Old Testament

There Are No Lost Tribes

Dead Sea, 2019

Paul the Apostle was from the tribe of Benjamin. In Luke 2:36a, we read about a widow named Anna who prophesied about the infant Jesus. “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher.” The priests were from the tribe of Levi. The largest of all the tribes, however, was the tribe of Judah. We see these particular tribes mentioned in the New Testament (obviously excluding Revelation 7, where all the tribes are mentioned except Dan).

This raises a question: Were the “lost tribes” of Israel really lost? Or just depleted? The Old Testament answers this question, I believe.

Many Bible students do not realize the constant interaction between the faithful Jews from North Israel with Judah (what once would have been “Southern Israel”). Jerusalem was the capitol of Judah, and the location of Mount Zion, upon which the Temple was built. The word “Jew” is derived from the tribe, “Judah.”

Judah and Israel were a single united nation under King Saul. This unity was experienced for most of David’s reign, and all of Solomon’s reign. The united nation was known as “Israel,” for the twelve tribes had all descended from a man named “Israel” (whose former name was Jacob).

The nation split after Solomon’s death into Judah (the south, where Jerusalem was) and the north, which included the bulk of the nation. The northern divisions retained the name “Israel.”

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Ancient Near Eastern Religion and the Old Testament (Part 2)

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Morality, Forgiveness, and the Afterlife

Though ancient Near Eastern religions carefully defined cultic requirements, they did not always give the same attention and emphasis to moral requirements. Both the Mesopotamians and also the Egyptians believed in the concepts of justice and truth. But tradition rather than revelation largely defined these concepts, and they were usually defined more in terms of social virtue than in terms of personal holiness.24 Indeed, the gods themselves were often guilty of gross vice and immorality.25 Consequently, people’s view of morality was distorted, and they would determine their standing with the gods primarily on the basis of cultic performance,26 divination,27 or enlightenment.28 In light of their inadequate view of the nature and necessity of holiness, their confessions of sin never rose to the level of contrition found in King David’s fifty-first psalm.29

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Ancient Near Eastern Religion and the Old Testament (Part 1)

Twelve Hittite gods of the underworld

The discovery and publication of ancient Near Eastern literature has shed much light upon the religious beliefs and practices of earliest civilization. It has also generated much discussion about the relationship of Mesopotamian and Egyptian religion to that of the Old Testament. In fact, many scholars view the similarities in cosmogonies, flood accounts, cultic ritual, legal texts, wisdom literature, and belief in the afterlife as proof that the Old Testament writers borrowed from or adapted the literary corpus of Israel’s neighbors. As a result, Old Testament religion is treated as essentially one more primitive religion among many, although slightly more advanced in the evolutionary stage of development.1 But there are also substantial and significant differences between Israel’s religion and that of her neighbors. Furthermore, the genuine similarities do not require literary dependence or borrowing. This article will summarize the primary features of ancient Near Eastern religion, contrast them with the Old Testament, and offer another explanation for the similarities between the biblical and non-biblical religions.2

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Killing the Canaanites: A Biblical Apology (Part 2)

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A Biblical Apology

How shall we defend the OT commands to “Holy War,” which in some ways seem to resemble the Islamic calls to Jihad? To begin with, we must ensure that our underlying interpretive framework is biblical. As one writer has observed, “The life situation and presuppositions of the reader profoundly affect the way in which the text is interpreted.”11 Therefore, let’s establish the context and nature of God’s commands. Then, we can offer several arguments to justify these commands.

The Context of God’s Commands

The context of the command is a sinful world under God’s curse (Gen 3:8ff). If we remember this fact, then the real question is not, “Why would God exterminate the Canaanites?” but rather “Why has God withheld judgment from so many other sinful nations?” Furthermore, God’s promise to redeem the world necessitates the destruction and removal of evil (Gen 3:15; Matt. 6:10; 2 Pet 3:13). Thus, “Holy war and the description of God as warrior need to be evaluated in the context of God’s redemptive efforts on behalf of a fallen world.”12

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Killing the Canaanites: A Biblical Apology (Part 1)

Twelve Hittite gods of the underworld

Since the 9/11 attack on twin towers, many Christians have been quick to contrast the violent tactics of Islamic Jihad with the gentler tendencies of Christian evangelism. For example, in an article entitled, “Christian or Muslim: What’s the difference?” Lutheran scholar Alvin Schmidt has argued,

Jihad is totally contrary to what Christ taught when he told Peter to put away his sword, or when he told individuals to turn the other cheek. Unlike Muslims, Christians have no command to advance their religion by killing unbelievers. Quite the opposite.1

The problem with Dr. Schmidt’s article is the same problem that characterizes the arguments of other Christian apologists. It’s not what they say. It’s what they leave unsaid. They’re quick to point out many NT passages that portray the gentleness of Christian evangelism. But they often fail to acknowledge several Old Testament passages in which God commands the Israelites to use violence against entire populations of people in an effort to get control of the land of Canaan. Allow me to cite a few examples:

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Two Testaments, but One Bible

When we cross over from the OT into the NT we might think that we ought to expect a very clear continuity. After all the OT, particularly the covenants and the Prophets have led us to expect a great future for the nation of Israel. Even though that people had gone and done their own thing, we would think that God would stick with His covenants and promises to that nation and bring them to Himself. We would also expect to see the arrival of the Messiah, the One whom Israel was expecting. Israel would finally have peace and prosperity under the protection of their Christ. They would be able to trust in Him to reign over them, and they could look to Him for blessing and guidance.

And as we enter the NT through the doors of the Synoptic Gospels this picture doesn’t seem to be upset; this indeed is the track that we appear to be on. Matthew, of course, starts off with a genealogy of the King1 and includes a number of announcements in the early chapters of his biographical narrative that encourage the reader to believe that, with the coming into the world of Jesus, the promised Kingdom was “at hand.”

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