Category Archives: Bible Study

Understanding the Female Prophets in the Bible

Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna. All of these women were prophets or prophetesses of the Lord. As prophets, they delivered messages from God to the people of Israel. While we might commonly think of men as prophets, Scripture teaches that women also occupied this position of leadership in Israel.

Although the female prophets in the Bible are sometimes overlooked, we can learn significant lessons from these women.

Brief Overview of Female Prophets in the Bible

Various Bible teachers and writers commonly list multiple women under the title of prophet or prophetess, but only a few women are specifically named as “prophets” in Scripture.

1. Miriam. She is named a prophet or prophetess in Exodus 15:20. She led the women in worship after Israel crossed through the Red Sea to escape their Egyptian bondage (Exodus 15:20-21).

2. Deborah. Later, the Lord spoke through the prophet Deborah. She pronounced God’s command to Barak to lead Israel’s army to fight against Sisera at Mount Tabor (Judges 4:6-7).

Not only was she a prophet, but she also served as Judge over Israel — the only woman to serve in this position.

3. Huldah is another female prophet in the Old Testament. God used her to convey a message to Josiah, the king of Judah. Josiah demonstrated distress over the sins of Israel after reading the Book of the Law (2 Chronicles 34:19).

Because he humbled himself, God said that he would not see the destruction of Judah, which God was inflicting on the nation because they were chasing after idols (2 Chronicles 34:23-28). The Lord prophesied through Huldah about the destruction of Judah.

4. An unnamed prophetess. Isaiah’s unnamed wife was also a prophetess. She bore a son to Isaiah named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isaiah 8:1-4).

5. Anna. She had the privilege of seeing Christ at His first coming, which is something she had waited her entire life to see.

When the infant Jesus was taken to the temple for consecration, Anna saw Him and “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Recognizing the significance of Jesus’ identity, she openly spoke about Him to others.

6. Philip’s daughters. The role of the prophets waned during the early church. A few prophets stood out in the later years, including Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:9).

According to Luke’s account in Acts, these four women could prophesize (Acts 21:9). As the need for signs diminished, though, so did the gift of prophecy.

God Views Women as Equal to Men

In biblical times, both in the Old and New Testaments, society was patriarchal. Men were favored and seen as the leaders of society. In contrast, women were viewed as inferior to men and did not have many rights or privileges.

Despite negative views of them in the patriarchal society, God viewed women as equal to men. He used both male and female prophets to proclaim His messages to Israel.

Furthermore, prophets were often leaders in biblical times. It is easy to think of men occupying these roles, but women did as well.

When Jesus came into the world, born of a virgin, both a male and female prophet announced the good news of His coming. Simeon spoke about Jesus as the Savior of Jews and Gentiles (Luke 2:29-32).

Likewise, Anna openly spoke about Christ to the crowds in the Temple (Luke 2:38). God used a man and woman to tell others about the good news of His Son’s coming.

People in the modern world need the reminder that women are equal to men. The female prophets in the Bible show us that God values women and that He can work through them for His glory. He does not show favoritism among the two sexes/genders (Romans 2:11).

Women Have an Important Role in God’s Plan

Another lesson that female prophets teach us is that women have a significant role in biblical history. Society restricted women to the home, but God often worked in surprising ways among His people.

Specifically, the female prophets were instrumental in conveying God’s message to Israel at pivotal times in history, even though women did not typically occupy roles of leadership. Likewise, women still have a vital role in God’s plan today.

For instance, Deborah stood strong in the face of the challenge of Sisera’s army. She was an essential figure in encouraging Barak to go to battle (Judges 4:4-7). Barak had said that he would not fight without Deborah (Judges 4:8).

She led Israel during this period and created a song recorded in Scripture that glorifies the Lord for giving Israel victory against their enemies (see Judges 5).

Although Deborah was unique among the Judges of Israel as the only woman Judge, she ruled and served as a prophet for the people. In reading the story of Deborah and other female prophets in the Bible, Christians are reminded that God still uses women to carry out His plans.

Like Deborah, Miriam, or Huldah in the Bible, the Lord can choose to use women in various positions, even those of leadership. We see this in the New Testament, as well, where individuals like Priscilla and Phoebe held leadership positions in the church (see Acts 18:26; Romans 16:1-4).

Many areas of the world continue to suppress women, even as these women disciples seek to spread the gospel and make disciples. However, the female prophets in the Bible remind us that the Lord uses women to make His glory known, both now and in the past.

Women, like men, have an essential part in God’s plan, and He can use anyone for His purposes.

There Are Consequences for Our Actions

In addition to helping us learn that God views women as equal to men and a valuable part of His plan for reaching the world, the female prophets in Scripture remind us that there are consequences for our actions.

Old Testament prophets often pronounced judgment on Israel because of the sins of the people. Huldah, a female prophet, not only spoke an encouraging word to Josiah because of his faithfulness but also pronounced a coming judgment on Judah because of the nation’s continual idolatry (2 Chronicles 34:23-28).

Huldah’s message from God about the coming judgment on Judah is a stark reminder that there are consequences for our sins.

First, if we continue to live in our sins without trusting in Jesus, then we will suffer the consequences of our unbelief and spend an eternity away from the Lord in punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

Scripture tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). To remain in our sinful state is to reap physical, spiritual, and eternal death.

If we have placed faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation, then we have the gift and promise of eternal life with our Lord (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). However, our actions still affect us and others.

When Christians sin against the Lord, their relationship with Him is negatively affected. Furthermore, our sins will impact our lives and the lives of those around us. Consequences from our sins can occur now and will occur in the future.

At the Judgment Seat of Christ, He will judge believers for rewards based on everything we have done since we trusted in Him for salvation (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Therefore, the female prophets in the Bible teach us that sin has consequences. It causes death, pain, and separation from God.

Even believers can suffer the effects of their sins because our relationship with the Lord and others becomes negatively impacted. We might think that we can hide our sins, but our sins will find us out (Numbers 32:23).

Christians need to listen to God’s Word so that we can recognize our fault when we sin against the Lord and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

When we humbly submit ourselves to His message, we follow the example of Josiah, who faithfully listened to God through Huldah’s message.

Why Does This Matter?

Scripture includes female prophets whom God used to spread His messages to His people. While we can easily overlook these women, wise students of the Bible should take note of the lessons that we can learn from their lives and examples.

Although women were seen as lesser than men in a patriarchal society, the presence of female prophets in the Bible reminds us that God views women and men as equals. He has spoken through women in the past and will continue to use His female followers to make His Name known throughout the world.

Finally, the stories of the female prophets in Scripture help us remember that there are consequences for our actions and that God sees all that we do.

We cannot hide our sins from Him. Therefore, believers can gain wisdom and insight by learning about the female prophets whom God spoke through in the Bible.

How Christians Can Win Any Argument

Have you ever had verbal warfare with someone exceptionally skilled in the fine art of debate? Even if we’re gifted in this area, it can be extremely difficult to engage with the silver-tongued who dances circles around us with lofty notions, scientific studies, and other wordplay designed to crush our perspective into a fine dust.

That’s what the Apostle Paul and the early church were encountering in first-century Greece as they sought to spread the Way of Jesus among the educated and opinionated people there.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul writes to the early church in Corinth, encouraging them to stay strong and reminding them, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV).

Why should Christians demolish every argument, as it says in 2 Corinthians 10:5? The short answer: for the sake of spreading the gospel and glorifying God to all who can hear.

What Is 2 Corinthians About?

Let’s first take a look at the entirety of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, called the Book of 2 Corinthians.

Thought to have been written in roughly AD 55 to early Christians there, the letter largely dealt with the many challenges the church was facing at that time, particularly with dissension, strife, disunity, spiritual immaturity, and improper teaching.

Paul, once called Saul, used to be an enemy of the cross, but on the road to Damascus, Jesus Christ appeared to him, and Paul did a spiritual about-face. He devoted the rest of his life to winning others to Christianity, even being willing to be executed for his faith.

His letters, also known as epistles, comprise a large portion of the New Testament and are instrumental in guiding and otherwise helping Christians understand what it means to live like Jesus in a broken world.

What Does 2 Corinthians 10:5 Mean?

In the tenth chapter of the book, Paul is basically telling the church that the world doesn’t always fight fairly, but God’s people operate in a different manner. In fact, he says, God’s supernatural powers are so great they can break down any barrier, win any war, and smash any stronghold.

Strongholds were essentially massive, protective walls around cities, and Paul is saying that God’s Word is powerful enough to crumble these walls. As he notes in verse 4, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”

Then he follows this with his reminder that we, the followers of Jesus, also known as “people of the Way,” similarly have the ability, because of God, to demolish, completely, all arguments in opposition to the Lord.

The Greek word Paul uses here for argument is logismos, which means reasoning or thoughts. He’s speaking here of the falsities people use to oppose Christianity, whether that’s false teachings or dissension or logic or any other things people of the day were drawing from.

The word he uses for demolish is kathaireō, which is to overthrow, tear down, or destroy.

In essence, Paul is saying that no amount of fancy wordplay, sophisticated speech, or so-called reason can stand up against the spiritual truths of the cross. The wisdom of the world simply cannot win out, and as Christians, we are to do our part to demolish these arguments.

Why Must We Demolish Every Argument?

As followers of Christ, we must model the life and words of Jesus Christ himself, who always pointed to the Father. We must do the same.

That means being willing to defend our faith at any time.

The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 urges us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

And earlier in 2 Corinthians, in chapter 5, Paul tells believers, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

As ambassadors, we are not only to represent Jesus well by living in line with His teachings, and modeling our lives after Him, but by offering a Christian defense spoken with love, respect, gentleness, and kindness. After all, we don’t use the “weapons of the world.” We’re on Team God.

How Can We Demolish Arguments Today?

One important way we can demolish arguments is by defending our faith. In 1 Peter 3:15, the Greek word for “answer” is apologia, which translates to defense, reason, or eagerness to defend or clarify.

When someone questions our faith and asks why we believe what we do, it isn’t enough to smile, shrug, and sail off with self-righteous smugness that we are on the winning team.

Nor is it enough to mumble something about how “it’s just the truth,” or “it says so in the Bible,” or “I was raised to believe this.” Those aren’t prepared answers, prepared defenses of the promises of God that we stand upon.

Rather, we are called to prepare for this question, to give the genuine reason for our hope, to testify about the truth and the way God works in our lives and our hearts.

It’s important to know we are not simply “winning an argument” but rather sharing the gospel with unbelievers, which is what Jesus commands us to do in Matthew 28:19 (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”).

When we do this in a loving way, rather than a judgmental, annoying, worldly way with sophisticated reasoning, we reflect the light and love of Christ, which has the power to demolish the wall of falsity and make way for the Truth.

And make no mistake: people need Jesus. They desperately need the life-saving eternal salvation He offers us all.

Where Do These Arguments Come From?

It’s also important to demolish arguments against the Lord because of where they come from —the enemy or Satan. In this chapter, Paul is addressing spiritual warfare. Worldly, or human-made, arguments are not of God.

Scholars of the day might spin all sorts of philosophies differing from the truth of Jesus, but anything that contradicts God’s Word is a sin, an enemy, something to be fought against.

We are in a spiritual war, but by aligning our thoughts with God and centering every bit of ourselves in Him — indeed, every single thought — we allow ourselves to be instruments of Christ Jesus.

All thoughts, doctrines, opinions, and philosophies not in line with the Lord will be fully and completely overwhelmed and struck down by the spiritual weapons used by God.

A Prayer for Demolishing Every Argument

If you are struggling today with how you can demolish arguments against God, thinking you are one tiny person in a big world, rest assured: the power of God through the advocate Christ sent, the Holy Spirit, is alive and working within every believer.

As we know from Acts 4:13, the Apostles Peter and John were unschooled, uneducated, ordinary men, yet they taught with such authority because of the Holy Spirit that the rulers and elders were astonished.

It’s the same with us.

Here, I offer a prayer we all can pray together:

Dear Lord, I believe in you. I desire with all my heart to live my life and bend my soul to Your will and Your way. Use me any way You wish to share the gospel and stand strong against earthy opponents. 

Use me as Your instrument and ambassador to demolish every argument and pretense against You, shining Your light in the world so all can see the Truth. In Your hold and precious name, I pray, Amen.

Secrets of the Archangel Raphael

When you need healing, you may think of the archangel Raphael. This popular angel is associated with all kinds of healing for body, mind, and spirit. Who is the archangel Raphael, and what can we learn from the healing assignments that God sometimes gives angels to work on?

Is the Archangel Raphael Found in the Bible?

The Bible used by most Protestant denominations doesn’t mention the archangel Raphael. However, the Bible used by Catholic and Orthodox Christians does include information about Raphael, in the Book of Tobit. The Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish religious text that Christians in the Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox churches consider a part of their sacred canon of scripture, also mentions Raphael.

In Tobit 12:15, Raphael declares: “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in the glorious presence of the Lord, ready to serve him.” These seven angels are known as archangels in Christian tradition because they’re angelic leaders who each direct many other angels and focus on specific types of assignments from God. The Protestant Bible mentions two other angels who are traditionally considered part of God’s 7 archangels (Michael and Gabriel). Raphael and the angels who works with him are all healing angels, according to Christian tradition.

The Book of Tobit describes how Raphael heals both physically (healing a father named Tobit of blindness and keeping his son Tobias safe while traveling), and spiritually (delivering Tobias’ fiancée Sarah from a demon). The family whom God sends Raphael to help has lived faithfully. When they hire a guide in a foreign country, they don’t realize that the guide they hired is actually the archangel Raphael in disguise, sent by God to help them. Along the way, Raphael directs Tobias to use an ointment made from a fish to heal his father Tobit’s blindness. Raphael also helps get rid of a demon named Azazel who had been tormenting Sarah. When Tobias and Tobit try to express their gratitude by paying their guide, they discover that he is actually the archangel Raphael – and Raphael declines personal thanks, directing them to thank God instead. Tobit 12:6 says: “Then Raphael took them both aside and said, ‘Bless God, utter his praise before all the living for the favor he has shown you. Bless and extol his name. Proclaim before all people the deeds of God as they deserve, and never tire of giving him thanks.’” Then Raphael finally reveals his identity to Tobit and Tobias. Raphael says in Tobit 12:13-14, “… I was sent to test your faith, and at the same time, God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law, Sarah.”

After Raphael reveals in verse 15 that he is one of God’s archangels, verses 16 to 21 describe the rest of the story: “They were both overwhelmed with awe; they fell on their faces in terror. But the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid; peace be with you. Bless God forever. As far as I was concerned, when I was with you, my presence was not by any decision of mine, but by the will of God; he is the one whom you must bless as long as you live, he the one that you must praise. You thought you saw me eating, but that was appearance and no more. Now bless the Lord on earth and give thanks to God. I am about to return to him who sent me from above. Write down all that has happened.’ And he rose in the air. When they stood up again, he was no longer visible. They praised God with hymns; they thanked him for having performed such wonders; had not an angel of God appeared to them?”

In The Book of Enoch, God gives Raphael a healing assignment: “Restore the earth, which the [fallen] angels have corrupted; and announce life to it, that I may revive it” (Enoch 10:10). Enoch’s guide also mentions Raphael, saying in Enoch 40:9 that Raphael “presides over every suffering and every affliction” of people on Earth.

Christians from the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches celebrate the archangel Raphael as the patron saint of people in the medical profession (such as doctors and nurses), patients, counselors, pharmacists, love, young people, and travelers. Christians traditionally chose those patronage areas for Raphael because of his healing missions, and also because of how he helped the family in the Book of Tobit.

What Should Christians Know about Him?

The main important fact to know about Raphael is that he is a leading healing angel who serves humanity on God-given missions. When you think of the archangel Raphael, let that motivate you to reach out to God for the healing you need in your life. Ask God for healing, and expect God to answer in whatever ways are best – including possibly sending healing angels to help you. Healing often works holistically – engaging all aspects of body, mind, and spirit – as the scriptural stories of Raphael’s healing work show. Well-being research also shows that healing works in ways that reveal connections between our bodies and souls. My book Wake Up to Wonder describes research on managing stress that illustrates this dynamic. Emotional stress takes a toll on people’s physical health, but research shows that when people practice prayer and meditation to manage stressful emotions well, their telomeres (the protective caps on chromosomes) can lengthen, which increases cellular protection and reduces disease risks.

So, when you pray to God for healing, God will answer your prayer in ways that take into account every aspect of what’s best for you: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. God will decide what help to send you, and that help may come from healing angels like Raphael. You likely won’t be aware of everything that God sets in motion to answer your healing prayers. Just as Raphael was disguised when helping Tobit’s family, healing angels often complete their assignments from God incognito. What you can be sure of, however, is that God will work powerfully to help you behind the scenes when you pray for healing.

Let Raphael’s work serving God inspire you to praise God for his healing work. Psalm 103:2-3 encourages us all to “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.”

Conclusion

The archangel Raphael is an important angel to know about because he does important healing work for people on assignment from God. However, it’s also important not to focus more on Raphael than it is on God. Keep in mind that it is God’s power at work through Raphael and other healing angels. If you experience a healing of any kind, give God – the source of your healing – your gratitude and worship.

The Final Moments of a Christian Celebrity

Singer, actress, and Christian celebrity Olivia Newton-John died peacefully on August 8, 2022, at age 73, following a 30-year battle with cancer.

Her Rise To Fame: Olivia Newton-John Bio

Though born in England in 1948, Olivia’s family moved to Australia when she was five. And one look at the Olivia Newton-John bio points to just how talented she was.

As a teen, she won a singing contest and later enjoyed some musical success in England in 1966. But it wasn’t until the 70s that she became widely known in the United States.

Her song “Let Me Be There” landed as a top-10 hit in the U.S. in 1973. After that, a list of Olivia Newton-John songs hit number one, including “I Honestly Love You,” “Have You Never Been Mellow,” and “Please Mr. Please.”

But for many, she sealed her iconic status with her appearance in the 1978 film Grease.

In the wildly popular movie musical. 29-year-old Olivia Newton-John plays Sandy, a wholesome high school student. Sandy just so happens to transfer schools from Australia and coincidentally lands at the same school as her summer romance, Danny, who is played by John Travolta. Only, Sandy discovers Danny is a tough, hot-rodding “greaser” at school, which is very different from the kind, sweet boy she met at the beach.

Three of the hit songs from Grease — “You’re The One That I Want,” “Summer Nights,” and “Hopelessly Devoted To You” — featured vocals from Olivia-Newton John.

And from there, she continued releasing music through the 80s, including the racy song “Physical.” She also continued acting in movies and on TV.

Though Olivia Newton-John, a Christian, enjoyed plenty of success, she endured her share of tragedy, as well, before she died. And it was her faith that helped see her through all of the peaks and valleys.

In the 90s, doctors diagnosed Olivia with breast cancer. This really pushed the Christian celebrity to prioritize faith and family over all else.

In 2005, her boyfriend, Patrick McDermott, vanished while on a fishing trip off the coast of California. No one ever found him and the unsettling disappearance plagued Olivia for many years.

“It’s very hard to live with that,” she explained. “It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve been through a lot of things.”

Enduring Trials: Olivia Newton-John Religion And Faith

Olivia Newton-John’s cancer battle was a roller coaster of ups and downs spanning over 30 years. She would overcome her bout in the 90s, only for it to return in 2017 and again in 2020.

Yet, even with all the illness and uncertainty, Olivia leaned on her faith and lived her best life.

“Listen, I think every day is a blessing,” she said at the age of 72. “You never know when your time is over; we all have a finite amount of time on this planet, and we just need to be grateful for that.”

Every journey on this earth will include some type of pain, suffering, and adversity. And while battling cancer is certainly nothing Olivia Newton-John would wish on anyone, before she died Olivia saw the blessings paired with her suffering. As only He can do, God brought purpose to her pain.

“I see it as my life’s journey. It gave me purpose and intention and taught me a lot about compassion,” she said. “It has been a gift. I don’t wish it on anyone else. But for me, it’s been important in my life.”

We can let our trials either drive us further from God or bring us closer to Him. And it truly seems as though Olivia learned to surrender her fate to the Lord. In fact, surrender is the central theme from her song “Let Go Let God” off the 2010 album, Grace and Gratitude.

So, when John Easterling announced his wife, Olivia Newton-John had died at 73, he said she did so peacefully and surrounded by loved ones.

“Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends,” John wrote on his wife’s social media accounts, requesting respect for the family’s privacy.

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” he went on to say.

In addition to her husband, John Easterling, Olivia Newton-John leaves behind her 34-year-old daughter, Chloe Lattanzi.

Reactions To The Loss Of An Icon

The news that Olivia Newton-John had died certainly hit hard. Fans and friends of the actress and singer expressed their sorrow and condolences.

Actress Jane Seymour shared a “very special bond” with Olivia for over 40 years. And Jane got emotional over the fact that the world was now without the “light” her friend brought into it.

“What brings tears to my eyes is that she always cared about other people,” she said. “She was just this positive light and amazing, amazing person.” Jane went on to explain, “She reminds me, and will always remind me every day, that life is a journey, has its ups and its downs, and she just had such strength and fortitude…She just gave back all the time. I think that’s the legacy.”

John Travolta, Olvia’s co-star from Grease, paid a tribute to her kindness as well, writing on Instagram, “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again.”

Another one of her co-stars from Grease, Barry Pearl, who played T-Bird Doody, got emotional as he shared, “Everything sounds so trite when you discuss who she is and what she was, but it is so because it’s so profoundly true … a heart that was so giving and loving.”

A New Zealand-Australian TV host, Richard Wilkins, broke down in tears when

“It is our loss,” he said. “A world has lost a beautiful human being today. We kind of knew this day was coming but hoped it would be a long way away.”

Sometimes, the best way to share our faith is to simply live it out. To let others see a light and a love shining from us that they can’t quite comprehend. And it sounds like that’s just what Olivia Newton-John did.

Please continue to lift her family up in prayer as they walk through this difficult time. May they find comfort in seeing the beautiful legacy Olivia left behind.

What is the Valley of the Shadow of Death?

The is one of the most famous prayers, yet few understand its meaning.

I must confess that my first exposure to this phrase was not from the Bible but from Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, a popular rap song from the early 90s. For Coolio, the line is “as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s nothin’ left.” Psalm 23:4 is painted in a much more hopeful hue:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

But what is the “valley of the shadow of death” that devastated Coolio but left the Psalmist with hope? And what does it mean to walk in this valley? 

What Is the Valley of the Shadow of Death?

In my time as a pastor, I’ve preached a fair share of funerals. Some families like certain scriptures read, especially if certain passages were important to them.

A majority of the time, Psalm 23 is one of the passages I’m asked to read. It has become iconic within our culture. If someone is dying or has died, you read Psalm 23 as a comfort. But is this actually talking about death?

The Hebrew word translated as “shadow of death” is one word, salmawet. It is a word that most often appears poetically. And the best translation is probably to call it “the valley of the deepest darkness.”

It’s not entirely inappropriate to see it as a figure of death or the dark underworld, but it’s also not entirely accurate. In Psalm 23, the image of a shepherd leading the sheep through a dark ravine is probably a closer image than being led through the pangs of death.

But it could be argued that there is no “darker ravine” than death itself. Derek Kidner argues that “although darkness is the leading thought in most of the Old Testament contexts, death is dominant in a few, including (in my view) the present verse” (Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary).

The Septuagint (LXX), which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, agrees with Kidner as it translates the phrase as skias thanatou (the shadow of death).

I would say that this verse can apply to death. And perhaps death, or the prospect of death, was on the forefront of David’s mind. Note as well that the phrase is the valley of salmawet.

This tells us that it is not just the darkest place, but it is the darkest place within that darkness. It may be helpful then to consider the whole phrase as the “darkest of darkness.”

Though the language is a bit dated, the words of John Owen are helpful here:

“As death is the worst of evils, and comprehensive of them all, so the shadow of death is the most dismal and dark representation of those evils to the soul, and the valley of that shadow the most dreadful bottom and depth of that representation” (Quoted from W.S. Plumer, Psalms).

That is what the valley of the shadow of death is, but what does it mean to walk through this valley?

What Does it Mean to Walk in This Valley?

Once when I was a teenager, I went out with a friend into the woods. We ended up further into the woods than we thought and as night began to fall, we realized that we were going to be in a thick wood when darkness came upon us.

We did not have flashlights or cellphones; all we had was a pale moonlight to navigate our way out of the woods and back to safety. It was terrifying, but we had a moon.

I am also originally from Hannibal, Missouri, and have had several guided tours through Mark Twain Cave. There is one point where they turn off all the lights, and it is pitch black in the cave.

You cannot even see your hand in front of your face. If the darkness had been this thick as we walked through the woods, it would have been incredibly dangerous.

Psalm 23:4 pictures a similar scene of walking in the darkest of darkness but doing so without fear of evil. Why? Because “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

We can walk through any darkness if the Lord is our shepherd. What this Psalm tells us is that there is no place so dark where God is not present with you. There is no depth of darkness where he does not traverse.

We are able to walk through this valley because we are being led by a gentle shepherd. That is the only way we can survive the dark moments in our life. And think about how the shepherd would guide his sheep in such a time.

He would not point off into the distance and tell the sheep to traverse there alone, nor would he go far ahead of them and call them to himself. No, in such a perilous situation a good shepherd will keep his sheep very close.

They will be within reach of his rod and staff. He will be close enough to protect from enemies and close enough to reassure of his presence. This is how Jesus is present with us in our darkest moments.

How Does Psalm 88 Relate?

Perhaps it would be helpful to illustrate this with Psalm 88. Psalm 88 is perhaps the darkest Psalm in all of Scripture. To walk through Psalm 88 is to trek amongst the darkest of the dark.

Other Psalms end with hope. Psalm 88 does not. It’s low. It’s depressing. It is a picture of what happens when all the curses of Deuteronomy fall upon someone. It seems hopeless.

On one occasion, as I was battling a deep depression, I came upon Psalm 88. It was somewhat healing because it seemed as if those Psalmist’s words were my words. But the camaraderie didn’t last long because I felt as the Psalmist did that darkness was my only friend. I claimed it as my own Psalm.

But then, Jesus broke through the darkness. I began to remember the gospel and realized that Psalm 88 was not ultimately my psalm. It belonged to Jesus, the suffering servant. If anyone could pray Psalm 88, it was Jesus.

He had plummeted to the darkest depths. He was in the deepest valley. He met the full weight of death and hell. If anyone has walked through “the valley of the shadow of death” or fallen into the deep pit of Psalm 88, it is the Lord Jesus.

This gave me great hope because it meant that there was no darkness that could befall me where Jesus was not already present. He had been there. And he was there still, with me, in the midst of that darkness.

He is the Great Shepherd who is able to guide us through the darkest valley because he is all too familiar with the terrain. The Man of Sorrows can lead his sheep through this darkness because it is here, in these dark places, where he so often is found residing.

But we know the gospel story as well. Jesus does not stay in that pit. Darkness never gets the last word. He leads us through the valley.

And whether that is at our darkest moment of death or in those moments we would call the pangs of death — we know that Christ has been there and has already defeated the darkness in our place. He goes lower than we will ever go so that He can get underneath us and carry us into glory.

The Suffering Servant is the Great Shepherd.

Archaeologists Uncover First-Known Depictions of Biblical Figures

The earliest known depiction of biblical heroines Jael and Deborah was discovered at an ancient synagogue in Israel, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced last week. A rendering of one figure driving a stake through the head of a military general was the initial clue that led the team to identify the figures, according to project director Jodi Magness.

“This is extremely rare,” Magness, an archaeologist and religion professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, told Religion News Service. “I don’t know of any other ancient depictions of these heroines.”

The nearly 1,600-year-old mosaics were uncovered by a team of students and specialists as part of The Huqoq Excavation Project, which resumed its 10th season of excavations this summer at a synagogue in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq in Lower Galilee. Mosaics were first discovered at the site in 2012, and Magness said the synagogue, which dates to the late fourth or early fifth century, is “unusually large and richly decorated.” In addition to its extensive, relatively well-preserved mosaics, the site is adorned with wall paintings and carved architecture.

The fourth chapter of the Book of Judges tells the story of Deborah, a judge and prophet who conquered the Canaanite army alongside Israelite general Barak. After the victory, the passage says, the Canaanite commander Sisera fled to the tent of Jael, where she drove a tent peg into his temple and killed him.

The newly discovered mosaic panels depicting the heroines are made of local cut stone from Galilee and were found on the floor on the south end of the synagogue’s west aisle. The mosaic is divided into three sections, one with Deborah seated under a palm tree looking at Barak, a second with what appears to be Sisera seated and a third with Jael hammering a peg into a bleeding Sisera.

Magness said it’s impossible to know why this rare image was included but noted that additional mosaics depicting events from the Book of Judges, including renderings of Sampson, are on the south end of the synagogue’s east aisle. According to the UNC-Chapel Hill press release, the events surrounding Jael and Deborah might have taken place in the same geographical region as Huqoq, providing at least one possible reason for the mosaic.

“The value of our discoveries, the value of archaeology, is that it helps fill in the gaps in our information about, in this case, Jews and Judaism in this particular period,” explained Magness. “It shows that there was a very rich and diverse range of views among Jews.”

Magness said rabbinic literature doesn’t include descriptions about figure decoration in synagogues—so the world would never know about these visual embellishments without archaeology.

“Judaism was dynamic through late antiquity. Never was Judaism monolithic,” said Magness. “There’s always been a wide range of Jewish practices, and I think that’s partly what we see.”

These groundbreaking mosaics have been removed from the synagogue for conservation, but Magness hopes to return soon to make additional discoveries. The Huqoq Excavation Project, sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill, Austin College, Baylor University, Brigham Young University, and the University of Toronto, paused in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and is scheduled to resume next summer.

What is “The Beast”?

“Get ready for Beast Mode!” These words popped into my head as I was reading Derek Prince’s book The Beast or the Lamb and triggered a flood of urgent thoughts about where I am in my faith walk, where we are as a nation that professes to be under God, where we are as a church and, most importantly, if we are ready.

The movements in the world directing us slowly but surely towards a time when Satan is allowed to draw worship away from the true Christ and true God towards himself through the powers given to the beasts portrayed in Revelation 13 are already in full swing. The conflict we see at work, according to Prince, is that of the nature of the Beast against the nature of the Lamb. In other words: Falsehood, which stems from the father of lies, against Truth, which stems from the Spirit and the Word of truth. It’s been there from the moment Christ was tempted in the desert, but it seems to be intensifying like never before.

We have talked a lot in recent months about our true identity in Christ versus the identity confusion and distortion of the world, about the erosion of impartial and absolute truth and its replacement by what you hold to be your personal truth, and by the blurring lines between impartial, true facts and fake, sensationalized and politicized news and propaganda. It’s all related to the nature of the Beast versus the nature of the Lamb. Beast mode versus Christ mode.

God’s Truth and truths are readily available to us as Christians. What is required of us is that we are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit Who embodies His Truth and gives us understanding of it and walk with Him daily.

Because of the acceleration of the world’s movements towards the coming of the beasts, I believe God wants to prepare us for their arrival – as His global Church, and each of us individually as His sons and daughters. But it is not automatic. God will do all the work but requires from us a mindset of wholehearted and uncompromising devotion (Matthew 12:30-31, James 4:4-8).

Prince speaks of a great apostasy, or falling away from the faith, that will precede the coming of the antichrist – a widespread deception of the saints into forsaking the Truth and worship of the One True God, resulting in abject failure to recognize the antichrist as a false Messiah, and to subsequent worship of him instead of Jesus Christ. The power of the beasts to deceive and force people to worship Satan is being allowed by God. He uses it force those sitting on the fence to make radical choices, to test and deepen the faith of those wholeheartedly devoted to Him, and thus purify His Bride for the return of the Groom. The result of this testing against deception is that those who have a form of godliness but are denying its power (see 2 Timothy 3:5) will fall away.

It is important that we recognize the signs. According to recent news reports, faith in God is at an all-time low in America. Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans’ engagement with the Bible is also at an all-time low. In other words, we are seeing a worrying departure from the two ingredients most necessary to withstand the powers given to the beasts: faith, and knowledge of the Truth. At the same time, major church splits are occurring that seem to have at their center whether or not the Bible is God’s infallible, true, and authoritative Word.

That is why I believe God has called me to write books, blogs, and articles. It forms the reason why my book Prayer Matters is calling believers of all backgrounds to a consistent walk with God. And it is the driving force behind my work on a new book that guides believers into daily, prayerful engagement with the treasures of truth in God’s Word. Not to mention that urgency to be serious about our daily walk with God runs through every post on my blog.
This is also the urgency behind the mission of True Identity Ministries as we see Satan’s attacks on God-given identity both inside and outside the Church intensify.

There is no intent to self-promote here. I see the deception and distraction from the things that strengthen our walk with God and prepare us for the present and future works of the two beasts all around me. It dismays me, it worries me, and it drives me to herald the message to throw ourselves at the mercy of our all-sufficient God every way I can.  Because the times, they are a changing.

But God….

Is faithful. He does not give up on us. He seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23), He inclines our hearts to His Word (Psalm 119:36), He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and His power has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). In short – we need not fear nor wither under the power of the nature of the beast.

But we….

Must be lovers of His Word, as well as doers and not just hearers (James 1:22), pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), set our minds on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:6-8) and keep in step with Him daily (Galatians 5:16,17).

That is why I am turning my dismay and concern over the lack of urgency in preparing ourselves as the American Church into fervent prayer. It is, in fact, the meat and potatoes of what I think God has assigned to me for daily intercession. To pray for a prepared church and all of its aspects. We simply can’t afford to put preparedness off, make like the five foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) and keep holding on to our creature comforts. The Lord has been warning us since the coming of Christ in the flesh and the dawning of His Church on Pentecost to be alert (Matthew 25:13, Matthew 26:41, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Colossians 4:2, 1 Peter 5:8-10, Revelation 3:2).

If you feel a similar concern, I invite you to pray with me that the American Church, amid all the chaos in the world around us, wakes up to its need to prepare for what is to come.

  • To be stirred by a sense of urgency to be alert and start preparing.
  • To understand what that preparedness consists of and be motivated by faith instead of fear.
  • To become people of unceasing prayer out of the conviction and knowledge that prayer matters to God and is key to all aspects of our relationship with Him.
  • To become lovers of His Word and engage with it daily, seeking His help to understand, believe and obey it, and to let it make us people of discernment that will recognize the deceptions of Satan’s beasts.
  • To be so fully and strongly surrendered to Christ that we are willing to suffer for our faith.
  • To proclaim God’s Truth (of the gospel) and truths (of His will and Word) increasingly and boldly to our American Society that pledges to be one nation under God but is turning away from Him more and more.

            Father in heaven, we confess today that we get so easily distracted in our devotion to prayer and the Word by the comforts of this world. We pray that you stir a sense of urgency in us and in all our brothers and sisters to be alert and prepare for what is to come. May your children, born from above by the Holy Spirit, be moved to be lovers of the Word, people of unceasing prayer, bold proclamation, united in love, and able to endure the suffering that is to come at the hand of Satan’s beasts, so that Your Bride may stand proven, pure, and ready for the return of Jesus, her Bridegroom. We pray the words of Psalm 119:36 on all your children that we together may be kept from falling away: “Incline our hearts to you and your testimonies, Lord, and not to selfish gain.” In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Are you prepared for the coming beasts? How are you praying for the American church as we draw closer to the end times? Share your thoughts and prayers below.

Author Remco Brommet is a pastor, spiritual growth teacher, and prayer leader with over 40 years’ experience in Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the US. Born and raised in the Netherlands and pastoring his first church in Amsterdam, he moved to the US in 1986. He and his wife Jennifer currently live north of Atlanta, GA When not writing books, he blogs and assists his wife as content developer and prayer coordinator for True Identity Ministries. Jennifer and Remco are passionate about bringing people into a deeper relationship with Christ. Photo Credit: Raychel Sanner on Unsplash.

Why did Mary Clean the Feet of Jesus?

Here are 3 important spiritual lessons we can learn from the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet:

1. God is worthy of our worship. All of us worship someone or something in our lives, according to how we decide to spend our time and energy. Whatever we devote our attention to the most from day to day is essentially what we’re worshiping. This story of Mary’s act of worship shows us that there is no one and nothing more deserving of our worship than God. We need to get rid of any idols in our lives – whoever or whatever we’re giving more attention to than we’re giving God – and make God our top priority in our schedules and decisions. The way we can motivate ourselves to do so is by pursuing God’s wonder. In my book Wake Up to Wonder, I explain research that shows a strong connection between wonder and worship. Encountering wonder inspires us to worship because the more we notice the wonder of God’s work in our lives, the more we’ll want to worship him. The connection works the other way around, as well: the more we choose to worship God, the more we will recognize his wonder and feel awe.

2. God doesn’t hold anything back from us. God loves us completely and unconditionally. This story of Jesus’ anointing foreshadows how Jesus gave his all on the Cross for us. He made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy eternal relationships with God. As John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” There are no limits to what God is willing to do for us, because of his great love for us. God not only has love for us, but God actually is love at his core, as 1 John 4:16 declares: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Psalm 36:7 points out: “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!…”. God is the source of all love, and love that comes from him never fails. God’s unlimited, reliable love is something to celebrate!

3. We shouldn’t hold back anything back from God. In our relationships with God, we shouldn’t hold back our love from God. God is worthy of all our love and he doesn’t hold back his love from us. So, like Mary in this story, we should give our wholehearted devotion to God. Jesus reveals in Matthew 22:37 that the greatest commandment of all is to, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” Love is more than an emotion; it’s an action. We often have opportunities to show our love for God through our work, and Colossians 3:23-24 encourages us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Just like Mary did, let’s give our very best to God.

How Can We Apply These Lessons in Our Own Spiritual Lives?

We can apply the wisdom from these lessons by doing our best to pour out our lives as on offering to God, just like Mary poured out valuable perfume to show God her love.

Our attention shows what we value most. Mary’s attention to Jesus reveals that she highly values him. Are we giving our attention first and foremost to our relationships with God? How often do we think of God and communicate with him? Are we reading the Bible – God’s love letter to us – regularly? Have we built prayer and meditation habits we enjoy? How often are we thanking God for his love and the blessings he’s giving us? Are we seeking God’s wonder and celebrating it? Are we approaching worship as more than just a weekly service, but as a constant lifestyle? What are we doing to show God from day to day that we adore him?

Our time is like Mary’s perfume – a highly valuable resource that we should use well. In order to so, we should make our relationships with God our top priority. Do our schedules show that we’re centering our lives on our relationships with God?

Every day, we can ask our Counselor the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) to help us worship God wholeheartedly, without holding anything back. We can base our decisions on the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and then enjoy how doing so welcomes God’s love into our lives.

Conclusion

The Bible story in which Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume powerfully shows love in action. Mary recognized God’s true value and responded to a loving God with loving worship. By looking at Mary’s example of devotion to Jesus, we can find the inspiration we need to fully receive and give love in our own relationships with God.

Whitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter.

The Dirty Truth About Judas

According to the New Testament, Jesus was arrested by the Roman authorities for claiming to be the son of God, though some modern day historians suggest that the Romans detained him as he was a threat to the empire. However, before his arrest, all four canonical gospels claim Jesus was betrayed by Judas to the Sanhedrin in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas is said to have kissed Jesus and addressed him as a “rabbi” to reveal his identity to the crowd who had come to arrest him.

Jesus was then sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect in the province of Judea.

After the crucifixion, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and buried in a cave, with the entrance sealed off by an enormous stone to prevent anyone stealing his body.

However, three days later, some women visited the grave and found that the stone had been moved and that the tomb was empty.

Jesus was then seen by a number of people after his death which, to the apostles, is proof that he was the living son of God.

Five years ago, author Tom Bissell wrote ‘Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve’, which set off to discover whether the twelve apostles were actual historical figures or merely fictional characters.

Mr Bissell walked 500 miles along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in north Spain, during which he hunted for a mysterious monastery where Apostle Matthew is believed to be buried.

He also visited the place where Judas who, overcome with remorse for his part in Jesus’ death, is said to have hanged himself.

In the book, Mr Bissell described Judas as the “electromagnet of wickedness”, however the author has since explored in an interview with National Geographic whether the shamed disciple even existed.

When asked by the publication whether he believed Judas was a real historical person, Mr Bissell replied: “That is a very thorny question.

“According to tradition, though the scripture is not clear on this, Judas hanged himself in a place called Hakeldama in the Hinnom Valley, which is this rocky, desert-like valley in the southern part of Jerusalem.

“When you go there, it really does feel like it’s a cursed place. That’s the power of these stories.

“You feel the centuries of hatred and disgust for this person who betrayed Jesus.”

The Bible Destroys Racism

According to Num 12 Moses’ marriage (lit. “taking” l–q–ḥ) of a Cushite woman is the cause (ʿal-ʾōdôt) for Miriam and Aaron to speak against (dibbēr bĕ) their brother and question whether YHWH speaks exclusively through (dibbēr bĕ) him. (On the different meanings of dibbēr bĕ see Levine: 328–29). YHWH responds “suddenly” (pitʾom), summoning Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the tent of meeting, where he descends in a pillar of cloud and summons Aaron and Miriam to step forward. He then affirms to them that he speaks “mouth to mouth” with Moses, in contrast to visions and dreams used for (other) prophets, and he angrily rebukes them for daring to speak against Moses. The encounter leaves Miriam with a skin disorder that renders her “white as snow.” At Aaron’s behest Moses intercedes for Miriam, and the disorder lasts only seven days, during which time she is shut out of the camp.

The story evokes multiple questions: What is meant by the designation “Cushite”? Is this woman to be identified with Zipporah, who is named as Moses’ wife in Exod 2:21; 4:25; 18:2? If not, had Zipporah died previously or was Moses a bigamist? Why would the marriage cause Miriam and Aaron to question Moses’ leadership? Why was Miriam alone punished and why was she afflicted with a temporary skin disorder? Above all, what was the point or purpose of this story? While these questions remain open, the following responses are ventured as reasonable ways of answering them that have emerged in scholarly discussion.

The story is composite (Römer). In one tradition, Miriam was the sole complainant, as indicated by the feminine singular verb form in v. 1 (wattĕdabbēr, “she spoke”) and by the punishment upon Miriam alone (v. 10). The exact reason behind Miriam’s complaint is no longer clear, but it seems to be personal. According to some authors it is impossible to isolate this tradition from the rest of the present narrative (Coats: 261; Noth: 92–93), which changes it into a story about a challenge to Moses’ leadership. One may however observe that the story combines a question about Moses’ status in comparison to the prophets and a question about “mixed” marriages. As the story stands, Miriam is still the leading complainant; her name precedes Aaron’s in 12:1, though elsewhere Aaron’s comes first (12:4–5). As a woman, Miriam has more in common with Moses’ wife and can be read as the one from whom greater empathy should have been forthcoming.

Cush is the name in the HB/OT for Nubia, the area south of Egypt (Jer 13:23; 2 Chr 12:3). The LXX translates it as Αἰθίοψ (“Ethiopian,” so also KJV). If she was from Nubia, this woman would have been black, “rendering the whitened skin of Miriam a singularly fit punishment for her objections to the Cushite wife” (Cross: 204). She would also have been a different person than Zipporah, who was from Midian in northern Arabia. In this case, the Cushite was Moses’ second wife, whether after Zipporah or simultaneously is not clear.

However, Cush was also a designation for part of Midian (Albright: 205, n. 49). In Hab 3:7 Cushan, a biform, occurs in parallel with Midian. According to 2 Chr 21:16, the Cushites are located next to the Arabs. Hence, the Cushite wife might still have been Zipporah. The story about the Cushite may once have been connected with that of Zipporah being brought by her father from Midian to join Moses in Exod 18:5–6, as the two texts are separated by the collection of legal material set at Sinai that dominates Exod 19–Num 10 and that might have intervened in the development of the literature (Wright: 203–4). Perhaps Num 12 avoids Zipporah’s name because of its stress on her non-Israelite ethnicity, which is the concern of Miriam’s and Aaron’s complaint about Moses’ fitness for leadership. A woman from Midian, though not Nubian, would have been dark-skinned, so that Miriam’s punishment of being made “white as snow” remains appropriate. The translation “leprous” in some English versions for the skin disorder (mĕṣoraʿat) is misleading, since whiteness is not a symptom of the disease known today as leprosy (Hansen’s disease).

The story’s present purpose is related to its inclusion of Aaron. It affirms Moses’ leadership and seems to promote Moses’ line of Levitical priesthood over that of Aaron, perhaps against claims that the Mushite line was compromised by non-Israelite blood (Cross: 204). YHWH’s declaration that he speaks mouth to mouth to Moses also contrasts with the means used to communicate with prophets, although it no doubt came to be interpreted to mean that Moses was the preeminent prophet, along the lines espoused by Deut 34:10.