to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, who had previously requested to have their land to the east of the Jordan River and he says that they must cross over the river with them even though they are already on the east side of the river where their land will be and would just need to move north. Why? They will fight against the people that are in the land alongside of the rest of the Israelite tribes until the other tribes are settled, just as they had promised Moses that they would do when their land was assigned to them.

Want to go in greater depth on the subject of the Israelites entering and taking the land of Canaan? Go read this article over at the Bible Project:

Why is this relevant?

So how is this relevant to the Palestinian-Israelite struggle happening today? Two reasons:

  1. God gives the land of Canaan to the line of Isaac, not to the people that are in the land, nor to the line of Ishmael.
  2. The Israelites will have to take it by force, forming the foundation of the struggle for this land that we see playing out even today.

Next study is tomorrow…more to come!

Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Biblical History – Part 1

Last Sunday, we took a walk into the center of Catania where we encountered a protest on behalf of the Palestinians in the most recent flare-up between the Israelis and Palestinians. As far as protests go, there weren’t a lot of people there, but one interesting thing that I noticed was the mix between the different groups of people in attendance, including the Palestinian supporters, a group of LGBTQ activists, and communists. Here is a brief video that I took of the protest:

My kids, spurred on by our oldest who is very interested in political discussions, asked if we could talk about the Palestinian conflict and why this has been such a significant conflict over the years, so I think that we’re going to start that discussion now, walking through the Bible and its history between the Jewish people and the Palestinians to understand how we have arrived where we are today.

God’s promise to Abraham

To begin, we have to go back to the story of Abraham and God’s promise to Abraham, to give him the land of Canaan, the land that is basically today the nation of Israel:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you. ”

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land. ” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

Ishmael and Isaac

From there, we see that Abraham has two sons. The first son is Ishmael, born to Hagar the servant-slave of Sarai, Abraham’s wife. Sarai brings Hagar to Abraham in order to sleep with her and have an heir in an effort to fulfill the promise that God had given to Abraham to have an heir. Abraham is very old to have children, and Sarai is even quite a bit older, so they thought that it was not possible to have children naturally through Sarai.

God tells Abraham that he will bless Ishmael, but he says that his promise is that children will come through Sarai, now Sarah, and that his descendants of the covenant will come through this child, not through the children of Ishmael.

God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

Genesis 17:15-22

God confirms his covenant with Isaac

So now, to take this one step further, we see that God also later speaks with Isaac. He confirms the covenant that he gave to his father Abraham, and also confirms that God will give Isaac’s descendants the land of Canaan.

Now there was a famine in the land —besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions. ”

However, we also see that there are people already there in the land. In this case, we see the Philistines, a group of people that the Israelites will be at war with for many years to come. But there are others as well, and from a physical territorial perspective, the dispute over whose is this land is at the heart of the dispute between the Israelites and the Palestinians even today.

My hope is to continue to walk through this story with my kids to help them see the Biblical background and then connect it to more recent history related to the nation of Israel so that they can begin to connect the dots between what they see in the Bible and what they see happening even today. More to come!