God’s Chosen People: The Journey

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostle and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The description of the creation of the dwelling place of God on earth (which led later to a permanent temple being built) occurs in the book of Exodus when initially God creates a covenant with Moses and the Israelites.  Exodus 25:2-9 is the first instance of God mentioning dwelling with His covenant people.  “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering.  You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.  These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.’  ‘Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I show you.’

tabernacle with fire

The tabernacle (this was a movable tabernacle that went with the Israelites during their wandering in the desert), was to house the “Ark of the Covenant.”  God gave Moses the specifications for the creation of the Ark, and states: “There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.” (Exodus 25:22)  This is where God appeared in “unapproachable light,” or what the Hebrews referred to as the Shekinah glory.  Shekinah has the same roots as the word tabernacle in Hebrew, and signifies the presence of the Lord.

God’s presence associated with the Ark was evident by a pillar of clouds during the day (Numbers 10:34), and a pillar of fire at night that served to give the Israelites direction to the Promised Land (Exodus 24:17).  The Israelites followed behind the Ark of the Covenant which was carried 2000 cubits ahead of the grumbling, disobedient mass of humanity; God’s chosen people.

The Ark of the Covenant had within it a jar of manna to signify the bread that God provided for sustenance for the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness, the staff of Aaron which had budded to indicate to the Israelites that the house of Levi was God’s choice of Aaron’s household as the priestly line (out of jealousy the Israelites had rejected Aaron): “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” (Numbers 17:10)  Thirdly, the Ark carried the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments.

The three items in the Ark signified God’s providence, but was also a reminder to the Israelites of their disobedience.  The Israelites grumbled and complained about the manna, while reminiscing of the Egyptian food they had while in slavery instead of thanking God for providing them sustenance. The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.   But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)  The staff of Aaron was another instance of not initially trusting God, and the Ten Commandments were constantly disobeyed due to the frequent movement away from God to worshiping idols.

Egyptian Bark

egyptian bark

Egyptians carrying the Bark

Interestingly, the Egyptians carried a sacred vehicle very similar to the Ark during this time period (the Late Bronze Age, 1570-1200 BCE), called a Bark.  The bark resembled a boat, and its function was to transport gods and mummies.  However, “…the bark was not merely a boat, but a sacred ritual object deeply imbedded in the ritual and mythological landscapes of the Eqyptians (Noegel, Scott B., The Eqyptian Origin of the Ark of the Covenant, p. 226).  In contrast to the Bark, the Ark of the Covenant was similar in its boxy shape to the ship what was built by Noah during the flood (Genesis 6: 13-22).

Many of the Egyptian Sacred barks had a protective covering called kerubim.  The barks were carried during important festivals by priests on poles.  The priests had to undergo purification rites in order to be allowed to carry the bark much like those who carried the Ark.  In a letter from Ramesses II to Hittite king Hattusilis III there is reference to a covenant between the two kings being placed in the bark beneath the feet of statutes.  This is likened to the covenant tablets being placed in the Ark’s footstool.  The bark was frequently used in funerary processions to a deceased’s tomb which represented a cycle of rebirth traveling with the sun God Ra.   Additionally, Noegel states the bark “…represented a throne and a footstool and so it served as a symbol of the divine presence.  It continued to be a sacred object that one could consult for oracles, and its maintenance continued to be the exclusive privilege of the priests.”  Additionally, there is evidence Egyptian funeral rites with the bark were held on threshing floors which is considered profane and sacred space in Hebrew writings.  “…like the Egyptian ‘aron in which the patriarchs were buried, the Ark of the Covenant was associated with new grain and the threshing floor.  Thus, we find the Ark’s miraculous crossing of the Jordan took place during harvest time (Josh 3:15).  Later, when the Philistines captured the Ark they placed it in the temple of Dagon (1 Sam 1:5).  Like Osiris, Dagon was associated with new grain and fertility and possessed chthonic aspects, with titles linking him to rites for the dead” (Noegel, pgs.227 -233).

ark of the covenant

Constantly throughout the Old Testament God makes a covenant with His chosen people with the expectation that they worship Him only and obey.  If His people do this He promises to deliver them from their enemies, bring them to a place to flourish (the Promised Land), and bless them and their descendants.  However, if they disobey, they will be “wiped out,” their enemies will overtake them, they will be scattered, and they will be left behind as God moves forward with His “remnant” or the righteous.  Noah’s ark is one example where God destroyed the people who were rebellious, and only saved those who were righteous from the flood.  The Ark of the Covenant is God’s presence leading the people of Israel by a “way they know not” to mature them spiritually.  As they followed God’s “shekinah” above the Ark they received the same warnings regarding worshiping God only, and if they disobeyed they were to be punished by death, and/or having their enemies overtake them.  This is an important typology and ongoing theme which plays itself all the way through the Book of Revelations.

noah ark

“But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark…” (Genesis 6:16)

Many biblical scholars have debated the purpose of having the physical presence of God with the Israelites.  According to one commentator, Rashi (Ex.31) God’s purpose was to replace the worship of the Golden Calf with his presence, and in opposition another commentator (Nachmanides, Ex. 25) believes God’s purpose was to be an ongoing revelation with the traveling Israelite tribes (https:/www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/ark.html).  It is obvious there was just more than one reason, but a multitude of reasons.  The presence of God displayed in the Shekinah glory gave wisdom and instruction to Moses, the pillar of cloud and fire gave the Israelites direction, the extreme obedience required while carrying the Ark instilled healthy fear and respect for God’s power which was also displayed to the Israelites enemies after the Ark was taken from the Israelites (1 Samuel 4:22, 5), the witness of God’s power displayed by the incredible miracles that occurred from the Ark and God’s presence: the River Jordan parted to allow passage of the Israelites across (Joshua 3:14-17), and Jericho being captured by the Israelites due to  Yahweh causing the walls to fall (Joshua 6:6-21).

I propose the intertwining of Egyptian and Israelite cultural and religious practices was God entering into humanity at a point in time which was relative to their spiritual, evolutionary development and culture.  Scholars believe the Exodus occurred during the Late Bronze age (1446-1406 BCE).  The beginning of the Bronze Age at 3150 B.C.E. followed the Chalcolithic Period in the Stone Age.  The Late Chalcolithic Period around 4000 B.C.E. was characterized by increased human populations which led to the formation of cities, increased sophistication in pottery making evidenced by the use of various motifs applied by the use of a monochromatic and color painting methods, and terra-cotta figurines of the mother-goddess, more permanent structures built by stone, adobe, and mud bricks with even evidence of limestone for whitewashing the structures.  The civilization moved out of the hunter gatherer period of earlier Stone Age peoples towards domestication of plants and animals.  Trade began occurring between cities, as well as the invention of writing.  A migration from the Balkans to Asia Minor created a more heterogeneous population (smie.co/html/cultural_history/chalcolithic_age/chalcolithic_age.shtml).

However, civilization during this time period was still extremely primitive in social development, religious practices, and moral development.  According to K.L. Noll (Canaan and Israel in Antiquity, p. 186-187), the most prevalent type of religion during this time period was what Noll terms a “patron-client structure.”  The structure formation created an advantageous social hierarchy where the wealthier people were “designated” by a god to be the human patron to rule over the lower human tier.  This was reinforced by all aspects of their culture and gave the human patron a status much like a king.  There were numerous patron gods, but they all had similar characteristics; “… were a mighty warrior, a righteous judge, and a merciful father (mother) to his (her) people.  This god hated sin and punished the wicked but rewarded the righteous.  In all cases, the patron god was obsessed with receiving proper worship from human clients and expected to be flattered by soaring rhetoric extolling the god’s surpassing majesty and many virtues” (Noll, p. 190).

The relationship between the god and the human patron was somewhat symbiotic in nature.  The “god” would protect the human patron, and in return expected loyalty and worship from the human patron.  The human patron in turn would protect his underlings, but they in return must submit to their king which included paying taxes, and loyalty.  Noll relates this to the similar relationship found between the Israelites and the covenant with Yahweh.  “Yahweh showed steadfast loyalty to those who remained loyal to him and obeyed his teachings concerning public governance of society (Deut. 5:11-18).  Those who were disloyal angered Yahweh, and he vented his anger upon all the land, spitting out of that land the loyal and disloyal alike (Ezek. 21:8; Deut. 30:15-20).   Rarely does Yahweh concern himself with the fate of the non-chosen, except when contrasting their fate to the undeserved gifts he has bestowed on his chosen ones (Deut. 6:10-15, 7:1-8)…” (p. 198).

Propitiation, whereby a gift or sacrifice was offered to the god(s) to avert wrath, was also common during this time period.  This was a very agrarian culture where the caprices of weather could provide abundance, or drought and starvation.  As the civilization was able to gain more control over the effects of the weather by trade and better, more effective agricultural practices, the propitiation aspect of the religions decreased. Additionally, there was not a strong moral component to these religions.  In order for society to function in a cohesive manner where the needs and wants of the individual did not run rampant over the community, behavioral codes were established.  In the 1700’s BCE, King Hammurabi created a law code which may have been influenced by the Sumerian code of Namma of the city of Ur in 2100 B.C, and influenced by the code created by Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (two centuries before Hammurabi created his code).  All three codes served the same purpose which was to create a system of systematic rules of conduct, and consequences if the rules were not followed (www.louvre.fr/er/oeuvre-notices/law-code-hammurabi-king-babylon).

hammurabi code stele

Hammurabi Code Stele

During Hammurabi’s rule small city-states progressed into a larger territorial state (www.thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/notes/hammurabi.htmil).  It is logical to assume the kings over these larger areas needed to have a tool to manage and control the larger population.  The Ten Commandments were handed down to Moses by God during approximately the 1500’s B.C.E. which was a later date than the previously mentioned three law codes.  Hence, society and culture were slowly becoming more sophisticated such that to create organization, structure and a basic sense of morality, codes of conduct were created.  The Hammurabi code included 282 laws which were partial to the wealthy, free and men.  Additionally, the consequences for breaking the laws could be cruel and extreme.  For example, a suspected guilty person could be placed in a deadly situation, and if they came out alive, this was the gods way of revealing the accused was innocent.

In contrast, the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses by God were simple, clear rules to provide the Israelites with a good moral understanding of right and wrong.  Also, God’s commandments were not partial to any group, but was applied equally.  Later, more restrictions were placed upon the Israelite people such that by the time Leviticus was written (1440-1400 BCE) there were 79 laws and subsequent penalties if the law was not followed.  Overall, in the Old Testament there are 613 laws and penalties.  The Israelites had to remember so many laws they eventually lost sight of the most important commandments, which is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Dietrich Bonhoffer in The Cost of Discipleship writes; “It was the error of Israel to put the law in God’s place, to make the law their God and their God a law.”  In other words, the law became more important than having true righteousness.

Therefore, God entered into His chosen people’s level of understanding based on their environmental milieu, and the development of the brain.  In other words, these somewhat primitive humans would not have had the capacity to understand higher moral reasoning as their brains were not sufficiently developed to grasp such concepts.  According to the concept of Structural Plasticity of the brain (refers to the brain’s ability to change its physical structure as a result of learning), the brain’s synapsis’ result processes of learning leads to specific synaptic growth, and elimination of other synapsis’ to reinforce the new behavior and create memory (http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v13/n7/full/nm3258.html).  So, the primitive brain during the Stone Age would be structurally developed to be effective hunters and gatherers, and then there would be slight development in the Iron Age brain as it addressed the new challenges of living in more larger, structured communities.  Since the frontal cortex would not be nearly as developed as the contemporary brain, the brain of more primitive humans would have a significantly higher dependence on instinct for survival.  The advent of speech other than grunts, after the Stone Age, would have developed the brain even further.

Karl Jaspers, a German Philosopher, when working with mental patients formulated a link between psychology and philosophy, and discovered a pattern in civilization of transcendent thinking that arose between 800 – 200 BCE in which he termed “Achsenzit” or the Axial Age.  Jaspers wrote in The Origins and Goal of History (1953), “…a strange veil seems to lie over the most ancient cultures…as though man had not yet really come to himself…”

John D. Mayer writing in Psychology Today on the Axial age:

“Before a certain time, some psychologists believe, ancient peoples also differed from us by exhibiting far less capacity to monitor their internal thoughts, feelings, and motives, they engaged in little or no self-reflection, and lacked a personal identity other than a name, parentage, and a recollection of a sequence of life events” (article The Significance of the Axial Age (The Great Transformation), Did a new level of consciousness evolve in 550 BCE?).

There is a similar developmental process in the development of written language.  Between 4100 and 3800 B.C.E. “tokens” were created with clay to count tracts of land, amounts of grain, animals, etc. as humans moved from the hunter/gatherer stage to agrarian communities.  The symbols were simple characterizations of actual objects or pictographs.  Such as:    to represent Sun “day”.   The pictographs then developed into a representation of an idea or concept (ideographs).  The Egyptians began using acrophony (a pictograph represented the first sound in the word). The Sumerians, at the beginning of the Bronze age (3150 BCE) began writing using symbols which evolved from a linear visual style to a wedge form called cuneiform (http://www.historian.net/hxwrite.html). The Sumerian writing system evolved and eventually influenced writing for the next 3000 years with adaptive changes made by other groups.  For example, the Sumerian writing signs were adapted by the Akkadian which was the first Semetic language used by the Bablonians and Assyrians.  Unlike some other writing systems that were developed, the Akkadian symbols represented syllables with vowels.  The Egytian cuneiform style influenced the Proto-Caananite/Proto-Sinaitic around 1700 BCE.  Old Phoenician (10th-9th centuries BCE) had 22 consonants, but no vowels.  However, the writing system continued to evolve by the Greeks adding vowels, and then the Etruscans modified the Greek written language with the subsequent result of the Romans making refinements to the Etruscan system.  Phoenician merchants then spread the writing system to places in the Mediterranean that did not have such an evolved writing system (www.ancientscripts.com/sumerian.html).

writing stone

Early Writing Tablet recording the allocation of beer, 3100-3000 B.C.E,  Late Prehistoric period, clay, probably from southern Iraq.

In looking at the evolutionary role of the process, newer research indicates the primitive brain did not evolve from what was considered the primitive structures of the brain into the more complex parts of the brain like the stacking of newer structures upon newer structures, but Earl K. Miller of the Picower Center for Learning and Memory states; “…findings suggest new ways of thinking about learning…they suggest that new learning isn’t simply the smarter bits of our brain such as the cortex ‘figuring things out.’  Instead, we should think of learning as interaction between our primitive brain structures and our more advanced cortex.  In other words, primitive brain structures might be the engine driving even our most advanced high-level, intelligent learning abilities” (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050308134448.htm).

Leda Cosmides & John Tooby (Center for Evolutionary Psychology) writes, “…the reason we have one set of circuits rather than another is that the circuits that we have were better at solving problems that our ancestors faced during our species’ evolutionary history than alternative circuits were. The brain is a naturally constructed computational system whose function is to solve adaptive information-processing problems (such as face recognition, threat interpretation, language acquisition, or navigation). Over evolutionary time, its circuits were cumulatively added because they “reasoned” or “processed information” in a way that enhanced the adaptive regulation of behavior and physiology” (http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/primer.html).

It seems the evolutionary development of the brain somewhat mimics the developmental brain growth and processes of present day human maturation from infancy to adulthood.  In more primitive civilizations, developmental processes focused more on teaching right from wrong, and providing consequences when rules are not followed with the eventual evolutionary brain changes that would internalize the structure of rule following to later enable a deeper understanding of morality.  Based on genetic differences and environmental influences there would be variability in moral reasoning development which would explain why in Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning, some people’s moral development only makes it to the earlier stages.  Likewise, Claude Piaget, in studying the intellectual development of children believes that certain stages of intellectual development need to occur before higher stage content can be learned (Brainerd, 1978).  When applied to Piaget’s understanding of morality there is similar brain development that leads to the important deeper internal understanding of morality.   Unlike Kohlberg whose theory explains moral reasoning by three major categories with two stages in each (Pre-conventional: stage 1 – punishment and obedience orientation, stage 2 – Instrumental relativist orientation, Conventional: stage 3 – “good boy” and “good girl” orientation, stage 4 – law  and order orientation, Post-conventional: stage 5 – Social contract orientation, stage 6 – Universal ethical principle orientation), Piaget categorizes the moral stages by Heteronomous morality (based on relations of constraints, i.e. rules are seen as inflexible), and Autonomous morality (based on relations of cooperation between individuals, i.e. rules are viewed as products of mutual agreement).  However, in both theories is evident a growth process which builds upon prior learning and experience, and when combined with the present understanding of brain growth by recent research, indicates the basal ganglia (a primitive brain structure), interacts with the cortex to direct synaptic growth into the frontal lobe.  Most importantly, in both stages the first stage is rule adherence to teach right and wrong.  God’s timing is always perfect.  In other words, God would not have sent Jesus into the Mesopotamia civilization at this point in time, because humans would not have had the brain development to understand higher level moral teachings. 

Forty Years of Disobedience

God delivers the Law and Commandments on Mount Sinai in a show of smoke, thunder and lightning to Moses in front of the Israelites.  Obviously, this was to impress upon the Israelites his power and glory so they would respond in obedience.  The first and second commandments deal specifically with idol worship, “You shall have no other gods before me,” and the second commandment, “You shall not make a carved image.”  In Exodus 19:22-23, God tells Moses, “Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.”   In 23:13 one of the laws God delivers to Moses states: “Be careful to do everything I have said to you.  Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. And in 23:23, God tells Moses that an angel will go ahead of him to bring them into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Peririzzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites to “wipe them out.”  Again, a warning against idol worship; “Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices.”  Another warning from God in 23:32-33; “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods.  Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”

It is clear and emphasized by God to Moses and the Israelites they are not to be involved in any type of idol worship.  And yet Moses disappears on the top of the mountain for 40 days at God’s request leaving Aaron in charge.  Later the people go to Aaron wondering why Moses is taking so long coming down from the mountain and suggests to Aaron they should make “gods” to go before them in the wilderness.  Aaron, clearly demonstrating weak leadership skills, promptly tells the Israelites to give him their gold jewelry so he can melt it and make it into an idol in the shape of a calf.  The people are then told the idol is the gods that brought them out of Egypt. Aaron builds an altar to the golden calf to make sacrifices the next day during their impromptu festival in honor of the “gods.”  Party time!  The Israelites are impatient and bored waiting for Moses, so are more than willing to completely ignore God’s commands regarding idols.  They eat, drink and make merry including engaging in orgies (32:1-6).  According to some Jewish sources, Aaron asked the Israelites to melt their gold to make a golden calf in an attempt to stall the Israelites.  His strategy was that the Israelites wouldn’t be willing to give up their gold and then they would back down and wait for Moses.  However, when they were more than willing to give up their precious jewelry, Aaron again stalls the Israelites by telling them they would hold a festival the next day which would need much preparation in the hopes that Moses would appear, and save the day, at least for Aaron.  Aaron shows a lack of courage and strength when faced with the strong will of a group of Israelites.

Moses comes down from the mountain and Aaron responds to Moses’ questions by lying to Moses that they melted their gold in the fire, and low and behold a golden calf magically comes bounding out of the flames.  Moses intercedes for the Israelites to God, but the Levites were ordered to take swords and kill brothers and neighbors which ended up with 3000 killed.  God then tells Moses he will kill the remaining Israelites who sinned with a plague.  Obviously, there is inference here that not ALL of the Israelites engaged in the sinful behavior.  God is training up His chosen people by providing laws and commandments and punishing the people when they are disobedient.  Unfortunately the Israelites learned their lesson the hard way.  God’s stance on worshiping other gods or idols above himself is very serious such that there are approximately 152 mentions of idols or idol worship in the Old Testament.

golden calf

So who were these gods and idols?

“One may question that those ancient enemies of Israel were as evil as the Bible claims that they were, but even a superficial glance at Canaanite religion alone ably demonstrates their iniquity. Base sex worship was prevalent, and religious prostitution even commanded; human sacrifice was common; and it was a frequent practice–in an effort to placate their gods–to kill young children and bury them in the foundations of a house or public building at the time of construction: Joshua 6:26 “In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn…” (Howard E. Vos, “An Introduction To Bible Archaeology” Revised ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953) pp. 17-19.)

According to Dennis Bratcher (Ba’al Worship in the Old Testament), the foundation for the mythological representation in Ba’al worship comes from two ancient texts, the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, and the Ugarit from Northern Syria.  In all of these myths are gods who bring order to chaos, more specifically the chaos related to the effects of droughts, floods, and starvation.  In the Ugarit, Ba’al rises to the top of the hierarchy of gods after winning a battle with the other gods.  Mot (the god of the underworld) challenges Ba’al and sends Ba’al to the underworld until the gods of the sun, Anat and Shapash, rescue Ba’al from the underworld and bring him back to life.

This was an agrarian culture where the caprices of weather could cause great devastation and loss of life.  Therefore, the Canaanites developed an overwhelming need to reduce their stress and anxiety related to not having control over their environment, so worshiped “gods” to give them some modicum of control.  If they appeased the gods by sacrifices, and sexual behavior to excite the gods in an imitative form symbolic of fertility then the gods would provide their needs for fruitful crops.   The symbolism of Ba’al disappearing into the underworld represented the dry season without rain, and his ascent out of the underworld represented rain and abundance.  Ba’al’s proper name was Hadad, meaning “the Thunderer,” or Rimmon, which is similar (Gray, John, Near Eastern Mythology).  Ba’al is also known as the “rider of the clouds.”  The syncretism between worship of Yahweh and Ba’al is seen throughout the Old Testament with the use of similar visual or mythological language.  For example, “rider of the clouds” is mentioned in reference to Yahweh in Psalm 68:4.

The pull of the Canaanite deities on the Israelites was incredibly strong.  As the Israelites came into more contact with the Canaanites and their worship of Baal, the more a dichotomy developed in their thinking regarding which god had the most power.  Yahweh displayed power as He brought the Israelites through the desert, but Ba’al “…was in charge of the more mundane aspects of everyday life, such as rain and crops and livestock” (Bratcher, Dennis, Ba’al Worship in the Old Testament).  The mythological story of Ba’al was entrenched in the culture, and the metaphorical language that was implanted in the Israelites thinking processes caused them to use the same imagery in their own creation story, and other writings in the Old Testament.   The intertwining of an enmeshed religious/cultural society was strong, and it took years and years with the downfall of the Northern and Southern kingdoms up to the exile until the Israelites became entirely monotheistic.

It is interesting to note that Ba’al worship was an attempt to gain control over an environment that could cause death and destruction, and yet Yahweh throughout the exodus attempted to teach the Israelites to give Him complete control.  Again and again Yahweh demonstrates His great power and control but the Israelites continued to disobey the laws and commandments they were given through Moses.  As Christians today we struggle with the same internal battle.  We become anxious when our lives start to get out of control, and will attempt to gain control in various ways.  Ironically, it is difficult for us to give complete control over to God, the God we understand to be the Creator, all powerful, and all knowing.  We are on a spiritual journey like the Israelites.  We suffer, we become anxious, we create many problems in our own lives, we forget to keep God first by letting other things interfere with our relationship with God until we learn the same lesson the Israelites had to learn: “Hear, O Israel!  The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6).  Incredible spiritual growth and blessings will happen in your life when you become fully submitted to God and then God will use you as His instruments in ways you never imagined.

Another interesting aspect in contrasting Ba’al with Yahweh is that Ba’al worship required human sacrifice, typically the first born son.  The son would be expected to “walk through the fire” and be burned alive.  The worship of Ba’al expected sacrifices from humans to satisfy Ba’al before he would give the worshippers rain and abundant crops.  However, Yahweh sacrificed His first born son by having Him “walk through the fire” out of love for us.  To “walk through the fire” is a metaphor for the rejection, mocking, disbelief, torture and death that Jesus experienced.  Attempting to ward off drought and starvation is not important when souls are in danger.  Ba’al spends part of his time in the place of darkness; the underworld, and Yahweh is the unending light which is never extinguished.  Ba’al coming out of the underworld in the Spring to bring abundant rain after appeasement and sacrifice by humans is a god who seeks itself, and Yahweh is the God who brings abundance in all seasons as our God who seeks what is best for us.

It seems whenever there is syncretism with Christianity the cause is a lack of trust in God which creates a need for control.  For example, New Age Spirituality is becoming extremely popular in our culture today.  New Age Spirituality in and of itself is a combination of many religious beliefs that can include Christianity which makes it highly syncretic.  However, the primary beliefs are in the power of the self to affect “the Universe.”   “God” is rarely mentioned, it is usually “the universe.”  It is as if “the universe” has a power of its own which has nothing to do with God.  The basic tenants of New Age Spirituality are that humans are to discover their own divinity and use the power “the universe” provides to create their own reality.  God is in all (pantheism), humans have God like abilities, our own minds create our reality, and there is no evil, only that humans have “forgotten the power of their own divinity” (http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/what-is-new-age-religion-and-why-cant-christians-get-on-board-11573681.html).  Again, this is humans believing they have control over every aspect of their lives and not God.  2 Timothy 3:4-5 speaks to the “last days”:  “…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with such people.” In other words, they perceive themselves to have spiritual power, but do not acknowledge God as the Creator and source of all power.

If humans believe they have the power to change reality which is an attempt to take control of reality, then the sovereignty of God is not being acknowledged.  It is no better than the Israelites worshiping Ba’al.  The New Age Spiritualists are in complete darkness regarding their understanding and slowly infiltrating Christianity.  They are worshiping at the altars of themselves, and spreading their false beliefs into churches and other areas of our society.

The Ark to the Temples: Another Journey

The Israelites arrive at the Promised Land, but Moses and Aaron disobey God by not fully following His instructions and indicating to the Israelites that the power to bring forth water from a rock came from them and not God.  Subsequently, God punishes them by telling them they would not be allowed to enter into the Promised Land.  Moses dealt with the Israelites disobedience during their long wandering in the desert with God’s direction, so it is surprising that near the end of their journey, Moses disobeys God himself by attempting to take control and not acknowledging God’s power.  There is a sense of becoming too comfortable with his position and relationship with God.  It is a recurring theme in the Old Testament that God is sovereign.  At any time when a person or people attempt to circumvent God’s power, God deals with them harshly.

It is a similar issue with David in 2 Samuel 11:1-27.  David was chosen by God through the Prophet Samuel who appeared to Samuel as the lease desirable son of Jesse of Jerusalem.  In fact, when Samuel believes the oldest son is God’s anointed one, God admonishes Samuel by telling him; “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”   David is called in from tending the sheep and Samuel anoints him as God’s chosen one to be the next King. David, the youngest son of Jesse, who tended the sheep developed a heart for God.  His pure, sincere love for God is evident in the beautiful 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters,

He refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths

For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk

Through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

For you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.

After becoming King, David acquires 7 wives and 10 concubines.  He becomes powerful, and prestigious.  The shepherd boy with the pure heart becomes equally too comfortable with his position and relationship to God. In 2 Samuel 11, David goes to the roof top of his palace and observes the beautiful Bathsheba bathing and sends messengers to get her so he can have sex with her.  However, she is married to one of David’s soldiers, Uriah the Hittite.  Bathsheba becomes pregnant so David begins to manipulate events so that blame does not end up on his head.  He attempts to get Uriah to go to his home while on leave so that he would have sex with his wife.  Uriah refuses and sleeps at the entrance to the palace with the servants out of loyalty to David.  David then decided to write “a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah.”   In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die” (2 Samuel 11:15).  Uriah dies in the front lines, and David ends up marrying Bathsheba.

bathsheba

Leader of God’s churches take serious note.  Do not become comfortable with your position and fall into lukewarm water where you lose sight of the sovereignty of God.  As Paul exhorts the church at Philippi, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).  Notice that Paul states “…now much more in my absence.”  We’ve all heard the saying, “when the cat is away, the mice will play.”  When God is not the priority of a leader’s life and they stop seeking Him in all things, He becomes absent; “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Sin enters in without a thought to the God who raised them up into their leadership position and without acknowledgement that our all-powerful God is watching and will deal with them in His time and way.  In David’s case, God sent a Prophet to convict David of his sin and David repented.

Moses’ Magnum Opus

In Deuteronomy, Moses, in full understanding that he will not reach the Promised Land, reminds the Israelites of their destiny and their need to obey God.  Many of the Israelites that left Egypt with Moses were no longer living, and Moses seemed to be primarily addressing this new generation and emphasizing to all the Israelites how great a nation they are because of their God.  He begins by using beautiful metaphorical language expressing God’s nature as a father; “…you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries His son, all the way you went until you reached this place….and yet you still did not trust God” (1:31-32).  And in Deuteronomy 4, Moses emphasizes the greatness and sovereignty of God in His mighty deeds shown to the Israelites: “Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?  Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord you God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?   You were shown these things so that you might know the Lord is God; beside him there is no other” (33-35).

Moses continues his discourse discussing the Israelites journey and how when they obeyed, God went ahead of them to be victorious over their enemies.  Moses reminds them of the law and commandments several times, obviously attempting to get the “stiff-necked” Israelites to understand the importance of following God’s laws and commandments in obedience.  Also, Moses mentions more than once that the Israelites will receive blessings from God if they are obedient, and curses if they are not obedient.  In Deuteronomy 28:9, “Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all of Israel, ‘Be silent, Israel, and listen!  You have now become the people of the Lord your God.  Obey the Lord you God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.”   One word in this exhortation from Moses and the priests is filled with the promises of God and which explodes in a destiny from God like no other destination.  “Now!”  Now you have become God’s people.  Not during the entire 40 year sojourn through the wilderness, but on the doorstep of the Promised Land, the people Israel have been shaped and formed to “now” be God’s people.

There is significant typology in verses 11-20.  Moses tells the Israelites; “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.  It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’  No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”    The understanding of God’s will is not outside of the Israelites, but God has taught the Israelites by using the external structure of punishment and reward to teach His law and commandments which has become internalized in their consciousness and their hearts.

After Moses finishes his final exhortation to the Israelites, God reveals to Moses that His people will still struggle with worshiping other gods and be disobedient to God’s laws.  In verses 20-21 God explains to Moses when the Israelites have all their needs met, and are living in comfort they will turn to other gods and break His covenant with them.  God then instructs Moses to write down a song and teach His people to sing it as a “witness for me against them” (v. 19).  In the Song of Moses, God again emphasizes His sovereignty and admonishes the Israelites for their lack of faithfulness even though Yahweh has been faithful.  “See now that I myself am he!  There is no other god besides me.  I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (v. 39).

It seems to be a recurring theme of the danger of living in comfort and forgetting God’s sovereignty.  Living in comfort can be a dangerous place to be in spiritually.  We tend to become spiritually lazy, quit acknowledging God as the giver of all things, and begin elevating ourselves in status forgetting “the LORD gave and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21).

Moses is allowed to see the Promised Land from Mount Nebo and then dies there while Joshua then takes over the leadership of the Israelites and guides them into Canaan.  Joshua’s entire leadership is moving the Israelites against the Canaanites to destroy the people who worship other gods.  And, as seen in the Exodus, when the Israelites turn away from Yahweh and begin worshiping other gods, then God allows the enemy to overtake the Israelites.  The Israelites are still being trained up in the way God wants them to go by the use of punishment when they disobey, and reward when they obey and worship God only.

Raising up leaders

jesus shepherd

In the Book of Judges, the Israelites lose their moral center as each subsequent generation moves farther and farther away from the Exodus event that was so central to their understanding of God’s will as His chosen people.   Joshua dies and then “…whole generations grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.  Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judges 2:8-9).  And in 2:17, “They quickly turned away from the ways of the ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.”

In Judges 2:1-5 God sends an angel with a strong message to the Israelites: “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors.  I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me.  Why have you done this?  And I have also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.”    There is consistent structure in the Book of Judges typified by six cycles that begin with the phrase, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord…”  Each of the cycles is characterized by disobedience, enemies overtaking the Israelites, the Israelites crying out to God for help, God raising up a leader, obedience, and God blessing the Israelites with military success over their enemies.  However, in the beginning of Judges are strong military type leaders, but not necessarily strong spiritual leaders.  As a result of the weak spiritual leadership the Israelites sink further and further into a dark pit of sin where there doesn’t appear to be any hope of repentance.

Near the end of Judges is a story about a Levite traveling with his concubine that illustrates the extreme sin and depravity that had befallen the Israelites.  First of all, the Levites were the Priestly class who were called to be holy, provide spiritual leadership, and perform sacred service (Exodus 19:6, Numbers 6:22-26).  In Deuteronomy 18:5 we read, “For the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes, to stand in the name of the Lord, him and his sons forever,” referring to the tribe of Levi.  There is obvious contrast with the expected righteousness of the Priestly tribe of Levites, and the subsequent degeneration of this particular Levite.  This Levite has a “concubine” who leaves him and goes back to her family in Bethlehem, Judah.  Oftentimes, a man will take on a concubine for political reasons, to provide progeny if his wife is barren, or as a slave, but in this case the most likely scenario is her family sold her to the Levite as a concubine and he was using her for sexual reasons.  There is no wife mentioned in the story, and a concubine who leaves her protector has most likely been abused by the man who procured her for his selfish desires.

The author of the Book of Judges makes an obvious inference to the story in Lot (Genesis 19) where the men of Sodom demand the foreign men (angels) who are visiting Lot to be sent out so they may have sex with the “men.”  As we know, Sodom is destroyed due to its extreme immorality.  This particular Levite is traveling with his concubine and a servant.  The servant suggests they stop for the night in a city of the Jebusites.  The response of the Levite, “We won’t go into any city whose people are not Israelites” (19:12).  The Israelites were to separate themselves from the people who worshiped other gods so they would not be exposed to and perhaps tempted by the worship of idols and the subsequent sexual immorality that went along with the idol worship.  The irony of the Levite’s statement about the Jebusites will become evident.

They end up in the square of Gibeah in Benjamin, and an old man strangely warns them against staying in the square.  The old man lets them stay in his home, and as in the story of Lot, they are surrounded by male Israelites who want to have sex with the Levite.  The old man offers his virgin daughter, and the Levite’s concubine as an alternative.  The Levite sends out his concubine who is raped and sexually abused all night such that she is dead by morning.  According to Exodus 21:7-10 concubines were not to be mistreated,  and as indicated in Genesis 35;22 they were not to be violated by other males (Genesis 35:22).

The Levite returns home with the dead body of his concubine, cuts her up into 12 pieces and sends the pieces out to the tribes of Israel.  He then stirs up the pot of anger even more by exaggerating and fabricating part of his story telling the Israelite leaders that the men of Gibeah wanted to kill him and grabbed his concubine and raped her.  It is quite obvious he couldn’t tell them the truth because he would be breaking the law regarding the treatment of concubines as a Priest who is supposed to be teaching the Law.   Subsequently, the Levite incites a civil war that almost wipes out the tribe of Benjamin.

The beginning of the Book of Judges begins with, “In those days Israel had no King…” obviously leading the reader to believe the Israelites needed a King to provide strong leadership.  This sets the stage for the arrival of Saul as King.  It must be noted the Levite refuses to stay in a non-Israelite city externally exhibiting righteousness, but internally filled with sin.  There is a sense that by this point the Priestly tribe had become prideful and arrogant in their Priestly status much like the Pharisees and Sadducees in the New Testament.

Dr. Robert Chisholm, Department Chair and Senior Professor of Old Testament Studies, writing in The Role of Women in the Book of Judges, from his Hebrew Studies class, states that early in Judges strong female leaders rise up because the men of Israel have become weak and this indicates a downward spiral of moral decay.  “I think of the main points of the book is that men need to take the initiative and be leaders.  One of the signs of a declining society is lack of male leadership.  Men need to have faith in God and they need to live wisely.  If they don’t lead, the women will more than likely step in.  They will do a good job, but they will not be able to stem the tide of the decline and eventually, society will go downhill so much that they become victims to all kinds of atrocities.” Chisholm then closes his class lecture with, “Men should be convicted of their responsibility to trust God and lead.  And women should be convicted of the futility of stepping in and picking up the slack when men fail to lead.”  Earlier in his lecture he explores the story of Adam and Eve regarding Adam following Eve’s lead because of his weakness, but fails to mention the story of Ananias and Sapphira where Sapphira follows Ananias’ lead and receives the same consequence of death from God.  Married couples are to hold each other accountable.  Christ is head over the husband and God is head over all.  Therefore, Sapphira had every right to not follow her husband into sin, but to respect the headship of Christ over her husband.

Earlier in Judges, Deborah (a Prophet) has become the leader of the Israelites, and leads the Israelite men to success in battle.  Chisholm points out that Barak was so weak he insists Deborah go with him otherwise he will refuse to take the ten thousand soldiers and lead them up to Mount Tabor.  Obviously, Deborah demonstrated strong, righteous leadership skills or Barak wouldn’t have refused to go into battle without her.  However, Deborah responds to Barak that the honor won’t be his, but “the Lord will deliver Sicera” into the hands of a woman.  Barak’s overt weakness isn’t necessarily demonstrated by following a woman’s leadership, but is a lack of trust in God.  Alternatively, Deborah displays submission to God’s will and direction in her leadership which God honors by giving the Israelites success over their enemies.

In the Song of Deborah, there is acknowledgement of God’s power in winning the battle and not her own, “So may all your enemies perish, Lord!  But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”  There was then 40 years of peace in the land after this success in battle.  Chisholm emphasized that throughout Judges “unconventional weapons” were used indicating God’s power giving the victory.  And yet, Chisholm misses the fact that God uses a female leader (an unconventional leader) who leads the Israelites into victory and who acknowledges God’s power as the reason for the victory.  Chisholm clearly demonstrates a hermaneutical weakness in speaking from his misogynistic culture.  God raises up leaders for his purpose, and it doesn’t matter whether it is a woman or man.  As Paul states in Galatians 3:28, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  A note to male seminary teachers who let their culture and prejudice hamper the women God has called into the ministry: pray for discernment, wisdom and understanding of God’s will for these female students under your care.  Jesus rose above His culture, and so must you.

 ruth

In the Book of Judges are stories of strong females, especially Deborah, who is a righteous leader of Israel in the first part of the book, and then in the latter part is abusive behavior by men towards women which clearly portrays the dissoluteness of the Israelite men.  However, during the extreme apostasy that occurred during the period of Judges is a beautiful story that shows God’s hand in the journey of the Israelites through time.

In the Book of Ruth, we are introduced to the Moabite daughter-in-law of the Israelite, Naomi.  Naomi’s husband dies, and then ten years later her two sons die as well.  There is a famine in the land so when Naomi hears that the Lord is providing food for his people in Judah decides to travel there, but tells her two daughter-in-laws to return home to their Mothers so they may find husbands.  Orpah leaves Naomi, but Ruth refuses committing herself to her mother-in-law.  Ruth’s beautiful reply is the often quoted verse in Ruth 2:16-17: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” Naomi relents and Ruth travels with her to the land of Judah.  When they arrive, Naomi and Ruth end up gleaning in the field of Boaz who is a relative of Naomi’s.  Boaz observes the virtuous behavior of Ruth, and subsequently offers to be a kinsman redeemer which saves Naomi’s family line.  Ruth marries Boaz and has a son named Obed, who is the father of Jesse and the Grandfather of David which is the family line of Jesus.

Forgetting God

In the book of 1 Samuel, another righteous, virtuous women appears who gives birth to the Prophet Samuel.  Hannah is the second wife of “Elkanah.”  Elkanah’s first wife has children, but Hannah is barren.  In fact, the first wife makes fun of Hannah, which makes it even worse.  Having children in those days was of the utmost importance.  A wife’s value was relative to whether she could bear children to continue the Israelite line of ancestry.  We see the moving of God’s purpose within Hannah.  Hannah is in a place of brokenness, and God enters in to this extreme desire for a child which leads her to the temple to pray.  She then meets Eli, which later leads to Hannah dedicating her much desired son into service at the temple under the care of Eli.  Her son, Samuel (whose name means “asked by God”) becomes the last judge and the prophet who anoints the first two kings of Israel.  Again we see the hand of God directing this incredible story of the Israelites into His future Promised Land.  After Hannah delivers her son to Eli, she prays; “It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken” (1 Samuel 2:10).

In Samuel 3:1 the verse begins with mentioning that Samuel is now “ministering to the Lord,” but what is more significant is the next phrase; “…the word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.”  From the Book of Judges to 1 Samuel is a gradual moral decline which is overtly evident by the end of Judges where a Levite (from the Priestly tribe) displays outward righteousness, but inwardly is filled with sin.  The Israelites had forgotten their covenant with God, and had spiritually wandered away.  As a result of their disobedience, God’s presence was rarely revealed to the Israelites.  When God’s miraculous presence slowly disappears generation after generation, belief also decreases as well.  Without belief, God will not make Himself known.

In James 4:4, the listeners are strongly told that they are an adulterous people and should know that “friendship with the world means enmity to God.”  The behavior of adultery is mentioned numerous times referring to the Israelites and their relationship with God in the Old Testament, which James draws parallels from to reveal the early church’s sin.  And, in 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  In other words, followers of Christ cannot live spiritually in the “world” and present themselves Christ-centered.  That is being “double-minded.” Furthermore, God is not near to those who don’t believe.  Deitrich Bonhoffer (a German Theologian during the Holocaust), writes in The Cost of Discipleship that obedience comes before belief.  It is impossible for belief and obedience to go hand in hand as is easily observed by Christians in churches who state they believe, and who appear to make a commitment to Christ by becoming baptized, and then don’t show a change in behavior. If there is not a movement towards righteousness displayed by the fruits of the Spirit, then there isn’t obedience.  So the questions is, if they are not obedient, do they believe?  Evidence of belief is obedience.

Dr. Joel McDurmon writing in National apostasy (1 Samuel 8:1-9) states; “Rejecting God often begins with forgetting God.”  McDurmon goes on to quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn (persecuted as a Soviet prisoner during atheistic communism):

            “More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened…’

If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’

And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principle trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: ‘Men have forgotten God.”

In 1 Samuel 8:1-5 the elders go to Samuel after meeting together to demand a King, because Samuel is old and his two sons have become immoral (this is the reason they give Samuel, but most likely not the real reason).  Samuel, who was a significant instrument of God in leading the Israelites, was told what to do by the elders who clearly showed lack of respect and dignity for Samuel’s position.  And, more importantly, if the elders weren’t showing respect to Samuel, they were not showing proper respect to God’s sovereignty.  The elders decided themselves what needed to be done, instead of asking God through Samuel.  Samuel goes to God in prayer, and God tells Samuel to “listen” to what the people are telling him.  Samuel has taken what the elders told him as a rejection of himself, and hasn’t really perceived that the reason for wanting a King doesn’t have anything to do with himself.

 I love this conversation between God and Samuel.  Samuel goes to God with his hurt, and God is like; “Come on Samuel!  What happened to your discernment?  This isn’t about you, dude.  This is about those hard headed Israelites doing what they always do, which is to feed their own self-centered natures and their hedonistic desires.  The people want a king because “all the other nations have kings,” when they could have the God of all creation lead them?  Let’s give’em what they want then and see what happens, shall we?”

McDurmon makes an excellent point about “the lust to rule” which is explained in St. Augustine’s, City of God which McDurmon uses in reference to the elders need to dominate Samuel, and to seek their own will and not God’s.  McDurmon underlies this with insight into how fear is used by governments to manipulate and control the populace.

McDurmon:The seizing of a crisis is a classic political tactic to force a quick decision upon a momentous issue, and usually in conditions stacked in such a way that the only viable choice at the moment has already been chosen for you. The tactic aims to skirt wisdom, deliberation, and debate by turning the moment into an emergency, the only apparent remedy for which is to cede more power to a government, etc. But these are not true emergencies. They are manufactured or exploited for preconceived political purposes. In most cases, we have people trained to handle real emergencies. Politicians are not those people. Just like with the Israelite elders, in such a moment you can bet there has already been a meeting, and an agenda has already been laid out.”

In Christian churches today, fearmongering is being used by some leaders who are pursuing the “lust to rule.”  For example, there is much rhetoric coming from the pulpit related to the legal marriages of LGBTQ as the indicator that we are in the last days, and in extreme moral decay.  This is an “us” and “them” scenario where the battle lines are being drawn in the sand.

Unfortunately, there is much historical precedence for this alarming behavior.  This was seen in the Holocaust when the German people were frightened because of the economic conditions, which allowed Hitler to manipulate their fear by making the Jews a convenient scapegoat.  Some Christian leaders are stirring up the fear of their congregations against LGBTQ.  They are subtly expressing concern over the State controlling the churches by taking away their right to choose whether they accept or marry LGBTQ.  When the fear is increased, so is the anger, and then the overt rejection of an entire group of people.  This is an extremely dangerous game these leaders are playing, and it is not Christ-centered.

I listened to a talk from a Conservative Christian Psychologist recently who displayed brainwashing techniques that would have made even Hitler proud.  He stated, “the other side” (meaning the political left) are trying to make you believe that being gay is like being black.  “It is not!  Ask a black person!”  By overtly focusing on how skin color and sexual orientation are not the same, he did a slight of the hand redirect trick.  In other words, he redirected the listening audience (this was a political talk on homosexuality in a church) away from thinking about discrimination.  Discrimination isn’t just related to a person’s skin color or race, it can be any number of human variables by which a “group” of people are perceived as lesser beings.  Every human should be treated with dignity.  No child should be exposed to bullying, even if they have a different sexual orientation.  Adult LGBTQ should be afforded the same legal protections as any other citizen in our country.  Otherwise, the LGBTQ become society’s scapegoats and our country falls into the excessive moral depravity as seen during the Holocaust. His line of reasoning even went as far as bashing “safe zones” (bully free zones, including no bullying against LGBTQ) in schools.

He then injected the fear poison into his listeners more by discussing how media is destroying morality in our culture by promoting gay acceptance, and even attempting to get our children to accept gays.  As I am listening, I’m thinking, what about the extreme level of violence being shown to our children every day on television, movies, and video games?  What about the level of sexual behavior (by heterosexuals) shown in media?  What about the profane language that is almost a part of every television sitcom, and portrayed in movies as normalized language behavior?  He is not concerned with portraying the truth, but by manipulation is creating a convenient scapegoat.  Last Sunday, a visiting Pastor in reference to the parable Jesus told about the Good Samaritan emphasized “loving without conditions.”  The Psychologist is only partially following Christ which isn’t really following Christ at all, by excluding LGBTQ from Christ-centered unconditional love. What most concerns me were the significant numbers of Christians listening to the Psychologist’s talk on homosexuality nodding their assent, and mumbling in agreement, but obviously unable to filter what they were hearing through the words of Christ in Scripture.  I have discussed “herd mentality” in a previous blog, which is very relevant in the present situation.  When you ask why so many Germans followed Hitler, or even why so many good Christian people during the Civil Rights period of our country were aggressively against integration, you find the obvious answer.

Many Christians who believe homosexuals are sinning repeatedly refer to the story in the Old Testament of Sodom and Gomorrah as proof that God is against homosexuality.  And yet there are numerous parallels in the Old Testament referring to many different types of behavior that led to God destroying these two cities.  Writing on Sodom and Gomorrah, B.A. Robinson: “In ancient Jewish literature, such as the Ethics of the Fathers and the Talmud, there are many references to Sodom.  The phrase “middat sdom” was used.  It may be translated as “the way the people of Sodom thought.’  It meant a lack of charity towards others; ignoring the needs of the poor, etc.  In the Middle East, a person’s survival could depend upon the charity of strangers.  To help strangers was a solemn religious duty of paramount importance…”  Robinson goes on to mention Isaiah 1 that compares the behavior of Judah with that of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The Judeans  were “rebelling against God, lacking in knowledge, deserting the Lord, idolatry, engaging in meaningless religious ritual, being unjust and oppressive to others, being insensitive to the needs of widows and orphans, committing murder, accepting bribes, etc.” (see also Jeremiah 23:14, Ezekiel 16:49-50).

There was apostasy going on with the Israelites, and frankly, it couldn’t be blamed on homosexuality.  Just a side note, much of the “homosexuality” that is sometimes incorrectly translated in the Old Testament referred to sexual immorality during Ba’al worship, and also as mentioned in Judges, and in the story of Lot, where “all the males” of the city wanted to have sex with the “male” guest.  This was a direct outcome from idol worship practices when sexual orgies occurred to stimulate Ba’al to produce agricultural fecundity.  So, my point is, I’m guessing most of these men if not all were heterosexual men, and likely many were married to women.  Bestiality occurred as well, so what is evidenced is moral depravity related to the overall moral decline of every aspect of their society including the sexual immorality related to idol worship.

“Visions were infrequent” (1 Samuel 3:1).  Apostasy and lack of God’s miraculous direction and presence go together.  It is quite evident in our society today.  Many Christians believe that miracles don’t occur in today’s world, or they believe a person is having mental illness who mentions a supernatural event with God.

While traveling in Europe a couple of years ago, four different groups of people that I met while traveling mentioned the city of Prague as their favorite city in Europe, but they went on to explain around 85%  of the residents of Prague are atheist or agnostic. Last year I took my daughter to Quebec City for Spring break, and drove past beautiful churches and cathedrals that are up for sale as retail space.  The dusk is growing, the light is fading.  People are forgetting God.  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18).  Obedience first, and then belief.  After belief, then submission to God, and submission is where miracles happen and we can be used by God.

The apostasy happening in Europe and the United States shouldn’t be blamed on homosexuality.  If there is any relation to homosexuality, it should be more related to our lack of love and compassion.  As what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah, and in Judges, there is insidious global moral decay because we are forgetting God.  God is no longer sovereign.  Men are seeking the “lust to rule” looking to themselves to direct their own lives, and not seeking and submitting to God.

As Christians, we must take this seriously.  It is time to fast and pray, to petition God for mercy.  While in Quebec City, thinking about what is happening there as well as in Prague, I began praying for the children who would never know Christ.  My prayer turned to sobbing and supplication to God.  He hears our prayers, especially those prayers that come from a loving and compassionate heart.  Pray, don’t blame.

In Genesis 6, God decides to destroy humans and animals: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created-and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground-for I regret I have made them.’  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”  In verse 9, Noah is described as being righteous, “…blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”  So, God saves Noah and his family, along with the animals, by having Noah build an Ark to save them from the flood God was bringing to the earth.

The same happens to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot and his family are saved because they are righteous, but all the other inhabitants of those cities are killed due to their immoral behavior.  It is a repeating pattern throughout the Bible.  Of course, Jesus is our advocate for the Father, but it is our Father who judges and condemns.  As Christians, do we believe this pattern ended with the resurrection of Jesus?  In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus teaches to “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to live, and only a few find it.”  Referring to the last days, Jesus tells the disciples, “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, ‘and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 7:11-12).  The righteous will be saved, and those who turn away from God will be destroyed.  In the parable of the ten virgins, we are taught to keep our lamps lit, lest the bridegroom come and we are not prepared.  What does this mean for Christians today?  It refers to keeping our lamps lit by being filled with the Holy Spirit.  This means being constant in prayer, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and submitting ourselves completely to God.  Do not become comfortable with lukewarm Christianity, for the way to God is narrow, “…and only a few find it.”

We are actively living in a time of apostasy, and somewhat sense the encroaching darkness, but are becoming so comfortable with sin that we are unable to discern that our spiritual lives are in extreme danger.

The Israelites receive a King

Samuel is told by God that a young man named Saul will come to him looking for his lost donkeys and he is the one to be anointed to be King.  Scripture tells us that Saul’s father was a Benjamite, a man of standing, and that Saul was, “…as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel and he was head taller than anyone else.”  The author emphasizes how handsome and tall Saul is, and that is father has “standing.”  It doesn’t say Saul’s father was a very righteous man, but that he had good standing which was likely indicated by his nature, his dealings with people, and even perhaps related to the villager’s perception of his wealth. When Samuel tells Saul that he is to be king, his response is to question the decision because he is from the smallest tribe, and not only that from the least of all the clans (1 Samuel 10).  Saul is tall and handsome, and comes from a father with “standing,” so wouldn’t that make him a good leader or King over the Israelites?  And, why would Saul be chosen to be King, when he is not from the higher echelons of the Israelite tribal hierarchy? These passages regarding the choosing of Saul to be King show a lack of understanding of God, and how limited human understanding is to determine a person’s character and ability to fulfill God’s purpose

Later, when Saul is brought out among the villagers, the author again makes note of Saul’s height, and Samuel asks, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen?  There is no one like him among all the people (1 Samuel 11:24).  Samuel and the villagers seem to judge Saul’s worthiness as a King based on his outward appearance.  And yet Samuel’s response to Saul’s concerns about being from the least of the clans is to tell Saul, “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person” (1 Samuel 11:6). Samuel goes on to tell Saul that God will be with him in whatever he does.

God will change Saul “…into a different person.”  In other words, it is God who instantaneously changes Saul with His Spirit so that he is prepared to rule, and lifts him up to a relationship with God.  None of the variables of outward appearance, family standing, wealth, tribe or clan, make any difference, because God can change a person for to fulfill His purpose and will.  The typology pointing to the New Testament is the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to change us into the likeness of Christ.

We are no different from the Israelites regarding having limited understanding of God’s power and sovereignty.  We make decisions and judgements based upon our extreme limited human understanding and don’t turn to God for guidance and wisdom.  Frequently our path is not God’s path and God’s path is significantly better than the path we choose.  The people God calls to raise up as leaders are significantly better to fulfil His purpose than the people we would choose to raise up into leadership positions.  So many of our churches would be filled with the Spirit, lead so many more people to Christ, and bless the world with incredible witness if only their leaders were fully submitted to God.  As it states in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us have turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  God gave us His son as the Good Shepherd, who has taken on the sins of the world, but many of His sheep are still going astray.  Our Father in Heaven loves us so much he sacrificed His son to lead us to Him.  However, it is evident we have fallen short of our understanding for He tells us, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22).  Are we turning to Him?  We call ourselves by Christ’s name, but still are going about own way, easily led astray by the leaders in the world, our culture, the things we make more important than full submission to God.  However, if you are truly one of His sheep He will convict your of your sin, or even if necessary will use the rod, “For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT).  And in Deuteronomy 8:5, “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.”  And, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Saul, because of his disobedience after becoming King, comes to know God’s rod as well.  Samuel tells Saul to wait seven days for Samuel to arrive to offer burnt offerings to God before battling the Philistines, but while waiting at Gilgal, Saul’s troops began to be fearful and running away.  Saul decides to take matters into his own hands and ordered his men to bring him the burnt and fellowship offerings so Saul himself (who is not a priest) who makes the offering to God without waiting for Samuel.  Just as Saul completes the offering Samuel appears (of course).  “What have you done?’ asked Samuel.  Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’  So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.’  ‘You have done a foolish thing, Samuel said.  ‘You have not kept the command the Lord you God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

Subsequently, Samuel later anoints Jesse’s youngest son, the shepherd boy, to be King over Israel.  It is interesting to note when Samuel thinks it is the handsome eldest son that God has chosen, God replies, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  This is in contrast to the anointing of Saul where God seems to provide a man that by appearance would be pleasing to the Israelites and yet who later is disobedient to God.  Out of Jesse’s sons, David is the expected last choice based on Jesse’s and Samuel’s perceptions, but Samuel tells Saul that God has found a man “after his own heart.”

And yet, this Shepherd who has learned how to responsibly protect his sheep and out in the stillness of the night, alone with his thoughts, has turned his heart to God.  So much so he has written the well-known Psalms where he uses beautiful metaphors from pasturing sheep to describe God in relationship as a Shepherd who protects us, guards, leads us to green pastures and still waters.

After David’s anointing, God’s Spirit is taken away from Saul who then begins to pursue David to kill him.  This particular journey takes David and his men to a cave hiding from Saul.  God delivers Saul right into David’s hands by Saul going into the cave to relieve himself where David cuts off a piece of his robe to show him after he leaves the cave that he could have killed him.  David shows his pure heart for God by telling Saul, “…My lord the king!’ …Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’?  This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave.  Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay a hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, look at the piece of your robe in my hand!  I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you.  See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion.  I have nor wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life.  May the Lord judge between you and me.  And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.  As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.”

David has been anointed by God with His Spirit which is evident by his righteous behavior. This is contrasted with the evil behavior of Saul who has lost God’s Spirit.  The journey towards the fulfillment of God’s purpose in Jesus continues with David as stated in the Isaiah 11:10 prophecies; “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”  The personhood of David as a shepherd and a king is a typology of Jesus who will be called, “the Good Shepherd,” and the “King of the Jews.”

The next important place on the journey of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, is the purchase of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite by David.  During a time when God’s anger burned towards the Israelites David decided to take a census of the Israelites (“Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel” [1 Chronicles 21:1).  David is told by Gad, the Prophet, that he has sinned against God for taking the census, so God is giving him three choices as a consequence: three years of famine, three years of fleeing from his enemies, or three years of plague.  David chooses the three years of plague.

Msgr. Charles Pope writing in What’s so sinful about a Census and Why did Israel Get Punished for Something David Did, states: “A final area of sinfulness surrounds the manner in which a census can be and often is an oppressive tool of government.  Hence in the ancient world, a census was often a tool of military draft.  It was also a tool to exact taxes, and for Kings to measure power, and manipulate and coerce based on that power.  Even in our time the taking of the Census every ten years is often steeped in power struggles, political gerrymandering, tax policy, spending priorities, the number of seats in the legislature, and the pitting of certain ethnic and racial groups against each other.  A lot of mischief and political power struggles are tied back to the census, because numbers are powerful things.   Those that have ‘numbers on their side’ get seats at the table.  Those who do not, can wait outside.  Thus, David, in amassing numbers, amasses power and the capacity to manipulate his people in sinful or unjust ways” (http://blog.adw.org/2012/02/whats-so-sinful-about-a-census-and-why-did-israel-get-punished-for-something-david-did).

And yet when David as a shepherd goes up against Goliath, it is God’s strength he is completely trusting in even after observing the Israelites run away from Goliath in fear.  He tells Saul, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 18:37).  And then when facing Goliath, he courageously again gives God all the power in defeating Goliath and the Philistines, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

When David goes up against Goliath he is young, and just a shepherd.  However, when David takes the census he is older, and a king.  It is obvious he is taking the census in a prideful manner to measure the power he has by how many military men he leads.  The little, humble shepherd as king has forgotten the God who gives him the power to succeed in battle, but instead leans on his own power.

Subsequently, as a consequence against David and the Israelites, God brings the plague against the Israelites and 70,000 men die as a result of the plague.  God uses a punishment to show his power, and to reduce the number of fighting men.  At the threshing floor of Araunah, David observes an angel with a sword readied to destroy Jerusalem.  The Hebrew word “im-goren” translation is often used as “at” the threshing floor, but the use of “im” can also mean “the locus of psychological interest.” Subsequently, the use of “im” as in “with the threshing floor,” doesn’t necessarily indicate a location marker (at the threshing floor), but an indication of divine fulfillment that incorporates a triune expression of time, space, and matter together as profane, sacred, and liminal space, where past time, present time, and future time are entered into human space by divine purpose (Waltke, Bruce K. and O’Connor, M., An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns, 1990).

David then pleads with God, “I the shepherd have sinned and done wrong.  These are but sheep.  What have they done?” (1 Chronicles 22:17)  The ancient Hebrew word, Nacham which means, “to be sorry,” “console oneself,” “repent,” “be comforted,” or “changed his mind.”  In the context of the above verse, it most likely is used as “changed his mind.”  The angel is seen as a warning by God to move David to full repentance, and as a leader over the Israelites, to intercede in their behalf.  This is the first time David the King refers to himself as a Shepherd over his sheep.  Could David not have interceded for the Israelites behalf when God gave him three choices of punishments?  However, David chooses plague over famine and running from his enemies because, “Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hands of men.”  This incident foreshadows the coming of Jesus who intercedes on behalf of his sheep.  Jesus is referred to three times as a Shepherd, “Good Shepherd” (John 10:14-15), “Great Shepherd” (Hebrews 13:20), and “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4).  Three is a significant number in scripture which signifies completeness or divine perfection.

The Significance of Threshing Floors

threshing floor 3

David is instructed by Gad to build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  David offers to purchase the threshing floor from Araunah who initially is willing to give the threshing floor to David, but David refuses telling Araunah that for a sacrifice to God he needs to purchase the threshing floor to show honor to God for releasing the Israelites from the plague He had sent as a punishment (2 Samuel 23:2-4). The journey continues as God places David at a place where His purpose will have great significance.  This particular threshing floor is the future site of the first and second temples.

A threshing floor was oftentimes built on rocks, or a hard floor was created by beating down on the earth.  The threshing floors were made close to fields on rock shelves or on infertile soil so the grain crops could be moved easily to the threshing floor.  Additionally, the floors were located on the outskirts of a village or on high ground to take advantage of the higher winds for winnowing the grains.

The grain is released from the stalks by crushing by using a stick, an animal or a threshing sledge.  The stalks are then winnowed by waving the stalks in the wind so that the chaff is blown away and the grain falls to the ground (Waters, Jaime L., Threshing Floors in Ancient Israel: Their ritual and symbolic significance, p. 2-3).  Waters explores the significance of the use of threshing floors as profane and sacred space in her book by looking at how the threshing floors were agriculturally significant in providing sustenance such that when Israelites enemies attacked, oftentimes the first place they would attack and gain would be the threshing floors.  The strategy was to hit the foundation of the Israelites survival first.  Because the threshing floors had so much power over life and death, the floors became a site of  “…mourning rites, divination rituals, cultic processions, and sacrifices…” (p. 12).  So, the “profane” use of the threshing floors was agricultural, and obviously the “sacred” was the perspective of the Israelites that the threshing floors were places of worship and sacrifice where the divine coincided with the profane.  It is important to note the threshing floors were typically built on “high places” which is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament as places where altars were built to Yahweh, and the cultic religions worshipped their gods.  Additionally, divine/human interaction occurred at mountaintops or “high places,” which is another important typology which will be explored later in the blog.

Waters states, “Since threshing and winnowing are life-sustaining activities that happen on threshing floors, threshing floors were fundamental locations for human nourishment and survival.  At threshing floors, inedible crops were beaten, trodden and shaken to free the edible food held within.  Threshing floors played a significant role as the locations of sustainability and survival.  Because of sustenance so deeply rooted in the agricultural work on threshing floors, these spaces were thought to be controlled and blessed by Yahweh, the ultimate supporter of life” (p. 6).

There are many threshing floor metaphors and analogies used in the O.T. and N.T which shows the importance and overall symbolic aspect of threshing floors in the Israelites psyche.  In Luke 3:16-17,  John tells those waiting to be baptized, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  The typology of the threshing floor is a symbol of the working of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit will purify God’s people by removing the chaff (the fleshly desires and behaviors) until only the wheat (that which usable to God) will be saved and gathered to Him in His Kingdom.  The threshing floor being built on high ground so the wind could sift the chaff from the wheat is another important symbol pointing to the working of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is often characterized as wind such as in John 3:6-8, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at me saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

The Temples

 solomons temple2

“Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord and given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ And Nathan said to the King, ‘Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.’  But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, ‘Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in?  I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.  In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not build me a house of cedar?’  Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep that you should be prince over my people Israel.  And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.  And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.  And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more.  And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, ‘from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel.  And I will give your rest from all your enemies.  Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.  When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son.  When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you, and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne will be established” (2 Samuel 7:1 -17).

This passage is significant in that it speaks of David’s present, the near future and the far future.  God questions David’s need to build a permanent dwelling for the Ark of the Covenant, but reveals to David his offspring (Solomon), will build a permanent dwelling place for the Ark, but what is noteworthy is God doesn’t refer to the covenant relationship, but speaks of a father/son relationship that is an important turning point in preparation for the next stage of the Israelites journey which leads to the Messiah.  Previously, the covenant relationship with the Israelites was one sided, meaning God would never break the covenant, but it could be broken by the Israelites by not following God’s commandments and laws.  At this point, God is changing the entire relationship from a covenant relationship where there are rules and consequences, to a parent/child relationship where God will still punish His child, but will continue to love unconditionally with the spiritual maturation process developing into the figure of God’s son Jesus, who obeyed out of love for His father and not fear of punishment.

The passage refers to a physical dwelling for the Ark, and then a spiritual dwelling where “…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever,” and “your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.” This is pointing to the far future, where Jesus’ spiritual kingdom will be established.

King David’s final word of exhortation to his son, Solomon: “I am about to go the way of all the earth,’ he said.  ‘So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses.  Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.”

After becoming king, Solomon, tells Hiram King of Tyre, “I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the Name of the Lord my God, as the Lord told my father David, when he said, ‘Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my Name.” Solomon requests Hiram to give orders that cedars of Lebanon be cut down for the building of the temple (1 King 5).  Solomon uses conscripted (forced labor) of 30,000 men, an additional 70,000 as carriers, 80,000 as stonecutters, and 3,300 foremen to oversee the project.  The temple itself was built with cedar and overlaid with gold.  It took 7 years for the temple to be built, and 13 years for Solomon’s palace to be completed.

Jaime L. Waters states, “The temple was established during a period of sociopolitical transition from a tribal league to a monarchy…(and) represented the convergence of the religio-political beliefs of Israel and Judah” (p. 135, 136).  This was indeed a transitional period, but Robert Bellah (Religion in Human Evolution, p. 264), states the Israelite civilization went from a tribal society to an archaic society where the kingship in the tribal society to an archaic society where the kingship in the tribal society was characterized by extreme dominance as a warrior and defender, and then as archaic societies matured, the king became more of a defender of justice, and was known as a “good shepherd” (specifically in Mesopotamia and Egypt).  In Western Zhou, the king became known as the “father and mother.”   In 2 Samuel 7:14, God through the prophet Nathan tells King David that He will “raise up offspring after you…I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son.”  Also, in 1 Chronicles 22:10, “He is the one who build a house for my Name.  He will be my son, and I will be his father.  And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.”  1 Chronicles 28:6, as mentioned earlier is David referring to himself as the shepherd over his people, “I the shepherd have sinned and done wrong.  These are but sheep.  What have they done?” (1 Chronicles 22:17).  This event would have happened around 980 BCE which was at the cusp of the transition into the more complex archaic society.

Expanding on the earlier primary thesis that through human evolution, the brain’s moral development occurred in stages which mimics individual human brain development, it is evident the relationship of God to the Israelites initially parallels that of a young child’s relationship with their father.  A young child does not have the brain development to understand right and wrong.  So, basic rules are given to the young child, and then more and more rules are added; “don’t cross the street without looking both ways,”  “don’t hit your sister,” “eat your vegetables,” “say ‘thank you,’ and on and on.  Even in spite of punishment and reward, the young child will oftentimes continue to disobey.  Did you ever wonder why the Israelites seemed to have such a difficult time learning God’s lessons?  More and more rules needed to be added by God because the level of brain development of the Israelites did not allow them to grasp the morality that God was attempting to teach them.  Think of the young child’s perception of their father.  They are fragile, and looking up to their father they see an all-powerful being who meters out rules and punishments, but still displays “steadfast love.”  Emotional intimacy hasn’t developed yet, not until the pre-adolescent stage where the father is perceived as more nurturing and less dominant.  This is seen in these pre-axial age civilizations as personifying God or their king as a shepherd, with the increased understanding that the punishment given by their father is for their own good because he cares for them, which then develops to an adolescent stage of obeying out of respect, love and an even deeper understanding of morality, but still under their father’s authority.  The most important stage is the spiritually mature adult who loves the father but has developed beyond the punishment stage of obedience to a more independent stage of consistently displaying morality for the universal good, which is exemplified in the personhood of Jesus, with the idea of a perfect moral human being formed during the Axial age in China and Greek philosophers which will be expanded later in a more thorough discussion of the Axial age.

Bellah states; “The very appeal to ethical standards of legitimacy for both gods and kings, however, opened a new kind of upstart, the moral upstart who relies on speech, not force, would appear foreshadowed as we have seen, by voices already raised in archaic societies.”  This transition from tribal to archaic is clearly seen when King David’s kingship is contrasted with Solomon’s kingship.  King David was clearly a warrior, while King Solomon demonstrated exactly what Bellah refers to as the “moral upstart.”  Solomon’s wisdom was so well known that people came from surrounding nations to hear his wisdom.  Additionally, Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,000 songs: Song of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  Solomon’s reign led up to the beginning of the Axial age (800 BCE – 200 BCE), which was characterized by a significant increase in reflective thinking, the ability to think more abstractly, and a movement towards transcendent thought processes.

In the month of Ethanim, the 7th month, the Ark of the Covenant was brought to the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place whereupon the temple was filled with the presence of God evident by a cloud.  Solomon states, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud;” (1 Kings 8:12).  It is significant to note that the presence of God in a “dark” cloud symbolizes God’s judgement which is evident throughout the history of the Israelites and especially for Solomon later in his Kingship.

Solomon’s prayer during the dedication ceremony: “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name – for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm – when they come and pray toward the temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place.  Do whatever the foreigner  asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your name” (1 Kings 8:41-43).

In the New Testament are stories of foreigners indeed seeking the temple (the second temple) and seeking knowledge about the one true God from the Hebrews.  In the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch, the eunuch, who is the official in charge of the treasury of the Kandake (Queen), is traveling from the temple in Jerusalem where he most likely worshiped in the Gentile court.  On his way home in his chariot he is reading from Isaiah, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.” Phillip is told by the Holy Spirit to go near the chariot.  Phillip asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading, in which the eunuch tells Phillip that he can’t understand it unless someone explains it to him.  Phillip explains the passage is referring to Jesus, and as they are traveling they pass a body of water and the eunuch is baptized.  The Spirit comes down at that point and takes Phillip away to another place to evangelize (Acts 8:26-40).

In another instance, a Gentile centurion, named Cornelius, is told by an angel to send his men to get a man named Peter.  When arriving at Peter’s the men are asked why they have come.  They respond: “We have come from Cornelius the centurion.  He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people…” Cornelius was not a Jew, but worshipped in the Gentile courts and had such a good reputation of being righteous, that all the Jews there knew of him.

This was an extremely significant event because of the confusion the disciples had whether Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted into the body of Christ in equal standing with the Jews.  Peter states: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right (Acts 11:34-35).  It was never God’s intention that the message of the one true God was only for the Israelites, but the Israelites as God’s chosen people were to carry the message to the foreigners (Gentiles).  Isaiah 56:6-7: “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants, everyone who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and hold fasts My covenant; even those I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer.  Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”  In Romans 10:12, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him…”  And yet many Jews developed an exclusive approach which led to derogatory perceptions of Gentiles and Samaritans.

Additionally, at the dedication Solomon prays that God’s “…eyes be open toward this temple night and day…” (1 Kings 8:29). God’s response to Solomon (1 Kings 9:3), “…my eyes and my heart will always be there.”  Ironically, it was God’s eyes that viewed Solomon’s sin which later led to the destruction of this temple as a punishment by God.  Solomon married 700 women and had 300 concubines which were not Israelite.  Solomon would have known the Israelites were not to marry idol worshiping women; “Do not intermarry with them.  Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn you children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). Solomon married women who were not Israelite, and that is exactly what happened.  He began turning to his wives and concubines gods, and subsequently built various idol worship sites.  God warned Solomon twice telling him not to worship foreign gods, but yet Solomon didn’t listen.  Evidently, his wives had more influence over Solomon than God’s direct warning.  “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).  Obviously, Solomon didn’t even adhere to his own wisdom based upon the Proverb written by Solomon himself.  God became angry with Solomon and reminded him he had broken his covenant with him by disobeying and as a result the kingdom would be taken from him and given to one of his officials during the reign of one of Solomon’s sons.  Furthermore, God tells Solomon there will be only one tribe left “…for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem…”

james tissot painting

James Tissot’s painting “The Flight of the Prisoners” illustrates Judah’s exile from Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s prophecy of a 70-year exile was fulfilled.

Psalm 79

O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;

They have defiled your holy temple,

They have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.

They have left the dead bodies of your servants

as food for the birds of the sky,

the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.

They have poured out blood like water

All around Jerusalem,

and there is no one to bury the dead,

We are objects of contempt to our neighbors,

of scorn and derision to those around us.

How long Lord?  Will you be angry forever?

How long will your jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out your wrath on the nations

That do not acknowledge you,

on the kingdoms

that do not call on your name;

for they have devoured Jacob

and devastated his homeland.

Do not hold against us the sins of past generations;

May your mercy come quickly to meet us,

for we are in desperate need.

Help us, God our savior,

for the glory of your name;

deliver us and forgive our sins

for your name’s sake.

Why should the nations say,

“Where is their God?”

Before our eyes, make known among the nations

that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.

May the groans of the prisoners come before you;

with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die.

Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times

The contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.

Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,

will praise your forever;

from generation to generation

we will proclaim your praise.

Prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple by Jeremiah (25:12,13): “And the whole land of (of Israel) shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.  Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the Lord; ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation.”

After Solomon’s death there were numerous Israelite Kings who worshiped idols and exhibited evil behavior.  It was the ongoing story of the Israelites who continually disobeyed God by worshiping idols, and then would turn back to God when God placed them is such dire circumstances that all they could do is cry out for God’s help in acknowledgment of their lack of power, and God’s sovereignty.  However, God’s purpose in the extreme destruction by Nebuchadnezzar of the temple and Jerusalem was accomplished – the Israelites never again resorted to idol worship (2 Kings 25:8-17).  In 555 BCE, Samaria fell to the Assyrians, in which the Kingdom of Israel came to an end with only one surviving tribe which was Judah.  The other ten tribes of Israel disappeared.  Additionally, Judah’s captivity in Babylon was 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12).

The Second Temple

temple mount during the second temple period

“In the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel his the God who is in Jerusalem; and let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:14).

The first century Jewish writer, Flavius Josephus:

…by reading the book which left behind of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision “My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple.” Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written. (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, xi, Chapt. 1-2)

Prophecy regarding Cyrus by Isaiah:

“This is what the Lord says-

the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:

Concerning things to come,

Do you question me about my children,

or give me orders about the work of my hands?

It is I who made the earth

and created mankind on it.

My own hands stretched out the heavens;

I marshaled their starry hosts.

I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness:

I will make all his ways straight.

He will rebuild my city

and set my exiles free,

but not for a price or reward,

says the Lord Almighty.”

Cyrus orders the building of the second temple because God’s will was revealed in the prophecies.  In Cyrus’ decree are details regarding the exact dimensions of the new temple as well as an order to bring the gold and silver vessels that Nebuchadnezzer took and brought to Babylon back to Jerusalem (Ezra 6:3-5).

Zerubbabel, the leader of the tribe of Judah was part of the first group of Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem, and was appointed by Cyrus as governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1).  Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel directed the building of the foundation of the temple which was completed in two years.  There was a celebration at the completion of the foundation with the priests in their vestments with trumpets, and Levites with symbols praising God and singing, “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”  Many people began shouting, but the oldest Israelites began crying and wailing loudly as they remembered the size and grandeur of Solomon’s temple.  It was a beautiful, but poignant celebration, with the sounds of joyful praise and wailing so loud, it was heard from far away (Ezra 3:10-13).

The prophecies regarding the destruction of the first temple in the Book of Lamentations: “How destitute lies the city, once so full of people!  How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!  She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.  All the splendor has departed from Daughter Zion.   In the days of her affliction and wandering, Jerusalem remembers all the treasures that were hers in the days of old” (Lamentations 1:1,6-7).  And in 2:15, “Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?”

Imagine the memories the “ancients” had regarding Solomon’s temple before it was destroyed.  Walking through on its gold overlaid floors, the huge gold cherubims, the cedar walls overlaid with gold, and God’s presence at the Ark of the Covenant.  Also, the ancients survived the massive destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, with a long siege causing extreme starvation such that desperate starving mothers were eating their dead children, and then death of many more Israelites caused by subsequent epidemics all of which was prophesied by Jeremiah in the Book of Lamentations.  The Prophet Jeremiah’s warnings were ignored, and he was even imprisoned for speaking the prophecies regarding the fall of Jerusalem.  The ancients standing there at the foundation of the second temple were literally standing between two worlds, anguishing over what was lost like many older people who are close to death, while watching the celebration of the younger Israelites.

Mourning the Past by Sheryl Martin

I remember walking those glorious halls,

where learning and righteousness went hand in hand

It was a time of flourishment,

our hearts beat together its destiny,

we were the chosen people,

the beloved of Yahweh.

We were so sure of our foreverness

we forgot justice

we forgot love

we forgot God.

His rod of punishment

is for own good,

but I cry for what was,

and mourn what is.

Unfortunately, Samaritans who had settled in the area asked to assist with the building of the temple, but the Israelites refused their help focusing on the exclusive nature of the Israelites relationship with God which caused the Samaritans to sabotage the building in various ways (Ezra 4:1-5).  Subsequently, Persia withdrew support and for seventeen years the Temple sat unfinished (Ezra 4:21).

The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were sent by God to support Zerubbabel, and the building resumed (Ezra 5:1-2).  Four years later in approximately 515 BC, the temple was completed and dedicated (Ezra 6:16).  And, even though the second temple did not display the splendor of the first temple, Haggai prophesied the second temple would far outshine the first temple; “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.  And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:3-9).  The prophecy is interwoven with different future time periods such as the extensive expansion and renovations by Herod the Great, described by Josephus as “it reflected so fierce a blaze of fire that those who tried to look at it had to turn away, as if they look straight at the sun.  To approaching strangers it appeared in the distance like a mountain covered with snow.”  Additionally, the Messiah himself walked in this temple, prophesied its destruction, and spoke of the future temple not of earth, but a heavenly temple that would be built with Jesus as the cornerstone.

The second temple went on to flourish under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah who both led the Israelites towards reforms, the most important being the issue of Israelite men marrying foreign women.  There is an interesting contrast between the leadership styles of Ezra and Nehemiah who reacted to the news of the intermarriage in opposite ways.   Ezra internalized the news by tearing his clothes, pulled out his chair, fasting, wept, intensely approached God in the attitude of a penitent, while Nehemiah’s reaction to the Israelite’s behavior was more outward directed by cursing, beating, pulling their hair out, and asking for God’s blessing on himself because of his righteous response towards the Israelites.  Interestingly enough, it was Ezra’s more humble approach that had the greater positive response from the Israelites (Coggins, Eric, Contrasting Leadership Styles in Postextilic Judiasm – A comparative analiysis of Ezra 9:1-5 and Nehemiah 13:23-27, Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership).

Ezra’s response carried the Israelites burden of sin upon himself, which certainly led the Israelites to humility and repentance.  The Israelite men were ordered to put away their foreign wives and children, and in doing so showed respect to Ezra’s leadership.

Ezra who was from the priestly class of the lineage of Aaron was a scribe who wrote of the time after Cyrus’ decree in 536 BCE and the religious reformation led by Ezra himself in 456 BCE.  Nehemiah wrote of the 12 year period between 445 – 433 BCE.   The last prophet, Malachi, ended the prophetic age which began the 400 silent years before the birth of Jesus.  Malachi prophesied against the moral decay of the Israelites addressing both the Priests and the people.  However, the Book of Malachi ends with beautiful metaphors and hope for those who turn to God: “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.  And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”

The 400 silent years, not so silent

The 400 silent years before the birth of Jesus was a time of extreme political jockeying, wars, intrigue, corrupt priests, and the temple being burned and destroyed 27 times.  In approximately 175 BCE, the High Priest successor of Onias III (Jason, Onias’ brother) was displaced by Menelaus, who was not a descendant of the Priestly line.  Menelaus paid the Selucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, a large sum of money to obtain the High Priest position. Thus began a succession of Priests that were not of the priestly line for whom the office of High Priest was sold as political patronage (H.A. Ironside, The 400 Silent Years).

During the first temple period of 410 years were 18 High Priests.  During the second temple period of 420 years there were more than 300 High Priests.    In the initial 130 years of the second temple were only three priests.  In the remaining 290 years were approximately a new High Priest every year.  The change occurred because when the High Priests entered into the Holy of Holies once a year during Yom Kippur in a state of impurity and unable to focus, they would die.  Subsequently, a rope was tied around the High Priest so he could be pulled out if he didn’t survive in the presence of Yahweh.  This characterizes the spiritual state of the Israelites who slowly went into moral declension (http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48938582.html).  Rabbi Ken Spiro (Senior lecturer for Aish Jerusalem) writes, “But when prophecy disappeared and central authority was weakened, it became easier for people to stray and for various holy institutions (like the High Priesthood) to become corrupt.”

However, in spite of the cultural chaos and spiritual decline, advanced philosophical thinkers in Greece arose who began reflecting on the nature of God, and the characteristics of an ideological perfect moral being.  The Intertestamental Period was part of the Axial Age which revealed higher level thinking characterized by concrete to abstract thinking, increased self-awareness, and reflective thinking.  The Axial Age occurred across four different civilizations which indicates global brain development all happening around the same time.

Judea was under the control of the Media-Persian empire, which was a shift from the Babylonian dominance in the East, to control of the Persians in the West.  In 330 BCE, Alexander the Great, who was only 20 years of age at the time, defeated the Persians, and subsequently, Greece became dominant.  Due to the Grecian influence, a sect of Judaism formed called the Hellenists, which led to the formation of the liberal sect, the Sadducees.

Onias I son, Simon, who later came to be known as “Simon the Just” succeeded his father, as High Priest in 300 BCE.  Simon focused on following the laws and commandments as well as temple services in opposition to the Greek influences which were diluting the Jewish religion and culture.  H.A. Ironside (p. 18) states: “That these largely drifted into ceremonialism and heady exclusivism should be a sad warning to those who attempt to maintain divine truth in a fleshly way, without the Spirit’s power.”  However, in spite of Simon’s overly extreme adherence to the Jewish religion, he was the first of the great Rabbi’s whose teachings were embodied in the Mishna and became head of the Sanhedrin.

Under the period of the Maccabees, the sect of the Pharisees formed who were conservative compared to the liberal Sadducees. The Pharisees were strict adherents of the law such that they became overly focused on the appearance of external righteousness, but Jesus made a point in His ministry to reveal their corrupt hearts as a comparative lesson with those whose righteousness is internal, as opposed to just the appearance of righteousness demonstrated by the Pharisees.

The death of Simon the Just was in 291 BCE, which left Simon’s brother Eleazar as the successor for the high-priesthood which he held until his death 15 years later. The kingship during this time period was the three Ptolemies with Ptolemy Soter reigning 20 years, and then his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus succeeding in 284 BCE.  Ptolemy Philadelphus (Eleazer as high priest), requested the five books of Moses be translated into Greek around 277 BCE which is known as the Septuagint (seventy), as supposedly it was a joint of work of around 70 translators.  The translation was deposited in the Library at Alexandria.   Since the use of ancient Hebrew rapidly began diminishing in use, the Septuagint significantly increased in use among the Jews (p.20).

Through many more leaders, some corrupt, some not, and numerous wars the Jews attempted to reestablish themselves, but failed in their efforts.  By the end of the 400 years there were four different sects of Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Sicarii), and Greek culture had significantly affected the Jewish socio/religious/cultural identity. H.A. Ironside succinctly states it was not difficult to understand why the Jews did not accept the Messiah, even though they were longing for deliverance.  “They were punctilious about the services of the temple; fond of reasoning about the Scriptures; proud of their descent from the patriarchs; and in their self-righteous complacency, despising their Gentile neighbors.  But all this availed them nothing when spiritual discernment was gone and religion a matter of ritual rather than of life” (p. 88).

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals, your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream (Amos 5:21-24). The Prophet Amos was active during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE) which makes his writings the first biblical prophetic book written.  However, his words ring through the ages, and is even relevant in today’s churches.  It is easy for churches to fall into the same complacency as what happened with the Jews, which is focusing more on their social gatherings, their church community, and divisive political affiliations while forgetting to pursue true righteousness.

 The Axial Age

As mentioned earlier, the “Axial age” or “Axis Age” (Achesenzeit) term was first coined by the German Philosopher, Karl Theodor Jaspers in 1949.  Jaspers described it as Axial because he perceived it as a turning point in human civilization whereby across four different civilizations (China, India, Middle East, Northern Mediterranean, especially Greece); “The spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently and these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today” (The Origin and Goal of History, London: Routledge and Kogan Paul, 1953 [1949], 1).

There has been significant research and scholarly papers about the Axial Age in the past decade, especially in Germany.  However, Arnaldo Mimigliano (1908-1987), an Italian Historian and expert in ancient history, provides a good social-political-cultural setting for this important turning point in world history.  According to Mimigliano, “All of these civilizations display literacy, a complex political organization combining central government and local authorities, elaborate town-planning, advanced metal technology and practice of international diplomacy.”  Mimigliano goes on to discuss characteristics of Axial Age thinking as, “attempts to introduce greater priority, greater justice, greater perfection and a more universal explanation of things.  New models of reality either mystically or prophetically or rationally apprehended, are propounded as a criticism of, an alternative to, prevailing models.” (Alien Wisdom: The Limits of Hellenization, Cambridge: Cambridge Univerity Press, 1975, 8-9).

According to Robert Bellah, in his extremely thorough book on the evolution of religion, religion evolved from mimetic culture to narrative culture to theoretical culture.  “Mimetic” is the form of communication that is non-verbal, while “narrative” is communication that is descriptive.  Before the onset of written language, oral history was passed on from generation to generation in narrative form.  However, at the onset of the Axial Age, a new type of culture emerged in which Bellah described as “theoretical,” which was the “…ability to think analytically rather than narratively to construct theories that can be criticized logically and empirically.”  Additionally, Bellah explains that theoretic culture, “…[as] the recent form of consciousness [which] 0augments rather than replaces previous cultural forms” (Religion in Human Evolution, p. 274).  So, according to Bellah, the movement between the different types of consciousness is progressive but needs the previous platform to progress to the next stage.  Merlin Donald, Psychologist, Neuroanthropologist, and Cognitive Neuroscientist at Case Western University writing in A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness, believes consciousness is the most important factor in brain processing.  He further states our perceptions and awareness are so driven by our conscious mind that our brains would have little cognitive function (p. 4,7).  To simplify, the earlier “mimetic” culture described by Bellah would be fairly close to the awareness processing of non-human mammals.  It is survival/instinctual driven, with minimal cognitive processing, and no self-awareness other than bodily sensation.  Comparing the mimetic to the theoretical the brain has progressed from instinctual to an advanced outer awareness, leading to increased cognition, and subsequently self-awareness.

Yeluda Elkana (1934-2012), Historian and Philosopher of Science, expands this thought further by describing a type of thinking which is inner directed as “second order reflexivity,” or “thinking about thinking” (The Emergence of Second-order Thinking in Classical Greece, in Eisenstadt, ed., The Origins and Diversity).  Donald uses the word, “meta-cognition” in describing “…a major evolutionary step in self-monitoring and supervision,” which is a move from concrete thinking to a more abstract form of self-awareness (p. 73).

Very few of the researchers of the Axial Age can deny that some sort of consciousness change occurred across different civilizations at the same time, but almost all have difficulty explaining why the axial turning occurred.  Jaspers states, “The community of masses of human beings has produced an order of life in regulated channels which connects individuals in a technically functioning organization, but not inwardly from the historically of their souls.”  Additionally, Michael Zank (Boston University), article in Existenz, Jaspers’ Axial Age Hypothesis: A Brief Restatement, writes, “…though transcendence had to be discovered, its historical discovery in several places at more or less the same time allows us to think of a plurality of distinctive cultures, or rather their intellectual concerns, as related.  Without saying as much, the coincidence of an emergence of similar notions across unrelated cultures gestures toward an underlying connection among us, across the globe, that neither attests to an absolute consciousness working itself out through the agency of a plurality of subjective consciousness, nor simply reaffirms an essential conception of humanity.  It points to a unitive potential attested in the history of the human spirit” (Volume 5, No.1, Spring 2010).

Because the causative factors of a change in consciousness across civilizations are so complex and numerous it is difficult for researchers to determine conclusively exact reasons for the axial turning without resorting to the use of descriptive language.  Subsequently, some of their conclusions are somewhat ambiguous.  For example, Jaspers refers to the “technically functioning organization” and Zank in discussing Jaspers, concludes the Axial Age is a “unitive potential” somehow encased in the “human spirit.”  Donald believes, “External memory is a critical feature of modern human cognition, if we are trying to build an evolutionary bridge from Neolithic to modern cognitive capabilities or a structural bridge from mythic to theoretic culture.  The brain may not have changed recently in its genetic makeup, but its link to an accumulating external memory network affords it cognitive powers that would not have been possible in isolation” (p 273).  For Donald, it was the development of written language which enabled “external memory” which led to the progression of Axial age thinking.

Many researchers, including Robert Bellah, agree with Donald that the creation of written language was crucial during the formation of Axial Age thinking due to the brain having an information system it could access whereby the memory capability was not limited to the human brain.  However, writing and reading entails utilizing memory stores in the brain in order to analyze information which was considered an important criteria (ability to analyze) for whether a civilization was considered Axial.

Jin Dengjian writing in, The Great Knowledge Transcendance: The Rise of Western Science and Technology Reframed, has determined axial transformation “…was the accidental product of the paradox of prosperity and crisis caused by the military, economic, and technological revolutions” (p. 91, 2016).  Dengian’s thinking is similar to an early 19th century German philosopher, Ernst Von Lasaulx, who “seeks and collects references from Genesis to Horatius to support the well-known saying that war, the antagonism of divergent forces, is the cause of all growth, the father of all things” (The Historical Thought of Ernst Von Lasaulx, Friedrich Engel-Janos: Catholic University of America, p.395).  Combining these two theories and simplifying, one can conclude change is one of the variables that helped promote the advanced thinking processes during the Axial age.  In other words, due to society becoming much more complex, with the added stress of various challenges, the brain adapted by establishing executive functioning in the pre-frontal cortex.

Donald emphasizes a synthesis between culture and the response of brain growth, which is symbiotic in nature because the brain can’t grow without the input of culture (p 61).  Donald goes on to explain that, “This is due to the extreme plasticity inherent in the expansion of the cerebral cortex that occurred during human evolution” (p. 62).

I would respectfully disagree with the assumptions that having “external memory storage” via written language was crucial for Axial Age development.   Using Occam’s razor (a theory which states one should not make unnecessary assumptions, but look for the simplest answer to a problem), it is information and knowledge which creates synaptic growth for processing, either from oral or written language, that promotes growth in the brain’s frontal cortex.

The discussion of the axial turning refers to the consciousness of four different civilizations progressing to the “theoretical” stage of more reflective, analytical advanced thinking.  However, it should be noted the change in consciousness did not occur across large groups of people (when the word “civilization” is used, it infers a mass of humans all changed together), but in individual philosophical thinkers and leaders whose theories advanced beyond cultural enmeshment.  This is the weakness in Merlin Donald’s theory that the brain can’t develop beyond its enculturation. Obviously, there is a genetic component that can induce synaptic growth in certain areas of the brain that produce advanced thinking that is not culturally based.

According to recent research on where “religion” is located in the brain, Cisimo Urgesi, lead researcher (Assistant Professor in Psychobiology and Physiological Psychology at University of Udine in Italy),  determined after studying 88 tumor patients that damage in the parietal region changed patients attitude towards spirituality.  This was measured by the use of a “self-transcendence” scale which determines the level of spirituality a person has which remains stable over time.  Urgesi states, “This finding highlights the key role of parietal cortices in spirituality and suggests that changes of neural activity in specific areas may modify even inherently stable dispositional traits.”  Patrick McNamara, Director of the Evolutionary Neurobehavior Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine, commenting on the research: “The significance of the frontal lobe displayed by this study, also points to a “talent” some might have for religion, akin to the ability some people have with language or mathematics that gives them superior ability in the area.  It tells us about why certain people find it easier to be spiritually religious.  Down through the centuries, we have seen that there are some spiritual geniuses (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, Mohammed and Moses). These people had special talents, there’s no question about it.”

Does not David the Psalmist exclaim, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).  God does not transform an entire civilization all at once, but consistently throughout scripture and over human history God raises up leaders who have the brain wiring to think outside of culture to move humanity closer to His will in His perfect timing.

First Premise: God’s existence

The more contemporary research on the Axial age related to the prophetic age in the Old Testament begins with the first premise that God does not exist.  Unfortunately, studying scripture with the premise that God does not exist creates conclusions that are incorrect.  Some researchers study the Old Testament the same objective way they study other religions.   Subsequently, the researchers attempting to be objective lose the spiritual discernment which leads to significantly deeper understanding.  For example, some researchers have determined the Old Testament references to the “heavenly hosts” are a pantheon of lesser gods under Yahweh (e.g. Psalm 82).  Additionally, some believe due to the influence of the Canaanite deities on the Israelites that the non-existent monotheistic Yahweh had a wife or a consort.  Scripture has many levels of understanding, and in the researchers attempts to be “objective” the researchers are only able to access the top most superficial level of understanding.

However, I can’t make my first premise that God does NOT exist.  Because I have personally experienced His Holy Spirit, the risen Christ, and God in various numerous ways, my first premise is that God exists.  Scripture is like searching for beautiful, valuable treasure and when found causes one to delight in the Father whose holy word reveals hidden mysteries.  Matthew 7:7 states, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  For if we seek for wisdom and understanding, we will find it, and in Psalm 2:3-5, “Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

For example, while reading Merlin Donald’s book, A Mind So Rare, on consciousness, I gained deeper understanding of the importance of the number “7.” The number “7” is very important in the Hebrew’s understanding of the symbolic significance of the pattern of numbers and is seen numerous times in the Old Testament, especially when in reference to the temples.  There are 70 years between the building of the first temple and the second, and it took 7 years for the second temple to be completed.  Seven is mentioned at least 490 times in the Bible, and signifies spiritual perfection, completeness, totality, or “the fullness of.”  Donald states when referring to consciousness, “Our minds can only take in 7 things without counting (plus or minus 2).  The rule of seven plus or minus applies to not only vision but also to touch and sound, to abstract or concrete ideas, to short term memory, and even to images held in the imagination.”

As I reflected on the idea of our consciousness only being able to hold 7 things at once, God blessed me with understanding of creation being made in His image.  When we create a painting, typically we imagine the entire painting idea all at once.  We then paint the image on a one dimensional canvas. When it is completed, we as the creator looking at our painting can see the entire image all at once.  We don’t initially see the first part we painted, and then the second part, and so on, but we take in the entire painting all at once, at one point of time in our conscious awareness.  So, God, when creating, projected His image of creation all at once in multiple dimensions and views His creation at one point in time.  Or, I should say, what we perceive as time, but for God in the place of the creator, there is no time, but all time exists.  God gives us free will, but at any time, He can enter into His creation to move our destiny in the way He wants it to go to bring us closer to His kingdom because He sees all of creation without the component of time. How incredibly amazing is our God.  For, you see, He reveals this mystery in scripture.  Looking at scripture from the creation to the Book of Revelations, is His creation through time (time as we perceive it).  Additionally, biblical prophecy typically refers to the present, moves to the near future, and expands to the far future.  The image that comes to mind of the various prophecies is of small mountains, and looking at all of scripture at once is a large mountain. Think of the shape of a pyramid.  The bottom of the pyramid is rectangular shaped which moves upward into the shape of a mountain.  God is at the top looking at His entire creation through time rolled out just as when we look at a completed painting.  Our perception at the bottom of this mountain is that of living in linear time.  The number 7 in connection with the temples being built is a signpost which reveals the completeness of His will and purpose throughout all creation leading to the spiritual temple with Jesus as the cornerstone.   The hidden treasure in scripture is the pattern of 7 in scripture which relates to our capacity to hold 7 things in our consciousness at one time brings to light a parallel between how we create, and His creating .  He reveals Himself to those who are willing to seek and pray for His wisdom and discernment.  As James 5:1 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

If we look at one of the prophecies in Isaiah 9, the prophet mentions the past humbling of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but then speaks of a future where the land of Galilee will be honored, and then moves forward speaking of an everlasting Kingdom of which there will be no end, “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his -government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (9:6-7).  Beginning with the past or present, prophesying a nearer future and then a far future to the end of times, or everlasting time, is a pattern that is repeated over and over in scripture.  And, the pattern is seen it in its entirety by looking at the entire Old Testament and New Testament all at once.  It is the pattern of creation, moving to the locus of His purpose in the personhood of Jesus Christ, spiritual fulfillment in the completed spiritual temple, and then all of creation residing in the Kingdom of God.

Embedded within the pattern of all of created time not being linear time, but one image of all time viewed by God in a place of no time, is the symbolic image of mountains.  Mount Zion is mentioned numerous times in scripture which refers to the power center for the Kingdom of Israel or Jerusalem, but also as the Kingdom of God where His presence resides.  Jeremiah 33:6, “Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”  Isaiah 30:29b refers to “…the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel.”  Hebrews 12:22, “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable angels in festal gathering.”  John’s vision in Revelation 14:1 refers to the remnant with Jesus standing on Mount Zion.  In Revelation 21:22-26, John describes, “…no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be light there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

And of course, many times in the Old Testament are mentioned the “high places” where oftentimes idol worship occurred, and where the Israelite altars were built.  Additionally, Moses spoke to God at the top of a mountain.  The New Testament mentions many times Jesus going to a mountain beginning with the Devil bringing Jesus to a high mountain to tempt him, Matthew 5:1 mentions Jesus going to a mountain to preach, the transfiguration where Jesus, Peter, James and John were led to a “high mountain” where Jesus was filled with light and met with Moses and Elijah.  Luke mentions they went to the mountain to pray.  In Matthew 28:16, “then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.”

Do you understand the journey of God’s chosen people ends at the top of Mount Zion?  When we pray we are on the mountain with God just like Moses was in the Old Testament.  When being fully submitted to God in prayer the only time is the present time where all of our attention is on God.  God will move us into His will by directing our steps as He sees the entire landscape around the mountain from His viewpoint.  The mountain is the representation of God’s position in relation to His creation. We journey to the Kingdom of God which is a journey to the top of the mountain.   This journey is a progressive spiritual journey which doesn’t just entail an individual’s spiritual growth, but all civilizations movement towards the Kingdom.

The journey incorporates advancement through the growth of our consciousness, and is inherent in the development of our brains.  We determine our path through individual and cultural choices, which creates short term evolutionary changes, and in the long term, natural selection.  Donald explains, “But a superplastic species, such as ours, can generate new options at a rapid rate, in fractions of a single lifetime.  Most of these innovations will not improve fitness, but some will, and natural selection will seek out and select those genes that nurture the most successful innovations.  In this way, cerebral plasticity speeds of the rate of cognitive evolution” (p 210).  Our destiny is our choice; we can choose to pattern ourselves and our society after the model of Christ to move towards the Kingdom of God, or move away from the Kingdom.

The Importance of Axial age Thinking as a Precursor to Christ

The most important aspect of Axial age thinking before the birth of Christ was progressive brain capability which allowed men (I use “men” literally here, because there were no female philosophers or leaders that contributed to Axial age thinking due to strong cultural prohibitions) to critically analyze their society and leaders and to formulate the ideal moral leader.  Additionally, across these four civilization arose thinking that led to advanced morality in treatment of each other to achieve the perfect society.  For example, from Confucius, “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not want, and you will not incur personal or political ill will.”  We know this as the “Golden Rule,” which is inherent in many religions around the world.

A close follower of Confucius, Mencius (4th century BCE), attempted to persuade rulers to adopt a more compassionate method of ruling whereby the needs of his people would be taken into consideration in a more ethical manner as opposed to ruling by force.  Following “the Way” or “Dao” (right living) was extremely important during this time period to alleviate human suffering.  Mencius believed it was important for the members of a society to have physical and education needs met, and each individual was required to put forth effort to meet their own needs as well to produce a fully functioning society (http://plato.stanford,edu/entries/mencius/).   Additionally, Mencius stated the consequences of not meeting basic needs would result in increased crime:  “When they thereupon sink into crime, to go and punish the people is to trap them.  When there are benevolent persons in positions of authority, how is it possible for them to trap the people?” (1A7; Van Norder 2008, 14)

Mencius encouraged following the will of Heaven, and formulated four personality characteristics which should be developed; benevolence, righteousness, wisdom and propriety.  Additionally, Mencius’ thought processes appeared to prepare the way for the coming of Christ which is evident in this passage, “Now in the world among the shepherds of men there is not one who is not fond of killing.  If there is one who is not, then the people of the world will crane their necks to watch for his coming.  This truly being the case, the people will turn to him like water flowing downwards with tremendous force.  Who can stop it?”  (Lau, Mencius, 1Ab, 53-54).

Similar reflective thinking also occurred among Greek Philosophers in which the idea of a monotheistic God appeared along with critical analyzing of the society in which they lived.  Socrates (469–399 BCE) was killed on charges of “impiety and corruption of youth,” for his attempts to transform his society for the better.  Socrates believed “committing an injustice is worse than suffering one,” and discussed the negative consequences of a society which becomes “stagnant and complacent” due to lack of philosophical inquiry (www.iep.utm.edu).  His most well-known quote, “the unexamined life is not worth living…” (Apology 38a).

The idea of a cosmic God was believed to be initially described by Thales (620-546 BCE) who asked, “What is the divine?  That which has no origin and no end” (DK 11A1[36]).  Anaximander (610-546 BCE) expanded upon Thales theory and refers to “the boundless” which, “…has no origin, because it is itself the origin.”  According to Anaximander the boundless is “immortal but unborn” (G.E.R. Lloyd, Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies in the Origin and Development of Greek Science Cambridge University Press, 1979, 238-239).  Xenophanes’ (570-478 BCE) description of God: “One god, greatest among gods and men, in no way similar to mortals in body or thought.  Always he remains in the same place, moving not at all; nor is it fitting for him to go to different places at different times, but without toil he shakes all things by the thought of his mind. All of him sees, all thinks and all hears” (Kirk, Raven and Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, 169-170). Regarding Aristotle (384-322 BCE), Bellah writes, “…we must not think of Aristote as secular.  He had a theology as well as a logic and a metaphysics, a variation on the idea of a cosmic God as first dimly discerned by Anaximander, and developed richly in Plato’s later dialogues, a theology that would be very influential in later times” (p. 396).

In another Axial civilization, India, Buddhism was an important axial turning point in which previously dharma was relegated to the Brahmins only, and similarly in Hinduism which was only practiced by upper-caste households.  Dharma is a Sanskrit word used in various religions across the Indian subcontinent, but its concept varies slightly based on the time period and the religion.  For example, during the Axial age, the concept of dharma (pre-axial) changed from “duty” as seen in Hinduism to “enlightenment” as set forth by the Buddha.  According to the Hindus, dharma pertains to universal order in which codes of law, religion and duty provided structure and clear, fairly rigid boundaries between people (berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/essays/dharma-hinduism). In Buddhism, the concept of dharma expanded to each person relying on their own wisdom to understand teachings instead of adhering to a rigid set of rules as seen in Hinduism.  One of Buddha’s teachings, “the Four Reliances,” provides additional knowledge for his followers on how to approach his teachings:

“Rely on the teaching, not on the person;

Rely on the meaning, not on the words;

Rely on the definitive meaning, not on the provisional;

Rely on your wisdom mind, not on our ordinary mind.”

Buddha’s teachings clearly demonstrates the concrete to abstract reflective thinking as seen during the Axial age.  By comparing and contrasting the concept of dharma between earlier Hinduism and Buddhism it is easily seen the earlier concept of dharma was an external adherence to a rigid structure of rules, while the dharma seen in Buddhism was an internal focus of seeking meaning in the context of advanced spirituality.  Buddha taught, “opened are the gates of immortality, you that have ears to hear, release your faith” (viewonbuddhism.org/dharma.html).

Buddha was born during the 6th century BC, and during his period of enlightenment interacted with a devil which was attempting to challenge his right to become the Buddha.  This is a common theme of well-known spiritual leaders to be tested by an evil being.  After successfully completing the test, the leader’s faith is strengthened, and they themselves perceive their motives and ego to be centered in divine purpose, and not in their own self-serving interests.  Buddha is another figure that rose out of his caste culture to promote enlightenment for all people regardless of their gender, race, class, and previous background.  Women were admitted to the Sangha (community of monks) which was unheard of during that time period and culture (http://www.biography.com/people/buddha-9230587#the-buddha-emerges).

The axial turning in Buddhism which was a precursor to the figure of Christ was characterized by a step out of culture (as seen in many other axial examples) whereby what was only available to the upper caste became available to all people.  Inclusiveness is a strong characteristic of Christ’s ministry displayed by His emphasis that his message is for all people; women, sinners, Gentiles, and lepers.

When I mention, “precursor to Christ,” I am referring to the evolutionary developmental brain changes that occurred during the Axial age using reasoning that provided the platform necessary for understanding Christ’s teachings.  As mentioned previously, advanced thinking during the Axial age was not an evolutionary progression at the same time across all people in a civilization, but occurred in leaders who had access to higher learning which provided synaptic growth and progression into frontal lobe development.  It is interesting to note, Jesus was considered a Rabbi, which indicates he could read, and had studied the Torah.  In contrast, some of his disciples couldn’t read and didn’t have access to higher level learning.  Repeatedly Jesus had to clarify and expand his teachings so the disciples could understand.  When we read these accounts the disciples appear somewhat dense, but in reality they didn’t have the mental capacity (frontal lobe development) until later, to deeply understand their Master’s teachings without Jesus explaining his teachings in a simpler way.  Gnosis leads to Sophia.  The progressive development which occurs in our brains needs knowledge first, and then as the frontal lobe develops, deeper knowledge or wisdom is derived.   Of course, as mentioned in the brain/religion study there is a genetic component to the aspect of moral/spiritual understanding as it varies between people.

Development of civilizations and its relation to individual development

The whole past is in its very nature only a prototype, as it were an anticipation of the future which is its aim.  The histories of the nations are the members of the one organism of humanity and have but one life; they form a progressive line in which the last part reassumes itself are those which preceded it.” – Ernst Von Lasaulx, Philosophie der Geschichte (Philosophy of History)

Writing in the Journal of the History of Ideas on “The Historical Morphology of Ernst Von Lasaulx,” Stephen J. Tonser expands and explains Lasaulx’s theory on the development of humanity, “Lasaulx then applies these ‘conditions’ necessary for a philosophy of history to the study of history.  From these theorems he derives a set of propositions.  The first of these supposes that humanity is an organic unity; that it possesses a common nature, that it develops through fixed stages of infancy, youth, maturity and age; that it has a common will and a common reason.”  And, “By a leap of history becomes a branch of natural history.  The law of analogy governs not only the parallel development of cultures and individual development exemplifies the destiny of the race just as the race in its development mirrors the development of the archetypal ancestor.  ‘Every people’ stemming from its particular ancestor, an especially powerful primitive man, is therefore, of necessity, nothing other than a successive unfolding of the individuality of its archetypal ancestor…those things which were contained, latent and implicit manifest in his descendants” (Jul-Sep 1964, p 383).

Indeed, civilizations advanced through progressive stages which parallels the developmental stages of morality and brain growth as seen in individual human development.  Lasaulx’s theories seemed to be ahead of his time, but with the present day knowledge of human, moral and brain development the basic structure of his theory of history advancing as one organism can be advanced and explained.

As mentioned in the discussion of moral development and brain evolution relating to ancient Israel, the earlier stage (what Lasaulx would term the infancy stage), and Donald describes as mimetic, is a stage of human evolution development which was characterized by using grunts and non-verbal expression as seen in early hominids, with very little frontal lobe development, then advancing to the young child’s stage of development and evolution as evidenced by narrative speech or the second transition called mythic which is characterized by the use of oral traditions, mimetic ritual, and the use of punishment and reward (p 260). The result of teaching right from wrong by punishment and reward is that morals eventually become internalized with the subsequent deeper understanding which develops further during the adolescent stage of development.  There is no internal moral understanding at this stage, but the scaffolding for later frontal lobe development is still being laid within the more archaic areas of the brain. With population growth, civilizations grew more complex, and subsequently through brain and evolutionary changes, human conscious awareness began growing to adapt to the increasing knowledge stimulus needed for frontal lobe development. Interestingly, Donald theorizes, “Conscious capacity might have appeared originally as an adaptation to increase the power of perception.”  I would add, as the “power of perception” increased, so would the external knowledge stimulus needed to create synaptic growth into the frontal lobes of the brain.  Therefore, more conscious awareness would lead to increased external input, which leads to brain growth, which leads to more awareness, and overall greater capacity to adapt to the stress of multiple external challenges.  A French Empiricist Philosopher, Etienne Bonnot de Condillac writing in his Treatist on the Sensations in 1754, theorizes that the entire conscious process in not entirely created by the mind, but it isn’t until the mind has gained knowledge and experience that it develops the ability for more advanced thinking (Condillac, E. Bonnot de, 1930, Condillac’s Treatise on the Sensations. Los Angelos: University of Southern California School of Philosophy).

This led to axial age thinking or the stage that Donald refers to as theoretical (Donald – “external symbolic universe”, “formalisms”, “massive external storage”, “institutionalized paradigmatic thought and invention”, p.260), and if following Lasaulx’s theory would be the adolescent stage of history’s development.  The transition between the progression of narrative and theoretical culture is the perception of the king in later narrative culture as godlike, and then advances to a father-like leader to a stage of brain growth where the capacity for critical thinking increases which leads to perceiving the king’s weaknesses which then progresses to imagining the ideal leader.  This evolutionary progression of civilizations (Lasaulx identifies as the historical organism) parallels child development where initially the very young child perceives their father as all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful – god-like, and then a nurturing father who wants good for their child, but uses punishment when the child does wrong and reward when the child does what is right, and then in adolescence when the separation between parent and teenager increases, there is progression based upon brain growth into the frontal lobes which gives the capability for second order and critical thinking which allows for analyzing the father’s character, personality, and parenting style in which the adolescent begins comprehending the “imperfect father” for the first time.  Part of analyzing the imperfections of the father includes comparing the “imperfect” to the “perfect.”  In looking at evolutionary growth during the Axial age this was seen across the four axial civilizations as the formation of an ideal leader based on divine characteristics as opposed to the strong leader who uses his power and dominance to protect his subjects.  Bellah describes the advancement of moral development during the Axial age as, “The theoretical breakthrough in each axial case led to the possibility of universal ethics, the reassertion of fundamental human equality, and the necessity of respect for all humans, indeed for all sentient beings” (p. 606).

Adolescent brain development: supportive research

“…humanity went through a major evolutionary step in self-monitoring and supervision that can be described as metacognition…really an abstract form of self-awareness, a feature of mind that is essential for planning action and for conscious self-regulation in general.” Merlin Donald, An Evolutionary Approach to Culture (The Axial Age and its Consequences, p. 73)

Research by Iroise Dumontheil in the journal, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, reports brain studies using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) that have determined the Rostral prefrontal cortex (RPFC) [corresponds to Brodman area 10 [BA10] or the Lateral frontopolar cortex] is divided into sub-regions which are “distinct in terms of cellular organization and function” in which two separate cognitive abilities function together to “support the ability to detach oneself from the environment and to elaborate, evaluate and maintain abstract rules and information, as it is involved in reasoning, problem solving, and more generally abstract thinking.”  Additionally, neuroimaging lesion studies indicate the Rostralateral prefrontal cortex [RLPFC] provides the ability to control whether one gives attention to self-generated thoughts either “task-relevant” or “task-irrelevant” (mind wandering). The medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), contributes to social awareness or the ability to understand other people’s minds.   It is important to note for the purpose of evolutionary/developmental understanding that these areas of the brain are the last to mature in humans.

Brain research on adolescents has determined RLPFC goes through significant changes beginning with increases in white matter and decreases in grey matter.  Behavioral and operational changes during adolescence are thought to be associated with the changes in RLPFC.  For further explanation, Dumontheil reports, “Decreases in functional activations are considered to reflect developmental reductions in grey matter volumes, presumably related to synaptic pruning.  Increases are thought to relate to improved and more localized task-specific processing, potentially facilitated by faster long-range connections due to increased axonal myelination and size.”

During primate evolution the RPFC has had substantial growth and changes in its cellular organization.  The RPFC has a significant number of synaptic connections which indicates more stimulus integration than other areas.  Researchers Amati and Shallice (2007) report that the RPFC requires a different type of processing that is relative to modern humans termed “abstract projectual-ity.”  “…this brain operation permits a fluent sequence of non-routine computational operations to occur over a prolonged time course.  This qualitatively different type of brain operation may have emerged from increasing prefrontal cortical connectivity in the RPFC, induced by gradual [quantitative] genetic changes affecting RPFC structure and organization over evolution (Development of abstract thinking during childhood and adolescence: The role of rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, Vol.10, Oct 2014, 57-76).

Schematic showing brain development forward to the frontal cortex:

brain

Dumontheil reporting from research by Badre, 2009:  “The consensus among diverse theoretical accounts of the organization of the PFC is that progressively more anterior PFC regions support cognitive control of progressively more abstract and temporally extended representations.”

Extensive adolescent brain and behavioral research reported on by Domontheil indicates frontal lobes areas especially the RLPFC, promotes abstract and self-generated thinking, logical and relational reasoning, episodic memory retrieval, and prospective memory after significant growth and structural changes.  This is the same process of brain growth during human evolution, which is from the posterior parts of the brain which build the scaffold for integrated processing with the subsequent later anterior parts of the brain as seen in the above diagram.

This research supports the evolution of the human brain via civilizations development paralleling human development.  The progressive more advanced thinking supported by abstract reasoning as seen during the Axial age is the same type of development during adolescent brain growth.

This brings us to the journey of God’s chosen people.  It is an evolutionary, developmental journey which brings us to the Kingdom of God.  The next step of our journey is in the personhood of Jesus Christ who exemplifies the fully mature, perfect moral son who is motivated by love for the Father and His creation and not by the need for approval or reward or avoidance of punishment.  Jesus himself taught, “I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  After being resurrected, Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit which He sent to help us with our journey.  We are not alone in our journey, or even in finding our way, but have a helper to assist us.  Jesus is indeed the way to the Kingdom, and if we truly follow Him, our brains and behavior will be changed, and as a result the trajectory of the culture we live in can be changed, with subsequent short term natural selection which leads to further evolutionary change.  When this happens, civilization’s journey will be well on the journey to Mount Zion.  Many will fall away, just like during the earlier part of the journey during the Exodus and will not enter into the Promised Land.

The Plasticity of the Brain and Our Chosen Path

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Every day we are bombarded with the shocking violent acts of mass killings, either by disturbed young men, or terrorists.  In America, we are seeing increasing violence even among our police officers as well as increased racism and prejudice.  So far there is no conclusive evidence for the causative factors of the increase in violence in our society.

According to Donald, when the brain is learning a new task it utilizes “selective binding guided by attention,” but after the task is learned, “…we might be able to achieve the bound registration of a familiar stimulus unconsciously in a routine task, such as reading.”  The brain is not capable of the same level of attention to every task, so therefore to reduce attention after learning is achieved, the task becomes automatic with unconscious processing” (A Mind so Rare, p 184).

The process in the brain whereby learning becomes more automatic is myelination.  When axons have new signals which fire repeatedly the connections between neurons are strengthened which causes oligodendrocytes (OLs) (myelin producing cells) to recognize a repeating pattern and produce insulation (myelin) around the axons.  The result of the myelination is increasing speed and strength of the signal.  Professor Bill Richardson, Director of the UCL Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research explains further, “…rapid response suggests that a number of alternative axon pathways might already exist in the brain that could be used to drive a particular sequence of movements, but it quickly works out which of those circuits is most efficient and both selects and protects its chosen route with myelin” (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1014/161014-myelin).

Subsequently, when learning a new skill, and then practicing the skill more dedicated faster, stronger pathways are created in the brain to allow the brain to operate more efficiently by using less area of the brain for the task.  So, for example, when a teenager is learning new video games with violent content, the brain will become automatic in its response and increase efficiency and reduce reaction time.  It is a well-known fact that the military creates and uses video games to train soldiers for combat.  Understandably, the videos will improve enemy identification, and response speed when in battle.  However, for many teenagers, especially males, the amount of time playing of violent video games is excessive, and will create automatic response by myelination in the brain.  See enemy, shoot enemy.  We must remember this is occurring in an adolescent brain which does not have the frontal lobes sufficiently developed.  The automatic behavior then becomes reinforced by the watching of violent movies and other media.  For those teenagers with either genetic or environmentally induced dysfunctional social responses this can become very dangerous.   In a MIT Technology Review article, The Neurological Roots of Aggression, Emily Singer reports research that indicates aggressive boys in responding to violent images had more activity in amygdala (a primitive brain area), and less activity in the prefrontal cortex.  The result of less activity in the prefrontal cortex is not having the capability to think about consequences. Other researchers have determined in small studies of murderers and people with antisocial behavior that the prefrontal cortices were smaller with “structural and functional impairments to that part of the brain.”  Earlier research indicates genetics plays a significant role in the size of the prefrontal cortex.  Additionally, behavior studies have concluded that abuse in infancy and childhood as well as stress increases the risk of aggression, while strong maternal support can reduce the risk for aggressive responses (http://www.technologyreview.com/news/409013/the-neurological-roots-of-aggression/).

video game and myelination

Darcia Narvaez, University of Notre Dame, reports, “The prefrontal cortex may be damaged by behavior choices such as binge drinking (Bechara, 2005), and violent video game playing, which suppress activation of the prefrontal cortex even during normal problem solving, turning normal brains into ones that look like those of aggressive delinquents (Mathews, Kronenberger, Wang, Lurito, Lowe & Dunn, 2005)” (Triune Ethics: The Neurobiological Roots of Our Multiple Moralities, 2008, vol. 26, New Ideas in Psychology, 95-119).

One could infer from the research on violence that even watching high-action/high-violence movies or television programs would increase the danger of reduced activation of the prefrontal cortex.  The learned response which becomes automatic is the perception of “others” as enemies, and a fast response to conflict by aggression.  Obviously, some of the young men who commit mass murders have planned every aspect of their murder rampage in detail.  But we must remember, the areas of the brain (prefrontal cortex) relating to empathy, and thinking through consequences (which is not fully developed in a late adolescent/early adult) could be further weakened by the brain’s creation of myelinated pathways which leads to an automatic aggressive response to conflict.

There is also a genetic chemical component to aggression in which genetic expression encodes proteins which can influence behavior.  Kenneth S. Saladin and Ricki Lewis reporting in Genetic Basis of Behavior: “Aggression and sexual behavior…are influenced by testosterone, and testosterone is synthesized by enzymes, which are proteins encoded by DNA. All behavior, furthermore, depends on chemical signals (neurotransmitters) that are released by one neuron and bind to receptors on the next neuron.  Neurotransmitter, too, are synthesized by enzymes encoded by DNA, and their receptors are proteins as well.”  So, due to the plasticity of the brain with short term evolution, our society could evolve to be more aggressive much like our ancestors were, but not for the same reasons.  Our primitive ancestors did not have frontal lobe development, and our modern society decreases frontal lobe activation due to our intentional choices.

The brain’s function is a synthesis between genetics and environment.  Environment may include the immediate environment such as the familial environment, or various types of other communities we interact in like school and church communities.  This expands outward to our cultural environment, influences from the country we live in, and lesser influential impact from other world communities.  To function effectively in a constantly changing world, our brains are extremely adaptable due to its structural plasticity.  Brain changes are relative to our evolutionary history certainly, but due to plasticity the brain is still changing to adapt to an ongoing stimulus stream in our quickly changing technological culture.  Donald states, “…a superplastic species, such as ours, can generate new options at a rapid rate, in fraction of a single lifetime.  Most of these innovations will not improve fitness, but some will, and natural selection will seek out and select those genes that nurture the most successful innovations.  In this way, cerebral plasticity speeds up the rate of cognitive evolution” (p. 210).

Narvaez in her research, Natural Morality, Moral Natures, and Human Flourishing (2014), reports moral reasoning is decreasing in the USA, characterized by more narcissism, reduced empathy, and college students moral judgement scores falling from the higher level “conventional” or “post conventional” reasoning down to the moral level that pertains to only pursuing one’s own selfish interests.  She goes on to report that there is an increase in adult misbehavior, and even preschool children exhibiting more aggression with an increase of the use of psychotropic medications to address the aggressive issues.

According to Narvaez, moral development needs “relational attunement”, “inter-subjectivity with others, or deep engagement,” “imagination,” and well-developed intuition.  She further explains that the USA is exhibiting “narrow intelligence (left-brain dominant version of functionality),” as well as IQ scores increasing due to an over emphasis on reason and scientific detachment, with decreasing EQ scores.  All of the above leads to “self-protective and detached thinking.”

Narvaez in expanding the importance of “whole-brain” reasoning: “Moral wisdom comes from understanding the nature of the world, requiring well educated whole-brain intuitions and reliable ‘personal’ knowledge, both of which are primarily tacit, saturated with intelligence, experience and perspective (Polanyi 1958) – the opposite of left-brain emotional detachment.  Whole-brain ‘reasoning is primarily an affair of emotion’ and ‘none of our activities, not even the activities of thinking, can express our reason unless the emotions that produce and sustain them are rational emotions’ (MacMurray 1962/1999, p. 10-11).  When we suppress and ignore emotion and emotional development, we necessarily stay in egocentric thought and cannot know the world as it is—we cannot know reality.  Indeed, as mammals, emotions are central to intelligence and social functioning (Panksepp 1998).  Humans with damage in emotional brain circuitry make poor decisions, including moral decisions (Damasio 1999).”

Neurobiologist, JB Taylor, had a stroke on the left side of her brain in her thirties.  Being a scientist allowed her to study her own stroke from an objective and a subjective viewpoint.  Before the stroke, Taylor described herself as an irritable person, critical, not very in tune with other people’s emotions, non-spiritual, and in fact could be rude and impatient.  She stated she was very much left-brain oriented, not into the arts, but good in math and the sciences.  During the stroke her right brain took over all brain functioning such that she experienced an understanding that she is part of all creation, and because her language ability was affected she was able to easily read people’s emotions by their non-verbal behavior.  Her intuition increased as a result, and she experienced for the first time what it felt like to be a patient with somewhat cold, non-feeling, non-empathetic doctors and residents examining her and discussing her case in front of her like she wasn’t a real person, but just a scientific curiosity.  After intensive therapy, she was able to write about her experience and reported her level of compassion and love has increased which she attributes to more right brain functioning.

Narvaez emphasizes “whole-brain” functioning to facilitate effective moral reasoning, and left-brain dominance as being detrimental to the ability to have the emotional capability to empathize.  Furthermore, she states reduced emotional capability, and reduced social connectedness affects the functioning of our society in detrimental ways.

The pattern of rebirth

Our society is not only seeing increased violence, but increasing immorality not only evident in human behavior but also what is observed in media.  Additionally, there is an increase in materialism, and a decrease in church attendance, especially in Europe.  Lasaulx believes the historical organism not only parallels an individual’s development, but decays and disintegrates spiritually after it peaks, “At the end of all development lies exhaustion and death.  When all the potentialities have been realized, all the purposes achieved, the inner energy which propels a culture wanes and declines; the national morality gives way to sensuality and materialism; the language is barbarized; pauperism, socialism, communism, and political insanity of every kind evidence the exhaustion of political vitality.  Family life decays, the national debt rises, and inflation, depreciation of the currency, and national bankruptcy follow.  The bureaucracy increases and the military virtues disappear.  ‘The whole people becomes a heap of grain in every kernel of which sits a worm’ (Tonser, Stephen T. p. 389).  Additionally, Tonser explaining Lasaulx’s concept of historical decadence, discusses characteristics of a civilization that is nearing its end as, “cultural decay, a decline in innovation and artist creativity, a falling off of morality….” (379). However, according to Lasaulx, hope can arise out of the darkness, “Religions appear to always arise when one cultural epoch comes to a close and another raises itself on the ruins” ((Philosophie der Geschichte, p. 126).

Eliade Mircea writing in Cosmos and History, The Myth of the Eternal Return discusses a similar process of creation-destruction-creation in historical cycles which ends in the final destruction and final creation at the end of history.  This archetypal pattern is seen in many religions in various civilizations.  It is clearly evident in the ancient Hebrew’s pattern of living in peace and prosperity, turning towards idols, punishment by Yahweh, and a return to God, but with the prophetic future of God’s chosen people ending with the destruction of earth as we know it, and the full arrival of the Kingdom of God.  There is not only a cyclic pattern in history, but Mircea makes an important observation that, “…Christianity translates the periodic regeneration of the world into a regeneration of the human individual” (p. 129).

Both Mircea and Joseph Campbell reveal the hidden patterns and symbols that are present in our collective subconscious that is a stream of God’s purpose.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, and His will for His creation has been known from the beginning of time as we know it to the end of time. It is thoroughly embedded into our subconscious, and clearly evident for those who have eyes to see.  His will, will be done.

Additionally, there is a pattern of the whole paralleling the pattern of the individual.   Early humans lived in tribal societies where the group was required to adhere to the group culture which was reinforced by taboos.  Bellah quoting Voegelin referring to the characteristics of smaller tribal societies, “…massively conformist archaic society…the prime virtue was obedience…” (p. 264).  This was transformed during the Axial Age where larger societies allowed for individualistic thinking and was seen in the journey of the Hebrews who were punished and rewarded as a group and then in a prophecy of Jeremiah (approximately 626 B.C.) is a reference to the coming of Christ who will be an advocate for the sins of each individual:  “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.  ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.  ‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, ‘ declares the Lord, ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’

The same pattern is seen in the 400 silent years before Christ’s arrival in the most important theophany in historical time.  The 400 years were filled with corruption, chaos, violence, reduced spirituality and declining hope.  Repeatedly in scripture God brings life to the dying embers to bring forth new spiritual flourishment.  However, the flourishment never happens without death and destruction first.  The birth pangs of new life are painful.

The same pattern of creation-destruction-creation is seen in modern times through numerous revivals and awakenings.  Pat Morley (Founder of Man in the Mirror) describes 10 characteristics of revival: 1. Timing – a period of spiritual and moral decline which leads to more prayer, 2. Prayer for revival, 3. Increased reading of Scripture, 4. The Holy Spirit leads followers to greater spirituality, 5. Conviction, 6. Glory is given to God, 7. Reformation and Renewal – increased morality, 8. Signs and wonders – miracles, 9. Messy – disagreements, 10. Cyclical – meaning there is a peak and then a decline in the strength of the revival.  However, it is important to remember that a revival or awakening may include spiritual truths that appear to oppose the existing cultural/church beliefs.  Many Conservative Christian leaders believe church attendance is increasing which may be the beginnings of revival, however increasing spirituality and reduced immorality are not evident.  In fact, statistics show the opposite – there is even significant increase in adultery, and sex addiction among Pastors and Ministers themselves.

Returning to the path

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.   Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.  No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.  Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”   C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Our society today has shifted away from the arts to technology.  Many researchers have reported that humans are evolutionary wired for face to face contact, and yet due to technology, our face to face interactions are significantly decreasing.  The most important facet of direct human interaction is having the capability to read another person’s emotions which enables feelings of empathy.  There is and will be greater impact from lack of empathy due to weapon development used by military and police departments which will allow for detached killing.  The way we respond to conflict, reduced empathy, more focus on materialism with the subsequent reduction in spirituality is creating brain changes that are making the path away from the Kingdom of God more determinate.

For example, I overheard a Christian man while in church brag about how his young son knew the names and types of all the guns and rifles on a video game by visual identification.  I recall many years ago reading something by Dr. James Dobson that referred to making sure our sons are prepared for war, so I’m thinking this particular man and many other conservative Christian men have taken this to heart.  However, when we prepare a child for war, we are preparing their brains and hearts to create a clear delineation between ourselves and “others.”  As mentioned previously, there are brain changes that reinforce the behavior of an aggressive response to perceived aggression.   Alternatively, making sure your sons play team sports builds muscles and increased understanding of working together for a common goal which is seen in the military as well.  I am being realistic in the understanding that we could be attacked by another country and would need soldiers to defend our country.  However, if we begin early teaching our children to begin conflict resolution with the goal of peace in mind, then perhaps we could deter the risk of war with other countries with God’s help. Train up your sons to create peace by using moral understanding, empathy, love, intelligence, and problem solving.  Let’s create video games where more points are obtained if the player can resolve conflict with the “enemy” by using their intellect, instead of an automatic aggressive response.

The way home is as Paul states in Romans, “…be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  The behavioral choices we make, lack of understanding of God’s will, and cultural influences determine the journey.  God gave his son and the Holy Spirit so that the path to the Kingdom would be lit up for us to follow His firstborn.  Consistently throughout the Old Testament God raises up leaders to guide the Israelites back to the path, as He does not want any of us to be lost.  The danger for believers is allowing their hearts to become hardened by pride and self-righteousness such that when God sends his messengers they don’t listen.  And, many times do they not just listen, but resist such a leader in various ways.  According to Stage 6 of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, “An individual who reaches this stage acts out of universal principles based upon the equality and worth of all living beings…Abstract principles are the basis for moral decision making, not concrete rules.  Stage 6 individuals are rare, often value their principles more than their own life, often seen as incarnating the highest human potential.”  Additionally, according to Narvaez, the work of Stage 5 and 6 moral reasoning is “deeply rooted in frontal lobe activity” (Narvaez & Gleason, in press).  Again, we see the importance of frontal lobe development for moral reasoning.

However, in a counter-intuitive way, these leaders are often killed.  There are numerous explanations from various philosophers and behavioral researchers regarding why this occurs.  In a previous blog posting I mentioned herd mentality as explained by Nietzsche; when someone steps forward out of the herd, that person is usually attacked by the herd.  The reference to Kohlberg states these individuals are attacked because those who don’t have the same level of moral reasoning are shamed.  http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~ncoverst/Kohlberg’s%20Stages%20of%20Moral%20Development.htm

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).   Christianity in many countries is slowly being swallowed by culture.  This is evident by following society’s hierarchal structure of giving more value to those who have wealth and status.  It is evident by a callousness towards the poor and disadvantaged.  It is evident in the exclusive nature of our churches.   Christians appear to have a rational, logical understanding of helping others and frequently volunteer in various church outreach programs.  However, when there is an immediate need from someone within their social group, small bible study group, or any other church group they are involved in, there seems to be a detached response which indicates what Narvaez refers to as “left-brain emotional detachment.”  I personally have observed this behavior in churches for many years.  For example, a person in a small group may express to their group they have lost their job.  The group will offer to pray for that person, but usually there is no additional response to help support the person, or to find out what they may need to survive until they find a job.  This inability to express an immediate emotion which facilitates empathy is rampant in our society and evident in our churches.  When Christ responded with love to those who had needs, it was displayed by intense emotional compassion which led His heart to heal, to teach, to help in a deeper intuitive way.  Jesus didn’t provide signs and wonders just to increase belief, but he healed others out of a deep felt empathy and love.

Additionally, just as with the Hebrews, when life becomes comfortable with a focus on material things, God is no longer important and the way to the Kingdom is lost.  Ironically, many Christians believe “the world” or the society they live in is attacking them because they are standing firm in their beliefs.  The reality is they have lost their way, and are not exhibiting the love of Christ.  They are inconsistent in their behavior, which non-believers easily perceive as hypocrisy.  The Old Testament provides clear understanding of the importance of separating our Christian behavior from that of our surrounding culture.  We are just as culpable as the Israelites in participating in culture to the disadvantage of our witness to Christ.  Transforming our minds with the help and direction of the Holy Spirit and by making intentional changes in behavior towards modeling ourselves after Christ, our brains will change and move us individually and collectively towards the Kingdom.  Subsequently, we will begin influencing the culture around us, instead of the culture influencing us.  That is being the salt of the earth.

Let us teach our children to love and accept all people.  The art of reflective thinking is being lost due to our technological culture, which is important in creating intuition and wisdom.  Train up your children the way they should go – teach them moral precepts, beginning with reward and punishment, and then by using stories, and then use your own example in living like Christ to teach them deeper moral truths.  However, my brothers and sisters, first you must begin changing your own behavior to make the way to the kingdom for your children.   Christ teaches us to love all people, regardless of sex, gender orientation, race, political affiliation, and status without judging or condemning.  Pray intensely for God to open your eyes to the way of truth.  Vigorously pray to love like Jesus, for God will respond to your prayer with the help of His Holy Spirit.  I came to an understanding in my own spiritual life that I couldn’t love like Jesus without the help of the Holy Spirit.  So with the Spirit’s help my mind and heart became transformed.

Don’t let your children watch violent movies, television, or play violent video games.  Fathers, teach your boys to respect all girls and women as God’s beloved daughters.  Don’t sexually objectify women, because your sons are watching and are following your example.  Teach them the way of peace.  Teach them to perceive their enemies as neighbors, and watch the transformation.  Teach them to reach out to the poor and disadvantaged, for in that way, you will teach them humility and servanthood.  Step out of our culture, and there you will find Christ.

Once we change our behavior, our brains will change and the path to the Kingdom will be made clearer.  Also, pray for the Holy Spirit to bring revival, for many areas in the world are experiencing an extreme decline in spirituality and belief in God.  Our journey ends at the door to the Kingdom, which is where it really begins.  We are kingdom people, but are losing our way.  Pay attention, for our journey is not just saying we believe in God, but in the willingness to sacrifice everything to help bring in His kingdom.  The Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land, a land filled with milk and honey that would provide the Israelites with a good physical life.  Our journey now is to Mount Zion, a fulfillment of our spiritual destination.  However, the dangers and pitfalls along the journey are the same.  Are Christians ready for a messenger?  Are Christians ready for a revival?  The fire of the Spirit is coming, and the fire will reveal the truth.

Psalm 50:1-6

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,

speaks and summons the earth

from the rising of the sun to where it sets.

From Zion, perfect in beauty,

God shines forth.

Our God comes

and will not be silent;

a fire devours before him,

and around him a storm rages.

He summons the heavens above,

and the earth, that he may judge his people;

“Gather to me this consecrated people,

who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,

for he is a God of justice.

 

 

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