A skeptic recently complained that mountains are a mistake. “They block travel, cause avalanches, create deserts, and are just a general nuisance. If God were the creator, He wouldn’t have made these huge obstacles to human well-being.” In response to this skeptic, we consider, “Why do we need mountains?” For one thing, mountains are a very practical solution to one of humanity’s greatest needs–water.
In a basic geography or meteorology class, we learn about orographic uplift and rain shadows. As air comes across a flat area, it picks up moisture. But to make rain, there must be more than just water. Condensation requires a cool enough temperature and nuclei on which the water vapor can condense. Mountains provide both the cooler temperatures and the condensation nuclei.
As air pushes up the side of a mountain, it cools, and stirred-up dust provides condensation nuclei. For that reason, it is frequently very rainy on the windward side of the mountain. On the other side, the air is dry because all of the moisture has been removed.
Mountains can also capture and store water as ice and snow.Scientific American (January 2021) published an article with data on how many people get their water from the mountains. There are 78 regional mountain chains or “water towers” that deliver water to almost two billion people and surrounding ecosystems. Without mountains, the amount of land that would be hospitable to humans would be much more limited.
In addition to mountains capturing and storing water, they have also created underground aquifers. Glaciers generated in mountain areas have carved out huge valleys, depositing sand and gravel in permeable layers that allow massive amounts of water to seep into the ground. Here in southern Michigan, continental glaciers produced aquifers that supply us with water. In a large area of the Midwest United States, an underground aquifer called the Teays River has supplied adequate water for agriculture.
God has provided a massive and effective water system for nearly all continents, primarily because of mountains. Why do we need mountains? We need them for the water that allows irrigation as well as drinking and other uses. Mountains are beautiful, they provide recreational activities for humans, and they literally water the world for human survival.
Skeptics will go to almost any length to discredit the Bible. Science News (December 19,2020-January 2, 2021, page 14) published an article titled “Goliath Was Not So Giant After All.” The biblical record says that Goliath was six cubits and a span tall. The Science News article says four cubits and a span and then says, “…but don’t take that measurement literally.” The article misses the message of the David and Goliath story.
Fixed standards precisely define today’s measurement units. The ancient cubit was roughly defined as the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow of an adult. Obviously, not all adults are the same size. So a cubit could vary between 17.5 inches and 21 inches (about 444 to 530 mm). The Science News article says that Goliath would have been 7 feet 10 inches tall. The New Bible Dictionary puts Goliath’s height at 10 feet six inches and says that archaeologists have found skeletons that tall in Goliath’s Philistine region of Gath. (We have not seen evidence for that.)
The Science News article bases their contention that Goliath was not a giant on the basis that Gath, the city from which Goliath came, had walls that were four cubits and a span wide. The author of the article is Jeffrey Chadwick of Brigham Young University, an archaeologist who has been involved in excavations around Gath. Chadwick says his discoveries show that the biblical descriptions of Goliath’s stature are metaphorical and not literal. According to him, 1 Samuel 17:4 is merely saying that Goliath “was as big and strong as his city’s walls.”
Lost in the debate about Goliath’s size is the fact that Goliath’s city of Gath was destroyed about 2850 years ago. That fits the time-frame of David’s defeat of Goliath and the conquest of his army. The bottom line is that the biblical record accurately describes what happened. It tells us that Goliath was a huge warrior and David was a small shepherd boy. The city walls’ size would have no more relevance than saying that the height of the doors of American buildings is the average height of NBA basketball players. We can’t know the exact size of Goliath, but that isn’t the message of the David and Goliath story. Despite the odds, David trusted God, and through him, God brought victory to His people.
People give many different explanations of what the ”wise men” saw that led them to the Christ child. (See Matthew 2:1-12.) One of those explanations says there was a planetary alignment in the constellation Virgo (the Virgin). Since the magi may have been Zoroaster astrologers, they knew Christ had been born and followed “the star.” There is no connection between the star of Bethlehem and a planetary conjunction.
This December 21, at the winter solstice, there is a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. If you go outside about an hour after sunset and look to the southwest, you will see that the two planets are separated by less than a minute of arc, even though they are hundreds of millions of miles apart. If your eyesight is not very good, they may look like one very bright star.
This planetary conjunction is an exciting astronomical event, but it is not a good explanation of the star of Bethlehem. Whatever the magi saw, it could not have been a celestial star. Herod could have seen a celestial star for himself and would have had no reason to question its appearance as Matthew 2:3-10 describes. He could have had his people follow the star to find Christ and kill him.
Matthew 2:9 tells us that the star “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the young child was.” The closest star to planet Earth, outside of the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, and it is 4.2 light-years away. No stars move that way, and a planetary alignment is not a star.
The Bible does not present the star of Bethlehem as a natural object but as a miraculous act of God. Anytime the Bible says something is a miracle, it becomes a matter of faith, not science. How Jesus rose from the grave is not something we can scientifically explain. You either accept it, or you reject it, but all attempts to explain it naturally fail–and there have been many.
The star of Bethlehem was a miracle to show God’s acceptance of the Gentiles and to give Mary and Joseph the resources to move to Egypt and avoid Herod’s infanticide. The star of Bethlehem was not a natural event, but today’s planetary conjunction is. As we said yesterday, today’s event is not an omen and has no religious importance, but it is a rare, predictable astronomical event.
Atheists and skeptics like to point out numerical difficulties in the Bible to prove that it is full of mistakes. For example, in 2 Samuel 15:7, the King James translation says that after 40 years, Absalom asked the king to allow him to go and pay a vow. Most modern translations say it was four years. The King James follows the Hebrew Masoretic text, while the other translations use different manuscripts. The number four in Hebrew is “arba” and the number 40 is “arbaim.” It is easy to see how a copyist could confuse these two words, but we also need to understand how the Bible uses numbers.
The Jewish culture gave special significance to numbers, including 40. Some writings used numbers, perhaps not intending that they should be mathematically exact but symbolic. My friend Richard Hoyt has researched this, and he points out many times when the Bible tells us that something occurred over a period of 40 days, nights, or years:
Genesis 7:12 – It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Genesis 8:6 – Noah waited 40 days before opening the window of the ark. Exodus 16:35, Numbers 14:33-34 – The Israelites wandered for 40 years. Exodus 24:18 & 34:28, Deuteronomy 10:10 – Moses was with God 40 days on the mountain. Numbers 13:25 – The spies returned from searching the land after 40 days. 2 Samuel 5:4 – David reigned for 40 years. 1 Kings 11:42 – Solomon reigned for 40 years. 2 Kings 12:1 – Jehoash of Judah reigned for 40 years. 1 Kings 19:8 – Elijah journeyed to Mount Horeb for 40 days and 40 nights. Jonah 3:4 – God gave Nineveh 40 days to repent. Matthew 4:2 – Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Acts 1:3 – Jesus appeared to people for 40 days after His crucifixion.
To understand how the Bible uses numbers, we must consider how a Jewish person at the time would have understood it. Numerical references frequently involve symbolic importance. One indicates unity or singleness of purpose. (See Acts 17:26 or Romans 5:12,15.) Ten indicates completeness – the ten plagues, the ten commandments, the tithe. (See Genesis 14:20 and 28:22 or Luke 15:8 and 19:11-27.) When biblical writers used 40 to indicate a period of time, they may not have meant an exact mathematical number. We do the same thing in English. You might say, “I’ve told you a thousand times” when we mean a large number but not literally a thousand.
Any time we read something, we have to ask, “How did people understand this statement at the time it was written?” It is critical that we consider not only who wrote it, to whom they wrote it, and why, but also how the receiver would have understood it. In the 2 Samuel 15:7 passage, there is also a question of the meaning of “after.” After what? Anointing a king was an important event and a significant time marker. If it means “after” the anointing of David to be king, then 40 years makes sense.
Bible numbers always have a message which is more important than the number itself. If we understand how the Bible uses numbers, we can resolve many of the challenges from atheists and skeptics.
Like many other religions, there is a movement toward Atheism as a business enterprise. The magazine known as Skeptical Inquirer is a four-color, flashy periodical that devotes a large percentage of its material to attacking various Christian groups. There is no shortage of targets for this magazine. Between young earth groups, TV evangelists, and miracle-claiming churches, there is always something to which the magazine can apply destructive scientific research. Many of their articles and the research they point to are well done.
The problem is that the Center for Inquiry paints everyone with the same brush. Much of their material condemns all religious faith and all biblical interpretations with the same condemnation. In a recent letter to the membership, their executive director announced that the board of directors authorized hiring a marketing director for the Center for Inquiry. The goal is “to expand and broaden their legal challenges, educational offerings, community building and creating and sharing evidenced resources.” They are appealing for donations to accomplish their goals.
Commercial Atheism is a religion. It is based on faith in a selected group of writers whose material is produced without peer review in most cases and is frequently highly prejudiced. They are appealing to those who wish to deny spiritual matters, and they ignore the work of experts who have religious faith.
As the world blindly moves toward the rejection of God, and especially Christianity, we can expect Atheism as a business enterprise to become a high dollar operation. Hiring a marketing director is just one more indication of the direction atheism is headed. We need to avoid the shysters, hypocrites, and false teachers in religion while responding to the atheists’ challenges. The need for that has never been greater.
Remember 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and always be ready to give an answer to every man who asks you for a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
Skeptics seem to use every crisis or injustice to make false claims about the Bible. In several recent references, skeptics have claimed that the Bible does not accept black people as human. That simply isn’t true. Black lives matter in the Bible.
The word “cush” means “black” in Hebrew, and we find it in numerous biblical passages. Most frequently, it refers to a geographical area in Africa. English Bibles often translate references to the land of Cush as Nubia or Ethiopia, and a person from there is called an Ethiopian.
Archeologists have found a wide variety of remains of the Cushite people because they were excellent soldiers and masters of horses and chariots. In 701 B.C., Tirhakah, king of Cush, defended Judah against the Syrian invasion of Sennacherib. His help and God’s hand saved Jerusalem at that time.
The denigration of black people is a modern, western activity. Ancient Greeks, Assyrians, and Egyptians did not show the racism of recent times. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Ethiopians were the “most handsome of all men.” In Song of Solomon, there is a love song between Solomon and a Shulammite girl in which she tells Solomon not to love her just because she is black.
The Bible and the history of Israel and Judaism do not show any denigration of those with dark skin. The book of Jeremiah credits Ebed-Melech the Cushite as a hero for saving Jeremiah’s life (Jeremiah 38:7-13).
When we turn to the New Testament, we find more evidence that black lives matter in the Bible. In Acts 8:26-39, we read of the Holy Spirit sending evangelist Philip to an Ethiopian who was in charge of the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He had come to Jerusalem to worship God and was reading the book of Isaiah as he traveled. Philip explained the gospel and baptized him. Jesus made a point of dealing with the racial prejudice that existed at that time. (See John 4.) Galatians 3:26-28 makes it clear that there were no racial, political, or gender boundaries in the early Christian churches–“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Black lives matter in the Bible just as much as every other life because we are all created in God’s image.
A subject that keeps drawing attention is the question of whether we are alone in the universe or could there be life on other planets. Many people seem to feel that this is a religious issue. They assume if science discovers life on another planet, it will discredit the Bible in some way. This has led some religious writers to try to prove that life exists nowhere but on the Earth.
Discover magazine devotes much of the December issue to the question, “Could there be life on other planets?” The cover picture shows the parabolic reflector of a large radio telescope with the heading “Are We Alone?”
It is essential to understand that this is NOT a religious issue, and the search for life in space has no biblical implications. The Genesis account describes Earth’s history and gives no discussion of any other planets in the cosmos. A careful scientific study of the requirements for life to emerge from non-life shows complexity beyond the reach of any chance process. If there is life elsewhere, God created it.
Why would God do that? Why do all of the other stars and their planets and galaxies exist? God has not limited humans to where we can travel. It may be that in the distant future, humans will live somewhere else in space. It may be that natural resources on Earth will eventually run out, and we will need to secure those resources in space. The biblical message is intended for this planet (Mark 16:15), but the language does not exclude a relationship between God and any creature. For example, Hebrews 4:13 says, “There is not a creature that exists that is hidden from him.”
This discussion reminds me of a radio debate I had in Washington, D.C., with Larry King as the moderator. My opponent was a leader of the atheist group in Washington, and people could call in questions for the two of us to answer. A caller asked, “What would you do if a spaceship landed on the White House lawn, an alien got out with a Bible in his hand and said ‘Has Jesus been here yet?’” My atheist friend said, “Punt.” In reality, that proposal would raise many other questions, but the point is that life in space is not a biblical issue.
The Discover article runs through many familiar suggestions. One popular proposal says that we don’t see alien-inhabited planets because they have built a sphere around their solar system, trapping all energy and making it impossible to see them. Called a Dyson sphere, it demands a level of sophistication that is hard to imagine. Another popular suggestion is that aliens camouflage their space ships to look like asteroids. We saw that idea suggested recently when an asteroid called Oumuamua came through our solar system from outer space.
Aliens capable of building such technological wonders would not need to camouflage since they would have better ways to protect themselves. There are some newer and wilder proposals, but the question, “Could there be life on other planets?” is not a biblical issue. If life is out there, it is so far away that it is unlikely to be a threat to our planet in the near future.
The November/December 2020, issue of Archaeology, the journal of the Archaeological Institute of America, carried an interesting article titled “The Price of Purple.” It tells about an archaeological site known as Tel Shikmonan in northern Israel, where there is a very long history of securing purple dye for coloring textiles.
Textiles colored with purple dye were listed along with precious metals in trade and tax records indicating prestige and royal status. In Jesus’ time, Roman high officials wore distinctive purple togas. In Mark 15:17, Jesus was clothed in purple when the Romans wanted to portray Him as king of the Jews. In Luke 16:19, the rich man in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus was clothed in purple to indicate his status.
In the New Testament, we read the story of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Paul had arrived in Philippi, which was a “chief city” of that part of Macedonia. There he met Lydia, who came from Thyatira, which was a city near Philippi. Lydia was a “seller of purple” (verse 14). Verse 15 tells us that she owned a house and other people lived in the house with her. Selling purple dye was a high scale business. A woman owning a home and having a household indicated wealth and prestige in the Roman culture. Verse 40 tells us that the Church was meeting in Lydia’s house.
Skeptics have attempted to deny this account, but excavation at Tel Shikmona has strongly supported the Bible. Tel Shikmona is located on the coast at the foot of Mount Carmel near the present-day port city of Haifa, Israel. The ocean is shallow and rocky at Tel Shikmona, and there are large populations of murex snails in those waters. Liquid extracted from the hypobranchial glands of murex sea snails formed the purple dye when treated with light or oxygen. The sea snails at Tel Shikmona can produce large quantities of the purple dye that stains textiles like no other known dye. People had ground up lapis lazuli, which we rock hounds know is a blue color, but it fades and was not as unique as the murex purple.
Joseph Elgavish excavated Tel Shikmona in the 1960s and found thousands of artifacts. Later excavations convinced archaeologists that this was an industrial site focused on the purple dye industry. Roman rulers starting with Julius Caesar (46-44 BC) and continuing through Nero (AD 54 – 68) had laws to fine anyone wearing murex purple without permission. So Lydia was indeed a special woman with connections and clout with people at the top of the social structure. These facts strongly support her ability to use her status to help Paul in his work at Philippi.
The Bible refers to the benefits of honey. In the Old Testament, the ideal place to live was “the land of milk and honey.” Proverbs 24:13 finds Solomon telling his son, “You should eat honey because it is good.” John the Baptist’s diet consisted of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). It is important to note we are talking about natural, wild honey, not the processed honey with nutrients removed that you might find in your grocery store.
Skeptics will complain that honey is just sugar. Although it does have high sugar content in its 64 calories per tablespoon, wild honey is packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. The nutrients in the honey depend on where the bees gathered the nectar. The darker the color, the greater the antioxidant punch and benefits of honey. Dark honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal properties.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac for the fall and winter of 2020 has the following facts about the uses of dark, wild honey:
A spoonful of honey will ease a nighttime cough and is an excellent antihistamine.
A spoonful of honey at bedtime will cause a rise in insulin, which triggers a release of serotonin, which is converted to melatonin, a chemical that regulates sleep.
A 2001 study published by the European Journal of Medical Research revealed that a honey solution in warm water applied to itchy areas of the scalp will reduce itching and scaling. It can also reduce skin lesions and hair loss.
A dressing of honey with hydrogen peroxide applied to burns, scrapes, and wounds speeds up healing.
One word of caution–the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents of children under the age of 12 months not to use honey on the child. Before their first birthday, their underdeveloped immune system cannot handle impurities that can get into the honey.
The fact that ancient biblical characters ate honey, and even locusts, as a staple in their diet, is not a foolish error. We now know that eating some insects and honey can provide a very nutritious line of food. Only recently has modern science come to understand why the Bible references to the benefits of honey make sense.
Does Jesus hate women? That may sound ridiculous to most of our readers. However, there is continual rhetoric in the media and from skeptics suggesting that Christianity is opposed to women’s rights and tries to oppress women. A careful study of Jesus and women and the early Church’s history shows that isn’t the case.
The world at the time of Christ was in turmoil. People ignored God’s teachings and moral laws, women were considered property, and they were totally dependent on men. A young woman was supported by her father and then her husband. Her primary role was to bear a male child. This treatment of women led to polygamy, prostitution, and easy divorce. Jesus comes on the scene and overturns all of this. In John 4, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman without denigrating her. He amazed His disciples by breaking all social taboos by teaching her. In Luke 10:38, Jesus enters the house of Martha and treats her and her sister Mary with respect. Mary Magdalene played a vital role in the ministry of Jesus, and she was the first person He appeared to after His resurrection. In Luke 8:1-3, she and Joanna, a Roman steward’s wife, are portrayed as financial backers of Jesus’ travels. Jesus defended the woman taken in adultery in John 8:3-11. Does Jesus hate women? No, He treated women with dignity and respect. The Church in the first century did not oppress women. In Titus chapter 2, Paul gives instructions to old and young men and women and slaves regarding how to live. The reason for his instructions is “to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” to unbelievers. Acts 16:14-15 describes a woman named Lydia, who ran a high-end business, owned her own home, and had a household. We are reminded of Proverbs 31 as we read this. Martha, mentioned earlier, also owned a home where her brother and sister lived.
First Corinthians 14:26-40 addresses a chaotic worship assembly. Paul tells various people to be silent or to speak one at a time. He instructed married women to remain silent and address their questions to their husbands at home. Paul was concerned about the chaotic assembly causing outsiders to think the worshippers were crazy (verse 23).
In 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Paul encourages women to dress modestly and not usurp authority. The Greek word here is “authenteo” and means “to exercise the power of one’s self,” according to the lexicon. An overly aggressive woman could intimidate and discourage a young Christian preacher like Timothy. Paul’s instruction for women to protect the role of men and allow them to lead was important to the Church’s growth then, as it is today.
Does Jesus hate women? No. Did the early Church oppress women? No. Neither should it do so today. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, MALE NOR FEMALE, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We need to love each other enough to allow everyone to have a role in the work of the Church. Caring enough to serve is not oppressing or denigrating anyone.