Meeting God

Elizabeth Vince

April 11 came and went. Our grace period was over. If we didn’t vacate the country by the next day, my husband and I would be illegal residents of Canada. Not wanting to overextend our welcome, we packed a few essentials and drove across the border into the state of Washington. There, we would wait for his work visa. “It will be two weeks tops,” we assured ourselves.

Days, then weeks ticked by with no word. Our optimism deflated along with our rainy-day fund. After two months in limbo, we faced a decision: wait it out or move on. In the process, we each encountered our own demons.

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I’ve never favored spontaneity. When it comes to making major decisions, I research. I arm myself with lists of pros and cons. Flexibility must be served with a selection of practical options. As the plans that had seemed definite eroded alongside my sense of control, worry became my constant companion. Rather than find comfort in Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:25–27, I felt chastised: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink. … Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” “That’s great and all,” I thought. “But what does God’s provision actually look like?”

It can sometimes be difficult to see prayer and trust in God as viable solutions.

Meanwhile, my husband had to grapple with his own questions. After all, it was his job on the line, his career in peril. His confidence in God’s plan was giving way to uncertainty. “What if I’m misinterpreting God’s direction? Does creating a backup plan and exploring options mean my faith is faltering? How long is long enough?”

Our individual anxieties isolated us and set us on separate paths on this journey we were stuck on—his one of waiting, mine one of worrying. When my life was comfortable and my future secure, seeking God’s guidance seemed like a last resort. Even His Word felt like a backup plan. Now, with all that security gone, it was difficult for me to grasp that we were relying on such abstract ideas for answers.

As each day passed, our waiting on God’s guidance dragged us closer to complete dependence on His provision. What had once felt like well-intentioned advice became a concrete directive: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:16–18).

The words of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 also came to us as a stern reprimand: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” God’s Word doesn’t allow for struggling in isolation; He calls us to rely on each other and, most important, to depend on Him.

Taking these words to heart became our balm in this ordeal. When despair threatened to overwhelm, we tackled it with words of encouragement; in the process, we gained opportunities to uncover insecurities and affirm each other’s strengths. As we wrestled with the tough questions, we caught glimpses of each other’s doubts and convictions. Together, we accepted the reality of walking in God’s will and relying on Him to provide. To our delight, God met us in our surrender, surpassing our expectations with provision through friends and strangers who also took these words seriously, lending resources and support to a couple of humbled refugees.

Trusting in the unseen can be a lesson in humility. Waiting patiently for the Lord can seem like inaction. But we can trust in our God, who “inclined to me and heard my cry … and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psa 40:1–2). May you thrive in the security of God’s guidance and provision.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

Instant Discipleship?

Aubry Smith

This past year, my husband has been praying and studying the Bible with Robert, a new Christian. Robert is a former addict, and his life reflected sins from that lifestyle. While he is now committed to Christ, he continues to walk in some of those sins. Many Christian men who have mentored Robert gave up when he didn’t stop sinning on their timeline.

Walking alongside a new Christian with years of ingrained sinful habits can be discouraging. While the Bible doesn’t provide a blueprint for quick discipleship, Paul provides an encouraging model in Thessalonians:

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For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe (1 Thess 2:11–13).

Paul’s example is the example of Jesus Himself. Rather than simply commanding holiness, Paul and his team lived holiness among the Thessalonian church. Paul became a “father” to them. The work of a parent is ongoing and sometimes arduous—repeated instructions, reprimands for rules broken, and the modeling of a godly life. Paul guides the Thessalonians to holiness by wielding words with love and urging them on in faith.

He commends the faith and love of the Thessalonian believers, but he still warns them against particular sins like sexual immorality, laziness and revenge (1 Thess 4:3; 5:14–15). These believers found it difficult to adhere to the strict ethical code of their new faith. Yet Paul, recognizing the work ahead of them, encourages them because God is at work.

Despite what we may see outwardly, there is a patient, intimate work that God is performing in His people. While Robert is still sinning, he is now faithful in many ways he was not before. He continues to struggle with many sinful habits, but his new life is not the same as his former. While his progress may seem slow and messy, Robert’s life demonstrates the Word of God at work in those who believe.

Those of us whose lives look pulled together—who have learned to behave properly—may forget God’s patience with our own sin. I have years of sins like pride and snap judgments that God has not instantly transformed into humility. Yet these sins receive some of the harshest criticism in Scripture (Psa 101:5; Gal 6:3; Jas 4:6).

Since God is holy, He calls us to holiness. He also provides us with the Holy Spirit to answer that call. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:7–8, “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” As we disciple new believers, we must teach them to rely on the Spirit for complete deliverance—and we must stand with them as God works out that deliverance. He is performing the very same work in our own lives.
Robert’s name was changed to protect privacy and identity.

Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

Four Questions about Satan

Derek R. Brown

I used to think that Satan (or the devil) was behind all my temptations and every evil I encountered. I assumed he operated like the Satan figure of C.S. Lewis’ satirical novel, The Screwtape Letters, orchestrating a network of demons to lead Christians astray. I believed my soul was caught in a battle between God and Satan and regarded my inner struggles as the devil’s assault on my life. This all changed when I read what Paul says about Satan in his letters to the Thessalonian church. Here’s how Paul’s letters challenge some of our assumptions about Satan.

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Is Satan really omnipresent?
Paul knew Satan’s work. He encountered it shortly after being driven out of Thessalonica (see Acts 17:1–15). Paul wanted to return to the church he had helped establish, but every attempt failed. Writing to explain why he had not returned to see the Thessalonian believers since his departure, Paul says, “we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us” (1 Thess 2:18 ESV).

Paul believed Satan acted in particular moments in specific places—such as the road between Paul and the city of Thessalonica. This verse also suggests that Paul believed Satan not only targets individual believers, but the relationships between believers (see 2 Cor 2:11). Satan did not merely “block” Paul’s journey back to Thessalonica (NIV); he “blocked” his reunion with his fellow believers in Thessalonica—his hope, joy and crown at the Lord’s coming (1 Thess 2:19).

The particularity of Satan’s actions in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 and 3:5 helps us see that he is not omnipresent. Other passages of the Bible confirm this. The book of James tells believers that Satan will flee from their presence if they resist his temptations (4:7). From the tempation narratives in the Gospels, we see that Satan is spatially limited—he departs from the desert when Jesus resists his temptations (Matt 4:11; Luke 4:13). By contrast, the Bible ascribes omnipresence to God alone (Deut 4:39; Psa 139:7–12; Acts 17:24–25).

Is Satan really behind every temptation?
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul describes how Satan tried to corrupt the faith of the fledgling Thessalonian church and thwart his missionary efforts by preventing his return to them (1 Thess 2:18; 3:5). He writes about Satan opposing his ministry by sending a “thorn in the flesh” or a “messenger of Satan” (2 Cor 12:7). He even calls Satan the “god” (theos, θεός) of the present age (2 Cor 4:4). Certainly Paul regarded Satan as a powerful and dangerous figure. Yet nowhere in his letters does he describe Satan as the source of all temptation. Instead, Paul and the other early Christians write that our fallen human nature and evil desires (“flesh”) can also cause temptation in our lives (Gal 5:17; Jas 1:14). Paul believed that God is the one with ultimate power over temptation (1 Cor 10:13). Satan’s temptations may challenge God’s sovereignty, but they will not overcome it.

Is Satan powerful?
If Paul and the other New Testament writers did not believe that Satan is omnipresent and the source of all temptation, then what do they say about Satan? The second reference to Satan in 1 Thessalonians provides a clue. Paul tells the Thessalonian church that he sent Timothy in his place “when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thess 3:5). Here Paul refers to Satan using the title “the tempter.” Satan is frequently associated with the activity of temptation in Jewish and Christian traditions. Writings from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament all contain references to Satan’s temptations of God’s people.

Paul experienced Satan’s work, and he now feared that “the tempter” (Satan) would attack the Thessalonian church. What was this temptation? Paul’s stay in the city was brief and ended abruptly, before the Thessalonians could mature in their faith. Thus, it seems Satan’s temptation was for the Thessalonians to abandon their Christian faith so that they could escape the “afflictions” they faced because of their belief (1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; 3:3, 7). Paul was concerned for the Thessalonians’ behavior (1 Thess 4:1–8), but it was their faith, not their morality, he feared Satan would tempt.

Other New Testament writers also believed Satan was a powerful being who sought to harm God’s people. The Gospels, for example, frequently narrate Satan’s efforts to challenge Jesus during His ministry (see Matt 4:1–11; Luke 22:3, 31; John 8:44). In Acts 5:3, Peter accuses Satan of filling the heart of Ananias. Paul’s letters include several references to Satan’s schemes against Christians (see 2 Cor 2:11; 12:7). Hebrews speaks of the devil possessing the power of death (Heb 2:14). The New Testament also depicts Satan as the cause of temptation (1 Cor 7:5; Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8).

Will Satan succeed?
Paul and the other New Testament writers did not believe Satan would prevail in his efforts to corrupt God’s people. Early Christians believed that God had judged all evil powers and figures—including Satan, but also sin and death—through Christ’s death on the cross (Rom 6:7–10; 1 Cor 15:26; 1 John 3:10). This means that God “disarmed” every power opposed to Him, though they remain active until the day of judgment (Col 2:15).

The promise of God’s ultimate victory is the foundational belief about Satan in the New Testament. Paul draws on this hope as he comforts the Roman Christians by telling them God will soon “crush” Satan under their feet (Rom 16:20). The New Testament teaches believers to resist the temptations of Satan, knowing God has defeated Satan and equipped His people to stand against him (Eph 6:11; Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8–9). Having defeated the forces of sin and death through the cross, God will one day destroy Satan, the ancient serpent and enemy of God’s people (Rev 12:9–12; 20:10). As Paul writes to the Corinthians, Christ will destroy every power and authority and place them under His feet so that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:24–28).

Paul’s letters changed my ideas about Satan. I understand more fully now that only God is omnipresent; Satan is a created being with limited power. This also means that Satan is not the source of all evil and temptation—I can be my own source of temptation. Yet I am even more aware of Satan’s threat in my life. Although God has disarmed Satan through the cross, Satan remains relentless in his quest to corrupt the faith and fellowship of God’s people. We must stand strong against him and against our own selfish desires.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 5

Do the Dead Sea Scrolls Answer the Canon Question?

Michael S. Heiser

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered between 1947–1956, transformed biblical studies. Found in a series of caves near an archaeological site on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea known as Qumran, they contributed to research on ancient scribal practices and the history of the Hebrew language. But beyond this research, the scrolls also directly affected an issue that has long been debated—the Old Testament canon. Did this find solidify what should or should not be included in our Bibles?

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The word “canon” refers to the collection of books considered sacred and authoritative by a religious community—in this case, Judaism and Christianity. Historical evidence reveals that within the Jewish community, there was still uncertainty about some books (e.g., Esther, the Song of Solomon) or portions of books (Ezekiel 40–48) after AD 100. The question of whether Jewish leaders of earlier centuries had similar doubts—or different ones—was shrouded in mystery before the discoveries at Qumran.

Fragments of all the Old Testament books in the current Protestant evangelical canon have been found among the scrolls—all except the book of Esther. However, its omission by the Jewish community at Qumran does not indicate much about its canonical position today.

The omission of the book tells us nothing about how the Qumran community actually felt about Esther. The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in modern times are only a fraction of the material originally stored at Qumran. The ravages of time have left us an incomplete picture, nullifying such a definitive conclusion.

In addition, the Jews at Qumran were one sect of Judaism among several. Even if there was evidence that they had rejected Esther, that position would have represented only a segment of opinion. Even today, major segments of modern Christendom do not agree on the canon. That certain books meet approval or disapproval provides no guidance as to which opinion is correct.

Beyond this, Qumran scribes often indicated a book’s sacred status by citing the book as authoritative for some point of belief or practice in their community documents. They also indicated a book’s sacred status through produced commentaries. However, not every biblical book of today’s Old Testament canon meets this criterion. For example, Judges, Jeremiah and Job are never cited in community documents; they have not been the focus of a commentary. The incomplete nature of the discovery makes this no surprise. Conversely, the scribes at Qumran considered some books canonical that were not included later in the Old Testament canon by either the Jewish or Christian communities. Examples include the books later known as 1 Enoch and Jubilees.

Although the Dead Sea Scrolls provide fascinating insights into how one group of Jews thought about their canon, ultimately they offer no definitive conclusion to the broader modern discussion.

A New Discovery Among the Dead Sea Scrolls
Until recently, no fragments of Nehemiah were found among the Qumran scrolls. Since Ezra and Nehemiah were originally combined in the ancient Jewish canon—and fragments of Ezra were found at Qumran—Esther was considered the only omission. But in the spring of 2012, scholars discovered the first Nehemiah fragment among the scrolls that were found in Qumran Cave 4.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4

The Gospel for Barbarians and Fools

Rebecca Van Noord

Jeremiah 14:1–15:21; Romans 1:1–17; Proverbs 15:1–33

It’s dangerous when we feel entitled. We may come to believe our communities are righteous while all those outside are not. This can even take place inside our faith communities—popularity or various achievements can create subtle feelings of superiority. We begin to believe it’s something we’ve done that brings us favor. As he writes to the church in Rome, Paul explains that it’s not anything we do, anything we are, or anything we obtain that makes us right with God. His calling verifies this: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus I am eager to proclaim the gospel also to you who are in Rome” (Rom 1:14).

Ethnicity was a big obstacle for the early church to overcome, as the church was now made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. God promised Abraham that through him “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Christ’s redemptive work had finally made this blessing a reality. God’s favor was no longer reserved for those who might be educated or wise. Paul emphasizes that God can redeem those who—to us—might seem unlikely recipients of redemption.

But most important, our standing before God is not based on our goodness. Paul is eager to proclaim the gospel in Rome because it is belief in Jesus, the fulfillment of the promise, that makes believers righteous before God—“the gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Christ’s righteousness has become our righteousness.

If anything, this fact should eliminate any sense of entitlement we might harbor and prompt us to walk in humility with believers and non-believers alike. Our relationship with God is intimately tied to how deeply we understand our need for God. The gospel frees us of any need to attain or achieve. For this, we should be incredibly thankful to God and live with humility for Him.

Do you put stock in the things you think make you a “favored” Christian?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: One Bible, Many Versions

Abram Kielsmeier-Jones

One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal?
InterVarsity Press, 2013

In this helpful resource, Bible translator Dave Brunn analyzes Bible versions, including the ESV, NASB, NIV (2011), KJV and HCSB. Brunn categorizes translations as one of four types: “highly literal,” “modified literal,” “idiomatic” and “unduly free” (63). A key point is that “English versions presumed to be literal are not as literal as presumed” (98). In fact, in some places the more “idiomatic” versions translate more literally than the “highly literal” ones.

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Much of the book is composed of examples that support Brunn’s claim. Tables, figures and charts abound, such as “One Hebrew Word Translated Many Different Ways” in a given version (101) and examples of “literal” versions that make frequent use of “Replacing a Word with a Phrase” (118). This sort of move is inevitable (and not a bad thing), Brunn says. While one can preserve meaning across languages, the form, word order and other features change when going from one language to another.

Brunn’s frequent references to Hebrew and Greek are accessible to readers with no original language knowledge. Pastors, missionaries and especially Bible translators will find this book particularly helpful.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 6

Strength, Courage, Rest

Rebecca Brant

I read the words again and repeated them in a whisper. Be strong and courageous. If God would go into war with Joshua, I thought, He would go into that building with me. I opened the car door and stood, gazing at the entrance. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. I took a slow, deliberate step toward the door, then another, making my way across the parking lot. Shaking, I opened the door and walked in, whispering and trusting. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go. Whatever happened that morning, I wouldn’t be alone. When a nurse took me into a counseling room and asked if anyone had come with me, I answered, “Yes, but not in the way you mean.”

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It would be three days before I would get the test results. As I waited for that interminably long weekend to pass, I spent time reading the first chapter of Joshua. The verse that had carried me into that building and through those tests was part of God’s commissioning of Joshua to lead the people of Israel after Moses’ death. Three times as He gave Joshua responsibility for His people, God charged him to be strong and courageous (1:6, 7, 9). He also promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (1:5). Joshua had big shoes to fill and a tough road ahead. To lead God’s chosen people into the promised land, he would have to cross the wilderness, cross the Jordan river, and defeat Jericho. He rallied the people by reminding them of Moses’ words: “‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land’ ” (1:13).

Sitting in my car on a chill November Friday, I stared, paralyzed, at the building where I was to spend the next four or five hours undergoing a series of tests. I gripped the steering wheel so tightly, I could no longer feel my hands. Short of someone coming out to escort me, I didn’t know how I was going to make myself go inside. Then my phone buzzed with a text message from my sister. No greeting, no inspirational speech, only these words: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9).

My mind latched onto the word “rest.” For Joshua and the Israelites, it meant rest from their captivity in Egypt and from their wilderness wanderings. Ultimately, it meant they would be safe, secure, and settled in the land God had promised for generations to give them. But in the immediate context, the promise of rest hinted at success because rest always followed warfare, at least for the victors. Of course, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about another “rest”—eternal rest in heaven for all who believe (John 3:16). As I read God’s many promises in this passage, I wondered which type of rest He would give me—healing or “home”?

As I thought about these verses, I realized Joshua lived on the other side of the cross—before Jesus lived, died, and rose again, before God gave us the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I have the promise of rest and home in heaven, but I˛also have rest now—in Him—no matter the circumstances. After instructing His disciples, Jesus preached throughout the region of Galilee and compelled the people: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28–30).

We must move into rest. We must live at rest in the midst of the wilderness and while battle rages. We must know—truly believe, not only with our minds but with our very souls—that God’s will is best for us. This kind of rest isn’t easy: I had my first panic attack that Sunday, knowing I would hear test results the next day. But if we have given our hearts to the Lord, then our lives belong to Him to do with as He sees fit, and for His glory. We must relinquish fear to find this rest, to grow into it, because it requires our ultimate trust and absolute surrender to our Lord.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Wherever you go today, rest in Him.

Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4

Constantine, Conspiracy and the Canon

Michael S. Heiser

Dan Brown’s best-selling conspiratorial thriller The Da Vinci Code seems like ancient history now. At its peak of popularity, the novel set records both for sales and for irritating scholars with its view that Jesus and the 12 apostles held to gnostic heresies. The book’s bizarre plot focuses on Jesus’ bloodline extending through a child born by Mary Magdalene. Within that narrative, Brown asserts that the New Testament canon was determined by the Roman Emperor Constantine—who was not friendly to gnostic Christianity—at a time much later (fourth century AD) than any New Testament scholar would endorse. Unfortunately, this myth has since taken on a life of its own.

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The notion that Constantine decided which books should constitute the New Testament springs from the ancient Life of Constantine by Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 263–339). Eusebius reports that, in a letter written in ad 331, the emperor instructed him to
… order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient, portable form, by professional transcribers thoroughly practised in their art.

This same Constantine had earlier convened the Council of Nicea (AD 325), famous for its focus on the full deity of Christ against Arianism, which taught that Jesus was a created being. Brown carelessly conflated the two events in The Da Vinci Code to put forth the preposterous idea that Constantine had decided at Nicea which books belonged in the New Testament. But can we be sure this didn’t happen? And if not, what exactly did Constantine demand in this letter?

We can be certain that the Council of Nicea did not determine the books of the New Testament at Constantine’s request. The date of Eusebius’ correspondence tells us that Nicea did not consider the issue of the canon. Today, anyone can read the 20 decisions rendered at Nicea (coincidentally called “canons”). 1 None of them concerns the New Testament Scriptures. In addition, accounts of what happened at Nicea were described by several early church historians and theologians who lived at the time of the event or shortly thereafter. Their testimony is unanimous in opposition to the idea that Constantine determined the books of the New Testament.

So what did Constantine want? During the first several centuries of the early church, the issue of which books were to be considered sacred and authoritative was uncertain. Several early lists of sacred books have been recovered, as have records of rejected books. Constantine’s order brought the problem to a point of decision. Once the emperor commanded copies of the sacred books to be distributed, early church leaders were forced to produce the item that needed to be copied. The result was a minimalist consensus canon—books considered authoritative by the vast majority of Christian leaders throughout the empire. Books regularly disputed or already rejected were thus set aside in faith that the Holy Spirit had successfully enlightened His believing Church to reach consensus. We hold that consensus New Testament in our hands today.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4


1. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. XIV.

Why the Ark of the Covenant Will Never Be Found

Michael S. Heiser

I can still recall the thrill of seeing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the theater. A senior in high school, I had already been infected with the archaeology bug. This movie boosted my interest to a whole new level. As Providence would have it, I followed the path of Indiana Jones—at least academically. I’m still fascinated by the ark, but I no longer believe it is lost and awaiting discovery. I have Jeremiah to blame for that.

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The idea that the ark of the covenant survived Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah is based on the absence of any explicit reference to the ark being among the vessels of gold carried to Babylon (2 Chr 36:5–8). Likewise, the list of items brought back to Judah after the end of the exile makes no mention of the ark (Ezra 1:5–11). The simplest explanation is that the ark was among the “vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD” that Nebuchadnezzar cut to pieces (2 Kgs 24:13). No one would pay to see that movie.

From ancient times until the present day, people have resisted the idea that God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Israel’s holiest object. Testifying to the power of this resistance, there are nearly a dozen theories as to how the ark survived.

Some of these theories are drawn from biblical events. Perhaps Hezekiah gave the ark to Sennacherib as part of his tribute payment (2 Kgs 18). Might it have been removed by faithful priests when Manasseh put an idol in the temple (2 Kgs 21:1–9)? Indiana Jones told millions that Pharaoh Shishak took the ark to the city of Tanis in Egypt when he invaded Jerusalem (1 Kgs 14:25–28). Perhaps the most intricate theory involves Menelik I, the alleged son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, taking the ark to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian royal chronicle, the Kebra Nagast, presents this idea so seriously that rulers of Ethiopia well into the 20th century had to prove their descent from Menelik I.

Other theories grew out of specific passages in ancient texts. Second Maccabees 2:5 records Jeremiah hiding the ark in a cave before Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion. Second Baruch 6:1–9 describes the ark being supernaturally swallowed up by the earth before the invasion, tucked away until the time of Israel’s restoration.

Jeremiah 3:16–17 makes all these hypotheses difficult to believe:

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem …

The passage plainly shows that the ark would be absent because of the exile. Jeremiah 3:16 also insists that “it shall not be made again”—wording that strongly suggests the ark would be destroyed in the impending disaster; if the ark was not destined for destruction, talk of rebuilding it would make no sense at all. Jeremiah 3:17 reinforces this point—the ark was God’s throne. He sat “between the cherubim” of the lid known as the “mercy seat” (Exod 25:18– 22; Num 7:89). But the passage speaks of a day when Jerusalem itself will be called God’s throne. We read about this in Revelation 21:2–3: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’ ” A recovered ark of the covenant doesn’t fit this picture—it would be a disappointment.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

When Everything Crumbles

Jen Wise

We spend our time building for the present. We stack bricks of time and energy into relationships, savings and careers. We believe our passion will serve as the mortar that will hold it all together. When it all comes crumbling down—when a spouse cheats, when a position is terminated, when tragedy strikes—we’re left feeling lost.

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Jeremiah witnessed unparalleled destruction during his day. In Jeremiah 39:2, we read of a tragic event in rote historical detail: “In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was taken by assault.” After besieging the city for a year and a half, the Babylonians broke through Jerusalem’s last defenses, took the people captive, and set fire to the city.

Few events would have been more devastating for the Jewish people than watching their city be destroyed. Jerusalem was not only the political and administrative center of the kingdom; it was also the religious center. After David moved the ark of the covenant there, Jerusalem became known as a city established in God’s name. Even in a period of rebellion, Jerusalem’s destruction would have been devastating.

How would the city respond? King Zedekiah of Judah, the rebellious vassal king to Nebuchadnezzar, chose flight. Warned by Jeremiah of the coming disaster—based on his refusal to surrender—Zedekiah lived to witness the Babylonian rulers positioned in the Middle Gate. It was a brazen display of power. Overcome with fear and shame, he and his soldiers fled under the cover of night.

It’s difficult to act in faith as we struggle with failure, fear and shame. The destruction of something we love often exposes the things or people in which we place all of our trust. Rebellious and sinful, Israel and Judah refused many chances to repent. Instead of responding to the prophet Jeremiah’s calls to repent and put their loyalty in the right place, they stubbornly trusted in themselves, choosing to disregard God’s intentions for their lives.

For us, the terror of a ferocious army might take a different form. We might fear the judgment of others, a tainted reputation, or losing control of a situation, but when we let fear determine our course, we deny God’s faithfulness. We shift our focus from Him and turn it to defending, promoting and planning for ourselves.

The prophet Jeremiah stands in stark contrast to King Zedekiah. Charged with proclaiming a message that broke his own heart, he chose obedience in the midst of uncertainty. He chose faith over fear, even while facing persecution from his own people and the heartbreaking destruction of his city (Jer 37:7–16).

That type of faith seems strange in the face of such destruction. It’s the type of faith built only on a foundation laid by God—a God so loving that He sent His Son for us. He repairs what was lost, and He rebuilds what is broken.

Biblical references are from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3