Tag archives: Bible

Christmas Prophecies (Part 2): How the Suffering Servant Defied Expectations

by David Closson

December 21, 2020

This is Part 2 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1.


13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
  he shall be high and lifted up,
  and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
  his appearance was so marred [is an anointing], beyond human semblance,
  and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinklemany nations.
  Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
  and that which they have not heard they understand. (Isaiah 52:13-15)

As we approach Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, it is helpful to consider what the Bible teaches about why Jesus came to earth. Isaiah 53, written 700 years before the first Christmas, provides a detailed description of this purpose. To fully understand Isaiah’s teaching, it is important to start a few verses earlier with Isaiah 52:13-15.

Verses 13-15 function as a prologue, previewing the issues that will be developed throughout the passage.

Despite being in the middle of a chapter, the phrase “Behold my servant” introduces a new section of thought in 52:13 (modern Bible readers must remember that chapter and verse divisions were not added until around A.D. 1200).[1] Biblical authors often signaled new sections of thought by using stylistic elements. Such is the case in 52:13, with the attention-getting “behold.” However, this phrase does more than merely indicate a new section of thought; it also helps communicate the significance of the person about to be described, i.e., the Servant. Isaiah wastes no time in drawing attention to the person and work of the Servant.

Isaiah continues by explaining that the Servant “shall act wisely.” The ESV and NIV render the Hebrew verb as “wisely,” whereas the NASB translates it as “prosper.” Although both contain an important nuance, neither conveys the full intended meaning. Isaiah is not merely explaining that the Servant will be wise. Rather, he is saying that he will “both know and do the right things in order to accomplish the purpose for which he was called.”[2] This provides clarity to the rest of the verse: “he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” Because he has completed the work for which He was sent, the Servant will be exalted to a place of prominence.

Next, verse 14 provides further detail on how the Servant will accomplish His purpose. First, the text explains that many will be “astonished” at Him. Why are people astonished at the Servant? The reason for this response depends on how verse 14a is translated. There are two options for translating the Hebrew noun used here— “anointing” or “destruction/marred.” Old Testament professor Peter Gentry argues that the first option—“anointing”—is to be preferred because of its pervasive use in other biblical texts. He notes that the imagery associated with “anointing” recalls the anointing ceremony that took place when a new high priest was installed into office (Ex. 29:29; Lev. 21:10). This special anointing served to differentiate the high priest from other priests.

On the other side, Professor Gary Smith proposes that the Hebrew term is better rendered “disfigurement.” Appealing to context, he argues that “disfigurement” fits with the physical description of the Servant in 53:2.[3] Concurring with Smith, John Oswalt contends that “all suffering is encompassed here: physical, mental, and spiritual.”[4]

However the term is best translated, the Servant’s appearance is evidently a shock, especially to those who expected a godlike deliverer. Reading this text informed by the New Testament, the connection between the Servant in Isaiah and Jesus is becoming clear. Those in Jesus’ day were anticipating a military and political champion to overthrow the occupying Romans. Jesus defied those expectations, and, following a Roman-inflicted beating, did not appear able to save.

Moving on to verse 15, there is debate amongst biblical scholars on whether the Hebrew word should be rendered “sprinkle” or “startle.” The majority of interpreters prefer “sprinkle,” which best fits the progression of the text, especially if “anointing” is the correct interpretation in 14a. Peter Gentry summarizes his position for both disputed words by arguing, “The servant sprinkles because he is anointed.” He adds, “The idea of many being horrified at the Servant and of an anointing and sprinkling that goes beyond that of Israel so that it applies to all the nations best explains the exaltation of the Servant and why so many in the end are told something they have never before seen or understood.”[5] Gentry’s argument prioritizes the literary structure by recognizing that the prologue previews the major ideas unfolding in subsequent stanzas.

Verse 15 concludes the prologue by describing kings’ reactions to the Servant’s work. In short, the Servant’s work will be unlike anything the nations have seen before.

Isaiah 52:13-15 serves as a helpful prologue for Isaiah 53. Isaiah has signaled that the Servant is the focus of this section and the one who is tasked with securing forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with God. As we see in the forthcoming verses, this will be accomplished through His mediating role of a priest, and it will apparently involve a type of sacrifice. Evidently, the Servant’s work will shock those who witness it, and ultimately the Servant will be exalted.



[1] Robert Plummer and Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2010), 28.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 373.

[3] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (B&H Academic, 2009), 438.

[4] John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 380.

[5] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBTJ), June 12, 2007, ,http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 29, 31.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 1): Why We Should Contemplate Christ’s Suffering at Christmas

by David Closson

December 20, 2020

This is Part 1 of a 6-part series.

When Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is common to retell New Testament stories of how Jesus came into the world as a baby in the manger. But there are other passages in the Bible that help us understand the purpose of the incarnation, including one of the most stunning prophecies in Scripture—Isaiah 53. This blog series will take a closer look at this passage and provide fresh perspective on Jesus’ mission, suffering, and victory over sin and death.

This week, Christians around the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Over the next few days, Scripture passages such as Matthew 1-2 and Luke 2 will be read and studied, and believers will reflect with gratitude on God’s love manifested in the incarnation of His Son. But as wonderful as these passages are, additional biblical texts can also help us understand the meaning and significance of Christmas. One such passage is Isaiah 53, a well-known Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah that explains the purpose of Jesus’ birth and the significance of His atoning work on the cross.

In his book, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, James Hamilton makes a simple but profound observation: “If we will listen carefully to the Bible, it will proclaim to us the glory of God.”[1] This is true of Isaiah 53, one of the most magnificent prophecies in the Old Testament. Although the entire biblical canon manifests the majesty of Christ, this particular passage shines a light on God’s plan of redemption in a way that is striking, weighty, and sobering.

This Christmas blog series will unpack Isaiah 53 by carefully analyzing each verse with the aim of illuminating larger themes, including the significance of the Servant’s death and resurrection (biblical scholars agree that the Servant figure in Isaiah prefigures Jesus). Entries in the series, of which this is the first, will follow the natural flow of the text. The second will examine the prologue in verses 52:13-15. The third will examine the rejection of the Servant in verses 53:1-3. The fourth will examine the Servant’s substitutionary atonement in verses 4-6, and the fifth will examine the Servant’s rejection in verses 7-9. Finally, verses 10-12, which interpret the meaning of the Servant’s death, will be covered in the final entry.

Understanding the book of Isaiah’s literary style and broader context is essential to grasping the significance of chapter 53. Hebrew prophecy has a unique form and style. Old Testament scholar Peter Gentry helpfully points out: “Prophetic preaching and writing certainly does not follow the patterns of Aristotelian rectilinear logic so fundamental to our discourse in the Western world. Instead, the approach in ancient Hebrew literature is to take up a topic and develop it from a particular perspective and then to stop and take up the same theme again from another point of view. This pattern is kaleidoscopic and recursive.”[2] This kaleidoscopic approach is characteristic of Isaiah’s prophecy, which presents a holistic message through seven major sections. Each of these sections focus on aspects of God’s relationship with Israel. The reality and implications of the broken covenant, judgment, exile, and the hope of restoration are all thoroughly explored throughout these sections.[3]

The Fourth Servant Song is situated in the sixth section (chapters 38 to 55), which focuses on restoration and redemption. This section follows on the heels of a lengthy description of Israel’s forthcoming exile (chapters 5-37). As Isaiah shifts his attention from exile to restoration, it is apparent that there are two distinct returns from exile and two agents of redemption being described. The two returns are a return to the land of Israel and a return to an Eden-like experience with God.[4] Gentry summarizes this by noting: “There are two issues in the return from exile: physical return from Babylon and spiritual deliverance from bondage and slavery to sin.”[5] Corresponding to these two returns are two agents of redemption: Cyrus and the Servant. Whereas Cyrus is responsible for the people’s physical return to the land of Israel, the Servant is tasked with the more difficult task—securing forgiveness of sins and restoring a right relationship with God.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this week, it is appropriate to consider the reason for the incarnation. Why did Jesus—the Second Person of the Trinity—step out of heaven and become a man? As Isaiah helps us see, it was to deliver us from our sin and reconcile us to God. This is why Jesus came. This is the reason we celebrate the arrival of Immanuel—God with us—at Christmas.

David Closson is the Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.



[1] James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 40.

[2] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBTJ), June 12, 2007, ,http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 20.

[4] James M. Hamilton, “Introduction to Old Testament II” (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, August 30, 2016).

[5] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 22.

Christmas Future: Resting in the Hope and Peace of Christ

by Molly Carman

December 17, 2020

This is the final part of a 3-part series. Read Part 1: Christmas Past and Part 2: Christmas Present.

This year has been hard on us all. No one could have predicted the anxiety, disappointment, and uncertainty that seem to permeate 2020. Because of the struggle that this year has been, it would be easy to lean into fear, despair, and hopelessness during the holiday season. Furthermore, it is all too easy for us to fall prey to the hustle and bustle that distracts us from resting each Christmas. However, Christians are called to rest in the peace of Christ and not despair like those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christmas is the perfect time to re-center ourselves on biblical truth and learn to rest.

The night before Christ was crucified, He reassured his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In other words, we should not be surprised or discouraged by the trials we have and will face in this year and the next. None of us could have predicted the events of 2020, and no one can predict what 2021 has in store. However, we can have confidence that God knows what the future holds, is still on the throne, and forever in control (Ps. 45:6, Lam. 5:19).

This season of Advent and Christmas is an opportunity to remind ourselves of God’s promises and rest in the knowledge that He who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23). Though the seasons may change, our God never changes (Heb. 13:8). Although Christmas is primarily a celebration of the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ’s first coming, it is also a time to renew our hope in His promised second coming. As the Nicene Creed states: “He [Christ] shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and His kingdom shall have no end.” Difficult years like this one serve as reminders that this world is temporary and not our ultimate home; we are called to look forward and await the second coming of Christ and the restoration of all things (Heb. 13:14). This Christmas, our souls can find rest in the hope of His second coming.

Rest is something with which many of us struggle. We want to rest but cannot seem to find the time to feel rested. As my dad reminds me, we often think that rest’s opposite is work, but the opposite of rest is actually restlessness. The Christmas season can often feel like a restless and busy time rather than a restful and peaceful time. We can counteract the restless feeling by pausing to reflect on Christ’s first coming, His presence with us, and the hope of His second coming when all will be restored and made new. As Augustine famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Each Christmas season is an opportunity to intentionally practice resting. We wait and pray for Christ’s second coming, His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, and we do so with hope and patience. We must endure hardship and opposition for the hope set before us (Heb. 12). The Jews waited for hundreds of years for the messiah to appear and save them from their oppression. But the way Christ chose to come surprised many of them. He came not as a political conqueror but as a humble child, on a donkey, and a suffering servant to save His people from their sins (Is. 52:13-53:12). In His second coming, Christ will come as the righteous judge, on a white horse, and as the King of kings (Rev. 19:11-16).

When we gather together this Christmas and sing carols about peace, joy, and rest, may we begin to implement these themes into a way of life and not just a season of life. The words of “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” all teach us these themes. Consider the words of one of these carols: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day. To save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!” As you celebrate Christmas with those you love, remember to rest in the hope of these words.

When you feel restless, remember the admonition of the writer of Hebrews, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest of the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Heb. 4:9-11). Remember that true rest is found in Christ and our eternal home with Him in the new heavens and earth at His second coming.

While we are here on earth waiting for Christ to return, may we celebrate Christmas with hope and peace. Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.” Do not be afraid, for God has promised good news of great joy (Lk. 2:10-11); not only has the Savior of the world come, but as Christians have confessed in the words of the Nicene Creed ever since A.D. 325: “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.”

Christmas Present: Choosing Joy and Proclaiming the Good News

by Molly Carman

December 16, 2020

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1: Christmas Past.

We have all experienced disappointment, tension, and fatigue in 2020. These emotions and circumstances can leave us feeling exhausted and make it tempting to gloss over Christmas this year. However, it’s important to keep in mind that Christmas is an opportunity to pause and remember Christ’s presence in our lives as Emmanuel, “God with us.”

Throughout Scripture, God’s people are repeatedly commanded to remember who God is and what He has done. The command to remember might seem obvious, but it does not come naturally to humans. We are prone to forget God’s nature and His goodness to us, which is precisely why Scripture repeatedly commands us to remember. While we are not commanded in Scripture to celebrate Christmas in particular, we are commanded to remember what God has done for us, and Christmas is a traditional time to remember the grace and gift of Christ’s first coming to earth.

After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, Moses commanded the people of Israel, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deuteronomy 8:2). You would think that after 40 years, the Israelites would not forget all that God had done for them in the wilderness. But despite frequent reminders from Moses and other leaders, the people did forget.

You would also think that it would be hard to forget how God humbled himself and was made a man to die in man’s place (Philippians 2). However, Christians continue to forget, regardless of God’s gentle and frequent reminders. Christmas is a time when we remember and celebrate the first coming of Christ, proclaiming this good news to the world and encouraging one another. However, it is easy to forget this good news in the hustle and bustle of the season or amid the trying circumstances of a year like 2020. Therefore, it is good to remind one another—this year and every year—of the true meaning of Christmas and all that God has done by sending His son, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 103:2-5 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all you diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” We can easily become distracted by the pain of this year and all that could have been, but even our worst circumstances pale in comparison with the blessing of all that Christ has done by saving us from eternal separation from God.

There are three things that we can do to practice remembering God’s goodness to us this Christmas. First, we can refocus. The chaos of the world, especially in a particularly challenging year like 2020, is overwhelmingly distracting. The only remedy to distraction is focus, which requires self-control, discipline, and determination. Focus on the beauty, joy, and goodness of Christ. “Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).

Second, we can choose joy: “Rejoice always, I will say it again, rejoice” (Philippians 4:2). Complaining and focusing on our less-than-perfect earthly circumstances distracts us from the blessings of the Lord, both present and promised.

Third, as we refocus and choose joy, we can then encourage those who have forgotten and share the good news with those who have not yet heard so that all may rejoice and share in the presence of Christ. “But exhort one another every day, as long it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

The good news of the gospel starts at the birth of Christ, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). May we help one another remember and not forget the sacredness of Christmas and the beauty of the season.

Christmas Past: Reflecting on the Origins of Yuletide Traditions

by Molly Carman

December 15, 2020

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series.

Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in the world. With all the associated traditions, music, decorations, and food, it should come as no surprise that many children and adults consider it their favorite holiday. Unfortunately, due to our culture’s increasing biblical illiteracy, many people who celebrate Christmas are unaware of its true meaning and origin.

Traditionally, Christmas (“Christ’s mass” or the Feast of the Nativity) is a Christian holiday that was originally a Catholic mass service memorializing the birth of Jesus Christ. The early church did not initially celebrate His birth. However, in the fourth century, Pope Julius I chose December 25 as a dayfor celebrating Christ’s birth and the day was formally established by emperor Constantine when he declared Christianity the formal religion of Rome. The tradition spread to Egypt by the fifth century, England by the sixth, and Scandinavia by the eighth.

Although the Bible does not specify the exact date of Christ’s birth, there are various reasons why December 25 may have been chosen for its observance. First, the Roman Catholic Church traditionally celebrates the annunciation of the Angel to Mary nine months earlier, on March 25, during the spring equinox. Also, December 25 was already a major Roman feast day honoring the sun god, set during the winter solstice. This darkest time of year might have been chosen in order to symbolize God bringing us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). While most biblical historians now believe that Christ was most likely born in either the spring or fall, the traditional December date has remained the same.

The precise date of Christ’s birth is not the point of Christmas. Neither are evergreen trees, sleigh rides, cookies, and presents. Christmas ultimately celebrates the first coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to save us from our sins. Unfortunately, as the holiday has been popularized and marketed to a consumeristic culture, various secular traditions have taken over, distracting us from the sacred intent behind the holiday. Our culture has slowly forgotten that Christ, not material and earthly things, makes Christmas the joyful celebration that it is.

Our behavior during the Christmas season betrays what we truly believe and value. When we believe and value the first coming of Christ, we cease chasing after earthly goods and worship Him alone. Let us take some time to remember why we celebrate Christmas and the remarkable, humble entrance of our Savior into the world:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

Since the fall of mankind, God had promised and foretold of a coming Savior who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) and save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Throughout the Old Testament, this is God’s greatest and most emphasized promise to His people Israel. This promise found its fulfillment in a humble manger (Luke 2:11-12). The King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16) miraculously entered the world as a baby born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25), with stable animals as witnesses. Imagine that! Despite God foretelling that Christ would come to them as a lowly, suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), His coming was nothing like what the Jews imagined or envisioned. Nevertheless, it was exactly how God intended it to be, for His wisdom is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:25). Jesus, the Son of God and second person of the holy trinity, came to a sin-corrupted and broken world to save a people who would reject Him.

The way that Christmas is celebrated—the traditions, music, decorations, and food—has changed over the years, but the ultimate meaning of Christmas has not changed. The holiday is an opportunity to consider the significance of Christ’s first coming and remember that He will be coming again—this time not as a baby and a suffering servant, but as a conquering King (Psalm 2, Isaiah 9:7, Revelation 19:11-16). Reflection is God’s gift to us, helping us learn from the past so that we can live more faithfully in the present and future. Reflection requires intentionality, honesty, and courage.

The best part about Christmas is not the presents, but the ultimate present of Christ’s presence in the world. When Christ came, the promise of Isaiah was fulfilled: “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (32:16-17). May we all grow in the knowledge of Christ as we remember His incarnation and commit to renewing our minds with a biblical worldview this Christmas season.

Molly Carman is a Policy and Government Affairs Intern at Family Research Council whose research focuses on developing a biblical worldview on issues related to family and current events.

Legitimizing Looting Jeopardizes Liberty for All

by Molly Carman

November 9, 2020

The year 2020 will go down in history for a number of reasons, including a divisive presidential election, a global pandemic, and high levels of unemployment. It will also be remembered for an increase in civil unrest—numerous American cities were the scene of protests, rioting, and looting following the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25. While some protestors have been authentically peaceful, others have resorted to destructive actions such as burning down buildings, vandalizing, and looting and damaging storefronts.

Vicky Osterweil’s book, In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action, was published in August—just three months after the unrest sparked by Floyd’s death began. Osterweil says looting liberates societies from oppressive infrastructures set up by white males—namely, capitalism and the police force—and believes looting is only illegal because it is effective.

Osterweil is wrong. Looting does not liberate society; it jeopardizes liberty.

The Subversion of the Law, Police, Capitalism, and MLK

Osterweil alleges that four aspects of America’s history and social structure have led to an oppressive and racist society. According to Osterweil, change will only occur when these structures are overturned—and one of the essential means of overturning them is looting.

The first aspect is slavery. Osterweil claims Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves; rather, “The enslaved freed themselves. They did so with an act of mass looting and strike that shook the regime of white supremacist capitalism to its core: they stole themselves…” (p. 39). Osterweil argues that looting was made illegal precisely because African-Americans were the ones doing the looting. In other words, looting was outlawed to ensure white Americans stayed in power. The logical response to this is, what if African-Americans are the ones being looted? Osterweil makes no differentiation between looting minority-owned stores and white-owned stores. In any case, no matter what the ethnicity of the store owners is, the justification or legitimization of the act of looting is always wrong and is always immoral.

The second aspect is police. According to Osterweil, police officers are the new, government-authorized version of the Ku Klux Klan: “The forces doing that everyday work of repression, deferral, and destruction have tended to wear a blue cap or a white hood” (p. 73). Osterweil alleges police officers are not intended to promote justice, uphold the law, or maintain peace in our neighborhoods. Rather, they are intended to oppress minorities and enforce power. Later in the chapter on police, Osterweil makes this all-encompassing statement: “The slave catcher is thus embedded in the DNA of all modern police forces” (p. 82).

Osterweil is convinced that the police were organized and established to reproduce and continue colonialism, slavery, and racism. In other words, there are no real criminals, only those whom the police see as a threat to their regime. What Osterweil neglects to mention is that not all police officers are white males. In fact, 65 percent of police officers are white, which means that when you encounter a police officer, they are only 15 percent more likely to be white than a minority. No matter what ethnicity police officers are, the law is meaningless without enforcement, and without enforcement, communities—white and black—will be enslaved to anarchy and injustice.

The third aspect is capitalism. Osterweil claims that capitalism, like the police force, is only beneficial to the powerful and oppresses the poor and marginalized. Osterweil says that organization is good and “revolutionaries love organization” (p. 123), but capitalism steals the spotlight from rioters and looters by calling them chaotic. In short, Osterweil believes capitalism is too competitive for the poor and marginalized. “[A]s long as they [capitalists] measure their success by their ability to direct, to dictate, to marshal, and to focus, they will never be able to achieve the liberation they seek. They must allow the real movement [looting/rioting] to change them, or they can only live to see themselves become its enemy” (p. 148). However, according to the Hoover Institute, it is clear that over the last three decades, capitalism has not only made the rich richer but the poor as well. For example, the poverty level in the United States fell from 31 percent in the 1940s to only 2 percent by the 1980s. While these number have fluctuated over the years due to various external circumstances, the benefits and freedom of capitalism remain.

The fourth aspect is Americans’ common understanding of the civil rights movement. The chapter entitled “No Such Thing as Nonviolence” argues that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was only verbally against violence and looting. Osterweil says, “Rioting and looting were not the accidental offshoots of the Black Freedom movement, not some ‘opportunistic’ or ‘tragic’ consequence of the civil rights struggle. Instead, they formed a central part of the movement’s power and effectiveness…” (p. 152). Osterweil says violence (looting) is the answer to solve unresolved civil rights issues because it is the one thing that white patriarchal supremacists fear. Beyond the blatant absurdity of thinking that only “whites” fear looting, Dr. King’s words clearly and poetically articulate the moral principles of behaving honorably and peaceably: “Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” Dr. King not only advocated nonviolence with his words but with his actions. All of the civil protests and demonstrations he led were nonviolent.

Are Emotions More Important than Moral Principles?

Osterweil asserts two conclusions in defense of looting. First, authority, boundaries, and order do not equal freedom or joy. “The experience of pleasure, joy, and freedom in the midst of a riot, an experience we almost never have in these city streets where we are exploited, controlled, and dominated, is a force that transforms rioters, sometimes forever: the experience of such freedom can be unforgettable” (p. 206). Second, Osterweil concludes that you cannot be a victim if you are not black or a minority group; being white equals having power. “White supremacist forces always play the victim to justify their ongoing anti-Black oppression” (p. 207).

Osterweil’s defense of looting is emotionally compelling. There have indeed been corrupt systems and institutions that have preyed on and marginalized the vulnerable. Slavery did exist in America and around the world, racism and segregation were prevalent in our nation, and there have been unjust uses of police force. But should we respond to past or present injustice by perpetrating more injustice?

Osterweil says that capitalism destroys opportunities for minorities and is systematically racist, but this book was only published thanks to capitalism. Unironically, Osterweil also suggests that white men are the oppressors of our nation and inherently universally racist; however, Osterweil identifies as a transgender woman, meaning Vicky—originally Willie—is a biologically white male.

The Christian response to In Defense of Looting should be nuanced but resolute. While it is true that we as a society must continue to denounce actual racism in all its forms and work towards rectifying injustice and pursuing racial reconciliation, we must never abandon biblical principles in order to appease agendas that are centered around identity politics and emotional appeals. Osterweil believes that looting “liberates” societies, and individuals deserve free money, free housing, and free education and should not be oppressed by order, boundaries, or authority. However, Christians must remember that boundaries and limitations are essential to maintaining freedom. Psalm 15:6 reminds us, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Scripture has clearly said that, “You shall not steal…you shall not covet your neighbor’s house…or anything that is your neighbors” (Exodus 20:15 and 17).

We are called to find contentment in the blessings that God has given us and not seek to steal or fixate on the blessings given to others. Liberty is not locked away to be looted; rather, it is maintained through responsibility, respect, and building relationships.

New Blog Series: Ways to Read the Bible

by Family Research Council

August 24, 2020

Are you looking to grow closer in your relationship with Jesus Christ, and in your knowledge of God’s word? Family Research Council has a 3-part series titled “Ways to Read the Bible.” This blog series shares helpful ways to be encouraged and directed by God’s truth by observing the text of the Bible and applying it to your life. There is no better time than now to get to know God through his word and to learn what it says about yourself, God, and humanity. Check out this helpful resource and learn how to read the Bible with not just your eyes, but with your heart and mind also.

Prayer Point #8: Pray for a Posture of Trust

by David Closson

May 18, 2020

The world is reeling from the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For many, our entire way of life has been upended by a novel virus that health experts say presents a particular risk to our elderly and immunocompromised friends and neighbors.

As Christians, we know that one of our greatest spiritual weapons is prayer (Eph. 6:18). But what exactly should Christians pray about amidst these trying times? FRC’s President, Tony Perkins, recently released nine prayer points to guide us in prayer. Each point provides a specific way for Christians to pray during the ongoing crisis.

As many parts of the United States and the world begin transitioning out of lockdown and returning to semi-normal operations, Christians have an excellent opportunity to model trust in God’s providence and provision to their friends and neighbors. Trusting God amid hardship is not always easy. But the Bible provides us with many encouraging reminders that can sustain and strengthen our faith. By reminding ourselves of these truths, Christians can maintain quiet confidence in God’s purposes, even as we face an uncertain future.

First, it is important to remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim 1:7). Throughout the Bible, God exhorts His followers not to be afraid, and He often ties these encouragements with timely reminders of His presence. Christians should take these promises to heart and pray for enduring faith during this season of heightened fear, anxiety, and confusion. Appropriate precautions should be taken; however, Christians should not live crippled by fear. Rather, we should seize the opportunity to model faith in God as we trust His purposes and plans (Rom. 8:28).

Second, believers should remember what the Bible says about trusting God. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of droughts, for it does not cease to bear fruits.” Another well-known verse that inspires trust in God is Proverbs 3:5-6, which says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God promised the Israelites, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). And in the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His followers to “not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26). Through these verses and others, God reminds us that He is with us, even amid challenging circumstances, and will neither leave nor forsake us (cf. Hebrews 13:5).

Third, Christians honor God by modeling a respectful posture toward those in positions of authority. By doing this, Christians recognize an important principle of political theology: that God instituted the governing authorities. Despite occasionally being frustrated by or disappointed in our leaders, Christians must commit to praying for them, remembering: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). President Trump’s plan to reopen America delegates significant decision-making power to state and local authorities. We should pray for these leaders as they seek to balance reopening the economy with public health and safety.

In the coming weeks, Christians have an incredible opportunity to model what sincere trust in God looks like. Although Christians are facing the same challenges as everyone else, we can have peace and confidence that surpasses all understanding if we stay rooted in the character and promises of God (Philippians 4:7). And hopefully, when we look back on these times in the months and years to come, we will be able to see God’s good hand of providence and how these difficult days produced opportunities for gospel advancement that would have been impossible any other way. Let us trust God to preserve and keep us as we lean on Him in these difficult days.

For more thoughts about trusting God during the coronavirus pandemic, see my Washington Update article “Choosing Faith over Fear.” Or listen to my recent conversation with FRC’s president, Tony Perkins, on Washington Watch about having a biblical perspective and looking to God, not our circumstances, during trying times.

In This Season of Loss, God Wants to Hear Our Hearts

by Adelaide Holmes

April 17, 2020

With lockdowns and stay at home orders in place, the coronavirus is affecting everyone’s life, and Christians are not exempt from the sorrows that the world is experiencing. Ever since the fall into sin in Genesis 3, death, loss, and grief have been a common human experience.

Even so, many Christians are hesitant to admit their disappointment or sorrow. This is because we often believe that grief shows a lack of faith in God. But the lamentations throughout Scripture disprove this misguided perception. In fact, the Bible contains many examples of people lamenting. Even Jesus wept openly over the death of his friend Lazarus (Luke 10:35). Experiencing grief reminds us that this world is not as it’s supposed to be. But Scripture also teaches that everything—including our grief—can work together for good (Rom. 8:28). In this coronavirus season, it’s time that Christians learned how to lament and embrace their sorrow as a way to hope in God.

Death, sickness, and suffering afflict everyone: Christians and unbelievers alike. But as Christians encounter afflictions, their grief should be different than an unbeliever’s. In Mark Vroegop’s article “Dare to Hope in God” he says, “To cry is human, but to lament is Christian.” Lamenting is different than natural grief because it turns grief into a prayer. Through the three stages of a lamentation—crying out to God, asking for help, and responding in trust and praise—Christians learn to be real with God about our pain, rely on Him, and acknowledge our trust in Him.

In the first step of lament, God invites us to cry out to Him. This is difficult for some Christians who believe we must approach the throne of God in a put-together fashion. This most certainly excludes deep grief. But we forget that God knows our every thought, and our darkness is not dark to Him (Ps. 139:2, 12). God is not put off by our grief or the possible doubts that accompany it. He wants to hear our heart. In this season, almost everyone is experiencing loss: loss of a loved one, a job, not being able to visit sick or elderly family members, loss of wedding plans, graduation ceremonies, and sport seasons for athletes and spectators. Everyone is affected in some way by this virus, and it is painful. No grievance is too little or big for God. We can tell God we’re frustrated, deeply hurting, or angered by changes or loss.

A biblical example of someone honestly voicing their aching heart to God is found in Psalm 10. In this passage, the psalmist boldly asks God, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1). Clearly, the writer feels abandoned by God and candidly tells Him: I don’t feel You here. This cry—and the affirmation of God’s goodness expressed at the psalm’s conclusion—demonstrate an important truth: God can handle our strongest emotions, even when we struggle to believe His promises.

Second, a lament’s raw cry to God is followed by a request for help. Sometimes we are uncomfortable with being needy towards God. But this is the foundation of the gospel: that we need Jesus to restore us to God. Paul reminds us that if God did “not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). God is a good Father who encourages us to ask (Matt. 7:7-11). Whether we are asking God to provide the means to pay for groceries during this economic recession, asking for healing for a dying family member, or asking for a way to see college friends or a significant other, we do not need to be ashamed of the request, regardless of its perceived importance. He promises that He will supply every need of ours (Phil. 4:19).

This truth is evidenced again by the psalmist when he pleads with God: “Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted” (Ps. 10:12). Evidently, there were times in the writer’s life when he needed help. He knew that God was able to rescue him from any situation, so he persisted and didn’t hold back in asking his Creator for help.

The final stage of a lamentation focuses on expressing praise to God and declaring our trust in Him. Despite our feelings, God has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). When we praise God for how He specifically provided in our personal lives or praise Him for the promises that He gives us in His Word, we shift our minds from our changing and uncertain situations to the unchanging, faithful Savior. While God wants to hear our worries about the coronavirus or hear about what is breaking our heart in this season of loss, His deeper desire is to see us learn to rely on Him, regardless of our situation.

Despite the psalmist’s own feelings that God had abandoned him, he ends by saying, “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more” (Ps. 10:17-18).

As the coronavirus continues to rage around the globe, Christians must remember that we can grieve the losses in our lives. Whatever the loss, God wants to hear our hearts. In this stretching and trying time, it is important to be honest with God about our pain and learn to rely on Him for help. As we do this, we can say with David, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Ps. 13:5-6).

Ways to Read the Bible (Part 3): Inductive Bible Study

by Patrina Mosley

April 16, 2020

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Now, finally, we will take a brief look at how to study the Bible using the inductive method. Bible study, particularly with the inductive method we will be learning here, is where you are spending time looking into the Bible to see what it says about itself, God, and humanity. You are letting the word of God speak for itself. We accomplish this through tools and learning skills to help us “observe the text, dig out the meaning, and then apply it to our lives.” The three basic steps of the inductive Bible study method are: Observation, Interpretation, and Application.

There are a range of questions to ask the Scriptures throughout these steps, but this will be an overview to help get you started. If you’re looking to deepen your grasp of the three steps, I would highly encourage you to read Kay Arthur’s How to Study Your Bible: Discover the Life-Changing Approach to God’s Word. She is a prolific author, speaker, and teacher of the inductive Bible study method and President of Precept Ministries that teaches people all over the world how to study and know the Bible for themselves.

Let’s get started!

Prayer: Pray “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions” (Psalms 119:18).

Tip: If you are new to this method, it is recommended you start practicing this method with a short book of the Bible, like the Book of James, for instance.

Step 1: Observation (What does this passage say?)

This is the foundation. This is where we are not only reading the Bible with our eyes, but also with our minds. Here you are reading and re-reading (repetition is the key to observation and understanding) to observe the context, discovering what the biblical author intended to communicate to their original audience. Understanding the context is key before making an interpretation and application. Without establishing proper context, we can easily read into the text what we want it to say based on our assumptions and experiences. This can (and unfortunately throughout church history has) lead to unbiblical and heretical applications of the text. The inductive Bible study method has developed some categories and questions to help you look more closely at the text and establish an accurate context that will serve as the basis for your interpretation and application: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

  • Who: Who is the author? Major ideas?
  • When: When was it written?
  • Where: Where was this done?
  • Why: Why was there a need for this to be written?
  • How: How was it done? How did it happen?

You are also observing:

  • Words that are repeated multiple times in a passage
  • Anything written as a list
  • Words that indicate a change in topic or time
  • Words that contrast one thing against another
  • Words that indicate cause and effect

Here you are learning the historical background, dates, key people, and whatever information the text plainly gives. This helps in setting up the context for accurate interpretation. This is where a good study Bible comes in handy because they often provide summaries at the beginning of each book that details a lot of this information.

More on step 1 can be found here.

Step 2: Interpretation (What does this passage mean?)

Here you are seeking to understand what the biblical author meant to communicate to his original audience by understanding the historical and cultural background of the text.

This may mean looking up words you do not understand in a good “Bible Dictionary” or using a “concordance” to cross-reference to other passages for better clarity and understanding. Again, this is where having a good study Bible that combines all these tools is helpful. The best interpretation of Scripture is Scripture. Letting Scripture interpret Scripture means considering the passage in light of the surrounding verses and chapters, the book in which it is found, and the entire word of God.  If you’ve already taken the step of reading the Bible from start-to-finish, you will already have a fuller understanding of God’s over-arching story, which is the context needed to interpret the Scriptures. You will find yourself remembering themes, characters, references to things in the past, and more. You will simply have a more complete context before digging into the nitty-gritty of a specific passage. Therefore, when seeking to know what something means, ask yourself (as Kay Arthur has written): “Is my interpretation consistent with the theme, purpose, and structure of the book in which it is found? Is it consistent with other scriptures about the same subject? Am I considering the historical and cultural context of what is being said?”

To gain an “interpretation” of the text, you are using the understanding you have gained from “observation” and the examination of the context to interpret the plain meaning of scripture, not a hidden meaning. I found these questions used in this article to be helpful:

  • What did the author intend for his readers to understand?
  • How does this passage unfold a broader theme of this particular book of the Bible?
  • What doctrinal or moral problem was he addressing?
  • What action did he want readers or listeners to take?
  • What is still unclear? (Are the confusing terms or phrases used elsewhere in this book, or elsewhere in the Bible?). Before reaching for your dictionary, allow Scripture to define its own terms contextually through cross referencing.

Bible Translations: Remember that when you read the Bible you are reading a translation (the Bible was originally written in Hebrew (most of the Old Testament; although a few portions were written in Aramaic) and Greek (the New Testament). Here is a short list of some easy-to-read versions of the Bible: English Standard Version (ESV), Christian Standard Bible (CSB), New International Version (NIV), and New Living Translation (NLT). Any of these Bible translations strike a good balance between literal word-for-word translation and contemporary phraseology.

Study Bibles: All of the aforementioned translations are available in study Bible versions. Study Bibles typically include extra materials for greater understanding of the text by providing historical context, geographical information, character profiles, word dictionaries, commentary, etc. Some even provide book introductions for each of the 66 books, so the reader gets an overview of what they are about to read. I cannot overemphasize the advantages of having a good study Bible. There are libraries full of resources to help you study the Bible. You can pull out several  different kinds of books, commentaries, maps, and concordances to study God’s word, but for the average individual person who is not writing a theological doctoral thesis, a simple study Bible that combines several of these tools into one volume is a sufficient tool for better understanding God’s word.

You can find more on step 2 here.

Step 3: Application (How does this apply to me?)

The goal of Bible study is not merely knowledge, but to get to know God and apply his truths to our lives. Once we know what a particular passage means, we are now responsible for putting it into practice in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Kay Arthur has written, “When you know what God says, what He means, and how to put His truths into practice, you will be equipped for every circumstance of life.”

More on step 3 is available here.

Tip: Designate a study time once a week. Studying takes time. We don’t have to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves about studying the Bible by saying we are going to do it every day (even though we should make reading God’s word, even if it is just a chapter or a few verses, a daily goal). The goal is not how fast or how much ground we cover but that we habitually do it. The point is to get close to God by knowing, understanding, and applying his word.

Write it down: Certainly, all of this should warrant you to write it down! Either by notebook, computer, or even app—keep track of what you are learning!

During this time of isolation and quarantine, getting closer to the one who created us is a great use of our time. This life comes with so many distractions that can take our eyes off of who and what matters most. Let us see this time as a gift and use it to receive comfort and truth from God.

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