Judge # 2: Ehud

After surveying the story of Ehud, my Bible college professor said, “Perhaps you could call this story ‘When Lefty Let Fatty Have It.” Twenty six years later, I still remember his strong West Virginia accent, his perfect delivery, and the smile he had on his face because the students got the punch line.






Judge #1: Othniel

The first judge that we have record of is Othniel, the younger brother of Caleb (1:13). Here are the highlights of his story:

Sin: Israel “forgot the LORD the God and served the Baals and the Asherahs” (3:7).
Servitude: The LORD‘s anger burned against them, and he sold them into the hands of the Aramean (Syria) king, Cushan-Rishatahaim (3:8)
Supplication: Cushan’s control of the Israelites lasted 8 years until the Israelites cried out to the LORD (3:9).
Salvation: The LORD raised up Othniel to deliver the Israelites from the control of Cushan (3:9-10).
Silence: The Israelites had peace for 40 years until the death of Othniel (3:11).

The Muslim Feast of Sacrifice

Originally Published on January 2, 2007

Eid al-Adha, sometimes called the Festival of Sacrifice is an important festival for Muslims around the world. It occurs in connection with the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, serving as the conclusion to the (at least once in a lifetime) required journey for all Muslims.

The point of the festival is to remember and commemorate the trials and triumphs of the Prophet Abraham. Some suggest that Eid al-Adha is the most important festival in Islam because God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, who was ultimately replaced by a ram, was Abraham’s greatest trial and triumph. Abraham obediently took his son, placing him on the altar (Qur’an: on his forehead) and as he raised the knife, the angel directed him to replace his son with a ram that was nearby.

Whether the Festival of Sacrifice is the most important or not, the symbolism demonstrated in the festival activities is quite powerful. For me, the most memorable activity of the festival is the sacrificing of animals: camels, goats or sheep. And this might be the most memorable for many. In fact, for some 1400 people in Turkey in 2006, the sacrifice will be the most memorable part because they all ended up in the hospital emergency room as a result of wounding themselves in the process.

Sometime last year (2006) while preparing for a lecture on Islam that I was to give, I was reading the Qur’an and stumbled upon a very interesting (to me) discovery. I was reading Surah 37, as-Saffat, when I came upon the detailed story of Abraham sacrificing his son, which was mixed in with stories of several prophets. Eight to be exact.

The names of those prophets named in Surah as-Saffat are: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Aaron, Elias, Lot, and Jonah. You will see that Ishmael’s name is missing. Why is this important? Because Muslims, during the Festival of Sacrifice, are commemorating the near sacrifice of Abraham’s son Ishmael, not Isaac as the Bible teaches. When I discovered the absence of Ishmael’s name, it was one of those explosive moments when one thinks, “I can’t be reading this right.” That being the case, I re-read the passage and Ishmael’s name was still absent. Then, I got a pencil and re-read the chapter, writing down the list of people named in as-Saffat. And, my first reading was still correct: Ishmael isn’t named. In fact, he isn’t named as (almost) being sacrificed anywhere in the Qur’an.

This has surprised every Muslim I have asked about it. Usually, the encounter goes something like this:

Me: Does the Qur’an say that Abraham attempted to sacrifice Ishmael?
Them: Yes.
Me: Do you know where it is written that Ishmael is the object of sacrifice?
Them: It must be in Surah Ibrahim. Let me find it. Hmmm, it’s not here.
Me: Perhaps you can look at Surah as-Saffat.
Them: Yes, here’s the story. Here it tells about Ibrahim who went to sacrifice his son.
Me: Does it say Ishmael there?
Them: Well…his name isn’t here, but it’s him. It must be written somewhere else. Let me look for it.
Me: I’m sure you will not find it because it isn’t there. Does it bother you that Ishmael’s name isn’t actually mentioned in a story so important to Islam?
Them: Well, I’m sure it’s somewhere else in the Qur’an.
Me: But it’s not.
Them: It must be…

It isn’t and I find that very interesting. Especially since one of the main places Muslims say the Bible has been corrupted is here, where Abraham agrees to sacrifice his son. The Bible says that son was Isaac, Islam disputes that. But the Qur’an doesn’t specifically name Ishmael within the story itself. I wonder why?

One gentleman that I spoke with asked his imam to call me and answer my question. When I posed the question to the imam, he said that I was correct: Ishmael’s name isn’t found in the Qur’anic version of this story. The understanding that Ishmael was the intended sacrifice is Islamic tradition, which is binding upon Muslims to believe. Therefore, all Muslims believe that even though not specifically named, Ishmael was the son whom Ibrahim prepared for sacrifice.

My question: What happens when tradition seems to go against the text? “Which is more authoritative,” I asked the imam. His answer: “Neither. It doesn’t work like that in Islam. The Qur’an is the Qur’an and the Tradition is the Tradition. They go together.”

For those wondering: NO, I wouldn’t embrace the Qur’anic version of this story if Ishmael’s name were specifically mentioned. I fully believe the Bible’s version and simply use this “irony” as a conversation starter with Muslims.

Arabic: Can You Read That?

As my Arabic studies progress, I catch myself trying more and more to pick out identifiable words from inscriptions around the city. While on the Temple Mount, I focused on the script that goes around the octagon building that supports the Dome of the Rock.

It is a particularly difficult script (for me), but I was able to identify a few things.

“Can you pretty easily read the script going around the Dome,” I asked. “Yes, because I have it memorized. We start memorizing it in first grade” was the answer I received.

That struck me.

First, memorizing the script on the Dome gives local Muslims a heart connection to the Dome of the Rock; or more correctly, the whole of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. And that is particularly true when it is done at an early age. The social and political implications of such a connection are worth consideration as the issue of control of and entrance to the Temple Mount makes its way to the front page of the news cycle.

The second thing that struck me about children memorizing that particular script is that I know from talking to others that that script isn’t a stand alone memory verse for Muslims. Many Muslims around the world strive to and succeed at memorizing the Qur’an, which is about the size of the New Testament.

I don’t personally know any Christians who have memorized the New Testament. I’ve heard of not more than a handful who have done it, but I don’t know them. I’m familiar with various children’s ministries that “focus” on Bible memorization, but most of them focus on isolated verses. Which is to say, very few Christians memorize large sections of either the Old or New Testaments. Why is that?

I do have a few friends who have been an encouragement to me to do much better in Bible memory; they have endeavored to memorize whole chapters, even whole books. May their tribe increase, and may they continue to challenge me in Bible memory.

The Four Species

Leviticus 23:40 (NKJV) – “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the [1] fruit of beautiful trees, [2] branches of palm trees, the [3] boughs of leafy trees, and [4] willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.”

The four items noted above are called the Four Species and can be seen being used (in the photo below) in a celebration/prayer ritual at the Western Wall during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Day of Atonement: Kaparot

Kaparot is a controversial practice among some orthodox Jews whereby they sacrifice a chicken prior to the Day of Atonement. It is controversial in many quarters: among the animal rights activists, among the religiously non-observant, and among biblicists.

The animal rights activists are against this practice for a variety of reasons: the most obvious reason being that the chickens’ throats are being cut with a razor blade. However, they also protest this practice as being cruel because the chickens are reportedly kept in small boxes standing in the sun without food or water sometimes for up to a few days. Some also suggest that the way the chickens are secured by their wings being held back, can only cause pain and distress for the chickens.

The religiously non-observant see this practice as ghoulish and cruel, suggesting that placing sins on someone else is unfair or silly. Some simply protest it as nothing more than superstitious cruelty.

The biblicist finds this practice controversial because it sort of resembles the Day of Atonement ritual in that it captures the element of substitutionary atonement, but misses most of the details: The biblical practice of which this is a derivative is described in Leviticus 16 and includes a priest, sacred clothing, incense, a holy place, a bull, a ram and two goats; none of which are either available for or used in the kaparot ceremony.

WARNING: The video is VERY graphic!

Why Do They . . . ?

I can’t begin to guess how many visitors have asked me, “Why do they grow those side-curl things?” For those who haven’t been around this type of religious Jew before, the sight of “peyos” can be quite fascinating. And I have to admit, even though I have been quite exposed to “peyos,” I find the variety of peyos fascinating.

Apparently, there are many ways to observe the commandment,”You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard (Leviticus 19:27, NKJV),” because in Jerusalem, one can see all types of peyos: short, medium and long peyos; straight, curled and unkept peyos; clearly visible and peyos that are hidden around the ear or under the skullcap.

The longest peyos I’ve ever seen dropped to the young man’s belt. I wonder if he ever struggled with pride in having the longest peyos in Jerusalem.

Clearly, peyos are an effort to fulfill a commandment, but they also seem to serve as a comforter because I often see men nervously playing with their peyos, which usually involves repeatedly wrapping and re-wrapping them around the index finger. Sometimes I see men chewing or sucking on their peyos, which is probably some type of comforter, but seems weird to me. Of course, I’ve never had hair long enough to suck on it; perhaps it’s more compelling than I imagine.

What Would be a Fair Trial?

“We’d like to express our condolences to all the victims of this terrible accident — and that’s what it was, it was a terrible accident,” Longwith said outside court.

Longwith is Randall T. Longwith, the defense attorney for Andrew Gallo of San Gabriel, California.

Here’s the background of the statement by attorney Longwith: Early on the morning of April 9, 2009, Nick Adenhart, Henry Pearson, and Jon Wilhite were riding in the car with Courtney Stewart when they were broadsided by a vehicle driven by Andrew Gallo, which allegedly ran a red light. Stewart, Pearson and Adenhart were killed, and Wilhite is hospitalized in serious condition. Gallo fled from the scene of the wreck on foot before eventually being apprehended by police.

Here are some important (to me) details: The reports are that Gallo’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. He had previously pled guilty to drunken driving in 2006, but didn’t finish the conditions of his sentencing in that case. Additionally, he was still on probation from his 2006 case at the time of this wreck. He was also driving on a suspended license. In 2007 Gallo was convicted of marijuana possession, which may or may not have any bearing on this particular incident.

Here’s my question: Was this just an accident, “a terrible accident,” as attorney Longwith suggests? I have not read any reports suggesting that Gallo intended to kill, or even harm anyone when he got behind the wheel of his mini-van. And since he apparently had no intention of harming anyone, does that make this simply a “terrible accident?”

I think this case would have been a good one for the Old Testament cities of refuge (Joshua 20), which were set up to be a “safe haven” for those who had accidentally killed someone else. By “safe haven” I mean a place where they can get a fair trial, and not just receive the wrath of their victim’s family.

If I were among the elders in a city of refuge and Mr. Gallo stumbled into town asking for asylum, here’s what I would rule: Guilty. Of course, that verdict assumes the facts are similar to what has been reported in the press.

I’m not sure why the defense attorney believes his client can’t get a fair trial in Orange County. Perhaps it’s because he killed a promising young professional baseball player from the local team. However, given what I have seen regarding the “facts,” what would the attorney actually argue to mitigate the actions of his client?

Honestly, IF 1) Gallo was driving with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, and 2) he ran a red light and broadsided at least one other vehicle, and 3) he killed three people, and 4) he was driving on a suspended license from a previous drunk driving conviction, where does one go with that?

It may have been an “accident,” as in “he didn’t intend to kill anyone.” But driving while intoxicated (particularly THREE times the legal limit) pretty much removes the “it was a terrible accident” plea. AND that there was a previous drunk driving conviction removes any hesitation about removing the “it was an accident” excuse. Period.

If I’m the judge or on the jury and the facts are as have been reported, here’s my verdict: GUILTY!

After that, here’s the question: What should the sentence be? Answer: The max! Apparently, the most he can get is 55 years. But is the death penalty justified in a case like this?

Isaiah Brings A Welcome Word

According to both biblical and Assyrian accounts, Sennacherib was intent on punishing Hezekiah for not adequately submitting to the Assyrian’s demands. And, according to both sides’ accounts, the prospects for Jerusalem’s survival weren’t very good.

However, one must take a step back, and look at the greater picture. Where is God, the master planner, in this scenario? How is God working here? Those questions serve to introduce the prophet Isaiah.

In my last entry, Hezekiah’s Motivation, I discussed the nature of Hezekiah’s prayer; namely, that it was spoken for God’s glory. God’s response to that prayer was to send a word through Isaiah to Hezekiah against Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:20-34).

A careful reading of the word against Sennacherib reveals some interesting things: First, we see that Sennacherib’s insults weren’t primarily against Hezekiah. Rather, from God’s perspective, they were against, “the Holy One of Israel (vs 19).”

Second, we also see that pride was the cause of this insult and blasphemy (vs 19).

Here is Sennacherib’s list of accomplishments (2 Kings 19:23-24 NIV):

“And you have said,
1) ‘With many Chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains,
the utmost heights of Lebanon.
2) I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of it pines.
3) I have reached its remotest parts, the finest of its forests.
4) I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there.
5) With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.”

After examining his list of accomplishments, many might say, “After all he’s done, he deserved to brag a little.” But such an assessment discounts the third thing we see in the word delivered by Isaiah: God’s sovereignty.

“Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone (2 Kings 19:25 NIV).”

God clearly says here that Sennacherib conquered the fortified cities in Judah because God ordained, planned and brought it to pass. Sennacherib was a tool designed by God. Why should that provide encouragement for Hezekiah? Because, the sovereign God who raised up this wrecking machine, knows exactly how to disable it.

And, that’s what Isaiah goes on to say: “But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came (2 Kings 19:27-28 NIV).”

The next day, the Assyrian army awakened to a great surprise: During the night, the angel of the LORD put to death 185,000 of their troops, which resulted in Sennacherib breaking camp and returning to Assyria (2 Kings 19:35-36).

Let’s not forget Isaiah’s previous word regarding Sennacherib’s personal future: “This is what the LORD says, . . . he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword (2 Kings 19:7 NIV).”

Sennacherib’s end was just as Isaiah had said it would be: “One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, . . . (2 Kings 19:37 NIV).” By the way, this occurred after Hezekiah’s death, which means that Hezekiah had to rest securely in the fact that God brings about His will in His own timing.

The LORD knows how to raise up and take down. And He does so to demonstrate His sovereignty and supremecy.

Hezekiah’s Motivation

It is clear that Hezekiah feared for his life and the life of the kingdom of Judah. And like most others would have done, he asked God to rescue him. However, unlike many, his motivation wasn’t self preservation.

Let’s analyze his prayer.

First, he acknowledges the serious physical threat that Assyria poses: “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. (2 Kings 19:17)”

Second, he distinguishes between Yahweh and the gods of those defeated nations: “They [the Assyrians] have thrown their [the defeated nations’] gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. (vs. 18)”

Finally, he begs God to deliver Israel not for his well being, but for God’s glory: “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God. (vs. 19)”

In this case, God chose to answer Hezekiah’s prayer favorably, and Jerusalem was spared.