Was God Really “Silent” for 400 Years?

Well…the answer to that question depends on who you talk to. Most Protestants would probably say that yes, God was silent between the prophecy of Malachi 4.5-6 and the entrance of John the Baptist in the gospels. This 400-year timeframe is commonly called the “Intertestamental Period.” I respectfully disagree. Much of the literature written during this time period has been neglected or ignored for quite some time now. If we take the time to read and interact with some of the literature from the Intertestamental Period, we might be surprised to discover that God never stopped communicating with his people.

In my studies on the literature and history of the Second Temple Period (500 BCE-100 CE), I’ve had the opportunity to engage the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic), the Samaritan Pentateuch, the New Testament (Greek), the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the writings of Philo and Josephus, and the writings of several historians from that time period. Much of the Jewish literature written from 500 BCE-100 CE suggests that God was still at work and that He was still communicating with people through various means, much of which can also be found in both the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament.

A couple of ways in which I believe God continued to communicate throughout the Second Temple Period are 1) through prophetic dreams and visions and 2) through the interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures for the original audiences of these writings.

Prophetic/apocalyptic dreams and visions in the writings of the Second Temple Period are similar to that of the prophecies found in the Jewish Scriptures. In most cases throughout the Jewish Scriptures, prophecies had to do with 1) a call to repentance, 2) the recognition of a need for a messiah-type figure, 3) an explanation of why the current situation is what it is, and 4) hopes for God to intervene and to set right everything that had gone terribly wrong. The same is true of the writings of the Second Temple Period. The authors of the Second Temple writings spent years studying the Jewish Scriptures, they had dreams and visions, and they believed God was using them to communicate His will to the people in their communities. They claim to have been empowered by the Spirit/Spirit of God/Holy Spirit to relay what God wanted to say through their prophetic/apocalyptic dreams and visions to their audiences in such a way that the recipients would 1) turn or return to God, 2) understand their need for a messianic-type figure, 3) view their current situation in light of eternity, and 4) live in accordance with their eschatological hopes. If we look at the New Testament, we find that the same is true in their writings as well.

Another way in which God continues to communicate throughout the Second Temple Period is through the interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures for the local community. In certain places throughout the Jewish Scriptures, we find instances in which a passage is referred to or reinterpreted in another passage (e.g., 1 and 2 Samuel/1 and 2 Kings in 1 and 2 Chronicles). Authors of various texts throughout the Second Temple Period do something similar in that they understand and value the authority of the Jewish Scriptures, and they do their best to explain what the Jewish Scriptures mean for their community as based on their historical-cultural context and their hopes for the ending of this Present Age and the beginning of the Age to Come. The authors of the New Testament do the same thing. The big difference between the writings of the Second Temple Period (outside of Scripture) and the New Testament is that the authors of Second Temple literature use the Jewish Scriptures to express their continued desires and hopes for God’s apocalyptic intervention in the world, whereas the authors of the New Testament use the Jewish Scriptures to explain their beliefs concerning Jesus, who has already inaugurated the ending of this Present Age but has not yet consummated the Age to Come.

So…was God silent for 400 years? I think not.

My Easter Prayer for You

Easter holds a very special place in the hearts of our little family…Stephan and I were apart for three Easters in a row (2008-10) due to his deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. On Easter of last year, I was still on crutches and couldn’t stand up or walk on my own…I couldn’t even pick up our son or carry him. The great news is that, this year, we’re spending our fourth Easter in a row together as a family, and, shortly after Easter last year, Jesus miraculously healed my knee/leg and gave me my life back.

So many people are having to spend this Easter away from family and friends for various reasons…Others need a miraculous touch from Jesus, whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, or otherwise.

Whoever you are and whatever situation you may find yourself in, my prayer for you is that you would know in your heart, your mind, and your soul that the God who never leaves us…the God who heals and restores what is broken…the God who speaks a word and creates something out of nothing…the God who can resurrect what was once dead…the God who can intervene in ways that no human could ever possibly imagine…this God is VERY alive and well!!! May you grasp how very much Jesus Christ loves you and cares for you!!! May you sense His nearness in ways you never thought possible, and may you understand the gravity and the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in both tangible and intangible ways.

The “Fall of Satan” Part one

One of my favorite things about studying the Second Temple Period (500 BCE-100 CE) is taking a look at how the authors of the NT interpreted the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament for their communities. As promised, we’re going to take a look at the “fall/casting down of Satan” according to Scripture. We’ll take a look at Isaiah 14.12-15, Ezekiel 28.12-18, and Revelation 12.7-17 to see how the author of Revelation alludes to these passages from the JS/OT. First, we’ll start off with a brief discussion of Isaiah 14.12-15, which reads:

12         “How you have fallen from heaven,

O star of the morning, son of the dawn!

You have been cut down to the earth,

You who have weakened the nations!

13         “But you said in your heart,

‘I will ascend to heaven;

I will raise my throne above the stars of God,

And I will sit on the mount of assembly

In the recesses of the north.

14         ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;

I will make myself like the Most High.’

15         “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,

To the recesses of the pit. (NASB)

In these verses, Isaiah is prophesying against the Babylonians by comparing them to the morning star of Ancient Near Eastern mythology. A morning star is brilliantly bright, yet it immediately vanishes when the sun rises. In Ancient Near Eastern mythology, the morning star attempts to overcome the sun by climbing beyond all the other heavenly bodies to the mountain of the gods in order to challenge the supremacy of the sun. Although the morning star tries to overcome the sun every day, the rising sun casts the morning star back into darkness, which is a symbol of Sheol, the “holding place” for departed human spirits.

In a similar way, the unlimited pride and arrogance of the Babylonians (the morning star) drove them to attempt to conquer the world and to take the place of God (the sun). Isaiah prophesies that Babylon will be cast down just like the morning star, and that is exactly what happened. King Cyrus and the Medo-Persian army overthrew the Babylonians in 539 BCE. In 478 BCE, the Persian king Xerxes destroyed the city of Babylon, and by the end of the second century BCE, Babylon was deserted. Babylon, the morning star in this passage, never reached its ambitions. Instead, God cast their ambitions to Sheol.


The Balancing Act

One of my roles as a Ph.D. candidate is to research controversial topics and present my findings to others so that they can make decisions about what they believe regarding these issues. Lots of people find this a bit shocking, so I’d like to tell you a story that explains a little bit of what I’m doing.

When I was a child, my family was at church almost every time the doors were open. Back then, our church leadership did the best they could to help families make good decisions about what music and movies they allowed in their homes. I distinctly remember our pastor encouraging us to listen to certain music and watch certain movies while trying to persuade us against listening to other music and watching other movies. I remember talking with my parents about it one day, and I asked them how the pastor knew what music and movies were “good” and “bad.” My parents thought for a minute and then told me that they didn’t know for sure but that it was possible that somebody else listened to that music or watched those movies and then relayed that information to our pastor who then decided to tell us his thoughts about what was good, bad, appropriate and inappropriate for the families in our church.

Someone who either holds or is working on a Ph.D. in a faith-based area (like the Bible or sacred texts from other faith groups) is just like the person who listened to the music or watched the movies and relayed that information to our church leadership when I was a child…As a researcher it’s my responsibility to do the dirty, controversial work and then let other people make their own assessments and decisions about what they think and why. Since my research has a direct bearing on my faith and the faith of others, I understand that my research involves some risk. I take this risk very seriously…so much so that I have people in my life who have the freedom to ask me about my relationship with Jesus, my family and friends at any given point in time. Please understand that it is not my intention to pull people away from Christ. It IS my intention to give you my research so that all of us can understand Scripture a little bit better.

At the same time, I am also an ordained minister, and I take that honor very seriously. In my role as a minister, it is my duty and privilege to direct people towards Christ, to love them, and to walk alongside them in this journey of life. As you can imagine, balancing research and ministry is a lot like dancing with a partner…sometimes it’s beautiful and the two effortlessly intertwine. Other times, it gets a little interesting because both partners have completely different ideas about how the dance steps should be done.

I’ve said all of this to prep you for what’s coming on this blog because we will be digging into lots of controversial topics (if there’s something you’re interested in discussing, please let me know). Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a series of posts on passages from the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament that have come to be understood (in some Christian circles) as relating to the fall of Satan from heaven. Rather than debating about whether or not the “fall of Satan” actually took place, I’ll simply do my best to explain what these passages possibly meant to the people who initially read/listened to the text and then share some information from other sources written around the same time period that may help to shed some light on these passages. In doing so, some of us may come to the conclusion that these passages did indeed initially refer to the fall of Satan while others may come to the conclusion that later authors reinterpreted these passages to refer to the fall of Satan. Regardless of what your conclusion might be, please think about how you would respond to someone who believes differently than you do. I look forward to our interactions together!

The Multiple Hats We Wear

Do you like to wear hats? I’m not a huge fan of hats, with the exception of baseball hats. I LOVE wearing baseball hats!!! I can throw my hair up in a ponytail or let it hang down. I can wear the hat frontwards, sideways or backwards (frontwards looks the best on me), AND it’s great for sunny days, rainy days, snowy days or any other kind of day. Maybe you are one of those people that enjoys wearing multiple kinds of hats, maybe you’re like me and only like one certain type of hat or maybe you don’t like hats at all.

Regardless of personal preferences for tangible, physical hats, the reality is that no matter who we are, we all have multiple intangible “hats” that we wear, which symbolize the different tangible roles that we play on a daily basis. Sometimes, we wear one hat at a time. More times than not, we end up wearing two or three or ten hats at a time. To make life even more interesting, our collection of hats changes over time. We may end up throwing some hats away, tossing some hats to the back of our “spiritual closet” (only to find them again at a later time), acquiring some new expected and unexpected hats, losing some hats along the way and maybe even passing some of our hats on to other people. Even so, it is vitally important that we know and understand the hats that we’re wearing and have access to right now…in whatever season of life we are in…so that we can give our best to God and to the people that God brings into our lives.

My personal collection of invisible “hats” has increased quite a bit over the last few years. More times than not, I end up wearing multiple hats at once, just like everyone else. To be completely honest with you, sometimes I’m good at donning several hats at once, but more times than not, it seems like I can’t even get one hat to fit the way I think it should.

So here is what I have decided to do and what has worked well for me for the past few years…I intentionally build friendships with people who wear an invisible hat or have access to a collection of hats that are similar to mine, who excel at and have confidence in wearing those hats and who are comfortable in their own skin. Why? Because I want to give my best to God, to my family, and to the other people God brings into my life.

If you have a moment, take some time and think about all the intangible hats that you have right now and write them down. My hats right now include being a follower of Jesus, an active duty Army chaplain’s wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a Ph.D. candidate (Second Temple Jewish History and Literature), an ordained minister, a public speaker, a preacher, a Bible study teacher/ trainer/writer, a blogger and a university/college professor. In this particular season of life, I have yet to find someone else who owns all of these hats and wears them well; HOWEVER, I have built some friendships with people who excel in wearing at least two or more of these hats, and those relationships continue to shape who I am right now and who I will be in the future. In other words, most of my solid friendships are intentional…They are on purpose.

For example, when I meet someone (either male or female) who understands the military culture, understands what it’s like to be in full-time ministry, loves Jesus and is confident in all three areas, I’m going to do my best to get to know that person better and hopefully build a friendship with him or her. When I meet someone who does a good job of balancing family life and either work or school and they love Jesus, I’ll do the same thing. When I meet someone who has earned or is working on their Ph.D., who is either serving as a university professor or desires to eventually become a professor, I’ll do the same thing. You see, there are multiple combinations of my intangible hats that any person I meet may wear, which is really exciting because, more times than not, mutual investment takes place and strong friendships are formed! I love that!!!

The same is true for you too. You have a collection of intangible hats that you wear all the time. Your collection is unique to you and some of your hats have been handpicked for you by God.  So now, take a look at your list of intangible hats. What do they look like? How do you wear them? What ideas do you have for cultivating friendships with people who wear similar hats to you? What role does God play in the formation of your hat-wearing skills?