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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Archaeology and Genesis

Over the centuries there have been many attacks against the Word of God. Yet, God has seen to it that His Word abides; while the attacks are vanquished and soon forgotten. Edward J. Young provides evidence of this:

Someone has aptly compared the Bible to an anvil against which the hammer blows of unbelief are constantly beating. But although the hammers crack and break frequently, and must be replaced, the anvil stands. It cannot be shattered. . . .

Toward the close of the last century there lived truly gifted and brilliant German scholar by the name of Julius Wellhausen. . . .

Wellhausen’s assaults upon the book of Genesis were extremely severe. He was particularly insistent that the background of the patriarchal narratives did not represent an accurate picture. He considered this background, as it is presented to us in Genesis, not to be an accurate reflection of the times of the patriarchs, but rather of the period in which it was written down, several hundred years later. . . .

In 1925 excavations were carried on at a place in Mesopotamia known today by its Turkish name of Yorgan Tepa. In ancient times, however, this place bore the name of Nuzi (pronounced Newsy), and proved to be a center of the ancient Hurrians, mentioned in Genesis 14:6 as the Horites. Incidentally this mention of the Horites [Hittites] was long regarded as an inaccuracy. Now, however, at Nuzi, a settlement of these people has been discovered.

What is of particular interest for our purpose is the fact that great numbers of clay tablets were unearthed at Nuzi, which proved to be business documents. They are now known as contract tablets, for they contain the records of ancient business contracts. . . .

As a result of the excavations it is now possible to know quite a bit about some practices of the Hurrians. For one thing, a citizen of Nuzi could not sell land. If, therefore, one wished to purchase land he could not simply go to a realtor, as we do, and buy the desired property. Instead, as a result of this restriction, there was a legal fiction by means of which it was possible to get around the difficulty. In brief, the way it worked was this. If I wish to obtain your land, I cannot buy it; I can, however, have myself adopted as your son. If I am thus adopted, I shall become the heir, and the land will be willed to me. In return for this, I can give a gift to you. . . .

Genesis 15:2, 3 has long been a difficult section of Scripture to understand. As we learn from the Nuzi tablets, it was the custom for a couple who were without children to adopt someone who in return for being made the heir would take care of them in their old age and see to it that they were given a decent burial. Eliezer of Damascus had evidently been adopted by Abraham to be his steward, to manage his affairs and possibly to give him burial. According to the practices of Nuzi if an heir should later be born, the adopted son would have to give way to the heir. In the light of this provision we may understand the language of the Lord, “This [i.e., Eliezer] shall not inherit thee, but he that shall come out of thy loins shall inherit thee.” Abraham was simply acting in accord with the customs of the time.

Not only the Nuzi texts, but also the now famous Code of Hammurabi sheds light upon the type of thing that Abraham did in taking Hagar to be his concubine. It was the custom, apparently, when the legal wife was barren, for such a wife to provide her husband with a concubine in order that a seed might he raised up. . . In providing Abraham with a concubine Sarah was simply acting in accordance with the customs of the time. The same is true of the action of Rachel (Genesis 30:3) when she provided Jacob with a concubine, Bilhah.

As might be expected, such a practice was not likely to bring about happiness, and we read that Sarah wished to drive Hagar out. In this, however, she was going contrary to practice. . . Despite the fact that Sarah was violating custom, the Lord spoke to Abraham, “Let it not be evil in thine eyes, because of the land and thy handmaid. In all that Sarah saith to thee hearken unto her voice, for in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Genesis 21:11, 12). (Edward J. Young, The Accuracy of Genesis, [March 1957]: 23-26)

Joseph’s Price as a Slave

Archaeology and the Bible:

Joseph‘s price as a slave was 20 shekels (Genesis 37:28), which, according to trade tablets from that period is the correct price for 1,700 B.C. An earlier account would have been cheaper, while a later account would have been more expensive.

Crucial Find in Northeastern Iraq

Archaeology and the Bible:

A crucial find in Nuzi (northeastern Iraq), was an entire cache of Hittite legal documents from 1400 B.C. They confirm many details of Genesis and Deuteronomy, such as:

(a) Siring of legitimate children through handmaidens,

(b) Oral deathbed will as binding,

(c) The power to sell one’s birthright for relatively trivial property (Jacob & Esau),

(d) The need for family idols, such as Rachel stole from Laban, to secure inheritance, and

(e) The form of the covenant in Deuteronomy exactly matches the form of suzerainty treaties between Hittite emperors and vassal kings.

The Christian Man At Home

Anyone who has ever been a father and tried to be a good father will read the following comments and despair of ever becoming a godly father unless they understand the nature of grace. We find ourselves in the position of the father of the boy with the unclean spirit (Mark 9). Jesus tells the man that all things are possible to him who believes. In response, the father of the boy cries out “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24) We too must acknowledge our need for Christ’s help. If we look to Him, all things are possible. Reverend Samuel Clarke comments on being a father like Abraham:

For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him. (Genesis 18:19)

[A man] in the capacity of a father or master of a family, will take all proper occasions to instill right notions of truth and virtue, into those over whom the circumstances of his state and relation naturally give him an influence. And by his private example, showing in his most free and retired conversation, that he has constantly upon his mind that real regard to God and virtue, which it is more easy and usual to make show of in public; he will with great efficacy promote the true honor of God, and the advancement of sincere religion. For, formal admonitions and public declarations concerning matters of religion, are apt to be of very small force, either towards fixing in the mind right principles, or forming in the manners a habit of virtuous practice; if in the private life and conversation of those by whom families are to be directed, there appear profaneness and impiety, or lewdness and debauchery, or tyrannical oppressiveness and violent and unreasonable passions. How affectionate so ever the exhortations of the preachers of the Gospel be, and how often so ever repeated instructions be given to young persons, either in schools or otherwise; yet if the examples they find at home in the practice of common life, be vicious, debauched, and altogether contrary to the precepts and admonitions given them in form; the effect of all such instruction cannot but be, comparatively speaking, very inconsiderable. Nor is there any other possible way, by which there can be any hope that the arguments of religion should come to have their due weight, and general efficacy in the world; unless they, whose state, relation, and circumstances, give them a natural influence over many, will show in the whole course of their private conversation, and in the freest and most retired part of common life, that they have really upon their minds a sense and concern for religion; that they have habitually in all their actions a constant regard to God, and a sincere desire to promote the knowledge of truth, and the practice of virtue and goodness amongst men. This was the temper of Abraham; upon account of which, that great character is given him in the text, with a repeated assurance of the blessings designed him: “I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham, that which he hath spoken of him.”

Facing Adversity

There is some good in adversity I suppose. I often hear the statement that “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger!” Yet, most sane people I know would rather avoid pain and adversity if possible. There are examples, however, of adversity making people stronger to serve the purposes of God: Take John Bunyan for instance. He was arrested in 1660 for preaching without a license. In prison, he began writing his great book Pilgrim’s Progress. Then there is Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The communists imprisoned him for criticizing them. While suffering in the Gulag (concentration camp), he wrote poems in his head, which he later was able to publish and eventually he wrote the Gulag Archipelago based on his experiences. Consider the story of Joseph in Genesis. First in slavery and then in prison Joseph learned to forgive, to persevere, and perhaps a good dose of humility. These lessons and the hand of God brought Joseph to Pharaoh’s attention and placed him in a position to save his family from starvation.

There are certainly many other examples that could be written about. The Lord, however, provides us with many encouragements in the Scriptures to hold on to as anchors of hope when adversity comes our way. One of my favorites is “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) A few of many helpful Bible verses in times of trial are listed below:

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 18:10

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.

Isaiah 41:10

[F]ear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 16:33

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

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