Outcry Against Sodom

Sodom

The Sodom Series, #2

The Bible reports that the Lord heard a great outcry against the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. What was this outcry about?

The notorious people of Sodom

Genesis 13:13 states, “Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.”

Let’s look closer at the meaning of these three words.

People is enôsh in Hebrew, meaning “mortals,” and is not the word typically used for a male person (’adam) (Strong’s H582). “The basic meaning of enôsh is ‘man’ in the sense of ‘mankind’(Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 582).

The word wicked is ra’a, meaning “bad,” describing experiences which entail physical or emotional pain (TWOT, 2191c). The people’s wickedness caused great anguish.

Sinners is chatta’, meaning “a criminal, one accounted guilty” (Strong’s, H2400).

ALL the people of Sodom—not just the men—were criminally sinful.

In the days of Abraham, a report about these cruel citizens of Sodom had reached heaven. The news was alarming enough that God needed to investigate the situation personally. He confided His plan to Abraham.

The outcry

20 Then the Lord said [to Abraham], “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!
21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
–Genesis 18:20–21 NRSV

Outcry means an uproar, a shriek, a crying out in despair, a vehement public protest, “a cry for help in the face of distress” (TWOT, 570).

Many had been crying out to God in despair and protest about how they were treated in these cities. This implies that the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were doing some extremely rotten things to others, and God heard the complaints.

The outcry was not that of an individual, but of many people over time. Apparently, governing authorities in Sodom refused the wronged an audience; perhaps they were party to the oppression. “‘Though I cry, “Violence!” I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice’” (Job 19:7 NIV).

Considering that Israel—God’s own people—cried out to Him in the misery of Egyptian bondage for over 400 years (Ex. 2:23–25), the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was serious and significant. Their sin was “very grave”: hard, grievous, heavy (TWOT, 943).

They had committed great crimes, so God sends angelic representatives to investigate and make a determination about them.

Two of the angelic visitors depart toward Sodom to experience firsthand if the reports are true, but the one called “the Lord” remains with Abraham, who poses a question.

Abraham intercedes

23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?”
–Genesis 18:23–24 NRSV

To destroy or sweep away is sapâ, meaning, “to scrape, shave, remove, or ruin” (Strong’s, H5595), and is “usually used in a hostile sense, particularly in contexts of judgment” (TWOT, 1531).

Without waiting, Abraham provides his own answer:

25 “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”
–Genesis 18:25–26 NRSV

The Lord confirms that He will not destroy the city if He finds fifty righteous people there, reassuring Abraham that He is both merciful and just (Gen. 18:23).

Abraham continues to bargain, and the Lord finally promises him, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (v. 31).

Reason for the outcry

What were the wicked people of Sodom doing that caused so much pain, resulting in such a grievous outcry against them?

The first post in this series discussed the importance of righteousness and hospitality toward strangers. The lavish welcome Abraham bestowed on his visitors is help up as a paragon of righteous hospitality to strangers.

The outcry against all the people of Sodom pertains to how they were treating strangers—outsiders. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (NRSV).

The citizens of Sodom failed the test. We’ll learn why next time, when the angels arrive at the city.

More information:

In future posts, we’ll find out what happened and what became of this inhospitable society. To read the full story, get my book, The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain, for Kindle and in trade paperback.
The Sin of Sodom cover

Be Righteous, Do Justice, Show Hospitality

Abraham

The Sodom Series, #1

Abraham is the father of three faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity (see Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7-9). The root of Abraham’s faith is belief in one God—a God who speaks.

The expression of this faith is hearing, believing, and doing God’s word, personally revealed.

22 You see that [Abraham’s] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.
24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
–James 2:22-24 NIV

To be God’s friend, we must believe what God speaks to us. And then follow this faith with actions that befit the revelation. This is righteousness.

The Bible provides an example of this in Abraham’s reception of the three divine messengers in Genesis 18.

Entertaining angels

The Lord arrives at Abraham’s tent with two angels in the heat of the day. Abraham runs to them, bows low, and prepares a feast in a lavish show of hospitality (18:1-8).

The elaborate and generous hospitality of the Near and Middle East is known the world over, according to the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler: “For the guest, nothing is too good and nothing too bothersome or difficult.” John Calvin wrote, this is “the hospitality of the holy man.”

Being hospitable to strangers is one way to demonstrate righteousness.

Hebrews 13:2 admonishes us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (NRSV). It specifically says strangers—not family or relatives or friends or other believers.

Promoting righteousness and justice ensures blessings

Abraham did in fact entertain divine messengers.

Because of Abraham’s righteous ministry of hospitality, one of the visitors promises Abraham that his barren wife Sarah—now far past menopause at age 90—will bear him a son, the start of a nation of descendants. This one, called the Lord, takes Abraham into His confidence as a friend.

17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,
18 seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
19 No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge 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 about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
–Genesis 18:16-19 ESV

To ensure we may receive what God promises, we must promote righteousness and justice.

The blessings of God—prosperity, growth, and expansion—are for those who promote righteousness and justice for everyone else, especially strangers*.

* For further study about strangers, see 1 Chronicles 29:15; Job 29:16, 31:32; Matthew 25:35.

Hospitality, righteousness, justice defined

Let’s define these words.

Hospitality: Webster defines hospitality as “Reception and entertainment of strangers or guests without reward, or with kind and generous liberality.” We see this in Abraham’s treatment of his divine visitors.

Righteousness: Being in right relationship to God by faith. (See Rom. 3:22; 4:5,9,11,13,22; 9:30; 10:6.) It means believing what God communicates to you and acting on it. Abraham believed what God told him and obeyed, and God counted this as righteousness: see Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:9; Gal. 3:6; Jas. 2:21–22.

Justice: Easton’s Bible Dictionary briefly defines justice as “rendering to every one that which is his due.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains it like this: “Justice has primarily to do with conduct in relation to others, especially with regard to the rights of others. In a larger sense justice is not only giving to others their rights, but involves the active duty of establishing their rights.”

If you want to be righteous, make it your duty to establish rights for those who don’t have them.

Righteousness and justice are closely related* and are summed up in what Jesus calls the two greatest commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37–39 NIV).

*For further study about righteousness and justice, see 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Job 29:14; 37:23; Psalm 33:5; 72:2; 97:2; 106:3; Proverbs 2:9; 8:20; 21:3; Isaiah 1:27; 5:16; 9:7; 28:17; 32:1,16; 33:5; Jeremiah 9:24; 22:3,15; 23:5; 33:15; Hosea 2:19; Amos 5:24; Wisdom 5:18; 8:7.

Abraham’s lesson to us

What have we learned from Abraham in this encounter?

  • The importance of hospitality to strangers
  • The requirement of being righteous and doing justice to ensure the blessing of a family, nation, city, or any group of people

Who are the strangers in your midst? Look around; they could be the people you never really see.

Strangers could include your enemies. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? … But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Luke 6:32a; Matt. 5:44-45 NIV).

Pick somebody you consider to be a stranger—outside your circle of friends and family—someone unlike you in social status, intelligence, faith, sexual orientation, political beliefs.

Then show them some love through a friendly smile, a word of encouragement, an expression of acceptance and understanding. For, in showing them righteous hospitality, you are being a friend to God.

Jesus said, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Matt. 25:40 NIV).

More information:

This post was adapted from a portion of my book, The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain, for Kindle and in trade paperback.
The Sin of Sodom cover

John Is Out, Christ Is In

John the Baptist

What are the signs of Christ’s ministry? From a prison cell, John the Baptizer asked the same question. Here’s what Jesus told him—and what I believe will happen someday.

John lands in prison

John did his ministry in the Galilean wilderness. He called people to repentance—a change of heart by turning away from dead religion and worldliness that was confirmed by public water baptism (Matt. 3:1-3).

But John paid the price when he denounced Herod Antipas. Antipas had divorced his wife Phasaelis and married a woman named Herodias, who was previously married to his brother Herod Philip I (Matt. 14:3-4).

Herod Antipas was a tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”) of the kingdom he’d inherited from his father Herod the Great, who had years earlier ordered the massacre of all male infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16-18).

In the fashion of his father, who disliked contention from the New Age movement (the Magi), Herod Antipas wouldn’t stand for it from the Religious Right (John the Baptizer). So he threw the prophet in prison (Luke 3:20).

Jesus raises a boy from the dead

One day when Jesus and His disciples reached the town of Nain, they met a funeral procession. Men were carrying out on a bier a widow’s only son.

Jesus stopped the procession and commanded the young man’s corpse to get up.

And he did.

The mourners were gripped with fear and said things like, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” (Luke 7:11-17)

Without the help of radio, television, newspapers, email, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, the astounding news spread throughout Judea. Even John heard about it in prison.

John questions Jesus

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples
19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
–Luke 7:18-19 NRSV

John’s ministry was very different from Jesus’. Although John came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), no miracles are recorded in his ministry.

John’s basic message was, “Change your heart and get your life right. Be born from above.” He did a lot of fasting, denouncing, and baptizing.

When Jesus arrived to be immersed, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:29-30).

Jesus, however, came eating and drinking, feeding the multitudes, and changing water into wine. Religious leaders called Him a glutton and a drunkard (Matt. 11:19).

Perhaps John thought that, if his cousin really was the Christ, Jesus should have some other kind of ministry. Still stuck in prison, John apparently expected different results from the Messiah he had spent his life preparing people to receive (Matt. 3:1-3).

Jesus answers with evidence of anointed ministry

Since raising the widow’s son at Nain, Jesus was busy curing many people of diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits—even opening the eyes of the blind. John’s disciples met Him and relayed the Baptizer’s query.

22 And [Jesus] answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.
23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
–Luke 7:22-23 NRSV

“Are you the Christ?”

Jesus did not answer John’s question directly. Instead, He told John’s emissaries to deliver an eyewitness account of the results of his ministry:

  • Blind eyes are opened.
  • Physically disabled people—paraplegics and quadriplegics—are walking again.
  • Lepers and those with skin diseases are cleansed and accepted back into society.
  • The deaf hear once more (or for the first time ever).
  • The dead are even coming back to life.
  • The poor get the good news delivered to their doorstep.

The theme of these supernormal deeds is freedom for captives. As John had preached deliverance from sin and false religion, his message was only to prepare people for greater freedom that would come through the ministry of Christ.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ good news would not set John free; he was beheaded in prison (Mark 6:17-29). Perhaps this is why Jesus told him not to be offended with Him.

John vs. Christ today

With the rise of the Religious Right in recent years, we’ve witnessed the militant exaltation of a narrow set of religious values (and an even narrower set of “family values”).

These views march lockstep with the condemnation of every class of people who do not conform to their constricted code of morality, one that is often hypocritical—like legislators campaigning on a ticket of family values and the sanctity of marriage while they have had multiple affairs and divorces.

The purity of John’s ministry, though harsh, is corrupted in today’s political right-wing religiosity.

Like the ministry of John the Baptizer, this contemporary hardline stance has served a purpose. Yet it will not last forever; it will fail to usher in a right-wing “kingdom of God.” One day soon, it will overstep its bounds, backfire, and find itself in prison.

What’s coming?

Many dispensationalist Christians—both evangelical and Pentecostal—believe that there will be a great persecution of the faithful before Christ returns to rapture them.

Indeed, the persecution will come.

What they don’t understand is that some will have earned it for all of them by making themselves a stench in the nostrils of everyone else in the world through self-righteous rejection of outsiders. The tide will suddenly turn, and they will find themselves in the minority.

(I’m not talking about those who are truly meek and loving like Christ. I’m referring to those who take part in a churchianity that seeks to impose their views on everyone else through political manipulation and governmental legislation. I’m talking about false religion that rejects the marginalized and cares not for widows and orphans [James 1:27].)

The Kingdom of God does not come riding the beast of politics and prejudice. Bible faith will never be established by burning the Koran or hatefully protesting LGBTQ people.

Soon, those Americans who want to unfairly enjoy financial and societal benefits for themselves while denying them to all those outside their religious comfort zone will find these roles reversed.

When the ministry of John is fulfilled in this present age, it will be decapitated so that the ministry of Christ may come forth to heal and deliver those who have been damaged and rejected by God’s self-appointed “chosen few.”Jesus healing a blind man

Militant religious conservatives will languish in a prison of misunderstanding and betrayal while the Spirit of Christ is poured out on those they sought to socially marginalize and politically squash for so long. As Jesus told John, please don’t be offended.

To the “outsiders,” Jesus’ flock of another sheep pen (John 10:16), the Lord says:

6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
   I will take hold of your hand.
   I will keep you and will make you
   to be a covenant for the people
   and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
   to free captives from prison
   and to release from the dungeon
   those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the LORD; that is my name!
   I will not yield my glory to another
   or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
   and new things I declare;
   before they spring into being
   I announce them to you.”
–Isaiah 42:6-9 NIV

Renouncing Our Citizenship

Golden Calf

[T]he notion that the U.S. of A. is a Christian nation, or was a Christian nation, or should be, a Christian nation, is pure propaganda; not to mention unconstitutional. As Christians, we should stop trying to pretend otherwise.
The Rev. Henry Galganowicz

Whose law takes precedence?

The rise of Christian nationalism in the U.S. has reached shockingly ugly proportions, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently citing Romans 13 in support of the atrocious practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at the Mexico-U.S. border.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later parroted the same idea: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

Whose law?

Although Romans 13 begins with “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” (v. 1), it leads to verse 10: “Love does no harm to a NEIGHBOR. Therefore LOVE is the fulfillment of the law” (NIV). See Lev. 19:18; Matt. 5:43-45; 19:18-19; 22:36-40; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9; James 2:8-9.

The current administration’s practices of tearing our neighbors’ children from their parents and refusing to impose gun control measures while our own children are slaughtered in schools demonstrate that it favors the letter over the spirit of the law—the law of its own making, not the law of God.

God told the Hebrew people He delivered from Egypt, “You reside in my land as foreigners and strangers” (Lev. 15:23 NIV) and “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22:21 NKJV).

In whatever nation we live, if we truly belong to God, we are no more than strangers in a strange land (Ex. 2:22).

The idol of Christian nationalism: the abomination of desolation (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15)

While Moses communed with God on Mt. Sinai to receive the holy word, the Law, God’s supposed followers reveled in worshiping the golden calf, an idol of their own making (Ex. 32).

On Memorial Day, I visited an evangelical church where the organist played many hymns that glorified American patriotism and the military, with nothing extolling the Godhead—on Trinity Sunday. The Christian flag stood in one corner of the platform; the U.S. flag in the other.

I would not have been surprised if a golden calf were displayed on the altar between the offering plates.

Just as it took hold in Nazi Germany, Christian nationalism has become an idol of many in the U.S. Church, causing us to turn a blind eye to our neighbors.

The law of the land vs. God’s law

Although Apostle Paul advised obeying governmental authorities and being good citizens, he in no way promoted breaking God’s law or acting against the love and character of Christ. In fact, he was imprisoned many times for his preaching.

When Peter and John were hauled before the religious authorities for healing a lame man in the Temple, they replied to the leaders, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29 NIV)

Because the early Christians did not join in worshiping the Roman emperor or celebrating the pantheon of pagan gods, they were vilified, persecuted, and even executed for following the law of God over that of human governments.

Although we are called to pursue peace and to obey the laws of the nations in which we live, when these laws depart from commands of Christ and the love and mercy of God toward our neighbors, we must choose whom we will serve.

Strangers and aliens in this world

God does not favor the U.S. over other nations. (See Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Acts 10:34; Luke 4:25-27.)

If we truly are followers of Christ, born from above (John 3:5), God “has rescued us from [out of] the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13 NIV).

We belong to the King and are members of His Kingdom, to whom we now owe primary allegiance. This is what biblical heroes of the faith were commended for.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were FOREIGNERS and STRANGERS on earth.
14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.
15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
–Hebrews 11:13-16 NIV

By accepting and following Christ, we have abandoned our earthly citizenship for a heavenly one.

The U.S. church must renounce its earthly citizenship

American Christians must be forsake the “American Dream,” patriotic nationalism, worship of guns and the military, its veneration of white supremacy, oppressive patriarchy, and the ungodly policy of “America first”—as well as all the systems, beliefs, and practices that have distorted the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt. 24:14). When it does, scales will fall from its eyes (Acts 9:18).

The American Church must take up its cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34), who was crucified not as a patriot but as a King whose Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

As we renounce our worldly associations and accept our heavenly citizenship, we will begin to operate in the Kingdom as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) and be freed from the spirit of the world (1 Cor. 2:12)—a world in which America the beautiful is not “one nation under God,” but like all nations, “under control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).

Alien immunity

The golden calf was burned and ground to powder in judgment, and the people forced to drink it (Ex. 32:20). Those who forsake the Lord’s Kingdom for the kingdoms of this world will likewise drink the cup of God’s wrath (Jer. 25:15-16; Rev. 14:10). Judgment begins with the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17).

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?
26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”
27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are RECEIVING A KINGDOM that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
–Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV

God is shaking the world and its immoral institutions. When the American idol crashes, only the “aliens and strangers” (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11) will remain untouched because they are no longer citizens of this world.

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
–Philippians 3:20 NIV

If we have received Christ as Savior and Lord—King—we are no longer citizens of this world or its corrupt nations. Since we are members of what cannot be shaken, we can remain steadfast in the Lord as the fallen world system around us crumbles.

When the nations of this world collapse, those who did not turn from the golden calf to embrace God’s word, who refused to renounce their citizenship with the world, also will have scales torn from their eyes. They will see their nation for what it was and mourn that they had trusted in it. See Rev. 18:9-24.

Final exhortation

Although everything will be shaken, we must cling to what remains—God’s heavenly Kingdom, where our true citizenship resides.

Micah 6:8 says, “[God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV).

Obeying the law of the land where we can, we must nonetheless honor first the laws of God and live according to the righteousness of Christ so that His Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as in heaven (Matt. 6:10). God has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 22 NIV).

The Kind Woman of Endor, part 2

Woman of Endor

Rethinking Traditional Interpretations Series

Desperate for guidance about an impending battle with the Philistines, King Saul visits the home of a medium in Endor. He asks her to contact the departed prophet Samuel for him.

The woman contacts Samuel

11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”
12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”
–1 Samuel 28:11-12 NKJV

The spirit whom the woman sees clairvoyantly is Samuel. When she perceives him, she realizes who her disguised visitor is and that Saul has attempted to deceive her.

Does she know this by revelation or by inference? Perhaps a bit of both.

13 And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”
14 So he said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.
–1 Samuel 28:13-14 NKJV

The woman explains that she sees the spirit of an old man rising from the earth, robed in the mantle of a prophet (1 Sam. 15:27).

The typical Evangelical and Pentecostal interpretation is that this wasn’t really Samuel, but a demon! Booga booga!

I dissent.

Maggie Cole declares, “I strongly disagree with any discussion that considers there was an evil force behind the raising of Samuel because the prophet could only work for Yahweh, even in death” (The Medium of Endor, part 2).

Even Jesus said of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:27 NIV)

The passage establishes that the visual and auditory information from the spirit world is being relayed through the medium. By the woman’s description, Saul recognizes the spirit as Samuel.

Then Samuel speaks.

Samuel’s message to Saul

Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.”
–1 Samuel 28:15 NKJV

Samuel declares through the woman that Saul is “disturbing” him, meaning to quiver with violent emotion, especially anger; to trouble; to disquiet (rāgaz, Strong’s H7264). “Called” is qārā (Strong’s H7121), meaning to cry out with the idea of accosting someone. Saul is desperate.

Samuel continues his diatribe through the medium:

16 Then Samuel said: “Why then do you ask me, seeing the LORD has departed from you and has become your enemy?”
17 “And the LORD has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.
18 Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD…, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day.
19 Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”
–1 Samuel 28:16-19 NKJV

The departed Samuel is no happier with Saul now than when in the body. He delivers the same message that he gave Saul when he was still alive, adding a word about Saul’s fate and the outcome of the battle.

The Jewish Apocrypha mentions that Samuel did prophesy after his (physical) death: “Even after [Samuel] had fallen asleep, he prophesied and made known to the king his death, and lifted up his voice from the ground in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people” (Sirach 46:20 NRSV).

The medium delivered a true message from Samuel—and from the Lord. She didn’t sugar-coat it; she gave what she got, even when she knew she was speaking to the king, who had the power to execute her.

The woman’s message from the prophet is so convincing that Saul suffers a terrible moment of recognition.

Then immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.
–1 Samuel 28:20 NKJV

How the woman of Endor responds

What does the woman do when faced with Saul’s behavior?

She acts kindly.

21 And the woman came to Saul and saw that he was severely troubled, and said to him, “Look, your maidservant has obeyed your voice, and I have put my life in my hands and heeded the words which you spoke to me.
22 Now therefore, please, heed also the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”
23 But he refused and said, “I will not eat.” So his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he heeded their voice. Then he arose from the ground and sat on the bed.
24 Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house, and she hastened to kill it. And she took flour and kneaded it, and baked unleavened bread from it.
25 So she brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.
–1 Samuel 28:21-25 NKJV

When Saul faints at the dire message from Samuel, the woman humbly calls herself his “maidservant.” She urges him to eat, refusing to take no for an answer. She not only bakes unleavened bread, but kills a fatted calf—a costly meal.

Who else in the Bible killed a fatted calf?

Godly hospitality: killing the fatted calf

When two angels and the Lord visit Abraham, he bakes bread and kills a choice calf for a lavish meal (Gen. 18:7-8).

In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, when the wayward young man returns home, the father, overjoyed, says, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate” (Luke 15:23 NIV).

In ancient Eastern cultures, such provision is a sign of hospitality and acceptance. It’s also a demonstration of godly honor and forgiveness:

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
–Proverbs 25:21-22 NIV

Apostle Paul quotes this passage in Romans 12:20, and a similar sentiment appears in 2 Kings 6:22. Jesus encourages us to love our enemies this way in Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27.

Susan Pigott observes that this “sacrificial meal serves as a fitting marker of the end of Saul’s reign and further defines the woman’s prophetic role.” (“1 Samuel 28—Saul and the Not so Wicked Witch of Endor,” Review and Expositor 95 [1998]: 440. Emphasis mine.)

The medium is a discerning woman who delivers a genuine prophetic message. The woman of Endor shows the wayward Saul hospitality, honor, forgiveness—and Christlike love.

Though Samuel’s message to the wayward king is ominous, it contains grace. Samuel promises that, although Saul and his sons will die in battle, they will join him in the afterlife.

Samuel’s mother Hannah prophesied when she dedicated the boy to God’s service: “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up” (1 Sam. 2:6 NIV). We see this fulfilled in Samuel’s beyond-the-grave counsel to Saul.

Our lesson from Saul

What does King Saul portray in this account?

Up to this point in the story, he has disobeyed the Lord’s instruction through Prophet Samuel, which results in losing his political position. In extreme military straits with the Philistine army bearing down on the nation, he gives way to fear.

Although he inquires of the Lord for guidance through traditional means, he has already been given direction, and no more is forthcoming. He then seeks a medium to contact the departed Samuel for a different message. He dons a deceptive guise to fool the woman.

We see in Saul disobedience to God; refusal to accept prophetic counsel; jealous pursuit of David, an innocent and loyal subject; callous murder of God’s priests (1 Sam. 22:17-18); cowardice; loss of integrity; and deceptiveness.

Our lesson from the woman of Endor

What do we see in the woman of Endor?

Respect for the law of the land, true gifting and integrity in its use‬—albeit unorthodox in that time and place. Compassion, empathy, kindness. The grace and hospitality of Abraham and the forgiveness of the Prodigal Father. The love of Christ.

What does the Bible say about mediums? Good things, thanks to the kind woman of Endor.

More information:
The Kind Woman of Endor, part 1

The Kind Woman of Endor, part 1

Woman of Endor

Rethinking Traditional Interpretations Series

The Bible mentions several women who, despite living in ancient patriarchal times, are uniquely praised.

Rahab, a prostitute, is upheld as an example of faith (Josh. 2:1-7,15-24; 6:12-25; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25). She married Salmon of Judah and became the mother of Boaz (Ruth 4:21; Matt. 1:5).

Ruth, a widow from the cursed clan of Moabites (Deut. 23:3; Ruth 1:4,22; Isa. 15; Zeph. 2:9), approached Boaz, who married her (Ruth 2-4) and together continued the human lineage of Jesus (Matt. 1:5).

Deborah, a prophet and the only female judge of Israel, advised Barak to attack the commander of the Canaanite army, Sisera, whom she prophesied a woman would kill (Judges 4). That woman was Jael (4:21-22).

Miriam and Huldah were also prophets (Ex. 15:20; Judg. 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14-20).

Another woman is an even greater outlier yet is recounted favorably in the Scriptures. This is the woman of Endor, a medium.

As part of the Rethinking Traditional Interpretations Series, I want to take another look at her story. Please set aside hackneyed traditional interpretations and seek something fresh with me.

Traditional take on mediums in the Bible

In Evangelical and Pentecostal circles, the woman of Endor is consistently vilified and constantly referred to as a “witch,” although this word appears nowhere in the Bible text.

The legal code of Leviticus frowned on the ancient Israelites consulting mediums (Ex. 22:18; Lev. 19:31; 20:6,27; Deut. 18:9-15). This is because, in the land of Canaan the Israelites were to possess, such mediums—and the inhabitants in general—worshiped other gods using detestable practices, which the Israelites were forbidden to follow (Deut. 18:9-10).

Such proscriptions were not unique to Israelite law. The Code of Hammurabi (1728–1686 B.C.) prohibited sorcery and prescribed the death penalty for those who practiced it. (Lawrence O. Richards, “Magic,” Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, [Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1991], 425.)

Today in Papua New Guinea, although illegal, villagers still kill those accused of using sorcery against others (In Papua New Guinea’s Sorcery Wars, A Peacemaker Takes On Her Toughest Case). The kind woman of Endor, though, is not identified as a sorceress, but a medium.

Isaiah 8:19-20 advises against consulting mediums on behalf of the living. Instead, “You should follow the teachings and the agreement with the Lord [(Look) to the law/instruction and to the testimony]. The mediums and fortune-tellers … [If they do not] speak the word of the Lord [according to this word], … [they are spiritually blinded…]” (EXB).

Basically, for Israelites, any message from a medium must agree with the Law. This stricture also applied to Israel’s own prophets (Deut. 13:2-3; 18:18; Ezek. 2:7; Jer. 27:16).

Seeing the unorthodox with new eyes

However, we must remember that God led and showed favor to foreign sorcerers and astrologers—elsewhere criticized in Scripture (Isa. 47:13-15; Dan. 2:2-12)—who came to worship the Christ child (Matt 2:1,11-12).

The Nicene Creed upholds the “communion of the saints,” which includes those who have passed into the next life.

Teachers of the Law and Pharisees dragged a woman caught in adultery to Jesus for judgment, but He treated her differently (John 8:2-11). Can we likewise see this woman, the medium of Endor, through Jesus’ eyes?

First Samuel 28 tells the story of this woman who lived in the eleventh century B.C. The account opens with a description of Saul, Israel’s first king, whose monarchy is failing during imminent war with the Philistines.

Saul in trouble

3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land.
4 Then the Philistines gathered together, and came and encamped at Shunem. So Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped at Gilboa.
5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.
6 And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.
–1 Samuel 28:3-6 NKJV

The great prophet Samuel had prophesied that the kingdom of Israel would be torn from Saul because of his disobedience and delivered to David instead (1 Sam. 15:10-29). This was Samuel’s final prophetic message to the rebellious Saul.

Soon afterward, Samuel died, and Saul had no one to turn to for counsel. Things went downhill for him and the nation.

Concerning the situation with the Philistines, Saul desperately inquired of the Lord, but God did not answer him.

The king received no dreams. He consulted the high priest, who used the Urim and Thummim, a divinely sanctioned casting of lots (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8; 1 Sam. 14:41-42). He approached other prophets, probably those whom Samuel had schooled (1 Sam. 19:19-24).

All to no avail. The Lord remained silent.

Some time before, Saul had expelled all the spiritists and wizards from the land (v. 3) and did not kill them as the Law required. Since he had exhausted all avenues of guidance, Saul broke his own rule and visited a medium at Endor.

The woman of Endor

Then Saul said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.”
–1 Samuel 28:7 NKJV

This Bible translation calls her a “woman” and a “medium.” The subheadings of some translations call her a “witch.” But the Hebrew text refers to her only as a woman (‘ishsha, Strong’s H802) with a familiar spirit (‘ôb, Strong’s H178).

Why the woman remained in the area after Saul had driven out the spiritists (v. 3) is not revealed. Perhaps she was an Israelite herself and therefore a follower of YHWH.

“Endor” comes from a combination of the words Eyn and Dor. Eyn means a revolution of time, a generation, or a dwelling place. It comes from the word ‘ayin, which means eye, mental or spiritual faculties, or a spring or fountain. It means “fountain of the circle” or “fountain of habitation.” Endor was about twelve miles northeast of Mount Gilboa.

Endora(I still ponder whether Sabrina’s mother-in-law on the TV show Bewitched was named “Endora” after this biblical figure. In name only, for the woman of Endor was kind, and Endora was anything but!)

Saul’s assurance

8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Please conduct a seance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.”
9 Then the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?”
10 And Saul swore to her by the LORD, saying, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”
–1 Samuel 28:8-10 NKJV

God had already given Saul a decisive prophetic word through the prophet Samuel that Saul would not accept: “‘You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!’” (1 Sam. 15:10-29).

Saul’s self-will and disobedience in his position of leadership met with irreversible consequences. In the end, he ignored God, Prophet Samuel, and his own law.

Yet he assured the woman that no harm would come to her if she practiced her mediumistic abilities.

What happens when she does? We’ll see—next time.

More information:
The Kind Woman of Endor, part 2

Zelophehad’s Daughters Were Right

Zelophehads Daughters

Did God account for every gender situation in the Bible?

No.

Does God make new rules?

Yes. Let’s learn why from Zelophehad’s daughters.

Moses counts the Israelites

Through Moses, God delivered the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt—you know, the whole Charlton Heston Ten Commandments thing: stubborn Pharaoh, ten plagues, the Passover, crossing the Red Sea, and traveling around the mountain for forty years.

In Numbers chapter 26, God directs Moses to take a census of the Israelites so that land could be divided among the sons of those who escaped from slavery in Egypt.

Did you get that?

SONS. Males, men, guys.

Then a peculiar situation arose.

Zelophehad’s daughters

1 The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher…, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. They came forward
2 and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said,
3 “Our father died in the wilderness. He… left no sons.
4 Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.”
–Numbers 27:1–4 NIV

Zelophehad, who died in the desert, had sired only daughters.

These four women approached Moses at the Tent of Meeting, the place where Moses met with God. This was a few thousand years before the 1970s and the Women’s Lib movement; in an ancient Middle Eastern culture, it was a bold act.

The women presented their situation to Moses: “Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.”

5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord,
6 and the Lord said to him,
7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.
8 “Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter.
9 If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers.
10 If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers.
11 If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to have the force of law for the Israelites, as the Lord commanded Moses.’”
–Numbers 27:5-11 NIV

God makes new rules

Ponder these intriguing points:

  • When God told Moses that land was to be divided among the sons of the Israelites, didn’t God know that Zelophehad had only daughters?

    If not, then God is not omniscient—a biggie among divine attributes, along with omnipotence and omnipresence.

  • If the situation where a couple bore only daughters was inherently wrong in God’s plan, then why did God not design genetics to work so that a son was always born—so that all God’s rules of inheritance could be followed?

    This is silly, of course; we know it’s not inherently wrong that a couple bears only daughters—it’s merely one possible outcome because of how genetics do work.

  • If God knew there was a family in Israel that had only daughters and God had not misdesigned genetics to break the rules of property inheritance, then why did God not mention this special case in the first place when initially handing down the laws of property inheritance?

    Did God forget, make an oversight, was the fine print too small to chisel in stone?

Consider this:

When a class of people with a special circumstance brought their case before the Lord, God confirmed that they were right, and added a special exception to account for it (see vv. 8–11). God said this decision, previously unaccounted for, was to become a new legal requirement.

Based on God’s own fairness and unchanging nature, God still does this today. GOD MAKES NEW RULES!

Exceptional situations occur because of how genetics work. This includes 3.5% or more of the population being born gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This possibility happens through genetics, which the Creator designed.

Why? Because God doesn’t know about these situations, or doesn’t care about the people they affect?

Of course not.

Predicated on our understanding of God’s goodness, fairness, and character, we must make our own decisions concerning such situations that arise in the course of human development based on the love and acceptance of God.

Will you accept like God accepts?

Should LGBTQ+ people be denied an inheritance in God’s kingdom? Zelophehad’s daughters weren’t. God accepted them and gave them an inheritance among God’s people.

Acceptance is what LGBTQ+ people need today—not continued judgment and rejection by those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ, the only One who never turned anybody away.

to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
–Ephesians 1:5 NKJV

More information:
This post is taken from Response to a Concerned Heterosexual Christian

God’s New Temple, part 5

Worship

This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). Part 5 is about God’s new temple, the Church.

The Church is God’s house

In the early days of the Church, the new believers continued to meet in the temple (Luke 24:53). But in A.D. 70 Rome demolished the Jerusalem temple just as Jesus had foretold: “‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’” (Mark 13:2 NIV). (See also Matt. 24:2; Luke 21:6.)

The ceremonial observances—animal sacrifices—finally were abolished. God had ensured that those who worshiped Him would do so not with regard to place, but in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).

God’s presence was no longer confined to the temple; God would now reach into all the world to build a new temple where the Holy Spirit could dwell and fill all the earth (Eph. 1:22-23).

The Church, the true temple of God

Under the new covenant, the Spirit of God dwells not in any building or structure of wood and stone, but in the spiritual house of the Church—the corporate Body of Christ.

4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—
5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
–1 Peter 2:4–5, 9–10 NIV

The Church is a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, a spiritual house and temple with Jesus Christ as its Chief Cornerstone.

Paul’s teaching echoes the Body-as-temple motif:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
–Ephesians 2:19–22 NIV

The Church is a spiritual building made of living stones, whose foundation is Christ Himself. It is a temple where the Spirit of God dwells.

9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. …
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
–1 Corinthians 3:9–11,16–17 NIV

Paul informed the Corinthians that, as a local body of believers, they were God’s temple, a local expression of the Body of Christ where God dwelled by the Spirit.

Later in this same letter, Paul revealed that each believer was also a temple of the Holy Spirit:

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? …
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
–1 Corinthians 6:15a,19–20 NIV

As Spirit-filled believers, we are the temple of the living God—personally and corporately. (See 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Tim. 3:15.)

God no longer dwells in buildings made of stone. When we step into a church building, we should no longer quote Psalm 122:1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (NIV).

A church building is not God’s house or temple; “…WE are his house” (Heb. 3:6 NIV).

Let’s recognize the Lord’s house for what it is—the Body of Christ—and not human structures. Jesus died to set us free from temple worship, and so did Stephen.

Be that temple of the Living God where the Holy Spirit lives and moves and has being. This is new testament Christianity.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 1
God’s New Temple, part 2
God’s New Temple, part 3
God’s New Temple, part 4

God’s New Temple, part 4

Tabernacle

This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). Part 4 is about the persecution of the Church and the house of the Lord.

Stephen’s death results in persecution

In a strange way, Stephen’s message was confirmed. Place no longer mattered for Jews who had accepted Jesus as Messiah.

Proof of this became apparent when persecution broke out against the fledgling Church, and they scattered everywhere (Acts 8:1-4).

The “house of the Lord”

In the Old Testament it was the tabernacle and then the temple—the “house of the Lord”—where the people gathered to worship God and experience God’s presence.

The phrase “house of the Lord” occurs 234 times in the King James Version of the Bible. All of these references appear in the Old Testament, and they refer to the building of the temple. Here are a few examples:

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
–Psalm 27:4 NIV

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
–Psalm 122:1 NIV

1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.
–Psalm 134:1-2 NIV

The house of the Lord was a physical building where the Israelites were required to gather and worship the Lord. It was there that God met the people by God’s Spirit, as in the days of Solomon.

10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.
11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.
12 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud;
13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”
14 While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them.
–1 Kings 8:10–14 NIV

God had designated Jerusalem as the place of worship where God’s people must bring their sacrifices. (See Deut. 12:4-7,11-14; 2 Sam. 7:5,13; 1 Ki. 11:36; 14:21.) But God could never be confined to any building.

Jesus predicted that temple worship would come to an end (see John 4:21-24). Those who would worship God would worship “in spirit and in truth.”

Before his stoning, Stephen argued that “‘the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands’” (Acts 7:48 NIV).

When Jesus hung on the cross and surrendered His spirit to the Father, the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the temple was rent in two—from top to bottom—showing that this was the work of God, not people. (See Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45.)

It was the initiation of prophetic fulfillment of this passage from Ezekiel:

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
–Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV

See also Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Through Christ’s sacrifice, God opened “a new and living way… for us through the curtain, that is, [Christ’s] body” (Heb. 10:20 NIV).

This new access was not only to lead believers into a deeper worship experience within a special building. Rather, it signified that God was letting His Spirit out to touch the entire world.

How?

Through God’s new house, the Church. We’ll learn more next time.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 1
God’s New Temple, part 2
God’s New Temple, part 3

God’s New Temple, part 3

Stoning of St Stephen

This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). Part 3 is about Stephen’s rejection and execution.

The rejection of the religious leaders

At his trial, Stephen lambasted the religious leaders: “‘You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!’” (Acts 7:51 NIV). Stephen accused them of betraying and murdering their Messiah.

The Sanhedrin’s rejection of Stephen’s teaching was merely characteristic of their rebellion against all the prophetic messages God had sent them in the past. Jesus had prophesied,

50 “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world,
51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.”
–Luke 11:50-51 NIV

Ultimately, they refused the One to whom the prophets pointed. In the same way they condemned Stephen, they had executed God’s one true Messenger—the Christ, the Son of God.

Stephen accused them of the utmost hypocrisy: receiving what they considered to be the word of God, but refusing to obey what it said (7:53).

This climax of Stephen’s diatribe was ill received.

The stoning of Stephen

54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
–Acts 7:54–56 NIV

The focus of Stephen’s teaching had been that God is not confined to buildings. He had quoted Isaiah 66:1: “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.’” (Acts 7:49a NIV).

The moment he finished speaking, Stephen was overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and, looking up, beheld what he’d been teaching about: He saw the throne of God and Christ standing at God’s right hand.

Stephen had preached that God’s place was in heaven; the Holy Spirit confirmed the word and unveiled the Lord in His heavenly glory.

7:57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. …
–Acts 7:57–60; 8:1a NIV

In essence, Stephen proclaimed that worshiping at the temple and observing the ceremonial laws associated with temple worship were no longer necessary for Jews who had received Christ (Heb. 9:8-14 NIV).

As God revealed this to the early Church, the divine plan for them began to unfold. Yet there was a price for progress; Stephen gave his life for the word of the Lord.

In their sin, the people who stoned Stephen rejected his message and refused to accept what their Scriptures already stated—that God could not be contained in human-made structures. God was building a new house to dwell in.

We’ll learn more about this house next time.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 1
God’s New Temple, part 2